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Bursting with desire 

Imagined adventures obscure view of real ones

Fifteen years ago, I took a boat to Greece with my typewriter stuffed in my backpack. My mission was to write a novel packed with insights on female angst regarding sex and other stuff. But mostly sex, because some months earlier I'd read one of those epic romances in which the heroine gets her clothes ripped off and raped every other page, then she ends up falling in love with the man who treats her the crappiest. In these books, the main character always has "ample breasts bursting with desire" and she's always "awash in an unfathomable sea of pleasure," when really she's just being used like a toilet seat by the man camp.

So I was going to write the "anti" of that. Exactly what it would be I didn't know, but I knew I couldn't write it at home. I had to roam, because I thought characters and adventure couldn't be found right in front of you. So off to Greece I went -- Corfu, to be exact -- where immediately I was accosted by two yelling, foul-smelling, greasy-haired hobbits who clutched at me like evil puppies fighting for a chew toy. It turns out these two men were rivaling nightclub owners, and it was common for them to pluck potential customers fresh off the bus like caged roosters waiting for a food pellet.

I was saved from this fracas by a spiky-haired guy named Dax, a charming part-time petty thief who worked the ratty parasailing ride in the lagoon at the bottom of the cliff. We became good friends. He was living out of his sleeping bag on the communal balcony of a nearby villa, and I rented a private room there on the third floor. The villa would have been the perfect place to write if I ever got around to it, but I was too busy being with Dax. He squired me about the island on the back of his rusty Vespa and talked me into consuming copious ouzo shooters and tiny fried squids with the eyeballs and everything still attached.

Then one night he stumbled into my room, drunk. Due to a small act of larceny ("It was just a crate of melons," Dax insisted, "and they were rancid!"), he had to leave the island at sunrise and wanted me to come with him. I told him no, 'cause I had this here book to write, you see, about love and sex and stuff. He stopped swaying for a moment to stare at me intently, then shook his head sadly. I'll always remember exactly that, the shaking of his head sadly. Because you acquire moments in your life that come to signify certain regrets, not the agonizing variety of regret, like the "if only I took the toaster off the edge of the bathtub" range of regret, but the other kind. The nagging little pangs you feel when you look back and wonder what you were thinking.

That morning Dax had tried to comfort me because I'd encountered a crippled man selling fried dough on the beach and -- being the bleeding-heart little plebian that I was -- the sight had left me bereft. "Don't be sad. He loves his life," Dax said of the invalid. "He lives on the beach, doesn't need shoes, eats all the doughnuts he wants ... and on he went, listing all the reasons why this particular person need look no further than the sight in front of him for untold delights.

But my gloom persisted, mostly because later that afternoon I got caught in a fight between nightclub owners again. This time one of them threw a boulder at the other, which hit me instead. It struck my shoulder blade and numbed my right arm all the way to the fingertips. Typing would have been hard if I'd picked that point to get around to it. That's why Dax stole the rancid melons. He'd smashed them onto the courtyard of the nightclub owned by the odious hog who hurt me, taking care not to hit anyone. He'd just wanted to make the floor slippery to hinder any reveling in general and dancing in particular. Afterward, Dax was identified almost immediately, though, by the freckles on his face and bright flames tattooed on both forearms. "Take that," they said he'd hollered as he hurled the melons, "for my friend."

Later, he stood in my room, shaking his head, dismayed that I would pass up true adventure for the sake of a fake one I'd never get around to inventing. After I turned him down, he paced the room a few times, looking ready to argue with me, then picked up his satchel only to throw it down again and fiercely hug me goodbye with his brightly burning arms. He left without another word. At the time I was surprised Dax chose not to quarrel with my conviction, but today I remember precisely the sad shaking of his head, and I realize right then he saw that I was crippled, blind to the sight of untold delights right in front of me.

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