A long time ago, back when I still lived in Missouri, my younger sister was getting very heavily involved in the parables and sermons of a young female minister by the name of Tori Amos.
Periodically, emanating from her room I used to hear something along the lines of--
"Crucify. . .blah, blah, blah. . .crucify. . .silent all these years. . .blah, blah, blah. . .crucify. . .Jesus. . .rape. . .blah, blah, blah"--(I'm not sure if those are the actual lyrics or not, but I think it pretty much sums up the overall thematic content of Ms. Amos' ouvre).
So I used to jest with my sister that Ms. Amos was going to start a new fad wherein teenage girls couldn't wait to be the first ones on their block to get raped. That way they could really understand the lyrics firsthand. I envisioned new cliques forming which saw the more popular teen girls sneaking cigarettes between classes and whispering elitist barbs to each other like "Heather's such a poseur. You can tell she hasn't been raped."
I myself felt the cultural reverberations of Amosmania in my early dating years. I'd end up at a girl's house, have a congenial introduction and friendly chat with her parents (parents have always loved me, god knows why), and end up in the girl's bedroom, sitting on the corner of a heavily-quilted poster bed, flanked at its headboard by a forbidding phalanx of Care Bears and Cabbage Patch kids. After a brief interchange of "I like that sparkly thing hanging from the light" and "oh, I got that at Six Flags on my 4-H trip", she pops the question.
It's a question all of us in this situation have had to answer at some point. It's not an easy question to answer. There are many different ways one could tackle this question. Physiologically, your throat gets dry and you break into a cold sweat; psychologically, your first reaction is to run far, far away.
The question is: "Do you want to see my photo album?"
The answer is always: "No."
But, like most of us who depart from the Kantian ethical notion of 'honesty for honesty's sake' in favor of social appeasement or, at the very least, a potential goodnight kiss, the answer that is spoken out loud, in direct contradiction of that which is instinctually thought and regarded as true, is always: "Sure."
The hole has been dug. You jump in. She produces the photo album. And it's filled with all sorts of photos. Photos of men, photos of women, photos of children, and photos of bland and androgynous babies. She rests for awhile on a page containing four photos of one such baby and goes to great lengths in her narration.
"This is my sister's baby, Barbasol--(names have been changed for dramatic purposes)--Oh, my god, he's such an amazing baby! He's 9 months old, but he already knows how to gargle. He's so smart, too. He can move all ten of his fingers without using his hands!"
Babies are always the hardest photos to feign interest in, especially if you have a pair of eyes. Because empirically, that photo is always going to be a photo of a baby--a bald, fleshy, pink-toned (I've never dated interracially. . .[yet!]) drooling glob of human potential--with the emphasis on "potential". Regardless, she continues to assign epithets of intelligence and brilliance to what appears to be an ordinary and interchangeable human baby. If you allowed yourself to truly entertain her praise of this infant as entirely legitimate--(which you will, given that the goodnight kiss still seems highly likely at this point)--you might be swayed into thinking this unobtrusive drooling babbler was only masquerading as a harmless child still ignorant of the fact that he had opposable thumbs and was in reality hard at work discovering a new radioactive isotope or designing a monorail.
So then, in a statement ironically stupider than anything this baby might have to say, you decide it's time to interject something compassionate and caring like, "Well, he certainly does look like an exceptionally smart baby."
Luckily, at this stage, the girl is so engrossed in her description of the baby that any insincerity in your tone is overlooked. She simply nods excitedly, "Yes! He is! He really is!"
So oblivious is she to your latent disinterest, in fact, that if you weren't that hung up on some sort of physical affection to validate your existence, it might be fun to see how far you could push the sarcasm. "Yes, I really like his little spectacles and pipe. And is that a copy of Ulysses he's reading? No, that's a rattle. But still, I'm sure James Joyce has experienced what this kid has gone through. And did you know that even William Blake was a baby at one point in his life? In fact, all the great artists started out the same. . .as babies!"
But you choke this back and save it for a future date; like this blog.
Anyway, it's not the photo of the baby that's relative to our current topic. It's the photo on the following page, which she flips to once she starts to gauge that her encomium of Barbasol the Brilliant Baby has neared its peak.
This new page reveals a photo of a man sitting on the deck of a double-wide trailer, wearing a flannel shirt and clutching a can of Old Milwaukee. He is smiling a toothy smile, or doing the best he can since most of his teeth appear to be missing.
Here, the girl pauses. Up to this point, she has prefaced every single page with an introductory "this is. . .this is. . .this is. . ." But there is no "this is" here. She sighs deeply and looks off to one side.
You take her behavior as an indication it's time to offer in an apathetic voice colored on both edges with the brush of feigned interest: "Who's that?"
Another sigh as she turns her eyes sheepishly back to the photo, "This is my uncle Steve."
Uncles are usually a little bit easier to deal with than babies. They often come with ideas and concepts and know their basic shapes and colors and may even have an occupation. "What does he do for a living?"
Then she pops another question. One even more difficult than the photo album question. Difficult, that is, if you have any remnant of artistic standards in this postmodern world of soulless, computer-generated noise montages collectively known as techno--convenience at the expense of music, if you prefer--of which many straight girls and gay males unfortunately are, if not enthusiastically fond of, at least apathetic enough about to indirectly help elevate Moby and Fatboy Slim to the status of multi-millionaire recording "artists".
The question, of course, is: "Should I put on some music?"
Having already performed a furtive mental assessment of the concert posters and various cassette cases scattered hither and thither throughout her room, the answer, if her intent is to to put on some music from her own personal collection, is always: "No."
Yet, as with the photo album before, the spoken response is slightly different: "Sure."
If you're really crafty, however, you'll try to cut your losses. It might make tolerating the photo parade a little bit easier to offer the following: "You don't have any Beatles, do you?" After all, fifteen years ago, young Americans were still at least socially obligated to give lip-service to John, Paul, George and Ringo. And no one ever leaves a loser with the Beatles. She gets to prattle on about the picaresque and esoteric adventures of her family and you get to hear side two of Abbey Road once again.
Right about now is when you start setting little timelines for your departure. For example, if we're still looking at this photo album after Paul sings 'her majesty's a pretty nice girl, some day I'm gonna make her mine', then I have to get up early tomorrow and go to work. If she finishes before then, fine. You've lost a half hour from your life, but that's okay. You'll move on. There'll always be more half-hours in the day.
But there are no Beatles in her collection. You see, she's a very forward-thinking young lady with an eye on the future. Already, in 1991, she knows in less than ten years Beethoven will be The Chemical Brothers, John Coltraine will be Snoop Dogg, and the Beatles will be. . .
"Do you like Tori Amos?" she says sweetly. So sweetly in fact that you do not hit her at the mere suggestion that you would have anything at all to do with Tori Amos.
If she was fat, if she had an eyepatch, if she had a wooden leg, if she was a man. . .if one or all of these contingencies were true, how quickly honesty would spill from your mouth like so much unwanted vomit. But this delicate daisy of a dame is too dainty and docile to inflict something as dreaded as an actual opinion upon, so through clenched teeth you mutter: "Yeah, she's all right."
At this point, she leaves you holding the photo album, gazing at bucktoothed uncle Steve and his can of beer as she goes fishing for the perfect CD. After a beat, you hear the trademark voice of the freshly empowered:
"Rape. . .rape. . .silent all these years. . .blah, blah, blah. . .crucify. . .rape. . .rape. . .blah, blah, blah. . .suburban Christian hypocrisy. . .rape. . .blah, blah, blah. . .crucify. . ."
Wincing your expression and withholding your opinion, she takes command of the photo album once more. Is it time for you to say something, you wonder? Better safe than sorry, you assume. "So that's your Uncle Steve, huh?"
"Yes," she says softly, more softly than you have ever heard her speak before. No longer the proud stump speaker for babies and their brilliance. Something is troubling her. Something shames her about this particular photograph. Oh no. . .could it be. . .?
Another sigh, another wistful look. "Uncle Steve used to. . .do things."
Oy vey! you think, despite not being Jewish. Rape? Incest? Your mind flashes back to after-school specials, Dateline exposes, psychology courses, and Lifetime movies of the week. In a matter of mere nanoseconds, you've got to come up with an award-winning response that radiates nothing but absolute and total sincerity and compassion. The onus is upon you to convey the most appropriate and touching indication that you're the long-sought after good listener who will always instinctually know what to say in any situation. In short, what will you say about her incest experience that will get you laid tonight?
It comes upon you like a flash of white lightning, "What sort of things did he do?"
That's good. Get her to do all the talking. All you have to do for the next ten or fifteen minutes is nod your head and say, "Jesus Christ" and "My God" alternately during pauses and--voila!--you're in the sack! Humpy-humpy time!
Or at least a goodnight kiss. . .
She takes the reigns on the gilded hansom cab of her memory. "Well, when I was a little girl, he used to. . ."
"Jesus Christ," you whisper with no small modicum of dramatic indignation.
". . .he used to set me on his lap. . ."
"My God," you say with slightly more volume and conviction.
". . .and he used to. . ."
Having already used up one "Jesus Christ" and one "My God" and not wanting to dip right away into the "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys", you decide a somber nod of the head and some pre-existing room noise is best here. At this point, the music fully sinks in as you and she remain. . .
"Silent all these years. . .blah, blah, blah. . .rape, rape. . .crucify, rape. . .blah, blah. . .American Christians rape. . .blah, blah, blah. . .hypocrisy. . .men are bad. . .blah, blah, blah. . .rape. . ."
Oh, that's right. Tori Amos is playing the theme to the opening credits. Maybe you're not even really here. Maybe THIS is the after-school special. And those things that you used to watch after school were your life.
But this is no time to be cynical. You're on the verge of a very important breakthrough in your relationship--about time, since you've been going out with this girl for almost five hours now.
She exhales loudly, "He used to. . .smile at me."
"Hail Mary full of grace--" you say instinctually before doing a double-take, "--he used to what?"
"You know. . .smile."
Maybe she doesn't know what smiling means. "With what?"
"Well. . .his mouth."
Oh, she does know.
"I've never told anybody this before. So I really, really want you to understand what I'm going through right now."
You don't understand at all. "I understand," you say.
"He used to smile at me. Whenever our family would have a barbecue or something, he'd always be over at the house and whenever I came in the room, he'd smile at me and say things like 'are you being a good girl in school?' or 'I heard you got an 'A' on your paper'--real creepy things like that. And every birthday and every Christmas, he always used to buy me presents."
The coal of interest that was fueling the engine of your desire is now putting a hole in the ozone layer of your politeness. "So that's all he did?" you yawn.
"Is that all he did?" she shrieks and then--woosh!--here they come, the tears.
You're kicking yourself pretty hard right at this moment. Oh, you asshole. Oh, you fucked up now, you inconsiderate prick.
"Is that all he did? Do you know what that was like for a little girl? Your own uncle? A man? A little girl? An uncle? A little girl? A little uncle? Your own girl? A man-girl? An uncle-man? A girl-uncle?" You flinch as she punches the bed beside you for effect, "And the worst part of all this is my parents knew all about it! And they didn't even care! Anything we can do to preserve the hypocritical facade of the American Christian family!" And with that sociological proclamation, she collapses in sobs. . .nice, shiny, patent-leather crocodile sobs.
Or is she sincere? It's hard to tell when the iWord (INCEST) makes an appearance in a teenage girl's bedroom following a first date. After all, logic would seem to dictate that no girl in her right mind would ever actually WANT to have been incestually raped. However, logic would also seem to dictate that if she was incestually raped, no teenage girl in her right mind would ever bring this up in her own bedroom following a first date. You decide to investigate a little further, smoothing things over, playing it cool until all the facts are in.
"But he didn't fuck you or anything?"
Sometimes in life, being inarticulate can be a severe handicap. This is one such time.
"Get out of here."
"What did I do?"
"Go, before I get my dad."
"I was just trying to be polite!"
"That's exactly what Uncle Steve was trying to be!"
Slam. Door shut. Girl gone. And yes, no goodnight kiss.
PS: Tori Amos herself hasn't exactly been silent all these years. Check out Tori Amos' latest album, American Doll Posse. I love the art. She's bleeding down her leg and she's standing in front of an average suburban house and she's holding a copy of the Bible! It's brilliant! It's like she's trying to say--"See that house that you think everything is okay in because the people in there are American Christians? Well, they're all hypocrites because they raped their virgin daughter and made her bleed down her leg!" I wish more people had the guts of Tori Amos to just get out there and say, "hey, Christians will rape and kill you." Because Christians aren't saying this and that makes Tori Amos more of a Christian than most Christians because at least Tori is a real Christian because real Christians don't go raping their daughters with Bibles like some Christians do! Go Tori! Yea! :) lol! Tori! Tori! Tori! Tora! Tora! Tora! Torah! Torah! Torah!
Tori's gonna take on the Jews next! (oops. . .I mean Israel)
Yes, Tori Amos is definitely the next Lenny Bruce/Winston Churchill/Beatles
I'm sorry. Forgot about the vagina.
She's not the NEXT Lenny Bruce/Winston Churchill/Beatles.
She's the FEMALE Lenny Bruce/Winston Churchill/Beatles.