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The “Me” Decade and the Third Great Awakening

And he’s still telling himself, “I can take it”—but what inna namea Christ is this?

He says, “But you’ve never said anything—about anything like that.”

She says, “But I tried to. How many times have I told you about your dirty drawers when you were taking them off at night?”

Somehow this really makes him angry. . . . All those times . . . and his mind immediately fastens on Harley Thatcher and his wife, whom he has always wanted to impress. . . . From underneath my $250 suits—I smelled of shit! What infuriates him is that this is a humiliation from which there’s no recovery. How often have they sniggered about it later?—or not invited me places? Is it something people say every time my name comes up? And all at once he is intensely annoyed with his wife, not because she never told him all these years—but simply because she knows about his disgrace—and she was the one who brought him the bad news!

“. . . One couple went into group therapy, the other to a marriage counselor. Both therapies are forms of `Let’s talk about Me’ . . .”

From that moment on they’re ready to get the skewers in. It’s only a few minutes before they’ve begun trying to sting each other with confessions about their little affairs, their little slipping around, their little coitus on the sly—“Remember that time I told you my flight from Buffalo was canceled?”—and at that juncture the ranks of those who can take it become very thin, indeed. So they communicate with great candor! and break up! and keep on communicating! and then find the relationship hopelessly doomed.

One couple went into group therapy. The other went to a marriage counselor. Both types of therapy are very popular forms, currently, of Let’s talk about Me. This phase of the breakup always provides a rush of exhilaration, for what more exhilarating topic is there than . . . Me? Through group therapy, marriage counseling, and other forms of “psychological consultation” they can enjoy that same Me euphoria that the very rich have enjoyed for years in psychoanalysis. The cost of the new Me sessions is only $10 to $30 an hour, whereas psychoanalysis runs from $50 to $125. The woman’s exhilaration, however, is soon complicated by the fact that she is (in the typical case) near or beyond the cutoff age of 35 and will have to retire to the reservation.

Well, my dear Mature Moderns . . . Ingmar never promised you a rose garden!

VII. How You Do It, My Boys!

In September of 1969, in London, on the King’s Road, in a restaurant called Alexander’s, I happened to have dinner with a group of people that included a young American named Jim Haynes and an Australian woman named Germaine Greer. Neither name meant anything to me at the time, although I never forgot Germaine Greer. She was a thin, hard-looking woman with a tremendous curly electric hairdo and the most outrageous Naugahyde mouth I had ever heard on a woman. (I was shocked.) After a while she got bored and set fire to her hair with a match. Two waiters ran over and began beating the flames out with napkins. This made a noise like pigeons taking off in the park. Germaine Greer sat there with a sublime smile on her face, as if to say: “How you do it, my boys!”

Jim Haynes and Germaine Greer had just published the first issue of a newspaper that All London was talking about. It was called Suck. It was founded shortly after Screw in New York, and was one of the progenitors of the sex newspapers that today are so numerous that in Los Angeles it is not uncommon to see fifteen coin-operated newspaper racks in a row on the sidewalk. One will be for the Los Angeles Times, a second for the Herald-Examiner, and the other thirteen for the sex papers. Suck was full of pictures of gaping thighs, moist lips, stiffened giblets, glistening nodules, dirty stories, dirty poems, essays on sexual freedom, and a gossip column detailing the sexual habits of people whose names I assumed were fictitious. Then I came to an item that said, “Anyone who wants group sex in New York and likes fat girls, contact L——— R———,” except that it gave her full name. She was a friend of mine.

Even while Germaine Greer’s hair blazed away, the young American, Jim Haynes, went on with a discourse about the aims of Suck. To put it in a few words, the aim was sexual liberation and, through sexual liberation, the liberation of the spirit of man. If you were listening, to this speech and had read Suck, or even if you hadn’t, you were likely to be watching Jim Haynes’s face for the beginnings of a campy grin, a smirk, a wink, a roll of the eyeballs—something to indicate that he was just having his little joke. But it soon became clear that he was one of those people who exist on a plane quite . . . Beyond Irony. Whatever it had been for him once, sex had now become a religion, and he had developed a theology in which the orgasm had become a form of spiritual ecstasy.