I wasn’t wearing a mini skirt or heels. I wasn’t busting out a handful of cleavage, nor was I wearing some tight white bootie pants, but still, the group of guys hanging out on the corner all began to hoot and holler as soon as I walked by. I was running late, shoes untied, in my work uniform for God sakes, and still, I could feel their eyes on my ass checking out my bootie, while the alpha of the four called out, “Damn girl, you lookin’ good today! Wassup with you, you got a boyfriend? How ‘bout just a minute to talk? Hey, where you going, Ma, why you so mad—come back!”
I was seething, and still annoyed when I got to work. We were nearing the end of happy hour when one of my regulars, Louise, came in. Louise must’ve been a hot ticket back in her day. I’m sure her scraggled tangles of grey were once long blonde locks, and that her cracked and wrinkled skin, like a parched and dried up desert, was once rosy and smooth. She’s been “75” for the last four years, but judging by her extensive knowledge of the Roaring 20s, I think she’s probably closer to 90.
The other bartenders can’t stand her. She’s louder than a cheerleader with a megaphone, her caked-on makeup is always melting off her face, and the woman doesn’t laugh—she cackles. I kind of like her though. She’s funny. Who cares that she’s a little tacky and that her outlandish wardrobe is kitschy, to say the least? She’s got great stories about traveling the world: like living in Paris with a young hot stripper; meeting her third husband drunk in a hot-air balloon above Rio; and getting asked by Hugh Heffner to model for him before the magazine mogul was a mega pimp. Most of her stories are probably exactly what they sound like—full of shit—but what kind of writer would I be to not appreciate some decent fiction?
Louise was already lit when she came in, staggering in from the bar next-door, where the bartenders have told me that the third martini they make for her is nothing more than chilled water—stirred, not shaken—with a splash of gin.
“HEY SERENA!” she shouted. She once heard my bar-back calling me ‘Sarita,’ my Latino name with the primos, and misheard. I probably should’ve corrected her a long time ago, but for some reason I don’t mind. (There’s this prick who comes in sometimes who doesn’t believe I “look” like a Sarah, and only calls me Juanita. Now that’s annoying.)
“Hey there, Louise. Manhattan or martini today?”
“Manhattan, please! The cheap bottom of the barrel happy-hour crap with a dash of Bitters, just the way I like it.”
I began preparing her cocktail as the entire bar turned to stare at the newcomer who was about ten decibels louder than everyone else. Louise either didn’t notice the weight of so many appalled eyeballs on her, or didn’t seem to care. I’d like to say that she’s so loud because she’s losing her hearing, but being liquored up 24-7 probably doesn’t help her case.
I dropped a cherry in the manhattan, placing it in front of her. “Thanks, Serena! You’re alright, kid!” she cackled. “How’s life?!”
“Fine,” I sighed, making margaritas for the cocktailer’s drink ticket.
“Aw, shucks, you don’t gotta lie to me. Hell, I don’t care if you’re in a bad mood or not—you’re human, right? Besides, no one expects bartenders to be as cheerful as you usually are anyway. Least when you are, it’s a bonus cuz you’re so damn cute!” She took a big slurp off the top of the glass, her hands shaking uncontrollably as she set it down. Her purple eyeliner had smudged down into the dark bags under her eyes, and her ruffled neon green blouse had an obvious mustard stain right down the middle. The woman was as loopy and sane as the Mad Hatter, and still, I leaned in suddenly, needing an ear for my girl-talk. “Louise, do you think it’s disrespectful when guys try to pick up women on the street? I mean, did you ever have that problem or…do you…still?” (The latter I added mostly to be nice.)
“Do I look that lucky? Jesus, I wish they still did! I haven’t gotten cruised since they landed that guy on the moon!”
“But didn’t you find it offensive? It’s so sexist of men to think they can say whatever they want to women, don’t you think?”
“Bah. All those fellas who are dumb enough to hoot and holler at a hot babe on the street usually know she’s outta their league anyway—that’s why they do it. They’re mad that they’re too slimy to get the looker broads they want, and even if they do got themselves a keeper at home, they’re too big of idiots to realize it. See, back in my day it was more of a man’s world. Men were the bread-winners. They ruled their wives, they were head of the families, Jesus, they ruled the friggin’ country! Times have changed. Us women are more independent, dammit. We have our own careers, our own lives, and Lord almighty, we are not ashamed of our sexuality—ha! Just look at that Kim Kardashy babe—man, what a fox!” she croaked. “Meanwhile, those few men who are insecure enough to feel the need to control us know that they’re losing that power they once had over us. You better believe they’re freaking out! They’re just trying to assert their presence, you know, remind us that it’s still their world—so they think.”
“I don’t care if they have a security complex. Those cat-calls are so annoying.”
“Honey, one day, when the cat-calls stop, and no one on the street stops to stare at you anymore, and your chest is sagging down to your belly-button, and your ass looks like a marshmallow right before it burns for S’mores, then you’ll wish you were young and beautiful again. Then you’ll be old as dirt like me and sitting on the other side of the bar, telling some young hot ticket that a buncha scumbags thinking you’re cute should be the least of your worries.”
Louise was slurring terribly and a small string of drool was yo-yo-ing up and down her bottom lip, but I did have to admit one thing: Louise was truly and genuinely right. Reading between the lines of men who cat-call, these men are simply saying that they don’t know how to express their admiration of a beautiful woman, and that they fear they’re losing their inability to be needed by us. (Hel-lo? Perfect example right here.) Maybe the day that all the hooting and hollering does stop, I might be wishing that it never had—that I could be still be that young full-of-life vixen, annoyed by perverse men’s attractions towards me.
I looked at Louise. Who knew a century old drunk still had some words of wisdom left in her?
“Here, you want me to get even with those stupid boys for you—will it make you feel better? Watch this.” She twisted around, finding a young couple at a cocktail table behind her, drinking the margaritas I’d made and chowing down on ahi tuna. “Hey, you!” Louise called out to them. “Yeah you, you young hottie! Boy, are you a looker. Is that your girlfriend or your sister?”
The guy swallowed a piece of his sashimi whole, looking stricken. You’d think someone was asking him a job interview question. “She’s my…uh, fiancée.”
“Jesus Christ, that figures. Hey, you ever wanna try your luck with an older woman, you just let me know. I ain’t rich yet, but my psychic says I’m gonna win Bingo any day now! Hey, you—sweetheart! You’re a lucky gal, you know that? Boy, what a fox you got. Cheers to you kids!” The entire bar tipped their drinks down their wide-open mouths. I shook my head, trying not to laugh. This was just a typical hour with Louise.
She turned back around, finished proving her point. “You think he likes me?” she winked.
“Not as much as his fiancée does, I’m sure.”
The girlfriend was raising her empty glass, hooking eyes with the cocktailer. “Another round please.”
“Serena, before happy-hour ends, I’ll take another one of these cheap and delicious bottom of the barrel happy-hour manhattans with a dash of Bitters. Christ, do you know how to make a cocktail. Swear to god those gebrones next door are just blowing smoke up my ass with those drinks they call martinis.”
“Sure. But your glass is still…” I stopped myself, just as Louise knocked back the rest of her cocktail, finishing off the cherry as her final touch. I was already stirring the next manhattan for her when she dropped the cherry stem she’d tied in a knot back into the empty glass.
“Thanks, Serena! You’re alright, kid!”
I thought about what Louise said all night through work, and even afterwards, walking down Powell Street back towards BART. My patience was tested as I approached a pack of guys, smoking menthols and smacking away on corn-nuts, while people-watching the flocks of inebriated tourists zig-zagging down the street. The one holding a bag of Pampers whistled back the rest of them did the bootie check. I walked on, carrying my head high. Louise’s loopy grin was still cemented in my mind, and so was that poor harassed fiancée who had looked so completely terrified.
I know I still live in a man’s world, but I wouldn’t change my own power of being a woman for anything. If this is the luck of the draw that a beautiful young woman has to deal with, so be it. After all, in a world full of knockdowns, it's resilience that truly makes up that bewitching magic of a woman.
© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved