After a perfectly uneventful day at the office and a brief stop at the local video store, George Himmelman entered his apartment to find a large crowd gathered in his living room. He would have assumed it was a surprise party, planned by Caitlin, his fiancé, but the somber tone of the guests, along with the fact that George’s 31st birthday had come and gone, implied otherwise. And what was his mother doing there, weeping into her highball next to Mr. Himmelman? Surely something dire was afoot if his parents, who had communicated with each other only through attorneys since The Scandal, were now together in the same room in violation of numerous orders of restraint. Could it be that someone had passed? But who? Everyone George knew or cared about was present. There was Caitlin, her hair pulled back so tight it stretched the skin on her forehead and lifted the tip of her nose to expose her nostrils. There was Arthur from Philadelphia, George’s best friend, staring at the floor and fidgeting uncomfortably as was his habit. There were George’s secretary and colleagues from the firm; the minister from his church; the family lawyer; Roderick and Charla from the club. Even Maria, the family maid and owner of the only spare key to George’s apartment, sat in the corner of the room, muttering a prayer in Spanish as she fingered a set of rosary beads.
“What’s going on here?” asked George, tucking the bag containing the videos he rented under his arm.
“Can you please sit down?” asked Caitlin. Her being the first to speak revealed that she was most likely the organizer of the event. “Your friends, family and I have something we’d like to share.”
“I can see that,” George replied. “And I’ll gladly sit down when I know what this is all about.”
“Please understand,” said Arthur from Philadelphia. “This is no easier for us than it is for you. But we felt that if we didn’t intervene now, things might get to the point where we could no longer stop you from destroying yourself.”
So that’s what this is, George realized. An intervention! He had heard of interventions before but had never actually seen one in the flesh: the strange combination of family, friends, and acquaintances; the us-against-you ambiance of the room; the obvious planning that had gone into it all. The only thing George couldn’t figure out was why? What pattern of behavior had he established that warranted such an intrusive measure? Sure, he thought, I enjoy a cocktail now and then, but I’m hardly an alcoholic. And whatever experimenting I did with drugs all came to a halt when Caitlin informed me she disapproved of activities that could jeopardize her father’s political ambitions. George didn’t gamble, so he knew that wasn’t it. He didn’t engage in homosexuality, though he had always suspected Arthur of certain proclivities. He ate in moderation, spent in moderation, worked in moderation. In fact, in every way he could conceive at that moment, George Himmelman considered himself the Goldilocks of all things, his only addiction being a strict adherence to moderation itself.
“Though I have no doubt of your honorable intentions,” George assured his uninvited guests, “I cannot think of one thing in the world I’m addicted to that would in any way require your taking such a drastic action on my behalf.”
Roderick from the club stood and took charge of the room. “You’re not alone,” he asserted. “It wasn’t long ago that I was in your position, being confronted by the people I love.” His wife, Charla, nodded at his side. “It’s natural to feel defensive and embarrassed. But with the right treatment and support, you can overcome this, George.”
“Overcome what?” George asked, masking his indignation as best he could. “Seriously, now. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
His father groaned as if to indicate the whole event was keeping him from some more urgent engagement. “You might as well come clean so we can get this over with, George.”
“Get what over with? What are you talking about? What in God’s name do you people think is wrong with me?”
“Oh for Chrissake,” his mother blurted out. “You jerk off too much!”
“Dios mio,” said Maria, crossing herself, as the room grew silent.
My God, George thought. Is that what this is about? Too much masturbation? George knew he enjoyed his daily dalliance with himself, but he never, in a million years, considered that his sessions had become so frequent as to warrant an intervention. He had never even heard of a masturbation addiction. He had always believed (as his health teacher back at Philips Exeter had taught) that masturbation did not cause blindness, hairy palms, or any other maladies. He believed that, apart from abstinence, it constituted the safest kind of sex there is. So what was the harm if he did masturbate a bit more than most? Which, in his mind, he did not. And who were these people to tell him what he could and couldn’t do on his own time by his own hand? And how did they know what they knew? George thought he had always taken the necessary precautions to ensure his masturbatory life was a secret, hidden away from all around him. Who or what gave these people the idea that he was too prolific in his practice?
“You must be kidding,” George laughed. “This is a joke! I hardly ever masturbate!”
It was Maria’s turn to speak. “Please, Meester George,” she said. ” I washa you underwear since you twelve year old. Some-a-the-time, they-a so hard, I scractha myself on you boxer short.” As if she were showing the jury exhibits A through F, Maria proceeded to hold up several pieces of George’s soiled laundry, evidence for all in the room to see of the crimes committed against cotton.
“Fine,” George responded. “I play with myself more than the next guy. But there’s nothing chronic or dangerous about my habit. I mean, at least I’ve never done it in public and been arrested like Arthur.”
“There’s no reason to lash out,” said his best friend.
“Can’t you see your friend is trying to help you?” asked Caitlin. How unlike her to defend Arthur, thought George. Normally, she can’t hide her contempt for the guy. Perhaps they bonded over their plan for my humiliation.
“How many times has it been?” asked Roderick. “How many times today?”
“Just once,” George said. “This morning in the shower.”
“Are you sure?”
George suddenly remembered an incident that occurred earlier in the day while he was eating lunch with a client. A waitress had walked by wearing a tight-fitting black skirt that inspired an interruption in the meeting and a brief sojourn to the restroom.
“Okay twice,” George admitted, but no sooner had he spoken then he remembered another incident at work, wherein some spam arrived in his inbox advertising a new porn site that, as the email stated, “Could not be missed.” And it could not be missed! After clicking the link, George told his secretary to hold all calls so that he could shut the blinds and do some quick handiwork into an outdated report.
“Three times,” George admitted. “But that’s highly unusual for me, and hardly enough to demand an outpouring such as this.”
“But it’s only six o’clock,” slurred his mother. “The night is young.”
“I’m not going to masturbate again tonight, Mother!”
Roderick asked him what it was he was concealing under his arm.
“What? This?” George asked, referring to the videos he was holding. “I just rented some new releases.”
George’s father took the tapes from his son. He read the titles out loud.
“Sodomania volumes one and two.”
“It’s a biblical epic,” George replied.