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In So Many Little Ways

While rape is the ultimate demonstration of disrespect, men besmirch women in so many little ways.

I had gone to the county courthouse to attend a public information meeting about a controversial issue. The attendance was far more than had been expected, and it was clear that the intended meeting room was quite inadequate. While the county officials scurried to secure a much larger meeting room, those of us waiting were escorted into the county commission chamber.

Herded, we were, and when all the seats in the audience portion of the room were filled some of us were directed onto the platform that held the chairs of the county commissioners. We sat where we were told. A large number had to remain standing.

My spot happened to be the seat of a commissioner whom I did not know, but whose name I recognized and whose face I had seen in campaign advertising. I settled into his comfortable upholstered chair and surveyed his desk. The usual, pens and notepads, and since this happened before smoking in public places was universally banned, a most unusual ashtray.

Made of heavy brass, the ample, nude female figure was about 12″ long. Her breasts were voluptuous, her vulva exquisitely detailed. Her mid-section was a sunken circle, making a large round receptacle to hold cigarette ashes.

I couldn’t look away. I felt the movement in the room as all the seats were taken, leaving many people still standing, but my vision was locked on that artfully crafted insult to womanhood. I imagined the commissioner sitting in his place, venting his irritation with any woman speaking to the commissioners by flipping ashes onto the brass woman’s stomach or confirming his disdain by grinding out a cigarette butt.

My large bag hung from my shoulder; I shifted it around to sit on my lap. One of the meeting sponsors, a tall man in a brown corduroy suit, came into the room. He apologized for the wait and promised that he would be back soon to direct us to another room which would be more comfortable. He closed the door again as he left.

I pulled the offending ash tray closer to the edge of the desk. I was surprised at the weight. Beneath the edge of the desk I opened the zipper on my bag. As we were leaving the room, I plotted, I would slip the horrid ash tray into my bag. With delight I could imagine the shock and consternation the commissioner would experience when he sat down at his desk tomorrow and realized that his ash tray was gone. He would wonder the rest of his life who had relieved him of his prize possession. Would he notify local law enforcement of the loss? Quite likely not, since a report would require a physical description. He could hardly call it government property, either.

When the door was jerked open again all eyes turned in that direction. Everyone was getting antsy at the delay.

The person now standing in the open doorway was not the brown corduroy suit they expected. It was, with a frozen, deer-in-the-headlights look of fear and disorientation, the commissioner in whose chair I was sitting. I quickly looked away.

In my peripheral vision, however, I was aware when his gaze settled on my body. If I hadn’t been so angry at the nude brass figure, I would have felt like a trespasser. His glance swept across the other people sitting in other commissioner’s chairs and back to me. He had no apparent clue why the commissioner’s hearing room was unexpectedly filled with a restless, impatient crowd, and no one seemed inclined to offer him an explanation.

Scuttling sideways, his hands feeling the wall behind him, he tried to squeeze through the throng. He kept glancing furtively at me; I very deliberately avoided eye contact.

He had made very little progress when Brown Corduroy Suit entered the room, apologized profusely for the delay and announced that the new meeting room was ready. If we would follow him . . .

I gave the vulgar brass ashtray a final look, but I had given up all thoughts of thievery. I had too many other things to take care of, none of which would get done if I were spending time in jail.

The commissioner’s goal was still that of reaching his desk, but he was yielding to the rush of bodies heading in the opposite direction. I carefully maneuvered my way to stay as far away from him as possible. I did linger long enough to see him reach his desk.

I saw him use the sleeve of his right forearm to cover the indecency of the naked lady, his fingers touching the top of her head. I couldn’t see his left arm, but I judged from the motions of his upper body that he was opening a lower desk drawer. I definitely heard a thud when something heavy hit a hard surface.

And I did not vote for him in the next election.

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I have been connected with journalism, one way or another, most of my adult life, beginning with a newspaper no longer in existence, the Upland (CA) News. Deliriously happy to be a Kansan.

1 comment to In So Many Little Ways

  • markscheel1

    Hi Emily,

    Hmmmmm. Well, this is certainly keeping in tune with the focus of the times. I was wondering, how would I have felt if I’d been in your place but the commissioner whose seat I occupied was a woman and the ashtray was a nude male with fully detailed “unit”? Differently, I’m sure. But I also might not have voted for her next time around.


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