Essential Self-Defense: A Funny “Me Too” from a 1974 Carnival in Italy

Lots of Me Too going around right now as women awaken to their collective power and suffering. I started trying to list the times I’ve been sexually harrassed, molested, abused. The list is too long, so I’m sharing with you this uplifting story instead — one of the only ones where I did anything about it. But first you need some context.

I was eighteen when I followed the man I’d fallen in love with to Italy. Harry Jackson was a respected painter and sculptor whose inspiration came from the American West, but whose home and bronze casting foundry were in the heart of Tuscany, in a little town called Camaiore. We eventually married and enjoyed a rich life dividing our time between Camaiore and Cody, Wyoming.

In Italy, there is an annual forty-day celebration called Carnevale just before Lent. It is a big festival of parades, parties and pranks. Your typical mardi gras blow out. I used to hate it because little kids all had plastic baseball bats, and they were allowed to hit anybody — grownups included — during this time. But that’s not what this story is about.

Harry’s eight-year-old son, Matthew, (from a previous marriage) was living with us for a year, going through third grade in Italian. In those days, Italian education put American education to shame, and third grade was hard, even if you were fluent in Italian. Matt did it while learning the language. The kid was amazing. Anyway, it was February and Carnevale was upon us. And that meant going to one of the pop-up amusement parks that were all around us during that time.

I’d promised Matt we could go on a certain Saturday, but it was cold and rainy. I tried to reschedule, but he was having none of it. When I realized we’d have to go in the rain, I thought maybe it would work in our favor because there would be less people. So I made sure we had a good umbrella and off we went. And it was fun! I was right about the slightly diminished population. There were all the rides you’d expect at an amusement park — merry-go-rounds, rollercoasters, target shoots where you never win the teddybear, and of course the obligatory delicious garbage that passes for food — delivery systems for grease and sugar.

And there was the fright house.

The fright house was an experience where you stand still on a moving walkway while it carries you through pitch black passageways while things shoot out at you every twenty seconds or so. Zombie hands. Dismembered heads. A fistful of rubber snakes. You get the idea. I wanted Matt to be happy, and he really wanted to do it. So in one of my more self-sacrificing moments, I bought two tickets, and in we went.

Just as we were swallowed by the first doorway into this underworld, three boy-men in their late teens came in right behind us. I knew it was trouble. These guys were up to no good, you could tell.

After a few minutes, it began. “Aiuto!” (“Help!”) one would yell, fake falling forward onto me, hands finding all the wrong place to be. I tried to keep my balance in the dark. I had my umbrella, so I just kept swiping it back and forth behind me to create a kind of moving barrier. This was comically inadequate. Laughter. “Aiuuuuuuutooo!” and again with the fake falling and the groping. Nobody could hear my own angry “BASTA!”s and my real calls for Aiuto over the recorded music and screams that were part of the paid experience.

It didn’t take long for my inner Wonder Woman to kick in. I yelled a warning in Italian, told them I would hurt them if they didn’t stop. The guy tried it one more time, and I lifted my umbrella high over my head, closed my eyes (who knows why) and BANGED it down as hard as I could, hoping I’d hit something.

I enjoyed the last few minutes of the ride in relative peace.

And when we exited, I looked back to see a guy holding his bloody nose, his friends around him, all concerned.

I’m a patron of Ninja Writers and this is part of the Medium Post-a-Day Challenge of blogging for 100 days. (This is Day 55.) If you enjoyed this, please let me know. Comment, or click on the clapping hands at left and give it some love, or share or follow me. And thank you so much for reading.