I have never seen the point of conventional pornography. In this respect, I realize I am somewhat outside the range of what is normal for males. Seeing certain body parts we’re told to interpret as “sexual,” served up standardized, homogenized, and de-contextualized in the typical, crude Hollywood manner just doesn’t do… anything for me. It feels… like nothing. Christians and other moralists preach about how it’s so harmful, it’s so bad, but personally I find most porn to be a woefully ineffectual incentive to the “sin” of lust. Ah, well.
In some ways, I wish I had the Christians’ ability to believe, unquestioningly, in moral absolutes. There is a certain attraction in that kind of purity: like a sword or a cut jewel. The inner strength that must result from the belief that truth exists is, perhaps, enviable. Ignorance may, indeed, be bliss; alas, that I cannot go that road. But, I digress. My point is, I surely needed the full strength of my convictions the other afternoon in my dorm room. For that is when I saw that the number one download at a certain website I frequent, as an alternative to the sterile monotony of mainstream porn, was a video of my ex-girlfriend and myself, engaged in stilted, awkward sex.
Here’s what happened. See, the only prurient media I can enjoy at all is the amateur stuff, or at least stuff that looks like it’s got real people in it. It’s so much saner to prefer real girls and/or women to an over-stylized, commercialized ideal. I’m not saying I don’t want them to be attractive. I guess it’s just that I’ve got a different idea of what’s attractive than, apparently, a lot of men my age. I like a certain almost… elfish litheness, a certain degree of physical fitness, good health (I don’t like anorexics; I don’t get why anyone would do that). But, more than that, I tend to take a sort of overall, holistic view of a person to deem them physically beautiful. I look at the eyes, the shape of the face, the collarbone. Studying governments and societies, I’ve found that how the individual parts relate to one another and the whole is often more important than the individual parts.
So, I had a few hours to kill after my Humanities seminar. We had been talking about oppression, and I had said that all great societies were built on a slave class and they’ve produced most of the important achievements of what we know to be civilization so people should just get over it, a statement that upset everyone… fucking sheep. It was basic Nietzsche. Anyway, I thought it was time to balance the Apollonian side of my mind with a… traditional Dionysian activity :). Yet, my hand remained inert, paralyzed, when I loaded up the main page of my favorite amateur porn site and saw those familiar wide, bony hips, that well-known bushy-haired head and pubis, so much like the curly tops of two alert poodles.
I followed the link. Sure enough, a fully nude Jennifer Wimbush seated herself on her sloppy, sagging bed and pouted at the camera. We had parted ways over two months ago, the end of a rather trying and fundamentally flawed three-year relationship. On screen, her lanky form propped itself up into an attempt at defiant eroticism, her arms and head thrown back, medium-sized breasts thrust out. There were toys and clothes enmeshed in the folds of her huge purple bedspread, like grasping hands in a nineteenth century painting of a shipwreck. She had an impressive collection of figurines from a variety of badly dubbed animated children’s shows. By far the majority were from “Animal Squad” (that is the awful American title), a series about kids who summon, and turn into, various animals during the course of magical battles against sympathetic, yet inane, villains.
Before I go any further, don’t get me wrong: I like a lot of anime. Generally, it possesses more depth than US shows, especially in its depiction of morally conflicted, suffering and isolated characters. Its treatment of philosophical themes such as the duality of what we call logic and emotion, nature and technology, good and evil, can verge on the sublime. And, if nothing else, it is often aesthetically very beautiful. However, some of the material can be… frankly pointless and childish, and I am afraid that the clichéd, pastoralist fare Jennifer has historically preferred, full of big-eyed animals, magical transformations, and simple dramas of social acceptance versus rejection, is an example of the latter. I think that her enthusiasm for these shows resulted from a pathological need to leave reality in favor of a simpler world. Her “unhealthy obsession,” as she put it, with imaginary romances between the series’ prepubescent male leads certainly indicated an inability to deal with real men…
Anyway, for the first few seconds, after the initial shock, my reaction to her self-display was one of rueful, knowing unconcern. However, I did not have time to expand upon my cogitations over her propensity to disregard the meaning and consequences of her actions. For, in what she no doubt imagined to be a majestic and sensual manner, Jennifer moved from her original seated position and laid her angular, large-limbed body on the bed, so that it was profile to the camera. Then, to my great disbelief, my own head emerged from off-screen and paused approximately one head-length above a recumbent, blurry, hirsute crotch.
My hair was loosed from its traditional ponytail and pushed behind my ears (since I grew them out, the long, platinum-blond locks have always been sort of a mark of pride with me, sort of an outward symbol of the principles of inner nobility that I try to live by; and besides, it is practical, and I enjoy toying with people’s expectations, defying cultural memes regarding conventional expressions of masculinity). I bore, I must admit, a rather ridiculous expression of extreme concentration. I must have taken off my glasses in anticipation of the task ahead (for the record, I wore black-framed, old-fashioned glasses long before it was “emo”), because eventually I gathered my bearings and dipped forward and downward. Footage of the back of my head in vague, repetitive motion over slightly rashy, pale-pink thighs continued, unchanging, for what seemed like eternity.
I did not, by contrast, take long to recall the occasion being so crassly commemorated. Over a year ago she had insisted on using the webcam she’d received for her birthday, assuring me with her braying laugh that, “Haw, haw, gaad, it’s not like I’m showing it anywhere!!!” At the time, that had not been a concern. I just did not understand why she couldn’t let go of… whatever it was that held her back from experiencing sexuality as the purely physical, natural phenomenon it was. Why she had to bring all these other things into it: costumes, exhibitionism, gross, inappropriate references to her period. And, during the last days, characters from her favorite fucking anime series, “Animal Squad.”
However, I supported her because I strove to comprehend, to celebrate, her difference from me. I wanted to enjoy, as C.S. Lewis put it, “the rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness.” Yet, this phrase acquired indecorous, secondary meaning over the course of the sixteen-minute video, which in the end featured: (1) a laborious shift of position so that Jennifer’s poodle-mane loomed, in its turn, above my own nervous pelvic region; (2) clumsy editing; and, (3) a nigh-interminable session of “sixty-nine,” the longest segment of all.
I must have, uncharacteristically, lost my ironic, detached attitude towards life, because my one immediate desire was to confront the party I had assumed responsible for what I saw. And after that – I didn’t know what I intended to do after that.
“Peter, what are you doing here???”
As every afternoon, she was in her room, chatting away on the internet, a big cup of vinegar tea by her side.
“You know exactly why I am here, Jen.”
The drive from campus had taken no longer than forty-five minutes. I am calm by nature, yet when a particularly flagrant injustice penetrates the steely outer shield of my intellectual indifference, I feel myself to be ruthless, swift, and implacable. There is no mercy, when there is justice.
Jennifer looked vulnerable and angry.
“What, you’ve come back to beg, like a dog? Well, I guess you are capable of emotion, as long as it’s cowardly and pathetic.”
Her latter remark was a reference to a long-standing issue between us. She often made comparisons between her life and the media she loved, and had claimed before to associate me with the self-centered and vainglorious wolf in “Animal Squad” – the only member of the Squad not to intervene after some kind of clockwork beast had kidnapped the orca-girl’s adoptive parents.
I replied, “I would think ‘dog’ a more apt descriptor of your behavior lately, Jen. But, I warn you, it takes more than second-rate exhibitionism to harm my reputation.”
I waited for the hysteric yawping that was her inevitable response whenever I called her on her bullshit.
“Exhibitionism? You just started avoiding me two months ago. You’ve pretended you didn’t know me since then, so you’re right, I don’t see how what I do can affect your ‘reputation.’ Gaad, Peter, for years I’ve had nothing from you except put-downs and verbal abuse and now you can’t leave me alone, not if it means letting me have my friends and my hobbies and actually have a good life.”
How could I even respond to that? As always, what she was saying was emphatic and self-righteous enough, but bore no relationship to what I was saying. I was angry, and it was strange to experience such intensity of emotion first-hand, unprecedented that she could affect me so directly.
“If your idea of ‘having a good life’ is acting like the lowest kind of slut, fine. But did it ever occur to you that I may object to being involved? Or is debasing yourself the only thing on your mind these days?”
Toys spilled out from the tops of bookshelves onto the desk and dresser. Several action figures and dolls were attached to the computer monitor by some sort of pink, gummy substance. The dresser, I knew from many sleepless, arm-cramping nights with Jennifer, contained her vibrator, shaped to approximate a friendly raccoon, a battery compartment in its pert little rear. That dresser contained little else, for, her clothes, a chaos of denim and purple, were strewn along most of the room’s available surfaces. From the walls simplified, child-like faces, human and animal, gazed at me out of large eyes.
Among the posters, I noticed the work of one of Jennifer’s closest friends, Charity Boyle, whose favorite member of the “Animal Squad” was clearly the brainy orca-girl. Her somewhat stiff depictions of this character could be found all over the walls, in a variety of emotional states and clothing, including painters’ coveralls, one-piece swimsuits and formal dresses strangely superimposed on a plump, cetacean form.
As with so many unpopular girls, I suspected their friendship was one of circumstance more than choice.
“I am not involving you in anything!,” Jennifer cried. “What me and Richard did at AFurMation what we do – has nothing, nothing to do with you – ”
For a moment I felt bad. After all, as a highly articulate and verbal person, I have an unfair advantage over most. Then I thought about the video. And Richard. I thought about shame.
“You’ve been with that fat fuck ever since the Con. I can smell him in here! You gave him the video didn’t you? To ‘get back’ at me for your own problems.”
She seemed genuinely upset.
“Like I said, if you want to open up your heart, and cunt, to The Bear, be my guest. Just keep my likeness the hell away from it, okay?”
“God!!! I don’t know what you’re talking about!! Okay so I am seeing Richard Bjorn I guess that is not a secret anymore!!”
I wondered why I was somehow enjoying this confrontation. Her crazed expression made it impossible to identify with her; it made her look fundamentally different from myself, and I think that I was relieved to see that difference. In its oversized sweatshirt and cutoff shorts, her body heaved and strained with failed effort to control emotion.
I left her house through the backyard, the same way I’d entered. The property, though extremely neglected, was located in an old and highly desirable part of the prosperous California suburb where we grew up. The animal foetor pervading the place, apart from the separate, toxic, sex and incense smells of Jennifer’s room, was due in some measure to the bowls of soggy pet food, situated throughout the living room, parlor, and kitchen; in some measure to the termite-ridden wood and trapped rodents rotting beneath the house; and in some measure to two cats, plus Goldeen, the family’s aged golden retriever; but, mostly, it was due to the goats, which had been purchased years ago at the insistence of Jennifer’s younger sister. Unfortunately, for over a year Kristin has spent the majority of her time in her room, refusing to attend school, let alone take care of the animals. Thus, goats roamed the darkened house and shady backyard, grown up, shaggy, and unchecked, eating everything in sight, defecating in unwelcome, unexpected places.
Taking the freeway to Richard’s house, I became meditative. Years of put-downs and verbal abuse? My intentions had always been strictly pedagogic. I had only wanted to make the baseness of her actions evident to her. I wondered at this fundamental desire on my part to better other lives in the only way I feel I am qualified to do so… that is, through knowledge.
Ironically, knowledge was something that Jennifer had denied to me. She had kept insisting that it could not have been her who publicized the one erotic video she had made of us. I suppose I believed her: after all, it was unlike her to resist the opportunity for a climactic, meaningful confession.
I have always striven to give what I could to the world. And, now, the world has responded as it has always responded, that is, absurdly. I know how Socrates felt, I suppose. Or, irony of ironies, I quote from a source to which I am vehemently opposed: “forgive them… for they know not what they do.”
Maybe this total lack of interest in theoretical knowledge was what I found compelling about Jennifer in the first place: I was fascinated by how self-contained she was. Talkative, ever-present and not “out of my league,” she had been a natural choice three years ago, my first and, so far, only, serious girlfriend. And, after the two morose, overweight girls from her little group of friends, whom I’d attempted to woo earlier in the year, she seemed psychologically healthy and improbably beautiful. She was certainly pretty without being aware of it, thin, large-boned, long-legged, a long but otherwise unremarkable, symmetrical face.
And yet, our relationship was unremarkable, in that it, too, possessed that unacknowledged, darker side, full of fears and hidden motives that I think is a part of all human affairs. I suppose I had “gone all the way,” for the first time, sexually, with a female, last year, just slightly over five months after entering the undergraduate program at the Tidal Bore College of Liberal Arts. However, from our earliest tentative attempts, to more involved bi-weekly sessions of recent times, our encounters of an intimate nature had always been surprisingly difficult and full of stress. The naiveté that I indulgently tolerated in her personality was somehow terrifying in a sexual context.
I was alarmed by her exaggerated posing, her use of the webcam for pornographic ends as though no one had ever thought of it before, her shameless insistence on oral sex like it was something impossibly wholesome, like it was some kind of… treat, to give to an animal. When animal outfits became involved, I was gripped a with profound dread possibly analogous to the Christians’ fear of hell (I do not know; I do not, of course, believe in the existence of a “soul”). Understand that “perversion,” per se, does not upset me: I am no Puritan. I merely find the whole mask-and-rubber crowd to be mostly irrelevant and sort of silly. But, as far as I can tell, an interest in “kink,” in sexual acting-out, is usually supposed to denote boredom with the ordinary – decadence, a surfeit of experience. Yet, with her, it was precisely the reverse. Her lack of awareness was what made me awkward, seeing her try so hard. The incongruity of her naïve imaginings with the reality of her tall, robust body bothered me more than it, perhaps, should have.
Thus, perhaps, sexual anxiety helped poison our relationship. For whatever reasons, I grew to resent those very qualities in her that once charmed me. Her passions began to seem appalling and juvenile, her self-containment depressing. She and her friends were living in an increasingly insular, insipid world. The “furry” convention only hastened the end of our prolonged and, ultimately, untenable union.
Despite the not insubstantial presence of “Animal Squad” in our lives; despite the yearning fan fiction she wrote compulsively and uncritically, demanding – and usually receiving, from other “fans” – an equally uncritical response; despite her love of large, non-threatening groups of friends, and her disconcerting, ultimately unconvincing sexual bravado; despite all this, attending AFurMation had not been Jennifer’s idea. She was invited by Beth Whitehead, one of the fat, failed romances from senior year of high school that I mentioned earlier. Time, and the attentions of a new young man, had turned the extra pounds into assets, moroseness into spastic, manic sociability. Beth’s baleful silences transformed into the insincere twittering characteristic of so many belatedly sexual, deeply insecure girls.
Richard “The Bear” Bjorn was the individual responsible for this change. The nickname is redundant, since no one knew, or I certainly didn’t know, if “Bjorn” were in fact his real name, last or middle, or merely the name of his “fursona.” That’s right: in addition to taking the odd Aikido or Norse mythology class at Jennifer and Beth’s community college, where the pair had met maybe a year after he should have graduated; in addition to running a small computer repair business out of his squalid home; and in addition collecting bladed weapons for no apparent reason (being morally opposed to violence except in self-defense), Richard Bjorn led an alternate and, he would argue, more authentic, life as a spiritually inclined yet ultimately hedonistic anthropomorphized bear. Every year, like-minded individuals, and general fans of anthropomorphic animals in art and literature from all over the West Coast, met for a festive weekend at a local hotel.
“Conventions are a lot of fun,” Jennifer had said. “We should go.”
“Aw, come on – hanging out with a lot of obese losers dressed like sports mascots? That’s a low point in anyone’s life, even yours,” I retorted.
“Your comments about people’s size are really kind of rude – some of those ‘losers’ are my friends,” she digressed.
“I’m not afraid of calling things by their names, that’s all. Dishonesty of language in the name of ‘political correctness’ is the first step to totalitarianism, Jen, if you’ve ever read 1984. And I’m not going to your Lardass Convention.”
“We never go out anymore, even though we’re supposed to be, like, adults now,” she whined.
“Well, in fact, a bunch of us in philosophy club are going to a restaurant. So I can’t come,” I replied.
“You’d rather be with a school club than at a huge party full of good friends and people from all over, who won’t judge you cause they’re geeks too? And you can just watch good movies and cut loose and have fun – wear what you want, not worrying how you look?”
Days later, I was standing in line with foxes, meerkats, leashed deer, and sassy goth girls in cat ears, large flanks barely contained in their overstrained bodysuits.
The fact is, the Tidal Bore College philosophy club is too set its ways, having forgotten the original meaning of the very word “philosophy,” love of wisdom, and having abandoned the spirit of real inquiry that should accompany such an exalted love. They take a lot of stock in certain self-referential, contemporary philosophers of language, who utilize formal logic to obfuscate real issues. I think my fellow students have fallen prey to the dangers of excessive skepticism – understandable dangers, ones that I’ve overcome only through close reading of writers like Isaac Asimov and Ayn Rand, generally lucid, logical thinkers (for the most part) who also know how to entertain. Three meetings ago, I had suggested man’s life as a standard of value on which to base a new, rational ethics, an alternative to the nihilism prevalent in so much modern thought. I guess they didn’t appreciate my outsider’s contribution to what should have been living, productive discourse. Since then, meetings have been, frankly, awkward, and I didn’t really want to deal with their dogmas through an entire restaurant meal. By contrast, the convention promised to hold some, at least, sociological or anthropologic interest.
The line near the reception desk, by itself, fulfilled this promise.
“The media portrays furry as a fetish, but the thing is, it isn’t even a fetish,” Richard Bjorn was saying, wagging his oversized stylized bear’s head, with its large, glazed eyes and permanent, suggestive leer. “Anthropomorphic animals are everywhere in our culture. They’re appealing because they let you reinvent – people. Except you don’t have to be tied down to the bullshit of so-called ‘real life.’ And sex is a part of that.”
Jennifer’s friend Charity Boyle peered at him from inside the black and white mouth of a killer whale. Although whales and dolphins did not, strictly speaking, possess “fur,” I had already seen several of their human fans here. Her face, all but her eyes, was concealed by the two halves of the orca mask. In middle school, I had called her Charity Case in an attempt to gain others’ respect.
“Yeah, sex is huge part of it. Essentially you become a child again. You can take pleasure in something that is… a natural part of your physical makeup. If you’re embarrassed about your body, you don’t have to be, anymore. You reinvent the body, without all the guilt heaped on by society and organized religion… because, you form your own society, of bears, and raccoons, and… and badgers. It’s very tolerant.”
Charity shuffled in place at the mention of organized religion, then gazed at the rotund bear with greater intensity. We had been in the same church group as children. Both of us had been sent there by single mothers, but whereas mine merely couldn’t afford daycare, hers was an intense, weeping Madonna of a woman. With her tall, slightly bulbous forehead and stocky, wide-hipped stance, the mother’s resemblance to one of the daughter’s crudely penned oceanic mammals was striking.
“Come on Bjorn,” yelped Beth as she ran to our line. “There is a giant Slip-n-slide!!!!” She was one of the cat women, black, orange and white paint smeared across her heavy, oval face.
“Hey,” she said upon seeing me, entitlement in her voice. “Um, I thought Jen was going to make you wear a costume.”
I was wearing slacks and a gray button-down shirt. “I am a gray wolf, obviously” I said.
“Ookay…,” she replied, the exaggerated emphasis on the first syllable a substitute for cleverness.
No said anything else, and after a while Beth repeated the words, “Giant Slip-n-slide!!!” She grabbed Richard by an outsized paw and pretended to try to drag him away while he stood in place.
“Mmnh,” grunted Madrigal Bloch in acknowledgment of the physical comedy transpiring before her. The nose and buck teeth of a mouse were affixed to her otherwise flat features by a rubber band. This was failed high school romance number two, who had, by this point, successfully made the transition from dour and overweight to bossy, matronly and obese.
“Ooooh,” said Jennifer. She, for her part, was “cross dressing” rather ineptly as her favorite “Animal Squad” character, a sexless-looking (but, in her fictions, capable of very tender, proto-sexual affections) red-haired little boy with an inner fox nature. She squealed with whimsy.
“I think you know what that means!”
Her voluminous, still-dark curls sprouted behind a plastic orange headband, topped by small, felt-textured, triangular ears. A bushy, upturned, wire-frame tail from the costume store completed the outfit. This tail rose above tight denim shorts of a respectable width, which, in turn, accented a long torso and legs, their juncture largely free of fat, yet contributing to an unmistakably pear-shaped form.
“What does it mean, Jen?” The bear leered at her.
“I get to take off my clothes!!!”
She was also wearing one of my old t-shirts, covered with the logos of local hi-tech companies, which she had requested for the “costume” because of its vomit-orange color. Jennifer pulled off the ill-fitting cotton to reveal a string bikini, on which, for the occasion, she had drawn two big paw prints cupping the breasts. She was rewarded with cat-calls and excited barking. She crept towards Richard and began to rub her exposed body against his matted, artificial pelt, closing her eyes in simulated contentment.
“Um, we need our badges first,” I said. I tried to direct her to the front of the line.
I admit that I felt disconcerted just then, by the sight of Jennifer in her shoddy outfit. It wasn’t just her show of promiscuity. At the science fiction convention last year, I had watched her strut and preen and bare the tops of her compacted breasts as a slutty Princess Leia, and was not only not upset, but even misguided enough to take pride in having access to one of the event’s more attractive females. She’s got flaws, but I could have done much worse, I thought, balancing my innate idealistic thinking with realism.
But no, this time, it was specifically the animal aspect that disturbed me. The paw prints, that absurd, canine tail. It was not only that she was dressed strangely, but that an ordinary-seeming twenty-year-old girl apparently thought it was okay to dress that way, that she expected, demanded to be liked for it. Thus, the “Animal Squad” outfit was disturbing for the same reason as her previous sexual posing, though perhaps to an even greater degree: her inappropriate obliviousness, an obliviousness that was somehow like hysteria. However, unlike then, there was no suggestion or implication that I become a participant. I would later have this feeling in her room, as well, accusing her, seeing her displays of emotion. There was a suggestion of some obscene vulnerability, which bothered me, but also, crossed the line, to the point where I sort of, almost, liked it.
It was like the one time when, during a particularly unhappy period of my adolescence, I was made late to school by the sight of real animals having sex. The squirrels were running after each other in an intense, clacking frenzy. One of them actually fell from the branch it had been running on and landed right in front of me, briefly regarding me with its compressed, terrifying face. I don’t think I’d ever been that close to a wild animal before. Unconsciously accustomed to the slick anthropomorphic beings in television and advertising, I was surprised to find something so unfamiliar and vulnerable.
One often hears that sex disables reason, but here it had momentarily disabled an animal's basic instincts of self-preservation. I was afraid yet for some reason filled with shameful, vague pleasure.
“You’re holding everyone up,” I said to Jennifer. “Let’s… detach ourselves from that bear.”
Everyone was pleased by this inane, pointlessly “ironic” remark, which affirmed group identity by referring to the idea that outsiders would be confused by – would, in fact, be forced to speak in simple, pause-strewn language about – something that they, the attendees of AFurMation, considered to be an ordinary part of life.
Afterwards, during the screening of the animated “Robin Hood,” with its all-animal cast, Jennifer leaned against Richard’s massive, fur-covered legs like they were a beanbag couch. She gyrated and growled at him at the big fur suit masquerade ball, still wet from the Slip-n-slide, hot tub, and pool. Later, sat between him and Beth Whitehead for a three-way massage in the lobby, The Bear manipulating his fingers expertly behind the thick paws. Eventually they ran to one of the hotel rooms, the girls animatedly exchanging “inside jokes” about the finer points of their sexualized perceptions of the youths of “Animal Squad.”
That was around the point at which I simply left. I am aware that I should have stood by my “significant other,” or whatever trope you wish to employ, that as her significant other I should have tried to prevent her from sleeping with a random, lecherous talking-animal fetishist. Most of the time, I succeed in my efforts to combine the intellectual integrity in which I take such pride with a certain amount of ethical integrity. But, suddenly, Jennifer was too much: an irrational, tempestuous, sexual force that I didn’t want deal with just then or maybe ever. I wanted nothing more than to get back to my dorm room, or, better yet, my mom’s house, where I could read philosophical speculative fiction and watch pornography late into the night.
The relationship dragged on for another month or so after convention. Conforming to negative stereotypes about “fur” enthusiasts, she took to wearing her “Animal Squad” tail in sexual situations. Often, she would visit Richard, driving to the tract houses by the freeway south of our neighborhood in her sensible, parent-provided car. In applauding one another’s petty dramas and poorly conceived ideas, he and the other tolerant fur-suiters seemed to have provided her with her fondest wish – drastically lowered standards and infinite emotional support.
Eventually I just stopped calling her, stopped returning her increasingly infrequent calls, and, in due time, stopped returning to our suburb altogether for fear of running into her or her moronic friends loudly socializing in one of the small downtowns, enacting their caricature-like memories of popular classmates from years past. We were like a pair of trains going in opposite directions, with me moving towards adulthood, independence, growth, some, perhaps, small stab at wisdom; while she appeared to be charging full reverse, to a kind of emotional infancy. The physical and mental rewards of intimacy were simply no longer worth having to listen to her.
Before I had left her house, Jennifer had been compliant enough to give me The Bear’s phone number. “The matter I am concerned with is too awkward to discuss over the phone,” I had said after introducing myself to the rich baritone on the other end. Richard, to my surprise, complied with my demand to visit him at his residence and gave pedantic, unnecessarily detailed directions.
After failing to get any answers from Jennifer, I had become increasingly fixated on confronting my phantom malefactor, and Richard’s perverse sexual relationship with my ex-girlfriend made him, in my mind, the next likely suspect. Additionally, the mixed emotions resulting from my unproductive visit to Jennifer left me in need of a resolution and justification of the day’s events.
I heard someone shout, “We’re in here!,” after several unsuccessful knocks, on my part, at the front door of the boxy, aborted-looking ranch-style house.
The house was aborted-looking in the sense that the few architectural features that interrupted the flat, undifferentiated surface of its façade looked vestigial or extremely underdeveloped in the same way as the face of a three-month-old fetus. The only real protrusion was a set of three cement steps leading to the front door, giving the impression of a stairway into nothing. The voice, however, was coming from the garage, which was flush with the rest of the dwelling and to my right.
“Just go ‘round the other side!,” I was energetically instructed.
Inside, the garage had been converted into a sort of recreation room, furnished with several two-person seats that must have come from the passenger compartment of a car. A new television and stereo system/entertainment center hugged the rear wall, contrasting with the rest of the shabby interior. The lopsided card table blocking the main entranceway was dominated by reddish shape, like a malignant tumor... the costume Richard had worn to the convention.
Richard himself was sitting on the large piece of tan carpeting that covered a portion of the concrete floor. He was leaning against one of the car seats, his legs spread to accommodate Beth Whitehead, who sat between them. She was wearing, it looked like, some sort of yellow bed sheet or sarong with nothing underneath, the cloth tied loosely above her breasts and pooling around her thighs. She was receiving a massage.
Richard, shockingly, had on another bear costume, sans head, revealing a bearded, sanguine slightly fleshy face. This costume was a natural warm brown color, its fur fine-textured enough to resemble that of a live bear. I could not believe that I was rejected in favor of this promiscuous dweeb.
“Come in!,” he said. “It’s good to see you again. As you can see, we’re not doing very much at the moment – ha, ha.”
“Look, I don’t know what kind of duplicitous shit is going on here,” I said. “But I don’t like it that you’re involving me.”
“Mmm, what duplicitous shit? If you mean… this” – he kneaded the acne-scarred shoulders in front of his broad, furry chest – “well, Beth and I have made the decision to let Jennifer into our lives. We’re officially part of a stable, polyamorous triad now. I have to admit, Jen was pretty upset when you just, you know, stopped talking to her.”
“Yes, so you helped her cope, by trying to ‘harm’ my reputation, by illicitly publicizing personal materials that belonged to her, and me,” I said, disgusted by his ability to rationalize his wanton lusts.
Richard appeared troubled.
“Peter, you must be mistaken. That kind of vindictiveness is abhorrent to me.”
He bore an expression of deep, sympathetic anxiety about my, and by extension all of humanity’s, moral future, about the misfortune that would have ostensibly driven me to direct these appalling accusations at him, about the very world in which such accusations were possible.
I lost it completely. “That’s a very easy thing to say for a vapid sensualist like yourself. You utopians… communism, the Crusades, it’s all the same thing. You can’t make men love one another by fiat, and you certainly can’t do it by wearing a goddamn animal suit. You think I can’t see that it’s just rhetoric to justify doing whatever you want, to whomever? Why are you lying? You had the motive, you had ample fucking opportunity. Did you or didn’t you upload a video of me and Jennifer having sex onto a major pornographic site?”
He was still sitting on the ground with his legs splayed, looking up at me like a pajama-clad infant in a greeting card photograph. That is, except for the half-naked girl between his splayed legs. She listened to our exchange with her mouth open, no doubt woozy from the sensual pleasure of massage.
Richard’s diffuse, blue eyes were wide-open and distraught.
“Some of what you say is unfortunately very true. But, you must learn something about me… all my friends eventually do. It is that I take privacy very seriously. And, I never lie.”
I was shocked by the earnest tone in which he spoke these moralizing words. I was also shocked by his presumption that we were friends, especially since he had supposedly “stolen” my girlfriend. It was as though he saw no reason not to expect my uncritical acceptance, as though the fact that he had seen me at a convention three months ago, combined with my present appearance in his home, had guaranteed our permanent, mutual goodwill. How could anyone be so self-absorbed?
He added with an even more hushed voice, “Sex can be a very private part of life, and it’s very upsetting if someone interferes with that part of your life without your consent. I hope that you find out who did it.”
He paused, then quickly became hearty again.
“But hey! I think that you need a break from drama for a while, or at least you need to restrict it to the realm of fiction, heh, heh. In fact, we were just about to watch a movie. And, you should stay. How about a massage? You do seem tense, ha, ha.”
For the first time I realized that, not only could I not prove that he was lying, or that it hadn’t been someone else (for example, Beth Whitehead, who in this private setting displayed the passivity I remembered from our early times together; perhaps she had done it as an expression of some sort of ‘polyamorous’ resentment), but also that I didn’t know what I intended to if it were him or anyone else. I felt like a protagonist in a Kafka novel. Ha, ha, indeed. What is justice?
“Ha, ha, indeed,” I said.
We watched the movie.
It had been released during our childhoods and was senselessly nostalgic. In it, a bratty teenage girl very reminiscent of my ex-girlfriend, is transported into a world populated by talking puppets. She is forced to take on a supernatural quest, and during one of the movie’s many scenes of her running apprehensively through unfamiliar environments, Richard exclaimed:
“A sex video… well, that is fascinating to me. Did you know that you hadn’t initially struck me as the adventurous type at all?”
For emphasis, he twined his thick, furred legs around the bare, fleshy ones beside them.
Eventually, I emerged from the damp garage into the orange, slanting light of the ending day. The suburban streets, with their exaggerated three-dimensional regularity, had the endless depth of a computer-generated landscape. The sudden self-pity I felt was as simple and sweet as the synthesizers in the work of certain of the more obscure art-rock bands, with which I occasionally choose to accompany some of my more strange, fey moods.
The meaningless camaraderie with the much-loathed Bear and the inert, preening Beth Whitehead and had felt surprisingly, and depressingly, natural. It seemed related the pervasive, irrevocable way in which I felt despoiled by existence of the internet video.
I wondered if this was reasonable. After all, these adult sites were moderated; it’s not like nobody had foreseen their potential for abuse. I could easily get the offending file removed. I wondered, in fact, why I hadn’t done this, why I instead immediately went out in person and spent the day calling on the kinds of sad, limited people I usually try to avoid. And, on the surface of it, hadn’t I been truthful with Jen? Shouldn’t it take more than her pitiful exhibitionism to harm my reputation?
I guess what bothered me was how absurdly petty the whole thing was. I shouldn’t mind as much if I were ruined by some grand scandal relating to something I cared for deeply or some important flaw of my personality, if I had been struck down with the terrible inevitability of Greek tragedy. But to have my likeness become publicly associated with something so common and clumsy, something so unrelated, in the final analysis, to who I truly am… it just… disturbed me that such a thing could be accomplished so easily. Whoever says that we are most ourselves nude is profoundly deluded.
I approached the hilly, wooded college campus still thinking about the tenuousness of the narratives we impose upon our lives, hiding their lack of focus. Perhaps, all of us secretly long for a “fursona”? The sleek, expressive, human-like appearance of a cartoon animal invites our identification, suggesting an entity that thinks and feels as we do, yet is free from the consequences of thought and feeling… from the tide of self-consciousness and helplessness present beneath all we do. I imagined myself as a wolf with preternaturally sharpened senses, melancholy but decisive and aware…
No, I thought. That is fucking gross. Then, I thought of my determined, silently licking figure onscreen, visible to all.
In the parking log, a short, sturdy girl wearing a backpack and a Tidal Bore collegiate sweatshirt bent over the windshield, interrupting my reverie. I was so distracted that I did not immediately recognize her face, with its far-apart gray eyes and large, unusually convex forehead. I quickly opened the door, shocked at this apparition from a recently visited past.
She looked surprised as well, and upset, her mouth shaping itself into the theatrical “o” of concern one ordinarily sees only in television movies for women.
“Peter… I didn’t think I’d ever see you. I… knew you went to this school…”
“Well… heh… I didn’t know you went to this school.” I said, inanely. After a pause, I added, “Well, fuck me,” hoping that profanity would lend vigor to my remark.
“Yes, I transferred in the fall. I live in Quail Dorm way out in the woods – that’s probably why we don’t see a lot of each other,” she said, her far-apart eyes suspicious.
“That’s the drug-and-alcohol free dorm, isn’t it? Ha, ha, isn’t the whole point of college to get away from your parents’ domestic restrictions, regardless of if you’re going to use drugs or not?”
She did not reply. Instead, she quickly placed a bundle that she had been carrying in her hands into her backpack. As it was awkward to just leave, I continued, “So, anyway, what are you doing here?
“I mean, why are you staring into people’s cars? Uh, you probably conceive of me as ‘the villain’ in my dealings with Jennifer, who is your friend,” I added.
“I… am leaving flyers on these windshields,” she said crisply, yet with some strain. “You always see invasive and tacky advertising on there, so why not leave an advertisement for something positive?”
I thought, mistakenly, that I knew where this was going.
“Oh, what like the church?”
She looked conflicted.
“No, I have left the church. Christianity is… wondrous, noble and true. But I guess it just isn’t for me,” she said in a tone suggesting prior anguish. “These are flyers for a, um, fan site I made.”
“More furry bullshit,” I exclaimed almost involuntarily. If there is a god, surely he has, in the words of Depeche Mode, “a sick sense of humor.”
Her already troubled expression intensified to an unlikely, absurd degree. She looked constipated.
“Well, it’s not really just a fan site. It’s sort of a philosophy site, but it has some art, and stories.”
“Huh. You must have a lot of time on your hands,” I said, wishing only that I could put the senseless events of the day behind me.
“Um. Actually, you should see it,” she said. She quickly took her backpack off again, as though she had come to a decision. Reaching inside, she grabbed the bundle she’d deposited earlier. It was a stack of small squares of paper, one of which she thrust into my hand. “There is no reason you shouldn’t see it.”
The paper bore a photocopied drawing of a humanoid orca or dolphin, standing upright next to a canid girl with a large, fluffy and lovingly rendered tail. While the dog or fox girl appeared to be wearing little – the lumpy breasts and the mysterious intersection between the two legs and tail were modestly outlined, suggesting some sort of swim wear – the whale was covered in majestic robes, perhaps to convey a role in cetacean legislature or religion.
“Maybe because I have a life,” I mumbled without conviction. But, she was already attaching a flyer to a car several spaces away.
There was text on the other side of the paper:
Our lives have much indignity. Humans are dishonest, jealous, and disloyal, fighting amongst themselves out of fear. They are ‘like dogs,’ except that fighting is actually meaningful for dogs. What is the cause of this fear? The flesh. Our bodies. The human religions say to tame, to control our bodies. But the Animal Squad can transcend them, and these are the themes that the artworks and fan fiction on my site deal with.
- Ceti Orcan
At the bottom of the page, there was an internet address, picture of whale flukes breaching a line of symbolic, zigzagging waves, and a legend: DIGNIFIED FUR – DIGNIFIED FLESH.
Shortly after I finally returned to my dorm, I received a long e-mail message from “Ceti Orcan,” confessing all. She had obtained the video without my or Jennifer's permission via a series of elaborate deceptions, even though Jennifer was her best friend; this had been too important. The public needed a demonstration of the dire consequences of fleshly acts unmediated by the soul’s symbolic identification with its “anima(l) nature.” She apologized for what she had done; she would take it down.
She also apologized because she thought that leaving me had been good for Jennifer, although she wasn’t certain about the ultimate viability of Jennifer's present arrangement either. She actually went on at some length about her friend’s emotional needs, which she felt sure she alone understood, a part of the letter in which I quickly lost interest.
Instead, I watched the video again. For some reason, it was still number one. To my surprise, I found myself masturbating, thinking about the tail she wore to the convention in conjunction with her lanky and tall golden retriever-like body.