What Do You Do?

My wonderfully woke husband recently posted this picture on his Facebook page, along with the explanation quoted below it.

Jackson Katz

Men ask why women are so pissed off, even guys with wives and daughters. Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher, illustrates why. He’s done it with hundreds of audiences:

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

“Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

“Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.”

Yup. I do the vast majority of these things. It’s second nature to me. I don’t even think about it. It’s what I have to do, as a woman, to walk safely through this world.

It never occurred to me that men don’t think about these things. It never really entered my mind how off balance this world is. It makes me kind of sick to my stomach in retrospect.

And then I remembered a couple of incidents that make a lot more sense to me now.

Once I was on a first date with a really nice guy and he was doing his best to impress me. We were having fun in downtown Jacksonville, and to get from one place to another, we decided to take a shortcut through an alley. (It was really more of a pedestrian walkway, paved with cobblestones and very well lit, but deserted.) I’d been through it a thousand times. But this time when we were halfway through, a scary guy entered from the other end. I stopped dead and started backing up. My date kept going and engaged the guy in conversation. He was begging for money. I think my date was trying to show me he was a compassionate person, and so he gave the guy some money, but by then I had backed out of the alley entirely. He came and apologized to me. He said he hadn’t even thought of the fact that the situation was unsafe, and he shouldn’t have put me in it. Yup. He never had to think of things like that when he was on his own.

Another time, I was riding bikes with my boyfriend through our small town, and we decided to go into the local convenience store, as we had many times before. But this time I could hear drunken shouting inside. Again, I stopped dead. I said, “Uh… not a good idea. Not safe.” But my boyfriend was thirsty, so he went anyway. I rode off and went home, where I have an arsenal of strategically placed innocent-looking items that I can use as weapons if need be. A much safer place to be than in the presence of an outraged drunken stranger. When my boyfriend got back he asked me why I had left without him. I said I wasn’t safe. He was truly baffled.

I would love to have the luxury of being baffled. Unfortunately, I’m too busy trying not to be in harm’s way. That’s the way it is. If more men saw that, it would make life easier for us women. I’m not expecting to be taken care of. In fact, I don’t want to be treated like a hothouse flower. But if I do ask you for help, or if I signal that you’re putting me in a situation, then please, take it seriously. That’s really the least you can do while I’m doing everything else on the list above, don’t you think?

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Working a Tropical Storm

We’ve had our fair share of natural disasters this year. But when you pair that with an increasing disregard for workers, you get a toxic combination. People are getting fired for having to mandatorily evacuate and therefore being unable to show up for work. People have been forced to work in extremely unsafe situations, leaving their families at times when they’re needed most. When human life stops being the most important factor, we have reached a new low.

What follows is a letter I was forced to write back in 2008, when I was a bridgetender in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Florida Department of Transportation put my life at risk. As per usual with them, I never got any response, and there seemed to be no consequences. I hope they are treating bridgetenders more fairly now, as these disasters increase in frequency. But I doubt it.

Dear Mr. XXXXXXXX:

Hurricane season is once again upon us. As a bridgetender who had to work at Ortega River Bridge in the early morning hours of Friday, August 22nd during the very worst of Tropical Storm Fay, I feel compelled to give you some insight as to what that was like.

I had to drive to work in 50 mph winds, detouring around downed trees and power lines, and then walked up the bridge to the tenderhouse, getting drenched in the process, and nearly being blown into the street on more than one occasion, only to find out that the coast guard had closed the bridge to boat traffic. I was informed that FDOT was aware of this, but since your wind meter did not match the speeds registered by the one in the tenderhouse, you decided we had to work.

Every weather channel said that the winds were going to be at least 50 mph. Clearly the Coast Guard believed this and took boater safety very seriously. Apparently, we were only there to monitor the radio, but the only transmissions I heard all night were the many Coast Guard announcements that informed boaters of the bridge closings, because no boater in his right mind was out in that weather. No cars were out either, except for the bridgetender who was compelled to relieve me at the end of the shift.

During the entire length of my shift, surrounded by electrical equipment, I was forced to mop water down the hatch and bail as it literally poured in the doors, windows, and through the air conditioner. At one point the heavy traffic cones and life ring blew into the street and I had to wrestle them indoors. Not only should the traffic gates be secured in such weather, but also the traffic cones, life rings and convex mirror should be stowed indoors to avoid becoming projectiles. Apparently that was left up to me during the height of the storm.

When my bladder could no longer hold out, I was forced to venture outdoors and across the street to the bathroom in a downpour, and once again I was nearly blown off my feet. Had I been hurt, no one would have known for hours. Not once did anyone call to check on me.

In the meantime, the power was continually going off and on, which caused the generator to kick in as I watched transformers exploding on the horizon. I found out the next day that water spouts were spinning up on the river. The wind shook the building and the waves crested over the fenders.

When it was time to go home, I once again had to walk down the bridge, and the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was physically painful. Once again I was drenched as no rain coat in the world can stand up to those conditions, and by the time I detoured around even more downed trees and power lines to get home, my lips were blue from the cold and I had to stave off hypothermia by taking an extended hot bath. Thank God my electricity was not out or I would probably have been hospitalized.

The worst part about the whole experience, sir, was that I spent the entire shift afraid, and my family was afraid for me. And the whole time I kept thinking, “I haven’t had a raise in 5 years, and I have $5,000 in medical debt because of substandard health insurance. Must I risk my life, too?”

I can’t speak for other bridgetenders. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to climb the ladder at the Main Street Bridge under these conditions. I’m sure my life would have been flashing before my eyes.

I hope you will take this letter into consideration when making decisions in future storms. I hope I never have to have another experience like that as long as I live.

                                      Sincerely…

Tropical Storm Fay
Tropical Storm Fay. Would you have expected your employees to work in this?

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Suspicious Package

I was walking to the south end of my bridge to do some much-needed maintenance when I came upon a large shopping bag, apparently stuffed full of clothing. It was right in the middle of the sidewalk and no one was in sight. I wasn’t about to go rooting around in this bag. After all, I once wrote about a hand grenade being found on a bridge. You just never know.

After alerting my supervisor, I spoke to the 911 operator and described the package. They said they would send someone out right away. This was good news, because not only would I like to keep my bridge, but this package was, coincidentally, only about 20 feet from my new (to me) car. That’ll ruin your whole day.

It was a little awkward. I didn’t want to leave this bag unattended. We get a lot of pedestrian traffic. So I stayed there, but at a safe distance.

But what is a safe distance, anyway? Close enough to keep the public away from the bag, but far enough not to be maimed for life if it exploded was what I was shooting for. I also didn’t want to stand so far away that I looked like a paranoid dope when it turned out to be just a bag of clothes as I strongly suspected it would. I spent an unbelievably long time pondering the sweet spot of distances until the officer arrived on the scene.

He reassured me that I’d done the right thing by calling. One cannot be too cautious in this day and age. He then inspected the bag from all angles, and asked if I had heard any sounds or seen any wires. No and no. So he then extended his baton to its full length and gingerly used it to pull out the first layer of stuff, which turned out to be a towel. I held my breath.

The bag’s contents included a beach towel, a jacket, and a very nice ballpoint pen. That seems like kind of a strange combination, but I guess we’ll never know the whole story. At least I know more of the story than all the joggers and bicyclers that hurried past. If they sensed my adrenaline dump, they definitely had no idea of its cause.

Just another day on the drawbridge. Move along. Nothing to see here. Your tax dollars at work.

Boom

Surviving Predation

When I think of the many times as a child and young adult that I was preyed upon by some sick person, it makes me wonder how anyone survives to adulthood. If I weren’t touched inappropriately, then inappropriate things were said to me, or someone tried to talk me into doing something that I didn’t want to do. Every woman I know has some story like that from childhood. It really is like being a baby animal on the African plains. Wearing a steak around your neck.

And I appreciate that parents and schools try to teach children to avoid these situations, but the whole “stranger danger” concept doesn’t help at all, because these predators are usually not strangers. They’re relatives, “friends”, or professionals/authority figures whom you are taught to respect. I was once groped by the family physician.

We have to figure out some way to teach children to listen to their inner voices. If something feels wrong, we have to teach them that that instinct is more important than respect or trust. We have to teach them that there are boundaries that no one, NO ONE can cross, and that they have rights. We have to give them permission to say, “No, I’m not doing that.” We have to make sure they understand that if someone says, “Don’t tell,” that’s the very moment in time when they have to tell.

And parents need to be taught, too, that the world is a whole lot less safe than they’d care to believe. Unfortunately, predators can come in many forms. And your child is out there alone on the plains a lot more often than you realize.

[Image credit: Youtube.com]
[Image credit: Youtube.com]

Alternate Realities

As a bridgetender I get ample opportunity to observe people. I sit up here in my not-exactly-ivory tower, watching them come and go. Most of them don’t even know I exist. That can be lonely, but it also gives me a certain amount of power, and it’s power that I haven’t earned, so I’ve never quite gotten used to it.

People will say the most intimate things as they walk down the sidewalk. I’m not intentionally eaves dropping, but voices do carry. They’ll also do the most bizarre things when they think they’re all alone, so during the early morning part of my shifts on Saturdays and Sundays in particular, when traffic is light and most people are sleeping in or sleeping it off, I’ve seen some quite interesting things.

The other day I saw a guy who appeared to be dancing down the sidewalk. As he got closer I realized that he wasn’t dancing. He was playing imaginary basketball. His dribbling and his overhead passes were particularly graceful. His layups needed some work. He seemed harmless enough, so I let him play on.

On the contrary, shouting man seemed a danger to himself and others. He was disheveled and sucking on a marijuana pipe as he walked along, screaming and gesticulating aggressively. I was tempted to let him be as well, until he straddled the railing into oncoming traffic. That made me call 911. They showed up rather quickly, tested his drugs, talked to him a while, and sent him on his not-so-merry way. That’s the thing about Seattle. The city seems to allow obviously disturbed people to roam free instead of getting them the help that they desperately need. That’s something I haven’t gotten accustomed to. I feel sorry for all the ragged dirty people I see on street corners, talking earnestly to themselves.

There’s another gentleman who is very clean cut, and for all appearances is a functional member of society. That is, until he reaches the informational placard at the top of one of my bridges. It’s tilted sort of like a podium, and he appears to use it as such. He’ll stand there, thumping it with his hands, and speaking loudly and earnestly to the river. There’s no one else around to hear him except me. Sometimes I wonder if he really is a preacher practicing his sermon. He’s too far away for me to hear what he’s saying. Eventually he’ll hop on his bike and ride away.

For the most part I’m a live and let live kind of girl. As long as they are not inviting potential disaster on me, the public, themselves or the bridge, I just kind of shake my head and let them do their unique things. I think all of us, to a certain extent, live in our own little worlds. The majority of us are just a little more adept at keeping it to ourselves.

nyt_audio_hallucination

[Image credit: differencebetween.info]

Potentially Hazardous

If I were a package, the post office would refuse to mail me. I should be encased head to toe in bubble wrap and surrounded by bright yellow caution tape. Seriously. I’m a danger to myself.

As if it weren’t bad enough that I have a brace on my arm due to a recent bad fall, last night I fell yet again! I was going down another set of stairs and trying not to grip the railing with my “bad” hand, all the while fumbling with my umbrella, when I took a tumble on a bed of gravel and landed in a very large, muddy puddle. No harm done this time, other than a scraped knee. But as I lay there, “empuddled”, on a dark deserted street in a very bad neighborhood, my half-opened umbrella threatening to abandon me with the next gust of wind, I thought, “I’m a human train wreck.”

I seem to go through phases of clumsiness. I’ll have several bad falls spaced closely together. Or there’s the time I spilled boiling soup down my chest and legs within days of setting my hair on fire. And then I drove a splinter not only under my fingernail, but also all the way up to my first joint. Children should run screaming in the opposite direction when I approach.

Granted, so far I seem to only put myself at risk, but who knows what the future holds? Someday my containment field might be breached, and then woe betide you. It might not be pretty.

caution

[Image credit: safetygearonline.com]

When Practical Jokes Go Too Far

Every once in a while it’s fun to play a practical joke, or even to be on the receiving end of one. It can mean that you’re well liked. But practical jokes make me nervous because it is so easy to cross the line into cruelty or danger. This is why I have never liked people who seem to make practical jokes their life’s work.

I have worked with a couple people like that, and they knew I didn’t like their antics.

One of them could have killed one of my coworkers. At the time, she was in her third trimester of pregnancy and against all odds she was still working with us on the bridge. To get to the tenderhouse you have to climb a ladder 25 feet up above the roadway. She had made it to the top, God only knows how, and our resident merry prankster, who was lying in wait for her, decided to throw a pigeon at her. She screamed and took a step back. She could have fallen to her death or at the very least, lost the baby. That is when I lost all respect for the guy.

But of course, that incident didn’t stop him. It didn’t even slow him down. Next, he decided to target the most vulnerable of us, a guy with a very low IQ and a very high body odor. With a cohort who was always easy to lead down the wrong path because she was so desperate to be liked, our class clown got a pair of underwear, smeared the crotch with chocolate, broke into the poor guy’s locker and left it there. Upon finding this little love letter, the man was on the verge of tears. It made me sick. Picking on this guy was the moral equivalent of kicking a puppy.

Before playing tricks on people, you might want to consider your motivation, and you really ought to take into account the way you will make others feel. Is this really the legacy you want to leave behind you?

practical jokes

(Image credit: demotivationalposters.net)

Darkness Revealed

When I drive to work at night it’s a completely different experience than when I work a day shift. Even the nuclear power plant, normally a blight upon the landscape, looks beautiful. It is all lit up and floating in a sea of blackness like a nighttime cruise heading for the Bahamas.

The traffic flow is different as well. There’s less of it, and although it seems like a more lawless group of drivers, and definitely a more alcohol-soaked one, it feels safer. This is a dangerous illusion that requires one to be on the alert.

Criminals rule the night, or at least that is what Hollywood would have us believe. So there’s also this underlying sense of excitement and danger. Most people who are out at night are there either because they have no choice or they like the thrill and the atmosphere or they don’t have the sense to be vigilant. Or they are predators who are up to no good. And since these people can’t be told apart, you have to assume the worst.

What I like about the dark hours is the sense of isolation. Even though there are still the same number of humans on the planet, somehow at night you can often feel as if you have it all to yourself. What a luxury. I look up at the sky and revel in the quiet and imagine that all those stars are a part of me. We are star stuff, after all. I seem to breathe easier at night. I feel embraced by it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

It takes a certain amount of faith to feel safe at night. You are, after all, being deprived of one of your senses. Anything could be in the darkness. Anything at all. You can’t really be sure. There’s so much out there that you can’t see. Everything is hidden from you, and there’s quite a lot of it.

Indeed, that feeling of abundance can overtake our senses. At night we become more. More romantic, more fearful, more uninhibited, more exuberant, or more lonely and depressed. People hate to be alone on a Friday night. You never hear them complain about being alone on a Friday afternoon.

The nighttime feels like an grand entity that the daytime can never even hope to become. It takes a special effort to overcome that prehistoric desire to hide, to hibernate, to wait out the darkness. But if you make the effort, you often reap rare and sensual rewards.

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