Car abuse is a growing concern in California. “It may begin with not changing the oil or filling the gas tank,” notes L.A. psychiatrist Joe Blair, “but it can escalate to actually hitting the car-and even leaving dents!” State Assemblyman Peter Fells has a plan for “battered-car shelters.” Convicted car abusers will forfeit their vehicles to a center where mechanics will undo the damage. Meanwhile, batterers must attend stress-management classes.
“What cars are most likely to be abused?” I asked Joe Blair.
“Hondas are often victims. Also, late-model Fords. For some reason, abuse is extremely rare among S.U.V.’s.”
Mauro of Manhattan
“Hey, Marsha, read this: The Italian Supreme Court has given 14 months to a guy who bottom-pinched a young woman while she was calling from a phone booth in the Friuli region!”
My Upper East Side girlfriend raises her left eyebrow without smiling: “No wonder …. You come from there, don’t you?”
“Well, it’s a civilized region, no Mafia, hard workers. But this is an incredibly harsh sentence, it’s the first time that some jerks equate ass-touching to violence. It’s a total novelty for us! I guess the impact of this decision will be felt by buttocks all over our sunny peninsula …. ”
“Don’t be sarcastic, I bet the pig totally deserved it.”
“Well, it’s a real revolution for Italy. The first one since Benito Mussolini invented fascism after First World War.”
I swear: I never pinch unknowns, nor I get pinched. I dread physical contact of any kind between strangers, unless they are adults, willing, introduced. And protected. That’s how germs travel. But these judges drive me crazy.
“So, Marsha, tell me: How many years of prison should we give rapists, if we are punishing aggressive caressing with more than one year? How much worse is rape than pinching? One hundred times?”
“Yes …. ”
“So are Italian judges giving life sentences to rapists? No way. They keep giving 10 or 20 years. There’s no proportion!”
Bottom-pinching has suddenly turned into the least cost-effective way to get pleasure for a man (or a woman) in Italy. Imagine: one year and two months behind bars for just one second of a mere tactile passing satisfaction, involving only the fingertips of one hand.
Of course, we all know there are many different ways of going into it. I ignore the details of the historical and hysterical Friuli ruling, but I hope at least that the judges’ draconian severity was justified by the length of the contact. Or maybe by the use of both hands simultaneously: That would have made a spectacular grip.
I am sure our bon vivant premier Silvio Berlusconi would have been much more lenient with the unlucky pervert. First of all because, like half Italians, should he be forced into groping, he’d certainly prefer other body parts. He would go straight for the breast, the California governor’s way, more than for the back. His three television channels have been advocating big tits in the past quarter century, totally subverting the previous 20 years of anorexic fad, and recuperating the healthy tradition established by Sophia Loren and la Lollobrigida in the roaring 50’s.
Notwithstanding his TV brainwashing, our country remains evenly divided between bosom and bottom lovers. Our current main movie star, Monica Bellucci, climbed to fame thanks to a memorable mute scene of her promenading her legendary behind in Giuseppe Tornatore’s movie Malena. No words were needed for her presence on the screen.
Another recent movie which tackled the problem of sexual harassment in contemporary Italy is Under the Tuscan Sun. Diane Lane, starring in it, gets overwhelmed by Italian men as soon as she arrives in Rome. Now, I have to warn American tourists that reality in our streets is much duller. As a matter of fact, although Mrs. Lane would have deserved some punishment for cheating on husband Richard Gere in her previous movie Unfaithful, she gets less action in Trastevere than in Soho.
So, it’s all clichés? I’d say so. The only escape for today’s groper is doing it in an environment so crowded to reduce risks to the minimum. Subways and buses at peak time, for example, deploying what we call mano morta (“wandering hand”), which can always be excused as an involuntary contact. Although being restrained by education or fear doesn’t mean that my countrymen have canceled their centuries-old fetish for the lower back.
Fame, in any case, travels: “But I thought you were Italian … ,” whispered to me once a disappointed American woman (not Marsha, I swear) after we kissed standing, without my gentleman’s hands touching her where she was hoping. “You were supposed to sweep me away!” Go tell those Italian judges, lady. They are becoming so P.C. they might be American.
Italian philosopher Massimo Fini, in his Erotic Di(ction)ary, has listed more than a dozen different types of bottoms. According to him, “we can detect someone’s personality just by looking at his/her gluteus.”
But he goes more deeply than that. He turns anthropological: “Men, as we all know, are divided in two categories: the ones who love the breast (bosomen) and the ones who prefer the ass (bottomen). The first ones generally belong to coarse cultures, not so shrewd, childishly pragmatic, primitive, matriarchal, strongly tied to the woman-mother image and in any case too young for having had the time to develop adequate speculative skills. Bosomen are, for example, the Americans. Europe, the cradle of civilization, is on the contrary bottoman. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was surnamed ‘Callipygian’ from the Greek kallopygos (kallos, beautiful + pyge, buttock), and was born together with philosophy and mathematics. For a reason: because the ass is in the first place a metaphysical category. It possesses the geometrical perfection of abstract figures. Its form is similar to the sphere, which is the perfect geometrical concept. But it surpasses it, because it has something that the sphere lacks: symmetry. Like the sphere, it’s an object at the same time finite and infinite. And, because it is curved, the ass is very near to the essence of the truth (‘Every truth is curved,’ said Friedrich Nietzsche).”
This precious Massimo Fini’s book was written in 2000: well before the manifesto of the Bush-era intelligentsia ( Of Paradise and Power), the neocon Bible in which Robert Kagan confirms that Europeans are from Venus and Americans from some other unfortunate cold, reddish and ass-less planet.
Mr. Fini goes on explaining: “Encapsulated in the ass, there lies the enigma of the relationship finite/infinite, space/time, which after all is the enigma of the whole universe. It’s no coincidence that Salvador Dali, when asked how he imagined the universe, replied: ‘As a four buttocks continuum.’ How this worrying apothegm, so charged with symbolic meanings, was dropped to the end of men’s back and, even worse, women’s, is a mystery. But here comes again the great ambiguity of the ass: being not human for the perfection of its proportions, it is at the same time very human. Because perfection is inherently blank, inexpressive, while the bottom is the body’s most eloquent part. The ass signals not only somebody’s character, but also his/her belonging to a particular class of people.”
So, with the help of my friend Massimo Fini, I have been trying to come up with a Manhattan ass map. We have, first of all, the typical Upper East Side ass, which I know all too well (it’s Marsha’s): cautious and stingy, with narrow apples, like usually in Italy the Tuscans have. The East Village behind on the contrary is trustworthy and hopeful: round, fat and with slightly open buttocks. The midtown is an aggressive one: firm and massive like a mountain range. Around Murray Hill, Beekman Place and Tudor City you find the volitive ass, small and muscular: And it doesn’t belong only to U.N. functionaries, diplomats and their spouses.
The Upper West Side is of course the conversational ass: elastic and malleable. Carnegie Hill can boast the noble one: high, long and with a small relief. Working-class asses (low and large) are unfortunately rare in Manhattan, but a few survive in the Lower East Side. The City Hall behind is unavoidably bureaucratic: fat and shapeless. Around Washington Heights the proletarian ass is large and high, while in Park Avenue you sometimes get the military one: narrow and muscular. Wall Street offers petty and fearful asses, which are skinny without being bony; from Hell’s Kitchen up to Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center you get the indifferent ass, small and curled up; the Village’s ass is usually laughing (large and flat); but the West Village one comes rather naughty: round, with a step and quivering. And in the end we have the submissive ass, which I couldn’t find any particular geographical liaison to. It’s the one which shows two tender folds between the buttocks and the thighs, and is round without being excessive. This is the real ass. The ass of asses. Because it possesses at the maximum level the two main features which are typical of each and every ass: defenselessness and ridicule (“The cheerful impotence of the bum,” described it Jean-Paul Sartre, another philosopher in the field).
Yes, the ass is helpless, because it can’t see: It can only be seen. It is harmless because it doesn’t have corners. It is defenseless because it doesn’t have brawn: Anybody can outrage it. It is naked and exposed because it’s hairless. And above all it is funny, like all things big but clumsily coward, maintains Massimo Fini, the maximum ass expert on our planet (neocons are from Mars).
Due to this marriage of powerlessness and foolishness, our behinds are the body part most relished by sadists. Nothing gets beaten up as much as the ass. Or at least pinched. But we have to say that it almost always does things to deserve it. It provokes: “Sometimes it shows up with an air of false innocence, some other time with impertinence, often times with arrogance, and a few times it even isolates itself, it doesn’t let on, pretending to ignore being an ass,” complains Massimo (whom at this point we can nickname ‘”My-ass-imo”).
All these attitudes draw an adequate punishment. Which the ass, after a first token resistance, seems to accept eagerly, as it bends, protrudes, opens, offers itself. Let’s confess: The ass is deeply, intimately masochist.
But the real reason behind the Italian behind-pinching penchant is that in the ass we find the ultimate element attracting the sadist: perfection. It is perfection which triggers the desire for profanation. Only things perfect merit to get damaged, violated, reviled (“A**hole!”) in order to downgrade them into imperfect ones. This is, also, the utmost demonstration of the enormous superiority of the ass on the breast. Breasts get caressed, fondled, pampered; at the worst you kindly nibble a nipple. Only a pervert would pinch them less than gently. But this is just to console them for their insignificance, for their being only breasts. While in the perfection of the ass lies a devilish pride which has to be brought down. The ass has become so omnipotent that in the U.S. it is nowadays widely and wildly used as a comprehensive synonym for pleasure: It stands for words such as sex, action, excitement, girls, boys, fun, quick love, cheap romance. “Let’s grab some ass tonight” is the most common single sentence used in contemporary American campuses. I learned this while reading I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe, the one and only novel I understand President George Bush junior has been enjoying recently.
So we can jail all ass-grabbers of the world as much as we want, and give them disproportionate penalties, but we’ll never be able to kill the will to touch down there. The maximum we can achieve is to inhibit it: for our behinds are too precious and glamorous not to be pinched, after all.