Bad to the bone 

"These women can be so mean," toots the shopping-bagged matron two steps down an Orange County Convention Center escalator from a (once again) poorly placed me. "They push and shove like you're not even there."

"Ooooh, that's my favorite plant!" glazes her sidecar, switching distractable gears. There's a bonsai coming down the other escalator.

It's hard being a woman.

Not that I would (necessarily) know first hand, but (by all appearances) the estrogen pull is a constant one, drowning any grand schemes of metaphorical escape in icky sexplay unevenness and even ickier monthly reminders. Even with "The View" inundating your fairer senses daily with gas-mask paranoia and this year's hemline, how do you find the time? Y'know, to be a girl?

Well, judging by the queue of ladies and ladyfriends lined up for the Orlando Southern Women's show booth-a-thon, there's plenty of time to be wasted, anyway. A faint smell of spaghetti sauce and potpourri wafts through the air as the corpulent, menopausal masses of Central Florida push and shove their respective waddles up to retail kiosks and trendy health-issue pamphleteers -- all in search of something to define them, some side effect they haven't heard advertised on TV.

And just in case you don't actually have any defining characteristics of your own, cheeky Deborah Norville, geeky Heloise (as in, 'hints from') and ice princess Peggy Fleming are here to help, or at least sign autographs on pamphlets decrying their latest she-causes. There's your side effect.

Personally, Peggy Fleming's got my vote, no matter what her cause. The graceful vixen of the 1968 Olympic ice-skating squad is the most likely to mention my favorite term, "triple salchow" -- or, as I say it, "triple sow kow." Of course, I've never been able to say "sow kow" without looking stupid, so I treasure the chance to look stupid with an air of relevance. "Sow kow! Sow kow! Sow kow!"

She's not listening.

"You have a face everybody must recognize, huh?" I sow kow.

"Um, do I?" she blanks. "I guess most people see me and are like, 'Where do I know you from?' "

Where I know Peggy from is those spin-around Trident commercials in the late '70s. That, however, is not what she's here to talk about. Oh, no.

Peggy's sold her self to osteoporosis, and she seems completely resigned (or is it sedated?) to talk about the "silent-killer" aspects of calcium depletion.

I have a hunch that I'm hunching and quickly pull a posture check while rifling through my head for some fun angle on marrow madness. I stall with a "how-did-you-get-involved?" sort of query, knowing from the sunken gaze of midlife, she's bound to take a long wind: "Well, gosh. It's been probably 15 or 20 years. My father-in-law, who's a physician, and my husband, who's also a physician, went to a meeting to talk about calcium supplements. And they found that calcium carbonate was more easily absorbed into your body ... "

Hunching again. There must be some meat on these bones, somewhere.

"I thought, maybe I could do something on a national scale" she maybes, as "What's Love Got to Do With It?" plays heavily overhead. I guess sometimes it gets you a gig. "So I got involved with the National Osteoporosis Founda-tion and went around the country doing talk shows."

I'm wondering if they were all this interesting. "I had my bone-density test done when I started this," she bones.

Bone-density test? I've had my own for years. Here's a tip: Forget the feet, check the nose. Anyway, Peg's just doing her job ... and it shows. The lack of punch in her delivery is as potent as three valium tabs and an Enya record. But it's hard to be mean to someone who's (very) obviously just here to be nice. I'm going to rot in hell. It'll be my bones that go first.

"The women are just great," pegs Peg. "They have such enthusiasm and inspiration. ... Getting women to come to an event like this and get a personal touch, that's what it's all about."

Tell that to the escalator vamps ... and their plants. Personal touch be damned.

So with a "Do-you-still-chew-Trident?" quip ("I chew gum. There are lots of gums, though. I chew whatever's there," she replies) and a "Well, you-LOOK-great" touch on the cheek, I'm back down the escalator.

But I'm not away from the women. That night, walking down Orange Avenue with my newly sedated sorta-ex (I am a woman, after all), I am confronted by a line of potential pageant princesses who have turned up the hormonal meter to a Sadie Hawkins burn. They're pushing and shoving and ...

"What kind of underwear are you wearing?" one princess bullies while testing my beau's bone density with her fingers. "Oh, you're not wearing any!"

"I'm gay!" he begs.

"I don't care!" she sneers, continuing her test. Now, that's a woman.

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