Uncle Louis has many nieces

January 17, 1996|By Elizabeth Schuett

GIBSONBURG, Ohio -- OK, folks, it's time to set the record straight. We, the age 50-plus women of the world are not and never have been the cringing victims of male abuse that the media twerps make us out to be. We just had less public methods of dealing with it.

Women of my generation were as tough and independent as we had to be but we didn't advertise. Vociferous male-bashing was not on our daily agenda but, believe me, little crimes of passion were dealt with swiftly and without mercy.

Some minor forms of loutish behavior like wolf-whistling and foot-stomping were best ignored. No big deal. Girls got used to those ''Hey, look at me!'' antics early on. Every schoolyard had a few Tarzan types hanging from the monkey bars and pounding their chests. Ignoring them was their harshest punishment.

Raised eyebrow

Fanny patting, though a little more serious, was usually curtailed with a raised eyebrow and a well-placed comment like: Did your mother raise any children who lived?

Back then, threatening one of these happy-handed clowns with court action would have been laughable. Our retribution was instantaneous and often physically painful to the offender. A well placed three-inch heel works wonders.

That's why I can't get all outraged about the following item that appeared in a local paper, datelined San Diego:

''Investigators have recommended nine charges -- including assault -- against a Navy cook who allegedly groped a female sailor aboard a commercial airline flight.''

Think about it -- a commercial airliner! It's not like the jerk had her trapped in a walk-in cooler on his home territory. A commercial airliner has passengers and flight attendants, which should place the ''gropee'' in a highly defendable position. I speak from experience.

In the late Fifties, probably most fondly remembered as the golden era of groping, I earned my living as a flight attendant. ''The friendly skies,'' United called it, but I flew for Eastern and they told it like it was.

''You're going to be patted, propositioned, grabbed and groped, and that's just for starters,'' they informed us in ground school. ''Diplomacy, of course, would be preferred but if that fails, do what you've got to do.'' Which meant we were free to work it out for ourselves.

And so my roommates and I burned the midnight oil over endless cups of coffee inventing scenarios and diplomatic solutions. ''I'd just ask him to stop,'' Lili said naively. Marian thought it might take something more but she wasn't sure what. I agreed.

Early one snowy Chicago morning a few weeks into our airline careers, Marian came stomping in from a three-day dog trip to nowhere, threw her suitcase down, kicked off her regulation heels and began snarling about an unruly passenger with busy hands.

She said she had ignored the first incident and when he made another grab for her she'd asked him please not to do that. But apparently this guy was a slow learner. During the meal service it happened again and Marian reacted by dumping cottage cheese in his lap and telling him to go home and explain that to his wife.

But when the jerk threatened her and told her he would have her job she decided it was time to get serious. Said she got right up in his face and hissed, ''My Uncle Louie in Chicago ain't gonna' like hearing about this. I'm his favorite niece and unless you want your kneecaps smashed and your face rearranged, you'd better make nice with me!''

Marian's story, dialect and all, spread like wildfire and soon every Chicago-based flight attendant had an Uncle Louie. We quickly became known around the system as ''The Untouchables.''

Which is why I have a hard time getting all worked up over the lady sailor who couldn't resist the advances of a groper in an airplane full of people. All she had to do was ring for a flight attendant with an Uncle Louie.

Elizabeth Schuett is a teacher and writer for Cox News Service.

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