Jeremy Acidophilus is not really named after the yogurt culture—he just likes to tell people that he is. Actually, he thought of that line years ago but has never been brave enough to use it on someone—until he meets Lady Henrietta over a dish of green Jell-O in his new favorite coffee shop. A painter of naked men for Playgirl magazine who has taken her name from The Picture of Dorian Gray, Henrietta has the power to make Jeremy do all kinds of things he would not normally do, including disrobe for a stranger. He thinks that he must be falling in love. Think again, says Sara, the artist’s outrageously precocious eleven-year-old daughter as she sets out to seduce the new model.
From the gray streets of Manhattan to the pastel kaleidoscope of Disney World, Jeremy’s journey of self-discovery is both irresistibly absurd and uncannily real. Everyone—from his cat Minou to a dancing magician named Laura to the agents hired by his mother to taunt him—has advice for Jeremy. Before he can hear any of it, though, he first needs to find out how to listen to himself.
A witty and wild exploration of sexuality, creativity, and the paradoxes of self, Nude Men is the rare novel with the power to charm and shock in equal measure.
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By Amanda Filipacchi
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Amanda Filipacchi
All rights reserved.
I am a man without many pleasures in life, a man whose few pleasures are small, but a man whose small pleasures are very important to him. One of them is eating. One reading. Another reading while eating.
I work at Screen, a magazine on movies and celebrities, here in Manhattan. For lunch I go to a little coffee shop that is farther away than the other standard lunch places. It is also more expensive, less good, and less exciting, but it has one tremendous advantage. No one I know goes there.
Recently I discovered another coffee shop. It is even farther away, but the lighting is better for my reading. And no one I know goes there even less. Or more. Or whatever. You know what I mean.
This morning was exhausting at work. I sense that I will get one of my headaches this afternoon. I am hungry for food and literature. As I leave the office building for lunch, I try to decide if I have the strength to walk the extra distance to my new, well-lit coffee shop or if I will settle for the closer one with inferior lighting. I opt for light. After such a morning, I deserve to have a perfect, intensely pleasurable meal. On top of it, I want to see very clearly what will happen to Lily Bart in The House of Mirth.
The restaurant is called Grandma Julie's, and it's as cozy as its name. I'm sure everyone feels a little embarrassed walking into a place called Grandma anything, but once you're inside ... the warmth, the neatness, the sheer professionalism, make you forget your shame.
Today the place is full. I ask the waitress how long it will take to get a table. She says two minutes. I wait, thinking my lunch might not be ruined if I truly get a table in two minutes. A woman enters the coffee shop and waits in line behind me. She's in her late thirties and looks perfectly nice, normal. Two minutes later, the waitress tells me there's a table.
The woman behind me touches me and asks, "Are you alone?"
"Yes," I say.
"Would you mind if we shared the table?"
I visualize my lunch spent sitting in front of a stranger. It would be hell. Her eyes would be resting on me while I read. She might even want to talk: "What are you reading? Do you work around here? It's unusually cold today, but they say it'll get warmer by evening. There's so much noise in this place. I asked for tuna salad, not egg salad. I can't eat this, I have high cholesterol."
My first impulse is to mumble, "It doesn't matter," and rush out the door to my old coffee shop.
What I do answer, very distinctly, but with a slight grimace to soften the blow, is "I'd rather not."
The woman and the waitress stare at me with more surprise than I expected. I try to think of a justification for my response and come up with "I ... have to eat alone. But you go ahead if you want." I gesture toward the empty table.
"No, no, you go ahead," she says, touching my arm with more familiarity than I like.
I sit down, making sure my back is turned to the woman I have just rejected so that she won't be able to observe me. She has ruined my lunch. Even though I'm alone, I won't be able to concentrate on my novel because I feel like a villain. I have never done anything like this before in my life. I eat my grilled cheese sandwich, unable to read, furious, not making eye contact with anyone. How dare the woman do that! I order Jell-O to cheer me up.
I glance furtively at the customers around the room. I'm curious to know where the woman ended up. I look at the people seated at the counter. They all have their backs to me except for one, at the end. She is turned in my direction, her legs are crossed, her elbow is resting on the counter, and she is looking at me fixedly, with a slight smile. At first I think she is my rejected woman, but when I look again I see that she clearly is not. This woman is beautiful, sexy, late twenties. She has a very thick upper lip, which gives her a pouting, capricious look, an air I simply adore in women. Like the actress Isabelle Adjani, my fantasy woman.
She seems like the feminine type, the romantic type, the Sleeping Beauty type, blond hair, the type my girlfriend would perversely say looks jaded because she happens to have a charming face and laugh lines on either side of her mouth.
I am not absolutely certain that she is looking at me. I don't have terrifically good eyesight, so although I was able to notice her plump upper lip, I might be mistaken as to where her pupils are directed. She could be staring out the window next to which I am sitting. Or she could be looking at the businessman at the table in front of me, or at the secretary behind me.
I decide to take a risk anyway. I don't know why. It's not like me. Perhaps because after having bluntly rejected a woman for the first time in my life, I need to bluntly accept one too. I gather every ounce of courage in my body and smile at her, sort of unconsciously sticking out my upper lip so we have something in common.
She pays her bill and walks over to me. Her stomach softly hits the edge of my table as she slides into the opposite seat, making my three cubes of green Jell-O jiggle.
I am racking my brain for something to say, when she says, "I like your mouth."
"The feeling is mutual," I answer with a James Bond tone. I am amazed at the good fortune that made her mention my mouth, giving me the opportunity to come up with this ultimately seductive answer, which surpasses any I have ever heard in movies.
To my great chagrin, she seems annoyed by my response. "I didn't mean it that way," she says. "I study people's features, and your mouth is simply aesthetically satisfactory."
"The feeling is mutual," I want to repeat, but don't dare. "Thank you," I say instead.
With my spoon I scoop up a big green cube of Jell-O, but it jiggles so much from the shaking of my hand that, halfway to my mouth, it plops back down into the dish.
"You should have cut it in two," says the woman. "It's too big."
I try to figure out if there's an erotic insinuation in that comment, but I'm not sure.
"Yes, I should have," I say, and put down my spoon.
For the first time since she sat down, she smiles. She points to the book lying next to my elbow and asks, "What are you reading?"
"The House of Mirth."
"Is it good?"
"Yes, it's great. Have you read it?"
She shakes her head and asks, "Do you work around here?"
"Yes, not too far away. Do you?"
"Sort of. What work do you do?" she asks.
"I'm afraid it's not very interesting. I work at Screen magazine. I'm a fact checker."
"I know Screen. I've bought it a few times. It's a lot of fun."
"Thank you. I guess that's what I should say. What work do you do?"
"I'm a painter."
"Ah! How nice. Is your work exhibited anywhere right now?"
"Yes." She pauses. "I work at home."
"That must be the best place for a painter to work," I say, feeling a little confused by her sudden switch of subject. "What type of painting do you do?"
"People. I paint people."
"I love people. I mean, paintings of people. Are they abstract?"
"No. Well, everything is abstract in a way, isn't it? But no, my people are not strictly abstract."
"So, you paint people. That's why you said you study people's features. It's because you paint them."
"Yes, that's why," she says.
"What types of people do you paint?"
"I don't really paint 'types,' unless you call men a type. I paint men."
"What types of men?"
"I don't really paint 'types' of men, unless being naked is a type. Is a naked man a type of man? Some types of men are almost never naked. Then there are the others, who are also a type, the type who are not almost never naked. Which type are you?"
I stare at the transparent greenness swaying almost imperceptibly between us. I wonder if there's an erotic insinuation in her question.
"Such a thing is hard to know," I answer. "I never figured it out myself. Is your work exhibited anywhere, or did I ask you that already?"
"My work is exhibited in Playgirl magazine. Toward the back of the magazine. I get two pieces shown. Sometimes only one, spread over two pages. My work has been appearing for six years."
I plunge my spoon into a cubical section of my green gelatin dessert and lift it to my mouth. "So, you paint nude men," I say, squishing the sweet greenness between my tongue and palate.
"Yes. And I like your mouth, so I was wondering if ... you'd like to pose for me."
I grin at her, hoping there's no gelatin stuck between my teeth. "I'm flattered, but one's mouth is not a very good representation of one's naked body."
"A mouth is a very good representation. There are clues and signs in a mouth. Will you do it?"
She gives me that pouting, capricious look, making her upper lip flare out more than ever. Her resemblance to Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H. is striking. I melt. There is nothing I would not do for the owner of that upper lip at this point. I'm usually very shy, but this woman seems like such a good catch for me, and I'm so attracted to her, that I think I will agree to pose for her. At least I can get into her apartment, and then, at the last minute, if I become chicken, I can always change my mind about posing.
"You want me to pose nude for you?" I ask.
"Yes I do. I spotted you from all the way over there, remember?" She points to the counter. "I'll pay you thirty dollars an hour, if it's okay with you. That's the standard price. But if you want more, we can discuss it."
I cringe at her words. I don't want to have a professional relationship with her, just a romantic one. I should have accepted right away, before she brought up money.
"I would love to pose for you," I say.
"I know. I'm glad," she answers. Her voice is soft, and her face delicate and serene. Her hands reach inside her bag.
"When are you available?" she asks, handing me her card.
"Anytime. When are you?"
"How about Saturday at six p.m.?"
"Perfect," I say, delighted at the late hour she chose.
"Could I have your card?"
I jump up in my seat, tap my pockets, and say, "I don't have one with me right now, but here, this'll do just as well, if you don't mind." I write my name, address, and phone number on the paper napkin under my Jell-O dish. I hand her the napkin, which she takes between her thumb and forefinger, pinkie lifted. I think I detect slight snobbery, but I'm not sure.
She reads it aloud: "Mister Jeremy Acidophilus." She added the "mister." She keeps staring at my name on the napkin, looking puzzled, and I know what's coming next. She says, "Acidophilus, as in the yogurt culture?"
Here we go. One of the big dramas of my life. "Yes, the yogurt culture," I reply.
"Is there a story behind that?"
Although the truthful answer would be "None that I know of," I decide instead, perhaps because I'm slightly masochistic, to say: "When my father was a young man, he saw the word on a yogurt container and thought it sounded very intelligent and interesting. He made it his name." This is a lie I made up a few years ago but never had the guts to use on anyone. The most daring thing I ever do, sometimes, when people ask me my name, is to adopt a James Bond tone and reply "Acidophilus. Jeremy Acidophilus." The truth about my name is that there is no anecdote about it, not even a rumor. Some people are named Bazooka, others are named Fender; why should some not be named Acidophilus?
She folds the napkin in four, looking at me with a tiny smile. Mocking? Perhaps. Playful? More likely. She slips the napkin in her purse and gets up, hitting the edge of the table with her stomach again, a little harder this time. The two and a half cubes of gelatin dessert dance in unison.
"Well, Mister Active Yogurt Culture, Mister Friendly Bacteria, it's been a pleasure meeting you," she says, shaking my hand with small, hard fingers that are nevertheless not rough.
She walks toward the door. I don't turn around to watch her go out. I'm not the type to stare at a woman's backside; not that I don't want to, but I'm afraid someone might see me do it. At the last minute, however, I do look back and I see it, just before it disappears behind the door. It's nice, small but not too, with a clearly defined pit, or slit, or whatever you call it, that I can see through the fabric of her skirt. I heard recently that some women undergo cosmetic surgery to have the cheeks of their backside spread farther apart. Supposedly it makes a nicer outline, nicer definition. I can imagine how that might be, though it seems a little too finicky. Anyway, I'm glad to report that my new woman will never need that surgery.
I stare at my two and a half cubes of green with satisfaction. I do not eat them.
That was a very pleasant encounter indeed. I look around the room very bluntly. No meek sweeps of the head, no furtiveness. Large, broad sweeps of the head. Where is my rejected woman? I feel eternally grateful to her. If it hadn't been for her, I would never have felt the need, nor had the courage, to return my new woman's smile. I would have accused my eyesight of fooling me. I would have buried my nose in my book, even held up my book as a shield against the charm of the plump upper lip.
I pay my bill, get up, and look at all the faces as I walk toward the door. I would like to find her, smile and nod my head as I pass her. She is not there. I leave Grandma Julie's. I think I will walk the extra distance in the future. Who knows, I might even share my table with a stranger.CHAPTER 2
I go back to the office, holding my briefcase in one hand and my Jell-O spoon in the other. I would have taken a cube of Jell-O as a souvenir if it had been practical, but it obviously was not, so I decided to steal the spoon. Walking down the street holding that stainless-steel spoon firmly in my hand makes me feel like Dumbo the elephant, clutching his feather and flying.
My magic Jell-O feather carries me straight to a newsstand. I spot Playgirl magazine, whip it open to the second-to-last page, and find myself confronted with a pretty painting of a pretty naked man, the type of man I imagine could make me gay if I could be made gay. It is signed by Lady Henrietta. At least she told me the truth about painting nude men. As for what she truly wants to do with me, that is a separate question entirely. It seems that one way or the other, I can only be flattered. If she wants to paint me, I am flattered that she finds me attractive enough. If she just wants to sleep with me, I am even more flattered. I buy the magazine.
As I walk back to the office, I am conscious of my naked body under my clothes. I feel the fabric rubbing against my skin, everywhere. I am aware of general nakedness in the world, of people's bodies rubbing against their clothes. I feel sexy. But then I get frightened by a memory: the memory of what my body looked like, just this morning, in the mirror. Maybe it wasn't so bad. Perhaps the mirror fooled me with an unflattering optical illusion. I want to rip off my clothes, stand in front of a shop window, and examine my reflection to see if I made a mistake by agreeing to pose for the painter of nude men. I do not rip off my clothes. All I do, as I walk, is peek out of the corner of my eye to catch my image in a window. All I catch, reflected in a shoe store, is the shine of my spoon traveling stiffly by my side.
But seriously now, why the hell did this woman come and talk to me? Maybe she's eccentric, a little extravagant. Maybe she picks up strangers off the streets all the time to do God knows what. A madwoman. Maybe she's just bold and unashamed to walk up to prospective models and frankly state her interest. No matter what, the fact is that I am now obsessed with my body, its adequacy or lack of it.
By now you are probably dying to know what I look like. And the moment you find out, you'll start comparing your physical appearance to mine, to judge if you, also, have a chance of one day being accosted by a creature equal in loveliness to the one who approached me at lunch.
Let me spare you the trouble, for now, of having to make these degrading comparisons, and simply tell you that yes, you do have a chance, and no, I am not willing to describe my beauty or lack of it right now, other than to tell you that I'm not fat.
Excerpted from Nude Men by Amanda Filipacchi. Copyright © 1993 Amanda Filipacchi. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amanda Filipachi is a great writer. Once you've started with this book, you can't stop reading anymore.