Razors, Eyebrows and Tennis Balls
"The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to
Salvation is hard."
-- the Katha Upanishad (Hindu Scripture)
His eyebrows were thick and straight, the most notable features on a face definitely worth noting. I could imagine those eyebrows having a life of their own, doing much more than accenting the expressions of his deep set, dark eyes; they would move in conjunction with the inflexions of his voice and the motions of his hands, raise with surprise, crouch with dismay, join together to form a stubborn, impenetrable fortress over the bridge of his nose, then suddenly scrunch up in the center like a pair of acrobatic caterpillars to make the most adorable sign of sympathy or regret.
God, those eyebrows.
I tried to concentrate on his nice lips, straight teeth or well-defined jaw line. But I kept coming back to the brows, the centerpiece of his face. I had seen those things before on the features of more recognizable men, the kind you meet on the 'silver screen' or in magazine articles, not on a public park tennis court. In recent years I had fixated on just such brows on the face of actor Colin Farrell, who is especially adept at the sympathetic expression ("Don't blame me for screwing you on the counter in the women's restroom in LAX before I raced off to catch a flight to New York, because I'm really a devilishly sweet Irish boy who loves his mum"). In college I'd watched brows like those accentuate the lectures of a short, stout, balding professor as he explained why Australopithecus is one of the closest ancestors to modern man. And for nearly two decades I had sighed over similar brows as they busily intimidated the best male tennis players in the world, staring down a yellow fuzzy ball over the golden eyes of the iconic Andre Agassi.
My current setting bore only the barest resemblance to the places where Agassi held court, at least in size and scope, although it was, indeed, a place to play tennis. And the face beneath these eyebrows was closer to Farrell's than Agassi's, with pronounced cheekbones and a slight stubble, topped by a matt of straight black hair that defied gravity in some places while still managing to fall fetchingly across a tanned forehead.
So here was a guy who looked like Colin Farrell and held a tennis racket in his hand like Andre Agassi, completely ignoring me as he practiced serving balls, one after another, across the net to an empty court, exhibiting no audible effort other than a repetitious grunt and the thunk of tightly strung gut meeting felt . . .
Grunt. Thunk. Grunt. Thunk.
Holy shit. It was like my own personal porno show.
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"For where money beareth all the swing, there many vain and superfluous
occupations must needs be used, to serve only for riotous superfluity
and unhonest pleasure." --Sir Thomas More, 'Utopia'
I was just 13 years old when I played a silly game that left a lasting impression on my life. We called it 'Saints,' and it was yet another attempt to turn the subjects of our strict Catholic teachings into the libidinous lessons of sexually developing young women. We were always playing games like this one, and many of them have run together over time like the colors of the little paint sets we used in art class when we loaded our brushes with too much water.
Not this one.
The game was purposely simple, as were all our pastimes back then. It was the early 1970s, and the world was a complete mess, but no one in an official capacity at Our Lady of Sorrows ever acknowledged the flaws outside our stone walls; their attention was firmly focused on finding the flaws in us. There was no Richard Nixon, no war in Vietnam, no Munich Olympics. There was only the danger of disobedience, the evil of smoking and the temptation of masturbation. There was certainly enough potential for sin to keep the priests and nuns surrounding us extremely busy.
And to keep us girls extremely rebellious.
Every few weeks each of us took turns coming up with a game, a game with a religious theme that we could play overtly, in plain sight of our teachers, without ever revealing its actual covert purpose. The seven members of my illustrious group -- we called ourselves 'Mary's Minions' and the Mary we referred to was not the mother of Christ -- were looked on by the school as the girls with the most potential for both merit and mischief, the sort of moral dichotomy that drives many priests to drink. We had become so expert at dissembling, we sometimes fooled ourselves.
'Saints' was the invention of Jennifer Lake, my best friend. We had come up with the idea together, after watching the movie 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon,' Franco Zefferelli's tribute to Saint Francis of Assisi. Zefferelli, famous for turning Romeo and Juliet into hot young teenage icons in the late 60s, had used the same treatment on one of Catholicism's most famous saints, evidently casting English actor Graham Faulkner in the role as much for his beautiful buttocks as his ethereal expression, as both were vividly featured. Jen and I had spent several hours lusting over Faulkner as St. Francis and finding excuses to avoid revealing our fantasies in confession.
"We'll each pick a name of a saint from the basket," said Jennifer, as she held court on that rainy Saturday afternoon. Our five friends watched her intently, anxious to learn what adventure awaited. A few weeks earlier we had played a version of 'telephone,' the game where one person starts a story and that story is repeated and expanded by each player until the final contestant is forced to sum it up with sometimes hilarious results. The twist of this particular game, designed by the prematurely developed Alice Sherman, was that each of us had to add a different member of the championship soccer team from Villanova Prep to the story and describe the potential danger of a romantic date between the player and one of our group. We called the game 'Cautionary Tales' and attempted to lace it with as many lurid details as we possibly could, unafraid of being overheard by our prioress, Sister Agnes, since there was supposedly a moral to our story.
(The result was quite confused when it came to recounting who was doing what with whom; for instance, I had ended up receiving an open-mouth kiss from Jeremy Johnson, getting groped by Andy Lind and being raped by Don Lawrence all in the same story, as my over-stimulated friends strove harder to enhance the sexual scenarios than to keep track of the specifics. Alice, for one, had bounced around so much she nearly popped the buttons of her well-stuffed white blouse.)
"Once you've chosen your saint, you have to tell us what forbidden act you and that saint would do together," Jennifer explained. "And you have to base the act on something we know about the saint." She suggested that some of the girls would need to visit the school library to do a little research before continuing, and ignoring the resulting groans, she looked expectantly at me. "Since she's our best writer and always comes up with the best stories, Marie will go first," Jennifer said.
I reached into the basket, excited to see which of the 21 saints we had chosen together would become my partner in improbable crime. I knew it wouldn't be St. Francis, because Jennifer had palmed the slip of paper with his name before we started. After all, it was her game, so why shouldn't she get the sexiest saint?
I didn't care. I liked not knowing. It was like playing Spin the Bottle with a vial of holy water.
My fingers closed around a folded piece of paper, and I held it up near the soggy light from the sitting room window.
It read 'Sir Thomas More.'
An image of a grim, darkly-clad middle aged man in a funny hat surfaced from the waters of my mind's whirling vortex, and I quickly recalled the saint in question and what I knew about his life. Thomas More was the Englishman who had stood stubborn and stone-faced against King Henry VIII's insistence that his ministers sign the Oath of Supremacy that declared the king more powerful than the Church in Rome. Henry wanted to marry the nubile and potentially fertile Anne Boleyn and dump his aging wife, the dour Catherine of Aragon, and the Pope hadn't cooperated with an annulment or divorce. Had the Pope granted Henry's wish, England would probably still be part of the faithful fold. Instead, the king's case of itchy pants had led to one of the most memorable schisms in all Christendom.
I wasn't the best student in our History of Religion class for nothing.
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I Liked the Boys
She dipped the tips of two fingers in the large, flat jar, picking up just the right amount of fluffy cream and dabbing tiny circles on the apples of both cheeks and the center of her forehead. She used the same fingers to spread the cream carefully over her pale skin, avoiding the scars from her facelift, always rubbing upward, paying close attention to the corners of her eyes and the bridge of her nose. Then she reached in for more and went to work on her neck and throat, lifting her chin and purposely tightening her jaw, her nostrils flaring at the scent of vanilla mingled with coffee. When she was finished and her face was glistening, she rubbed what was left on her hand over her delicate décolletage.
Over the years her complexion had been described as flawless, as translucent and as luminous, among other things, although it had been a while between hyperbolic adjectives.
The blend of cream had been made just for her by a French dermatologist who praised the effects of caffeine on the skin of the face and the thighs. Supposedly it evened out both wrinkles and dimples -- the former on the face, the latter on the thighs.
"Cafe' eez best on ze outside, not ze inside," he had said in answer to the penciled eyebrow she carefully cocked to express her skepticism. The effects of the cream had ultimately convinced her, although she chose to continue to enjoy her Joe in the traditional method. And once she had even been convinced by an eloquent health spa attendant to try a coffee enema -- she couldn't remember exactly why -- which pretty much ranked her as one of the world's ultimate consumers of America's favorite morning beverage.
The facial was part of her nightly ritual and had been since she was 25 and started to worry about losing her looks.
At 25 she had already been married three times and had started one of the most passionate affairs of her life with a man many considered to exceed her in both talent and beauty. She was so carried away by his ardent attentions, she was able to ignore his more ignoble impulses, the ones that drove him to sexual experimentation with other lovers both female and male. He was the ultimate movie swashbuckler, a real matinee idol, with an elegant deep voice and a beautiful Irish soul that shone through his dark eyes. He didn't have to be good in bed; just looking at him and listening to him made her come. She tried not to wonder whether her own blonde beauty was entirely to his taste. When he left her in less than two years for someone even younger and more exotic, it was time to start taking extra care of her god-given gifts. After that she rarely went to bed without beauty cream and a bra.
Now, twice as old but certainly not twice as wise, she could still manage to marvel at how everything in life seemed to come down to a matter of perspective. In fact, the definition of God must be that One Being with perfect perspective, judgment not affected by age or health or class distinction.
And was there really any question that God was a man?
She snorted and reached for her smoldering cigarette, stuck on the end of an ivory holder designed to keep any nicotine stains from appearing on her fingers or lips, and poised on the ashtray that was a permanent fixture on her dressing room vanity.
Damn right God's a man, she nearly said aloud. Why else would the world work the way it did?
Her male peers didn't sit in their bedrooms and bathrooms, agonizing over their complexions and fruitlessly trying to stop the ravages of time. Pretty boys grew into handsome men, and handsome men became gentlemen with character in their faces.
It was a fact of life. Men age, but women get old. "You look wonderful" now meant "you look wonderful for a woman your age."
Well at least she had made it to 50. Many of the men she had known -- and there had certainly been a lot of those -- had never gotten so far. The swashbuckling love of her life hadn't made it to 45. They had loved and lived as hard as she had, but they had popped off of heart attacks or strokes or diseases cleverly disguised not to reveal their relationship to the consumption of alcohol. And the ones still left around had certainly outlived any attraction they might hold for her. She was a lot like her male contemporaries. She liked 'em young.
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