Real Mammal

By Caroll Sun Yang

Essay

He snorts Ritalin all night and chases down the white dust with Old Fashioned Sidecars. He asks me to take pictures of him wearing my sheer black panties with striped ruffles and pink-lemonade colored ribbons laced through. He asks me to do this with my cellular phone so that I might later “text” him the “good ones”. He says has plans to save them for some later date, maybe for use as “jack-off material”. I am reluctant at first. A smidgen hurt at the thought of being replaced as his masturbatory focus. I try not to let my face show disinterest in this project, a disinterest verging on disdain. What will be achieved by this activity? He is not gay. He is not usually prone to high narcissism. He is infrequently frivolous. In fact, he harbors contempt for operatic displays. But here he is cut a little loose on pills and Cognac, retrieving my makeup bag and hand mirror.

This morning I found parity while looking, scrambling really, for socks and I found Drunk Hercules instead. Herc is a key chain fob that broke years ago, a tiny reproduction of a statue of Hercules, loaded to incoherence and leaning back with his johnson in his hand to have a slash. At some point years ago Herc shifted his drunkenness out of my handbag into my top drawer where the undies and socks reside, to live near the frills of my last vestiges of youthful lingerie. I discovered him after pulling out seven socks with no mates and digging deep into the unknown wastes of underwear I haven’t seen for years, where he was wrapped up in a garter belt. And looking at both Herc, of whom I’m so fond, and the utterly impractical garter belt, I realized that Herc would live on down there in my drawer but the garter belt had reached its expiration date.

Over the years I’ve peeled away the sexy detritus of youth as I settle deeper and deeper into being a fabulously premature retiree. My world reaches as far as the chicken coop and my son’s school and I have little need of a garter belt in either of those places. I never did, really, since I always found the conceit of garter belts a little too Frederick’s of Hollywood. But when I was younger, I wore them under army fatigues and utility boots, so they became a different sort of message. I’m not sure what the message was, even after all these years.

But the inaugural blow against sexy underthings was becoming happily married. That happened almost 15 years ago for me, and sexy undies have been in slow decline ever since. The first items on the block were the really ridiculous ones, lingerie I don’t think I ever actually wore: slips that I bought from consignment stores, sets that were cute only on mannequins and Kate Moss, absurd gifts from people that knew in some corner of their mind that I would never, ever be caught dead in anything that looked as silly as a mesh bodysuit.

The next to go were the regular work-a-day bras. Once I got pregnant, my tiny demure chest became vava-voom-tastic, and I needed some weird architectural wonders which were followed by the least sexy of all lingerie: the nursing bra. By the time I caught my reflection in a mirror after a year of wearing that most utilitarian of lingerie, I resolved not to wear them at all. Once my chest deflated I bought tank tops and camisoles, freeing myself from hooks and straps forever.

I used to keep one nice pair of undies and one nice bra for special events, the ones where I was required to look less like a scrappy boy and more like an adult female. That happens less and less, which is my choice really, but it’s a little sad to realize that if I was expected to show up at the Grammy’s I would be hard-pressed to find proper underwear for whatever outfit I decided on. More alarming, I would be more inclined toward Spanx (girdles, for those baffled by modern parlance) than some slightly sassy lingerie set.

I visited thongs (a.k.a. Butt Floss) only briefly in my twenties; they had been replaced by bikinis almost immediately. And then came the marketing coup called “boy-shorts” and I thought I had won the lingerie lottery. My undies have been reverting to an almost completely androgynous identity over the years, unnoticed by me until finding Hercules wrapped in my 40-year-old garter belt (it belonged to my mother before it belonged to me, passed hand to hand through the generations, a provocative idealistic hope unrealized through four decades).

So I can’t decide. What to do with the garter belt? Leave it as a symbol of the past, a saucy, ridiculous paean to youth? Abandon Herc to my sexless socks and boy shorts? I mean, he’s pretty loaded; I’m sure he’s got the beer goggles of millennia going for him. Maybe he wouldn’t notice that he was down there with completely sexless underthings. But he’s a Roman, after all, and Romans were a randy bunch, always looking for a good time in any way possible. Maybe it would be an insult to strip his home of all sexual frivolity despite the fact it will never be used again in my life.

Maybe when I die, hopefully at some ridiculously ripe old age, both Hercules and that garter belt will live on in my drawer, a little testament to fun and friskiness. My son, then grown with a family of his own, will find them there while breaking up housekeeping, and face a little mystery about the person he knew as “Mom.”

Pockets

By Brin Butler

Essay

I was watching a girl’s reflection try on a winter coat in front of a mirror the other night. What made her interesting was how interested she was in what she was doing. She was inside a bright, hygienically-lit department store with puddles of squeaky light gleaming off the ground beside her feet. The cosmetics section and a large window divided us. I was outside in the cold watching my white breath fog up the view against the window and frantically wiping it off while a street light hung over me on Howe Street, drooling its sad creamsicle-glow into a puddle in the gutter that’d be frozen before I’d get into my front door that night.

The girl’s reflection swiveled her hips a helluva lot of degrees in one direction then swung the other way just as far, and both times she looked over her shoulder with a downward glance that didn’t betray a result. I felt less cold when she took another crack at it and bit her lip. She stood on her tippy-toes and tucked a strand of hair behind an ear. She arched her back a little, leaned over; kept tabs of the results but never tipped her hand to me by the expression on her face. Without even once shoving her hands into the pockets of the big puffy coat she discarded it, returned it to the rack, and abandoned the whole mission for a few squirts of free perfume over in the cosmetics department and started talking up some cosmetics female atrocity of a salesperson and I went on my way.

Even a winter coat is all about a girl’s ass looking okay.

Don’t get me wrong, the concern has plenty of merit. My theory on fidelity is firmly planted in the conviction that a man needs a face he can marry and an ass roughly 36 inches beneath it that makes an enticing idea and practice to cheat on it with enduring satisfaction. Lingerie has a similar cheating element built into fidelity thing, too. It’s still you under there all right, but it’s covered in pink for the 3.4 seconds it takes me to see it and tear the motherfucker off. Next time blue! Shucks…

But the girl’s reflection kinda got to me. Mostly because I’ve never tried the pockets of a coat in my life when I was looking around for a coat to keep me warm when it’s cold outside. And I’ve never bought a coat other than when it was, that day, that hour, that minute, way too fucking cold to not impulse buy—in cold blood—a coat. I’ve gone for plenty of girls that were like coats without pockets. No comfy place. No foxhole to bury to cowardly depths.

That girl’s reflection kinda reminded me a bit of this girl I used to watch at night through a telescope when I had an apartment in the Westend. When I moved in I didn’t have a TV so I borrowed a telescope off a crazy neighbor of my mom’s whose dad was shot in the face with a 44-magnum and who for the last thirty years had packratted several lifetimes’ worth of various shit he mostly never got around to using.

One of those things was a really impressive, expensive telescope complete with a laser scope thingamabob.

To make the telescope into my evening entertainment I needed dependable story lines. Over a few evenings I cased about 400 windows for activity and bought some different colored pieces of scotch tape and made a constellation of all the interesting rooms on MY window so that I could easily point the telescope to the tape and, in turn, the room, and tune in.

I never once caught anybody fucking.

Which, at first, was VERY irritating. Until after some examination I discovered that I barely caught any couples even TALKING to each other. Even LOOKING at each other. Not too many people live alone, but everybody just ignores each other. She watches TV, you go on the computer; after a while, SWITCH, shower separately, phone call, leaf through US magazine, go to bed.

I’d kinda hoped there’d be something kinky out there in the world of apartment life, but nothing prepared me for how perverse the reality actually was.

Then it got way more creepy: this one girl became the star of everything. A Japanese girl of 20 or so who arrived home to her apartment around 1130pm and went about trying on 20 dresses or so from her closet in front of a tall mirror. One after another just working herself up and tearing herself down until a big fat breakdown against her bed, fists plunging into the mattress, bawling her eyes out. And all of it like clock work every weeknight (weekends I have no idea where she went). She always tried on the same red dress last every time.

But that was over a year ago. Maybe in another 15 minutes or so she’s somewhere or other near that red dress working her way up to it. Or maybe she’s wearing it right now with somebody she loves who doesn’t even suspect there’s any particular significance to what lies in her closet. Who knows. Not me. The stars were out tonight—and maybe hers’ were too—and I was just another pervert walking over a bridge to get home with the water calm and checkered like a dance floor, the moon fat as Orson Welles’ cheek buttering the sky.