Among the Cougars
What does a cub wear to a cougar party?
Wearing a little black dress was coltishly pretty Shahla, who gave her age as 40. Shahla works in the quintessential reality-TV field of medical sales. She seemed to have the idea that her appearance on the show would earn the respect of her parents, who are Pakistani Muslims. Meanwhile, vacuum-packed into something like a Hervé Léger bandage dress was Henshi, 47 years old with an aerodynamically smooth face. She works in the other quintessential reality-TV field, commercial real estate. Henshi's parents had raised her as an Orthodox Jew, and the cougar party had been scheduled so that she could observe the Shabbat.
Then there was Hayne—a dead ringer for Kristen Wiig's character on Saturday Night Live's Cougar Den. Hayne had appeared just that morning in a New York Post feature titled " Welcome to Cougartown," and the Post listed her age as 54. However, if I understood Hayne correctly—and between her slurring words and her only sometimes making sense, it is unlikely that I did—she was actually 52 and had shaved two years onto her age.
One can only hope that Hayne is in on the joke of herself. She owns Lucky Cheng's, a theme restaurant where cross-dressing waitresses attend to odious bachelorette parties. Her attire suggested that her interest in drag is not strictly professional. Hayne wore turquoise pants, a leopard-print purse, and, from her stable of "two to five" regular dates, an escort unconvincingly alleged to be a model. The model had a hint of goatee, a knit cap, a strategically placed hole in the inseam of his jeans, and a handshake like a wind-blasted umbrella.
How old was Bo? "Mmmm, 26?" said Hayne. "They're all 26." Hayne counts herself among those who find the word cougar demeaning. "I really take offense to the nomenclature," she said. "I prefer MILF." This is not a fine distinction: On MILF Island, the older woman is an innocent figure of desire; in Cougartown, she is a grotesque caricature of desire itself.
Shahla asked my cub buddy whether he could imagine going out with her. He gently demurred. She said, "Well, what about just for a drink?"
She said, "Just kidding." Shahla had told us that her cougar ways first emerged in 12th grade, when she trained her eye on freshmen. For a moment it seemed that the universal cougar dream was to redo high school forever—or maybe to undo everything that had come since—or anyway to strut through a prolonged adolescence with a hard-won confidence, wearing Jimmy Choos to the Sadie Hawkins dance.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Still from The Cougar © 2009 Viacom International Inc.