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 loathing. 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. Or the old people hogging the narrow pathways with walkers that slow everyone down or racing their scooters like Formula One drivers, the innocent parting like the Red Sea to get out of the way because the crusty bastard believes he’s earned the right to tear through a public garden on a motorized vehicle. We’re here instead of where I would much rather be: sitting in the back yard with the top-button of my pants undone after four burgers and two-pounds of ribs, with a beer in each hand. Ah, the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air would be wonderful if only all these other people were not here to spoil 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 those four words are unleashed. They graze insensitively at the tender underside of unsuspecting testicles that will never again be so foolish as to feel secure enough to fully descend from inside the protective shroud of my lower abdomen.
“What are you thinking?”
Ohhhh gaaawddd *knees buckling*.
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 instead. I pretend to be oblivious to the question.
Oh yeah, I heard the question. How could I not? My testicles have been catapulted to my spleen.
But I need to buy some time so I pretend I didn’t hear. 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 good 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 dumping his load, 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 Dark Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my shit together without jumping in the fountain to spare myself the onslaught.
You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. The little bastards know where the good, down-home hooch is. Those little parasites 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 it can be so 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 think those things. Well, in a roundabout way, I do. All the time, in fact. Sometimes, at least. Just not at this particular moment. At the moment you decide to unleash that question my thoughts can be a little … romantically underwhelming.
“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”
“Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the moment. Why?”
“No reason. Love you.”
And then you go to sleep/keep walking in the garden/take a sip of coffee. 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 boot to my junk. But it’s just begging me to lie. I am a terrible liar. I get twitchy and stupid.
Wait. Is this a test of my creativity? Am I supposed to lie really amazingly and romantic-like, just like in the romantic comedies? As an aside, to most men older than forty, having to sit through a romantic comedy is like being kicked in the nuts for an hour and a half.
One time after the question I said, “Oh nothing, really.” Wait. Why did you add the “Really” after ‘nothing’? There is no ‘really.’ I really meant to say “Nothing.” I was thinking nothing at all. Well, nothing I wouldn’t be ashamed of, anyway.
After that stupid slip, I was a Taliban captive at Guantanamo, having the hairs on my testicles removed by tugging them off, one-by-one until I coughed up some intelligence about the inner workings of my mind.
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, because let’s face it, I am an emotional eater. I wish I made more money. Money is fun to spend.
Hold on, a minute buckaroo! That wasn’t what I was thinking about; not consciously, at least. I mean, sub-consciously it’s possible I hate myself, but I don’t think about that until I am fast asleep and have dreams of being naked wherever I am. Nobody seems to notice but me.
I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies. 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 repressed hiding places.
I will get revenge against the infidel, my fellow fellows. Do not worry. I will buy some jewellery, a dozen roses, take her to dinner, and let her choose the movie for movie night without passive-aggressively suggesting she has terrible taste in movies to try to get my way. Then I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles that lead her to her pillow, upon which there will be two exquisite chocolates on it – less than the six I started with, because chocolate is my heroin and I ate four as I was lighting the candles.
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 soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high. A soul is important, apparently, though most people seem to have sold theirs in exchange for a measly paycheque.
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 really don’t think I can handle the truth.
The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. I have Attention Deficit Disorder. There is always an extremely skittish hamster running on his wheel up there, especially when he’s content. Why? Because contentment is … yawn … boring. The hamster is always saying, “Hey, I need some conflict. I need some danger. I need something other than content!”
So, when you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random? Hell breaks loose. That’s not the danger Hammy was looking for. If you threatened to stab me, perhaps that might interest him.
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 from any emotionally-charged situation that requires grace and tact instead of fists and vulgarities.
Except, Hammy forgets he is running to nowhere fast on a stationary wheel. Instead of fleeing, the heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it abruptly ceases spinning upon hard contact with the ground. Hammy is sent flying into the side of his cage. He is woozy and groggy, wondering what hit him.
That’s what happens when you ask “So, what are you thinking?” You send Hammy running for the hills.
That is when my fear you’ll discover the sad, puerile nature of my pet rodent mind will scare you off. Yes, the hamster 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 phenomenal. Good night, mia amore.”
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.