Aug 4, 2010

On the way to Providence, we stopped in Manhattan. I hadn't been back in years. It was younger and richer, thinner and cleaner than I remembered. More women than men; less diverse and vacant, at least just west of Grammercy Park, where everywhere you looked office space was up for lease or sale. Otherwise, the last of July was just as humid and earthy as I remembered.

We stayed with my wife's friend, Justine. She lives off 5th down almost to 14th Street. The building is completely anonymous and one would never guess the wealthy dwellers inside, including, did I get this right, a designer for Donna Karan, whose nanny has two assistants. And then the building’s owner, a nefarious fellow on the top floor with a wheel on his terrace, an enormous wheel that looks like a gyroscopic sculpture entitled, The Zodiac. It has a six-foot diameter; and the challenge is to mount it and hang upside down like a bat and then rotate as though you were on a rotisserie.

Justine’s apartment is in that New York, but perhaps more Jewish tradition. Piles of books and articles, the newest issue of Granta, a C. Bechstein piano with a sheet of Ernest Bloch, for flute and piano, above the keys. Stories by Saul Bellow. Supersex, by Tracey Cox, Stacks of The New York Review of Books, not to mention collection of personal kitsch here and there. And Justine’s own projects. She ghost writes for much less talented people who pay her a good deal of money to describe their trip to the far end of the earth, and occasionally even their emotional trips.

Justine is a talented writer and musician and has various other specialties, obsessions and guises, along with two husbands. One lives in Seattle; the other in Berlin. Interestingly, she spends most of her time in New York. Part of her secret is the distance she keeps, so that she is always hotly desired in some city or other.

It will come as no surprise to add that she is also a member of the Polyamorous Association of New York. That’s not quite the right name — I believe it 's an institute — and so you imagine going to a large second story men’s club, with every wall covered in books and the occasional original drawing or painting of nudes and naughty, and perhaps a small bar in one corner where colleagues stand around and discuss Leon’s Foucault’s pendulum and Michel Foucault’s history of human sexuality, taking time for a little hug, a complement about how great we’re all looking in middle age and perhaps you’d like to see the upstairs…. Justine told me the atmosphere was stodgy, not sexy and that recently she was rudely hugged by a huge man with TWO monocles.

By the way, Justine’s marriages are both legal and each man knows about the other. Although not always happy with this arrangement they abide and one has to assume that sex soothes all disappointments. Exactly the case. Justine is a sex goddess. Not in the conventional sense of the full boobied, blue-eyed blonde, although Justine has large bosoms, which is just the right word in this case, large bosoms, but she is dark, European, with a low woman’s voice — it’s hard to imagine Justine ever having been a girl — and an enveloping, overwhelming earthiness, a de facto sensuality that transcends guilt, shame or perhaps even consciousness itself.

When she decides to sally forth she announces her coming with just the right card, something you’d find at the Met, and you open to find a short, erotic poem that might begin with, “And now let’s get biblical.”

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