1982 was a year in which I deeply regretted being curious: three times. Twice involved a movie, the other a book. Each left my 22-year old self disquieted. Each had me wondering – why the hell did I let that into my life?
I saw Cat People with my great friend Dave T. SA was just coming out of the cultural Jurassic and arty movies were showing up at small screens in hipster parts of town. We schlepped off to Rocky Street, ate moules mariniere, crusty French loaf and a green salad. Split a bottle of wine and headed into the dark dankness. I was horrified. The movie was sick and manipulative. The sex dark and ugly. There was cannibalism and an animal eating a woman. I sat through it, but as the titles rolled and Bowie sang: I bolted. Dave drove me home in silence – he told me years later he felt like something had been spoiled for me.
Later that year, my pal Fred took me to see Querelle. The movie featured Brad Davis who had enjoyed huge success in Midnight Express – I thought he was the bomb. I knew the book was by Jean Genet – who I didn’t love as a writer. And the director was Werner Fassbinder – who I didn’t understand and who had just died of a drug overdose. Not a good start. But here was this homoerotic movie with a gorgeous actor and.. well, I was curious.
I didn’t even make the credits. Just after Querelle sliced off a trick’s nipple, licked it and tossed it into the sea – I told Fred I’d catch him later and ran off to play game after game of “Space Invaders” in a cafe. Shooting at pixelated aliens to obliterate what I had seen.
The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris completed the trilogy. That book gave a whole new meaning to ‘the Tooth Fairy’. The killer was so plausible and Harris’ research so meticulous – I had to find out more. What I discovered frightened the shit out of me. In interviews Harris he told how he had drawn on real-life for his villains. That there were “yachts on which a man would be encouraged to wear the skin of another.” As implausible as it sounded – somehow I knew it was true.
My interest in serial killers lasted another couple of years: it took a book about Jeffrey Dahmer to put a stop that. The practicalities and stench described by the author fascinated my mind and horrified my soul. Bodies in buckets and brains in the freezer. A desperate naked man running down a road, brought back to his smiling torturer by a policeman: because he didn’t understand what the man was saying in “his Asian accent”.
No. Thanks. Pass. To much information. I put the book down and never picked it, or anything like it, up again.
I don’t poke around in other people’s diaries, or emails. No good EVER came of that. I have watched as friends destroy relationships – unable to let go of what they have seen. A few years ago, a friend discovered her boyfriend’s texts to a fellow worker – ascribed tone and meaning to the words and blew up. She caused such harm and damage that their relationship stood no chance of ever recovering. In effect: she gave his voice to her insecurity. I wonder how things would have turned out had she resisted the lure of his phone?
My eyes aren’t great anymore. I can’t read type without glasses or make-up my face without magnification. I don’t see everything in as sharp focus as I used to. Or in as much detail. But I see life more clearly than I ever did. I am still curious – but it is a gentle, stumbled-on “as-life-brings-it” kind of curiosity rather than the “tell-me-I-must-know-I-need-to-know” version of my youth.
That’s not to say I want to unlearn what I know. What I know has brought me where I am. But I plan on living a life a little less examined from now on.
(All images in the public domain.)