From issue 8:
Listen to the author read the piece:
He swaggers into the bar, sure of himself—an unapologetically American boy with his blonde hair slicked back like a rockabilly, and blue eyes that glow in the dim, golden light that reflects off the brass behind the tap handles. You sip at the beer you ordered, and you know you’re going home with him.
The wooden bar top is sticky with the residue of hundreds of drinks before, and the cardboard coaster beneath your beer is plastered in place. You don’t care though. You aren’t trying to sit there for long.
Placing his hands on the bar first, he sits down leaving one seat between you. You can feel him looking at you out of the corner of his eye, and you know he knows that you’re trying to read the words tattooed on his knuckles.
There is nothing about him that screams sailor to you, though you get the distinct impression that he has been drunk on a float trip down the Illinois River a time or two. You envy him immediately and his ability to be himself. Kids with western parents are “free to be you and me”—a luxury you cannot imagine.
Of course you don’t know if his tattoos are a result of permissive parenting, but you assume. And that is what this game is about. You don’t want to know him. You want to create a backstory for him.
See, in your mind, he is the chorus to a Bruce Springsteen B-side. Working class. Strong. Meat and potatoes. Stereotypically American. That’s what you want.
You won’t ask him where he grew up, what his parents do, or what he does for a living. He is a Pony Boy—a tough greaser—embodying that wrong-side-of-the-tracks Americana feeling. He is James Dean if you want him to be.
He sips his beer slowly, then turns to you.
“I’m sorry, but what are you?”
All the episodes of Sesame Street you grew up watching and every white Gen Y asshole always leads off with that. You can’t fault him for it though. Your skin is too dark. Your hair is black and curly. Even though you were born in a nowhere state in the middle of the U.S., you’ll never be American. The backstory he makes up for you doesn’t fit with that.
You tell him you’re Persian, and you try not to mind when he raises his eyebrows in a satisfied way.
“Damn, can I buy you a drink?”
And there it is. It is always that easy. Because as much as you want to create an untouchable fantasy of American stereotypes, he also wants a so-called exotic fantasy for himself.
He will assume that you know how to belly dance and cook, and that you want to be a good wife someday, and that the black eyeliner on your eyes is natural and not something haphazardly smudged on before making your way to find a boy to fuck.
You won’t tell him about the time your dad got in a fight with a redneck in a grocery store parking lot. Or about how you watched from the front seat of the car as those rednecks broke his nose with a crowbar and blamed the entire Gulf War on him. You definitely won’t tell him how you cried in the parking lot next to your dad until the cops came and mysteriously couldn’t find the rednecks who did it, even though there were so many witnesses.
That’s not the exotic fantasy he is looking for.
To him, you are an outsider. He doesn’t need to know that you slow danced to Mariah Carey songs while wearing JNCOs in the seventh grade the same way he did. He doesn’t need to know that you have never been to Iran.
But there are things you don’t need to know either. He isn’t a John Wayne or a James Dean or any symbol of American masculinity.
But that’s not important. It’s not what the game is about.
The bartender places another pint on the cardboard coaster, and you turn to bat your eyelashes.