What’s in a look? Everything! Here are my random thoughts on the subject.
The look of desire
Every woman and every gay guy knows this look, though straight guys are often so busy looking at women that they forget that women may be looking at them. Once, back in my young youth years ago at Nantucket, where I arrived just before a hurricane, I was sitting at a counter in a restaurant, when the good-looking older man sitting next to me, whom I knew vaguely from a quick introduction the night before, reached over and took off my glasses.
“Hey!” I exclaimed in mild protest, but he refused to return them, looking instead at me with the look of desire. But his look was not burning hot; it was detached, as if filing me away for future use. He looked in silence for a minute or two, and I returned his look without a word, not registering interest but noncommittal calm. Finally he returned the glasses and I put them back on. All this without a word between us. A curious little game, new to me.
The beginning of a torrid romance? Not at all. His action had surprised me, annoyed me, and flattered me; it was like a gentle rape. But I wasn’t about to get involved, for I had been told that his usual breakfast was a string of gins, and that I wasn’t going to sign on for. Instead, I ended up in a short-term relationship with a habitual liar whose lies reached the point where I had to break it off, and abruptly. Maybe the gin drinker would have been a better bet.
That look of desire had no guilt in it. On other occasions I got look of desire that was direct, searing, and guilt-ridden, usually from a guy from the Bible Belt for whom a same-sex attraction was the ultimate in sin; sad. And in my first year at Columbia as a grad student, I found myself on the fifteenth floor, the top, where no less than a third to a half of the residents were gay. Pure coincidence, though we joked about it. One of my neighbors, Walter, was friendly and full of good humor, but we all noticed that he had a look that was almost savage in its intensity, even when he wasn’t looking at his friends with desire. Was he too from the Bible Belt? I don’t know, but maybe so; certainly he was apt at citing the Bible, with hilarious effect.
So much for looks of desire. We all have a story or two to tell on the subject.
The criminal look
My father was a corporation lawyer whose specialty was the intricacies of law regarding railroads. But he told me once how, in law school, one of his professors insisted that there was a certain hardened look that characterized veteran criminals – a look that could not be used as evidence in court, which he thought unfortunate. He insisted that you could recognize a criminal by this look, though the arguments against such use are obvious.
Once I encountered this look. It was in a Village bar on Bleecker Street long ago, a bar where gay men and women of all ages rubbed elbows with adventurous straights, a sprinkling of tourists, and real and pseudo bohemians – a racy mix much to my liking. One evening I saw a man perhaps in his thirties who seemed to know some of the regulars, and from the talk around me I learned that he was fresh out of prison, incarcerated for what offense I do not know. I caught his glance once or twice and yes, there was a hardened look that I had never seen before – surely the hardened look described by the law professor. I can’t explain or analyze it; all I know is, it said to me DANGER KEEP AWAY. Needless to say, I did.
The look of spiritual energy
This look I have never experienced, but I know that it exists. Gurus – the real ones – and healers have it, and no doubt saints and saints-to-be. A Catholic student of mine once went to Italy to meet the Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar whom he was certain would be posthumously canonized. He did indeed meet him, and while he didn’t describe the man’s look, he said that, at once glance, the Padre knew that he, the student, was not in a state of grace, which he wasn’t. Certainly the Padre had remarkably powers of insight. And my student was right; the Padre, who died soon after this incident, was canonized in 2002.
A friend of mine named Gary told me how he had heard the Dalai Lama speak during a visit to New York. Asked if he could love even the Chinese Communists who had even threatened his life, the Dalai Lama replied, “It is very difficult, but … I love them.” This reply so impressed Gary that he resolved to save up all he could so he could go to India to thank the Dalai Lama in person for this feat of love and forgiveness. He did get there and did meet the Dalai Lama and chat with him, but that is not the point of this story. Before going to the Dalai Lama’s residence-in-exile, he attended a large gathering to hear a famous Indian guru speak. There were thousands there, and foreigners were seated in a special section. When the guru arrived, he walked down an aisle right beside the section for foreigners, and for the briefest instant Gary’s eyes met his. Instantly Gary felt spiritual energy pass from the guru’s eyes into his – a unique experience that he could attest to without being able to explain it.
Though I myself have never experienced it, I have no doubt that such energy exists and that it can be transmitted from one person to another. Westerners may scoff, since this cannot be verified scientifically at present, but I suspect that someday science will catch up with the wisdom of Eastern traditions of spirituality and healing. Whether it is in my lifetime or not, I hope that it will happen.
So much for these three varieties of looks. There are many more, I’m sure. Tell me if you have experienced any; I’m eager to hear.
Modern Art Strikes Again: Never underestimate the ability of great art to take us to a new place, to reveal exciting fresh dimensions of human experience. The Guggenheim Museum is installing a sculptural masterpiece by Maurizio Cattelan in a small room devoted to quiet meditation and other modes of experience: a functioning solid-gold toilet that will meet the needs of visitors while also commenting acerbly on today’s art market. Visitors will no doubt form long lines awaiting admission – singly, I assume – to view and utilize this break-through innovation and in the process, I hope, achieve new insights into art and the human experience. I trust that it uses a minimum of water in flushing.
The book: My selection of posts from this blog has won first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards, which can be accessed here. Sheri Hoyte, in the accompanying review, calls the book "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City…. I highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City. It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps." (The full review is also included in post #223 of March 27, 2016.) As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Coming soon: Annals of the Judson City Public Library: Dark Deeds Revealed, Things the Public Never Knew. The whole scandalous story at last exposed.
© 2016 Clifford Browder