Authors: Jessi Klein
n the last few years, I've been learning the secrets of being a woman. Maybe you didn't even know there were secrets. I never used to think there were any, either, but that's just because I didn't know them.
Sorry to digress. What do I mean by secrets? Why is there a secret to being a woman at all? Being a woman usually means you are born with a vagina and after that you'll probably grow boobs and most likely pretty soon after that you'll have long hair because it's no secret that men are pretty non-negotiable about that, except for the times when some Frenchwoman with an insanely long neck pulls it off and a certain segment of men who are open to being a little different go fucking bananas for her. Honorable mention to Tilda Swinton, who is doing her own thing in that area, and I believe that not only does she know the secrets to being a woman, she knows the secret to being immortal. You watch. We will all die before she does.
I got distracted again. The topic is: What do I mean by secrets?
Well, the beginning:
When I was five, my mother taught me my first secret. But I should just say here that my mom was not a traditionally feminine woman. I mean, she's a woman, and she's feminine, but she has simply never cared about almost any of the bullshit you need to do to have the world look at you. And it's not hard to understand why, when you consider the fact that she had three kids in a two-bedroom apartment with no dishwasher and no microwave and was much busier clipping coupons and carrying a laundry bag up and down six flights of stairs. She is naturally beautiful, but I don't think that's why she didn't wear makeup. She always claimed that she didn't know how to put it on. She has still never had a manicure or pedicure, and we never had conditioner in the house, just a cheap shampoo called Fermo Caresse.
My mom always wore a scent. In the 1970s and '80s it came mainly from oils in little golden vials that she'd buy off a fold-up table from an African man in a dashiki on the subway platform. But at some point she came into a real-life spray perfume. She must not have spent much money on it, or maybe it was a gift, but in either case we were both transfixed by the bottle, a golden rectangle with hard glass edges that refracted the light. Unlike the budget oil-in-vials that you'd have to just kind of smudge onto yourself, this perfume had a button on it that you'd depress with your index finger, which would create a beautiful fancy rich-lady cloud.
My instinct was to put the bottle one inch from my face and then keep spraying until it was empty and ready to go in the garbage. But one afternoon my mother saw me getting started on this project and told me she wanted to show me something. I remember it was afternoon because I can see that specifically brownish 1980s New York light coming through the window, pressing through the cartoony leaf embroidery of the curtains in the cramped little bedroom I shared with my sister, every inch of which was crammed with our great-grandmother's old furniture: a dresser with a mirror, a rocking chair.
“That's not how you do it,” she said, gently prying the perfume bottle from my hands. We moved to the kitchen, the largest room in the apartment, a room with a couple of feet of floor space.
“You have to walk through the cloud,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“Like this,” she said, and she reached her hand to a full arm's length from her body, pumped out one small puff of fancy-lady cloud spray, and then quickly, but delicately, light on her toes, walked through the droplets. It was a round trip. She walked four paces, then did a perfect pivot and walked back.
“That's how you put on perfume,” she said. “You walk through the cloud. The scent is more subtle. You don't want to reek.”
She handed me the bottle to try. I pushed the button out in front of me and made a small cloud. I ran through it and back, like I was jumping through a sprinkler. I could feel a little of the perfume's coolness on my face and even a slight burning of the alcohol in my nose. When I was done, I sniffed my sleeve and inhaled the whisper of a smell that had settled like dew on my shirt.
My mother was right: I didn't want to reek. I wanted to be like her. She smelled amazing. And I was fascinated by this ritual, as ridiculous as it looked. I loved that it was something my dad didn't know to do. I felt like I'd been inducted into a secret society. Women walk through clouds.
But that was pretty much it for the secrets that my mom taught me. The others I started to pick up as I moved through the world with increasing independence. I learned about those little teal boxes of bleach you can buy at the drugstore that hide your mustache (they don't). I learned about taking the pill at the same time every day and about never leaving your drink unattended.
But maybe the most important lesson I learned was when I was just eight and I walked in on my twelve-year-old brother and his friend gawking at a magazine and laughing. Curious to know what they were looking at, I made myself as annoying as possible until my brother's friend shrugged and handed me a
open to a picture of a woman with her legs spread apart. Her skin was a tawny orange, basically the color of a new football. But mainly I remember being shocked to see that between her legs was something pink and raw, something that I was 100 percent certain was not a body part I possessed. I felt the beginning of a fear that there was something horribly wrong with me.
This was when I learned one of the biggest secrets of being a woman, which is that much of the time, we don't feel like we're women at all.
he morning of my twenty-eighth birthday I woke up at the happiest place on earth, aka the Enchanted Kingdom, aka Disney World, aka why the hell am I here? Actually, I was there for the wedding of my little sister, who, in a kind of
twist, had decided she was going to get married at Disney World on the day before my birthday. Just to be clear, it wasn't like she and her fiancÃ© were “getting married at Disney World” because they wanted to be ironic and hilarious. We weren't wearing Von Dutch trucker caps and drinking PBR. It was more like she and her fiancÃ© were wholeheartedly, super fucking into Disney World and were mega-psyched to get married there.
Now, my family is Jewish, and my sister's fiancÃ© was a Conservative Jew, so when my sister told us they wanted to get married at Disney World, we were collectively very surprised and collectively very not stoked. I decided to try to talk some sense into her, and the talk went basically like this:
“You know that people say Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathizer, right? Mauschwitz, haha?”
But my sister, who is very rational-minded, is all, “That's not true.”
And I'm all, “Right, I know, but likeâyou know what I mean.”
But she wasn't having it and went forward with the Disney plan.
So the icing on the cake is that my sister casually mentions to me one day that she and her fiancÃ© have decided to pay extra in order to have the Disney “characters” attend the reception. At which point I just decide that if I am single, and I'm going to be at Disney World the weekend of my birthday, then I am definitely going to try to get laid, and if I can at all swing it I am definitely fucking one of the characters. In my mind I put my hopes on Tigger, who, I won't lie to you, I've always found very attractive. I've always admired his barrel chest and his upbeat approach to life.
So my plan is to depart on Friday morning for the rehearsal dinner, which is Friday night. Because I leave everything till the last minute, I wait until Thursday morning to pick up my bridesmaid dress, which is an ornately embroidered floor-length number in a body-hugging, light-reflective lavender sateen. At around four thirty that afternoon, just as I'm wrapping up a long workday of personal emailing and Googling myself, all the lights and my computer pop off, as the Northeast is plunged into the worst blackout in the history of the United States. With the subway shut down, I join the throng of humanity trudging home in the mind-blowing August heat from Midtown to Brooklyn. However, I do notice that I am the only one in the throng with a thirty-pound purple bridesmaid dress slung over my shoulder.
With all power in the city still out, I come dangerously close to not making it to the wedding. In fact, I don't make it to the rehearsal dinner. When I arrive at the Delta terminal, I find out that not only do they have no power, but miraculously, in a post-9/11 world, they have absolutely no plan for dealing with having no powerâno emergency generator, no nothing. Due to the lack of power, they won't let anyone into the terminal, but they also won't say for sure if any planes will be taking off that day. A guy with a megaphone literally tells us it's a “crapshoot,” which is never a word you want to hear when it comes to anything regarding air travel. Me and about three hundred other people end up baking on the sidewalk for about seven hours while pretty much dehydrating because there is no food or water anywhere. I am lucky enough to have a small amount of peach Snapple backwash that I guard as if it's gold bullion.
Ultimately, no Delta planes leave that day, and I am only able to get a ticket for the next morningâit is the last one left on any carrier from New York to Orlando, and it's a one-way from Continental for the not-so-reasonable price of $800. Nevertheless, I must pay it. It's my sister's wedding. It's Disney.
Because I am so stressed out, right before I get on the flight I decide to take an Ambien, forgetting that you really should not take a whole ten-milligram Ambien before a two-hour flight. I make it to the Kingdom just minutes before the wedding is scheduled to begin, and I'm completely hallucinating. Upon my arrival to the Enchanted Castle, the wedding planner greets me by screaming, “GO DIRECTLY TO HAIR!!! GO DIRECTLY TO HAIR!!!” I deliriously weave my way to hair.
The Ambien is only just wearing off at the beginning of the reception, by which time I'm so exhausted that I decide the only logical thing to do is get massively drunk while waiting for the characters to arrive. The fascinating thing about the way Disney does the characters' entrances is that, in terms of celebrity, they go B list, then C list, then A listâso first Donald and Daisy come in, then the chipmunk cousins Chip and Dale, and just when you can't stand the wait a minute longer, because you're dying to see them and you're just going to burst if you don't see them right away, Minnie and Mickey finally make a grand entrance and everyone loses their shit.
So they start us doing the horaâbecause it is a Jewish wedding, after allâand the character whose hand I end up holding is Dale, and fairly quickly we begin what I can only describe as a passionate flirtation. First we're just dancing together. After a while we're slow dancing, my torso pressed against his furry underbelly. I think a large part of the sensuality of the experience is that the characters aren't allowed to speak at all; they're totally silent. Also, you can't see into their eyes, which are just black pits of vast, endless nothing.
Hours go by and I'm completely wasted but totally happy. We're entwined on the dance floor, the envy of all the other interspecies couples in the room. I have my head on his shoulder, “Lady in Red” is playing, and I decide there will never be a more perfect moment to make my move. I squeeze his paw, look up at him, and whisper as seductively as one can after two vodka tonics and four glasses of (Disney) Chardonnay, “Heyâdo you want to come back to my room? I'm staying at the Contemporary Resort in room 2629.” Dale steps back. He looks at me solemnlyâor maybe happily, it's hard to tellâand chirps, “Chchchchch!”
That's it. It's clear to me that if he were to attempt to consummate our passion, he would be fired, and possibly killed. We part ways and I go back to my room alone. I am sad that my soul mate and I met at the wrong time, doomed by the rules of a Draconian kingdom, until it occurs to me a week later that the person in the costume was not necessarily, and most likely wasn't, a man.
The next morning is my birthday. I am twenty-eight, alone, and lying on a twin-size bed with Eeyore sheets. And even though my flight doesn't leave till ten a.m., I decide to bail on Disney World at about six and just hang out at the airport because my room at the Contemporary Resort is so unbearably ugly that I can't be in there another minute. I guess it was “Contemporary” when it was built in 1971, but now all the dÃ©cor is horribly outdated and garishâthe wall mirror, for instance, is shaped kind of like an amoeba, because that is totally crazy and in the '70s people apparently liked everything totally CRAZY!
I hang out at the gate and watch the sun rise, until finally a woman comes to open up and start checking people in. Even though I never, ever, play the birthday card, I decide that because of the blackout horror, I'm going to allow it just this once to try to upgrade to first. And she's very kind, but apologizes and says there's no first class on the plane. However, she promises that they'll make sure to “take care of me.” I don't totally know what that means, but I'm picturing an exit-row seat, extra blankets, maybe a little plastic glass of champers.
So an hour later about two hundred people are at the gate and everyone's cranky because the flight, once again, is delayed. At last the Delta woman gets on the loudspeaker and goes, “I want to thank y'all for choosing Delta Song today, and we should be able to board y'all in about an hour. But first, I think y'all should know we have a birthday girl with us today, her name is Jessi, so why don't we all sing âHappy Birthday' to her!” Everyone at the gate starts singing “Happy Birthday” to me, and it's actually a really lovely, life-affirming moment. I can't help but think to myself,
You know what? You had a rough weekend, but people are basically good. They really are. We're all just on this crazy blue marble together.
The plane finally takes off. Because this is Delta's new “Song” division, the one that is trying to compete with JetBlue,
the stewardesses are referred to as “talent,” and they crack puns constantly. I do not have a plastic cup of champers, but I have purchased myself a drink called The Sunset Strip, which is a mix of vodka, mango, and orange juice. It is wonderful, and it is making the flight wonderful. Shortly after takeoff, one of the “talent” suddenly gets on the intercom and announces, “I want to thank you all for choosing Song today, please let us know if you need anything. I also want to point out that it seems we have a BIRTHDAY girl among us today, her name is Jessi and she's in seat 17C, why don't we all join in singing her âHappy Birthday'!” Suddenly, everyone is looking at me like I'm the world's biggest jackass because I seem like the douchebag who needs to tell every single person I meet that it's my birthday, as if I'm five years old. All the other passengers are completely silent and freaked out because obviously the gate woman on the ground did not communicate with the “talent.”
And then I hear one guy who's sitting eight or nine seats back bark really loud, “We already FUCKIN' sang it!” And that's when I slump down in my seat and remember that people are bad, they're mostly bad, and wait to get back to New York, where the lights are finally back on.