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« Tough Justice [by Charles Coe] | Main | Happy Birthday America! »

July 02, 2015

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If I were that girl and read this now, I'd be really glad I didn't go all the way that night. She let you be intimate with her at a vulnerable time, and your response was to let a total stranger sniff her body fluids, so you could brag about scoring. Your teenage self might be excused for thinking it's cute, but you should be old enough to see women as human beings.

The word "cute" or anything implying "cute" is no where in the piece. Anyone who infers "cuteness" should question her or his attitudes. (The person you refer to as "that girl" was--and is--a woman; also, she didn't "let me be intimate"--the physical intimacy was begun mutually and ended mutually. The piece is written in present tense--in the voice of my teenage self. My "old enough" self is no where in the piece. Maybe you should read more of my work before you publicly state that I should be "old enough to see women as human beings." Then again, maybe don't.

Well, I apologize for the snarky tone, but I was just taken aback by the finger-sniffing. I was enjoying the light-hearted reminiscences up to that point. I felt that it was a breach of trust to expose her to a stranger like that, when she had confided that she was grieving about her uncle (that's what I meant by vulnerable) but your younger self didn't seem empathetic about it. There were passages where the older present-tense narrator did seem to be in evidence, as in the funny bit about the nipple that was an elbow, so I was hoping for a little reflection like "Gee, I was kinda self-centered and uncaring back then." (Maybe not explicitly, but tone can convey a lot, and I didn't sense any remorse.) I'm sorry it just struck me the wrong way. As I said, if I were the girl in that encounter, I would have felt humiliated to discover this essay on the Internet. I can't speak for her, I guess, but it's worth considering whether some stories should just stay between friends.

I hope that every reader is "taken aback by the finger-sniffing." It was an impulsive and horribly obnoxious gesture, and that's what the piece is about. It's interesting that you assume it was the death of an uncle that made her feel vulnerable, or that there even was a death of an uncle. This happened almost 50 years ago.

OK, thanks, I'm glad you see that the same way. It was not as clear as it might have been, I think, because you just recounted the anecdote quickly and ended the piece. I was shocked because I had trusted the narrator's good intentions up to that point -- which perhaps was what you intended after all. It brought up painful memories of boys bragging about sexual conquests in my high school, which boosted their reputations but ruined those of my female friends whose privacy was violated.

It is always a challenge when writing about a character whose sexist attitude is reinforced by the culture at large, how to present it in a way that encourages critical judgment instead of suggesting that this is normal "boys will be boys" behavior. I'm not sure you totally met that challenge but I am sorry to have spoken hotly in haste.

I'm perplexed you thought I was "assuming" her uncle died -- the narrator says that she told him this to explain why she stopped the sex. Are we supposed to infer she was making up an excuse? Again, obviously people bring different assumptions to a text because of life experience, but I thought you portrayed her as a nice and believable person, not a manipulator. Anyway, thanks for engaging in a tough conversation.

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


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