The Journey

Luisa Valenzuela


Blind Date

She didn’t question her acts, that Friday noon while leaving an elegant black briefcase in the cloakroom of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As an anthropologist, she was trained to study other people’s behaviors, but not her own. It was a small briefcase, almost a male purse, luxurious and full and of the best make and best leather, for in this sort of exchange you can’t be petty and everything must have style. Nor did she feel at any moment the temptation to open the briefcase and peek at its contents. She could get a pretty good picture, anyway, since she had let herself be tempted to collaborate in writing the letter of instructions.

The Saturday before, not having anything better to do, she had gone with Ava Taurel, famous dominatrix at your service, through the streets of Greenwich Village looking for a loup. Ava had taken her by surprise by calling and inviting her to a party. Let’s get together this afternoon and have a good chat, we hardly know each other, Ava had said to her on the phone. So they got together, and just after saying hello Ava informed her point-blank that they had to go out and look for some kind of sexy loup to cover her face because a very formal prospective client had contacted her on the phone and he shouldn’t be allowed to know her at the party, in case he was at the party, and that’s why I need a mask, Ava added.

The man can’t be too formal if he’s about to be Ava’s client, she thought. All the same she liked the idea of going around the Village looking for a loup on that sunny afternoon, so far from any carnival or Halloween that there were no masks to be found. They did find other useful gear for Ava’s trade that Ava bought randomly in stores, things like six-inch high red stiletto heel sandals with long straps to tie the calves in beautiful symmetrical bars. Symmetry, Ava explained to her patiently, is most respected in this business, a whole art consisting of constrictions.

And she, a humble observer, could only ask herself what the fuck was she doing there while Ava went on describing in detail how the prospective client shouldn’t recognize her because he expected a perfect blind date; unilateral blindness, Ava made it clear, ‘cause I know enough about the guy as to concoct a trap he’ll fall into happy and hurting, as it should be.

The party was to take place that very Saturday night. Ava explained she had invited her to wise her up a bit, ‘cause you might seem sophisticated but inside you’re a candid anthropologist who knows not much about the actual facts of life. That’s why it was crucial to change her appearance, Ava insisted, and as they drifted in search of the elusive loup they decided to look for the right outfit for her. It had to be suggestive, so that it wouldn’t be out of place at such a special event. She resisted many of Ava’s suggestions until she finally found, in a vintage store, a languid black satin dress with an open back.

Happy with the dress, she let herself be guided along Eighth Street as far as Broadway, where they began to pick through the clothes in the street stalls. In the fourth or fifth one Ava got excited about some bustiers in embroidered leather, full of promise, and decided to buy one. In the middle of the sidewalk Ava took off her blouse, tried the bustier on and her enormous tits overflowed giving her the triumphal air of someone who knows she’s majestic, not grotesque. Some passersby lingered to applaud, someone said it looks fabulous on you, buy the gold one, don’t get the black one. This was pure Greenwich Village, and Ava laughed. Watch out, she warned Ava, your formal client might be one of these chaps around here walking his dog.

Impossible, Ava knew well. The formal man, as could be inferred by his voice, wore a suit and tie and carried a minuscule cell phone, only walked in Central Park, lived just by the MoMA where he surely worked, a curator or an executive of some sort, and he wouldn’t have a dog. He surely lead a very conventional life, in no way associated with the blind date he had himself ordered by resorting not to a Miss Lonelyhearts, as would have been logical, but a Miss Lonelyasses of unforeseeable consequences.

And this was the mission of this woman who had named herself Ava Taurel and called herself her friend in spite of being only an acquaintance among acquaintances, whom she was accompanying beyond Lower Broadway, disguising her discomfort.

You have to come up with a good story for me, Ava told her along the way; not that I lack imagination, of course, I’m one of the very best in a business that requires subtle imagination and lots of chutzpa, but my new very formal client demands a perfect blind date, something totally new and unknown, and I know my own gig too well, what can I say, Ava went on, singing her own praises, walking along the streets aimlessly, having given up entirely looking for a face mask.

Ava went on and on, in English of course, asking for a good script for the plot. She, for her part, could only think about approaching the man in question, a man who was perhaps decent as well as formal –though these are all illusions, as always, she said to herself –to try to save him, even though she knew that no one has the right to save the others from their own ghosts.

Ava’s blind date would be a leap into the abyss, a disappearance. And at the end of the walk she began to infer that her task was limited to watching, to looking from all angles as far as possible, trying not to lose sight of a single detail.

What’s all this about hiding your face? she finally said to Ava. Let him be the blind one, blindfold him, hood him, block him out, as the torturers used to say in my longlost Argentina.

Good idea though not original at all, sighed Ava.

She shrugged her shoulders. A thousand years ago in the ethnography classes, she had learned not to get involved in changing the behavior of the species under observation. Forget it, she told Ava.

Ava was not one to abandon her prey, though, and finally convinced her with the bait of the MoMA as the site of the action. Together they set up the plot.

And at twelve noon the following Friday, according to the pre-established plan, she left the briefcase-purse in the museum cloakroom, put the receipt in the addressed envelope Ava had given her for that purpose, and headed to the counter to buy a ticket even though nobody was watching her. Then, like a visitor who wants to consult a catalogue or something, she turned towards the museum’s library. She leafed through some books, inspected the postcards on the rack, and a little while later was out on the street. She then went to the adjacent building’s lobby to give the doorman the envelope containing the receipt from the cloakroom. It’s an urgent message, she said to him. Possibly in the interest of self-defense she avoided taking note of the recipient’s name or the number of his apartment.

The first stage of the plan completed, she would have been able to go on with her daily life until the appointed time, but she felt she shouldn’t lose momentum or break her concentration or, even worse, get bored. She decided to go back to the museum and eat lunch quietly in the cafeteria in front of the sculpture garden and afterwards, with perfect calm, go look at the exhibition space between the front door and the cafeteria, nothing more than that, where her countryman, Kuitca, was showing mattresses covered with maps of ominous cities made for sleep travel along nightmare streets, mattresses somewhat burnt or singed, with cigarette marks, mattresses on the brink of death, like the ones Ava frequented could sometimes be. Or as later could become the mattress in the building next door, belonging to the blind date man who would become blind in his turn. A mattress that would get smeared with sperm – as he would hope – maybe with blood, piss, sweat or tears; the indelible mark of bodily fluids, scorched maybe, boiling. So she imagined.

On the main floor of the MoMA, the big rooms were taken up by the work of Kurt Schwitters. She spent the rest of her waiting time there. With a careful eye, she followed the labyrinths made of the superimposed clippings, she studied the construction, the texture, the composition of each collage. There were many of them and she tried to tell herself a story in front of each one, and saw the reflection of her own life, also made of clippings, of superimposed threads and scraps of paper, of fragmented, blurred and alien faces.

I’m alone in this museum, in New York, in the world; I’m alone and I have a Schwitters-like life, with barely the cohesiveness of these clippings, she thought.

She had come here to shape a blind date that didn’t involve her at all, that was not about to give her satisfaction of any sort nor a remedy for solitude. Patience. It was just a matter of waiting for a while, gathering courage for later, just a little bit, just enough to deliver her speech without even looking at the face of the man in question, and most of all avoiding that he see her. A minimalist blind date inside the other one, the real one, merely putting it together, orchestrating it. She’d rather stay here with Schwitters; she didn’t feel the urge to go to the top floor where the museum’s collection was displayed in all its splendor. Upstairs, the scenario of an unthinkable encounter awaited her.

Who stopped her from running away? Who obliged her to confront him? Had she signed a contract? Were they watching her? Nothing like that. She had gotten into this mess of her own will, and very much of her will she could have escaped in the very same instant to her house and gotten on with her life.

Wouldn’t that be the most sadistic of all things, to leave the man waiting for a blind date that would be so blind it would turn out to be nonexistent?

Sister, she said to herself, already a bit detached, as if on another level of consciousness, a level where anything can happen, where it’s best to let things play themselves out; sister, you accepted and not only accepted, but put your two cents into setting up this plot, so you have to follow it through, no last-minute ducking, no hypocrisy, that’s not behavior worthy of you, sister, my little nun, sweet sister Charity now hooked up in this good deed for the benefit of tortuous desire.

What a bore, Schwitters, obsessive, repetitive, if I pull a thread I’m naked in front of this clinical eye that tortures paper into a thousand bits and then sews them back together with disconcertingly harmonious stitches.

If I pull… And yes, I pull.

The crazy impulse to tear off glued papers to see what hid behind them tore her – precisely – away from her thoughts and not without a certain horror she realized it was time. The much feared, Lorcan five o’clock in the afternoon. She ran towards the entrance to plant herself in front of the doormen, she had to look out for a man with a discrete, elegant briefcase hanging from a shoulder strap. She decided to wait at the bottom of the escalator, a very conspicuous place, but this didn’t bother her, she could be just another visitor to the museum with a somewhat intellectual look. She pretended to read a brochure, peeking beyond it at pocketbook level. And all of a sudden she spotted him, recognized the briefcase, the same one she had left in the cloakroom that very morning.

The man was quite young, and to top it off dressed in a range of beige. Classy. She would have liked him for rump in the hay, but not with his dark inclinations and the black briefcase, no.

He headed to the men’s room with a careless step; she could foresee his movements as if she were watching him in there. He’ll lock himself in the stall, sit on the toilet seat and, being a meticulous man, he’d put down the lid, unless he has something else or some physiological business besides following the instructions in the letter to take care of. He’s astonished and then smiles to himself and maybe even wets his lips when finding the net stockings, the adjustable garter belt, the bra and matching black lace panties. He takes off his pants. He takes off his underwear and puts them in the briefcase, as if to get them out of his sight, and, naked, returns to sit on the toilet lid and goes on reading the instructions. She could follow him with her mind, she knew the letter by heart because she had helped write it, even though she hadn’t come up with the idea (she knew little of these matters, preferred to know little, though she accepted and accepts that she’d like to know substantially less little than is advisable). The letter tells the man how to get dressed under his conservative pants and shirt. The letter directs him to take a seat in the middle of the central bench of the Pollock room, with his back to the entrance door. And cross your legs tight, it orders, to reveal the stockings that will be the signal to the person who will sit right behind you and give you the final instructions. And don’t turn your head, don’t look behind: remember Lot’s wife, remember Orpheus, all those unremitting souls.

Black lace net stockings, with a flowery pattern, very retro. She didn’t need to pass in front of the man to see what he was exhibiting so provocatively: female stockings, a far cry from good taste, from manhood, from his pale-brown, suede sport shoes. She recognized the suit, the briefcase, it was him there seated in the middle of that long, wide bench. She let him study the Pollock drippings in front of him until he went cross-eyed. Go try to find a message there, she thought, it’s always good to sound works of art looking for messages. It’s always good and useless, that’s the beauty of it.

The choice seemed on target to her, and not only because of the spacious bench. Suddenly she remembered that in London Jackson Pollock was called Jack the Dripper, the pun made sense in this case, it was to be hoped that the man sitting there had made the same association. She sensed he was smiling, she didn’t need to walk in front of him to see it, a smile a little excessive, satisfied, not sure of itself but enjoying the suspense.

She took a deep breath and sat down behind the man, using him almost as a backrest so he couldn’t turn around. He shivered and she took courage: Remember the Gorgon –she whispered –not only looking back hurts, sometimes also what is seen hurts.

Fuck, she though, I’m already off my script, adding unnecessary words to my speech. But she sensed a slight shiver in the other’s stiff back and that ratified – gratified? - her.

She put her head in the hollow under the nape of the man’s neck; she was far shorter than he was, but at that moment she felt a lot taller because she was giving the orders. Toss your head back a little if you hear me well, she whispered, and he obeyed and it was as if he had tried to caress her. I’m not your blind date, she said to the man; I’m just the spokesperson transmitting the orders. You go home now, take a sharp razor and cut the briefcase open, carefully because it has a false bottom, and what you find there you’ll put on your head, covering your face well and closing all the zippers to block your orifices. But before you do that, don’t forget to leave the front door ajar. Only wear the female undies you found in the briefcase, those you’re wearing now, I hope. You’ll then lie down on bed, and wait, wait. Your mistress will arrive to give you what you deserve and more, fulfilling your wishes for a blind date. A fascinating date for you’ll never ever get to see your mistress’ face.

So she said to the man and, getting to her feet to put an end to the meeting, with utter sangfroid she walked into the crowd – a face among so many other faces – and disappeared; a blot of Pollock, a clipping of Schwitters, a stained and battered mattress.

Once out of the museum, she eagerly breathed in the afternoon air and was happy that the crazy story of the blind date was over for her, at last.

She walked three steps and knew that it wasn’t over, no; it had just begun. Now she had to face her own blind date with that unknown part of her self that had gotten her entangled in somebody else’s lust.

Translated by Maxine Swann