I recently wrote a tale about my youthful experiences in dodging the grim reaper as he/she regularly cruised by and smiled at me while I was involved in some form of automotive mayhem. As I wrote that piece, there was a part of the story that I thought bore further development. It was the part about how a neighbouring family “lacked significant feminine influence.”

Anyone who visited the neighbour’s compound could see it. The family itself, the dad, three boys and one lonely girl, lived upstairs on the second and third floors of a three-story house. The first floor was rented to a young, newly married couple and the young woman’s brother, who often lived with them for long periods of time. Beside the house, sat a rambling, old, barn-like storage building in which race cars in various stages of construction were housed. The young woman’s husband was also very much involved in the racing scene, and he brought a set of his own, male friends onto the compound to help with their various areas of mechanical, welding and driving expertise. Outside the storage barns, sat piles of pipe, a rusty, decrepit crane which was mounted onto the back of a derelict, old truck, half hidden by the weeds that had grown up around it, various other piles of rusting, scrap metal and two or three older cars that sat waiting for conversion into racing cars.

On any given summer evening, one could count, the dad, three of his male friends, three of his boys, three neighbour boys and Bob, the brother of Jeanne, the young woman tenant mentioned earlier. Eleven males, a girl (two or three years older than me) and a young woman, who affected a provocatively sexy, but very tough image. Despite Jeanne’s presence, the compound still lacked significant feminine influence, as Jeanne simply acceded to the dominant, male way of doing things and seemed to see nothing wrong with it. When Jeanne wasn’t ensconced before her TV set, watching daytime TV, or talking endlessly on the phone, I think she enjoyed receiving the lascivious attentions she often got from the appreciative, unrestrained male crowd, so she had no special interest in seeing things go differently.

Alicia, the girl in that family, on the other hand, seemed more consigned to the impossibility of her situation rather than accepting it the way Jeanne did. Mostly, Alicia kept to herself, showing interest in a boy only when he appeared to be someone who might, conceivably, take her away from the daily tedium of the man-compound she seemed to despise.

I must admit, my heart went out to Alicia. I saw her plight. I had compassion for her situation. But I was powerless to help her in any reasonable way. As far as I know, I just became one-eleventh of her on-going problem of being the lone female within a predominantly male, revoltingly self-satisfied group. At times she must have felt that she had mistakenly wandered into a topsy-turvey world where everything was done backwards, or at least strangely, like Alice in Wonderland. She was Alicia in Wanderland.

By way of contrast, when I think back about visiting households where there was a very strong feminine influence and almost no male influence (like the Goldmann’s) and I compare that experience to the experience of visiting the largely XY-chromosome compound, the contrasts were great, but I was entirely more comfortable among the cave-dwellers than I was among the dainties. At the compound, I was largely ignored, never offered food or drink, occasionally sneaked a beer and mostly said whatever I wanted to say without considering its repercussions.

But at the Goldmann’s, it was just me and Stephen, expected to play quietly and politely, in immaculate, luxurious, mostly white surroundings. The beautiful Mrs. Goldmann would occasionally glide gracefully into the room, appearing in a manner somewhat like the blue fairy appears in the Disney film, “Pinocchio,” to shine her breath-taking beauty upon us and to softly inquire about our wishes for milk and cookies as we played quietly and politely. To the inner observer, who accompanies me always, the whole picture seemed a little like a scene from “The Stepford Wives.” But though Stephen and I filled our roles admirably on the surface, our muttered asides to each other belied our misgivings about being forced to play in such a quiet and unnaturally tidy way, and the resulting tension was omnipresent. My visit there was like being dropped into a vat of cold, congealed gravy. For the length of my visit, I felt like boy-in-aspic. For display purposes only.  I never went back there.

Still, the carbon-monoxide-laced stink of compound storage barns and the constant encouragement to belch loudly, swear profusely, and generally take pride in acting low, though interesting, and not at all tension-filled, was not to my liking as a way of conducting my life either.

Fine speech was not valued in this crowd. Instead, commands passed one man to another, both of whom were trying to influence a resisting chunk of metal to a new position, would be expressed as, “Just knock that thing a c*nt hair to the left!” Or a man who was frustrated at not being able to engage the thread of a hole with a bolt would say, “Put hair around it! Then I’ll find it.”

Balance.

Balance is what good living is all about. There should be a time and place for masculine proclivities and a time and place for feminine preferences. Let me have an appreciation of courtesy, but a recognition of our basic humanity too. A fart is not the end of the world, nor is a man possessed of the devil if once or twice in his lifetime he should have a beer for breakfast. But gross behaviours should also not become a way of life, lest they get entirely out of hand. Tea, cookies and polite conversation about books and films and media in general is a fine way to spend some time with friends. And, if one occasionally chooses to get snockered with those same friends, that’s okay too.

The good life then, at least my idea of a good life, is about both masculine and feminine influence on what happens and when and how. It is almost always possible to compromise, accommodate or accept the “other,” as long as one knows that there will be a time for your influence to be felt and accepted or accommodated by the “other.” Balance is key. With apologies to Jefferson Airplane for co-opting some of their song lyrics, “Go ask [Alicia]. I think she’ll know.”

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