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“It was terrific. The best kind,” he says. “We had these appetites that we understood, and it was wonderful that they were taken care of. It was a moment when everybody was giving to the other person what they wanted. The women knew that’s what the men wanted.”
Don’t ask how the subject of casual sex in the sixties came up. It was part of the unfolding of the Saturday afternoon, the laziness of it, like an endless meal of many courses, which you keep expecting to end but never does. You cover one subject, and thank him for his time, thinking he may be tired of talking now, but he doesn’t take the opportunity to say goodbye. “Here, relax, eat,” he will say. “Have more wine. Would you like a piece of cherry pie?” And then the conversation continues.
“If you could have it so much,” I ask, “didn’t that devalue it?”
Cohen offers a frank expression. He could be talking about apples. “Well, nobody gets enough of anything,” he explains matter-of-factly. “You either get too much or not enough. Nobody gets the right amount, in terms of what they think their appetite deserves.
“But it lasted just a few moments,” he says of that time. “And then it was back to the old horror story, whatever it is, that still exists. You know, I’ll give you this if you give me that. You know, sealing the deal: What do I get, what do you get. It’s a contract.”
Cohen’s sexiness, powerful still, is in his accessibility. His open-door atmosphere of hospitality—an invitation to authenticity, to say and ask what you want—makes him an age-appropriate ladies’ man. He is interested in people, in what they think, and he will ask about their lives. But his manner is not invasive or louche. He borders on paternal, or would, that is, if your dad liked to write about cunnilingus and fellatio as if they were fancy Italian appetizers.
“Believe me, what you want is someone to have dinner with,” he advises on having a relationship later in life. “Sleep with from time to time, telephone every day or write. It’s what you set up that is defeating. Make it very modest. And give yourself permission to make a few mistakes. You know, blow it a bit. Have a few drinks and fall into bed with somebody. It doesn’t have to be the final thing.”
Anjani Thomas appears several times as we speak. “See you later, sweetheart,” Cohen calls softly to her when she leaves with a friend to go shopping. Rosengarten, whom he has known since their childhood growing up together on Belmont Street in affluent Westmount, and who now lives nearby, drops in for a chat and some food.
A little later, a light knock. “Ah, a tap-tap-tapping at my chamber door,” Cohen says as he gets up. A graduate student, a young man in his twenties who has written a dissertation on Cohen in his native Italian, has sought him out. Speaking to Cohen in French, he explains his work; gives him a copy; asks if he can speak to him some time at length for future papers he wants to write. Cohen assures him he can. Asked to sign an autograph, he bends down nimbly on one knee in the foyer to do so.