He and I stand to the left of convention: both of us holding bachelor titles, and to be clear, I’m referring to relationship status—not academic achievement. For the purpose of this post, suffice it to say that we are dear friends and mutual fans, both Americans, having met in Central America, which remains the backdrop and the sustaining link of our adult-style friendship.
He wrote a memoir, too—a laser look at a life that began way to young on the streets of Brooklyn—messing with the mob as way out of poverty, and then stepping into the army as a way out of jail. My friend became a career soldier with a CID title—a serious shit-kicker in that corps of cops whose duty is to police other soldiers. The budding criminal saved by a law enforcement lifestyle; it’s a compelling saga told well in his words. As I read it, it was easy to imagine the movie adaptation would produce a celebrity hero.
Our political views are polar opposites, and there is not even grudging respect for how we both understand that the world is framed. I was certain he was the first Republican I’d ever had sex with, until he clarified that he is no more or no less than a passive independent. Passive, because he’s not an activist; but he’s Italian by heritage, a New Yorker by birth and his conservative views are loud and proud and reported as fact.
It was the energy of that New York pedigree that drew me in; I gravitate to strong characters whose confidence is absolute. Early on we left the political discussions off the table, and instead enjoyed a raucous repartee of every other subject over good food, Pacific Ocean views and smoking-hot sex.
When he asked to read my memoir, The Bachelor Chapters, I didn’t hesitate, and sent him the last revision of the second draft on the same day it went to my editor, Stacey Donovan, in May. Of course I wanted to hear what he thought, and of course he agreed to call and tell me when he had finished.
When I moved to Barcelona for the summer, Stacey returned the second draft, with red marks bleeding thorough the pages. I was mortified; the second draft was a fist-pounding improvement over the original manuscript, and I was certain only minor corrections would be in order. “Trust your editor,” that’s my advice—and if you don’t—go find another. I took on her notes; I considered every critique. I got mad—more than once. Eventually I came to understand that the fury I felt for HER—was the fury I would never have to experience from my future readers. That anger reflex led to my smartest self-editing reflections: Am I saying exactly what I mean? Am I keeping the reader in the story?
Wiser people than me won’t be surprised to hear that after one more rewrite, the third revision soars above that second draft, and soon, let’s say January 2014—I’ll be recommending a “buy” on the title, and begin the gamble on the reviews that follow. In the meantime, I had reason to call my Brooklyn-born buddy yesterday, needing his opinion on the situation that has us both bound to Panama in Central America. We hadn’t spoken since I sent the manuscript five months earlier, and he hadn’t answered the text message I sent later prompting his opinion.
Our business complete, I changed the topic. “So, wtf—did you read my book or not?” “Yeah, I read it,” his voice slowed down, and I thought I knew what was coming, “as soon as I got it.”
“You were gonna call me, r e m e m b e r—and tell me what you thought!”
“Yeah, yeah—well—I messed that up completely,” he confessed, as confident men often do. No excuses, no BS. These people still exist.
“So it would seem. So give it up now. Whaddya think, baby?”
“Well, I thought…” he didn’t so much drag out the sentence, as take a deep breath for the spate of condemnation that followed, “…I thought, what the hell are you trying to do here—lose all your readers?” That was what I expected, and he didn’t stop there.
“I mean you sound like—now, don’t get mad—you sound like an angry, white woman! You hate white men, you hate straight women—who’d you write it for—? —a bunch of lesbians who hate everyone?” Like I said, no bullshit from this man: just a little breather between facts.
“You’re doing this to get your story out—and to sell books,” he reminded me, “and how are you going to do that when you rip everyone apart?” It wasn’t a question as much as a critique, and when I thought he’d slowed down the steam, I jumped in with the obvious.
“Oh come on—I hate white men and straight women?—that’s what you got out of it?”
“Well, you do!”
“I do not!”
“You do, too! Come on! It’s in the book!”
“Hell-ooh?—there’s like, one paragraph where I take on white men—but there’s no man-hating in the book—I’M HAVING SEX WITH WHITE MEN IN THE BOOK!”
I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind—but I was practicing the battle. I’m going to hear this again when the book hits. And when the book flies—I’m going to hear it a lot. And that’s not the half of. There are big, plump, cherry-picking opportunities to find offense with my fifty-shades-of-worldview that make up, The Bachelor Chapters. Two minutes with my guy and I’ve already decided; I need a trainer.
“I’m just telling you what I read—and it’s on the very first page!” he staked his position with that irrefutable fact. That’s exactly where it was.
And with that, I had to decide all over again, I had to cue up the questions, I had to bear the echo that familiar nagging voice: is this how I want to start? Is this going to cost me? Is this going to marginalize me before I even qualify for the game?
And there’s still one possible answer that always falls first: it just might.
So, today, right here, right now: I’m going to publish the first page—the preface, the prologue; the one way—out of a million ways—I decided to start my story. You tell me what I’m risking.
THE BACHELOR CHAPTERS: A THINKING WOMAN’S ROMANCE
You want to know what I think is cool about black men? They’re not white men.
Hear me out. I’m not saying it to offend; I only say it because it’s true. For readers who aren’t white men, my point is old news. What’s also old news is that so many white men won’t get it, because the point is just that: so many white men don’t get it.
They don’t get that the world has been laid out for them. They don’t get that the cards are stacked in their favor. They don’t get that they are at the front of the bus and in line to take over the wheel. I don’t write this to pick a fight, or debate the merits of my claim; I write it to testify to the fact that there’s nothing quite as irritating as a misinformed white man with his denial on display. The rest of us are weary when these dudes won’t own up to the reality that they have privilege, and we are bone‐tired of their inane insistence that the field is level, and they are self-made.
In my life—lived first as a girl, next as a woman, and for many years as a lesbian—the field wasn’t near level; there were ruts and sinkholes and shifting sand. With no other option, I finessed the terrain and played the game of making it in the white man’s world and calling it mine. Of course, it’s mine too; in spite of the obstacle course that just kept on giving. The black men I’ve come to know don’t need to be convinced about the uneven playing field or the truth about blockades and double standards. They made their plays in a whole other ballpark, in a game with a different set of rules, and where the odds were also rigged against winning. But they won, too. It’s just the truth that the big game of life is played in the white man’s world with the white man’s rules; and what’s cool about black men is they can’t annoy me with either innocence or stupidity that somehow that’s not true.
That was one discovery that I made about Black America when I began to date black men in the first decade of the twenty‐first century. At that time in my life, I had set out to save myself, one more time, from my presumptuous culture. I was forty‐four years‐old and single for the first time in twenty years. I had just recovered from a serious illness, the debilitating side effect of a personal crisis. After I got well, I decided to adopt a new lifestyle, making it up as I went, guided by wisdom and instinct, and the drive to get it right. I didn’t have all the answers, but I had a direction and an advantage. I wasn’t just starting over; I was starting smarter.
But that came later, and this story won’t make a lick of sense, or deserve your attention, until I set the stage and you’re clear on what happened before.
(chapter one follows)