Girls Will Be Girls

I finish the last bite of my granola bar as Michelle sets her nearly empty cereal bowl on the counter next to the sink, the spoon still sitting in a pool of milk. She downs the last swig of her coffee and sets her mug in the sink, one step closer to the dishwasher, at least. I briefly consider asking her to load them in the dishwasher herself, but I decide it doesn’t bother me enough to bring it up. It’s really just easier to do it myself. 

“Have a good day, Mr. Mays,” she says with a wink. She still gets a kick out of calling me by my new-ish last name. We got married last summer. I contemplated keeping my bachelor name but finally decided to give into tradition and take hers. It was easier to spell, anyway.  

Michelle had proposed on New Year’s Eve, just over a year ago, during our senior year of college. The timing of our wedding was really more of a practical matter: we knew we were going to get married at some point, so why bother paying two apartment rents while she went to law school? That didn’t stop the gals in my office from trying to dissuade me from marrying so young. One woman even had the nerve to mention how many female lawyers she knew who had slept with their hot young legal assistants.

As she does every morning, Michelle gives me a quick kiss before leaving. 

“Remember I’m working late tonight. Book signing.” I say, before she reaches the door.

“I didn’t remember, but you’ll still beat me home. It’s Tuesday,” she says as if that explains everything. “Happy hour after study group,” she says when she sees the blank look on my face. 

“Oh. I didn’t realize that was every Tuesday,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. 

“That okay?” she asks, looking at me expectantly, opening the door.

“Of course,” I say, hoping I sound convincing. I want to be a cool husband, not a nag. “I may jog without you, though.”

“Be safe if you go,” she says before shutting the door. 

Tonight, one of our best-selling authors will be at the office signing copies of her Lessons on Leadership book for an upcoming event. The big wigs will be hosting her, and they need me there to make sure they have enough Sharpies and coffee. Other than that, I know to stay invisible.

It dawns on me that if I do go jogging tonight, that means I’ll be running alone after dark. I’ll take pepper spray, I guess. Suddenly I remember the news story I heard recently about young men being targeted on less populated jogging trails. My palms get a little sweaty and I remember the trick about holding my key like a weapon, just in case. I hate working late.

Cool, Versatile Astronaut: Sammy K. Ride
June 19, 1983
The New York Times

The celebration over sending the first American man into orbit has tended to overshadow the fact that Dr. Sammy K. Ride is to be the first person to perform one of the most significant tasks of the space age. Even before liftoff, Dr. Ride had achieved world renown as the man designated to break the all-female barrier in the American space program. There are now seven men in the astronaut corps. 

In his pioneering role, Dr. Ride has been subjected to a host of personal questions, such as whether he would wear briefs or boxers in orbit and whether he feared the flight would adversely affect his reproductive organs. Through it all he has remained unrattled, direct and concise.

I had interned with the publicity department at Acme Publishing my senior year and was lucky enough to snag a job there right after graduation. The publisher needed an assistant, and I couldn’t think of a better way to make connections as a hopeful future author. The paycheck wasn’t much, but how much did I expect to make with an English degree, anyway? I’m temporarily the primary breadwinner of our family of two, which is funny, because we both know as soon as Michelle passes the bar and gets her first job, she’ll be making at least twice as much as I do. Not just because she’ll be a lawyer, but also because she’s a woman.

As I drive, I start thinking through what all I have going on at work today:

I have a meeting this morning with my boss to talk about potential book deals we’re considering. She makes the decisions, obviously, but I’ll draft the congratulatory letters and contracts for her to sign. I’ll also send rejection letters to the authors of books we aren’t going to publish. I try to make each letter kind and somewhat personal to let them down a little easier. It’s not my least favorite part of my job, but close.

We have my coworker’s birthday lunch at Peckers. That’s another one of my job duties: coordinating office celebrations. When I asked the birthday girl where she wanted to go, I tried to hide my distaste, but I’m pretty sure the look on my face betrayed me. “They have the best wings in town,” she had said, matter-of-factly, shrugging her shoulders, smirking ever-so-slightly. I called to make reservations for ten.

In the afternoon, I need to write my self-appraisal in response to my performance review from last week. I work hard and our head of HR knows it, but she never gives anyone perfect fives because she thinks there’s always room for improvement. I ended up with a 4.91. 

Ex-KVLY News Anchor Sues, Alleging Age And Gender Discrimination
December 20, 2011
Park Rapids Enterprise

FARGO – Former TV news anchor Roger Huebner wants his claims of gender and age discrimination against Valley News Live settled in federal court. The 50-year-old filed a lawsuit Monday against Hoak Media, the parent company of KVLY, where Huebner anchored the prime-time newscasts for 21 years until he was reassigned last summer.

In the complaint, Huebner alleges that managers illegally discriminated against him when they demoted him in August in favor of a younger male anchor, 26-year-old Steven Goetz, who reportedly appealed to female viewers.

When I get settled at my desk, the first email I read is from a literary agent that my boss has known for years. She’s replying to my boss’s email from yesterday letting her know to expect a contract for one of the authors she represents.  

From: Beth Kerns <>

Subject: Re: Contract: Jonathan James, Health Coach

To: Publisher <>

Cc: Mark <>

This is great news! His cock alone will sell a million copies. Glad to be working with you again.  BK

I lean closer and read it again to make sure it says what I think it says. Then I read it again. I’m rarely speechless but…did she mean to copy me on that? Who even thinks like that anymore, anyway? Is this still the 1950s? I right click to mark it as unread and decide I’ll have to process that one later. Maybe today would be a good day to ask my boss about that raise she promised me last month.

A notification pops up letting me know that my boss is canceling our book proposal meeting. I’m disappointed but apparently there’s a cover photo emergency that requires all of the execs to meet behind closed doors. I’ll try to catch up on rejection letters until it’s time for lunch. 

Liam Lohan: Confessions of a Teenage Drama King
August 19, 2004
Rolling Stone

Forget those rumors about his penis. This young lad has risen to the top of the teen-star crop by keeping it real

Liam LOHAN HAS BEEN EIGHTEEN FOR JUST UNDER A WEEK when he tells me his penis is real. I did not ask (ladies never do), though my reporting (discreet visual fact checking, a goodbye hug) seems to confirm his statement. Lohan fields queries about his penis in most interviews, which is probably why he decided to preemptively address the issue. “My little brother reads that stuff,” Lohan says. “He called me up one day and was like, ‘I heard you got that Dirk Diggler thing.’

There comes a time in the life of every teenage boy who works for the Disney Corp. when that boy realizes he has suddenly – how shall we phrase this? – “broadened his appeal.” For Andrew Funicello, back on the original Mickey Mouse Club, that point came when girls began to notice the tightness of his regulation Mouseketeer pants. In more recent years, fallen Mouseketeers Brett Spears and Christopher Aguilera recognized that music videos involving tight school uniforms and/or nude body stockings would exponentially increase motherly, big-sisterly and creepy-aunt-y tolerance for music that’s pretty much unlistenable if you’re not a thirteen-year-old boy.

We walk to Peckers as a group, and it feels good to be outside in the sun. This counts as exercise, I suppose. I reach for the door handle, which is a giant cartoon penis, and I hold the door open for the rest of the team. If anyone else has any hesitation about eating here, they sure aren’t showing it, so I smile and convince myself I don’t mind, either. 

We all order wings, of course. I opt for lemon pepper, and I have to admit, they are tasty. Our waiter, wearing tight white shorts and a skin-tight t-shirt with the Peckers logo stretched across his chest, lingers a little longer next to the birthday girl when he drops a penis-shaped cupcake in front of her. “I hear we have a birthday today,” he says in a flirty voice.

As we leave, someone suggests taking a team photo at the front of the restaurant. The host follows us outside and I hand him my phone. We huddle together under the bright orange and yellow Peckers sign and the handsy publicist jumps in beside me. Of course she does. 

“A little closer!” the host says, so we can all fit in the picture. The publicist moves even closer and puts her arm around my waist, squeezing my side. True to form, she’s never blatantly inappropriate, just touchy in a way that makes me cringe. I suck in my gut, feel my shoulders tense up, and smile for the picture.

“Perfect!” says the host, and I nearly jump out of the group photo to retrieve my phone. 

“I’ll send everyone a copy,” I say.

On the walk back to the office, my mind wanders back to my performance review. I knew, as I sat in the HR director’s office, that on the other side of the half wall, just to her right, was the infamous “Wall of Fame.” She didn’t necessarily advertise it, but it wasn’t much of a secret, either. On the side of the wall that only she can see from her desk, she hangs headshots of aspiring male writers and prospective authors, all of whom hope to have their books published by our company. Several of them, the ones that make it to the wall, at least, are health coaches, romance experts, and nutritionists with strong, healthy bodies. Some of the men pose provocatively, with suggestive body language and inviting eyes. Others simply show off their chiseled physiques, wearing workout clothes or, in some cases, only speedos. I wonder if she would give any of them perfect fives.

Kam Harris Makes History: What The First Male VP-Elect Means for Men
November 7, 2020

There’s a vignette that Senator Kam Harris likes to tell about his father: an immigrant from India who came to the United States with dreams of curing cancer, he raised Harris and his brother to be strong Black men who are mindful of what their identities mean in American work and life. “My father would look at me,” Harris has said, “and he’d say, ‘Kam you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’”

Senator Harris can therefore add more firsts to his list: he is officially the first male vice president-elect in United States history and the first person of color to earn the distinction as well.

When I get back to my desk, my cell phone vibrates. It’s a text from Michelle. “How’s your day?”

I debate whether or not to tell her about the email from the literary agent and lunch at Peckers, but I decide against it. I’m probably just being too sensitive. I reply with a ‘thumbs up’ emoji.

I email everyone the team picture from Peckers. After I hit ‘send,’ I can’t help but wonder what the women in the office would do if there were a restaurant called “Knockers” and I chose to have my birthday lunch there. 

I think about the publicist’s hand on my waist and make a mental note to say something witty next time while blatantly avoiding her grasp: maybe she’ll take the hint. I start plotting about how and when I’m going to tackle the Wall of Fame: it really needs to come down. I’ll have to tread carefully because I don’t want to get fired, but come on. I add a new appointment on my boss’s calendar with the subject “Salary Adjustment Follow-Up.” I sit up a little straighter in my chair. Then, I open the literary agent’s email and watch the cursor blink, waiting for me to start drafting a response. It needs to be subtle, yet savage. I think I’m up for the challenge.

Cool, Versatile Astronaut: Sally Kristen Ride
By William J. Broad
June 19, 1983
The New York Times

Ex-KVLY anchor Robin Huebner sues, alleging age and gender discrimination
December 20, 2011
Park Rapids Enterprise, Park Rapids, Minnesota

Lindsay Lohan: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
By Mark Binelli
August 19, 2004
Rolling Stone

Kamala Harris Makes History: What The First Female Vice President-Elect Means for Women
By Maggie McGrath
November 7, 2020

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