Thursday, March 09, 2006

San Francisco Nights

Even at the time, Pretty Lady knew those days were numbered. So fortunate she was, to be dating a French Software Engineer, in San Francisco, in the middle of the tech boom! Though Pretty Lady's days were harried, her nights were sybaritic. Once she made it up the hill to the Penthouse in North Beach, such meals! Such a view! Such carryings on!

(Pretty Lady recommends that every girl date a Frenchman, at least once in her life. Then she will understand the way women ought to be treated. The trouble is, it makes you finicky ever afterward.)

And Pretty Lady, fool that she is, almost passed him by. "Not my type," she sniffed, at first. "Too Nice. Too Normal. Too mechanical and bland." But her hand knew better. Every time the phone rang, her hand fetched the phone of its own accord, without Pretty Lady's conscious permission. Thus when the Frenchman called, inviting her skiing in Tahoe, she accepted in spite of herself.

Thus it began.

At this time in her life, Pretty Lady was a busy girl. What with two part-time jobs, two free-lance careers, and full-time vocational training, she was juggling so many tasks and appointments that she had to schedule 'teatime' in her day planner. She never slacked on her gardening, workouts, or farmers' market cookery, either. With all of this going on, she always arrived at the Frenchman's penthouse looking as though she'd stepped out of Godey's (being in a rather romantic stylistic stage at that point) and the Frenchman never suspected a thing. At least, he seemed to assume she'd been lounging around all day, filing her nails.

The Frenchman rarely left his Penthouse. During his first few years in the Bay Area, he informed her, he actually drove out to his cube in the Valley every day, but once DSL was invented, why bother? The Frenchman woke up when he damn well felt like it, usually around noon, and sat and programmed until he felt like stopping, anywhere between 9 PM and 5 AM. Pretty Lady had no problem with this; having an aerospace engineer for a father, and a mechanical engineer for a brother, this seemed to her to be a masculine thing, right and proper. Boys do their fabulous, unfathomable things off in their rooms, and every now and then they emerge, proudly bearing something miraculous, like an assault rifle, a web browser or an A12. We pat them on the heads and continue making dinner. Such is life.

You see, girls, the masculine mind is rather like a mining drill. It takes the bit of linear logic between its teeth, and pulverizes everything in its trajectory. Nothing along its path can be deflected or overlooked; no crucial semicolon within fourteen thousand lines of code, no millimeter of deviation on the drill press, no hairsbreadth of torque on the delta wing. The woman who gets between a man and his gadgets, or his pet theories on the nature of political systems, is headed for disaster. One does not butt logic head-on with a man--within the ten degrees or so of his line of sight.

This same man, of course, is utterly incapable of figuring out when to start the potatoes, the chicken and the asparagus respectively, so that dinner is on the table at 6:30--uniformly hot, neither overcooked nor raw. Women are naturally responsible for the other three hundred and fifty degrees of perspective on the world. That is how our minds are made.

It has always been this way. As a child, Pretty Lady loved the "Little House" books; actually, she still loves them, and in times of extreme stress she can be found behind a shelf in the children's department, rereading them. Recently she came upon this passage:

Pa drove the wagon out onto the ice, following those wagon tracks. The horses' hoofs clop-clopped with a dull sound, the wagon wheels went crunching...All around the wagon there was nothing but empty and silent space. Laura didn't like it. But Pa was on the wagon seat and Jack was under the wagon; she knew that nothing could hurt her while Pa and Jack were there...

In the night a strange noise wakened Laura. It sounded like a shot, but it was sharper and longer than a shot. "Go to sleep, Laura," Ma said. "It's only the ice cracking."

Next morning Pa said, "It's lucky we crossed yesterday, Caroline. Wouldn't wonder if the ice broke up today. We made a late crossing, and we're lucky it didn't start breaking up while we were out in the middle of it."

"I thought about that yesterday, Charles," Ma replied, gently.
Dating this lovely Frenchman gave Pretty Lady the opportunity to practice being just like Ma Ingalls, with the added benefit that the Frenchman appreciated it. His friends did, too. Upon one occasion, the Frenchman proudly repeated Pretty Lady's comment on his motorcycle skills; "I don't get frightened when you pass on two-lane highways at 115 mph, because I know you're such a good driver," she told him.

"How elegantly tactful," said the friend. Of course he kept the two-lane passing to a minimum, after that. Frenchmen are such intelligent darlings.

In fact, this Frenchman was such a wonderful fellow, that Pretty Lady was actually able to negotiate with him on important issues, such as the scheduling of weekend ski trips to Tahoe.

"Would you like to go skiing this weekend?" she would ask, of a Wednesday.

"I don't know. Let's be spontaneous," the Frenchman would reply.

Pretty Lady would take a deep breath. "Let us make a decision now, dear," she would say. "Because I would love to go skiing with you more than anything, this weekend, dear heart," she would explain. "But if we do not have plans, my telephone will ring. It will ring many times. This ringing will be my clients, asking to book appointments. It will be my best friend, wanting to have lunch. It will be my classmates, wanting to schedule a study session. And if I do not have concrete plans with you, my love, I will say 'yes' to all these people. By the time Saturday rolls around, it will not be possible for us to go skiing any longer, at all, at all. We will no longer have the option."

"Ah," said the Frenchman. "I see. Let us decide to go skiing this weekend. I will book the hotel."

See how easy this is? I told you Frenchmen were bright. You really should try them.

Pretty Lady has a lot of female friends. She is not trying to prove anything by telling you this; she is not subtly letting you know that she is not one of those loathesome females that see every other woman as a source of potential competition. She is just saying that she knows, intimately, a lot of very intelligent women. Just about all of these women have had trouble choosing a 'career.' This is not for lack of talent or interest; on the contrary, all of these women have so many talents and interests that deciding among them is an impossible task. Should she be a fashion designer, an event planner, a stockbroker or a nurse practitioner? Should she be a mother, a farm wife, a personal chef or a writer of fiction? Every option seems too scrumptious for words.

The men, on the other hand, rarely seem to have these concerns. Pretty Lady's cuñado, for example, is an Architect. He spends 90+ hours per week utterly absorbed in Architecture. Her brother, as she has mentioned, is the most committed and automatically self-disciplined mechanical engineer, possibly, on the planet. Her good friend Jake is a photographer-archivist-videographer, but then Jake accuses himself of being female.

Pretty Lady is going to get wildly stereotypical, here; she anticipates that many people will get their knickers in a twist about it. She is going to essay the daring notion that women's and men's brains work differently. Women are good at juggling twenty feats an hour; we multi-task, we interdisciplinate, we integrate, poeticize and maunder. We keep the complex world in balance. This talent is absolutely crucial when one is birthing, feeding, educating, and housing a family and a farm; we have minds which leap naturally and easily from crying infant to cassoulet to poem in progress. We are elegant. We Handle It All.

Men, on the other hand, Forge On Ahead. They pack the wagon and trundle it across the lake into the Dakota Territory. They build bombs and racing automobiles. They are, really, quite splendid.

But the dear boys need us desperately, or else they would all be like that fellow who won the Darwin Award; the one who attached a solid-fuel rocket to his automobile and went tearing across the desert, forgetting to consult a map. When they found the remains, plastered up against a sudden cliff, the former brakes were melted to goo.

If this man had had a woman with him, this tragedy would never have occurred--at least, if this man had been French. "Darling," you can picture her saying, "the solid-fuel rocket is a splendid idea, and the notion of trying it out in the desert is exciting beyond words. But dear, I worry. Have you tested the brakes? Did you get a map? What is the terrain like, outside the state line? I know I'm being fussy."

Too many American men, sadly, get testy about things like this.


heidi said...

I have used precisely that approach for 12 years on the same man (tho' not a frenchman) with extraordinary results.

Of course, I did start with an extraordinary man.

BoysMom said...


But why on earth do you have to go to the children's section to reread Laura Ingalls Wilder? Mine are right there . . . well, except for the one left by the rocking chair . . . and the one on the dining room table where I was reading to the children . . . and the one over by the sofa. Do you need your own?

And how true of male and female brains. Sometimes it is quite overwhelming to live with three straight-ahead-and-damn-the-torpedos types.
I have always held that my multitasking abilities are geneticly influenced in order to manage two toddlers and cook dinner all at the same time.
I do not see why people get offended at the suggestion that men and women are different. After all, they are visibly not the same. Why should things not visible be the same when things which are, are not?
One great benefit to a woman in being a homemaker and mother is that she gets to do so many of those career options: teacher, fashion consultant, interior designer, gardener, cook. Really, there isn't another career I can think of that I could do so many different things in.

Pretty Lady said...

Morris: Of course I do. Thank you ever so much.

Barak: Of course I can say these things without fear of recrimination; nobody has ever suggested making me president of Harvard.

Heidi: I knew you had an extraordinary husband, he is just like my brother.

Boysmom: I would have my own set, but I move around a lot, and books are heavy. Sadly I own just this one at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful observations as always. Pretty Lady never fails to impress with her grace and foresight. The world would be a much simpler place if your warmth, charm and reason were applied to most relationships. You bring order to chaos.

The Aardvark said...

When the Almighty said "It is not good for man to be alone", He surely must have had you in mind.

Correct as usual. I print the shirts and go to the conventions and bring in the shekels. The Dread Dormomoo multitasks to her heart's content. Doing art, teaching the kinder. bearing, believing, hoping, enduring all things with me.

A Renaissance woman, surely.
Or at least, a wonderfully GOOD one!

Have a grand week-end.

BoysMom said...

If I had a spare set of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and you had room, I would give them to you. I finally found a working set of instructions for sourdough bread in them, after all my recipie books failed me. The recipie book recipies simply would not rise.
I wonder if someone has put them into ebook format yet? Those are lightweight.

Pretty Lady said...

How wonderfully kind of you about the Laura Ingalls. I am sure I will pick them up at a used book sale sooner or later. E-books give me eyestrain.

My sister is the queen of sourdough; I shall alert her to your quandaries. I do not keep sourdough myself, as city air is toxic. The sourdough ends up tasting like industrial off-gassing, despite the plants in every window, and Hepa filter runing constantly.

BoysMom said...

Oh, I have solved my problem with the sourdough, thanks to a careful rereading of Mrs. Wilder's descriptions of baking days. The key is simply that the let rise for an hour after kneading that the recipie calls for is insufficient.
The starter likes to be mixed with half the flour and let set over night, then have the other half of the flour kneaded into it in the morning, and left to rise again until after lunch, before I bake it. If I take the time and do it right, it turns out wonderfully. Of course, it is all whole wheat, so it makes heavy loaves, but they stand up well to whatever we want to spread on them.
I am sorry about your air problems. My little neices both have terrible problems with asthema in New York. It makes me glad that we are country mice.

Anonymous said...

So he was great, but still not good enough to be a keeper?

And the desert rocket thing never happened.

Pretty Lady said...

That, my dear Michael, is Another Story, with another moral, to be told on a different day. And the desert rocket story certainly happened as a part of the collective consciousness of Internet myth, which is good enough for my purposes, being somewhat of a a myth myself.

Anonymous said...

Thou dost flatter thineself too mucheth.

The Aardvark said...

Pretty Lady is a Hit, not a Myth...

Unknown said...

How nice it would be if Life was a simple as you describe it and that Frenchmen were all of a certain mind type. Of course we all know Life's quite something other than simple and that Frenchmen have as many types of baggage/thought patterns as any other. I don't think describing it in low resolution really helps, but have fun.