Category Archives: Uncategorized

A nation of shitholes

GreatGrandpa

This is my great-grandfather. A farmer by birth, a carpenter by trade, a factory worker by necessity.

He came to this country in his early 20s, leaving behind his family and everything he ever knew to start a better life in America. Shortly after he left Bohemia, it no longer existed, as it was swallowed up through the consolidation of what became Czechoslovakia. He lived to be 100 and died when I was 12. His wife, my great-grandmother, lived to be 96 and they were married for more than 70 years. They had four children who lived and never moved from the house he built for them shortly before my grandfather was born.

WeddingGreatGrandparents

These are my mother’s grandparents, immigrants from Poland. I never knew them, other than through the tales my grandfather and mother would tell me. They would tell stories about family members back in the old country and have half the family rolling on the floor with side-splitting laughter. The other half? They didn’t speak Polish.

Factory workers, farmers, carpenters, barbers, artists and homemakers. These are my roots. Poland, Bohemia, maybe pre-1900s Germany. These are my lands.

These people were not the countries’ “best people” sent as emissaries, but rather as hard-working, hardscrabble people who wanted to make better lives for themselves. This country gave them hope. It gave them help. It gave them a new home.

Today? It never would have given them a chance.

A lot has been made of our president’s question about why we’re getting people from all these “shithole countries.” His indignation, venom and disgust flow freely in that two-word phrase and it represents how many people feel about these “Johnny Come Lately” immigrants who are just stealing from the “real Americans.” A lot of people believe this because they can’t see back far enough (or they just don’t want to) to understand that every, single person out there came from somewhere else (except for the Native Americans, who we shuffled around like the queen in a game of three-card monte). And every, single person who came here from elsewhere came from a shithole somewhere.

And the people who were here already had no problem letting them know that.

You had the “thieving wops and dagos.”

You had the “drunk, lazy Micks.”

You had the “stupid Poles.”

You name a group, you can guarantee the group that got here six minutes earlier already had a disparaging name for it and a “there goes the country” attitude about it.

People in this country essentially live this paradox:

I know where I came from and I know that it took a lot for us to get here and become who we are. My father, who in his later years has become more introspective, has noted to me a few times recent, “We were poor. I never thought about it at the time, but we were really poor.” My mother’s grandparents survived through the Depression because my great-grandmother rented rooms in her upstairs to workers from the slaughter house and the foundry. Her husband was a barber, and there wasn’t a lot of hair being cut at 25 cents a head back then.

They came at a time when I’m sure many in this country wanted to turn on the “No Vacancy” sign or at least they didn’t want “those people” here. To say now to the next group, “Sorry. We’re not taking any of you shithole immigrants” is unconscionable.

Those of us who came here from shithole countries need to stand up to this shit-talk from this asshole and speak to him in his native tongue.

“Pardon me, Mr. President, but fuck you.”

Not Just City Cops

Suburbs have a problem, too: 

They have shot at fleeing and unarmed suspects, wounded innocent bystanders and even fellow officers caught in a crossfire. They have fired from, and at, moving vehicles during high speed chases, ramped up confrontations with the mentally ill and tampered with evidence, the investigation found.

Still, in 113 police shootings in the Cook County suburbs since 2005, records show not a single case led to disciplinary action for an officer who made a mistake. Not one lost their job. Not one criminal case was filed against an officer.

The attention is on city departments because that’s where the media attention is concentrated.

A.

A rep makes it hard to Wolff down this book

As much as I want to, I really don’t believe what Michael Wolff has written about President Donald Trump in the book “Fire and Fury.” The excerpt that has made its way around the internet is full of the kinds of things I traditionally believe about our president (or as one person referred to him “Dolt 45,” a term I’m planning to steal.) Examples include:

  • Trump never really thought he would be president and now that he is, he has no idea on how to handle things.
  • He has the temperament of a toddler and he is among other things, “semi-literate” “dumb as shit” and “a fucking moron.”
  • He is remarkably thin-skinned and will take out his rage on people who he knows can’t fight back, like cleaning staff and underlings.

That said, I’m just waiting for someone with half a brain and a conservative bend to pull a copy of this thing and gut the shit out of it. I’m sure the core tenets of the book (Trump? He cray.) are true, much in the same way that Sabrina Erdman’s main assertion in “A Rape on Campus” was true. However, in that same vein, I’m sure the “Jackie” elements of Wolff’s book are lying in wait, ready to undermine the volume’s essential premise.

If you want to know WHY I tend not to believe Wolff’s over-the-top recounting of the Trump Train to Hell, you can look at various media coverage of him over the years. He has used unethical techniques to gather information, glazes over basic facts for more glamorous innuendo and essentially told people, “Hey, reporting is for pussies.” The profile The New Republic (a place once rocked by its own inbred arrogance and fraudulent storytelling) did on Wolff provides a picture of him as more of a carnival barker than a truth-teller:

Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created–springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events. Even Wolff acknowledges that conventional reporting isn’t his bag.

Others have also noted his ability to create a scene by having a concept of how something “should be” kind of just pass through his mind and emerge as reality. When he spent time writing about media moguls and the upper-crust NYC East Side crowd, those scene setters were both entrancing and yet immaterial. Whether someone cried or someone else demanding a particular type of vodka wasn’t the end of the world. Here, however, it actually matters if the future first lady who had been promised, “Don’t worry. We’re never going to win this thing” was sobbing at the concept of becoming the country’s “leading lady.”

And this is where we have trouble in journalism: You’re only as good as your reputation and once you set it, make it, kill it or whatever, it is what it is. Michael Wolff might come up with a cure for cancer at some point, but I’m not taking that shit until someone with a better overall rep comes by to prove to me this works.

This isn’t just Wolff’s problem. Other people have fucked up their reputations in the minds of readers and thus have them trapped in a conundrum. Case and point hit my email this week when I got this story sent to me about UW-Milwaukee and its record on sexual harassment claims. The story itself doesn’t read all that well, but the core of it rings true: Professors trying to grope, fondle or fuck students is happening and the U is trying to cover it all up over many years. This isn’t a difficult premise to conceptualize.

After reading the story, I was ready to pass it along to a bunch of people I know and support the journalists as I had been asked to. However, just before I got into the mix, I got a quiet email on the side about this. The concern wasn’t necessarily about the students, but the faculty instructor leading the project: Jessica McBride.

I’ve written about her issues here before and my concern about the ethics associated with them, so I’m not going to rehash them here other than to say this issue reemerged in the subsequent years. I know people who worked with her at various stops in her career from college through her stops in Milwaukee and they relayed various anecdotes that gave me pause about the quality of her reporting and her methods in getting stories. The person who emailed me gave me the “Why don’t you give this a couple days to breathe before saying anything” head’s up, which usually means to be careful of lavishing praise or criticism on something until more stuff comes out.

I wanted to pump that story up and push it out to more people because I really BELIEVE the core concept and I think it’s an atrocious abuse of power, both on the part of the professors who do it and the part of universities who hide it. However, given this individual’s connection to it and prior concerns that emerged about her work, I just couldn’t do it. And that really bothered me.

Reputations carry far and wide. Some aren’t fair while others are well earned. I have always worried about about this kind of stuff ever since I was a kid getting ready to go to college. My father’s only admonition to me, as I headed to the land of beer and vomit (AKA UW-Madison) was, “Don’t bring shame on the family. That’s my name, too.”

Fair or unfair, the source colors the lens through which we will see the work.

Not Everything Sucks

We want to help, always, from the earliest age on: 

“If my mom asked me what do you want for Christmas, I’d be like, lead,” Gitanjali said.

That’s right, lead, which Gitanjali needed for an invention.

“Imaging living day in and day out drinking contaminated water with dangerous substances like lead. Introducing tethys, the easy to use, fast, accurate, portable and inexpensive device to detect lead in water,” Gitanjali said in her presentation for the Young Scientist Challenge. She won the national competition for her invention.

These are the instincts we should be nurturing.

A.

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin…

On this hallowed Christmas Eve, everyone in my house is pretty much asleep or trying to pretend to be in hopes of getting out of work in preparation for the Wigilla celebration tonight. As my wife and I kind of muttered our way awake, we ended up on a riff about traditions and food and Wisconsin and suddenly, we were into “What if Jesus were born here?” I did my best to document the answers (and augment with a few additional thoughts), so enjoy regardless of your faith, creed or lack thereof:

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin:

  • He would have been swaddled in a green and gold blanket, cuddled in a Packer onesie and photographed wearing a cheesehead. Like this poor kid.

 

  • The three kings would have shown up last, having been stuck in construction on I-94 and finding out too late that the Illinois toll booths don’t take gold, frankincense and myrrh.

 

  • The little drummer boy would have been replaced by a kid with an accordion playing this little ditty. (“He’s really big in Sheboygan Falls,” my wife added.)

 

  • His middle name would have been “Bart,” “Brett,” “Aaron” or “Vince.”

 

  • Most of the gifts would have come from the Mars Cheese Castle. Curds. Lots and lots of curds.

 

  • Joseph would have been found two hours later at a local tavern, drinking really shitty beer with about a dozen of his new “best friends.” In other news, Blatz would have immediately made a comeback as “The official beer of the birth of our Lord and Savior.”

 

  • He would have been born in June so Christmas didn’t interfere with hunting season or the NFL playoffs.

 

  • He still would be born in a manger, as we have plenty of farmland, but only because the Motel 6 was overbooked.

 

  • Chicagoans would immediately start explaining how the 1985 Bears Superbowl team is somehow better than this.

 

  • Some drunk uncle would have tried to photograph him clutching a Miller Lite can.

 

  • Joseph’s mother would have immediately asked when they plan to have another one. Mary’s mother would have immediately tried to feed everyone who showed up.

 

  • Had he been born on a Friday, two words: Fish Fry. Also, kids would have started bitching, “Do we have to go to church TWICE this week?”

 

 

  • Only about one-fourth of the businesses that use “Packerland” or “Badgerland” to describe their moving companies or HVAC services would have changed to “Saviorland.”

 

  • Christmas Carols would all be polkas.

 

  • The shepherds would have missed the birth because nobody had plowed Highway 41 yet.

 

  • The manger would have been buried under three feet of snow, taking the family about three days to dig out at which point, some old codger would have shown up and said, “Snow? You call this snow? You should have been here for the blizzard of ’47…”

 

Have a great holiday season.

Doc

Graduation Day

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”
– Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”

“My parents’ basement.”

Those three words kept coming up this week as I met with student after student who planned to graduate Saturday.

The phrase has become a metaphor that indicates success or failure, with fear driving 20-somethings desperately away from it.

Am I going to find a job or will I have to live there?

Will this job pay me enough or will I have to stay there?

My dad keeps telling me I can’t move back in there, so I need to figure something out fast.

I visit my parents’ basement once a month, as Dad and I pack up our tubs for the monthly card show. I limbo my way under and over stacks of bobble heads, posters, cards, statues and other sports monstrosities that my mother would love to see us set on fire, as I help him pack our wares. My parents’ basement is full of nothing but good thoughts and wonderful vibes for me now.

Dad will often say, “You got a minute? C’mon down to the basement.” The rough translation of that statement is: “I bought some more shit we can sell at the show, but I had to hide it from your mother.”

However, half a lifetime ago (literally), that fucking basement terrified me.

Finishing school and looking for a job wasn’t easy. It was impossible.

EVERYONE else already had a job or had a line on one while I seeing rejections pile up in my mailbox every day.

EVERYONE else was coasting through some bullshit yoga class to complete their degree requirements while I was working at the student paper, working at the city paper and finishing up ridiculously difficult courses I managed to put off somehow.

EVERYONE else had a career path and a life plan. I had a job back at the garage whenever I wanted it and no real life to speak of.

My path seemed to lead to my parents’ basement.

No matter how old I get or how well I do or where I go in life, I will never forget that fear and how it eats away at everything around it. It’s why my door is always open this time of year and why I mentor students on everything from how to avoid looking like Mike from “Swingers” when they are pursuing a job to how to explain to their parents how the hiring process works.

It’s why I have a stash of napkins in a drawer behind me, so I can snag one and hand it to the sobbing kids who get rejection after rejection, as their friends celebrate what are seemingly perfect jobs that just dropped out of the sky on them.

It’s why I tell them the story of the guy who fell in the hole, even though I probably already told it to them once before and I’ve told it five times already that day.

It’s why I don’t understand the consternation of faculty who mutter about the “kids today” or the politicians who refuse to support either group because “when I was a kid…”

Every year, the gap in age between me and my students increases. The distance between us never does.

I never forget: My parents had a basement too.

“Is the view pretty good from the cheap seats, A.J.?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Because it occurs to me that in 25 years, I’ve never ONCE seen your name on a ballot. Now why is that? Why are you always one step behind me?”
“Because if I wasn’t you’d be the most popular history professor at the University of Wisconsin.”
-The American President

If you ever felt the need to be murdered by a frenzying septuagenarian, just tell my mother, “You know, those who can’t do, teach.”

She spent 45 years in grades 3 through 8 teaching kids in a factory town. She taught poor kids, broken kids, kids nobody thought of. She taught literal generations of kids, with students becoming parents of her students and then becoming grandparents of students.

The kids who never left Cudahy.

She taught mostly reading and social studies, history and English. Math and science really weren’t her thing. She poured her time and energy into engaging projects, plays, musicals and more, just to give those kids a chance to love learning and take a bow.

The role of administration was never beyond her reach or ability. She had a wide array of talents that went beyond the classroom. She just never wanted to do any of them.

She knew what she was supposed to be doing: Teaching kids.

When I got the chance to teach a class of my own, I found that feeling. I was 22 years old and I was standing at the front of that room and I just felt it.

I was still working as a journalist, so I didn’t have to make a decision to leave the field at that point. I was just trying to pay tuition and rent. One job did one thing, the other did the other.

My first “grown-up job” was at Missouri, where I would work with students in the newsroom and teach in the classroom.

The next gig: advise a student newspaper, teach in the classroom.

Every job, I split the baby. Stay attached to the field in which I taught and yet teach students desperate to enter the field.

And yet I knew and I still know.

I’m a teacher, no matter what else I do.

“Gunny, I fucked up. I got Profile killed.”
“It was his time and when it’s your time I don’t give a damn how fast you run, your time is up.”
“I could have gotten them all killed.”
“But you didn’t, so just don’t make the same mistake twice.”
– Heartbreak Ridge

The kid showed up in the doorway of my office in a rush, his face still red from the cold outside. He had a look of fear and his physical anxiety manifested itself in what could charitably be called a “pee-pee dance.” The student who was in my office shooting the bull with me recognized the worried look and departed with a, “So, I’ll see you Saturday after graduation, right?”

She knew I would and I also knew that I’d be seeing this nervous young man there as well. Even more, I had no idea why he had this look of a kid who got caught stealing a porn mag by his parish priest.

This guy had it made. His grades were good enough to sail through the final week with no worries. He had a job lined up to start after the first of the year doing news and sports on TV in one of the better broadcast markets in the state. He had been ready for this since his sophomore year where I taught him the difference between facts and opinion and why using the word “very” was just as useful as using the word “damned.”

“I really fucked up that last assignment for you and I need to know how not to let that happen again,” he said.

I pulled up the file and, sure enough, a robust grade of 45 percent sat at the bottom. The cause for most of the point loss? He misspelled two proper nouns in his story.

That grade didn’t matter to him in any meaningful way as far as the university, his degree or his GPA was concerned. It was that idea of failing something in a way that could REALLY cost him.

We talked at length about fucking up. I relayed a few of my own, including a doozy where I managed to make two fact errors in the first sentence of an “exclusive” story.

Fucking up happens, I told him. The point is to avoid fucking up when you could have easily avoided fucking up.

Don’t assume you know how to spell the name.

Don’t guess that it’s a street, not an avenue.

Don’t presume you know which of the guys robbed the bank and which one caught the robber.

Make sure the guy is actually dead before you write his obituary.

I could tell he was getting it, but then he asked another important question: Even if I do all that, I’m going to fuck up at some point. What then?

Learn from it.

Every time you fuck up, you pay a price. It might be physical, it might be mental, it might be financial, but it is a price you must pay. You get something in return for your payment, and that’s wisdom.

Thus, in perhaps the least wizening way I could, I explained to him the truth:

“You’re going to step on your dick from time to time. I’d rather you do it here, on an assignment than out there where you might get fired or worse. The reason I put such a high penalty on certain things is because I want those things to hurt so bad that you never do them again. The reason I spread your grades out in this class so widely is that when you do fuck up that badly, the fuck up won’t kill you. That’s how you learn.”

He smiled.

“You going to graduation on Saturday?”

“Yep. See you there.”

“Did Chris Columbus say he wanted to stay home? No! What if the Wright brothers thought only birds should fly?…”
“I’m not any of those guys! I’m a kid from a trailer park!”
“If that’s what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be.”

The first time I heard someone called a “fig” or a “Figgie,” it was spat in such a way that I honestly thought the “I” was actually an “A” lost in dialect. The term was based on the “FG” notation next to students’ names in their enrollment and it stood for “first-generation.”

At that university, the idea was that you should come from a lineage of people that had all gone to college, particularly that college. If you at least had some semblance of educated parentage, well, OK, but figgies?

Fuck ‘em.

Had it not been for my mother’s passion for teaching and almost vengeful determinism to disprove her father’s statement she’d “never be anything more than a housewife,” I would have been a fig. Dad picked up an associate’s degree at some point, but my grandparents were factory workers, police officers, “steno gals” and homemakers. They came from immigrant homes where learning English was a massive accomplishment and feeding the off-spring was almost always a challenge.

Mom told stories of her grandmother sifting rat droppings out of the government flour she received during the Great Depression. Dad told stories of his grandfather picking mushrooms on the way to church and packing a postage-stamp-sized garden full of sustenance for the family.

My wife’s grandparents dropped out of school to work jobs, one of them doing so about the same age my daughter is now.

To be a fig in those days would have been bragging rights mixed with a pipe dream.

George Carlin once noted that he loved seeing a blade of grass that pushed its way through a crack in the sidewalk. It’s so fucking heroic, he noted. Against all odds, pushing against an immovable force, this little speck of life wove its way out from the ground beneath and refused to quit until it saw the sun on its face.

This is why I always tell the kids I teach that they need to walk at graduation. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s 20 seconds on a stage where someone mangles your name, someone else hands you an empty diploma case and a third someone shakes your hand, but misses the point.

You did it. You beat the odds. You worked for this.

It wasn’t a given or a birthright. It wasn’t an item you threw in your grocery cart: Eggs, milk, diploma.

Every blade of grass that gets through the concrete deserves at least a moment of sunlight.

“He was a small horse, barely 15 hands. He was hurting, too. There was a limp in his walk, a wheezing when he breathed. Smith didn’t pay attention to that. He was looking the horse in the eye.”
– Seabiscuit

Saturday morning, I’ll be sitting in my office overlooking the relatively paltry arena that serves almost all of our indoor sports teams. The parking lot will fill and people will wander toward various entries in the building.

Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

They come from the various outposts of our state, places you don’t think about when you hear the name “Wisconsin.”

Crivitz and Cadott. Oconomowoc and Oconto Falls. Fall River and River Falls. The closest you get to “foreign students” around here are the kids who cross the Illinois or Minnesota border to play sports for the institution.

It’ll be the first time in nearly a decade that I’m not going to be at that ceremony. The doctor says my back is too bad from a recent injury to sit for three hours. So, I’ll watch them go in and wait.

I’ll grade papers, write book chapters and make sure to get up and stretch every half hour. Then, when one of the students who almost cried when I told him I couldn’t sit through the event texts me that things are wrapping up, I’ll don the ridiculous regalia I break out a couple times a year and trek across that parking lot.

I’ll shake hands with parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. They’ll tell me about the times the graduate came home or called home and wouldn’t stop talking about me or something weird I did and we’ll all laugh.

The parents will worriedly look me in the eye and ask if I think their son or daughter will get a job or they’ll thank me for helping the kid find post-graduation employment.

They’ll marvel at the grandeur of the ceremony or the pomp and circumstance that surrounds them, never mind it’s far less than I’ve seen at most places and the whole place still smells like last night’s basketball game.

And they’ll ask me questions and tell me stories about this freshly minted college graduate we both know.

But before we part company, I’ll look them in the eye and I’ll tell them the truth.

It was an honor to teach their loved one.

You Fight Every Fight Because Sometimes You Win

Douglas Jones, First of His Name, Senator of the State of Alabama, Scourge of Klansman, Rightful Owner of Roy Moore’s Horse and Protector of the Realm, come sit on the Iron Throne, you glorious brave motherfucker: 

Alabama Senate election 2017 live updates: Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate race

Unlikely victories in the face of impossible odds are unlikely because the odds are impossible; still, isn’t it so much better to have fought?

I was yammering away on Twitter earlier today about John Kerry and 2004, and oh boy have I backed losers in campaigns before then (McCain in 2000) and since (Chris Of All People Dodd in 2008), but never once have I voted for someone I was ashamed to vote for, nor been sorry I was on the losing side. We’re not in this for peace. We’re not in this for victory. We’re in this because we’re in this, cats and kittens, every single day.

Helluva job showing up for it, Alabama. Helluva job.

A.

Tuesday Foodblogging: Sugar Cookie Edition

Sugar cookies make the best presents. I bake up batches of these and these, give them to people and everyone is happy.

A.

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

20171203_120515

I always worry we’re not gonna make it and you always, always, always all come through. This means a lot, guys, especially in this rough stretch of a year. Thank you for supporting this place and what we’ve been doing here since ye olden days of 2004.

And, since I promised a photo, here’s my own little Reason for Resistance, the smallest critter in our house at the moment, our apple-picking, hot-chocolate-guzzling, no-nonsense-taking, argumentative, fierce brave I-can-do-it-MYSELF Kick.

She would says thanks too, but the only thing she knows about the Internet is that it’s where you find kitten videos.

So on her behalf, thank you all.

A.

We have no good way to talk about this and we never have

We have no good way to talk about this and we never have.

As a good friend and feminist scholar told me when the Weinstein scandal broke, “This isn’t about sex. It’s about power. That’s why we can’t talk about it.”

And yet it is the sex that draws the attention as we discuss the imbalance of power, so the two remain inextricably linked, creating problems as we continue to have these revelations of misconduct come to light.

The latest name added to the list of groping, rubbing, jerking, fondling, grabbing and forcing is Sen. Al Franken. Leeann Tweeden came forth on Thursday with allegations of Franken groping and sexually abusing her during a USO stint. Photographic evidence and Franken’s own apology clearly supported those charges of misconduct, leading to some of the most awkward public arguments on a subject like this since Todd Akin introduced us all to the concept of “legitimate rape.”

To clarify and codify the general issue, we should consider two questions and their unequivocal answers:

Were all of the victims of Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken and others diminished and violated by people of power?

Yes.

Have we, as a society and in many cases individuals, for too long engaged in victim blaming and illegitimate parsing of disgusting behavior like this?

Yes.

Taking these two answers as clear and definitive, we now lock this discussion into an awkward position for people who will have to answer for these actions and the people who support them.

The questions will come in droves:

“Is what Moore or Franken did rape or sexual assault or sexual misconduct or what?”

“Does the “law and order” morality of Moore make it somehow worse than what Weinstein or Franken did because, hey, they’re liberal hedonists anyway?”

“Is it worse what Spacey did to young boys or what Moore did to young girls?”

“Should Franken be forced out for one incident while Moore’s accusers are multiplying like tribbles?”

What so many people are awkwardly groping for is some sort of “sex crime conversion chart” in which one boob-grab equals two ass-pats or one photo equals three teen accusers and one signed yearbook or something. We have finally started coming to the necessary conclusion that shitty behavior is shitty behavior, but people with myriad agendas want to create a hierarchy out of these behaviors, as if hierarchy itself weren’t the reason these messes exist in the first place.

It doesn’t work that way because it’s not about sex. It’s about power.

The only demarcation reasonable people could draw is the one between adults and children. There’s a reason you can peruse 10,000 nude photos of people age 18 and older without a legal problem, but your ass will be in the joint if you own one such image of someone under that age. Society and law have dictated a bright line for most conduct involving children and to cross that line is to engage in the unforgivable.

To that end, and only that end, could a few of these acts be viewed as somehow worse than some of the others. Regardless, each and every case involved a man with power over someone he perceived as lesser and he used that to his advantage to demean and diminish that person.

Why can’t we see this? For two simple reasons:

  1. We are seeing a wide swath of accusations that range from things that “everybody” could agree are horrible and evil to well… what? If the Al Franken “grope” photo is as bad as Roy Moore trying to bone the “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” demographic, how many men might have to look really hard at themselves? That time they got handsy at the company party? That time they catcalled a co-worker? That time they tried to “impress” the intern? How much of that happened and how does it feel to be lumped in with the Roy Moores, Anthony Weiners, Louis C.K.s and Harvey Weinsteins? The “I would never do something that despicable” becomes, “Actually you already did.”
  2. To see it, we have to talk about it and we have no good way to talk about this and we never have.

The Roy Moore Scandal: Just “unusual” love in Darwin’s Waiting Room

I often joke about my “First Rule of Holes” which is simply this: When you find yourself in one, stop digging. Apparently, no one ever told people in the Alabama state hierarchy that rule, given that Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler came to Roy Moore’s defense with an inspirational tale from the Bible:

“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Keep in mind, this is a guy who slammed the U.N. after a three-person panel visited his state a few years back and found it to be, to borrow Dennis Miller’s line, “Darwin’s Waiting Room” when it came to sexual issues and gender equity:

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler earlier this week issued a statement saying that the U.N. was launching “a major assault on Alabama laws protecting children” and warning that its investigation in Alabama and two other states is “the next step of an agenda to impose U.N. standards in every sate that does not resist this intrusion.”

“The U.N. is preparing to try to dictate to Alabama what we must do on abortion, contraceptives given to youth, sex education in schools, tolerance of alternative sexual orientation and other ‘progressive’ issues,” Zeigler warned in a the statement released on Monday.

So, when a 32-year-old man tries to fuck a 14-year-old girl he just met, that’s “unusual” but not illegal? What kinds of “laws protecting children” does this state actually HAVE in Zeigler’s mind? Also, what’s the difference between “unusual” and “alternative?”

So let’s review the three “cases” we have in front of us at this point to determine Zeigler’s line of thinking:

  1. Two adults of the same gender fall in love and want to be married = Major Assault
  2. A 32-year-old man tries to fuck a 14-year-old girl (or three) at a cabin in the woods = Maybe just a bit unusual
  3. A 14-year-old girl is visited by an angel, impregnated by a deity, married to a 30-something man, sent packing on a donkey to a faraway land to give birth in a cave to the savior of the world = Totally normal thing we celebrate every December.

Glad we got all that cleared up.

 

 

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.

Tuesday Foodblogging

Mmm, fall.

I used to make this ridiculously complicated Bon Appetit gingerbread cake recipe, because my little sister loved it, even though you had to grate fresh ginger and let it sit in sugar overnight and then brew coffee and mix it with the molasses and it was all too much, basically, plus it made a cake the size of Long Island and nobody but my sister really loved the stuff.

This is much easier to do, makes less so less waste and/or guilt-gorging, and delicious. 

A.

While We’re At It, NOT GREAT JEFF EITHER

Rude Pundit speaks for me: 

What could they do? If they were really brave, they’d say, “Yeah, you know what? Fuck the Republican Party.” And they’d bail, offer to caucus with the Democrats for the rest of their terms, even if it defies their core ideology (as if supporting Trump didn’t), and get Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski to do the same. Thus that changes the leadership of the Senate and puts a halt to Trump’s agenda and a mighty big fucking check on his power. Obviously, Republicans aren’t gonna do anything about Trump. Otherwise, senator after senator would have risen after Flake to say they agree. If Republicans are the cowardly shitheels that Flake described, why stick with them?

Or they could have called for impeachment proceedings to begin. They could have said that the president has committed many high crimes and misdemeanors, and, c’mon, people, we fuckin’ impeached Clinton for lying about a blow job. What the fuck is wrong with us now?

Not only are Corker and Flake moral cowards on this count, but, fer fuck’s sake, they both eagerly support every effort by Trump, having both voted for gutting the Affordable Care Act, for the cruel budget agreement, and for every shitty administrator and judge Trump has nominated. Perhaps we should hold off on the hosannas until they fucking do something to prove they hold the beliefs they speak of. Maybe we can stop giving them rhetorical hand jobs because they said shit that we like.

Damn right.

A.

A Slice of Time

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It was a fortuitous tweak of timing that landed us at Francisco’s restaurant Saturday night: A baseball card show that had me in Milwaukee. A phone call my mom got from an old friend. Another restaurant with a wait time that we all knew my father wouldn’t tolerate.

The place had changed names over the years, but for us it would always be Francisco’s.

And this might have been the last night we ever got to see it.

Mom and Dad used to go there when they were first dating in the 1960s. It was about the width of a hospital hallway in those days. Booths lined one wall and tables seemed to randomly spring up wherever space would allow. The kitchen in the back could be seen from the street, with swinging old-west barroom doors separating the patrons from the prep staff.

As we pulled up last week, Dad pointed to a spot on the corner of Oklahoma and KK, noting, “When your mother and I would come here way back, this was always our parking spot.”

We pulled around the corner this time and parked a bit down the street. The dull awning and spackled-over brick just a few yards from where the car came to rest.

The large wooden door led into a vestibule I’d entered hundreds of times before: A group photo of some long-gone collection of black and white figures at some event I never knew, a few fliers for events or services, a small note tacked here or there. Random elements I took more seriously this time.

The second door led to the main room. To the left was the “original” part of the restaurant while the right contained a larger bar and seating area. Somewhere during my lifetime, they bought out whatever business was on the corner and opened up this newer, bigger part of the restaurant. A neon sign proclaiming pizza, pasta and drinks faced outward from the picture window onto the street where people waited for the 51 and 15 buses.

I’d been coming here since before I could remember. Friday nights were the day my folks decided they deserved a break, so they would eat out. Francisco’s and its pizza was a staple of our restaurant rotation. It was a dimly lit restaurant that had the charm of a single waitress who knew your name and jukebox that always seemed to call to me but was never played. It was the first time I’d ever heard of  “Pink Floyd” because the label on the box told me they had a song called “Run Like Hell.” At age 6, hell was pretty serious stuff.

Today, that whole side of the restaurant was dark. No one would be serving food there. The sign that usually told people to wait for the hostess to seat them noted simply: “Limited menu. Pizza, Italian Sausage Sandwiches.”

The bar was where the “action” was, to use the term loosely. About six people were in there and we knew four of them. I was the youngest person in there by at least 15 years.

We weren’t there so much for the food or the company as we were to remember something special.

Francisco’s had closed in February when the owner, Franny, had a massive stroke. Nobody knew if he was going to make it or what would happen to the restaurant. His wife and longtime waitress, Kathy, stayed by his side and kept him going through it all. He recovered well enough to use a wheel chair and maybe be around some friends, so tonight she opened up the restaurant for a “look-see” at what was possible.

“She always loved you to death,” Dad always told me. “Even when you made a mess with all your crackers and you were loud, she loved you.”

I remembered her as being somewhat of a mother figure and somewhat of “Flo” from the old TV show “Alice.” In my mind, she was always about 35, dressed comfortably and doting on us, me in particular.

Tonight, she was noticeably older to me. Haggard. Rushed. Distracted. It took her three trips around the bar to get us a drink order, even as the only other people in the place had been well served and two guys at the end were watching “Jeopardy!” on an old tube TV.

I leaned on the old brass bar rail, which had been unpolished for quite some time. A slight scent of must and stale air lingered, reminding me the place had been closed for more than half a year.

Finally, she came back for a food order. Dad took charge:

“Large pizza. Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.”

For as long as I could remember, that was our pizza order.

Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

On an extremely rare occasion, we deviated from that. Once in Mexico we had pizza with pineapple before that really became a thing. When I was old enough to get a vote on food, I occasionally bargained to get black olives tossed into the mix.

Aside from that, it was always Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

Kathy wrote it down and strode slowly toward the kitchen as she sidestepped something we couldn’t make out in the left corner of the bar.

It was Franny, sitting quietly in his wheelchair, watching “Jeopardy!” with the two guys we didn’t know.

Eventually, he rolled toward us, using a single foot to power his glide in our direction. He didn’t seem to recognize us, even though my father would make regular walks from our house to his bar for a beer on a weeknight when they were often the only two guys in the whole place. He mumbled politely to people who were praising him for how good he looked and expressing thanks that the place had opened on this one day. Nobody was sure if this was the start of something more regular or a last hurrah for the place. Even with no real parking to speak of, the building was at a prime location. It would likely draw interested suitors if they couldn’t keep it going. Still, the restaurant had been life: He owned and operated it, Kathy waitressed for it.

What else was there?

A few people wandered in and out. One was a representative of the arch bishop, who had been invited via the same basic phone call my mother got: Franny is opening up on Saturday. You should come down. The source of the call was Kathy’s brother, Bob, who had become close friends with my mom through her work at church.

A few mixed drinks dotted the bar as the smell of food began to fill the room. “Jeopardy!” had given way to “Wheel of Fortune” as we chatted with some folks, occasionally glancing at the TV to see if we could solve the puzzle. Franny had wheeled away and disappeared once again.

Kathy arrived with the pizza and placed it in front of us at the bar.

Cheese, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions.

A fresh beer for dad. A Diet Coke refill for me.

The steaming thin-crust delicacy disappeared one square at a time. The outer edges were cracker-like in their wonderful crunch, the inner pieces were softer and contained heavier toppings.

Usually when we got one of these, we had about three or four pieces left. Today, even though we were really full, we kept eating. Maybe we wouldn’t get this again and besides, it never tasted quite this good.

Kathy swung by, handing out pizzas to the two people at the bar who had been waiting. One of them disappeared with the bagged pie while the other decided, after some deliberation, to order another drink and eat it there. We chatted with this lady, a local lawyer who helped my dad settle my grandmother’s estate, about various things she was doing now in retirement. Poetry, some work, being a Grammy (not a grandma, mind you. She told us she’s not old enough to be a grandmother. My mother, a “nana” by her own choosing of nomenclature, nodded in agreement.).

The woman also reminded me I was the person who told her Trump would never win.

I grimaced and turned back to my last two bites.

Kathy came by to pick up the battered metal pizza tray.

“This was delicious,” I told her. “Thank you so much for this.”

She looked at me and said without a smile, “Some things in life don’t change.”

The Kids Will Save Themselves

Good kids: 

When I joined the March on Milwaukee 50th Anniversary Coordinating Committee in June of 2016, I had no idea learning at the feet of the elders meant I would become a privileged keeper of both their stories and, in some ways, their failed dreams. Over the course of learning about the history of the marches, I and the other “young” (i.e., those born after 1968) members of the coordinating committee have had a chance to experience what historian Manning Marable referred to “living Black history,” to place Black historical narratives at the center and to, consequently, see how these histories can and have shaped the course of Milwaukee’s past, present and future.

Witnessing the living Black history of the original marchers has often meant learning details about the marches from original marchers and coordinating committee members, such as NAACP Youth Commandos Prentice McKinney and Fred Reed, NAACP Youth Council member Dr. Shirley Butler and Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Rozga, who married Father Groppi after he left the priesthood. I learned some of the marchers, like current Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore, snuck out of their bedroom windows in order to participate in the movement. Or that my own husband’s grandmother, Juanita Adams, who marched for fair housing and the desegregation of Milwaukee Schools while six months pregnant, pushed her body against the pouring spout of a cement truck to prevent the building of a segregated school.

 

A.

What’s in a name and how many lives is it worth?

When we discuss the idea of “fame” as a newsvalue in my journalism classes, I make a point that famous people can actually be infamous.

“How many of you have heard the name Jeffrey Dahmer?” I ask.

Every hand goes up, even though he committed his crimes and died in prison before most of them were born.

Dahmer is a name that remains as prominent now as it was in the early 1990s. A mass murder with an eating disorder, a TV show once quipped.

I thought about the man, the name and the crime this week when I heard about the Las Vegas attack that left 58 dead and more than 500 injured. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant with an arsenal at his disposal, hunkered down in a hotel room and fired round after round after round into a crowded concert venue.

Researchers and experts note this was the deadliest shooting on U.S. soil in modern history (whatever that means… It reminds me of “recently” which we used to define as “reporter lost the press release with the actual date.”). They also noted that in most cases the shooters wanted to make a mark, make a statement and make a name for themselves. As one expert lamented in discussing this topic, “Records are made to be broken.”

It was true for the Aurora, Colorado shooter James Holmes, who told a prison psychologist he wanted to be remembered as considered each death part of a score or tally. Holmes shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others on July 20, 2012, when he opened fire on in a movie theater during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

It was true of Robert Hawkins, a 19-year-old man who killed eight people in an Omaha, Nebraska mall in 2007. His suicide note explained: “I just want to take a few pieces of shit with me… just think tho, I’m gonna be fuckin famous.”

It was true for Adam Lanza, who wanted people to understand what he saw as unrelenting pain. When a forensic scientist examined the case for a reason Lanza murdered 26 children and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the man said Lanza had a simple message: “I carry profound hurt — I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.”

It was certainly true for Seung-Hui Cho, who held the “record” for the deadliest shooting carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history. This Virginia Tech student killed 32 of his campus colleagues and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007. In his rambling manifesto, he noted: “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.”

Know me. Fear me. Revile me. But always, always remember me.

What’s strange is that I don’t remember ANY of them by name. Perhaps the last two names I remember were the Columbine killers: Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold, who killed 13 people in their high school in 1999 and wounded 21 others. Even as other ratcheted up the body count to an almost incomprehensible level, these two appear to be the last of the “names” when it comes to this violent ticket to fame.

Before them, it seemed we all could remember the names of people who killed and killed.

Dahmer.

John Wayne Gacy

Theodore Bundy

David Berkowitz

Charles Manson

Charles Whitman

The names were cultural touchstones. Maybe it was because we all got news from the same places or maybe it was because we used to repeat the names so often, we couldn’t forget them. Maybe it was because there were fewer of them or they had such weird shit associated with them (A cannibal, a clown, a “sex symbol,” a dog whisperer, a lunatic and a sharpshooter).

Or maybe it’s just a sad truism that our social attention span is so limited, we’re never going to commit these new names to memory unless we take the “Arya Stark Hooked on Phonics” approach to it.

Our goal is to always forget. We have to get past it. We have to press on. We have to get back into life. Clear the mechanism.

For them, it’s a desire to force us to remember them, like they’re heavily armed Heisenbergs just begging us to hold fast to their pathetic outburst. Rest assured, people do remember them. Some will never forget, like the families of the dead, the scores of wounded and the rest of us who wonder why yet get no answer.

They are in our minds, even if their names aren’t on the tips of our tongues. Constantly at first, until life presses them and their actions to a back corner of our consciousness so we can move on and forget and live again.

Until the next time.

Delivering On His Promises

He pretty much is giving these people exactly what they want. Don’t you think?

Trump promised to remake America in the image of its national memories, the ones that get hauled out around the holidays and passed from cousin to cousin. The ones with sepia tones and well-thumbed edges that obscure all the complications. He promised rich white people they wouldn’t have to think, as they’ve been forced to since the world flattened out, about anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to live like them. He promised those same rich and middle-class white people they could forget about the world again, think of themselves only, and speak as though they were the only ones in the room.

Look at that list. Half of it is just conversations they don’t want to have. They don’t want real problems solved. They want to feel better. He’s making them feel better.

Which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if real shit wasn’t going on. If Trump was just Bizarro World Mr. Rogers, who comforted the white assholes who watched him nightly as he spewed conspiracies and victimization, yeah that would be awful but it wouldn’t be a crisis.

What’s going on now is a crisis. Trump goes on a Twitter tirade about Puerto Ricans being selfish and ungrateful as they ask to, you know, NOT DIE if possible, that’s not just some celebrity. He’s out there explicitly making it okay not to care about people because, I dunno what the wingnut orthodoxy here is, something something handouts?

And so his followers go and find a reason to make it okay not to give a shit, like, something something unions, because that’s all they need in their minds to make the problem go away.

He’s doing the job he got elected to do. He’s giving them permission to not give a damn. If only we’d thought of that.

A.