My best friend Julie is in from LA and we went to this little Thai place near my house. We’ve been friends since we were 14, and would be locked in conversation even if we saw each other every day, as we did when we were roommates in our 20s. But since we haven’t hung out in forever and are both going through divorces and all they entail, we had to take turns eating our tofu with peanut sauce to allow the other to say her piece.
A frequent subject back then was men what to make of their silliness. We spent hours dissecting the precise way they said, “Hey,” when they passed us in the office, or why they’d say they’d call and then not do it (“I mean, then why say it?!?”). It all seemed to matter so much, as if we decoded their bizarre boy behavior we’d unlock the secret to heterosexual happiness.
The subject tonight, two decades later, was men and what to make of their silliness, although it wasn’t nearly as urgent as it seemed back then. By now we know there is no secret to romantic happiness no matter whom you’re attracted to, just a bunch of human beings with various body parts wandering around the planet doing their best and as often as not accidentally hurting one another. As rotten as our recent experiences have been, though, we spoke of these male creatures with a lot more forgiveness and appreciation of all shades of gray, perhaps because we’ve got more grays ourselves.
About a third of the way through dinner, the waitress came over and informed us that “a gentleman” would like to buy us a drink.
First, let me say it was not that kind of restaurant–not swank, no bar as far as I could tell. He might have had better luck if he sent us over some chicken on a stick.
Secondly, we were literally just discussing our future romantic prospects and I was urging Julie to move back to NYC, where (despite the legendary dearth of excellent guys to pair off with the abundance of excellent women) it’s a hell of a lot easier to feel attractive than in LA, where “tits on a stick” and bleached out hair and skin pulled as tight as a drum seems to be the beauty ideal. Here, you get a lot more leeway.
“See?” I said to Julie. “Case in point.”
We swiveled to behold our benefactor. He was about 20, and looked like the lead in Napolean Dynamite. He had a white guy afro, which could signify downtown hipster, or it could mean he simply hasn’t discovered the hair care product section of the Duane Reade. He was staring off into space, at a point just beyond us (he was either politely giving us room to discuss whether to accept his drink, or terribly nearsighted and too vain to wear glasses.) He was either really super James Bond bold, or had nothing invested in our reply, he’d been dinged that many times. Hard to tell, but we were not in a let’s-find-out mood.
“That guy?” asked Julie. He was the only guy in the restaurant. No place for him to hide. The waitress nodded. I looked at Julie, who discretely shook her head no.
“Tell him thanks so much, but we haven’t seen each other in a long time and we’ve got a lot to talk about,” I instructed the waitress. I didn’t want him to feel bad.
Neither did Julie, who turned to face him and said, “Thanks, thanks so much,” and smiled. He shrugged, came over and apologized.
“I’m sorry. I was being too forward. I didn’t mean to ruin your meal. I just thought you were very attractive.” He aimed his comment at Julie. Then he went back to sit down. Julie opened her eyes wide at me and we were instantly conscious of not wanting to hurt his feelings, something that would not have stopped us from, well, hurting his feelings when we were younger.
I think we both sensed that he was a fragile youth. Julie is a social worker. She wondered aloud why he was eating alone. Did he have a viable support network? My instincts were more maternal. Technically, I could have given birth to him. And he didn’t seem to be reading social cues properly, coming over to our table after we’d just turned down his drink. Perhaps he’s on the autism spectrum…did his own mom rule that out, I wondered? He needed a nice haircut, is all, and maybe some Clearasil.
Julie and I went back to talking, careful not to laugh too loud, lest he think we were laughing at him. I felt like I feel after one of my daughters does something kind of bold but that doesn’t work out. I wanted to urge him not to give up, that just because Julie and I weren’t interested doesn’t mean a more age-appropriate girl who likes somewhat matted afros and guys who wear those retro gym shorts from American Apparel or who is really thirsty might not be.
As we were settling up, he came over again, and reiterated his apology. I assured him that there was no need to apologize and that we were flattered. “I’ll bet you both have boyfriends, don’t you? I just think you’re really good looking,” he said, this time to me. (If I had a son, I’d advise him to target one girl out of a duo and make her feel special, rather than firing scattershot, hoping to hit something.)
“No,” Julie replied. “We both have ex-husbands, though, and we’re really just here to hang out with each other.” He mumbled something about knowing what that’s like, what with his ex-girlfriend and all. I said that we were talking a much larger magnitude of ex. “Oh,” he said. He didn’t close his mouth all the way after speaking. If he were my son, I’d point that out.
After we left, we both sighed, and then cracked up. “See? We’ve still got it!” I said. “Right? I mean, if worse comes to worse?”
“Yeah!” She agreed, laughing until her belly hurt. “I should totally move back here.”
And she should. Someone has to watch out for that young man.