Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 19, 2016--Mr. Cuba and His Boys

A friend and I have been having a back-and-forth about the eight films nominated for Academy Awards.

So far she's liked a number of them while grumpy me has been unhappy with most. I half-enjoyed Joy but didn't feel it worthy of Oscar designation either for best picture or for Jennifer Lawrence's phoned-in acting. I disliked The Big Short feeling it was more documentary than feature film and not that great a documentary at that.

Coming from the corporate world, my friend liked it quite a lot, which I  respect. We both liked Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn, with her decidedly feeling better about them than I. (By the way, we're both from pre-cool Brooklyn.)

I'm not sure if she has yet seen The Revenant, the only movie thus far that I feel is close to being a masterpiece. I'm eager to hear what she thinks.

Room is at the top of my list of the remaining films and I am looking forward to discussing it with her. I sense we'll be on the same page and will find it memorable.

For me, and I suspect my friend, no matter the special effects, I have no intention of seeing Mad Max. I can handle only so much post-apocalyptic violence. There's enough of that going on in the real world and I still go to the movies to escape.

Then there is Spotlight.

I thought it was considerably better than OK and though about an important and deeply disturbing subject--abuse by Catholic priests of children in their charge--for me it unintentionally gives the impression that horrendous crimes of this kind, and the institutional coverup that attempts to hide them from public attention, implies that these kinds of aberrations are confined mainly to priests and their cardinal enablers.

Mt friend disagrees, finding it's focus to be appropriate and claims, perhaps correctly, that to allude to similar forms of abuse--say by clergy from other religions or coaches--would dilute the power of the film and turn it into a miss mosh. She finds it more effective to focus solely on the Catholic church.

She's probably right, but I couldn't help writing the following e-mail to her, partly derived from my own experiences with child abuse--
To tell you the truth, it may be unfair, but I have general suspicions (until proven otherwise) about men and smaller numbers of women who are attracted to work at single-sex organizations and institutions. Priests and nuns and rabbis (I knew a few of the latter who in my old neighborhood put their hands on kids they were preparing for bar mitzvahs), boy scout masters (mine I feel certain had a thing for prepubescent boys--me included!), and teachers.  
Believe it or not, I had a "shower teacher" at PS 244--Mr. Cuba--who loved drying us off after he taught us to wash what he called--in Yiddish--our heinies. Then I went to an all-boys high school and we had a number of male teachers who had roaming hands. And forget some of the coaches I knew about and played under.
I should have but didn't add, "pun intended."

My friend took this in and responded that it was unfair and to limiting to focus so exclusively on same-sex institutions. After all, she pointed out, one of the worst recent examples of coaches taking sexual advantage of young boys happened at co-ed Penn State where assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky enticed athletes to perform sex acts with him in the shower.

Touché to that, I acknowledged, but this got me thinking again about some of my own experiences.

My bar mitzvah rabbi not only used a wooden pointer to smack us when we made mistakes while reading Hebrew (not one word of which he taught us to comprehend) but for repeat offenders, including stutterers, he would call us into is office, get us to drop our pants and underwear, and beat us with a wooden paddle.

When my turn came, after doing what this "scholar" directed, I never returned to Hebrew school and fought with my mother, hinting at what had happened, until she agreed not to force me to be bar mitzvahed. I never was.

The scout master of my East Flatbush's Boy Scout Troop 152, spent more time getting us to line up and march around the gym where we met each week than teaching us about how to administer first aid or start fires using flint and steel. And when we went on overnight hikes to Alpine, NJ, without other adult supervision, he would routinely rouse us from sleep in the middle of the night, scaring and blinding us with flashlights held six inches from our eyes, and then would fill us with stories about the dangers lurking in the surrounding woods. And then when he had us fully terrorized, he would take us, clad only in our shorts and undershirts, in his arms to protect and comfort us from these fictitious threats. Retrospectively, it is obvious what he was really up to.

My high school baseball coach, after a long and punishing practices that rendered us soaking wet from perspiration, would supervise, before we hit the showers, the gathering of our discarded shorts, T shirts, and especially jockstraps. He didn't touch any of us, as far as I know from my teammates, but it was obvious even then, in our naiveté, what turned him on.

Most perverse, though, was the mandatory Shower Class at PS 244, my elementary school.

Perhaps because most of us were children of immigrants, it was assumed that we had not been taught at home the virtues of hygienic practices available to Americans. Every mooring our homeroom teacher would check our nails to see if they had been properly cleaned and she inspected our cloth hankies to see if they were neat and clean.

And then every Tuesday after gym class, as with my Boy Scout troop a class almost entirely devoted to militaristic drills with orders barked to us as if we were in basic training--there was no dodge ball, no rope climbing--the boys were ushered off to the shower room where Mr. Cuba lurked.

We were forced to strip and then huddle together in a steamy communal shower that had at least a dozen shower heads in a row. As we cringed under that alternating cascades of hot and cold water, the administration of which Mr. Cuba supervised--to open then close skin pores, he said--he paid inordinate attention to our nether parts, barking at us to get enough soap up into our heinies and then ordered us to turn around and, while not facing him, bend over. When we all had "assumed the position," as he put it, he commanded us "spread 'em" then after we did to make sure the scalding spray would in turn wash away the soapsuds.

When we stumbled from the shower his attention turned to "teaching" us proper toweling techniques. His focus was on making sure our feet and toes were thoroughly dried--to prevent Athlete's Foot, he said. And to be sure they were, he forced us, while sitting on rows of benches, to hold our feet in the air so he could see for himself by moving down the line of shivering, naked boys.

He also made sure our crotch areas were dry, again, he insisted to prevent fungus from growing. To "assist" us he would snatch the towels from our hands and complete the job himself.

So though I get my friend's good points about Spotlight, I wish someone would make a movie about Mr. Cuba and his boys.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home