That evening had been particularly unproductive. After a mind-blowingly tedious conversation with a stuck-up blond, Michael returned home empty-handed. That’s how he’d been rewarded for his patience! He had listened to Janet, Janice or whatever the hell her name was talk about her divorced parents. She also told him that she focused all her energies on her studies and had no time for commitment. Which would have been fine with him had she stopped the conversation right then and there. But she went on and on. Michael listened to her drivel, hating to quit, hoping to score. He didn’t even roll his eyes when she bragged about her near-genius IQ, which wasn’t in evidence that evening. He graciously indulged her in a dialogue about her business major. He even nodded approvingly when she told him that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and go “like, into advertising,” minus the late hours, working on weekends and extramarital affairs. For Michael, the most challenging part of the conversation was focusing on her face as opposed to the low cut, V-neck sweater, which exposed a fine pair of boobs. He had trouble coping with his impatient erection, which seemed to be humming the Elvis song which called for “a little less conversation, a little more action please.” To move things along, he inquired with strategic vagueness: “Wanna go somewhere else?”
“Sure.” Her response led him to believe that he’d finally be rewarded for his patience. As they headed towards the parking lot, Michael took it a step further by inquiring where she had left her car, to narrow the field of possible “somewheres” from everywhere to his place, her place or her car. She pointed towards a red BMW convertible parked a few feet away. They proceeded to squeeze into it. Everything seemed to go as planned, except for the irksome fact that every time Michael attempted to make a bolder move and see if he could entice the girl into a quickie, Jennie launched into a plaintive monologue about her life which couldn’t be interrupted by the trivial exigencies of his bodily needs.
After about an hour of what he perceived as a free one-way therapy session rather than a mutually satisfactory score, Michael randomly let out, as one might emit an unexpected burp, one of his least judicious pick-up lines at a most inopportune moment. Just when Jennie was complaining about how her parents’ screwed up relationship had traumatized for her life, he inquired: “If your left leg was Thanksgiving and your right leg was Christmas, how about we meet between the holidays?” Michael thought the worst he’d have to endure for this irreverent remark was a response to the effect, “No thanks, I’m Jewish,” in which case he’d be more than happy to substitute Christmas with Hanukah. The sharp slap landing on his left cheek took him by surprise. Before he could react to it, Jenny leaned over and threw open the car door, so he could let himself out. Clearly, Michael thought, I have to find a different venue for my needs. Although it had some obvious advantages, prostitution was out of the question, since it cost more than the bars, where he usually went Dutch.
As he was contemplating this sad state of affairs, Michael had an illuminating flashback. He recalled that in one of his French graduate seminars he had met a woman who complained about being a sex addict. She had mentioned something about participating in an organization called Sexoholics Anonymous, but it seemed to Michael that she was far from cured. As a matter of fact, she had thoroughly enjoyed stripping in the middle of a quiet spot of a nearby park and getting nailed from behind against the grills of the gate. That sizzling experience alone must have set her back at least four sessions of group therapy.
He hopped on the computer to look up this potential pot of gold. Narrowing down the search, Michael typed in “Detroit” and “Sexoholics Anonymous.” He couldn’t believe his good fortune when he discovered that they were convening that very evening at 9:30 p.m. in a nearby Detroit church. There’s no time like the present, he thought. It occurred to him that he might be obliged to introduce himself and justify his presence at the meeting. Perhaps giving the real reason, which was to pick up desperate and depraved women, might seem a little suspect. It would help if he knew a little more about this organization. He looked it up on the internet and discovered some interesting factoids.
“Many of us felt inadequate, unworthy, alone and afraid,” the website stated. Good, Michael approved. That means the women who show up there are likely to have their guard down. “Early on, we came to feel disconnected—from peers, from parents, from ourselves,” the website went on. Whatever that means, Michael murmured to himself. We tuned out with fantasy and masturbation. I have to agree, that’s a bit boring, he conceded. “We lusted and wanted to be lusted after,” the narrative went on. What the hell’s wrong with that? his lips curled disapprovingly into an inverted smile. Whoever came up with these tenets is more prudish than the nuns at my old Catholic school, he noted. No matter, Michael dismissed his misgivings, since the participants were likely to have irrepressible urges. Speaking of that, “We became true addicts: sex, promiscuity, adultery, and more fantasy.” Ah…now we’re talking! At least I’ll find partners who enjoy the same activities that I do, Michael told himself. He had grown tired of the bar scene, where he had to fake deeper interest and, worse yet, engage in tiresome conversations in order to score. At least at this Sexoholics Anonymous group, he’d be more likely to run into the kind of woman where no effort whatsoever was necessary. Even foreplay would be superfluous, he cheerfully predicted.
Encouraged by these findings, he read on. “Our sex addiction made true intimacy impossible. It made us incapable of love.” So what? Who cares about love? As he liked to say, love I hate, but the sex is great. He moved on to the next point. “The first step in our recovery is admitting our sickness, our sexual addiction. Forgiving those who injured us, asking forgiveness from those we have hurt.” Although this injunction sounded rather ominous, Michael found an escape clause. I can’t possibly do this since I didn’t keep the phone numbers of any of my one-night stands and don’t even recall their names, he relieved himself of that unpleasant function. The next step, which posited believing that “a Power greater than ourselves could return us to sanity” also troubled him, since he hadn’t been aware that he was insane.
Steps four and five weren’t much more comforting either. They required the penitents to make “a moral inventory of ourselves” (why look for trouble? Michael asked himself) and admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Aside from the aforementioned problem that he’d have to hire a damn good private investigator to track down his army of ex-lovers, Michael generally preferred to avoid admitting he was wrong even in the context of more lasting relationships. In his modest experience with faking remorse, women nagged him even more whenever he apologized to them.
He read steps six and seven with a sense of stupefaction: “We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character and humbly ask him to remove our shortcomings.” Had this list been formulated by one of his students? the French instructor wondered. First of all, if that student was female and even remotely attractive, he’d try to nail her, and second, afterwards he’d point out the egregious error that the list was repetitious, since points 5 and 6 expressed pretty much the same message. And if that rhetorical problem weren’t serious enough, Michael felt uncomfortable with the whole objective of the program: namely, that of eliminating human imperfections, or at least some of his favorite ones. Becoming a saint had never been his top priority. Therefore, Michael logically concluded, the goal of this program could be dismissed in its entirety since its premises were all wrong and the conclusions even worse.
Next Michael examined the list described by the flyer as the “Twelve Traditions,” which, mercifully, moved away from the elaboration of lofty spiritual goals to explain the protocol of the meetings. He approved of point two in particular, which announced, “Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” Good, then this wasn’t going to be like one of those counseling sessions, with someone bossing him around by telling him what to do, think, feel or talk about. In fact, he’d say nothing at all and just scope out the women, if he felt so inclined. Point three, however, was somewhat more problematic. “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop lusting and become sexually sober.” Yeah right! Like that’s ever going to happen before I hit the age of ninety… And even then, there’s always hope with Viagra, Michael dismissed that ridiculous idea. On the other hand, he skipped ahead, point twelve didn’t sound too shabby: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our tradition.” Now that’s a good policy, he approved. That way he could issue a surgically precise strike, moving in and out of some desperate woman, without anybody being the wiser, especially not him.
Having finished browsing through the website, Michael glanced at his watch. It was already 9:00 pm. He estimated that it would take him approximately half an hour to get to the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church near the RenCen, in downtown Detroit, where the meeting in question was being held. He managed to arrive at the church around 9:40 p.m.
“Should I just go in?” he asked a young man seated at a counter in the church foyer, indicating with his hand the majestic room filled with long benches and a high-vaulted, spiritually inspiring ceiling.
“Nope, our meeting’s in the basement,” the young man replied flatly, barely looking up from a particularly absorbing issue of Penthouse magazine. “It’s where they hold Sunday school for the kids,” he mumbled.
“How appropriate!” Michael commented. He climbed down a set of stairs to an empty classroom with tiny plastic chairs arranged in a circle, like in kindergarten or foreign language classes. As soon as he entered the room, Michael felt relieved that he had arrived a little late, after everyone else was already seated. That way he could choose a spot next to whoever caught his eye. There were only three women and five men in the room, not counting himself. Michael was struck by the contrast between the men and the women. The guys looked completely average: two nerdy dudes with glasses; one overweight schlep; a man in a gray suit who resembled an accountant, plus a young man with a beard dressed in a long-sleeved tee-shirt and jeans that was probably a student. A nondescript lineup, he observed. None of these men seemed even remotely sleazy, much less depraved.
The women, on the other hand, were a whole different story. First of all, Michael noted with a tinge of disappointment, there was not a single knockout in the bunch. Granted, with only three females to choose from, the pickings were rather slim. The three women had clustered together on adjacent chairs for solidarity, as it were. On the left sat a butch looking girl with short brown hair. She probably swings the other way, Michael surmised. Next to her sat an average looking woman who reminded him of his former high school nurse: wavy black hair, hazel eyes, red painted lips, bland clothes and an average looking figure, a little on the chubby side, but not altogether unappealing. She’ll have to be my pick for the evening, Michael decided. He wasn’t particularly thrilled by the prospect of hooking up with her, but then again, beggars can’t be choosers. A tall, thin woman with blond hair and dark-rimmed glasses occupied the seat next to hers. Michael selected a chair across from the only acceptable potential partner in the bunch. Her name was Maria, he discovered a few minutes later when they went around the circle to introduce themselves. Michael couldn’t help but notice that these women had a hungry look in their eyes. Curiously, nothing gave them away—neither their clothes nor their physical appearance--except for that predatory gaze.
“Why don’t we go around again and tell everyone why we’re here? No pressure, of course. Those of us who prefer to just sit back and listen feel free to do so,” the skinny woman who was the group leader for that session initiated the discussion.
Maria, his half-hearted pick for the evening, began. “Hi. like I said, I’m Maria,” she repeated with a slight Spanish accent. “I’m here because… How to splain it? I like sex too much,” she confessed with an embarrassed, girlish giggle into her hand. “I go with different man every night. Sometimes more. It’s hard to stop.”
“Why do you feel the need to do so, Maria?” the young man with the beard asked her almost tenderly, with a sparkle in his pale blue eyes.
Damn, this guy’s after her too, Michael identified his rival.
“Eh… It’s because… Men make me feel very pretty, you know, sexy, when they make love,” she said very quickly, to hide her embarrassment.
“Do you need to have sex with men to feel beautiful?” the group leader interjected in a high-pitched tone.
“No, but it helps,” Maria replied with an embarrassed smile. Two of the men laughed out loud. “It shows how much they desire me. And that makes me feel good inside.” Her voice sounds like honey, Michael began to feel some genuine attraction, more to the sensual inflections in Maria’s voice than to her physical appearance. I’ll make her feel damn beautiful tonight, he resolved.
After the session concluded, Michael approached Maria as they were exiting the room. “How long have you been coming here?” he asked her.
“Three months,” she replied.
“Does it help?”
Maria shrugged. “A little. It helps me understand why I do the things I do,” she mimicked the Motown song.
“But did it change your behavior?”
“Not very much,” she admitted sheepishly.
“Would you like some help with that?” Michael asked gently, moving a few steps closer to her.
“It doesn’t hurt to try.” Her tone was overtly suggestive. Without much further ado, Michael grabbed her hand and pulled her into the Men’s Room. Years of experience had taught him that guys tended to be much more tolerant of such shenanigans than women. He pinned her hands up to the wall of the spacious handicapped stall with one hand and liberated himself with the other. In the meantime, Maria aided him by pulling down her thong and lifting up her skirt. They found mutual relief within minutes.
“See you at the next session?” Maria asked him after they had readjusted their clothes and stepped out of the restroom.
She had a beseeching look in her eyes that made Michael feel somewhat uncomfortable. “Maybe.”
Noting his hesitation, Maria took matters into her own hands. She dug into her purse and took out a pen and a tiny notepad. She tore out a piece of paper and hurriedly scribbled something on it. “Here’s my name and number,” she extended him the note.
“Thanks,” he slipped it into his coat pocket, fully intending to dispose of it later, as was his habit following such encounters.
Instead of saying goodbye, however, Maria looked expectantly into his eyes.
What the hell more does she want from me? Michael wondered, annoyed by her persistence.
“May I have your number also?” Before he could reply, she ripped another piece of paper from her notepad and offered it to him along with a pen.
Michael wrote his first name along with his phone number, inverting the last two digits.
“See you soon!” Maria slipped the note into her purse.
“Sure thing,” he replied, looking through her, not at her as before.
Although he had maintained a modicum of civility, Maria could see in his empty glance that Michael was no longer interested in her. His post-coital change of demeanor reminded her of those salespeople who are exceedingly friendly when they think you’re going to buy something, then switch abruptly to cold indifference as soon as you tell them that you’re only window shopping.
Michael sensed her disappointment but didn’t care. What’s the point of masticating on a piece of chewing gum after the flavor is gone? he asked himself. You spit it out and pop a fresh one into your mouth. But he hadn’t gotten as much flavor out of Maria as he had hoped. Unfortunately, the women at Sexaholics Anonymous didn’t present enough of a challenge. There was no suspense, no resistance whatsoever, which kind of removed the whole thrill of the chase in the first place.
A rather unpleasant thought occurred to him. Am I like those poor wretches at Sexoholics Anonymous? he wondered, but quickly dismissed the idea. Absolutely not, he decided. How could sex possibly be an addiction if it gives me so much pleasure and makes me happy? He noticed that the other participants appeared troubled by their behavior. But not him! Michael always remained cool as a cucumber. When he managed to pull it off successfully, he enjoyed the whole process of seduction, from beginning to end: the chase, the capture and the sex itself, of course. He even relished the final goodbye, when he looked a woman straight in the eyes and deliberately gave her the wrong phone number with a friendly smile. As they say, all is fair in love and war. Besides, I could stop this behavior anytime I wanted to, Michael told himself, the protective shell of his impenetrable ego blocking out even the tiniest ray of self-doubt.
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