Body of Knowledge

“Here’s your pizza,” the healthy young waitress sang out. She leaned over from behind me to place it on the table. Diced tomatoes and basil glowed red and green in the light of sunset. Some works are art are meant to be eaten.

The pizza’s beauty took my mind and eyes off the pair of well-developed mammaries hanging down alongside my nose. The waitress’ bold neckline barely contained them. I visualized ripe honeydew melons rolling off a counter.

And then I gave thanks that I am old. Because I had no strong need to stare, or even sneak a glance.

Matters were not always so. As a young man I knew that the world would certainly end in fire and tragedy if I did not scan every well-exposed set of bosoms that wandered by. No other desperation exceeds that born of unrequited hormones. And you know young men; girlfriend or not, they’re unrequited 23 hours a day.

But I was a polite young man who knew that I wasn’t supposed to stare. Except that most young woman who no man looks at will feel that they’re doing something wrong. American sexual attitudes are something of a minefield.

Still, few women of flamboyant appearance seemed eager for my intimate gaze. So I found ways of pretending not to look while actually looking. Most men do. These days I amuse myself by watching other men pretend not to watch.

Now that I’m older, a bold young woman who catches the corner of my eye,can stay there. I look at the opposite sex, but the sense of urgency is much diminished. Ten years ago I went to teaching school for while and found it refreshing to study with good-looking young women without beating back hormonal fantasies.

On one occasion, a group of us left the lecture hall to meet at a circle of benches outside in the sun. As discussion progressed, a lithe young woman of impulsive disposition reclined on a bench and pulled her top up to her ribs. She spent the rest of the meeting catching rays on her fine, taut belly while talking of child development. I aimed my eyes at her nose, but the earnest young man beside her had to turn his head away. His eyes, which I alone could see, were wild. His thoughts were clear: “I’m in a program that’s full of women and run by women, to teach me to work with children and so I cannot look and I wish she would stop doing that!

Eventually he sucked it up, as do all men of responsibility. But it’s not always easy.

And it’s getting harder. Were I young today, I’d probably lose my mind. There’s too much on display; thanks to modern materials science, a young woman can buy a pair of denims that clings to every contour like plastic wrap, and hides absolutely nothing anatomical. Cleavage? Everywhere, all the time, often with shaping that makes the blouse look like it’s about to pop off. You young people may have heard stories about the ’60s and ’70s, but in those days even exposed belly buttons were hard to come by and cleavage was for after hours.

I’m not going to tell women how to dress; I just want to know why so many of you under-40s think that extreme and fairly constant tittilation is a good idea? Or did the clothing industry just give you no choice? I could buy that with the cleavage, but nobody forces anyone to wear skin-tight spandex or molecule-thick “exercise” tights that look like body paint.

Does it get you something? Or are you trapped in some sort of fashion arms-race hell with other competitive young women?

Pity the geeky young man with too much adams-apple staring at you out of the corner of his eye; he probably can’t help it. It’s biological. Women, you have the right to dress anyway you want. But I want the right to hover over you with a hot fudge sundae and a huge plate of tiramisu while you poke at your low-cal salad. That might give you a pale image of the male predicament.

Some years ago I discussed all this with a man of the age that I am now. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I asked, “if men were born with some sort of dimmer switch we could use to, you know, tune down the urge when it was a hassle, but turn it back to full strength when the time was right?”

“God, I’d have killed for that,” he said. “It would have kept me out of prison.” As a young naval enlisted man he’d visited San Francisco during the Summer of Love and, well, never reported back for duty. He had a top secret clearance, sadly, and the SP came looking for him. A city park full of willing young women, all the dope you could smoke, and the Grateful Dead for background music? I couldn’t have stood up to that at age 20. Perhaps not even at 30.

Yes, men are tools. I freely admit it. But ladies — especially those of you who are proud of your bodies — use us with care and understanding.

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