"Fill 'er up?" the gas station attendant asked, as I rolled down my window.
I started to answer when I thought I caught his eyes looking at my bare legs. (I cling to the notion that shorts shouldn't cover your ankles). It was more than visual information randomly gathered by his optic nerves; it was the look.
I've been on the other side of that look; hopefully unnoticed, but I've checked out women that way.
I felt as though his eyes were a burning laser, right on my skin. Seeing me, seeing through me. Taking something from me.
This was a novel experience. When I walk down the street with my wife, Marlene, men look at her with the usual drool, and women look at her as though she were a walking clothes mannequin. I manage to escape notice.
But now I was being looked at. A part of me, that is. And I felt violated, demeaned. The fact that, in my mind at least, he was using my presence, made me furious. I had no say in this.
And then I felt something unexpected. I wouldn't say this if you could see me, but it's radio, and they'll probably misspell my name. I experienced a sharp little thrill. I think, ultimately, it was the thrill of being able to impact someone in this way; of being the object of desire.
It felt like a super power. Quite impersonal, obviously, but I had it. And then, to my amazement, I had a flash of concern about the quality of my legs. I felt attractive and powerful, used and vulnerable.
How wondrous and tempting, this power.
But how passive and alienating, this power; for being the object of visual desire involves nothing more than having flesh-tone shapes that excite.
How odd to experience this every day!
I instantly understood the extreme raucousness heaped on women fortunate enough to walk by groups of men. It is a reaction to perceived power. Examine the look on an individual man in the throes of that attraction. It is often inappropriately hard and angry; how dare she have this power over me!
That power may be embellished individually and nourished culturally, but it is experienced by men as an imperative they are powerless to ignore. It is an imperative they resent, as they come to resent the women who appear to command and manipulate it.
Hence, in the safety and comfort of their shared misery, an adolescent mocking that mimics the mocking and vulnerability they feel when alone and faced with an attractive woman.
But women know how superficial and passive this power is and how little it brings them in the long run. And they feel resentment at not being able to move in their own space without some man using them, even from a distance. I tried to imagine what it would be like to continually embody an appeal whose impact cannot fully predicted or understood; an appeal which brings apparent power but real peril.
* * * *
"Fill 'er up?" the attendant repeated impatiently, his bored eyes locked hard onto mine.
"No!" I thought.
"Yes," I said.