I was watching a documentary in Australia about pin-up girls during World War II who had their addresses printed in the corner of their page in the magazine. The models would receive thousands of love letters from the soldiers, many very heartfelt and convincing. Sometimes the love letters would cease and they discovered that the entire platoon had been wiped out. Most interesting to me, was how the soldiers saw the attractiveness of their women as a national source of pride: “They were much more attractive than the American pin-ups,” one says passionately, as though this had significant bearing on his nationalism.
I found the Australian women to be, in general, intimidatingly beautiful. It is a very appearance-centric culture and the men are not afraid to make this known. One Australian says to me at the bar, “American girls are much easier, but Australian girls are hotter.” I cannot help but look down at my lacking cleavage and wrinkled, sagging dress, chipped toe nails and flip flops: “Maybe I should try harder,” I think, “At least while I am here.”
Living out of a suitcase, I am at a loss for the benefits of strenuous beauty-making. The first weekend I went to a club, completely underdressed, feeling both bored and undesirable. The Ozzie men who dragged me there, have made a night out of “scoring” chicks, shamelessly and readily in my presence. I am fading quickly into the background and slam a few whiskey-diets, which I bought myself. After falling into quiet judgment/sulking mode, I slipped into the bathroom to reapply some lipstick, reaching a new unexpected low in an adolescent-like phase of complete and utter insecurity.
I come out of the bathroom when I make eye contact with a man who looks like some Scottish superhero: blond hair tied into messy dredlocks, statuesque and sort of devastatingly handsome, almost more beautiful than the women who are pouring out of the bathroom behind me. Bone structure is a gift.
He looks genuinely interested, “Who are you here with?” he asks. I turn around only to realize he is talking to me. Because it was a long night and I was desperate, I decided to unleash my frustration and rip into details about the ridiculousness of the scene, the cheesiness of my company and my desperate desire to make a break for the door. I didn’t care how unattractive my complaints seemed. I only had a small window to garner support and perform my best bitter Janeane Garafalo. We share some brief anecdotal evidence that we are not psychopaths (respectively) and he says, “Let’s get out of here. I hate this place too.” He grabs my hand and pulls me out of the bar and down the street.
Superhero is kind and validates my complaints, even agreeing that Australian men can be the worst when it comes to their treatment of women. The rest of the night we sat in a booth at a corner bar, singing along to Blondie and White Stripes. At some point, I touch his bicep and pretend I am not totally smitten.
After paying for my cab home and walking me to the door, he asks me to meet him at his worksite the next day for lunch. Superhero makes a living as a bricklayer so when I show up, he is wearing cut-off shorts, a tool belt and no shirt. I realize that this guy is unfathomably fit. In the next few days, I learn he is a rowing champion and has some insane workout schedule that I have to compete with. There is a crisp Speedo in the front seat. One day on the beach, I make a joke: “What are you some kind of supermodel or something?”
I wait for a witty response when he replies, “Well, I actually did a Calvin Klein underwear spread last week.” I pause and, again, wait for him to smile.
“I was in the movie, Robin Hood, too.” He tells me he played multiple parts in the film, first cast as a rower and then as a warrior in the fight scenes:
“They basically just give the guys weapons and let them fight it out in front of the cameras. It’s like living out childhood male fantasies, except at some point you have to fall down and pretend you are dead.”
“How do you know when to die?”
“It’s like improv. You just lay down when you think it seems appropriate. The problem is that the guys on horses don’t know the difference between actors and the dummies. I was laying there when I heard the sound of hooves and watched a horse take a step between my thighs.”
The ambulance was called to the set daily.
I spend my last two weeks in Melbourne hanging out with the Superhero. He takes me on long walks through the city, buys me dinner and introduces me to his friends. He lets me borrow his Schwinn and drives me around in his truck, tools rattling in the back. He offers to teach me out to surf. He wears fancy shirts and makes me laugh.
I see the underwear spread published in the Australian Sunday paper. Then, on a billboard. It was sort of terrifying. He made me nervous and a little self-conscious. Maybe this is what it feels like to be a short man. Either way, my pride is restored: American girls must have something. And, even warrior-looking Australian men are not necessarily Neanderthals.
Superhero may travel with me to Vietnam. Maybe he will wear a cape or some warrior kilt. Score.