And all confus’d, I there did lie
Drown’d in delights, but could not die.
Robert Herrick, Julia’s Petticoat
The FirstThe afternoon I met Casey in the park, I knew. You’d understand if you’ve ever lived in Bethesda, Md. People do many things in Bethesda. They live in little brick houses. They complain about the government and about their bossequal beasts in this suburb of Washington, D.C. And they drive to work, often with no regard to the idea of slow or fast lanes. But to actually meet? That’s for other places, like the office in neighboring Silver Spring (I challenge you to find an ounce of precious metal or dram of natural water anywhere in that villainous burg) and the Eastern Shore weekend spots. Philosophically, I accept the premise of meeting in Virginia, though no one who’s ventured past Arlington has ever returned mentally intact. So when I saw Casey in the park near my house with a copy of David Copperfield in her tanned hands, I did the unthinkable and approached, a meeting very much in mind.
While she too was initially shocked at the ideamy churlish appearance at times belies my generous brainpanhaving a copy of Innocence and Experience clutched in my mitts smoothed the way. Obvious literati trapped within the Kafkaesque precincts of suburbia, we both attended GW University. Jokes followed regarding my Ph.D. candidacy and her grad-student servitude in a department I referred to as the English Pogrom. From there the discussion extended to music, the arts, the Foggy Bottom underground station, and how much we disapproved of pedophiles (there had been something in the paper that day, and isn’t there always something in the paper that day?), I admired her elfin bodyboth trim and voluptuous, as though her petulant nipples compensated for those missing inches of heightand wavy brown hair. The meeting was very much being accomplished.
The overall accessibility of her demeanor, however, worried me: Was she some kind of hippie tease, eager for intellectual discussions far away from sweaty sheets, later to pawn me off with advice on a friend’s band playing at the Clap Trap that weekend? I refuse to share pitchers of swill (I am an Irish whiskey man and the Protestant brand thank-you-very-much) with linty Dead Heads, so I pulled a crumpled joint from my wallet to inspect her reaction. A risky gambit, I knew, but the matter needed resolution. Though surprised, she was neither repulsed nor grubbing for sharesies. Eureka. A date was made and I returned to my own little brick house (you’ll huff and you’ll puff but you’ll never blow my hookah down!) to masturbate, yet another popular Bethesdan habit.
An Audacious PlanSoulfully satisfied if not quite sexually, I reclined on the bed and imagined that I was working on my dissertation. It was the ideal way to pretend I’d made greats leaps and bounds in my thesis on the cavalier poets. It was in exactly this positionsupinethat it first occurred to me that I should fake all of my sources. My thesis advisor had enough problems, newly divorced as he was and owing me much money for weed sold on credit, so I made his life easier with a few dead giveaways. One obvious fraud was the wag James Ceilidh (late of Derry, beheaded during Cromwell’s New Model genocide): I mean, what 17th century Irishman diagrammed his literary ideals on a snakes-and-ladders game board? Elsewhere I wasn’t so generous. As my advisor keenly advised, fabricating Latin quotations from an equally fictitious clergyman in Macclesfield (quite an opinionated fellow, hated anyone with a chin, strong or otherwise) would take thrice the effort of simply swanning around the library for an afternoon. He admired my get-up-and-go, however, and get up and went I did, another dime bag tossed on the man’s rather cluttered desk.
What I didn’t explain to that alimony-strapped wretch was the source of my gusto. You see, I had one very large gonad. I’m not sure what or how it happened, but earlier this spring it began to grow. Similar to Jack’s stalk, it didn’t stop, and like it or not I was the giant glowering at the top. For one insane instant, on a Wednesday during Lent when all I had in the cupboard were two stale fortune cookies, I considered seeing a doctor. The madness passed, fortunately, and I paid for a pizza with a rubber check. Slurping pepperonis from the purloined pie, I began to rejoice in the elephantine nut. If cancer was going to raise its malignant head, it might as well be in the form of a humongous nut completing my already distorted existence. Who needed fancy clothes, cash, cocaine or even legitimate sources when they could boast of the biggest ball in Bethesda? Granted, other symptoms not fit for polite conversation were also cropping up (when an infantile kidney stone passed, I considered naming the little beast George Bush and sending it to Yaletake that Skull and Bones!) but all in all, no scalpel was going to scalp my crown jewel.
Since that point, the Little Gonad That Could altered my fate. If I was already a drug-dealing academic swindler, I felt that gross libertine and cancerous jerk would be welcome supplements to my CV (references available upon request). I wasn’t sure how to accomplish such a feat, though. Needing inspiration as audacious as my gonad, I cracked a book on the cavalier poets for the first time since entering the Pogrom. FascinatingI thought it would be nothing but plumes, doom, and consumptive lovers, and I was correct. Skipping ahead through literary history (I always jump to see whodunit) I struck gold somewhere along the 18th century. For no reason I could parse except that the scholar of the tome was a crazed man like myself, the volume included a description of a bigamist named Mary Hamilton. Reading on, I knew without a doubt she would be my guide to skirted nether regions. Mary had made it clear: I should follow her example through as many women as possible. Like my nut, a person just couldn’t get enough of a good thing.
Saint Mary the LesserMy infernal cohort was creative, if nothing else in life. Apparently Missus-many-times-over Hamilton of Somersetshire disguised herself as a man and married 14 women. All I can speculate is that Mary Hamilton must have been an extraordinary (in the most literal sense of the word) lay. Her fiendish crimes almost went unpunished due to the law books having little to say on same-sex bigamy. The court forged ahead bravely, however, and passed a sentence calling Hamilton an uncommon, notorious cheat. To ensure she got the point, Mary was given six months in prison, with field trips scheduled to Taunton, Glastonbury, Wells, and Shepton Mallet (allow me to say that name again with the proper emphasis: Shepton Mallet) where she would be publicly whipped in the severity of the winter of 1746.
That may have been Hamilton’s winter of discontent, but it was a revelation to mine own a-Maying heart. My tumorous gonad required nothing less than bigamy. Marriage is a many-splendored thing. Done many times over, it could be a many-many-splendored thing. I wondered if taking out a personal ad would be appropriate (Man with Awful Disease seeks Multiple Wives for Good Times, Long Walks on the Beach, Champagne Sunrises, and Terminal Romance) but decided against as too clingy. I further indulged my scholasticism and researched the great bigamists. Though few held a candle to Saint Mary, Brigham Young, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Pancho Villa all contributed to the subject. In the end I would go with my heart, find the best women possible, and marry them all like the doomed cavalier I was, damning the whips of Shepton Mallet and Bethesda alike as I went.
The Second, Or Rather, The True FirstAs the fall semester progressed, so too did matters with Casey. Our initial rutting was so vigorous that a copy of The Moonstone and a full glass of water fell from atop her bookshelf-slash-headboard onto my head-slash-pussy pleasurer. Casey giggled, Oh no and continued riding my moonstruck face. Eureka revisited. She’d told her mother about me (always a tell-tale heart beating beneath the feminine floorboards) so I knew I was in. Even better, weeknights were still my own to scheme contentedly.
It was on such a night that I found the next prospect, a lusty barfly named Betty. I’d known Betty for yearswe’d shared several failed suicide attempts togetherand we ran into each other at our favored dive, the Riviera Café. We told war stories about doing coke in the parking lot and about that night she sucked me off in a stall in the Riviera ladies’ room. Good times. But as the beers flowed and she complained that ever since she’d gone on anti-depressants she’d lost weight everywhere except her tits, I realized she was a prime candidate for my venture. Las Vegas and a quickie ceremony seemed right, but that was 2,500 miles and American dollars away. But memories of a moonie chapel somewhere behind the boardwalk in Ocean City emerged from my sudsy cerebellum.
I grabbed Betty by the waist. C’mon, where’s your car? We’re getting hitched in O.C. tonight. You know I’ve always wanted you.
She gazed blankly through the Paxil-and-Coors fog of her mind. Compared to the bikers she normally hung out with, I knew I was a catch. Still, I held my breath as she looked down her pint glass.
Then we’d better order bottles, huh? she grinned through her gat-teeth, pulling keys from her black jeans. I told her to warm up the car, I’d deliver the drinks. In five we were on the Beltway, speeding toward marital bliss.
Saying CheeseThe weeks after Betty and my hitching (all I remember of the ceremony was the moonie’s lurid mouth demanding a donation before the vows: Betty asked for a moment to vomit while I cut another bad check and said get on with it, couldn’t he see we were in love? As for our honeymoon in the dunes even the sands were scandalized) were hectic. You could say it was a period of adjustment.
For one, I refused to move into Betty’s squalorous apartment in the afore-cursed Silver Spring. While I certainly appreciated her ceramic skull bong, the handcuffs draped from the showerhead, and the vinyl push-up bra I discovered in the cereal cabinet, it still wasn’t quite my bag. I couldn’t continue to hoodwink Casey if I moved out of my own little brick house, so I had to mollify Betty’s often-confused emotions. Whenever I told her I was going home to pack, she was just as likely to reach for listings of divorce lawyers as the cherry-flavored lubricant.
On top of all that, my marijuana connection was busted at his job at 7-Eleven. Believing the cameramen in a nearby van were merely corporate spies, he said cheese and flipped the bird freely at a federal narcotics squad, all the while continuing to trundle his illicit wares from behind the counter. The luckless entrepreneur (isn’t it a tragedy the way our criminal system abuses the best and brightest of our youth?) received one-to-three with good behavior; apparently the judge found the video evidence the funniest thing he’d witnessed in 30 years on the bench. Not so amusing was how cranky my dope-deprived advisor was becoming. The ingrate even made guttural threats against my university stipend if results, either scholastic or cannabis-tic, weren’t delivered in a promptish manner. And after all the pretty lies I’d told that man.
Forced to forage the GW campus for weed (it’s always dangerous to defecate in one’s own stipended nest), I was a nervous wreck myself. Casey felt I was becoming distant, and one night during a tedious explication of our feelings I found myself screaming, Don’t you understand? My marriage is going to hell! She told me to stop smoking so much pot, it was messing up my mind. I agreed, fell sobbing to a knee, and proposed.
You’re right, I whined, Save me.
Unbelievably, she accepted and called her mother right away. The wedding would be in June, immediately after her graduation. Yes, I told her mother, I thought I’d look splendid in a white tux.
TriptychBy the time I got home the next morning (eight obscene messages from Betty, from How dare you stay out all night with your asshole friends to I’ve been to every bar, where the fuck are you? to I love you so much, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be a bitch, please find me, I’m at the Riviera) I really had to lie down, hold my gonad in quietude, and pray to Saint Mary for guidance. Thankfully the Thanksgiving holiday was starting and I could lie about visiting family (by mutual surrender, my alcoholic mother up the road in Gaithersburg and I had agreed to stop speaking, and didn’t we all feel better for it?) and maybe escape to a cheap motel in the hills for some much-needed R-and-R.
Just as I drifted off, into dreams of Saint Mary’s conjugal miracles, the telephone rang. What form of lout calls at 11:30 in the morning? But when I heard the voice on the machine, I realized it was actually a loutess, and my ex-girlfriend Pam to boot. We’d shared many undergraduate hijinks together (swirling recollections of Tarot cards, tequila soup, and strip Trivial Pursuit) and she was coming into town for Thanksgiving. She wanted to know if we could get together: There was no way she could stand four days alone with her proctologist father.
I dropped my gonad (bump bump down the funny stairs) and scrambled for the phone.
Henry? she squealed.
Like the RAF during the Blitz, it was my finest hour. I delighted Pam with cavalier quotes (the book was open next to the phone, pot seeds carefully stowed along one side of the binding) and nuanced expressions of how much I’d been thinking of her. Apparently her life in St. Louis was sans-joy, because she’d also been thinking of me. I got her father’s number (I couldn’t for the life of me remember her last nameBrookstone? Bolingbroke? Hotspur?) and promised to call that evening. No, nothing much was going on, just the doctoral grind, much reading, quiet nights in front of a roaring hookah. Poor lonely old Henry.
Sir SucklingAfter I rang off, I plotted my afternoon. First to Betty’s with much ado about school work and books to pack, then to my advisor with his wergild of weed, sometime later a call to Casey to say I’d checked on wedding invitations at a downtown supplier and they simply wouldn’t do, not at all. I was wondering if my car (a faithful Ford Rocinante) had enough gas to meet my duplicities when I felt a shard of glass descend into my most private of privates.
How did that get there? I mused, beating my head against the kitchen floor. No Yale for you, you shit, I threatened the stone, and it worked. The pain faded, and I stared into the grimy linoleum. Tears hadn’t improved its coloration one bit.
Feeling better, I stood to roll a remedial joint and puked into the sink. How did that get there? I mused, noticing a seedless grape amidst the bile. Oh, last night’s pre-nuptial celebration with Casey.
The orgiastic memory was shattered by another piece of shattered glass in my groin. Fuck you, I screamed, and a passing dog walker responded in kind. I needed to make some phone calls.
I lurched into the living room, making my displeasure known by smashing any table lamps in the vicinity. Collapsing to the floor, I grabbed the phone and began to dial
First to Betty, who thank God was so hungover she told me to call later, she thought she’d died and gone to vodka-tonic hell. Next my advisor, telling him the dope was here but he’d have come get it, it was in the kitchen sink. On to Casey, who readily believed I was too hungover to talk. I made sure each knew that I loved them. Then I called Pam and told her to get over as soon as she could, I was dying and going to hell. She laughed until another lamp met its chintzy maker. I told her to bring Xanax and that I loved her.
The next hour was dim. I remember lying there and picking at pieces of lamp, wondering if they’d taste like light. I remember my advisor calling back to say he’d be late but to keep the following in mind as he recited a poem called Against Fruition into the machine. The rumpled little sonuvabitch was quoting a cavalier at me. I roundly cursed him as a Roundhead until Pam arrived. The pain hadn’t dulled my rapier, and I mentioned how excellent her ass looked since the last time I saw her. She agreed that her ass was spectacular, felt my head, and reached for the phone.
Waiting for the ambulance, a breath of honesty entered my mortal flesh. Lacking a dog-collared confessor, I told Pam (fond of leather collars herself) everything. She gaped and gawked and held my head as details spilled forth: the enlarged nut, fears of the big C, Betty, Casey, and even my devious hopes that she too would entwine her soul with mine, if only in a Wiccan clasping ceremony. She said she needed to think it over and went to get ice. I heard another gasp when she must have peeked into the sink.
Don’t worry, I hollered, That’s for my advisor. Poor bastard just got divorced.
The cube tray empty (even the Protestant brand requires ice), she cooled my neck with frozen green beans. I insisted on an answer, that this wasn’t Trivial Pursuit anymore, and besides, I’d always dreamt of a proctologist’s daughter. The last did the trick and she agreed, a ghoulish smile on her face. She told me about St. Louis and how awful it was there. I asked, Did you at least see the Arch, as the sirens pulled into my drive. No, no she hadn’t, she said, tears running as she flipped the packet of beans to the colder side.
As they carried me on the stretcher, Pam said, You know they’ll call your wife from the ER, don’t you?
Call them all, I shuddered, then something occurred. Suckling, it was John Suckling on the machine, I ranted to the paramedics. Tell my advisor not to kill my stipend, it was Sir fucking Suckling.
Against FruitionEver the unwilling gallant, I awoke to temptation in the guise of a beautiful nurse. She was putting a needle into my IV. For pain, Mr. LaGrange, she said, barely looking at my face. I couldn’t help but stare at hers, thin with a fine nose and circles under the eyes. I asked where I was and if I was going to live.
The nurse said I was in Holy Cross Hospital, and, yes, I’d survive, it was just a very large kidney stone. The doctors would talk to me soon, though, and by her tone I understood my Gargantuan gonad had been detected. For once I didn’t want to know whodunit. The Demerol did its thing and I let my head loll, keeping the television in sight for any segments regarding a bigamist gone wild in Bethesda.
Soon Pam and my red-eyed professor peeked into my Oz-ian lair behind the curtain. My advisor was munching candy from a vending machinehe’d obviously found my stash. Pam held my hand.
Don’t worry, she comforted, I called your mother.
More Demerol I groaned, pressing the call button. Instead, Betty reeled through the curtain, reeking of peppermint schnapps. Always the gentleman, my advisor rose from his chair. She ignored him.
Who are you? she slurred at Pam. I squeezed the call button frantically.
I’m his witchy fiancée, smiled Pam.
Well, I’m his bitchy wife, said Betty. My advisor hastened to get between them, winking at me as he did.
I hear you are a devotee of Sir Suckling, he taunted. Then he began to squint around. I wonder where they hide the eye drops?
I heard a ruckus beyond the curtain, nurses moiling, and someone insisting they see their fiancé. Next to that, another slurry voice demanded to see her son. My mother’s hennaed bouffant beat Casey’s sandy waves through the curtain by a wisp.
Mom, I said, Make these people fuck off.
Get out of my son’s room, my mother glared above her faux leather bomber jacket. You look like crap, Henry.
Back at you, Mom. But I saw she was hurt. I’m joking. You look good. Is that a new coat?
Oh, I’ve had this thing for years, she preened before my advisor’s admiring eye. Seated in the lone chair, my mother blinked at the forest of strangers. Henry, who the hell are these people?
His wife, snarled Betty
But I’m his fiancée, gasped Casey. I was bringing over cake catalogs when I saw the ambulance.
His other fiancée, smirked Pam, raising her hand.
His dissertation advisor, my advisor bowed.
Some advice you been giving my boy, my mother chortled. Always been one for the ladies, Henry, but Jesus Christ.
I thought I was dying, I murmured.
You ain’t out of the woods yet, asshole, spat Betty. I want a goddamn divorce.
Henry, what is going on? sniffled Casey.
What’s going on is that Mr. LaGrange has a severe kidney stone and a mass on the left testicle. The doctor squeezed into the room with a grimace and began fiddling with my IV tubing.
I need more Demerol, Doc.
We’ll see about that. We have to prep you for surgery. Nothing major but that stone needs to be removed. Ultrasonic waves. Also, we need a biopsy from that testicular mass. You should have seen someone about this much sooner, Mr. LaGrange. We’ll take the biopsy while you’re anaesthetized for the stone removal.
Suddenly claustrophobic, the doc swiveled his bald head. Who are all of you?
Don’t ask, cackled my mother. I’ve been having this pain in my knee, think you could look at it? While you’re here and all. She stretched out a yellow-Capri’ed leg.
Let me, Mrs. LaGrange, my advisor offered. I have some experience with injuries of this sort.
How considerate. And please, it’s Dorothy.
I’ll see about that Demerol, the doctor gulped, escaping in a hurried manner.
Unable to watch my advisor fondling my mother’s knee, I closed my eyes. I could hear Betty threatening to yank my catheter out if I didn’t give her an immediate divorce. On one side of the bed Casey was hissing about florists and lawsuits. On the other Pam told me to hold on, the Goddess would preserve me. I kept my eyes shut, praying to good Saint Mary to save me from my wives, from my drunken mother and her pothead suitor, and most of all save my nut from that bald fucking doctor.
Here you go, Mr. LaGrange, said the nurse, pumping Demerol into the IV tubing.
Letting the painkiller take effect, I moaned aloud, Please, Mary, help me.
Yup, said the nurse, That’s me. I know you aren’t afraid of pressing the call button so no reminders about that.
And when I opened my lids, there she was, Mary the Lesser, haloed by the ER lights above my bed, over-worked circles under her beautiful blue eyes.
Marry me, I pleaded.
I’m already hitched but sure, Mr. LaGrange, just as soon as we blast that stone. It’ll be a while before we can get you down to surgery, so all of you scram and let this man rest!
Thank you, Mary, I whimpered, I’ll wear white.
My mother shoved people through the curtain, clearing space while I gazed with dilated pupils into the TV. We’ll be there when you get out, she promised, and I about fainted.
Half-delirious, I watched CNN. War, economies, weather, moving fronts everywhere. Then a story about a photo of the ghost of Henry VIII. He’d emerged in a doorway, robes billowing, a skull atop the rotund figure. A phantom awoken from his slumber by the caterwaul of many phantom wives, he was trying to slam the door shut again. Six wives in all, and I counted my own on blurry fingers. Including the Oedipal-umbilical attachment to my mother, five. One short till I realized the last was always the last, Fate herself snipping the skein of Life with her dolorous shears. I held my overgrown gonad (oh, good King Harry!) praying for mercy before I descended into whatever sleep was needed to repair so many loves in one lifetime. Six per son, just enough to carry us to our grave and far, far beyond.