Thursday, June 12, 2014

Forty-Three Years After...And Then Some

We need one of the McCaffrey brothers to look us in the eye and say, "You're doin' it wrong."

          Alex is one of the most gifted writers I've ever known. Now is not the time to criticize him for letting his talent fester (Editor's Note: eight-plus <cough> months since last <cough, cough> post.) in a puddle of spilt microbrew (that he told y'all about on Untappd!) and smoked pork fat. Rather, it should be noted that -- when he's not busy masturbating the retweet button when his phone buzzes about tea parties and Colorado weather -- he's a pretty good follow on Twitter. He's good for a couple doozies a day, even if it is about the lunacies encountered in his daily public-transportation commute or the apparent flock of still-mourning-Tebow that inhabits Denver. For example:


           I won't argue his point, here, which is unusual for me; Alex and I have a healthy history of arguing within whatever medium upon which we can wrench our mitts, but I'll give him this one. I've never owned Freedom Rock, nor have I held a copy in my hands, or given it a listen. I find it amazing that it they actually sold copies of the album considering how many thousands of times that commercial aired when the compilation was released. His tweet is true, but I'll add to it: There are some pretty solid cuts on there, too. Namely, track two, which was written by Alvin Lee and performed by the band Ten Years After. You know it because of its token line:

"I'd love to change the world,
But I don't know what to do.
So I'll leave it up to you."



           I’m not sure when I crossed, but at some point there was a bridge. There had to’ve been. On one side, the carelessness of youth, adolescence -- heck, even early adulthood -- blossomed, snatching raindrops and sun beams away from nearby plants. Life was an abundant bag of chlorophyll, a perpetual source for taking and having the desired, managing to escape -- more often than not -- consequence. I don’t think I gave it much thought, but I think I thought I would just wake up one day and be responsible, like the caterpillar. The days and the weeks didn’t belong to months; years were just a concept. It was just eat, party, get some action if you’re lucky, and kinda, sorta pay attention to the existence of rules every once in a while. And then -- one wicked-late evening -- you pass out. Not like, squeeze in some shut-eye before work in the morning, but, like, actually hibernate. You know: Rent a cocoon, put on a bear suit and totally miss an entire winter.

            On your winged flight out, it’s spring and birds are chirping and you’re rubbing your eyes and shaking off the pixie dust that the responsible fairy sprinkled during your slumber.

            Richard Dawson has his arm around you and has just kissed your butterfly wife (with maybe a little tongue), and he turns you and himself away from the camera.

            “Show me, ‘Pixie Dust’!”

            And yeah, that invasive Aaaaaaaaaaaaaanngghh! with the big, squared red Xs violate the television screen of your life for a moment.

            You’ve set the opposing family up for the steal. No. You set the opposing family up for the steal, and they stole it. They’ve already jumped and hugged and screamed to the music and the victory bell. They’ve already paid their taxi driver and have boarded the plane for their flight home. And they took all the marbles: your dreams, your innocence, your lackadaisical, youthful strut. You’re stuck with the parting gift called adulthood, and it came with a one-page instruction manual. When you look at it, you see seven words. You flip the thing over, scanning the empty backside. You try and peel imaginary corners apart from one another, certain there’s a page two. But there isn’t. It’s just those bold-faced seven words that’re centered on the page without punctuation:

every day is harder than the last

            Here’s the irony: Every day you find little morsels of truth in that. Some days are easy. Relaxing. Some days you actually have the thought: I’ve got it pretty good. Then, almost as quick as that family stole away your grand prize, you’re back into the thick of trying to do what’s right, to leave the world in a better place than you found it, to be considerate of others, to accomplish things, and make order. And it’s not easy.

            Sometimes the stuff is huge; other times the subtlety is almost intoxicating. Like the rain we just got. I think it literally rained for 36 hours straight. And we needed it. Creeks were low, lawns were dying, and farmers were freaking out (Note: Farmers are still freaking out.), trees were murmuring in parchedness, and allergies have been sky high. Seriously. A Kansas City Royals pitcher just had to fight through allergies to be effective in a game in the same week I was getting over pink eye from having such irritation and bacteria in my face.

            When you’re holed up in your stupid head, though, rolling through your day, thinking about the fact that you’re hungry or pissed off that you have to actually go to work and deal with stuff for an entire day -- again -- it’s easy to get into that sinister swirl of self pity. And that’s an ugly place to be. I’m guilty of it. I just was. Wednesday. I mean, honestly: 36 hours? That’s a long time to go without just, like, three minutes of sunshine. I used to think umbrellas were for pussies. But I had that thing with me for two days, pinching it between my neck and shoulder as I loaded kids into (and out of) the car, soaking the inside of my door and my pants as I collapsed it and chucked it on the floor board of the passenger side. This was like jump-over-rapids-in-the-parking-lot rain. And the whole time I’m not thinking about the earth. I’m thinking about the inconvenience of the 11 drops that just got on my shoulder (Note: By “shoulder” I mean the outer threads of the one of two nice shirts I’m wearing.) as I ran into a restaurant to sell someone several hundreds of dollars worth of groceries.

            Anyway…

            I came home and decided I was going to finish the Ta-Nehisi Coates piece from last month’s The Atlantic that a buddy “implore”d me to read. He doesn’t tend to have a quote/unquote nice way of doing things, but this was his nice way of saying, You’re required to read this, you racist prick. Now, he might read this and say something like, Dude I don’t think you’re a racist, but you’ve canoed down a few racist-y rivers before. And then like, 12 seconds later, he’ll mention me in a tweet in some fashion that suggests I’m David Duke’s nephew.

            Here’s a problem I have that seems insurmountable: procrastination. I have not yet garnered the discipline to put my ass in the chair and begin -- without wandering -- the very task I sat down to do. Here’s another problem I have: I call it Facebook. It’s kind of like an addiction in that there are stretches of two, three, four days I’ll go without getting on it at all and that feels like the cleanest of cleans, the purest of highs. Truth: The only reason that happens is because I’ve been too busy to fire up my computer and I refuse to do the Facebook on the phone. But I fired it up, and there I was, scrolling like an idiot, following the feed as it went past my idiot face like a dog staring at the treat in his owner’s waving hand.

            And, uh-oh, a hot button of mine: The now-exhausted battle of the entire fucking world against Daniel Snyder and the goddamn Washington Redskins. They’ve (Note: It’s just a pronoun, not an indictment against a group of people.) made a freaking commercial. They’ve spent considerable -- I would imagine -- hours and dollars to purchase air time. It gets worse: It’s going to air during the stupid-ass National Basketball Association finals. Now, before you lambaste me, let me say that -- as a lifelong lover of Native American culture and spirituality -- the commercial is pretty flippin’ rad:



Except for the last five seconds.

            I’m not going to say that there aren’t bigots in this country that still use language that’s derogatory toward others. I know there is. I hear it with my own ears from time to time. I do, however, doubt that there are people rolling around calling Native Americans “redskins.” In fact, if there are any, I’ll bet there are fewer of those people left than people that still say “injun.” There’s a huge chance I’m wrong and the fact remains that one is too many. But I still stand by the claim that the Washington National Football League franchise does not have a team nickname that was chosen because it was, as a consensus, negative.

            I don’t bring this up because I’m interested in rehashing all of my points on the matter, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this article (on how the franchise’s founder selected the name) didn’t just surface. The point of that article matters none; it is fodder for the change-it movement.What I do think are these two things:

1)      This origin is true and it is silly -- downright fucking silly, I tell you -- that it was decided, over time, that the word no longer means what it meant when it was coined. It now -- in our hyper-sensitive, walk-on-eggshells society -- doesn’t mean what it used to; it means something bad, or mean, so we can’t use it anymore. And by “use it” I mean refer to a football team by the name we’ve been referring to it by for over 80 years. Now, before I list number two, if you are the type that likes to say things like, It’s wrong to use such a name -- and in doing so belittle a people -- for the betterment, promotion, and financial gain of a sports entity, please do the world a favor and bite your tongue, prevent your fingers from typing nonsense into your phone. No one’s doing that. The NFL is promoting the NFL and the NFL only. These are rich people -- or descendants of rich people -- that bought a franchise in order to a) make some money, and b) enhance their sense of pride (while making money). You don’t see people whining about the unfair projection of ranchers being disingenuously represented by the Dallas franchise or original-13-colony re-enactors saying the New England nickname is bunk. And don’t start with the those-groups-of-people-weren’t-mass-murdered-and-relocated argument, because none of that has anything to do with what we call a friggin’ football team.

2)      Changing it doesn’t help anything that has anything to do with Native American populations in the present-day world. It doesn’t, and any argument otherwise is bogus, unfounded, and based on false premonition. But let’s just assume that this movement will gather enough momentum (which, really, it already has) and Daniel Snyder’s hand will be forced. Pick a new nickname. Go ahead. Pick one. Can’t think of one off the top of your head? Okay. I’ll do it for you: Bookmarks. The Washington Bookmarks.


There.

Everybody together now: Take in a huge breath of clean, unadulterated, pejorative-free air and know now that this past Sunday, the Washington Bookmarks fell to the New York Giants by the score of 31-9 because they gave away the house and drafted an uber-hype-y, possibly overrated nigger quarterback out of Baylor that stupid mick Mike Shanahan probably shouldn’t have played as much as he did in December 2012. Guess that dirty kike Dan Snyder needs to exert some of his control.

Wait.

What just happened?

I thought we fixed America by making them the Bookmarks.

How did that language end up in there?

People that use that kind of language can’t exist anymore. We spent the millions. We logged the hundreds of thousands of hours. We bogged the courts and channeled resources that effectively ignored the fact that substance abuse, suicide, poverty, homelessness, and obesity are literally swallowing up the remaining handfuls of Native Americans on this planet in order to get that name changed.

Fuck!

Oh, well. At least when people gather on Sunday to watch football they’re now only thinking about the deliciousness of poultry while gnawing on chicken wings and not thinking about genocide and the destruction of an indigenous people that paved the way to freedom and the American dream.

Whew.

That was some battle. I’m still confused about how that language got in there, though. We got rid of Redmen, Orangemen, Fighting Sioux, and now Redskins. I guess it’s the eradication of Seminoles, Braves, Chiefs, Indians, and Blackhawks that will eliminate negative thinking and nasty words. I mean, the answer has to be in sports-teams nicknames, right? Back to the fundraising and the courtrooms! Grassroots, people! Grassroots!Oh. Right. Sorry. We can’t call it that anymore, as it offends the almost-extinct Stipa and Tobosa strains. Astroturfing, people! Astroturfing!

            Anyway, that wasn’t why I dialed up the GoreTubes.

            I came across this article, too. If you don’t feel like clicking, it’s about Ed O’Bannon, et al suing the National Collegiate Athletic Association because they feel like students should get money for their name and likeness being used in video games and licensing. Or, as I like to put it, make college even less like college than it already was for the student-athlete. You know, the ones that spend insert-whatever-amount-of-time-they-feel-like years not studying and not going to class because they’re too busy partying and getting laid and playing sports while being given a free place to eat and live before they go collect a huge paycheck.

            Frankly, I don’t give a shit about college football, or -- in the grand scheme of things -- college sports for that matter. So, go ahead. Fuck it up more than television revenues already have. Get your piece of those dollars. That institution hasn’t existed for decades before you got there. Matter of fact, they’re going to rename the damn joint after you’re gone. And you know what? Once the initial buzz wears off and you’re screwing up your brain for millions of dollars a year by playing football, you can probably sue your next employer, too. After all, it was them that forced you to choose a violent sport as a profession that pays more than, um, well…every job of every person I’ve ever met.

            Oh.

            You’re not seeking past monies?

            Just half of all of the revenue that college sports in America generate? And you want it tucked away in a nifty little trust fund? Ah. Why’nt you say so, bro? That’s totally doable. And logical. Here. When we’re done signing those papers, we’ll show you the appropriate steps for who you should sue (and when) in the pros, and after lunch we’ll have a panel of retirement specialists from whom you can get free financial advice. Once you’ve completed a session with them, we’ll show you the six easy steps to suing them within three short weeks of the conclusion of your playing days. And that’s not all! For the twilight presentation, we’ve got a guy who will sell you a burial plot and let you sue him for more than you paid for it right in the same sitting!

            Ooo. Almost forgot. Put your e-mail address on this list for tips on the fast track to sue the specific franchise for whom you played because of a legal loophole. Feeling funny about shitting on the staple of a city that adored you and treated you like royalty for most of your career? Fuh-get about it!I really don’t care how much of the vast minority I’m in (or if I am the vast minority) in one, many, or all of these situations. In my mind, the litigiousness of America is a virus and if we’re not careful it will eat us all.

            Court cases used to be something distant, something intriguing, something that meant something, something you pored over in a history book and answered essay questions about on an exam. Now it’s like the new pair of shoes. One person’s got a lawsuit; now e’rrrybody wants one. (Update: And they’re winning them, too.

            You look like a bunch of assholes, people. A bunch of incapable, expectant, demanding, spoiled assholes. You’re not even doing what I’m doing, which is being problem-focused instead of conjuring solutions. You are part of the problem. You’re using the legal system to make weak-sauce, conflated statements and cash in on the easy dollar. This doesn’t end well. It ends in higher forms of corruption (and corruption to placate the corruption) until the seams burst and people take matters into their own hands, which, in case you’re too greedy and lazy to read between the lines, means violence and destruction.

            And then where are we?

            Who’ll give a shit about sports then?

            What will language matter?

“I’d love to change the world,
But I don’t know what to do.
So I’ll leave it up to you.”
            Anyway, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

            Don’t be lazy. Read his article. It’s called “The Case for Reparations.” I believe he (and whoever else helped him on this) spent 18 months putting it together. It is solution focused. It would love to change the world, and it is doing more than just leaving it up to you and your bitch-ass lawsuits and our whiny little piss-ant blog posts.

            For starters, it is not shy about posing questions that everyone asks or will ask. I know I did:Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay? But if the practicalities, not the justice, of reparations are the true sticking point, there has for some time been the beginnings of a solution. For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for ‘appropriate remedies.’”

            This, my friends, is what I call a solution. That doesn’t mean that reparations (or the study of the idea) is the most pressing issue in America, but it also doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Coates writes about the inseparable entities of a freedom that was begotten by the world’s first democracy and the means by which that freedom was acquired: slave labor that built a from-scratch economy. At first I thought the most profound piece of that excerpt was the idea. Then I realized that the year of its birth -- 1989 -- was. This would have been the end of the Reagan/Bush run, when Clinton was still new to the White House. His two terms came and went, as did those of our last president, leaving us near the halfway point of Barack Obama’s second term, yet the thing has yet to stick.

            “It’s because it’s black folks making the claim,” Nkechi Taifa, who helped found N’COBRA, says. “People who talk about reparations are considered left lunatics. But all we are talking about is studying [reparations]. As John Conyers has said, we study everything. We study the water, the air. We can’t even study the issue? This bill does not authorize one red cent to anyone.”

            Taifa is correct. John Conyers Jr. is in fact a black man, which beckons a curiosity into what might happen if a white politician proposed the study. I imagine a number of both Democrats and Republicans would internalize the issue, and perhaps determine the members of their extended families to be without fault. Coates is aware of this phenomenon, too.

            “One cannot escape the question by hand-waving at the past, disavowing the acts of one’s ancestors, nor by citing a recent date of ancestral immigration.”

            Again: precisely what I did. I come from Irish heritage, a people who fled persecution, sought safety and opportunity, and in some areas of the country were alleged to be treated just as bad as blacks. I say alleged because I’ve read that and heard that in various places. I imagine, though, that if you extrapolate the treatment of Irish immigrants over time and compare the numbers of the populations, those claims would all but vanish. And I certainly don’t imagine that those enlisted -- upon the conclusion of their services -- were exposed to some of the intolerances experienced by African-American soldiers who had completed their duties.

            “At the end of World War I, black veterans returning to their homes were assaulted for daring to wear the American uniform.”There are a couple more Coates notes worth sharing. This first one exemplifies the mindset of countless United States citizens that view life as a restaurant in which they are privileged to dine, an establishment in which they may choose their favorites and ignore the rest:

            “To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting America’s origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte.”

            The next speaks to the possibility of the unknown, or the belief that considering a gesture threatens to steal from the entitled mass of diners:

            “The popular mocking of reparations as a harebrained scheme authored by wild-eyed lefties and intellectually unserious black nationalists is fear masquerading as laughter.

            With a number of passages in the piece, I found myself -- at least temporarily -- challenged by the meanings we’ve come to associate with certain words and terminologies. In this particular case, I realized that I had to acknowledge the ‘y’ and not imagine an ‘i-s-t’ in its place:

            “…white supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.”

            The final quote speaks for itself. Denial of this truth leads back to that masquerading fear:

            “What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.”

            This, I posit, is the proverbial get-it-out-in-the-open technique, or the get-it-off-your-chest mechanism. If it’s foolish or unnecessary, may it be dismissed and another substitution of equal or greater value be put in its place. But remember it. Think about it while you’re getting rained on and griping about the difficulty of your life. Consider how you might make an impact in this country because the rest of it is sitting there, wasting dumpsters full of dollars and a death-row’s collection of still-alive minutes trying to make a different footprint -- one that resembles team-name changes and video-game royalties -- in the sand. All you have to do is fucking think about it. It won’t cost you television-ad rates or lawyer-retainer fees. Just your thoughts.

            In a way, I’m glad that I do not bear the gifts of tackling the social and political through writing. It makes things easier. Research -- a requisite for which I lack the time and resources -- is dismissed. Knowledge -- a shallow well tappable (with frequency) in my back yard alone -- remains on my own side of the fence. And opinion -- a listing no less than any other -- stays leashed, sheltered from the possibility of idea exploration. I can keep things, as they say, in the wheel house. I can hit home runs but round the bases before the throw home, and never have to purchase another ball.This is not to ignore the existence of the desire to pay the minor-league dues, to one day hit the deep blast that gets wrestled over in the bleachers and battled over on eBay. That knot is lodged in there, unreachable by antacid, a planet invisible to the naked eye. My purgatory -- it seems --consists of doing that of which I’m most critical: being problem-focused instead of solution.

“I’d love to change the world,
But I don’t know what to do.
So I’ll leave it up to you.”