Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bras Are Burning

I read an article denying that women’s rights activists ever burned their bras in the sixties. This upstart historian insisted that “bra burning” was simply a figure of speech, coined by a journalist after the fact, meant to mirror the symbolism of the young men who burned their draft cards to protest the Viet Nam war. He said it never happened, that women never burned their brassieres to protest the inequalities of gender in our society.

I tell you, that historian was dead wrong. I was there. In the sixties, we burned our bras all the time. Not in the first part of the decade; in the early sixties, all we ever burned was the steak, and that was our silent rebellion against the drudgery of men, housework, and stereotypes. But, by nineteen sixty-five, we had moved on to our Maidenforms.

When we exhausted the contents of our underwear drawers, we stormed Woolworth and absconded with any undergarments we could find there. Later, we took to hijacking delivery vans and burned bras by the carton, first in fifty-five gallon oil drums, and later, for greater efficiency, in our own furnaces. In the late sixties, it was not unusual for a crusader to heat her home entirely with purloined underwires. We were burning those contraptions in bulk.

Eventually, the practice diminished after a few entrepreneurs decided to cut out the middleman and set fire to the factories where our undergarments were produced. There was an arson trial, but the women were exonerated, arguing that bra burning was protected expression under the first amendment. At that point, though, the project had lost its shock value. Those few that remained trapped by the confines of rigid gender roles went back to burning steaks, although most of us continued to burn the Sears Roebuck catalog, just as a matter of habit. To this day, I will toss Victoria’s Secret advertising fliers directly into the fireplace. My granddaughter asked me why, and I shuddered to imagine a generation of girls growing up without understanding this pregnant moment in the history of women’s rights. I blame those misguided, misogynistic historians.

Nah, I’m kidding you, really. I’m only thirty-five; I didn’t even need a bra until nineteen eighty-seven, and, at thirty bucks a pop, I can’t afford to be setting those things ablaze. Anyway, my rack tips the scales at a thirty-six double D. There’s probably some kind of local ordinance prohibiting me from going out without support. I could cause a car accident.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Once an Artist

The stunning oil and acrylic landscape leered down at him from the studio wall: the last canvas. He had distributed the rest long ago, but he couldn’t let go of this one. The way the towering spires of Atlantis shimmered under the crashing waves of the Maine coast, their fantastic majesty almost hidden beneath the prosaic view from the window of his boyhood home, remained to taunt him in middle age.

Looking out this window, now, revealed a trio of languid contractors scraping on the new masonry wall. He wondered what it might feel like to work outside, then returned to his desk.

The email on his screen waited patiently. “We love the new design! But we’d like it a little smoother around the edges, with straighter lines. Can you tweak the colors, too? Something brighter, maybe, but not too bright. Also, let’s keep it abstract. The bump on the top left almost suggests a strawberry, and we don’t want that association.”

And he opened the client’s file, smoothed the edges, straightened the lines, tweaked the colors, and erased the bump that almost suggested a strawberry.

The next email explained that five thousand dollars had been deposited into his PayPal account, and that they appreciated his excellent work. He double checked. Yes, five thousand dollars had been deposited in his PayPal account. He could not recall his excellent work. The next email was another logo request.

Interruptions usually set his teeth to grinding, but he didn’t mind the doorbell’s two-toned chime just now. It took a few minutes to descend from the attic to the front door, where the contractor, cap in hand, asked him to come inspect his new wall, and then asked for four thousand dollars.

“Let me go get the checkbook.”

Then, nothing disturbed him, except for the fabled, half-seen impression of Atlantis peeking out from the big landscape on the wall. But he drew logos for a living. Expressive, eye-catching logos. Once you started, you couldn’t stop. You had to pay for equipment, upgrades to your home, things starving artists didn’t care about, like nice shoes and flattering haircuts. So he couldn’t be an artist anymore. He had to work.

When the sun set, he did not adjust the lights in the studio, but sat quietly in the dark, his eyes trying to pick out the secret elements of the landscape. Much later, he felt his way to the closet, and things crashed to the floor, bounced off his middle-age knees. With the gait of a somnambulist, he dragged things down the stairs, through the pain, and out the door.

Many hours later, the sun rose on the man who used to be an artist, paint-spattered and curled up in the dirt. The new masonry wall had disappeared. In its place stood a fresh, slightly-shiny representation of the heavens as seen by a medieval philosopher, depicting the planets in their vast spheres, the paths of fiery comets, and the careful hand of a divine creator hiding amongst the multitudes of numinous stars.