After the ruckus, Roger got up and and briefly spoke to a couple of people, then walked outside, probably for a breath of fresh air and a smoke.
"C'mon," I said to Jo, who seemed perfectly willing to let me lead her outside. "I want you to meet Roger."
"Oh that would be wonderful!"
Roger was seated on one of the wrought iron garden seats near the front door, smoking one of his custom cigarettes. He stood when he saw us coming.
"Roger, I'd like you to meet Joanne Fitzgerald Tylor. Jo, Roger Conant."
"How do you do, Miss Tylor." Roger shook her hand when she extended hers.
"Please call me Jo, Mr. Conant."
"Very well, Jo. And you please call me Roger."
"I was enjoying a smoke," Roger continued now addressing the both of us. "Would you care for one?" he asked, holding out his cigarette case.
We both took one. Jo thanked him and accepted a light from Roger. I lit my own.
The cigarettes were short by today's standards and had no filter.
"I hope you don't find them too strong. I have them custom made in Honduras.
Looking both pleased and surprised, Jo remarked, "I've never tasted a cigarette like this. I don't smoke very much any more. There are so many places they have spoiled that pleasure and the cigarettes aren't much good anyway. If I could find these, I'd smoke wherever and whenever I liked, no matter who it offended."
Roger chuckled. "Well, Jo, I do smoke wherever and whenever I like, and I might actually enjoy it more if I was certain someone was being offended by my enjoying myself. That is what offends them you know. It's not smoking they object to, but the fact you enjoy it.
"It's not the only thing they dislike about your smoking, though. You frighten them. There really is such a think as smokerphobia."
In spite of herself, Jo had laughed at the "smokerphobia" comment.
"I'm not sure I understand," she said. "Why do smokers frighten them? Is it the second-hand smoke thing?"
"Oh yes, that lie is still being trotted out, but that is not what I had in mind. Most people suffer from the delusion that they are going to live forever. Smokers remind them they are not, and all they are doing to live as long as possible is wasting the life they have right now.
"What drives the smokerphobic mad is seeing a smoker obviously enjoying his smoking. The shear pleasure is obvious and the smokerphobic would love to enjoy such pure pleasure but is afraid to. He's afraid it might kill him—someday.
"And it might kill him too, but probably not. What is certain is that he is going to die, no matter what he does or doesn't do. All his diets, exercise, doctor's checkups, and seatbelts will not prevent him from dying.
"See, it's how most people look at life. The purpose of life is to live it, to be all one can possibly be, and to enjoy it. To most people, the purpose of life is to make it last as long as possible no matter how much they must deprive themselves, what routines they must endure and suffer, or how meaningless their life is. The horrible truth, for them, is for all their trouble their life will not be one moment longer than the life of those who simply enjoy their lives.
Jo was not shy, and was obviously enjoying herself.
"So you don't believe in life extension? You don't believe human life can be made longer than it is, Roger?"
For a moment I thought Roger had been caught off guard. He almost seemed unsure how to answer. He was, actually, but not because he had any doubt about the answer, but because he knew he would not be understood and did not want to confuse Jo.
"Well, Jo, I know human life can be longer than it is. How I know it I cannot tell you, but that really does not matter.
"What matters is that human beings live longer when they understand the nature of life itself, have something to live for, and discover the scientific basis for longer life, at least the biological aspects. None of the things people do to evade death will make them live one minute longer. Even if they could evade some of the biological reasons for the current brevity of life, it is not really possible to prolong lives that are already miserable and meaningless."
"Do you really believe most people's lives are... miserable and meaningless?"
"Let's just say, by my standards they are."
I'm sure Jo was about to ask Roger exactly what his standards were, and that Roger also anticipated the question, which he had no wish to answer and adroitly steered the conversation to another subject.
"By the way, I thought your book, No More Cops, had some very interesting ideas. May I ask you a question about it, Jo?"
"Of course. I'm pleased, and frankly a bit surprised you read it."
"I'm sure many of my interests and reading material would surprise you, Jo."
"One thing I'm very interested in is what motivates people. My question is not really about the book itself, my question is, why did you write it?"
I held my breath. I know Jo describes herself as a feminist, and I know Roger had no use for any "-ists" of any kind. There was something else I was sure could be contentious—Roger is what some call a "sexist," but not what is usually considered sexist. Roger regarded women as superiors, not equals of men. "From a man's point of view only, Mark," he had once explained. "From a woman's point of view, men are superior. What normal man would rather spend his time with men when pleasant women are available?" I was eager to see where this was going.
"Since you've read it, you know it's about the harassment of women, and the mistake women make wanting government force to be used to protect them from that harassment. It's a piece of a larger principle for me, Roger, the principle that any solution is better than a government one."
"I'm not sure that answers the question of why you wrote the book, but it does raise another question. Your book is about harassment, but it obviously emphasizes harassment of women. Harassment is not confined to any particular sex though, is it? After all boys harass boys, and girls harass girls and grown men and women harass each other as well. Harassment is ubiquitous and asexual."
A real feminist might be offended by Rogers emphasis here, but Jo did not seem the least bit put off.
"That's true. Now this is going to sound very un-feminist, but women are more vulnerable to harassment by men than any others you mentioned. One real difference between men and women is that vulnerability and the many men that take advantage of it."
"Perhaps you've been hanging around with the wrong men, Jo." Roger chuckled and continued.
"The real question is, what is harassment? If a man intentionally touches a woman in a way that she dislikes or is uninvited, that is really assault, not harassment, though I know it's often wrongly called that. It is however a physical act, and ought to be defended against like any other kind of assault. Any so-called man who engages in that kind of disgusting behavior is not a man, but a thug.
"By the way, I do not consider the fact that a man can physically overpower or intimidate a woman a matter of women being more vulnerable, it's a matter of some men being more crude and ignorant, and quite frankly, abnormal.
So, if we eliminate assault as an example of harassment, what is left?
Jo actually seemed to agree with Roger's view, which surprised me a little. In fact, her whole demeanor toward Roger was a bit perplexing.
"I agree with you, Roger. Assault is not harassment. But there is one kind of harassment that I think constitutes a real threat without being assault. For example, when a woman's chances for promotion, or even being hired for a job, is predicated on "sexual" favors, her very livelihood and future are threatened. How does she defend against that?"
"If there is no physical assault, there is really nothing to defend against. In the first place, in such cases, I assure you, the sexual favors are the job. No serious, honest, business man looking for needed employees, or to reward the performance of good ones, would ever consider anything but the employee's ability and job performance.
"The kind of low lifes that look for sex in the workplace have nothing to offer a woman of real ability and ambition, and no such woman would ever consider using sex as a means of getting or holding a job. She can always get a better one. I do not think you have described an example of harassment, I think you have described a situation requiring a choice. Some women do not like having to make hard choices, but they must."
Now it was getting interesting, I thought. Jo was finally disagreeing with Roger.
"I do not think I agree with you, Roger. I think some women have worked very hard to reach a certain position, only to be faced with a new boss who thinks he can use her as his plaything. That is not the girl's fault. Do you think that's just?"
"Jo," Roger began very patiently. "Is it, 'just,' that things change? Who has a right to expect everything to always stay the same? I know many people who have made that mistake, finding they had worked to achieve a position they were really happy and comfortable in, only to have some unexpected change, like a company downsizing, an overnight fire, or a new unreasonable boss, take that comfortable position away from them. It's disappointing and difficult when such changes take place, but they are not unjust. In your example, it is the girl's fault for not taking the long view, of becoming too comfortable in the status quo, and not planning for what she would do when things changed, because nothing ever stays the same.
"And of course, such changes are not unique to women. Perhaps a skirt-chasing boss is unique to women, but change isn't."
"Well, Roger, you certainly have a unique way of looking at things. Is there anything you consider harassment?"
"Let's see. We've eliminated assault, philanderers, and unexpected change. What's left is what I call 'subjective' offense. Obviously nothing anyone says or writes, gestures they make, jokes they tell, or pictures they display that no one dislikes or is displeased by is called harassment. It is only when any of those things offends someone that it is called harassment.
"That, of course, is what really determines whether something is called harassment or not, isn't it? It's not what is said or done, but whether someone likes or dislikes it. It is entirely an individual's own views, beliefs, and tastes that determine whether something will offend them or not, isn't it?"
"Well it looks like you've eliminated harassment altogether. According to you, there is no such thing. I might as well stop printing my book since it's about something that apparently you think doesn't exist."
Jo showed no animosity in her expression, and her statement was very matter-of-fact. Perhaps sardonic.
"Oh, no. Don't do that. It's only my opinion. It's correct, but it is not shared by many others, which means your book should still sell well, and whatever money it makes, you've earned and ought to make. Even if you came to my point of view at some time, the book is well written and has some good ideas in it. After all, your main point is always valid. Any solution is better than a government solution."
Roger turned to me then.
"Mark, I'll be leaving shortly. Can I give you a lift?"
I would surely have liked a ride in that Allard, but, had to refuse this time.
"Thank you, Roger. I have my own jalopy, I'm afraid."
"Well then," Roger said, turning to Jo. "I'm going to harass Jo."
I probably should have left at that point, but couldn't help lingering.
"Jo, I've enjoyed talking with you very much. You are a lovely girl and I would greatly enjoy more of your company. If you would allow me, I would be delighted to drive you home, and even more delighted if you would join me later for dinner at my home.
"By the way, you are not second choice. That's my car there," he said pointing to the Allard. As you can see, there is only one passenger seat. I asked Mark if he would like a lift out of courtesy, he said nodding to me, then directly to me, "very glad you said no, old boy."
"There, I've harassed you. Does my calling you a girl offend you?"
My my. Roger had done it again. He never mentioned feminism, but had wiped it out completely, at least for the moment.
Jo was obviously enjoying herself, perhaps even a bit more than she expected.
"Oh no, Roger. I'm not offended at all, but you've caught me off guard. I...I don't know what to say. Well yes I do. Of course I'll accept your invitation... both of them.
I said goodbye at that point and wished them both a pleasant evening, which I was sure it would be for them, though I would never know a thing about it. Roger did not tell tales out of school.
—Mark Halpern (01/31/12)