Nerves – A Blast From The Past Post, 9/12

Nerves – A Blast From The Past Post, 9/12

Like many people I hate insecurity.  Actually I suspect I hate insecurity more than most of you, and there’s a reason for that.  During the worst times in my life, things were… insecure.  I’ve said before that even in a revolution, even in turmoil, there is a lot of normality behind the chaos.

Possibly what I didn’t say is that there is a lot of chaos behind the normalcy, too.  For three or four years, while governments changed – I could tell that they’d changed because I’d come home and they’d be playing Green Acres.  See, the TV station in Porto was a relay station, one that dealt with mostly re-transmitting programs from Lisbon.  However, when tanks took to the streets of Lisbon, the program always required they hit first the TV station, then the radio stations, and then the government.

Until their people were in full control of the government, the two TV channels from Lisbon (years later they changed it so the second channel was from Porto, but not then) would be off the air, and the station from Porto would bring out Green Acres which in their minds kept the populace calm until they heard what came next.

Of course, we weren’t stupid and after a while, everyone knew.  If Green Acres was on the air, the kids who had morning classes (In Portugal you have morning OR afternoon.  I always had morning because my mom was convinced otherwise I’d just sleep the morning away.  I probably would have.  Until I had kids of my own and the only quiet time to write was early morning, I was a night person, and I can see myself shifting that way again as the kids get older/get out) and the men coming home for lunch (still mostly in Portugal.  They have two hours or so for lunch) would mill around the tv waiting to see who the new people in charge were, and whether we’d swerved to the crazy left (the rich-boy Maoist group) or relative sanity had prevailed and we now had whatever passed for a viable party in power.  (At one time, the socialists were the furthest right party allowed.)

To this day I  hear “Green Acres” and I cringe and every muscle in my body tenses.

Some scars go deeper than the skin.  Some scars go all the way down.

I think I was sixteen, though it’s hard to tell because after a while all your memories of a certain time run together and you group things together by “feel.”  (Like if it’s a happy memory of a sunny summer I think I was eight, even if I know from other things I was ten or six.)

Anyway, we had one of the crazy-crazy left groups in power.  Things were … weird.  The press was completely unreliable.  A rumor went out that they were about to suppress the socialists (the only non communist or ultra communist party still in existence) and their leader was about to be arrested.

I don’t know how the rumor got out, but someone heard something and called his friends.  And the friends called…

We got the call.

My mom and I were the political animals in the house (still are.  Like me and younger-boy in my family now.)

The call came.

Our group couldn’t get permission for a demonstration.  It wouldn’t be granted.  BUT a demonstration was people assembling and making speeches and yelling.  So word went out.  Absolute silence.  And a route to walk, from the center of town to the military installation on the other side of the city.

It was the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen.   I’d never have believed it till I saw it.  At twenty two I tried to describe it to my husband and I failed.

It was raining.  It rains a lot in the North of Portugal.  You find it a lot in memoirs of the peninsular war by British officers.  It’s a peculiar rain, less than a downpour, more than a drizzle.  Umbrellas are ineffective against it and it gets everywhere.

I was wearing a blue windbreaker, with the hood up, tied around my face.  (Yes, a holy anorhank, symbol of involuntary sexual abstinence!)

Mom and I got downtown, and most of the people on our train started forward, in silence, towards the main plaza.  Where we met – thousands and thousands of people, in their overcoats and raincoats.  In utter silence.

Some more organized people had gotten things together and had signs and banners which they were distributing.

Organized is not experienced.  Being sixteen, I was recruited with another young person – a young man I didn’t know – to hold each end of a HUGE banner that said “The youth of Portugal demands liberty.”  Or something to that effect — it’s hard to remember these many years later.

They hadn’t punched holes in the fabric.  The drizzle was wind-driven.  As we started marching towards the military quarters, the wind pulled on the banner and about broke our arms.  But we held it up.  And we walked.  Thousands of people.  In silence.

And then we got to the quarters.  And we found they were on alert.  And the young troops were up front, with weapons trained on the crowd.

I won’t say anyone ran… exactly.  Perhaps they thought that being young, myself and this guy would – through the power of the cute? – be spared.

There was a … movement.  And there I was in the front.  The silent crowd behind us.  The men with scary machine guns in front of us.  Pointed at us.

If we’d run, what would have happened?

I’m no braver than the next person.  I wanted to run.  But I had a vivid idea we’d be shot in the back.  I still think that might have been right.

It’s very hard to ask soldiers to fire on civilians and I think the barrier holds, unless civilians are either running away (and then I’m sure they’ve fire in the air, or try to, but things happen, right?) or charging.

We were neither.  We stood.  Holding the stupid sign.  Water dripping down the banner pole and straight into my sleeve, under the elastic and all the way to my armpit and down the side of my body.

Because we held the adults couldn’t run away.  The crowd held.

I don’t remember how it broke from there, but the newspapers had to cover THAT.  People had seen us.  We were the people who had seen us.  Everyone knew someone who had been there.

Someday, if I become famous, someone will unearth the picture from the front page of a defunct newspaper of me at sixteen, in that very stupid windbreaker, my face unnaturally pale, holding the stupid banner.  Standing.  Breathing.  Waiting for death or reprieve.

I know things changed from there.  That was the last of the ultra crazy left governments, though frankly all the governments in Portugal are left/left/lefter until recently and recently might be a forlorn hope.  But they weren’t CRAZY left, trying to outlaw anyone who disagreed with them.  The route to normalcy started.

You can tell I’m all to pieces when I start thinking of that one march, of that one moment, of the stupid banner and the wind hurting my arm, and the rain dripping down.

You see, when everything goes bad; when it all goes wrong; when instability crashes over you like a flooding tide, people tend to assume all the normal conventions of life will be suspended.  Everything will be wild and woolly, and we’ll all be Mad Max with less cool rides.

It’s not like that.  Most of the time the pattern of normal life holds – even for dangerous subversives and troublemakers.  Getting rid of you is more trouble than not.

Most of the time routines just go.  A little more difficult.  Extended families cluster together because there are fewer jobs, and everyone is trying to survive.  You learn to cobble a living from what was once your hobbies.  The more hobbies, the better off you are.   You make clothes and jewelry to sell to other people who are broke.  You sell at a great discount, but make a profit, because you’re buying scrap fabric from someone who scavenges from the textile factory’s scrap heap.

No one can afford anything and, objectively, you’re all poorer than church mice.  But the shadow economy keeps people more or less okay.

It’s just sometimes the store shelves are empty.  And sometimes, you turn the corner of the street and find yourself in the middle of a full-fledged street battle and might be shot at.  And sometimes people disappear.  And you can’t trust anything you read in the papers.

And sometimes things go too far and sixteen year olds have to stare down machine guns.

Chaos over normalcy.  Normalcy over chaos.  You walk the fine line and you don’t realize you’re holding your breath.

And you don’t know there are scars there.  You’re walking wounded.  You don’t know you’ve been cut.  The instability and the fear have become normal.

You don’t realize as you’re decompressing through the years.  And you rarely think how bad it was.

Until you find yourself, years later, thinking of yourself at sixteen, holding the banner in the wind and the rain, and you realize you’re holding your breath; you’re pacing the floor.

Metaphorically speaking, you’re in your mom’s living room again.  You just came home and Green Acres was playing on the little dinky black and white TV.  And now you’re standing in front of it, your fists clenched, your breath held.

Waiting.

90 responses to “Nerves – A Blast From The Past Post, 9/12

  1. The Other Sean

    I guess this means we shouldn’t take up a collection to get the Hoyts the “Green Acres” DVD box set for Christmas.

    • Reality Observer

      I would disrecommend that. (You can send ’em to to – in my youth, they confirmed all of my biases against those city boobs…)

      I’ve seen other people, from other countries, tell about how, when they hear a particular song, or see a particular program, they knew yet another revolution was in progress. Different ones, of course.

      Any ideas on what ours might be? So many to choose from…

    • Only if you have a burning desire to have your skull forcefully and repeatedly caressed by a cast iron skillet.

  2. c4c

  3. Catticus Finch

    “I’m no braver than the next person. I wanted to run. But I had a vivid idea we’d be shot in the back. I still think that might have been right.”

    I’m still going to say that was brave. To be able to suppress the natural desire to run – particularly to be able to reason in that moment that running is not the best option – takes presence of mind and that takes courage.

    • My mom always says that if you stay cool and act like you should be there, you can get away with a lot. It is like standing still when a dog runs at you; if you run you will get bit.

      But this is the most extreme example of it!

      • I learned that in the army. If you wanted to get out of work, you didn’t go and hide somewhere, you just picked up a can of olive-drab paint and a paintbrush and walked around. Or if you felt daring, you got a clipboard and walked around making occasional comments on a piece of paper…

        • In office culture, if you carry a file folder (red is recommended, but green, yellow or blue work about as well) and stride purposefully (always stride purposefully – it causes people to hesitate to stop you, during which hesitation you’ll have eliminated the option) nobody will suspect you’re carrying reading matter to the loo.

        • *snicker* there was a story I read of three POWs who got out of a German prisoner of war camp by getting some sets of workman’s overalls, a clipboard and a measuring tape. Two of them managed the measuring tape, the third wrote down gibberish on the clipboard; they measured their way out the front gate, and afterwards, whenever anyone looked as if taking a suspicious interest in them … they measured something, wrote down the measurements and walked on.

          • An escaped American POW was on a train and realized that the Army was searching the people getting off it for escapees. So he grabbed someone else’s suitcase and ran off with it.

            The soldiers, of course, did not bother to stop a mere thief.

    • “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
      — John Wayne.

  4. Dammit. I want to make some (half-? nit-?) witty comment about cringing at the Green Acres theme, but I can’t. The post was too moving.

  5. “I’m no braver than the next person. I wanted to run.”

    Courage is holding fast when your instincts are screaming to run.

    I do not know that I could have been that brave at 16. Heck, I don’t even know that I could be that brave today.

  6. Christopher M. Chupik

    “Things were … weird. The press was completely unreliable.”

    Soooo . . . modern America?

    • Now…the U.S. press is completely reliable. Just not truthful or trustworthy. But you can be sure what they’re going to say and do long before the say or do it.

      • Anonymous Coward

        Precision without accuracy, if truth is the target.

      • Reliable and predictable are two different things. Our press is predictable (the liberal narrative will frame all stories) but not reliable (stories will do not support the liberal narrative will only be reported if they can be twisted to support said narrative).

        • How is that predictability not reliable? No, the words are essentially synonymous in this instance.

          • I cannot rely on the press to provide accurate information even though provision of such information is its purpose. Therefore they are unreliable.

            I can predict all information will be presented in a way to support the leftist narrative. Therefore they are predictable.

            If you take your definitions then a car without a battery is reliable because I can predict it will never start and it will fulfill that prediction. However, it will not provide transportation and thus no one would consider it reliable.

            • Exactly. That car is reliable in that you always know how it will respond to any conditions. You mistake reliability with providing the desired outcome. The car would only be unreliable if it sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. In the same way, the press is reliable in that you always know how they will respond to conditions.

            • I cannot rely on the press to provide accurate information even though provision of such information is its purpose. Therefore they are unreliable.

              Only if “provide accurate information” is their purpose. If it was, then the “best” newspaper would be one that had all of the original source information.

              Their purpose is to deliver the news– word of noteworthy events.

              That’s going to as a matter of course depend on what they think is noteworthy; at means that their judgement of what’s noteworthy, and what’s to be dismissed, will matter.

              Yeah, information is part of it– but it’s relevant information about noteworthy events.

              It’s sort of like how it matters that Snopes is run by a fairly nice-liberal middle-aged couple in California (from memory; it’s the thumpnail character sketch that matters) not because it invalidates them somehow, but because it tells you where their blind spots or odd judgements will fall.

              • And knowing the NY Times is run by and for NY Upper West Side Liberals enables you to understand why all their (admitted0 errors seem to tilt the same direction:

                NYT Issues 315-Word Correction on Article Slamming Israel
                [SNIP]
                The full correction is as follows:

                Editors’ Note: January 26, 2016

                The Jerusalem Journal article on Jan. 15 about Palestinian residents of Jerusalem’s Old City who face eviction by Israeli organizations gave an incomplete description of the legal disputes in several cases. The descriptions were based on the tenants’ accounts; the article should have included additional information from court documents or from the landlords. (The landlords are organizations that have reclaimed properties owned by Jews before Israel was established in 1948.)

                In the case of Nazira Maswadi, the article said her new landlord was trying to evict her based on a claim that her estranged husband was dead (he is still alive). In fact, the landlord claims in court filings that the Maswadi family has not proved that it has paid rent.

                In another case, the article quoted Nawal Hashimeh as saying she was being evicted for replacing a door to her apartment. But according to court documents, her rent payments had also been rejected because they were submitted by her son, whom the landlord said it had no contractual relationship with. (The landlord also claimed that three rent checks fell short of the amount owed.)

                In a separate case, the article said Nora Sub Laban faced accusations that she had not continuously lived in her apartment, though she claimed that she had never left it. While the article said that Ms. Sub Laban had been battling eviction efforts for four decades and that the Israeli Supreme Court must now decide whether to consider her appeal, it should have noted that an Israeli court in 2014 upheld a lower-court finding that she had not returned to live at the property after renovations were completed in 2000 or 2001.

                While the reporter tried to reach representatives of the landlord in the Sub Laban case, The Times should also have tried to reach the landlords involved in the other cases and their lawyers.

                • Egad! Fupid Stingers!

                  And knowing the NY Times is run by and for NY Upper West Side Liberals enables you to understand why all their (admitted) errors seem to tilt the same direction:

                • But other than that, the story was accurate…

        • I find myself reading a lot of US news on the UK Dailymail website. New that is news that I never see in the local newspapers, though sometimes in the Sunday NY Post, which I buy most Sundays. Pretty good crossword puzzle…

    • I’m starting to get echoes.

  7. Donald Trump is the one for me.
    Yuuuuuge livin’ is the life for me.
    Winnin’ spreadin’ out so far and wide
    Keep your party, just give me that country’s tide.

  8. The loud and the obnoxious get the attention, but they usually don’t effect the desired change. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. did far more for civil rights than Malcolm X and the urban riots of the ’60’s did. Would that Trump supporters realize this.

  9. We either learn from history or we are compelled to repeat it. I suspect that’s why history is no longer taught in our public schools. Yes, I know there are classes called history, but call it what you will, I can recognize propaganda when I see it.
    Anyhoo, I feel compelled myself to yet again post one of my favorite quotes on a lesson learned the hard way:
    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? […] The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!” —Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

    • I remember that quote this morning listening to this song:

      When they kick at your front door
      How you gonna come?
      With your hands on your head
      Or on the trigger of your gun

      When the law break in
      How you gonna go?
      Shot down on the pavement
      Or waiting on death row

      You can crush us
      You can bruise us
      But you’ll have to answer to
      Oh, the guns of Brixton.

  10. This is not like your memory, Sarah, but I was suddenly reminded of what may be the scariest thing I can remember from my childhood–the burned, naked Vietnamese girl running down the road on the evening news.

    (The woman is alive, and I think she had had surgery to correct her scars.)

    • What they artfully neglected to tell the viewers, either contemporaneously or since: The napalm that burned the Vietnamese girl was dropped by a South Vietnamese Air Force pilot and plane.

      As a result of the crap reporting and the mysterious and completely unconnected widespread distribution of that footage worldwide by the propoganda arms of the USSR, this event has been blamed on the US ever since.

  11. So, if we come here and see a gif of Green Acres and no text, we all head to Rally Point Athena and implement Plan Domestic Pig, yes? Or is that when we scatter to the bunkers?

    • Green Acres is the rally point.

      The signal for heading to bunkers is Ancillary Acres.

      • The signal for heading to bunkers is Ancillary Acres.

        Is that when we dig in and prove how edgy we are by only using feminine pronouns?

    • Why do I get the feeling that Fed the Fred is going to be asked some pointed questions soon?

      • Some things can only be explained by the King.

      • “I see here you have been spending hours on end watching ‘Green Acres’ episodes on YouTube. During work hours.”
        “Yessir! Looking for coded messages, sir!”
        (long managerial pause)
        “And have you found any?” (in the soft, gentle voice that hints at Thorazine in the future…)
        “Nossir! But I’ll keep looking until I find that pig!”
        (*thwap* goes the traquilizer dart)

      • Because otherwise his bosses will start wondering what exactly he’s been doing all day, and where the cookies came from. Last time I checked, the Girl Scouts don’t sell snickerdoodle.

  12. What year was that, Sarah? A quick internet check didn’t turn anything up, but I would dearly love to see it. I have never been that brave.

    • I have absolutely no idea if it was when I was 16 it might have been 77 or 78, but I’d not count on finding it. I’ve found the history of the Portuguese revolution in the US is… interestingly doctored. In fact, my first jolt of cynicism was when I found that Time Magazine had nothing to do with what I saw on the ground. And since at the time there were no news blogs — still not big in Portugal — the official narrative was often imported back from the US. I remember my shock while an exchange student in meeting a Portuguese guy from the South who sounded like all he knew he read in the Times.

      • I won’t forget the vivid picture you painted. It’s possible no one TOOK a picture, it being impromptu.

        You are a witness.

        “I was wearing a blue windbreaker, with the hood up, tied around my face.”
        “And there I was in the front. The silent crowd behind us. The men with scary machine guns in front of us. Pointed at us.”
        “We stood. Holding the stupid sign. Water dripping down the banner pole and straight into my sleeve, under the elastic and all the way to my armpit and down the side of my body.
        Because we held the adults couldn’t run away. The crowd held.”
        “…me at sixteen, in that very stupid windbreaker, my face unnaturally pale, holding the stupid banner. Standing. Breathing. Waiting for death or reprieve.”

        I hope someone finds a photo. And puts your words with it.

      • Reality Observer

        Yep. About the only thing you can find here (easily, anyway) is paens to the “Carnation Revolution.”

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      No kidding. That would be amazing to see.

      • Possibly not as thrilling. I remember the report went something like “a few hundred people gathered in downtown porto and marched to the military quarters at–” Eh.
        BTW one thing I always wondered was who the boy on the other side was. I don’t think I ever even got his name. The last type I put this up, I half expected him to pipe up and say “Good Lord, that was YOU? I’ve been living in Minnesota with my American wife and three kids, and I had no idea” or something to that intent.

  13. Thank God the banner held!! I’ve been inspired by your scifi and blog–I know others have, too.

  14. reddragonhawk

    Sorry, gal, but you are braver than most next persons. What’s infuriating is that people who have never had to experience something like that will say that you don’t know what you’re talking about just because it contradicts their preferred narrative.

  15. Watch the mail — the Hugo stuff is starting out:
    http://midamericon2.org/the-hugo-awards/