Monday, February 12, 2018

A Report From the Front Lines of the Revolution

As the #metoo movement continues to roil the American landscape, males are seeing the world as we have known it changing before our eyes.  Men who believed themselves to be evolved have stepped on their own tongues with statements that inadvertently endorsed the patriarchal society that we live in.  Women were quick to condemn such statements, pointing out the fortress of male privilege that has sheltered us from the day we were born, lottery winners for simply being born white and male in America.

As a result, a lot of men are staying on the sidelines, afraid to say or do the wrong thing.  “I’m just working on ‘me’ right now,” they seem to be saying.  “I’m not really looking for a movement right now.”  I’m not just referring to some fictional other…I’m afraid to write about it.  I’ve never been afraid to write about anything.  I initiated conversations with different women of different ages, classes and family situations, trying to educate myself.  “I’m going to write about it,” I insisted to my friend Marlena. 

“You’re gonna get killed,” she declared flatly.

I insisted she was wrong.  Yet these are the first words I’ve published about #metoo after all these months and I see myself at this time as more of a reporter.

Marlena often feels like SHE is standing on the sidelines of the struggle.  She finds it frustrating having others who share the same goals telling her how and where she should protest.  How loud and how high and how long, and aren’t we (as women) doing to EACH OTHER one of the very things we are accusing the men of doing?

So she sees herself as being in the reserves.  She is not on the front lines but will respond to the bugle’s call.  She told me recently about being called up for duty.

It happened at one of the grand old theatres, during the intermission of a play.  The restrooms were jammed with people, though the men’s lines moved much quicker in and out of the swinging doors.  Calculating a shorter line on another floor, Marlena took a chance on a lower floor, and then the basement level, finding only an even longer line, filled with other women who had, like her, gambled and lost.  The other floors were now out of the question.  It would be the basement or nothing.

Waiting behind the other impatient, disgruntled theatregoers, one of the women in back said, “Look at that.”  All heads swiveled to the men’s room across the basement, where there wasn’t a soul in sight.  The Instigator said, “I’ll bet there’s not even anybody in there.”  Then she followed with “I’m going to go see if there’s anybody in there.”  She strode across the basement lobby and peered inside the restroom door.  She turned around and shouted to the other women, “There’s two guys at the urinals.  I’m goin’ in!”  She wasn’t alone for long.  Three other women…and Marlena…got out of line for the ladies room and went to infiltrate the male domain.

“We all go rushin’ in there,” Marlena told me, “and one-by-one they ran into those stalls and locked the door.  SLAM-CLICK, SLAM-CLICK, SLAM-CLICK, SLAM-CLICK…and suddenly it occurs to me that we are going to be one stall short, and that someone is me.”

No one chooses to be a part of that moment.  That moment chooses you.  It is your fate calling and asking, how will you respond?  I suppose you’re wondering about Marlena…

“Well, have you ever seen a bird caught in the house?” she asked.  “I was trying to fly this way or that way, and there were these two guys at the urinals and they were SCARED and then I couldn’t figure out where the door was…”

By this time, more women had abandoned the line outside the ladies room to join the resistance.  Seeing that there were no more stalls, they all retreated from the men’s room to wait until the remaining men had departed.  The men did appear in short order.  They were a little freaked out, which seems understandable.  But the women didn’t back down, either. They stood up straight and they held their chins high as the men returned to their seats and the women took over the restroom in its entirety.  No one summoned an usher or called a cop.  The battle was over without a single shot being fired.  Still, Marlena was invigorated by the action.  “I was at the revolution,” she said, “but I still had to wait.”

Which might be as good a report as I can make at this time.  Gains are made every day by women who are no longer going to accept the status quo under any circumstances.  They are doing it themselves.  Sometimes, they are going to have to wait.  But they are not going to wait long or suffer in silence at all.

Let’s face it, boys, they’re smarter than us in any practical way I can think of, they’re tougher than we give them credit for, they are the only ones that can create life and, for goodness sake, they even LIVE longer.  They are not going to back down because they don’t want to and they don’t have to.

So in addition to ‘working on ourselves’, we should really be engaging with the women in our lives and becoming more familiar with what they are seeing and hearing from us.  We need to celebrate their successes. We have to call our buddies on their bullshit because it’s not funny and it’s not okay.  Not because we love women or because they’re pretty but because it is the right thing to do. 

Male or female, someday, someone may ask, “What did YOU do during the #metoo movement?” What will you say?  Your answer may be very important.  As many of us are already aware, there’s nothing worse than hearing that “SLAM-CLICK!” …and finding you’re on the wrong side of the door.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Day I Climbed A Tree

Remembrances of my youth are rich with evidence
Of foolish chances taken without thought to consequence
Falls I took when I was ten were merely cause for laughter
With no thought of how I’d feel some forty long years after

But I take it philosophically
There’s no one to blame but me
Still upright, if not quite erect
Merely middle-aged! (Last time I checked)

I must admit, to myself, my body paid the cost
Of the paradises won, and of the paradises lost
The times I most lament my loss of guts and agility
Are when I watch a child commence to climbing up a tree

Such delicious memories!
The branches swaying with the breeze
A summer day here…(or anywhere!)
Why’d you climb that tree? (‘Cause it was there!)

And from that tree I’d take a trip
Climbing the main sail of my ship
Or scaling a mountain on my own
Or just navigating through parts unknown

Do you remember World War Three?
I fought those battles high up in a tree
Yes, I outwitted Russian trickery
In the embrace of a gnarled hickory

I hung upside down and played ‘trapeze’
On low-hanging branches of sky-reaching trees
(“It seems too safe!” my younger self was convinced...
‘til one day I fell off, then it all made sense)

But a day comes along eventually
(It might not for you but it sure did for me)
When all that I wanted for the rest of my life
Was the girl whose initials I’d carved with my knife

The trunk still carries that old weathered mark
Scratched into the pulp that lay beneath the bark
Though I still love the girl, I sometimes miss the boy
Who climbed to the top of a black walnut for joy!

If you never climbed a tree, you don’t have to take my word
All it takes is some gumption and the courage to go skyward
(But if you’re my age, please listen to my pitch:
The climbing can be glorious but the falling is a bitch!)

Though I complain when raking each Autumn
I love all my trees, from the top to the bottom
But I wish I could play, like I did way back then
And be ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ on his vine once again

I’m balding and I’m wrinkled, but I wear my age with pride
I didn’t get to ‘do it all’ (but God knows that I tried!)
But if someday, my ancient memories slip away from me
I hope that God will leave me one...from a day I climbed a tree.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Happy Trails

Well, Lyle, if you’re not at the final round-up already, I’m guessing it won’t be long.  When I look at the pictures from more than thirty years ago, I hope you are at peace, even if you don’t remember your name anymore.  Despite my somewhat intimate knowledge of your life, I have no idea where or how you are.  Did you ever meet Felicia?

Someone tossed out your old photo album.  That’s how we met.  I’m guessing you have entered some sort of assisted living or…you know.  Whether it was a relative or just someone that was clearing your house, I found the album in a trash can.  It must have been a popular volume.  It has clearly been thumbed through a number of times.  Because of the captions you wrote, I’m guessing you liked to show this one around.

It’s got a lot of detail about that trip out west in ’85, when you met up with your brother and sister in Vegas and motored on to California.  It looks like you three took the measure of the Sundance Hotel and Casino!  You did your share of gambling, visited the steakhouse and even played some canasta when you got back to the room.  From the grins on your faces, you all had a great time.  I will respect your wishes and NOT ask how much you lost…but from the way you wrote it, it sure looked like you WANTED someone to ask.  You and your siblings all looked to be about fifty at the time…I hope you had more opportunities to get together.

Did you know that Sundance became the Fitzgerald Hotel in the nineties and is now known as ‘The D’, a Detroit-themed casino?  It’s one of the more popular spots on Fremont Street, Lyle.  Of course, you probably preferred the western motif from the era when you visited.  I wonder if you saw any cocktail waitresses that reminded you of Felicia.

It was nice of you to buy flowers before you went to see your Mom’s grave site.  One of them is   
still pressed between the pages.  There is a certain symmetry to buying Mums for Moms.  Who took the picture by the gravestone?  Was it your nephew?

I’m assuming it was, because he probably would have done anything for you after you came to see him in the school play.  And then afterward, how you posed for a picture with your arm around him?  He looks like he’s going to pop the buttons on his vest…and you do, too.  I wonder if your nephew knew that you saved the program.  You sure are a good uncle, Lyle.

The family reunion looked like a blast.  Everybody crowded into the group shots but they’ve got you right in the middle, so surely you were one of the honored guests.  The barbeque looks delicious.  I’m guessing it was a hot day…you’re a little red-faced, though whether that’s from the heat or the twelve-ounce cans is impossible for me to know.  Did you see the guy that sent you that snapshot of Felicia?  And don’t play dumb with me, Lyle, I know you remember the one.  Someone wrote on the back: 

I was in my apartment three days before I met my neighbor.  We share the same back yard.  I teach her English and she teaches me French.  Eat your heart out!

The front of the photo is a posed shot of a very beautiful, scantily-clad woman in a garden.  The hairstyle tells me it was taken in the early seventies.  That you had this stashed in the back of your photo album tells me something as well…I just can’t puzzle it out.  Felicia is probably someone’s Grandma now.  She probably wears a lot more clothing to do the gardening now, too.

I never saw anyone give their dog a party for graduating from obedience school.  I had never seen a dog eating at the table with his owner either, but I have now.  The smile on your face said you were good with it.

I wonder if you ever regret not marrying or becoming a father.  And Lyle, I have to think of you as a lifelong bachelor because, you see, I can’t bear the idea of someone throwing your photo album in the garbage.  I had nearly reached the last page of the album and was consumed with sadness over someone tossing your carefully collected memories away.  But you had one more surprise for me, didn’t you?

Inside the back cover, a larger page torn out of an album of formal portraits was stashed. It contained a professionally photographed 8 x 10, with “Lyle, 2nd Birthday” penciled on the reverse.  The photo is of you, my friend, dressed in a cowboy outfit complete with hat, vest, chaps and boots, atop a Shetland pony that wore a dress saddle.  This was clearly a much-loved boy.  You were someone’s little man, someone’s cherished child.

I had to keep it, Lyle, and I hope you would approve.  Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but I believe old cowboys never die…they just ride off into the sunset.  So if you are still with us, I wish you another day on the range.  If you have left us, I wish you sweet dreams of open prairies, an untamed wilderness and a gal back home named Felicia.

Happy Trails to you…’til we meet again.