Masturbating Onstage at the Met, and other Fantasies

Masturbating Onstage at the Met, and other Fantasies

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. March 29, 1973, Vol. XVIII, No. 13

What's a woman to do when handed poo poo? by Phyllis Raphael

Once I knew a woman with a permanently elevated, non-masochistic, non-self-hating ego. She was all the things I am not. She never slept with men who put her down. She had the courage to be unreasonable, unkind, self-centered, vulgar, bourgeois, and also to get fat. I worshipped her like a goddess.

She confided in me that she wanted the entire world to know how lovely she was and therefore she was going to book the Metropolitan Opera House and masturbate on stage in front of an audience of thousands while the orchestra played the Hallelujah Chorus from the "Messiah." I could be her stage manager.

I hurled myself into my work grateful just to be a part of it. However, it soon became apparent that she and I had different ideas when it came to taste. I felt she should wear very little makeup and a basic black dress with pearls. Instead she decided she would drive onto the stage in a platinum chariot drawn by thoroughbred horses wearing sequins on her nipples, a large ostrich feather fan on her head, and silver body paint. Then she would lie down on a round satin bed while 48 chorus boys tap-danced behind her.

On the night of the opening I was a nervous wreck. I was certain the critics would destroy her. As I stood frozen backstage, my mouth dry and my heart pounding, she approached me and laid her cool hand on my forehead. "Let me tell you about this life, Mommelah," she said. "In this life you don't get what you deserve, you get what you think you deserve." Then she winked at me, mounted her chariot, and drove onstage just as the crystal chandeliers dimmed and rose into the ceiling of the Met.

She was dazzling. Everything went smoothly until the chariot halted in front of the bed. Then just as she was preparing to descend, both horses made poo poo which dropped decisively on the stage. There was a low giggle from the audience. I watched spellbound as with consummate grace she plucked the feather fan from her head, scooped the offending morsels from the stage, and beckoned me with her finger. Before I knew what was happening, "Pops," the genial white-haired man who rings the curtain up and down backstage, pushed me onstage with a fire bucket in my hand. I stumbled toward her, my face burning. I held out the bucket like a suppliant about to be blessed. The bullets thudded into the bucket. Then she folded the feather fan and with a flourish implanted it firmly in the load. Defeated and despairing, I tripped over a chorus oy on my way off stage. He never stopped smiling. I just kept walking out of the theatre until I reached the fountain outside Lincoln Center. Then I lay down in the water while the fire bucket bobbed above me.

The following morning the New York press rang with rave reviews of her performance. Bernard Flangman wrote, "This woman carries the seeds of true greatness. A star is born and I for one stand in awe of her inner beauty." Stanley Sussman said, "The only show in town that is actually worth the $15 ticket."

I flushed all her reviews down the toilet. I burned with hatred. I consoled myself with the fact that she was a vulgar egocentric woman and the critics were a bunch of stupid ignorant fools. I -- on the other hand, was a sensitive artistic person with a heart and soul. I would never make a display of myself like she did just to be a success. I would survive on my talent, my sensitivity, my gift for life and loving. I would never descend to her depths and be a competitive, bitchy self-promoter. Someday justice would be done and I would be discovered.

I wish I could write a marvelous up ending for this story. I wish she got punished for her crassness and I got rewarded for my sensitivity. Unfortunately no such thing is true. She had an affair with Warren Beatty and gave him a hard time. She wrote a novel that sold a million copies and got sold to the movies for $500,000. Then, as if all that wasn't enough, she joined a woman's group and turned it into a commercial venture She sold stock in it for $2 a share and it zoomed and split and she was heralded as a financial genius.

Recently I met her at a party where in a voice that commanded the attention of the entire room she told the story of how she handed me a bucket of shit on stage at the Met. Everyone became convulsed with laughter while I, standing against a blue wall, turned the same shade of blue and faded into the wall. I believe I am still there plastered to that wall, immobile as a painting and filled with envy and hatred.

One night I dreamed I was a chameleon who was given a second chance by a fairy godmother. "Anything you want," she murmured softly, "anything, name it and you can have it." "I want the courage not to listen to anything that anyone tells me no matter how wise or reasonable it sounds," I said. "I want the courage to be vulgar. I want to have an ego that touches the sky all the time. Most of all I want to be filled with such self-love that I never compete with anyone." "Oh, then," she giggled, "you had better stop being a chameleon and turn into a person. I'll come back someday when you're human. Then I'll give you what you want." "You miserable cock sucker!" I screamed. "You said you would give me whatever I wanted and now you're breaking your promise." "Look sweetheart," she said, "don't get tough with me. It's a dog eat dog world and the only people who get wishes from fairy godmothers are those who think they deserve them. I have to get out of there now," she said. "I'm late for a promotion meeting at Ms. magazine."

I followed her downstairs pleading with her, tears staining my cheeks. "What do you do when people hand you shit? Tell me," begged. "My life depends on it." I pursued her into a taxi and clasped my arms around her knees. She remained immobile. "Tell me the secret of self-love," screamed. "Tell me or I'll break your neck." I lunged at her with my nail. It started to bleed and she reached up and peeled off a layer of skin underneath which was the face of my enemy, the women who gave me shit. "You miserable bitch!" I lunged again. Another gash, another layer removed, and I was staring at myself. I put my hands to my face and moaned, "You pathetic creature. I know you don't know the answer." The skin wrinkled and shriveled, dropped off into my hands and I was looking into the face of my mother. She told me the answer to the secret of self-love. "Never sleep with men who put you down. Never be unreasonable, unkind, self-centered, or vulgar and don't get fat. Above all don't masturbate in public."

Then my mother took me down from the wall and brushed the envy and hatred from my shoulders. Much of it still clings to me like flaking paint. I cannot seem to get it off.

If the Labyris bookstore now stops carrying my novel I would like my ashes scattered over New York City.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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