Love & Sex

Striking Out

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getting around

It’s important to stress right off the bat that I did not have much sex in my thirties. Granted, I thought about sex all the time, and wrote about it a good deal. But as for the having, it was predominantly a solo affair, executed in vigorous, porn-addled outbursts. Tennis Elbow, meet your new roomie, Jackoff Wrist.

I mention this because the chance to have sex with someone else ranked as a major occasion in my life. That a woman would undress and let me at the hidden places, that things between us would turn wet and desperate — the notion alone was enough to send me shivering off to the bathroom, dong in hand. This makes it difficult to explain why, on numerous occasions, faced with this delicious prospect, I chose instead to watch a sporting event.

But let’s start here, in southern New Hampshire. It’s a Sunday night in early October, 2000. I’m at a fancy hotel, doing a buffet dinner with a bunch of artist types. There’s one in particular: packed into a school-marmish blouse and shooting me the lonely brown eyes. I’ve got my own lonely eyes, and so we find each other over the chicken skewers and do the necessary coital sniffing. Molly is separated from her husband, up from Manhattan for the week, a friend of a friend. She’s drinking Merlot.

I’m drinking too, whiskey and soda, but that’s just an excuse to freshen my drink at the bar, where I can sneak looks at the TV overhead, because my Oakland A’s are in the playoffs for the first time in a decade, matched up against the Yankees in the fifth and deciding game of their series. I’ve rooted for the A’s since I was five years old, a doomed loyalty that marks the longest-standing commitment in my life. The team was not expected to make the playoffs, let alone push New York to the limit on the very night of this buffet dinner.
It comes as a curious relief when the A’s give up six runs in the first inning. The Yanks have Andy Pettitte on the mound, their ace. The game is over, in essence, which frees me up to return to the buffet and my pursuit of Molly, who has returned from the bathroom with a new coat of lipstick.

She tells me about her sculpture, which sometimes involves body molds, and this leads, hopelessly, inevitably, to a broader discussion of genital molds, and the logistics thereof. Molly prefers plaster of Paris to the newer polymers. She describes the process in less than delicate terms. "There’s some crushing if you don’t shave down," she tells me.

"Sounds messy," I say.

"I don’t mind messy." She sips at her wine. "Sometimes messy is the most fun."

This is clearly an allusion to me, and our conversation, and the mess that might lie ahead, given that we are both soused to the point of considering genital molds acceptable small talk.

I excuse myself to get another drink and resist checking the score of the game, except that there’s a guy standing in front of the TV scowling.

"What?" I say.

"Fucking Pettitte."

Yes, Fucking Pettitte who has (against all reasonable expectation) given up three runs in his first three innings. I should turn on my heel and report back to Molly. I should do that. Because her skin is pale and her mouth is red and she’s a sculptress and she’s up north for only a week and she doesn’t mind messy. But the A’s have just scored two more, and the tying runs are now on base, and the truth is I can see how it’s going to proceed with Molly; I’ve seen this picture before. It’s great for the first half hour. Then the glandular momentum winds down and we’re left with the complicated sorrow that draws two people into such abject arrangements. So I sit myself down on a stool and watch the A’s murder the rally and fifteen minutes later, sure as rain on London, Molly makes her appearance: stunning, disheveled, at least one Merlot past her limit; the tilt of her mouth murmurs something promising to my groin.

"So that’s where we find our hero," she says.

"Yeah, sorry."

She sits and glances up at the screen.

"I was just checking. It’s the playoffs," I say.

"I wouldn’t have tagged you as a Yankees man," she says.

"I’m rooting for Oakland, actually."

I don’t feel like detailing mywhole life-long pathetic allegiance to the A’s, something I’ve done a dozen times already in like circumstances, feeling, each time, the deep absurdity of my existence, my willingness to hand my emotional life over to a cadre of brute millionaires chasing a ball around some brightly lit corporate-sponsored lawn. The whole thing is just too homoerotic and sad.

"My ex," Molly says, "whatever we’re calling him, he loves the Yankees. I’m sure he’s watching the game right now." She’s started to hate me a little already; I can hear it in her voice. This will make the sex hotter, if we can get there.

The bartender comes over and puts a napkin down in front of Molly. He’s got a ponytail and a trimmed goatee that makes his mouth look like a vagina.

"You want another Merlot?" I say.

Molly shakes her head. "No mas. I’m heading up to my room."

"You’re staying here?"
"I hate driving at night. Can’t see for shit."

So now we both know what this is. I look at Molly in profile — her delicate ears, her plucked lips — and think about her hotel room, the big TV, the free shampoo, the battered queen-size some immigrant maid will strip the next morning, so as to wash away the evidence of our bodies. I think about the ecstatic, tawdry wrongness of the undertaking. Molly waits for me to turn away from the game. I’m waiting, too. There is no reason on earth that I should continue to watch, given the stated desires of the warm creature seated next to me. Except that now Matt Stairs has doubled, which brings the tying run to the plate in the person of our lanky leftfielder, Terrence Long.

Thankfully, there’s a pitching change and I turn to Molly and say, "Have another drink. One more.The game’s almost over. Another half hour."

She shakes her head and sighs, like I’ve hit the wrong song on the jukebox, and instead of a slow dance we’re delivered a vision of the future, the bleak days to come in which the sex has exhausted itself, and we’re left to resent one another over the childish compulsions we can’t quite shed.

I need to turn away from the TV, right now. But the screen is so bright and I’m so deeply in love with the Oakland A’s at this moment, convinced that they can come back from six runs down and beat the awful Yankees, and that by so doing they will have affirmed my own capacities for unlikely triumph. It’s actually worse than that, though: I’m transfixed by the larger idea that this is truly what matters, this game, all the silly games, that I can live a life free from the complex terrors of women, their soft wishes, their needs, their relentless burrowing into my heart.

I want to tell Molly that there’s nothing special in my heart, just yellowed box scores and peanut shells, but that I am very much looking forward to fucking her, I’ll go down on her for an hour straight. Scout’s honor! If she can just let me catch the next few batters. And I turn to her, ready to make my pitch. But the look in her eyes is that of a manager who’s already made his call to the bullpen. "Have fun with your game," she says. She dips in close, gives me a peck on the cheek, so I have to smell her hair, which smells expensive. Then she wheels around and totters off to fetch her purse.

"Fuck the Yankees," I say loudly.

"Fuck something," the bartender murmurs.

I turn back to the screen. Terrence Long is up to bat. He strikes out.  

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Steve Almond‘s new essay collection is (Not that You Asked). It is, like much of his work, filthy.