Wednesday, June 29, 2016

One Eight Five: Shopping

I never quite know how to behave at sex shops. I'm never quite sure what pose to strike or how to ask questions.

I've been to sex toy shops, though usually--- perhaps inevitably ---I'm there as a young companion's accessory, as the older admirer she leads by the hand. Literally leads by the hand, mind you. That's something my young companions have seemed to like--- drawing me along the store aisles in their wake. I can't say that I mind, of course. I love watching them shop. I love the way they show off their acquisitions and take me to the displays they want to explore.

It is awkward, though, if you go in alone. It's something that takes some deep breaths. Going into a sex shop alone, you have far too much to prove and far too much to hide.

I worked in a bookstore all through grad school. It was a good job. I was the evening and night manager, so I didn't have to be there 'til two in the afternoon. I'd close up at ten at night and then go out. I managed to get most of my doctoral thesis written and still spend lots of late nights in clubland. My job required me to take books home to read, and I had special authority to order History and Modern Lit and Non-Fiction. We had a good clientele, a good mix of upscale types, bohemians, and students. They valued my advice, and I tried to be knowledgeable. I hired good people to work with me, people whose lives had been built up out of books.  A very good job, and one I look back on now with special nostalgia.

I used to tell the evening staff that we were like bartenders or psychoanalysts or priests. People told us what they were looking for on the shelves, and we ended up knowing all about their inner lives and hopes. Not just the thirty-something soccer moms who'd buy a hundred dollars' worth of self-help books on reaching orgasm or saving their marriages, and not just the solemn art-school kids buying guides to Coming Out. We knew what authors you'd choose to give you the right vision of romance, the kinds of futures that the sci-fi readers believed in, the skills people wanted to acquire and the phobias they wanted to overcome.  We knew who was pregnant for the first time and who was traveling to Bali that summer. I knew--- predatory creature that I am ---which senior girls from the posh prep schools were buying "Story of O" or Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" books.

So I expect I'm a bit afraid of sex shops for that reason. Shopping there shows someone what your current fantasies and fetishes are. You're vulnerable to the judgment of strangers--- always an unpleasant thing. More--- the shop clerk will see you what you buy, and she (it should always be a she) is likely only to see you once or twice in her career. Whatever you buy that night, whatever you seem interested in or excited by that one night--- that's what'll define you in her eyes.  That's a problem in general, by the way. If you tell a potential young companion about your current interest, she'll assume that's all you are, all you're interested in.

Cliche, of course, but true. It's easier to be a lovely co-ed and go to sex shops (at least those where the staff are more likely to have graduate degrees than those where the clerk looks like Comic Book Guy) than it is to be a gentleman of a Certain Age and shop there. A lovely co-ed can stare down anyone who raises an eyebrow and fiercely defend her own sexual agency and empowerment--- one of the best uses for all that training in critical theory. Someone male of my own age must shuffle and look at the floor and find some guilty way to insist that he's not a sad perv with a Real Doll at home. Possibly a Real Doll of an underage sheep.

I've been the official carrier-of-purchases for young companions at sex shops. I've been the older admirer to whom a lovely girl turns in the presence of the clerk and says, "Do you think this one will leave good marks on me?" I've been there when a young companion grasps my arm and leans her head on my shoulder and tells the salesgirl, "No--- give me the next size bigger." Those things are fun. Part of the delights of being an older admirer. But I couldn't go in alone. I certainly couldn't go in alone and ask the staff for advice or recommendations.

That's disheartening, really. I'm a gentleman of a Certain Age--- a professional, a sometime academic,  holder of post-graduate degrees. Yet I can't ever walk up to the counter at someplace like, say, Good Vibrations in San Francisco or any of its upscale equivalents worldwide and just...ask for advice and recommendations. Whatever my interests might be, from mere vanilla to the very baroque and complicated, I can't risk being judged and mocked. Whatever my young lady buys is fine. And I'm fine carrying her parcels or giving her my own take on what she's looking at. But I'm never going to be able to shop on my own.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

One Eight Four: Unsolicited

My friend and correspondent Ms. Flox--- the sex blogger A.V. Flox ---wrote elsewhere not so long ago about a problem of the current dating scene: the flood of unsolicited penis photos being texted to hapless young women. She posted a meme that's been going around the web--- a "prospectus" for a service that promises to show men why dick pics are a poor idea, and, for a nominal fee, to teach men that genitals are not an acceptable conversational opener.

My own response to her was:

I really, really can't imagine ever sending a lovely girl a dick pic. I mean, I don't send pics at all. Reading lists, yes. Hints that I could be dangerous in the theme-park thrill-ride way, yes. I'd consider sending her the heads of her enemies as an introductory gift. But dick pics lack any kind of imagination...and they leave anyone male open to easy ripostes and mockery. Too banal, too cliche, too risky.

I stand by that. In all the time I've flirted with lovely girls on-line--- back to the end of the last century  ---I've sent very, very few girls a photo of myself at all. And never, never a penis pic. A girl that I trust  may get an "official" photo--- something taken for corporate purposes, something with jacket and tie. It takes a lot for me to trust a girl enough to let her see me. In jacket and tie, I can look reasonably serious  and darkly intense. There are bright and lovely girls who can look at my official photos and see more than my age and my appearance. There are a few of them, and deeply treasured they are. But they're a very small niche population. For the most part, I sent reading lists.

I'm male, and all-too-aware that the male body is open to easy mockery.  There are risks that I won't take, risks that a gentleman of a certain age can't afford. Penis pics are one of them. The risks are too high, especially in an age of social media.  Let's be very clear about how the system works. It doesn't matter if you're in the worldwide top 1% for penis length, thickness, and rigidity. If a girl mocks your penis on social media, you've just been effectively re-assigned to micro-penis status. If you're male, you can't win that battle.  Ever. It's not a risk worth taking. Be clear about that.

The whole situation with dick pics may be very different for gay males. Unsolicited penis pics may be the coin of the realm there. I really don't know. But I do know that in my own social world, there's nothing to be gained from dick pics. They're what I was taught to regard as tacky--- never socially appropriate, very much something done by people who lack breeding and social grace.

Reading lists. I stand by that. I would never use an actual photo of myself on a dating site, and I would never send a penis pic. Reading lists are much more about what I'm offering. I'm a creature who's part of a niche experience--- being part of a literary scenario, being a character in a film or novel, exploring things that have the air of the forbidden. I'm sold myself as that much of my life. When I do offer sex, it's far more as a scenario than as flesh. The girls who respond to me want to do things in bed, yes. But they want something else, too--- and the stories being generated outweigh the flesh.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

One Eight Three: Letters

I've been thinking about love letters.

The explanation is easy enough, really. I've been cleaning out my flat. Trying to make space, to de-clutter, to look less like I live in a ruined book warehouse or a storage closet at a fading liberal-arts graduate school. I've been emptying out storage bins and throwing out enormous amounts of old papers. I suppose I hate doing that. I was trained to do History and Law, and I was trained to believe that archives were key, that the past is more important than the present. I know--- space is important, minimalism is good for the soul, and it's a bad thing to live on the edge of hoarding. It may be that at my age, the past is what you have instead of a life. Nonetheless, it's time for a de-cluttering campaign. And there've been love letters found amidst all the debris of my life.

The letters themselves date from all across my life. I found a couple of faded ones with stamps that date back deep into the last century, letters from girls when I was in my teens. Some have foreign stamps and add "USA" or "Oesterreich" under my street address. Those are written on airmail stationery, and I'm fairly certain that's not even made any more. Different handwritings, different inks, names I remember from long ago.

We don't do love letters any more, do we? Few enough people even do letters. I've been told that even e-mail is fading. We text, these days. Something as short as possible. We live in a time when people use "TL;DR" as an actual, non-ironic statement. You can guess that I hate that. Of course I like letters. I like the ritual of writing them--- choosing stationery and ink, sealing them with wax. I like it that it takes time for them to arrive. I like it that you can have them to remember and re-read down the years.

Now it does occur to me that in the age of the gender wars, love letters may not be regarded as a good thing. I can see the outrage machine of the Social Justice Cult gearing up to make that parrot-squawk "Problematic!" call that signals that moral evil has been uncovered somewhere.

I can hear the attacks in my head. The gender warriors will regard love letters as "entitled". After all, to send a love letter can be spun to mean that you're imposing on someone else's attention and time, that you're expecting (or demanding) a response, even if that's only some kind of emotional effect in the recipient. Isn't telling someone how you feel about them a demand that they "perform emotional labour"? Can't telling someone about your hopes and fantasies about them in a love letter be spun as something "non-consensual", something like cat-calling? It's all-too-easy to imagine that the gender warriors would hate love letters. They hate all the rituals of romance, after all. They disapprove of courtship and seduction, of the idea of exchanges. They really hate the idea of fantasy, of course. And anything traditional or archaic.

Let's make a note about that. The gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult hate the past and everything about it.  That's something I'll never understand.

In any case, now... Love letters are open to attack by the gender warriors. They're probably a dying art anyway. They take too long to write, they require too much effort. And while couples might discuss "relationships" these days, they don't discuss courtship and seduction; they can't risk sharing dreams and fantasies.

I found small stacks of love letters in my storage bins. Some were bound in ribbon. All of them were parts of my past, memories I hated losing. Some were gently romantic, some were passionate, some were clever and witty, some were full of fairly graphic erotica. All were...hopeful.  That's a part that's as key as promises of torrid encounters. They were hopeful; they were promises of a better future. That's something that makes tossing out old love letters doubly painful. You lose the memories, you lose the proofs of your past--- and you lose the promise of a future.

The letters that have been swept up in my de-cluttering may not have been re-read in years. But they were always there: proofs of my past and promises for futures that never arrived. I'll miss them, miss the idea that I had a past worth remembering. As a gentleman of a Certain Age, I may never have the chance to write more. And that's not something I want to consider.

Monday, June 6, 2016

One Eight Two: Thrill Rides

The other night I went back and re-read a blog entry from three or four years ago--- an American expat girl writing about her life in London. I know the girl a bit, or knew her once, when she was shuttling between the Pacific Northwest and DC, a self-destructive, hyper-aware, ghostly-beautiful co-ed. The entry itself is an  account of her No-Names-Please encounter with an English guy she picked up at a club in Camden Town.  I can't tell you much about the setting or the club life she wrote about.  London's not my town. I'm a creature of cities out on the Donau and not the Thames. Anyway, the story did call up memories of my own.

When the expat girl took the English guy home, she shook off the warning of a girl with her at the club not to do it: I never heed warnings.  When he fingered her in the taxi (a £35 ride? Bloody hell--- a long way back to her rooms at LSE) and told her very graphically what he's going to do to her, she thought---

You're thinking this is horrible, but the horrible part is that I only smirk. I'm not offended or scared. I feel calm and cool...

In bed, he did hurt her, and when she was loud he bit her nipple hard enough to draw blood and said, Stop making noise, you fucking slag.  What she thought was---

I'm terrified but I'm enjoying this.

I'm terrified that I'm enjoying this.

Oh, the story never goes very much farther into anything dark. Don't think that. There's rough sex all night, and some fairly gentle sex and conversation the next morning, and then he charged his phone (nice touch), dressed, told her that he did have a girlfriend, and left. She wasn't even really annoyed about that; she liked being hot enough to entice a stranger to cheat on his girlfriend. The next day she was too sore to walk much, sore from no-lube anal, and her left breast was bruised and the nipple erect with a smeared ring of dried blood all around it. No regrets, though, or only the dim and tired awareness of how much she likes courting danger. It's a very hot story, and I'm...well, envious of her for having it to tell. I can't wish I'd been the guy, though. She likes her men tall and handsome and with the whole rock-hard abs thing. And she always did strike me as a girl who's harsh enough to comment on a male partner's looks and...ummm...endowment to his face. Not anything I'd risk. There's no point at all in wanting to be the guy. I meet none of her criteria, and probably never have or will.

What I am thinking about tonight is her  whole elision of arousal and terror:

I'm terrified but I'm enjoying this.

I'm terrified that I'm enjoying this.

I envy that--- I envy anyone who has that said about them, who can evoke that in an attractive girl.

I have no idea if anyone has ever thought that around me. Or thought those things in any serious way. I've always been the Theme Park Thrill Ride for a certain kind of co-ed. They can do things that they've been taught were Bad, or at least risky, and they can do them with someone like me, who really does meet all the criteria for a Lifetime Movie of the Week villain. They can do those things--- go home with the much-older man who's certainly a predator of some kind and just might be dangerous ---and still know that it's like getting aboard the much-hyped thrill ride at the theme park. Faux-danger--- you get the adrenaline rush and get to pretend to be terrified, and you know that in a few minutes you'll be able to walk away from the ride and feel like you've had an adventure, like you've done something, like you have a story to dine out on for weeks.

I've played to that image, of course, the image of being dangerous and depraved. It's all part of roué-hood, isn't it.  I used to laugh about it. Work the creepy, I'd say. Tell the girl that, yes, you are everything Lifetime Channel and her parents and Dr. Drew and Women's Studies 101 told her to be afraid of, and is she up for the risk? It works a fair amount of the time. It really does. Faux-danger is an alluring thing. Horror films and theme parks make piles of money off the idea.

And people do dine out on stories. I've done it myself for years--- sought out experiences specifically for their value as stories. I've known many a posh girl, many a girl with a professional degree and a serious career, who's deployed stories to suggest that she had a wicked, interesting, intriguing past, one that got pretty heavy, one that endows her with a hint of danger still, one where her tales of escape will leave friends and dates begging for more.

It's still a bit exhausting for me, of course--- being the dark lover. And unsettling, too. A lovely, vodka-fueled co-ed stretched out on a bed late one night, back arched, thrusting sharp hipbones up at you and begging you to hurt her raises problems. There's always the morning-after regrets issue. There is always that. And as incredible as it is to have some lovely girl yielding herself up to you and asking you to go further, to not have any limits with her, it does put you in an awkward position. You have to be pitch-perfect at things. The girl can be telling you to do all these things she's read about or fantasized about or seen in films, and you have to get them exactly right. There's no room for error. I've said no to things, which has surprised girls. I've said no to choking girls when they've asked--- that's not something where you can make a mistake. (Scarves. I might do it a bit with a scarf, if a girl asked, but never with my hands. Not that way. Never.) There was a flat no to the one seriously MDMA-dreamy girl who asked me to cut her. That I wouldn't do; that I won't do. That's not something I ever want to have to explain to anyone later. That particular girl had faded scars on her hipbones and thighs--- she'd cut herself in high school ---and she wanted to have a lover do it for her. That was her fantasy, she said. Be clear, now: I had no moral objection. It wasn't even that I distrusted myself or thought I'd turn into Patrick Bateman. But I wasn't going to become the target and the Bad Guy if she had morning-after regrets.

I do suppose there's another kind of Thrill Ride that's easier. It's one that girls I have loved wanted. I don't have to be faux-terrifying. I only have to be older and attentive and literate. There are girls who want the experience of an Older Lover, who want what an Older Lover can offer: booklists and conversations and an introduction to things they've wanted--- being part of a world that's mannered and bookish and intellectual. They want an Older Lover who can show them things, teach them things. A lovely girl at McGill in Montreal wrote me once to say that the exchange seemed perfect to her: youth and beauty and sex exchanged for knowledge and instruction. That's easier to do. I have no especial problem with the idea of whips and candle wax, of masks and silk scarves around slender wrists. I have no problem slapping a girl at the moment of orgasm. But this latter way is just...simpler. I can be the kind of Greying Lover that my Montreal friend always wrote about. I don't know that I can teach a lovely co-ed anything about Life, but I did work in a bookstore all through grad school, and I stood up in front of classes and lectured for years. I can always talk about books and ideas. That's easy to do. A different quality of Thrill Ride. I could do it for the girls I have most loved over the years. It's not something I could do with the expat girl in London, though. It's not even something she'd want.

There's a strange lull in life these days, a strange kind of exhaustion in my life. There's maybe one girl in my life right now who'd appreciate both poses--- who'd ride the thrill ride, terrified as part of being wet-and-breathless, but who'd want the long conversations later, who'd never worry about rock-hard abs and how many miles one could run. Alas, though--- she's eight thousand miles away, living on the beach at Wainui. At the moment, the best I can do is put ink to paper and offer her tales of books and ideas alternating with thrill ride scenarios. I'd like to think that she'd say what the expat girl told the English guy:

I'm terrified but I'm enjoying this.

I'm terrified that I'm enjoying this.

I want her to say other things, too--- Have you read this? What do you see out there in the dark, in the waves? Let me tell you all the things I see in my city.  That's part of being older, I suppose: fear that you can't evoke either thing in lovely girls any more.