If I never came out and said it, it should have been obvious from my Brief Interviews with Moldovans series of posts that I got a lot of attention from Moldovan girls during my sixteen months there. (Moldoveanca means ‘female Moldovan,’ if that wasn’t already clear from the content of the dialogues.) It started on the first day of school last year, after I gave a short speech in front of the student body in Romanian, when I was given more bouquets of flowers and bars of chocolate than I could carry. Every morning thereafter was like the opening number from Beauty and the Beast, with girls who often weren’t even my students competing to see who could say ‘Buna Dimineata’ (Good Morning) to me first.
(Although I am clearly a dude and Belle is clearly not, there are disturbingly many similarities between this sequence and my daily walk to school, most significantly the fact that all of the villagers were likely talking about how peculiar and possibly crazy I was.)
While I can admit that I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t like being treated like a member of a boy band, the fact of the matter was that my biggest female fans in Moldova were either students or underage or both, and the constant bombardment made me uncomfortable at first and threatened to make my already difficult job more difficult. Thankfully, I became adept at employing the more aggressive girls as sargeants-at-arms in class: when boys would act up (it was always the boys) I could count on the girls to tell them to shut up, which was always much more effective than if I had done something about it myself.
I didn’t know what to do with the attention at first mostly because I was unused to it. I know that I’m no uggo, but I’ve also never had the effect on American girls whereby a smile and a good morning could elicit a nervous giggle and a doe-ish batting of the eyes. In fact, it’s always taken a lot of prodding and advance intel that I won’t crash and burn immediately to get me to speak to an American girl — I never hit on random girls at bars, for example. And as I mentioned recently, as an unemployed, somewhat homeless twentysomething, I’m not exactly what the DC girls would call a catch; in other words, while I felt like a superhero in Moldova, now I’m back to just being just plain Peter Parker, pre-radioactive spider bite.
So imagine my surprise when I was walking down the street two days ago in my suit (I was coming from an interview) at around 1:30 in the afternoon near the Chinatown metro stop, right outside the chintzy “Crime and Punishment Museum,” when a girl — in her twenties, neither exceptionally well-dressed nor poorly so — separated herself from a line of tourists waiting to get into the museum and made eye contact with me (it was unclear whether she had been waiting with them).
"Hey, how are you?" she asked me.
"Um, I’m fine, how are you?"
"Oh, good," was her half-bored reply. Then she perked up: "You’re gorgeous. Are you going to come back to chat with me later?"
All of this happened in enough time that I didn’t have to break stride, and I told her maybe and continued on my way.
She didn’t look like a hooker, and 1:30 pm outside of a museum in Chinatown would seem an unlikely time/place for a dragon lady to find a john, but I really can think of no other explanation for what she said to me and/or why. The joke was on her if she thought I had money because I was wearing a suit, I guess.
The story doesn’t end there, however (well, hers does — don’t get excited). Last night, a friend and I were heading home from watching the election returns over 25 cent wings at a bar near the Hill. While we were waiting on the metro platform, a pretty girl came up to us; she had a pale complexion and dark hair, but it worked for her, and her coat and black suede boots with fringe looked expensive. She wanted to know in which direction was the Navy Yard stop.
"You’ve got to go to L’Enfant and get on the green line," I told her (I’m already a metro expert).
"No way." She walked away to check out the map — it turned out I was right — then came back our way.
"I’m going to meet a friend," she volunteered. "Where are you going?"
We said we were headed home after watching the election returns at a bar.
"Oh, it’s going to be a big night!" She had a manic smile on her face. I noticed she was wearing a lanyard that said ‘Fire Pelosi.’
"I used to be a Democrat but I’ve seen the light now that I have a job," she continued. "Are you Republicans?" Her tone was less conversational than it was aggressive, in that I felt like she wasn’t genuinely interested in politics but in talking to men who were.
I said I was independent; my friend said he was a Republican.
"Do you want to see something really inappropriate?" she asked us. She was fiddling with a beat-up Blackberry. "My friend sent me this picture."
We said okay — at the time, before she showed us anything, I couldn’t help but think about the scene from Borat when he shows Polaroids of his family to a lady who recoils to find a nude, incestuous shot or two mixed in — and she then showed us a picture of a naked obese woman in a bathtub, ankles pushed behind her head, in the throes of having a bout of explosive diarrhea that arcs through the air into her own open mouth. Yes, after twenty seconds of conversation, this is the picture she shows two strangers at a metro stop.
She claimed to be a law student at the University of Maryland, and most of what she said checks out (although she did claim to ‘love’ Contracts, which no one in his right mind likes). Yet she was so aggressive in a kind of distant, unfocused way — sort of like a child beggar — that she made me feel like she wanted something from me. I left the Metro wondering if she were some sort of odd hooker herself.
I guess the larger question is what does it say about my self-esteem that I assume that every woman who approaches me now that I’m home is a prostitute?