Remember this?… “Do you feel lucky? Well…do ya, PUNK?”
I love Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry films. As long as Our Hero was always right, we didn’t mind that he played fast and loose with the rules, did we? Who cares about a serial killer’s rights, when you KNOW he ‘done it’!
Okay, that’s fun in a movie, and maybe we like to feel that someone, somewhere, can even the score with the bad guys on our behalf; but in real life such behaviour does leave the door open to abuses. We’ll keep Dirty Harry in celluloid, and avoid promoting the careers of his imitators in our municipal police forces, shall we? Because his imitators cannot be relied upon to know who the bad guys are–and who they are not–since they won’t have a scriptwriter who is all-seeing and all-knowing. The imitators might confuse ME or YOU with the bad guys in real life, and that would not be good.
Me dear ol’ Dad and I went to Bingo at the retirement residence recently. (Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a stretch from Dirty Harry to Bingo with Daddy, but work with me, all will be well…)
I won diddly-squat from the Jackpot, as did Dad. It was Lorraine’s day to win Bingo, twice. I don’t begrudge it to her, because she usually doesn’t win at all, and Dad and I have won a few times previously. But the Bingo gods did not smile upon us that day. We will, however, be trying again…oh yes.
And that was essentially the impetus for this article, because I went on to wonder about luck, and the absence thereof. Some people can win multiple lottery prizes, and the others don’t get a shoe-in. How is that?
When I arrived home after visiting me dear ol’ Dad, I picked up my mail on my way into the house, and amongst my letters were two envelopes to my husband and me from the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency, for ‘them as doesn’t know’).
WHY do I automatically think that somehow I’ve done wrong and will have to pay for my sins when I receive unexpected official government correspondence? My husband and I keep our noses CLEAN when it comes to squaring-up with The Tax Man. We deprive him of NOTHING. It is our earnest desire that he should partake of ALL our worldly goods, in much the same fashion as we pledged to each other on our wedding day. But even so, I looked at those envelopes from the CRA, and I automatically felt worried. The doors to the torture chamber and the rat-infested dungeon gaped wide.
It was nothing, as it happens. Something our accountant did that required some forms to be filled out and signed. No biggie.
But this momentary discomfort put me in mind of the times I’ve returned to Canada from foreign parts and had to pass through Canada Customs (another government authority). Never a good thing. Our Canada Customs Agents were given an exemption from Charm School, God Bless their bureaucratic, authoritative, snarly souls.
What is it about these people that makes me nervous? I was born here. I do not bring goods into the country above the dollar limit allowed by law. I have not got baggies of illicit drugs stuffed up my wazoo. And yet the sweat beads on my forehead and I quake in my shoes when I hand the Canada Customs agent my passport with trembling fingers. I always know that it’s only a short walk from there to a private room for an orifice search.
We live in a country where democracy and human rights are, or should be, evident whenever we come in contact with government representatives. But I try not to expect that, to avoid disappointment.
I’ve often wondered whether there might be another reason why I have an instinctual fear of authority figures; because, really, why should Customs Agents and envelopes from the CRA make me nervous? Does this hearken back to my elementary school days where, as a shy eight-year-old, I was subjected to abuse from a tyrannical school principal? Not sexual abuse, I hasten to add, just unjustified physical punishment and garden-variety terrorism. Or does it recall my first job, working part-time at a grocery store while going to school? My boss there was another loud-mouthed bully who had good sport terrorizing a timid, 16-year-old girl. Perhaps the earlier one primed me for the later.
My first school principal and my first boss were nasty, rough men (not kindly, gruff men—I do know the difference; one causes pain and injury, and the other would cut his own throat before doing so). These two were the earliest authority figures in my life outside of my family.
Coincidentally, they were somewhat similar physically. One (the store manager) was larger than the other one, but neither was tall. The elementary school principal was five-foot-nothing. The store manager was maybe five-foot-seven, and stocky. They were both men in their late 50’s who had eyeglasses, grey brushcuts, small moustaches centred above their upper lip (Hitler-style, but possibly a little wider), and brusque manners. One would take them for brothers—the one perhaps better-fed in his developing years than the other–if one saw them together.
And I did see them together.
I remember the day the elementary-school principal and his wife checked through my register at the grocery store. I hadn’t seen him since my childhood, six to eight years previously, and remembered his abuse of me vividly. My blood turned to icewater on that day, but I managed to go through the motions of checking-through and bagging his groceries while he stood there and studied me, whistling almost soundlessly (as was his habit), not saying a word. Then I saw the store manager come down from his office and exchange boisterous greetings with the elementary school principal. I discovered in that moment, to my eternal astonishment, that they were good friends.
What are the odds that these two men should have been friends? They were so similar, I almost think that the mother of one of them might have some ‘splainin’ to do.
And so I will not stop buying lottery tickets, nor playing Bingo with me dear ol’ Dad, because I have seen quite clearly that things of chance can easily happen.
The question in my mind at this point is whether these two men are the reason why my encounters with anyone in authority will, to this day, provoke feelings of uneasiness and anxiety. Is it because I KNOW, thanks to them, that it is possible to be completely innocent of wrongdoing and STILL be subjected to punishment? After the age of eight I had to be on tranquillizers or I couldn’t go to school. Thankfully I was able to discontinue these shortly before leaving high school. My parents never knew why I needed them in the first place. I could not tell them until I was in my late forties. I couldn’t tell them that when I learned for the first time that violence could be done to me gratuitously and at any time by someone in authority–someone whose power over me was (to my mind) absolute–it rocked my world.
I remember being that 16-year-old cashier at the A&P on that day, and for one mad moment having the thought of following the elementary-school principal, his wife, and their buggy-load of groceries out to the parking lot to give him a tongue-lashing for his crimes against my eight-year-old self.
It would have been madness, because I was upset well past the ability to speak intelligibly. But I didn’t do it only because I knew that there would have been more than my own head on the chopping block afterwards. That store manager would have fired my mother as well as me. Her long years of service to the company, her ability and her dependability would have counted for nothing. My mother could do fast mental calculations—a real advantage in those days before scanners. (Twelve oranges cost $1.72…how much are 5? Quick!) She could remember the price of every item in the store, and could multi-task under pressure while continuing to be courteous to the most obnoxious of customers like no one I’ve ever seen. She was a lady, and a clever one. I saw that the manager seemed to like her, and he held her in grudging respect, but I readily believe he would have fired her as well as me. I’m quite sure the pleasure of exercising power while simultaneously causing pain would have been too irresistible. Somebody else would have had to hire and train her replacement, and mine, anyway. No skin off his nose to lose two employees simultaneously.
And so, we come back around to the subject. Luck. It was my luck–bad luck–to have been thrown in the way of these horrible men at vulnerable, early stages in my life. How I wish they were alive today, because I feel ready, finally, to ask them some questions, and to demand answers.
When I hear about other people who have been abused, I am able to understand that it is often down to luck and nothing else if one manages to pass through the early stages of life without permanent injury.
I’ll finish this with some good, practical advice to all abusers: choose very young victims, and—mark this carefully—only cause harm to them while you are in late middle age. That way you stand a chance of being dead before they are older, stronger, and able to come looking for you to talk about ‘old times.’
Because it might be a very unwelcome, unpleasant, UNLUCKY renewal of acquaintance for you, Punk.