Sex and Stupidity

The problem with being famous is that it’s a small step to becoming infamous.
Had Moore been a postal worker, Weinstein a gofer on a movie set, and Frankel a bit actor in bad HBO productions, no one would have paid attention to their crimes except their victims, of course. Since these are well-known, public figures, the three have become fair game.

I think what bothers me more than it should, at least right now, is how stupid these men were.

Moore trolling the small-town malls for teen-aged girls when he was already a recognized public official is criminally idiotic. The lack of foresight, the dearth of imagination, is frightening. Moore, after all, is a judge, a man responsible for maintaining the law and punishing miscreants when they break it. His very title, judge, implies a level of community trust. Did he really not consider that groping young girls might be detrimental to his political ambitions? Guess not.stupidity

Frankel’s moronic behavior is also hard to believe. Part of the reason he did the tours to war zones, he once said, was to improve his political résumé. He had planned to run for office long before he announced his candidacy. Having a photo taken grabbing a sleeping woman’s breast is beyond comprehension. We’ve elected stupid criminals to national office before, but never ones quite as… Oh. Wait. “Grab ‘em by the pussy.” Never mind.
Weinstein’s abuse of power was recognized throughout his company and the community at large. I think his people are guilty of abetting his inexcusable actions; they should have blown the whistle a long time ago. That they didn’t shows a high degree of cowardliness and is a little too reminiscent of, “I was only following orders.” This being said, Weinstein was no genius either. It’s difficult to believe that throughout his long history of abuse and harassment, he never once thought of the repercussions if he was caught. He must have known that there had been earlier media attempts to expose him, so I suppose he thought himself smarter than New Yorker and the New York Times. Big mistake, that. Call it artificial stupidity.
The upside, of course, is that if these men had not been social cretins, they probably wouldn’t have been caught. I suppose this is concomitant to thinking with the wrong head?

Let’s hear it for stupidity.

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Chemo Brain

The neurologist had downcast eyes and a sad voice. She was in her forties and I wondered if her melancholy stemmed from so often being the bearer of bad news to her patients. She dealt with strokes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, all the heartbreaking neurological maladies that change lives for the worst.

I was seeing her because both my father and grandfather had Alzheimer’s and required intensive care until their deaths. I had taken in my dad after my mother died and, as his condition worsened, I realized I was woefully unprepared for the demands the illness made. A close friend had told me she thought I had memory issues. I have no family left; if I am at risk, I need to make the necessary plans.brain

When I went to my GP, she asked me how my year had been, and I responded, honestly, that though there had been good moments,  2017 had been horrible, marked by loss, depression and sorrow. She examined the computer screen listing my various health issues over the past couple of decades. Then she asked me to tabulate the number of chemotherapy sessions I’d undergone since being diagnosed with cancer. I did a quick calculation—thirteen surgeries, each of which called for six follow-up chemo sessions. Then there were the preventative sessions I’d recently decided to end. All told, I thought I’d undergone chemo between seventy-eight and ninety times over six years.

She asked, “Have you ever heard of chemo brain?”

I had not.

“With that much chemotherapy, there’s a pretty good chance your brain will be affected, at least temporarily. Memory loss or confusion isn’t uncommon.”

Ah.

Later, back home, I did a little internet research, something I stopped doing a while back when it came to cancer—too much bad information is out there. I do trust the Mayo Clinic, however, and according to its website, “Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.

“Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it’s misleading. It’s unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.

“Despite the many questions, it’s clear that the memory problems commonly called chemo brain can be a frustrating and debilitating side effect of cancer and its treatment.”

So what we have is empirical knowledge, but it made sense.

I mentioned this to the neurologist, and she nodded. “Certainly a possibility,” she said.

She put me through a twenty-minute cognitive test—repeat numbers in and out of order; remember a series of words given at the beginning of the test. I didn’t know the day’s exact date, but then again I seldom do. Did I have trouble recognizing people? I said I sometimes remembered names but forgot faces. She said, “Ha ha.”

I told her that on one or two occasions while driving a familiar route, I’d become disoriented and had to stop to get my bearings. She nodded and scribbled something on her pad.

I drew a cube; I connected numbers to letters and vice versa; I did random word associations; radio and newspapers? Communications. Orange and cereal? Food.

She scratched the bottom of my feet, asked me to clap my hands whenever she said ‘A’ while reciting other random letters. I was given thirty seconds to come up with as many words beginning with F as I could. The first word I thought of was ‘Fuck’ but I didn’t say it. Fruit, flame, fame, ford, final, filial, fearsome… Then I choked. Surely there are more than seven words starting with F in the English language! I switched to French and rattled off a dozen words in a few seconds.

She said, “Do you do that often? Switch between French and English?”

I told her I did so when I couldn’t find the right expression in one or the other language.

Finally, she said, “You passed all the tests…” She paused.

I’ve discovered that when doctors pause while giving you a diagnosis, a but is sure to follow.

“But,” she said, “The disorientation is a bit of a concern.”

I thought, Crap. I shouldn’t have mentioned that, then felt silly for even having such a notion.

“So let’s schedule a brain scan for you. Just to make sure.”

It’s set for two weeks from now. I’ll let you know the results if I remember them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Fries

The old lady looked like an overclothed munchkin with two sweatshirts, pants four sizes too big for her small hips, a shawl, a ski cap, and a Girl Scout sash with badges on it. She might have been forty or eighty, and looked almost homeless. She sat at a table by herself at the Super Peruvian Chicken (Steak and cheese, Hamburgers, Double Cheeseburgers) and was carefully dipping French fries in a small cup of ketchup. She wore a beatific look, each fry adding to her joy and pleasure.

It was 9 p.m.; the restaurant’s eight tables were all occupied. I was balancing a Styrofoam plate bearing a quarter-chicken, a half-pound of brown rice and a mound of lightly sautéed vegetables. She caught my eye and nodded towards the empty chair across from her. I sat.fries

“Best fries! Absolutely the best.” She looked up at me with a sly smile. “Too bad I’m done with ‘em.”

I offered to buy her another order. She feigned surprise. “My! A gentleman! Don’t mind if I do.”

I gave her a five dollar bill and in a moment she was back with her second heaping and a handful of change. I shook my head. “Keep it. More fries later.”

She bobbed her head. “Thank you.”

Her name was Mary Jones, and she lived in a welfare motel a mile or so away. She spent most of her time walking, she told me, and thought she covered ten to twelve miles daily. She pointed to the Fitbit watch on my left wrist. “You walk too?”

I told her I did, though only three or four miles, tops.

She got up, got a can of lemonade from the cooler. When she went to pay, the young woman behind the cash register smiled and shooed her away.

She came back to the table, popped open the can and drank daintily. “You know,” she said, lowering her voice. “All these people, they’re immigrants. The restaurant is open twelve hours a day. They work hard!”

We ate in silence for a while, and then I pointed with my fork to her sash. “A little old to be a Girl Scout, aren’t you?”

She laughed. “That? That’s not mine! I found it on the sidewalk. I wear it because that way, maybe the girl who earned all these badges will see me, and I can give it back to her.”

She slowed a bit over the third batch of fries. I learned she’d been a military wife, but her husband had divorced her just before retiring. She had three children, two daughters and a son, and they were all doing very well. One was in Korea, married to a soldier. The other two had good jobs, children, and lived in California. She herself had graduated from Vassar many years ago and had traveled all over the world. “Germany, I didn’t like the people much. France, I did.”

I told her I was French.

“Bless you,” she said, and started humming La Marseillaise between fries. “Lovely country. I don’t know why everyone says the French are rude. I found them very… nice.” She smiled with a hint of flirtation and said, “I thought your name was Perry.”

“Thierry, actually.”

She said, “Oh, like the chateau?”

I nodded.

“Lovely.” The fries were almost gone. “Goodness. I won’t be able to eat for a week!” She wiped down her side of the table with napkins, and gathered her stuff. There was a large plastic handbag with flowers on it, a backpack, a brown paper bag with grease stains and a small, once elegant purse. She also had two gimme plastic water bottles on a belt she wore like a bandolier so it made an X with the sash across her chest. I offered to drive her home.

She shook her head. “I like to walk.”

I said it was cold and getting colder, and it would not be any trouble at all.

“Such a gentleman,” she said, and went out the door.

 

 

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Sex and Harassment (Cont.)

At this point, what I’m afraid of is a witch hunt. It concerns me that our recently rediscovered alarm over sexual harassment may provide exactly the right fetid atmosphere for revenge, baseless accusations, and sheer invention. Just as there are nasty men out there, there are nasty women too, not above vilifying innocents for fun, payback or profit.
Remember the original witch hunts when innocents were drowned, burned, flailed and stoned. Remember a decade ago the claims of witchcraft and dark rituals leveled at teachers by children whose parents truly believed their little Tommy couldn’t, wouldn’t lie. He did, and so did his little classmates. It was fun and got back at the teachers they didn’t like.
fortiescartoongirlsMassive accusatory movements are frightening and dangerous. They have no arbiter and take on a life of their own. Innocents always suffer by being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people.
I have no basis in fact for thinking anything like this has occurred yet. I don’t know of any recent case when a woman’s accusations of sexual harassment against a man have been fabricated, but I would guarantee that within a month or so, there will be claims that prove false and require refutation. The problem is that the denunciations will be front-page news, and the inevitable printed corrections will be on page seven, below the fold and next to the heartbreak of psoriasis ads.
This always happens and lives are ruined in the process.
Marilyn Williams, an LCSW Psychotherapist who runs the Median Center for Resilience and Brain Training, says, “Our brains are 95 percent animal and five percent human. The five percent tries to rule the 95 percent, and sometimes it fails.”
When that happens, what we call rational or civilized behaviors break down; we act out and behave poorly. Does this excuse our conduct? No, of course not, but it may serve to partially explain it.
Personally, I think there may be a host of other reasons, including—as noted before—a desire to manifest power. I’ve often wondered if socially powerful males guilty of harassment—politicians, entertainers, wealthy businessmen, sports stars and others of their ilk—simply believe themselves to be above the law. This would be another manifestation of an ailing thinking process, except that, quite often, these people are right in their assumptions. Sexually harassing women is for the most part a very small gamble with a great pay-off: The satisfaction of doing the forbidden and not being punished for it.
There’s an interesting sidebar here. Some insurance companies, never ones to ignore the potential for a buck or two, are now offering businesses insurance against harassment claims.
Tucker Ellis LLP, a law firm with offices in several cities, recently advised its clients in a newsletter that, “In recent years, the number of sexual harassment claims in the workplace has increased at a dizzying pace. A recent article notes that sexual harassment claims have increased nearly 50 percent from 1992 to 2001… Faced with escalating claims, beleaguered employers and their risk managers initially turned to their existing insurance programs for coverage. Increasingly, though, they found such programs to be inadequate, either because they provided incomplete coverage or none at all. At the same time, recognizing the demand for a specialized policy which would provide coverage for employment-related claims, the insurance industry developed a new product: the Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policy. It has been reported that while only 10 percent of employers carried EPLI in 1999, the estimate is that ‘within a few years’ up to 70 percent of employers will purchase some form of that coverage.”
Think of it. Such a policy, hidden behind a harmless acronym, essentially allows an individual to harass others, with the full knowledge that his or her behavior will not cause financial hardship to his workplace. If challenged, arrested, and found guilty of harassment, said employee and his or her company, will be reimbursed for the brunt of its legal costs and the fines imposed.
A recent article in the Washington Post investigated the trend and found that, “Lawyers and some women’s groups say the policies, which shield businesses and executives from costly lawsuits and reputational damage, may also help perpetuate abuse by allowing companies to avoid confronting the problem head-on. ‘Payouts can provide some monetary help and peace of mind going forward, but they create a stronger culture of silence,’ said Kim Churches, chief executive of the American Association of University Women. ‘It doesn’t only prohibit victims from speaking up. It means we’re not encouraging colleagues to stand up to sexist language or harassment and call it out on the spot.’”
Back to the witch hunts. Several harassers, including Weinstein, O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey and former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert paid big money to seal their victims’ lips. There is no doubt in my mind that in the very near future, someone will falsely accuse an important someone else of sexual harassment and reap vast insurance rewards from the scam. This will create a diversion where the importance of the event—the harassment and its repercussions—will be devalued and overshadowed by coverage of the scam. It has occurred before.
This is how movements die or get marginalized. A side issue arises. It is more appealing to the media and presents good photo opportunities, and racier copy. There’s more meat to feed to a hungry audience. Invariably, the side story appeals to the lowest common denominator. The crucial issue is shunted aside and soon forgotten, until the next scandal occurs.
 

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Loss

My friend drank again. By the time she made it to the emergency room, she was doing a fifth of vodka a day, and had done so for a month, not a good thing for a woman who weighs 125 pounds. Then she fell and fractured her coccyx, and injured an arm, a hip and an ankle. When I saw her today she looked a hundred years old, her beauty a husk of what it was a year ago. I am resigned to losing her.loss

I am tired of losing people. There have been more than a half-dozen in the last twelve months. Some have died; others have moved away; others still simply got tired of the relationship we had. It’s entirely possible—no, probable—that I accidentally offended a few. One, after an argument carried out by text message, simply wrote, “We’re done here,” and deleted me from her life after two years of working together on a variety of projects.

I write this even as a contract from a publishing company for two of my novels sits on my desk. I have read it but not signed it yet. I am elated that these books that took almost a decade for me to write, have found a home, but this small success simply does not erase the losses.

Does anything?

 

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Sex and Harassment (Cont.)

First, let’s discard the conception of fairness. Fairness is a human construct that has little to do with reality. Life isn’t fair, that’s a given. It’s not fair that women live longer than men; bear pain better, recover from trauma and illness more quickly than men, and have reserves of fat allowing them to last longer during famine. According to a Guardian interview of Steven Austad, a researcher studying aging, “Pretty much at every age, women seem to survive better than men.”

That’s not fair at all. The Guardian story goes on to say, “Men are treated as superior to women in virtually every regard: They’re thought of not only as physically stronger, but smarter, better suited for leadership, and overall deserving of better treatment. All of this is based on the faulty idea that men are just better equipped for modern cartoongirls.jpglife, a notion Austad’s aging research challenges.”

So why is it men are considered more aggressive and violent than women? Jesse Prinz, a City of New York University professor, believes that, “Both men and women want to obtain as many desirable resources as they can. In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn’t allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather. But things change with the advent of intensive agriculture and herding. Strength gives men an advantage over women once heavy plows and large animals become central aspects of food production. With this, men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions.”

Shall we blame sexual harassment on the development of agriculture? Why not. It makes as much sense as any other explanation.

Perhaps, as has been often suggested, it’s a question of power. Most of the power in our world is wielded by men.

The same study appears to establish that, “Men are more xenophobic than women, because they are wired to wage war[…] and one disturbing study shows men endorse war after being primed with a picture of an attractive woman, which suggests that male violence has a sexual motive. But the link between sex and violence may derive from the fact that sex is often coercive in male dominant societies.”

All this would seem to say we have institutionalized our worst habits. War and other violence, cheating and theft as practiced by the wealthy and made legal by them, poverty, sexism, racism. Why not harassment?

Now notice the preponderance of the words ‘appear,’ ‘seem,’ ‘perhaps,’ and ‘believe.’ I point this out because all of these statements are assumptions, save the ones about upper body strength and those that can be proven statistically.

We can also say with a great deal of certainty that sexual harassment is cultural. My friend Beatrice Hamblett, the photographer and writer, remembers walking through neighborhoods in New York when she worked at Colombia. “The abundance of catcalls, whistles, and sexual comments varied depending on the ethnic make-up of the neighborhoods I passed through,” she recalled recently.

Women who have traveled will tell you, for example, that on the streets French men may comment and whistle softly, but they won’t touch a woman, while Italians will touch. Germans press too close in elevators and buses. Japanese are known for groping females in the subways. Greece, interestingly, has a legal description of sexual harassment: “When any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs with purpose or effect of violating the dignity of this person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” It’s a start, but since it does not deal in definitives, the Greeks themselves call it The Ostrich Policy.

What does this prove other than sexual harassment seems to be as international as Coca Cola?

We’re back to the beginning.

French women have recently launched their versions of the #MeToo hashtag, #BalancetonPorc, which loosely translates to Dump Your Pig.

Personally, I’m not sure what to make of the hashtag campaigns here and abroad. This is the sort of social media action whose effectiveness I question. I do know that in France, the incidence of domestic violence accounts for a sizeable percentage of the country’s crime-induced deaths, and that the government there has for the past 25 years tried—not very effectively—to come to grips with sexual harassment.

Now I’ll suggest a theory of my own.

We men are afraid of women. I’d even go so far as to say, we’re terrified of their powers. What we fear, we try to control, and isn’t that what sexual harassment is, a form of control? Some of us–a minority, I’ll say again–the boorish ones, the ones who are the most frightened, the ones whose very manliness is suspect both to themselves and to others, will harass women because it makes them feel strong and superior.

Men, at the cortex level, know perfectly well that without women, we’re nothing. There’s a reason for poems, and chansons d’amour, and legends of love. We adore and worship women. In the most primitive of ways, we know that all women are goddesses. They do what only divinities can do: create life.

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Sex and Harassment

Men and women are designed to do one wondrous thing that has nothing to do with writing noteworthy books or painting masterpieces or directing prize-winning plays–though yes, all these endeavors often have to do with our sex drives. We are constructed to generate and protect other, smaller beings made in our images so the race might go forward. Nature does not care who is with whom, and whether we are well- or ill-matched. Nor does it care about gender confusion, inequality, preference or appellation. Nature isn’t involved in the nature-versus-nurture argument. What it dictates is that sperm must meet egg, and that our children and grandchildren repeat the process ad infinitum.jessica_rabbit460_1358077a

Some of us—me included—do not have children. I’m fine with it, though I recognize that we childless ones are the aberrations looked upon with a degree of distrust and suspicion, pity, and occasional envy. To most, we have gone astray by not properly recognizing and acting upon our real purposes in life. We have failed to understand the joys of procreation—not the act, but the result. We are surplus beings who’ve not made the grade.

I mention all this because we are once again dealing with issues of sex, unwanted sexual advances and harassment, mostly by males and directed at females. We are acknowledging the elephants (there is more than one) not only in the living room but in society as a whole. Sadly, there is nothing new about sexual harassment, and I suspect once this particular storm has passed, we will once again tolerate the actions of a Trump, a Weinstein and, for that matter, a Bill Clinton or a Kennedy.

The issue is that almost everything today is awash in sex. The biggest money-maker on the Internet is porn. Advertising, fashions, entertainment, all promote sex. We dress for sex; we lower our caloric intakes for sex, straining to stay slim and emulate people sexier than we are. Women don heels to emphasize the shapes of their legs. Psychologist Paul Morris ran experiments with women wearing heels and discovered that “with heels, there is a reduced stride, and increased rotation and tilt of the hips. Without any of the other usual indicators of attractiveness, this change in gait alone made the study participants find the heeled-females more attractive.” Some women, a woman friend told me, “refer to their heels as ‘come fuck me’ shoes.”

Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses, writes of lipstick that anthropologists believe red lips serve as a reminder of the labia, which “flush red and swell when they’re aroused.”

We idolize women’s breasts and women wear bras that support and enhance; they display deep cleavage so their breasts are noticed. One long-standing study “holds that breasts evolved as a signal to men that the woman attached to them was nutritionally advantaged and useful, and thus a promising mate.” A 2004 study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found that women with large breasts have a higher level of the hormone estradiol mid-cycle, which could increase fertility. Yet feminists say looking at a woman’s breasts is insulting. In fact, a recent article in Time magazine suggested that even commenting on a woman’s appearance is now verboten.

All this, of course, has both nothing and everything to do directly with sexual harassment but it has a lot to do with confusion.

Is confusion at the heart of harassment? No, of course not, but the issue is, well, confusing. What’s allowed? What is marginal? What’s out of bounds?

Here’s something else. There are despicable guys in finances, in sports, in government, in business, in society as a whole. They take advantage of whatever situation they believe they can benefit from. Some are out-and-out criminals, and others merely push the envelope of what is acceptable. Sexual harassment, which cannot always be easily identified, is a field where they exercise their skills and say, “Who, me?” if they’re challenged. These guys are the minority, regardless of the cant voiced today. The fact is good guys outnumber bad guys by a thunderous margin.

Here’s another concern. We are beside ourselves with anger, but our outrage has the scent of a favorite great aunt’s sachet. We know the stench of this issue well. We have explored harassment’s every nook and cranny on numerous occasions. It has no secrets from us. Our outrage, so often called upon, is fatigued.

We know how to fix the problem. We won’t because the price is simply too great. It would require us to pass and enforce laws no elected official wants to pass and no officer of the law wants to enforce.

We’ll probably try anyway because it is right to do so, but more than likely, the laws will stay in committee, because they must be laws that don’t discriminate, that don’t punish the ignorant or the innocent. They are laws that must be black and white with no room for quibbling, laws that say, “This is okay, but this is not!” They must be reasonable and workable laws that can be applied by a passing policeman who is certain a violation is in progress.

We’re going to try to legislate sex and it will be a glorious boondoggle with millions of words and headlines and TV specials. Such laws have been proposed and enacted possibly more often than have attempts to legislate theft and murder. Oh, and you should probably know that your representatives on The Hill “make their own rules about the handling of sexual complaints against members and staff,” reports the Washington Post. “[They pass] laws exempting it from practices that apply to other employers.” These are the folks you’re going to trust to enact legislation protecting women from sexual harassment? Really?

So how will we change things? I don’t know, but I’d suggest putting away the sharpened knives and the brushes that paint all men as part and parcel of the problem. Most of us are decent people; we are not members of the rape culture; we do not touch or talk to women inappropriately, nor are we sex-starved imbeciles with permanent erections. If you believe we are, then accept that you helped make us that way.

The reality is that we have a deep, abiding respect for women. Our moms were women. Our wives and sisters and, if we have children, our daughters, are women. We love women. We love how they look, talk, and handle themselves. They are our bosses, our coworkers, our friends and our lovers. We are lost without them. We want their counsel and their reasoning, which is different from ours and often wiser. We revel in our dissimilarities, and we learn from them daily. We know that deep down they’re stronger and tougher than we men are. We cringe when they’re harmed, physically or emotionally. We seek revenge. We are neither hypocrites nor misogynists. Women shouldn’t be misandrists.

One last thing—don’t necessarily trust the media to report what is happening on this oh-so-sensitive front accurately.

A prominent newspaper recently printed a story accusing Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel of alleged sexual misconduct. Wiesel died last year and therefore could not respond to the accusations. The paper printed a retraction the next day but of course the harm was done. Wiesel, an exemplary man, is now tainted.

To Be Continued

 

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