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On Getting Groped



It's been a long time since I got groped. Long enough that I almost forgot about it. Suddenly, happily, the memory is with me again.

The person I can thank for bringing everything back is this silly guy who's suing the FAA. Says he got groped by women at a workshop meant to teach men how it feels to be sexually harassed. A guy named Doug. We had a Doug in my class at the police academy. One slow day, his classmates locked him into his chair with his own handcuffs.

Sorry, Doug. Just joking. I'm sure Rush Limbaugh is having his fun with this story too, but please don't ask me to listen. Unless he starts blaming it on Hillary.

Let's get back to getting groped. That's what I want to remember, those days when I was a sower of wild oats, mostly the fermented kind. From bar to bar, my companions and I would wander. This was in south-suburban Blue Island, which had 55 bars in a town of 16,000, and out of these 55 bars there were only two into which women would go--unless you count women like my mother who was not about to wait for Gloria Steinem to tell her what she could or could not do. But even she would not go into the Downhill Club--which was where I got groped. Possibly this was because my father was known to inhabit the place, although he preferred Andy Myer's, where he regularly got fleeced by cardplayers better than he. In other words, almost anyone who knew the rules to five-card draw.

The Downhill Club got its name because it was midway down the famous Western Avenue hill, which now has been covered over by some kind of a huge viaduct. Imagine stepping out of a bar after a night of heavy drinking and finding the sidewalk at a 30-degree angle. But it was only a half block from my house. All I had to do was crawl up the hill and I'd be home.

Women, of course, did go into the Downhill Club, but not, and here's the point, the kind of women a decent young man hopes to find in a tavern. Obviously there was a woman in the Downhill Club that night I got groped. Let's call her Trixie since I'm pretty sure that wasn't her name. Let us also point out that this event took place long long long before the sexual revolution, during a time when men never said certain words, such as "fuck," in mixed company. A time we now remember, through the haze of our classic movies, as an age of innocence.

Trixie, I later learned, had been dancing on the bar, raising her skirt and proving she did not wear panties. Tiring of this innocent pleasure, she descended to the floor and began groping the customers, every one of whom was a man. Never before had the Downhill Club been so lively. Once everyone present had been groped, Trixie stationed herself near the door and groped each new man who entered.

My friends and I were innocently walking down the Western Avenue hill. We had been to a fair proportion of the 55 bars and still not found ourselves any suitable women. We were young. We still kept imagining we would wander into a bar and there she'd be, Lauren Bacall, blowing sultry smoke rings, an empty stool beside her.

But not in the Downhill Club. We weren't that stupid.

Notice how I'm padding out this story. Otherwise it would have been over in the first paragraph. Because that's how long it took. I opened the door, stepped into the Downhill Club, heard a tremendous roar of male laughter, and then it happened.

I got groped.

She got me dead center. She got every bit of it. This woman, perhaps in her mid-30s, perhaps not Lauren Bacall but not quite the Wicked Witch of the West either, reached between my legs, took a firm grip upon what my mother had taught me to refer to as my "private parts," and did not immediately let go. She held on long enough so everyone could see, and everyone had a good laugh.

Of course I laughed too. Laughter is how we men defend ourselves when confronted with the unknown. Unfortunately, what happened next is forgotten. Time, and too many tall foamy glasses take care of our very best memories. I suppose Trixie went on groping customers until closing. But she didn't grope me again. Sad to say, I simply hadn't measured up.

Maybe that's what happened to Doug. He says the women called him a wimp and showed him charts depicting the penis in "various states of arousal." Humiliating.

Of course Doug wasn't the only man present. There were 14 other men in the workshop, presumably they got groped too. And there were other workshops, who knows how many, who knows how many men eventually got groped. The newspaper story says "several" made complaints. Speaking as a writer, and as a retired police officer--these professions are oddly linked--I know that when you say "several" or "a number of" what you mean is more than one. But not enough to say "many."

Probably every talk show in America is going great guns on this one at this very moment. I refuse to listen. It's pretty clear to me what it's all about. After all, I got groped too. First off, forget that stuff about teaching men how it feels to be a woman who is being sexually harassed. Whatever else I may have felt when Trixie had me in her grip, I didn't feel frightened, I didn't feel threatened, and I'm willing to bet that neither Doug nor any of those other guys who took those workshops felt frightened or threatened either. Maybe I'm wrong, in which case someone will surely correct me, but I'm also willing to bet that a woman walking into a bar (or the Tailhook convention) will, at the very least, feel threatened when a strange man puts his unwanted hands upon her.

And that's why, out of who knows how many hundreds of men who experienced these workshops, only "several" complained. If people want to make these workshops realistic, if they want to make men really feel what a woman feels when she is groped, maybe they should get a few 260-pound men to do the groping. That might, but I only say might, do it.

As for Doug, he's a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. People aren't taking him seriously. He doesn't want, he says, to be a "right-wing poster boy."

He'll take $300,000 instead.

Trixie? Trixie? Where are you now that I need you?

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