Sit in a room full of women and the conversation inevitably turns to men. After not too many minutes, all voices are raised in a common complaint: Men don't talk. "I wish he'd tell me what he feels"; "I wish he'd let me know what he doesn't feel"; "I wish he'd open his mouth to do something other than put food in it" -- these are the familiar refrains.
But what's a woman to do? Time and experience have made it abundantly clear to many women that verbalizing is simply not a male trait. My friend Rickman is convinced that males are missing the gene that enables them to connect their brains to their lips when addressing women.
Who knows? Speculation could go on forever, but reality is destiny. Could men be trying to tell us something without saying anything?
Did you ever notice that after you host a male guest -- in your bedroom, your guest room or on your couch -- he almost inevitably leaves the debris from his pockets on the dresser, the night table, the floor next to the bed, anywhere but in the wastebasket? Such leavings are generally composed of the same basic elements: lint, pennies, the numbered tags the dry cleaner usually staples to clothes. Father, lover, brother, uncle, they all leave these mementos behind. It forces a woman to ask some hard questions. Are men purposely chauvinistic and insulting? Who do they think they are -- leaving their scraps for me? More important, who do they think I am? What makes men, whatever their relationship to me, think I want their discarded pennies? Or do they just leave them because the jingle of copper in their pockets is a diminution of male status? Is it only women who collect pennies, tediously placing them in rolls when they begin to overflow the piggy bank?
And what of the dry-cleaning tags? Is it too much to ask that men toss them into the nearest wastebasket? Or do they delude themselves into thinking that I am an environmental extremist, neatly collecting the tags, like scraps of string, into a massive, useless -- but ecologically sound -- ball? Most of the slips have four numbers printed on them, so perhaps men leave them with me for luck. Should I play them in that day's Pick Four? Straight or boxed? And if I hit, are they entitled to a percentage of my winnings? Does it mean something different if they leave the bent and mutilated staple in? Is a staple a sign of hostility?
Then there is the lint. It comes in all colors, shapes, sizes and degrees of compression, and it is left somewhere conspicuous. I have racked my brain and the brains of my women friends for its significance. Someone suggested that if we were pioneer women, of a sturdier breed, we could save it by the bag and use it, instead of straw or horsehair, to stuff mattresses. Another chum said she'd try to weave it into strands of multicolored yarn -- if only she knew how to weave. Yet another woman suggested piling the lint, tags and pennies in a neat package and mailing it back to the owner.
And what of the toilet seat left uplifted? Could it be anything other than a sign of covert hostility when a man, visiting a woman's house, leaves it thus? Do I dare to believe that he truly "forgot" -- the common defense? I know, as all women do, that these men had mothers. And when these sons graduated from diapers, their mothers admonished them, "Lift the toilet seat when you go to the bathroom and put it down when you're finished!" Grown up, the men know that the consequences of forgetfulness can be much worse than being yelled at by Mommy: They can be cursed out by an adult woman, a woman with no blood relationship to temper the anger, a woman who has met a cold porcelain surprise in the middle of the night. What message is this supposed to send?
Frederick Douglass, in a different context, once recommended, "Agitate, agitate, agitate." But all the women I talked to agreed that there is little to be done to alter this state of affairs. Small change left on the dresser? A pile of dry-cleaning tags on the windowsill? Toilet seat left up? Well, let's assume that's communication, even if it's not verbal: They are leaving part of themselves behind, to remember them by. Perhaps we women had better make the best of it. Look at these little bits of things and leftovers as modern valentines. After all, for better or worse, these foolish things remind us of them. ::