Book Excerpt: Norah Vincent's 'Self-Made Man'

But all joking aside, these guys took their sexuality for what it was. They felt there was no getting around it, so they found ways to work within it, ways that sometimes entailed lying to their wives about going to the odd strip club. One night Jim was talking about his plans for a ski trip. He wanted to find a location that had good skiing, but he also wanted some lively nightlife. "I'd like to find a place that has a good titty bar," he said.

Bob chimed in, "Yeah. Count me in on that. I'm definitely up for that."

This sparked a short discussion of titty bars and how the married man negotiated them. The ski trip would offer one of the few opportunities for the boys to be boys, since their wives weren't coming along. This had to be taken advantage of, since it was clear that at least Bob's and Jim's wives had expressly forbidden them to go to strip clubs. Besides, they agreed, no vacation would be quite as relaxing without a little skin in it. For these guys, it seemed, there were just some things a married man learned not to be honest about with his wife, his abiding love of and even need for porn and sex shows being prime examples.

As Allen told me once when I asked about the secret to marriage: "You tell women what you want them to know and let them assume the rest."

None of this talk surprised me. We were, by virtue of our name, the recognized dirty team in the league. The rest of the teams had names like Jeb's Lawn Care or Da Buds, but ours was The Tea Baggers. When I heard this the first night I nearly blew my cover, blurting like an art house idiot, "Oh, do you guys like John Waters movies?" Waters's movie Pecker had featured the practice of tea bagging.

"Who's he?" they all asked.

"Oh," I mumbled, "I thought that's where you got the name from."

"Nah," said Jim. "It's something I saw in a porno mag. Some guy was squatting over a girl, dangling his balls in her mouth, and the caption said 'Tea Bagging.' I thought that was fucking hilarious."

The oddest thing about all this dirty talk and hiding strip club visits from their wives was the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives and their marriages. To them it seemed it was necessary to lie about certain things, but in their minds this didn't threaten or damage the integrity of their partnerships. They were happy and they cherished their wives.

When Jim's wife's second cancer diagnosis came through he talked about it with us a bit, but only in clipped phrases. He'd spent the previous week drinking himself into a stupor and blowing up abandoned cars on the back lot of a friend's junkyard. You could tell that the news was devouring him, and the only way he could deal with it was to tear himself up and anything else inanimate that was handy.

"You know, man," he said to me, "she puts up with a hell of a lot with me, and I can't say I've ever been unhappy with her. How many guys can say that? I've got a good woman. She's never given me a minute's trouble." Bob agreed. "Yeah, that's how I feel. I got nothin' bad to say about my wife either. Nothin'."

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