Several years ago, I took a job working as a cashier at Victoria’s Secret. The long story as to why and how a straight man with plans to attend dental school did this, would take far more than 1500 words to tell, so I’ll leave you with the abridged version. I ended up at Victoria’s Secret the same way most men end up on daytime talk shows: I got dumped; I couldn’t get a new girlfriend to save my life; I was getting hit on by gay man everywhere I went; and, to top it all off, I began growing breasts. I now believe my boobs were the result of eating too much soy, which has a high amount of estrogen in it, and has been known to cause such reactions in pre-pubescent girls. But I didn’t realize this at the time because I was simply too busy freaking-the-fuck-out.
It’s one thing, as a man, to feel like you don’t understand women; it’s another to feel like you’re becoming one.
Desperate to regain my swagger, I decided I needed to study women, to go somewhere I could immerse myself in them. The first place that came to mind was a brothel. The only problem was: Where was I going to find a brothel in Nashville? With a semester of college still to go, I wasn’t about to leave town for Vegas, either. Thus, with “temporary, purely educational prostitution” out of the question, as well as the very real possibility I might need a bra, I applied to Victoria’s Secret.
What ensued was one of the most entertaining and odd years of my life. From having women regale me about their recent hysterectomies, to having one of my managers show me her new nipple piercings, I never knew what the hell to expect when I walked into that store.
The customers were my primary interest. I figured if I learned anything about women, it was going to come from watching and interacting with them. I was also curious to see how’d they react to a grown man bagging their thongs. I assumed they would think I was one of three things: a homosexual, a pervert, or a perverted homosexual. Whichever they felt was most apt for the moment.
It came as a surprise, then, that most female customers were not only receptive to my help, but also my opinion. They wanted to know what a straight man thought about things. Lingerie, perfume, panties: the question I constantly received was, “Which do you like best?” Which was followed by my timeworn response, “Well, which would look best on the floor?” Because, really, that’s where it was going to end up anyways.
I was also surprised by how forward women were. One customer came to the counter to exchange a bra for a bigger size due to the fact that she’d just gotten, and I quote, ‘new boobies.’ “Well, before the surgery,” she said, looking down and pushing them together. “I was a 34A. But, now, thanks to Dr. Schulman, I’m a solid 34C. Aren’t they just great?” It was like watching a mother hold her baby for the first time, mixed with a six-year-old girl getting a pony for her birthday. I’ve never seen a person look upon anything with such pride before. She was overjoyed, and had the doctor not advised her to avoid any activities that required jumping, slip n’ slides or extreme gravitational forces, she probably would have skipped out of the store. This was how excited she was.
Another woman told me she couldn’t wear any on our panties because they all, one way or another, got stuck in her butt; that was her exact phrasing Stuck in her butt. I like to think that had my life been some sort of ongoing musical, and not the banal sequence of pointless events that it actually is, this would have been the moment in which I, the heroic loser, would have broken out into a parodied version of Usher’s “Love In This Club.”
“These panties get stuck in her butt…in her butt…in her butt…in her…”
But, instead, I just apologized and handed her the receipt.
The customers taught me how to assert myself with women, but it was my coworkers who taught the most important lesson about their sex: Girls talk. And when they talk, they talk in explicit detail.
I was folding panties one evening, when I overheard two of the girls discussing a recent hookup one of them had had.
“He had this vein,” one of them said, “that wrapped around his wiener like a…a…”
“A blue vine?” said the other girl.
“No, no…a…Oh, what’s the word?”
“A string of blue Christmas lights?”
“No,” she said. “No, it’s a kind of staircase…”
“A spiral staircase?” I said.
“YES! Thank you. A SPIRAL STAIRCASE! He had a vein that wrapped around his wiener like a spiral staircase.”
“Oh,” said the other girl.
“And I swear—I don’t know if it was the vein’s doing or not—but I have never come so hard in my life.”
If it was possible for humans, like snakes, to dislocate their jaws and lay them on the floor, this is precisely what I would have done. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. As a man, you naively assume that every interaction you have with a woman is going to remain in a vacuum. Sure, they might give their friends the outlined version of the experience—Roman numeral I: “We had dinner.” Letter A: “I had fish.” Roman numeral II: “We watched a movie at his place.”—but never would it expand to lower case Roman numerals and lowercase letters; that would just be indecent.
I only assumed this because that’s how men communicate—in swaths; and I’m not sure why I even still believed this at the time. I’d had inside information for years that women, when left alone, get down to the nitty gritty. An ex-girlfriend, for example, once told me, after coming home from a sex toy party, that the dominant topic of conversation had been Uncircumcised Penises: What do they look like? Apparently most of them had never seen one; most of them, that is, except one girl, who had briefly dated a guy with a foreskin. The description she gave, and was later relayed to me, reminded me of a great poem title, right up there with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”. To her, an uncircumcised penis looked not like an earthworm, but “A Pink Anteater in a Turtleneck Sweater.”
Working at Victoria’s Secret didn’t necessarily make me better with women, it simply brought my image of them into a more realistic and startling focus. They were no longer the Cult of True Womanhood; they didn’t sit around sipping tea and speaking in hushed tones about community fundraisers or the best way to knit a sock; they were what I came to call The Female Tribe, a highly sophisticated group of skilled communicators who love nothing more than knowing everything they can about another person. All the way down to the veins.
It’s a humbling realization as a man, and exactly the reason why, when I wrote a letter to an ex-girlfriend confessing that I still loved her, I prefaced it by saying, “This is perhaps the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. Not because of what I’m about to say, or how I feel, but because I know, after spending a year selling thongs at Victoria’s Secret, that nothing told to a woman is told in confidence. There is a 100% chance that the contents of this letter will be divulged to any number of people, male or female, and that they will largely be scoffed at and/or laughed at. I’m fully aware of this, yet I’ll say them anyways, as the burden of silence has come to far outweigh the fear of ridicule.”
Her response was short and to the point. She said nothing, then got engaged.
I’d gone into the job hoping to learn about women, as well as regain my confidence, two things I can now confidently say I succeeded in doing. There is no medicine in the world for a man distraught like being around 20 girls, and hearing on a daily basis that your butt looks good in the pants you’re wearing. I was back to my old self in two months, and dating again in three. The boobs disappeared, too–Thank God–yet, the gay men haven’t. They still hit on me at bars, or when I’m working, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore. After talking to random women about their breasts for a year, and not having to worry about hearing, “Uh, my eyes are up here,” I realized there’s something to be said for being a perceived homosexual. I’ve supported it ever since.