Byward Market. York Street, 1905.

Popped buttons and predictable people

One summer evening a few years ago, my friend Laury and I arrived at our friends’ apartment for a pre-arranged visit only to find that they hadn’t come home yet. Returning to the car, we mulled over our options. We could sit and wait, or do what we would ordinarily do in such circumstances and go for a beer. Laury saw no reason not to behave ordinarily, but I protested that I had popped a button on the back of my skirt on the way over and didn’t want to be seen in public that way. She looked at me dubiously, as if I were using my button as a convenient excuse to avoid challenging myself, and told me that, as my skirt was not at risk of falling down, no one would notice. It was early evening in any case, and the pubs would be almost empty.

“Okay,” I said, not wanting to appear cowardly. “But you’ll see what I mean.”

Sure enough, the pub we went to was empty but for a barmaid and a few stray males who wandered about the place giving us dirty looks. We ordered our beers and the barmaid, who was still in the middle of preparing for the evening, pushed them in front of us and stopped for awhile to talk.

Although she made a pretense of being friendly, I noticed she couldn’t help scrutinizing us a little longer than would ordinarily be considered polite. She wanted to know why we were doing “it”, but gave no real indication that she was curious about the answer. It was more in the manner of an interrogation, the kind in which whatever answer we gave would still be the wrong one. She avowed that she herself had no problems with “it”, but suggested, with some relish, that there might be trouble if we stayed around until her regular customers came in. Having dispensed that pleasant piece of advice, she left us sitting at the bar and resumed stocking the beer fridge.

While it was hardly the relaxing sort of drink we had hoped for, nevertheless we were pleased with ourselves for having risen to the challenge. The inhospitable mood she had evoked killed any chance of good conversation, but despite the atmosphere and the lack of incentive to linger, we insisted upon finishing our drinks. It was a small, unconscious act of defiance, a refusal to be rushed in spite of the circumstances.

I was finally nearing the end of my glass of beer when I heard a loud exclamation behind me, something resembling an “Aha!”, although I doubt that’s what it actually was. While we had been sharing small talk, I failed to notice that the barmaid had come out from behind the bar and was now eyeing us up and down from the rear.

She had found my imperfection, my failure, and she seemed extremely happy about it.

“You’ve lost your button!” she declared, pointing triumphantly at the remnants of thread where my button once was.

I looked at Laury and groaned. “See!” I said, my voice rising in exasperation. “I told you! Didn’t I tell you?”

Some people are so predictable. They would never dream of embarrassing a woman by pointing out that her button had popped, or that she had a run in her nylons, or that her clothes didn’t match, but catching a trannie in a fashion faux pas is always fair game. More than that, it’s their way of confirming for themselves their preformed opinion that we are flawed. It’s a trivial thing really, but it demonstrates the way clothes reflect power and social structures in society and why clothes perhaps are not as trivial as they seem. My clothes had given her the opportunity to impose a hierarchy in our relationship, namely, her right to be rude

Laury and I finished our beer and left. Sometimes you just cant win.

This column first appeared in the volume 2 number 2 print issue of Triple Echo.