The following is a short short story I wrote years ago as a kind of crazy, Americanized homage to the style of the great Austrian novelist, Thomas Bernhard. It was inspired by the transvestites who used to hang out at the Savoy Restaurant in Philadelphia during my time there in the mid 80s. It was originally published in SUNY’s Little Magazine.
To the casual observer, and even to some of those who more rigorously examined the phenomena around them, Théadulu Bezizi was a beautiful woman; some might say the most beautiful woman. “A woman of Hellenic beauty,” wrote one Martinique reporter in describing this charismatic erotician whose nightclub performances had, even by that time, become the subject matter of coffee klatches and scandal sheet headlines alike. “Flick on a television anywhere, tune to any channel at any time of the day, pick up any newspaper and turn to any page, tap the dreams of adolescent boys or dribbling octogenarians–there is no place where you will not be met by the startling and arresting beauty of Bezizi’s consuming gaze.” And the report was not as hyperbolic is it seemed. Théadulu, or the variously reproduced image of Théadulu, was literally everywhere on the island, which had gone mad with a kind of weeping, hysterical adulation the likes of which Martinique had never before seen. Bezizimania was running rampant. It was a regular Bezizi craze. The islanders were crazed with the image of Bezizi and the reports of her hypnotic performances; performances which were sold out two years in advance, tickets for which were commanding astounding prices at the Ticketrons Ticketmasters Agencies Billets Hot Tix Sources Billets Walt’s Kings of Tickets, etc. not only of Martinique, but of New York, London, Paris, Munich, Moscow, Toledo, Halifax, Padua, Brazilia, etc.; tickets for which unheard of prices were being commanded by so-called scalpers the world wide; “mind-blowing prices” you would hear citizens say walking down the avenues and boulevards of any city you care to name in regard to the sums being commanded by the agencies and quasi-criminal element responsible for the distribution, legal or illegal, of tickets to see the world-renowned Théadulu Bezizi in one of Bezizi’s now-infamous erotic performances. In any city, for instance, in New York or in London or in Paris or in Munich, etc., it would not be uncommon, walking along an avenue or boulevard, to overhear a conversation in which phrases on the order of “out of my league,” or “undreamed of sums of folding money,” or “a king’s ransom,” or “beaucoups flic,” or “the biggest pile of dough you’ve ever seen” would be thrown about in conversations all revolving around the topic of tickets to one of Bezizi’s otherworldly performances. “Uncanny” would not come close to describing the atmosphere characteristic of those days, weeks, months, years in which Bezizi held the world in a kind of Bezizi spell, a Voodoo raised to the third power that left much of the citizenry in an alternately dismal and delighted torpor in which even the café table conversations about Bezizi and the effect Bezizi was having on everyone everywhere drifted off into a growing silence in which the faces around the sidewalk tables the world wide would glaze over in an aspect not entirely unlike that found in the wan expressions of Van Gough’s The Absinthe Drinkers. Folks luxuriated in their newfound torpor to the extent that even the businesspeople in North American cities ceased wearing athletic shoes on the ride to and from their places of business, their lifestyle having slowed to the point at which such footgear was no longer necessary. Consumed by the allure of the Bezizi mystique, shoppers would purchase on impulse any item, any two-bit trinket, any tasteless souvenir of dubious value bearing the so-called likeness of Bezizi, the Bezizi image, the officially trademarked Bezizi logo, and in so doing pay happily any sum asked; no price seemed too great for “Bezizi’s Legions” as they came to be known which, for all intents and purposes, included a majority, an overwhelming majority, a surprisingly significant percentage of the world’s population–the “world,” of course, here referring to the westernized industrialized world plugged in to the ever-expanding communications highway which is not so much a highway as it is a vast and intricate electronic web. So we are told. Bezizi’s Legions flourished in the cultural hearts of the largest cities and in the communal latrines of any backwater linked to the world by a wire or satellite-reflected beam and, paradoxically, the further removed a Bezizi Legionnaire was from Source Bezizi (located on what had become the completely developed and urbanized island of Martinique, an island on which not one square inch had not been covered by an edifice of the most contemporary and discriminating architecture or some paving material such as concrete or asphalt), the further one was from Source Bezizi the more rabid one was likely to be in defense of Bezizi against the ever more bitter, increasingly more callous, bitingly more cruel rumors that had begun to circulate about the beloved Théadulu Bezizi who, despite the ever-growing popularity of Bezizi, was becoming more and more a recluse seen only in close-circuit or pay-per-view television presentations of her cryptically erotic performances which were purported to be live but which, many had come to suspect, and perhaps with some good reason, were, in reality, pre-recorded and therefore qualitatively inferior. All of which was said to be a ploy to generate even more interest in Bezizi, though it was hard to imagine any interest that had not already been tapped and, truth be said, not one shred of interest had not already been tapped, the interest of the citizenry was riveted on Bezizi to the point at which there could be no further interest generated in the performer; so, the rumors and the apparent abandonment by Bezizi of live performance could not be said to have been a ploy to generate more interest in Bezizi, though it could easily be said to have been an attempt to generate more speculation about Bezizi. Speculation, as a realm of thought, too often goes ignored by the citizenry who all-too-readily all-too-often accept the so-called party line handed them by the manipulators of so-called public information. And there was the question of pronunciation. Reduced to the simplest terms, there could be said to have been two camps on the issue of pronunciation: the camp who would defend to their dying breath that the one and only proper Creole pronunciation of Bezizi’s first name–all being more or less in agreement on the pronunciation of Bezizi–was “TAY-A-DOO-LOO,” the first two syllables pronounced exactly like the first two syllables of the French théatre, or the camp who insisted, rightly or wrongly, that the one truly acceptable pronunciation was “TAY-DOO-LOO,” the second syllable unpronounced. A middling dispute to say the least, the citizenry was equally and intensely divided on this dubious issue, to straddle the fence on which was to alienate oneself entirely, to call upon oneself all the scorn either camp could muster, to suffer abuse at the hand of either camp delivered with a lack of reserve reserved not even for their adversaries in the debate, to appear weak in regard to the issue–a waiverer who couldn’t form a firm opinion. In time, the camp advocating the “TAY-A-DOO-LOO” pronunciation won out, naturally claiming, as was there right, that theirs had always been the one true correct Creole pronunciation of Théadulu; but, no sooner had their assertion been acclaimed than two new camps weighed in on either side of a latent dispute, “a festering sore of contention” (as one public official referred to it), over the question of the so-called “hard” th pronunciation versus the so-called “soft” th pronunciation, a debate which re-ignited animosities that had never quite had time to heal in the wake of the so-called great debate over “TAY-A-DOO-LOO” versus “TAY-DOO-LOO.” This new debate between the “harders” and the “softers” (as the camps came to be known) pitted those who would pronounce Théadulu with a hard th sound, as in the word thyme, against those who would pronounce Théadulu with a soft th sound, as in the word thane (“TAY-A-DOO-LOO versus “THAY-A-DOO-LOO” or, in rare instances “THEE-A-DOO-LOO”) and of course, festering sores of contention being what they are, this schism was further rent into camps that advocated for “THAY-DOO-LOO” or “THEE-DOO-LOO” or, in some instances, “TEE-A-DOO-LOO” or “TEE-DOO-LOO”–one began to hear every sort of pronunciation and mispronunciation of Théadulu; allegiances to various camps changed on a daily basis and one’s stand on the issue was even said to be used to enhance or detract from one’s social status or to lever or undermine one’s advantage in, for instance, career advancement or business agreements and contracts. Lines were constantly being drawn and redrawn. It was a time for looking over one’s shoulder. Bezizi remained silent on the issue, excepting Bezizi’s rumored preference to be addressed by a single name, that name being, of course, Bezizi, which was how the general public referred to Bezizi, for the most part, anyway; which fact highlights the ridiculousness of the heated debated that made enemies of so many, ended so many friendships, life friendships, so-called blood brother- and sisterhoods, over the pronunciation of Théadulu. Ridiculous this middling debate was, especially in contrast to the growing speculation over certain rumors which were then beginning to make the rounds at soirées and baseball games and company picnics and Andean expeditions and in bars, churches, gymnasia, so-called institutes of higher learning, racetracks: in short, wherever social intercourse was likely to take place. Théadulu Bezizi was put to the most excruciating scrutiny as hundreds of thousands of facts–which, of course, became garbled and misconstrued and regurgitated in the most disturbing and reputation-destroying rumor and speculation–as, literally, hundreds of thousands of facts about Bezizi’s life were unearthed and broadcast to the citizenry: Théadulu ate black crayons in the first grade; Théadulu once ate an ice-cream cone purchased by an upper-middle class uncle while hanging upside-down from a so-called Jungle Jim; Théadulu used to keep a “cloud journal” in which she would make copious notes, page after page of notes, on the clouds she would observe through her bedroom window, which overlooked the ocean; Théadulu hunted houseflies with oversized red rubber bands; Théadulu was never educated beyond the sixth grade; Théadulu received an honorary bachelor’s degree from Yale; Théadulu kissed her mother first on the cheek, then on the temple just before the old woman made her exit from this world; Théadulu, unlike the great Marlene Dietriche, never wanted to be alone; Théadulu, perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, was considered by some to be a man, though the penis she, or he, possessed was only of the most vestigial, hermaphroditic variety. On that, the hermaphroditic penis, the citizenry became fixated and it is owing to this ongoing, never-ending speculation about the presence or absence of an hermaphroditic member between Bezizi’s legs that, agree many of the leading sociologists, the general public was able to at long last free themselves of the self-consciousness, the embarrassment, the nervous laughter that had once characterized the pronunciation of the word “penis.” Penis, penis, penis–one heard it everywhere in every language in every city: Bezizi’s alleged hermaphroditic penis was on the lips of everyone, the so-called hot topic of conversation. It was as if every other word uttered by every passerby in the avenues and boulevards of cities everywhere, on the dirt roads and rustic paths in the backwaters and outbacks, was “penis.” There was even a human interest piece in the Porte au Prince Gazette detailing the story of a mother who was astonished to hear her baby’s first-ever words which had been, first, “Bezizi,” and then, second, “penis.” A Bezizi-crazed, hermaphroditic penis-obsessed citizenry was not a particularly healthy citizenry–it was a sentiment that inspired heaps of calumny from the general populace: the Joe Six packs, the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and for Bezizi, the Boy and Girl Scouts International, Weight Watchers, etc. It was a sentiment that drew the wrath of groups of every stripe and color, a sentiment that caused the downfall of a certain sociologist whose name has been buried by the controversy this sentiment of his inspired. “Unidimensionality of thought” was a phrase that had occurred and recurred throughout the once infamous and now famous paper he published on the subject: “Bezizi, Reaction to Bezizi on the Part of the General Populace, and Unhealthy Speculation on the Existence or Inexistence of Bezizi’s Alleged Hermaphroditic Penis”; “A sinister unidimensionality of thought has overtaken the general populace on the subject of the erotic entertainer who prefers to be referred to only by the name ‘Bezizi’, and speculation surrounding said performer’s rumored hermaphroditic penis” began the sociologist’s paper, unidimensional insofar as the debate never moved beyond the period of blunt and simple assertion that Bezizi did possess such an hermaphroditic penis and blunt and simple denial that Bezizi could possess such an hermaphroditic penis; or a similar such argument in which one camp would state something on the order of “Clearly, Bezizi is the most beautiful woman and there can be no doubt that she is possessed of the most hypnotic womanly charms” while the other camp would state something on the order of “Clearly, Bezizi exhibits characteristics that call his/her sexual orientation into question, for instance the fact that she is nearly seven feet tall and weighs close to 212 pounds–all muscle (always this emphasis on “all muscle”)–and yet, despite her size and obvious and intimidating physical power she manages a strikingly feminine and alluring and quite obviously erotic attitude of yielding sensuality.” In this way, such camps were divided, often complicating the allegiances established in the so-called great debate over the pronunciation of Théadulu and, much like that so-called great debate, it was not a debate at all but, rather, a simple exchange of assertions and denials. “Our society hangs limp,” said the President of Martinique, alleged by many to have enlisted the advice of the now-forgotten author of “Bezizi, Reaction to Bezizi on the Part of the General Populace, and Unhealthy Speculation on the Existence or Inexistence of Bezizi’s Alleged Hermaphroditic Penis.” His words began his so-called and now immortal “last-gasp” speech delivered to the citizenry of Martinique and broadcast via satellite to every westernized industrialized nation in the world which had all been variously affected by Bezizimania and its so-called fall-out. “Our society hangs limp,” began the clearly exhausted president, “a tattered pennant draped from the splintered mast that rises from our ship of state.” Everything about this speech, the original text of which is on file in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, every strained metaphor, every allusion to the great statesmen of the westernized industrialized world, every personal anecdote intended to appeal to the so-called common man, was, plainly and simply, wrong, a notion that had clearly occurred to the president who, five eighths through the speech, abandoned the text and began screaming, some have argued shrieking, “shrieking like a madman,” into the camera in a harangue which, in Martinique, consumed nearly three and a half hours of valuable network time but which, in the other westernized industrialized nations to which the address, the “last gasp” speech as it has been called, was being beamed via satellite, was cut off even before the president abandoned his prepared text in favor of his now infamous shrieking harangue and thereby saved the president’s reputation, for a time, in these westernized industrialized nations, stopped the so-called bleeding from the incident which in his native Martinique, where the shrieking “last gasp” harangue had been broadcast in its entirety until the president literally fell off his chair in a fit of complete exhaustion, earned the president the epithet “Bagpipes Mouth.” Clearly out of touch with his nation, the president’s address, intended to persuade the people of his island nation and the rest of the world to forget Bezizi, to free themselves from this so-called Bezizimania and the attendant unhealthy speculation on the existence or inexistence of Bezizi’s alleged hermaphroditic penis it inspired, came even as, Bezizi’s fame having run its course, Martinique had begun to forget about Bezizi and turn its attention to other, more pedestrian, yet more productive, matters. As Bezizi–who moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and there immediately began, by the so-called locals, to be referred to simply as “Zizi”–as Zizi put it, in recounting her experiences to the transvestites, her new closest friends, who nightly gather at 3 a.m. in the Savoy Restaurant at 11th and Locust Streets, “I was already a has-been when that old fool got on the television and threw his fit.” Sometimes it was “has-been,” if not has-been, then it was “a fading star,” if not fading star, then it was “fast becoming a nobody,” if it wasn’t fast becoming a nobody, it was “over, said, and done”: “My career, my fame, my reputation as the most beautiful woman, speculation about the hermaphroditic penis I was alleged to have (it’s quite a full-blown penis, if you don’t mind my saying so, no pun)–all of it was over, said, and done by the time that geriatric president of ours went out of his mind before a live audience of millions, disgraced himself and in so doing disgraced Martinique.” The other transvestites–Lucretia, Diamondelle, Celeste, Wilemina, Souixsi Sue, Margeurite, Billie, Hermione, Gabriella, Jane County, etc.–always proved, for Zizi, to be a sympathetic audience and in spite of the fact that Zizi repeatedly told them her story, or a variation on her story that was still essentially her story, the slight differences in nuance, emphasis, or detail never changing her story enough transform it into a new story or a different story, in spite of her endless retellings of essentially the same story, the transvestites always listened with grace, patience, and rapt attention to Zizi’s lilting voice.