“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 8

Image by Mario Savioni

Chapter 8

Frank felt relieved. She opened a door to further their communication. The fact that she was taking a course on character development was a coincidence. She “Swiped right to do something spontaneous.” At least she was up for an interesting interaction, but she qualified her engagement: “I have a boyfriend, I am not looking for a romantic partner.”

Frank thought about this. Was he looking for a partner or someone to have sex with? He did not think beyond that simple, single transaction — the satisfaction of his baser needs, not realizing that his needs might go on given the possibility of this opportunity and mutual attraction. 

Nicole added innocently, “It’s fun to talk to different people sometimes.”

In this Frank thought that yes it was fun to talk to different people, but in doing so, there was also the question of underlying motivation. He was taking chances in communicating with someone he would otherwise be afraid to engage in person. The potential was a sandwich of rejection. He already knew that society would not support his interests. His unmet needs were defined as sex, but his attraction required someone beautiful. He couldn’t help this. Even with his beautiful past partners, he was not able to get satisfaction. This correlated to his sense of accomplishment in life, to the fact of his small dick, how she smelled, how he smelled, if he had a loss for words when they conversed. All of his lovers eventually left him. He could not hold on to them. He didn’t know what to say. He had no friends and he obsessed over his past lovers as if they were the works in a gallery, a series of lines connected to his longing. They were shapes, sounds, and ideas that he looked at and listened to and thought about. All of his relationships seemed like the affirmation of an agreement to allow obsession, which would eventually turn creepy. None of them were in his life at this time.

Frank went for years until he would eventually reel one in. These innocent birds looking for freedom, you might think, eventually he went for it. Cheating girlfriends, angry spouses who wanted out, even someone needing a green card, all seemed damaged in some way, but he had never thought about it. As he got older, these affairs grew less and less, and the last time he made love to someone he was interested in and thus not sickened by, was about 13 years ago. His reaching Nicole and continuing their conversation, without of course meeting, seemed hopeful. That’s where he was in his pathetic life. Yes, there was other evidence of a disinclination—the facts were strewn about the landscape of their discussion and he had even changed the conversation to one involving writing a short story together.

Frank worked on that part of it promising to get back to her so that she might grant him the response he wanted. He worked carefully and the days went by as he crafted the piece. He looked out of his sliding glass door onto the apartment complex approximately 50 yards from his balcony, which looked out over a pool. He had a cold. He was dressed in a gray top and bottom sweat suit with a hood. It was loose-fitting. He wore slippers. They were black Crocs-like in design with a soft black fur lining that came over the edges. Underneath the sweatsuit top were layers of black long-sleeved shirts, one of which was a female long john that he’d bought at REI on sale. Although it was a ladies large, it was tight on him and the cuffs never went all the way to  his wrists. He had to pull at them. The shirt had helped him during the winters in California when he was never quite warm enough and would always get sick, sometimes four times a year. He used to think that it was because he was allergic to wheat, but even when he wasn’t eating it, he still got a cold or a flu. He would submit easily and lay in bed for days. When he couldn’t, he was miserable. This embarrassed him. He wasn’t a man’s man. He took his body seriously, like a woman might, listening to every emotional nuance.


28 comments

  1. I find Frank’s honesty about his past and present life gripping as well as how he views human relationships and, especially, love and sex. I think his male perspective on the last two ones should be especially interesting to us, women, not just to heterosexual ones, but also to bisexual, lesbian, and also to men in general no matter what sexual inclination. We humans need to learn to be in someone else’s shoes and I think your novel provides this scenario; it is thought-provoking, reflective, non-conformist, a story of empathy, carefully woven, which is something I truly enjoy reading. Plus you possess a photographic eye in your detailed descriptions of a cafe, of a character’s physical appearance, clothes, inner feelings…

    I have always tried to understand the great importance sex drive has for men, something culturally imbued (the part we need to fight against because it too often generates gender inequality through sexual abuse in a patriarchal society), but also a biological fact. I cannot speak for many other women, but for me sex has always been a secondary issue in life, especially if you are someone who has not wanted to have any children at all like me, and someone who does not want any side effects on your health that come from female contraceptives like the pill, etc. Anyway, I have never been a common woman, but a weirdo. Thank god my husband is also a weirdo and menopause brings certain liberation.

    Going back to this chapter, the power of your words got me infuriated (that is why I said your novel is thought-provoking), at Frank’s feeling of his life being unaccomplished in many aspects, one of the reasons being “his small dick”. My god, this is the last thing I would consider in a man! What about that person’s personality, intellect, general interests, capacity for empathy, affection, love and kindness? And Frank has no friends? Ever thought why someone has none, where friends are precisely the only people we can freely choose in life?

    Frank appears to be a prototype of modern society isolation, where we could discuss for hours what role the perverse Capitalist system plays.

    Just to finish, the photograph of yours that illustrates every chapter is also a great accomplishment. I remember I wrote a comment on the symbolic meaning I found in the pickle standing for sour times in our lives and the tart as the expression of sweet good moments. I also saw sexual symbolism the first time I look at the photo. It would be Freudian-like, related to our subconscious mind. Thus the pickle would stand for the penis and the tart for the female sexual organ, the vagina, and perhaps for the whole set of sexual female beauty. But, anyway, all this is just my interpretation.

    • M: I like that you find Frank’s honesty gripping as well as his views of human relationships and love and sex. You said the story is “Thought-provoking, reflective, non-conformist, a story of empathy, carefully woven, which is something I truly enjoy reading.” I am happy about this. I haven’t mentioned this, but I am also trying to replicate an eloquence that Nabokov employed when writing Lolita, which I doubt I have even come close to, but I did the best I could. I want to deal with the issue of catharsis as convincing as a cultural mechanism that lends legitimacy to what might otherwise be considered unrealistic, or even socially unacceptable in realtime. Personally, I believe that we are attracted to types and that age falls away. But, I am a man. This may only be a male perspective. Also, such relationships do not, at least for the women, appear to be sexual but relate to daddy issues (I like this piece: https://postmalesyndrome.com/daddy-issues-15-signs-you-may-have-them/) or materialistic or opportunistic reasons. But, I don’t know. I cannot pretend to understand women. This evening, I had the opportunity to sit for a reading by Professor Katie Peterson, who said in her poem “The Massachusetts Book of the Dead,” that “[She] knew Melville about as well as Melville knew women.” How could I presume to know more than Melville about women?

      I am flattered to hear that you think that I provide a look into someone else’s shoes that is empathic. You also mention a photographic eye. I guess that’s always been who I am. I see too much and in my job there is no time for that. It impedes my progress.

      In answer to your question about the male sex drive. As you know I was in the hospital, where I had not eaten, was awoken every 15 minutes, and was in constant pain, only then did my sex drive disappear. At that point, I realized that the sex drive gave life meaning or compunction. So, the sex drive is at least like a life drive for men, as it might be for women, who want to have children. I don’t think it is “culturally-imbued” so much as it is biological and biology, as I assumed having been unconscious from a heart attack (passing out) or through amnesia, or nearly drowning, that when the senses are taken out of the picture, as with your body blocking out sounds when sleeping, there is no life force.

      You should not have to fight against this drive. I think that’s also the point of the story. Men make choices. They hear things, they see things. While their sex drives are actual, visceral expressions of biological fact, this does not mean that the rights of others should be ignored. This is what the #MeToo! Movement is about: “The part we need to fight against because it too often generates gender inequality through sexual abuse in a patriarchal society.”

      I find that you gave a back seat to sex is fascinating. Your biological clock was without batteries. Your husband is delightful and so are you. Your “weirdness” is negated by your awareness and eloquence.

      When I talk about Frank’s small dick, I am attempting to draw out your, and probably most women’s, feelings about the penis. I often wonder how women would know how big a man was if, unlike breasts that stand before a woman, they were mostly hidden. Men, like me, for example, have no concern for how big a women’s breasts are. The more diversity in size and shape alludes to uniqueness vs. the constancy and lie of fake ones. Yes, you are so correct about personality, intellect… There is nothing less likely to maintain a relationship than having nothing in common. I never thought about Frank not having friends. That’s a good point. I think Frank’s friends are his attractions. He is consumed by them. But, I must have simply missed this about him. 

This is good about the societal isolation and the role Capitalism plays in monotony and lack of self-worth.

The photograph seeks to illustrate the allusion to sex, the pickle, the male organ encroaching upon the tart or young woman. Yes, bitter vs. sweet, the form of the pickle and the softness of the raspberry. I thought the image was fairly obvious, Freudian, for sure. And as for female beauty, your interpretation is correct.

      • Mario, I am not so sure about your comment on sexual drive as being something more dependent on biology than on culturally-imbued issues that generate gender inequality and patterns of sexual abuse in heteropatriarchal societies, where women usually get the worst part. Of course there is this biological part. Females are biologically different from males. But I am sick of biology always being used to mark differences instead of finding things in common within our diverstiy. (concept of equity)

        I have talked with some female and male friends and the majority said men generally give more importance to sex than women. I also understand that after your traumatic experience with the heart attack your sex drive was the impulse to keep living. Sure. But I still wonder about the line that divides biology and culturally-imbued. Perhaps this line does not really exist. We should first get rid of all the negative cultural patterns that discriminate women, but also men from the very beginning of their lives, when they are just babies.

        I tried to find the answers in Siri Husvedt’s book A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, but, despite her great insights, could not find any of those answers.

        As for Frank’s attraction for Nicole, although you have found inspiration on Nabokov’s Lolita, I think the situation is different. If Nicole is 19 years old, she is an adult in most places like California, not like Lolita, so should there be common consent on a possible sexual relationship with a much older person like Frank, it would not be problematic in legal terms. Society would generally not like such a relationship. What really makes it more complicated is the fact that Nicole says she has a boyfriend and has no interest in a romantic relationship with Frank. Is she being as frank as Frank or lying for any particular reason?

        Love that you said this: “Your husband is delightful and so are you. Your “weirdness” is negated by your awareness and eloquence.” Thank you. You are also delightful, so kind and understanding. Well, that makes you also an excellent writer. We will see how your story unfolds, so intriguing and full of great insights…

      • This statement, “Mario, I am not so sure about your comment on sexual drive as being something more dependent on biology than on culturally-imbued issues that generate gender inequality and patterns of sexual abuse in heteropatriarchal societies, where women usually get the worst part,” is totally not sexy. 🙃 Sexual desire is often pure pheromone. I am not concerned with differences. Horniness is shared. And no the sex drive is the impulse of life. I think biology determines culture. Although, a puritanical culture is one that is afraid of sex or emotions, in general. Everything has to be controlled. But, it is a weak person who cannot control themselves. I don’t think you can get rid of anything, but we can make choices. That’s kind of the point of the story. Complete honesty on the part of both parties reveals the inevitable decisions people will have to make.

        I don’t know if I shared my review of Husvedt’s book. It seems to be too convoluted in its present form or else I would show you.

        Yes Nicole is an adult. I think I needed to do that. And yes, I wasn’t interested in questioning the law. The law is brilliant. But, I was interested in talking about age differences and the truth about that. Sincerity is a key issue here with regard to the sex drive and men. Women have their own sincerity, which is that they want to have their say at all times. Men need to start listening. That was my point too.

        I don’t know what Nicole is doing. I think that’s what makes her interesting. She barely alludes to any involvement at all. She just seems to be curious. I want to explore this in a greater work, but we will see how far it gets in this piece. I love that you’ve spent so much time here and with all my work. You are usually right on the mark. Thank you again.

      • Yes, it is not sexy what I said, you are absolutlely right, but the sex issue has always been my concern mainly because I am too risk-averse: afraid of physical violence, afraid of losing control over myself and afraid of getting pregnant even with the menopause. That is obviously a bad trio. But putting all these personal issues aside I still cannot share this: “I think biology determines culture.” Isn’t biology rather a permanent excuse to impose certain cultural patterns?

        I would be interested to read your review of Husvedt’s book.

        Love this: “I was interested in talking about age differences and the truth about that. Sincerity is a key issue here with regard to the sex drive and men. Women have their own sincerity, which is that they want to have their say at all times. Men need to start listening. That was my point too.”

        I love your work because it is very well written, insightful and a bit psychotherapeutic to me. Also, because it poses great current questions and shows empathy. As a reader I felt empathy for Frank when you wrote this in chapter 8: “He had no friends and he obsessed over his past lovers as if they were the works in a gallery, a series of lines connected to his longing.” The fact that you said Frank “had no friends” creates empathy with the reader, where friends are the only people we can freely choose in life. We do not choose our family nor our boss nor our work colleagues… but friends.

        Well, just looking forward to chapter 9.
        Have a lovely day!

  2. Well-written. I enjoyed this read. I see Frank as someone who feels lonely, which to does not necessarily mean he is really alone. I think he communicates with Nicole because he believes he has no one else.

  3. It seems that our friend Frank has had a difficult past what concerns to women and sex.
    In my opinion, it refers to women in a superficial way ‘his attraction required someone beautiful. I could not help this. Even with his beautiful past partners, he was not able to get satisfaction.’ I think it’s more a problem of self-esteem and self-confidence. … ‘He had no friends and he was obsessed over his past lovers as if they were the works in a gallery, a series of lines connected to his longing.’.. Does not have a healthy relationship with either sex or with women … and also has no friends.? Something is not working well in Frank’s head …
    Wishing to see how his relationship with Nicole evolves ..

    Hugs!

  4. I don’t know what Frank’s difficult past was. Could it be a beautiful mother as a role model? Freud and all that? And like you say even with beauty, he garnered no satisfaction. Certainly self-esteem and confidence are dashed by this failure. No friends. That’s failure. Obsession too implies grasping because of infrequency and the need for validation. Yes, the head, a bad decision-maker. Great insights!

  5. Well done, had me on the edge of my seat and left me with so many more questions. Frank, an unusual fella, and he had me thinking.

    1. “They were Crocs-like in design with soft black fur lining came over the edges”, “female long johns that he bought at REI on sale … it was tight and the cuffs and never went all the way to his wrists”, “he wasn’t a mans man” and “took his body seriously like a woman might” In my opinion this is too much information for the POV of a male. Is Frank Gay and hasn’t come out? might explain why he is so articulate and has no friends, maybe because he doesn’t fit in and need to find people more like him?

    2. OK I’m going to address the elephant in the room. 🙂 ‘Small Dick!’ This is such a problem for Frank, and has interfered in his past relationships so why has he not sort medical assistance. Small penis’s in men is usually the sign of an underactive thyroid. Sometime it is even genetic. There is a series of medication (Legal steroids) a man can take to increase the size of his penis.

    3. “He obsessed over his past lovers as if they were works of a gallery”, to be obsessive is not sexy. The key word here is obsessive and maybe it’s not to be obsessive but to be obsessed over. Maybe Frank needs constant and consuming attention to feel satisfied?

    and 4. Frank understands Nicole is not looking for a boyfriend and a romantic partner, yet Frank continues with his pursuit. Maybe he realises or not, is he looking at a threesome??? possibly heighten his sexuality to the next level to give him the satisfaction he most desperately needs.

    I’ve been reading this chapter all week and as you can see I have more questions to be answered. Can’t wait till the next chapter.

    • Susan, I apologize. This the third time I have tried to respond to your comment via iPhone and I have lost the other two responses after a very long time of composing. I give up. Using the iPhone to do any kind of replying is like getting dressed in a suit case. I just want to than you for reading.

    • This is a well-reasoned comment, Susan, which shows you have read everything carefully and found solid arguments to sustain your opinions. It is a biological fact that sex drive is more important to men because of testosterone. What I hate is that this difference is always being used to discriminate women in society (and also men) by promoting wrong cultural patterns. A Capitalist heteropatriarchal model is disastrous to all of us. But a matriarch would be fatal too. Instead of looking at what we have in common, that is, promoting real equality of rights, duties and opportunities respecting differences (equity), we keep promoting power abuse at all levels of human relationships. So glad we have started the MeToo movement and massive worldwide peaceful protests and rallies like today’s.

      Frank feels this pressure from the aforesaid society model. Whether he is a character that could be gay or bisexual I do not know. He is a man that might inspire some fear or even feelings of repulsion because from what we have read till now we might conclude he has psychological problems. Could he be a dangerous type with his sex obsessions? I seriously doubt it. I like Frank’s honesty over all and the feeling that he also inspires me as a reader of this novel is empathy. I feel sorry for his lack of satisfaction in life in so many aspects. Having no friends is perhaps what has shocked me most. As for psychological problems… well, who hasn’t any in life? We all have some to a greater or lesser extent. Take me, for instance. I go to a psychologist every two weeks and that is a quite normal thing to do. When I come out of each session I feel better.

      Frank’s dick is too small? So what? There are sizes and sizes as well as breast sizes. Can’t we learn to live with such differences? Is Frank less of a man because his penis is a bit smaller and he is not a “man’s man”?

      Before putting Frank in the too often perverse Capitalist hands of the pharmaceutical industry and medicine giving him such treatments for penis enlargement I would look for a good psychologist like mine (God, she is adorable!). Also, there are natural plants and treatments to avoid the much bigger side effects of the kind of medicine you are suggesting. But, OK, it is an option you suggest and I respect it. It just angers me that all the problems have to resolved by such invasive treatments, operations, etc. Can’t we just accept and love ourselves and the others the way we are?

      Anyway, I love the great discussion here. Mario, you are really succeeding in creating a very thought-provoking story and intense debate. Bravo!

    • Thank you Susan. I am so glad you like the piece. That’s amazing that you are on the edge of your seat! It means I may be able to confer the same catharsis I get dealt when I read something great and am glued.

      I never thought of Frank as unusual. My role model was a runway model and a single mother, who was forced to raise her two children after she got pregnant, quit her job, and then her husband died. It made me at least recognize while women were unusually beautiful, but some are also also lost. I think Frank both loves them but also fears approaching them. He is definitely an introvert. He is affected by the emotional affect. He is also aware of a woman’s humanity

      1. These crocs, I describe are actually cheap knock-offs found at cheap drug stores. The female long-johns imply that Frank is cheap. He even buys women’s clothes even though he is a man to save money. These things are tight on him and the cuffs never reach his wrists, or at least he has to pull at them. I think he is not interested in actually wearing the shirt alone, but rather covered. When I say he is not a “man’s man,” I am more talking about how he is not one of these real big, gruff guys. I don’t think he is gay simply because he has such an attraction for women. I understand that my focus on the details may imply a feminine eye. Men tend not to spend to much time describing someone. That makes sense. I love that you assume that just because someone is articulate that they are also gay. He doesn’t have friends because he is a loner, and his schedule seems to affect meeting people. He is on a Tinder-like app trying to meet people. But, I really don’t know why he does have friends.

      2. This “small dick” preoccupation is a social construct for men. Nobody really knows how big anyone else is, because men don’t look at each other, like women do. But, there is a big stigma about it among men and I am sure women consider size. I was touched recently by one of my favorite women, who said that the g-spot is only about 2 inches inside and that the penis rubbing up against it is thrilling. This is not to say that I have a small penis. I am ordinary. And I am not too worried about mine. But, I really don’t know. I have never had any complaints. I have made love to the most beautiful women, I have known. At least for me, it isn’t about sex. Frank is a construct utilized to talk about age, loneliness, investigation, social stigma, dating on-line, and what women really think about in an attempt to parlay that information to a rape culture. I am trying to portray the use of honesty in relationships. I am really hoping to go beyond the story as I have written it thus far. I need to do more research. I want to explore what women want. One of my books is called Men Looking at Women. In that I had hoped to tell women what men were thinking. I wanted to show a kind of innocence. I think men get angry because they cannot compete. In capitalism, we use our bodies to make money. Jobs seem to be disappearing. Manufacturing is no longer viable. Anyway, I go on. What I have written should be enough for people to think about some of the issues I have brought up in the story. The penis, pardon the pun, is no big thing. It’s just an urban myth. The issue of size and how a man is measured by his penis.

      I am sorry that obsession is not sexy. There is a sincerity I am trying to put out there. The truth is that men not having sex become obsessive. Sex, in our society is very convoluted and distorted. If people don’t eat, their sugar drops. I am always interested in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how the need for sex isn’t really satisfied for many men as say eating dinner is. So, sex gets distorted.

      I think Frank would settle for a date, but I think he obviously has delusions of grandeur. I hope I have answered some of your questions. I am doing this by phone and it’s like trying to change one’s clothes in a suitcase. I apologize ahead of time if things don’t make sense or appear eloquent.

      • You are too funny. Thanks for the insight to Frank. It helps to see who this Frank is. I also love the way you are not scared to put an issue out there, to use words some might consider taboo. From a woman’s perspective Frank is a strange fella but not unrealistic. In life’s experience the simple act in being yourself is the biggest turn on, and as for the “small dick”, it’s not how big the penis is, it’s how he uses it. Thanks for the references, I will have to look into them. I’m sorry for the late response. I have spent a week in hospital, all is well, back at home and the best thing is hubby has two more weeks off work to take care me and the kids and he is doing a great job. 🙂 🙂 And talk about sexy, seeing him cook and clean, well it doesn’t get better than that. 🙂 🙂 lol. That is a guarantee way to get into a woman’s heart. The little things are priceless.

        Moving ahead I’m going to read the next two chapters. Cheers.

      • I am glad you are better and that you are not alone. I am a bit scared about putting this story out there just as Nabokov was with his. The truth is an interesting bird, but there are so many interesting things about life. It’s like a story I read recently about a person, who formed opinions about people that were generally held, but in a one-on-one, saw the humanity of the otherwise ostracized and it made perfect sense to accept them. I am interested in this last bastion of acceptance as say a doctor might study and reveal causes.


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