A burly, bearded person came to the door today while I was reading Ivan E. Coyote over lunch.
As I have been engaged for several weeks in the long and cluttery process of moving into a new apartment it felt downright decorous to actually eat a meal at the dining table. And as if it weren’t enough to be using the dining table for its intended purpose, I was wearing both underwear and shorts, not to mention using a glass for my juice. I sat down to my meal of Special K and freeze pops feeling like a mature, productive member of society.
Alas, in spite of all that gravitas, I hadn’t the slightest clue where I might find a shirt. I heard the screen door squeak and I froze. Marking my page in Ivan’s account of gendered bathrooms, I cast about silently for a t-shirt, a button-down, a toga—anything. The boxes within reach yielded frying pans, Nespresso pods, moccasins, a mug full of pennies.
Thus it transpired that I toplessly answered the door to the burly bearded person.
This person greeted me with, “Hey buddy.” I looked down at my pink, peach-fuzzy man-chest, took a breath, and replied, “Hey, man.”
“We’re working on your boiler,” he explained in an authoritative but not unfriendly Boston accent. “I just need you to flip the switch for a minute or two.”
I chewed my lip, trying not to look like I had no clue what this man was asking me to do. “The switch,” I said, nodding. “Just… flip it?”
He eyed me suspiciously. This guy doesn’t know his ass from his elbows, his look said. This guy couldn’t find his way around an on/off switch if his pet bunny’s life depended on it.
“I don’t, uh, know exactly where that switch is,” I explained, trying to assure him that not only do I know exactly how to operate an on/off switch, but I also have some vague notion of what a boiler does.
He stepped inside and glanced around my kitchen. “You should know where your boiler switch is,” he told me.
“Yeah,” I agreed, as though I was fully aware of the various serious hazards that arise when people don’t know where their boiler switch is. “We just moved in, so I haven’t had time…”
He’d already found the switch, flipped it, and made for the door. “Remember that switch,” he advised, and then he was gone.
I’d been pulling my abs tight, a nervous habit, a carry-over from being a girl and compensating for anxious situations by making myself seem as thin as possible. I released them, sat down. My eyes met Ivan’s, staring up from the back cover of my book. Be less nervous, I told both of us, though I don’t know that Ivan really needed my advice. Sucking parts of my body in doesn’t change anything but the depth of my breathing.
What I need is a little more confidence in my own ownership of this body and this gender. Boiler switch man had no interest in policing my gender; he really did just need to find the boiler switch.
This is my house, this is my chest, this is my goddamn boiler switch. I will henceforth stop flipping it on and off trying to figure out which lamp it controls.