I wish to apoligize to my readers for the length of time it's taken me to post this new chapter. The emotional challenges (sniff, sniff, sob) of writing an autobiographical novel are intense, I will try to be more consistent from now on (sniff)!
For the convenience of anyone interested, I have created a gmail account where the chapters of Guide for the Perplexed are archived. Go to gmail.com, then sign in with 'reader1830' as the username. The password is 'perplexed.' Of course, the earlier installments can be seen here (chpter one) and here (chpter two) on this site as well.
Midday approached and I saw how profitable a beachfront sunglass business can be. Bill stayed busy at the front of the stall. This man was a great salesman. For ten or twelve dollars buyers got sunglasses and admiration as well: “You look hot enough to fry an egg!”
But his sales magic was wasted on me. Fourteen hundred dollars for an aphrodisiac bracelet? I didn’t have the money. It could not happen.
But it would happen. I was going to buy the bracelet. There was no doubt. I would get the money. There were ways to do that. I had some old silverware. I could sell the old silverware to buy the aphrodisiac bracelet. It made perfect sense.
Now the woman returned to the stall. Her full length, sleeveless garment – her “maxi-dress” – trailed along the ground. The maxi-dress was sand colored, like a grocery bag. Gliding past Bill, who was busy with customers, she sank into the vacant beach chair.
“Gonna take a load off my feet.” She smiled shyly, or slyly. “Darlene.”
“Yes, Mitch, I know your name. I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with Bill. So you want one of the magic bracelets? You won’t regret it. Women can’t control themselves around a man who has a bracelet, and I say that as a woman. It doesn’t mean women on the street will physically throw themselves at you, but they will want you. They will yearn for you. They will hope and pray you make the first move!”
She bent toward me. “What price did Bill quote you?”
“You can get it for a grand. But Mitch, you’re sixty-one years old, right? Did I hear that correctly? Then let me ask you a question: why? True, some older men want to have sex until their dying day. We had that man here who was a hundred and seven years old, or so he said! But most men, when they get on in years, they aren’t that interested any more. They’re sixty, seventy, eighty years old and they’re ready to sit under a tree. So what is it? What really is it that makes a certain man – a man like you – what is it that drives that man, that motivates that man so that at this point in life that man wants to…wants to…”
“To be sexually active?” I offered. “I believe that’s the correct phrase.”
“Well, yes. Ha! But I was going to say beat a dead horse.”
“Beat a dead horse?”
“Yes! Beat a dead horse!” she repeated, laughing. “Beat a dead horse! Beat a dead horse!”
“But isn’t that the whole idea of the bracelet. The horse comes back to life.”
“Well, not exactly,” Darlene said, with a look of concentration. “What the bracelet does -- and this is actually even more amazing than bringing a dead horse back to life -- is to get women turned on by the horse even if it’s dead. Of course, if the dead horse just stays dead….” She shrugged, and spread her hands in a helpless gesture.
Her tone, her superciliousness – this means to raise one’s eyebrows in a superior manner – suddenly made me furious. “I have to object to what I’m hearing!” I blurted out. “This is a matter of survival! Because for every man, regardless of his age, regardless of his finances, his marital status, or anything else – for every man, a certain level of concupiscence is present every minute of every day of every year as a sort basso continuo….”
“A what?” she inquired. But I paid no attention.
“….that only death interrupts. The whole dead horse metaphor, the notion that when you reach a certain age you have to give up certain things – I reject it, because when a man gives up his sexuality he’s dead. And in the same way that you remarked, ‘I say that as a woman,” I say this as a man, and I say it as a man who hasn’t had intercourse in ten years. But I say it also as a man who entering his seventh decade of life has masturbated in front of computer screens, adjusting the monitor just so, and while there is pain attached to the realization that one is an elderly man alone in a room masturbating in front of a computer there is also the spark of hope that ignites when you really hit bottom once and for all, plus the realization – quite amusing, actually – that at sixty years old I can still do at least one thing that I did when I was twelve. I’m not dead yet! I masturbate, therefore I am. Christ, when you mention horses I think of Buckpasser at Arlington Park in 1966 setting a record for the one mile distance. That day Buckpasser lagged so far off the pace that finishing in the money seemed not only impossible, but an embarrassment to even try. At the top of the stretch he was still far behind. A dead horse? The dead horse set a world record for the mile! Along the same lines in 1976 the seven year old gelding named Forego carried 137 pounds on a muddy track to defeat Honest Pleasure by a nose. Forego was so far on the outside that he actually ran a much longer race than Honest Pleasure. Seven years old! A muddy track! Far on the outside! A gelding! In boxing, something similar happened in Archie Moore’s 1958 fight with Yvon Durelle for the light heavyweight championship. Moore, just a few days short of forty-five years old, was knocked down three times in the first round, and today the fight would have been stopped because of the three knockdown rule. He was down again in the fifth. In the eleventh Moore won by knockout.”
Darlene stared at me. A blank stare. “Seems like you’re a big sports fan…”
“No, I’m really much more of a literary person, but there are very similar stories from the lives of great writers. Around 1834 for example John Stuart Mill suggested the idea of writing a history of the French Revolution to his friend Thomas Carlyle. Mill would have done it himself but he was too busy. Instead, he supplied Carlyle with relevant books and other materials for research. Carlyle planned a three volume history. He worked like a dog and when he’d completed the first volume he sent the manuscript to Mill, but Mill’s housekeeper thought it was garbage and burned it in the fireplace. Carlyle was devastated of course, but he was most worried about Mill. He didn’t want Mill to feel bad. That was his biggest worry, after busting his balls like a maniac! Carlyle told his wife – they never had sex, by the way – that they couldn’t show Mill how upset they were. Then Carlyle went on and wrote volume two and volume three of his history of the French Revolution and when those were finished he went back and rewrote volume one.”
Now silence descended in the sunglass stall. Even Bill’s sales patter had ended. Perhaps I’d been speaking louder than I realized. Perhaps I’d been screaming at the top of my lungs. With a patronizing smile on his face, Bill gave me a little pat as he walked back toward Darlene. He stood beside her as they both regarded me, posed as if in one of the tintype photographs I used to buy at the Long Beach flea market. His left hand was on her right shoulder.
I met their gaze. I got to my feet. Then, with what struck me as real feeling – though I might have been wrong – they broke into spontaneous applause.
Some girls browsing sunglasses glanced up, laughed, but fell silent as I shot them a reproving look. Then I turned back toward Bill and Darlene. “I shall return,” I said grandly, quoting General MacArthur’s words after a humiliating defeat.