Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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The congregation was assembled in the sanctuary naked with the priest. The sanctuary had been converted into a huge sauna because the guitar masses no longer worked at speaking to the youth, or to those who thought they knew what spoke to the youth. The congregation was sweating. Some had towels in their laps. It was a congregational rule that erections had to be kept under wraps. For teenage boys, erections are a constant. They need no provocation. So mounds of towels were piled in the laps of some who also were bearing sullen faces. But not in the laps of teenage boys. None of those had shown up.
There was no provocation among the congregates. Most of them were swathed in sagging flesh that provoked only thoughts of the gargoyles on the eaves of the church. The appropriate meditation was from the Bethel AME church down the street: God sure do love ugly. But no one in the congregation knew the text.
The kiss of peace was modified into a group grope. It was a way of saying, we love you, you ain't so ugly after all, and who else will do it?
Of course, this never happened, as far as I know. But while our young people are being wasted on the streets of Iraq and Iraqis are being wasted by the dozens each day, it is the kind of thing we are talking about.
This is a meditation on groping. Most people do not know the efficacy of a good grope. I do. As a young man, I knew the office building elevators in Chicago's skyscrapers at 5 p.m. on a Friday night. The elevators were packed. To keep people off your feet or from rubbing their rancid bodily juices on you, a good grope or pinch on the ass was a defensive measure. To get access to your transportation awaiting to chariot you off to your weekend revels, a good grope kept fat, dragging asses from impeding your egress. It also produced shrieks. Some of indignation. Some of delight. Some gropes were purely accidental, like when you tried to reach into your pocket for your keys, your el fare, or a handkerchief. They were a fact of life.
When a young man was the recipient of a well-aimed grope, he had two choices. Maybe three. He could unzip his fly. Or he could punch out the perpetrator. He most definitely would not go home and tell his daddy. If I were to report to my dad that someone groped me, he would ask what kind of situation I had gotten myself into and what the hell did I expect him to do about it? One took care of those matters oneself. It was hard enough to explain to dad how the muffler got blown off the car, and other life-threatening situations.
I do not make light of sexual harrassment. I have served on review panels that examine evidence in cases of sexual harrassment and decide whether the charges have merit, have no merit, or are downright false. About half the cases are compelling. I know of three deans who were discharged from one college for sexual harrassment. I also know of cases that were exaggerated, false, or vengeful. It has been very difficult to get legitimate due process into the determination of sexual harrassment complaints. Make no mistake about it: I believe that people who are guilty of sexual harrassment should receive appropriate discipline. I also believe that people who make false charges should be held liable.
I also believe that the procedures for dealing with sexual harrassment complaints should be specific, rigorous, and swift. When such a complaint is reported and the investigating office takes nine months and produces no determination, but the gossip mongers and eventually the press gets ahold of the accusations and turn it into a drool circus for the vicarious groping fanatics out there, society becomes the perverse offenders. That is what has happened in the case of the complaints against Sen. Dan Sutton in the South Dakota legislature.
When a grope allegation gets the kind of public notice and press that the latest episode in gropegate has received, there is really something demented and dysfunctional in our entire culture.
Oh, and you know what worked better than a grope or a pinch on those rush hour elevators? The shock unit off a cattle prod.
But with the images of priests and altar boys lolling nude in saunas and adults consorting with goofy adolescents, it is truly hard to take the world very seriously. People do dumb things. Are we going to design a criminal code around stupidity? Or can we somehow bring some intelligence and proportion into these matters?
It is doubtful.