This is the second in a series. Here is the first.
I had not thought the second day would warrant its own post. But there were events.
I have driven from a continuation High School, where at risk students are trying to graduate High School. They are profoundly normal teenagers. Most are male, most are hispanic. I helped them with geometry. I wore pants.
I park on the street near my college and change into my mother’s skirt. This is Day 2 of wearing the skirt to school, and I’m wearing the same turquoise skirt as on Day 1, this time with a belt. My mother’s skirt has seven belt loops. I love my mother.
Remove the scooter from the trunk, unfold it, scoot.
Intersection. A right turner, I fix him with my gaze, he pumps the brakes. Isn’t that some childrens game? You can only move when whoever’s “it” is looking away? Cars play that game. I never knew, till I wore a skirt, and was briefly too embarrassed to look.
My first pedestrian. I resolve to not be self-conscious, to stare as normal. Easier said than done, but not so hard as you might think.
I look at hair. I look at faces. I look at the concrete.
I’ve only rarely looked at concrete.
I am early for class, so I go the library, to the third floor, where the STEM students form study groups. First, I go into the bathroom, and take a selfie.
I enjoy taking a picture of myself wearing a skirt in a grossly masculine setting. Next I pick a table. I write what I’ve thought on the way. In between spurts of writing, I read the section of Walden entitled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” It is for class.
By writing, I think better than I otherwise would, and I ask myself, on the commute, did I read a single T-Shirt? I passed through a tunnel of sapling Jacaranda. How have they grown since I last saw them, two days before? Have they any blossoms? How is the grass of the field? How fares the rock garden that butts against the Kai Pheta Whatsit building?
I’ve no idea, so clearly, I am still too busy being self-conscious to be conscious of much else. Though it’s not so bad as on the first day.
Normally, I am a gawker. As the tourist sees New York, so I aspire to see the back of my hand. That which I have not seen I stare at because it is new to me, that which I have seen I stare it, because, knowing it, I take a proprietary interest. Perception is 90% of the law.
“I am Monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute.”
Thoreau quotes that in the section of Walden I’m reading. A man at the next table says to his friend, “are you that self-conscious?” He says it right now, exactly in the text as it occurs. Reality is themed.
Having seen a place once, I am King of it, it is my land, we are bound together. Do you know the myth of the Fisher King? It is this. Has a sapling leaned from its support? I shall right it. Trash strewn about? I put it where it ought to be. Invasive baby palm trees? Ripped out, or their heads cut off. A sprinkler burst? The city is called. Weeds bursting up through cracks in the concrete? I stomp on them, kick at them, scatter their corpses in the gutter.
Though I’ve made no application, the city has seen fit to offer me a stipend for these services—pennies scattered in my path. I squat to pick them up. Would I squat in a skirt? I am frightened to. I shall squat in this skirt, at the first opportunity.
So I have worn a skirt to school, and now I sit in the library, writing about wearing a skirt to school. What a bold thing am I! How adventurous and aggressive. Breaking the bones of the earth to suck out it’s marrow. Sitting, skirt hidden beneath the tabletop, scratching away in my notebook.
To be fair, it is no departure from my usual habit.
What mountains I make of my nerves.
I’d thought this would be an exercise in seeing what happens when I break gender conventions. It turns out what happens, at least on my college campus, is I get a lot of funny looks. But there’s value here. I’ve become self-conscious.
I am no stranger to that. The fear and confusion at every social step. My tongue sticks between my teeth while I consider proposing a trip to movies. Not asking a girl for a date. Suggesting to a friend we do something. Worse, an almost friend, a friendly acquaintance, trying to expand that friendship outside the bounds of the classroom or the workplace. Brrr.
But it’s new to feel self-conscious in a crowd. Normally, I am confident in proportion to my anonymity.
John Berger, the art critic, back in the 70s wrote, “According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned, but by no means have been overcome… a woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.”
This, written by a man, is one of my earliest exposures to academic feminism. Was it true then? Is it still true now? That, in many situations, women are habitually more self-conscious than men? It sounds miserable. It sounds plausible.
It would explain why women wear long hair. I had long hair once. I grew it out for Locks of Love. They make wigs for kids with some disease. I forget which. I think it’s not cancer. I hated the long hair. It was uncomfortable, especially in the summer. I was ecstatic when I finally cut it off, and it seems incredible to me that most women do something so uncomfortable merely for aesthetics.
Now I wonder if it’s because they’re self-conscious in short hair. Probably, there are other reasons.
Why had I supposed anyone would care what I wear? They never have before. What must a straight white male do to be socially oppressed? Clearly this is not enough. The closest thing I know is to go on twitter and disagree with a feminist about something.
It can be anything. I might tell her that the problem with representing masculinity as monolithic isn’t that it lacks nuance. That’s nitpicking. It’s that it fundamentally misunderstands the landscape. The assumption seems to be that there is a certain universal toxic masculinity. Some men have more of it, some have less of it, but it’s all same thing. This isn’t true. Diversity is real. What’s within me is quite different from what’s within him. We both have problems, but they’re not the same. Coming not just from different places, but different directions. To tell us all to go east is good advice only for a fourth.
I could tell her that what fall within norms is constantly negotiated. It might be considered a culture war if it weren’t so polite and oft unspoken, coached in the subtleties that women call “emotional repression.” I could tell her that careless representation of toxic masculinity is nothing but excess masculinity promulgates that idea that men are supposed to be violent, entitled, emotionally suppressed, and frightened of strong woman. That it weighs in on the side of those she and I would both most like to see lose.
If I do that, I can be called all sorts of names. I can have my right to have opinions on men challenged on the basis that I’m a man. Delegitimatized, ignored, dismissed.
From what I gather, this complaint that I have, of not being taken seriously, of being assumed wrong till proven otherwise, of being deligitimatzied, ignored, dismissed, is a complaint women have of most conversations with men. A regular part of their lives. For me, it is unusual, and hard to put aside.
Men are rather unified and monolithic in that we do not wear skirts, don’t you think? And a thousand other things. That which is common, that which is near universal masculinity, is my water, I don’t see it. I see through it. Have you heard that fable, of how fish have never heard of water?
We may all be of the sea, but that Cuttlefish have committed crimes of their own makes them no less offput at being called to account for the wrongdoings of sharks.
That may be a bad metaphor. The twitter fems would tell me so.
An Australian male news anchor noticed his female colleagues got a lot of flack over what they wore. Mostly from female viewers. So he wore the same suit for a year. No one noticed.
I’m so very glad no one cares what we wear.
I go to class. It’s the class for which I’m wearing the skirt, as my project. It’s the second day I’ve come in a skirt, and this time people ask me why I’m wearing a skirt. I’d thought everyone knew, but in fact it was only those sitting near me who knew.
I am not the center of the world.
I explain. It is cheerful. My classmates are mostly women. It is suggested that I “go to 21” (which I assume is Forever 21) and get a skirt there. Some have pockets, and I can get them cheap, for between 15 and 40 dollars. 40 dollars sounds expensive to me.
In class, we talk about Walden, a book review, and paying attention. Paying attention. Reality is themed.
In class, three minutes of guided meditation. A video of a British man telling me to focus on my breathing, to listen to each individual part of my body, and every individual part of my body, thrilled to have my attention, demands to be stretched. I stretch them all. Meditation is just a way to get limber.
The Professor encourages us to go see the art exhibit on the fourth floor of the library, and dismisses us. I think I’ll leave the class along with Alexis, who I have been talking to, and ask if she’s planning to go to the art exhibit in the library, and perhaps we’ll go together.
But she is talking to the professor.
I have put everything in my backpack, zipped it, taken it off, re-organized it, and zipped it again, and she still isn’t done talking. I leave. Waiting would be presumptive. Making friends with girls is even more confounding than making friends with guys. There’s more to be gotten wrong. Besides, I have to pee. I walk quickly for the restroom, do my business quickly, thinking there’s a decent chance that, as I’m heading back down the hallway, I may see her.
That’s what happens. From a step behind I ask her whether she’s going to the exhibit. She asks if I’m going.
I say yes.
She says she’d totally forgotten about it, thanks me for reminding her, and says she’ll go now.
I am uncertain. Does this mean we’re going together? I should’ve phrased my question better. I consider whether, when we reach the doors, I should peel off in my own direction. Tagging along would be weird.
She says she’s glad to have someone come along.
Whew. Yeah. Now in a unit, I’m less self-conscious. I am group-conscious instead. I savor the vision of a man in a skirt walking alongside a pretty woman who is a tad taller than him.
Her project is about productive leisure. Everything from knitting to going for walks. I ask, then, if she’s going to take the stairs to the fourth floor. She says, the elevator. But we get there, and she takes the stairs.
I hope I was not just party to the prosecutorial culture of fitness.
We see the art. It’s nice. There are giant “flowers” made of many silver plastic bags. Chip bags, with the pigment stripped off? There is bright yellow at the base, which sometimes reflects. So the color is hidden beneath the petals. Backward blooms. As I walk between them, I hold the skirt close, fearful of it sweeping into the installation.
There are paper towels that have been dipped in resin. They’re on the floor, standing upright, one against another, a little like a row of dominoes, or salt water doodles in the sand. Again, I am careful.
We look at the rest. We look at it all. She leaves. I stay a little longer. It takes time to really look at something. That time taken, I leave. Scootering back to the car, I remember to pay attention. The Jacarandas are bigger than two days before, but not so much that I can notice. There are no blossoms. There are brown, dry, wide open seedpods, and green seedpods that have yet to crack, but few seedpods in between.
To the car. It’s well in shade. Here, my memory starts to be confused. I must at times guess. Bear with me. I start the car, it starts with barely a protest, and I’m off. I get into a left turn lane, and because we’re into evening, I turn on the lights.
The car shuts off.
The left turn light blink on. Friendly green arrow. The cars in front of me turn left, and I turn on my hazard lights. I put the car in park, and restart the car. I go forward, but I have missed the light. I turn on my own lights and the car again shuts off. The 18-Wheeler behind me keeps its distance.
I wait for the left turn arrow to come back on, not very worried. I’m driving a ’99 Nissan Sentra, and I typically turn off the air conditioner when I need to accelerate. It does stuff. One of its usual tricks is turning off right after I have turned it on. It does this only when it’s low on gas, and indeed, the needle is at less than a quarter of a tank. Invariably, if I get the gas peddle pressed before the engine turns off, it’s fine thereafter, and in this case I’d already done that, but it happened when I was idled, so it seems like just an extension of the usual. I’ll buy some gas at the first gas station.
The light is green. I start the car; it goes, I drive through the intersection, wait for the engine to really have been running, and turn the lights on again. The car goes, shudders, goes, shudders, cuts out. By inertia, I pull to the shoulder.
I start the car again, and am waiting at another light when the engine fails. Now the car, rather than being in idle, is basically in neutral, and it slips backward down the hill, toward the car behind me.
I slam the brake peddle in time and take a breath. I get the car going again, get it to the gas station, which luckily is just up the hill, and put in 10 dollars worth, thinking this will solve all ills. I try the lights while still in the lot, and the car yet runs. I pull to the driveway, and turn right onto Temple.
I see, on the side of the road, a white male, and an asian female. They’re about my age, holding hands as they walk. It’s dusk, and they’re backlit by the bright fluorescent lights of a 7-Eleven. Acrylic silhouette. Photogenic, if I had a camera. I have my eyes instead.
The car turns off. On a busy road, right before a freeway on-ramp. I hit the button for the hazard lights, but this time even the hazard lights don’t work. I put the car into park, twist the key, but there’s not a sound. Try again, not a sound. Perhaps I try a third time.
I open the car door and yell to the photogenic couple, who have turned to look. “Could you help me push this in there!” Pointing to the 7-Eleven. I am almost where I’d be to start a right turn into it.
I glance into the car, and when I glance back they are behind the car, ready to push. I think that, rather than running, they apparated.
I put the car in neutral, and with my right hand on the wheel, my left on the door, my shoulder pressed to the door frame, and my feet on the asphalt, we push. I fear it will be too much for us, but it moves easily. I look back. A third samaritan has appeared. We go up the driveway into 7-Eleven’s lot. I manage the right turn mostly with one hand on the wheel. We stop pushing, conduct a brief consultation, and we push it into a empty parking space at the back of the lot. It’s a fine parking job, well inside the lines.
I am wearing the skirt, and the whole time, I worry that I am wearing the skirt. They come up to me, and if any of them notice, I don’t notice.
I thank them. The third samaritan is a trim hispanic man somewhere between 35 and 50. He tells me to start the car, so that he may listen to the engine. Being a College Man, I know that this is High Wizardry, and he is a Wizard. I shall call him Gandalf.
I start the engine. It starts. Gandalf tells me to give it some gas. I rev the engine. The engine cuts out. He describes signs and portents beyond my ken, and amidst the torrent of mystical words, I latch onto one. “Injector.”
I thank him, and shake his hand. I thank her, and shake her hand. I thank her friend, and shake his hand. Smiling all around. They know they are good people. I know the world is full of good people. We’re all happy. They leave.
I collapse into the car. Covered in a sheen of sweat. Adrenaline rush.
And once more I’ve confirmed, no one gives a shit whether a guy wears a skirt.
I call home. This blog now reveals more of my personal life than I had planned.
My oldest sister answers. I ask her to put Mom and Uncle Steve on the phone. She says Mom is at Choir practice. I say, “Just Uncle Steve, then, and you should stay on the line.”
She asks, “Why? Have you been arrested?”
I wonder what I have ever done to make that to jump to her mind. “Car trouble,” I say.
Uncle Steve says he will come, using my oldest sister’s car.
I should explain. I do not have a car. I borrow my Uncle’s. My culture tells me this means I’m pathetic. I don’t disagree. Sometimes I pretend it’s my car. Sometimes I refer to it to others as “my car.” This is why I’m not really upset. It isn’t my car. I won’t be paying for the repairs. This is only an adventure. I wish I were having it on a fuller stomach.
I change from the skirt into pants. I want to be panted in subsequent conversations. Perhaps with the man with from Triple A.
I take out a notebook and an automatic pencil, and open all the windows. Hand cranked. I stick my feet out the driver’s side window and recline against the parking brake.
There are two lights on an exterior wall. They are on for thirty seconds, then off for thirty second. Some such interval. Security lights. When they are on I mostly write. When they are off I mostly look. Chasing the light, I adjust my position, now leaning out the window.
In front of me, a Coca-Cola truck. Coca-Cola, Since 1886. A white man a little older than I, shifting Coca-Cola products from wooden pallets onto a dolly, wheeling them into the 7-Eleven. He normally comes at 10 at night, but something happened at the factory. Something to do with a truck. Automotive failure. Reality is themed.
So I learn from eavesdropping on his conversation with a man from the 7-Eleven. He is fortyish, hispanic, chubby, has a red coat with a name tag, and he smokes. I assume he’s the manager.
A car pulls in to the space next to mine. The driver has blond hair bound in a simple bun at the back of her head, tufts sticking wildly up, pseudo alfalfa. She looks at her lap. A phone?
The security light flicks on. She’s a young woman, she’s… light-skinned black? The hair’s blond, isn’t it? Maybe dyed? Not blond at all? Punnet squares? Even with light, it’s still dark.
She turns and looks at me. I continue looking directly at her. She entered my view, therefore, she is my view. I am wearing pants again, gawking per normal. She looks away, then back at me, I glance briefly up and to the right, then back.
The security light flicks off. Color flees, shape remains. I stare at her. She stares at me. I can see her eyes, dark on white, and they move in marvelous ways. She puts the car in reverse, and leaves the lot. Perhaps she was always stopping quickly, just to receive and send a text. Or I scared her. Probably I scared her.
I get out. There is a cloud that looks like Goofy playing football. If you’re determined to find it, there is always a cloud that looks like Goofy playing football. There is a planter full of mossy artificial turf. Two baby palms, Queens I think, are growing up through it. I don’t know which I hate more, palms or turf.
I have my answer when I stomp on the palms.
My Uncle comes. He starts the car. The car cuts out. He calls Triple A, and we wait for the tow truck.
The Coca-Cola man loads the last of his product on the dolly: Coca-Cola itself, and Smart Water. I go into the 7-Eleven and buy two packs of peanuts. One is “Hot Peanuts.” The other is “Sea Salt and Vinegar.”
Leaving the store, I open the “Sea Salt and Vinegar” and realize it is not, in fact, “Sea Salt and Vinegar.” I have grabbed the wrong package. It is caramel covered peanuts, which I can’t eat, because I’m diabetic, but I try one anyway. It’s atrocious.
Having grabbed the wrong peanuts is the worst part of my day.