I’ve traveled alone to dozens of countries for almost six decades. In most matters, I am undaunted, but I have always hated to dine out alone. I’d rather order room service or pick up a sandwich than take a solo table. This aversion is neurotic, but has a gauzy relation to reality. In 1965, I was driven by hunger to sit down at a café table in Lisbon, though there were only men in the café, and in all the other cafes I had passed. The waiters flocked to me as if I were their baby sister, offering me a free glass of green Portuguese wine, and making recommendations from the menu. I didn’t think that they were disparaging my ability to figure out what I wanted to eat. I thought they were protecting me from advances they might expect from the other, all-male, diners. I felt like a rare bird. In 2004, I was doing research on the endangered status of the Macedonian language in Greece. When evening came, I ventured into the hotel dining room, and the waiter sat me at a table in the bow window, separating me slightly from the rest of the tables. I had been warned that people had gone to jail for asking too many questions about the Macedonian language. Academics in Athens advised me to pay attention to cars that were following mine. It is rare that a foreigner knows semi-fluent Greek, and the hotel clerk became cautious when he learned that though I spoke Greek, my heritage was not Greek. Why was I there? Did the other diners think I was an agent provocateur. Was one of them a plainclothes policeman? That was an unusual situation, but even under ordinary conditions, I feel people are looking at me when I eat alone. In Paris, I often found myself an unwelcome optic, seated near the toilets. Was it my imagination that detected a flash of “Oh no, what are we going to do with her?” when I showed up? I can’t say whether a single man would feel similarly. When Dean Martin died, I read that he ate alone every night at the same restaurant in his declining years – a fact important enough to be included in his obituary. My husband always brings a book when he dines out alone, but I get sauce on the book and it’s awkward to hold it open with one hand while eating with the other. I believe that the root of my neurosis was the embarrassment that I felt in dancing school in the 1950s. I was taller than most of the boys and skinny as a stick, and was often left a wallflower, sitting grimly in my chair because nobody chose me as his partner. Three men have married me, and I wrote a whole book about the men I dated when I became single at 60, so you’d think I would have expiated the embarrassment of dancing school, but the feeling of abandonment must be lodged somewhere near my spleen, difficult to get at and even more difficult to remove. My embarrassment began to turn one evening in New York City a few years ago when my husband and I visited the new restaurant in Lincoln Center. It was full, so we sat at the bar, near an attractive middle-aged woman. I found myself committing the very mistake that I feared others would make if I sat alone at a restaurant bar – I wondered if she was cruising for a date. My husband and I struck up a conversation with her, and I told her that I hated eating in restaurants alone. “Hah! I’d starve to death if I did that. I have a line of tableware, and I go on sales trips all over the country. I’ve eaten out alone more times than I could count.” How ridiculous I was! How old-fashioned! How pre-feminist! Why would I imagine that a successful businesswoman should closet herself in her hotel room out of embarrassment that she was alone? “If I hadn’t come out alone, I would never have met you, “she smiled. “I’ve met the most interesting people of all at restaurant bars.” She had done the field work on this experiment, yet I still demurred. On my most recent visit to my son in Burlingame, California, I was alone at dinnertime. I wanted a fine dinner, maybe not the cuisine my son would prefer. I marched up to the hostess at Il Fornaio and requested a table, “On the patio, if possible.” She scrambled to clear a patio table, and I caught myself wondering if she was thinking she should go the extra mile to accommodate this abandoned older woman. But I smacked my brain down. “Ann, you can’t think that people in Paris are putting you in an obscure corner because you’re a woman alone, and at the same time object that people are going to extra lengths because you’re a woman alone. You’re being hypocritical and illogical!” I was an insult to feminism. I enjoyed the heck out of it. Without chatter, I could savor my food. There is a yoga practice of silent meals, during which you are invited to pay attention to what you are eating – note the colors, the array of tastes, think where the food has come from and to whom you are indebted for it, from the person who planted the seed, to the truck driver who delivered it to market. I carefully crunched down on the sprig of decorative parsley, savoring its bitterness. I tried to identify the herb flavoring the sauce on my gnocchi– I think it was basil, maybe a hint of oregano, too. I took the time to remember the first time I had ever eaten gnocchi, at the table of the Sala family in Merate, Italy in 1961. There was no shadow meal going on across the table, just my own plate, with my own gnocchi. I ordered a glass of wine, and enjoyed pacing the meal without regard to another person’s preferences. Women’s liberation comes from the inside, and some of the outdated thought patterns of my childhood have been slow to dissolve. This aversion to eating alone was one of the last to go. I wonder which ones are left.
The male political candidates in 2016 breathed out a few words about “a woman’s right to choose,” but the bulk of discussion about abortion fell to Hillary Clinton, as if only women were qualified to speak on the subject. But if one-third of American women have had an abortion, then one-third of American men have had one, too, and it’s time they spoke up. Almost eighty percent of abortions take place before eight weeks, when the embryo is the size of a small bean. The woman may have suffered some morning sickness or minor discomfort, but the financial, personal, educational, familial, professional, and religious aspects of abortion would be equally shared between the pregnant man and the pregnant woman in an honorable relationship. I don’t hear men who are party to an abortion accused of murder. Do their priests threaten them with excommunication? Are men escorting their partners to an abortion heckled and assaulted as they enter the clinic? Does the silence of men indicate that they quickly put the experience behind them, or are they taking the easy road to avoid accusations and attacks? Men hold the cards, since they comprise a majority in most legislatures. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know which men in each legislature had been party to abortions? They aren’t the province of atheists and pagans, 13% of women who had one are evangelical Protestant and 24% are Catholic, so religious affiliation is no sure indication. Callous dismissal of abortion as an irresponsible abomination might be thrown around less often if male legislators owned up to their own experiences. When will a man stand up in Texas, as a female gubernatorial candidate recently did, and tell his story? His anguish was surely no less painful than his wife's. The nine men on the Supreme Court gave the decision-making power to other men in Article XI of Roe v. Wade, which states: “…the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.” In 1973, almost all “physicians” were male. Liberals campaigning for “a woman’s right to choose” are hoping to prevent the overturning of Roe v. Wade when, in fact, they should be requesting a rewrite, taking out the middleman physician to give power to the woman herself. Subsequent rulings of the Supreme Court have weighed the rights of the pregnant woman against the rights of the pregnant man (as opposed to the physician), and have favored the woman, because it is she who would be taking the risks if the pregnancy were carried to term. The woman’s decision-making power would be more secure if the original law were rewritten in her favor. It is likely that at least one of the nine justices who ruled in Roe had been party to an abortion. If the one-in-three statistic played out, three of them would have been. One hopes that the affected justice(s) showed more compassion than men who had never faced the consequences of a crisis pregnancy. A man cannot have the power to force a woman either to carry a pregnancy to term, or to have an abortion, but that does not mean that the men are immune to the heavy thoughts that a crisis pregnancy engenders. I had an abortion in 1961, twelve years before Roe v. Wade. When the doctor gave me the bad news, my boyfriend was in Innsbruck, Austria. I wrote him, and he wrote back: “I’m about to leave for a bow-and-arrow hunting trip behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, and I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll get back. Good luck.” I saw him several months later, and he was solicitous about my health, but he had missed the hard part, and never offered to pay for half of my expenses. I have recently learned that he, let’s call him Frank, now lives in Hawaii, in a town which I visit from time to time. What would happen if I walked into his business and said, “Hi Frank. Remember me?” Would he remember me? How would he feel? Does he occasionally ruminate for a quick second that he might have had a child who would be 58 years old now? Has he ever mentioned his part in an abortion to anyone else? His wife? Is he still glad that I didn’t have the child and give it up for adoption, which would mean he had a son or daughter somewhere? Would he say he was sorry for abandoning me? Has he ever wondered where I got the necessary five hundred dollars – a lot of money in 1961? Did he wonder who drove me to the abortionist’s office and waited for hours till I came out? Did his feelings about having children, or, for that matter, having sex, change after this? I don’t know what I will do the next time I’m in Hawaii. I’m seventy-five years old now and have nothing to lose – I might just pop in on Frank. He is one of the few men I know who I am sure has been party to an abortion. I would tell him that I never have regrets, and that I worry about the young women whose safety is now at risk. I would ask him whether, knowing how easy it is to slip into a crisis pregnancy, he has these same worries. Frank clearly thought abortion was a “women’s issue” in 1961. I’d ask him if, after fifty-eight years of reflection, he still thought so.
Yes, the Good Old Days are back, where women knew their place, welcomed as many babies as God gave them, and retreated into silence because protesting rape or assault would be met with death threats and police neglect. Back then, in the Good Old Days, you could send your children to schools which had already done the racial segregating you required, there were none of those pesky “Vota Aqui” signs because everyone spoke perfect English, and the coal miners were hard at work. In a welcome, more modern, development, the rising temperatures now allow you to grow orchids and avocados in your back yard. Now, in the Even Better Days, corporations are people who can take over your land for a pipeline, armed militias can occupy public property at will, and every family has its own AK-47, just like the Constitution says. America has finally become a Christian nation, and I have become afraid to write a blog post like this. The Barbarians are at the gate as Nero sits fiddling in his golden tower. This is the fault of another authoritarian, Hillary Clinton, who suffocated the fresh voices in the Democratic party, locked in her victory before the elections even began, and overlooked partisan actions in her favor by the DNC, including the disenfranchisement of thousands of Democratic voters in New York. Through her foundation, she has as many unsavory ties to foreign powers as Trump, and while she has not been indicted, she is guilty of gross stupidity in the use of her email server, to name but one dumb decision. I voted for her because I did not want Rome to fall. Trump cannot put the dogs of war that he unleashed back in their cages; he empowered them, organized them, and welcomed them. Our savior will probably be the Republican who detests him, a moderately powerful being who looks him in the eye and says, "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" They have finally won, after an organized campaign of intransigence and insult that goes back to the 1980s, though I trace my own disillusionment back to JFK’s assassination in 1963, when the alleged assassin was killed in a police station, on television. During the Vietnam War, I read that the Viet Cong’s modus operandi was to “cut off the head,” and that tactic has worked in the United States as well. We have lost Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and the much-surveilled John Lennon, though the intellectual carnage has not been limited to leftists. I have marveled for decades that we can allow the loss of 30,000 Americans a year by firearm, and we haven’t cared enough to even try to stop it. “That’s just the price of freedom,” they say. In 2008, the Elites caused a stock market crash which resulted in millions of people losing their homes, their jobs, and their future. Nobody was punished. It is now the future that those people never had, and the People have caused the stock market to plunge by voting in Donald Trump. Hey! The market’s up this morning, so who knows, and who cares? The People don’t own stocks any more, they don’t have retirement funds, and they will be fined if they don’t pay for their health care. College is unattainable, and there are fewer businesses that can use their underdeveloped skills. The People have bafflingly voted for the very people who caused all this to happen, through deregulation, a diversion of wealth to a tiny sliver of families, privatization of education, including outsourcing education funding to corporations, a war which crippled thousands and increased the national debt, cutting off unemployment support, denying funds for retraining of the work force, allowing the infrastructure, which greases the wheels of commerce, to crumble, and defending the business titans who kept their jobs after destroying the People’s lives. Among other things. It was all so yummy that it is hard to find a politician who hasn’t succumbed to the lucre of lobbyism. Public service has become personal service. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri is salivating over his win, which bolsters the lobbying careers of his wife and children (except the 12-year-old), but so is Hillary, whose aide and surrogate daughter, Huma Abedin, was raking it in from a lobbying firm as well, while working at the State Department. Hillary has been enriched quickly by fees paid by the corporations that she, and Bill, have protected. Perhaps this is the moment when the Civil War has finally ended, and the South has won, led by a Yankee quisling.
I've been writing some short stories and essays, and one of them was published this week in The Raven's Perch, a classy online literary journal. Find it here These journals amaze me. It must be a great deal of work to review hundreds of submissions, and keep up the website and a mass of related details, but all over the country, maybe world, there are literature lovers who take pleasure in doing it. They feel to me like the comedy clubs that are used to find out whether the joke works. The Marx Brothers honed their skits that way. So does Jerry Seinfeld. Come to think of it, maybe I should work on a story for The Moth. Seems like a lot of work, but would be worth it. I hope you enjoy the story, and if you have any edits, comments, suggestions, critiques that would make future fiction pieces better, feel free....