Friday, August 6, 2010


I was waiting my turn in the unemployment office yesterday. Across two widths of Formica-topped table sat a fellow in a well-worn T-shirt and jeans. His hair was grey at the temples and I guessed he was in his fifties -- a guy whose hands said he was not afraid to get dirty. He was waiting too.

Next to him sat what I at first took to be a young man. He was plump in a way that is common these days and he sported the clear beginnings of a goatee and mustache. His forearms were plump with muscle and fat and dappled by strong man-hair. The hair on his head hung down around his ears. It soon became apparent that he was with the guy in his fifties. The two talked in the low tones that people use in Formica-topped offices. Both seemed amicable and open and at ease with who they were.

But as they talked, I began to lose my moorings. The young man had a very feminine voice. I glanced at his chest, but could not say with certainty whether the extrusions were fat or breasts. Whatever checking I did, my eyes returned to the goatee and mustache, both of which said "male" in my head.

Finally, the young man decided to stretch his legs. He stood up, hitched up the jeans that exposed his butt crack, and walked into the hallway outside the office. Even standing up I was left guessing, as much as anything because my mind refused to get off the "male" frequency it had decided on. Still, after he returned to sit next to his dad, I gave up: This "he" was a "she." Or, if some mixture of "he" and "she," more "she" than "he." The goose-down goatee still flummoxed me a bit, but in the end my mind settled back on the fact that these were two people I somehow liked. Just pretty good people, whatever the sex.

What a deep-seated habit, the whole he/she thing. Of course it's necessary for procreation, I suppose, but otherwise ... well, what a habit. Here were two people who seemed content in their skins while I was not content in mine. I felt somehow that I had to know. But once I did know, what, precisely, did I imagine I knew and of what use was it?

I guess the usefulness was in pointing out to me what was pretty damned useless.

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