Dangerous Sexual Practices

This anecdote appears in “Come One, Come All.” I wrote it as fiction, but the story is real. I read about it in The New York Times. The speaker is the gynecologist who works at the Woman’s Health Center.

“Dr. Redden, I think you’ll be interested in this case. This is Felicia Garcia, and sitting next to her is her husband, Fernando. Mr. and Mrs. Garcia, this is Dr. Redden. He is a psychiatrist on our staff; and he’s an expert in dealing with some of these unusual family problems.”

Uh, oh. What sort of problem was likely to seem unusual to Kelly?

The young couple introduced to me were sitting on the other side of a table. Mrs. Garcia was frowning. Her lower lip was jutting out. She was staring at an empty space in front of her and was tapping the fingers of one hand against her purse. Her husband’s expression was harder to describe, shifty-eyed, lips puckered, twitchy, a little jumpy, I would say. Definitely nervous. He seemed to be cringing a little.

“Mrs. Garcia… Felicia. Can I call you Felicia? Good. And Fernando… you won’t feel offended if I call you by your first name? Good. You can, if you wish, call me Cyril. Dr. Redden is used to being called Abe. Isn’t that right, Abe? Good. We are interested in helping. We do not sit in judgment. Dr.Redden… Abe, and I are citizens of the world; and so we can understand how an individual caught up in the stresses of modern life can find himself—or herself— in difficulties. It is a familiar story. All too familiar. The American family is in crisis. The influence of television. Every day, the media seduce our own children from those values we all hold dear. I am not speaking of pornography. I mean ordinary television fare. Gunfighters. Talking horses. Who among us is prepared to throw the first stone. Not I and not Dr. Redden…Abe. Our professional experience has taught us to be accepting. Patients are open with us, and we are accepting of them. I want to emphasize that. The world would be a better place if everyone were open and accepting. I think we can all agree with that. Good.”

Kelly turned back to me. “Felicia came to the clinic a few days ago with complaints of itching and a purulent discharge. . .Well, I need not go into detail, I think. Suffice it to say that she had an acute case of gonorrhea. That’s right, isn’t it, Felicia?”

Felicia had nothing to say. Now she was staring at Kelly, a fixed, fierce expression on her face.

“The treatment of gonorrhea is not challenging. Penicillin rids the body of Neisseria Gonorrhoeae and has proven successful already, hasn’t it, Felicia?”

No comment.

“Of course, gonorrhea, is a venereal disease, communicated from one person, to another. And back again. All of Felicia’s sexual partners must be treated in order to prevent further spread of this insidious disease. Felicia claims, and I certainly believe her, that she has only had one sexual partner, namely her husband, Fernando.”

“Bastard!” said Felicia, hitting her husband over the head with her purse. Fernando covered his head with both arms, but made no complaint.

Kelly went on. “Fernando, for his part, claims to have been entirely faithful to his wife since they were married only three short years ago, a claim one might regard as suspect if for no other reason that Fernando is a sailor, a galley cook, and is away from the supports and satisfactions of his family for months at a time. Most recently to the Dominican Republic. Is that right, Fernando? Yes. Well, it seems there is another explanation.

“Abe, you may not have heard up there in Westchester, but new devices have been invented to comfort those unfortunate enough to be deprived of the company of women for long periods of time. Pictures in National Geographic are no longer state of the art.”

“It was just a plastic thing:” burst out Fernando, “not a woman.”

“Shut up, you pig,” replied his wife.

“It was, and is, according to Fernando, a life-sized, inflatable doll, soft plastic, he tells me. Pliable.”

“You can see! I got it out in the car.”

“You brought that thing home? You pig.”  Felicia picked up her purse again. Her husband cringed.

Kelly, proceeding implacably: “I don’t think Felicia has much reason to feel jealous of a large lump of plastic—a doll—with a hole placed strategically into it…”

“Two holes,” said Fernando. This deserved a wallop from his wife; and he got it.

“…no matter how many holes. A doll cannot compete with a high-spirited woman such as Felicia…”

“Month after month at sea,” Fernando said. “A man gets Ionely.’‘

“We can understand that. Apparently a number of the crew felt lonely. This doll, I am sorry to say, was promiscuous—if one might speak in such terms. Evidently some other, as yet unidentified member of the crew, started the voyage with gonorrhea and, before you know it, half the crew has contracted the disease.”

“Didn’t this doll come with instructions?” I interjected. “Washing instructions? I think you got a product liability case here.”

“Felicia and Fernando are not looking for legal remedies. They have both been given penicillin and can expect a full recovery; but this doll has cast a shadow over their relationship. A certain trust has been lost…”

“I suppose condoms could have avoided this problem,” I said, thinking aloud.

“The doll can be fixed. I got it in the car.”

“Shut up, you pig-bastard.”

“Fernando, I am not going to treat your doll for venereal disease. First of all, there is the matter of lice…”

“Fernando might consider taking up another line of work,” I said. “There is a demand for competent cooks right here in New York City. More time together, that’s what I would recommend. Throw away the doll and spend more time at home.”

“I can’t throw away the doll…,” wailed Fernando.

“Yes, you can,” said Kelly, speaking sternly, “if you put your mind to it. In order to save your marriage, you will have to make sacrifices. In time you will forget the doll…”

“I got to give the doll back to the first mate. He bought it in Shanghai for 40 bucks and a carton of cigarettes. He wants it back when its cured. . .And so do the other guys,” Fernando added.

His wife stared at him like a snake, ready to strike.

“They’re planning on having a little party,” he murmured, then tried to ward off his wife, who had begun clobbering him again.

“I’m not sure I can help here, Cyril,” I said, getting up to go. “Perhaps the problem is more complicated than it seems. Why not refer the family to the psychiatric resident? I’m optimistic that things can be patched up,” I said, smiling at the Garcias. “You can tell just by listening to this young couple that they have a genuine affection for each other,” I added, covering my mouth with my hand. (c) Fredric Neuman