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A Conversation with Anna Quindlan and Alice Walker
It was an early Fall afternoon. The kind of afternoon which lends itself to quiet contemplation of the meaning of life, either while sitting under a tree, or walking through the woods admiring the changing foliage, or writing by sunlight in a quiet coffeeshop I had begun to call home. This particular afternoon I opted for the coffeeshop.
I walked through the door and waved to Theresa, who was standing behind the counter. In the three years I had been coming to this place I was never served by anyone but Theresa. She knew me only as "Honey." As my eyes adjusted to the light on the inside of the coffeeshop, I removed my jacket and moved to my customary spot at the table to the extreme rear, beside the windows. I sit here because, in this corner, I can be an inconspicuous observer of the world. I have a view of the street outside the window and a view of the interior of the coffeeshop from this vantage point. While on the way to my table, I noticed something new in my second home.
There the two of them sat. One white, thirty-something, in a conservative blue dress. The other black, only the experience that shows in her eyes giving away her true age of fifty-two, dressed in a colorful, flowing dress that seemed to have a vibrant life of its own. They appeared to be engaged in light conversation like two women from a General Foods International Coffee commercial. I immediately changed direction and headed for their table.
"Mrs. Quindlen, Mrs. Walker, it is a pleasure and an honor to see you. I have read your books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Would you mind if I joined you?"
"Not at all," stated Mrs. Quindlen. "Please, call me Anna." She studied my face intently, trying to decide whether or not to continue with the conversation or to simply while away the time with small talk until they could gently push me away. She decided on the former.
"We were just sitting here discussing men. You just happened to walk up and now we have a real live man with which to examine.
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"What's your name, child?," asked Mrs. Walker with a voice so serene it might have been from an angel.
"Denny Crawford, Mrs. Walker," I said, still feeling somewhat ill-at-ease.
"Well Denny, first of all, call me Alice. What is your opinion of womanism?"
"I like the idea of women coming together to discuss things that are of importance to women in particular. What I don't like is the superiority train that some womanists want to ride. Not all men are pigs who cannot take care of themselves. In the words of one of my friends, 'We are not stupid dweebs'."
"Agreed," said Anna, "But don't you think, for the most part, men cannot take care of themselves? I know it is a joke, but don't you think that it stands true that men consider a seven course meal to be a six-pack and a hot dog?"
"Some men, maybe. But that does not mean all men are helpless. My mother was not a housekeeper at all. My father, on the other hand, kept an immaculate house. While I was living with him I learned to cook for my family, do the dishes after every meal, separate laundry, and keep the house straight. I even follow the same routine as far as house cleaning that I did that many years ago, bathrooms on Monday, dusting and vacuuming on Tuesday, bed linens on Wednesday, and sweeping and mopping on Thursday. We rest on Friday and again on Sunday, and do outside work on Saturday."
"But you are an exception to the rule," said Alice. "Not every man works like you. I see you have a ring, are you married?"
"Yes ma'am, I am."
"Good, are you happy?"
"Very much so."
"Are you faithful?"
"Two, from a previous marriage. I got married for the first time when I was seventeen. We both grew up, but not in the same direction."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you treat your wife well? Do you support her? Do you listen to her? Or, are you like other men, once the ring is on the finger the dictatorship begins?"
"Alice, I treat my wife with all the respect she deserves. I give her love and support, I cook, I clean, and I work, as does she. I love my wife very much. I think the opinions you ladies hold are outdated a little. I know there are those of us men out there that are piggish and uncaring, but that doesn't mean you should hold this stereotypical image. To do that makes you no different than the racist that believes he is superior because of his color. You are basing your bigotry on gender."
"Maybe you are right," said Anna. "Maybe we should stop generalizing and look for the good men to tell our fellow women about. Thank you, Denny. You are truly an unusual man."
"I appreciate that from the depths of my heart. And now, I must take my leave of you as I have a publisher's deadline to meet, and we all know how that is."
We said our good-byes and exchanged addresses. I walked over to my table and sat down. I signaled the waitress to bring my coffee and began to write.