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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
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Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream - 4

By Jim Chaffee

Chapter 4
Geodesic Balls

The only shirt with a collar I owned happened to be so hideous even I noticed. Cut square with a wavering approximation to a flat bottom, it hung unevenly outside my trousers and when tucked in wrinkled in giant rills running all the way up the back and sides. Fortunately, no one noticed because the pattern drew all eyes: small red and white checks like a tablecloth in an Italian restaurant. It had been a gift from a woman.

I put it on and went downstairs to wait at the mouth of the bricked tunnel of a passageway, watching through the gate, wondering what sort of car she drove. I'd neglected to ask. The warm evening precluded wearing the leather jacket I cradled in my arms which anyway clashed with the only presentable shoes I owned, a pair of tan Red Wing half-boots with white wedge soles for walking on concrete. The counselors at the Rehab Institute in Kansas City always laughed when I dressed up, saying I looked like a refugee.

The parade of men cruising past the gate played like an infinite loop from a Fellini film, men in drag wearing dresses, beards and makeup, tough guys in leathers kissing on the mouth, walking arm in arm to disco blasted from both ends of the block culminating in a crescendo of interfering and commingling waves near the center. I avoided Bourbon at night, dodging the crowd by heading away from it all, shooting out the gate and down Dumaine. Sometimes I got whistles from Lafitte's balcony, but no one ever laid a hand on me.

I tried to recall what Bobbi looked like. I hadn't studied her nor gauged my reaction to her; experience taught to lay off those helping me, to stare at the eyes and avoid impure thoughts. This realization came first with nurses and later therapists; it made sense, like not fucking your students or tangling with authority. Keep a distance.

Anyway, she'd broken the pattern and I wondered why. I might find out. A white Toyota pulled into the bus stop across the street, a raven-tressed brunette at the wheel. I hesitated before wading through the parade to her car, not recalling her hair so dark.

"Miss Lowe?"

"Yes. I did my hair," she said.

It came to me as I ducked into the passenger side: mousy brown. The new glimmering metallic sheen did nothing to soften the edges on her, but she'd done something else, some partial curl or maybe the remnants of a fallen curl job. It seemed fuller than the thin stuff I remembered hanging limp to her shoulders, now fluffed out or teased and bisected with a long tress of unraveling ringlets tumbling down the back of her neck.

She didn't show shock at my dress, but she didn't tell me I looked nice either. She concentrated piloting Bourbon to Esplanade where she turned left out of the Quarter and left again onto Rampart, following a path unknown to me, not on the public transportation routes I rode.

I studied her profile without a hint of stealth. Pronounced chin with centered dimple ending a long, narrow face, cheeks that softened it somewhat, but not so much as the fall of relaxed curls. A forehead that would seem high on other faces that she didn't bother to cover with bangs, the hair flowing from one side of her head to the other smoothly without parting, burying her ears. Thin dark brows, maybe colored, dark eyes not set too far apart with the straight, narrow bridge of her nose beginning dead center between them, ramping at a noticeable angle to end with flared nostrils. Thin lips, small mouth, the upper lip contoured like an arc from an ellipse of high eccentricity, the lower lip straight. White teeth not showing much even when she smiled, which seemed to be an effort for her.

She didn't flinch under my scrutiny; in fact, she turned her head this way and that to give me a wider platform, all in a performance of driving. Her swan-slender neck arced when she looked around and behind and over her shoulder, elegant like a snake. Her blouse and skirt didn't give away much except legs a tad removed from skinny, though in the car it wasn't certain. But gripping the steering wheel were oversized man hands.

Once uptown on St. Charles Avenue and away from Rampart which I think she assumed dangerous, a good idea since it marked the demarcation line between the white Vieux Carré and a free fire zone in one of the notorious black projects, or as I called them, the reservations, she turned to me and said we were dining with two of her closest friends.

"Why'd you ask me?"

"It was short notice, this invitation, and I wanted someone to balance things. Two couples make it more comfortable. I thought you'd be an interesting companion and it would be good for you to know these people."

"Well, sorry I don't have a more presentable wardrobe. Not many consider me a balancing factor."

"It's part of your charm. They'll find you fascinating. He teaches anthropology at Loyola. She has an MPA and runs a private agency for the state. But neither of them needs to work; he inherited a massive sum of money and a small business empire."

"That must be a nice feeling."

"I wouldn't know. I doubt the two of us together would be able to afford what this dinner is going to set him back."

"You could leave me out of that equation and get the same result."

We pulled up in front of the restaurant and left the car to the attendant, following the walkway to the striped awning beneath the corner cupola. Inside bold walls in red or yellow, here and there murals in an Asian motif, easy to believe a much-remodeled ante-bellum relic of the nineteenth century.

Bobbi spotted the host couple waiting at a large round table covered with a spotless white tablecloth, two napkins like half opened fans at the yet unoccupied place settings; we glided past the hostess for the table. They rose to greet us as we approached; he balding, short and dumpy, as wide as tall, his sparsely distributed dark hair in disarray, wearing a post five-o'clock shadow across his lower face, a bristly graying mustache occupying his entire upper lip. His tiny drab eyes almost made me laugh; I imagined a cigar planted firmly in his broad mouth which ought to have been grinning but instead held the firm line I'd noted as we'd entered the room.

One look at her convinced me they were well paired. Shorter than he, likely five foot or less, long of face, her high forehead was topped by straight hair the color of straw and texture of string hanging from a ragged part atop her head to just below her shoulders. If not for the length of chin that veered sharply to end in a vee, her face from eyes down would have been no longer than her forehead. Painted brilliant red, her mouth made me think of a wound. A bulb of a nose perched off-center at the end of an extended bridge with a crook. She wore elongated rectangular rimless glasses from which peered two startling blue crystals dancing in the light, narrow eyes set close together and deep in her skull as if huddling in fear. Her brows, colored exactly as her hair, appeared to grow wide out the top of her nose bridge along the upper edge of her eye sockets; where sockets ended, the brows abruptly narrowed to pencil thin, sloped downward and continued along the curvature of her skull to disappear where I assumed ears hid beneath hair.

"Gudrun and Jeremy Ball," Bobbi said, sweeping the air between us with her right hand, "meet Manly Butcher."

Unlike Jeremy, Gudrun swapped the serious mouth for a smile. With the transformation the wide hollow from her nose to her upper lip presented the illusion of narrowing, the thin line of upper lip drawn like a stylized bird flying at a distance morphed into a dip-winged crow flapping on the down stroke, a threat of teeth leering sudden and sharp as the line of mouth opened and the lower lip grew from quiet pout to leering fold of red meat.

I shook her dainty hand and then his fat, hairy hand. He had a strong grip.

"Bobbi's told us a lot about you," she said.

I wondered what she had to tell anyone about me, someone she mostly knew from scant records.

"Well, I hope it's good," I replied I hoped cordially.

"Excuse me, sir," a man in a tuxedo approaching from behind, "you need to wear your jacket and put this on." He handed me a skinny green tie.

"Is that strictly necessary, Maurice?" Jeremy asked. His gruff voice suited his appearance.

"Just the tie, then," Maurice said, and Jeremy removed his own suit jacket, leaving only the vest. It looked like an expensive outfit to me, gray wool with a nubby texture.

"Let me help with that," Gudrun said, trying to fasten the top button, an impossibility on the scant collar. She flipped it up and draped the tie around my neck, then tied it so the collar pretended to be closed.

Jeremy laughed, saying at least it wasn't a clip-on, and Bobbi muttered something about at least choosing a color that didn't clash, but with khaki work slacks, white-soled tan chukka boots, red check shirt and skinny green tie it likely appeared the refugee had disguised himself as a Christmas decoration.

Mostly I noticed Gudrun leaning into me, pressing a pair of heavy breasts against me as she worked on the tie, breasts secreted beneath the loose jacket of the cream skirt suit she wore.

The Balls had started on cocktails but ordered a second round, some fancy drinks with champagne for the women, he drinking an old fashioned. I ordered whiskey straight up. The waiter asked if I wished single malt and I flashed a puzzled look, so he said, "Bourbon or Scotch, sir?" I apologized, saying I had meant Bourbon, and he asked if Maker's Mark would be acceptable. I didn't know it, but said fine.

That done, I addressed the table. "Please," I said, looking at everyone before settling my eyes on Bobbi, "don't call me Manly. Anything else is preferable. My middle name is Edward, and you can use that or Ed. But mostly people call me Whitey. That's what I prefer to go by."

"There was a British poet—"

I cut him off. "Yes, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I have been told. He spelled it with an e y, and I think that in fact it might even have been hyphenated with Hopkins. At least I've seen it that way."

"Why did they name you that?" Gudrun asked. "Your family fond of poetry?"

"My family can barely read. The name's a family tradition for the first born. I think I'll break it. Manly is bad enough, but paired with Butcher is too much."

We sat and perused the menus, slender quarto folios bound in leather, several pages of stuff I'd never heard of. Meat sounded good to me, but the menu disguised it. There were two relatively straightforward options, one of them Grilled Veal Chop Tchoupitoulas, served with grits and some kind of goat cheese. I knew Tchoupitoulas, the street, from a few visits to Rosy's to listen to jazz. She brought in great people. I'd heard Diz there, Mose Allison, Sonny Rollins. However that couldn't push me past the goat cheese grits. I'd also located a Filet Mignon that didn't seem too out of the ordinary except for the buttermilk mashed potatoes. The only other land animal I recognized was duck, and that was not in the cards.

The discussion went around the table with everyone offering me advice. People dressed in white hovered in the ambient background, commanded apparently by the man in black, Maurice, who had given me the skinny green tie.

"The redfish looks good."

"I think I prefer meat."

"That veal chop is really a variation on grits and grillades."

"What about that goat cheese? Is that strong? Never had goat cheese. I'm leaning to the filet." I didn't ask what the fuck were grillades.

"Not all that interesting, really. Trust me. Try the veal."

"Have the turtle soup as an appetizer. It's a classic here."

"Or the shrimp remoulade, that's also good here."

"I didn't realize anyone but south sea islanders ate turtle."

"Turtle's good."

I opted for the turtle and veal. The prices astounded me. I'd eaten at a couple steak houses in Kansas City, one downtown and my favorite, the Plaza III, where I'd been a couple times for the prime rib. But neither of those places cost like this one. I was pretty sure dinner would have maxed my credit limit.

They brought wine, a bottle of yellow and a bottle of red. The yellow wore a plain white label: Grand Vin de Chassagne-Montrachet. Morgeot. The red sported a castle or rook or tower starkly drawn with bricks and an arched entrance, a lion atop curling an extravagant tail: Grand Vin de Chateau Latour. Maurice made a big show of placing the corks in front of Mr. Ball, who smelled the red, swirled a little in his bigger glass, and tasted it. He nodded his head and passed the other cork to Gudrun who followed the same ritual in approving the yellow. Meantime, white-suited minions placed a stand supporting a bucket of ice beside the table and the yellow ended up there, the red delegated to a folding stand to "breathe," as Maurice put it before gliding away.

"Try the white with your turtle soup, Whitey," Mr. Ball suggested. "We'll switch to the red for your entrée. The white is mostly for the girls anyway."

We toasted and began the appetizers. I found the soup sweet and otherwise tasteless, the chunks of meat chewy. I ate a few bites and tasted the yellow stuff.

"Bobbi tells us you served in Vietnam," Gudrun said. "A war hero."

I looked over at Bobbi who showed a deadpan expression.

"Not such a hero," I said.

"Does it bother you to talk about it?" Gudrun continued, and her husband broke in, "Don't you know that going to war like that can cause deep psychological scars, wounds that last a lifetime?"

"To be perfectly honest, Jeremy, it was mentally safer than living with my mother. She was nuts, a flipped out Jehovah's Witness. I always thought it was the shocks of her life that did it to her. She was born in Brazil, said her father died when she was a kid, next to the youngest of twelve or fifteen or some huge brood, said that someone took their land away and the family had to return to Spain, that was in the thirties, the Spanish civil war forced them to North Africa where she met my dad. They married, I think her escape, and she ends up alone with his nutty family out in Nebraska waiting for him to get out. He gets out and they immediately book it for San Diego, putting significant distance between themselves and my Dad's family; she never sees her own family again. Ever. But then she seemed to hate all of them except her younger sister and her mother; I think her oldest brother beat her up once for seeing my dad. Anyway, she flips out around the time I'm twelve or so, living in as Vegas then, becomes this fanatical Jehovah's Witness. I was lucky to escape to Vietnam. My brother, four years younger, and my sister a decade younger, end up trapped and come out twisted as hell. She's just died and now that little pod of aliens living way too close together will unravel."

"How interesting," Gudrun said. "Where does your father live?"

"He lives in Arizona; Coolidge, a suburb of a back road bump named Florence, home to the state prison, near Casa Grande. Between Phoenix and Tucson. Awful place. My sister and brother both live in Reno, but it's a dangerous set up. She and my brother are married to brother and sister, and her husband is my brother's best friend. My parents essentially coerced her to drop out of high school and marry at sixteen."

Gudrun again. "Why?"

"Her hormones had kicked in. She got horny and interested in boys. They needed to keep her from sinning. Don't you know the end is near? Millions now living will never die. Under such conditions, who needs school?"

The artfully arranged entrees arrived, borne aloft by the white-suited minions who immediately stood down behind us while their tuxedoed CO hovered. Mounds of steaming food that seemed surreal to me awaited our attack. It didn't take long to find veal dull. The grits were awful, a disgusting texture like cream of wheat or oatmeal, and the cheese had no flavor at all, likely a blessing, only adding to the glop. As in the Marine Corps, I tried to make myself eat. Take all you want; eat all you take.

"But yes, Gudrun, it does bother me to talk about it. There are blank spaces in my memory. I remember I was shot up, and I remember lying in a hole in the mud though it wasn't raining, and I remember shooting at some shadows with a dead corpsman's forty-five. Mostly I remember waiting for another hail of grenades, thinking I was a dead man. It sucked."

It was as if I had shit on the table. No one said a damned thing. I tried to salvage the situation.

"I must have passed out because the next thing I remember is waking up in a bed at a Navy hospital in Danang. And a few days later on my way to Guam. Eventually a surgical hospital in Chicago for a year, where they did some stuff with steel and what-not to keep my leg in one piece. After that, on to a rehabilitation facility in Kansas City. And to school, and here. And that's it."

Jeremy spoke up. "You like that wine?"

"It's all good. It's likely wasted on me. I'm not refined. I prefer this red to the other."

I did prefer the red wine, but neither of them were anything I'd go out of my way for. Food had never done much for me; it didn't taste without hot sauce, black pepper, salt. I thought it not a good idea to ask for Tabasco here.

"Bobbi says you had your choice of graduate schools."

"I wouldn't say that," I said, looking at Bobbi again. She ignored me, but spoke into the silence that settled.

"I said Manly had a choice of graduate schools. He was courted by some. That is not so atypical; I found it interesting for an ex-Marine."

"Please, Bobbi, I prefer Whitey."

"I like Manly. It has a ring to it," returning to eating fowl with knife and fork, an amazing feat.

"I understand you're in mathematics. Why that?" Jeremy asked.

"I discovered I don't like to read. When I was bed-bound in Guam and then Chicago I read a lot of stuff. In Chicago a volunteer at the hospital, a PhD student in literature, used to bring in books for me, mostly novels and short stories and some history. She brought me a book by Leaky, I think it was, on evolution and some other nonfiction about South Sea Islanders and such, which made them sound promiscuous as hell."

"Some of them were. The old time sailors learned that first hand," Jeremy said.

"I read a lot of stuff. There was nothing else to do except watch television or follow sports or read magazines. I hate television and find sports a chickenshit substitute for war. So reading books was it."

Gudrun leaned towards me. "Why mathematics? What's that got to do with reading?" She'd removed her coat and substantial cleavage showed where she'd left upper buttons undone.

I looked at her eyes, avoiding the wound of a mouth with glimpses of bare teeth. "I thought after meeting this woman I would study literature, but the professors were full of themselves and, pardon the expression, shit. Their idea of what the authors meant to say seemed to range from insipid to wrong. One professor had an idea about a short story he harped on. I brought in some writings by the author that contradicted him, and he told me the author was the last person to be trusted with an interpretation of his own work. That ended it for me. I'd gotten interested in philosophy by then anyway."

"I didn't know that there was a school in Kansas City known for either philosophy or literature," Jeremy said.

"Well, the University of Missouri at Kansas City isn't known for anything except the Linda Hall Library, but they did some stuff well at my level of ignorance. I had a professor of philosophy who was damned good. German. He'd studied with Heidegger and Husserl, I think, and maybe Jaspers too. Read Greek and Latin. Fought under Rommel as a tank commander, got captured and came to the US. Went to University of Chicago to finish his PhD."

"That's impressive," Gudrun said.

"I took a two semester history of philosophy from him. But I lost interest; it seemed all the questions these Greeks had asked turned out to be bogus anyway."

"That isn't clear," Jeremy said.

"I agree with Russell on that score. They made a lot of embarrassing mistakes leading to a lot of pointless questions and that became philosophy. Anyway, this professor agreed with me. He encouraged me to avoid philosophy. So then I had no idea what to study.

"Two things got me into math. First, I learned algebra, something I'd never studied. I figured I ought to know it. Had an acquaintance in engineering who taught me what he knew, equations and such, including quadratics. It was so simple it took just a couple brief discussions. I encountered the square root of two and I asked him what it was. He couldn't answer except to say it was the length of a diagonal in a right triangle with the sides of length one. I realized I had no idea what the notion of one meant in those terms. One rock, fine, but one inch? I got curious, and then the philosophy professor clinched it one day by talking about different sizes of infinity. Cantor's theory of transfinite numbers.

"So I went to the math teaching assistants at the school and asked one of them about the physical meaning of the square root of two. He didn't really have a good answer but sent me to a professor who had an interest in mathematical logic. Topologist of the Moore school of Texas topology as they called it. Did his PhD under R. L. Moore at UT. He taught me trigonometry in a few minutes."

"How do you do that?" Jeremy asked.

"Do what?"

"Teach trigonometry in a few minutes."

"Have a pen?"

Gudrun pulled one from her purse and I drew a representation of an orthogonal two-dimensional coordinate axis on the tablecloth, then drew a poor excuse for a circle centered at the origin.

"Let this be a circle of radius one. Call this line the x-axis," I said, indicating one axis, "and this other one y. Take a point on the circle and notice it has two coordinates," drawing one line from a point at about forty-five degrees to the x-axis, another to the y, "the first projecting straight down to the x-axis and the second to the y. The x-coordinate of that point is the cosine of the angle, the y-coordinate the sine. If you go around the entire circle and plot each axis you will get one period of the curves of the sine and the cosine, and you can see why they are periodic two pi, since the circumference of the circle is two pi. You get free that cosine squared plus sine squared equals one, since they are coordinates of a point on the unit circle. The rest is trivial."

No one said anything. I didn't tell them I'd picked up calculus in a few weeks and skipped those classes, enrolled as a math major, and during the summer took a boring, elementary course in linear algebra that could have been taught in a few days and a graduate course in logic and set theory. The next year I jumped directly into analysis, abstract algebra, and a course in logic that went through Cohen's work on the continuum hypothesis and his method of forcing. Unfortunately, we used three books, Takeuti and Zaring's two volumes on set theory and Cohen's own terse monograph, mostly incomprehensible but skinny. I worked out all the details. My junior year I devoted to graduate mathematics classes: two topology classes, complex analysis, and functional analysis. Along with mechanics from the physics department and a graduate class in probability and statistics. Then I graduated with the minimum of hours.

"Anyhow, I learned all that and it required no real reading at all. Just thinking. It's all ideas, not words. So I'd go to class, listen and solve simple problems. That was it. No work."

"Did you ever find out about the square root of two?" It was Gudrun, leaning in again.

"Not really. Not physically. But it's irrelevant. And by the time I understood the trivialities that had gotten me involved in the first place, I was hooked. I lost interest in logic and pursued what is called point set topology, the so-called Texas topology."

I'd lost my audience, including Jeremy who didn't ask the obvious question: How can you express ideas without words?

I shut up. I'd learned that ordinary people find this stuff intensely boring; the more excited I'd get the more their eyes glazed over.

Gudrun kept at me.

"What about all those schools that wanted you?"

I looked to Bobbi again. "Where'd you hear that, Bobbi? Not from me."

"Your counselors at the Rehabilitation Institute I talked to. They helped me get you those gym privileges."

I shrugged. "It was no big deal. More a favor from my professor. He gave the class in point set topology using the Moore method, where you get a list of axioms and definitions and a bunch of theorems to prove from them. These were the standard stuff of Texas topology. Continua theory. There was an unsolved problem he put on there, about dendritic continua, and I noticed a pattern no one else had seen, tying some topological properties to some algebraic properties. Some invariants. We didn't go far with it, but it did end up a published paper. The professor sent it to some big shots who were also Moore PhDs, Bing at UT, Mary Ellen Rudin at Wisconsin. Word got to someone at Harvard and a preprint made it to Berkeley. So a few big shots were impressed with the method I'd stumbled on and wanted me to apply and work with them. By then I'd lost interest in Texas topology. The point set stuff's a mathematical backwater, out of style, and none of those people were interested in the theorem itself, only that I'd found this different technique."

"That must have been exciting," Gudrun said, a profound declivity widening atop her blouse as she inched my way, mounded gobs of chalky flesh struggling to lop apart and gap with opposite orientation squeezed together by some hidden harness, "all that interest."

"The problem's cold climates. My leg can't take cold. I learned that in Chicago and Kansas City. I need warm. Besides, I wanted a small graduate school. Someone told me at Berkeley grad students might not be able to see their professors except by appoint-ment, and I like informal access. Texas didn't appeal at all. Never met a Texan in the Corps I liked or respected. Tulane seemed a good place, small and…"

I paused, searching for a word, and Gudrun leaned close, our eyes locking. "Intimate," she said. "Not to mention New Orleans' famous food and partying. We're having a party Saturday and would like it if you'd come. Bobbi, I assume you're coming?"

"I'll try. I have a minor commitment."

"Bring him," Jeremy said.

"I'd like to come," I said. "Just tell me where and when and I'll be there. I'll try not to bore any guests to death."

"That would be an impossibility," Jeremy said. "Most of them are already beyond such a death."

After that I tried to shut up. No one needed to hear more about me, and I knew no one wanted to hear more about mathematics.

Dinner passed to dessert stage around a discussion concerning whether our diverse diet might actually cause early death. I stayed out of it. I finished the meat but left the grits which disgusted me, gelatinous with a glaze of beige cheese. Dark coffee served in what could have been small soup bowls with handles left a satisfying bitter aftertaste that wiped the memory of grits. Jeremy urged cognac on me and I had no trouble with it, sipping my way through several of them, but I passed on the bread pudding they raved about. When I saw it, lumpy sodden bread and raisins and who knew what else, I was sure it would have made me vomit. If they'd served that stuff in C-rations, the Marines would've revolted.

They finished with finger bowls. I knew what these were from experience, having drank mine in an Indian restaurant in Penang, Malaysia while on R&R. The Navy guy eating with me had busted a gut.

As Bobbi drove us back to the quarter I said, "I'd invite you up for a joint or something stronger, but I know you have to work tomorrow."

"I don't need to go to bed soon. I sleep a split shift; a few hours at night and a nap in the afternoon and I'm fine. But we need to find a place to park."

"We ought to be able to find a place easy this late on a weeknight."

I directed her down Governor Nichols off Rampart and we found a place between Burgundy and Dauphine a couple blocks from my apartment. She squeezed the little car into a small spot with a precise maneuver.

"Nice job," I said. "I never got the hang of parallel parking."

"I grew up in Boston and had to learn. It's second nature."

We approached Bourbon arm in arm, bass beat and hollering they called music intensifying, cruising men increasing from sparse to dense clots obstructing the narrow sidewalks. She released my arm and moved behind me, clinging to my hand as if afraid of cutting loose and floating off with a leather pack.

The musicless excuse for music peaked where Lafitte's crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk. The knot of men parted to let us pass. Through the gate the covered passageway muffled the noise, the crowd left behind in another world; fake miniature street-light in the courtyard illuminating moss-grown brick underfoot, stuccoed veneer falling off the brick wall from which sprouted green ferns, the courtyard all shadows and ferns, a green-streaked white plaster statue of an armless naked female torso, a dead fountain. We trudged up the winding, creaking wooden stairway past the landlord's place, locked dark and quiet, and entered my spacious porch.

The building was a Siamese twin, its identical match on the side away from the corner adjoined by a single wall. Two separate addresses, one shared courtyard, conjoined like a three story duplex.

Bobbi leaned on the railing of one of the two windows, looking across the courtyard at six tiny apartments marked by shuttered, wide wooden doors, stacked side by side in two three story columns like a three by two array bordered by stairwells on the right, each entry in the array corresponding to an apartment in the main building.

I joined her. The slope of the ceiling made standing upright at the two windows impossible.

"Those were slave quarters," I said. "They're smaller than any studio apartment I've ever seen. Shallow. When those doors are wide open, you can see the whole damned place, just a bedroom with a kitchen off to the side."

"This is a nice place. How'd you happen on it? People must be lined up to get in here."

"Luck. When I knew I was coming I got a copy of the Times-Picayune, saw this ad and answered it. The landlord liked the sound of me, graduate student in math at Tulane; figured I'd be responsible and quiet. He got some references and let me have it."

"I like it. Brick enclosure, skylights, even the red floor. It's a solarium. You ought to get some furniture besides that table. Some comfortable chairs. Does your landlord own both buildings?"

"No, only this side. He lives downstairs, second floor. His is the best apartment of the three. Huge balcony. He owns the three slave quarters in back, too, but I don't see how anyone lives there. The damned things are like closets. The one on top attached to the other building, not his, has a huge crack in the back wall. But they're always rented."

"It's an old place. These bricks, all of it, I bet its eighteenth century."

"I'm told the planks in the floors are pretty historical, like from ships or something. It's been restored. To original description, he tells me. He has copies of the old documents from seventeen seventy something-or-other. Restored around the turn of the century. Needs a lot of upkeep, and being historical it's a bitch to get materials. Have to use original slate on the roof, for example. He's trying to get my leak fixed but it's not easy."

I opened the door and Bobbi stared into the spacious square box with fifteen foot ceilings, chandelier and an old coal fireplace the landlord, Mr. Boudreaux, told me never to use. Leaky gas space heaters served well enough in this climate, the gas never accumulating in the drafty enclosure. When he'd first shown me the place, I'd remarked you could fire a cannon from the front door all the way through the living room and the door to the bedroom and on out the window to hit the Uneeda Biscuit sign painted on the bare brick structure across Bourbon Street. He'd said, in his exaggerated nelly drawl, "You'd better not, Mr. Bouchée."

Another old coffee table, a battered couch, and a couple upholstered chairs that had seen better days furnished the living room along with a scarred table just outside the doorway to the narrow strip of afterthought that served as a kitchen. The kitchen opened onto the covered sun porch, and on the other side of the wall from the kitchen was the bathroom and after that a small utility room with a window onto the gallery overhanging Bourbon Street.

"Make yourself comfortable," I said. "I need to use the bathroom and then I'll roll a joint."

Not knowing what she had in mind made me edgy.

I brought out my stash of moderately potent weed, dark Columbian with some fat buds but nothing like the sinsemilla I kept for special occasions. Smoking a cigarette, I sat at the table, laced the pot with Nepalese opiated hash and rolled a fat spliff in newspaper, lit it and took a monster hit.

Turning to hand it to her, she'd vanished, wandered into the bedroom. I stood in the doorway and took a second hit, watching her at the foot of the bed staring at the giant mirror on the wall.

"Jesus," she said, "ever worry about that thing falling on the bed? It'd crush you." She walked up to touch the gilt frame. "What is this? A wooden frame? It's huge."

"No; see the broken piece near the bottom? Plaster."

"However did they get it up here?"

"Good question. It won't fit in those windows. I asked the landlord and he thinks they brought it up before they fixed the front wall. He says it was opened out on that end. But I doubt it."

She came over and took a hit. "That's a huge joint," she croaked as she released the smoke.

"Jamaican style, according to a friend of mine who lived there for a time. He says they roll them bigger than this, prop them up with sticks."

Street music insinuated into the structure around us, rhythm entrapped in walls and floor, sympathetic counter pulses resonant in the air, dancing molecules reechoing her hair as a glowing obscuration.

She took another hit, held it, let it out with a laugh. "This is a loft. The roof really pitches to the street."

I inhaled until my lungs cramped.

"Prob'ly a store room for the shop on the ground floor," I croaked, smoke chasing the words. "The old plans put a shop on the ground, living quarters on the second floor, and I think storage up here." I paused for what could have been forever, then said, "Originally, I mean."

My eyes adjusted to the gloom; her face in relief, more angular than in the restaurant. Thin lips and small mouth. Eyes. Dark brown eyes, narrow, sagging circles of flesh underlining accents. Tired. I saw her tired.

She'd gotten quiet with her second hit.

"Let's go out on the balcony," I said.

We ducked through the window to the narrow metal catwalk, barely room for a chair, a flimsy ornamental rail on the street edge setting us apart from empty space. Barricaded at night into a promenade from Canal that ended one block shy of this block, at St. Ann, Bourbon Street throbbed an insistent beat, men prowling, kissing, walking with hands in one another's back pockets, chains hanging from jeans beneath leather vests and muscle shirts, leather cycle hats, kissing on the mouth. Suspended above it all we worked the spliff, both of us silenced by the jolt of hashish and marijuana. I flipped my cigarette off the balcony in a red arc and someone looked up at us, some bearded man in leathers, smiled, moved on.

"Its not bad stuff," I said to watch my words flutter to the street while she stared, senseless. "But I haven't seen God with it."

She turned to me, standing close, and I looked down at her, admired her graceful neck.

"Are you going to fuck me, big boy?" Her voice had deepened and her face leathered, ancient, the bags under her crone's eyes puffy and dark.

"Is that what you came for?"

"It sure isn't for the furnishings."

"What about the company?"

"That's precisely what it's about. The company's gotta pay for dinner some way."

"Let's get inside," I said. "I'll see what I can do."

She removed the blouse to expose a transparent beige bra, trifling brown nipples pointing through insubstantial material. Round superficial tits, not enough to fill my hands, high up on an elongated torso stretched above a flat oval of a belly with elliptical navel oriented upward. Bra off, the twin breaches released above a smoothly cylindrical frame showing no ribs, no cleavage, suspended beneath a high and prominent clavicle, widely separated across an evident sternum, the nipples parallel to the floor with no sign of droop and almost pointed dead ahead but slightly outward.

I didn't touch them.

"How about some coke?"

She leaned into me. "If you want."

We tooted off a mirror.

"You interested?" she asked, kicking off her shoes.

I touched the breasts, pinched the hard nipples. She put her hand on my groin and felt my erection, rubbed the spreading wet spot seeping through my trousers. I pulled down her skirt and stood back to look at her standing in the phosphorescent half glow flooding the room. Wide hips with saddle bags formed a hint of bulge at the top of slender thighs that tapered slightly to knees blended without noticeable bulges or knobs or twists into calves smooth, not muscular, not fat, ending in chubby feet planted flat on the ground sans evidence of arch. Short legs, short relative to her trunk, in the global perspective making me think dwarf.

"Come on," she said, "get out of those wet pants."

Standing in the middle of the bedroom against the foot of the bed, she removed panties and turned to look at herself in the mirror. The saddle bags showed more from the back, the taper more pronounced, but her smoothly contoured cheeks still smiled firmly above the widening of the haunches.

I dropped my clothes on the floor and stood with my erection pointing to the ceiling. She turned back and touched it, its weeping head dribbling on the historic planks. She licked the drool from her fingers.

"Pick me up, big boy. I want you to fuck me standing up," and I reached under her as she leapt, grabbing her ass cheeks for support. She glommed on like a parasitic leach, arching to guide my dick into the maw in her groin as she held me with tentacle arms and legs, spitting out the words, "Come on, tough guy, get it in me," and I lifted her higher, placing her over it and letting gravity pull her down until it buried in her wet hole. I slipped my middle finger into her anus and held her weight against it. My leg hurt like hell. I was afraid it would give out. I thought of Alexander's Horned Sphere.

"Fuck me, come on, fuck me," barking commands like a drill sergeant.

I flopped us onto the bed, restraining her arms as she pumped with legs wrapped around me. We paced a steady harmonic, neither fast nor slow. I pulled out and turned her over without letting her up, forcing her under me, under control. Pinning her arms to the bed, covering her legs, using my weight to hold her, I found the portal to her bowels with the head of my penis and rubbed while she shrieked, "No, not there, you son of a bitch," and tried to wriggle free. Impossible under my weight. She screamed with an edge of panic and tightened her butt muscles but I rubbed my drooling penis against her anus, pressing until it slid inside. I torqued with a clean movement, ramming home and pumping while she sobbed, then started to work with me, loosening the pincer grip of her cheeks. Echoing my rhythm, the sobs changed to moans and then keening as she bucked until I let go with a groan of my own, filling her like an enema.

She squirmed out from under me after I collapsed, hurrying to the bathroom to let go a series of wet farts; I imagined brown, viscous sperm dripping into the toilet from her butthole. I rolled over onto my back and leaned up on one elbow and she came back vicious, flailing at me with ineffectual slaps before I grabbed both wrists in one hand and held her at arms length. "You bastard, don't ever do that again—"

"Do what? You set the challenge. Its my place to pick the method. We start again and it'll be more of the same. Maybe you ought to get on your knees and clean it off."

Dancing eyes, even in the gloom; sparks. I waited for it to pass. When she went limp I let her go. She sat beside me.

"You have a substantial tool. Anyone ever tell you that?"

"No. Maybe you don't have enough experience with tools."

"I was the only white woman in graduate school at Howard University. No one there had anything on you."

"And none of those dudes fucked your asshole?"

"One tried, but it hurt so much he gave up. That hurt like hell."

I grabbed the box of sinsemilla from under the bed and rolled a tight joint.

"That was different," she said. "Not like an orgasm."

I handed her the reefer. She took a few leisurely hits, then handed it back.

"Pain, but something else too. But not like orgasm. Something blended in the pain, vaginal spasms I think—"

"The g-spot. I think women who have orgasms with anal sex have g-spot orgasms."

"Like no orgasm I ever had. It started out with a lot of pain and the pain never went away, but it blended in with a wave that came up from somewhere I never experienced before—"

"G-spot."

"Gräfenberg spot—"

"Right. I think its supposed to be what corresponds to the prostate in the male. The sexual organs are homologous from what I read…"

"I lost track…"

"Maybe it was the dope." I passed the joint back to her. "Maybe you left your body."

"No, unless it was to escape the pain."

"We need to experiment some more—"

"You ever fuck without dope?"

"I don't do much of anything without dope, but you can. Though my high might pass to you…"

"I don't get contact high, Whitey…"

We lay on our backs staring at the ceiling. A dope silence between us, one of those moments when you don't need to speak to communicate.

"Maybe it would be more interesting to get them both going at the same time. Clit and g-spot. I have a frie—"

"I don't go with women. I can do it myself. I have hands."

"You ever do two guys?"

"I might consider that."

I leaned over to kiss her navel and traced with my lips the fine down swirling like a trail from her belly to her mons pubis, spreading out along her pelvis, her inner thighs. I rolled her on her side, looking at the pattern spread out circumferentially and found a scar, raised up angry and red like a plateau overlooking a plain. I touched and she jerked forward.

"What's this?"

"The remnants of teen surgery. Kidneys. Its ugly—"

"No, its interesting," tracing the ragged welt with a finger and she sighed, "It turns me on. Its an erogenous zone…"

I licked and kissed it and she gasped and arched her back.

"Its beautiful. It's a beautiful mark."

"No, wait, I can't start again now, its late…"

I nibbled, bit harder; she gasped a growl.

I buried my face in the vee between her legs, found hanging cunt lips obscured in the mat of mousy brown hair growing like a wild fern, mumbling and chewing the meaty flaps, sucking her vagina inside my mouth, all the time rubbing her scar with my hand, searching with my tongue for the clit, finding it a swollen elongated pearl, a flattened marble, a knob effecting spasmodic recoil. I presented my cock to her face; she took it in her mouth. She flopped like a fish out of water, her legs pinioning my head, my fingers pinching the scar. Her muffled sobs modulated to medley choke-gag-slurp when I ejaculated again, but she kept my dick in her mouth and I chewed her clit until she pushed me away.

I made a mental note not to kiss her mouth.

In a while I walked her to her car. I liked that she didn't put on displays of affection, no touchy-feely kissy-face bullshit, not even a hug, certainly no mouth kissing; just got in the car, said good night and drove off. I walked on to Port of Call for a late burger and beer.

© Jim Chaffee 2011