I'm Only Brave on My Blog
I didn't take Mr. J.'s last name (you're thinking, CRIPES - we KNOW that already, lady! Do you really need to beat us over the head with it?), I always knew I would have a "career" - whatever that meant - and I was never quite hip on the whole "children" thing, if only because I'm inherently lazy (yes, I've also mentioned this) and didn't see too many dads doing the heavy lifting of parenthood, if you catch my drift.
And yet. I must have absorbed quite a few of society's messages about what it means to "be a woman" and those messages have been duking it out in my psyche with the feminist messages for the past 36 years. Who will win? I'm still not sure.
Recently, I met a friend out for dinner. I was excited about this. Big people dinner. No students, no advisors, no college bar food. No draft beer, no bathrooms that made a truck stop seem posh, etc., etc., etc., I drove all the way into the city (in the pouring rain, I might add) and found parking for the grownups (that's parking that requires payment and does NOT feature a sign that reads, "Expectant Mothers Only") and walked proudly through the city wearing my big girl, "I am too a professional if only for the day" clothes.
About the same time I walked into the restaurant, my friend phoned me. She had gotten sucked into an urgent meeting and was running late. "If you're starving, please eat something. Don't wait for me. I'll get there as soon as I can." I had planned for just such a thing. I had stopped at a drug store and picked up the new Vanity Fair. I was going to sit at the highly polished bar, enjoy a lovely glass of Pinot Noir and inhale each and every page of that Vanity Fair as if it were cocaine.
Aside: No, I don't have kids, so I'm not 100% sure why this alone time felt so scandalously luxurious. Maybe it's because the dog wasn't barking or doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing. The phone wasn't ringing and a pile of ungraded papers wasn't staring at me screaming, "Hey, slacker! We're not going to grade ourselves, you know!" I wasn't surrounded by needy students asking for an extension on their papers because Pop-pop's girlfriend (who is "almost, like, a grandmother or something to me") was in the hospital being treated for gout. I wasn't trapped in a classroom, listening to a professor pontificate on his own brilliance while I did my best to look genuinely fascinated. Nor was I in my office (which I share with 8 other doc students - and oh? Did I mention my office is the size of a broom closet?), trying to have 6 or 7 intellectually stimulating conversations at the same time. And for just that moment, I felt like I was back in my corporate life again - somebody credible, somebody who knew what she was doing, somebody "grown up." Because let's face it: No matter how old you are when you're a student, there is still something about being a student that makes you - okay, probably just me - feel somewhat like an insignificant, not-exactly-tax-paying member of society. Five years ago, if someone said, "What did you do today?" I had an answer - usually one that sounded pretty cool, like, "I made this pitch to an internal client after working my ass off on it for 3 months and he absolutely freakin' loved it!" And now? "What did you do today" is typically answered by something like, "I revised my lesson plan for next week's class, I read 6 peer-reviewed journal articles, I bought 6 different types of lubricant to bring to class where we will discuss the dangers of oil-based lubricants, I took the dog out and I . . . aw, hell, I don't remember."
Where was I going with this?
Oh, yes. So, I had my glass of Pinot Noir, my Vanity Fair, my seat at the bar and (relative) peace and quiet. After about 15 minutes, I was kind of hungry so I asked the bartender for a menu. I couldn't believe my eyes: The most glorious thing, especially for a rainy day: A grilled Camembert cheese sandwich! WITH tomatoes!! Sign me up!
My sandwich arrived uneventfully, as sandwiches typically do. I was just unrolling my (cloth) napkin, ready to up my current level of bliss, when he sat down next to me. Probably 10 years younger than me, not necessarily creepy, but definitely clueless. Hel-lo!? Wedding ring?! And also? I'm EATING!!!! (Or trying to, anyway.) Eating a meal in a big-people restaurant (although, admittedly, grilled cheese isn't exactly a big-people meal), enjoying my wine and Vanity Fair and life was about as perfect as it gets.
"Well, hello!" said annoying 26-year-old who was probably gay but didn't yet realize it. "Are you from around here?" he asked me cheerily.
And here's where I kick myself. And kick myself and kick myself. I answered him. Politely. Like I was the freakin’ Welcome Wagon or something. Because a lady is always polite and gracious. Because some men still have no problem interrupting a woman who is alone, regardless of what she is doing because . . . why? If she’s alone, sitting at a bar, eating a gooey cheese sandwich she must be “asking for company”? Because nothing I’m doing is more important than his being bored or lonely or whatever?
Personally, I cannot imagine seeing a man at a bar who was reading the paper and eating his dinner and CLEARLY enjoying himself and plunking myself down next to him and saying, “Hi! Watchya readin’?” Why? Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps because it’s un-fucking-believably rude.
Since I answered him politely, I guess I had signaled to both of us that the conversational door was now opened. Permanently. He was from out of town. He was in town for a wedding. None of the other members of the wedding party had arrived yet so he was on his own for the evening. What were the fun things to do in this fair city of mine? Did I like this restaurant? Where was I going after this? What did I do? Oh, wait, who cares? He had a fascinating, scintillating life as a tennis pro. He knew Andre. And Steffi. And everybody. He bet I’d never met a tennis pro before. Wasn’t I so lucky?
And me? I found myself adopting the face I use in some of my classes – the “Gob, I’m so bored I could scream but that’s rude so I’ll sit here and try to look interested,” face.
But you know what? I don’t blame him. Honestly. Even though he didn’t go away when my friend showed up. Even though he didn’t really go away for HOURS because apparently we were his new best pals. Plus, isn't any woman flattered by any male attention?
I blame myself. Because for all my feminist ranting on this blog, when push comes to shove, I’m about as much of a feminist as Rush Limbaugh. I can talk the talk, but I can’t walk the walk. I’m really outspoken and bossy and brave. When it doesn’t matter. When it counts, I’m a spineless jellyfish. WHY didn’t I say, “I’m meeting someone,” when he pulled up a chair and sat next to me (completely uninvited) and then go back to paging through my Vanity Fair and eating my sandwich and pretending he didn’t exist? Because that would have been assertive. Which, clearly, on some subconscious level, I associate with rude. And a “lady” is never supposed to be rude. She is supposed to be flattered by and welcome any and all male attention because . . . again, I’m flummoxed.
Perhaps, if I had finished that glass of Pinot Noir, and been almost through my second, I might have said something slurry like, “I’m partish-ipating in a university experiment and I’m not shupposed to speak to shtrangers.”
Because a lie would have been more palatable than the truth. Because I don’t think I have ever said, “I’m enjoying my own company and would prefer to be left alone, thank you.” That’s polite. And it’s pretty damn clear. But his feelings are more important than my immediate needs, so I sucked it up. And let my sandwich sit there until it was cold. And then kicked myself for days and days and quite frankly? I haven’t stopped yet.