Saturday, July 9, 2011
When Reality Overtakes Fantasy by Author Marcos London
When Reality Overtakes Fantasy
Some time ago Genèvre recorded and watched The Jane Austen Book Club. Adapted from a novel by one of my favorite authors, I resisted watching it because I guessed that the movie could never capture Karen Joy Fowler’s exquisite prose, and besides, the trailers looked pretty schmaltzy.
When Genèvre saw it, she confirmed that, yes, schmaltz and sap made up two of the key ingredients, but that I would like it. “The women are all professionals of a certain age. That alone will interest you.” That one of the primary male characters is a science fiction fan smitten with Maria Bello only piqued my desire to watch.
Of course I watched. And, to a certain extent, enjoyed, despite some major misgivings. Its key appeal for me, however, lay not in the story, or the discussion of Austen’s work, but in the women “of a certain age,” specifically, Bello’s burgeoning relationship with a man in his twenties.
In other words, “cougar” territory, which has fueled much of my imagination for a long time, and began, as with most sexual awakenings of men my age, with Playboy.
As a teenager, of course I snuck peeks at the magazine at every available opportunity. One could make jokes about reading it for the articles (which, to be fair, often were very good, especially interviews with people as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Robin Williams and David Halberstam) or the fiction (often featuring writers as diverse as Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block and Joyce Carol Oates), but frankly, I wanted to see the women. Even when I let my subscription lapse in the early 1990s, I was very clear that, yes, I might read a good story, I might gain insight into an interviewee, or find fascinating political or economic analysis, but first and foremost, I was contemplating not only the centerfolds but also the other pictorials that might grace the magazine’s slick pages. Other magazines provided more erotically charged content, often far more graphic than anything Hugh Hefner’s brainchild could provide, but their seaminess, their crude photos, and, frankly, their paper’s inferior quality did more to turn me off than on.
Of course Playboy was selling an image of manliness, which fueled both my everyday and erotic imagination. And like all fantasies, its unattainability made it all the more desirable—not just for the cars and clothes advertised and featured (I learned a great deal about fashion when I wasn’t ogling the perfect breasts of Miss November), but also in the women. In my impressionable teenage mind, the women seemed far worldlier than the girls who shared my classes. They held an allure and sensuality lacking in the drill team who marched on the football field with those pimply-faced band geeks during half-time shows. And their self-possession burned into my brain far, far more than the most of the very beautiful, popular adolescents with whom I shared classes.
Age, too, played a part. It wasn’t necessarily that the women were older than I. But to a sixteen-year-old, these women who were either entering college or leaving it, who were embarking on careers in anything from economics and law enforcement to (of course) show business, the five-years plus differences in our ages only added to my own hopeless infatuation. Would I ever catch up to these gorgeous creatures in terms of age, sensuality, intelligence (don’t laugh; I became smitten with one centerfold who stated that her favorite writer was Roald Dahl) and grace? Whether I could ever attract the interest of such women…well, that was another matter entirely.
I stopped reading Playboy in the middle of the 1990s. I was newly married to my first wife, and we were raising our first child, so the lifestyle Playboy offered had little place in a world where I was fresh out of college and trying to make ends meet on a file clerk’s salary. Its concerns became alien landscapes, more familiar than the surface of Mars but somehow even more removed from my day-to-day concerns. And I was passing the women by not just in age but also, it seemed, in sophistication. By the time I received my last issue in the mail, I often shrugged at the pictorials. Formerly glamorous, enticing women now appeared to have more in common with high school girls I hadn’t thought of since graduation.
But my interest, or fascination, or obsession, with women “of a certain age” never quite stopped. Even when married to a woman roughly my age, they kindled the fantasies that burned in my own head. I loved successful, professional, sexually active women, finding them far more desirable than women my age. Though the term “cougar” had yet to enter the contemporary vernacular, and even the acronym MILF was a few years away, these were the women, ultimately, that I found attractive.
As I went through my first divorce, and later lived with a woman fourteen years my senior, I found that I had, in a sense, attained the unattainable. When that relationship dissolved, I still found that the women who appealed to me possessed that worldliness, that grace. And even better, they could find me attractive; a lowly civil servant found himself dating lawyers, economics professors, and, eventually, an interior decorator whom I eventually married.
I haven’t looked at an issue of Playboy in years. I have no idea what goes on between the covers, and the covers themselves appeal about as much as listening to Britney Spears’s off-key warbling. Each issue features nubile lasses with sun-kissed skin and long, often blonde hair who look, however beautiful, like a parody of the women I remember. Whether I see them in a Barnes and Noble or in an airport newsstand, I’ve never felt the desire to purchase and unwrap the shrink wrapped covers. Curious thing, fantasies: they seldom hold up to reality, especially when you’re living precisely the reality you wanted.