Judgment Day

The Face of Heroism

I met my neighbor on the bus the other day. We began our conversation, as we are wont to do, by exchanging details about our various children and grandchildren before falling into the usual lamentations.

“Can you believe what. . . “

“No, I feel like I’m living in a cave reeking of batshit.”

“Right? Nothing makes any sense anymore. . . How can so much doubt remain when three women. . . .“

We nodded, shook our heads, tzikached profusely. Kavanaugh, his accusers, the tradition of blaming women. We shared mutual condolences.

Then I made the mistake of saying, “All this, and Bill Cosby gets only THREE years for drugging and raping –“

She jumped in.

“Well, it was only one woman. Three years seems reasonably punitive for an old man. Especially because we can only prove it happened once.”

What?

“Further,” she went on. “A young woman has the right to say no. You accept a dinner invitation from a Bill Cosby, you know what he wants. What are you doing going out with him at all?”

I realized talking to this woman, whose intelligence and empathy I generally trust, why we older women continue to be part of the disconnect in America. The rules have changed, and instead of embracing the new world order, our judgment remains crippled by old standards.

When my neighbor and I were young, the so-called Sexual Revolution was just getting underway. We got caught up in it, and as we did, we endured the disapproval and shame of the society that had not yet embraced its precepts. We were called sluts, easy women, weaklings without morals. Women were not supposed to explore options, to experiment with sex, to enjoy it. Their imperative was to comply with the wishes of the patriarchy.

We knew that if we spoke out about our experiences with assault, molestation, denigration – and believe me, I know NO one who has had those experiences – we would only besmirch our own good names. I was keenly aware that when I turned down s casting director’s demand for a blowjob, when I eschewed the opportunity to gratify an employer, I was ruining my chances to move forward professionally or personally. I would become the subject of gossip. I would be ostracized not only by the would-be usurper himself but by everyone he either supervised or collaborated with.

I was lucky in that way. I never felt like I had nowhere to go when things didn’t work out for me where I was. There was no driving compunction to give in to male impulses. There was always a refuge. My mother joked about the swinging door on the family home, and my grandmother kept the apartment in her basement stocked, furnished and ready for any time I might opt to leave where I was in order return and begin yet again.

I began many times. We did in those days. Marriage removed us from the fray. It gave us a comfortable hiding place, an awning to protect us from the inevitable detritus that would drop out of that man’s world. Marriage was admirable. No more shame. No more idiotic comments about single women from other women.

In my single days, a self-righteous matriarch told me my hips looked like they were spreading. That, she said, was a true sign I was sleeping around. “Easy virtue, spreading hips,” she sneered. In marriage, we could watch our hips spread with childbearing and be proud of our sexual activity.

We took it all in. In our hearts, however, we rejected the notion that the traditions must continue. We raised our daughters to push back, to stand up to the men who were holding them down. In the process, we taught our daughters to hate that we were not able to do that for ourselves. We forgot to teach our daughters what it was like to be entirely ruled by the parameters of the ruling penises, what it felt like to be unable to open a bank account, have a credit card, rent a car, buy a house without a man’s name attached to ours.

No matter how they judged us. We taught them to refuse to comply.

Now many of us look at them and feel a pang of regret. Maybe they are right about us. If they are successful in fighting back, why were we paralyzed? If they can achieve some kind of retribution, why did we succumb? What is wrong with us?

Nothing. We got our restraint from our own mothers, women who had survived the Great Depression, escaped the horrors of two world wars, fought for the right to work outside the home. Many of them were born before or shortly after the 19th Amendment allowed them to vote. We honored their achievement and initiated the Women’s Movement. We applauded our more brazen sisters who publically burned their bras. We hitchhiked through Europe singing protest songs and making the case for an ERA. And then we raised our daughters to say, “NO.”

But our self-doubt, our self-chastisement can lead to a lapse in judgment so that we say stupid things like, “There was only one. . . .”

Too many of my peers are willing to look the other way as Kavanaugh steamrolls toward confirmation. More shockingly, I learned this week that my 27 Freshman Comp students at a city university, 25 of whom are female, do not know who Anita Hill is. They are nearly as complacent as my cohorts in age about the fact that Rachel Mitchell, a hardline Republican, a friend of criminal Sherrif Arpaio, is conducting Dr. Ford’s hearings. Have our misgivings encouraged our daughters to teach our granddaughters to remain silent? I hope not.

We live in dangerous times. The patriarchy recognizes that women must be silenced. Again. That they are in danger of coming unhinged if we are not checked. It’s dangerous to defend Bill Cosby or to question Dr. Christine Ford Blasey’s veracity. Every time one of us does that, they are victorious.

We don’t have to let them win.

There are plenty of liberated women and men to take the legislature from the ruling, oligarchic party. There are enough enlightened women and their male allies to upend the system. Women need not be dismissed, abused, assaulted, denigrated. We have sat by and allowed the maltreatment to go on long enough. Women in my generation owe it to our country to take a firm stand against the fetid tide.

It’s time for us to remind our daughters what we are made of.

 

 

 

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Im Not Getting Better . . . I’m Getting Older

Horsey: T S A ©2010 Hearst Newspapers

There are so many slings and arrows we become inured to as we age. Being shoved aside by youngsters bent on getting a subway seat. Receiving condescending rejection letters from potential employers under forty. Being addressed, like a hard-of-hearing toddler, in loud monosyllabic words. It sucks to grow old. But because the alternative is far worse, we simply tolerate the little insults and abuses.

Most of them.

I still get flustered when a TSA agent tells me, “I’ll have to pat you down.”

A pat-down is unnatural. Disconcerting. I try to make light – the way I do when the dentist is extracting yet another of my teeth – but a typical TSA agent has less sense of humor than any dentist. To make fun could land me in jail because to a TSA agent, I am a threat to national security.

All because of my titanium hip. Which I chose to have placed in me.

One bitterly cold February morning in 2006, I was out for a run in Fort Tryon Park. Looking upward, dazzled by the brilliantly cerulean sky, I failed to see the sharply pointed rock jutting out if the earth just in front of my toe. I tripped and flew a bit upward before falling down. My right hip landed squarely on that rock.

“It’s definitely fractured,” my surgeon affirmed, looking at my x-rays. “You must have fallen just right.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I was running faster than I’d run in weeks. I just got over bronchitis and. . . “

“You’ve got options,” he mumbled impatiently. “I could fix it. But you’ll have pain, and you’ll limp. Or I can replace it. Then it won’t bother you at all. Except when you fly.”

He was half right. It only presents a problem when I fly out of an American city. I’ve flown out of cities in Israel, Taiwan, Thailand, Italy, UK, Hong Kong, Turks & Caicos, among others, and I have never been subjected to so much as a second look. In fact, in most places, because of my age, I don’t have to wait on lines, and people go out of their way to be helpful. A body scanner readily picks up the hot spot near my groin, and other countries’ agents recognize the piece of metal that is my bionic hip. No problem. Off I go. But in the US, I’m treated with the care and respect reserved for foreign terrorists.

To be fair, some TSA agents are nicer about it than others. Some are even downright kind. At LaGuardia last month, the woman who responded to the request for a “Female Assist” was personable, friendly. She apologized and did her business quickly. It’s never fun, but in that case, the experience was not humiliating. I flew to Chicago without a single case of the willies.

The agent in Chicago at my return flight made up for the deficit by providing me with a full dose of creepiness.

It began with a bit of drama back at my hotel.

My room’s safe, where I had put my wallet for security’s sake while I attended a wedding on the South Side the night before, was so secure that it refused to open for me. The hotel had only one person with the key to open it, and he did not arrive to liberate my valuables until ten minutes after I should have headed to the airport. By the time I reached the airport, it was nearly time to board. Flights to NY that day were overbooked, and I wanted to get home. I knew, however, that if I gave the TSA people any inkling that I was in a hurry, I would irritate them.

“I need the body scanner – prosthetic hip,” I announced in the practiced, sing-song voice I’ve developed for the statement.

“Female Assist,” the cry went up.

A formidable woman appeared from somewhere else. Imposingly muscular, at least three inches taller than I, she sauntered toward me in her best John Wayne posture and looked down at me with disdain. I’ve come to the conclusion that the TSA HR looks for candidates with resting bitch faces and eyes that shout “NOTERRORISTWILLFOOLME.”

“Feet on the yellow,” she growled. “I said ON the yellow. Hands up. Higher. Hold still. Stand still.”

I emerged from the cell and waited. It took her at least a minute to get back to me. The picture in the scanner was exactly as I expected. Even though I was wearing no jewelry, no braces, no underwear, there was a dark spot on my collarbone and a large one in my hip and groin area. I have no idea what that is at my collarbone. It’s always there. The hip is self-explanatory.

“You’ll have to be patted down,” she growled again. This time she was clearly annoyed. It was my fault.

“I’m gonna have to pat you down on your breasts, your buttocks, your waist, your groin, your . . . “

“Could you just do it please?”

“Not till I’ve said what I need to say.” She started over, droning on about where she would be putting her hands. I think I groaned. She stopped and stared at me with an unmistakable death threat. “I can have you taken into a private room for this if you don’t like it here.”

“It’s okay,” I shuddered. “I was just thinking my plane is going to leave without me.

“We gotta do our job.”

“I understand.” She stood staring at me. I must have sounded sarcastic. No wonder. I should have just held my breath. Instead I said, “I never have this trouble anywhere but in America. Everywhere else, they. . . “

“Well maybe you should ’a’ stayed somewhere else then. You put our country in danger, we don’t want you here.”

I shut up.

She patted me down not once but twice in each of the specified areas. The second time she even pushed her gloved hand roughly down my pants. I closed my eyes so I could not see the other passengers, hurrying by on their way to their flights, stop to stare at the menacing old woman being detained at the TSA station.

When she was finally done, the agent made me endure a hand check. More waiting. Finally, she scowled at me and said, “You can go now. But next time? Maybe you should just stay home.”

 

The Hero – Dan Alon

 

Dan Alon, speaking at the British West Indies Collegiate School, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, March 2017.

If I ever resented Dan Alon, it was because I failed him in a number of ways. Never deliberately, never with malice. I failed him by allowing myself to be cowed by the force of his persona. But I loved him almost from the moment I met him, when I recognized on him the mark of the survivor.

By the time I met Dan, a secret had been twisting inside him for nearly thirty-four years. Anyone who knew him knew he had been on the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Games in 1972. Anyone who stopped to consider would know he had survived the massacre. But as often happens with survivors, who walk away unscathed, his experience was of no consequence to anyone. He harbored a clandestine self-loathing, a remorse that he had not taken action against the terrorists who killed his eleven teammates. He felt dead inside. In truth, though he was hardly able to admit it to himself, he wished he had died.

All this he told me the first time I met him. At the behest of a mutual friend, a filmmaker who had read a story I had written for a former Massad agent, Dan came to the US from Tel Aviv to interview me. The film Munich returned the Munich Massacre to public consciousness, and Dan had recently been convinced to share his story as a cautionary tale. He was ready to broaden his audience, to make it available to the world at large. For that he needed a book.

In the first minutes, we established a kinship. His father had run from the growing darkness of anti-Semitism in Hungary to Zagreb, where he had been part of the Jabotinsky Youth movement. My mother, who was nearly the same age as his father, had lived in Zagreb until her family fled, and she, too, was a Jabotinsky follower. My mother’s father forced her to abandon her Zionist dream and come to America. Dan’s father went to Israel and joined the Ir Gun.

Dan could see that having been my mother’s first child, having watched her grow into her ability to share her experience, I knew a little something about what he felt. We talked about the way in which a survivor becomes a member of the walking dead. We talked about the way guilt and sadness block out all other feelings. Despite his great love for his wife and children, he had felt emotionally constipated. By sharing the story, he said, and by feeling that it was a worthwhile tale, he was reborn.

We worked for four years to finish the book. In the end, I should have hired insisted we hire an editor. I would have liked it to have been so much better than it was. Further, I failed to get Dan to open up and disclose the enormity of the self-deprecation, of the imposter anxiety that darkened his life, took him out of fencing, nearly usurped all his happinesses. He would not allow me to write about those, but those, I believed, would have served his audiences at least as much as the details of his escape and re-entry into the world.

He was a frustrating taskmaster. I knew I was right. But I didn’t know how to win the arguments. He paid me. He paid for all aspects of the publishing. He was in charge. I had no leverage. But it was clear to me I should fight. My acquiescence to his intensely masculine insistence that he control every word cost the book some integrity.

No matter. From 2005 until last year, Dan traveled doggedly around the world, sharing his tale with school groups and Synagogue elders, with athletes and intellectuals. On several occasions, we spoke together.

In March of 2015, he came to NY, and we appeared at a Chabad convocation on the upper west side together. He was already looking ill, and he was re-experiencing some of the PTSD symptoms that had abated. He told me he was tired. “You,” he said, “should be doing these appearances instead of me. I can’t do this traveling. It’s too much.” But whenever he was invited, Dan went. Even as his health was deteriorating.

In November of 2016, we were invited to be on a panel moderated by Bob Costas in a program called Torch Talks, a benefit for the Gerrard Berman Day School in New Jersey. Along with an auspicious complement of experts, we discussed the lessons of Munich. The evening was a tremendous success. Dan was exhausted.

Soon after, I was invited to interview Dan in Turks & Caicos, at an event sponsored by the Chabad rabbi there. The entire population of the islands was invited, and the rabbi succeeded in bringing a large, diverse audience to the hall for two sold-out presentations. The second was an especially brilliant last appearance for Dan. When the audience stood at the end of the talk, they stood with love and admiration for the hero he was.

A hero who was seriously ill. Who probably should not have made the trip. I asked if he had seen a doctor. “I have.” He sputtered. “He’s an idiot.” Dan was certain that the preliminary diagnosis of stomach cancer was a mistake, that the doctor was ignorant. His wife Adele, who had accompanied him on this trip, is a nurse. She shook her head. She knew the truth.

Despite the pain in his belly, despite the fact that his body was shrinking rapidly out of his clothing, despite his overwhelming fatigue, Dan’s message made its mark. After he wept through the details of his ordeal at Munich, he spoke of the need for tolerance, for understanding, for a spirit of community to replace the divisions that create enmities. His very presence was proof that in the aftermath of great disaster, human beings can rebuild and recommit to living. “You go on,” he said. “You prevail. That is your victory.”

Heroism is often defined as something grand like standing up to a despot or dashing into a burning building to save a neighbor’s cat. But true heroism is also quiet, introspective. It’s the resolve to make a life that matters, to give back to the world for the gifts it has doled out. Dan appreciated his renaissance. He knew how very lucky he was and never took that for granted. He carried the enormous burden of Munich wherever he went, and he showed his gratitude by teaching us all how to live with dignity.

Three Dead Men

It’s been a rough month for understanding emotions. In a rush of sudden departures, I have lost three complex men, with whom my relationships were equally complicated. What follows is my initial effort to rummage through the shadows and identify my most honest responses to their deaths. Not a simple task.

All three were remarkable. One narcissist, one divo, and one hero. All brilliant. All loving, hateful, kind, and even abusive. You were right Bobby Burns. 

The Narcissist

Urs in 2008 – He loved this image of himself

The first death notice was for Urs, a former lover and confidant, who died suddenly in Switzerland. After years of dickering about how and if, Urs and his brother were finally renovating the family homestead near Zürich. In typical Urs fashion, he was cavalierly riding atop a trailer loaded with trash. He slid off and fell under a tractor wheel, which instantly crushed him. My first reaction when I heard the news was a simple nod. Every time I walked or biked with Urs in traffic, I would beg him to observe caution, to obey street signs, to listen to oncoming traffic. He laughed. It was, he reminded me, his desire to go suddenly, without pomp. “I wish to be snatched into the void before I have time to think about it or to be a burden to my children,” he declared. Death by garbage truck became him.

A self-proclaimed polymath, Urs was a financial wiz, a legal eagle, a filmmaker, a photographer, a writer, a painter, a collector. He loved art and argument, music and mental mayhem. His self-absorption was peerless. In his mind, everything revolved around him. He imagined every eye was on him from morning till night. He owned enough pairs of glasses – he called them his mood measurers – to open a curiosity shop of eyewear and had closets full of clothing that would make the Kardashian women seem frugal. He cast all rules of engagement, suffered no fools, tolerated no dissension. I knew that if I didn’t agree with him, if I didn’t like what he chose or did or wanted, he was finished with me. That was all. And for reasons I hardly understood, I was okay with that. Perhaps it was because, at the same time, he could surprise me with his generosity. He arranged a career-changing job for me, and that job took me to London, where I was able to live for nearly three months, thanks entirely to his hospitality. He believed in the opportunity, and he believed in me. . . so long as I was in some way an extension of him.

Urs had a rapier wit, a deep appreciation for irony and The Absurd. He was expert at mugging, and his jokes were delightful. I lost myself in him, allowing his intellect to eclipse mine, encouraging him to void my will. He was an anomaly, and I might have fallen in love with but for his abject cruelty.

One day, as we walked in the NY neighborhood where my son and his family lived, we happened to meet up with my daughter-in-law. She was only a few weeks post-partum and was having her nails done in a local salon. Urs greeted her in the European manner, kissing her on each cheek before he announced imperiously for all to hear, “You look terrible. Did you know you’ve become quite saftig?”

That night, as we prepared for bed, I demanded that Urs apologize. Without discussion, he ordered me to leave. “It’s the middle of the night,” I whined. “You’ll have to walk me home or come down and hail me a cab.” Wordlessly, he pointed me to a mattress on the floor in an adjacent room. At first light, I went home. We were done.

Il Divo

No one was as able as The Coach to elicit genuine brilliance from young singers.

Next was “Dr. Coach,” my longtime collaborator and cheerleader.

I can still hear the sonorous voice that greeted me over the phone the first time I encountered him. “Hello,” it crooned. “Carla Stockton, this is __________, Ph.D., and I have heard so very much about you. I am calling to make an offer I know you won’t refuse.” I didn’t. How could I?

The offer was the job of artistic director for an educational summer theater program for which he was musical director. Ours became a fertile partnership. For several years, we created spectacular productions together – putting talented kids to work building sets, creating costumes, stage managing, acting, and singing for works such as Into the Woods, Most Happy Fella, Sweeney Todd, A Chorus Line, Pippin . . . .

People were astounded. The music we chose was challenging – highly operatic, written for seasoned performers – and the kids nailed it every time. That was all Coach. He could have coaxed music from a plank of wood, and his ability to evoke musical perfection from our charges, to motivate them to reach ever loftier goals, was nothing short of magical. I worked with many music directors over my years in educational theater. Never did I encounter anyone as effective a teacher as he was.

But he had a dark side. He was prone to mad bouts of depression during which he became surly, abusive. He berated me for every possible flaw, both real and imagined, I might have. “You spend too much time on the chorus scenes when we should be working the quartet. Let the idiots go, and focus on our stars.” “Your hair is getting too long, and I think you need a new look. Tell that skinflint of a husband of yours to get you a haircut and a new outfit. I’m tired of jeans.” “You’ll never understand this music. I sometimes think you have a tin ear.” He also had some troubling proclivities.

At the time, Coach was a 60-something-year-old man with a yen for school-aged women. Especially for the youngest, prettiest, most voluptuous, most gifted. Over the years I knew him, he never expressed interest in any woman older than 18. Fortunately, however, he was careful and self-aware, and I never worried he would do anything untoward.

During preparations for a show, he would call me after each rehearsal to share with me which girls he was lusting after. I think he did that to shield himself, to hear me say how absurd it was, what a ridiculous fancy. He never touched them, never crossed any lines of impropriety. I listened and chided him without scolding, encouraging him to continue confiding in me and to continue holding himself back. His passion seemed to enable him to be a kind of Pygmalion for the women he craved, breathing splendiferous life into voices they did not realize they had.

Before the first summer theater season began, I called on Coach to collaborate on a project at the high school where I was employed. I had been asked to direct the senior class production of Into the Woods. I knew there was no way I could pull that show off without a superior music director. Despite the fact that he was in the thick of his choir duties at his school, in addition to the performance he and his students were preparing to take to Washington, Coach eagerly added my project. In auditions, we were dumbfounded by the discovery of a young woman with a flawless soprano voice. She had never sung before, she said, but she already commanded a full three-octave range, and her high notes were the purest I had ever heard. Coach was instantly smitten. He threw himself into the task of coaching her to play the very demanding role of the Witch. She, too, immersed herself in the work.

Every night after rehearsal, Coach would call me and pour out his besotted fantasies. Every day we would go back into rehearsals, where he would maintain complete decorum. Their efforts resulted in a wondrous performance. I have never heard “Children Will Listen” sung as well as that child delivered it. The innocence in our witch’s crystalline voice resonated, gave the song added import. Children did listen.

In 1998, at Coach’s insistence, I wrote a successful grant proposal for a conservatory-style summer program that had an afterschool training component in Bel Canto voice and Shakespearean acting. The State of Connecticut gave us an unprecedented amount of money. We hired actors and technicians and instructors, artists to create seminars and field trips. We were able to produce four plays in repertory. We recruited students from all over the state, and we met in a classroom at a local university from September till May. Then, in the summer, we housed our students at the same campus and bused them to our host high school, where they attended classes and seminars, rehearsed the plays they were in, ate the three meals we provided. We were able to hire dorm supervisors and to take elaborate field trips. It was a golden year, and we were the talk of New Haven County. We could have become an institution. Until Coach lost his resolve.

Soon after summer rehearsals began, Coach realized he could not live without one of our stars. She was a delightful young woman, beautiful and innocent, with a glorious voice. At first, Coach kept his feelings to himself, controlled his cravings. But each day brought him new frustration, and by the second week of the three-week rehearsal run, he was telling not just me but anyone who would listen that he could hardly contain himself any longer. He even told his male students. He was in love, he moaned, and he just must, must, must tell her. At this point, my tolerance waned. “You can’t tell her. You have to stop telling your boys. And you cannot touch her. This has to stop NOW.” He curbed his hunger, but we were no longer friends.

I was sad to lose him, but I was diverted by personal concerns and paid no attention to what he was up to. He took advantage of my silence and spread nasty rumors. He told parents of some of our young techies that I had cheated them out of pay. He told the district I had pilfered money intended for buses. He told colleagues in the community that I had subverted the program, and his accusations ensured that our grant was not renewed. I only learned about the tales much later, by which time I had no desire to engage with him on any level. I settled into my life and assumed that we would eventually become acquaintances with memories of a very successful collaboration.

Sometime in 2006, and I saw him examining the produce in a local market. Spreading my arms wide, I declared, ”_____________, Ph.D., I haven’t seen you in forever!” He glowered at me for a millisecond, then turned his back and walked away.

The Hero – DAN ALON, his story follows in the next entry.

A Clockwork Orange . . . Live!

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My first thought when the gaggle of middle school-aged boys boarded my crosstown bus was how lucky that I’d be disembarking soon. They were without adult companions, clearly coming from an after-school activity, exuding the day’s pent-up exuberance. The two years I spent as an 8th-grade classroom teacher and my years in youth drama taught me well to expect noise and boisterous behavior. Nothing prepared me for what they actually brought onto that bus.

Nothing except perhaps Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange dystopia.

There were ten of them. The oldest looked to be a few months shy of his fifteenth birthday. Small, smooth-faced, and wiggly, they seemed adorable – all cherubic faces and cuddly little bodies. Giddy, silly boys volleying jocular epithets in half-changed voices that vacillated from soprano to crackling baritone.

“You call that a jump shot? Dude. He was just standing on tippytoes like he was spitting at the hoop.”

“Truth, man? I don’t give a &*&* about no jump shot. I’m down with the cheerleaders.”

“No shit! I’d be down with them. Literally. Like down in all that . . . .”

I could not believe what I was hearing. Suddenly, without warning, the banter turned brutish.

“You see Lilly this mornin’?”

“She looked hot.”

“Right? That’s some rack she’s carryin’ – and that booty. I just wanna. . . . ”

“I got plans for that one. Oh yeah. You c’n help. One of these days after school, we could drag her into the girls’ room. We cover her mouth so she can’t scream, and we . . . . “

The child went on to describe his plan for the girl in question, a plan that turned darker as his giggles grew more mirthful. In lurid detail, he shared the stages of a rape he had in mind. He and his friends bounced up and down like toddlers on a trampoline. Raucous laughter crescendoed to cheering as his words slithered toward the narrative’s climax. Shrill expletives pierced the bus walls with vile, violent language.

My fellow passengers and I sat stock still, afraid to look at the boys, afraid to change expressions. No one moved, no one spoke. Our heads down, we all struggled to conceal our collective grimace.

I escaped at the fifth stop. And as I caught my breath, my guilt set in.

I should have spoken up. I teach older students, and I have never been afraid of confrontation. Why was it that I was so intimidated, that we all were so intimidated by this group of changelings?

For one thing, the boys’ behavior was all too familiar. We see it on Youtube, on Facebook, in the news, in our midsts. Youthful aggressors testing their limits by whatever displays of disrespect they can muster. They carry amplifying devices in the streets and on public transportation, blasting their angry music in all directions. They push old people out of their way to take seats when the vehicles are crowded, and they lash out at anyone who gets to a seat ahead of them. A very fat girl pushed me aside so she could occupy three spaces on a crowded D-train one day, and when I scowled, she stomped on my foot to make sure I knew my place. We are unprepared for this madness, and so we are silent. These kids are empowered by forces we strain to understand.

In NY, quality of life laws have been thrown to the wayside, and the police are powerless to silence the noise or search for guns. It’s clear to those of us who live among the toughest ones that they are packing. We can see the firearms that are only perfunctorily concealed beneath hoodies and oversized sweatpants. But we can do nothing.

Who in their right mind would speak up? There are myriad stories circulating about the danger of dissent. So little as a disapproving face can incite an assault.

The country is led by a moronic bully, whose mentality is exactly like these boys’. He brags about his exploits, disrespects just about everybody, throws his considerable weight around without concern for anyone but himself, and he publicly uses language that makes him sound tough to adolescents. Our so-called president is an overgrown middle-schooler with no self-constraint, and he licenses our children to feel impervious. We can’t touch them. They are in control.

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From a parody by Hugh Atkins

These kids are even less sophisticated than Burgess’ droogs.* They navigate a real-life Orwellian Airstrip, speak mindless newspeak, and eschew reason. To them war is peace, hate is love, and respect is folly. They need fear no one. There is no consequence anyone dares dole that impresses them.

And therein lies my great despair. And guilt. How do we stand up to it all? To the evil empire that has the country in its grip? To the oppressiveness of racism and classism that holds us all down? To the bonds of overzealous liberalism that makes it impossible to protect a city from itself? To the mob mentality that has put us where we are and to the other one that holds us prisoners to political correctness?

There must be a way to drive America sane.

I just wish I knew what that way is.

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*members of street gangs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ME TOO

The “Me too” posts on social media have me feeling ill at ease. I recognize the courage of those speaking up. In the not so distant past, we were ashamed to admit aloud that we had been violated. As victims, we bore the blame and thus were silenced. This new openness is potentially promising. I want to believe that the phrase might become the refrain of a liberation anthem. But I remain skeptical.

Forgive me for this, my sisters, but “Me too” feels too pat. It seems like another in a series of earnest empty slogans. I fear we are too easily lulled into the hope that our words will ignite sudden revelation among those people – both male and female – who have long perpetuated the abusively misogynist old boys’ club that runs most of the institutions in this country. But I have a strong sense that once the system has slapped a few wrists, has made a great show of punishing a few Weinsteins, has vented astonishment, everything will simply revert to the way it was before. No consciousness will be permanently raised. No significant change will be affected.

Of course, I, too, have been assaulted, molested, discriminated against. So have my daughters and my sisters and my cousins and most of the women I love. Most of the women I know. Like them, I’ve passed up opportunities that were offered in the trade of self. I’ve been disrespected and denigrated, and I have been relegated to the status of chattel. Most recently, as an older woman, I have witnessed the same humiliation wearing a new mantle. Suddenly, my many talents and considerable intellect are deemed as unworthy as my body. Since I am no longer able to procreate, my ability to write, to think, to speak, to teach is no longer desirable. I see the hatred for my womanhood all around me. In the sneering faces of men who shove me aside on the subway or the angry stares shot at me when I raise my voice to dissent. I am blanketed in wrath and menace.

But I am a lucky one. I have never been beaten to within an inch of my life. Nor have I been raped in a way that left me consigned to a lifetime of PTSD. There are those who have. And my saying “Me too” implies that the ways in which I was trespassed against are equal to the more lethal ravishments suffered by my cohorts. In my mind, that homogenization of the brutality dilutes the urgency, belittles their misery. And belies the desperateness of the situation. Change needs to happen. Now. There is no excuse for the perpetuation of this hideous status quo.

Chanting “Me too,” we are a choir of outliers. We seek safety in the company of our peers, but who else is listening? Do the others – the guys in charge, the ones with the power to alter the circumstances – really hear? Our “Me too” seems to lack gravitas with them.In my mind is a pervasive image: We girls are gathered on one side of a great hall, the boys on the other. They are snickering.  They are pointing, saying, “There they go again, those girls. They think they’re making sense, but we know they only make whatever sense we say they make. Let’s wink at them, laugh, wave, nod, tell them they’re terrific. They’ll see we think they’re cute, and they’ll go back to doing their nails or whatever it is they were doing before this silly idea popped into their heads.”

I want more than a slogan, more than a chant, more than a refrain.  I want to see a true movement of women. One wherein women stop trying to undercut one another, stop vying for men’s attention, stop trying to trip their sisters as the sisters climb up the various ladders of achievement. I want a movement of women that offers true support to those who need the assistance of the sisterhood. A movement that empowers women and disempowers the male-dominated offices that disable us daily. A movement that stands up to the assaulters and the abusers and the disrespecters and makes it clear that we are not going to take it anymore. A women’s movement that is all-inclusive, that does not bar participation by ANY human being who identifies as a woman. Politics have no business in this movement. We need to form a circle and link arms and fend off the forces that would relegate us to a weaker sex, imprison us in our imposed inferiority.

Women need to see that there will continue to be “me too” generations till the end of time until and unless we women put a stop to it. By standing together, we could take over the system. We could do more than right the wrongs aimed at us. Our power could enact safer gun controls, create affordable universal health care,  reduce our collective carbon footprints, viably reform public education, etc. We could make life less terrifying for all.

With something like true unity, we could conceivably change the world.

That’s when I’ll pipe up with a “Me too.”

 

 

Oh, Mallory, I Wish There’d Been More Time!

There is something oddly prophetic in this photo, and it captures so much of who she was.

A jarring message found me in Asia the other day. Mallory Diedrich, still months shy of her 48th birthday, had died of a heart attack. Shock and dismay soon gave way to deep sadness.  All the promises we made to make up for lost time now just spittle in the wind.

I first met Mallory Diedrich when she was fresh out of college, student teaching at North Haven High, where I taught English and Drama. She was young, excited, and delighted to jump in and help out with our production work. I was grateful, but I hardly got to know her. We were both busy – me with my assorted lives and she with hers. But I was able to discern three essential insights.

  1. Mallory loved theater and horses in interchangeable order. (This was pre-Matt, who added a third love that took first place always. But that came later.)
  2. Mallory was a seasoned stage manager, the kind high school theater directors rarely get to work with.
  3. Mallory was enormously generous with her time and her resources.

Unaware how much I would come to depend on them, I stored the tidbits in a corner of my brain.

Some years later, at a time when my life was falling apart in all kinds of ways, Mallory called me to tell me there was a job for a director at a youth theater in the Valley. She had signed on to stage manage and had recommended the board hire me as director. I needed that job terribly. Thanks to Mallory, I got it.

At the time, for a number of reasons, I was a mess. As a result, the theater production I was hired to direct was also a mess. I should have self-destructed and would have. Were it not for Mallory.

As SM, Mall covered for me in forty different ways. Maybe a hundred. She kept me from being fired. She smoothed over some of the worst blunders. There were too many ways she fixed things to enumerate. Suffice it to say that , thanks to Mallory, the kids had a positive experience. Then, to round off her sainthood, Mallory saved my life.

Bagelfish and I found a home here, thanks to Mallory and Matthew.

In the midst of other chaos erupting around me, my thirty-three-year marriage fell apart. I had not expected that to happen. I became a certifiable train wreck. With no money, no place to go, and I had to leave. Mallory and her husband Matt had just bought a compound on Townsend Avenue, and it needed some work before they could rent out the units. Mallory offered me a home, told me not to worry about paying her until I could figure it all out. Not only did I move in, but my Bagel Fish Productions partner and his wife got a good deal on another unit, and Mallory and Matt adopted our company.

The rest of The Compound

For two years, then, I lived on Townsend Avenue. Bagel Fish hosted Nosferatu screenings and offered screenwriting and acting classes, made a couple of short films in the house where I was living. We even commandeered Mall and Matt’s dog Natalie and their house for a mockumentary we made about a woman who ran a pet yoga center. Mallory and Matt believed so entirely in our work that they kept our rent ridiculously low and accepted a trade of work in lieu of any real money. When I left the compound, I felt like I was leaving a support system, one I knew I would never find anywhere else. That was fourteen years ago.

Mallory and I were only minimally in touch in recent years. Of course, I saw her at the sad funeral for Mallory and Matthew’s firstborn Adam. But I have never met Jace. We chatted on Facebook, exchanged notes every once in a while. She and I both raved about the joy of sharing the Stepping Stones Children’s Museum with little ‘n’s and promised we’d meet there – she with Jace and I with my granddaughters – but all three of the children grew out of the place, and still we had not met. Just a few weeks ago, I received another poke on FB and a note from her. “Are we ever going to do this?” She asked.

Apparently not. For which I am deeply sorry.

I am also sorry I didn’t know Mallory better. She was a deeply good woman, who was always willing to share. Her love was abundant, and we all knew that by the gifts she so easily dispensed to her family and friends.

Jace has lost the best mom he could have had, and Matthew has lost his great true love. Both of them will go on, but neither will ever be whole in the same way again. My great hope is that Matthew talks about Mallory a lot. That all their friends and family members share with Jace what a treasure she was. That he grows up knowing that she was deeply treasured, greatly loved by people he will likely never know. He should be proud that Mallory Diedrich chose to be his mother.

Let her live in all our hearts and stories.