Since Ingmar Bergman died I can not cannot CANNOT stop thinking about sex. I walk through the masses at the subway terminal, head swiveling to take in the men, thinking, yes, no, maybe, no, no, yes, no, maybe, yes, yes, maybe. Every morning. Cutting through the commute like a sex scythe. I try to estimate which subway car is going to have the highest hottie-per-capita factor from a surveillance of the platform—erotic reconnaissance—and I head there. My entire being is plugged into the beautiful worlds extended tease until the second I arrive at my desk. And then I shut it down. Usually work gets my electrons spinning faster, but lately the workday seems dull. Unsexy. Report writing. Planning. Marking. Things are slower in the summer, sure, but thats no excuse for the entire day feeling like a rude intrusion into my real life: my sex life.
Who is more sex-obsessed—adolescent males or middle-aged men? The adolescents in the recent comedy smash, Superbad (the only movie Ive seen post-Ingmar), are thinking about sex all the time and I can so relate. Only Im forty-five. Halfway to ninety.
Teenage sex-saturatedness is overstated. The cineteen I most resembled as a realteen was that boy in Little Miss Sunshine who had stopped speaking in honour of Friedrich Nietzsche. When I was a teenager I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. Sure, sometimes I was masturbating but usually I was practicing my book jacket photo poses in the mirror. And crying. I would cry and watch myself. I was in love with my gorgeous suffering.
When I was thirteen I saw an episode of Lost in Space where mirrors were revealed to be portals to another dimension. Silvery aliens were always watching us. I had a harder time masturbating after that. And not harder in a good way. Somehow in my mind, like in a surreal dream shift, it was all the nuns Id known whod died that were behind the mirror: Sister Mary Francis whod directed the choir with perpetual contempt, Sister Ferdinand who was cool and got speeding tickets, Sister Anne who always smelled like a musty dishrag. So, whenever I was going to masturbate I had to cover the mirror in my room with a sheet. Also, I had to take clothes pegs and pin my drapes together just in case anyone was peeking in from outside. Id gotten that anxiety from a Nancy Drew mystery of my sisters Id read—there had been a horrifying illustration captioned, A strange face at the window. Self-consciousness is the enemy of wild abandon.
Nope, when I was an adolescent I was obsessed with Ingmar Bergman and saving the world. I thought I could save the world with my Ingmar Bergmanesque art.
Theres a Lynda Barry cartoon where Marlys and her friend save the world with their hula-hooping. Those chubby little imaginative girls in their one-piece bathing suits made me remember the first time I had fantasized about saving the world. I was in the bath. My mother had recently downloaded the job of shampooing my hair to me. This happened after she came in to do it and Id asked, Mom, why does my penis go hard when I look at the Herbal Essence shampoo bottle? Look, and Id knocked it, as hard as a board! I was nine. I had no idea. On the bottle of Herbal Essence was Eve with her shiny flowing hair covering her breasts, Eden all around.
On my own in the bath, I had the rubber-hose shower head attached to the bathtub faucet and I was singing into the end like Aretha Franklin. The hose kept curling around my body because I was sort of wiggleflip dancing. I thought my watery wiggleflip dancing and singing show was spectacular. I imagined some sci-fi future where my great performance was being beamed to the universe. War was put on hold so that all could take in my extreme amazingness.
Yes, I had saved the world.
A little older, I wrote my first screenplay about nuclear war and I fantasized about the film playing at the Cannes film festival and leading to an immediate disarmament on all sides. The pope himself gave me my award and Ingmar Bergman had me over to his house for supper.
In high school, I spent hours trying to put together a mathematical formula that would help people contain their beliefs differently so that they were held in a place not any deeper than an essential common human denominator. Id heard that many recent philosophers had begun as mathematicians (Russell, Husserl, Wittgenstein). I assumed that this was the sort of thing they were working on.
When I was in a rock band in university, I aimed to improve society. I never once screwed a groupie, although I had many all-night conversations about world peace. I really thought I could help tortured adolescents in their little Northern Ontario basements stop thinking about killing themselves and start gaining the confidence to be their freaky selves. I was a very earnest indie rock musician. I wrote songs about diversity, oppression, and marginalization. I continued to suffer gorgeously.
Somewhere along the way I lost my Ingmar fixation. The weird thing was that Id never actually seen a film by Ingmar Bergman. I lived in Northern Ontario—we didnt even get Hollywood movies until almost a year after they opened elsewhere. This was before DVDs. In fact, it was before VCRs. But for some reason, my high school library had the book Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman. I stumbled across it and was blown away. There were stills from the films, so I had some idea of how they looked. Incredible. So thats what I spent most of adolescence doing—thinking up dream sequences. Doodling in notebooks. Tapping out bare Scandinavian-sounding themes on the piano. I wasnt sure what my art would be—pop songs, skits, interpretative dances, very humourous television commercials. Whatever it would be, it would put an end to all bad things forevermore. Anything was possible due to my specialness.
My Ing-y-lust transferred to some artist or other though—Jan Svankmajer, T. S. Eliot, David Byrne, Lynda Barry. The last one was Kurt Cobain. I was standing in a highway truckstop with my bass player and best friend, grabbing coffee on the way to a gig. He said, Holy shit, look, and pointed to the TV. There was a news show on. Kurt Cobain had blown his head off in Seattle. Id known he was sad. Id read every interview. Id figured once our band became big, Kurt and I would become pals and hed be happy.
Yes, I would have saved Kurt Cobain—not quite the world, I know, but: think globally and act locally, right?
That dream died with a crappy coffee in my hand. Oh well, whatever, never mind. And after that, for many years, dreams seemed childish and Id snuff them out if they flared up.
I got my joy back eventually although my passion is no longer for saving the world. These days I think the world is pretty OK, actually, as I experience it. Ive heard its bad elsewhere. But misery is hard to fathom when Im living in Toronto surrounded by kind, beautiful men. I try to be good. I recycle. I vote socialist. I work hard for my clients. I give money to charity and occasionally to the homeless people I pass on the sidewalk. But I pass them smiling because up ahead is the perfect ass floating below a lean waist and broad shoulders. Plus, hes got blond stick-up hair like Max von Sydow.
After work, I un-pen the sex-mind. I find somebody to have sex with, or if Im tired or feeling fat I go home and masturbate. Im having my adolescence now, I guess. I suppose this is a mid-life crisis, although crisis makes it sound like a bad thing. It actually feels rather sweet. In the gay recreational sex community the miracle of simple human connection is abundant.
I think death is the reason. Death is tapping at my shoulder now. And deaths older sister—aging—is practically pummeling it. There are a limited a number of nights I can expect to walk into a gay bar or a sex club and turn a head in my direction. Soon enough Ill walk in and the heads will turn away, no one wanting to make eye contact with the shriveled troll, the tolling bell, the emissary from the endless dark kingdom.
So, my dear Ingmar, from your seat behind the mirror we finally meet. In my middle ages I play nude Twister with death, hoping to spin left foot on red which will take me closer to that young hottie with the baseball cap and the skull tattoo, and not right hand on blue which will put me up against that old worthy with the rainbow cock ring poking out of his grey pubic hair. Wish me luck. Say hi to Sister Ferdinand. And spin, baby. Spin!
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