The day before the dreaded Saturday benefit reading, I had my little passel of sensitive-male poems ready to go, but an unwelcome thought was edging its way into my brain: that I should read “Close,” my museum-guard story, instead. I fought the impulse with all my might, couldn’t believe I was even considering it. But I also wanted to read the best work I had, and despite my fears, the story was, in a sense, absolutely appropriate for the sexually radical and politically engaged audience I envisioned. That night I asked my wife whether I should read it.
Digression: Yes, I was married during my Lusty Lady period. My wife not only knew about and accepted my visits, but encouraged them and got off on my descriptions of that world and the porn in my collection. Now my ex, she has always identified with men and masculinity. Her father is a strong, silent heart surgeon. Her four brothers are all great athletes, quietly brilliant types who build beautiful, solid things with their hands. In many ways my ex tried to be and in many ways succeeded in becoming the fifth boy in her family.
So I, who never really learned the manly arts of plumbing and carpentry, was married to a woman who was a professional carpenter, painter, and contractor to supplement a markedly less lucrative career as a dancer and choreographer. When we redid our floors, she wouldn’t let me handle the big, unwieldy belt sander, nor would she let me touch a paintbrush when she painted our apartment, although she was kind enough (or patronizing enough, you make the call) to let me sand a couple of walls after which she touched up my work.
She desired, in an ideal lover, someone bigger, stronger, and tougher than she, to make her feel more feminine. I met the physical requirements, barely. My pervy predilections were my most masculine feature, and offset my more wifely qualities, such as making sure she paid her parking tickets and brushed her teeth and made it to doctor appointments and returned phone calls. She painted the walls, but I arranged the furniture and hung the art just so.
When I asked my wife whether I should read “Close” at the benefit, she replied that she didn’t see why not. I tried to explain exactly why not: i.e., that they’ll fucking hate me, that’s why not. She still didn’t see it. “It’s a great story, she said. “Read it. What’s the worst that can happen?”
I reiterated: the worst that can happen is that they will hate me.
“And then what?”
“And then what? They’ll hate me, that’s what, and I don’t want to be hated.”
“They won’t hate you,” she replied. But then, she loved me. What did she know?
I asked another friend and got pretty much the same response. Just letting the friend read the story had been petrifying. Why was I even thinking about reading it in public? I kept saying to myself, No way, but I was starting to think, Yes way. I’m going to read that story, and it will be great. The audience is going to love it, and radical lesbians will begin to understand men in a new way, and their understanding and eventual forgiveness will allow men to grow to better appreciate and respect women, and a movement will rise, misogyny will die, and peace and love will reign supreme on earth.
Maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself. But clearly I had decided to read “Close” at the show.
That night, I slept horribly, and I awoke agitated and filled with second thoughts.
Once, I was jerking off while watching a dancer who had always pointedly ignored me. She just plain didn’t like me. Usually this ruins it for me, but her body was incredible long and lean and strong, with smooth olive skin, small breasts, and tiny, button nipples. And sure, her aloofness was sexy too. For some reason she deigned to dance for me that day, with just the perfect hint of disdain in her eyes.
I must have stopped stroking myself for a moment and put my hand up by the window (I’m left-handed), because she noticed my wedding ring and dryly said, “Why don’t you go home and fuck your wife?”
“I will,” I replied, more angry than embarrassed. What’s your point? I wanted to say. They’re two completely different things. I’m not coming here instead of fucking my wife. But there was no way to have a discussion through the thick plexiglass about the difference between sex with one’s spouse and masturbating while looking at a sex worker. And of course the disgusted dancer would have had no interest in any such conversation.
Rather than leave chastened, I fed the machine more quarters and kept jerking away, almost frantically. As frustrated and angry as I was, I got off, looking at her ass swaying haughtily, almost mockingly, to the beat. It was the only time in my life I can remember coming in anger.