in Frieze | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

Tricks

Fiction by Renaud Camus, introduced by Bruce Hainley

in Frieze | 06 SEP 96

Usually at the Manhattan in Paris, but also at the Crazy Boy in Cannes; at La Divina and Rosamunda in Milan; at the Ramrod, the Bronx, the Stud, the Boots and Saddle in New York; while not watching movies at the 55th Street Playhouse; at 8709, a baths in Los Angeles; in parks, alleyways, backrooms, hotels, at the beach; in the bedroom or the 'maid's room'; with the lights on, with the lights off; to Lully's Te Deum; after reading Rousseau's Confessions, or flipping through copies of Luscious Dessert or Chicken Lickin' Good; with Walthère Dumas, Phillippe of the Commandos, Daniel X or men identified only as Franz' friend, Red Morgan (like the car), or Plaid Shirt: in Tricks (1979), Renaud Camus relays his carefree interactions (flirtation, consummation, conclusion) in the late 70s with 45 different men whom he has (with few exceptions, all noted) never met or slept with before. Each chapter, like an entry in an amazing fuck journal, begins with the name of the trick and the date of the liaison, and ends with a brief afterword on what kind of relationship Camus continues to have or not have with the trick - frequently, 'Never saw him again'.

If Tricks' formal parameters are disarmingly simple, the effects of Camus' writing are anything but. Although some might be tempted to describe Camus' careful (and caring) observations as at once clinical and pornographic, his concern is the 'threatened discourse' of pleasure. By simply trying to get down what happened as it happened, his revelation with each trick, repeated but different, is that what makes sex sex eludes language altogether. 25 of Camus' 45 tricks along with a stunning preface by Roland Barthes were translated into English in 1981, and have recently been republished by Serpent's Tail/High Risk Books; one of the remaining tales is translated here for the first time.

Art at its most artistic is pornographic; pornography at its most pornographic is artistic. To get the mental thrusts of sex into words - into art, whatever that may be - it is best to focus on the details, the surface: how hairy he was, what he smelled like, his looks, what books are on his bookshelf, what records are on his turntable, what fabric his clothing is made out of, what words ('bedroom eyes') are actually used to describe what and who attracts us. Camus leaves things to be what they are, everything and nothing, turning the calibrations of the nouveau roman to pleasure between men rather than any cause. To read Tricks now, in the thick of AIDS, a virus which shows no relent, is to be reminded not only of what is no more but also of what remains as elusive as it ever was: life and the words for it.

[Transcribed on Saturday, 6 March 1982]. I was tempted not to relate this rather unhappy episode on the pretext that I already knew Irwing K. and so it did not, strictly speaking, fall into the 'trick' category. But this would have been a poor excuse since we had hardly met previously and on this occasion it had taken me a long time to recognise him. So, Irwing K. was indeed a trick. On the other hand, there were two later episodes I would love to have described, but if I keep to the same criteria, they have no place here. Their protagonists were not tricks: one, since I knew him too well, even though I had thought he was dead, and the other because our frolics, although starting out well enough, did not reach their final conclusion on account of an untimely interruption. (Perhaps I may still include them in these pages, but outside the 'official' tricks numbering system).

But back to Irwing K. I first saw him in the Manhattan: probably over thirty, practically bald, bearded, typically Jewish, wearing glasses and a navy blue top which showed off most of his torso, back, and shoulders, all covered with long black hairs. You will by now have noticed the narrator's distinctly erotic obsession with body hair. But I recall saying to myself on seeing this unknown person cross the bar that too much was too much, that his outfit was not exactly ideal for him, perhaps slightly ridiculous, and that in any event, he did not appeal to me.

An hour later I was in the gardens behind Notre-Dame, in the undergrowth. There were a lot of people there, but no one who really interested me. At any rate, I was very keen to find some action. On emerging from the bushes I spotted the bearded guy from the Manhattan entering the square. Now he was wearing a nice old leather jacket over his top. I said to myself that he was definitely not attractive but could be exciting, there in the bushes. He did not follow me. Nevertheless, I crossed his path one or two minutes later. He had come in from another side. He turned towards me. I stopped and he approached but then slipped in a patch of mud. I caught him, both hands on his ribs, preventing a fall. He smiled and remarked on the difficulty of the terrain, in a strong foreign accent. I asked him if he was American, he said yes and asked whether I spoke English. We stood against each other. I slipped my hand inside his jacket and stroked his chest through the wide opening in his T-shirt, and touched his flies. He appeared to want to kiss me but I wasn't too keen on that. The details are not so clear in my mind, except that his approach was much more personal, more 'sociable' than what I was looking for at the time.

I pulled his T-shirt out of his belt and lifted it up along his body. His belly was covered with a mat of long, black, silky hair. I pressed harder against him and licked his left nipple. This seemed to please him. He unbuttoned my shirt, stroking and licking my chest. He undid my flies, and I his. We began to play with each other. Unfortunately we were standing in a particularly bad place, cramped and sliding around in the prickly, stiff bushes, and were jostled closer and closer to the muddy patch by the group which had formed around us, taking up even more of the little space available. I used these unlucky circumstances as an excuse to go back onto the path. This American hardly excited me and his behaviour was not what I wanted at that precise moment. But he left the bushes with me:

'It's difficult with this mud and all these people.'

'Yes, you need to be an acrobat.'

'What a pity. I'd love to try out a few things with you. I think you're very sexy.'

(Smile).

'...No it's true. You must be a gymnast with those pectorals, all that...'

'Are you joking?'

'No, really, you don't do anything? Amazing. Well, your body must be just naturally well-muscled.'

'Well, no one ever loved me for my muscles before!'

'All the same, I promise you, on your chest, they're really excellent.'

'It's strange, no one has ever said that to me in my life, except yesterday, for the first time.'

'You see...'

'I'm very flattered but not really convinced...'

'You speak very good English. Where did you learn it?'

'I was a student in England and I often go to the States.'

'Oh, really, where to?'

'Oh, mainly New York. I was there this winter at Christmas. But you speak fairly good French, do you come here often?'

'No, I haven't been here for a long time, but it comes back to me after a few days.'

'Are you staying with friends?'

'No, I'm staying at a small hotel near here. Where do you live?'

'Rue du Bac.'

'I know it, I was just around there today. I was looking for a doll shop - you know, a shop with really beautiful old dolls. Have you seen the one I mean?'

'Yes, perhaps, I'm not sure. I know some people who do that, deal in old dolls, but they have a stall in the Flea Market - it can't be the same people.'

'No, the one I'm talking about is a shop in the rue de Léchau.'

'Rue de l'Echau? Where's that? Are you sure it is not rue de l'Echaudé?'

'No, I don't think so, rue de Léchau, de la Chaux, de Léchar, something like that, towards Saint-Germain-des-Prés.'

'No, I don't know it; I know the rue de l'Echaudé but I don't know where it is. There are all sorts of small streets near Saint-Germain which I always get mixed up: the rue de l'Echaudé, the rue des Ciseaux, the rue du Sabot, etc.'

'The guy who runs it is called Renaud.'

'Hey, I'm called Renaud as well. But it's my first name.'

'Renaud?'

'Yes, what's yours?'

'I'm called Irwing.'

'Irwing? Irwing... my God, Irwing! You live in New York, right?'

'Yes?'

'Do you sometimes go to the bookshop on the corner of Christopher Street and Hudson Street?'

'Sometimes. It really is the most...place' [The manuscript I'm trying to decipher says 'low'. So he must have said 'lowliest'. It's possible...]

'I met you there last year, in December.'

'Sure, when you told me your name was Renaud, something clicked...'

'You gave me your phone number. I was leaving for the West Coast and Washington. When I came back to New York in January I wanted to call you but I'd lost the piece of paper. I remember, I looked all over for it, I rang the friends I stayed with in Washington and asked them to look for it, under the furniture, everywhere, so they could tell me the number. I hate that, people who say they'll call and then don't, I never do that. I also looked in the directory - I seemed to have a vague memory of your surname, Krammer, Kramler, Kramlein - impossible.'

'Karstein. Yes, yes I remember it very well, you have a lover, you live with someone, I always remember that sort of thing. Are you still living with him?'

'Yes, but he's in Switzerland at the moment.'

'It's really odd, to meet again like this. I didn't recognise you of course, in the bushes.'

'I saw you clearly in the light, a while ago in the Manhattan, but I didn't recognise you either. And in New York, in the bookshop, you were wearing a hat.'

'Yes, that's possible, I often wear a hat. But if you saw me in the Manhattan, even if you did not recognise me, you could have come and talked to me...'

'Oh you seemed very busy, I just saw you go by.'

'I didn't see you. If I had seen you I would have come up to you. I find you very sexy. You have a great body. I'd like to make love with you.'

'Well, that shouldn't be too difficult to arrange... Do you want to come to my place?'

'Sure!'

'OK, let's go then.'

So I changed my mind, both because his excitement was contagious and I was flattered by his insistence and compliments, and because it amused me to finish off a story which had begun 18 months earlier. We had not done much together in the Hudson Street bookshop: we had only kissed, at the back, near the little [illegible: dark?] booths where for a quarter you can watch pornographic films. On that day I think he had been wearing his leather jacket, fully open, with nothing underneath. I had been excited by his fairly broad bare torso, its black hairs reaching right up to his beard, and even perhaps by his hat which he never took off and which had made me think - quite rightly - that he must have been practically bald. I had told Tony about this encounter and I had said that the person was someone I didn't think that much of, someone who wasn't so attractive but rather sexy, and that it might be amusing to call him, which I had not been able do, and to meet up with him.

We left, walking along Notre-Dame.

'I don't know if I will make it to your place, I'm totally beat. I've done so many things today, I've been to the Flea Market, the Louvre, the shops... I must have walked 15 miles. You know, I get up late even though I know it's stupid - there are so many things to see, to do. I rush around all day. The first time I came to Paris I was a student, living with a family in Vincennes. They were very kind but spent all their time organising things for me, visits - things like that, so I never had a moment to myself. I like wandering around, looking at people, things, not necessarily the tourist stuff. At the time I didn't even realise I was gay - if I wanted to be alone it wasn't so that I could cruise, it's just that I wanted to walk around and see the city in my own way. It's so fine now, the weather has been beautiful for a week, until yesterday it was marvellous. People everywhere always say that the French, and especially the Parisians, aren't very nice, but I think everyone is very kind, in fact. In the shops, for example. Just buying bread, the smell of a warm baguette, is a pleasure. I go into the greengrocer's to buy some cherries, an apple, whatever, and everyone is friendly, smiling. This wasn't the Paris I knew before. And then I met a really nice boy, he lived in an attic on the seventh floor, under the eaves. You could see roof after roof... there were geraniums in the window, we got up very late and he made my lunch, he had things in glass jars, cooked dishes his mother sent him from the country, strange things, cassoulets, Agen prunes, really amazing...'

'Someone you met in the Manhattan?'

'Yes.'

'Maybe I know him.'

'He was called Jean-Pierre.'

'Jean-Pierre... I don't know, I know a whole load of Jean-Pierres.'

'Jean-Pierre Duret, or Dury or Duruy, I don't remember. He gave me his address so I could write to him when he got back. He went off on holiday.'

'Where does he live?'

'In the IXth.'

'No, that means nothing to me. Maybe I know him by sight, but that's all.'

'Does everyone know everyone in Paris?'

'More or less. Much more than in New York, anyway. It's smaller. That's the disadvantage of the Manhattan bar - when you go there fairly often, the possibilities run out. So when someone new arrives, a tourist or a boy from the country, everyone jumps at him.'

'Do you go there often?'

'It depends, from time to time. This winter I went often. I like the place, the people who run it are OK, at least they don't bother you. I never have any money, and they never pester me, ever, to buy something. Whereas in the Sept for example, it's like being an animal on a safari. I'm always trying to get away from the waiters - as well as being very expensive, it's a pain to get to. The Manhattan is not far from where I live, I can walk there. Oh shit!'

'What?'

'Shit! I forgot my bike. I came by bike and I left it in the gardens!'

'Is it locked?'

'Yes, locked to a post, but I can't leave it there, I'll have to go and fetch it.'

We had arrived the bottom of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, on the corner of the bridge, opposite the statue of the Archangel.

'Listen, just go straight on, follow the Seine on the right hand pavement, I'll go get my bike, and then catch up with you.'

'You're not leaving me?'

'Of course not!'

I set off towards Notre-Dame and the Jean-XXIII square. When I came back, I found Irwing sitting on the wall of the Pont-Neuf.

'I didn't have the strength to go any further.'

'You're really that tired?'

'Yes, I can hardly stand up.'

'I've got bad news for you: I live on the sixth floor and there's no lift...'

'Oh no...'

The whole way he worried about how much further there was to go. We talked much less. I learned he worked for an agency that organised shows. Régine Crespin was one of his clients. He wanted to know what I thought of her.

When we arrived he went straight onto the balcony. He thought it was wonderful to have a balcony in Paris. There was nothing to drink in the house except Perrier and we had a glass each. Then I suggested we go to bed without any preliminaries, since we were both very tired. He agreed. I went for a piss and to clean my teeth and when I returned, he was naked. We got into bed. We lay against each other, me on top of him or side by side, but never in very comfortable or exciting positions. Every time I was OK he moved. Still, we both liked rubbing up against each other [The Nation published a review by Gore Vidal of the American version of Tricks. In it, somewhat condescendingly it seemed to me, he wrote in French: 'Frottage flows'.] I offered him some poppers. He accepted unenthusiastically and they did not seem to have much effect on him. They prompted me to lick him, to put my tongue in his forest of body hair and to put his penis in my mouth. He then did the same for me. I put my penis under his balls and tried to lift up his thighs, but he did not encourage this manoeuvre. For his turn, he forcefully massaged my buttocks. Afterwards neither of us really got a hard on. I took more poppers but he declined them. A minute later we were half asleep and gradually stopped moving. Maybe we even slept for five minutes. Then he said:

'I'm sorry I'm so tired this evening. I would like to make love with you, fuck you and everything...'

'Yes, it would be good.'

'Do you like fucking?'

'Of course.'

'Fucking or being fucked?'

'Fucking.'

'Hmm, me too.'

'Oh, I'm fairly accommodating. I don't like specialists.'

After this discussion he fell asleep and so did I, I think, for a moment. It must have been about four in the morning. But at seven o'clock I was wide awake and didn't think I could get back to sleep. I realised that Tony, who should have phoned the evening before but hadn't, might come back at any time, and if there is one thing more embarrassing than being caught with a lover, it is being caught with a lover who you don't especially like, who has shared little pleasure with you - and who is nothing to boast about.

And Irwing, certainly, was not very attractive. What's more, he snored. I went and lay on the small bed in the other room, closing the door between us, but still couldn't get to sleep. I gave up. I got up, made some tea, had a bath, dressed, went out to the laundry as soon as it opened and then spent the morning correcting the proofs of Travers. I became more and more nervous at the thought of Tony coming back, but all the same, I didn't dare wake up my guest. Towards eleven o'clock I went to fetch something from the bedroom. Irwing opened one eye, asked me the time and decided it was time to get up. He wanted to go to the Flea Market. Earlier, I had bought croissants for him and I made him some tea. He put on his pants but not his shirt. In the morning light his torso, back and shoulders, covered in hair, did not attract me at all, quite the reverse. I couldn't wait for him to get dressed and leave. Nevertheless I suggested he took a bath or a shower, but thankfully he preferred to go back to his hotel to change. He asked with some insistence when I would be going to New York, and said I must call him, repeating that he wanted to make love to me, more competently, when he was in better shape. He also asked for my address, which I gave him. He then gave me his card, saying I should use his personal number rather than that of the agency. [That afternoon I called my friend Valerio in Florence at the boutique where he worked. Earlier I had received a letter from him, in which he said he was very depressed, in the worst financial and professional difficulties, living in a lumber-room without hot water in a shabby hotel, in need of comfort and asking me to call him. After a load of swearing in Italian, a hateful woman just hung up on me.] He had to leave Paris the day after tomorrow, and there was no question of us meeting before then. I had told him I was leaving myself the next day for the South. We said goodbye in a very friendly way.

[Never heard from him. This trick may not be a trick, according to the rules imposed in the foreword to the book; that is, to constitute a trick, someone must come. But maybe this should only apply to quick turns in the undergrowth or a dark room, and not to the situation of sharing a bed.]

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