A larger number of women than usual were gathered in the foyer of the Portland Building, trying the patience of the public servants at their ridiculously high counters from which they could only peer down at the horde helplessly. It was still raining, making Waterfront Park a dismal place to meet and resulting in yet another impromptu sit-in in Portlandia's citadel. Lyssa's office was too small for so many.
The strike had been going on for weeks, and the men in the polyester sports coats were no longer in the mood for friendly discussions, although the younger ones in the classy three-piece get-ups still smiled occasionally. The male occupants of the Portland Building apparently weren't the only ones who were getting fed up; as the women sat around discussing plans for another lecture in the park on the weekend, weather permitting, a public official marched into the lobby accompanied by four policemen; not exactly an army, but certainly a show of authority. This was serious.
The public official, (for the sake of privacy, I will not name names, and for the sake of brevity, I will just call him P.O.) cleared his throat loudly to get everyone's attention. "Now, ladies..." he began, but the laughter from his audience kept him from continuing.
"We're no ladies!" Lily called out gaily. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Myrine and doing her best to repress the twinge of uneasiness she now felt in her friend's presence. There was something to be said for heterosexuality, or rather monosexuality--you didn't feel sexual tension in the presence of both sexes.
"Women!" Diana added.
The P.O. was already beginning to look a trifle harassed. "Now listen," he insisted, "everyone knows I appreciate a good joke now and then, but this is taking things a little far, don't you think?"
"Is your wife participating in the strike?" one woman called out.
The policemen chuckled in spite of themselves, and the P.O. gave them a withering look. "And what about your wives?" he asked the four police officers sweetly. They shut up.
The P.O. turned back to the women. "I will willingly tolerate any number of constructive activities, but recently a cherished institution of our city, the annual Tom McCall run, was rudely disrupted by women harassing the male participants. The interference with the event was not constructive."
"Harassing them?" Diana asked in feigned disbelief. "We were only being admiring."
"We had a number of complaints."
"Men always tell us we should appreciate it when we get a little attention," Sam contributed drily. She wished she had a camera crew with her. Her presence continued to be ostensibly "professional," but her sympathies were shifting. She maintained the standard broadcaster's pretense of objectivity in her reporting, while emphasizing the strike and accompanying activities every chance she got. And managed to sustain public awareness in the process.
"Men obviously are not used to that kind of attention," the P.O. protested.
"Well, neither are we!" Diana cried out, and a murmur of agreement swept through the crowd.
"Try walking past a construction site as a woman sometime!" The woman who made this comment had the kind of figure men fond of vulgarity might label a "brick shithouse." It was easy to imagine what kind of reaction she got walking past construction sites.
"What does that have to do with it?" the P.O. asked in exasperation.
"It has everything in the world to do with it! An eye for an eye!"
"Oh, come on, Judy," another woman protested, pulling on the heckler's arm. "Cut the melodrama. Besides, you're quoting a patriarchal classic."
Judy sat down.
"And the Portland Building! Why the Portland Building?" the P.O. continued his list of grievances. "We thought you would stage a sit-in and then be out of here."
"Portlandia is our mascot," Lyssa said.
The P.O. took an authoritative stance. "Not good enough. I really don't want to, but I may be forced to make some arrests if this keeps up."
The women booed.
"Your protest has begun to hinder business in this city!" the P.O. insisted. "Apparently a number of women have taken it not merely as a strike in bed, but everywhere."
The women cheered.
"Men are complaining that they're overworked and getting no help at home."
"What, do you mean they have to cook for themselves after a hard day at the office, do the housework, and get the kids to bed themselves?" one woman asked with heavy irony.
"And all because their wives are off participating in some activity organized by you girls," the P.O. replied in kind.
The women booed.
"Excuse me, ladies."
The women laughed.
The women applauded.
"Many men are suffering from exhaustion and inability to function at full capacity. They have asked for assistance from municipal authorities, but we are absolutely incapable of providing it with half the work force celebrating solidarity downtown."
"Why should you provide them with anything?" Mercy asked rhetorically. "No one provides it for us. It's about time a few men experienced the stress and strain of the average woman's double shift."
"Men alone at night have also reported being accosted by bands of women," the P.O. proceeded.
"Were any of them hurt?" Myrine asked.
"No, but they felt harassed."
A number of women cheered.
"Now ladies--women!" the P.O. objected. "I have every sympathy for your cause, but I do not see the objective of all this."
"Those are just our nightly patrol troops," Myrine explained patiently. "To make sure the men who might be of the inclination won't force women who aren't to break the strike."
"I see," the P.O. said, somewhat calmed by the rational answer. "But do they have to harass the men alone at night?"
"They were probably just checking up on them. We're only trying to save ourselves from you men."
"And while we're at it, we'll save you from yourselves," Lyssa added.
The P.O. shook his head and took a deep breath. "I must admit, although I've been exposed to a number of things on this job..."
"Have you exposed yourself?" someone called out, and the women laughed.
The P.O. grinned feebly and didn't bother to finish his sentence. He obviously wasn't getting anywhere with these women. Perhaps a change of tactics was in order. "Now look, as we all know, the murderers of Rachel Vincent have turned themselves in, and I'm grateful for that," he said, wheedling. "I'm sure the constant publicity helped. But what more do you women want?"
"What more do we want?" Lyssa asked calmly. "We don't want it to happen again, that's what we want."
The P.O. threw up his hands in exasperation. "Are you kidding? You'll be here until the Cascades crumble!"
"If that's what it takes..."
"I don't believe this."
"Well, you'd better start getting used to it," Diana said. "We'll be around for a while."
Lyssa looked at the P.O. thoughtfully. "You do have a point. It's a rather unrealistic goal, I know. Maybe we can work out a deal. When was the last reported rape in this city?"
The P.O. looked at her blankly and shrugged.
"There haven't been any since we started the strike, Lyssa," Carrie said. "Actually, I'm impressed," she added.
"Then we can set a target. One month of a rape-free city. And if anything happens, the countdown starts all over again. Does that sound like a good idea?" Lyssa asked the crowd at large.
The P.O. groaned, but the women cheered. Finally they had a goal. Perhaps the end was in sight.