by Adam Engel
June 7, 2003
I don’t know how these folks get by, make “rational” decisions, operate heavy machinery, vote (hah, hah), or even feed themselves when they let guests at a three-month-old boy’s Baptism make a whore outta his five-year-old cousin – not with sticks, genitals, or funny instruments, but with words. Sodomized with sentences. That’s not how it happened in The Odyssey. But barbarians that they were, the sackers of Troy had at least some concept of how to behave on social occasions – and how to punish those who didn’t. That’s how the whole Trojan War thing started, isn’t it? Well, leave it to Americans to cheer the burning of cities for the benefit of intangible corporations while their own children are morally defiled in their own damn green-lawn, upper-middle class backyards. During an allegedly “holy” occasion, yet.
So, here we go AGAIN: a passel of adults too baffled by THE MAN inside their heads to know how to behave in a genuine ‘situation.’
The Golf Thugs on the lawn were hanging around in their summer suits, drinking beer, talking about golf and business, business and golf. Economy should bounce back now that ‘we’ve’ settled the ‘problem’ in Iraq. Something about cleaning a boat for the new season; also stuff about cars and access to certain channels on cable television. They were big. They were fat. They were boring and desperate. They needed something. Dial 1-800-MESSIAH. Or perhaps it was simply a job for Tiger Woods.
I went to where the food was served. There, men and women ranging from zaftig to rotund, elbowed each other (and me) for first dibs on some kind of mayonnaise-potato glop; frankfurters and sugary beans; limp white coleslaw; sweet sauerkraut and All American Burgers with processed cheese food, fried onions and bleach-flour buns (too late for these folks to worry about mad cow disease, you betcha!). I dropped out of line and grabbed a beer from a cooler and saw little Stephanie talking animatedly to the Golf Thugs on the great lawn. Real show-stopper, that kid. Cute as sin in her party dress. Always the entertainer, I thought. Her five-year-old wit even penetrated the chitinous crania of the Golf Thugs.
I went into the house, the Old Manse, to pee. Upstairs, far from the mumbling crowd, Stephanie was in the room her mother had once lived in as a girl. Face down on the bed. Crying lungful sobs, as little girls do, clutching an old stuffed animal her mother had clutched long ago, I assumed, when in similar distress.
She sat up straight and wiped her eyes as soon as I entered. Very adult-like. Twisted her face into a kind of smile. Pretended she merely had something in her eye.
“What’s the matter, kid?”
“How much will you give me to ‘talk dirty’?”
“I’ll charge you a dollar for every naughty word I know.”
“What are you, crazy? Where’d you learn such a thing?”
Of course I knew where she learned how to ‘talk dirty.’ I guess she’d provided the Golf Thugs with more entertainment than I’d dared assume. I felt like a character in a Salinger story.
“The men outside said they’d give me a dollar for every naughty word I know and I could buy a Barbie with it. They even taught me new words. But I still don’t have enough,” she started crying again, and laid the money on the bed to show me the extent of her vocabulary. She knew, or was taught, six bucks worth of naughty.
Her grandfather came in, wanted to know what was the matter. I told him, so she wouldn’t have to.
“I’m not supposed to use dirty words,” Poppy. “I don’t like to.”
“Of course you don’t,” he said, looking at me – for what? Help? Advice? I don’t know squat about dealing with adults, let alone children.
Stephanie’s mother, who may or may not have recognized ghosts of herself in her old room, arrived and held Stephanie as Poppy gave her the low-down.
“Good god,” she snapped, and soothed her daughter, who by now was crying quite hysterically. I suppose it was good that she was upset, but maybe not. She’s a very smart kid. Might be better if she were less aware of the degenerate world around her.
“It’s nothing, baby. They’re just ignorant, stupid men.”
“They’re scary. They’re scary monsters,” said Stephanie.
“But now I can’t get a Barbie!” she began to cry again. Well at least she was still a kid, with kid’s priorities.
Her grandfather, staunch supporter of the War Against the Grandchildren of Iraq, did a smart thing. He told her that he would take her, that very moment, in the middle of this big party he was hosting, to buy a Barbie Doll. But first, she had to give him the “dirty” money, and he would replace it with “clean” money. She handed him the six crisp bills in exchange for six rather ragged ones and a twenty. Enough, I assumed, to bag a Barbie at the local Mall. He gave me the “dirty money” and loudly ordered me to get rid of it, that it was worthless. I think the kid caught the drift.
As soon as they left the Mother lit a cigarette, using her can if diet-whatever as an ashtray.
I suggested that now that the kid was gone, I could go look for her husband and some other guys and we could teach the Golf Thugs the protocols of the guest-host relationship (not to mention a few innuendos regarding child abuse, statutory rape, or whatever they might call it). Did her father keep any baseball bats or other “weapons” in the house? I knew he had plenty of golf clubs.
“Are you crazy?” she said.
“Am I crazy?”
“This is my nephew’s Baptism celebration.”
“I don’t care if it’s his Second Inaugural Ball. Something really bad went on here and it’s gotta be…I don’t know, the place should be purged…”
“So you’re going to just go out and start a fight with these men in the middle of my parents’ backyard.”
“Hell yeah. They tried to turn your five-year-old girl into a prostitute.”
“How DARE you say that! Nobody touched Stephanie.”
“You don’t know that. And even if they didn’t, you think paying a five-year-old to ‘talk dirty’ doesn’t fall into the category of buying sexual favors?”
“Mind your own damn business. I don’t want to hear this. Nothing happened. Nothing that can’t be undone. My husband and I will talk to Stephanie. She’ll forget about it. Her grandfather’s out buying her a Barbie Doll for god’s sake.”
“Oh, a Barbie! That’ll solve EVERYTHING.”
She calmed down and explained she didn’t want the kid to have to deal with the naughty word episode of her life ever again, and that any action, especially violent action, would just make it worse, and even if she did something, which would certainly not be violence, at her nephew’s baptism, it would be to call the Police and that would entail putting Stephanie through yet further trauma, so why didn’t I just be a good guy, butt out, and drop it.
Made sense, but still…
Not even Odysseus had a case this cut and dry (he was away for twenty years; and Penelope was well over eighteen). None of the suitors tried to pervert any five-year-olds in Ithaca, I don’t think. What if we did do the “unacceptable” and beat the hell out of the Golf Thugs, or at least humiliated and ejected them? Don’t bar bouncers do the same every week-end for far lesser crimes? And what if we broke a few jaws and ribs? Who would they complain to without explaining the uncomfortable fact that they paid a very young girl to ‘talk dirty to them?’ Why is it so hard to punish grown men for abusing a child? Yeah sure, you could go to the cops or a lawyer and press charges or whatever, but that would be ‘inappropriate,’ ‘unseemly.’ Don’t want to drag the kid into some cesspool courtroom drama. But even a decent back-yard drubbing? I suppose that too would have been outré. Don’t wanna make waves.
It’s THE MAN in us, of course. The Golf Thugs may be merely representatives of THE MAN and his sexual power games, but HE is in all of us. It’s one thing to beat on Weird Uncle Harold who works the corner news kiosk and is usually naked beneath his wrinkled trench coat, but patriotic, hard-working, Golf Thugs in suits who come from ‘good families’ and are raising ‘good families’ of their own? Nein.
And none of that crap about “they didn’t touch her.” Five-years is the prime age for learning vocabulary, languages, general concepts. Has THE MAN ever actually poked HIS thing in you? Yet HE’S been in you since always. HE’S still in you.
I imagined Stephanie fifteen, twenty years from now, dressed as Barbie. Then undressed in some old college professor or corporate executive’s sweaty bed. Talking naughty. Words that have been in her head so long she hasn’t the faintest idea when she learned them, or where.
It began to rain, as usual (it must have rained at least forty days and forty nights this “Spring;” when will the Flood come finally and wash this mess away?), which was a bummer because I’d just stoked up a cigar. I was out front on the driveway. I took out my pen and notebook, wrote “Scary Monsters” on a sheet, wrapped the “dirty” bills in it, and tucked the package under the wiper of an SUV, complete with Old Glory sticker on the windshield. My Salinger moment.
The car might or might not have belonged to one of the Golf Thugs. Probably not. But it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Adam Engel has no illusions about rye fields or saving children from precarious cliffs. He waits for the Flood or perhaps a Meteor. Big rock hurled from a disgusted, pissed-off Cosmos. firstname.lastname@example.org