I wouldn’t have believed this if I hadn’t witnessed it myself, but earlier this month, my good friend Martha Outlaw became one of the most visible women in Southern Connecticut. At least for one night. And oh what a night it was.
September 8th was Martha’s 63rd birthday, so I proposed that I take her out for dinner. Little did I know we were going to see a real-time example of how we can still be “seen” in this world for more than our exterior packaging. When I met up with her on the street near the restaurant, I admit I was struck by how electric she seemed. She was coming from a work event, where she gave out tastings of the barrel-aged, pre-mixed cocktails her company Barrelsmith makes (see photo above). She told me with a laugh that she’d had quite a lot of attention from men.
`I need this ice because you’re smoking hot,’ one guy told her.
“One guy spilled some ice near me and as he was picking it up he said, `I need this because you’re smoking hot,'” she said with a big grin. “Then some young guys were gathered around and were chatting me up. It was so weird.” (I should note here that Martha is happily married and not in the market.)
I nodded my head, thinking maybe it was the wishful thinking of an older birthday girl, until we got to the restaurant. Then I saw it for myself.
I’ve known Martha since we were in high school in Tennessee, and she’s always been a looker. But age has worked its dirty tricks on all of us, and we’ve often talked about feeling like a piece of glass, transparently making our way through the day. We’ve acknowledged that being unseen has its advantages—no one notices if you have a stain on your blouse or spinach in your teeth because they’re not looking.
We know we’re not supposed to care what men think of our looks.
And we know we’re not supposed to care what men think of our looks. Or anyone thinks of our looks, but especially not men. But still, damn it, it’s a blessing if a man peers your way and doesn’t immediately turn his head as if a tampon commercial has just come on TV. I remember once at an outdoor music festival, I was dancing to Pearl Jam, when I locked eyes with a gray-haired man across the way. We sort of danced our way toward each other—until he got close enough to get a good look at me. I swear to God, he spun around like he was standing on a Lazy Susan and was gone.
This is what a lot of us are up against. But not Martha. Not on her birthday night.
The Magnet and Me
As we walked though the front door of the restaurant, a dark-haired man in his 40s spread his arms and beamed at Martha. “Welcome! We’ve been waiting for you.”
“You were? How convenient.” The man just stood there taking her in and smiling. “Uh…do you work here?” Martha asked with a laugh.
“Do I work here? I’m the owner,” he said.
“OK then, you’re just the person we want to see,” she responded. “We want a table for two.”
Was he really straight-up flirting with her?
“For two? But that won’t leave room for me to sit with you.” Was he really straight-up flirting with her? Yes, he surely was—just oozing twinkle and charm. “I’ve got a great table for you.” In that moment, a man returned to the front desk, the actual maitre d’, I deduced. He tried to take the menus from the owner’s hands, but the owner pulled them away. “No, I’m taking them,” he said quietly.
The owner sat us and with some more smiling and gooey-ness, left us.
“Holy shit,” I said. “You aren’t kidding.” Martha shrugged helplessly. “You’re putting out some heavy pheromones. What kind of perfume did you put on? Can I have some.”
We spent much of dinner discussing what could account for this quirky and thrilling U-turn in the laws of attraction. Her birthday excitement? New hair color? The same metaphysical forces that were at work in Big and Freaky Friday?
After dinner we went to a bar that was heavily packed with what we discovered was the after party of a rehearsal dinner. We walked through the crowd, and I swear, I’m not making this up, a couple of young men stepped aside to take in the whole of Martha walking through. One who looked to be 35 even asked her if she was going to be at the wedding the next day. And Martha, emboldened, asked if he needed a date.
“Maybe,” the guy responded with a rakish grin. Martha just laughed and moved on.
By this point in the night, I was feeling like the homely step-sister, since I wasn’t even benefitting from the reflected glow of Martha’s magnetism. But I was so intrigued by what was happening, I really didn’t care.
It was an encouraging thought–that people could see past age and experience the whole person.
After the bar, we walked to my apartment, where her car was parked. On the way, a man called out from a car driving by slowly on the street. “Bellisimo” he shouted. Of course Martha and I doubled over in laughter that it was happening again. When the man—bald and 50-ish—jumped out of the car, leaving the car door open, we were in near hysterics. He bowed in front of Martha and announced, “You are splendid.”
We weren’t scared since we were on a well-lit street surrounded by other walkers, and besides, the man just as quickly jumped back in his car. We walked on, shaking our heads. But our guy wasn’t done. There was a traffic snarl on the street, so he passed us again, rolled down his window, and shouted, “Ciao, Beautiful.”
“I don’t want this night to end,” Martha said when we got to my apartment. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a birthday.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” I said. And we decided that her night seemed to prove that what’s going on inside can impact how others see you. It was an encouraging thought–that people could see past age and experience the whole person.
Martha texted me two days later to say that the spell must have worn off at the stroke of midnight on her birthday because strange men were no longer falling at her feet. “At least you have the memory,” I texted back, “and know it’s a possibility.” At our age, that seems like plenty.