Sunday, 25 August 2013

Men: alien encounters

On my way across a parking lot, I noticed a car idling as I carried on into the store. After talking to three polite and earnest salesmen who couldn’t sell me the radio I wanted, I returned toward my little white Honda Fit and heard the black SUV’s engine still running. Through its tinted windows I could see that the driver was male and I hesitated before approaching. Maybe the sultry August weather increased my motivation. I stood at his closed window until he opened it. “Hi. I don’t want to be a pest but you’re idling the car and polluting the air that we all breathe.” He was polite but protested that he was charging his computer. 
“Oh, is that the only place you can do it?” I asked innocently. 
He mumbled, “ Well, sort of”.
I said “Thanks”, for what I’m not sure – maybe for not cursing me - and I drove off. I thought of how much I, myself, was contributing to air pollution by driving from store to store looking for an emergency radio. I wonder what he was left thinking.

Approaching another mall I noticed seven men standing in a circle outside. They were dressed for business, mostly in dark suits, all younger and taller than I. I recognised a faint fear response in my gut – “The enemy! En garde”. I could hear that one guy was conducting a meeting, but since I had to walk right by them to enter the mall, I stopped with a big smile and said, “Ooh, scaaary - Suits!” The leader grinned back, friendly, and patient with my interruption, “What?” 
I teased, “Where are all the women?” 
Laughing, he replied, “Oh, they’re on their way”. He understood my issue and didn’t respond to my comment with irritation.

Driving again, I merged into an exit lane and let two roaring dump trucks go ahead of me. I thought of all the men who work in the rough and tough occupations, dirty, noisy, dangerous, and tiring. Although I’m glad not to have their jobs, I hope for equality’s sake that more women are choosing such work. When I was writing this I googled “trucks women drivers”. I didn’t find any stats but was encouraged to read an announcement on the “Truckers Support” website, promoting awareness of of sex- trafficking, its connection to truck stops, and urging professional drivers to help stop the crime.

Speaking of "men's work", near our house there’s an intriguing construction site with deep holes, a large crane, modular buildings and lots of men in hard hats. When several neighbours stood watching, the supervisor (tall and muscular, with steel toes and dusty clothes) joined us to chat. He cheerfully answered our questions and said how excited he was to see the modules arrive so that the job could keep going - not the gruff and silent type at all. 
A couple of days later I was walking by the site and he gave a friendly wave, just as if I were a fellow human being instead of an invisible old woman.

This summer it’s been charming to watch two young fathers interact with their children in nurturing ways. Both were affectionate with their sons as well as their daughters, both were patient and instructive, both gave full attention to specific parenting moments the way mothers traditionally do.

Another surprising alien male encounter happened during a walk along my local main street. I saw a rough looking, long-haired guy riding his rusty bike toward me on the sidewalk. He looked to be about 40, wore a sleeveless t-shirt (are they still called "muscle" shirts?) and was helmetless. He seemed out of place in our by-law compliant part of town. As he passed me, he called, “Your white hair is gorgeous!” 
Alright then. Welcome to the neighbourhood, man.

When I finally found the right store for buying a transistor radio, a middle-aged man (never my first choice for clerks) expertly advised me on exactly the right product. I was grateful. Okay, they’re not all condescending to women.

I hope that one day it will become automatic for me to expect the best of men, instead of the worst.