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

Monday, September 7, 2020

Sexual Defiance In The Time Of COVID

Marvin Gaye had it exactly right when he wrote Sexual Healing – sex is what’s good for you, it cures what ails you, and makes you right. 

Ooh baby, I'm hot just like an oven
I need some lovin'
And baby, I can't hold it much longer
It's getting stronger and stronger

And when I get that feelin'
I want sexual healin'
Sexual healin', oh baby
Makes me feel so fine…

Baby, I got sick this mornin'
A sea was stormin' inside of me
Baby, I think I'm capsizin'
The waves are risin' and risin'

And when I get that feelin'
I want sexual healin'
Sexual healin' is good for me
Makes me feel so fine, it's such a rush
Helps to relieve the mind, and it's good for us

Come take control, just grab a hold
Of my body and mind, soon we'll be makin' it, honey
I'll be feelin' fine
You're my medicine, open up and let me in
Darlin', you're so great, I can't wait for you to operate

Image result for images marvin gaye

Billy Wharton took Gaye’s advice to heart, and sex became part and parcel of his idea of wholeness – no D.H. Lawrence sexual epiphanies or revelations, just an indispensable sine qua non.  He could no sooner imagine life in a celibate Carthusian monastery than he could cold soup.  Sex was pleasurable, and his desire for soft, warm, pliant, female bodies was no different from that of any other man.  

Yes, sexual conquest was rewarding and verifying, but he was not a man to notch his belt; nor was he a deliberate seducer like Valmont; or the hyper-sexual, impossibly charming Casanova. There was nothing Tantric, ying-yang, or Eyes Wide Shut sexual mysticism.  Sex was simply necessary to complete an existence – a twist on Nietzsche’s conviction that the only validation of life in a meaningless world was the expression of pure will. 

Image result for images Valmont Liaisons dangereuses

In the movie La Grande Bouffe three five-star chefs, bored with life, women, desire, and ambition decide to kill themselves in a great, last, marvelous gourmandise – death by a hundred dishes – antipasti with roasted peppers, salumi, cured and brined Mediterranean olives; pasta in cream sauce, spicy Neapolitan tomato ragu, rich Sicilian fish sauce; wild boar and deer; roast beef, lamb and pork; pheasant, grouse, peacock, and partridge; mackerel, cod, and tuna;. Osetra and Beluga caviar; Vacherin, Bleu d’Auvergne, Manchego, and Cheddar cheeses; puddings, tarts, trifles, cakes, and pies.

Billy Wharton took La Grande Bouffe to heart. If one had to die, better to go out in style.  Although still a relatively young man, Billy was not afraid of death or dying from COVID.  He was surprised at how his friends and coworkers turned frightened and panicky at the idea of contracting the disease.  Everything was put on hold to keep the virus at bay – grandchildren were displaced, lovers given notice, friends ignored, and only those who happened to share quarters were not shuttered or exiled.   They hunkered down in basements and purified spare rooms, went out only to the remote corners of the back yard, fumigated every package, mail, and food delivery, double- and triple-masked when they absolutely positively needed a walk around the block before sunrise.  Forget the fact that the risk of dying from COVID was only slightly higher than cancer, stroke, or heart attack.  They were paralyzed with fear, and no risk was worth dying for.

Image result for images from movie la grande bouffe

There were many women Billy knew who, like him, had none of the risk aversion of their colleagues.  Risk-taking had always been part of their lives and in fact defined them.  In their younger days they were mountain-climbers, double-black diamond skiers, and deep-sea divers.  Generations before them their mothers were sexually active, socially dismissive, proto-feminist Victorian women who defied male patriarchy and made their own way.  Even earlier they were courtesans, sexually free and ambitious ladies of the court, demanding, uncompromising women.

None of Billy's women had been cowed by COVID and none refused sexual favors or weekends in the tropics.  They, like all of us had no idea when their time would be up, but unlike most of us, were not afraid of dying. 

A number of years ago,  the flamboyant former Governor, Vice-President, and Cabinet member, wealthiest man on the planet, died of a heart attack ‘doing what he loved most’ – reading a book on American history, the mainstream papers said – but what he loved most was women, and he died between the legs of his aide and longtime paramour.  

Image result for images nelson rockefeller

“What a way to go”, was the response of most men who read the story.  Taken off not by a debilitating disease, or hit by a bus, or shot by a political crazy, but blowing a gasket, coming beautifully and then dying.   No time for reflection on dos and don’ts, should haves, might haves, or why nots.  No time for regrets, love notes, final kisses, just one big, volcanic blast of sexual release.

And so it was with Billy Wharton who contacted his female friends who were always up for something, especially in the time of COVID; and so they tempted death and met singly and in groups, trying everything  and anything as long as it climaxed as volcanically as Nelson Rockefeller.  Each woman invited three other women and three other men who over the course of months invited many more.  It was a sexual cabal as clandestine as any underground revolutionary cadre.  The outside world, righteous, arrogantly moralistic, and hypercritical of any epidemiological outlier, would have, had they known, dragged them out of their beds, tarred and feathered them, paraded them through the streets, and then strung them up in a public square.

The orgiastic sexual grande bouffe of Billy and his friends was a thing to behold – a feast of sexual delicacies as promiscuous as galettes, eclairs, cream puffs and Schwarzwalder Kirsch Torte at one sitting; roast goose, steak and kidney pie, eel, and grouper; or triple-cream fondue with bread pudding.  Every taste in the smorgasbord showed up on Park Street, was sampled, eaten with pleasure and gusto, and on to the next course.  It was a movable feast but the venue remained the same and only the partners changed.  Added to the spice was the residual risk of AIDS – no dolce vita was ever missionary position or sober, or straight, or pious.

Image result for images fellini la dolce vita

I can't wait for you to operate
When I get this feelin'
I need sexual healin'
Oh when I get this feelin'
I need sexual healin'
I gotta have sexual healin', darlin'
'Cause I'm all alone
Sexual healin', darlin'
Till you come back home
Please don't procrastinate
It's not good to masturbate

Of course it was good to masturbate among other things.  In the movie Sexy Beast Stan describes an orgy to Don Logan.  “Wanking, spanking, cocaine, camcorders, fucking everything”, he says setting up the mark for the bank robber scheme he is planning; and so it was for the parties in Adams Morgan, yet they were less indiscriminate – sex was never divorced from principle.  It was not a free for all, but a brotherhood which would never have come together without COVID.

Those who happened a peek into these goings on wanted of course to hear how many had gotten sick and died; but of course Billy and his friends were not keeping track.  Perhaps none, perhaps all, perhaps a spotty few; but who was counting ? Park Street was a refuge from sanctimony, for those who wanted to count only wanted to justify their own Puritan hermetic seal.

The story of Billy Wharton has to end there, because denouement was never part of his scheme of things.  Sexual libertinage in the Age of COVID was the point - not transmission, morbidity, and mortality.  It had no outcome.  Outcomes would have been as meaningless as trying to pin down Camus’ existentialist L’Etranger.

Image result for images movie l'etranger

Those few who knew Billy were not telling; and besides to know Billy was to admire his Nietzschean defiant individualism.  The general collective response to COVID was nothing less than bourgeois, deserving of a Luis Bunuel satire of the careful, pretentious, self-absorbed ‘charm’ of the bourgeoisie.

Image result for images bunuel film discreet charm

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