"Why does the sight of some naked tits turn men into such hypocrites?" Marianne said to me on the phone. "Can you meet me at the usual in an hour?"
So there we were on a Sunday afternoon, two brave souls perched at the Owl Tree, a verging-on-the-Tenderloin watering hole that makes the bars of David Lynch films seem pedestrian. In addition to the seedy macramé, dank smells and '70s pottery, hundreds of stuffed owls surrounded us, their beady eyes bearing down. "You just never feel alone at the Owl Tree, do you?" I mused.
I stirred my grapefruit juice and waited. Marianne was clearly having a Mark Meltdown, which meant that she'd heard some news about her ex-boyfriend. But now, sitting on the bar stool, she examined her cuticles and seemed calm. Then I noticed the pajama top she wore under her windbreaker.
"I couldn't be bothered to change," she said, seeing my glance. "I've been up all night. Tell me if I'm wrong."
"What did he do now?"
"You know I haven't seen him since the -- well, you know," she motioned with her hand.
"Breakup," I said firmly. Six months ago, Marianne had experienced something most of us had gone through in our 20s: being viciously and callously dumped by the love of her life for no apparent reason. Only Marianne was 31, and I was surprised how much it had thrown her for a loop, even now. She was obsessed -- obsessed and bitter. Every once in a while, innocuous bits and pieces of information would float back to her about Mark -- where he'd been seen, some little thing he'd said. I wondered which idiot friend was feeding her these tidbits.
I braced myself for another Bad Man Story. "Go on," I prodded. "If it makes you feel any better, I've lately noticed a great upsurge in Bad Man Stories. Maybe it's all the rain."
"Do you know anything?" Marianne demanded. "Have you seen Mark?"
"No," I sighed. "And if I did, I doubt I'd tell you."
Marianne looked relieved. "Good," she said. "I thought everyone knew except me. Last night, Ted calls me up. We're chatting away, and he casually mentions that he'd seen Mark the night before. They'd gotten together for a drink, when suddenly Mark says to him something like, let's go to this cool place I've heard about. It's South of Market."
I groaned inwardly. This was going to be painful. Trust Mark -- Mr. Silicon Valley, Mr. I'd Still Vote For Ross Perot If Given Half a Chance -- to think that going to a bar South of Market would be innovative. He was the kind of straight guy who would get one of those Hail Caesar/George Clooney haircuts that gay boys had been wearing for years and say he invented it. "Can I just ask you something? Why is Ted telling you this?"
"Oh, they're really good friends," Marianne said quickly. "Ted says, well, OK. And off they go to some stripper place! Mark's never done that before, as far as I know. And he proceeds to get hammered, and in the course of the night has not one, not two, but three women do a lap dance on him. What kind of idiot guys are into strippers? What is that all about?"
"Three women? At the same time?" Even I was impressed.
"What? Oh, Courtney, nooooo. Why do you not think this is a big deal? I am completely and utterly disgusted. I mean, think about it. I have big tits. Is that the only reason he was interested in me? It makes me rethink this entire relationship -- did I even know this guy?"
"Probably not," I said. "I'm sorry, Marianne. It sucks, but I just have never thought of strippers as anything to get outraged about."
"Anyway, that's not even the worst of it," she continued, ignoring me. "Ted tells me that Mark's egging him on -- saying, c'mon Ted, I'll pay for it, c'mon, it's great. And Ted is just standing at the bar, trying not to watch --"
"And this is Ted telling you this. Yeah, right. Carry on."
"-- when Mark proceeds to go in some back room with one of the chicks and disappears for 20 minutes! I just can't believe it." Marianne shook her head and pulled at the collar of her pajamas. "Now I need a drink," she said, craning her neck over the side of the bar.
"Wait a minute," I said, remembering something. "Wasn't it Mark, all those years ago, who wouldn't see 'Showgirls' with us? I seem to recall there was a big group, and we ended up seeing 'Lethal Weapon Part Four Hundred' because Mark refused to go."
"Exactly!" Marianne snapped, poking a well-chewed fingernail into my chest. "That's why I'm having a fit! He said, 'Oh, no, I won't see that, it's degrading to women and I won't support that.' Hypocrisy!" she spat. "The only thing worse than pornography is hypocrisy."
"Yuck," I said. "That is gross. Now I see what you mean."
"And what does that say about me? Is that what I was to him?"
"I don't know, Marianne." I considered really laying into her about Mark, but there was always the slim chance that she'd get back together with the bastard. Then our friendship would be done for. "You do have nice breasts. Even women look at you."
She was snapping her fingers in the direction of the bartender, who appeared to be tending to a stuffed owl. "Could I have a Bloody Mary?" she called, again ignoring me. Sitting down heavily, she sighed. "Being a hypocrite is way, way worse than anything else. Even worse than getting a lap dance. And I have a feeling all modern men are like this. They spout the lines, but then in the face of some luscious knockers, they revert back to little boys who haven't gotten enough of that X-rated feeling. How can I trust any of 'em?"
"I think you should keep that in mind next time you talk to Ted," I said. "Friend that he may be, I'm pretty sure he's got a pair of mammary glands on his mind too." I looked pointedly at her chest.