The Misadventures Of Ari Mendelsohn

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November 1, 2010 · Posted in Commentary 


This is the first chapter from the picaresque novel by author and journalist LIONEL ROLFE, which recounts the sexual and political travails of the irascible, blacklisted title character, a reporter still harboring his besieged idealistic belief in humanity’s innate goodness and America’s dubious potential for good amid a reality of avarice, pragmatism, cynicism, and materialism.

With his usual sharp self-deprecating wit and affable honesty, ROLFE describes Ari’s astonishing array of encounters that run the gambit from the hilarious to the horrific, from the astute to the bewildering, from the desirous to the dangerous, from the death-defying to the life-affirming. As he searches for purpose in a life of drudgery and debacle, along the way Ari must contend with a Military Academy captain with an all-too-avid interests in the students under his “command”; old-time police reporters and the corrupt detectives whom they depend on for the inside scoop; old Stalinists and labor radicals; the long-established, well-entrenched defenders of America’s conservative, God-loving majority; porn stars and gurus false and true and a holographic pin-up; and the all-too-real one-dimensional political operators and kingpins.

From losing his virginity to participating in a fateful ménage à trios; from the coffeehouses of the far left to the centerpiece of Los Angeles’s abiding racism, the corrupt violent police headquarters known as the “Glass House,” under the hard-line rule of virulent racist Police Chief William Parker; from experiencing the Sierra God Machine to discovering love in a faraway land, the antithesis of America; from the freeways of the populace to the ocean-side estates of media moguls; from his spiraling descent to his awakening and retreat (which is also an advance of sorts), Ari is not only an entertaining and memorable creation, he is also a representative (though unwilling) “any”-man, caught in unfulfilling employment within a world of grandiosity and absurdity.

Having worked full-time since age twenty at some of its most prestigious newspapers (the Los Angeles Free Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle), ten-year editor of B’NAI BRITH’s Messenger (the second oldest newspaper in Los Angeles) and an editor for Psychology Today, as well as the author of six books, including the classic LITERARY L.A., ROLFE has created a work that explores the misadventurous merits of our own lives.

How Losing His Virginity Made Ari Realize

Just How Odd L.A. Really Was

Ari Mendelsohn’s misadventures began not so innocently in the early nineteen fifties in Los Angeles when he was hardly ten years old. Other than the many memories he had about a school chum named Stella, his fondest memories from Westwood Elementary School were about Groucho Marx coming every afternoon to pick up his granddaughter. All the students would gather around him. Invariably, Ari was one of them. The great comedian impressed him even more in person than on the silver screen. The argument could be made that Ari really was a child of Hollywood, and appropriately enough his sex life began early but clumsily with Stella, who knew as little as he.

Both of them were in the grasp of that mysterious life force that compelled them to do strange things, such as going to the shed in the backyard next to the incinerator where Ari’s family burned its trash. For the first few times, they each removed an article of clothing. Then they didn’t know why they did that or what to do next.

On a later occasion, Stella took off her skirt and then took the daring step of taking off her blouse and then her bra. There wasn’t anything upstairs yet, but to Ari who couldn’t stop staring at her nipples, there seemed to be promise of something very important happening—he had seen pictures of women’s breasts, so he knew what might be expected. Ari took off his pants, but not his underwear. Later in life Stella became more than adequately endowed, but at eight years of age this was not the case. She did, however, press her body up against his and they both stayed close together for a scary moment. They held each other without moving; and when they stopped clutching each other, they knew something special had happened.

When they were both nine, their tentative groping no longer occurred only in the shed, but at a little hideaway only the two of them knew about in a miniature forest in Rancho Park, a large park that had been recently created on some land across the street from the old Fox Movie Studio at Pico Boulevard and Motor Avenue. Grass and trees were planted over many acres, but a few natural groves of trees from when Los Angeles really was a primeval place were left behind. Ari and Stella returned to their forest hideaway almost as often as they slid into the shed in the back of Ari’s house. The first time she shyly grabbed what little was behind his zipper was in the little grotto formed by some tree branches through which the sun streamed. The place had the feeling of a cathedral, a cradle of ancient tree roots on the ground and old, gnarly tree trunks that soared high above. It was on the floor of this cathedral he first actually touched her on the nipples and didn’t just stare, and she tentatively felt him begin to pulse in her obliging hand.

Over the next years, they were never quite clear exactly what they were supposed to be doing. But they deduced that being naked was the first step because it was especially exciting taking off their clothes together. Inevitably, there were occasional if tentative gropes, and one time Ari was embarrassed the first time his penis got really hard and he came. He didn’t know exactly what he was supposed to do, and it was all quite unexpected. She didn’t make the connection either, although she had more inklings than he did because she was the main instigator. The loss of Ari’s virginity wouldn’t come until he was nearly a man, and with another female. But when he just turned into a teenager, he first felt pure lust on the “cathedral” floor there with Stella, even though they were miserably uncomfortable on the great tree roots.

It was the closest he ever felt to God as she, for just the third time, unbuttoned her blouse and unclasped her bra and he couldn’t stop gently touching her breasts.

Ari and Stella became inseparable. He would come by every morning to walk her to school. After school he would escort her home. On weekends they were always together. Ari’s mom in particular liked the budding relationship and encouraged them.

Their young love suffered a bit when he was thirteen and he was sent off to military school at the base of Mount Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains. Mount Lowe had a colorful history involving a famed narrow gauge railway and a grand hotel halfway up the mountain built by a man named Lowe. The school was called Mount Lowe Military Academy. There was a stark beauty to the place. The alluvial landfill at the base of the mountain range had vegetation that had been planted on it some years before, so there were lots of trees and brush there. But despite the flora and fauna, the overriding sense of the place was of being underneath a terrifying desolate, gothic, enormous geological protuberance jutting out of nowhere.

Away from home for the first time, he looked forward to the evenings, when he would get into bed and imagine Stella was with him. Just before he went to sleep, Ari was always saving her from some unimaginable catastrophe. He clutched her tightly so she didn’t fall down a cliff, or often he had to save her from some terrible monster. He still hadn’t quite figured out what he was supposed to touch or not touch, but even at that age Ari had deduced that breasts were an important part of a woman’s anatomy.

The students at Mount Lowe Military Academy were all males. They slept on cots in a big green dormitory. The “captain”—he had some sort of prosaic American name, but Ari remembered him only as the “captain”—was the supreme authority of the place, especially for an unlucky few once the lights went out. He was an ancient sixteen years old and had an unsettling kind of rolly polly and smooth faced despotism in everything he did. Everyone was afraid of him, but Ari wasn’t quite sure why. The “captain” never accosted him, although he learned that others had been attacked in some unspecified manner. But they didn’t talk about exactly what had happened.

It was confusing to him. Ari knew that that strange mysterious attraction to Stella had to do with the fact that he was male and she was female. He did not grasp males being fascinated by males in that way. Males were dirty and sweaty and unattractive and not graceful or exciting. But the captain apparently found other males interesting, and he forced his way upon several of the other boys in the barracks after the lights went out. Ari wasn’t sure what he actually did, anymore than he knew what exactly he should do with Stella.

One day, everyone was called to the parade field; and in a big, full dress ceremony of some type, the captain was stripped of his rank and the chestful of medals he carried on his uniform.

As far as Ari knew, he then disappeared from the face of the earth.

The whole experience drove Ari ever more into the fantasies that accompanied him to bed each night. Everything about the school was depressing. The fact that the captain had forced himself on some of the other boys at night especially affected him.

He was constantly regarded as weird by other students because he loved classical music and books. The other students talked of nothing else but baseball and Elvis Presley. He was under constant attack because he exhibited no interest in these things. Worse, he wasn’t even left alone when he tried to read a book instead of watching television or turned on a radio to the classical music station. Sometimes he would read books with a flashlight under the blanket once the dim lights in the barracks went out. But mostly he would escape into his own head when he pulled the blanket up over his body on the uncomfortable cot where he slept. There were only cheap, green-painted plywood dividers between him and the other students in the dormitory. But at night, he felt some protection from the others. Once taps were played and the lights went off, he could at least pull the covers up to block out everything else. When he was alone, he could imagine himself a super hero. Superman was his favorite. And his fantasies continued after he had fallen asleep. In one reoccurring dream, he saved his beloved as they fell off a cliff. He would always wake up before they hit the bottom. There was a lot of “falling” with her in his dreams.

Every couple of weeks, he got to come home and he almost always visited Stella.

Her father was music director of a big, upper crust Protestant church in West Los Angeles that was still quite splendid. Ari’s mother, a pianist, regularly played Bach in that church. It was famous for its large organ. Ari didn’t know what Stella thought of his organ. She had touched it, but he hadn’t touched hers because he didn’t see it.

All of this happened long before Ari lost his virginity. His memories of losing his virginity were important to him. It happened a few years after he had lost contact with Stella. But Stella is the person with whom it all began. When they both became young teenagers, they met once again and only briefly. It was a fleeting meeting and the magic was no longer there.

He discovered his next love interest when he turned sixteen. He was still in high school when he discovered Marxism. He began visiting Dorothy Healey in her home, who was head of the Communist Party in Southern California. She was middle aged, but seemed young and sexy.

He had discovered socialism as a result of reading Jack London and Upton Sinclair. He had many philosophical and political questions, and she always seemed to have good answers to these—and she frequently suggested other books for him to read. Thus was he introduced to Howard Fast, Herbert Aptheker, W.E.. B. DuBois, and with caveats, John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis. She also always had tasty food to eat in her ice box. He would visit her and stay around for hours. She had the answers to all the great philosophical and political quandaries that bedeviled him and talked about men and women with considerable wisdom as well. But it was obvious that she was not going to be his teacher as far as learning how to lose his virginity.

Sad to say, his hunt for love would have to continue elsewhere.

In the early sixties he became a student at Los Angeles City College; and mostly he burrowed in his dreary brick apartment building, reading a lot of Dostoyevski and such, and thinking about The Coming American Revolution that everyone around him was convinced was inevitable. Somehow, Revolution and getting laid were invariably linked.

After a while, even The Revolution was dimming in importance compared with the pain he was feeling in his penis. It was driving him crazy. He couldn’t think of anything else. He used to “talk philosophy” for hours, but now he talked of only one thing. It was driving his friends crazy. He had two friends in particular, a couple in their twenties, who had taken him under their wing. He was pretty certain that the woman would have fucked him just to help out; and her husband, an easy-going, friendly humorous sort might have given his permission; but instead she chose another route. She began to talk to him about what he needed to do to get laid.

Her husband also tried to make suggestions. “Somebody has to get this guy laid,” they said to each other. So both of them—they were graduate students at UCLA in physics and economics—helped him strategize. And they became a cheering section.

One night they took him to a party of graduate students like themselves, but also younger people like Ari.

“Maybe tonight will be your lucky night,” she said.

Ari got scared as they got closer to the party. “What happened if it actually happened,” he blurted out, and then hurumphed at how ridiculous that sounded.

“Listen,” she said, “I’m sure you are not the only virgin who will be there tonight. You know, maybe you should just be direct about it. I bet if you ask ten women, one will say yes.”

He was silent as he contemplated the suggestion.

“Just try it,” she said.

“It’s not really that big a thing,” her husband said.

Even if he was scared, he realized tonight had to be the night. He got just tipsy enough to feel confident and began asking around. He didn’t even consider if the women were attached or handsome. One woman slugged him, but a couple of others seemed to consider his suggestion seriously.

Finally, one woman—she was younger than most of the women who were there—said nothing. Her face was rather plain looking but her body was well rounded. She didn’t smile. She seemed a bit too serious about the subject, but Ari was not being picky.

“OK,” she said slowly, drawing out the O and the K. “We can go to my place. It’s close by.”

She took him to a four story brick building that might have been pretty grand sixty years ago, but now had fallen on hard times. But it had an ornate lobby that led to a large courtyard full of ivy growing up the walls and tall palms. Each of the apartments looking toward the courtyard had iron balconies that looked a bit too rickety for sitting comfortably. Her apartment was one room, and it did not face out onto the courtyard. It faced another building.

Like the dormitory at Mount Lowe, it was painted green. A single bulb without a cover hung from the peeling, buckling ceiling. There was a sagging bed in the corner. As the woman undressed, she told him she was not technically a virgin because she had done it with several other guys, but she had never had an orgasm—thus her virginal status was quite intact. She said she had never been satisfactorily penetrated and could never regard herself as a woman until she had been.

He didn’t mention to her that he was a certified bonafide teenage virgin too who had never been this far with a woman. But he did mention to her that he was a bonafide revolutionary, who also happened to be fascinated by huge breasts. As she unhooked her bra, her enormous breasts were suddenly unrestrained; and they fell out and descended toward her stomach more than he might have liked. That night, he felt those great pillows of flesh tipped with enormous rippling nipples squishing up underneath him.

“Are you a virgin?” she asked him.

He didn’t answer immediately, which she took, correctly, as an affirmative. He couldn’t figure out why she was so concerned if they were virgins or not. He was and didn’t want to continue being one.

“I am too,” she said, and then launched into an explanation of how she figured this was so if she had, by her own admission, had intercourse with several other men.

“I figure that being a woman involves more than just having a man stick his penis inside you. Being a woman means that you have descended into the heavens of the sexual bliss every woman is entitled to,” she said.

“But how about all those women who have had babies but have not had orgasms,” he asked.

It was as if he had said the wrong thing. Her back arched and she snarled. “I tell you, they are not women.”

“An orgasm is a woman’s right. It is a birthright.”

He nodded. What else could he do? But he was a little uncomfortable with her seeming assumption that he would be blamed if she didn’t find her political demand and birthright that night.

“Can you be the man who does it for me?” she asked.

“I can try,” he said, surprisingly aroused enough to have the confidence to believe he could be that man.

She said she would be “very thankful to the man able to make her vagina throb and her soul scream with his great prick.” She used those exact words, which Ari thought were quaint.

Ari apparently was the right man for the right job. After quickly coming twice, he went for an hour. She didn’t want him to stop. He didn’t get soft. He had an enormous teenage boner and if he came, which he sometimes did inadvertently, he’d pick right up and start all over again. Several times it seemed she was about to come. “Ah,” she said, “just a little longer, a little harder.” He agreed. But he couldn’t stop the inevitable explosion. It felt like he had filled her up to the point of explosion. He half expected to see his sperm oozing out of her eyes, ears and nose as well as her vagina, sloppy with great gobs of semen.

And still his boner wouldn’t go away, which was a good thing—because still she hadn’t come.

“Please,” she said, “keep on going.”

He was quickly hard enough once again to do as she asked. He didn’t even exit. He just began grinding away, and again and again he came. And again and again he kept going. After all, he had until a few hours ago been a virgin. He had a lot to make up for. He came several times that night, and a few times she almost came. They key word was “almost.”

“Please don’t give up. I’m so close, ahhhh,” she said.

He was getting sweaty and not all that comfortable. He no longer was that turned on, but he had a mission to accomplish, and he wanted to succeed.

He carried on for eight hours like this, and finally as the sun began coming up, she moaned, groaned, and hugged him until he couldn’t move. They both glistened in the summer sweat morning sun.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh.”

“You came?”

“Oh, I came. Couldn’t you tell.”

“I wasn’t sure. You’ve been so close to coming many times tonight.”

For the first time she smiled. “No, that was the real thing.”

Ari smiled wisely, or so he imagined. He saw his young arrogant face on the silver screen as he smiled. Then he rolled over and slept for a couple of hours. He woke again to the sun streaking in from overhead. It must have been already noon. He studied her face. It seemed softer, happier, than it had been the night before.

“Maybe,” he said to himself, “I’m going to become a great lover and women will come to me from miles around as the word gets out.”

Perhaps she was not the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but she was, for the moment, his. She lay there beside him after a night of intercourse with a smile on her face. She could have been his, if he wanted, perhaps forever. But he knew that he really didn’t want that. There was something too prosaic, something plain and hence depressing about her. Next time he would get something better. He deserved better next time, he told himself. But he felt she should have been honored to have been his first conquest.

He never found out if she was thusly honored, because he got up and slipped away, never to see her again. He wondered though if she ever realized how lucky she had been to be with him



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