Review of a Serial Ejaculator: Subway Line 7 and the Antonin Drake Method
Winter usually presents the most desperate moments for an exhibitionist. The cold air turns us into exclusive affairs. We linger alone, rush up the stairs apart from our friends, and because it’s always too chilly to stop and talk, we cover our eyes and ears and lips in thick cloth, cotton or polyester, anything at all to obstruct language and hearsay and hot air.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that at these seasons of our lives the most sensitive among us, truly the most alone, find themselves doubly isolated from even neighbors. Everything about their instincts already balks at the sight of an approaching colleague, and everything about the snow adds only pain to this hesitation. They already comprise part of an inaccessible world, an Earth that moves ahead of the coy and careful and rushes flippantly past the terribly shy and short. Winter only weighs down this reluctance to speak like solitude anchored to a long, dark alley, and it’s a burden only the medicated are really equipped to carry, particularly as their reliance on pills rewires and reshapes their available circuits to know only a deep, horrible loneliness, discerning it from nothing better.
It’s precisely this feeling that Turkish psychiatrist Abdalet Şule Abdalet had in mind when he coined and defined the now defunct Hollowed Loin Syndrome in his seminal 1997 work The Ashes of White Confetti. Per his introduction, Hollowed Loin Syndrome is “the matrix of socio-cultural circumstances that contributes to powerlessness and leads directly to public demonstrations of solitude, typically in the nude and more often than not resulting in audience-oriented masturbation or self-flagellation and climax.” In the span of a year, professionals across Western Europe ran with Hollowed Loin and each at their own pace, psychiatrists at institutionalizing facilities and therapists in private practices, developed treatment methods to address symptoms in the hopes of preventing a patient’s outreach to ejaculation.
But in 2001, first the Greek philosopher Stylianos Stamatios and then Czech neurologist Mila Radúz disproved Abdalet’s theory. The former studied the gyrations of local strippers and observed that less than eight percent of them ever achieve orgasm on either the pole or at a table or in some combination of stage swirls and dressing room afterthoughts. The latter assessed the brain scans of over four hundred mid-level executive, homeless, and food service men and women who were jailed at any time in the previous two years for public displays of genitalia, and she found little or no correlation between individual living conditions and Abdalet’s assertion that “there is, in fact, a defined array of personal circumstances that leads to a detrimental feeling of untouchability, rendering a subject prone to the worst kinds of displays of his or her loneliness, namely, that he or she will want to masturbate in very public places so that he or she will leave traces of him- or herself for everyone to step on, look at, or touch.”
Like all tidied medical conditions, Abdalet’s assurances could not stand the test of time. As Radúz explains, “In a world that increasingly distrusts even the best of a close encounter, it makes sense to want to believe this explanation, however simplifying and misleading.” But in Stamatios’s conclusion, “What this silly notion does indicate, however, is that there really are ways of studying the human response to loneliness, evaluating it, even, for its narrative, lyricism, and clarity.”
It’s with this in mind that we study December’s occurrences on the crosstown train, particularly as the winter proves to be the coldest in nearly twenty years. Fewer commuters have ridden public transportation this season. Certainly it’s in everyone’s right to telecommute or drive into town inside a warm car alone. However, with growing buffers between women with briefcases and men in suits, the groundwork is seemingly laid for a sparse stage, train cars of people sitting by themselves, their eyes half-shut and staring lower and lower by the passing minute.
It was on this train I first saw, we all first saw, Antonin Drake. It’s this kind of setting that makes for a man like Antonin Drake. Over a four-day stretch, on the crosstown train, Antonin Drake reached into his loose pants and pulled on himself in front of complete strangers five time, four of which I witnessed myself. There were some masturbatory sequences in which his rhythm seemed incredibly forceful; there were still others in which he paced himself adagio, like the process required a patience to feel, to really feel, the feeling of rock bottom solitude that seemed to make his chest palpitate, his eyes half-blind and lingering from one end of the ceiling to the other, until he finished, which on two occasions I could not see because my stop had arrived and I stepped off the train. Overall, however, his encounters with climax offered mixed results and a poor sense of repetition that indicated, or at least seemed to indicate, a growing refusal, as the days lapsed, to feel, to really feel, the feeling he was there to feel, to embrace the deserted island story he was there to embody, to tell, to write on the floor for the rest of us watching, or resisting to watch, on the train.
When first I saw Antonin Drake, that Tuesday, I was sitting on his same train bench, a young professional and school-age girl between us. Soon after the 3rd Avenue stop, a man sitting across Antonin Drake disgustedly stood up and stormed to the end of the train car, shaking his head until he sat again and puffed his Ack! with no regard for the politesse of quiet commutes. Having jumped to her feet next, the school-age girl screamed and ran to the end of the train car laughing but also appalled and covering her lips. At odds with both was a young man, college-aged, not five feet from Antonin Drake, lost in the subway tunnel lights speeding by and in his head phones, bopping, his eyes red and, glimmering faint traces of moisture beneath his lashes, like melting stone. He sat unbeknownst to Antonin Drake who, when I finally leaned forward to consider what the comedy of horrors might have been, had begun tugging so hard on himself it seemed a beast beat at the inner walls of his pants, wanting out, wanting desperately out and into an eternity above time.
I forced myself straight into my seat, the subway car window across me suddenly bigger and darker despite the streaking neon green. I turned to the bopping young man beside me and saw through him to Antonin Drake, stiff and slouched low, breathing slowly, his knees so far into the aisle they could have served as banisters for the elderly or unable. He beat himself forcefully forward and back, very apparently for the specific feeling of each direction. But the young man beside him never budged. In fact, his head bobbed gradually more intentionally until his fists began pounding inescapable and invisible drums and he somehow doubled the speed of Antonin Drake, catching a fourth beat on every one of Antonin Drake’s.
If the young man didn’t know what was happening, then the concerto echoed silently from them to the end of the train car like a singular cosmic force. However, if the young man had every knowledge of what was happening then Antonin Drake’s performance in melancholy beamed with the lasting effect that Hollowed Loin requires, that is, “a ripple through space that, if the performance is to effectuate any lasting bonds, must inspire audiences to venture into their own protests, their own demonstrations of loneliness, repetitive movements reflecting unbearable solitude in concert with the feeling to touch someone else or communicate sound and oneself to someone else.”
Stamatios’s negation of Hollowed Loin leaves room for at least that part of Abdalet’s calculations. However, considering that sixty-seven percent of his audience scampered horrified, we can reasonably conclude Antonin Drake had held something back, approached some feeling without wholly committing to the clarity or narrative necessary for commanding his deep, abysmal well. Clearly, he embodied the essential rhythm, but the question becomes was it a cohesive song?
On Wednesday, I occupied the same spot on the same bench on the 7:16am train. (When I exited the previous morning, I counted my position relative to the numbered windows on the car and the number of cars to the end of the train.) This time Antonin Drake was at the end of the train car, legs crossed, one thigh over the other, left hand pressed between them and inside his pants, his body steady and leaning into a nook between the end and side walls, his cheek and chin molded by a poster ad. When Antonin Drake turned slightly to the people across him, his shaking lips revealed the palpitations in his left hand, a horrified professional jumped to her feet and screamed at him and marched off. An old woman beside her, shocked by the younger woman’s storm, leaned forward as if sniffing for crimes, and slowly she realized, in incremental stages proportional to senility and age, what Antonin Drake had been up to, and then her eyes lit up, her face shook, she looked left and right and behind her and to angles where no one’s eyes would meet her. And then she quickly grabbed her grocery bags stammering Oh no Oh no no no no no. She achingly wobbled to the far dragging crisp the plastic, the running train rattling her as she almost stumbled into vertical handrails.
And for the second consecutive day, just one person remained, this time a man and his briefcase standing at the door, who when he finally caught Antonin Drake’s method, turned away disbelievingly. He saw me, turned back to Antonin Drake, and then turned away again. He saw me, he shook his head, and then he chuckled, No way. He glanced at Antonin Drake and then the turned away and then he chuckled, No way man no way you’re so alone. The man did not budge from his place at the door, even though swaths of empty seating offered whatever cave he could he crawl to he’d wanted to hide. It seemed on Wednesday that the Antonin Drake narrative had at least been illustrative, whatever clarity missing because we couldn’t read the Antonin Drake face and whatever rhythm lost because the Antonin Drake writhing carried a convulsive throbbing in place of a strict tempo, No way man it’s like three straight days like this like three straight days this guy with his story and no message.
Thursday, because the temperature spiked at 35 degrees for the first time in a month, the train car ran full, and the only indication I got of the Antonin Drake story came from a quarter of the car that turned away disgusted when I stood up to find him. The parts in people’s hairs radiated east like a water main burst at its elbow. Only two parted hairtops faced west, most likely into the Antonin Drake line of sight and into its message, certainly an objective without a past and a statement with no sound because the audience of two scratched their heads trying (presumably) to discern a substance in Antonin Drake’s mechanics. I couldn’t attest to the language he used, only that its imagery was perhaps the most vivid yet, and soon after the Broadway stop, the wild shouts started, the shoving got out of control, and I was pinned to my seat by an unexpected mob trying desperately to push through a plastic wall that could only stretch. And maybe the audience of two remained because they had been confounded, captivated that there had anything at all to read in the horror and probably trying a history and purpose beyond the act, a gesture whose narrative was most likely found wanting in spite of a clarity and rhythm that kept just two people still enough to surmise so much more had been intended.
And it’s precisely this that had marked Raduz’s critical entry point into Hollowed Loin, this being the theory’s most pressing betrayal: that even if some message is apparent (some I need this touching moment between us or Look at me I’m gyrating yours), there aren’t always corresponding socio-cultural circumstances to offer shade; there doesn’t always have to be story or more than just moments of opportunity. It’s precisely these doubts that Abdalet used to redefine the spectacle: one not necessarily bogged down by existential crisis, but one framed simply by even a rudimentary understanding of performance.
However, the Antonin Drake method couldn’t have been altogether excluded by enumerated outliers. Certainly Hollowed Loin, because the critical research cast sufficient doubt, couldn’t have been all the story. But certainly it partially could have been for Antonin Drake. Raduz’s rebuttals focused on the intention (or lack thereof) of women, and Abdalet’s dismissals were largely based on Raduz’s earlier work and his analytical pool too wide to comprehend personal motivations. I don’t mean to cast doubt on doubters. Motivational analyses would be nowhere if researchers reserved only nay-saying approaches to the problem.
However, when, in my observations, it became men and only men who at least discerned something in the Antonin Drake performance to remark upon or contend with and (most importantly) not run away from, we can at least draw the conclusion, if Hollowed Loin Syndrome is, in fact, very real and only misunderstood or incompletely constructed and realized, that there must be something about solitude and moments of escape, power and burdens of expectation that compel exceptions of men to both resort to these kinds of public demonstrations and to become their most transparent audiences, whether reluctant or unwitting or engrossed. Without further qualitative cases to assess, I can only rest my generalizations, at least for the moment, on the questions this interpretation begs. Especially in light of the last and most telling morning, I can only situate myself upon the vague consequences of this untrained thought.
It’s upon these essentials that my three observable days have to be structured, the only three available because on the fourth, the temperature plummeted to six degrees and there were only three riders in the car, the last on the far end of the train, and Antonin Drake, after initiating his preparatory routine, sealing his eyes shut and his lips and what can only be assessed as self-fondling before the big dance, he opened his eyes. He held one end all to himself. No one sat in the bench across him. No one sat or stood beside him. He exhaled as if taken aback by a train of ghosts for eyes, and then he turned to me. I was the only one looking, which to him must have seemed wild-eyed surprise or staring, which had he judged, I wouldn’t have blamed him for dismissing as a biased and unfair judge.
I half-expected him to hide, in his own way, or even follow his plans through, out of spite or monotony or strict obedience to schedule. Instead, he seemed to loosen his arm and tuck his free hand into his coat pocket. He let his eyes fall, exhausted and fixed to some faint boot print on the floor. And then he looked at me again, half-expecting, I thought, to trouble me for a cigarette or for help closing the curtains, You okay man, Yeah I got a story man, Have you been wanting to tell it, It’s easy sometimes to skip the whole middle you know, What do you want people to know, That it’s hard you know, It’s probably just really cold is all, Man I always got some place to be, You in a hurry or something, Yeah and I’m always having to do something, You can’t just stop, Not me man not in my place, What kind of place is that you think, Some place I’m always climbing, You never get tired, Man I get too tired, And you can’t stop no time, Man I ain’t got time to stop, Nowhere to sleep without noise, Man I ain’t got time to stop climbing.
He seemed to say the rest in a kind of coded silence. It must have been alien to me. I couldn’t decipher it. It’s strange to think the man had gone so long troubled with uncoupling himself he never understood the silences of even implied coupling, those moments when conversations and intimacies capture nothing truly remarkable but something worth carrying with us from time to time, at least until those next untroubled moments in someone else’s hesitation, those next timid sighs before someone else’s coldness, or at least those challenging exchange we miscalculate.
J. C. Reyes was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He is the product of an unsatisfying math degree, but only words hold his attention anymore. His stories, poems and essays have appeared in The Brooklyner, Arcadia Magazine, and Hawai’i Review, among other outlets. He holds an M.F.A. in Fiction, and he currently teaches creative writing and literature at The University of Alabama.