It wasn’t for want of trying that we were unable to conceive a second child. We had reached that happy time in trying to make a baby where she was calling me home from work in the middle of the day. She had taken to...dressing...differently. Being a consummate actress, she had even deigned to perform for me, that I might become...more involved.
In one thirty-day period I think I may have made virtual love to every movie star, casual acquaintance, old girlfriend and best friend’s wife that I had ever desired, however obliquely. Sometimes several times a day. The experiment reminded me of why I loved her so. But nothing worked.
We had been married for twenty years and we were facing the Old Testament Condition: My wife, like Abram's Sarai in the land of Canaan, was barren.
It was not because I wasn’t enjoying the heels, the hose, the perfume, the bizarre locations, the new vocal inflections, the suddenly way aggressive nature of my beloved’s need, but rather because I was getting really tired, finally, that we decided to query the professionals.
I made a date (ahem) at the UCLA fertility clinic at 7:30 in the morning. What followed was an episode out of The Twilight Zone.
Medical offices and hospitals have a certain utilitarian sterility about them, don’t they? Considering what went on at the UCLA fertility clinic, you’d have thought they’d’ve paid more attention to the ambiance. (Say it French-like. This is where things start to get sexy.)
The place was grey and dingy and quiet. I could smell stale coffee in the air. What time do these people get started anyway?
I turned the corner and came face to face with a very pleasant surprise: the receptionist was perfectly gorgeous. Her nametag perched precariously on her not-too-ample bosom: Stephanie. She smiled brightly and we thereupon engaged in the most prolonged example of double entendre I’ve ever encountered. Medical data as foreplay. Did they hire her to ask these questions in such a...sexy...way? Or was it just me, jacking myself up for my command performance?
My particulars, age, weight, insurance benefits, etc. were all in order. Stephanie queried me regarding my wife. Age. Children. Previous pregnancies. She made sure to convey to me the sense that I was the most important being in her life at this moment, a nice touch I thought, and then she handed me the...container. With my name on it.
"Follow me," she said. And she looked so good from behind I seriously considered saying 'anywhere,' but her sunny professionalism precluded wiseassery. We were getting down to serious business right about now.
A room among rooms in a hallway. An industrial steel door. A comfortable chair. A TV set. A VCR. A radio/tape deck. A magazine rack.
Stephanie smiled brightly: "You should be able to find pretty much anything you need here."
"OK? We don’t get too many complaints."
She grinned conspiratorially.
"Just be careful filling the container, OK? Much as you can, hmmm?"
"Take your time. Enjoy yourself."
And with that, she turned languidly and closed the door softly on My First Medically Supervised Masturbation Experience.
Well. Talk about conflict of interest. I haven’t had breakfast. I’ve got to fight traffic to get to work in an hour. It’s a little cold in here. And the collection of...scientific aids...is abysmal.
You know how in doctors' offices they always have, like, old magazines nobody read the first time around? All dog-eared and grungy and stuff? This was worse. I’d never seen such a shit collection of porn in my life. It’s like some clueless UCLA dean told the temporary day-laborer to go to Sheckie’s House of Snatchbooks and drag out the stuff that hasn’t been selling since before the war.
I mean we’re talking my life here! My wife’s life! The life of the future baby that we can’t seem to get started! What’s with this ancient Dirty Book Depository they’ve got going? How about a Playboy at least? Where’s Chic? What about the best of all the stroke books at the time, the French Oui? Fuck, give me some Joyce, I’ll read myself off!
And the videos! Don’t get me started on the videos. There’s nothing like crap pornography to turn a man off, I always say. Well, not always. That day anyway.
So I’m sitting in the UCLA...masturbatorium. Having been told to enjoy myself by an attractive young woman who’s thinking God-knows-what. And I guess you could say I’m having some queer sort of performance anxiety, which—you’ve got to admit—is kinda ironic.
If they’d a thought to have a phone in there I would’ve called my wife. She’d have done her Jane Fonda in Klute impression and everything would’ve been fine.
I smoked at the time. And to give you an idea of how long ago this was, you could smoke in the masturbatorium. Afterwards, or something, I guess.
I reached for my cigs and realized that I’d left them in the car. But in my inside jacket pocket was an envelope. A regular legal-sized envelope, folded over once.
It contained six or seven of the loveliest photographs I’ve ever seen—the pictures I took of my wife before she was my wife, right before I went to Vietnam. The shots that had never ever failed me.
Nothing raunchy. Nothing lewd. Nothing remotely ejectionable from a grade school playground. Just kinda...sexy...shots. Short skirt. Tight top. Pretty smile. With a note:
"Remember? I love you."
Smugly I marched down the halls of the UCLA Fertility Clinic. Manfully I placed my...container...on the shelf before my Stephanie. Firmly I nodded to her. She smiled and then I noticed:
A line of a least twenty-five poor sons of bitches all waiting to do their thing. They looked miserable, scared, and sleepy by turns. I whispered to Stephanie:
"You know, you have a very interesting job." She smiled:
She motioned me over to another part of the room. The questionably-studly line of dudes murmured among themselves. What’s the deal here? Why is Stephanie talking to him? What makes him so goddamn special?
She spoke matter-of-factly, but still gentle:
"OK, that was the hard part. Here’s a list of things we’ll be doing."
Her words kinda faded away, as the business of modern-day baby-making and its jargon filled up that small part of me that I reserve for such things. I really wasn’t interested in what came next.
I found myself, rather, thinking of that night I left for Nam. The desperate ferocity of our love. The day I returned, a year later: the Newness of it all again. The time in San Francisco in the elegant hotel on the company nickel. The lazy mornings before we had Stephen. The angle of her knee. The curve of her breast. The way she called my name sometimes when it was good. A million billion little things. Like that.
"And then," said Stephanie, back in the present, reassuring me that I was in good hands at the UCLA Fertility Clinic, "if we can’t get a line on what’s going on, we’ll be doing the Hamster Penetration Test."
Nine months and two weeks later, Michael was born.
Sometimes all it takes is a little love.
No, no, no. That's not what they do! Come on! What happens, apparently, is they see how quickly it takes your sperm to penetrate a hamster ovum. It's a test. Under a microscope. Stephanie told me. I hope she found the perfect man. I really do.