Tom Renshaw was allergic to reality. The only problem was that life had him against the ropes half the time, and at the end of his rope the other half. He felt like a soap on a rope that was slowly disappearing, or a pope on a rope hanged for crimes against Hugh Manatee.
“Jesus loves you,” Tom’s wife Soonhee told him.
“Thanks for warning me.” Tom didn’t say the words out loud, fearing she’d be pissed off if she understood him. Of course, if she truly understood him, she wouldn’t be mad, as understanding solved all problems, at least according to the Gospel According to Elvis Presley. (Tom pictured Jesus going up to Soonhee and saying, “Hey, could you do me a favor and tell Tom I love him?” “What about me? Don’t you love me?” “Sure, I love you. I love everybody.” “Then that means your love is not special!” “Of course it is. I’m Jesus.”)
Had she seen him yawning in the chapel? How could so many people buy into something that was so transparently false? What was the big attraction? Tom felt sorry for Korean people, since they didn’t have access to the kinds of recreational drugs so many Americans took for granted. That’s why so many of them became such raging alcoholics or Jesus freaks. (Then again, so did a lot of Americans, but at least there you could also be a stoner, meth-head, junkie, tripper, or rave club-dancing ecstasy-popper, or else go postal and start shooting people to be put on the cover of Time. At least in Korea it was much cheaper to be a chainsmoker; cigarettes only cost about two-fifty there–versus eight bucks or how ever much they’d gotten up to in the U.S.–so you could smoke your heart out on your way to lung cancer’s harrowing ordeal of chemotherapy and radiation treatment before being deposited indifferently into your grave by a deeply concerned-looking undertaker.)
T.S. Eliot, whose name was an anagram of “toilets,” had said that humankind couldn’t handle too much reality, and Tom was no exception. Unfortunately, his daydreaming skills had suffered from too much exposure to forgettable television programming at an early age, which had robbed him of his dreams while replacing them with frauds. Like all too many other formerly young people, Tom still dreamed of fame and fortune–unless it was four chins–instead of waking up and smelling the cough syrup. Right now his stomach was rumbling from the crime of drinking water.
Tom wondered whether drinking water from plastic bottles was wreaking havoc on his sexual prowess. He’d read recently that masturbation could curtail the production of testosterone. Maybe that’s why God’s cheerleaders called it a sin, the Spanish word for “without.” “No se puede vivir sin amar.” Thus spoke Geoffrey Firmin, whose surname was an anagram of “infirm,” the alcoholic autobiographical protagonist of Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano (played with ploughed aplomb by Albert Finney in John Huston’s movie version). Now that Soonhee was finally becoming horny again after so many years of dormancy, maybe because she knew her time for having a baby was running out, Tom had to scrape the barnacles off his submarine in order to make it rise for the occasion, a taller order than it was willing to fill at the moment.
He apologized to her as she rubbed against him like a polymorphously perverse cat, moaning with euphoric sexual frustration. It felt odd to him to be deprived of this essential male function. A man without an erection was like a camera without a lens. He felt like such a pussy, in both senses of the word. If only he had a vagina, then he could pleasure himself and have multiple orgasms.
Maybe that’s the reason there are so few female heads of state, Tom thought. They’re too busy having the times of their lives. And they can do that without our help. As Bono said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
Tom read on The Huffington Post that very few women got excited by having to administer blow jobs or hug men’s members with their saliva-marinated breasts. It always fascinated him to hear that certain women enjoyed pornography as much as men did, considering that so much of porn was calculated to gratify men’s egos and cast women in a subservient role. Tom was no spring chicken (he was more of a hen in a battery cage), but he’d never received anything quite as spectacular as some of the men in the porn videos he’d seen did, in which young women slobbered all over their flagpoles and used them as battering rams against their uvulas. It was amazing what money could persuade a beautiful girl to do.
The funny thing was that despite the victories of feminism, instead of society reaching a point beyond the objectification of women via porn, Madison Avenue, and Hollywood, the latest victory was one of revenge. Now women could take pleasure in watching men squirm as they wondered if they were cut enough to attract nubile nymphs, or if they could devote enough time to working out to cultivate the six-pack abs required to get a smoking hot chick to disrobe and reveal her pulsating rose. Tom figured that was out of the question for him. He was in too much pain from Lyme disease made worse by the saw palmetto he was taking to shrink his prostate gland to take up running. He also wasn’t in the mood for his knees to explode. He could try swimming, which might at least stave off a heart attack, but he’d have to cover a lot of chlorinated liquid ground before he could shed the flab on his abdomen.
Soonhee was constantly on his case about losing weight, even though she was getting fat too and never went out of her way to exercise. Tom knew the culprit behind his temporarily dead dick was probably the ibuprofen he’d taken to address the prostatitis engendered by the lubricant he’d used to pleasure himself while Soonhee had been sleeping, repeating the same experiment in futility he’d performed the previous night. Unless he was just no longer attracted to her, which was possible, considering they sometimes hated each other, and he was so busy being attracted to other women, both live and virtual, that now that his wife was finally ready to give it up again, his libido was too exhausted to accommodate her. Or else he just didn’t want her to get pregnant, even though he knew that would make her happy. It probably wouldn’t make him happy, though, having to sacrifice most of his further ties to his native country in order to humor and placate her, and having to contend with her anticipated brainwashing measures in indoctrinating the child in the putative ways of the Lord.
He considered the problem might also have emerged from a recent visit to his acupuncturist, who he’d been seeing to address a chronic ache in a muscle in his right butt cheek he connected to a visit to a maniacal urologist he’d seen seventeen years ago. The acupuncturist had stabbed him but good with one of his needles. Tom was relieved to find the doctor hadn’t severed his spine. (Treatment by a different Korean acupuncturist seven years prior had temporarily disabled Tom’s phallic mastery; it turned out that acupuncture had an impact on one’s hormones. When Tom went to the acupuncturist’s office to describe the problem, his nurse told him he just needed to spend more time walking. Sure enough, that did the trick, unless the needles’ spell had just worn off.)
Tom found it funny how a man could derive immense sexual satisfaction by ingesting a series of moving images of different women in flagrante delicto. The nature of that satisfaction consisted of its very ephemerality, which is why the ritual had to be repeated so many times, ad nauseam. Much as he envied couples who boasted both true love and great sex, he suspected they were in the minority. How could moms and dads preoccupied with raising a happy family have either the time or the energy needed to get it on, especially without being interrupted by their fucking (not literally) kids? Strange as it sounds, Tom missed his days as a single man, since even during lonely moments between girlfriends (temporally, not spatially–unfortunately for Tom’s greedy libido), there was always new love–and new sex–to look forward to.
Marriage, in contrast, meant the same meal over and over again. Leftovers for both parties. Tom was flattered–not to mention astonished–that Soonhee obviously still found him attractive, unless she was just a consummate actress. Now that his old friend who lived between his legs had let him down, he wondered whether he’d even be able to woo someone new without the aid of a crane. And a crane would be necessary to rebuild the broken ruins of his marriage if he ever got up the courage to leave Soonhee*, an even more difficult erection to achieve.
*They Might Be Giants’ song “They’ll Need a Crane” was written by John Linnell on behalf of his parents, who got divorced.