Copyright © 1997 by David Reitzes
Originally published in the New York City Resident, May 7, 1997
Paul calls unexpectedly Friday afternoon. We catch up a bit. He describes his new apartment; I brag about placing some music reviews in two national magazines. He says he envies me. Good ol' Paul. He has a dynamite girlfriend who adores him, and he envies me.
I tell him I'm heading to the MoMA. Last time I was there on a Friday night the place was positively crawling with babes [babe noun 1: a physically appealing person -- usu. of the opposite sex. 2: a sexually desirable female -- usage sometimes taken to be offensive].
See, I hate crowds and I hate bars. So I don't go out much. Someone recently asked me where I liked to go in the city. "Home," I said.
So what the hell -- I figured I'd go look at some paintings, look at some women, talk to neither, feel like a creep, and call it a night. Somehow I talk Paul into joining me.
I'm in a funk before I even get there. Sitting on the N train amid a sea of Guess jeans ads, I'm glaring at a glossy image of a goateed hipster type who's grabbing his crotch and smirking back at me. I'm nurturing fantasies of a most violent nature, generally involving the business end of a garden spade and said hipster's face. There are a half-dozen or so women in the photos, most of whom have figures resembling those of underfed prepubescent boys. I have trouble telling some of them apart. One in a short white dress looks tired and oddly wary, so paper thin she almost seems transparent. I feel as though I'm somehow violating her.
Do normal people get upset over such things? Here I am growing increasingly offended by an ad in the subway -- an ad which, may I presume, was expressly designed to entice me. I don't get it. If I'm everyone's target demographic, why the hell do I feel so alienated? If everybody wants my money so badly, why am I so lonely?
"It's probably jealousy," I say to Paul as we loiter across from the MoMa.
We're both momentarily distracted by a petite but curvaceous chestnut-haired passerby in a tight striped top and a short skirt. "It's not jealousy," he says, taking a deep drag on his cigarette, his eyes following her skirt.
"The hipster goon has all these . . ." My voice trails off.
"Right, he had all these anorexic women swarming all over him."
"You like anorexic women all of a sudden?"
"No, no. I just feel like for some reason I'm supposed to."
Andy has a theory about it. She and Debbie are sitting with me and Paul in a deli somewhere on Lexington Avenue. We've all known each other for about ten minutes. Paul and I had just left the museum -- total washout, surprisingly sensual de Kooning exhibit notwithstanding -- and as he lit another cigarette, a tiny brunette came swooping down upon him, pleading for a smoke. Andy. Her friend said that Paul shouldn't let her have one. Debbie. He gave her one anyway. Ten minutes later the four of us are ordering dinner. And people wonder why Paul is my hero.
Andy's theory, which she's expounding with some intensity, is that the anorexic appearance of the models represents a step towards androgyny. Her reasoning is that the more curvy a woman's figure, the more of a sex object she is. By minimizing her physical attributes, she becomes more like a man, with the expectation of attaining some of the privileges men enjoy. Paul and I think it's sadism, plain and simple. I personally can't reconcile self-inflicted starvation with empowerment. Say what you will about Guess ex-poster girl Anna Nicole Smith, but at least I never felt guilty for ogling her eye-catchingly ample figure, nor did I feel I was doing anyone any harm. Am I mistaken? Can girl-watching now be considered an act of feminist solidarity?
Debbie advises Andy to calm down and says that everyone in the restaurant can hear her. It's true; Andy seems a little excitable. I don't care. I think it's cute. A little frightening, but cute. (I'm sure Andy would find that truly uplifting -- the fact that a guy she barely knows finds her passions a little frightening, but cute.)
Andy shrugs Debbie's words off. "See," she says, "women are supposed to be quiet and passive." She's right, of course. (Get with the Nineties, Debbie!)
Then comes trouble. Debbie wants to know what type of women Paul and I covet. She asks us each to name a celebrity who embodies -- so to speak -- his womanly ideal. Paul chooses Natassja Kinski, but neither Andy nor Debbie knows who she is. So then he decides upon Pia Zadora. (Pia Zadora???) I ask if we're talking about purely physical attributes. Duh. I name Teri Hatcher.
Andy perks up. "That's funny," she says, "some people say I look like Teri Hatcher."
There's a long, awkward silence. Ouch. Andy, trust me, you're cute as a button -- you just don't happen to look like Teri Hatcher. I can't say that, of course. It was a mistake to tackle Debbie's question at all. We should have steered the topic to a less volatile subject -- like, say, women's reproductive rights or sexual harassment in the workplace.
Or something we can all agree on, like stupid Guess ads.
Andy, Debbie -- eat, will ya? For God's sake, there are models starving on the N train!
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