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At a Loss for Words (Beckham on Union Square)
Beckham ad banner in front of Macy's, Union Square, San Francisco, August 2008. photo cred: ph

So, I sit in Union Square and look at David Beckham’s body. There is a 6-story ad covering the front of the Macy’s store facing the square. It is a gorgeous black and white photograph of David dressed only in Emporio Armani undies. I love this image because it is black and white. I love it because he is tattooed, muscled and beautiful. I love it because it is moody and intimate. There have been two of these huge banner ads – the one on display now shows him standing between two railings made of rough wood and piping – very tactile, very masculine. He is not looking at us, but rather off to his left. Lovely. I know this ad is not directed at me – I was told it was hung specifically in advance of the Gay Pride Parade this weekend, but I can look all I want. I can sit in Union Square and just look at Macy’s and David.

The other ad that ran a few weeks ago was David, again only in his undies, sprawled with legs splayed on a couch or a bed, linens rumpled. Same look: moody, intimate, black and white, perhaps a bit more feminine.

But I’m bumping up against my own sense of prudishness or priggishness. The undies leave little to the imagination, or maybe everything. His family jewels aren’t showing, but they do stretch the fabric and shape it. I assume that what is hidden by these undies is all him. And I am uncomfortable.

I wonder about the effect of such ads in such a public place on kids and others with a less urban, less photographic sensibility. I don’t like thinking I’m such a puritan, but maybe I am. I feel vulnerable looking at this ad. I wonder what I’m revealing by writing this at all.

To carry this further, I can’t find language I’m comfortable with to describe genitalia – either my own or others, men or women. I have read my share of romance novels and what we used to call graphic novels and none of the language appeals to me. Penis and vagina are so clinical. Dicks and tits are so offensive – I’m not sure why I feel this way. I’m not sure I care for the bland euphemism of “making love” and sometimes “fucking” is just the right word, but often not, and then we have copulation, which moves us back into the clinical and the embarrassment of high school science class or sex ed.

I love the way blues singers refer to these objects of our desires and acts of intimacy: “Don’t mess with my Toot Toot”; “I’m your Hootchie Cootchie Man”; “Mama’s got a Squeeze Box”; “Little Red Rooster”, or “I got my mojo workin’”. I love that stuff. With a roll of the eyes and emphasis on the right syllables I can make anything into an invitation -- letting a man know he can “ro-tate” my tires.

The other day on CNN Anderson Cooper and some of the other political commentators were talking with Donna Brazile, one of the undeclared super delegates, and all of a sudden, the men were all flirting with her and there were these back and forth comments about being her “Boo.” I was glued to the TV set. She lowered her eyelids slowly, smiled slowly, and made some comment back and there was all this lovely energy floating around. The conversation even turned to what “Boo” really meant, and Donna flirted more and as I recall, said that was a conversation for another time. There was nothing explicit, it was quite mysterious and yet we all knew, on some level, what was being discussed. It was sexual and intimate and done live on TV. These are high-minded, serious folks – and it was great!

I like to read about romance and sex. I am available to be taken on a ride by an author – into intimate and sexual realms, and I want it to mean something. I don’t want a clinical description. Yet, when they use other language it often leaves me cold -- euphemisms like shaft, gash, manhood, pussy, or man-root just can’t hold a candle to “Toot Toot.” Other body parts don’t seem to trigger these distancing responses in me. Eyes and hands and fingers and toes do what they will – but I am especially fond of phrases like “He’s a man with a slow hand.”

So, what’s a girl to do? How can I write about intimacy with both clarity and mystery? Maybe I’ll just devise my own little blues dictionary -- I’ll make stuff up and talk in song lyrics – and use my voice, not just to say words, but to imbue them with innuendo. There must be something beyond clinical descriptions, crashing waves, or a fade away to the next morning. Often the little details, especially in intimate moments can be very revealing. So, how do you communicate accurately as well as emotionally?

And how does this connect to David’s body on display in Union Square? Ah, and what if this was Michelangelo’s David and he was completely naked in Union Square, would I have the same reaction and the same concern about kids? That’s art and the Armani ad is both art and commerce. Why should that matter? Is the Armani underwear the equivalent of a fig leaf? Does that draw undo attention to what we are hiding? Maybe that’s what makes me uncomfortable. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe facing my very own American Puritanism is healthy. Maybe we need more nudity in public places. Maybe I should just sit in the square and appreciate the photograph, the muscles, the tattoos and the mood. And find a way to incorporate more of that into my own life.