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

They're like two backward magnets pushed together by convention. Their arms and cheeks meet, and maybe the tops of their shoulders, but only briefly, the briefest time politeness will allow. It's done out of habit and for appearances, a hollow, even resentful, gesture bred into us and rarely felt.

This solidarity of sex was something that feminism tried to teach us, and something, it now seemed to me, that men figured out and perfected a long time ago. On some level men didn't need to learn or remind themselves that brotherhood was powerful. It was just something they seemed to know.

When this man whom I'd never met before shook my hand he gave me something real. He included me. But most of the women I'd ever shaken hands with or even hugged had held something back, as if we were in constant competition with each other, or secretly suspicious, knowing it but not knowing it, and going through the motions all the same. In my view bra burning hadn't changed that much.

Next I met Allen. His greeting echoed Jim's. It had a pronounced positive force behind it, a presumption of goodwill that seemed to mark me as a buddy from the start, no questions asked, unless or until I proved otherwise. "Hey, man," he said. "Glad to see you."

He was about Jim's height and similarly built. He had the same goatee and mustache, too. He was older, though, and looked it. At forty-four, he was a study in substance abuse and exposure to the elements. His face was permanently flushed and pocked with open pores; a cigarette-, alcohol- and occupation-induced complexion that his weather-bleached blond hair and eyebrows emphasized by contrast.

Bob I met last. We didn't shake hands, just nodded from across the table. He was short, too, but not lean. He was forty-two and he had a serious middle-aged belly filling out his T-shirt, the unbeltable kind that made you wonder what held up his pants. He had sizable arms, but no legs or ass, the typical beer-hewn silhouette. He had a ragged salt-and-pepper mustache, and wore large glasses with no-nonsense metal frames and slightly tinted aviator lenses. He wasn't the friendly type.

Thankfully, Jim did most of the talking that first night, and with his eyes, he included me in the conversation from the beginning. He had known Bob and Allen for a long time. They had all been playing golf and poker together several times a month for years, and Allen was married to Bob's sister. I was a stranger out of nowhere without any shared work or home life experience to offer, and Jim's social generosity gave me an in.

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