Thursday, March 12, 2009

Speaking of cats

It's come to this.
I have crossed a line... or a bridge... or a Rubicon... or something you cross (time/space continuum?) and have arrived on the other side bewildered. And not entirely happy.
You think maybe it could happen some day; perhaps you've heard tell that it's happened to others - you might've read a book on the subject or shared a joke with your friends; but you just personally pray that that ignominious day will either a) never come, or b) come, but not make itself known, personally, to you, so you can fool yourself that that day, hasn't actually... er... come.
Essentially, I was called out.
Thinking about it isn't so bad - saying it out loud, slightly less than not bad - but hearing it... and hearing it in a sentence that is clearly directed at no one other than you - well, that's a whole 'nother proposition altogether. An entirely different kettle of worms.
Here's what happened:
I was on the subway, lateish - 9 or so - returning from an evening with friends. I was dressed against the inhospitably (some might say downright unfairly) inclement weather (covered up is what I'm saying) leaning in the doorway, just basically doodly-doo-ing in my head - counting stops, reading posters, checking out my cohorts on this journey... when I noticed one of my cohorts was similarly checking out me. Intently.
With purpose even.
Back to aggressive doodly-dooing... darting eyes re-recording what I've already exhaustively read poster-wise... studying the subway map as if I didn't know what comes after Summerhill and before Davisville... pretend-checking my purse for... what? (Keys, phone, wallet, gum... whatever...) and then one quick glance across the seats opposite me - and there he is again. staring... studying me like, well, like a subway poster.
He's 20-something-ish. Cute. Okay, very. Looks like Cat Stevens pre-Yusuf - all dark, shiny, curly hair, twinkly eyes (creepy-starer he may be, but credit where credit is due) and (as far as I can tell) sober.
Age him ten years or so and he's a dating trifecta.
But I'm shy. It's embarrassing being stared at - I'm deeply uncomfortable with it - and I just want it to stop. It stops. It stops when he gets up and walks straight toward me. And everyone is watching.
"Hey," he says, "I just wanted to tell you you look beautiful tonight." He growls it sort of, but it's an articulate growl.
I don't know where to look. My eyes do some more darting, blinking (plink, plink) before I face him. I take a deep breath.
"Thanks," I say, not burdened at that moment by a surfeit of articulateness. I think I touched my hair. Blushed.
He smiles. His eyes pierce me.
"So," he says, "I guess you're what they call a cougar, eh?"
Black. It all just went black. I'm pretty sure my mouth fell open. I know my pupils dilated. (I just know.)
"I beg your pardon," say I in a tone that begs nothing; as if by questioning it, I can somehow demand it be retrieved. A take-back... a cosmic do-over.
But it was done.
He looks at me, puzzled. I suspect he's familiar with the look of happy women, but at this moment he's face-to-face with the unfamiliar.
"But why," he asks. "What's the matter?"
"Let me give you a tip," I say to him as our subway car bursts back into the light and slows down as we prepare to stop at the place that lies between Summerhill and Davisville. "Take it from me: women don't like to be called 'cougars'. It's an insult."
"But why?" he asks again, genuinely surprised.
"Because it's a term whose implication suggests that older women prey on young men. It makes us sound like sex-mad predators," I tell him. "It's not the least bit flattering. It makes us sound desperate." I pause. "It makes us sound old."
The train stops. The doors judder open.
"But what am I going to call you that will get me a date," he asks, twinkle snapped miraculously back in place.
I am not moved this time. This time I have moved on.
I look straight at him.
"Nothing," I reply, and with the perfect timing for which I am not the least bit renowned, I step off the train and the doors slam shut.
I am a woman of a certain age. I am hanging onto that last frayed, split-ended, dangling piece of string that tethers me to the kite of the baby boomer generation. Minutes away really, if you want to stretch a point (let's) to that generation known as "X".
I look after myself, I look good for my age; I wear lipstick when I go out and high heels (virtually no matter the weather) and on a good day, I hold my own.
I am not a cougar.
And if you disagree with me - seriously - I'll scratch your eyes out.