What I Am Processing This Morning

What patterns of thought do I need to break myself out of, what patterns of behavior do I need to change, and what is the value of my actions. Is it liberal in-fighting, my preening elitism, the perceived value of sarcasm, a smug sense of self-righteousness? What do these things mean to me as a member of this community, my family's community, the community of the world? It's easy to feel very down about the efficacy of your work, passion, and the dumb things that bring you some joy when you just took the biggest L of your life. Especially (I can only imagine) if you are a marginalized voice targeted by Trump and the hegemony that lofted him to power.

It feels very acutely like I woke up at a funeral, the incomprehensibility of it all: the culpability, the regret, and somewhere beyond all that, the hope that in this platitude feels so cheap but en masse feels like the only raft out of here. I am trying to be a student of this world and those around me, to listen more, and not bark out prescriptions for my friends and enemies. I'm trying to battle my own weird psychology and ego to fight for something better. And I want to be better, and fight harder for those I love. Condemn lies, fight authoritarianism, and push into the abyss of the unknown, where you might encounter something fearful (like a sincere blog post) which can allow you rediscover something about yourself that might help someone in need.

Prince And Proximity

This is how close I was to Prince when I saw him play what I have always regarded past present and future to be the greatest show I've ever seen. He rose out of the floor with his Telecaster strapped like a quiver to his back and the first words he said in his well-obviously-I-will-never-be-this-cool voice were, "Is it alright if I play this thing?" and everybody screamed and he went into "Let's Go Crazy." He did "Nothing Compares 2 U" with Jennifer Hudson, Maceo Parker came out and played on "Cream" and then I followed him to an after show at the House of Blues where he sang Sly and the Family Stone covers and played bass solos until 3 a.m.



I was also about this far away from him in the basement lounge of a New York club once, some presser for introducing his new 3rd Eye Girl band. Doug E. Fresh was DJ'ing and when Prince finally walked in to the club, Doug E. Fresh blasted DMX. I sat around until almost 3 a.m., watching Prince sit across the room in a booth well out of earshot surrounded by six huge bodyguards, until, finally, he got up and started playing half-hearted pool as an excuse to dance with several women only when Busta Rhymes came on. I could have walked over to him but I didn't because he's Prince and he has an impenetrable aura. It was as if he knew I was meant to be in awe 15 ft away, as is the cosmic order of things.

I think being just that close to him these few times is always how I feel about his music, that it's always just out of reach in front of me suspended as the best music of the 80s made by a sexual revolutionary and sartorial dandy for whom perfection is a fuck buddy he keeps around when he needs it. How do you get close to that? How are you supposed to hold that near your heart? I love Prince, I do, he is assuredly my favorite musician of all-time (the riff on "Bambi" or his tightwire delivery of "on ly want to see you un der neath the" or he calls Ronald Reagan RONNIE god I should never have started) and I loved that he orbited around me, voguing in this forbidden space only he should occupy. Too close and you get the wag of a finger and a pursed smile. 

Of course he's inclusive and charitable, and we all share heaping portions of his race, his sexuality, his mercuriality, his peerless shade game. But I don't know if I'll ever feel this specific way again, that being forever just out of reach someone is what made them so definably great. And maybe it's because he finally feels further away now that's really making me feel this one. 

Anyway, as he says: "Shut up already, damn!"

Embezzlement, Burritos, and Trick Daddy

I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing two different managers be arrested at work. The second time was at a small-town Wisconsin Papa John’s after he was awarded his fifth DUI which in effect closed down that Papa John’s and left me without my college job as a pizza delivery driver. That’s the end of that story, except maybe a note to say that Wisconsin ranks third in the nation when it comes to bars per capita, and the domestic and economic circumstances that led this older man to become a general manager of a Papa John’s did not also ensure that a bunch of college kids who showed up to work consistently stoned and showed no regard for company-mandated cheese portions would not also lead him to drinking and driving. I genuinely hope he’s doing fine.

The first time was at a small-town Wisconsin Taco Bell. It was the summer of 2002, a strange time in America. We had just lived through 9/11, and we had yet to taste the citrus-lime flavor of Mountain Dew Baja Blast, which would become Taco Bell’s first official co-branded beverage only a few years later. It was in this cultural abeyance that I was witness of and party to a rag-tag embezzlement scheme perpetrated by my manager Tyler.

Tyler was enrolled at our town’s college, or maybe he wasn’t. I didn’t know. We mostly talked about seven-Layer Burritos, Mexi-Melts, and Nachos Bell Grandes. He never smiled, and as a 17-year-old kid living in the Midwest I had never met anyone who was unhappy and not faking it. This is to say Tyler was not very approachable. Our only non-taco conversation that I recall took place one afternoon when I rolled into the parking lot playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m A Thug” loudly from my car.

“You like Trick Daddy?” Tyler asked.

“Yeah I love Trick Daddy. He’s one of my favorites.” I did not love Trick Daddy, nor was he one of my favorites. But I did lie because I was nervous and I didn’t like conflict. “I can get you the new Trick Daddy CD if you want.”

“Really? It’s not even out yet.”

“Yeah well my friend works at a record store he said it’s just sitting on the shelf.” None of this was true, and I didn’t know that Trick Daddy’s Thug Holiday wouldn’t be out until August, and it was only the middle of June. I hoped that Tyler would just forget about this whole conversation, although I could tell that after we talked that afternoon, there was a glint in his eye, which I charitably took to mean he now respected me.

A few nights later after work he invited my co-worker Tom and I to drink on the floor of his college apartment. As two teens with nothing else to do, what could be better? Tyler bought me a giant Smirnoff Ice and bought Tom a 40oz of Mickeys and we sat and played a drinking game on his stained carpet with two other older people I didn’t know. To this day, the gap between me feeling cool and me actually doing something cool has never been wider. In that moment I felt warm and spectacular.

It was shortly after this that Tyler, Tom, and I started working the closing shift at Taco Bell. The closing shift at Taco Bell in a college town is full of every bad archetype you can imagine, but considering we would all go out back and get high behind the dumpsters and come back in and start working again, it usually evened out.

On nights when there was a concert at the nearby Alpine Valley Amphitheater, it was especially bad. Cars would be backed up onto the street while they waited for their Grande Combos to be made, which was going to take a minute because the bags of beef were still de-thawing in the boiling Bunn water and the automatic frijoles dispenser is squirting out a diarrheic stream of grayish mass because the beans did not get a chance to congeal in the boiling Bunn water and the soft shells are not steamed and the gun that squirts the guacamole-flavored compound is broken and there’s no chicken prepped and Tom and I are far too stoned to solve any of these problems with speed or alacrity.

The scene

The scene

While we were tittering and making burritos, Tyler worked the drive-thru window. “I’m going clear some of these orders so we get our times up, you guys good?”

This was Tyler’s way of cheating the Taco Bell computers that measured customer service in the drive-thru. If you cleared the orders and wrote them down on pieces of paper, the average wait time at the end of the night would be drastically lower. In reality you were moving at a leisurely pace while cars full of hungry Phish fans waited for their Grilled Stuft Burritos with less patience than they had displayed during a 22-minute rendition of “You Enjoy Myself.”

What Tom and I didn’t know was that Tyler was cancelling the orders outright. He would take the car’s order, write what it was on a piece of paper, take the cash, and then cancel the order on the screen. The customer gave the cash to Tyler, we gave the customer the food, and Tyler kept the cash in his pocket.

At the end of the night, at almost four in the morning, Tyler gave me and Tom $20 each. “Thanks guys, you made this go a lot faster.” “Holy shit,” we thought, “Tyler tipped us because we are that cool and good.” There was that warm and spectacular feeling again, donated to me by from someone who didn’t need anything from anybody.

Two weeks or so passed and as I pulled in to work one afternoon I saw two police cars parked near the front door. Tom came out the back and told me Tyler was in the back room and that he was going to be arrested for stealing.

“He stole over a thousand dollars over the last couple of months,” said Tom. “They did an audit of the food weight and whenever he was working, the food weight didn’t match up to the end-of-day receipts, and the cops are investigating how much money he stole.”

We knew, of course, that our tip was in hush money. We realized it back then too, but who was I to question Tyler, who had invited me over to his house to drink a 40 of Smirnoff Ice and to whom I stilled owed an unreleased copy of a Trick Daddy album? He walked out of the Taco Bell and into the back of the police car. I never heard from him again.

A few months later, I quit, and Tom followed suit shortly after. We weren’t going spend our senior years being uncool losers working at Taco Bell without Tyler. We insisted, in the face of inevitable doom, that were going to do something with our lives.

 

 


 

 

 

I Know A Straw Man

I went to high school with this kid who had undiagnosed Aspergers named Matt. He was one grade below me and was ruthlessly teased by kids. Everyone called him gay because there were no out gay kids at our school. I fault our administration for not making our small, sub-zero town a safe place for this to happen (no queer alliances, no school seminars, just don’t ask don’t tell for teens). They called him gay because he was different, and the kids would say, “What are you gay or something?” and I remember him recoiling at the thought and screaming that he’s not gay. He had no response other than the truth and everyone laughed at him spitting and stomping and mugging his anger. I’m recoiling just typing about this.

Our theater teacher gave him great bit parts in some of the plays and he always crushed it on stage. Matt and I also took karate when we were way younger, so when he got to high school, I tried to look out for him when I could (but being the vastly uncool music/band/theater geek I didn’t exactly have the goodwill of the kids who teased him. I also just didn't do a great job at that). Matt had the kindest, most innocent heart and was taken advantage of by anyone who knew how to implement lazy sarcasm because Matt didn’t pick up on any social cues. I’m talking rudimentary sarcasm, purposefully bad jokes, which of course is the lingua franca of idiot teens. He was not included in much of the theater games and didn't get things deeper than text. He knew that he should memorize his lines and follow the blocking. He was great at it.

Anyway after he graduated high school he stayed in my hometown and got a job at the factory where you often work if you stay in my hometown. I reconnected with him on Facebook many years after high school. I haven’t seen him since and only interact with him on Facebook. There he shares many deeply conservative memes all day long, as if the “Marine Todd” meme laid eggs and out bursted hundreds of likeminded Drudgey memes: "Immigrants should go back to Syria, share if you agree!!!” "If we had one of these guys [beefy soldier in camo holding an assault rifle] in every school, we wouldn’t have school shootings.” “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Then he posts stuff like this almost every day:

He is the person who sits at the end of every internet joke. He is your straw man. Matt. Matt is your guy who posts those unbelievable memes and cannot tell if you don’t realize that that’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson sitting on the train or not.  Matt is the guy you manually retweet so your friends can own him. Matt is the voice that irony has adopted. “Can it, loser” or “Guns are good” are things he would say because that is apparently what he believes now.

I can’t imagine the trauma he’s had in his life, his domestic and economic disparity,  and all of the selfish people who have made it infinitely more difficult for him to communicate truthfully with someone else. Whatever happened to Matt in the intervening years when I left high school since he started working at this factory, whatever caused him to became someone lost in the Breitbart comments, whatever anger that he has that is fueled by people on his end of the spectrum and those off the spectrum, I know it must be difficult. I know he’s working on getting a tech degree. I know that he’s posted several very sad posts about getting his heart broken. 

So when some schmuck doesn’t get that that this dumb thing is a joke

https://twitter.com/ironghazi/status/629725691685261312

I feel very bad. We define these online people by their inability to pick up on social cues and then mock them in our circle of progressive friends who can definitely pick up on irony. I’ve done this many times, we all have, not that it matters because life isn't measured in two hefty sacks of good deeds and bad ones. But when someone clearly doesn't get it, or someone takes a poor tack in a reply or misreads someone’s politics or irony, I think about Matt. 

Empathy Scrum

You can't curate empathy. Social media is not a responsive platform, especially as we run full speed toward this orb of empathy that glows brightest during times of global trauma. But let's say—in order to survive a few more years on this terrible earth—humans are inherently good. We all seek empathy, in our own bruised and inscrutable ways.

So we're not galled by the lack of empathy in others. The true gall that inspires screeds and jeremiads and endless moral positioning in the moments during and immediately after trauma, is that our social platforms are not calibrated to map the infinite paths toward empathy. 

Should you unschedule those innocuous tweets? Should you avoid politicizing a tragedy? Should score some brand points at the expense of the xenophobes? Should you change the logo of your company to the colors of the French flag? Should you tell a story about that time you were in Paris? Should you just say one thing to show you're a human being? Should you say nothing? When is it ok to talk about something else again? When we all feel like just this once we could rally around this one beautiful point of empathy, it's a scrum to get to the middle of it. 

This is not a fault of us humans, or your collegue who you temporarily muted, or your friend from high school who you rage-unfollowed. It's the fault of technology. Neither Facebook nor Twitter (nor blogs for that matter) are built to handle the byzantine pathways of how we deal with trauma, and how each person seeks empathy. One person's path towards do-goodery is another person's worst nightmare, and this dissonance is laid out in two-dimensions surrounded by the scheduled and promoted tweets, event notifications, crass opportunism, trolls, racists, the unaware, and the vast sums money that underly each byte of data.

This is the scrum, and it will never be perfect. The thing is, when we all focus on this empathy and we strive to understand and write our words of wisdom and platitudes of lesser wisdom, we see that finally that we are indeed human beings, in wholly different in terrifying ways. It shatters the binary dialogues of twitter into thousands of pieces, impossible to parse.

What is the root of this person's behavior, and why is it not like mine? This empathy scrum transcends politics, gender, race, profession, and suddenly we see that the stakes are raised on platforms that are chiefly used for dumb conversations and Michael-Jordan-crying-memes. Now, we have real human moments, and the folly of social media is that no platform could possibly capture us as humans. No level of curation could prepare us for that. 

The way we cope and deal with this ancient, biblical trauma ranges from singing Papa Roach at karaoke to laying in bed and doing nothing. This was the difference between me and one of my best friends. In our offline conversation, it was a mutual understanding, even if maybe deep down inside we were a little disappointed in each other. But we knew what the other needed, and we loved and respected it nonetheless.

But to know how others deal with trauma is to let them, and not judge them, even if it seems insanely stupid or extremely prescriptive.  

 

 

 

 

Good Invitation

You want to go see my buddy’s band next Monday? They play at 11 at this bar in Waukesha. It’s not really a bar, it’s more of a karate studio you can smoke in. I’ve never been, but my buddy’s playing this acoustic bass he got on Craigslist three weeks ago because he needed something to do after he broke his ankle playing ping pong with his niece. She got a slice past his right side and in diving for it, he flung himself over the banister right onto his sister’s DVD rack. At the hospital, my buddy told me the ping pong table’s placement on the upstairs landing was only temporary while he moved it out of his room to look for some bass picks, but he could never turn down a game with Mattie. Why he sleeps on a ping pong table is a long story, but it’s some calculus to do with a house fire, his sciatica, and a nauseating fear of ants. 

So he has to play in a cast Monday, which sucks for him because it’s his first time with the band. He used to play bass in that band Dr. Gore, that funk black metal band my buddy said sounded like “early Chili Peps defiling H.P. Lovecraft’s corpse”? I never saw them, but they all wore baseball caps. 

Well, they all wore baseball caps except the DJ, who had a rare condition where his hair hurt. Doctors said it had to do with extra nerve endings bottled up on his skull his hair that caused him searing pain at the slightest touch. One tousle could send him into a coma. Before my buddy joined, the band had to cancel a gig due to a long stretch of breezy nights.

The sad thing is, my buddy didn’t know about the DJ’s hurting hair, so his first night with the band during the DJ solo, my buddy noticed he wasn’t wearing his cap so he went behind him and slapped his cap on the DJ’s head, who without hesitation keeled over onto his turntables. At the police station, the DJ’s lawyer told us that that the words "DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR OR I COULD DIE” printed on the front and back of his shirt were all the grounds he needed to file an assault with intent charge. My buddy swears that he thought that was the name of a band he played with Pewaukee. The case is still in the early stages of litigation, but his bail bond put him deep in debt and then when his house caught on fire, he had to move in with his sister and her daughter Mattie. 

They live in the subdivision with all the McMansions on the west side, but are totally house poor after his sister's divorce. The only other piece of furniture in the living room other than the DVD rack is a couch that sits in the middle of the carpeted room that faces nothing. There's no window, no wall, no mantle, no TV, you sit on the couch and there is this unnerving feeling you are looking at nothing, such is its geographical positioning and the voiding architecture of the room. Of course, you are staring at something, but the room seems to slip away to the periphery. There are doorways that hint at structural meaning, a pathway into what can be be seen as definitively a kitchen, surely a coat room, of course stairs to the basement, but the view from the couch lacks any kind of function, only space defined as space, a glint of a banister, corners of drywall, an endlessly beige carpet, and Mattie waiting to play ping pong. 

The couch is where my buddy is sleeps now, because of the cast. He takes off the seat cushions and sleeps on the wooden slat then covers himself with garbage bags, because of the of ants. 

His new band is supposed to be pretty good. My buddy says they sound like "Violent Femmes trying to unfuck the economy.”

Also I think it’s doors at 11 and my buddy’s band goes on after the openers.

The Newest Website

Went ahead and made a web portal for me. This includes my published writing, my less than published writing, photography, and a robust contact page. Under "Writing" there are links to a selection of things I've written that you can read online. Under "Photography" some of my favorite photos I've taken. And for here, picture, if you will, this space to be used as an old shopping bag where I'll put things that I think are neat and swell. Thanks, friends.