Book Excerpt: Norah Vincent's 'Self-Made Man'

That guy stepped up to the line and threw his three strikes, one after the other, each one met by mounting applause, then silence and stillness again, then on the final strike, an eruption, and every single guy in that room, including me, surrounded that player and moved in to shake his hand or pat him on the back. It was almost mystical, that telepathic intimacy and the communal joy that succeeded it, crystalline in its perfection. The moment said everything all at once about how tacitly attuned men are to each other, and how much of this women miss when they look from the outside in. After it was over, and all the congratulations had died down, Jim and Bob and Allen and I all looked at each other and said things like "Man, that was incredible," or "Wow, that was something." We couldn't express it in words, but we knew what we'd just shared.

I'd been playing a part with these guys for months, being Ned, the walk-on. Of course, he had it easy in a way, because everything was on the surface. Nobody knew him and he didn't really know anybody else. He was mostly quiet -- listening, recording, trying not to say the wrong thing, trying not to give himself away -- and that put a barrier between him and his environment. Despite the masculine intimacy that enveloped the evening, the guys and I were really only amenable strangers warming our hands together for a while over the few things we had to say to each other: the odd fag joke or tall tale of glory days, the passing home improvement reference, and of course the ritual dissection of Sunday Night Football and the ongoing hockey season. Nothing mysterious really. The usual stuff that guys find convenient to say when nobody's giving anything away.

So, after having bowled with these guys every Monday night for six months, I gave something away. I just decided one night that it was time to tell them.

But how to do it? I didn't know. I was wary, uncertain about how to come clean. I couldn't anticipate how they'd react. I had visions of myself running down the middle of the town's main street with my shirt ripped off at the shoulder and a lynch mob chasing me with brickbats and bowling balls in hand.

Fortunately, that night, Jim presented me with the perfect opportunity. He asked me what I was doing after we finished, something he'd never done before, so I took a chance and asked him to have a drink with me. He was the most accessible of the bunch, and I figured getting him alone and telling him first would give me a sense of how to proceed, if at all.

We went to his favorite haunt, a biker bar not far from the trailer park where he lived. When we sat down at the bar I told him he should order a shot of whatever would relax him the most, because he was going to need it. "I think I'm about to blow your mind," I said.

"I doubt it," he said. "Just about the only thing you could say that would blow my mind is if you told me that your girfriend was really a man and you were really a woman."

"Well," I said, stunned by his exactitude, "you're half right."

"Okay," he said slowly, peering at me skeptically. "In that case, I'll have a blackberry brandy, with a beer back." "Actually," I said, "you might want two. I'm buying."

He downed the first and ordered another. I wasn't sure if he was spooked or just taking advantage of the freebies. Knowing him, probably the latter, not that I was the big spender or anything. At that bar you could get good and ripped for ten dollars.

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