Sodom and the Madonna

“What on earth am I doing?” is what I completely fail to think, as I position my hand so that when the portly-but-attractive bartender (has he been giving me the eye, or is it my imagination?) puts my glass back down on the counter, his fingers will make contact with mine.

It works — can’t have been by accident, he could easily have avoided the touch — and I also fail to feel guilty, despite the fact that my friend M., seated next to me, is in the middle of a college reminiscence that I have not been quite paying attention to. I refocus.

M. is not really my friend. I’ve met him once before, several years ago and for maybe five minutes. I knew his wife L. in high school, but she’s not really my friend either: we’ve lived in the same town for two years and only run into each other a couple of times, and not even on purpose. But L. invited me to a barbecue at their house the other weekend.

At first I thought I was being set up with some girl or other. People do this to me every once in a while, because I am single and not unattractive, and besides I have a good job and even a motorcycle and am somehow not married yet. But then I realized I was being set up with her husband, so to speak; I hear through the grapevine that their marriage is not all smooth sailing these days, and I suspect that her efforts to get him some “guy time” (her words) might be part of some plot to save them by saving him.

As the barbecue goes on, I start to think it might be a good plan. Does he have anybody to see, anywhere to be but with his wife and four kids? It’s clear that he loves them all, but what man can spend all his time with women and children and not go a little bonkers?

Just because a man’s straight doesn’t mean he stops needing men. On the contrary. This is something my straight friends have taught me: they enjoy and even need each other so much that I wonder how I got along in comparative isolation for so long.

Of course I don’t know any of this about M. It’s purely speculative, and incredibly presumptuous besides.

I stay for three or four hours, chat with M. and his wife, play with his kids (his five-year-old son knows Karate! Instant bond: we trade techniques and are pals in 10 minutes flat), eat burgers and drink beers. M. and I share a smoke before I leave — he quit four years ago but is more than happy to indulge when he gets the chance — and exchange phone numbers.

Yesterday I text M. on a whim and ask if he wants to meet for a drink today after work. He agrees, which brings us to the bar tonight. I’m only on my second drink, but this is one of those high-class gourmet-beer joints where the alcohol content tends towards the double digits, and I am a lightweight anyway. This brings us back to the bartender, too, who I wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t interjected something into our conversation five minutes ago.

I certainly wouldn’t have noticed that the bartender’s got The Look, or that he’s paying me more attention than is strictly warranted by the duties of his position. But what on earth? Where do I think this is going to go? Is this what normal people mean by flirting? Is this wrong, or is it just harmless fun? But I’m not thinking about any of this, not much, because I have been drinking.

Meanwhile I am, frankly, enjoying M.’s company. We have some things in common: a love of classical music, a disinclination towards team sports; a background, however slight, in martial arts. He is easy to talk to.

As the beer flows, the conversation steers, by unnoticeable degrees, towards more personal things. We go from drinking stories to how he met his wife to, suddenly, questions of faith. He’s an agnostic now, he says; something has been draining away for the last six years, and now he’s not sure what’s left. It doesn’t make things any easier with his wife.

We’ve both got to get home, but we stand talking outside for a bit first, and share another smoke. Then I think, duh, and invite him to adoration with me on Tuesday morning. He is eager and tentative at the same time, so I press the point, busting his balls a little bit, and put it in my calendar: “Call M. to go to adoration. DO IT.”

Back at home I am recuperating, waiting for the fog to clear. I flop on the couch, going over the events of the evening, congratulating myself for actually doing some evangelizing for once, thinking fondly of what a great guy I am; then wincing suddenly as I remember flirting with the bartender, not two minutes before talking about faith and doubt and Providence and Adoration. Like some kind of expert.

Lord, I’m a narcissist. But I meant what I said about Adoration, meant every word when I was telling M. how much my daily half hour of prayer has changed my life. I think of Dostoevsky:

Beauty! I can’t bear the thought that man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with the ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower.1

Me too, Dmitri, me too. It’s terribly confusing work, being human. But I think it’s going to work out.

1 The Brothers Karamazov, Part I, Book III, Chapter 3. More context here. Oh man what a good book.

14 Comments on “Sodom and the Madonna”

  1. Rebecca says:

    My favorite novel 🙂

  2. Jordan says:

    This has little to do with anything, but during college it seemed as if every Theology major (excepting me, of course) was capable of quoting Dostoevsky and Tolstoy at the drop of a hat in reference to seemingly any facet of the Christian existence. I was so filled with insecurity that I went home and bought four Russian novels. I have since made it through a mere 100 pages of Dr. Zhivago, with scarcely a hope of completing it any time soon. I am distinctly aware that my life is impoverished without the masterful prose of the Russian greats lifting me from the banal myopia of my comparative illiteracy.

    Blessings as you navigate this relationship, however brief it may be. I’m sure your act of evangelism has earned you a nice television in heaven (though it will probably only have TLC because of the flirting).

    Peace, man. Thanks for another great post.


  3. Grandfather says:

    Great writing! Yes it is good to be focused on other people, whether your interest is high or low-minded, rather than on yourself. I have many experiences like those you describe. Your opportunity to evangelize sounds like it was an appointment God set up. Don’t worry about your awareness of the bartender. He goes through that every day.

  4. George says:

    God _bless_ you Steve! Awesome post, and I hope things turn out well or both you and your new friend! Love the quote – I read The Brothers K years ago, and for some reason I must have glazed over it. It’s very poignant.

    I’m glad you seem to be more of your regular self 🙂 – you sound more cheerful in your posts at least.

  5. Mary says:

    Precisely one minute before reading this post, I was Googling Michelangelo (having read Bad Catholic and marveled at the fabulous shot of the Pieta displayed there) and came across the speculation into his sexual orientation, as evidenced by some of his writings. The constant battle back and forth is truly ever-present, and it always has been.

  6. Paul Delgadillo says:

    Dude! I have similar experiences, especially with the married men in my parish. I do not know how many of them I have helped to fall in love with their wives again. I love everyone of them as brothers and they are far closer to me than the four I have from the family I grew up in. The adoration thing is my aim.. The Holy Spirit has shown me that if I really love my brother, I will bring him to the Eucharist so that that love will be made eternal.

  7. Caitlin says:

    I’m a huge flirt. We are all flawed.

  8. Dan S. says:

    Advice is cheap so take it for what it’s worth.
    I think wayyy too much about wayy too many things and it sometimes causes un-needed anxiety.
    Sometimes you think and analyze things too much. Try to let it be, and after a while it will make your life a bit easier. Letting go takes some time because it’s part of you, but it helps from getting too overly analytical about things that need not be.


  9. Mark from PA says:

    I think you need to be careful here, Steve.

  10. John son of John says:

    Reminds me of in Shakespeare’s time when men could have an intamate (as in virtuos and filial ) brotherly relationship and no one would think it odd. It is sad that in these modern times we have mostly lost our innocence.

    God bless

  11. Edmund says:

    Nice story. (Ewww to flirting with the waiter though.)

  12. Laura says:

    Also, love Dostoevsky! And should pray more regularly. this is wonderful, thanks.

  13. Jessica says:

    Love how you ended the post and love your honesty.

  14. mattboulter says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve linked to your blog.

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