Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, March 23

Gapers Block

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You consider the way men tie their shoes to be sexy, sometimes. When it's on your mind. There's something sexy in the way a man, who is at least somewhat well toned, can move his hands and fingers in such quick concert, and the veins along his forearm and wrist, as his fingers nimbly bend and extend, bulge just so. They bulge because the muscle, as it tightens, pushes them up towards the skin. From one shoe to the next. Muscle memory guiding the process, they're almost in a trance. It can be sexy, really, if you give it an opportunity to be so; or, if you're just the kind of woman who is seriously, seriously attracted to men.

Awkwardly, around an overly-covered dining room table, five women, from three generations, sit, and the women from the oldest are quiet. They only listen to the women from the second, slightly younger generation, and their silence is to be taken for agreement or, at least, lack of controversy. But what the women in that second generation are doing is, having a conversation for the unarticulated purpose of instructing us, the girls in the youngest generation, without the inconvenience of actually having to talk to us about our bodies, our passions — which are hot — and our sex, which exists. Really, it does, even educated girls from good Greek families who are subject to the talk and gossip not only of classmates and social cohorts but of the network of immigrant families associated by blood relation, or old-country friendships, or business, or Greek school on California Avenue, or, or, or. That network is large and in constant, instant, and invisible communication, the kind that makes it possible for your father's cousin's cousin on their mother's side to know that you brought a boy with you to a church-sponsored, all-Greek picnic, and this boy was not Greek. And not your fiancé. And not visibly homosexual. I know you've all seen the movie: but believe me, it isn't lighthearted. It's obnoxious.

The women talk about other girls, not the girls present, but they tell stories about situations eerily similar to situations we ourselves have been in, recently in fact.

"Did you hear about Stamatina's daughter Alice?"

"Elizabeth." My aunt corrects my mother.

"No, Alice," my mother counters, "Stamatina, Peter's daughter."

Everybody nods in consent. So Alice is Peter's granddaughter.

Alice just got back from Morocco. She was there studying native art. Or architecture.

"Something like that. Twenty-five years old, she hasn't finished her degree because she keeps taking these breaks."

The tension hangs; that can't be the end of it. Surely they're not bringing her up just because she's taking a long time to get that bachelor's–

"She went with that whats-his-face. Now, of course, he's gone."

"Were did he go?"

"New York? Seattle? Wherever they go."

That gets a giggle. Her parents hardly see her anymore. Now she's out on her own. Her education is stalled, I guess, she's frittering away time, parents' money, and bits of reputation, falling off like parts on a car, all on a boy who isn't serious.

It is a lesson about protecting our virtue, of being "traditional" women, Greek women, of not being American women who will have a reputation of being troublesome, unconcerned with tradition, estranged from families, and loose, which is sometimes the big one although, to be fair, not always.

It is a warning, because it its tinged, too, with respect for her education, because the only thing with more important than protecting our virtue — enhancing our marriageability — is being educated, or at least perceived as being educated. There's nothing wrong with being educated and independent, so long as that educated independence is confined to the matrix of our recently immigrated ethnic network.

My apartment is the apartment of a well-off girl, because my parents are well-off, and when I announced I was moving out to live on my own, my mom insisted she furnish my apartment, which she would pick out after my father, of course the expert on Chicago neighborhoods, picked the neighborhood. Growing up, the Greek school on California was my main experience with the city besides our church on Sheridan. Fine; in Andersonville, street lights through open windows and the night, which had been hot, suddenly getting cold, I twist around in my high-thread count sheets, striped like Egyptian cotton, and I'm scratching the bottom of my foot, which I hate to do; it feels weird. I also hate touching the palm of my hands; I'm wondering if that's a common human revulsion, or repulsion, or aversion, not wanting anything to touch your palms or the bottom of your feet.

"Domina," I hear and I pull my leg out from under the sheet to look at it in the moonlight, where it is long, the thigh muscle a bit defined, and, to me at the moment, beautiful. Is that OK? To think my thigh is beautiful and that this muttering white man next to me is lucky to have had his face, and himself, buried in it not moments ago. I feel good; I am lucky to have been born this way, tall, with thick hair, with smiling eyes and thick lips, with olive skin that never burns, doesn't turn piggy pink.

I got what I wanted now I really want this guy to leave; it isn't that he isn't serious, I want to tell everybody, I want to write in a letter to my grandmother and in a text message to my serious, churchy cousins. It's that I'm not serious. Yet. Not now. Does that make me fake in your world, in order to be sincere and genuine in this world? Rock-and-hard-place. I throw the sheet completely off me to look at my whole nakedness and think age twenty-something, income fifty-something, five-foot-ten mostly leg that I can wrap around whomever I choose. Rock-and-hard-place.

The constraint itself creates the rebellion; because the constraint means that just being is rebellion; you don't have to pursue rebellion, you just have to avoid submission, obedience, sublimation of a very natural and wonderful impulse because of how it aggravates the social network you have to operate in to be a good daughter, a good sister, eventually a good wife and mother.

There's nothing wrong with being those things; it doesn't mean slavery or servitude. It just means behavior modification.

With big, open bay windows, a café on Halsted, where we girls rally before going out for a night, but not in Greek Town, a neighborhood where young Greeks descend from Bannockburn and Des Plaines, from Elk Grove and Elmhurst, from Schererville, Indiana and Oak Lawn to meet potential brides and grooms, to run into childhood playmates and Greek school classmates. We start the evening here, in front of these big, open windows, four of us around a high round table, gossiping exactly how we've watched our mothers and aunts gossip, only we do it with some self-awareness of our own retreat out of mainline white American society into our shared Greekness, none of us quite sure which persona is our true self, and kind of nervous about that.

"Oh my God," Elizabeth, who her Greek friends call Leez and her white friends call Beth, "Look at this guy," she nodded towards the door, where a sort of misshapen young guy, who found a way to look bony and squat simultaneously, like his bones were trying to escape through unconvincing muscle accented with fat. His hair was neatly kept bed-head, which if you think about it is not a good thing. His shirt open down three buttons, revealing a chest that, though waxed, not recently enough. He was chatting with the place's owner-manager, who is too friendly for his own good, because now the guy is still holding onto his hand, a minute into the conversation, even while he shrugs his shoulder and talks too loudly and we all laugh, because we know this guy, or the sort of Platonic ideal of this guy, anyway, because this guy seems even a poor knock off of himself, sadly.

Leez turns back to us and asks if we're going to go to Joy Blue a place we enjoyed, then, because of the Page cute, dumb European boys who would wear their scarves in the place even as we were stripping off clothes, in the heat.

"Joy Blue? Again?" It can exhaust you, the same city and the same places.

"Shit," Natalie, to my left, who is rightfully only half Greek, (the other half Lebanese, which makes her the most beautiful of us, lucky devil) "Open shirt is coming for us."

"Hey!" he announces, his teeth taking up 50 percent of his face yet doing a poor job of keeping stale breath contained. He actually does this: he actually grabs one of the chairs, long legged with little backs, and flips it around. He sits backwards on it, Dwayne Wayne from "It's a Different World" style, and nods at Leez, sitting at the end. "Let's cut to the chase: you got a boyfriend?"

Stunned silence. All of us, in a flash, the way you can run through scenarios in fight-or-flight tableaus, try to wrap our minds around how often this guy must have swung-and-missed, how many times this poor sonofabitch had struck out, in order to legitimize, to himself, this pick-up approach. What has happened to this poor bastard that he thinks this is appropriate? Who were his role models and mentors? Has nobody been watching his public behavior? And if somebody was, why did they fail to apply fundamental rules of negative feedback to correct it? As Leez fumbles to formulate exactly that negative feedback, I try to figure out what the feminine analogy would be and I guess the equivalent would be approaching a group of guys and demanding to know their penis size?

By now, Leez had simply said that she does, indeed, have a boyfriend, which is untrue. Vaius — yes, his name was Vaius — points a thumb towards the door. "You're out. Next?" Next to her, Petra says the same; "You're out — next."; next to me, Natalie has nodded yes. Vaius figuratively kicks her out, too. I concur, and this guy — Vaius, eternal Vaius — gets up and leaves.

Natalie shudders in disgust and instinctively brushes her arms off, as if to clean herself; Leez and Petra laugh, and I giggle, but it sticks with me, like when you're in traffic, and you cut somebody off, and then they pull up next to you and call you a bitch and you just stare, holding your tongue. And you regret it forever, that that person never received that negative feedback.

Why doesn't he get that push towards corrective behavior. Conforming. Nobody ever told Vaius to sublimate his urges; his audacity, his willingness to disrupt our day, to impact us such that, even though we laugh, at least one of us shudders, and he walks away! He would be considered brave, he's got balls, he's exactly who he's supposed to be — well, perhaps not supposed to be, but he is who he is, he is allowed to be that, where I, climbing on top of a beautiful boy, who can't believe this Greek goddess biting his lip, why, if anybody were to find out...

Could I organize the picnics? Could I teach the kids on Wednesdays? Could I be a community figure, commanding respect from wives and husbands?

Replacing my fifth glass of tepid white wine at an art show on Damen Avenue, I am looking out the window at the boy, with a cigarette bouncing, his foot on the ledge and his fingers whisking back and forth, his veined forearms bulging as he ties his shoes, and I shudder that shudder you need to shudder not because you feel dirty, but the opposite — the actual you, the clean you, shakes off something, which is really that constraint of a lifetime of corrective behavior (which becomes, eventually corrected personality) and I pass out of Greek Me into Assimilated Me, who my family, who I love more dearly than I could ever tell you in print or in person, can never really know. Greek Me who I am not ashamed of but who will always have to be a bit of an alien, here among the Wonder Bread and mayonnaise sandwiches, she has to disappear, like a friend with a tendency to be a third wheel, because of how those fingers are moving to tie those shoes, and how that cigarette is bouncing on those lips.

Later I'll feel bad for her, because of what she misses against the back of my bedroom door, against my now-wobbly footed credenza, on top of high-thread count sheets knotted with clothes and towels on my bedroom floor.

And she pities me, too, because this me, who has to go underground among the people she loves more than anyone else on Earth, is a liar.


About the Author(s)

Domina Apate writes, lives and loves in Chicago. She has lived in Chicagoland her entire life.

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