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**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she canít exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Donít online mag.

**WEB: CRUISING Eric Sasson
WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
AFTER DETOX Jamie Iredell
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer

Eric Sasson

Sasson lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he has taught fiction writing at the Sackett Street Writers Workshop. His work has appeared in various magazines, including Alligator Juniper, the Ledge and Limp Wrist, among others.

Having sex in the steam rooms of cruise ships is our God-given right. We feel this is true as soon as we board and are reminded of all the ways the ship will attempt to erase us. Some might argue that it is you who have banished us there, but we don't mind; after all, the danger of being discovered quickens our pulse, makes our brief trysts thorny and memorable.


We cum quickly. We have to, lest one of you inadvertently opens the door and walks in on us. Still, it's not like you don't know what's going on. Perhaps some of you are naive, but most of you aren't. It's evident in the hesitant, almost coquettish way you walk by the fogged-up door, your hands slowly gripping the handle, giving us time to readjust and perform a transparent artifice for you. Dare we say that some of you want to see what we are doing? Not that you want to join us, exactly. More that you want to experience what's it like to allow yourself such things that your narrow definitions of yourselves don't allow for. If you didn't want to see something, you could simply not go at all.

Of course, there are those of you who don't want to sacrifice your right to enjoy steam to a bunch of sex-crazed perverts. These would be your words, not ours. Although to be fair, they may not be your words. Your words might be gentler. You might say: I understand you need a place for yourselves, but this cannot be it. The ship's public spaces are not to be abused. Children could walk in on us, even if technically they aren't supposed to be there at all.

We understand; really, we do. Despite the persistent rumors, we are not interested in your children. We are not interested in your brothers, cousins, uncles, not unless we are your brothers, cousins, uncles. We aren't interested in you at all, really. We might find you attractive, but we're not persuaded by such abstractions. We need you to want us in order for us to want you back. And when you don't, we don't pursue. We are quite content sticking to our own once we find ourselves.

We'd like to ask those of you who are angry at us to consider a few truths. Not those of you who hate us, because we won't get through to you. It is the ambivalent majority of you that we address. Imagine how we feel watching you do the Macarena. Imagine us in the audience during the Love and Marriage game, imagine those of us who are or know men who can also say they've been together 40 years, and imagine how it feels to know that we will never be asked to the stage to participate. Imagine, because we don't have to imagine, what we see when we look at the couples everywhere, massaging sun block into each other's torsos, holding hands as they circle the promenade deck, dancing foxtrot to the soft nostalgia of the Stan Jones Quartet crooning "It Had to Be You."

You are everywhere. You are the welcome-aboard Mai Tai, the formal portraits taken with the crew at the captain's reception. You are the children splashing in the wave pool, huddling around the ice-cream machine, genetic extensions of yourselves, living trophies that testify to your unquestioned license to procreate. You are the Mr. Sexy Legs contest judged by three 57-year-old grandmothers from Champaign, Illinois. You are the anodyne comedian asking how many honeymooners are in the room and then asking why, met with commensurately insipid laughter. You are certainly the sports bar, centrally located, where you watch football or basketball or baseball, depending on the season, but certainly not tennis, certainly not figure skating qualification rounds. You are the bingo, you are the cleavage-and-cologne-infused nightclub, you are the thong bikinis and the T-shirts with slogans proclaiming "The Man The Legend" with arrows pointing in different directions, you are the rattails and the Aloha shirts and the Budweiser. You are definitely the Budweiser.

You are not, however, the entertainment. You are neither the singers nor the dancers, not the lighting designers or stagehands or costume coordinators. You do not teach the morning Pilates class, you do not give the ballroom dance lessons to the timid couple from Dubuque, you are not the sommelier expounding on the blackberry notes in the pinot noir at the wine-tasting seminar, nor would you teach anyone, ever, how to make a floral arrangement. And while you are the bingo, you are not the person calling out "and after" when announcing B4 as the next ball. You are not any of these people; we are. And if you are, then you are the girlfriends that stand next to us at bars agreeing with us that the man in the Guayabera by the red couch is the finest man in the room, hands down, girl. Because if you are, then you know what we are thinking and how we are feeling, and you are secretly rooting for us in the steam room, you are egging us on to have threesomes and foursomes and all-out Caligula orgies with sound effects and confetti and trumpets. We love you, and had genetics or God been more forgiving, we could have shared our love for each other instead of for the Guayabera man shimmering by the red couch, because he will disappoint us (much as we disappoint you) by not loving us the way we feel we are meant to be loved.

So you see we are all around you, mostly invisible to you, and if not quite invisible then barely detectable, like a mild stain on the back of a button-down shirt that you notice but wear the shirt anyway, because the stain is inconspicuous and not worth thinking about. We are mostly invisible to each other, too. Consciously or not, we repress our brighter hues to blend in better with your muted colors. We try not to dress too dandily, yet there is only so far we will go; we still sport our fitted tank tops and Diesel trunks to the pool, and the tapered pants we wear to dinner may yet betray us. When we recognize each other after our encounters, we offer stolen winks as we pass by, silently assessing each other's families and loved ones. Sometimes we spot each other playing roulette in the casino, testing fragrances in the cosmetics shop. We are the ones who choose Whitney Houston songs at karaoke, instead of Jimmy Buffet. We linger longer than many in the gym, lifting heavier weights, running longer miles, unabashedly joining the step class.

Perhaps you're wondering why we would subject ourselves to you if we are so discomforted. Perhaps we should not go on your big boats at all, or if we do, then perhaps with others like us so we could hold hands and foxtrot and even watch football together, although perhaps with somewhat different side commentary than you engage in. To this we say, why should we have to? Why can't we join our large families for 60th anniversary celebrations, or tag along with our girlfriends for five-night escapes from the snows of February? What if some of us are older and still married to some of you, and what if we love you and we love our lives and maybe even the kids we had with you and why would we ever want to fuck that up when we could simply let off some steam instead? What if we are not from the big cities or even the medium-sized towns leaning against colleges, what if we are not from the North or the coasts, what if the one road that runs through us has seven churches and we are faithful members of these churches? If you are all we know, all we see, every minute of every day, then how can you ask us to go off on our own, with people that we do not really understand or relate to?

Even those of us who hate those of us who pretend and play nice for you try to be compassionate in these instances. We want us to stand up for ourselves and live our lives with dignity, but we understand that life for us has always been a never-ending rainbow of grays and we are hardly ones to be casting first stones. Besides, we're not really concerned, once we enter that sticky room, about each other's situations; we all have situations, and we come here to escape from these situations, thank you very much.

Even those of us who hate those of us who insist on having sex in steam rooms understand that the world is hardly fair, and sometimes unfairness is met with rebellion, like teenagers breaking curfews and drinking Jaeger shots at their friends' parentless houses on weekends. These of us think that we must stop behaving like teenagers, and instead act like the respectful adults we want you to accept us for. Steam room sex only hurts our cause, this group reminds us. We cannot expect to assimilate when we persist in behaving like the Other.

Perhaps, says the other side of us. Perhaps we don't want to assimilate. Perhaps we'd prefer tolerance. Perhaps we'd rather you accept our differences instead of asking us to be like you. Beauty and truth can only exist in the differences. We like you as you are, even if we find many of the things you do to be sort of silly and ordinary. It must be nice to revel in the banality of the supermajority. But let us not oversimplify. Each -- or at least, most - of you has experienced being the Other at some point in your lives.

And we are hardly innocent of the crimes of exclusion. If anything we are more guilty. Even when our options are limited by location and population and of course the randomness of time and circumstance, even then we are excluders. Some of us only like smooth men, or muscular men, or thin men, or men under 30, and we ignore those that do not fit neatly into our categories. We know it's crazy to expect what we want on a cruise ship, and still we resist.

Yes, there are those of us that slip in, and because we are beautiful, or young, or both, we get noticed right away. We are pursued by a multitude of eyes, watching us undress, open our locker, sip our water, as if these actions are somehow more meaningful because we are the ones engaging in them. We are followed into the steam, gazed upon like magnificent, unfathomable works of art. We notice how towels peel away around us, how legs begin to separate. Hands restlessly slide to their owner's inner thighs, and then further still, as we are assessed, as our eyes are met with the beseeching expressions of vassals appearing before their lords after committing petty crimes that still could amount to their deaths. If we are satisfied with what we see, we shift, we adjust. We might even smile, although we may not be seen, through the dense humidity of the steam. These seconds of ambiguity only make us more desirable. We choose, and there is no complication.

But we are not all young and beautiful and exquisitely defined, despite what some of you think. We age and we have bellies. We are bald and hair grows out of our ears and our penises can often be small or unshapely. And then, we are those vassals. We are the Waiting.

The Waiting can be found in the locker room at any time of the day, doing what our name requires us to do. We waiting are biblical in our dedication to our craft, we are Sarah in her 98th year, still holding for news of Isaac. Beauty and youth having forsaken us, still we hope that somehow the sparkle of our one virtue, patience, will eventually bring forth salvation. Most of us waiting do not expect to touch, or be touched. We are happy to just watch, to savor moments vicariously. We might, if allowed, reach over and fondle a nipple, or stroke the unattended penis, but we understand that even this may be ephemeral, unreciprocated, or restricted. Still, we wait, all day if necessary, for a bone to be thrown our way. And if the bone does not come, then we return tomorrow, and begin our waiting again. We slumber, back and forth, along the slippery tiles of the shower area, rinse ourselves repeatedly, stare at ourselves in mirrors (only briefly). We grab new towels, we sit by the lockers waiting for new possibilities to enter, men who might show mercy to us. We ignore those who ignore us, bringing their legs together and holding their towels close, staring off into space as we try to win their attention. We sit across from them and suddenly we are not all in the same boat, figuratively speaking, but each man for himself. We are frustrated, but we understand. We have our role.

It's not like the sex is satisfying, anyway. None of us actually have sex, per se, unless we are lucky or foolish or both. The riskier of us will give each other head, but most of us are content with a handjob, under the circumstances. You may ask: why not take it back to the room? Why not come to terms and experience something more substantial? To this we reply, you share our rooms, and you may not approve. And even if you did approve, many of us do not want to go to a room. Doing so would require conversations, explaining why or how we are here in the first place. Doing so would infuse meaning into a wonderfully meaningless thing. Doing so might very well make us not want to have sex with each other at all. There are times in each of our lives (including your lives) when we all must engage in something shameful and ridiculous, so that we can remind ourselves just who we are, crude, pitiful creatures who end up as dusty afterthoughts in the ground, living on in the memories of our loved ones for a few more years, and then oblivion.

Life is too short not to be ridiculous. Which is why I have sex in the steam room.


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