Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Dog Story.

Published originally in August 2014.

Somebody told me a story today and it's one of those stories I'm sure I'll remember till the day I die. We tend to say such things too off-handedly and unthinkingly. Not so here. 

There's this buddy of mine, a guy I never got to know all that well. (I'm not sure anyone knows him all that well.) Yet I know him well enough to like him and admire him as a person and a man. A man's man, though such characterizations are no longer fashionable, or even politically correct. So just keep in mind as you read that my buddy is a serious, no-bullshit kind of guy, a mountain of a homo sapiens who was once tasked with doing things for our government, fixing things, shadowy things that he still can't admit to on the record a quarter-century later. That's not some bar line in his case, it's the god's truth. I checked him out to the extent I was able (and he also wears the scars, an ugly bullet wound among them). In an era when masculinity is considered "toxic," my buddy would be regarded as a walking bio-hazard. We'll leave it there. Larger point being, he is not easily given to sentimentality. 

Rewind a dozen years. My buddy had rescued a gigantic hybrid wolf-dog that people initially warned him not to bring into his life. Unpredictable temperament. Why take that chance? 

Wolf-dog turned out to be a wonderful addition to the family, striking the perfect balance between pet and protector. The creature loved his adoptive family from the first, and like most watchdogs, had that sixth sense that enabled him to know beforehand when trouble was afoot. All visitors who were expected were welcomed graciously onto the premises during daylight hours...but one did not dare go near the property at night when all were asleep inside, especially if my buddy was out of town. The lone exception to the latter caveat was kids; wolf-dog loved children. My buddy would joke that some 9-year-old miscreants probably could've crept into the place at midnight, made off with all the electronics, and 125-pound wolf-dog would've cheerfully accompanied them on their mission into and out of the house, "smiling" and nuzzling the intruders' legs the whole time.

The beast also played tennis. He'd fetch the balls my buddy hit to his wolfy side of the net, race back to center-court, somehow spit/toss the balls a dozen yards over the net in the general direction of my buddy, then run back toward the baseline, poised for another volley.

For more than a decade my buddy and wolf-dog criss-crossed America. As my buddy's life grew more prosperous, wolf-dog went from watching over the picket fence of a modest tract home to patrolling the grounds of an authentic horse farm; he performed his chores with obvious pride and purpose. Each morning wolf-dog would amble out to the stable and say hello to his equine pals, then survey the property and eventually return. The dog never complained, was content to take on whatever role my buddy assigned him, even if it meant sitting in the front seat of a moving van with basically nothing to do but watch the landscape gradually transform: cherry trees giving way to cacti or vice versa, as my buddy took his family from west coast to east coast, then back again, then east again.

Shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania this last time, my buddy began to notice the changes. They sneaked up on him, as changes in a family pet almost always will. My buddy would notice them mostly when he returned from being away for a week or so. Nothing you could pinpoint at first—and still wolf-dog never complained, never made a sound in protest—but just a subtle difference in gait and demeanor. And now there were times when wolf-dog would come back to his favored resting spot, a cushion on the ground near the barbecue pit, before finishing a full survey of the property. One day my buddy was watching from the deck as wolf-dog turned and started back to his resting spot before even saying good morning to the horses.

They went to the vet. Bone cancer. Advanced.

"Do you know what we're we talking about in terms of time?" my buddy asked.

The vet replied, "Likely not very long. The dog will let you know." 


Despite the circumstances, my buddy allowed himself a small chuckle, thinking, You don't fucking understand this animal, doc. Wolf-dog had been stoic from day one, never showing fear, never showing pain, not even for a moment; not even after getting hit by a car, once, back in those early California days. He just went about his wolf-doggy business with purpose and self-possession.

One morning a few weeks later wolf-dog struggled getting to his feet from his backyard cushion. He shot my buddy a faltering glance and emitted a short whimper. My buddy had never heard that sound emanate from his pet before, not in all their years. Wolf-dog then bowed his head slightly, as if embarrassed at his momentary lapse, or so it seemed to my buddy. 


But then the huge animal lifted his regal head, fixed my buddy with an unblinking stare and whimpered a second time, briefly. Stoic again now, still proud. Holding eye contact. Just sharing the needed information.

It was time.

My buddy said good-bye to his beloved wolf-dog the next morning. 


He tells me he has never been the same since that day, and never will be. I believe him.


Monday, November 04, 2019

When even yes isn't yes.

Published originally Feb. 16, 2018

In the beginning, there was “No means No.” Simple, direct. Which, of course, meant it couldn't possibly stand. Thus did it beget “Yes means Yes.” And now the noisy, inefficient engine of sexual politics has spewed into the dating environment a pair of new doctrines that further pollute the meaning of consent: "the enthusiastic Yes" and "sex after Yes." Taken together, they represent something like sex as Rube Goldberg might design it.

The two ideologies have long percolated in online feminist forums and academia's Women’s Studies wing (which sometimes seems to exist solely to make men out as criminals and make women feel guilty about bothering with us at all). They were brought to the fore by the controversy over what did or did not occur on an ill-fated date between actor Aziz Ansari and a pseudonymous woman, “Grace.” By now you almost surely know what Grace says: that Ansari repeatedly misread signals, pressuring her into unwanted sexual activity. Worse, feminists have painted him as an archetype for men as a class. As Emily Reynolds writes in the Guardian, “Ansari’s behavior was normal—and therein lies its true horror.” Reynolds and others insist that Grace's nonverbal cues should have alerted Ansari to her unease. In his defense, he might have been misled by the fact that Grace, by her own admission, accepted oral sex within minutes of arriving at his apartment after dinner and then reciprocated minutes later; perhaps Ansari interpreted those activities as nonverbal cues. Be that as it may, feminist theorists claim that such contretemps could be avoided by the requirement for men to receive the sort of ecstatic, unambiguous Yes that Grace never spoke.

One has trouble seeing how. Suppose a man intuits that a woman’s Yes is sufficiently forthright; are we to infer that if he honestly overestimates her ardor, he has become guilty of assault? It seems bizarre to put men in the position of having to decode the enthusiasm of a Yes rather than instructing women to bellow forth with an enthusiastic, unambiguous No.

But let's say the man does indeed think he detects a note of ambivalence in his partner's Yes. Is he obliged to function as human chastity belt and moral overseer for an adult woman who has indicated, however subtly, her agreement to sex? Even in healthy marriages, if both partners had to swear to giddy anticipation before each bedroom episode, conjugal intimacy would likely cease forevermore. For that matter, any given virgin couple (I'm told there are such things) will feel a surge of trepidation on their wedding day itself, after years of a well-considered relationship that presumably led them to this halcyon moment. Are those ad hoc qualms to be perceived as a talisman of doom that warrants more debate and procrastination?

Women will retort that men need to understand the nurturing, conciliatory nature of the female psyche: Here's the Washington Post's Molly Roberts on the Ansari controversy: “We know how it happens. A man wants sex after an evening out, and a woman feels obligated to comply... Even when she’s not enjoying herself, she thinks she should be, and she tries hard to convince herself nothing is wrong until—maybe that night, maybe the next morning—it becomes too clear to ignore.”

So there you have it. A woman acquiesces to the most intimate act between two humans—with a human she's not that into, no less—and it's still the guy's fault.

But that's not even the full extent of male culpability. Reynolds' emphasis on the woman's lack of enjoyment hints at the second postmodern wrinkle in the bed-sheets: sex after Yes. This paradigm, championed by leading feminist writer Rebecca Traister and a cadre of other young female voices, indicts the so-called “orgasm gap,” edging us ever closer to a definition of consensual sex wherein a woman's Yes is conditioned on the man's ability to provide a quality sexual experience. 


A man who falls short has, in failing to satisfy the woman, also failed to satisfy the terms on which the sex was premised. 

He is guilty of, retroactively, nonconsenual sex. 

Canadian writer Tamar Dina further argues that consensual sex in which the woman does not thoroughly enjoy herself is dehumanizing and akin to assault, because it reduces her to little more than a “gatekeeper to men's desires.” Or As Sady Doyle puts it in Elle, genuinely consensual sex “requires all parties to be visibly happy, turned on, and vocally expressing enthusiasm throughout the encounter.” 

Without a doubt, millions of women commit to sex during which they are never visibly happy or vocally expressing enthusiasm, then wake up hating themselves for going along with a man's seduction. 

But they went along

Ambivalent or not, they agreed to sex. Moreover, buyer's remorse is hardly unique to the bedroom. Many of us experience transient misgivings over virtually every meaningful decision or discretionary purchase. And lest you think it unseemly to compare sex to buying a new car or big-screen TV, consider: It wasn't so long ago that leading feminist voices were exhorting women to indulge their physical desires without strings or regrets: 

“It's just sex!” 

Today some of those same figures would complicate the sexual experience with a manifesto of caveats and assurances that not only require men to be psychic but, for sheer sobriety, rival the vows exchanged before couples say “I do.” 

All of which could be avoided by exhorting unwilling women to state, unequivocally, “I won't.”