I saw “her man” pounding a No Trespassing sign into the ground. He looked like a thousand other men: a six-footer with muddy brown hair, flat brown eyes that didn’t flicker or flash, sallow, sun-mottled skin and the body of an old fighter. Strong as an ox. Lumpy, not sculpted, with a face that looked like it came out on the losing end with a bottle several times a week.
“You need anything done, I’ll send my man over.” Her words struck me like iron filings, like she was an aging southern belle from another planet, nostalgic for the idea of some cracked world.
I wanted to walk, but she insisted I ride with her in a long-bed golf cart sort of vehicle. She pointed to old pecan trees and twisty ancient live oaks, stopping to holler at her man. “Go on to the house now. Make sure you wash the dogs this afternoon.” She told me the history of the crumbling old cottage on the land, where the drive might have once been, and together we admired the barn’s beautiful wood.
She’s not a bad person. Not at all. But this affectation of referring to her employee as “her man” troubles me on many levels. We often think of these sorts of references as racial, but I’ve heard it all ways.
I worked as a legal secretary in Tallahassee in the 1970’s, a time when the lawyers were mostly male and referred to their secretaries as girls. “I’ll have my girl call your girl and set up a meeting.” Like that. It rankled.
When I talked to my new neighbor on the phone recently, I was a little out of breath. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing, I’m fine. Buck and I are assembling a new TV we got to replace an old one that stopped working a while back.”
“I’ll send my man over to do it. He can hang TV’s from the wall or the ceiling or anywhere you want.”
“Thanks, but we’re about done.”
She has offered him to us for hauling trash, transplanting trees, all sorts of things. And it’s kind of her, to be sure. I don’t fault her motives even though it makes my skin ripple.
I’m Buck’s woman, and he’s my man. But I’m not anybody’s girl, and I don’t ever want to entertain the notion that someone who might accept a paycheck from me is “mine” in any way, shape or form.