Privilege

Privilege

The three of them stood in the window watching the crowd, the man in the barber’s chair momentarily forgotten, Lucky’s face was lathered up for a good old-fashioned straight razor shave. They’d gathered here at Francesco's since before it had been called that. Joe remembered it as Franks, but then he’d been coming here the longest. At some point, Francesco had decided he had been American for long enough to embrace his heritage. Strange how that worked here in Washington, you were, then you weren’t. Too early to say, maybe the new guy in the White House would make them wish they were again.

They backed away from the window and Joe; he was Frank’s son went back to stropping the blade on a worn leather strap.

Jim spoke first, he preferred James, but they called him Jim, “I guess Trump’s got them all riled up,” he said.

Joe nodded. Joe could be counted on to keep the conversation going. Today he seemed a bit how would you call it, distracted.

“Susan out there?” Tom raised an eyebrow in Joe’s direction.

“Yeah, she’s been knitting some fool hat all week. Gail came down to march with her.”

“God, I remember when that girl used to run around the shop; she’s marching?” Jim rubbed his chin, “How old is she now?”

“Twenty-one,” Joe said, “she was over last night, brought  a Prime Rib for us all to share.”

Jim licked his lips, “Nice.”

“Yeah, she graduated from Georgetown last year, took Women’s and Gender Studies. She’s a real firebrand when you get her going,” he wiped the razor on a towel hung around Lucky’s neck. “Yeah she was telling us some tales from the past, that’d curl your toes.”

Tom piped up, “What kind of tales?” he asked.

Joe paused in the middle of a stroke the sharp edge of the razor resting at just the right angle against the man’s skin. Lucky’s Adam's apple bobbed.

“She told us about a book she read, something about cards ... Poker Bride, that’s what it was called,” he finished the long razor stroke and Lucky relaxed. “Chinese woman, I guess Asian is the proper term now — anyway, during the gold rush she was won in a poker game.”

“Hence the name, huh?” Jim said.

“Yeah, although there was a lot more to it than that. You see, they brought Chine — Asian I mean, women over as slaves, sold them off.”

“For the railroad, right?” Tom said. It wasn’t a question he just injected it into the conversation.

“Nope,” said Joe, “for the Gold Rush.”

“Gail was saying; the Chinese were like the Blacks before them. They had to deal with prejudice. She got pretty riled up about it.”

They chuckled, all four, as they remembered the little girl who had run around the shop. It was almost as if they followed her with their eyes. All except Lucky, he sat very still in the chair.

“Yeah,” Joe continued, “they were accused of stealing jobs from white folks. Protests and rallies were trying to send them home, remind you of anybody?” Joe jabbed the razor at Tom making his point. “They even passed a law banning Chinese from coming here.”

They were all pretty sure which way Tom had voted.

“The men had it bad, but nothing compared to the women. I guess that was Gail’s point. The men had it bad, but the women were the ones that got the worst of it.” Joe took a couple of quick swipes at the whiskers on Lucky’s upper lip, then handed him the towel, “You’re all done.”

“As I was saying, the women had it worse; they had no value back then. Women got sold off as sex slaves. Asian women I mean. That’s what this Poker Bride was, first a prostitute. Probably sold at fourteen or so. I guess they liked them young.” Joe frowned not sure if that was just a little too pervy.

Lucky finally freed spoke up, “Yeah I saw something the other night on television, regular women weren’t valued very highly. But, some cultures, even today treat them like second class citizens.”

“Gail’s point exactly. The women were treated horribly. Kept in pens like pigs, she called them hog farms. Can you imagine? And, it wasn’t like they could get out.”

Still cowed from the razor pointing incident, Tom said, “Sounds bad.”

“It was pretty bad; there were suicides, overdoses, and worst of it, no one cared,” he paused. “They didn’t matter. They had no control. Men had everything, and they had nothing.”

Joe wiped off the razor and dropped it into the metal tray on the counter. “How was it she put it?”

He bit his lower lip, “She said that once you’ve clawed your way up from no rights, anything or anyone that tries to push you back needs to know you won’t stand for it. I raised a smart one there.”

“Sounds like quite the dinner,” Jim said.

Joe chuckled, “I had the good sense just to keep my mouth shut,” he winked.

They all laughed a little nervously, then blushed.

“I guess that’s what they mean about privilege. I never even think about it,” Lucky said running a hand through his hair, “but what happened with the Poker lady?”

“Bride,” Joe corrected him, “she ended up saving some guy’s life who had won her. Bemis was his name, and he married her. She was lucky I guess.”

Joe pressed his thumb against his two front teeth, his brow wrinkling. His face brightened as he remembered, “Bemis, Polly Bemis,” he said, “she got wrote up in a book Idaho’s Most Romantic Character, imagine. She was probably dead by then.”

They turned toward the window watching as the women shuffled by; the streets too crowded to March.  Many of them wore their pink pussy hats. They were laughing and talking and holding their signs high, but there was resolve mixed with the joy on their faces.

Strangely it was Tom who moved toward the door first, the rest weren’t far behind.

 

 

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