by Abigail Coakley
Girls, Shows, and the Internet
When is it acceptable for a 350lb man to drag around a woman by her collar? It’s always been this kind of question that I could answer without hesitation. Never. But I hadn’t previously thought about what I would do if it did happen; until three girlfriends and I attended a Saves the Day concert at the Paradise Rock Club in Allston (a college-age hipster neighborhood of Boston) on September 24th, 2013 – anticipating a light-hearted night of sing-alongs. Saves the Day, a New Jersey pop-punk band that formed in the late nineties, had captivated all of our young hearts with their 1999 album “Through Being Cool,” which contained angsty teenage anthems such as their first single “Shoulder to the Wheel.” Needless to say, we know every word of every song and were prepared to get in the spirit.
The focus of the night was getting a little dolled up, which for us meant miniskirts, jean jackets, and some lipstick, as well as having a girls night on a school night, something that becomes increasingly rare as we get older. Of course the internet played a part in our festivities. It always seems to these days. Selfies were taken and posted on various social media outlets. There may have been a little bragging, half-ironically half-earnestly, about seeing one of our favorite bands live, ten years after we loved them the most.
The night was unexpectedly cut short when two members of the group, petite twenty-something women, slightly over 5ft were dragged and verbally abused by the club’s “security”. During the show, the four of us became involved in an altercation with two other concert goers (one male, one female). The entire crowd was jumping and pushing around excitedly, and inevitably people collide. The couple standing in front of us unfortunately was provoked by this accidental rough concert environment, which they misinterpreted as meditated. Perhaps as a result of naiveté or maybe alcohol use, the couple responded by targeting us with intentional and combative violence. Two girls were hit in the face by the male. And I was kicked so hard by the female that her boot broke the skin on my thigh. While unpleasant, these details are the least traumatizing and unanticipated part of the night. Infamously, punk shows, even of the light hearted pop bank variety, are notoriously riddled with highly energetic and often inebriated patrons, and we had deliberately positioned ourselves in the center of the action. Arguments happen frequently at this genre of shows, through no fault of the musicians and club owners. In all ways this situation was a minor and typical scuffle.
The most disturbing part of the night happened after the embroilment itself. Amid the melee the bouncers intervened and forcibly removed me and one of my friends from the building. I was kicked out first; it was not made clear why I was singled out. I was lifted by the back of my denim jacket and dragged down a long empty hallway until we were outside the venue, though I did not resist the removal and continually insisted I would walk on my own. How could a trained security guard not realize how faultily intimidating it is to be brutish with a young woman in a deserted hallway, especially when she is half your size and age? After this, a second member of the group was removed for asking a bouncer why only I had been booted. Again, when she said she would leave of her own volition (that it was unnecessary for the 6ft. 350lb bouncer to drag her by the neck, at points choking her by the collar of her denim jacket) the bouncer called her “bitch” and told her to “fuck off”. Other nearby male bouncers laughed. Not only did we all miss the end of the show, we both woke up with bruises, feeling humiliated.
How do you respond to this type of encroachment? We stood on the vacant sidewalk furious. One friend wished that she had tried to take photographs or a video as it was happening, but that hadn’t seemed like a priority as she was attempting to persuade the bouncer to stop twisting our friend’s hair in his mitt. Should we document our bruises? Should we try to speak to someone? It felt as though whatever we did it would be dismissed. We felt powerless.
I have been going to shows for a decade, many much more rowdy. This was not a case of inexperience or naiveté. It is clear that in the heat of the moment bouncers cannot be expected to settle a dispute, or sort out who is to blame. It is regardless completely unnecessary for a 300+ pound male bouncer to forcibly manhandle two women, especially since the club clearly has female bouncers who could no doubt have removed us without force. Excessive force is never acceptable for men to use towards women. It’s also hard to imagine that the four of us really seemed like the sort of threat that necessitated this type of physicality. It was a power trip and it disgusted us all.
We tweeted at the Paradise the night of the show. And Saves the Day managed to tweet a response that expressed their outrage and apologies in regards to the incident. The Paradise never responded or addressed it. It took us another few weeks to take any further action. Partly, it took retelling the story to others, and hearing their outrage, to validate our anger and encourage us to speak up. As a woman, it is easy to fall into a self-criticizing pattern of judging your behavior and not recognizing yourself as the victim of misogyny or inappropriate behavior. A month later, the anger was still there.
At this point, the general manager was contacted through email in the hope these bouncers would be held responsible for their actions and to ensure that any male bouncers hired in the future were taught the proper way to kick out a female patron. We published our experience on Yelp, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, encouraging anyone else that has had similar experiences to speak up. This had a much larger response than we anticipated. Many people reblogged and retweeted our story, adding their own feelings of anger or similar experiences. Men and women alike were equally infuriated, and avowed that they wouldn’t attend shows at the venue again either. A twitter account that represents the Allston neighborhood retweeted our story to their 3,000 followers.
At first we were unsure of what we wanted to come out of this action. We definitely wanted an apology, or at least a response. People teased us that our actions would be ignored. Our male friends wanted to respond with physical aggression, assuring us that any other retort would be pointless. But we didn’t just want revenge; we wanted to stand up for female concert-goers in general, for women who are intimidated into feeling uncomfortable anywhere. At the very least, we wanted to provide an example for other girls who had wanted to speak up about events that had disturbed or angered them, but hadn’t felt like they were able to.
We received a response that surprised us, honestly expecting no response at all. The manager called and was very polite and apologetic, not at all condescending or patronizing. He told us he had spoken to his staff, and clearly had, as he knew additional details about the incident that we had not included in our email; he added that one his bouncer’s had “lost sleep” over the incident. He also maintained that he always told his staff they were “security” not bouncers. Additionally, he gave us free tickets to another show as an apology, assuring us this would not happen, again, at any of the multiple venues he manages in Boston. This was an exciting opportunity to ensure future safety and comfort of women in these situations.
It is important that people, especially people in positions of power based on their role or even size, feel accountable, that their actions have results. Surprisingly, the internet ended up being a way for us to accomplish this. We threatened their business when they threatened us physically; and it worked. Our fulmination felt like the right response to a male flexing of muscles, and the internet empowered our words by providing us with an audience. Perhaps the only reason the general manager responded or that the bouncer “lost sleep,” was purely from a business standpoint. While, at first the idea of this bothered us, we later decided that the implication was the same. If businesses or individuals feel accountable to female patrons, regardless of their motivation, they will still be inclined, maybe even more so, to treat women with respect and that is good enough for us.
So the epiphany is this: the great proliferation of social media and internet commentary can make the individual feel near invisible. But in fact, it can provide previously disempowered people with a way to stand up for themselves in a safe and intelligent way. And it provides spectators. Especially for women, and especially in situations that involve any sort of physical altercation, it is important to have a platform to profess your rage and to get a response. Of course, show-going is just one small facet of women feeling comfortable participating. It also is important that females get more in touch and comfortable with expressing their aggression. And, I believe this is best encouraged by example, by making it prevalent and customary for women to do so. I hope that all sorts of women, in all sorts of situations, will continue to speak up and support each other. I see this more and more frequently on the internet, and I find it promising and exhilarating.
by Katherine McBride
Sam and Mariah Go to Lunch
Happy fucking New Year. Mariah forked the hearts of palm on her plate, swirling patterns in oil. She ordered a glass of pinot noir. It was the afternoon and he was breaking up with her at her favorite restaurant in the city. How thoughtful. How considerate. She would tell him as much when the deed was done.
Sam refilled her water glass, clunking water and ice onto the tabletop. “What the hell?” he clipped, his black-brown eyes eying the water pitcher accusingly. He tossed his napkin onto the flood, and made a zigzagging sweep of the table. Water trailed wildly, spilling off onto the floor and splattering onto the expensive purses of the adjacent table. “Klutz,” Mariah said, as reflex, sweetly. Jesus, she swallowed hard, wasn’t she even on her own side?
“Well, to what do I owe this lunch?” she said finally cutting through the chitchat, her voice cracking on “o”. So much for composure. A terrible flush inched over her winter white cheeks. She felt as red as a suckling pig. Just sit still. Just don’t let your guts spill onto the floor. Just breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. She looked very deeply into the chaos of her uneaten salad. She was about to burst into tears.
Their waitress saddled up to the table, carrying entrées. The waitress said words, lots of complicated words to Mariah. Mariah gaped, insensate, with a hot buzzing of a billion bees in her ears, nodding like an imbecile, feeling on the verge of madness. Mariah was certain the waitress knew what was transpiring and she wondered why she didn’t do something – didn’t help her somehow – throw a plate at Sam, backhandedly insult him. Anything. Girl power. They smiled at each other for a moment, painfully, and the waitress piled the small dinette table with her arm-full of plates and glasses and forks and spoons, in such a cluttered cluster that it was thoroughly unclear what was meant for Sam and what meant for her. It was devastating, the utterly muddled nature of the table. Presently, it would be inappropriate for her to drink from his water glass.
Sam coughed, clearing his throat, posed on the edge of the action. Here it came. Mariah thought of the bulls she’d seen in Madrid, facing off with the brutal tip of the matador’s blade. Sam was about to do it, nix her artery, snuff her out in front of the waitress and the well-dressed patrons. Be the bull, she told herself. Take it like a bull. Mariah raised her green-yellow eyes to face him, and Sam sputtered suddenly, drawing back the sword, putting the words back in his sheath. They both exhaled.
“You aren’t eating,” he said instead, typically avuncular, “What’s up with that?” pointing at her smushed and rearranged plate of couscous. “Stop playing with your food.”
She really didn’t understand why this was happening. The January light, stark and brumal, came through the storefront glass adumbrating Sam into a darkened and familiar silhouette. He was such a lug, all two-hundred odd and fifteen too-many pounds of him, compacted into his oxford shirt and navy sweater, huddled at a table meant to display models and waifs and the other frail ghosts haunting SoHo.
“Neither are you” she retorted softly.
“Thankfully,” he chuckled, somehow sadly, patting his buttoned-up soft tummy.
Shit. She really liked him. She liked him because he took her places like this – places that didn’t play football or even have TVs, where the chairs were teeny-tiny balanced on toothpick legs, and the drinks were served in fluted and colored crystal glasses that she imagined he might whimsically crush in his mighty dark hand. She liked him because he was a giant in a dollhouse, but he never once let on that he was here for her pleasure and not simply because these were the sort of frou-frou places he personally enjoyed frequenting.
Mariah knew this restaurant would be ruined for her after the inexorable events of the afternoon transpired. Take it in, she implored herself – the checkered floor, the view of Old St. Patrick’s Basilica, the lime diner stools, the smells of oil, the taste of honey. But also, no, no, forget it all, surrender all the memories of this place, she urged the mysterious folds of her brain. Her hippocampus, she remembered, held memory. And also that a hippocampus was Greek for sea horse – perhaps one that she might straddle and ride far from this place – another unfortunate scene in her life.
Sam had called her. That was the first aberration – a clue that something had gone awry, off track, into the bushes. Sam said he needed to see her. His voice, a tad nasal, but firm. They needed to talk. Dum dum dum, she thought. Okay, she said. Lunch. Sunday. He was coming back from his parents’ in Connecticut in the morning.
She’d thought things were going fairly, fairly well even, if she was honest. A Metro-North commuter train had recently derailed on its way through the Bronx back from Poughkeepsie. Mariah was supposed to be on that train, returning from her brother Benji’s house. He and his girlfriend Grace had invited her so that they might feed her and observe her, interview her slowly and thoroughly with lots of direct and indirect questions, which confirmed or unconfirmed that she was still taking her pills, still eating regular meals and had a couple dollars in the bank. “Making sure you’re right as rain,” Benji said. Well, the jury was certainly still out.
Typically, Mariah had slept through that train, and for once, her laziness had done right by her. Four were killed, nearly seventy injured. A bloodbath. When she woke up around 11:30 she had fifteen texts asking her if she was dead. It made her feel loved. Deeply loved. One was from Sam, “Tell me you are safe,” he had written, and she thought then that she might love him, with his adherence to grammatical standards in texts and his forthright concern.
Now here she was – twenty-nine and in a few months thirty, and the jig was up again. She didn’t quite understand why. She didn’t have the best job, but she had a job. She’d didn’t have the greatest looks, but she had looks. Yes, recently, he had been a smidge moody, evasive, a bit anxious, but hell it was the holidays. Maybe he’d met someone else. Maybe he was secretly gay and coming out to her. Maybe he’d knocked up a high school girlfriend over Thanksgiving and now they loved each other again and were planning to be wed. Maybe, but, no, none of it clung to him right. Maybe it was just that she just wasn’t right.
Mariah called her mother before the lunch of doom. “He’s ditching me, Mom,” she’d choked. “Oh sweetie, no,” her mother soothed, with a pause “…Maybe he’s going to propose!” hope bubbling over every syllable.
“We’ve only been dating for six months,” grumbled Mariah, squashing out her own private dream.
“Things move faster when you’re older, dear. No time to waste.”
“Thanks Mom. Remind me again that I’m so unbelievably ancient.”
“Oh Jesus Mariah, don’t be so sensitive.”
“People don’t say ‘We have to talk’ when they’re about to propose.”
“Yeeesh. Well I like that Sam. I really do.” Mariah could picture her mother, wringing her hands on the oil patinaed blue and white dishcloths, holding the phone in the crook between shoulder and cheek, her gray hair held up with a dull-tipped pencil. She loved her mother in ways that annoyed and surprised her.
“Me too.” Mariah exhaled, stertorously.
“Try to talk him out of it.” There was clinking and clanking in the background. “Mariah-Mary-Moo, I’ve got a roast in the oven. Can I call you back in a minute? 60 seconds?”
Mariah hung up without goodbyes and when her mom did call back in 90 seconds not 60, she didn’t answer. Mariah had been over this break-up territory more times than she could count. In some ways it was a classic scenario: he’d waited until after the holidays, the Christmases and Hanukkahs and New Year’s Eve, sparing them both the blank throb of loneliness in the bleakest days of winter, but he was wisely acting before the heated, love-infested feast of Valentine’s Day.
Now here she was at the reckoning day. Mariah took a bite of her couscous. She thought she would choke on it as it inched down her tightened throat. She glugged her wine. She couldn’t really stand it a second more.
“Mariah,” he blurted “I don’t know how to do this,” but then he did it and the words he said were bizarre and medical. They were words having nothing to do with her. Sam began to sweat along his black-haired temples. He said chronic exhaustion, swelling, and cancer. He said: Hodgkin’s disease, stages and therapies, prognosis and prognoses. He said cancer, again. Cancer.
Mariah felt as though she were bleeding from her ears.
Sam said, his mighty hands trembling, “I know this is a lot to take in.” He said: I know this may be too much. He said: I will understand if… He said he had waited until after the holidays. He said: I’m sorry.
Mariah’s mind was slow to fill the gaps and for a moment she felt hostile, duped and trapped. For a moment she wanted to smack him, to accuse him of lies, deceit and treachery, to scream, flip the table and send couscous hurtling everywhere, to scratch his face full of deep, bloody crevices and throw the rest of her pinot noir in the wounds. But, just as abruptly, she wanted to put her hands on him and heal him like a saint, to feel out the bad cells and squeeze out his cancer like pus. So he wasn’t breaking up with her, she asked and he unleashed a loud bellowing giant’s laugh. “You idiot,” he said, tenderly. She put her hands on his hands and sat.
That night at his apartment when he had fallen asleep, his face wet with sleeping tears, Mariah raised herself delicately and got into the shower. She cried quietly, and heaved silently, and thought. She thought of Sam. She thought of him filled with cancer and of bad cells and small mutations. She thought of selfishness, and miscommunication, and how maybe, in fact, she was a truly stupid person after all.
Tomorrow was the Feast of the Epiphany, the sixth of January, when the Magi from the East had come bearing gifts to a king, who was a poor and humble, homeless baby. What a shock that must have been, she thought. What a mind fuck. The lesson was maybe, that the wise men didn’t flinch. The wisdom was not flinching.
She thought of her hometown just north of the Bronx, a little world of the old world with Madonnas and St. Francis statues enshrined on the front lawns. It was a world ever diminishing, ever retreating. The Sicilian and Calabrese grandmothers of her childhood dressed forever in mourning black and paraded through her memory. As the water streamed steamy over her and she cried some more, Mariah imagined La Befana, the tidy housekeeping witch who’d flown from heel of the Italian boot on her broomstick across the Atlantic to the Italian towns of the tri-state area. Not so unlike Santa Claus. La Befana came to them as their bobby-pinned and veiled nonis – serious women, Fellini women – who on the Eve of the Epiphany scurried like girls filling the school shoes of their sleeping grandchildren with sucking candies and chocolates. She thought of how she’d squealed on the Epiphany mornings with delight and surprise, and how her strict mother smirked and turned her head as they stuck fistfuls of sweets into their winter coats.
What did it add up to, she wondered. A baby king, cancers, candies. How did any of it add up to sense more than a confetti of happenstance. Mariah got dressed and walked to the 24-hour Duane Reade and bought a variety bag of Hershey’s chocolate bars. Maybe she wouldn’t flinch.
by Kathleen Nora White
by Katherine McBride
Later I will learn the meaning of the word:
What if for now I am an astronaut, bound to ascension forever, stripped down to pulsing
nuclei in this directionless above. Let’s say you’ll meet me on the blistering moon. To be yours
would be to be all hands, all leaves, all noon. What I mean to say is—
but our mad scientists have stolen it. Here, with feeling gone, the starlight rests early.
Later I will learn:
the brief epiphany of autumn.
In light speed transit, you’ll remember nothing but the before. What I have to say is—
Space has sucked out all saying. Let’s say you didn’t take that train, the stars didn’t burn
down the meaning. Between north and east, between the fingertip and the fingertip and the touch, there is this: the aisle between us. Let’s say it was the solar wind. On nights like these, the moon
an eraser-mark, you will have heaved yourself on the grass and felt your own planet’s atoms,
mine, looking up to your faraway astronaut. Only the orbit will mean something. Back on Earth,
you’ve shipwrecked (didn’t we go to the Danube? the Amazon?) towards a morning slick and dew-dropped
and the one you’re remembering isn’t me, it’s the sculptor ephemeral, dead like
a feather. My preceding shadows are saturated color. Remember leafing and keeling, discordant
atmospheres and a supernova’s shock wave, when someone said the thing you needed most —
this isn’t enough. It never was. The hotel room, the gum wrapper, the dust of stars: all will stick
to a backlit evening pressed up against the glass. That space, too breathless—you know it
already. Later I will learn:
by Farryl Last