Some years ago, my friend, “Admiral’s Ex-Wife”, sustained me through the organization of a good-bye luncheon for female teaching cronies. This was shortly after I was dismissed from the leukemia ward and just prior to Rumpole and me moving down to the coast to be closer to further medical treatment. AE-F ensured the sandwiches were just so, crustless and fresh, the salad crisp and the tea, the correct temperature. It was just a tad too precious and refined for me, but I got through the luncheon having learned more precise lady-like manners and didn’t drop the teetering tea-cup over a visiting guest. The whole lunch and tea was entirely pleasant. It reinforced firmly in my memory not only the good collegial relationship we had shared, but also the individual natures and value of various teaching colleagues.
About six years ago a young friend (and model for Venus for our infamous Naked Lunch) was moving to Edmonton with her young husband, who was to begin medical School at the UofA Edmonton. Lila was a young woman of wonderful character, lively, intelligent and someone I was only too glad to have as a friend. EB, our young woman-poet friend, someone Rumpole and I considered a much appreciated “loaner daughter”, was also friends with Lila. The three of us decided to have a farewell lunch together before Lila’s departure to the wilds of Edmonton. EB decided to be hostess, which was just fine by me.
Lila and I were instructed to drive to the local East Indian restaurant to pick up an order of Samosas and Chick peas, then to cruise by the local liquor outlet to purchase a good bottle of red wine and then, to make our way to EB’s town-house to chow down, chat and say our good-byes. As Lila and I were taking off our boots and coats in EB’s vestibule, EB chattered at us in her up-beat EB fashion and then announced. “We have a special treat for us today. A short video, made by a film-maker friend back East, just arrived yesterday. We have to watch it together!”
She served the samosas and poured wine for each of us, then made us take up places in front of the TV set and set up the video. “Just wait,” she said with a grin, “you’re gonna love this one! Brent and I watched it last night and were completely blown away by it.”
We toasted Lila, clicked our wine-glasses together and took a bite of samosa as the title came up on the screen. “The Rite of Passage Party”, in arty font appeared. The ‘documentary’ unfolded in front of us as we sipped and munched our luncheon fare. A young twenty-something man complained to his live-in girlfriend that he felt cheated by life, that he had not had a proper ceremony to mark his passage into manhood. As he presented himself on the screen as an uncircumcised male, he proposed to his girlfriend a solution to his feeling of being an incomplete adult, and that was to hold a circumcision party for himself. At this point I choked on a bite of samosa, which I then tried to wash down with a swift gulp of wine. Lila started cackling and said “Oh, no….he can’t be serious?”
“Just wait, you guys,” EB cast me a concerned glance as I sputtered. “It gets even better!”
Sure enough, the young man’s live-in girlfriend rolled her eyes in disbelief and said, to the effect, “whatever….” Next, we saw him designing invitations and posters for his “celebration/happening”, making up guest lists, trying to line up caterers, someone to perform the actual circumcision. The printer where he sought to have invitations and posters printed though he was nuts, but, hey, he was a paying customer, so he duly printed the stuff to be sent out. After the mail-out of invitations, the young man’s friends, one by one contacted him by phone and asked if this whole thing was for real, or was he maybe kidding? He reassured them that this was a serious and solemn occasion and that he wanted them to celebrate with him. It was coming up with a skilled circumciser that he was having a hard time. He made an appointment with a Rabbi from a local synagogue and eloquently pleaded his case. naturally, the Rabbi sent him packing. By this point the three of us women had dissolved in incredulous laughter. What next? EB replenished our wine glasses. We watched the screen with rapt attention.
The young man, retired to his apartment/studio that he shared with his girl-friend. He sat down in his overstuffed easychair recliner in front to a wall covered in Modernist ‘penis paintings’ and proceeded to give his problem some thought. It occurred to him that maybe the local tatoo-parlour operator, Mike S, could do the required operation. Cut to young man in the tattoo parlour beseeching Mike S to do the deed, while Mike S is carefully needling a snake on some poor sap’s epidermis. A true professional, Mike S, doesn’t miss a beat with his repeated fine needle poking upon hearing this request, and promises to problem solve around how he could perform this operation. “I deal in skin” he points out. “Isn’t foreskin skin? I’ll practice.”
By this time, I was practically rolling on the ground. This was the most unexpected entertainment for a luncheon, but how would the story be resolved? Why would a young man willingly seek out such pain? EEK!!! Lila was perched on the edge of her chair. “This is unthinkable!” she kept muttering, between swigs of wine.
Cut next to Mike S practising on surgery on water-filled balloons – this was most surreal. We girls kept saying to the young man on the screen, “don’t, oh no, please don’t do this!” All to no avail. In spite of all his invitees refusing to come to this important celebration because they all think he is nuts, the young man hits the streets in an attempt to inveigle complete strangers into witnessing “his rite of passage”.
The occasion arrives. The witnesses all arrive in their cocktail-hour finery, bearing gifts. They hang about doing small talk and sip on martinis and wine, munch hors d’oeuvres. The ‘operating dais’ is the young man’s overstuffed recliner covered in white sheets and towels. It sits in the middle of the living room and as guest circulate, they cast doubtful glances at it. The time for the circumcision arrives. Mike S, ceremonially garbed in a wildly-coloured t-shirt, covered in tatoos, takes up his position beside the dais, scalpel in hand. The young man makes his announcent to all assembled and takes his place on the dais. Someone covers him in white towels, and the guests crowd closer, casting at each other disbelieving looks. The live-in girlfriend passes a large bottle of Johnny Walker Red to the young man, which he then chug-a-lugs. Ah, that good old anaesthetic stand-by, used in Western films for casual operations on fatal wounds, and now, in this Eastern film for an impromptu circumcision. The camera pans to Mike S’s scalpel wielding hand approaching a white towel expanse. Cut to loud screaming and fadeout-to black.
By this point, I’ve been chewing the edge of my wine-glass, Lila is moaning, “oh no, no, nooo….how could they?” EB is watching our reactions carefully. She has seen it all last night with her husband.
The film ends with a monologue by the young man, sitting alone in his living-room on the overstuffed chair in front of the wall of penis paintings. The room is empty of all other furniture and belongings. It seems the live-in girlfriend felt it incumbent upon her to leave off cohabiting with the young man. She has moved out and on, leaving him alone, in his now painful state of acknowledged and duly celebrated and witnessed man-hood. He waxes philosophical; he feels completely at ease with his situation, physically and psychically – only expresses regret that his girl-friend abandoned him at such a profound juncture of his life. End of short film.
Only now does EB reveal that this is not a documentary, but a short fiction scripted, cast with professional actors and shot and edited by the filmmaker and his technical crew. Lila and I explain how we both felt the film had the candour and directness of a documentary, and that the disjunctures in the film had a real splice-of life quality. The acting had been unactorly, improvisational in feel. Thus we both felt that it had been an artful short film that should be seen by many other people. We all agreed, however, that had our husbands been with us watching this film, none of us would have been able to react without flinching and being uncomfortable about their possible reactions.
So, there is my tale of two different luncheons with lady friends and colleagues. I cannot ever imagine watching this film with the “Admiral’s Wife” or with the teaching cronies. We operated in circumstances of social and political correctness, and I had been their token ‘wild’ colleague – the art teacher, who they all probably suspected hid her seamier tendencies under careful P.C. wraps. Lila and EB had been my models and friend and we enjoyed a less correctly prescribed social relationship where such a topic as the one in the film we watched together would not be considered by any of us to be an improper topic discussed at a ladies’ luncheon.