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

Thursday, April 30, 2020

It’s The Sex You Remember In Bad Times–Desire In The Time Of Corona

Lanford Roberts had had his share of memorable affairs.  One-timers, sojourns in old colonial hotels, loves that had promise, loves that had gone nowhere, and loves which weren’t loves but distractions. Lanford would have taken any of them in The Time of Corona, locked-down, sequestered, and quarantined. Much has been made of the need to ‘Stay At Home’, the imperative of protecting oneself and those around one– the moral responsibility, the public health responsibility, the ethics of it all – and the need to do the right thing – but little has been made of the sexual vacuum.

Lanford missed his paramours.  He talked to lovely Lisa every day – great phone sex, emotional bonding, and romantic hopes – and even fantasized about the drug- and cognac-addled sexual hijinks with his wife decades ago; but nothing could possibly replace the cinq-a-sept liaisons in Adams Morgan, the trysts at the Oloffson, or the sex by the Niger, all  put on hold because of Corona.

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He couldn’t even claim corporate responsibility and fly off to see Usha, manager of the boutique in the Delhi Oberoi; or insist on the need for putting out political fires in Bangladesh to see Darya.  He was sequestered at home with his wife of many decades – in  a marriage that had survived thanks to pressure valves, escape routes, and mutual independence.

As the Corona lock-down continued for weeks, he began to wonder if sexual relations with his wife, even at this late date and advanced age, were even possible.  What was he if not an adventurer? and what were serial relationships with thirty-somethings worth after all?  No more than rearranging the furniture, trying something new and different.  Wouldn’t a reconnect with Laura be worth the effort?

Of course after more than twenty years of young, pliant, soft, and forgiving women, the thought of sex with a woman who managed to look good thanks to good posture and savoir-faire but who was an old woman nonetheless, was beyond possibility.

Most men of a certain age had no such problems.  Life without sex in one’s elder years was par for the course, part of the unwinding of life down to the final spool; but for Lanford who had kept up his Errol Flynn, Casanova conquests until well past seventy, there were no pars, no bogies, or mulligans. He was in it for the long haul, high handicap and all.  A hook here, a slice there, even an embarrassing  whiff was nothing compared to holing out.  There was no way that Lanford would ever concede the hole or the match without a fight.  Once the sweet young things from Accounting disappeared, he was finished, and he would only go into that dark night kicking and screaming.

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His wife had no interest whatsoever in trying to re-live the sex of the 70s, lost in the practical penumbra of a long marriage, children, and vacation homes and which was never exactly that great to begin with; besides which too many crude jokes were circulating on the Internet about ‘elder sex’ donuts, ring toss to make any physical intimacy appealing.  Everything had its time and its place, like dishware. 

Lanford, and perhaps all men, give up the good fight sparingly and unwillingly.  God’s great irony was to create an intelligent, insightful, sensitive, creative, sensuous Man, give him a few scant decades to live in penury and vain hope and spread his seed, and then consign him for all eternity in the cold, hard steppes ; but before the grave was dug and the coffin lowered, life was to be lived.

Lanford had been called ‘a womanizer’, but what indeed did that mean? He loved women, their softness, their pliancy, their grace, their drama, and their insatiable sexual appetites.  No one woman would do, nor two or more. It was that indefinable, exquisite variety of women that was his prize, his finality.

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So life in Corona lock-down was indeed a penury.  Of course it was nothing compared to that of the boy next door who had just had his first sexual relationship with a Sidwell classmate, a lovely parvenu from West Virginia who had lost her cracker accent within weeks, changed overalls for finery and Anglo-Saxon lace and good taste, and who couldn’t get enough of the young man who squired her, loved her, and bedded her in the manner which she had always hoped. would come her way.

The boy missed his sweetheart, talked to her every day, and plotted ways to meet.  “No”, she protested, “Corona distancing!”; but the admonition was ignored.  They were both young, healthy, and immune.  It was the old folks’ problem, this virus thing, not theirs; and they did indeed find a way to meet.  He ‘went out to get groceries at Whole Foods’ and she had a ‘socially-distanced appointment’ with her dentist; in fact a room in a seedy hotel on the fringes of the gentrified H Street Corridor; and both returned to concerned parents wearing masks and contrite looks. 

Phone sex after a while, mediated by Face Time, Skype, or Zoom, was simply not enough.  Sick and tired of this adult-conspired lock-down, they had met once a week on 3rd Street, but it was never enough adolescent sex that could hardly be managed in normal times.

Young people in every quadrant of DC were having their assignations, flouting quarantine and shutdown orders.

Lanford remembered his days of lock-down in Ouagadougou, battened down tight amidst the coup, doubled up with a WHO nurse about to leave her husband and for whom isolation with a disinterested American was all that she needed to finally cut the matrimonial cord.  Where was this nurse when he needed her most, in this COVID gulag, home alone, feeling the desire for adventurous, illicit, and satisfying sex, and having nothing but dirty videos and salacious memories to keep him going and sane?

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He, unlike his young next door neighbor not only had no place to go, but no one to go there with.   He would have put up with far  tackier, seedier, hotels than the one on 3rd Street if he had someone to go there with.  As it was, he could only dream of sex at the Oloffson, the Splendide, the Carpathian, and the Oriental – or on the rock-hard slabs of the Sibiu Palace.

Sex is not just for the young or the young at heart. It is for the old as well, the undeterred, still ambitious dreamers.  If Lanford had gotten a sexual Christmas gift under the tree in Adams Morgan – a warm, beautiful, blonde and succumbing  34 year old  in a time of plenty – then why couldn’t she materialize again during the tine of Corona?  He would chance anything, run any risk to be with her.

What was life anyway if not one of risk, adventure, love, and gratification? He risked the Pakistani police, Interpol, and the Embassy security to be with Berthe from Copenhagen, so what would a few meagre ‘stay at home’ restrictions matter?

The problem was not feasibility, will, or determination.  It was warm bodies.  Lanford had long passed his pull-by date and was living on borrowed time; and who would ever hitch their star, no matter how loosely fitted in the firmament to that? He was a supernumerary, a footnote. No matter how much he felt restive in the time of shutdown and quarantine; no matter how much he hoped to re-live or live again his past adventures, his time had come and gone.

Meanwhile the young man next door now never set foot outside his house.  He woke up at the usual time, had breakfast with his family, and filled the rest of the day without ambition.  He called his girlfriend across town but never ventured out.  Even an adolescent sex drive could be neutered and intimidated by a threat that never was.

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