I'm well aware of and by no means immune to that distinctly female instinct whereby witnessing another woman's failure brings with it a twisted, indulgent pleasure. And I don't just mean hush-hush failures divulged over cocktails in a "please-don't-tell-so-and-so" manner but failures that are brought to light in a very public way, during the lunch-rush, in front of your ex, his new girlfriend and that handsome older man who oh-so-subtly schedules his Cosi run every Wednesday to align with your own.
The degree to which female X wants a particular failure to hurt female Y depends somewhat on the nature of their relationship (e.g. acquaintances, friends, good friends, very good friends, etc.), but not as much as one - a man - might think. I've found, through both my own unconscious reactions and the voiced reactions of the few women in my "very good friends" circle, that even after years of holding back hair following rowdy nights at the Big Hunt and lying through our teeth and agreeing that yes, of course it was his fault, we still relish a wee bit of the as-long-as-it-didn't-happen-to-me female failure.
Because it is the portal to a female's inner-dialogue, let's discuss "the look." Ladies, you know what "the look" is. You get 'em and give 'em on a daily basis. On the subway, on the street, in a staff meeting, at a restaurant -- no venue is impervious to a situation in which the bitch-stare may be deployed. Each woman has her own signature variation of "the look." Most of the women with whom I associate have not just one but an entire arsenal of oh-no-she-dih'int looks, all of which have the same three-letter endgame that starts with "W" and ends with "F." Some are delivered with a lip-bite and an eyebrow-raise, some with a smirk and a just-barely audible hmpf, and some, like the ones I most often launch at women who teeter around ConnAve Spanx-free in their wrap-up-the-calves evening shoes and metallic halters at 12:30pm on a Monday, are all about the deadpan, "you're aware of what you're wearing, yes?" eyes.
So anyway, the point is, I'm so well-versed in recognizing these kinds of expressions that when an itty-bitty blond in a light brown pantsuit and black Reef flip-flops stood next to me on ConnAve/M and turned her face toward me as I returned to my office from lunch this afternoon, I knew exactly what was on her mind.
I didn't need outside confirmation or a second look to know what it was she was throwing my way. With my keen peripheral vision, I saw her glance down at my admittedly very tall 4.25-inch vintage croc-embossed peep-toes, then give me (or my shoes, rather) the exaggerated eye-roll where your entire face can't help but get involved, and followed that up with the slow-mo head-shake -- it was without a doubt an "I don't know who you think you are, but I hope you fall flat on your fantastic ass in front of the entire intersection" look she was burning white-hot into my right temple.
Okay, maybe I imagined the "fantastic ass" part, but you get the point.
This woman didn't know me, she didn't know whether I was good-natured or the kind of person who would give a homeless man pocket change, and yet there she was, secretly hoping I would fall and raspberry my knee or full-on break an ankle. Judging from the severity and persistence of her look, I'm guessing it was not just the latter but a full-on projected fantasy in which the broken ankle led to full-body atrophy, bed sores and the loss of my dog who, quite realistically, would soon run away in search of a more attractive owner.
Ironic thing is, given different circumstances, she and I probably would have gotten on quite well. We still might some day. In DC, you never know. We were both young professionals with Treos, both runners (Asics Kayanos tied and slung over her daybag), both readers (Auster hardcover tucked neatly between her laptop and a three-inch accordion folder) both in the black toe polish club -- heck, she and I had more in common at first blush than most of my friends and I do.
Yet there we were, I to her, the uppity bitch in sky-high heels, and she to me, the lazy bitch who needed flip-flops to walk three blocks for a burrito.
In an attempt to deescalate the situation for the remainder of the 14 seconds the gymnast and I were to share the curb, I turned off the side-vision and went to click from Gwen's punchy-poppy "Rich Girl" to the soothing calm of Phil Collins' "One more night." But just before my right index finger could counterclockwise its way from 'Playlists' to 'Sofitel Mix' to 'Track 1,' a woman in a two-sizes-waaay-too-small Granny-Smith-green terrycloth jumpsuit, filthy white wedged flip-flops, and a shock of platinum blond fuzz inserted her at least mid-50s, gum-snapping, cell-phone-on-speaker self between the two of us.
And that's all it took. Our pie-eyed stares locked and instantly all the vitriol and all the judgment we'd each built up for the other over the course of a two-block walk Care-Bear-Stared into a single stream aimed at the much larger problem.
There are offenders, after all, and then there are offenders.