Friday, September 20, 2013

Sink or Swim?

I’ve mentioned before I occasionally see a friend of mine I’ve known at this point for nearly a quarter-century. He’s a glum personality; I’m afraid that in a couple of past entries in which he made appearances, I assigned him the unfortunate soubriquet of “Eeyore.”

But it’s fitting. He’s a sweet guy. I genuinely believe he’d give to me the shirt off his back if I complained I was chilly. In all the time I’ve known him, though, he’s always been a bit of a downer. Not a whirlwind of drama, mind you. More like a powerful but silent magnetic force that can walk into a room full of the most upbeat and high-spirited folk around—a real Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby of a party with hot jazz and hotcha flappers sipping bathtub gin and doing the hot new sensation called the Charleston—and without really meaning to, can suck up all the fun until there’s nothing left in the room but some limp crepe paper streamers and a sad, tattered print hanging on the wall of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Within minutes he can have every single person in a five-room radius moping, contemplating the futility of his existence, and reaching for the extra Ambien.

Come to think, I’m pretty sure I saw that exact situation on an episode of Fringe.

I went out on the town with Eeyore and another friend of mine not so long ago. As a trio we bar-hopped our way across Manhattan, pretty basically. We had drinks at a few establishments along Christopher Street. We stopped off for happy-hour $3 Long Island iced teas and drag queen fun before dinner. (I drank bottles of water.) We decided to have dinner before heading off to the Eagle, which involved me, the sober one, guiding them up Seventh Avenue and restraining them at intersections by planting my hands on their chests, so my two extremely inebriated friends wouldn’t blunder out into oncoming traffic. For all of those three hours we were together before dinner, the entire time Eeyore kept talking about the guy he’d taken home the night before.

I hadn’t paid much mind to the story, because all the guys Eeyore takes home are strippers. Dancers, I mean. (When I fuck dancers, they’re ballet dancers or former contestants on So You Think You Can Dance. When Eeyore gets with a dancer, it’s a stripper.) You know those newly-engaged women who, when you’re trying to relate your father’s medical issues and your own recent work woes, lean forward and flash the rock on their fingers and manage to turn every conversation into OMG your diamond is so BIG! ? Well, it was like that with Eeyore and the stripp . . . er, dancer.

I was trying to recap the plot of Blue Jasmine for someone and it would trigger Eeyore into saying, “That reminds me of something my dancer said last night after I took him home. . . .” Or I’d ask Eeyore how was his vacation in Chicago, and he’d reply, “Oh, it was fine. I found out the dancer I took home last night was from Bushwick. That’s not very far. Do you think it’s too far?”

It wasn’t really until we were sitting down at dinner and Eeyore picked up the menu and said, “I think the dancer I took home last night would really like this place. They have hamburgers,” that I turned to him in surprise. Here I’d been kind of politely ignoring his dancer stories in the same way I might have overlooked a big old booger hanging from his nostril. I’d been thinking, Oh my god, how many times can he bring up the fact AGAIN that he had sex last night? And when a sex blogger who’s constantly parading his tricks in front of an international audience of thousands is getting annoyed with with someone exhibitionistically talking about fucking, you know it’s got to be excessive.

But over the hamburger menu I realized that for the first time in I didn’t know how long, Eeyore actually seemed kind of happy. I commented on it. “Well yeah,” he said. “Of course. I mean, I almost got laid for the first time last night in twenty years.”

And I shouted, “WHAT?!

He repeated it for me. “I said, last night was the first time in twenty years that I was close to getting laid.”

“Twenty years,” I said.

He nodded.

“Two decades.”

He nodded again.

“Since 1993.”

By now he was looking at me like I was a blithering idiot. “Well, yeah.”

I stared at him for a moment and then, with outrage, demanded to know, “WHAT THE FUCK?!”

I have a tendency to think of myself as unfairly deprived if I have to go for five days without sex. Twenty years, to me, sounded like the stuff of science fiction. I’d known that Eeyore’s track record wasn’t stellar. All of his stories tend to end with the dancer (stripper) stealing his wallet, or leading him on, over the course of weeks or months, for lap dance money and then leaving him high and dry. Or else they involve the mercenary cleaning out his bank account and moving on to the next john.

But jeez. I assumed that from time to time in there, there’d been some actual nookie.

“There are just things in play that prevent me. . . .” he started to say.

I wanted to know what.

“My job. . . .”

“. . . . doesn’t involve a vow of celibacy and allows you plenty of hook-up time,” I countered.

“It’s a crazy city. . . .”

“. . . . where I manage to have sex several times a week.”

“I just wasn’t raised that way. My parents. . . .”

And here’s where I lost my patience.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people—friends, lovers, readers of my blog who’ll write in to me or engage me in social media—tell me that they want to experience sexual joy, but that they can’t because of outside factors. I’ve had men tell me that they want to let go and play with whom they choose, but they can’t do it because they were raised in a religious household. I’ve had dozens and dozens of guys tell me they want to play with men, but they can’t because they’re married. They’ll tell me they were raised in the South and their upbringing prevents them from seeking sex with men. Or any number of other factors—all external, all allegedly beyond their control.

When a guy tells me that he wants to be more sexually adventurous (or, you know, to have sex more than nearly once every twenty years), but then rattles off a number of outside forces preventing him from achieving his goal, I know it’s not any of those externals that truly restrain him. Religion can be overcome. There are pigs worldwide from every ethnicity, nationality, and regional background. Not every relationship comes with a lock and key. No, what I hear is a man telling me that his inaction is a result of a mysterious societal conspiracy. Other people, vague and undefined, are making his choices for him. What I hear is a man telling me that he’s too frightened to make his own choices.

Look. I grew up in a family with no less than four ordained and practicing ministers, all Southern Baptist. It doesn’t get much more religious than that. I’m married. I was raised in the very same South. I know I’m not everyone’s touchstone, but none of those things keeps me from being a total whore. I don't allow any of those factors to keep me from pursuing sexual adventure any more than they I would allow them to keep me from reading what I want, watching the television shows that interest me, or listening to that demon rock and roll. I don’t allow external, invisible forces, up to and including God himself, to dictate my day-to-day happiness.

If Eeyore had, in answer to my question of why he’d been celibate for two decades, replied, Well, I’ve decided that it’s important to me to wait for a special someone, I would’ve thought about it, probably privately decided that his response wouldn’t be mine, and then given him a pat on the back and some words of support. That would’ve been a choice he’d made, based on a philosophy he believed in. If a married reader tells me that he wishes he could fuck around, but that he’s made a choice to stay true to his marriage vows because it makes him a more honest and committed person—fuck yes, more power to him. I admire anyone who makes a choice and owns that choice and isn’t afraid to stick to it.

For me it all boils down to whether a person is an active protagonist in his own life, or whether he’s passive and adrift and allowing invisible forces to carry him downstream. An invisible god shouldn’t be making choices for you. Kowtowing to the a disapproving, inchoate society or the thought of frowning and unhappy parents (who, in Eeyore’s case, have both been deceased for years) means you’ve taken the passive route. Thinking about your choices, and making the ones that are right for you—even if you’ve been told that they’ll make Baby Jesus cry—make you a warrior in your own life.

It really doesn’t take a lot to move from passive floater to an active leader of your own life. Mindfulness helps. Reflection. Learning to recognize when you’re allowing fear and commonplace external forces to dictate your direction. I truly believe it’s important to take as much control of our own lives as possible, because every one of us one day will find ourselves facing external obstacles that will throw the triviality of everything else into sharp relief. I’m talking about illness, and accidents, and irreplaceable losses of love and family. It’s when those roll around—and they always do—that we realize that we had happiness within reach all the time.

Whether or not you grasp it, or at least chase it, is up to you.

All of us are living on borrowed time. Every single one of us. One day it all comes due. Trust me, I know from experience that it’s possible to drift for long periods of time on tides that seem beyond our control. But some day we wake up and realize that a year has passed—five years, twenty years—and we’ll never again have that time or the opportunities it presented. I know that I’d rather face that moment knowing I threw myself into those waters and relished the sport and challenge of them. I’d rather splash and make noise and make a goddamned mess than drift quietly and apologetically through life. I’d rather regret the choices I made for myself, crazy as they may be, while I can make them, rather than regret fearing everything, making no choices at all, and blaming it all on forces beyond my control.

Again: I know my choices are my own. I don't expect anyone to follow in my exact footsteps. I just want people—I want you—to be the person at the helm of your own life. I want you to conquer those fears holding you back, whatever they may be.

For Eeyore, breaking a twenty-year dry spell is a first step. Learning that it’s not too late to quench his thirst is up to him.


  1. You write so well.
    Carpe diem!
    Another Rob

  2. """""can suck up all the fun until there’s nothing left in the room but some limp crepe paper streamers """""

    Ah, you've met my mother.

    Sounds like Eeyore fells that he has nothing to offer anyone and that no one would want him unless he 'pays' for it in some way. He goes after easy game (strippers) with his wallet because he knows he will get the prey and can brag about it after. He's afraid of rejection if he were to try and meet someone with what's inside him and not what's inside his wallet.

    1. I think your assessment is probably on the mark.

  3. Your friend needs therapy--or at least a long conversation about mortality and the need to live while one can. Maybe seeing the strippers makes him forget his loneliness but were he able to control his free-floating negativity, he might find someone to love him. Your description of him makes me wonder what he gets out of being the constant downer. Does he feel powerful when he is like that? Does he want attention and thinks that this is the best way to get it? What benefit does he receive from sucking the fun out of the room? He needs to find out why he fears intimacy and sex. Bear in mind that many anti-depressants kill the sex drive and maybe his meds are doing that to him. Either way, 20 years is a long time in life to go without sex.

    Otherwise, I wish that I had written this sentence:
    More like a powerful but silent magnetic force that can walk into a room full of the most upbeat and high-spirited folk around—a real Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby of a party with hot jazz and hotcha flappers sipping bathtub gin and doing the hot new sensation called the Charleston—and without really meaning to, can suck up all the fun until there’s nothing left in the room but some limp crepe paper streamers and a sad, tattered print hanging on the wall of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

    You are a very talented writer!

    1. I've known many people who use their Sad Sack exteriors as a weapon, to control and manipulate others in order to get their way. I don't have much patience for passive-aggressive behavior, though, so I would've called Eeyore out years and years ago if he was that sort of game player. No, he's basically a kind person who's just being himself. He just happens to be an Eeyore, is all.

      Thanks for the remark on that sentence. It's like the roomful of monkeys with typewriters thing. Once in a while, by the laws of sheer probability, something semi-coherent comes out.

  4. Your friend needs to be slapped back to his senses.

    1. I don't advocate non-consensual slapping!

  5. Having been on both sides of that divide, I can relate to Eeyore on the one hand, and you on the other! To paraphrase Sophie Tucker, "I've been fearfully celebate and I've been joyfully promiscuous. Joyful promiscuity is better."

    I was 25 when I finally had sex with a man (I've never done it with a woman) and it was the most freeing thing that ever happened to me -- everything about my life became better and more fun. It took me a while to become joyfully promiscuous, but it was well worth the journey.
    Thank you for your blog -- it always makes me think and it brightens my day.

    Paul, NYC

  6. inspirational ... thx

  7. It never ceases to amaze me how at times 'the universe' will put something in front of you at the exact moment in time you need to see it or hear it. Your article happens to be one of those times. Great blog at the right time!