There are more things in heaven and earth, Homeboy,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
On the Ducati I wear pantyhose, the smart thing to do at ninety miles an hour when the wind cuts like shards of frozen glass through your leathers but the bike just wants to go faster. It’s expensive pantyhose, tight and warm like my honey’s precious lovebox, and it always lets me know it’s there—caressing nicely my legs, my glutes, my boysack—no matter how many miles I’ve put between me and sanity.
Beige, black, taupe or nude. Pantyhose. It’s our little secret. Me and Nola. She picks them up in my size when she’s buying her own—by the dozen, cause we can jam our way through pantyhose faster than our hot Italian motorcycles can make the run from Wall Street to Albany.
Nola prefers skin next to her skin. Leather causes friction—which keeps her warm—and it holds her scent she says, long after she’s gone and come. And that drives me crazy. It’s true. Sometimes when she’s on a solo for the mag I’ll spend a glorious hour in her closet, surrounded by her zillions of riding suits in dozens of colors, settling finally on the one she’s worn most recently cause it smells the best. Nothing comes between Nola Handy and her expensive Italian leathers except me and my dusky nyloned johnson. And therein, I guess I’ll have to say, hangs a tale.
Nola showed up in my office in fuck-me pumps and Dolce & Gabbana not long after I took over Road Hog Magazine. My family owns lots of those titles you see in the grocery store, but Road Hog I built up myself—from next to nothing. They had zilch circulation when I got there and their only ads were for penis enlargers and survival books like How to Cook Crank on Your Exhaust Manifold.
Basically I turned the rag around by targeting their hard-core readership: big mean futhermuckers on monster cruising bikes who love women with big racks and the taste of blood. Hairy guys who lift weights, eat out, and wear tee-shirts like: if you can read this, the bitch fell off, or You Never Forget Your First Pig. Salt-of-the-earth types. Hog riders and hog lovers. My readership. And me, a white-bread Harvard MBA. I feel so guilty taking their money....
But as I was saying, Nola showed up in my office dressed like a six hundred dollar an hour lawyer and said she was looking for a job in editorial. She had this Deep South accent, all magnolia and mint, and she assured me she had "experience." This, it turned out, was true. She proceeded to perform the most practiced fellatio it has ever been my pleasure to receive, and I hired her on the spot, but not before I removed that expensive silk suit and did her doggystyle on digital videotape. I could give a shit less whether she could take dictation.
I say I built up the magazine, but Nola was right there with me all the way. She’s the one who wooed the advertisers. If she blew them too, I didn’t wanna know and I didn’t really care. Cause she was there for me, in the office, back home on Sutton Place, and most especially on the road, cause Nola lived for head and motorcycles.
She’d snuggle in there behind you, hard little maams in your back, warm strong hands stuck in your skivvies, muscular legs wrapped around you and the bike like you were all some sort of animal-machine mutation. But Nola, being Nola, came most alive on a bike of her own. I was barely able to keep her tail light in view on any trip we ever made. She rode hard, like a man.
She looks like a boy. Sometimes. In riding clothes anyway. Five and a half feet tall, close-cropped Italian-styled black hair, no chest at all by Road Hog standards, definitely an Audrey Hepburn kinda thing going on, but Nola is so feminine underneath her leathers. Sometimes she makes me want to give up the smell of gasoline, hot chrome, and money forever and become her panty slave.
We were turning 8000 RPM up in Columbia County where the river finds beauty and a wrong turn will kill you, when Lola swooped down a side road I’d never taken. She kicked her sidestand down and removed her helmet. Our engines pinged in relief, like a vagina will when you’ve rubbed it right; we’d been pushing hard ever since Westchester and the bikes were new. Nola’s indescribable grin gave the Mona Lisa’s a run for its money and I knew something was up. She loves surprises.
We had parked the bikes in front of one of those Patroon mansions left over from Dutch colonial days, a landmark no doubt, if tourists only knew how to find it. Apparently, however, it was some sort of magnet to Hog Riders, or maybe it’d been a centerfold in Destinations Guaranteed to Impress Your Bitch, cause there must have been sixty Harleys stacked up in front, custom chrome and other-worldly lacquers gleaming in the smoky upstate sun.
The house and hogs stood in magnificent serenity on a bluff hidden from everything but the Hudson by old-growth forest. There’s a tradition of keep to yourself in these parts. Movie stars live across ancient Iroquois cornfields from hog farmers who sell pornography and marijuana to race horse owners and performance artists and nobody gives a shit. It’s democracy in action cause they’ll all come to the town meeting when some city asshole wants to fuck things up.
Nola breathed deep the pungent woodsy air. Her nostrils would have taken Michelangelo two months to sculpt, so perfect they were. It was a special pleasure of mine to watch her in her Florentine mirror back in the city while she applied what she liked to call her macho masque, a little trick she picked up, she says, from Mae West.
A woman who loves you to come in her face. Brand new Ducati 900 SS’s for free. A company credit card, and a weekend together in Upstate Paradise. Is this a good job I’ve got or what?
I must have been thinking too hard like I do, cause Nola’s gloves slapped my shoulder bringing me back to now.
"Pay attention, Peter," she said. "This isn’t your daddy’s crowd." And indeed, as I was about to find out, they were not.
We were greeted by a pair of faggoty pretty-boys stripped to the waist, wearing tight black leather pants and jackboots. Their torsos were magnificent, like marble become flesh, and covered in the most...beautiful, I’ll say it... beautiful tattoos I’ve ever seen. And I’m not a tattoo guy. I just don’t get it. I’d rather hang art on my wall, but...different strokes.
As they faced you, you realized that their tattoos belonged together. I mean they were both part of the same scene—an Edenic rendering in Maxfield Parrish electric colors: a man and a woman naked, buffed to the max and practically three-dimensional before an astonishing river, astride two enormous futuristic motorcycles belching smoke that curled up into a phantasm of the couple making love and somehow becoming one with the clouds and the mountains across the river. We’re talking multimedia here, or something. It occurred to me I could build a website around the artist who drew this, if not another biker/tattoo magazine.
Anyhow, Nola knew these guys. They sported solid gold nipple rings, mascara, and tight cruel smiles. She grinned a password grin, whispered something, and snuggled up against them like a happy puppy back from the vet. There was a little ceremonial dry hump and a too-familiar squeeze of well-packed buns all around and suddenly it occurred to me that these guys weren’t fags, maybe, but maybe—just maybe—they were unbelievable fucking studs with dicks like nightsticks who could do our relationship some damage.
Me, jealous of a couple of biker clichés. It wasn’t like me. I’m a fucking flower child for crying out loud. My best friend and I and our girlfriends and their best friends invented the daisy chain back in school during the Golden Age of Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll. But Guido and Sarducci here, Ramón and Cruzado, Homo and Sapiens, were just the beginning.
They conveyed us through a series of vaguely Moorish anterooms deeper into the mansion. Whoever had done this place up knew his shit. There was a drama to it, a constant interplay of light and shadow, soft and hard, rough and smooth. The joint had enough feng shui going for it to choke a Chinese dragon. It smelled sweet and sexy and there was music coming from somewhere, nothing boisterous, just...electric and enticing.
And then came the Pudenda Parade. I had a sudden feeling I wasn’t in Kansas anymore because every woman we passed was beautiful, in ways that would make you rethink your purpose in life. Willow-limbed runway models in heels and hose, topless, in g-strings drinking champagne. Full-figured stroke-book types in what can only be described as Biker Chic Boudoir Gear. There wasn’t a single fat, drunken, gap-toothed Harley bitch to be found. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I started to think I recognized people: Vanity Fair-type models, the Sunday New York Times Fashion Edition Girl, the one who rolls around on the beach with her long legs, in cashmere and heat with that Guy.
That guy?! He nodded at me and Nola, like she was somebody he wanted to get to know, like there was a six thousand dollar Hasselblad snapping away at him, at every goddamn move he made. Could that guy handle 1200 cubic centimeters of gasoline-fueled hurricane on two wheels and her too? That guy who must sit under a million megawatt dryer just to keep his hair looking like that? Whose rabbit hole had we fallen down anyway?
"Peter!" came a familiar voice as soon as Dino and Desi flung open the heavy oak doors of the, what, ballroom? "Geez, man, how’d you get in here?" I glanced quickly at Nola who smiled.
"Connections, Herb, like you I guess?"
"I guess!" admired Herb, looking right through Nola’s leathers.
Herb Pettibone, my goddamn printer. The guy who went from paste-up to computer before everybody else back in the eighties and made a fortune. Fortune uses him, I think, as a matter of fact.Fortune, Forbes, I think Time-Life jobs out some of their stuff. I know half the stroke books who care what their shit looks like wouldn’t go anywhere else.
It was clear this was some special place. I was surrounded by hundreds of people in the media business, I’ve ridden bikes all my life, and yet I’ve never even heard of this Eyes Wide Shut joint up in Headless Horseman country. But I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. I never knew my roommate was Skull & Bones either.
As I was trying to figure out how to play this, wondering how Nola fit in, half-hallucinating that I’d been kidnapped never to be heard from again, the general revelry was shattered by the deep-throated roar of a pair of Harley Roadmasters. A black-masked rider growled into the room, wearing nothing else but evening gloves, black satin panties, and bible-black opera-hose with knee-boots. He smiled the smile of a very happy man of at least seventy.
At his side, with her beautifully-muscled legs wrapped expertly around a cobalt-colored cruiser that must have cost forty thousand dollars, was a goddess in a vulva-red corset and full-fashion hose wearing six inch heels. Her body was perfect. White as satin sheets, ripped like some anime superhero. Only a woman who trains six days a week can even think about looking like that. She was the perfect ad for Pilates, Body For Life, superior nutrition, and excellent genes.
She wore an enigmatic smile below her elaborately beaded mask. Her waist-length hair was the color of chestnuts right after you bust them from their thorny prisons—a gorgeous polished mahogany-discovered. The only other place I’ve ever seen hair that color is in my dreams.
She looked right at me, revved her engine, and commanded: "Get on!"
The old man didn’t say a word. Nola climbed on behind him and the four of us split, surfing on a wave of approval and applause from the crowd.
Outside, the bikes tore across an enormous lawn in the direction of a hill topped by something like a gatehouse. Or a dungeon, if that’s your frame of reference. Flying in the bike’s slipstream and surrounding me like spirits dancing furiously, the woman’s hair smelled like heaven must.
I had my arms around her waist. I could feel the ripple of her abs and the heavy swell of her breasts as they fought the confinement of her stays. The smoothness of the plane of her cheek on mine reminded me how glad I am to be straight. Her ass was hard against my cock which was harder.
"Call me Dian," she said. "And hang on."
She had the unerring instincts of a practicing pornographer on vacation. Our ride up the hill, circuitous as it was through field and stream and in and out of hedgerows, had me practically coming in my pantyhose. Dian handled her Harley like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
I was so pumped when we entered the building that it took me a minute to realize: the whole goddamn thing was a studio. There was a 120-foot cyclorama running along the back wall, lit already, a robin’s egg blue. There was a very well-done limbo boudoir set and there were four studio-type Panaflex high definition video cameras on Chapman dollies, just like The Tonight Show but without Jay or Johnny. The place was quiet, it smelled like Nola’s panty drawer, and I was beginning to get the feeling that I’d been set up by the Godfather of Porn.
Nola showed up with the Old Guy. She nuzzled him the way a Catholic Girl does her grandfather after her First Communion. Whispered something. The Old Guy takes off his mask and smiles at me. I 'bout shit a brick:
He nodded and smiled again.
"My God, I thought you were dead!"
"My God thought I was too. You’re only as dead as you feel, Peter, and"—nuzzling Nola again—"I feel terrific!"
And then I hear the unmistakable sound of a Leica motor-drive and I swing in the direction of the sound and—it figures—there she is, queen of the celebrity snapshot, what's her name, Annie. Lichtenstein. Liebfraumilch. Susie putty-in-her-hands-that'll-be-twenty-five-thousand-dollars-please-and-thankyou.
Whaa?! I must've said out loud, cause Nola turned to me, smiling, arm familiar around Malcom-who-ought-to-be-dead, and said:
"Happy Birthday, Peter."
"Happy Birthday, Peter," said Angie Wittgenstein, trading in ten thousand dollars worth of Leica for the big iron—an 8X10 View Camera manned by three assistants of unquestionably careless gender.
"We thought we'd memorialize the occasion with a group photo," said Malcolm, happily, I thought, for a guy who'd had obituaries in every newspaper of record in the world.
"Well geezus, Malcolm, I mean, kee-ryst, I've had a few birthdays in my time. I mean don't you own a polaroid or something?"
"As a matter of fact, yes, I do. I've got fifty-one percent of their biggest competitor. But that's not why we're here today."
I guess I looked stupid, cause he went right on talking:
"I'm not dead, Peter, but I am dying. We all are, of course, but I happen to be on an accelerated schedule. Colon Cancer Express. I don't recommend the trip by the way. I needed the time and space to figure out how to do this thing I'm thinking about, which is why I, unh, died officially last Valentine's Day."
"Do you know what he's talking about?" I said to Nola.
"As a matter of fact she does, Peter. Nola's worked for me in a…personal capacity…for years. She's remained on my payroll since she started working for you."
"Over here, please, Loved Ones," insinuated Angie what's her name.
200 thousand watts of speed light lit up the studio. Annie pulled the slide on the view camera, turned it, slid it back home.
I was becoming more confused, and now I had those black and blue dots in front of my eyes.
"Sit down, Peter," said Malcolm, gesturing to the beautiful Louis XIV chairs that appeared miraculously. "Nola. Dian, will you show Pete the dummy?"
Beautiful Dian slid the most miraculously-constructed magazine I have ever seen gently into my hands. She and Malcolm were half-nude on the cover, in the middle of the Sistine Chapel, surrounded by motorcycles, a futuristic winged car of some sort, the Pope, and at least twenty of the College of Cardinals.
"The Examined Life I call it," said Malcolm proudly. "What do you think, Peter?"
It was beautiful. It was like holding a wet Picasso in your hands. The finest paper. Stunning photography. You'd turn a page and there'd be a total change-of-pace. A Zen koan on rice paper, brush strokes glistening like original thought. I was speechless.
"Like me, the print medium is dying. I wanted to go out with this, for people to remember me by. I want to document it all, Peter. The whole happy/sad trip. In this old technology that has served me so well all these years, but also with this:
He pushed the button on a little remote he had and the cyclorama became an IMAX screen, stretching over our heads into the darkness of the sixty-foot ceiling. Flawless 70 millimeter film flowed: Mount Everest. Malcolm toasting the camera with native Sherpas. There was astounding music. The second movement from Beethoven's Seventh. Subtly, the screen configuration deepened. The Himalayas seemed to reach out for me. I realized we were watching some sort of incredible 3-D projection system, but I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. It was miraculous.
"The newest technology, Peter. The Examined Life is about the future too."
The combination of Beethoven, Nature, Technology, and the heady sense of the enormous possiblities of incredible wealth well-placed had brought me to a vulnerable plateau of emotion. Nola squeezed my hand tightly. She smiled.
"As you know," said Malcolm, "I've been married more times than Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor together. I've got four boys to take care of all my other businesses. I have a beautiful daughter"—he smiled at Nola, who resembled most of all the cat that ate the canary—"who has always been committed to doing her own thing. But you know, Peter, truly: I am also homosexual. You are the kind of man I would fall in love with if I had the time for love any more, and I implore you: Run this project for me, will you?"
"Here we go!" commanded Annie, and once again, her studio camera captured me looking, I am sure, stupified.
So this is how I became the man I am today. Living The Examined Life. Sought by many. Met by few. An educator, for that too was part of Malcolm's plan. A builder. A leader. A person who may have put out a crap magazine or two in his time, but one for whom The Examined Life has made all the difference.
I like to think it was the pantyhose, but you never really know in life, do you?