“Abduction From The Seraglio” and sexual harassment

Mozart, Mozart. This is his second mention in one week.

A few days ago I was listening to his comedic opera, Abduction From The Seraglio, a work I fell in love with the first time I heard the opening twenty seconds of the overture.

It is a comedy, although to accept it as a comedy you have to sort of overlook the plot. Which involves the capture of a couple of (white) European women, who are held in the anteroom of a harem by a Turkish Pasha who keeps asking one of them to marry him and join his slew of wives. Her name is Constanze and she keeps saying no, she’d rather die, so  the threat of torture and rape hovers in the air. (Terms from her big ridiculously coloratura aria: torture, torment, pain, death.) But it all turns out OK, because she’s rescued by her boyfriend and with the unexpected gracious mercy of the Pasha.

And this, of course, brings up the torrent of sexual harassment headlines about a growing number of prominent men.

As someone who worked in the film business and was, inevitably, harassed and assaulted, I’ve got something to say about all this, especially about the Al Franken situation. Because what Franken simulated doing in that notorious photo — planting his hands over the breasts of a women who had not consented — happened to me, no simulation.

I was working at Paramount Pictures. One afternoon I got on the elevator to go up to the 33rd floor, where my office was. On some floor, the doors opened and I was joined by the head of distribution, name of Norman LNU. (LNU is FBI phone-tap transcription code for “last name unknown.”) I could look up his name but won’t bother.

Norman’s office was on my floor. He and I were not particularly friendly but were not unfriendly, either. We’d pass in the halls, nod at each other, that’s it.

It is irrelevant here — although I might make specific points about this in a codicil — that Norman was an unattractive man, a thuggy-looking schlub. He was large, had greasy dark hair and bad skin. He wore black dorky glasses and a perpetual, creepy smile.

(I had to take a break just now to make myself a sandwich, less because I’m hungry than because I loathe writing about this. I do not like writing about my innermost innermosts. I write most comfortably as a sidelines observer. In heart, gut, brain and by family custom and practice I’m a satirist, not a memoirist. Still, I’m going to toss this little tale onto the mountain of #MeToos, because I feel so bound as part of a sisterhood.)

One day I was alone in the elevator. Until it stopped at some floor and Norman got on.

The elevator doors closed, he turned to me with his unpleasant smile, reached both his hands out, placed them over my breasts and squeezed slightly. Then, with the same smile, quickly removed his hands from my body, just as the elevator reached the 33rd floor.

Neither of us had said a word. He got off the elevator first. I went to my office and sat down.

Here’s the aftermath of this story which might make everyone nuts, except you are getting savvy enough about these stories to understand that most of us made no noise about this sort of abuse.

And I made no noise, no squeak. I did not report the incident to anyone. I didn’t even tell my closest friends. In fact, until now, I haven’t mentioned it to anyone except very recently to a few family members.

I did not go to HR. We didn’t have an HR. We had a personnel department but I barely remembered where it was and why would I have gone there? There was no inscribed company procedure, no memo recommending what action I could take.

I didn’t suffer deeply, didn’t have bad dreams, didn’t feel threatened, didn’t feel guilty or shamed. I did not quit my job.

I did one thing only. I said to myself, “He’ll die before I will.”

And he did.

I tell you this not so that you’ll think that I think I’m some kind of god with the power to wave her hand contemptuously and see her enemies drop to the ground, dead. Although I did find reading Norman’s obit quite fulfilling.

I tell you so you’ll understand I know what I’m talking about when I say there’s a difference between what now-dead Norman did to still-alive me in that elevator and what Al Franken reportedly did. And since there does seem to be some smidgen of ethics process in the Senate — although it sounds as if Congressional women will have to hammer some iron into its flimsy fabric — I’d like Franken to stay in the Senate and let the process work its way through for him.

And I want consistency out of Congress. If Franken resigns, what then of Blake Farenthold? Who has just announced he won’t run for his seat in 2018. Yeah? If Conyers has resigned, if Franken has resigned, the women of Congress should give Farenthold a kick in the ass right now, kick him out.

Just a minute. I was wrong to say I did nothing about being grabbed. In the autumn of 1991, under the aegis and at the urging of a lawyer for whom I worked, I called Western Union and spent a while on the telephone with them, sending individual telegrams to one hundred U.S. senators, insisting that they support Anita Hill and not confirm Clarence Thomas.

I was furious then and remain furious now.

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