The Awful Truth: Flexed to death

Americans are addicted to stimulating themselves -- sometimes to death

By Cintra Wilson

Published December 2, 1997 10:58AM (EST)

The New York City Marathon was here a few weeks ago: news choppers and motorcops following eight stealthy African guys aglow with 0-percent body fat speedgliding like hovercraft 10 miles in the lead, and some 30,000 slogging windbreaker hordes an hour behind, puffing and paining through the rain and wind and their own wasteful economies of movement. We walked outside to watch the runners trundle by on their route with warm mugs of tea in our hands, swathed in hats and parkas. "Vanity masochism," scoffed my betrothed.

We kept bumping into the huge snake of suffering achievers wherever we went that day; we laughed at them in Brooklyn, we laughed at them from the warm window of the Egyptian room at the Met. They looked so miserable; it was a Godawful day to run 26 miles. The foul weather seemed to take an extra-special toll on the handicapped: "Hey, let's hear it for LOUIS, how about a hand for LOUIS," one woman shouted at us as she jogged by, pointing down at the wet, hunched figure of Louis glumly rowing his wheelchair for the fourth hour, with his baseball hat pulled low over his eyes -- presumably out of embarrassment. We noticed that miles back on the route there was a line of empty Port-O-Lets that the runners had been too action-stoned at that point in the race to utilize. By the time they got to the Long Island City subway station they were all forming a line and pissing openly on the shop walls in front of hundreds of spectators. Cops with shower caps over their hats just looked the other way with a "tsk."

I guess I owe some explanation concerning my sudden engagement. It was the obvious culmination of a fatal head-on collusion, during which our personalities came together with a resounding high-speed "thwip" like two decks of cards in an electronic Vegas shuffler, replete with swirling roses and golden promises of Happily Ever After in glorious Walt Disney-too-dreamily-earnest-to-be-ironic Technicolor style. This joyous event has coincided with some other engagements and marriages of other friends, and basically there appears to be a Great Epidemic of Coupling Off among people my age. We've all done the Hurdy Gurdy with all the other Jacks and sweater girls in the rec room, and now that the disco emergency is subsiding into oily soul cologne ballads, we're all locking into the partner whom the mysterious forces of biochemistry, humor and Fate dictate is the One. Here beginneth the Vaseline makeout dance under the slowly rotating pink mirror ball for the rest of our lives, unto death.

New York is the best place in the world to be disgustingly in love, because it is so fucking cold outside. Huddling with your mate is coupled with some kind of instinctual survival of the body not wanting to freeze to death, making it just that much more sexy.

The other night we were at a dinner party organized to celebrate the recent success of several musician friends. The first two people who arrived were a Visiting Distant Relative, an ascoted gladhanding thespian ponce who Dale Carnegied us on arrival with the saccharin criminal aura of someone vying to involve us in insurance-related mail fraud, eyes all full of "earnestness" and "sincerity" and an arm-pumping handshake-with-name-repetition for all, and his friend, a behemoth Guido in an elastic-waist leather jacket with hair in the classic Mob-rookie sculptured Alberto V05 feathery dome formation like the head of a parrot.

"What are these?" we wondered, the two being so many light years outside of our natural social order, which seems to be more and more confined to people with master's degrees in something.

Guido sensuously unwrapped himself from his leather jacket and everybody in the room gasped involuntarily: His shirt was essentially a flesh-colored polyester condom, thinly sheathing an upper body priapically engorged to the most obscene Rocky IV Gladiatron hugeness of size with veins like jumper cables and the kind of ultra-deep striations only attainable through the use of powerful intravenous diuretics or the drinking of soy sauce; a homoerotic Japanimated robot beast of obsessive manpower.

"There's something so sexually uninvited about that guy," my Love whispered to me. "You can't even look at him when you're talking to him because if you do it's like kissing him or something." I hadn't thought of it nearly so politely: I thought the guy was like taking a faceful of jism on first glance.

"We just got engaged!" I said, making Universal conversation. "So did I," said Captain Large. At that moment his woman danced in, sparkling with nerves -- a lanky, hairflipping preener in a tight leather skirt with a big red mouth and lots of giggling, flirty mannerisms like a softporny Karen Black bimbo from the early '70s, a kind of unconscious, pre-Gloria Steinem retro-sexual persona. Earlier that day the Betrothed and I were in a restaurant laughing about The Tanktop in December thing, which is the female version of the gay muscleboy fashion crime, Shorts in November. There is a particular breed of young hottie girls who insist on peeling all 14 layers of clothes off as soon as they get indoors so they can hang out in a halter top or a thin slip, because they just can't BEAR the thought of not being an erotic showpiece for 20 minutes, even in the winter over eggs.

The Soon-to-Be-Mrs. Guido Testaduro shucked off her snakeskin leather jacket and minced pony-style to the table in a spaghetti-string camisole. I noticed her engagement ring: a diamond/onyx thing the size of a salad plate. "I'm a model, and an actress, and a playwright, and a sculptress," she said when asked. Translation: stripper.

The three of them were all breaking into "the business" with incredible cartoon naiveté; arriving with cardboard suitcases in Times Square from some gray industrial cheese-processing town in the Midwest and looking up at the glittering lights and saying, "I'm gonna MAKE IT! Because I'm a WINNER!" The bodybuilding couple were obviously hanging out with Dale Carnegie for the same reason he was hanging out with them: They were all using each other in order to get ahead. There was something truly sweet about all of them and their big, frail dreams, though, that made me feel cruel as I jotted down notes about them on napkins at the table. They had all found each other and were parts of the same socket set; they were trying to be good people, they were just a bit tarnished by simplicity and lite sleaze.

The Thespian proudly informed me that he had been working as an intern for a prominent theater group -- a job I knew well. I had many friends go through that sorry résumé booster -- essentially, it consisted of fetching coffee and stuffing envelopes for the vainglorious privilege of being within 20 feet of the Great Clique (although encased in "untouchable" status -- nobody gives a shit about interns) for six months, for free. "That's tough work," I said in genuine sympathy. "Oh NOOOO. It was really a wonderful EXPERIENCE. I met a lot of people in the INDUSTRY, blah blah POSITIVE ENERGY blather, dribble." I shook my head for him. There's nothing you can do for that type; they're militantly hell-bent on acting superior to you by eating as much shit as possible and liking it, New-Age style. "He's a born director," said Guido, who pronounced born "bo-awn" and director "directuh." "He just needs to, ya know ... get in on the ground floo-ah."

The Thespian proposed a toast to honor the memory of Michael Hutchence, which is how we learned of his death. I remember that first INXS video, the big Tom Jonesy dinner party with the cutaways of a model cunnilinging a ripe fig ("iiiiiit's the, Oooooone Thing, Yoooooooou want Myyyyyyyyy Thing ..."). You'd think that a guy who goes out with supermodels would have better things to have sex with than a doorknob and belt. When more of your friends are dead because of autoerotic asphyxiation than because of car accidents, you have to begin to wonder if maybe there shouldn't be more public awareness about this topic. Evidently there are hundreds and hundreds of cases like this every year in L.A. alone. My favorite is a case from the Midwest, where a guy elaborately suffocated while making love to his John Deere backhoe tractor, which he named "Mr. Strong" and wrote letters to, epic poetry of gleaming hand-in-shovel ascendancy.

But we are an autoerotic society, whether we stimulate ourselves to death by running 26 miles in the rain or lifting weights until we look like shaved musk oxen or wearing underwear in winter or sacrificing all self-respect for a swipe at fame. Humans all have intricate mazes of Need that require steadily increasing doses of complicated stimulation. We all have our vices and sleazy parts and things we do that make us feel larger and more special than other people. I'm the coward at the dinner party who comes home and gets her sick rocks off hunching over the computer in the dark and slandering the guests. Ho ho ho.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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