I biochemically can’t get drunk or eat too much sugar. I’m too old to place vicious phone calls or stage street scenes. I’m too self-possessed to stalk. I’m ill-equipped for sobbing on someone’s shoulder. So being spurned transforms me instead into a befuddled natterer, the emotional equivalent of a violet-haired lady wearing one blue shoe and one brown shoe. Who doesn’t hear the kettle whistling until it’s utterly blackened. Who overflows the tub. Whose unopened mail piles up as she blankly watches her shows.
Which is not to say the distinctly unfresh smell of my car didn’t register with me this week–only that it registered very, very faintly. Really, I didn’t give it a second thought until this morning, when it dawned on me that the half-and-half I’d bought wasn’t in my fridge. That fact penetrated even my Billie Holiday fog for, no matter how bad things have ever gotten, I’ve always taken cream with my coffee. All metaphors attendant.
Upon my realization, I stopped short in my too-quiet kitchen and ran through all the events of the last week, fast-forwarding past the memory of his cold gaze as quickly as I could. My permakitten stood by my side, her tiny ears cocked supportively.
Finally I groaned, threw a trenchcoat over my nightgown, and ran down to the street, where I grimly opened my car trunk.
There rotted my groceries, purchased at Fairway right before I became a broken-hearted lady. The half and half, the parsley, the mint, the sweet little lambchops, the Bibb lettuce, the organic salmon, the locally sourced yogurt, and the toothpaste meant to replace the tube I’d emptied four days ago. Defeated, I stood motionlessly, staring. The spoils stared back accusingly: Where did you go? We’d had such plans together!
One of the neighborhood’s skinny Jeans popped out of her building just then, wrinkling her nose as she scurried by. I felt the sting of her young-girl disdain, her assuredness she’d never don such sadsack chic, never produce such a sadsack smell, never hold such a sadsack conversation with the slime of produce past. It was more than I was willing to bear.
Pride may goeth before a fall but sometimes it’s all that saves you from falling further. I straightened my spine, stowed the toothpaste in my pocket, and heaved the rest of those hopeful purchases into the garbage can on the corner. Then I marched back upstairs and brushed that man right out of my teeth.
And drank my coffee. Black.
En route to the coffee shop this Sunday morning, I was about as cross as I ever get. My 12-year-old car had been making a noise so ominous that I’d been forced to hoof it through the rain, and my cute umbrella was nowhere to be found. To make matters worse I was uncharacteristically nursing a hangover, which not only made coffee essential but the walk to fetch it pure misery.
Suffice it to say I’d not had the greatest Saturday night. It’d been the stuff of which Cathy Comics, rather than French movies, were made, and my hangover stemmed as much from the company I’d kept as from anything I’d actually imbibed.
So it was a morning when no one would’ve dared claim I was looking my best. Puffy-eyed and sallow, I was wearing the same matronly blue dress I’ve worn nearly every morning this summer—in my defense, dresses with pockets are very hard to come by—and my unbrushed hair stank of other people’s cigarettes and bad perfume. Nonetheless, as I passed the local pasticcera, one of the Italian fellows loitering under its awning looked me up and down, let out a low wolf whistle, and winked. Instantly I felt a million times better.
I’ve never been offended by that kind of male attention, never thought it compromised any of my deeply felt feminist principles. True, I don’t dig hustles or the you-like-what-I-like-so-I-like-you narcissism that passes for modern courtship. But a guy who just puts it out there without telegraphing his desire as a threat? Fuggedaboutit. That’s old-school Brooklyn in the very best way. More to the point, that’s Italian men.
To be clear, I don’t mean “Italian-American” men. I am referring to the men who were born in Italy rather than the ones who have an Italian grandmother. I am referring to the men who bolt espressos rather than Dunkin’ Doughnut coffees to keep their hearts beating. I am referring to the men who mostly speak in grunts, hisses, and explicit hand gestures.
I had one of those boyfriends. He was tall and broad-shouldered with long, ropy arms, old-soul eyes, and tanned, rosy skin. I met him not far from the Long Island beach house my friends and I rented one summer. He was working construction as a literal WOP—that old derogatory acronym for an Italian guy without papers—and when I walked by his site he whistled through his teeth. I looked up to find him nodding his head. “Principessa,” he said. Or at least that’s what I thought he said. I was distracted by his slow, sexy grin. Continue Reading →