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Of course I will tell you my opinion, Socrates. I was once with Sophocles the poet when someone asked him, “How do you feel about sex, Sophocles? Are you still capable of having sex with a woman?”
He replied, “Be quiet, man! To my great delight, I have broken forever of that, like a
slave who has got away from a rabid and savage master.”
Republic (Oxford World Classics) Plato, a new translation by Robin Waterfield, 1993
Guerlain Shalimar drifted on the air, gently wafted by the overhead fan. Bolero played quietly in the background, moving ever closer to climax. Candlelight flickered, projecting shadows of the naked bodies on the wall. This was a night made for love.
“I’m sorry, Helen. It’s just not going to happen. The Big Dipper’s not up to it—and no pun intended.” Paul Hudson rolled off his wife of fifty-two years and stared at the ceiling in disgust.
“Maybe I’m the problem, honey. Baby shoulders and menopause have left the Jewel Box less than exciting. You need to trade this old broad in for a younger model.”
“I don’t want a younger model. I want you.”
She snuggled up to him, and whispered, “Come on, lover, this is play time . . . you know: fun. It’s not a test. No pass/fail.”
Paul pulled away and sat on the edge of the bed. “You work hard all your life so you can retire and, well, have time to play without worrying about the kids coming in or the phone ringing. Then the time comes, and look what happens. What was it George Burns said? ‘Sex at age ninety is like trying to shoot pool with a rope.’ I’m sure as hell not ninety, and I want my cue stick back.”
“You could try Viagra again—”
“And get another whopping headache? No, thanks. You want sex, and now I have the headache. Who says the gods don’t have a sense of humor?”
“Maybe you should explore other options. You got a mailer about a men’s meeting some time this week, I think. I put it on your desk a few days ago.”
“Yeah, I saw that and tossed it into the wastebasket. It’s about bladder incontinence and erectile dysfunction. I don’t leak, thank God.”
“But the ED is you, sweetie. Maybe the Big Dipper could use some coaching.”
Paul sighed and got up to void. He muttered, “I never thought I’d outlive the Big D.” As he washed his hands, he studied his reflection in the mirror. “Six-two and one ninety’s not bad for a septuagenarian,” he thought. “Granted, the pecs droop a little, but I don’t need a man bra.
The abs of steel are now aluminum, but I don’t have a Milwaukee front. Looking good but performing badly.”
His thoughts were interrupted by Helen’s sultry voice. “Hey, big boy, stop beating
yourself up and come back to bed. Playtime’s not over. If we can’t cannube, we can still cuddle.
That’s always been my favorite time together.”
Paul crawled back into bed. They both lay naked as they spooned. Helen shivered. “Grab the blanket. I’m freezing.”
Paul obliged and eyed her body as he covered her. Living with gravity for seventy years was a drag, but when she stood, her breasts didn’t cover her navel, which in turn, didn’t cover her damo. All things considered, she was still a hot chick. He ogled her. “Yup, let’s cuddle. You still have the best boobs in town.”
As usual, Paul was up several times that night. “Okay,” he muttered, “so, I don’t pee like a racehorse, but a seventy-two year old prostate would slow anyone down.” He wistfully recalled the advice he’d given to his son at their first major league baseball game: “When you go to the men’s room, you pick the youngest, not the shortest line to the urinal.’ Hmph! Now I could be a line of my own.” He grumbled as he waited not so patiently for the urine to flow.
Paul got up early with Helen the next day. He poured coffee and brought her a cup as she finished dressing. “I see you’re wearing eye shadow. You got a new beau?”
“Of course not! I’m giving the Grand Rounds lecture at the Health Center today. I’m
nervous, and a little war paint gives me confidence.”
“Whatever works, hon, but you’ll do a great job anyway. You always do. I’ll think of
something special for dinner tonight.”
“Don’t make a big fuss about it. You know me. I’m always trying to diet. I shouldn’t be late. Thanks for the coffee. I’ll put it into a to-go cup. I need to do some charts before show time.” She gave him a kiss and was on her way.
Paul sat down at the computer to read his email. He glanced down at the wastebasket, and saw the flyer from the urology group.
Free Men’s Health Seminar:
Treatment Options For Erectile Dysfunction And Urinary Incontinence
• ED is a condition that affects as many as 50% of men over the age of 40.
• You may be interested in attending our FREE upcoming educational
seminar . . .
He stopped reading but copied the number to call. “Fifty percent,” he mumbled. “I had no idea we were a eunuchoid army.”
Later that day, he made a reservation to attend the seminar the next evening.
Strategies For Making The Bad Years Better
Helen Hudson, MD
Chairman, Department of Obstetrics And Gynecology
The sign announcing Helen’s lecture stood in the corner as she delivered her PowerPoint presentation. She scanned the room as she talked to the fifty doctors and nurses in the audience.
She noticed a familiar face: Linda Altus, a psychiatrist who had done an elective with her a long time ago. They became friends and kept in touch over the years through cards and letters and later email and the occasional luncheon date. It had been awhile since they’d seen each other.
Helen concluded her presentation with, “The astronomer, Arthur Eddington, observed that time is an arrow which flies unidirectional. I might add from personal experience that it flies ever faster as we age, and before we know it we have gone from menarche to menopause.
“As menopausal symptoms wax and wane, and gravity takes its toll on our girlish figures, one, and only one structure becomes less wrinkled. Which structure might that be? You guessed it: the vagina. The wrinkles of the young woman’s birth canal accommodate a variety of structural sizes, including the heads of our babies. Nature’s nasty irony is that the face wrinkles more with each passing year, ostensibly making us less attractive. The vagina, on the other hand, loses its wrinkles, making it less accommodating, particularly to objects smaller than a baby’s head.
“Thank you for your attention. Are there any questions?”
Linda raised her hand, a smile crossing her face. “That was a wonderful presentation, Professor Hudson. My question is, may I have coffee with you after you’ve finished the discussion?”
“ I’d love to, Dr. Altus. Meet me in the cafeteria.”
A couple of annoying, “Is it not true . . .” questions and a round of applause later, Helen was off to the cafeteria where she was soon joined by her old friend.
“It’s been too long, Linda. Why didn’t you tell me you were in town?”
“It was a spur of the moment trip,” Linda replied. “My sister, Julia, had emergency
surgery and I wanted to be at her side. Besides, home has gotten to be . . . what shall I say . . . more than a little uncomfortable?”
“Now that’s cryptic. Is Jason okay?”
“I caught him in an affair with a young woman in his office. I hit menopause, and he hits on young skirts.” She dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex and looked directly at Helen. “I was hoping to have some time with you today. I always come away from our talks feeling better.”
“Let’s slow up a bit,” Helen said. “You have this old brain whirling! First, is Julia okay?”
“It was just an appendectomy. She’ll be okay in no time.”
“And how are Mandy and Clay doing?”
“They’re fine. Busy with college. I decided not to tell them about their father’s infidelity.
Jason and I are trying to work things out.”
“Are you getting help?”
“We’re going to couples therapy. I feel like a failure not being able to handle our marital problems, but every time I think of Jason, I see him with that little bitch,” Linda said.
“He acts like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar. He’s apologetic to the point of being solicitous.”
”Well, I think you’re courageous trying to work things out; I’m not sure I could do the same.”
“I still love him,” Linda said, “but it’s going to be a long time before I can forgive him, much less trust him out of my sight. But enough of my problems. How are the kids and grandkids?”
“They’re fine,” Helen answered. “And so busy with their lives. Andy and Kathy are still on the West Coast with their babies. Eric and Alice are still in Florida with theirs. We log more miles than an airline pilot trying to remain a part of their lives. I rue the day I told them to go where they want to go and be what they want to be. I should have added, ‘but leave the grandchildren behind with Paul and me.’”
“Speaking of Paul, how’s he doing? You emailed me about his retirement. I didn’t think he’d go out to pasture with a smile on his face.”
“He’s not a happy camper with any issues of old age. He lost a lot of his identity with retirement from teaching. Trying to be a long-distance grandparent further chips away at who he is as well. Then, of course, he’s slowing down physically, which really irks him.”
“I don’t mean to get too personal, Helen, but are you alluding to ED?”
“Yes, I am. Paul has become less interested in sex lately. He has always prided himself in being a swordsman first class. But as his interest has waned, so has his ability to attain and maintain an erection. I’ve tried to protect him by denigrating my aging body as the reason for his ED. That excuse is no longer viable, and we’re now forced to confront the reality of his impotence.”
“I’m sure the other elements of aging are playing a role, and perhaps ED is his metaphor for aging.”
“That’s an interesting thought. This wife’s perspective is that aging for my man is a toxic cocktail. More noxious ingredients can be added, but that cocktail can never be unmade, and its bitterness grows over time.” Helen stared intently into her coffee cup. “I feel helpless . . .”
Linda smiled and said, “Let’s wash those men right out of our hair and send them on their way.”
Helen looked confused. “What are you talking about, Linda?”
“South Pacific, Rogers and Hammerstein, 1949. And I’m saying let’s talk about
something pleasant, like the glittery tennis bracelet you have on. It looks new to me.”
“Aha, you think I didn’t notice the Rolex you’re sporting?” Helen smirked.
Conversation melted into laughter, as Helen pseudo-seriously explained, “ My dear, one must accept the gifts of guilt given to us by the weaker sex.”
Paul opened the man door of the garage to a frazzled Helen. “Sorry I forgot my key.
Sorry I’m running late, I mean really late, or really sorry I’m really late . . .
“Whatever works, hon. I accept your apology, but I can’t speak for the beef. It’s gone through several iterations this evening: steak tartare, beef wellington, and now steak puff.”
Helen put her briefcase on the counter and took off her coat. “What’s steak puff?”
“Puff,” Paul said as he placed his hand, palm up, under his chin, pursed his lips and blew, as if blowing the ashes away. “Never mind. That was pretty bad food humor. However, the steak is now shoe leather. I’m left with two kinda-okay-backups: peanut butter and tuna fish. I think you’ll prefer the tuna; it has the tastier collection of preservatives.”
“Oh, you’re incorrigible,” she said, giving him a big kiss on the nose. “Maybe that’s why I love you. Or come to think of it, maybe that’s why I nearly left you for the gardener.”
Paul laughed. “I thought it was the milkman. Anyway, let me get you a glass of wine while you tell me about your day, starting with the lecture. How’d it go?”
“I think okay. But that was just the beginning. You’ll never guess who was in the
“Oh, he’s been dead for years, silly. Linda Altus was there, front row. We caught up
afterwards over coffee.”
“How’s Jason doing? The last time we spoke of him he was starting his own business.”
“Linda found out he was having an affair. He wants forgiveness, and Linda is trying to put it behind her but with little success. I’m not sure, but that dalliance may have been a marriage-breaker.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What’s there to mean? I merely made the statement that Jason’s infidelity may destroy their marriage.”
“So, because he can get it up for any willing skirt, he has some magical power to control their marriage, which infers that because I can’t get it up, I can’t control a damned thing?”
“Oh, come on Paul, that’s not what I said, or inferred. You know I’ve never thought of the Big Dipper as a steering wheel. He doesn’t control the direction of our marriage, any more than does the Jewel Box. I know you’re hurting, but let’s not destroy the good that remains because of something that we’ve lost. Besides, it may be a temporary problem.” Helen put her arms around him. “Isn’t that men’s symposium coming up soon?”
“Yeah, it’s tomorrow evening. I registered today.”
“Good. So let’s go early and get a good seat. We don’t want to miss anything.”
“I couldn’t stand the humiliation.”
“I don’t understand. You . . . uh, we . . . have a problem. We’ve always confronted our
“This is different. Let me go alone. Besides, I may chicken out at the last minute.”
“Why would you do that?”
“For starters, what if I knew someone at the meeting?”
“Then you’d have someone to sit with.”
Paul shook his head. “You really don’t understand, do you? So, why don’t I go alone to
the meeting? We can talk about it when I get home. Meanwhile, I’ll go to the kitchen and try to resurrect dinner. That will also give you some alone time.”
Helen, now totally confused, went to the bedroom to lay out clothes for tomorrow. She thought about explaining to him why she’d been so terribly late but then thought better of it. He was grumpy enough; there was no use aggravating him further.
Paul held his breath as he scouted out the seminar room. When he didn’t see any familiar faces, he let out his breath and slid comfortably into a seat in the back row. He was surprised only a couple dozen men were present, despite the seeming epidemic of ED. Elevator rules applied. All were busy studying the ceiling tile, the floor, or their cell phone. No one made eye contact, except for a heavyset man sitting in the front row next to the only woman in the room.
The man turned around in his chair and surveyed the downcast men before him. Paul tried to place the look on his face and smiled when the word “cocky” came to mind. The smile morphed into a quiet chuckle as he thought of the rich trove of material that nighttime cable TV hosts were missing out on.
The urologist speaker was running late. The man in the front row appeared to sense a growing restlessness in the assembled group and stood up and strode to the lectern.
“Welcome to the Men’s Health Symposium. My name is Michael Atwell. My friends call me Big Mike. Since we’re all friends here this evening, I’m Big Mike. Doc Hester has been delayed, no doubt saving lives—at least important parts of lives, if you get my drift,” he said with a lascivious wink. A strained, collective chuckle arose from the assemblage.
Big Mike continued, unfazed by the audience reaction. “The doc was supposed to give his talk about ED and its cures, followed by testimonials from me and Sally, my bride of thirty years. Raise your hand, Sally, so everyone knows who you are. Just kidding, baby doll. You stand out in this room like a petunia in an onion patch—if you get my drift.”
Again, the strained chuckle from an uncomfortable audience, with the tone-deaf Big Mike continuing after a brief pause to laugh at his own joke. “So, we are going to reverse the order, and I’ll go first. Two years ago, I was like you guys: down and out—if you get my drift.
How I got that way is not important; that I did something about it is.
“Oh, I tried pills, both the kind you swallow and the ones you stick into your urethra. I tried the suction machine as well. I even went so far as to inject medicine into Little Mike. Ouch, ouch, and more ouch! None of it did the job for me. There was just no room for spontaneity, and you gotta set your stopwatch or you miss the ball game—if you get my drift. In desperation, I turned to Doc Hester for help. He changed my life. After installing the pump, I now have sex where and when I want, not when the clock says, ‘Go.’ Like, I can walk into a room full of ladies and know I can please every one of them, sequentially, or all at one time.” He turned to Sally.
“Just kidding, baby doll.” Sally squirmed in her chair, and looked as if she really wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else but there.
Big Mike went on, unabated. “That’s my story, guys. Can I answer any questions?”
A man in the second row spoke up. “Didn’t it hurt? I know they put you under while they do the surgery, but I mean afterward?”
Big Mike cupped Little Mike through his pants. “Damned right it hurt! Roto-rooting out blood vessels, and then replacing them with inflatable tubes and a pump. You bet it hurt, but three months later it’s all worthwhile.”
Paul gave an inaudible groan, and cursed under his breath. “Where in hell did they get this idiot?” He thought of leaving but hesitated, waiting to see if it could possibly get worse.
“Doc Hester will describe the surgery in more detail when he gets here,” Big Mike said.
“Meanwhile, I’d like to bring Sally to the podium to give a wife’s perspective of ED and the results of my surgery.”
Sally gave Big Mike a peck on the cheek and then took her place behind the lectern. Her head barely cleared the top. She looked at her audience and cleared her throat. She seemed to gain confidence, and in a commanding voice said, “First and foremost, ED is a couple’s disease. What affects one partner can’t help but affect the other. When Mike developed his problem, I had gone through my menopause. The roaring hormones of youth were but flickering coals.” She
paused briefly and smiled. “We didn’t talk much about our sex life. Like most other couples, it was no longer the focal point of our relationship—at least not for me. Then there was that first time when nothing happened.” She turned to Big Mike and said pointedly, “If you get my drift.”
Turning back to the audience, she said, “Then there was the next time, and the time after that. We began to drift apart. I felt like a failure as a wife and lover. Mike was angry and frustrated. He started drinking more, and our relationship suffered. I love Mike, and so I talked with a counselor. I knew we couldn’t go as a couple; he’d never agree to that. So, I went alone.
The counselor pointed out to me what is now obvious: an erection was critical to Mike’s manhood. In a way, Little Mike was more important to our sex life than I was. She gave me Dr. Hester’s card, which I put on Mike’s pillow. The rest, as they say, is history.
“The first six weeks after surgery were tough on Mike. He had a lot of pain and swelling.
Things gradually improved for him. So, here we are. Mike’s now loving and happier. Oh, we still have our problems, but Little Mike is no longer one of them, at least not in the way he was before.” She glanced at the front door of the room, where a young man in green scrubs entered.
“Here is the man of the hour, Dr. Hester. Before I yield the floor to him, I would like to leave you with these words: ED is a couple’s disease. Please make your decision to treat ED a couple’s decision. Consider the needs of your partner, as well as your own. There may be a way to meet in the middle.” She turned once more to Mike. “If you get my drift.”
“So that’s when I left the seminar, hon. There was nothing there for me. I love you loads and loads, but not enough to mutilate the Big Dipper.”
“Hold on a minute, Paul. Who’s doing what for whom? I never asked you to do anything about the ED problem, much less ravage the Big Dipper. Getting an erection seemed to be a big deal for you. So, I was trying to help you get what you needed to enjoy our marital relationship.”
“But I thought—”
“Thought what, Paul? That I needed penile penetration to have a meaningful relationship with my husband? That’s a big NO. However, if you need an erection to get gratification in our relationship, then it becomes important for me as well.”
“It’s always been a part of our sex life. I assumed it always would.” Paul shook his head in frustration. “Just like work: I thought I would drop dead one day after the dismissal bell rang.
So much change and so little time to change with it.” He turned to Helen. “So, hon, what’s next?”
“I’m not going anywhere. I love you and want us to continue sleeping together, if only for a good night’s rest. Speaking of which, I’m tired. Let’s find some sugar plums to dance in our heads.” “What’s a sugar plum?”
“I don’t have a clue, but with the first word . . . sugar . . . it can’t be on my diet.”
“Does the Sandman count calories? I thought he had enough to do counting sheep.”
“Let it go . . .”
In the morning, Helen greeted Paul in the kitchen. “Good morning, sweetie. Sorry I woke you so early. I nearly forgot the staff meeting. So, why don’t you just go back to bed? Sleeping in is what retirement is all about.”
“I’ve got some chores to do before bowling with Walter,” Paul said. “I poured you a to- go cup of coffee. It’s on the counter.”
“Thanks. I may be a little late tonight. I hope you and Walter have fun. Tell him hi for me and regards to Sadie.”
“Will do, but I thought you were going to cut back, as in moving toward retirement?”
“I know. I’m trying. It’s just . . .”
“You can’t cut back. You’re a workaholic.”
“Well, I don’t see it that way. I still enjoy work, and want to contribute as long as I can. I’ve told them to let me know if I start showing signs of dementia,” Helen chortled.
“That’s your opinion. I think it’s an excuse to cling to the past and not grab the future.”
“And you should talk, my dear husband, who went out the working door to retirement kicking and screaming all the way.”
“I’m adopting a new philosophy—adventures on the open road.”
“I thought you were over that RV thing. God, I can’t imagine anything worse.”
“Maybe we can compromise. You give up work, and I give up the retirement RV?”
“How about I keep working, and you can save the RV and open road for your next wife?”
“Sounds like a plan to me. I’ll talk to her about it this afternoon.”
“I’m just kidding, hon. You know there’s no one else for me, RV or no RV.”
Helen glanced at the clock. “Whoops! I’m running late. Thanks for the coffee. I’ll text you later about my ETA.”
The bowling alley was circa 1960s, except pin boys had been replaced by automation.
Flanking the twelve lanes was a bar serving drinks and greasy fried foods. Next to the bar were a few resurrected pin ball machines, still priced a quarter to play. Most of the lanes were occupied by teams of old geezers spending a few morning hours pretending they were young again. This illusion was maintained by the absence of youth, excluded by the reality of work and school. Old times became this time, which suited the two septuagenarians on lane twelve.
“That is one nasty split, Paul. Which side you gonna attack it from?” Walter asked.
“I think I’ll go left to right.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The ball rolled gracefully down the lane, curving, not so gracefully into the gutter.
“Your head’s not in the game today. What’s wrong?” Walter asked Paul.
“Do you miss work, Walter?”
“No, not really. Why do you ask?”
“Helen was up, dressed, and off to work early this morning. After she left, I felt a sense of purposelessness.”
“Do you think work’s a cure for that?” Walter asked.
“You know, I used to fall asleep in college English but managed to retain a quote from W. Somerset Maugham: ‘In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy daily bread: it was not a curse upon mankind but the balm which reconciled him to existence.’”
“Wow! That’s heavy shit,” Walter said. “As I recall, Maugham was nominated for the
most boring writer of the semester and missed winning by a single vote. Aha, my friend! It must have been you who cost him the prize.”
“Seriously, Walter, work was a part of my life for so long it’s hard to just up and walk
away. In fact, I’d like to update Maugham: work is life’s duct tape. It holds everything together.
Right now I feel like my life is coming apart.”
Walter looked at his friend. “I guess forced retirement hit you harder than it did me. I don’t let the ‘forced’ part bother me anymore. The school board needed to save the taxpayers their precious dollars. Experienced teachers are more expensive, and so they cashed us out first.
That’s the way I see it.”
“You are a kind and forgiving man,” said Paul. “On the other hand, malice lurks within my heart. I blame the union for my pink slip. A few old members retired voluntarily. I had no quarrel with them. They earned their pensions. However, they left a power vacuum in union leadership that was filled by Gen-Xs and Millennials. The remaining older members, including the two of us, were just bargaining chips to get what they wanted: more money for themselves.
18 They allowed the school board to demand age-related mandatory retirement. Our replacements came in at far lower salaries and higher class size. It was win-win, unless you were a student or senior teacher.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, Paul, but I just can’t let it eat me up inside. I like to
remember the coaching. You and I fielded some pretty good basketball teams over the years: ten state finalists and nine state champs.”
“We shoulda had number ten, but that ref robbed us. We didn’t foul their guard. It was just incidental contact,” Paul said.
“I never did hear what you said to him,” Walter said, “but it must have been an earful. He turned beet red and called the technical foul.”
“It didn’t matter. The game was lost, but it sure made me feel better.”
“Yup, but that’s all in the past. We gotta move on.”
“I can do that with basketball, but quite honestly, I miss the classroom more. I just love to teach.”
“Have you thought about being a mentor?”
“I’m less than two years into retirement. It’s still too painful for that. Bowling each week with you is good, but right now nothing can fill the hole in my life left by retirement. I know we mostly small talk each week, but seriously, Walter, how are you dealing with retirement?”
“Me? I mostly don’t worry about it. I’m just thankful to be here.”
“I know you went through prostate cancer. That must have been awful.”
“Prostate cancer doesn’t like black men. So I needed surgery and radiation therapy. Then, I took hormones for a while. That’s over now, and I thank God every day that I’m still alive.”
“What about Sadie?”
“She was worried sick, but she hung in there. If you mean the sex part, I’ve got terminal ED, but the worst for her was when I was on the hormones. My bra size was only one down from hers.”
Both men broke into laughter. “I’m impressed you can be so open about such personal stuff,” said Paul.
“Well, I don’t advertise it. You and I have been up and down the court together for many years, and I feel I can call you a trusted friend. Besides, I got nothing that needs hiding. We all age and we all degrade. My dipstick just happened to be my first organ to fail. Sadie and I cope with it, and that’s the important thing. I just can’t let that little rascal in my pants run my life.”
He paused a moment, searching for the right words. Then he grinned and said, “I figure God let me live for a reason. If I let myself be miserable because it wasn’t the life I chose, I’d be thumbing my nose at God.”
Both men went silent. Paul searched the cracks in the floor for words. Walter placed a hand on his shoulder, letting him know he was in a safe place.
Cheering from two lanes over broke the bubble of intimacy. Walter, seeing Paul
struggling, picked up his bowling ball and announced, “It’s time for your bowling lesson. Those pins you see standing tall will be gone in a moment.” The ball rolled and pins scattered, leaving the “teacher” with an awful split.
Paul burst out laughing. “Hey, teach, can I go to the boy’s room before I wet my pants?”
Walter grumbled something about teachers getting no respect but did so with a smile on his face.
Paul felt a release. “Speaking of degrading parts, I’ve been having trouble down there myself,” he said. “So, I went to a Men’s Health Seminar. That’s code for ED. I found nothing they offered was acceptable. I’m still searching for a cure. Is that so wrong, Walter?”
“Not from where I stand. If you do find it, let me know. While you’re at it, find the cure for aging. Then both of us will get stiff as a twig.”
Paul chuckled and put away his bowling ball. “Let’s stop this nonsense before one of those pins gets hurt. The sarsaparilla is on me.”
“Sounds good,” Walter said. “You know, I think this is the last place in town where you can get that stuff. By the way, there was something I was going to tell you, but it slipped my mind.”
“Uh-oh, a senior moment. Don’t call me when you remember what it is at three tomorrow morning” Paul said.
“Hey, now I remember. I read a short news clip online yesterday. It was about what’s-his- name, the med school dean—”
“You mean J.S. Stewart.”
“Yeah, that’s him. It caught my eye because he announced a new something-or-other, and your Helen is supposed to head it. I thought she was cutting back, and somewhere down the line, join you in retirement. Here, let me show you. I got it here on my cell.” He found what he was looking for and handed the phone to Paul.
“Task Force for Change. J. S. Stewart, the controversial dean of State’s School of
Medicine, appointed Helen Hudson, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, to head the new committee. Her mandate from the Dean is to ‘. . . bring our beloved medical center from the ranks of the better to that of the very best.’ No details were provided.”
Paul returned the cell, shaking his head. “The husband is always the last to know. This is so contrary to our plans for her to cut back. Why didn’t she tell me? Better yet, why didn’t I have some input into her decision to do this?”
“Well, Paul . . .”
“It’s okay, Walter. I’m not asking for answers. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out the
questions. Let’s grab an early lunch. My treat. I’m not interested in greasy bar food. I hope you’re not either.”
Lunch was spent in light conversation and old-man humor about the one that got away.
Walter sipped his coffee-to-go and smiled at Paul. “You, my friend, are fighting a lot of battles.
May I suggest you select those worth fighting and include at least one you have a chance to win?”
They parted with high fives and a man hug. An old friendship had been strengthened.
Paul stopped at the grocery store on his way home. “No burnt dinner tonight,” he thought.
“Chicken thighs can go forever in the slow cooker. Fool me twice is not an option.”
Paul continued to brood about Helen’s violation of their agreement. Seven o’clock rolled around and no Helen. She was late again, which only fueled his anger. Seven-thirty came and went before he received a text from her stating “ETA forty-five minutes.” He decided to make himself a drink, settle into his favorite chair, and read the newspaper. Paul was beginning to feel the calming effects of the combination when Helen came in the door.
“Sorry I’m late again, sweetie. Let me get out of my work clothes. Then we need to talk.”
“You bet we do,” Paul responded.
“Oh, you have an adult beverage. Would you get me a glass of wine?” she asked as she headed towards the bedroom.
“Will do. You know, while waiting for you, I invented the Senior Cocktail.”
“I’m afraid to ask what’s in it,” Helen called from the bedroom,
“It’s a jigger of scotch, a capful of Miralax, and four ounces of water.”
“That sounds dreadful.”
“Actually, it’s not too bad,” Paul said with a little laugh. “It relaxes the mind, and
stimulates the bowels; both ends benefit. What could be better?”
Helen emerged from the bedroom in loose slacks and a sweatshirt. “I prefer Chardonnay.
Thank you for getting it. Now we have to talk about me.”
“I know about the task force,” Paul said.
Helen wasn’t completely surprised. She knew there had been a press release and figured it was just a matter of time before Paul saw it. “But you don’t know the why behind it,” she said.
“I couldn’t discuss it with you the last two nights because you were too much into yourself and the Big Dipper. Now, before you get all mad and blustery, hear me out.”
Nonplussed, Paul could only squeak out, “What can I say?”
“Maybe nothing, but I know that’s not likely. Anyway, you know there’s a movement afoot to replace Stewart.”
Ignoring the jab, Paul said, “As you’ve so often said, Just Stupid has to go.”
“It turns out J.S. is an astute politician. Remember Sonia Mackenzie, the Medicine
Department Chairman? She’s organized a coalition that includes the chairmen of all the basic science departments. They want major revisions in the Med School’s core curriculum. Stewart wants a flashy new heart hospital.”
“That’s no surprise. He’s a cardiovascular surgeon.”
“He’s gathered support from the surgical departments.”
“Oh, that’s a classic thinkers versus the doers.”
“That’s right, and ob-gyn lies in the middle. He knows I’m with Sonia and would be a tiebreaker if things come to a vote.”
“So, what’s with the task force?”
“The Medical Center needs direction, and it can either strengthen the School of Medicine or build the new hospital. It can’t do both. So, Stewart commissions this faculty task force to chart a path to glory for the center. He makes a dramatic announcement and appoints me chairman of the task force, a position I can’t refuse. He then quietly names half the committee ‘Doers’ and the other half ‘Thinkers.’ That assures a stalemate. I’m late tonight because they couldn’t decide who would sit on my right.”
“So, where does that leave you?”
Helen sighed. “Well, the task force will muddle along for a while, accomplishing zilch. Stewart will then declare the faculty a total failure at providing leadership and direction. I will be forced to resign as department chairman. Stewart will appoint a ‘Doer’ ally to head Obstetrics and Gynecology, assuring a majority faculty vote for his pet project. He can then present his heart hospital to the medical center president and the board of trustees without effective opposition. I’m tenured. That means he can remove me as department chairman, but he can’t fire me. I’ll continue my gynecology practice, take fewer new patients, and fade into the sunset. So, my adoring husband, I’ll be here with open arms, open legs, or both—whatever you need. By the way, my mouth remains closed. I have limits.”
Paul just stared at his wife. The anger was sucked out of him, leaving an emotional
vacuum. He desperately tried to feel something he could express. “I don’t know what to say, hon, except, I guess I’m sorry for doubting you.”
“Apology accepted,” Helen said. Then, eager to change the subject, she said, “The crock pot smells good, and I’m starving. Let’s eat.”
Paul sat at the table picking at his dinner. Helen ate with gusto. “Chicken dinner was a good idea. It’s delicious. Thank you, sweetie.”
Paul mumbled something, and continued picking.
When she finished eating, Helen pushed her plate aside and looked at Paul. “Linda Altus and I have been talking. We’re concerned about our men. She thinks maybe ED is your metaphor for growing old . . .”
“Good Lord, you mean you told her?”
“Yes, I did. I’m not ashamed for you. We both want to help. I think ED is more than a metaphor for you. I think it’s a tangible part of aging that you can actually address. You can bluster about retirement. You can fret about growing old alone. You can fear death. But you can actually do something about ED, and there is an array of products and surgical procedures out there to partner with—”
“My wife and her psychologist friend have suddenly become authorities on the aging male?” “Well, I’m getting a lot of experience with you.”
Paul chuckled but said nothing.
“Seriously, Paul,” Helen said, “I’ve studied menopause all of my adult life. Are you and I so very different? We’ve gained a few pounds and more than a few wrinkles. We sag because our muscle mass has dwindled. I went through a definable process called menopause. I’ve slowed down sexually. That’s perfectly acceptable in polite society; in fact, it’s expected. Through all of this, I am still called a woman. You slow down sexually, and you are no longer a man. Does that make any sense at all?”
“You know, Walter said something today that stuck with me,” Paul said. “He said to
select only battles worth fighting and include at least one I could win. I guess I chose ED. Frankly, after hearing out Big Mike and Walter, I’m not sure what winning is.”
“Does sex have to be a contest? If so, then there must be a loser. If you win, then by
default, I become the loser in our sex life.”
“Oh, my God, hon, you’re not a loser. I love you with all my heart. In the end, the Big
Dipper and I want to pleasure you—to make you happy with your man.”
“Then let’s stop thinking of sex as a contest to be won or lost. I want to think of sex as adult play.”
“I can support that. I’d like to go to the dance with you and maybe take you home
afterward and play one of those adult games.”
“Then cool your jets, big boy. I love the Big Dipper, because he comes with you. If he leaves the dance early, I’ll still go home with you.”
“You’re still a hottie, hon. Maybe you should break out the Shalimar.”
“Do you know how expensive it is?”
“You’re worth every penny.”
“Maybe tonight we should just cuddle. I fear performance anxiety,” Helen said.
“Okay, but maybe I take just half a Viagra and see what happens?”
“And get half a headache? Are you sure it’s worth it?”
“It’s worth a try. Besides, your talking about sex turns me on,” Paul said.
“You’re a dirty old man.”
“I’m trying to be.”
“Okay, but don’t make it a contest.”
“So, let’s just cuddle and see how it goes.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I’ll get the lights.”
“I’ll get the Shalimar.”