4.A Trip to Bethesda

On the way to his airplane seat, Sam picked up a copy of Time magazine. The cover had a picture of a youthful-looking blonde man with a bushy mustache, and one of a fairly attractive woman. Overlying the picture, in giant letters, was the word SEX. In the background was a drawing of a book, the title of which was Sex in Middle Age. On the bottom of the cover was printed The Middle Aged Sexual Revolution. Sam flipped the pages until he came to the cover story. Sex was always interesting and, while one scarcely expected prurience in Time, it was better than nothing. His sex life had been nil since his separation from Janet, so he had more than a passing interest in the subject; especially since he was "middle aged." It was hard to think of himself as middle aged since he had thought of himself as young for all of his life. He read:

To most people the expression "life begins at forty" does not refer to sex. Sex is generally thought of as the occupation and preoccupation of the young, and middle age marks the beginning of a decline that proceeds inexorably to its extinction in old age. "Not so" say sex researchers Jack Monser and Ellen Bast. "Middle age marks a period of freedom which is indulged in in all areas, including sex. It is a time when people are at the peak of their power. They have reached the place that they strived to reach when they were young, and can now enjoy all of the things that they have achieved -including an increased indulgence in, and enjoyment of, sex. Consequently, people, at least those in the upper middle class, seem to find greater pleasure and variety in their sexual practices. Many marriages are on a secure footing and can weather sexual experimentation both in and out of the marriage. Those that can't are generally dissolved, often at great personal and financial cost. They can say that again, thought Sam.

Others don't agree. Rev. Jeremiah Fallgood believes that sexual permissiveness is increasing at all ages, and what the Monsers describe is a consequence of the sexual permissiveness that these middle aged adults experienced as children. When the traditional values of the family, morality and chastity were practiced, sexual licentiousness was present in considerably less quantities than it is today.

The Monsers claim that things have not changed very much from what they have always been. The difference is that what was once kept secret is now touted in the mass media. Divorce, once the prerogative of screen actors, is now available to everyone with very little stigma attached to its occurrence. Sexual experimentation is now viewed as the norm, rather than as a perversion. In other words, people have always done the things that Fallgood deplores. The difference is that they are now publicly acknowledged rather than kept secret. We used to read of rape and sexual orgies indulged in by teen ages and adults in their twenties. Now, people in their forties are finding their way to the front pages. In Los Angeles, where many a flamboyant sexual escapade has been reported, a 48 year old man raped a beautiful young woman in full view of the patrons of the May Company. There was a picture of the front page of the Los Angeles Times with a headline that said MAY RAPE. One quarter of the front page consisted of a photograph showing a very bewildered-looking man staring at the camera from his prone position on top of a disheveled, but very beautiful young woman.

Sam went on to read, not without some envy, a series of chronicles of the escapades of a number of middle aged people. In Ogden, Utah, a group of teachers held an orgy in the faculty lounge of a private school. He had read about this in the Salt Lake newspapers and felt a touch of pride that his neighboring city had made the pages of Time magazine. It struck him as incongruous that an incident which would seem quite natural in Hollywood would occur in, of all places, Ogden. He thought of his own school days, where the major transgression was smoking in the boy's toilet. Maybe Fallgood was right; things have changed.

The two center pages were marked of into half-column boxes, each of which contained the opinion of some noted authority: William Masters, Pat Nixon, Anita Bryan, Shirley McLane, Henry Kissinger, Abigale VanBuren and a few whom Sam had never heard of.

When he had exhausted the pages of Time, he took out his copy of the Salt Lake Tribune where he read the comics, and then turned to Ann Landers' column.

Dear Ann Landers,

I am forty five years of age and have been happily married for twenty five years. My husband and I have had a regular and happy sex life. In the last month, his routine has changed from our usual three or four times a week. Now he wants sex twice a night, once in the morning and he comes home for lunch and wants it then -seven days a week to boot.

I love my husband and don't want to hurt his feelings, but this new routine is driving me crazy; I have practically no time to do anything but my regular work and sex. What do you suggest.

Overloved in Oakland

Dear Overloved,

You are not the only person with this problem. Recently, I have received a number of letters from people with similar problems.

Many men in their forties have sudden surges of passion, which are usually temporary. Be thankful that he's not getting his satisfaction elsewhere. Try to relax and enjoy it while it lasts; which may not be for too much longer. There are many women who would gladly assume your burden.

More of the same, thought Sam. Sure sex has been around for a long time and sex sells magazines and newspapers, but this is ridiculous. Maybe I'm over sensitive. I haven't had any for so long that it seems like the press is deliberately rubbing salt in my wounds. He looked across the aisle at an exceptionally attractive woman and started fantasizing about what it would be like if they boarded the same bus, got to know one another and ended up at the same motel.

There was a slight bump as the wheels of the plane touched the runway and a female voice said, "Welcome to Dulles International Airport serving Baltimore and Washington. We ask that you remain seated until the plane has come to a complete stop at the gate and the seat belt sign has been turned off." A massive rectangular bus with a drivers-cab at both ends attached itself to the plane, which disgorged its human contents into it. The vehicle proceeded to the terminal where, it and many other busses attached to the terminal, as piglets do to a sow. The bus disgorged its contents into the terminal.

It was the first time that Sam had ever been to Dulles and it fascinated him. It was not like any airport that he had ever seen. Unlike other airports, the passengers did not move from one place to another, they were transported in batches. He wondered how well it worked. The terminal reminded him of a government office building and he thought that it was a fascinating phenomenon that put an architect completely in tune with his client. Even the name, Dulles seemed to fit -dull, dull, Dulles. Since he traveled light, he had no baggage to pick up, he immediately boarded the bus to Bethesda.

By the time he arrived at The Governor's House it was dark. There was a note at the desk informing him that the meeting would begin at 9 a.m., the following day in room 214 of the Administration Building -nothing more: no agenda, nor any indication of the nature of the meeting.

He went to his room, unpacked the few articles of clothing which he had brought and switched on the TV. A James Bond movie had the virtue of holding his attention while placing absolutely no strain on his brain. The movie was punctuated by beer and wine commercials and Sam got thirstier and thirstier. He couldn't go to the refrigerator and open a beer, so at eleven, when the movie was over, he went to the bar. He was still on Salt Lake City time, which was nine o'clock; hardly time to retire.

He was sipping his beer when he felt a hand on his shoulder and a loud voice proclaiming for all to hear:

"Sam, you old sonofabitch, it's good to see you!"

He looked up to see the smiling face of his old classmate, Nick Tarkas. Nick was a massive man who looked more like a football player (which he once was) than a scientist. His shining eyes and smiling face were highlighted by a head of bushy black hair and a full black beard. Sam rose and gave Nick a big hug. It was a bit like hugging a bear and being hugged by a bear at the same time.

"What brings you to Bethesda?" Nick asked.

"Some kind of secret meeting."

"It wouldn't be one run by Mike Levering, would it?"

"The same! Is that why you're here?" Sam asked.

"It looks like we're colleagues again, old buddy, just like old times." He smiled and Sam smiled, then they hugged one another again.

Sam and Nick had been roommates in college. Sam went on to medical school while Nick enrolled in a doctoral program in Microbiology where he specialized in virology. Their paths crossed again in Atlanta where both had post-doctoral fellowships at the CDC. Both were married and they lived in adjacent apartments. Their wives became good friends and they often went out as a foursome, swapped baby-sitting and spent many of their free evenings together, just talking. Sam and Nick rarely wrote to one another, but managed to pick up their friendship wherever they had left off, when they met at scientific meetings of one sort or another. When they brought their wives, they pick up as a foursome again. Their wives exchanged news in an annual Christmas letter.

Nick sat down and ordered a beer. "God, it's good to see you. I figured that your being a bachelor would improve your looks, but it hasn't."

"It hasn't improved a damn thing," Sam replied.

"It must have been pretty rough on both of you, breaking up after all those years. Are the kids all right?"

"They're managing; it hasn't destroyed them, but it hasn't done them any good either. I wish that I could rewrite the script, but I can't."

"Is there any possibility that you might get together again?"

"I'm afraid not. There's too much hurt for both of us."

Nick shook his head, "I'm sorry."

"Thanks for the condolences. Don't worry, we'll both be all right -and the kids too. How's Illona?"

"We've been lucky, I guess. We still fight a hell of a lot more than you and Jan did, but we always manage to come out a little stronger and a little closer."

"Maybe if Jan and I had fought more, we'd still be married. The resentments just built until neither of us could take it any more. By the way, what is Nicky Jr. doing?"

"He's getting ready to go away to college when he graduates this year. It's going to be interesting to see what it's like with no kid around the house. I've been told that couples either get a lot closer together or break up when the kids are gone. Why don't you come out and stay with us for a couple of weeks? Illona says that she misses you and so do I. We could argue about important things the way we used to when we were solving the world's problems."

"Thanks Nick. Maybe when things settle down a little." Sam thought that it was nice that they wanted him for himself rather than as part of a matched set.

Nick rubbed his eyes. "I must be getting old -can't stay up late any more. It's only 12:30 and I'm pooped. How do you manage to be so wide awake?"

"Easy , I got up two hours later than you did."

"I can't stand early bird worm catchers. I'm going to bed. How about breakfast at eight?"

"Sounds good. See you in the cafeteria tomorrow at eight."

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