Midwife in the Tire Swing
Chapter 18—The Horny Goat
Can I go forward when my heart is here?
Turn back, dull earth, and find thy centre out.
—Wm Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
“No one ever killed themselves jumping out of a basement,” said Jerome Levy, on his first sleep-over. He brought along a picture of a goat as a gift.
“This goat has a lot of horns,” said Sarah.
“Hoplitomeryx is an ancient Italian goat. Hoplitomeryx had five horns—two above the eyes, one in the middle of the forehead and the remaining two where a modern day’s goat’s horns are. Since you are working with all that wool—alpaca, merino, like. Goat fleeces?”
“We teach patterns which utilize the yard goods we have for sale in the store. 100% cotton, wool shrinks—no goats, no llamas. Some silk batiks. So, a horny goat. Symbolic.”
“Prehistoric. Extinct, not a threat,” said Jerry as he unbuttoned Sarah’s blouse. They made love, energetically. Sarah’s basement bed-sitter had come with a sleeping loft, where Sarah and Jerry discovered adjacencies not dealt with by the Kama Sutra and attainable only where the woman could brace her feet against the ceiling. The loft was accessed by a small stepladder, a pass-along from the previous leaseholder who charged her twelve hundred dollars for “findings.” Besides the loft bed, there were do-it-yourself vinyl floor tiles laid down, some unspecified plumbing repairs and a coat of raspberry paint on the kitchen cabinets. “$42.00 a gallon. Sherwin Williams. The best.” The glass panes in the cabinets had been painted over. “And a composting toilet, just in case.” The composting toilet and Sarah’s convertible sofa had gone to the curb on recycling day.
Sarah reached down to the floor for a cigarette, long and brown and minty. Emorej Yvel, Jerry, naked, looked on disapprovingly. That Sarah was likewise naked muted his disapproval.
“Goat.” Sarah said as she exhaled a long, brown, minty plume of welcome carcinogens.
“Or a deer, there is some confusion. Hoplitomeryx,” said Jerry. “Very little wool.”
“Some creatures are not so willing to share. Hoplitomeryx also had fangs—a pair of long, overly developed canine teeth. This would make milking them an adventure. They are reported to have kept their wool.”
“Hoplitomeryx must have had a smile like a wolf,” said Sarah Drye. Emorej Yvel as Jerry Levy was nibbling at her gluteus maximus.
“After dinner. Not many get to see a wolf smile,” said Sarah. “From the outside.”
“¿Quien es Carlos Fuentes?”
“I beg your pardon.” Sarah understood Spanish when she heard it, enough to get by. She could follow the ads in subway cars: “Nueva. Azul. It’s new; it’s blue.” And the lyrics of the Eddie Palmieri uptown big band salsa that rattled from cracked speakers trailing twisted wire at Tu Ritmo Latino on Court Street. There was frequently a reproachful paloma. “Paloma, that’s a dove,” said Sarah.
“Carlos Fuentes is a writer. A Mexican writer. A hoplitomeryx, he said that about himself. He was the Mexican ambassador to France. ‘I am a hoplitomeryx, a prehistoric goat,’ he said. ‘I have five horns and well-developed canine teeth. Of course that’s your history. In my time I am right on the mark.’”
“You read a lot.”
“I read things that I am not supposed to be reading. That is why I have had to get a few extensions on defending my PhD. Defend. The paper is not written yet. Fuentes was barred from the United States but he made a visit to Brooklyn all the same. Norman Mailer brought him over the bridge followed by a CIA tail, ‘A trench coat and a Stetson.’ Mailer and Fuentes called their CIA minder ‘Humphrey.’”
They had met, Sarah and Jerry, on her morning jog. Sarah made it past the Atlantic Avenue terminal of the long Island Railroad, past the hookers, pimps and johns and swung up Flatbush Avenue for the park. On the long, steady slope at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden a rooster crowed in the petting zoo off to her right.
“Now that’s one serious chicken,” a fellow runner she had seen in the neighborhood. Well-built, lean from running, bulging quadriceps, a runner’s body. Was that an erection? He had been running backwards, staring at her, checking out the action in her sports bra. The Carroll Street Bridge was open. He took the plunge without breaking his stride.
“Do you do this often?” He shook his head like a retriever caught in the rain. Except this rain was black.
“Running is a controlled fall,” he said as Sarah stretched out a scrap two-by-four for him to grab. “That’s why we have huge glutes. Comparatively. To catch up with ourselves.”
“It doesn’t work backwards,” said Sarah.
Jerry’s come-on was: “You’re pretty. Wanna get laid?”
She looked him over. Dark hair streamed a rainbow of toxic waste past his eyes. The eyes were imploring. His clothing clung to his body. “You are dripping wet, it is all of forty degrees out here and you are getting an erection. Should I be flattered?”
“God, but I’m good.” The man laughed and squeegeed slime from his Gortex tights with the edge of one hand. The other hand sluiced goop from his hair, keeping it out of his eyes.
“I’m sorry but you look terribly funny.”
Jerome Levy turned on his Joe College persona; he grinned awkwardly. “Yeah...” He flopped his arms and slimy water flew in iridescent arcs. This sudden obsession with her became an irritant and he probed it like a dental patient tonguing a temporary filling. Did that make him a bad person? It was, after all, someone else’s mistake, putting the canal there, getting the bridge stuck open and not a barge in sight. He brightened and confronted himself with an overview of their situation, willing to be convinced. Self-deception was a skill, to be practiced. There was the suggestion of a strut as he turned on the full force of his charm.
Sarah saw a friendly, neighborhood klutz who’d fallen through an evolutionary crack. And with perfect teeth, too.
The man looked down at his crotch then imploringly back at her. “See?” He needed her.
“I’ll think about it. You’d better get yourself home and wash that stuff off or you’ll get cancer, pneumonia, whatever.” The man stood without moving. His hard-on waited. He stared. Had she disappointed him? “I said I’ll think it over. Get home and change.”
“Yvel. Emorej Yvel,” he said. “That’s Jerome Levy spelled backwards.”
“Like you run.”
“Like I run.” He produced a scrap of paper. In neat handwriting was a telephone number. “Like I said—that’s one serious chicken.”
They walked together down the three percent grade toward Boerum Hill. Sarah’s socks were bunching up inside her running shoes. “Socks jam. Gotta stop.” She sat down on the nearest stoop. One concrete stoop along a street of tiny front yard setbacks with concrete stoops.
Emorej Yvel regarded the house, one of a block of identical stair-stepping brownstones that descended in a row down to the canal. “Right here. No, there. Lady bit me. A father and son, Hispanic, called back their dog, a nine-month-old German shepherd. That’s how I know the dog’s name. Lady. Rabies.”
“I considered carrying a .22 pistol. Or .25. Something small, you know—the extra weight. I have my pace. Hold the pace or hit the wall, I say. When I run. Gardiner Litchfield. He’s my internist, Dr. Litchfield. Rabies. And I thought about this only the day after.”
“The dog that bit you. Rabid. Or your doctor.”
“Who’s to tell? Doc Litchfield never bit me. I would have to get the dog, cut its head off for the lab. The only surefire test for rabies he said. Well, the dog, the dad and the kid were long gone. Her, she, it—bit me, Lady. I didn’t bite her. Dr. Litchfield said I was better off playing the odds and not getting the rabies series. Nasty, he said. Happy Luck.”
“Then they’d have cut off your head instead of the dog’s. The dog is lucky you didn’t carry a gun...”
“Or a blackjack. Happy Luck is my favorite restaurant.”
Jerome Levy, the stranger who did not carry a gun or a blackjack and fell into the Gowanus Canal where it would carry him to the bottom in a rainbow of toxic sludge to an assured horrible death, invites her out for Thai food. The Happy Luck is on the second floor. Inside a stairway ascends to the dining room. “I’m usually at the Blimpie Base on 55th and Eighth Ave in Manhattan. I can hang there for hours. Getting dialog?”
“That’s one,” Sarah says.
Jerry does not ask “One what?” He has heard the joke.
“You were married; who is Taffy?” Sarah once asks this. They are at Jerry’s place.
“Was. Short for Taffy O’Toole, née Novotny. Taffy was a stripper, pole-dancer—you know. Until she packed on the pork. No sex. Not straight-out fucking the customers—suggestive, no lap dancing. She told jokes: ‘Mark, mark.’ What’s that?”
“A hare-lipped dog. Ta-Da-Bump. Rimshot, uproarious laughter. That one never failed to get a laugh. Taffy was from Milwaukee originally.”
“Sidesplitting.” Sarah tried to picture mobsters slipping hundred dollar bills into Taffy’s thong between the rolls of fat. Pendulous breasts jiggled and surged. Mark. Mark.
“I saw her as an allegory. She came out in a thong bikini with a bunch of bananas—a whole stalk. She peeled and ate the bananas and told jokes. She had them popping their stitches. Then Taffy developed a weight problem. She ate nothing but bananas and delivery pizza and told jokes.”
“That’s what happened between you? That you broke up, I mean. Can I have a drink?”
“Coming up.” Jerry went to fetch them a drink. “I hide a bottle under the sink. Behind the Clorox. I have to be careful—don’t want a problem.”
“Like Taffy. She drank a lot?”
“Like a fish. I kept up with her for almost a year. We grew bloated and flushed. All work stopped. My doctoral paper went to hell. Taffy got fired. Her house mother turned her in.”
“For using booze.”
“This was Vegas and booze on the job was cool. If it had been drugs, that would have different. No, the house mother caught me in Taffy’s dorm room. Something about the Strip. The clientele liked their women big. I mean big. This got me to rethinking my doctoral work and I switched the thesis to anthropological psychology. Jungian with some Wilhelm Reich stuff, mother fixations and fertility cults. As she got fatter Taffy’s gags got raunchier and raunchier at the time the Strip was trying to project a family-friendly image. These are not your Nevada cowboys in off the range and not seen a woman for a year. Whorehouses are legal and inspected by the board of health; you want a blow job you can get one at the post office. These are retired owners of trucking companies, dentists, CPAs all frothing at the mouth and after forbidden fruits. They had spent decades in voyeuristic limbo, hiding computer kiddie porn disguised as accounts receivable, mammary magazines in the john and the like. Here was a place they could strut their stuff in front of a roomful of like-minded folk. That Taffy O’Toole was drunk and fat was not a problem. That was a plus for guys from New Jersey—just like their girlfriends back home. If I saw Taffy as an allegory, so did they. It was her jokes, and they got bad, believe me.”
“By bad, you mean...” Sarah thought incest, bondage, humiliation scenarios.
“Just bad—limp, outdated burlesque shtick, like about her winning the Pull-it Surprise. Get this: ‘so there was this Polack walked into a bar with a frog growing out of his head. ‘Holy Christ,’ says the bartender. ‘How long has this been going on?’ And the frog says, ‘It started as a pimple on my ass...’ Like that. They ate it up. She laughed at her own bad jokes; she’d have blackouts and convulsions. The spectators loved that. And by now she had a fan following. These were not sightseers, these were worshippers. I gave up on Vegas; I started running and got a workout routine. The pounds rolled off; I started writing again. I left her. She died.”
“You didn’t leave her, you were thrown out by the landlady. She died of a broken heart.”
“Whatever—she died on stage; she would have liked that. She was in a blackout and tried to shinny up the brass pole with the whole stalk of bananas. One of the other girls must have smeared a lubricant on it. She went down like a sack of rutabagas—plop, right there in front of 300 Jaycees from Muncie. They loved it. They called a ring doctor, a real MD, too—his specialty was sticking Band-Aids on boxers while they hemorrhaged—over from the MGM Grand. He pronounced her dead and the room cheered.”
“I just bet there was nothing like that back home in Indiana. Wait. Where were you when all this was happening?”
“She was cremated in a double-x lamé G-string; I saw to it. She would have liked it that way. I was all she had. I arranged things.”
“You were there. At the end—for the service I mean.”
“I read her favorite jokes as the conveyor belt took her into the flames. The Polack with the frog growing out of his head and the one about the hare-lipped dog. The lube was a new product—luminescent, glow-in-the-dark. They rolled her in with a chartreuse streak from her nose to her toes.”
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