Sometimes life imitates art, as GB Shaw (or was it Oscar Wilde?) said. It can come in the kind of dreamy, surreal, derealized form as the experience that led to Bus Station or it can come in the kind of ready for writing about form as the one i’m going to talk about: The experience I had of being called ma’am repeatedly.
I was in the cusp between Dana novels when it started and I was wondering what kind of outlandishness I could have Dana do to Erik next to make that poor man’s life more miserable. The answer came to me in what happened next. I started getting ma’amed. A lot. If I had been “transitioning” I would have been flattered but i’m straight. What started it, I guess, was the hair.
My hair’s down to my collarbone and has been for most of my life. So is a lot of men’s and I wonder if this happens to them. The first time was morning in early spring when a guy stopped by and wanted to buy my wife’s station wagon. Around here when a car sits in the yard for very long people come by and want to buy it.
When the guy started talking to me he called me ma’am. Said by way of apology that his eyes were bad. And I could understand that what with the hair. I had on a pair of oversize shorts that might have looked like a skirt. And my ears must be as bad as his eyes because i’d thought he said, “Hey, man.” He mustve been embarrassed when I started talking and he realized I wasn’t a ma’am.
There were other times. I was with my wife at the supermarket one winter day in big, bulky sweats and a wool hat over my hair. The clerk gave me the change and said, “Thank you, ma’am.” She mustve thought Sherry and I were two ma’ams. What with the bulky clothes and all.
The next time was at a big true value hardware. I was standing in line with my back turned. I had Sherry’s key chain in my hand, a loop in the shape of a big red heart. The cashier said to me, “I can get you over here, ma’am.” She wouldn’t look me in the face after that. And I was beginning to enjoy this as a kind of game. I’m just sadistic enough to enjoy seeing the discomfiture on people’s faces that I look forward to it.
And it kept happening. When I went through the bank drive through I got ma’amed again. When I filled up at a gas station a guy at the cash register ma’amed me and was kind enough to apologize. The next day when I got gas a woman at the cash register ma’amed me and would not look me in the face when she realized her mistake.
It kept happening. In the summer a man from the rural electric company came to the door because my wife called and asked the them to not spray brush killer in front of the house.
So he comes to the door and says, Sherry? Ma’am could you tell me where you don’t want sprayed?
He was embarrassed and avoided my eyes as I showed him where not to spray.
Finally I told my wife about it. Her only thought on it was that there are so many butt-ugly women in this county that I was prettier than 75% of them. Maybe that’s true. But I wondered if she thought I was making this up.
But then she saw it for herself. At a Red Lobster a waitress took Sherry’s order and without looking at me said, “And are you ready to order, ma’am?”
She was nonplussed to say the least. But she was so nice I didn’t have the heart to be mean even if I wanted to. It was all I could do not to laugh.
Weeks later when we were having lunch at an Appleby’s the same thing happened. The waitress apologized and said she didn’t look, really, that all she saw was a lot of brown hair.
From all this I finally decided that people are so busy these days they have their minds on other things and simply do not look. And this led to considerations such as what is a man/woman? How do we recognize one in public? And so on. I guess I thought that some transitioning men to women who come out and are so self-conscious maybe needn’t be, not in this place. People don’t even look.
And I got my subject for the next Dana novel: Dana tries to force Erik to get transgendered.