When I Was Young and Green

I had plenty of fizz. I was impetuous, impulsive and wildly unpredictable. But I had trouble with my long game. I had my eye on the ball but not on the playing field. Lots of drive but no destination. I remember shaking my head when I came across a James Thurber essay entitled “Is Sex Necessary?”

“Are you kidding?” the Young Me shrieked incredulously.

The Elder Me gets it.

When I was young and green, I loved to linger in the sensual paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, the libidinous writings of D.H. Lawrence and the erotic grottos of John Donne’s early love poetry. He’s the lusty devil who begged his inamorata to:

Licence my roving hands

and let them go

Before, behind, between,

above, below.

In his youth, Donne was an unabashed carouser and a serial womanizer, but Time had its way with him, too. He ended up an ordained priest in the Anglican Church.

Much changes as you get older, not least of all sex. We come to a stage in life when co-mingling becomes more contemplative than knee-jerk, more slow-dance than jitterbug, more vintage wine than heady brew.

Some of the ramifications can be disconcerting. George Burns said that sex after 80 was like “trying to shoot pool with a rope.” Others manage to maintain their stiff upper whatnots, even broaden their sexual horizons. Late in her anecdotage, Tallulah Bankhead said: “I’ve tried several varieties of sex. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic, and the others give me a stiff neck or lockjaw.”

We can still remember (with fond sighs) the urgency and high-octane ecstasy of youthful passion, but maturity brings with it the capacity to see the bigger picture. A picture that might include leg cramps, stretch marks, wonky sacroiliacs and a post-coital nap instead of a cigarette.

The days of bundling in the backseat and footprints on the windshield are gone, cancelled by stiff joints and a cautionary dose of prudence. Rapunzel still looks fetching up there in the tower, but a guy could do himself an injury trying to shinny up a hair ladder.

If Romeo hadn’t been a-boil in his own youthful hot blood, he might have passed up that lethal noggin of apothecary’s poison in favour of … oh, I don’t know. A nice hot cup of cocoa, perhaps?

Perspective is everything. Two bulls, an old one and a young one, stand on a hill overlooking a distant herd of Jersey cows. The young one, all testosterone and snorts, shakes his horns, stomps a hoof and says, “I’m gonna gallop over there and service one of those cows right now!”

The elder bull says, “Why don’t we just amble over and service them all?”

Properly husbanded, our sex drive can be channelled into other avenues of our lives. Glenda Jackson says hers is invaluable to her on-screen performances. The Academy Award winner says the most important thing in acting is to be able to laugh and cry on cue. She figures she’s nailed that. “If I have to cry, I think of my sex life, she explained, then added: “If I have to laugh, I think of my sex life.”

That, I think, is the important thing to remember: when all the Sturm und Drang, the frenzy and thunder, the shivering glissandos and the stentorian bellowings of the act itself are done, sex is … really kinda funny.

“The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable,” as Lord Chesterfield harrumphed in a letter to his son two and a half centuries ago. He might have added “highly entertaining, too.”

I say hang the expense. To hell with what the neighbours might think. Get it, as Janis advised, while you can. Who wants to go out with a whimper when you can go out with a bang?


Arthur Black is the author of 17 books of humour and a three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. He lives on Salt Spring Island on the West Coast.