[an excerpt]

Bart Plantenga

On a scrap of paper in the Centre Pompidou bibliotheque I wrote: “lactophilia is arousal caused by lactating breasts. It is sometimes viewed as a form of female ejaculation. Some women squeeze the breast until it lactates upon their own bodies where they lick it up themselves. This also constitutes a form of arousal akin to masturbation. Some connoisseurs are even known to mix it with cream or wine.”

I wandered from there in a daze, half-heartedly playing my daily game of guess where the tourists are from. The Italians are always rapidly passing sights and all talking at once, wearing folded powder-colored sweaters draped around their shoulders or tied around their waists. The Japanese huddle close to one another like they’re coagulating into a rugby scrum, taking their photos and posing stock still and stiff in front of monuments they don’t even bother to make note of. The Americans [of course not all, so obviously not you], with their centers of gravity thrown askew by ballast issues, have allowed their walking function to atrophy, as if their legs and feet were those of someone else, so that they look like children stumbling along in bulky sport shoes they were told were good for walking, their steps pixilated with uncertainty mid-air [the cobblestones give them trouble and they suddenly yearn for the vast paved parking lots of their Midwestern K-Marts], sadly hobbling into one perplexity after another, unsure of what to make of anything, especially the very invention of walking.

It had to be Frank, in all of his distinctive Tom Waits hobo élan, who observed that Americans were “like E.T.s nurturing the tragedy of their pedantically clichéd need to always project the satisfaction and happiness that comes with perpetual convenience. Convenience is king and this monarchy is killing them from inside out.” I wrote it down as he was saying it so it’s not made up or anything. I would later use it in a prose piece as if they were my very own words.

I ended up in the quartiers around Republique and Bastille, where I gazed into the dark colloirs, remembering Winnie, flickering images of her many orgasms, her unusual ways of trying to touch the darkness, you know, like not quite hysterical but very kinetically able to unhinge with that determined look of someone trying to loosen a rusty screw, able to dismount from reality with a certain demeanor that comes only with riding lessons with a crop and a knobbed equestrian helmet, a thin residue of perspiration from nape to Adam’s apple smelling better than the first hints of summer rain.

And I seem to remember something about a one-person photography exhibit with one large grainy photo of my likeness dressed as King Dick [don’t ask]. And I’d ceaselessly relive her warmth, her wild lips, her last forays into total abandon before she settled into her perplexingly obscure area of Canada not famous for anything where she turned to that eventual something else, some function as an office administrator for some acronym that means nothing to no one. No, I don’t ever want to see her again. I wanted to remember her flushed face with that satisfied smirk. I had learned my lesson from seeing Humbert Humbert’s face when he went to visit Lolita and saw what mundane Midwestern life had done to her.

And then I’d quickly dash in and check into Paris Patois to pick up the new issue and see if they could shut me up by just paying me or even just promising to do so. Receptionist Rozie Grier – always one for any alliance that could take even a few drops of piss out of the editorial honchos – leaned across her desk: “I’m outa here in 2 weeks; can’t stand this place. A combo of useless busyness, boredom and cultural pretention is a killer.” Oh, and she almost forgot, “someone” had called, left a message for me.

“Uh.” She had to check the stack of crumpled messages in the cubbyhole reserved for temps, freelancers, transients and migrant office interns.

“Uh… one Barney Rosset.”


“I dunno. Maybe yesterday or a week ago. Why?”

“Why didn’t anybody tell me?”

“You’re not staff.”

“Yeah, but I thought we were mates…”

“I didn’t take the message or I woulda. No, honest.”

“Rosset is the Grove and Olympia Press publisher of Henry Miller, defender of D.H. Lawrence. Come on, I mean, Beckett, Genet, Burroughs. I mean, maybe he called to see if I wanted to join the pantheon – ha-ha, fat chance, but still, how’d he track me down this far I wonder …”

The note said he was in Paris, in a hotel bar. He wanted to talk. To me! and I thought: here’s my moment! I’d recently read a profile of him in some weekly – was it the Soho Weekly? – sent to me by a NY pal. The article had detailed how he’d found one wife who became his secretary at Billy’s Topless in NY. I too had found my first wife in Billy’s and I thought this coincidence would certainly cement our friendship, our literary partnership because you and I both know that coincidence borders on mystical. In the article, if I remember correctly, he also stated he was looking for provocative new/young writers – like me. ME! To be precise. ME!

“Can I use the phone?”

“Be quick. You know Robert and non-business calls.” As I dialed, I thought how best to take the Metro home, retrieve my manuscript – or whatever you call a pile of unnumbered pages that only has the vaguest resemblance to a plot and if the pages were to get reordered by chance and untidiness it might lead to surreal literary provocation or confusion – and then I’d have to head down here or wherever Rosset was at… When I reached the hotel’s reception desk, the man on the other end politely answered: “Bonjour L’Hôtel D’Alsace. Puis-je vous aider?”

Flustered and hyperventilating I said: “Yes, I really want to speak to Barney Rosset, monsieur.” [Echo of – how the hell does this happen? – the Beastie Boys: “I want to speak to Cookypuss man!”]

“Dew yew have ze room number?”

“No, put Barney on.” He put me on hold and a minute later he was back, “Monsieur Bargh-knee Rosette, he check out many days ago – seven. I am sorry.”

“He’s a long gone daddy,” no characteristic Hank Williams yodel. Just a deflated moan as I handed her the phone.

Tant Pis!” Too bad is right.

I stood on a bridge looking down into the Canal St. Martin. I sat on a park bench marveling at how they’d distilled my story – the original count was 957 words and I sat and counted – down to 281. A hot story about the latest paint actions by furieux artists reacting to the recent clamp down on grafitti had been transformed into a lukewarm profile of the galerie that had hosted the work of the street artists wearing bandanas covering their faces, which would hopefully coax a quarter-page ad out of the dame. The phrases, the words did not even seem to be mine [a later text analysis revealed that of the 281 remaining words only 143 were words I had actually used in the original] and portrayed her as an up-and-coming stylemaker. And – voilá – there it was on the next page, an ad for the Galerie Bidule.

[It would be ten years later, before I discovered that the Hotel D’Alsace in St. Germain-des-Prés, was an elegant sleaze hole where Thomas Wolfe, Marlon Brando and Borges had lived and where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde both died.]

I dug up Kirs’s old letter she had written, she said, in Dojo’s, scented with patchoulli and what I perceived as that smell of drunken perspiration. That’s how her letters smelled. Like she’d rubbed them against her sweaty Brooklyn contours before sealing the envelope. I kept these letters in a plastic bag in a hole I discovered behind the clothes closet door trim – discretion is the better part of survival when you are living with someone you have been calling your lover. It is into this hollow that I’d periodically reach to carry a letter with me and on occasions like this, reread portions of one – so much wisdom therein that her Kirs’s life was overshadowed by these words and she suffered from being totally unable to live up to all this wisdom she managed to write down. The wisdom sat like heavy clouds on every horizon of her life. But nonetheless, in one letter she’d written: “Old Balkan proverb: ‘The fish stinks from the head first.’”

Now I’m deep inside myself and this can be bad: I walk along Rue Amelot and see it the way Henry Miller painted it: using pages torn from water damaged copies of his books as my guide: Night after night I had been coming back to this quarter, attracted by certain leprous streets which only revealed their sinister splendor when the light of day had oozed away … Sauntering down the boulevard I had noticed her verging toward me … In a few moments we were in a 5F room on Rue Amelot, the curtains drawn and the covers tossed back. She didn’t rush things … She sat on the bidet, soaping herself and talked to me pleasantly …

As I walk I read through Kirs letter – it all seemed so real to me like I was a priest hearing confession:

I dig up old photos of you and lay them like stepping stones across the floor. They never lead anywhere … On my way to college I wore a lizard in my ear. My hair was blue before blue was the thing to do. I signed all my college forms and papers with an X as in Electrolux. I was somebody but nobody paid it any mind – oh, yeah, there were a couple of new wave homos. I wore dresses made of cardboard to lectures and intro classes … I had funny Dada ideas but everybody just thought I was retarded … My ideas have never been the bricks in any wall. My ideas are always about pulling bricks out. Seeing how many you can pull out before the wall collapses … I hated my roommate because she was so conventional and she refused to see how this was killing her. My roommate saw me masturbate (but not the images – some of you!! – I was masturbating to). She called me an immoral slob and reported me to housing. I was on the verge of losing my bed and my head. I got an off-campus job as a strip-o-gram stripper. I know you said you were one but maybe the gay kind or was it also straight!?!?! There’s so much I don’t know about you. If I know more will it lead me closer to or further away from you? I did an easy week of stripping for Bible-toting Moose old cigar men who fart with gusto and have all had heart bypass operations as a result of bad eating habits. Then one Saturday night I did a frat house, a self-proclaimed animal house and I was raped. Not only raped but pissed on and jacked off on. I am wondering what to do. The mere fact of having had this job calls my reputation into question. I mean I was just trying to make ends meet by not waitressing for once. I know some of them are the future leaders of some of America’s corporations and law firms. I saved the outfit, it’s friggin weird, I was wearing something that looked like a beer keg. I saved it for evidence. I had another that made me look like take-out food. But now two months have gone by and I want to just get back to normal. Needless to say, I dropped out and I’m living back at home with my parents…

I saw Kirs everywhere late in the Brassaï night with its gossamer brouillard (ed: fog) lit from within by some unidentified source, draped over the big chunks of narcotic dark. I wandered until exhaustion crept up on me and doubts began to let go. I should go out with her to hunt the perps down. I should. I have to write back. I pull the bottle of vin ordinaire from my coat pocket and offer the streetlights a toast. In all my new found buoyancy I am for a split second one with them.

You and I glance into a vitrine d’un magasin and in the flicker of your – or is it my? – twitchy, squinting eye you catch a floating languid wraith of man who whispers through the seive of an unsettlingly mild smile as we shuffle through the swirl of crisp, crackling, elm leaves: “Your Kirs is not unlike the most extraordinary woman I ever met, J.M., who opened me up to the avant-garde; she knew sensuality without speaking its name, the center of any storm, all set inside this story of the light in Paris where she is spewing five-franc pieces out of her cunt – no, I don’t have photos – and there are wild chickens running around, a fantastic, crazy, mad period during which I lost her.” I offer him a sip from the bottle, which he accepts.

“There was no one who could replace her, which was so catastrophic it set my life of liberation in motion.” And then he was gone.

I was forced to be amazing, if only for a second, shambling, neither ghost nor star. Not lost, not found, wondering if anyone has dreams with me walking around inside them; the same women who I walk around with in my walking dreams; and when these dreams cross paths do we recognize one another?

Bart Plantenga is the author of Beer Mystic, Wiggling Wishbone, Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man, Paris Scratch, and NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air since 1986 in NYC (WFMU), Paris (Radio Libertaire) and Amsterdam, where he lives and hopes with partner Nina and daughter Paloma Jet.