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  barry yourgrau: Fin de Siecle


I realize that the source of all the misery in my life is my heart. I decide to take extreme measures.

I liquor myself up, and in the privacy of my kitchen, under the bare light bulb, I perform a crude, hideous, but at last successful cardiac removal at the sink, using the big parsley chopping knife, then a series of soup spoons, then the knife with the short, all-purpose blade.

Grimacing in distaste, my hands slippery with gore, I clap the vile, thudding knob of misfortune in a plastic leftovers' container. The floor around my shoes is splattered with crimson and shadows.

Sometime after midnight, I slink out into the back alley and make my way hobbling fitfully to a small park in the neighborhood.

I shake the ex-organ out into the refuse amid some bushes, and fling the container into other bushes a distance away, and dodge off heavily into the broken-lamped darkness.

I regain my backdoor at last, breathing with difficulty, huge icy drops of sweat beading my grey flesh. But no one is following me, no one shouts alarm.

The remains of the night are honestly very bad, and so are the next several days. I lapse into a kind of delirium.

But even as I twist about gasping in my stained sheets, even as I struggle, all my multiple thumbs in the bathroom, with my preposterously unsanitary, makeshift dressing -- I'm all smiles.

My head veers awkwardly in and out of the bathroom mirror frame, but the edges of my double vision radiate a profound, existential beneficence, a quivering halo of joy.

In not much more than a week, I'm back on my feet, good as ever, except for a slight concavity of posture.

Also, I've retained a certain pallor, and for a good while, I tire easily. But really, so what?

I start dating with almost voracious abandon. My 'lovelife' so-called becomes a scenario of boundless activity -- and astonishing brazenness.

Whomever strikes my fancy, then and there I make a strolling beeline for her, be she that strange, sinuous gamine spotted slouching on a street corner, be she yonder jetset haughty, sitting coifed, cross-legged and contemptuous at her aperitif.

I present what's on my mind with forthright brass. "Excuse me, but are you aware you in particular would look MESMERIZING in costly satin sheets," or, "Good afternoon! May I caress you for hours, in a most delightful manner?" Often, I'm snubbed. Quite often, it's true, I'm laughed at. More than I should care to admit, I'm toyed with. But times enough, I charm sensationally.

I woo with an unearthly impunity, I take unfazed possession of quite a number of souls, I treat more than one with less humanity, alas, than properly I should. I have girlfriends galore, and sooner or later, for their reasons or mine, I move on to others.

In a word, sometimes I win all there is to win between the sexes; other times, the word is short, with two brusque letters. Occasionally I'm let down after truly duplicitous, well-nigh pathological manipulations.

But listen to me: hear this: it never matters! Whatever succeeds, succeeds, whatever fails, so it fails.

Because I don't feel a single thing!

No pangs, no torments, no soulful wrenchings or yearnings, no disturbing ecstasies, no twinings of celestial privacies.

Only the invigorations of activity, rewarded by occasional carnal delectations, or else a mild sigh of fleeting annoyance, as if a bug had improvidently flung itself against the freshly polished sheen of a display window.

"How is it you always seem so -- so nonchalant -- so eternally possessed of such -- buoyant insouciance?" my girlfriends will enquire earnestly, wandering the pleasant confines of my living room. (I've moved since my fateful surgery.)

"How can you be that way all the time?" they want to know. I smile at them from the drinks table. I shrug. I go back to mixing cocktails.

There's silence as they drift over to the fashionably paisley-on-paisley sofa and settle down, musing, and take up a picture in its silver frame.

"Where is this place?" they ask, with a frown of puzzlement. "And why do you, who are so quintessentially stylish, keep a photograph of such a godawful bunch of littered bushes; and in such an exquisite frame -- like something at an altar?"

"Oh, something very wonderful once happened to me there," I say mysteriously. "That's where I died...and was reborn."

"Oh? As a...ladies' man?" they inquire, coyly.

I nod slowly.

"That's me!"
 
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Excerpted from The Sadness of Sex, by Barry Yourgrau. Copyright © 1995 Barry Yourgrau. Excerpted by permission of Dell Publishing, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Photo of Barry Yourgrau copyright © Michael Grecco.