Feminism / Society & Culture

Adventures In Manhood By Leah Umansky

I was on the Long Island Rail Road, a few days ago, and found myself next to a handsome man in a dark grey suit and dark sunglasses. I thought, It’s my lucky day, until I looked down at his feet and saw a bag of empty 40’s. I thought Wow, this guy must’ve had a hard day at work.   Then, he started talking to me about the interview he had that day and how bad his last internship was.  Apparently, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome was looking for a job like so many other 21 year old college graduates.

“I’m so great at so many things – that’s the problem. I’ve got so many talents. That’s why I can’t get a job.”

Sure, that MUST be why. I thought. This guy was so arrogant.  Everyone has talents. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.

“You should see my resume.  I’ve got skills. I majored in English and Psychology.”

Was he trying to impress me and why couldn’t I stop talking to him? I was mesmerized. I felt like the popular girl in high school.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him; his hair & his dark sunglasses were very Tom-Cruise-in-Misson Impossible.   I smirked.   Is this the next generation of men?

“I’m smart,” he said.

“I can see that,” I replied. Why was I stroking his ego?

“I’ve always been called … umm what’s the word … bright,’” he said.

“I know kids like you,” I said. “I teach 8th and 10th graders.”

He said, “16 year olds! That’s brave.”

His arrogance was delicious and when he told me I smelled good, I was flabbergasted. Was he flirting with me?  Still, I wondered what would come out of his mouth next.

“Teachers hated me because I asked them questions that they couldn’t answer. I’d be like, ‘but you should know this!’”

I told him if he were my student I would’ve thrown him out of class. He crushed another beer in his hand.

“I don’t want to work. I just want to buy things. I want expensive dinners and designer suits. Why do I have to work all day?

Really? I thought.  I started babysitting and saving my money in the 5th grade. My father even worked on the weekends sometimes. I knew what hard work was from a young age. Was this guy for real?

“Forget business,” I said, “you should be on television. You’re very charismatic.”

“I know, I wasn’t the Social Chair of my Fraternity for nothing.”

“Wow,” I said, feigning enthusiasm. I loathe frat guys. I was surprised he didn’t pucker up his chest when he said that. “You should be on Television,”  I said, “You’re very charismatic.”

“DUDE!!!  I’d give my left nut to be on TV. Only the left one, because it hangs a little lower than the right.”

Why was he calling me dude? I’m a 33 year-old woman.

When the train came to a  stop, he gathered his belongings.  When we pulled away from the station, I saw him take a seat on a bench outside. Clearly, he was waiting for his mom.

He’s just a kid, I thought, a 21-year old kid who thinks his shit don’t stink. 

 

*

As the afternoon turned into evening, I couldn’t stop thinking of this guy and the more I thought about how well-entertained  I was during my train ride, the more bitter I became. His audacity and arrogance disgusted me. How would the situation have been different if he had been a woman?  Well, certainly someone would’ve told “her” to shut up, and probably thrown in something derogatory, I’m sure.

I remembered that when he walked down the aisle to exit the train, a woman nearby turned to me and said, “someone needs to teach that guy what is appropriate to say in public and what isn’t.” I disagree. I don’t think that’s really true. He’s a man.  Most likely, no one will tell him anything.  He’s got it all figured out and he doesn’t care what you or I think.

I’m not a sociologist. I’ve only taken a class or two in gender theory in grad school, but there is clearly a difference in the way girls and boys are raised and viewed in society.

Girls are told from a young age how to behave in public. We learn about proper behaviors and proper language from our parents, from our teachers and from our peers. Though it may not be implicitly taught to us as children, young girls become teenagers and teenagers become adults who quickly learn what sort of acts will encourage what kinds of labels in life. And as women, we figure out real fast which of those labels are wanted.

My train ride felt like an experiment in Darwinism. This guy would survive because of his arrogance. He is the fittest: most handsome, and most arrogant.

It’s been instilled in me for my entire life that I would do well in school; I would be polite and grateful; I would make my parents proud; I would go to college, and that I would become self-sufficient.  I praise my parents for raising me that way as it prepared me for the many unexpected turns that life brings your way. It also made me respect what hard work truly means.  It not only enables you to have nice things, enjoy good meals and travel, but it also  gives you a sense of satisfaction and confidence at the end of the day.  Working hard is rewarding and I’m grateful that at least I can recognize that.

*

Leah Umansky
Leah’s first collection of poems, Domestic Uncertainties is out from BlazeVOX Books. She is also the host & curator of the COUPLET Reading Series in NYC. She has been a contributing writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLOG and Tin House, a poetry reviewer for The Rumpus, and a live twit for The Best American Poetry Blog. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as: POETRY, Barrow Street, Catch-up, and The Brooklyn Rail. Read more at http://iammyownheroine.com and @Lady_Bronte

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