Delicate, graceful sips. Too delicate, in fact, for an overpriced, low-grade airport bar Zinfandel. She said she loved it, at least the gesture of a young man buying her a drink after bumming her a cigarette in front of the Sky Harbor terminal, but all the elegance in the world cannot mask the rancid bouquet of a shitty Chilean vino.
She was leaving her husband-to-be, flying back to her native Balkan homeland to see if she could salvage what was left of her professional and personal life.
"American men, pfft!" she said. "Worse than Russian men."
I smile as the woman explains her predicament. She's visibly angry but, well, glad to have someone who'll listen. I may, in fact, be the last U.S. citizen other than a flight attendant that she converses with for a long time.
* * * *
There was a time, for those born with a penis or from within this continent, when North America's men were thought of as being as iconic and desirable as we are in our globally broadcast media, in our frontier literature and poetry and Western shoot-em-ups and love stories, thought to be the perfect Modern Life Partners of Tomorrow by the romantic dreamers of Eastern Europe and the Least Developed Nations of the Southern Hemisphere.
But, well, when the Iron Curtain fell and the Third World started clawing its way into the Internet Age, that entire mythology was soon stripped down to a harsh, bitter reality. We're not - and never were - the models for a liberated, independent manhood our writers and actors have made us out to be.
And, to be fair here, North American women aren't exactly considered leaders in the liberation/independence arena anymore, either. I once had a women's rights activist, from an African nation, no less, refer to the so-called Women's Movement on this continent as nothing more than an academic joke, risk-free beyond a fiery lecture or blog post in the war against evils such as wartime rape, sex slavery, or even women's reproductive rights.
But I digress...
This is about North America's men. And there are too many men on this continent who value golf more than their partners, men who would kill to keep their toys pristine and perfect before they'd defend their spouse's rights to self-determination, men who are more like the Ming the Mercilesses of a Discompassionate Capitalism than the Flash Gordons of New World independence.
* * * *
She thought she'd fallen in love with a cowboy - a real, honest-to-God COWBOY! - on a Mediterranean cruise a few years back. He said he owned a ranch, horses and cattle, drove a big pick-up truck. He talked a good game, too, with promises of citizenship and endless trips to Las Vegas and the Hawaiian Isles.
They made love the first night they met, spent the rest of their holiday together, made love across Italy, Greece, and southern Spain. And they parted ways to return to their home countries, emailed and talked on the phone and wrote each other long love letters.
And then, despite her still Soviet-leaning mother's warnings about the evil Capitalists of the West, who were JUST like the Russian capitalists, she decided to leave her country just as its civil problems were subsiding and to move to the good ol' United States to be with her boyfriend.
She threw away her blossoming career in a developing free market economy, cast aside her doubts and her advanced college degrees in the applied sciences...
... Only to waste whole months of her life playing babysitter to a "cowboy" who turned out to be nothing more than an alcoholic, abusive prick who'd inherited a Big Western U.S. ranch, chopped it into tiny pieces of real estate, and sold it off to suburban developers for enough cash to live the carefree life of a lazy multimillionaire.
* * * *
She'd finally decided to return home after picking up an adjunct teaching job at a university for a semester in her field. After all, she'd been a professor back home...
The Bullshit Cowboy demanded that she quit. She wasn't fixing him dinner every night, wasn't making sure their Mexican housekeeper wasn't stealing his gringo finery, wasn't spending time with his buddies' wives shopping and doing girl things. She was, after all, another piece of gringo finery in his collection, a thing herself.
His jealousy and anger, his insistence on her being able to fly to Cancun during midterms or to cancel classes because he needed a pretty armband to gamble with him, ended up proving her mother right: love can't be bought, even in the West, even by a wealthy wrangler wannabe.
* * * *
She finishes her wine with a swirl of the last sip and a final delicate tipping of commercial-grade stemware. I ask if she'd like another; she says she doesn't want to abuse my kindness or for me to get the wrong idea about her. She's put down two glasses already and a plate of potato skins, all on my credit card.
And I'm almost half her age, a young man, after all. Young men who buy women drinks in airport bars...
"Honey, if I'm ever in your neck of the woods, and we meet again, you can pay."
"You are - how do you say - a 'ladykiller,' eh? Flirting with old women..."
"Nope. Just been where you are now. And your ex must be an idiot to let a woman like you..."
Sometimes, a North American, particularly a natural-born man of these ol' United States, just has to do his patriotic duty and buy a No-way-she's-really-44! Balkan woman a drink in an airport bar.
And the best displays of patriotism, the best my country has ever had to offer the world, has always been through our often senseless acts of compassion. The same holds true for my compatriots in Canada, in Mexico, in the Caribbean and even Greenland.
Hey, the women of the Developing World once thought American men were the solution to their own problems, and relief to the coldness of the officially sex-neutral alternatives offered by Soviet-style communism, once thought we were the icons of our silver screens, all Errol Flynns and Clark Gables and Cary Grants, Deerslayers and cowboys, astronauts and athletes and the Men of Tomorrow.
How far those iconic visions fall from the truth, sometimes.
- MORE -
CINCINNATI (ZP) -- They were like overgrown fratboy versions of gorillas trapped in a zoo, throwing bullshit bravado about like lower primates throw turds at elementary school kids on a field trip.
Affirmative Action. That was why this trio of Local U. alums couldn't find jobs. How these supposedly educated men ranted about illegal aliens and minorities, about Feminazis and peaceniks!
I mean, c'mon... who HASN'T blamed their lack of a job on ... er... liberal media bias?
Never mind that they'd spent their undergrad careers building resumes full of student activities, social events, and the occasional charity gig. Never mind, too, that the only jobs any of the three had ever worked were summer jobs in high school, as lifeguards and caddies at country clubs.
They did internships, goddammit! INTERNSHIPS! They typed up copy, fetched coffee for lower management! And my God! Who could live off that Fortune 500 company's offer of ONLY 30K a year? They have expenses, need to buy new SUVs, buy houses, plan those trips to Europe, get hot corporate exec-style bitches!
And who, right of college, should be expected to work for - GASP! - less than $70 thousand a year? In Ohio? That's, like, what poor people make!
* * * *
"Dude, what do you pull down? I mean, librarians must make, what? A hundred grand a year?"
Oh suuuure, I thought to myself. Educators are just rolling in the dough.
Hell, I know library and museum employees who would kill to pull down thirty grand a year. There are public librarians working in cities eligible for fucking government assistance, teachers in rural areas living below the poverty line along with their students.
But, no, it's Affirmative Action laws and not the unrealistic expectations of the lazy, not the lack of experience or the arrogant salary demands of recent college graduates who don't seem to understand that nobody gives a shit how many Greek Weeks their organizations won.
Welcome to a shitty job market. Now suck it up and go scrape by like the rest of us poor people living below your lifestyle poverty line...
* * * *
The woman who'd invited me down to dine with her and her friends snickered as I rolled my eyes and looked at the clock on my cell phone.
She knew I was bored. She knew I'd be bored when she invited me to hang out with her childhood friends and their respective boyfriends. That was the point, after all.
I've written about the ol' Local U. in Oxford Fucking Ohio from primarily my prospective and those of other Oxford residents. It's about damned time I wrote something about what other Ohio college students and graduates see, particularly when their friends return home with that expensive Local U., Public Ivy parchment in hand...
Her parents were retired schoolteachers. And they'd made, like, so much money in their lives that she'd been able to coast through college on as little as a shitload of financial aid, two jobs, and four credit cards' worth of debt.
She'd been accepted to the Local U. but couldn't afford it. She went to a supposedly less prestigious state school, graduated, and took the first job she could find - outside her preferred career path. Hey, she waited tables through college - there's no way retail sales could be any worse. Money's money in a faltering economy, after all.
* * * *
"Yeah, whatever. How much you pulling down on that web site? You know, with ads and shit?"
"Um, I'm an ad-free blogger."
"What about those-"
"Nonprofits and charities. I don't make money off the thing."
All three of these supposed future leaders looked at me as if I'd just murdered their firstborn child, recrucified Jesus of Nazareth, and had shat along the hallowed sidewalks of Wall Street.
No money? Write for... fun? As a hobby?
Oh, the horror. The horror of it all.
* * * *
When it came time to pick up the tab, the gorillas were the last to go for their wallets.
They waited. Waited to see how much of the check their employed girlfriends would pick up. After all, THEY were the ones who would have to go beg Mommy and Daddy for money later in the month...
Everybody paid cash and tipped out the waitress. I tipped my five bucks. My host, a former server herself, tipped a whopping ten bucks on a twenty-dollar share - mainly because of the server, an attractive, perky light-skinned black woman from Downtown, had been forced to deal with her friends' obnoxious drunken beaus. Her friends tipped out at the standard fifteen percent, to the penny.
And the jobless trio, the future leaders of industry who were being stripped of their destiny by the welfarish slave wages of the middle-class, by women like our server?
They tipped a combined two dollars and fifty-three cents. On more than one hundred dollars' worth of alcohol and food. One of the chachballs even made a point of handing the waitress his dollar and telling her saying something like, Keep the change.
I dropped an extra ten-spot on the table. If I hadn't, well, I'm fairly certain I would've dropped three overgrown pricks right there in a crowded restaurant.
As somebody who worked his way through college and who volunteers his free time to help out Local U. students in the same boat as he was, well, there's no way to explain my rage in even normally profane terms...
"Bro, yo! You tipped twice."
"Yeah, it's all that mad librarian money I make."
There's a reason you're begging for Mommy and Daddy Warbuck's help, boys, even with those expensive pieces of parchment.
And it ain't Affirmative Action...
- MORE -
OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- He plopped down on the barstool beside me, tipsy but strangely perplexed.
A few minutes earlier, I'd made a joke about his mother. A mutual acquaintance had, well, been so drunk as to make a pass at his mom (a very nice lady, really) the night before. And I'd, well, just had comment on it...
It wasn't even an obscene crack. Almost PG-13 in intensity. Nowhere near the usual sorts of Dude, I fucked your Mom last night... or I would've called but your Mom wouldn't get her fat ass off my face... maternal barbs commonly overheard at the ol' Local Watering Hole.
Calm night for insults all around, actually. Not a single Dead Baby joke to be heard, only one reference to sodomizing dead celebrities, not even jokes about clown suits and child molesters...
* * * *"Can you fucking believe that fucking guy? What the fuck, man?"
Another, more intoxicated bar patron had apparently overheard my friendly insult. And apparently, wherever he usually drinks away his Friday nights, it's not in the same sort of bar this one happens to be.
"Dude, that asshole said I should punch you in the fucking face for, like, talking about my MOM!"
"Yeah, he, like, even said he'd do it for ME for twenty bucks!"
"You're fucking shitting me..."
"No, serious. This fucker just wouldn't shut up about it..."
* * * *
Obviously, like I said, the would-be hitman hadn't visited the bar before. It's the sorta saloon where mothers are the natural target of every obscene jester's insults, even amongst the women who frequent the place.
And, well, if ya drink or eat there enough, well, trust me, your mom will turn into a punchline, too.
* * * *
"Dude! Wait!"I said, killing off my pint. "That skinny-ass bitch wanted to fight ME...for YOU?!?"
The guy sitting beside me, you see, is a former high school and college football player. Besides the usual Your Mom jokes, he's often pelted with wisecracks about everything from 'Roid Rage to being a dumb jock stereotype. And, well, he's built like a brick shithouse. The guy's got arms the size of tree trunks.
"Yeah, crazy. We've been doing this for, what? Three fucking years?"
"Well, maybe you shoulda taken the money. I mean, I dunno... do ya think I could take all 120 pounds of him? I mean, I'm, like, a librarian an' shit..."
Ya know, I'm not exactly built like your stereotypical librarian. In fact, I'm more likely to be mistaken for a cop or a Marine, given my build. Kinda built like a brick shithouse myself, given my profession.
Not to brag here, but I'm fairly certain that would be one physical information literacy lesson that poor scrawny kid would remember.
And that, well, was funnier to my former football player friend than the crack about his mother.
- # # # -