Saturday, March 25, 2006

Girls and boys (or men and women) Part II

Last night, my roommates and friends and I went to Doll's Place, another of the class of bars sometimes referred to as "grad student bars." I think this appellation that has found its way into our discourse is reminiscent of elementary school, when there were "big kid" swingsets and math classes and "big kid" hangouts. "Grad student bars" are what we use to refer to bars whose clientele include, yes, grad students, but also undergrads like ourselves for whom a full night at Knight Club is their knightmare. "Grad student bars" often are simply Bars With Seats. Bars that play The Who end up getting placed in that revered genre--Grad Student Bars.
So, I guess the paradox I'm trying to elucidate is that, while we call them "grad student bars," like we are going to there to hang out with the very cool mature crowd, we really seek out these bars for the good music, lack of sweaty hands groping us, ability to wear weather-appropriate clothes without looking prudish, and places to sit.
"Look! At this bar, we don't have to wave our money around and yell to get served," I say.
"You pay for that, though," says our friend AW.
As if responding to AW's comment, "$13.50," says the bartender, as three drinks clunk down in front of us.  We are astonished--that is less than at our other favorite bar!
Anyway, at some point, my roommate and I got up to walk around the bar and see who and what there was to see. She looked for men while I remained occupied by the belief that a wall-sized mirror was really another room in the bar.
A man, probably in his late twenties or early thirties (I am a horrible judge of age, but so was he) approached us.
"Are you in the theater?" he asked me.
"No." But I didn't want to be rude and blow him off.  I told him that I wasn't in the theater, "But I was at a Mason Gross party!"
"No, the reason I asked, was because I saw you on the stage..."
"I'm not on the stage!"
"A person who looked like you, in the Star Ledger Arts section, wearing a costume like that."
I was wearing grey semi-dressy pants and a grey shirt with a black and white marabou feather collar.  It was a crazy shirt. But I wanted to wear that shirt, and before we left, my roommate said I looked classy and predicted I was going to attract a man with high standards and a large ego.
At this point, however, I had attracted an older man in baggy clothes who was convinced that I was an actress and wearing my costume to the bar.
My roommate and I are nice girls. We aren't going to lead someone on. But we also feel bad giving no chance to a guy just because he is not attractive and makes conversational blunders which could have been attributed to alcohol, not necessarily a lack of inner beauty. Thus, we continued the conversation.
Eventually, the man asked my roommate and I if we wanted drinks, and when a mere second passed before we answered, he snapped, "It's a simple question. Yes or no."Then a realization must have dawned on him. He inquired, did our reluctance mean we were underage? Had we snuck into the bar?
At this suggestion, we laughed laughter which the man, who was between 27 and 35, interpreted as nervous affirmation of his suspicions. He insisted upon his willingness to buy drinks for and continue to woo girls he thought were under 21.
My roommate and I are both ridiculously frugal. We like drinks we don't have to pay for. But is it fair to allow some man who already ruined his chances with us to buy us a drink?
And this is why I titled my entry "Girls and boys" again. This is another incident about the misinterpretations and confusion that arise between men and women. This is another example of questions of 21st century opposite-sex propriety.
As I drank my free "whatever-she's-having-because-no-bar-ever-has-Beck's-Dark", I felt several surges of guilt. I felt that I understood why guys say that the dating scene is the realm of sexual equality, because women are jerks as much as men are jerks. We had no interest in this guy, and why couldn't we just give him a chance? But if we weren't giving him a chance, why couldn't we just cut him off and let him go? Why did we have to drag it out? But if we'd chosen our other option, to walk away and ignore him earlier in the conversation, we'd be "not giving him a chance" and we'd therefore be frigid.
The guy switched his interest from me to my roommate, quickly, and began vigorously to chat her up. The following is one of the highlights of his speech:
"No really, you," he said to her, his gaze super-serious, "are gorgeous. You," he turned to me. And he looked while he paused. "You..."
I probably smirked.
"You're gorgeous too," he said in an oxymoronic tone--forced, mock insincerity.

Later, another roommate, AZ, approached us to see if we needed rescuing. To her, our suitor said, "I'm guessing you're into sports."
"No, I'm not."
"I thought that maybe because you're tall."
"You want to take another guess at what I'm into?"
"I'm guessing you're into women." The stress on the last word made it clear he considered this an insult.
See, the appellation "grad student bar" does not necessarily mean the clientele is mature.
As the bar was closing, the man demanded from TS, the only roommate he had not insulted, a phone number. Surprised, she hesitated.
"Yes or no!" he commanded forcefully.
"No!" she said, affronted by his tone, not his request.
As we walked to Nuebie's (where I had a perfect grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, where "The Ocean" came on the radio and some friends and I sang along with both the words and guitar parts, where we felt bliss), TS started to feel guilty.
Guilt is wasted on a man who insulted two of the roommates of the girl he was wooing. The sentiments of this post are almost wasted on him, but, since it applies to all people, not really. What is the proper behavior? How much chance should you give someone to either impress you or clearly cross the line from "was that a joke or an insult?" to unquestionably insulting? Is there really a nice way to reject someone? A polite way? Are those the same thing?

Monday, March 13, 2006

I actually had fun in Sussex County today

Lately, I've had mixed feelings about being home.
Lots of jumbled thoughts I'm going to try to communicate. To make sense it will probably have to be edited sometime.
I used to always love the area I come from--rural North Jersey. It sounds like an oxymoron. I've always felt this area was unique. Quirky, beautiful, peaceful, so many things.
Lately, I'm starting to see it as outsiders do.
After living somewhere else for awhile, I can finally catch glimpses of how others might see this place.
For example:
Spring Street in Newton, or the Antique Mill in Lafayette: Quaint
Stokes State Forest, esp. various lookout points from the Appalachian Trail (Sunrise Mtn, Kittattinny Ridge): Paradise
But most of what you see from our "highways": A dump!
Especially driving on 23! The landscape, stripped of trees, looks like some kind of parched, abandoned field, littered with UGLY buildings, now falling apart, where I swear, every time I drive by there is a new esoteric business.
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I also noticed, recently, that an outsider might notice how many of the local roads are dotted with fake flower crosses, memorials of fatal car accidents. The worst is Clove Road in Montague. I swear, you can't go anywhere on that road without seeing them. It's eerie and morbid--like fluttering, pastel-colored warnings. Half the time, we ignore the warnings, like ghost stories.
And then I also noticed the sign at the mouth of my street: an ancient, faded, rust-eaten sign DANGER FALLING ROCKS 15 MPH. One sees this sign and then proceeds down a long, steep hill. It occurred to me today how disturbing this would be to someone from, say, Middlesex County.
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None of this had anything to do with my title. Despite these semi-depressing realizations, I did have fun in Sussex County today. I ran some important errands, which was satisfying, so that I didn't feel like I was wasting my time window-shopping this afternoon at the places I used to frequent when I was in high school. So much has changed in such a short time. In some ways, I think, "Progress is good," but in others, what I am thinking of as "the gentrification" of Sussex County (don't know if that's an appropriate word, I'll look into that later) kind of disgusts me. Rather than augmenting the things that would make this area attractive to outsiders (especially outsiders with money), franchises and housing developments are being piled onto the open spaces that really are the area's assets.
As long as they don't touch the state forests, parks, and wildlife areas....
But I did have fun. I walked around Spring Street and the antique mill, I went to Kittattinny State Park, and then at night, I went to the Sussex Queen Diner and met up with some of my oldest and best friends. It was like I crammed in some of the quintessential Sussex County experiences into one day.
What's sad is that I never fully explored the area, and now I'm already starting to forget the places I used to know so well. Should I try to remedy that, try to complete my exploration, or just move on with my life?
Tomorrow I plan to go back to Spring Street, because the thrift store should be open, and possibly check out a part of Andover with which I'm not all that familiar...
Oh, and the GOMOW update for the day: Absolutely NO work on my thesis done! Instead, I had fun! (Good.) Tomorrow, however, I'd like to do a little of both.
[Note: GOMOW stood for Get Out of My Own Way. It described a series of resolutions for 2006. It appears I didn't write about this in Blogger, but in LiveJournal, and then failed to include a definition in Blogger. I'll try to fix this soon.]

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Girls and boys

[Some background information -- At the time this was written, I was in the last semester of my fourth year at Rutgers, a huge public university in New Jersey. When I began as a student there, it consisted of many colleges and universities which were separate in some ways, yet overlapped in others. For example, most classes were open to all university students, but each college had a separate Honors program, with different faculty and different requirements. During the 2005-2006 school year, there was a Task Force and their proposal was to revamp the structure of the large, unwieldy, red-tape-mummified university, which meant combining whichever colleges they could into one School of Arts and Sciences. The controversy that arose as a result included opposition to the dissolution of Douglass College, the largest public women's college in America. [a later edit - it was actually the ONLY public women's college.]  An active Save Douglass College campaign emerged that was consequently met with hostility. The most visible exhibition of this was the midnight vandalism of a SAVE DOUGLASS COLLEGE banner, in a prominent location on campus, with graffiti that read, "Get back in the kitchen!" The act and the words became a symbol of both sexism, anti-feminism, and dismissing the concerns of those wanting to Save Douglass College.
I was a student at Douglass College about to graduate with a BA in English at this time. I'd also taken biology and botany classes and had applied to Fall 2006 admission into Cook College, where I'd spend two years or so finishing a BS in Plant Science with a Research option. At least, that was the plan.]
I'd had a rough week.
It began with the Middle English reading marathon in preparation for an exam, after which I'd planned to relax. After I'd gotten home from my exam, my mother told me that my father was getting surgery and it was going to be during spring break and that I had to come home that weekend. Of course I was worried about the surgery. I was also worried about having to work on my thesis (which was my spring break plan) in my hometown, far away from the university library.
The next morning, I began to feel dizzy in the middle of my shower and, just briefly, I blacked out. On Friday, I saw a doctor, who informed me that the fainting spell might be indicative of a serious health problem. After my appointment, I went home to unwind and check my e-mail. A new message in my Inbox informed me that the Task Force Proposals have been voted on, which meant changes for Cook College, and...my mind began to race. Does that mean changes for my major? I worried that I could be screwed over by this new decision! And Douglass College!!!!! Whyyyyyy??????
Between my dad's surgery, my impending thesis deadline, my own health, and changes to Rutgers that could affect my academic plans, I'd had a rough week.
At 11:30 that Friday night, a group of guys that TS and I were friends with called to invite themselves over. We were in our pajamas, but they said they'd be over at 12:30 and that gave us enough time to change back into our nice clothes and put on makeup afresh. But instead of coming to our apartment at 12:30, the guys went to Applebee's and then to another friend's house. Just as we were preparing to change back into our pajamas, the four of them waltzed into our apartment. It was 2:30 in the morning. By this time, TS and I had accomplished not only our costume change, but had also split a bottle of wine, listened to two entire Iggy Pop albums and two more Dolly albums, baked cookies from scratch, and made drawings of Men We Are Mad At. (Of course mildly censored scans will be posted eventually! Note that I have major issues drawing hands.)
Shortly after their arrival, our guests made themselves comfortable in front of our TV and ignored us. They continued to ignore us while they took turns playing TS's guitar. They even managed to ignore us while demanding to know where I hid the Street Fighter II cartridge for my Super Nintendo. They acknowledged us briefly, upon detecting the scent of cookies, to ask, "Did you guys bake? Where did you put the cookies?" When we refused to admit that there were cookies in the apartment, they left. Hearing music and voices, they'd gone upstairs to our neighbors' apartment to try to crash their party. After our neighbors refused to include these new guests, they returned to our apartment, finally deigning to socialize with their hostesses. Conversation over vodka tonics commenced.
It was not long before the Task Force vote came up. I explained my academic concerns about both Douglass and Cook College, how I worried that the decision might affect my plans. After all that had taken place both that week and that night, I just was not in the mood for what happened next.
One of our guests, who we'll call "Tom," broke into my explanation with, "Get back in the kitchen!"
There was a little bit of Sun Pop and raspberry Smirnoff, both clear liquids which would not stain, in my red party cup. Time seemed to stand still as my saturated brain absorbed the words and the insult and considered what to do next. There seemed only one option.
I raised my party cup in a graceful arc, flinging its contents onto Tom's shirt.
The reaction seemed to be in slow motion, cries of "Nooooooooooooo" and a huge collective gasp were released as the drink flew through the air, and its splash onto Tom's shirt was accompanied by a unison, "What did you DO?"
But I believed, or rather knew that I was not out of line and that every single person in the room was wrong to be annoyed with me. Tom had arrived at our apartment at 2:30AM, mooched off of us until 4:30 AM, and then insulted one of the hostesses!
In the confusion rose shouts of, "Get him a towel" and "He was obviously kidding!"
I was bewildered; no one seemed to be on my side.  But like Jane Eyre being dragged to the red room:

I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say: I was conscious that a moment's mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths.

I refused to apologize, to assent that, "He was only joking." I shouted, "I'm going to BED!", stormed off into my room, and slammed and locked the door.
I wanted to cry and cry, for everyone hating me and for the loss of my beloved Douglass College. I felt like weeping for my school and for the loneliness of no one else feeling as one's self. Searching for understanding and company, I sent IMs to the Away message of two of my friends and considerered IMing the only person online with no Away message--an acquaintance from Victorian Lit seminar, because at 4 in the morning, I thought HE might understand. I sent my childhood best friend a long text message and my high school exchange partner an e-mail in German.
As soon as silence fell over the apartment, I felt it was safe to leave my bedroom and get some water from the kitchen. My planned tiptoes were in fact a stumble; my careful opening of cabinet doors yielded to slams. Above this clamor, I heard a faint, "Sarah?"
I ignored TS even when I could see her enter the room out of the corner of my eye.
She spoke up, "Sarah, I wanted to tell you that after you went to your room, pretty much everyone agreed that Tom was out of line."
At this, I turned to face her. Apparently, all but two of our guests had conceded that Tom had gotten what he deserved.
"They apologized for coming over so late and not really hanging out with us and they thanked us for letting us come over."
I was ecstatic. No one hated me! I opened the microwave door and extracted a plate of cookies, which I brought to the coffee table. TS and I shared them at the couch, recounting the evening's events and cackling over the image of the drink landing on Tom's shirt
In retrospect, I am glad we hid the cookies before the boys showed up.