ON HENS AND ELEPHANTS AND BEING LIKE THEM
by Gale Martin
In my family, all the women have noses like hens. All the men have ears like elephants. Somehow, I wound up with both a hen’s nose and outrageous elephant ears that waggle whenever I shake my head, that could handle twenty pairs of earrings if I had the patience to insert them. While being funny looking isn't so bad for a man—he can rush a fraternity, become a G-Man, or settle down with his REM-sleep girl—a woman who looks like a Dr. Seuss character has a Grinch of a time finding a boyfriend. Millennial men (well, boys, if behavior counts for anything) demand more from women in the looks department than in my parents’ generation. Blame it on whatever—cable TV, video games, Sports Illustrated calendars, but their worldview makes it impossible for a girl like me to attract guys like them.
How can anyone fall in love with a Cluck-a-phant?
Since a block of concrete was more exciting than my high school social life, I became a reader by default, devouring books, teen magazines, food labels, appliance manuals. My favorite guilty pleasure was the “Illustrated Classics” series I discovered in my grandmother's attic. Nana had shoved them beneath a shoebox filled with Lincoln Logs, which meant she thought comics were kids’ stuff, too.
Not me. That’s how I became familiar with a lot of “real” literature. Reading stories in comic-book form helped me remember their characters, story lines—even themes sometimes—so solidly that my world literature professor at City College called me “prodigiously well read.” If he only knew. Apart from these pocket-sized classics, I read mostly bodice rippers plucked from the free-to-all shelf at the city library. But I appreciated the sentiment. At that point in my life, Mr. Ostrowski’s comment was the most flattering thing anyone had ever said to me. People aren’t exactly waiting in line to dole out compliments to ugly girls, not even shy ones who bury their big noses in little books and their big ears under floppy hats.
It’s been seven years since I started reading these comic tales, and I still stuff them into my purse—my grab-and-go canon of Western literature—in case I have a spare moment to read. While taking the cross-town bus to my job at the Wine and Spirits Shoppe (the extra “p” and “e” tell you something special about my place of employment; we employ an end cap designer to showcase our weekly specials), I re-read The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Last of the Mohicans, and Cyrano de Bergerac.
I love Cyrano. Each time I read it, I laugh along with the love-struck poet cursed with a too-large nose. You might say we’re sympatico. Yes, I’ve fended off sieges with d’Artagnan and fallen in love with Edmond Dantès, but out of the sixty-odd classic tales I’ve read, Cyrano is my favorite because it’s funny. Just like my pop says, “Most days the world needs more funny.” Once I laughed so fiercely on my way to work, other people on the bus must have thought I suffered from a severe personality disorder—a certain aftereffect of having a frightful face. After living with myself for twenty-two years, I’d say the only real handicap caused by ugliness is loneliness.
A few days later, inspired by Cyrano’s derring-do, I scribbled down the text for a personal ad on the back of a library slip I dug out of my purse. After work, I opened an account at PerfectMatchPlus. With the cunning prose of Cyrano at my elbow, I began my pitch with this headline:
Searching for Dreams Intoxicating
Twenty-something with singularly impressive nose—a crochet hook! . . . a stalactite! . . . a trowel of aspiration, constancy and good humor! . . . all which pertain to me and my nose, seeks kindred spirit for companionship and more. 'Tis well known, a long nose is indicative of a friendly and generous person. Yes, I'm not only the proud owner of a prize carrot smack in the middle of my face, I also have elephant ears to boot. If you are a like soul, I promise you, that with the wind at the back of my ears, you may take hold of them, and we can fly away to dreamland together.
Two days later, I received my first response from a guy named “Bud Light”:
Intoxication is what it's about. Let's hook up.
I should have figured adding the word “intoxicating” might attract the lesser millennials surfing the personals. Undaunted, I checked for more replies later on in the week. Just as I feared, responses like this were piling up in my inbox:
Hey, carrot schnoz! You think any man would be interested in you and your hook nose? Keep your tremendous need for oxygen and your mudflap ears to yourself.
— “Hot Rod”
After a week's worth of such messages, I turned on my computer, resigned to dismantling the personal ad, consoling myself with a you-gave-it-the-old-college-try talk. I began deleting all the responses but stopped when I got to the last one.
It was posted by Tim. No picture, just an outline of an animated man-child in baby blue instead of a photograph. His message was two sentences long:
My dear Roxane. Let's fly away together in search of our dreams.
“My dear Roxane?”
This Tim understood everything: my literary tribute, my sense of humor, my self-effacement. In a dozen words, he showed me the possibility of a much different life than the one I lived now, one without ever-present reminders that I'm unlovely. Living twenty loveless years filled with snickers and insults and betrayals was like trudging through life with a big boulder strapped to my back, the burden of my long nose and gigantic ears pinning me and my girlish hopes to the ground. There is no soaring above the clouds for truly homely women—only the prospect of living alone for the rest of our lives with none but house pets to fawn over.
Absolutely no soaring . . . unless they had a baby-blue man-child in their lives.
Swept up with elation, I floated inches above my typing chair, my fingers barely contacting the keys. Somehow I managed to reply that I’d be willing to meet him at the library, third floor fiction, among Nora Roberts, J. K. Rowling, and my other lifelong friends, two days hence.
Finally the day of our rendezvous among the “R” authors arrived (“R” for romance). The prospect of Romance, even romance with a little r, filled me with so much happy confidence, as I strolled to the bus stop, I had to fling my hair out of my face exactly like the leggy nymphs in the hair spray commercials. Only when I boarded the uptown bus did I wonder, what kind of man wants to date a woman with a hook nose and elephant ears? Perhaps he's legally blind or only goes on dates to the movies. Maybe his mother was a ghastly creature but died when he was very young, and so he hopes to replace the mother he lost in an equally ghastly-looking girlfriend.
What if he's a Cluck-a-phant, too?
I trudged up the staircase, preparing what I would say, steeling myself for the likelihood that I was going to be stood up or set up. Any moment now I expected a man with a nose embellished to the size of an icicle to accost me between the stacks and say, “Ha! You fell for it, you ugly cluck. No one wants to date you,” then stagger away senseless from belly laughter.
I slunk past the volumes written by the “O,” then the “P,” then the “Q” authors (there were a couple, I was surprised to learn). I rounded the corner.
There stood a short man wearing blue jeans and a neat baby-blue polo shirt. His ears were no bigger than wild strawberries. His nose was turned up so profoundly, he could tuck a gumdrop in there and run a fifty-yard dash without losing it.
He smiled at me.
“Are you Tim?” I asked, out of courtesy, but I knew. It had to be him. I mean, with those miniscule ears and that pug nose, who else could it be?
He gazed into my eyes with a softness that liquefied my heart. “You're just as I pictured you—the girl with the beautiful soul who's going to fly us off to dreamland together.”
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