Sex Manual for the Lower Classes
"Their ideas were intolerable, but their penises were silky, she thought."
1. A queen walking along a glass surface deposits an oily, colorless trail at a rate of 0.8 mg of material an hour. This material evidently originates in the tarsal Amhard glands. Studies show that queen-produced substances prevent worker ovary development and egg-laying. Queen substances are important in worker recognition of and attraction to their queens. There’s little doubt that these pheromones probably attract workers and allow them to differentiate between fellow workers and queens.
Honey bees have three types of colony members: queens, drones and workers. The queen reigns over the nest surrounded by attendants and fed the rich food she requires to perform her few but crucial tasks. Her slim lines hide her huge ovaries, which make her an extraordinary egg-laying machine, and her calm behavior masks her powerful pheromones. The drones are tended and fed by the workers, although they perform only one function, the all-important one of mating the queen. With their large eyes, flight muscles and powerful mating urge, drones are beautifully constructed for this task. The worker performs endless and diverse tasks in the nest. At any time a worker might be found walking the comb surface, perhaps tending the brood, cleaning debris from the nest, capping cells, ripening or storing honey, organizing pollen for storage, feeding or grooming the queen, guard duty, polishing cells, or food handling.
A worker leaving the nest on a foraging trip can face an overwhelming array of flowers to choose from, some of more value than others. Foragers show great versatility in their methods of working flowers:
Open flowers—The worker bites the antlers with her mandibles and uses forelegs to pull them toward her body.
Tubular flowers—Workers insert the proboscis into the corolla searching for nectar. Pollen is collected incidentally when it adheres to the mouthparts or forelegs.
Closed flowers—The bee forces the petals apart with her forelegs and then gathers pollen on the mouthparts.
Spike or catkin flowers—The bee runs along the spikes shaking off pollen onto her body hairs.
Presentation flowers—The pollen is collected by workers pressing their abdomens against the inflorescence, causing a pollen mass to be pushed out of the flowers.
Mounting and copulation are rapid and spectacular, with the drones literally exploding their semen into the genital orifice of the queen. Once contact has been made between drone and queen actual mating generally lasts less than five seconds.
As the drone approaches the queen from below, his hind legs hang downward, and in their initial contact the thorax is above the queen’s abdomen and the first and second pair of legs straddle the queen. Within a split second the drone grasps the queen with all six legs and everts the endophallus into the queen’s open sting chamber. At this point the drone becomes paralyzed and flips backward, and ejaculation results from the pressure of the drone’s hemoglymph as the abdomen contracts. The explosive and sometimes audible ejaculation ruptures the everted endophallus and propels the semen through the queen’s sting chamber and into her oviduct. The ejaculation separates the drone from the queen and he dies within hours of mating.
2. My curiosity, I rationalized, was not so much prurient as literary. Graham Greene’s affair with Catherine Walston began when he was working on his novel, The Heart of the Matter. Green’s biographers have written about their letters and I wanted to see them for myself. They might, I thought, illuminate the osmotic border between his fiction and his life. They are kept in dozens of stiff slender cardboard boxes, each the pale color of a London sky. Inside each box are about thirty green folders and in each folder is a letter or a postcard, perhaps a photo.
Catherine Walston was the American-born wife of a wealthy British landowner. At the age of thirty, inspired by Greene’s work she decided to convert to Catholicism. Though she’d never met Greene she asked him to be her godfather. He accepted but couldn’t attend the ceremony—he sent his wife Vivien in his place. A polite friendship between families developed but within a few folders it becomes increasingly clear that the friendship led to an affair. In one letter Greene refers to the precise instant this transformation happened for him. In a small plane chartered by Mrs. Walston to take him home to Oxford after a visit to her estate, he thought, “A lock of hair touches one’s eyes in a plane with East Anglia under snow, and one is in love.”
“I woke up this morning very calm and quiet after an odd dream of being dead, but even dead there were women and bedrooms.”
In one photo in the collection C is dressed in a linen pantsuit. She has short, slightly curly hair, full lips, fine features, elegantly manicured hands with painted nails. She’s smoking a cigarette, which today might convey a strain of self-destructiveness, but in those days suggested only sophistication.
The combination of her carnality and her Catholicism fascinated Greene. She seemed to live with one foot in the sacred world and one in the profane.
The affair reached its apogee in the late 1940s. By 1950 Greene was begging Walston to leave her husband and marry him. She declined, for reasons the letters only hint at. Perhaps she was afraid she’d lose her children. Perhaps she opted for the security of life with a rich and indulgent man. Perhaps she realized that Greene’s habits and temperament were better suited to a lover than a husband.
“I love onion sandwiches,” G wrote in a postcard from Amsterdam. Onions was one of their code words for making love.
3. A few days after hatching in an incubator on a huge farm, it has its upper beak and toenails snipped off. A turkey is normally a very discriminating eater, but the farmers have clipped the beak, transforming it into a kind of shovel. With its altered beak it can no longer pick and choose what it wants to eat. Instead it will do nothing but gorge on the highly fortified corn-based mash that it is offered, even though that is far removed from the insects, grass and seeds Turkeys prefer. After the beaks are clipped mass-produced turkeys spend the fist three weeks of their lives confined with hundreds of other birds in what is know as a brooder, a heated room where they are kept warm, dry and safe from disease and predators. Their toenails are removed so that they won’t do harm later on as in the crowded conditions of industrial production, mature turkeys are prone to picking at the feathers of their neighbors and even cannibalizing them. The next rite of passage comes in the fourth week, when turkeys reach puberty and grow feathers. Then they are herded from brooders into a giant barn. These windowless barns are illuminated by bright lights twenty-four hours a day, keeping the turkeys awake and eating. They stand, not on grass, but on wood shavings, laid down to absorb the overwhelming amount of waste that the flock produces. Still, the ammonia fumes rising from the floor are enough to burn the eyes. Not only do these turkeys have no room to move around in the barn they don’t have any way to indulge their instinct to roost (clutching onto something with their claws when they sleep). Instead the turkeys are forced to rest in an unnatural position analogous to what sleeping sitting up is for humans. These turkeys are all the same age and all of the same variety, the appropriately named Broad Breasted White. By their eighth week they are severely overweight. Their breasts are so large that they are unable to walk or to have sex. Instead, turkeys today are the product of artificial insemination. After twelve to fourteen weeks the whole flock is ready for the slaughterhouse.
4. Dr. Jim stretched, flexing one leg and pulling the sheet downward with his foot. Ellie’s eyes widened but she didn’t look away. He’d been aching for her since she’d leaned against him and given him that first tentative kiss; he was throbbing with arousal now but he acted as though having this woman stare at him didn’t make him want to flip her on her back and bury himself inside her. That was exactly what he wanted to do, but even more than that he wanted her to learn she could trust him and that neither he nor his body was anything to be feared.
Her expression showed more wonder than fear, but he asked, “Are you thinking I could hurt you?” he asked.
“It does seem . . . that way.”
“It only hurts some the first time,” he told her. “Because a woman has a tiny piece of flesh that is torn. But after that it shouldn’t hurt again . . .unless the woman is forced. That would hurt no matter how many times she’s done it before. When she’s ready to accept the man into her body, it doesn’t hurt.”
“So it wouldn’t hurt this time?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe a little bit uncomfortable since it’s been a long time, but nothing like what you knew then. I promise.”
“Did they teach you this stuff at school?”
“How would I know if I was ready?”
“I could show you how to know.”
She lowered herself to his chest again, bringing her legs to twine with his.
He explained the arousal of both sexes to her, finding it the most erotic thing he’d ever done. He didn’t know how he’d survive if this was just a warm-up and she wasn’t ready to move forward. But she seemed eager to experience all he’d just explained.
“Did anyone at school ask questions?”
“Not as many as you do.”
Her sweet innocence touched him anew. She ran her hand down his neck, across his chest, and her touch set him on fire. With great restraint, he kept his own hands curled in loose fists, one at his side, the other at her back.
She ended the intimate kiss, but her lips lingered, almost touching his.
“Did you like it?” he asked.
“Yes, did you?”
“Oh, yes.” It came out as a half laugh, half groan.
She leaned back and ran her palm over his chest, down his stomach, studying him in the golden glow of the lamp.
She seemed eager to experience all he’d just explained. She sat up and unbuttoned the tiny buttons at her throat and slipped her nightgown off over her head, watching his eyes, gauging his reaction.
Her breasts were full and lovely, with darkened nipples that stiffened when he feasted his gaze upon them. Her waist was narrow and her hips flared becomingly.
“Do you want me to touch you?”
“Show me where.”
She took his hands and brought them to her breasts. Her eyelids drifted closed as he ran his fingers over her budded nipples. She was lost to the magical sensations and the reactions of her body.
Dr. Jim forced himself to wait for her spoken or implied demands before he did the things he ached to do. And slowly but surely, she showed him what she liked. He held himself in rigid control, her enflaming touches setting him on fire.
With him Ellie felt so beautiful, so good and so right. Love made the difference. And knowing he loved her. She wanted to consume him. She wanted to envelop him.
“Now, Dr. Jim,” she pleaded, “Take me now.”
5. As for yellow dung flies, claims have been made that the female’s decision to use one male’s sperm rather than another’s depends on whether she lays her eggs on a cowpat in the shade, or one in the sun. If a male yellow dung fly copulates for long enough, he can displace the sperm of previous males. To achieve this effect, small males have to copulate for longer than big males because small males transfer sperm more slowly. The male would then, after having replaced the sperm of his predecessors with his own, do well to then guard the female until she has laid her eggs. That way his sperm would be the only sperm available.
6. There were what was called three rooms, but since it was already winter, and the landlord wasn’t fixing the boiler, I began living in what I called the living room, off the combination kitchen and bathroom, which was almost as large, or maybe larger, but was home to a bathtub, large cylindrical hot water heater, and a sink next to a large gas stove. The toilet sat in a tiny wc adjacent. The floor had been painted black, but wasn’t smooth, as if layers of paper had been scraped, but the job had remained unfinished. There were no sharp, clean corners anywhere, as if thousands of years of dust had been impressed where the floors met the walls, and where the walls met, layer upon layer of paint created rounded edges. The kitchen/bath had a dirty window overlooking a gray airshaft that had some irretrievable garbage at the bottom. But the living room had two large windows that faced a small concrete yard. Beyond that yard were the gardens of some brownstones, and I could see the trees, now looking like charcoal scribbles. Strangely, the ceiling had a band of ornamented woodwork, possibly oak, and there were huge sliding doors between that room and the kitchen/bath.
“But what am I telling you this for? I’m keeping you up.” He made a move as if to rise, but because of his age, and his potbelly, it was so clumsy it seemed like a gesture. Like most young, poor writers I had lots of furniture retrieved from the garbage, and the chair he was in was a butterfly, with ancient canvas, stained, though clean, that sagged nearly to the floor.
“Don’t go,” I said. I was as excited as if he’d suddenly stripped himself naked.
“War,” I said, “makes everything so serious.”
“If you had seen the boys come back,” he said. “It would have been better had they been killed outright.”
“It must have been awful,” I said.
Awful. The childish, meaningless word hung in the air, drawing a line between us.
He slumped again in the chair. “Why,” he said. “What’s it all for?”
For life. For art, I thought. For ideas. I wanted him to undress me, to inject his poetry right into me. The prospect of change, the prospect of love.
Unaccountably, I was so full of joy I couldn’t breathe. I thought I might explode.