Friday, February 8, 2008

In Which I Have an Admirer. Or Maybe a Stalker.

I don’t tend to draw much male attention. Well, rarely, anyhow.

And when it does happen that I get the flirting vibe from someone, the Spouse usually suspects it has merely been my imagination. “Oh, if it makes you happy to think so . . .” is his typical response.

There have been some undeniable cases. My trainer, for example, was brazen. He’d just say it: “So, baby. You and me? What about it?”

“Okay,” the Spouse would concede. “That’s pretty clear.”

I always turned Trainer down, cheerfully, claiming I didn’t want to find a new trainer should it go sour. Truth is he’s smart and attractive. And he’s built. Heck, he’s a trainer. But there were so many reasons why anything more than flirting with him in the brightly lit gym in front of lots of other patrons was a very bad idea.

Other times the Spouse has perceived some sort of non-existent spark between me and another man. I found this endearing, actually.

“He was flirting with you! There was chemistry!” he said once about a conversation I had with another father at a school function. “I glared at him until he went away.”

I hadn’t noticed any of this subtle power struggle. And I’m afraid I laughed and asked if he was going to pee a circle around me to keep the other wolves at bay. But secretly I thought it was the sweetest thing he had said to me in a long time. Awwww. You’re just a little bit jealous.

But these flirtatious moments, real and imagined, took place during conversations. My point is that these were people who know me. Not some guy who just passed me on the street and whistled. That never happens.

Okay, once it happened.

Once, I was in Spain, walking from a friend’s apartment complex to my hotel. I had been swimming. I was wearing a big hat, sunglasses, an oversized man’s white dress shirt, and my most forgiving, fat-girl shorts. I had on no make up, but was greasy with sunblock.

A handsome young Spaniard on a mo-ped, stopped me and asked, in Spanish, if I wanted a ride. It was one of those classic moments where you look behind you because you are certain that no one is talking to you. But there was no one else on the block.

“Me? You want me to go for a ride? With you?”

Si, si si.

God, I do love Spain.

“No, of course. But thank you! You made my day.”

“He probably just wanted to sell you a timeshare,” said the Spouse.


Maybe. But I prefer to think otherwise.

In Argentina, it is not unusual for men to make comments to women on the street. Called piropos, these can range from obscenity to poetry. In the year and a half when we lived there, I never received a piropo.

“You were pregnant for nine of those months!” Suddenly the Spouse is defending my cause? Okay. Maybe he’s right. But I think I just didn’t fit the Argentine standard of beauty. Even now, according to them, I am morbidly obese.

Moscow may be another story.

About a week ago, I was walking towards the kids’ school, on the sidewalk, on the left side of the street. A big, black SUV-type car slowed down next to me. The window rolls down, and the driver, an okay-looking man about my age, say something to me in Russian.

I raise my eyebrows, confused, but not hostile. “Huh?”

He does not seem to notice that I didn’t understand what he said. Seems he thinks, “Message delivered.” He smiles, and drives on.

Somewhere I read that what a Russian woman interprets as chivalry and flirtation, any other woman would read as condescension and sexual harassment. I text Fabulous Russian Girlfriend and ask if the Russians have their own version of piropos. She replies that Russian men are direct, but doesn’t really answer my question about what the proper response should be to this unsolicited behavior. I don’t want to encourage this, but I don’t want to be nasty either. I've had enough angry Russians yelling at me. And, frankly, it’s kind of cute.

A day or two later, I am standing in front of the school with Braveheart and her husband, waiting for our children to return from their weeklong class trip.

Suddenly, Smiling Man is standing in front of us, speaking to me, in Russian, in a very animated manner. Not hostile or aggressive or anything. He has a sidekick. I don’t recognize him immediately, and at first assume it is another parent, asking a question about the kids, but assuming I speak Russian.

I say, “Parlez-vous français?”

He keeps talking. (Why do Russians do this? Several of us have noticed that the minute you acknowledge that you do not understand a word they are saying, this somehow spurs them to talk even more.)

Now Braveheart gets into the act. “Anglais?” she asks.

“Español?” I offer.

The light bulb goes off in my head. It’s the Smiling Guy from the car! I mime holding the steering wheel and say, “I know you!”

He drops his hands, gives up, and he and his sidekick vanish in the crowd. In the excitement of greeting the children, I forget about the incident.

I should point out, that it is winter in Moscow, and I might as well be wearing a burqa. What he is able to tell about me with my collar zipped up to my chin and my hat pulled down to my nose is anyone’s guess.

Maybe that’s his preferred fetish?

Or maybe he was just trying to tell me, “Hey, lady! You’ve got toilet paper on your shoe!”

Could it be I resemble a long lost relative?

This week I got cruised once (I was on passenger side this time . . . again, I got the window down, but now just a subtle nod of acknowledgement).

Yesterday it was more of a serenade.

Again, walking with Braveheart toward the school, I notice the same car, windows down, and this time with loud, rather romantic music emanating. I can't help but think that this music selection was intentional. Sure enough. It’s Smiling Guy, who gives me a salute and a grin, and goes on down the street.

The procedure for picking up kids is that all the adults (the parents and the drivers who are hired to come pick up the kids) congregate on the side of the school, outside the gated playground. At the appointed hour, the final bell rings, and the children stream into the playground. When they see their designated adult, they come out of the gate and head home together.

I am standing with Skittles and Braveheart, waiting to spot Baboo’s pink coat in the crowd. But standing directly in my line of sight, effectively blocking my view of the playground, is Smiling Guy. He looks at me and smiles. I swear, his sidekicks, and this time there are several, all turn and look at me, too.

Gawd. I'm the Flavor of the Month for the Moscow Drivers' Association?

I look at my shoes and ignore him until he gathers his charges and moves out of the way.

Braveheart has now been witness to a few of these episodes, and confirms it is not my imagination. I wonder what he is planning for Valentine’s Day?