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Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Writer's Life 10/10 - Sex

Should the lewd remarks Trump made about Nancy O'Dell disqualify him from the race for the White House? I've made similar comments in my life, so they don't matter to me, especially since he didn't act on them.  Are there, have there been no politicians guilty of such behavior? Neither presidential candidate is appealing personally. I'm focusing on policy. Examine the issues, vote accordingly.

Here's an excerpt from the novel I'm working on, Five Cents. One of its four aspects is the changing social climate that began in the late '60's. In this scene Tom, the main character, is visited by the head of the college lit department, Margaret. Although it is not explicit, anyone made uncomfortable by sexual situations should pass. I'd guess it's a ten-minute read:

   He was awakened by the phone, which rarely rang anymore. He was surprised by the familiar voice at the other end – Margaret Johnson.
   “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all week.”
   “I went to New York. As a matter of fact, I got the idea from the poster in your office.”
   “Oh, wow. I’d’ve never guess you were so impulsive.”
   Tom mulled this for a moment. Was he impulsive?
   “So how was it?”
   “Memorable, to say the least. What can I do for you?”
   “Can I stop by and explain my motives in person?”
   What in the world did she need to discuss privately? he wondered. “Sure. I just got in, so I haven’t had a chance to go shopping. Besides that, I don’t cook. I rely on fast food. Do you eat pizza?”
   “I love pizza, pepperoni and sausage.”
   He went out to the mailbox. It was stuffed. Kitty had always paid the bills. He’d had to open a bank account in his own name and learn to handle household finances. He wouldn't dare use their joint account.
   Soon the doorbell rang. Tom was warmed by Margaret’s smile.
   “Excuse the bachelor mess,” he said self-consciously.
   “It’s neater than my digs,” she laughed, scanning the immediate area.
   “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll order the pie.”
   They discussed New York as they waited for their meal to arrive. Margaret’s long chestnut hair hung loosely about her shoulders and whipped about whenever she turned her head. Tom had never seen her looking lovelier. Her perfume was intoxicating. Had she known about his battered sense of smell and overdone it on purpose? Get real, he told himself.
   She mentioned separate theories two of the department’s professors had come up with regarding masterpieces. He’d heard several interpretations of great novels and was always fascinated, as most seemed valid. It also made himself conscious about his shortcomings, as he usually saw no further than the surface. One of his professors, a New Yorker, believed there was evidence of homosexuality in David Copperfield.
   The pizza arrived.
   “Do you drink beer?” said Tom. “I think there may be a couple of bottles in the fridge.”
   “I prefer wine, although the pop is fine. Is it diet, I hope?”
   He shook his head. “Sorry, I should have asked.”
   “It won’t kill me to have regular, although I’m always afraid it will go right to my hips.”
   Margaret moaned as she bit into a slice. “Ah, the simple pleasures.”
   Tom smiled. “Where have I heard that before?”
   “Someone told me they saw you pumping gas.”
   He paused, looking at her. He always experienced discomfort when someone he recognized stopped to fill up. “Yeah. Since my wife left me I try to keep busy. Besides, it helps with expenses.”
   “Can’t blame you, given what the University’s paying you. Are you still jogging?”
   He looked at her with surprise.
   “I've seen you from my car. You’re in unbelievable shape.”
   Where was this going? Dare he think…? Why was she here? “So what’s so important it couldn’t have waited until tomorrow?”
   “I like to make sure my staff is doing okay. You keep to yourself for the most part. When I heard about your troubles…”
   “She didn't do me wrong. I deserved to be dumped. My own stupidity drove her away.”
   She raised an eyebrow. “That’s the first time I ever heard a man take full responsibility for a failed relationship. It’s refreshing, although I suspect you’re being unfair to yourself. It’s always fault on two sides.”
   “In this case you’re mistaken.”
   “Playing martyr will endear you to no one. I’m sure you’ll eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
   He failed to conceal a smirk. Given the comment, he suspected she knew he was a Vietnam vet. He sensed she wanted him to make a move on her. Could that be? Why him? Why wasn’t there a man in her life? Was she sleeping her way through the younger men on the staff? Why hadn't he heard any rumors about it? He rose and went to the couch. She followed. Soon they were necking, then disrobing, then tumbling. It had none of the awkwardness characteristic of a first plunge. When they were done they sat apart, luxuriating in the aftermath.
   “Well done, Thomas.”
   He chuckled.
   “Do you mind if I smoke a joint? I find it so relaxing.”
   “Feel free.”
   “Do you indulge?”
   “I've never tried it.”
   “Really? Weren't you in Vietnam?”
   He wondered how she knew so much about his personal life. “I used alcohol when I was on leave. Get laid, get drunk, sober up, get laid, get drunk – that was the pattern every time.”
   “Was that before you met your wife?”
   He shook his head. “No. Infidelity’s easy to rationalize when you’re not sure you’ll ever see home again.”
   “Did you tell her?”
   He did not respond. She was delving too deep.
   Margaret lit the joint, took a deep hit, and offered it to him. He hesitated. He didn't need any bad habits. He reasoned that he should experience it, then wondered if he would feel the same about more dangerous drugs. “Ah, what the hell,” he said finally, and took the joint from her.
   A while later he began feeling the effects. When Margaret again became amorous, he feared he wouldn't be able to function. It proved groundless.
   “Sorry I’m being such a glutton,” she said, eyes closed. “It’s been a while.”
   “For me too. How is it a dynamite woman like you is still single?”
   She shrugged. “I don’t believe in long term relationships. I think it’s best to break off as soon as it starts to go downhill, but sometimes a girl needs more than her toys.”
   He raised an eyebrow. Did it mean what he thought it did? “What about love?”
   “I've come to believe it’s an illusion conjured by sexual urges.”
   He was shocked. “I’ll love my wife till the day I die.”
   Her eyes spread. He looked away. Although he’d spoken the truth, he regretted it, as it might have cost him the relief Margaret might have provided until she tired of him. He could not imagine loving anyone but Kitty. He did not want to love anyone else.
   “I’m a little jealous. No man ever felt like that about me.”
   He thought the comment odd. Why would Margaret care who he loved if all she desired was good sex? Did she want everything short of commitment, love? He would let her lead. “Are your parents still together?”
   “Yes, but I don’t know why.”
   “Maybe they love each other.”
   “If so, they have a strange way of showing it. It’s more likely that habit and convention keep them moored to one another.”
   “What about kids? Don’t you want any?”
   Margaret shook her head. “I’d rather work.”
   He stared blankly, belying his astonishment that a woman would choose running a literature department over children.
   “The pill and the legalization of abortion have given women a freedom heretofore known only to men.”
   Heretofore, said Tom to himself, stifling a smirk.
   Margaret excused herself. Tom closed his eyes and concentrated on the effect of the marijuana, trying to determine if he liked it.
   “I see you keep a journal,” said Margaret, plopping onto the couch. “You left it in the bathroom. I took a peek. I hope you don’t mind.”
   “Not at all. It’s just random thoughts.”
   “Are you hoping to come up with a novel?”
   “Hasn't everyone who’s ever worked in a lit department had writing pretensions?”
   “I certainly had – until reality hit me right between the eyes. I’m afraid I’ll never come up with anything but academic stuff.”
   He decided not to tell her about his late novel. He did not regret having junked it. The more he thought about it, the more he saw how weak it was.
   “So,” said Margaret, “what d'you say – one for the road?”
   In the ensuing days, whenever they encountered each other, it was as if their tryst had never occurred. Obviously, it had been almost entirely physiological. It had none of the unifying power of the sex he’d had with Kitty. He supposed Margaret would have dubbed that an illusion. Then again, why would she pass on good sex? Was it because she was still unsure about love and was reluctant to admit it to herself?

The floating book shop was rained out.
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