"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Sex, Desire, And A Refusal To Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Billy  Baxter had thought his love life was over.  After all, he was a man who, despite all his efforts to the contrary, was beginning to sag and line in all the wrong places.  There was no escaping the fact that he was far beyond usefulness; and unless one calculated his reproductive potential – his sperm count was high enough to populate a small country – he was well beyond his sexual prime.

Yet what was he do do with the relentless sexual fantasies which popped up at the most unsuspected hours and at all hours.   Why hadn’t he been born a pasha, or at least a courtier in the Ottoman Empire? Why was the pony-tailed, sweat-lacquered young trainer off limits?  Or the 40-something mommies eating ice cream cones? Surely there were women who would look up from their pizza pies and see an attractive, seductive man despite his faded and spare looks.  If he could see the virile, potent, and irresistible man within, why would it be so difficult for them to catch a glimpse through age’s shutters?

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It is God’s ultimate irony to have created men with indefatigable sexual desire but to have limited their field-worthiness to a few paltry decades; and the older one gets and the closer one approaches the finish line, the worse the penance. An older man has years of regret behind him (opportunities missed, clumsy advances, too many should-haves and too few consummations ).  A young man has only promise, possibility, and hope.  He regrets nothing, despairs of nothing, and pines for nothing.

Billy had no intention of throwing in the towel although his handlers said it was time.  What was the point, they asked? Weren’t the last decades of a man’s life a bonus, a small win in God’s lottery,  a chance to figure out what’s what without the distraction of women and sex?

There were options which short-circuited the normal course of sexual decline.  A man could always order a mail order bride.  Yet the offerings were limited. The most savvy had cornered the market for the most desirable women – blonde, blue-eyed Russian and Ukrainian beauties - shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The trade in beautiful, complaisant, dutiful Southeast Asian women had also dried up, leaving nothing but Biafran and Bambara women who would give anything and marry any white man for a song.

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Billy was not tempted by the trade.  It would be a come-down at best, and a public display of his failing sexual allure and his increased economic fortunes.  Better to be alone with with a whisky and a one-shilling fire than shout defeat.  At least alone, fit, trim, with only scarce signs of age, clearly had not been consigned to the Macy’s bargain basement of sexual seconds.

Serendipity – the most underrated of life’s surprises.  Who could have foretold Laura Barnes, Assistant to the Director of Human Enterprise, 30ish, single, looking, often disappointed, sexually mature, and ready?  Billy worked in the same wing of the Avex Building, far from Human Enterprise and more in commercial development, so their paths should not have crossed.  Had it not been for an unexpected absence, a necessary slot to fill, and few employees uncompromised, the paths of Billy and Laura would have gone on for months without notice. All it took was one meeting, one final after-hours en charrette push to finalize the proposal, celebratory martinis at the Mayflower, and a kiss goodnight to set the clock to a new time. 

The affair lasted almost two years, a closeted, hermetic Saturday- and sex-only adventure in Laura’s tight, ill-lit Adams Morgan walk-up; but it was ‘transformational’, the term Laura had learned at the company’s gender workshop to describe sexual epiphany.  The workshop facilitators had meant the term to mean the transformation of the individual from gender-locked to sexual chrysalis; but Billy understood it quite differently. His old, sagging, lined, and flagging body had been rejuvenated.  He had been transformed from an alte kocker to virile performer in the bat of an eye. 

More importantly, the passion and desire of the affair aside, it meant that his pull-by date had been extended.  If lowly Laura from Human Enterprise would have him, who else even more attractive, younger, and less needy might welcome his advances.

Yet the curtain on the hoped-for second act never rose.  After Laura he languished in the later years of a dry, forty-year marriage, troubled once again by dreams of Ottoman delights, young women crossing his path, and now persistent, insistent sexual memories of Laura.  Had it been worth it, he wondered?  Was the sexual salvation he experienced really any such thing?  Had he not set himself up for an obvious and inescapable letdown?

Of course it had all been worth it.  What was life if not serendipity? He had been given an early Christmas gift, nothing to sniff at, as important as any other expected reward.  To dismiss it lightly would have been niggardly, self-important, and ignorant.

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Billy knew that hitting the jackpot twice was unlikely.  The likelihood of another Laura was unthinkable; and better to  forget the possibility and return to predictability before it was too late. 
Yet since God created this Universal Irony – the fate of men to desire women long after the possibility of conquest and consummation – Billy could not like down and curl up like a lapdog before the fire.  He was not done for by any means.  A woman as desirous as he, as interested in extending life by any means possible, and as optimistic about sexual/emotional congress regardless of age, was out there waiting.

D.H. Lawrence, the master of sexual expression believed that the sexual union of man and woman was existential.  Far more than sexually satisfying or procreative, the act was liberating and affirming.  Nietzsche pronounced that the only validation of life  in a meaningless universe was in the expression of pure will.  Lawrence concurred but added a proviso – the resolution of the battle of individual sexual wills. 

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Lawrence died very young at 44, so never had to experience the consequences of his convictions.  What was to  become of a man who fails to realize such an epiphany in youth? Is he animated by the conviction that such complete sexual, existential union is still possible? Or must he be tormented until his dying day in realization that his time has long since passed?

Billy Baxter, for better or worse, never gave in.  He had come close to Lawrence but knew that his affair was little more than simple satisfaction.  Laura saw the affair differently – a gateway to the marriage, family, and children that had heretofore escaped her.  A traditional, predictable, sympathetic, never-to-be-realized hope.  Neither she nor Billy came away rewarded.  She got no husband and he no epiphany.  Neither, however, left empty-handed.  He in a renewal of sexual anticipation and a validation of maleness.  She in a passing but no less important tapping of her sexual and emotional reserves.

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is the story of an aging foreign correspondent who falls in love with a Vietnamese girl and who assents to complicity in his rival’s death because of her.  Fowler like Billy Baxter sees Phuong as a last, desperate desire for sexual love and companionship.  She has been bought, negotiated a promising trade, and dependent on Fowler, his prospects, and his life.  Love is not an issue nor the question.  He does not love her so much as depend on her.  He can not return to his wife in England, and knows that marriage to a beautiful, opportunistic woman in wartime Vietnam is tentative and precarious. Yet he knows that he has what few of his older colleagues have – the (temporarily) free, pure, unlimited sex with a younger woman.

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Fowler abandons his wife, betrays his friend, sexual competitor, and colleague Pyle. One cannot blame him. He abandoned his principles, and his God because of his awful desperateness.  A life alone was simply unthinkable, and his betrayal of Pyle, despite the moral cover Greene gives him - ridding his beloved, suffering Vietnam of an enemy - was an act of jealous revenge, nothing more.  Fowler was more of a man than Billy could ever be - complicity in murder, yes, but a willful, natural act of self-preservation and conquest that Billy could only imagine.

Billy was never as desperate nor never so much infatuated nor in love with a woman as Fowler.  He was predictable, dishonest, and insecure; but never determined and not the slightest bit willful or heroic.   He took his serendipity for what it was worth, a cheap toy under the Christmas tree, threw it away when he was done with it, and like a child, hoped for something better next year.

Yet because Billy is like all men, like the rest of us, he deserves some attention.  His was never a life on the chaise lounge, defeatist, and happy enough with a sedate old age to last him till the end.  He was an ordinary man with ordinary wishes but who refused to go quietly.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas)

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