I sat with friends in a bar in Baltimore, the kind with one wall, like a garage door, opened to the street, where you’re separated from the sidewalk by a railing and a gnat-filled water dish for dogs.
On a stoop across the street, a man sat, legs stretched out, one hand holding a brown-bagged bottle. He leaned his head against a door announcing Bridal Shop and Closed — likely some old lady’s boutique, never open, an apartment upstairs. His face looked sort of paralyzed, as if Bell’s palsy held it in a crooked smile — maybe he was happy, maybe not.
He had his hand in his pants.
I drank two Blue Moons and his hand was still in his pants. I kept telling my friends, “That guy. He’s got his hand in his pants.” It didn’t matter to anyone. Maybe I’d been out of Charm City too long. I watched people walk past him — girls in dresses too glittered for day, already carrying their heels though it was still afternoon, and guys in the replica jersey from the matinee just-over Os game, all ill-fitting and cheap.
The fans’ orange and black milled with the dark blue Baltimore PD trolling for the drunk and disorderly. With TVs tuned to the post-game show, the only thing to watch was the street. I finally got someone to look at the guy with his hand in his pants. I was up to three-and-a-half Blue Moons.
“I didn’t know his hand was moving.”
I didn’t know I had to say that.
“All kinds of action in there! I thought you meant he was old man-style watching TV.”
When two cops spotted him, one poured out whatever was in the bottle, the other patted him down. They drove him off in the squad car.
I can’t explain why he was so interesting. I wasn’t disgusted or fascinated. I was engaged, but not enthralled. I admired the concrete reality of him. I was something close to jealous. He was doing what he was doing and didn’t care — it just happened to be drinking and rubbing one out.
When I learned about sex, I was terrified because it seemed like it could just happen, anywhere. We all had the stuff. We could all make it happen. I hadn’t thought of that in years until seeing this guy. Weeks have passed and now I’m a little fascinated by him. Back in Tampa, everyone kind of looks naked enough for sex any place any time, with our thin panties under flimsy skirts, boxer briefs under lightweight pants. Most of us have sense enough to have sex behind closed doors, or at least on a downtown dark corner after somewhere’s last call.
I don’t want us all masturbating in public, but I wouldn’t mind relieving the pressure — when you’re in a relationship, it’s all about making love. I can’t make something I can’t define. And when it’s casual, no matter how casual you want it, you’re already worrying she’ll be psychotic when sober, or if he’ll call, if you’re a slut, if your girlfriend will find out.
I’m currently on a sex sabbatical — out of a relationship and uninterested in trying to figure out, during some fling, if the ceiling is ecru or beige, to pass the time, or wondering if I’m easy. When I come back I want to remember how it feels to feel my body, like how you’re extra-conscious of your movements when struggling to walk uphill, or during a midnight charley horse. Creative people love to make things. Sometimes I just want to do.
There it is. It won’t mean I don’t care who I’m with or what could happen. But without the addling abstractions, I may actually find something as concrete as a closed bridal shop or some step I haven’t sat on yet. Or maybe I won’t.