Live, Nude Model

Tiffany Midge

While there are many ways to attract women and meet new people — wine clubs, peppering conversations with French phrases, bow ties and anachronistic mustaches — John’s method was decidedly unique. The first time he met the lovely Lila, he took all the guesswork out, and presented himself bare-assed naked. “You were clearly at a disadvantage,” she told him, “since I was the only one wearing any pants. You never stood a chance, it was a matter of low hanging fruit. Ha! Literally!” John thought Lila’s claim on him would have occurred whether he was naked or not, that he was typically low hanging fruit 24/7, all that was needed was a snap of a finger and he would have slavishly followed her anywhere. But this he didn’t admit until later.

Their meeting took place at the extension learning class titled Go Figure, Art! led by a local artist whose medium extended beyond figure drawing to that of life sized clay sculptures of endangered species, which she had to kiln section by section because there was no kiln large enough to accommodate her rhinos, her giant pandas, or her Bengal tigers. Rhinos, tigers, and bears! It was a gray and drizzling Saturday afternoon in one of the art rooms in Fitzmore Hall, the building on campus known for its sprockety steel and glass angles, its look Ma, no curves! contrivance. The building’s structure was pure industrial chic, decidedly full of itself, and its personality — if one could call it that — was cold and aloof as an English butler.

Oddly enough (or fittingly enough, however one chose to look at it) the building was named after a distinguished chair from the 1940s, a man named Horace Fitzmore, who in his advanced years, following an impressively decorated military career, and subsequent tenured (and later controversial) position in the College of Architecture, decided to liberate himself from the proverbial closet and start openly living his life as a man who loved other men. In 1963, this was of course more than just a bold move, but literal suicide. However, Horace Fitzmore was a man of valor, having dodged his share of artillery on the front lines and other men’s shares as well! At the time of Horace Fitzmore’s death, just around the time President Nixon was drawing up a proposal to present to Congress to overturn the Indian Termination Policy, Fitzmore was drawing up his Last Will and Testament — the bulk of his estate to go toward breaking soil for a new building in which to house the College of Architecture. It goes without saying, the new building would be named Fitzmore Hall, despite the glaringly obvious fact that it nowhere near resembled any kind of hall anyone had ever seen. The architect was not part of Horace Fitzmore’s intentions, of course — he would have preferred and expected an endowed building to more resemble a Scottish castle, something masoned together brick by distinguished brick. Fitzmore entertained decidedly quixotic notions; for instance, he thought the Egyptian pyramids fascinating, but not so much for their permanence or structural aesthetics, or that they were over-glorified tombs, etc. … Fitzmore admired the pyramids because so many lives had been ruined and lost throughout generations in their undertaking, which he felt to be a sign of nobility and refinement, architectural cred. But unfortunately, the design of the building which Fitzmore endowed to the university was not specified in his will, a glaring oversight on his part, the Chancellor and Board surmised, because they believed Fitzmore would never have imagined a structural design originating from Germany! Believing also that Fitzmore’s passionate dislike blinded him in the sense that he simply couldn’t imagine anyone else actually appreciating what was so obviously tasteless and so clearly offensive! Why, Horace Fitzmore had nearly lost limbs, lost life, fighting the Germans! Fitzmore loathed Germany, and he was no shrinking violet about it. Everyone knew; in fact, he was renowned for it. But the Chancellor and the Board of Regents had something else in mind, and their interests did not include honoring Fitzmore in his deserved eternal rest. Fitzmore had been an embarrassment for the university, and this was their way of restitution. The Chancellor held a vendetta — much like Vito Corleone, it was payback, kapish? Take the cannoli — and naming a campus structure after Fitzmore, and using his endowment to finance the building designed in the tradition of the Bauhaus, seemed the idyllic and most underhanded way to exercise their decades-long grudge. The Sistine chapel took four years to complete, but the grudge polished by the University’s higher ups would last for perpetuity. Of course, the Chancellor and the Board of Regents back in 1974, when the construction began, were not as clever as they supposed themselves to be. Because while Horace Fitzmore loathed Germany and all its cornucopia of exports and influence, the Bauhaus architects were in fact one of his exceptions. It was said, “Hitler shook the tree and America got the apples.” If perchance Hitler had embraced the Bauhaus school, and visa-versa, Horace Fitzmore would have undoubtedly loathed them, but since the Nazi party despised intellectuals and artists of every tartan and stripe, that was good enough for Fitzmore. The Bauhaus architects got a pass. And this nugget, the Chancellor and Board were woefully unawares.

Among the drawing students, one woman in particular stood out, for John anyway. Her name was Lila and while she did happen to possess that certain je ne sais quoi, a quality sometimes reserved for those whom so-called traditional-type beauty did not accompany, what most attracted John to her was her laugh, which reminded him of 1. chandeliers tinkling. 2. champagne corks popping. 3. angels in clouds plucking lutes — when, in fact, her laugh was raucous and even shrill. So maybe it was her looks after all, though John was loath to admit it, except on occasions when he confessed his attraction for Pacific Rim phenotypes, or what he described as “eskimo” variations. John imagined Lila as a Native American Pippi Longstocking, able to lift horses and single handedly take on pirates of the high seas; no specific high sea, just High Seas, like the drink mix or a Pavarotti’s infamous notes. Then John remembered James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, which sounded like an erotic film, which led to his imagining Lila as a version of Pippi Leatherstocking, the pleasant image for which he swiftly blotted out in lieu of his elementary school lunch lady Mrs. Renza, whose chin mole had its own social security number.

John supposed that je ne sais quoi could also be construed as shorthand for saying “exotic.” He found Lila exotic. God, he disliked that term, almost as much as je ne sais quoi. “Exotic” seemed minimizing, reductive, yet he admitted to himself, that yes, she was that. And it was one of the reasons he felt drawn to her, no pun intended. It was a plus in John’s favor that he did not ask her about her ethnicity (he later found out during afterglow pillow talk on Lila’s Pendleton sheets), as so many other people often did, gauche as it was, with the leading question being, what are you? Emphasis on “what,” which inferred she was an inanimate object.

T-shirt slogan: Indigenous people and other inanimate objects.

And if Lila answered sincerely, because sometimes she couldn’t help herself from responding sarcastically — human; or rude questions for $200, Alex — it meant one of two things: that maybe she liked you, or it was simply a matter of her being too tired on that particular day to care. John had the presence of mind not to ask, despite his curiosity. The truth was is that John longed to be rescued from his WASP upbringing; years before he immigrated to Japan in search of exile from America’s cookie-cutter houses, its cookie-cutter jobs and cookie-cutter lives; its shrink-wrapped mediocrity, heteronormative hegemony, to escape from couples named Mr. Blandon and Mrs. Blandy McBland, from their neighbors Whitey and Whitney McWhiteypants. The day he left America, saying goodbye to his father at the airport, John had bitterly said, “I’m going to Japan to make my own family” — a dig to convey he’d never felt a part of his own. His father raised his eyebrows, uttered something characteristically sarcastic, and shook his son’s hand; and even long after John had married Midori and even after baby Mira came along, his father seemed not to have forgotten their bitter farewell, evidenced by the fact that the old man refused to properly say Midori’s name, or barely acknowledge her for that matter.

John didn’t think that his predilection for non-White women was anything to apologize for — it wasn’t a fetish, as some people would have him believe, yet it wasn’t not a fetish either. His attraction settled someplace in between, he supposed. He could say with a certain amount of confidence that at least he wasn’t as bad as the type whose interests lie exclusively in Asian women, and while it was true that John pretty much thought all Asian women were ethereally, supernaturally cute, he didn’t deny that he found most women of all types captivating, starting with the ones who were in the midst of sketching him, while he in turn was drawing them, in his imagination.

These details represent only a partial sample of the swarm present in John’s mind as he switched from akimbo pose to holding an invisible fruit basket to his attempt at Michelangelo’s David, all in service of the female artist coterie, the female gaze, as it were. For them John’s thoughts were irrelevant; for them, John was merely a slab of flesh, pockets of fat this side and that, nubbins and blobby bits sticking out, pleasant looking stretches of sinew about the shoulders and trunk, and hanks of wiry hair.

He felt nauseated. Although this wasn’t a new feeling — that and the start of a headache — again, nothing new. He always felt nauseated and headache-y. His thought was, Didn’t everyone? However, what distinguished his nausea, his headache, was that his nausea, his headache, was paramount, anyone else’s difficulties paled next to his, merely trivial information in competition with his own. Midori had complained about this throughout the years of their marriage, not that John understood much of anything she said; her inner life may well have been the Mariana Trench to him. He felt she was ungenerous and did not share herself with him, when really the truth lay in the fact that he often was not only just a poor listener, but a volatile one. Early in their relationship when Midori relayed details of her inner life, John had the boorish and exasperating habit of shutting her down. At first he would express frustration that he couldn’t keep her train of thought straight in his mind, that she was inflicting “pronoun overload” on him, so that in the last years of their marriage she simply ceased sharing anything at all with him because what was the point? Most anything that she did share with him was met with frustration that he either couldn’t understand it, or that it imposed upon his energy reserves, and there had been instances where he was not particularly civil about explaining himself. If only he’d been more polite! She had been conditioned over time not to burden him, to the extreme point that when she gave birth to their daughter, she remarked to John that the pain was no greater than a paper cut. And he believed her. These thoughts were added to the swarm orbiting inside of John’s mind during the drawing session.

The student artists varied in ages, twelve women in all — like a jury, or a collection of Apostles — some of whom, John observed, were dressed skimpily (unlike the actual Apostles), as if they too frequented life drawing sessions (the students not the Apostles), much like John did, in order to satisfy a longing for a peculiar kind of intimacy. Exhibitionism? John believed that by modeling he was practicing an altruistic service for humanity, but he also enjoyed the sense of being seen, having twelve pairs of eyes interrogating him, examining him, exalting his form to the level of art. He felt bathed in acceptance and at the same time, utterly at their mercy.

After John and Lila had become a somewhat informal version of a couple, but a couple nonetheless, an evening of lovemaking had resulted in a decidedly marvelous bloodstain left on the towel. It was a point of pride with Lila, who maintained that her menstrual cycle should be an opera by Wagner. And that evening in question was no different. Lila, on her period, had left behind a perfectly shaped pair of cartoonish lips, the Loony Tunes’ kiss a shock of crimson. John took a photo of it and it reminded him of a similar and bittersweet past event: the first time he’d made love with Midori in a love hotel, rented by the hour, which virtually populated every corner of Tokyo. Midori, also on her period, had imprinted a stately impression of the Japanese flag, a flawless, round orb of brightness which she immediately rushed to the bathtub in an effort to scrub out. Hearing the story from John, Lila commented, “Like Lady Macbeth! Out, out, damn spot!” John hadn’t thought of the analogy before but had to admit Midori did bear certain characteristics in common with Lady Macbeth. Lila laughed so hard she triggered a coughing fit, her face blooming red. “Did I tell you?” Lila asked John, coming up for air. John noted a noise from her chest clicking into place like a gear. “That whenever the doctor asks me when my last period was, I say, ‘You mean when was the last time Scarlett came home to Tara?’” Followed by more peals, another coughing fit, and something-something-or-other about riding cotton ponies.

Toward the end of the drawing session, John robed up and wandered around the art room enjoying the feel of the fabric brushing against his vitals — it was freeing! He went from student to student viewing their results, congratulating himself for being so friendly and amiable in spite of being practically naked, or maybe because he was practically naked. Lila told him later, “It was weird, you making the rounds in your robe, so casual, like you were Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion or something. Does Hugh Hefner call it the Playboy Mansion? Or does he just call it his house?”

John purposefully left Lila for last. He was a bit shy, though he needn’t have been. He paused at Lila’s easel, his arms crossed over his chest, tilting his head to its side like a confused dog. Lila’s portrait was … terrible. She had zero talent, no knack whatsoever. It looked like something a Kindergartner would scrawl with a broken crayon. Lila said, “You’re that impressed, huh?”

“What? Oh, it’s good! You’re really talented!”

Lila laughed. “You’re such a liar.” The first of many similar pronouncements which would culminate to hundreds if not thousands over the next few years.

“No, really! I’m impressed!” What the fuck could John say? The head looked like a Tyrannosaurus rex fixed atop the body of Gollum.

“Riiight,” Lila said. “You’re probably wondering where your junk is?”

John gagged on his drink of water. “Ha! I hadn’t even noticed.” The truth was he had noticed — what was up with that?

“Don’t worry,” Lila said. “I’m not afraid of men’s junk or anything, I’m not a prude.” Junk, right. What a pleasant term. Business, jock, cock, Mister Happy, skin flute, tallywhacker, crotch cobra, Uncle Wiggly, love whistle. “You’re just so … impressive, I wanted to create an artistic interpretation of it, by, you know … understating its abundance. Less is more,” Lila explained.

“You made me a eunuch,” John managed to say.

“No, not a eunuch, more like a Ken doll.”

“A Ken doll? What’s a Ken doll?”

“It’s like a GI Joe.” Sheepishly, John met her gaze. “You don’t know what a GI Joe doll is do you?” she asked. John shook his head no. Except he actually did know what a Ken doll was, he just wanted her to talk about his junk more. This hadn’t been the strangest conversation he’d ever had with a woman, but it was definitely the first conversation he’d ever had about … well, his anatomy, that is with a woman he’d just met, unless you count the massage girls at SoapLand in Tokyo. But they usually didn’t volunteer very much by way of conversation, just rolled up their shirt sleeves, so to speak, and went to work “relieving” you. He didn’t think that he had ever held such candid discussions with his doctor even, but then, he didn’t want to sleep with his doctor.

John was no expert about relationships, and what limited experience he had, he came by accidentally, like a ten car pile-up: it was through no fault of his own, he was the car that just happened to crash into a relationship. John saw himself as one of those guys forever relegated to the book store remainder bins or the sell-by containers at the grocery store, a discounted item in every sense of the word. He spent his early twenties eagerly and seemingly forever waiting to be tapped, or “crashed into” by a beautiful woman, and when no prospects turned up he began taking seriously the advice of a friend, who claimed that Japan was a sex mecca for “unlucky,” socially awkward guys like them. His friend reported that Japanese women, “the most beautiful women in the world,” those for whom “exotic” seemed attributed exclusively, turned the tables on the retrograde term and volleyed it back at western men.

Western, Caucasian men were a delicacy, like puffer fish or monkey brains, they were considered to be “a catch,” a novelty. This certainly appeared to be true in Midori’s case; John thought that she initially latched onto him like a cephalopod, and had ardently seized the opportunity in order to irritate her parents, or to maliciously thumb her nose at the stodgy, conservative Japanese society she’d endured growing up in. John supposed the benefits were plentiful, after all, Western men had the magical ability to grow facial hair, and the amazing superpower for reaching high cupboards. An added benefit was siring half-caste offspring — also a novelty, for whenever Midori and John wheeled baby Mira around the streets and shops of Yokohama, people stopped them to admire and praise their unusual sprog: Blue eyes! Brown hair! Ahhh! people marveled.

As it turned out, John wasn’t burdened with being the one forced to make overtures with Lila; she asked him out, and this seemed to him ample evidence that intelligent design must indeed exist! Or perhaps the rumors were true: that the ghost of Horace Fitzmore haunted the chilly hallways of the architectural building and took pity on the pink-skinned, naked guy on display like catch of the day in the public fish market. Naked guy du jour. Lila also had the good sense to caution John very early on: “I have to warn you, I’m not at all vocal during sex. Unless you count yodeling.”

“Yeah,” John said. “Me too. Unless you count crying. Or farting.”

Lila had reconciled her conflicted feelings about love and romance early in life; it had been easy for her, her parents provided the perfect model for disenchantment as if straight from an anti-fairy tale storybook. Disillusionment was easy, it was believing that was hard. Or non-existent. Lila learned early that the thing about love which people never talked about, the truth about romance that would put sappy novels like The Notebook and Hollywood’s romcom factory right out of business, was that love is never pretty. Oh, it looks pretty from afar: the wedding album, the pictures plastered on Facebook and Instagram displaying a decidedly contented portrait of tranquility and bliss; however, what wasn’t in plain view — the wizard behind the curtain, as it were, the underbelly, that raw sewage kept in the septic in the back yards of marital harmony, stored out and away from the picture, and for good reason of course — what wasn’t in plain view, was the monotony of the day to day. It wasn’t so much that Lila was easily bored, or even difficult to please, as much as she was simply easily prone in hating all things uninspired. Lila felt like people who used the word “connoisseur” or “lover of life” in describing themselves just weren’t pushing themselves hard enough.

Bumper sticker: Inspirational life affirmation for misanthropes: Each day is a bland new beginning to the end.

Lila happened to share her dreary, romantic outlook with her sister Luna. It was a tough call deciding which sister had the worse outlook: was it gloomy Lila? Who as a kid always rooted for Anastasia and Drizella, the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella. Or Luna, who said the goth-y apparel at Hot Misanthropic at the mall wasn’t black enough. The one sterling thing about them both was that they were funny, and neither treated love and romance as sacred. Luna especially, who was fond of saying, I like my men like I like my frybread — round, brown, and greasy. No mystery there, all the men in Luna’s life fit that description, her husband Raphael included. And Luna could have taken the metaphor even further if she thought about it. For instance, she could add with honey or jam on top, except that Luna didn’t like sweetness, she didn’t trust it, not in her romantic life, and not as a condiment.

Luna’s lackluster attitude about love explained why it had taken eight years of living together, not to mention producing TWO children, before she agreed to marry Raphael. At her wedding shower someone had asked what made them finally decide to get married after all that time. “I gave him an ultimatum,” Luna said.

“Oh, really? You told him to put a ring on it, or else?”

“No, he wanted to get married. It was me who didn’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“I told him he needed to get a personality.” Luna’s bluntness caused a room full of women to chortle nervously. Someone pretend-choked on her cheesecake, prompting Luna to explain. “What can I say? I have needs, I’m not going to apologize. I need to be entertained.”

And this was Lila’s problem too. She needed to be entertained. She needed to be inspired. And that’s where John came in. Sometimes he tried to talk Lila out of her misanthropy, to no avail. “The world is your oyster!”

“I don’t like oysters, I like chicken wings.”

“The world is your chicken wing!”

Lila found John a fount of stimulation. To Lila, John was a veritable Ye Olde Curiosity Shop — a ridiculously kitschy tourist trap on Seattle’s waterfront that contained mummified mermaids, sasquatch postcards, and Ecuadorian shrunken heads, among other macabre and wondrous objects. The day Lila firmly made up her mind about keeping John around, keeping his expiration date unfixed, was on a day early in their courtship. They had been out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and while they were ordering John and their waiter began talking to each other in Spanish and what seemed to Lila to be a dueling banjo of joke telling back and forth. Their subsequent laughter and hilarity made her feel left out. While it was not out of the ordinary to swap witty repartee in Spanish in a Mexican restaurant, what really surprised Lila was that the very next day while they were visiting a gift shop at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, John was chatting up the clerk in, of all things, Russian, and again swapping jokes and laughing as if they’d known each other for years! Who was this guy? An undercover spy? A translator for the United Nations? It surprised Lila, and her sense of surprise was in high demand and short supply. She owed it to herself to see where the road might take her. And even if she didn’t believe in love, she believed in being taken by surprise. She believed in being entertained. And in her estimation that was the very best that life had to offer.

Before John, Lila lived with Clay, her Chippewa Cree magical unicorn. Clay’s idea of a good time was hiking and camping, and being in nature. Lila endured it for the length of their relationship, but primarily out of obligation to her Lakota ancestors. What kind of Indian was she if she wasn’t thrilled about being in the outdoors? She could feel Sitting Bull and Buffalo Wallow Woman laughing at her. She felt her tribal membership going up for review and getting revoked. It was on a camping trip that Lila felt the beginning to the end regarding her relationship with Clay. The Cascades were not entertainment but drudgery. They had gotten a late start and by the time they arrived at the campground it was already dark. Fumbling around with only the light from a battery lantern, they managed to set up their tent and zip their sleeping bags together, and before settling into sleep they made love. It must have been something about being in the wilds that rekindled their long-neglected passion. Their voices rang out among the tree tops, causing flocks of birds to disperse, wolves to lift their heads and howl. The sounds of their lovemaking ran the gamut. It was OH YEAS and FUCK ME HARDS and OH BABYS towards climax — mutual climax — and when they finally finished neither could remember when they had last made love like that, or if they had ever made love like that, with each other or with anyone else. They fell asleep spent and deliciously satisfied. In the morning they woke to the sound of people, voices and camp activity; they unzipped the tent flap and were mortified to discover that in the dark of night they had unknowingly pitched their tent (and their cacophonous woo) among a large troop of boy scouts, a veritable bustling village of young boys scurrying about their morning duties, peering curiously at the disheveled and sheepish couple emerging from the red, domed tent. And though this story was etched onto their coupledom mythology forevermore, and came to be known as The Night We Untied the Boy Scouts, Lila decided on that morning that she would never again enter the forest with Clay, and in fact she decided that she would never again make love with Clay. It was both a defining and scarring incident, and it irrevocably altered her internal and emotional landscape for all time. It was the catalyst that eventually led her to John. Quiet, safe, unassuming, a little weird, but exceedingly brilliant John. John who never once requested she join him in the woods, who never once asked her to go for a hike. And who certainly would never ask or expect her to commune with nature. Not in a million years.

about the author