THERE HE WAS. There he was surrounded by women again, looking kind of embarrassed by the whole thing, turning his head one way and then another, smiling and nearly blushing - acting, really, as if he did not understand any of it, either. It was all happening at a party but it has happened elsewhere as well and always the women were pretty and always it was apparent they found him attractive and always it was noteworthy because he was a particular sort of man - an ugly man.
Well, maybe not ugly. Maybe ugly is too strong a word.But certainly not handsome. Certainly not tall nor dark nor broad-shouldered nor good-looking in any way that a man could recognize. That was the point and that was what this guy near me picked up on. He was watching and he said that this was something he couldn't figure. He had watched it all his life and he couldn't figure it. Ugly men and beautiful women - he couldn't figure it.
I think this is something that bothers only men, that is a problem entre nous, so to speak. I think this is something only men notice, something that drives men straight up the wall because we have only the slightest, the most tenuous grasp of what it is that appeals to women in the first place. There are men that both women and men agree upon. We have learned from women that Robert Redford is handsome or that Clark Gable is handsome so we recognize handsome. We know the type when we see it, we know the rules, but we are never prepared for the men who knock the rules into a cocked hat. I submit, for instance, the example of Aristotle Onassis and the notion that, money aside, he was enormously attractive to women. There are lots of men who will nod their head at that statement. There ain't a one who really buys it.
Women on the other hand seem to know all about women. They know about themselves instinctively and they even know about women who are different - women that don't conform to a stereotyped notion of beauty. Sometimes you would start to tell a woman what there was about another woman you found attractive and she would say, yes, she understood. She could see it for herself. Women even know about women that men consider attractive but who in the long run are not. They'll say something like "wait and see" or "we'll see" and then they nod to each other and it is like a mobster had just sealed someone's doom. They are always right. With men, I hasten to say, it is different.
Louie was the first to teach me that. There was nothing about him you would consider attractive. He was a high school acquaintance, not a close friend, and there was lots about him I did not know. I did know, though, that his grades were mediocre and he was no athlete and his nose was flat on his face an his hair was thinning and oily and he was just plain skinny. He was thin and he walked funny, sort of did a pigeon-toed lope and a lot of the time it looked like he was about to fall over. He was also a lady killer.
We used to marvel over it. We could never understand it. Louie became something of an obsession with us. I had to know how he did it. I mean Neil I understood. Neil had shoulders. Even Sam made sense. He was dark and muscular and could pass as Italian. There was a time when passing as Italian was as good as owning mutual funds. But Louie? Flat-nosed, pigeon-toed Louie was a winner. When there was a party, he showed with the most beautiful girl you ever saw. He even crossed class lines and dated girls from private schools - blonde amazons with cutesy names they got at boarding school. Louie was incredible.
Since then there have been others - others like Louie. I could never figure it, never figure when a guy was just ugly and when he was ugly in a way that attracted women. There was a time in my life when I picked friends on whether I thought they were popular with women. I mean, I wanted to have my friends around, but invariably the guy would turn out to be a lady killer. After a while, I would find myself staring at them, looking them over very carefully trying to figure out what it was they had. Once or twice I got caught staring. It's hard to explain what you're doing.
Anyway, most men don't do any better. The prime example of that was the reaction when it was disclosed that Marvin Mandel not only had a secret love life but that his secret love was beautiful. I was not surprised by this, but then I had been a reporter in Annapolis and I had listened to women talk about Marvin Mandel as if he were Rudolph Valentino. At first, I would scratch my head and point out that he was short and balding and not much of a conversationalist even in a state where the grunt passes as a greeting, but they would just say that none of that mattered - he was attractive.
The fact of the matter is that over the years I have come to accept this. The fact of the matter is that I think it's wonderful - a testament to women and their willingness to see beyond whatever I can't see beyond, and calling whatever it as sex appeal does no good at all. It merely puts a label on it, explains nothing. So the other night when the guy at the party pointed to the man surrounded by all those women. I thought of his room so he could change his clothes. He opened a bureau drawer and there I saw more sweaters than I had ever seen in my life. So when the guy at the party asked me about the man surrounded by women, I thought immediately of sweaters.
I'm sure he's got a ton of them.