The quasi-organized crush of folks lined up outside the box office made it bearish to get close while pushing a stroller, so I parked my son beneath a poster for Puccini for Beginners and slid through the line. When I turned back there was a tall, imposing woman standing next to his carriage, leaning over it to read the blurb mounted below the movie poster. I stepped forward to move the carriage and apologize, and she cut me off in a crisp BBC accent, "The new one's out?" indicating the issue I clutched.
"There, in the rack." I pointed, but from her vantage, looking through the line of film-goers, I knew she couldn't see the new issues, "They've got a stack of last months' to one side, and this months' to the other."
"Oh, thanks" she said, ducking through the line to grab a copy.
She was tall and broad-shouldered, dressed in a heavy wool topcoat despite the warmth of the spring evening. Her dark, straight hair came to the shoulders and was cut in bangs. She had high cheekbones, a square jaw, and breasts like twin rocks of Gibraltar. As she brought one large, broad hand up to straighten her bangs, it clicked: Monty Python's Eric Idle.
Later, telling my wife this story, she would stop me and say, "You ran into E____?" referring to an old acquaintance.
"No," I'd say carefully, "Not a big black transsexual; a tall, British transvestite."
I identify with she-males like E____ and the Brit. Until I grew a goatee, I was regularly mistaken for a woman. This was disturbing because I was a tall college kid with long, scraggly hair, patchy stubble, and clothes out of the Salvation Army remainder bin. Nonetheless, frat boys approaching me from behind regularly catcalled, "Nice ass, baby!" only to yell an outraged "Faggot!" when I turned around.
As an awkward, chubby, gender-non-specific teen this sort of thing had been deeply upsetting. But I've grown since then. Specifically, I've grown a beard. As a long-haired, balding Mr. Mom with no real career, I'm glad that I finally have the answer to the question "What does it take to be a man in America?"
It takes a beard.
"Here's a happy one," the imposing Brit drag queen said, referring to my infant son, wide-eyed in his knit cap and homemade poncho.
"He loves going for walks," I said, "Loves seeing so many new people."
Without missing a beat the Brit replied "Oh yeah, downtown's great for people watching," then straightened her bangs again and walked off.
Like any good punch-line, it hung in the air, not trying too hard, but just being exactly what it was.
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