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'Scissors and Lawnmower Sharpener'--by photographer Russell Lee (1903-86)
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To judge from our current cris de coeur, his remark about the battle of the sexes rings truer for our own time than his. The Republicans are accused of waging a "war on women" ranging from the curtailing of abortion rights to unequal pay for equal work; TV psychologists regularly hold forth on "battered-wife syndrome; and "domestic violence" now rivals gunfire as our most frequent police call.
Much of this is blamed on tensions arising from our failing economy, but that's a big answer and big answers tend to be pat answers. Something really has happened between men and women, and I am just the right age to remember the difference.
Climb into my time capsule for a trip to the years just before World War II. I am sitting on the back steps waiting to signal someone who is making his way down the alley. He carries a small wheel on his shoulder and every few steps he throws back his head and calls out, "Sizzaman!"
My British father called him "the scissors grinder" but such precise diction was rare in the still-Southern Washington of my childhood. The rest of us, like the grinder, were generic Virginians or Marylanders with tongues influenced by black English, so we called him, as he called himself, "the sizzaman."
He was in his 60s, with thick white hair and rosy cheeks, as Dickensian as all get-out. He sharpened all the knives and scissors in the house for only