MEMOIR: CHAPTER 11: The Perkins Pub Protest

 

The Protest

Warren, my colleague at the research lab where we were both program directors, accosted me as I came into my office that morning in 1970.

“What are you trying to do to us?” he said, his mouth tight with frustration.

I stopped. He wasn’t joking. “Doing to…you?” I said.

“Cheryl has that book on her bedside table!” he said.

“Oh!—you mean the book I loaned her?”

“That’s the one. The Golden Earthquake.”

I had loaned the founding novel of the feminist movement to a select few wives of my colleagues, those wives who didn’t think I was necessarily a harlot because I was a divorced mother with a career. I loaned it to Cheryl, because her judgments wavered between “harlot” and “luckier than me.”

“You mean The Golden Notebook,” I said. “Not The Golden Earthquake.

“Well, it might as well be called that. It’s causing earthquakes in our sex life, and not in a good way!”

“I’m glad she’s enjoying it.” I smiled as I closed my office door. “Maybe you should read it, too.”

“Well, I will!” he yelled through the door. Warren was an intelligent, liberal guy. No doubt there would be more earthquakes to come, and not just in their sex life.

I was a charter member of the Portland chapter of N.O.W.: the National Organization for Women. We held meetings, told our stories of repression and revolt, and shared books. I read The Golden Notebook, and ordered a few loaner copies. Then I read The Female Eunuch, of which it was written: “When Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was first published it created a shock wave of recognition in women, one that could be felt around the world. It went on to become … a landmark in the history of the women’s movement.”

I was ready with The Female Eunuch for Cheryl’s next book loan. The girl definitely had possibilities.

~ ~ ~

I regularly went out to lunch with my colleagues in our Division. They were good people, male chauvinist pigs, of course, but so was everyone then. Consciousness had not yet been “raised” in the male half of the population.

One noon hour Warren suggested Perkins Pub for lunch, a roast-beef-and-ale kind of restaurant in the basement of the former Lipman’s Department Store. As the six of us crowded around the maitre d’ podium, the fragrance of roasting haunches of meat enticed us in. The Pub was dark, decorated like an English pub with carved heads of wild game mounted high on the dark-wood-paneled walls. I wandered on in and watched the waiters in white shirts and black pants deliver house salads to seated diners, until I gradually became aware of a hubbub near the door. My colleagues were arguing with the maitre d’.

I turned back to see what the fuss was about. The maitre d’ announced, his voice rising in excitement, “You men can stay, but we’re not going to serve…her!” He pointed at me. I was stunned. My colleagues protested loudly, but without effect. “We’re a men-only restaurant!” the maitre d’ shouted, then threatened to call security. Only then did I get it. Waves of humiliation and shame surged over me, and I felt small and dirty. For the first time, I knew in a personal way what it must have felt like for an African-American to see “Whites Only” signs in the south, or to be denied seating at a lunch counter, let alone a fine restaurant.

My colleagues were indignant, embarrassed, and protective. We decided on Chinese.

But I wasn’t through. I told this story at the monthly National Organization for Women (NOW) meeting. One of the women present was an attorney, and married to another attorney. We devised a plot.

The attorney husband made a reservation at the Perkins Pub for a business lunch for twenty. He asked that the salads be placed on the table before our arrival at noon. Then he called the media.

Promptly at noon the next day, twenty NOW members, in power suits, lipstick, and our highest heels, descended the staircase into Lipman’s basement, preceded by television cameramen walking backward and filming. We wore our brightest smiles, our sassiest attitudes. We trooped into the pub and seated ourselves at the long table, already set for twenty, salads in place. The man who had made the reservation joined us. The cameras moved in for close-ups.

Alerted by the flummoxed maitre d’, the chef (who happened to be African-American, in a sad touch of paradox) rushed out of the kitchen in his bloody apron, waving a huge butcher knife. “I’m not serving any damn women!” he declared. The cameras recorded it all.

Having made our point, we got up and made a dignified exit. Then decided on Chinese.

That night the local news featured the protest at Perkins Pub, the twenty brazen women sashaying down the staircase and into the Pub. In a drolly ironic statement, the cameraman zoomed in close on the carved boars’ heads mounted high on the wall.

A month later, Perkins Pub closed. For good. Better dead than integrated.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “MEMOIR: CHAPTER 11: The Perkins Pub Protest

  1. SO much better than chocolate!!!! GO Judy GO

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