The Feminist Psychologist

©1995 by Bill Appledorf

By 1977 it had gotten to the point where I knew in advance which words a Canadian woman would use in conversation, what she would do with her hands, how she would move her mouth. I knew she would espouse the same negative ideas about "men", the same confused sexuality, as every other girl in town, and I gave up hoping to encounter anyone deeply fascinating. I got used to living without emotional support, and I hurt a lot.

Oh, it was great fun for Canadian women to insult men in those days, their hostility ran so deep. But I was confused by it, and I was scared. I was scared because my wife had committed suicide and I thought it was my fault, and when I heard my penis derided as an ugly, dirty thing, I couldn't make any sense out of my sexual past. I had lived in Venice, California, before I left for Canada to avoid the draft, and I had enjoyed the company of a number of women who liked my penis and liked having sex with me. I remember my wife exclaiming pleasure at having acquired a penis of her "very own". But among the Canadians the message was to be ashamed of my body and ashamed of my sexual desire. I began to wonder if I had inflicted something on women that they did not want. I felt guilty and unattractive, and I was lonelier than I had ever been.

Canadian women expressed their sexual conflict in a power game - seducing and rejecting you, playing on words, toying with your feelings - or by having to act "bad" to do it, having to make it your idea, making you feel like a pervert, denying that they liked or wanted to have sex. The sexual atmosphere was all so stressful and unpleasant I finally came to the conclusion I am American kid, not a Canadian kid. The Canadians had some serious sexual problems to work out, and I decided to return to California.

Mind you, I had read Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch" in 1971, and I was overjoyed to hear her urge women to take responsibility for their own lives. I enthusiastically anticipated being able to have more interesting conversations with intellectually and personally developed women, but that's not the direction in which feminism was bound to go. "Feminism" became a fancy word for blatantly acting out precisely that stupid little exercise of female sexual power women had always used to get men to do what women want. Everything was now the fault of men, which is absurd. How can a woman blame the choices she has made on men? And the arguments themselves, even if it were possible that men were to blame for women's choices, revealed such ignorance of what men really think and feel. Had no woman ever listened to a man?

The idea became popular - and was widely believed - that to be a good person all you had to do is be a "woman" - no matter how defensive, temperamental, or self-absorbed you were. If you were a "woman", then the whole world was obligated to defer to you. To be a bad person, of course, all you had to do was be a "man" - no matter how compassionate, understanding, or giving a person you were. The most insulting thing you could call a man, under feminism, was a "jerk off", and every woman, it seemed, felt like the cleverest person alive every time she took advantage of an opportunity to use that epithet. To call someone a "jerk off" was such an insult because it meant a particular man was so socially undesirable he couldn't even find a filthy whore willing to satisfy his ugly little sexual desires. Well, the fact is, I love jerking off. Always have. Feels terrific. And there's no way I would spend enough time even to think about sex in the company of anyone who expects me to be embarrassed or apologetic about my sexual desires or the way I pleasure myself sexually.

I was living in Sacramento in 1984. Jessica Williams was scheduled to play one night at the Beverly Garland Hotel. I hadn't been to a bar in years, but I had heard Jessica Williams in San Francisco and I liked her music, so I decided I would go. In San Francisco some people had speculated that Jessica Williams was a man because she was such a large person, but that's just the way people think in San Francisco. The night I saw her in Sacramento was the first time I'd ever been really close to her, and I was struck by her huge hands. Her fingers were not long and slender like a piano player's. They were short and thick, and I was fascinated they could hit the keys with such accuracy and speed and subtle expressivity.

I felt talkative that night and engaged in several conversations before the show and between sets. I talked to a land developer crying the blues about government regulation, and, you know, the way he cried was all about conspiracies. "The teachers want to turn our kids against democracy and free enterprise, and they can't steal from the taxpayers anymore because of Proposition 13, so the environmentalists on the Board of Education and the City Council found a way to tax home builders for environmental impact, and now we're building houses at a loss for people who are trying to put us out of business." That kind of stuff.

One person I spoke to briefly introduced herself as a "feminist psychologist". She looked about 40, spoke with a German accent, and didn't look too bad. I was curious about what feminism and psychology could have in common. After all, feminism blames men for women's station in life, and psychology is all about helping people take responsibility for their own emotions and their own lives. She was busy talking to her friends. We made a date for lunch.

The feminist psychologist drove up in a red 1965 Mustang hard-top to the Sunflower natural fast-food drive-in . I greeted her with a smile and a hug. She didn't hug me back, and she said "Thank you" stiffly. It was a blisteringly hot July day in Sacramento. I asked her if her car had air-conditioning. She answered "No", and I told her that the 1982 Firebird I was driving was the first car I had ever owned that did. As we ordered nachos and nutty tacos, I mentioned I had inherited the car from my brother, who had been murdered in 1982, and she asked me how he had been murdered.

"My brother was a professor at the University of Florida," I said, "and he picked the wrong people to hang out with."

My brother was an alcoholic and a homosexual, I continued. He was what you call a "chicken hawk", a man who preys on young male prostitutes. Three boys he had met in New York City who were apparently staying at his home in Gainesville, Florida, tried to alter the amount of a check he had written to one of them from $90 to $900. When they tried to cash it, my brother's bank called to ask how much the check was written for. He told them $90, and the bank had the boys arrested. The police called and asked my brother if he wanted to press charges. He told them no, and the boys, in that exaggerated style of a bitchy girl you see sometimes in swishy homosexuals, decided to get him back because he'd gotten them arrested.

They walked across town to his apartment, broke in, and waited an entire weekend for him to return from a speaking engagement in New York City. When he came home, they overpowered him, tied him up in the living room, and slowly suffocated him by piling pillows on his face. The coroner said he struggled for hours until he finally died.

When I finished telling this story to the feminist psychologist, I stressed that these boys were aged only 15, 17 and 19 years old when they killed my brother. They had each been fucked in the ass or worse by their fathers at approximately the age of 8 and tossed out into the street. The depth of their rage was so contrary to what we expect in normal teenaged boys, I mentioned their ages to suggest that these boys' emotional anguish demonstrates the effects on all of us of living surrounded by people generally lacking in kindness and understanding.

The feminist psychologist said, "He was child molester, eh?"

My brother and I did not get along in the least when we were kids. He absolutely hated me; I don't know why. My sister has suggested that my mother pushed him away from her after I was born. I was the youngest. My brother was the middle child. I was obviously the favorite, probably because, as my mother never tires of telling me, I was unusually cute when I was a baby.

My brother never accepted me. He rejected me, insulted me, beat me, hurt me whenever he had a chance. Now I have known brothers who would die for one another. The fact is, when I left home and had my first encounters with brothers devoted to one another, I thought it was all an act. I thought they were pretending to like one another, even though they hated each other's guts, because they had been taught that they were supposed to act that way. Being stoned on marijuana when I started meeting guys who liked their brothers, the thought even crossed my mind they were acting close to make me feel guilty about getting along so badly with my brother. This of course is ridiculous since strangers had no idea whether I had a brother or what our relationship was.

When I gathered with my family after my brother's death, it amazed me that some of my family members, my sister for example, thought he was a great guy and really missed him. I thought he was an idiot, and I felt vindicated by his death. He had tormented me when we were children, he had stupidly gotten himself killed, and I was still alive. Something infantile in my mind understood this syllogism indicated retribution. He hurt me, he forfeited his life, and I still got to live.

After my brother's murder, vindication even emerged from the numerous feelings tangled in the mountain of emotion I experienced in relation to my wife's having committed suicide 8 years previously. Sure, I had been a lousy husband, but I had done everything I could to make her happy, and nothing ever worked. After she got rid of me, the main problem in her life, she still could not get happy. I held a job after she walked out on me, and I was working on restoring a boat. I hoped to give her one last opportunity to decide if she wanted to come back and be with me. But she hooked up with another guy and stayed away entirely. Then she committed suicide.

When the cops came and told me she had killed herself, I spent three days trying to figure out if it was physically possible for me to have gotten from Quadra Island to Lasqueti Island and back in time to murder her. I did so many drugs in those days, I was afraid maybe I had killed her myself and forgotten everything including going there and coming back, but it was not remotely possible for anyone to have made that trip in the time between my shifts at my job on Quadra Island. I felt like a murderer for years afterward anyway, however. If someone suggested that we "kill" a bottle of wine for maybe 10 years after my wife committed suicide, I suspected they were suggesting they were in the company of a murderer. After my brother was murdered, I began to think no matter how bad I had been to my wife, I had always tried to do what was right, and her committing suicide proved that she was wrong about me.

The feminist psychologist probably didn't realize she risked having her head torn off when she insulted my brother to my face. If the person telling her the story had been one of those guys who is wildly devoted to his brother, he might have freaked out entirely and clobbered her when she called his brother a child molester. Of course to me my brother's murder was just one more sickening story in the newspaper. In our adult lives he and I had reconciled, and although a part of me obviously still resents how he treated me in childhood, ever since our reconciliation I have felt mostly adult feelings of forgiveness and acceptance toward my brother. We even gave being friends a shot when I was living in Victoria, British Columbia.

I had been living in Victoria for about six months when I learned from my mother that my brother was going to work in California for a while. I called him and asked if he'd like to drop in and visit me for a weekend while he was staying on the West Coast. He said OK and we arranged to meet at the airport on a Friday evening.

I was working as a street musician in front of the Eaton's department store in downtown Victoria. I only knew a couple songs because I refused to learn anyone else's music, I couldn't play worth a damn, and my original songs were musically crude with overly complicated lyrics. But I was determined not to work as anything but a musician. I wanted to "be" a professional musician, but I didn't want to "do" the homework that is required to develop a repertoire others would be interested in paying money to hear me play.

I had a small amount of cash I had saved working as night watchman on a ferry on Quadra Island, and, until I changed my address to General Delivery in Victoria, I was collecting welfare. I was renting a room, sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities with two girls in the basement of a house near Beacon Hill Park. I was 30 years old. One of the girls was from Alberta and called herself Mo, short for Maureen. She was 17. I found her in my bed one night after we had been hanging out together for a couple weeks, and she tried to give me a blow job. I felt so guilty about having let my wife give me blow jobs all the time - I thought maybe that had something to do with her committing suicide - I could not relax and enjoy it. Mo decided I was less than adequate as a sex partner, and she extricated herself from my life entirely in the space of about two days.

A couple nights after my brother returned to California, a friend of Mo's pulled a knife on me. Alcohol was involved. I never caught what he was so mad about. I grabbed my stuff as I hustled out the door, and I never went back to that basement again. That's when I changed my address to General Delivery.

One of the places I lived on Quadra Island was a commune by the name of Homefree. Homefree was set up by a group of hippie potters who had friends in Courtenay, Victoria, and the Kootenay Mountains. That's how I wound up in Victoria. When I left Quadra Island, instead of going back to Vancouver where I knew some people and had worked for a couple years, I crashed on a group of musicians from Victoria I had met while I lived at Homefree. Don't get the idea I was close friends with these people. Except for a married girl who liked that I had a crush on her and kissed me one afternoon when we were alone in the kitchen (and I had no idea how to proceed from there), the banjo pickers, mandolin players, guitar strummers, and bassists who frequented that house barely tolerated my hanging out with them. I was negative, bummed out, paranoid, and insecure, and I was barely able to function because I was convinced I was the reason that my wife was dead. When I initially arrived in town, I only crashed there long enough to find a room.

The first room in Victoria I rented was from a taxi driver with a house outside of town. He offered to help me get on at the cab company, but I didn't like the dispatcher because she called him "Dingbat" all the time even though he didn't like it. Eventually I moved out of Dingbat's house to the basement I shared with Mo and the other girl, because Dingbat got sick of having a lazy bum around, and my moving out was the easiest way to ease the tension. After I hastily vacated that basement, I crashed for a while on the floor of the apartment of a friend from Vancouver's girlfriend. She worked at the Empress Hotel and made a decent paycheck. She couldn't stand having a bum around her either, even though my friend Joe had obligated her with melodramatic intensity not to let me slide into oblivion. Joe had aimed artillery in Vietnam for a year and had become so good at it he was assigned to teach how to aim artillery at a base in Texas. Joe became obsessed with dropping a round on the general's house, and he deserted to keep himself from doing it.

My brother got off a plane drunk out of his mind on a Friday afternoon. He wanted to buy some steaks and have someone cook him dinner. I took him to the musicians' house I told you about from Homefree. We all ate steaks and got hammered on half a dozen bottles of Lafite Rothschild wine my brother brought from California. That wine cost about $80 a bottle, which was no big deal to my brother because he was well off. My friends and I were basically broke. We swilled the wine as if it cost $4 a bottle.

My brother stayed soused the entire weekend. He drank Bloody Mary's for breakfast, drank beer all afternoon and wine deep into the night, but he had a thing about "using drugs" and he would not smoke pot. I had been smoking pot or hash every day for a couple of years from the time I woke up in the morning until I went to sleep at night, and I would drink from any bottle I was passed. I ate and smoked psylocibin mushrooms, which grow wild in British Columbia. I snorted cocaine, dropped LSD, and consumed whatever other drug anyone laid out on the table. I'm not absolutely sure which drugs I have and have not taken. I quit all drugs and alcohol in 1977 when I was living in San Francisco.

The day after our steak dinner, I convinced my brother to come to the park with me to look for someone selling pot. I assured him he would not have to smoke any, and he came along, drunk out of his mind. We sat on a bench and waited to see if I could score. My brother was too drunk to have a conversation. He just grunted and laughed and made nonsensical remarks in some kind of phony theatrical voice. No one selling pot turned up. My brother and I went to the Churchill bar and drank beer until he couldn't walk. I dragged him back to my basement. He passed out on my bed. I spent the night on a roll-away.

When I was in high school and my brother was in college, he remarked to me on more than one occasion that he found certain guys attractive. I couldn't figure out if he really meant what he was saying or if he was just joking about being a homosexual like a classmate of mine always did because he was afraid of being one. My classmate's big running joke was feigning homosexuality by talking with a phony lisp, showing a limp wrist, and pretending to try to kiss the other guys in the car as we drove around my hometown aimlessly at night horny as hell and bored out of our minds. I'm pretty sure that guy was faking, because he knew a lot of jokes about tits and pussy and he seemed to want the same girls as the rest of us. I heard he got married after I graduated college, but I know that doesn't prove anything one way or the other.

Once, when I was going to graduate school at UCLA, I had visited my brother when he was working on a post-doc in Berkeley. On that visit I observed more evidence that he might have been a homosexual, but I still wasn't able to decide for sure. Besides, that trip was all about making up for the beatings and the insults he had heaped on me when we were kids. He didn't have time to explain why he had treated me so badly, but he did apologize and I accepted because I wanted to be his friend. On my way out of town to drive back to Los Angeles he had me drop him off at an ugly little bar on Bush and Fillmore full of hard core alcoholics. They called him "Doc" in gravelly voices and they all insulted one another with grandiose displays of affection and boisterous laughter. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. The place and the people hanging there gave me the creeps.

I said to the feminist psychologist, "Child molesting is a crime, right?"

She answered "Right."

"It has a victim and a perpetrator, right?"

"Right."

"Murder is a crime, too, right?"

"Right."

"Murder has a victim and a perpetrator, too, right?"

"Right."

I said, "You know, the tragedy of life is that people in pain do terrible things to one another," and she said, "Well, I guess we don't have anything more to say to one another."

I watched as from a different world as she walked back to her car.

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