Mailer on Mailer
It was a deceptively simple situation. The Writer, brandishing a formidable and long-awaited piece of research disguised as a best-selling book on the life of the young Picasso, on a publicity whistle-stop in San Francisco. The cool ocean air of Fitzgerald's dark night filled his lungs, riffling those hairs that dangle protectively from the sweet scrotal sack, encased in which are the Balls, twin fortitudinal orbs responsible for groundbreaking novels, fistfights, and his penknife assault on his wife. The Balls, pendent, fully descended beneath his gray slacks, are, although the age of 72, still engaged in continual manufacture of his rampant tadpole seed, as if possessing a life of their own outside the rest of the man, insistent on fulfilling species propagation even if severed and flung against the stone wall of a Tijuana bullring. The Writer stood at a podium in a theater filled with the curious and adoring, including hipsters, scattered Negroes, and homosexuals. But no Harlem smoke, no devil swish. West Coast Negroes, West Coast homosexuals, WASPs, Irish, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, whites, all of which made up his audience, those readers possessed of an appreciation for the faculty of imagination. And his imagination was ready. He wanted to seduce the Bitch once more. She had had many San Francisco lovers over the years -- Don Carpenter, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, even the rueful Kerouac and gadfly Caen -- but he was still one of them. And there he was, back in town, holding the buttock of the lady in a guileless clutch. And he thought of the modern local newspaper jackdaws in sweatshop toil, farting up the hothouse beauty, the butter bilge, the toilet-tank prattle that constitutes the weakest and worst near-major newspapers in the country, their style reeking of stale garlic, mud pies in prose. And he thought, You don't catch the Bitch that way, buster. You got to bring more than a trombone to the boudoir.
One of the oldest devices of The Writer -- and in particular the Great American Novelist -- is to bring his narrative (after much sighing and whistles of amazement from the audience) to a pitch of excitement and fevered discourse where the audience, no matter how cultivated, is reduced to a simple beast, tongue lolling in ravenous intellectual hunger, asking, "And then what? What happened next?" At which point The Writer, consummate cruel lover that he is, introduces a diversion, at once deepening the yearning of his audience, encouraging their appetite yet refusing to sate their pangs.
The Writer now pleads necessity. He will describe a momentary delay in reportage of his book tour appearance, because in fact he must. At this point he could not continue his presentation on the artist Picasso. The Writer became ensnared in a fit of coughing. He apologized politely, turned his head, and coughed again and again. The audience poised expectantly, as was their role, while a slide of a Picasso nude lingered on the screen behind him.
"Let me take a glass of water," assured The Writer graciously. "That might ease the matter."
The Writer reached behind the podium -- a good, strong blond oak variation that reminded him of his National Book Award acceptance speech -- located a glass and pitcher of water, poured himself a glass tumbler, and treated his affliction with nature's own agua.
"The treachery of the throat," said The Writer to appreciative chuckles.
He had been here before. This cancerous dog-and-pony show was a leaden chess match this old man had come to play in his sleep. Nearly 30 books after his revolutionary 1948 novel The Naked and the Dead, he was once more surrounded with unformed minds seeking affirmation from the warrior, presumptive general, embattled aging enfant terrible of -- as Terry Southern used to say -- the "quality lit biz," hard-working author, director of four feature films, past president of American PEN, twice winner of the Pulitzer, co-founder of the Village Voice, champion of obscenity, good friend to bourbon as well as gin, husband of six wives, head-butting party giver, and occasional hostess fondler. But tonight, onstage at the Herbst Theatre, wearing a forgivably rumpled blue blazer which embraced his barrel chest, simple shirt, gray slacks, and silver hair (not yet bald), in the zenith of his creative focus, presenting the nourishing fruits of another intellectual pursuit, he was not just a Jewish kid from Brooklyn anymore. He was finally in alignment with Arnold Toynbee and Bertrand Russell.
"Slide," barked The Writer, and the projector clicked to a simple line sketch of a nude woman, her vagina rendered as a deft isosceles of carbon lead against paper -- Picasso worked quickly. The Writer had always enjoyed articulating the vagina, discussing, observing, and eventually conquering it. He often trumpeted the idea -- for instance, at his 50th birthday party he opened with a crude joke about the Oriental cunt -- but especially now, in these years of his sexual zenith. He liked the sound "vagina" made in its obscene echo off the walls and ceiling of the Herbst Theatre, and his face crinkled with the bratty smirk of the bagnio-bound jester. Picasso also directed much attention to the vagina, and this was where The Writer most felt kinship with the subject of his book. "Slide!" he demanded, and plunged vividly into further analysis of the imagery, its prehistory, the location of Picasso's apartment, the voluptuous models possessing "maws for vaginas." At this point, he felt it essential to elaborate upon Picasso's history of venereal diseases, concluding with raffish wit:
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