Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

After posting this, it occurred to me that this could offend my conservative friends.  This is not directed at reasonable people.  If you recognize yourself in Ted, well, that's another matter.  I don't personally know anyone like him.  And yet people like him are all over social media.  Go figure.

“Hey. Tracy, how do you spell moron?  Is it O-N or A-N?”  Ted yelled.

“It’s O-N I’m pretty sure. Why?”

“Just commenting on this asshole’s Facebook post.”

You stupid moron!!  If it wasn’t for illegals Obummer wouldn’t even be president.  My dad didn’t fight in Europe to have his vote cancelled by an illegal! Of course I voted for the photo I.D. amendment last time!!  You should have to show an I.D. to vote.  You have to show an I.D. to write a check at Trader Joe’s for shit’s sake! Stop voting before you ruin America!!!!

Ted stood up from the computer, a bit calmer for having destroyed the Liberal, America-hating punk.  He went into the kitchen, where his wife was talking with someone on the phone.  He could see from her expression that something was wrong.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s your dad.  Here you talk to him,” Tracy said as she handed him the phone.

“Hey, pop.  What’s up?”

“I can’t vote this year.  Can you believe that?  I’ve walked down to the church and voted in every Mickey Mouse election for 40 years and I can’t vote for President.”

“Why the hell not?”

“I can’t find my I.D.  Tore the place apart.  Course, I haven’t seen it in 5 years.”

“What?! Can’t you get another one?”

“No.  Too late; not enough time.”

“Jesus,” Ted said, sitting down, “Goddamn Liberals.  How the hell does this happen?”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Liebster Award

I’ve been honored with this thing called The Liebster Award from my friend over at DeBie Hive.  You can read about her and it here.  If you do, you’ll see that I’m breaking most of the rules an award recipient is supposed to follow.  I apologize if that seems ungracious.  I assure you that’s not my intent.  Call me a renegade if you like.  Lord knows I’d love it.  Because the honest answer is:  it’s already 9 p.m. and I’m tired.  And I don’t have the energy to write much these days.  But if someone drops an award on me, you can bet your ass I’ll do something, usually the least I can do (not proud of it, but it’s apparently true).  The least I can do is answer these questions, asked by DeBie Hive herself:

1. Why did you begin blogging?
A:  Because I have all these ideas, some of which I’ve conceitedly convinced myself might help a person or two, who feels like me and doesn’t want to feel alone anymore.  And because I can’t do anything else, communication-wise.  Almost no one takes me seriously in person.  But online?  Hell I’ve even claimed the statue, David, was me, or at least a striking likeness.  How do you know it’s not?

2. Did you always love to write? 
A:  Yes!

3. What is something you are very talented at, but people might be surprised about?
A:  I can sing most of Katy Perry’s songs.  Well her hits anyway.  As any dad with a 6 year old girl should.

4. What is your favorite season and why?
A:  This one is tough.  Because I live way the hell and gone up in the northern hemisphere, Spring would seem like the obvious answer.  But I’m going with Fall.  And if Minnesota Winters didn’t follow it, Fall would be the winner and it’s not even close.  I love “crisp” autumn air.  Even the word:  crisp.  When you hear it, you hear rustling leaves and smell that autumn musty smell, and you feel your soft, threadbare sweatshirt and the crackling fire keeps you warm and safe and you are happy, by god, you are happy.

5. Do you play sports?  Which ones?
A:  When I was a kid I did.  All of them.  Whatever the season, we in the neighborhood were playing it in a backyard or at a park.  Winter, for us, was basketball, not hockey, by the way.

6. What is your favorite meal to eat?
A:  Any which involves a tableful of people I love.

7. If you could spend an entire day with anyone, who would it be?
A:  My friend, Jon.  Because I never get to.  I’ve chosen to spend my life with my wife, and I’m damn glad I have.  But I miss Jon like you would not believe.

8. If your house was on fire, and you had time to grab one thing, what would you take?
A:  I guess this computer.

9. What was your first car?
A:  1981 Ford Thunderbird.  I bought it in 1991. So, yeah.

10. What is the last book you read?
A:  Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

11. Where is your dream vacation?
A:  The Greek Islands

Friday, August 24, 2012


I’m going to see my old pal Frank tomorrow when he and his family come over for dinner.  Because I have stayed in Minnesota, where we grew up, and he and his wife relocated to Washington, D.C. years ago, we have not met each other’s kids.  So tomorrow my daughter will meet someone whom I’ve known for 25 years!  And I’m really enjoying talking to her about how long 25 years is (only forever, duh!) and what it was like to play championship basketball with Frank when we were in junior high school, about the same age as our oldest neighbor kids. 

I remember meeting a couple of my dad’s childhood friends when I was about the age my daughter is now.  I guess I understood that my old man, who was eight years younger than I am now, had once been a young man.  But I didn’t get it.  I didn’t get that he grew up in my grandparents’ house, used to run around their yard.  And anyway I think I always thought that whatever he may have done before me, he had always known me, or at least planned to know me- I was always on his mind, I figured.  How could I not be?

And now here I am, trying to explain to my daughter that Frank and I were once the big men on two straight Osseo Basketball Association champions.  Yes, we lost our first three games the first year and didn’t lose again for two years.  No, I had no earthly idea I’d be a dad someday.  A dad?!  Whatever dude!  Dad’s suck.  They’re boring and fat; they’re slow; they like stupid movies.

Frank and I played, with considerably less success, on the same intramural basketball team throughout high school.  And we went to community college together.  Some time during the first semester I approached him with a plan:  let’s get Vinny and the three of us move into an apartment.  You may recall that Frank, Vinny, and I lived in that apartment for a year before Frank moved out to Seattle to live with a cousin, for the experience, and with much admiration on my part for what I considered an insanely brave move.

And life happened to us both.  We haven’t seen each other much in the years since, but we’ve kept in touch.  Not that my daughter knows that.  Tomorrow she will be meeting a total stranger and she will struggle to understand how her dad seems to know this guy, this stranger, like he’s a member of the family.  And she will no doubt fail to understand that in all those days before she was even present in my deepest daydreams, Frank was teaching me low post moves, or sleeping down the hall; that he is a member of the family, and that she should learn her family’s history because there is a lot of love there. And a lot of laughs.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hope and her friend Courage

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

That quote from “Shawshank Redemption” sticks with you doesn’t it?  You may remember that Andy is telling Red, who insists that Hope has no place in prison, that Hope is “the best of things.”  Yes, the movie is set in prison, but it is about us, you and me, prisoners of our lives. 

I was going to write a beautiful piece of uplifting prose, hopeful that if I did I could create a blog sensation that went viral and took the country by storm!  And instead I have already said that life is a prison and have given up all hope of reaching a large audience.  Who wants to think of his/her life in those terms?  Not many.  And yet, who is living an utterly free life, flitting from one adventure to another, beholden to nothing?  Right. Not many.  And what’s more:  Who wants to?  We live our lives behind walls we willingly construct.

I guess hurling one’s self off of a cliff takes courage.  Yes, I’m sure it does.  But people who do those types of things usually talk about people like us in patronizing terms, saying that we don’t have the courage to really live our lives.  And I beg to differ. 

Settling down, getting married, having kids takes courage.  That is, it does if you enter into those commitments intending to stay in them come what may.  Sending a perfect little baby out into the world, knowing that if the worst happened you would never heal, is at least as courageous as jumping off a cliff with a parachute, knowing that if the worst happens, you’ll never feel it.

And how about people who are single rather than in bad relationships?   Think that doesn’t take courage in a couple-centric world?  Or people in relationships who decide they don’t want children, who have the courage of their convictions? 

Wait a minute!  Courage has snuck in and is trying to hijack this essay!  Courage, you dirty dog!  “Not so fast,” Courage says, “Where you find me, you will always find Hope.  Any fool can live a life that has no hope.  Hope may be the most courageous act there is.”

I think one reason my writing isn’t very popular is because I always write about myself.  Maybe people think my blog is just the rantings and ravings of an egotistical maniac.  I like to think that I write about myself because I’m who I know best but also because I think I’m a fairly typical cat.  So hopefully I’m writing about you too.  Let’s try it:

I am depressed (maybe you are too).  I have chronic pancreatitis (you probably don’t). I’m in constant pain (you’re in constant something I bet).  I hope I get better (so do you).  If I don’t, I don’t.  My wife married a strong man, a healthy man.  That is not who she’s married to now.  But she is not going anywhere.  In sickness and in health indeed!  Think of how brave those vows are! How hopeful!  “I love you now, in your health.  Of course, I do.  But I will love you if you get sick, too.  I will take care of you; I will hold you; I will do whatever I need to do to keep you warm, and dry, and safe.  Not because I am fearless, but because I am brave.  I am scared; I am weak.  But I will get up tomorrow and I will do what needs to be done and I will Hope for the best.”  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thank You, Justin Bieber

My daughter is an odd duck.  And she is lovely because of it (and for other reasons too, of course).  My wife and I worried a bit at first- when she wasn’t walking and later, talking.  In fact, she was such a late talker that she qualified for speech therapy through our school district.  The speech therapist- a tall, gentle woman- came to our house once a week for several months and worked with our daughter.  But the kid just would not talk.  The therapist wasn’t worried.  “There is nothing wrong.  The words are there.  She’s just not in the mood, I guess.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  It’s like she’s playing a game.”

“I think so, too,” I said, “and we’re the game pieces.”

She did eventually decide to talk and in the years since my wife and I, and now her kindergarten teacher too, have learned her ways.  She looks like she is not listening; she claims not to know an answer.  We’ll try to teach her how to draw a letter, say.  “Draw an up and down line. Good. Now draw a sideways line. Good. Now, if you put the sideways line on top of the up and down line, you’ll have a capital ‘T’, okay? Try it.”  And she’ll draw a circle! Or at least she did at the beginning of this school year. We had conferences with the teacher, we talked to our daughter; nothing we tried worked; we couldn’t get through to her.  Or so it seemed.  One day, she decided to start writing her letters correctly, and doing her math, too. Just like that.

Then we remembered that it had always been this way.  She’s playing a game she’ll never acknowledge.  I’ve given up, for now, trying to understand why.  Anyway, it doesn’t really matter.  This game is a personality trait.  She will never be the first in her class- at least not in an area they test for in school.  She’ll drive all of her teachers mad.  But I know that she knows what’s going on.  And that’s all I care about.  I know how smart she is, and I’ll push her to use her smarts when the time comes. For now, she can play her game.

Still, though, it is nice to see her acting “normal”:  running and playing with other kids; charging up a ladder on a playground, trying to swing the highest.  She is so rarely bold; it’s just plain nice to see her that way now and then.  And she will not be pressured into doing something (it’s not lost on me that I will be thanking my lucky stars for this when she’s older).  Hours spent begging, pleading, with my daughter to “say hi” “say bye-bye” “say red! Red!” and so on, playing her game, have taught me this—finally.  Her game, her rules, her timing.

This is why I damn near fell over in the middle of Macy’s one day, when she ran up to a Justin Bieber pillow and shrieked, “Oh, Justin Bieber! I love Justin Bieber! Can I have this pillow? Please, please, please, please, PLEASE?”

“Wait. Bieber? How do you know him?”

“My friends at school love him, too.”

Well I’ll be damned,” I thought, “Fucking Justin Bieber.”

I understand that I was supposed to be outraged by this.  But I was decidedly not.  An infatuation with a talentless, goofy looking pop star because some girls at school like him?  That is so…normal for my daughter.  And, dare I say it, a little ahead of normal! I wasn’t expecting this nonsense for four more years!  Put that in your pipes and smoke it, other parents!  My five year-old has a crush!

I also understood that I had before me a wonderful opportunity.  You see, my bed had become too damn crowded.  We had always let our daughter sleep with us and now our son was two and taking up a lot of room, too.  I suspect that all of us sleeping in one bed was unusual, too.  I guess most kids are sleeping in their own beds long before they are five.  But, it never bothered us much. Until it did.  And we had been fighting a losing battle to get our daughter to graduate into her own bed.  She’d make it a few nights but then be back.  So when I saw how much she wanted that pillow, I found my angle.

“I’ll tell you what.  If you sleep in your bed for 14 straight nights, I’ll buy you that pillow.”

“How long is 14 nights?”

“Two weeks.  When we get home we’ll make a calendar and you can cross off every day.”

“But how do we know it will still be here?”

“I guess we don’t.  I’ll try to find you something else. But, you know, sometimes you do everything that’s asked of you and still don’t get rewarded for it.  That’s life.”

“But can we find something else with Justin Bieber on it?”

“Uh, yes, I think so.”  (Ya think?!)

“Okay. Deal.”  And we shook on it.

That was six weeks ago now.  She’s slept in her bed every night since, the past month on a pillow with a goofy looking dope’s picture on it.  And she was so proud when we bought it!  I don’t mind saying it was a proud day for me too.  And now she’s working on a two-month stretch.  The reward?  We’ll paint her room purple, because, as everyone knows, the yellow she has now, “is not good for big girls.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Commissioned Eulogy: An Unconventional Wisdom First

My friend asked me to write her eulogy, with instructions to make her die laughing.  This is what I came up with:

We are usually urged not to speak ill of the dead.  I think that’s a silly rule.  If the now dead lived decent lives, we would be unable to speak poorly of them; if the recently deceased lived lives of dishonor, corruption, and debauchery, we have nothing but those things to remember them by. 

Which brings us to 50 Sense- that whore.  I met her in 2011 and allowed her to consider herself my friend within a week of that meeting.  Early in our “friendship”, 50 Sense came out to me as someone who appreciated the highest-brow humor known to mankind:  The Yo Mama joke.

As in:

Yo Mama is so sweet all the men lick her.
Yo Mama is so ugly Kim Kardashian wants to marry her.
Yo Mama is so fat she rides two horses at once.
Yo Mama is so dumb her Kindergarten class recently gave her a plaque commemorating her 50th year- as a student.
Yo Mama is so old the Fountain of Youth said no.
And so on.

I kid, of course. 50 Sense touched each of us in this room at one time or another- sometimes even with our permission.  She was smart and quick-witted; she was a good friend to people who desperately needed a good friend (me included); she was a good person who expected no reward for her decency; she was humble and talented.  And her breast implants were not at all noticeable to the untrained eye.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Disney Post

You may recall that I went to Disney World a couple of weeks ago.  Now, you may expect that I, being one to brag about knowing when he’s being lied to, would hate Disney above all else.  Yes, and Las Vegas too.  The one is a colossal waste of energy and resources in the middle of a desert; the other transformed a swamp into The Happiest Place on Earth.  Am I a hypocritical asshole for loving to go to both places?  Perhaps.

There is an aspect of “If you can’t beat em, join em” to my enjoyment of Disney World.  Had you asked me before I became the father of a girl if I would buy into the Princess shit, I probably would have spit in your face for thinking so lowly of me that you would even ask the question.  But here is my daughter, draped head to toe in Princess clothes and shit.  Round 1 goes to Disney.  And I don’t really care.  She’s a kid, she likes Belle.  Big deal.

And there is another simple reason Disney is able to out-duel the cynic in me:  They are better duelers; they outsmart me.  The people at Disney are so damn good at their jobs that I can’t be mad at them when I’m there.  I might think I’m going in ready for battle, but they disarm me so fast I’m not even sure when it happens.  They out-dueled me in a store; I do know that.  We went in at the end of the day, looking for Mickey Mouse ears for the kids.  I stopped to check out a big rubber ball, a kickball I guess, painted with Mickey Mouse’s smiling mush.  I looked for the price and couldn’t find it.  “Sonsabitches don’t want to say how much this is, huh? Well, I’m not paying $20 for a rubber ball, I promise you that!”  A worker walked by.  “Sir,” I asked, “Do you know how much these are?” 

“Seven fifty, if memory serves me correctly.”

“Seven fifty! Wait, seven dollars, fifty cents?  That’s actually not bad.”

I carried the ball over to my wife, bent down and whispered in her ear, “This ball is only $7.50.  Shh. Don’t draw attention to us. Let’s buy it. “

“Okay, I’ll add it to this huge fucking pile of bullshit I’ve already grabbed.”  She could have said but didn’t.

Anyway, we bought some stuff.  But we really didn’t go crazy.  And we “only” spent $30.  See, they know exactly what price would offend you; you'd probably pay it, but you wouldn't like it.  I'll call it the movie-theater-$4-bottle-of-water-price.  They know that price, and they go below it.  That ball would cost $4 at Target.  So when I paid less than a 100% Disney Premium, I felt like I was getting away with something.  They almost have you believing they are there to make you happy as opposed to make a buck.  I'm not a communist.  There is nothing wrong with them making a buck.  But you have to admit, some of the Magic is lost when you consider the place as a huge cash register rather than The Happiest Place on Earth.  Anyway, I never saw the cash cow while I was there; just the Magic.  As I say- Geniuses.

And of course, Disney has Jasmine.  That hussy.  I filed a few live on-location Facebook dispatches.  You probably saw them, so I won’t waste much space here with a blow-by-blow account.  Quick recap: We saw her early on our first day there.  She was with The Drip, as I call Aladdin.  They were surprised to see me, I think, as I pretty much wrote her off in a post some time ago.  The Drip was flustered, his eyes darting back and forth between me and Jasmine’s heaving breasts.  He saw the same body language I saw- she was happy to see me- and he did not like it.  They both signed my kid’s autograph books and posed for a picture with the kids.  Then my wife asked Jasmine if she’d pose for a picture with me alone, without The Drip, explaining that she (Jasmine) was a star of my blog (as if she didn’t know!).  Well, The Drip didn’t like it and was about to cause a scene when he remembered his duties as a Disney ambassador.  My wife got the picture (Jasmine grabbed my ass, of course. No one saw, OF COURSE.)  And that was that.  Well, not quite.  I think The Drip had a couple of goons follow us around the rest of the day but I can’t prove it.

The kids seemed to have an ok time, too.  Our son is only two, so most of Disney goes over his head.  He loved the parades and fireworks, though.  Danced-in-the-streets loved.  Jumped-in-puddles-and-laughed-his-ass-off loved.  Shook-his-butt-like-Donald Duck loved.  Waved-his-hands-in-the-air-like-he-just-didn’t-care loved. 

My daughter is more reserved than my son is.  She is uber-shy like me.  In the weeks leading up to the trip practically all she could talk about was meeting the characters and getting their autographs.  But she is not one of these kids who jumps around with crazy excitement while in line waiting to meet, say, Rapunzel.   She’ll intently watch the kids in line; she’ll watch Rapunzel so she knows how things are going to go down when she gets her turn.  She’ll have her autograph book open to the page she wants Rapunzel to sign.  And, when it is her turn, she’ll stare at Rapunzel with a blank, what I can only assume is slightly off-putting, look on her face.  She nods and answers yes/no questions, but that’s it.  It was hard to tell if she was even having fun a lot of the time.  And when you consider that our other kid was too young to get much out of Disney World, it was sometimes frustrating that my daughter wasn’t giggly and giddy over the whole experience.  But when I did get frustrated I’d remind myself that my daughter isn’t the giggly, giddy type.  Not in public anyway.  And I realized that I love that about her.  I love that she pays such close attention to what’s going on.  I love that she doesn’t always know what she thinks about something or someone until she’s processed it for a while.  And I love that she’s learned those things from me. 

So…Thank you, Disney World, for turning a swamp into a place where my family’s best qualities came out, where each of us could have his/her own fun, in his/her own way, together.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bye, Bye Miss American Dream

My family and I luxuriated at a fancy Orlando resort last week.  The place was huge, with four swimming pools, a bunch of bars, a couple restaurants, convenience stores, a “lake” where guests could rent paddle boats and fishing equipment, 9-hole golf course and, of course, a spa.  Yes, it was amazing.  And I sort of hated myself for liking it.  Because by the second day I realized that the resort was lying to me.  Not the people, mind you, but the place.  And I guess the employees were part of the lie, too. But in their defense, they were just doing their jobs.  What was the lie that offended me so?  That I deserved to be there. 

It occurred to me as I sat on my private balcony, looking over a palm-lined pool, at the 5th hole of Nick Faldo’s golf course, that the resort was bending over backwards to convince me that I deserved this.  “You work hard, sir! Enjoy yourself.  Play an expensive round of golf!  Send your wife and daughter to the spa!  Pay $8 for a glass of beer!  Buy an ice cream cone!  You look exhausted; here sit down and have a drink.”

Anyway, I had a nice time at the resort.  I had fun walking in green grass under a warm sun.  I had fun swimming with my family. I had a few nice evenings reading under a light by the pool.  And I actually had a nice time pondering and debunking the huge loads of bullshit we Americans are fed daily, which we gladly gobble up:

“You deserve this.”  For most of human history, humans worked every minute of every day simply to stay alive.  A lot of people still do.  That is hard work.  We’ve simply allowed ourselves to believe the lie that going and standing around somewhere, separated from our family and all of our stuff, is hard work.  As for deserving it- that’s a relief isn’t it?  No guilt that you have so much while most of the world has so little.  You work hard!  You deserve it!  And forget wondering why so many laws favor the wealthy!  They deserve it! 

“Every American (black, white, Mexican, male, female, rich family, poor family) who wants to, who works hard, can succeed.”  Here is a link to a study which shows who your parents are matters more in America than it does in most of the Western world: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/2/7/45002641.pdf .  That alone proves the fallacy of the American Dream.  But I’ll go on anyway.

“If you think the wealthy have it so easy, you should work hard and become wealthy.”  (I know we’ve already talked about the “hard work” lie. But let’s leave that out of this argument.)  Here’s a real-life example of this lie that I see a lot:  If I say baseball owners have it too easy, that we taxpayers shouldn’t build billionaires stadiums, some of you will say that I’m jealous.  “They earned their money by working hard.  They didn’t break any laws.  If you want it as “easy” as they have it, do what they did and become a billionaire.  Besides, it’s players who are over-paid.  They demand more and more money.  They’re lucky to be paid as well as they are to play a game!”  My response is always the same:  If you think players have it so easy, work hard and become one.

See what I did there?  It’s preposterous to think that all a regular old dope has to do to become a professional athlete is work hard.   We know that it takes hard work to be a professional athlete.  But it also takes some skills and talents that most don’t have.  And it’s worth remembering that for every owner there are dozens of players.  Therefore we can say with unassailable logic that it’s much, much easier to be a professional athlete than an owner; that the talents necessary to be wealthy are more rare than the talents it takes to hit home runs.  By the way- yes, we’re ignoring, for the sake of argument, all the billionaires who have used psychopathic means, means you wouldn’t use even if you could, to make their money.  To wit:

British journalist Jon Ronson immersed himself in the world of mental health diagnosis and criminal profiling to understand what makes some people psychopaths — dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted. Among the things he learned while researching his new book, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry”: the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large.

Anyway, we can say with absolute certainty that hard work, to say nothing of “hard work”, has nothing to do with success.  Maybe most wealthy people have “worked hard”, but most hard workers are not wealthy.  And they never will be. 

“Raising taxes on the wealthy is punishing success!  It’s class warfare! Why do you hate rich people?”  I don’t like to say that wealthy people should pay their “fair share”.  Not because they shouldn’t; we all should.  But I don’t know what a “fair share” would be.  Maybe the answer is a flat tax. Everyone pays the same percentage of income, period.  That’s a different debate, one that comes only after we call this lie out.  Because, while I don’t know what a fair share is, I certainly know what it isn’t.  And the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share.  Mitt Romney’s effective tax rate has been all over the news lately.  It’s about 14%.  That's pretty damn low.  It’s so low because his income isn’t considered income.  It’s considered a capital gain, a gain on an investment.  But make no mistake- it is his income.  And he’s not alone, of course.  Warren Buffet benefits from the same loophole. So do all those delightful Wall Street hedge fund billionaires.  I hope it doesn’t surprise you to learn that the wealthy benefit from more tax loopholes than you do.  I don’t want to waste time pointing them all out.  Let’s agree that if we closed the capital gains and Cayman Island tax shelter loopholes down, if we took away all deductions, the wealthy would be affected way more than you and I.  Therefore they are disproportionately benefitting now.  Conclusion:  They are not paying their fair share.  Now that we agree on that, we can debate what everyone’s fair share is without calling it class warfare, right?  “You own a yacht and a private plane?  Good for you!  You want to pay half the taxes I do?  Wait…what now?”

“No poor man has ever given me a job.”  If you’ve worked in customer service for more that four days you’ve heard this from an angry customer:  “Goddamnit, I pay your salary!”  While that is maddening as hell, there is some truth to it.  Consumers make our economy go ‘round.  So actually plenty of poor people have “given” you a job.  Which is to say:  We’re all in this together.  The wealthy don’t usually just give people jobs out of charity.  They hire because they need employees.  And employees need employers who take chances, blah, blah, blah.  We don’t need to be thanked for working. They don’t need to be thanked for hiring.  They aren’t doing us a favor; just like our lungs aren’t doing us a favor by breathing.  They can’t survive without us.

“Americans feel entitled to handouts.”  This may even be true.  But it includes the wealthy.  Except when a Captain of Industry wants a handout, he doesn’t call it an “entitlement,” he calls it greed (And of course he wouldn’t even call it that in public!  Only to his friends will he admit that it is greed that drives him.  In public, he’ll call his handout a “tax incentive” or something equally inoffensive).  And he is very pleased with his verbal gymnastics!  Greed is still good, but any fool knows only losers feel- I’m sorry, I know there are ladies present- entitled.”

“I’m a self-sufficient, self-made man.  I don’t need the government’s help.”  There was an article in the New York Times that illustrates this last week.  If you look at the map, you’ll see that the areas of the country that receive the most government benefits are the most Red areas of the country.  Put another way:  The people who rail against the government the loudest, need it the most.  Does this make them all assholes?  No.  It means they’ve bought the lie that people who use government programs are “other people.”  Yes, even while they are on welfare, they continue to believe that the real problem is everyone else, who are nothing but a bunch of Commies; lazy sucklers of the government teat.  They convince themselves that these “others” want welfare, as opposed to the Red Staters, who take it begrudgingly. 

“You only have two choices. You are either a Republican or a Democrat.”  Bull-fucking-shit.  I should have made their supposed differences Lie #1.  Their differences are window dressing; the fa├žade that covers up the truth:  They both work for the wealthy.   We’d notice this if we looked very closely.  So they make sure we don’t look very closely.  Some of them yell, “Look at those Godless Fags trying to get married!  Oh my God, they’re kissing!”  And we run over there and check it out.  Some of us throw stones at the poor lovebirds.   Then the rest of us call the stone throwers rat bastards.  And guess whose hands are in the cookie jar while we’re over there fighting amongst ourselves like a bunch of goddamn puppets?  Hint:  It isn’t the illegal immigrants.

Want good news?  It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can stop letting them distract us, lie to us, and artificially divide us with wedge issues.

We the People’s rousing defeat of SOPA showed us how to act.  Before SOPA, few of us had thought much about online piracy.  Then SOPA came along, and with it Big Business’ message that we MUST stop online piracy now!  “I suppose we do,” we thought.  But they didn’t start muddying the waters soon enough.  They didn’t have their paid “experts” on news shows, with their supposed Independent Research, showing us what a great deal SOPA was for us people.  Their story, their lie, didn’t have time to set in before the actual Internet experts said, “Hold on a minute! SOPA would do way more harm than good and here’s why.”  And because we had heard the truth before the lie set in, we were able to clearly see the lie:  It was a power grab, a rogering.  SOPA wouldn’t just blow up pirates; it would drain the ocean, which isn’t theirs to drain. It took too much from Us in the name of giving Them what they wanted.  We the People saw through the bullshit and realized that SOPA was a terrible deal for us.  So we stood together and said, “No, try again.  And next time come back with something that doesn’t insult our intelligence. ”  And they went back from whence they had come to lick their wounds.  But don’t worry, they will go to the oil companies and ask, “How in the hell did you convince so many of them that climate change was a hoax?”  And the oil companies will tell them about muddying the waters with supposed Independent Research, about how to pay a bunch of experts to go on T.V. and not be in consensus, and then send a guy out to say, “Well, you know, there is a lack of consensus.”  I promise you this:  We will start hearing that there is no consensus among the experts regarding SOPA soon.  Some well-paid jackass will go on T.V. and say, “Well, you know, many experts, myself included, believe that SOPA was a great deal for American consumers, and especially small-businesses on Main Street!  It’s a shame that Internet terrorists and trolls, with the help of Washington insiders and lobbyists, prevented the American people from benefiting from that legislation.  My hope is that one day some valiant Senator will stand up, sponsor a new bill and fight for the people.”

Dear friend, please, stop believing that and start believing this:  You will never achieve the American Dream.  Your life was more or less decided the day you were born (more on that in a future post). We have more in common, much more, than any of us do with the uber-wealthy.  We proved that we are powerful enough to protect our self-interest when we are clear and honest about what our self-interest is.  We do live in a Republic after all.  One person, one vote.  And that remains powerful as long as we don’t allow ourselves to be scattered by lies and wedge issues that artificially divide us. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's?

My wife, kids and I went out for Valentine’s Day sushi tonight (it’s the same sushi, you just need to wait an hour for it).  When we left, I noticed a kid, probably 17 or 18 standing in the crowd of people waiting for a table.  He held two roses and a small, heart-shaped box of chocolates.  He stood out in the crowd because he was the only person holding something besides a phone and because he was alone.  His body language made clear something it looked like he didn’t want to share:  He was sad and anxious.  Now I suppose he could have been worried about any number of things.  But standing there alone, with those gifts, on this night?   I think he was worried about being stood up.

I felt that kid’s anguish and his insecurity.  I remember being that kid.  I wanted to go up and put my hand on his shoulder and say, “You’re a man standing here amongst kids.  You don't know it, but you're brave.  I hope your night turns out the way you want it to.  But it’s only one night.  And life is a fucking marathon, not a sprint.  Keep showing up with flowers and chocolates.  Eventually you’ll find a woman who wouldn’t stand you up for George Clooney.”

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Young and The Younger

My wife and I took our daughter, son and one of our daughter’s friends to The Muppets last night. After the movie, we went out for dinner.  We sat adjacent to a man and woman in their mid-twenties.  From where I was sitting I could look across our table and right at them.  I couldn’t hear them but they were clearly on a date, almost certainly their first:  they ate small bites and used napkins after nearly each one, she nodded as he spoke, each of them smiled often, he tried not to look at her cleavage, she tried not to say, “You look just like Freddie Prinze, Jr.!” and so on.  There were a few uncomfortable pauses but it looked like they were really hitting it off.

Now listen:  I did not spend the entire evening staring at the young lovebirds.  In fact, I would say I was very “present” at our table.  My daughter and her friend sat at one end of the table and colored, talked and giggled.  I looked their way often and smiled every time.  Our son entertained my wife and I by coloring- sometimes even on his paper- and by pointing out the restaurant’s decorations and fixtures.  “Light!”  “Tree!”  “Moon!" (It was a crescent-shaped light.  Close enough.)

I came to see the dating couple as my wife and I- they were the age we were when we began dating/got engaged, which you will recall happened essentially together.  I felt a bit like a wise old man, looking around the dinner table at what he had created.  And I thought if I could have said something to the daters it would have been this:  “Look at our table here; this could be you in ten years.  If you’re insanely lucky.”