At a bar a while back, I got into a spirited intellectual disagreement with a male friend. As is often the way with debates at bars, we were discussing booze and sex. Sean recalled that in Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest known narrative poem, beer civilized the savage wild man; I insisted that it was sex that tamed the naked wild man.
Did I mention that the bar is in my garage? It is a real bar, eight feet long, L-shaped, and made of dark wood, stained and chipped and water-marked by long usage. The bar used to anchor Milady’s, a real saloon across Salmon Bay from our house, where the Man I Married had his very first gig and I came up with the idea for a dirty story later published in Best Women’s Erotica and Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. Believe me, there’s lots of time for a gal’s imagination to run wild while she waits for her man to unload gear, set up, tune, and later re-load after an all-too-brief set.
Some time after that gig, the Man I Married was seized with a sudden and inexplicable urge to visit the RE-Store to look at salvaged items. We had no remodeling projects in the works and MIM didn’t make a habit of visiting the RE-Store. He walked in, and there was the bar-top from Milady’s. He installed the very big bar in what was then our very small house, and then he moved it to the garage of our current house, along with brass foot railings and the nine-foot long neon sign from Harvey’s Tavern, where he’d been part of the house band for five years. Hence the garage is now the Barage.
Since the bar disagreement took place in my own home, I simply went to my den down the hall to find my copy of Gilgamesh, dog-eared at the page early in the tale in which Enkidu, the naked wild man, sees his first human female and has a seven-day erection, which never flags despite constant lovemaking with a prostitute/priestess. After a week of this, Enkidu stands up on two legs, “his knees trembling,” and returns to his animals. But they reject him. He is now fully human and no longer part of the animal world.
He knew that his mind had somehow grown larger,
He knew things now that an animal can’t know.
Enkidu moves to the city with the prostitute/priestess (where I recall he has some smoking hot sex with the king, his “best friend”). The poem mentions nothing about the priestess and her stamina, though I imagine she had a bit of a bow-legged walk for a while, this being about 3,000 years before the invention of Astroglide. Enkidu is described as being “huge,” and we can be fairly certain that describes more than his height and shoulders. But she seems to have taken the whole affair in stride.
When I read the passage aloud, Sean was stunned. How had he possibly remembered that it was beer—not sex—that had civilized the savage wild man? It’s pretty hard to confuse a week-long woody with a Hefeweizen.
No bet had been wagered, but I clearly won the argument, as well as effectively shutting down all of the men at the bar with the bit about the seven-day erection, the trembling knees being the only after-effect of note.
Not until quite awhile later, just last week, did I come across a different quote from Gilgamesh, in which Enkidu, upon entering the city:
Drank beer, the custom of the land.
Beer he drank—seven goblets.
His spirit was loosened.
He became hilarious.
His heart was glad and his face shone.
Here, then, was the passage that Sean had remembered (which I haven’t yet told him, because, let’s face it, proving yourself unequivocally right in a bar dispute is damn satisfying, in fact the only thing that could possibly beat it is if the argument had been with MIM). Both Sean and I had read the full text of Gilgamesh. How was it that I remembered only the seven-day erection, while Sean had remembered only the seven goblets of beer? Neither one of us remembered that Enkidu, on his path to becoming civilized, also ate his first bread, which surprises me, because there are days when I’d take a loaf of crusty sourdough hands down over a roll in the hay. In either case, seven days of sex or seven goblets of beer makes for a much better story than the Old Testament yawner about God creating the earth in seven days.
Yet it also seems to me that what one man and one woman remembered years after reading the same text illustrates some fundamental differences between men and women.
You’d think it would be men with sex on the brain—not so much the dude’s seven-day stiffy but the fact that he had a beautiful, free prostitute who was game for a solid week of nonstop schtupping. But my recent highly scientific research into romance novels backs up the breakdown of women and men by preoccupation with sex and beer.
Beer is the third most popular drink in the world (following water and tea).
Men drink the majority (80%) of the volume of beer consumed nationally.
Of the 1500 U.S. microbreweries counted in 2005, all but a small handful are owned by men, and men brew the beer.
Women buy the majority (64%) of books purchased.
92% of these women buy romance novels.
Approximately 97.8% of these romance novels, based on the eight I’ve read this year, are about lust and always—except for one—culminate in on-the-page, play-by-play sex. No space breaks or white space or “… Afterwards …”
My Excel spreadsheet shows the following breakdown of sex in these eight novels:
In five of the eight, the man gives the woman oral sex before any other hanky panky other than kissing occurs. (Oral sex occurs at 35% into my current read, which is much earlier than in the other scientific samplings. More common is the book like the one in which the heroine receives oral sex at the 92% mark and the couple proceeds to penetration at 95%. Percentages courtesy of my Kindle ebook reader. Tax writeoff!)
In only one does the woman give the man oral sex first: this happens at the 75% point, but the next 25% of the novel is a protracted sex scene in which they screw repeatedly throughout all of the rooms in two neighboring apartments (kitchen, livingroom, bedroom, bathroom), and the heroine repeatedly does this thing where she hooks both legs over the dude’s shoulder (singular, not plural), which was a bit of a mood killer as I was kinda thrown every time I tried to picture it; the author did include a prior scene in which the heroine attended a yoga class, so the heroine didn’t “break character” with her adept Ankles On Shoulder Pose. Then, however, we switch to the point-of-view of the cat, and breaking a fundamental literary rule about sudden POV shifts is too kinky even for me.
In only one of the eight books for my highly scientific sampling, there’s no sex at all, but this was in the sub-category of Super Sneaky Mormon Romance, which never outs itself as being a Super Sneaky Mormon Romance. I finally figured it out when the entire huge family all toasts each other with apple juice at the holiday dinner. So busted as a Super Sneaky Mormon Romance! Clue: if it takes place in Salt Lake City, chances are it’s a Super Sneaky Mormon Romance. This one ends, of course, in a marriage proposal.
In the last of the eight, I can’t remember where the sex starts and if oral sex (for her) comes first. I think I was doing something silly like distracting myself by reading for plot.
Three of the eight feature a cat, one features a dog, and more than one features the man persistently trying to feed the woman. He feeds her donuts (Krispy Kreme) or teaches her to make Chicken Marsala. Right. Soooo unbelievable as far as fantasies go. Men by the library-cart load all dying to give women oral sex I can buy if I’m on my second dirty martini, even with time travel (and historical sex in which nobody smells to high heaven) thrown in, but him showing her how to tenderize a chicken and telling her she’s not using enough butter and olive oil? Pah. My Willing Suspension of Disbelief just went out the window with the tomcat.
Three feature an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, with two of these conceptions happening on the first night of illicit sex, and two happening in historical fiction. In the modern one, the heroine is dumb enough not to have read her directions for The Pill and neither had her doctor explained it to her, I guess because she got her prescription in Texas. But mostly these books feature the crinkling of a condom packet and the always deft maneuvering of the modern-day, self-actualized hero in rolling that sucker on one-handed, always off-the-page. It’s not Thanksgiving, and we ladies reading romance don’t need to know about the sausage stuffing.
In these books, the hero always knows his Wine or his Whiskey—always the good stuff, and he willingly shares these and his knowledge of same with his Conquest.
But he never, ever offers her a beer. That, my friends, would be memoir, not romance.
*Whole Nine Yards
Some of my favorites so far, along with anything by Elinor Lipman: