The raven-coiffed jaguar was grinning one of those devilish grins, the sort of mysterious smile that probably lured a thousand warriors to their doom back when real jaguars prowled the jungles.
"Mmm...hmm... now what are you two hotties doing down here all alone, besides being hot?"
"Heh, well, she's the hottie. But she's twice as hot, enough for the both of us."
"Oh trust me. If you were a gay man, you'd know how much of a hottie you really are."
I sat up as straight as I could, sucked in my gut and suddenly felt, for some reason, like Rock Fucking Hudson. Mr. Jaguar's compliment yanked me up by my emotional bootstraps.
"Man, that's the nicest compliment anybody's given me in a long time. Thanks, dude."
I have no clue why, exactly, I felt so down on myself. No fucking clue. But, sometimes, well, it's better to not dwell on such things, to just appreciate a gay man calling you a hottie.
I was clutching a cold Red Needle, that favorite tequila - and - cranberry elixir that I sometimes use to keep up my will to live on long Mondays and extended weekend hangovers.
Yes, I was working, at eight at night on a Monday, off-the-clock, boozy condensation oozing from between my fingers, helping a friend come up with plot elements and character sketches for her children's book.
The absolute last person anyone would ever trust with the literary well-being or educational development of middle school children.
But, well, part of being a librarian, the most important part, is to play the role of Muse, to simply be a flashlight in the intellectual dark - even if he's the least-qualified flashlight for the job.
And sometimes, being a good librarian means that one is forced - FORCED - to sit in a cold basement on a Monday night, all alone, with quite possibly the hottest schoolteacher in the history of Ohio, drinking good booze and waiting for the read-back as that teacher scribbles away a draft onto old-school looseleaf.
Oh, how I suffer some days here in Oxford Fucking Ohio for my profession.
How Melvil Fucking Racist Misogynist Dewey must weep at my suffering, from his fiery director's desk in Hell's library.
It's a hard life, really.
* * * *
"My God, those girls! They really do dress like whores these days, don't they?"
Mrs. Thang sipped her wine and held out her cigarette. Out came my ol' Zippo and, within mere seconds, I had flame in her face, beneath that Virginia Slim.
Despite being a nonsmoking room, her room, well, she wasn't about to let the Goddamn State of Ohio tell her where we were allowed and not allowed to smoke. I lit up my Marlboro, flipped the lighter shut, and poured myself another glass of wine. We were on our second bottle.
I joined her in staring out of the hotel window, down onto the street. For some reason, I failed to see the supposed whoredom of undergraduate females. Just a normal night in Oxford, in a college town full of brave little girls who dress in Manolo heels to go drink Natural Light.
I did, however, notice her daughter crossing the street below us, towards a black SUV filled with other undergraduates. Mrs. Thang's daughter had claimed she'd wanted to stay and chat with ol' Mom, but, well...
C'mon. What college first-year has ever wanted to hang out with parents when there's a party to be had?
"My God, my daughter looks like a whore! She's starting to act that way, too. [Paris] was like that, wasn't she? You know, I'm afraid all my children will grow up shallow-"
Mrs. Thang hiccuped and almost fell forward into the glass. She grabbed the industrial-strength drapes for balance. She was drunk as a skunk.
"Nah, she seems like a good kid. This really is normal for a freshman in this town these days."
Mrs. Thang, relieved, slid down into a chair and handed me her glass. As I was pouring her the last of the bottle, she explained that in her day, when she was a spry Local U. student, no woman would be caught dead after dark in such skimpy outfits. According to her, well, how I dress these days is how she used to dress - jeans and a teeshirt. The old American standby is, and shall forever remain, the penultimate in laissez-faire chic.
And how the men just loved her in this town, way back then, in Oxford Fucking Ohio. She didn't date the fashionable, the trendy, fake-ass, jet-setter boys, either. She dated men, professors - yes, even faculty! - when she was her middle child's age. She wrote poetry in my library, danced naked in living rooms, and rode old men and artists and musicians like camels through the Sinai for four wondrous years.
Well, chica, I said, times change. Hell, Higher Ed's changed so much since even I was in college - and back then, heh, [Paris] and I...
I couldn't bring myself to say ... were together. We were never really together. We fucked. We didn't talk, didn't socialize, or, well, even get along outside of sweating, panting, and screwing. I hated her friends, actually, and would rather shove live scorpions up my ass than ever, ever be in such a soul-sucking situation ever again.
...since we, ya know...
Mrs. Thang scrunched up her face for a moment, then giggled. For the record, most mothers really do get a kick out of making their eldest child's exes suffer, even momentarily.
I handed back her glass and proposed a toast, an obscenity-laced, marginally intoxicated curse upon all of the shallow-ass bitches and their sexy-ass mothers in this town tonight. Mrs. Thang laughed as we clinked our glasses together.
It may have been the wine talking, the warm glow of the room's lights, or merely the evening's rather burlesque conversation topics, but, suddenly, Mrs. Thang ceased to be an merely an old acquaintance in town visiting her alma mater and her daughter.
She was, well, looking kinda hot. A woman my own mother's age was... wow. Those Pilates course were... wow. I sat down on the edge of the bed and tried my damnedest to visualize something other than what Mrs. Thang's rather flattering, tight, black sweater would feel like in my hands, what was beneath that all of that restrictive cotton...
"Are you really Jason _______? Noooo. Wow. You really grew up to be a smart sexy thing. Whew."
She reached over as if, well, as if she were reaching for my arm. She stopped and mumbled something about how that gay dude's hottie assessment, the same Mr. Jaguar I'd told her about from the previous night, was right.
"Jason, dear, you keep doing those chin-ups... Wow... Those arms are getting..."
She scrunched up her face again. The wine, yes, it was the wine that made me notice, for the first time all evening, that she was wearing a thong beneath her slacks...
"...If you fuck another daughter of mine, I'll tear your balls off."
She smiled. It was another one of those jaguar smiles.
After we'd said goodbye and had gingerly exchanged a rather quick, awkward hug, I left for those same streets below, the ones filled with normal Local U. women who are, sometimes, accused of dressing like whores by their own mothers.
I realized, walking back to my apartment, that I'm a lot like the old men some of those same mothers used to ride like camels in this town when they were but youthful undergrads, after poetry readings and folk concerts.
There's something dangerous in such thoughts.
* * * *
Early Saturday morning, hours before sunrise, I found myself taking a stroll through Oxford, alone and blissfully chilled like a pint of beer. Alone with my thoughts, my brain setting its own rhyme and meter to the rise and fall of the lungs in my chest, I could've walked to Cincinnati and back, a good 30 miles, without even being conscious of such a feat.
The sound of my cowboy boots clicking off the wet asphalt served as twilight's only soundtrack. An omnipotent fog stood in as the town's watchman, guarding every inch of every corner and crevice, from the ground all the way up to the bottom branches of the maples and sycamores and oak trees that line the streets.
I stopped at a nondescript intersection, in one of the more modern parts of town - apartment buildings outnumbered the houses, the houses themselves more one-story ranchers than 19th century Victorian in design. I was fumbling through my pockets, hoping beyond all hope that I hadn't lost my Zippo...
I don't know why I looked up. Maybe some glare from her wine bottle, or maybe the faint sound of someone singing - wailing like a banshee in heat, actually - a Melissa Etheridge tune into the night.
But there she was, naked up there in the window, a nude Athena, a fleshy statue of stripped feminine artwork framed in Plexiglas and vinyl siding.
Oblivious to what the world below would think of her naked flesh, white and yet strangely glowing in silhouette, backlit by unseen flickering candles, she just stood there singing into that empty wine bottle.
I almost felt ashamed for staring, even for a minute, until I reminded myself that anyone who strips and shimmies and shakes in front of a bay window is obviously hoping for some sort of audience. I've dated enough strippers in my life to recognize an exhibitionist when I see one...
Such a wondrous thing, the body of woman. How hips and lips and other parts just seem to flow together like strokes from a paintbrush. Things like weight and height, body proportions and breast sizes and the flatnesses of asses, cease to hold any meaning when the clothes are stripped away in the middle of the night. Men, alas, just aren't built that way - at least, well, from my perspective.
Athena noticed, yes, that she had an audience, that the performance of mysterious goddess in the sky had earned her the attention of a mere mortal below.
She stopped for a moment, pressed her face and breasts to the glass, squinted.
And then she smiled, waved, and went right back to singing along to her Melissa Etheridge recordings, as if every woman in the world were as comfortable with their own nudity as she obviously was with hers.
The best performance art pieces are always the ones where the artist cares not what the audience thinks, where the artist is driven by madness and the quaking, shaking passions of their own invisible Muse.
Critics be damned. And so, too, the audience.
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