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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Love And Sex In The Age Of Corona–Profound Satisfaction In A Defiant, Angry, Hysterical Time

Ronnie Baxter had grown up in a liberal Catholic family.  The Pope was not always right, averred his father, nor were the archbishops, bishops, and priests under the supervision of Cardinal Arthur Biggins, Catholic supervisor of the Central Connecticut archdioceses .  Harold Baxter challenged confessional priests on the basis of natural order and on the authority of father and family.  The Church might  have a say in matters of faith and morals, Harold insisted,  but it was to keep its hands off when it came to raising his family.

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Ronnie’s father appreciated the doctrinaire, inflexible application of Catholic law and how the Fathers Brophy, Mullens, and Flaherty applied it.  There was to be not even a fractional moral margin in their condemnation of salacious thought and intent.  Jimmy’s Smoke Shop, his dirty magazines, and his open-ended welcome to the tarts of Arch Street was a legitimate target -  a cancer on the body politic of New Brighton to be expunged, removed, marginalized, and exiled without debate or question.

And so it was that Harold Baxter and the Catholic Church came to blows.  While he appreciated the intent of the Church – the retention and extension of fundamental moral principles of right and wrong – Baxter Sr.  was a moral relativist when it came to matters of sex and sexuality. He, while never a philanderer, had had loves and love affairs from Leeds to Borneo and hoped the same for his son.  As long as a man operated reasonably within the moral context of the age, then there was no sin, no foul. 

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Ronnie, like his father, had not exactly loved anyone but his wife, and certainly not Maura from Accounting, but his fondness for her and her epiphanic sexual restoration qualified at least for mention.  Yes he had strayed, but since his wife had never called him on his long and repeated after-hours meetings, tied-up weekends, and more-than-usual  business trips to Charlotte, was he not honest within a strict moral context?  A man’s life was his own, after all, with no obligations or compunctions to tell all.  A cinq-a-sept with Usha bin-Ahmed, a lovely Palestinian World Bank economist need  be nothing of his wife’s business, no breach of the contract to honor and obey.  Such marriage vows were not exclusive nor binding.  His love for Usha did not preclude a more substantive intimacy with his wife.

The point was only that Ronnie Baxter had a particularly independent way of looking at marriage.  Although some may have  immediately condemned his dalliances as deception, betrayal, and a breach of moral contract; he understood both the male imperative and a careful, respectful acknowledgement of the marriage contract.  A man was a man, after all, and laws of monogamy, fidelity, and respectful obedience were only women’s laws – necessary codicils and protections in perennial ages of male irresponsibility.

Women have always tried to corral men, to subjugate them, and to neuter them.  Laura, the main character in Strindberg’s The Father, informs her husband that she has taken over the family, her daughter, and their future.  He has given his paltry, insignificant, and random rooster’s contribution, and he is no supernumerary, irrelevant, and gone.  She rules.  l

Goneril and Regan, Tamora, Volumnia, Dionyza, Rosalind, and Margaret are but the best known examples of Shakespeare’s ode to strong women.  They who control reproduction control men. Men in an inclusive, accommodating, feminist age have conceded to strong women, foregone their native, male rights, and rolled over. 

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Ronnie Baxter was a latter day knight in shining armor – not in defense of female honor but in dismissal of it.  There was no such thing, Ronnie considered,  Women have always had their store of armaments; and Strindberg’s Laura was exactly right to use them; but what is rarely mentioned in this, a very gender-sensitive but  historically and evolutionary ignorant age, men have an equally potent arsenal.  

Until women are totally loosed from patriarchy – the sexual dominant influence of fathers – they will be prey to savvy, sexually mature men.  This exertion of male will should not be considered misogynistic, abusive, or retrograde because it has its complement in female sexual will.  D.H. Lawrence understood this best.  Men and women will always fight to exert sexual will and to dominate, but until they find their sexual complementarity theirs will always be dry, infertile, and unsatisfying sex.  Ronnie understood this, exploited it, and was sexually free and fulfilled.

The Age of Corona was a difficult time for most.  Locked down, locked in, isolated from family, friends, classmates, and college, the period of distance was disrupting and emotionally damaging – for all except Ronnie Baxter for whom unconventional if not anti-social love had been his stock-in-trade.  

He had loved Israelis in the West Bank, Muslims in Jerusalem, Croats, Bosniacs, and Serbs unconditionally.  He had defied Papa Doc and the Tontons Macoutes by bedding anarchists from Petionville.  He had enticed and loved Tamil separatists, Irish nationalists, and Quebecois.  So love in the time of Corona was no challenge.  COVID was no different from malaria and dengue, and less conclusively deadly and less contagious.  Ronnie had taken his chances with all of them and had survived – a calculus of risk and benefit, and a fundamental principle of living a sensuous, satisfying, and totally fulfilling life without fear of dying.  Most importantly, he had sloughed off his parents’ sense of propriety, Victorian manners and English sensibility.

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There was no end of Ronnie’s sexual adventures in the time of Corona.  He and Lisa, bedded down in their Adams Morgan walk-up, high on E, single malt, and coke for weekends, weeknights, and entire weeks at a time were as good as it gets – randomly chosen, sexually hot, indifferent to contagion, sickness, and death, and deliriously happy in a  fuck-all, doped up, airless apartment.

They tore up ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs, defaced those that proclaimed love, inclusivity, partnership, and harmony.  They joined nothing, signed nothing, petitioned nothing.  They congregated and schmoozed; defied mask orders and social distancing, drank from open containers on the Mall, disrobed, got naked, and swung on the monkey bars in closed-down parks.

Their sexual anarchy had finally come to a head.  There was nothing comparable in the Sixties, a tame time of innocent sexual expression.  This was defiance.  Sex was a loud ‘fuck you’ to an oppressive, authoritarian society.  Ronnie and Lisa did not buy injunctions against gatherings, intercourse, and social intimacy.  The y revolted against the pandemic and its official, arrogant, and sanctimonious arbiters.  They might get sick and infect others, but so be it.  The conflict between such arrogant sanctimony and righteous individualism is as old as the hills and so much more relevant because of this history

The likes of Abbie Hoffman, Rap Brown, and the college take-overs of the Sixties seems tame, procedural, and insignificant compared to the COVID defiance of 2020.  Life and death are at stake here – not only that of Ronnie and is paramours, but everyone who defies authoritarian order.  No one who refuses draconian internment denies the risk in so doing.  Refusing social distance, masking, and ‘considerate’ community measures has potential consequences; but at what cost? The  youngest who most disregard and disrespect old people’s laws and regulations have a point.  Life is not a frightful, scared, timorous proposition.

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So Ronnie and Lisa who had known each other for barely a month,but who had that felicitous coincidence of a Rhett Butler, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn” insouciance and remarkable philosophical nihilism, screwed themselves silly, went out for tacos and vodka resupply, while Bobby from Gaithersburg made home deliveries of E and Quaaludes.

Their neighbors, the ones with the Biden, Black Lives Matter, and inclusivity yard signs, were appalled at the blatant disregard for polity and community displayed by Ronnie and Lisa, but they could care less.  It was the obtuse sanctimony of their neighbors who claimed righteousness which which was offensive and anti-American.

Life is short and the sanctimony of the elderly is tiresome, shopworn and irrelevant. “Do the right thing, be good, follow our example, and watch your edges” is increasingly impertinent and overbearing.  The young are inspiring, not irresponsible.  Their unmasked parties, carousing, and high times are an expression of the best of American not its worst.

Americans are afraid of their own shadows – timid, timorous, risk-averse, and pedestrian.  Life is worth living no matter what they say,, ignorant of the alternate valuation of life by martyrs, existentialists, and determinists.  Life, regardless of its quality is the absolute marker of validation.  If one is alive, willy-nilly, no matter what, it is better than dying, especially ignominiously from a Chinese virus.  Not so when two hundred years ago dying on the battlefield at 35 was far more honorable than dying in bed of an infected foot.

Corona has made us timid and afraid of our own shadows, incapable of assessing our lives, our adventures, our risks, and our death.  It needn’t be so, and Ronnie and Lisa showed why.  Better outgoing, happy, expressive and at risk than holed-up, frightened, and lost,

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