That time I had a gun pointed at me in class

In the pre-Columbine days of the late 1990s, I attended a graduate program in a small town in upstate New York (didn’t finish, but that’s a story for another time).  For one class, each of us was assigned to bring in an object that was personally significant; I probably brought a doll since I’d done an internship in the doll collection of a museum and was in my glory. I’d probably remember what I had brought with more certainty if a classmate hadn’t brought a gun to show off.


There are definitely worse places for an untimely death, but I’d still rather avoid an untimely death.

There were two men in our class, both pretty unpredictable when it came to tempers, but fortunately, we women outnumbered them and so felt safe for the most part (and the two men in the class ahead of us were utter gentlemen). Not that we would have imagined anyone shooting up a classroom – having books thrown at our heads and physical intimidation were more the norm. And I doubt we would have imagined anything happening in a full classroom – we were far more wary of the parking lot or the computer lab in the wee hours.

And then the Unpredictable Mr. Smith decided to bring in his grandfather’s rifle. We had no idea if it was loaded, but we knew that he was pointing it at us. I remember the collective holding of breath and taking my eyes off the gun just long enough to check to see if the exits were accessible (one was, but if 15 people tried to get through it at once?) and consider the potential outcomes of jumping out the window (not good – we were high enough up that we’d probably break something in landing, if we were lucky enough not to hit our heads on the rocks and roll unconscious into one of the cleanest, loveliest lakes in the state). Had he decided to shoot, rather than just let us know that he could if he wanted to, there would have been casualties – “like shooting fish in a barrel” except that the fish were students and the barrel was the classroom. We had to – literally  – sit and sweat it out. It was terrorizing and terrifying.

And as for the “good guy with a gun” theory, had someone else been armed, the situation would have escalated, and it would have been really ugly. But again, this was a time when most of us wouldn’t fathom being in mortal danger while attending a class (and I’m of the opinion that we really shouldn’t have to worry about being in mortal danger while going about our daily business). We have no sanctuaries any more, and the gun lobby is okay with that. To millions of people, their right to  gun (which isn’t really a right – show me your militia, I’d love to come see a training session. The sheriff’s posse does it, and so can you!) is greater than the right of many millions more to go about their business peacefully.

Sure, guns are part of American culture, but there must be limits. Not everyone is qualified mentally or functionally to have firearms – why is that so hard to accept? On a no-fly list? No gun. History of violence? No gun. Law-abiding, responsible citizen with no history of violence? Here’s your gun – go forth and educate!

The NRA should be glad to know that the student who brought (and pointed) the gun at his classmates faced no consequences other than being asked to not bring firearms to class again. That did nothing to help the rest of us sleep or feel comfortable in the same room as this guy, but unfortunately that’s par for the course for people on the receiving end of threatened and actual violence.


Shut it down, and shut it down fast

I’m back in the dubious world of online dating. I gave it a rest for a few months, and then decided to give it another go. I was emailing back and forth with a really nice guy – who is half a continent away. I knew it was a no-go, but it was a good warm up.

For those of you not familiar with the general online dating scheme, it’s generally that you get certain matches based on how much you have in common (assuming that everyone has answered honestly). You look at those matches if you want, and decide if you want to indicate further interest.

One day last week, I got an email from a man whose profile I’d viewed. I wasn’t interested, so I just moved along. The thing that really got my guard up about his profile was the level of try-hard. Sure, you want to put your best face forward, but go too far and you’re going to be perceived as desperate at best and – shall we say – “off” at worst. If we’re doing a scale, 1 would be “Fuck you, because I don’t give a fuck,” 5* would be “I am a sane, rational human being that you may like,” and 10 would be, “NOTICE ME, PLEASE.” This profile was an 11, ergo the moving along. I didn’t think much of it, or him, afterward.

Within 24 hours, he sends me this long email going on and on about himself and about me (telling me that he could see deeper than my profile). I sent back what was basically, “Oh, thanks,” because I didn’t want to be rude; it must be a woman thing because I can’t think of one man who would reply rather than just hit the “Not Interested” button. I didn’t want to be a complete asshole because he’d put some effort into his email. This was a mistake.

He ran with it, and ran hard. Another long email followed. Comments on several of my photos followed. When I didn’t respond, another long email, completely oblivious to my disinterest followed. It became clear that I’d gotten myself into this, and I’d have to get myself out. I’ve found that boring the shit out of them usually works; they get bored and stop communicating, so I don’t have to sever the communication and risk being verbally abused. Everybody wins!

Gene Wilder as Condescending Willy Wonka: "Oh, so you're bored...Please tell us all about it on Facebook. It's so riveting.

My goal is to make him think exactly this.

So, following that third email, I answered again. I was so dull and blase that I wanted to clone myself just so I could roll my eyes and walk away from me. Didn’t work. He emailed again, and included that he was going to settle his mother’s business as she was entering a nursing home due to Alzheimer’s. That, I felt bad about and can certainly relate. So, I wrote back, wished him luck and – in order to make myself less palatable in another way – threw in a couple of sentences about how my mother’s illness brought out the worst in some people and caused a rift in the family. Bitching about family is a tried-and-true way to get some points deducted…at least it has been. I also answered his question about my job since it was an actual direct question.

Instead of being put off, he decided that I needed some mansplaining.

Graphic from Lost in Space, with the robot saying, "Danger Will Robinson."

Goddamn right.

Infraction 1: Your job seems busy, I guess. Well, if that’s what you like I suppose.

Excuse me? Yes my job is busy, and yes I do like it. Keep your side eye to yourself, chipmunk.

Infraction 2: I’m an only child, but this is how you should feel and this is how you should act regarding the family issue. This isn’t advice, though.

EXCUSE ME?! You don’t know me, you don’t know my history, and despite reading the two sentences that I wrote you, you have no idea about the severity of the situation. And you’re not giving me advice? Do you know what that leaves? It leaves you dictating how I should think and act. I know where that leads.

Closed fist with tape around each finger, spelling the word OBEY.

Here. It leads here.

Fuck. That. Shit. I did what I should have done initially and shut him the hell down. I wrote him and said that we will not be communicating any more, and it’s because he doesn’t know me, yet finds it acceptable to tell me how to be; I really only wanted to cuss him out. I also blocked him from contacting me again, because he would have certainly tried to make me see the error of my ways, and I am not playing that game.

My lesson is learned. No more polite and no more benefits of the doubt. I go with my first instinct from now on because she’s never wronged me before. It’s bad enough that I’m a Cassandra; I’m not going to Cassandra myself. Learn from my fail, and if you have a bad gut feeling about someone, roll with it.

* A 5 is as magical and rare as a rainbow-shitting unicorn.

There Is No Vaccine Debate

I’ve had it with the debate over vaccines. HAD IT. By and large, vaccines are safe. Decades of scientific studies have shown us that. Polio, smallpox, diphtheria, yellow fever, tetanus, whooping cough, and measles were all but eradicated by vaccines. Since the late 1990s, whooping cough has begun to rear its head again. In fact, there are affluent areas of Los Angeles with lower vaccination rates than Sudan; there’s also a resurgence of whooping cough in those pockets of privilege. And you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware that measles is setting out on its comeback tour.

Color Photo of the Measles Virus

Measles: The Comeback Tour, with Pertussis on Bass!

Generally, I find the anti-vaccine contingent to be willfully ignorant, although lately I find them patently dangerous. Today, in my Facebook feed, I saw a rant from a former classmate. She was going on about labeling people as anti-vaxxers because they have a family history of vaccine sensitivity or they are immune-compromised and a vaccine could prove very harmful. She couldn’t be more wrong.

Those with these concerns should be more pro-vaccine than the average person. Vaccine-sensitive and immunocompromised people rely on everyone else to be vaccinated in order to avoid these diseases. When members of a community are vaccinated, they do not spread disease, therefore the compromised are not in considerable danger of infection; this is known as Community (or Herd) Immunity. When large swaths of a community willfully refuse vaccines for junk-science, philosophical, or religious reasons, they are putting the most vulnerable in danger. In response, there are anti-vaccine advocates who are now basing arguments on the term “Herd Immunity,” because they believe it implies that their special little snowflakes are like cattle. I’m not even going to link to this ridiculousness. Rabies is nonexistent in Hawaii, and the state does not allow new animals into its borders until after a strictly-enforced quarantine period, because without it, one infected animal could be admitted and REINTRODUCE RABIES TO AN ENTIRE STATE. Hawaii is protecting its herd.

In my experience, anti-vaccine proponents are the most vocal and aggressive about pushing their views on others. I’ve also noticed that they tend to be parents. These bullies believe that if you don’t have children, then you don’t have a horse in this race. Absolutely untrue. We may not have offspring, but we do have family, friends, and loved ones who have true issues with vaccines and rely on community immunity to stay healthy (or alive), rather than basing our beliefs on a widely discredited paper, that was actually described as fraudulent. Procreation does not equal expertise, which seems to be lost on this lot. When you reproduced – as every creature from amoebas to mice do – you were not granted infinite wisdom. Sorry, but you weren’t. And siding with other parents solely because they’re parents doesn’t make you an expert – it makes you a thug. Of all people, you should think of the individuals who will be harmed by your decision; if you need a touchpoint, read Roald Dahl’s plea for vaccination, which he wrote after a childhood bout of measles killed his young daughter. For global perspective, Melinda Gates would be happy to school you (she knows a little about vaccines, as her family foundation is dedicated to making them accessible in third world countries).

Vaccination is a public health issue. They aren’t perfect, and not everyone can physically tolerate them (and so should not receive them), but the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Those who choose to eschew it should be prepared for a backlash, and bear in mind that it was their choice. The rest of us have the right to keep ourselves and the ones we care about healthy; it doesn’t make us bullies, it makes us pragmatic.