WARNING: The following blog posting contains information about, descriptions of, and jokes obviously related to sex. If you are offended by information about, descriptions of, and jokes obviously related to sex, one can only wonder why you even have an Internet connection. But here you are, reading headlong toward something you know you're not going to like even though you've been warned. One can only wonder what else it is you don't like or approve of that your force yourself to endure. Perhaps some of those things will appear in this posting. Perhaps that's why you're continuing to read. Maybe you're into that.
Oh well, since there's really nothing else I can do, I guess I'll just welcome you to a special Halloween edition of Sex Day and say, "Whatever carves your pumkin." Come on in and make yourselves at home. Just keep your hands where I can see them and we'll get along fine.
If, like me, you're not much of a man, you probably spend most of your free time trying to figure out how to broach certain subjects with your wife or significant other. Or even, for that matter, with the MILF over in the marketing department or the cutie down at the end of the bar. You look across the room at her -- whoever she is -- and you think:
I should just tell her what I'm fantasizing about. She'll think it's hot.
But then the part of your brain that was installed by your mother shouts:
She will not!!! She'll think it's icky, and it is! Nice girls don't like icky things like that. It's like when you put the bug in Holly Heiden's hair. You thought it was nice but she had to go away to a convent school for two years and it just ruined her mother.
So you sit arguing with yourself and wishing that you could be like the guys in the movies who swagger over and say just the right thing and end up with the girl-of-the-moment bent over the nearest toilet tank with her panties stuffed in her mouth to keep her ecstatic screams from waking up the whole neighborhood.
But you never do it. You never get up and go down there -- even if the woman at the end of the bar is your wife who you've been married to for 43 years, who you've seen give birth to three children and whose breasts are no longer in the same time zone as they were when you signed the marriage papers -- and just blurt it out:
I want to fuck you in a taxicab while the Persian driver watches in the rear view mirror!
It's part of being a guy. Women tell us all the time how we don't communicate. What they don't realize is that we're not communicating because we're afraid that if we did, you'd make us live out in the garage.
Snicker if you want, ladies, but you're no better. You're nursing your dark secrets, too. You may not be the mass of jiggling goulash that the average guy is, but you're a psychological mess, too. Mom wasn't just screwing up your brothers; she did a job on you, too. You spent the first five years of your life focused almost entirely on wearing the right pair of clean cotton panties on the right day of the week. There was a big hunk of your girlhood when your brain could only think one thing, over and over in a seemingly endless loop:
Keep you legs together or someone will see your underpants keep your legs together or someone will see your underpants keep your legs together or someone will see your underpants keep your legs together...
And the thing is: It was true. You're mom wasn't wrong, even if she was nuts. In this one instance, she was right, because we boys were always out there, lurking and looking. And if your legs had parted for just one second, we would have seen your underpants and we would have run straight to our friends and told them what we saw, and every boy in school would have thought the exact same thing.
I gotta see that, too.
And then you wouldn't be the nice girl your mother wanted you to be. You'd suddenly be the kind of girl, at least in the eyes of all the boys on playground, who opened her legs once in a while so we could peek in.
That's why you're huddled down at the other end of the bar, just as fucked up in your own way as we are in ours. We want something but can't ask, and if we did and it happened to be something you wanted, too ("Does the Persian cabdriver have smoldering black eyes?"), you wouldn't be able to admit it to us. Because there's always that fear: He/She will think I'm a pervert.
So we sit, men and women metaphorically at opposite ends of the same bar, miserable, lonely and unfulfilled.
What all of us need, what every single one of us is crying out for, is some way we could ask and answer without risk of embarrassment. It could be a place, a safe zone. Or it could be a time, a moment of Jubilee when do-overs are limitless and people really do forgive and forget. We need a place or a time like that when we can admit to each other what we really are: Disgusting half-beasts barely constrained by thousands of years of Western Civilization and opportunistic infections. We're women who don't deserve the clean cotton panties we were awarded and men who can't touch the fuzz on a peach without thinking,"mmmm, shaved."
If there were a place and a time like that...man, oh, man, that would be something. I'm not asking for a lot here. Just one day a year.
Halloween began more than 2,000 years ago among the Celts who were, back then, not much more than animals. The Celts didn't need an excuse to act depraved. They were pagans, after all, howling at the moon and rutting in the mud.
Every fall, after the harvest, the Celts threw a festival of celebration and dread when they really, really blew out all the stops. The Celtic Halloween was a festival of the unknown, of death and planetary movement when the spirits were thought to return to Earth to make mischief.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
Suitably dressed, the Celts gave way to their worst fears, that the end of the summer might mean a world frozen forever, a world without food or warmth or, eventually, life itself. It was a holiday of nightmare, and the only power the Celts had over that nightmare was to engage so robustly in life that it would chase death away. Over the centuries the Celtic Halloween rituals grew weirder and more ornate, until there were priests who specialized in the fall festival, who spent the entire year preparing for it and dreaming up new and stranger things to do to ward off death.
When the Celts were overrun by the Romans the harvest festival changed. The Romans injected their own Pantheon of gods into the Celtic culture, along with a concept -- Saturnalia -- of depraved sexual celebration. The Romans were like that, always looking for excuses to drink a bunch of wine and deflower a virgin or two, and if the excuse was a festival that was part of the heritage of the land the conquered, no big deal. The festival might have become outwardly Roman, but for the conquered Celts the central theme of the rite stayed the same: Evil nearly triumphant, threatening their very survival, run-off by gluttony of all kinds.
In the 9th Century, Christianity conquered the Celts and immediately went to work sapping the Celtic culture of everything that was even vaguely fun. Since there was nothing more fun than the fall festival, the Christians took aim at it.
Christianity has spread most effectively when it absorbs -- and is absorbed into -- the cultures it is slowly conquering. So it was with the pagan cultures of northern Europe. As Christianity spread, it co-opted the traditions and events that defined each culture. For example, there is nothing in the historical record indicating that Christ was born in December; his birthday was assigned to December 25 so that it would conflict with pagan Winter Solstice celebrations, offering an approved-by-God recreational alternative for bored-out-of-their-minds Druids. Before you know it, everyone was celebrating the Christchild rather than the sun reaching the Tropic of Capricorn.
So it was with Halloween. The Conquering Christians moved into the Celtic lands and, instead of pissing everyone off by canceling the party, announced:
Look, we know you love dressing up in costumes and getting wild. But our festival is way, way better than that. Come to our party instead.
And so was born All Saints Day, the first of November or -- depending on whose calendar you use -- the first Sunday after Pentacost. All Saints Day is a remembrance of Christian martyrs, and the owner's manual says that all good Christians should observe the holiday by staying up all night to pray. One can only wonder what the pagans must have thought the first time attended the All Hallows Eve prayer service that preceded the first Christian Halloween.
FIRST PAGAN: They call this a party? Where are the fires?
SECOND PAGAN: Why isn't anyone dancing naked?
FIRST PAGAN: You want I should go back to the hut and bring my wolf head for the priest to wear?
For that reason, Halloween never really departed its pagan roots. The pagans may have converted to Christ, but they kept the wolf costumes in a trunk in the attic and brought them out once a year just for the hell of it. That's what Halloween remains to this day: One day of harmless pagan fun. You can't spend five minutes on the Internet or ten minutes at a magazine stand or even walk through a drug store without realizing we're still pagans. For all the trappings of civilization and all the hectoring of Christianity and all the depredations of communicable diseases, we still need our once a year naked dance around the fire.
Four years ago Linda surprised Travis...On Halloween, once the sun set, Travis was instructed to wait for his wife in the guest room with the lights turned off. When Linda arrived, she was dressed in a flimsy teddy and pretended she had just met Travis.
Because, of course, lots of women wear flimsy teddies when they're meeting complete strangers. It happens to me all the time at professional conferences.
She remained in character for the next several hours, seducing him and acting like it was the first time they were having sex.
Which is not to say, apparently, that he prematurely ejaculated and she hit him with both fists while sobbing that he had taken advantage of her.
The entire experience was highly erotic for Travis and he appreciated how much thought and effort Linda had put into the evening. At first Linda thought it was her husband who was receiving the erotic treat, but she ended up enjoying the experience as much as her husband.
There is absolutely no reason why Travis and Linda couldn't role play every single night of the year. The slippery-slope moralists remind us every day that that's what's going to happen. One peak at pornography and we're rapists; one puff of weed and we're heroin addicts; one night of frivolous, non-standard sex -- even with our legally sanctioned spouses -- and we're out the open door to find multiple partners, possibly of different races than our own. There's no going back, the prudes tell us. Except that there is.
Linda and Travis decided to make their erotic role-play an annual event. The following year it was Travis’s turn to seduce his wife and fulfill one of her fantasies. Both joked about how much freedom they experienced while playing the role of seducer. Becoming someone else in those moments allowed each of their imaginations to expand in new and exciting ways.
That's it; that's all Travis and Linda need. Once a year and they're back to real life. Oh, there will always be a few who want to make depravity a full-time job. They join swinger clubs and and hang out in dark bars looking for a hook-up, who die lonely and ravaged by disease. But most of us blow-out on Halloween and then are perfectly happy to put our sexual training wheels back on. Like the pagans of old, we've converted to the modern world with one caveat: Don't take away our fall festival. That night, leave us alone.
Except, or course, no one's going to leave us along for even a minute. There are too many people out there trying to screw up the fun.
The Christians are still out there, though not in force. My own church canceled its Wednesday night service this year so that people could stay home, hand out candy and make sure the dogwoods didn't end up hung with toilet paper. There's a Baptist church up the street that holds a huge Halloween Party for its neighborhood, and if Baptists are OK with something you know it's not a big deal anymore. But there are still those who take offense at costumes and revelry. I, personally, know people who will not allow their children to dress in costumes or to trick or treat. If you read the comments on this page, you will find that there are people who are horrified that society takes Halloween so lightly:
I was appalled at how many Christians think Halloween is harmless...I am grieved at how we are desensitizing our children to the things that are an abomination to our Holy God.
Whether Halloween is an abomination to God or not is a matter of opinion, and the only guy with an opinion that matters isn't talking. So we're on our own, left to our own self-indulgent decision-making processes. And all you have to do is walk up the aisle at the corner drugstore to discover what we've decided: It may be evil, but Halloween is a great marketing opportunity.
There is, of course, no kind of fun that marketing can't screw up. Consider for a moment the difference between Woodstock and Woodstock 2. Woodstock, held in 1969, was muddy and disorganized, a mob scene of naked dancing and sex barely concealed beneath sopping blankets. Woodstock 2 was well organized and sponsored by corporations with deep pockets and an apprently endless supply of porta-potties, and no one who went had much fun at all.
And so it is with modern Halloween. Mass produced and corporatized, it's become a festival of high-margin costume and decoration sales that seems almost designed to disappoint.
There are times when I'm frustrated by the psychological complexity of women and times when I'm grateful for it. In the case of Halloween, I'm grateful. While that complexity may make it harder to convince my own, personal wife that she should dress up as a female member of the board of directors who never wears panties to meetings and really needs to learn her place in the world, it is also the only thing that has saved Halloween from ruin.
Women's fantasies, you see, aren't as simple to fulfill through costumery as are men's.
It will not surprise you to know that there are trained, professional scientists who have studied this phenomenon. It will also not surprise you that their published results are almost impossible to understand, that being a requirement of most research grants:
The grantee promises to deliver a report that no normal person can possibly read and comprehend.
In this case, the research on differences between men's and women's fantasies is as extensive as it is indecipherable. See if you can make sense of this for example:
Whether gender differences in sexuality should be attributed to distal evolutionary factors or proximal sociocultural factors remains a controversial and contentious topic. However, as Oliver and Hyde (1993) noted in their meta-analytic review of gender differences in sexuality, evolutionary psychology and sociocultural theories actually agree on a number of predictions. For example, both theories generally predict that, on average, women will be more cautious than men in choosing sex partners and less interested in sex for its own sake outside of any romantic or relationship context.
What that means, I think, it that it's a lot easier to make a costume out of polyester and foam rubber that fulfills men's fantasies than it is to make one that fulfills women's. Men typically fantasize about women in roles easily depicted through wardrobe: Hookers, maids, dominatrixes, naughty secretaries in need of a good paddling, nuns. You can walk into stores across America and buy a costume for women that looks, based on the packaging art, as if it will turn any woman into a supermodel panting for various kinds of degrading sex. At the Walgreen's near where I live, I found witch outfits with miniskirts and fishnet stockings, a devil costume that consisted of a rip-away leotard and thigh-highs, three variations on a frilly-skirted French maid, and a one-size-fits-all harem get-up that fit in a package not much bigger than a greeting card envelope.
And I know, through experience, that when they are out of the packages and onto my hot, long-legged spouse, they will look like ugly pajamas from K-Mart. And it won't matter, because I am a man and I am a pig.
But look at the costumes for men, right there at the drug store. If women's costumes are all about fulfilling men's fantasies, men's costumes seem to be entirely about letting men complete the costume requirement without going to a lot of effort. At the self-same Walgreens, the available men's costumes were: Ghost, escaped convict, Grim Reaper, and football player. None of the costumes involved inordinate exposed flesh or particular emotional commitment. And, it's safe to say, none of them involved fulfilling women's fantasies.
The natural explanation for this disparity is Functional Ambivalent's First Rule of the Sexes, previously alluded to:
Men are self-centered pigs.
And we are, but in this case I think the reality is more subtle than that. Fact is, the reason we don't even try to put together good costumes is that women are psycho-sexually complicated. It's nearly impossible for a man to dress up as the fantasy object of most women, so we don't even try. Women fantasize about men in roles that are not defined by wardrobe: Protectors, responsible providers, loving fathers, guys with huge penises. It's a lot easier to manufacture, say, a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader outfit than it is to put together a convincing Denzel Washington costume.
CLERK: That'll be nine thousand dollars.
WOMAN: I'll take two.
The Halloween marketing machine hasn't figured that one out yet, but I have no doubt it's trying.
The part of the Halloween machine that is hardest to endure, however, is part that tries to take our pagan misbehavior and turn it into something good and healthy. Never in the history of mankind have there been more counselors, advice columnists, cable television hosts and other nitwit busybodies who want to advise us how to live our lives. And every single one of them ran out of original material years ago and are left recycling the same tired banalities. That means that every year they dig into the banality files and bring out the psychobabble advising us to turn our pagan fun into one more opportunity to talk about how much we need need to seek opportunities to talk.
Take, for example, Ask April. I don't know who April is and I'm probably not the kind of guy who'd ask her much of anything except directions off her website and on to someplace more interesting, but April is apparently an advice columnist. Who isn't, these days? And April, like every other advice columnist in the world, is dispensing wisdom about Halloween.
Putting on a costume gives people "psychological permission" to behave differently than they normally do. Wearing something sexy, silly, mysterious or scary evokes feelings in the costume wearer -- and the partner of the costume wearer -- and these evoked feelings can lead to new behaviors like silliness, sexiness, edginess, etc. * The downside of costume-wearing is if it's a crutch for not being yourself, and the behavior becomes addictive and "rut-like".
So: You should worry while you're having fun. You should worry that you're going to want to have more fun, and that fun could become a habit and the next thing you know you're happy and in no need of advice from April or anyone else. And we can't have that, now, can we?
Near where I live there is a big box store that has gone out of business, and every holiday season its 50,000 square feet are filled with whatever kind of crap that particular holiday markets. (Technically, from a marketing standpoint there are only three holidays a year: Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Halloween.) For the last month, the big box has been stuffed with disposable Halloween junk. There are decorations and tchotchkas and costumes of all types at all price points, from $12 Ninja Turtle holdovers to $300 Viking helmets.
If you go into the Halloween store, you will note that it takes almost no time for children to pick their costumes and forever for the adults. In ten minutes little Mary has become a fairy princess and Jimmy is a soldier with a toy gun, but it takes two hours for mom and dad to get through the complicated negotiation of who's going to be what for Halloween. That negotiation is not necessarily with each other. More than anything, each person negotiates with himself.
How far will I go this year? What am I going to reveal of my true self?
The reason it takes so long is simple: Like the strangers looking across a barroom at each other and the pagans dancing around a bonfire, mom and dad are consumed with fear and excitement. They know that they have to hit just the right mark or their Halloween will be a failure.
Fear and sex have had a complex, intertwined evolutionary history, ever since our amphibious ancestors first mated ecstatically in the midst of fearsome predators, up to our modern desire to expose ourselves in risky places, from the Internet to the Oval Office. Hot sex and a touch of fear--risk, danger, taboo--seem to go together.
So we have the complicated and subtle dance.
I have a friend who is an accountant. He's a young father, rushing away from work to coach soccer and Little League. He drives a minivan and doesn't mind.
The other day, we were talking about Halloween. I brought it up, because I knew he had small children and I was curious what the kids are wearing these days. After telling me about his cute daughter and rambunctious son, he added almost in a whisper:
My wife bought a Halloween costume. It's kind of a police uniform, but sexy. She got handcuffs.
He's going to have a fun Halloween, because his children are young enough to go to bed early and his wife will still be wearing her sexy cop outfit and the living room couch or maybe even a straight=backed chair ("She got handcuffs!") will beckon.
Out there in the world, the marketers and busybodies are working as hard as they can. They've been out there in one form or another for thousands of years trying to ruin our Autumnal pagan celebration.
Don't let them.