Saturday, March 31, 2012

Working in a Sweatshop

(Continued from Tuesday . . .)
The cavernous warehouse in which I worked for eight weeks and one day in late 1971 was divided into several dimly lit rooms. In each, employees ticketed items sold at a downtown Dayton department store. The huge, echoing room in which I worked housed clothing piled on long, rectangular tables. Each table might have four or five piles of different items such as blouses, shirts, trousers, dresses, ties, underpants, handkerchiefs.
            The employees ranged in age from teenager girls to women in their sixties. These older women had worked in the warehouse much of their lives. They stood for eight hours a day on concrete with no cushioning and so had varicose veins.
            They welcomed me with open arms. During lunch break, they shared their life stories. None of them had been nuns or had the educational advantages I’d had. All of them dated or had been married or were married. Most had children. Their stories seemed to me to be filled with tragedy. They were truly poor. I had the hope of someday finding a better job. They didn’t.
            We were dissimilar in many ways. And yet we were all women—with hopes and dreams. All of us knew what being broke meant. All of us knew pain and disappointment and fatigue. And so we shared our lives with one another.
U.S. sweatshop circa 1890. 
            What the older women didn’t share was the large sewing-machine-like equipment that enabled them to ticket more articles of clothing than could be done with the handheld taggers. They could wheel these cumbersome sewing machines from one pile of clothing to another. Claiming seniority, they refused to let newcomers use the automated machines.
            Why? Because the company based its raises on how many items an employee tagged in a year. The sewing machines enabled a woman to label many more items during the day than a simple handheld tagger.
            These women had all started at minimum wage. Their wages grew slowly. That’s because only one woman a year got a raise—the woman who tagged the most clothing.
            That longed-for raise was five cents an hour—two dollars a week, minus social security, so a dollar plus some change.
             For your information: One dollar in 1971 had the same buying power as $5.67 today. Click here to discover what a person could buy for that dollar in 1971. Then you’ll see why the raise was so important.
            All the women—and I do mean all of them—worked hard. Some deftly wheeled those heavy sewing taggers from pile to pile. Their hands flashed as they lifted each item and labeled it. Others rushed from pile to pile and hand tagged. No one was a slacker. Picking up and tagging the most items each day had a reward—that year-end raise of five cents an hour.  
            The floor manager of this beehive of workers was a thin, angular young man of perhaps twenty-two. He sported a straggly mustache and stood watching all of us work industriously for eight hours each day. He wielded great power in our lives. He could take one of the large machines from anyone and wheel it to another woman to use. Thus, he could determine who had tagged the most items at the end of the year.
            Moreover, we had to ask his permission to leave the room and use the lavatory. He timed us. If we took more than five minutes, he docked items from the number we’d tagged for that day.
            I’d been using the handheld tagger for seven weeks when I decided that these women and I needed a trade union. I’d come from a union family—my father was a pipefitter—and I recognized a sweatshop when I worked in it. We slaved in a warehouse with no ventilation and no fans. I didn’t stay beyond November, so I’m not sure whether the company heated the warehouse in winter.
            I knew nothing about how a person unionized a group of workers. I wasn’t Crystal Lee Sutton. Eight years later—in 1979—her valiant efforts to unionize a shop in North Carolina would be told in the movie Norma Rae for which Sally Fields won an Oscar.  
            I had met no trade union organizer as Crystal had. I didn’t even know how to get in touch with one. I just saw injustice and knew that we needed to be part of a union that could effectively protest the working conditions. I knew that life could be better for all of us.
            On Monday of my eighth week there, I began to approach the other women in the parking lot where they stood in groups, smoking their cigarettes during the lunch break. I explained what a union could do for them. One by one, they walked away. As the week passed, however, they stayed to explain to me that they couldn’t afford to protest or go out on strike. They needed the money they earned. They warned me that anyone who complained was fired.
The 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

            On Friday of that week, the young twenty-something of a floor manager followed me as I moved from group to group. Seeing him, the other women faded away. When I stood alone, he said, “You’d best stop agitating these women. You'll get them fired. You too." 
            The following Monday, while I was ticketing socks, he escorted me to the warehouse overseer’s office. “There’s never been a union here,” the headman boasted. “There never will be. We don’t need troublemakers like you around. Get your things and get out. You’re fired.”
            That pipsqueak who’d reported my actions accompanied me to my locker and then to the warehouse door.  “I warned you,” he sneered. And so he had.
            No buses came out that far from the city, so I sat on the curb the rest of the workday. At the end of her shift, Char—the woman who’d gotten me the job—left the warehouse, and we drove home together as we’d done for the preceding eight weeks.
            “I hope you don’t get in trouble for my actions,” I said to her.
            “Don’t worry, Mr. Watson already told me that he knew it wasn’t my fault. That you’d fooled us all. He said the FBI had tried to warn him, but he wasn’t going to let the government tell him how to run his warehouse.”
            So. . . there I was in November 1971. Broke and fired.
            On Tuesday, May 1, I’ll share my next job—teaching in a black dropout center. Trust me, things went better there.

Afterword: Between now and May 1, I won’t be blogging—life has intervened, again. However, I’m going to preschedule a post for every Tuesday and Saturday in April. These edited postings will be early ones I wrote last May and June when I had only a few readers.
            I hope you’ll comment on them even though I won’t be able to respond. The thing is that at some point I hope to use my stories in a memoir. Your comments will help me know which aspects of my life interest you the most.
            Also, in your comments please let me know if there are postings of yours that you’d like me to read when I return to blogging in May. I won’t be able to read a whole month’s worth for each of the blogs I follow, but I’d love for you to direct me to the ones you most want read.

Photos from Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Returning Broke to Dayton

The two years of graduate school came to an end in June 1971 and I returned to Dayton. Accompanying me were the three wearisome characters who yammered in my continual hallucinations. Once back in Ohio, I decided not to teach again as I felt too exhausted to listen well.
            Grad school had left me broke. I had no money to rent an apartment. Even the bus fare downtown and back was burdensome. So for three weeks I lived with friends while searching for a clerical or sales job. The jobless rate in the United States in 1971 was 4.9%. Surely I could find work—easily.
            Not so.
            From nine to five of the first week, I pounded the pavements, going from one downtown business to another. Most employers immediately said I was overqualified and would never stay with the job. Despite my assurances, none of them had me fill out an application. The interviews I did have led to secretaries calling me to say I hadn’t gotten the job.

            In the second week of my search, I went back to a place where an agreeable employer had interviewed me. He was gracious enough to see me despite the fact that he hadn’t hired me.
            “Mr. Loftus, did I do something in the interview that disqualified me for the job? I’m asking so that in future interviews I’ll do better.”
            “To be honest, Miss Ready, it had nothing to do with your interview. You’re a personable young woman.”
            “Then why didn’t you hire me?”
            “It seems you have a file with the FBI. They’re warning us against hiring you.”
            “How could I have a file? I’ve done nothing illegal.”
            “They said you protested the war and were a troublemaker.”
            “I did protest. But it was peaceful.”
            “I have to tell you that the government doesn’t take kindly to protesting.”
            “But you could still hire me, couldn’t you?”
            “The truth is I don’t want the government to start scrutinizing me. I don’t need an FBI file.”
            During that second week, I asked several other employers who’d turned me down if they, too, had heard from the FBI. They had. They wouldn’t risk hiring me.
            Despite this, I did find work, but only with the help of a good friend.
            In my posting “Deep Commitment” of February 18, I introduced you to Jeanne and Jim, a Dayton couple whose example helped me become part of the protest against the Vietnam War.
            Jeanne now helped me find a job.
            Her friend Char worked at a department-store warehouse beyond town that was looking for employees. We met on Wednesday evening of the third week of my search and she explained the job to me.

            “Would you work for the minimum wage?” Char asked.
            “I just need work. Anything will do right now.”
            Another friend of Jeanne’s had a small attic apartment to rent. On minimum wages, I’d have no discretionary money, but I could manage if I lived frugally. However, I wouldn’t have the money for bus fare to the warehouse and back each day.
            “You can drive with me,” Char said. “Just meet me at Jeanne’s house each morning and I’ll pick you up.”
            “What would you like me to pay you each week?”
            “Nothing. I’d just enjoy having someone to talk to.”
            I wept at such generosity.
            On Thursday of that third week, Jeanne drove me out to the warehouse, and I used Char’s name in applying for a job. The manager said he’d ask her about me. The next day, he called. I had the job. The following Monday I started tagging clothes.
            On Saturday, I’ll tell you about that job and why I got fired.
                                                                        (Continued on Saturday . . . )

PS: If you are entering the give-away for the book "The Sword of Senack," please click here.

Photographs from Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Recap for "The Sword of Senack"

Today’s “recap” completes the adage I quoted last Saturday:
First you ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em.
Then you tell ‘em.
Then you tell ‘em what you told ‘em.
 Last Saturday was “preview”; Tuesday was “present”—that is, I told you about The Sword of Senack. Today is “recap”—my final sharing of Elisa’s fantastical fantasy novel. 
               I’m recapping with a multiple-choice quiz. By each of the nine pictures below is a question. You can find all the answers in the posting I did on Tuesday entitled: The Sword of Senack: A Fantastic Fantasy. I’ve inserted the nine answers at the end of this posting. I wonder just how good you are at guessing?
            If you want to skip these questions and go to the entry for the give-a-way, click here. The entry will be at the end of the that posting.

1.  Aliya, the heroine of The Sword of Senack, lived in a palace that had a room with a ___.
                     a)     living mural
                     b)    goblet of fire
                     c)     Golden Flame

2.            The witch who kidnapped Aliya’s sister  goes by the name ___.
                                                a)  Belladonna
                                                b)  Beatrix
                                                c) Constance
3.            The ship Aliya drew was different from other ships because it had  ___.
a)     nine masts

b)    a glass bottom            
c)     ten cannons 
 4. In The Sword of Senack, the character who wants to be a pirate is Aliya's ____.
                        a)  sister
                        b)  younger brother
                        c)  father
5.            The Leviathans who hissed their own darkness were the ____.
a) Gryffindors
b) Slytherins
c) Secrenas
6.            The name of the gladiator who was willing to fight to the death for Aliya was ___.
                        a) Malfoy
                        b) Calder
                        c) Snape
7.            The ice-palace where the witch lived was on the _____.
                        a) Isle of Deltre
                        b) bottom of the whirlpool
                        c) Isle of Whumping Willows
8.            The dragon who fills the pages of The Sword of Senack with terror is __.

                  a) Grawp
                        b) Hungarian Horntail
                        c) Ophyrus
9.            Aliya meets a giant who believes in possibility. His name is ___.
                        a) Hagrid
                        b) Teius
                        c) Thestral

Here are the answers: 
1. A;   2. C;   3; B;   4. B;   5. C;   6. B;   7. A;   8. C;   9. B.
           I hope the three postings I’ve done on The Sword of Senack have piqued your interest. To order this fantastical underwater fantasy click here for Elisa’s blog.

PS:  Next Tuesday,  I’ll begin again to examine the social justice issues in my life.  
All the photographs are from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Sword of Senack: A Fantastic Fantasy

I admit to not playing fair with you in my Saturday posting. I began with a professor’s adage about how to teach:
First you tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em.
Then you tell ‘em.
Then you tell ‘em what you told ‘em.
Then I proceeded to cheerfully ignore the adage. I didn’t tell you what I was going to tell you today. Instead, I tried to whet your appetite with several possible topics about which I might write. Hidden in that list was the following: “Will I share my reading of books by other bloggers?” And that’s it folks. Today I’m going to share with you how a fellow blogger’s book—The Sword of Senack—came to be written.
            Ten years ago, Elisa Stilson gave birth to her second child. Two months later she and her husband underwent the harrowing experience of having to let go of Zeke. Elisa’s firstborn, “the Scribe,” didn’t understand where her little brother had gone. She wanted to follow.
            To comfort her daughter, Elisa began the bedtime story of a young girl—Aliya—whose brother Jack was spirited away. The intrepid sister followed him and ultimately rescued her brother from the dangers of Ophyrus, a winged orange dragon, and Constance, a vengeful witch who lives within a bone-chilling ice palace on the Isle of Deltre.
            To do this of course, she needed magic. The magic of drawing what came to be, the magic of breathing in the ocean’s depths, and the magic called love that does not tire when faced with the difficulty of finding a beloved brother.
            Magic enabled her to leave the castle of Senack with its living mural that foretold the future and to venture into the ocean on a glass-bottomed boat she’d drawn. Encountering a whirlpool, Aliya’s boat fell down, down, down into the watery deeps. Mystery lurks. Adventure beckons. Suspense tempts her to use the Golden Flame.
            Within the ocean’s depths, Aliya encountered eeriness: gladiators like Calder who laugh at death in the colosseum; Secrenas who hiss their own darkness; ancient giants like Teius who believe in possibility; and barbed Rentans who carry disease like a plague.
            This cast of fantastical characters could have frightened a less spirited sixteen-year-old and sent her scurrying homeward—but not Aliya, not the Scribe who so wanted to find and comfort her brother. Of course, she also wanted companions—both in her home and in the story.
            She got her wish: Elisa and her husband had three more children. Their blog names are “the Hippie,” “Zombie Elf,” and “Doctor Jones.” As each of these children came along and became interested in hearing bedtime stories, Elisa incorporated her or him into her ongoing fantasy of the Sword of Senack.
            Thus the Hippie becomes Sky, who knows the future; Zombie Elf becomes a pirate, who sports a black eye patch and eagerly seeks escapade; Doctor Jones becomes Indy, who awaits deliverance after the witch kidnaps her.
            Ah, you see all the ingredients for a first-rate fantasy: Adventure. Improbable creatures. Suspense. Courageous children. And yes, adults who sometimes don’t have their priorities right.
            “Ah, my friends, and oh my foes,” the Sword of Senack will draw you into an underwater world of peril with two talented heroines and a swashbuckling hero. You will wonder at the creative mind behind this book. A mind that envisioned an underwater world that will enthrall both children and adults.
            For such is the power of Elisa’s astounding imagination: she introduces you to that which cannot now happen on our earth and convinces you that all is possible to those who say, “Why not?”
            For fellow blogger Elisa Stinson, whose fantasy I’ve so enjoyed reading, I have only this song to offer. It’s what I want to say today to Elisa.

            What I didn’t tell you about last Saturday is the contest accompanying the publication of The Sword of Senack. Here’s the information on that. Please do consider entering.
            And please do truly consider purchasing the paperback or the e-book edition of The Sword of Senack. It is the first of four planned books in the Mer-son cycle. You won’t be disappointed. Elisa is an accomplished and creative writer. She’ll take you with her on an exciting underwater adventure.

One of our favorite authors, EC Stilson, has done it again! She has graciously purchased a Kindle Fire to giveaway to one of her readers. The Sword of Senack is an epic fantasy about three children who embark on a journey to find their brother, but in the process may discover the truth about themselves. This tale of an underwater adventure is now available as a physical book and eBook through Amazon. It is also only .99 on Smashwords--for a limited time.
           In addition to this exciting news, Wayman Publishing will be giving away $50, five signed copies of The Sword of Senack AND considering new talent for publication! Please check out for more information about the art and writing contest.
        Now, to enter to win these great prizes, please make sure to follow the Rafflecopter rules below. You must complete the MANDATORY entries to reveal eighty-two more easy, possible ways to earn entry points towards the Prize. Please remember, the more entry points you gain, the better your chances are of winning. So Good Luck!

The hosts for this giveaway are:

1) The Crazy Life of a Writing Mom

2) voiceBoks - The Voice of Parenthood

3) Makobi Scribe

4) WikiMommy - The Information Site for All Things Mommyhood

5) Just Married with Coupons

6) Simply Stacie - Product + Book Reviews, Giveaways, and more!

7) Sassy Mama in L.A.

8) About a Mom Blog

9) Planet Weidknecht

10) Coming Home to Myself

11) It's Rhyme Time

12) Good Steward Savers

13) Sweep Tight

14) Moms with Voices Media

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hinting on St. Patrick's Day

After graduating from college in 1958, I entered a teaching order. However, I’d taken no education courses during the four years of college. My degree was in English with minors in mathematics, history, and philosophy. This meant that while in the convent I took classes in education to gain accreditation for teaching in Nebraska and Kansas.
            In at least one of these classes, the professor shared the ancient adage about how to teach:

First you tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em.
Then you tell ‘em.
Then you tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

            So preview, present, recap.
            In this three-part teaching method, you first whet the appetite for learning. That’s part one.
            Today I’m whetting.
            I’m providing a broad hint about what I’m going to tell you about in my next two postings.
            The hint begins.
            Please hum what Wikipedia calls  “ the ominous, four-note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music” of Dragnet.           

            Those of you who follow my blog know that writing is my passion. To the right of this post are three images for A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, which was first published in 1992. Also, you see an image for the inspirational The Golden Sky by E. C. Stilson and for the humorous Just Nonsense by Melynda Fleury.
            These images are there to encourage you to order their paper books or e-books and mine. I wasn’t sure about putting any of these images on my blog. Selling while posting seemed, at first, a little crass to me.
            Yet communication is an important part of my being. Since I first began printing in first grade, I have been writing stories. In these I try to entertain, share my feelings and experiences, and reach out to others across the apparent span that divides us into separate beings. For me, writing—communicating—is a bridge to understanding. It is a way to alleviate the existential loneliness of life.
            Here’s the bottom line: I want others to read what I’ve written. I also want what others have written to be read.
            So in my two postings next week, I’m going to . . .
            Ah-ha! What do you think? Will I explain how I go about writing a post? Will I share my reading of books by other bloggers? Will I give you five habits of highly successful bloggers? Will I post a new image of a book I’ve written? Will I tell you about writing to agents to try to find one to represent my work?
            That’s what I call “whetting your appetite.”
            Please get out your detecting paraphernalia—magnifying glass, plastic baggies for clues, and thinking caps. The question my friends is “What is the blog coming home to myself going to share with you next week?”
            One thing I will tell you is that my Tuesday posting will be part of a big event that's happening that day—another hint. Maybe you read the same blogs I do and you’ll pick up on this.
            And of course, on this Saint Patrick’s Day, amidst bird song and wandering breeze, I wish you joy in the morning and a fair road to travel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

PTSD on a Greyhound Bus

(Continued from Saturday . . . )
Three years ago, the counselor I visit once every three weeks suggested that I had PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. I thought she was kidding. I’d never been to war. Never been involved in daily strife.
            She insisted that several happenings explained why, when greatly stressed, I went from serenity to desolation in a nanosecond. In the past year, that has happened twice:
1.     Late one evening last April I realized that the skin cancer I have—mycosis fungoides, a type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma—could kill me. Within a matter of seconds I imagined myself so ill that I’d be unable to complete a manuscript. There you have it. Serene one moment; desolation the next.
2.     Last August I blithely ran the sweeper over a pile of wet dirt from a plant, thus staining the carpet. Within a mere second I had myself staying here in Missouri and being unable to move back to Minnesota because I couldn’t afford new carpeting and so couldn't sell the house. Serenity becomes desolation.
The reason I resisted the counselor’s suggestion for several months is that I’d once met a person who’d experienced PTSD on a Greyhound bus headed from Kansas City, Missouri, to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I’d been visiting my father for spring break in 1971and was headed back to Minnesota. Next to me sat a young soldier who’d recently returned from Vietnam. He was traveling north to Ames, Iowa, to visit college friends. He sat next to the window; I, by the aisle. We began to talk. His voice quavered as he spoke; his hands trembled.
I’d read enough about the two world wars to wonder if he wasn’t suffering from shell shock, or “battle fatigue.” The term post-traumatic stress syndrome was just coming into usage in the early seventies for men and women who came home from Vietnam, troubled by an array of symptoms—one of them flashbacks.

As we traveled north toward Iowa, I asked the young man about his days in high school. He’d been a quarterback on his high school football team. I knew nothing about the game, but my ignorance was good because explaining the game seemed to calm him.
The sun set; darkness settled within the bus. We were now comfortable enough with each other for the young solider to confide that his sweetheart was afraid of him. His parents loved him but couldn’t understand why he’d come home so different from the cherished son they’d sent off to war. He feared sudden noise. Flashing lights. Yelling. He shared all this somewhat apologetically—as if he were unfit. Unmanly. Not a credit to the uniform he’d worn.
An eighteen-wheeler passed us, blinking its lights and honking, creating a wave of movement. Suddenly the young man—the soldier—the son of parents who’d been proud—began to shout. “Charlie! Get down!” Trembling, he crouched in the space between his seat and the back of the one in front of him.
The semi passed. Then other cars zoomed by, their speed swaying the bus. Blurring headlights in the deep night. Honking.
All of this caused his flashback. He was there in the jungles of Vietnam. Charlie—the enemy Viet Cong—loomed there, ready to kill him and his buddies.
He stood suddenly, whispering hoarsely, “It’s an ambush!” Pushing me aside to get to the aisle, he weaved down the narrow passageway, trying to avoid those remembered bullets. His shouts splintered the darkness with fear.
I following, hearing a cacophony of complaints: “It’s unseemly, acting like that!” “He’s drunk.” “Grab him! He’s got a gun!” Throughout all of this, the bus driver asked for calm. His plea was met with the command, “Stop the bus! Put him off the bus!”
The young man was at the front now. Panting. His eyes darting right and left. Fear scored his face as he turned back and faced all those people in the dark. “It’s Charlie,” he shouted. “Get down! Charlie!”
I began to sing to him. “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow, why then oh why can’t I? . . . “
 I sang; the passengers grumbled. And the young soldier? Ever so slowly he relaxed his shoulders. Then he grabbed hold of me and began to cry. I enfolded him in my arms and led him back to his seat. Slowly, as if he were an aged warrior, the youth sat down, then hunched over, his tears spattering the floor. Those around us told him to be quiet. “It’s unseemly,” I heard again.
Suddenly, I’d had enough. I stood up and shouted. I was so angry, I’m really not sure what I said, but something like this: “This man’s shell shocked! He fought in Vietnam and he’s come home with terrifying memories. Cut him some slack. He’s been wounded by the war. He’s having a flashback.”
Some of the women stopped crying. Some men stopped grumbling. But others shouted that both of us should be put off the bus. We’d disturbed their sleep.
The young man sobbed as if his heart were broken in two. Someone from the front yelled, “He’s a coward!” and I yelled back, “Takes one to know one!”
Then I came out with my all the swear words I knew at the time. “Dammit to hell, what’s wrong with you bastards! Don’t you realize this man’s wounded? The war wounded his mind! If he’d lost a leg or an arm, you’d have some empathy. Why not for his mind? Tell me that! Why not?”

By now we were coming into Ames, Iowa, the destination of the young man. Whispering, gossiping about what had happened, the passengers disembarked to find food and use the restrooms. When the bus was empty, the driver helped me lead the wounded soldier off the bus to where his friends waited for him.
I explained what had happened and asked them to get him to someplace where he could sleep. “He needs help,” I said. “Could you take him to see a doctor at the University?” They assured me they’d do all they could for their friend.
I went inside the depot, used the bathroom, and bought a sandwich and some orange juice. By that time most of the other passengers were back on the bus. When I started to board, several shouted to the bus driver, “Don’t let her on! Make her take the next bus!” They complained about how I’d protected “that lunatic,” how I’d shouted at them, how I’d called them cowards.
The bus driver—bless him—asked me to take the seat behind him. “I’ll protect you from them,” he said and winked. And so from Ames to Minneapolis I sat behind the bus driver in the dark of a spring night. He shared with me his own fears from fighting in the Pacific in World War II. I listened as he told me about one of his buddies who’d experienced battle fatigue.
“I wish I could have helped you when you were trying to protect that young man," he said, "but I just wanted to get to Ames. I knew he needed to get out of the confines of this dark bus.”
“You understood,” I said.
“Better than most.”
Photos from Wikipedia.
Sites to visit to read more about shell shock and PTSD are the following:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Violence at the Laundromat

The second year of grad school began in September 1970. I settled down to study—no more knocking on doors to protest the Vietnam War, no more marching to the Capitol, no more criticizing professors’ teaching methods. I still felt incompetent.
The teacher who’d laughed at our classroom answers had returned my final essay on the symbolism in Melville’s novel Billy Budd. On the back page, he’d written, “I find this paper totally laughable.”
Then he proceeded to tell me all the good things about the composition: the writing, the interpretation of the symbols, the research. After that paragraph of praise, he scrawled, “For these and many other reasons, I can give you only a D.” His reasoning eluded me. I felt as if I’d entered an alternate universe in which words no longer meant what they had before.
That feeling continued throughout the rest of grad school. My grades slipped lower. I wasn’t doing well on exams. Moreover, I’d never really learned to come up with a premise and prove or disprove it through research.
I sunk deeper into despair. The three voices continued to hound me. A violent happening one winter night of that second year exacerbated all this.
On that night I lugged a bag of dirty clothes to the corner Laundromat. Two young women stood folding their first load of laundry, discussing the latest episode of a popular television soap opera.

Sitting before the washer with the round, glass door set in front, I watched my load of whites swish. The sound mesmerized me. Sleep came hard that year.
Then—Shouting. Cursing. The thudding of feet against a body.
The three of us rushed to the glass door. On the sidewalk in front of the Laundromat, five men, looming large in their polyester-filled parkas, were kicking a sixth young man who writhed on the sidewalk, trying to elude the flailing of their footed winter boots.
He held his arms tightly around his head. His prone body, folded in a fetal position, jerked wildly on the ice as the five assailants moved around him, their feet lashing out. They stood above him, shouting—their words so maniacal I couldn’t make sense of them.
Without considering the consequences, I flung open the Laundromat door, yelling “Call the police!” at the two young women. Grabbing hold of one assailant, who was intent only on his boot connecting with the body on the sidewalk, I shoved him roughly aside. He stumbled backward, cursing.
I fell to my knees and bent over the young man’s face, trying to protect his head. My hair was short and I wore slacks and a loose sweatshirt. Because of this, the five didn’t immediately recognize me as a woman. They began pummeling me with their fists. I shouted, “Stop! Stop this! You’ll kill him.”
My voice did stop them—momentarily. Then I heard one, clearly the leader, say, “Knock her off 'em. Then I'll bush his head in.”
Someone grabbed my shoulders and pulled me backward. Resisting, I lunged forward, my body now pressed against the young man’s face. I enfolded his head in my arms.
“Get her off 'em!” the leader shouted.
Two tried pulling me away. I hold on so tightly that they dragged the two of us in a circle on the ice. The young man beneath me shuddered as the other three assailants kicked his torso and legs repeatedly. He moaned as thuds battered his body. 
Thenthe siren.
As if concluding a ritual, each of the young men gave the victim one last, swift kick before running into the darkness.

            Aftermath: The police called an ambulance and questioned both the young man and me. He was mumbling so I couldn’t really hear what he said. I was able to describe only what I’d seen. I had no idea about what had occurred before the scene in front of the Laundromat.
            I heard the police put out an alert for five fleeing men. The ambulance came and the young man climbed in its back door. The police encouraged me to go with him, but I refused. I had no insurance.
            When they left, I entered the warmth of the Laundromat. I’d rushed out into the night without my coat and was shivering from cold and shock.
            I removed my clothes from the washer, put them in the drier, and sat down to consider what had happened. In that melee who was innocent? Who was guilty? I didn’t know.
            Nor do I know what happened to that young man or to the five who assailed him so rigorously. What I do know is that the next morning I woke with a knot on the back of my head and a black eye. That and one other thing: nothing is truly settled with fists and boots and violence.
                                                      (Continued on Tuesday . . . )

Photo of Laundromat from Wikipedia.
Photo of winter scene by Maggie Smith from freedigitalphotos