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Authors: Amanda Filipacchi

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BOOK: Nude Men
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I had Jell-O for lunch. This is my Jell-O spoon. Aren’t you even going to leave your corner to say hello to me?

I said hello.

First of all, no, you did not say hello, you asked me how the weather was. Second of all, I want one of your usual warm welcomes, I say, walking toward her.

No, she says, cringing farther into the corner.

No? I stop a foot away from her.

Please, Jeremy, 1 do not want to be touched today. I’m not in the mood.

(Could this be her heat?) Nouniou, are you upset about something, I ask her, using one of my many pet names for her, variations of “Minou,” which come to me naturally when I feel particularly affectionate toward her: Ninou, Nounou, Niouniou, Nounette, Nouni, Nounina, my Ninoute. I crouch down in front of her.

Ah! Not so close. Move back, she says.

At that moment, the explanation of her behavior comes to me through my nostrils. Oh, Minou. I pick her up, lift her tail, and look at her backside. Her long, beautiful butt hair is covered in poop.

Let me down, she says, wriggling her back legs.

It’s the heavy cream I gave you as a treat for breakfast that gave you diarrhea, isn’t it?

No, it is not the heavy cream. I like the heavy cream. You must continue giving me the heavy cream. It is fate that gave me diarrhea.

This time I’m going to cut off your butt hair. I keep saying I’ll do it, but I never do, and then this always happens.

I don’t want you to cut off my butt hair. It’ll be embarrassing to have a bald butt.

I won’t shave it off, I’ll only trim it. It’s either that or no more heavy cream.

I
want
the heavy cream.

I know you do.

I feel her tense up, because she knows what comes next: the bath.

Jeremy, she says, I was thinking. Perhaps today we don’t need to do what we usually do at this point.

I’m sorry, but we do. Believe me, it pisses me off at least as much as you. It’s a total drag.

No, no, no, let me finish. I was thinking that we could just let it dry, and then I’ll clean it myself.

No, that’s disgusting. I’m not going to let you clean it yourself; you could get sick.

No I couldn’t. How do you think animals in nature do it?

Animals in nature do not have long hair like yours. You are not a natural animal, you are an artificial one, created by humans. You have been bred.

She looks at me with a traumatized expression, even though she knew these facts already. I feel sorry for her. To make her feel better, I add, You have pure blood. You are a Persian. I carry her to the bathroom sink.

I am warning you, Jeremy: If you turn on that water I will never forgive you.

Relax. We’ve done this many times before, and you know it never hurts you.

I am warning you, Jeremy, do not turn on the water. I am warning you, do not—do not—do not... Ahhh! she shrieks.

I have just turned on the water.

During the bath, she doesn’t say much. She just swears at me occasionally. Her body is stiff and trembling. She hates the blow dryer almost more than the water; I don’t know why. The bath and the drying take two hours. Afterward she’s much calmer and holds no grudge against me.

She says, Howr war your dar atr wokr?

I’ve told you a hundred times not to purr while you’re talking. I can’t understand a word you’re saying.

How was your day at work? she repeats.

Interesting.

Tell me aboutr itr, she says, unable to rid herself completely of her purring.

I met a woman at lunch who’s a painter. She wants me to pose for her. I’ll go see her Saturday. Stop talking now and just purr, please.

She obeys me. I pick her up and press her head against my ear to hear the loud purring, which is so soothing to me. I raise her a little higher and press the side of her stomach against my ear. I hold her this way a long time, drinking in the murmur, absorbing the affection. She smells good too, which is why, when I finally step out of the bathroom, the contrast in smell hits me more forcefully than ever. The smell comes from my disgusting apartment. I usually don’t notice its filthiness, out of habit, but right now I do. The odor is floating around the room, probably coming from the rotting, moldy, shriveled-up, empty half melon on a tray on the floor near the TV. There is nothing, in terms of rotting food, that gives as strong a smell as melon. I look at the floor and see that there are also shrunken avocado skins, remainders of frozen dinners, piles of dirty plates, empty yogurt containers, and Kleenexes: used, dirty tissues sprinkled over everything. But nothing quite matches the rotting melon.

My apartment has always been this way. About once a year, I decide to clean everything. It takes me at least a week, and the neatness lasts two weeks at the most. But on the whole I love adding to the messiness. I revel in it. When I want to get to my radiator to turn the heat on or off, I have to walk over piles of magazines, and when I do, I sometimes hear something break under my feet. I don’t even bother to look under the magazine to see what it was. Probably a cassette box. Or maybe something more valuable.

I am like this in other aspects of my life as well. Like with my body. I trash my body. I don’t do one grain of exercise. Ever. When I go to the supermarket, I walk through the aisles, picking up everything that will make me feel the sickest, make me the ugliest, and kill me the quickest, like bacon, Oreos, eggs, butter, ice cream, potato chips; I rack my brain to come up with even more evil things to buy. And after I have finished gorging myself on the poison, I look under my nails, and I see the brown of the chocolate, the orange of the barbecue-flavored potato chips, and their salt, and their grease, and I think:
Good, now I really feel like a bum.

Recently I have tried to figure out why I am this way, and I have come up with an answer that seems logical. The answer is that being this way allows me to have the following thoughts: No wonder my life sucks: I am like a bum. No wonder my social life sucks and I barely know anyone. It’s because my apartment is too gross for me to invite anyone over. No wonder not too many people like me: I have a white, skinny, unhealthy, flabby body that turns people off. Not only that, but the food I eat is so lacking in nutrition that I never have any energy to do anything, and I’m always blacking out and feeling as though I’m going to faint. Half dead.

The few times I tried to shape up in every way, I became more depressed than ever, because there was no reason anymore for my life to be horrible, and yet it was.

I get undressed and look at myself in the mirror. I’m not the type of man who can look at himself naked in a mirror, be startled, and say, “I haven’t looked at myself in so long that my reflection is a shock to me. I hadn’t realized that I had grown so old, or fat, or thin, or whatever.”

I know very well what I look like, but now I’m looking at myself through
her
eyes, the eyes of the painter of nude men. I look like a worm. Like a louse. Like a... What are those worms that crawl on dead bodies? A... maggot. Yeah, that’s what I look like. Jeremy the maggot. I have a pale, weak, flabby, thin hut at the same time chubby body. I’m frightened about posing.

I tell myself to see fat. See fat in the mirror. I see it. Enormous stomach, butt, and thighs, crawling with stretch marks. See fat. You are not fat.

I am of average height, average weight. My eyes are the color of shit. My hair is the color of shit. You know, the average. My face is the most average face in the world. You forget it the moment you see it.

Can work be done in four days on this maggot body of mine? We are Tuesday today. Can an improvement be made by Saturday, 6:00 p.m.? A tan. I could get a tan. I could build muscles. I could go on a diet. I could take steroids. I could... That’s all I could do. No, there’s one more thing. I go to my bedroom.

I have a little ivory elephant, which I keep on my night table in a gray felt pouch. If there’s ever something I want very badly, I take out the little white elephant, hold it tight in my hand, and make a wish on it. This may sound retarded, and I agree completely: it is, if you don’t know the details.

Unlike normal people, I never got over my childhood obsession with magic. And I have a very good reason for that. When I was eleven, something happened to me that should never happen to children because it can mess up their minds forever.

That summer, at the beach, I found an ivory elephant in the sand. A gold loop stuck out of its back. It was a pendant. I was rather pleased.

I sat on a sandy hill and decided I would test the white elephant for magic powers, something I did about twenty times a day, with any object I happened to come across, perhaps because my mother was not religious and I was not brought up religiously. In fact, I was gently discouraged from getting interested in religion. I recall asking her, when I was nine, whether I could start attending Sunday school with my friends. She answered, “What would you prefer, to attend Sunday school or get a guitar?” I said a guitar, of course, but was a bit disappointed nevertheless. I was never even baptized, but I’m not complaining; I like it that way. However, I suppose most people crave belief in the supernatural in one form or another. Personally, I prefer to believe in little objects rather than in a big blurry thing. It’s more original, if nothing else.

Despite their originality, my experiments never worked, so I went about testing the objects mechanically, without any real hope, which is how I proceeded that day, sitting on the sandy hill. I wanted to get this compulsive chore over with, so I held the elephant in my right fist and thought to it halfheartedly: If you are magic, I make a wish that when I put my hand in the sand, there will be a quarter.

I wearily put my left hand in the sand, at my side, and there was a quarter. I raised it to my face and stared at it, while a hurricane of chills coursed through my body. And the thought I kept repeating to myself, was: I
knew
magic existed! I
knew
it. You
see,
I was
right,
I knew it all along.

And then I thought: This is incredible. I will not tell anyone. I will not make another wish right away. I must think, first, what to do, how to go about it. I don’t want to ruin it.

I was not able to wait more than ten minutes before making another wish, to test it again. I don’t remember what my second wish was, but it did not come true, and neither did any wish after that. I also wished on the quarter, on the chance the elephant had transferred its powers to it. But it had not. For a few months I kept both the quarter and the elephant sacredly, and then I neglected the quarter. I don’t know what became of it, hut I never lost the elephant. Could you imagine losing such a thing!

So that explains my long-term psychological damage. The coincidence of finding a quarter under the sand on a beach, right where you put your fingers after having made a wish to find one, that coincidence is so enormous, how can it not mess you up?

The result is that after all these years, I still keep my little white elephant on my night table and often make wishes on it before I go to sleep. These elephant wishes never come true, except maybe one in fifty, by coincidence, and those are the easy general wishes. Sometimes I wish on other curious objects that happen to strike my fancy, hoping I might find another source of magic, but those wishes don’t come more true than the elephant ones.

Right now, sitting on my bed, I take the elephant out of its gray felt pouch, hold it tight in my fist, close my eyes, and think: If you are magic, I make a wish that Lady Henrietta finds me good-looking when I pose for her. In fact, I want her to find me the most beautiful man she has ever seen, and I want her to fall in love with me, if she hasn’t already.

I breathe deeply, squeeze the elephant, and add: Please.

I open my eyes, and methodically put the elephant back in its pouch.

Making wishes on the elephant is emotionally dangerous, because inevitably one’s hopes rise abnormally high, unhealthily high, and when the wish does not come true, one’s high hopes get crushed more painfully than if one had not asked for the help of supernatural powers. Therefore, one should always try to make the wish casually and forget about it instantly after making it, which is what I try to do now.

I make an appointment in a tanning salon for eight o’clock that night. In the meantime, I do push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches, and I invent many other types of movements and exercises. People say that God helps those who help themselves. In my case, I suppose I should say the elephant helps those who help themselves. I will make it, I tell myself, while I’m sweating, hurting, pushing myself to the limit and beyond. I have never hurt myself so much. This is a new me, a me who can hurt himself, who can endure any pain to achieve a goal, the goal of love, the love of Lady Henrietta, the painter of nude men. I decide to exercise, diet, and tan every evening until Saturday. I’ll even have sex with Charlotte if she wants. It’ll be additional exercise.

 

“C
an you come for dinner at seven-thirty tonight, honey?” Charlotte asks me on the phone the following day at work.

BOOK: Nude Men
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