Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll calls on us for SMALL, POINTLESS REBELLIONS. She writes:

One time in my comedy career, I had to entertain at a Jewish Sisterhood lunch (akin to the Christian Ladies’ Aid). Two minutes before I was to go on, the Rabbi got up and made a lengthy, tearful announcement of the sudden and unexpected death of a beloved parishioner. When he had finally quieted the keening, semi-hysterical room, he then said, “And now, our comedian, Susan Vass.” You can imagine how well that went.

Trying to be funny in light of a retreat from Afghanistan as hideously organized as the 1212 Children’s Crusade with similar disastrous results is beyond my meager abilities. But I will continue my clarion call to fighting back in ways big and small, describing a few of my own “small, pointless rebellions” for inspiration. Or were they really pointless? Read on.

I have no idea why so many people comply so readily with whatever is “cool,” “popular” or even “mandated” from something as silly as fad toys like pet rocks, as trivial as hairstyles and skirt lengths, to something as important as ideas about liberty and justice.

One of the many things that attracted “Max” and me to each other was a mutual heavy distrust of the “madding crowd” and DNA-level rebellion against what we considered irrational and unreasoning authority. Even as a young teenager (which was when we got television), the scariest scenes in my beloved Westerns were not gun battles, but the scene where a drunken mob tries to get the sheriff to hand over a prisoner for lynching.

We aren’t idiots. We know some enterprises demand a top-down decision-making apparatus and a distinct absence of “participatory democracy.” Parenting and the military come to mind. Occasionally as a kid I would read some parenting magazine that would advise “family councils” to vote on important family issues. I thought that was hilarious in the context of my EXTREMELY patriarchal family.

But if anything would have made me feel “unsafe” (to use the all-purpose scare word nowadays), it would have been the thought that my parents were not in charge.

Especially appalling to me is the “will to tell others what to do” which infests our current political climate like bedbugs in cheap urban hotels. Outside of the relentless and thankless task all married women face of perfecting a husband I have zero interest in bossing anybody around. I am particularly unsuited for any kind of management position and, in fact, was born to be self-employed and asked to become so on numerous occasions.

Nevertheless, I seem to have been cursed with a Rebellion Gene. As for Max, well, his Israeli relatives refer to the default attitude of one of his first cousins as “breaking down the open door,” or, contrariness for its own sake.

When a Rebellion Gene is paired with a Devotion to Logic Gene the results can be as disastrous as they are predictable. Once in 9th Grade, my Civics teacher, Mr. S., a very large Marine turned teacher, was displeased with my talking with my neighbor and told me he wanted a “15-page paper by tomorrow.” I purchased one of the teeniest spiral notebooks I could find and wrote on a Civics subject I no longer recall until it filled 15 of the tiny pages.

Any Marines reading this can only imagine how amusing and clever Mr. S. found that. Or how well my argument went that I had fulfilled the obligation because he never specified what size of pages he meant. I spent the next week in a study hall muttering “It WAS 15 pages…”

Next up was a marginally more successful rebellion when my freshman year college dorm had the rule that young ladies had to wear dresses and high heels to Sunday dinner. That’s what it said in the Handbook, all you lawyers out there, HIGH HEELS. So, I broke the heels off a pair of ancient shoes, duct-taped them onto my bare feet and went through the lunch line until the dorm matron — who was Nurse Ratched’s more humor-impaired sister — saw me and ordered me to leave the dining room.

I showed her in the Handbook that it did not say “high heeled SHOES,” but simply high heels. She was no Marine and I just stayed there until I finished my Roast Beef Au Jus. I was curtly informed that a “letter was going into my file.” To the best of my knowledge, it joined the ream from high school and is still there and will count against me at the Pearly Gates. For the life of me, I cannot recall WHY I did it. Just the dang Gene. It does not shed any glory upon me. Onward we go into early adulthood. This one REALLY frosted my cupcake and I wasn’t even trying to be difficult.

The year was 1972 and we lived in San Francisco. I decided that I was going to swim daily at the community pool near our flat. Let me emphasize that – in a rare fit of conforming – I had chopped off all my long, pretty hair to go for the Joan of Arc look that all the cool feminists in my leftist cult were adopting. I regret it to this day, but it figures into the rest of the story. The sign in the community pool said I had to take a shower before entering the pool. I did, even though I had bathed that morning. I had just begun to do laps when the pool monitor pointed out that there was another sign that said, “Women and girls must wear bathing caps.”

Swimming in the lane next to me was a young man with hair down to his patootie. I politely agreed that I understood why long hair was a problem in the pool filter system but said that I did not HAVE long hair – HE did. She said, “But the rule is for women.” I explained that it was a stupid, sexist, illogical rule and should apply to long hair without regard to gender, that I did not have long hair, and would not get out of the pool. Sadly, this was about 50 years before I could have just said that I IDENTIFIED as a male, and no problemo.

I told her she could call the Police if she liked but that I would be finishing my laps. And do you know how she defeated me? She was a black woman and she started crying and said she would lose her job. And so this white lady whose DNA was racist according to Barack Hussein Obama got out of the pool, went home and never swam there again.

Lastly – some have a long learning curve – our stupid HOA told me that the little wooden burro my beloved yard guy, Enrique, had made me as a gift could not reside in the front yard. After I began my “This is AMERICA!” speech to the Paranoid Texan Next Door, he informed me that he had had a months-long dispute with the HOA over the shade of grey of his fence and he ultimately lost. “So what you’re telling me,” I said, “is that you fought the law and the law won?” (Bonus joke from Enrique, the yard guy: “How many Mexicans does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Only Juan.”)

These examples barely even count as “tilting at windmills” but they helped prepare me for a life as a crank and contrarian. As minor as they were, they were kind of “moral calisthenics” to make me stronger for things that really counted, like Civil Rights, protecting First and Second Amendment Rights, or, even, standing alone on a stage doing standup.

No wonder I loved the late, great Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” “You can stand me up at the Gates of Hell, but I won’t back down.” (Unless a black woman cries…) Right now in our beloved country we need a Lollapalooza-sized crowd at the Gates of Hell. Maybe all my Small, Pointless Rebellions were practice for more urgent and important battles against those who would dictate to liberty-loving Americans how to live every minute of our lives. Remember that old typing exercise? “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country”? It is. And, by the way, we women always knew “men” included us.

Responses