The stones tell lies.
Even stars are born
Every mountain will be leveled
Even darkness will die.
Their empires reign in moldering books,
The grandest king all but forgotten,
Great universities reduced to rubble,
The sun fades red amid long silent clocks.
What hope have we then, you and I?
When permanence but a daydream
Extinguishes our immortal promise
And leaves us calling to one another
in broken poems.
I had lunch with a friend whom I haven't seen in several months. We went to a brew pub to catch up on life, which meant for each of us the status of our divorces. Even though my ex-wife and I separated on the most amicable of terms, the process had been like crawling on my hands and knees through a long funeral procession for every beloved dream I'd ever had.
On the other hand, Don's was an ascent from the pit into the light.
Since I'd seen him last, he'd slept with ten different women. Well, okay -- thirteen including the two that were from L.A. and the one who went back to Singapore. He wasn't talking about those because he had learned that when you start getting into the 10s and 20s of encounters, when any one is deniable, it's best to deny.
He said, "What's the worst thing to happen on your death bed? Are you going to look back and wish you worked more? No. Are you going to look back and wish you had taken more vacations to Maui? No. But are you going to say to yourself, 'I wish I had a bigger folder than DeSantis?' Yeah."
If I hadn't just got off the plane from Alaska, I might have been nonplussed. Instead, I lifted my beer glass and said something like, "Drink to that."
Later I thought about what I had said and reconsidered. As only about twelve seconds had elapsed I decided to raise my newfound objection.
I said, "Er, Don. DeSantis is a total wacko," because for at least two decades those of us who knew DeSantis said it to each other openly. We'd even said it directly to DeSantis, who seemed to relish the quality. He'd told all of us he'd slept with several hundred women, each of whom he'd photographed in the act of performing oral sex upon him.
According to DeSantis, he'd saved all the photos in an album he kept in his sock drawer.
"What do you plan to do with it?" I asked the day he told me about his treasure. "Pass it on to your son on his wedding day and invite him to add his own?"
Ernie DeSantis replied, "I'm going to stare at it on my death bed."
I told him he was a whack job to which he replied he was. Then we went back to mountain biking.
I'd never seen the fabled DeSantis treasure album, though Don apparently had.
"It's pretty amazing."
"And they let him do it - I mean, he whips out a camera and starts shooting, and they go all porno actress on him."
"Yeah. That's what happens. Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't tried it myself." Don finished his 22-ounce Raccoon Red and signaled our waiter for another. "Though, eventually a couple want the pictures back. But with digital -- well -- can't fetch anything back from the internet."
"Why the hell does Maria let him keep that thing?" I said, hinting at the fact DeSantis's fully-fledged Sicilian wife could probably get her brothers to break Ernie's legs for keeping something like that around in the same home that shelters their sister, one nephew, and two nieces. "What the hell are his kids going to say when they find out?"
Our waiter brought both Don and me new beers, even though I hadn't asked for one. Good waiter.
While Don drank I decided to flush the backlog of stuff in my head. "He was in his 20's when he was pulling that crap. Now he's married with kids going to high school. Good Lord. He's not entirely right in the head. Once he told me that when we were in college he went swimming in the Raritan River during a hurricane just to see what it was like to do the crawl at 20 miles per hour. And he drowned. A park service ranger saw him washed up in New Brunswick and pulled him out over on River Road and had to revive him with the freaking paddles. If the guy hadn't spotted him, he'd be dead like he should be. And during the semester he slept in a lean-to in the woods because he was spending his financial aid money on booze and couldn't make his dorm rent payments."
Don raised an eyebrow, then smirked.
I said, "We're middle-aged men, homie."
"I think of it like my 401(k). It's never too late to start your own album."
"How do you do it? We've got daughters. I can't even stand in the grocery line behind women in their 20's without wanting to lecture them about doing their homework or wearing less revealing clothes."
Don said, "Nah nah nah. Nothing like that. Listen - we're talking middle aged women. Something happens to them. They become more like us. You date them once - I mean - you're not even finished with dinner and they're poking around to see if you'll take them home."
"So you're saying if they're into it, it's okay."
"Yeah. That's what I'm saying."
I raised a glass to women in general, and the ones I've slept with in particular, of whom the only photo album is in my head.
"My album would be really small," I said.
"And if you get Alzheimer’s, you won't remember any of it."
"I'm thinking that on my death bed I might not be thinking about sex," I said. "Though, my dad watched Zena: Warrior Princess on his deathbed. So maybe you're right."
"Well, then there's Allison."
"Your latest? Got pictures?"
"On my phone," he said, pulling out his cell and thumbing the buttons.
"Er. Don. You don't need to --"
"Nah nah nah. Not like that." He turned the phone around so I could see a picture of a pretty brunette standing in the doorway inviting him to come out to her car.
He said, "Damn gorgeous. Five foot one. You dream about women like this but you never get to meet one. I told her about all of them. Well, not about the ones from L.A. or Singapore."
"You told her. About the pictures?"
"Look - you know, my marriage. We had sex exactly three times in fourteen years. Our wedding night. My birthday a year later, and we had Georgette. My birthday three years after that, we had Mary. And that was it. Until I separated, well, I haven't had sex for eleven years."
"Now you've got one woman for each year," I said. I'd finished my beer and was on to the new one the waiter brought me. Don was already signaling for another.
"Sometimes I wonder--" Don said, "not that having sex four times a week with different women is bad or anything --"
"Can't imagine anything bad about that--"
"--sooner or later you need to talk about something. Take Betty, for instance. Betty could give head to the statue of Lincoln in the Memorial and make him smile. But what the hell does she want to talk about? When she's not doing it she's watching television. I don't know shit about American Idol or what's on Oprah. Really."
"And this Allison?"
"Well, for one, she's a lot smarter than me. I go over her house, she's got a stack of books beside the sofa and she's giving me details on the construction of the Aswan Dam or the failed Nazi military strategy. Five foot one--"
"--so you said."
"Cutest thing. She runs five miles a day. Up the St. Joseph's trail."
"You should do that, too," I said, referencing Don's well-over-300-pounds profile.
"She's got me exercising. I'm losing weight. Damn, I don't know what the hell she sees in me but for once in my life I'm -- well, I've never worried about women, you know? I never worried about getting them. Never worried about losing them. Now it's like. Here. Look at this."
He shows me another picture on his phone. This is a self portrait. Allison behind the wheel of her car, smiling into the camera phone.
"Is this a love thing, Don?" I ask him.
"Nah nah nah. Nothing like that. You're the one who falls in love and gets all wrapped around the axle in trouble."
"Right. And you're the one taking pictures."
"But not Allison."
"No, she sends them to you. Dude, she's sending you pictures --you ever think that maybe--"
"Yeah. I think that all the time. Right back. Gotta piss." He went to the restroom and left me surrounded in bar noise and unwatched televisions spewing various sporting events.
I got about half the way through my beer when the waiter who brought Don his new beer set another full one down in front of me even though I'd never said a word about wanting one. The good waiters know how to judge their customers. There's a sort of invisible tactile interplay between customer and vendor that when pulled off correctly, leaves the customer with less in his pocket than he intended to leave with, and the vendor with more, and both very happy for the outcome.
"We're becoming more like them," I said to Don when he got back. "Maybe that's what happens when you grow older. Sex involves discussion. After you do everything once it's less the physics than the idea of it."
"She understands me," Don said. "She goes: I know, you want it to look like this -- and then I'm in a porn movie starring me."
"She's dialing you in. You're letting it happen. Maybe she's got issues."
"You know anyone without fucking issues? We get to be this age, we all have history. I'm too old to care. And what's the difference if I'm happy?"
"Drink to that," I say, looking for an excuse to start the new beer I didn't order.
After a long quaffing pause, Don said, "You know what my philosophy is? You know why they all say I'm the best lover they ever slept with? I know how to make them come first. I've studied the female anatomy. I've read all the female self-help books. I know what they're worried about and I don't even get started until they're exhausted."
"The definition of a gentleman is someone who makes everyone around him comfortable," I said, because I'd just seen it on the movie "Blast from the Past".
"What the young guys don't get is that once you make them happy, they're all about making you happy, no matter what it takes."
"Don. Haven't you always been that way, too? Wanting to please? Haven't you always been just a really nice guy?"
"Yeah. Here it is -- all those years you spend when you're young you're wondering: why the hell aren't they interested in me? They want the bad boys or the rich boys driving daddy's Porsche. Then everyone grows up and they figure it out. Everybody dies alone no matter what you're driving. Everybody dies and do you want to spend your time up to then being treated like shit?"
"The nice guys finally win."
"And then what are you doing with the pictures?"
"What pictures. I never took any fucking pictures."
"Never thought you did."
"Allison wants to meet you, by the way. I told her about you. She's interested in the south pole. I think you'll like her."
"I'm sure I will."
I tossed my Visa card onto the bar bill we didn't ask for.
I said, "I'm glad you're happy, Don. You're looking really good."
"For once in a long time I'm happy to be living my life."
"You know you've got this Allison all over you, don't you?"
"Better than the Stairmaster."
"Five foot one."
"Little thing. Cute as hell."