Archive for February, 2008

Hens Wearing Dancing Shoes

I was invited to my first-ever hen night recently. It was all very exciting, and I tried to be calm about it, but I got the email in bed just before sleep, so I rapped on my partner’s shoulder until he looked up from his laptop (yes, we really are that geeky) and said, “What?” and I got to say, with great, burgeoning pride (bordering on the excessive, really): “I’ve been invited to Sophie’s hen night!!!!” (You really could hear all those exclamation points.)

But later, I reread the invite and anxiety (as it does) crawled out of its dusty corner and started to gnaw and snarl. There was going to be dancing involved, said the email. An old East Oxford building had gotten a facelift and was reopening its doors and the words “a spot of retro disco” were flashing in my face, very loud, very clear, very, well, bright.

I’m not much of a dancer, you see. It’s not that I don’t want to be—or even that, a few cocktails later, I don’t try to be. I just don’t have it in me to understand intuitively how to move my body alongside a rhythm and a melody. I thought about that spot of retro disco, and very nearly decided not to go. Images of awkward teenage moments relived rose before me: a jangling of limbs, some shuffling, the question of what do to with your hands, and everyone else around me looking either like they had attended the Royal Bloody Ballet School or like they were actually quite literally having sex. I am physically unable to dance ballet, and I am morally unable to have sex in the midst of a teeming mass of other people.

But excitement, and the fact that I was frankly honored to be included, and fondness for the Royal Hen herself, all won out, and I acquiesced to my desire to participate, and found myself on a Thursday night having cocktails with a group of lovely women, and the first thing that occurred to me was, “I haven’t been with a group of all women in a very, very long time,” and the second thing that occurred to me was, “it’s really actually kind of nice!”

Something else soon became apparent to me, too. Like me, everyone else appeared to be more interested in ordering bottles of champagne and chatting than in scuttling down the road to shake booties and wave arms. It was only after we’d had enough champagne and snacks to bolster our confidence that someone tentatively suggested that we think about moving on; I was heartened, at this point. So we plunged out into the chill night and swam through the neon lights of the Cowley Road, past kebab houses and churches, to The Regal (neé the Bingo Hall).

It was shiny. And everything smelled of new paint. The bartender looked a little nervous, as if he wasn’t sure everything would hold together, and a suitably surly woman with enormous breasts and substantial thighs guarded the door, dressed in a suit and tie with a neon green armband. So this is a hen night, I thought. It occurred to me that it’s not a bad way to spend an evening, really. We ordered more prosecco and curled up in big plush leather couches.

Upstairs the disco ball was spinning and a DJ was playing music very, very loudly. There was a smattering of people on the dancefloor, but I was relieved to see that most of them didn’t appear to really know what they were doing, either. It was a strange group and we tried to puzzle out who they were, why they were here. The incongruity of a swanky shiny dance club nuzzling the edges of a churchyard and a string of seedy-looking barbershops really hit us, then. I wondered: will it last? Will it stay like this, sparkling and artificial? And thought: no. More likely it will acquire, as things do here, a flavor all its own, and the paint will start to peel and then it will stop being a sore thumb and start being a real place.

Then we forgot to keep worrying and danced. We had a corner all to ourselves and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone that my version of dancing is essentially to sway my hips and run my hands through my hair (a solution I finally came up with one night after years of having no sense of where to put them). We moved our way choppily through a series of bright but only vaguely disco tunes. Our cheeks got flushed (at least, I think they did, but it was hard to tell in the murky dark upstairs). And then I forgot to be stilted and danced. And that was nice.

We got tired, after awhile. We went back downstairs and felt woozy and all the shiny colors blurred together. At the bar they had run out of prosecco, and the card reader was broken, or maybe it was that it hadn’t been delivered yet–I couldn’t quite catch everything over the din of an evening. So we drank white wine paid for entirely with one-pound-coins.

The night moved slowly; swaying, sashaying, a happy blur of hair and hands and bubbles; and when the edges of our vision had turned completely into a glitter of disco-ball colors and our heads were light and our tapping feet very tired, we headed home–one quick step out of the glitz and into the gentle quiet of residential Cowley where midnight winds silked our skin.


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The Memeing of Life

Funny how a thing, once it’s been called to your attention once, can settle in your consciousness, like a cat in the sunlight, stretching, and then you see it everywhere. Doubly funny, perhaps, when that thing is a meme.

Badaude called this to my attention. She wants me to open a book–the nearest book to me, which in my house means that no matter where I am I never have to anything more than stretch my arm out–and count five sentences down. Then write down the next three sentences that appear. Lying in bed on a Saturday afternoon (we’re slightly fuzzy-headed and it’s overcast outside), I pick up George Steiner’s My Unwritten Books from the chair-that-serves-as-as-a-night-table/book-receptacle and read:

“How does lovemaking in Basque or Russian differ from that in Flemish or Korean? What privileges or inhibitions arise between lovers with different first languages? Is coitus also, perhaps fundamentally, translation?”

In my second year of university I took a course on evolutionary biology and learned that memes are sort of like the cultural conduit for evolution: ideas transmitted, if you will. We read a lot of things by a woman called Susan Blackmore, but I was mostly too tired and student-y to retain any of the information. Then I went to a taping of BBC Radio 4’s new show, The Museum of Curiosity. And they started talking about memes. And Susan Blackmore. Go figure (and how perfectly beautifully appropriate). Have a listen to the first show, which aired on Wednesday and is brilliant (I’m biased, as some of you know, since I get to sleep with live with love with one of the researchers but I also genuinely appreciate the endeavor to make people laugh and think at the same time), and you’ll hear about memes. I don’t pretend to understand them, but I know that somehow, there’s something poetic about the way they keep fluttering in and out of my consciousness.

To be fair, I haven’t read the George Steiner book yet. I bought it on Thursday on a particularly expensive trip to Blackwell’s, where I perused each floor with great attention and had to send my lovely museum researcher a message that simply said: “I think I have a book buying problem.” Then I had to cycle back home with very heavy books and a bottle of prosecco in my basket, and it was wonderful. But I’d read a review of it on The Guardian’s website and was struck by how sexy the excerpts was: and not just overtly sexy, though as much of the book, or a good part of it, is about Steiner’s sexual exploits, they were that. Sexy to someone who loves words, because of the beauty and the eloquence and the way each sentence seemed to fit into the next.

So I haven’t yet read it–but I like that in a post about words and ideas, we can discover the suggestion that, perhaps, sometimes it is the physical interaction that translates (and transcends) all else.

(so to whom should I pass this project on to? Cynthia might like it, as an exercise in words and web-bonding; and George, I suspect, would weave something full of wit and wile…)

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Vegetables in Their Native Habitat

We went out into the garden on Sunday. I mean to say, we went into the garden properly on Sunday. Not as we do generally, with winter gloom all seeped into our pores, and a fog hovering on the horizon: rushing, in the last moments of daylight, to pour compost into the bin, to watch the finish of a brilliant sunset, to catch one more breath of fresh cold outside air before we retire inside, where it is warm, full of snuggles and food with the heater going and a glass of red wine in hand.

No—we actually went out into the garden for the sake of going out into the garden on Sunday.

There is a large part of both of us, I think, which wants desperately to be proficient in the wordless, yet timeless, language of gardening. Each of us would like to be able to coax things into being with nothing but soil and water and will; for there is a way, I suppose, in which gardening satisfies the ego, is a bit like playing God, whereby you can create, where once was merely dirt and emptiness, something that lives, and breathes; something which can get sick, can die, can reproduce, can flourish, and yet which can also satisfy basic human needs: the need for beauty, the need for sustenance. In this way we are merely arrogant in our desire to garden.

Also we are conscious of something: some pleasure felt when we know that the herbs we’ve used to spice our meal came not from some anonymous field thousands of miles and infinite worlds away, but from outside our very own back door, from a terrain we know (know well) and love. The only energy required to obtain these herbs, we can say, was the energy to take a few wavering steps into darkness with an electric torch, to bend and pluck from the earth itself a leaf; to straighten up, return inside, crush into food that sizzles with pleasure upon being seasoned.

When food loses its anonymity, it becomes something more than “food” in its most modern sense. MacDonald’s is food; Kentucky Fried Chicken is food. But what history have you with a Bic Mac? I know the world is a very large place; but there is a part of me which wants to say that we may not necessarily have the right to consume without contributing; at least, we certainly do not have the right to consume without understanding. There is a process to food: it is not born the way it is served.

So we went out into the garden. Neither of us properly knows what to do with a garden but we each know that we want to make one which will bear us vegetables, which will suck up time on the weekends and drink water when it rains and which will make our fingernails black with dirt and our knees sore from kneeling. And we figured we could start with the most basic sorts of things; it is only early February, after all, and we live in a northern climate, a cold place, a wet place, where winter means something beyond temperature and daylight hours.

So he plucked the weeds from the vegetable patch while I raked the leaves that had caked themselves onto the path. I swept along the sides of the wall and tidied the area that had been used until now as a catch-all: outside, but still part of the house, it had accrued all kinds of detritus–half of an old welcome mat, most of which had rotted away; banana peels and old sagging flowers, all dried out; old clothespins which had fallen from the line in summer, when all it took to dry the laundry was a bit of sun and a warm breeze. When he had wrestled all of the weeds from the patch, we switched jobs, and I raked over the mud searching for rogue roots while he darted from one corner of the garden to the other, mending things, moving things, bending close to things and examining them.

It reminded me of something we’d done in California close to Christmas, when my parents had wanted us to help them ready their own small vegetable patch for regrowth later in the year. So we spent a sunny afternoon removing dead tomato plants which had tied themselves to each other; plucking out old carrots which had become withered and shrunken in their abandonment; raking over the soil, smoothing it, soothing it, readying it for more, more, more growth. At the end of the day we wiped sweaty brows and went back up the house for a beer and some warm soup.

There is a curious kind of satisfaction in doing something like that: destruction for reconstruction’s sake, you could almost say. On Sunday we left the garden looking more barren than it has for months; yet infinitely more hopeful than it has since I can ever remember. Is that not utterly strange? We cleared things away; we put a human stamp on something that had begun to decay, to dishevel, to become a messy knot of inattention. The only sign, at the end of the day, of our interference, was that things looked even less likely to grow there: for what, you find yourself thinking, wants to grow where there are no sweaty piles of leaves on the path, no weeds sprouting, no clothespins lying like a broken promise of warmer weather?

And yet from the tidiness we created, we hope (we know)–green things will happen, in time, with care.

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“He has the social skills of a small lemon,” he says—at least, I think he says at the time. Actually I’ve misheard.
“He has the social skills of a small lemming,” is what he’s really said.

“Oh!” I say back. What can you really say, after all, to someone you think has just described another human being as a small oval-shaped yellow fruit? I picture the man whose social skills are akin to something that tastes nice sprinkled over hummus puckering his lips and crinkling his nose. His head his egg-shaped, pointed at the top like a Conehead, and his skin is rough and leathery, and thick.

(Well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it, to get through the day unscathed?)

Later, I will wonder: are small lemmings necessarily any less socially capable than their larger colleagues? Don’t they all just march along, without regard for future or past? But it’s the sort of thing you say when you don’t have all the time in the world to think it through, and in your head, you hear the voice of logic saying, “what could be more socially retarded than a runt lemming?”

A small lemon, apparently. And then I wonder: would a small lemon, as opposed perhaps to a large lemon, have some shame in not being as juicy, as fruitful as it could be? (Whereas a small lemming can be just as lemming-y as a large one.) And maybe this inferiority complex is what leads it to be so antisocial: that constant reminder of being less of a lemon is too much to bear. It becomes a hermit lemon: sulky, moody. Misanthropic.

(Only it can’t be misanthropic, can it, because it isn’t, as much as I may try to personify it on paper, human. It becomes the lemon equivalent of a misanthrope, anyway.)

The funny thing is, that a week later, I will remember thinking that he says, “the social skills of a small lemon”, and realizing after that he has actually said “lemming”, but I will not be able, for the life of me, to recall who has the social skills of a poorly sized fruit-or-silly-animal. It’s funny how things like that work; well, how memory works, anyway. Like a sieve: only it forgets to catch the relevant details and gets lemons and lemmings instead.

In the fruit bowl, there may or may not be blood oranges. We are not sure how to tell, without cutting them all open, but there’s something nice about not knowing what kind of orange you will get until you’ve begun to peel it. When I was a child I thought that blood oranges looked like I imagined pomegranates to be (I’d not yet seen one in the flesh): something approximately the color of a faded ruby inside, soggy and full of dark, running juices; and because in my mind pomegranates were always associated with poor Persephone, bound to Hades because of their seeds, so too did blood oranges begin to tie themselves to an ancient Greek myth.

Again, funny how memory, and connections, will play tricks on you. Here’s another one:

At the dinner table in QI a man tells his friend of a dream he has, to drive a Winnebago through the American countryside.

“I have such a fondness for the Winnebago,” he says. They commune over what seems to be a mutual affliction: love of one of the world’s most bizarre inventions. Then the other one sighs wistfully, starring into his cloudy glass of white wine, through the haze of golden liquid looking out over the warm wooden dining room while the towers of a dozen different Oxford colleges hang against the night sky behind him. They are caught up in the drama of another world: of driving an obscenely large vehicle through dusty country roads, past cornfields and IHOPS and Wal-Marts big enough to swallow entire towns whole; past crumbling barns, shiny new skyscrapers, under big skies on big roads in a big, big country.
“Ah. It really is Winnebago country,” one of them breathes happily.

And I think: when I was a little girl, my idea of the perfect possession was a motorhome, a Winnebago. I thought that having one’s home be so portable would just be right somehow; and being a child, I was too young to understand all of the cultural implications of motorhomes and trailerparks or the ennui of a life spent on the road. It had simply occurred to me, in a very basic way, that portability of home can be an asset to one’s own essential self.

So now I take books everywhere, and think that in some strange way that I can explain in words to no one (and how ironic is that!), this is almost the same as having a home on wheels. Words travel better than almost anything else I know.

And because it’s Valentine’s Day soon (or possibly already is), there’s one more thought that seems unconnected to everything else but important to say, and important to say now:

There’s a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, because I heard it in a film and it caught my attention in that way that certain songs do—you think to yourself, in a theatre crowded full of people: this song was written for me! And part of it goes like this:

“If you were a wink, I’d be a nod; if you were a seed, well I’d be a pod. If you were the floor, I’d wanna be the rug; and if you were a kiss, I know I’d be a hug.”

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A Few Brief Food Notes

We have food phobias.

I used to make fun of him for his: conference pears. I only had to speak the words; and as soon as they escaped my lips they seemed to go straight to his head. He would shudder in the same way he does when I put on an English accent and say “water” (the only word I can say truly convincingly, at the moment) and goosebumps would rise on the back of his neck.
“They’re only pears,” I would say, “I’ve seen you eat pears.”
“Not conference pears,” he would say back, cringing.

It had to do with their skin, he confessed one night: their horrible scaly pearskin, slightly fuzzy like a peach, rough and wrong. Like when you see something that’s completely disproportionate, and it makes something in your head go berserk, go all dizzy because things aren’t as they should be. Like the window display I once saw in Boston, with huge denim jackets sized for Sasquatch next to mini jeans clearly meant to fit Malibu Barbie.
“I’ll be your conference-pear handler,” I promised.
“Thank you,” he breathed, relieved, I think.

But the other day, I was pondering the poetry of compost: the way teabags and old brown lettuce leaves arrange themselves in the bowl, nestled amongst green carrot-tops and strips of red and yellow peppers and old potatoes, when it occurred to me that I have my own food phobia, akin to his conference-pear-horror.

Sprouting potatoes. The ones that have been sitting on the counter for too long, a few weeks maybe, the ones that things have started to grow out of. I get the same kind of vertigo looking at sprouting potatoes that I did looking at the denim window display. The worst is when they’ve got little flowerbuds, usually dark purple, at the end of the green sprouts. I’m actually shuddering just thinking about it.

To even the score, I told him about my dread of sprouty potatoes, and he promised not to ever make me deal with them if he could help it. This is how I know we are good for each other (or one way I know): we take care of each other’s food phobias.

And each other’s food loves. We say things like, “it’s ok, we’ve got hummus” without a trace of irony. It really is ok, though not just because we have hummus but also because of all the other things that are hidden in the folds of being able to say “we’ve got hummus”. This weekend we made our own hummus: a smattering of spices and pepper, some garlic, lemon juice, chickpeas in their own water, all blended together with a delightfully phallic aluminum blending stick. Then we sat in the lounge eating our hummus and drinking cider and reflecting on the richness of this kind of evening.

We made winter vegetable soup, too. This was about a week ago. We had a preponderance of root vegetables. No, preponderance doesn’t even begin to cover it. We had an invasion of root vegetables. Carrots and potatoes and swedes and Jerusalem artichokes pouring out of boxes and bowls, practically spilling from the kitchen. George the poet came by once and assured us we’d never go hungry like this, but then some of the potatoes started to sprout and I panicked and we decided we should do something about the whole situation, so one evening, a really cold one, when all you want is soup and to be inside, we cooked them up and put them in a wonderful stew. Neither of us was quite sure what to do with the Jerusalem artichokes–which do not look like artichokes, which do not come from Jerusalem–so I looked them up. “Cook them like you would potatoes,” said one website, “but beware that they have a tendency to produce very potent gas.”

We had fresh tomato-infused bread from Maison Blanc and lots of butter and listened to Radio 4. Sometimes I think we are very old people in very young people’s bodies, and I love it.

Are Scotch Eggs the ultimate hangover cure? We wondered this once. Because they are such perfect little balls of everything you crave when your head won’t stop pounding: they’re warm, breaded, meaty, eggy, and, best of all, you can dip them in hummus. (“It’s ok; we’ve got hummus.”)

Last night we went over to an impromptu dinner with some friends. “We have lots of chips,” they said. “And steak. And pink bubbly.” We stopped by the Co-Op on our way, so that we’d have something to bring them, but the only meat they had was lamb, so we brought lamb chops and red wine and the rest of our homemade hummus. Then we ate steak and lamb and bacon and chips and hummus and champagne and red wine and whiskey with ginger wine and talked, more or less, about the first lines of books. That is what food does to us.

And I was happy, because the night before, I said, all I’d been craving was a big chunk of meat. There is no way to say that, if you’re wondering, without making it sound like a thinly guised euphemism–nor is there any way to express the relief of finally getting said meat (“oh, you finally got some, did you?”), but it doesn’t matter. The other day when they didn’t have any condoms in the shop, he brought me home The Observer‘s Book of Food–a Saturday special–instead, to tide us over until we could get to a real store.

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Trousers and bras and panties, oh my!

I’ve started compiling a list of Things It Is Easier To Shop For In The UK Than Anywhere Else I Have Ever Been. So far the list includes just two items: bras and trousers. However, if you really think about it, I think you’ll find these are two of the most crucial clothing bits a girl has to have—particularly the former, if you’ve got anything on your chest at all.

Until recently, my experience in the underwear department had generally gone something like this:

Flat-chested 5’11” Vogue Model in Victoria’s Secret: Can I help you?
Me (not flat-chested, not 5’11”, not a Vogue model—though to be fair, not exactly a monster, either): Um, sure, I guess I just…need a bra that…you know, fits.
Ms. Flat-Chest: Sure, of course, right this way…we’ve just gotten these state-of-the-art strapless-cupless-weightless-magic-makes-you-look-sexy-in-any-light bras in…Can I take your measurements? You’ve already been measured? You’re what size? Ah. No problem. For you, we have this fabulous line of bleak-makes-you-sag-at-any-age-granny-bras! Why don’t I give you a few in different colors so you can decide what you like? Say, white, grey, greyer, and black?

At which point I would embarrassedly buy a whole slew of the things, and then spend the next three months berating myself for not being able to find underwear that not only fit properly but—not that I would ever actually ask this of an undergarment and expect the wish to be granted—actually looked good.

And though most women probably won’t say so, I can’t imagine this is an utterly unique experience. Surely there are others out there who, like me, have spent years and years thinking it is a crime to have more complicated bra needs than your average American shop can fulfill. I’ve always wondered, for instance: who are the girls who can buy bras at places like Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch? And, more importantly—who are the girls who can buy bras there and look good in them?????

Trouser shopping was similarly hopeless. Every time I found a pair of, say, jeans that hugged my bum and sat handsomely on my waist, they would inevitably flow past my toes, several feet longer than necessary. If I found a pair that were short enough, I couldn’t get them past my knees, they were so small. What’s a girl to do? I settled on wearing mostly skirts and dresses.

But a few weeks ago, I stepped into a department store in Oxford to examine the well-picked-over January sale stock and found myself in the lingerie section, surrounded, for once in my life, not by bras too small and frilly or too enormous and, well, girdle-like, but by garments that I not only wanted to wear, but could wear. The difficulty actually became not which of these makes me look least like I’m two hundred years old with tits down to my knees; but how many can I buy before my bank account runs dry?

And trousers too! I keep finding that my favorite shops actually offer trousers in a variety of lengths—extra-long, regular, short, for instance—but, unlike the Gap’s nebulous “ankle” length jeans, these ones don’t just look like they’ve been chopped off a few inches earlier than they were meant to be. They look like, well, real trousers. Moreover, there’s even a choice of colors, and cuts, and fabrics! Imagine!

So the UK is not only a place where I have found a great deal of deep-seated happiness. It is also a thrill on a far more superficial level. I finally feel like a girl who not only wants to shop but can shop, because the experience of buying things that I truly need isn’t so utterly humiliating that I can’t bring myself to do it anymore.

What does this all mean? Well, I don’t know that it means anything, exactly. Except that sometimes, as a girl, it’s satisfying to be able to shop, and do it properly. And if even an ounce of self-esteem is based on how you feel, then finding the country that makes things that fit is an important discovery. It also means–I’ll just say it–that basically, I feel sexier in the UK. So there you are.

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Honk Honk

Let’s take a moment to consider Small Penis Syndrome.

SPS is a burden that doesn’t just touch the afflicted; it seeps out, it gets all mixed up in other things. It’s a public-fucking-nuisance.

Here’s an example: the other day, standing at the corner of St. Aldates and Speedwell Street, I started to grow impatient. I’d been there (it felt) for several hours, and the lights had not turned to favor pedestrians; there had been no break in traffic nor any hint of one in the near future. It was painfully cold and my sockless feet were going numb, and I was wondering if it would be dark before I could finally be allowed to cross the street, when my luck (seemed to) change. The steady stream of vehicles turned to trickle, then to naught, and the cluster of people beside me commenced a hurried jog across the boulevard.

I followed suit, thinking: I wouldn’t be so brave on my own, but look at all these folk who think this is a good idea! Granted, I walked a bit more slowly than they did (my feet, after all, were numbing). Perhaps I even dawdled a bit, if the truth be told. Well, why not? Hadn’t I been standing for so long? Like a caged animal, it felt good to s t r e t c h. Not the best place to do it, the middle of a street, you say? You’re right, absolutely right.

But it still seemed a bit much to be so loudly honked at. The man in the red lorry, who was turning down Speedwell Street at a pace that didn’t at all befit the size of his vehicle, or the circumstances under which he was making the maneuver, absolutely leaned on his horn, and gave me a look through the windscreen that chilled me, withered me, brought girlish tears to my eyes. He hates me, I thought—the anger was that palpable. “Oh!” I cried, and went scurrying to the sidewalk as quickly as I could, while the man, for good measure, continued to jab at his horn with a stumpy thumb.

I recovered as I neared home. Just a man with a temper, probably. Nothing personal. I was soon on my own, dear street, which I consider to be sacred ground. Friendly things happen here: friends on bicycles stop by on their way home, children go streaming after their parents giggling, neighbors say things like, “hello!” and “lovely evening!”. (Whenever I think these things I tend to neglect the not-so-friendly bits, like the enormous police raid that happened across the street in June, SWAT teams banging down doors and all, or the man running away from the police down Leopold Street while a gaggle of seedy-looking fightstarters looked on.)

So there I was, on my street, my territory, and my step may even have been jaunty, I was so pleased to be going home, to be getting closer to somewhere warm and inviting—and I heard another honk. This one sounded more deliberate. Not rushed and angry, like the lorry driver’s, but playful, almost, and cruel. I glanced back. Four boys, huddled in a racy red sportscar, parked on the corner. They honked again. Several times, in rapid succession, followed by one long, heavy call. It may not even have been at me—probably they were waiting for a friend and urging him down more quickly—but it’s such a jarring noise, and leaves such a sour taste in the mouth, and there they were, these boys, looking so overwhelmingly pathetic in their little car, yet emanating such mysterious confidence. I was furious; more than that, I was upset.

“Small penis syndrome,” said the one man who could comfort me after such a stressful walk home.
“You’re sure it’s not because they hate me?” I blithered.
“Small penis syndrome,” he repeated. Men in cars: unnecessarily large cars, or unnecessarily flashy cars, or just plain unnecessary cars. Men in cars showing off, and hoping, presumably, to establish their macho standing outside of the bedroom, in public, for all to see. “Look at me!” is what those angry honks are screaming, not “look at the stupid girl who’s walking too slowly for my liking across the street at a pedestrian crosswalk.”
“Ok,” I acquiesced, feeling infinitely better about myself at their expense, practically gloating from the glorious moral high ground (all that fossil fuel, all that carbon emission!).
“And anyway,” I added, “you don’t even have a license!”
I positively glowed with pride.

But what, I then had to wonder, is the womanly equivalent? Small breast syndrome? Big breast syndrome? And how would it manifest itself? Is that why you find girls in skirts that are too short by a mile, in heels so high they look like small skyscrapers, wearing makeup so thick Picasso could have painted with it?

I’m guilty of it too, I suppose, in my own way—but the problem with being a girl is that it could never be as simple as SPS. There are too many things to be worried about. If it’s not breast size it’s waist size, or leg length; it’s hair color and eyebrow shape and stylishness; it’s cheekbones and asses and hips and lips. Inferior Woman Syndrome, perhaps—and the result is sirens on the streets, who walk in impenetrable clumps, who giggle but always have an eye on every other female, taking in the way she looks, the way she dresses, the way she walks. When I had a wardrobe crisis recently, and stood in the middle of the room, throwing jumpers and dresses this way and that, rejecting everything I touched, I realized that I was not trying to find something that would look good on me; I was trying to find something that I would see on another girl and admire.

Is that what the men in their flashy red cars are thinking—that they want to be driving something they would see another man in and admire? Sometimes, I get it right: I choose something from my wardrobe which is practical, comfortable, fits me; and it isn’t until I’m halfway down the street that it occurs to me, if I saw a girl dressed like this and feeling comfortable in it, I’d be impressed. Sometimes, I get it far from right; it’s a complicated thing, insecurity, a fickle master. I want to say my impression of SPS-sufferers softens when I view them through the lens of human insecurity, because on some bizarre level I think I can commune—but it doesn’t soften, not really. The one thing to be said about the girl version of SPS is this: at least it doesn’t involve honking.

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