#LitBeat: Basement Boners & Mike Thomsen’s Moral Life
By Ryan Healey
Mike Thomsen. Photo courtesy of Rachel Rosenfelt.
How many boners are popped in McNally Jackson’s basement? It’s Tuesday and around 80 people are listening to essays from Mike Thomsen’s new book, Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. I show up late and trip over children’s things in the back as Helena Fitzgerald reads about Obama sex, its merits and possibilities, with Michelle & Barry about to bedside inaugurate four more years of whatever. In a voice for storms or Brontë novels, Fitzgerald says Thomsen’s words: “When I imagine myself in that position, the secret service is guarding the door while I’m in the bathroom fucking my wife, trying to hold on, in momentary freefall.” Groans joust with laughs in both the clauses and audience.
For every Rabelaisian inflection or admission from his book, Thomsen’s face is there for study, which makes the reading seem like a weird author-function or celebrity roast at times. Like when the second reader, Malcolm Harris, describes coming all over himself (as Mike Thomsen), enveloping his (Mike Thomsen’s) “chest, chin, navel, thighs.” By reports, Thomsen’s cum is warm, soft, neutral-smelling, and velveteen. The couple in front of me tighten their finger grips at Harris’s mention of Fuck Team Five, a male-exploitative porn rubric of “Amazonian pornstar women roaming the streets looking for regular guys to sleep with.” The reading seems like kind of a date night destination for some, which, when partially billed as hearing Thomsen’s dick diegetically explode, makes it a bit of a Symposium for heteros. Which is fine.
I’m standing dead in the orbit for the bathroom, which pulls a lot of unsuspecting people into what must seem like a horizontalist sex therapy, or, for some, a CIAseminar. Particularly weird is the gaggle of Wallace Shawns as they listen to the third reader, Rachel Rosenfelt, detail Thomsen’s taste for vaginal fluids: “How many men haven’t walked around the day after sex with the secret scent of vagina on their fingers, chin, or penis? To some the phrase ‘mucus flaps’ might induce revolt or socio-sexual indignation. To me it induces hunger, lust. Mmmmmmucus.” My own personal sense of socio-sexual indignation makes look at these dads in the front row with a puritan’s suspicion. Then Thomsen’s themes make me worry that this is my own perverse projection.
When Sarah Nicole Prickett begins to read, I can’t hear her from the back, which is mostly my fault, but what she reads seemed subdued and careful and on the sweet side of the Thomsen scale. Adrian Chen follows with something called “Ass Bangin’ and Astral Projection.” I can hear him read these lines just fine: “Feeling yourself penetrated at the same time that you are enjoying the metaphysical whoosh of penetrating someone else is surreal. It’s an out of body experience, like an alien abduction or astral projection. It’s like being in two separate places at once, wholly conscious of everything around you.”
Thomsen rises at last. He reads two touching stories that seem especially accomplished in their touchingness. He reads “I Am Error,” this love and departure story against the New York backdrop probably on loan for all of us: “I feel lucky to be here. I don’t deserve to live in a place so densely filled with this much life, secretly aspirating down the avenues. But I do. I’d wanted this for myself all along, to keep moving, to find a reason to not settle down and grow grass beneath my feet. I wanted to keep pushing the outer lip of what I can do. I wasn’t brave enough to say that I wanted this for my own sake. So I said it was for someone else, and that spared me the terrible weight of having to look at myself without the warping hue of romance.”
I’m in a dark corner of McNally Jackson’s basement, finding catharsis in Thomsen’s confessions of being a sometimes utterly repugnant, historically irrelevant male-bodied hetero-simian who wants to have sex and yet live a moral life. Maybe we can be better, and then happy.
This Levitate the Primate reading took place in New York City on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012, and was presented by The New Inquiry.