Once Upon a Time When Grownup JJ Learned the World Is Indeed Grim/m

CULTURE KITCHEN (no longer owned by Liza Sabater)

Raging Storms, Street Warfare and
Power of Personal Story

Submitted by JJ Ross on 7 May, 2006

I was attacked once, in a televised crowd of almost 100,000 people in the streets — assaulted and battered on the sidewalk after a huge hometown football game in Gainesville, Florida.

Please understand I was hometown fan but no fanatic, a sober, sanguine 40-year-old mom who’d just succeeded in becoming pregnant again though I didn’t show, didn’t yet even know. I’d been faithfully abstaining –from alcohol, obviously not from sex!– with the hope in mind.

So why did the attack happen to me, what did it mean?

I was on foot with my husband, leaving the stadium across the grassy field where some brash, privileged young frat boy type (wearing the same team colors as I, does that mean he was “on my side?”) had parked his sporty first-tier-access car. Maybe Daddy was a big booster? Or the kid could have been a Master of the Universe himself — it WAS the ’90s.

Our team had just lost a fair –and fairly humiliating– fight to our major in-state rival. We were the team the TV commentators loved to hate, so no one wearing orange and blue was feeling great.

But it was objectively beautiful weather (my happy hormones might have been kicking in already?) and win or lose the game, I had every reason to be enjoying it among my fellows, or so it had seemed.

Slowed by our crossing in front of his vehicle as he fumed, and apparently needing a target for his frustrations, he caught up with us around the block, stopped his car right in the middle of University Avenue’s crawling traffic, and charged us on the sidewalk.

A bone broke in my hand when I was knocked to the pavement by this hulking college student, backed up by his baby-banshee girlfriend, “Patty.” (I kept hearing — in the fog of war? — her name screamed by comrades in their car, as in “Get her, Patty!”)

It quickly became theatre of the absurd when I was nearly arrested instead of my attackers as their car drove away, for what was termed “affray” by the young blonde police officer who had been directing traffic at the closest intersection.

The officer was still in braces, I remember. A kid herself but wrapped in government authority as our community “peacemaker” she held power with the iron grip that must have been her only realistic option in that crowd.

I’d lived my life thinking the cops were on my side and I on theirs, and had believed all Gators were my brethren too.

It wasn’t long after this that my father died and my disillusionment with our systems of governance was complete<; my midlife crisis turned out to be a lot less fun than our cultural stereotypes had led me to expect.

But back to this story — I had yelled at our attackers to back off because they’d knocked my husband’s glasses into the crowd with the first blow (he was on hands and knees groping for them under hundreds of passing feet) and then I’d tried to fight back by kicking their car. I must’ve known instinctively what would enrage this guy further; my years lobbying for schools honed my street-fighting impulses if not my physical arsenal.

X-rayed and bound up with tape the next business day, I called the campus vice-president for public relations (whom I had once known and worked with) and the city police, to complain that the officer refused to arrest my attacker and nearly arrested me instead. They officially advised me to drop it — to a man, and they WERE all men — saying she had witnesses who would vow I’d fought more fiercely than any woman they’d ever seen in a brawl.

(How significant a class that could be, I still shudder to think.)

All in all, it was a transformative moment for me, the quintessential teacher’s pet and media spokesperson, grievance hearing officer and pourer of oil on troubled waters, who had never felt or struck a physical blow in my LIFE.

Personal rage and alienation caused by social injustice was a new feeling for me, and it came literally out of the blue. I was just enjoying the day and my life, with my family and friends in a place I’d felt completely comfortable, safe and loved for my whole life, when WHAM!

Call me Harbinger.
My homestate of Florida often mirrors national trends and anticipates hot buttons. Our legislative season is ending just in time for hurricane season, which will segue into football season. I’m finding it harder and harder to tell the difference.

For me, this AP news quote captures succinctly what’s wrong with our too-hot-to-handle adversarial politics.

We can’t go on as a nation this way — maybe that’s the true aim of the most antagonistic, that “we” won’t go on as a nation at all?

Sen. Larcenia Bullard likened voucher lobbying to another emotional debate lawmakers had last year over a law — later found unconstitutional — they passed to let Bush order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

“I felt as though I was a hostage,” said Bullard, D-Miami, comparing it to being between fans rooting for opposing teams on opposite sides of a sports stadium.

If you haven’t read Bonfire of the Vanities, do.
Its satire may not be great art or literature
but it’s a helluva weather forecast if nothing else.

And while I’m thinking of raging political storms
that make real people suffer and die, there’s Tolstoy’s metaphorical snowstorm in “Master and Man.”

In 1998 Peter Baida wrote:

Of course, Mr. Wolfe’s methods and intentions differ from Tolstoy’s, as satire differs from fable. . . .
”Master and Man” is the story of a man who lives an empty life, but sets it right in the end. ”The Bonfire of the Vanities” is the story of a man who lives an empty life, but – there is no ”but.” Mr. Wolfe is not interested in the inner lives of his characters, except insofar as they are dominated by motives he can mock.
That’s why Tolstoy’s snowstorm warms the heart, whereas Tom Wolfe’s bonfire chills it.

We don’t get snowstorms down here, or the West Coast’s earthquakes and mudslides, but we do get sudden cyclonic assaults on reason and monster global storms that hammer humanity against the rocks.

We got the immigration firestorm of Elian Gonzales and
the storming of the judicial bastion that was Terri Schiavo. We got the yawning confidence sinkhole of hanging chads and disenfranchised felons of the 2000 election.

And one beautiful day in 1994, I was hit out of the blue sky by a perfect storm of emotions no one could have predicted or inflicted on purpose. It seems to have altered my internal climate; my politics and beliefs have stabilized on the hot-and-cold fault line.

I am both aflame and unable to stop shivering.

For all its apparent realism, Mr. Wolfe’s novel is not realistic. A 650-page narrative in which it is almost impossible to find a character who experiences a generous impulse or acts out of a generous motive may be said, in fact, to defy realism.

As our new century’s political storms rage on and the light is dying, we can rage, rage back against it, and against each other. We certainly have the right to live our mutual lives as satire in the streets.

But if this reviewer was right, Tolstoy offers us the more enlightened lesson of problem-solving in a storm – we might lay freely and joyfully upon each other as individuals, without regard for class or colors as the storm rages on without, and though I myself may die in that moment, I nevertheless have it in my own personal power to choose meaning, to set the warmth of human contact aglow . . .
for good instead of evil.


IN the above essay, I referred to the disillusionment with our systems that hit me when my folks passed away. Here’s the essay that explains more about that:


Picking On and Picking Off Parents

Submitted by JJ Ross on 3 May, 2006  [May 3 was my parents’ wedding anniversary]

Who’s got your child’s back?

Is it the certificated class, the malignantly multiplying army of school administrators, lawyers and agency-registered wonks who claim to know best what’s in your child’s interest?

Or is it you?

The Cleveland Bar Association is threatening to fine the parents of an
autistic boy $10,000 for not hiring a lawyer when they brought, and largely won, a court case on their son’s behalf four years ago. . . Brian and Susan Woods settled their case with the Akron school district in 2002 when the district agreed to send Daniel, now 11, to a private school.

Michael Harvey, the Rocky River lawyer handling the charges for the bar association, said the goal is to protect the rights of children. Harvey said special education laws are so complex that children need experts, not untrained parents, looking out for their rights.

“You hope parents will do the right job for the child, but that’s not always the case,” Harvey said.

Maybe I can make sense of this — we support the certificated class so it can exercise a sort of prior restraint over all parenting, to interpose legalisms between even successful parents and well-served children, at every opportunity they can claim by law?

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble…“the law is a ass — a idiot.

And if the law indeed has been made too complex for garden variety parents to act effectively in their own child’s best interest, then not only is the law “a ass” but so are all the lawyers and schoolfolk who mistakenly suppose we’re dumb enough to deserve being displaced as our children’s primary decision-makers and protectors.

Grown children will leave both home and school behind, but we parents have their backs ’til death do us part (and beyond, if we can manage it.)

NYT’s Anna Nahney also wrote recently about parental support:

Nationally, 34 percent of those between 18 and 34 receive cash from their parents annually . . .
Dr. Bob Schoeni said his study suggests that extended education, the exploration of career options and delayed marriage are the causes of the long transition to self-sufficiency. Parental support “is not the driver of a delayed transition, it is a response to it,” he said. . .
Parental support allows adult children to explore careers with low earning potential, to make career shifts or to maintain a quality of life.

At 27, Ms. Press has just completed eight years of college, four at Sarah Lawrence and four more at the Manhattan School of Music. Mr. and Mrs. Press said they believe their daughter’s energy and thoughts should be on her education, and now that she is pursuing a music career they want her to have the best chance possible in an unforgiving field.

Gosh, I hope the certificated class doesn’t disagree with her parents, and see this as ripe for their certificated social engineering too, maybe try to tax what her parents give her as income, or handicap her auditions by claiming some peer injustice they should be well-paid to parse and police evermore?

I meant that to sound sarcastic, but it’s hardly possible to parody legal excess these days, since we’ve been brought to a boil in the Death of Common Sense pot.

My parents always told me my education was the one thing nobody could take from me, echoing that movie moment where a silhouetted Papa O’Hara presses the red clay of Georgia into his willful daughter’s hand and intones, “Land, Katie Scarlett! It’s the only thing that matters, the only thing that lasts.”

My mother’s father inherited mountain properties for which my parents in turn were good stewards, but land was not their true passion. They believed in education, and in me. I believed in education, and in them. They continued to pay for the graduate studies I otherwise would have dropped once I was out of the house and working full-time.

“It may mean that they don’t have to take the first job available,” said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a developmental psychologist and the author of “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties.”

Through graduation ceremonies awarding the diplomas no one could take from me, what really mattered was that my mom and dad had my back — I counted on them to have my best interest at heart, not the schools and certainly not the lawyers.

In fact, I never had need of lawyers until my frugal, modest parents died, and I discovered too late they had trusted too much in the enduring value of both education and land — and of the law as sensible and just, much less frugal and modest like my folks.

They had deeds and diplomas galore but not much cash, there never had been much money. So lawyers took the legacy lands on mountain lakes they’d left us as inheritance, quickly sold it off for taxes (like Tara?) and pocketed most of the rest as management fees. Through one apparently legal device or another, four of every five dollars vanished into the hands of the governing class.

I listened to Warren Zevon a lot at first, willing my dad to somehow send enough lawyers, guns and money, get me out from in front of that spewing fan, maybe into a hot bath. I had thought my parents remained at my back, had worked hard enough and planned well enough to always be there for us, that our best interest was a legacy our law would respect. I was wrong.

So I wound up where my folks had started, with ample education credentials no one could take away, lands that HAD been taken away, a bad taste in my mouth for probate, tax and real estate lawyers, and my own little ones at home.

I was beginning to understand that my parents had a more serene and complex, a more, um – educated? – sense of what mattered in life than Gerald O’Hara. Public success isn’t decided by the diplomas and deeds you have on file, any more than success at home is having the right marriage and birth certificates on file, or money in the bank.

If success is defined not by law or riches, rule or school, but by who you become, and how you pass THAT on to your children — then how could any lawyer or bureaucrat possibly belong between you and your child in that process?

My parents believed in public schools and sent us unfailingly even during the desegregation zoning wars and bus riots of the 70s, I suppose because the public schools hadn’t yet stopped believing in parents.

The whole social contract was different then. I believe my parents would never have believed this self-serving school superintendent pontificating about “the interests of the children” in May 1 as a day without immigrants:

“Our kids have learned very much that they can become victims, that they can be used” for political ends, Nelson said. “Our student body is better able to understand the issues and what the ramifications are for missing school. That’s the safest, most secure area for them to be —- and certainly in their best interest.”

I believe that would have enraged my parents, perhaps motivated them to action against any institution that would tell children such half-truths in the name of serving their best interest.

Kids can become victims and be used for political ends, all right, even by School itself.

Who’s got your child’s back?

You, or the certificated cl-asses?

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