Post-Socratic Dialogues: Sex-Positivity: 1 (Intro)
By Greg Scorzo –
Post-Socratic Dialogues are moving thought experiments. They portray elaborate, unfolding situations which, at every turn, force the reader to examine his or her philosophical intuitions about a range of topics. These dialogues are called “Post-Socratic” because there is no Socrates figure, telling the reader which arguments (if any) are the best ones. The reader decides that on their own.
COFFEE IN PASADENA (Intro)
“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” – Frank Zappa
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” –The Beatles
Far far away from Leicester is a place called Pasadena. Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County.
Before the explosion of social media, people from neighboring suburbs would often go there to walk along it’s quaint and colourful streets. The Pasadena streets are prettier and far more cultured than most of the suburban streets of Los Angeles. Pasadena people are pretty too, but not like normal Los Angelenos are pretty. Pretty people in Pasadena often wear glasses, cardigans, argyle socks, and pin stripe jackets. Sometimes they appear like stylish grad students (or glamorous movie stars playing stylish grad students). This is why some have said that Pasadena, more than any other area of Los Angeles county, is like a little European city.
In Los Angeles, areas in Hollywood or The Wilshire District could accurately be described as “cool.” Pasadena isn’t cool. It’s “smart person cool.” That means when you walk down it’s streets, you feel like an intelligent and interesting person. Even if you aren’t.
Pasadena is brimming with middle class intellectuals, artists, and forward-thinking people who like old jazz, patchouli oil, and the newest South American beers. Perhaps that’s why, even though he isn’t, Matt Damon seems like he’s from Pasadena. So does Ethan Hawke. Today, a good many people who seem like they’re from Pasadena don’t actually hail from there. Many of these people are online. Hence, young Los Angelenos don’t have as much of a reason to go to Pasadena as they did 15 or 20 years ago.
In the early 2000s, nerdy teens from sprawling Los Angeles suburbs often trolled the alleyways of Old Town Pasadena, hoping to meet someone older, smarter, and willing to have a spontaneous conversation with them about something deep and philosophical. This rarely happened. And it was kind of tragic, as those same teens were often very lonely, day dreaming about the prospect of finding love near Colorado Blvd. They would day dream of meeting and impressing an attractive, articulate, and scholarly looking thirty-something in one of Pasadena’s beautiful bookstores. This too, rarely happened. Attractive, articulate, and scholarly looking thirty somethings tended to avoid teenagers. Adults in Los Angeles generally wanted to stay far away from teens who had crushes on them.
Today, Colorado Blvd is still one of the more beautiful streets in Old Town Pasadena. On this beautiful street, there’s a beautiful bookstore called “Vroman’s.” In that bookstore, there’s a coffee shop called Jones Coffee Roasters which makes very beautiful little cups of coffee.
In the early autumn of 2016, two woman are having a conversation with each other at Vroman’s, during a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It is 2pm. Both women are drinking tasty cappuccinos with butterscotch syrup in them. The woman on the right is very very very attractive, according to society. Her name is Davis and she is 34. The woman on the left is called Lena and she is 33. It would be unfair to say that Lena isn’t attractive. It would be more fair to say that unlike Davis, Lena looks more like someone who isn’t from Pasadena. She’s not white. It’s Davis who is white. In fact, Davis looks like a beautiful English movie star who might be found playing a femme fetale in an American indie film. Lena is Mexican. So she doesn’t look like this.
In Los Angeles, white people are often considered more beautiful than Mexicans. Even when Mexicans themselves are very beautiful. This is as true today as it was in the early 2000s.
But the relative beauty of each woman is relatively unimportant. What’s important is exactly who they are, and why they are talking to each other.
These two women are Lena Rodriguez and Davis McFarlin.
Both have known each other since they were small children. Neither of them found it easy to relate to other kids their age. During their childhoods, they both wished they could be friends with adults. Because they were children, adults naturally had no interest in being friends with them. Neither Lena or Davis were very good at talking to other children, because they couldn’t do small talk, and thought most children were boring. As adults, they still aren’t good at small talk, and also find many adults very boring. When Lena and Davis were teenagers in the late 90s and early 2000s, their lack of small talk skill was a major social liability. This is because both of them grew up in a Los Angeles suburb called Downey.
Downey was not like Pasadena. It’s still not like Pasadena.
Teens from Downey were often willing to drive in over 45 minutes of slow-moving, smoggy traffic just to spend an evening shopping in Pasadena. Teens from Pasadena, on the other hand, didn’t normally drive to Downey to do anything. When Davis got her first car in 1999, she often drove Lena with her to Pasadena. The two of them spent a lot of time together, walking and shopping on the streets of Old Town. They bought many hats, books, dinners, and CDs during many wild Friday evenings. They also watched many art films at Pasadena’s Laemmle theater together, films like Pollack, Boise Moi, Momento, Dancer in the Dark, and Requiem for a Dream.
Lena and Davis both dreamed of accidentally meeting a well dressed, well spoken man in his 30s who would rescue them from their mundane lives in Downey-a handsome, well groomed man who read Lawrence Ferlinghetti, played chess, and had a spacious, beautifully designed Pasadena apartment with Renee Magritte paintings hanging all over the walls-a man Lena and Davis could drink coffee with and talk to for hours.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out this way. For either of them.
When Lena was 18 and Davis was 19, Lena applied as an English major to the University of Austin Texas and was accepted. Davis, on the other hand, got pregnant and became a teen mom. She decided to drop out of her first year of junior college.
The father of Davis’s baby was a handsome football player named Ben Marquez. Ben was a senior at Warren High School. Lena was also a senior at Warren at this very same time. Although Ben was a jock, he was also a math nerd, and an unusually kind person. Because of this, Lena had a huge crush on Ben. It was a crush that seemed to be cementing into a friendship, and a friendship that seemed to lurch towards the beginnings of romance. Ben and Lena were making gaga eyes at each other, or at least that’s how Lena saw it. They had once held hands.
Neither had said “I love you” yet, but Lena was expecting it to happen very soon. Then one evening, Ben got drunk and had sex with Davis, Lena’s much hotter white best friend who was then a freshman at Cerritos junior college. Shortly after Davis told Ben she was keeping their baby, Ben became Davis’s boyfriend. Ben told Lena that he still had feelings for her, but couldn’t ignore his new responsibilities to Davis and his son.
This was in the spring of 2001. Six months before 9/11.
When their son Max was just one year old, Davis McFarlin married Ben Marquez. Davis, being a feminist, kept her last name. Ben, being a feminist, was proud of her for this. Ben was also proud of Davis for many other things, one of which was her beautiful, tall, toned (and white) body.
Lena however, was not proud of Davis. She was not proud of her, even though she pretended to be happy for Davis and Ben. She did this pretending because Lena thought she SHOULD be happy for Davis and Ben. Davis and Ben, surprisingly, seemed like they were very good for each other. Both acted very much in love. Both adored their beautiful baby boy Max. By the end of 2002, Lena was feeling that Davis turned out to be better for Ben than she could ever be. Davis was whiter than Lena, prettier than Lena, and probably a more passionate and adventurous lover. Davis was also very athletic. After birthing Max, she managed to quickly exercise her figure back to it’s ultra-fit, bikini ready norm. She had body-confidence Lena did not. Lena had belly flab Davis did not. So Lena tried to be happy for Davis and Ben.
However, as much as she tried, she couldn’t. There was another reason for this.
Davis told Lena that when she first fucked the highly intoxicated Ben, he didn’t really know where he was. He had just drank 7 cans of beer, and downed 2 tequila shots. Davis herself had only had half of one beer. Afterwards, Davis apologised profusely to Lena for what she had done. She apologised profusely because she knew Lena had feelings for Ben. But knowing Lena had feelings for Ben didn’t stop Davis from having sex with a guy who didn’t really know he was having sex. Davis was only apologising for fucking a guy her best friend had feelings for. She wasn’t apologizing for also taking advantage of that guy, and forcing him into teen fatherhood. Lena couldn’t believe Davis was capable of something so irresponsible and callous.
She was in shock. A part of Lena wondered if technically, Davis had actually raped Ben. But Ben was a guy, and so Lena told herself not to think about this. It was just easier not to worry about something so horrible.
Nontheless, after Lena found out what Davis had done, her perception of her best friend changed. She wasn’t angry with Davis, surprisingly. She thought she would be, but she wasn’t. Instead, she felt something else, something more difficult for Lena to understand, something much more calm, and primal. At first, Lena thought it was seething rage. But it wasn’t that.
It was a strong feeling of superiority. Lena felt superior to Davis.
Lena suddenly saw Davis as trash, or at least something approximating a pathetic and pitiful loser. Lena began to see Ben as a loser too, but never quite as big a loser as Davis. During Lena’s first year at the University of Austin Texas, she was happy to get away from Davis and Ben. She knew they wouldn’t be moving out of Downey anytime soon. This made Lena feel good. When Lena moved in her new dorm and set up her first AOL instant messenger account, she deliberately DID NOT add Davis and Ben as IM buddies. However, she still answered the occasional phone call from Davis. She loved hearing how difficult and scary Davis was finding life as a young mother.
Davis never knew any of this. From her perspective, her best friend had simply moved to Austin and was too busy to spend much time with her. Because of this, Davis often missed Lena. She missed her badly. Although Davis was a year older than Lena, Davis still looked up to her. Talking to Lena always made Davis feel calm, like Lena had a perfect understanding of Davis’s confusing and often chaotic thoughts. Talking to Lena didn’t feel like talking to even a best friend. Talking to Lena felt like therapy for Davis, and the absence of this constant therapy made Davis feel unsettled, like it was much harder to cope with her new life as a young mom. It was much harder than life had ever been before Lena moved away.
Lena, on the other hand, found it very easy to become immersed in university life. She finished her BA with high honors in 2005, completed her Masters in 2007, her Phd in 2010, and landed a good paying job at her alma matter in the fall of 2011. Lena was impressive to people-especially the sort of thirty somethings who would hang out in Pasadena bookstores back in Los Angeles. Many of them wanted to date Lena. Lena ignored them, in much the same way the adults she had crushes on ignored her when she was in high school. Lena was too busy with her burgeoning academic career to have time for a relationship. She also didn’t feel terribly horny much of the time.
However, by 2011, Lena still did not have two things Davis did have: a husband and child. Lena wanted those things badly. She didn’t want them in her teens or early twenties. But she wanted them now, as she’d already spent most of her adult life traveling the world, writing acclaimed short stories and academic papers. Lena was only 28 and had landed an academic job most of her fellow grad students would have killed for. Because of her new income, she was quickly able to eat at fancy restaurants and wear expensive, stylish clothes. By the spring of 2012, Lena had a book deal with a prestigious publisher of new, critically acclaimed works of fiction written by up and coming female authors.
Davis, on the other hand, had never wanted to be an academic.
However, she did want something Lena had: A life and career outside of Downey. Davis found herself being the primary caretaker of her son Max, while Ben supported the three of them by going out to work. Although Davis loved the process of raising her son, she hated life in suburban Downey. She hated the ugliness of Downey’s architecture, as well as the absence of anything resembling high culture. Davis also hated her neighbors. She thought they were boring and self-destructive. She even hated how they dressed. She found her existence in the town she grew up in, utterly soul crushing. She spent many weekend afternoons in Pasadena with Max, chatting in the Starbucks joined to the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Colorado Blvd.
To cope with the monotony of her suburban existence, Davis begin to write poetry when Max was just a toddler. Unbeknownst to many scholars and literature fans, Davis became an amazing, if under appreciated, poet and essayist. In 2007, she set up a website where she posted her large collection of sonnets, poems, and experimental writing. Davis got many positive comments and even a few essays about her work, written by a small group of loyal fans. But Davis could never figure out how to get the kind of online audience she wanted, a community of fans big enough to make her forget that she lived in Downey. By the beginning of 2012, little Max had become an avid fan of his mother’s writing. Davis was always Max’s biggest fan.
Lena signed on Facebook for the first time in the summer of that year. Within 2 days of being on Facebook, she accepted a friend request from Davis. By this time, Lena was now curious what had happened to Davis, Ben, and Max. So in August of 2012, during an LA visit where Lena spent time with her parents, she decided to meet Davis, Ben, and 10 year old Max at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. The four of them met at 1pm, and wound up chatting until 9pm that evening.
That day, Lena’s feelings about Davis’s family changed. She no longer saw Ben as a loser. She suddenly saw him as a loyal and kind man who did his best to support his family. She even remembered why she was so attracted to him as a teenager. Lena could also see that baby Max had grown into an incredibly sweet and intelligent child that Lena absolutely adored. Talking to Max was like talking to a grown up, a very polite, well mannered, and interesting little grown up. Max was like the child Lena would have wanted, if she had the luxury of choosing her own offspring.
Lena still saw Davis as a bit of a pathetic loser. However, she no longer felt complete disdain for Davis. Instead, she felt (mostly) sorry for her. She felt sorry for an old friend who was wasting her life in Downey, writing what was probably very shitty poetry. During this visit with Lena, Davis talked a lot about her poetry website, and how much she loved the process of writing. Max talked about it too. Although Lena feigned interest, she had no intention of reading a single one of Davis’s poems. If she had, Lena would have discovered that Davis was actually a much better writer than Lena. This would have infuriated Lena.
After their day at Starbucks, Lena continued corresponding with Ben, Max, and Davis on Facebook. Lena corresponded more with Ben and Max than she did with Davis, during the period between the autumn of 2012 and early 2015. Starting in February of 2015, Davis was rarely on Facebook. Lena didn’t notice this much, because she was busy chatting with other Facebook friends-friends that were either not from Downey, or acquaintances who could give her career opportunities. Ben and Max were also on Facebook much less than they had been, prior to February of 2015. But they were still around, occasionally making witty or sweet observations that Lena would like and share, whenever they popped up on her timeline.
Lena liked Ben and Max far more than she liked Davis. Although she felt sorry for her old friend, she still saw Davis as trash. She thought Ben and Max deserved better than a wife and mother who was trash.
A year and a half later, Lena took a position as a professor of literature at UCLA. She quickly announced on Facebook that she was moving back to Los Angeles. Even though Lena didn’t like the idea of moving back home, she knew, career wise, it was a huge step forward. And the area near UCLA was world’s apart from Downey. There were lots of gay people in this area, people Lena thought she could talk to about fashion, if nothing else. While Lena was preparing for the move, Ben and Max started suddenly posting a lot on Facebook. It was mostly posts about how proud they were of Davis, and how much they loved her. Davis, however, didn’t post hardly anything.
Again, Lena didn’t notice this. She was too busy planning the move to her new West Hollywood apartment in September of 2016.
Exactly 2 days after Lena moved into that apartment, she drove down to one of her favorite hang outs as a teenager: Old Town Pasadena. She decided to do some reading and shopping at Vroman’s bookstore on Colorado Blvd. That day, Davis, by coincidence, decided to do that very same thing.
Lena hadn’t been to Vroman’s in ages, and didn’t mind the arduous drive from West Hollywood to Pasadena. She was too excited, looking to re-connect once again with her favorite parts of Los Angeles. Regardless of her now low opinion of the city of angels, Los Angeles was still home for Lena. And that Saturday, she felt happy to be home again.
Traffic was unusually light that afternoon. It had rained during the morning. There were puffy clouds, mixed in with a beautiful blue Californian sky. The trees had droplets of water bouncing off of them. It was a weirdly chilly day in Los Angeles. Great weather for wearing a cardigan. Lena, as it happened, wore glasses and an expensive cardigan that day. She thought the ensemble fit the sophisticated city she had such fond adolescent memories of.
When Lena walked in Vroman’s, she felt exhilaration. The smell of coffee and books was the same as it had always been. Everyone in the store looked cosmopolitan, worldly, and like they enjoyed reading the Economist for fun. They all had very serious expressions on their faces, like they were deep in thought. Many of them had beards they were stroking. Lena smiled, thinking to herself, “I’m so glad I’m here again. These are my people.” She didn’t mind that, unlike her, none of her people had brown skin.
While in Vroman’s, Lena bought two books by Alice Munroe, one of her favourite writers. She decided to have a cappuccino while thumbing through her new paperbacks in Jones Coffee Roasters. The post-book purchase cup of coffee was always the most fun part of buying any book in Pasadena. If you sat next to a window, people on the street could see you reading and pondering. Lena always felt at peace during these moments. She could even hear the faint hum of an outdoor jazz concert. Being in the presence of live jazz always made Lena feel urbane and sophisticated, even though she didn’t particularly like jazz.
While waiting for her cappuccino, Lena got a bit of a surprise. Davis, who she hadn’t seen for 4 years, was standing next to her, also waiting for a cappuccino. After their drinks were made, the two women grabbed a table and begin to talk to each other. They were happy to see each other, and were both curious what the other had been up to. They had, after all, spent many evenings together in this very bookshop as teenagers.
Lena and Davis first engaged in a few minutes of small talk, something neither of them were particularly good at.
However, after those few minutes, they were able to become more candid in their conversation.