Spoiler Alert: If rape is out-of-bounds as a humor-topic, then stop right here and go on to some other inoffensive site. Otherwise, learn how an Ayn Rand reject got revenge in the 2012 election. A word of additional caution: George Saunders' reminiscence of his rape-filled relationship with Ayn Rand occurred in 1974. Saunders names Paul Ryan (yes, that Paul Ryan) as the new object of Ayn Rand's affections in 1977. According to Wikipedia, Paul Ryan was 7 years old in 1977. That makes Rand a pedophile twice over because Saunders in this fantasy was 17 and younger than the age of consent. If this is (fair & balanced) lampoonery, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
I Was Ayn Rand's Lover
By George Saunders
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Many of my Republican friends have said to me, “George, why are you voting for Barack Obama?” They assume it is because I believe in his radical socialist agenda of being fair to everyone, even the poor. But that’s not it at all. I could actually care less about the poor. We have some living near us, and pee-yew. They are always coming and going to their three or four jobs at all hours of the day and night. Annoying! No, the reason I am voting for Obama is more complicated. And it’s painful. But there’s a lot at stake in this election and so I’m going to confess some embarrassing personal stuff here.
Not many people know this, but I was once Ayn Rand’s lover. That’s right. The year was 1974. I was a fresh-faced seventeen-year-old, she was a prominent international author—and we were lovers. By “lovers” I mean: we were constantly raping each other. Well, first there’d be a long speech. Usually by her. Then we’d gaze deeply at one another, and our souls would begin speaking the only language a man and a woman ever need: the language of mutual self-benefit. Each grasped, in the unflinching gaze of the other, a silent acknowledgment of the nobility of man, especially as manifested in work, the work that purified the soul the way steel is purified in the smelter. That sort of thing.
I was actually the basis for Howard Roark, and the way he rapes Dominique Francon in The Fountainhead. Except, in real life, Ayn was Howard Roark and I was Dominique Francon. Well, whatever. I was seventeen and some of the nuances were lost on me. All I know is, there was a lot of initial unwillingness, followed by a lot of rapture, and an admission that the initial unwillingness was a test, a test to see if the one doing the raping had the purity of vision to see that the raped one understood, with every fibre of his or her being, that the truly rapacious ones were not the capitalists—who were, in fact, the only ones capable of freeing the earth’s great treasures for the use of all—but, rather, those who would cry victim, and pillage that which the capitalist had earned, thus undercutting the most powerful thing a man has—his sense that he was a God walking the earth, and must take power, and enjoy power, and never apologize for being, you know, powerful.
Then sometimes afterward we’d watch “The Brady Bunch” or “Three’s Company.” She didn’t love these shows, but raping me was hard work, as I was pretty buff in those days, so by the end of the night, being in her seventies and all, she was tired, and would pretty much watch anything.
It wasn’t easy being the lover of such an intellectual powerhouse. Sometimes I’d come in from a sock-hop or cross-country meet and she’d have that look in her eyes, that look that said she was about to give me a two-hour lecture on the power-grabbers and then throw me down on the couch and rape me until it became consensual. And I’d be like, “Ayn, look, I’d love to but I have Algebra—” at which time, because I’d rebuffed her, she’d correct my pronunciation of her name. She was always changing the way it was pronounced. Sometimes it rhymed with “line,” sometimes it was plain old “Ann,” sometimes it was “Ion,” and once, during a confusing period, she briefly became “Randy.” (That I didn’t get. But I knew better than to challenge her. You could get de-Objectified very quickly in those days.) Then she would rip the Algebra book from my hands and throw me across some Frank Lloyd Wright-looking piece of furniture, and we would take from each other the pleasure that is a human being’s right, the unapologetic gratification of one’s selfish, noble urges, a pleasure second only to the pleasure of recognizing that all your life you’d been fed a steady diet of lies from the wreckers who would reduce man to a mere beast sucking at the teat, thereby robbing him of the power of the work of his hands.
And sometimes after that we’d go to Denny’s. But not usually, because I was underage. And my dad sometimes stopped by there on the way home from the mill. And also we’d sometimes see my friends there, and, like clockwork, there’d be this big argument about global monetary policy and whether Foghat was even real music.
Still, those were such wonderful times. Sometimes Ayn and I would read the newspaper and just sit around feeling a blind fury. Other times we would spend whole afternoons not pretending about things, with no cheating. Some days we would stride about, feeling violently alive. There was always so much to do. Sometimes we would hike out to a waterfall or cliff and stand wordlessly thinking about how much the pure and simple lines of the other’s body resembled the waterfall or cliff, and become aroused at this thought. Sometimes we would stare at each other with the concentration one would use when walking along a naked girder in an unfinished building. On that one, we sort of had to guess, since neither of us had actually ever done that. She was a writer, I was a junior in high school—what did we know about walking on girders? Mostly though, we would just drive around in my Chevy van, seeking, as she used to put it, “the inner state of an exalted self-esteem.” That was not easy. Whenever we were doing that, she always insisted the radio be off. That was a drag. This was right around the time “Rambling Man” was getting popular, and I loved that song. Also, I had to be home by ten, so we usually didn’t quite attain “the inner state of an exalted self-esteem.” Especially if there was any raping to be done.
Anyway, everything was cool—until this new kid showed up. I instantly knew she liked him: that gray streak in her hair started to glow even more fiercely than usual, the way it did when she was aroused. Yes, you guessed it—that boy was Paul Ryan. He was handsome and confident and ripped, and I could tell right away, as soon as she saw him, that my days of being consensually raped were over.
In many ways we were alike. I was working-class, he was working-class. I was a weightlifter, he was a weightlifter. In any other situation, we would have been friends.
He was a nice guy. I had nothing against him. But we were in love with the same old intellectual woman, and there was no way around it.
We became bitter rivals.
When we were first starting out, Ayn used to always say that she admired the silent contempt in the shape of my mouth. She’d say she loved the cold, pure brilliance of my eyes that held not a trace of pity. She loved the way that when I looked at her, it was an act of ownership. She said mine was the most beautiful face she had ever seen, because it was the abstraction of strength made visible. And I was always like, “Really, wow, thanks, Ms. Rand, thanks a lot.” But now she was saying those things—to Paul!
At first I couldn’t believe it. I thought maybe they were just friends. But no. She was totally hot for him. She’d say things like, “Paul really gets it about how the true purpose of human existence is the utter renunciation of the altruism fallacy.” And I’d just stand there lamely, going, “No, I know, I completely get that—I was actually just thinking that.” But soon I could see I was no match for Paul. He was a true believer. I was weak. Sometimes I liked to have fun, and be silly. I played Twister. I did. I had an aunt who was handicapped and on Medicare, and I basically liked her. Whenever we’d stop by, Ayn would sit there glaring at Aunt Sue’s state-sponsored wheelchair. And afterwards there’d be a quarrel.
“That woman,” Ayn would say. “She feeds off the labors of those who would never dream of lowering themselves to accept the fruits that others have harvested with the sweat of their brows.”
“Well, I guess,” I’d say. “But she’s nice, right? And it wasn’t her fault she got muscular dystrophy. Did you like the pie?”
Ayn would fall silent. And there’d be no raping that night.
I was so stupid! In retrospect I can see that I was experiencing a moment of self-indulgent philosophical weakness. I think it was the hormones. Or maybe my acne medication. Whatever it was, I’d started to think there might exist some suffering people who had not brought it upon themselves, and who might therefore be worthy of some help, some help from us, the larger group. I knew it was wrong, I knew I was pushing away the woman I loved—but somehow I couldn’t help it. I was young, I was confused. Also, I was on food stamps. That was my dirty little secret. I was a plunderer. Not all the time, but just sometimes, when Mom’s heart thing kicked in and she had to stay home from work. Or when the mill shut down and Dad got laid off. I kept this secret from Ayn, but in the end, compared to Paul, I must have seemed as weak and liberal and unmanly as Ellsworth Toohey, if Ellsworth Toohey had Farah Fawcett hair and was slumping around town all depressed wearing a letter jacket.
And suddenly it was over. Soon, she was back in her airy Upper East Side apartment, standing legs akimbo in a posture of strength at the window, regarding, beneath her, all that man had created via his indomitable will-to-power, while Paul, at a simple but elegant table behind her, worked out the details of the austere, even cruel, budget she hoped he would someday implement, and there I was, back in my sock-smelling bedroom, listening to “Photographs and Memories” by Jim Croce, feeling like a total dork. Or, as Ayn might have said, a “parasitic whining parasite.” Sometimes I’d see them in the drive-through at McDonald’s, in Paul’s red Camaro, Ayn (or “Ann,” or “Ion,” whatever) sitting nearly in his lap, eating his fries, chiding the minimum-wage workers behind the counter whenever they slightly slowed in their efforts—it was a heartbreaker.
Anyone who knew Ayn knew that she was not big on sniveling. But I was devastated. We’d often talked about “stopping the engine of the world.” Well, now she had stopped the engine of my heart. So, yes, I sniveled a bit. Although, in keeping with my Objectivist principles, when I sniveled, I did it in my room, while keeping my face as impassive and noble as I could. Or sometimes I’d call Alan Greenspan, and he’d go, “Oh, you too, eh?”
But I said to myself: someday, I shall have my revenge. Someday, I will let Paul Ryan know how badly he hurt me.
And now, at long last, my moment is here. I am going to vote for Obama in memory of the broken, sniveling boy I was in 1977, even if it means every poor person in America has a fair shot. I am going to vote against Romney-Ryan even if it means those poor freaks living near me end up at home more often, and with health care. I will vote against Paul Ryan even if it means that the rich—the true princes, who give us everything that we have, and ask only to be allowed to produce—must continue to suffer under the many restrictions, such as the law, such as taxes, imposed by the small parasitic men who malinger beneath them, hoping for their crumbs.
Ayn is long gone, but my hurt remains. Maybe it isn’t so much, one crummy vote—but at this point, it’s all I have. Ω
[George Saunders is a New York Times bestselling author of short stories, essays, novellas and children's books. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, McSweeney's, and GQ, among other publications. Saunders is a Professor of English at Syracuse University. He received a B.S. in geophysical engineering from Colorado School of Mines and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. His fourth full-length short story collection, Tenth of December is forthcoming in January 2013.]
Copyright © 2012 Condé Nast Digital
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