feature

Rural Route

Pin it

 

 PERSONAL ESSAYS
 

Goodbye Metrosexual, Hello Himbo
promotion

In
Taylor, Mississippi (population 200) car tires on driveway
gravel can become the same kind of white noise as crickets,
especially
if you’re a single woman of marginal looks and make eye contact with anyone
on a regular basis.

I left Austin, Texas, for cotton country a little more than
a
month
ago, shortly after Señor Revelation dunked my almost-thirty-year-old
ass into an ice-cold stream of Haves and Have Nots: I had a mortgage, no children,
no husband, no prospects, a profit-sharing pension plan suctioned
to a job that included taking my employer’s poodle to the vet, and I
had been living in the same city as my parents for all but four of my
twenty-eight years. Call it what you will: rude awakening, mental breakdown,
mental illness, early midlife, whatever. All I know is this: I woke up one day
feeling a little too close to the coffin, and decided to take a year off life
in search of a new one.

Gotta get naked before you can get dressed. At least that’s
what
I told myself as I packed my
boxes, rented out my house, put most of my earthly belongings (including the
urn holding my late Great-Uncle Meyer) in storage, and headed east with not much
more
than
my
dogs
and my computer. At the suggestion of a friend, I was moving to Taylor (seven
miles south of Oxford, a small university town) to live cheap, focus on my writing
and possibly steal a few hairs off the over-talented,
whisky-drenched
souls of the Southern
literati whose books line my shelves.

“What’s your story?” the gas station attendant asked
while checking the air in my tires. I had just crossed the Mississippi state
line.

“Well,” I said, “I
guess if I had a story worth telling, I wouldn’t have come here in the first
place.”

The man wiped his greasy hands and cocked his head. “You
married, you have kids?” he asked.

“No!” I shot back with the immediacy of acid reflux. “I’m
taking a breather from the other gender; I moved here to find myself, not a
man.”

“Um, okay,” he said, “Whatever.” A little
frightened by the tone of my defense, I jumped back into the driver’s seat. The
attendant, now cleaning the windshield, wiped the squeegee with the tail of his
shirt.

“Few words of advice?” he asked, inching his way
up toward my open window. “Never trust a woman you can’t inflate, and never
keep a dog that done shit on your carpet.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Dunno,” he said, “but I’ve had two wives and
ten dogs and every one of ’em done shit on my carpet. You say you want one thing;
you get somethin’ different ’round here. That’s my point. You’re moving to a
small town. You’re new. The men, they’ll sniff you out.”

Two months settled in now, I’m afraid the gas station attendant
may have been a soothsayer in bad clothing. Despite all of my efforts
to focus my attentions on the pen and not the penis, it’s become
all too clear that the tiny pool of single Taylor males will drive the chapters
of
my new life like the plagues in the story of Moses. Except in my version
of Exodus
working title: Sexodus — I replace frogs, hail and locusts with
Alex, Scott and a Crush Who Does Not Know I Exist. And after a few very strange
late-night incidents, I think I’m about
two days shy of smearing blood on my doorpost and running, stark mad, out into
the desert.
Alex imports Vespas for a living. A single dad with a seven-year-old son,
he introduced himself while I was picking up a to-go order my third week in
town. (His brother is part owner of the only sushi bar within a ninety-mile
radius. Need I further explain the significance of this?) Closer to forty
than thirty, Alex’s smallish frame supports an attractive face, even though
his features border on nondescript. His uniform suggests a man who knows his
way around farm equipment and old cars: straw hat, cowboy boots, jeans, an
open work shirt with “Earl,” “John” or “Mike” monogrammed on the breast pocket.

The day after we met, I took Alex up on his offer of a
Vespa ride out

I
just stared at him thinking restraining order, shotgun, police
response time.

in the country. Two beers and one uninspiring stretch of gravel road later,
I passed my helmet back to Alex along with a slightly presumptuous, “I
just got out of a long, long relationship (small lie) and can’t
see myself being interested in anyone for a very long time.”

“Oh. Well, that’s cool,” Alex said as he
followed me to my car. “Guess I’ll just see you around then.”

One week later my phone rang at 11:45 p.m. It was Alex.
He
wanted
to swing by my house and drop something off. “Um, I really don’t think that’s
a good idea,” I said. “I’m in bed, need to get up early…”

“Oh, come on, it’ll just take a second. You can meet me outside.” Fifteen
minutes later, his truck rolled into my drive, pulling a
huge
trailer of Vespas. He’s giving me a scooter,
I thought. I had images of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, only it
was me, not
Audrey, on Old Taylor Road, looking for Gregory Peck.

I stepped off my front porch,
scanned for nosy neighbors. Alex rolled down his window and
held out not keys but twelve dozen roses. Soon I was
cradling the flowers like the baby I’ll never have.

“I mean, I don’t want you to think I’m this crazy stalker guy
or something,” he said. “I don’t want to freak you out.” I just
stared at him, brows furrowed, thinking restraining order, shotgun, police
response
time
. To make matters worse, I caught sight of Alex’s
seven-year-old son, Ben, sitting in the passenger seat. I could all but hear
him say, “Good night, Ma. See ya in the mornin’, Ma. Don’t forget to pack my
lunch for school, Ma!” as Alex backed out of the drive.

Why would this not freak
me out?

Even in the big city, I wasn’t good at dealing with
situations like this. So I burned my free-standing rose bush, made a note to
purchase Caller ID first thing in the morning, then ran to
my
neighbor’s,
seeking
a
better
understanding
of mating and dating in Mississippi.

“Linda,” I said, bursting through her front door
unannounced, “I think I just got a wedding proposal, only without
the ring. Does that qualify as a normal second date around here?”

Linda, who at forty has been with the same man for over twenty years, laughed and said, “You’re the most eligible woman around here; you shouldn’t be all that surprised.”

“What!” I shrieked. “That can’t be right. I
moved to Mississippi, not Alaska.”

“That’s true,” she said, “but your only competition
in Taylor is a twenty-seven-year-old waitress. And when Sascha’s not slinging
plates at the catfish restaurant, she’s making a pretty penny writing term papers
for the kids up at the university. No one sees much of her until the end of the
spring semester.”

“So what are you telling me?” I asked.

“You’re it,” she exclaimed, as if I’d won the lottery. “Kind
of like Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick. Around
here the show is yours, if you want it.”

“No thanks,” I said, heading for the door. “Think I’ll just hang in Oxford for a bit.”

On my way home, I thought about Linda’s Witches of Eastwick analogy.
It wasn’t that far off, though I was pretty sure Linda had somehow missed the
movie’s
ending:
Nicholson, the town’s
most
eligible bachelor was tortured with a Voodoo doll and run out of town. She’d proven my point exactly.
Scott manages one of my favorite local restaurants in Oxford. When he’s not
checking in on the kitchen staff or working the dining room crowd, he’s playing
musical chairs up at the bar, stopping at tables long enough for one smoke and
a quick hello. Scott’s nice, though quite possibly a little manic. Dating profile
should read: twice divorced,
no
kids, great dog, can cook, cool house (with pool), and total gentleman. He even
has a box of Regular tampons purposely displayed in his master bathroom. (And,
no, they don’t look like a box of ex-girlfriend tampons, but rather a box that
made Scott’s grocery list and were thrown into the cart right after the toilet
paper and paper towels.) His ex-wives would probably add “not bad on the eyes
when he’s wearing a hat or sweating profusely.” They’d also probably throw
in
a line or two about Scott being forty and still having no idea what he wants
from a woman, much less a wife.

I’ve gone out with Scott a few times. The last time resulted
in a little impromptu sleepover. The night started with a call
on my cellphone as I was driving back from the Memphis airport. “I’m just about
to throw some ribs on the grill,” he said. “Come on over.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m tired, have been
traveling all day, am not really all that hungry…”

“Oh, come on,” he pleaded. “One glass of wine,
it’s on your way home.” Next thing I knew, it was six o’clock the next morning
and I was staring up at unfamiliar rafters, watching the ceiling fan cut through
the What
the hell is he/she thinking about?
silence that mottled the air.

Scott and
I didn’t have sex, didn’t even come close. I vaguely remember two or three bottles
of wine, an invitation to spend the night, Scott pulling back the sheets in the
guest bedroom, a little spit swapping, relocation to his room, and then sleep.
I recall the drunk kissing
as above average, but I didn’t feel a sense of urgency (for lack
of a better word) on his part. And all I could figure as he hugged me
goodbye was that maybe, just maybe, men moved a little bit slower in the state
of Mississippi.
Two things I hold for truths about small-town living: digging up dirt on a potential
lover is about as easy as finding the local Wal-Mart, and the only sure way to
avoid someone is to move. Scott hasn’t called since our lackluster night together.
I’ve decided to

She belongs in a snow globe with seven dwarves and a poison apple.

write Scott’s little hit-and-run off as part of
the “driving experience.” Besides, even though Scott’s King of the Bar to my Queen of Avoidance, I’m not up for another move across country.

Not yet, anyway. I knew this two days after Scott’s slumber
party, watching the Crush Who Does Not Know I Exist part
the
red-headed
seas
as
he passed through Scott’s bar in a pair of ass-friendly blue jeans.

My female competition in Oxford is a slightly different kind
of bar food than I’m
used to: overdressed sorority girls, underdressed graduate students (usually
huddled together by gender), and Viagra-pushing pharmaceutical reps who gravitate
towards all things
pleated, plaid or married.

Crush Who Does Not Know I Exist is a university professor.
According to Google, he has no kids and is thirty-five. He played college football,
writes crime fiction, is taller than me with can-fix-anything arms, and his first
name can be found in a full deck of cards (I’m trying to
be discreet here. This is a small town, after all). In truth, I’ve never
actually looked Crush-Who-Does-Not-Know-I-Exist in the eyes. I’m too afraid he’ll
see straight through me — see me naming our children — and run away.
I’m also afraid of his on again/off again girlfriend. I’ve met her. She belongs
in a snow globe with seven dwarves and a poison apple.

Alex still calls and leaves messages
incessantly, usually something about a midnight scooter ride and am I up for
one.
And I always
think Would rather carry dead Sherpa up Everest,
before pressing delete on my phone. Now, his name hasn’t appeared
on my Caller ID for quite some time.

I’ve floundered within a similar triangle of men for most of
my adult life: one corner likes me too much, one likes me too little, while the
one I like most doesn’t like me at all. It’s strange to see what parts of your
old
life follow you into the new. In truth, it makes me want to pack up and move
again. Only now I know that wherever I go, there’ll be a new pool of Alexes,
Scotts and Crushes who don’t know I exist. So despite my best instincts, I’m
going to plant my stake here for a bit. And while I still can’t predict what
my next suitor will leave on my porch, I am certain of this: the next time I
hear
car tires on gravel in my driveway, I’ll check through the peephole before opening
the door.

 Click here to read other features from the Erogenous Zones issue!

 

©2004 Mara Levy and Nerve.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mara Levy lives in Taylor, Mississippi. She is also Tobin Levy’s identical twin sister. For the record, Mara is older. By four minutes. She’s the one on the right.