The pretty young woman at the library handed me back the book I was checking out. She had affixed a sticky note to it, which said: “DO NOT DESENSITIZE.”

Do not desensitize? Being as how I’m a male raised by a female, trained by a Tribe of Girls, cautioned for years about sexual bigotry in the workplace, and in general afraid to be in a room full of women for fear of drowning in a sea of estrogen, it caught my eye.

I’m afraid of drowning. I don’t care what sea does it; I’m agin it. 

Do not desensitize? I thought quickly, frantically. Was this a prank? I looked at the door, my way out. I glanced at the librarian, as she went to help another patron. Nope. She didn’t seem unduly involved, as she would have been had she said to someone, likely another female: “Now, watch this. I’m going to give the next guy who comes in a sticker that says “Do not desensitize” and see what happens.”

Had this been the case, they’d have been over in the corner enjoying my discomfiture. Which they weren’t.

Does this warning mean that I’m too sensitive? That, finally, after a lifetime of women accusing me of, among other things, being not sensitive to their whims and wishes, they’ve recognized my advances in this field? That, maybe, at the last meeting of The Tribe of Girls, someone stood up and made the motion: “He’s been doing real good at reading our minds and remembering birthdays, let’s give him a sticker.”

All in favor, etc., etc., and although I picture the vote as close, I eked one out.

Lord knows, I’ve had my trouble figuring out what women want. For example, once, some women friends visited and stayed the night. Just before bedtime, one of them said: “I see that living out in the country poses a lot of wildlife issues.”

Oh, yes, I said, it certainly does, blithely babbling on about foxes and eagles and whatnot, all the while watching them become more and more uneasy as bedtime approached and they were to head for their assigned bedroom.

Well, I watched them, but I didn’t see. I wrote all this off to their excitement at spending the night in the same house with someone as charming and sophisticated as me. This is a classic example of the old, un-sensitive me. I didn’t pick up on the looks exchanged between them, the little wordless communications that I now, being the winner of a desensitizer award, realize exist, but didn’t know about back then.

It was six months later when one of them, in a telephone conversation, asked about my house being overrun with mice: “All those mousetraps all over the house,” she said, “we were afraid to go to bed.”


Had I been the mind reader then that I am now, I would have intercepted these brain waves and replied: “Those are just to keep the cat from climbing in the flower pots.”

I told her that. Silence on the other end. I’m going to guess, judging from that silence and my new-found higher sensitivity, that it wasn’t her that made the sensitivity award nomination.

Really, though, I have been trying hard. Why, just the other day, when the young woman at the grocery store asked me: “Paper or plastic?”, I replied, “What would you like, please.” There, I thought to myself, that’s the new sensitive me in action.

I guess she didn’t really know. Well, I know she didn’t know, or she wouldn’t have asked me to make up her mind for her. I just thought that she should have more say in the decision, which is what I told her. Then I said: “Life is just one big mousetrap, isn’t it?” Then I gave her my best most understanding look, and winked at her. Yes, I know, I wanted to tell her, making ones own decisions are difficult, but I’m on your side.

The cashier at the till, an older woman, suddenly looked ill. That happens, you know. It’s winter. One minute you feel well; the next, you’re coming down with something. The new sensitive me asked: “There’s a lot of stuff going around, isn’t there?”

She gave me an understanding look. Boy, she sure agreed, apparently.

Glad I could help, I wanted to tell her, but she seemed to know that already.

I looked once again at the “DO NOT DESENSITIZE” sticker. Then at the librarian. I got her attention, and asked her: “Is this for me?”

“Well,” she replied, “kind of. Otherwise, you’ll set off the alarm when you leave.”

I waved at her. “Thank you very much.” She seemed confused.

Well. I had no idea. Technology has progressed to the point at which they are measuring sensitivity. 

“Good luck,” I said to the guy just entering as I was leaving.

He’d need it.