ROMANTICS: A Pick-up Line
By Michael Copperman
I enjoy bars. I like the murmur of conversation and the backlit constellation of bottles at the bar, like the constant clank of glasses to counter and the ambient music and the sound of doors opening and shutting and the ways people betray what they really think as they come under the influence, how they start to claim what they really want and reveal their underlying character, the asshole soon enough raising his voice and betraying his baseness and the girls take long and then longer looks across the bar, waiting to be approached, becoming obvious at the sort of bar where the bartenders have heavy hands, which is the sort of bar I tend toward (that is to say, the sort I can afford). But though I’m often at the bar, I don’t pick up women; I keep to myself and my friends, even at the drunkest dives and dance-clubs, not willing to commit to taking a stranger home no-matter how hard up I am—I’m just not the guy who does one-night stands, or at least, that’s what I tell myself.
But some of that may in fact be self-protection—I’m half-Japanese, and grew up among middle-class white kids in a country where there is no so emasculated a figure as the Asian male. My face is too round and too yellow-brown, my nose is too brief, the half-moon of my eyes is too pronounced for me to be the fellow the girls cast their gaze at across the bar. Or at least, that is how I’ve been programmed, what I’ve come to assume—and while I have gone out of my way to date the slim, blue-eyed Barbies in the social groups I run in with what I suppose is some degree of success (is it a success to remain a 32 year old bachelor?), I know full well that those relationships came from contact, shared classes or shared friends, or a girl in an audience at a reading changing her mind about me on the appeal of a turn of phrase. They took convincing to choose me, were charmed or misled, perhaps a bit of both. I know what it means to be an Asian male, remember that Jet Li played “Romeo,” in a movie where he never even got to kiss the girl; I know that Asian actor I most often see in the movies beyond Jackie Chan is the idiot from the Hangover and the commercials with Dwight Howard, a comic who has evidently based his career off the Asian exchange student Long Dong from “Sixteen Candles,” with his foppish cry of “Heyyy, sexxxy girlfriend,” as he leaps to liason with the girl nobody else wants.
But then, one weekend night at the bar, I felt the prickle of eyes on me, looked up to find a tall, heavily-made up blonde in a black mini-skirt staring with an alarming intensity. Her eye-shadow was peacock blue and her lipstick was an over-assertive burgundy and she had the proportions that are the American ideal, not an extra ounce on her, cleavage enough to leave shadows. She had a Mariah Carey mole on one cheek, and she lowered her chin and smiled, revealing white teeth, reached out to twirl a lock of hair and bite her lip, a series of moves which seemed derivative of Cosmopolitan and bad porn. I glanced behind me, but there was no-one there. When I turned back she was swaying toward me on precariously tall heels and the music seemed to go silent and the crowd between me and her seemed to part and there was a hunger in her eyes that was terrifying to behold and by the time she reached me I knew I was going to have to flee. In those heels, as short as I am, she had bend down as if embracing a child to whisper in my ear, but she did so, slipped an arm about my shoulder and whispered, her voice husky and her words a little slurred, “I need some ASIAN. In. Me.”
I looked up at her—right up her nose, actually—and said, “Um. Yeah. Huh.” And then, being me, I lied and said I had a girlfriend but wanted to know why me, why this unseemly Asian fetish. I found, once I pieced together her drunken narrative, a refreshing role reversal: this girl had moved to Oahu when she turned 21, to the same side of the island where my mother’s Japanese-Hawaiian family is from, and she’d learned quickly enough where she fit in a local community, the blonde haole girl the bottom of the hierarchy, had been made to understand that no Island man was going to give her the time of day except in desperation. She spent a year there, getting ignored and mocked. Since then, she’d developed, as she put it, “A real thing for Asian men.”
I bid her goodnight with a kiss on the cheek, after pointing her toward a Chinese fellow I knew from the pool hall who lingered uncertainly at the edge of the dance floor, watching the girls who’d always ignore him, and though the girl was for a moment disappointed, she’d already gathered herself and started in his direction as I made the door. And though I didn’t look back, I did feel better about the world.