I’ve been warned not to use Totes Magoats as a title because it has nothing to do with my content. However, I’m ignoring that warning because I like Totes Magoats so much I *want* it as my title. It makes me giggle, it’s fun to say, and it is completely meaningless. And if I don’t use it as my title, I’ll walk around saying it endlessly, which would be much worse for everyone, especially the person who warned me not to use it. Now you are suitably warned that the title has nothing to do with the content. Yet.
To my great amusement, the people of Portland like to talk. In grocery lines, over the counter at the library, waiting in line for the bus, walking down the street. I have decided it’s possible that I am outgrowing my introverted nature, or that I became as reclusive as I was because of the hostility of the suburban Chicago environment. Whatever the case, I have flowered here, amid the friendliness of strangers and the softness of the atmosphere, both climate and interpersonal.
I find myself inviting exchanges with new people, or at the very least, not overtly discouraging them. The other day, visiting a new coffee house, I made a new friend. Of sorts. I stood in line pondering the vast menu of coffee delights offered by an equally delightful purveyor, whose name is a personal favorite of mine, Evelyn. She stated her reason for opening the business, “I didn’t intend to be a Starbucks; I just wanted to have a little neighborhood coffee shop where people could come in and we would solve the problems of the world.” Charmed by the friendliness of the shop, I fell into a discussion about music with the gentleman waiting after me in line, who overheard me humming and asked if I am a singer.
When my drink came, I moved to a table, still talking with him, and indicated that he was free to join me. Yes, I know, that’s not the behavior of an introvert, but it’s wholly possible that I am experiencing a sea change. In that spirit, I decided to welcome the experience of sitting down for coffee with a complete stranger.
He was an older gentleman, upwards of 70, who Liked To Talk. And let me say I find a lot of people like to talk *to* me, or maybe *at* me is more accurate, since there seems to be little need for me to respond to what they say, as long as I appear to be listening in some capacity. Most of the time, if I make eye contact and occasionally nod, they will unburden themselves of the contents of their minds for long moments, unconcerned that their spiel is perhaps too personal to be telling a complete stranger. And so it was with this gentleman, who informed me that he is thrice married, and believes he is still married, though he had some doubt about his current status, because his wife seems to function as independently as though she herself is not married, a fact that bothers him, but not enough for him to do anything to change the unhappy circumstances. He held forth on many subjects, mostly having to do with music (he is a banjo/guitar/harmonica player, who just happened to have a harmonica in his pocket, of course) and male/female relationships, mostly as they applied to him.
He was the sort of individual who had an opinion about everything, and at least could acknowledge that he wasn’t necessarily right about everything, a fact I counted in his favor. He danced around several subjects, occasionally asking a question of me, but mostly just taking the opportunity to talk to a real live person. I gathered pretty quickly that he doesn’t get a lot of chances to talk to real live people because some of what he said was…well…out there. Even for Portland.
There were some things that he said that resonated with me and some things that didn’t. As many men of his generation like to do, he opined about female attractiveness (seriously, WHY do they do this?) telling me about a young woman he saw one early morning walking to school. She was so attractive, he said, he felt compelled to warn her that she shouldn’t be out walking alone at that time of day, nor should she talk to strangers, because not everyone is a “nice guy” like he is.
It was a thinly veiled patriarchal attitude about women’s appearance and/or existence in the wrong place at the wrong time being responsible for the violence of men. I called him on it, and he backpedaled quickly. And then he moved on to another subject, perhaps out of a desire to retaliate after I scolded him.
I doubt it. I don’t think he was self-aware enough for that.
He segued into his observations about me, which included the “fact” that I would never be intimidated by anyone. “Really?” I said, tilting my head, “And why’s that?”
“Well, because you know you can take them,” he said, waving a dismissive hand in the general direction of my person. “You’re a big person, you’d probably just tackle them. I have five sisters, I know how women are.”
I took a moment to put all of my thoughts in one place before opening my eyes and fixing him with a stare.
“Ah, so because I’m a ‘big’ girl, I am necessarily violent, right? All women are the same, is that it? All women of a certain size behave the same way?” I waited for him to string out some more rope.
“Well, sure,” he continued. “I mean look, you’re heavy, but you don’t let it bother you.”
I nodded, a witness to his wisdom.
He shrugged, “Hell, some men even LIKE that!”
Gee, ya don’t SAY!
Oh, I HAD to laugh now. First, because I could hear my husband’s voice in my head, reminding me I had invited this kookburger to sit down and share coffee with me, so I was reaping what I sowed. And second, because his attitude was so wrong and insulting and antiquated and narrow minded I was incredulous. Here was a man who–by his own admission–had *no* teeth, could be described as unkempt (at best), and was serenading me in the middle of the crowded coffee house on his harmonica (did I not mention that? He played me three songs, completely unbidden) who had the stones to tell ME that I was unattractive, but that’s okay, some man out there might like me.
There was just so much unintended humor in what he said, I laughed. In his face.
He was saying something about how I am a beautiful person–inside and out!–which he obviously ascertained by my silence as he held forth on his insight into humanity. He mentioned how warm and welcoming I am, how he could tell I was not an “evil” person. His pedals spun so hard, he almost lifted off the ground.
And then, sitting up from my passive position, I leaned forward and said very quietly, “no, sir, do you want to know WHY I’m not intimidated? It has nothing to do with my size. It’s because I know that, with rare exception, not matter who sits down in front of me, I will best him intellectually. And I’m no longer interested in listening to your comments about my appearance, because you are a waste of my time.”
I stood up, thanked Evelyn for the lovely cappuccino, and left.
I’ll admit, for a little while, I was still rolling this conversation around in my head, as I do. And really, the only thing I wish I had asked was “so, how do OTHER ‘fat’ women behave?” How do they let it bother them? What does that look like, exactly? Do they hide? Do they wear a tent with eye holes? Do they avoid contact with other human beings? Or do they rush up to strangers and say “Hi, my name is Meg, I’m fat and I’m SORRY!”? What is so unusual about my behavior–which that day included driving a car, going grocery shopping, dropping my daughter at an appointment, and sitting down for coffee–that is interpreted as “not letting my weight bother me”?
I think this comment bothered me because I’ve heard it from other people. Other women have commented on my attitude, saying they admired how I just “do my thing” and don’t let my weight bother me. Yes, I DO stuff…like play sports and garden and swim and work and go out for coffee and (GASP!) even EAT IN PUBLIC!
To hear them talk, you’d think I’m a baby hippopotamus clumsily chewing my way through society. I’m not, I swear. If I say more than that, I’ll be protesting too much, and we all know how THAT works out. Just trust me on this one. Or ask my husband.
So while I’m reveling in the excitement of meeting new people and having conversations with complete strangers, I do recognize the risk involved in letting my guard down. However, I have a good measure of confidence that this man was not a good sample of the public at large, that most people aren’t going to spout off the kind of crap he was saying. There is a huge variety in human behavior, and if I’m going to be open to learning and growing, I need to accept experiences like this without letting them injure me.
I did pretty good this time, laughing with my family at the strangeness of the interaction, puzzling only over that one odd comment. And I’m learning a new skill, one I’ve never had before; I’m learning how to dismiss people. I’ve never had the ability to say “what that person said doesn’t matter,” much to my detriment.
Perhaps as a result of the wide variety here, I see each individual interaction not as an expression of the whole society, but as merely one person’s perspective, and much more easily ignored. It’s so much simpler here–and healthier for me–to move on from negative encounters and not hide myself away, licking my wounds. It’s another way in which Portland is, Totes Magoats, a much healthier place for me.