This was first published in two parts in the September and October, 2020, issues of Spermatorrhea magazine. Reprinted here with permission.
Two months before the coronavirus pandemic blew up in the U.S., I got transferred to the graveyard shift at my job. Which meant that, for starters, unlike the coronavirus itself, the curve for my dating life was seriously about to flatten.
My casual sex life, however, like the number of idiots watching FOX News who didn’t believe COVID-19 was a real thing, was about to go through the roof.
And probably kill me.
I’d wake up at 9:00 pm on my days off and get to the bars about an hour before closing. Something I could never do when I worked the day shift.
I’d invited a girl home with me once or twice a week. And it worked out well. The only hard part was getting them to leave after the fun was over. They all just wanted to crash at my place and sleep the night through. Which meant I had to just shut the door on their inebriated, pregnancy-hormone grandma snoring and wait until morning when I could give them a ride home.
But then all the bars shut down. Everything but the 7-11 and fast-food drive-thrus: shut down at night. And I was left with making out with Quarter Pounders with Cheese and picking up anything it seemed like the leprously diseased wouldn’t touch at the 7-11, waking up every morning with gluten-free cookie wrappers and deviled egg sandwich crusts strewn over the floor in my bedroom.
And my actual sex life, at that point? Forget it. What could I do? What could any of us do?
Hookers outside the 7-11? God bless ‘em, but no way. College girl escorts? Didn’t have the cash. College boy escorts? Do they have those? Plus, I was starting to get a little spooked.
The town I lived in, like the town everyone lived in, started to turn, little by little, into a Hollywood movie about a disease that was taking over the world.
Almost everywhere was on lockdown. What better time, I began to think, going partially mad in my isolation (like any number of second-tier, supporting cast members in a movie like that), to get my end-of-world mojo kickin’ and get women to have some last-resort (or, better yet, ‘final-moments’) sex before the apocalypse actually hit, and I and almost everyone else got killed around midway through?
I’d try getting to the grocery stores right when they opened, and try my luck there.
But the movie was being filmed in those aisles, too. If I didn’t remember to pass someone six feet outside of their personal space, they shot me a dirty look. Some would even stop, turn around and hunch their back to me, almost cowering. One lady stopped, seeing me about to enter the aisle, and when I motioned her to come through, did an about-face and headed back the way she came. Three-quarters of everybody had a mask on.
Checking out, I would say to the cashier through the heavy, clear plastic rectangle that separated us, “Love these vertical sneeze guards. It’s like a KFC in the inner city. I…wh—…wh—…ehh…,” pretending having to sneeze, then smiling at the masked lady in line behind me. She was almost leaning back, with an exaggerated expression that I couldn’t tell was a smile, disgust at some aspect of my public presentation, apprehension over just having to possibly speak or just absolute horror at having to witness me and my stupidity. It was the classic, lean-back smile/grimace. The shmimace.
Like the expression Jerry Seinfeld gave to Debra Messing at the end of the ‘anti-dentite’ episode of Seinfeld. You remember that? When she says, “Not to mention the blacks and the Jews”?
Dirty looks are all I wound up leaving with at the few places I wound up habitually frequenting.
I mean, more dirty looks. Than usual.
I wasn’t spending much time in the daylight. I believe that was my first problem. Actually, my first problem was not spending enough time around human beings. But the daylight thing was starting to have serious consequences. When I got outside, I looked and counted five stains on my sweatpants (guarded spaciously by a myriad of embedded cat hairs, like they were playing some cat hair, summer camp game of Capture-the-Semen-Stain, anticipating the approach of their adversaries), and two sizeable wet splotches on the T-shirt I’d been wearing for the last couple days. I noticed them right before I left the house, too, and they looked like they could’ve been made by a splash of water, so I was sure they would dry by the time I got to the store. But looking at them now, I was starting to worry.
Seriously, I was starting to lose my grip. Getting laid started to become the least of my worries.
I began to take a good look at myself in the mornings, the actual mornings, and somehow it was taking more effort than it used to to make me appear even presentable in public.
Fuck it, I thought. I’ll try online dating.
I failed there, too. Every time someone would ask me how I was doing, I would tell them I was living in a petri dish, or in a prequel to a Night of the Living Dead, or that every day was like a 1982 Zenith console, that, every time I turned it on, the tint got all screwed up again.
None of them got it. Most ignored me. One girl went so far as to say, “We all know we’re living in a petri dish. You don’t have to remind us about it.”
To which I replied: “Yeah, but mine’s full of impurities that might taint the experimental outcome haha That may or may not have resulted from coming into contact with an actual taint haha That may or may not have been mine lol”
One day out of the haze, after having been laid-off from my job and back to a more normal, daytime schedule, I was in the aisle of the co-op grocery store near my house, and some lady starts talking to me, like there’s absolutely nothing going on in the world that would prevent her from doing so. I remember looking over my shoulder in both directions, then being confused for for a minute.
And then, finally, I got it. This was my death scene. About the right time for it, too, I’d say.
And just before it, there was this moment of clarity—I suddenly experienced what everyone else not only thought a few months ago about me, but was probably still feeling every time I approached them: I wanted to climb the aisles to get away. This person might be unclean. Unclean!
My death would’ve been so undignified. Sniveling, weeping, pleading, kicking, screaming like a little girl. My death scene in the movie would’ve been a little more tolerable, I think.
Her age was anywhere from 35-45, I couldn’t tell. The masks didn’t help, but, regardless, she appeared to be taking really great good of herself. Plus, my meter for that shit was just gone. If they talked or responded to me, they were instantly in my age range. Real numbers didn’t matter anymore.
“Yeah, ha ha. What?” I kept having to say after calming down, because, even though she wasn’t a soft-talker, she wasn’t compensating for the cover over half of her face. Plus, she kept turning her head to look at some boxed goods in the aisle, and wasn’t really looking at me when she spoke.
I eventually got in line, checked out and stepped outside, but not before she had, and she was out front still, going through her bag, and right away starts talking to me again, this time without the mask. But it was sort of like she was talking to herself, or as if I could have been anyone or any mental object at which her thoughts, so verbalized, might have been momentarily directed. But, fuck it—I was the one who made her start talking in the first place, and I felt even better now that I was in the fresh air, so I pushed the thought out of my mind and got her phone number, to maybe get some biking in down by the river path. We were all feeling imprisoned, and pretty psychologically sedentary from over half a year of this shitty movie, and also more inclined to cross off things we had on our ‘to-do’ lists, but hadn’t gotten around to because now we might actually be dead in a week.
Man, why hadn’t I thought of that before? What a great motivator.
Oh, right. Because their efforts to get out and live their life to the fullest with me might actually have caused them to live their life to the leastest, making the prospect of imminent death a potential reality.
Is that a Catch-22? Not to her. Joan was her name. She was 44. She played Divison-I volleyball years ago, and ran in the 100-meter state championship meet in high school track and field before that. And it all still showed.
But there was something wrong upstairs. I struck it up to a basic, run-of-the-mill neurosis, amplified a bit by a pandemic getting a little too familiar with all of us. But, still. The tent was sort of pitched a little too close to the edge of a really windy cliff, if you get what I’m saying here.
Several dates later, after about a month or so of seeing her several times a week, and the coronavirus saga just drawing on longer and longer like some terrible nine-part, Stephen King made-for-TV film (which is how, all over the world, things for everyone were slowly devolving), I was over at her place, and the topic of self-pleasure came up.
I’ll spare you the pointless exposition that preceded it. Every time we hung out, she would talk and talk and talk and I would hardly get a word in, but I did find out she was unmarried, lived alone, caught shingles like ten years ago and was still looking for a man to marry and settle down with. While I was certain that man wasn’t going to be me, I was also certain she would be fine with spending the interim doing what single adults do when they’re alone together and find the other more-or-less unrepulsive. And it wasn’t just sitting and watching Netflix like some old married couple, which is what we were doing tonight. For like the fifth straight date.
So, I decided to advance the story line along, with a little bit of what they call in the industry “twisting the plot”, or “rubbing out the middle man”.
A steamy, softcore sex scene popped up in the show we were watching, and I saw my opening. I said, “Do people in these love scenes wear, like, crotch protectors, or do they just keep their undies on, and that’s all? Because if I were a guy, I’d be rocking a serious rager if I had to rub against someone’s bump with nothing more than a thin cotton layering between us. Not to mention risk a potential misfire. And it’s gotta be monsoon season in her panties, too. I wouldn’t think it’d be very conducive to keeping your lines memorized.”
To which she replied, “They just dry hump. She wouldn’t get that wet. And if he’s hard, I’m sure it’s not the first one she’s had rubbing against her. I’m sure she’s seen plenty of erections in her life. I could do it without forgetting any of my lines.”
“You could do rub-a-nub like that, and it wouldn’t be that big a deal?”
I paused. “I don’t know if I believe that.”
“Oh, what, you want me to show you?” she snarked.
I gave it a second, then did a double-take. “Aw, jeez. Look at this,” I motioned to my now-half-full crotch. “Talking about dirty things like that. That scene was sexy enough, but talking about it made it worse, and you giving me the play-by-play really got it looking for six more weeks of winter now.”
“Oh my gawd,” she just said, smiling, and then got up and almost darted out of the room into what sounded like the bathroom.
A couple minutes later she came back in and sat down. I wasn’t letting her off that easily. “This is still around. It’s not going away. Sorry.” My hand was by now inside my pants. She didn’t say anything. “I’m serious.”
“So, I’m not comfortable doing that kind of thing anymore until I meet the right guy,” she turned to me. “Okay?”
“You mean…? That’s not…really relevant here, but that’s fine. This has to be taking care of somehow. Sex and marriage is the least of my worries right now. We’re bordering into priapic territory here. You see how tight these pants are.”
“It’s like, medical emergency kind of thing.”
“Just wait for it to go down.”
“Can’t. It’s gonna be really painful in the meantime. And then it’s just gonna rise back up with the slightest bit of friction.” She just stared at me, half a smile on her face. “Can you somehow help me out with this?” The smile went away. “Like, just show me some leg, or something. We can do it somewhere private. Your neighbors don’t have to see. I’d actually prefer if they didn’t.”
“Just go into the bathroom and take care of it.” Hm. Touché.
“You know long that’s gonna take? It probably won’t even work. It needs to be directed at the object that got it up in the first place.” She discreetly leaned back in her seat. “I don’t mean literally. As long as you’re still here, and it knows you’re here, it won’t behave.”
“Fine, I’ll just go in the garage.”
“Nope, won’t work, either.”
“Just show me some leg. Or your panties.”
“Fine,” she said, getting up and heading into the bedroom. I followed her in. She stood in the open floor, close to the wall. “I’m gonna turn around. There’s tissue by the bed. And lotion, if you need it. Just do it quick, okay? Here,” and she turned and dropped her shorts, facing the wall.
Well, you got this far. Maybe you’re willing to go a little farther? I could hear the voices of the sleaziest of ancestors say in my head. They were all older men’s voices, too, which didn’t surprise me in the least. I grabbed the tissue and lotion.
Seemed like a win/win by this point, so I decided to keep upping the ante. Figured I’d still come out ahead of the game. “Hey, this isn’t working like I planned. We don’t have to have sex, but why don’t you just do the same thing?”
“Oh my gawd!” she just said to the wall.
“You mean,” she half-turned, “like…n…you mean, in front of you?”
“Yeah. I’m facing you. It’s not hard. I mean, it is hard, but…”
“No,” she turned back. “Ewww, no! Nooo, that’s gross!!”
“Why is it gross? It satisfies all the criteria here. It’s the most diplomatic of all possible outcomes, as far as I can see.”
“Ew, no. No!”
“But you do it on your own, don’t you?”
“You don’t masturbate?”
I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed, being coy, or still had some kind of traumatic brain injury thing going on. Seriously. But if it’d been that last one, she’d probably be a furious masturbator by now, and none of this would be an issue. So, I was starting to feel like I could rule that one out.
“Are you done yet?” she bent down to pull up her shorts. I had to think, quick. Fortunately, this didn’t embarrass me in the least, and I could still keep a clear head about me. I’d become like a porn star by now; those people don’t have the slightest inhibitions when it comes to exposing their sexual parts to strangers anymore. Me—I was the same. I’d been masturbating so much for so long now, it was like changing a pair of pants. Which I probably needed to do, frankly.
Because of all the masturbating.
“Wait wait wait,” I said. She stopped and stood back up. “It’s close. At least turn back around. You can still look away. I just need to see the front of your panties.” She paused for like five seconds, then spun around, averting her eyes. Oh, man, I almost lost there. The shame, the awkwardness, the intrusion, the mild disgust—how was that so hot? Still: Raise or call, raise or call, raise or…? “Can you just raise your leg up a bit? Like, put your foot on the edge of that drawer?” The bottom drawer of her dresser was slightly open. She sighed an exasperated sigh, and did it.
Oh, yeah. Getting close.
But the memories you have of the hunt aren’t of catching the quarry—it’s of the hunt itself, and all the sights and smells you experience during the excitement of the chase. And I wanted to make that go on for as long as she was willing to run. “You’d probably be more comfortable doing that on the bed. Here, just lie down, and put your knees up a little. Keep your panties on.”
“You’ve got one minute, and we’re done here,” she warned without moving.
“God, keep your panties on, I’m trying! But the more pressure you put on, the longer it’s gonna take. Just lay down and relax. You can read a book, even. I don’t mind.” She huffed, then almost ran onto the bed, getting under all the covers, impish smile on her face. “That’s not gonna work. Come on, I’m dying here.”
She threw the blankets off of her, then, rigid as an ironing board, made the mistake of glancing over at my right hand. Then she covered her face like a 9-year old and shrieked through her palms and fingers, “Oh my GAWD!” which almost bucked me for a second, but then I found my center. Those figurative eight seconds were taking forever, but my time on this bronco was almost through.
While she still had her face covered and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc was about to spout, it was right at that moment that her doorbell rang and her dog started barking like crazy. She uncovered her face, looked past me to the hallway and, as if forgetting in that single moment what was going on around her, tried to get up and answer it.
And if you were the person standing at her door, you might have heard the following: First, a shriek. Not as of someone in pain, but someone caught off guard by a hose dousing her with ice cold water, or a broken faucet spraying streams of liquid everywhere, and her holding her hands out, trying unsuccessfully to deflect it, to keep it from hitting her face. Then, after the spraying had stopped, a pause. Then, from out of that pause, the beginning of heated words at the person who had been the cause. Then, some low-key, muffled murmurs, likely of a man, possibly apologizing, possibly pointing out how funny the whole thing was, until another shout arose, this time of anger, and then something breaking. Possibly a bureau mirror, possibly a lamp, hard to tell. Followed by a scrambling, as if the man were trying to maneuver for his life while gathering up his things. You might put your ear to the door by that point, to try and better make out what was going on, and at that point the door would’ve opened and out would step a man, holding his shoes, passing you with a flushed yet relaxed demeanor, saying, “Oh, hi. She’s inside. She asked me to tell you to go on into the back bedroom. She’s a bit pre-occupied, but she’ll be cleaned up in a minute or two. Quite a bit of it got into her hair. It’s fine, though. Just…try not to stare. You have a good night.”
Never to be seen or heard from again.