Chapter 11: Disillusion
The first time I saw Paris, four of us GIs on a three-day pass from Germany rented rooms in a hot-sheets hotel in Pigalle, agreeing we were so horny we should go straight to the famous wellhead of sex. I thought them more experienced. No male of twenty-two could have been less experienced.
I was sitting next to Goldman in his beat-up ’50 Volks when I saw the Eiffel Tower framed between two banks of roofs down a twisting market street. Morgenstein and Novak crowded forward from the back seat to see too. For me the sight evoked a powerful emotion akin to coming home.
Goldman took charge of our little band and designated the morning of Christmas Eve for sightseeing. The four of us left our Pigalle hotel in a mad rush that I found silly: Goldman and his Instamatic, Morgenstein and his Leica, Novak and his Polaroid. They thought I was crazy without a camera. We covered La Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame and L’Arc De Triomphe in a steady drizzle. It was like Parcheesi with cameras. The muddy, crowded carnival of Pigalle seemed a brave, pathetic, hopeful tourist trap to me. I liked it a lot. I grew up around Florida tourist traps.
At early dusk the lights of Pigalle began to sparkle, footlights for an amazing, erotic parade of prostitutes, revealingly clad even in the damp cold evening. To my dazzled view they offered a sexual cornucopia of every hair color and skin tone and feminine shape in the world, shivering in flimsy attire under awnings and doorways. I couldn’t help gawking. I was a twenty-two-year-old virgin and ashamed of it. Here I was, a real GI, a graduate of Military Police school with a NATO Secret Clearance and a serious Cold War job. But still a virgin. I was determined to do something about it.
I was disillusioned when my allegedly experienced companions failed to take the lead. They never approached one single prostitute. Eventually I realized they were not as seasoned as squad-room bravado suggested. Aching with frustrated lust, I tried to persuade them into one of those live-sex venues that lined the street, each promoted by carnival-like barkers who swapped friendly backchat with the prostitutes between pitches to the throngs of tourists.
What I said was I wanted to prove it was all a hoax and nothing sexual would happen on stage. But my secret hope was just the opposite. Filmed pornography had not yet flooded the world. I needed technical guidance to illustrate the erotic words of Henry Miller, Grace Metalious, D.H. Lawrence and Agnar Mykle.
My companions refused to go. They balked at the required price of admission: an expensive bottle of purported champagne for each stage-side table. I didn’t have enough money to buy one by myself and was afraid to go in alone anyway.
Next I wanted to get in one of those sidewalk boxing rings on Pigalle, featuring club fighters who promised you 500 francs if you could stay in there with them for two minutes. Juste Deux Minutes. Work off some of my frustration and earn enough money to brave the fleshpots alone. I had my hands on the ropes and one foot on the edge of the canvas when Goldman clamped me in a damn MP come-along hold and marched me off surrounded by the other two. I don’t know what they were afraid of. I knew how to handle my fists and take a punch if I didn’t know the first thing about getting laid.
I sulked. One of my favorite novels, Lasso Round the Moon by Agnar Mykle, said for every Norwegian trying to have an adventure, there was another Norwegian running after him to stop him — for his own good. I thought sourly Goldman would make a pretty good Norwegian of the second type. When they began debating whether to go see Mary Poppins or Thunderball, opening in theaters that evening on the Champs, I screwed up my courage and left them. I almost waited too long.
Most of the whores had been swept off the streets by the weather. The one I finally approached had a transparent dome umbrella to protect her hairdo from the sleet and one of those European string shopping bags full of groceries: loaves of bread, a wheel of cheese, a bottle of wine. She wore a sleek dark sheath with a hem just above the knees that showed off nice legs, but her attire was far more conservative than the flimsies I saw earlier. She walked like her feet hurt in those high heels.
The way she cocked her head at me, unsmiling, when I said “Combien?” gave me an ugly turn. Maybe I had picked on a civilian headed home from an office job.
Then she sighed, and named her price: twenty francs. I thought that was five bucks, and I had five bucks. She offered to make change! When I declined, she gave me a real smile. She led me to a Pigalle hot-sheets hotel. I gave ten francs to the concierge for a room key and towels.
The great mystery finally was about to unfold.
What a letdown. She folded her plastic bumbershoot and slithered out of her dress, shucked her bra and knelt in front of me before I had my belt buckle undone. With the efficiency of an Army medic, she unzipped and examined me, a literal short-arm inspection. I passed muster and she went to the little bidet every French hotel room had. She lathered a wash cloth and wriggled out of her silk panties, demonstrating by sign language she was washing just for me.
Then she beckoned me over. Like magic, her soapy fingers went from clinical to erotic. My cock responded with alacrity. At a virginal twenty-two with a nude, attractive woman cupping my laden balls and smiling up at me, my brain couldn’t catch up with my body. I kept thinking there should be more to it.
She patted me dry, led me to bed, pushed me onto my back, straddled me, and inserted tab A in slot B. No condom; for the first time I felt the liquid clench of vaginal sheathing. Before I could appreciate it, she impaled herself fully and then was off to the races. She rode like a maniacal jockey, with what sounded to my jaundiced ears like phony groans of gasping passion.
Before I could complete the metaphor she had me in the final turn. I crossed the finish line in a blaze of sudden heat from my groin. She slumped on me, panting.
A deep, unreasoning sadness rose like a dark tide. Was that all there was to the grand mystery? My disillusion was complete. She levered herself off, still breathing hard, and posed fetchingly at the bidet, one foot up on it, to clean up. When she glanced back at me, her eyes widened comically. She came back and took hold. I was only twenty-two after all.
“Encore?” she inquired. “Maintenant?”
“Non, merci.” The engorged flesh was willing. But my brain wasn’t.
“C’est c’a.” She was dressed and gone before I sat up.
I walked nearly vacant streets in the bitter wind for a long time before I wandered back to my hotel. The great mystery had unfolded, and I was bitterly disillusioned.