Nick & Choose 5: Man Panel

Published November 8, 2008

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Man Trap
The truth shall set you free

Years ago, a girlfriend gave me a journal. Behind the cover, I taped the only New Yorker cartoon I’ve ever cut out. A couple sits in a restaurant. The man says, “There’s something you need to know about me, Donna. I don’t like people knowing things about me.”

We break up on page seven. I stop writing on 19.

I find it hard to open up. Evidently, I don’t even want future Nick to know his current state of mind. Personal questions just make me feel like an animal in a trap. I’d love the freedom of release. But that’d require chewing my foot off, so I just stall and bleed.

I need to be forced into candor, an opportunity that came courtesy of Laura Warrell, a local writer who runs the Man Panel, an alcohol-fueled interrogation of willing guys by dozens of single ladies. Warrell assured, “These are fantastic, attractive women in their 30s and 40s who just haven’t had luck in relationships.” My immature side pictured cat ladies brandishing glinting sewing needles. My empathetic, nearly-30 side RSVP’d.

Sipping my third IPA, I considered the difference between candor and vulnerability. Before me sat about 40 women, two reporters and a cameraman. I was prepared to be honest, but this was naked, defenseless, “I-was-in-the-pool!” honesty. Luckily, I had five other men in the foxhole. When the first question was lobbed, we all paused, wondering who would jump on the grenade, “What makes you approach a woman?”

Our eyes glazed, and I could almost hear our collective consciences scream, “Don’t say looks!” But to our credit, that truth was acknowledged. The man to my left—who no doubt owned a dog-eared copy of The Game—cited evolutionary biology, which would be his theme for the night. “Who here is sitting hunched with their arms crossed?” he asked. More than a few women raised their hands. “Exactly.” I scooted to my right and watched dozens of shining eyes slowly narrow. I’m no body language expert, but those looks could’ve come with a parental advisory sticker.

As the panel progressed, the discussion—ostensibly for the benefit of the females—became an impetus for self-discovery. I found that my safety net is metaphor. Throughout the night, I turned to lions, amoebas and traffic lights to make my points. “Well, at a bar or something, I consider everyone as a red light. If we lock eyes for a moment, you’ve changed to a yellow, and if we really lock eyes again, I have permission to advance.” I blushed so hard my skin prickled. I don’t know if it was because of the answer or the way I phrased it, but at least I was learning.

But were the women? We men provided simple truths. Why do guys hang out in bars? “Because I don’t have draft beer at my house,” posited a marketing exec. And for the most part, we presented the companionable version of our sex. Whenever our Y-chromosomes threatened to split us apart, the courteous, divorced father of two or the social worker with the godly voice steered us in the right direction.

But what did I offer? Trouble arrived with “What do you think women are looking for?” The suggestion of a sense of humor was met with approval, and my lonely heart soared at the response to my one marketable asset. But when the din died, I realized all I had left to offer was my confusion. A depressing thought when by yourself but oddly comforting in a room full of anxious women.

Collectively our answers were mixed, but with enough beer you could weave them into a lifeline. At the far end of the panel sat my antithesis—a muscled Southern firefighter/boxer/bartender in a mesh hat and tight “wing man” T-shirt. I’m certain that he has stories of eroticism that would make my inner Emily Post choke on her cucumber sandwich. Yet toward the end of the night, he said, “Don’t fool yourselves. We’re all scared as shit.” The women nodded. We nodded. And for a moment, both sexes hovered around the one thing we all recognized as truth.

Adventures in Reader Response 1: Fetishist?

Posting that Kinoki column reminded me of the oddest letter I’ve received.

Here it is for your reading pleasure:

“Hi Nick,
I really love your column (the pumpkin one that’s out now is most excellent.) While going through some old issues, I came across the one about those foot detox pads. I’m not sure if your feet were used for the photo that accompanied the article, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to answer a slightly random survey question for me. I conducted this survey while in college and still add to it now and again. If you’d be willing to answer it that would be awesome.
So here it goes:
What is your shoe size?
Are your feet ticklish?
If so, where? i/e: soles, arches, under toes, heels, etc.
On a scale of 1-10 (1-least ticklish, 10-extremely ticklish) please rate how  ticklish each spot is.

I know it’s totally random, but I thought it’d be worth a shot asking.

Thanks and keep the great articles coming!”

Partly because I’m naive and partly because I’m always thrilled to get a letter, the creepiness of this correspondence didn’t hit me until I was halfway through writing back.
Then I felt guilty, ’cause who knows? Maybe this guy really did have a kinky thesis project back in school? Who am I to shrink his sample size?

So, writer whose name I withheld, here’s the goods:
Shoe size: One is 13, one is now a peg.
Ticklish: One, definitely. The other, less so.
Where: Left, on the arch. Right, the toes of my ghost limb.
Scale: Left, 5. Peg, 1. Ghost foot, 11.

Happy holidays, my fetishist friend.