A friend driving down Interstate-90 on her way home for the holidays stopped over in Buffalo on Sunday. We made dinner at my apartment, and then we drove the dark, snow-covered streets arrayed in grids, radiating outward from a traffic circle on which sits the monolith* of City Hall. We drove past the unnerving Richardson psychiatric center and down Grant Street, a north-south thoroughfare in a low-income section of the city center, parallel to but a half-mile from Elmwood Avenue, the upscale retail-dense revitalization darling of Buffalo enthusiasts. We cut back to my nice neighborhood from the dingy West Side via one of the few one-way streets that allows this socio-economic crossover. We passed by the mansions and the museums and old Allentown.
We stopped at my favorite bar for a nightcap, a Tom Collins for me and a g&t for my visitor. We left at 1:30 a.m., passing a few tables of Monday morning drinkers and, outside, occasional huddled smokers in clusters, their figures spotting the snowy sidewalks like their cigarette ashes. We drove up Elmwood and a police car slowed in the approaching lane and shined a bright flashlight through the windshield. Startled by the intrusion, guest and I agreed to being somewhat unsettled by police and the general suspense-avec-fear that follows being singled out when nothing is amiss.
I told my guest of one police officer I had met in the recent past and had liked. After working late, my coworker and I had gone to said favorite bar for a nightcap. To lighten the mood after a 12-hour workday I stealthily adhered a faux-mustache I happen to keep in my purse to my upper lip. Imitating a sneeze, I lifted my hand to my nose and my coworker got some amusement out of the facial hair that materialized. It turns out all men with real mustaches love a lady with a impostor ‘stache, and they sent quite a few drinks to my coworker and me.
One man who had a mustache introduced himself and said he grew the mustache because he was a cop. He was a cop because there isn’t much else to do with a master’s degree in English literature and a dissertation on authority and the savage in Conrad’s work. Fitting.
He was a decent man who later left a voicemail (a rarity, personal if not also inconvenient) inviting me to see a play with him. I wish I had, but I was too uncomfortable to tell him I had a boyfriend at the time. It is difficult to make friends with men who are complete strangers sometimes. The default romantic/sexual possibility of any male-female heteronormative meeting is difficult to defy — even if the lady is groomed as a man.
Two friends have told me in the last two days that they signed up with the dating website OK! Cupid. One was shy about it and reported little else than enrollment; the other feigned modesty, but admitted to “hanging out” with an e-match, by which she meant having sex.
My own OK! Cupid experience ended with a panic attack at the local science museum and a message from the unfortunate date asking for a refund of my museum admission. (I did not oblige.) This anecdotal failure need not portend failure for my friends who live in large Eastern seaboard cities. I live in a small city without the critical mass of educated, socially maladroit singles required for successful online matching. Also, I likely live on the outskirts of social normalcy, and strain the statistical model that makes the magic of robot-Yente possible.**
* Friend and I in wandering discussion about semantics, accents and other things linguistic mentioned “monolithic,” and the way in which people sometimes use it to mean, more or less with a negative connotation, setting and enforcing a norm. Without consulting the OED, that seems like an awkward, abstract use for a word whose Classical roots indicate something tangible: a single big rock. I like when “monolith” is used in the “big rock” sense, which is how I am using it here. You could read into it the secondary meaning as well.
** Compared to the social mean, I value correct grammar more; I care less for hysterical hygiene regimes; I look more disapprovingly on undue interest in cars, disinterest in current events and, unfairly, short people.