Between the sheets with Ignatius Reilly.
My father gave me A Confederacy of Dunces when I was twenty-one. Like most people who have read this book, I fell hard for the protagonist, a waddling, unkempt mammoth toddler with “blue and yellow eyes” and crumbs in his mustache. Unlike most people who have read this book, however, my love for Ignatius involved wanting to be naked with him in my bed.
Until then, I’d always thought of myself as straight. I walked straight and I talked straight. I dated girls, I slept with girls, when I jacked off, I jacked off to girls. I had a girlfriend for ten years, and I loved her. I enjoyed each and every time we fucked. Boys never interested me. Not “cute boys,” anyway, not “handsome men.” The only members of my sex I ever noticed were the stockier set. The jovial ones. That was the word I could live with—jovial: both happy and like some god you might see in a fountain. Every time I passed one on the street I’d think something like, “If that guy was my friend I would probably hug him so much that people would start to wonder if we were gay.”
Reading Confederacy, well, it changed me. I was living in Rome at the time. I was often alone so I was often reading. I was being fascinated by a lot of books. My fascination with this book, however, and with the man in the middle of it. I read it erect. I reread it, erecter. Who in the fuck was this Ignatius? Who was this?
I lusted after this chubby mess of a man until I felt sick in the stomach over it.
One scene, near the beginning of the book, had an especially dizzying effect on me. (I’ve read it hundreds and hundreds of times.) It’s where we find Ignatius practicing a little “self-love” in his bed; an innocent, even saintly, wank to a happier time in his life. He had accessories nearby: a rubber glove, a piece of fabric from a silk umbrella, and a jar of Noxzema:
Ignatius manipulated and concentrated. At last a vision appeared, the familiar figure of the large devoted collie that had been his pet in high school…Ignatius’s eyes dilated, crossed, and closed, and he lay back among his four pillows, hoping that he had some Kleenex in his room.
This is the page where I went fag. The solitude and isolation, the very sadness of it all, didn’t turn me off—on the contrary, it was the hook. Sex scenes had always been filled with gorgeous people. Ignatius wasn’t gorgeous. But he was sexual. I think it must have been the first time, in literature or film or life, when it occurred to me these were two different things. It was loud and clear. I had been fooling myself. I wanted something else from the Ignatiuses of the world. Something if much more than hugs.
Giancarlo DiTrapano is the editor of New York Tyrant, a tri-quarterly literary magazine.