Zenobia, queen of Palmyra.


By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 1 May 2022




To compare the other one-night stand that month, in terms of sex, is like deflating a balloon with a pin. Jim invited me to a Halloween party at a house nearby, someone I didn’t know. It was a nice, large house with a huge crowd, half in costumes, not me, but plenty of booze. I went with Jim, began drinking and wandering the rooms by myself, loud music playing, people in silly costumes milling about, some dancing. I ended up in a corner of a living room somehow with a plain and short girl, dark hair and glasses, also not in a costume, and was pressed against the wall with her by the crowd. After hardly any conversation she began kissing me. I can’t remember much of it. In my notebook there’s only two cryptic lines about her. Her name was Linda. I do remember enjoying her kisses and leading her by the hand back to my place around two in the morning. The lights were on at Ed and Brigitte’s place. They’d been to another party, had just gotten home and invited us in for drinks. We sat with them for another hour, but mostly necking. She seemed infatuated with this. So Ed and Brigitte left us alone, dimmed the lights and went to bed. Then to my bed for drunken, forgotten sex. Here’s my entry:

“Nov. 1st, Another weekend of drugs and debauchery. Friday night was not so bad as the Saturday before. There was music till 4 a.m., then dull talk and stupefaction till about noon. No morning exodus to the cafe Med. Saturday afternoon getting high again, this time more lively, talking enthusiastically with Chuck, then to open house party then to Halloween party, thinking the car totally broken, but high and happy, picking up Linda, and another kind of high”.

That’s all the mention she gets. The next sentence is about work, and how it helps us recover from binging. But because I did have sex with her I tried to start a relationship. The next morning we talked with open eyes and I began to realize we had little in common. But I promised to visit her the next day. She lived nearby and I visited her Monday evening. I think we had dinner in her modest apartment, but the conversation was lacklustre. Tuesday night I took her to a movie, trying to talk with her on any subject that might provoke a spark in her brain, and realized, walking her home, that she was totally dull, in mind and looks and personality, a consistent, perfect blank, a cipher. I called her the next day and told her we weren’t meant for each other, that I wanted to break it off, permanently. Even in this declaration she had no reaction, just saying ‘o.k.’. I wonder what happens to such speechless people in life? Do they meet a speechless mate and just watch T.V. together each evening, munching popcorn from the same bag, side by side? Or do they become spinsters in lonely apartments? And does it matter to them either way? They may be quite content with this lifestyle.

I'm usually focused on far different types of people who live a far more active life, mentally and physically. But such chance encounters has led me to conjecture that there might be pleasures associated with indolence which only the truly lazy can conceive, and that loneliness plays no part to a dull mind. It has no sensation of it and the Beatles's song about lonely people is mistaken, judging solitary people from a far different viewpoint which they never understood, being in the constant limelight. So they wrote a song about living in the shadows and called it gloom when it might have been the most soothing, quiet and pleasant existence for one who doesn't want to compete or talk much. Is shyness a fault?  

But one thing does amaze me. How is it there can be such a huge disparity in sexual magnetism in women? You meet some (and this is the only way I can sum it up accurately) and you find they have one dollar in their bank account. Then you meet another and discover she has a million dollars in hers. It’s hard to fathom this degree of difference. It’s too wide. It defies the narrow limits of all our other human disparities in any art or skill.

Some people are obviously gifted in certain skills. In some it might be in hand-eye coordination in tennis, quick reflexes, aim and accuracy or speed or just bulk strength in other sports. In the mental departments some have musical or artistic gifts, or creative imaginations and a rare fluency with words in talk or writing. They become our idols and we enjoy their short spans of fame. But on close examination, the difference between the average man or woman and these stars is not that great, perhaps twenty I.Q. points and a better physique and all the effort and concentration they put into perfecting their talents. But we’re all still in the same league, the same ballpark. That’s why we watch and admire them in sports, read about them or view their works in galleries. We can’t match their performances. But we admire them all the more as our kin and our betters, the success stories we might have been.

But in matters of sexuality, magnetism and beauty women vary to titanic degrees. A rare few blossom into an Aspasia, guiding Pericles as he ruled Athens, Socrates calling her his greatest teacher, or a Lucretia Borgia or Marguerite de Navarre, two bright lights of the renaissance, or a Cleopatra or Zenobia, ruling the world of men effortlessly. They were all resplendently beautiful in mind and face, in motion and action.

I’ll limit my present speculations to physical beauty and personal charm, women living today, a few of whom I’ve met. Some become supermodels at seventeen, and with the slightest smile conquer almost anyone they choose. Others, a few steps below in charms and beauty, with a little intellect and practice, perfume and attire, can easily captivate a host of desirable men, social belles.

Some dealt a mediocre hand in this game of charms give up the game altogether. They fold. Many of these women whom I met or watched, especially in Berkeley, had little or no desire to please, (though they all had female magnetism), empowered, I suppose, in this era of gender equality to think they had no need to try, as if that were demeaning. And those who didn’t try, in bed or out, got the same as they gave and wondered at their neglect by men. In this electronic age, femininity, just like gallantry, (just like society) is pretty much evaporating. It's the two-dimensional version you see in 'Half-life'. It's the snake in 'Black Hole Sun.'

Linda was like that, ditched within a week. Diane, (whom I dated a year later) was great on our first two trysts (drug enhanced), then a nightmare on the third, and rudely dumped, for the same rudeness shown me. Lindy was hardly better, lasting until I saw myself as her sidekick in her drunken flings and nothing more. Lindsey, (my girlfriend to follow for almost a year) was sexy (or rather ‘horny’) in bed, but with the fault that she enjoyed everyone’s bed, at any time. All of them failed in any reciprocity to the plain, honest love I tendered, either not able to see it or blatantly using it for their own unshared, petty plans. In every case all dialogue broke down. In each case any charm they first had over me soon turned to disgust in my eyes, monsters, not women.

Dale was great in both sex and affection, the most complete woman I was graced to know, and consistently charming, thus the poems which she elicited and merited, a piece of my heart. Tracy was superlative in sex, off the charts, surpassing the wildest dreams of a sex maniac. In military terms, in an epic poem of thousands of soldiers, and through a ten year long war, she would have been the ‘Achilles’. But she was a one-nighter, piercing you through the heart in a single stroke upon first encounter, finishing you off. So that ended all else, every wonderful thing that might happen in love between a man and a woman, the man dumbstruck on the ground. I really do think that it would have taken a real Achilles or Alexander to match her.

Most of the rest of my half-dozen or so sexual affairs I can describe quite succinctly as ‘greeting cards’. They were one night stands. A few lasted several days. They were pleasant to receive, unexpected, and the message inside always brief and not soliciting a reply. There was a finality to them. These women opened up to me like I opened the card. A few, like Christina’s and Annie’s and Pat’s said: “Have a wonderful trip, goodbye.” Others, like Laurel’s and Maggie’s said: “Thanks for the wonderful time we had.” I suppose Low River’s was: “Have a merry Christmas.”

But you can’t reply to a greeting card. They’re a one way message of love, signed, but with no return address. They’re too brief to reply to. They were pretty, some even perfumed. But what do you do with such a card. You keep it on a mantel a few weeks, look at it fondly a few times, but sooner or later it ends up in the trash, discarded, a sad end of an affair where no real communication ever took place, and what went through the woman’s head was very different than what went through mine. But we’ll never know. It was sex between two parties with different motives and didn’t last, leaving only a memory and vague, conflicting feelings behind.

To cover everyone there’s one more class of sexual encounter I’ve had, deservedly at the very bottom of the list. Those wordless, always drunk and drug-driven animal acts, forgotten the next day or week, (often gladly) along with the name of the partner, without so much as a goodbye in the morning as one stumbles to the coffee pot with a headache. I suppose I’ve had a dozen of these but it doesn’t matter, any more than the hangovers I might recall.

There is one last class, sex with Mary Beth. But it wasn’t sex as her mind wasn’t there. She wasn’t there. It was wordless, without intoxication and meaningless, except for little kindnesses shown the next day and concern for her welfare, in exchange for a brief, warm feeling.

I know this stratifying of sex appears ‘infantile’ to women. But it’s to distinguish ‘sex’ from ‘love’, two very different and commonly confused or combined words. To most men sex is a huge factor to any continuing relationship. Besides a need, it’s their main way of showing love. Sensitive, human men never participate in sex without the passion of love, (in beasts it’s just lust). Women can engage without the slightest passion or feeling, spreading their legs and closing their eyes, with a final: “Are you done yet?” Many women never work at it. They might show affection in other ways, as my ex-wife did with me, which kept us together for eight years. But a disinterest in sex is a dagger to the man’s heart, slowly sinking in, or a hole in the hull of a boat, with water seeping in. Sex is the ultimate expression of love and when one partner grows cold and neglects it, it’s only a matter of time before the other walks away and the relationship sinks.

The other factor that holds a man entranced in a woman is her physical beauty, especially her face. This topic deserves a book, because in every other set of things compared and discussed by men, there are conflicting judgments and opinions, but also ambiguities and doubts in one’s mind, good points and bad in the things compared, with the scale tipping back and forth and the prize hard to decide and debatable, questions like: whose the greatest athlete, best writer or finest painter, opinions endlessly debatable in a bar or at a poker table. But on the question of the female face, every man knows in his own mind right away, the sure winner.

Tracy looked strikingly similar to my T.A. in the Hebrew course I took seven years earlier. It was a summer, intensive workshop, ten weeks long, and ten hours of study each day, to teach ancient Hebrew. I’d already done the one’s in Latin and Greek and this was the third, taught only at Berkeley on their model. The renaissance scholars I read said it was the finishing touch to knowing the ancient world, thus the most famous school back then, in Louvain, was called the ‘Collegium Trilingue’, the 'three-language' college.

I never did pursue it after this course. I was the only non-Jewish participant in a class of twelve. Even the teachers wondered why I was there and when I told them, they had no idea of such history. But I did enjoy reading a few pages of Genesis and Job and Ruth in the original, and could perceive it was as poetic as Homer. But this pales for me to being in such close proximity to our T.A. four hours each day, going the rounds of our desks to take in her ring free hand each student’s homework, or quizzes, standing a foot from me and looking straight down at me with her beautiful eyes, commenting in her sweet voice on my good grades. I doted on her then and in my dreams for months after. For she had a perfect, unforgettable beauty. They had the same short, raven hair, the same height, slimness, shapely breasts, voice, feminine deportment and an amazing similitude of face.

But after that delicious night in Tracy’s embrace, in the days after, their similarities being so hauntingly close, I began (in my mind’s eye), to compare the two beauties carefully, so as not to confuse them in my dreams. It took only minutes. The Jewish T.A., though her image was a little faded over time, (like an old photograph) won the contest of beauty decisively. It was something in her cheekbones, just slightly more pronounced, that gave her the advantage, definitively, in that remembered comparison of faces, and the golden statue, my imaginary award, was handed to her.

But then I pondered: why do we rate women’s looks so exactly, putting them to the test and scoring each with a grade, and that grade ridiculously precise and final? It would be like a mark given on a test score with three decimal points past the first. ‘Tracy, you just rated a 9.723 in facial beauty. Someone else topped you by a hair. You lose’. Yet that’s the way we are. Here’s a proof. Put the pictures of the top ten highest paid models or actresses in the world, (or any set of ten living or iconic women’s faces) in front of a panel of men, any men, and I guaranty you each man will pick out his favorite within one minute. And it will always be a decisive winner, a no questions asked hands down winner, not the same for each man, but in each man’s mind clearly and indisputably the fairest.

Why do we do this? Each woman has outstanding qualities of beauty, physical and spiritual, but we pick one as the best and relegate the others to a lower sphere. Why couldn’t I place both Tracy and the T.A. on the same pedestal of beauty and admire them equally? The T.A. might have been a total ‘dud’ in bed, and a terrible partner in every other way. But that’s not the point. It’s the face that strikes the brain and with that image a man’s mind is completely bewitched, beguiled, with no escape. It’s the unbreakable habit in men’s minds of constant comparison, and the comparisons in the end are always invidious, with nine losers for every one winner. Women, I apologize to all of you, and Tracy, I doubly apologize.

These thoughts didn’t change my views of women. I knew there were all types, with all degrees of faults and talents, pluses and minuses in every department of character, body and mind. But I put them out of my mind after her and pursued none. Just as in her case, the only relationships that happened to me after that, for the next nine months, were when some woman pushed me against a wall and initiated it. I was engaged by some, in bars or friends’ homes, and talked for hours with then. I was attracted to others and talked away even more hours, usually high on speed. Tina was one I’d try to corner in some room at the Warehouse at 3 a.m., or Claire, Bruno’s girlfriend, because they were both so intelligent in conversation, but not love interests. I was just fascinated by their female perspective of life.

But I was always, all my life, passive at passes. Bones and Kim, Harry O., and several other friends of mine could charm a newly met woman right out of her pants within hours. I watched it over and over, often from a couch away, wondered at it, but never practiced the art. They’d lean right into a woman’s face, inches away, and charm her with a mesmerizing force of words, pearly teeth and looks, or a song and guitar, hypnotize her and reel her in, starry-eyed, to bed. But it wasn’t in my character to do that. I considered it manipulation, deception even. And I didn’t want to wake up to the look of a woman feeling deceived, regretful or ashamed. But it’s more than that. I didn’t have the urge my friends had. I’ve used the word ‘oversexed’, so I can honestly call myself ‘undersexed’. I had so many other things on my mind that ‘getting laid’ was low on my social agenda. Now falling in love and admiring female beauty were high on my list of interests and when they struck me unexpectedly my first reaction was something like mute astonishment. Then my imagination would kick in with a whole slew of possible outcomes, good and bad, freezing any action.

I often waxed poetic on a bar stool or at a table late at night, with men and women, speed aided, full of drink and eloquence. But it was as if I were talking to myself or just letting my thoughts flow out, with never an ulterior motive or even a thought as to its effect on others. That time I read those poems to Laurel in my garage, I was just as much or even more caught up in my enthusiasm for the poems themselves. She was just the excuse for me to re-read them again. I do admit that with Diane, having seen the result with Laurel, I did read the same ones to her, with the ulterior motive to enamour her, and it worked that night. But I always had my priorities, my self-respect, and that directed my actions, and bedding a woman was low on my list. I was too intellectual for some Casanova-like life. The evening with Christina is a perfect example of this. But I was always mesmerized by the female face and voice equating its beauty to some saint-like miracle. I still am, and I’ll probably die envisioning one, my closest conception of heaven.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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