Unless I consciously sit upright, I tend to slouch in my seat. When in NYC, many times I walk to nearby bars for a late-night drink. Depending on how I feel I seek out a type of bar. I find a spot at the bar, heave myself onto the barstool, and keep fingering my drink late into the night.
The 200 Fifth, on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, catered to the most basic needs and even that was expensive. Badly mixed drinks and charred food. By the time I settle in, mostly after 10 in the night, there is the usual cast of characters. Out of shape sports fans, blue-collar workers on their nights out in a part of town they can no longer afford, Black or Latina chubby women, loud, with hands folded in front of half-empty glasses, face painted with makeup and sad eyes.
The drinks are mostly two-toned. Liquor and watered down soda splashed and pissed into the glass.
I go to the 5th avenue bar when I am tired.
I sit there with my key bunch next to my glass. Friday nights are DJ nights, and I see the occasional older couple in suits and dress, reliving their past, or kindling anew their moves on each other. The good thing is there’ll always be the tired or the bored or the old with their drinks oblivious to the loud chatter of the others.
Though I realized it even then, that easy level of bar camaraderie, the co-existence of people in their lost states out for a night out, is enviably honest.
Once, and only once did I see a couple making out in the bar. It was an afternoon. I was at the very end of the counter and on the other end was a couple who looked to be in their late 40s. The guy was tanned orange, had on a plaid shirt and a belt with a huge cowboy buckle. I could catch patches of an Australian accent. His hands were moving deep inside the woman’s jeans, making her butt look big and wiggly. The woman looked flushed, leaning onto him, while he had a smile on his lips as he seemed to be trying to move his hands from behind her to between her legs.
What I remember more vividly from that afternoon though was the absolutely delightful smile the woman had on her face as she walked gingerly to the restroom halfway through the make-out session. I had only seen that expression, flush with girlish joy and excitement, in movies or on women half her age.
For some reason, I had concluded they must be tourists.
At nights, though, when you step out of the bar onto the pavement, where the smokers come out, and the others grab an excuse to clear their heads from the drinks and music, you find along with the regulars of the 200 5th, are another group of people. They are younger, hipper, and more stylishly dressed.
Suddenly, next to the tight ill-fitting dresses with the out of shape legs and badly squished blouses, there are fashionably colored hems riding up the toned upper thighs and crisply fitted shirts and tees. The fashion sense is remarkably easy on the eye and seems to make the wearer seem at ease on the street and inside the next establishment, Blueprint, a classier and therefore pricier, or maybe pricer and therefore classier, space.
Once, in Blueprint, I saw an Indian guy, suited, with pointy-toed patent leather shoes, bathed in perfume enough to choke everyone, sweet-talking a very average looking woman next to me. He was unattractive, looked like he was more interested in himself than in her.
I turned to my wife who was sitting next to me on the bar and snorted
“can you imagine that? you think he even stands a chance?” and was about to take a sip when I heard her reply
“yeah. I think he will. girls like that”
I put the drink down.
“what do you mean girls like that? he looks and acts like a douche. you are saying she will fuck him tonight?”
“Yeah. I think so. its just for a night, and if the drinks are good, and he makes her feel good, I think so”.
“Really? That’s all it takes?”
Lately, for the past couple of years, I have been especially sensitive about the kind of imagined sex lives and posturing that is on public display. Maybe it is a midlife crisis, but I doubt it. I think it is the natural progression of what happened with science and literature.
As a kid, I seemed to have had an intuitive understanding of how these worked, and how they should have worked. For me, science needed context and history. Obviously, it was not the case for everyone as many who studied along with me grasped the concepts quicker. I do not know how their minds worked. Literature was the same deal. Forever after that, I have been chasing after these subjects. Maybe it is the longing that I was deprived of them that makes me lust after them. Had they been handed over to me on a platter I might have probably been petulant about my lack of easy money in the corporate world. I do not have a high opinion of my motives.
Sex takes the same route. Suddenly anything that concerns the subject seems fascinating and burningly curious.
A couple of years ago I met a rather ordinary gentleman in a social setting. Later on, I came to know he was awed by me at that encounter. I was well-read with a stack of books and could hold forth on obscure topics with confidence. I was good looking and as with racehorses with blinkers, I could impressively run the track, and so maybe he was taken in by all that. However, as I was walking back I remember I was bitter about him. He had slept with more women than me. He would sleep with more women than me. He had somehow managed to break through the ignorance and morality and niceness of not only not accepting he fucked women, but that he liked it and he was getting it.
That night’s walk was terribly lonely and defeating for me. I was caught in a web too soon. His wistfulness was not at my confidence, but what having such confidence and skill and knowledge and looks could bring to his table and bed.
Blueprint always reminds me of that night, and so, whenever I feel like I should try my hand at getting laid I go there. As I sit there, slouched over my drink, I am aware of the smooth-talkings, the glances that I now convince myself are signs of interest to lead on to sucking each other out in bed, or that nod to the last drink that is the difference between just lying on one’s back with legs wide open vs getting on one’s knees and asking to be fucked in the mouth. After a couple of drinks I manage to muddy all the rage.
“You want me to do that?” she asked incredulously. I nodded. “You really want me to do that? with my hands?” she asked appalled. I was half smiling, but I nodded again, knowing she is not going to do that because the very thought of it disgusted her. But till then, whenever she had asked me to clean the bathroom drain because it was clogged, my wife didn’t seem to think that I might be feeling the same way. I cleaned it anyways, not wanting to argue with her when she was on her periods, even if the accumulated slime was long hair and grime. I was too tired to want to argue this after ten years of marriage.
I had known only half the equation back when I was entering into a relationship. I knew women had periods and it was not something to be ashamed of but I did not know women also need to learn to deal with it to a large extent on their own and there is only so much she can demand from someone else using it as an excuse. I knew women had PCOD and PCOS and had trouble losing weight to conform to body standards, but I did not know enough to differentiate it from laziness and perennial fatness as a lifestyle. I knew women were touchy about sex because of their conditioning, trauma, and society, but I was too nice to call out signs of unimaginative partnership and ignorance in sexuality that early. I knew emotional support was important but never knew how much more I could have gotten for single nights.
Drinks at the bar were now partly kicking myself at how much I respected life and how fucked up a deal I got myself without realizing what else was out there.
If I stayed long enough at the bar, I can work myself out of these questions, carefully arranging the answers to make myself feel more comfortable. I could replace fingers and lips around my cock with a daughter’s hug around my neck and console myself that the one is greater than the other. I could convince myself that the thrill of chasing someone at night with witty conversations and flirty smiles is not as good as going back home to a home that is dispassionate but practical.
Slowly as I age, I start to get more angry, maybe because I feel my chances are thinning. A bald head, a paunch, and constant negotiations to reach a marital middle space that does nothing to excite me might be taking its toll. I identify myself more with the right-wing manic energy than the suave left-wing genteel. If I cannot have it, what am I waging a war for? Why do I act like a castrated saint when I can make them powerless scream with fear, all those women who pass by impervious to my very existence? I realize how easy it is to slip into the psyche of the angry Indian bigot.
I already have changed over the years to regard sexless people as irrelevant. Not because they do not count, but because they do not count in my life. I seek out the Tanizakis, the Duras and at the same time, I look down upon them as I do upon myself. I had consumed porn the exact way I watched the moon landing. That it is possible for mankind, but not for individuals. But instead of the surface being millions of miles away, the irritation and receptacle of sex were there close by, every day, cloaked under saris, moving, sweating on the roads, attached to the heads of people I talk to.