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    BWS Stories - "You're So Vain"...Celebrating Physical Changes

    "You're So Vain"...Celebrating Physical Changes - The Wrong Country

    Anna Steegmann, grew up in Germany and earned her MSW in Berlin.  In New York since 1980, she has worked as a school counselor and psychotherapist.  Three years ago she fulfilled herself a lifelong dream and enrolled in a Creative Writing Graduate Program.  She recently completed her autobiography and  teaches Freshman Composition at City College New York.

    Her book The Wrong Country: Written in a humorous voice, The Wrong Country takes the reader from Germany in the 60's to New York in the new millenium. Anna adored her Nazi father and comes to hate him as a teenager. She chooses men disabled like him, and makes each man her improvement project.  Her personality forms through a series of wacky encounters. Anna stays in control, the master of her own unhappinesss and then, miraculously, of her own happiness.

    The Wrong Country

    The mailman stopped delivering Frederic's of Hollywood catalogues.  Instead, I found invitations to join AARP and offers to plan ahead for my burial needs in my mailbox. In the subway, a young couple offered me their seat and asked me how far ahead I was in my pregnancy. Unfortunately, there was no pregnancy; my midsection had simply expanded.  Was it middle age, marriage, menopause, the changing shape of my body? Inside, I felt just as adventurous and daring, but when I looked in the mirror I was astonished by the woman with the deep laugh lines staring back at me.  A woman who had given up mini skirts. A woman who had donated all her spike heel shoes to the Salvation Army. A woman who had become invisible to men. No one stared at me, flirted with me, or complimented me any longer. Even the store clerks called me Ma'am.

    New York City was the Mecca of the young, thin, and ambitious. Girlfriends my age and older invested in plastic surgery, Personal Trainers, Botox injections, and $250 haircuts. They eliminated all carbohydrates from their diet.  All too often this effort failed to yield positive results. Women ten, fifteen years younger than me, complained that all the good-looking men were gay, married or damaged goods. I had someone to grow old with, a man who made me Blini Russki for Sunday breakfast. Why did it matter that American males didn't find me desirable?

    In other countries, you weren't considered over-the-hill, if you were no longer twenty-one and thin. When I traveled through Morocco, Russia, Slovakia, the Caribbean, Mexico, and my home Germany, my experience was very different. No matter how old, women were always perceived as sexual beings.  Flirting was expected and I even got to dance a lot. But in New York, in an entire year, the only man to hit on me was a smelly homeless guy who sat across from me in the subway.

    "You are some fine babe," he said.

    "Thank you," I replied. "I appreciate that."

    I was definitely in the wrong country now.

    We moved to Harlem. I had been married for three years and was resigned to my fate. No American male would ever find me desirable again.  After leaving SoHo, my chic downtown neighborhood, I found Harlem a pleasant surprise and in the same category as Russia. Stepping outside, I could always count on male attention of the "Hello, Gorgeous," "God bless you, Sister,"  "Have a marvelous day, lovely lady" variety. Teenage boys I passed on my way to the gym, shouted: "Lady, you look really great for a woman your age."

    Now I meet men all the time:  at the bus stops, in the subway, my favorite jazz club, and at the cheese counter of Fairways supermarket.  I don't take advantage of these possibilities; I just bask in all the male attention. It feels wonderful, a true balm for my bruised ego.

    Last week while waiting for the bus, a black BMW stopped in front of me. The driver, a black man in his twenties, decked out in hip-hop attire, rolled down his tinted window and approached me with tremendous urgency in his voice:

    "I have to get to know you!"

    "Don't waste your time with a woman old enough to be your mother."

    "Wait a minute. You are married?"

    "Very much so."

    "Happily married?"

    "I'd say so."

    "Too bad. But listen, he doesn't have to know."

    Here I am, fifty-two years old, definitely in the right country again.

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