A Brief Experiment with Married Men, Part Three
It takes a lusty woman to make a tender chicken
Lunch with Sam was at an upscale Japanese restaurant near Grand Central. He looked even better in broad daylight, ruddy-cheeked and beaming with expectation. I couldn’t really get a sense of what his body was like because the two times I’d met him he was wearing banker’s suits, and suits can hide all sorts of lumps and bulges. He had just the merest suggestion of a paunch under his pale blue shirt, but he had also mentioned early-morning aerobics classes at a gym in his building, and that augured well for, well….
He told me more about his daughter, an honors student at Brandeis, a sophomore English major who was vaguely thinking of going into teaching. I asked what she and the wife were doing during their week in New York.
He scowled. “Fighting, mostly.”
“Oh, dear. I guess it’s that age….I fought with my mom a lot when I was a teenager.” I didn’t really, but I wanted to make him feel better.
He drummed his fingers on the table and then opened the menu. I quickly learned that this was territory he didn’t care to navigate, any discussion whatsoever of his wife. The rest of the lunch was chitchat—and the best sushi I’ve had in a long while—and as the restaurant was popular and filled up quickly, it became more and more difficult to talk. I was still trying to understand what he did as a banker; it seemed to involve trading in foreign currencies. But whenever people begin to discuss finance and investments, my IQ drops about 20 points.
On the street afterward, he took my hand lightly, held it for about a block, and then dropped it. I realized we were far too close to his office for open displays of affection, but when I spotted the bus that I wanted to take crosstown pulling up to the curb, I quickly kissed him on the cheek and then wiped off the lipstick with my fingers.
Later he emailed me: “When we were holding hands, when you wiped your kiss from my face, I started thinking of you as my girlfriend.”
I wrote back and invited him to dinner on Sunday.
He accepted but included in his response a long and rambling confession about an affair two years ago, with a married woman in the city, which ended when she and her husband moved to Washington. “She would even take phone calls from him when we were in bed together.” Well, it does take all kinds, and this volatile little experiment was opening my eyes to the myriad varieties of mischief out there. He closed by saying that he kept pulling up my photo on his computer screen (“you’re better-looking than your picture”) and how much he looked forward to Sunday: “Can I stay overnight?”
I wrote back. “I’ll buy you a toothbrush.”
But there was still Daniel, the lawyer, knocking at the gates. Soon after we’d made a plan to meet for drinks, I canceled because I just didn’t have good instincts about this man. Maybe it was the crack about “mature” women, maybe it was all the emails from his Blackberry while he was on vacation with the family. (But why should I have found this any more objectionable than corresponding with a man while his wife and daughter are in town? This was all strange new territory, and I had to make up the rules as I went along.) He was persistent, though, so I finally acquiesced to lunch in Midtown because I had to make a run to the library anyway.
So I met him at a Chinese restaurant on 40th Street. If men are dogs, as some bitterly maintain, this one was definitely a terrier, perhaps an Airedale: bright brown eyes, tightly curled wiry hair, and he all but jumped up from the table when he saw me. He was in the midst of answering a message on his phone when I arrived and wanted to know if I minded if he finished. Not at all. I was, at that time, a great deal more curious about high-tech gizmos and all that they could do, a fascination that wears off by the time you’re on your fifth or sixth smartphone and dependent on both a laptop and tablet. When he was done texting, he showed me all the nifty features and said, “You gotta get one of these. It will change your whole life.”
“Well, I’m a bit of a technophobe….”
“No, really. They’re incredible.”
He was pushing so hard I started to wonder if he owned stock in Nokia.
Within minutes it became clear that this man and I did not click on any level whatsoever, and like so many dates I’ve had, he had zero curiosity about where I come from, what I do, what I’ve written, who I am. I’ve always chalked this up to terminal self-absorption, but I think there might also be an element of profound insecurity. He nattered on about his kids, his workout routines, his wife’s charitable causes. Even if we couldn’t connect on a verbal level, we’d never, ever find communion over food: he ordered a bamboo basket full of bland steamed vegetables with a side of Hoisin sauce; I eagerly tucked into a greasy, spicy duck salad. And after eating only half his veggies, after less than an hour together, he announced, “Well, I’m going to have to leave. Important meeting. But please finish your lunch and I’ll take care of the bill.”
And so I sat there alone for about 10 minutes, picking at his broccoli, more amused than annoyed.
Later I got an email from him: “It was very nice to meet you finally, and I'm sorry that I had to rush out. You're certainly an attractive and interesting woman, but my guess is that you probably are looking for someone who can give you more than I have to give even in terms of a ‘lover’ relationship. What I’m looking for is a woman who can be available early in the mornings and for an occasional stolen moment after work. If you at any point feel like all you'd like is a warm friendly body next to you on some chilly morning, I would love to see your name light up my Blackberry.”
Wow, what a deal! You bring the lattes and I’ll provide a place for you to dunk your cruller! Where, I wondered, was he going to find a female willing to greet him at, say, seven a.m. for a toss and coffee before he sped off to the office? One who was not a professional? There seemed no other response but “good luck.”
There was a time when I did all sorts of elaborate things to make roast chicken, which has over the years become for me a powerful talisman of seductive domesticity (if that’s not a total oxymoron). Stuffing lemons and rosemary into the cavity of the bird, tucking butter, chopped garlic, lemon rind, and even prosciutto under the skin. I’ve made a roast chicken with Hoisin sauce that tastes something like Peking duck manqué. I’ve brined the bird before roasting; I’ve surrounded it with root vegetables and garlic cloves. Then I decided that simplest is best: for a truly crisp skin, generously salt the chicken (preferably organic) and then roast it in a hot oven (450 or so) until the skin is golden brown; turn the heat down to 325 and roast another 20 to 40 minutes more, depending on the weight. The trick is in the trussing: tie it up as tightly as you can—wings close to the body, legs securely shackled, and string (or dental floss in a pinch) securing the bird from the neck to the pope’s nose. After it’s done, make a pan gravy with white wine or vermouth.
Sam arrived at six on Sunday, looking sexy casual in a long-sleeve polo shirt and jeans (nice ass, for a guy in his 50s). He brought a couple of bottles of wine and an overnight bag. I put the bird in the oven and poured us some wine. We were a few sips into that first glass, seated on my couch, when he made a classic and expert lunge and we were back in the lust zone, kissing, and on our way into my bedroom in no time flat. (There were three little steps up to that cozy room filled mostly with my king-sized bed. Before I moved out of the apartment, years ago, I should have posted some kind of memorial marker on that mini-staircase, like those commemorative roadside plaques dedicated to heroes and battles.)
Sam turned out to be impressively, even terrifyingly, endowed. And I loved the way he regarded my middle-aged body with a certain awe and reverence. In the flickering candles from the dresser, his face reminded me of certain noble Roman portrait busts—he looked far less boyish on the horizontal. The intensity of his expression was a huge turn-on, and the chemistry was, as they say, awesome.
The chicken came out overdone, but with a salad and wild rice and a bottle of Pinot Noir, this was certainly a fine post-coital meal, and we polished it off in our bathrobes. Sam told me stories about his family, his domineering father and sweet-natured mother. There was not much sex education in his school or household, he added, and he was terrified to so much as touch himself until he went off to college. “I was brought up to believe that sex is something you ‘do’ to a woman.”
“You’re ‘doing’ just fine,” I said.
Dessert was a lot more fun than what I’d planned, berry sorbet and macaroons, and for the rest of the night, I could well believe this guy hadn’t been getting much for the past two years. In the early-morning hours, my cat let out a series of low mournful howls (he was not used to being shut out of the bedroom), but Sam slept right through the keening. He was up and ready to go at six, dressed in sweats for his early-morning aerobics class, while I was deeply craving more sleep. Sam refused my offer of coffee and so we parted with a chaste, almost connubial kiss.
And then I headed back to bed for the next two hours. What bliss to sleep in the warmth left by his big body.