Let me mean different things

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. All his metaphors are about sports. 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.”

before the reading 3
(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 who dates older men.)

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.

Instead I
• 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.

Let me mean different things

I spent Election Night at a Republican Watch Party

republican party party.jpeg

Last night I watched the election results with the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Devin and I ended up there almost by chance. It was one of the few public parties within walking distance of our house, and I was curious about what it would be like, since so much of the news has focused on the fight about Trump within the Republican Party.

Soon after we arrived, Fox News declared that Trump had won Wisconsin––the first time a Republican presidential candidate has won the state since 1984. The people in the ballroom chanted, “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” I started to panic. Minutes later I lost sight of Devin, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

But then I met a very polite older woman from Dodgeville, whose life revolves around praying and hospice care because after taking care of her mother and husband as they died, she realized she had a calling. Talking to her felt so normal that I almost forgot where I was. She gave Devin and me advice about helping people we love if they ever develop dementia and talked about joining the Republican Party after visiting the Capitol to pray with the priest from her church during the historic Wisconsin protests. It was hard for me to imagine this kindly gray-haired woman voting for Trump, but watching the election results, she seemed genuinely happy.

“Have you ever seen A League of Their Own?,” she asked.

We shook our heads.

“Oh, when you go home you have to look up the scene where Tom Hanks says, ‘We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!’ I had it playing in my mind all last week, and I didn’t know if it was about Trump or the Cubs,” she puts her hand over her heart, “Who would have thought it would be both!”

It didn’t seem ironic to her that the movie she referenced to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was about the triumph of a women’s team.

She gave us her card in case we ever want to talk about caregiving. On the front it has a dove holding an olive branch, the Christian symbol of peace.

The party was in a hotel ballroom, and at midnight they kicked us out. At the beginning of the night, there were approximately 70 people, and about 25 of us ended up watching the elections results in the hotel bar surrounded by hotel guests. The few I talked to explained that they were in town for various professional conferences.

A man who looked very young sat down next to me and asked where all these people had come from. I explained that we’d come from a election watch party upstairs. “For Trump?,” he asked, gesturing to one of the few apparent men of color wearing a “TRUMP” button on his suit jacket. I nodded.

He explained that he had been at a party in the bar on the 12th floor, where everyone was busy placing bets.

I asked him who he’d bet on, and he told me he doesn’t bet, and if he had, it wouldn’t have been for Trump.

“I mean, I voted for him, but I really didn’t think he’d win.”

He explained that he was in town for an electrical engineering training and had not figured out how to cast his ballot before coming to Madison.

“I woke up at 4:45 and drove back to Milwaukee to vote. A lot of people said, ‘Why are you even voting? Hillary’s definitely going to win,’ and I thought that, too, even though I did think there were a lot of people like me. I think there’s some truth to what she was saying––I don’t remember her name,” he looks toward the screen.

“Megyn Keylly?”

“Yeah, what she was saying about the ‘shy Trump voters.’ I think I’m kind of like that. Everyone around me said Trump would never win. Nobody was going to vote for Trump. And I was like, ‘I don’t know…there are a lot of reasonably––reasonable––people who are voting for Trump but not saying it publicly.’ That’s how I was.”

He told me that this was his first election, even though he could have voted in the last presidential election. “I had just finished high school. I didn’t really know anything. I don’t know… to me it’s a privilege––people say it’s a duty, and everyone has to vote, but I think it’s a privilege. If you’re uninformed, you shouldn’t vote.”

In the background a man dressed in sequined Uncle Sam suit yelled, “Let’s change the channel to MSNBC––don’t you wanna see Rachel Maddow cry?”

Most of the gathered Republicans shook their heads. Some gestured, “Oh, be quiet.”

“I can’t wait to see Hillary convulsing when she gives her concession speech!,” yelled the sparkly Uncle Sam.

A few people laughed. One White woman said, “My friend just texted me, ‘I’ve never wanted to see Hillary speak until tonight!’”   

The young man I was talking to furrowed his brow, “People like that give us a bad name.”

At 1:30 a.m. the bar abruptly turned off the television to announce that it was closed.

Again, Uncle Sam tried to get everyone’s attention. This time he tried to start a “Lock her up! Lock her up!” chant. About 10 people joined in, but it didn’t last more than a few seconds. My impression was that they were more excited to see Trump win than to see Clinton lose. The group clapped for a second before leaving the hotel.

On the sidewalk we ran into the older woman from Dodgeville again. Her friend, another older White woman, said, “It’s a great night.”

The woman from Dodgeville nodded solemnly, “It’s a great night.”

Devin and I said good night and started our walk home.

The people I met were not the caricatures of bigotry and misogyny I feared I would meet. But they still voted for someone who is.

I spent Election Night at a Republican Watch Party