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

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Dreaming Of Marilyn–The Ironic Fate Of Men’s Perpetual Desire For Women

Konstantin Levin, one of Tolstoy’s principal characters in Anna Karenina, lamented the fact that God had created intelligent, insightful, creative, passionate Man, allowed him a few scant decades on earth, and then consigned him for all eternity in the cold, hard ground of the steppes

Shmuel Freund, a philosopher known for his Death and the Archangel – Life in the Abyss of Unfulfilled Consequence, a disquisition on the irony of God having created men to be obsessed with sex until their dying gasp, but granting them only a few years of allure, potency, and conclusion, was less well-known, but his pages were worn dog-eared by thousands of men who sought philosophical solace in their universal fate.

Image result for images film anna karenina

“Granted, she’s not my best love nor my first; but goddamn it, she’s my last love.  Doesn’t that count for something?”, says Coleman Silk in Phillip Roth’s book, The Human Stain, a story about the love affair between a seventy year old man and a woman half his age; a tale familiar to those few men who have enjoyed Silk’s good fortune.

There are young women who will find older men attractive, drawn by paternal instincts to their savior faire and sexual experience and who will overlook that they are goods past their pull-by date, still on the shelves because of poor inventory and oversight.

Coleman Silk found his Cleopatra in the post office lavatories, milking sheds, and broom closets of the university where he had been dean.  There was no explaining their liaison, nor any more reason for it than for any other desirous but ill fated match; which is why Coleman angrily resented his friend Nathan’s warnings.  Leave love alone, Coleman implied.  It finds its own way and has its own purpose.

Image result for Images Movie Poster Human Stain. Size: 150 x 220. Source: www.dvdsreleasedates.com

Peter French, the youngish man of this story, had never read Roth or had any interest in sexual epiphany.  His life was one of sexual adventure, the easy come and go of the newly acceptable libertinage of the modern age when promiscuity, Lotharianism, and procreative irresponsibility were all marginal issues.

Women were available, desirable, and irresistible – partners in sensual interludes.  The age of patriarchy was gone or put aside. Women were as eager, willing, and aroused as men. It was the best of all possible worlds, and whether in Palestine, Madras, Singapore, or Alaska, the fruits of a long sexual parsimony were now and finally available. 

Coleman Silk had become enamored of his milking cleaning lady because she was an anodyne to what was likely to become a mediocre, lifeless, and dim  life.  He could have had affairs with the fifty-something professors of French or Baltic literature, divorced, newly independent and looking for, as one ad in the New York Review of Books had it, “sensitive, PhD, longing for companionship, cunnilingus, and Bordeaux”; but he demurred.  

Better resign from malehood without reservation, codicils, and compromises than tumble into bed with intellectual sidebars, who were increasingly desperate for….they could never put into words what it was they wanted – respect, admiration, cock?

French had his princesses, dames, girly girls, and serious comers well into late middle age but suddenly and unexpectedly he hit a bump in the road.  He had always figured his sexual life to be unmeasured, unbounded by birthdays and dates; but as he got older and found himself resorting to cheaper and cheaper liaisons, he began to worry.  

Maeve from Accounting found him paternal, virile, and supportive; but what was he doing with an Iowa farmgirl who had never made it past assistant-to-the-assistant who filled out spreadsheets and toted up expense accounts?

Where was Asha al-Ummid, Saudi princess, refugee from the royal family, heir to a fortune but lately street cadger in St. Germain des Pres? Or Emriye, descendant of Suleiman’s harem and star of Aşk ve Su, the most popular Turkish soap opera in its recent history?

Image result for Saudi Arabia Princesses

He had met Emriye in Istanbul on an off day for both across the Bosporus in a formerly unfashionable but now hipster neighborhood in Üsküdar.  He knew nothing of her immense popularity nor of the universal appeal of Turkish dizis, and saw only a  beautiful, simply dressed punctilious woman eating  grilled bronzino.  They met, talked, shared raki and white Bulgarian wine, and spent the afternoon together.

Life in his younger years had always been thus – chance meetings, serendipity, availability, and inconsequence – and he was unprepared for the failing, the dropping off of enterprise.  His libido had not dampened nor his sexual curiosity, but it was his fatigue that concerned him.  The thought of courtship, as short and perfunctory as it was in this age of sexual complaisance, was tiring. What was there to be gained by one more notch in the belt, one more Casanovan conquest?

There is a belief among conservative, rural Hindus that ‘there are only so many shots in the magazine’.  Better marshal one’s sexual resources and never waste them while Brahman and eternal peace await; and so, in this spiritual, post-Lawrentian sexual reserve, Peter regretted nothing.  His sex life was over, done with, fini,  finito, khatam.

Until Maeve came along, Coleman Silk’s Cleopatra, a displaced Iowa farm girl, desperate to locate her father absent for decades, leaving the 100 acres to her and her mother, a man among men, a Hercules, an Adonis, a prince.

Image result for images taylor as cleopatra

Of course French was not nor could not ever have been a father surrogate, but in Maeve’s desperate longing, he would do.  They turned out to be the perfect couple, the ideal pair, both looking for something, vaporous at best but necessary. Who was to say who was the used and the user, or whether any such terms should ever apply? 

They ‘commingled’ as Maeve liked to say, her term for a May-December affair which lasted for a year. The sex was immeasurable, the intimacy adolescent, and the promises hearty  but impossible. 

The end came with tears and regrets, some crocodile, some real, for both knew and had known all along that the affair had been an idyll.  For Peter it had been an early Christmas gift, a delightful, surprising present under the tree.  A delightful, unexpected, deliriously happy  surprise.  For Maeve it had been, with all its romantic trappings a musical comedy.

No aphorism could characterize their affair, nor could any simple characterization describe Peter’s affections. In the movie Moonstruck Rose Castorini asks a man who has asked her to dinner why he chases women.  Fear of death, he replies.  He is right but Coleman Silk’s response is more telling and a propos – it is the hope for a sexual epiphany, one final volcanic consummation before death.

I wish that the story of Peter French ended well – that a young woman taken with his patrician looks, intelligence, and youthful enthusiasm overlooked his age, and entered into a long December-May affair with him; an affair to end his days, and make those remaining happy and unremorseful.

The truth is unhappily far different.  Peter, like most men his age, simply sighed and gave up and looked at the pasta Alfredo cooking in the skillet. Such was God’s irony.  It was meant to be.  It was a lesson in resolution and redemption.  Once he got the message, while not completely happy, he was more or less so.

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