Category Archives: Current Affairs

Fuck You Nation: “No, NEVER!” edition

 
(NO NEVER! Hardly ever? FUCK YOU!)

I coined the term “Fuck You Nation” a few years back in looking at how people treat one another in the age of Donald Trump. So many people are less about being able to formulate something they favor, but they’re very clear about the “hey, fuck you” mentality they possess. In other words, people were less “pro” something and more “fuck you” toward people they saw as “the opposition.” At the core of the argument was a general sense of self-righteousness, absolute certainty and an overwhelming sense of anger and bile.

This week, the only thing Donald Trump has ever said that was true emerged once again. He famously noted that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose his supporters. We essentially hit that point this week, when he failed to denounce Nazis, then was kind of forced to read a “Ryan Leaf apology” on the topic and then went off the rails the next day defending the Nazis and admonishing the “alt-left.”

If anything, ANYTHING was going to sink him in at least SOME voters’ minds, this would HAVE to be it, right? Mitch McConnell came out against him. The “Bush Pack” came out against him. A growing list of Republicans spoke out against him. All those good, (R) people saying, “Nazis are a bridge too far for us,” had to sway the people who voted for him, right?

Nope.

Recent polling data, taken both before and after his Nazi nuzzling, have indicated that people who love Trump REALLY love themselves some Trump. (My president, right or wrong. And by the way, he’s never wrong, so fuck you.) Making this even more ridiculous is that these people say that they can’t imagine ANYTHING the president would EVER do that would EVER make them change their mind about him.

Having spent half my life in journalism, my mind can go to some pretty dark and evil places. Pair that with the things Trump has said or done (“Grabbing Pussy-gate,” stiffing contractors, threatening nuclear war to the point that “Duck and Cover” is up for an Emmy this year, the “good Nazi” argument etc.) and the possibilities are endless for what might be next. I can easily see Trump doing something like a cross between the home invasion scene in “Clockwork Orange” and President Camacho’s state of the union address as an upcoming Pay-Per-View event in the next week or two.

His supporters? “Cool! How much is it?”

Fuck You Nation is predicated on the idea that people cling to their own shit regardless of how horrible it smells because to do otherwise would be ADMITTING to the ENEMY that being wrong is POSSIBLE! That’s weaksauce and unacceptable.

Trump figured that out about our nation long before anyone else did. Or, at the very least, he figured out how to galvanize it for his own benefit in a way that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. This puts those of us who have a brain, enjoy thinking and are willing to reconsider things for the betterment of reality in a real bind. Either we have to counterbalance by pulling in the opposite direction of the Posse Comadumbass or we run the risk of constantly fracturing the opposition that exists as we all independently come to different conclusions on who or what we should support.

In the mean time, we might not be that far from seeing Trump grab a Luger and head to Midtown.

Only the kids have aged…

I spent the past week at our annual journalism conference, taking the chance to eat a lot of good food on my publisher’s dime and catching up with old friends. The funny thing? None of us seemed to age a bit.

I caught up with what was left of my doctoral cohort. Tracy, Andrea and I were among 17  Ph.D.-hopefuls who spent a chunk of our lives in a basement office loving dubbed “The Pit.” The place was so subterranean that you had to climb on somebody’s desk to open a grass-level window. The joke always was that they put the Ph.D. students there because you can’t commit suicide by jumping out of a basement window.

We ate dinner at a wine and chocolate bar because, hey, they had seating and we would have eaten at a food cart if we could have some time to catch up. The stories were the same: Weird colleagues, dopey campus situations, students who “just needed a little boost to pass…” We talked about possible promotions and what we were up to. It was like we were back in that pit: Tracy, loud enough to startle Chicagoans walking by and Andrea bright eyed and drawling her “y’alls” as the night progressed.

The only real way to know time had passed was when we talked about our kids.

Andrea’s daughter had just returned from a three-week trip abroad to take part in her sorority’s recruiting drive. Her son was still dating the same girl and had gotten his own apartment in advance of the upcoming school year. I remember the twins, as we called them, being at a doctoral faculty party some of us grad students had crashed. They were in their PJs, clutching stuffed animals and clinging to Andrea’s leg. “Mommy… We want to go hooooommmme…”

“Hell,” Tracy responded when I brought that up, “I used to BABYSIT them.” They lived next door and would often knock on her door and ask to play with Tracy’s dogs. Now, they could be in one of her classes, begging for “just a little boost…”

I caught up with Scott, who looked none the worse for wear after his heart transplant. Most of what we had to talk about was his move up the administrative ladder, with many of the stories reminding me why I never want to be an administrator. “Spending the day dealing with other people’s bullshit,” was pretty much the quote of the day.

In a more serious moment, he told me he had to wear a mask in public a lot, as his immune system was shit. He also had some health setbacks here and there, but overall, he was hanging in there. Life for him he said was a day-by-day measurement. Not years. Not months or weeks. Days. Each day was another moment to be on this side of the grass.

His son? He figured out hockey wasn’t going to be his future, even as he still enjoyed playing. He was going to be a college junior this year, on track to graduate. The freckle-faced kid who was riding bikes out in front of the house whenever I stopped by was now a junior.

I saw the guy who TA’ed my broadcast class in college: His sons were both in college. He, however, was the same guy who once chewed me out for running a clip of a used condom in a package I did on park sex. (My only saving grace was someone else in that broadcast included a shot of dead cats in a box as part of an animal shelter piece. Apparently, in the “what the fuck were you thinking?” spectrum a box of dead cats > a used rubber.)

My dissertation adviser? As vibrant as always, laughing at a reception with a half-empty glass of red wine in her hand. Her “7-year-old” daughter? Now out of school and married to an Army Ranger.

As I return home to add another notch on to my own kid’s age (12, she’s going to be 12. This is not possible…), I found myself smiling at the silliness of it all. Even as we all change and age, none of us is really different or older.

The only ones who really age are the kids.

 

I got defriended by a “nice young lady in a blue shirt.”

The buzz about Stephen Miller’s “cosmopolitan” comment to Jim Acosta had me thinking about the reason he can actually get away with something like that. It’s the same reason why Gov. Scott Walker gets away with ripping the University System and it’s the same reason I usually tell people I “work at the U” in hopes that they think I’m a janitor.

We have far too many people who get excised about perceived slights and publicly draw attention to things that so many others would just look at and say, “Really?”

This week, I was trying to dodge summer grading when one of my friends on Facebook (a tangential connection based mainly on doc school and research connections) noted that she returned home after an exhausting 16-hour trip in which the highlight was being called a “nice young lady in a blue shirt” during a stop at a gas station.

The woman went on to say that she had a huge problem with this “framing” of her. She sees herself as being trained to be polite and that she was NOT young and that the shirt she was wearing was from the Kinsey Institute, all things that would have better indicated her actual self.

I naturally assumed that where she was when this happened (somewhere between Texas and South Dakota), it was some old codger who was making an observation. I asked if the guy was an asshole or something, as to try to understand why this was so offensive.

It turned out that it was actually a woman in her 20s-30s who was referencing her to someone else. Her response also noted was that she was NOT young (she was 40ish although any photo I ever saw of her would have had me pegging her at about half that age), calling her a nice lady was indicating that she was in some way a compliant, pliable figure and that her “ironic chastity” powder blue shirt should not have been the first thing the person noticed. She said it was quite upsetting and that it demonstrated larger societal problems regarding how people frame women.

I decided to step off the thread at that point, worrying I was hijacking this whole thing, even though other people (women, even) asked her what the problem was with the “young” thing and how she would prefer to be noticed in passing public situations.

For some reason, I couldn’t let this go. I was having trouble wrapping my head around how “nice,” “lady” and “blue” in this (or almost any other context) would connote such a dark subtext in a public situation as to undermine her as a person. I hopped on chat to ask one, private question:

Not to belabor a point in what is clearly something that won’t end well for me, but is it at all possible that through your self-framing, you’re reading way, way, way too deeply into this passing comment? A (person) at a gas station made an observation based on recognition (color) not cognition (Kinsey, ironic chastity) and made simple and positive reflection on an interaction (wow, she was nice).

The response was as follows:

The “you’re making too big of a deal out of this” has been used for a long time to justify discriminatory comments and behaviors. This comment had an impact on me. I don’t like it, and I am going to talk about why I don’t like it and find it offensive. If you think I am making too big of a big deal out of something that I find offensive, please feel free to unfollow or unfriend me because I am going to continue to talk about all the stupid things people say to me or about me.

 

I told her I was sorry I upset her, that I disagreed but that I would leave her alone and that I hope to see her at an upcoming conference.

She unfriended me later that day.

A couple things sat in my head both during and after this exchange:

  • I did not say she was making too big of a deal out of something. I asked if, in a perhaps more reflective moment later, given what others were asking, did she maybe read into this too much. A) I’m a scholar and I’ve read the lit on stuff like this and B) I’m not an idiot, so I could tell she was upset. Obviously there was something there for her, but I wasn’t seeing it, so I wanted to know if, after not really answering the questions as to why this upset her, maybe she figured that she had made a mountain out of a molehill.
  • The defriender told me that referring to her as a “nice young lady” (not to her, mind you but in describing her to someone else who asked about something) was akin to a white district attorney once having called a black lawyer “boy” in an attempt to discredit him. “There’s literature on this,” she told me. True, but there’s also literature on the “Passage of Salt” (obviously meant as a spoof but it actually got through; we use this one in our doc sem to show that sometimes, “Lit Happens.”) and the misapplication of literature is a common dodge when we’re wrong (trust me). It’s also true that common sense has to factor into life at some point. It wasn’t a white guy shitting on a black guy on a professional environment. It was one woman offering a description of another woman at a gas station. Of all the people involved in this situation, the one person who probably would never have guessed in a million years that this much shit had hit this much of a fan would have been the person at the gas station.
  • This is exactly the reason I hate dealing with academics. Yes, I have a Ph.D. but if anything, I’m a self-loathing academic: I get that theory, practice and research all have to coexist in a broader context, but I have always hated people who spend the majority of their time looking at things only through their hyper-educated lens of reality. It’s why I found myself once being screamed at for having the temerity to call a “personal street ingress” a “manhole.” I get that language matters, but if I fell down one of those things, I’d be dead before someone figured out where I was if you kept calling it that. It’s one of the many reasons I tend to now shy away from the “Big Name U” schools when I get the urge to go job hunting: The last thing I need is to spend half my life pondering the existential dilemma of comma usage and its ability to undermine developing social constructs.
  • I honestly felt sorry for her, which I’m sure would infuriate her more. It is absolutely exhausting having to ponder every, single aspect of life, acting or failing to act for fear of engendering a deeper subtext that would lead to public castigation. I imagine it is equally exhausting and infuriating to have to apply that level of analysis to the motives and actions of every single person you encounter on a daily basis. When I’m in church with The Midget and some 90-year-old woman in front of me says, “Oh, what a cute little girl you have there!” I don’t stop her and say, “By calling her cute, you denigrate her ability to rise past the social norms that women should be judged solely on their looks. She is unlikely to be treated equally in society if you and others continue to ignore her intellectual attributes.” I say, “Oh, thank you very much,” and smile because again A), I’m not an idiot and B) there is such a thing as context. When it was raining this morning, I was entering my office building in front of someone else dashing to the door. I held the door open for her and walked through. I did not do it because I was attempting to reinforce a gender code written decades ago that men should do such things, nor was I doing it because I was attempting to reinforce the stereotype that physical activities should be gender normed toward men. I did it because it seemed like the right thing to do for a fellow human being. (And yes, I have held doors for men before. This does not make me a weirdo.)

 

It’s interactions like this that stick with people and that open the door (so to speak) for people like Stephen Miller to create the “gods and clods” argument in his favor. It’s why the term “social-justice warrior” has become a pejorative term for anyone who doesn’t think that the world should be stuck in the 1950s. It’s the academic version of the surfer buying lobster with food stamps.

And yes, there are times when calling someone “young lady” or “young man” can come with the intent to demean. And we do need to stop people from denigrating others or casting aspersions because they need to know that “check out the tits on that chick” doesn’t cut it in polite society. However, of all the things this interaction could have taught me, I only came away with two:

  1. She’s not a nice person, lady or otherwise.
  2. If you want to be considered not “young,” you might want to grow the fuck up.

 

An Eagle’s Eye View on Trump and the Jamboree

The media firestorm over Donald Trump’s address to the National Boy Scout Jamboree had me digging deep into the back of both my mind and my storage closet this week.

In 1989, I was one of 32,717 scouts who poured into Ft. A.P. Hill, Virginia for a week of camping and camaraderie. I was the only representative from my school, which meant I was stuck with another troop from Wisconsin for the duration of the event. I was one of four outsiders who didn’t come from this Evangelical school of overly sensitive kids two or three years my junior.

Three of the days we spent there were among the hottest ever on record for that area, so much so that soda was banned and mandatory hydration occurred. We had just spent a week on a bus getting there, crashing at various armories and gymnasiums on the way, so we were ripe to say the least. It also didn’t help that showers were tough to come by (a long, long hike with even longer lines, if memory serves) and a lot of us were trying to earn a patch or a badge that involved us completing a mud-filled obstacle course or a swampy nature walk.

By the time we got home several days after the event closed on Aug. 9, we were so fried that any one of us (including God’s Children who once were so offended when I told one of them to go to hell that they actually debated if I should be put on a plane and sent home) would have stabbed any other one of us for the simple crime of looking at us on the bus.

The trip wasn’t all bad, and I still have some memories of this weird adventure and some souvenirs in a plastic tub marked “Boy Scout Stuff.”

In digging through it this week, I found the package of astronaut trading cards I received, still in mint condition. Each troop received something like 15 copies of one guy or gal and we were supposed to meet people from all over the country as we traded cards to get a complete set. The kid was supposed to write his name and address on the back so we could remain pen pals after the event. Marring a card like this was appalling to me, so instead, I set up an exchange with other kids in my troop, paying them off in candy I’d squirreled away to go get a perfect copy of each card for me.

Even then, I was an industrious card enthusiast.

The cards weren’t the only cottage industry available to us. Each troop had a specialized shoulder patch for the members’ uniforms. You could buy extras in advance for trading with other troops, which I failed to do (again, one of the pitfalls of not being in with the in-crowd). However, somewhere along the journey, a lot of kids had spent their travel money down to nearly nothing and were in desperate need of cash for soda and candy. I bought them out of spare patches and went about mastering the trading game.

The trades were supposed to be one for one, but some patches were considered more valuable than others, based on design, colors and quality of manufacturing. Ours were at least a 2-1 trade, but there were some that were ridiculously “over-priced.” The Holy Grail of patches was the one from a Texas troop: As space travel was the theme of the event, that patch, which was twice as deep as a regular shoulder patch, had the shuttle flying out of the Alamo. To get one, even we were expected to give up at least six of ours to get one from anyone who had one.

Alamo-Area-Council-2017-National-Boy-Scout-Jamboree

One of the guys I hung with out there had the idea of avoiding the patch traders and trying to find the source. We went to the main office site of the Jamboree and found out who these guys were and where their campsite was located. We hiked something like three miles or whatever to get there and when we did, the adult leader said, “It’s a one-to-one trade for us. You guys really showed you wanted it.”

I still have that patch among the collection I kept in a paper bag at the bottom of my sleeping bag the whole trip, for fear of having someone gank my Alamo patch.

I remembered the presidential address, but I had forgotten if we had received it from George H.W. Bush as a VP or as president. I remembered that he spoke, but as God as my witness, I couldn’t remember what he told us. I found his speech online this week and read it top to bottom, recalling none of it. I just remembered that we were all tweaking out when we noticed the snipers set up along the tops of the giant video screens used to project his image to the scouts.

I also remembered how much it sucked to be there because we were all packed in a field, it was the middle of the morning and we had to be in full dress uniform for the event, which meant calf-high woolen socks, long-sleeve shirts and neckerchiefs. Doing laundry in the field was a haphazard act that usually left our stuff smelling worse than when we started. In fact, the last couple days, we just stuffed our dirty stuff in the bottom of our duffel bags and figured we’d get to it eventually as we survived on newly purchased Jamboree T-shirts and whatever socks and skivvies we had left.

(My poor mother. When I finally got home at something like 4 a.m., I tossed my duffel to the bottom of the stairs, expecting to do laundry when I got up. Mom got up early and began to sort through my stuff. At the bottom was a plastic bag that contained my swampy, obstacle course clothes, which had been cooked in the sun and then marinated under a bus for three days. When she broke the seal on that bag, she swore she almost passed out. Once she recovered, she threw whatever was in there into the outside garbage dumpster and coated it with Lysol.)

Of all the things I remember, my most vivid memory was Fucking Lee Greenwood serenading us near the end of the event. He sang, “Proud to be an American” for what seemed like an hour and a half, imploring us to stand up when he sang the line, “And I’d proudly STAND UP next to them…”

I stood up. Everyone else did too, because that’s what you did.

Everyone except for my tent mate, John. He not only stayed seated but he put his head down as well.

I tried to get him up. He resisted.

When we got back to the tent that night, I asked him why he didn’t stand up. It was such a little thing, a stupid thing, that there was no reason not to.

“I don’t like mob patriotism,” he told me. “I should feel free in this country to do as I please.”

John had that kind of “hippie” vibe to me at that point. He looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, he didn’t pray at meals (much to the consternation of the Evangelicals) and he did his own thing. He was also one of the four outcasts and a voracious reader, which is why we ended up tenting together. I didn’t get him then, but that always stuck with me. I never thought of patriotism as a “mob” issue until he put that thought in my head.

(Of course, I went back to high school and immediately became an active member in the Young Republicans, so I can’t say he really impacted me right away. Most kids rebel by smoking weed and hippie-ing out on their folks. I pissed off my mostly liberal teachers by becoming Alex P. Keaton. I doubt any of us are really proud of our high school years…)

This is one of the main reasons why I don’t fault the kids who booed Obama or cheered Trump’s applause lines: They’re like 12 or 13 years old. Between learning to do what adults tell you because they tell you it and the general peer pressure that had me standing up for a fucking Lee Greenwood song, I doubt there was malice or even understanding going on there.

One other item I found in that bin of stuff came along about a year after we got back from the Jamboree: My Eagle Scout medal. It was pinned to my uniform, next to the medal I received for the ad altare dei award (Catholic scout honors) and just below the Jamboree patch. I was only the second Eagle in our troop in almost 30 years, the first being my friend Kyle who earned his six months before I did. To me, it was a big deal, because it was one of the first times in life I stuck with something long enough to complete the task. The ability and desire to finish things, even those that seemed impossible, would eventually become my modus operandi, but it all started with reaching Eagle Scout.

I was sad to learn that a man in Moorhead, North Dakota had turned in his Eagle to the scouting office in protest after he felt the Scouting leadership didn’t do enough to deal with Trump’s unhinged speech. That award meant a lot to me when I earned it and it still does. I always thought I might be over-emphasizing it until I heard somewhere that Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 and one of the most experienced astronauts of the Apollo program, still listed his Eagle award on his resume. I don’t know if that’s true, but I still receive mail from the Boy Scouts for various campaigns and they occasionally have Lovell’s auto-penned signature on them.

To give up something like that, because of a clusterfuck caused by our human brushfire of a president doesn’t work for me. It seems more like cutting off your nose to spite your face than like Cassius Clay tossing his gold medal into the Ohio River.

It also bothers me that this quadrennial event might be tainted for this group of kids, most of whom will probably never attend another national jambo. Then again, if my experience is any indication, half of these kids probably skipped the damned thing to go catch a hike or do some rafting or earn a merit badge. Those kids who did attend were probably busy texting or screwing around, as seeing the president wasn’t nearly as cool at that age as people kept telling us it was. We wanted to get back to doing the stuff we came there to do. Having some old dude tell us about what life was like when he was a kid wasn’t anywhere in the top 20.

(I’m glad the head of the scouts apologized Thursday for not stepping in earlier and stopping this shit show. I’m sure at the time it was happening, it was like watching a car wreck. We all like to think we’d be like Neo in a situation like this, dodging bullets in real time as we deftly fought for justice. In most cases, we’d be like Roscoe P. Coltrane, flying off the damned road and crashing into a tree, even as we knew it was happening. Cut the guy some slack for not jumping in on the FUCKING PRESIDENT the minute he went off the rails. When the goddamned provost shows up at my office, I’m a babbling idiot for about the first half hour, for chrissake… )

People outside of the event have made this about Trump and what he said and how people reacted and what impact this will have on our kids and… Just stop.

The kids are fine. They’ll bring back their own version of card swapping and patch trading in terms of memories. (I took a look at the Jamboree website and found that they have a “patch trading app” that helps you suss out the fake patches that tend to infiltrate the trade. How things have evolved…) They’ll have some friends that last a week and memories that last a lifetime. They’ll keep a few patches and cards and such in a bin that gets moved from home to home throughout their lives.

As for Trump and his chaos, they should probably do what mom did for me: March the nasty shit outside, toss it in the dumpster and coat it with Lysol.

No, OJ, No…

I remember exactly where I was on Oct. 3, 1995 when the jury found O.J. Simpson not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. A bunch of J-majors were stuffed into the broadcast lab, which was the only place that had a TV with cable in those pre-real-Internet days of news. Back then, we all wanted to know, RIGHT NOW, what was going to happen with this guy. The verdict was stunning but, for us, not in the way you saw portrayed in retro shows where people were screaming and fighting and whatever. I know it mattered in a lot of ways to a lot of people, and it must still matter to me, as I remember where I was back then.

Thursday’s similarly breathless coverage of Simpson’s parole hearing felt for me like one of those “one-hit wonder” bands you catch on a side stage at Summerfest: You recognized one or two of the people, one or two of the songs, but it really wasn’t much to write home about. I seemed to be in a minority on that point, as Tweets were flying, networks broke in to show the hearing live, video clips played on an almost constant loop and it seemed like every website on earth had a different angle on this. TV morning shows found the Goldman family and brought them out for a “hot take” on this 70-year-old parolee. Netflix was plugging its original film on “Kardashian: The Man Who Saved O.J. Simpson” in the wake of the hearing. My friend even sent me, a die-hard Cleveland fan, a snarky article on how the Browns had just signed The Juice to a 2-year, $14 million contract to anchor their backfield.

O.J. Simpson was about “the moment” for so long. The 1968 Rose Bowl, where he scored twice and rushed for 128 yards. The snowy night at Shea Stadium in 1973 where he piled up 200 yards to break the seemingly unbreakable barrier of 2000 yards in a season. The Thanksgiving Day in Detroit where he ran for 273 yards as the team’s only weapon.

In later years, he was also about “the moment” in life: The famous low-speed Freeway Chase that had every Ford executive wondering why AC couldn’t have grabbed the keys to a Bentley or something. The moment he put on that glove with all the exuberance of a man cleaning out a septic tank with his own toothbrush. The look on his face when the jury acquitted him. The years of random “pop up” moments like his book, “If I Did It…”

CNN noted that we need more “OJ moments” for a variety of reasons.

I’m more with Crash Davis on this one:

The moment’s over.

The Uncertainty Principle

I’ve been thinking about this for a while:

Trump is an old racist dumbass. I know it’s fashionable to psychoanalyze him but he’s an old racist dumbass who rose to prominence through inherited wealth and a messy divorce. I know 20 of him and so do you. They don’t interact with anyone different from them not because they objectively hate non-white people or would even be rude in person to one, but because they don’t have to interact with them, and if they don’t have to, why should they?

 

They don’t travel, not even domestically. They don’t seek out information on their own. They’ll call a family member to ask something they could Google in ten seconds. They’ll ask who somebody is on Facebook, where a search box appears six millimeters from where they’re entering the question in their status update. They’re comfortable with media that reinforces what they already think, and they don’t ever put themselves in situations where they’re unsure of where they stand.

They’re terrified of not knowing things.

It’s why the idea of gender fluidity (the whole bathroom thing) makes them insane. They need to be able to put you in a box on sight and feel threatened when they can’t. It’s why all their stories about race relations start with “this one guy I KNOW” because evidence doesn’t exist. Everything is personal experience, because learning requires vulnerability.

It’s why they don’t have dinner with women who aren’t their wives, not because women are evil temptresses and they’re uncontrollable sex monsters, but because they’re not certain of what to do in that situation. They need to know The Rules. It’s the moral panics of the last 50 years, distilled down to one man.

Of course he deserves a medal for eating dinner in a strange place where he doesn’t speak the dominant language. If most of his voters did that, they’d feel unbearably exotic, and talk about it forever like they were Shackleton at the Pole. This is how most of them act about going to a new grocery store, come on.

This isn’t me saying you simply must go to Europe (or eat fancy lunch meat, Bobo). There are plenty of places I haven’t been and plenty more I would honestly be nervous about going. Every single day of my life I panic about learning an entirely new skill set and spend a good 20 minutes hiding in the bathroom trying not to hyperventilate.

To exist in the world right now requires a shitload of learning and catching up and a hell of a lot of straight white people who are now being confronted with other perspectives and slapped down a lot. Living in the world requires you, in a way it didn’t once upon a time, to be very very comfortable with being uncertain.

And along comes Trump, who says I’m gonna make America certain again.

It’s racist and it’s dumb, but mostly it’s just old. And I know, #NotAllOldPeople, but really, #LotsAndLotsOfOldPeople, right now. I hear people my own goddamn age (and I am tail end of Gen X, whippersnappers) complaining about smart mouths on young girls and pretending we can’t wrap our heads around a gender-neutral artist or two and basically acting like it’s the world’s problem that we’re tired.

It’s not the world’s problem that we’re tired and that some of us are old. It’s just the way things go. Plenty of old people (GODDAMN, JIMMY CARTER) are still finding ways to work and contribute and push and change and make things better. I would be a lot more understanding of this desire to lay down the burden of uncertainty if there weren’t so many examples of people saying fuck that, while I’ve got breath in me I’m gonna fight.

Even if I don’t know everything. Even if I’m tired. Even if I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit. Even if it’s mind-boggling to me that we have managed to find someone worse than George W. Bush, worse than Richard Nixon. Even if I’d rather be watching old TV shows from the early 2000s because that’s when shit made sense. So many people aren’t taking the opportunity of their own uncertainty to hate what they don’t know. So many people are standing up to their own fears and those of others.

Trump sat down in an unfamiliar situation. Go on with your bad self, Donald. We’ll be standing up in one until you’re gone.

A.

 

“I had to eat.”

Three elderly men sat at an 8-foot plastic table outside the ballroom of the Red Carpet bowling center in Milwaukee. Among them, they possessed five NFL championships, three NBA titles, one World Series ring and the most famous home run ever hit in the annals of baseball.

It was the summer of 1987, still the height of the nation’s sports card craze. The card show was packed with people just inside the door behind this makeshift shrine to sports immortality. As was the case during that era, older athletes who lived near these shows would gladly pocket a few hundred bucks from the promoters to show up, sign autographs and tell stories.

The bald, gregarious man on the left was once the most feared man to ever remove his teeth and don a helmet. Ray Nitschke anchored the Lombardi defenses of the 1960s, prowling about his linebacker position like an animal waiting for the opportunity to ravenously pounce upon a fearful prey.

The dour-faced man on the right kept to himself, writing his name upon photos of himself in penmanship that bordered on artistic calligraphy. His claim to fame as a Milwaukee Brave was that he broke his ankle early in the 1954 season, forcing the team to call up a minor-league prospect by the name of Hank Aaron. Three years earlier, on Oct. 3 in the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to earn the New York Giants the pennant. At the time he signed a personalized picture for me, I knew none of that and only years later, after I had sanctified that homer, did I realize I had met Thomson. It was a sad disappointment in retrospect, in which the man had already undermined the legend.

The round-faced fellow in the middle was Gene Conley, a pitcher for the 1957 World Series championship team, who died this week at the age of 86.

Nitschke took off his Super Bowl ring and let me try it on. The golden circle heavily dangled from my 12-year-old finger, looking something like an expensive game of ring toss. Thomson wouldn’t say a word to anyone and refused to interact with the other men. My father tried to engage him and was cut down with a glare for his trouble.

Yet it was Conley, a man I never knew about before that day, who made the biggest impression on me.

As “Big Gene” signed a photo for me and a card for Dad, my father informed me that this gentle giant had not only won a World Series title, but also had three NBA championships to boot. It was around this time that Bo Jackson was playing for the Royals and considering a “hobby” as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders.

“I don’t know why they’re giving Bo Jackson such a hard time for playing two sports,” Dad began. “This man played for the Braves AND the Celtics!”

Conley stopped in mid-signature. A blip in his penmanship remains a reminder in Sharpie of the moment I’ll never forget.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Conley said in a contradictory tone, punctuated with a laugh. “Don’t be comparing me to Bo Jackson! I had to EAT!”

The 6-foot-8 Conley earned $10,000 as a rookie in 1954, with $20,000 being the most he’d ever earn in as a pitcher. Like most players of his era, the off season meant it was time to find a Joe Job to hold the fort until the next season came in.

Yogi Berra sold hardware and worked as a restaurant greeter.

Phil Rizzuto sold suits at a store in Newark, New Jersey.

Jim Bunning and Rogers Hornsby were just two of hundreds who sold insurance.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey sold vehicles of all kinds.

Jackie Robinson had a traveling vaudeville routine.

Conley’s height and basketball experience at Washington State College made him appealing to Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics.

He earned about $4,500 a season playing basketball, a much better deal than having to hawk clothes or cars.

Baseball players weren’t alone in this need for off-season employment. The minimum wage for an NFL player in 1977 was $14,500, or about $60,000 in today’s dollars. As Herm Edwards said in the documentary “Broke,” players he coached in the 1990s and 2000s would ask him what he and his teammates did in the off season as a player.

“Guys WORKED!” he shouted.

Conley lived long enough to see men in his profession have enough money to never need an off-season insurance gig or even a deal selling autographs at a card show. Less than a week before Conley passed, Steph Curry signed a five-year, $201-million contract, the richest ever for an athlete. Seventeen years earlier, Alex Rodriguez became the first “quarter-billion-dollar man,” signing a 10-year, $252-million deal with the Texas Rangers.

Even in his comedic rebuke of my father, I never sensed that Conley begrudged the players of today for their fortunate timing of birth. I also never got the sense that he wished he could have spent his off seasons lounging around at one of his half-dozen McMansions. In 1960, the Phillies offered Conley $20,000 to NOT play for the Celtics. Conley refused and was shipped to the Red Sox in midseason.

He liked both games and enjoyed playing them. He also knew his deteriorating rotator cuff made it more likely that he could stick with basketball longer than baseball.

Plus, a man has to eat…

It’s Blog, It’s Blog! Help me not to suck…

I’m asking for help from the hivemind, given the wide array of experience you have in writing for blogs, reading blogs and probably eviscerating shitty blogs.

I was on the phone with my publisher the other day when she made an obvious statement that had previously had no answer other than, “No shit.”

“The problem most of your reviewers had was that by the time the book comes out, the examples you list for the students are dated,” she noted. “That’s a problem with this book that we need to address…”

My answer was the more professional version of “No shit” but even as I said it, I could feel Admiral Ackbar wheeling around in his chair…

“That’s a problem with any media textbook, though,” I argued. “Given the time from writing to press, there’s no real way around it…”

It was a trap.

The idea that marketing had (screaming red flag) was that to address this problem and distinguish us from the rest of the books in the area was to have me run a blog that would update features, engage readers and talk about stuff that was important in the field.

I was hesitant, give that a) I don’t know how to build a blog. I got lucky enough to join this traveling circus after A had already established a tone, built an audience and got people interested… and b) See point a.

So I had two basic rules going for me going into this agreement:

  • It’s got to be about the readers’ needs, not my desire to tell people stuff.
  • It’s got to have useful tools on it, not just shit for the sake of having shit.

Their response was that I couldn’t cuss, so I’m a bit limited there.

So, here’s where I’m begging like The Fly:

  • Tell me one of a few things about your best and worst blogging experiences as writers and readers.
  • What options should or shouldn’t be on there?
  • What tools are helpful for sharing and engaging people and what are just bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles?
  • How do you gather readers and how do you keep them?
  • What is the best bit of advice you can offer?

I know not all blogs are for the same purpose, but I figure if you can tell me what you like and don’t, I can fake the rest of it.

Thanks and have a great weekend.

Doc

‘if we all are willing to be okay with helping others and being helped’

There’s a whole thread here worth reading but this is the part I want to talk about, as a way of addressing with the sensitivity our GOP masters demand the shortcomings of their latest attempt at legislation:

Every night, as a lullaby, I sing Kick Forever Young.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others and let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young

In the dark sleepless nights, I often pondered that third line. Its latter half. I know the rationale behind doing for others. Why would you wish to have someone let others do for them? Why would you want that for them? And what I settled on in those thin hours was that accepting help without fear of it was a grace we make far too little of.

You have to be able to reach your hand out. You have to know your own powerlessness if you’re going to survive it. You have to know that you can be at others’ mercy, utterly, and that you will be okay. You have to know that you will not be okay, and you will be okay.

How many of us are afraid to reach out, to not just help but be helped? How many of us have told ourselves, have been told, over and over, for years, that we have to wall ourselves up, wall ourselves off? That nobody’s gonna help us, that nothing’s gonna change? I mean it, how many? The whole world’s out to get us, that’s the message on every TV screen every night, so stay inside and be afraid.

It’s no wonder we’ve rationalized it. Otherwise you’d look at the world — traffic accidents, guns, carcinogens in the air, a sidewalk crack sticking up for your foot to catch — and go stark raving mad inside a second.

If an illness is not something bad that happens to anyone, but some deep inner flaw, some error in judgment or planning or faith, then your illness cannot happen to me, a virtuous hard-working person who Is Good. If you can be made to somehow deserve what happened to you (and injuries do just happen; two years ago I could run three miles a day) then nothing will happen to me.

I think a lot of the rank-and-file GOP “personal responsibility” rhetoric you hear from people who are likely to be hurt by the same policies of austerity they voted for comes from that fear. I think a lot of them are convinced that if they just shove the suffocation that is knowing human frailty into a suitcase and bury it in the yard, they will be fine. I think a lot of them quake with the knowledge that this is all a crap shoot, we are all one phone call away from disaster, all the time, always.

No one, a very wise friend once explained to me patiently, wants to think of themselves as having benefitted OR suffered from a system beyond their control. They’re afraid to help others because they’re afraid to be helped. Being helped means being weak, and being weak means losing. I think a lot of them are afraid.

Some of them, of course, are just horrific motherfucking assholes who’d sell their own fucked mothers for a tax cut and the chance to kick a hobo. However, I am trying to have the compassion our GOP critics want us to have for their feelings and sincere beliefs, for their philosophies and needs and wants. I am not being mean; this is the most generous possible view: They are cowards.

Cowards won’t let others do for them. Cowards don’t put themselves at the world’s mercy. Cowards don’t admit to the randomness of fate. Cowards lock their doors and pretend that there is a slavering horde out there and that a door or a lock will stop it. Cowards can’t admit they need help. Cowards can’t accept it, and cowards certainly can’t offer it. Cowards think alone protects them. Cowards think they’re alone.

There is no way to live your life without others. There is no way to be alone. Contact is inevitable, leading to information bleed. Every story ever told is a hand reaching out to another, saying see, I too am here. It’s not that no man is an island; you can set yourself apart. But you’ll do it in the most strenuous opposition to your every human instinct. We are built to love and care for each other. That’s all we’re for. We forget that at our peril.

When we forget it, this is what happens. We take the only thing that is all of us together taking care of each other — government, as those filthy hippies like to call it — and we just decide to fail it on purpose. We turn on our own, on ourselves, and we make up lies about imperfect systems being worse than us all being together and trying to fix things. We vote for people who promise to drown us in the bathtub, burn us to the ground, make us disappear.

We’re so afraid of doing for others, letting others do for us. We build a ladder, but it isn’t to the stars.

A.

A Deaf Frog

One of the best jokes about jumping to the wrong conclusion is that of the scientist and the frog. The scientist tells the frog to jump and the frog does so. The scientist then cuts off one of the frog’s legs and repeats the command. The frog continues to jump until the scientist has removed all four legs, at which point, the frog remains still.

The scientist then makes this entry in his notes: “After removing all four legs, frog goes deaf.”

An equally disgusting and yet not nearly as funny series of answers emerged this week in regard to how public figures dealt with problematic situations.

Bill Cosby, who has apparently told more people to “relax” than Frankie Goes to Hollywood, had his fate delayed when a Pennsylvania jury deadlocked 10-2 in his sexual-assault case. Cosby has been accused of scores of women (and that’s literally accurate, sadly) of drugging and raping them over the past several decades. In this singular case, involving an administrator in the Temple University athletic program, Cosby was said to have used Quaaludes to knock her unconscious before having sex with her against her will in 2004. Cosby remains free on bond while the state considers its next move, which will likely be a retrial.

What will Cosby be doing with all this free time, now that a Cosby Show reunion show is likely out of the question? He’s planned a series of town-hall meetings in which he will “educate” young men and married men how to avoid accusations of sexual assault in this litigious society:

 

Ebonee M. Benson, who works with Mr. Wyatt and joined him on the program, said the need for awareness had grown because the statutes of limitations on sexual assault have been extended in several states. In some cases the legislative efforts were aided by women who have accused Mr. Cosby of molesting them.

“People need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” she said. “Anything at this point can be considered sexual assault.”

 

Or, y’know, the lecture could just be, “Don’t drug and fuck people against their will. And pull up your damned pants.” However, as Cosby sees it, the problem isn’t the fucking, but rather needing to find ways to make sure it doesn’t come back to haunt you.

Speaking of things that can come back to haunt you, the White House has figured out that people will actually recall the official and unofficial comments people make and hold you to them. Everything from the evening news to late-night comedy shows use the clip montage on an almost daily basis to showcase what an official is saying now compared to the exact opposite thing that person said over the past six months. Trump, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and more all have fallen victim to the “Here’s a statement they made today that is directly contradicted by the nine times they said the exact opposite thing.”

The answer was clear earlier this week: Stop the taping. The White House has set up a series of bizarre rules that limit live presentation of the press briefing, no cameras and limitations on audio. In an even dumber decision, it issued an edict to the media (whose job it is to tell the public stuff) not to tell the public the instructions the news outlets received on how this off-the-camera approach was supposed to work. So, in short, we’re doing something shitty to you and we want to tell you what that shitty thing is, but don’t you dare report that we told you about this shitty thing we’re going to do to you.

Speaking of shitty things that are being done to the public, the Senate has drafted its version of the “Repeal and Replace Obamacare with Something Great” bill. The Republicans have known for quite some time that debating health care is a long, tiring and dicey process. The Affordable Care Act hearings went on for an interminable amount of time, with all sorts of maneuvering in hopes of derailing it. Although the ACA isn’t perfect, thanks in large part to these speed bumps and road blocks put up by opponents of the bill at the time, it is providing insurance to more than 23 million more people than the House version of Trumpcare would.

The senate realizes two things:

  1. Cutting people off of health coverage, including Medicaid and any other Medi-help, is likely to result in people losing their shit.
  2. Since they are essentially doing exactly that, people are likely to lose their shit.

The solution is simple: Don’t show people what you’re working on. Much like a 4-year-old who is covering up his homework so mom can’t see how shitty his penmanship is, Mitch McConnell and his crew of unnamed bill-makers have sat in secret for the past couple weeks, crafting whatever it is they are crafting. The reveal on Thursday showed that it was essentially the same shit as the House bill, only potentially worse. McConnell upped his game by pushing for a vote within a week and refusing to say he’d allow for at least 10 hours of debate and discussion on it.

It makes little sense to attempt to apply common sense to these kinds of solutions, as none really applies. At best, the solutions are Machiavellian maneuvers and at worst they are like people who put pennies in the fuse box to get the power back on.

It also does little good to call people out on this kind of bullshit, given that most of the people who display this level of chutzpah lack the inherent ability to be ashamed of themselves. All they see in front of them is what their myopic vision of self-assuredness allows them to see.

A deaf frog.

A Golden Anniversary Explained

Fifty years ago tomorrow, two scared 20-somethings gathered with family and friends in a cathedral-esque church on the south side of Milwaukee to pledge their lives to one another. Her father thought the man wasn’t good enough for his daughter. His father thought the woman was far too strident and interested in a career to be a good wife.

Nobody, least of all these two kids, knew if they’d make it, if they’d be OK.

Still, there they were in front of a three story slab of pink and white marble with a giant crucifix, saying they would live together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death shall they part. When they emerged onto a set of concrete stairs that led to East Plankinton Avenue and slipped into a borrowed 1965 Plymouth Roadrunner, they were on the way to the rest of their lives.

Husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs.

A married couple.

The fact that my mom and dad remain married and relatively happy often amazes me, given that almost everyone I knew as a kid had divorced or miserable parental units. When they fought or yelled, I never once thought, “Wow, this is the end.” Things would calm down, peace with honor would emerge and life would move on.

When I considered marriage, I asked them how they made it work. “What keeps you together, even when things are bad or when you are really pissed?” I would ask. Neither of them could really put a finger on it, so I kind of “observed a lot by watching,” to quote the late Yogi Berra.

Here’s what I figure makes them tick:

See the problem, fix the problem: My parents had a very “work the problem” approach to life when it came to the day-in, day-out stuff that confronts married people. When they realized they were often broke early in their marriage, the looked at where the money went. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to go around, but they were able to find a couple things that ate into their budget. On Sundays, they’d get the newspaper, look through the circulars and go to the store to buy “a bargain.” Turned out, they tended to not need the stuff they bought and it cut into other things they did need, so they stopped going to the store. The same thing was true for groceries, linens and other things. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it just because you think you should.

 

Commit to it: Promises and commitments ran deep in our household. Dad loves to tell the story about how he and Mom would make envelopes for all the monthly expenses and put their pay into those envelopes. Whatever was left over was for fun, and usually that wasn’t much. Still, they found a process that worked for keeping the lights on and the rent paid, so they committed to it.

They also stuck to the commitments regardless of if they were positive or negative. When they said, “We’re doing X,” I knew we were doing it. That’s how I ended up getting to see my first Brewers game, even though it was on a Friday night, in the heat of a pennant race and on bat day. It was the worst game to attend for traffic, crowds and generally everything else my dad hated. Still, he committed to it. Same was true with punishments. When I got caught for speeding, he and Mom agreed I lost car privileges for a month. That meant he had to drive me to and from after-school commitments and I had to take the bus to school, which cut into other plans. It sucked as much for them as it did for me (or at least sort of), but they stuck with it because they said so.

 

Have a united front: Agreement wasn’t always the first word that came to mind when it came to my parents. They argue about half of everything, from what we should do for dinner to who was the lady who ran the corner store on Packard Avenue in the 1950s. However, when they had to make a decision about something important, they never threw one another under the bus. This made life difficult for me as a child, since you couldn’t play Mom off of Dad. Whenever I screwed up badly enough that life and limb became a potential punishment, they would send me to my room and talk things over. When they figured out what they were going to do to me, they both came and told me. Together. At the same time. No bullshit.

 

No grudges: Even with the arguments, I never saw them hold a grudge. Whatever arguments happened before bed were settled before the kiss goodnight. In the morning, life moved on. I imagine that over 50 years of marriage, there could be plenty of the “Y’know in 1978, that thing you did REALLY pissed me off” conversations that could emerge on any given day. They never did. It was, “OK, what’s next?”

 

Laugh: Humor, even some truly crude stuff, always flowed through the house. If Dad wasn’t telling a bad joke, he was telling a weird story. Mom always found humor in the dumb things her students did that day and loved to share with the family. I spent my allowance on joke books, trying to find the one joke that neither of them had heard before but would still make them laugh.

In some of our darkest hours, humor became the thing that kept us going. I remember when Dad’s mom died, something that hit us out of the blue. We never saw it coming. It was the first time I ever saw my father really cry. I wondered if he would ever snap back from this or if his whole sense of being would merely crumble away. The funeral home was a hatchet-job of a place that charged him in advance for everything, going so far as to interrupt the visitation to tell my dad his credit card wasn’t going through. They charged him time and a half for everything done on Saturday as well. We drove in silence from the funeral home to the cemetery, passing by the very spot along the road where my grandmother would be interred. Dad looked over past me, out my window and took a deep breath. I was waiting for him to come up with some deep, dark sense of mortality and love. Instead, he muttered, “They better’ve dug that fucking hole already if they’re charging me time and a half for it.”

After that, I knew he’d be OK.

Saturday marks 50 years of marriage for two of the most incredible people I know. They always knew to talk and to listen to one another, even if they didn’t fully understand or agree. However, when it came to a vow renewal, they both saw this as something to behold.

Thus, they will once again be in that church, standing in front of that giant slab of marble, pledging their love to one another. They will be surrounded by the family and friends who remain, telling each other and anyone who will listen that they will stay together, through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.

One thing that is different now, however, is they already know they’re going to be just fine.

You Never Thought

Really? You never thought? 

WASHINGTON – “I never thought I’d go to baseball practice and get shot at,” said Rep. Rodney Davis R-Ill., who was at bat Wednesday morning when a gunman started shooting at GOP lawmakers practicing for their annual charity congressional game.

“I was at bat. I was hitting. I heard a loud bang,” Davis said, talking at the Capitol, still in his scoffed practice clothes.

“It felt like somebody…dropped a big piece of metal. The next thing I heard was ‘everybody run, he’s got a gun. And we immediately ran and got into the dugout.”

You never thought, Rep. Davis?

You never thought you’d be subject to violence at baseball practice?

You never thought a madman with a gun would be staring YOU down?

You never thought you’d be running from bullets?

That was nice. That you never thought.

Nice for you to be safe. Nice for you to be protected. Nice for you to feel secure. Nice for your colleagues. I mean that sincerely. I don’t begrudge you that sense of safety. I think a lot of people like you share it. I think that’s a good thing.

You should feel safe. Everybody should.

I don’t want you to feel endangered. I don’t want to join the chorus of “see, don’t you get it now?!” going on on social media today. You shouldn’t have been scared to be in public, enjoying yourself. Enjoying your life. Feeling able to do that.

You shouldn’t have been afraid of a random hail of bullets. Nobody should.

Children in elementary school shouldn’t have had to feel that way, either.

Families on city streets. People at a shopping mall, attending a football game, going to work, coming home on the train, walking to church, playing soccer, swimming in the community pool. None of those people should have to be afraid.

None of them should have to expect, because of where they live or who they are or what they love, that they will be in mortal peril, just for going outside. Just for living in the world. Just for living their lives.

None of them should have to think about getting shot at.

None of them, none of us, should have to spend every day cowering in fear of a culture of armed paranoia that makes ordinary acts into reckless endeavors. None of us should have to delude ourselves — and we all have to, to a certain extent — that we can’t be touched by violence. Violence should not be so common that we have to lie to ourselves in order to avoid going mad.

I am not glad you were afraid, Rep. Davis. Your fear doesn’t make anyone else less fearful. Your actions could. Because you shouldn’t have to think you’ll go to baseball practice and get shot at.

I’m sorry that now, you do.

A.

Rummage sales are life. The rest is just details.

The reason this post is late is because I spent the last hour and a half looking up everything I could find on Carry-Lite Duck Decoys manufactured in Milwaukee.

Am I a hunter? No.

Do I care about becoming a hunter? No.

What the hell is wrong with me? A lot, it turns out.

I picked up six of these decoys at a rummage sale today, so duck decoys have become my obsession of the moment. A friend in California is a hunter and mentioned how to locate interesting and valuable decoys at one point. A friend here noted that a neighbor of his sold some for a pretty high price once.

A woman about my grandmother’s age had dumped a dusty box full of these things at the end of her driveway just as I drove up. She said she had no idea what they were, but her husband used them a long time ago. A price of six for $20, made of paper mache with a “Patent 1941” stamp on the bottom seemed like too good a bargain to pass up.

I scoured the Internet looking for various types of duck decoys and places to find them. I have yet to find one stamped like mine, so I either have a rare find or a box of shit. Eventually, I found myself going crazy so I stopped to write this post (Side note: I’ve stopped writing this a few times to go back to Google with the hope that maybe THIS set of search terms would yield an answer about who made these and when.).

It was at this point that a realization hit me: Rummage sale season is officially upon us.

This is a sacred time of year in Wisconsin, due in large part (I suspect) to the fact we spend nine months of the year housebound by snow and ice, so anything that gets us outside in sunny weather is worth doing. Neighborhoods get together to host 30, 40 and 50-family sales, in hopes of drawing massive amounts of traffic to their neck of the woods. Subdivisions are packed with trucks, vans and SUVs creeping along the winding roads in search of the next sale on the map someone at the last sale handed out.

Certain cities and towns are “known” for having certain citywide sales during certain weekends. Winneconne was two weeks ago, Omro was last weekend… I still have yet to attend the infamous “Irish Road Rummage” which is a cross between an insane asylum and an endurance test.

Rummaging was pretty much tattooed onto my DNA as a child, long before the “American Pickers” crowd made it trendy. Each summer, Mom would have off from teaching and I’d have off from school, so off we’d go every day we could find a sale. Estate sales, rummage sales, moving sales… It didn’t matter. If we were looking for bargains, at least she wasn’t making me scrape and paint the storms and screens around the house.

I still remember one find she made in the basement of a house that smelled like mold and cat pee: A 1950s-style grocery cart with two detachable wire baskets. The asking price was something like $12, so she had me haul that thing out of the cobwebs and somehow stuff it into the backseat of our 1979 Ford Thunderbird.

When we got it home, my father saw it and bitched up a storm: “The hell do you need that for? What the hell did you pay for that? Where the hell do you think you’re going to put that?”

Mom had an answer: She was going to have me spray paint it a couple bright colors and she was going to use it to shuttle stuff around her classroom. I think I was 16 at the time we bought the cart and I was more than 40 when she finally retired. The grocery cart was an integral part of her classroom for the quarter century in between.

To be fair, Dad wasn’t anti-garage sale. He just had his own way of valuing things that came from the sales. If you want to watch a 73-year-old man outrun Usain Bolt, just put some sports shit at a rummage sale and mark it “FREE!” I can’t tell you how many times we bought something on a Saturday and sold it for a profit on a Sunday at the card show.

My first and favorite big score was when I was 11. I rode my bike to a sale a couple miles from our house. I found a really cool flag I wanted and when I picked it up, I noticed a bunch of paper placemats under it with the box scores from Milwaukee Braves games. I asked the lady how much for each placemat.

“Take them all for $2.” So I did.

I had no idea what they were worth, but it was something I could show my Dad, so I tucked them carefully into a sack and rode home. He’d never seen one, so he went to one of “his guys” who happened to run a sports card place on Lincoln Avenue.

“They’re not worth much,” Leroy told my dad. “Maybe $5-6 bucks each…”

The next show, we put four of them in the auction. I watched as two guys went after these things until they finally sold for $26. The next month, we did it again. Same result.

I was thrilled to be getting $26 a month, but Dad had a better angle. He found the guy who lost the auction and asked if he wanted to buy some. We took him out to the car where we had the rest of them and Dad negotiated a price. I walked away with another $185 and a hyper-inflated lust for rummaging.

Over the years, we’d found a few things like that: Dad would see something of value, he’d ask what it would cost for all of the stuff there and then we’d resell the stuff at a profit. Still, nothing will ever top the Saga of the Beer Cans.

It was the weekend of my wife’s baby shower and we had come up from Indiana to Milwaukee so all of our family could attend. My mother took my wife for a spa day, leaving Dad and I to our own devices.

We decided to “take a walk” which usually led to us walking past rummage sales. At one in particular, we started poking around when a woman asked, “Hey, do you guys wanna buy a beer can collection?”

To this day, neither Dad nor I can figure what it was about us that said, “Hey, ask us about your beer can collection,” but there we were, looking at hundreds of cans stacked up in a row.

As if we knew the difference, the woman tossed in this pot sweetener, “I’ve even got some cone tops in there.”

Neither Dad nor I would have known a cone top from a Conehead, but for some reason, Dad asked, “How much?”

“Fifty bucks.”

“Nah.”

We started walking back home when I noticed we were both really quiet.

“Dad, I know you’re thinking about those cans,” I told him. “I can hear that gerbil on the treadmill in your head.”

“That’s only because I know you’re thinking about them too,” he told me.

We went home, looked up what the hell a “cone top” was and then decided to drive back. Just as we pulled up, a collector was there talking to the lady.

“No, no,” she said to the guy, as she pointed at us. “I promised these guys first.”

So, we essentially bought a beer can collection at that point, having no idea what we were going to do or how to sell it. Still, it seemed like we could make the money back even if we just scrapped the damned things, so we had that going for us. We had the entire SUV filled with several cases resting near Dad’s feet, when the lady said, “Don’t forget the ones on the side of the house.”

When we looked down the side of the house, we saw cardboard beer cases stacked four high as deep as the entire length of the house. It took us three trips to get all that stuff back to my parents’ house and it filled the whole garage stall.

Cutting to the end of the story, it took two trips with two SUVs to get all the stuff down to Indiana and we made more than $1,500 together from it.

Also, it was a miracle my wife didn’t murder me, even after I said, “I hope you get a lot of gift cards so we can take some of these cans home with us right away.”

Sorry, honey, but there are no “sacred cows” when it comes to rummaging.

I was once running late for church when I spotted a guy closing up a rummage sale. He had a lawn mower and a beer sign for sale, so I pulled a bootlegger turn in front of his house. He asked $3 for the beer sign and said the mower didn’t work. “Take the damned thing,” he pleaded. “Just get it out of here before my wife comes home.”

This led to me wrestling a push mower into the back of my SUV and spending an hour-long mass smelling like gasoline.

Mom and I will often be late for something but spot a sale and have to pull over. On Thursday, we were taking some furniture to a friend of hers when we noticed a sale. We almost tossed the stuff out of the truck on the lady’s lawn so we could get back there and look at the sale. I ended up with a liquor cabinet, a bench and a cuckoo clock. I also grabbed this gorgeous antique table that was about the size of dinner plate. It had an oval top with pressed flowers under a broken glass top. The top also flipped up so you could just display the art. I bought it for $12 and was thinking about how I could redo it and display it at our antique booth. As I was loading it into the car, Mom noted, “I want that. Can you refinish it for me?”

Again, no sacred cows. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up pulling out of a funeral procession at some point because Dad spotted some bobble heads for sale.

Still, it’s not all about making money when it comes to garage sales. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up with a piece of furniture or something else because Dad found it at a yard sale and proclaimed, “I couldn’t buy the WOOD to make it for that cost!” My Mom loves to pick up cross-stitched pillowcases because nobody does that stuff anymore and she loves the details. Dad finds golf stuff and other stuff he already has three of but just “couldn’t pass it up at that price.” Eventually, when he stockpiles enough of the “had to have it” bargains, we do our own sales.

Each year, we have two sales: One up at my house and one down by my folks. I usually have tons of refinished furniture, sports memorabilia and rebuilt lawnmowers for sale, most of which came to me in damaged format from other rummage sales. It’s a good gig if you get a nice weekend, as people tend to flock to us in droves when it’s sunny out. Rainy weekends kill you and make you wish you’d never thought about doing one of these things.

This weekend is what we call a “half and half” sale: Friday is gorgeous without a cloud in the sky, but Saturday is supposed to bring torrential downpours. This leads to a great amount of self-deceiving justification on the part of people like me. I was headed to work at around 8:30 when I saw a sign for a “60-house rummage” in a subdivision. I was planning to do some writing for a book I’m finishing, submit my annual report information to my department chairperson and write this post.

Yeah, but… See… Rummage!

Obviously, the best stuff is available earliest on the first day and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so it’s clear I can’t go out tomorrow and it’s a beautiful day… Besides, I can do that shit later…

Thus, I spent the next four hours wandering through a subdivision, buying tons of stuff I might or might not need. A Blackhawks hoodie for my wife, a dresser to refinish for $10, a set of chairs for my buddy who has a buyer for a table we own if we could find chairs, a 1973 Bucky Badger Boxing decanter (sans booze), a couple tools and, of course, the ducks.

I had to have the furniture people hold the furniture for me after I paid them because I was driving Betsy and there was no way I’d get any of that stuff into her trunk. I was having an existential argument about buying a second dresser when someone else bought it first, so that ended up going that way.

Still, I eventually got the truck, got the furniture, got to work and got everything done, including this post, so no harm, no foul.

Speaking of fowl, time to figure out these ducks…

 

P.S. — Just for darrelplant

‘This is someone’s child’

It’s important to know that somebody fought back: 

“I was saying, ‘Creator – provide comfort to his family who don’t know you’re here,” she recalled.

An officer called out to her: “You did what you could, it’s time to come off the train.”

[snip]

The next night, Macy met Namkai-Meche’s mother and father at a vigil held by the train stop. She handed his father a purple-painted, heart-shaped rock, her prayer rock.  She said the victim’s parents thanked her for being with their son, telling her that she was “a mamma to our boy in that moment.”

Macy, a single mother of five children who rides the MAX to and from her community college courses at least three times a week, said she just did “what had to be done.”

“I just kept thinking this is someone’s child,” she said.

I read this right after Trump’s election, the idea that if you’re one of those people who loudly fantasizes about killing baby Hitler or whatever, you don’t need to go back in time to figure out who you would have been in the war. You’re in the war. Whatever you’re doing right now is what you would have done then.

(‘Twas ever thus, of course. The world has always been burning. I felt like this after 9/11, all those people talking about how a crisis made them realize what they wanted to be, like the fuck is wrong with you you don’t know what you want to be already? Sometimes my inner pissed-off 19-year-old gets the talking stick.)

So if you’re writing letters, calling reps, volunteering, working, creating spaces for people to think and breathe and be free, if you’re using your power to help others with less, if you’re trying every single day to be kind, to overcome paralysis and exhaustion and worry and reach out to someone else, if you’re doing even a little more than you think you can, that’s who you are in the war. You’re someone’s child too.

A.

I want to meet Mick Mulvaney…

I want to meet Mick Mulvaney, this man of billions who has the audacity to call people like my mother-in-law thieves.

She sat in a hospital recliner this week with a giant blackening scar running down her leg as a stream of people she barely knew entered and exited at a rapid pace, spewing information into her stroke-impaired mind. She looked like a child who had lost her mother at the grocery store as doctors changed orders and nurses took readings, her eyes darting from one to the other as they spoke over her in multi-syllabic jargon.

She had put off a knee replacement until she cleared 65 so that her Medicare would help cover the bills. Each day, she rose on two dysfunctional joints that had worn ligaments, cartilage and bone. Her entire left side remained frozen in a tense and contracted state, the result of a massive stroke several years back.

The doctor decided to do her “good” leg first, so it could heal and provide the most support. When my wife protested, the doctor noted it was the only way to move forward with this. He also promised she’d be “good as new” after her two-night stay in the hospital and ready to go home.

My wife knew better.

Her mother couldn’t go but short distances without pain or exhaustion and that was when the “good” leg was working. Her bladder failed her often, as she tried desperately to make it to the bathroom before suffering the indignity of asking for a fresh nightgown. She rarely left the house and her movement was mostly confined to a wheelchair.

She needed a lot of rehab and she would need a nursing home to do it, my wife argued. The doctor didn’t think so at the time, but he eventually came around to it. However, the rule of Medicare is a three-midnight stay, or no nursing home.

My mother-in-law spent most of her two days in a drug-induced haze of opiates and numbing agents as we kept trying to figure out with these people how all this would work. By the time they had us convinced if we were there 24/7, we could keep her at home, they changed their mind and set up a nursing home bed.

The cost was more than $350 per day, not counting therapy and meds. Mom subsists on about $800 of social security and a $200 pension, the result of decades in the Catholic school system.

She cashed in her state pension, earned through years of working at northwoods schools near the UP of Michigan, a total of $8,000, but the nursing home needed two weeks up front.

As these numbers and costs and such flew around her head, I saw her bright blue eyes and I almost broke.

If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, her eyes showed terror; they had the look of a child witnessing an unspeakable act. They told of loss, panic and fear rolled into one.

This is why I want to meet Mick Mulvaney.

I want him to see those eyes and tell her how this budget he proposed can be anything but a decimating blow to people like her who have no hope but the mercy of the government.

I want him to drive out to this rural town of 3,300, many of whom voted for his boss, and call my mother-in-law a thief. This woman, who once was horrified that her father taught her child to grab a grape from the grocery store and try it before buying it, is a thief?

I want him to stand there and explain how she’s not a taxpayer who put up with so much in her life to support a family of five and worked until she was physically unable to any more.

I want him, with that “Leprechaun-meets-Jack-Torrance” look on his face, to say to her, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, but that’s not my problem. This nation has bills to pay.”

If this country is worth anything, it’s because of people like my mother-in-law. She spent her life teaching Sunday school to poor children and working with the autistic kids whom society discarded. She kept food on the table and her family in line for nighttime meals and homework sessions. She pushed herself out of pure American grit: The idea that you don’t take from others, but you work so you can give back.

When people like her break down, it’s not out of greed or laziness or a sense that they are owed something. It’s because something happened beyond their control and they need the rest of us to say, “Relax. We got this.”

Tax cuts don’t do that. Medicine does.

GDP growth charts don’t do that. Safety nets do.

This is something the Mick Mulvaneys of the world will never get: Money isn’t everything. It’s what we do with the money that defines our humanity.

If “Blazing Saddles” were a Bizarro-land, post-apocalyptic horror film…

ClarkeTrump
(IMDB’s description of “Blazing Saddles” begins with “A corrupt politician hires a black sheriff…” which is all that film and this situation have in common.)

News broke Wednesday that Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke was taking a position in the Homeland Security Department, leaving me to recall a line George Carlin once uttered about Ross Perot’s challenge for the presidency in 1992:
“Just what a nation of idiots needs: A short, loud idiot.”

Coming up with a descriptor for Clarke is like trying to catch a fart and paint it green. It’s also as pleasurable. Many news organizations relied on the tried-and-true adjectives like “controversial” and “polarizing,” while NY Mag reached for “actual fascist.” A vulgar part of me would have gone with “fucktard” while a more journalistic aspect of me would actually settle on “Trumpian.”

And maybe that’s the best indication that this story is true, in spite of a non-denial denial by the office itself that Clarke hasn’t been given a position at Homeland Security.

This guy is 100 percent Trump with a better haircut a worse choice of clothing.

For people lucky enough to not know who he is, David Clarke has “served” (quotes intentional) Milwaukee County for the past 15 years as its sheriff. He was appointed by Gov. Scott McCallum in 2002 to finish a retiring sheriff’s term and then kept on rolling. Clarke has done and said a ridiculous number of incredibly stupid things. Trying to pick and choose some of them is like trying to put together a Rolling Stones Greatest Hits Album: No matter what you pick, there’s another incredible contender that gets left off. Consider a few of these beauties:

 

It’s not just the bombast, the rapid-fire threats and the general lack of decorum that makes the “Trumpian” moniker fit this man. It’s the way in which he has manipulated reality to improve his personal lot in life. While alleged Billionaire Trump paints himself as a champion of the blue-collar working folk, Clarke masquerades as a Democrat. He registers as a member of the Blue Team primarily because Milwaukee is a deep blue sea among the outlying red rural areas of the state.

Clarke has also followed Trump’s lead on issues of safety and security, painting pictures of illegals running roughshod over the citizens of the country. Meanwhile, neither can see the crises he causes in his own proximate area (Trump’s chaotic White House, Clarke’s dungeon-esque jail).

Like Trump, Clarke is nothing like what he portends to be. Everything about him is a blustering con, including his bedazzled, flair-filled uniform, which Army vet Charles Clymer took to task in a series of hysterical tweets.

Perhaps the hardest thing to discuss regarding Clarke, given that this is the third rail of society, is the issue of race. Clarke himself has played both sides of the race card, in one case swapping racial slurs with Mark Lamont Hill of CNN, going as far as to call him a “jigaboo” on Twitter. The Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP has frequently criticized Clarke, with the group’s president noting, “If there was a white sheriff making those statements, they would have demanded his resignation by now.”

This is true: Clarke is essentially part Bull Connor, part bullshit. He’d be the first one to tell a black kid to pull up his pants and that protestors are a bunch of snowflakes and the conservative white folk just eat that shit up.

Or to pull a line from the great movie, “Lean on Me” : “I know why you like Clark. He’s a guard dog. Does your dirty work. Keeps the black folk in line.”

I have never managed to understand how Clarke kept getting reelected as sheriff in my hometown area. After the first term, it was pretty clear he wasn’t a Democrat. After the second term, it was clear he was a bully. Now, it’s clear the man is fucking crazy, so he naturally had to find someone similarly screwed up to hire him.

And as much as I want him out of here, I can’t imagine we’ll be in any better shape with him sharing asshole tips with The Donald.

Time for Mom

Last week, I wrote about a 10-year-old girl named Grace who overheard her mother discussing the horrific treatment of the student media outlet the mom advised. Grace decided to make T-shirts, blending her love of journalism and her love of “Star Wars” to raise about $150 for the Student Press Law Center, an organization that was helping to defend her mom. To make that amount, Grace needed to sell 10 shirts.

In less than a week, the shirt order form was closed and Grace had raised more than $1,200 for SPLC.

I have a no idea how many shirts that is, but it’s a hell of a lot more than 10.

I thought about Grace not just because it’s a good idea for journalists to update stories and bring them some sort of closure, but because she did it for her mom.

This weekend is Mother’s Day and I’m planning on running around like a guy with my hair on fire to make sure that I get time in with my mom, my wife’s mom and my wife, all of whom seem to be moving in opposite directions. The running isn’t unusual as we’ve been doing this for more than a decade now, but this year I don’t mind as much.

I know I have a lot more of these events in the past than I do in the future, so I’m trying to find a way to savor every one.

My uncle, not a sentimental guy of any kind, brought that home for me this year when he told us about his plans for the weekend. My aunt’s mother died a month or two back, so he plotted a course to Las Vegas for the both of them.

“Neither of us have a mother to celebrate with, so we figured let’s get out of here,” he told me.

It was perfectly pragmatic and yet amazingly sad.

I know not everyone still has a mom around and kicking. I also know that many people who are “moms” aren’t always the best exemplars of that term. That’s why I my heart goes out to everyone who doesn’t feel the draw of this Hallmark Holiday and why I treasure it so much.

Mom isn’t perfect but she was perfectly geared to whatever I needed at the time. She managed to know when I needed a hug or a swift kick in the ass. She knew when she needed to provide a strong front with my father in regard to a punishment and when she needed to step in front of the speeding train of rage that was my father. She knew when to hold tight and when to let go. It wasn’t always easy and there were often a lot of tears, but she did the right thing as often as possible and more often than I had the right to expect.

We have long had a tradition in which my parents would take all the moms in our family out to a really fancy restaurant. The biggest gathering was the Mother’s Day just before our wedding. It was both of my grandmothers, both of my wife’s grandmothers, my mom, her mom and the husbands who were still alive. We took over a small private room at a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed getting to know each other in advance of our big day.

The next year was smaller, as both my grandmothers had died. My wife’s mother and grandmother had moved up to the woods. Her other one couldn’t make it.

Each year, the number fluctuated, even growing by a mom once we had The Midget with us. My wife laughingly recalls many of those early Mother’s Day meals where she’d eat with one hand as she balanced a sleeping, drooling child on her other shoulder.

This year, it’s just my side of the family, as travel for my mother-in-law has become too difficult. We’ll do a cookout when we get back home later that day and tell stories like we always do. As my wife and I watch our mothers wistfully yearn for the days of having mothers of their own, we both know we will some day feel that ache. We also know a day will soon come when our bundle of joy will have “things to do” and might not be around for those events we so treasure now.

It’s part of the life cycle. We get it.

On days like Sunday, we just put it off a little bit and enjoy the idea that it hasn’t happened yet.

Amazing Grace

At this time of year, most of us educators give up all hope on humanity. Between the students who are “just starting” the final projects they had six weeks to finish and the constant stream of “So, I was looking at my grade and…” pandering bullshit, it’s impossible to not want to just run away screaming.

That’s why the email I got yesterday was one of those little flecks of light in the darkest of rooms.

A fellow media adviser is in the shit at her institution. It has a lot to do with overreaching administration, bullying assholes and a general sense that the student publication should be 95 percent fluffy PR and 5 percent Sudoku. Instead, it’s a quality publication that asks questions about shady stuff and speaks truth to power.

Therefore, obviously, the problem is the adviser, who is now under fire.

The adviser’s daughter, Grace, is 10 years old. She overheard her parents talking about all this darkness and it really bothered her. She wants to be a journalist and what she heard “hurt her feelings because writers should always be able to write.”

At the age of 10, I also loved to write, but I had no idea what a journalist was. My writing was mostly confined to banging out short stories on my mom’s old manual typewriter that she’d set up for me in the dining room. The stories were my escape and my adventure and the thought that they might be taken away never occurred to me. I can’t imagine what was going through this kid’s head when she heard terms like “prior review” and “legal issues.”

Grace loves Star Wars and she loves journalism so she sat down at the computer and built a shirt to explain that journalism matters:

560

Her goal was to sell 10 shirts with about $150 in profits going directly to the Student Press Law Center, which was working on her mom’s situation. When I found myself getting killed last year, it was Frank LoMonte and his SPLC crew who waved the biggest red flags and really helped bring some clarity to the situation. If nothing else, he did scare the shit out of the student government twerps who wondered why this “organization in Virginia,” as one of them called it, was suddenly setting up camp in their rectal tract.

I bought one and immediately pimped it out to at least a dozen other people. Apparently others did the same because by the time Grace got home from school, she had sold almost 90 shirts. Her mother had to write the thank you to our group because Grace was so overwhelmed, seeing how her little idea had resonated with so many other people.

For every bad story we get, and there are a lot of them out there thanks to our governmental mandate to fuck over anyone with a pulse who doesn’t have a 850 credit score and a Black Card, we get an occasional reminder of what is good out there.

I have friends on Facebook who are terrified by the Trumpcare bill and what it will mean for their kids who have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, cancer and crohn’s disease. I have family members who are slowly giving way to the constant march of time. I have what I can only imagine will be the worst day of my year coming up in two hours.

A T-shirt won’t solve those problems.

However, just thinking about Grace makes me smile a little bit more and telling her story gives me hope.

Because maybe if we get enough kids like Grace and we show them that society can reward them for doing the right thing, maybe we will have fewer problems later and a brighter day in the future.

(Her link is open through the weekend. If you want a cool shirt to support a great kid, feel free to click here.)

You can’t spell “PENIS” without “E-S-P-N”

ESPN experienced the journalistic version of a mob hit on Wednesday, when 100 staffers (or about 10 percent of the “front-facing” staff) found out they no longer had jobs. According to published reports, the staffers got called in early in the morning, were placed around speaker phones and had prepared statements read to them to let them know their services would no longer be needed.

The firings weren’t culling deadwood analysts or former jocks who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with a searchlight and a posse. The firings included people with nearly 20 years of experience, such as college basketball expert Andy Katz, NFL insider Ed Werder and investigative reporter Steve Delsohn.

Network President John Skipper dug deep into his “The Pointy-Haired Boss’ page-a-day buzzword calendar” to explain the firings:

“Our content strategy — primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand — still needs to go further, faster … and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent — anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play — necessary to meet those demands.

Wait… Where have I heard something like this before?

Today we underwent and completed a reduction in personnel in our news division in several of our Tennessee markets, as part of a transformative strategy for the USA TODAY NETWORK–Tennessee.   We recognize that this has been a tough day, and we respect and appreciate the work of all our colleagues, especially those who have been impacted by these actions — through no fault of their own.

We’ve previously spoken about the new ways we will be able to better serve readers, communities and customers as we fully form the statewide network.   Today was the first step as we re-secure and level-set our economic vitality to support our journalism.

Right, but I thought I heard that somewhere else…

Gannett president and CEO Bob Dickey explained in a memo to employees announcing the cuts: “These moves are central to our transformation into a leading, next-generation media company. The positive impact of these efforts will take time, which in the near-term requires us to assertively manage our costs.

Looking ahead, Dickey wrote: “Over the next 18 months, we will continue to build our scale and invest in important digital capabilities and experiences — such as critical e-commerce infrastructure and significant upgrades to our digital content platforms.”

Maybe, but I remember some other bullshit phrasing…

“In essence, we are resetting the legacy side of our business so we can continue to publish a high-quality newspaper delivered to loyal subscribers’ homes seven days a week,” Silvestri wrote in an email to employees on Monday. “At the same time, we also push ahead on adding to our growing digital audiences and developing new revenue segments such as premium magazines, e-commerce, paid RTD events, sponsored content, and archive products and services.”

Reeeeallly close but…

The story, which can be accessed through this link, details the formation of NOLA Media Group, a digitally focused company that will launch this fall and that will develop new and innovative ways to deliver news and information to the company’s online and mobile readers. NOLA Media Group will be led by Ricky Mathews. Also this fall, The Times-Picayune will begin publishing a more robust newspaper on a reduced schedule of Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only … Many current employees of The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com will have the opportunity to grow with the new organizations, but the need to reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will necessitate a reduction in the size of the workforce.

THAT WAS THE ONE!

Trying to make sense of this is like trying to fuck a porcupine: It’s not worth it and even if you pull it off, it still hurts. ESPN decided that it wanted to save money and it’s always easier to cut people than it is to improve anything else. In doing so, it looked like the company just started throwing darts at an employee list and made the cuts accordingly. Anyone with a brain has already made the obvious realization that a) this won’t save ESPN money in any meaningful way and b) won’t improve the product.

If anything, we are supposed to learn from the fuckups of others. When newspapers were fucking over subscribers, cutting content and wasting money on “re-envisioning content-based engagement” with readers, most intelligent observers saw this as nothing more than a profit grab: Save money in the short term, kill the publication in the long term. As that continues to come to fruition, ESPN (which had always been a cut above when it came to seeing where things are going and getting there first) decided to follow the same shitty path as their ink-stained counterparts.

In some cases, we won’t notice the missing people, just like you don’t notice when your team cuts some fourth-round draft pick during training camp. However, overall, as the team begins to atrophy and the overall quality of play sags, you start wondering what happened to all those guys (and in ESPN’s case, gals) who used to be able to help win games.

It is fair to say that it is unclear what will happen next at ESPN, but it is also realistic to say it’s obvious it won’t be positive.

Remember the 32

I was working the newsroom this week, when my wife sent me a photo with the caption, “Who are these people?” It turned out to be a “Save the Date” card from two of my former students who found love while finishing off their degrees here.

The editor in chief of the paper poked her head over my shoulder and asked what was up.

“I just got a Save the Date card from Ashley and Isaac,” I explained.

She had a blank stare on her face.

“You were here when Isaac was the managing editor, weren’t you?”

Again, a total blank stare. It was at that point it dawned on me that although the kid I was speaking with was 22 and ready to graduate, even she wasn’t old enough to remember a kid who was practically running the newsroom two years earlier.

I often joke that I have “grad-nesia,” an illness that blurs the lines among generations of students to the point where I swear someone just graduated last year while they’ve actually been out of school for half a decade. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated, in that the institutional memory of college institutions is tiny at best. “Back in the day,” for most of my staff was about 18 months ago. “A long time ago,” was two years.

Something that happened 10 years ago? It has the same social relevance of the Tea Pot Dome Scandal or the Bull Moose Party. Even if that event shook the entire nation to its core.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty on campus while wounding another 17 over a three-hour time period before ending his own life. Even in that time of nascent social media, the pure insanity of the event exploded through digital channels and traditional media in a way that kept everyone in the country linked into the devastation.

I had a personal interest in that shooting, as I was pretty close with the general manager of the student newspaper out there. I also knew the editorial adviser. Our student media listserv was flying with questions and concerns for those folks. Both of them were named “Kelly” (one guy, one gal) which led to some “which one?” questions as we all tried to reach them. I finally got a hold of female Kelly and she told me she was safe, things were crazy and her staff was working, so she was probably going to be off the grid for quite some time. At that point, I was able to breathe again.

As my staff watched from safety 1,000 miles away, none of us knew what to do. Our EIC suggested we send pizza, so we did. It was a typical college-kid move, but we weren’t the only ones to think, “Hey, maybe they’re hungry.” Professional and collegiate news staffs from all over the country did similar things to the point where the staff of the Collegian had to ask, “Hey, guys, we appreciate this, but could you stop now?”

The student paper did some incredible work over that amount of time, including obituaries for each of the 32 victims of the shootings. I remember watching male Kelly give a speech on this less than a year later at a journalism convention. He explained that most of his staff was comprised of cub reporters and non-journalism folk. The university didn’t have a journalism feeder program, so this was truly an extra-curricular endeavor for most of them. If the newsroom he had was anything like some of the ones I’ve worked with, you had a handful of kids who had a passion for journalism, a group of folks who were told at one point they were good writers so they showed up to write and a bunch of students who came for the access to sporting events and concerts and to write columns about what they thought was important.

None of them was ready for this. Nor should they have been.

The thing that I remember most about Kelly’s speech was that he talked about gathering his staff and explaining how the newspaper was going to handle the situation on obituaries. The first question a kid raised is the most obvious one: “Nobody is going to want to talk to us. How are we supposed to do this?”

Kelly’s answer is one I use to this day: You might be right. People might not want to talk to you, but you don’t have the right to take that choice away from them. You approach them respectfully and you offer them the chance to speak. If they decline, you express gratitude and you leave. But don’t take away their chance because you’re afraid.

In the end, those obituaries were stocked with sources and stories that captured the essence of 32 people who never made it past April 16, 2007 and propelled the paper to a Pacemaker Award and national prominence.

I have to admit that 10 years have put this story to the back of my mind as well. The year after the Virginia Tech shooting, the Northern Illinois Shooting happened and that one struck a little closer to home. I had interviewed there for a job at one point and many years before, my grandfather had been in the police department in DeKalb, the city surrounding the university. After that, we seemed to be stockpiling shootings and disasters to the point that “Virginia Tech” became less of a euphemism than it once had been.

I also have to admit, it’s easy for things on a university campus to wash away quickly. My first year in Indiana, we had a student get shot and killed by a cop. The name of Michael McKinney was everywhere for more than a year. We covered that story from the shooting through the civil suit and there wasn’t a student alive on that campus who didn’t know that story.

Fast forward to the fifth-year anniversary of the shooting and I told my editor we needed to do the anniversary story on the McKinney shooting.

I got the same blank look my EIC gave me just this week: “Who?”

As far as most schools are concerned, the short-attention-span theater is a blessing in disguise. When horrific things happen in some cities and towns, family members still live there and those moments of pain become imbued in the fabric of the society. Events of agony live on from generation to generation. In the case of colleges, four years can wash away pretty much everyone in the student base who knew what happened. The memories fade to rumor and history.

In the case of the Virginia Tech Shooting, the students there are refusing to let the memory of those 32 people go unnoticed this year. Several cadets are asking that the new residence hall be named for Matthew LaPorte, a sophomore ROTC member who gave is own life to save countless others when the shooter broke through LaPorte’s classroom barricade. The staff of the newspaper published a special edition titled “We Remember 32,” which is complete with a set of 32 stories of the 32 people who died that day. An online version is available here as well.

It’s hard to remember and easy to forget.

But some things need, even if painful, need to be commemorated.