Like any member of the female species, I typically can’t go 20 feet from my front doorstep to my desired location without being requested to entertain a man. That’s what I call cat-calling nowadays because I realized men don’t yell out to me from building stoops and parked cars because they actually want to engage in dialogue, they want to be acknowledged. When they say “have a good day” it’s usually their day that is brightened by being seen as a human being by someone in a world that rarely does. And I get that. And, as a result, sometimes I will oblige — take one for the team, one might say, and engage them, even though I loathe the idea of sacrificing my agenda for the sake of theirs.
Nevertheless, when I’m not being complimented or commanded to smile, I’m often asked, “Why you look so mad?” or, worse, boldly told I don’t have a reason to look so mad. Ladies, I know you already know the drill so fellas, this one’s for you. Most days, when I’m not actually dealing with some real life bullsh-t that warrants my sour expression, unbeknownst to you, I walk around looking mad because I hope that the stank disposition on my face will ward off your advances and prevent situations like the one I experienced this morning.
At 10:55 am I received a text from an unknown number that simply said “Hola.” I’ve been going on a blocking and deleting spree lately and assumed someone slipped through the cracks so I responded asking who the person was. (So I could block them again.)
“No espiki engles” was the subsequent text. Okay, let’s try this again I thought, thinking either one of my friends got a new number and was being extremely childish or I left something in the cab I took the other night or the cleaners messed up one of the items I dropped off over the weekend and they needed to get in touch.
“Quien eres?” I asked. The answer was “Habla espanol.”
At this point — in my mind at least — there was no explanation for this exchange other than someone had the wrong number. And when the number dialed me I tried to explain as much. However, when I asked who the person was looking for and heard something about a muchacha in the response I was confused, and a little worried. After a few more details I realized I was speaking to the man from the laundry mat where I’d dropped my clothes off to be washed this morning. Still naive, I asked if my clothes were ready. Though they’d never washed my load that quickly before or called to tell me when it was ready, again, I was attempting to use logic to explain why I’d been contacted. That’s when I was told my clothes were not ready, the man got my number from the computer at the laundry mat, and “tu eres muy linda.” I got the answer to the question who is this. Now I was standing in the conference room at working asking myself, what is happening?
Too many thoughts were going through my head at once (and my spanish isn’t quite strong enough) to explain to him how inappropriate it was to contact me. In the moment all I could say was I was working and I would speak to him later. I’m 99.99999% sure he didn’t comprehend that when I said I would speak to him later it would be to tell him not to call me ever again.
As I walked back to my desk I started asking myself why the man who washes my dirty drawls (the thought of which now makes me squirm) would’ve thought it was okay to reach out to me for a casual morning chat. It’s my damn smile. No, that’s not me making an egotistical statement. That’s me thinking back to the few times I ran into him over the summer and fall while walking to the park or running errands in the neighborhood and I’d smile and say hello and go on about my day. Somewhere between our last “hola” and the heap of dirty clothes I sent his way this morning he got the idea I was interested in more than his laundry services. And he went about that incorrect hunch an equally incorrect way.
Which brings me back to the practice of mean-mugging which I didn’t adopt until I moved to New York City and realized cat-calling was a way of life for too many bored brothas. It took me far too long to understand that even the slightest hint of acknowledgement could be misconstrued as attraction — and as this morning’s story illustrates I still falter with that from time to time. And that sucks because I’ve genuinely been trying to be a happier, friendlier person and send out more smiles than I do frowns. And then something like this happens on top of the gang of men on my block who I’ve come to accept there’s no getting around without engaging in some type of stereotypical male banter and I think, see this is why I look mad.
Yes, this is exactly why I don’t say hello to every single man I see on the street or walk around looking gleefully cheerful or smile all the damn time: Negroes don’t know how to act. (FYI the use of negro here is not racially exclusively). Men don’t know how to act. They don’t know how to act when they see an attractive woman, they don’t know how to act when they want to compliment an attractive woman, they don’t know how to act when an attractive woman pays them the common courtesy of a smile, and they don’t know how to act when they come across personal information of an attractive woman they want to get to know and they ignore the voice inside that tells don’t yell “hey mami” or “eh eh eh” or randomly text her after finding her number through ill-gotten means. And that is why I don’t smile. That is why I look mad. That is why I sometimes am mad. And Solange already told me I have a right to be. So since you wanted to know, there’s your answer.