April 26, 2020: “Three Exhausting Weeks” by Tom Hanks

Hey, there, Story366! Happy Sunday to you!

Today I read from Tom Hanks’ 2017 collection, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, out from Vintage. Most everyone knows Hanks from his forays into acting, directing, and general human kindness. Everybody likes Tom Hanks, I’d bet, for something that he’s done, incuding me. I kind of like the goofy-comedy Hanks the best, the guy who was in Bosom Buddies and Splash! and the grossly underrated The ‘Burbs. It’s cool that he also has this dramatic side to him, the Oscar roles, Cast Away, Sully, etc., but he’ll also still host SNL and break out into David Pumpkins when he has to, and rather effortlessly, too.

Notably for me, there’s Bachelor Party, his early-eighties sex comedy about a bachelor party. I might have told this story somewhere here before, but today seems like a day to retell. In any case, Bachelor Party came out in 1984, the year I turned 11. Of course, I was a kid, raised Catholic by a strict mom, and I did not see that movie in the theater. Sometime later, though, it arrived on HBO, which, of course, my strict Catholic mother did not allow into our household, all those boobs, right there, in our living room. However, my mom’s older and somewhat more liberal-minded sister—and her horny retired husband—did. This just so happened to be the aunt and uncle who had the only pool in the family, the aunt and uncle at whose house I’d sleep over, after long days of swimming, at least once a week. It didn’t take long for 11-year-old me, fresh into puberty, to put together a plan: I’d arrange a pool day/sleepover at this aunt and uncle’s on a night when Bachelor Party was on HBO.

I checked the TV guide for a workable time—after ten p.m., after my aunt and uncle went to bed—called my aunt to set it up, and it was done. My mom didn’t mind so much when I left, and my dad worked shift work, was usually gone weird hours or sleeping weird hours. My aunt and uncle were childless and spoiled their nieces and nephews, especially me, the last of the lot, the accident. I’d ride my bike over to their house, bring my swim trunks and a change of clothes. Most of all, I was going to learn what was sex was, finally, because I was going to watch Bachelor Party on HBO.

My plan went as perfectly as I could have imagined. I arrived at the aunt and uncle house. I went swimming all day. I stuffed my belly with popsicles and fruit-flavored generic soda from the fridge in the garage. I ate something like hot dogs and frozen pizza for both lunch and dinner. I watched a baseball game, perhaps, with my uncle at night, or whatever sitcomes/action series I was into. My uncle fell asleep, watching TV in his room, and my aunt, who slept in the living room, fell asleep soon after. I had the TV room to myself. Bachelor Party would start soon.Guys in my class had talked about the scene where Tom Hanks, the groom-to-be, goes into a room where a hooker is waiting to have sex with him, his last fling until he’d be married the next day. The guys said it was great, and that was it, but that was enough: Since I didn’t know what sex was, “great” sounded pretty great. This is the tip that set this whole plan into action.

The scene-in-question happens near the end of the movie, so I patiently waited out the rest of the film. There was a lot of swearing, a lot of jokes about sex I didn’t understand, and a few flashes of breasts that kept my eyes glued to the screen. At some point, I heard my aunt get up to go to the bathroom and I had to change the channel. She actually said something like, “Don’t watch anything you’re not supposed to,” before going back to bed. I turned Bachelor Party back on, my heart thumping, terrified I’d missed the big scene.

I think you’re probably catching on by now, but I was fully expecting the sex scene in that back bedroom, between the hooker and Tom Hanks, to be full-on sex. I was under the illusion that this is what R-rated movies consisted of, not just nudity and simulated humping, but hardcore pornography. Even then, I remember thinking that watching Tom Hanks, in particular, having actual sex was pretty weird, this actor whose work I was already enjoying. However, I was already way too old to not know what was up, and opportunities like this rarely presented themselves. I wasn’t going to be picky: Tom Hanks would be my guide into manhood.

When the scene began, Hanks’ character sheepishly walking into the back room (after his groomsmen had their turns—the groom is last in this scenario?), I thought to myself This is it! I’m going to know what sex is! The scene started promisingly, the woman emerging from a place by the window, removing her negligee, and sitting on the bed: naked! Holy shit! I was staring at a naked woman! I’m not sure, today, if that was the first time in my life, but it was certainly the first time on TV, the woman moving around and talking, not just a picture in a magazine.

From there, the situation quickly went downhill. Hanks’ character, despite his loose demeanor and party-animal persona, really loved his fiancee. Having sex with this prositute was cheating. His guilt manfested itself in an odd way—disturbing and confusing for a kid expecting what I was expecting—the naked woman’s head changing into his fiancee’s head, his mother’s head, and a nun’s head, the hooker’s body remaining intact, naked. All of the talking heads made him feel like shit for what he was about to do. Just as I was starting to think this was an unusual lead-in to some hot, steamy lovemaking, Hanks’ character ran out of the room, unable to go through with the deed.

And that was it. That’s what was so “great.” Tom Hanks didn’t have sex with that woman, on screen, in Bachelor Party. I still didn’t know what sex was until my brother got divorced a year later and moved back in, bringing home a copy of The Joy of Sex. 

I didn’t read from Uncommon Type today, pissed off at Hanks, or his character, for not having sex with that prostitute for me. Had Bachelor Party been his last movie, maybe, but he’s done quite a bit since, won a couple of Oscars, and has cemented himself as America’s favorite personality. He and his wife recently surived the coronavirus, and he even hosted SNL, for like the tenth time, the first stay-at-home version a few weeks ago. What I’m trying to say is, the aforedescribed incident didn’t inform my reading of his book. But it’s a good story and I was a little tired of talking about quarantine stuff.

The first story in Uncommon Type is “Three Exhausting Weeks,” about this guy who starts dating one of his long-time friends, Anna. He and Anna have known each other since high school and they’ve had plenty of chances to date before, but they haven’t. Early in the story, she puts it out there like she invented it, kisses him, and takes off her clothes. Our guy can’t help but succumb at this point, and he and Anna start up their relationship.

Anna, we find out, has an agenda, for her life and for our guy. She’s a former triathlete who still engages in a ridiculously ambitious regimen of exercise, healthy eating, and other life-extending rituals. She and our guy have a lot of sex—no better way to keep a guy interested and in shape—but also has him jogging, eating mushy vegetables, going to acupuncture, and taking yoga. Being her boyfriend has its benefits, but also its costs: Our guy is eager, but she’s killing him with her unrelenting vision. He just wants to take a nap.

Along for the ride are Steve Wong—another old high school friend—and MDash, a guy they met through Steve Wong who works with him at Home Depot; MDash’s naturalization ceremony as an American citizen is actually how the story begins. The foursome have been hanging out for a while, though our narrator clearly uses the two men as his sounding boards. They think it’s funny how Anna is killing him as she’s trying to make him healthy. They have teasing discussions about which one of them will get the two in the inevitable break-up—and how they’re clearly the minority subcharacters in this tale. I like these two guys. More on them later.

Anna’s plans grow larger and larger, as our guy is suddenly taking SCUBA lessons, traveling with her on whirlwind business trips, and planning for a three-month voyage to Anarctica. Our guy likes the idea of this relationship, and the sex, but all of a sudden, he’s falling asleep before the sex part happens.

Things between he and Anna come to a head when he develops a cold, which Anna doesn’t believe in: People are only sick when they acknowledge that they’re sick. When his sickness is apparent, Anna puts him through an exhausting ritual of paliative remedies, all of which our guy ignores: He just wants to take some Nyquil and sleep it off. Overall, this difference of opinion leads to conflict, which might be too great for the relationship to overcome.

I won’t reveal any more about this story here, but if you’re wondering what happens to this couple, and the foursome, the last story in the collection, “Steve Wong Is Perfect,” picks back up with the quartet a year later. Turns out Steve Wong is an excellent bowler, so good, during one particular spree, he bowls six consecutive perfect games, shattering the world record for consecutive strikes. Steve Wong starts getting media attention, including the negative kind, some skeptics believing he faked it all. This leads to a live ESPN special where Steve Wong can win a hundred grand if he bowls a perfect game, on live TV. Nice to revisit this bunch, and you can tell Hanks has a soft spot for this unlikely foursome.

“Welcome to Mars!” is about this guy, Kirk, whose father drags him to Mars beach to surf, early on his birthday. Kirk hasn’t been to Mars in years, nor has he hung much with his dad, but accepts the offer. The two head out and Kirk rides some wicked waves, until he’s badly injured. When he tries to find his dad to take him to the hospital, his dad is suddenly missing.

I also read a couple of the stories featuring Hank Fiset, an older fella from the Midwest who writes a blog column, detailing his adventures. We get Hank’s naive, but detailed views on topics like visiting New York City. These stories, four of them, are fun to read, presented in column form, a different font, a header and biline, the whole faux-newspaper shebang.

I’d heard a review of Tom Hanks’ book on NPR when it came out, lauding it as a good collection. Today, I spent some time with Uncommon Type and enjoyed the book quite a bit. In some instances, Hanks has a classic view of storytelling, detailed internal paragraphing mixed with sprees of scene, plots building and unfolding to their eventual climax. But then there’s the Hank Fiset stories, interludes, almost, perhaps even Hanks’ own boyish persona seeping through. All in all, this is a solid collection. Glad to see Hanks recovered from the virus, back to work, giving us all the things he gives us. Maybe one day he’ll write more stories. I hope he does.

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