I know the international vagina symbol because my wife once showed me a photograph of a feminist rally in Seneca, N.Y., her and a line of sisters sitting on a bench proudly making the sign. Hands over head, fingers steepled, thumbs stretched downward, balls of thumbs touching. Are you doing it, reader? Extennnndddd! Thumbs and forefingers should frame a soft arrow, a divine vulvic unfurzed hollow. There, you got it. I think the United Nations even recognizes this symbol, the peacekeepers or UNESCO.
So then, what to make of this? Jack Litman, the defense attorney in the cybersex trial, having just lit a match and blown it out for good satanic effect, made some weird clenchy symbol with his right hand and waved it in the air at the jury. Ball of thumb clenched against forefinger, other fingers poking off in the air so if you shone a flashlight at it, in bed, there would be a rabbit’s head silhouetted on the wall.
But this is no bunny, friend, this is what, this is the international, clenched-eyed symbol of the–I bite my tongue.
It was closing arguments, April 13, in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, and the body of the alleged victim, a Barnard College student, had by this point been thoroughly chopped up and disseminated for your viewing pleasure. Mr. Litman kept waving photographs of her naked chest in the air to the jury–full breasts topped by the pixieish face. Large eyes, blond hair, an upstate girl subjecting herself days after the attack to further intimate invasion by a photographer. To what end? To convict the creep at the defense table, Oliver Jovanovic, 31, alleged dripper of ritual candle wax with whom she’d spent the night of Nov. 22, 1996.
Mr. Litman had a lot on the line. A half-million-dollar defense, by one account, was going out screechy-voiced, drops of sweat on the temples. The judge had given him a whipping just before the jury came in (“You will not move from that table”) and then stopped Jack Litman from lighting a candle even as he lit the match. So now Mr. Litman, a handsome man with a fine-cut mouth, at the end of his rope, how do I say this–the woman in him was coming out in his summation, the sexual hysteric, as he put himself inside the Barnard student’s head.
“Oliver pulled away the drapes and revealed her own desires, which are not acceptable to her,” he said. “She was forced to confront her own impulses, and she absolves herself of all responsibility by projecting her impulses. To try to cleanse herself of what’s inside herself. You’ve heard stories about why J. Edgar Hoover pressured all the gay people. He was one himself. So he loathed that part of himself.”
And he dragged out from the wall a huge, glossy red poster of the human rectum and slapped it with a nightstick. Then, putting that down, made that damn symbol again. Maybe you saw it in a lavatory once when some fuzzball tried to pick you up. The clenched eye where the moon don’t shine.
“You know how that hurts if they put in one finger in a glove, with lubrication,” said Mr. Litman.
Then on and on about a sigmoidoscopy he once had.
“How many of you have found it tender when [a doctor] puts a finger in it? How many of you have had discomfort when that was done?”
Wiggling his finger in the air to argue that it couldn’t have happened to the Barnard student. That is what the defense was reduced to, fetishizing the anus to a jury of seven women and five men, who went out to deliberate that afternoon. For me, sitting there on my bony little buns, by that point I was drenched in stanched homo energy. Jack Litman in his Italian drape suits with the fine fabric showing off his love handles, making a point of stepping over the velvet rope at the bar, proving something. Beside him at the table, peacock No. 2, Fred Sosinsky, with a Roman haircut and platinum tie and million-dollar suits. Yes, this legal team brilliantly failed to have a woman co-counsel. And on your right, pasty, crepuscular, night-vision Mr. Jovanovic, who liked spending five hours a day on line and wrote in e-mail to “Barnard” after she said, “I don’t think girls get you giddy”:
“As for my taste, you’re close. Most girls do very little for me. The ones I tend to react to are very often somewhat boyish.”
But Barnard, whom he met two days later, was not boyish. Barnard was slender and feminine, fine-boned, and when she came back to his place and took off her clothes at his command, he didn’t do what most men would imagine doing. No, according to her testimony, he kept his clothes on, tied her up on her stomach and put a nightstick or his penis in her rectum, she was not sure, and his finger in her vagina. Not very interested in the vagina, this striving microbiological son of immigrants.
Did that seem perverse? Yes. Certainly the defendant was a hard man for a jury to love. Pudgy, splay-footed, cold, surrounded by centurion buddies. According to one on-line acquaintance, he only wanted to teach young Barnard a lesson about trusting strangers. “We’re not asking for your sympathy,” Jack Litman said.
No, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we’re just asking you to imagine the anus in all its glory. The anus suppressed by J. Edgar. The anal fantasies young weirdo Barnard nursed in Salamanca, N.Y., where she was growing up lurid and imaginative and reading William S. Burroughs. And when other girls were quoting “Regret not yesterday …” and “All things come to those who wait” under their yearbook pictures, pixie Barnard-to-be was quoting whacked-out Ishmael Reed.
Ishmael Reed–she had to want it in the butt! And dreamed this all up.
In the reporters’ section, we talked asses. Give a dog a bone. We noted how Barnard described herself, in a redacted e-mail, as a “pushy bottom.” S&M talk, that is, for a subordinate who makes demands. And one of the noble pressmen, sympathizing with the defense and buzzing around the same hole, passed around a ditty.
“This oh-so-clever Barnard brain
Who can’t completely comprehend
Just what the hell went up her end,
There can’t be doubt.
Wouldn’t you be clear
If anything went up your rear?
Why is it she can’t understand?
Was it man-made?
Was it a man?”
Then Mr. Litman was gone, with his smoke and his nightsticks, his screechy, suppressed-woman voice; gone, too, the 3-by-5-foot Roto-Rooter poster, and the prosecutor stood.
Gail Heatherly. Nunnish suit. Black stockings. Moonish face and whey complexion, blond hair, Midwestern vowels. Phlegmatic and toneless, I thought. Till she began to argue. And suddenly there were no more distractions, no more wink-eye symbols and paeans to the orifice of choice.
“You don’t have to like [Barnard]. Maybe some of you don’t. You don’t have to approve of her choice of words. You don’t have to approve of her creative writing, of her flirting with danger,” Ms. Heatherly said. “You don’t have to think she was smart. She wasn’t smart. She was a young woman of 20 trying to shed any traces of her small-town background. And she has paid dearly for what happened that night …
“Why would she make that up? So she can come here in front of all these reporters and sketch artists and millions of people, all these people behind the defendant, and have photographs of her breasts and her body passed around to be looked at by people. For what? Nobody would put themselves through this kind of circus on a whim … Why does she drop out of school? Why does she lose 20 pounds? … Look at these photos. These were not caused by words. These are not imagined.”
Picking up the pictures of a bruised woman Mr. Litman had thrown around so pettishly, Ms. Heatherly won her case with a measured, angry speech, I thought. Later that day, when the jury asked to rehear the testimony of a woman to whom Mr. Jovanovic seems to have blurted an on-line confession (“Say something weird or say something interesting, or go away,” she’d prompted him), it looked like he was going down for something. You may know whether I’m right. As of press time, there was no verdict.
But something has been proved already: Sometimes, perversity still rates as perversity. Even in New York, in 1998. Even if your pickup reads weird-ass books and writes out fantasies to a stranger on the Net.
Got that, sisters? So let’s salute health, let’s salute the holy mound. On three, now, lift your hands!