Languishing, half-deep in summer...
by Donald Barthelme

   Languishing, half-deep in summer, soul-sick and under-friended, I decided to find love. So I zipped over to the new-suit store and bought me a Giorgio Armani rig, unbacked, and a little skinny nothing tie to go with it, and some face bronzer by Daunt. Thinking: O mistress mine, where are you hiding? Are you at the Whitney Museum, cheek to cheek with the George Segal retrospective? Are you at Crazy Eddie's, bent over the Grover Washington, Jr. bin? Are you at Paragon Sporting Goods, in the killer-knife area? Have you got your thumb stuck in a dark green avocado at Balducci's fruit and produce? Are you riding a Japanese ten-speed the wrong way down Sixth Avenue, with friends? With a whistle in your mouth? Whistling, whistling, wildly whistling?
     So I answered an ad in the back pages of a literary review - Box 222, to be precise - and got me a pretty, lively, succesful, vibrant prof. female, fluent French, German, witty affectionate caring, backgammon, racquetball. She was vibrating visibly when we met, at One Fifth in the bar, but I cooled her out with about half a gallon of kir; she was indeed pretty, lively, witty, and her name was Mindy Sue.
     She asked if it had been raining in my part of the city, and I said no, the suit was supposed to look that way, it was an unbacked Giorgio Armani. We looked at my credit cards for a while and then she showed me hers, shyly - her American Express, her Avis, her Bergdorf's. We discussed backgammon, racquetball, three hundred films, and the urban crisis. Then I said, "Mindy Sue, you are a pretty, lively, successful female, fluent in French and German. You are a professional woman but also sportif. You care buckets, I can see that. How did you get yourself in this terrible predicament? How did you become a four-line seventy-five-cents-a-word advertisement in the back pages of The New York Review of Books?"
     "Pete," she said, "there are thousands of us. The true urban crisis, from my angle of vision, is marriage. All the good men are married, and most of the bad. There is nothing much left except lames, kiddies, and poor people. What can I do? You think I like describing myself as 'cultivated, sensuous'?"
     I said that hadn't been in the ad.
     "Whoops," she said. "Must have been the Saturday Review. Or maybe the Chronicle of Higher Education. Sometimes I have trouble keeping track."
     I said she seemed to have a lot of lines out.
     "Well some of these dealies pull and some don't," she answered, splashing a little kir behind her ears. "One is looking for a certain type of person, right? One stuffs one's message into the bottle and hopes for the best. You should see what springs from semiotexte. Or praxis 4. Let me tell you, if a journal runs its logo in lower case, what you get is lower depths. With mauve teeth, usually."
     Ghastly, I said.
     Mindy Sue looked a bit fierce - matter of lowering the lovely eyebrows. "I have also," she said, "responded to some of these items. Myself. 'Dynamic, attractive professor seeks supplemental relationship with superior fox, to 40.' It was piggy of me. Like that cutoff point? Like it? Like that 'supplemental'? Well, I was punished. He took me to a joint so tacky that when I ordered Cherries Jubilee the captain said 'We don't flame for one.' Can you hear that? 'We don't flame for one'?"
     I said something to the effect that the course of periodical love was seldom smooth, and that some comfort could be derived from the excellent editorial matter - the parsley, as it were, in these particular meat marts.
     "Well, I bring it on my own damn self," said Mindy Sue. "I could sit home and talk to myself in my fluent French and German, I suppose. I could be witty, affectionate, caring with the cat. I could go to the George Segal retrospective at the Whitney and think about the human condition, or plaster. I have a ten-speed Japanese bicycle and a whistle. Nobody's forcing me to insert myself in the back pages of the damn New York Review of Books-"
     She seemed distraught; I beamed support at her through my newly bronzed fa├žade.
     "But I will not give up!" she said, pounding on the table with her small fist and making the dead Salems dance in their ashtray. "I will persevere. I will check out handsome, cerebral, overachieving prof. male, young 42, likes music, ballet, stamps & coins. I will investigate earthy, outgoing, tall semiretired humanist idealist, 28, sincerer, intelligent. I will invest an evening in warm, bright, NY mensch, assertive but not hostile booklover, walks, talks, concerts. I have to try."
     I bought her a wurst and an anisette, and told her she was brave.

"Languishing, half-deep in summer... "
is from The Teachings of Don B. Satires, Parodies, Fables, Illustrated Storis, and Plays. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Copyright (c) 1996-2009 The Estate of Donald Barthelme, reprinted with permission

Thanks to Kevin for the transcription!