I was on the F train, going from Brooklyn to a friend’s solo performance on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Usually I’d be reading, but I carried a clutch purse too small for a book or magazine.
Tonight, I had that impractical little purse because it matched the dark pink of my stilettos, a last minute what-the-hell choice to wear with a sleeveless skimpy black dress. I loved that about summer — a little dress, a pair of heels, good makeup and you’re out the door.
Regarding makeup, now that I’m in my 50s, I take the advice of older French women: pale lipstick, bold eye makeup; bold lipstick, light eye makeup. No makeup at all is for ingénues; heavy makeup on both eyes and lips is for tarts. I went with a deep rose lipstick that matched my shoes and purse, and thin eyeliner and mascara. I’m telling you this for a reason.
At the last stop in Brooklyn, a striking male model got on the train. He was well over 6 feet tall, had a retro George Clooney as Cary Grant haircut in blond, chiseled Nordic features and a portfolio the size of my bedside table.
I stared at him like everyone else on the train did, since everyone blatantly stares at models in NYC. You would never stare at another physically freaky person like this, but a model's freakiness is what makes them successful.
Then he looked at me. He smiled a big Colgate smile and I smiled my polite closed-lip way. Through the corner of my eye I could see he was studying me. My bare crossed legs felt even more exposed. I could have kicked myself for blushing so I tried to look busy — where was that Chinese newspaper I was just reading? That Lebanese takeout menu?
At the first stop in Manhattan, the man next to me got up to leave. “Come back, Hasidic man!” I wanted to yell. The model sat next to me and angled his body toward mine. There was nothing couth about him despite his elegant good looks. I could feel his cheesy smile.
He wanted to know directions. He wasn’t from around here. He was from Kansas. I smiled, resisting making any cracks.
“I like your perfume,” he said, looking at my face — not the map where I was pointing out his destination.
“Can I ask you something?” he said.
“Sure,” I answered.
“Do you ever wear red lipstick?” He asked this in a normal range voice and our audience in the crowded train was all ears.
I quietly explained that I mostly wore red lipstick in the winter.
“I think you should wear red lipstick all the time, but I like your red nail polish,” he cupped my hand, touching my leg with the back of his hand.
I moved my hand, crossed my legs again and changed the subject, “So what brings you to the city?” I asked. “Modeling?”
“Yes,” he said, “but I’m also an actor.”
“Oh, my son is an actor. A stage actor.”
He ignored that and told me he played a gladiator in a movie. I bit my lip to keep from guffawing. I knew a guy once, a bouncer, who told everyone he got a part playing a gladiator in a movie. Word got out that he didn’t know it was a gay porn film until he was on the set in a G-string and lace-up sandals, carrying a shield.
“You have nice legs,” he said, “I like your shoes, but do you wear higher heels?” he asked. The whole train seemed to want to know the answer.
“Yes, these are my low-heeled high-heels. They’re called ‘kitten heels,’” I said, swinging my leg.
“You’re sexy,” he replied looking at me with the vapid stare of an empty-headed youth. I expected he stored “kitten heels” for the next older woman he tried to pick up.
“I think of them as the ‘sneakers of my heels’ because I could run in them if the situation called for it,” I added, though he ignored that comment because, I suspected, it didn’t make sense with his fantasy of me.
“I’m getting off at the next stop. It was nice talking to you,” I started to stand.
“Me too,” he said.
I did not want to walk through Soho, where I used to live, and risk running into people I knew, including my ex-husband, while wearing a short black dress with a 6'3" 20-year-old male model whose name I didn’t know.
“Oh, it’s the stop after this,” I pretended, and sat down.
He wrote out his name and phone number on a piece of lined notebook paper. His writing was childlike, awful. He lived in Soho. By that time I had figured out the request for directions was a cheap ruse to start talking to me. I hated cheap ruses.
“I want you to call me,” he said, making what I guess was a serious face, “I want to see you again.”
I smiled, “It was nice chatting with you,” I said.
“Hey, did you have braces when you were little?” he asked.
But before I could laugh, the doors to the train opened and he was gone.
Braces?! Jeez, I can only imagine his bedroom talk: “Did you read 'Thomas the Tank Engine'?” The short subway ride to the next stop was the longest in history while everyone continued to stare at me.
That wasn’t the first time I was approached by a “cub” looking for a cougar, but when I moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, from NYC I figured I left all those weird trends behind ... until I met my neighbor, Nate.
Nate lives on my block. He’s thin with glasses, a fuzz of black hair, caterpillar eyebrows and a permanent 5 o’clock shadow. We met over dogs. He was new to the area, about 30 years my junior, and wanted to know if I was married.
Next I saw Nate at a café in a snowstorm. He came over as I was opening my computer.
“I’m reading an article about SM,” I told him when he asked.
“Oh, you mean s AND m?” he said.
“People who practice it call it SM or BDSM,” I said.
“Is that why you’re wearing leather pants?” he asked very sweetly.
“No!” I said, realizing I dug myself into a hole. “My leather pants are my ‘jeans of the winter,’” I said, “They’re waterproof and warm.”
Nate’s eyes lit up. Bingo. She’s old and kinky, he might of thought.
Then I saw Nate walking his dog in front of my apartment at 6 AM while my elderly dog peed. I was wearing pajamas, an unzipped coat, unlaced snow boots, glasses, bed hair. I apologized for my appearance.
“Don’t underestimate yourself,” he said seriously. What a mensch.
Nate invited me to a nerd night that he hosts and a game night at his house. I went to the nerd night and it was a blast. A beautiful young willowy woman his age hugged him and he stood there awkwardly, giving me a scared face over her shoulder.
He’s going to be a friend, I thought. I love authenticity.