(1997, the Maria Yagoda journal archives)
Today, a piece very near to my heart was published on Bustle.
The essay chronicles my sexual education, provided by Liz Phair, in the form of her 1993 album, “Exile in Guyville”:
I heard the word “cunt” several times before I knew its meaning. I would sing it in front of my parents, on long car rides up to my grandmother’s house, during brief breaks from NPR. “I only ask because I’m a real cunt in spring / You can rent me by the hour,” I’d sing along, my beloved CD of Liz Phair’s 1993 iconic album, “Exile in Guyville,” spinning in the minivan.
I wasn’t totally oblivious. I’d skip past certain tracks that had bad words I knew, like “fuck.” The song “Flower,” for example, was explicitly about oral sex — even 12 year-old me knew this — and I certainly didn’t want my parents hearing it. The year before, some obnoxious kid at summer camp had explained to me, unsolicited, what a blow job was. “You do what to the what?” I’d thought, making sure to say instead, “Duh.” After a few minutes of solemn contemplation, I decided there was no way that was a thing, and I continued painting flowers on rocks.
But there was something beautiful about Liz Phair’s sexuality, something that extended far beyond the scope of sucking a dick — elements of passion, longing, arousal, desire, grit, vulnerability — yet, at the same time, it was all very much within the context of sucking a dick. This sent me a clear message: It’s perfectly normal to want to be someone’s “blow job queen,” or to want someone ”ramming, jamming, slamming” in you. “Flower” empowered me to appreciate and embrace an active mode of female sexuality.
So, at an unusually young age, I learned the following lessons: I can want sex. I can be raunchy. I can see a man…and then I can see him on top of me.
READ THE REST HERE AND NEVER LOOK BACK.
Ladies, let’s be real: We’ve all had this kind of sex. You’re zoned out and bored, and the dude is some combination of gross + sweaty + floppy + unskilled. Maybe you’re hungry, and imagining a falafel sandwich where his head should be.
Whatever the case is — YOU DESERVE BETTER. And once you’ve found better, watch this video to memorialize your time boning uninspired man-excuses.
Also watch it right now, because it’s hilarious.
In a few days, I turn 24. I’m not sure how to feel. I don’t think of 24 as a particularly distinctive age, but maybe that’s because I’m not wowed by even numbers in general, especially ones that can be split so many different ways (in half, in six, in eight…). They seem at once bland and untrustworthy.
I don’t know what 24 will be like. If 23 is any indication, it will be messy. There will be sandwiches; there will be losses. There will be hot dogs; there will be victories. There will be disappointments, ketchup stains, lessons learned, dogs petted, hangovers, tears, boxed wine, and regrets.
I’m not so scared of regrets anymore. I look back on 23 and, weirdly, don’t feel any regret. I really should, though. I made mistakes pretty much nonstop.
When I look back on 23, the first thing I do is vomit, because I can’t believe how quickly the year passed. Ok, cleaned up the vomit. The second thing I do is engage in some introspection. Join me now as I reflect on the 23 things I’ve learned in my 23rd year.
Dear Papaya Dog Employee Who Reminded Me I’d Been There the Night Before,
I have a thing for hot dogs, but you know this. You know this about me more than most, including friends and family, because I come to you, not them, late in the night for the things I need: Chili dogs. Corn dogs. Cheese fries. The smell of meat. The sound of sizzling fat juices.
We banter. I recognize your face but have never known your name. The same is true for you, I imagine. Maybe you know me by the way I leap-walk when I’m drunk, or the self-aware jokes I make to distinguish myself from the youths who stumble in and out, glopping too much ketchup on their hot dogs because alcohol has ruined their young minds. For some reason, I need you to think of me as different, though this has always been unreasonable.
You’re like an uncle, an all-knowing cool one. You did all the shit in college and just generally know what’s up. Once, when I coerced a boy to accompany me to Papaya Dog at 1 am, you knew what the deal was. For sure. You didn’t judge me but you laughed. You dispensed extra cheese. That’s how you wink at me, through cheese.
I hate that you have an accent and I don’t know from where. I should have asked you from where, when I had a chance. It’s too late now. I don’t really bro it up in the East Village anymore. I’m never around that Papaya Dog, on East 14th Street and 1st Ave, stumbling or otherwise. Nowadays, I’m never even awake at hours later than re-runs of Seinfeld play on TV. I still get cravings though, hot dog ones, and when I do, I think of you.
One night in 2013 I swung by late, all mopey. I’d been stood up for a date, which was upsetting, but not nearly as upsetting as the realization that hot dogs were my primary coping mechanism. Was 22 supposed to be like this? The part of my brain that gets a perverse pleasure in my sadness decided to remind me how much Taylor Swift, a peer, had accomplished by 22.
I needed to get to work on something.
My heart pounded faster: Hot. Dog. Hot. Dog. Hot. Dog.
I arrived at our meeting place, your place of work. My eyes were mostly dry now. It was a double corn dog sort of night, with a side of cheese fries to cut the sweetness.
You could tell I’d been crying. You asked me how I was, but not in a How are you-way, because that would have sucked. Instead, we played our usual game, full of wordless pleasantries like smiles and shrugs and knowing sighs.
You told me it was good to see me again.
“Again?” I laughed.
“You were here last night. Three corn dogs, cheese fries, and a turkey burger,” he said.
“A turkey burger?” I said. “You’ve got the wrong girl.”
“It was you.” He handed me my corn dogs and turned around to fill up a soda, a sort of compassionate gesture to let me process, alone, the fact that I couldn’t keep track of the places I’d been, the sandwiches I’d eaten just days before.
“Was I alone?”
I paid and left. I haven’t gone back since. Not on principle. (Well, a few degrees less than “on principle,” but still in the “on principle” family.) Maybe I’m ashamed. Maybe I realized something. You’ve probably found other drunk girls to befriend and give extra cheese and I’m happy for you.
I write you this letter because tonight my heart beats hot dog hot dog hot dog hot dog and I want to keep track of the sandwiches I eat and the sandwiches I crave because you can no longer do it for me.
(This one was hard to write, even harder to publish. I found it in the 2013 archives–aka my journal–back from when I was traveling around Croatia and Italy like a madwoman. This particular vignette was written when I was living in Split, Croatia.)
My eyes burned, watered. Mostly from the semen, partly from the shock.
Norman, Croatian Man and Proprietor of Ejaculate, was alarmed by my alarm.
“No warning?” I asked, miffed, blindly feeling around the bedside table for tissues.
“Well fuck that.”
Norman rolled over and hoisted himself out of bed. He zipped on his baby blue flannel onesie. I had to watch him tie his brown, shoulder length hair into a ponytail. “I know this isn’t sexy,” he said. “But it is very comfortable.” He motioned me to the kitchen and warmed up some meat and beans, a hearty Dalmatian recipe his mother made him growing up. I declined.
We sat alongside the kitchen counter, in his apartment in the outskirts of Split. I watched him eat his beans with total commitment. Some landed on his oversized child’s night garment. Before I’d moved to Croatia, if I had closed my eyes and envisioned a Croatian man, I’d have seen Norman: buff, rustic, burly, chiseled, strange — though his name would have been Stipe, or Bojan. Norman was named Norman, he told me, because “his parents were eccentrics.”
He wanted to talk about past relationships. (We’d exhausted Game of Thrones.) He asked me about my longest. His was six. Years. Mine was two. Months.
“You’ve never been in love?”
“No,” I said. I could have used a bowl of beans, right then, to diffuse the sadness, however dull: of being asked this by others and by myself, perpetually.
“Well, no offense, but there must be a reason for that.” He sopped up the juices with some stale bread.
I know, I know: I’ve never been in love. And no one, to my knowledge, has ever loved me, barring my family, a few friends, and my dog (when I’m holding the can opener).
And here was Norman, saying things I knew, getting meat juice on everything, even his careful ponytail.
I had never been more repulsed by a man. Yet this repulsive man had the power to make me acutely aware, more than ever before, of the fact that I’d never been in love: not because Norman had asked me, buffoon-like, but because here I was, sitting next to buffoon-like Norman, watching him eat beans, my eyes still red from an unexpected semen blast.
I excused myself to the bathroom and flushed my face with water. Flushed my face until I was certain he was done eating. I returned to the kitchen to offer a cordial goodbye; he was asleep on the couch.
I walked the two miles home, along the Adriatic, to the small apartment I was renting by the water. The lack of love puts you in places you might ordinarily never find yourself. And this, perhaps, is a blessing, this freedom to roam and experience and, as I did that night, bury myself in pebbles, feet in the chilly water, where I slept until sunrise.
The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.
Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.
I do not know which of us has written this page.
The Maker, 1960.