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

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Sex, Drugs, And Rock ‘n’ Roll Or Champagne, Mood Music, And Fine Crystal–The Orgasm Is The Same

Albie Banner had reached what his culture and cohorts had fixed as a pull-by date- the age after which sex must necessarily give way to more spiritual, ethereal thoughts.  Remember Ivan Ilyich, his friends said , death comes  all too soon, and better be more  prepared  than Lear who, on the heath recoiled at the heavens’ thunder and lightning, and was left bare and forked, unwitting, and innocently ignorant of his fate. Dying  desirous and regretful is the worst of all possible fates.

Such was the fate of a literary scholar imbued with the wisdom of Shakespeare but crippled by his own sexual conundrums – faithfulness to a wife of many decades, hostage to the memories of a former wife who wanted nothing to do with either Lear, daughters, faithfulness , or probity.  What was the point? What was the value of intermittent fidelity, faithfulness to the very ethic he had always hated; and as he approached his seventh decade he was all the more convinced of the Puritan lie.  What was a life of thought, consideration, reflection, and rectitude if it hadn’t been preceded by life’ fundamentals. In other words, how could one even consider eternity without passion?

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The Jesuits, Carthusian monks, and Father Murphy thought otherwise.  The path to salvation was pure, a priori and unencumbered by experience.  The knowledge of God presupposed no earthly conditions – the believer understood Christ’s message without parable or reference.  It took no slings and arrows of misfortune or turns of fate to divert him from the true path.  There were no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’ about belief.

Albie had always wanted to believe in such spiritual absolutism, but was always tempted aside.  There would always be time, he thought, time enough to sort out the nature of sexual encounter – Tantrism, Lawrence, and Freud – and figure out whether it was essential or simply distracting; but the older he got, the less interested he was in meaning and the more in sexual definition.  If a man was little more than a phallic instrument of reproduction and that physical and psychic pleasure were only tailing add-ons, then was this persistent, unquenchable desire inconsequential, and a diversion from the truth?

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All this quasi-spiritual, philosophical conjecture went quickly by the wayside when he met Laura White, an Iowa farm girl who had come East to pursue graduate studies, marriage, children, and a professional career.  Laura, for all her hopes and aspirations, never made it past Administrative Assistant, a third-tier business major, and a shared duplex in Gaithersburg.  She had come to Washington with the scent of the farm on her clothes, and for all America’s promise of equal opportunity, had a hard row to hoe. She was up against graduates of St. Grottlesex and Brown, trimmed and trained young women who had been to dancing school, ballet and watercolor classes, who were at home with Browning, Kant, and Archimedes; and Laura had no idea that these lovely confident, wealthy, and determined women even existed.

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Ironically for Albie, a man of this elite, prep school, Ivy League milieu but wanting more than its polish, good taste, and manners, and having suffered for decades under its Anglo Saxon, Protestant yoke, Laura White was just what the doctor ordered –a simple, unpretentious, sensually ambitious, easy, complaisant lover.  At the same time Laura thought that Albie might well be the answer to her Iowa prayers – an attractive gentleman of the well-to-do, with a first-class American pedigree; but a man who did not restrict himself to his own kind.

The relationship was skewed, unequal, and disproportionate from the beginning. Love with Laura in her Adams Morgan walk-up was delightful, frosting on the cake, sinful sugar and cream after decades of dutiful and painfully respectable married love.  At first they never went out of the apartment.  The hours of sex were enough – an idyll for him, a man for whom youthful sex was not only an anodyne for encroaching old age but a Lawrentian epiphany.  It was never too late, he concluded, to have that cosmic orgasm that Lawrence raved about, and Laura was the perfect complementary sexual being. A la Lawrence, social or intellectual compatibility matters little – similar interests in Kant, Heidegger, Aquinas. or Newton were insignificant compared to the complementarity of sexual will derived out of father love, mother love, incest, jealousy, and sibling rivalry.  Albie took advantage of Laura’s emotional immaturity, her lack of confidence, her romantic fantasies, and her delusional views of happy marriage; and Laura willingly gave herself to the image of the man of her dreams.

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Albie cannot be criticized or condemned for the unequal character of the relationships.  He was part of God’s irony.  God created men with a short reproductive life, but with an endless desire for reproduction.  Men like Albie who should have rightfully been retired on a beach in South Florida, content to reflect on past adventures and sexual conquests were having none of it.  They were the latter day Jobs who refuse God’s penitential judgement.  Either give us a long sexual life or none at all.  The end of days which should be spent on spiritual matters is wasted on sexual fantasies.  Albie embraced his role as Job.  Take me if you well, he prayed, but it will be despite your purposeless sexual exile.

A tearful, desperate good-bye on Park Street, a reluctant gaze behind, a reluctant, necessary good bye was the end to the affair.  Coleman Silk, Phillip Roth’s main character in The Human Stain tells his young friend, Nathan who warns him of the danger of a sexual relationship with a young, working class, unstable, abused, brutalized woman whose psychopathic ex-husband was on the prowl, “Granted, she was not my first love; and granted she is not my best love; but she surely is my last love. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“It’s the sex, isn’t it?, says Nathan; and although Coleman angrily walks away, he knows that his friend is right.  Coleman can never make a life with Faunia Farley, displaced Philadelphia Main Line daughter of an abusive father, run-away to the Midwest to milking and janitorial jobs, a woman far out of Coleman’s academic circle; so it is the sex, and what’s the problem with that?

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Lawrence was right after all.  He dismissed notions of compatibility and marital harmony and understood that the only meaningful relationships are those which have achieved a complementarity of sexual wills – a union that has nothing at all to do with status, preference, background, or position.  As short as the May-September affair between Laura and Albie lasted, it had come close to some sort of sexual epiphany.  She had given herself completely to her father, and satisfied all her sexual fantasies for him; and he was released, at least temporarily, from the torment of old age. 

In our Puritanical, censorious age, relationships such as that between Laura and Albie are roundly criticized, a case of the older, wealthier, exploitive male and the weaker, younger, sexually emotionally innocent female; but Lawrentian relationships have no such categorical confinement.  Theirs was a moment of full sexual expression, and while it was more meaningful and existential for Albie, it was nominative and marked for Laura as well.

Sex in that small, airless Adams Morgan apartment was inexhaustible.  There was no sexual expression that was wanting; no position refused, no demand, no desire unfulfilled.  It was morning to night sex, drunken Moet & Chandon sex, naked lunches and teas, upsetting, pursuing, sex.  The drinks, the table settings, and the music were all that differentiated their sex from any before – their sex in Adams Morgan was hippy sex, beat sex, flapper sex, Pigalle sex, Roman orgy sex, and a thousand other half-recollected, half-imagined sexual affairs. 

How many can claim that legacy?

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