In 1990, Esquire Magazine excerpted Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs an All—the story of a girl named Salome dancing the Seven Veils in a bar during Superbowl. While half the crowd looked past her to the game, and the other half learned beautiful things about the layers of deceit and distraction with which they veil their own perceptions.
Back in 1990, I was reading for the sex, not the moral. Salome stands mysterious before her repressed but randy New York audience of bankers and bartenders, and the first veil she drops is the one that should be the last.
I was in the seventh grade, and still someone who cared about commercial sporting events. But one Sunday after church I sat up in the living room with the Esquire tucked between the pages of something more benign and discovered the smallest possibilities for transgressive writing, transgressive thinking. Transgressive acting. That first veil dropped before I even knew what was happening.
O god o god o god! I can't believe I am reading this! O GOD! Can he write that? This magazine is so great! I could get in so much trouble for this. But I can't stop!
Shit, is anybody going to come up the drive and catch me reading this? Will they know from the look in my face that it’s not Brio Magazine? Crap this is dangerous.
How an issue of Esquire made it past the threshhold of my folks’ house—where “secular music” was prohibited and I was not allowed a subscription to Newsweek because it was “too liberal—is another story, and a funny one. So is the story of how I actually learned popular music those first decades—buying up all the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” sheet music at the piano store in town. The Beatles and Elton John, even Led Zeppelin and Guns ‘n’ Roses: all available in sheet music, and me playing the piano since I was six. The shot of recognition the very first time I heard Stairway to Heaven played on CD in my college dorm was so deep: oh, that’s the mood they used to sing the lines “it makes me wonder”…. I had it right all the time, just reading from the page.
Anyway, how lucky to sneak Tom Robbins’ Salome past the gates. In the story, she’s not the evil murdering Salome (who dances for the severed head of John the Baptist) from the Bible’s version of the story. If I remember at all she is awkwardly tender and wants nothing less than liberation for those who would objectify her. As she competes with the Super Bowl and wins, she uses her body (and Robbins’ words) to say this:
The veils of ignorance, disinformation, and illusion
separate us from that which is imperative
to our understanding of our evolutionary journey,
shield us from the Mystery that is central to being.