Screaming

peacemarchYesterday I opened the front door to the warm winds of spring and heard the happy shrieks of the children playing down the street. “It’s fun to scream,” I said to Harold. “I haven’t had a good scream since 2003.” It was March 7, 2003, International Women’s Day, in fact, when George W. Bush and his cohorts had already decided to attack Iraq and a bunch of us mistakenly believed he could be dissuaded from this by hearing from the People.

It was fun to scream. Most of us were women; it was a woman’s march. As we might have expected, W. was out of town, but the DC police herded us as far away from the executive mansion as they reasonably could and told us that twelve of us at a time would be allowed into Lafayette Square, out in front of it. We gathered on Meridian Hill and marched down Sixteenth Street, chanting. Hey, hey! Ho, ho! I forget how the rest of the chant went. From time to time we would stop chanting and simply scream.

You’ve no idea how satisfying that is if you’ve never tried it, to bellow as loud as you can together with a huge crowd of like-minded folks and hear the echoes of your screaming bouncing off tall buildings. At the end of Sixteenth Street the parade was diverted way around the White House. We couldn’t even see it, let alone be seen by anybody who might be in there. The women milled around the Mall for awhile and then marched back up to try to collect on the promise that twelve of us, at least, would be let into Lafayette Square.

The Twelve were famous writers and like that, Maxine Hong Kingston, a beloved idol of mine, Alice Walker, and ten other luminaries whose names are lost to my fading memory. They got into the square, the police asked them to leave, and they sat down, whereupon they were all led away in handcuffs.

I got there just in time to see them being led away in handcuffs, most of them grannies like myself, arrested for trying to speak truth to power. I could have been among them, if I’d been a little spryer. It would have been an honor. But the sight of better women than me being dragged off to jail, along with the sight and sound of the twenty burly motorcycle cops who came roaring up to the curb, batons in hand, to keep all the other grannies in line, took some of the starch out of me. I haven’t had a good scream since.

Pretty soon it might be time again. We’ll see how this election progresses.

Advertisements

Bullies

1953_Kaiser_Deluxe_fixet_3I see by the New York Times that Donald Trump makes it a regular practice to tweet bullying things about anyone who criticizes him. His six thousand followers jump on, says the Times, and soon the twittersphere is abuzz with vitriol and crude innuendo. As a result, the people who disapprove of him have come to fear him.

But I’m not here to share my opinions about Donald Trump, although I could do so without fear, since words like “vitriol” and “innuendo” are not among the few that Trump and his followers know.  I’m here to tell stories about other bullies.

Not schoolyard bullies, although I ran into my share of those over the years as we moved from town to town. I want to talk about people in authority who bully the helpless. I want to tell you about India Smith.

India Smith was an office functionary at North Plainfield High School, back in the day, some sort of guidance counselor or truant officer.  When I was in junior high the girls in my class walked over to the high school once or twice a week to study home economics, since that was where the kitchen was, and the sewing room. All the girls were taught to cook and sew. That seems so quaint now. A couple of my classmates had experienced run-ins with Miss Smith, somehow, and she was an object of hate.

Everyone knew her car, a maroon 1953 Kaiser-Frazer. Since Miss Smith was an object of hate in the high school generally, her car was frequently attacked, which must have made her sensitive about it. One heard of boys scratching the paint or sticking her tires with ice picks.

One fine spring day as we were returning to the junior high from the high school building we saw Miss Smith’s car parked out front with the windows rolled down. One of the girls had a bologna sandwich that she didn’t want anymore and it amused her to fling it in the window of Miss Smith’s car. I didn’t see this done, but I heard a lot of giggling.

The following day India Smith showed her wolf-like face in our home room.

You know how it went. “There are mustard stains on my car seat. Everyone will sit here until the girls who defaced my car stand up and confess.”  The sense of helplessness and dread. In the end five girls stood up and were led away to the office.

What happened to them there? They were mercilessly bullied. Getting even with all the kids who had ever done anything to her car, India Smith showered her five victims with personal attacks. “Your mother is a drunk,” she said to one of them, among other things. Where she got that idea nobody said, but the shot hit home. The girls came back to class weeping, devastated, all for a dab of mustard.

As an observer of this, I was filled with a sense of injustice. I still think the woman was a terrible person, not unlike my orthodontist, that child-hating wielder of instruments of torture. Curiously, people like them have shaped my politics to this day. Here’s the thing. It’s a bad idea to let bullies get into positions of power. And that’s all I have to say about that.