Mar. 1st, 2017

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1931425_1086126590898_1453_n Let’s face it: The Internet was invented so you could spy on X-Boyfriends. E-commerce, the dissemination of fake news and memes – these are secondary benefits. What you really want to do is use the Internet like a time machine to walk inside those footsteps on the beach before they get entirely washed away by the sea.

And so it was after a long day of selfless public service and an evening spent perusing Mary Karr’s Lit (all praise to [ profile] lifeinroseland!) that last night I found myself idly Googling Jon _____'s name.

I’ve written about Jon and Ann and Reed before. Though not extensively.


During the winter of 1971, I lived in Montreal. I was running away from romantic problems. Enrolling at McGill University seemed like a good move – 3,000 miles away from the male person upon whom I was projecting my angst and relatively close to New York City, which was providing me with my periodic cash infusions.

Ann was in my physics class. I can’t remember now how we became friends.

What I do remember is that Ann pursued me. And that she was very brilliant in that kind of linear thought way that’s so different from my own infinitely curved perspective.

Ann was the lynchpin of a romantic triangle consisting of Ann, Reed, and Jon. The official boyfriend was Reed. Jon was his best friend.

Jon was a tall boy with broad shoulders who’d grown up in Bethlehem, one of the Pennsylvania towns that got hit the hardest by the closure of the steel mills. Summers, he went back to Bethlehem to work in the steel mill.

Jon had long thick blonde hair that reached down to the middle of his back. Maybe it was his hair, or maybe it was the fact that his academic specialty was English Renaissance writers – Spenser, Bacon, Sir Thomas More; Shakespeare was too mainstream for him – but whenever I made love with Jon, I had this vision of being clasped in the arms of a William Blakean angel. I could even see the Blake drawing superimposed over Jon’s intense face and laboring body – he always made love with his eyes wide open – a kind of sepia copper plate etching that illuminated his muscles and that unearthly mantle of hair.

Ann was sleeping with Jon, too.

In fact, Ann seemed to prefer Jon to Reed. So, I never could understand why Reed was the official boyfriend.

Reed was not supposed to know that Ann was sleeping with Jon (although, of course, he did.) Everyone knew I was sleeping with Jon, and I suppose I could have turned that into a bigger deal than it was if I’d wanted to.

Ann confided that she thought I ought to sleep with Reed, at least once. But I wasn’t at all attracted to Reed. He looked a lot like Lytton Strachey right down to the pubic hair beard; moreover, his academic specialty was Wyndham Lewis, someone I’d never heard of. I figured if I’d never heard of him, Wyndham Lewis was probably a poseur. I had (and have) a really extensive knowledge of English literature and art, and let’s face it: I’m a snob!

But I knew what Ann was really saying is that she thought I ought to sleep with her. So I did. She’d never been with a woman before; she was very nervous. I’m not sure whether the bigger erotic thrill for her was the nervousness or the sex. Ann is one of the most self-contained and confident people I’ve ever met. She doesn’t have the opportunity to get nervous very often.

The only other thing I remember about sex with Ann was that she got positively swoony over how soft my skin was.

Did we make love more than once? I honestly don’t remember. I’m inclined to think we did because the four of us proceeded to fuse into one of those tremendously self-congratulatory core groups that Donna Tartt writes about, that Donna Tartt has cemented an elevated literary reputation writing about, in fact. Sex and intrigue are always the things that glue those core groups together. We’re having it; you’re not. We're the undisputed center of the universe.

The other undergraduates talked about us. We spent most of our time together. The time I did not spend with Ann and Jon and Reed, I spent holed up in the stacks of the McGill library, reading. 1971 was the year I discovered Larry McMurtry. 1971 was the year I read all four volumes of Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God.

Springtime approached, and Ann and Jon and Reed asked me to join them on their round-the-world expedition. They’d all been accepted to graduate school – Ann to Johns Hopkins medical school, Jon to Yale, Reed to I-can’t-remember – but they’d decided to take a year off to travel to Europe and after that to the Middle East – Damascus! Baghdad! the Khyber pass – and after that to southeast Asia. A journey that was possible nearly half a century ago but would not be possible today.

But I decided not to go.

The angst-inducing male person and I had been writing each other long, sappy letters throughout my banishment. Though I liked Ann and Jon well enough, I thought Reed might turn into a bit of a problem if I had to be around him somewhere I couldn’t easily get up and walk away: Reed was very long-winded, and once he got going, it was impossible to shut him up. And, of course, on the Khyber Pass, there'd be nowhere to escape to. It felt as though Destiny was beckoning me back to California.

The three of us saw each other now and then after that year although never again as a foursome. A couple of years after McGill, Ann helped me realize a childhood dream when we went to Egypt together.

I’d spent much of my childhood obsessing over Greek and Roman mythology. Edith Hamilton was my St. Paul. I’d used my modeling earnings to finance a trip to Greece in my late teens, but of course, the universe of Greek and Roman mythology spills all across eastern Europe – unexplorable when I was young because it sat behind the Iron Curtain – and North Africa.

Ann and I spent three weeks in Luxor – ancient Thebes! – poking around in the vast necropolitan valleys, losing ourselves in the Karnak temple complex, sitting in decrepid cafes by the banks of the Nile. We explored Alexandria together where the maps did not even begin to describe the topography and Cairo where one day in Tahrir Square, I realized that I was a foreign protein to which the entire Arab population of the city was having an anaphylactic reaction.

I met up with Ann and Jon one more time after that. In Baltimore. They were married. Very unhappily married.

But that’s a story for another time.


Anyway, I don’t know whatever possessed me to go Googling for Jon. Probably because I was reading Mary Karr and wondering why I’m too lazy to write a memoir. (But, honestly. Who’d be interested?)

Ann and I are FB “friends” though she’s way too smart to maintain a strong presence there. Her most recent photo shows she’s hardly changed at all physically. Still thin and wiry with that very intense gaze. She’s even got the same hairstyle. She and Jon divorced long ago.

Reed apparently just got drummed out of the university where he was a dean. For bullying students. No surprises there.

Jon turns out to teach at a university on Long Island. He participated in the New York version of the recent Women’s March. There’s a photo of him looking very jowly and self-righteous, holding an incendiary sign aloft. His hair comes down to just below his ears, still on the longish side for a sixty-something guy, but his hairline is receding. No trace at all of the Blakean boy angel. Not even a glimmer. Jon is just another uninteresting-looking old guy.


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