Category Archives: Current Affairs

The Problem of Whiteness meets the Problem with the Witless

It seems that Rep. David Murphy, who chairs the state’s committee on colleges and universities despite never having graduated from one, came out swinging against a course titled “The Problem of Whiteness.” This class is taught at UW-Madison, is an elective and is taught by professor Damon Sajnani, who has a Ph.D. in African-American studies from Northwestern. Murphy found the class – an elective, mind you – to be so disturbing he called for the entire UW System’s funding request to be yanked unless the class was cancelled:

 Murphy, who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, said he and his staff looked at “The Problem of Whiteness” course description for the spring semester, as well as the background of its teacher, Assistant Professor Damon Sajnani. He concluded: “We are adding to the polarization of the races in our state.”

 

SNIP

 

Murphy said he had been “trying to talk up” to fellow lawmakers increased funding for the UW System in the next state budget but was now having doubts.

“If UW-Madison stands with this professor,” Murphy wrote, “I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.”

 

This is the textbook definition of bullying and a shakedown. The university system contains 26 campuses, 180,000 students, 40,000 faculty and contributes nearly $6 billion annually to the state and Murphy wants to hold it hostage over ONE COURSE. He has also demanded that Sajnani be “dismissed.” Keep in mind, he never took the course, never read the texts associated with the course and never received a complaint about the course. He just basically decided to screw with the university because he can. We’re about a millimeter away from Murphy saying, “Nice budget you gots here… Shame if somethin’ were to happen to it…”

 

Murphy didn’t stop with just this one course, however, noting that he was going to have his staff check into ALL classes at UW-Madison to make sure “they’re legit.”

Asked what he and his staff would be looking for in courses, Murphy said they would not need to look at disciplines like chemistry or business, but “we’ll be looking at the humanities. I realize college is a place to discuss ideas that aren’t necessarily everybody’s idea of how things ought to be, but I want to make sure there’s legitimate education going on.”

 

This would be hysterical if it Murphy didn’t have actual power over state resources. Let’s review a few things:

  1. Murphy never graduated from college. He couldn’t even finish a degree at UW-Fox Valley, a two-year school in the system. He spent his life in agri-business and as a real estate guy. How, exactly, would he know if the courses were “legit” or not? What level of expertise does he bring to the table that would indicate his life and educational experience will allow him to sniff out all these potentially illegitimate courses? That would be like me walking around the surgical wing at the Mayo Clinic and checking up on all those brain surgeries to make sure they’re being done right.
  2. The professor he attacked at this point is an international scholar. Sajnani hails from Canada, where he not only received a bachelor’s and master’s degree, but he also is an accomplished member of the hip-hop community. For all the shit legislators give people about not getting “real world” experience in an area of interest, this guy has walked the walk in various aspects of life. His Ph.D. comes from Northwestern and he’s been a fellow at Harvard based on his research. So exactly how would he be unqualified a) teach this course and b) contribute to this university?
  3. Does Murphy realize he just backed the state into a corner with his stupidity? Let’s say for the sake of argument, the state wants to fund some, but not all of this UW System request. Anyone with a good PR person (read: anyone but Murphy) would immediately pounce on this and say, “Look, we got cut because Dave Murphy is trying to undermine academic freedom at our flagship university!” Regardless of how often he denies it, the case can be made that he threatened the budget if the course wasn’t cut, the U has not (and will not) cut the course and now the budget got cut.

 

This isn’t the first time the state has threatened the system’s budget. A few years back it was Steve Nass, who holds two degrees from UW-Whitewater and somehow thinks he made it in life despite that, took on the system over courses. He and several other Republicans killed a budget request when it created an overblown shit fit about an alleged $1 billion systemwide surplus.

Usually what happens is, the regents ask for money for faculty raises or improved facilities and the Republicans find something to get outraged about. It’s not a case of actual outrage, but they do a good job of making people really upset about these greedy, liberal (probably all gay drug using) professors in their ivory towers who don’t understand reality. Thus, they cut the budget, hold it out as a pride point and continue to divide the state between the “haves” and “have nots,” all as they do very little for either group.

Doctor makes “monkey face” comment about Michelle Obama. Outraged? Yes. Shocked? Nope.

In the days after the presidential election, people have tried to parse the reasons for the rise of Trump and how racism will awaken from the dark, like it’s the Force or something.

The current narrative has gone in one of two directions, both of which seem to land on the same group: Rural, uneducated white people. In one version of this, it was an economic/culture issue that led rural whites to see Trump as a savior. This is something Trump has been playing up in Indiana this week, where he courageously threw money at Carrier to only lose some U.S. manufacturing jobs. In short, it’s about the work and the country mouse/city mouse divide.

The second version is racism, although it pretty much lands on the same basic group: Rural, uneducated white people. This narrative pushes out the concept that Trump tapped into that vein of racism that flows through the heartland like melted butter and stoked fears of Muslims, Mexicans and African-Americans. It was these simple-minded rubes who turned out in droves to “Make America Great Again” in hopes of getting back to that simpler time when all you needed to know about minorities is how many fifths of a person they counted for.

The stats bear out a lot of both of those elements, although more of the first than the second. Of course, the main problem is that you don’t get to take your alleged job creator without his side order of racism, something many people overlooked in their race to the bottom.

The second problem is that when it comes to racism, sexism and other “isms,” it’s not as simple as population density or if you’ve ever seen a building taller than three stories before.

Dr. Michelle Herren, an anesthesiologist and University of Colorado professor, came under fire this week for posting racist comments about Michelle Obama. Herren called the First Lady a “monkey face” said she spoke in “poor ebonic English.” Naturally, she followed that up with “There! I feel better and am still not racist!!! Just calling it like it is!”

I don’t know what was supposed to convince readers more that she wasn’t racist, the heavy use of exclamation points or the “calling it like it is” thing. The person who turned her in to Denver Health and the board of regents said she was shocked and outraged by Herren’s comments. Herren is now on a leave of some kind until the hospital can figure out what to do with her/the fervor dies down and she can slink back to work.

The media reporting on this has listed her title, her salary ($363,000 a year) and her education, in what I’m assuming is a way to let people know, “Wow, look at this! This really SMART and RICH lady is even saying shit like this.”

I was outraged as well to see comments like this, but shocked? Not a chance.

I’m uncertain as to what people think makes someone who has a medical degree less of an asshole on any front. I guess we could hope that people with higher levels of finance and education are more likely to become cultured and worldly, thus giving them a better perspective on race and class.

A few recent media pieces have demonstrated that, no matter who you are or where you are, racism lives among us. John Oliver’s look at gentrified schools shows that these dividing lines in the North were given a pass when the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren went at it this week about racism and Trump. Although the media notes that Noah “owns” her or whatever, if you watch the whole interview, he really didn’t. It reminded me of the Hagler-Leonard fight in which you saw Hagler punching hard, but for some reason, Leonard kept holding his own on the scorecards. (She’s got a college degree from UNLV, which obviously isn’t the reason she’s such a YouTube star. She might be the first woman a Republican jerked off to on a computer without turning the sound down.)

Christopher Caldwell’s piece on what I’d like to call the Control-Alt-Delete-Right showcases the spectrum of education and nuance in this scary-as-shit movement:

There are many such groups, varying along a spectrum of couth and intellect. Mr. Spencer, who dropped out of a doctoral program at Duke and worked, briefly, as an editor for The American Conservative, has his own online review, Radix Journal. The eloquent Yale-educated author Jared Taylor, who hosts the American Renaissance website and magazine, was at the conference, too. Kevin MacDonald, a retired psychology professor whose trilogy on Jewish influence is a touchstone for the movement, also came.

None of this excuses the bigger picture of people who spray paint swastikas on kids’ lockers or do the “hail Trump” salute. However, there’s enough shitty behavior to cover the people with Stars N Bars bumper stickers on their rusty truck and those who take a Lexus to the hospital, but won’t take an elevator with a black orderly.

Or as my father, a man with a tech-school degree, was fond of saying: “Educated doesn’t necessarily mean smart.”

We’re Not Like You

I live in what would be considered a rural area, even if you don’t consider the kinds of people who consider everything that’s not in L.A., D.C., New York, Atlanta and Chicago to be rural. We have 3,300 souls in this city and the biggest issue on the ballot here was whether we should be forced to vote in “districts” for city council or if we should be voting as a city.

I’m pretty sure my alderperson is my friend’s cousin.

And he’s related to half the town, so that’s a pretty safe bet.

My state is going the way of Trump, even as CNN keeps doing the “too close to call” thing at 12:30 a.m. The sad part is I know so many of these people who decided to vote that way.

They check out my groceries. They sell me my gas. They deliver my mail and pick up my garbage. They have kids who play with my kid. They wave to me as I work on my truck and I do the same to them as they mow their lawns.

I, like A, won’t apologize for my vote. I wasn’t excited to vote for Hillary, as I was with Obama or Ross Perot (my first presidential vote). I wasn’t ambivalent either, as I was for Clinton in 1996. I was fucking petrified like I was in 2004 when I cast a vote for John Kerry and spent half the goddamned day and night checking my computer and nearby TV terminals for updates as I flew to Tennessee for a media convention. Maybe even more so this time because while stupid scares me, arrogant ignorance sends my heart into arrhythmic palpitations.

This was an election of anger.

This was an election of hatred.

This was an election of difference: Us vs. Them.

Donald Trump knew something a lot of we “smart people” didn’t: Hate and Anger is so much easier to mobilize than anything else we have inside us. The longer this circus went on, the more we kept thinking, “Sure, these assholes will turn out in force to watch him scream about making this country great again, but when it comes down to it, they’ll either figure out he’s a con man or they’ll be too busy watching a ‘Duck Dynasty’ marathon to show up and vote.”

Of all the people who didn’t see this coming, one did: Bill Maher.

Like him or hate him, Maher basically knew this country backwards and forwards when it came to the little enclaves of Americana that tend to host comedians. He knew that people were pissed and were ready to kick someone, anyone in the balls over their perceived sense of what was wrong with this country. He kept telling us, “Look, you are the dumbshits who kept saying, ‘He won’t run’ and then he did. ‘He won’t win a primary’ and then he did. ‘He won’t get the nomination’ and then he did. WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FUCKING WAKE UP?”

I woke up today.

I looked at the people in my polling place. Old people in flag sweaters. Fat guys with “With us or against us” T-shirts. Farmers with “Make America Great Again” hats. Women who love making jam and talked about the wonderful way things “used to be.”

It was like the back end of every one of these Sorkin Scenes:

I feel right now like I felt in 2004: A heap of useless, exhausted beyond belief, stunned by the stupidity of my fellow citizens as I try to talk with a mouth full of ashes.

A is right. We have to get up again. The question I have is, “Who is standing next to us when we do?”

When you don’t see this coming or you can’t see this within the people you think you know, the ability to rise again becomes more difficult. The ability to think, “Maybe things will be better after some time passes,” crumbles away. The sense that, “All we have to do is let people see that we’re all in this together,” dissipates in your hands as you realize hope is an illusion.

And yet it is one we must cling to. Even as reality proved to us this very night that faith, hope and trust are no longer common traits we share with those around us.

An open letter to Cubs fans from an Indians fan

Dear Chicago Cub Fans,

It took all seven games, and extra innings to boot, but you did it. You broke the Curse of the Billy Goat and won your first World Series since the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s administration. The long wait of “next year” is over. It’s done.

World Champion Chicago Cubs.

I bet it sounds great.

As a Cleveland fan, I have to admit it hurts more than I thought it would. In the end, I was just exhausted. Down 1, down 4, comeback, comeback, extra innings, rain delay, down two, rally for a run, lose with an out from the last guy left on the bench batting… Like my team, I had nothing left to give.

I remember saying at the beginning of the year that it would be amazing if the Cubs and Indians made the series because it would be great either way. Tonight, watching the Tribe’s chances slip away, I realize I was wrong about that.

I came to my first conclusion based on the last time we lost in a Game 7. We lost to the Carpetbagging Marlins, a team built Enron: Gobs of money spent to guarantee a prize for the owners, only to have everything come crashing down shortly thereafter. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at the 1997 and 1998 Marlins rosters. It’s like two completely different teams.

They were an expansion team with five years experience.

They were a collection of overpaid free agent talent.

They caught some of the luckiest breaks in postseason history.

The Cubs are none of those things: They grew their own talent, they suffered (Jesus, have they suffered) and basically each game was what it was.

Unlike every other historical moment in Cleveland sports, you don’t have a “THE” moment, like “The Drive” or “The Fumble” or “The Shot.” You also don’t have a “blame” factor. If you asked me why we lost this series, I can’t point to a single person. It’s not “Jose Mesa” or “David Justice” or “John Elway” or “Michael Jordan.” The closest, I guess, would be Tyler Naquin, who misplayed that ball in center during Game 6, but hell, that wasn’t even close to being in the same league as these others.

I go back to what I think Bert Sugar said about watching the Holmes-Cooney fight in 1982: One was a complete fighter. One was an incomplete fighter. As the fight wore on, the difference became obvious.

The Cubs had all the pieces and everything clicked at the right time.

The Indians didn’t and eventually, it caught up with them.

That said, the realization that this wasn’t going to be as great as I thought it was settled in when it seemed like every friend I had came out of the closet as a Cubs fan.

I meant what I said back in June: All I wanted was one championship for one of my teams in my lifetime.

I got it.

I’m good.

Still, it doesn’t feel any better watching the outcome of that Faustian bargain come to bear so soon. Yes, I am happy that you’re happy, but having to hear about it 24/7 is like having a best friend telling you how good your ex is in bed. I get that you’re happy, but damn…

So this year is your next year and congratulations for that. I’m sure it’ll take a while to get adjusted to the “Can we still be loveable without being losers?” thing and trying to figure out how to kind of sweep away that whole “Man were we dicks to Steve Bartman…” episode. Take the chance to soak it all in and enjoy it.

All I ask of you is that you savor your win without being unnecessarily cruel to me and mine. We weren’t the bad guys in this. We just happened to be the team that got in your way when the wheel came around for you. Like you, we play the game the right way, we have a great manager who inspires his guys and we hate Joe Buck, too.

Above all else, though, do your best not to turn into Red Sox fans, who got three championships in ten years and bitched about not winning more. Don’t bitch about your payroll if it swells to only the second-largest in baseball or that your team only pilfers a 20-game winner from a lesser team EVERY OTHER year. Don’t let the media around you create some bullshit “-gate” that has everyone on DriveTime Sports Call-in bitching that everyone should get fired and the team should start over.

People without a horse in the race this year were pulling for you because you represented what they wanted to see in life: The miracle moment when the impossible becomes possible for all the right reasons. It’s the same reason they cheered for Boston in ’04 (Well, that and everyone hates the fucking Yankees if they have an ounce of humanity in a crust of a soul within them.) and reveled in the death of the Bambino’s Curse.

Don’t become another big-city fan base of entitled assholes, complete with an entourage of bandwagoners.

It’s harder than it looks, but I have faith in you all.

Best,

Doc

A Stronger Letter Will Follow…

Angelo Drossos, who owned the San Antonio Spurs during their ABA days, was a hard-charging Greek businessman who was known to have an incredibly bluntness about him, especially when he knew he was right.

The most famous story about him, retold in his own words in Terry Pluto’s classic book “Loose Balls,” involves his purchase of future-Hall-of-Fame shooter George “Ice” Gervin. Drossos had purchased Gervin from the failing Virginia Squires, only to have the team’s owner (Earl Foreman) come down with a case of seller’s remorse. The league president, Mike Storen, sided with Foreman and demanded Gervin be returned to Virginia. He threatened Drossos with a number of unsavory penalties in a series of telegrams and letters.

Drossos responded in a telegram only he could have written:

“Fuck you. A stronger letter will follow.”

I thought of Drossos and his way with words today when I read the NY Times’ legal response to Trump’s demand that the paper retract a story that accused him of groping two women.

Trump is no stranger to the legal system, nor is he unwilling to sue at the drop of a hat. My favorite Trump suit is the one he filed against comedian Bill Maher, who accused him of being fathered by an orangutan. It wasn’t a libel suit, however, as Trump was actually suing for a breach of contract. Maher had jokingly noted that he’d give $5 million to the Hair Club for Men in Trump’s name if he could produce a birth certificate that proved Trump’s mom wasn’t fucking a simian in the zoo.

(Shockingly, the case never got very far.)

However, the concept of libel is one that scares even the best journalists. Nobody wants to be sued in general, but libel suits are often dicey because you often have legal interpretation meeting issues of “polite society.” Judges can often be offended by content and thus take it out on the messengers.

When I teach libel to my reporting kids, I often point out that truth is the ultimate defense against libel. Sure, if you report that the governor stole money from the state to buy Corvettes for underage prostitutes the guy is going to look bad and want to sue you. However, if you can prove this is all true, you should be OK in court.

Most people use the “truth shield” as the safest venue for fighting a suit like this.

David McCraw decided to go at this a different way, which is why he is now my new personal legal man-crush.

McCraw instead doubles down on the idea of libel in his letter, pointing out that “the essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation.” He then goes on to point out how there is virtually no way to ruin Trump’s reputation, because he’s such a vile, stupid, sexually fucked up nut wad. He lists a series of items that demonstrate Trump’s own statements basically paint him as exactly the kind of guy who is likely to grope women, and thus the article is essentially par for the course.

As one of my good friends pointed out, it’s not every day that a lawyer gets to write the phrases “libel per se” and “piece of ass” in the same letter.

The letter then takes on a more conventional approach, in which McCraw notes that the paper did what the law allows by publishing “newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern.” He also states that if Trump doesn’t like it and thinks he can use the law to crush his critics, “we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

In other words: Fuck you.

And in deference to the late Angelo Drossos, I don’t think even HE could write a stronger letter that could follow this.

35th and Shitbag

Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin found himself in hot water this week for telling the truth at a Madison Rotary event about his team’s city as well as his experiences there. Somewhere between trying to jack up excitement for a team that went 33-49 last year and trying to explain how the state’s $250 million investment in an arena that looks like Elvis’ haircut, Feigin made a comment about race and the city:

“Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life. It just is a place that is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair and has happened for a long, long time. One of our messages and one of our goals is to lead by example.”

The shit hit the fan so hard and so fast that Feigin had to walk his comments back in an interview with the Journal-Sentinel that same day.

“Milwaukee is a terrific community with wonderful people and I am proud to be a part of it,” Feigin said in a statement. “I was addressing a question about the social, economic and geographic divides that exist and how we can help address them. It wasn’t my intention to characterize the general community as overtly racist.”

Notice the “very bluntly” part came at a speech while the fine-tuned horseshit came in a statement? In other words, “I’m sorry I told the truth because I know I could get fired if the team isn’t drawing people and I made the mistake of being honest about my experiences here.” Also notice that Feigin is making a personal statement here: He says that it’s his experience that the city is segregated and that race is a big divider in the city. He wasn’t trying to use charts and diagrams to outline the math behind his experiences. He just noted how he felt about it. Y’know, kind of like how Newt Gingrich feels the country isn’t safer, even though crime is down? Or how some people just “feel” that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim infiltrator who will lead the next wave of a New World Order into Texas to take the guns away and pilfer the freedom of people in Amarillo? Yeah, just like that.

Except Feigin is actually more accurate in his perceptions than the Tin Foil Hat Militia down south.

I lived in and around Milwaukee during my formative years and have family dotted all throughout that area. I still visit on a monthly basis, if not more, and Feigin has a pretty good handle on what’s going on in that area.

Sherman Park.
Laylah Petersen.
Frank Jude.
Ernest Lacy.
The Dahmer situation.

These are just a few of touchstones for anyone who wants to look up and notice that, hey, we seem to be having a lot of problems when it comes to how the black folk and the white folk experience life, safety, justice and so forth in Cream City.

The comments after these articles are the exact kind you would expect to see here: the “presumably white” commenters are looking for “the smoking gun” of racism and the “presumably black” commenters are saying, “The whole fucking building is on fire and you’re asking us to point to the match that started it before we have a right to comment.” In both cases, people can see what they want: No, we don’t call the “bad part of town” something politically incorrect like “the ghetto” or “the inner city,” but that doesn’t absolve the city of sin. Not to generalize, but “The North Side” is just as clear of a code for Milwaukee whites as either of those things.

When I was younger, my friends and I would cruise around on Friday nights in our shitty cars. We knew that if you went toward Whitefish Bay (A.K.A. “White Folks Bay), we could gun our cars hard enough to set off the alarms on the street-parked BMWs and Lexuses. However, if we made a few wrong turns, the streets of brick homes suddenly became boarded up row house and corner markets with bars on their windows.

From Lincoln through Good Hope and from about 6th street up to about 68th, we knew we didn’t belong. It was the place one friend’s father told us that “Somebody oughtta build a fence around that area, throw in a shit ton of guns and let them go at it.” On the personal level, there were more than a few times we ended up in some place in that area to get gas and referred to it as being on the corner of “35th and Shitbag.” I’m not exactly proud of that, but I wasn’t alone in knowing where the lines were drawn in my hometown.

Telling people like Feigin to dial it back only continues to shove the issue under the table, only allowing it emerge when something becomes explosive. At that point, the “good white folk” can point to that flashpoint and either “tut tut” about it or stare on in amazement because “I had no idea things were so bad for those people.” Instead, let’s take that moment of blunt honestly and celebrate the fact that people who get here from elsewhere can see what we really are, even if we can’t. Then, let’s take advantage of this so that maybe we can have discussions on this when something can be done and not just after something was done.

Promises, Promises

My dad held very few points of pride when it came to things he did or didn’t do. He never smoked at all, he doesn’t “owe anyone anything” when it comes to financial concerns and he didn’t make a promise he didn’t think he could keep.

“If I said we’re going to do something, we did it,” he always told me. “If I said ‘No,’ I meant ‘No.” If it was ‘Maybe,’ anything could happen. But if I said we’re doing it, we did it unless something really changed the situation.”

He wasn’t kidding. I asked to go to my first baseball game when I was about 8 years old. He promised we’d go that Friday, not knowing it was “Bat Day” in the middle of a pennant race. The traffic was insane, the tickets were hard to get and it was just chaos at old County Stadium. Dad disliked all of those things, but we went and he never complained.

Promises were an important part of my life and I kept that same attitude for my kid. If I said we were going for ice cream, we went. If I said we weren’t doing something, begging only strengthened my resolve. I get the importance of promises, especially when people are relying on you.

That said, the kinds of promises we made as fathers were the kind that led to positive outcomes. They also occasionally were broken when circumstances intervened on us. Occasionally a promised trip had to be postponed due to a funeral or an illness. Sometimes, it became insane to persist in the promise.

When I was 10, Dad promised to take me to opening day. He got the tickets, pulled me out of school and we went to the stadium. In typical early-April fashion, it was about 40 degree, so we were all bundled up. It was also raining, so we did our best to stay dry.

The game was postponed for almost two hours and we were both freezing and soaked. Finally, Dad asked if I wanted to stay and I said, “Let’s go home.” Eventually the game started (we caught the first pitch on the radio in the car on the way home) but it was stupid to stay there and die in the frigid weather to prove a point.

When it comes to promises, Scott Walker and his ilk need to better understand the difference between the inconveniences of Bat Day and the stupidity of not coming in from the rain.

Walker unveiled his latest plan to close a $1 billion gap in the transportation gap by delaying some projects, shuffling money to local municipalities and cutting the department’s budget in other ways. The purpose of making these changes? To keep his promise of not raising taxes:

 

“Governor Walker has kept his word by proposing a reasonable transportation budget that sets the right priorities and doesn’t increase taxes or the registration fee,” said a statement from Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).

Walker campaigned in 2010 for governor by criticizing Democrats like his predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle for failing to execute work on the Zoo Interchange. But Thursday Walker said it wouldn’t be fair to criticize him in turn for proposing delays to the north leg of the Zoo, saying that it was in better shape than the interchange’s aging core that is on track to be replaced.

“I make promises and I keep promises, and my promise to the taxpayers was I’m not going to raise taxes and fees,” Walker said.

 

Like many Republicans, Walker treats “tax” like it is a four-letter word. Then again, given his educational standing, he might think it is one.

The larger point is that this was a stupid promise. When we lack for revenue and need to get things done, we have to get more revenue. Things in the real world do, in fact, cost money. To that end, we can’t just say “delay this” or “delay that” to make it seem financially responsible. That’s like the guy who knows his brakes are going on his car, but to replace the pads will cost $200. Instead, he keeps riding the brakes for months and months until he literally can’t stop. At that point, he’s warped the rotors and irreparably harmed the calipers, so the job now costs $1500. Sure, he stuck to his guns that he wasn’t going to get them fixed, but at what cost?

Walker can’t back out of his pledge to not raise taxes because his lizard brain can only see the attack ads for his next campaign about how he raised taxes. Him worrying about that is like the captain of the Titanic worry about how all this water is going to tarnish the brass railings on the ship. Trust me, pal, you have bigger concerns.

Speaking of promises, what about that whole 250,000 job promise? What about that whole “Open for Business” pledge? Yeah, not so much on either of them and those are the important ones if you want to get revenue hopping in this state. No one with half a brain or a sense of proportion would have expected him to hit the 250K mark or that just posting “open” signs would have businesses pouring into the state. That said, had he made a stronger effort with better logic to make those things happen, it is far more likely that he could have made good on this third pledge to keep tax rates down.

I don’t like taxes any more than any other person out there, but I can tell you that I do vote for them locally. In a small town like the one in which I live, I can see where my tax money goes: The city well gets fixed. The trash pickup is awesome. My street gets plowed quickly. Same thing with schools: New computers, improved facilities, more engaged kids all come from me checking the box that says, “Take another $10 out of what I make each year to improve stuff.”

I hope people who drive the I-94 corridor that will be delayed or the area near the zoo that’s a total shitbox will also be able to see what happens when we make stupid promises and forgo our responsibility to improving society. Sure, it’s hard to see how things like teacher pay or university subsidies pan out for individuals, but when the potholes are knocking the fillings out of their teeth, I hope they feel the tax break was worth it.

“It’s Not About You” AKA- Stop writing shitty columns

Column writing is a lot like comedy: Everyone thinks they can do it and that it’s easy, but only a few people actually have the chops to do it well often.

For every Richard Pryor or Erma Bombeck who breaks ground and creates timeless moments of social awareness, there are thousands of people who think dropping N-bombs or coming up with theories on how socks get lost in the dryer will land them a comedy Grammy or a publishing deal.

And for every Mike Royko or Leonard Pitts who captures the essence of a place or people and shines a bright light on the problems there, there are tons of us (I include myself here) who use too much space to talk only about shit that lacks value to the readership at large.

When I was in college, I figured this out when our paper’s opinion editor asked me to write a weekly column. The first two or three were fine, but then it got into “Here’s what pisses me off this week” and it really went downhill. I stopped writing for a while, that with the promise if something ever really hit home and I thought it mattered, I’d write a column.

When I did, I heard people telling me, “Wow, that was great! You should do this every week!”

No, I shouldn’t. The whole reason it was good was because it had value to me, it had broader applicability to my audience and I wanted to write it. It couldn’t be just about me. It had to include research, depth and value. It had to say, “This is how WE as a collective are seeing X or dealing with Y.

In short, I learned “It’s not about you.”

When I would write without keeping that in mind, I’d devolve into the kind of shit I’ve been seeing this week from a number of professionals.

Start with the column the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had to retract and scrub from its site by columnist “C.J.” that attacked Jana Shortal for her choice of fashion while reporting on the Jacob Wetterling story.

Despite producing a great report on the revelation that a man finally confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing the boy in 1989, “C.J.” focused on Shortal’s choice of fashion:

cj_column

With the exception of a few screen caps floating around, you’d have better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa than a copy of this column, which the Star-Trib apologized for after removing it. Shortal is trying to stay above the fray on this one, refocusing the point of this on the story itself: A dead kid as opposed to her pants.

Another modern marvel of sensitivity, Dave Hon, gave readers a lot to think about in his look at “Why I’ll never date a feminist.”

Hon outlines his thesis that feminists are basically looking for reasons to hate men and that because “political issues have been creeping into the bedroom” he has trouble with people who “are more loyal to their gender and not their significant other.”

After I saw the mug shot and saw the title, I honestly thought it was an Onion satire at first. When I figured out it wasn’t, and I realized that I was going to have to tell “C.J.” to fuck off for “beauty shaming” Shortal, I had this moment:

 

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If the comments after the column are any indication, we’re about six minutes away from when the “wow what a sexually desirous partner” memes force the Internet to implode. Skipping past that for a moment, reading Hon’s column led to several questions:

 

  • You do understand that by just linking to stuff, you aren’t actually proving anything, right? The link has to have something of value behind it that supports your claim and not just other assholes rambling on without any sort of support for their stupid position? Or that linking to things that simply have a word you want to feature in your point doesn’t make your point true? Based on your use of links to random bits of information that required a stretch of reality to see how they applied to your point, I don’t think you understand how linking works. Looking at your “disagree” videos and your “consent texts” link, I think you don’t understand that links aren’t like a magic spell: Using them on words doesn’t magically make things true.Case in point, check this out: Dave Hon is likely rumored to keep fucking that chicken when the time has come today to do so.
  • You do know what a “time peg” is, right? As in a reason why you are writing whatever the hell you’re writing about at this point in time? For example, a “never forget” 9/11/2001 column makes sense this weekend, as it’s the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on that day. A “Michael Dukakis is Not Getting My Vote for President This Year” column makes no sense because he’s not running for anything other than the bathroom at this point in his life.Why am I reading this diatribe against feminists at this point in life? Did you just get dumped by someone who didn’t like it when you called her “sugar tits?” Did your downstairs neighbors play their Indigo Girls music too loud while you were trying to watch The O’Reilly Factor reruns? Did a woman with an unshaved armpit lean on you during your bus ride to work? What? What is it that evoked the Hon-icane of anger that was this column? You probably want to put that in there…
  • For whom were you writing this? I can’t imagine that you looked at your audience in St. Joseph, Missouri, studied the demographics, determined your niche and then thought about how best to serve those people. The closest thing I can think of is that you and the rest of the cast from the first season of the Big Bang Theory got together over a few beers before one of you uttered, “Women are bitches, man,” thus leading to your magnum opus. I’m sure there are tons of real stories out there that demand attention and could use a strong voice to promote and advocate resolution. Even worse, this showed up in the women’s section titled “Josephine” (shudder), so it’s clear you didn’t really think about what the audience wanted to hear.

 

There are other questions that came up, including “Why couldn’t you wait until John Oliver was back on the air to publish this? People have already compared you to a rat and an ogre, but Oliver is the master at finding just the right comparative for pea-brained dipshits.” However, I keep going back to the third item: What made you think other people wanted to read this shit?

When I teach opinion writing, the first rule is: This isn’t about you. The other five basic rules all stem from that, most of which people pick up on pretty easily. It’s that first rule, though, that people either forget or ignore too often.

Journalists like column writing for two basic reasons:

  • It conveys an aura of importance. You get to be the voice of authority, deeming a topic worthy of attention and then yourself worthy of explaining to the masses how to think about it. Plus, you get to have your mug shot in the paper, which is really cool. (That said, I have a feeling at least one feminist artist is airbrushing Hon’s mug onto a few maxi-pads as we speak…)
  • It takes less work (when you do it the way these people did) to do a column than it does to do an actual story. Reporters have to go out and get facts and interview people and stuff. Columnists get to be glib and snarky and tell people to suck it. Even better, if people lose their shit over your previous column, this can lead to ANOTHER COLUMN talking about how people hated your last column and why THEY can suck it! It’s like the loaves and fishes of column opportunities!

 

I get the allure of columns and since we all get to be experts now in whatever way we want, the desire to play the “dig me!” game will always continue to grow. However, the whole reason “mass” media is going down the crapper is because the people in charge of it fail to address the audience principle: If you don’t give people what they want or need, you will cease to have an audience.

And I’d bet a dollar to a dime that no one gives a shit what a columnist charged with tracking the fucking habits of local news personnel thinks about a reporter’s pants or the sexual desires (full-body shudder) of a sentient jar of mayonnaise.

Keep it short.

No

In honor of Daniel Victor’s simple answer in his NYT tech column, here are my five-words-or-less responses to a shit ton of stuff going on in the world:

 

Brock Turner was released from jail after three months from jail. CNN asks: Did race affect the Stanford Rape Case?

Yes.

 

Stanford has decided to ban hard alcohol at campus parties in the wake of the Turner scandal. How effective will this be in stemming the tide of bad behavior and situations involving sexual assault?

Beer.

 

Media outlets have announced the debate moderators for the presidential debates: NBC’s Lester Holt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper/ABC’s Martha Raddatz and Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Given the spectrum of voices, the “one-on-one” style approach and his promise to be “more presidential” will this lead to a fair and civilized debate from Donald Trump?

Ask Hugh Hewitt.

 

A prominent Latino surrogate for Donald Trump announced Thursday he had officially withdrawn his support from the Republican presidential nominee, saying he was “misled” because Trump said this week he was going to deport illegals. 

How?

 

School districts throughout the state are facing massive teacher shortages and can’t find people who can teach specialties or meet special needs of some students. To what can we attribute this gap and how can we fix it?

Act 10. Repeal it.

 

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand for the National Anthem, something he has done in the past. What does this say about him as a person and our country?

Free speech. Use it.

 

What about the people, including former athletes, who have taken him to task for this?

Consider the source.

 

What about the police officer in Philly with a Nazi-style tattoo across his arm, who was working at a protest march? Does this guy have the right espouse his beliefs in this fashion as a representative of the city and the police force dedicated to protecting it? How do you explain this?

  1. Wear sleeves.
  2. Not on duty.
  3. This

 

 

 

Eleven

It’s an odd experience being face to face with a person you constantly called a shit-brained asshole and a greedy fuckwad behind closed doors. It’s even weirder when you are enjoying the moment.

When we were trying to buy our current house, we were in the middle of a major mess of balancing the whiny bullshit of our buyer with the stubborn refusals of our seller. This pulled us financially in both directions and it made for some really rough nights around the old homestead.

The guy who had the house we wanted refused to move on any of our demands, even those that were essentially issues of law. For example, we conducted a radon test, which makes sense given the limestone base out here and the depth of the basement. When the test came back at a higher-than-legal limit, we wrote into the final offer that they install a radon removal system.

He refused.

The same was true about the minor gas leak coming from the hot water heater, the mudjacking of unsafe concrete and the exterior venting of the bathroom exhaust fans.

It turned out, this wasn’t the guy or his wife, but rather his really shitty real-estate agent combined with our really weak one. Ours was a young woman with limited experience in the field and theirs was a end-of-the-road older guy who had no interest in selling and came from the time when calling women “sugar tits” was considered common office communication.

Eventually, it got ironed out and I was so grateful I’d never have to deal with these people again.

That is, until I found out they essentially moved two houses away. I kind of lost my mind and even when we got down to the final signing, I refused to sit in the room with them until after the paperwork was done.

What you learn about people during the time you review their home for purchase only tells you a small part of the story. The gun safe in the kitchen pantry, the “Terrorist hunting permit” on the refrigerator, the “bullet maker” in the basement and the locked upstairs office room all gave me pause. Then again, so did the IV unit hanging in the master bedroom.

What I found out later was that they were moving because their son, Jacob, had a rare form of cancer. The kid was about 5 or 6 years old and had been dealing with this all his life. Facebook updates on his progress were met by cheers when they went well and prayers when they did not. The sale of the house was in part for finances (they moved to a smaller, less expensive place) and part for physical reasons (they needed a single-story house as the steps were too much for the kid).

After the move, the dad and I would exchange waves as he drove past. Jacob and his folks occasionally showed up on our porch asking if we’d like to buy wreaths from his Boy Scout troop or a donation to a school program.

Eventually, he wound up in our driveway on one occasion when I was out fixing the car. He was wearing a Spider Man shirt and he had this incredible little smirky smile and thick, tinted Coke-Bottle glasses as he wondered if she’d like to come over and play for a while. There was about a three-year gap between them and she was still in the “boys are gross” stage, but she went.

She had a blast.

This led to a few play dates of the old-fashioned kind: She was bored and she went over and knocked on his door and asked if he’d like to play.

His mother later told me that whenever the doorbell rings, “Jacob prays that it’s her asking to play.”

About a month ago, she returned home with an invitation to his birthday party at the city pool.

Thus, I found myself face to face with his dad, talking about kids in a polite and civilized fashion I could never have previously imagined. Especially given the number of times I screamed that he must be a greed-based ass-fuck.

Apparently, being wrong is something I’ve gotten good at.

“So, is Jacob officially 8 yet?” I asked

“Oh yeah,” he said. “His birthday was a few months ago but we waited until now for the party because he wanted it at the pool. He made it.”

I’m not sure if he meant it the way I recalled it or if I’m reading too much into it, but of all the things said to me that day, his last words stuck in my head.

He made it.

As time continues to gather steam, pushing my child toward womanhood, I have found myself utterly resistant to these changes. My wife told me that the “tweens” are the worst, so I should be ready for two or three years of weird.

To this point, we’ve gotten it.

She vacillates between weeping and laughing, something my wife blames on hormonal changes.

Her friends talk about boy bands and lockers and so forth, as opposed to those days they argued about if iCarly was real.

I find it difficult sometimes doing the laundry, as I’m folding tiny bras into virtual pocket squares. Even more difficult is listening to the carpool chatter about which of the girls in their class is “the most flat-chested.” (Keep in mind that all of them are so poorly endowed, you could only measure cup size with a micrometer.)

Even the other day, as I was sleeping in my chair, she came down and woke me to let me know that I needed to go get some takeout for dinner.

“Mommy doesn’t feel well,” she said before putting on her “knowing” face and adding. “You know, Daddy, she’s on her… period.”

I’m sure that tiny pads and tampons will soon arrive in our house as will larger bras and a fixation with her hair. I’m a decent guy about all things like this, buying everything from tampons and Depends to nursing pads and whatever else the women in my life needed. Still, it’ll be harder knowing that she’s not my little girl any more.

And yet, it took that pool party for me to realize I shouldn’t be fighting this march of time but embracing it. The parents of this boy spent his whole life wondering if this would be the day their son’s life would end. I haven’t thought in those terms since the major ultrasound that let us know we hadn’t miscarried again.

He made it.

Three words that I’m sure they had to say over and over again.

Test after test.

Treatment after treatment.

Day after day.

He made it.

It never occurred to me once about when we should or shouldn’t hold my kid’s birthday party because she might not live long enough to get there. My biggest concerns are if the girls at school are bullying her or if one of the boys decides to take too big of an interest in her.

“She made it,” never once exited my lips with the same level of resolve and relief these people must have felt every day.

Every year around this time, I recall my kid’s life story: The miscarriage, the Ice Storm, the chaos surrounding her birth. After those opening lines, life is blur of birthday parties, Halloween costumes and summer vacations.

This year, for her 11th birthday, I’m putting more thought into valuing each and every day.

Maybe ice cream for dinner every so often. Maybe playing a game of cards with her more often when she asks. Maybe just telling her I love her an extra time or two.

As she continues to get older and has more of those life-altering questions that can’t be solved by a hug or a stuffed animal, I’ll also need to be ready to game up.

I don’t want to talk to my kid about sex any more than we already have or what to do when the movie “Mean Girls” basically becomes the living embodiment of her school. It’s hard enough to resist punching out some of the little twerps who pick on her now.

Each day can come with a new crisis, a deeper hurt or situation neither of us saw coming. I’m sure it will feel like we’re getting hit with a whole sack of hammers while falling down the stairs.

I try to think about Jacob as much as I can. I wonder how someone so small can deal with something so big on top of all the other garbage growing up throws at you.

But if he can find a way to make it, I’m sure we will too.

UW to Scott Walker: They call them cuts because they hurt and make you bleed

Last night was a first for me in my time at my current university: I got an email from a parent.

In all of my previous stops, parental “engagement” ranged from the somewhat common to the fairly frequent. I had received calls from parents who wanted to protest a grade, argue about the amount of work I was assigning their precious snowflake or make sure that I knew the child was REALLY sick and needed to be excused from class. In some cases, the calls were polite and helpful while others smacked of entitlement. (In one case, I was told, “The family lawyer will be in touch” regarding a grade. And people wonder where the kids get the attitude from…)

This time, however, it was a mom who wanted to set up a meeting with me and her son. I knew the kid and I hadn’t had him in class in quite some time, so I knew it wasn’t a grade issue. Even more, I’m not in the kid’s area of study, so it wasn’t about something I could do for the kid.

However, the kid adopted me as a “de facto adviser” and apparently that was the concern:

I would like to schedule an appointment with you to make sure (KID) is on the right path to graduate this May.  I know he is registered for the fall semester; however, (ONE OF OUR COURSES) apparently got cancelled…

The class was one of five that we had listed and had to axe due to a series of last-minute budget cuts. By the time we got notice of the need for cuts, the class was full and had a waiting list. However, since it wasn’t required for any of our majors, it had to go.

This wasn’t the only kid to email me this summer and ask about the possibility of graduating on time. A student athlete was concerned about finishing up this year and was looking to load up on discipline-specific courses. She mentioned a couple classes she wanted, both of which had been cut.

I had to break the news to her about the cuts and also nudge her toward an unpleasant truth:

You’re going to be stuck here a while. And it’s not getting any better any time soon.

This is the dark side of populism, especially when it comes to funding higher education.

Gov. Scott Walker recently announced plans to extend his “historic tuition freeze” for another biennium, making it six years since tuition has increased at schools in the UW system.

Walker also noted in his declaration that the schools should not expect any state money to offset the freeze or to cope with previous cuts that have begun to damage the system in an irreparable fashion. During the previous budget debate, System President Ray Cross sought a $95 million increase in funds and was rewarded with a $250 million cut. That swing of more than one-third of a billion dollars led to faculty leaving for other states, losses in program options, increases in class sizes and diminished course offerings. This was also after a budget that froze tuition and provided nothing but cuts.

The idea of “live with what you have” isn’t going to get any easier at the UW schools either, if Walker goes through with his plan to prevent the System from borrowing money to repair its buildings and infrastructure.

Things like tuition freezes, belt tightening and tax cuts all sound good in theory until you start to feel the pain associated with those decisions.

I hate to be the one to break it to Governor Deadeyes and the “decent, hard-working people of this state,” but a) stuff tends to cost money and b) when you make bad decisions you have to live with the ramifications. This is like those credit cards where you get zero-percent-interest offers, low monthly payments and a host of other things that Montel Williams promises you in a 2 a.m. infomercial. You get stuff that sounds great at the time, but it leads to serious consequences down the road, including compound interest, burgeoning debt and a long, painful process to get out of trouble.

The system could survive one round of cuts or one round of freezes, but once you go beyond that, you start to see real problems emerge. Departments across our campuses are told to “churn” positions instead of hiring replacement faculty. Classes that aren’t mandatory for graduation are cut. More kids get shoved into rooms, giving them access to the class, but not the quality of experience they deserve.

Graduations get delayed, student loans continue to build and the entire process becomes self-defeating.

This whole concept of “standing up for working people” sounds great in campaign ads and stump speeches, but that’s because people don’t think about it in practical terms. Like it or not, there are things we spend money on because they have to be done.

The mechanic doesn’t say he stood up against the demands of the automobile when the oil change light went on. “I pushed the reset button and told the car, ‘You have to learn to live within your means.’”

The farmer doesn’t skip the fertilizer and demand that the soil provide more and increase its yield. “In these hard times, the earth can’t expect that I will keep plowing resources into it and receiving the same output.”

The homeowner doesn’t yell at the leaking roof, “Instead of patching you up with some new shingles, I’ll be removing several sections of shingles and expect that you’ll leak less.”

Education is no less of a resource than those and other items that we knowingly invest in because we understand we can’t live without them. When we fail to invest in support and repair, we create a weaker system that will continue to crumble and cost more in the long run.

The mechanic knows without proper maintenance, that engine is going to seize up and cease to function.

The farmer knows that failing to augment and replenish the fields will lead to lower yields and damaged land.

The homeowner knows that a leaky roof will eventually destroy the remainder of the structure.

And yet, our governor and legislature seems bent on proving the opposite to be true in order to appeal to the basest part of our society.

Willful ignorance presented under the guise of austerity serves no one in this state.

We need to learn that before it’s too late.

You Got Served

We were sitting at the kitchen table on Day Two of the “My-Wife-Can’t-Breathe-Because-Humidity-And-Heat-Kill-Asthmatics” Festival, when she broke into a cussing, coughing fit.

“That asshole! What a fucking dick!”

It takes a lot for her to get to that level, as opposed to me, who you could easily see yelling, “Hurry the fuck up! It’s fucking cold out here!” during a eulogy.

The asshole-dick in question was a coworker of hers at the local nursing/retirement home. The fellow CNA/RA had called in sick four minutes before his shift, sending the rest of the crew into understaffed crisis mode. Making this worse, he wasn’t really entirely sick, as he was in Milwaukee with some friends and didn’t know until four minutes before his shift that he couldn’t really make it back on time.

For some perspective, it’s a 100-mile drive. Unless he had Cliff Secord’s backpack or Montgomery Scott’s ability for trans-warp beaming, there was no way he was coming in and he knew it.

This is the same douchewad who called in sick last year, forcing overtime on all the rest of the people who were left to play catch up. In between answering call lights, handing out medication and rushing through laundry, someone got an alert on their phone that he had posted a photo.

There he was, right in the middle of Country USA, bragging about the concert he was seeing.

I don’t think that I’m reaching too far in noting that this guy is not an anomaly. In fact, people acting like assholes has become such a common part of American culture, the Choose Life campaign put out this fantastic ad for organ donation, hitting exactly the proper nerve.

Service itself can be both a noble thing and a degrading thing. We talk about people who give themselves to a “life of service” as being noble and benevolent. Conversely, we talk about “servers” sometimes like something befell them that ranks between crabs and whatever the hell came flying out of the Holy Grail in this Indiana Jones flick. Even more, nobody seems to be hiding their disdain anymore for working in an industry of service.

I had to take The Midget to the mall to buy a birthday gift for one of her friends. We are now at that imperceivable pivot in life where gifts have gone from Target or Toys ‘R’ Us to Justice and Wet Seal and any other store that plays boyband music and looks like an army of bedazzlers threw up on its content.

And yes, in case you were wondering, it is killing me…

We picked out a few items and headed to the front of the store, which had all of about six people in it. No one was there to check anyone out.

After five minutes, a young lady (figure 18-20 years old) walks out of the back, sees us and then turns around and goes back into the back. I figure she’s going to get the check out person.

Five more minutes, no one. Five more minutes and my kid loudly notes:

“Maybe they’d do better if they had a bell up here we could ring.”

Just about the time I’m ready to walk out of the store, another young lady sees us from the other side of the store, exhales a big sigh and walks over to ring us up. She doesn’t look at us and then mutters something that I think was the total.

“Slide or chip for the card?” I ask.

She looks up at me with that look that teens give adults in hopes of inspiring homicidal tendencies, complete with the eyeroll and the incongruous shoulder shrug.

“Whatever, I guess.”

Come on, kid. Give giving a shit a shot. Even in the horrifically shitty movie “Waiting,” we got at least the false face of happiness before a secreted backroom allowed for full-on Chuckie Mode.

We paid and left at which point my daughter takes my hand and says, “You were very patient.” I love my child.

A bit later I swung by a video-game store and picked out a used game for her and one for me. At the counter is the guy checking people out talking with a couple of older guys (read: 45 or just looking like that due to spending way too much time in mom’s basement eating Hot Pockets) about how “totally mod-able” a game is. Neither of the guys is buying anything.

We’re waiting at the check out register and he sees us and goes back to talking. The Midget, sensing danger, puts her game back and says, “We can go.”

Uh. No. We’re getting these games.

I did the math and figure out how much they were including tax and I put the money on the counter in hopes of drawing him in, much in the way Wile E. Coyote would pour roadrunner seed under a rope-hung anvil. He sees the money, could stop for six second shooting the shit with these guys and literally move three feet to his left to complete the transaction.

Nope.

Finally after about seven minutes (we started a timer after the first blow-off), we just picked up our money and took off, leaving the game cases on the counter where he could see them. What’s more, he didn’t even break stride in his conversation as we walked out right in front of him.

Not every experience I had with food or folks or fun has been a case of shitty attitudes and generally poor work outcomes, but when I mentioned it to a few friends, I found that I’m not alone in noticing this.

My brother-in-law used to tell me stories of how the people he would hire to work at the shoe store he managed would hide in the warehouse part to avoid dealing with customers. Others would always say, “I’m not doing that! That’s not my job!” to almost anything, ranging from stocking shoes to running a register.

My wife regaled me with stories about her coworkers at various call centers who would put themselves “on a call” so they couldn’t be bothered and then play games on their phones. They would also loudly announce, “It’s MY TURN for lunch!” ignoring the fact that a) it wasn’t and b) they just got back from a bathroom break and a smoke break.

A friend told me that while ordering at a “casual eating” restaurant, a counter worker asked, “Do you really need that?” about an order item because the person didn’t know how to ring it up and didn’t want to ask for help.

To quote everyone who now seems determined to quote Vince Lombardi: What the hell is going on?

The United States has seen a serious shift in its economic base from manufacturing and agriculture to service-based jobs. In most cases, we aren’t making things any more. We’re serving those things to other people.

According to federal statistics, somewhere around 40 percent of those service-based jobs are in retail, leisure/hospitality and healthcare/social assistance. In short, those are things where you actually have to SERVE other people’s needs, as opposed to things like financial activities or federal government jobs where your contact with other bipeds is variable at best.

I get that not every job is a dream job and that not every 20-year-old has a passion for politely explaining rampaging anger-moms why it is that all the Elsa dresses are sold out, even though her kid really, really wants one. We have always had people who were shitty to others, didn’t like work or just thought the world was soooo harrrrddddd… However, this crop seems to be a bumper one and it’s not exactly clear as to why.

The easy explanation: Damned Millennials and their iPhones.
Generation Gaps emerge when you least expect them, as it’s not the old “Depression Era” grandparents against the “Gen X” slackers any more. It’s actually more like siblings separated by a couple years: “When I was your age, Mom never let me do that!” The younger managers are now saddled with being responsible and all of those “silly rules” that kept customers happy and upset them as rank-and-file employees now make total sense. As they now serve as “enforcers,” they see even less-interested people in this “me, me, me” generation that has been given everything and allowed to do whatever as being a collection of shitheads for not playing by the rules.

The answer is probably half right and half wrong. Researchers and journalists have made some good hay turning this idea of millennial slacker vs. millennial brilliance over and over again. In many ways, it reminds me of the oat-bran studies of the 1990s, where every five minutes, you learned that oat bran was either going to make you healthy as a horse or dead as horsemeat.

Sure, people do better in many cases when they have skin in the game (to quote one article) and people who LIKE what they are doing tend to do better at it. This isn’t a revelation of this new generation but rather common sense. However, it’s also worth noting that not every millennial has “critical thinking skills” as noted in this article, but rather just that sense of being right, no matter what.

The more complicated explanation: Consolidation and corporate ownership.
I worked a few “Joe Jobs” in my earlier years and two of them were for what I would call “small-business owners.” One guy had a hotdog-selling business at a number of local fairs around the area and another guy owned a gas station with a garage attached to it. Truth be told, neither of them was my favorite manager of people, but they both got a lot of stuff done and it was pretty clear why.

Every dollar that came in was furthering their own needs. Every lost sale was an actual cost to them.

That’s why we had rules on how many hotdogs we had to have on hand at any given time and how we couldn’t waste certain amounts of stuff. If lines got too long, people walked away and that was money out of his pocket.

That’s also why we had a full-service pump, where the elderly ladies of the area (and the local big-wig bar owner who drove a 1979 Lincoln Towncar the size of the USS Wisconsin) would frequent. Whatever we were doing in the garage, we had to drop and run out to the pump and fill their tank, wash their windows, top off their oil and check their tires. When we were all too backed up to do any of this, my boss would actually go out there and do it himself. The reason? The gas at that pump came at a $.50-per-gallon premium. Same fuel, more money.

Sure, it’s also why one year we had to use brake cleaner to remove a yellow tint off of Christmas lights so they were white. The boss bought the yellow ones because they were a dime a string cheaper and he could expense the brake cleaner more easily than Christmas lights. It’s also why we always had a list of jobs that we had to complete when we weren’t engulfed in hotdog-seeking masses of humanity. He was actually paying us so he wanted work from us.

Still, there was that sense of “I’m paying you to work, not slack” and that ran through the whole organization. We weren’t always thrilled, but when the guy said “I’m paying you” it was true. His wife (or in one case his girlfriend) did the books and cut the checks. It wasn’t some nebulous corporate office and I wasn’t being managed by some random schmoe who showed up six months before I did.

The possibly awkward answer: Fear and Desperation.
When I graduated from college, my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t have a job and I’d have to move back in with my parents. Now, this is so common, it has become its own thing: The Boomerang Generation.

(SIDE NOTE: Of all the things in this article, the one that got me was this line:

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) of these 25- to 34-year-olds say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want…”

Yeah? No shit?)

Maybe it was working for those “owner-operator bosses” that made me fearful of getting fired. Maybe I was one of the few who bought into the line about being a bad employee or bad student ending up “on your permanent record.” (Mine, of course, now is about 1.2 million pounds, I’m sure) Maybe it was what my mother-in-law told me when I was fussing over some minor thing I was trying to fix on the car:

“You don’t know how to not care about doing a good job.”

Part of that, I’m sure, is pride in my work, but the other part was fear and desperation. I was hardwired into a world of afterschool specials and VH1’s Behind the Music: You have a chance to succeed, you’re doing well, you fuck up just thiiiiiiss much and BAM, you’re fucked forever. A tragic tale of wasted youth.

You think I’m kidding? Check out these things I was forced to watch as a kid:

And those are just the ones I can remember…

Fear and desperation means saying “Yes sir” a lot more than “Fuck you.”

Today, I think we have a dichotomous split between the Boomerangs and Martin Seligman’s Dogs which pretty much minimizes that sense of fear and desperation

For the Boomerangers, there is no fear and desperation. They can go home, eat out of mom’s fridge and join dad’s cell-phone plan. You think you can scare them into fear over losing an $8.50-an-hour job at Wiener Hut? I have a relative who is 35 and lives in his mom’s basement because he can. He has a truck, a Camaro and a Harley. Plus, he gets all the best seats for all the best concerts. I think he’d be more afraid of leaving that situation than getting into it.

On the other hand, fear and desperation can make you totally numb to it. In “Hand to Mouth,” Linda Tirado explains in grimacing detail how it is that people in “Bootstrap America” can just flat-line and not give a fuck about anything, even when they are the most desperate people out there. Her explanations are a perfect parallel to Seligman’s experiments on dogs that helped found the theory of Learned Helplessness. In the experiments, the dogs were given random shocks from the floor of a cage. In one case, the dog could push a button and escape the shocks, while in the other case, the dog just had to sit there and take it. Then, both dogs were put into cages with escape options. The dog who had learned to push the button immediately did so and escaped. The all-shocks dog just laid down and took it until the shocking was over. It didn’t even try to escape.

I have no idea if any of these answers are even remotely close and I think all this writing has done is make things as clear as mud for me in psycho-analyzing the Counter Help Generation.

However, a few things ARE clear: We’re not making stuff any more, we are serving stuff a lot and we need to be really good at it if we want to survive as individuals and as a culture.

The more I see Donald Trump, the more I love my car

Once upon a time on this blog, I was accused of creating “haigiography of a gas guzzling testament to why we don’t have widespread public transportation” in my tribute to Betsy, a gold, 1968 Mustang that saved me as much as I saved her. If that reader is still around, I’m sure she would be horrified of my most recent purchase: a 1966 Ford F-250 Camper edition with a 460 engine that gets about 10 miles to the gallon on a good day.

I’m not thrilled at the impact I’m having on the environment, which is why we own a Prius and drive it as much possible. Still, there is a reason I own these cars beyond the cool factor and the sense that this is a better way of dealing with a midlife crisis than fucking some random college chick, getting hair plugs and wearing a beret.

The beauty of these beauties is that I learned a lot about life by spending time working on them. The older cars are simpler and easier to understand than some of the more computerized gizmos and yet a lot harder to fix in some regards.

When I was growing up in Milwaukee, I had a fleeting dalliance with life as a mechanic. I was a snotty kid who went to “the good schools” and was pursuing a college degree, something rare in my family. During one summer, my boss at the gas station put me in the garage to help me pick up a few hours. I immediately went from the smartest guy in the room to the dumbest one. During those days, I managed to lose a lug nut down a drain, set my arm on fire and almost take my head off with a tire machine. Tom, the master mechanic, referred to me as being “as useless as tits on a bull.”

Eventually, I stopped coming home for summers and I gave up that job. The garage eventually closed, I got a bunch of degrees and I became the guy in the Ivory Tower who never had to really “work” at work. When I was thinking of buying Betsy, I had my dad’s car guy look her over to make sure I wasn’t buying a hole in the garage you throw money into. The guy told my dad something I’d always remember: If he want a show car, forget it, but if he can learn to be a bit handy and do things himself, it’s a good car. In short, I had to learn to be handy. Me, an uncoordinated intellectual dork who could get hurt walking out to the mailbox.

It was through this process that I truly fell in love with the art of auto mechanics and realized that it made my life better in so many ways I could never see coming.

I’m not a big believer in the “Hey, I just got into this thing, so EVERYBODY should do it too!” philosophy, but I do believe that this world might be a better place if Donald Trump had taken auto-shop instead of going to Wharton.

Here’s what I learned and why it matters:

  • You need to learn or you are screwed: One of the biggest gripes I’ve had about cars is that too many people who work at garages take advantage of people. My mother always feared this, as she thought a woman walking into a garage was essentially a neon sign that said to the owner, “SUCKER!” It wasn’t just a woman thing, though. My buddy, Matt, told me how useless he feels when he walks into a shop and says, “My car won’t start.” This is a guy who works as an EMT and saves people’s lives on a daily basis, but he feels like tits on a bull when it comes to cars.

    I knew that I had to learn what to do when it came to problems with Betsy or I’d be in that same boat. I had a few fragments of knowledge from what Tom showed me in between screaming about the “Fucking Nazi Go-Kart” or “Nip Mobile” he was forced to repair. Still, I knew basically nothing. I read, I prepared and I asked a lot of questions of people I learned to trust. I also avoided people I figured out were out for themselves. Being able to see these distinctions could be valuable if, say, your potential presidential candidate seems to be on your side but fucks you on the bill.

  • There isn’t “The Answer:” People for some reason have gotten used to punching six terms into Google and finding out “The Answer.” We also have pounded standardized tests into our kids for so long that the outcome is the only thing that seems to matter. The Answer, it seems, is always boiled down into a cheap slogan: “No New Taxes” “Make America Great Again” or whatever. It’s a slick marketing ploy that overrides the more complex reality.

    Working on these older cars has taught me there is no answer. There are actually a lot of answers. Where should you set your transmission bands after a fluid change? Depends on how you want it to shift. How many turns out should your carb screws be? Depends on your idle speed and interest in fuel economy. Every answer has three more questions and that’s actually a good thing to know in life. Otherwise, you find yourself following assholes who provide stupid answers, but espouse them with absolute certainty. This leads me to…

  • Everything is feel: New cars are great in some ways. Something goes to shit, so you plug a code reader into a computer and the car tells you a code. You decipher the code and replace the part of the car that matches up with that code failure. (And if you own a dishonest garage, you charge someone $120 for a “diagnostic evaluation” that anyone who ever plugged in an Atari controller or used Google could do.)

    Older cars are about feel and vibe and sense. When I rebuilt the carburetor for about the squillionth time and got it to run right, I spent about an hour making 1/8th turns of the carb screws to dial it in to perfection. It was “In… Better… In… Even Better… In… SHIT! OK, out, out, out… OK… In… In…” for an hour. Smoothing out an idle takes time and patience. It incorporates weird little things like taking a big whiff off your tailpipe to sense if she’s running rich or lean as well as using a note card to sense patterns in the expulsion of exhaust.

    In fact, smell and feel is almost everything. When I was driving the Mustang a few years back, I sensed a vibration I couldn’t pin down. Eventually I took it out on a country road and got her up past 90 to try a few things. Turns out I could coast at 70 in neutral with no vibration, but not go faster than 35 in drive without feeling it. Turns out, I needed new U-Joints, which only operate when the car is in gear.
    When I couldn’t get her to run well, I smelled for gas and found a carb leak. When I smelled something super sweet inside the car, I realized I had a heater core leak.

    When it comes to feel, I’m amazed not only had how little empathy people at that convention had for others, but also how they couldn’t feel a sense that they were being used. I watched it for moments of time and got the sense that you could score some Wagner music to overlay on that thing and not miss a beat. How is it that people couldn’t realize that if they fucked over all the people who they say they want to “take our country back” from that this wouldn’t just perpetuate a continued anger-based tug of war? Maybe it was because they just liked hearing “The Answer” from someone: Build a wall, fuck NATO, make it rain and be awesome. Thus, leading into…

  • Classic Car 101- There isn’t a right answer, but the car will tell you when shit is wrong: Newer cars have issues with computer codes or buggy transmitters and stuff like that, which will cause a problem for five minutes and then never again, or just randomly explode. It’s like being married to a bipolar passive-aggressive person with random psychotic tendencies.
    Older cars are like coming home to someone who just tells you where the bear shit in the buckwheat every day. I’m happy for X reason. You pissed me off because of Y. I’m going to bed.
    On the truck, I think I have about 12 actual wires, not counting the new stereo I put in there, and that’s it. Still, when shit is wrong, you will know it.
    When I rebuilt the Mustang’s carb, I missed a small fragment of metal that managed to slip into the needle seat. How did I know that? Because when I started the car, the carburetor started pouring gas out of it all over the engine. When I bought a battery for it a few years back, the poles were reversed. How did I know that? Because when I hooked it up, the ground wire turned bright red and started the whole electrical system on fire.

    In short, there wasn’t any nuance. Shit was wrong and you had to be an idiot not to see it.

    I wonder if there’s a parallel to be had here… Oh, also…

  • These cars will fucking humble you: Over the years, I’ve gotten better at cars and I’ve become more adventurous in the things I will try. That said, there are some serious situations in which I’ve been left questioning the size of my own brainpan. Monday, I finished some heavy work on the truck, including swapping out some leaky seals, redoing some gasket work, tuning up the carb and reinstalling the steering system. I felt really great about myself and had that “Yep, I’m a garage GOD” moment rolling through my head.

    I started it up and took it on the road for a drive. The minute I tried to go past 30, the truck stuttered and stalled and gagged. Immediately, I pulled off to the side of the road in a panic. There, it idled perfectly. I tried to drive it again and the same thing happened. I started going through a checklist of thousand-dollar repairs I was probably going to have to make until suddenly something occurred to me.

    When I was pulling the valve covers, I couldn’t get a wrench on a bolt because a spark plug wire was in the way. I unplugged the wire and went about my work. Hmm…
    I opened the hood on the side of the road and sure enough: The wire was hanging there like a Great Dane’s balls. I snapped it back onto the plug and the truck ran like a Swiss Watch.

    Humility comes in all shapes and sizes when a car of that age will tell you, “Nope. Still broken.” It can be big or small but it happens to us all. A master mechanic was telling me a story about having a 1971 Mach 1 Mustang and how he loved it. When I asked what happened to it, he simply said, “Missed third gear at about 80 miles per hour. You ever see a rod virtually explode?” Eeesh.

    I learned a lot about having to beg for help, missing simple fixes and having to buy the same part three or four times because I fucked up my fixes. In the process. Humility, I honestly believe, is a lost art in “Fuck You Nation.” It’s why instead of thinking about how stuff works and why it doesn’t do what people want it to, they just chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” like that’s going to solve everything.

  • Car 102 – If you can problem-solve and you’ll be fine: I know life is a lot more complicated than the cars of the 1960s, but I honestly think too many people have given up on working through problems. I see this with my kid all the time. If she gets the answer right, she’s fine. When she doesn’t, she throws up her hands and declares it can’t be done. When I ask her to take the laundry upstairs, she loads everything into one basket and then says, “That basket is too heavy.” Or, she takes up everything one piece at a time. She never thinks, “If I put half of it in this basket and half in that one, I can get this done quickly and without blowing out several vertebrae.” (Part of that, I’m sure, is willful ignorance, but still…)

    With the car, each system operates independently of the others and that makes for some pretty good step-by-step solutions. For example, the temperature pull switch in the truck wouldn’t shut off the heat, thus leading to a cabin temp of about 98 degrees in the middle of summer. I tried rebuilding the cable that ran it, only to find the cable kept breaking apart. I then stuck my head under the dash and followed the cable to its source, which was a spot where it left the cabin through the firewall and moved out into the engine bay.

    I found where it came to rest: A valve that was so rusted, I couldn’t pry it loose with a pliers. After about five sessions of WD40 and a lot of friction, I got the valve loose. Eventually, it swung free, so I hooked up the cable, repaired the connection and reinstalled it. Works like a charm.

    When the carb on the Mustang wasn’t reacting right to the tuning I was doing, I hooked up a vacuum gauge to test it. The gauge read zero, as opposed to 15-17, which is what it should have read. I checked every connection on that damned piece of shit and found every connection valid. Finally, I decided to just run a new vacuum line from the manifold, which is where I found that there was a giant leak because a plug had snapped off. I installed a new plug and the gauge jumped to 17. Still, not everything works out that way…

  • Failure happens: Where did people get this idea that everything should work out in the end? Was it too many 1980s movies? Was it that summer trip to Nostalgia-ville? Who said each and every one of us is perfect all the time?

    Apparently somebody, because when I see college kids try to write for me and I mark the shit out of their papers, they’re appalled. One kid told me, “I’ve never received anything less than an A on anything I’ve EVER DONE!”

    Well, even DiMaggio’s streak ended, kid.

    I failed a shit ton on those cars and it really pissed me off every time, but not nearly as much as failure pissed off Tom. I remember him at various times throwing a lit blowtorch across the garage once, kicking over a toolbox and screaming (in earshot of a convent member) that something was “fucking tighter than a nun’s cunt.”

    I tried not to do anything that might cause me to fuck up anywhere near him.
    When I was finally on my own and able to fail at my own speed, I learned a ton from failing. I learned what didn’t work and that helped me avoid those things so much more than random success helped me replicate completion. Failure often taught me painful lessons that required stitches, eye flushes and vomit. Failure wasn’t something I sought, but something I saw as a learning opportunity.

    Here in ‘Mur’ca, that’s heresy. We don’t fail. We’re the best. Everyone gets a trophy. When things like Sam Brownback’s economic revival plan of trickle-down economics failed, it wasn’t his fault or the fault of the plan. It was some “unforeseen force” or Democrats or that little fucking Gremlin with the big Mohawk. When Trump’s businesses go bankrupt, it’s the fault of someone else: A developer, a marketer or whatever. Failure isn’t an option. It’s not even a real thing.

    Without failure, there is no pain. Without pain, there is no growth or learning. I have two hands filled with cars that will testify to that.
    This leads to the biggest thing of all…

  • True joy over accomplishment: If you always win, how can you enjoy it? When the Americans knocked off the Soviets in 1980’s Miracle on Ice, the kids were delirious. They were laughing and crying and hugging. Years later, a Russian player said that they won so often, they had forgotten what the feeling was. They were just supposed to win.

    I don’t always win with the cars, but when I do, it’s the greatest thing in the world.
    Yesterday, it rained for about the ninth time in the past month and each and every time it did, there was water on the floorboards of the truck. I had a leak and I was freaking out that it might be the cowl, which would require welding and such. I ran wire cameras, flashlights and even fishing line through the cowl, looking for a telltale sign of deadly rust. I couldn’t find anything, which freaked me out even more. Where was this goddamned water coming from?

    So, I did what any insane person would do: I pulled out everything between the dash and the fire wall so I could see the seams between the outside and the inside of the truck. Glove box, heater vents, radio, all of it came out. I then poured about ten gallons of water on the truck windshield and stuffed my head under the dash with a flashlight.

    I found it.

    The mountings where the windshield wipers met the firewall were dripping like Chinese Water Torture. Turns out, the two holes that let the wipers drain were plugged. I cleaned them out and added a silicone seal around the edges of the mounts. When it poured later, my wife and child feared a tornado. I was in the garage, jumping around like a teen after his first kiss because the floorboards were dry.

    For all the stuff cars don’t do, the one thing they will do is let you know when you have actually succeeded. When the Mustang didn’t have heat, I played with the cooling system for weeks until I finally figured out what was wrong and fixed it. I drove around with the windows open and the heat on full blast in the middle of the summer, giggling like schoolgirl that I had heat. Truth be told, I was never going to really need it, as I stored the car in the winter, but fuck it.

    I. HAD. HEAT.

    I don’t know how normal this is or how many people feel it on a daily basis, but I do know that yesterday I would much rather have told people about fixing the truck than anything else that happened to me. I would win a major award that day and yet still want to say, “Yeah, that’s great! But check out the truck!”

 

There are dozens of other lessons I found over time: You get dirty as shit and you learn to enjoy it. There are nice people all over the world on chat boards and in auto parts stores who want to see you succeed, regardless of your opinion on immigration, abortion, guns or whatever. Don’t throw money at the thing and think it’s a solution. There are things you can live with and you need to find them.

The cars I love have taught me symbiosis in a strange way: I give them more time on this Earth, they return the favor to me through joy, pain and life lessons. I don’t know if everyone has something like this, but if we did, maybe we could get on board with the idea that we don’t have to be chest-beating assholes who exercise moral superiority over people while simultaneously enacting laws based on fear of those same individuals. Maybe we might learn that “The Answer” isn’t out there and that certainty is an illusion. Nothing is ever perfect. It’s just fixed enough for now.

We might also learn that looking back in time at “great” through our fun-house mirror of desperation will only breed discontent as we move to the future of the possible.

Just like America, these cars showed me that things weren’t “great” back then. The lap-only seatbelts, the rust-bucket floor pans, the rear-wheel drive and the lack of airbags are only a few things that show me what we have now is a hell of a lot better in a lot of ways than what we had then. “Governmental interference” gave us crumple zones, safety markers, three-point seatbelts and other things the car manufactures weren’t too thrilled with, even though they have made our lives exponentially better.

Still, for those few short months each summer, when working on a car is more fun than work, I get a chance to learn and grow and become someone better.

It’s a small price to pay for such a gift.

Sunday Evening Sermonette with Adrastos

Social media has been a hotbed of hysteria and hyperbole the last few days. Yeah, I know, that’s typical but this has been extreme. It’s been amped up by people connecting unconnected events because they occurred at around the same time.  I saw the Nice attack, failed Turkish coup, and Baton Rouge police shooting listed as an unholy trinity that should have us all adopting monastic vows and/or run screaming into the night. Freaking out never made ANY situation better and usually makes things a helluva lot worse as does endless speculation about events and the who, what, and why of them. In addition to the fogs of war and history, there’s the fog of news. The internets and 24-hour news cycle had led many people to expect to know everything instantaneously, and in detail because everything is about them. It’s not, y’all. People need to relax and take a chill pill: the world has always been a slaughterhouse and we just have to get by the best we can. Fixating on bad news is just as bad as ignoring it altogether. Balance is vital even for someone as imbalanced as I’ve been known to be…

One reason I have come to respect, admire, and, I daresay, love President Obama so much is that he’s always calm and takes the long view. Ranting, raving, and making threats have as much to do with leadership as bad hair. They’re certainly fashionable on the American Right but throwing gasoline on a fire never made anything better. It may frustrate people that POTUS takes the long view but it’s an essential component of genuine leadership: it’s what made FDR our greatest President. The world has always been an imperfect place and hysteria has never improved it. I have a relative who melts down and freaks out in the face of adversity. Every personal or world event calls for drama as far as they’re concerned. Fuck that shit. It’s a prescription for madness and despair. Empathy is a fine quality but empathy overkill can be lethal.

Now is the time for people to take a deep breath and do something pleasurable. I’ve seen folks urging us all to don hair shirts and forsake the joys of life. Fuck that shit. It reminds me of post-K New Orleans when people told us that celebrating Carnival profaned the memory of the dead. Once again: fuck that shit. We’d been through a lot and Carnival was just what we needed to ease the pain: good food and booze didn’t hurt either. We’d survived as a community after suffering grievously and needed to cut loose and have some fun.

I’m tired of the fear mongers who tell us to freak out and hide under the bed at the first sign of trouble as well as the scaredy cats who fall in line. Fear and paranoia never helped anything whereas keeping a level head and a sense of humor can save our collective asses.

In searching for an antidote for this palpable fear and paranoia, I thought of the Holocaust survivors I’ve met. One of whom was one of my mother’s best friends, Mrs. Rosenberg. She was a plump and cheerful woman who lived down the street from us when I was a small child. One day I noticed the tattooed numbers on her arm and asked her about them. I was about 8 years old and my mom gave me a stern look but her friend waved her off and told me what they signified. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the Shoah. I was horrified and asked how she could be so cheerful after so much loss and suffering. Mrs. Rosenberg smiled, patted me on the head, and said: “When you’ve been to hell and back, nothing else ever seems so bad.”

Words to live by. I’ll add my own: fuck that shit.

Your Country Didn’t Go Anywhere. It’s Here. It’s Right Here.

I am getting tired of describing the divide as city [government] mouse vs. country [individualist] mouse here: 

Think of America as a set of stories. Not as a set of policies. Not as a set of ideals, even. But as a set of stories we tell about ourselves and who we want to be.

This, I think, is where my fellow progressives fall down. We can argue until we are blue in the face about what the data proves, or what the facts say, and we will usually be right. But what we offer isn’t a mythology of the self. What we offer is a collection of figures meant to add up to an identity, and that never works.

The place I come from has a story of itself that is centuries old. It has a series of traditions and beliefs that barely waver. Many of those beliefs can hurt and destroy. But some of them are still beautiful ideals. My little town still comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill, will raise funds to make sure they can be well, or at least comfortable as they wait for the inevitable.

If you say we should have a social safety net to do that, I would agree with you, but the social safety net doesn’t have a name. You didn’t graduate from high school with it. You can’t name all of its kids. We are still social animals, and kindness still goes best with smiles and casseroles, not paperwork.

I find this profoundly reductive.

We can be kind to each other individually, or in small towns, but if you do it on a large scale it becomes anonymously bureaucratic and paperworky and cold? That’s all a social safety net IS, that casserole-and-kindness impulse writ large enough to encompass everyone, instead of just the people you know at church.

Instead of talking about how liberals don’t pay enough lip service to part of America, perhaps we should say that nobody in America is paying enough attention to America at all. Because this — “My little town still comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill, will raise funds to make sure they can be well, or at least comfortable as they wait for the inevitable.” — is America.

This is government, by any other name.

That’s it. That’s all it is. Your town comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill. Your community has decided to take care of its own. All government says is that the circle is wider. Your “own” is everybody you see and lots of people you don’t.

Look, we all break off the world in little pieces because loving it all is so expansive that we have to call it God, and that’s not some kind of flaw. I care about my neighbors more than I do about yours. That’s a human impulse.

The entire reason we have government is contained in that impulse. If I care about my circle and you care about yours, we end up with a bunch of vicious little gated communities suspicious of one another, unable to step outside our boundaries when the times demand.

Oh boy do the times ever demand we examine our boundaries. Wars, guns, poverty even in widespread abundance, violence on the part of the state towards its citizens and no way to check it, the ability of one man with a weapon to inflict harm on dozens at peaceful protests — this is a time when we are all retreating to our circles. We are all thinking we should just take care of our own small towns.

But we don’t WANT to limit ourselves. We WANT to take casseroles to everybody. If we know about an injustice we want to correct it. Ninety percent of our anger and our frustration right now is based on thinking ourselves powerless. We hear our own cynicism — gun control will never pass, the state will never be held to account, terrorists will never stop killing — and it exhausts us even as we utter it.

Our “leaders” for the past 30 years have specialized in telling us our problems are too big to solve, and giving us wonderful excuses not to give a shit. We can’t give anyone food stamps because some asshole found a way to use them for vodka on time. We can’t build decent schools and pay teachers fairly because my cousin’s girlfriend’s uncle knew a teacher that couldn’t be fired and anyway it’s the parenting. We can’t support cures for diseases or health care for anyone because it’s all too expensive and have you seen your tax bill lately?

And we can’t care about unarmed black people being shot dead by police over loose cigarettes or jaywalking or headlights, because there are too many of them, or one of them was rude, or we don’t really know the facts, or all lives matter, or by God if we let ourselves be hurt by this we will never stop hurting so close your eyes up tight.

We stay in our houses and we stay scared and we stay alone and we tell ourselves this is how it has to be, and we talk talk talk talk talk about how divided we are. We describe the canyon that separates us and we wish there was a bridge.

There is.

It’s called government. It’s called the goddamn system we built before some of us figured “system” could be used as a pejorative, it’s called the way we come together to make decisions about all of us, city mice and country mice alike. The thing we blame for creating the divide is the only thing that we have to heal it and instead of mocking it as inferior to a church social hour maybe we start using it.

Maybe we see how many people we can take casseroles to, if we pool our money. That’s taxes.

Maybe we decide to lift up the widow and the orphan, our own, and who and how and when. That’s elections.

Maybe we build roads and run wires and send our music out into the cosmos, and maybe we pull people from the floodwaters and try to put the fires out. That’s our national budget and our national debt and I don’t just mean the financial kinds.

Maybe we reach out over and over and over, and maybe our hand gets slapped back sometimes, and maybe some people figure out that they can make money by pitting the helpers against one another, and maybe instead of letting them get away with it we tell them to fuck themselves and keep doing the work anyway.

Maybe we let ourselves get taken advantage of. Many a small town benefit has raised funds for the less than perfect. Maybe we get braver, and stop acting like we need a perfect beautiful story in order to risk loving one another. Maybe we remember this is what we’ve been all along, writ large in the New Deal and unemployment and Social Security.

My little town still comes together to bear up its own who have fallen ill, will raise funds to make sure they can be well, or at least comfortable as they wait for the inevitable.

The social safety net doesn’t have a name? You didn’t go to school with it? You don’t know its kids?

For God’s sake, that’s America. That’s its name. That’s what we’ve called it all along.

A.

No Lives Matter

I went to bed with a half-written post on the Philando Castile shooting, opting not to include the Alton Sterling shooting because Adrastos had already covered it. Within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I got update after update from various news sources that multiple police officers had been shot and killed in Dallas during a peaceful protest.

More died during the night. What’s worse, is more and more and more of us will die in the days to come as our country reaches a spasmic crescendo of anger, fear and violence.

We argue these days about who owns the “lives matter” movement. “Black Lives Matter” started after the George Zimmerman acquittal and became a rallying call and social media zeitgeist during 2014, as it seemed we couldn’t go more than a few days without a cop killing and unarmed black man.

Others co-opted the concept with “All Lives Matter,” trying to show equality but actually just perpetuating the tone-deafness that is majority privilege. Police picked it up as “Blue Lives Matter,” in the wake of several murders of police officers.

And on and on it went.

White Lives Matter. Gay Lives Matter. Pet Lives Matter.

Sadly, no. They don’t.

We are going through “lives” like a third-grader with a cold goes through Kleenex.

We don’t have enough time to fixate on one random shooting before another one occurs. Can anybody name the last black guy shot by a cop prior to Alton Sterling?

A few names stick out over time: Eric Gardner. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown.

Other than that it’s “Wait, why does that name sound familiar?”

How I know life has changed in this regard is because I still remember the name Ernest Lacy. When I was growing up in Milwaukee, his name was everywhere after police arrested him while on the lookout for a rape suspect. He died in a police van shortly after that.

Everyone who was in Milwaukee during that era knew that name. It was the symbol of racial inequality and police brutality. Year after year, his name came up, as protests took place and people filed lawsuits.

It’s been 35 years and I still know his name.

But the last black guy a cop killed before Sterling? Nope.

If “All Lives Mattered,” I’d be able to recall the name and age of every single kid killed in Newtown. I’d have a memory of each of their school pictures burned into my head forever.

When I was a night cops guy, I got sent out to cover a lot of death and mayhem.

Dead kids were always the worst. I still remember the name and age of every dead kid I covered. In some cases, I can see my article in the paper as it was laid out in the print edition.

I can recite them and recall them and when I do, I feel the same gut-wrenching feeling I felt all those years ago as a 22-year-old reporter.

I can’t remember the Newtown names. Or the Jonesboro names. Or even those at Northern Arizona, Northern Illinois or Virginia Tech.

The names I remember are those of the shooters. Maybe. About half the time.

Life is such a wonderfully abstract concept. It’s clinical and yet it’s metaphorical all at the same time. You can clinically live a long time and yet have “no life.” You can “live life to the fullest,” even if you die far too young. Life sits in front of “liberty” and “property” and “the pursuit of happiness” in some of our most basic and treasured documents, even though this recent spate of shootings tells us that those words aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

I hate thinking like this, as fatalism isn’t my bailiwick. I’d like to think that whenever I die, I will have mattered at some point to someone or something. I’d like to think that some people somewhere will hold a memory of me in a way that shows what I did had some value and that whatever ended my life, be it old age or something much more severe, will give rise to thoughts of who I was and what I did.

And yet, what I see every day just reinforces the idea that no lives truly matter, but to a few people who know those who are gone and a spate of people who see the loss as emblematic of a larger concern.

Do me and all the rest of us a favor.

Find a way to prove me wrong, each and every day.

Find a life that matters. Then two. Then three.

Maybe if we can interlink those circles of “important” lives, we can “Six Degrees of Separation” this chaos into a better version of all of us.

And maybe then life will matter.

Fitzgerald to MPS: Bitch, don’t make me hit you

I spent the last week watching the 30 for 30 documentary series “OJ: Made in America.” I have to admit it was intriguing, if not way, way, way too long. It’s been more than 20 years since the first O.J. trial and a time in which people like Marcia Clark, Kato Kaelin and Lance Ito all became nationally known names. For me, it was a bit like opening a box of stuff I found in the attic: It brought back memories, but didn’t provide me with a lot more than that on the whole.

The one thing that it did provide me, however, was a look into the life of Nicole Brown and the constant cycle of abuse she endured at the hands of O.J. At the time of the trial, we didn’t really have the Internet as we know it now, nor did we have a ton of talking-head journalism, so we really got only one real stream of content. Granted, we got it non-stop, but we didn’t get a more diverse set of understandings when it came to all the angles of this situation. Furthermore, domestic violence was still on the fringes of society. Much like everything else that made us feel uncomfortable back then, we marginalized it or ignored it.

The sheer volume of calls to the Simpson house and the 9-1-1 calls and the Polaroids of a bruised and battered Nicole brought to bear a sense of how horrible he had been to her. At the time of the trial, most of that got lost in the discussion of “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” and Mark Fuhrman’s “N-word-palooza and framing shop.” The escalation of abuse clearly showed she lived in constant fear for her life and that any reasonable person in today’s day and age would not have difficulty seeing that murder could be a logical denouement.

For O.J., however, it was always just a “situation” that “happened” because she was doing something wrong.

A cycle of abuse is easy to see only when you’re not the abuser, something our beloved legislators should consider. Over the past half-decade, the abuse the Republican majority has heaped upon the educational system in this state has shown little regard for the men and women who work there. Legislators like Scott Fitzgerald see nothing of the sort when they talk about education. Instead, they paint the “situation” more plainly: If you just did what you were supposed to do, we wouldn’t have to hit you so hard.

Case in point: In the wake of troubles with the Milwaukee Public Schools, Fitzgerald issued the following “Bitch, don’t make me hit you” statement:

 

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Republicans were so frustrated with MPS they may push for dramatic changes to how the state’s largest school district operates.

“Unfortunately, I think the only hammer is, ‘Listen, if you’re not going to participate, if you’re going to try to work around the law and we’re going to end up in court over this thing, then you’re probably going to see some significant reduction in revenue for MPS schools related to the opportunity schools.’ And I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I can see already that it’s kind of being teed up that way,” Fitzgerald said Thursday in an interview on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” on WISN-TV.

 

Some people may feel the comparative between domestic violence and the legislature is a bridge too far or that it demeans one or the other of the situations. I understand that, but before you dismiss this out of hand, unpack that statement carefully:

  • He uses the phrase “the only hammer.” The idea of a hammer is just hit them harder until they submit. It’s a blunt tool and it doesn’t lend itself to nuance. The old line of “If at first you don’t succeed, hit it with a bigger hammer” comes into play here.
  • The approach: “Listen, if you’re not going to participate…” The “listen” notion conveys power imbalance. The “if/then” moment conveys threat.
  • The “don’t you dare call the cops” moment: “…if you’re going to try to work around the law and we’re going to end up in court over this thing, then you’re probably going to see some significant reduction in revenue for MPS schools related to the opportunity schools…” In other words, if you attempt to do something other than what I want or avail yourself of another option (courts), you are going to get hit hard.
  • The power dynamic: The schools rely on the state for money. They can’t get it anywhere else. They can’t leave, they can’t fight (thanks to Act 10) and they can’t afford to do what the state wants. Fitzgerald knows this. So do the schools.
  • The conciliatory conclusion: “I hope it doesn’t come to that” is a statement of false hope. It’s the one that has people in abusive situations thinking, “Maybe if I don’t burn the roast next time, he won’t hit me” or “Maybe I did look at that man when I shouldn’t have.”

 

I have not personally experienced the violence of an abuser, but I have studied it as a scholar and from an outsider’s point of view, the elements aren’t all that dissimilar. Even more, this is the latest in a long line of public beatings educators and the state’s educational system has taken. When I read this, I cringed the same way I did when I watched that film series. It was the same way I cringed when I read the cycles of abuse and destruction on the “Art Is Survival” site. It’s the same way I cringe when I see people at the store that I KNOW are in bad situations and the man says or does something like this and the rest of the family just freezes.

It all comes back to that one common thread:

“Please don’t hit me.”

 

Believeland

Four weeks ago, I used this space to ask God for something:
Please, God, Just This Once…

For one time, just ONE time, let my team win. Let my team be the champs. Let me have that moment that so many other people have had over their lifetimes.

I wanted to say “Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA Champions.”
My guys. The champs.

Just once. After that, do with me what you will.

And that got me two blowout losses and another “Here We Go Again” feeling.

I had to let go. I understood a long time ago that God answers every prayer.

It’s just sometimes, God says, “No.”

When the Cavs went down 0-2, I stopped watching the games. Screw it, I said to myself. I’m not watching a goddamned sweep. So instead, I went to the garage and tinkered around with stuff, while I had the NBA app playing in the background.

The radio broadcast of John Michael and Jim Chones was my soundtrack and by the end of the night, the Cavs had come through with their first victory of the series.

I was headed to Milwaukee the night of Game 4, so I had the app on again, listening on the radio as I went along. The team had a five-point lead at half when I arrived home.

Dad, being a generous guy, flipped the TV on and let me watch the end of the game.

The Cavs lost and LeBron got hit in the nuts by Draymond Green to boot.

Thus began the Faustian bargain: If I didn’t watch the games, maybe they’d win them.

Each time I tried it, each time they did it. Miracle after miracle, my team clawed back from a 3-1 series deficit and pushed the team with the greatest regular season record ever to the brink.

Game 7. All the marbles.

If you know anything about Cleveland, this always happens. We get so close we can taste it.

We get to the one yard line and we fumble.

We get to the ninth inning with the lead and we blow it.

We get to the finals and we crash.

It always comes down to something you can name.

The Shot. The Drive. Red Right 88.

Jose Mesa. Edgar Renteria. Earnest Byner.

But here’s the funny thing about all of those moments: We were SUPPOSED TO WIN those games.

When Jordan hit The Shot, we had the lead.

When Elway ran The Drive, we had the lead.

When Mesa blew the save, we had the lead.

What happens that one time when we are pinned back into a corner, we have no chance and there’s no real reason to believe?

No team has ever come back from 3-1 deficit to win the finals.

No team that won 70 games has ever NOT won the finals.

The Golden State Warriors haven’t lost three games in a row since 2013.

We have no goddamned hope at all.

As everyone ever knowing anything about Cleveland has said this at least a jillion times: Nothing ever comes easy to Cleveland.

So, I went into the garage and tuned into WTAM’s broadcast once again. I tore about four lawn mowers and kept trying to get at least one of them to start.

With about three minutes to go in the game, my mother in law had a request: Taco Bell.

So I slid behind the wheel of Betsy, plugged the phone into my radio and listened as I rode off into the darkness in search of a gordita and a miracle.

It’s hard to explain how weird this game was. The box score will reflect that the teams went scoreless for something like six minutes in the fourth quarter. Every single second of the game felt like an hour. Every shot, every block, every rebound… It felt like I was doing open-heart surgery on myself with acid-tipped knitting needles.

With less than a minute to go, Kyrie Irving hit a three-pointer that had me pounding on the outside of my car door as I drove through a roundabout. When LeBron was subsequently fouled and fell on his wrist, my heart stopped.

He missed the first free throw. I made the sign of the cross. He made the second.

93-89. Up four. 10 seconds left.

I swear I was going to pass out. I mean, I really worried that I was going to black out while driving my car.

And then it happened. A short flurry of action. Miss. Miss. Miss.

Ballgame.

I sat in a Taco Bell parking lot, tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t stop it.

Every underdog story I ever heard came back to me at once.

Miracle on ice.

Ghosts of Flatbush.

Foreman over Moorer

The Last Starfighter, even.

I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Everything inside just came out.

It finally was next year.

We won.

Basic Human Decency

I woke up this morning to the sound of the garbage truck as it stopped in front of my house. Due to the recent purchase of another ridiculous vehicle (long story), I had two cars parked on the street, making the access to the can a bit of a maneuver for the garbage guy.

In addition, due to The Midget cleaning her room, my mother-in-law emptying several bins in her room, the cleaning out of our refrigerator and my ongoing battle to refinish every piece of furniture, the rolling cart was overflowing with crap.

The truck seemed to be taking an awful long time moving on, so I peeked out the window and saw something incredible. The lone garbage guy was on his hands and knees picking up the crap that managed to fall out of the can after the robot arm flipped it into the truck. He picked up tiny pieces of glitter-strewn paper, small grocery items that had developed language skills after spending months in our fridge and sanding disks that the wind was spinning about.

Once he got all that into the truck, he grabbed a hand broom and pan and swept up what was left. He then hopped back into the cab and pulled away from our driveway.

I don’t know why, but I was almost in tears. I felt horrible that this guy, who looked to be about my dad’s age, was doing this because I was a shithead. I wanted to go run down there and give him a beer or something, even though it was about 6:30 in the morning. I wanted to apologize and just thank him for not being a dick, which seems to be our resting pulse these days.

Stories full of blame seemed to be racing through my newsfeed, Facebook wall and other spots where I now find news.

There was the 2-year-old who got eaten by an alligator at Disney World, basically in front of the same hotel where our family stayed just two years ago.

There was the shooting at Pulse where 50 people died and more than another 50 were injured thanks to a heavily armed idiot with a death wish.

There were still reactions about the shooting of the gorilla, complete with the wonderfully racist meme comparing Michelle Obama to the gorilla. (And clicking unfriend now…)

There was even the wonderful story about Scott Walker explaining that the reason the people of the state think he sucks is because the media is telling them that he sucks.

It’s not so much the generally depressing nature of those stories, but rather the offshoots of those news events and the punditry that emerges after them. It comes from columnists, bloggers, news “commentators” and even the idiots who write in the comment section.

Why did the kid die in Florida? Shitty parents.

Why did the gorilla die? Shitty parents and armed zoo folks.

Why did the shooting happen at the club? Pick one: Islam, God’s wrath, self-loathing, guns, the inability to take a good selfie…

Why did Scott Walker’s approval rating end up in the toilet? The world caught on that he was possessed by the creature from “Dreamcatcher” Er.. Erm… The fucking media.

Everyone out there is so ready to blame someone for something because it makes them feel so superior to those people who are dealing with something horrible. It also feels so great to rub it in.

“Hey, asshole! Keep an eye on your fucking kid before he becomes gator jerky! EVERYONE KNOWS THAT!”

“Jesus, if we would just ARM EVERYONE, at least one of those gays woulda had a .357 or something to pop that asshole…”

“Who DOESN’T KNOW that a kid can climb down through a giant moat of some kind to commune with its evolutionary ancestor? GODDAMMIT, PARENT FOR FUCKSAKE!”

“SHOOT THE HOSTAGE! Er… Man, the media is just evil…”

With rare exception (kiddie porn, teachers fucking their students, a violent riot at Country USA) I realize that basically everything in life that fucks over someone else could fuck me over just as easily.

I could lose my job.

I could get into a car wreck.

My kid could get snatched at a Burger King

Some dickwad could open fire because he was having “a very trying day” and kill me or my family.

My car could burst into flames for no goddamned reason.

I could get cancer.

If someone gets fucked over by it, chances are, I could get fucked over too.

And so could any one of these self-righteous pricks who wants to take time out of their very superiorly busy schedule to “perfection-splain” to the rest of us how all of this could have been avoided if people had just done “the right thing.”

Everybody who isn’t involved always seems to have the answer and doesn’t mind telling us how we get what we deserve.

I can’t believe this all came to me while I watched this trash guy this morning.
I didn’t need a lecture or a mean note or even a pile of shit left for me to deal with because I should have known better. Instead, there was just this moment of decency where someone did something for someone else and didn’t pair it with shame or admonition.

If he wanted to teach me a lesson, that was actually the best way.

Goodnight, Mr. Hockey

I only saw him play live once in my life. It was 1997 and ESPN was showing a live shot of the Detroit Vipers, a now-defunct minor-league hockey team. Gordie Howe skated out during an overly dramatized set of introductions. He took the ice to play but one shift, so he could claim that he had played professional hockey in six decades.

You couldn’t even call it a moment, as his ice time came to about 47 seconds, but it was something that hockey purists decried as a stunt, a farce and a smudge of tarnish on the legacy of the man. It was a circus act, like having a cab give an obese Babe Ruth to first base, people of this ilk bemoaned. One pundit noted that “Of all the greatness of Gordie, that one passed the line.”

That’s only true if you didn’t understand him.

The man known affectionately as “Mr. Hockey,” died today at the age of 88. That he made it to this ripe old age is a shocker to anyone who saw him play. He was a rough, rugged player who had no compunction about introducing your head to the boards. His nickname during his playing days was “Elbows,” and for good reason.

Dick Schaap noted that during Howe’s era, the great goal scorers were not giant men and they needed protection from the goons of the league.

Except for Gordie. He took care of himself.

Some called him dirty, including famously his own son, who played with him on the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. Howe would bristle at that, noting instead that he had a sense of fairness and justice on the ice: If you act up, you get something coming your way.

A memorable moment had him, at the age of 46, trying to get an opposing player to leave his son alone. When the man wouldn’t relent, Howe reached down, stuck his fingers in the guy’s nostrils and physically dragged him off the ice.

He played until he was 52 in the NHL, finishing his 26-year career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80. There are people who need a Lark 7 mini-scooter to shop at Walmart at that age. He scored 41 points in that season.

As much as Canadians held The Rocket (Maurice Richard) in high regard from that era, making him the Original Six’s standard bearer of Canada’s hockey greatness, Howe became a cultural touchstone long after he played his last game.

Cameron wears a beat-up Howe jersey in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Howe is a “hidden character” in the “Open Ice” 2 on 2 video game.

His biography “And Howe!” was hawked over and over again on QVC.

Much of the marketing appeal and financial gains he made in his life were due to his wife, Colleen, a hard-charging woman with a sharp business acumen. She used to say that Gordie took care of business on the ice while she took care of business off the ice.

To say they were polar opposites would be an understatement. For all of his bone-crushing checks and “Gordie Howe Hat Tricks” (a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game), he was bashful and almost painfully shy. His own father called him awkward and backwards and wondered if his son would ever amount to anything.

In 1957, the players threatened to strike unless the league recognized the players’ right to unionize. When League God Clarence Campbell came into the Red Wings’ locker room and demanded the players give this up, Howe’s teammate Ted Lindsay told everyone in there who wanted to be in the union to stand up.

They all did.

Except for Howe.

He didn’t want to rock the boat. He didn’t want to make waves. He didn’t feel comfortable asking for things like money or improvements or whatever. It wasn’t who he was.

The players lost the opportunity to unionize for almost a decade.

Lindsay was traded as a rabble-rouser.

Howe pressed on.

When the team decided in 1971 that it was time for him to stop scoring goals and move on, they “retired” him and put him into a front-office job. Howe often referred to this as “the mushroom treatment” because: “They keep me in the dark and every so often the open up the door and shovel some manure on me.”

When his sons were drafted by the WHA, Howe came back to play at age 45. The purists howled, as he was already in the NHL hall of fame and thought it was nothing but a cheap stunt. His own sons were worried, with Marty Howe once noting that he came home every day during the first week with every shade of bruise on his body that anyone could imagine.

He was old. He was out of shape. What the hell was he doing out there?

All he did that year was make the team, score at least 100 points and help lead his team to the first of consecutive league championships. In 1974, he also played for Team Canada against a Russian squad that most considered the best in the world.

When he finally did retire (again) in 1980, no one was sure he was done. Friends often said he would keep his equipment in the trunk of the car in case a team he was scouting asked him out on the ice. His career was over, but his love for hockey never truly was.

People will talk at length today about his goal-scoring acumen and his borderline brutal play. Old-timers will recall that it’s a miracle he made it to this age, as he should have died in 1950 when he broke his skull during the NHL finals. Fans will talk about how there will never again be a player like him, even though Wayne Gretzky has nudged past him on so many lists of records.

The thing I will always cherish about Howe was his sense of self. Legendary Detroit media figure Dave Diles once noted that most people in life will think to themselves that maybe they should go do something else or be something else. Gordie, however, never wanted to be anything more than a hockey player.

He wasn’t going to be an agent of social change like another great athlete we lost this year, Muhammad Ali. Nor was he going to be a coach and then a GM and then an owner. He didn’t want to do a different job or sell all sorts of Gordie Howe-endorsed products. (Whatever he did in this regard was at the prodding of Colleen, who often coaxed him out of his shell for his own good.)

Instead, he wanted to be on the ice, with a stick, knocking the shit out of someone before he scored on that guy’s goalie.

Today, we have so many demands for social and financial ladder climbing. We are supposed to take one job and become decent enough at it so we can get a better one and then go somewhere else for more money and do something else better than that. As Springsteen’s line went, “Poor man wanna be rich. Rich man wanna be king. King ain’t satisfied ‘til he rules everything.”

And dammit, you better be happy when you get there.

Instead, Gordie Howe is an inspiration to anyone who just wants to be happy doing something that makes him or her happy.

For years, I climbed and climbed and climbed, like so many of my peers. I also watched my students climb over each other to get better internships and jobs at bigger and better places, all the while they were miserable.

Gordie Howe now reminds me that there is a joy in being good at something and persisting in it until you can’t anymore, whether its on the grandest stage or at the smallest venue.

I hope for his sake the path to Heaven is a frozen river and the Pearly Gates are the height of your average dasher.

Buckle up your chinstraps, boys.

Mr. Hockey is on his way.