25 October 2018

The Time I was Accused of Sexual Harassment and a Segue into #MeToo and Woody

I was once investigated for sexual harassment. I was a middle school teacher so this was a serious charge.

It was a Friday. I’d just taught my first class of the day. It was my prep period. I was walking through the halls anticipating the weekend. The principal found me and told me to come to her office and I should bring another teacher as a union rep. This scared me from head to toe, I hadn't a clue what was going on. I found a colleague who was also on his prep. The principal was waiting in her office along with one of the vice principals and an associate superintendent for the school district. They looked somber. Without any preliminaries I was told that there had been a charge of sexual harassment against me by a student. I was further informed that I would be suspended immediately with pay while the matter was investigated. I was not told who the student was nor anything relating to the nature of the accusation.

The world had collapsed beneath me. I felt like I was in a Kafka novel.

I was led to my classroom to collect my things, one of the school safety officers was called over to drive me home. I'm not sure why this was necessary unless they just wanted to make sure that I left school property. Before leaving I went to turn off the classroom computer as I always did before going, but the vice principal was there to block me from touching it. That added further humiliation.

The rest of the day and the weekend were excruciating as I searched my mind for what possibly could have led to the accusation. I went over any possible interaction that might have been misconstrued and came up with nothing. Depression enveloped me, so did fear. My livelihood was on the line and I had no idea why. I could lose my job, I could lose my teaching credential, I could even face criminal charges.

Monday I was home, not having to work and getting paid for it but I couldn’t have been more miserable. Of course I had told my wife, but I couldn't let on with the children; they were told I wasn't feeling well. I called the union office regularly for updates. They had nothing that they could share. I made arrangements with the school office to drop off lesson plans. I was under no official obligation to do so, but felt a personal and professional obligation to my students. Of course I could only come to school after students had been dismissed. A few colleagues came by to check in with me and offer their support and sympathy. I noted that my computer was gone, I later discovered it had been taken by school district officials and thoroughly searched.

On Thursday I finally got the call from the superintendent of human resources that I was free and clear and could return to work the next day. They were still unable to tell me who had charged me with what, just that I’d been cleared. It was a tremendous relief and I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

I subsequently learned that many of my female students had been interviewed. This was chilling. What must they know think of me now? Was I forever stigmatized in their minds?

To this day, over 13 years later, I have no idea who had accused me of what.

I was a teacher and I had five classes and about 120 students I was responsible for so I returned to work and put the nightmare behind me as best I could. But it nagged. Which of my female students had been questioned? What had they said? How did they feel about me after the questioning?  I completely put out of my mind any thoughts of who might have made the accusation. I’d been over that in my mind repeatedly during the suspension and came up with nothing. But my best guess was that a student had reported something rather innocuous, maybe as revenge for a bad grade or for me having taken disciplinary action against her, and the principal had decided to make a meal of it.

One of the factors working against me had been that, at the time, we had a simply awful principal who had a veritable enemies list among the teachers which included me. I reckoned that she was the real culprit. (I shed no tears when she was fired a year later and four years after that was similarly dismissed from another principal position for the same reasons that she was canned in Berkeley, those reasons including incompetence, pettiness and a propensity to lie.)

In the years since I rarely think about my suspension  although it occasionally resurfaces, causing a shudder and adding to the PTSD I already suffer from. I’m not angry or bitter about the experience anymore but I do still vividly recall how awful it was.

I think about this as women are increasingly coming forward with stories of sexual assaults and harassment that they have suffered. It is a painful time in our culture but an absolutely necessary one. For far too long women have suffered in relative silence, afraid to come forward with their stories. The recent Supreme Court hearings as well as accusations agains prominent people in the entertainment industry have exposed offenders and the degree to which society is silent and complicit in the face of gender abuse.

But I also believe in due process. It is a cornerstone of our democracy and in the principle of justice. When their are myriad credible accusations and stories such as those against the likes of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, there can be little doubt of guilt. But even Cosby got his day in court before being found guilty. The #MeToo movement has done a great deal to expose offenders and support victims, but it is not without problems of its own.

The best example is Woody Allen who has unfairly been lumped in with real offenders. Allen was accused — 26 years ago — of molesting his adopted daughter, Dylan. This after an acrimonious break up with girlfriend and frequent film muse, Mia Farrow. Two separate investigations cleared Allen and suggested the possibility that Dylan had been coached in making her accusations, there were also witnesses to this. Indeed there are more witnesses to Farrow coaching Dylan to accuse her father than there are witnesses to any molestation. Further, the story Dylan told of being molested lacks credibility. She has it occurring on a day that a house was full of people many of whom were keeping a close eye on Allen. The setting she described for the violation also makes no sense and more fits to the lyrics of a song that Farrow’s sister wrote years before. Still Dylan re-introduced the accusation a few years ago via Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column and most people on social media believed her.

Last Spring another adopted child of Farrow and Allen, Moses, told a very different story in a blog post, contradicting what Dylan said and charging Farrow with abuse. Many in #MeToo were not kind to him for going against the dominate narrative. One wrote: I will not dignify his post by reading it. Imagine such a response to an abuse survivor bravely sharing his or her story. The actress Roseanne Arquette tweeted to Moses: how much did they pay you to write that? Again this to an abuse survivor recounting their past trauma. More recently Allen’s wife Soon-Yi was interviewed by Vulture and told her story about the abuse she suffered from Farrow. Reaction from many in #MeToo was swift. She was condemned. Evidently #believewomen only applies to certain women, not those who, again, contradict a preferred narrative. Hypocrisy was on further display as many pointed out that the interview was conducted by a friend of Allen’s. However two Vanity Fair articles boosting Dylan’s story were authored by a friend of the Farrows, Maureen Orth and the aforementioned Kristof, who yielded his column to Dylan, is a close friend of the Farrows. Proving he has no journalistic integrity, Kristof refused to give equal time to Moses.

All this is not to say that #MeToo is not important or does not have a place. But we need be wary of painting with too broad a brush and of denying due process where called for. Allen in fact was afforded due process and was cleared but now he’s being re-tried and found guilty — sans any new evidence — by social media.

Hopefully saner and cooler heads will soon prevail and some of the overreach and hypocrisy corrupting #MeToo will dissipate. Also as abusers are uncovered perhaps we can move away from merely castigating the offender and start to look at the causes of the abuse. After all when there is a mass shooting there is very little time devoted to railing against the killer (it is a given he will face justice) and more time spent examining the causes. Maybe in the future we will be able to safely assume that abusers will be prosecuted and afforded due process and focus instead on the difficult work of fixing the societal issues that lead to men violating women.  While who did it makes for good headlines, why it happens is what we need to focus on.

17 October 2018

The Life of a Rock, As Told By One

I’m a rock, specifically a limestone. I’m what’s called a sedimentary rock, my composition includes a lot of marine organisms. My major minerals are calcite and aragonite. Right now I’m by the side of a small road a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. It’s a rural area and the road doesn’t get a lot of traffic. There are a fair amount of hikers who use the road to go from a nearby national park to the beach. I was recently kicked by a hiker — inadvertently — about ten feet from the spot I’d been resting on for several years. My new location is pretty much the same except I get a little more shade from a tree, I believe it’s a live oak but I’m not much up on trees. Anyway the shade is welcome on hot Summer days and provides a bit of protection from the heavy rains we get in these parts.

I’ve been at one place or another by this road since it was built in the mid 1920s. Before that I’d been closer to the ocean, in fact within walking distance (not that I, as a rock, can walk). It’s hard to say how I got here, it was a time of a lot of construction and development and there was a lot of confusion and it was traumatic. Repressed memories, I guess. I had been close to where there were a small cluster of houses and a shop. Eventually they grew into a little town. I do know that at one point someone picked me up and carried me a ways, I don't know for what purpose. I know I’ve been thrown a couple of times but not for at least 20 years. Being thrown is kind of a thrill at the time you’re airborne but then you land and it hurts like the dickens and, as happened the last time I was tossed, bits of you can come off. I’ve got a sizable knick where a chunk of me came off back in the Forties when some kid threw me and I landed on another rock.

Of course I’m lucky, some rocks get smashed into bits, others are thrown into the ocean — which is okay for some — others I’ve heard of get thrown through windows or against things. Worst of all, some rocks actually get thrown at people. I’d imagine hitting a person would just be awful.

Being by the road I’m vulnerable to getting hit by a car or motorcycle or even worse, a big truck. I’m a few feet off the road so it would take something like a drunk driver to hit me. I can’t worry about it, though. I’ve really been lucky in another respect, there’s been a lot of bird poop that’s landed right around me — what with me being near a tree — but I haven’t been hit yet. Sometimes animals happen by, dogs of course but also deer, raccoon, porcupines and even bears. I've had pee splash on me although I’ve never been directly peed on. It’s not the worst thing that can happen. I’ve been sniffed quite a few times by animals, you get that a lot if another animal has recently peed in the area. The sniffing doesn’t bother me in the least. It kind of tickles.

I’ve actually been lucky. The worst I've gone through is been hail storms. Some of the hail was pretty big and hard. I can do without that. A really hot day is no fun too, but as a rock I can put up with it, same as really cold days.

You might think that being a rock is boring but it’s all I know and I never pass a dull moment. There are always things to see and hear and smell — yes, rocks can smell and hear and see. There’s a lot you don’t know about rocks. We also have pretty good memories. However I only have vague recollections of my formation. I know I started in clear, warm shallow waters in the ocean. I earlier mentioned some of my composition, I did omit one thing because it’s something I’m not necessarily proud of: fecal debris. But I might as well own it, it’s who I am. Being in the water was a nice place to start and a lot of rocks are very happy to be in the sea or a lake or a river. But I enjoy being on land.

Sometimes I wish I was in a more populated area because I really enjoy hearing what people talk about and seeing what they do. Some of the hikers who pass by have interesting conversations, others sing, which is fun, many are silent which is frustrating for me. Of course there are perils to being around a lot of people. You’re far more likely to be tossed around, broken, splintered, smashed etc. So I guess I’ve got it pretty good.

Life as a rock is not bad. Sure it’s all know, but I’m not complaining.

15 October 2018

The Author Takes on a Variety of Topics Including Films, Politics, The Middle of Nowhere and Whistling

If you take the outside off of something exposing the inside of it isn't the inside now on the outside?

You often hear that what goes around comes around but I'm pretty damn sure that a lot of things just keep going. You also hear about karmic justice but there's plenty of evidence that sometimes there is no justice. Payback is a bitch, but it doesn't always come. Where is the payback, the karmic justice, the comes around of the slaughter of  Native Americans that took place over hundreds of years after the Europeans arrived on this continent? If there ever is such justice, payback and coming around it isn't going to do a lot of good to the generations of tribes that were all but wiped out.

Why do people think it's okay to have phone conversations in public places while surrounded by other human beings? I don't see this ever stopping and it's damn aggravating. I just can't wrap my mind around someone sitting on a bus with strangers all about and yakking away.

The missus and I saw the latest incarnation of A Star is Born the other day and it is one of those rare films I can unequivocally recommend to anyone and everyone. It won't be my favorite movie of the year but it is one I can suggest people see regardless of how well or how little I know them and without regard to what other types of films they like or don't like. Lady Gaga was a revelation and Bradley Cooper, who wrote, directed and co-starred was no slouch either.

I've just come across the Scottish director Lynne Ramsey. Over the course of the last 19 years she's only directed four films and they've all been good -- check that, very good. I saw her most recent first,  Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here. Her first film was Ratcatcher, her second Morvern Callar starring Samantha Morton and her third We Need to Talk About Kevin, which starred Tilda Swinton in a masterful performance. Ramsey has a great visual style and is particularly adept at using music to underscore her story. I just wished she'd make more.

Recently in virtually the same breath our moronic president praised Robert E. Lee and suggested that African Americans should vote Republican. Okay so which is it, you gonna tell black people that a slaveholding racist who fought a rebellion against the United States is a great guy or you going to try to convince them to vote for your party? Well it ain't gonna happen President Dipshit. Kanye or no. And by the way, Kanye West is a frickin' idiot.

Anyone else hear that climate change is not only real but has already started wreaking havoc? And yet our "government" is twiddling its thumbs. It's literally the worst crisis since....geez,  it's the worst ever and President Brainless is in total denial. He says climate scientists have "an agenda" -- yeah to save the fucking planet.

I mentioned this recently on twitter but it bears repeating. Notice how people are always "in the middle of nowhere?" How come they don't get to the outskirts of nowhere and turn the fuck around? Why do they continue on to the middle? I'd at least stop a few hundred yards from the middle of nowhere and get back toward somewhere. Anywhere is better than nowhere. I just had a thought, is nowhere in everywhere? I mean everywhere encompasses everyplace and if nowhere is a place than it must be within the confines of everywhere. If it is, is it still nowhere? I'm guessing that some place else is also within everywhere.

I'm quoting this from some other guy on twitter: "51 Senators who represent 40% of the population will confirm a SCOTUS nominee who has the support of under 40% of the population, and was nominated by a man who came in 2nd in the popular vote. Can we stop saying the US is the greatest democracy in the world? It was never true." I wished I'd written that myself because it's damn good. At least I had the decency to share it with y'all, so you're welcome.

The new kid on the Supreme Court, ya know, the sex deviant, has had more run-ins with the law and more accusations of inappropriate behavior than I have and I'm just some idiot with a blog. They really oughta have a screening process before they put unqualified jerks on the highest court in the land. For that matter we really should weed out people who try to run for the presidency keeping out the dimwits who don't know the US Constitution from TV Guide.

Here's something that chaps my hide (hey, what doesn't these days, am I right?) people are trying to rehabilitate George W Bush just because the current occupant of the Oval Office is an even bigger idiot than he was. How about let's try him for war crimes first? His illegal invasion of Iraq under false pretenses remains the biggest foreign policy disaster in US history and that's saying something considering how royally this country has screwed up so many times on foreign soil.

A couple of weeks ago we had rain -- just a little, mind you -- for the first time in four months. Some people acted like we were undergoing monsoon season. Then again when we finally had rain after the worst draught in state history people complained then too. I hate to say it but some people are morons when it comes to rain. Rain is good. I don't really need to explain that, do I?

Not good. Whistling in the locker room. Done with it. Does this happen in women's locker rooms? It's annoying because 90% of the time it's just noise and not a recognizable tune.

There are things that people do that not only don't bother me, but that I rather appreciate. Smiling. Opening doors for others. Helping the needy. Fighting for social justice. Making art. Fixing things. Doing favors. Being complimentary. Cleaning up after themselves. Working agains the racist regime of President LardButt. Stuff like that. Keep it up people.

04 October 2018

The Dissolution of Emerich Crow, A Man Accused

Emerich Crow remembered one particular Friday night in 1989 when he was in high school. All day the high school junior had anticipated the line up of sit coms on ABC that he would be enjoying that night, particularly his favorite, Perfect Strangers. When the opening theme for the show came on at 9:00, young Emerich buzzed with excitement. He sang along and with particular gusto to the lines: “Standing tall, on the wings of my dream. Rise and fall, on the wings of the dream.” Once the show started Emerich’s attention was fully on the TV. Nothing else existed for those 30 minutes. He was in a state of bliss. He loved all the characters, but especially Balki the wacky cousin from the fictional Mediterranean Island. Who wouldn’t love, Balki? He often wondered. In this episode Balki had a tooth ache and was reluctant to go to the dentist but his erstwhile cousin, Larry persuaded him that it was safe. It was a particularly funny episode. Plus he enjoyed the sweet relationship of the mis-matched pair of cousins. Inevitably the episode ended. Always a bittersweet moment. Emerich had thoroughly enjoyed the episode feeling forever connected to the characters as he always did. But now there was another week to wait before the next episode. Sadness. The rest of the ABC’s Friday night lineup provided a pleasant distraction but nothing could quite assuage the pain of Perfect Strangers being over for another seven days.

That was 29 years ago. How, Emerich Crow wondered, had he happened to have remembered that one particular night, that one particular episode? He even remembered that it was in October and that it rained that night, adding to the coziness of being ensconced in a blanket on the playroom sofa.

It was another universe, another epoch, he’d been another person. A shy virgin with few friends who earned excellent grades but was estranged from the school’s social life. Since then. My god, since then it had all been so different.

Now he was 46 years old. Recently separated. Of course. He owned his own home. Paid for. He’d had a lucrative job. Fired. His bank account was flush. Thankfully. Emerich had not just changed a lot in the intervening 29 years, but he had in the two years after that Friday night watching TV. By the end of his freshman year in college Emerich was no virgin and neither in regards to sex nor to drugs and alcohol. TV shows were all but forgotten.

Emerich shook his head at how fast he went from the lonely boy reveling in sit coms to the wild college freshman. Then he bent his head down and snorted another line of coke. Now he shook his head for a different reason. It was excellent coke and it soared through and around his brain, made his heart pump and gave him an overwhelming sense of euphoria and the conviction that he was invincible, never mind his current circumstances. Emerich chased the cocaine with a shot of scotch. Johnnie Walker Black. He smiled.

Sure he was alone in the house. Meredith had left him and taken the kids. Sure she was right, he couldn’t argue with her. Not for a second. It had happened. It wasn’t just getting fired, of course, it was the accusations. The accusations had been sufficient for the bosses to can him, without so much as a by your leave. The women were credible. Not to mention angry. Really, Emerich had no defense. He remembered a quote from Euripides: “No one is truly free, they are a slave to wealth, fortune, the law, or other people restraining them from acting according to their will.”

“You said it, pal!” Emerich bellowed. But he marveled at remembering that line.

Maybe, he thought, I should try to get laid tonight. Go to a bar, pick up some floozy. Or there was Janice from accounting who’d left the company a few months before the shit came down. She’d been good for a tumble in the past. Emerich pondered his next move, then snorted another line, then had another slug of scotch. Say, I feel pretty good. Damn good, as a matter of fact. Emerich called Janice.

“I’m really not interested, Em. Plus I’m seeing someone now. But — ” Emerich hung up. If Janice was a no, he wasn’t interested in her life story.

Screw it. Emerich could entertain himself and anyway wasn’t it an overactive sex drive that had gotten him into this pickle? Yeah that was all it was, a lot of the stuff they said was horseshit.

Balki. What a character. It had been decades since Emerich had thought of that show. Couldn’t believe he used to dig that sort of silly nonsense. Perfect Strangers had been his favorite but there’d been a lot of other shows he sat glued to. There’d been Cheers, Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss, Different Strokes. God he couldn’t believe he still remembered all those names and some of the characters. There was a Willis on some show, of course Sam Malone had been on Cheers and Tony Danza, no he was the actor’s name on some damn program. Hadn’t watched a sit com in who knows how long. God he was a dumb kid. Now what was he? Well he’d been something until the shit hit the fan. Moved right up in the corporate world. Played it smart, played it tough, knew when to schmooze when to kick ass. Made a lot of sound investments on the side. Made a good life for Meredith and the kids. The wife had done okay herself as a lawyer. But she did too much of that pro bono shit because of her bleeding liberal heart. House was paid for. In full. Didn’t owe a dime. Paid for everything. God damn it.

Balki was kind of funny at that, at least for a kid.

Another line, another slug of good old Johnnie Walker Black. Maybe hit the links tomorrow. Nahh it would be Saturday, wait until during weekday when it wasn’t so crowded. Have to find someone to golf with. Bunch of so-called friends had suddenly gotten busy when Emerich got into his little mess. Fuck ‘em.

Emerich got up to put some music on. Stood. Wobbly. Teetered a bit and fell on his ass. Helluva time getting back up but he managed. Staggered to the head and took a nice long piss. Balki. He chuckled. Damned if he wasn’t peeing all over the toilet and the floor. Well hell can clean it up in the morning. Zipped up. Checked himself in the mirror. Looked okay. Not bad. Holding up. Could use a shave. Stumbled towards the sofa, grabbing his bottle of scotch on the way. No more blow for now.

Maybe turn a goddamned light on. Or the TV. Rent some porn, better on the TV than on the computer, bigger picture. Could never rent it at home when Meredith was around. She’d a had a fit. Prude.

He remembered something from the bible, from Ecclesiastes: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” How and why do I remember shit like that? As useless as Balki. No, no, no, no, no, Balki was cool, he was funny, the show was funny at least at the time.

Women. There was his problem. Damn it, it was the ones who dressed sexy and flirted who were the first to complain if you actually did anything. Why didn’t they just wear burlap sacks over the bodies with eye holes? Couldn’t compliment ‘em, even that was harassment. That whole me too business was changing the world and not in a way that Emerich Crow liked. Every woman was believed no matter what she said and who she said it about. Emerich slammed the coffee table in anger. Now what was he going to do? He was tainted by the accusations and his dismissal. Everyone knew. He may even have to face legal charges. Fuck that.

Balki. What a crack up. That goofy accent. Emerich still remembered it. What the hell was the actor’s name who played him. Began with a B. Bertrand? Bradley? Maybe it was a P. Peter? Porter? Too lazy to look it up. Another swig of scotch. Immanuel Kant said: “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.” Why, Emerich wondered, am I remembering all these quotes? I think I’ve got them exact too. But I can’t remember the fucking name of the guy who played Balki. But I can remember watching that one episode about the dentist on a rainy October night. But I can’t remember what those women claimed I did and why it was supposedly so damn bad. Yeah he'd been a little rough, a little crude, but they seemed into it. And that one broad, Larisa, that was like five years ago and she just brings it when the other gals opened their big mouths. What a dirty frame-up.

Lately Emerich hadn’t known what to feel. Pissed about the job and Meredith leaving with the kids, but glad he was free of all encumbrances and could still make a good life for himself. But then…

Emerich started to weep. First time he’d cried, really cried, since he was a kid. The tears poured out. He heaved with wracking fits of sobs. It went on for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. When it was over Emerich felt stone cold sober and a crystalline pure depression like he’d never forget rose up his spine. He knew another drink or another line wouldn’t help. It had finally hit him. He’d fucked it all up. Why pretend anymore? I shouldn’t have been messing around with those women in the first place let alone doing….what I did. Fuck me!

Emerich stared at the floor his mind a blank except for the pulsating depression that inhabited his every breath. Shit, guilty, guilty, guilty. Might as well face it. I did what they said, I am what they said. That’s me. All at once here it is and there's nothing to be done. Nothing to take the pain away.


Finally Emerich rose and fetched his laptop. A quick search revealed that Amazon had every season of Perfect Strangers available to stream. He’d start from the beginning and watch every episode. Emerich cheered up. He nestled in on the sofa with a blanket. It started to rain outside. Perfect.