By Tara Jo Quinn
When my brother and I were kids we had a favorite grocery store greeting card. It said:
In high school, I believed that the post-21 version of myself would get lots of free beer: men randomly bought pretty girls alcohol--just because--I thought. Later I realized that this is not the case. Usually, men give drinks to pretty girls in order to get pretty girls. Free beer is really part of an exchange.
Since I'm not a "for exchange" kind of girl, free beer doesn't come my way very often. Sometimes I unwittingly lead men on, though. Normally it happens because I'm friendly. On this occasion it happened because I made space for cultural differences.
The story begins with cupcakes. Two friends and I needed a single can of beer for the batter. None of us had any beer, but my friend Alaina had a suggestion:
"Maybe we could go ask one of your neighbors."
"How quaint!" I thought. Hadn't I watched neighbors asking one another for sugar and flour on old TV shows? I thought this would be like that, so we began knocking on doors.
One of these doors opened to reveal an Indian couple and their daughter. They had no beer, but the middle-aged father had a request:
"You bring us some cupcakes?"
I thought this was said in jest.
"If we find the ingredients!" I joked.
The cupcake guy
A few hours later, I heard several knocks at my door. I peeked through my peephole and saw the Indian father walking away.
"It was the cupcake guy," I told my friends.
Alaina attributed this strange behavior to cultural differences: "Eastern cultures are a lot more community-oriented than Western ones."
How narrow-minded of me to assume this man was a creep!
I didn't notice my neighbor again for months. But when we met again he said that he'd noticed me many times.
"I think, 'It's the beer girl,'" he said. I call him Anjum.
I was perched on the edge of our building's cement garden box when Anjum approached me. I was writing a letter.
"Are you waiting for someone?" he asked.
"No," I said. "I'm writing this letter."
Anjum didn't care that I was preoccupied. He was heading to the beer distributor and asked me to join him.
"Um," I said.
He asked again. And again. He took a few steps away, waving for me to follow.
"Come on," he said.
I shook my head, but he kept cajoling. My thoughts began cajoling me, too.
"What about cultural differences?" they asked. "What about his wife and child? How bad can the man be?"
Besides, the beer distributor was just across the street: proximity alone made it unlikely that I would be accosted along the way.
"Friends and neighbors," I thought and followed Anjum to his car.
He drove us to the beer distributor. Anjum wanted Budweiser. Since I'd told him I like Blue Moon he wanted some of that too. He said he liked trying new things.
After wandering about the store for awhile, we chanced upon a Hoegaarden display. I told him that Hoegaarden was a lot like Blue Moon. He put a case in my arms.
"Um," I said.
He led me to the register and paid for the beers with a Little Mermaid credit card. Then we walked to the car.
"Here, I give you one," he said.
"No thanks," I said.
"I give you," he said, ripping open the box. He gave me a bottle. And another bottle.
I thought about the Little Mermaid credit card. I thought about his daughter. How creepy could a father be?
I shrugged and put the bottles in my bag.
"Free beer!" I thought.
We drove back to the apartment complex. Trying to be neighborly, I offered to help carry the cases upstairs. I took the Budweiser; he took the Hoegaarden.
As we walked to the building, he asked if I like Indian food.
"I love Indian food!" I said, hoping he would respond, "My wife, she makes very good Indian food. You come have dinner with us." I would bring my roommate.
"Friends and neighbors!" I thought.
But Anjum said: "We should go get Indian food--some weekend."
"Not friends and neighbors!" I thought.
On the elevator, Anjum told me to leave the Budweiser outside the elevator door. "I'll come back for it," he said.
"No, I'll carry it to your door," I said. I wanted his wife to see me. I believed that if he let his wife see me, he couldn't possibly want me to be his mistress.
But Anjum did not want his wife to see me and, therefore, did - I suspected -- want me to be his mistress. He insisted I set the case down where he'd said. I acquiesced.
As I walked home with the two bottles of Hoegaarden, I promised myself to stay far away from my strange neighbor. Men, I learned, will be men--and that has nothing to do with cultural differences.
Tara Jo Quinn is a writer who lives in