Filed under: boys, Hyperbole | Tags: consumerism, feminism, Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman
Pete was my great romantic failure. To this very day. Not because, for once, I couldn’t make him love me, but because he loved me at a point in my life when I wasn’t trying to make him. He was the type who was ready to be married with babies by the time he was nineteen. We had a very sweet, perfect relationship that I was by no stretch of the imagination ready for. When I asked him what he did all day over the phone, he used to respond with a minute-by-minute laundry list. We once drove out to the International Buffet in Franklin Mills and spent a pleasant several hours watching this one family of fat people repeatedly send their fat little kids up to snake the line when the crab legs came out. He and my dad would e-mail each other about motorcycles. I have a hard time even talking about Pete because I fucked things up so badly. Not that I wish I hadn’t, because then the whole rest of my life would not have happened, but because it’s a lot more sad to fuck things up with someone who is trying to actively love you in a healthy way than it is to have other fuck-ups fuck up all over you because you’re scared of repeating the first case scenario. It was right around the time that Pete started talking about how it wasn’t that weird to get married really young that I first read The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. It was the absolute wrong thing for me to read if I wanted to continue being more or less happy with my nice, stable boyfriend.
In The Edible Woman, the protagonist is a young, sensible, post-college woman named Marian who gets engaged to her perfect-on-paper boyfriend, Peter, only to find that she suddenly can’t eat. At first it’s just meat, eggs, obvious animal proteins, but after awhile, she can’t eat anything that she can imagine being alive. This eventually includes vegetables and rice pudding. Marian can’t eat because she relates to her food; she also feels that she is being consumed as casually as one would grab a quick snack on the weekend. While this is going on, she has a series of strange random encounters with another man, Duncan, who is the Peter antithesis: he’s broke, he’s cerebral, he’s skeletally skinny and weak and manipulative and appealing in a dangerous way and basically about nineteen kinds of nightmare. Duncan gets all the good lines in the book. He says stuff to Marian like, “I can tell you’re admiring my febrility. I know it’s appealing, I practise at it; every woman loves an invalid. I bring out the Florence Nightingale in them. But be careful… [Y]ou might do something destructive: hunger is more basic than love. Florence Nightingale was a cannibal, you know.” Marian can’t resist. She ends up in a weird extracurricular kissing-only relationship with Duncan as she begins to act more and more unhinged around Peter. The book ends with Marian baking a cake that looks like her and trying to serve it to Peter so that he understands what has really been going on between them. He thinks she’s nuts (as is only appropriate) and takes off. Then Duncan appears at her doorstep. Marian is suddenly hungry. They sit down together and eat it; it’s just a cake after all.
The Edible Woman’s unassuming brilliance lies in the way that Atwood integrates all of the near-fantastical allegory into the character’s lives with an utterly straight face. It’s not magical realism; the reader is supposed to believe that Marian literally cannot eat because of sudden, symbolic identification with food as a living entity. Marian herself is as shocked as the reader is that such a thing could and would happen to her because she does not take herself particularly seriously; in fact, in a book populated by stock types and caricatures who all represent something, she alone seems to be an amorphous nonentity that could go either or any way in life. First there’s Ainsley, her wacky roommate who deceives another mutual friend into impregnating her so that she can have a baby and raise it by herself. Then there’s Clara, a college friend who can’t seem to stop getting pregnant and spends the book drowning in young children while maintaining a rather dour outlook about whether or not this is rewarding. The Edible Woman also pokes somewhat unkindly at three women from Marian’s job, the “office virgins.” The office virgins are all single, man-hungry, and terrified by the prospect of remaining that way. Peter is a dry portrait of a confirmed bachelor who decides to get married only after his last single male friend ties the knot and conducts his engagement as though it is a business deal. Duncan is, as he puts it himself, an amoeba: drifting and seeking to integrate whatever comes along into his own need to be taken care of and then rejecting that care. Marian goes through the book relating to all of these characters in a plausible day-to-day manner, while systematically rejecting all of their symbolic choices in life for herself. This is really why she’s going hungry: like her choices in food, none of the choices in life that seem to be available to her are acceptable. It causes her a great deal of torment until the end, when she realizes that she doesn’t have to decide or do anything at all, despite life’s enormous pressure to pick something. The pressure comes from the symbols, not from the actual process of living.
While Marian sort of ends up with Duncan at the end, it is understood that ending up with Duncan isn’t anything remotely close to a solution: he’s still Duncan, meaning, unstable and impossible and incapable of most reciprocal human contact–which is his entire allure. The prospect of having Duncan fill the spot in her life left by the fully-functional Peter is ludicrous even to Marian, who spends the entirety of the book unsure of what she is supposed to do with him while unable to stop herself from doing something with him. Atwood insinuates through this relationship that it’s ultimately more self-actualizing to do things and not know why than it is to do things because they fulfill the superficial qualifications of a good reason. Beneath that is a current of painful self-actualization being more important than the crap shoot fulfillment occasionally found in conformity.
What Atwood gives us with The Edible Woman is a deft and witty rendition of your basic quarterlife crisis. While the pressure to get married is not as urgent now as it was in the late 1960s, the various choices that need to be made during the years after college are still enough to make anyone crazy. It is only those who have already decided exactly who they are and what they are going to do with their lives who do not suffer from some sort of post-collegiate mania, where the future looms in a way that manages to be simultaneously terrifying and depressing. College is where you’re supposed to get over and done with all of the cliched self-actualizing activities like finding yourself and sowing your wild oats and following your bliss and learning from your mistakes. The deal is that after graduation, you’re supposed to go out and become a functioning member of society. What no one tells you about college is that you will not find yourself or sow your wild oats or follow your bliss or learn from your mistakes in any sort of profound way until you have to do it for real, and mean it, something that is difficult when you have had the safety net of identifying your life as that of a student, doing studentish things with other students. And unless they plan on staying in school forever, like Duncan does, the sudden removal of that safety net often comes as something of a rude and unpleasant awakening. Marian is like pretty much any other post-college woman I’ve known: when she fails to find an identity at her shitty entry-level job, she looks to whatever romantic relationship is standing the closest, hoping to find it there. Of course it doesn’t work. She has much more growing to do before she will be able to have a solid relationship without feeling consumed. Duncan, without providing an easy way out, does provide the kind of half-decent, whimsical impetus that only becomes an impetus when you are desperate for one. And Atwood’s portrayal of Marian is wisely muted, with the other characters reacting with only mild surprise or amusement to her various actings-out. When Ainsley, upon seeing Marian’s cake at the end, cries out in horror, “you’re rejecting your femininity!” we are more likely to laugh at Ainsley for being ridiculous than we are at Marian. If only because if only it were that simple.
Finding yourself isn’t simple. It’s a fucking mess every time if it’s done right.
For better or worse, I broke up with Pete and adopted this as my entire modus operandi in life. It’s hard to say whether The Edible Woman tipped the scales in favor of something I was already struggling against believing or if I just reacted that strongly to the ideas it presented, but I spent the next eight years playing the same story out with a whole host of Duncans. The “why am I doing this?” relationship dynamic was one I cultivated until it lost all scent and flavor, which was sad, because it was always the scent and flavor I wanted in the first place, the very thing stable relationships seem to lack after you’ve been chewing on them for awhile. It’s strange to find myself suddenly mature, almost against my will, at a point in life where I have made most of the important decisions that took me so long to make, and pick up The Edible Woman again. Not because everything is decided now; it isn’t. But I’ve made peace with that being the constant instead of whatever guy or whatever job or whatever situation falls into my lap when I’m not paying attention. I don’t have too many more breakdowns left in me. Not because the potential isn’t out there; it always is. But because it seems I’ve lost my taste for seeking it out purposefully. I’ve learned that life is hard enough when you’re happy and stable as it is.
Starting in 1997, college aged men between the ages of 19 and 23 began turning up dead in local bodies of water, many with no signs of foul play evident unless you count their extremely high blood alcohol content. Since the initial 1997 case, 38 similar cases have shown up across the country. Is it the work of a demented serial killer, gangs of wayward feminists, or simply the kind of plausible accident that we might expect to befall a certain small percentage of the nation’s young men? Are we to believe that a young man would go out and get so drunk that he accidentally, apropos of nothing else, fell into a lake or river near campus, and drowned? How about if it happened on an average of roughly five times a year for a period of nine years? What if we later discover that there were smiley faces painted on the nearby walls of 12 out of 39 watery graves, and that some of the smiley faces look “evil” and have “horns?”
Retired NYPD sargeant Kevin Gannon, along with retired homicide Detective Anthony Duarte, have taken on these cases as a sort of an old-guy labor back in 1997, when Gannon became “emotionally involved” with the family of 20 year-old victim Patrick McNeill. Says Gannon of the smiley face graffiti: “They’re laughing at the police. They’re happy they’re getting away with this and they’re getting a little more brazen.”
The case has attracted the attentions of many a crackpot, including this Men’s Rights Blogger, who categorizes the phenomenon as “organized androcide:”
“It has been suggested that the gang may be female,it is stated that the group is hiarchial in nature and widespread. Feminism preaches hate against men and I knew that with feminism and grrl power the outcome would be murder of men. If this were happening to any other group-minority or female and police would be all over it and John Walsh would be salivating to get it on the air. What do we get with this case? Sounds of crickets,that’s what. Feminism does have the clout to push this under the rug and everybody including the coronor wants to drop this ASAP.”
Charlie, a conservative Christian who writes the blog Sope Bocks, is also weirdly quick to point a finger at women:
“My Initial Theory: We may be looking at a couple (or more) female serial killers. Before you write off that theory, think it over. You’re an athletic, college age male, who’s been out partying with friends. You leave to walk home or clear your head before heading back to the dorms. A car drives up with a couple nice looking young ladies inside. They offer you a ride… maybe a promise of “some fun” … and a little something else to drink. How many horny college dudes would say no? One could answer — the ones who lived. Others are the reason for this thread — and hundreds more like it. The fem fatales leave a smiley face at the scene where they drop the unconscious or lifeless bodies of their victims into the cold water of the river (or local lake).”
What I do not understand is why it’s so difficult for some people to believe that roughly five white college aged men per year simply drowned, end of story. The statistics on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website cite 3,582 fatal unintentional drownings during 2005, averaging out to about ten per day. Males are also quoted as being four times more likely than females to die in this manner, and alcohol use is involved in up to half of the fatal drownings of adolescents and adults. It also states that most people over the age of 15 who drown do so in a natural body of water. But the most interesting thing I discovered on this site was that men, regardless of age, race, or education level, consistently reported greater swimming ability than women. So how does that translate into men being four times as likely to drown?
I guess it could be the nationwide serial killer or killers on the loose. But more likely, it probably has to do with something like this. I mean, do you know any white college aged men who don’t think they’re going to live forever?
Which is why I find it amazing that the slavering Men’s Rights Organization whackjob thinks that this is some sort of hushed up feminist conspiracy and the conservative Christian is looking for a way to pin it on a band of wild (probably liberal) hussies. Because frankly, it would be a far more satisfying explanation for these deaths than the age-old one we are left with: bad things can happen when you go stumbling home from the bar alone. And, in an ironic plot twist, not only to women.
As for the smiley faces… that’s probably the only thing I’d be able to think of to put on a wall too if I were ten and someone had just handed me a can of spray paint.
There was a time when I didn’t mind strange men sitting down at my table at the coffee shop and talking some kind of shit at me. Those were both simpler and more complicated times. On one occasion, the young man that plopped down across from me was a member of a traveling pack of hippies who toured the country just because they wanted to, camping out and making music. He didn’t look the type. He was clean-shaven and his hair wasn’t any longer than that of the art school boys I was used to. This would have been at least five or six years ago. Anyway, the traveling hippie musician had extra-twinkly eyes, the kind that make reasonable girls sit straight up and say, “here we go, charismatic alert, bolt for your life or be consumed.”
Being naturally susceptible to this sort of thing, I am amazed I never called the number he left me with after telling me that the traveling pack of hippies had a few openings for naked fairy girls covered in glitter. I mean, obviously I wanted to travel the country with my boobs out, dressed in a few scraps of moss and sparkling from not only the aforementioned glitter, but also the constant polygamous sex and various chemical substances that I was certain were present in the subtext of this kid’s pitch. If only just to say I’d done it.
In the end, I imagine I was smugly sure that this wouldn’t be my last chance to join a cult, and that as I got older, I could pick and choose among all the existing hippie cults of the universe until I found one that was the best match for me. But as it stands, I was never recruited again. It recently occurred to me that I am too old and jaded to be a naked fairy in a traveling hippie cult now. One of them would be like, “Wooo, we’re going to this town to BLOW their MINDS with our LOVE!” and I’d be all, “probably not, though.”
But wouldn’t it have been a great story?
M is the rainy day man and he crosses my mind every time I hear a clap of thunder. When I think of him, it is to wonder if he’s remembered his raincoat. The raincoat is a blue and yellow sporty number with a hood that can be pulled tight around the face or left alone to be a sort of rubbery cave. I used to think that there was something novel about the fact that M owns a raincoat. I feel like I don’t know many people who do. Really, though, he has to. If it is raining, M is invariably outside in the middle of it. If he doesn’t have the raincoat, he just gets wet, up to three or four times a day if necessary. Sometimes I think he even likes it when he gets wet, that he gets through it by pretending it is part of some elaborate survival exercise:“There might be inclement weather where you’re going, son.”
“I welcome the challenge, sir!”
He has a spare at his house, too. He lent it to me once. No sooner had it dried than M was on his way over in another rainstorm and I felt like some sort of fairy godmother, being able to give it back to him at a time when he needed it. Another time, he ran a marathon in the rain. When he called me from the phone at the bar afterward, his teeth were chattering. I had one sweatshirt that was almost big enough. It had probably belonged to some other boyfriend or friend’s boyfriend or maybe it was so old that it belonged to a boy who had been just a friend. It felt serendipitous. However it had gotten there, it was clear to me that I had the sweatshirt solely to loan it to M the day his teeth were chattering.
When M let me borrow his spare raincoat, I was in the middle of throwing a fit about the fact that it was raining outside. Then we stopped somewhere for a coffee and I threw another fit when I realized they hadn’t put the cream cheese on my bagel. M gave me a raincoaty hug and went to work. I remember thinking about how all of this must have looked to the barista. I was wearing Jen Manfra’s Anthrax T-shirt, ripped jeans, and yesterday’s eye makeup. M looked like he gets a haircut every three weeks and inspires great confidence from his fellow man. In the end, I was sitting there pouting at an empty chair.
“It’s a good thing you’re so interesting,” M said, when I called him later and apologized for being such a crazygirl. We hadn’t known each other very long then.
Sometimes I can see us turning into really creepy old swingers together, the kind that are completely oblivious to how uncomfortable we make the other couples who come over by showing them our new sex swing or willfully misreading our cue to get naked.
Starting on August 25th, students at Gonzales High School in Texas will wear a navy-blue prison-issue jumpsuit for a day as punishment for breaking the new dress code. Dress code infractions include: miniskirts, spaghetti-strap tank tops, facial hair, cargo pants, and T-shirts(?). The jumpsuit isn’t really being forced on anyone, school officials are quick to point out. A parent can bring in a change of clothes, or the student can observe an in-school suspension for the rest of the day. Parents are in an uproar: “Our children are not prisoners!”
The students themselves obviously can’t wait until school starts so that they can break the dress code and wear a prison jumpsuit all day. I bet they’d look kinda tough in a hot way on a girl, plus you’d get the satisfaction of starting the day out in a skirt short enough so that all the boys could see your underwear.
Congratulations on wasting your budget, Gonzales High School, and spawning a whole new fetish for teenage boys that they’ll probably carry with them well into old age. Sounds like a great year to me!
Body Fantasies Vanilla Fantasy: Smells like a Chips Ahoy, or any of the other brands of cardboardy store-bought chocolate chip cookies that come in a package. Serves its purpose, but there are better versions of this out there. Such as…
Body Fantasies Iced Cupcake Fantasy: Warm and creamy where plain old Vanilla Fantasy is hard and stale, this one smells like gobs of butter and sugar that you just want to smear all over your face and maybe your best friend, too. Tacky and overly sweet, but infinitely charming. Exactly the kind of thing that goes over big in the strip club.
Body Fantasies Cotton Candy Fantasy: Lord have mercy. My best friend in high school used to wear this stuff. Actually, she’d chase me around with it, threatening to spray it on my person until I was all but crying. I wasn’t kidding when I told her that it was awful, and I haven’t changed my mind since then, either. Trying to be slightly more objective, I gave it another sniff. Well, it lives up to its name. Cotton candy. Pink. Sticky. Rots your teeth. I like cotton candy, but this stuff is foul.
Body Fantasies Sexiest Musk Fantasy: Well, I’ll be ding-dong-damned if this isn’t the poor man’s Musc Ravageur. More gooey cinnamon bun than sweaty armpit, this scent combines the best things about a gourmand fragrance and a more straight-up skin musk note and comes out with what might be the ultimate stripper pussy spray known to man. It is sexy indeed, as well as sweet and hot and dirty and all the other adjectives channeled by those bad bitches who might as well give out the champagne room as their mailing address. If only I’d known then what I know now, I’d have been all over this one.
Coty Wild Musk Deodorizing Body Spray: I couldn’t find a proper link to it online, but this stuff is often sold in the big cardboard displays in drugstores with all of the other deodorizing body sprays. I don’t know how helpful that is, but I swear it exists. And it’s the best thing possible for eliciting that, “I like you because you smell like a woman” reaction. It doesn’t matter how thoroughly you drench yourself in this stuff, because it doesn’t smell like a traditional perfume. It smells like warm skin, Flex balsam and protein shampoo, and good times, baby, good times.
Bath and Body Works Hello Sugar!: Probably the only body spray I’ve ever bought post-stripping, this one is a cheaper version of Laura Mercier’s wildly popular Tarte au Citron fragrance. It’s the same buttery sugary cupcakey deal rendered in Iced Cupcake Fantasy, but with the addition of big old tart lemon note. Smells like a lickable birthday cake and like any good pussy spray, sticks to you all day. The only downside of this one is a poorly designed square-shaped bottle that, while cute, is hard to get a good grip on while you’re spraying it.
Bath and Body Works Velvet Tuberose: This is a ripe, tropical floral that smells a lot more expensive than it actually is. It doesn’t have the bizarre rubber-and-bad-butter quality of a true tuberose, but is rather a jasminey floral bouquet backed up by a nice dose of musk and some assorted woody accords. But true floral scents, I’ve found, are tricky in the strip club. They smell too much like other people’s wives to create that aura of exotic comfort that strippers rely on to weave their magic. Wear it, but save it for the boyfriend at home.
Victoria’s Secret Lovespell: The original pussy spray! If you have worked in a strip club, chances are the inside of your lungs have already been coated in this fruity-sweet concoction more than once (or no matter how quickly you moved out of its way). It’s grapefruit and berries, as far as I can tell, and it smells like stripper. I could theorize all day on why this is the pussy spray of choice for so many ladies of the pole, but probably this scent is so popular because it is perfectly inoffensive. It’s too tart to be cloying, too juicy to be sour, and too reminiscent of a fruit cocktail to be threatening. Fits in perfectly with my theory that Victoria’s Secret is the largest mass-market stripper store in the country.
Strip clubs do not smell good; I don’t care how nice they are. They smell like smoke and beer and bad breath and old carpets and body odor and the dusty smell of fog machines and the unmistakable auto-shop tang of the metal poles. Strippers, on the other hand, are supposed to smell good. But taking a shower is not really enough. Nor is dabbing a demure little drop of something expensive behind either ear. To cut through the thick haze of strip club funk, a stripper has to go on the offensive. The sweat and adrenaline of a job well done in the strip club are no joke, the kind of thing that the advertising team behind Secret deodorant’s “made for a man, but P.h. balanced for a woman” campaign could have used as an example. Only you’re not just supposed to smell acceptable. You’re supposed to smell like an expensive hobby or guilty pleasure. A new friend once asked me shyly how strippers got their hair to smell so good. I almost said, “pussy spray,” but caught myself.
“Body spray. Multiple applications of it. The cheap stuff. It cuts right through everything.”
I know that I used to give myself a good dousing. Back at Club Wizzards, where it was called “pussy spray” for reasons that remained elusive to me for far longer than they should have, I’d see girls standing off to one side of the room and spraying every single inch of their bodies with the stuff. I’d always heard that men didn’t like perfume, so I was careful with it at first. But after a few weeks, I caught on. I’d take whatever outfit I was planning on wearing and lay it out on the dressing room table and spray that down. Then I’d flip my head over and spritz a good three or four sprays through my hair. Then I’d do a walk-through. I’d do it all over again several times a night; every time I changed outfits.
These are the ones I used, over the course of my career, in chronological order:
Healing Gardens Lavender Bath Therapy: This one was the first, the one I bought after my first week of day shifts at Club Wizzards, the one I bought after I realized that not only was I coming back the next day, but the day after that, too. It was, like the rest of the gear I picked up during the earliest days of my G-string career, a totally misguided purchase. See, this smells like beautiful seashell-shaped grandma guest soap, with the kind of herbal astringency that makes sure you know that it is meant to be clean. I used up a whole bottle. “You smell so good,” guys would murmur into my neck. I took this personally because I didn’t know yet that they always say that, no matter what.
Bath and Body Works Cotton Blossom: This was the second bottle of pussy spray I went through at the Wizz. My obsession with squeaky-cleanliness had yet to ease up, and this was another soapy little girl-next-door number. It smells like fabric softener and warm sun and a little bit of musky skin. It was a sleeper hit with the other girls. They were always trying to nuzzle up on me after I put it on. After I’d used it up, they fought over who got to buy it for themselves after me, because we didn’t fuck around on another girl’s body spray flavor like that at this club.
Bath and Body Works Coco Cabana: My man up in the DJ booth hated the shit out of this one. “You smell like flowers,” he would tell me, glowering at me beneath a furrowed brow. “I don’t know what this is, but I don’t like it.” It was definitely a departure from my usual fragrance style and truth be told, kind of nasty: pina colada mixed with cocoa butter. Thick, unctuous, and undeniably tropical. I liked the smell of it, but wearing it was akin to being bodysnatched. If asked, I will deny, deny, deny that I stopped wearing Coco Cabana because a man didn’t like it. I stopped wearing it because he was right, it wasn’t how I was meant to smell.
Blue Q Miso Pretty: I picked this stuff up right after I made the transition from Wizzards to Cheerleaders and was trying to class up my game a little. This costs like twelve bucks instead of seven, you get it at Urban Outfitters, and it smells like peonies, fresh cut grass, and a delicate aquatic note. Lovely for a twelve year-old or a boardwalk date, but it didn’t really cut it in the strip club. Meaning: it wasn’t strong enough. It didn’t cut through the smoke in my hair or the musty, metallic smell that clung to my dance outfits after they’d been in my dance bag for a few shifts. I think I ended up leaving this somewhere before I’d used all of it up. I switched to Dior’s Hypnotic Poison after that, and that one is most of what I remember about Cheerleaders.
Bath and Body Works Night Blooming Jasmine: This one smells almost like a proper perfume, floral notes of lilac and jasmine balanced out against fresh, powdery underpinnings. But since it’s from Bath and Body Works, it packs the same weird fruity-alcoholic punch that all of their body sprays do. I’m convinced that whatever the thing is in body sprays that make them all smell like that is the magic ingredient that makes them so thoroughly effective at masking the permeating funk of strip clubs everywhere. But since the notes in Night Blooming Jasmine are not in and of themselves cloying fruity-weird ones, the fruity-weird body spray hallmark served mostly as an anchor. The house mom at the Crazy Horse was enamored with this one and I would spray a mist of it for her to walk through every time she saw me use it. I was mostly into “real” perfume by then, but I remember that this one tempted me back into pussy spray territory.
I’ve been sniffing around at the body spray display in my local drugstore a lot lately. This might have to be a mini-series.