Reciprocity Ch. 02bydresbach©
Wednesday came, and the other two guys and I decided to give Carl the day off given that the airport he needed to get to was at least a two hour drive one way and Mary's flight was arriving at noon. The motivation behind the other two biologists in letting Carl go was not really that altruistic in that both had plans on getting home to their wives as early as possible for the long holiday weekend.
I suspected that once Mary arrived I would be seeing very little of Carl, and got my mind set on spending a lot of time alone for the next four days. After work I skipped dinner because I always hated eating alone, and instead went straight to the tavern and played a few games of pool with some of the locals. I made it an early night, however, and arrived back at the house around eight o'clock that evening. Much to my surprise, Carl and Mary were waiting for me in the living room.
I can best describe Mary as a wannabe hippie-chick, the type of person who wished she had been 'of-age' during the Haight-Ashbury days; and who, when not attending school, was spending most of her adult life backpacking across Europe and now America, seeking others of similar persuasion.
She was slender, almost to the point of emaciation; and had long, black hair that she braided into a ponytail. She wore glasses; the rounded, thin-rimmed style similar to those sported by John Lennon, naturally. She was born and reared on London's west-side. I'm not sure why that fact was important to her, but she seemed to make it a point of honor in our conversations. However, although she was British by birth and probably had access to many fine English or European schools, she had decided to attend one of the eastern United States' all-woman colleges, either Smith or Bryn Mawr; I forget which one.
She was about a year away from a degree in clinical psychology, and along with her core psych courses had also taken a healthy smattering of women's studies. I thought it a lethal combination, pop psychology marinated with new-aged feminism. Heaven help the man unlucky enough to seek her counsel because I had only been talking with her for ten minutes, and already felt the need to slit my wrists.
Carl spent much of the time quietly sitting next to her and smiling. Only occasionally did he interject himself into the conversation, and that was only to affirm or underscore a point Mary had made. I found the two of them as unlikely a pair as one could meet, and had an unsuccessful time trying to find anything that either of them had in common.
I don't know why; maybe it was the haughty way she carried her British elitism or the condescending way she talked about people not of her class or station, or maybe it was the fact that she thought most Americans, particularly non-East Coast Americans, were crude and of low-class; but for whatever the reason I took an instant dislike to her.
However, Carl seemed happy, so I held back my tongue and prayed for an early evening.
Mary was currently prattling on and on about the superiority of European culture over American while I was desperately trying to find a polite way of excusing myself for the evening without sounding rude, when Mary abruptly changed the subject, "So John, Carl tells me you're gay."
An awkward silence fell over the room as I turned and glared at Carl. "He did, did he?" I said, dead-panned.
Carl suddenly became visibly nervous. As beads of sweat started to form on his forehead, he quickly tried to alleviate the awkward situation by correcting Mary, "No; I think I told you John is a switch-hitter."
"Switch-hitter," Mary said thoughtfully, "that's an American term for bisexual, is it not?"
"A coarse American term, yes," I said, nodding slowly.
Mary thought about this for a minute while I continued to glare at Carl, wondering exactly what variety of stupid he was, given that part of our last conversation was about keeping secrets. Mary sensed that tension had developed between Carl and me, and tried to defuse the situation, "Oh, it's okay, John, some of my best friends are gay."
My dislike for Mary was quickly devolving into something worse, but I held my ire and said emotionlessly, "They are, are they?"
"Why yes, and I find it quite cosmopolitan and chic of you...an American, that is, who is so forthright and honest with others," she said smiling, but then added with a look of concern, "although maybe not with yourself."
"With myself?" I asked.
Oh yes, my dislike was indeed metastasizing to new level. I was about to add a few more forthright observations about Mary when she quickly asked, "Oh John, hold that thought; but before we delve too deeply into your proclivities, could I bother you for some wine if you have any?"
I pointed toward the kitchen, "I think there's a bottle of red and white above the stove; help yourself."
Mary walked off toward the kitchen, remarking, "Above the stove? You should really keep your wine in a cooler area."
Once she was out of ear-shot, I turned my full attention to Carl and said while trying to keep my voice at a whisper, "What the fuck...!"
"Sorry; it just came out...," Carl started to explain, but I cut him off.
"What do you mean, 'it just came out'?"
I heard Mary say from the kitchen, "This looks like a nice wine, but the white should really be kept in the fridge."
I heard the refrigerator door open, and said with a tinge of sarcasm, "They were a gift from the company. They have a cork and everything," I turned back to Carl and said, "So let me get this straight. You haven't seen this person for over a month, and the first thing you start talking about is my personal behave..."
"Do you have a corkscrew?" I heard Mary ask again from the kitchen.
"Upper-left-hand drawer," I said again over my shoulder.
Carl started stammering, "It wasn't like that. Besides, she's totally cool with it."
"Did it also just come out about your own...how did she put it...about your own proclivities with me over the last few days, and is she cool with that, too?"
Carl started to answer, but Mary called out again, "Where? I don't see it."
"It's the Swiss Army knife on the right," I said with some exasperation, and then turned again to Carl, "Would you go and fucking help her. She's going to ask for a glass next, and will probably want to castrate us because we don't have the correct goblet for California red," Carl started to get up, and I added, "And bring back a freaking beer for me."
Before Carl left the room to help his fiancée, he pleaded, "Just don't say anything, okay? Please?"
After a few minutes the two of them returned to the living room. Mary had a large water glass filled with red wine. Carl handed me a beer before sitting on the couch next to Mary.
Mary took a generous sip from her glass before reinitiating the conversation, "So what were you saying, John?"
"What were you implying, Mary?" I asked with a slight smile.
"Nothing really, and please forgive me if I was being rude, but I just have a hard time understanding bisexuality."
"What's difficult about it?"
Mary thought for a moment before answering, "Please forgive my crassness, but do you get up some mornings and say to yourself, 'I would really like to suck a cock,' and on another morning say 'I think I'll try cunny today?' See what I'm saying?"
I ignored her snide insult, "I think human sexuality is more fluid than the two end-members conventional society have labeled heterosexuality and homosexuality; and no, I don't get up in the morning and decide either-or; I get up and say, 'why not both?'"
"Touché," Mary said, "but isn't that being a wee bit disingenuous? I mean, I know that's what Kinsey thinks, that there is a continuum to our sexual natures, and so you must subscribe to his analysis?"
"Freud believed the same thing, but I subscribe to my own observations and experiences. I'm not sure what Kinsey believes, but if it is a continuum than I would agree with him."
Mary took another long pull on her wine. "You do know don't you that Kinsey was full of it? His methodology was bullocks..."
"And by implication," I interjected, "My views on the subject are also bullocks, as you put it."
Yes, this was shaping up to be a fine evening. I was trying to figure out what I found more irritating about her. Was it her self-assured arrogance at believing she understood subjects she had no practical experience with, and that included psychoanalysis; or was it the clinical way she looked at me, like I was one of her maze rats, or a new species of insect that has yet to be identified and named?
Mary laughed piously, "I didn't mean to offend..."
I had had enough, and interrupted her, "You really have to stop saying that." I paused a moment as she stared at me wide-eyed, "You can't keep saying 'Please forgive my rudeness,' or 'I didn't mean to offend,' and then proceed to go out of your way and do precisely that. If my nature or my views offends you and you need to tell me I'm an asshole, then so be it, I can deal with it. But stop with this overt, sanctimonious charade at civility, because it's starting to wear thin. I would much rather you were honest and upfront in your feelings about me than continuing to give me back-handed insults."
Mary was taken aback for a moment. It was obvious that people rarely spoke to her the way I had, and she was unsure of what she should say, "You're right and I'm sorry. It's a bad habit of mine."
I passed off her apology, and continued, "I gather you don't believe in a continuum of human sexuality."
She shook her head, "Not really. My Abnormal Psychology professor says that supposed bisexuals just lack the courage of their convictions, and that if they were true to themselves they would realize they were gay."
I smiled to myself; it was an old argument that I have heard before. "Does he?"
"She," Mary corrected, then added, "She's a lesbian and often goes into fits about the wishy-washy disposition of some people, particularly men, who refuse to accept their nature," She became introspective for a moment and said under her breath, "How does she describe them? Oh yes, she calls them men 'too brainless and ball-less to know what they are, or do anything about it'."
I laughed, and said with some amusement, "She does, does she? Maybe she's...."
Mary interrupted me again, "Is it okay if I have some more wine?"
As Mary went to the kitchen I looked over at Carl, who had slumped far down into the couch with his head in his hand and looked as if he were trying to hide from any verbal onslaught from either Mary or myself.
"Anything to add?" I asked him.
"I'm sorry, man. If I'd known she would act like this, I wouldn't have said anything to her."
I started to laugh, "You know I can end this debate with a few choice words..."
Carl lifted his head and said in earnestness, "Don't...please don't."
At least I was getting some amusement from watching Carl turn into a lump of jelly worrying about whether or not I would stick his recent sexual history in his fiancée's face.
Mary came back with another full glass of wine, "Do any of you strapping lads have any pot? I've been dying to smoke a joint."
"I do," Carl said, jumping up, eager to remove himself, at least temporarily, from harm's way.
I smiled at Mary as I watched her take another generous sip of her wine, "Mary, I'm wondering if your abnormal professor..."
"Abnormal Psychology professor," Mary quickly interjected.
"Whatever," I said, expressionless, "I'm wondering if she made any comment about prisoners or prison life?"
A quizzical look crossed her face. "What about it?"
"Well I was thinking there's a lot of men locked up together, women too, and there's naturally a lot of homo-eroticism going on. Boys doing it with boys, girls with girls, which would suggest to me that a lot of supposed heterosexuals are either sliding over to the wild side or the bulk of the prison population is really gay. Isn't that how your Abnormal Psych professor would have to interpret it, that the bisexuality displayed by the inmates is really a form of repressed, latent homosexuality?"
Carl had come back by this time and passed an already lit joint over to Mary.
Mary took a long drag before answering, "That's really an unfair and extreme example." "I don't think it's unfair, and it's only extreme by a matter of degrees."
Mary tried to pass the joint to me, but I declined. She blew out a heavy stream of smoke, and then tried to clarify her previous statement, "That may be, but I may have mischaracterized her statement."
"I don't think so. You were quite specific about her admonishments of bisexuals, saying they were wishy-washy and that they did not accept their natures. 'Brainless and ball-less' I think you said. I don't see how you could have mischaracterized that."
Mary was starting to get a little flustered, and took another large sip of wine instead of answering.
"But for the sake of argument," I continued with a smile, "let's accept your premise that the prison example is too extreme, whatever that means, and isn't a valid test of human behavior. What about pornography, particularly porn movies?"
Mary exploded into recalcitrant laughter, "Porn is a lot of misogynist crap. What insights into human behavior could you possibly glean from that rubbish?"
"It's crap for sure," I said, agreeing with her initial premise, "and it isn't the best of examples, but I wasn't implying anything can be determined from the movies themselves; it's just that they are filled with women who are performing all kinds of sex acts with both men and women. It appears to me also that the actresses are enjoying themselves. Doesn't that suggest something about human sexuality?"
"It's a bad example," Mary said as she took another hit, "I can think of a dozen reasons why those women do what they do."
"I can probably think of more than a dozen, but you're missing my point. Unless one of the reasons is because the misogynists who are making the movie have a gun to the women's heads and are forcing them to perform the sex acts with both men and women, and enjoy them I might add, based on your professor's logic, all female porn stars have to be repressed lesbians."
It was difficult for me to believe that an obviously intelligent person like Mary could believe in such absurdities. Absurdities that defied common sense, logic, and probably violated her own understanding and experiences with human nature; all because a college professor said the absurdities were true. I had to admit to myself that I was beginning to have fun tweaking her.
Mary started to get mad at my last example. "That's a typical male response, 'They do it, and therefore they must enjoy it.' The women don't necessary have to have a gun to their head to get them to perform; there are other forms of coercion besides brute force. A need for money, for instance, is a very powerful motivator and causes a great many people to do all sorts of odd things, things that they wouldn't normally do."
"I agree it was a bad example, but you are still left with rationalizing the behavior. Instead of saying these are women who derive emotional and sexual stimulation from both men and women and can easily move from one to the other, which is my position, you or your professor's argument must be that either they are lesbians forced, for whatever reason, to have sex with men, or they are heteros forced to have sex with other women. I think my position is..."
"Okay, okay," Mary exclaimed has she threw up her hands in a mock gesture to get me to stop, "I agree, my professor is full of shit."
She started to laugh, and it was the warm laugh of someone who was becoming comfortable with her surroundings, and Carl and I laughed with her. When she heard Carl laughing, she nudged him gently with her elbow, saying, "And you...I'm getting my bum kicked, and you're just sitting there watching. As my fiancé, you're supposed to be defending my honor. Whatever happened to chivalry?"
"I was having too good a time watching that bum," Carl said with a wink, and they both fell into each other and started to kiss passionately.
I figured that was my cue to exit the room and go to bed. I started to get up and leave when Mary said, "Oh, don't go, John. There are some things I still want to talk to you about."
"Things," I asked skeptically, "like what?"
"Your bisexuality, of course."
Oh Christ, the psychotherapist was back. "Can't it wait until tomorrow?"
"Yeah, Babe, let's talk about this tomorrow," interjected Carl, who was obviously pushing for an early evening so he and his fiancée could screw as well as move any conversation away from the subject.
Mary shook her head, "No time like the present. Come and sit back down. Carl can roll another joint, and we can continue our discussion."
Dejected, Carl went off to his bedroom to roll another joint, at which point Mary asked, "How come you don't smoke pot? Is it fear of getting busted?"
I shook my head and smiled, "No. I used to smoke in high school. In fact, I was bit if a pot head back then, but after a while it was just making me feel paranoid, so I quit."
Surprised by my answer, Mary said, "Really? Pot always makes me randy."
I laughed, "Yeah, it did that too...and lazy. I was starting to fuck up in school, which gave me another good reason to quit."
By this time Carl had come back. Mary took the joint from him and then asked, "John, do you mind if I get personal?"
My antennae went up. Something had just changed. She was giving me that 'bug under the microscope' look again, but this time there was playfulness behind her eyes. Carl was either not listening or missed the sudden change in mood that just fell across the room.
"No, I don't mind," I finally said.
"Do you find Carl attractive?"
Carl started to violently cough and a look of panic suddenly crossed over his face. I smiled to myself. Had she guessed something happened between Carl and me and was fishing for answers, or was she just tweaking my nose and trying to get back at me for besting her in our earlier argument? I wasn't sure where this conversation was headed or how it was going to end, but I was definitely going to enjoy the ride.
"That's an odd question," I said innocuously, wanting her to tip her hand a bit more as to her intent.
"Not really. You're bisexual and have had experience with men, and obviously you're quite comfortable with it. So I'm wondering if you find my fiancé attractive."
I just nodded my head.
"And yet you haven't done anything about it. Why not?" She was just tweaking me, I thought, and then said aloud, "There're lots of reasons. One is he's engaged."
"Yes, and that's admirable of you, but that didn't happen until about two weeks ago. Why didn't you try anything before then?"
"Mary, where is this going?" Carl finally asked with growing agitation.
Mary ignored her fiancé and continued to stare at me waiting for an answer. When I didn't respond right away she continued, "I have to believe it's difficult to live in this dreary town. There can't be many opportunities for sexual release with either a man or woman. I can imagine both of you must be getting pretty randy by now."
Now I was getting the impression that she suspects something, and was fishing for answers.
Mary continued, "It must be killing you to be sequestered with someone you find attractive, and can't do anything about. You're working with him and living with him day and night for months now. Just the two of you toiling away, side by side in the hot sun, as it were. Eating and drinking together at night, watching the tellie. So close to a strapping young lad you like and who's probably as randy as you, and yet you don't do anything except...maybe...sneak peeks at him as he gets in and out of the shower, or better yet spying on him as he's wanking..."