Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Operaville, the Novel: Chapter Ten: Star Spangled

Read the novel here, a chapter a week, or buy the book (paperback or Kindle) at Amazon.com


            Excepting the actual Burning of the Man, the most popular Burning Man event is Critical Tits. Three thousand women bare their breasts, hop on bikes and ride across the playa. The men are sworn to polite behavior, but inevitably there are gawkers and photographers. Applying his usual savoir faire, Colin has devised a way to satisfy his visual appetite in exchange for a useful bit of sheep’s clothing. Armed with a gas-powered outboard margarita blender, he and his cohorts station themselves near the course and offer up free refreshments.
            “We’ve got this thing down to an artform, really. Every year we move closer and closer to the finish line, so as to catch the comely females at their thirstiest. We had to wait a devilishly long time, but once they arrived they came in droves! At one point, we must have had three hundred. Or six hundred, depending on how you’re counting. I was like the happiest fucking dairy farmer in the contiguous 48. Eventually we ran out of ice and cups, so we simply bent the young ladies over backwards and mixed the margaritas in their mouths. One large-breasted lovely allowed me to drink directly from her mouth as I fondled her humongous knockers. F-u-u-u-uck!”
            We are re-doing the Deck of the Cursed. We laid down the original two coats a couple years ago, and spent most of our time mollifying our female client’s paranoid fantasies. All of which came true. Wide stretches of peeling paint and freckles of black mold. I have labeled it a “mystery deck” – one of those decks that suffers from some environmental malady we are simply not equipped to diagnose. Regardless, we are here to supply a free restaining, and I’m kicking in my labor at no charge to Colin.
            Colin is a freakishly fast stainer to begin with, but the memory of all those breasts has kicked him into overdrive. He reaches the final five feet of the final three planks and swipes them over in about two seconds.
            “Well, mate, why don’t you head out? I’ll clean up the equipment. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your international singing sensation. How are things going, by the way?”
            “We’ll need a much bigger deck for that story.”
            “Oooh!” says Colin, twisting the vowel into lascivious ribbons. “Lots of dirty, filthy sex I hope?”
            “With several different women.”
            “All of whom are Maddalena.”
            Colin hops over some planks onto a concrete step, the beginning of his escape route.
            “You’re being a Sphinx, my friend. But perhaps I should wait till another day for the answer to the riddle.”
            “You’re absolutely right. I’m off!”
            “Ta! And thanks again for, er, volunteering.”
            “I suspect we’ll be making this an annual occasion.”
            “Heaven forfend!”
            It’s awfully amusing to have a boss who uses “forfend” in a sentence. I dash to my wagon, make a three-point turn and climb the driveway.
            I am determined to fine-tune my routines, so I have brought along a pack of Handi-Wipes for a cat-bath at the Burlingame rest area. Fortunately, tonight’s opera is casual-dress, so I’m able to settle for blue jeans and a rugby shirt. A half-hour later, I pull into the lot with my VIP parking pass and make my way across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. I follow the Habitrail of walkways and escalators until I come out before an ocean of seats along the first-base line.
            My next instruction has me a little baffled: Report to shortstop. That’s just a little too close to my childhood fantasies. I wander lower, past the gateways into the box seats, then I spot a queue next to the dugout watched over by a guy in a blue security jacket. Ah, thinks I, this is where the dream ends. But then I see that Mr. Beefy is simply giving the patrons a hands-up over the transom. Onto the field!
            So I’m standing in the on-deck circle, peering up at the stands like I always knew I would, someday, and I take a tentative walk toward the infield. Three Mexican kids rush down the third-base line and slide across home plate. What manner of anarchy is this? I find myself in front of the pitcher’s mound and I figure, Why the hell not? I ascend the hill, place one foot next to the slab and lean forward, holding an invisible ball behind my back. My catcher signals for the curve. Uncle Charlie. The Yakker. I give him a nod, then straighten up and bring my hands together, eyeing the runner on second.
            What are you doing?”
            A winsome blonde has ventured onto the field. Too late. The pitch must be made.
            “World Series, game seven, bases loaded, up by a run. This is my seven-year-old fantasy. You didn’t appear till I was twelve.”
            She waves a hand toward the plate like a game-show model. I make a dramatic delivery, square up my feet and snap my head toward right field.
            “What?” says the blonde.
            “Home run. We lose.”
            She swats me on the shoulder. “What kind of fantasy is that?”
            “Future opera critic. I had an early passion for tragedy.”
            “Give me a consolation kiss, then.”
            “Honey! I’m a professional athlete on national television.”
            “Good! I need some crossover exposure.”
            I tip back my Giants cap, I tip back Maddie’s Giants cap, and give her a hearty smooch. A nearby picnicker says, “There’s no kissing in baseball!” and we walk away laughing.
            She brings me to shallow left, where a pair of low-slung camping chairs proffer ice-cold beers from their respective cup-holders. An adjacent box holds two jumbo hot dogs loaded up with sauerkraut, plus a bag of peanuts.
            “My God, honey, if we could just have sex right now, I’d have all of my favorite things in the universe, all at once.”
            “I get the feeling the management would frown on that.”
            My mind flashes back to a night game at Candlestick Park, the Giants’ old stadium. When the occupants of the left field bleachers look skyward, pointing and giggling, I follow their fingers to a mostly-clothed couple in the desertlands of the upper deck, fucking like bunnies.
            “Oh, sorry.” I join her in sitting down, and I tip the first swallow of beer into my mouth. It’s a hefeweizen, my favorite.
            “Do you realize that Omar Vizquel and Barry Lamar Bonds may have possibly trod upon this very spot?”
            “That’s why I prepared this.” She holds up a Zip-Lock bag containing a granular red substance.
            “You’re giving me dirt?”
            “Dirt from this very infield.”
            I lean over to kiss her again. “You are the greatest of all women who ever trod the Earth.”
            She flashes her best curtain-call smile. “I’ll bet you say that to all the girls.”
            “Only you and my mom.”
            “Good company.” She puts a hand on my cheek. “I’ll be right back. But don’t wait for me. Eat that hot dog before it gets cold.”
            I assume she’s off for a bathroom break. I sit back in my chair and start in on my dinner as David Gockley, the opera’s general director, appears on the giant DiamondVision hi-def scoreboard. He says the usual stuff, everybody around me stands and I see the face of Maddalena Hart, ten stories high over the centerfield bleachers. She nods at her cameraman and starts into the Star Spangled Banner. I look behind me and spot her behind home plate, a silhouette against two small spotlights. Then I realize the better view is on the scoreboard. I picture myself scaling those five-foot-tall lips.
            I’m quickly into another flashback. Placido Domingo doing the honors at an Oakland A’s playoff game in 1990. His approach is remarkably straightforward, delivering two immediate messages: I’m respecting your country’s song by not messing with it, and my voice is so awesome it’s going to sound great regardless.
            Maddie takes the same approach, her shimmering vibrato drifting over the bay, but when she strikes the word “home” she launches a Rossinian cadenza, endowed with skipping scales and a long, accelerating trill. It’s a satire, really – a comment on thousands of pop-star showoffs. For those who haven’t yet gotten the joke, she takes a lengthy pause, and a wheezy inhale, before releasing the final three notes. The crowd responds with equal parts laughter and applause.
            The camera follows her as she walks across the diamond and (I suddenly realize) toward me. I turn and greet her by bowing and kissing her hand. She smiles and talks through her teeth.
            Such a ham.”
            “Says the queen of Hamsylvania.”
            She bursts out laughing. “Damn you!”
            We sit and sip our beers.
            “Awesome cadenza.”

            Tonight’s offering is a live simulcast of Saint-Saens’ Samson et Delilah. I’ve already seen it; it’s perfect for a stadium audience. Enormous sets, lots of action and sex sex sex! The score delivers a brand of exoticism that just drips with sensuality. The voices are strong – especially Olga Borodina, who does such a great job with the seduction scene that you kinda forget she ain’t exactly Miss Universe.
            In a lot of ways, I prefer this vantage to the fancy orchestra seats. For one thing, the spectators here are allowed – nay, encouraged – to talk, and shout, and cheer. The Chronicle has handed out placards with SAMSON on one side and DELILAH on the other. My favorite reaction comes when our heroine first broaches the subject of hair-cutting. Some guy in the lower boxes yells “Don’t do it!” In the temple scene, a troupe of sinewy male dancers charges through a tribal rite, wearing the kind of butt-revealing loin cloths that tips off the presence of a gay stage director. Three college kids clear out a spot near the left-field line and do their best to mimic their moves. They’re pretty drunk, but I gotta say, they’re doing a good job.
            In the center of this comedy, I sit upon the consort’s throne as the city’s most beautiful woman kisses me and hands me peanuts. The national anthem has succeeded in revealing her true identity, so every few minutes we receive autograph-seekers. The amateur opera fans are even more polite than the serious ones; I think they’re even a little afraid of her. The sweetest are a young mother and her eight-year-old daughter, who demonstrates her aspirations by producing a few artful screams to the music coming from the simulcast.
            “You’ve got some real power!” says Maddalena. “You could be a great singer.”
            The girl hides her mouth with her hands and giggles as Mom guides her toward second base.
            “You are so good,” I say.
            “Part of the job. Besides, you think I sounded like an angel at that age? I know of certain home movies that could easily be used for blackmail. Ooh! Get ready. Here comes the big demolition.”
            As Samson grunts and roars at his pillars, a gray-bearded black man lofts a football into deep left field. His teenage son receives it on the warning track as the temple falls. Something about this is perfect.

            I am an acolyte of Willie Mays, so it’s impossible for me to traverse the front plaza without touching Willie’s statue for luck. He has just completed that enormous swing and is dropping his bat, his feet already churning. I grab on to one enormous shoe, and immediately hear a baritone voice.
            “Excuse me, sir, could you please keep your filthy hands off the statue?”
            I turn to discover Joe, who I met a year ago in a pre-opera lecture. Joe is a higher-up at a huge firm in Silicon Valley, but he is one of those rare individuals who is interested in absolutely everything. His willingness to fill in at the last minute has made him my primary emergency opera date. He repays this seeming rudeness by treating me to overpriced post-opera absinthe at Jardiniere. One night we spotted Deborah Voigt sitting at the bar after a performance in Un Ballo in Maschera. It took Joe 15 minutes to convince me to go up and pay my respects. She was delightful, and the most famous opera singer I had ever met.
            “Joe! Did you like it?”
            “It was fantastic! I especially like all the detail you get with that high-def camerawork. It’s like watching a movie of the opera. Oh! This is my wife, Carye.”
            Carye is a cute, bright-eyed blonde with a bird-like face. She pulls a hand out of her jacket and offers it to me.
            “So you’re the one who’s been culturifying my husband. It’s very reassuring to meet you. Last-minute trips to the ‘opera’ tend to make a woman suspicious.”
            Joe smiles. I spy a familiar set of green irises in the middle distance and brace myself for a most delectable introduction.
            “And this is my girlfriend, Maddalena. You may remember her from earlier.”
            Maddie chooses that moment to whip off her ballcap, unleashing her blonde mane, then shakes hands with Carye.
            “No!” says Carye. “The national anthem? That was fantastic.”
            “Wait a minute,” says Joe. “Maddalena Hart?”
            “God’s gift to the opera,” says Maddie.
            Joe is very quiet for a moment (a rarity for him), then he manages to get back onto his rails.
            “You don’t know. Maddalena Hart this, Maddalena Hart that. You don’t know how ceaselessly he talks about you. But this! This is going too far. Did he stalk you?”
            Maddie treats us to her best Die Fledermaus laugh. “Quite the opposite. I pestered poor Mickey till he could not refuse me.”
            “And you can just imagine what a fight I put up. Restraining orders, heightened security…”
            “We’ve been insufferable ever since.” She sneaks a hand behind me and gives my butt a good squeeze.
            Carye’s eyes get bigger. “Come to our place right now. It’s my birthday, and we’re having some friends over. They’d get such a kick meeting you!”
            “How’s your schedule?” I ask.
            “I’m okay,” says Maddie.
            “Okay then,” says Joe. “Andiamo!”
            “He learned that from an opera,” I say.
            We tail Joe and Carye to Pacific Heights, manage to find a parking space around the corner and take an elevator to their apartment. The interior is white, white and white, and the windows offer a stirring cityscape, the Golden Gate peering in from the top left corner.
            The friends turn out to be co-workers from Macy’s, where Carye heads up the fragrance department. They all seem pretty comfortable with the surprise celebrity, and it’s no wonder. I recall Joe telling me of a release party for Danielle Steele’s new perfume that featured Sir Elton John playing piano in the living room. Joe is much more excited about Maddie. He interrogates me in the kitchen as we select from 27 different bottles of vodka. I choose one shaped like a skull.
            “How does this happen?” asks Joe. “I thought you had to be a fellow celebrity. I thought they had to give you a special card.”
            “You know? I’ve been asking myself that same question for three months now. I often feel that I am the victim of some extended prank. Really extended.”
            He drops a twist of lemon into my martini. “How’s the sex? Do celebrities do it differently than you or I?”
            “Apparently, they do it much better. We had some problems at first. I had to learn to stop respecting her so much.”
            Joe takes a sip from his martini and smacks his lips. “Mmm! This one’s made from apples.”
            “I thought vodka was a potato thing.”
            “Nope. It’s the process that makes it vodka. The vegetable matter doesn’t… matter. But the respect thing! That makes a lot of sense. I have had the best sex ever” – here he switches to sotto voce – “with women I didn’t even like. With Carye, it took a long time to get to that point. I liked her too much. She had to sort of give me permission to mistreat her.”
            “Talking about me? Talking about me?” It’s Carye, her eyes glimmering with wine.
            “About how I do not deserve such a goddess!”
            Carye turns to me as witness. “True?”
            “Mickey, do you play piano?”
            “Not a whit.”
            “Good! Get in here and play piano.”
            I give Joe a look, enter the dining room and head for the upright. I really don’t play piano, but I do play excellent fake piano, which is an entirely different thing. I rumble my left hand over the low keys, then chime some random chords with my right, spacing my fingers so it looks like I have some clue as to what I’m doing. Then I twiddle some trills over the black keys, which sounds very modern-art-hall, and smash a seven-fingered amalgamation over the middle range. Carye chooses this moment to jump onto a kitchen chair and broadcast a not-unpleasant shriek, something like what might be produced by an impassioned seagull. I respond by taking several cat-like pounces up and down the keys and she follows suit, sending out a series of staccato yelps like a Wagnerian chihuahua. She finishes with an extended so-called top note as I thread a cartoonish arpeggio all the way to the high notes, rising and walking as I play. I stop for a split second, give Carye a nod and bang down the final chord to her siren-like whoop. The Macy’s girls let loose with a chorus of screams, but none is louder than Maddie’s laughter. Once we settle down, it is up to Ms. Hart, of course, to provide a critique.
            That was the most inspired, enthusiastic, intense, whimsical – excuse me, I’m running out of adjectives – sophomoric, antiquated, brilliant piece of crap I have ever witnessed.”
            “You heard her,” says Carye. “I’m brilliant!”
            “Yo-Yo Ma!” yells Joe, raising his appleish-tini.
            An hour later, the party is even drunker, and being taken over by Joe’s new Wii gaming center. I’m at the back of the crowd, fascinated by the levels of simulated reality. A familiar pair of lips descends upon my neck.
            “I hope to God that’s Maddie.”
            “Oui,” she whispers. “Follow me.”
            She leads me to the master bedroom, then heads back to the door.
            “Please lock, please lock – ah! It locks.”
            She wastes no time but kneels in front of me and takes down my pants.
            “Well! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
            She takes me deep into her mouth, gives me a long, slow suck and then smiles.
            “You used the word ‘girlfriend’ in a sentence. Women love it when you use girlfriend in a sentence.”
            “It’s always a bit of a surprise, the first time. It just sort of pops out.”
            “‘Boyfriend,’” she recites, then gives me a lick. “I am sucking my boyfriend’s dick in his friend’s bedroom.”
            “Now in French!”
            “Je suis sucer mon ami de dick dans son ami de chamber à coucher.”
            “When you put it that way, it sounds dirty.”
            She takes me out and tickles my balls with her fingers. “We probably haven’t much time, honey. When you feel like you’re getting close, I want you to pump this thing into my mouth like you’re fucking me. I want every drop.”
            I look sideways to find us framed in a closet-door mirror, and it seems that much filthier. A few minutes later, I hold my diva by the ears and stroke into her like there’s no tomorrow. I hear a roar of applause from the living room and imagine that it’s for me.

Sculpture by Greg Hill

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