Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I DON’T DO GROUPS

The school holidays are over: life is back to normal. Today, while driving back from dropping everyone off at school and office, I was looking at the reflection of my headlights in the back end of the car in front of me. They seemed . . . dim.

Shit. I could stop at the car dealer and mime how my lights appear to be kaput and for a few dollars the kind fellows in the Service Center would replace them for me. But I hate asking for help. I always have.

So I went home and checked in the basement and the garage for the lightbulb kits I bought in the past year or so, hoping I had in them the bulbs I need today. Long story short, I end up bent over and head buried inside the front end of my car, cursing, scraping my knuckles with black dust, glasses sliding down my nose and interfering with my ability to see.

My neighbor, the comely if slutty (according to Pani Babka) Sylvia emerges from her front door with her mom.

“You’re so brave!” she exclaims, although clearly skeptical of my ability to solve what is, to her, a man’s problem.

I pant as I struggle to fit the damn bulb back into its housing, “It’s just a matter of having the parts.” My legs are cramping from this odd position of standing, wedged, against the dirty car bumper.

Parts, indeed. I can see her thinking the Y chromosome might be the necessary part, but she and her mom gamely wish me well and head off.

I finally wrestle that bad boy into place and am about to stand back, victorious, when a shadow crosses my workspace. I jump, startled, but it is only the local policeman, a beatcop, as it were, who is curiously looking in to see if I need help. Mental note: Home Depot is not the place to find men in Slovakia as it was clearly in Miami. Here, should I ever find myself single, I will merely open the hood of my car, bend over, and wait for the men, or at least neighbors, to swarm. No, I thank him, I’m sorted. All is well.

I wonder about the Slovak view on sex roles, given the raised eyebrows here and the eagerness of the kind police officer to help. I have recently been shocked by sexist remarks by a man who sits on a committee with me (and other women). Okay, I am the least professional (now) of all the women there. But I have been professional. And I think I present myself professionally. But this guy, let’s call him Mr. Neanderthal, had the nerve to tell me that

1.) the new manager of Prestigious Bratislava Hotel could not possibly be as good as her predecessor since she is a woman and he was a man (and it turns out she is kicking butt and taking names . . . predecessor was sweet and charming, but she is GOOD) and

2.) the men on the committee needed to meet privately as women can’t possibly do any of the real work (interesting since the lion’s share of the committee work to date has been done by people other than Mr. N. and more of them women than men).

Honestly. My value and ability haven’t been judged based solely on my possession of ovaries since, oh, 7th grade? But I digress.

The whole car light bulb incident brings to mind a day last summer in Ohio when, driving my mother’s geriatric Volvo, the front bumper fell off in a north Bexley neighborhood. I had the girls with me, was wearing my own slutty favorite summer dress, but enterprisingly found a picnic blanket in the trunk, and laid it on the hot asphalt of the Qwik-i-Mart parking lot so I could lie on my back, knees together, under the car to assess the damage. My mother, arriving to rescue me, was thrilled at her heroic and self-sufficient daughter. I was pretty proud of myself, too. But I couldn’t help wondering today: should I be less reluctant to ask for help sometimes?

I have always despised group projects in school. My longtime scholarly friend, Dr. W, regularly assigns group projects to her college juniors as she feels it prepares them for the realities of the workplace. I implore her not to do it. “I loathe group projects!” I whine to her. “The others might be idiots. I end up doing all the work or being punished for some slacker in the group dragging us all down.” In the workplace I might have recourse: I could have the slacker fired or refuse to work with the offender in the future.

Further, I like spending time alone. While the girls were off school, I enjoyed the time with them, but nevertheless I did find myself getting a bit cranky after a week or so. I need time alone. I enjoy time alone. Returning to our regular school and work schedule means I can spend a good part of the day by myself, which I apparently need.

I never liked team sports. I want to live and die by my own hand. I ran track in high school (badly) because while it is arguably a team sport, I was responsible for my own event. I like dressage, tennis, the bike, swimming. Sports where I can measure my progress against myself.

I joke that I could never have group sex. “I don’t do groups,” I proclaim because I am convinced I would get shoved out of the collective bed and end up in the kitchen making sandwiches for the remaining participants, those working up or slaking an appetite without me.

I didn’t even let anyone help me plan and arrange my own wedding. There was no reason to take on all the responsibility myself. Yes, I had a matron of honor, but I felt asking her to come up to Columbus early was an imposition. I spent this most-memorable day all alone, eschewing girlfriends and family to have my nails lacquered alone, my hair done alone, lunch alone . . . I finally collected a friend at the bus station and had an early dinner with him, but otherwise spent the entire day alone. It never occurred to me to ask anyone else to help, to see it as inviting them to spend a special time with me. Now I think how stupid it was, as I certainly felt lonely all day.

That said, I am a social person. I like people. I have friends. I enjoy the social lunch, the girls' night out, the chatty coffee. The Spouse, more reclusive than I, asserts that we, as a couple, would have no friends at all if it weren’t for me.

And I have had fabulous group experiences. The high school play, to start with. A job I had in college, where a team of us helped the incoming freshmen prepare for their first semester, while reassuring their parents that the investment they were about to make in this university was sound. The English-language immersion program I participated in last November. The collective energy. Everyone playing his or her special role. I like being the specialist, the in-house expert in whatever.

The bike ride we took on Sunday was enhanced by the presence of the Spouse and the other fellow. I have ridden significant enough distances alone, and it’s fine, but having two other people along was a totally different experience: it turned a pleasant ride into a delightful one.

So my conclusion? Not sure I really have any. I guess I learned a little something about myself, or, at least, was reminded today of the incongruous co-existence of my hermit-like and social-butterfly behaviors. So where does this Jekyll and Hyde quality come from? Is it the rugged individualism of the lone mountain goat Capricorn or the stoic Protestantism of my Finnish ancestors?

Let me close with a bit of family legacy. My Finnish grandmother always told my mother, "Learn to drink coffee so that when you go to someone's house, they can offer you something." But there was a caveat: "Learn to drink it black, so you won't be any trouble."

I am certainly too indulgent to drink my coffee black unless I'm forced to. Maybe I really do enjoy going it alone sometimes.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Sanjay said...

This is a nice everyone stories but he is very very handsome man all the best.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Frances said...

If you need advice on how to take care of your car, you could probably talk to one of those used cars Miami dealers.

5:04 AM  

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