Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gender wars

Tonight was ridiculous. I went to see Times columnist Maureen Dowd, the scathing, intelligent, beautiful, curvaceous, well-facially-structured, name-dropping, thiry-minutes-late-arriving, nickname-bestowing, witty, erudite, urbane, Blue State queen Maureen Dowd, at Barnes and Noble in Union Square.

The discussion was to start at 7, and I arrived at 5:45 and dumped my bag in the seat beside me to continue reading a case for class tomorrow. I had spoken with James on the phone and knew he was coming. There was an announcement from the Book Clerk Nazis, the frustrated writers whose only chance for real literary success is through osmosis - thus the smock and nametag at B&N. There was to be no saving of seats, they said. It was packed.

I thought long and hard about this rule. I thought it was dumb. I thought Maureen Dowd could never love a man so gutless as to succumb to such a rule. So I kept the seat for James, refusing to acknowledge its unoccupancy. It's not a free seat, I would think. It's James', he's just not here yet.

A woman in a turquoise sweater sat down on the other side of the empty seat. "Are you sure he's coming?" she asked after another barking reminder from the Book Clerk Nazi. I did not appreciate her concern. "Yes, he lives two blocks away," I said quickly, pleased and dismayed at my ability to lie effortlessly. Finally he arrived and I smiled curtly to Turquoise, reasserting my honesty and ability to handle my business. Thanks, amiga.

Twenty minutes later. Mo is nowhere to be found and the seats are packed. People are restless. Suddenly a woman walks up and starts speaking to the man on the other side of Turquoise. The order of people is: Woman (in the aisle), me, James, Turqoise, Man. I couldn't bear to look up, so here is the exchange as I heard it (with some corroboration from James):

Woman: You didn't save me a seat?
Man: No, I had to give the seat up! They didn't let us save seats.
Turquoise (clearly sitting where Woman should have been): [Silence]
Woman: So I have to stand in the back alone? It's packed back there.
Turqoise: [Silence]
James and me: [dawning realization of what is happening]
Man: They wouldn't let us save seats! Should I just meet you afterwards?
Turqoise: [silently plotting the dissolution of another marriage]
Woman: I can't believe I came all the way here for this.
General Audience: [suddenly interested]
Woman: Look, I'm just going to go home, I'll see you later (she makes a dismissive swatting motion with her hand and walks away).
Turqoise: [silence]
Me: [daring to look up and around me]
Man (pathetically): We couldn't save seats.
Turquoise (turning to Man): ... So are you a big Maureen Dowd fan?

What the hell. As soon as wifey left, Turquoise launched into a discussion of their respective careers and apartment living on the Upper West Side. There were so many chances for that encounter to have ended correctly: Turquoise could have volunteered her seat, Man could have switched with Woman or joined her in the standing room only area. And yet, she ended up stomping away while Man weakly sits there with Miss Turquoise Wrecks-a-Home as she licks her chops and enjoys the spoils.

The rest of the reading was awesome. Like every other reading I've been to, the cranks came out and asked obnoxious, selfish questions, and were booed into submission. Maureen handled herself with grace and aplomb, responding to aggressive questions directly and in a take-no-horseshit kind of way. She is my number one Washingtonienne.

All in all, it was a great experience. Human drama, a beautiful woman speaking truths and cracking wise, and another motley group of New Yorkers pretending to get along. Love it.

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