Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.

On Putting on an Act for People


A few years ago, following the advice of that famous song lyric, “And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey / Mash yourself up against whoever’s around until you’re numb,” I decided to start mimicking the way Dean Cain played Superman in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and treat everyone, regardless of gender, age, or position, as though they were available to me sexually. As though they were interested, and I was waiting for them to impress me. Go back and watch that show—watch the way the man used his eyebrows—and tell me that isn’t what he was doing. Whatever is wrong with me is wrong with everyone, because this worked super well. I hooked up with three women in two weeks, topping off the act with the same line every time. I’d be nice but distant, ask questions but act distracted while they answered, and then at the perfect moment I’d interrupt, saying “I’m sorry, I hate to interrupt but if I don’t find out what it’s like to kiss you right now I’m going to lose my mind.”

Three for three, I’m telling you. I didn’t even have too much desire to hook up with any of these women as much as I wanted to see if they’d fall for it and reassure myself I was someone who someone else could be interested in. All three times I immediately felt trapped and scrambled to figure out how far things could go before I’d be considered a monster for never talking to them again. These women were all nice people, nothing against them, but you know—not everyone knows that a kiss is not a promise, and you don’t want to be friends with everyone you meet. Plus the idea they’d gone for so lame an act made me sure there was no long-term potential.

I’m thinking about this because the other night I saw the new movie Boyhood (it’s great, go see it. You’ll love it) and there’s a scene in it where these boys huddle around a Sears catalogue out in the woods, ogling the bra ads, that could have been cut and pasted from my own childhood. I had no idea that ogling the bra ads in the Sears catalogue was a rite of passage until I saw the movie. Do the people at Sears know? How many of those catalogues actually made it into the hands of consumers, and how many ended up buried out in the woods or stuffed into R2-D2 pillowcases? Sears could have improved their sales immeasurably, I bet, if they’d mailed the catalogues shrink-wrapped and disguised as tax code information.

Right away, watching this scene in the movie, I thought about these kids M and B sitting side-by-side with a Sears catalogue spread open across their laps and me looking over their shoulders. This was around fourth or fifth grade. M pointed to one model—more stroked the photograph with his finger—and said he’d like to lick her back, “Shoulder to shoulder, back and forth.”

“No way,” B said. “You don’t lick a girl’s back side-to-side, you dumb bitch, you go up and down.”

This became a heated argument. The idea you were supposed to lick a girl’s back was new to me. I thought the woman standing with her back to us was the least interesting one on the page—I didn’t fully recognize the erotic potential of a woman’s back until I saw the opening scene of Bonnie and Clyde years later, when Faye Dunaway is lounging in bed with the light coming in through the window—so I didn’t chime in. M and B were tough and wild and scared the shit out of me but I was desperate to be their friend because they were the only boys my age in the neighborhood and I was desperate to come off tough and wild and scary. For whatever reason, this day they’d invited me to check out their fort in the woods. Very exciting. I think even then I thought, “Fort in the woods, that’s the kind of thing a real American boyhood is made of!” That’s actually how I thought as a kid. Possibly speaks to my lack of pals. I pictured their fort as something with battlements and secret tunnels and maybe a zip-line, figured we’d play Ninja Turtles when we got there. Spent the walk over rehearsing my pitch for why I should get to be Leonardo, why B would make a great Shredder. The fort turned out to be a pit with some plywood over the opening. Instead of playing Ninja Turtles they wanted to flip through this Sears catalogue they had hidden there.

Finally, on the edge of violence, B asked me to settle for them whether you were supposed to a lick a woman’s back up and down her spine or across the shoulders. “Tell him,” B said. “Tell this dumb shit what you’d do.”

“He’s not going to know,” M said. “He’s gay.”

I’d in fact already had two girlfriends, both in kindergarten at my old school. One of them dumped me after our bus driver spotted me kissing her on the cheek and told her mother, who told her to come back and tell me she wasn’t ready for boys that kiss. The other I’d stolen away from this kid when he was out with Chicken Pox, only for the fickle bitch to bounce back into his arms when I was out with Chicken Pox a week later. Still too painful to bring up, so I didn’t.

I looked at the picture. The model’s face was in profile. She wasn’t smiling; in fact she looked incredibly austere. There was nothing soft about her, nothing friendly or inviting. She looked like someone who spent more time thinking of new ways to flex her shoulders than ranking the Redwall books from best to worst or transcribing episodes of The Simpsons on a legal pad.

“I don’t think she’d want me to do anything to her,” I said. “I don’t think she’d like me.”

M and B united in their revulsion to that response. M rolled his eyes and said, “You don’t have to be friends with her to lick her back, fag.” B was a little kinder, explaining, “If you don’t think a girl’s going to like you, you trick her. Find out what she likes and be that. Or just make sure you’re always cool when she’s around.” He paused and looked me over, perhaps noticing for the first time my Dick Tracy t-shirt, the Jurassic Park logo on my shorts, the yellow and black Bat signal on the tongue of my sneakers. “Or,” he said, “pretend to be cool. Look at what cool people do and do that.”

That was an interesting notion. Those kindergarten love affairs had been fanciful, fairytale stuff. Two souls becoming one via furtive glances in a stolen moment between playing with blocks and lining up for snack. All any of that got me was heartbroken. The idea that you could just say whatever you thought someone wanted to hear or act how they wanted you to act in order to get them to like you was intriguing but ultimately kind of gross. I didn’t want to be loved because of who someone thought I was, I wanted to be loved for me. The kid who transcribed episodes of The Simpsons and couldn’t stop thinking about Jurassic Park. The kid who was sort of scared of the Sears catalogue, who’d rather kiss a cheek than lick a back.


I haven’t thought about any of this in years. As it turned out there were times when I was sadder than I ever thought I’d be, and lonelier. Times when being someone else seemed like not just the best option, but the only one. As it turned out I ended up spouting all kinds of crazy garbage hoping it would make people like me– faked interest in all kinds of dumb junk, claimed I’d visited far-away lands, that I’d been invited to get involved with organized crime due to distant family connections. That was all trying too hard, but on the right track, because what you really need to do if you want someone to like you is act like you’re cooler than them. You know something they don’t. You’re humoring them, at best. Like Dean Cain played Superman. People want to prove themselves and feel impressive, they seek out the attention of people they haven’t won over and lose interest in people they have. Maybe this isn’t 100% true, but like I said, three for three in two weeks. Withhold approval for a while, then give them a glimpse of hope and they’ll do anything to make the moment last.

The problem is that when you’re putting on an act for someone you have to get in and out quick or else your true nature is going to emerge and blow everything. Those three women, one of them I made out with for a while before stopping to remind her she had a boyfriend, and we spent the next hour hashing out the tricky bits of that relationship. I think they’re still together. Another woman stripped totally nude immediately, then got real mad when that woman I was trying to numb myself against called and I jumped up to answer, even though I kept the call short. The third just wanted to kiss and kiss, and at one point told me I made her feel safe, which I thought was sweet and instead of doing whatever the hell Dean Cain would have done I responded by gently kissing her forehead. You’d have thought I’d reached under the bed and brought out a ball gag. She jerked away and asked me what the hell I was doing, and when I lamely claimed I’d missed her mouth she got up and told me she was leaving, and not to bother walking her to her car. I saw her about a month later walking with her new boyfriend and I swear to you, she ran in the other direction.


2 Responses to “On Putting on an Act for People”

  1. chemire

    You will find that there are other types of people in the world. Unfortunately, especially in certain places, there are indeed a very many people who fit your descriptions here. In all honesty, even though I don’t know where you live, maybe moving is an option? You could try to pick a more honest environment to live in so you won’t be so completely surrounded by this type of person.


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