LUNCHTIME PATTER

I sit at lunch at a long table in a Yale College cafeteria, and half-listen to small talk between two male fellow participants at a writing conference, when a six-foot-tall, dark-skinned woman, with notably high cheekbones, sits down across from me and says “hello.”

I am mildly flattered to have a woman greet me and turn my attention from the man recounting his life story as a national sales manager blah, blah, blah, who has always felt there is a novel in him.

“What do you write?” I ask my new lunch mate, hoping it is not another tale of vampires, dystopic end-of-the-world struggle or daddy/boyfriend/you-name-it beats me misery.

“I write about sex,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Really?” I ask.

“Yes, it’s a memoir,” she says.

“Wow! That’s, ah, different,” I manage to say, despite my surprise.

“I’m trying,” she explains, with what might be a blush, “to convince myself to read aloud to my group this evening.  The subject is quite personal.”

“It should be,” I say, blushing myself.

“You see,” she explains, “I write sex advice for a national magazine, and I thought I’d compile my columns into a book.”

“That’s a great idea,” I say.

“So I had a friend who’s a literary agent read the draft, and he said it would be better if it’s personalized.”

“No doubt,” I say with authority, as though I have some.

“But I’m not sure I can read it aloud in front of strangers,” she says.

Unsure what else to say, I quote the climactic advice from the morning’s keynote speaker, an eighty-seven-year-old novelist: “Be bold.”

“That’s right,” she says.  “I really must overcome my shyness.”

Not thinking she is shy at all, I mostly listen while she discusses human sexuality in unusually explicit terms. I try to focus on all the remarkable details about routine topics (to her), such as: nipple hardness, female wetness, and male genitalia, while remaining outwardly nonchalant. Inwardly, I was unsure if I was astounded or embarrassed or both, when I hear her say her present passion, when she’s not writing, is leading tantric workshops.

I gulp.

“How do those work?” I ask. I also take a second to wonder if this discussion is really occurring or if this is a daydream.  I conclude I am fully awake. I decide to delay going to the dessert buffet.

“We usually have six to eight participants of each gender,” she explains.  “We position the participants in two semi-circles – the women sit on the floor in front of the men.  The men move in front of the women, one at a time, and each man looks deeply into the eyes of each woman, and tells them he is sorry for anything negative any man has ever done to her.”

Ever”? I say.

“Yes,” she says.  “Next, they honor the femininity of the women by stroking them, gently, on non-erotic zones, as they proceed around the semi-circle.  Gradually, the touch becomes more intimate.”

I imagine these activities take place in the nude, but I do not wish to ask hopelessly naïve questions.  I also try to imagine how the men are containing indications of excitement.  I don’t have to wonder for long, because she fills in the missing information:  “Throughout the process, the participants, of course, are naked.”

“Of course,” I agree.

“The instructor imparts gentle suggestions about touch to enhance the experience,” she continues. “The men are, by this time, almost certainly revealing interest in sex.  However, it is crucial that they harness this interest, since the stroking activity should last at least three hours before consummation.”

“Three hours?” I say in disbelief.  “If this were a Cialis ad, they’d have to call a doctor, haha.”

She betrays no amusement.   During an awkward pause, I run through a plethora of thoughts, namely: I am happily married; this is not a pick-up bar; I am happily married; she is considerably more than I could handle if I were NOT happily married; I am happily married.

“How do these, um, workshops end?”  I ask.

“The couples pair off for individual implementation of the tantric techniques they have learned.  Each woman chooses a man from around the semi-circle as her partner.”

I concentrate to envision the tantric experience and also sustain the conversation amidst the hubbub of a college cafeteria.

“So, is it like picking teams at recess?  Do the best-looking guys get picked first?” I ask.

“Tantric is a spiritual experience,” she says, “and, it is hoped, all the men are deemed equally attractive.”

“What if a man doesn’t get chosen?” I ask.

“That happens.  Sometimes, it’s perceived that men are there for the wrong reason,” she explains.

“I guess I could see that happening,” I say, possibly with excessive sincerity.

By this time, I realize the other men at our table have stopped talking.  I don’t know how long they’ve been listening, but it now feels as though our conversation is broadcast to hundreds.  We fall silent.

With my next session beginning in several minutes, I gather my plate and utensils.  “It’s been most interesting talking with you,” I say. “Good luck with your reading.  I’m getting a piece of fruit and heading to the lecture hall.”

She offers a luxurious smile, and says:  “The bananas are excellent.”

“Thanks,” I say, backing away, thinking:  “What did she mean by that?  Did she mean anything?”

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