Real Mammal

By Caroll Sun Yang


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.

I can only suspect that this occasional whim to dress and behave as a sexpot is the result of a major loose end, the fracture in an otherwise idyllic childhood in rural Idaho. When he was 8 his mother took the cat, packed up her car and left. That same year he discovered his father’s stash of VHS tapes featuring nude women behaving nude. Shortly thereafter his first beloved childhood companion died, a Yellow Labrador. Age 8 is a precarious year, mother/ porn/ dog or no. But stack it all together and something has to tip. Now I have to wonder if his mother was a sexpot. Then I have to wonder if I am anything like her. Often I wonder how someone as precious to the core, as this man sitting before me with his heart on a platter, recklessly applying glitter black eye shadow and fire red lipstick, came from someone so tragically unable to follow through with the task of rearing their own. I wonder if he is gay.

I know that all of this wondering seems reductive, shallow and perhaps a little cold, but that is exactly how I think about it. Maybe I just have to convince myself that his desire to be captured on camera while wearing my lingerie has to do with the badly timed intersection of his mother leaving, his dog dying, and the discovery of Debbie doing Dallas. Convince myself so that I can play to his wishes. His need to cross-dress must have a recuperative and sublime function. He can’t just be asking me to do this for only titillation’s sake. He can’t just be aroused from the act of posing like a bewitching woman with the power to sink ships, drop men to knees and cause wars. He can’t only be relishing the feel of silky panties and scent of perfumed powder on his skin. He can’t be that shallow. We can’t be that shallow. No way not us, I won’t allow it.

So I take hundreds of photos of him in under 30 minutes. Technology has allowed me to do this from my roost in our bed, my nude body tucked cozily into a corner and half under the covers. He poses for me in front of our cheap white closet doors (the kind that come unhinged frequently), twisting himself into sexy woman poses like a pussy-less plastic doll. I relentlessly snap picture after picture of him posturing, swaying, and shimmying in ways that a woman’s body seems built for. Not his. He is making a good go of it though. I am beginning to enjoy the scene, to even be stirred by it, because housed in my heart is a galaxy of real mammal love for this man. There are not many things that I wouldn’t do for him, at least as long as I could talk myself into it. This seems a dangerous mode of operation, a little like how murderous couples are born. I even wonder if given all of the necessary conditions (a momentary lapse of conscience, one cocktail too many, amphetamines, surfacing rage, libidinous drive, and various other wicked variables) we might go on a murder spree together or hide our offspring in a basement the way so many sleazy, sex-crazed, unrealistically glamorous film and book characters do. That’s the extreme form of my love for him, the possibility and fantasy of doing virtually anything with him. Cinematic and literary things.

Focus. Click. Capture. Manipulate.

We review the photos together, giggling from our nest in bed, our hot skins touching and our kisses tender. We play with hundreds of digital “tools” (our index fingers so powerful now) or more specifically effects, designed to be perpetrated on images captured by cell phones; crop, add filters, add scratch, add flare, mix tones, adjust contrast, adjust fade, feather, vignette, add shadow, saturate, de-saturate, sharpen, add text, add glow, mosaic, sepia, black and white, noir, add rain bubbles hats roses horses wigs hearts flags boots buttons kites … Adjust, add, and take away anything! We grab by the horns whatever image was captured and then rape it to acquire the desired effect.  If we have no effect in mind, then we toy with the image until we become affected. It is desperate.

I have to believe that there is some greater reason for this activity. That is doesn’t just end at a husband and wife playing dress-up, screwing off on their cell phones and then fucking. What makes me anxious is the escalating digitization of everything. The breaches it causes in already frizzled First World human connections. I feel pummeled with constant media distractions with no room for response, like a plastic bonkee in a Chuck E Cheese bonk ‘em game. Rapid technological evolutions and resulting trajectories are currently being deconstructed by modern thinkers and intellectualized to all hell, but what I think it simply boils down to, as The Boss croons in his 1992 hit “Human Touch”, is this:

You might need somethin’ to hold on to/ when all the answers they don’t amount for much/ somebody that you can just talk to/ and a little of that human touch. 

Whatever we lost as human beings when we succumbed to “rapid progress” can be regained. I want to believe that we can create meaningful sensation and deep feeling again using the same technologies that stranded us, in the first place, on islands of screen-based social networking, blunted text relations and cesspools of miscommunication masquerading as “sharing” streams. I think about these things as my husband and I are manipulating the images of him/her. He the classically handsome baseball fanatic, fierce protector of his home and all housed within, a metrosexual cowboy sheathed in seductive garb just reaching to be a divine harlot for one night. Tucking his penis away. Pushing out his flat chest. Holding his shoulders back. Licking his lips. Turning his chin down. Batting midnight black mascara lashes. Pouting with a crooked lipstick matted mouth. Pouting for himself. Pouting for me. Pouting for you. Pouting for those who left.

So exposed he is now. He is touching and touchable. We make love and fall asleep in one another’s arms, a man/woman and a woman. Our makeup smeared away and naked as we came. Next to our pillows rests our abandoned cellular phones, still hundreds of photos trapped inside, unmediated and forgotten in the wake of our flesh and blood embrace.

I now realize that these little transgressive vignettes from our private lives are moments that give meaning to being human and reveal the fragile beauty of being animal. In spite of this hurried digital age we live in, and all of the effects we employ to manipulate realities we cannot face, the pure spirit of humanness manages to pierce through and shines quite bright. Human touch. There will never ever be a digital effect for that.    

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Caroll Sun Yang holds a BFA in Fine Art from Art Center College of Design and an MFA in Writing from Antioch University. She identifies as a hipster slashing hipster artist slash writer slash mate slash mother of two smallish beings (no, not cats) living in Los Angeles, Ca. She is forever working on a haphazard collection of stories, nervously picking at herself, slinging food at a joint where high-profile writers tend to dine making it a sometimes unnerving occupation and constantly writing later indecipherable stickie "notes to self". She can never have enough personality-disordered friends/ lo-fi anything/ human touch/ sarcasm/ cell phone photo filters/ art films featuring teens/ opportunities to use phrases like "the-bomb-dot-com"/ Latrinalia/ frosting flowers/ forward slashing/ the word slash /cats. I do not Twitter but may be found spewing forth at http://www.facebook.com/franzialux. Friend me.

2 responses to “Real Mammal”

  1. nate knapp says:

    What an odd but beautiful display of humanity here, Caroll. I love the last line. Thanks.

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