Madness is a relative state. Who can say which of us is truly insane? And while I roam through Central Park wearing moth-eaten clothes and a surgical mask, screaming revolutionary slogans and laughing hysterically, I wonder even now if what I did was really so irrational. For, dear reader, I was not always what is popularly referred to as “a New York street crazy,” pausing at trash cans to fill my shopping bags with bits of string and bottle caps. No, I was once a highly successful doctor living on the upper East Side, gadding about town in a brown Mercedes, and bedecked dashingly in a varied array of Ralph Lauren tweeds.
Hard to believe that I, Dr. Ossip Farkis, once a familiar face at theatre openings, Sardi’s, Lincoln Center, and the Hamptons, where I boasted great wit and a formidable backhand, am now sometimes seen roller skating unshaven down Broadway wearing a knapsack and a pinwheel hat.
The dilemma that precipitated this catastrophic fall from grace was simply this. I was living with a woman whom I cared for very deeply and who had a winning and delightful personality and mind; rich in culture and humor and a joy to spend time with. But (and I curse Fate for this) she did not turn me tin sexually. Concurrently, I was sneaking crosstown nightly to rendezvous with a photographer’s model called Tiffany Schmeederer, whose blood-curdling mentality was in direct inverse proportion to the erotic radiation that oozed from her every pore. Undoubtedly, dear reader, you have heard the expression, “a body that wouldn’t quit,” Well Tiffany’s body would not only not quit, it wouldn’t take five minutes off for a coffee break. Skin like satin, or should I say like the finest of Zabar’s novy, a leonine mane of chestnut hair, long willowy legs and a shape so curvaceous that to run one’s hands over any portion of it was like a ride on the Cyclone. This not to say the one I roomed with, the scintillating and even profound Olive Chomsky was a slouch physiognomy wise. Not at all. In fact she was a handsome woman with all the attendant perquisites of a charming and witty culture vulture and, crudely put, a mechanic in the sack. Perhaps it was the fact that when the light hit Olive at a certain angle she inexplicably resembled my Aunt Rifka. Not that Olive actually looked like my mother’s sister. (Rifka had the appearance of a character in Yiddish folklore called the Golem) It was just that some vague similarity existed around the eyes, and then only if the shadows fell properly. Perhaps it was this incest taboo or perhaps it was just that a face and body like Tiffany Schmeederer’s comes along every few million years and usually heralds an ice age or the destruction of the world by fire. The point is, my needs required the best of two women.
It was Olive I met first. And this after an endless string of relationships wherein my partner invariably left something to be desired. My first wife was brilliant, but had no sense of humor. Of the Marx Brothers, she was convinced the amusing one was Zeppo, My second wife was beautiful, but lacked real passion. I recall once, while we were making love, a curious optical illusion occurred and for a split second it almost looked as though she was moving. Sharon Pflug, whom I lived with for three months, was too hostile. Whitney Weisglass was too accommodating. Pippa Mondale, a cheerful divorcee, made the fatal mistake of defending candles shaped like Laurel and Hardy.
Well-meaning friends fixed me up with a relentless spate of blind dates, all unerringly from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft. Ads, answered out of desperation, in the New York Review of Books, proved equally futile as the “thirtyish poetess” was sixtyish, the “coed who enjoys Bach and Beowulf” looked like Grendel, and the “Bay Area bisexual” told me I didn’t quite coincide with either of her desires. This is not to imply that now and again an apparent plum would not somehow emerge: a beautiful woman, sensual and wise with impressive credentials and winning ways. But, obeying some age old law, perhaps from the Old Testament or Egyptian Book of the Dead, she would reject me. And so it was that I was the most miserable of men. On the surface, apparently blessed with all the necessities for the good life. Underneath, desperately in search of a fulfilling love.
Nights of loneliness led me to ponder the esthetics of perfection. Is anything in nature actually “perfect” with the exception of my Uncle Hyman’s stupidity? Who am I to demand perfection? I, with my myriad faults, I made a list of my faults, but could not get past: 1) Sometimes forgets his hat.
Did anyone I know have a “meaningful relationship”? My parents stayed together 40 years, but that was out of spite. Greenglass, another doctor at the hospital, married a woman who looked like a Feta cheese “because she’s kind.” Iris Merman cheated with any man who was registered to vote in the tri-state area. Nobody’s relationship could actually be called happy. Soon I began to have nightmares.
I dreamed I visited a singles bar where I was attacked by a gang of roving secretaries. They brandished knives and forced me to say favorable things about the borough of Queens. My analyst counseled compromise. My rabbi said, “Settle, settle. What about a woman like Mrs. Blitzstein? She may not be a great beauty, but nobody is better at smuggling food and light firearms in and out of a ghetto.” An actress I met, who assured me her real ambition was to be a waitress at acoffee house, seemed promising, but during one brief dinner her single response to everything I said was, “Oh, wow,” Then one evening, in an effort to unwind after a particularly trying day at the hospital, I attended a Stravinsky concert alone. During intermission I met Olive Chomsky and my life changed.
Olive Chomsky, literate and wry, who quoted Eliot and played tennis and also Bach’s “Two Part Inventions” on the piano. And who never said, “Oh, wow,”or wore anything marked Pucci or Gucci or listened to country and western music or dialogue radio. And incidentally, who was always willing at the drop of a hat to do the unspeakable and even initiate it. What joyful months spent with her till my sex drive (listed, I believe, in the Guinness Book of World Records) waned. Concerts, movies, dinners, weekends, endless wonderful discussions of everything from Pogo to Rig-Vheda. And never a gaffe from her lips. Insights only. Wit too! And of course the appropriate hostility toward all deserving targets: politicians, television, facelifts, the architecture of housing projects, men in leisure suits, film courses, and people who begin sentences with “basically.”
Oh, curse the day that a wanton ray of light coaxed forth those ineffable facial lines bringing to mind Aunt Rifka’s stolid visage. And curse the day also that at a loft party in Soho, an erotic archetype with the unlikely name of Tiffany Schmeederer adjusted the top of her plaid wool kneesock and said to me with a voice resembling that of a mouse in the animated cartoons, “What sign are you?” Hair and fangs audibly rising on my face in the manner of the classic lycanthropic, I felt compelled to oblige her with a brief discussion of astrology, a subject rivaling my intellectual interest with such heavy issues as est, alpha waves, and the ability of leprechauns to locate gold.
Hours later I found myself in a state of waxy flexibility as the last piece of bikini underpants slid noiselessly to the floor around her ankles while I lapsed inexplicably into the Dutch National Anthem. We proceeded to make love in the manner of The Flying Wallendas. And so it began.
Alibis to Olive. Furtive meetings with Tiffany. Excuses for the woman I loved while my lust was spent elsewhere. Spent, in fact, on an empty little yo-yo whose touch and wiggle caused the top of my head to dislodge like a frisbee and hover in space like a flying saucer. I was forsaking my responsibility to the woman of my dreams for a physical obsession not unlike the one Emil Jannings experienced in The Blue Angel.
Once I feigned illness, asking Olive to attend a Brahms Symphony with her mother so that I could satisfy the moronic whims of my sensual goddess who insisted I drop over to watch “This Is Your Life” on television, “because they’re doing Johnny Cash!” Yet, after I paid my dues by sitting through the show, she rewarded me by dimming the rheostats and transporting my libido to the planet Neptune. Another time I casually told Olive I was going out to buy the papers. Then I raced seven blocks to Tiffany’s, took the elevator up to her floor, but, as luck would have it, the infernal lift stuck. I paced like a caged cougar between floors, unable to satisfy my flaming desires and also unable to return home by a credible time. Released at last by some firemen, I hysterically concocted a tale for Olive featuring myself, two muggers and the Loch Ness monster.
Fortunately, luck was on my side and she was sleeping when I returned home. Olive’s own innate decency made it unthinkable to her that I would deceive her with another woman, and while the frequency of our physical relations had fallen off, I husbanded my stamina in such a manner as to at least partially satisfy her. Constantly ridden with guilt, I offered flimsy alibis about fatigue from overwork, which she bought with the guilessness of an angel. In truth, the whole ordeal was taking its toll on me as the months went by. I grew to look more and more like the figure in Edward Munch’s “The Scream.”
Pity my dilemma, dear reader! This maddening predicament that afflicts perhaps a good many of my contemporaries. Never to find all the requirements one needs in a single member of the opposite sex. On one hand, the yawning abyss of compromise. On the other, the enervating and reprehensible existence of the amorous cheat. Were the French right? Was the trick to have a wife and also a mistress, thereby delegating responsibility for varied needs between two parties? I knew that if I proposed this arrangement openly to Olive, understanding as she was, the chances were very good I would wind up impaled on her British umbrella. I grew weary and depressed and contemplated suicide. I held a pistol to my head, but at the last moment lost my nerve and fired in the air. The bullet passed through my ceiling, causing Mrs. Fitelson in the apartment overhead to leap straight upward on to her bookshelf and remain perched there throughout the high holidays.
Then one night it all cleared up. Suddenly, and with a clarity one usually associates with LSD, my course of action became apparent. I had taken Olive to see a revival of a Bela Lugosi film at the Elgin. In the crucial scene, Lugosi, a mad scientist, switches the brain of some unlucky victim with that of a gorilla, both being strapped to operating tables during an electrical storm. If such a thing could be devised by a screenwriter in the world of fiction, surely a surgeon of my ability could, in real life, accomplish the same thing.
Well, dear reader, I won’t bore you with the details which are highly technical and not easily understood by the lay mentality. Suffice it to say that one dark and stormy night a shadowy figure might have been observed smuggling two drugged women (one with a shape that caused men to drive their cars up on the sidewalk) into an unused operating room at Flower Fifth Avenue. There, as bolts of lightning crackled jaggedly through the sky, he performed an operation done before only in the world of celluloid fantasy, and then by a Hungarian actor who would one day turn the hickey into an art form.
The result? Tiffany Schmeederer, her mind now existing in the less spectacular body of Olive Chomsky, found herself delightfully free from the curse of being a sex object. As Darwin taught us, she soon developed a keen intelligence, and while not perhaps the equal of Hannah Arendt’s, it did permit her to recognize the follies of astrology and marry happily. Olive Chomsky, suddenly the possessor of a cosmic topography to go with her other superb gifts, became my wife as I became the envy of all around me.
The only hitch was that after several months of bliss with Olive that was the equal of anything in the Arabian Nights,I inexplicably grew dissatisfied with this dream woman and developed instead a crush on Billie Jean Zapruder, an airline stewardess whose boyish, flat figure and Alabama twang caused my heart to do flipflops. It was at this point that I resigned my position at the hospital, donned my pin wheel hat and knapsack and began skating down Broadway.
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