Beauty is in the eye of the letch

By Jean Marie Hackett

I must be beautiful.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not vain. I’ve spent years modestly going about by business, but frankly, all objective evidence seems to point to the fact that I must be drop dead gorgeous.

Why deny it? With each step I take in this city, reminders of my beauty abound. Invariably, there will be hissing, staring, or air kisses; sometimes body parts are exposed. I’ll be on my way to pick up some ice cream and peanut butter wearing my sweats and eyeglasses, when out from a dark corner a familiar sound will emerge. “Pssssst, pssssst,” hiss the leering men.

It does not matter what I am wearing, if my hair is up or down, my face clean or made-up. I might be wearing a large, puffy winter coat with a hood pulled over my head to block out the rain; I will still get a hiss or a hoot. My beauty, these men have taught me, knows no limits.

Once on my way to work, two young men careened into my subway car. One sat close to me and asked, “Do you like [insert racially offensive term here].” My fellow No. 2 express train travelers kept minding their own business, so I took up my usual defensive posture in these kinds of confrontations: I pretended to be deaf and mute. As I stared at the newspaper in front of me, reading the same paragraph over and over, the young man then indicated his wish to “suck my toes.”

Amazing, I thought. I haven’t had a pedicure in weeks! I walked over to the other end of the car, afraid he would discover my secret.

A few years ago my friend Alice and I were walking along the city streets. As we reached a corner, a man on a bike riding alongside us reached into his pants and revealed a special part of himself, a part that he continued to hold and point our way as he turned the corner.

Alice stopped short. “Oh my God!” she uttered, truly surprised. Then she got angry. “This only happens when you’re here!” she said.

Ah yes, it is true. I must be beautiful.

Back in those days, I used to get mad. Jogging along the streets I’d salute every car that honked with my middle finger. A few times I even tried to shame the men who salivated upon spotting me from their delivery trucks. “Would you talk that way to your mother?” I asked one man walking behind me on a Brooklyn sidewalk, who expressed a desire to “to see what was under” my coat. “I wish you were my mother,” he responded.

The relentless hisses and kisses reached a crescendo when I moved to the Financial District. With construction and electrical work on just about every corner, I now resided in the Mecca of forward men. Walking from my apartment to the grocery store was particularly treacherous, especially during the heat wave, when I had the audacity to wear tank tops and shorts. Sometimes I wore a sweatshirt anyway, just to cover up. But that week it was too hot. I started to unzip the sweatshirt as I walked home, only to hear a voice call out, “Ooh baby I like that.”

I blinked in the hot sun. Had I passed out in the heat, been kidnapped and deposited on stage in a strip club? No, it was just Gold St.

Nor were these men immune to the charms of my beautiful beagle mix, Nikki. Sometimes they would bark at her. “Arf. Arf.” Nikki did not care. Born hopelessly cute, she was numb to the attention.

In time, I came to pity the poor dears. Clearly, every man working for Con Ed was hopelessly in love with me. I began to wonder if I could single-handedly convince them to cure the power outage in Queens.

“Psssssst. Psssst.”

So what if they hiss, I thought. Can they help themselves, really, when a girl is as fine as I am?

Sigh. I must be the most beautiful woman in the entire world. “Pssssst. Pssssst.” I look up. No! It cannot be. But it is. I realize that the hisser is not addressing me, but another woman walking down the street.

Wasn’t I the beautiful one? Wasn’t it my unique, irresistible je ne sais quoi that led you all to target me? If not, what excuse is there for your never-ending hisses, kisses, lewd speech, self-exposure, and generally unacceptable behavior?