Dear Brother: I did promise to write you immediately after initiating the GTKM (Get to Know Men) Project that in your letter you so kindly suggested I begin (“Perhaps you ought to make a project of meeting men, lots of different ones just for the fun of meeting them and seeing what they are about?”). So here is my first report. Before beginning, you should know that I was absolutely religious about the preparation for my first “outing” (or should I call it “hunting expedition”?) After all: if I was going to do this, I might as well do it right.
First stop: beauty parlor. The nails got a special treatment, something called a French manicure where the tip of the nail gets painted with a delicate strip of white-white polish and then the rest covered in transparent pale pink. It “shapes” the nail, you see. I must admit that given my lack of practice in the feminine art of looking perfect (like a Barbie Doll) these details tend to backfire on me. For instance, as the white strip is narrower than your real nail length so as to give a more perfect “shape” to the finger aspect as a whole, there is a faint line where the real nail meets the flesh which, if contemplated carefully, is noticeable. No one, of course, at a party and at night with lamp light will see this slight imperfection… usually. But, as chance would have it, the black suede purse that had been in the closet in a plastic bag for the last ten years waiting to be used had gotten tired of being itself and decided to molt, shedding suede-dust like pollen that clung to the shiny finish of the nails and dug its way underneath with a persistence that would have shamed a Chinese dye. Fortunately for my self esteem I didn’t notice till this morning that the “faint” line between the French white of the nail and the real nail-flesh meeting place was black as a garage mechanic’s after a day’s work and required a large amount of soap and a thorough brushing to get clean. What I did notice the night before, however, was the way in which the pale yellow tablecloth in front of me turned unpleasantly black in strips and it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t the ashes from the cigarette the woman next to me was smoking that was doing the job, but my molting black suede purse. So much for the purse, it went into the garbage can this morning.
After the manicure, I had to sit for an hour in the beauty parlor to make sure I didn’t smear the finish –something I inevitably do whenever I have a manicure because I don’t have the patience to sit there listening to the chatter while they dry. By that time it was 11 a.m. On my way home, I went by the drugstore and bought a small bottle of Channel #5 (tried and true). At home, I ran the tub and stepped into a hot bath. By 11:30 I was in the tub. After 30 minutes of soaking, constantly adding more hot water as the soup cooled, I washed and rinsed my hair, soaped the body well, shaved all the places that were candidates to being shaven, scrubbed legs and arms with the special silk mitt a friend brought me from a Turkish Haman to make sure all the dead skin was peeled off and stepped from the water shiny, clean and pink all over. It took another 20-25 minutes to cream and rub the body; 30 minutes to semi-dry the hair and another 15 to put it up in curlers. By the time all that was done it was around 1:30 and regular obligations stepped in. Dress (any old thing until time for the gown), feed dog, eat, walk dog, try to take nap, not succeed and put movie in DVD in order to at least relax.
While watching the movie, I checked in with my body. I was not actually nervous, frightened or even excited. Nothing was moving, and yet I knew the moves necessary for “getting dressed up” and stuck to them religiously. Interesting. At exactly 5pm I stopped the movie and returned to the bath room, removed the curlers, brushed hair vigorously 75 times, shook head and began to tease the parts that needed volume. It took the better part of an hour to get the hair in the exact wave towards the sides and curls on the face that I wanted and spray the whole thing with hair spray. I used two kinds of spray: first the softer one so that I could still push and pull the curls and waves into place while it dried and then one I had bought during my stay in France and which brazenly announces itself as “béton” or “concrete” and works more or less in the same manner: nothing was going to move from its place that night no matter how much I danced! Make up was an elaborate chore, beginning with liquid base (light so it doesn’t show in the creases), a bit of cheek color, darken the eyebrows slightly, blue-green shadow under eyes, white on lids, dark brown mascara, and lip liner with pink fill in to give the lips a full, sensuous effect.
Once that was done I put on my black satin bra, donned a new pair of pantyhose, slipped the long black, sequined over-blouse onto my shoulders, pulled up the black satin pants-skirt and wriggled everything into place. Diamond earrings, a sapphire and diamond ring (both inherited from my mother) and a rhinestone necklace with imitation black jade stones to enhance the neckline.
The end result was incredible: I stared at myself in the mirror and felt sorry for the Greek, the man with whom I had a sort-of-not-totally blind date (blind 100%; date, not totally). I turned, batted my eyelashes, seductively smiled at myself over my shoulder and almost fainted with joy. It had been so long since I had dressed up that I had forgotten the effect all that primping and painting could have on the general appearance. Beware men!!! Here I come! I heartily laughed with myself and, giving one more twirl, marched triumphantly to the door and out to the street where my “ride” was waiting.
My ride was not my date, although I half thought they might come together because they were friends and the couple who picked me up had orchestrated the date. My date, the Greek of unknown age, weight, looks and wealth (although known to be rich), was not present. All the better. I could ask questions if the subject came up. It didn’t so the mystery remained.
Anyway, the GTKM Project actually began with the husband of my new friend, María. He was a pleasant gentleman of approximately 73 years, not bad looking for his age, with grey-white hair and a grey-white beard and mustache to match. I wondered why people with fading hair like to make such an abundant show of it, but that is just my opinion. Raul turned out to be pleasant, and an intelligent and opinionated talker. We talked of some of the current events in the country and I noticed that every time he would give an opinion as a definite statement of fact, I would —quoting a friend— “draw on my fine knowledge of language and say nothing”. It was not an aggressive silence; rather I felt as if I was just open to listening to whatever followed as what had been stated had been done so in such a way as to allow for nothing other than a frank denial, a solid argument to the contrary or silence. Neither of the first two seemed possible so the third was what I chose spontaneously.
A brief explanation: Choosing to say nothing is, in my case, really surprising. I have been a natural arguer since my teen years when my father and I would sit up till wee hours of the morning “discussing” important world matters, philosophical queries and the meaning of life in general. It was what we did together, discuss ideas, share ideas, confront ideas (actually, he confronted and I had better agree, I soon found out, but I was allowed to develop my own way of seeing it, as long as it did not conflict with his too much and he could be right). I learned then and there, if I was ever to be the “man” I wished to be (my father, of course) I had to learn to be right, either by superior knowledge or by superior capacity to argue the other person into the ground. “Arguing” or if you wish, “discussing” important matters, fundamental, essential truths, was a masculine way of being. This was my training, and usually enjoyable as long as I did not actually contradict my father. The training was effective and for the rest of my life I have virtually been able to talk anyone under the table no matter what the subject.
So reacting with a silence that extended even to my mind certainly was not my habit. However, I noticed that this was what happened as I listened to Raul spout off what he seemed to consider “the final word” on the political situation in Spain. Given my quiet position it was also possible for me to notice that my open, listening silence seemed to confuse Raul who then would weaken his own statement by saying that it was not necessarily true but just one possibility. This had never been my experience when I tried to argue the point and get the other person to see it my way and this was fascinating; it actually made me feel extremely powerful.
I remembered having recently read a woman author (a Jungian psychoanalyst) who spoke of her female clients as persons who have not developed a strong female ego with which to face life, but rather a pseudo male ego that never really allows them to integrate and individualize. Somehow, this female-ego/male-ego stuff tied into my own experience and seemed to have a lot to do with my previous argumentativeness (identified with Father-ego). It seemed to be my pseudo male ego that would come out having to be right, even more opinionated than the male ego it confronted, that had previously led me to argue way into the night. That evening, confronted with the male ego’s need to be right, my now very feminine ego found no reason to argue, saw the logic in the male discourse, while at the same time perceiving three or four other arguments that could have been just as true, and understanding that none were actually The Truth. The feeling of inner freedom was tremendous. There was nothing unnatural or contrived or even purposeful about my silence: it was one hundred percent me and done with love and tolerance for the other.
Something in me as a woman seemed to be perfectly able to let the male ego “feel” it was right, without having to believe it or not. Something in me was so absolutely at peace with the way of things that being right was simply not a necessity any more. If my image in the mirror had convinced me that I looked top notch, this subtle, deep and very strong self love and respect grounded me in the essence of my being. My first contact with a “man” that evening had centered me in my womanhood and reminded me of how painful and frustrating the first 49 years of my life had been because I was trying to live up to a pseudo male egoness.
We arrived at the place where the American Club of Madrid was offering the gala dinner-dance in honor of Columbus Day (called “Day of Hispanicness”, in Spanish) fifteen minutes before the doors opened and proceeded to the cafeteria to have something while we waited. My friend went outside to smoke a cigarette and I invited her husband to a cup of coffee (they had paid for my ticket to the gala dinner, so a 2 euro cup of coffee was nothing but a symbolic gesture). From Raul there was no new invitation to “serious” discussion” and our conversation flitted comfortably over more superficial areas and eventually died.
Second observation for the evening: men, or at least this one in front of me, are not good at idle chatter. Again, I thought of my father. He was considered a plus at a dinner party due to the fact that he could do the “social” thing and have a conversation at any moment on any subject AS LONG AS he had a couple of drinks in him. When his doctor forbade liquor after his first heart attack, my father became a very silent person and actually began to avoid all social occasions saying they bored him “stiff”.
At that moment, I remembered a lesson my Mother had given me: “If you want to get a man interested, ask him questions about himself; all men love to talk about themselves”. I realized that the evening was a good occasion to put that advice to use and began questioning Raul about his business. I think I listened but the fact is I remember nothing of what he told me. He did, however, seem pleased that I had shown an interest. He, of course, asked me nothing about myself. Observation number three: men are not interested in what you do and do not really want to hear about it, especially if you are important in your realm of endeavor or have made some kind of name for yourself other than as a beauty queen. Once again I remembered my mother. She once complained bitterly to me: “I have spent my whole life asking men what they do and all kinds of questions about themselves, and they have NEVER asked me one thing”. She was right. Later that night I would have more proof of her rightness.
When the doors to the cocktail area opened, my “date” appeared. I put it in quotation marks because he had not actually ever contacted me. The chain of events was as follows: my flat mate had told me about The Greek and asked if I would be interested in meeting him; I had said “yes”. Then she had told her future Mother-In-Law that I would be interested in meeting The Greek. The “future” had arranged it and my flat mate had relayed back to me that Ronnie (his name) was delighted and he had invited me to the Gala dinner. He never called to confirm the invitation. The “future Mother-in-law” and her husband had arranged to pick me up. So I had never spoken to or heard from my “date”. This, in itself, should have prepared me.
Ronnie was standing at the reception table talking to “important” men, if one is to judge from the way they all patted each other on the back and expressed their pleasure in meeting again. All were older men (I mean around my age) except Ronnie who looked like the oldest of all. One glance and I calculated at least 80; his voice seemed to confirm this as it had the beginnings of the typical 4th age hoarse unsteadiness, somewhat as if something or other had come unscrewed and rusty in the throat. We were introduced, we shook hands and he continued talking to the people around him. I people watched, observing the garments, hairstyles and shoes of the other women. The beauty and style of some of the younger ones was a delight to the eye and I feasted heartily without the slightest twinge of envy.
I don’t remember much about the cocktail hour except that we were fed multiple and quite tasty hors d’oeuvres, and stood around a high table (one of several) indulging freely. I drank a Coca Cola and then nothing. The Greek asked me once if I would like a glass of wine; I refused: “I don’t drink” I said quite simply.
“Not even wine?” he inquired.
“No, not even wine.” With that he either knew I was an alcoholic or thought I was weird. Either way was the same to me. I remember asking him a few questions about when he had arrived in Spain (with the American military bases), and why, with which he gave me a rather long summary of the bars and nightclubs and restaurants he had opened after arriving here and to date, mentioning that he had been young (“When I owned the nightclub I was barely 25; nightclubs are not really my business. I am a restauranteur”). I nodded my head: “Of course, of course”. My flat mate, her boyfriend, and her future Mother-in-law had all challenged me to find out Ronnie’s real age which he had admitted to no one. If, as he assured, he had arrived in 59 or 60 (with the American bases) when he was around 25, that would make him barely 75, possibly younger. So he was either very “worn” for his age or he was lying. This surprised me. I am not familiar with men lying about their age or being so interested in hiding it. I was piqued, but there was no further information and I could think of nothing legitimate to ask in the few moments we talked that might yield more details. I did take it upon me to later look up the establishment of American Military Bases in Spain and discovered that there had been movements in that direction as early as 1945, and definite establishment around 1950-51. This sounded more like what I had observed physically: the man was around 83-84.
Finally, after an extremely long cocktail hour and a half, we were ushered into the dining room. The set up looked like what one expects for a wedding with a principal table for the “officers” of the American Club, and then a series of numbered round tables for eight people. Our table was number 21. When we arrived there were already two young women sitting there. One was a plain looking, rather homely Danish girl without makeup and somewhat drably dressed; the other a more attractive girl from some country in the Eastern European block the name of which slips my mind now. Before the dinner was served, the two empty chairs at the table were occupied by another youngish woman, this time from Madrid, and a very thin not unattractive Spanish woman most probably in her mid forties, perhaps pushing fifty. My date, Ronnie, was left sitting between the fortyish woman and me.
I remember making one or two feeble attempts at talking to The Greek with little success (so little that I can’t even remember what I asked him) and then I turned to my other side and made some comments to the future Mother-in-law. Ronnie promptly struck up a conversation with the fortyish-old which, given the level of noise in the room, I was not able to hear or participate in. They either had something in common or she was better at looking interested in his spiel than I was because the rest of the time he was present at the table, he spent talking to her. When my conversation with Mother-in-law ran out, I looked to the fortyish-old and smiled.
She introduced herself. “Victoria Something-or-Other; restorer of antiques. What do you do?”
I began to explain The Work of Byron Katie and how it went about questioning stressful thoughts and finding peace. Half-way through, Ronnie interrupted.
“Why do you have stressful thoughts?”
Interesting question, I thought to myself while I searched for the answer.
“Well, I don’t really any more, but I used to…”
“I do Yoga, I not only do Yoga, I live like a Yogui. No stressful thoughts. You should try Yoga.”
“Very good” I countered, feeling my crest going up, “but if you have a stressful thought in the middle of a restaurant, for example, you can’t very well do yoga there, can you? But you might be able to ask yourself four questions mentally and…
“You have to live like a Yogui. Victoria restores antiques.”
“Yes, I know, she just told me and…” but Ronnie had turned back to Victoria and was again telling her something that she at least appeared to be interested in. A while later, when Ronnie left the table, Victoria turned to me.
“He is not my husband,” I interrupted, “he is supposed to be a date, and he doesn’t seem to be that either.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry; I thought he was your husband.” The interesting thing was that the moment she said that, I could see perfectly why she had made that mistake. Who else would ignore a beautiful woman, interrupt her conversation, and not be interested at all in anything she said in spite of sitting next to her but her husband! Logical my dear Watson. Anyway, to make a long evening short, Ronnie, shortly after dinner asked me if I wanted to dance:
“Do you want to dance?” I looked at him, waiting for the straight-forward question to sound like an invitation, “Because if you do, I don’t mind.”
“Hmmm, not exactly my type of music…” I muttered, stalling…
“I dance to all kinds of music.” Every moment I liked this man less.
“…but I wouldn’t mind.” There was no way I wanted to even insinuate a drop of enthusiasm. The music was playing what I call the “modern jig” where the two partners “jig” on the dance floor, never looking at each other much less touching one another. We “jigged” for a while and then sat down again. It was pathetic and not getting any better so when Ronnie got up and left (I presumed he had gone to the men’s room) I actually felt relieved and began talking again to Victoria, this time without interruptions.
The truth is that Ronnie never came back to the table and I spent the remainder of the night in a very pleasant conversation with Victoria and the future Mother-in-law, and admiring the singer’s capacity to pour her extremely well-rounded body into a black sequined top and pants that looked more like a snake-skin than a snake’s skin itself. Project GTKM was obviously over for the night and I could relax. At one point, I went into the other room to ask for a mineral water at the bar and saw Ronnie conversing with two black-suited men. I made believe that I hadn’t seen him and he might have done the same or really not have seen me. As we were leaving he caught up with us half way down to the parking lot, clumsily shook hands with me, mumbled something I didn’t catch and headed for his car. So much for Greeks!
So that is my first report and I have to confess that the GTKM Project has more or less landed in the bottom drawer of my Interest Cabinet, along with Gala Dinners, social events, Barbie Doll women and Freudian psychoanalysts. And I know that men are half the population of the world, but let’s be honest: half that population is married, the other half is gay, the other half is only interested in themselves and the final half is definitely for the time being, or as far as I can see, uneligible (too fat, too thin, too old, too young, too unshaven, too tight-assed, and so on.)
But, never fear dear Brother, I have not given up. Although I did not sign up for the gym (one of the curricular possibilities you suggested), I did hire a male, very attractive, young, knowledgeable, kind and loving Personal Trainer. He is all of 30 years old and has a girlfriend, but his innocence and good will are absolutely enchanting and he is doing marvels for my body. I know that this has nothing to do with what you had in mind for me, but listen: sometimes things just don’t come all in one package and today, if I pull together everything I have, I actually can build the equivalent of a good lover-husband. If you don’t believe me, just contemplate the following recipe which I have concocted (no pun intended) for my women friends who are in the same situation:
RECIPE FOR HAVING A MAN AND A SINGLE LIFE
1 Internet Romance, slightly warmed over
1 Male friend on internet (also) who likes to discuss important matters such as politics, religion, spirituality, existence, philosophy, good movies, interesting books, etc.
1 Gay male friend for going to the movies, theater, concerts, dinner and whatever.
1 Personal Trainer for all the touchy-feely you need.
1 Kind, patient physician to listen to your aches and pains and tell you what to take for them
1 Very good Dildo for you know what.
AND THE SECRET: Take each ingredient separately, one at a time. Never, never MIX them. If you mix them, you get something called MARRIAGE, and frankly, if you haven’t tried it by now, don’t: it can be fatal.
Still, every once in a while I really miss having someone walking beside me, holding my hand.