There’s a violent knock at the door. The dream-catcher hanging on a hook clacks against the wood frame. Feathers spin. Rachel Resnick (RR) glances at the clock on the desk (half an hour past the appointment time), then opens the door to reveal Chip (C), a character in her story “Evening at the Cryo-Crystal Circus Hotel” (first published in Black Clock, and now appearing in the anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience) He said he’d heard the book was coming out this month, and, well, he was going to be in the neighborhood anyway…she knows Chip, she knows he wants to get a look at the woman who made him – and no doubt, he believes he can seduce her.
RR: Hi. Please come in. I didn’t think you were coming.
C: Gotta love it when your characters keep you guessing, huh? Must be a turn-on.
RR: (Smiles politely).
Former author-turned-life coach Rachel Resnick ushers Chip into her tiny rented office in Topanga Canyon, California – a small mountain-top town just outside of Los Angeles known for its national park, neo-hippies and celebrities-in-hiding. Manson used to live here. So did Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Etta James. And Lisa Bonet. Chip is a sexy motherfucker. Mister Charisma in low-slung jeans and a vintage Ramones concert T-shirt – a slyly casual get-up that reveals his ultra-built frame. Full frontal eye contact, athletic, confident – it’s clear he believes the world moves on a woman’s hips, and on Chip’s own thundering axis. Rachel drops into a straight-back chair with arms. She sits primly across from him. She fiddles with her glasses. She is a professional. She is older. And she is sober – a love junkie in recovery who’s got to stay vigilant. Men for her – the inappropriate, unavailable ones – used to be like crack. Sexual attraction was the flame which ignited the pipe. Chip, settling down into the couch, punching a pillow silkscreened with the picture of a dead starlet to get comfortable, is gonna be a challenge.
C: Marilyn Chambers, right? Circa Ivory Snow. 99 and 44/100% pure. Died at 56 in a mobile home. You into porn?
RR: It’s actually Linda Darnell. Gorgeous B-Movie actress. She died tragically in Chicago at age 41 in a housefire, started with her own cigarette.
C: I used to love Marilyn as a kid. Jerked off to her until my cock got sore. Zoe looks like her, except brunette. Same cheekbones, same all-American innocence. Even though she’s a Greek immigrant. (Pause.) Zoe’s my fiancé. Earlier today, I told Zoe I was going to the gym, but I visited Go-Go – my mistress – and fucked her in the ass until she was raw. That’s how she likes it. Zoe never suspected.
RR: Are you trying to shock me?
C: (Feigns surprise.) I thought you invited that kind of talk. The author of work published in Best American Erotica, Absolute Disaster, Damage Control, Women On The Edge, The Dictionary of Failed Relationships. A novel, Go West Young F*cked-up Chick, a memoir Love Junkie. Your publications read like a love junkie rap sheet. I mean, c’mon. You don’t shy away from sex. Don’t your other patients talk dirty?
RR: Clients. I’m not a licensed therapist yet.
Chip stands up, paces the office. Picks up knick-knacks. Puts them down. Peers out the window.
RR: You seem uncomfortable with the session, Chip. Have you ever been to therapy before? I know you’re in recovery for being a sex addict…
C: I don’t need help. I’m just here for the thrill of meeting my author. Plus, I have some questions.
He sits back down on the couch, leans in and stares at her chest.
RR: You seem like you’re getting triggered. What’s going on?
C: Truth is, I also wanted to see if you were fuckable. My father always said, never refuse a woman who offers her bed…
RR: I thought that was Nikos Kazantzakis.
C: …and find out you’re no longer a writer. I mean, c’mon, a life coach? What’s the deal? Couldn’t take the pressure?
RR: Fair question. I saw the publishing landscape go through a seismic shift – a similar crisis to the music industry some years ago where content gets so cheap and celebrity-saturated, regular writers can’t make a living — and I thought it might be time to try something new. What about you? Are you worried I won’t write about you again? Are you worried you’ll fade away?
C: Too late for that. I’m here. I exist. (He pats his pecs.)
RR: I can’t argue with that. (She adjusts her skirt and smooths it.)
(There is a long silence – Chip stretches his arms over his head, revealing a six pack, then lounges back into the couch. He swings one leg over the couch arm. Rachel crosses her legs.)
C: Are you just going to pretend you don’t notice what’s going on here? (Chip’s voice lowers.) What do you think of me? Honestly.
RR: I think you’re trying to seduce me. I think your identity is tied up with your sense of yourself as a stud, and that seducing people is the only way you can feel in control. The only way you can avoid facing that emptiness, the hurt from your past.
C: Always in the head, aren’t you. Theory here, theory there. Can’t you deal with a flesh-and-blood man sitting right across from you? Aren’t you wondering what it would be like to hit this? I know you’re interested from the way you tuck your hair behind your ears. C’mon. Why don’t you tell me something revealing about you.
RR: I was a thumbsucker until the ripe age of eight.
C: (Laughs.) Thank you. (Long pause.) Do you realize how much you’ve been staring at me? It feels like you’re trying to drown me in those myopic blue eyes. I would call that male-gazing. Evidence of penis envy, or at least, gender confusion. When’s the last time you got laid anyway?
RR: “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” John Berger said that.
C: (Rolls his eyes.)
RR: The opening line of “An Evening At the Cryo-Crystal Circus Hotel,” you say, “Fuck me with a leather-clad fist, I was one focused dude.” I know you’re talking about creative and relational focus, but I couldn’t help noticing the implications. Have you ever been attracted to a man? What’s your relationship with the other main male character, Red?
C: (Chip explodes. Gets up and slams his fist on the coffee table.) Listen, you’re the one who wrote the tell-all TMI confessional memoir, Love Junkie. Why don’t you ask yourself why you shared about your own sexual fluidity instead of questioning my opening line and looking for homosexual clues to feed your own polymorphous perversity. You’re the type who swears by the Bend-Over Boyfriend myth, aren’t you. Don’t project.
RR: Lots of defensiveness there. It sounds like your parents hewed to the old style male-female paradigm, yet that didn’t pan out so well in your home. Maybe that’s contributed to your inner conflict.
C: (Grins.) I could take care of you. You, and all your friends too.
RR: But what do you think about sexual fluidity?
C: I think you’re overstepping your bounds as a life coach. Do you even have a psychology degree?
RR: Fair enough. Maybe I’m getting triggered. (Long pause.)
Chip gets up, walks over to the window. Pulls a journal out of his back pocket, scribbles something down, then he walks back and stands right in front of Rachel. It’s clear there’s sexual tension between them. Rachel stiffens her posture and crosses her legs again. Chip circles behind her chair, puts his hands on the back of it.
C: Let’s turn the tables. Ever been interviewed by a character?
RR: No. You’re the first.
Chip returns to the couch.
C: You’re blushing.
RR: I’m not. It’s just the light.
C: What gives you the right to write about sex from a male pov?
RR: Let’s just call it strap-on prose.
C: I heard you masturbate before you write. Did you masturbate when you created me?
RR: Don’t flatter yourself! (She exhales. Beat). But, I did. When I was writing fiction, that’s how I used to know I’d created a living, breathing hunk – however assholey and fucked up. When they were so alive they turned me on. I figured if they turn me on they’ll turn on the reader. I want to provide visceral enjoyment to my readers. Is that a crime?
C: Deflection. Isn’t it true that you wrote my story – the last story you’d write – two years before you started Love Junkie? You were in withdrawal. You channeled your frustrated compulsions…you were getting off…
RR: (Visibly sinks into her chair. The first sign of vulnerability.) Touche. You’ve done your research. When I read it now, I don’t even recognize the voice, or the person who wrote it. I got high from the sexual arousal when I was writing it. Maybe the experience was like DIY porn, a transitional artifact. Whereas Love Junkie, you’re right. It was nothing like that. I was stone cold sober, feeling all the feelings. That wasn’t masturbation. That was masochism.
(Chip grins, looks triumphant.)
RR: But it was also transcendent. What makes it worth doing is the way it resonates with readers.
C: Whatevs. You can justify the memoir morass all you want. Honestly? It bores the shit out of me. Now the mod-noir world of “An Evening at the Cryo-Crystal Circus Hotel.” That’s my world, a world where a man – me – can be king. Trust me: Imagination is sexier than spilling your guts. Give me an Extropian cocktail with a dash of pulp any day over some misery memoir.
RR: It’s funny, men tend to like that story better than women even though I loved writing and reading both. I think gender is learned. A role. I know when I dress differently, I feel differently. When I wear combat boots and fingerless gloves, I feel like a boxer. Ready to punch. I feel macho. Like I could take someone up against a wall and fuck them. I also love dressing like a 50s femme fatale…a time when men were men and women were women. It’s so stark, and sexy.
C: Know what I think? You have penis envy. Plain and simple.
RR: (Smiles.) Maybe you’re right. But I don’t want to give up the cunt either. Call me a literary hermaphrodite. For years, I catered to men’s fantasies. Something I didn’t realize. The guy who scored two chapters in my memoir, Eddie Vaughan, was always manipulating three-ways – with another woman. Once it was a sinewy Goth girl, the three of us, making out in public at the Good Luck Bar in Silverlake. I wrote about that.
C: Aha! So that’s why you had me, Red and Go-Go in that three-way grope at the Extropian bar?
RR: I hadn’t thought of that…but I bet you’re right. Only writing it from your pov, I had more control. I was the focus. I remember one time a sexy young guy came on to me at a wedding party, and I suggested we take him home – Eddie yanked me by the arm into a corner, blew up at me, said, Stay away from him or else. If I hadn’t been so scared, I would’ve noticed this was a double standard in full dick mode.
It still feels like men – straight, old skool men anyway — call more of the sexual shots. I guess I wanted to co-opt that with this story. When a woman writes about sex – graphically – she still can get lambasted. Condemned. You’re considered a slut. Or at the very least, a lesser literary writer. I relished the freedom writing from a male pov afforded. I could be an asshole. A cheater. A full-blown sex addict. And still be loved and desired. And successful. Thank you! Because when you drop “love” into the mix – which is more of a female thing — that’s when society wags the finger and shouts, “Pathetic.” Maybe I needed to write your story before I could write Love Junkie. I knew I’d get flak for it, or be dismissed. I had to be ready for the slings and arrows.
C: What about the cryonics angle? Those waitresses with their dotted-lines CUT HERE neck tattoos, the para-med bracelets. Did you ever think about freezing your head and coming back with a young body sometime in the future?
RR: Your story’s set in a hyper-inflated, souped-up Los Angeles. The Cryo-Crystal Circus Hotel is an imaginary joint on the Santa Monica beach. A sleek modern building shaped like a giant refrigerator, catering to hipsters and cryonics devotees. There was something about the intersection of fantastical, sexual and violent that seemed perfect to me for this story. I think the male point of view gave me that vision.
C: I have this friend who told me that he saw a flyer for this “Addiction Conference” at the gym. The title of one of the panels was: “Is it Emotional Horniness or Sexual Horniness?” I bet it was packed.
RR: People are obviously confused and conflicted when it comes to these issues.
C: In my story, you’ve got me almost ripped apart by temptation, the Sexual Horniness kind, but in the end I triumph and choose Emotional Horniness. Or did I? I always wonder about that. Do you think that’s what was going on here today between us? I can’t believe how close I feel to you…I know you feel close to me, too…what do we do? (Long pause.)