all the horrible things

I’m kinda down this morning. I had one of my bi-annual PTSD nightmares last night, and this morning it’s gloomy and rainy and cold, and Comrade Trump is…okay, wait. I should probably oughta take a short (honest, it’ll be short) tangent here.

Everything is horrible.

Kinda down is what I have instead of depression. I don’t really get depressed. I used to think I did, until I talked to folks who experience real depression — and you guys, that’s a whole nother thing. That shit sound really fucking grim. Kinda down is basically just a short-term grumbly dissatisfied unhappiness. I’ll be kinda down for…I don’t know, maybe a few hours, tops. Or until the cat does something weird. Or I see something interesting somewhere. I may have an entire day in which…no, that’s not true — maybe an entire morning or afternoon…that’s sporadically, episodically kinda down, but that’s about it. This is how lightly kinda down sits on me: when I get kinda down, I also feel kinda grateful that I don’t get actually depressed. The truth is kinda down is a pretty candy-ass negative emotional state.

So, I’m kinda down this morning because (see above)…and Comrade Trump is still horrible and still POTUS. His POTUSish days are probably numbered because of the coming election, but the bloated bastard is still lumbering around in the White House, and that casts an ungly (yeah, I misspelled ‘ugly’ there, but I sorta like the way ‘ungly’ looks and sounds as a word) shadow on the entire United States.

No, really, things are horrible.

I’m kinda down because yesterday in San Diego a man shot and killed his wife and his three sons, then killed himself. I’m not down because of the murders themselves (though I probably ought to be, because that’s just horrible); I’m kinda down because killing your whole family and yourself doesn’t count as a mass murder. Seriously. The most common definition of a mass murder (and c’mon, it’s fucking horrible that we have to have define it) states the murders have to take place in a public place in which four or more people are killed in a single episode, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence. This guy killed 1) his family 2) at home so hey, bingo, NOT a mass murder.

And I’m kinda down because Venice is underwater, and the air quality in Delhi is so bad some ‘entrepreneurs’ have opened an ‘oxygen bar’ where they SELL a few gulps of fresh air to folks who can afford to pay for it, while Trump continues to roll back EPA clean air and water regulations, and his mob of MAGAwits are still falling for the lie that climate change is a hoax.

No, horribler than that.

I’m kinda down about an article I read on some Irish news site (yeah, I periodically check Irish news sites because I’ve Irish roots, and Irish news is so much nicer that US news; the Irish are maybe the happiest miserable people in the world, with the possible exception of the Finns because, c’mon, those poor bastards have to live in Finland) about how difficult it is for trans folks to shop for clothes. Shopping for clothes ought to be really easy for everybody. You need a shirt, you go to a store, you find a shirt you like, you buy the damned shirt…that’s it. It never occurred to me how buying a shirt (or a blouse or pants or whatever) would be so massively difficult and traumatic for trans folks. But of course it is. Why doesn’t Target or Kohl’s just create a sort of trans-wear section, like they have for young men or sportswear or coffee pots, for fuck’s sake. You know, just some place where trans folks can buy a pair of pants without having to deal with other folks’ horribleness.

I’m also kinda down because yesterday I picked up my camera and didn’t remember how to use it. I’m talking about my actual camera camera (well, one of them) instead of using the camera in my phone, and when I say I didn’t remember how to use it, I mean I’ve forgotten how to do certain technical things (like use spot metering NOT in the middle of the frame, if that makes sense). Technical things that were second nature to me a year or two ago. And was the menu organization always that cumbersome? Am I going to have to be reduced to using program mode for a while? I mean, program mode? Did gremlins get hold of my camera as it sat idle on the shelf and re-arrange everything while I wasn’t looking?

Also? I’m kinda down because…well, no. It’s over now. I really wanted to get one more horrible thing here — and lawdy, there are SO MANY horrible things — but I got a Twitter notification so I looked away and lawdy, Stephen Fry has posted a photo of himself with something approximating a mustache. And now the cat wants my attention, and there are brownies for breakfast, and tonight I’ll watch the new episode of The Good Place and despite all the horrible things…sorry. I almost said something trite and ‘inspirational’ here, and there’s nothing more annoying than trite inspirational stuff.

So, that’s it then.

it’s not a toomah

Okay, first — I don’t have a brain tumor. I’m just saying that right up front to shed any drama from the rest of the post. No tumor, no cyst, no alien symbiot, ain’t nothing growing in my head. Just wanted to get that out of the way. Now, the story about not having a brain tumor.

A few years ago I began to notice my left ear felt…okay, here’s a problem. How do you describe something wonky with your hearing? I’ve been going through this with doctors for about a year or so, and I still can’t get it right. The thing is, sounds in my left ear are muted a bit, but with an intermittent sort of hollow echo-ish thing. It’s sort of like having water in your ear, or that air pressure thing you experience when flying — only it’s not constant. It’s like a filter that instantly creates a weird doppler-like effect then just as suddenly stops.

Confusing, right? Anyway, I first noticed it when I was living alone in an old farmhouse in the hills of rural Pennsylvania, trying to be a writer. The thing about living alone in the hills trying to be a writer is that you can go days without seeing or talking to anybody. That isolation is great for writing, but it also means you don’t really notice that your hearing in one ear has become sporadically fucked up. When you do notice it, it’s just a minor annoyance, and since you have no health insurance, you just ignore it and assume it will clear itself up or just go away.

It didn’t. But I’d gotten used to it and by the time I came to my senses and moved back into the world of people, I was used to it. It meant occasionally asking folks sitting to my left to repeat stuff. Not a big deal. It’s especially not a big deal when those folks know you to be the sort of person who spends a lot of time just thinking about stuff. If I miss what other folks are saying, they tend find excuses for it. They assume I’m distracted (and I often am) or just not paying attention to them (usually, though not always, wrong) or that they’ve just said something I find particularly interesting and I want them to repeat it (sometimes true).

So that’s been the situation. I’m accustomed to not quite hearing or understanding what folks say, and they’re accustomed to me asking them to repeat themselves. You know, ‘That’s just Greg — he’s probably thinking about the Norman Conquest or turtles or the origin of the word ‘omelet’ or what he’s going to cook for supper.’ Like that.

Then about a year ago my ex said something to this effect: “Dude, you really need to get your hearing checked.” And I realized she was right. So I did. Not immediately, but when I had my next check-up I mentioned it.

The doctor poked and prodded, did some interesting stuff with a tuning fork, and said, “All them little bones in your ear? Ain’t nothing wrong with them. Probably your eustachian tubes might be fucked up. Try some Flonase for a month, probably clear it right up.” (Not a direct quote).

It didn’t clear up. So he scheduled an exam with an audiologist. This is where things started to get weird. I had the exam a couple of weeks ago. They gave me some hearing tests. The first was just a series of beeping sounds — some loud, some soft, some low-pitched, some high. I assumed I heard fine out if my right ear and missed some beeps in my left. The next test involved words. I’m my right ear I’d hear, “Say the word ‘hard.’ Say the word ‘bell’.” Nothing to it. But in my left ear I’d hear, “Say the word ‘blargh.’ Say the word ‘dog.’ Say the word ‘froon.’

Turns out I could hear equally well in both ears, but I couldn’t correctly identify a third of the words I heard in my left ear. The doctor said, “Dude, you need an MRI of your whole damn head. Something’s fucked up in there. Might be nerve damage, might be something growing in your head is pressing on a nerve. A cyst maybe, maybe a tumor, I dunno. Something.” (Not a direct quote.)

Leaving the doctor’s office after the Possible Alien Symbiot diagnosis.

Afterwards I sat in the car and had the following thoughts:

  • Well, that explains a lot.
  • I guess I’ll have to tell my ex and my brother I might have an alien symbiot growing inside my skull. They’ll be concerned.
  • I probably ought to be concerned too.

But I wasn’t. I mean, nothing had changed. If a symbiot was growing in my skull, it had been growing for a while. It was either there or it wasn’t. No point in fretting about it.

So I told them with as little fuss as possible. “Yeah, saw the doctor, might be something in my head, got an MRI scheduled next week, how about those Red Sox?” And they accepted it with minimal fuss, which I appreciated. Then (aside from occasional desire to exclaim “It’s NOT a toomah!“) I basically forgot about it.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I didn’t think about the symbiot or what it might mean for…well, my life, or how they’d eventually deal with it. But I did think about the MRI. I’ve never had one before, so I was curious about it. When I talked to the MRI Johnnies about scheduling I’d told them I was mildly claustrophobic. They said not to worry, they had a new shiny large imaging unit for folks who didn’t like tight enclosed spaces.

I showed up as scheduled only to find there was another patient — an absolutely enormous guy. I’m guessing close to three hundred pounds. I was told I could either wait, reschedule, or have the MRI in the older narrow unit. They showed me the older unit. It was pretty massive, but the patient-tube sleeve (probably not what it’s actually called) was…well, small. Teensy.

“How long will it take?” I asked. The tech said, “Thirty, thirty-five minutes.” I thought, Well, how bad could it be? All I have to do is lie still for half an hour. So I said okay. The tech said, “Then we’ll pull your ass out, inject some dye into your arm, and slam you back inside that sausage tube for another fifteen or twenty minutes.” (Not a direct quote.)

I almost said I’d wait. But I didn’t. I said, “Fuck it, let’s go.” (Not a direct quote.)

It was unpleasant. First, you insert expandable foam plugs in your ears to mute the noise. Then there are — I don’t know what you’d call them. Firm cushiony things placed around your head to keep you from moving it. Then they slide a sort of plastic ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ thing over your face. After that, a conveyor belt slides you inside the tube, which is so narrow your shoulders are pressed up against the sides. The tech speaks to you over some sort of intercom, which is absolutely useless since you’re in a tube and you’re wearing ear plugs and you’re there because your hearing is already fucked up. So you’ve no idea whether she’s saying “Okay, everything is fine, here we go” or “Oh my god you’ve got a fucking symbiot growing inside your head.”

Then the noise begins. Weird mechanical noises. Banging, whirring, grinding. I was lying there thinking that this wasn’t the least bit amusing or interesting, when I had a moment of…well, let’s call it a sort of enlightenment. Dye. They were going to inject dye into my arm to give them a better image of my brain. Because there might be a symbiot growing in there. And I had the following thoughts:

  • These folks are seriously testing my brain for symbiots.
  • They’re more concerned about these possible symbiotic motherfuckers than I am.
  • I should be more concerned about brain symbiots.

And for a moment, I was. Then I realized that nothing had changed. If a symbiot was growing in my skull, it had been growing for a while. It was either there or it wasn’t. And there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it while I was packed inside a torpedo tube. Just focus on your breathing and let it all go.

So I did. All in all, I was packed in that tube for about 50 minutes. When it was over, I was given two scheduling options for an appointment to review the results. Wednesday the 11th at 8:00 AM or Friday the 13th at 1:00 PM. I figured if there was a symbiot growing in my skull, it had been growing there for a while — so there’s no point in getting up early to find out. It would still be there Friday afternoon.

Then I basically forgot about it again. Until yesterday morning, when I was showering and shaving to go to my appointment. And I had the following thoughts:

  • In a couple of hours I’m going to find out if there’s something alien growing inside my skull.
  • I should probably be more concerned about this; something alien growing inside your skull just ain’t right.
  • Maybe the alien symbiot that might be growing inside your skull is fucking up my thinking, which is why I’m not as concerned about it as I should be.
  • Oh well, I guess I’ll find out.

And I did. There’s no drama here, remember? I told you right at the beginning. No tumor, no cyst, no alien symbiot. I went to the doctor’s office, they put me in an exam room, and a few minutes later the doctor came in and said, “Dude, no tumor. Your entire brain is shiny as a peach. Probably you had some sort of virus thingy that fucked up a nerve. That’s what we tell folks when we don’t really know why their hearing in one ear is fucked up. Anyway, your hearing IS fucked up and almost certainly won’t get any better, but hey…no tumor, right? So go now and be happy.” (Not a direct quote.)

So I did. I left and I was happy. I told my ex and my brother that the MRI showed my brain was perfectly normal. My ex was happy; the brother suggested I get a second opinion.

I don’t normally spend much time thinking about how I feel about things. I mean, I’ve known myself my whole life — there aren’t many surprises there. But for a moment this morning I had this odd sense that I should have felt something more when I learned my brain was being slowly gnawed away. Something big, something dramatic. But I was basically happy before all this began, and I’m still happy now. So nothing changed.

However, there was a moment — that moment right after the doctor said there was no tumor — that I felt something. Not big, not dramatic. It wasn’t relief or a release of tension. Or if it was, I wasn’t really aware of the tension to begin with.

It was something more like apricity.

The appreciation of experiencing the warmth of the sun on a winter day.

Do you know that word? It’s an obscure word for a common feeling. It was first included in Henry Cockeram’s English Language Dictionary, published in 1623. This, by the way, was only the third known book to serve the function of an English dictionary, but it was the first to actually be called a dictionary. All of which is beside the point, although this tangent probably helps explain why folks often thought I was just distracted when I asked them to repeat stuff they’d said to me.

Anyway, apricity. That’s what I felt when the doctor said I was symbiot-free. It refers to an appreciation of experiencing the warmth of the sun in winter.

Apricity. Yesterday was a perfectly lovely end-of-summer day. Sunshine, 78 degrees, light breeze. But sitting on an exam table in a doctor’s office, I felt something like the warmth of the sun coming out from behind the clouds on a wintery day.

“No tumor,” he said. And I said, “Cool.” (That’s a direct quote.)

a certain regard for audacity

Okay, I know this is going to sound weird. But I have a certain regard for Melania Trump’s red Christmas trees. Don’t get me wrong–they’re horrible. But they’re also bizarrely beautiful. If we saw those crimson trees in a movie with subtitles, outside of the context of Christmas, they could win awards for set design.

But what I really appreciate about those trees is Melania’s deliberately in-your-face approach to holiday decoration. She had to know how ordinary folks and the media would respond to them, but that didn’t dissuade her. It’s as if Melania Trump is saying, “You make fun of me? You mock me? Pffft, your opinion means nothing. I will not shrink away. I will cover your Christmas trees in the blood of innocents. I will create in the hallways of your presidential palace a nightmare so hellish it can never be cleansed. I will crush your soul through fashion. This I will do to your Christmas, and though you may weep and rend your clothes, there is nothing…nothing…you can do to stop me. I will have my revenge; you will look into my narrow eyes and cower on your knees before me.”

Comrade Trump, of course, is a buffoon, but Melania is not. She has the elegance and audacity of a Bond villain. Trump may shout and threaten and bluster; he could destroy the nation as much through accident as intent. But Melania would set fire to the entire world with cold, casual contempt. She’d cut your throat with exquisite precision using a Danish-designed scalpel, then she’d kick you once–just once–very carefully and methodically, directly in the balls for bleeding on her Christian Louboutins. She may be terrible, but she’s terrible with deliberation and a flair for the dramatic.

The thing is, she can’t burn the world. She lacks access to real power, for which we should be grateful. She is mocked and scorned and ridiculed, and her only weapons of reprisal are fashion and set design. I can’t find it in me to like her or feel much in the way of sorrow for her; to some extent she’s earned the mocking and scorn and ridicule. But at the same time, I feel compassion for her. She made a deal with the devil, and I suspect it’s cost her more than she bargained for.

In a weird way, I respect the fact that she’s fighting back. There may not be anything very Christmasy about those red firs, but they’re delicious as a gesture of defiance. I only wish she’d made her walk down that hallway while drinking from a red Starbucks cup.

happy meal memorial day

You guys! Tomorrow is…wait, are you ready for this? Sit down. Just sit your ass down and get ready for some news! You guys, tomorrow…and I’m not making this up…is Memorial Day AND the unofficial first day of summer AND Burger Day! How cool is that? Totally cool, is how cool.

I know this is true on account of this is the actual headline and lede from USA Today:

National Burger Day: Juicy burger deals Monday collide with Memorial Day

Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer and a popular day to grab a burger. This year, there’s an additional reason to enjoy a beef patty whether you attend a holiday weekend barbecue or go to your favorite restaurant. Monday is National Burger Day and several restaurants are celebrating with deals.

Sweet Jeebus of the Pickle, aren’t we lucky? Honor dead soldiers AND get a good deal on a bacon cheeseburger, all on the unofficial start of summer! You guys, is this a great country or what? I declare, this calls for…you know what this calls for? I’ll tell you. It calls for poetry!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is about as American as a poet can be. His son got all shot up during some battle in the Civil War, so our boy Henry put out a chunk of poetry about war and all. Take it away, Henry!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

Rest and sleep, comrades…after you’ve had your burger! For a limited time, you can get the Carhop Classic at Sonic for US$2.99! You guys, we’re talking about a quarter pound double cheeseburger and medium tots! OR you can get yourself a classic signature slinger and medium tots, also for just under THREE BUCKS! Holy crap, is that a real deal? (Hint: yes, it’s a real deal.)

You know who else is the real deal? Joyce Kilmer, that’s who. Yeah, I know, he’s got a girl’s name and he wrote that poem about trees that every kid in America learns at some point, but there’s more to him than that. He was a soldier, you guys. In the War to End Wars. And he churned out some poetry before he got himself shot in the head and killed by a sniper before the Second Battle of the Marne. Okay, Joyce, you’re up!

The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.

You know what else cleaves the sky? The new Chili’s Chili Burger, that’s what! You can cleave the sky with one for only US$6.99 Monday–BUT you have to mention National Burger Day. You can also get the Classic Bacon Burger or an Oldtimer with Cheese for the same price, but you still have to mention National Burger Day. You fail to say National Burger Day, you’ll have to pay full price. Life is full of risks like that, you guys.

Paul Fussell, there’s a guy who understood risk. He wasn’t really a poet, though, but I’m going to include him on account of his precise explanation of the progress of fatalism among combat troops is basically poetry. During World War II, in some battle in Alsace, our boy Paul spent a morning sucking dirt in a hole while most of his unit was wiped out by machine gun fire. But even though he escaped the direct fire in the morning, that afternoon what was left of his troops came under artillery fire and poor Paul took a nasty bunch of shrapnel in the leg.

So, what have you got to say, Paul?!

It can’t happen to me.
It can happen to me.
It is going to happen to me.
Nothing is going to prevent it.

And nothing will prevent you from getting half off a Wendy’s Baconater (the offer is good one-time per customer). That’s two (2!) quarter pound beef patties with six (ohmygod 6!) strips of bacon. There’s not a single veggie to duck! PLUS you can ger yourself a Frosty for only fifty cents! You guys, that’s a meal that won’t wound your wallet!

The unofficial beginning of summer, National Burger Day, AND Memorial Day. A great deal! A great burger! A great holiday! You guys, a great country!

julius caesar, the foreskin of jesus, time to dance

Time is weird. No, wait…that’s not right. Time isn’t weird; the way people mark time, that’s what’s weird. For a big chunk of Western history, the new year began on March 1. Which makes actual sense, if you think about it. I mean, that’s pretty much the season in which life begins to re-assert itself after winter has stopped tossing its weight around.

The reason — one of the reasons — we celebrate January 1 as the first day of the new year is because Julius Caesar (yes, that Julius Caesar) decided people had fucked up the calendar, and he was just the boy to fix it. The problem was the early Roman calendar was a lunar calendar and only had ten months, ending in December (from the Latin word decem, meaning ten). Six of the months had thirty days, the other four had thirty-one. Why did some months have an extra day? Nobody really seems to know. There had to be a reason, but it was a long time ago — people forget. And really, who cares? It was fucked up, right? That’s why our boy Julius had to fix it.

Anyway, you can see the problem. The Roman year only had 304 official days. So they periodically added in a few extra days here and there (usually for political purposes), and they included a sort of block of unorganized winter days (and we all know what that’s like — it’s cold, it’s dark, one day is pretty much as miserable as another, and they all sort of blend together), and now and then they’d toss in an intercalary month of twenty-seven days. Sometimes twenty-eight days.

On with the dance! let joy be unconfined; No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet to chase the glowing hours with flying feet.

Really, considering how organized the Roman empire was, it was a terribly sloppy way to deal with time. Seasons got weird, holidays would begin too early or too late, harvest festivals would be scheduled before the harvest was ready. Nothing made any sense. Folks complained. So one day Julius said, “Okay, this shit really has to stop.” He hired a guy from Alexandria, Sosigenes, who told him, “Dude, let’s just do what the Egyptians do. Chuck that whole lunar thing and base the calendar on the sun.”

So that’s what they did. They had to create a few new months, and add in a few extra days, but they banged together a new calendar and in the year 45 BC they said, “This is the first day of January, named for Janus the god of beginnings and endings, the god of gates and passages and doorways, the god of duality and transitions. And from now on, this is going to be the first day of the new year. Party on, people.”

The people partied on, but they still pretty much celebrated March 1 as beginning the new year. I mean, c’mon…tradition. And common sense. Who feels like celebrating in the middle of fucking winter? Even after the Roman Empire (and most of the Western world) went all over Christian, January 1 wasn’t treated as the beginning of the new year. Basically, it was celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. Which was a pretty big deal back then. You see, eight days after Jesus was born, his folks held a bris, a mohel nipped off his holy foreskin, they gave him his name, then everybody had a nice meal. Christians didn’t go in for all that; they skipped everything but the meal, but they still thought it was a fine thing to honor the day Jesus was separated from his foreskin. (Religion is also weird.)

Eventually the Julian calendar was supplanted (if ‘supplanted’ means what I think it means — I can’t be bothered to look it up) by the Gregorian calendar, and the Gregorian calendar got refined, and science weighed in, and time was more tightly ordered, and the world became more secular, and relatively few people wanted to celebrate the circumcision of Jesus, and now when you buy a calendar at the book store it begins in January. It’s not entirely universal, but January 1 has generally become accepted as the first day of the year.

When buds are breaking and birds singing merrily, dance with me.

But it’s basically all bullshit. Thomas Mann had it right when he wrote:

Time has no divisions to mark its passing. There is never a thunderstorm to announce the beginning of a new month or year.

Really, this is just another day. A lot of folks still have to go to work, the cat’s litter box still needs to be cleaned and the dog needs to be walked, food has to be prepared and dishes have to be cleared away and washed, the snow will still fall and have to be cleared off the sidewalk, people will still be people, and you’re still the same person you were yesterday.

It’s just another day. Nothing has really changed. But so what? Sometimes what we need is a symbolic transition. A point at which we can tell ourselves this is where things begin to change. This point, right here, this is the line. From this point forward, things will be different.

Doesn’t have to be the beginning of the year. Could be a birthday. Or an anniversary. It doesn’t even have to be a temporal point. It could be any symbolic point. Once I get my own apartment, once I get my first real job, once I can run a 5K, once I graduate, once I get married, once I can afford a ticket to Spain, once I get my driver’s license, once I get divorced, once the kids have grown up and left home, from that point on things will be different. That decisive point, whatever it is, it’s worth celebrating.

Now I think of it, I’m beginning to believe there’s actually something admirable about reaching that point on the first day of January. There’s something defiant choosing a day in the middle of the least hospitable, most bitter, darkest fucking season of the year. There’s something cheeky about shouting out, “It’s January First, bitches…and it’s time to dance.”

some things i care about and some things i just don’t

You know what? I don’t care that Anthony Weiner is apparently texting photos of his dick again. The guy obviously has a problem, but it’s his problem. I don’t need to read about it, I don’t want to see the photos, and I really don’t give a tinker’s fart about him or his dick.

I do care that his wife and his family will now have to go through a buttload of public humiliation simply because HE wants people to look at his dick. A lot of people enjoy seeing other folks get humiliated or degraded, of course; there’s an entire media industry devoted to humiliating and degrading people for profit. There are aspects of modern American society that are contemptible. I don’t like it, but it’s the price of freedom and all that, right? It’s just a fucking shame that the price has to be paid by Anthony Weiner’s wife and family.

Totally don't care about this guy.

Totally don’t care about this guy.

Here’s something else I don’t care about: Colin Kapernik Kapernich Kaepernick and whether he stands or sits during the national anthem. A lot of folks seem to be pretty pissed off about this, but Jeebus Compost — the guy is just a football player. The guy gets paid to play a violent (though sometimes beautiful) sports game. There are football players who beat and sexually assault women, there are football players who drive drunk, who get into bar brawls, who occasionally shoot at people and sometimes hit them. That sort of shit bothers me — not this Kaepernick unit and his refusal to stand in spite of tradition. I suspect Kaepernick’s political views aren’t very different from my own — but still, who cares? His political and/or moral positions are no more important to me than the person sitting at the next table in the coffee shop (well, maybe Kaepernick’s opinion carries a tad more weight with me because the woman at the next table ordered a pumpkin white mocha and it’s still August, for fuck’s sake). Colin Kaepernick can stand up, sit down, or spin around like a fucking dreidl — I just don’t care.

90yovet

This guy, I totally care about. Both these guys, in fact.

do care that the guy in the photo above stood up. I care that he made the effort, and I care why he made the effort. I don’t know the whole story behind the photo; it’s entirely possible the story that accompanies the photo is total bullshit. I like the story anyway. Here it is, all 21 words of it:

This 90 yr old stood up, Obama told him he didn’t have to stand. He said, “No Sir, you’re the President.”

That story about the nameless old man means a hell of a lot more to me than the pages that have been devoted to Kaepernick staying parked on his ass. I’m a veteran; I spent four years in active military harness. I stand up for presidents, even if I don’t like them. I stand up for the national anthem, even when I’m ashamed of some of the things my nation has done. I stand up for old folks, because getting old is hard work. And I stand up for the right to NOT stand up for presidents, national anthems, or old folks. It’s that price of freedom business again.

Finally, I don’t care if YOU care about these things. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t care about them; I’m just saying it doesn’t matter to me. You get to care about what you care about. I have friends who care deeply and passionately about things that seem totally meaningless to me. I know for a fact there are things I care about that mean nothing whatsoever to my friends and family (‘inbox’ is NOT a goddamn verb, people, it’s just NOT).

If I don’t care, then why am I writing this? Because I get email from folks asking me what I think about Colin Kaperwhatever not standing up or Anthony Weiner’s infatuation with his own dick. I’m writing this because I care about those folks and I don’t want them to think my failure to care about the crap they care about means I don’t care about them. If that makes sense.

If it doesn’t make sense…well, guess what.

guy in a green bay packers stocking cap

Last Friday I experienced the ugliest thing I’ve encountered in a long, long time. Most days I take a walk; once or twice a week I’ll extend that walk and stop in at a corner Stop&Rob convenience store. You know — a place where you can get gasoline, buy a snack, get a drink, and hit the road again. I stop there because they have fresh cookies every day.

I was standing in line to buy my cookie behind a guy wearing a Green Bay Packers stocking cap. He was maybe my age, maybe a bit younger, a little paunchier, buying a large bottled Starbucks frappuccino. I’m a friendly guy, usually, and I like to chat with strangers, so I made a comment about the Packers and the tough year they’d had. The guy seemed friendly enough, and since there was only one person working the counter at the Stop&Rob, the line was moving slowly and we had a moment to visit. He asked me who I liked in the Super Bowl.

I started to say “I’m not a big fan of Cam Newton, but I’ll be rooting for Carolina because they’re the more exciting team.”

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Okay, a tangent. Cam Newton is, in my opinion, the most interesting, the most creative, the most watchable, and the most annoying quarterback in the National Football League. I enjoy watching him play football. But I don’t much like him. Why? Because he always seems to know where the cameras are. He likes the attention.

Nothing wrong with that, in itself. But quarterbacks, because of the nature of the game and that particular position, are always the center of attention. Always. And they should be. But because they’re always the center of attention, it’s my very personal opinion that they should deflect some of that attention to their teammates. And to be fair, Cam Newton does that — but usually after he’s soaked up his own share of attention.

I think it’s sort of childish. But that’s the thing about the guy. He plays football with all the reckless joy of a kid. He runs with the ball a lot. A LOT. When I first saw him playing, I assumed he did that because he thought he was the best runner on the team, or because he wanted the glory. Now I think he does that because he just likes to run with the ball. I think he does it at least in part because he’s having fun. It’s a tad selfish, I think, but kids are a tad selfish. And the fact is, he really IS a good runner. Hell, he’s good at everything. And he’s really good at having fun playing football. How can you NOT love that?

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Look at this photo. There’s Cam Newton being chased by guys who are paid millions of dollars to knock the shit of their opponents. And given the chance, they’d cheerfully knock the shit out of Cam Newton. And he’s laughing. He knows that one solid tackle could end his career, but look at him. He’s actually having fun.

I sound like a fan, don’t I. But I’m not. Well, maybe I am. But I don’t think so. Doesn’t matter. What matters is I was going to tell this guy in the Packers stocking cap that I wasn’t a fan of Cam Newton, but that I’d be rooting for the Carolina Panthers because they’re so much fun to watch.

But I only got as far as “I’m not a fan of Cam Newton…” because that’s when the guy in the Packers stocking cap interrupted me and started in on a racist rant. “I hate that guy,” he said. “No white quarterback would blah blah blah and just because he’s black he thinks he can something something showboat thug and hip hop jive dancing blah blah respect for the game yadda yadda.”

The woman running the cash register stopped what she was doing and stared at the guy in the Packers stocking cap. The guy who was paying for his gas and a pack of cigarettes turned around and stared at the guy. And after I stop being stunned, I said “Dude, back up.” I’m not at all sure what I meant by that, but that’s what I said. “Dude, back up.” And the guy in the Packers stocking cap stopped talking, realizing everybody in the Stop&Rob was either staring at him, or very studiously NOT looking at him. He says — and maybe this was the most astonishing and horrifying part of the incident — he says, “I’m not a racist, but c’mon, you have to admit…”

I don’t know what the guy in the Packers stocking cap thought we had to admit, because he never finished the sentence. It was his turn at the register. He paid for his stuff and left, and nobody said a word until the door closed behind him — at which point the woman at the register said “Holy crap.”

That scene has replayed in my mind off and on since it happened. The guy in the Packers stocking cap assumed I must be a racist too. Why? Is “I’m not a fan of Cam Newton” some sort of code phrase? A shared password racists use to identify each other in public? I think of all the times I’ve said “I’m not a fan of Cam Newton” and wonder if racists out there heard that and thought “Ah, he’s one of our people.” I think of all the times I’ve said “I’m not a fan of Cam Newton, but…” and I wonder if people were hearing “I’m not a racist, but…”

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And it occurs to me that Cam Newton must hear this shit all the time. He must hear people using code words saying “I don’t like you because you’re black.” Every day, he must hear the most horrible, hateful, ugly shit. And you know what’s astonishing about that?

He still goes out there and plays football with the reckless joy of a kid.

He’ll be out on the field this evening; he’ll be center stage at the Super Bowl, and he’ll soak up the attention. He’ll be smiling and laughing. He’ll probably get knocked around a bit, but that’s part of the game. Doesn’t matter. Cam Newton will be having fun.

That guy in the Packers stocking cap? He did me a favor. He made me a fan of Cam Newton.