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zipper mouth Movie: Of Human Bondage (1934) A clubfooted medical student is infatuated with a woman. —NY Post TV listing Idecided I was in love with this girl and I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I smoked cigarettes and lay on the bed. I wanted her to drop by in the afternoon for a nap. It didn’t seem likely but this was part of the pleasure, like the agony of fixating on a dead movie star the way I’d become obsessed at age fifteen with the long-decomposed actress Vivien Leigh, a.k.a. Scarlett O’Hara, and her later, more bummed-out incarnation, Blanche DuBois. Instead of rock stars, I had pictures of Vivien all over my room, glossy publicity shots and film stills I’d ordered or simply received in the mail, gifts from sad obsessives who advertised, as I did, in the back pages of Nostalgia, Illustrated, a creepy classic-movie magazine for shut-ins and losers that I’d stumbled across on the racks at Consumer’s Supermarket while leafing through Seventeen and holding my breath against the stench from the sugar beet factory squatting evilly down the road. At night I lay awake in sadness, grieving that Vivien had died alone, coughing herself to death consumptively long before I was old enough to intervene. ZipperMouth_interior_FINAL.indd 9 7/13/11 3:10 PM 10 “She was a great actress,” I said morosely to my friends, trying to visualize her having sex with Laurence Olivier , not so easy, really, to wrap your mind around. Part of her allure was the fact that she spelled “Vivien” with an e, not an a, the e more refined and seductive, the a somehow thudding and crude, witness the barbarian Vivian Vance. In one of the photos tacked up inside my teenage closet, Vivien leans into the lens and smiles, glamorous in the low-cut red velvet robe she wore in Gone With the Wind when Rhett takes her upstairs and rapes her, at which point she blossoms into the fullness of her love. The shot’s a medium close-up taken as she relaxes on the set, in her hand a cigarette. She’s smoking. Each day after school I’d lock my bedroom door, open the closet, and stand with my peanut butter sandwich, staring into Vivien’s green eyes as if my gaze, held long enough, could jump-start the pulse in her throat, compel the hand with that cigarette off the page and up to my lips to offer me a drag, her body following to step gracefully into my room, suspended tobacco smoke drawn back into the chamber of her mouth as she starts to breathe again for real. Jesus, I couldn’t imagine: Mom vacuuming the same spot suspiciously outside my door while inside there’s this movie star thing looking into your eyes. Oh my god you just want to be the smoke pulled between her lips. What happens when you get inside 10 ZipperMouth_interior_FINAL.indd 10 7/13/11 3:10 PM zipper mouth a person anyway, up that close, inside their mouth? Nothing, I guess. It’s like a photograph blown up. They just dissolve into a haze of black and white dots until all you have is molecules and air, nothing there. That day on the sidewalk you lifted your arm above your head. There in the hollow the wispy dark hairlets, I couldn’t breathe. I lit a cigarette, walked inside a building . Dreamily I got through my task, propelled by shots of adrenaline at the thought of your name. The job was easy, I didn’t care. I drifted home, not minding the sidewalk , the wreckage percolating around me. Your name is Jane. I floated through my door, lit a cigarette, my nerves were black. I thought I might buy some drugs and call you up. “I’m a Scorpio,” Vivien explained to a reporter, “and we Scorpios are like that: we eat ourselves up and burn ourselves out.” At fifteen, I lumbered numbly through various hallways—from my bedroom to the kitchen, from the snack bar to math. In geometry I sat there flunking and stared with loathing at my forearm: it looked so meaty. Whenever the guy next to me glanced over, I hid it in my lap. I had long, thin limbs but in my mind I was a sausage, the wrapping stretched tight to the point of bursting with a putrid...


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MARC Record
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