Parts Is Parts

I have a friend who did the cyberdatingthing and connected with a guy on the East Coast who was her evident soul mate. Internet intimacy would seem particularly suited for the soul mate thing, wouldn't it? It's all text—words, ideas and feelings. It's like Abelard and Heloise if they'd skipped the fornication, pregnancy and castration and gone straight to the letter-writing.

What could be better? There's none of the transitory material stuff about whether you're an endomorph or ectomorph, male or female, brown or beige, hirsute or smooth. Hell, you can't even rate the penmanship. It's essence speaking to essence—the real you, right?

After months of this heartfelt correspondence, my friend got on a jet and met this guy. It was horrid. He was slovenly, physically repugnant to her. He didn't smell right. He chewed funny. He lacked savoir faire.

She could not get out of there fast enough.

Soul chums or no, it is damn hard getting around the subliminal pull of those pheromone molecules and the lips, eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows, brows, hairline—up over the head—nape of neck, shoulders, large of back, small of back, butt, inner thighs on downward and back up the whole other side. What your skin tastes like may have more to do with who falls in love with you than your shared love of Don DeLillo novels or concern for penguin rights.

I have another friend, for example, who arrived home one day to find an envelope in his mail with no stamp or address on it. It was from the girls in the apartment downstairs. In neat calligraphy, the note read, “You are invited to a ball-slapping party. 8 p.m. Please be prompt. BYOB.”

He'd helped them move in and had been trying to figure out if they were a couple because both were cute to him, particularly the dark-haired one, Liddy. Several nights he lay on his bedroom floor, ear pressed to the wood, listening for sounds of lovemaking. One time only, he'd heard murmurs and lowings of pleasure so exalted and faint he wasn't sure if they were only in his mind.

Comfortably around 8 p.m., he knocked on their door, a bottle of Chianti classico in a woven-leather wine sack he thought made for a great presentation. If they took it to be a gift along with the wine, well, he'd let it go, but he'd rather have kept it.

The other roommate, Arwyn, answered the door. “Drink this,” she said, handing him his first Everclear margarita of the night. She took his sack o' wine and laid it on the washer/dryer off the entranceway with scarcely a glance. She gave his left arm an affectionate stroke and led him into the living room, announcing, “Ladies, this is Kedrick (not his real name).”

There were seven women in all. Liddy sat talking to a redhead on the edge of the couch. Three others were dancing to Finley Quaye in the middle of the room and pulled Arwyn and him into their orbit. Someone ratcheted the volume, and everyone joined the dancing. No one offered a word to my friend until Liddy was dancing face-to-face with him, and said, “Hello, Kedrick (not your real name), what say we grind a little.” She slid a hand down the back of his trousers and pulled him close. Then the other women pressed in, hands all over him. Within a minute, he was bereft of clothing, handcuffed and spread. Some of the women got wooden spoons and spatulas, others flexed their hands. As Arwyn cinched a blindfold on him, she said, “See if you can guess who is who, just by the feel.”

Ninety-three minutes later and much wiser, he was handed his clothes. Arwyn told him, “Now you're taking us nightclubbing,” asked if he had a credit card on him and called for a limo.

Dancing in the steamy Detroit bar, Everclear sweating from his pores and each step a purple agony, he found himself again face-to-face with Liddy.

“Could you guess when it was me?” she asked.

“Every time. Your spoon handled them as gently as poached eggs.”

“Uh-huh, before I bounced them like flapjacks. You wanna go get breakfast?”

Three months later, they were married. They had two children, joined a church and became productive members of society.

The moral of this story, aside from that you should always wash utensils, is that love takes its own curious path. The entire story, I must admit, is not true (except for the part about Kedrick not being his real name). The gist is also true, that you really never do know how love will find you and what absurd attraction leads you to it.

This is a subject Dan Savage has mused upon in his trenchant Savage Love column, appearing weekly in the haunches of this paper: suppose you're an amputee, lonely and wanting to meet someone but sensitive about how others will react to your truncated state. Should you check out the chatrooms and clubs dedicated to people who are turned on by amputees, or would you just meet sickos there who are only interested in the part of you that serves their fetish?

I hate paraphrasing from a frazzled memory, but Savage's response touched on the fact that the initial attraction most people feel is usually based on some inane predisposition. You look like their dad, or have a cute ass, or smell like bacon, or have an Elvis curl to your lip, the attraction to which is no less senseless than liking a stump. Without that initial attraction, hardly anyone would ever meet up.

All we are is a combination of dirt, water, sunlight and a bit of genetic information. How it combines in our bodies and the way we propagate has somehow become layered with a sense of romance, power and mysticism over the ages. To a dispassionate observer from another world, it's all just meat.

Balls, for example, are stupid. They're like big tonsils without a mouth or something that would hang off a rooster's throat; they're like, at best, two featherless baby birds in a hairy nylon sock. Men should thank their lucky stars women would even consider touching anything within three feet of them, much less teabag the hideous things.

Many women have a similar low opinion of their rigs. The vulva may be the object of man's desire, the mystical source of life, the grail-like object that, if achieved, somehow can make us whole, but it is also something that, if you put a set of fangs in it, would scare the bejesus out of everyone in a horror movie. Just the same, it's the best thing ever.

I grew up in the tail end of the time when sex was dirty, and boy, did that lend everything an extra mystique. You didn't see real nudity. Most skin mags would obscure or blur the lower regions, so it was sort of like the ancient nautical maps that beyond a certain point only said, “Thar be monsters.” Then there were the more furtive nudist magazines, which exclusively showed naked people with forced grins playing volleyball, and everyone had beavers so thick Fidel Castro could have been hiding in there. The other alternative was looking for diagrams of the naughty bits in medical dictionaries, but with all of the Latin terms, you could have been whacking off to a drawing of a ventricle.

Who knows what the generation coming up now will make of things. On the one hand, they've got Bush's ignorance-only sex education that is actively teaching misinformation to kids. On the other hand, they're only a couple of keystrokes away from a vast online pornucopia depicting not only every known kink but also new ones as soon as they occur to anyone (sex with outlandishly pounding hydraulic machines appears popular these days, possibly because they never ask, “Who's your daddy?”).

Sex drives more conventional, new technologies as well—and always has. The printing press, the automobile, the VCR, computers, the Internet, photo-taking cell phones: all have their sexual uses that helped them gain users. And money has mainstreamed sex. Once upon a time in our history, if you did porn, you were shunned by normal society. Today, porn is chic, and the unexamined body isn't worth living in. When porn stars manicure their bushes into little topiary gardens, Ma and Pa America follow suit. And as Paris Hilton proved, the whole world and neighboring galaxies seeing you with a dick in your mouth is no impediment to getting a series on Fox. The future is moist.

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