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I needed to get out of the city. Everything was becoming Mangina this, Mangina that. All people wanted to talk to me about was my friend Chandler's invention of a prosthetic pussy. I was a guest on a late-night, call-in radio show, and even there the whole discussion revolved around the Mangina. At one point, I screamed into the airwaves, "I'm a serious novelist, not just a pitchman for the Mangina."

Luckily, at the height of this Mangina mania, I had a reason to leave town--I had to give a reading at a Midwestern university. So I was very grateful on late Monday afternoon when the car service came to take me to La Guardia and thus out of Manginattan.

Unfortunately, the automobile reeked of lemon-scented disinfectant. Car-service cars always smell like peep shows, like the swill they mop up the semen with. And I wondered if it was dangerous for my driver to breathe in this toxic, fake lemon odor during his long shift. He was a nice Haitian man and on his dashboard was a series of four photos of his pigtailed, young daughter. As we were stuck in brutal, soul-destroying traffic on the BQE, I imagined that he must look at her pictures during such jams and think, I'm doing this for you.

He deposited me at the airport and after a brief wait it was time to board my plane. I got to walk on the tarmac and I felt like an old-fashioned, intrepid voyager. But then I saw my aircraft--it was a petite, thirty-seat affair. I suddenly wasn't so intrepid. It looked like the kind of small plane that when it exploded only made backpage headlines:


The seats were cramped, and once the door was closed, there was a terrible smell of bad breath. The whole plane, because it was tiny, reeked of someone's stale breath. First the lemon smell in the car and now acidic halitosis. My sensitive nose really does work against me, making my life a purgatory of odors.

To make matters worse, it was a rocky, horrible flight. I prayed agnostically that my life would be spared and was greatly relieved when we landed. Then I was met at the gate by a nervous and eager graduate student in the writing program. He was holding a sign with my name on it.

"Put that away," I said, referring to the sign. "I'm Jonathan Ames. We don't want to alert the paparazzi." The young fellow had red hair like my son and he blushed as we shook hands. After all, he was meeting a visiting, published author from New York City!

We walked out to the parking lot. It was late, around ten P.M., and we had an hour's journey ahead of us. He wasn't a bad driver and I only feared for my life once or twice. Naturally, we talked about writing.

"I'm taking all these feminist-Marxist theory courses," he said. "I think it might be screwing me up. But the teachers here are into theory."

"Don't listen to them. Theory for a writer is like saltpeter for a soldier. If you have to appease your teachers, just put a woman Communist in one of your stories, that should be enough."

"What's saltpeter?"

"You know theory, but you don't know saltpeter? They sprinkle it on the food in West Point, it cuts down on libido. I'd like to get my hands on some."

"Some of the other graduate students told me you write about sex a lot. I apologize, but I haven't read your books. I will very soon. They also told me I should bring you a bra when I met you at the airport." He kind of giggled; he was trying to be risque with the published, perverted novelist.

"A bra! Those impudent snots. I will have to lash them tomorrow. Point out these scoundrels.... But it's interesting this using of a bra to tease me; there seems to be a trend developing. My character in my novel has bra trouble, and some prankster recently mailed me a bra without a return address. I'd like to find out who did this."

I looked out the window; the Midwest was very dark and my thoughts were dark--I try to create literature and I'm sent anonymous bras. I moved the conversation off of writing.

"I feel very Jewish out here, away from New York City," I said. "It's a good thing I left my yarmulke back home."

"I don't mean to frighten you," he said apologetically, "but the town next to the school has a big headquarters for the KKK."

"That's all right, I belong to a Jewish terrorist group. These people don't scare me."

"Really? The JDL?" He was naive and decent.

"Oh, no, it's called the Oy, Oy, Oy. We infiltrate organizations like the KKK and the neo-Nazis with an undercover, subversive agent--a worrier. Notice the similarity to the word warrior. And this worrier then transmits profound anxiety and insecurity into these groups, destroying their confidence, Yiddifying them, and making them less prone to violence."

He was a good sport and laughed, though I was a little concerned about wasting such material on him. We kept up our chitchat, and then, finally, we arrived at the campus. I was being housed in the former residence of the college president. It was a beautiful nineteenth-century home, now used for visiting dignitaries. But I was to be all alone--I was the only dignitary on campus. The young writer gave me a set of keys for my room and then said, "I have some beer and pop for you in the trunk."

I knew I was far from the land of the Mangina when he said pop. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, but refused both the pop and beer and urged him to keep the refreshments for himself. He seemed disappointed. I think he was hoping I would invite him up to my room to share the six-pack and he could then have the full experience of hanging out with a writer. But my dipsomania has been in remission for almost two and a half years, since the spring of '96, and I couldn't risk drinking a beer--I didn't want to go berserk so far from home. I told him I'd see him at the reading and we wished each other a good night.

My room was lovely, old-fashioned. My bed was an antique--a four-poster affair with a canopy. I slept well and in the morning after a shit, shower, and shave, the three essentials, I was met by the writer who had invited me to this Midwestern U. He's a tenured professor in his mid-forties, a former New Yorker. We got in his car and he took me to a bakery for coffee and a muffin. He laid out my agenda. I was to sit in on two of his classes, then there would be a dinner followed by the reading.

"For dinner," he said, "we'll go to the one place in town where we can get a martini." Everybody wants to drink with the visiting writer on these junkets. "Joining us will be my colleague, Professor K." He paused, to let this information sink in. "I understand you know his daughter M."

"Oh, God!" I exclaimed. I hadn't seen M in four years. I suddenly remembered her telling me about her father who taught in the Midwest. Was there no escaping myself? I had come out to the land of the neo-Nazis and blue cornflowers and the KKK, only to be forced to have dinner with the father of a girl whom I used to ravage and shtup quite nicely.

"He wants to meet me?" I asked. "Is this a good idea?"

"He read your book and liked it very much. He doesn't seem to harbor any ill will."

"It was a nice relationship, but usually fathers don't like to meet ex-boyfriends. Oh, well, it's a small world."

I sat in on the two classes and eyeballed all the girls. Then free of obligations for a few hours, I walked around this beautiful American campus of oak trees and brick buildings and long walkways. Everyone was wearing down vests and jeans. I was in my Nabokovian Professor Pnin costume of tweed coat and corduroy pants. Leaves were falling, the sun was bright.... I'd follow one pretty girl and then pick up the scent of another. It was the land of blondes, and they all smelled like shampoo. It was delicious. I really wanted to defile someone.

Then I went back to my room to rest up for the night's events, and I wished I didn't think about sex so much. It's so demanding and tiresome. If only I had money and could really travel, I could get my mind off of fornication. But traveling to college campuses only fosters thoughts of humping.

So I lay under my canopy and thought of M. I remembered fondly her ass and gently spanking it. Why do I often spank women? I suddenly wondered. Am I that patriarchal? I wondered if I should read feminist-Marxist theory. But I slapped away that train of thought and visualized a naked M. Then I nobly fought off the urge to masturbate, not wanting to weaken myself before a public appearance. I always treat my readings and performances like a boxer in training for a big fight--don't jerk off! So I napped and then my colleague collected me around six to take me to dinner, where I met Professor K, M's father. He was perfectly gracious and we got along very well. The two professors had martinis and I had club soda. K, I noticed, had M's eyes, her best feature. It made me miss her.

Then the reading went off all right, there was a nice crowd. When I finished, I saw my grad student friend from the night before and he had a copy of my book for me to sign. I dispatched him quickly, hoping pretty young coeds would approach me, but the mild homoerotic quality of what I read must have scared them all off. A gross disappointment. What's the point of giving a reading at a college if you don't get laid?

So I went off with six male graduate students to a bar and watched the Yankees win game three of the World Series. Yet again I did not drink, which seemed to sadden the young writers. I can only hope that their next guest writer will be an alcoholic who actually imbibes.

After the game, I walked back across the campus alone and happened to peer in a dormitory window. I saw a girl in panties and a T-shirt climb into the top bunk of a bunk bed. The panties were light blue. The ass was beautiful. I was pierced with desire. Then that desire immediately turned into depression. It had nowhere else to go. I staggered through the leaves back to my antique bed. I thought of the girl in the blue panties, and I felt old and ridiculous
and sad, and for the nine millionth time in my life, I masturbated. How much do I have left in me? How much longer can this go on? Instead of crying, I keep ejaculating. Just once when I'm sad I should cry myself to sleep, try something new.

Then that night I actually dreamt I was wearing a Mangina. My body was still in the Midwest, but my subconscious had obviously returned to New York.

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    Excerpted from What's Not to Love? by Jonathan Ames. Copyright © 2000 by Jonathan Ames. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.