Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Club

I had a quiet dinner with several of my female friends a few weeks back. One woman’s husband recently died at 33 years of age. After he was gone, she found out he had been lying to her about something for years. She has nobody to vent to now, except us. It never scratches that angry itch entirely, though.

My other friend is recently married and already unhappy, feeling like anything she expresses to her new husband is met with retaliation and disapproval. She’s taken to keeping her mouth shut and feeling depressed and defeated. I’ve never seen her so withdrawn.

The final woman in our group is actively searching for a man, dating all the time, feeling like her life is always lacking. The men she does meet often tell her how they're "not looking for a relationship" after dating her repeatedly and of course, having sex with her. She drinks a lot and is starting to get a little bitter, maybe.

And then there's me. I’m single and pretty independent. My mother never raised me to be super concerned about marriage and the like. I date occasionally and would like to find the right person, but live my life with a certain twisted, carefree force, regardless. I try to have no preconceived notions about the other sex, though it’s hard at times. I don't want to be bitter, though it often feels a heartbeat away.

As the night came to a close, they arrived at the well-worn conclusion that “men suck.” It’s not like I haven’t heard that before, in a myriad of ways. Men are liars or cheats or whatever. It breaks my heart a little every time I hear it and fills my mouth with an acrid taste.

I wonder what solace women glean from thinking that men suck. Do you become comrades in misery? Is there some truth that I’m naively trying to deny?

I don’t want to hate men. Because if they across-the-board suck, how can I be in love with one? How can I understand someone that I’ve turned into a letch? How do I care and open my heart to men or hell, simply even have fun with them, if they’re all inherently jerks and assholes?

I’ve been lied to and deceived on many levels; some subtle, some as obvious as a vase being cracked over your head.

I’ve also felt insecure around men in my life many times. I’m a sensitive person and I can tell when I’m being shut out or distanced. And it’s always hard, especially if they seem to be moving toward something or someone else. It’s a sad moment. Suddenly feeling so small and alone.

And there's not much you can do about it. You can’t clip someone’s wings and instruct them to focus on you the way the way you want. You need to allow them to do their own thing. Hell, not allow – it’s not even up to you.

Have I ever been the looker, the strayer, the distancer and the deceiver? Of course. But somehow, it never felt the same.

Several of the songs I sing in my women’s choir this semester include lines like “men are deceivers ever” and “ladies better beware” stuff. And it’s hard to sing them. I fear the words will embed in my head like a tick and I’ll slowly become a member of the “men suck” club.

I prefer to use something proactive to expel my bitterness of the disproportion in this world. Martial arts certainly helped. I trained hard and sparred men much bigger than I. It felt good to have a seemingly healthy release for the anger that builds. Because it does build. Any woman who tells you it doesn't is lying. Unfortunately, they released on me as well and I've had my ass kicked resoundingly on several occasions.

But you know, every once in a while, as I was getting pummeled repeatedly, I’d wait. And wait. I'd see that smug, condescending smile on their face that read “Nice try, little girl.” Then wham! I’d send a searing roundhouse kick to the side of their head. I’d hear an audible “Ugh!” fly from their mouth and it felt good. Real good. I wanted to say, “Don’t ever be that sure of yourself, asshole.”

If men suck, then what do we as women do? Shine on Mt. Olympus in white, virginal robes or something? If they suck, don’t they ultimately get some carte blanche that I’d like to have sometimes? “To suck” sounds easy and free. Like a lazy day where you get to do whatever the fuck you want. I want to suck too then.

We’re just humans. We all share the basic elements – love, greed, honor, debasement, misery, disillusionment, whatever. I’m abundantly sick of this “men are from Mars” crap. We all know what that means, right? It means men are essentially distancing and emotionally unavailable and we had better learn to adapt if we want to “keep our man.”

Anything in service to the king.

I’m tired of understanding the differences. They’ve been forced down my throat my whole life. I see the differences every day of my life. I certainly don’t want to read a fucking book about it. And of course, its mostly women reading these books in some desperate attempt to "understand." Men are busy making all of the money and ruling the world.

Underneath it all, I fear if I join the club, I won't be able to dream about my fairy-tale soul mate if essentially, he's a jerk deep inside. It’s hard to let go of that dream of deep, earth-shaking, ever-lasting love only to make room for more jadedness. That cup is full, thank you.

Yes, it’s true. Men do seem like they lie a lot and are never happy with the woman in their life. They seem like they get away with emotional murder with little sense of recompense. Many seem to have the equivalent of a 6-year-old when it comes to emotional relating. They seem to move away from you when you need them the most. You stand there alone and confused and convince yourself that "need" and "vulnerability" are dirty words.

And it’s true, I see women constantly, constantly, constantly settling and adjusting for them and I see men doing very little in return, with a certain shoulder shrugging “Oh well, whaddya do?” attitude. And of course, it makes me angry and want to join the club.

But that bitterness grows and poisons you and you’re left with such little hope for
human connectivity. I for one, don’t want to give men - or women - that kind of power. I just want everyone to be as shabby and perfect as me.

I know. I want everyone to join my club. Club Beth. Membership is free. You can be president and I can be president. You can be the secretary though. I don't want to be the secretary anymore.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Devil's Haircut

There are a few dependable escape routes for me when life gets rough. Several of them are self-destructive and involve strip clubs, Patron and a blonde wig. But there are a few safer bets: shopping, going out to eat, getting massages by small Asian men with strong hands and getting my hair done. Hair salons are therapeutic and people touch me and stuff.

After going through one of the more grueling weeks of my life, I decided to treat myself to a haircut. My regular stylist wasn't in so I settled for some woman named Daisy, because I liked the name. How could a Daisy muck up my hair?

Once I sat in her chair, I knew something was wrong pretty quickly. Daisy, a middle-aged Jersey woman (with a questionable haircut herself), started combing my hair in silence. She says, apropos of nothing:

"My friend just died of brain cancer."

Okay. Not your average conversation starter but I can swing.

"I'm sorry." I muttered.

"It's alright. I'm doing better. I was doin' pretty bad but I'm better now."

"Oh, good."

"Well, I was doing better. Then I started getting these headaches all the time. What do you want done today?"

"Um...just a trim. Please."

"Splitting headaches. At first, I thought they were just sympathetic. My friend just died of brain cancer."

"Yep. I remember."

Snip, snip, snip. Scissors, sharp. Handfuls of hair fall to the ground.

"Just found out I have a tumor on my pituitary gland."

"Where's your pituitary gland?" I ask.

She takes her finger and taps her forehead three times.


Oh mother of god. This is a joke. There’s a camera somewhere, right?

"It's not as bad as it sounds. I'm being treated with medication."

Snip, snip. Sharp. My pretty hair, falling quickly.

"Just a trim!" I remind her.

"I just didn't want surgery. After my friend. The one with the brain cancer."

Tears begin to well. I convince myself that it's only hair. It will grow back. If you have to, Beth, you'll just shave your head and start from scratch. No big deal.

I flash back to my earlier years, when my mother would line her 5 children up at the barber's shop. I would scream in terror, she'd tell me years later. The only kid who had barbershop issues. I was also the only thumb sucker as well. (At least that neurosis would prove to be more helpful later on.)

When she finally finished, I gently, ever so gently, point out that one side is definitely longer than the other.

"Maybe one side of your hair just grows longer than the other," she posits.

Crazy logic. Crazy, crazy logic. Just agree, Beth.

"You're right. One side definitely grows longer than the other. My whole body is like that."

She trims the longer side, annoyed and silent.

I pay for my cut and walk out to my truck, where I promptly start sobbing. I think I'm going back to the strip clubs, where it’s safe and warm.

Nights at the Round Table

So I have my young crew of knights I hang out with here at the Jersey shore. They are lead by Sir Kurt, one of my favorite young guys ever (he's going to be 21 next month. Lock your windows.) I hang out with them because they have this virile life energy and I vampiracally like to suck them dry, simply by being in their presence.

No, not really. They're just fun and spirited and life hasn't beaten the shit out of them yet, so their reactions and opinions are essentially pure and silly.

A few nights ago, I performed our weekly ritual - drinking cheap beer, sitting around the table, giving them advice on women. It was a night like many other this past winter, at least at first. After a round of shots of some nasty unnamed liquor, we sat in silence for a moment.

Finally, Kurt spoke.

"Beth, can I ask you something kinda personal?"

I'm already laughing because we're sitting with 8 other people.

"Sure, Kurt, feel free."

He hemmed and hawed and finally spit out:

"Are you infertile?"

I almost spit my beer out.

"Am I what??"

"Are you do you have problem making babies or something?"

"Uh, I know what infertile is, Kurt but thanks for the medical explanation. No. Why?"

"Well, we can't figure out why you're not married or why you don't have kids. Like, you're 41, you're really cute and you're cool and what went wrong?" do I answer? Do I even have an answer?

I tried:

"Well, there are all sorts of women out there, Kurt. Not all of them want kids. Not all of them even like kids, believe it or not. Some like monkeys more. And not all of them want to be married."


I'm not saying I don't want those kind of things. It's just different for me. I just don''s not my whole raison d'etre, you know?"

They look blankly. (Note to self: don't use French expressions with this gang.)

"Um...I guess I just haven't gotten around to it. I've been busy. Doing stuff."

More blank stares.

I went for the more humorous approach.

"Do you guys want to make some babies with me? Is that what this is about?"

This was met with red faces, uncomfortable laughs and fidgets. Finally, one of the youngest dudes says, dead seriously, "Sure, I'll give it a shot."

"Kidding, I was only kidding."


I left that night, wondering why I had to answer a question like that in the first place. I hear this kind of thing often. "How hasn't someone snatched you up?" Like I was some little daisy that simply had to be plucked.

I don't deny the desire to meet someone special and make a lovely home together and have tons of sex simply due to its ready availability. But I also don't want to feel like some freak of nature for not doing what everyone thinks a female at my age should do. I mean, I just learned how to skateboard last summer (by Kurt, of course). So where do I fit into the social female schemata?

I could have explained to them that most of the marriages I see seem flat and loveless; that most of my friends have settled on one level or another for the sake of an obligatory dream and now walk around listless and half-baked.

I could have told them I never cared enough to settle.

I could have told them that I've only recently felt "grown up" and am still working out the kinks.

I could have told them I was preoccupied by the complications called Life and didn't have the the time or luxury to look very hard.

I could have told them, simply, that no one has asked me.

It seems as if the world always has to brand you, one way or the other. And maybe I'm happily brandless. Or unhappily branded. Or unhappily unbranded.

Maybe I'm still in search of my Grail.

Maybe I found it.