“Something She Probably Wouldn’t Want to Know”

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Reunions can bring some pretty interesting discoveries.

I hadn’t seen my friend Dimitri since college. He’d transferred  to another school after our two years together as university friends. But, I ran into him nearly 20 years later, along with his wife Svetlana.

Dimitri was an accountant, but Svetlana was an unlikely mate for the stereotypical green eye shade, numbers-guy. She was dark-skinned, curvaceous, and had a smoldering luminescence that seemed to leave everything else in a gloomy fog, as if she carried a lighting crew in her entourage, tasked with the job of creating a back-lit glow wherever she went.

Greta Garbo by C.S. Bull, a 1932 photo for "Marta Hari."

Greta Garbo by C.S. Bull, a 1932 photo for “Marta Hari.”

You want a human analogue? Svetlana was a kind of slavic Sophia Vergara; or if you prefer, a Russian Sophia Loren in her hey-day, with a little bit of Rasputin in the mix.

Lana, as she called herself, was entirely aware of her allure. She knew that you wanted her (at least in your dreams) and you knew that she knew that you wanted her. Really, it wasn’t so much that you wanted her, as that you didn’t seem to have a choice: something about her simply claimed you.

True, it was a hot day on which we met, but sexuality seemed to rise into the air from her taught, slightly moist, gleaming skin — and from the sound of her voice — especially the “r” sound that she tended to roll. It was impossible for men to keep their eyes off of her, something I observed when the three of us had dinner together a few days after our chance meeting.

A chiropractor could have made a fortune by stationing himself close enough to us to treat all the whipping, twirling, swirling, straining, swiveling necks and noggins. For a minute I wondered if we’d stumbled upon a convention of whirling dervishes.

I did my best to ignore this while Dimitri and I caught up, giving each other the usual “whistle-stop” tour of the things we had done since college, including details about careers, children, travel, hobbies, and the like.

We also asked each other about old friends.

Including my friend George.

I’d come to know good old Georgie because he was a social worker at a hospital where I practiced. But I knew that George had attended Dimitri and Svetlana’s college at about the time they met there.

Since it wasn’t that big a school, I asked if perhaps either one of them knew him.

“Oh yes, I diddd,” said Lana in the enthusiastic, heavily accented, somewhat flamboyant way she said a lot of things.

“In facdt, I detted him just beforrre I starrrded going ott witt Dimitrrree.”

I updated (or was it “updetted”) husband and wife on George’s current doings, except for one little thing.

Georgie was gay.

That fact didn’t seem to be any of their business and George had never given me permission to talk about it with others, although he’d never told me I couldn’t either.

When the dinner was over, we said our goodbyes and Svetlana asked me to give Georgie her best.

Now Lana’s best would have been something, I thought to myself, but I realized that she probably didn’t mean what my mind immediately imagined.

A week or so later I happened to see Georgie and mentioned that I’d met his old girlfriend Svetlana, as well as her husband.

“Oh, yeah, I remember her very well,” said George. “In fact, it was when I was making-out with her that I realized I was gay.”

Well, now I knew a bit more about the George-meister — about his having given the straight life a real chance — not unusual in a society that (even today) can make a gay person’s existence more than a little miserable.

And, God knows, if he couldn’t respond to Lana’s charms, he’d passed some sort of ultimate Geiger counter-like test designed to detect any particle of latent heterosexuality in his makeup.

But, as for Svetlana and Dimitri, I decided that Georgie’s comments were better kept a secret.

Even for a sex-bomb — especially for a sex-bomb —  it was something she probably wouldn’t want to know.

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A Woman’s Mouth with Lipstick is the work of Niki m, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Following the Garbo photo is Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Italy 1951 — a woman not in control of the situation, unlike Lana.

The bottom photo is of La Tomatina taken on August 25, 2010 and is the work of flydime. It is also sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

That site states that “La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain. Tens of metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets in exactly one hour. Approximately 20,000–50,000 tourists come to find out more about the tomato fight, multiply by several times Buñol’s normal population of slightly over 9,000. There is limited accommodation for people who come to La Tomatina, and thus many participants stay in Valencia and travel by bus or train to Buñol, about 38 km outside the city. In preparation for the dirty mess that will ensue, shopkeepers use huge plastic covers on their storefronts in order to protect them. They also use about 150,000 (kg) tomatoes, just about 90,000 pounds.”

Although this image has nothing directly to do with the story, it is a further step in the direction of dyscontrol depicted in the last three images: from the posed, studio photo of Garbo; to the street photo of the harassing men; to chaos.

For what it is worth, I always change many of the details of the stories I tell that have to do with my patients, or with other acquaintances who would not wish to be identified. On the other hand, the more personal of my posts — those about myself or family members, are usually as accurate as my recollections permit.

In the case of the present story, the character I have called “Georgie” did, in fact, discover his homosexual identity while making-out on a college date with a young woman. It is an episode “based on a true story,” as they say in the movies.

“Mad Men” and “The Sopranos:” Not So Different

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“Bad people behaving badly,” might be an equally good title for either of these two critically acclaimed cable TV series. “What,” you say, “but they are so different!” I’m not sure that you are right.

True, “Mad Men” is set in the early ’60s and “The Sopranos” more closely approximates our time. True, one show is about a legal business, the ad game, while the other is about the mob. True, in the former show the protagonists wear suits and ties, expensive ones, while the cast of “The Sopranos” is rather more casual.

But, below the surface, there are lots of similarities. Both shows are about the importance of money and power, and the willingness to hurt others to get those things. Even if their methods of hurting others are non-violent, the “Mad Men” do their share of hurting: to competitors in the industry and to spouses and co-workers. The “Mad Men” are better tailored than Tony Soprano and his compatriots, know better table manners, have more formal education, but have learned how to get what they want without leaving marks on their opponents’ bodies, leaving them only on their psyches and in their hearts.

Women are second-class-citizens in both of the worlds depicted. Each world is “a man’s world.” Infidelity is the norm, it seems.

Both shows feature a closeted gay man, one called Sal, the other Vito. Once each one is exposed, trouble awaits. Sal is fired from the ad agency, while Vito is murdered by the mobsters.

Each of the two television-universes exist in the New York City/New Jersey area. But the real location is the jungle, where the jungle’s law prevails: survival of the fittest or, perhaps, the most brutal.

And neither show features particularly likeable people. Nearly every one — men and women and, to some extent children — seem enormously self-serving. Yes, they have their own pain, sometimes to the point of driving them to seek psychotherapy. Yet, whether on or off  the therapist’s couch, the players in these mini-dramas appear insensitive to or unaware of the pain of the people closest to them. Witness, Betty Draper, Don’s stay-at-home, Grace Kelly-knockoff wife and her treatment of her children. Or, of course, the mob-wide blindness to the human havoc wrought by corruption and murder in “The Sopranos.” If nothing else, both series let us know that even the most self-involved, narcissistic, and corrupt individuals can be sensitive to their own injuries, regardless of the insensitivity they show to others.

There is emptiness at the core of these lives, too. The men and women are unhappy, think that they know what they are doing, but seem unaware of what really drives their behavior below the surface. They have little self-awareness and don’t reflect on their lives, their direction, or question their values and the contradictions between what they think they are and what they really are.

I keep looking for some redeeming human qualities in the “Mad Men” characters, but the players instead seem to have lost most of those that they had earlier in the series. As for “The Sopranos,” no point in looking for something that was never there.

I must admit that it is getting uncomfortable to watch “Mad Men,” watch the moral degradation of characters I’ve come to know a bit. I’m still hoping for a turn away from “the dark side.”

But I’m not optimistic.

The above photo is of Christina Hendricks, one of the stars of “Mad Men,” by watchwithkristin, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.