Many thanks to the editorial team at Five on the Fifth for publishing my essay, “Alabama, One Year Later.” Five on the Fifth is an online journal that publishes five short pieces on the fifth of every month.
You sign up for the discounts,
those measly wins you have to ask for.
The clerk eyes you, stalls, maybe calls the manager,
but your card is in your wallet,
you’ve got him on the ropes.
You can’t in fact keep up
with all you’re earned:
free coffee at McDonald’s, 10% off at Denny’s,
early bird specials at Golden Corral.
And all for just staying alive!
Paradoxically, the AARP magazine
(which comes uninvited each month)
will ward you off these places, advising healthier options.
Remember: your arteries are harder now
and don’t spring back anymore.
Are there others like me,
who opt out of the journal, who don’t care
to use the symptom checker or
read about scams at the gas pump,
who just want to call a truce with the world?
Don’t tell me how to fend off death,
tell me how to live with its arrival,
how to claim wonder,
how to stay open,
how to give myself away.
So much for the new sex doll brothel. Slated to open this month in Toronto, Aura Dolls met a roadblock after a city councillor denied the company’s right to do business. A sex doll brothel falls under the “adult entertainment” category, which is forbidden in the Willowdale wards. Outraged locals are triumphant over the derailment; others don’t care what happens between a man and a robot behind closed doors. To be sure, Aura Dolls will pop up somewhere.
Depending on the features and customizable options, sex bots cost upwards of $15,000—clearly out of reach for most customers. Aura Dolls are priced at $80 for a half hour and available 24/7; package deals are in development. With six models to choose from, even a modest inventory could soon translate into a fortune. Bear in mind that each doll is meticulously cleaned and sterilized after use. The estimated shelf life of a bot is six months, though some of the more popular models may face earlier retirement.
Those who question the viability of a sex doll rental business might consider the facts. On its website, Aura Dolls states that its “vision is to bring you an exciting new way to achieve your needs without the many restrictions and limitations that a real partner may come with.” In other words, Aura dolls never have a headache and don’t need a safe word. All orifices are fully functional and scientifically enhanced to produce maximum pleasure, reportedly more intense than anything a real woman can offer. The dolls range in age from 21 to 24 and each has an online description that includes ethnicity and descriptions of physical attributes as well as personality quirks. Some are even said to be jealous of other dolls and prefer to be booked in advance.
To ensure privacy, an Aura Doll brothel will feature separate entrances and buzzer-activated exits, and payments will be handled without human interaction. Patrons will not see staff or other customers, though a camera will scan them upon entry. Their chosen “bad Barbie” will be waiting for them in the room, along with the option of music and/or televised porn.
In answer to many requests, the company is planning to add male bots. Presumably these full-size Kens will be as realistic and accommodating as the females. The penis of course will have to offer more than an erection, considering the vibrator competition. Perhaps the mouth will work, specifically the tongue—Aura Dolls is not giving away any secrets at this point.
Those adverse to the idea of a sex doll brothel believe that the industry is degrading to women, that it objectifies them in a literal and vulgar way. In comparison, there have been no complaints of dildos and vibrators dehumanizing men in the same fashion: frankly isn’t a vibrator just a stripped-down male with a few bells and whistles?
Some have no beef with the entrepreneurial angle; it’s the robots that creep them out. What sort of depraved weirdo would pay for intercourse with a silicone doll? It’s true that mail-order sex dolls have been around for a long time, but their cheap artificiality provokes more derision than outrage. Aura Dolls are hyper realistic, astonishingly human-like, and this is where the lines begin to blur.
While robots are being enhanced with memory, speech, voice recognition, even functioning G-spots, human females are working hard to keep up. Between make-up, Botox, face-lifts, tummy tucks, hair dye, weaves, fake fingernails, push-up bras, Spanx and waxes, women are becoming more robotic every day. Men readily accept these improved versions of their spouses and are in fact uncomfortable when reminded of certain realities like menstruation, body hair and the physical tolls of aging. Nor do they have any trouble believing in their own deceptive measures, like the bogus erections Viagra makes possible. And wives, gladly or reluctantly, go along with the prank.
Beyond the possibility that sex doll brothels might lower crime rates against women, the practicality of the dolls, their unarguable advantages, are alarmingly numerous. Assuming the bots are maintained as promised, there is no risk of contracting social diseases and no risk of spreading them, nor can Aura dolls become pregnant. Any kinky proclivities—things a man would not ask or expect of a girlfriend or wife (and might even resent them for)—can be accomplished in complete anonymity with a willing partner who keeps her secrets. And no guilt cause, hey, she isn’t real. It’s the ultimate affair.
On the downside, there are certain hazards to relying on sex dolls to make your carnal dreams come true. These dolls mean business—some of the more high-tech models come with a choice of 40 nipple colors and can talk and even understand their customers. If a doll is real enough to rent, can she be real enough to fall in love with? And what about her talents, those scientifically boosted orifices? How can a lowly wife compete with those? There is also the financial issue. What if a patron begins visiting these brothels with frequency. Will he be able to afford his habit? Will there be interventions? A new subcategory of sex addictions?
However realistic these dolls are, we need to remember they are toys, albeit expensive ones. Our greatest threat from sex doll brothels is not the shredding of moral fiber—our fiber is pretty threadbare as it is. Of larger concern is the degree to which artifice is shaping our lives, leading us farther and farther from the qualities that makes us human. We need to ask ourselves why our bodies and faces are not enough, why we mask and alter them, why fake has become the new real, and if we will ever find a way back.
Who am I to voice your grief?
I who lost nothing in the fires but sleep,
eight days of work.
You were left without a home.
Four bedrooms, two baths, the kitchen
you remodeled with cherry cabinets
and black granite counters.
It was like being in a jewelry box, you said.
There was your grandfather’s writing desk,
with its curved legs and tiny hidden drawers.
The long dining room table,
born from trees in Finland.
I could never resist running my hand
over its smooth hollows.
Paintings, small sculptures, photos from your travels.
That leopard in the tree, a red sun behind him.
You won an award for that.
That gorgeous mantle your daughter carved.
A year of her life went into it.
Not just burned up—swallowed, mangled,
the fire an immense maw,
roaring down the mountain
faster than a man could run.
They had to paint street names on what was left
so that people could find where their homes had been.
First a roof, then the rest: food, plates, cups, clothes, soap.
Your needs are savage, you see that now.
You cannot live on art, books, a priceless mantle,
though a part of you still knows they matter.
What shall I buy you?
A coat? A set of dishes? A Safeway giftcard?
Or something else,
some beautiful useless thing
you will turn to again and again.
Sometimes while shopping, I experience a flush of satisfaction as I cruise past the items that don’t pertain to me: baby food, condoms, curling irons, hair coloring kits. Ignoring all that energy and advertising confers what feels like power. I also snub the cosmetics, aisle after aisle of them (though I do brush a little color on my cheeks each day to appear more alive). I did use makeup when I was a young woman—mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, lipstick—the whole mob; even streaked my hair. Ironic that now, with my shrinking eyebrows and gray hair, I have turned my back on the props.
In a culture that values youth and beauty, aging is not easy, particularly for women. As toddlers we begin to perceive the sovereignty of Barbie and Cinderella, and woe to little girls who are not conventionally pretty, who will be molded by this knowledge in ways they will not understand. I like to think that compensation awaits these girls, that having less to lose, getting older will be a bit easier.
Stopped in traffic one time, I looked to my left, at an elderly woman behind the wheel of a Mercedes coupe. For a moment our eyes met and she tried to smile—perhaps she thought she managed it; what I saw was a grimace, the skin so taut it appeared to be covered with cellophane. Her eyelids were drooping under the weight of false lashes, her mouth was a fire red gash and her hair—the color of cantaloupes—was elaborately rigged on top of her head. She was fierce, this woman. She had time in a stranglehold and she was not giving up an inch. She was losing, she knew it, but she was not giving up.
I don’t have that kind of fight in me, don’t want to battle the years I have left. As far as I’m concerned, the only practical response to aging is forgiveness, excusing each new erosion as it appears. What can we do with our body but love it, love it all the more for its diminishing street value.
In arming themselves for public view, women in the United States spend more money than any country in the world, yet rank 23rd in the “Satisfaction With Life Index.” Japan comes in second in cosmetics spending, with a satisfaction ranking of 90. Two countries that spend the least on cosmetics and hair care — Netherlands and Sweden — have the best rankings in the SWLI.
From an early age, we receive the message that we are not good enough, and the volume only increases as we get older. Accepting this notion, we harness our lives. We spend our days hiding from ourselves and each other, never imagining there might be a better way to live. The cost of accepting our natural selves? Nothing. Nor does it take any time. Wake up, slip on some love, and walk out the door.
Photo credit: Foter.com
From a frog’s snug wetsuit to a llama’s wooly shag, animals are bestowed with the wrapping they require. Even when the efforts seem excessive, we must conclude that every species has been thoroughly considered, and who are we, anyway, to question Creation?
The first time I saw a picture of a pangolin, I was reminded of pharaohs, of ancient tombs and golden riches and all we do not, cannot, know. Almost every inch of a pangolin’s body is covered in sharp over-lapping scales; no other mammal sports such armor. What is there about this creature that warrants exceptional protection?
There are eight species of pangolins, four in Asia and four in Africa. Ranging in length from a foot to a yard, they are heavily hunted for their meat as well as their scales. All are consequently endangered and may well disappear—one more puzzle piece forever lost.
Nocturnal animals, pangolins spend their days curled up in deep tunnels or hollow trees. They feed on ants and termites, which they dispatch with their long, thin tongues. Like giant anteaters, the tongues of pangolins are rooted in the thorax and can extend nearly a foot and a half. They are short-legged animals and use their formidable claws to dig into ant hills. Because they do not see well, pangolins are gifted with a keen sense of smell for locating their prey. Some types hang by their tails from branches and scratch away tree bark to expose the insects beneath. Discriminating diners, they will ignore all but a few types of bugs, sensing perhaps what is good for them and avoiding junk food.
Pangolins are loners, meeting only once a year for mating purposes. Unlike most animals, males, which are larger than females, do not search for them. The males employ a passive come-hither, leaving their calling card in the form of urine or feces, which the females readily find. If competition is involved, males will bash each other with their tails until a victor emerges. Gestation lengths differ depending on the species—anywhere from 70 to 140 days. Most give birth to one six-inch pangopup at a time. Four weeks later, the pup emerges from the burrow, riding on its mother’s back; mother and offspring stay together for two years.
The keratin scales of a baby pangolin are soft and white at birth, hardening and darkening within just a few days. There is an international ban on their trade, but pangolins are widely poached for their scales, which are ground into powder and illegally purchased. In East Asia many people believe, without evidence, that the scales can cure various human diseases, another example of the way we exploit and imperil whatever strikes us as extraordinary.
When threatened, pangolins curl up in a ball and tuck their faces under their tales. They also emit a foul chemical from glands near the anus, similar to skunk spray. Left with a spiny, smelly ball, would-be predators soon lose interest. Unfortunately, these excellent defenses do not work against humans.
Is humanity a failed experiment? Given our swathe of destruction, it would seem so. We have brains enough to redeem ourselves, but probably not enough time. Everything in any case is destined to expire.
Why are we here? Why is the pangolin the only mammal suited in armor? Nature just bounces these questions right back, as if she’s holding out hope, waiting for us to see the big picture. What if pangolins were put here to amaze us and we were brought in to admire them? What if our mission is that simple? What more than esteem does this old earth need?