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Posted on 2004-10-15 12:05:51 by Denver

The Leather Ship
MONDAY
9:01am
I am sitting at Rachel's desk. She has called in sick and her boss, Nick, is leaving on a trip for Beijing to make a presentation to some bankers in our Chinese division. My fingers touch her silky purple and green dinosaur puppet attached to the end of one of her pencils as I stare at her wedding photograph and her magazine cover smile. She is standing on the beach in the Dominican Republic with her husband.

"Denver, can you cover for me today?" she had asked me on the phone. "I can't
make it in. My back is so sore."

"Of course I can Rachel. Whatever you need."

"Thank you Denver. I love you."

"Errrgerjzznbloblem.

"What?"

"Dranoblem. Aats. That's. No. Problem. Just get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."

I hang up. She said she loved me. I am so giddy that before I realize it I have wheeled over to Linda's cubicle.

"Linda."

"Yeah?"

"Rachel just said she loved me."

Her brows converge.

"She did?"

"Yeah. I.I mean, I guess she's happy that I'm covering for her."

"Right." With that comment the middle-aged abstract painter/banker's secretary shifts her attention back to the New York Post online - A convicted child molester is released from Ryker's Island tomorrow; he's going to be staying with a relative in Harlem upon his release. His picture and the location of the apartment building in Harlem have been published by the Post along with a warning to all their readers to either stay away from him or harass him until he moves to another state. Wheeling back to my desk I re-read the email I received at 8:30am this morning.


Denver,
As you should know now, this is an election year for us AMERICANS;
therefore, those of us that are convinced that this president has been THE
WORST PRESIDENT that this country has had, are trying to make a difference
by trying to help in some way or another to get this guy out of office.
So far things are looking GOOD. Perhaps, coming november we would have
someone who would try to unit the people of this country but most
importantly to give us a better leather ship. Also, can you send me the
number of that catering company we spoke about?"

Armando


This was a surprise. A note from the gay Jamaican man I met at a catering job whom I had innocently invited into my home for a drink. I've been out drinking with catering buddies before but this was the first time any of them had ever tried to stick their tongue in my mouth and pull off my clothes. He was a predator blissfully unaware of his lascivious misdeeds. What did he mean by giving everyone a better leather ship? Was that a sexual reference?
I hit the reply button, typing furiously.

Armando,
I do not want to be on your leather ship. I have not forgotten about the evening you came up to my place. We are not in any unit together, either.
You are a pushy guy. Don't push your politics on me. If I remember correctly, we had some kind of anti-bush conversation during the catering gig. Where is your analysis of this presidency ie- healthcare, education, economy? Please send that as an attachment next time you feel like getting something off your chest and berating someone's job performance.

Denver


That evening I meet Cecile at DBA on 1st Avenue. We sit down at the bar and I buy her a glass of Pinot Grigio. She takes a sip and narrows her eyes.

"What?" I ask.

"It's very acidic."

"You want me to get you something else?"

"No. It's okay."

We finish the wine and walk over to my friend Lilah's wine tasting party on 4th Street.

"Am I going to be the only black person at this party?" she asks me as we wait for the elevator.

"Uh, I think, maybe, yeah. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, I'm used to it."

As the elevator begins to rise I become aware that she is not going to socialize with Lilah's friends. She is not going to be interested in what they are about or their perspectives. Who are "they"? People like Lilah - Jewish women who have made pilgrimages to Israel and have strong connections to their religious ancestry. Talent agents, psychologists, bankers, non-profit administrators. White, East village thirty-somethings with progressive politics who listen to old Madonna and make their own jewelry and pool their money to rent vacation houses on Fire Island for summer weekends and aspire to attend the Burning Man Festival.

At the party I introduce her to Lilah and her boyfriend and a few others and she bounces off them quickly and moves to the wine bar. We begin to drink copiously. I mention an editorial I read in the Times today.

"Those fundamentalist 9/11 hijackers, they believed that after their martyrdom they would meet seventy-two black eyed virgins in Paradise and have sex with them."

"Really, doesn't that sound exciting?" she asks.

"Not necessarily. But anyway, recent scholarship suggests that a more accurate translation is that they would be served seventy-two grapes in the afterlife, not virgins."

"Wouldn't you want to have sex with seventy-two virgins?" she repeats. She seems kind of drunk.

"I don't think sex with virgins is necessarily the best sex." My attempt at a discussion of Islam begins to collapse.

"Have you ever had sex with a virgin?"

I think of my first sexual experiences. The girls had always been more experienced.

"No I don't think so."

"How do you feel about sex outside of marriage?" she asks.

"I think, it's, well, I mean, I've had it."

"But how do you feel about it?"

"Sex is so complicated." I say, groping for the right answer, "Marriage is just a ritual, a name. Sex commemorates, celebrates intimacy. The two are not intertwined in my mind."

I can't detect how she feels about this. She is silent for moment and then she asks-

"Do you want to have sex with me?"

"Oh god, that's not a fair question. Is it?"

"Do you?"

"I am sexually attracted to you. I don't know how you feel about me. I wouldn't presume anything. I think as far as, if we did hypothetically have sex, I would hope that it is the result of there being intimacy in
our relationship."

Again she meets my answer with an undetectable expression and a nodding of the head. She has a few more glasses of wine and began to unabashedly describe herself as "mainstream".

"We're like night and day" she says, "You're a bleeding heart. That's what I told my friend. You are not a bottom line person. You see beyond the bottom line."

"Err, thanks, I guess."

"We don't have much in common. But I like you." And she leans toward me and we kiss.

I go to the bathroom. Some people are sitting on the couch and smoking marijuana and they ask me if I want a hit. After I rejoin Cecile she seems perturbed about something but she doesn't say anything.

Lance, a Bill of Rights activist, walks over to us and after greetings we begin to talk about the 9-11 commission's recently released report. I never leave her side. I am afraid that she will float away uninterested in the conversations swirling around her about art or politics.
Lance and I begin to argue about the validity of the Report and Cecile's eyes begin to dance along the ceiling. I start to lose Lance's point as I watch Cecile's eyes. I am trying to get beyond the
traditional dichotomies (Political/Uninvolved, Passionate/Dull, Mainstream/Subversive) that I constantly employ to value friendships and lovers and find something heartful in her embrace of the mainstream.


The following weekend we go on our third date. I take her to dinner at Bonita, a restaurant in Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue. She has told me she doesn't particularly care for Mexican food so I want to challenge this presumption and she seems impressed by the menu. When the waitress comes we order a liter of sangria and she vetoes the fish tacos because they are battered and fried and she is worried about her cholesterol level. I don't understand this as she has not been told she has high cholesterol and she seems to drink alcohol profusely, an indication that she is not particularly health conscious. At the end of the meal we attend a party on a friend's rooftop down the street.
Pressed close together in the Brooklyn wind, looking southward over the snake of cars on Bedford, she brings up the story I told her about my last bad dating experience. My date, a cosmetics executive, had given me a good night kiss on her front doorstep and then scoffed at the homeless people living down the block from her apartment.

"I shared that story with a friend." she says to me, "I told her that you had told me this and she wondered if you told it to me because I am a black woman and I should somehow identify with their situation. Denver, I come from a privileged background in Jamaica and I live a somewhat privileged lifestyle here in America. Just because I'm black and a woman I don't necessarily identify with those who are less privileged. And I
probably would have had the same thought as that woman you were with. Although I probably wouldn't have said it out loud."

This takes me aback. Am I being presumptuous? I thought I had just been articulating my own values in relating that story. But implicit in my sharing it was an expectation that she would understand why I was not pursuing that relationship. I thought the woman was being callous and self involved. Was I not thinking beyond the bubble of my own background, in other words; have I had the luxury of being compassionate? These questions bubble to the surface and then subside and leave me in a stewing cauldron of doubt. I don't know what to make of this. I am always running over my tail in this city. I'm hoping this time that something falls together in this relationship, in place of the current forecast of sex and decay. But this confession can only indicate its demise. Every other person I've told that story to has been shocked at my date's lack of compassion. For Cecile, the woman's value indexing of personal comfort made complete sense.

Later that night, as we kiss in my bed, she asks me-

"How often do you smoke marijuana?"

(She is probing again. A continuation of the marriage quiz. She has only bought into the homophobia of Rastafarianism and not its appreciation for Jah or Ganja)

"Oh, I don't know. Probably once every couple of weeks. Whenever I am at a party like that and someone offers it to me."

I sink to the mattress and ponder why I am still dating her. I don't see her as especially devout, compassionate, curious, or subversive. She is guarded and pragmatic. Kind of like the leaders of our country.

I kiss her back. The burnt copper complexion of her skin in the light streaming through the window. She smells like astringent or an incense I had once inhaled at Astor Place. Sharp. Clean. She places my hand on her bra and guides it to her breast. She lets me take her nipple in my mouth. I try to slide her pants down but she resists. As I stare at the ceiling, mouth dry, she touches my shoulder.

"How do you like it?" she asks.

"What?"

"What do you like?"

"Oh. What do you like?"

"I like it hard. From behind."

"Oh."

"And you?"

"And me what?

"What do you like?"

Her suggestion has scorched the imaginary possibilities. I can't think of anything else I would rather do. Sixty nine? I had enjoyed that with the Chinese woman who was embedded in the trendy Chelsea club scene. Yoga sex. I wanted to have long yoga inspired orgasms. Not that I had ever really had them except once when I was at Yale with the third year actress. But Cecile didn't practice yoga. She was anti-yoga. Like a machine gun.

"I like to explore the other person's body." I mumble.

She does not respond. I stare at the ceiling. That she can talk sexually about her desires makes me admire her because it is not easy for me. She knows what she wants; a strong, clean shaven man who wears cologne and who will take her from behind. Hard. A lean, mean drilling machine.
Oh. I could be that man. Couldn't I?
A car stereo down the street is blaring the latest hit from the Terror Squad. The street light enters the room through a thin golden sheet and coats her figure in its soft glow. Her eyes are closed and she sleeps, coiled and fully clothed, recharging for tomorrow's operations. I imagine we are at sea and our coordinates are lost. I want to be naked and rest my head on her bosom. I want to run my tongue down the crevices of her body. The ship tilts and plunges and finds calm water and she sleeps blissfully unaware. Lean back says Fat Joe on the summer breeze blowing through the windows. Sleep finally comes and I let myself fall off the edge and into the sea.

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