An antidote to the negativity of late: on November 14, 2007 I had arrived in Arica, Chile after a 30-hour bus ride from Santiago. A bus strike in nearby Bolivia (my destination) meant that I had to kill the entire day alone in Arica, a place I had already been once before and had no compulsion to repeat. I had to stay in spartan lodging, spending expensive Chilean money rather than Monopoly-worth Bolivian coin. The area near the terminal was not optimal (or even completely safe?) but as I needed to jump on a bus to Bolivia as soon as possible I had no choice but to sleep nearby.
The airplane and bus rides had ruined my stomach and for days I couldn’t eat more than a few bites of anything. My sleep patterns were shot from jetlag and I ended up in bed sleeping at one p.m. while an earthquake shook the establishment and cut its electricity (consequently I never even knew about the experience). I spent a few hours at the beach but then had nothing to do for the rest of the day. I tried going for a walk but then saw a crew of bored young guys down the road and opted against crossing their path, a gringo alone in a poorer part of town. So I went back to the hostel, whose lights had been cut owing to the earthquake, and spent the rest of the day in bed with a candle that the landlady had given me despite her lack of smiles. What was left to do but write?
It really wasn’t a pretty way to get from Santiago (Chile) to Cochabamba (Bolivia). Adding the day lost to the strike on the Bolivian side, it took four and a half days of bussing and sleeping anonymously and alone in hovels, having to lug all of my belongings to and fro. All up it only cost about a hundred bucks though, and after the fact it’s intriguing to think that I was so alone like that, that I was in a foreign country and doing something against the grain. This is what I came up with to kill some time in that dark room: some purposely chauvinistic, fictional conversations with the macho mate (or “cousin”) that I would probably never have in real life. These are not necessarily things that I think personally, but I was bored and just rolling with it.
“Do we spend our whole lives looking for beauty?” I asked him. “Is the only beauty around to be found in a woman? In the slope of her face, the shape of her eyes, the proportion of her body, the unique feeling her vagina gives you when you’re rubbing along inside her? Where does that leave other women who are not beautiful? They get left to their own devices until the day they die. It’s not their fault they don’t have what you’re looking for. They have their dreams too, they want to be looked at by a beautiful man, they want to have sex with a man that doesn’t repulse them, but they get written off if they’re not beautiful.” But of course I was lying to myself, we all act the same way: even the strongest spiritual bonds we form with members of the opposite sex – they only begin because the woman is beautiful, and because she thinks we are, too.
He put his tie on and adjusted the knot. “Sorry to offend your sensibilities, but women are the only beauty that’s left in the world, and sexual pleasure the only magic. But to get what you want, you have to earn it. The world is unbalanced; all the beauty in it has been siphoned off by the rich. The rest of us have nothing to inspire us to lift our leaden soles off the ground.”
I scoffed at this. He was rich, for the moment. His suit was sending out the right messages, even if fraudulent ones. From what he told me, he only had a thousand dollars left in his bank account, but a grand can go a long way if so desired, and his family was available as a back-stop. Once he went back to work he would regroup and make more money. And then squander it on fleeting desires.
“Look at the situation in Australia. The most exquisite of our women are basically owned by our most powerful men. Their job is their looks, their front, to maintain their façade; our job is to maintain ours – to do enough to deserve them – by having enough stuff to show that we are worthy of owning these creatures. Are we good enough to own one? Women are commodities – they know it; they invest in themselves too. Wish me luck,” he said as he threw a few condoms into his pocket and strode out the door.
I didn’t, because I never wished him luck when he went off to invest in shares; if his commoditisation theory of women was correct then it would have been all the same anyway.
“Guys drift on the wind, nothing more,” he started, beginning his modern day fable. “The women are the ones that give permission for sex to happen. Right? We’ll take it anytime it is available, unless the situation repulses us, which is seldom. If it takes two to tango, pardon the utter cliché, then both people have to be willing to tango for it to occur – and let me tell you, it’s never the guy who’s unwilling. We want it all the time and it’s a foreign concept to us trying to understand that they don’t want it all the time. Why are we all wired like we are? Isn’t it an ugly fact that a man’s brain thinks in two completely separate ways depending on whether we have white gooey junk swimming in our balls or if we don’t? Why the hell should that make any difference to any intellectual processes? But my God, does it ever!”
Maybe I didn’t have enough liquid floating around down there that particular month, but I had been going though a rough emotional patch of late, and seemed to be dwelling on the fact that all my lost loves had names beginning with the letter S. He continued.
“Yeah, they’re interconnected – the brain and the dick, I mean. The heart is something else. The heart is that part of you that whispers to you while you’re doing Miss Bar Chick July 2007 that unless she is engaging to you, the experience is unfulfilling. The heart tells you that you need a particular girl, that only she will fulfil that particular space. Shit, I once travelled all the way to France because of that one sacred woman, and I knew in advance that I wasn’t even going to be able to make love to her! Being a guy is a constant battle between the brain, the heart and the dick. The dick generally seems to be winning in this day and age. Look outside.”
I did. On a billboard out front there was a woman in her twenties kneeling in front of an open fridge in the dark. The only clothes she had on were a tight T-shirt and on the bottom half just her underwear. She was looking up expectantly as if she had been called, and the words printed on the billboard were “Yes, Dad”. The ad was for juice or something. (Note: This actually was a billboard I saw in Asuncion, Paraguay in 2006.)
“We still rule the world,” he said.
“It’s kind of weird, the way Germaine Greer thinks. I don’t know if she’s a lesbian or not, but I figure that whether she is or isn’t, she wants nothing to do with men. She thinks the fact that men penetrate women is just a reinforcement of the power imbalance of greater society, a submission of the woman. She’s right, of course,” and in surprise I stopped what I was doing – in this case, trying to teach my sister’s little kid to jump by holding a piece of chocolate just out of her reach, knowing that she will metaphorically be doing the same to the boys in about fifteen years. “Every time you penetrate a woman you feel the power. But how can you rail against our very biology? It is what it is, end of discussion. I admire the fight she has within her to argue against such futility. Do we say it’s wrong that the sky is blue?”
He paused. “I don’t care what she looks like, I would love to stick my dick in her. Talk about the power.”
My mood brightened upon crossing from Chile to Bolivia the next day, my home away from home. I didn’t repeat the experience though. On my way home on Valentine’s Day 2008 I paid whatever it would take to fly me directly from Cochabamba to Santiago to Melbourne. Then the current era began.