The Joy of Michelle

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure.?It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking” ?and the woman is not “giving.” No one?is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.

—Erica Jong, Fear of Flying (1973)

WHEN JONG’S POPULAR NOVEL was published, I was almost 11. I really didn’t pay much attention. But my older sister was almost 18, so a few years later, after she’d moved across town to become something called a Kappa Alpha Theta and left Fear of Flying behind, I found it, and I read it, and I developed a certain sense of hope.

I had trodden tardily into the wilds of Pubertania. When I was almost 11, I looked almost 8 or almost 9. If you’d seen me reading Fear of Flying at 14, you might’ve wondered why a 10-year-old was out in public reading an entire novel about zipless fucks, rather than just underlining the good parts with snickering friends in an attic.

Still 14, I took a job as a $2-an-hour busboy at a friend’s uncle’s new restaurant called the Autumn Tree, and developed a crush on a 16-year-old waitress named Joy. Joy seemed to like me, too, but uncomfortably so. One night she took me aside in the kitchen and explained the situation: “Why do you have to be so . . . young?

I said, “Sorry.”

I took very long showers after work.

But things were finally growing. Girls in my class were dropping hints that soon I’d qualify to be . . . attended to. Unfortunately, just as these hints began to take root, my parents pulled me out of Champaign Central and made me attend Quartz Hill High School, 2,000 miles away.

I had to start from scratch.

I’VE LONG FELT THAT THE INITIATION of heterofuckery should be an exclusively female responsibility. Rationale: The male is the obtruder; men hitting on women is social spam. Unfortunately, as much as this passive baybuh-just-gimme-th’-word-baybuh approach served me well enough when I was young and reasonably attractive, now that I’m as old as I am and I look like this and I’m about to be fired and homeless, not so much.

Stuck with my old fucking paradigm.

MY FRIEND JEFFREY HAD BEEN TEACHING art at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas for a few years when, in April 1995, the Santa Monica Museum exhibited “The World of Jeffrey Vallance” — a sampling of Jeffrey’s work from 1978 to 1994, based on a book of his collected writings.

Some of Jeffrey’s students decided they’d make the road trip. One of these was what magazines such as Penthouse or TV Guide would call a knockout. Knockout’s name was, for our purposes, Michelle, and after we’d been introduced and exchanged a few observations, I noticed that Michelle seemed extremely bright, that she seemed to enjoy talking with me and, most remarkably, that she looked a lot like Joy, the waitress from the Autumn Tree.

I’d been avoiding art openings — I used to work in art galleries, and had had my fill. But this one proved to be good fun. I ran into numerous old friends, and we finished conversations left 10 years on hold. And I was introduced to some famous people whose work I admired, and they claimed to have noticed and enjoyed mine. That’s always nice. But by far the best part was Michelle. Michelle flirting with me. Why me? Maybe it was the wine. Or the beer. Maybe it was that I was a friend of her favorite professor — Jeffrey’s pretty famous in the art world, so maybe that made me somehow more . . . something, in a star-adjacent way. Or maybe, as I hoped, no reason was required.

After the museum staff kicked us out, 12 or 15 of us went across the street to the Galley, “Santa Monica’s oldest restaurant & bar.” (This was back when the museum was on Main Street — it’s long since moved to Bergamot Station.)

We were seated at one long table on the patio. I sat across from Michelle. Our dialogue continued favorably over late-night seafood and even more beer and/or wine, and at some point Ethan, one of Jeffrey’s students, mentioned that he and several others, including Michelle, hadn’t yet arranged for a place to stay. I was renting a room in a large house in Santa Monica, and my roommates were out of town, so I offered up the living-room couches and guest bedroom.

Somehow, we made it home around 2 a.m. and settled in. Ethan — the future Reverend Ethan Acres — and James took the living-room couches, and Lisa (the future Mrs. Reverend) shared the guest-room bed with Michelle. My room was in the hallway between.

I closed my door and settled into my sturdy OtseabedT — a hip-high bed I’d built myself, based on a design by Erik Otsea — to pretend to read. I knew that my bedside lamp would frame my door in light visible from the hallway.

I read, but I was thinking about Michelle. I knew it was up to her to take action. All I could do now was hope, and wait.

Around 3 a.m., thank you, Lord, I heard faint footsteps in the hall, followed by a very soft knock at the door. Instant wood.

“Come in.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“I . . . couldn’t sleep . . .”

The zipless part of Jong’s zipless fuck was so called because “zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff.” Michelle was wearing only a long white T-shirt, and I was wearing nothing, so devout ziplessness was moot; but after Michelle stepped toward me and I pulled back the sheets, we rendered something perhaps too tender to qualify as zipless, but something truly pure, something rare and simple.


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