Rose: Some roses arrive in shouts, some in whispers. One of the most beautiful experiences of my entire life happened in DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C. on a crowded summer Sunday in the middle of a farmer’s market. Two older people, a man and a woman, were packing up musical equipment, speakers, drums, cables. The woman stopped me, somewhat judgmentally, and began interviewing me about why on earth I would be walking around without a shirt on. No matter what I said, or how I answered her questions, she came back to the same question, “But why?” Finally the man, who was dressed in a dashiki and had been standing there observing all this, answered simply and quietly, “Because she’s free.” That was the entire interaction. It was beautiful.
Thorn: This has only happened once, but on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. a mother of a 7 or 8-year-old daughter covered her daughter’s eyes and wrenched her head away so forcefully that the little girl almost fell down. It was a pure mid-brain panic reaction. My only response was to ask her gently not to hurt her daughter. She put her hands on her daughter’s back and pushed her on through the crowd. Her reaction saddened me, to have a woman teach a young girl that the female body is that shameful at such a young age. But… that’s why we do the work.
Rose: Sometimes my fiance walks behind me to observe what he calls, “The Wake of Awareness.” This is the phenomena of numb people reacting to something, anything, in this case of course a bare-chested woman walking by. They wander along with their faces buried in their screens, bumping into each other, catching sign posts, stumbling off curbs, then… breasts. It apparently takes them two or three steps after we pass to look up, confused. Anyway, my fiance’s favorite wake effect reaction came again from a mother/daughter, the daughter this time around 15 years old. After they passed me, the mother rolled her eyes and shook her head and said, “You can’t just walk around without a shirt.” To which the daughter responded by rolling her own eyes in pure adolescent disdain and saying, “Free the nipple, mom.” Then she just shook her own head as if to say, “Oh my god, do NOT embarrass me like this.” If ever there was a canary in a coal mine…
Thorn: I was standing bare-chested in front of a clothing sales rack on a sidewalk in Bennington, Vermont, flipping through shirts (irony, yes) when a young woman called out from a passing car, “Buy ’em! You need ’em!” That wasn’t the thorn. As I’ve said, people yelling adolescent nonsense from cars does not insult me. The thorn was the pause that followed, I guess waiting for me to react. Failing to draw a reaction, perhaps feeling embarrassed by the echoing silence of that non-reaction, she then yelled in this cigarette-hocker voice, “Whore!” I’ve been called a whore before and since. What bugs me about this episode is the note she struck. It sounded like the voice of generations.
Rose: That pregnant pause brings this happy memory to mind though… walking through a huge weekend crowd near the art museum in Washington D.C. we saw a national park Segway cop moving in the opposite direction on the opposite side of the street. We sensed his confusion from a distance, and sure enough a few seconds later he had fought his way through the crowd and rolled up behind us. We didn’t turn around (after all, no one else was turning around!) He cleared his throat. We ignored him (after all, no one else was turning around to see why he was clearing his throat!) To which he chirped his siren. Which we ignored. To which he had to say, “Um, excuse me. You have to put your shirt on.” To which we stopped and turned around. Huge crowd, mind you. I said quietly, “No I don’t. This is legal here.” He said, “I don’t think it is.” To which he got on his cell phone, spoke in inaudible murmurs, some more murmurs, hung up, looked around at the crowd and said, “Yeah, wow. I didn’t know that. You’re free to continue your walk.” We thanked him for being civil. To which he paused for a moment and said in this runaway-train-headlong fashion, “For the record, I like breasts.” Followed by silence as those words landed like bricks around him, followed by a Segway departure worthy of Gob from Arrested Development.