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Masculine-Feminine

Four Scenes of Heterosexual Intercourse

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Late in the evening, a couple of young professional types are screaming at each other on Halsted Street. It sounds like one of those all-day arguments that begin on the telephone, pick up steam over drinks and dinner, and then blow up during the walk back to the car.

"Read my lips," bellows the guy, "what do you want?"

"I want you to talk to me the way you talk to her."

"I can't talk to you the way I talk to her because she can really talk and you can only talk."

"What does that mean?"

"You know what that means."

"If I knew what it meant I wouldn't ask you, would I? Can't you even be responsible for what you say?"

"I'll tell you what, I'll be responsible for telling you that you're a pain in the ass."

"That's real sensitive, darling."

"If you want sensitivity it's in the dictionary between shit and suicide!"

The woman freezes, her face changing from shock to hurt to fury in a matter of seconds; finally she answers in a voice just barely under control.

"Sensitivity is in the dictionary before shit and suicide, not between them, Mr. College Grad."

"That," answers the guy, jabbing his finger toward her mouth, "is what I mean about you being a pain in the ass."

At a downtown el station, a short, intense guy is addressing a couple of women whom he obviously doesn't know.

He's agitated, pacing a small path on the platform. In front of him is a billboard revealing the profiled head and neck of a woman lying on her back; her lips are slightly parted, her flesh moist and glowing against an electric pink background. Above her are printed the words ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH? But in black spray paint some clear thinker has added, TO RESIST SEXISM? This is the cause of the guy's agitation. Over on a bench, an elderly white woman and a young black girl sit shivering in the wind.

"Why would somebody do that?" the guy demands of them in a slight accent.

Neither woman answers. Neither woman looks at him. Their eyes are aimed straight ahead, as if he isn't even there.

"A woman did this, yes? Why? I want to know."

He's waving his arms now, but to no avail. A few feet away, a young woman wearing a backpack takes up the question.

"Because women don't want to be treated like objects," she tells him calmly, "and that's what that picture does."

"If women don't want that, then why did a woman pose for it?"

"That's not the point. She could have done it for a lot of reasons."

"No. The women who wrote that have no respect."

"How do you know it was a woman?" Her voice is rising as she questions the guy.

"Because I know. Men have respect for women."

"Do you respect women? Because it doesn't seem like you do."

"Yes, I do. Even you!"

The young woman inhales, mildly surprised. The guy turns abruptly, glowers at the women on the bench, walks over to the phone, and makes a call, continuing to talk in the same agitated manner. When the train finally arrives, all three women walk slowly and silently down the platform, each to a separate car, and step aboard.

At Sherwyn's Health Food Shop, a discussion about appearance and reality is going on in the oat-bran aisle:

"It's like Cher says in that commercial," says the guy; "she says: 'I have so many people inside me.'"

"Maybe that's the way everybody is," suggests his companion, a woman in her early 40s, "that's why nothing ever comes out straight."

"People are always playing games with each other. That's why you should never tell anyone much about yourself at first."

"I have to learn more of that," she decides. "Maybe you can teach me. I don't understand it. I'm sincere."

"People are dishonest," the guy informs her, "but I'm always honest."

"What about when I met you and you were going to the clinic for your tooth and you were going to tell the dentist you were a Navajo Indian?"

"Maybe it's because I think of myself as an Indian," answers the guy without hesitation, "and if people think of me as an Indian because of the way I look and feel, then it's good for them to think I'm an Indian because it strengthens their ideas of their own perceptions."

The woman ponders this chunk of logic, then offers, "Once, somebody told me that they thought I was a Welsh witch."

"I could tell you were Welsh and not German because of all the colors in your home," answers the guy.

"On the contrary," she replies. "The Welsh were very poor and wore only plain clothes."

"Shows you what I know," shrugs the guy. "It's probably good that you don't believe everything I tell you."

In a Lincoln Avenue bar, a drunken man tries to explain to a drunken woman why breaking up is hard to do.

"Because, you know, like when you fall out of love with whoever you're with and start hating them, it's like everything they do is really stupid and you want to jump down their throat all the time. I mean, even the way they drink a glass of water becomes, like, ammunition, and the worst part is that you know they're thinking the same thing about you when you're drinking a glass of water. And then, it's like you might as well split, just take off and find somebody else."

"Wow. So you've never stayed friends with any of your old girlfriends?"

"No. It's like they're dead."

"Well, what if you see one of them on the street?"

"Then I just give 'em this look, you know, cold as ice, like 'Hey, I already killed you. What are you walking around for? Looking for someone to bury you?'"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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