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A story from "The MENding Monologues"
For two years now, a group of extraordinary men and myself have been delving into the caves of our personal history to excavate stories of how the abuse inflicted on the women we have known has wounded us as men.
Inspired by Eve’s work, we call ourselves The MENding Monologues. Like The Vagina Monologues, we perform a mixture of stories and comedic satire to audiences around country. It’s a love letter to women and wake up call for men.
When new men enter our group, they usually tell me that they don’t have a story to tell, or they have a story, but they are certain no one would want to hear it. I assure them they do have a story to tell and that people would want to hear it—as long as they can tell with it authenticity and vulnerability.
To get the ball rolling, I tell the new men one of my stories. It’s called “R U my 2:15?” and it’s about me being the focal point of aggressive sexual attention—from a man. From this experience, I developed empathy for what many women suffer through daily.
This happened two and half years ago, six months before I started The MENding Monologues. I had ended a relationship with my girlfriend of nearly six years and felt like I needed to write my way through the anger, depression and loss. So, I started a screenplay about time travelers, who kidnap world leaders when they are impressible teenagers, take them to a post-apocalyptic future and show them the fruits of their follies—essentially, it’s A Christmas Carol crossed with The Terminator, that’s a coming of age story. And for once, I promised myself I would finish something that I wasn’t being paid ahead of time to write. So, I choose a quiet library with nothing to distract me except the milling about of ancient librarians.
Let’s be clear: As a writer, I’m very accomplished at not writing. One of my favorite ways of not writing is the minute I sit down and start, I have a forceful urge to pee. It happens every time. So, to get around my procrastination and fear of failure, I make it a rule to always go to the bathroom before I sit down to do any serious work.
In the library’s restroom, above the urinal, right at eyelevel was written: “Meet me here for a blowjob, August 12, from 1:30 to 2:15 pm.” Then the next day, it would still read “Meet me here for a blow job—”, but the date and time had changed to “Aug. 13, from 11:45 to 2:30.” The next day, the offer would be the same, but the time and date would be different. After several weeks of this, I started to wear a watch.
Two months went by and nothing happened, so I forgot about it. I thought it was just amusing graffiti, kids having fun. Until one day, I walk into the middle of the library; remembered my need for an empty bladder, and headed to the restroom.
Suddenly, this short, stocky guy, about 25 years old, with a face full of acne, springs from the couch and follows me into the hallway. He’s right on my heels, walking quickly. I think: “He must really have to pee.”
When I pull up to the urinal, he takes the one right next to mine, and starts making small talk. That should have been my first clue. Guys do not make small talk with strangers while at the urinal. I reply, “I’m fine. You?” to his salutation. He says: “Oh, I’m great, great yeaaah...” Then I see him peek over the splashguard to get a look at my low hanging fruit. That should been my second clue: Guys do not check out each other’s gear at the urinal, unless, you know, one of you is packing something extremely impressive.
I should have walked out right then, but I was determined not to let this guy get to me. I wanted to finish up and get on with my writing. Unfortunately, he’s talking to me now, constantly. I don’t remember what he said, but he was monologuing about something inane. And that gave my urination stage fright. So, I just stood there, anxiously waiting for the flow to begin. It wasn’t. So, he assumes, since I’m still standing there, not peeing, he had successfully built rapport with me.
This goes on for a very uncomfortable two minutes.
Finally, I give up. I turn to leave and he turns towards me, showing his semi-erect penis, displaying it like it was the best piece of meat in the butcher shop—with this sappy grin on his face.
I look down at the floor, I look away, I walk out. I glance behind me, he is still standing there, with a confused look on his face that said: “Hey? Where you going man? I thought we had something?”
I exit to the hallway, and I have a mix of emotions; I feel pissed and I want to punch him in the face. I also feel a little scared. But mostly, I feel humiliated.
That surprised me. I always thought if something like that happened, I would find it amusing. Trust me, I was not amused. I’m usually a very live-and-let-live kind of person. And, I don’t care that someone is gay. I’ve had gay men hit on me before, and it’s no big deal—I’m no homophobe. But this was creepy.
Later, upon reflection, I get present to what it must be like to be a woman. Having guys grab your ass in a bar. Whistling and yelling at you as you walk by a construction site. Leering at you as you wait for a bus, followed by inappropriate remarks or touching. I got a small taste of it and didn’t like it. I made me think of the times in my youth when I may have done things like that.
So, I go back to the library and I try to write. I can’t write. So, I pack up my laptop and head for the exit. I’m thinking of which kinds of hastily made cocktails I should drink when I get home and I heard something that snaps me out of it. A little boy’s voice says: “Mommy, I need to go to the bathroom.”
Mom doesn’t look up from her magazine. She replies: “Honey, you know where it is, just go.” He looks five years old, maybe six. It hits me: This is a public library in the middle of the afternoon—not an abandoned restroom out on the Interstate at 3 A.M. There are two schools just blocks away. This place is packed with kids. (I’m not implying that all men who cruise for sex in public bathrooms are potential pedophiles, but perhaps he picked this restroom for a reason. When kids are involved, I don’t take chances).
I pipe up: “Sorry ma’am, but you need to take your son to the ladies’ room, there’s some weird guy hanging out in the men’s room. I don’t know if it’s safe.”
She gives me a suspicious look and walks her son to the bathroom. I think about telling one of the librarians. The youngest looks in her mid-seventies. What the hell is she going to do? That’s when I got worried. That’s when got pissed. That’s when I called the police.
And, that’s when I suffered another humiliation.
I meet a large, redneck-looking cop in the parking lot. I tell him about the guy cruising for sex in the bathroom. And he asks me: “What did he say?”
“Well, he didn’t say anything. He just showed me his dick with a knowing look on his face,” I replied.
“Well, how did you know he wanted sex then?”
I stammered, feeling like a very unreliable narrator of my own life’s story. I tell him about the daily blow job offers on the walls, how the guy made small talk, and the semi-erect penis, and the cop just looks at me like he doesn’t believe me. He walks into the bathroom. Lucky me, the walls were scrubbed clean yesterday. There’s no trace of evidence. Just my word against his.
The cop gives me one of those looks of disgust that a junior high vice-principal gave me once when I was 12 years old. I read it as, “You wimp. You should have popped the guy in the nose and instead of calling me.” Later, he gives me another look, which I interpret as: “Well, your pants are pretty tight, your hair is dyed blonde, sure you weren’t asking for it?” Like somehow, I was inviting this behavior and it was my fault.
At that moment, I felt humiliated. And, I know it’s only one-tenth of one percent of the feeling that countless women must endure when they have to speak to authorities, and their story is called into question. I know it is one-tenth of one percent of what a woman must go through on the witness stand. I know it is only one-tenth of one percent of what it must be like to say that a teacher, family member or minister is molesting you. I know it’s only one-tenth of one percent, but I know when it happened to me, it felt like shit.
The police officer grills him for a few minutes, but doesn’t arrest him. Instead he tells him never to come back here again. The man swears he’ll never come back, he walks away without looking my direction. The police officer tells me the guy’s body language, voice and eye contact indicated he was guilty and lying about something. So, in the end, the cop believed me.
There’s an epilogue to this story: I never finished the screenplay. I stopped writing it that very day. I told myself I would go back to the library in a couple of weeks to start again, but I didn’t. That guy in the bathroom gave me the perfect excuse to quit. I wish I could blame the guy for that, but I know it is solely my issue whether or not I write. But I have to admit that I don’t write there anymore because it doesn’t feel comfortable. I was afraid of retribution of some kind, perhaps being hit from behind while walking to my car because I ruined good rendezvous point for dozens of men who like anonymous bathroom sex in libraries. I know it doesn’t make rational sense. I’m also afraid that if it happens again, maybe next I wouldn’t put my fist in my pocket and walk away. Next time, if I was having a bad day, would humiliation turn to rage?
Here’s another distinction that needs to be made: I could choose to walk away. I’m not sure women always have the choice to avoid the subways, construction sites, or bars where sexually aggressive assholes seem to lurk and leer.
When I do this piece as a monologue, I usually end the story by citing a line from the “Short Skirt” piece from The Vagina Monologues. It goes something like this: “Just because I’m wearing a short skirt, isn’t an invitation for you to have sex with me.”
My version of that is: “Just because I’m in the public restroom, at your appointed time of 2:15, August 14, doesn’t mean I’m there for a BJ.”