One of the benefits of being single is going on bad dates, and then telling people about them. OK, maybe that’s not actually a “benefit” to most normal people, but if you’re a weirdo like me, in love with a good story above all things, it’s definitely a welcome side-effect. “This might suck right in this particular moment,” you think to yourself. “But imagine the vicious laughter it will elicit in some pub later.”
We’ll call our hero Dimon. This is a high-minded, cultured individual we’ll be talking about, and “Dimon,” a street-slang variation of the name Dmitriy, is surely a name that he would hate.
Dimon is an older guy I met on the bus. Or, rather, the bus stop. I hopped off at my destination, he hopped off after me, and offered me his arm to help me walk through the ice. As previously mentioned, the damn streets are not getting cleaned up (because that would make life too easy, causing everyone to forget their stern Slavic heritage), so it was a tempting offer. Plus, he didn’t look like a serial killer. He didn’t even look bad. Scratch that, he looked kinda good. As an irrevocably shallow sort of person, I wasn’t going to overlook that.
We laughed many, many times as he walked me home, talking about frivolous things like the weather, and I came close to falling many, many times, and each time he managed to keep me upright, and we laughed some more.
He called me a few times, and we agreed to meet up for drinks one night. It was freezing outside, and he brought me pretty roses, which I hid from the cold in an oversize bag. I’m not really used to men giving me flowers, even Ukrainian men, so I did express surprise, but it was delighted surprise. Flowers are an old-fashioned gesture, but it’s still fairly common in Kiev, and I think it’s one of the perks of being here, to be honest.
It did, therefore, make me a little sad to contemplate said flowers in a crystal vase much later in the evening. I like people with good taste. When it turns out that they are, in fact, miserable gnomes, it bothers me. See? I’m bothered enough to write an entire blog post about it.
As we made our way to his bar of choice, he asked me about the countries I’ve already lived in. I answered: Ukraine, United States, United Arab Emirates, and, breaking with the “U” tradition, Jordan. This seemed to displease him, for some reason.
“Oh.” He said. “Well-traveled, are we?”
“Hey, you went to grad school in Holland,” I pointed out (we had established this fact previously, along with the fact that he paints, and works in advertising). “We are not that different.”
If you know me, you know that I like to blather on about literature. In this instance, I tried to abstain, I really did. He got me on the subject of Vonnegut, though, which meant that I was eager to discuss Slaughterhouse-Five. Trouble was, I forgot how to say “Slaughterhouse-Five” in Russian. It happens, sometimes. Sometimes, my brain jams. It happens when I’m speaking English too. I’ll want to say “trampoline,” for example, and all I can manage is the Russian word for it; “batut, batut, batut” keeps going through my head, until I want to scream.
Unable to articulate what I wanted to say, I said the words “Slaughterhouse-Five” in English.
“It translates very simply to Russian,” he said. And he said it in Russian.
“I know, I just forgot. Happens sometimes. Brain jams.”
“Or else you’re just trying to show that you’re an authentic American.”
At this point, I was like:
I mean, it’s not like I was especially reticent about having spent most of my life in God’s Country. But, hey, whatever, right? Maybe it was just an awkward joke on his part.
The date continued. Mulled wine was drunk. We talked about art and how people assume that artists must survive on a combination of rose petals and inspiration, when this isn’t actually the case. A group of loud French people sitting next to us inspired me to remark that I don’t think I’m in love with the French language like the rest of the world is. I prefer German. Stoic, harsh German. He was surprised by this.
“It served me really well,” I chattered, as I rubbed the wine stains off my bare arms (it was hot in the bar, and I was attempting to drink the mulled wine through a bendy straw, and it was getting everywhere). “Freshman year, when we were reading Chaucer, I said, ‘wow, thank you, German language.’ I would have had a harder time without it. Middle English…”
“I HAVE LINGUISTS IN MY FAMILY!” He interrupted suddenly, in the kind of tone someone would normally use to denounce a child-molester. “I *KNOW* THAT ENGLISH IS A GERMANIC LANGUAGE!!!”
At this point, I was more like:
Seriously? Lose your temper at me while I was excitedly telling you about my hot love affair with the German language? NOT a way to get into my pants, dude.
How the hell am I supposed to know about the linguists in your family? And even if I did know, who says you ever have conversations with them, huh? For all I know, you despise the linguists in your family. For all I know, you smile indulgently as they babble about linguist-y things, all the while imagining yourself to be elsewhere and not really paying attention at all.
You know, I have musicians in my family, many of them, and they’re always talking about Haydn and Phillip Glass and Natalka Poltavka and whatnot, but if you were to come along and start telling me something about Phillip Glass, I wouldn’t go all “I HAVE MUSICIANS IN MY FAMILY! I *KNOW* HE DID THE SCORE FOR ‘THE HOURS’!!!” on you. Why? Oh I don’t know. Probably because I’m not a jackass? Just a thought.
As you can imagine, I was pretty irritated with our friend Dimon by the time we left the bar, and the worst part was, we lived in the same neighbourhood, which meant having to travel home together. I would have much rather plugged my ears up with some accusatory hip hop about motherfuckers who need to get back because they don’t know me like that, but I am too polite of a girl.
My good manners will be my downfall one of these days, because I was shortly thereafter treated to the following monologue, after we somehow managed to get on the subject of the military:
“You know, my grandfather was in the military. Ah, yes. He taught me how to have a commanding voice. A commanding voice, he said, works really well on women. Yes, when I am yelling at a woman, I use my commanding voice. And you know what? It really works. The women do as they are told.”
OK, now, here, I was just like:
“Funny,” I said. “My grandfather was a Major General in the Soviet Army. And he respected women.”
“A Major General? A real one?”
“No, dude, a CARDBOARD one.”
I started telling him about how my grandfather was a great man (which he was), whose main purpose as a grandfather was to teach me to be excellent, and to believe in me, and how lucky I was to have had someone like this in my life, someone who gave me a lot of drive and purpose, and a bit of a competitive spirit, which has served me well. I knew that this would irritate him, and I wanted to irritate him.
“A competitive spirit,” he noted importantly, “does not serve a writer well.”
“Yeah, but if it’s your profession, you inevitably end up comparing yourself to other people and wondering if…”
“Hey! I’m in a creative profession too, I think I know what I’m talking about!”
“Well, I respect that, but I’ve been doing this full-time for a few years, and I have found that…”
“BUT YOU DON’T HAVE ACCLAIM!!!”
I have never before been in a situation where some guy who is ostensibly attracted to me, or was ostensibly attracted to be before he discovered my “authentic Americanness” and love of Chaucer, said that to me. It’s like telling someone “BUT YOU WEREN’T ELECTED PRESIDENT!!!” because they expressed a political opinion.
“Sure, I don’t have acclaim,” I said.
He actually chuckled with satisfaction. I half-expected him to twirl his mustache.
“But I’m happy with what I’m doing. I’ve got friends I respect who give me enough positive feedback to make me feel like I’m moving in the right direction. That counts for something, no?”
Dead silence. The shuffle of feet. We were walking up toward my building, but we still had a way to go.
“… And I guess, it doesn’t really matter if I get acclaim, no? I’d like to be able to say that I tried to be successful. With my book, or with my play, or with something else. I don’t want to sit in a nursing home at 90, contemplating the ‘what ifs.’ I’d rather try, and fail. Success matters, but trying matters too. No?”
When we reached the front door of my building, he told me he wouldn’t call me until the deadline to turn in my play had come and gone.
“You’re not going off to Ireland any time soon, are you?” He asked (I had mentioned that I’d like to go this year).
“Who knows, who knows,” I said, giving him what I can only hope was a smile-so-tight-it’s-not-really-a-smile. “Be safe walking home. Don’t fall on the ice.”
When I got home, I contemplated why it was that he had made me feel like such shit. I sent him a polite text message, thanking him for the flowers again, and he sent me a polite text message back, but that only made me feel worse. He weirded me out like nothing else, and made me feel downright shitty, by the end.
And then it dawned on me, slowly.
When he met me, initially, he was expecting something completely different. He met a woman who was very blond, about a decade younger, wearing a fluffy coat and pretty boots and a fair bit of make-up, and helplessly skidding along on the ice. She was bubbly and talkative, and appreciative of having someone there to walk her home.
But then he discovered that she read books and shit. She lived in different places, she had opinions on things like the merits of German vs. the merits of French. And that was a problem, somehow. That was a reason to get mean with her.
She was a great disappointment, not having lived up to her somewhat ditzy image. Well, shit. She needed to be punished, just a little:
There’s a dude I know, who lives in a crappy khrushchevka in a crappy town. He has no college education. He drives to work in a car that most closely resembles a rusting aluminum can. His father is a drunk.
He doesn’t have linguists in his family, but hey, whatever, we have fun when we hang out. He makes me laugh until my jaw starts hurting, and he takes stupid pictures of me with his phone camera. He puts me over his shoulder and carries me around when I get tired on our walks. He doesn’t give a shit if I’m an “authentic American” or whether or not my grandfather was a “real Major General.” He just digs me.
He likes to listen to me go on about literature, I like to listen to him go on about the best way to make shashlik. I complain to him about men, he complains to me about women. We compare notes. We decide that love is most likely a crock of shit. We have more wine.
My friend is one of the reasons why I absolutely refuse to believe that guys like Dimon Douchenozzle have any legitimate right to be “defensive” around chicks like me. I’m sorry, but no. That’s not how it works. It comes down to whether or not you’re a sad sack of shit, in the end.
I’m not going to dumb myself down so that the Dimons of the world can feel better about themselves in my presence. I feel the pressure to do it all the time – even my cousin Yaroslava used to say that “men like kittens, Natalia, and you’re more of a lion” – but fuck that noise. There are certain feminists who say that people have the right to judge those of us who “perform femininity,” and perhaps they would say that Dimon Dickface had every right to pre-judge me based on my appearance and behaviour, and then decide to get testy when the product didn’t live up to the wrapping, but I could care less. I like Kurt Vonnegut and sparkly eyeliner, and if that means that I won’t be getting more pretty rose bouquets because of that, then it is a noble sacrifice that I will gladly make.
I can always just take the revolutionary step of buying roses for myself, you know.
* – Douchecanoe is my favourite new insult.