The night hundreds of men kissed me was also the night I slept in the bed of one of the wealthiest men in the world.
Both adventures descended upon me as a college student from the American heartland. Far from home for the first time, my long legs, barely covered by tiny skirts and black tights, carried me confidently through the streets and into the lecture halls of Cambridge University. For my short life, my family’s love and the courtesy of Midwesterners protected me. Now, while my open gaze, wide gestures and long strides may have bemused the residents of this university town, their sense of class consciousness and button-downed reserve protected me just as effectively.
Here’s another of those sketches I wrote while living in Paris back in the 1980’s. (The previous ones were April in Paris and The Men of Paris.
I didn’t get much sleep last night thinking about
Have you ever stopped to consider underwear in the
When you really dig into it
some shocking problems are raised
Underwear is something we all have to deal with
some kind of underwear….
From the poem, Underwear, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
What kind of underwear people do, or don’t wear never used to interest me much. Until I went to the Club Gymnase in Paris. Three times weekly, after my aerobics class, I find myself jammed into a steamy room with sweating women from a culture very different from my own. What’s the biggest difference between them and me?
Their undergarments. No, I correct myself. That utilitarian word, undergarment, doesn’t work here at all. Their lingerie.
Frothy bits of lace for bras. Low cut or sheer, black, red, or pink. Panties that always coordinate with the bra, little ruffled bits cut high on the hips, or thongs. Satiny camisoles with lace-edged tap pants. Garter belts holding up white lace stockings. Silk. Lots of silk.
Two days after leaving Kinsale I heard my saddest song. Ireland touched me unexpectedly.
My mother’s roots were solidly Norwegian. Her ancestral traditions dominated my childhood. I never gave a thought to the 25 percent of my makeup that’s Irish.
That is, until the day in 2005 I stepped off the plane in Dublin airport. Then every gene fragment in my body that harkened back to one of my two Celtic great grandfathers demanded attention. I was home.
We were so happy, the three of us, perched on our rock outcropping. The simplest of elements scattered around us added up to our happiness; a few empty bottles of Harp, crumbs from a package of Dubliner cheese, the last few slices from a loaf of fresh cottage bread, a couple of apple cores, blooming yellow gorse and fog.
The thick fog obscured any view of the Irish fishing town of Kinsale below us, or any glimpse of the sea spread out to the south. It enclosed us in our companionship. Just the three of us, we sturdy hikers, had reached this point. No one existed but us: Alan, my husband; Reggie, our long-time friend; and me who still, in 2005, occupied that sweet spot of treasured wife and valued friend.
So much love. So much love lost. Where did it all go?
I’m driving home alone after a long summer weekend with friends. I draw up beside a pair of young rebels flying down the pavement on a motorcycle in the lane next to mine, defying the law that requires that they wear helmets. Her girlish arms wrap around his waist, her mouth presses against his ear. His head tilts back toward her, his mouth opens in laughter. Her sun-streaked hair flies out behind her.
I know them.
I know them well.
Georgia and Joe; they are the ghosts of my young love and me the summer after my sophmore year at college.
We streak past tall pines crowded thickly together along the side of the highway. My windows are rolled down. The scent of balsam fills my nostrils.
We slow down as we drive through the towns with French and Native American names; names that caress as they slip through my lips, names that translate as, “The Lake That Speaks,” “Translucent Waters,” and “The Breathing Hole of the Gods.”
We’d bought a map in a little kiosk just off to the left of the iron-gated entrance to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris . Alan, my ex-husband, and I had picked out the names of the honored dead whose monuments we wanted to find; Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer who died disgraced and penniless in Paris, now resting under a striking Art Nouveau monument; Abelard and Heloise, real-life star crossed lovers from the 12th century, separated in death by the walls of their adjoining tombs; Frederic Chopin, the composer of deeply romantic melodies.
Ten years after the incident in New York, surrounded by a different cast of characters and on another continent, I kidnapped my second man.
On a sunny June morning in southern Scotland, Alan, my former husband, our friend Reggie (who wrote One Man’s Viewpoint) and I dropped Reggie’s current squeeze, Rachel, at the gates of an ancient castle for a day of history, antiques and gardens, with a promise to pick her up at the 4 p.m. closing time.
We were intent on more vigorous activity. Our aim was to follow the ancient cattle drover’s trail that Reggie found in a guide book.
We parked our rental car next to a gypsy caravan, found the trail exactly where the book said it would be and headed out.
The same four women have gathered together to celebrate their birthdays for 30 years: Alexandra, Brenda, Cassie and me. We’ve never missed one.
Imagine the lives we’ve shared in our birthday dinner chatter, our tales of businesses started and prospering, wedding plans, divorce proceedings, death, travel to exotic places, new careers and retirement adventures.
We’ve celebrated with casual backyard barbecues, catered dinners at home served on heirloom lace, silver and porcelain. A chef gave us lessons on preparing Indian cuisine in one of our kitchens. We went to the Cirque de Soleil. We skinny dipped in a neighbor’s pool.
For my birthday, for the first time in these 30 years we gathered around a table far from home. The place was the Culinary Institute of America, outside of Calistoga, California. Alexandra and Brenda ordered from the menu, but Cassie and I surrendered ourselves into the hands of the student chefs by ordering from the four course, prix fixe menu with wine pairings. Every mouthful of food and every sip of wine aroused my nostrils and titillated every taste bud as it all rolled over my tongue and down my throat.
This is me, about to dig into the fourth course at the Culinary Institute of America
We were predators, Alexandra and I, leaning on the copper bar, me sipping my fresh lime margarita, she sipping her Anchor Steam beer. Our eyes hungrily scanned the room, taking in the group of men standing to my right, the group of men standing to her left and the people seated at tables around us.
“Ah, the Vixen Divorcee is out to get picked up,” you’re thinking as you read this. While this might be a natural assumption, you would be wrong to think it. I’ve never picked up anyone in a bar and am not about to start now.
No, Alexandra and I were actually hungry. We were specifically hungry for the roasted, organic, free-range chicken salad served at the Zuni Cafe on Market Street in San Francisco. I should qualify that by adding its famously served at Zuni Cafe on Market Street in San Francisco.