Sunday, November 12, 2017

All You Can't Eat

Louie CK's last HBO special opens with a bit about abortion that is so repulsive that I turn it off. Yet, CK produces Tig Notaro's One Mississippi and Pamela Adlon's Better Things. Both shows are outstanding and no matter what, his mentorship of these two landmark series boosts Louie's feminist cred. Furthermore, CK's own work is very personal and addresses his own conflicted sexual issues. Whereas Ray Moore preyed on a fourteen year old by taking advantage of a fraught custody battle, CK's accusers, while unnamed, are likely not as vulnerable as Moore's victim. It seems to me that women in CK's orbit are more enlightened as to acceptable behavior. I have no proof but my instinct is that the women accusing CK of misconduct endured it in order to advance their careers.


I think my mother's reaction to this would have been, “So what? That's the way it has always been and always will be.” I was taught to exploit this for advantage. Up until the recent news about Cosby and Trump I don't give it much thought and pretty much accept men flaunting money and power for sexual conquest as the norm. Now however it's “me too” time and we are forced, at last, to confront this often more subtle, but rampant, form of sexual abuse. But the sea change is going to require an enormous reckoning and I think a lot of rich and powerful men are mighty frightened.

Spuds works for the summer in an art storage warehouse and after growing up in a progressive area and attending a liberal arts college he is astonished by his co-workers vulgar and hostile patter about women. “Do they shut up when a woman enters the area?” I ask. When he assures me that indeed they do, I tell him to consider this an improvement over when I first entered the workforce. Still, I wonder about the stubborn endurance of “locker room talk,” and how many men, if blessed with wealth and fame would consider this valid currency for sexual favors.

Remembering the players from Duke University LaCrosse team who were falsely accused falsely of rape, I imagine that there will be women who suffer a deficit of moral character who will lie or exaggerate for five minutes of fame or a tidy settlement. It is likely though that those speaking up will prove more forthright than the rich and powerful men who consider transactional sexuality a normal perquisite of their position. This appears often to be a serial thing and in many cases, there are a number of women with similar stories. And stories that are excruciatingly uncomfortable to recount. This lends the accusations far more credibility.
Louie CK admits now, in lurid detail, to having exploited his status but he refused to address rumors in the past and has chastised one accuser for going public. Roy Moore, when asked if the had sexual contact with minors, replies (and not as cagily as he thinks) that this would be “out of my usual behavior.” Still Moore stands an excellent chance of serving in Washington, along with the Abuser in Chief, and Louie likely faces career ruin. Maybe Louie's brutally honest confession is just a hail-Mary but given given his body of work that mines the black depths of his psyche and his support of two fantastically feminist comedies, he might deserve some slack.

I have not been fired and students are registered now for a new trimester. The groadieness of my classroom has long offended me. Now that I know I'm not a one-term-wonder I decide to take down faded, tattered bulletin boards and empty a cupboard crammed with out-of-date textbooks. I inquire of an administrator about the disposition of the books and am told that I'm welcome to bring some boxes from home. On the penultimate day of class I have the students rip out the raggedy bulletin boards and install new ones. I ask the boys to do the heavy lifting and assign the ladies more delicate tasks, like sorting desk supplies. The women ignore my assignment and start hoisting loads of books. How etched into me is the notion that women are less strong than men. A sense of differentness is perhaps a requisite of sexual frisson. It's for my kids' generation to figure out how this can exist without a power imbalance.

The last week has been fraught with batteries of tests to determine if students are worthy to ascend to the next level. Accommodations are made. Don Gonzalo is promoted. I present him with a certificate of merit for his excellent effort and attendance. I tell him the night before the party not to bring paper cups or plates because there are a bazillion of them in the cupboard I've cleaned out. Level 2 Gonzalo arrives with big trash bag full of Styrofoam cups and paper plates enough to take up another entire shelf in the cupboard.

Donna wafts in, fully made up, in a sleek fire engine red sheath and high heels. She's just bit younger than I am, but the boys sense her heat, and loom in her orbit. We Facetime with her son and baby granddaughter in Guatemala. I wave and they wave back. Back during my first foray at teaching, abuelas were stooped and wore aprons and not stiletto heels. They didn't have boyfriends or move thousands of miles from their children and grandchildren. Donna also gets a merit certificate. Hers is for “fearlessness.” When I present it, her classmates look up the word on their phones and hoot in agreement.

There are about thirty-five students and all chip in for pizza, which I order. They all beg for Hawaiian, which just seems wrong, but it's their money. I order six extra large twelve slice pizzas and six dozen chicken wings, thinking it will be way too much but that they can take the leftovers home. For Spuds' bar mitzvah we have a taco truck in the driveway. We invite our Mexican neighbors, who happen to have cousins visiting. They clean the truck out. My kids have grown up with meals that are always too much. Not having leftovers is considered on my part a personal failure. A student asks how much pizza he can take and I tell him that there's so much that he can take what he wants. Then I notice that the boxes are emptying quickly. Students have plates piled with four or five slices of pizza and mounds of wings. When a couple of latecomers arrive to find empty boxes, students share from their own plates. How strange it seems to me to have to limit portions.

When I interview them for the speaking test, many of my students tell me that they come from families of ten, or twelve or in one case (with two different women, but still...) twenty-one. “All you can eat,” has never been an option. Interestingly, one student has three children herself but none of the others have more than two. Across cultures, the roles of men and women are being redefined. It's a long road but ultimately I think that women will lead better lives and families will be smaller and better fed. While the analogy is hyperbolic, the Germans had an epiphany after the Second World War and reinvented itself as one of the world's most socially progressive nations. Perhaps the times we're enduring now will result in similar enlightened atonement. Still, I'm going to order more pizza next time. Even Hawaiian if that's what they want.

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