The Rhinoceros with Crumbs in her Suit
I took one look at Wass and knew I would sleep with him.
And I knew I would regret it.
Wass came from a Lebanese mountain hamlet surrounded by cedars. His French grandmother taught him to cook. He moved to Paris to study marketing. Then he moved to Ferrara to study economics. He had worked in restaurants since he was 18. Now, he had recently closed his restaurant and was opening another one.
He was constantly on his phones, in Italian, French, Arabic, and English. He said his restaurant owned him. He never slept. Three hours a night. He never took a day off. Bloodshot eyes.
But Wass was a bird of prey. He liked having a target to hunt.
He gave me water and Tuscan wine. He cooked for me, emphasising that this was Nothing Special for him.
I watched him make the dough for egg tagliatelle and cut it with a knife. Later, after a bit of conversation and many calls with his restaurant people, he slathered the hot pasta with his spiced lamb ragu, tossed heaps of it into homemade bowls, and served it with a side of ratatouille.
The moment I tasted his food, I wondered how long propriety demanded I wait before pinning him to the nearest flat surface and having my wicked way with him. Was five minutes long enough?
Before I ate his food I had had my doubts about his restaurant. Why would a Lebanese guy who lived in France dare to open a pizza restaurant in Italy?
But when I ate his food I remembered that what is meaningless and how is everything. I’ve eaten enough terrible Italian food for a hundred people; where someone is from is irrelevant. If you know how to think about food, anything you cook will be awesome.
If you know how to think about sex, anyone you screw will have an orgasm.
Wass planned to create a chain, opening branches in Athens, Vancouver, and Mexico City.
“I work all the time, which is why I have only 32 but I look like I have 45,” he said. I didn’t say anything, but hid my surprise—because he did already look 45, and an old 45 at that.
He plans to retire at 45. I doubt he’ll live that long.
After we scraped up the last juicy bits of ragu, he did the dishes. Then he smoked his hookah and asked for a massage. If this had happened today I would have seen it as a red flag and said no, but back then I didn’t know what I had not yet learned. I just had my doubts as to how my working on his adhered shoulder would go with his bubble pipe.
Still, I cared enough to want to make him happy, but not enough to tell him that the only way this massage would be any good was if he actually paid attention to it, so I went along with it. I still had room back then for not really giving a shit. I didn’t yet know that that’s the fastest recipe for emotional exhaustion.
Another red flag was that he said, “give me a massage and I will tell you if you are good. Then I will give you one and you will tell me if I am good.” Today I would have said no and left, because nobody has time for judgy shit. But at the time I was still willing to ignore that kind of stuff.
He sat in his chair with his shirt on and I combined deep tissue with some Ortho-Bionomy, some myofascial, some Thai, some Morales Method, and some trigger point. I was interested in how his rhomboids adhered and his scapula was stuck and I was having a great conversation with his body, freeing up that stuck fasciae. Then just as the fibers were starting to ease up….
He snapped me out of it, telling me to stop. He said that it was a “Strange Massage.” That it did not go with the hookah.
I thought to myself, “yes, if you were expecting unskilled fluffy crap that you could find in the red light district, then it would be a Strange Massage. A real one that actually did something would indeed be strange.”
He lay on the couch for a while and I thought resentful thoughts. “Do not trust anyone. Not even me. You do not know I am good,” he said.
I knew he was right, but it was hard to hear the warning, since I was so full of lust and ragu.
Then he gave me a massage and I understood why he thought mine was Strange. His was like getting attacked by jumping leprechauns. Too fast, too hard, too everything.
And yet, even though I knew that however he was here was how he would be in bed, and this kind of touch 85% didn’t work for me, the 15% that did work for me worked great.
He was careful, clear, and respectful of boundaries. He asked permission at every way-point. I am the one who chose how far to allow him to go.
He invited me to take off my shirt. “What, I have seen breasts before,” he said. Why not, I thought. I took off my shirt. “You have big breasts,” he said.
He invited me into the bedroom. I chose to say yes.
I was surprised when he said, on the way to the bedroom, “the massage for me is really the best part.” I found it a confusing remark. But when I brought up condoms, he said dryly, “don’t worry, we do not need to make sex.”
It turned out that by “massage” he meant he would touch me, and did he ever, with the same frustratingly speedy, goal-oriented, not-listening, disinterested-in-frills approach that he had taken in his actual massage. But, it was also like his cooking. His mind was frenetic, stressful, and joyless, but his soul was bold, sensual, and passionate. And both of them came into play in the bedroom.
Then he did something that many men have tried to do in the past. He grabbed my head and tried to shove it toward his dick.
Men, do not do this.
But for the first time in my life I extracted my head and simply said….
“ — No.”
“….You don’t like?”
“No, I don’t like.”
“Ok, no problem.”
….And he shrugged it off and moved on!
It was a tiny step forward for humankind, but I had never before realised I had a choice in the matter. I, the feminist left-wing overeducated hedonist, had needed until that evening to figure out that I was allowed not to do this thing I didn’t want to do. I realised that if I still had overlooked gunk like this in my programming that still had to be found and sorted out, other women certainly did too.
Wass lay next to me, staring up at the ceiling, touching me with one hand.
Having done enough emotional growth for one evening, I fell back into an old pattern. I kept a close eye on my mental clock so that I didn’t bore him, and then when I felt I had transgressed enough on his time, I patted his ego, congratulated him on a job well done, and let him rest.
This was what I assumed women did in bed. This was the only way I had ever done it, until a few months prior to Wass, when I had met Davide, but that was another story….
Women get a bad rap for faking orgasms. First of all they’re doing it out of a misguided attempt to be polite, and second of all, most of us have been lying to ourselves for so long, we don’t even know we’re doing it. It took me many years and many lovers to catch myself in this old pattern and start to consciously change it, so I know there’s other women out there doing it.
Now that I was officially ready to have sex, he just lay there, and asked, “am I good? Did you come?”
I lied. Content, he hopped out of bed and said, “I will go sleep outside. I am sorry about this but I cannot sleep with another person in the bed.”
In the morning, as we were getting into the car, a neighbour was outside. There was a deafening mutual silence.
In the car he said, “you know why he does not say hello to me?” I silently suspected it was because Wass was smoking hot and gorgeous and the neighbour was short and pudgy and balding and pale and getting old.
“Racism,” he said, bitterly. “The Italians are extremely racist.”
He said life was hard for him as a Lebanese in a small town in Italy. The Italians treated him like an outcast.
His need for approval, his need to know that I thought his pasta was good, that his erotic overtures were good, now made more sense. For a man like him, who needed to be the king of his empire, I could see how social rejection hurt.
And although he said he did not want to marry, he wanted to enjoy his life, the flip side of that was, it must be hard for him to meet women. He was constantly working. And racism.
I had assumed, since he looked like a sex god and was smart and assertive and a great cook, that he could screw any woman he wanted. But perhaps the only women he could actually have a chance with were foreigners like me, who thought that his Lebaneseness just enhanced his charm. And not many foreigners came to the insular and rather remote town of Ferrara.
He deposited me in the centre of town and headed off to save the world one restaurant at a time. We both knew this was the end, and we were both bittersweetly fine with it.
“He never kissed me even once,” I reflected, wandering through the late morning sunshine, and realising that while this was a little sad, I just didn’t care enough to be properly upset.
Wass had insisted that I try the tri-color ravioli “italia” at this hidden place he loved. As I admired my mushroom ravioli, pumpkin ravioli, and spinach-ricotta ravioli, in a butter-sage sauce, I wondered what other stories Italy had up its sleeve for me….