Debussy’s personal life brought some unhappiness in his first marriage in 1899 to a mannequin, Lily Texier.
Keith Anderson, liner notes to Debussy: Orchestral Works vol. 7
I’m sitting in Maison Robert (Bob’s Place) nursing a glass of wine, waiting for Claude Debussy to come in. He’s asked to meet me in the present–103 years into the future for him, a blink of an eye in the wacky world of time travel–to discuss his, ahem, “man problems.”
Seems that Claude has, by accident or mistake, married a mannequin. It’s more lifelike than most, as it–she–has a name: Lily Texier. Pretty name, but a mannequin by any other name is just a doll.
Ohio Street, Sedalia, Missouri: Gateway to Main Street
He’s called upon me because he’s heard I’m an expert in female mannequins–which I am. Having grown up the son of a ladies ready-to-wear man, I know my way around mannequins. Saturday mornings would find me, if they were looking, at my dad’s store, earning money for my early onset rhythm ‘n blues record collection. I believe the first 45 rpm record I bought was “Charlie Brown” by The Coasters and then, when I’d saved up enough for an “LP” (long-playing record), I sprang for Ray Charles Greatest Hits, hold the apostrophe.
I’d scrub the toilets, make a few sweater boxes, vacuum the carpet, maybe fix the hat display, and then expend my pre-pubescent erotic impulses spray-cleaning and wiping down the, uh, “foundation undergarment” mannequins.
There was Olga and Bali. Also Playtex. I was paid a flat rate for a morning’s worth of cleaning so I couldn’t spend all my time wiping the bra mannequins, but I sure as hell could try.
*sob* “What have you done with the rest of her?”
It was hard to get close to them, though. Most had been decapitated, perhaps because of retrograde sentiments that caused the Jacobins of the Mannequin world to send them to the guillotine, so you couldn’t strike up a very lively conversation with them. These early mute interactions with women’s upper torsos may account for my inability to make small talk when faced with a pair of bodacious mammary glands later in life.
I look down at my watch–7:05, come on Claude baby–and as if a half measure past his cue, the great composer taps me on the shoulder.
“I was getting worried,” I say, but I was actually just getting impatient. This is what the French call a “euphemisme,” which I think you can understand without my translating.
“Sorry I am late, I ran into a lot of traffic around the turn of the century,” he says as he doffs his chapeau–he’s bi-lingual–and takes a seat.
“Don’t apologize, it’s our damn traffic rotaries, which belie our reputation as the educated corner of America.”
Massachusetts traffic rotary: “Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo . . .”
He nods his head at the bartender and orders an absinthe. “We don’t have any,” the guy says.
“Qu’est ce que c’est?” Debussy says, uttering the phrase I could never get the hang of in French I. Or II, III or IV. Literally, it means “What is it that this is?” or, more colloquially, “What-the-hell?”
“You’re just lucky you didn’t stop here a decade ago,” I say in commiseration. “Absinthe was illegal in Massachusetts until 2009.”
“Pourquoi?” (Why) he asks.
“Because it was good, or fun, or something. We were settled by the Puritans, and you know what H.L. Mencken said about them.”
“A Puritan is someone haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, is happy.”
“Huh,” he huhs. “What would you recommend?”
“Get the Malbec, they can’t screw that up.”
He does as I say–we’re off to a good start–and after a few sips his tongue is loosened and he begins to tell me of his troubles.
“This Lily–I loved her so, but we never consummated our marriage.”
“Dummies are like that.”
“She was no dummy! She was pure and fine and beautiful!”
“All the same, take it from me–the thing about mannequins is, they’re just not that into us.”
“Into?” he asks, but I’m not about to brook some high-handed Academie Francaise language snootiness.
“I know the expression sounds like Valley Girl speak, but it’s been part of the American vernacular since at least the time of George Ade, the funniest writer you’ve never heard of.”
“How are you so wise in the ways of mannequins?” he asks.
“Nobody knows ’em better,” I say as a hard-bitten habitue of our little boit de nuite, to lapse into franglais. “I fell–hard–for a Bali bra mannequin when I was twelve.”
“And your love was . . . how you say . . . unrequited?”
“Totally. Didn’t get a single ‘quite’ out of it.”
“What did you do?”
“I moved on–to a real flesh and blood junior high girl.”
“Was it . . . good?”
“For me or her?”
“Well, for me, it was tough at first. After the brooding silence of a mannequin, I hated having to listen to her inane chatter about not making cheerleader or baton twirler, and having to settle for pep club.”
“Hmm. Je comprends.” (He understood.) “But things . . . got better?”
“Not right away. Slowly we got to know each other’s bodies at Friday night sock hops.”
“Your socks . . . they hop?”
“Like mad, my friend, like mad. Then when you take a break and sit down and share an ice-cold Coca-Cola and hold hands with your girl, you’re about to burst with passion.”
“So what did you do?”
“I waited for my chance.”
“A basement party with the lights out. Five horny freshman couples making out with mom clumsily checking every half hour to ‘make sure we had enough Chex Party Mix.'”
“Shouldn’t you make the little ‘TM’ sign over ‘Chex’?”
“I don’t know how to do that on the World Wide Web. Anyway, if you timed it right, you’d go for a feel right after mom closed the basement rec room door on her way back up the stairs.”
“And did you?”
“You better believe it. Why shouldn’t I? All the other guys were doing it. I didn’t want to get a reputation as having sub-par petting skills, two grade levels behind my peers.”
“And what did you find beneath the blouse of your . . . Lily?”
“They were beautiful–just as I’d hoped they’d be.”
“And what did you do?”
I cocked my head and looked at him, like a parakeet stumped by a polysyllabic tongue-twister. “What did I do?”
“You’re repeating things, like a parrot.”
“I’ll tell you what I did: Just what I’d been trained to do.”
“And what was that?”
“I grabbed a 32 ounce bottle of Fantastik Heavy Duty All Purpose Cleaner, sprayed her with it liberally, then wiped her clean with Bounty Paper Towels, the Quicker Picker-Upper.”
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