By Eve Babitz
Smart, No. 9
When I was a madwoman in the 1960s, everyone I knew was getting laid like crazy. Everyone was wild for sex: they heard the phrase free love and ran amok across the land. Married men, married women, squares, hippies—everyone was on the prowl, cruising for the Answer in the form of sex. Of course, if you found the Answer, you were stuck with it for all eternity, like being married, so the Answer would often change.
In the meantime, the gay men and the feminists were in the background, girding their loins against the Farrah Fawcett spun-gold hair of the seventies, trying to ruin everything. And they succeeded. Yes, men were pigs, women were exploited—yet gay men were, well, out of the closet and staying out and up till three in the morning, having more fun than anyone else ever did in the history of mankind. They made straight people jealous. Buck Henry once told me that he used to pass those bars and really get mad because the gays were having so much more fun than the straights. What the gay guys seemed programmed to prove was that, if we thought the sixties were far out, they really knew how to have a party. Andy Warhol and Truman Capote über alles. The gay scene had a sense of mad adventure, high gossip, bitter wit, and a determination to make people beautiful, glamorous, marvelous, fabulous. The feminists, meanwhile, were having none of it. The most they’d do was buy frames for their glasses at L.A. Eyeworks, once the eighties occurred. (In Cheap Chic, Fran Lebowitz says that if the way people look calls attention to their clothes, they are badly dressed.)
Today the normal people who just wanted to get through life having children and going camping have discovered that being married means both partners have to work full-time at hard jobs that take every ounce of strength and don’t leave enough money—once the car insurance is paid—to go camping. And the peripheral women, women like me who were too neurotic to get married and have children and wanted only to stay young forever and fool around, have discovered that the available men are getting less and less interested in running amok with unbridled passion, even with women in their twenties. In fact, some of the twenty-year-old women I know never even have dates. And didn’t have any as teenagers.
It used to be that you’d go to a sexy movie on a thing called a “date” and come out totally inspired to go home to bed.
These days women are always telling me that “there are no men out there.” This is not a new idea: Cosmopolitan is based on that premise, and the magazine is now twenty-five years old. But I myself have noticed that there aren’t any men unless you go forage in the brush and drag them kicking and screaming into, say, a movie. But what’s really amazed me lately is the number of women I know who actually have “relationships” (i.e., boyfriends, husbands, locked-in lovers) who say, “But we haven’t had sex in, oh, three years.” Or, “We had sex twice two years ago but…”
If you ask me, videos are what have put the damper on most people’s sex lives. People have all these incredible Glory of Western Civilization-type choices in the video stores, and they say to one another, “Oh, goody, I know what we’ll do Saturday night. We’ll watch the complete Godfather, parts one and two, and then we’ll watch all these Preston Sturges movies.” Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs—or some organ down there. It used to be that you’d go to a sexy movie on a thing called a “date” and come out totally inspired to go home to bed—your boyfriend with Kim Basinger, you with Mickey Rourke (or me with Mickey Rourke). But now Kim and Mickey are right there in the bedroom with you—because you’ve been too lazy to go see the movie and waited till it came out on video—and they’re too small to inspire anyone to do anything but go to sleep. Sex has to be really twisted for it to do any good on a small screen.
Maybe we will all become like Henry James, eager to discover virtue, rather than vice, in situations and people.
For some reason I got the idea when I was growing up that the thing we should all be doing is having fun, but now it hardly surprises me when I learn that yet another of my women friends has packed up and left for Santa Fe, hitting the trail for the lure of cowboys and artists or other archetypes who are still supposedly interested in having fun. I can’t help teasing these poor girls, insisting that heading for the hills in pursuit of romance is ridiculous and reminding them that Santa Fe is the color of pancake makeup, which makes it very difficult to take seriously.
Of course, after they get a load of what cowboys and artists are actually like, they come back older but wiser, which makes things even worse. Who needs more disillusioned people after all? Perhaps we are going to have to become dignified and resigned to a quieter, droopier time. Maybe we will all become like Henry James, eager to discover virtue, rather than vice, in situations and people.
That, I suppose, will be a nice change. Or a change anyway. But not yet. Not me.