Thursday, July 17, 2014
A couple of weeks back I was with a friend and we commented that we seldom, if ever, got the second look anymore. The second look, should it need to be defined, is exactly that: the look given after the first passing glance; the look—more often than not from the opposite sex—that seeks more information without overtly asking for it. It is sometimes surreptitious, no more than a glance, and other times honest and enquiring, a bold stare like the one I got in an elevator a few years ago when a middle-aged woman asked me if I was moving into the building, then said, “Too bad,” when I said I wasn’t.
The disappearance of the second look is a subtle change in a man’s—and a woman’s—life for it implies that we have moved from the arena where gender matters to the one where it does not. We have become largely faceless, and people begin to call us “sir” and “ma’am.” The attractiveness and sexual energy we relied upon to make contact with our opposites is just about gone, and the smiles we might garner are the same as those a cute and well-behaved toddler might get.
When does this happen? And do we cause it by somehow giving up our claim to life, or does it simply occur in spite of our best efforts?
Some days ago I heard a not-at-all-pleasant woman in her mid-60s bemoan the fact that she lacks a boyfriend and I wondered if the sourness of her disposition chased men away, or was it the lack of men that caused her unhappiness? Or had she simply become invisible, another divorced dyed-haired matron with a Barbara Bush hairdo, back problems and a collection of Trader Joe shopping bags?
I see old men in felts hats wearing their pants halfway up their chests and find it impossible to believe they ever got a first look, never mind a second one. But they must have, otherwise many of us would not be here. Often they’re walking alone, widowers or divorcees perhaps, carrying their solitude like heavy knapsacks. They read the local paper without interest, linger endlessly over a cup of coffee, and return to the same franchise breakfast place two or three times a day. There is one man I have seen nearly every day for a year, and though I made some efforts to speak with him on more than one occasion, his loneliness is so physically intense that words don’t get through. He stands in front of the Post Office hours on end, smoking one cigarette after another. His skin is parchment-like and dry as a stick, He politely opens the door for women as if this small act might render him visible again, but he ignores men, looks through us as if we are not there. I often wonder if he’s waiting for a letter, for word from somewhere not here that will allow him to relink his life to those of others.