“Misogynist: admit you’re a misogynist! This is disgraceful…” This accusation is essentially the reason why my friend Peter had left the Boatyard. A month after he left, we were still keeping in touch, but he swore he didn’t want anything to do with these people anymore. Upon hearing his side of the story, I had no words to say to him. It had happened seven weeks ago: on the night of the fourteenth; three weeks after the ‘incident’. The only reason I can adlib the words he had with the other residents word for word was because Tim was eavesdropping in the other room and scribbling it all down.
All Peter had wanted to do that night was play video games with friends. Maybe it was because it was two in the morning, or maybe it was because Lionel had just gotten kicked out of the community. As I recall, Peter had been away that week at a convention in New York. But when he got back he found the Boatyard in an uproar. I can fill you in on that: something bad had happened between Lionel and Kirsten, Lionel’s wife. Like most of the hipsters living there, they were a bohemian couple who had taken residence in the Boatyard to save on rent, but even then the aftershocks of a once again crashing economy was biting hard on their heels. Although it wasn’t fully proven as domestic abuse, the argument that could be heard from their room had made many of the other residents very uncomfortable. Since then, the whole commune had been up debating amongst each other and monitoring each other’s actions like a hive of bees that had been disturbed Some had sided with Lionel about the absurdity of the argument. Others had sided with Kirsten. Nearly everyone agreed that Lionel had gone off the deep end and had sounded too aggressive for his own good during the argument. Luckily, he had not technically done anything regrettable that would have brought in the cops. It was a good thing too: this place was illegally housed by squatters.
How people responded to the ‘incident’ as it came to be known for the next two weeks after it happened, was polarized. Some shook their heads and tried to get on with their lives; a regrettable incident. Others felt Lionel had to go: alcohol mixed with his temper was never a good thing, and he had not had a good gig for his auto business in weeks. Kirsten wasn’t too happy about it either, and no one knew for sure what the full extent of the argument was, but as I hinted, it was clear money was becoming a problem. In an emergency meeting, Lionel was kicked out of the community, and Kirsten for her own reasons, did not agree with the degree of this punishment and followed her husband. Certainly nobody was happy that Kirsten ended up leaving, but opinion was mixed about Lionel. But as the New Wavers outvoted everyone else, they felt that at least getting him banished should eliminate the problems around here. There was only one problem. Lionel’s underground auto shop provided a service for everyone there: that is, everybody too cheap to pay regular market price for parts and labor. And as long as Lionel could install an exhaust system here or there, put in new brakes, no one was really complaining. No one with a car that was. It was the ‘new kids’ that didn’t drive cars; these New Wavers that I was talking about. They were the new residents living in the Boathouse: the ones obsessed with political correctness more than for providing artistic services for the greater Warren community, and there were more of them living at the Boatyard there than ever by the time I got there. They all rode bikes or bummed rides from the rest of us. Anyway, this tragic affair had made it difficult for all of us. Some more than others. Peter, who was always more brash and outspoken than others whenever he would engage in any debate, found himself to be the second victim of this new wave order.
Like I said, I wasn’t there, but from the way he told me the story, I could picture it perfectly in my head: I’ve been in that ‘safe room’ myself, but only when I had had to testify against Lisa for stealing a baseball eight months ago. I can picture him now: sitting on a chair in this tiny room in the second floor with a narrow window overlooking the Marina outside, as if he was being interrogated by two federal agents. Only it wasn’t two federal agents. It was two of the ‘overseers’: two unintimidating New Wavers in their early twenties wearing vintage lifeguard sweaters that they had found at the thrift shop for uniforms. The Boatyard was resourceful like that – or cheap, depending on how you looked at it. There had been a fire sale at the thrift shop down the street, and the Boatyard used some of its club dues to fund ‘uniforms’ whenever members of the community needed to serve as organized staff. A nearby lifeguard recreation room by the beach had burned down last summer, and the town beach was left with a surplus legion of these things…
“You’re basically creating a spirit of McCarthyism” Peter had told his interrogators. It was a bold statement, but their accusations didn’t make any sense to him. All he had intended to do that night of the fourteenth was stick around the lounge that night and play ‘Mario World’ on the retro-box. But within ten minutes he was called to a special meeting by the new resident committee. It had been a set up, and the invitation to play video games had been bait. They simply wanted to remind him that as a white male, (as they claimed, just like Lionel was), he was insinuated as part of the problem within the community . Peter did not handle the accusation well:
“Shit; this is exactly what had happened to my uncles twenty years ago” he mumbled to himself as he looked around the room. Two visibly scared individuals trying to appear menacing at the same time wearing bright red hoodies were staring at him. There was only a weak glow coming from an incandescent lightbulb behind a lampshade that added to the darkness of this stuffy room that smelled like hemp rope.
“I never did anything to anyone here!” he declared to them. “I didn’t ever get drunk and try to put the moves on people at the tribal parties, I never said anything slandering. I’ve never even dated anyone here in the damn Boatyard! How am I a misogynist?”
“Lower your voice” warned one of the ‘overseers’. “The fact you are not even aware of what you did is the problem!”
“What did I do? When did I do??”
“Last week Kara reported how you had said something very offensive to Rita. You were being aggressive and not letting her speak.”
“You weren’t part of our conversation! We were verbally sparring with each other in debate!”
“Yes, but you can’t talk to a woman like that. Especially not after what transpired with Lionel. We’re not tolerating that kind of behavior.”
“But you don’t even know what we were talking about” argued Peter. “We were having a discussion about how menstrual cycles aren’t ultimately destroyed by the moon if it suddenly would disappear!”
“There you go again” the other overseer had said to him standing to his right. “You interrupt people that are talking to you. She looked intimidated by your conversation.”
“I’m defending myself against a stupid accusation!” cried Peter.“My friend was just flat out wrong about the science of reproduction. She claimed women would never be able to have any babies any more if the moon disappeared. Did she even tell you what we were talking about?”
“That’s not important. That’s not why we called you here tonight.”
“You didn’t even know what we were talking about! You’re not even friends with Rita. Look: my friend was claiming that the moon is ultimately responsible for the existence of women’s menstrual cycles. She was slightly off, and I just explained to you why.”
“Peter, please just listen…”
“I was doing her a favor” Peter interrupted. “Just trying to be logical. And I guess being the asshole with the degree in astrophysics, I was trying to explain to her that’s nonsense. If you could hypothetically start an intergalactic colony in another part of the universe with a different lunar orbit surrounding that planet…”
“We’re not really interested in what you have to say” said the second overseer. “You’re not listening, and we’re trying to give you a chance to be civilized and hear our language here .”
“But you’re accusing me of something completely absurd!” retorted Peter. “That’s exactly what she said! And she’s the one that started this whole fucking conversation…”
“Listen” the first ‘overseer’ said to him in a cross tone. “You were doing well about ten minutes ago, but now you’re getting aggressive again. And we’ve been asking you repeatedly to be civilized and understand what you’re doing wrong. You need to learn to realize that you have certain privilege . You need to apologize to her.”
“I’m sorry if I was just trying to educate her on a scientific delusion.”
”Your education is because of privilege” the second overseer said to Peter.
“Just because you don’t know you have privilege, doesn’t mean you haven’t benefited from it your whole life.” Peter calmed down and took a deep breath. He looked at the ground in defeat. “Elaborate” he said to them.
“Well, for instance, when was the last time you walked into a store and they thought you were going to steal something?”
“What does that happen to do with anything?” asked Peter. “It happens to minorities all the time.”
“How can you say that? Besides, how would you know? You’re both white! You don’t hear Jake or Shemar whining like this! But what the hell does that have to do with me? We were talking about lunar menstrual cycles. What the hell does that have to do with black people?”
One of the staff people sighed. “All your life when you have spoken, people assume you have authority.”
Peter shook his head in disbelief . “I can’t help if I have charisma” he muttered. “What the fuck.”
“Some people don’t have a voice” said the first overseer. “You should really start listening to people.”
“I think you’re twisting things.”
“You need to start listening to people. You tend to be sometimes arrogant.”
Peter breathed a deep sigh again. “Ok you’re right. That at least is true. Tell me what you want to say. What are you trying to say?”
“I’m not giving you permission to talk. I’m not asking for your permission . When I do talk to you, listen; you always talk over all of us.”
Peter felt cornered. He thought of his asshole brother back home who would bother him with these mind games. This was the reason he had left Portland, despite the fact he had loved it there. Mind games. This was the one thing Peter couldn’t stand more than anything else. If someone was going to demonize him in any way, at least be rational. According to Peter, these two were honestly going around in circles and not making much sense. Maybe it was him though. He has privilege; they had just said so to him. Where did that come from? He might as well try something new, so he decided to hear them out. He waited enough time to suggest there was a pause for his interrogators to continue the conversation.
“Have you two learned nothing from fucking history? Please entertain me here: what do you mean by privilege?”
“You open your mouth and people assume you have authority. There’s a good example.”
“So someone assumes that about me. Who places that on me? How is that my fault?”
“It doesn’t matter who places that on you. You still have privilege like that.”
“So in retrospect” said Peter slowly as he put his hands on his forehead ”why then do these people not just make a mental effort to fight that? You know: out argue me if I’m full of shit? They’re the ones putting me on a pedestal. They’re creating their own class system problem. How the hell is that my fault? I’d want to confess I take offense to that, but you would probably be offended that I’m offended.”
“Actually, yes: because you are not listening.”
“I’ve never thought myself superior.”
“Perhaps you have not, but you have had a lifetime of benefits stemming from your status as a white male. And only recently because we have a system of laws been implemented have you finally been able to see your ignorance.”
“But I’m NOT a white male!” cried Peter in disbelief. “I’m Hispanic with light skin! They do exist you know!” He calmed down again. “Ok, so I have white privilege. Now what?”
The staff person was taken back. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, so I have white privilege – male privilege. Sorry; forgive me. What do we do with the rest of our lives?”
“I’m doing that, but to who?”
“To people who don’t look like you for the rest of your life.” “You may not believe this, but I already do that. I just try to engage in an intellectual discussion and try to treat all people as equal.”
“Apparently, you didn’t.” They sat there for several minutes. No one talked. The two staff members seemed to have a point. Peter knew he could get impatient. Ever since he went to grad school, he found his tolerance levels lower for the… he was afraid to say it in his mind… numbskulls around him. Their eyes said everything. This was not equality — at least to his mind. This seemed hypocrisy. He was trying to treat these two as equals and engage in a rational discussion. All they were doing was inducing awkward silence. And their eyes spoke volumes: a look of confidence, hate, and if he wasn’t mistaken, cluelessness at the same time. The fact that they were honestly starting to bore him by not actually being able to articulate any real-true accusations about what he had literally done was getting grating, but he decided to play along.
“Look, I’m all ears” he muttered as he tried to avoid looking at his watch. “What specifically is this all about?”
“There you go again!” said one of the staff members. “You don’t even know! You’re not listening!”
“Listening to who!” shouted Peter. “I’m trying to listen to you right now!”
The two staff members threw their hands up in disbelief and one of them gave themselves a face palm.
“You need to shape up” said one of them with fake-politeness. “We love you, but if you don’t start changing that aggression, you’re going to end up banned from here.”
Peter was in shock, but he swallowed hard and relaxed himself. Finally, after a few moments, he nodded, and told them he was sorry and that he would be willing to attend their sensitivity education seminars. It was a new ‘class’ being held in the warehouse: gender equity training; Tuesdays at six. Ever since the wrestling club had been cancelled recently for promoting too much violence, the space was available. Nodding to both of them and wishing them a good night, he walked quietly up the stars of the great warehouse, up the hall, and then after a slight pause, past his apartment, and right out of the Boatyard.
It’s me, Harry again. I hope this puts some perspective as to why I’m here in this bunker. Maybe it doesn’t yet. Anyways, Peter, as he told me, didn’t have to live here in the Boatyard. He just liked living there. He had a good paying job, and he didn’t really need to put up with what he called was this deluded bullshit. He had even taught a free class on astrophysics for the community on Sunday evenings there before all this drama came about. He decided to check into a hotel room that evening. The thing that kept bugging him as he left the Marina was that he and Tim, and his other friend Cheryl had been here much longer than when all these ding dongs had shown up. This was supposed to be a place of artistic development and enlightenment, and according to his report, every accusation they had called him out on so far were built on skewed perceptions of misogyny they thought they were hearing in their heads. He hated the idea he was being threatened like this, but he said to me and Cheryl that he had to be strong. If he didn’t stand his guard, he was going to end up like poor old Jeffrey.Who the hell was Jeffrey? Jeffrey was another guy that had moved into the Boatyard three years ago. He was a great kid; kind of a jock with a slight history of his douchebag fraternity past that would flair up every now and again. He happened to be a metal worker. One day after the ‘incident’, the new members confronted him and got a hold of him. Peter and our friends to this day have no idea what they had said to him, but ever since three weeks ago, Jeffrey had been different: Sober and in their favor,Jeff still has the same physical appearance, but he has a demeanor now that Tim only described as ‘institutionalized’. Too quiet for his own good and self-deprecating, Tim describes him as almost lobotomized; devoid of any rational way of thinking or independent thought left. Jeff was still here living at the Boatyard and willing to compromise, but Peter was the next to go. Anyways…