One morning when I was nine months pregnant and on my way to work, two movers put down a dresser and beamed when I walked by.
“You’re having a girl!” one said.
“No, a boy,” I said.
“Positive?” he asked.
“Then you must be having twins,” he said confidently. “The girl’s hiding behind the boy!”
I really liked this game. It started when I crossed the line from awfully pregnant into obscenely, hugely, any-second-now pregnant. At least two or three strangers every day, entirely unprompted, would shout out “girl!” or “boy!” and I would call back “wrong!” or “right!”
I never stopped moving, so it added no time to my day. The exchange lasted exactly as long as a conversation on the street should last: the time it takes to pass by at a rapid clip. And it was fun playing quizmaster.
“Nope!” I told a woman behind the counter at a Soho salad place when she said I was having a girl. “Damn!” she said, “I should have known! Everyone’s having boys this summer.”
“A boy, actually,” I told an old woman at the recreation center on Carmine Street. She grabbed my stomach. “Ah, yes, a boy,” she said, nodding sagely.
“How did you know?” I asked the ones who got it right. “You go across, not out,” said the woman at the deli counter, proudly.
“You’re carrying in the hips,” said a random woman on the street.
“You’re carrying high,” said an old guy on my block, boasting from his stoop.
“Because you look pretty,” said my friend Pailo at a party. I liked that one until I heard the rest of the prognostication: “In Mexico, we say a pregnant woman who looks bad is having the beauty sucked out of her by her daughter. If the woman glows, like you, it’s because she has a penis inside her.”
Which brings me to the topic of grossly inappropriate things people said to me in the course of my pregnancy.
My husband and I thought about waiting to tell people for the recommended twelve weeks, but at six weeks we were at a bar one night with some friends after a show of my husband’s (he’s a performer) and someone asked me what I wanted to drink. “Just a seltzer,” I said.
Immediately, twenty well-plucked eyebrows were raised in my direction. “Yes, I’m pregnant,” I said when they wouldn’t stop staring. Our friend Bridget, a singer, screamed and hugged me. “For some reason, I’m so happy for you, even though I can’t stand it when most of my friends have kids!” she said. She was wearing an “Abortion Rocks!” T-shirt.
“You’re so brave,” said Earl, a producer, looking dour. “I mean, aren’t you worried about bringing a child into such a fucked-up world?” Then he tried to get me to write an article about a show he was promoting.
I sent out an email to tell friends I hadn’t talked to in a while.
Jesse, a friend from high school, didn’t write back at all. When I ran into him a couple of weeks later, he hugged me and said, “I was so excited I didn’t know what to say.” “Congratulations?” I suggested.
Seriously, isn’t that the default? One of those rules, like Miss Manners’s rule that all brides and babies are beautiful?
Apparently not in New York.