Thursday, October 8, 2015

Not Tempted

It was the culmination of a dream my brother Rob had had a few years earlier, in which he and I had been trying to find each other in DC. One of those dreams where you keep trying to get somewhere, and things keep getting in your way. This gave him the idea that we should visit there together, and I agreed. A year ago, we finally did.

We have a good time together, but there's no denying we'd probably score differently on a Myers-Briggs test, I, INFP, and he, ENFP. He has friends all over the world, due in part to his job (which involves an almost super-human amount of travel), but mostly to his outgoing nature. Rob is a social butterfly in the extreme. 

I'd enjoyed meeting several of his friends, but that night, I decided to sit it out. He went to a birthday party, while I settled in for a quiet night in our hotel room. Sound-proof rooms surrounded by anonymous strangers from all over the world aren't exactly my idea of paradise - they're one of the few places I don't care for being alone. On the other hand, it was only for a few hours, and I do like my own company. 

However, I'd seen that Hershey had a brand of ice cream I'd never seen before, and become overly attached to the idea of it. Why? I can't say. I'm not particularly fond of Hershey's chocolate. Still, how often did I come to DC? Never. The prospect of not being alone in a hotel room for a while also held a certain appeal. So I headed out to obtain some. 

I hadn't gotten 20 feet when a man approached me, asking for a closer look at my tattoo. This isn't unusual, and I do not, as a rule, consider it sexual harassment. The truth is, I can't blame the curious. My tattoo is fantastic. 

The man was in his late 30s, average-looking, on the short side. He introduced himself as a philosophy professor from Paris, half French, half Tunisian (yes, that was part of the introduction), in town to teach some sort of workshop. He was, he explained, fascinated by tattoos, and what motivates people to get them.

"You're a beautiful lady, but when I look at you, the first thing I see if your tattoo. Is that what you want?" 

I explained, not unkindly, that whatever he or anyone else saw when they first laid eyes on me was no concern of mine. 

"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. 

I looked in the direction I'd been headed. Deserted. Whether or not I got a drink with this guy, I'd have to turn back. Oh, well. He was a philosophy professor, or claimed to be. The conversation might be interesting. If nothing else, I suspected I'd have a story to tell later on. I place a high value on ice cream, but a higher one on stories. 

"We can get a drink at my hotel," I said. Telling him where I was staying didn't seem like the wisest course of action, but I'd done the math, and was confident the benefits outweighed the risks.  He'd probably seen me coming out of there, anyway. 

We got a table in the bar, and each ordered a beer. I made it clear I was married. The waitress seemed to know him well, and was happy to see him. Odd, since he'd claimed to be from Paris. He said he visited DC often, but I ask you - even if you visited a city, say, four times a year, would that be enough for a waitress at a hotel where you're not even staying to recognize you? 

Briefly, we discussed philosophy. He expressed surprise that I'd heard of Michel Foucault. I was the only American he'd ever met who had. Considering I'd learned about him as a college sophomore, in a room full of other 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, I was skeptical, but let it go. With philosophy out of the way, he got down to business. 

"How long have you been married?" he asked.

"We've been together for fourteen years, married for nine," I answered. 

"Fourteen years! Have you been faithful all that time?" 

"Yes, I have," I told him. 

He admitted to finding fidelity quite challenging. He'd cheated on several girlfriends, and more than one wife.

Something I'd said had made him think I was in an open marriage, which wasn't exactly the case. In theory in theory, sure. In theory, not really. In practice, practically not at all. My understanding with my husband would have required me to call home and ask for permission to sleep with a man I'd just met and had no desire whatsoever to sleep with. It hardly seemed appropriate.

"I think the better question is, why aren't you in an open marriage?" I asked.

Liar! Or, at best, highly disingenuous of me. I knew goddamn well why he wasn't a good candidate for an open marriage.

Since I was a psychotherapist, he asked, would I mind telling him if he was crazy? 

I can only imagine he was looking for a yes, you're crazy, the craziest, most unique special snowflake I've ever met! Crazy, crazy, crazy! Failing that, he might have liked a no, you're not crazy, the world is crazy - you're its one oasis of sanity! But dude, I'm a professional. I don't go around confirming or denying that people I met five minutes ago are "crazy." I told him as much, and helpfully suggested he might do well to stop getting married so much all the time. 

As a matter of fact, I was not the only one at our table who was currently married. He had a wife and child back in France. I asked about them, and he assumed a tortured, far-away look. 

"It's too sad, too sad," he said. I have since read that saying everything twice is the mark of a true French man. 

Clearly he was fishing for me to ask him about it, but I didn't bother. Within a minute, he regaled me with the harrowing tale of a beautiful wife and healthy newborn daughter, waiting for him in his apartment in Paris, France. Tragic. Still, it was best to listen to him talk about himself. It made it easy for me to avoid divulging any information about myself, a decision that was seeming wiser by the minute. 

"It took me years to get my wife. I had to beat out a lot of other men. But I finally got her." 

He got out his phone to show me a picture, but first opened it to a conversation with a woman he'd been texting with earlier than night, making sure to linger for a few seconds so I could see. 

"I was going to sleep with her, but...." something was said about her being young, or drunk, or both, but the reason he wasn't with her at the moment wasn't made entirely clear. Young women, though, were not his preference. He preferred someone a bit older, like me. 

The picture showed a racially ambiguous woman, not conventionally beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. She was on par with me - we aren't exactly frightening children, and we have our fans, our demographic, but nobody is going to be offering either of us a modeling contract any time soon. Let's face it - if your modeling career hasn't taken off by your late 30s, it probably never will. Not that I'm complaining. Somehow, she and I get by, carving out lives for ourselves despite never having taken the world of fashion by storm.

"Look at her, she knows what I'm doing. She knows," he said. She held a baby, and, it was true, was giving the camera some considerable side-eye. 

About his daughter, he said, "That's me. That's me." 

This just kept getting weirder.  

"Give me your hand," he said. 


"Just give me your hand," he pleaded. 


"You're one of very few women in my life to reject me. I'm taking it easy on you, because I can see you value your marriage." 


In case he, or you, are missing what I'm saying, I'll lay it out for you. 

I'm not the first woman who has ever rejected you. I'm not even the first woman who has rejected you tonight

I am not the most beautiful woman you've ever seen. Not even close. I'm not fishing for compliments, it's just a fact. It makes no difference, you still want to have sex with me, reason being, I'm the first woman you've seen with a physical feature you could use to start up a conversation since things fell through with the last one, and now I'm here and I don't actively repulse you. That's all. 

I am not the only American you've ever met who has heard of Michel Foucault, unless you only recently heard of him. 

You don't prefer women your own age, or if you do, it's because you think we're desperate losers who will swoon if you pay us the slightest attention. You said that because you think your attraction to younger women bothers me, and you're right. It does. Because I'm concerned for their safety.

I think about how I would have handled this as a teenager or a young adult. Luckily for me, I would probably have been protected by my healthy aversion to old men - I simply wouldn't have gone anywhere with him, not even for the rather cynical reasons I chose to at age 37. But if I'd ended up in the same conversation, maybe on a bus, I would have been more polite, worked much harder to be sensitive to him. I would have tried to tell him what he wanted to hear - that he was crazy, or that he wasn't. When baited, I would have asked the questions he wanted me to ask. I very likely would have given him my hand, so as not to hurt his feelings, because what harm will it do, really? 

"Don't tell your husband about this," he told me.

"I'm...going to tell my husband about this." 

He must have been rather intuitive, because telling my husband about this was the very next item on my to-do list. I was also going to tell my brother, and some of my friends. I might even blog about it, someday. He liked obedience from women, but he was flexible, willing to alter his orders to get it. 

"Okay, you can tell your husband. Tell him...I know! Tell him, 'There was a man who wanted to sleep with me, but I decided to remain faithful to you.' Maybe it will make your marriage stronger." 

No, my friend, this will have no influence on my marriage whatsoever.

When I was younger, I would have lied, told him I wasn't going to tell my husband, even if I fully intended to. I wouldn't have made sure to communicate the subtext I intended when I told him the truth.

"Listen here, you drunken, predatory psychopath. You and I have no relationship, there's nothing even a little bit romantic or sexual between us, we're not friends or co-conspirators, and we aren't going in on any secrets together."

He paid for the beers, and a few minutes later, the waitress returned with his change. 

"You want change for this?" she asked. There was a slight emphasis on the word "this," a very subtle hint that he could just give her all of it for her tip. It was a bit forward, the kind of thing that might leave a person taken aback. But no big deal. 

They'd started out friendly and familiar, but now he was furious, agitated. He ranted and raved about her. Up until now, I'd been playing it pretty cool, if I do say so myself. But I didn't now how to respond to this. Besides, a woman over 25 cannot be seen talking a man down from anger in public. It makes you look married. To each other.

I began to wonder if the waitress was in real danger.

Having finally accepted that this was going nowhere, he decided to let me in on a little secret. 

"Men are sexually dominant. Equality is fine out here, but once you're alone, it's the man who decides what happens." 

I'd been well aware of this. It was part of the reason I'd carefully orchestrated our encounter so that we were never, for one minute, alone. Because you hate me. You hated me before we said a word to each other. I know it's nothing personal. You also hate your wife, the waitress, and, probably your daughter.

Still, I was surprised to hear him say it. It's not every day a man comes right out and tells you he's a rapist. Or, I shouldn't make assumptions. Maybe this happens to you every day, but to me it does not. 

We said our goodbyes, and I went back to my room. The whole thing had been rather unsettling, and I locked the extra lock on top of the door. I wanted to get a bucket of ice, but although I knew Whatever His Name Was couldn't get up to where I was, I was too afraid to get it. 

Instead, I messaged my husband and told him what had happened. 

"You're not mad at me, are you?" I asked. 

"No, I'm just sorry you got scared." 

Maybe I should marry him. 

Over the next couple of days, I grew more disturbed. Not so much for myself - if anything, since he'd been so honest with me, I was just a little bit safer in the world - I just worried he was a serial rapist, hanging around hotels and preying on tourists. He was creepy as fuck. Maybe he's even working his way up to murder. I was afraid for all the women in the world, but specifically the waitress. He'd gotten so disproportionately angry with her. 

I looked for her, to warn her, but didn't see her again. I finally decided that, in addition to my husband, brother, friends and readers, I was going to tell my story to the concierge. I tried to explain my concerns, but it was impossible to convey to her. It works in writing, but in conversation, relating these events doesn't get the point across. Point being, "I'm fairly certain a dangerous individual is hanging around your establishment and targeting your clientele, and I have reason to believe he's zeroed in on a member of your staff."

How do you say that verbally?

"Some guy bought me a beer, and he gave me the creeps and got irritated with the waitress." 

She didn't see the problem. I probably stood a better chance of getting the waitress in trouble for being rude to a guest than anything. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I still worry for her. 

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