When it comes to sex, there are no answers, only questions
There is the thrashing around of sex and there is the young boy on the plane to England.
First the boy: I don’t know the child—a friend told me the story. An American family relocates to London. Ex-hausted by the excitement of his first plane ride, the young son falls asleep over the Atlantic. At Heathrow, his parents carry him from the plane to baggage claim to their taxi. He wakes, finally, groggy and quiet.
He lives in England. He is like any child, so he looks at animals and attends school and gets haircuts now and then. One day, sipping milk at the breakfast table, he looks up at his parents: When, he wants to know, will they get off the plane?
There is that and there is the light shifting almost obscenely after sex. Because of dusk it’s gone blue. The universe’s great sad moments come in this blue and, as though stoned, I decide I’ve never seen the world quite as it is now. The fly butting the windowpane from the inside, the cat with the dirty ears just beyond, the space that opens between two bodies recently inseparable, a space unveiled like a—
Let’s go, pal, she says.
I’m up, mopping off. We have a movie to catch.
My clothes trail from the bed like adult bread crumbs. Sex when it’s done begins again in replay; dressing, I recall the precipitous examination of the spider bite together on the couch, knees touching.
Having sex is preferable to remembering it, but then the act of sex doesn’t come with a pause button. I am slow-witted—my puns are generally sharpest just after my fellow conversationalist has bowled his last frame, located his hat, put on his coat, made the good-bye rounds, dug for his subway fare, and disappeared into the world. That’s when I’m real clever. Similarly, the intricacies of sex present themselves in their vividness only after I’ve achieved sufficient distance from the event. In the thick of things, I catch only flashes.
The movie turns out to be fine, like most movies. I don’t care when it shows me boring car chases, and it doesn’t seem to care when I drift away. I drift when the two actors up there start getting busy. It’s the kind of busy-getting scene where lamps fall from tables. Hello? Lamps? People guard those things like babies, and besides, that’s not sex. Somewhere along the line, movies began compensating for their prudishness with the destruction of home furnishings. I want a movie I recognize.
The movie ends and we meet friends. We talk about jobs, the dog outside the bar with three legs, magazine articles we read half of. A couple of hours after one person is inside another, the two can drink and make fart jokes with friends. We are both dumbfounded then unamazed by intercourse.
On the train home, my lady friend and I review the evening and then salvage a newspaper from the next seat. She reads about a hurricane off Florida, I look at an ad for a book about love. The book looks tasteful and generous. It wants to share 1,000 lovemaking secrets.
Whew, says my friend. Turns out the hurricane will probably be downgraded to a storm.
Want to read a book about love? I ask.
She doesn’t. We regard love writing with leery interest. These people talk about sex, yes, but they get it too wrong. It’s dressed up in soft jazz, or supple lips, or Moments. Even the bold personal essays, the ones bent around their own alleged rawness, miss the nail. They describe the accoutrements of sex—vibrator collections, latex fetishes, the language of seduction—but not sex itself. Or else they let outrageousness displace candor: fucking, crazy fucking, quadruple mountain bike fucking, but nothing a person might call true.
I like this stuff but I want other stuff. What about boring underwear and the unbuckling of belts? Change spilling out of pockets? The throwing of the stinky socks far from noses? What about pieces of green condom wrapper, and who takes off what, and looking at each other for a moment, and a shoelace double-knotted and a pause to untie?
And the funny words for organs, while we’re here: dick, pussy, clit—organ itself is funny. And there’s the bobbing funniness of sex, how the big joke lifts and sinks like a bag in the breeze. Sometimes it’s silly business, this rolling around like animals. Other times it’s humorless, busy, and brief: like temp work, maybe, except not boring.
And the crying afterwards. Why are we crying? Are we laughing? Did something get in our eye? We say great, foolish things like "oh." We nod off, then wake to say goodnight, then nod off again and in the morning make coffee.
As for the young child, the boy who confused England for the inside of a plane, this is not unrelated. He is an unwitting example, like all great examples. One hears his story with sympathy and affection: this sweet child and the rug pulled out from under. One imagines the jolt, the neurons hissing and steaming over their own new information. One pictures various scenarios in which he is somehow saved.
I want to find this boy. Find him and watch him in the world. In his gullibility is the thing that will make him happy. Or at least have good sex, when it’s appropriate, if one may speak of a child’s sexual future. Sex weirdens up the world, pulls a sheet off it or throws one over so it’s hard to say what’s what. It drugs you and rewrites things. It puts you on a plane and doesn’t always wake you when it lands. The boy will rub his eyes and blink and say, OK, oh.
This article first appeared in Salon.com at www.salon.com. An online version remains in the Salon archives. Reprinted with permission.