Those four words. They grip our minds like bigots fervently applauding an immigrant-blaming dog-whistle; like flies drawn to the malodourous excrement of political diatribe. They elicit a disproportionately panicked involuntary response among North American men. We are brought to our knees reeling in pain as they wickedly assault our fragile male egos between the legs.
It is not so much the words themselves, but when they are unleashed that instills fear and dread. We have performed our best song-and-dance, having won sexual privileges for good behaviour, satiating the sexual drives most of our waking hours are devoted to fulfilling. We are doing our best job pretending to enjoy the obligatory post-coital spooning. The truth is, we desperately want to roll over and go to sleep; to post-pone talk of meaningful things until the morning, when chances are you’ll have forgotten about the love-lorn thoughts you wanted to share.
We’re walking hand-in-hand for a lovely stroll at sunset through the botanical gardens at the city’s largest park. Well, it could have been a lovely stroll, were it not for the bleary-eyed families who bred like mice and have no choice but to bring their children to the nice, free gardens to play. We’re here instead of where I would much rather be: sitting in the back yard drinking alone, with my favourite people. Ah, the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air would be wonderful if only the unpredictable throngs of humanity were not here to taint it.
It’s the morning at a cottage getaway. We’re sipping lattes after a horrendously fattening, artery-clogging, bacon-grease filled, kidney-shriveling breakfast, sharing the Sunday New York Times. Periodically one of us, usually me, breaks the delectable silence to offer a mild rant about the infuriatingly corrupt, malevolent, American citizen-loathing, Corporate executive-blowing right-wing American politicians.
Out of the blue, instead of savouring these serene, emotionally uncontroversial moments of bliss, for no good reason the baleful words are unleashed. They graze insensitively at the tender underside of unsuspecting testicles. They will never again be so foolish as to feel secure in their decision to fully descend from inside the protective shroud of my lower abdomen.
“What are you thinking?”
Where in the living hell did that drop-kick in the pants come from? And for Christ’s sake, why? What does it matter?
You know how long it will take to incinerate those despicable images from my mind? You couldn’t just let us spoon in relative peace, could you?
“Um, what?” is what I actually say. I pretend to be oblivious to the question.
Of course, I heard the question. How could I not? I am gingerly coaxing my petrified testicles to come out from hiding near my spleen.
But I need to buy some time. I need to clear the cobwebs and muster up something pithy to say, and quick. These moments call for pith, don’t they? Or is it mirth?
Do you not know how hard it is to come up with pith and mirth after I’ve been schtupping? How can I think when I’ve just had enough sausages, eggs, pancakes, ham slices, hash browns, and bacon to feed a rhino? Think of how stupid rhinos are. You wouldn’t ask a rhino how it was feeling after coitus, would you?
As we stroll in the garden I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes, who seem more attracted to me than the livestock in nearby farms. It’s as though they’ve learned their favourite drink – Venti African-WASP Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my sanity, but am seriously contemplating jumping in the fountain, where neither parasites nor mosquitoes can get to me.
You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. Few humans do. The little malaria-dengue-fever pandemic vectors know where the good hooch is. Those little shits are a-comin’ to harvest some moonshine from my black ass because they only have one day to live, and they ain’t risking an early death sipping wimpy wine coolers from your pint-sized body!
On a sunset night in the garden, that’s what I’m thinking; if that is what the above can be called. It’s not exactly romantic. It’s not going to make you bat your lashes quite like, ‘I’m thinking of how wonderful it is to be with you’ or, ‘I wish we could walk in the park like this every night.’
Believe me, I do think those things; in a roundabout way. A reasonable facsimile, at least. Is thinking, “I sure fooled her,” in the same ballpark? At the moment you decide to unleash that question my thoughts can be a little … romantically underwhelming.
“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”
“Just enjoying the moment. Why?”
A masterful deflection. Right?
I bet every man reading this is agreeing, while every woman is shaking her head. I know, I know. I really want to be better at this shit. I want to find a way to enjoy that unexpected boot to my junk. But here’s the truth ladies: a question like that is just begging a dude to lie.
Some dudes crush it at lying. Me? Not so much. I get nervous when confronted with any unexpected, pointed question. My bathroom vanity is filled with over priced creams and sprays and lotions because I could not lie to those earnest, pushy, European students working illegally hawking skin care products at the local mall. Maybe I do need to spend $150 on me!
Wait. Is this a test of wit? Was I supposed to come up with a sexy rejoinder à la Matthew McConaghey or Gerard Butler in a rom-com? Not fair. They had a team of screenwriters, makeup artists, and editors to help them look awesomely charming; or charmingly awesome. Plus, look at them. They don’t have love handles.
One time after the question I said, “Oh nothing. Really.” What? Why did you say “Really” after ‘nothing’? Moron.
I meant to say “There’s really nothing,” but it came out wrong because I was flustered by the question.
Okay, fine. It’s been a bad week at the office. I am questioning all my prior life choices because I am miserable. Sometimes I do feel kind of insecure in relation to other guys. Let’s face it, I am an emotional eater. I wish I made more money. Money is fun to spend. It buys clothes that make me look slimmer than I am, which is important given the eating problem.
Wait a minute! That wasn’t what I was thinking; not consciously, at least. I mean, sub-consciously it’s possible, but at that point I am fast asleep, dreaming of being naked without anyone noticing.
I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies; like a jihadi promised a hareem of virgins in this life. I just handed crucial intelligence to the infidel. I revealed a way through the posturing, macho façade my brothers and I have masterfully erected to keep our emotional secrets hidden in our man-caves. Now she has a target to launch drone strikes and blow my little emotionally-stunted jihadis out of their hiding places.
I will get revenge against the infidel, my fellow fellows. Do not worry. I will study all the clichès about how to romance a modern woman. I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles leading her to her pillow. I will have place two exquisite chocolates on said pillow. It is fewer than the six I intended to leave there, because chocolate is my Kryptonite and I ate four as I was lighting the candles. She will never know. Unless I left an empty wrapper under the pillow. For Christ’s sake I think I did leave a wrapper there. I’ll say her misbehaved nephew did it.
I will not resort to playing Barry White music and offering to dance at the bedside. That much North American romantic cliché in one day will have destroyed what little remains of my male soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high.
So, having showered you with campy bribes to weaken your mental defences, I’ll get even by asking the male equivalent of those four words. “So, am I, you know, uh, compared to your past lovers, relatively speaking, of course, bigger, average, or, uh, you know, uh … um … smaller … Down there, I mean?” (Me, pointing to my penis)
On second thought, maybe Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men was right. I’m not sure I want the truth because I know, for a fact, I absolutely can NOT handle the truth. Sometimes lying is good.
The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. He is always a little skittish when running on his hamster-wheel up there. Especially when things are going a little too good to be true.
When you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random it confuses Hammy. Is the shoe about to drop? he wonders. Hammy’s neurotic treadmilling was all preparation for threats a little more carnal. If you threatened to stab me, he would be ready.
As soon as he hears the sound of something deeply emotional, something calling for a cool head and a moment of grace Hammy wants to run away. Hammy is an emotionally-stunted buffoon. He starts running faster and faster to get away, forgetting he is running to nowhere fast on a stationary wheel. The heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it sends it and Hammy flying into the side of my cranium. My head hurts.
That is the basic sketch of what happens when you ask “So, what are you thinking?” Please don’t leave me.
Yes, Hammy runs in place on his wheel, even when he’s accompanied by a beautiful woman. He can’t help it. He’s a bloody hamster.
He’s on the wheel to stay happy. It will calm his emotions down so his head doesn’t explode. But sometimes a stupid thought pops into his mind that he simply can’t ignore. Like the scene from This is 40 when Melissa McCarthy, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann are in the Principal’s office to clear up a bullying issue with their kids. McCarthy threatens “to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone.” Oh my god, that was so funny.
Because I don’t want you to have proof you’re with a moron, I don’t say what’s really on my mind. My guess is there are few women who would want to hear about hamsters while on a romantic stroll in the garden.
So, erring on the side of caution, I don’t mention Melissa McCarthy shit-kicks, or hamster wheels. I say something else. I want you to be too invested in this relationship before I start revealing the true man-child you’re with.
“This is just right,” I say.
And then I roll over, hoping Hammy will soon go to sleep in his comfy bed of wood shavings and poo pellets. He needs to rest for the marathon to nowhere he’ll be running again tomorrow.