Monday, May 28, 2007

Bo Bandit and the Steel Driving Man

Retold by Bethany Hegedus

Although i was no bigger than a sack of flour, I set my sights on working for the C & 0 Railroad. I crouched beneath the wheels of a wagon, scoping things out, when a shadow spread over me, blocking out the noonday sun.

Standing a dozen feet away was a man as big as a mountain. His shoulders were the size of two mighty boulders. His arms bulged thick as tree trunks. A hammer hung at his side, black and solid like the night.

"Excuse me, mister. Who's in charge here?" I asked, getting up my gumption.

"Cap'n's in there." The man pointed to a makeshift office. His voice wasn't thunderous like I thought it'd be. It poured outta him like lemonade from a pitcher, slow and easy. "What you want with him?"

"Looking for work. My daddy's taken ill. Bringing in some pay would sure help matters." I stuck out my hand. "Name's Bo Bandit, from down in Virginie. What's yours?"

"John," the man said with a grin. "John Henry. I'm from Virginie, too."

So that's how I came to find John Henry was sure enough muscle and bone and not some tall tale told round campfires. I'd heard his name as I made my way from the fields of North Carolinie to the Chesapeake Bay. Rumors and hearsay traveled faster than spit jumps on a griddle.

"John Henry can do the work a four men and still not need but an hour's worth a rest."

"That hammer of his is darn near the size of a hog's head."

And the one I heard time and time again: "Believe you me, that John Henry's got a steel hammer at the center of his chest. He ain't got no heart, none a'tall."

And here I was face to face with the man himself.

"Tell Cap'n you're a friend of mine." He grinned. "He'll put you to work."

Cap'n was 'bout to show my behind the door when I piped up, "John Henry sent me."

Cap'n stamped out his cigar. "Did he, now? You're too scrawny to be working the steel driving line. Cook just lost a man. You could fill his spot. No sneaking, vittles, got that?"

"Yes, sir." I tipped my hat, happy to have me a job.

The next morning, I slogged helping after helping of grits into the bowls of the growling men. John was the only one to smile and say "thankey" 'fore filling his hurgsry belly.

"Where are they setting off to?" I asked Cook while the men bustled about.

"Headed to the work site, over yonder. The steel drivers and the shakers are cutting a hole in that mountain there for the railroad to go through." Cook shook a pot over the fiery embers. "We got our own work to do. These plates ain't going to scrub themselves."

That evening, long past dusk, the men returned to camp. When I finished serving vittles and washing dishes, I set off to find John. I found him whittling, set off a piece from the men, who raised their voices in song.

I plunked down beside him. "Whatcha carving?"

"A heart for the lady I left behind."

"That so." I rubbed my hands together. John wasn't right talkative, but I had a feeling he liked me fine. Might as well ask what was really on my mind. "Heard it said you don't need no sleep and that you ain't got no…"

"Hear a lot of rumors working on the rails. Ain't many of 'em true." John smiled and let out a low whistle. "Except the one 'bout my belly being as deep as Big Bend Tunnel will be wide. That one's a fact."

Each week I sent Mama my pay. The days went along dandy, until one afternoon when a crowd gathered as a man barked from the platform, "This here steam drill can outlast, outblast any man. It can chop rock like a hot knife slides through butter." Cap'n hung back until the crowd dispersed, then chatted with the traveling salesman.

"Listen here," said Cap'n that evening over the hum of hungry men. "Jim, Hank, and Cole: Go on home. C & O Railroad won't be needing your services anymore. Today I bought me a steam drill, a fancy new contraption that can do the work of three of ya."

Shouts of "Hold up. Nawww," laced with grumbles, erupted from the workers as the three men called got to their feet.

"Ain't fair. We' re good workers," said Hank. "Our blood, sweat, and tears are up on that mountain."

Cap'n's voice rose above the din, "Y'all may think you're free men nowadays, but C & O owns your hides. You boys ain't nothing next to this here machine but lumps of muscle, good for nothing."

John slung his hand on my shoulder and stopped the ruckus himself, announcing, "No machine gonna make me not a man."

"John, hush, or you'll be next," I said, my words swallowed by the cheers of the men.

"We ain't worthless," said John. "None of us."

The men clanged their spoons against their empty chowder bowls and shouted a chorus of "John! John! John!"

"Fine." Cap'n raised his arms to silence the crowd. "If that's how you want it, John. Muscle against machine--a little competition tomorrow morning. We'll see who's worthless after that. You win: the men stay on. You lose: four more men are gone."

When night fell, I snuck over to John's bunk. "You're crazy, John. There's no way you can win."

"Now, listen here, Bo," he said, working a worn rag over the steel head of his hammer. "You was born free. I remember slave days, and nothing--not C & O, not Cap'n, and not some machine--is going to take away the feeling I get when I swing me a hammer. Ever hear a hammer? It's the sound of freedom ringing loud and clear."

"But, John, I've seen that steam drill put to the test. It pounded a block of granite to dust like that." I snapped my fingers.

"Bo, I ain't just doing this for me. I'm doing it for them three cut loose today--and all them others out there who believe they ain't worth nothing when someone like Cap'n tells them they ain't. I'm gonna win or die trying. Now, good night, Bo. I need me my rest."

At breakfast, camp swarmed with a worried buzz. I dillydallied, pouring the oatmeal as slow as I could. But before long, everyone had eaten. John didn't say a word. Just winked when I snuck him an extra scoop.

A long rope held back the crowd at the lip of the Big Bend Tunnel. Being pint-size, I weaseled my way to the front of the crowd. John stood at the ready, towering over Wilkes, Who'd been handpicked by Cap'n to man the steam drill.

My stomach was a jumble of knots as Cap'n's revolver rang out. The steam drill made an awful noise, but John's hammer could still be heard clanging amidst the clatter. What John said was true: it was the sound of freedom! And it was music to my ears.

Dust circled the mouth of the mountain as they pounded into the granite. Wilkes and John were swallowed into the belly of Big Bend. I ran to the other side of the mountain to wait it out.

I slunk through the throng of folks who were already there hooting and hollering one minute and holding their breath the next. I said me a prayer and crossed my fingers, hoping religion and pure superstition combined would make John come up the winner.

With one pound after another, as steady as a heartbeat, John Henry's hammer rattled against the rock. The steam drill hummed and sputtered. Folks began coughing and backing away.

I wiped the dust from my eyes, and there he was--John Henry and his hammer, standing straight as a pine saluting the summer sky.

"He did it," I cried, running forward. "He beat the steam drill!" John threw open his arms, scooped line up, and hoisted me into the air. Sweat and dust were caked into a paste all over his face and neck.

"We ain't worthless," John said, breathless. "'Member that, Bo."

"I won't never forget."

My feet had barely touched the ground before John Henry toppled over as if he'd been struck by lightning.

Move on back now. Give 'im room," called Cap'n, coming through the crowd. "Get the doctor down at camp. Hurry."

I knew before Doc pried the hammer from his hand that John Henry was dead and gone. None of them rumors I heard was true. Not a one. I learned that much from the man himself. It wasn't John Henry's muscles or his hammer that made him beat that steam drill--that had him pound straight through that mountain, as legend is bound to say. Sure enough, it was his heart.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

GL Special Report! Dangerous Liaisons

Dating is supposed to be fun, right? Not if your crush is a control freak. Or worse

One in five high-school girls has reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner, and almost half of girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. Then there are the girls who are not included in these statistics because they are too afraid to speak up. They are the ones who suffer in silence.

At 15, Alexandra[*] fell hard for the star football player at her new school: "He brought me flowers. He wrote me poems or little notes. We'd go out where I wanted to go. He'd exclude himself from his friends and focus on me."

But after a few weeks, her dreamy romance became a real-life nightmare. "He started telling me what to do. 'I don't think you should wear this,' or, 'Don't hang around that person — she has a reputation.' I didn't know anyone at school, so I thought he knew what to look out for."

But his controlling ways turned into jealous rage when he saw Alex talking to her new guy friends. "A shove here or a push there, and then it would escalate," Alex recalls. "He would throw things, and he tried burning me." She felt ashamed and hid the abuse from her family. "I didn't have anyone to run to," she says.

When a school counselor spotted Alexandra's bruises, she told Alex it was imperative that she break off the relationship before she wound up a statistic, paralyzed…even killed.

Mr. Star Athlete beat Alex so severely for talking to the counselor that she had to be hospitalized. Eight months after meeting him, she finally broke up with him — in the counselor's office with a security guard present. Alexandra, now 17, tells her story because she wants girls to know the warning signs of potentially dangerous dating situations. She doesn't want it to happen to you.

"It couldn't happen to me"

Yeah, Alex thought the same thing: "I didn't even know somebody could do that." But, truth is, it can happen to anyone. "Research shows that it happens across race and class and gender, whether you're gay or straight. It happens in every school district," says Kerry Moles, author of the Teen Relationship Workbook and director of Children's Aid Society Family Wellness Program in New York City.

And, yes, some guys are even abused by girls. But girls are more often seriously injured, according to Moles. And if someone is violent once, chances are he'll do it again — and it will probably get progressively worse. So why would a girl go out with a person who hurts her?

Getting sucked in

Abusers are masters at turning on the charm in the early stages of a relationship. That's why many girls think they've found the perfect guy. Laura[*] met her boyfriend when she was 16. "He was really cute," she tells us. "We hit it off and started dating really fast. When my mom broke her ankle, he would come over and cook for us. He'd give me love letters telling me how much I meant to him and how happy he was with me. He was always there for me. I felt very safe with him." Ironically, Laura was not at all safe . with this boy. It wasn't long before she learned he had another side.

"Some describe it as a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of experience," says Sheryl Gates, chief executive officer of the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline and Texas Council on Family Violence. "They start out being funny, witty and attentive, then change into someone you don't know and use control tactics." These tactics are about gaining power by breaking down a girl's self-esteem.

Laura, now 19, remembers how her boyfriend isolated her: "I would spend all my time with him and wouldn't hang out with my friends. I was unhappy. He was very controlling, and he put me down. He didn't want me to talk to any guys. He'd go through my phone and delete numbers, or call guys in my phone book and cuss them out.

He said he loved me and didn't want to share me."

An abuser often tracks his victim through excessive phone calls. He'll call many times, demanding to know what his girlfriend is doing and who she's with. "We'd get into these really big arguments," Laura continues. "When I wouldn't be with him, he'd accuse me of cheating and lying. He'd get mad and yell a lot. He said he couldn't control his anger. After the arguments, he'd tell me how much he loved and needed me."

The fights became physically violent. "He'd throw me, push me, choke me and hold me down. I'd try to fight back, but he was a lot stronger. I was so afraid of being alone that I couldn't leave him."

Why girls feel stuck

The reasons girls stay with abusive partners are complicated. The most common one? Purported love. "The girl believes this person loves her, and they have experienced happy times together," explains Moles. "That person has made her feel good, so she's attached. She has a tremendous amount of faith and hope that the relationship is going to change."

Alexandra says, "It's so hard trying to leave because you know the person who was abusing you is generally good. That's what hurts the most." It's hard for a girl to break away when she has seen her boyfriend's vulnerability and pain.

"It was hard," says Laura. "He kept saying he needed me. His father had abused him, so I wanted to help him. He gave me unconditional love. No matter what, he'd come back, even when I tried to break up." Self-blame also keeps some girls from breaking free of their abusers.

"The victim wants to believe her partner loves her and has her best interests at heart, so she makes excuses," says Moles. "When a partner says, 'I'm angry because you're flirting with some guy,' even if she wasn't flirting, she believes she must have done something wrong, and she tries to change to keep her partner happy. The reality is, changing her behavior won't stop the abuse because it's not about what she's doing. It's about her partner trying to justify the abuse. Even if she were flirting, that doesn't give her partner the right to hurt her."

Safety first

If you are being abused or feel you are in a dating situation that could take a turn in that direction, it is important to tell someone you trust. The more people you talk to, the better — a school counselor, peer leader, parent, neighbor, friend's mom. When in immediate danger, call 911 and file a police report, which will help you get an Order of Protection.

Breaking up is hard under any circumstances but is particularly difficult with an abuser. Staying with him absolutely can be life-threatening, but leaving him is tricky so it's crucial to get an adult involved. Call one of the resources listed here so you can make a plan to stay safe. Losing his girlfriend is the abuser's greatest fear. To avoid a breakup, he might threaten to hurt or even kill his girlfriend or her family. "If he knows you love your dog Muffy more than anything in the world, he might threaten your dog," says Moles. Threats of" suicide are common, as well, because it is yet another form of manipulation.

The longer you are in such a relationship, the more difficult it is to end. That's why it's important to recognize patterns of abusive behavior before a crush turns serious.

* For reasons of privacy and safety, these girls' names have been changed.


* He comes on strong, saying, "I love you," early on and wanting to spend every second he can with you.
* He can't go 10 minutes without IMing, calling or paging you.
* He's way jealous and blows up if you say "hi" to another guy.
* He tells you what to do, what to wear and who to hang with.
* He puts you down, threatens you and calls you names.
* His moods yo-yo from one extreme to the other — so nice one day, completely cruel the next.
* He blames other people for his own mistakes and failures.
* He disses your friends and family.
* He guilt-trips you into feeling responsible for his well-being, and says, "I can't live without you."
* He expects you to jump to it when he wants something and treats you like a possession.
* He pressures you for sex, not caring if it makes you uncomfortable,
* He's mean to pets.

Five forms of abuse Abuse isn't always about physical violence. Listed below are the most common types of abuse. Learn them so you'll know if it's ever happening to you.

Verbal Yes. name-calling can be abusive. If he often insults or uses foul language toward you, you are being abused. This can wear at your self-worth, and it's not OK.

Emotional An abuser might cleverly tailor his tactics to tap into his partner's weak spots. "If you are self-conscious about your weight, he might make comments about how good other people look who have another body type," says Moles. "If you're afraid of spiders, he might rent the movie Arachnophobia to play on your fears."

Physical Besides hitting and slapping, this can be pushing, pinching, restraining.

Sexual Is he pressuring or forcing you to do things you don't want to do?

Financial An abuser might pressure his partner to work and give the money to him. Or, he might forbid you to work or go to school. Either way, it's about controlling you.

Need help?

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, 1-866-331-9474

Day One New York, 1-800-214-4150

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence

Liz Claiborne Love Is Not Abuse

U Have the Right to a Healthy Relationship

Teen Action Campaign

Teen Relationships Website

The National Center for Victims of Crime

National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center

By Christina Alex

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Should cheerleaders have to cheer for both boys' and girls' teams?

Get on up and get on down/Huskies are victory-bound/So get on up and get on down/And back your team, all around!

You've probably heard a cheer like that one while watching your school's basketball team. Cheerleaders have revved up the crowds at games for years — but typically only the boys' teams have gotten the cheers. These days some squads are rooting for the girls, too, but not everyone is pumped up.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights recently ruled that several upstate New York schools were violating Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in public education programs and activities. The problem? Cheerleaders weren't spending equal time at the girls' and boys' basketball games. As a result, those schools have to even out the cheers.

Some say that having the cheerleaders root for both the girls' and boys' teams will bring more excitement to the girls' games. Others say that cheering for both teams causes undue stress for the cheerleaders.


Girls' basketball coach Lance Brown of New York's Irondequoit High School says that equal cheers for girls and boys is a good morale booster. "It could be very exciting." Brown told the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle.

"The cheerleaders will bring more people to the games." Some student athletes agree. "We have [to believe] in ourselves, but one thing that really helps us is when the fans … and the cheerleaders come out … and let us know that they have faith in us," Jenny Anderson, a top scorer on California's Redwood High School girls' basketball team, told the Marin (Calif.) Independent Journal.

Women's Sports Foundation head Donna Lopiano told Current Events that there's "no question" that cheerleaders should spend equal time with boys' and girls' teams, because that's the law under Title IX. "If you promote your boys' and girls' teams with bands [and] cheerleaders, … then you cannot discriminate."


Some cheerleaders are concerned that the new rules will add stress to their lives. "We are not going to have time to do [our homework] because we are going to be out every night of the week cheering for this basketball game and that basketball game," senior cheerleader Dalya Shears told the Press & Sun-Bulletin of Binghamton, N.Y.

Cheerleading captain Katelin Maxson of Whitney Point High School agrees. "We joined sports to have fun, but they're basically taking the fun away and giving us more work." Maxson told The New York Times. She says the increased responsibility is affecting participation. "The interest is down so much, and it's going to keep dropping until there's no cheerleading anymore."

Some athletes say that the cheerleaders aren't needed at girls' games. "I don't think it's necessary." Taylor Kucharski, a junior point guard for the Maine-Endwell Senior High School girls' basketball team, told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. "If the cheer-leaders don't want to be there and the basketball players don't need them there, what's the point?"

Current Events, 5/2007

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