“There are some real smoke-shows who stay with me,” said my host, pouring us yet another gin.
I've been in the middle of America for the last few days helping my girlfriend move to Wisconsin. We decided to drive the stretch, stopping in various states along the way. The drive took two days, give or take a few assorted hours lost within the confines of Midwestern rest stops and a night in Cleveland. I've always heard about the friendly attitude of people in the Midwest and was genuinely excited for a new experience—the concept of this specific human attribute called “kindness.”
We arrived in Cleveland close to midnight after a day’s worth of emails and pulled into the driveway of a man my girlfriend had found online. For those unaware of AirBnB.com, it’s a really handy website where you book rooms within the houses and apartments of regular people. It’s a cheap and easy way to find a place to crash for the night without having to sleep on a scratchy couch garnished with wool and asbestos. We stumbled out of the car after a ten-hour drive and knocked on the door of a man who shall be known as “Simon” for the duration of this article. My girlfriend and I were excited to sleep at Simon’s house because of his charismatic tone in his emails. He had a huge amount of positive reviews on his AirBnB profile and had promised us cold beers upon our arrival.
Simon answered the door in a wife-beater and khaki cargo shorts and greeted us as if we were old college friends staying for the night. He gave us a quick tour of the house and showed us to our room. Everything looked normal at first glance, and we were incredibly excited to sleep off 10 hours cramped in a Toyota Yaris. (I should quickly add that the car we traveled in is a standard, which I can’t drive, so the majority of the 10 hours was spent keeping my girlfriend’s spirits high and choosing music). We put our bags away in the room and found Simon in the kitchen cutting up key-limes and dousing them in gin. After handing us the mammoth drinks, he sat us down and talked about his life. Simon was a self-proclaimed Cleveland socialite who touted himself as basically a local hero. He told us about the various time he’d been on TV and the many, many women who wanted him.
“I saw your calendar on AirBnB and it looks like you get a lot of reservations” remarked my girlfriend, as she tried balancing the goliath drink in her comparatively miniscule hands.
“It’s a great way to make new friends,” He said, as he finished his bucket of gin. Simon turned, looked at me, and smirked. “There are some smoke-shows who stay here.”
I chuckled between sips of the way-too-strong beverage.
“There was this one girl who came up here from Texas for tit surgery. Cleveland has some world renowned tit-surgeons here. They’ll suck the fat out of your ass and pump them into your tits…you know, for girls who want bigger tits.”
My girlfriend and I looked at each other and took a few large gulps in an attempt to dilute the disbelief of where the conversation was beginning to head.
“I didn’t know ass-fat could double as boob-fat,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Yeah, I guess fat is resilient.”
“It’s a bummer. I definitely would’ve fucked her if her mom wasn’t staying here," he had to add.
Simon then turned to me and asked me about my job.
“Oh, I do social media and marketing for a website, then do some freelance writing for another,” I said.
“That’s incredible, man. What do you write about?”
“It depends, I guess. Mostly sex and dating stuff. Sometimes about TV. No one really likes it.”
My girlfriend playfully smacked my arm.
“People like it. I don’t like it, because he writes about all the girls he’s had sex with and it makes me want to vomit.”
The tone changed in the room after that comment. Simon changed. His posture straightened, his tone-of-voice became serious, and he got defensive.
“So?” He said, “You guys ever watch that show ‘Cheaters Caught On Tape?’ There’s this episode where the girl catches her boyfriend cheating and goes off on him and the guy is all: ‘hell no, this ain’t gonna happen’ and then he pulls her back by the belt loop of her pants and is like: ‘you know what you was gettin’ into when you started dating me!’”
There was a moment of silence as we all looked at each other.
“Well…I mean. I’m not cheating on her, but I get what you’re saying?” I felt the hot glare of my girlfriend’s eyes. “It’s like a, uh, ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game thing?’” I said.
“Exactly!” Said Simon. He poured himself another drink. “Exactly.”
A portrait of Simon was painting itself strikingly clear in front of us. A man who was an honest-to-god, straight-from-the-womb sexist. There was never a point in the night where Simon cat-called my girlfriend or outwardly suggested she was any lesser of person than, but the way he talked to her was just different. Growing up with 90’s sitcoms, I had always thought of sexism in an extreme way where a man will literally tell a woman she’s unequal. He’ll laugh at her feminine ways, accuse her of being catty, and make some reference to PMS-related mood swings.
All it took was a few stray comments from Simon to really understand what true sexism meant. Talking at a woman instead of to a woman. Filling the void with dead-end comments and uncaring questions as opposed to true conversation. Simon wanted to know about my life because, in his eyes, we were the same. Men’s men. Whiskey drinking, cigar-smoking bros who chopped wood, shot deer, and bedded women. And to Simon, my girlfriend was just an extension of me. A glorified wallet or a pet bird with boobs.
The night progressed into a mad haze of gin. Simon motioned to my girlfriend, “What do you like about her?” His eyes were locked with mine. I turned to her, unsure of who he expected an answer from.
“Well, she puts up with me,” I said. “And she’s smart. The whole reason we’re driving out west is because she’s going to grad school.” Simon’s eyes glazed over with a glassy film of uncaring as he found excuse after excuse to talk to me.
“Great,” He said. We all sipped from our glasses.
The next few hours were spent politely laughing and nodding to stories about conquering Ohio, bedding young women, and the importance of the Cleveland music scene. It’s hard to recall the exact sequence of events that followed after the Big Gulp of gin. I remember feeling especially weird when he ushered us into his living room and pulled out a collection of snuff, which he commanded us to snort.
My girlfriend and I went to bed in an extreme state of unrest that night. Our noses burned from snuff, our stomachs ached from booze, and our minds were uneasy. We left the next day, avoiding another Simon monologue. I waited until we were a few miles away before I broke the silence.
“Well, that was pretty interesting.”
“Let’s talk about this.” She said, taking off her sunglasses.
“So, is that what it’s like being a girl?” I asked, “Guys like Simon talk to you like you’re an 8-year-old while regaling you with stories about trying to fuck girls who are getting ass-fat injected into their boobs?”
“Yeah.” She said. “I mean, that’s what sexism really is. It’s very much of a ‘shhh honey, quiet down, the men are talking’ attitude. Like, we have nothing better to talk about than painting our nails, shopping, and taking care of our men. I would choose being cat-called any day over the kind of bullshit I just got. Fuuuuuuuck that guy.”
He really put it in perspective for me and, in a strange way, I think put me on a path to being a better man. I thought back to all the women I had met and talked to in my life and wondered if I had ever left them with as sour taste in my mouth as he had left on us. Did I talk to women like they were badly written characters on a TV show? Do women constantly feel like they’re being belittled and talked down to from guys who are intent on showing off their manly attributes? I spent the next few hours in the car in an uncomfortable daze, extremely aware of everything I said to my girlfriend, making sure to keep the conversation as inoffensive as possible.
“If I ever start talking like that, I want you to chop my balls off,” I said.
“I’m on it,” she said, smiling at me. We kissed at the next available stoplight as I sneakily tucked my testicles between my thighs.