SEX AND THE SINGLE BRAIN CELL: Sexual Ethics & The Resulting Internal Dialogues

Spring Cleaning continues… The following is the third of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time, and they seem to continue. Enjoy.

Feb 1988
[ADI Editors’ Note: A friend recently asked me how the dating scene was going. I was embarrassed to admit that things were going real well. She asked, “So how’s this going to affect ‘Sex & the Single Brain Cell’?” I told her that I didn’t know, but I could get used to it if I had to. When I first began this column last June I never thought it’d become a “kiss & tell” sort of thing (mainly due to the lack of kissing going around) so I guess I should start by stating that the names have been misspelled in order to contrive the issues… ]

He looked beneath his shirt today
There was a wound in his flesh so deep and wide
From the wound a lovely flower grew
From somewhere deep inside

“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting

December 1987
A blustery day on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, an ocean of attractive co-eds scurry about between classes. I’m sitting on a bench outside the Humanities building using the pretense that I’m here to read my biology assignment as my excuse for plopping myself here. I feel like I’m on the leading edge of a jetty in this colorful current of life. Stupid grin on my face, I can scarcely bring myself to read a single complete sentence of the text on my lap.

In a matter of 10 minutes the feminine armada passes and I find myself alone with six chapters of biology still unread and a couple of militant squirrels who were bugging me for scraps (sounds like the title to a pop psychology book, “Militant Squirrels and Parades of Girls,” or something like that). That was over much too quickly. My education has obvious not endowed me with the good sense to come in out of the rain when I can hardly afford to get wet.

In this ocean of life and seemingly limitless possibilities I am unnoticed. I am lonely and affection-starved. I’m in sexual limbo. With the waves of cute Levi mini-skirts rushing by, I’m without a true confidante, which I guess is more important than this sense of physical isolation.

One of my buddies said that his celibacy was something that he has consciously chosen. But then he’s Catholic, which makes him just a little militant about his sexual abstinence. He made insinuating comments about folks who say that they are celibate … for, like, lunch or on Tuesdays, or when the wind blows from the north. He’s a serious Catholic (whatever the hell that means), he has a reason for not doing it. I guess I do too.

AIDS and all aside (like AIDS is an aside, right?) what I’m alluding to is an idealism that I periodically entertain, something about ones sexual practices having some association with ones emotional attitude toward the object of ones pelvic thrusting (yeah, I could have been less graphic, but seeing that some haven’t taken too kindly to my use of “colorful language” in previous columns I thought I’d try some “picture language” just for you). Where was I? Oh yeah, idealism and trying sex with someone you love. Yeah, I know it’s a novel idea, but given my incredible success with the general dating scene I thought I’d push this puppy completely off the map. At least I’d have a commendable reason for being alone on a Saturday night.

Childish sulking aside, life has handed me enough “wonderful memories” for me to realistically consider the question: when is IT right and when is IT not right? (Was that fucking euphemistic enough for you?) Ah yes, sexual ethics (throw that phrase around at the next party you go to, either the feathers will fly or it’ll be the last time you get invited to a party).

True to 1980s Southern California form, some friends have recited for me the proverbial, “Hey, ‘if it feels good, do it.’” Right. Just tell me this: when does it not feel good? Buddy, that sounds suspiciously like technique, not ethics.

Anyway, I think the feelings that I have here are the lingering attitudes of a previous incarnation. What I mean is that I have staked out for myself a sexual ethic that requires an emotional relationship with the person who would be my lover (yeah, I know, dumb move). And given the great success that I’ve had in establishing relationships with the women in my life it’s understandable that my sexual self is getting just a little impatient with my emotional self. This internal dialogue is beginning to take on proportions of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

“So, how long?” I ask myself.

“When I’m good and ready,” I defensively respond.

“How will you know when you’re ‘Ready’?” I chide myself.

There was a pause. I’ve never quite figured this part out. In fact, the truth of the matter is that I’m more likely to take advantage of whatever sexual opportunity that happens to present itself (quite dependent on the circumstantial willingness, availability, mood, horniness, etc. [take your pick] of the other party) before I seriously consider whether I’m “ready” or not. You know, shoot first, ask questions later.

Of course, all of this reveals a rather unsightly hole in the fabric of my values and sexual ethics. I mean, I don’t want to live like the horde of survivalistic animals who eat, drink, fornicate, flatus, sleep and eventually die (your friends and mine, the famed “cephalopods”) without so much as tipping their hats to the eternal consciousness of our species. Sure, sexuality is physical (at least that’s what I’ve been told by those who should know), all part and parcel with our identification as part of the animal kingdom. But our sexuality has the profound possibility of being something more than the hormonally controlled coupling of two dogs in the street.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t even bother me with beliefs that try to justify the panting and writhing and miscellaneous euphoric sensations by somehow engrafting the divine consciousness into the sex act (you know, “Sex ’cause God said so”). Excuse me for being such a prude but I’m more comfortable with one-to-one sex between humans. If a meta-physical menage-a-trios is your cup of tea … (just don’t confuse the children with your religious kinkiness). True, I have to confess that I’ve mentioned the Divine Name while engaged in the panting and writhing and miscellaneous euphoric sensations, but if anything it was an unconscious expression of gratitude for this decidedly human experience.

“So, how long?” I ask myself again.

Pause. “I really don’t know,” I have to answer in all honesty.

January 1988
So I was expecting good things from 1988. I mean, the way ’87 kind of passed out as it crossed the finish line, anything would have been an improvement, but I didn’t quite expect them to begin on New Year’s Eve. I mean, what better way to begin a year than with a heavy dose of infatuation (and infatuation that wasn’t unrequited at that!)? Can it be?

NYE champaign 2013-12-31
NYE champaign 2013-12-31

Beginning like many a notorious Bustillos social excursion, I wasn’t too surprised on New Year’s Eve when I arrived solo at the designated party place, a club in Anaheim called the BandStand, to find that out of the hundreds of partiers in attendance, I didn’t recognize a single soul. And my anxiety was little alleviated as the clock edged towards eleven. I began to wonder if my pals from the health spa hadn’t changed their plans and stiffed me. Thoughts of going home to witness the count-down with good ol’ Dick Clark began to seem more appealing to me than making another circuit around this sea of strangers.

“One more time around the room,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t even motivate myself enough to invest in an over-priced watered-down Long Island Ice Tea. Now that’s bad. Ha. Even my “Disneyland friend” said she’d be there. But she was no where to be seen. Should I have been surprised?

But just when it seemed blackest (around a quarter past eleven) the merry group of familiar New Year’s Eve revellers made a serpentine line through the thick crowd, heading in my direction.

Steve and Pam, Emanuel and Terry, Van and Ushee (however the hell she spells her name), Mutt and Jeff, Black and White, Red and Green, Off and On, In and Out… you get the idea, they were all there; plus at least one surprise…”

What are you doing here?“ she asked me as she gave me a deep hug, “I didn’t know you were going to be here.” I hadn’t seen this dark-haired beauty since last summer at Emanuel’s birthday party. And to think, I had been contemplating cutting out to see if Dick Clark was going to pass himself off as Baby New Years for the fiftieth plus straight time.

She and I managed some small talk over the pounding music about the new place she’d moved into and the party her 10-year-old son’s babysitter was putting on for the kids. Giving up on the inaudible conversation I periodically looked over at her and found her smiling at me. I finally got around to asking her if she wanted to dance. She said sure and took my hand when I led her to the dance floor.

Long full mane of curly brown hair, mischievous animated brown eyes, the svelte athletic body of a cycling and aerobic workout devotee; I thought about last summer, the attraction was there and I had debated with myself about whether I should ask her for her phone number. In a rare display of reasoning I had decided against it ’cause I didn’t feel the time was quite right (talk about articulate reasoning … ). But now, I simply smiled at my good fortune. The toil& of her hand seemed to wipe away all of the bitching and complaining that I had filled 1987 with.

But then, I had recently heard through the grapevine that she had been spending a significant amount of time on the phone with one of our party. So when she and I got on the dance floor I kept an eye pealed for those subtle signals that I was moving in on someone else’s territory (you know, the whispered death threats and glaring hateful stares). But her date-by-assumption was happily contented dancing with every other woman in the place, so I figured I’d received bum information.

With the coming of midnight, there was a bit of an awkward moment. Surrounded with energetic examples of affection and profound lust, I resisted the temptation of a kiss and gave her a simple hug (the Ghost of my “Disneyland friend” harboring my memories, no doubt). After the other couples disengaged themselves from their lip-looks all of us exchanged hugs and handshakes to greet in the New Year. That concluded she and I danced the night away. This was becoming quite unbelievable. I was actually having a great time.

On the fast songs she actually followed my steps (which never happens in the world of detached dating and dancing). Then after the first set of slow songs she made a rather appreciative comment about how closely I held her as we danced. When the fast numbers kicked back in she asked rather breathlessly if I wanted to continue dancing (which, using the McConnell method of interpreting obviously innocent gestures, might have indicated an interest in continuing the close contact in a more private setting, then again… flaw, I wasn’t misreading her signals). Having apparently achieved the “erotic higher ground,” I elected to continue dancing.

After the DJ kicked us all out at around 2 a. m., I drove her back to her car and asked her if she wanted to go to breakfast or something. She smiled and said that there was an all-night Norm’s around the corner from where she lived (which turned out to be on the other side of town in Costa Mesa).

At breakfast we exchanged life-stories and she invited me to come over. In an obvious effort to make it look like she wasn’t being too forward she added, “I have two bedrooms” (one being for her ten-year-old son, who was away at the babysitter’s for the night). I said, “Oh boy, can I sleep on the top bunk?” Under normal circumstance that one phrase would have spelled the end of any erotic encounter. But heck, it was New Year’s Eve and she seemed willing to put up with my kidding.

Using the pretense of watching some TV we snuggled up on her °ouch. Then at a rather random moment I leaned over and kissed her. She mumbled between kisses that my talents were obviously not limited to dancing. It appeared that we weren’t going to be needing the services of the second bedroom that night.

When I woke the glowing morning sun was happily smiling through the curtains of her bedroom window. I kissed her and then quietly got up and dressed. Stupid grin permanently fixed on my face, I drove home and thought, “Ah the beauty of infatuation, I lift my empty beer bottle to thee, visit me often and happily this new year!”

Two Week Later…

Be still my beating heart
It would be better to be cool
It’s not time to be open just yet
A lesson once learned is so hard to forget
Be still my beating heart
Or I’ll be taken for a fool
I sink like a stone that’s been thrown in the ocean
My logic has drowned in a sea of emotion
Stop before you start
Be still my beating heart

“Be Still My Beating Heart” – Sting

Early Sunday morning. The ten-year-old, who had been sleeping in her bedroom, woke up startled by the wind and the rain. He wandered into the living room where she and I had made uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, to announce that we were having another earthquake. Vainly I pulled the blankets over my head. Radio and TV came on in an effort to reassure him that it was nothing. He sat and listened while she got up to retired to her room. I stayed on the couch (why get up and join her when I can stay here, naked under my blanket and watch Sunday morning cartoons with him? I mean, wasn’t that why I was there?).

Any self-respecting romance novelist would have ended the story on the morning of New Year’s Day (or at least soon afterward, while the glow of infatuation still shone). The curtain would have come down, the audience would have been satisfied, the author well paid for his services. But then I guess I have a decidedly twisted knack for peeking under the curtain in order to watch the “happy couple” grapple with the responsibilities of their emotions and desires. Hey man, ain’t that what life’s all about?

I faded in and out, semi-consciously deciding on whether to watch another Donald Duck cartoon, go back to sleep or get up and take a shower. I finally opted to get dressed while the ten-year-old took the couch pillows that had been piled on the floor and made a fort. My sleep-walking lover made her way back to the living room and settled herself into my newly vacated blankets on the couch. She asked me if I wanted breakfast. Sure, I said. She told the ten-year-old to show me where everything was (I guess she wasn’t about to get up). He whined that there wasn’t any more milk. So breakfast ended up consisting of one navel orange.

Something had obviously happened between our New Year’s Eve kiss and the one navel orange breakfast. Well, actually a lot had happened. Like the nondescript sense of euphoria that got me started down this path, I was now aware of a nondescript sense that something wasn’t right. Again, there was an internal debate going on between my emotions and my libido (the latter one thinking that we had finally landed in heaven).

“What do you mean something’s wrong?!” my sexual self angrily asked. “As far as I can tell, everything’s just great.”

“No, no, You don’t understand,” my emotional self, who was beginning to sound too much like Woody Allen, tried to explain.

“No, you’re the one that doesn’t understand. Every time something good starts happening, you get to thinking that something must be wrong!”

“No, it’s more complicated than that.”

“The only thing that’s complicated about this is that you’re always sticking your fucking head where it doesn’t belong.”

“My point exactly!” Pause…

“Uh oh … so what do we do now?” This little dialogue took about seven days to finally arrive on the surface of my facial expressions. This of course complicated the process by bringing another personality into the dialogue, my sleepwalking lover.

“So what’s your problem?” she angrily asked me over the phone.

“What, you wanna list?” That did little to alleviate the tension. What was I going to tell her? That I had changed my mind? That I didn’t like the shoes she wears? That I wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility of a relationship with a woman who has a ten-year-old son and a shaky financial future? I was beginning to think that now would be a good time to strangle my sexual sell. Then I realized that that wouldn’t have produced the desired effect.

“You know,” she interrupted my thought, “I guess I was just beginning to forget that I just can’t trust anyone.”

That hurt. My romantic predecessor had been an apparent womanizing son-of-a-bitch, who did very little for her sense of trust, only being available at his convenience and very secretive about his other social involvements. And my little emotional hiccup had put me in the land of the shitheads.

morally bankrupt - but still spending (2008-01-01)
morally bankrupt – but still spending (2008-01-01)

God damn it, I tried to do what I could to understand my feelings and be honest about them. Sorry it took a whole two weeks to come to this conclusion. And she just dumped it all into a kind of generic emotional bin marked “more reasons for not trusting men.” Perhaps I tried too hard to not repeat my predecessor’s mistake and scrutinized the relationship too early. Things appeared to me to be in such either/or categories that I knew that I couldn’t make the commitment. Of course that’s not the way she saw it. So I became one among many wishy-washy assholes who had let her down. She said goodnight and hung up the phone not anticipating that I would ever call her again.

“Way to go, asshole,” my sexual self remarked.

“I had to say something. At least now you can sleep at night,” my emotional self offered.

“Hey, sleeping at night was never one of my problems.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Sources:

  • image: NYE Revelers by Joe Bustillos, 12-31-2013
  • image: NYE champaign by Joe Bustillos 12-31-2013
  • image: Morally Bankrupt: But Still Spending by Joe Bustillos 01-01-2008

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.