I Can’t Get No…
I’m walking down the sidewalk in Edinburgh where I’m performing my monologue, Life in a Marital Institution. When a lovely woman about my wife’s age wearing a diaphanous fuchsia dress says, “I saw your show. I really enjoyed it.”
I say, “Thank you.”
She says, “Is it true?”
I say, “Yes.”
She turns to a man about my age standing next to her and says, “Shoo. I’ll be along shortly.” Then she turns back to me and says, “I’m Louise.”
And we chat about the challenges of life in a marital institution.
Until Louise says, “You should come over for a drink tomorrow.”
I’m thinking, I really should. And I pull out my phone.
Louise says, “It drives my husband nuts that I give my number to a handsome man I don’t even know. Look!” And she points up at an apartment building where, standing in the window, looking down at us through a pair of binoculars, smiling and waiving, is the guy Louise told to shoo.
I wave to Louise’s husband. Kiss his wife on the cheek. And walk off.
This is not what I had in mind when I separated from my wife: to flirt with another man’s wife as he watches us through binoculars—and if things go well, through their bedroom spy cam. On the other hand, in a long and difficult marriage like mine, it’s comforting to see another long-term couple’s sexual dissatisfaction up close. And I’d like to see more.
So the next day, I text Louise.
On the way over, feeling optimistic, I stop at a pharmacy to buy a condom. Condoms not being my field of expertise, I study my options: ribbed, for her pleasure—which I’d assumed was my job; extra sensitive, for my pleasure, which I haven’t cared about since college; normal—certainly not; large—why brag?; and maximum safety: discerning, yet filled with poison. That’s me!
I throw a two-pack of Maximum Safety on the counter. Ask for a 10-pack of cigarettes—which they sell in Edinburgh (I’m trying to quit)—to distract the cashier.
Then walk to Louise’s.
I’m a few minutes early, so I smoke on the sidewalk, with a box of condoms in my jacket for the first time in 20 years. Feeling terrible.
Yes, Louise has a beautiful Scottish lilt. But so does her husband. I would never want someone to do this to my wife.
But maybe that’s what it takes to survive the second 20 years of marriage? Maybe if I had this arrangement with my wife, we wouldn’t be separated? Maybe I’m doing Louise’s husband a favor!? I ring Louise’s bell.
She buzzes me in.
I walk up the stairs.
She opens her door, wearing black silk pajamas, golden earrings, pink lipstick and black pumps. Dressed for bed.
She leads me to her black granite kitchen and pours Prosecco into a pink champagne flute. “I hope this isn’t too girly.”
“I’m not afraid of pink,” I say. I’m a Maximum Safety man. I am suddenly conscious of my body, however. So I say, “I’m sorry if I smell like smoke.”
She says, “I didn’t think Americans did that anymore.”
“Most of them have died.”
“I smoke too.”
“Shall we have a cigarette?”
“I’d love one,” she says.
And that’s when we both notice that the box of Marlboro Lights in my outstretched hand says, Maximum Safety, because a ten-pack of cigarettes is the same size as a two-pack of condoms.
As her husband walks in the front door and says, “Hello!” And he pours himself a Scotch. No pink for him.
And the three of us chat about the challenges of life in a marital institution—how you can have a lovely wife and a handsome husband and beautiful children and a fabulous apartment and a great job—and still not feel satisfied.
Until it’s time for me to go.
Louise says, “We must do this again.”
Her husband says, “You two could meet tomorrow night. I’m busy.”
Louise walks me to the door and whispers, “Text me.”
“Thanks for the drink,” I write, as I’m walking home. “I’m sorry I can’t have another, because you’re as married as you are lovely.” Which is very.
She texts back, “I was afraid you’d think that. Would I be welcome in New York? I have so much to say to you.”
I hold her message in my hand and reread it. And it occurs to me, I have stumbled into another marriage where the partners are frustrated. I know that feeling. Oh how I know that feeling. And as comforting as it is to feel it–the devils you know—I’d like to give myself a fighting chance to feel something new: happiness.
I hit Delete.