Sunday, January 22, 2006

I haven't paid much attention to Norah Vincent in a while. Years ago she used to write a column for a New York weekly in which she regularly bitched about noise on her block on weekend nights -- a reasonable complaint, except for the fact that she lived on St. Mark's Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, a strip of bars, restaurants, and T-shirt and CD stores that was (and is) the East Village's 42nd Street. Living there and complaining about noise is like living on the tarmac at JFK and complaining about the smell of jet fuel; I got tired of yelling at the paper every week, "Go look for another apartment, you dumbass!," so I stopped reading her.

She was evolving into a Camille Paglia wannabe -- a lesbian right-winger whose gender consciousness somehow led her to the conclusion that the highest form of human existence is the macho man. (Vincent on 9/11: "Western masculinity is in remarkably good shape at present. Part of the reason is, of course, that physical bravery, one of the cardinal masculine virtues of old, is popular again after Sept. 11 -- more popular, one could argue, than it has been since the sexual revolution of the 1970s. Suddenly everybody understands why it's not such a bad idea to have a few stolid, burly guys in uniform around when the enemy attacks.")

Well, now she's written a book about her experience posing as a man, and it just got a rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review.

And here's the problem: In at least one part of it, I don't believe she's telling the truth.

Or let's say I'm suspicious. Let's say I'd like The Smoking Gun to do a sort of James Frey investigation of this:

Norah-as-Ned commits to [a bowling league] for eight months, becoming the weak link on a four-man team of working-class white men. (Vincent has changed the names of the characters and obscured the locations to protect the identities of her subjects.) The resultant chapter is as tender and unpatronizing a portrait of America's "white trash" underclass as I've ever read. "They took people at face value," writes Vincent of Ned's teammates, a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker. "If you did your job or held up your end, and treated them with the passing respect they accorded you, you were all right." Neither dumb lugs nor proletarian saints, Ned's bowling buddies are wont to make homophobic cracks and pay an occasional visit to a strip club, but they surprise Vincent with their lack of rage and racism, their unflagging efforts to improve Ned's atrocious bowling technique and "the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives," one of whom is wasting away from cancer.

OK -- on the right here is a picture of Vincent as a man. Note the nerd-chic square glasses. Note the salon-fresh hairdo. Think that guy could join a bowling league with a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker and just be accepted as a boon companion with no questions asked, even though he can't really bowl? Think no one would find him hoity-toity (at least)? Think they'd just shrug off his ineptitude and good-naturedly engage in "unflagging attempts to improve [his] atrocious bowling technique"?

Oh, and this is the kicker -- think they'd speak about their wives with "absolute reverence"? Maybe the guy whose wife has cancer -- maybe. But the rest of them? Remember, these are straight guys. These are guy guys. Guy guys don't talk about feelings.

Well, maybe the plumber talked about the construction worker's wife with "absolute reverence." Or certain parts of her, at least. Yeah, that I'd believe.

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