“Everybody likes to think this idea that we’re, like, born done.”
– Ethan Hawke, Excerpted from Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast (2016)
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This revolutionary invention was introduced in 1984.
As of now, I feel sedated. There is a moondust glow throughout the room. I close my eyes. A full week passes. The following Saturday my parents throw me a graduation party, which filters into Christmas, and – six days later – the millennial turn. In early January, I use the gift money from my graduation to finance an impromptu trip to Tampa. Ed and his girlfriend have taken care of the arrangements. Talia and I need only to pay for our travel, beer and food.
The trip passes uneventfully. I am given a message to contact one of the Dougherty brothers upon our return. The Doughertys are a trio of business owners. They have operated along the Wildwood boardwalk for years. During the late nineties The Doughertys negotiated a revenue-sharing deal to open several race games inside of the Old Town section of Kissimmee, Florida. I know Old Town. That is to say that I am familiar with the area. Meghan and I stayed there during a week-long visit to Disney World in early June of ’95.
I return the Doughertys’ call, at which point they offer me a position – $30K plus benefits, with the possibility of earning an additional $2,500 in bonuses. Between October and May I am to be stationed inside Old Town. Between Memorial Day and the end of September, I am to be stationed along the Wildwood boards. Assuming I accept, the Doughertys would allot me a temporary room inside of their Orlando condominium. As a tenant, I would be granted access to an indoor gym, and an outdoor pool. My rent would start at $75 a week. All of my utilities would be included.
There is little for me to consider, and I accept the Doughertys’ offer. E.J. Dougherty books me on a flight to Orlando that is scheduled to depart the following afternoon. I pack my bags, and I arrange to visit with Talia at her parents’ house in Northeast Philadelphia. Talia’s expression turns gaunt when I confront her with the news. Time is short, I equivocate, and the two of us need to settle in upon some terms. We will stay together – that much is a given – and I will pay for Talia to spend her spring break with me in Central Florida. In addition, we will live in North Wildwood throughout the upcoming summer. I will involve Talia in any major life decisions going forward. Regarding the day-to-day, I am to call Talia at least two times during each week. We will correspond, exchanging letters, back and forth. I am to attend Talia’s graduation ceremony from West Chester University in mid-May, and the two of us will make definitive plans to celebrate our two-year anniversary in mid-June.
It is late now, and the two of us are exhausted. We say goodnight, and Talia watches from a screen door as I pull away along the curb.
Upon my arrival in Orlando, the living becomes easy. It is the off-season, which means I only work six-hour shifts during the week. I live in a gated community located in a tony suburb known as Hunter’s Creek. I spend my afternoons at the gym, or by the pool. The mid-days get arid, and they are policed by 15-minute downpours. I have access to a company vehicle. My gas and tolls are reimbursed.
I pick up Talia at the airport the second week in March. The two of us seem unfamiliar, a dynamic we attempt to bridge by having sex. I take Talia out to dinner, where I enjoy my first alcoholic beverage in over a month. The following day Talia accompanies me to Old Town, where we motor around the venue in a cart. On Wednesday, we head to Universal; on Thursday, we hit all four of the Disney parks. On Friday, we experience our only disagreement of the visit. It arises after Talia offers to facilitate the manufacture of a fake ID for an 18-year-old employee of the Docs. “This is out of line,” I say to Talia. The employee, who appears to be defending Talia’s honor, responds by inviting me to piss off.
The horse is out of the gate now. And, as such, it no longer matters that Talia lives a thousand miles away, or that – so far as I know – she has no go-to source for procuring fake IDs. I am on the clock, and I am this kid’s supervisor. I hold no stock in entertaining Talia’s “side.”
I drive Talia to the airport on Saturday. Our relationship is disintegrating, and the two of us begin to have at it over the phone. I am suspicious, and jealous, particularly on evenings when I leave a message and Talia fails to call me back until the following afternoon. One night in April Talia answers the phone around 2 AM. She is drunk, and maybe high, and she explains that she is in her bedroom at West Chester University, alone. We talk, and at a certain point I can hear a man’s voice entering the room. The voice stops short, and I ask Talia who that was. After denying that there was any voice, Talia hangs up the phone. When I call back, the line is busy. Ten hours later, Talia admits that the voice belonged to a male friend. He was stopping by to say hello.
I am drinking on a regular basis. I get excessively drunk during the first week in May. I have taken a night off to watch Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. That game stretches to five overtimes (approximately seven hours). I am 14 Molsons deep by the time Keith Primeau evens the series at two. A few nights later I get hard-liquor drunk with a pair of sisters who are visiting from Wildwood. That outing ends with me in the backseat of a sedan, where I am making out with the younger sister – an 18-year-old who works for the Doughertys, as well.
I take a flight to Atlantic City, and I return to Wildwood less than a week before Memorial Day. Talia arrives to join me on our two-year anniversary in June. We have rented an apartment on West 24th Street, and I have decorated the place with more than a hundred purple and gold balloons. There is an ice cream cake in the kitchen, and there are two dozen roses in a vase. I cue up “God Only Knows” so that it is commencing at the exact moment when Talia makes her way in through the front door.
“Hello,” I say. I have no Caller ID.
“Look, dude, I’m a little bit busy right now,” I say. “Talia just got here. We’re celebrating a two-year anniversary.”
“Two years?” Dave says. “It sounds like it might be time to get down on one knee.”
“That’s more like the seven-year anniversary,” I say. “Listen, man, I have to go.”
“Who was that?” Talia says. She is carrying her luggage into the bedroom.
“Dave,” I say. I notice that the volume on the stereo has been turned low.
“And what was that you were saying about a seven-year anniversary?” Talia asks.
“Nothing,” I say. “Dave was just wondering whether I was going to propose.”
“So, what, you think it’s gonna be another five years before the two of us get engaged?”\n Talia says.
“Yeah, well, I don’t understand why getting married should have to seem like such a joke.”
“It’s not,” I say. “I mean, it doesn’t. Besides, you just graduated, and I have student loans.”
“That’s not the point,” Talia says. She is speaking to me over her shoulder. “The point is that we have never even talked about it. The point is that I’ve spent the past four months living up here\n on my own.”
“The two of us are together now,” I say.
“That’s good,” Talia says. She is putting her clothes into a drawer. “I’ll keep that in mind when I’m peeling potato skins up on the boardwalk.”
The tenor of our conversation does not change for close to an hour. The afternoon is over, and so we drive to The Wharf hoping to enjoy an early dinner. It is quiet there, along the water, and a bearded man is playing Cat Stevens as we raise our glasses in a toast. Voilà pour toi, I smile at Talia. Et voilà pour moi, aussi bien.
“Raphael was right to destroy all the evidence of who he was as a little kid. Nobody wants to be reminded of what they could have been. If there was a time machine invented and we could all travel back in time to see ourselves as children, we would never recover.”
– Heather O’Neill, Excerpted from The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (2014)
I am standing toward the front of an assembly, 100 people, semi-formally clothed. We are gathered along a breezeway in the Penn State Delaware County Campus Library. I am wearing an Oxford cap and a polyester gown. My father has lent me a pair of leather wingtips for the occasion, along with a pair of khaki trousers and a paisley-patterned tie.
Of the 18 students who are graduating, four have elected to take part in a massive ceremony at State College on December 19th. The remaining 14 range in age from 22 to 63. None of this morning’s 14 graduates are exceptional. We have arrived here because we have transferred credits, or spent four years commuting daily to this three-building campus. A few of us have returned here from State College, or scurried back after burning out on our own. The common denominator being, we are not world-beaters. And there is no valedictorian. Every graduate has been approved to deliver his or her own remarks.
I have been rambling for six minutes now, acknowledging my girlfriend, my mother and father, a veteran administrator who secured me a work-study job at the campus counseling center. I am uncoiling the microphone wire. I am wandering out onto the floor. Somewhere just beyond my sightline, I can hear a woman sniffling. I can see a bald man along the aisle who’s peeling a scab off of his arm.
“It’s nice to know you’re getting a little use out of that speech communications degree,” the graduate after me guffaws. And why not? My entire address was meant to celebrate the fact that – at the age of 26 – I have ostensibly matured. To that end, I have whitewashed any mentions of my academic probation(s), of my $38,000 student loan, of the medical records I initially forged to gain admission, of the sign language instructor who once threatened to take me in front of the university board, of the countless essays I have written for other university students, of an audio/visual room where I’d get drunk and sleep during the afternoons. I have put all of those distractions to pasture. Today I am being indoctrinated under a new rule.
We adjust our tassels. We march outside and toss our mortarboards. There is a reception in the lounge area downstairs where I pose for pictures. A favorite aunt compliments my hair “now that [I am] wearing it short.” Talia is here, and she remains beside me. Over the past 18 months I have come to rely on her a great deal more than at first. The two of us have even lived together, albeit briefly, sharing a one-story house in Sea Isle during the summer of 1999.
My parents seem so proud, and they have agreed to throw me a party … for relatives only. Talia, for her part, has agreed to do whatever I might like immediately following this morning’s ceremony. I have decided that we should go to Wildwood, where we can meet with old friends and revel in the cold. The two of us set out around 2:30. I am driving a Plymouth Sundance that has been handed down to me from my mother. Talia is napping in the passenger seat as I make the turn onto
I am listening to the Magnolia Soundtrack, considering why it is that the future looks so dark. I dare not admit that I have completed college for lack of anything better to do; that once a year I have been reenrolling to keep my student loans from lapsing (seven spring semesters bookended by a pair of falls). The problem – as I see it – is that I am running out of excuses. I have been on Monster.com. I have seen the caliber of positions that are available to a candidate like me. All of the descriptions read like gibberish, the type of language somebody uses when he is attempting to camouflage huge faults.
“We should pick up food,” Talia informs me. She is awake now, and I stop at Bubba’s Liquor in North Wildwood, completely missing the point. We have been invited to spend the night at my friend Ed’s family condo, which is located less than a half-block from the beach. Ed and I have known each other since the mid-nineties, a period during which we were both employed on Surfside Pier. Ed is tall (6’4), and he is constructed like a linebacker. He and his girlfriend are on-hand to greet us as we arrive at the front door.
We settle in. Ed orders cheesesteaks. Around 9 we take a taxi to The Shamrock, one of the only open bars in town. Upon our entry, a line of stools sits empty. There is a strand of garland hanging low across one wall. My friends are here – Brian Smith and his girlfriend, Kate (who happens to be Meghan’s sister); Mike D. and Gerry Vessels. There is a blonde from Bill’s Concessions here, a girl I messed around with back in 1997. I have invited her, unbeknownst to Talia, and this is the first of many issues that will affect the evening’s mood.
By 11 I am drinking whiskey. An hour later, Mike dumps his cup of beer over Talia’s head. Talia departs, and she is accompanied by Ed’s girlfriend. Shortly after, Mike and Gerry decide to pack it in for the evening, as well. We are five now: Kate and Brian, Ed, The Blonde and me. We ditch the bar and pile into Kate’s Pathfinder – the very SUV that Meghan’s father used to teach me how to drive. We chart a course for Surfside Pier, where there is nary a sign of life during the winter. We hop a chain, and we are meandering throughout Kiddieland when Brian hears an EZ-Go approaching via the garage.
There is a glint of light and everybody scatters. I corral The Blonde and lead her racing along the south side of the pier. We pass The Condor and The Sea Dragon. We pass The Amazing Maze, and then The Great Noreaster. We are negotiating a gangplank when The Blonde notices a squad car running parallel to us along the beach. “C’mon,” I say, and the two of us hop a gate into the water park. Once inside, we slink down low into The Lazy River, a 4-ft. waterway that has been drained. We follow it, eventually taking cover beneath the shadows of a footbridge. A second squad car comes to a halt along an upper-concrete landing. That car sits with its lights off as a swinging flood lamp sweeps the shore.
“What?” The Blonde looks over.
“You don’t think this is amusing?” I whisper. “The two of us getting stuck down here like this?”
The Blonde stands tall (5’9), and skinny, with rounded cheeks and clamshell eyes. She is from Connecticut, the only woman I have ever met who has actual money in her voice. The Blonde is wearing blue jeans, along with a denim jacket and a long-sleeve shirt. When I mention that the Lazy River still smells like chlorine, she places a middle finger across her forehead and sighs.
We wait until the police have vanished, after which we jump a metal rail out of the park. We high-step through wet sand beneath the pier, and then the promenade, before ascending a set of stairs at Seaport Village. We find a bench and dust ourselves off.
“What are you doing?” The Blonde asks. I have taken her left hand and I am blanketing it between mine.
“I don’t know,” I say. “This kinda seems like old times.”
The Blonde makes it clear that there was never an “old time” when the two of us held hands. And she is correct. Throughout the three-week period when the two of us were canoodling, matters would inevitably escalate toward the end of an evening, with The Blonde disappearing from my apartment somewhere in the hours before dawn.
I walk The Blonde back to her family’s house on East 6th Street. She runs inside and grabs some beer. When she emerges, we repair to a vacant apartment in the rental house next door. Once there, we sit and we drink. Around 4 AM the two of us lie down along a living room couch. I am spooning The Blonde now, and I pin her hair back; I kiss her neck. The Blonde ignores me before acquiescing. She leads me without words into a bedroom down the hall. We engage in light foreplay. We fall asleep until the break of day. The Blonde gives me a ride back to the condo on East 12th Street, where my thoughts deviate to finishing whatever beer’s left in the fridge.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)
Member, American Authors Guild
I had been working on a microphone for seven years now, since the summer of 1992, arriving at a point where I felt extremely confident and in control. On the best of nights I’d set to rambling for six-plus hours, diving up and off and over counters until my ankles hurt and my throat went dry. I would engage hecklers. I would receive – and then tear up – any of the incoming complaint cards. The summer tourists would acknowledge me from motel porches. They’d buy me drinks at corner bars. They’d call me Dime King, or the Dime Guy, or that dude who works the Lucky Strike on Surfside Pier. And yet, despite all this, I had ignored the most refined part of my role.
I was a manager, promoted originally to be an assistant. For the past two summers I had been reporting directly to Bill Morey, Jr., a man with whom I shared an utter dearth of communication. Once, during an August stretch in 1997, I had referred to Bill over the microphone, pointing him out to a counter full of people. Bill had responded by walking toward me. “Do not ever speak my name across that microphone again,” he’d said. Bill Morey, Jr. was reserved, and, as an employer, it had been my experience that he resented my flippant attitude, my drunken lifestyle, my rejection of authority, and the evidentiary sense that I was immune because I was a draw. The animus was palpable, and it began to mutate during the summer of 1998, amidst a period when the year-to-year receipts kept tumbling. Bill had phoned down to the games one afternoon, dissatisfied with the Ring Toss’s performance. His solution: I should take down all of the existing stock in the Ring Toss, replacing it with a series of Tasmanian Devils. “That’s not gonna work,” I asserted, insisting that the Ring Toss was a choice game, and, as such, it needed to provide the winning customers with a choice. My objection was overruled, and six days later, when Bill requested that I reflash the stand, I bristled. “I told you we couldn’t run a choice game without providing the customers with a choice.” To which Bill responded, “Look, Bob, you can either do it, or I can fire you and hire somebody else to do it instead.”
One day toward the end of August (1998), I got a call in the offices above Surfside. There was a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer waiting at the Dime Pitch to see me. I hurried down, assuming that there must have been another accident along the pier. As it turned out, that reporter, Jacqueline Urgo, was working on a piece about the boardwalk’s games. “I was told you were the most talented microphone operator along these planks,” Ms. Urgo offered. The two of us spoke, and I welcomed Jacqueline to use any or all of my quotes. When the accompanying article was published, featuring a full-color spread on page one of the South Jersey section of that Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, I felt validated. There was no official word from Bill Morey, Jr., however, and my sense became that I had taken yet another leap of post. Urgo’s piece was complimentary, referring to me as both a “guru” and “the best.” But it also traded in the level of superlative that burns people, particularly those who are zeroing in upon what isn’t being said.
The next two weeks, they passed by slowly, and midway through September I received word that Bill had mentioned wanting to go in a “different direction” with the games. My girlfriend, Talia, was taking classes back at West Chester, and I would call her from the office, complaining that if I did get fired, I’d forfeit any chance of collecting unemployment. I missed Talia, I was in love with her, and when she confirmed that she would be returning to attend the Irish Fall Festival the final weekend of September, I decided that I would be attending the Irish Fall Festival, as well. The Festival was a three-day event – a monument to excess that all-but dominated Lower Anglesea. I was afraid of Talia cheating on me, which was why I had decided to take that weekend off.
Sunday, September 27th – the last day of the season. I wandered up to Surfside, hoping to collect my annual bonus. As I rounded the Dime Pitch, I was directed to Guest Services, where an emissary stood in wait. My belongings had been collected and they were handed over in a trash bag. There would be no end-of-season bonus, I was told. I remained there, dejected, ostensibly stunned. I completed a perp walk, off the pier, and then down the ramp at 26th Street, where I kicked a wall and clenched my fists. I took a breath, then kept on moving. Crass thoughts came cycling fast now, arguments both for and against what had just taken place. I was out of a job … a job that had become my identity; that had balanced out my shame; that had allowed for me to live in a tourist town, to blow off college, to hibernate through winters. I was out of a job that had allowed for me to meet not one, but two of my long-term girlfriends; that had connected me to an ever-growing network of people. I was out of a job that had provided me with access; that had transformed me into a spectacle. I was out of a job that I had coveted ever since arriving on Five-Mile Island way back in 1992. I was out of a job now, and my lease was expiring. I started packing my things. I saw no reason to return.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)
Member, American Authors Guild
“Few who build a base camp have no ambitions to reach the summit.”
– Norman Mailer, Excerpted from Oswald’s Tale, 1995
If you were from or of the Wildwood scene during the early 1990s, chances were you knew of an urban legend involving a whistling man who haunted midnight sands beneath the boardwalk. There were variations on this theme with each of them agreeing on this much: The Whistling Man was white, he preyed on girls who were distraught, he would whistle as he shadowed victims underneath the boardwalk, eventually luring them below, where he would rape and then strangle them before disappearing into the dark. The Whistling Man had been born out of a germ, the kernel of something that had persisted without check. Women had been strangled underneath the Wildwood boardwalk. There was Carol Hill in 1970, Patricia Thompson in 1982, and Bonnie Marks in 1986 – each of them sexually assaulted, without any of their cases being irrevocably removed. That is until July of 1998, at which point DNA evidence (unavailable during the spring of 1986) allowed investigators to charge Kenneth Mann with the rape and murder of Bonnie Marks. Mann was a convict, serving 45 years for the strangulation of a prepubescent girl in Ocean City. Mann’s rap sheet was long, and it included – among other things – an arrest for making lurid phone calls to teenage girls
along the shore.
News of Mann’s indictment arrived on the heels of an unsettling assault in North Wildwood. According to The New York Times, seven Staten Island teens had been detained in connection with the gang rape of a 15-year-old at the Grey Manor Motel (located at 21st and Surf). This story raised eyebrows, particularly because the mass attack had taken place in the exact same room where a nearly-identical assault had taken place one season prior. During the initial assault, a 19-year-old from West Deptford had been drugged, and then handcuffed, before being violated by at least two of her attackers. During both occurrences, the perps had taken photos of their victims in the nude.
Early on during 1998, the Grey Manor’s owners had been threatened with a lawsuit alleging negligence (by way of premises liability). The plaintiff in that action, Brian Blair, had gotten cold-cocked outside of the Grey Manor during prom weekend of 1997. Blair’s assailant was a 17-year-old whose BAC had risen to an approximated .45 in the hours leading up to the attack. The incident, a series of police reports asserted, was less an aberration than the norm. Compounded by a second multi-party sexual assault, rampant word began to spread that the Grey Manor might not only need to settle, but shutter its doors.
The fear was that a cancer was incrementally spreading throughout town. Wildwood Crest remained dry, essentially removed. North Wildwood, on the other hand, was situated between the bars of Lower Anglesea and The Pacific Street Mall. That mall was open to traffic now. Its clubs had taken to closing at 3 AM. And yet its walkway was still a major area for concern. One night in June I came across Mike Strickler, Surfside’s Director of Operations. Mike was laid out on the asphalt, his jaw completely broken. Mike had gotten jumped along the north end of the mall on his way home from The Fairview. An ambulance was approaching to attend to him as I arrived.
The two cities – North Wildwood and Wildwood – kept twisting the truth into equivocations. One could see it in the way a North Wildwood police captain felt compelled to tell a New York Times reporter, “This type of attack is a rare occurrence,” amidst describing a repeat sexual assault at the Grey Manor Motel. One could sense it in the way a local prosecutor very quietly ignored the open murder case of Patricia Thompson, citing an unofficial confession made by an anonymous suspect who had been deceased since 1991. Both municipalities had become entrapped by multi-generational legacies. Obfuscation became the name of the game, the bedrock of a campaign designed to recast Five-Mile Island as a 1950s paradise. The hands kept moving backwards, fueling notions that the only true means of reform might be upheaval; something like the Hurricane of 1938 or the breakneck Storm of 1962; something raw and unavoidable that would jettison the bile, laying waste to old-school promises, replacing cronyism with honor, and rededicating a people
via one cause.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)
Member, American Authors Guild
10. Mr. Holmes
What if the world’s most captivating investigator began to lose his capacity for recall?
9. 99 Homes
This is what happened after The Big Short.
What does it say about the motion picture industry when a franchise’s fourth best film becomes one of the top 10 movies of the year?
Carol is immaculately detailed, much like everything else that Todd Haynes has directed.
6. Mississippi Grind
It’s not the winning, but the ride.
5. She‘s Funny That Way
Peter Bogdanovich returns with the most entertaining rom-com Woody Allen never made.
Last week, the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a negative review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, taking the film to task for its “misleading representation of evil.” To date, the Vatican’s newspaper has not reviewed the motion picture Spotlight, nor has it commented on that movie’s representation of evil. Vatican Radio, on the other hand, has lauded Spotlight for its honesty.
3. Ex Machina
Every year, one great movie slithers out of the slush pile. In 2015, that movie was Ex Machina.
2. The Revenant
Astonishing in almost every conceivable way. Leonardo DiCaprio will – and should – win the Academy Award for Best Actor.
What separates Sicario from Denis Villeneuve’s previous outings is an unrelenting emphasis on story as opposed to metaphor. Sicario is the best work of Benicio Del Toro’s career. Same goes for Denis Villeneuve. A++.
Once, I met a woman on the streets of Midtown Manhattan. The two of us were drunk and it was 5 AM. I asked the woman if she wanted to get a six-pack. She suggested that I lead the way. We went to a deli; we bought a six-pack. We bought a four-foot Christmas tree, which we took to my apartment along East 92nd Street.
This woman stood 5’5, with drooping eyes and dirt-blonde hair. She was tan. We decorated the tree, and then we had sex. Two hours later, we ran out of alcohol. We took a cab to the woman’s apartment which was located in Queens. We bought another six-pack, and then we had sex.
It was the weekend now, and the woman had an appointment to get her BMW inspected. We drove the BMW to a dealership, where we got high with a mechanic. We split a six-pack while we were sitting on a parking block. We drove the BMW back to the woman’s apartment, and then we
Around 3 PM, I spilled an Anchor IPA on my jeans. The woman gave me a pair of Nike sweatpants to wear. The woman’s mother called and she invited us to come and visit her on Long Island. We bought a six-pack, and we pulled the top down on the woman’s BMW. We hit the expressway. It was 49 degrees.
We were driving east, toward Suffolk County, which – in my delirium – I had mistaken for us driving south, toward Suffolk, Virginia. We pulled up to a ranch house. The woman told me that she loved me. We were smoking cigarettes. I responded that I loved her dress.
We went inside. The woman’s father poured us shots of Wild Turkey. Night was falling and the woman’s mother recommended that we go out for a nice dinner. The Nike sweatpants violated a dress code, the woman’s mother explained, and so she provided me with a pair of jeans.
The restaurant was formal and dark and over dinner the woman’s mother began confronting her about bringing home somebody whom she had met on the streets. I excused myself, and headed off toward the restaurant bar. Twenty minutes later the maitre d handed me a server book containing a dinner bill for 115.
I couldn’t pay. I had left my wallet and my cell phone at the woman’s apartment back in Queens. I rushed outside, to where the woman and her mother had continued arguing. The maitre d gave chase. He started threatening to call the police.
The woman’s father paid the check, and then he drove us to the ranch house. I drank a beer while the woman’s parents went to sleep. Around midnight, the woman led me down into a basement, into a guestroom that had been constructed like a bunker. The woman was wearing an old pair of her adolescent pajamas. I was still wearing a pair of her mother’s pleated jeans.
I passed out, and then came to during the middle of the night. I could smell the fragrance of a woman beside me; I could picture her face without remembering her name. It was dark now, like a chasm, and the only way to keep from trembling was to clutch down on the sheets. I leaned my cheek against the woman’s ear. She tilted her head back and we kissed. My stomach churned, and I could taste the dry rot in my mouth. We were in it now, the post-drunk period of arousal, and the woman whispered that her parents’ bedroom stood immediately above us. The woman mounted me; a squeaking bedpost proceeded to gavel. I tried – and then failed – to have an orgasm. I kept fighting back the urge to just throw up.
That was December 4th, 2011 – the most recent time that I’ve had sex. Was a 30-hr. binge uncommon? Yes, but only insomuch as it occurred without the benefit of sleep. My pattern – for more than two decades – had been to drink until I could work up enough confidence to approach any woman. After that, I would either maintain or continue self-medicating until I bottomed out. I have never been a habitual dater, I have little confidence in my appearance, and I can chalk almost all of my first kisses up to alcohol. When I quit drinking (less than two weeks after the aforementioned incident), I assumed that I would have to re-acclimate myself to the hook-up process. To that end, I went on a date, and I kissed somebody. A month later, I responded to a late-night text, and I wound up sleeping in a bed with one of my previous sex partners, three-quarters clothed. I found both of these experiences to be exhilarating. Yet neither one went any further, and I imagined this to be for the best.
Over time, I became less responsive whenever contacted by an ex-sex partner late at night. Our paradigm had shifted, and, as such, I would do a mental work-up of the M.O.: How long has it been? What was the nature of our relationship? Did we date? Did we share a one-night stand? Did we find each other engaging? How did we leave things? And why? Why is she contacting me? Is the manner in which she has chosen to reach out consistent with our past dealings? Is this an invite? An overture? If I respond, will it be like putting something back in spin? Is it worth setting aside whatever it is that I am doing? Is it worth setting aside work or sleep or a chess game or some great book that I am excited about finishing? Is it worth hailing a cab? Taking a subway? Hopping a train? Is it worth the conversation? The push-n-pull? Is it worth stifling every cough until I can leave at break of day? Is it worth the guilt? The misconceptions? The back-and-forth? And do I make the mistake of assuming this was ever actually about either one of us achieving an orgasm after all?
As a result of my skepticism, I was becoming more cognizant of all the ways in which I have mistreated women, all the ways in which I have violated their trust. I felt embarrassed without having lost any urge. To this day I continue to sext and instant message. I frequent porn sites and jerk off. I am not chaste, nor am I promoting abstinence. This is not a “step,” nor am I in the throes of being reborn. I am not suffering from performance issues. I am not closeted or gay or otherwise confused. I am not currying attention, nor am I carrying a torch for some great woman who I knew. I have simply shifted gears. I feel increasingly fulfilled.
Looking back, my sexual progression traces its way up through my childhood, through a catholic education, through an initial gateway into hook-up culture, through several all-night parties and a constant needling to get laid, through objectifying conquests and rewarding acts of chauvinism, through promoting an extracurricular hierarchy based on drinking and athletics and sex, through establishing a bacchanalian persona that left me feeling faithless and depraved, through it all until my thirties, at which point I had been repeating – and exacerbating – the same-old tired cycles for so long I suffered a break. This is not to confuse the issue, as I had a lot more eating away at me than how I had elected to get it on with chicks. But it is to express that I had developed a mental illness, and that my long-term health depended on a much more stringent accounting of what had precipitated that type of event.
The male sutra of my upbringing fashioned its whole creed upon fraternity. Groupthink was essential; collusion became a part of the deal. For every female I knew who’d been sexually assaulted I knew a male who was potentially guilty of having committed a corresponding offense. Transgressions took on the auspices of an in-joke. The more macho the circle, the more comfortable people became with recognizing – or even encouraging – a mutual level of shame. Among the familial, a contingent of females that earned its keep by feigning complicity. Hooking up represented the first – and sometimes only – aspect any confidant might ask about after a night spent on the scene.
Understand that I am not above this culture, I am of it. With the exception of newfound love, I can chalk up every major spike in my sex life to a period during which I felt inescapably without purpose. When I quit drinking at 38, I committed to writing nonfiction. I had no aptitude for this. A quick look back at the first two seasons of Moving On will bear that out. But I kept at it, and by the beginning of 2013 I was writing and revising for 14 hours a day, running and reading and meditating and seeking out other forms of inspiration in between. The lack of dating allowed for a deeper state of focus, a dynamic which was reflected via a 2011 Archives of Sexual Behavior study which found the mere possibility of interacting with a woman negatively affected the average heterosexual male’s intellectual performance.
Having put the drinking aside, I am more forthright in my dealings with women. Women, in turn, seem more receptive to me. The women who I am interested in (romantically), well, let’s just say that they are aware of it. Beyond that, I am 42 and poor and unattractive and effectively alienated from almost every social strata. I am not what the majority of females would consider eligible. Am I DTF? Youbetcha. But only if the circumstances are in alignment, or if I fall in love and that type of intimacy make sense. I am not actively campaigning for either.
Recently, I had occasion to revisit working in an office, the first time in eight years that I had done so. Within days, I grew aggravated … the routine schedules, the prep-school dress code, commuting via the 4 Train for an hour and 15 minutes, back and forth. I was stationed alone in a back-corner supply area, completing all of my assignments via a hand-me-down laptop that had no resources, not even Microsoft Word. Three weeks in, all of that displaced energy – a sudden lack of running and calisthenics and upper-body workouts, combined with unhealthy eating and an almost-obligatory malaise – began to channel itself into arousal. A woman’s pencil skirt, the passing scent of strong perfume. I did not pursue sex, but I wanted it. I was reverting to old habits, mistaking the distraction for a need.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)
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