Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2004

Making his first appearance as a writing Chall pal is the multiple Hugowinner and convention bon vivant Alexis Gilliland ... along with his friend Morrie.


Morrie the Critic
Discusses Love and Death

Alexis Gilliland

Illos by the author

"Men will involve themselves with a woman, usually," said Morrie, taking a sip of beer. I raised my eyebrows, because this was a bit out of Morrie's usual beaten zones which were generally books and movies, religion and politics. He caught my look and shrugged. "It's my birthday, and I'll go off topic if I want to. You're old enough to remember the joke that God gave man a big head and a small head, but only enough blood to run one head at a time, right? That joke is a skewed view of an essential truth: The brain is the seat of sexual excitement, and once engaged with sex, it loses its focus elsewhere. Evolution, which is God's solitaire, selects out the brains that don't have the urge to reproduce--a process going on all around us, even in this very bar."

"Even at this very table," I added.

He gave me a chilly smile. "God's fault, and none of our own, surely, predestination holding that that was because of the way we were made."

"What about free will?"

"Free will unnecessarily complicates a universe already too complicated. Besides, enforcing it would give an omnipotent God a pain in the omniscience."

"Says who?"

"Men's poor, weak brains are hard wired to do the reproductive thing," he continued, ignoring the question. "Some are defective, yes, the brain being a complicated organ, and sometimes the installed software - parental or religious, usually - disables the system, but for maybe 90-percent the driving forces are lust, the simple but powerful urge to fornicate; romantic love, the complicated but powerful fixation on one individual; and pair bonding, the less strong . . . " He hesitated. "Maybe less swift is more accurate. In the nature of things pair bonding is useful for the raising of children, and bringing up kids takes time, so pair bonding doesn't need to hurry." He shook some salt in his beer and watched the head rise before taking a sip. "Or maybe it can't. All three forces are mediated by brain chemistry, the powerfully addictive endorphins which were selected to propagate the species."

"You're saying sex is drugs?"

He sighed. "No, sex is sex, and drugs - the kind you buy on the street, anyway - mimic the effects of the chemicals the brain produces to encourage people to have sex."

"Otherwise we're talking about aspirin and pepto-bismol, drug store stuff," I agreed. "Go on."

"Where was I? A naive male - if he's lucky - goes from fornication, to fixation, to being an old married guy with kids, who doesn't care where he goes as long as he's in bed by ten. If he is differently lucky, our boy gets quote-unquote smart. He loses his naivety and develops the knack for getting laid. We will ignore the non-negligible health hazards, which include violent death and an impressive array of loathesome diseases. Our boy is in the habit of screwing around, and after a couple of times getting burned because the particular chick upon which he has fixated dumps his two-timing ass, he learns what? To be faithful? No, he despises fidelity, so he learns to avoid fixation instead." He contemplated his glass of beer. "So he never achieves pair bonding. Marriage? If he gets married, he is unfaithful because he knows how. He has achieved a mastery of technique, and for the master, love - more properly womanizing - is easy because he knows all the moves. He makes them all too, even when he knows it isn't right, even when he knows it could get him seriously killed, because he is besotted by lust, addicted to the rush he gets from sexual conquest, and in time his wife - or wives - will dump him, sticking him with a string of serial divorce settlements that must surely diminish his wealth and may inhibit his libido. Eventually he gets old and enfeebled by years, and the only women who will have anything to do with him are long past their expiration date. Alas, they are all he can then get in the unlikely event that he is even up to making the effort. So my question is: Does the memory of dozens or scores of easy lays compensate the guy for winding up alone?"

"Casanova wrote his memoirs, which are still in print," I noted taking a tiny pretzel from the bowl. "Which endowed him with a kind of literary immortality. But generally, no, nothing compensates you for growing old - the shipwreck of old age someone called it." I ate another pretzel and pondered the matter. "Well, maybe conspiring with your grandchildren against their worthless parents would be a minor compensation, a sort of consolation prize for survivors. Your first guy, the one who pair bonded because he never figured out the art of seducing hot babes, his wife dies, and he's also alone, right?"

Morrie pulled at his nose. "If he was really lucky he'd predecease his wife? What you're saying is, if his luck runs out he doesn't have the memories of the easy lays of his youth to fall back on, right?"

"Right. So virtue only pays off if you die young?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Morrie replied at last, taking a sip of beer. "Our first guy may not have the memories of easy lays, but neither does he have the bad habits and health problems from being a ladies man. So what has he got? Pair bonding skills. Which means he is not only comfortable in a stable relationship - hell, everybody is, unless they're scared of marriage - but he also knows how a relationship is stabilized. Newly widowed, he is inclined to remarry because he has kind memories of the married state, and women are willing to take up with him because he's already broken to harness."

I raised my eyebrows. "Broken to harness?"

"A metaphor from training horses," said Morrie, who had recently reviewed several Dick Francis books. "Horses and guys are a lot alike in that you can't depend on them to stick to form. A widower from a happy marriage is known to have been a good husband, and is therefore a good bet to be one. He isn't a sure thing, but at least his rough edges have been knocked off. Think about it, if a woman has the choice, who is she going to choose?"

"The guy she's in love with?"

"Women don't always make rational choices," agreed Morrie, adding more salt to his beer and watching the foam rise. "And sometimes there isn't a choice to be made, so she has to make the best of what she can get. But we are talking about a non-naive woman, maybe with a kid or two, looking to do the best she can, okay?"

A slow nod. "Men are romantics, women are cold blooded realists," I conceded. "Well, we have to be. Your woman, what choices did you want to give her?"

He took a sip of beer and put his glass down. "A, B, and C, all other things being equal. A is for Alan, a serially divorced guy with a history of infidelity, B is for Ben, a single guy who lived with his mother till she died, C is for Carl, the married man who recently buried his wife. Who is going to make her the best husband? The one who does pair bonding is who, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist or even a cheer leader to figure it's going to be Carl."

"So you say virtue always wins, even if the virtuous don't have the good fortune to die young?"

"No, no. People are different, they want different things, and it always helps to be lucky. Take Alan, for instance, his tao - his truth, the essence of his being - is that he is highly sexed and adventurous. He enjoys having a lot of women, and maybe he even enjoys the fights that provokes. But. When he gets old, and his libido dwindles to manageable proportions, he might, if he gets lucky, settle down to pair bonding with an appropriate female."

"What about Ben?"

Morrie sighed and looked pensive. "Some guys have a low sex drive," he said at last. "And some guys, maybe they don't like women. So perhaps Ben used his mother as an excuse for not getting serious with a woman. Or another guy, if that's the way he was inclined, because with a low sex drive the matter isn't terribly urgent. Taking care of mother is a good excuse for avoiding pain, and maybe that's the best that can be done in Ben's case. Push him into a marriage when he doesn't like women, and he'll get depressed ... " There was a long pause. "My dad was depressed, you know. There would be these big arguments with my mom, and she would be screaming and dad never said a thing. By the time I was ten, he had been drinking for awhile, but I'd never seen him falling down drunk before, and on my sixteenth birthday he ran his car into a bridge abutment. But he'd sent me a birthday card with a hundred dollars in cash . . . "

"That was generous," I said, feeling a little awkward at where the conversation had gone. Morrie had never talked about his parents before.

"It was cash," said Morrie taking a swig of beer. "Always before he'd give me a check, and that made mom think his death wasn't an accident." He finished the glass and put it down. "On my birthday card he wrote: "Dear Morrie, Love on your sweet sixteenth. Marry because you want to, never because someone tells you you should. All My Love," and he'd crossed out Benjamin and signed himself "Your Father.""

"Is that why you never married?" I asked.

"None of your damn business," he growled. "Do I ask why you never married?"

"To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I'd never marry any man dumb enough to ask me."

Morrie smiled with the right side of his face. "Yeah, sure. Some lucky guy out there doesn't know you've done him a big favor. Are you afraid of dying?"

"Not really," I said. "Why do you ask?"

He laughed, and ordered another beer, and changed the subject.


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