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A New Man

This is a sample chapter from Supervert's book Necrophilia Variations, a literary monograph on the erotic attraction to corpses and death.

I don't know how to say it exactly. After I had necrophilia for the first time? After I did necrophilia? After I engaged in necrophilia for the first time? After I became a necrophile? But is one time enough to transform a man into a necrophile per se? If I did it with another male just once in my life, I wouldn't be considered a homosexual -- would I? So why should I be considered a necrophile if I did it with just one you-know-what? Then again, you only have to kill one person to be considered a murderer. Maybe necrophilia is like that. It only takes once.

I don't know. But I do know that the next day everything was different. It was like losing your virginity all over again. I felt changed. If having sex for the first time makes you feel more like a man, what does having sex with a you-know-what make you feel like? More alive. You can't hold an inert thing in your arms without experiencing a rush of pure vitality through your own system. It heightens your awareness of who and what you are. You feel strong, alive, and grateful -- grateful to have this portion of life that is yours and will soon be gone, like the object of your affections. That's how I felt, really, though I know it's not what you'd expect. You have this caricature of the grave-robbing pervert, a creepy nerd who is either too weird or too shy to do it with "real" girls. But that's not what it was like at all. It was very moving and emotional. There were tenderness and sympathy, if not love. I felt sorry for her, and I felt like just maybe she'd be grateful to me for providing her with a little warmth at a time when the rest of humanity had abandoned her.

More than anything, I felt a great need to talk about my experience. I wanted to dissect it and analyze and understand it. I wanted someone to ask me all the gory details so I could have the guilty pleasure of replaying them in my mind, hearing myself speak. But to whom could I talk? I didn't know anyone else who had ever done what I'd done -- or at least no one who had ever admitted it. I guess it's possible there are thousands of necrophiles suffering in silence, and maybe they would all be grateful to me for speaking out or starting a support group. But there was an obvious reason I didn't, and they didn't. You couldn't just talk about a thing like that.

Originally I was going to go into work the morning after, but I realized I couldn't. Or I didn't want to. How could I confine myself to that little cubicle for the whole day, how could I make small talk, go through with all the little routines of daily life, when I had just done something so extraordinary? I mean, if you'd just come back from climbing Mount Everest, you wouldn't go into work the next day, would you? No, you'd stay home, hold court, issue statements to the press, maybe receive a congratulatory phone call from a figure of eminence. Not that I seriously expected any figurehead to call and pat me on the back for having violated a you-know-what, but I did feel as though I had done something extraordinary, something other people might be interested to know about. I mean, how many people ever do what I did? A handful? If that?

So I called in sick, but it seemed ironic when I felt so full of life. Really I wanted to shout through the receiver, "Hey, Mr. Boss Man, I've found the fountain of youth! The elixir of life! I know how to feel younger, stronger, more powerful, more vital." But naturally I didn't say anything like that. I just faked a cough and a sniff and said I'd be in the next day. I sat there looking at the phone and wishing a reporter would call to debrief me on my extraordinary act. Of course I knew it wouldn't happen. No one was going to call. No one cared. No one knew. How could they? I was half tempted to pick up the phone and dial numbers at random, just to get the word out. "Hi, you don't know me but I'm calling to tell you about the most astonishing thing. I did it with a you-know-what last night. It was really great." But I knew it would be a stupid thing to do.

I decided to go out. It was a beautiful day, sunny but cold. I got on the subway and between stops a deaf man came through the train asking for money. He handed me a little card. On one side it said, "I'm trying to earn a living. Please help." On the other side there were illustrations showing how to say things in sign language: hello, how are you, I'm fine. I looked at the card and wondered if there was an internationally recognized hand sign for what I'd done. Probably not. If you were a deaf mute who'd just had sex with a you-know-what and you wanted to talk about it, you'd have to act it out in pantomime. That would be hard. People would misinterpret it. They'd think the person you had sex with was just sleeping and not dead. You'd get frustrated and give up. Maybe you'd even give up before you tried, and then you'd be sad because you had this wild experience and you wanted to tell everyone about it.

I got off the subway at West Fourth Street and decided to go for a haircut. I walked around the corner to the barbershop with its red-and-blue striped pole. Sal, the old Italian guy who runs the shop, looked at me with surprise. "Hey, you no work today?" I took a seat to wait for him. There was a Playboy magazine on the rack so I picked it up and turned to the centerfold. Somehow I didn't find it appealing. I never did. It was too fake, too prefabricated. With Miss April in the centerfold, you didn't know where the girl ended and the airbrush began. But last night it was the opposite. There was no airbrush, no makeup or deception. You knew right where the girl ended.

Finally Sal motioned me over to the barber's chair. "So what you like?" he asked, and I told him to give me a trim. He started cutting, and I noticed a song playing in the background, someone singing "I know I'll never love this way again." That's for sure, I said to myself. It's not that I didn't want to do what I did again, because I did -- I did want to do it again. But I knew that you don't often get the kind of opportunity I had, where you know you can get away with it.

I must have grinned, because Sal interrupted me. "Hey, you like the haircut? Or you got new girlfriend, maybe?"

I know I grinned this time. I could see my face in the mirror. It was a little red, a little shy, embarrassed but flattered too. I was anxious to talk about my new girlfriend. I would have liked to tell him how pretty she was, how still. It was different than being with a normal girl because of the pace. I mean, there was no mutual urgency, no dance of intimacy, no struggle to attain satisfaction while giving it too, no insecurity or performance anxiety, no sudden giggles in the middle of romantic moments. No, it had an entirely different pace -- slow, quiet, almost methodical. It felt a little like pantomime, since there was no talking. I was the Marcel Marceau of a sexual abomination.

"I plead the fifth," I said, knowing I couldn't possibly say anything.

He pointed his scissors at me. "What, you lawyer now?"

"No."

"I no like lawyers." A Sicilian immigrant, he had this funny way of putting an a after words that ended in e. "I no lika lawyers."

Sal began to tell me how, in his opinion, lawyers had ruined America. "People sue, sue, sue," he said, gesturing with the scissors, "because they no believe in God. You believe in God, you see the higher purpose. You get a hurt and, 'Ok, God's punishing me.' But you no believe in God, you no see the higher purpose. You get a hurt and you blame the other guy. 'Hey, you hurt me, I sue you motherfucker, ok?' You see what I'm saying?"

"Yes."

"You want gel?"

"No."

He combed my hair back and patted it with the palm of his hand. "Everything in life got the higher purpose." He inspected my part. "You live, you die, you get married, you make the babies -- it's all the higher purpose."

"Then how do you explain when people do bad things, Sal? Where's the higher purpose in murder and torture and rape?"

"People," he said, tapping his palm with the comb, "they is like hair. Sometime they go stray. They need barber set them straight." Suddenly I could see him on Judgment Day, separating the good from the bad with his comb. "Anyway," he laughed, slapping me on the back. "You no worry. You all right. You a good fella."

I paid and left. I didn't believe in God, but as I walked I wondered about "the higher purpose." Was there fate? Destiny? Did everything unfold in accord with predetermined laws? And if so, where did I fit in? Where did it -- necrophilia -- fit in? Was I supposed to learn a moral lesson by consorting with a you-know-what? I couldn't imagine what. It was an extraordinary experience, and I did feel as though I had grown as a person by doing it, and yet what I learned didn't seem moral exactly. It's like asking what moral lesson a person would get from climbing Mount Everest. Certainly the experience would enrich you, expand your horizons as an individual -- but morally? When one explorer was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he said: "Because it's there." Necrophilia is kind of the same. Why would anyone want to have sex with a corpse? Because it's there. Because it's different. Because you can. Because you're curious. Because you don't know until you try.

On University Place I stopped to buy a sandwich and a caffè latte, which I then carried up to Union Square. I sat on a park bench in the sun, unzipped my jacket, and took a few bites from the sandwich. It was mozzarella cheese with tomato and basil on a fresh roll. I chewed meditatively, flicking bits of roll to the pigeons who gathered on the grass beside me. The pigeons cooed as they plucked at the ground. It was a glorious day, I thought, and I was a new man. I had done something I'd never done before, something few people ever do. In my conception of it, it wasn't depravity but rather discovery, exploration, knowledge. Maybe that's why I wanted so badly to share it with someone. If it really were depravity, I would have been ashamed, I would not have wanted to talk about it, but it wasn't that at all. It was something new, a Mount Everest of perversion, and I just wanted to let people know that I'd reached the top.

But I knew that I couldn't. I couldn't talk about it. I finished the roll and the pigeons wandered away. I felt a little sad. I sat there on the bench slurping steamed milk from the top of the coffee. A homeless man approached. "Hey bro," he said, "can you spare a little change?"

I looked at him. He was carrying a rucksack on his back and gave the impression of strength, in spite of being thin and dirty.

"I'm a Vietnam vet." He adjusted his shoulder straps and tried to advance his case. "I got a Purple Heart fighting the Red Menace, Victor Charlie, the Viet Cong. You know what I'm talking about?"

I nodded.

"I was kicked out of the VA when Ronald Reagan slashed the budget. I've lived on the street ever since. I don't do drugs and I don't steal, though sometimes I think I should. I served my country but my country did not serve me back. You think you can help me out with a few bucks?"

My sandwich and caffè latte had cost nine dollars and change. I paid with a twenty and put the loose change in the clerk's tip cup. That meant I had a ten in my pocket. It was too much to give to a homeless guy. "Sorry," I said, "I don't really have any change."

"I put my life on the line for your freedom, pink ass." He was suddenly angry and hostile. "You got no sympathy, man, no pity. You're just like all those dumb fuckers that ask me, 'How many gooks did you shoot? How many gooks did you shoot?' Well, let me tell you something, numb nuts. I didn't shoot anybody. I respected those gook motherfuckers, man. They were a proud, hard people. Slimeballs like you don't deserve to wipe the ass of the lowliest peasant gook farmer. They took care of their own, man, and what do you do? You sit there on a goddamned park bench with a five-dollar cup of coffee and you can't even spare me a fucking quarter? United we stand, lard ass, divided we fall -- and you're a fuckin' divider..."

He went on hollering and gesticulating. People on nearby benches -- a postal clerk eating a deli salad, some skater kids inspecting a CD cover, a college student reading a textbook -- looked over at me with that urban sympathy that says: "We know your embarrassment. This could have happened to us too. Don't worry about it. We don't think you're to blame. He's just one of the many homeless freaks we city-dwellers have to endure. He'll go away. Don't worry. We're there for you." And in fact he did eventually wander away, yelling and blaming everyone but himself for his problems.

I got up and headed in the other direction, up Broadway. Maybe the vet was a guy like me, I thought. From Vietnam he came back full of his adventures, anxious to tell people everything he'd experienced -- danger and boredom, disillusionment and death. And instead of sympathetic listeners anxious to hear his old war stories, what did he find? War protestors, hippies, yippies, peaceniks, people who spat at his uniform. No one wanted to listen to him. They didn't respect him, so why would they want to listen to him? He was a baby killer. He massacred innocent peace-loving peasants. Punish him, they thought. Condemn him to silence. Lock him up in the most solitary of confinements -- the mind.

I could understand his frustration. I wanted to tell people about my unusual experience, I wanted to talk about the stillness of it all, the strange sense of tenderness I had, as though I weren't exploiting someone but rather caring for her. I wanted to tell them that it was exciting and consuming at first, that I had no thought except for the novelty of my getting off, but then afterward I felt very lonely, and I talked aloud to my you-know-what. "Here," I said, "I'll clean you up," wiping her with some tissues and fixing her dress.

But what would people do if I told them all that? Spit at me -- if not in reality then in spirit. They didn't want to hear about it, no matter how sensitive an observer I was. They didn't want the nuances, the details, the subtleties. They didn't want to know, they wanted to condemn -- and since I knew this, since I was well aware of it, I was doing their dirty work for them. I had locked myself into that most solitary of confinements. I was punishing myself by keeping quiet.

Alongside Madison Square Park, I looked at the people eating their lunches and walking their dogs and I wondered if one day keeping it all bottled up would drive me insane. Would I crack? Burst? Explode? A veteran of the war for new experience, I would be disillusioned by my homecoming to the land of erotic normality. Homeless and crazy, I would walk up to strangers in the park and harangue them with tales of sordid doings. They would signal each other with that mutually understood look of urban suspicion. "Here's another nut case. Don't look him in the eye, he might come over here and harass us. Just ignore him and he'll go away." And they were right. I would wander off in the direction of nowhere, shouting and baring my soul to the wind, which didn't care.

A few blocks further on, I stopped to look up at the Empire State Building. It was about four in the afternoon. I thought perhaps I should go up to the top and watch the sunset. I had nothing better to do. I went in, bought a ticket, passed through security, and took the elevators to the topmost observation deck. I stepped out onto the platform and the cold wind ripped through me. I looked downtown to where the Twin Towers used to be. I remembered how the city had been plastered with flyers and posters in the weeks after the towers fell. "The graffiti of grief," I'd heard someone call it, a collective sob and groan for the thousands of dead. Every exterior surface in the city had become a wailing wall.

If you were a victim, you were welcome to shout your grief to the skies. But if you weren't? A tacit gag order was in effect. Evidently it wasn't nice to brag about exploiting the helpless -- and I could understand that, when you put it that way, but at the same time there was another side to it, another side to the story, my side. For I never felt as though I'd exploited the helpless, the dead, but rather that I'd gone exploring, climbed a mountain, crossed a hitherto uncharted sea. It wasn't perversion but exploration, discovery -- and though I might have been accused of being insensitive to the dead, or to the dead's loved ones and heirs, at the same time I felt that as an explorer I had been extremely sensitive. I watched myself, listened down into my heart for reactions, noted and analyzed them when they occurred. Wasn't that something? Didn't people want to hear what I'd felt when climbing the mountain?

On the observation deck around me a group of tourists was jabbering in Japanese. A middle-aged lady approached, camera in hand, and with gestures asked me to take a picture of her and her friends. "Sure," I said, "no problem." They lined up in front of me, and in English I said, "Last night I had sex with a dead body. Smile!" They grinned, laughed, half-bowed in gratitude as I handed back the camera. I turned to the city again, leaned over the railing on the observation deck and looked at the people far down on the street below me. They were leaving work, rushing home, cell phones to their ears. They looked very small and very distant. And I knew that when I took the elevator back down to the street, the people were going to remain small and distant. I had climbed to the top of a tower of perversion, and unless they followed me up -- which undoubtedly they wouldn't -- there was no way for me to come down.

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Necrophilia Variations