When I move to New York after college, I work at a restaurant where I meet a man who “works in publishing.” He’s an editor who comes into the restaurant alone to read book reviews and to meet with one of his authors. I tell him I want to work in publishing. He gives me a copy of an anthology he edited, invites me to a reading.
The reading is in the Rare Book Room at The Strand, and it is Intimate. When I walk in and sit down, one of the authors featured in the collection turns to me and asks me who I know at the event. “I’m a friend of the editor,” I say.
Her eyes narrow.
“No,” I want to protest, “The only thing I’ve ever given him is more water, a napkin, a spoon. The only thing he’s ever given me is a copy of this book. I liked your story in it.”
(One good thing about coming of age with digital camera technology is that I know exactly what I was wearing that day. I took a picture right before I left the house with the camera in my laptop. I stood on a chair in order to capture the whole look: a poofy pink skirt with a brown cotton jacket.
I’d decided to document my outfit because I wanted to remember the occasion –– my first literary event in New York City! –– and because I thought I looked like a cupcake in a crumpled paper bag. Hardly the outfit of a seductress.)
But I am 22, and sometimes my body means things I don’t want it to.
I want to ask the author, a stately woman with blond hair and pearls if she remembers her body being a hurdle to personhood, a threat to her safety. “When does it stop?” I want to ask. Instead, I read her mind. She is thinking about age-appropriate women who become ex-wives and the young women who “take” their places. She is thinking that men’s preference for younger women is really the preference to dominate.
She is thinking, in short, all the same things I think, but she can’t see past my body, and she thinks I am the problem –– or at least, complicit.
My face feels hot during the reading. I get my book signed by all the authors in attendance, trying to think of interesting things to say about each of their stories as I stand over them at the signing table. All of the authors are men, except for the woman who thinks I am bad. I leave quickly.
The next day the editor emails me to thank me for attending the reading. He says he hopes “we’ll have more time to talk, next time.”
I wait 12 days to write back. I re-read the email over and over, trying to figure out if his tone is flirtatious, before deciding that it’s not. In my reply, I try to sound like the professional I dream of being. I ask if would be possible for me to ask him some questions about his “career trajectory” and any advice he has “for someone hoping to work in [his] field.”
He writes me an encouraging email, saying that summer is a difficult time for job hunting, but he thinks something good will come up for me soon. He offers to talk to me at the restaurant or at his “family apartment” in the city (something rich people who live in Connecticut have, I learn).
I am working when he comes to the restaurant, so he suggests his apartment as the most logical place to meet. I spend the rest of my shift wondering if I should go or not. I text Devin to ask what he would do and he says he would go. I think about how Devin’s body has never been anything but safe, and I am sad and a little angry.
(This, I think, is the hardest part about dating a straight White man: the window into an alternate existence, always just out of reach.)
The career counselors from my college said, “Network, network, network!”
I said, “How?” and followed their advice.
1. Find someone who has your dream job.
2. Invite them to get coffee.
3. Ask them about how they got their job, and see if they’ll help you get a job.
The career counselors never mentioned that it might be harder for some of us to do this kind of networking. A college graduate is a college graduate is a college graduate, their “career tips” implied. I believed them at first.
I spend the rest of my shift filling tiny to-go containers with salad dressing, answering the phones, refilling water glasses, and smiling at the customers. The whole time I am making a list.
+ He’s never been creepy.
– But all our interactions have been in public.
+ His emails are business-y.
– But why did the female writer look at me like that? Maybe she knows something I don’t.
+ Oh please. He probably suggested the apartment because he’s clueless. Maybe he’s hard of hearing.
– Or maybe not.
My shift ends and, despite my daydreams of visiting an apartment overlooking Central Park and launching my career with a firm handshake, I can’t make myself go.
• walk to a street-level restaurant “overlooking” a subway entrance
• stare at greasy croissants in a pastry case
• eavesdrop on millionaire women
• think about how patriarchy means circumscribed.