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More words from Rob:

Images are Dangerous

How I Got Started in the Horoscope Writing Business

Chapter 2

I'm at the Catalyst, the biggest nightclub in Santa Cruz, California, looking for trouble on a Friday afternoon in April. Later tonight, my band World Entertainment War will be playing here, and I'm working myself into a righteous frenzy so I'll hit the stage in just the right mood.

For twenty minutes I sit alone at the bar swigging a lemonade under a sunny skylight. Meanwhile, I monitor the traffic in and out of the women's bathroom, glad to see only one visitor in all that time. Finally I'm ready to move. Acting as if I'm headed for the men's room, I instead slip into enemy territory, primed to perform my benevolent terrorism. The yellowish white walls are an unruly pastiche of smooth and rough surfaces. The mirror over the sink is blistered with cracked orange stains, and the faint stench of bleach adds just the right touch to the ambiance. Pulling out my fine-point felt-tip marker, I print neatly on the wall:

Macho feminist seeks cunning Goddess-worshiper with high IQ for experiments in raw friendship.

Do you want to be listened to with a luxurious concentration that no one -- let alone a mere man -- has ever given you before? Are you looking for a savvy servant and sidekick in your holy quest to cultivate your own flaming genius?

Try me. All my patriarchal imprints are incinerated, all my locker room jokes obliterated. Even better: I know how to play.

Let's dress up as teenage hoodlums and go hunting for pet grasshoppers in a dandelion meadow next to a trailer park while chanting passages from the Bhagavad Gita. Let's put on dorky floral shower caps and climb a hill at dusk in the rain to stage a water balloon fight while we sing songs from West Side Story.

Check my credentials: a roomful of books about the Goddess revival; a talent for channeling the spirit of Gertrude Stein; and ownership of a pair of red shoes once worn by Anaos Nin. I'll write songs about you, memorize the story of your life, massage your booboos. I have a ten-inch tongue, short fingernails, guaranteed no beard stubble. Foreplay isn't a means to an end -- it's a way of life.

Call Rockstar at

As I'm writing my phone number, the lavatory door slams open. In strides a tall, athletic voluptuary with a waist-length auburn mane and a bemused expression. I'm in love instantly. Her emerald eyes are kind but skeptical. Her crooked grin is a work of art that announces that she's uttered a lot of smart-ass benedictions in her time. My fantasies are already going full bore. I'm inventing her from scratch. She's a Qabalistic witch with dancer's instincts, steeped in the magical lore of herbs and the art of turning men into salamanders. She's a beauty queen who renounced her crown in solidarity with her ugly sisters everywhere. She's a stand-up comedienne with a slapstick streak, and she cackles when she comes.

Probably none of this is true, but I can't help myself. Her thick auburn eyebrows and flared nostrils and top-front-teeth-gap and freckled cleavage are the exact features my dreamwoman would have. Her high forehead and total lack of make-up are clear evidence that she's an earthy idealist with a massive IQ. Gorgeous sphinx with a prankster heart; part-Italian, part-Ethiopian, part-Irish, part-Czech, and part-extraterrestrial. Definitely not raised as a Catholic. Her loose-limbed body language says she loves sex and treats herself with joyous respect.

True, the purple baseball hat and purple windbreaker are a little strange -- they're accessories favored by redneck babes-but on the other hand the logo on the front of the hat is a double-headed ax, which is a notorious code, at least in bohemian Santa Cruz, for feisty feminism (having been an important symbol in ancient Crete, among the world's last-known matriarchal cultures). Maybe she's the star shortstop of an all-woman team sponsored by a pagan coven. Hell, maybe she's the high priestess of the coven herself. I picture her skyclad in an oak grove, holding a carved willow-wood thyrsus as she leads a circle of worshipers in a bacchanalian dance under a full moon.

Sorry. I'll stop now. I silently apologize for sculpting her out of my private raw materials. In real life, she's probably a single mother scratching out a living through a combination of welfare payments and a typical Santa Cruz under-the-table job like scraping barnacles off boats down at the yacht harbor. Of course this is also weirdly attractive to the part of me that yearns to save the world by erotically nurturing all the world's most psychically wounded (yet physically beautiful) women. In the interests of objectively reporting on the current state of my lust, though, that's not the specific version of the divine feminine I'm in the mood to lose myself in today.

I command myself to take a tantric breath of fire. It's amazing how profoundly my imagination can blind me. As the first flush of my testosterone-fueled fantasy subsides, I realize I've encountered this siren on at least three previous occasions, each time in circumstances where my receptivity to her charms did not fully combust due to my preoccupation with making a spectacle of myself. The first meeting was the night she jumped on stage during one of my band's shows here at the Catalyst. I was histrionically imitating a homeless person and screaming out the paranoid lyrics to "Get Out of My Head."

Get outta my head Leave me alone I wanna think my own thoughts now Get outta my head I'm never alone My brain feels like a radio

But as I yanked on a long shank of my hair, which was secured in a topknot by a white sweat sock, this wacko babe wearing a baseball uniform-the same voluptuary who now stands before me in the women's bathroom-grabbed the guitar player's microphone and tried to outshout me, chanting, "Brainwash yourself before somebody nasty beats you to it" until one of the bouncers ushered her off.

I also remember seeing her at a performance art ritual, "A Happy Birthday for Death," which a friend of mine staged for about sixty pagan hipsters in a cemetery at dawn a couple months ago. As the sun rose, I caught a glimpse of Gorgeous Sphinx doing a dance on top of a sepulcher to the accompaniment of harp, tabla, and didgeridoo. Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't stop and stare because I had a major role in the proceedings. I was playing the goat god Pan, complete with furry leggings and horns strapped on my head. My job was to dance obscenely and blow my panpipes and offer everyone sips of wine from my goatskin and in general stir up an orgiastic mood.

The third time I saw her was a month ago, at a party thrown by a local newspaper that carries the stories I write now and then. I was entertaining a gaggle of yuppie drunks with a rap about how I was a dream doctor; that if they prayed to me before they went to sleep, I would make a house call to their dreams and surgically remove the demons from their nightmares. Absolutely free! No further obligation!

Suddenly a green-eyed woman with stunning auburn hair elbowed her way through the champagne-swillers. Though I had never talked with her before in my life, she announced, "You said in my dream last night that I should not under any circumstances play soccer in bunny slippers at dawn in a supermarket parking lot with a gang of sadomasochistic stockbrokers who've promised to teach me the Balinese monkey chant. I'm extremely grateful for that advice, and I wanted to do something for you in return. Please accept this talisman. I made it myself."

Whereupon she handed me a purple origami in the shape of a bull's skull and disappeared.

"Are you lost?" she says now, here in the ladies' restroom, her tone a perky blend of sarcasm and affection.

"Doing some undercover political work," I say, trying to sound enigmatic but self-effacing, cocky but harmless. "Slipping some benevolent propaganda to the feminist masses."

She scans my graffiti, then turns to the mirror and stares my reflection in the eye with mock gravity. "Stick out your tongue," she commands.


"Stick out your tongue. I want to examine your tongue."

I'm in no mood to be rational. Besides, I've just announced in my personal ad that I want to be of service to strong, mysterious women. I thrust out my tongue.

"You don't have anywhere near a ten-incher," she laughs. "It's maybe five at most."

Am I dreaming? Is it possible this person is one of the rare grown-ups who likes to play as much as I do? My heart feels a warm, tickling rush as I dare to imagine that my initial fantasies about her might be accurate.

"My tongue always becomes exactly as long as the woman I'm with needs it to be," I reply, pretending to be defensive. Her next statement will be crucial. It'll tell me if she's prepared to join me here in a spontaneous act of performance art, or else retreat into a boring old literal conversation.

"But if it's true that you're a macho feminist, I would think that you might want to demonstrate the strength of your convictions by wearing women's clothing."

Eureka. Please O Goddess in heaven, let this woman be the kindred spirit she seems to be.

"My therapist has strictly specified which fetishes and addictions are good for me," I jive. "She says for now the only feminine garments I should wear are lesbian pumps." And in fact I do have on what are called in Santa Cruz "lesbian pumps" -- lavender hightop Converse sneakers.

"Uh-huh. OK. That is an acceptable answer. By the way, I should tell you that I have been sent by the Feminist Bureau of Standards to determine whether you meet the certification requirements. Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?"

"I'm eager to prove my worthiness."

"First question. You say you've got a roomful of books on the Goddess revival. Then give me a capsule summary of the importance of Marija Gimbutas' work.

"Question two. You say you've incinerated all your patriarchal imprints. Then give me a very practical example of a way it's changed one of your relationships with an actual woman.

"Third question. Let me feel your face. Hey, I thought you said you're stubble-free. I'd never let you slide that sandpaper across my cheek."

There are few exchanges with any beautiful woman that I don't find at least mildly erotic. (Whether this is a sick compulsion or a gift from the Goddess is still in question.) But when the beautiful woman is also skilled in the art of improvising irreverent psychodramas, mere titillation evolves into atavistic hunger.

Before responding to her test questions, I decide to make a pre-emptory strike. I will alert her to the possibility that my testosterone could at any moment boil over and sully my standing vow never to objectify any woman, ever, for any reason-even women who're begging to be objectified. My egregiously selfish, gloriously empowering, accursedly sickening, ecstatically inspiring TESTOSTERONE might, at any moment, assume its priestly shamanic disguise and attempt to transubstantiate Gorgeous Sphinx into archetypal Goddess food-that is to say, sneakily objectify her in a spiritual manner.

By the way, I am in awe of everything I just said. I inwardly genuflect in rapt admiration of my ability to confess my male sins in such a way as to make myself more attractive to women. Somehow I have been chosen by the Goddess -- I alone of all the men I've ever known -- to have discovered this brilliant technique of transcending the asshole-ness which is my legacy as a male -- by capitalizing on it.

I take my felt-tip marker to the bathroom mirror and carefully print at the top, "Official Document Ensuring That All Further Interactions between the Male and Female Will Be Fully Consensual."

Gorgeous Sphinx grows a mocking grin of horror on her face and stage-whispers, "My hero! Thank you so so very, very much for your oh-so-courtly courtesy and romantic old-fashioned respect. You're worried, aren't you? You're afraid you're going to commit an act of sexual harassment against my poor, defenseless female person. How flattering. I appreciate your sensitive concern for my delicate feelings ... Now quit waffling, bitch, and say what you fucking mean!"

She slaps her thigh histrionically and doubles over with guffaws. With her head still inverted and down near her knees, she edges her way towards me and begins to tie my shoelaces together. Blissfully stunned by this brazen act of prankful intimacy, I don't resist.

Trying to recover my composure, I shuffle back to the mirror to write some more. "Whereas, the male and female parties to this agreement earnestly desire to speak freely, but also recognize that the male, despite his most earnest efforts, has yet to fully debug himself of crude patriarchal metaviruses which could cause him to unintentionally hurl lust-bombs at the aura of the female."

Then I draw two lines for our signatures, and sign my name on one. Gorgeous Sphinx takes the marker from me and signs her name with her left hand. "Rapunzel Blavatsky."

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to subtract points for your residual patriarchal metaviruses," she says solemnly, "but your admission of guilt has awakened in me a possibly idiotic compassion which may well aid your cause in the long run. On the other hand, however, I'm getting impatient for your erudite discourse in reply to my three questions ... you goofy slut!"

A new attack of chuckles convulses her, and she slaps me on the back like a drunken ex-classmate at a high school reunion.

I take my Swiss army knife out of my jeans and open the biggest blade. I turn on the water faucet and squirt some of the yellow soap from the dispenser onto my hands. Soon I'm engaged in a primitive scraping of the stubble from my face. To show off my reckless poise even more, I don't even look in the mirror to guide my hand.

"Let's see," I begin. "Marija Gimbutas. Maverick archaeologist who for forty years doggedly tracked down ancient goddess figurines from under the soil of Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, singlehandedly digging up the concrete proof that up until four thousand years ago, God was a woman-and a woman with a big fat ass at that."

"Good, good. Though at the Bureau of Standards we prefer 'plump buttocks' to 'big fat ass.'"

Rapunzel is now facing away from me, hard at work drawing and scribbling on the wall with my felt-tip pen. I'm freshly invaded by the musky coyote scent of her grandiose hair as she squats down. That and her bouncy, muscular body language beam a wave of rubbery heat directly at my knees, which in reply threaten to crumple.

"Now as to your second question, Rapunzel. About giving an example of how I've incinerated my patriarchal imprints. Let me tell you about the laws of making love I learned from my lesbian girlfriend, Lourdes."

"You're a brave fool."

"Here's the first law: Whatever you, as a man, might think is the proper length of time to keep up a particular stroke or maneuver, take that and at least double it. Don't just rub your cheek against her belly for a couple minutes and then move on to swabbing your hair against her thighs. Continue doing that cheek and belly thing forever, like you're playing the childhood game 'Slow Motion.'"

As I speak, Rapunzel's creation is taking shape. It appears to be a cartoon strip.

"The second law is this: Figure out a way, using your imagination and magic, to get your thrills as much from giving your companion pleasure as you do from receiving pleasure from her. Remake your body, do whatever it takes, so that you have the sensation, when you're stroking your lover's erogenous zones, that you're literally touching yourself."

"And have you actually mastered these two laws yet?" Rapunzel interrupts.

"Well, I'm still working on the second. But the first is thoroughly ingrained."

"Uh-oh. Sounds like I'm going to have to take a few points off for not putting your money where your mouth is, my friend."

"I understand. But maybe you'll reinstate them when I tell you the other three laws. All of which I have perfected."

"I'm open to an appeal."

"The third law is that the top of the tongue and the underside of the tongue have very different textures. You should use them to create different effects.

"Fourth law: It's a wise soul who sings songs into his lover's flesh; who literally places his lips against various parts of her body and croons away."

Rapunzel shuffles over while still squatting and presses her mouth onto my left hand. To my delight, she sings a few lines from one of my songs, "Television":

Don't kill your television yet Have another cigarette in your imagination Tiger tiger burning bright Take back the airwaves of the night in your imagination

Finished with her guerrilla action, Rapunzel sidles back to work on her artistic masterpiece.

I continue my presentation as if I'm unfazed.

"The fifth law is most important. That's this. There are hundreds of erogenous zones to choose from, all created equal. A fully democratic allotment of sensitive nerve-endings. The back of the knee needs as much attention as the tender spot where the underside of the breast joins the chest. The lobe of the ear and the crook of the shoulder demand equal time. And don't neglect the place where the top of the thigh makes the transition into the butt; it deserves as many kisses as the nape of the neck.

"I should also mention a crucial corollary to the fifth law: Every part of your body should eventually caress, soothe, fondle, rub, and vibrate against every part of her body. No exceptions!"

"Elegant," Rapunzel says. "I think the Bureau of Standards will be impressed."

I've finished, as well as can be expected, ripping the whiskers off my face. The whole time I've delivered my monologue, my companion here in the restroom has been working. She steps away now, apparently satisfied, and I examine the piece in detail. It is indeed a comic strip. It features a male character with long hair and a wiry build, sort of like me.

In the first panel, the dude is shown bowing down as if in prayer or homage to a creature that has the body of a vulture and the head and breasts of a woman. A dialogue balloon coming out of the supplicant's mouth says, "I'm your humble serpent."

In the next panel, the vulture woman is aloft, carrying him away through the air. The mode of transport is unusual. Her buzzard beak is grasping the most sensitive part of his anatomy. The balloon emerging from his mouth says, "I always wanted to be stolen."

In the third panel his abductor has dropped him from a great height head-first down into a giant goblet on the ground. She's saying, "Into the Grail with you." The fourth panel shows the same scene, only now it's encapsulated within a TV around which a group of women is sitting and applauding. "Our very first volunteer!" one woman's balloon exults. What gives me the chills more than anything else about this artwork is that it has an eerie similarity to a certain set of events in my own past.

When I was a kid I loved six subjects: girls, astronomy, music, baseball, dreams, and vultures. At age nine, I was the founding father of the Vulture Culture Club, which included among its products a series of homemade comic books not unlike the work Rapunzel has splayed on the bathroom wall.

To this day, no one but me has ever seen those carefully drawn creations. Everyone, especially my parents, hated my fascination with the lowly buzzard, so I learned to be covert. My entire oeuvre, collectively titled "Raptor Rapture," was kept in a locked metal box which took me three weeks' worth of allowance to buy. Each installment in the series had a complex storyline, but of equal importance in the overall message was my benevolent propaganda. I often reiterated the fact that though from one point of view the vulture is the ugliest of birds, with its bald head and scraggly neck, it also happens to be the most graceful of all the soaring raptors. If you didn't know that their appearance in the sky is an announcement of death, you'd marvel at the long gliding dance of their flight.

Another fact about vultures which intrigued me was that they're misunderstood helpers. They don't, after all, kill the things they devour. In fact, most are peaceful creatures that never hurt a living thing. Their job is to assist nature in processing carrion; to clean up the messes that others have made.

But of all my reasons for becoming obsessed with vultures, my recurring dreams about them were the strongest. Though I shiver whenever I think of them now.

"Well, old boy," Rapunzel sighs, interrupting my reverie, "I'm quite impressed with your testimony about Lourdes. So impressed -- and I assure you this is highly irregular -- that I've decided to qualify you for admission right here and now, without submitting a full report to the usual committees."

Suddenly she sinks to her knees in front of me.

"Qualify me for what?" I gulp, trying to prevent my body from convulsing with lust.

"By the authority vested in me as Supreme Arbiter of the Feminist Bureau of Standards, I hereby declare you a candidate for admission into the Menstrual Temple of the Funky Grail."

Pulling my shirt out of my pants, she undoes its lower buttons and writes on my abdomen with the marker: WANNABE. Above it she also draws the profile of a vulture woman similar to the one on the wall.

As she finishes and stands up, she gives me one of the strangest looks I've ever seen. It's simultaneously conspiratorial, full of compassion, amused, didactic, and, if I'm not mistaken, a bit lustful. "Next question. Would you be interested in taking on the power of those who bleed but do not die?" she asks.

"And what the holy eucharist is that supposed to mean?"

She pulls a smooth, grey, oval rock out of her pants pocket and hands it to me. It's about six inches high and three inches wide, with two flat surfaces on which a text is printed in small red letters.

Men! Are you jealous of the emotional potency experienced by menstruating women?

Do you yearn to walk between two worlds with the same ease, grace, and mournful flair that they do?

Are you sick and tired of living by the unforgiving rhythms of phallocratic clock time?

Do you ache for regular dips in the stream of eternal consciousness? Are you exhausted by the absurd pressure to act as if you're in control all the time?

Would you enjoy getting way way away from it all at least four days of every month so as to refresh your duende -- thereby making it unnecessary for the Dark Goddess Persephone to sneak up from behind and knock you on your ass when you least expect it?

If you answered yes to even one of those questions, the hour of your liberation is at hand.

Now, for the first time since 4323 b.c., the Menstrual Temple of the Funky Grail will begin initiating men into the mysteries of menstruation-and you could be one of the first.

Hallelujah and praise Persephone! The ancient phallocratic curse on menstruation is withering. As the fearful lies of the Scared Old Boy Network lose their stinky magic, eons of disinformation about the peach flower flow are giving way to the New Menstrual Millennium.

And the payoff? Now even a few selected men will be able to undo the alienation bequeathed them by the Big Dickheads Who Turned the Tender, Poignant Penis into the Berserk Cosmodemonic Doomsday Machine.

Now even a few selected men can find out how to correlate their cycles with the tonic rhythms of the Dark Goddess.

Will you be one of the chosen? Stay tuned!

MENARCHE FOR MEN! COMING SOON TO A SACRED GROVE NEAR YOU! Guaranteed to be at least ten times less painful than circumcision.

"Where do I sign up?" I say when I've finished reading the rock for the second time.

"If you truly think you're up for it, there'd be some preparatory work you'd have to master."

Up till this moment, I've been nurturing the fantasy that Rapunzel is a bullshit artist of the first magnitude -- a play-acting lunatic as devoted to creating hyper-real performance art on the spur of the moment as I am. My confidence in this interpretation has been shaken somewhat by the speed and ease with which she materialized the mature vulture masterpiece on the wall. It seemed rehearsed. Now, with the appearance of the "menarche for men" announcement, I'm forced to consider the possibility that Rapunzel's behavior is at least partially premeditated.

Whether it is or not, I can't let that issue dampen my own contribution to the entertainment.

"Supreme Arbiter," I say, "I'd kiss your buttocks and wear a cardboard crown from Burger King and write a whole album's worth of songs just for you if that's what it took to earn the right to a female-mediated experience that no man has had since 4323 b.c."

She points to her ankle-high army boots. "You are indeed precocious, my boy, but not so much that you get to kiss the buttocks of the Supreme Arbiter on the first date. I will, however, let you take a stab at another part of the holy vehicle. See if you can transmit your tantric awe into my feet -- but without taking off my shoes, thank you."

I lean over to unlink the shoelaces that Rapunzel tied together earlier. Then I drop down to the floor and do ten push-ups, grunting like an army recruit. With my arms as props, I lift my upper body to her derrihre-level and feign a quick strike at my preferred target, barking fake karate yells. But this is just psychodrama, a strategy to heighten the foreplay and impress Rapunzel with my erotically attractive unpredictability. In fact, I'm determined not to blaze in on a fast, direct course and bang my lips ineffectually against the unyielding black leather guarding her toes. Instead, I plan to spiral in from the side of the left boot and descend on that sensitive borderland where the smooth hood of the boot meets the latticework where the laces begin.

Like a cobra I dart and feint with my head, approaching the target with a teasing caginess. Rapunzel seems patient, standing calmly with her legs apart about shoulder width, her eyes gazing down to catch my show. To add to the drama, I hiss almost subliminally.

My final descent is in slow motion. With reverent tenderness, I rest my lips gently against the targeted area and begin to chant a mantra evoked specially for the occasion: SMOOOOOOCH. Now and then my tongue slips out to seal the prayer, tasting the leather that separates me from Rapunzel's sacred skin.

"I'm pleased," she says blithely when I'm done. "That was one of the most lion-hearted boot kisses I've ever been worshiped with. I can see you're willing to take blasphemous liberties with your tantra. You don't do it by rote. Shows your great promise."

"Thank you thank you thank you."

"Now what's that hype you spouted about writing a whole album's worth of songs for me? Are you really prepared to follow through on that offer, or was that just your sex making promises the rest of you can't keep?"

"It'll be like a rock opera," I riff without hesitation, "based on a story of a macho feminist rock singer who before a show at a big nightclub sneaks into the women's bathroom because he's heard there's a lot of horny graffiti written about him in one of the stalls. Only while he's in there he has a fortuitous encounter with a mysterious woman with a fairy tale name who he quickly realizes is smarter than he is and who also isn't totally gaga about his fame and charisma like all the other girls, which turns him on so much that he cooks up a plan to get to know her better. And the plan is that he offers to write a whole cycle of songs about her based on the story of her life, which he has no intention of actually doing because it's just his sex making promises the rest of him can't keep. She falls for it. She agrees to let him interview her and follow her around and plagiarize her life. To his own amazement, the rockstar gradually realizes she is the most fascinating and powerful woman -- no, the most fascinating and powerful person -- that he's ever met. He becomes so infatuated with the epic sweep of her fate that he sets to work composing a great song cycle about her after all."

"Doesn't exactly fit into the World Entertainment War esthetic though, does it?" Rapunzel replies in a compassionately skeptical tone. "I love what you and your band do, but you're not especially renowned for your poignant storytelling, are you? I admit that you've got the formula down for funky rock anthems and comic shticks. You do the pagan chant thingee pretty well, and the anarchist politics. I truly enjoy your whatchamacallit, your bombastic ritual therapy. But I've got to say that all that hypermasculine flash leaves me a little hungry in the emotion department. Aside from the shock and laughter and rebellious dissidence, you don't seem to know squat about how to arouse the whole rest of the spectrum. You know what I mean? I'm talking about creature states. Sadness, restlessness, astonishment, the longing to belong, gratitude, mourning-you know, real life. You're always so goddamned mental. So relentlessly masculine."

"I can explain -- "

"Now on the other hand, I have seen signs of a budding tenderness in those stories you write for the local paper. Most of the time they've been as relentlessly arch and clever as your rockstar shtick. But lately there's been just a hint of a softening. It's like you're tiptoeing up to getting ready to invoke your readers' soft deep achy feelings. Now and then you condescend to telling an intimate tale about the way the love and pain get all mixed together out here among us common folk.

"You keep going in that direction, and then I might let you write a song cycle about me. But not now. Not yet."

I feel deflated. Her critique is truly insightful -- a pithy articulation of thoughts that have only recently appeared on the frontiers of my self-awareness. But I can't believe she's suddenly abandoned the bubbly spirit of our theatrical improvisation and regressed into serious conversation. She's broken the rules of our fun game. Before I can summon a rejoinder, she slips into one of the stalls and closes the door. She starts singing one of my songs, "Apathy and Ignorance."

In the land where nothing's sacred Where the doctors make people sick If you stand on your head you might see things more clearly But then again you might become addicted to conflict I ... I have a problem I know that lawyers cause all the crime And the banks make the drugs flow The priests make the porno And you might be responsible for poisoning the sunshine What is the difference between apathy and ignorance I don't know and I don't care What is the difference between apathy and ignorance I don't know and I don't care
As she croons, she's rustling around inside the stall. I see she's taken off her windbreaker and draped it over the top of the stall. Finally she finishes the song and yells out, "Take off your shirt and throw it over to me."

I obey. A moment later a shirt flies out. I guess she was wearing it under the windbreaker. "Let's trade," she says.

I don my new costume, a short-sleeved baseball jersey. It's dark plum with black pinstripes. The number thirteen is on the back. A big, buttoned pocket graces each side. On the front of the right pocket are the words "Menstrual Temple of the Funky Grail," along with a picture of a rather queenly gold and red vulture, who has a woman's face and crown on a body which is thoroughly buzzardly except for two exuberant breasts. This is a more majestic version of the creature in Rapunzel's comic strip.

I soak in the new scent that now clings to me. Silken saltiness are the words that come to mind to describe it. Ancient freshness. I flash on an immaculate spider web after a summer rain, and the leathery sweetness of the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose fragments I once sniffed in a museum. Weirdly, I'm also reminded of a vivid smell from childhood: my mother's sweetly musty old khaki cloth bag full of marbles from her own childhood. She kept it in her closet, and when she wasn't home I would sneak it out to examine the beautiful antique marbles. Strange that this specific old aroma would emanate now from the shirt of a stranger. It's indescribably unique. There are no words for it besides the pictures and feelings they stir: chilly autumn Saturdays playing alone in the basement of the family home in Michigan while football games drone on the TV.

All these fragrances together evoke in me a delirious happiness, a kind of dreamy unselfconscious joy from my childhood. It's very different from the alert, calculating excitement that Rapunzel's presence has provoked in me up till now, though also oddly synergistic. Adding to the celebration is my instinctive sense that all of her delicious smells are utterly natural. Nothing artificial in the mix, thank Goddess. No pheromone-destroying perfumes or deodorants.

As I meditate on these glories, another item of clothing sails over the top of the stall and alights on my shoulder.

"Sorry to say I don't have a cardboard Burger King crown with me," Rapunzel says. "Would you accept these instead?"

I drink in the lovely sight of the dark plum-colored, silk bikini underpants. They sport the picture of a regal buzzard much like the one that graces the shirt pocket. The only difference is that this one has long, Rapunzel-like hair.

I pull the panties over my head, dipping them down to nose-level before raising them back up and arranging them like a crown. Immediately I'm spinning in a hurricane of synesthesia. A collage of half-remembered, half-imagined tastes and visions from my childhood billows out of a mutating whirl of aromas. I'm slurping raspberry sorbet in a rowboat with my mother as we float on Otsego Lake in northern Michigan shortly after catching my first fish, a scared rainbow trout flipping around and pooping in a red bucket next to me. Or I'm lolling in a plastic swimming pool beneath a tree full of ripe pears in Marty Maxwell's backyard while eating his mother's delectable peanut butter and banana and maple syrup sandwiches as his younger sister Debbie lowers her bathing suit and shows us what girls look like down there. Or I'm lying at night in my bed dreaming of listening to the static-y radio broadcast of the Detroit Tiger baseball game when a ball of mist puffs in through my open window, smelling of lavender and vinegar and new-mown grass.

Fermenting dreamily in this ripe vortex, I'm startled when Rapunzel bolts out of the stall and slips by me. "Catch you later," she says and glides out the lavatory door.

"Can I call you?" I yell after her, but the door smacks shut. I do a series of five tantric breaths of fire to refocus my awareness, fasten a couple buttons on my new shirt, and burst out of the bathroom myself. Rapunzel, wearing my favorite Indonesian-print shirt, is already trotting out the front door of the club. I lope after her, but by the time I reach the street, she's disappeared. Gambling that she's turned down Cathcart Street, I bolt that way. But when I arrive at the corner she's nowhere in sight.

Read Chapter 3

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