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24: May 12, 2009


When I’m Sixty-Four—Or Thereabouts



Sylvia Kristel actually looked a tad like my Mankato-era friend Ingrid,
or so I'd like to believe.

Well, I’ll be fifty-four years old this fall, and the summer will mark the thirtieth anniversary of my arrival in Japan. To my amazement I find all organs save my brain (an optional luxury for an English teacher anyway) still in fine working order, and that my deep, abiding interest in younger Japanese women has not subsided one iota these past three decades. I still enjoy talking with them, imagining them naked, complimenting them, listening to their problems, listening to their problems some more, continuing to listen to their problems—take it from an expert: if your plans for the day include getting a young Japanese woman to open up about what’s bugging her, pack a big lunch—and imagining them stealing my lunch naked, and so on and so forth. No need to beat the proverbial dead horse here assuming you’ve read any of my other work.

But as Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Gates, Billy Idol and I lurch through this wide turn that leads from middle age to the homestretch of plain and simple old age, I begin to wonder if my maintaining this lifelong interest is, you know…seemly. And if not, then what sort of more proper Old Manhood ought I to start aiming at? Should I break out the jigsaw puzzles of European cathedrals? Practice standing at the edge of construction sites to watch workmen pour concrete?

As I dwelled on this subject over the recent Golden Week holidays, I realized that my long-held image of Old Manhood has always been insidiously informed by two creative masterworks that I encountered in my early twenties: the French soft-core film Emmanuelle and the Junichiro Tanizaki novel Diary of a Mad Old Man. I will explain the influence of each below.

(Please note that I have long since lost my original copy of Diary of a Mad Old Man and am not inclined to purchase and read a new copy solely for the sake of fortifying a blog post, so my account of the novel will be based on memory and a few summaries found online—synapses and synopses, if you will. Readers will no doubt point out any errors that I make, and I will no doubt ignore them. I did find time, however—as should surprise no one—to give Emmanuelle a thorough re-watching.)

Emmanuelle

I’m referring here to the original 1974 Sylvia Kristel vehicle, directed by the much too modestly named Just Jaeckin and screened for one night only in back-to-back midnight matinees at an off-campus theater in Mankato, Minnesota in winter 1978.* I went, of course, with Gary.

In those days I suffered from what turned out to be a rather inflated estimation of my local celebrityhood, and thus was trying to submerge myself into my puffy coat to avoid the Key City paparazzi while we waited outdoors in a long line to pay to see smut. Meanwhile, Gary cheerfully tried to chat up acquaintances as they emerged from the earlier showing, but most of them were in too much of a hurry to get home and start masturbating to bother with us. (Some of those acquaintances were female. Emmanuelle, being French, carried that sort of cachet, that je ne sais quoi, that pâté de foie gras, that ineffable European eau de élégance that somehow transforms midnight smut into High Art.)

Here is my succinct appraisal of Emmanuelle based on my viewing of it at twenty-two and reinforced by my second viewing last week. And to all the mothers out there reading this usually family-friendly blog aloud to the young-uns on their laps, let me apologize in advance and assure you that you will never see this word in my writing again, but the thing is, well… Emmanuelle is a pluperfect fuckfest.

I found that I recalled the set pieces of the story, and even their sequence, rather well without the need for a second viewing after all. There’s Emmanuelle riding atop her husband soon after her arrival in Thailand; there’s the two Thai servants, aroused by that sight, who run off into the bushes to re-enact it; there’s the gratuitous-naked-swimming montage; there’s the underage-looking neighbor girl who drops by to suck on a lollipop and masturbate in the rattan swing facing Emmanuelle’s; there’s the flashback to Emmanuelle’s mile-high double-header with the two can-opener-nosed French mofos on the plane to Thailand; there’s the lesbian who gropes Emmanuelle on the racquetball court; there’s more skinny dipping and groping with the second-string lesbian; there’s the Thai stripper who smokes cigarettes with her hoo-hah; there’s the husband rather violently consoling the jilted lesbian atop the coffee table—all rendered explicitly and yet without that off-putting gynecological perspective that, as has been lamented here before, mars so much contemporary pornography; and with the added bonus of everyone’s speaking French, a language in which just about anything a person can utter—“The trolley cars don’t go there on weekends,” say—comes out sounding like a silkily purred “Let us duck into the boiler room and lick each other like giant airmail stamps.”

I could go on and on here about all the insights to be gleaned from a close reading of Emmanuelle. Did you know, for example, that French ladies wear bras to the gym, then remove them and play racquetball braless? (No, I don’t know why.) But that would be to diverge from today’s main thesis
.
You see, all of the above is what happens in the first half of the film, before the hero, dude by the name of Mario, emerges. When Mario first appeared in the movie during the Mankato screening, my initial reaction was My God, I hope we don’t have to see this old shriv naked. Well, we didn’t, nothing even close, not a peep of him south of the neck wattles in fact—and I loved him the more for that.

Mario is, much like the Winston Wolfe character in Pulp Fiction, a grizzled elder who shows up late in the film to set things right. Emmanuelle’s husband, you see, is concerned about his repressed, puritanical wife, who in the past week has had relations with a paltry three men and two women, and so he enlists Mario to take her out and show her what’s what. He’s like the Dos Equis chap that the police talk to just because he’s so interesting.

He takes her out to dinner and a show, throwing in gratis his own impromptu running lecture on his theory of “eroticism,” in the midst of which he whimsically brakes his horse-drawn carriage to allow a drunken vagrant the privilege of removing her underwear (film clip here), which he wears in his breast pocket as a handkerchief for the rest of the film. Then for some reason we find them walking through the jungle, at night, while he continues to ramble on and on about the glories of lust and the evils of monogamy without so much as loosening his tie. He takes her to an opium den where he watches a native have sex with her. Then, for variety, he takes her to a kick-boxing establishment where he watches a native have sex with her, all the while wearing exactly the expression of a man trying to start a lawnmower by telekinesis.

As soon as the credits began rolling in Mankato, I turned to Gary and proclaimed, “I’m going to be that guy when I get old!” Not that I wanted to become him right then and there at the tender age of twenty-two. Ideally I would first become the kickboxer, then the opium addict, then the Gallic-beaked mofos on the plane, then the husband, and then just for the hell of it one of the lesbians before settling into the old man’s skin—rather in the fashion of a career Shakespearean actor cycling through the roles of Romeo, Hamlet, and Macbeth on his way to doing Lear. Anyway, I could see it all clearly: strolling through the steamy jungle in my dark business suit late at night with a scantily clad young white lady scrunching her Caucasoid bosoms against my shoulder while I kept on pouring syrupy ladles of pompous, liquified bullshit about l’érotisme into her ear and then watching her take it doggy style. That would be the life.

I masturbated with uncommon tranquility that night, suddenly unburdened of the twin fears of leading a purposeless life and then ending up old and useless. For might I not, like Mario, find my purpose in life in old age?

For the record, Emmanuelle still holds up as stimulating adult entertainment, but I was a bit alarmed and put out to note that Mario doesn’t seem nearly as crumbly as he used to. He rather looks like a slicked-up version of a couple of farmers in my most recent high school reunion group photo…but let’s not spoil things by going there. Let's instead move on to...

Diary of a Mad Old Man

I’ll be briefer here because the following is about all I remember about this novel, abetted by online sources.

Utsugi, the titular mad old man, is a seventy-seven-year-old retired businessman of some means: once tough and ruthless, now rough and toothless—as the old joke goes. His main interests, going by the content of his diary, are his myriad health problems and kabuki, the traditional form of Japanese theater that interests me only slightly more than old people’s health problems do. He shares his home with his son and his son’s neglected wife Satsuko, a beautiful former nightclub dancer. Though impotent, Utsugi develops a fixation on Satsuko and finds in her a reason to stay alive.

What slight potential for l’érotisme this situation affords is torpedoed by Utsugi’s proclivities, for he is not interested so much in the lady-parts that most of us are drawn to, but rather to ladies’ feet. As Satsuko realizes the power she holds over the old man, she teases and torments and extorts gifts from him in exchange for access to her…feet. But once he achieves his goals, which mostly involve instep-kissing and toe-sucking, he suffers a stroke and abruptly loses his tastes for both toejam and life.

It all sounds quite pathetic, I know, and that was my primary impression of Utsugi upon first reading the book. These days, while I remain as indifferent as ever to the finer points of toejam, I’m less inclined to cast stones.

Anyway, the message I took away from the book at age twenty-four was double-edged. On the one hand, a powerful attraction to young Japanese women was not only a natural and healthy thing, but the very definition of being alive—at least in Tanizaki’s worldview, and he was a great man, you know: one of the few Japanese novelists allowed to die of natural causes. On the other hand, the inverse also holds true: the extinguishment of that desire for young Japanese women signifies Game Over, and it’s time to pack up your quarters and give up the ghost.

Thus, if I were to grow old in Japan (as in fact I seem to be doing), I need not fear or try to repress any ongoing appreciation for the nation’s younger women. On the contrary, I should nurture such a craving for my own self-preservation.

Okay, rather a self-serving interpretation, I’ll admit. But part of me still hopes to end up strolling through the Thai jungle in a dinner jacket one of these nights.


* Specifically the theater off Stadium Road, still rather new in 1978, located through no fault of its own within a stone's throw of that vile, suppurating sore on Satan’s nutsack, that lazy-tongued slathering insult to all that is decent in the world, that glistening nougatty hyena-turd in the fishtank of Righteousness: the Albatross. That theater.