We're flying Aeroflot, we're flying Aeroflot
Vodka on ice, and a hostess who's witty"--Ron Mael
I think I'll revisit the notions of long-lost lust and longing. Let's talk about crushes made of the thinnest gossamer.
During a trip to St. Petersburg, when a guide was taking us to things about the Siege during World War Two, for a free lance article my wife later wrote, we stopped for a break at the obligatory shop with the chess sets and the dolls that fit into larger dolls that fit into larger dolls.
The shop attendants all struck me because they seemingly fit the same mold--twenty four year old reedy-thin, gorgeous, mildly literary-looking, smiling women with impeccable English skills and just the slightest air of suppressed flirtation. It's as though they stepped out of a mail order catalog for prospective brides who will move to America, raise children and live the Stepford life, wanting nothing more than to be able to attend PTA meetings and drive a Chevrolet in the United States, not to mention given to saying things like "I feel so lucky to have this life with you" in barely accented English. In short, they were either "too good to be true" or "too frightening for words", depending on one's point of view.
I still am puzzled why the chess set I saw at the display differed from the defective "some pieces won't stand up straight on the board" set that somehow made it onto the plane home. As I had nearly the same experience once in an import shop in New Orleans, I must assume that chess sets just warp a bit from the time of purchase to the time of placement in the box for transit.
I'm thinking this morning about fantasies about women, who are the people I am generically attracted to, as opposed to the realities about people in general. I remember until the time I was sixteen having this perfect fantasy about what the "ideal girl" would look and act like. She would have short, dark hair, in one of those elven cuts favored in that 70s time. She would have an alto voice, with a trace of seduction hidden in the down to earth earthiness. She would be an outdoors person without being quite a workout maven. She would be bright but non-neurotic. She would be....perfect.
Then we moved to a new town when I was 16. I know the annals of history are filled with people who had to move to a new town in the middle of high school, and the tales of dire woe that ensued. Although I loved (and perhaps even slightly preferred) my old high school, I enjoyed new experiences and making new friends in a new town. Also, I got to meet Her. You know, the woman of my teen fantasy. I got to meet Jennifer. I should say, rather, she was in my classes. I'm never sure I knew her at all. But if my imagination's wild castings had come even the slightest bit true, Jennifer would have no doubt been my own personal Arkansas equivalent of a Russian mail order bride.
Jennifer looked just like the Perfect Woman I always pictured. She played on the tennis team, she had a voice that aged a 16-year old listener into a sophisticated man, complete with tuxedo and an eye for sin. She had eyes that conveyed more intelligence than the entire set of worksheets in the class that for one semester was sociology, and for another semester was psychology. Without meaning to insult any of my intellectual friends pursuing fields of serious study, I have always, by the way, felt that all that humankind knew about sociology and psychology could pretty much be fit into one semester high school modules, featuring "fill in the blanks" worksheets.
Jennifer's principal gift was that she spoke in a low, deep voice that sounded so intelligent and seductive, but nobody ever, really, understood a word that she said. She dated, of course, the high school star football running back, a man who, as some sports guys do, used all the discipline he learned in high school being trampled on by obese boys in plastic pads turning himself in college into a real student, and attending pharmacy school. But like kids are at that age, he liked to pretend he was a bit less bright than he truly proved to be.
I remember, once, his laughing description how he sat behind Jennifer in Chemistry class, and spent his times not listening to the elemental tables, but instead figuring out ways to unhook his amour's bra strap "from the outside" of her blouse. It's so hard being a teen with a crush. Here I wanted to exchange three words with her, no doubt then crescendo-ing into deep meaningful discussions and explorations of our inner souls of romantic longing, and yet the man who actually did spend his Friday evenings with her wanted to discuss causing her discomfit in class with all who would listen. Don't get me wrong--I knew him a bit in college, and he was not a bad fellow at all. But it's hard sometimes to imagine a love worthy of Percy Bysshe Shelley and to discover that one's intended has in mind someone more like Knute Rockne.
But my longing continued unabated. Never mind that Jennifer and I never exchanged three words, really, other than "hi", "how are you", and the like. When I'd walk down the high school hallways, I'd see Jennifer and her football star tucked away behind the lockers. She'd lean back against the wall, in a knee-length skirt and a button-up blouse, and look deep into his eyes, and it seemed to me he must be the most lucky man in the universe.
Over time, I discovered that every thinking man I knew in high school or college had three secret crushes--Martha Quinn the MTV veejay, the girl next door whom we wished would come on over and play; Felicity Kendall, the British actress who made the lightweight Britcom "The Good Neighbors" seem somehow more intimate than "I am Curious--Chartreuse"; and Jennifer. Thank goodness I never told Jennifer that I had this secret longing--on the one hand, she would have never imagined how I could come to have that longing, not knowing her really, at all. On the other hand, to tell her I had a crush would have merely been to say "hey Jennifer, I'm one of the 100 guys in your high school class who would marry you tomorrow, if you'd just say I do".
In every gaggle of high school kids, there's always one woman who is the unsung intellect of the class--attractive and yet somehow not popular, down to earth and yet given to flights of amazing fancy. She tends to be friends with guys like me and my friend Tim, who are, like Daria, doomed not to live our truest lives until high school is long over. Our set's singularly cool and insightful person was Judy. Judy had grown up with Jennifer, and knew those insights into her inner soul that only being a fellow Brownie can provide. She marveled, bemused, that all boys had amazing crushes on Jennifer. It's not that she disliked her, it's just that she knew those little phrases Jennifer said almost under her breath, which we imagined to be passionate whispers straight from a French film. She assured us that what they really were was little editorial comments about the teacher's teaching method or something silly a fellow classmate did or said--the oral equivalent of those silly notes that people passed around in eighth grade. In other words, Jennifer was no more mysterious than the rest of us--she just had a husky, quiet, sexy voice. Here we imagined that 1001 tales of fantasy tripped from her lips, when in fact she may well have been decrying cafeteria food or the way our assistant principal always looked like an assistant coach. Rather than "Midnight at the Oasis", we should have been thinking "just another high school teen" On the other hand, of course, Judy really did think great thoughts and empower the souls of wit and reason, not to mention look like an unpretentious dream and have incredibly strong values--but she was married far too early, before any of us had the good sense to ask her out. Teenage boys, I am sorry to report, are the intellectual equivalent of pet rocks.
But I think, sometimes, of these translucent, smiling girls in one's life. The light passes right through their skin, and illuminates your future. One meets someone with an eager smile, and a lithe figure. In one's single days, one begins to construct improbable mental images of deeply passionate kisses or even of a fast forward to family settings, complete with 2.2 children (of course, the .2 child never alters the would be beloved's waistline). If you look into unclouded brown eyes with just the right devotion, you can see your future, in some alternative universe you'll never visit. In that future, the only personal obsession that your intended has is the obsession with your physical grace (although, in fact, you generally only dance the pogo, and then only if the music is Plastic Bertrand or "1999"). In that future, there are no tears (but a few notes of ecstasy), no arguments (other than "I want you home with me tonight!", fervently spoken), and no doubt or uncertainty.
Even in times of married bliss, I see such a woman and smile that little smile that one smiles, because one has seen the forms which Plato kept babbling about, and that form has a reality more significant than the actual world one perceives. It's not a desire thing, exactly, it's more a "I have dreamed" kind of thing.
I remember once Dallas had a short-lived edition of New York's Rizzoli bookstore. In that bookstore a deeply tanned girl who had her blonde-streaked hair permed in the look fashionable in that time--a kind of nod to post-punk combined with a half-glance at Vogue Magazine. She wore dresses that cried out dirndl, but in a good way. She managed to look both vaguely eastern European and yet somehow a kind of dark English rose, all at the same time. She had a figure, though I was far too infatuated to stare. I used to love to ask about whether they had a book because I loved that quiet, deep voice speaking. At 24, I wanted her to marry me. But my hope for impending nuptials never led me to ask her name. Now I wonder, of course, who would spend the time she must have spent on coiffing herself as the archetypal "rich literary babe who works at the NY bookstore". I assume, without knowing, really, that she was another girl from our wealthy suburb, Highland Park, slumming it at the mall in between semesters at SMU. But who knows? Maybe she is the muse that inspires the novel some other lucky man or woman wrote.
I really don't know what to make of the silliness of boys and men, and of those translucent visions. All the women I've actually had relationships were bright, complicated people who have all the requisite neuroses and deep-seated kindnesses,and who never dated a football player in their lives. Those Helen of Troy images of women unmet, but not undreamed about, are not quite so paltry and objectified as my poor qualities of description here allow. But they're like paintings by landscape artists. "So beautiful, but could that really be Texas? It don't look like Texas. It ain't right, somehow. But ain't it purty?"
I think that it's good to analyze everything, but some things, after analysis, just "are". I'll run across a dream and a promise here and there, blue eyes fixed on mine, a voice thanking me for buying a book or opening a door. But I don't need any new promises--I'm booked up already. As for dreams? They come unbidden, but they don't stay. They're just translucent things--light through a prism, as bright and appealing as a charming stranger's smile.