Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The current work in progress -- because nothing says Manlihood like a lavender seascape with butterfly wings.

My distaste for males began when I was a child. As a tender sprat of an oaf, I thought that men were too big and too loud. They were ugly and smelly and pushy and drunk and gross and they had a horrible tendency to hit things. Things like me. The way they talked about women was absolutely repulsive. I wished there was some way to have them fixed, like dogs. The best thing you could say about them is that they were easy to fool.*

Imagine my shock when I came to one afternoon to find that I was adjusting my nuts, guzzling beer, and talking about pussy -- and I gotta admit, I'm pretty gullible. I hadn't just turned into a man. I'd turned into the kind of loud-mouthed vulgar brute I hate the most.

I'm not going to go into how this happened, because it happened to all of us and we all know it was horrible. (A brief moment of reflection on the universal miseries of adolescence.) Instead, please, allow me to contemplate the state of my manlihood.

See, while I hate men, I wouldn't be a woman for all the drugs in Berkeley. I mean, vulnerable adorability as a survival trait -- who the fuck came up with that one? Look, I am pro-breast. When I worked at BookPeople we used to carry a volume called Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, and every time I put a stack of 'em on the shelf, I could hear the voice of a small boy call out from deep within me, saying, "Me too! Me too! I love breasts too!"

But in a world that is primed to explode into unspeakable violence at any moment the last fucking thing I need are tender cushions of sweetly scented flesh attached to my goddamned chest. I have no idea how you people live like that. (Yes, what you say about the penis and testicles, that's very true. I am not making claims regarding the safety or dignity of my junk, but I've learned to live with it.) And shall we discuss the horrors of reproduction? Let's not.

I must confess, red-faced, to a certain pride in being a fairly masculine kinda guy. It's disgusting, I know, but there it is -- or is it? I have some fairly serious reservations as to whether or not I can legitimately regard myself as a Real Man.

The Argument For My Manlihood

(In which my boasting will make you sick.)

1) Let's get the obvious out of the way. For the record, that's a standard doorway. You certainly wouldn't want me to fall on you. I almost never wear those kinds of clothes, though. Typically, I wear jeans and a T-shirt that says something like 'Dolomite,' or 'You're The Reason Baby Jesus Drinks.'

2) I grew up in a working and shirking-class city, and a lot of my schoolmates lived in the projects. From second grade through my junior year in high school, people wanted to beat me up all the fucking time. (The racial component to this was far to complex to go into here. Maybe another time...)

I went through an extended phase of non-violent protest, inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. that came to an end when I realized that some folks were regarding my behavior as freak show stuff. "Hey, professor, can I show my friend? Look, I'm really hurting him and he don't do nothing!" Then one day as I was walking home and two of my classmates were throwing rocks at my head as they followed me, something snapped. I realized that the effectiveness of non-violence is strictly situational and that it never works on assholes. That, under certain circumstances, Gandhi-style non-violence made you feel superior while encouraging others to behave badly.

So I started fighting again. I fought and fought and fought and fought until I was a senior in high school, when people didn't want to fight me anymore, because it hurt too much. The abuse continued, but it was furtive and crafty hit-and-run stuff.

While I haven't had to fight as an adult, that's because if disrespected or threatened, I flip the fuck out -- and that tends to make people back down, believe it or not. I've had a few run-ins that have made it plain that I'm endangering myself with this behavior pattern -- but it's not a matter of conscious decision-making. I come down from the rage-rush, and think, "You've gotta cut that tough-guy horseshit out, Oafboy."

3) I once stood down a Hell's Angel. This was during the month when I lived with a coke-freak who had a bunch of junkie friends who'd come over and shoot up. The Angel in question was a coke-freak too, and he'd settled well into the psychotic phase. He was under the impression that I was a deaf-mute, and if I said something, it was Satan speaking through my voiceless mouth. I had no idea he was a Hell's Angel. I just thought he was a squirrelly asshole.

My roommate and I were conversing in a parked car, when there was a crunch and the car rocked up. The Hell's Angel dude had rammed the car with his pickup truck.

I jumped out and gave him the 'bring it on' hand -- arm extended, pinky and ring fingers folded, middle and index fingers extended. He jumped out and got in my face, screaming, "Jesus wants me to fight you! Jesus wants me to fight you!"

"Then fucking hit me! Fucking hit me!"

"Jesus wants me to fight you!"

This went on for a while, while my roommate sits in his car, frozen. The sight was more embarrassing than awe-inspiring, though. I weighed a hundred and forty-five pounds, and the Angel was about five-six, five-eight. Finally, he backed off and got back in his pickup. "God's going to get you for that!" he screamed as he drove off.

When I got back in the car, my roommate was pale and shaking.

"Jesus, dude, that guy's a fucking Angel! If you laid a finger on him, they'd all come after you!"

Of course, back then I was suicidal, so the idea of dying in a fight with a bunch of Hell's Angels was not exactly discouraging. Later, the guy came to me and apologized, told me he was in Narcotics Anonymous. He was, as Stew once sang, very, very, very optimistic.

4) My roommate back then was in the habit of ripping off everyone around him -- he was at the cocaine stage where he simply did not give a shit about anything but the next needleful of Bolivian confidence. Yes, you told that person you were going to buy them drugs, and yes, you fucking spent their money on coke, but the real problem is who else has money you can access.

So one sunny afternoon when he was out ripping someone else off or shooting up, there was a knock on the door.

"Steve! Steve, get your fucking ass out here! We want our fucking money!"

I got out of bed, dressed in just jeans (remember, I weighed one-forty-five, and my body was a source of pity rather than fear), and pulled back the curtain.

There were six or eight people out there with chains and two-by-fours and objects of that nature. The guy on the porch saw me and pounded on the door again.

"Don't make us come in there!"

So I went to the kitchen and looked under the sink, where I found a can of Easy-Off oven cleaner. Which is sprayable lye. I grabbed it, then went and opened the door, and set the Easy-Off down on the hall table with a thump, then loomed over the dude on the porch. (Looming is one of my gifts -- I should put it on my resume.)

He looked up at me. "Steve fucking ripped us off and we want our money back!"

"Steve isn't here," I said.

"Then we're coming in and waiting for him."

"No, you're not," I said. "I got work in the morning and I've gotta get up at fucking five and there's no way I'm going to get to sleep with you clowns in the house."

"Oh," he said, and turned around to look at his crew. "Uh. Well, tell Steve we came by, will you?"

"Will do," I said, and shut the door. When I heard them leave, I put the Easy-Off back under the sink. I was kinda disappointed; I wanted to know if it would, you know. Work.

5) And so on, until the accumulation leaves you bored and disgusted. Some of these I sure as shit will not post on the fucking Internet.

6) When I was into weight training, I got to the point where I was racking a number of exercises, had to have someone hold me down while I was doing lat pulls, that kind of thing. One day an instructor came up to me.

"So we were wondering." Jesus, I'm a subject of conversation? "What sport are you training for? I bet it's rock climbing."

"Nah," I said. "I just work out for the buzz."

7) I like my beer strong and my whisky neat.

8) When I was a manual laborer, I worked like a ring-tailed son of a bitch. When I left my janitorial position in Santa Cruz, they hired two janitors and a glass-cleaning service to replace me, and the store still went to hell. I've had three bosses tell me flat-out that I couldn't quit because they needed me, and one of them tried to claim that I hadn't given notice after I gave both one-month and two-week notices.

Once when I was working my warehouse job, the one where I lost my discs, I wound up being the only person functioning in my department for about a week. When the other dude who actually worked in the department came back, he said, "So the way they've been talking about you, I was expecting to see a blue ox following you around."

9) I sweat and stink. I huff and puff and take no guff. I am covered in hair. My mighty tread shakes the Earth, or at least the house. Ask the missus about a phenomenon we refer to as the "zone of destruction."

10) Pain does not deter me. As a child, I saw photographs in National Geographic showing Easter in the Philippines (feel free to look it up), and wondered if I could do something like that to myself. So I spent an evening pushing a fat sewing needle through the tip of my thumb, in under the nail and out the other side.

I've lived through a winter with an untreated broken jaw (a gift from a couple of classmates, I'll tell you about it another time), feeling the ends of the break grate against one another every time I chewed. Didn't want to bother my mother; she was having a rough time that year. I've punched out freight elevators and lost, medicine cabinets and doors and won, and then gone on to do serious labor with my injured hands.

Sometimes I'll whack off a chunk of myself and not notice until the missus complains about the blood.

11) A number of other things that I am not going to fucking talk about on the internet.

12) I dig emergencies, and when the situation calls for leadership, I look around. If nobody else steps up, I roll my eyes, sigh wearily, and take charge.

13) I've never had sexual feelings toward another man. Attraction to men baffles me -- honestly, I think that at some level, gay men and straight women are out of their fucking minds. Especially women -- how could you possibly be attracted to an animal that could beat you in a fight? Are you people crazy? Being with a man is like having a pet lion or a pet chimp. How can you trust them?

The Argument Against My Manlihood

1) I've never had sexual feelings toward another man, and the manliest of manly men -- the real men -- have rejected femininity completely. I will never be a Spartan.

2) And it ain't like I've got an impressive record with the ladies. I once thought I asked a girl out on a date, but it turned out that I was mistaken. I didn't hold hands until I was twenty-three. I've only been with two women in my life, and only in the context of a committed relationship. Both of them made the first move. I'm almost completely ignorant regarding boys and girls together. Beauty tends to scare me -- it's way too powerful; I'm attracted to intelligence, humor, and ability.

3) I hate sports. I've had conversations that have let me understand what people see in them, and I can understand the fun of playing them, but I have never deliberately sat down and watched a sporting event and probably will never do so. That shit is dull.

4) I listen to Gilbert and Sullivan, I like Vince Guaraldi, I like Gilberto Gil, I like Ella Fitzgerald, I like Cole Porter. I find the song Somewhere Over The Rainbow touching, and I like the Judy Garland version as much as the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version. That's probably enough to end the discussion right here.

5) I've never driven a car. The one time I tried, I became absolutely convinced that if I drove, I'd kill someone. So I don't drive.

6) I cook and eat vegetables every day. I clean the kitchen.

7) I take care of children. I will change diapers. (I did find an odd example of sexism in my diaper-changing practices -- if I'm going to be passing a baby on to a guy, I check the diaper first and change it if necessary, because I don't trust 'em to do the job.)

8) I don't like bossing people around. I avoid positions of power.

9) I hate competition. I do not want to be in a position of superiority.

10) The most important influence on my writing has been exerted by M.F.K. Fisher. I think Norma Ephron wrote some damned good casual essays. I have a vague crush on Dorothy Parker. And so on.

11) I have never made a life or taken a life. I have never been in the military or prison or been a cop or a sailor or a fireman or an astronaut. I probably won't be president.

12) I have never said, "Get me a beer and a sandwich," and I doubt I ever will. This leaves me feeling somehow cheated.

And, most crushingly,

13) I will ask for directions, I will ask for instructions, I will admit when I'm wrong, I pick up my socks. I put the seat down even when the missus is out of town.

Fuckit. That settles it. I am a total girl.

* There were two series of children's books that had horrid and pernicious effects on my behavior when I was wee, because I regarded them as challenges to my intelligence, which was the only fucking thing I had going for me at that point. The Great Brain books by John Dennis Fitzgerald convinced me that the signal mark of intellect was the ability to take money from people.

Since I had two younger siblings and my parents and their friends were drunks, I had considerable success in this -- but when I realized that being a creepy little con artist was a loathsome thing, I turned my back on money. You can ask the missus how that worked out for me... I'm currently trying to convince myself that making money isn't reprehensible.

The behavior inspired by the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol was much worse. Each volume featured a series of short mysteries intended to be solved by the reader, with the answers in the back of the book. I would read these in the living room, and at the end of each chapter I'd loudly announce the solution to the mystery -- "He's lying because ambergris floats!" -- and then turn to the back of the book to check the answer. When I was right, which was the vast majority of the time, I'd say, out loud, "I knew it! I was right again!" When I was wrong? I'd plunge into the depths and sulk for days.

Yes, it's wrong for children to be beaten and bullied -- but I have to admit, I kinda asked for it.

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