“What going on, man? Talk to me.”
“I can’t talk about it,” I wheeze, and blow my nose again for emphasis. But he won't go away.
He sits down and folds his hands in a universal gesture of patient and stubborn compassion. Here I am, bro. The thing is, I wish he were a woman. If this were a woman I would at least try to find something to say. I always find it so much harder to talk to guys. There’s just something about women. It wasn’t that I was close to my mother or anything. I don’t know if she was even capable of being close to someone, she was such a hungry, wounded soul who was so cut off from the rest of us by her madness. I just really like women so much more. I like their company. I like the way a room feels when a woman is in it. Yet, I don’t like to show weakness to a woman either. You’re not supposed to cry in front of women. If it weren’t a guy sitting across from me, even if it were the most maternal female in the world, I don’t know if I could really let her in. I’m very much my mother’s son.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that,” I blow my nose again and cough. “Oh Jesus.”
“No, man. I’m pretty fucking far from okay. Here.” I wipe my eyes on my sleeve and push the soup bowl across the table to him. “Try this.”
He looks at it suspiciously. “Goddamn. What is this shit?”
I’m starting to feel a little better now. I think I’ll be all right. It really does help that he’s here to share the pain with. “Try it.”
“What’s those red things?”
“Try it anyway. Go on.”
Guys cry differently from women, because it’s expected of us. Its one of those things guys learn as we grow up without ever knowing how we learned it, like the way you always wash your balls first when you take a shower. Why do guys wash their balls first? I don’t know. Where did we get that? I don't know. But we all do. In my life I saw my father, whose name was Daniel, cry on only two occasions. He cried the way guys cry.
Around 1959 or so he packed my mom and my brother and me in the little blue Rambler and we drove from Iowa to Kansas. We just drove and drove with little rest stops on the way. No motels or hotels. In Kansas, my grandfather was dying of cancer. We stood by his bed. He seemed to stare out past us and he was very thin. I didn’t know him much at all. We stood around feeling a little awkward and then my dad took his hand. Grandpa looked at him and said “Joe?”
A single tear ran down my father’s face. Left side. Maybe two inches from his nose. From the corner of his eye, roughly the length of his cheek, stopping on a little beard stubble at the corner of his mouth. He let it stay there. Which must have itched. One tear. That’s how a man weeps. Old school. I don’t know why.
In the emotional nakedness of orgasm, in that moment when a man's self control is shattered by pleasure, there are men who burst into tears in the relief of wild release. I don’t do this myself even on my best nights, and I have never attained to it, though I secretly envy men who have. Women are frustrated by the way men keep the tender stuff all bottled up inside. But what women should also understand is that's also one big way sex has such an obsessive appeal for guys. That magic moment when a man feels himself pop deep inside his woman and connects to his wildest emotions, a man can experience himself as completely and perfectly male.
Our hard cock is the trumpet of our feelings. Werewolf like, it has transformed from the softest, limpest thing to something bluntly aggressive. I don’t think women have an equivalent to this. Showing your breasts to a man is a display of intimate mystery and beauty, and invitation. A woman’s bare breast may be the most beautiful thing in all the world, but there’s nothing threatening about a breast. When a man exposes his stiffened phallus to his lover it's an unambiguous declaration of intent. The other side of that is when a man’s cock falls and fails. If a man’s phallus betrays him in the presence of his lover he hears the sound of his own mortality knocking.
My father’s cancer returned in 2008. When my father’s time of dying came there was no mystery about it. It was a good death and he prepared himself as though preparing for a trip, which was how he viewed it. The doctors told him he would be gone by Thanksgiving. In the previous couple of years we had been reviving our relationship with each other and discovering each other all over again. He had become a complex, spiritual and very beloved man, almost a cult figure among his many friends. Me, I had at least become interesting, and my son was the only grandchild who truly loved him and they delighted in each others natural wisdom and openness to wisdom. As a pair of liberal Democrats my father and I were excited about Barrack Obama and I decided to fly up and spend election night with him. In the evening before the vote count started he took down some photo albums my Uncle Tony had left behind and went through the ancestral pictures with me, explaining who the people in the slick black and white photos wearing archaic clothes and kitschy hair styles were. Who the young girl with the bone cast and bandages was and what had happened to her in the car on a certain rainy night and why her parents weren’t in that picture. There was a photo of his mother whom he had never known, with him on her knee as a toddler on a picnic in the ruins of a ghost town, a year before she died. We sat up and watched Barrack Obama become president. In the morning I had to catch my plane. We had coffee, making guy talk, him in his bathrobe with the ugly ravages of leukemia on his face like a plague.
I stood in the door with my suitcase. He was already too sick to come to the airport with me. We joked around a little and said goodbye to each other and all the unspoken baggage between us. Though the word was never used, we forgave each other for all the terrible ways a man and his eldest son can disappoint each other over a life time, and remembered only the love and hugged. He said he was proud of me and I was a good son, and I want to believe he finally meant it. I said I was proud of him and he was a good father, and I really meant it. I had cause to mean it.
In our last manly moment, guy to guy, we rationed each other a single male tear apiece. Two weeks later he was gone.
He looks at the spoon in my bowl like maybe it has cooties on it. He’s maybe wondering if its gay or something to eat off the same spoon a guy’s been eating off of. He gets a plastic Wendy’s spoon from a pile of them someone stashed in a drawer along with little packets of catsup and hot sauce. “What’s those little red things in there again?”
He dips the yellow Wendys spoon in there and takes a lick. Instantly his eyes squeeze shut and and he jumps to his feet. He sticks his head in the trash can and spits. His face is turning red like mine. “What the holy fuck . . .”
By the time he comes back I’m digging through the drawer with the little catsup packets. Here we go, I found some crackers. One of those little things I learned from my dad about eating hot foods is that water doesn’t put out the fire like people think, it makes it worse. Tortillas, crackers or bread get the acidy oil out of your mouth. I tear the packet of crackers open and suck on one. Oh that’s so much better. “I really love this stuff. Want some more? Good for colds.”
“Where I live we have this neighbor named Knut. She’s from Thailand. She’s alone, her kids are gone, no husband for years. But she likes my family and when she makes traditional Thai soup she brings it over for me. She knows I like hot food.”
“That ain’t hot food, bro, that shit’s insane.”
“And yeah it’s seriously insane. This isn’t fun hot like Taco Bell hot. This stuff hurts. Get yourself a cup I’ll give you some.”
“Oh, come on. Try it with a cracker. Here. Don’t be such a baby.”