>I’m baaaaa-ack! I didn’t have online access from the time I left Effingham to my return to Rust Belt, so I’ll have to do some catching up. Today: my adventures in Freakdom (plus some embedded Virago facts). I wrote the following on Monday night in a Holiday Inn.
Once upon a time I was a Freak Magnet much like this blogger. [So that’s embedded Virago Fact #27: I am, intermittently, a Freak Magnet.] Oh the tales I could tell. Some freaks were passing figures in my life, like the guy dying his mohawk in the laundromat bathroom who said he just loved punk-rock girls and could tell I used to be a punk-rock girl [true! And there’s Virago Fact #28], or “Ken,” who left a note on my car promising to be my love slave. Then there were the freaks whom I managed to encounter more than once, even in big cities like La La Land. (I blame public transportation because that’s often where I encountered them.) Sad, sad struggling actor Phil was one of the recurring Freaks; he said I had “a look” and wanted to take me to an art film (the first time I encountered him), but he also enjoyed “Tonka trucks and pb&j sandwiches” (or so he said the second time he found me). Clearly a man of many tastes. (There’s more of a story there, but that’s for another day.)
Then there were the guys I dated, who swiftly transformed from “interesting” to freak in a matter of days or sometimes hours. For instance, there was Joe, whose last name made him sound like a professional wrestler (the Pastry Pirate insisted I made him up) but who seemed like an interesting guy when I met him in my favorite hole-in-the-wall bar in Hipster Central. He told me I had great hair when I had a funky short cut, so I thought, “OK, here’s a guy with some style, who isn’t hung up on gender stereotypes like long hair on women.” And we talked about A Streetcar Named Desire, which I was teaching at the time, so I thought, “Hey, how often do you meet a guy in a bar in La La Land who actually reads?” (For the record, I knew he wasn’t just going by the movie version since we talked about the ending and the movie is different from the play.) But soon, after a date or two, I realized that these harmless seeming good signs were actually signs of Joe’s freakdom. It turns out he liked the thickness of my hair and actually hated the short cut because, as he said, “you look like a boy.” And why did he like the thickness so much? Because it showed I had “good hair genes,” whereas he was getting thin on top. Ew! He was looking for good breeding material! Consciously! And I also realized, when he wanted to talk about Streetcar again on the second date that it was just about the only thing he’d read and that he was only interested in talking about it because he didn’t agree with my interpretation (I did a queer reading of it) and arguing with me got him, um, turned on.
Oh good lord.
Those incidents – both the Freaks in passing and the ones who stuck around for awhile, who made it past my Freak Detector for a date or two – pretty much summed up my, erm, “romantic” life in La La Land. And then I moved to Rust Belt and met Bullock (who I am glad to say is absolutely NOT a freak) and my Freak Magnet calmed down.
Until, that is, I checked into a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute. The Freak is strong in this place. Or at least it is in the bar, where I could have had my very own sick, sad version of Lost in Translation, or, if that weren’t enough, I could have become a groupie of a lame hotel band (just as my alter-ego/evil twin Lauren Graham did in an episode of The Drew Carey Show!).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. See, the reason why I was in the hotel bar in the first place – lest you think I’m a freak – is because I didn’t get into TH until about 9:30 and I hadn’t eaten dinner and the nice check-in woman took pity on me for having to check me into a smoking room in their pathetic annex across the parking lot in BFE and so gave me coupons for the lounge. So I hied myself to said lounge for a glass of wine and some quesadillas before the kitchen closed. (And to the credit of the HI in Terre Haute, the quesadillas were pretty good. On the other hand, they don’t have wifi, at least not in the lame annex – I’m writing this in Word for future posting.)
OK, now that I have established that I’m not lame by nature, but only by necessity, I’ll get back to what happened in the bar. I should’ve known that freaks were afoot when I could hear the pathetic bar band way, way down the hall and in the swimming pool area. (And btw, who the hell thought a swimming pool in the middle of the atrium/lobby area was a good idea in freakin’ Indiana? I mean, it’s one thing to do the whole exhibitionist swimmer thing in SoCal or Las Vegas or Hawai’i, but really, in a Holiday Inn in Indiana?) And at first I thought they were so damn loud that I wouldn’t be able to stand it (yeah, I’m getting old – at least where rotten bar bands are concerned) but I was really, really hungry. So I wandered in. There was no hostess, though there was something like a hostess stand, though if there had been a hostess I wouldn’t have blamed her for not standing at her post, since it was right next to the hideous and loud band. I also didn’t want to stand there, so I started to venture towards the bar, which wasn’t much further from the band, but it had staff people I could ask questions of, such as, “Is it too late to get food?” But as I was taking all this in, a very old man – old enough to be my father, and for the record, my father is 83 – waved at me and beckoned me. Um, I don’t think so. In fact, at the time, I thought he must have me confused with someone else, so I ignored him and went up to a server to ask if I could get food and if I should seat myself. I decided to seat myself as far away as possible from the bar with the weird old man, but also far enough back that I could escape going deaf but also still see the waitress.
Once settled in, and once the waitress interpreted my order over the din (there was a lot of pointing), I decided to actually look at the band. There were at least in their late 40s, or perhaps just looked it, and between the three guys I could see (I couldn’t see the drummer) they had a veritable Museum of Bad Hair that only a cheesy bar band could have. One guy had a stringy blonde ponytail; one had a shaggy mane reminiscent of hair metal bands and a Harry-Shearer-in-Spinal-Tap mustache to go with it; and the lead guitarist had a mullet. And it wasn’t just any mullet; it was a curly mullet. (It’s a shame I didn’t have the camera with me or I could’ve sent it to Mullets Galore or whatever that old website was. Wait, are they still around?) They were playing the expected bar band mix of classic and southern rock with a bit of country thrown in – this is Indiana, after all – but once in a while they threw in one of their own songs and hawked their CD. I think that’s what made them especially sad. There weren’t just a bunch of accountants getting their kicks on the side playing the Allman Bros. – they were serious. Oh, and at one point, the guitarist referred to the band as a “bunch of young guys” and also drew attention to the fact that their audience was so small and they were playing a hotel on a Monday night. Oh man, so sad! And he knew it!
But wait, what does this have to do with my Freak Magnet? Glad you asked. You see, soon after I settled into my booth, from which I could see the band and the whole crowd, I noticed I was the only woman there who wasn’t a staff person. The band noticed too, because they started singing towards me. That is, the two guys who traded singing duties (ponytail guy and mullet guy, but especially mullet guy) starting directing their gaze at me as they sang things like “American Girl.” This then directed the attention of the rest of the audience (all 10 or so of them) towards me, so I had a roomful of lame men in a hotel bar on a Monday night all looking at me. I was so uncomfortable I pulled out my PDA and started updating it!
And if that weren’t enough, this reminded Old Dude that I was still there, and every time I looked up for the waitress, he was waving at me across the room. I tried to make it obvious that I wasn’t looking for/at him, but he didn’t get the message because just as I was polishing off my quesadillas (oh god, he must have been watching, waiting for me to finish) and as I had my head buried in my PDA (now I was just playing one of the games, truth be told), I saw an old pair of hands resting on my table. I slowly looked up in my best Heathers-cum-John-Hughes-film-cum-Veronica-Mars look of slow burn popular kid disdain, but Old Guy didn’t get it. I raised one eyebrow as if to say, “Yes? Can I help you?” He still didn’t get it. He asked me if I wanted to dance.
I know some of you out there are thinking “Oh, for heaven’s sake, dance with the lonely old guy.” No thanks. I think old guys who ask much younger women to dance are creepy and full of a ridiculous sense of entitlement, especially for old guys hanging out in a hotel bar. And this is especially true of this particular Old Guy because it took three freakin’ times to get him to take no for an answer. Had he pressed again, I would’ve lost the polite smile and “no thank you” and told him to fuck off.
Tangential story: I once had an old guy so determined to dance with me that he grabbed hold of my wrist in a vice-like grip (creepy old guys are often surprisingly strong) and I had to sit down and use gravity as my ally to get him to give up. I also nearly started crying because I really, really didn’t want to dance with him – I’d been told that he told stories of sex with boys in Asia when he was in the Korean war, and he both disgusted and scared me – and the whole situation was made worse by an insensitive boyfriend who thought I was being rude. If you ask me, both that situation and the more recent one seem to enact on a vaguely socially acceptable level (i.e., dancing) an issue of women’s autonomy. I think both old men just assumed I’d say yes – after all, don’t all women secretly want to be asked to dance, no matter by whom, even if they’re otherwise occupied with their dinner or their date? (And yeah, I was royally mad at that asshole of a boyfriend.)
Which brings me back to the hotel bar in Terre Haute. So there I am, just trying to get some dinner and my free glass of wine so I can go back to my room, relax, and get enough sleep for the long drive the next day, and my peace is disturbed and attention drawn to me by not one, but two Freaks (out of only about 15 people total in the place!), both of whom, I’m sure, thought they were complimenting me. After all, what woman doesn’t like to be serenaded, even by a sad, cheesy hotel band? What woman doesn’t want to dance with whomever is available? Especially a woman who is all alone in a hotel bar. Isn’t she just asking for company?
And that’s what I think my so-called Freak Magnet was/is all about. It’s about being a woman alone, on her own, in public. It’s why it hasn’t been so strong in Rust Belt because I don’t take public transportation and more often than not I’m out with Bullock or with Victoria. I’m not alone in public as much as I was in the big cities. It’s just a different life here, but now part of me wants to defiantly go out in public by myself more often just say “Fuck you, Freaks! You have not driven me into hiding!”
But as troublesome as freaks can be, and as much a sign of general misogyny and sexism that they might be, I have to say, life could be worse: I could be a sad, 40-something musician with questionable sartorial taste, playing lame classic rock in a loser band in a hotel bar on a Monday night. Or worse, I could be a really old guy getting down to them and failing to pick up the only women in the room not on the hotel payroll.