Once, when I was a younger man, I witnessed the primal mating dance of the human being. It is an experience that has clung to the interior of my ribs like a devil fetus refused to be pushed out. I wrote it down at the time, contemplating and examining its consequences. I found it last night, found merit in it, and translated it onto this page and through this medium to bring to you. I have blanked out the names, so those who do not want to be recognized can find bliss in others’ ignorance. I do not know what it will bring you; maybe sadness, maybe inclusion. But for all the piece’s immature, slightly sexist tone, I do know this: it can be conquered.
Two girls in the age of naivety shrieked as the -21 degree wind chill found their exposed upper thighs while they walked on one sidewalk bordering a stretch of road near College Green park. A pack of boys thought men with oversized brows and Internet-designed muscles shifted glances as an apathetic bouncer checked IDs, as if he could mistake their neanderthal eyes dilated by large breasts and youthful epidermis. J— and I, looking for something different in a monotonous setting, slipped up the poorly shoveled stairs to an apartment door that can be unlocked with any key.
Iowa City stripped bare: likeminded cattle seeking warm spots to gather in the pen. It’s like that at night; everyone tries to find a warm place, a warm body, people to share heat with. The lonely, trapped by evolutionary disparity, grasp their pillows in an attempt to satisfy this primal urge — but it never helps. Circle two dots and a line with a felt-tip marker and a face may emerge, but it will never really smile or generate its own heat. J— bumped the lock, straddled the brown bag holding his whiskey bottle, and went in. I followed in line, like a calf, ready for nothing.
The party began as any party does. People showed up, picked their particular intoxicant or drug, and began to indulge. Personal intoxicants vary: some choose the embrace of alcohol, some choose the cerebral detachment of cannabis. By any method, be it natural or induced, members registered to minor social events like house parties or conversations over cocktails seek what is believed cannot be found in day-to-day life: endorphins, glandular engagement, increased electrical responses across dying synapses. This party began with no discernible difference from any other social gathering. But the night promising nothing held in its grasp a lens through which the true decrepit and insidious, but primordial, nature of previously-acceptable acquaintances were proven: an attractive woman.
Choosing ones relational attachments, as I do, is a strenuous process. Dispassionate as it may sound, the process is akin to patriotic torture, in which one individual performs a series of tests to determine where loyalties lie. Though not as dramatic as water boarding, nor as violent as the application of electrodes, my tests come over a period of time as external opportunities reveal themselves: a drunken conversation, a suggestion to engage in gross behavior, a secret admission. These provide me with information regarding a person’s character and disposition towards various pertinent issues. No one passes the tests, but that is the point. Get too close and the protected man always loses, always hurts, always self-destructs.
J— passed enough of the tests to be labeled as a friend, one I hold most dear, and would loyally and dramatically kill for. Loyalty is reciprocated, as is a lovely fondness. But he doesn’t systematically eliminate his companions based on cold and unrelenting self-sabotage; he gives people the chance to fully employ their destructive tendencies before he shuts them out. Flawed as I see this method of differentiating friendlies from foes, it earns him a certain popularity and allows for invitation to such social gatherings as this. Enough popularity to invite a friend of his own, who goes grumbling but secretly content to examine the opposing side’s trenches for weakness and the like.
The five players in this parabolic tale were sufficiently intoxicated by the time the blonde woman entered the room. Pre-hormonal rebellion, the room had a cordial vibration, a sort of warmth. Men clinked glasses and bottles foamed at the neck; the music echoed at a floating pace; calm descended on overworked minds and underworked sexual appendages. A man J— nicknamed C— B— hosted the party, and he drank an imported lager with an easy smell, pouring the golden liquid into a goblet with each new draw. J— enjoys giving people nicknames, I’m not sure why and it’s a conversation yet to be had, but he’s all together good at it. “Captain Blood” is a fantastic label that inspires the imagination and gives unearned weight to the named. Most at the party had a J— M— nickname: D— the M—, Take-it-to-the M— (or M—a-million), the M—ist. Nicknames are a sign of appreciation and acceptance from J—, something to make people feel included or a part. Inclusion: the mood of the gathering up to the invasion of the woman. Everyone was included, a part, members of a collective without power or competition. All members are included in paradise until the dick measuring begins: the only reason I hope human are all relieved of their appendages in paradise as their ticket to get in.
When she walked in, the room didn’t necessarily go silent, but I can see how the situation could be hyperbolized as such. A few people carried on conversations in their ignorance of the siren spirit, but they only had their eyes and lack of auditory focus to blame. The attractive woman, a flaxen-haired maiden from Minnesota, was single, the first problem, quickly followed by the second problem: she was newly single. To the less evolved but prominent majority, a single woman is a creature that is alluring, but a newly-single woman is something to be conquered and hung up on the wall like a trophy from a profitable hunt. E— was her name and her voice alone inflicted enough hormones upon the group of needy, desperate, and generally pathetic men.
The dynamic of the room immediately changed and caused me some psychological whiplash. Suddenly, as if it had always been there, symptoms of ape-like hormones began to take affect on the individuals. I saw tuffs of thick hair explode through knuckle skin and fingers crinkle into calloused fists. Nostrils flared among the members and eyes darted from competition to prize to competition to prize. Drinking became more erratic and purposeful, as if the amount of alcohol consumed measured the level of testosterone in the blood. J— remained my lone human companion, as buddy-buddies with inclusive nicknames made a full transition into ancestral primates.
I found myself trapped in a cage with C— B—: a loud conversation, no! an interrogation, about my feelings towards all things Illinois.
“Why do you hate Chicago?”
“I don’t hate Chicago, I hate the people who have come from Chicago and created an amusement park out of this city.”
“What do you know about Chicago?”
“I’m not talking about the city, I’m talking about the people.”
“Like you would know anything coming from Iowa.”
I knew what he was saying, not the interrogation as that was mostly a cover for the subtext, the subtext.
“I’m going to fuck this female, you bastard, get the fuck out of my line of sight.”
“I’m not looking to play this game, guy. I’m not looking to fight about this.”
“You fuck, I will beat you down.”
“I’m not partaking in this.”
“You are not worthy of mating with this female!”
It’s something I’ve never understood, this dance. I felt myself fall into it a couple times, looked down and saw the hair grow on my forearms. New hormones flooded my veins when I looked at her. Electrical synapses long unused fired. But the thought of taking her as a prize only brought disgust and guilt, an old Pavlovian response from catechism. I don’t know her and there are times, when I grasp the pillow at night, that I did know the idea of her. I look at, think of, examine the primal urge and power dynamic of my peer male and wonder if there is something truly wrong; if there is a broken part inside with nothing but disgust for everything this dance stands for, and in turn, nothing but disgust for what it yields. Maybe, just maybe, I would like this woman. Personal intimacies issues aside, I might. But how does one win without fighting? Inclusion cannot come from degrees of exclusion. A relationship cannot come out of this ritual, nor in these times can the relationship circumvent it. It’s a paradoxical entity now, the romantic relationship, as both parties have to thread themselves through expectation and neanderthalic attitudes to find anything genuine.
J— and I departed, and as we did, J— politely invited the room to his apartment for a gathering the following night. The invitation was directed towards the woman, I know. It was his way of not fighting, of not participating, but acting on the possibility of romance. It was just like his selection of friends: warm, inviting, non-presumptuous, inclusive. He was the better man in the room and the room didn’t know how to respond. The apes I had seen earlier in the evening dissipated and men began thinking about their actions. J— and I retreated towards the door, the room still silent with moral contemplation. For a moment, I thought logic and reason mixed with compassion and stability would overcome the ape-like ritual I had seen not a moment earlier. I thought it was time for these beings to be men, not apes, but respectful, passionate, romantic men.
But no. C— B— suggested they go to the bars, a more fertile hunting ground, as he was getting nowhere with the flaxen-haired maiden. They turned back immediately, they were evolved for a moment, but turned back into these wild beasts shrieking the name of their favorite hunting ground. Snakes slithered in my veins as I felt my heart burn. The better man had lost and my dark passenger hated. I turned around and yelled at near top of my lungs, “Go fuck yourselves!”
They laughed, it was all a joke to them. J— and I wondered off into the night towards cold pillows and faces that can’t smile.