Me, Too: The Thing About Thinking

Does the world really need another “Me Too” post?

At this point, I want to believe the ball is rolling, and that things will get better. I mean… if Hollywood looks like it’s about to clean house… Well, I think we all knew Hollywood’s a cess pool.

But somewhere along the line, I ran into someone who was saying–loudly, and angrily, and probably to some guy who accidentally stepped in the shit–that it is a big deal, and if he doesn’t understand why women are upset about it, it’s because every woman he knows… EVERY SINGLE ONE… has been the victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.

But that EVERY SINGLE ONE thing made me start thinking.

You know that moment, where you start looking at your friends, and counting on your fingers?

That thing where you… didn’t really consider yourself a victim. I mean, you were lucky… and well… you were lucky.

So, I started thinking about the women around me. The ones closest to me, actually. You have to be… pretty close to someone before they’re going to tell you those stories.

Do I have to tell you how this turned out?

Is it EVERY SINGLE ONE? I don’t know. But it comes close.

A little bit of concentration, and I was remembering a lot of stories.

How many? Enough that I’m starting to believe maybe it is every single one.

Which brings me to my story. My stories. Because, of course, there are stories. And the only ones I’m going to tell are my own. And I didn’t know that this was my near-miss rape story until months after the fact.

I was living in a new city. I hadn’t made a lot of connections, but I had jumped head first into the dance scene.

Now, to be clear, I’m talking about the ballroom/historical dance scene. The mostly tea-totalling, discipline and practice dance scene. So, you can imagine what an orgy that was.

And I was taking a couple months’ worth of Balboa lessons in this kitschy little bar. (When dance is popular, bars always want dancers. Then, they find out we don’t actually drink while dancing.)

So, I’ve made a few friends–not close, enduring friendships, but buddies. You know how that common-interest thing works–and we’re palling around in this bar on some off-night. Tuesday, or Thursday. Not a big-crowd night.

Round about closing time, the owner–who, by the way, I’ve never seen before–appears, and starts mixing mudslides. Free mudslides. For anybody and everybody who wants one. He’s giving away more alcohol than he sold all night long. Big, enormous, syrup-y mudslides.

And I’m sitting there, drenched in sweat–because dance is a workout–and holding the beautiful, icy-cold bottle of water I’d bought about three seconds before last call.

Mudslide doesn’t even look good.

But I say “no thank you,” and “thanks, I’m good,” and he offers a couple more times. Made real sure I knew it was free. Kinda reminds me of the way an old aunt pushes a slice of pie.

And I kept drinking water and cooling off.

The party winds down, and I walked out of there.

And I kept going back.

Absolutely nothing about that night tripped my alarms in any way. I didn’t feel unsafe. I assumed the guy knew someone in the group, or maybe that he was doing it to keep his bar in the good graces of a pretty talented DJ who happened to dance with us. You scratch my back…

There weren’t any more free drinks, but then… who really expects that?

I didn’t have any idea that anything was wrong until the bar closed suddenly, and I heard why on the evening news.

The owner had been arrested on multiple counts of first degree rape.

And the victims had been drugged. Taken up to the VIP room and raped while they were unconscious.

The bar never reopened, and eventually, the building was sold.

So, here it is. The thing about me, too. I was lucky. That’s all. Just luck. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t save myself. I didn’t know there was anything to save myself from.

And I know there are women out there–women who weren’t lucky–asking themselves what they missed. And I’m the one who can tell them. Nothing. You didn’t miss anything.

My friends and I sat in a room with a serial rapist who was laughing and pouring mudslides, and generally being a good host. A dozen of us. And not one of us saw anything.

Cemeteries and Science

Somewhere, in the Great American Prairie, on land that belonged to a town that no longer exists, you will find a small cemetery. Be sure you close the gates. You don’t want to chase the cows out, and the volunteer who mows doesn’t want to clean up after them.

Now and then, a new grave goes in–someone old enough and local enough to own a plot–but for the most part, you’re the only living person there. All the rest–the pioneers and cowboys, the homesteaders and farmers, even your own great-something-great grandfather, who used to deliver the mail a couple of times a month… they’re stories from before your time.

And if you went there often enough, you still know those stories by heart.

And you know the family names, of course. The families are still around. Mixed into bigger towns, more successful towns.

Seven children died, once. One after another, from whatever the disease was at the time. Typhoid, maybe. Cholera. Something we cure with antibiotics if modern water systems even let it through.

And their father had to bury each one, himself.

Carry the bodies out to the cemetery, tuck them into the ground, and cover them with dirt.

Their neighbors told the parents they had sinned, and judged harshly, as if they, themselves would be immune.

But, not quite sure, they made him bury his own children.

 

The Answer is Tourism. Always Tourism.

I live in a historic town.

You can tell by the road signs and billboards, and by the fact that here and there, you have a building that is more than a hundred fifty years old.

It’s not a particularly exciting history.

And honestly, it’s not that much different than the history that the other 4,683 historical small towns in my state have on display. By the luck of the draw, we were first at something, once. There’s a plaque.

And if you go on a tour of downtown, you’ll find a lot of plaques. The downtown committee put them up a few years back, so that you can read all about what the empty buildings and tumble-down ruins used to be.

There’s not a whole lot left to bring outsiders here. A few old papers in the archive, and an eclipse that will come and go this August. We got eclipse glasses printed up with our name on them.

So did the towns next door.

And down the street.

The “historic” market share is minuscule.

Sure, it worked for Williamsburg, and that picturesque little town on the river–the one with all the B&Bs and the arts festivals, every summer. The one that grows to five times its size, every year. But they got their start decades ago. Before the market was divvyed up.

Before any of the bigger towns even realized they would need to be historic.

Back when we still had businesses in those empty buildings.

Back when we were modern, and proud of it.

Choosing Trust

A while back, I wound up trapped in a conversation with one of those I’m Telling You This For Your Own Good people. The topic was critique groups, and the woman was basically a stranger.

I know you’re bracing for a horror story.

So, here it is.

Someone she knew stole her title.

I won’t tell you what the title is, but I will say that it churns up nearly a thousand results on Amazon, and it has that vaguely familiar feel to it. It’s one of those deep and meaningful titles you find on literary fiction and questionable poetry. It ain’t Snakes on a Plane.

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this, before. The general idea is that when you take your writing to a critique group, it’s in horrible danger of being stolen, and people lie, and flatter you, and really, how do you know they aren’t just saying what you want to hear to make you happy. Or, you know… ripping into you for shits and giggles.

On the other end of the spectrum is the guy who says you shouldn’t be afraid to give away all of your work. (Eventually.)

I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t think the people who criticize my writing are doing it for their own amusement, and I believe that if someone says my work is good, they actually mean it. (Whether or not they’re objective is another thing.)

I post work on my blog from time to time, and even chunks of longer works. I blog my thoughts, and I’m choosing trust every time I push the publish button. I’m not sorry.

But I’m not good at trust, either. I password protect things. I keep my website–and sometimes my writing–a secret from my real-world acquaintances. I think about things like my rough draft being sold in Lebanon without so much as being told. I’m not the jump and trust the Universe to catch you type.

There’s that voice in the back of my mind that says things that are a lot like… I’m telling you this for your own good. And… This probably sucks, you know.

And there’s the real world stuff-the at what point is it published, and how much can I share before it turns the publishing industry off? A lot of that is fuzzy math, but I think I’ve stayed in the clear.

The other thing that occurs to me is that not every writers’ group has to be a deep and deadly serious critique group. I’ve gotten a lot out of groups that were mostly just social, and I’ve found critique partners there.

How far do you trust people with your work? Any hard limits? Any suggestions to avoid those critique group horror stories?

Greetings From the Land of the Two-Headed Calf

So, on the way home from Colorado, I wandered into the schlock shop of my youth to see an old friend. (Well, okay… I wanted to check for seams, now that I’m an adult.)

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Two-Headed Calf Under Glass

‘Imagine my shock, when I found him under glass! I remember him standing proud on a ledge overlooking the jackalope skins and cowboy hats. Sorta center-stage schlock. The place has gone all museum-y educational, though, and it looks like a lot of glass has moved in.

According to the card on the glass, this calf was born in Stapleton, Nebraska and lived for about 48 hours.

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Calf from Above

I didn’t see any seams, but, then it’s under glass.

Buffalo Bill Cody is also under glass. I think we can rest assured that he, at least, is a fake.

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Buffalo Bill Cody

The whole place has been remodeled since the last time I was there. It’s much more open than it was–probably to get rid of all the little aisles and cubbyholes that were out of sight of the cash register, back then. Like I said, earlier, it’s more museum-y than it was, or at least, a more legit-museum feel than glorified side-show museum. I mean, look… glass.

There’s a small panorama of the railroad, and a nifty, touchable display of animal skins. There’s nothing here that couldn’t be replaced regularly, and from the looks of them, I suspect they have been.

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Animal Skins

The place is also a lot more politically correct. In case I hadn’t mentioned it, the whole thing is in the shape of a fort, and when I was a kid, the U.S. Soldiers and the Native Americans of Indeterminate Tribal Affiliation were in the middle of a tooth and claw fight outside. Now, the soldiers are peacefully standing guard along the roof line, and… well, it appears they had a few NAOITA’s left over, so they’re inside, now, and posed to look like they’re shopping, and not crawling up walls or Tomahawking anyone.

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The poor thing has been playing the same game of checkers for years. Well, it ain’t the Smithsonian.

It actually just occurred to me that there are no female manikins here, either. They probably got sick of it all and went to a movie or something. I must have missed that day in school.

A-to-Z Challenge: General Motors

The last car my grandfather ever bought my grandmother was made by General Motors. I remember this because the seat belts–which I was required to wear to protect the windshield from my head–were imprinted with the letters GM. I can’t remember the specific model, but it was a deep maroon with red fabric upholstery. Not-quite velvet.

It wasn’t just a grown-up people’s car.

It was a real live, genuine old people’s car.

Old people do not have children. They do not have plastic seats, and their feet go all the way to the ground.

What old people have instead of children is cars, and specifically, this car. Don’t let the fact that it seats six fool you. That extra space is for other old people, and possibly groceries, but certainly not children.

In the event that children are allowed in the Car:

  1. They go in the middle, over the hump… where they will be sitting between two supervising adults, or… where the driver can at least see them. (Rear view mirror adjusted accordingly)
  2. They go to the bathroom before they get in the Car.
  3. They keep their feet off the upholstery.
  4. And they always, always, remember that the Car is very, very important to Grandma. It is the last Car Grandpa ever gave her. There are no other Cars available on this side of Heaven.

Most of my memories of that car involve holding something so that it cannot spill and never, ever eating anything.

Anyway, one day I was sitting in the back seat. On the hump. In the middle, where the driver could see me. Both feet firmly off the upholstery. And holding a bag of Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Because fun grandmothers do drive-throughs, and my grandmother was a fun grandmother.)

As soon as that bag was on my lap–and it was summer, so I was wearing shorts–it began to leak. Hot, viscous gravy slowly burning its way through paper and oozing onto my bare legs.

You know.

Near the Car.

So, I clamp my legs together in hopes that no gravy will escape onto the upholstery. And it burns all the way to the house.

And then… I’m really not sure how you get out of a Car with a lap full of gravy without spilling. Maybe it’s possible, but I didn’t manage. And the gravy hit the upholstery.

After a good scrubbing, there wasn’t a stain, exactly… but there as a texture. A rough patch in the not-quite velvet–that stayed there forever.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Maybe That’s Where Trappist Monks Come From

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. I had to look that up. Not being from a liturgical background myself, Lent comes and Lent goes, and mostly what it means to me is yummy fish tacos and 40 days of my Lent-ing friends being in vile moods ranging from I gave up sugar to I gave up serial murder and cocaine. (Wait… you mean my friends didn’t give up serial murder and cocaine?!!)

In my childhood, Lent was something that just existed on TV. Something that either showed piety, or got laughs. You know, like Corporal Klinger giving up atheism for Lent? It’s not that we didn’t have Catholics and Lutherans… it’s just that they existed in their own schools over there, somewhere. And in the event that there was mixing, you were much more likely to be talking about Girl Scout cookies and camping than religious dogma.

So, I had the abridged, television explanation: Lent was the time leading up to Easter, and you gave things up for it. And then–when the Lent-ers ran out of private school in 9th grade and we wound up in school together–Maybe don’t offer to trade sandwiches, and don’t eat that chocolate in front of them. You know… it’s a tradition, and it’s good they’re doing it.

So, I was quietly supportive. You know the drill. “You can do it” and keep my mouth shut about the fact that I’m not doing it.

Oh, yes, I was ever so appropriate and supportive until…

One day I ran into a friend who had given up smoking for Lent, and there he was… cigarette in his teeth, doing his best imitation of a chimney.

Well, screw quiet support. I liked the guy. I liked his kids. And frankly, children deserve a father with pink lungs and an intact aorta.

What are you doing?

Well, panicking, obviously. He knew he’d been caught. And by the way, I’m not even slightly fooled by that look of confusion on his face. Cheater.

I thought you gave up smoking for Lent.

And that confused look just stays there. Like he doesn’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. Lent’s over, he said.

What do you mean, Lent’s over?

To be honest, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that people gave things up for Lent temporarily. It never crossed my mind that after Easter, they all got to go back to drinking, smoking, and serial murder. I mean, if a thing’s a sin, isn’t it a sin all year around?

Nope. What they really meant was, I gave up smoking for the duration of Lent.

And fine. I admit that giving up smoking for a month is better than not giving it up at all. That probably is one to think about giving up permanently.

And maybe I really hadn’t thought much about it. I mean, if people give things up for Lent, and never go back, shouldn’t there be a bunch of really old Catholics running around living off water and oatmeal after a lifetime of Lents, and griping that this year, it’s down to the oatmeal?

So, happy Lent, everyone, and if you’re giving up something truly unhealthy, please think of your lungs and aortas–and hell, your erectile function–and maybe really do give it up confused-teenager style.

**this story may have been edited for dramatic tension and coherence.

Other Peoples’ Hobbies and Me

I can kill a plant just by looking at it.

My grandmother–the amateur botanist–spent most of my childhood reassuring me that I was not cursed, and sending me home with various clippings to start plants of my own. In my time, I’ve killed day blooming cactuses and night-blooming cactuses and African Violets (which, admittedly, had no chance to begin with), wax plants, spider plants, plant-plants, bromeliads, and even philodendrons.

I did the best with outdoor plants. I can do roses, and sometimes crocuses, and my forte, Kentucky Blue grass. (I have thousands of Kentucky Blue grass plants, most of them doing quite well, thank you.)

Ultimately, though, I’m just not good at gardening. I’m the person who spends all spring watering, and fertilizing, and hoe-ing, and winds up with that one tiny strawberry about the size of your fingernail, and mostly still green as the over-ripe parts start to rot away.

I got to spend plant-time with my grandfather, too. He didn’t actually grow anything, but he’d settled neatly into his role as head-procurer of manure. This is an especially honorable and important role in the household of a botanist who does not own a farm or ranch of her own.

I carried the bag on long treks through the pastures, while my grandfather picked up the chips for, well… whatever gardeners use cow chips for. (No, I never got that far.) I don’t remember talking about anything in particular, but I do remember the words to the cow-chip song. Those odorous cow-chips. Those hash-cooking cow-chips.

They arrived with a trunk load of gifts, and they left with a trunk load of cow chips and sand.

Isn’t that what all grandparents do?

Booksellers, Men, and the Cabinet of Sin

We sold pornography at the bookstore where I worked. Not a lot of it, and nothing that would compete with Jugs, Jugs, Jugs down at the local Kum&Go. Sex-positive, consent-positive, feminist, GLBT, fetish stuff. Non-violent. It lived in a cabinet behind the counter, and if you didn’t know it was there… well, you wouldn’t know. Strictly a word-of-mouth kind of thing.

The cabinet of sin was about four feet wide and three feet tall. Double doors. Opaque. And, if you happened to find a group of Booksellers gathered around it, there’s a pretty good chance we weren’t analyzing the latest Haruki Murakami. Hands down, it was the most open and accepting set of co-workers I’ve ever had.

Oh, and then, there were the customers…

You got to recognize that Look, eventually. The Please, Miss… might I trouble you for something from the Cabinet of Sin Look. The… Please, I’ve read this high-quality gift book about garden gnomes three times because I’m just that nonchalant Look.

So, you’d wait for the other customers to go away. The women, and children, that attractive, but is-he-or-isn’t-he guy, the older couple who look pretty much just like anybody’s grandparents. And then… only then… You’d “notice” him standing there.

Can I help you?

Oh, no. Just looking.

Well, fine. I believe you. Besides, what am I supposed to say? Oh, you are not. I know you want something from the Cabinet of Sin, and since I put away today’s shipment, I’ve got a pretty decent idea of what you want?

Moving on.

Noted. One of the unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–is that whenever possible, you buy your porn from other men.

Or, possibly, female Booksellers are just that terrifying.

Or innocent-looking, or wholesome, or … something. Maybe I sold their kid a copy of One Fish, Two Fish the week before. But the script was always more or less the same. They’d loiter until some man showed up to sell them a magazine.

And, as it happens, most of the time, I did just happen to have a spare man just lying around. Well, not so much lying as laughing his ass off behind a partition. (The unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–do not apply to SuperBookseller.)

In the end, SuperBookseller always had to sell the–whatever it was–and he was the king of straight faces.

Oh, yes… The women tried to be approachable. We tried to look understanding. We tried all kinds of things:

  • Putting things away in and/or organizing the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sympathetic smile.
  • In a rush and much to busy to notice, even if someone tried to buy 3 kilos of cocaine and a baby elephant.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie taken from the Cabinet of Sin. (Yes, there are cookies in the Cabinet of Sin. Stop judging.)
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie and reading a paperback copy of deSade (Yes, the one with the picture.)

None of them worked. Once a guy decided he was not going to buy porn from you… well, mostly his mind was made up. He’d be there for hours, just… waiting… if you let him.

What are you going to do?

SuperBookseller, HELP!!!!

That’s why I named my vacuum cleaner after him.

Horrifying Gifts for the Holidays

If your family is like mine, it’s big, and ungainly and the truth is, you just don’t know each other well enough to buy each other anything but an Amazon gift card. This will, of course, in no way stop you from wanting to play Happy Families, so you will spend a massive amount of money to say “Look, I bought you a Gift.”

In general, the rules for these Gifts are simple:

  1. The Gift must be something durable enough to result in the on-going ownership of something the recipient does not want, or  the awkward disposal thereof.
  2. Recipient will, of course, feign gratitude and acceptance of said Gift, even if Giver has had a lifetime to notice that she/he does not use __________.
  3. Anaphylaxis in no way excuses you from rule #2. Eat another nut bar.
  4. Gift will most likely be identical to Gifts given to every other family member of your Rank and Gender. (ie: Female Cousins, Uncles, etc.)
  5. In the event that Pansexual Nymphette is the Giver, you MUST maintain the pretense that Gift is as G-Rated and Family Friendly as Possible. Do NOT say “figging oil” when you could say **ahem** “massage oil” or better yet, “gourmet cooking oil.”

There is, of course, an unspoken 6th rule: Gifts given to people other than yourself will be even more inconvenient to you.

Your Grandmother will be given a photo-calendar made from a picture of you taken at a Ballroom Dance exhibit. She’s not going to throw it out. That would be hurtful, both to you, and to the relative who gave it to her.

Nope.

She’s going to drive a new nail so it can hang prominently in the living room all year long.

You will spend the entire year fielding questions from random acquaintances about a dance partner you don’t even perform with regularly.

No. We’re not getting married.

No. He’s not special… well, I guess his wife and kids might think so.

Yes, his wife knows we dance together. That’s her on the left.

Yes, I’m sure he’s not special!

No, he’s not Gay. Pretty sure his wife would have told me. And no, I will not introduce you, Steven.

No, We are NOT GETTING MARRIED.

No, you do not get to meet him. No, he’s not with his family for Christmas this year. He’s with them for Hanukkah.

What? You got all six of my great-aunts the very same calendar? In smaller sizes? Oh, well, then…

Fuck it. What’s his name and I are getting married. It’s just more convenient.

I’m sure his wife will understand.