08 May 2018

A Final Letter to my 2nd Best Friend

Dear Scratch,

Hey my friend. I'll try to keep this letter short for a couple of reasons, but mostly for these two reasons: a) you're a cat and, unless you've been holding out on me with regard to your ability to read, and b)  i know you weren't much for small talk and were more of a relax and chill kind of cat. Who am I kidding?? It's precisely because you're a cat that I may pontificate more than I normally would, but I want to make sure I say all the things, because you deserve to know all the things, the critical moments you've played in my life.

This is really just my chance to say Thank You. I wasn't initially part of your family, I was just a guy that thought your mother was a pretty cool woman. I had no  intention of being part of your family, and yet you, even from the beginning, treated me as an immediate member of your family: you'd roll around on my jacket I left on the floor, you'd walk in front of me and flop down, inviting such cuteness that i'd find myself stopping whatever I was doing, fall to the ground and immediately have some Scratch time- always involving a tummy rum and the under the jowl on both sides was a mandate- so much of one that even at the very end, he wanted that massage, despite it also being where the cancer attacked- meaning the spot you love being rubbed the most makes you bleed when you get rubbed there.

I want to thank you for being my heart. I've never had a dog, and so I really have no idea of the reference, but I've heard this rumor that cats were neither responsive or loyal. All the things I read about cat's weren't true about my first cat, Milo, which is why, despite you having a really solid connection with me when we first met (which I can honestly say took your sister maybe five years before she ever really became comfortable around me). You see, I had a cat a few years earlier, a cat named Milo that I really loved. But as is pretty common for my job and as you're acutely aware, I have to be gone for sometimes two weeks, sometimes four weeks, and, even at the height of my debate sharecropping days, as many as eight weeks in the summer, making money that helped me live for the entire year on the on the indentured servitude wages debate was paying me at the time. But this meant I had to leave my cat with some friends who I trusted to take care of my animal, which they obviously did not- Milo was lost one night, never to be found again. It's the reason I freaked out so much that Monday night a couple of months ago, when you got outside and we couldn't find you. I had all the flashbacks of the only time Milo got out of the house when I had control. I remember the panic and fear in my voice as I searched for Milo, and I remember the tears and the weight of responsibility failed. And then we found him, and I promised him I'd never let that happen to him again- and when I failed him, I was pretty sure I'd never have another cat again, because I didn't think I would be responsible enough to take care of anyone else. Then you (and less so your sister) came along. I'm pretty convinced your sister could open the cat food and serve herself left to her own devices, but I always knew you loved me. And initially, I just assumed it was because I was the person most likely to feed you. But it was more than that- taking care of a cat (or really any living being) involves a lot of hard work. The reason the pound has so many animals has to to with people not really understanding the full implications of having a pet- they just think it's cute to have a bunny on Easter, but not realizing by May 1 that Peter Cottontail is eating them out of house and home. When it became apparent I would be playing an important role in taking care of you, it required a sharpened focus, and it would be hard, but critical if ever there would be emotional growth. Knowing I could take care of you was the backbone, the impetus to a variety of decisions I would make later.

I thank you for being my unflappable and mostly silent buddy. A lot of times, we need a friend to be able to have your real voice with, someone who will allow you to speak truth to power, to speak freely and in opposition to the status quo. And most of us have those kind of friends- I have a few, and I married one of them for what has to be seen as pretty obvious reasons. But a lot of times, we need a friend that can really, for the love of all that's holy on the planet, shut the fuck up. Just shut the fuck and listen. Like Crash Davis would say: "Don't speak- it only hurts the ball club." Scratch, you have, without question, been my best friend in the world with regard to just listening. Yes, I know you probably didn't understand a word I was saying, and its usually pretty mutual. But I know can tell how someone feels with regard to how they might say something, you can hear in my voice and i can hear in yours, when there was an issue. I'm 100% sure sitting down, talking to you about Carol and wanting to marry her was integral to my decision making process. You see, you already know Carol and I had no intention of getting married, and that one of the stipulations about our dating at the beginning was the common theme of not wanting to be married. But as love is prone to do sometimes, they decided to make fall in love with your mom and want to spend the rest of my life with her, but remember we made that deal, where we would never marry. I talked to you about this for weeks, and all you ever did was sit there and re-affirm me (and ask for food- lots of food, like constantly asking for food). I'm sure if I'd talked to one of those vocal motherfuckers I call friends, they would have said something or done something or reminded me of all the times my heart was shredded like quality Kalua Pork, or reminded me that my family life expectancy for men in my family has me currently playing with House Money, or that I'm kind of a fuck-up who has a tendency to self-sabotage myself for things that end up being important (you're still one of the few that gets why I walked away from comedy), or any of the 1127 reasons I'd talked myself out of even considering asking her. You let me talk myself into having the courage to make the best decision of my life. I realize by this time, we'd become pretty good friends and the benefit of me marrying your mother would mean that I got the be around you all the time- something I think we were both pretty down for.

I want to thank you for reminding me that I am at my best when I am in service to others. For most of the time that we were our own Dynamic Duo. I was a high school teacher, which meant that I spent a lot of time a) not at home, because my wife and I both were on debate tournaments, b) around a lot of people who needed help in one way or another. My desire and drive to help means that I, on occasion (read: all the fucking time) find myself over-extending myself- trying to help as many people in as many ways as possible , which at a place that speaks more about mental health and personal wellness that allowing one the actions in which those things became in conflict with the work at hand, can become plainly exhausting.

When I quit teaching, I needed to do something to make a living, so I started consulting, which had it's ups and it's downs (downs almost always involved taxes) and the ups involved getting myself in a psychological state where I could be passionate about The Work, but not to let to become all encompassing. And so for a year, I worked for myself, but it also meant I got to work from home, which means for most of the last 2.5 years, I got to work here and hang out with you and your sister. This was one of the biggest perks I had in consulting.  This did end up with the two of you being more spoiled than you should have been, and there's a side of me that wishes I had the hard-wiring to not have spoiled you when I got the chance, but alas, I didn't- probably good that I don't have any kids, but that's the agreement Carol and I have had no desire to break. I can honestly say that I never wanted kids, but that, for all practical purposes, I have treated you as much like a child in this family as I can imagine, as someone who doesn't have kids...

Last January, when I was off on a consulting trip, Carol called me to tell me you were really lethargic and was worried- but you usually got that way when I left town, so we chalked it up, since I'd be home the next day. When we saw no improvement, we took you to the vet, at Carol's insistence. Turns out your kidneys were failing, and had we waited to take you in, we could have lost you then. The doctor was not optimistic about your recovery, and at that point, we just wanted you however we could get you- and we got you back. But we never got back fully healthy you back- you needed to get sub q fluids every day for awhile, and then thankfully, every other day, but you needed to take multiple medications orally twice a day. You also needed  your food prepared a certain way to get more fluids in your body. And it was clear that this was going to be the beginning of the end. But fear not, Buddy. I'm here to serve- here to make everything a little better. I know I was doing it before hand, but the level of appreciation, and work to uphold my end of our terminal bargain was taken to another level, like MJ in the playoffs.

I had moments when I was sure I was failing you. You'll remember I cried a lot with you those first few days after we figured out about the renal failure- you weren't eating your new food, you hated me for giving you meds all the time and you seemed so unhappy: I was worried we were doing you a dis-service by keeping alive. I remember every time I'd ask you if it was time, you'd always give me a flop or a head butt, your way of telling me "No, I got you. We're good- I have no drowning mark upon me"- you helped me get through your sickness, and even as you did so, you always kept up with the random quotes from the books I taught at....wait...motherfucker can you read??? Have you been holding out?? Nah, I'm fucking with you- I've always known that you play the role my ego/superego to check back the Id I sometimes happen to project onto the world in a game you know I love called I Don't Give A Fuck About You, as is the default for humans- honestly dude, it's mostly why we suck- because the idea of putting something above yourself, much less someone, is hard to contemplate for most. Knowing that I had to make sure you had your meds everyday when you needed them, making sure you has your food when you needed it, and figure out what you liked eating when you didn't really feel like eating what was offered to you. I can say it's when you pissed me off most- because sometimes I was, and still am, sure you were just being a finicky pain the ass-  but I had to remember that a) this was all House Money time- I was sure I was gonna lose you last January, and b) that it wasn't as much a big deal as it was me just being kind of a dick- and that when it's all said and done, that I'd go to the ends of the earth for you, and that giving you a quarter can of some other flavor of cat food would not be a big deal in the finer scheme of things- and that if I did make it a big deal, that it would make me feel like shit about time i was frustrated for no reason when I could have spent more time snuggling with my 2nd best friend.

But most of all, the thing I want to thank you most for was your unconditional love. From almost our first meeting, it seemed you knew something I didn't. I just thought you were a cute kitty, but one I could not, at the time, distinguish from your sister, who at the time I described as two kitties of a girl I liked but doesn't really want to date me. But if there's one thing I do not doubt or never question, and it's that you love me with everything you have, and with everything you are. I hope you know that the love I have for you is as pure a love as I've had for any living being, other than your mother. I know that when I come up the stairs, in really any apartment we lived in where you could hear stairs, you were always at attention- able to determine my walk among the hundreds that walked up and down stairs. Knowing that when I wake up, at some time in the first five minutes, even when you got old and the drugs effected everything but the wonderful heart and soul that you are.  Knowing when I'm sad or angry or depressed and anxious or just sometimes when the world is playing Big Sausage Little Hole and I'm just tired- you're always there, with a flop or a snuggle or a headbutt- or sometimes you just want a belly and jowl rub- all of which make me stop focusing on me and the Hot Mess my life can be at any given time, to something that makes me focus on something external to my neurosis. It's only funny because when I first saw you, I felt like you felt a spark in me that I didn't feel. The irony is that your understanding of the inevitability of our friendship before I did seems to mirror my understanding of the inevitability of the relationship your mother and I would have.

I'm just glad we were both right.

Your mother seems to think that I'm your favorite, and that you pout when I'm gone. What she doesn't realize is that you pouted and sat in her seat and laid on her side of the bed when she was gone for work or running and you got stuck with me for a long block of time. I hope she realized what I noticed and I'm sure you did- you were better when we were both there and together- you'd prefer to get petted and cared for by both of us than by either of us alone. You are a critical part of our family, and we'll never be the same without you- although I can speak for myself, I'll never be without you: my memories of you are etched in my memory along with the rest of my family that has passed.

My belief in God makes the concept of death a little easier to deal with, and having gone through a lot of death of people who are really really close to me means that this should be easier. I mean they're humans and you're a cat. But here's the thing- I've never had anything more than a 1-2 minute anger issue with you. and you had an ability to tell when I was mad and then you'd do something to make me less angry, and once again realize that, whatever was going on, that knowing I had you made it all better, that your snuggles could always make me smile, that you were the personification of unconditional love. You definitely made me a better human being, and any person that has considered me a friend in the last 13 years has you to thank- as the growth of me from a pretty shitty, pretty selfish person to the person I am today has a ton to do with you. I became the kind of person your mother could spend the rest of her life with due in large part to the love I got to share with you and for you.

I hope I made your life half as amazing as your presence in my life has made mine.

I love you, Buddy. Until we meet again.


03 April 2018

Southwesting...or...when white people's fear and hatred of blackness is too much to handle

I'm not really sure I know how to identify myself. Sometimes, I think I'm particularly weak, and am surprised that anyone would be willing to spend time with me. Sometimes I feel like I'm particularly ugly, and am surprised people don't just run down the street in black-induced terror. On the flip side, sometimes I feel like I'm King of the World: i have an amazing wife, a job that I not only like but also allows me to feel like I'm doing good work for a good cause. But honestly, most days, I'm literally just a dude, trying my best to get from one action to another to another to finally get to spend some time with Carol, who always seems to make everything way better than otherwise. It's why when she asked me if I wanted to go to the Giants Home Opener today, I didn't even think twice: a date day with my wife AND baseball? Sounds like a win-win.

We go to the City. I eat some pretty baller Chicken and Waffles at a place called Little Skillet, and then we head to the game. The Giants were taking a pretty solid beating, so we decided to beat the crowd and catch an earlier, and hopefully less crowded train. 

I can definitely say it was earlier. 

The train was at one point where there were people just jammed in the aisle- not exactly like sardines, but more so than really probably needed to be. There was, however, at least one seat available. I ended up cursing out a woman standing next to me for jumping in my business, but that's another story for another time, or maybe this story, further below. Nah, that's a different vibe, for a different time. 

Now I spent a lot of time in the air over the last decade, and usually, because I live in California and it's really easy and cheap, I usually fly Southwest Airlines. Southwest has a variety of features people enjoy: two free checked bags, the ability to change flights without a base change fee, their quite liberal Rapid Rewards program. But the one that seems to matter the most to me is the ability to choose your own seat, which those other airlines don't let you do. We all have *that* story- the one where we flew from SF to Boston or NYC to LA or some really long flight next to some asshat that didn't realize his feet smelled up that recirculated air tin can or the person who tells you about their *entire life* on the flight, the good, the bad and the ugly, or it's that person that snores and drools on you for 5.5 hours. The ability to choose to not sit next to any of the people above is critical, and the reason *some* people choose Southwest. 

But what it also allows you to do is to sit next to people you're comfortable sitting around. Having been on a plane that was actually completely full (I will post a bunch of pictures below, all on flights described as "completely full" by the crew and the pilot) and watching people walk past the empty seat next to me multiple times (as of now, the record is SIX times- a woman walked past my seat SIX TIMES before the flight attendant told her she *had* to sit next to me. I can tell you, from the way she gripped the her purse in one hand and her bag in the other, and the abject look of terror on her face, this was the closest she'd been to a black guy (except that one weekend in Jamaica where she let some Black dude run through her and only that dude, the woman, all of her friends and anyone on the rooms on either side of them know what really happened) and she was *not having it*. When the plane landed, she actually got up and pushed her way through 15 rows to get off the plane. That's rare, more likely, it's like this...

So you can imagine that I'm not necessarily unhappy when people choose to sit somewhere rather than next to me- I don't really like people, and for the most part, almost anyone that sits next to me will have me with a huge set of "please don't fucking talk to me" headphones. It's not *that* people don't sit next to me that is infuriating.

It's why. And it's what that means. 

In this instance, and I'm sure the people doing it aren't savvy enough to have done it for this reason, because it assumes more of a recognition of my humanity than these people were willing to do. The function was to make me feel hated, despised, diseased and treated like Blackness was actually Leprosy, like just being near it on the train will lower your property values or make your kids drop out of school listening to that hippity hop music while smoke rock cocaine. At each stop: at Belmont. At San Carlos. At Redwood City. At Menlo Park. At Palo Alto. At California St. At San Antonio. At Mountain View. At Sunnyvale. At Lawrence. At Santa Clara. At each of these stations, people got on the train and people got off the train. People standing uncomfortably.

And at each stop, it's a little reminder that people would literally rather stand around for an hour than to sit next to you. And it's not just one person, like that last unlucky asshole on Southwest that *has* to sit next to me because they literally won't let you stand the entire way on a flight. It's because about 100 people over about 75 minutes decided that standing for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe even an hour, was preferable to sitting next to the Black guy. 

Which, even if your self esteem is on 100, has to have some effect on me. Carol being with me today made it easier, because I didn't have to suffer alone and it was a reminder that even if society finds my Blackness to be the equivalent to social Leprosy, that's not what she thinks, and honestly, she matters way more to me than they do. 

But it's hard to be reminded that people, given the option, want nothing to do with you.

19 March 2018

the fear that keeps me up at night

tl/dr: sometimes i get nightmares and they keep me from sleeping.

a lot of people remember their dreams. i almost never do. i literally remember three of them, and only one have I had more than twice. and i hate it.

on friday night, after an excellent Vegas evening, it was time to wind it down- they day started early and it was almost 3am. I laid down to go to bed, and was having what i can imagine was a good sleep (i don't really remember the sleep- usually a good sign) but I do remember waking up suddenly from my sleep from what is a consistent dream- my wife dying in her sleep. There are different versions of it, although she always seems to die naturally and peacefully in her sleep- examples range from the application of Derrick Bell's Amber Cloud chronicle, except the cloud only kills people and things that matter to me (so not just humans but my pets too) to just the run of the mill death in sleep- with the results always involving the police thinking I did it (funny that in my nightmares, the cops seem the same as they do now).

when the nightmare happens, i know sleep is something i won't be able to do: because in my head, I'm convinced that Carol won't be alive when I wake up and that somehow my sleeping is why she died- like if i was awake, i could have done something. And i know that there's literally nothing I can do, and that there's nothing really to be done.

so saturday night i knew i was going to not be able to fall asleep- but if you have that issue, Vegas isn't a bad place to be (better than Bakersfield, and I've had the issue in both places). unfortunately, it's not as easy to shake as i'd like it to be- so last night was also a limited sleep night- i got about 75 minutes in before i woke up to the same dream in a cold sweat-sweating through a shirt meant to wick away sweat. i laid in bed for awhile and couldn't sleep until Carol woke up- fortunately I got to work remotely for part of the day, so I got a little nap in.

But here we are, at the end of the evening, and I have to go to work tomorrow, which will be impossible and dangerous if i don't sleep (I don't drive a bus at work, but i drive a car to work and tired driving is like drunk driving with none of the fun before the shit decision). I need to get some sleep.

Hoping this Fire OG Kush helps.

18 December 2017

Why I really hate hockey...or...#metoo

I'm not really sure how to go about this. I spent so much of my life trying to pretend like it didn't happen, and pretending like even if it did happen, it really didn't matter. Needed to "man up" and fight through it, like men are taught to do. I'm sure this is the first time I've openly acknowledged that it even happened to anyone than maybe my therapist and my parents.


When I was a kid, I played hockey- this isn't that big a deal- I'm from Minnesota, and even the kids in the cities and suburbs played- and we had our own pond that froze over for six months a year, so I always had a place to practice- I supposed if I'd lived in Arizona I might have played hoop or baseball the same way, but alas, that's not how shit worked. Not sure what y'all know about hockey, but I can tell you that as a sport, not the most diverse activity in the world, and especially where I lived, where I was the only black kid in the county, much less the city. And, if it's not too arrogant to say, I was really fucking good- it was probably my most natural sport (and I played Olympic Development soccer later to give a measuring stick of abilities) and the sport that I had the most love for. I'd go out on the pond and practice from the minute I got home until it was too dark to see and even then, it took Ma Dukes to call me in- I'd have played all night if they let me.

When I was seven, I started playing club hockey in Grand Forks, ND. My dad would drive me the almost 100 miles each way from Northern Minnesota to get me to practice twice a week. And it seemed my parents really loved watching me play- it was something the whole family did together, and it kind of brought us together, spending almost 2 hours in each direction to go play led to some incredible conversations on the drive- these conversations gave my parents a cleaner window into my soul, and I gained a vastly better understanding of them from these road trips. It was obvious that hockey was integral to what we were doing as a family. 

What they didn't know, was from the age of eight and for over a year afterwards, I had a hockey coach who felt that part of his job was to be sexually suggestive to me, masturbate in front of me, offer me nude massages and told me if I told anyone, I'd "never fucking play again."

Which is why my parents were devastated when I told my parents I was done and wanted to quit. They wanted to know why. I sure as fuck didn't want to tell them. It was only when my dad said he wouldn't let me quit (he really hated quitting things- probably why I'm quick to pull the trigger to get out of some shit I hate was watching him do a ton of shit I hate) that I swallowed my pride and told my parents:

"I don't like the coach."

That was an insufficient reason for Pops. "I hate my boss too, but you don't see me quitting. Sometimes you have to fight thro..."

"He tried to pull down my pants today."

I've seen many looks on my parents' faces but nothing like this: I couldn't tell what was going on, but could clearly tell something was wrong. So I did what any 9-year-old kid would do.

"I'm sorry."

My dad just got up and went outside for a moment. My mom wanted to know more about what happened- was this the first time? What else had he asked me to do? Had I done anything to him? Did he do anything to me? Did you tell him to leave you alone? My dad returned before I gave my answers.

"Was this the first time?"
No, he's asked me to do things pretty much every day. 

What else had he asked me to do? 
He's offered me naked massages, offered me cash to touch him after he pulled his stuff out. He would make me watch him touch himself until something came out and ask me to touch the stuff coming out of his stuff (my vocabulary was clearly limited)

Had I done anything to him? 

Did he do anything to me? 
What do you mean?
Did he put his thing in you?

When did this start?
About a month after the new coach came in. 

Did you tell him to leave you alone? 
I told him I was gonna tell you but he said he'd not play me ever if I told anyone.

Why didn't you tell us earlier?
Hockey was important to us. But now I hate playing and I want to never do that again. And since I told you, he said I'd never play again, so...."

I can honestly say I was fortunate- my parents believed me, thought what he did was fucked up and were there to support me in every way possible. After I told my parents what happened, my dad just said "I'll take you to practice, but don't worry, we're not staying...and when we arrived, my dad, just asked "Which one" and when I pointed him out, I saw a side of my dad I didn't know existed, as he dragged the coach outside for a "conversation" that involved Dad showing him the use of his hands in a combat situation (which apparently he learned in Vietnam) and beat. the. hell. out. of. my. coach. Immediately upon finishing the beating, my dad and I got back in the car and went home. On both the ride down and the ride back, my father drove in absolute silence- no radio, no speaking. Nothing but a Bataan Death March feel on the way down, and a Reverse Bataan on the way back. As we pulled into the driveway, he just looked at me and said he was sorry. We went in the house, he and my mom left the room and all I could hear was him crying while she told him to not worry about it. I never asked what that was about, and I'm absolutely sure I'm a better person for not knowing. That was my last day in a hockey rink as a player, and I never played another game again (I did skate with Golden Bear Hockey but they were so. fucking. bad. that I never played a game with them).

Fast forward 35 years....I'd like to think that any effects of that shit head of a coach have run their course. But I know they haven't.  I like to tell people that the reason I stopped loving hockey related to my North Stars moved to Dallas. And while that may very well have been the straw that broke the camel's back, if I'm honest with myself, I know that wasn't when it ended- it ended when a old white man made me watch him masturbate and told me if I told anyone, I'd not play, when he knew how important hockey was to not just me, but to my entire family. I even still a weird feeling when I watch hockey- despite a literally quarter-century hiatus from the game, sitting in the stands for the first home game for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, thousands of miles from home of my hockey nightmares, I still felt it- every time I began to get comfortable at the game, I'd begin to feel sick to my stomach in the same way I did when I had to go to practice and knew of the inevitable.

More importantly, I'm 100% sure it fucked me with regard to issues of trust. Most of you that know me understand that I trust almost nobody- and it takes a ton of time, effort and honestly, even some good luck for me to even think about trusting you. I didn't really give it a lot of thought until I started thinking about my time with a predator- but one of the reasons I don't trust easily or often is tied to the idea that someone who I needed to trust, someone who had obtained the trust of my parents, violated my trust and attempted to violate me in ways unconscionable. If the person you trust crushes that trust, they're not crushing that trust, they're crushing trust, which tends to be irreversible. Not just in his actions, which were perverse, but the entire thing- placing me in situations he knew would elicit the responses he wanted. He chose to do things that would make sure I didn't say anything. 

It also made me, for a long time, really hate myself. I fully understand the victim should never feel responsible for the abuse. I get it. But none of that really changed the look in my parents' eyes when I told them- it's one I'll never forget, because it was the same look they had when I was diagnosed with leukaemia: like someone had destroyed their hearts, simultaneously. I remember at that time looking at the doctor and hating him, not for telling me I had something that I couldn't pronounce and no real understanding of what it meant for me, but for his words and the way they made my parents feel. The only other time I saw that reaction from them was when I told them about the abuse. Only problem- this time I was the one delivering the news. I was the one who told them what seemed to kill them inside. And the same hatred I had for the doctor that day only a few years earlier I now fostered in my own heart for myself. I know my coach is the perpetrator, but he didn't have to tell them and break their hearts.

Why did I even write this? I'd pushed it into the depths of my mind and soul for over a third of a century. But in some ways, I've been waiting for 30+ years to write this. I think I've had the vocabulary to do so for most of that time, but my fear restrained me. Not really sure what there was to be afraid of, but one of the wonderful curses of masculinity is an inability to articulate how we feel- we're socially trained to do and to act, not to feel. I was afraid if I told anyone, they'd think less of me. I was afraid they'd think it was consensual. I was afraid everyone would just shun me. I was afraid of all those things. But the thing I was most afraid of: I was afraid nobody would believe me. And as horrifying as having to live through the ordeal was, as miserable as it made me feel while it was happening, I'd shown the courage to tell someone, and they'd not have believed me, I'm not sure how I would have dealt with that. I know more women than I should who have a story (or multiple stories) like the one I describe, and sometimes way worse than what I described.

This is just a reminder that abuse isn't gender specific. I also hope it gives someone peace of mind to know they weren't alone.

It's now abundantly clear the magnitude of abuse targeted at girls and women. I just wanted to make it clear that the issue is broader than that.

11 August 2017

Don't forget to tell them how you feel

I've been, for the last week and a half generally, but for the last 48 hours specifically, been trying to get my head around the idea that i have some friends who died.  For lack of a better description, this alone has been a rough, bitter pill to swallow. But over the last few days, some things have come to the forefront of my mind, and sometimes, I just say whatever is running amock in this contraption I call a mind...a very brief synopsis for anyone that happens to not know.

...as a freshman in high school, I didn't have a ton of friends (not that different than now, but for very different reasons) but one of the true confidantes I had in high school was a friend, we'll just call him Chirs. Chris and I went to different high schools, but even through the things that pull kids apart, I felt those things pulled us closer together. I didn't have a best friend, but he would have been the closest thing to a best friend. We would hang out after school, generally vent about how much we hated high school and eat peanut butter sandwiches and reflect on our (read: my) lack of game. One random Wednesday, Chris met me at my school, as he got out of school an hour earlier than I did, and he wanted to chill. So we leave my school, and go to downtown Berkeley and go to Games of Berkeley (looked at a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons stuff) got a slice of pizza (Arnell's- best NY style pizza in Berkeley) and walked around the campus shooting the shit, having a great time. We get on the BART train, head back to El Cerrito, where I walk with Chris to his house (which is about 4 blocks from my house). We say our farewells, and right before I walk off, Chris comes to me and says, "Thanks." I'm not really sure, but I say "You're welcome, man. I'll see you tomorrow."

Fast forward 26 minutes, as that's about how much time it took me to walk home and make myself something to eat. That's when my mom walks in, and she looks like she's seen a ghost. I have no idea what's happening, but that's the same look she had on her face when she found out my brother died, and so I knew there was nothing remotely close to good news.

Apparently, my friend Chris, who I had just spent all afternoon with, and had literally just seen not a half hour ago, was discovered by his mother, in his room, hanging from his ceiling fan. He left two notes: one to his parents, and one to me. The only words on my note were: "Today was awesome. Best way to go out. Too much to explain. Just easier this way. Catch you on the other side."

To this day, I always wonder if the reason he came to my school that day was that he needed to talk to me, and he needed me to talk him out of it. I wonder if he was reaching out, and I was too stupid/arrogant/self-interested to really notice. I spent the greater part of my high school experience carrying the weight of unmanageable guilt, as I felt my friend was reaching out to me, and my arms weren't long enough to reach him. But more than any of these things I wonder about for my own selfish reasons, I really wonder if hearing what kind of person he was, and what kind of friend he was, and the role he played in (at the very least) my life, might this have made him reflect on himself differently, and maybe he...I did this to myself for years and still do to this day. To Chris:

I don't know if my telling him how important in my life would have saved him, but I do know that not telling him fucking haunts me to this day. So I try to remind myself to tell the people that matter in my life that they matter, and I try to remind them how much. It seems small and insignificant, so much so that we almost never do it.

To Chris, Dave Hunter, Vince, Willis, Chuck, Kenny, and the people I didn't list but still weigh heavy on out.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell the people that matter to you that they do. But don't forget to tell them WHY.

Jack, Jill and Akbar or you never know who you'll meet and where

Every once in awhile, usually when the mind is allowed to wander unhindered, I find myself thinking about experiences that seemed unimportant and/or mundane at the time that, upon reflection, end up being relatively important, much more important than I could have possibly imagined. Normally, I just forget about these experiences and watch another episode of Law and Order (or one of the many spin-off shows or mirror image shows put out by other networks), flip on the XBox 360 and play a round of Tiger Woods, or just do nothing and fully enjoy the leisure of the life of a teacher in the summer. Today, I choose to share one of these with my friends...

let's preface this with a couple of caveats. first of all, this is when I was in college, and in college, I had a period of time where I experimented with drugs. That being said, there will be some references to some drugs in this. If this bothers you, I'll just tell you to turn the page now and save yourself from the gang-raping of your virgin ears. Also, this happened before September 11, 2001, so there is no way this story could happen today. Thanks, Osama Bin Laden. Third, any references that might appear to be about Miley Cirus is just an illusion, and you should get your mind out of the gutter...everyone knows she's being turned out by the Jonas Brothers...

...I've done a fair amount of transferring between some of the highest academic, accredited institutions in the USA. I had just transferred from Gonzaga University, a mistake I rank up there among the three dumbest things I'd ever done, and ended up at the Sonoma State of the Wasatch, Weber State University. I was going to school and debating for Weber State and was having a decent semester, not insofar as travel, but in the little traveling I was doing, I had been relatively successful. Apparently, the Heart of America debate tournament, in Lawrence, KS was going to be really small in NDT debate, so Nick and Steve chose not to go and decided to stay home and get ready for districts instead. But since tickets had already been bought, the director tells me that I will be attending the tournament, in CEDA debate. To give a little history, I had debated at the Heart in CEDA the year before when I debated at Chico, and we took a hellified ass-beating, winning a lone debate. Out of eight, which looks a lot like 1-7. It was the worst tournament I'd had since my first debate (another story I imagine I will tell at another time), and we spent weeks getting ready for the tournament. The director tells me (i will repeat, tells me, doesn't ask, just tells) I will be going with two days to prepare. This was a guaranteed beat down, and i wasn't really feeling it. He then told me I'd be going with one of my friends, DL. Now I will also note that DL is my friend, but a good debater, he wasn't. So his going doesn't change the inevitable, it just makes it more entertaining...so the tournament is advancing, and we're doing a lot of things, but winning debates was not one of those things. We're going into debate 7 with a stellar record of 1-5, and we're debating a team from the University of Wyoming, a team we'd been beating like red-headed stepchildren for the entire year. The Heart was experimenting with new, crazy formats, from a total block of time consisting of cross-examination and prep time, and you can use it at your leisure, to giving each team 20 minutes of prep time, which was the wrinkle during this debate. During 2AC prep time, my debate partner says he's going outside for a smoke. I assumed he was going to smoke a cigarette. I was incorrect...

...background: we brought a lot of mushrooms to the tournament. I'm not exactly sure how much, because I had spent the greater part of the semester eating the quarter pound I initially purchased (gave money, didn't know how much I was going to get, was pleasantly stunned, and, with no connections and no desire to spend years in the clink, so selling was out of the question), all I know is I was carrying an extra large ziplock bag with a ton of dry, crushed mushrooms. My debate partner had gotten the habit of smoking the mushrooms, which when you're at home, I really had no complaints....Time is elapsing, and the critic asks me if I know where my partner is, and I tell him I don't know, but we should have some time. Turns out he's been gone 18 minutes, so I go out to find him- he's outside, in some doorway, smoking mushrooms (we didn't have a pipe, but we traveled with a water pipe called the USS Enterprise, a two person, three chambered piece with two tubes where people (theoretically) can compete against each other, and when one person pulls off, the other gets the smoke from all three chambers). DL is sitting in the doorway, alone, smoking out of both tubes of this bong, when I remind him about the debate that he needs to give a speech in about 45 seconds. It worked out like you could imagine, a boot in the junk. We were clubbed like baby seals in this debate, to an inferior team (before your time, Stannard), so much so that this debate was forfeited in the 2NR. DL wanted to go smoke, and I needed to be alone, so we went our separate ways. I'm at the Heart, for the second year in a row, with a 1-6 debate ahead of me. This couldn't have been a more dire time. I was considering quitting, when I decided to go smoke a little pot, hopefully, to make this whole experience a little better. So I walk around the building, look for a couple of places where I could be alone. I know nothing about Kansas except that I couldn't have bought a bottle of alcohol, to drown my misery in something distilled (I would do this later in the hotel bar at the Heart, a bar you'd have to experience to truly believe). Besides, I still had one debate left to deal with (but at that time, I had already decided going 2-6 was not any better than going 1-7, so this debate was a wash- how could I think anything different, we fucking forfeited a round earlier)...

...so i go downstairs outside this massive building the Heart is being held in. Down one flight. Down two flights. Down three flights. Yes, this is the place, debaters would be far too lazy to come way the hell over here to do their business, and I definitely need the alone time. I need to figure out if i should even do this. This is supposed to be the hardest tournament in CEDA debate, and if the best is serving me up like this, maybe I should re-evaluate this. So I find my space, a little ledge, overlooking a side of the campus. I pulled out a pipe (I'm resourceful if nothing else, and borrowed a piece from my friends from the University of Oregon, who rolled tough to tournaments), packed it up and took a hit...probably a hit too big for my britches, and found myself coughing hysterically. Afraid I'd be caught, i went down one more floor, just to be safe. As i was about to take a hit, i hear, in the distance, the spastic, frantric cough that's familiar to anyone that's enjoyed the fine herb. I take a small hit as to not expose myself, and i hear the cough again. For some reason, and relatively out of character, I decide to call out to my unseen smokers, by telling them to join me, as "we're all doing the same thing." Turns out to be three people, two people from the southeast, an NDT team debating CEDA for the weekend (let's call them Jack and Jill) and a stellar NDT debater from some school I can't remember (let's call him Akbar). We didn't know each other, but got to know each other, casually, over a couple of bowls, some from the southeast, and some from Oregon (as I said, the Oregon kids came strapped- but once again, this is way before September 11). We chatted, talked about our homes, a lot of debate and, if I remember, a fair amount of literature...and sometime during that conversation, my desire to quit this activity seems to have disipated...in fact, i went in to the next debate, and lose. But in the debate, I made a critic listen to an entire debate about Hasty-G, something I knew he would hate, but something i wanted to do, just to see how people would answer it if the entire debate was focused on it (something Jill reminded me, debate's for debaters, something I try to remind myself of every day). I'm still friends with Jill, and I consider Jack one of my good friends...so out of the "American Me" raping of my confidence as a debater, or so I would have thought, came the reminder of why I do this, and found a good friend. Better day than i would have expected....

Flashback: That time where my invisibility allowed me to see some progressive racism

Sometimes I really do think that Ralph Ellison was talking about me sometimes- I sometimes really do feel like the Invisible Man. At work, in the store, or eating flapjacks in a restaurant, it seems that I get to hear people having conversations they clearly hope to be having privately.

Flashback to one of those days.

I decided that I wanted to get some breakfast. Ideally, I'd have hit off some Chicken and Waffles, but the only place that makes them in the area does not open until noon and is only offering the buffet, which means the Bacon Waffle I was looking forward to wouldn't be happening. So I decided to head over to some place to get some breakfast when I drive by a guy with a sign for a spot called The Bold Knight. It's a spot Carol and I had been to before, so I decided to give it a try. I walk in, get a table by the window and begin to read my book to fill the blank time you have at a restaurant alone. A couple of minutes later, two gentlemen dressed in workout clothes are seated behind me. Immediately, they seemingly continue what must have been an emotional conversation from the vehicle. As I sit there, the conversation increases in volume and intensity...as this conversation is happening, I'm just running my own internal dialogue to this conversation, hoping this can just be something entertaining to myself as opposed to me turning to this dude, who clearly has no idea I'm here and having what they call in academia "a teachable moment"...

"Look, I'm not a racist..."

All of a sudden, my ears perk up. Almost all minorities understand that the phrase "look, I'm not a racist" has a couple of things that are generally true: 1) there's usually a "but" on the end of that phrase, and  2) what follows is something that could be seen as racist, and they really hope the "I'm not racist" caveat will absolve them of the implications of the toxicity of their language and thoughts.

"...but I just don't know how I feel about my sister marrying a black man."

Well, sir, you do know how you feel about your sister marrying a black man. it bothers you. but it bothers you more that it bothers you because you like to fancy yourself as a progressive, free thinking individual. I can't possibly be racist: I voted for Obama!! Michael Jordan was my favorite basketball player, and I love Denzel Washington and 12 Years a Slave!! So clearly I have no problem with black people.

"I mean, he makes good money (he's an investment banker as the conversation would offer) he loves her unconditionally and it's clearly reciprocated, but I know she can do better."

Really? How much better can she have it? I've met many many married and divorced people that would tell you that the unconditional love part, minus the money part, is necessary and sufficient for a happy marriage.

But then that begs the question: what does he mean by better?

At one time I worked at a school where I was one of the few Black people, much less teachers. The entire time I was there, I could never help but to feel that they didn't dislike me being there, but that if they had their choice, and they could find someone who can do my job and was white and religiously affiliative with the school, that they would replace me as fast as they can, and that my job being hard to fill, and not the schools love for what I'm doing, was more tied to my job security than anything else, including my competence. Someone might ask why someone would think these kinds of things? It's because "I know she can do better" isn't just a comment he was making that only applied to his sister- but has applied across the board in this country: Jazz as a platform of music is one substantially dominated by Blacks, but even in the height of the Jazz age, it took two whites (Paul Whiteman- the proclaimed King of Jazz and Benny Goodman- the proclaimed King of Swing) to take the music and bring it to the masses (the degree of offense to make Whiteman the King of Jazz is only magnified by the absurdity of his name for this role- White-Man is the King of Jazz). Rap has been a genre of music for 40 years with a virtual cornucopia of styles and variations of incredible artists and Eminem and The Beastie Boys are among history's top sellers in the genre. The underlying premise is this:

Things that are black aren't legitimate until they have been granted legitimacy by whites.

The idea that Benny Goodman was the King of Swing pretends that many of Goodman's best songs were songs he got from Fletcher Henderson, the band leader at over the Roseland Ballroom in NYC, or Chick Webb over at the Savoy and that they had been playing many of those same songs for years. If you doubt me, please feel free to run your own sample. We'll start with Benny Goodman's Stompin at the Savoy...

A nice little ditty. Smooth. Very together.  And now, Chick Webb's version of the same song...

But we gravitate to that which is most comfortable to us- which is why when you look at hiring patterns, we notice that overall patterns of hiring look a lot like the administration thinks it should look, that's what it ends up looking like. It's the reason Salon and Slate can bang the drum about how racist FOX News is because of the stances they take, but then when you look at their editorial staffs, you notice their hiring patterns also are a mirror to this racism: minorities only account for 13% of editorial staffs in the country (when the total percentage of the US at 37% and the attempts to make newsrooms more reflective...). But at Slate, only 5/75 editors are minorities (6.7% for those doing math at home) and Salon only has 2/25 (8% at home). Why does this work this way? I can tell you, as a black man that has to let people know that I'm the person in charge, it takes time for people who have never had to trust a black man with responsibilities they can't envision one handling, it's a harrowing and simultaneously enlightening experience. People will ask you questions with regard to your competence that, if you were to ask them an equal question about their work they would take offense, and they'd have the right to. I was asked if "am allowed to be left alone with students" by a parent before we leave for a field trip. It's similar to asking a teller if she intends to "steal from the till" or if a doctor was going to perform an unnecessary surgery. I've had parents ask my assistants, random parents and even students questions they should ask me, I'm standing there and they never think to ask. Occasionally I'll offer my help and they'll tell me they want to wait for "the person in charge"- only to be dumbfounded and embarrassed to find out that I AM the person in charge. I don't think the average person sees the racism in their actions-this belies the benefit of privilege...

But I sure get to...

So, to the guy behind me who thinks his sister can do better than the black guy: Why does she need to do better? What would make him better? Why is who he is insufficient?

This is the problem with a color blind society: we're not colorblind. So what happens is we act color blind- until that blindness affects us in a way we find problematic. Then we're really conscious of it. Which magnifies the benefits of privilege and makes the gap between us larger than smaller. The only way to make change is to convince people who have no reasoning or impetus to want change to be the flag bearers for that change. And we can't get that if we think of ourselves as the same with different skin color until one of us impregnates your daughter.