For reasons that escape me completely, I am expected on occasion to offer a friendly gesture in the neighborhood, not the least of which is to drive a car-less neighbor to a destination that he or she might otherwise not reach.
My wife thinks it is good for me to share time and energy with those less fortunate than I, a point of view which, while I might admire it from a cosmic distance, I find less than appealing up close.
Nevertheless, there I was one day last week driving a young woman named Meegan to her obstetrician-gynecologist. Meegan, you see, is seven months pregnant, and since the man who impregnated her was working, it somehow fell to me to take her in for her periodic checkup.
Columnists, as everyone knows, do not engage in real work and are therefore available to run errands or to chauffeur pregnant women to their ob-gyns.
I like Meegan and sincerely hope this essay does not force her into that growing category of former friends and associates who will never speak to me again. It's just that I'm really tired of talking about her pregnancy.
I find that women who are expecting children are emotionally limited in the scope of their conversation to the one subject that dominates their lives, namely the upcoming birth of their progeny and how it all came about.
I already know how it all came about, but Meegan insisted on exploring her pregnancy from the moment of, well, achievement to that very second in the car.
She rubbed her stomach all through the monologue in a gesture, I suppose, of appreciation of her condition, and even went so far at one point as to wonder whether I might like to feel the baby kick.
I have children of my own and there was probably a time my life when I was delighted to feel them kicking in fetal form, but that was years ago and I don't go around feeling women's stomachs anymore.
"Some other time," I said to Meegan, but she seemed so genuinely hurt that I sighed and felt her baby kick.
Rather than satisfy, this simply encouraged her, and for the remainder of the trip to the doctor I heard in full detail the efforts she and her husband had put into making a baby, from menstrual cycle to sperm count.
By the time we reached the doctor's office, I was really weary of discussing procreation and gestation.
But then we stepped into the waiting room and there were about 15 women in advanced stages of pregnancy and they looked toward me with eyes that hungered for a new audience.
I was the only man in the room, you see, and while pregnant women will discuss the phases of their trimesters with just about anyone in close proximity, they much prefer discussing it with a man.
Their own husbands, no doubt, are always busy bowling or drinking Budweiser or just hanging out down at the King's Head.
For a moment as I entered the room I was taken with the sudden urge to run, but I couldn't leave Meegan to hitchhike home like a rejected waif in a 19th-Century tintype, so I decided to stick it out, though I'd be damned if I would go around the room feeling 15 stomachs.
As it turned out, it was an educational experience. I learned, for example, that a person named Judi had spent seven years trying to become pregnant in New Jersey and only when she came to California five months ago had she achieved her goal.
"I can't figure out whether it's the weather or what," Judi said. "All I know is, two nights in L.A. and whap! "
"Same man?" someone asked.
I, of course, laughed at the question, thinking it a good joke, then suddenly realized that no one else in the room was laughing.
"Unfortunately," Judi said, "yes."
Then they laughed.
It occurred to me as I listened that a man seemed only incidental to the goal of motherhood, because then another woman said she had searched around for what she considered the right genetic sperm-carrier before allowing herself to become impregnated.
Suddenly all of manhood had been reduced to nothing more essential than a handy container, and while the notion has comedic appeal, I find it less comfortable than I had imagined.
I mean all these years of swaggering machismo were abruptly dismissed in a doctor's waiting room, shifting the perspective of sexual encounter from male conquest to catalytic convenience.
I was beginning to feel like vermouth in a dry martini, an essential but not important element of the final product.
I mentioned this to Meegan on the way home. She listened with great patience and then, manifesting profound wisdom for one so young, said, "Well, now you know what it feels like to be a sex object."
"That must have taught you a needed lesson," my wife said later.
"It sure did."
"No more sexist attitudes?"
"No more driving pregnant women to the doctor."
You can't change a handy container overnight.