Monday, May 5, 2008


This is another segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This is a "flashback", a portion from 1999 which has only just been written, and would technically occur right after the family meets up with Myra's ex-lover Myra (2) at a Chinese restaurant. It stands on its own, however.

If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Monday, 29 November 1999 -- Gillam is 8, Margie is about to be 11

The day the World Trade Organization delegates began convening in Seattle, Allie, Myra and Ginny picked up the kids at Lowell by 11:30. The children did a quick change in the back of the car, Margie donning a plush orca costume and Gillam sliding into a green sea turtle ensemble with a leather shell, both of them made by Belva in time for Halloween. As they caught the bus to downtown, Ginny coaxed bites of sandwich and sips of juice into her excited offspring.

They found the staging area of Friends of the Earth and joined the contingent of around 250 people, the five of them holding hands across the street, each child sandwiched between two adults. The march went down Fifth Avenue to the Convention Center. They listened to some speeches, but the kids quickly grew restless. Myra suggested they take the photos they'd shot to a quick developing place, have them made into postcards, and go home to write letters on them to their elected officials. Once home, Hannah sat with the children at the coffee table, addressing postcards for them while the TV was on mute, hoping to catch news coverage of the day's events.

As Myra was starting dinner, she heard Margie screaming "That's me! There I am!" Hannah had pushed the record button on the tape loaded earlier, so the footage of their progress was saved. They flipped through channels and discovered almost every station had a clip of them -- "No wonder, with how much those costumes cost" said Ginny. The assemblage of video was played over and over again that evening. By bedtime, however, Myra's take on the news was not good.

"It's going to escalate" she said. "And our neighborhood is right on the edge of it. I think a lot of parents are going to balk at letting their kids attend Margie's birthday party here tomorrow after school." She'd meant to keep her voice low, but Margie overheard it.

"What do you mean?" she demanded, coming into the study. "What about my party?"

"I think we may need to postpone it until the weekend" said Ginny. "We want your friends to come, and with the way things are out there -- "

Margie was preparing to bawl. Myra said "How about if you stay home tomorrow, instead of going to school, and we'll walk down as far as it's safe to see what's going on?"

Margie changed gears. "Another march, you mean?"

"Not necessarily" said Ginny. "We think there's going to be conflicts between the protestors and the police, and we can't be in the middle of that. But maybe we could see some of it from down the block. Only I think you should go to school in the morning, long enough for your class to sing you happy birthday. We can pick you up at noon and go out for your lunch."

"Yes!" said Margie, shoving her fist into the air. "Can I wear my orca outfit again?"

"No" said Myra. "In case of trouble, you, all of us, will have to be ready to run fast." She could see this only excited Margie more. Gillam, however, looked worried. So did Allie.

Allie said "There's rumors that anarchists are arriving from all over to agitate, including that bunch from Eugene."

Margie said "My friend Tifney's older sister Mei-xie is an anarchist".

Myra was distracted by wondering about parents whose naming choices for their daughters would progress from Mei-xie to Tifney. Allie asked Margie "Why don't you tell me what you think an anarchist is?"

"Someone who's against making children have to work for a living, and who hates greedy corporations" said Margie glibly. "We talk about it at recess."

"Do you now" said Ginny, her eyes meeting Myra's.

Gillam said "I thought an anarchist was like Sacco and Vanzetti. You know, not a capitalist and not a communist, but the other choice."

Myra ran her hands through his hair as she said to Ginny "I think they're old enough now for 'Justice Denied in Massachusetts'."

"Maybe, but not at bedtime" said Ginny. "Listen, you two go get on your PJs and brush your teeth. I'm going to make quick calls to the friends you invited, Margie, and reschedule your party for Saturday afternoon. When I'm done, I'll come up and teach you about anarchism, about our glorious Jewish foremother Emma Goldman and the rest." As Margie and Gillam collected goodnight kisses, Ginny said to Myra "You need to come up with a plan for tomorrow I can sign off on."

As Ginny picked up the phone, Myra went to the breakfast bar and began leafing through the yellow pages. Allie, who had followed her, said "What are you looking for?"

"Army surplus stores. Gas masks" said Myra tersely. "Damn, none of them are open this late."

"Try one of the big home improvement centers" said Allie. When Myra looked at her questioningly, Allie said "Paint respirators will work." They left five minutes later, putting a note for Ginny on the fridge.

When they got back, it was almost 11:00. Ginny was still up, saying "I was beginning to worry."

"The first two places we checked, they were sold out" said Myra. "Other folks had the same idea. We finally drove almost out of the city to a place that's open till midnight." She emptied her bag on the dining table: Two pairs of respirators in different sizes and a roll of duct tape.

"Oh, god, Myra" said Ginny anxiously.

"I don't intend for us to be anywhere near tear gas" said Myra. "But in a worst case scenario, I want those kids covered."

"Why only four?" asked Ginny, looking at Allie. "Aren't you going, too?"

"First of all, I'm a black dyke. Might as well have a target on my forehead when it comes to cops. Second, somebody need to be here, for emergencies" said Allie.

"We figured watch caps under bike helmets, thick pants and turtleneck, cuffs taped to socks, and enough practice on donning the masks that they'll be okay in a rush. Otherwise, no go" said Myra.

"The radio said they's a curfew for tomorrow downtown beginning at 7:00. I figure be home by dusk, they'll see some activity but the real trouble won't erupt until after that" said Allie.

Ginny sighed. "They're both jazzed. They seem to understand some of these issues better than I do. I'm simply not that worked up about the WTO."

"It's their generation" said Myra. She and Ginny high-fived each other. Ginny said "All her presents are wrapped, and the cake is hidden. We should get some sleep, she'll be up early tomorrow."

"You wanna crash here or risk the streets between here and Queen Anne?" Myra asked Allie.

"Bearsis needs me" said Allie. "I'll go north and cut over. But I'll leave extra food out for him and pack a bag so I can sleep here tomorrow night."

Ginny hid the riot gear while Myra walked Allie to her car. When they slid into bed together, Myra pushed up next to Ginny and said "This time 11 years ago, you were in a world of pain."

"I couldn't believe what she looked like when she came out, a complete person. From inside me. It still seems not quite possible" said Ginny.

"You're a miracle worker" agreed Myra.

For breakfast Myra made pancakes in the shape of anarchist symbols, with bacon and Margie's favorite, deviled eggs. Hannah said she was going to her university classes but would be home in the afternoon if they needed her. She didn't quite approve of the planned outing, Myra thought. Ginny drove the kids to school with a box of cupcakes for Margie to share with her class. Margie was wearing the beautiful sea-green felt hat that was the present she'd been allowed to open at breakfast, from her Aunt Cathy and Uncle Michael.

Myra rolled out dough and made the assortment of pizzas that were Margie's choice for her birthday dinner. She covered them with foil and stashed them in the fridge for last-minute baking. She lay down for another hour of sleep, and Ginny joined her before the alarm woke them to pick up the kids from school. Margie was crazed with excitement and sugar. She had finally settled on giant kosher dogs and lemonade at the Bagel Deli for her birthday lunch outing.

This section of 15th Avenue was much busier than usual on a weekday. Myra lucked out with a parking space, but she stood on the curb and looked toward downtown for a long minute before following her family into the deli. On the way home, she detoured to Broadway and chose a route they could take on foot later.

Allie was at home when they got there. She let Margie open her "small" present from her right away: A pair of Olympic swim goggles. Gillam looked at them enviously. Then Ginny went upstairs and selected demonstration attire for each child while Myra printed out and laminated emergency contact cards to be strung on lanyards around each child's chest.

The training began in earnest. At one point, Myra flung a cup of water into Gilllam's face and said "Don't rub your face! What do you do?" Gillam fumbled from one pocket a wet bandana stored in a ziplock and his other pocket a small squeeze bottle of water. He rinsed his eyes and wiped them carefully. Myra waited for ten minutes to catch Margie unaware before repeating the experiment with her.

They drilled them on every conceivable procedure. Margie grew more excited and Gillam more solemn. Periodically Ginny would interrupt with a shout of "Gas!", and seconds were counted down as each child pulled the mask at the back of their neck over their helmets and tightened the straps while holding their breath. Eventually response was rapid and efficient.

Myra decided against gloves for the kids because they needed finger dexterity. She taped their sleeves to their wrists, and put $2 worth of quarters into each of their pockets, as well as a bus pass. Allie was given a folder of documents and a credit card. Ginny squatted down in front of Margie to say "If you don't obey every single thing we say instantly, without argument, we are leaving for home right then, no excuses." Margie put on a serious face to nod her understanding, but her eyes were dancing.

They had one last bathroom run, ate a power bar apiece with some orange juice, and hugged Allie bye. "Look for us on the news!" said Margie.

"I hope not" said Allie. Hannah's face shared that sentiment.

Myra and Ginny, with the kids between them, walked down East Roy to 15th, where they caught a bus as far as East Harrison. They switched to a bus going west to Broadway. This was as far as Myra was willing to venture. The main crowds were closer to I-5 and beyond. She asked the kids one last time: "If you have to go home alone, which route do you take?"

"Not the bus" said Gillam obediently. Margie cut him off: "Up Broadway to Mercer, Mercer to 14th, 14th to Roy, Roy to home" she recited.

"Is it okay to run?" asked Ginny.

"Yes, if we can see where we are going" they answered in unison. Myra checked Gillam's face to see if he was simply being brave and loyal to his family, but she could find no fear there. This was pure adventure: He believed he was safe with his mothers.

They kept running across people they knew, especially political dykes from Myra's heydey. Much of Capitol Hill seemed to be out for the spectacle, and public opinion was running in favor of the protestors. Whenever a chant started up, they joined in, the children screaming joyously. "This is what democracy looks like" shouted by her kids filled Myra's chest with raw pride.

They made their way slowly to East John, which seemed to be a conduit to and from downtown for demonstrators. When they waited on one corner next to a cluster of young people, mostly men, dressed entirely in black, Myra heard one of the teenagers say "We got FAO Schwartz", which attracted Margie's attention. Myra instantly pulled her family the other direction, crossing the street away from this group. Behind her she heard them begin chanting "No Justice No Peace" and she put a block between them before she said to Ginny quietly, "Looking for trouble, no theory."

After an hour, there was a sudden shift in the air. Myra felt it first and began looking down John from their corner at Broadway, trying to see. The crowds were too thick, and the numbers of taller, broad-shouldered men blocked her view even on tiptoe. Her grip on Gillam's arm tightened and she said to Ginny "Can you see anything?", which was a little crazy given that Ginny was even shorter. In the second that Myra translated a distant rhythmic clamor as "For shame, for shame!", Margie pulled free from Ginny's hand and disappeared into the throng beside them. Ginny screamed "Margie!" and lunged after her.

And caught up with her four steps away by slamming into a man who looked belligerent enough that Myra doubled her free fist as she followed Ginny. She elbowed around him, shielding Gillam on the other side of her, and saw Ginny standing beside a metal light pole which had a flared base. Margie was up the pole, her head a meter higher than Myra's, and her gaze was fixed down John.

"I see pigs on horses!" she cried out, which instantly shifted the angry man into laughter. "Six of them -- no, seven! And there are fuzz with shields!"

"Tac squad" said Myra. "That's it, we're outta here." Margie jumped down in front of Ginny and grabbed Ginny's hand, pulling them up Broadway to the north. Myra crouched slightly and said "Gillam, on my back." He scrambled onto her without hesitation and she closed the gap between her and Ginny, ignoring her knees.

Half the crowd seemed to be trying to match their direction, but the other half was moving against them. They had not made it an entire block to Thomas Street before Myra heard another shift in the sound behind her. The street began to fill, cars and buses immobilized, and suddenly everyone was now going their direction. Margie was tugging Ginny to the side, into a gap between two buildings which seemed to lead into a parking lot. Myra yelled "NO! We don't know if it's open on the other end!"

Margie shouted back "I do, I've been here skateboarding with Amy!" and she surged on. Ginny followed, as did Myra. The parking lot stretched north and south but not quite to accessible street in those directions. However, it was unobstructed all the way to 10th Avenue, and across 10th was another open-looking parking lot, which appeared to be where Margie was heading. It was coming on dark, enough to interfere with vision but not yet enough to activate the street lights.

They crossed 10th and Ginny finally jerked Margie to a halt. When Myra and Gillam reached them, they all turned to look behind them. Between one tiny gap they could see blue uniforms turning north onto Broadway. Myra fished her inhaler from her pocket and took a hit as Ginny said "Do you smell any gas yet?"

Myra had to shake her head, she was too winded to answer. Not good. The cops appeared in the gap they had just used to leave Broadway, still going north instead of their direction but moving in a unified mass on foot, led by big plexiglass shields like icecutters. The crowd which was diverted to the side were being pounded on by burly, enraged cops with batons held like massive shortened pool cues, sideways jabs instead of overhead blows. Anybody struck went down.

Except for one teenaged boy, who doubled over but kept his feet. The cop who had hit him turned back halfway and this time did raise his club for an angled assault on his head. Gillam's voice blasted past Myra's ear: "Don't you TOUCH him, you FUCKER!"

Another load of adrenaline hit Myra's blood. She turned and saw Ginny was leading now, into the second parking lot and angling northeast. She loped after them, clutching Gillam tight at his knees, and when they emerged onto Thomas, they took the quick jog onto Federal and ran north up the middle of the street for two blocks. By this point, the crowds had thinned, cars were moving again, so at Republican they resumed the sidewalk, going east and then north on 11th to Mercer.

Myra had to stop on Mercer again to use her inhaler and catch her breath. She gasped "I can't hear, are they closing in on us?" Ginny said "No. Not coming this way." People in their yards and on front steps stared at them, two women and two children in gas masks and full flight. When Myra could think about taking another step without fainting, they continued east on Mercer, walking now, Ginny taking the rear and turning to listen often.

When they reached East Roy and a stretch of giant old trees shading the sidewalk, Gillam said in Myra's ear, "Mama! I have to pee, I don't think I can wait!" She halted and let him slip down. He was clutching his crotch, his face contorted.

"We'll make a shield for you" said Myra, pushing him toward the wide base of one of the trees and standing at a right angle. Ginny followed suit, saying to Margie "Don't look at him, keep watch behind us." He was horribly embarrassed, but unzipped his jeans and relieved himself with only a little spillage on his shoes.

Myra took his hand again, managed a grin and said "I bet you feel better, huh". He laughed, and suddenly they were all in hysterics. They kept moving, taking the increasingly steep hill of Roy Street slowly but steadily. They were still laughing when they burst in the front door, Juju barking and leaping at each of them in succession.

Allie had the TV on, and Hannah was standing beside the easy chair. They looked extremely relieved at the family's return, and Allie said "All hell breaking loose out there."

"We know!" said Ginny. "We had to outrun it!"

They recreated the past two hours, culminating in Margie's heroic sighting and scouting, and Gillam's scream at the cop. Both children were so proud of themselves they couldn't sit but had to pace the floor. Once Myra could breathe normally again, which took half an hour, she put pizza into the oven while Ginny finished the salad. Sima and Chris arrived while they were doing this, and this time Margie and Gillam told the entire story, rushing to reach their parts in the drama. They were utterly gratified by the amazement Chris and Sima showed.

Hannah said "Pat and Patty called, they don't want to venture out, said they'd come to the party on Saturday. But Ms. Schevitz wants to come, so I'll walk over and escort her."

The Margie and Gillam show was reprised for Ms. Schevitz, Margie now beginning to elaborate on her thoughts and actions a little. As they were eating, David and Helen called, and Margie got on the extension to tell the story for a fourth time. When Ginny came back to the table, she said David was laughing his ass off but Helen was probably calling child welfare as they spoke.

Cake, ice cream, and presents were somewhat anticlimactic. The children were finally persuaded out of their "demo gear" once they were soaked through with sweat, although after he was in a T-shirt and sweats, Gillam put the gas mask back around his neck. Margie stashed the contents of her pockets in her bedside drawer, where a week later Myra found the bandana completely covered in mildew inside its ziplock and threw it away.

The only disappointment was that their dash from danger did not appear on any of the news broadcasts. Much of the violence was shown, however, which sobered up the adults. Margie and Gillam seized on the label "Battle for Seattle" and kept working it into the conversation wherever they could. Bedtime was very late that night.

The next day, Myra and Ginny both slept in while Hannah drove the kids to school. Allie left at 10:00, and Myra came in later from carrying out the trash to hear Ginny on the phone. She didn't pay much attention until she heard Ginny say "I really do appreciate you calling, Bonnie, and we'll deal with it."

Myra said "Your Bonnie?" as Ginny hung up.

Ginny twisted around on the breakfast stool, grinning, and said "She hasn't really been my Bonnie for 15 years, honey. But yes."

"What happened at school?" said Myra, her stomach sinking. "Didn't Hannah warn them to keep their traps shut?"

"Either she forgot, or they did" said Ginny. "At lunch recess, they acted out Margie's version of the extravaganza, complete with some kids playing 'pigs' and others being protestors. Bonnie was the teacher on the playground and she managed to intervene before anyone was actually struck, although Gillam still uttered his clarion cry, substituting 'EFFERS!' for the obscenity." Ginny was now laughing hard.

"Oh, shit. Are we going to be called before the PTSA?" said Myra.

"No, Bonnie explained to the other teachers that we were out for Margie's birthday and accidentally got caught up in the fray" said Ginny. "She put the fear of god into both of our hellions and banned all further riot-based play during recess."

Myra relaxed enough to giggle. "She covered for you. That's decent of her."

"She did remark they were both the image of me" said Ginny fondly. "I'm pretty sure it was a compliment." They hugged each other gleefully.

A week later, Myra took the kids after school to the local anarchist bookstore. Margie got a sticker for her skateboard which read "Visualize Insurrection", while Gillam's sticker for his bike said "There's no government like NO government." On their trips to thrift stores for clothes, both kids began demanding black T-shirts and jeans instead of the bright colors favored by their mothers.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...


Kids are wonderful back when they still think their parents know everything.

And wow, are parents STUPID.

When my then wife and I were living on the east coast (I was founder/CEO of a venture capital backed company which was about five, six years too early; it needed the bandwidth of broadband Internet, and I was running it in 1991-1992 on the East Coast from just outside the Boston/Cambridge I-128 high-tech corridor) when a HUGE hurricane hit in the fall of 1991.

So like idiots, we loaded up our three daughters (David wasn't born yet, the girls were Avian, 5 [just barely], Chelsea, 3 & 3/4, and Kyle, not even 1) and we drove from our home in Amherst NH out to the fracking seashore to checkout the hurricane.

One-hundred mile an hour winds, and the eye wasn't yet on shore. Unless you've actually been inside a hurricane -- this was my ex-wife and mine second; we'd gone down to one of the state parks on the Brooklyn waterfront during a hurricane when we'd been newly married living in Park Slope in Brooklyn -- you have no clue how violent 100 mph is. Whole saplings are being thrown through the air. Telephone and utility poles are on the road, along with power lines. Homes are being destroyed as you watch. The ocean is froth. Breakers aren't coming in as the rain is horizontal, each breaker being picked up and driven ashore as spray.

Took us about three minutes once we got down to the road adjacent to the shore -- all the cops had already evacuated -- to realize we'd placed the lives of our girls at risk. We turned west on the first major road we found and started heading home.

Which is when we almost got tagged by the tornado.

Near as we figured later, it missed us by less than five minutes. The home was still on fire. Well, that's being way too polite. The debris field of what used to be a home was ablaze. The engine company had not yet arrived. A survivor stood near the home, looking at the debris in shock. Cars were twisted hunks of metal tossed 50-75 feet away, into trees, which were crushed to the ground.

People looked on.

It was as if the hand of God herself had reached down and crushed a football-sized area in one giant blast.

No one appeared hurt -- this less than two years after I retired from being a medic -- so we drove on. I probably would have driven on anyway, with all my children in the car in the midst of a disaster.

An hour or so later we arrived home.

It was one of the three stupidest (the third resulted from an allergic medicine reaction about four years ago, so I don't really blame myself) things I've ever done in a car since my teenage/early young adult years.

Our children don't know we're leading them into danger. We had gear in the car for emergencies. Of course we did. I ALWAYS have gear in my car for emergencies. *laughs* Who do you think you're talking to. *cracks up* I simply hadn't learned yet, that sometimes the truly adult move is, to not go into the dangerous situation, or at least, to not haul children (an infant, no less) into the middle of a goddamn hurricane.

What the hell was I thinking?!

letsdance said...

I love how you incorporate history into the story, Maggie. I learn from you every day.

Jesse, you are quite a writer.