I've seen a lot of naked women in my life

I've seen a lot of naked women in my life
I’ve seen a lot of naked women in my life. But I’ve seen a lot more almost naked women in my life to be honest with you. Would you like to hear about them? If you don’t care to just skip this monograph altogether. If you do, read on.

 Defining our terms first is important, and I thought I would start this discussion there. I don’t think a lubricious expose is called for, so apologies to all the stilted vicarious lechers out there, hoping to eye the cheese, so-to-speak. Neither is a Sontagian discourse on states of undress necessary or required, a sort of Notes on Scamp for those familiar with her work, but I’d like to get a few usages and implications out of the way if I may. First of all, naked is not nude. Burroughs would’ve laughed at Nude Lunch, and Norman Mailer, if you know him at all, would have punched you in the nose if you had derided his masterpiece as The Nude And The Dead. He would have at least threatened you physical harm if you were jokey and condescending, as much as a short-fused 5’4” Jew pugilist wannabe can intimidate.

 Nude is for art, and implies sophistication and a winky, ludic, sentience, and especially of female lithesomeness. Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, is a very bad example, but makes me feel smart for knowing about it, having seen it in the Louvre one time I was passing through Paris on my way to somewhere   else. Or maybe that was Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 But countless examples abound – Manet’s Olympia and Dejeuner sur l’herbe; Modigliani’s Red Nude with her long neck elegant; The Birth of Venus by Botticelli despite the flowing throw of cooperative angel hair – you get the picture. Or was it Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon I saw in the Louvre that time? Can’t remember, but I do remember he himself called it Le bordello d’Avignon.

 Unclothed, underdressed, scantily clad, deshabille, starkers – I could go on, but I think the crucial distinctions are intent and attitude, sometimes separate, but usually all of a piece. I’ve known a lot of sullen but exquisite strippers, and at least a couple of ludic and licentious artist models. So there’s no hard and fast rules when it comes right down to it, but you should know the difference when you see it. And let me make another very important distinction by way of anecdote. Tera Patrick was a famous actress i.e. porn star in the ‘90s, who ended up marrying some mundane douchey spiked hair rock star, I forget who, if I ever heard of him in the first place. Metal head for sure, and come to think of it I think I remember him being bald. Anyway, after she was married and became an honest woman, a fan, or maybe even a reporter scoffed at her: I’ve seen you naked a million times. You’ve seen pictures and movies of me naked, she retorted – you’ve never actually seen me naked. Touche.

 To get back to the storyline: where to start? Or more realistically: where to start to begin the logic spiral away from. I was going to default to chronological order, starting with my own fumbling first foray into the underbelly of flesh (and promises of sex), a scared virgin twerp struck dumb and numb by nudity’s seamless glee back in Boston in the late ‘60s. But there’s also the geographical argument: I could tell you about our gweilo in Hong Kong, ferocious with my budget of arrogance, testosterone and cash, indolent and smirking, while Rainbow and Abstract charged my gold card to pay for the coming scrum of appetite.

 And I’ll of course sort and sift and spew without a character-arc narrative in mind, and just write random. But you’re well aware there usually isn’t a character arc in my stories – it’s usually just one hilarious railing failure after another, endlessly repeated, with humor and self-deprecation, of course. But it’s thin gruel when it comes to lessons learned, or wisdom. And the humor’s mostly forced and unfunny too.

 My dad worked at the New England Medical Center on Kneeland Street in Boston way back in the day, and when I’d go in to work with him as a kid we’d sometimes walk up Washington Street to go to Filene’s, or get a meatball sub at a hole-in-the-wall joint where a couple of greasy immigrunts presided with pidgin tyranny over their tiny kingdom. At the time this was the heart of the “Combat Zone,” the city’s red-light district, and so-named because it was often packed with fecund, muscle-head sailors on leave from the Charleston Naval Yard, before it closed.

 I said I was going to write random, and I meant it. I just read that Seneca once said “No man was ever wise by chance.” My take, after years and years: “No man was ever idiotic by experience.” Rick Ocasek died today, so I’m going to fast-forward this “narrative” a few years ahead to a road trip I took to Vegas in ’84. I was hanging out with a few buddies on Pacific Ave in Venice Beach and one of them drunkenly suggested we all go to Vegas so we of course immediately hopped in the car and went. We got to some divey strip club about four in the morning probably called something like the Shangri La and walked in to some chick stripping with the Cars’s Let’s Go pumping and humping in the fitful smokey air. “She’s laughing inside ‘cause they can’t refuse/She’s so beautiful now, she doesn’t wear her shoes/She doesn’t like to choose/She’s got wonderful eyes and a risqué mouth/And when I asked her before she said she’s holding out/She’s a frozen fire, she’s my one desire/She says ‘I like the nightlife baby’/She says ‘let’s go.’”

The only vision I still barely have gouached in my brain of that mellifluous honey is the magnificent curve of her iliac crests. I’m not joking – I still dream about them to this day. Many years later and even more years ago I used to see Ric every once in a while in my old Grammercy Park neighborhood – a wispy leather Giacometti reed, in rock and roll black sunglasses and model wife attached at the elbow: both tall drinks of water, striking, in their arm-in-arm sways.

Back to Boston around 1969 and I’m walking with my brothers and mother to go Christmas shopping and passing the “Naked i” which had a bright red neon marquee, with a “Now Appearing” announcing the featured   performer like a circus act, or a Hollywood movie premiere, depending on which side of the morality aisle you sat on. At the time Chesty Morgan was the star of the show, and every one of my chucklehead friends knew who she was, and we all sniggered knowingly at her name. She was renowned for her enormous breasts, and if there were two things that could get pre-pubescent twerps giggling it was breasts, the bigger the better. I just looked her up on Wikipedia and her measurements were an astounding and natural 73-32-36 according to Guinness Book of Records. The movie poster for “Deadly Weapons” with the tagline “The only way to go” in which she smothered the bad guys to death with her monstrous honkers is a camp classic. Do you need five reasons why you should see this atrocious gem: terrible ‘70s dialogue; terrible ‘70s acting; terrible ‘70s fashion; terrible ‘70s hair; and terrible ‘70s cinematography.

What I didn’t know was Liliana’s parents were killed by the Nazis when they invaded Poland, her homeland, and she lived in various orphanages before ending up on a kibbutz in Israel. She came to the U.S. and began her career in Boston burlesque using the name Zsa Zsa, and then went on to the strip tease hall of fame as Chesty Morgan. What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like this?

I was working at a restaurant in Cambridge called Autre Chose in the early ‘80s and the chef, Casey, a boot-straps up kind of guy and deft hash-slinger had a girlfriend who was a go-go dancer at the Naked i and we’d go down there after work and watch her writhe and smile. I have to say her strip tease was a work of long art: one item off per song. The only comment I’ll make is all the clichés are true. The time and place was a John Waters fantasy come to life – I remember the Pilgrim Theatre showing movies like “Behind the Green Door” and “Sexus” – I’m not making this up. But the most memorable snapshot in my mind is the Naked i’s sign – it was a big red neon “eye” with  curvaceous legs that fanned out, lit in sequence from the top down, as if they were spreading like the beautiful feathers of a peacock. Use your imagination. And then the eye would light up and flash, and flash, and flash. And then go dark and the beckoning would begin again. Genius!

There was a the Pick-a-dilly Bar, Boston Bunnies, Good Time Charlie’s and the First Amendment Ltd. – which I think was a peep show/bookstore. Those names alone cannot be made up or equaled. There was also the famous Two O’Clock Nude College Revue, where many a coed defrocked for textbooks and tuition money under literary pseudonyms like Marjorie Eveningstar, and Hester Primm. There were more famous ladies like Panama Red and Jo Star, and Princess Cheyenne, Fanny Foxe and Lady Tangerine, who peeled outta this world! And when they were accompanied by live music, at least in the early days – pow! The synergy and vibe was orgiastic: an entangled serpentine seduction that engulfed and engaged everyone. The Venus Brothers, Tom Pace, and The Hot Tamales could crank up the heavenly heat, and when all the clubs eventually went to jukeboxes and sound systems, we lost something special forever.

Quick question: Have you ever been to a peep show? Yes you have. But I’ll bore you with my first and only unsordid story anyway. First you walk in to a room you couldn’t swing a cat in, and sat down in front of a window covered by a curtain. The music would start and the curtain would lift up, slowly. The bikini’ed babelicious would start dancing for a while and then the curtain would slowly fall. There was a little round hole in the glass that you would then stick a rolled up dollar bill in, and then the curtain would raise back up. Then the little salmon fishcake would start wriggling out of something else, almost but not quite, and then the curtain would come down again. You get the idea. It cost a small fortune to finally catch a glimpse of the new year. But sticking the money in and having the girl grab it and pull it slowly the rest of the way through was, what’s the right metaphor? Was almost as sweet as the first movement of Beethoven’s 6th symphony. 

I moved to LA shortly after that, and I was living downtown in the Rosslyn Hotel, made famous years later by U2 when they filmed a video of their song “Where the streets have no name” on the rooftop to an amazed crowd and puzzled policemen in the streets below. There was a Pussycat theatre right around the corner and it was I think of the “grindhouse” variety: from early morning to even earlier morning the next day they churned out films nonstop: sexploitation, horror, soft core. The first skin flick I saw there was The Opening of Misty Beethoven, an erotic variation on Pygmalion, kind of, but a classic of the golden age of porn. I’d like to quip that the only thing left to the imagination was the plot. I went to the Biltmore Hotel across the square for tea afterwards – and I wasn’t sure which place I was slumming at, if you know what I mean. And the woman I went with? She was once the Rose of Tralee and her Bacallesque brogue could make all of England weep. I’ll tell you all about her and my further far-flung fleshy forays into Asia and elusive truths another time.