[Published in “Confrontation”, 2003]
Men hit on me all the time. On the train, when I’m grocery shopping, out for a jog. The first time Paul hit on me was two years ago, on his first day at Mansfield, the ad agency I’ve worked at for three years without receiving a raise, promotion or any attention that doesn’t involve men watching me walk away. When we were introduced, Paul smiled too wide and shook my hand too long, rubbing his thumb over my fingers as if he had just met the office pet. I was told he was joining our team of graphic designers and was being stationed in the cubicle directly across from me. Upon that news, my stomach knotted as if it had been wrung.
Paul, on the other hand, seemed very satisfied with all aspects of his new job, with the exceptions of the tall, beige divider separating us and the picture of Matt on my desk. Unfortunately, neither was a deterrent for his nerve. As the morning continued, he kept needing help with his computer, asking me repeatedly if I could come over and take a look at his screen to make sure he had the correct page template or his color settings were calibrated with the printer or he was using the proper style sheet. The first few times were understandable; after that, I was simply being called upon for his enjoyment. He began to touch, putting a hand that resembled a kind of butcher’s cut on my elbow when he said thanks and squeezing my shoulder when I had to sit in his chair to fix whatever problem he couldn’t diagnose.
At lunch, he wanted to know if there was a good place to eat in the area. “There’s probably some spot hidden away you all go to, right?” He sounded as if he’d found himself stuck in a village of mosques on Ramadan, when we were in fact in the middle of SoHo.
I gave him a couple of suggestions (low-cal health food snack shops, hoping he would get the hint) and, before he asked, I said, “I brought mine.” I unwrapped a muffin I’d forgotten to eat for breakfast, or maybe I’d lost my appetite for it earlier.
After lunch, Paul asked if I had missed him. Just before five o’clock, he wheeled his chair around to my side and pulled into my space, causing me to press against the far wall of my cubicle. He looked around conspiratorially, skimmed over the picture of Matt as if it wasn’t even there, winked and whispered, “You know, I’ve walked around this entire building two or three times now and I have to say there ain’t nothing here anywhere near as sweet as you.”
I furrowed my eyebrows, put on my meanest snarl and said, “You’re out of line.”
He raised his hands slowly and mockingly, wiggled his head and leaned back in his chair. “Whoa, ho, ho. Well, excuse me.” He giggled while rolling back to his desk.
Since then, he’s sent lewd e-mail and asked me out at least once a month, either seriously (“You want to grab dinner, Maggie? I’m starving.”) or as a poorly disguised joke (“Say the word, Maggie, and we can pull a fly-by-nighter out of this place. I’ll get us tickets to Cancun, Tahiti, Lake Havasu. They’ll never catch us.”). One time, he bought me a flower, a single, thorny red rose. Coming from Paul it was the most pathetic thing I could imagine anyone doing. I handed it back to him and told him I couldn’t accept it. He shrugged and said I didn’t know what I was missing. Later, I heard the plastic bag in his trashcan ripple as it does when something is flung into it.
I wish I could say things have gotten better with him, but they haven’t and I don’t think they will for a very long time. Paul hits on women because he needs to puff out his chest and pound on it so we don’t think he’s scared and lonely. He’s also losing his hair, along with the tautness of his skin and low-30s waistline. Before he becomes more amenable, I think he will grow more desperate.
His worst moments come when I refuse him. On more than one occasion, he’s mentioned I should think he’s a great catch, since he makes more money. At first, I didn’t believe him, then I asked one of the payroll clerks and found out he gets $35 more a week, even though I work harder, have been there longer, and am the only designer in the office certified in both Photoshop and Illustrator. Mansfield, though, is a non-union shop and if I complain our bosses — one of whom I suspect is Paul’s crony — will say I’m insubordinate and stick me on the projects everyone tries to avoid: the tight deadline stuff with no call for creativity. So I have to shut up and take it as long as both Paul and I work there.
When he doesn’t piss me off by saying something about work, Paul does it with innuendo. If I try to make a point, he laughs dismissively and says things such as I must not be getting it regular, and I should loosen up and he could show me how, and it must be that time of the month again, all the stupid things men say that make me want to kick a bunch of them in the balls and even castrate one or two just so they can know how it feels to have nothing between their legs and be made to feel like shit because of it.
Last week was the most recent time Paul has come on to me. He walked over to my desk in the morning, with an extra coffee (he does do congenial things sometimes and I do the same, so the atmosphere isn’t completely maddening). After I thanked him, he leaned against my cubicle and asked how I was and I said fine and asked how he was and he said, “I’d be doing a lot better if you’d say, ‘Yes,’ one of these days. So wha’doya say? Ready to give up hope for the return of your MIA boyfriend?”
My face grew grim and sad. I did manage to say, “Fuck you, Paul.” Then I tsked, turned my head, and pulled my chair into my desk.
He smirked and strolled around the corner. When he was gone, I dropped my head into my hands. I was able to keep from crying until I was home, where the bawling started as soon as I closed the door. Once I got myself together, I called Matt and left a message on his machine telling him I loved him and missed him and I swore I was lonely without him.
Paul’s advances are the worst of the ones I receive, but they’re not the strangest. Men have sent me anonymous love notes, sat across from me on the train home every day for a week before divulging they drive to work, told me I chose good melons in the fresh produce aisle. One time, I even got hit on by a telemarketer. The guy said I sounded really cute and, since he could see my address on his screen, he thought we were meant to meet because he lived just two blocks from me. Turns out, he was going to quit his job just as soon as his shift was through and clearly my name and address showing up on his phone sheet in his final hour of peddling caller ID and two-line service with a thirty-day free trial was a sure sign of destiny. He could pick me up at eight, he said.
“No, thanks. I’m not interested,” I said, and shuttered when I hung up and intuitively drew all the curtains in my one-bedroom apartment here in the middle of Long Island. I wondered if the guy wasn’t some freak in the neighborhood trying to find a way to introduce himself or if he wasn’t one of Paul’s friends who’d been put up to it, so rumors could begin about me being loose and lying all this time about waiting for Matt.
I’m not going to be coy and tell you I don’t know why men are always coming on to me. I happen to have a nice body, and I eat right, run two miles five times a week, don’t smoke, get lots of sleep (usually), plus I’m still in my twenties and out of gravity’s target range. My eyes are blue and my hair is thick and blond. My teeth are straight, my nose is small, my ears don’t protrude. I’d say I have a nice personality, too, but I don’t think that matters much to men when they’re making their play. This sounds like a real Narcissistic take on myself, I know, but I’m trying to document the state of my life and I can only tell you what my girlfriends have told me and what a couple of men have told me and what I’ve gleaned from Oprah and Cosmo. So, now that I feel better about talking about this, let me get to the honest truth: I have larger-than-average breasts (size 36Ds, to be specific) and I have a “nice” ass.
And, since we’re on the subject, what is it with men and women’s behinds? I just read this book of short stories by this writer who is “great” and “young” (the guy’s in his late thirties) and all his female characters are “ridiculously” gorgeous with asses that are either pert, perfectly round, heart-shaped or pillowy. “Pillowy” was supposed to be a compliment. Who the hell wants a “pillowy” ass? I swear, you’d think some guys could find the meaning of life in the place we shit.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sound like a stuck-up, hypocritical feminist. Being hit on can be flattering and I know someday the ogles and whistles will stop and I might miss the attention, but the advances are sometimes so crude and they occur so often that I’d rather be a hermit than have to see another ruminating guy with a mustache leering at me from across the aisle of the LIRR train. And let me make one thing clear: I’m confident I never do or say anything to bring this behavior on in men. I hardly ever wear dresses to work and if I do they’re anklelength and loose-fitting. I try not to make eye contact. Not once have I ever had a one-night stand or even gone out with a guy I met at a bar. If we’re going to dish it all out, I can tell you that I’m twenty-seven and I’ve had sex with three guys: John, who I dated for two years in college before we both discovered that, after the drinking and the partying and the sex, we didn’t have a lot in common; Andrew, who was introduced to me at a wedding four years ago and who I went out with for eight months before finding out he was cheating on me; and Matt. Those three.
John was a sweet guy and a virgin, too. He always felt guilty and self-conscious when I gave him oral sex and reciprocated every time. Andrew preferred to do it doggie-style while watching porn, although he liked getting blow jobs more than actually screwing. When we did screw, the sex was good. For whatever reason, brain chemistry, sensory overload, base satisfaction, the porn made him harder and the kinkiness excited me. Very little else was good about being with Andrew, although I ignored this fact at the time. He was sharp and ambitious and had a way of speaking that too often made me feel small, insignificant and fortunate for being allowed into the intimacies of his life. I was not yet smart enough to know that anyone who could make me feel that low couldn’t be good for me. When I found out he had been sleeping with a woman he worked with, I felt used and useless. I cried while I screamed obscenities at him. He smiled impishly, and stoically denied everything, despite the fact I had found her e-mails and his credit-card bills that showed charges for the hotel rooms, which made me realize it had been going on for a long time. I also realized then that Andrew was someone I had sex with, he was never my lover.
Matt, though, is the best lover you could imagine, attentive, fastidious, reserved in the good ways and still passionate and creative and virile, a fact he’s shy about. When we make love I feel like we’re not just two bodies getting off, we’re experiencing a moment no one else can take from us, we’re sharing a gift. Then again, these days, just face-to-face contact with him is a gift. The dearest gift I could imagine.
Matt lives in Ottawa. He’s Canadian. That means he can wave his flag in a crowd and people won’t think he’s evil, demented or carrying a gun. It also means he still believes in government and country and taxing the insanely rich to an extreme. He sings his national anthem when he takes me to hockey games and holds an interest in who’s winning the riding in Montreal West. Us apathetic Yanks, on the other hand, would rather vote off a Survivor castaway than figure out a ballot for president. I read in a magazine a couple of years ago that of all the men in the world, a survey found that women thought Canadians were the best lovers and best husbands. From my experience, I can tell you Canadian men are the best-kept secret on the planet.
I met Matt at a party in Greenwich Village a year-and-a-half ago. He was studying journalism at NYU and was friends with one of the interns at Mansfield. The intern, a girl named Jen, was throwing the party with her roommates and invited me and some others from work.
“Are the men from the office coming?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” Jen said, and smiled knowingly. I said I would be delighted.
Matt and I didn’t have one of those romantic, eyes-across-the-room meetings. I just happened to overhear him and a couple of other people talking about pop music and how disposable it is, and the reasons why.
“I read that in the Sixties and early Seventies radio was a real part of the community in New York,” Matt said. “People remember when they first heard their favorite songs and on what station. The stuff that was on radio then mattered socially and emotionally. Not these days. Most of what’s on the air is completely forgettable.”
“Exactly!” I said and butted my way into the conversation. “Too many producers don’t care what they’re playing, just that someone’s there to pitch the ads. Their customers aren’t the listeners anymore, it’s the advertisers, so we’re the ones who have to put up with Britney’s nasal whine every five minutes.”
“Hi, I’m Matt.”
“Maggie. I’m sorry.”
“No problem. That was great.”
He introduced me to the couple he was talking with, then asked basic questions about me and my musical taste. I smiled and answered and noticed he was really cute. After a few minutes, the couple left us alone. As we continued talking, I began to visualize obstacles that might keep us apart falling to the ground. “No. No girlfriend,” he said. The biggest hurdle, plummeting, landing with a thud, stirring up dust. He had introduced Jen to her boyfriend, so he wasn’t interested in her and vice-versa. Another big one down. He was flirting with me, so I knew he wasn’t gay. Another one fell, and now I saw them as dominos, these obstacles, toppling each other in sequence in my head. The toppling paused when I learned he was three years younger, and it restarted when I realized he was so mature and serious about the world that anyone would think he was much older if he didn’t look like such a kid. He wasn’t condescending, despite his smarts. He obviously didn’t do drugs and didn’t seem to be the type to drink himself stupid, and when I had determined all of this, the dominos had all fallen, and I pictured them lying on top of each other like stitches, but they were in straight lines. These dominos needed a pattern, I decided, so I propped them up again in my head and flicked one, and the toppling began and I could hear the click-click-clicking as they felled each other and when it was all done, the line of black-and-white blocks all collapsed, they were lying on top of each other as before, except this time they were in – what else? – the shape of a heart.
[Want to know where the Canada geese come in? And want to learn what Maggie’s hiding about her relationship with Matt? Request the rest of “Canada Geese Mate for Life” and find out.]