Thursday, January 29, 2009
Sex and the Single Loser
Last night, near midnight. The Complete and Total Loser is in his bed, reading Henry James's "The Portrait of a Lady." He's surprised that he's able to read this book. A dull student with a short attention span, reading until just the past few years made him sleepy. Even now, as he reads this book, his eyes have to rewind back over sentences and paragraphs to understand what he's been reading.
He hears a sound. High, rhythmic. It's coming from under the iron steam heat radiator under one of the two windows in the main room of his tiny apartment. The sound is of a woman having sex.
The Loser is surprised for a moment. Not that he can hear this sound, which drifts up from the apartment below like a light smell; the building he lives in is a rowhouse converted cheaply years ago into six small apartments. He's surprised because he forgets that among a huge swath of humankind there are people who regularly, enthusiastically, have sex with each other.
He has had sex. With four women. The first time was in college, during his junior year, September, 1979. The girl was also the first one he kissed. She had pale, soft skin. She was 19, he 21. The relationship did not last past Halloween. The next was in 1981, in Minneapolis. The woman was 22, had a daughter age five who lived with her parents several miles away. The woman wore tube tops, smoked, drank, accepted money for sex from some people and had never finished high school. It was a tawdry affair which lasted from late August until sometime early October. Two years later she called the Loser from Fort Dix, New Jersey and told him she had joined the Army and was in basic training. He was overjoyed for her.
Then there was a gap. Of fifteen years.
In 1997 a woman who'd been a platonic friend since the mid 1980s contacted the Loser from her small house in Cardiff, Wales. There were phone calls, a visit was arranged, she flew to America for a week's stay. He was freelancing and work was light. They drank gin, watched television, talked for hours, went to Washington, had sex. She was a lovely woman, bright, kind, funny and had a musical laugh. But the Loser felt no spark and after months of expensive phone calls after her return what was left of their relationship died. In 2002 they resumed talking by phone and, a new thing for the woman, emailing. Another visit was on the verge of being arranged. Then the woman died. A systemic infection of some kind. He never got a clear reason. He flew to Wales for her funeral. He spent a week there—the way to get an inexpensive flight—walking the streets of Cardiff, going to museums. At night he slept in the tiny bed of one of her friend's.
She remains his most recent liaison.
He's had a few close calls since then. No, one. A woman at work a year ago. He thought the world of her but the passion needed to sustain anything beyond two months eluded him. In bed his lack of ability to sustain an erection came as a new disappointment to him. Age and anxiety. The woman was a recovering alcoholic and he didn't drink when he was with her despite her permission. Some wine, he thought, would help him forget his issues with his body (the deformity) and succeed. Before long she told him he didn't know what he wanted and that she'd been no more than an experiment to him. She cried. A lot. As if her head was full of water. They made a clean break over the course of a week and she found someone new. The new guy takes her places (Paris, Las Vegas) and out to dinner often, something the Loser hated and couldn't afford.
At 15, the Loser would hitchhike home from school often. Once a man in a big car gave him a lift and, as they were driving through a town the region's main suburban drag that hosted a women's college on a warm spring day, the man said, "What is it about a woman's jugs? I'm 64 years old and I'm still looking."
The Loser, now 50, gets that now. The feelings he once had—the orgasms that sent semen whizzing past his head—faded in his 40s and the moment now is an echo. And yet still he looks, and wonders, and hopes.