Archive for the ‘Manners’ Category

Freedom of Peek

March 5th, 2014

With mixed thoughts, I see that MA’s high court ruled today that perverts on the subway can legally take upskirt pix. (The news broke on Universal Hub, here. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision is here.  )

Of course, doing so is intrusive, tacky, and and, well, sort of, some kind of assault.

Sure, you can state the all too obvious — women ought to wear underwear, whether they do or not, they should keep their legs together if they wear a skirt or dress. Most do. Too many don’t. I don’t want to see flashes or swathes of underpants of women or men.

Yet, what is it that seems to excite so many? Why are there websites devoted to upskirt images? Why would anyone watch a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show? Why is lingerie the, if you pardon, butt of so many comedy routines? Why do women as well as men fixate on bras and panties?

Truth be told, I remember in early puberty being turned on by men’s magazines in barber shops and plain old catalogs showing women déshabillé. That was the euphemism for in your underwear. Back then, a movie was really risqué if an actress appeared in underwear, without the dress covering the clothing that in fact covered their prurient parts.

Even today, there cultures and subcultures titillated not by the actual body parts, rather the garments that hide them. For example, Japanese press and literature frequently alludes to men’s fascination with and hope for glimpses of underpants.

As I began dating, I quickly learned to favor and choose the real over the fantasy. Is that all this fetish is about?

Even if the crotch clickers with cellphones don’t grow up and out of their fixation, even it the SJC says that’s legal, you’d hope that the targeted women and the other passengers would at least call them out.  That might stop them…unless they are into public humiliation.

Passive-aggressive porch

November 23rd, 2013

redbagsAn amusement, an annoyance and a puzzlement in one, the passive-aggressive stance of many around here to free paper bundles continues.

Here’s one example on our hill. Six weeks of Globe Direct junk ad packets clutter the porch and its steps. It’s as though the homeowners expect the advertising elves to acknowledge their errors and remove the rubble. They’ll be waiting a long, long time.

We too are getting this junk. We subscribe to the Boston Globe, so we already get the grocery and other circulars bundled in the red bags. The stuffing in the G section, the daily maggy with comics and stuff includes all this drivel on Thursday.

We’ve called the number printed on the bags and asked for them to delete us from their delivery lists. Allegedly that will happen. However, f they goof up, we’re not inclined to let the bags heap up on our stoop. We put the papers in recycling and the bag in with bags to recycle at a supermarket. Honest to gourd, anything else says slob and arrogant.

We see the same craziness and hostility when the various annual white and yellow page books appear on front walks and porches. Some neighbors let them rot in situ. Nothing else is as good as saying, “I don’t give a crap about what my house looks like.”

On occasion, I get my own flicker of craziness about this. I’d like to knock on the various doors and ask:

  • Why don’t you call the number on the bag to get out of the delivery cycle?
  • Why don’t you recycle the papers and bags in the meanwhile?
  • How can you justify just leaving this junk lying on your stoop?
  • Do you honestly think that someone else is going to clean up your front porch?

That would be crazy. I have no reason to doubt this is some sort of self-righteousness.  Someone else littered on their property. Therefore, that someone should clean up. So there.

The real so there is you have a bunch of ugly crap out front. You need to deal with it. The elves are off duty.

Plots Against Shyness

November 15th, 2013

Yes, I write this personal blog. Yes, I have a weekly audio podcast. Yes, I advocate for marriage equality. Yes, I’ve interviewed and written about many folk in politics, business and beyond over a long time.

I’m still shy, moderately introverted and far more comfortable when the attention is on someone else.

I got a double dash of public yesterday headed to and then in my fiction-writing workshop. I think such surprises can only be good for us shy sorts.

The class is in the main Copley public library, starting after dark. I was perking along, head down, when a TV reporter popped out of his van, leading with the innocuous, “Do you live in Boston.” It turns out that along Boylston Street close to last spring’s Marathon bombings, various crews were getting guy-on-the-street quotes about Bill Maher’s provocative attempts at humor on the subject.

Maher surely should have realized how lame he had been when Anthony Weiner, of all people, sitting beside him modulated the situation. When Weiner is the voice of reason, compassion and morality in the situation, Maher seriously goofed up.

I had little to say. I did manage to tell the BZ mic hand and cameraman something like Maher was being a fool. Normally he’s bright and insightful but not then. I was turning into myself in shyness and likely would not have added the Weiner judgment had it come to mind then and not 20 feet later as I headed to the library.

I very rarely watch any TV. I would not have been aware they used my ho-hum clip if chums had not let me know.

Inside, much more intense and prolonged was the psychodrama that was the last half of the class. An out-there writer who joined the class had us act out. She’d don’t corporate training and such. She said she had a useful exercise to help us commit to regular writing schedules. That sounded good but quickly stretched my comfort elastic.

The way it worked for the five of us, her included, was that one after another, we stood in a close circle. The person of the moment identified three obstacles to writing, actually writing. One person would take the role of each, such as the lure of social media drawing us away from creative work. One person would be the support. The subject heard simultaneous bombardment of reasons to procrastinate or doubt, while the lone support person and whatever messages the subject could play internally played. There was four or five very intense minutes.

Each of us came to a sort of denouement, believing that we had a handle on responses to the distractions. That was her intent and we’ll see how it plays out. We have pledged to bring in one to five pages of new work next week as proof…and then each week.

For extroverts, that kind of psychodrama without having to dress up must seem benign. It was about all I could handle. Of course, the hardest moments were when I was in the center of the circle, the focus.

I suspect both events last evening were good for me. I don’t know that I’m ready to seek more like those, but I survived.

Thumb-thing Silly

October 7th, 2013

What this neat pop-science Boston Globe article does not address is why so many of us believe, no, know, that we are splendid multitaskers. If we were anywhere as bright and observant as we pretend, we’d see frightening reflections galore that suggest otherwise.walking thumb

Adults, teens, even wee ones stumble and career into shelves, each other, closed doors and worse while punching into a (insert irony symbol, traditionally ironymark) smartphone. More poignantly than the clown bumps and pratfalls, one aspect of device-distracted humans is texting while driving, too often, killing while doing so.

The article does deal extensively with another key aspect, how iPhones and their like are great programming tools. That is, they program their ostensible owners. In fact, they are the owner in the relationship.

I’ve dealt with and even obsessed on the whole mess here numerous times. Samples are in links to posts using multitask.

A current cliché is how smart the millennials and young folk are. Aren’t they masters of technology?

That would be a resounding, “No!” for them as a group. In fact knowing how to use the icons, menus and keys on a cellphone, being comfortable with numerous social-media and their keywords, do not translate into broader intelligence or even technology skills. Instead, as many of us note, we as a populace are being dumbed down, just as we are increasingly under the control of our devices.

By cracky, Mable, it isn’t just the kids either. In a supermarket, on the street and well, everywhere, the seemingly ubiquitous Androids, iPhones and such make humans hop. 60-year-olds as well as middle-schoolers largely cannot control themselves when their device tones or jiggles. They, the nominal owners, are dancing to the notes.

A few years ago, Boomer and older folk lamented the rudeness of folk putting their phones on the restaurant table, constantly scanning them, and unhesitatingly answering them should they command so. Of course that’s ill mannered and speaks poorly of whoever raised them. And, an alter kaker like I am tells people not to bring their phone out. I, perhaps self-righteously, tell them that in my house, if we’re having a family dinner when a cell or other phone rings, that call just goes to voice. We’re busy and in the moment.

Still, for all those people who believe they are smart enough to multitask, I wish awareness. When they respond like birds or other lower animals conditioned to push a button for food or perform some other stupid pet trick, will they please see that? Will they get a grip and realize they are in thrall to their $500 gadget?

My hope would be if a 17-year-old gains that level of awareness, it would be a teachable moment. Each enlightened lad or lass would show peers how to be in charge of the device, instead of the other way around.

That smarter lifestyle might even spread to their parents and grandparents. Honestly, humans can decide what’s really urgent.

 

Self-appointed Nemesis

May 10th, 2013

A few good guys have somewhat offset the inhumanity and sociopathic deeds of the Tsarnaev butchers. Major good guy was funeral director Peter Stefan and more recently do-gooder Martha Mullin in Richmond, VA, who made federal. commonwealth, and MA city officials out to be the bozos they so often are. The two of them got Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the ground, simultaneously satisfying legal, moral, religious, and political needs.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?Newelskull

Honestly, for the People of the Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — the proscriptions and prescriptions were quite plain. Regardless of the alleged or proven sins of the previous possessor of the corpse in question, the body needed to be buried. In particular, as he was a Muslim, his remains should have gone in the ground as soon as possible and not be cremated.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?

Oddly enough though, the flogging by the crazed avengers has not and will not end. For a hint of only the latest vitriolic irrationality, check the comments by Boston Herald fans on the burial article.

For People of the Book, they forget that it is God who judges and not we mortals. Yet let us keep in perspective that these are likely the same hateful sorts who want to see perpetual punishment on those convicted of crimes. The concept of having served your debt to society is meaningless to them. In fact, being imprisoned for a crime is not punishment by itself, rather it is prelude to punishment; the facility must be as inhumane and dreadful as possible; prison itself is for punishment; pile it on.

Then once the sentence is complete, the ex-convict should not be allowed to earn a living or reenter society or be cleared and forgiven. Allow no forgiveness or fresh start, damn it!

I  don’t know where these people were during sermons, homilies, Bible readings or home teaching. The idea of perpetual punishment is not in our religious teaching. It came from elsewhere that they should have the authority, the right, to rain a life of anguish on sinners.

Instead, let us keep our perspective. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is nearly two months gone. His corpse remained, though he is gone. The hate and bile and faux retribution over what happened to his corpse is inane and cruel beyond belief.

Let us pause to pity those who proclaimed themselves judges of the corpses of fellow sinners. They understand neither our common commandments, nor our golden rule, nor societal decency that binds most of us. I forgive them.

 

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Bully (for) You

March 26th, 2013

Humans are bundles of marvels. I think of how much like cars we are in one key way — both have so many systems and subsystems that should any of them malfunction, everything stops, maybe forever, and yet we generally perk along without these single points of failure failing. More broadly, we also react to similar mental, physical or emotional trauma and stress very, very differently.

That latter concept first clarified for me in the 1960s when I volunteered in a veterans’ hospital. While I knew WWI and WWII vets who had lost limbs, gotten holes shot in their heads, were blinded and more in battle, in the hospital, others in seeming better shape remained. They spent most days in bed or sun rooms, too emotionally harmed to function in larger society. Their contemporaries had largely gone on with their lives, marrying, parenting and working. One man’s very painful, very inconvenient maiming was another’s cause for permanent surrender.

Thus it is too with abuse. That may be sexual, physical or emotional, bullying, rape, incest or myriad other forms of cruelty. Most common surely is the sadism that hides under parental discipline, beating your children with hands or objects under the guise of discipline or training, replete with Biblical allusion to a single nasty verse. (Other Proverbs verses riff on this — 22:15, 23:13 and 29:15.)

beltIt no surprise to readers here that I do not approve of parents beating their kids any more than of bigger children bullying smaller ones. I was not hit as a child and did not hit my three. By itself, my parenting proves little, but all three of my young men are polite, considerate, non-criminal and socially functional.

Belatedly it seems and prompted by such as youth suicides, bullying is finally OK to call out. Notably, Emily Bazelon’s Sticks and Stones book has lots of coverage, leading to nationwide chatter.  More personally, my friend who blogs as Uncle postd a series on his own considerable experiences with being bullied.  There’s even related junk science, like attempts to link a mother’s childhood abuse to her having an autistic child.

Truths include though that bullying and child beating are pervasive in our allegedly civilized America. For corporal punishment, most of Europe and Asia as well as Canada prohibit it in schools and in many places it is assault and battery. Here, parents can still take hand, paddle, stick or even belt to their kids legally, so long as they don’t cause massive or permanent damage. Lord love a duck, as my mother used to say in frustration.

An oddment to me is that people I have known and read of discussing their beating of their kids invariably say something like, “I was paddled and it never hurt me!” When I hear that, I invariably respond, “Other than leading you to be a child abuser yourself.” And we’re off to the races, as the punisher tries to find some justification for terrifying and physically hurting someone in his (actually more likely her) care.

How is it that some of us and be so bereft of words, so lacking in judgment, so in the control of transient passions that you can communicate your disappoint and anger only in violence?

To circle back to the concept that we differ in our responses to trauma, let’s consider how adults deal with childhood physical abuse like beatings. Some decide never to hit their own children, which I deem a rational and humane response. Others retain vivid memories, recollections/reliving, along with the anger and fear those bring…maybe forever. Others take sticks, hands, belts and such to their subject children in some perverted pay forward, when it is really their parents they should direct their hostility toward.

Quite a few adults have told me how their parents hit them. I don’t see any direct relationship between the level and intensity of abuse, and the resulting long-term response of the adult. What I do conclude is that beating kids is cruel and irrational. It does not teach by example or any reinforcing message. Instead, keeping a grip on your own emotions gives you a lot better shot at teaching and showing proper behavior.

Kids can be infuriating and destructive. The temptation to hit them can appear hundreds or thousands of times in the years you raise and train them.Maybe the key question we should ask ourselves when we are suddenly mad at them is what sort of parents do we want them to be to our grandkids?

That Big Old Why-Me Question

February 22nd, 2013

A good chum, who blogs as Uncle at Scratches, wonders on occasion on such as physical and sexual abuse. His latest was on bullying, rather on who does or does not become targets.

He wondered about the markers, perhaps brain, and other criteria that might lead to being the victim of others. I confessed on his site something he and I have discussed when bar-stool lubricated that I was pretty much out of these common cycles. Much like not overly regretting not having fought in Viet Nam, after hearing many decades of browbeating, bloody-faced, and unwanted sexual contact vignettes, I can’t say I would rather have experience those.

bullyHe did set me to thinking again in his vein though. Why did and do some boys and girls attract verbal, physical, sexual molesters?

Working backwards from my own life, I wondered how it was that I escaped and was not targeted.

Today I’m fairly large, with absurdly big shoulders and chest, and considerable muscularity. I wasn’t that way as a kid though. I was a bit shorter than others. While my Granddad nicknamed me Horse because I was strong, I was not the big, intimidating kid either in body or personality. I grew slowly and behind most other boys. Only at 15 and beyond when I was on the wrestling and then swimming team, did I bulk up.

I was also a scholarly, literary sort. Not only did I read everything and get good grades, I was out of sync with many classic boy pastimes, like stomping, stabbing and shooting small or large animals.

Seems to me that I ought to have been the target of the bad boys and men.

From another angle though, my family life was rather pacific. I have a single sibling, a sister 18 months my senior. She was as close as I came to being bullied, and that was in kindergarten and elementary ages. She’d take my stuff and hit me…what’s a sister for, eh? Our mother who had two younger siblings of her own kept telling her to cool it. The refrain was, “One day, he’ll be bigger and stronger than you.”  As almost always she was both terse and correct. When we reached physical equilibrium we quickly came to peace and have remained so since.

That very same mother did not beat us either. We came from a threesome that did not experience regular violence. My sister and I used to joke with each other as well as as friends who were regularly hit with hands, paddles, belt and sticks that we’d just as soon our mother was violent. Instead, she demanded to know why we had done something destructive or dumb or mean. We had to deal, actually deal, with our shortcomings. There was no catharsis of confession and penance that came with getting smacked around. It was a cerebral, emotional and moral experience.

Likewise, there was no sexual abuse in our home or our maternal grandparents’ where we spent our summers and vacations. Our deadbeat dad who remarried and disappeared was not a factor. Granddad and a set of great uncles delighted in playing the father role, particular to me. I had a gang of stable, long-term married men to mentor and watch out for me. None abused me in any way.

Thinking of my youth though, I do have a triple-sided theory of how I rolled to adulthood without the traumas it seems the bulk have endured.

  1. Always moving. With my absent father who did not keep up his child support (military out of country and irresponsible), my mother took work running Red Cross chapters. The pay was only OK for women (by policy half of what a man would make running the same chapter), but she made it work. The deal though was that we moved every few years to the next chapter a man had hosed that my mother would come in and turn around…at half pay. That meant we were never in a school system long enough to become part of the native cliques. We weren’t stereotyped and thus were not relegated to some out-group that “deserved” ridicule, ostracizing or punishment. We floated until we left. In fact, I was better at that than my sister. I hated not knowing people and had great anxiety, but unlike she, I’d suck it up and pick the people I wanted for friends…and make that work. It did work.
  2. Standing firm. Our mother was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was teaching simple WWII-era virtues. She taught us to be honest and candid and responsible, without fail. If we goofed up, we admitted it and took our lumps. That also meant when someone confronted us or tried peer pressure to get us to behave in their bad ways, we said, “No!” That was always tough, but standing firm always paid off for me. (It still does.) In retrospect, I am surprised that the overbearing, bullying sorts took that from the shorter kid, with the glasses and armload of books. They did though. Resolve intimidates in its own way.
  3. Glibness. I am not an astrology/sign guy. I was always amused though to read that my Gemini house supposedly is a tricksy sign, quick with words and skilled at getting our way. Actually that fits. I had a double talent when I was around folk who might do bad things to me. I was skilled at reading intent and I could almost always verbally defuse situations. When someone was turning one me, I didn’t ignore it, rather if I could not remove myself, I’d whip out my considerable joking and nice-guy skills to get the bully and ideally any hangers-on jolly and harmless. 

I’ll kick it around with Uncle some more. The topic is intriguing, particularly as those types of abuse seem to be the norm for so many. Why is always a good question. Sometimes meaningful possibilities appear.