Monday, June 12, 2006

Better than TV

I am working with a new self-image truth. I am having to examine my interactions with people, especially new people, with a lens that takes into consideration that I might be attractive to that person.

It's kind of fun.

As the genial drunk man said to me as I was walking toward the bus stop on a Saturday night, "Look at you! You know you gorgeous." Since he didn't seem threatening, I smiled as I pased him and he stopped his forward motion in the opposite direction to continue, "You must get whatever you want. If the first man won't give it to you, the next one will."

I'm not quite there yet. I'm still very boyfriend-less, although I must admit that I haven't been trying too hard because I haven't necessarily met anyone worth getting what I want from. :-)

But what I am extremely amused by are the guys of my demographic who have hit on me.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am extremely glad that I am a woman and do not have to face the societal expectations that I must suck it up, face potential rejection and make the first move like men do. I have tremendous respect for the effort that must involve. It's not these men's fault that I'm not interested.

I'm amused because I'm the object of their attention.

Ok, sometimes I'm just amused.

A few weeks ago, I was on the El on the way to the airport to spend some time back on Orcas. It was 6:30 in the morning. This is very important to remember throughout the story. It was 6:30 in the morning.

I sat in one of the seats that face the center aisle of the train and had my rolly bag pulled in front of the seat next to me. I opened my book, Parasite Rex, and quickly engrossed myself in this non-fiction book that argues that parasites have been instrumental to evolution. Maybe two stops down, I hear someone ask me if he can sit next to me, so, without looking up from my book, I move my suitcase towards me and rest it between my knees. A small part of my brain says, "It's 6:30 in the morning, could the train possibly be that full?" That small part of my brain also whispers, "Doesn't he seem to be sitting a little close?" But the horrors of the guinea worm have me transfixed and, like Homer Simpson, I ignore what my brain has to say.

It was harder to ignore the young man when he asked me what I was reading. But, I was on my way to some vacation, so my mood was light and I answered him, catching a brief glimpse of him before going back to my book. Tall, skinny, around my age, freckles, red hair, David Bowie teeth, playing up the Irish look with a tweed newsboy cap and black suit. I ask him about the book he has out, A Clockwork Orange, and he tells me he hasn't started it yet. I go back to my book. I keep reading as a little small talk takes place in which he asks where I headed, I ask where he's headed and names are exchanged. His is Stephen. I'm sure it's spelled with a PH. It just fits. It turns out he's headed to O'Hare because he works as a greeter for a limosene company. He gets ten whole dollars an hour and gets to read a lot. He was very excited about the hourly wage in a way that belied the worldliness he was trying to communicate. This was not a man who had ever earned a salary. But, he likes to read and I'm amused, so I continue the conversation while still keeping my eyes in my book. I ask him if doesn't he want to read his book and he responds, no, he'd like to read over my shoulder.

This is so amusing that I'm still laughing several weeks later. So, to see where he was going with this, I agree. Remember, it's 6:30 in the morning. There really is no threat in any of this.

So, he tucks his torso in a little bit behind my shoulder and begins to read. I throw out a couple of tester questions to take his measure, including, "I guess the Fantastic Voyage reference was inevitable, wasn't it." Thud. Lead ballon. Too bad, he fails the geek test. It's not necessary for a guy to pass that test, but it is preferable. I go back to reading without talking at the same time and realize that he pulls back every once in awhile to just look at me before cuddling himself back in and putting his hand out to readjust the angle of the book: not touching my thigh, just hovering over it. On one of these oh-so-suave manuevers, he asks, "How old are you?" Laughing uproariously on the inside, I answer truthfully, "28, why?" just because I want to hear the rationale that he'll make up. He disappoints and doesn't answer but goes back to reading.

At some point on the journey he must feel like I've gotten used to his closeness like a skittish horse take some time to get used to the scent of a new handler. As I turn the page, he zips his arm through mine, joining elbows and resting his head on my shoulder.

I am internally delighted at this turn of events and admonish, "Oh Stephen," like a disappointed favorite teacher. I deliberately unwind his arm from mine with my opposite hand and go back to reading. He begins to draw away like a chastised puppy. Without lifting my eyes from the book, I ask, "How old are you, hitting on me over there?" "25." Although I took that at face value at the time, knowing that boys mature less quickly, a couple of guys that have heard this story since then have assured me that there was no way this kid was more than 22.

We spend the rest of the trip with him drawing away gradually but valiantly keeping up the act of reading over my shoulder. As the El pulls into the O'Hare station, I stand up and pull out my card. I mean, this was better than TV! I say, "Show me that you want more out of life than a 10 dollar an hour job and reading books and we'll see where this goes from there." He holds the card in his hand, dumbfounded, whether at the fact that I've given it to him or at the fact that he's been hitting on the type of woman who has a business card, I'll never know. He even flips it over a couple of times, appearing as if he was checking to see if it was real. As I leave the train, he hurries to catch up with me, asking which terminal I'm headed for. As luck would have it, it's the same terminal he works in. As we start walking, though, his pace without a rolly bag is obviously much quicker than mine and I tell him to go on ahead. He begins to protest and I cut him off, making a little flapping motion with my hand indicating he should go on. And he does!

Needless to say, I did not have an email or a voice mail from Stephen when I got back from my trip.

Last weekend, I attended the Printer's Row Bookfair to see my friend Jess read her fiction at one of the booths. It's basically a grand gathering of used book sellers and their wares. It was a dream. I had resolved to buy nothing because I'm a little short of cash lately but then I saw a pristine copy of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson for a dollar and I buy that whenever I see it simply on principal because I give it away so often. With the seal broken, I came home with a bag full of books.

Anyway, halfway into the morning, Susan calls me because her bid on a house has been accepted and she's very excited and wants to tell me about it. I tell Jess to keep wandering without me and sit down against a building in the shade. As I talk with Susan, I watch the world go by and feel very self-satisfied when I see three people walk by wearing the "Reading is Sexy" t-shirt that I had eschewed that morning as too obvious. A bookish-looking man looking to be about my age sits next to me with less than two feet between us, although the wall we were leaning against was fairly bare. I know that men have a set of rules about which urinal to use if one is already in use and I felt a little bit like he'd indecently chosen the urinal that was right next to mine when he could have easily left one open between us. But, I figured that I was just unaccustomed to urban proximity, since he didn't seem to be paying much attention to me; he was quietly eating his sandwich and drinking his water. But then as my conversation with Susan got long and particularly girly, I realized that he was still sitting there, having finished his sandwich, doing nothing. He was a little bit cute, as bookish guys go, so when I hung up the phone, I started up a little small talk, apologizing for exposing him to girliness of my conversation. He denied all knowledge of the content of my conversation in way that completely communicated that he was embarassed to have been caught evesdropping. But he charged on valiantly once given the go-ahead to compliment me on my pants.

I was wearing a pair of pants that I had bought at the fashionable re-sale shop that looked a little like these but red and without a side tie. Also, my butt is a little bigger because I'm no longer 14 years old.They're called gauchos and, as a trend, they belong to the beautiful people who, despite my new-found attractiveness, will never be a group that I fit in with. I knocked on my brother's door as I was trying them on that morning to see what he thought because I needed to know if I looked like I was unsuccessfully trying to imitate the beautiful people or if I looked like I was co-opting their trend into my own style. At first he scoffed, but then said I looked fine. However, he also pointed out that he was dressing for a wedding that afternoon in a raspberry-colored ruffled tuxedo shirt, black pants and white belt, so I should be my own judge for how valid his opinion was.

One of the other things that I've begun to enjoy about engaging with these guys is watching them hit their foreheads in their imagination, saying "STU-pid! STU-pid!" to themselves when they say particularly basic observations. I thought that only happened on TV sit-coms but my bookish young man proved me wrong when he paused visibly for some internal dialogue after he said, "They're like a skirt . . . but pants." Doggedly, though, he pressed on, extolling the virtues of my pants. For instance, they seem to be cool for the summer but not so much so that at night I would get cold. He pointed out at this time that he's dated girls (count them, plural) in the past who seemed to have trouble when it got cold at night. He did pause for an internal head-smack on this one although I think maybe he should have. I guess it thought he was being suave to work in like that the fact that he's got actual experience with women. At this point, I wasn't as amused as I had been with Stephen, but I was mildly entertained. Not enough to stick around much longer, especially since he wasn't wrapping it up in response to my general movement toward getting up and getting back to my friend. Finally, he pointed out that the parts of my legs that weren't covered could use a little sun. At that, I stood up, smiled and quoted Daniel's best friend's wife Esther, "I don't think so; pallor becomes me," and I walked away without giving him one last chance to ask for my name or my number. If that was, indeed, his intention, he'd had plenty of chances before that final, STU-pid, STU-pid remark.

I'm tired of quiet guys. I mean, I'm fully capable of overlooking a few STU-pid, STU-pid comments because I know that they are not usually representative of a person's actual intelligence or conversational skills when uttered in that situation. Hence the business card to Stephen. But quiet guys who won't put themselves forward no longer stand a chance with me. I've paid a lot for the life experience that gives me the self-confidence to be open and flirtatious to the world. I'm not going to waste what I've spent on someone who won't respond in kind. Besides, if he can't work up the spirit to engage with me now by taking some of the first steps, how will he ever stand up to me later? And trust me, I need someone who will fight me when I'm wrong. Remember the Murphy family motto: "Often wrong; never in doubt."

Of course, as I write these stories to entertain you all, I encounter my own STU-pid, STU-pid situation. The drummer in the music team at my church is so cute and so frighteningly talented that I don't know what to say to him. I wish I could tell you the rediculous things that I've tried to say so that you can laugh at me as much as I've laughed at Stephen and my bookish young man. However, I've been so caught up in smacking my proverbial forehead as I've said them that blogging never even occurs to me (and I'm ashamed to tell you how often in my life I've thought to myself, "Cool, I can blog about this!"). And, of course, he's a quiet guy so he doesn't feel the need to fill the awkward silences that I generate. But every once in awhile during rehearsal, I look up and when I do, he breaks into this beautiful smile, all the way to his eyes. So, at the church picnic on Sunday, I gathered up my best feminine wiles, determined to grit my teeth and bear it through the awkwardness and talk to him. And it was OK. I committed a few atrocious faux-pas but he stuck around and talked to me. In fact, he answered my question of, "So, how long has this Jesus thing worked for you?" with some pretty personal answers. And I like him even more now. And although I was thinking frantically how I could ask if he wanted to have coffee sometime, I just could not figure out how to make my tongue form the words and I let him walk away with his roommate at the end of the picnic and our conversation.

STU-pid! STU-pid!

Perhaps I should be a little more forgiving of the quiet guys.

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