You’ve been wrong before, Don’t be wrong anymore
When I joined MSU’s theatre department, I was a sophomore. I was 10 years older than the incoming freshmen, 6 years older than most of the seniors. Bob was a year older than me, but he intimidated me and we weren’t close. Most of the people I hung out with were younger than me. That was ok. While you could argue my life up to that point had made me mature for my age, I would admit that it had also made me immature and stunted in a lot of ways. Being with the members of Campus Players allowed me to be young not again but for the first time.
There were times I’d decline activities because I felt I was too old or had a different frame of reference. I didn’t do slumber parties and I declined an invite to the high school prom. I still had my need to be dignified and I was always a mom, to the point of mothering my friends and being the go-to person when they needed adult advice, but didn’t want to talk to their parents. I went on the bar-crawl with everyone for their 21sr birthdays, making sure no one got alcohol poisoning or ended up going home with the wrong person. I made sure everyone knew how to access birth control and answered questions about sex. I mediated arguments, facilitated romances, made sure we all had a safe space.
I also withdrew when things got too ‘young’ or silly for me, or if I felt my ‘adult supervision’ was getting in the way. I took time away from my friends to be with my kids, sometimes using the kids as an excuse when I just didn’t want to do something. “I can’t–the kids…” Tonia, Ruth, and I still went out, but not as often. Those of us Campus Players old enough to go to the bars went out dancing every Thursday. I had a pretty good mix of old and young friends.
My second year in Campus Players, one of the new students was actually an old student. She’d started theatre at MSU right after graduating high school, but then she got married and put school on pause to have two kids. After four years, she’d returned. She was just a little bit younger than me. Her first, last, and maiden names all began with K, so we called her Triple-K.
Janet was really happy I finally had someone close to my age to hang out with and encouraged our budding friendship. Triple K was one of those brash, loud, laughing people who say whatever’s on their mind and never seem to get embarrassed about anything. I enjoyed the hell out of her; I admire people who aren’t timid or restrained. We were best buds in no time.
“Here’s to you and here’s to me; Best of friends we’ll always be! If by chance we disagree? Fuck you! Here’s to me..”
Three events led to the end of the friendship. One was kind of funny in retrospect, one was pretty irritating, and one was unacceptable.
Let’s start at the end.
Farrah was dating a guy named Jason. He was in the Broadcasting Department and seemed ok, except for trying to use the same pickup line all the time. I didn’t like or dislike him; he just was. One Saturday night Farrah called me up and asked if she could come over and study with me. She and Jason had planned to go to a diner, drink coffee, and study together but something had come up and he’d canceled. We were all studying for the same test, so I told Farrah to come on over; the coffee was on me.
Farrah and I finished studying and sat chatting and gossiping until Farrah realized it was after one am and she ought to go get some sleep. We started the midwest goodbye ritual, where you say you’re going but actually stay another hour or two while slowly preparing to go. The phone rang and when I answered, it was Triple-K’s husband. He asked to speak to Triple-K and I said she wasn’t here. I joked that I’d had last night’s party; tonight it was somewhere else. He said she’d told him she was having dinner with me after workcall ended at 5 and then we were going out. I told him she’d left workcall around noon to go have lunch with a group of others and I hadn’t seen her since. I was sorry.
I hung up and told Farrah what Triple-K’s husband had said. Farrah sat for a moment in silence and then asked if she could use the phone. She called Jason. No answer. She said she was going home and left. About an hour later I get a call from Triple-K asking why I hadn’t covered for her. I told her maybe if she’d told me I was covering before her husband called? I asked if she’d been with Jason. She had. So I clarified: Triple-K wanted me to cover for her so she could cheat on her husband with Jason, who was in turn cheating on one of my best friends? All without telling me that I was supposed to be covering for her? She said she knew I’d be all judgey about it. I told her to lose my number and hung up.
That was the last straw. But something happened before that.
Legends was a 2-story bar in town. Upstairs they had live music played at decibels loud enough to make you deaf. Downstairs they had exotic dancers, usually ladies, but every once in a while they’d bring in male dancers. I’m not a prude, at least I try not to be. But I’m a feminist who struggles with defining what actions are empowering and what actions are sold to us as empowerment, but are actually just the same old exploitative bullshit masquerading as choice. I can accept that people choose to be dancers. The money is very good for both men and women who dance. But there are no retirement plans, no insurance, and no unemployment.
I don’t think people who dance are to be belittled or treated as lesser. But the job leaves those people in a very precarious position because the rules surrounding their profession allow them to be exploited. So I don’t go to bars where there are strippers; I don’t want to be part of that exploitation. And I’m equal opportunity: If I don’t watch female strippers, I don’t watch male ones either.
If I’m being honest, I have other, perhaps less noble reasons for not watching male strippers. I’m embarrassed. Not because I can’t deal with seeing nude or mostly nude male bodies. Because I think the behavior of women who attend male strip shows is shameful. Male customers aren’t allowed to touch the female dancers but women are encouraged to touch the male strippers–and they do, pawing and groping and trying to get away with touching privates. All behaviors that we abhor in men. When men watch dancers, they tend to behave quietly and calmly, and when they give tips, they’re careful to behave and touch only where allowed. Women watching male dancers shriek and hoot like animals who’ve never seen a nude body before.
I know part of my embarrassment stems from my innate need to remain dignified, and I shouldn’t force my needs onto the behavior of others. But sitting among a bunch of drunk, screaming women pawing men who are trying to earn a living causes me deep embarrassment. I have not tried to end male strip shows. I haven’t tried to talk anyone out of attending them. But I won’t go. I made this very clear when Legends started featuring male strippers. Triple-K, Lori, and Sandra went to these shows and tried to get me to join them. I refused. I told them to go without me, but whenever the male dancers were in town, we had the same tired discussion. I was tired of it. I wasn’t judging; I just didn’t want to go.
One evening Triple-K asked me if I wanted to join her and Bob for quarter beers at another bar. I asked why she wasn’t going to the male strippers and she said her husband had told her they needed to save money and she needed to cut down on those shows. Quarter beers were in her budget. I was a single mother living on a ridiculously small amount of money; that argument made perfect sense to me. Triple-K said she’d come pick me up. But she drove me to Legends, where Lori and Sandra were waiting to drag me into the male strip show. They paid my cover charge. I could walk home or I could go in with them. I went in. I drank coke all night and refused to put any money in any strippers’ underclothes. I sat at a table instead of beside the stage. The din of women screaming in my hearing aids gave me a headache as the icing on my misery cake. I was a party pooper, I admit, but I thought I’d made it clear I didn’t want to be here.
At the end of the night, I walked over to where I’d last seen Triple-K but couldn’t find her. I couldn’t find Lori either. Sandra didn’t know where they’d gone, but she ended up giving me a ride home. Lori told Sandra later the two of them had gone to an after-party with the guys in the show. Lori was pissed; Triple-K had left the party with one of the dancers, leaving Lori stranded, just like they’d left me and Sandra.
But that wasn’t the first time Triple-K and Lori abandoned me.
One night at the beginning of the semester, Triple-K and Lori asked if I wanted to go out for drink specials after rehearsal. Lori irritated me with her self-importance, but Triple-K was a lot of fun, so I agreed. We ended up at a bar on the south edge of town, because they had the best specials. Lori and Triple-K started playing pool, but I didn’t know how so I sat on a stool and watched. I was designated ‘drink-runner:’ they paid for the drinks, but I went up and ordered them and brought them back. I returned to the pool table to find they’d been joined by three men-airmen from the base. I asked the ladies if they were just going to let any old Tom, Dick, and Harry mooch up on our table and invade our date. Triple-K said the guys were buying drinks. She racked the balls and she and Lori chose partners for the next game. Lori chose ‘Harry’ and Triple-K chose ‘Dick’, leaving ‘Tom’ to join me at my tall table.
I told Tom I wasn’t interested in a pickup, and besides, he was too tall for me. He told me he respected that; his friends had dragged him downtown because they said he couldn’t spend another evening in his dorm on the base, watching TV. He said he was 6’3” and asked how tall I was. 4’10”. He said I was the smallest adult he’d ever met. I told him he should meet my friend Sandra–she’s only 4’8”. I asked him where he was from and we were off. He turned out to be a pretty good conversationalist and really nice. We didn’t introduce ourselves, I think it was our way of maintaining distance. But it looked like Triple-K, Lori, ‘Dick’, and ‘Harry’ were having a great time so we were stuck with each other. I kept calling him ‘Tom’ and Tom called me ‘Bit’, because I was just a little bit of a person.
Last call made Tom and I realize two things: We’d spent all evening talking to each other while he drank beer and I drank coke, and our four friends had abandoned us. They’d left the bar without even saying goodbye. I had my car, a sweet little red ‘84 Pontiac Fiero (the perfect tiny sportscar for little me) that I’d found for real cheap, but Tom didn’t drive. He had no car. And he lived on the base, fifteen miles away. There was nothing to be done. I had to drive Tom home.
He laughed when he saw my tiny car, joking he’d have to fold himself several times to fit. I told him to stop laughing; there was more not great news. The passenger side door, while looking quite healthy, was damaged. You couldn’t open it from inside, and there was a trick to opening it from the outside. I’d have to let him in and out. Off we went. We were a few miles from the gate when my right contact decided it had been a long night. It felt like maybe something was between my contact and my eye, or it was so dried out from being in the smoky bar that it was the irritant. My right eye started watering and my nose started running.
Tom told me not to pull up to the gate, but to turn right just before I reached it and go to the Visitor’s Center. He needed to get a pass for my car to get on base; only authorized personnel can get on a US Military Installation. It was almost 1:30 AM, my right eye was tearing up and blurring my vision. The gate was well lit, but the Visitor’s Center parking lot was not. I didn’t know where I was going and Tom was drunk so his directions weren’t the clearest. When I turned into the parking lot, I managed to clip the curb with my rear tire, causing the Fiero to hop sideways to clear it. Tom teased me about being a female driver; I told him to shut up. I parked and ran around to let him out of the car and we went inside.
Inside, the person at the desk was on the phone when we approached. They hung up, excused themself, and returned with two Military Policemen who handcuffed Tom and led him away. They escorted me to another room, told me to wait, and left, shutting the door behind them. I don’t know how long I was in that room alone. Long enough to realize I have claustrophobia, but a specific kind, not related necessarily to small places but to places I can’t get out of. I felt the beginnings of a panic attack and tried to open the door for air, only to find I was locked in.
I started shouting and banging on the door, feeling my panic climb. An MP opened the door and told me to stay calm and they’d be with me soon. He tried to shut the door behind him and I shouted at him. “Nope! Don’t you shut that door. I want to know what the fuck is going on here. I haven’t done anything wrong and I will not sit here quietly while you hold me against my will. I want out and I want answers. Now.” The MP left the door open, told me not to move, and went to get his supervisor.
The supervisor returned with a handful of papers. He sat down, asked me to sit, and asked me what I was doing out here at the base gate so late. I told him Tom’s friends had abandoned him at the bar and since Tom didn’t have a car, I gave him a ride home. And then Tom was taken off in cuffs and I was locked in a room without explanation. He asked me how I knew Tom and I said I didn’t. I didn’t even know his name. The supervisor told me Tom had been arrested for drunk driving.
I said that was ridiculous. It was MY car and I wasn’t going to let some guy I just met drive it. The Supervisor said I was lying. I said that was absurd; why would I lie? He didn’t know but said I obviously was: I denied knowing Tom, yet kept calling him by his first name; the gate guard had seen the Fiero jump the curb. He’d seen Tom go around the car and let me out. They’d performed a breathalyzer and Tom was over the legal limit.
Wait, what? His name really was Tom? Mind blown. But I explained about Tom, Dick, and Harry, and reiterated that I didn’t know him and he wasn’t driving the car. Well, it was an interesting story, but it was my word against the gate guard’s and no way to prove I wasn’t lying. What had been an irritating situation had turned into a detention and was fast becoming a nightmare. If they charged Tom with drunk driving, he’d be lucky to only get demoted. They could kick him out of the Air Force. Because Triple-K and Lori and Tom’s friends had abandoned us. Because my contact had acted up and blurred my vision. Because my passenger door couldn’t be opened from inside. I was beside myself. I was so angry and I didn’t want to ruin Tom’s life. But the guard had decided the person getting out of the driver’s seat and opening the passenger door was Tom. Which was ridiculous–even in the dark, how could anyone mistake 4’10” me for 6’3” Tom?
I smiled at the MP.
I said, “I can prove Tom wasn’t driving. But we need to go out to my car, and Tom needs to be brought with us.” We looked at each other, him frowning, me smiling. He finally said, “Fine. Prove it.”
We went outside, me, the supervisor, and Tom, still cuffed and escorted by two MPs. As we walked, I told the supervisor, “I’m 4’10”. Says so on my driver’s license. I had to sit on a pillow to drive my first car. I love my Fiero because it’s small enough I don’t need the pillow. I can pull the seat all the way forward and reach the pedals just fine.” I asked Tom how tall he was. 6’3”. We reached the car and I opened the door, revealing a driver’s seat pulled as far forward as it could be. Everyone looked at the seat. Looked at Tom. Looked at me. The supervisor said Tom could’ve pushed the seat forward when he got out. I asked why he’d even think to do that. Tall people never pull the seat up. And that’s not what the gate guard said. He said Tom had got out and gone around the car. Well, then maybe Tom pulled the seat up BEFORE he got out. I said I’d be happy to see him try.
So Tom was uncuffed and asked to get in the car with the seat pulled all the way forward. He couldn’t, he was too tall. He tried to push the seat back, but couldn’t get the leverage to do it from outside the car. I had to get in and push the seat back. Tom got in. He barely fit with the seat all the way back; he couldn’t even begin to inch the seat forward. Voila.
We were told we were free to go. I asked if they were going to give me a pass to get on base to take Tom home. The MPs said they’d take him home. Tom and I hugged. Awkwardly. There was a height difference of more than a foot. I got in my tiny Fiero, pulled the seat all the way forward and drove away. I never saw Tom again.
When I got home, Triple-K called me. She and Lori were at a party out on base; I should join them. I told her abandoning me was a dick move and hung up. I should’ve dropped her then, but I can be a slow learner. After she abandoned me again, after she cheated with Farrah’s boyfriend and thought I’d cover for her, I finally learned my lesson.
Oh yeah. Farrah punched Jason.
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