The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
🎧 761: “Sex,” she said . . .
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🎧 761: “Sex,” she said . . .

What a Piece of Work I Am, Chapter 54 begins, read by the author
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54

“SEX,” she said. She paused for a beat that she used to shoot me a glance full of comment on the power of that word to get the attention of an audience. “Onstage sex was a kind of guilty pleasure for me.”
     A guilty pleasure: she had used that phrase before, for the pleasure she had taken from helping my grandfather deceive my grandmother. She must have known that I would remember it. She sat for a moment with her head slightly bowed, as if, perhaps, she were repenting, then slowly she raised her head to bestow on the crowd an impish grin. Laughter. Applause.
    “No, really,” she said. “I did feel guilty about it. It made me think. The pleasure that I got from onstage sex made me take a long look at myself.”
     She turned to an imaginary mirror and looked herself up and down. She nodded in appreciation of what she seemed to see, drew a deep breath, smiled at herself, and rotated her shoulders as if in anticipation of, or recollection of, sexual pleasure. More laughter. More applause.
     “That guilty pleasure made me consider my initial motive in putting myself on display and my ultimate motive in keeping myself on display,” she said, serious now, quieting the crowd. “Or I could say, ‘allowing myself to be put on display’ and ‘allowing myself to remain on display.’ Looking back, at that time—”
     “—and this was somewhere toward the end of year two—”
     “Yes. When I told Greg that I was pregnant, he decided to break up the act. He went through a few evenings of anguished hand-wringing and—judging from the outward signs—soul-searching. Then he packed a bag and took off and just sort of slipped into that whole underground film world that was centered in Grand Detour, Illinois, at that time, leaving me and the little inconvenience behind. What to do, what to do. I wanted an abortion, but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get one—not with everybody watching me all the time. But I pulled it off.”
     She turned suddenly toward the audience.
     “Surprised?” she asked. “I gave you the slip. I did. For a couple of days. Five years ago. Anyone remember? Anyone here? Anyone in the audience? You can speak right up. The illusion has been shattered, you know. We’re not pretending that you’re not out there watching me now. Not pretending anymore. No one out there remembers when I vanished? Well, I did. It was a big deal at the time. Not that big a deal, I guess. Not for you. I wasn’t all that well-known then. Still, when I vanished people thought the show was over—but it wasn’t. I got the abortion, and I came back, and when I was back I had a better understanding of why I had gone on display in the first place, because now that I had experienced a couple of years of it and a few days away from it, hiding out at Tina’s, I had learned what I could get from it, and I began to understand what it was that I might have been seeking from an audience, now that I was beginning to get what I had probably been after even before I knew what I was after.”
     She turned to me and asked, “Does that make sense?”
     “I think so,” I said. “Exposing yourself during sex was merely one part of it, but the experience of sex on display illuminated all the rest of it, because you recognized that you got a—particular—kind of pleasure—”
     “Peculiar.”
     “That’s what I was going to say.”
     “Say it.”
     “You got a peculiar kind of pleasure from doing it—I mean from being on view while you were doing it.” I wondered what I was getting into. I didn’t have a clue where this was leading. There was some nervous, tentative laughter. I began playing the part of a naif, star-struck and hopelessly infatuated. “I suppose it wouldn’t really matter much—for the pleasure that came from being on display—whether you had a partner or were—well—doing it by yourself—”
     I was getting laughs.
     “Of course,” I went on, in the manner of one who is simultaneously embarrassed, pompous, and absolutely dedicated to discovering the truth, “since you’re never really by yourself, you were never alone in your sex—um—acts. Even when you didn’t have anyone else in bed with you, in a sense you always had partners. The people in the audience were your partners—”
     I indicated them with a sweep of my hand, acknowledging and flattering them; I had seen that it worked.
     “—since,” I continued, “as you said, their being there contributed to the pleasure you felt. So, in a way, it would be correct to say that you weren’t exposing yourself to an audience—because the audience had ceased to be an audience. Instead, they had become your—well, ‘lovers’ would be too strong—but ‘sex partners’ might not be. On the other hand, though—”
     I was getting laughs. I began to think of myself as a humorist.
     “You know,” I said, as if abandoning my train of thought and directing myself in confidence to Ariane, although I had discovered that, under the circumstances, it was impossible ever to direct myself exclusively to Ariane; a part of me was always playing to the house. “It’s amazing the way the audience influences me. I find—as your lovers must have found—and I apologize for this, because it distracts me from you—as it must sometimes have distracted them, even at the height of their passion, I suppose—that I’m performing—”
     This got another laugh.
     “I know,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. Anyway, the point of my remarks about sex is this: the guilty pleasure I took in sex on display brought on a certain amount of introspection—”
     “Rambling in the labyrinth of the mind: my favorite pastime.”
     “And the logical and unavoidable outcome of the thinking I did as a result was the recognition that I was still hiding things, still keeping certain things, parts of me, aspects of me, from my audience, and the first thing that occurred to me, the crudest and most obvious thing, was to tear down all the walls.”

[to be continued]

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The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The entire Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, read by the author. "A masterpiece of American humor." Los Angeles Times