Monday, August 21, 2006

Bars, beers, and clueless characters

A Wiser Man Than I interrupts this bucolic idyll for a pressing question:

I don't wish to unduly bother you while you are down on the farm, but
an interesting thing happened over the weekend which begs your keen

As a student at an engineering school, most of my friends are men. We
were out bar-hopping last Saturday with a solitary--and
unattached--female in our group. At some point, an unsavory character
began to hone in on the lone female. After the barest amount of small talk,
he offered to buy her a drink. She refused, but upon his insistence
accepted a drink.

While he was at the bar, I told her to tell him I was her boyfriend,
lest things tend toward worse.

He continued to demonstrate his lack of charm, even going so far as to
asking, "You know why I bought you that drink, don't you?" and then
asking her out. She pointed me out as the "boyfriend" and we eventually shook
him as our game of darts mercifully finished.

Obviously this man needs PL's help, but anyone in his mid 40's--I'm
guessing--who thinks hitting on college girls is a good idea may beyond
even your powers.

However, my friend felt guilty for taking a free drink, though we all
told her not to worry about it. My question then, is what are the rules for
accepting a drink? Is there a minimal amount of conversation one must
engage in? Does this depend on the nature of the buyer--as
conversation could be shortened in the case of extreme creepiness?
I'd appreciate your thoughts.
Dear Wiser,

Pretty Lady's thoughts on such situations can generally be summed up very simply. 'Hmph. Typical,' is her short answer to your question. She can, furthermore, refer you to Cynthia Heimel on the topic: "Be careful when accepting drinks from strangers. In some parts of the country, they still think this means you are definitely going to sleep with them."

However, the essence of civilization is progress. And since you, a gentleman in progress, have had the grace to ask this question, Pretty Lady will elaborate upon the niceties and nuances of this typical social situation, which you have so kindly described in detail.

Your story, brief and sordid as it is, has nevertheless touched upon the heart of the labyrinthine social tangles which an unattached female must perpetually negotiate, whenever she leaves the house. Your rank-and-file clueless male, generally of the rougher social order, is psychologically incapable of accepting a lady's boundary, either stated or projected, unless it includes a prior commitment to another male. In other words, the only acceptable rebuttal to the question, implied or stated, "Hey, wanna fuck?" is "No, I'm married."

Never mind an independent lack of inclination upon the lady's part. Never mind that your teeth are rotting out of your head, you visibly lack education beyond sixth-grade special-ed and a stable source of income, not to mention your total ignorance of social graces. No, a Husband with a Gun is the only thing that prevents us wanton temptresses from falling into the arms of every random man who asks. Indeed, women are the source of all evil.

Sorry about that. Pretty Lady is still getting the industrial waste out of her lungs.

In this case, then, Pretty Lady must congratulate you. A Wiser Man is, truly, wise; you remind me of my dear friend Richard, who rescued me once in the dorm lobby just as Smarmy Ben was about to slobber all over my shoulder. Dear Richard ran interference just in time; although the two of us shared a strictly Platonic (intensely Platonic, in fact--Richard was, and is, a career philosopher) relationship, upon this one occasion Richard draped an arm round my imperilled shoulder, murmured into my ear 'hold my hand as you go toward the elevator. Smarm is on your tail', and escorted me safely to the elevator in question, apologizing quietly for this emergency violation of my personal space. Smarmy Ben leaped back in the manner of a puppy encountering an electric fence.

(This was only a temporary remedy, though--there were a couple of months there when my friends had to surround me, chattering, at all times, lest Smarmy Ben get a slobber in edgewise. I will forever blame Carin Knoop for this. Carin allowed him to sit next to her in History class; therefore I was civil to him, and spent the next three years regretting the error.)


As Pretty Lady was saying, she gives you full marks for your handling of the situation. Would that more gentlemen were so quick on the uptake. Pretty Lady once had to create a scene in a Mexican bar, despite the fact that several of her male 'friends' (I use this term loosely) had spent a number of minutes passively observing a drunken peasant urging her and her friend Elaine to provide him with free transport to the United States, and hospitality therein, with benefits. After she and Elaine had politely explained, several times, that they didn't speak Spanish and were not interested in continuing the conversation, the drunkard nevertheless dared to place his hand on Pretty Lady's shoulder. Her loud and fluent response, in Spanish, to this gross breach of etiquette shocked the entire bar into silence, and instantly caused the drunkard to evaporate, out of sheer craven humiliation.

Had any of her male 'friends' responded sooner, by forthrightly ordering the fool to leave the ladies alone, this debacle might have been avoided. It would have allowed everyone to save face; the social order would have been maintained. By allowing clueless pesterers to pester ladies unchallenged, such men are contributing to the decline of civilization.

However, this is all mere anecdotal rambling. What you really want to know is, "How does a lady handle the offer of a drink from a stranger, strings visibly attached or no?"

It is, of course, perfectly polite to accept a drink from anyone at any time, and perfectly scurrilous for the buyer of the drink to place any onus of obligation, sexual or otherwise, upon the drinker. If at all possible, it is polite to converse with the buyer of the drink for the amount of time it takes to drink it. However, as you say, if the drink-buyer demonstrates signs of extreme creepiness, it is also entirely correct to cut the conversation short.

In latter days, Pretty Lady has had excellent results with the phrase, "You know, you're acting kind of creepy. Please leave me alone." Clueless people do surprisingly well when things are spelled out thus explicitly.

In addition, Pretty Lady has realized that it was partly her training in genteel civility, within a good Christian home, that ironically subjected her to the worst of clueless sleazebags. By 'treating everyone with equal courtesy,' by smiling agreeably, by chatting with buyers of drinks, Pretty Lady was inadvertantly encouraging them. As she has grown older and wiser, she has developed a certain technique to counteract sleaziness in strangers, which seems rather effective.

This technique consists of a certain non-verbal queenliness of manner. It is akin to the technique she employed while working as a temporary secretary, to avoid abuse by insecure and tyrranical middle-managers. It involves a calm, gracious acquiescence to any reasonable request, accompanied by the subtle implication that one is doing the requester a favor.

Thus, when the tyrranical middle-manager orders you to obtain the Fluxus file without delay, you reply, graciously, "Sure!" and competently hand it over, in a friendly but disinterested manner. When a stranger offers to buy you a drink, you reply, "How very kind of you!" and proceed to interview this kind stranger as though the two of you were lone, stray travelers meeting in a dive bar in Shanghai. During this interview, you cultivate an interested, sexless detachment, which conveys the wordless but unmistakeable message, "I am Not Available."

If the sleazebag is sufficiently drunk or clueless to miss this message entirely (and, once you get it down, you will be surprised at how effective it is), you may then graduate to the raised eyebrow, the cold 'I beg your pardon?' and, as a last resort, the immortal 'Please Leave Me Alone.'

All of this is, of course, quite exhausting, the more so because kind gentlemen such as yourself have no inkling of the training we ladies go through to attain it. The world is a simpler place for gentlemen.


A Wiser Man Than I said...

Thank you kindly for the reply. I will heartily recommend this charming piece to my unfortunate female friend. =)

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I'd forgotten what it was like to not be able to drive away a would-be drunken suitor simply by proclaiming one's affection for the Second Ammendment.