“You’re under investigation…for being so beautiful,” the vagabond somewhere in between full-fledged homelessness and persistent couch surfing (you can always tell they’re more within the latter category when they still have some sense of humor left, cheesy as it may be) tells her as she tries to blend into the door of the subway in between boring a hole into the book she’s reading, this week, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and clenching her Kegel muscle as a stress response. She doesn’t reckon he has any cognizance of Philip K. Dick’s work, but then maybe this is just her natural prejudice toward anyone that rides the subway, at best reading from their screens, at worst looking at porn. His compliment toward Gabriela isn’t just jarring because of how close he comes to fully invading her personal space, but because she is not the type of girl that is typically called out for her “beauty.” She has, at this juncture, become more accustomed to being praised for her wit or cleverness, rather like Penelope, who constantly had to stand in the towering shadow of Helen’s beauty, even when it came to the attentions of her own husband, Odysseus. She is, thusly, foolish enough to smile at the faux vagabond as a result of falling prey to the pathetic condition that no woman seems to be immune to: flattery when it comes to their aesthetic. Regardless of how much she knows herself to be nothing special. She can’t help but want to believe when a man expresses that she is attractive, for it is still so indoctrinated within her to feel that her primary worth is based entirely on her appearance, and the allurement thereof.
However, when Gabriela’s shit-eating grin doesn’t prove to be as valuable as her giving actual money to this man, who has clearly relied on this shtick of honeyed words for sometime now as his means of survival, he moves on to the next subject. But Gabriela had forgotten herself for some strange reason, for it had been so long since someone regarded her in a manner lascivious, particularly during this frigid season that required one to bury herself underneath layers upon layers that essentially united every denizen of the city in looking like itinerant beggars. She should have known better than to so easily take the FBI-themed commendation to heart, here at this advanced stage of living in New York, where people will say whatever they need to in order to survive. Her smile faded and her cheeks became flushed with embarrassment as the man turned from her to a couple sitting across from her, noting to the boyfriend in the equation, “You’re a lucky man, you know that?” The boyfriend, too, was besieged by the man’s free-flowing flattery, unable to recognize his con in literal motion though it had just happened to Gabriela. That’s the brilliance of a compliment Ponzi scheme, doling them out as if they were real in exchange for cash. And perhaps sensing that the boyfriend, impossibly Caucasian with Warby Parker glasses and an Asian girlfriend, would be more prone to giving him some alms, the faux vagabond spent more time working him, going on and on about “his woman’s” (as though he had made her exist as a human being simply by being with her, by offering her that legitimacy in his position as a man) gorgeousness before bordering into the dangerous territory of suggesting that if she was single, he would definitely try to fuck her. Somehow, he toed the line just well enough with this last homage so as to finagle five whole dollars from the boyfriend’s Gucci wallet–maybe it was a gift from his girlfriend, who likely worked in some such banal profession as assistant buyer.
Gabriela did her best to ignore the lengthy exchange, that continued even after the faux vagabond received his bounty, but it was suddenly making her perspire with the rage boiling within–the apoplexy of being discounted and ignored for being deemed both poor and ugly by someone even poorer and uglier. It was sending her into a further mental spiral still that made her question whether or not she was even truly an “artist,” for if she wasn’t at least that–at least a writer–then she was just another unsightly eyesore on the pus-filled complexion of the earth. And she could not bear to be that. Anything but that: a nothing. With no beauty to offer the polluted space of existence, not even mentally. Why had fate conspired to make this faux vagabond enter her specific train car? Did it not know how sensitive she was to interactions with strangers, taking every single sentence with her whenever she parted ways with them?
Her stop was coming up, the one that would dump her out into Lower Manhattan, an area that always made her feel decidedly Pretty Woman, suffering from not being “worthy,” as Vivian was deemed not to be, of setting foot in an area of such affluence. But she had to go, it was where her job as a meek and mousy little copy editor was. She certainly would never be the type to have to worry about reconciling with the notion of fucking her way to the top, there were no offers for her to. She in her tweed brown skirt and mismatched blazer. No, Gabriela was “reliable,” someone to turn to for “a second opinion.” She would never be at risk for being remembered for anything other than her unremarkableness–and this was precisely why she despised the faux vagabond, for even momentarily making her feel that her life, her shell of a body could be otherwise. For leading her to briefly thing that the perception of her exterior might not necessarily be what she had previously assumed. Damn him, she thought, and damn all beautiful women who do not know what that beauty truly means. The ones who take it for granted, as though genuinely unaware of how different their existence would be without a waif-like body and gamine countenance.
As she got off the train, her eyes fell on a line in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch that read, “Or rather so-called artist. Bohemian. That’s closer to it. The artistic life without the talent.” Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the windowpane of the subway while exiting, she came to terms with this. Being both hideous and talentless in her physical and cerebral plainness. Maybe she ought to be under investigation for how one’s life could be so spectacularly tragic in lieu of the faux vagabond’s prior suggestion that it ought to be for her beauty. Then again, was it not William Carlos Williams that taught us all true beauty exists within the quotidian, the banal? Counseling herself with this little reminder, she managed to climb the stairs that would lead her to Fulton Street without having a panic attack over insignificance.