“He likes being adored,” somebody said about him, but Tom wouldn’t call it adoration. He’d say it was a sticky need. The way people gawked at him, male and female, young and not so young. At his beautiful shiny black hair and sparkling eyes. They always turned away as if caught doing something shameful. Go ahead, he wanted to say, stare all want. But that would not be the end of it. There was another need after one need was met. The need was endless.
Turning into eye candy was unexpected. He had been a pudgy boy, doted on by aunts, tormented by his peers. At puberty the baby fat melted away. His teenage years were a cavalcade of entanglements. He was thinking of Lisa and Maryanne and his gym coach, Mr. Stanley. Each left the same bitter aftertaste.
Lana his wife was not one of the ones who adored him, which made their marriage possible. Theirs was a smooth, affectionate partnership in raising two sons and a daughter. Neither Lana nor he was particularly romantic. He would describe it as a good marriage, the best kind of marriage.
Or would have until Lana asked what he thought about open marriage, if he was in favor. Was she talking generically or of their specific marriage? He didn’t ask. He said he thought it was probably okay in some circumstances.
He started to watch Lana more closely, especially her interactions with Karl, the next door neighbor, the German with the John Lennon glasses, father of five kids twelve and under. He was a testosterone grenade. Tom watched to see if Lana and Karl had private jokes.
Tom began feeling at sea. His landmarks were lost in a fog. Mirrors became anchors. In the mirror at Joe’s barbershop he noticed a sag in his jawline, and how much gray salted the tufts of black hair falling to the floor: a shocking amount. It was disconcerting when Joe included him in “us older guys” when cursing the techies.
He noticed fewer people looking at him with greedy eyes. When it happened he returned their looks, maybe not with the same need but something related, probably unhealthy, possibly toxic.
Every lunch he walked down the hill to Chow. Morgan the waitress always flirted, and he began flirting back. A sobriety immediately entered their transactions. Calculations were made about what the other was after, what to hand over and what to keep. Neither came up with a definitive answer before they were jiggling the springs on Morgan’s bed in her apartment across from the Regis Hotel.
Adultery was one of those things that wasn’t as dramatic as its reputation. He didn’t confess to Lana. He was a Catholic boy. He knew that if you intended to sin again the confession was invalid. Besides, he wasn’t feeling guilty. This was what an open relationship felt like, a growth experience.
One way he was growing disgusted Lana, and she began to push salads at him, He knew where the tummy fat came from; all the fries he was eating at Chow. He resented Lana’s non-stop nagging until he realized that it was her way of telling him how important his good looks were to her. How important he was to her. He knew at once it was a transformational thought.
He took up jogging, even though his knees were balky, and gave up adultery which he did not miss. Occasionally he longed for the fries at Chow.