I fight, with all my might, against bitterness, darkness, depression, and cynicism. I don’t want to turn curmudgeon. I don’t want to acquiesce in the threat that the bad guys will win in the end. I don’t want to furl my brow so long and so hard that my eyes live always in shadow.
I remember the parade of slightly-past-mid-life guys who tromped into Coco’s, three times daily; they sat at the counter, attempting simultaneously to flirt with the servers and look up their skirts, affecting what they imagined looked "cool," and trying desperately to recover the teen-appeal they never had. They lived sad, empty lives; and sometimes I let myself imagine to what they went home—little rooms, illuminated only with television’s eerie blue-gray glow; private places, where they hid stroke mags from no one but themselves, changing faces on the "models," replacing them with the Coco’s hottie du jour. "Bathos," comes to mind—a vocabulary word from that same era: pathetic beyond pathetic. I don’t want to become a "mature" man whose life has evaporated and whose function remains; I don’t want to grow-up to become a machine. "How can I help you?" the allegedly mature men repeat to the whole world, and all the people in it. In their private spaces, they change their tunes, sing-songing "I wish… If only… I wish." From the interrogative to the subjunctive; from the condition of the next life’s function to hypostatizing a world that never could exist. Phew! I scare myself with shit like that. A little too Berkeley for my taste, even if I can explain it in detail.
I don’t want to become one of those guys.
This afternoon, I asked, from habit and reflex, "How are you?" gazing into the comely blonde’s riveting blue-gray eyes, requesting a pack of cigarettes. "Super," she replied, meaning it. I stood there, sorting my reactions, remaining silent, keeping my eyes locked in hers; and, as she handed me a pack of Pall Malls, and caressed my palm with my change, I had to inquire, somewhere between flirting and genuine curiosity, "So, what’s the secret of ‘super’?" She didn’t even hesitate, didn’t stop to ponder, mull, ruminate, metacognate, or even really think; instead, she just knew. "Just being me," she beamed. Later, I reflected that being a comely blonde blessed with riveting cerulean eyes and basking in the late afternoon sun on a southern California Saturday, maybe "super" doesn’t require much more. My first reaction, however, sounded and felt a whole lot different. I felt jealous! The only word for it—"jealous!"—Exclamation point and all. If only it all came that simply and with such self-assurance… That’s my "if only [and an ellipsis]."
Jealous of what?
All that self-assurance and contentment without much hint of narcissism. After all, cute or not, a woman building her career at 7-11 cannot afford too much arrogance. All that confidence and not even a hint of affectation. She said "super" with quiet assertiveness. Not high on crystal or Jesus; not selling or pimping; just a fact—cold and hard as anything Joe Friday ever demanded. She had the kind of self-love I’m sure people imagine when they check the little box on the profile form. I wonder how many hombres understand the subtlety and complexity in that question; after all, the Y-chromosome usually mandates a big biceps-flex and a hero’s boast, "Wull, hell yeah, Ah luv mah ol’ self. Hell, yeah." The stroke mags are just catalysts for fierce fits of self-love. And I still remember Donna’s comment, as the fire truck raced-by, code 3, "Oh, look, a six-pack of dicks in a handsome carrying case." As I remember the moment, Donna smacked her lips after she quipped. Why do women affect powerlessness? They know, from age fourteen on, women know that they can bring almost any man to his knees, almost any time, and almost any place. Freud probably guessed right when he surmised that seduction had everything to do with persuading a man to compromise his authority. My experience tells me "the good doctor" guessed right; I might even go along with his well-educated guess that "hysteria" comes from a woman’s sensation that she has lost her power and prerogative.
Jealous of what, then?
Of that perfect and perfectly self-controlled, self-contained power. If the blonde in 7-11 had time and opportunity to elaborate, I’d stake a paycheck that she explain, elegantly, "Take me or leave me. God and I have collaborated to craft me just as I am. I’m fine without you; can you convince me that I’ll be fine with you?" Burden of proof rests on the guy. And maybe I envy that part, too: all that self-assurance defies rational proof or empirical data, asserting, "I’m fine simply because I declare that I’m fine. But you, el hombre con coraje, have to prepare the essay."
And that’s how I begin filling the ellipsis in my "if only…" If only I could find the proof that I won’t go curmudgeon, because The Great Author didn’t draft and craft me that way. If only I could substantiate the claim, "I’m not old; I’m classic." If only I could prove, "I’m not weird; I’m imaginative." If only I could close-up and scar-over that hole where my male-ego used to be.
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