the best of you
I like more than you think.
the others don’t count
Charles Bukowski, One for the Shoeshine Man
“Do you know which word you say the most?” he said.
“Oh here we go,” I thought. “Another one, trying so hard. SO hard! Why can’t he just let me be?”
But he didn’t wait for my answer: “Grateful!” he said.
I hummed, surprised: I guess I’ve never learned how to receive a compliment.
I’ve always had the skill to listen, you bet cha; and to admire them, pro bono. And over the years, after enough cynicism (which I camouflage with my wit), I’ve even learned to rebut their self-serving inquiries, with unexpected grace.
So, when they say: “So, what do you do for a living?”
I read: “I need a shortcut to your character.”
They hear my accent and too quickly spit out: “Do you like it better here or over there?” (Some even dare to over-enunciate.)
This one, I’ve learned to back-up with a comedic routine because no one wants to sit through my nostalgia or watch the ruins of an immigrant’s life. They want me to be “grateful”.
“How old are you?” they say; then startle themselves, linger to recover and quickly add, “…if I may ask?”
For years, I’ve watched other women get coquettish or cutely offended by that question, some acting more sincerely than others. And I would often lose my own hard-on, on behalf of the poor suckers who still had to shag them, eventually. And I’ve tried that coquettish act myself: It reminded me of waiting for my motha in Soviet hair salons while trying on lice-infected wigs. Contagious — but what a fucking act! And how boring!
So, I always tell them my age instead — straight out, hard! — because whether it’s enough or not enough, it has most likely already been determined. Or, it’s in the works.
No matter how habitual, how well-practiced their routine, when they look at me for the first time, there is a glimmer of curiosity. Perhaps, they are relieved that they don’t have to hide their gazes any more (or their hard-ons): They’ve already spoken, so they’ve gone beyond creepy. So, they soak me up, scanning my modest endowments. Some lick their lips. Others just smile like 7-year-olds in love with their preschool teachers. (Oh, you darling darlings: How I adore you!)
And before they begin comparing me to others — for I know no man who hasn’t been changed by “that one woman” — I let them look. I revel in it.
Oh, how I wish there were a way to have this electricity of the initial attraction last! To last past the mundane habit of hearing them pee with open bathroom doors; and past their own disappointments in my inabilities to live up to “that one woman”.
And when they look, men tend to need more time. They don’t have the lightening-speed askance of a woman who scans a suitor while simultaneously going over her own list of prerequisites.
“Check, check, check,” a girl is always thinking. (Trust me, I know: I do it all the time.)
But men are not like that. They either go with their gut or they go with their habit. Those who are gutsier, will ask you an unusual question:
“Those earrings: Where are they from?”
Or: “You aren’t from around here, huh?”
(I prefer for them to be surprising. Always. It gives me a hard-on. Or for me, to be surprisingly interesting — to them.)
The simpler types — God bless ‘em! Really! — they always speak in quotations; and I often wonder how many back-up choices they’ve already earned on their speed dial that night, with that same routine. What chaos, I think; but somehow I don’t mind it. Most likely, they’ll soon get distracted anyway — and let me be.
“If beauty were a minute — you’d be an hour.” (Oh, c’mon: Why don’t you mind my laughing at you?)
“I like perfection,” another threatened me recently, while whipping out his phone; because his arrogance must work like a charm on other women.
“Is that why you’re talking to me?” I responded. (What did I tell ya? I’ve learned to rebut, you bet cha. But still, I prefer to be surprised.)
“Are you gonna make me chase you?” another one commented on my impressive stunts in heels; and even though I’d outrun him, sooner or later, he decided to follow me for a long enough to get my number.
“Yep.” (Don’t you know you aren’t supposed to waste your breath in marathons, buddy?)
But those who stick around for the first date usually tend to take their time figuring me out. They study me, like an ancient spiritual text, of no particular religion. They shuffle through universal concepts and bigger theories.
Like that adorable one, catching me off-guard with my own speech tick of “grateful”. The entire night, he’s been wanting to play the tug-o-war of “You, Me, You, Me. Me, Again.” He was young and ambitious, quite contagious and still altruistic. He was so beautiful to look at, in the way that only the young can be. And in those moments of his trying so hard to like me — or to be like me; to get the gist of it all, to figure it all out; to stand on his own, but then dive into his empathy head first; to equate me, please me, surprise me; to make me laugh, to make me vulnerable; to get me; to earn me: I found myself grateful, indeed.
Because I knew better than to hold onto him: No one lasts. Or they haven’t lasted so far, and I can’t expect them to. But I can expect them — to be. I can let them be, just as they are.
And because, for a change, someone was letting me be as well, I suddenly felt surprised — at my own magnificence — and I wanted so much to return the favor!
And yes, I already knew that the electricity of the initial encounter wouldn’t last, but I reveled in it, if only for that night. But secretly, I began harboring a glimmer of hope that maybe it was my turn — to be “that one woman”.