Letter To B
go into this, Dear B., in some detail, because it's all about
you what you might not know about yourself.
I can only tell it the way it was, the way I saw it, sitting
there watching the wind whip Huntington Avenue so hard even
the cabs stayed away.
Right in front of me they came, to a table even closer to the
window than mine.
There were three of them, toting their computer briefcases and
assorted PDA's, and to this day I remember each by the first
word that came to mind. One was hungry. One was tits. One was
Yes, your old man was on his own that soaking night, riding
out Wanda in a "swank" place, nibbling crostini but
really digesting what he had just read in a French film-buff
magazine. It was a factoid of significant value possibly the
ultimate excuse when your wife catches you watching Adelphia
According to the magazine, an American university (unnamed) is
reputed to collect every porn film there is, as soon as it
comes out. They've been doing it for decades. But not for the
reason you'd think. The department that does the collecting
specializes in the history of furniture, and porn films are
always shot in low-brow rooms filled with the stuff real
people really use as opposed to the furniture used in
regular movies, which always reflects the snooty fantasies of
stylists and art directors. So when the profs and students sit
down and view a film from their school's collection, all the
writhing bodies on the screen are beside the point. What they
say is, "look at that table over there. That chair
I was jollying off over that strange piece of information. It
was making my Pinot Noir taste perkier. Even adding zip to my
flattish chickpea dip. Desperate? What do you expect? It's
what happens when your dinner companion is a magazine for
foreign film nerds.
I know what you're thinking, what you
could be thinking if you
knew more if you knew anything at all about me. Where was
Jennie? Jennie, a name you've never heard of, but where was
she? That's definitely what you'd ask. Well, she was at the
seminar, exploring new techniques. This one had nothing to do
with films or film-making. The seminar of the arid, I'd say,
one of the many adult education courses offered each season at
our local community college.
We had a date for around midnight
hopefully earlier, since
it was a work night. Just the three of us. Jennie, me, and Mr.
The hungry one, of course, was the guy. He was beefy and big
dressed as guys in the post-Google age were wont to dress on a
business trip. Dark gray suit with a one-size-fits-all look.
Shirt that was white, but not quite a dress shirt. And no tie
no finish, so to speak. Probably like the wine he ordered,
the Mondavi, Woodbridge label, which the tooth-flashing waiter
poured as though it were a priceless Petrus. The one with the
above-mentioned tits was a Jewish girl in an Irish knit
sweater (the kind they sell in the Westin gift shop, next to
the lobster bibs). And the fat one there is just no other
word for it well, she probably was less fat than she'd been
a week ago, because she was clearly doing an Atkins-type
thing. With a vengeance. Anything to shrink out of that pale
purple tent she had on it had a bauble or two but no more
shape than a blanket made with a hole for the head. When her
steak came there was a mountain of white potato on one side
and a mountain of green peas on the other. She mowed through
the steak like a hamburger grinder, leaving a valley of empty
white china between the untouched potato and peas.
For dessert she got the raw berries. Zero sauce. The other two
split a Matterhorn of chocolate cake, tall as it was wide.
Hurricanes bring people together. By cake's end the one that
was tits was putting her dessert fork in his mouth, while the
hungry one's elbow pressed against the swelling cables of the
Irish knit sweater. The fat one retreated into her blonde
mullet, and stared out at the last crumbs on the cake plate.
That's it, that's all there seemed to be going on. It was
watch these out-of-towners while I shoveled in my
bouillabaisse or watch Wanda beat up the street and toss the
paper cups and broken umbrellas around. They were in the
window table, while all I had was a table that let me see the
window from a slight distance back, bobbing my head to look
between their heads.
I could also look over their heads, of course, at the rows of
empty Stairmasters and ellipticals on the second floor of the
building across the street. Except for the slight veil of rain
streaks the view was unimpeded, because the window arched
high. But who wants to watch a gym on a hurricane night, as
devoid of human beings as if it had been run out of business?
The storm-hype around Wanda was a little much, I remember
thinking. She may have blown away half of Florida, but by the
time she was hustling through Copley Square she was no more
than a slam-bam Nor'Easter. Gusting 60, maybe 70 nothing
that might sweep you off your feet on Huntington and drop you
on your ass over by Columbus or Shawmut.
The burst of pink and black occurred as I was delving into the
fourth of the eight mussels adorning the top of my
bouillabaisse bowl. I saw it just that way, somehow emerging
from a deep corner of the mussel being tickled by my cocktail
fork. It must have been how Botticelli first imagined Venus on
the half shell. And it suddenly occurred to me that the empty
black shells on my bread plate now looked a little like
It was an everyday occurrence, I know. Just a lone woman
suddenly appearing on one of the exercise machines. From where
I sat, she was slightly above the blonde mullet, which
ultimately is why the word "everyday" isn't quite
right. That aside, Jennie and I were members of our community
health club as if Jennie's stick figure needed to get any
skinnier and I'd seen more ladies working out than I could
ever recount wives and girlfriends "sweating to the
oldies," as they used to say. But this was the first and
only one that ever made me wish I was the Stairmaster under
She wore black tights and a pink top that displayed copious
back and shoulder skin. Mediterranean skin that shone as the
workout wore on; and a braided horse-tail of hair, black as
ripe olives, that swished back and forth with each pumping
step. Those steps that's what got me going. In a few moments
I was working up a sweat of my own, just lifting the spoon and
the wine glass, and I remember rolling the cuffs of my shirt
up to the middle of the forearm to let in a little
ventilation. As I said, I'm telling you just what I saw, the
way I saw it, and what it felt like. This woman, this
Mediterranean exerciser, what she had was she had one of
those asses that cause traffic jams and collisions. Riotous
rolling haunches that swelled with every step like the
chambers of a giant beating heart. Put those moves on a
Stairmaster, make the steps deep and steep, and
the very least you've got a dry cleaner to pay. I had no idea
there were saffron-red rivulets of bouillabaisse forming on my
What would Jennie say? Actually, on that night, I'd still bet
she'd have said all well and good, more power to the watcher
and the watched, to anything that stokes the boiler.
The tooth-flashing waiter must have vibed into my rising
fever. I never saw him approach me, never heard him ask or
offer, but there he was splashing more Pinot in my glass at
the exact moment I wanted it. All I did was nod and suck it
up. Other than this and the churning black tights the only
other thing I saw, out of the corner my eye, was the departure
of the blonde mullet. Stage left. Maybe she was slinking away
for the evening. Or maybe she was off just to pee and briefly
escape the torture of the empty cake plate and the proximity
of her two nuzzling colleagues. But now there was nothing else
on the screen excuse me, within the frame of the window
nothing but the Stairmaster lady herself and the eye beams I
was throwing her way, bullets of desire not even Wanda could
blow off track.
As workouts go, this was no aerobic quickie. She was serious
up there, cranking and crunching, and it went on and on all
of which was A-okay with me. The in-town film-houses weren't
showing much I cared about, and I was comfortable right where
I was. I'd even lucked out on the Pinot it was a Saintsbury,
not easy to find by the glass in the Bean City. With the
blonde mullet gone my view was as good as front and center.
The chair was cushioned and upholstered. I slid into lounge
position and even loosened my belt a notch.
All was most
copacetic. And the truth is, I was so into the
scene in the gym that when the soft hand touched the back of
my neck it seemed normal, just another dollop of sensation,
and I hardly flinched. As you can imagine, I also didn't turn
my head. Then the hand started to move, fiddling with my hair,
even dipping just below my collar, and the movement seemed to
release an exquisite scent. Part of it was a perfume I had
never encountered before, but the other part of it was the
steam from a human being. In the haze of the first instant I
took this as the scent of the Stairmaster lady, somehow
transporting itself across the stormy street into the air I
My impression changed fast
with the murmur of fabric in
motion, then the pressure of a significant mammal docking
alongside my thigh. Not six inches from my face came the blond
mullet. The one that was fat there isn't, there just isn't
another word for it and her pale-purple outfit, that tent
thing, now enveloped an adjacent chair at my table. And now
that she was sitting right against me, her hand slipped around
from the back of my neck to a hot zone high on my thigh.
At some point in the middle of all this, her two colleagues
vamoosed. I don't know how, I don't know when they just left
the picture and the rest of the room was nearly empty,
thanks to Wanda out there. Tooth-flasher was off smoking in
the kitchen, or tending to one of the larger tables back by
the bar. So we were good as alone the three of us, that is,
and this wasn't what I wanted any more than I'd have wanted
the clicker snatched from my hand when something on TV had my
eyeballs popping out of the sockets.
But I was wanting it more with each passing second.
"Why watch? Isn't this better than watching?" As she
said this the hand moved even further north and the body
attached to the hand shifted its axis and rolled even more of
its mass against me. But I kept watching the window why not?
The two of them one across the street and behind glass, so
toned and unavailable the other one spilling her limitless
flesh all over me it was sensational, it was sensationally
Fat. Now what about that word? The way I felt, I was warming
up to those kinder words, the ones people normally use to
euphemize, to sugarcoat, to window-dress.
that's what I mean. The more she
pressed against me the more these words seemed right. Or more
right. Not that they were truths. Somehow, they weren't even
Then she said that name in my ear.
"Baptiste. That's what you're called, isn't it?"
"No, not me. My name is Joel."
"But you're called Baptiste. I know you are."
And that was all it took to yank me from the restaurant
from the window that was hypnotizing me to the elevator and
her room in the hotel above. On the way out I threw cash at
the waiter. He eyeballed the wad and did his widest
Her room looked down on the street, but the gym was so far
below it that the Stairmaster lady became a postage-stamp
figure, no match for the Rubenesque, Renoir-esque woman on the
bed. The pale-purple tent had disappeared, and she reached for
me with two arms that looked bigger than Jennie's thighs.
But I would not call them fat. No, not fat at all.
The name just spilled out of my lips.
Just before I left, she slipped her business card into my
shirt pocket. Even then I knew it wasn't that she needed to do
this or even cared to. It was because of me, because I'd asked
to have it. To have some remembrance, a connection. That
perfume of hers lingered in the paper for days. Her real name
was Geraldine at least it began with a "G", as
Garance did and she came from the other coast. Portland,
After our interlude of fucking and resting
one time, then
another and yet another I still kept my date with Jennie.
With Jennie and Mr. Mercury, and with all the other
heat-sensing, egg-enhancing, sperm-inducing paraphernalia they
had given Jennie at the clinic. I kept my date and then some.
That was how stoked, how riled up I was from my tilt at the
In the end it came to no more than any of the other times. All
of our dates with Mr. Mercury. And Mr. Clomid, and Mr.
Perganol. It was our fourth year, Jennie and I, and there
would be two more years of trying before we chucked the
calendar and cleaned out the medicine chest.
But I had given Geraldine my business card too, I insisted she
take it and she wrote to me, although only once. She wrote
how she had made up her mind to select someone, a man, how
that night was the right night to do it, exactly right, and
how she had happened to select me. She cited her reasons in
order of priority. First and foremost was the obscure French
film magazine she'd spotted on my table. What that seemed to
say about me was more important than anything else to her.
Second was the presence of Wanda, a giantess who could howl
from the sky and uproot and re-arrange the denizens of nature,
be they stands of trees or individual human beings. Perhaps
even the canals pouring out egg and sperm could be whipped up,
shaken and stirred to yield blends of a higher order. And
third, of course, was something she found in my face and
manner that brought her favorite movie to mind
Night after night, the Westin at Copley Square has hundreds of
people staying in it. Corporate travelers, mostly. But how
many of them know of Baptiste, the mime, the lover of the
haunting Garance? How many have seen Les Enfants du Paradis,
the miraculous film Baptiste will live in forever? To lovers
of French cinema this masterpiece is all the more remarkable
because it was born against all odds an epic production
filmed in occupied Paris, right under the nose of the Nazis.
Who else in the Westin that Wanda-whipped night even had a
I was enthralled with the letter
with the news and for a
few days I was ready to change coasts, just like that, if she
would have me. But she wouldn't have me she only wanted you.
And I had spent so many years with Jennie, my stick-figure
Jennie, I know I couldn't have gone away for good. After all
we had been through, we did more than sleep in the same bed,
we lived in the same skin.
I don't know if I'll mail this. I'm not sure I can even find
where to mail it to. But I want you to hear my side of it, from me
way I saw it, felt it, did it. This is America, Baptiste, and
I'm hoping by now you have a nickname that's a little less
"continental." A father has a right to talk straight
to his son. If he can't, who can?