Stages of Man

Stages of Man

Little White Lie

On the morning of his Bar Mitzvah David Leibowitz stood in front of his sister’s full length mirror. He turned sideways and swiveled from the waist up, like a starlet photographed on the red carpet. With pursed lips and head in a come hither tilt, he imagined himself in a little black dress. His body was still a scrawny asexual thing so the imagining didn’t require much morphing. Today David would become a man and he felt more like a woman than ever. He’d thought about becoming a Bar Mitzvah his entire life. The last year had been a real cluster fuck, what with all the preparation; the Hebrew classes, the Havtarah tutorials, all the talk at home and at synagogue of what it meant to be a man.

David’s relief came in furtive fantasies. The one he returned to most often was of himself as herself, on the dance floor at the Bar Mitzvah reception, grinding up against Chucky Weintraub, a boy David had fostered a painful crush on since 3rd Grade. Fantasy David’s hair was waist long and professionally straightened. She wore mascara and coral lipstick. Her nails were French manicured. She had on the standard Bar Mitzvah uniform; spaghetti-strapped ebony sheath, Tiffany bracelet, and ballet flats because every prepared girl knew you needed a pair to change into if you really wanted to dance. High heels were for the ceremony and photos, only.

What was David? He didn’t know for sure, yet. Honestly, everyone turned him on. Girls, boys, women, men. Agnes, his 20-something piano teacher; lovely, willowy, smelling like lilacs. Rabbi Levinson, the youngest rabbi at Temple Emanuel with his beautiful smile and hairy forearms. Gwen Harris from Bio class, with her boobs and bossypants attitude. David loved looking at boobs but was that because he wanted a pair himself or because he wanted to squeeze someone else’s?  All David knew was he wasn’t a man, had no inclinations to be manly. David felt like an un-man, if that was something.

David had his speech memorized, a bland treatise on Derech Eretz the moral law that says, “We must conduct ourselves in a way that does not offend those around us.” In his speech David would spin Derech Eretz to be about acceptance; let people be whatever they want to be as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. He was hoping to plant some seeds.

David pulled himself from his confusing reflection. He made sure the door was locked before he walked over to his sister’s dresser and removed a pair of underwear from her lingerie drawer. He’d coveted this particular pair for months. Ivory satin bikinis, with a delicate little bow.

Emet,”  David whispered to himself as he slipped on the panties. Truth. One must always tell the truth according to the Torah, although a little white lie is okay if it preserves the peace. For the time being, until truth was possible or even known, David would keep a little white lie comfortably hidden behind the zipper of brand new Bar Mitzvah slacks.

 

Purgatory

It’s her. Over there in the pharmacy section. Brittany DeMarco, the most beautiful girl in the entire world. Or at least this entire town. I haven’t seen her since the day of the big snow storm, when we were all partying at Brian’s. I still have the image of Brittany sucking face with that douchey bodybuilder seared in my brain. Its like a bad memory tattoo. His name was Donatello, or some other pretentious bull shit name like that. He reminded me of the Hulk, but with negative 500 brain cells. I bet by now his dick is shriveled like a prune after all the steroids he obviously pumped into his system.

Brittany’s been back in town for a few months now, after trying to make it in the city as an actress. Brian’s cousin Mike said he saw her at the Dolly Diner, that new family-friendly restaurant at the mall. Brittany was their waitress, dressed up like Raggedy Ann. She flopped around in an orange wig and polka dot dress while serving Mike’s family overpriced cheese fries. For an extra charge she made balloon animals for his kids. I guess that’s sort of an acting job, right?

I wonder if she and Donatello, the Poisoned Penis, are still together. She’s alone now. I’d go over there and say hey, but I make it a point not to bother people in the pharmacy section unless they ask me for help. You never know what kind of product they’re looking for. Sometimes it’s super personal. Like the time I asked that MILF if she needed assistance and she held up a pregnancy test in her hand and pointed it at me as if it were a stun gun. Then she broke down in tears and spilled all the juicy but mondo disturbing details of the affair she’d been having with her brother-in-law. The motel, the gas station bathroom, her kid’s bunk bed. They’d done it everywhere. Now if she was pregnant she was gonna kill herself before her shitty, violent husband got the chance.

Super awkward. Not my business. Back to manning the cash register, thank you very much.

It feels like kismet, Brittany here tonight. After all, this is the place we had our one and only almost hook up back in 11th grade. Out back behind the dumpsters, four years ago. Fuck. Have I really worked here for four years? I’m not gonna think about that depressing fact now. Now all I want to do is remember Brittany’s kewpie doll lips hovering over my mouth, my teeth chattering like crazy I was so worked up, Brittany’s breath all yeasty from the Bud Lights I’d swiped out of the storage room. Her tits in that pink tee shirt, like watermelons in a bag swinging over my sweaty chest.

But then this part: Brittany got up and left. Boom. Just like that. Not interested. She left me writhing in horny purgatory with a boner about to explode, and a sense of loser-dom I’ve grown to think of as my natural state.

But here we are again. Same Bat Time, same Bat Station, as the Batman saying goes. Brittany looks upset. I think she’s crying. Those lips so pouty. That rack of hers heaving. Maybe I should break my self imposed rule and go over there and see if I can be of assistance? Maybe get it right this time?

 

Everything and Nothing

“To each his own penis,” Abe whispered to Isaac, who lay spread eagle and oblivious on the changing table. No mohel, no ceremony, no double edged knives. Abe was glad he and Sara finally laid the issue to rest. He could care less if his son had a penis like his own. He was fine with something less sculpted, less Yid, more Euro.

Isaac was only three days old, so tiny Abe could cradle his sacred skull in the palm of his hand while Isaac’s body slumped like a hacky sack along Abe’s forearm. His rose and cream cheese scented boy. His sweet, alien creature. This would be father and son’s first diaper change without the hovering intervention of beloved wife and mother who, sleep deprived and sore nippled, had finally conked out in a face plant on the couch.

Abe pulled back the taped tabs on Isaac’s disposable diaper as delicately as his cloddish, fat fingers allowed. How was it possible for such a featherweight angel to create, then expel so much liquid? Abe tossed the soggy loaded diaper in the bin and tried not to think about the pollution, the waste, the synthetics.

Abe gazed down at Isaac’s uncut nobbin. Such a sweet bump of flesh atop bulbous scrotum. A little rosy dollop. For how many days had Abe’s own penis looked like this, before his was trimmed according to Jewish law?

Isaac began to stir as soon as the air chilled his sodden junk. He wiggled tiny taloned fingers and noodled his hands towards his face. His peach lumpy body curled like a fern leaf, hugging inward, searching for itself. Isaac wailed and every muscle in Abe’s body seized in response. The  son’s screeches created a maelstrom so deep in his father it was as if a sinkhole swallowed every bit of reason the man had left. It seemed impossible to think clearly, futile to attempt a simple task, like changing a diaper.

Isaac would wake Sara if he didn’t stop crying. Abe had to act. He managed to wedge his hand between his son’s writhing arms and legs, his hairy bear-like paw so ungainly and grotesque against Isaac’s willowy limbs. Isaac’s miraculous heart beat like moth wings, his papery eyelids so transparent and otherworldly. Abe’s palm came to rest on the mound of Isaac’s smooth warm gut, his tiny belly pillow. Everything and nothing held right there.

Abe massaged Isaac’s tummy in gentle circles, easing what Abe had come to realize three days into fatherhood, was probably just a bit of irksome gas, a dinky air bubble trying to make its way up and out as a burp, or down and out as a fart.

Abe’s fingers, large and indelicate, did the trick. A fart. Isaac calmed from the sense of skin on skin. Father to son. Son to father. The end to the beginning. The beginning of the end.

 

Into the Woods

5:00 pm:

The limo should be pulling up to the house just about now with Joyce and the kids in the backseat, but I can’t really see from here. I’m too far back in the woods. Plus it’s impossible to hear the car with all these damn crickets and those jets flying to and from Newark Liberty. I wonder how long it will be till Joyce starts to worry, texts me a “where r u?”  I wonder how long before she turns on the news, or someone calls and tells her, or the Feds come to the door. I wonder how long I’ll last back here.

6:30 pm:

I should’ve brought bug spray. I should’ve brought more food. I should’ve brought a sleeping bag. I should’ve thought this through. No. What I should’ve really thought through was that back room deal. If I’d thought that through I wouldn’t be sitting on this splintery log right now with ants crawling under my Armani slacks and up my shins.

7:00 pm:

A waterfront development seemed like a good idea at the time. Commerce! Tourism!

And kickbacks.

7:15 pm:

Good and stupid idea. Kick my back, why don’t you? Kick me, I’m the Mayor. I’d kick my back if I could.

8:00 pm:

Granola bars just don’t cut it. Not when you’re a forty-five year old, 200 lb. public official. What I wouldn’t give for a nice steak right now. Steak, fries, some garlic bread. Glad I at least had the good sense to bring this bottle of Jameson. Chances are this will be my last buzz for years.

9:15 pm:

What was that? Are there bears in New Jersey?

10:00 pm:

If I could see through these trees, I’d see lights blazing in that gorgeous house my good idea paid for. I’d see my gorgeous wife whose fabricated gorgeousness my good idea paid for. I’d see my two brats with precious metal girding their gorgeous teeth playing with high end electronics my good idea paid for.

11:00 pm:

I’m shocked they haven’t found me yet. I guess I’m not the sort of criminal you’d expect would hide out in the woods. They probably think I’m holed up in some sleazy motel room near one of the Tunnels, or in my mother’s basement in South Orange. Oh, Mama. I can just imagine the sirens, the cars, the news crews.  I can just imagine what you’re thinking right now.

12:30 am:

A boardwalk, luxury condos, a casino, a Trader Joe’s. Concession stands and concessions for me.  No way they’d ever trace my connection. It would’ve been great for my constituents. I’d have created jobs, goddamnit. I’d have been a hero.

1:30 am:

I hope these mosquitoes eating me alive are satisfied. Take my blood, suckers. It’s all I’ve got left to give.

4:30 am:

All signs indicate I’ve dozed off. Twigs in my hair, pebbles embedded in my cheek, slick drool on my chin. There’s a sledgehammer in my skull and a swirl of threatening bile in my bloated gut. Nothing like waking up in this shitty wash of shame.

5:30 am:

It’s still so fucking dark, the woods are witch-tit cold, and the Jameson’s finished.
Is someone there? Combat boots stomping on moldy leaves? Cops whispering?

I can’t see a thing. But the writing is on the wall. I know because it’s been there the whole damn time. My whole spoiled, crooked life.

 

Old Chum

Patrick gripped the plastic handles determined not to fall overboard and crack his skull on a craggy monolith jutting out of the Salmon River.

“No worries, people. We can navigate this river in our sleep,” Saskia reassured while she and the other brawny river runners trussed the retirees in puffy orange life preservers.

Everything about this trip was wobbly-geezer friendly. Rugs in the tents, elevated air mattresses, featherlight sleeping bags. Gourmet meals prepared on a blazing fire pit. Pre-dug latrines.

Patrick found such coddling annoying, but his wife was soaking it up. He turned to look at her. Mariah sat on the bench behind him with that lesbian couple from Santa Fe who wore matching crystals around their necks. His heart did a little diddly when he saw her beaming smile.

To look at Mariah you’d never guess. The doctor said not to worry, an outdoor vacation was a wonderful idea. Do it now, while you still can. After all, Mariah wasn’t that far gone yet. It wasn’t as if she would wander off and make friends with a rattlesnake. But six months from now there’d be no guarantees.

Patrick was glad Mariah had found other jolly sorts to have a chuckle with. His own downturned expression was often mistaken for sullenness, but he wasn’t always a grump. Just sometimes. He was trying his best on this vacation, but morbid thoughts were hard to avoid.

The whole geriatric lot of them were heading downstream, wedged next to each other, encased in neon like a shipment of crash dummies.

Was this fun? Patrick wasn’t sure. He wasn’t a fan of the stomach souring ups and downs, or the soggy slosh of his wet ass on the hard seat. Plus he could barely move.

“Hold tight, Folks,” Saskia called out, “We’ve got a big one ahead.”

The wave assaulted, lifting the raft and dropping it with a neck-breaking thud. Churlish white water plumed over the raft, drenching everyone. Patrick glanced back. Mariah was soaked from head to toe. Her eyes had that new look, the shocked stare that reminded him of a rabid baby squirrel.

But then again, everyone looked a bit rattled. Even the lesbians.

“Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, eh friends?” Saskia cried, so forcibly chipper Patrick wanted to slap her.

That was when Mariah stood, though standing was strictly forbidden. Hers eyes were steely and no longer demented. She tinkled her fingers at Patrick as she tilted sideways like a felled cedar, toppling head first into the raging river.

 

The night before they’d left for their adventure Mariah turned to Patrick in bed. She cupped his fleshy jowls with her soft, trembling hands and said, “It’ll be fun, Patty. You’ll see. It’ll be a relief.”

Life is a cabaret, old chum,” he croaked as a response. A cabaret of corroding brain cells, a future of brittle confusion, of diminished returns.

Mariah kissed him on the forehead. Then with sweet foreboding she sang, “And when I go, I’m going like Elsie.

Mariah turned to slumber as she had every night for forty-five years; her rump wedged against Patrick’s stomach, a pillow between her knees. On her way, already.

ARTICLEend

About the Author

Alice Kaltman is the author of the story collection STAGGERWING (Tortoise Books). Her work also appears in numerous journals including Hobart, Whiskey Paper, Storychord, and Joyland, and in the anthologies THE PLEASURE YOU SUFFER and ON MONTAUK. She lives, writes and surfs in Brooklyn and Montauk, New York.