A Mad and Furious Master

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Rivers Cuomo English Czr Kyoko Mori 10/18/04

A Mad and Furious Master

Flavor Flav: What you out for?
Ice Cube: I’m only out for one thing.
Flavor Flav: What you out for, man?
Ice Cube: Yo, I’m out for the p***y, the money, and the mic . . .
--Ice Cube, From Amerikkka’s Most Wanted

When I first became successful, I never had physical relations with fans. Even when women came to my hotel room, sometimes ten or fifteen at a time, I never made a move. The women would forget that I was there and talk excitedly amongst themselves, often about other bands, as they raided the mini-bar.
“Isn’t Green Day great??” one would ask, cracking open her tenth Heineken.
“Omigod, yeah, and the lead singer’s soooo cute!!”
I would just lie in bed until I fell asleep, alone.
Then one night, I plucked up my courage and boldly proclaimed, “OK, whoever wants to stay in the room has to . . . uhh . . . take off their clothes and…uhh…get on the bed”. The women tittered and most of them left, but four of them stayed, and to my amazement, did as I asked.
For a while, I thought I had found the way to ease my loneliness. Then one day, my friend Todd called and said, “Rivers, have you seen this website?” He was laughing. “It’s girls telling their stories about being backstage with you. You’re on the front page with devil’s-horns!” I knew then that I would have to find another way.
On the next few tours I started going to massage parlors instead. This gave me privacy, and a reliable way to satisfy my physical desires, but in time, the feeling of loneliness came back. Many nights, after leaving one of these establishments, I would wander around the seedy district of some strange, foreign city with thousands of dollars in my pocket, trying to find the way back to my hotel, afraid to ask anyone for help.
When the tours were finally over, I went home and spent a lot of time by myself. I thought that if indulging my desires only led to more suffering, then maybe resisting them would bring me peace. I remembered that once I had met a man who told me he had been completely celibate for ten years.
“You mean you don’t even . . .?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I don’t even . . .”
I had stared out the window at the barren trees, thinking, How one could be so cruel to oneself? Now, deep in the emptiness of my own excess, I was ready to give this “cruelty” a try. I stopped returning phone calls from women looking be with me. I packed up whatever pornography I had accumulated over my life and left it to be taken out to the trash (incidentally, the box was mistaken as belonging with some others and was taken by an assistant to Salvation Army, where, surely, the male employees high-fived each other until their hands bled). Finally, one day I knelt down on the floor, placed my hands together in front of my chest, closed my eyes, and repeated three times, softly, the words, “I will not engage in sexual activity of any kind, whatsoever, for the next . . . two years.” I waited a few moments, let the words sink in, and then got up and started living out my experiment.

JERRY: But are you still master of your domain?
GEORGE: I am king of the county. You?
JERRY: Lord of the manor.
--Seinfeld, The Contest

At first I felt very strong and enjoyed the challenge of disciplining myself. When friends asked in amazement if I found it difficult to abstain under these conditions, I answered stoically, “It’s difficult, but probably not as difficult as kicking heroin”. Things got more difficult, however, as my body realized that it wasn’t going to get any release for a long, long time. I started exhibiting the classic signs of physical frustration: I tossed and turned in bed all night. I hung on for too long when girlfriends hugged me hello or good-bye (they had to pry me off). I spent extra time in the shower, soaping and scrubbing, wistfully. I even had my very first night-time accident, waking up and rolling over onto my back, tears filling my eyes.
I didn’t make it any easier on myself by occasionally cheating a little, “accidentally” stumbling onto an adult site while surfing the internet.
“What’s this??” I asked myself. “Rate-my-camel-toe.com? Disgraceful! I’d better click on some more pictures here just to make sure my eyes aren’t deceiving me.”
One time, I even made the incredibly stupid decision of going to a “pajama” party at the Playboy Mansion. I sat by the dance floor the whole night, twitching and drooling, slightly, as hundreds of nearly-naked women writhed en masse to the music. When a warm, wet, female mouth suddenly whispered in my ear, “Let me know if you see anything you like—I can make it happen,” my glasses fogged over completely.
I seemed again to be experiencing more suffering than peace. I concluded that modern society was just not conducive to celibate living for a single, successful musician. Marriage, which once had seemed as undesirably permanent as a tattoo, now seemed to be the one, clear hope for my coming out of my longing. It would allow me to have a peaceful physical relationship with one person and continue my work in society without constantly having to fight or give in to the temptations all around. I promised myself to remain celibate until either my wedding day or the end of my vow, whichever came first, and set about trying to find a wife.

“. . . There is nothing nobler
or better than this,
When two people, who think alike, keep house
As man and wife . . .” ''
--Homer, Odyssey

First I tried internet dating. I spent three hours filling out answers to questions like “Would you describe yourself more as: outgoing, personable, extroverted, or just plain jolly?” After submitting this application, I was immediately rejected with the explanation, “We are sorry, but there is no one in our database, anywhere in the world, that is appropriate for you. Thank you!!” I felt humiliated. In retrospect, I probably should not have described myself as someone who is all 5’s looking for someone who is all 10’s.
I then turned to online social networks, like Friendster.com. I quickly found someone that seemed like wife-material. She was beautiful, talented, and appeared to have the same values as me. I wrote many messages to her trying to get her attention but she didn’t respond. This, of course, made me even crazier for her, so I started uploading songs that I had recorded for her. Even after radio stations started downloading the songs and playing them on the air, she still wasn’t impressed. Then, a friend of mine, who also happened to know her, contacted me and said, “What are you doing, man? She is totally wrong for you!!” I was incredulous.
“Why?” I asked.
“Let me tell you,” he said, and then recited a massive litany of reasons which I had to agree, albeit reluctantly, were totally legitimate. Apparently, I hadn’t really seen the woman but rather the projection of my own desires onto her online profile. Perhaps the internet wasn’t the best place to meet someone with whom I was planning to spend the rest of my life. I needed to find someone the old-fashioned way, face to face. College, which I had never quite finished before, was probably my best bet. I made all the arrangements and busied myself writing out a list of the qualities I sought in a partner, so that I could be sure to recognize her as soon as I saw her.
Before I left for school, however, I suddenly, miraculously, met someone. On our first date, I reviewed all of the points on my checklist and concluded, “She’s perfect!!!” I very quickly started planning our future life together, including where we were going to live, how many kids we were going to have, and what instruments our kids would play. I didn’t let her come into my apartment at first, however, because I didn’t want to endanger my vow of celibacy. Then one night, as she dropped me off, she said, “Can I just come in and use your bathroom?”
Bathroom-use led to showing–of-the-apartment which then led to frantic groping on the couch, rendered comical by the fact that I wouldn’t let myself kiss her or touch her anywhere important. “How does that feel, baby?” I said, fondling her elbow. When she finally asked, “Isn’t there anything else we can do?” my brain went into overdrive and worked out the various permutations: “Let’s see,” I said. “According to the strict definition of celibacy: I am not allowed to touch you [“you” meaning . . . well, you know], you are not allowed to touch me, I am not allowed to touch myself . . .and you . . .Wait a minute!
We scrambled up the stairs to my loft and dove onto my bed. She rolled onto her back and put her hand to herself as I climbed on top and brushed my mouth against hers and all over her face and neck. I didn’t touch her down there, but I ran my hand up and down her arm, feeling her muscles tense up and twitch as she worked herself more and more furiously. She kept going until finally she let out a big moan and relaxed. I looked down on her, whimpered, and then fell over onto my back and stared at the ceiling, fire-like sensations bursting from every cell in my body. I had heard that Buddhist monks only had a few precepts to follow originally —for example, no killing, no stealing, and no sexual relations—but that eventually, their list grew to many hundreds in order to accommodate all the ingenious ways they had devised to get around them, for example, by having sex with trees. I thought that if I were a monk, after that night in the loft, they might have had to add one more to their list.
Sadly, within a few weeks of that night, we broke up. The woman moved away and quickly got herself a new boyfriend. Although there are many reasons why our relationship didn’t work out, it certainly couldn’t have helped that I had started scouring the internet for new friends again. I had to conclude that perhaps marriage wasn’t going to satisfy my longing. Here I had someone who seemed so perfect, relative to the checklist in my mind, and then quickly started longing for something else. I was devastated that my desires, it appeared, had led me again into pain, and caused pain for someone else. All alone in my apartment, now, I decided to try a new tack to escape my longing. I made a strong determination to avoid the sight of women altogether.

"Be careful not to look at women. If you happen to see them, do not look at them. Be careful not to talk to them. If you talk to them, be sure to guard your minds and behaviors.” -- Buddha, to the monks.

After a few days of not seeing any women at all, I started feeling a greater sense of inner peace. I could see why a monk in seclusion might actually be happier than those of us who indulge in the pleasures of the flesh. I remembered that Sophocles, one of the best-looking men in ancient Athens, was asked in his old age, "How does love suit with age -- are you still the man you were?” and replied, "Peace, most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master." I felt that I too was escaping from a mad and furious master. My night-time accidents were occurring less and less frequently and my explicit fantasies started to wane. That part of my mind and body was shriveling from lack of use.
I wondered if Muslim women veil their faces at least partly in an attempt to promote this kind of peace in both themselves and the men around them. I knew that Qawwali singers in Pakistan don’t even allow women to attend their concerts, believing that the sight of women distracts them from devoting their performance to God. Contemplating this, I wondered what my concerts would be like with no women in the audience. Would I dress the same? Would I move the same? Would I write the same words? Would I even bother to give concerts? Would I even bother to write songs? I wondered how many of my supposedly artistic or philosophical efforts, from songwriting, to performing, to trying my hardest in school, were really just base attempts to attract a mate. These questions troubled me, but I figured I would find the answers, for better or for worse, now that women were no longer a part of my life.
Then I began to ask myself a question even more troubling: what if I wasn’t physically able to go back to sexual activity if, one day, I changed my mind. My meditation teacher once said that a celibate meditator slowly loses his ability to have children. Was this okay with me? I put it to myself this way: If there were a switch I could flip that would forever turn off my sex drive, would I do it? I wasn’t sure that I would. I had always thought I would have kids someday. When I was a child, my step-dad told me that his mother had thrown out his comics, which I otherwise would have inherited. I swore that I would never let this happen to mine; I would save mine for my kids. Although I let go of almost all my possessions, including my car, my house, and my bed, I still had those comics, three thousand miles away, locked in storage. What would I do with them if I never had kids? My life yawned out before me, no wife, no kids, and seemed unbearably lonely. I decided that I had to at least keep my life open to the possibility of meeting someone and starting a family. With this vague resolution in mind, I headed back to school.

“So high, you can’t get over it
So low, you can’t get under it
So wide, you can’t get around it
You must come in at the door.”
--Negro Spiritual

During the first week, I went to check out a class on women’s literature mostly because it would help me meet the requirements for my degree. I went to the lecture with an open mind, but when I opened the door, arriving a little late, all thirty students, all women, turned and looked at me, and I realized that I might be in for trouble. “Heh,” I said, and slinked into a seat in the back. After the teacher, pacing furiously back and forth in front of the class used both the phrases “dead white men” and “the POWER of female sexuality!” within thirty seconds of my sitting down, my old defense mechanism of spacing out kicked in and I didn’t hear much else of what she said.
“Pssshh!” I thought, later, as I walked back to my room. “What I could really use some help with is my sexuality.” I kept my head down and watched my feet fall in front of me, left, right, left, right. “After all this time supposedly mastering my cravings, I’m still just as confused, frustrated, and lonely as ever. On top of that, my vow is almost up and I’ll soon have to choose what to do next.” I crossed the street and went over one bridge and under another. “Am I going to high-tail it back to the next party at the Playboy Mansion? Am I going to find the love of my life by some miracle? Am I going to renew my vow for another two years, or ten years, or life? I have no idea!!” I was walking without awareness of my surroundings. “And you know what? It doesn’t even matter which path I choose when my vow is over, I’m still going to have to face my completely incompatible cravings for promiscuity, companionship, and solitude. There is no one right choice that will magically bring me peace and ease the longing in my heart.” I sighed, looked around, and realized that I was totally lost. I couldn’t recognize any of the buildings or landscaping around me. The people that walked by seemed totally unfamiliar, more mature and business-like, than the people I usually see on campus. I collapsed onto a bench.
Leaning back, I sensed the sun setting behind my head. “Ehh . . .” I thought. “I guess there’s a kind of comfort in uncertainty. All I can do in the end is embrace it.” I smiled. “And buck up, cowboy, there have been a few positive changes since you’ve been a celibate. You’re not quite as desperate for action as you were when you first became a star. You’re not quite as desperate to find someone to make you feel complete. You’re not even as desperate to be alone. You’re doin’ okay, buddy.”
I noticed the moon starting to shine in the sky and then I heard a female voice from my left. A woman was standing there, with slightly wavy hair, dark against her white skin. She looked at me inquisitively. “Excuse me, are you Rivers Cuomo?” she said.
“Yes,” I said
“Hi,” she said. “My name is ****” There were a few moments of silence.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“Nice to meet you!” she said. “What are you doing out here?”
“I was going back to the Quad. I . . . got lost.”
She held out her hand to me and smiled. “Let me take you there. That’s where I’m going!”

See also