I’m fairly new to New York City. I began my job in the West Village nine months ago, moved to Brooklyn six months ago, and began a semi-regular latte routine at a SoHo coffee shop about one month ago. When my friend introduced us, I shook hands with the barista and said pleasure to meet you. Then he smiled and replied the pleasure is all mine. It took five words for me to become hooked like a school girl. After many failed attempts on OKCupid, the novelty of meeting a kind human being in real life was overwhelming. I started to buy painfully expensive lattes twice a week, always making sure to tip, and blushing profusely during the few times I received the drink for free.
There’s a trickiness about the area South of Houston. As it seems, the space presents itself as a gated enclave for models cat walking between shoots. Light shines on their cheekbones as though higher powers hold a perpetual mirrored clamshell before their faces. Women purse their lips on Crosby Street just so. Their hair is coiffed in the perfect ballet bun. They wear fur and black leather. And there’s always a few of them curling their long arms down the wooden counter in the coffee shop.
At the tender age of twenty-three, I’ve only ever given my telephone number, without prompt, to a chef from Massachusetts and that barista. Both, irritatingly enough, look so similar to each other and to the insurmountably attractive stereotype of the urban woodsman that it makes me want to kick my shins and pull out their beard hairs. I don’t like to think that I’ve curated a “type,” but here we are. Mast brothers, marry me.
To bring things to the next level of weird – I used to be terrified of beards. Not bearded men, mind you. To my five year old mind, beards were possums in the daylight or that face-sucking creature from Aliens. The hair obscured what I probably imagined to be the “true” man behind the hair. And now I’ve found myself typing “beard” into the search field of OKCupid? I’m a walking stereotype.
It’s probably got something to do with facial hair signifying maturity, or at least the guise of being less of a man-child. It’s the idea that a man sporting a beard might harbor a bedrock of emotional sincerity while simultaneously possessing the ability to chop down maple trees and build a boat. A man with a beard is wild and loving. His imagined role in my life comes from the fictionalization of my increasing anxieties about age, companionship and living like an island in New York City.
But there are rules here. For instance, I find the perfectly twiddled mustache man to be an insincere pastiche of jazz-age swim trunk models. Either that, or he reminds me of the guy who ties the damsel to the train tracks. And please, no goatees or “soul patches.” What’s attractive is what my ex used to refer to as “inaction more than action.” The “maybe I’ll find a clan of gnomes or a small continent in there” kind of beard.
So, the beardy men with my phone number? The chef and I drank a beer at the bar of his restaurant, talked long into the night, and never spoke since. That was a year ago. The barista – well, I’m still waiting to see if anything comes of it. There’s only so much small talk to make when you visit a guy at work that the thought of just one more latte makes your pride shrivel up like a prune. (Did you know they’re rebranding prunes as dried plums so as to tackle the snack’s octogenarian association? Really, look it up.)
I wonder who else he has given free lattes to. It’s one thing when the SoHo women exist on the glossy pages of magazines and the flickering soft-core banner ads of popular blogs. In those moments, improbably thin and beautiful women are cast into the realm of the uncanny and the mechanizations of Photoshop, image culture and media frenzy. They are easily dismissed as not real. Yes, these depictions produce wholly real reactions in everyday life – little girls are marketed bikinis at the age of seven, ladies begin to believe that flowers from a man imply she must give sex in return, and terrible things like this happen between mothers and daughters. Sometimes people lose faith in bearded baristas.
I’m not downplaying the media’s bastardization of female sexuality or its implications on women today. I get that. What I mean to say is that it’s different when these women are standing right next to you, in a coffee shop, flirting with the one guy whose free lattes and statement of well if you have a long train ride, does that mean you’ll think of me supposedly signify a mutual connection.
I’m sure these women are wonderful creatures. I know nothing of their private lives, and I do not mean for this to be an attack on pretty girls. This is simply a way to talk about how a five foot seven inch girl weighing in at a whopping one hundred and thirty pounds can feel short and pudgy in the shadow of beauty ideals legging around in designer jeans. That it takes the physical presence of such a woman to make me feel viscerally unnerved while the two dimensional reproductions evoke a laugh or an eye roll. If I can project a fear of insincerity onto a man’s jawline, I can most certainly project a fear of my own body onto the bodies of others. It’s just the greatest when both anxieties conflate in a small space where the heat is turned up, and I’m slowly blushing under far too many layers of clothing.
So what is there to take away from this? Perhaps it’s just the realization that anxieties often surface during loose examinations of trend spotting and beauty culture. (I dare you to stare into the intricate swirls of a thick black beard and not notice something staring back. Eat that, Roland Barthes.) Conversely, perhaps I have too much spare time at work and should just chill out, have a ladies night or something. Either way, I think I’ll put a moratorium on that coffee shop and its bearded barista because he still hasn’t called. Beyond the possibility of sharing a moment of flirtation in the face of women I deem so much more physically appealing, there’s no good reason for coffee after five, right?
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Fraylie’s unroast: Today I love my legs in white jeans and leather boots.
Updated bio: Fraylie is a girl living in Brooklyn. She works in marketing by day and is a writer and a photographer by night. She really enjoys butter cream cupcakes and making eye contact with strangers.