more than 20 years now, I was walking to the gym from my house. I often passed an old man working in his tidy garden. He always smiled and waved. This one day, he said hello to me. He had a European accent, I think German, but I don’t remember now. I stopped and we talked a bit. Weather, garden, you know, tiny talk. Then in his German accent, he said, “I would like to come to visit you”. I was young, you know, and recently in the big city from a small town. So I said, “sure, I’ll give you my number, come on over someday, i just live a couple blocks that way”. Even though I could tell that he didn’t want to have just tea with me. Even though I felt anxious. I thought, “he’s an old man, i’m dressed in jeans and a baggy shirt, he’s only lonesome a bit.” I was being true to my training, not wanting to say, “uh, no, we don’t know each other, and you’re kinda creepin’ me out.”
I didn’t even think to say that. It’s still my fallback, to smile and tilt my head and nod–it’s embarrassing. Even when I’m quiet and trying to be kind of menacing…(i’m not very good at menacing).
He called me a couple of days later, asked if he could come over, I said, “uh, okay…” he said, “how much do you charge?” Such a dope, me….I said, “for tea?” Then I said something about this not being a good time, after all, I was too busy, thanks for calling, gotta go…He never called again. I don’t remember seeing him in his garden after that, either. Perhaps I just didn’t acknowledge him after that.
It’s still like that. But worse, I think. For young women. Anywhere in the city, but especially in neighbourhoods known for street prostitution. Though most prostitution and pimping is conducted over the internet. Men think ALL women are for sale.
A friend of mine was walking downtown to go teach a class on Shakespeare, shortly after the olympics had blown through town. Men’s attention on certain of women’s body parts was heightened at this time. the tension was thick in the air for us. Three different men in three different cars slowed down as they passed her on the street and these men all asked her what my neighbour had asked me, “How much?” She ignored all but the last one. He slowed, asked “How much” and she had enough. She smiled (and she has a beautiful smile, my friend does) and leaned into his car.
and screamed “FUCK YOU” into his face.
She is brown. She is young. She dresses in bright colours and beautiful fabrics. She didn’t pretend (like I did) to misunderstand what these men wanted. My friend, for all that she looks sunny and naive, is seething with rage and love. A powder keg of brilliance and wit and courage. Like all of us could be, but we’ve been stunted. Trained to be passive–to slide under the radar, to sneak around and keep out of the way, to misunderstand, “charge? for tea?” I learn always from women like my friend, I hope they learn some things from me, too, about how to ditch the gender training.
How could he think that he can buy this? How can he think that money will give him access? because it doesn’t. but it does. His whole life, it has been only money, and the power granted him by patriarchy (just for havin’ a willy), that gives him access to women. But it’s not real. It’s not connection or kindness or care or even regard for, it’s nothing. He wants her spark. He wants the energy and power of that righteous fury. wants to tame it, wants it for himself. but in “taming” it, in taking it, it vanishes.
Maybe I coulda had a friendship with my elderly neighbour. Maybe I coulda learned some things about gardening from him. Maybe I could’ve helped him out from time to time. But he wrecked that potential. Utterly. Maybe he was lonesome. Probably stayed that way for the rest of his life, too.
What a waste.