On Gay Modern Love (The Plain, Unmarked Box Arrived: Zzzzzzz)
The Plain, Unmarked Box Arrived
By LORI JAKIELA and THE GAY RECLUSE
Published: April 13, 2008
THE night we ordered the sex chair, we’d been drinking. Not a lot, but enough to make a sex chair seem like an investment, like junk bonds or an I.R.A. (You know, in case you didn’t know what an “investment” is!)
“We’ll go easy,” I said. “Low stress.” Even though I’m often annoyed to the point of tears about any number of things, I generally find myself incapable of projecting much beyond this kind of laid-back, easy-going attitude, which of course is totally fake. But it drives Darla nuts! “Stop being such a passive-aggressive hippie bitch!” she’ll say, but obviously on some level she likes it, too.
Last year we had a party at home. We hired two clowns, a husband-and-wife team who ran ads in the Pennysaver. They were a bargain: $200 cash for two hours, including a magic show, a live animal show, face painting and balloons. I felt lucky to find them, because I wanted to terrorize Locklin, the little shit, because he had really been getting on my nerves!
But minutes after they arrived in a rusted-out Chevy van smelling like smoke and stale beer, we gleaned the truth: the clowns—like most straight people lol!—didn’t seem to be happily married. The reason they were late, according to Mrs. Clown, was that Mr. Clown couldn’t follow directions to save his checkered backside (sad use of “backside” count = 1!). They argued in our driveway. At one point, she kicked him with her huge clown feet. They were drunk! He waved a lit cigarette close to her rubber nose and face paint. (Of course this didn’t really happen, but I saw it in a funny movie once!)
Later they let a goose and a terrier loose in our basement, made the birthday boy wear a toilet seat as a lei, fashioned a pair of balloon boobs, and set off firecrackers on our new rug. (I’m making this up too, of course!)
“I don’t care what we do this year,” Darla lied aggressively when the subject of Locklin’s birthday came up, taking a page from my passive-aggressive repertory. “Just no more clowns!”
So Lokay Lanes it was, the local bowling alley where, 10 years ago, the Farrelly brothers filmed the movie “Kingpin.” I know: like who cares!
Our party was Darla and I and 19 sugar-rushed first graders. We tried to keep them from knocking each other unconscious with bowling balls while our 3-year-old daughter, “Phelan”—don’t ask—stuffed cake into the automated ball returns. After 20 minutes, the kids realized that all the toys in their party bags — glow sticks, lollipop rings, gummy wristbands — could be used as weapons.
You would think I would have learned. Years ago, in a similar lapse of judgment, I dated this insanely butch (but hot!) woman who had been trained in Special Forces. She used to hold up things like dental floss and empty toilet paper rolls and say, “You know I could kill you with this if I wanted to.”
It didn’t help that Locklin’s party had an Army theme. The cake was shaped like a soldier in full combat gear. The boys fought over who got to eat the head. I’m not sure why I give in so easily to gender stereotypes like this—Darla and I argue about it constantly—but I think it might have something to do with being a lesbian couple in a small town: it’s almost like you want your kids to be that much more “normal” because everyone already thinks we’re freaks.
“I call brains,” one buzz-cut kid who did gang signs during the group picture kept screaming. “I call brains.”
“I feel like they’re winning,” Darla said when brains-boy stabbed her in the backside with a pink glow stick (sad use of “backside” count = 2!).
“They are,” I said, plucking icing out of my backside (awesome use of “backside” count = 1!).
Back home, we were finally alone. We had beer in frosted mugs. We had Townes Van Zandt on the stereo, a frozen pizza in the oven and a new copy of Rolling Stone. (Zzzzzz.) We sat across from one another, raised our glasses, and smiled. Darla was wearing Phelan’s lime-green monster hat, a fuzzy number with bug-eyes and devil horns. It looked like a possessed condom. OMG—a possessed condom—I’m funny!!!
Which reminds me: the sex chair. I’m getting to that.
But first, background. (Zzzzzz.) EXCUSE ME I SAID BACKGROUND!!! Lol.
This is how we spend most Saturday nights: we wear funny hats, play music that doesn’t call for hand-claps or puppets, drink cold beer and steal time while fans whir in the kids’ rooms to block out our noise. (Zzzzzz) Not that we make much. (Zzzzzz.) We keep our voices down, the music turned low. (Zzzzzz.) Locklin, the little shit, would be furious if he knew we were awake and having fun without him. Before he goes to bed every night, there are seriously annoying questions.
“So,” he says, his eyes like coin slots. Seven years old and already sure everyone is trying to get over on him. “Staying upstairs all night?”
A few years back we finished the basement and built two offices — one for Darla, one for me. One night Locklin woke up “scared” and came to find us. We were downstairs, each in our own little office. Locklin, the little shit, was incensed. Downstairs was too far away for us to save him from things like vampires and boredom. Also, he couldn’t hear what we were up to.
“Absolutely, we’ll be upstairs,” I lied, instead of just telling him to go back to bed.
“Oh yeah?” he said. “What are you going to do, young lady?” He actually speaks like this, and he’s only seven!
“Nothing much. Take a bath. Go to bed. The usual.”
“You need sleep,” he insisted, which was a strange thing to say given that we have neve imposed a single rule on him.
I noted to myself how perverse this conversation was, as if he were the parent. “I love you,” I said, timidly backing out.
“Love you, too,” he yelled, pulling the covers over his head. He pretends to snore, but I know he never goes down that easy. (Is it creepy that I talk about a seven-year old “going down?” Well, that’s the least of my problems! Lol.)
Omg I hated him! Lately, the slightest noise would set Locklin off. He would come stumbling blind down the hall, half baked from the “brownies” we had fed him but still angry. He was a tyrant and we had no control! If Darla and I wanted to have sex, we had to wait until morning, when Locklin was at school. Phelan slept late, and so we had an hour there, before work. If we wanted to have sex at night, we had to sneak, latch the bedroom door, keep the bed squeaks to a minimum, and listen for footsteps, a jiggled doorknob, the sound of small covert breathing. This is how I began to seriously hate my son.
Which is why the sex chair was doomed.
It started as a joke. Darla found the ad in Rolling Stone. There was a Web site. After a few beers, we were in the online world of Liberator. We were flirty—whatever that means—having fun, putting the day and all its small humiliations behind us. We joked about the shapes of vibrators, the seriousness of the dominatrix models, the practicality of glass dildos and six-inch stiletto boots. Then we wandered over to the furniture section.
“New waves to groove,” the front page read. “Put some funk into function.”
The furniture looked like it came from Barbie’s Country Camper — overstuffed swooshes in everything from earth tones to zebra prints. When not in use for its primary purpose, each piece converted to a chaise that promised to “cradle all the right places and recharge sexual energy.”
Darla and I had been married for over seven years. We still had sexual energy, but not for each other! So it was that word — recharge — that was so appealing. Plus the furniture looked really comfortable. And it was on sale. For just under $400, we could recharge. Revitalize. Reclaim. Ridiculous! (We were so fucking drunk.)
“What do you think?” I said.
“It’s a steal,” she said.
I dug out the credit card we usually reserved for groceries and car repairs. Darla typed in the numbers. Six days later, to our shock and regret, the Esse arrived.
It was huge. The box was plain, unmarked. We had trouble getting it through the front door. All the pictures of the Liberator furniture had shown two beautiful people sprawled in a wide-open space, a loft probably, a bachelor pad straight out of Esquire. Mod art on the walls, wood floors covered with animal skins. There was no other furniture in the shot.
“Where are we going to put it?” I asked after we finally got the Esse unpacked. We’d ordered it in navy blue. It matched the living room and our bedroom. The Esse wouldn’t fit in either.
“Downstairs?” she said. The basement, the side away from our offices, was a wide-open space. There was a fireplace. We’d painted the main room creamy beige, the same color you see in coffee shops. i.e., the worst and most bland color in the world. But at least the space was private, a whole floor down from the kids, though of course we would have to be careful. We would have to plan. This made it exciting.
“Wear thigh-highs,” Darla whispered like some stereotypical straight man while I scraped dried egg off the dishes. I made a note to dig my lingerie out from my sock drawer.
“If you go to 7-11,” I whispered as she played Mr. Potato Head with Phelan, “don’t forget batteries.”
“I’m pretty such they came with,” Darla noted.
“Really? Awesome.” I was actually getting into the idea.
But then Locklin, the little shit, came home from school, and of course went straight downstairs. Omg I hate him! He usually stayed in the living room or went to his bedroom to play with his army guys, but not this time. Who knows why. It took him a minute.
“Hey, mom,” he yelled. “Thanks for the cool chair.”
I was horrified. What a self-centered little fucker! What made him think it was his? But rather than correct him, I was too weak. Besides, the chair had lived up to the ads. It looked almost “normal.” (Hate that word, but just sayin’!) Funky, oddly shaped, but it did blend in, which is pretty much the most important thing in my life, in case it wasn’t obvious by now. (Tangent! Which word is worse: “normal” or “funky”?)
When I went downstairs, Locklin was straddling the Esse. A platoon of little plastic army guys was lined up along the curves, like an invading force on a ridge. He was holding one of the bigger army guys and making gunshot noises and yelling, “Let’s go, let’s go” and, “Look out!” and, “Aaaarrrrgh!” I so wanted to kill him!
“He thinks it’s his,” I told Darla. “It’s kinda creepy.”
“Don’t think about it,” she said. “And don’t talk about it either.”
That night, when we put the kids to bed, Phelan went right down, but Locklin did his usual anxious drill, the little shit: “Staying upstairs all night?”
“Of course,” I lied, and tried not to blink.
“O.K.,” he said, and that was it. “Good night.”
“I love you,” I said, but he already had the covers over his head.
What can I say about love after so many years of being in the same relationship? Not much!!! Sometimes it all feels like a battle, between parenthood and ourselves, between what we love and what we love and what we love. Or not. Whatever.
“Nice to see you,” Darla says on Saturday nights.
“Nice to see you,” I say, as if we haven’t seen each other in years.
I’m going to lie to you again, so brace yourself! Sometimes I wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Clown. It’s not every day two clowns throw up in your driveway — their matching rainbow wigs bobbing, smiles huge and painted on. Maybe they were just having a bad day. Maybe they’re mostly happy. Maybe when they take off their makeup and flashing suspenders, when they’re just themselves, people with real names like Bob or Alice, they say, “Nice to see you,” and fall in love all over again. Wtf am I talking about? I have no clue.
As for Darla and me, I found the thigh-highs. I lighted candles and the basement flickered like a movie set. Darla kissed me, and together we curled into the Esse’s soft, perfect curves. And then there were footsteps. Back and forth over our heads. Frantic.
“Mom?” Locklin called from the top of the stairs. “Mom?”
What can I say? For some reason I can’t stop thinking about my seven-year-old son, the little shit, when I’m about to have sex. So I stopped having sex! That’s normal, right? RIGHT!? Lol—I’m so losing my mind.
We left the chair in its place for a few weeks. Then, when Darla’s parents came for a visit, we hid it under the stairs. For some reason Darla’s parents think we’re still just “friends.”
“I don’t think they’ll know what it is,” Darla said. “But just in case.”
At first Locklin missed the chair, but now I think he has forgotten. Which is fine, because his mother and I haven’t. It’s still there, under the stairs, waiting. The Esse comes with an extended warranty. It’s solidly built, real quality stuff. An investment, made to last through almost anything. Wait, was I supposed to write about love?
Lori Jakiela is the author of the memoir “Miss New York Has Everything.”
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Tags: Daniel Jones, Gay Modern Love, Lori Jakiela, Modern Love, The New York Times