The fellowship of 'the ring'

Times Staff Writer

Around the time of her 75th birthday, my grandmother announced she was giving up men. When my brother and I asked what precipitated this -- she had always enjoyed a steady stream of "companions" -- she said that the other half of the species had lost its luster. A specific turnoff: One of her male companions died during a visit at her house. She was -- naturally -- utterly dismayed. "Such a lack of tact," she said with Old World disgust.

In general, though, she was just sick of men. She was sick of not being able to read the paper without a running commentary from across the table. She was sick of men casually opening her fridge, poking around and extracting some snack. In my grandmother's opinion, the fridge -- like the paper -- is not communal property.

I agree with my grandmother. There are definite upsides to being single. Deciding if, when and in what order to read the Sunday papers is one such. Being the supreme ruler of the fridge and all its contents is another.

Being a slob (my grandmother would disagree) is yet another advantage. If I want to get up in the middle of the night and eat herrings straight out of the fridge, I can do that without disapproving stares.

There are, of course, downsides to being single too. That ring, after all, is superior contraception, protecting you from sex with people you don't even want to share a cab with.

Without a ring, you are fair game to the unfair sex.

And I have, despite fairly average looks, what my brother with his usual helpfulness and empathy terms "freak magnetism." I attract the kind of men who pick up women at the scene of an accident, figuring that blood and broken bones -- theirs, yours or others' -- is a conversation starter. While roller-blading along the Santa Monica beach, I draw the guys on bicycles who for miles make small talk, asking questions such as "Are you on your way to work?" (Actual example.)

A memorable out-of-place come-on was at the checkout line at my local market recently. Not another customer, but the cashier.

With foodstuffs piled on the conveyer belt, there was nowhere for me to run as he led into one of my least favorite conversations.

Usually prompted by said herring that I buy for sentimental reasons as well as midnight snacking, these conversations go roughly like this:

"Oh, that's weird" -- cashier pointing at herring -- "you actually eat those?"

Beat. Then a thought: "You're not from around here, are you?"

No, as the accent may reveal, I'm Scandinavian.

Now, I don't want to be uncharitable about geographical curiosity, but there are only so many times you can explain that "No, Denmark is not Holland." And it's not the capital of Sweden, either. And, "Yes, we have our own language, it's called Danish."

In any event, on this evening, the conversation took an unexpected turn.

"Denmark?" the cashier said, making "Denmark" sound surprisingly like "stripper." He went on, helpfully, to explain that "I really like Danish girls." (My face at this point was the color of the beets being bagged.)

And this, I guess, is my point: What's the retort to "I really like Danish girls"? What do you say? "That's funny, because Danish girls really like you too."

I don't know.

In the end, I just got my groceries and went home, having said nothing. Wishing, for a nanosecond, that I had been wearing "the ring" -- the one that answers all the questions.

The response would have been -- in any language -- talk to the hand.


Louise Roug can be contacted at

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