All posts by Steve Marsh

I somehow got to be a grandfather. It's a great gig. Then I got retired. That's a great gig too. Now I'm writing this. I hope it's a great gig.

The (Horrors) Nip Slip

I, like many of you, have been consuming the Olympics. I’ve been delighting in Mr. T’s tweets. I’ve grown a strong new respect for figure skating. And then…and then…and then someone’s nipple was exposed! Her discipline and focus prohibited her from stopping the routine to put the costume together again. And yet, if you have never heard of French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis before, odds are pretty good you peeked at her boobie this week.

I think it kind of exposed that old Victorian (or worse, Puritan) attitude of many Americans. We want to flirt with the idea of nudity but we so want to judge the nude. I decided to take the opportunity to resurrect an old poem’s audio to try to re-teach this lesson. Everyone’s body is just variations on a theme.

Looks Blue

(6:28)

 

Yeah, I know. This is an older piece. Kind of makes me think of hippies and beatniks. Not quite enough to consider hep cats or zoot suiters.

A Second Amendment Curmudgeon Evolves

The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

I have always been a defender of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. I have also been a defender of all the other Amendments as well, especially those that confer rights to the people…but my manner of defense is evolving as is my thinking. (If you keep thinking after you get old, that can still happen, hint.) I am having a hard time reconciling my defense of gun rights and the continual abuse of that right by irresponsible (or evil) individuals in our country. After the latest mass shooting in Florida by Nikolas Cruz, I have had an epiphany. I hope you can join me.

Three headlines this morning:
1) Wherein we learn the shooter was, among other things, 19 years old.
2) Wherein we learn the shooter bought the semi-automatic weapon legally about a year ago.
3) Wherein we learn the shooter trained with white supremacists.

There are other things we have learned, but these are the crux of what I think we should focus on.

There are two wildly extreme positions being publicly promoted in this country. The first, from the left is “GUNS BAD> BAN GUNS.” It leads to weird hype and false claims. For example, this. The other, on the right, is “THE PRICE WE PAY FOR FREEDOM.” Both are bullshit, of course. Americans do not sacrifice the health, lives and welfare of our children on the alter of gun rights.

I have long been one who advocates for the proper use, training and responsibility around guns and ammunition. I own guns. I shoot semi-regularly. I believe in my ability to defend myself and my family with these weapons. As I age and I lose credibility as a physical force, I take solace in the perception that a gun helps me to even the field. I am responsible. I know the law, what I am allowed to do, under what circumstances and what I am not allowed to do. I also know how to store and secure weapons and ammunition so that any minors in my house can not access them for any reason.

But along comes a rash of school shootings, shaking all of these foundational beliefs. On top of that, we hear “thoughts and prayers,” outrage and a dozen examples of how banning weapons will lead America toward Nirvana. Those are also bullshit.

Can nothing be done? Well, nothing will be done if we continue to have this stupid debate. To be clear, the debate over gun rights and the future of guns in America is not stupid. The debate we are currently (not) having and the people screaming the loudest right now are stupid.

I’m going to propose a radical change in the way we perceive guns in America and try to offer an incremental improvement in the real-world conditions we face. Much has been made of the dozen or more school shootings we have already experienced this early in 2018. And I do not dispute these numbers if “school shooting” means “the discharge of a firearm at or near a school regardless of whether anyone was hurt and regardless of whether the discharge was accidental or not.” Those many events happened. Nothing gets the left more riled up and simultaneously makes the right sound more ridiculous than dead kids. But does the rash of gun events in schools mean Americans are incapable of handling guns responsibly?
Who is doing the shooting in schools? Everytown  has kept some interesting statistics over a period of time. One of the most revealing bits of data is that in shootings at k-12 schools, where our most vulnerable victims are located, the perpetrator is (statistically) under 21 years of age (77%), or under 18 (56%). This is the data that provided the Eureka! moment for me.

So, do (mostly) men over 21 kill people (mostly men) over the age of 21. Yes, they do. Should we stop that if we can? Yes, we should. But let’s look at a significant and elegant partial solution first. I believe the lasting cultural changes will eventually ameliorate some of the gun assaults later in life. But for now:

Let’s make gun and ammo purchases and ownership illegal for anyone under a certain age. I can live with either 18 or 21, although 18 is easier to rationalize in my mind because we permit kids of 18 to enlist and thus gain access to guns and ammo.

A natural Constitutional question–Are constitutionally protected rights other than gun rights in America restricted by age? They certainly are.

First Amendment. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, right? Wrong. All kinds of speech limitations exist for underage kids. Freedom of the Press? Check the rules about high school newspapers. Right to assembly? Also limited (often to adults as well). It seems only religion is free to be practiced by children, even though it is unlikely you will find many 13-year-olds changing churches.

Second Amendment? It says the “right of the people.” Yes, I know about the “militia” standard as well. It adds to my argument later. Militia was the prime driver of (or excuse for)the 2nd amendment. How old do you need to be to join the militia? Even in nascent America, you didn’t call on every person to provide defense. One had to have reached a certain age, degree of responsibility. Not many six-year-olds provided for the security of a free state. There is no guarantee of a minor’s right to bear arms in the second Amendment and a good case can be made that only military aged folks ever had that right. In our current culture, where adolescence is being expanded even into our 20s, the opportunity for this kind of legislation seems appropriate.

Third Amendment protects adults/home owners. etc.

The point is that the Constitution and its Amendments are meant to enumerate and guarantee certain rights for ADULT citizens of the United States. Do kids have rights? Of course, just not as many nor are they as strong.

Proposal: It shall be illegal for anyone under the age of (18/21) to own, possess or purchase firearms and/or ammunition. In order to protect those victims of school shootings, I would be willing to see the age limit be 21. By the time you are 21, it is unlikely you will return to a school to take out the kids. I suspect at least some/many/most of the over 21 year old shooters in k-12 schools are disgruntled former employees intent on harming other adults or other adults with personal issues against another adult (boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, etc.)

Further: it shall be considered legal for those under the age of 18/21 to be in possession of and to use firearms if accompanied by another person over the age of majority who will take responsibility, legal and financial, for any damage inflicted by the underage shooter. You can go hunting with your dad or your uncle or even your big brother, as long as they are prepared to accept legal responsibility for your actions.

We could also make some additional limitations on the storage of guns and ammo in all households where children may come in contact with same. So, buy all the guns you want, but lock them up and keep the kids away from them. No more Glock under the pillow or shotgun behind the refrigerator. At least, not if there are kids in the house.

Should we expect blowback by the right over these kinds of restrictions? Sure. But the list of rights and privileges restricted by age in this country is pretty long. This is not a significant deviation.

  • Drinking, smoking tobacco, pot, etc.
  • Driving
  • Voting
  • Signing contracts
  • Enlisting in the military
  • Traveling across state lines
  • Working
  • Running for Office

And yet, we never hear anyone say, “You can have my right to vote when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” Imagine if the right placed the same kind of restrictions on gun ownership it places on the ability to vote. The world would be different, for sure. This is not a “pure” ethic on either side of the argument.

What might we expect out of such legislation? Well, of course, uproar from the right, but in truth, the impact on the lives of shooters is likely to be little changed.

Beyond that, in the short term, we will see resistance from the right and a statistically insignificant impact on the gun market. I’m guessing here, but I don’t see the market even able to register the lost proceeds. For one thing, now Dad will make the purchase instead and that’s not bad. For another, the number of sales to minors is likely pretty small already. So the argument is only symbolic and likely of the “slippery slope” variety.

What might be the result?

In the long term, we might just re-institute a healthy respect for responsibility around the ownership and use of firearms. That could edge us away from the direction in which we seem to be headed. Would the requirement to secure your weapons around minors change anything? I don’t know if the impact would be large or small immediately, but if it became an ethic among more gun owners, we would not be hurt by that.

The impact on the statistics surrounding school shootings is where I have my focus. Is this kind of action likely to stop school shootings. No. I fear that there may be nothing we can do to eliminate this senseless action. But I have no doubt that it would make things better. There would be fewer incidents committed by minors if we could effectively separate minors from unsupervised access to firearms.

It might give us a new tool to go after those White Supremacists for their “training” too. If you are concerned it will merely drive it underground, I would argue that is an improvement in our condition as well.

Also note, many states already have enacted this kind of legislation regarding minors ownership of handguns. It is not a completely new idea. Only applying the law to long guns would be new. The impact on gun culture is therefore minimized and it addresses the left’s concern about who needs access to a semi-automatic rifle.

Might it save some lives? Yes. Might it not save all the lives? That is certainly true, too. But, for this new convert, it seems to be a reasonable step designed to put gun laws more in line with the new condition of our culture. If the bad guys are assaulting the walls of my settlement, I want every man, woman and child capable of firing a weapon to answer the emergency call. When it comes to my kids’ and grandkids’ school rooms, I don’t want individuals without fully formed brains and personalities in there with firearms. Let’s look at this as a small, first part of the puzzle.

Except for federal politicians dependent upon the NRA lobby for re-election funds, I can’t think of too many Americans I know who wouldn’t want to do something to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” I’m for that. And I believe all Americans are. Let’s start with these values as core values and build from there.

 

A couple of Historical notes:

It is transition that is hardest for all of us. I enlisted at 18 and I could drink on base all the while I was in the Marine Corps. When I left active duty, I was still only 20, so when I came home I was no longer of legal drinking age. In the meantime, the Michigan legislature had decided that 18 was the new drinking age. So I was a legal drinker at 21 on September 29, 1971 and my 18 year old sister became a legal drinker on January 1, 1972. Then in 1978, voters overturned it and those who were legally drinking at 18, 19 and 20 were, at the stroke of midnight one night, suddenly illegal. Transition takes time. It is bumpy and people whine, but eventually these kinds of changes become footnotes. Let’s not panic too hard about what might freak someone out in the short run. Is this what we are willing to do to help shape the arc of our culture moving forward? Quite a few will not be willing to make the transition. We will likely hear from them.

 

Some Anti-Snark about Tech

I was doing some mindless thing and so I asked Alexa to play Doo Wop. She hit me with the Shirelles. Now, that was great but I had to confront a small streak inside me that had not ever considered them “Doo Wop” and it didn’t take long to discover it was solely because of gender. (This is not a chat about feminism.) I loved every minute of a different song.

Then Alexa played The Drifters and I almost settled back into the ways of my reptile brain. Instead they threw me a huge curve ball with “When My Little Girl is Smiling” I must confess that when this song came out, I was 12 years old and it served as kind of a foundation of expectation. I took a little too long to learn it was an impossible standard when  I tried to relate to women. And yet, today, it is the best song to listen to and think about the “girl” as your three year old grand-daughter (before any of you shits get after me for that, shut up). So, I had a magic moment thinking about how much she has me wrapped around her little finger. I must confess it is true. I’ll do an awful lot to see when my little girl is smiling.

Well, this is supposed to be about technology and how easy it is for anyone, but especially people of a certain age, to whine/snark/rant about it. But really, if you are reading this you are living a life of lies. Look what has happened in my life time.

In 1962, Doo Wop was what was happening. To get a copy of the song in the link above, I would have had to get a ride to town (we lived in the country), walk to the Record Store on Main Street, hope it was in stock and fork over a dollar for the 45 rpm record. Now, that’s a 1962 dollar, an actual silver certificate. A 12 year old had to work hard to get a whole dollar. Getting it to you would have been just as hard.

But today, you pushed a couple buttons hours, or days or years after I pushed buttons to write this and instantly my thoughts of February 11, 2018 get sent to you at the speed of light and I have the visual audio portions of that nostalgia to send along to you as well.

How you gonna snark that?

And while I have been writing this, I have had youtube playing Doo Wop in the background. I’m having a tough time concentrating on the language on the screen. It seems I only have eyes for you, dear.

 

 

It’s In There

Our semi-permanent three-generation family is a blessing. I do not comprehend why America decided the multi-generation family under one roof was a bad idea. I get how it happened; but I neither understand why we stopped, nor endorse its decline.

Case in point. As a writer, words are important to me. Both my wife and I have long held for our own children (and now for our grandchildren) that there are no “bad” words. It is essential to understand that the meaning is not in the word, but rather in the perception of the word, thus, some language should not be used in school, or at the dinner table or in front of certain sensitive individuals. But, as for me, you had better be using the word correctly. Beyond that it’s all about nuance.

Example. Hanky has been having a bully problem at school. Hanky is probably going to have a bully problem for quite a while. He is smallish in stature, smart beyond his years, bookish and artistic. Bullies are going to find him. He’s under some kind of protective order at school right now from the unwanted attention of “Colin X” (not his real name, because you have to protect the abusers these days).

Hank said he wanted to call Colin a name but he thought he’d get in trouble. And the truth of the matter is that he WOULD get in trouble, because, you know, saying “shithead” in the second grade is a far greater crime than hitting, slapping, teasing, spitting, forcing someone to eat grass, etc. I said he should call Colin a “jacknapes.” Hanky and younger brother, Teddy both laughed. Of course they thought it was another word for jackass. I had to haul out the big dictionary, Volume I, to help him understand that it was a perfectly legitimate thing to call an eight year old bully. It would satisfy the need without a big yield of fallout.

I showed him the various definitions of the word, stroked the nuances affectionately and presented the word to Hank to use as his own whenever he needed it. Then…the question.

“Are all the words in there?”
“Yup, every one.”
“Even the bad ones?”
“Yup, even the bad ones.”
He dropped his voice to a more conspiratorial level and whispered, “Even ‘ass?'”

I flipped the pages. I let my finger slide down the column over the boldface words until we arrived at “ass.”

Hank looked at the word, his eyes bugged out, his neck and shoulders did a kind of strange, disjointed contortion and he giggled. Loud and clear and distinct eight year-old boy giggles rang out upon learning that a book has all the dirty words in it.

He looked at me as though the world of language had suddenly revealed itself. I was a proud Pop Pop. I was the guru as his language development took a sudden leap forward.

“What about ‘butt?'”
“Yup, it’s in there.”

Teddy just turned six. He, too, is advanced for his age. It is hard to remember he is in kindergarten because of his skills with language and the fact that he is a pound or two heavier than his eight year-old brother and just as tall. Teddy is unlikely to have bully problems in his life.

Teddy asked, with the same enthusiasm and wonder in his voice, “What about “pee-hole?'”

I do not know if the Oxford English Shorter Version has an entry for “pee-hole” or not, but I fearlessly confirmed that “pee-hole” was in Volume II. Wonder, awe, amazement prevailed.

Later that night, as we were watching some sixty year old Looney Tunes, I said something Wiley E. Coyote was doing was “ridiculous.”

Hank giggled again and said, “He is reDICK! Haha, reDICK!” Teddy took up the chant.

And then his three year old sister just started laughing and shouting, “He’s a DICK! He’s a DICK!” And Teddy and Hank both positively tittered. I didn’t say “tittered” to them. We had already had the best language day possible.

The Sky is Falling

Last week, those of us in Southern Michigan (who had our eyes open) saw a blinding flash in the sky.

 

First they speculated it was a meteor. The next day they speculated some of the exploded particles may have struck the ground, thus they were meteorites. Then they decided it must have landed in a debris field about 2.5 miles west of the village of Hamburg. I live about 2.5 miles west of Hamburg and so I decided it was the second divine attempt on my life so far. Here’s a little something about the first time.

GOD THREW A ROCK
Upon Seeing A Small Meteorite Land Within Yards of Me

 

I know the cosmic odds against a thing like this.

God threw a rock at me and missed.

 

It whumped into a little hummock of April-freshening earth and

threw steam up like sullen, smokey anger

at having come to rest in such an ignoble place.

 

From across the entire cosmos,

from the very beginning of time,

God made this rock to hurl at me and miss.

 

I can not help but wonder if God missed me on purpose

just to get my attention,

or if he has a lousy aim,

troubled, perhaps, as he is, by bursitis in his throwing arm.

At the very end,

too late to do anything about it,

I saw it coming—

it’s long green tail, glowing, streaking, cupric, downward at me—

phosphorescing in the still night air

for seconds after it slammed into the earth,

spraying its dying red embers higher than the barn.

 

And there it sat,

shaped like an old seed potato,

about the size of a quarter,

asserting by its mere presence that it was no accident.

 

Sometime after dawn it had cooled.

I stooped to pick it up,

felt its heft in my hand,

knew my hand touched what had touched the hand of God,

and I threw it back at Him.

I missed.

 

A few years ago I recorded this poem. There have been a couple of minor edits since then, but maybe you’ll get a kick out of hearing my recitation.

 

 

untitled

The last time I saw you was February, 1969.
You surprised me at my apartment.
You were dressed in your white drug store uniform.

I don’t know if the tie was hung on the doorknob,
(or the sock, more likely since I didn’t own a tie)
but my roommates stayed gone that afternoon.

I had been watching you for three years.
You had the most wonderfilled lips,
with a muscle car boyfriend who had been around all the while.

You came in and we drank juice.
We talked in my hippy bedroom about Dylan.
We kissed to “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

We talked/touched on top of my tee shirt and your stiff nylon
Until your boyfriend sounded long anger in the street.
You looked afraid and pleaded for me to stay while you left.

I wondered about you for weeks – remembered.
The snow melted. I heard you were killed
In your car by a freight train at an unlit country crossing.

Trumpertime Blues

I wrote this shortly after the 2016 election. I just put some nail polish on it and offer it here.

Apologies to Eddie C.

I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler
About a-workin’ all summer just to end up with the Donald.
Every time I call my baby, and ask him for a date
“No dice,” Trumpster said, “you need a lady mate.”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do,
But there ain’t no cure for the Trumpertime blues.

Well my mom and poppa told me, “Son, you gotta make some money,
“Cuz there’s no pensions left, now ain’t that funny?”
Well I didn’t go to work, I was too damned sick.
“You’re fired!” Trumpster said, “You’re a rapist spic.”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the Trumpertime blues

I’m gonna take two weeks, gonna learn me some knowledge
‘Bout the kinda damn fools in the ‘Lectoral College.
Well, I called my congressman and he said “Whoa!
“I’d like to help you son but you’re too broke to vote.”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do,
But there ain’t no cure for the Trumpertime blues.

Quick Memory

A teaching moment.

If you could plant
neat rows of
honey clover
in red East Texas soil,
it would grow
full vocal chords and
lips to whisper at night
about gators and
water moccasins
in the damp bottom lands.
They would be Brenda’s lips.
The voice would be low and
quiet and
husky from whiskey.

smarsh

Trumpertalky

(Advice to Special Prosecutor, Robert Meuller)

 

’Twas orange, and the Covfefe
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy was the vast toupè,
And lady parts outgrabe.

“Beware the Trumpertalk, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Rocket Man, and shun
The frumious Pussysnatch!”

He took his sword to Nambia:
Long time the dotard foe he sought—
So rested he by the Antifa,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in white bread thought he stood,
The Trumpertalk, with eyes of flame,
Came shooting out the eyeball blood,
From wherever it came!

One year or two! And through and through
The fiscal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
Went paper trailing back.

“And hast thou slain the Trumpertalk?
Come to my arms, my rightish boy!
O Mexico will pay for this!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas orange, and the Covfefe
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy was the vast toupè,
And lady parts outgrabe.

Eureka! There They Are.

Mar-a-Lago Club

 

It came to me in a flash this morning. I know exactly what formative experience I’m tapping every time I feel enraged by this Clown Administration, this collection of nodding mimes in the Senate and the House, or the cadre of lunatic robber barons called Governors across our land. And weirdly, it’s not exactly what is being said, although what is being said is disgusting and offensive in any age. It is more how it is being said. And how pitifully smug they think they are appearing while they deal below the table right in front of us. We are supposed to just smile and be grateful for whatever scrap is tossed our way and not only, NOT report them for outright crimes, but to ADMIRE them for their cleverness in dealing with a corrupt system. “I’m a great businessman.”

When I was fifteen, I worked as a busboy and dishwasher at the local country club. It only had a 9-hole course, but it was well-maintained. Our small town had about 10,000 people back then, so I’m guessing membership in the club was not strictly limited to the 1%ers, but generally, it is unlikely there were many outside of the top 5% of the social strata who could claim inclusion. And from my experience in the lower third of that system, it was clear that members wanted a bright and shining line between Members and help. Even inside the “help” categories, there was stratification. Top guy was the Club Manager, and oddly, the Number Two was the greens-keeper. He and his staff of one were on the payroll. All the golf-related jobs were off payroll. The Members contracted with the Pro for lessons and help and he supplemented that with a commission on whatever was sold in the pro shop. Caddies worked on tips and below them were the guys who worked in the fitness and shower areas. They worked on tips too. Odd thing. A caddie might get a $1 tip on nine holes of bad golf, or he might score $50 when your dad’s boss had a good round. Caddies were almost always the sons of Members and/or players on the high school golf team. Guys in the locker room were related to the cooks in the kitchen.

Those of us on the other side had a hierarchy too. Kitchen Manager (not chef!) was the boss. He was salaried. He worked in the kitchen. The bartender worked below him for minimum wage and tips. Waitresses, almost always came from among the popular girls in school but not often the daughters of Members. They were inevitably “cute and perky.” Those who cooked were, oddly for our nearly completely white community, usually Mexican, many of whom shared surnames with those in the locker room. Some of these men were so recently from Mexico as to be without much working use of English. I’m sure they were simply paid in cash, and not very much. Below all of the above was me. The busboy/dishwasher was the bottom of the heap. I could have done the job all summer, nonetheless, if I wanted to.

My pay was the lowest, minimum wage and no tips. I had to punch in and out. On Thursday (Friday was too busy), the Club Manager would hand me a check. As a “convenience” to me (and the cooks, I suppose) he would cash my check on the spot. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was kind of convenient to get cash on my way out the door. (In fact, my next job in town paid in cash too.) Not until years later did I come to understand that if the check showed the deductions to me and I cashed the check with him for the remaining cash, all he had to do was to destroy the check, void it out of the check register and it would be like paying me in cash below the minimum wage. I don’t know if he did that or not. But back then, not a lot of 15-year-olds made enough money in a year to have to file taxes. I didn’t know of any.

Fridays were the busy nights in the restaurant and bar. And it only took a couple of Friday nights to figure out the patterns that had probably been repeated since the place opened. Husbands bring the family in. It is not exactly subdued in tone. I have been in the kitchen for about an hour already making sure every glass, plate and piece of tableware is clean, dry and ready for delivery. When the first Members arrive, I am ready. I keep watch to see when to clear the first round of dishes. I have an appropriate looking outfit, complete with a white long-sleeved shirt and a bleached white folded towel tucked into the front of my belt. From that first clearing it was a steady rise in intensity in the busboy/dishwasher business. Clear, haul, spray, load, unload, stack…clear, haul, spray…. without a break until the dining room began to clear. The ones who lingered were always the ones who kept you from punching out for the night. And they were the ones who usually lingered over drinks. If they started on drinks before dinner too, well, there was no telling how long they’d hang around. And, they were Members so no one was about to tell them to go home.

Through the course of the night, my white shirt and bleached, folded towel always accumulated the detritus of the table as well as the splattering of the dishwasher. It’s why most respectable places won’t let dishwashers clear the tables. Some nights I would swap out the folded towel half way through my shift just to try to uphold some air of appearances. I didn’t on this particular night.

 

The guy at the table had a name. I don’t need to name him now. He’s dead and I’ve gotten over most of it. But this guy happened to be an officer in the local savings and loan. And he was a drunk. He had come in and sat at the bar for a few with a couple of his work buddies while I did my kitchen prep late in the afternoon, left for a little while and came back with his wife. They sat at a table and had a couple before the meal, ate pro forma with a bottle of wine and then lingered over Manhattans until the room was empty. All the dishes were done in the kitchen. The cooks had shut down and left. The only staff left were the bartender, the waitress and me. So, I approached the table and asked if I might clear it for them. I suppose it was a clumsy way to try to prod them into leaving, but at 15 I had no better tactic.

 

When I asked, Mr. S&L froze in place. Visibly froze and held still for about 2 or 3 seconds just staring at the table. I saw a look in Mrs. S&L’s eyes as she waited for what she knew was coming. I didn’t know.

 

Mr. S&L turned toward me and it was the first time I had ever seen a grown man with fury in his face. I had seen plenty of men and boys and women and girls angry. Some angrier that others, but this was fury.  And a look I cannot logically explain. I was standing by his right shoulder, he was still seated but somehow he was able to look down his nose at me with contempt and said: “If you interrupt me again, I will see that you are fired. I am a Member of this club and I sit on its Board of Directors. You will treat me with respect.”

 

I was dumbstruck. I finally sort of stammered something like, “Of course, Mr. S&L, I was only trying…”

 

“Enough! Go back to the kitchen and wait until we are finished here.”

 

I did. I didn’t say anything. I was embarrassed. These years later, I speculate that his wife may have been more embarrassed than he. Maybe not. Maybe she was used to speaking to the help that way. I wasn’t used to it. I wish I could tell you that I quit that job that night. Or that I thought about it overnight and I came in to quit the next day. What actually happened was I showed up for my shift on Saturday and the Club Manager informed me that I had been fired. Fired from my first job. That didn’t speak highly for my future. Clearly I was destined to live out my life on those lower rungs of the social and financial ladder. There was to be no “bootstrap” operation from busboy/dishwasher to Member in America.

 

This is precisely what I am feeling today on the national political scale. I feel like we have somehow awarded all the power and glory, all the money and voice to a bunch Mr. S&Ls with long noses and fury who can and will lash out at others under any provocation, real or imagined. Who will say anything they wish, whether it is true, or based on a story they heard, or a made-up narrative erupting like a boil from their fetid imaginations, or someone else’s fetid imagination in alt-right publishing.

 

Mr. S&L, I see your Mrs.  with her eyes carefully shielded so as not to disclose any tic of emotion or even a shade of compassion. I see brief flashes of real fear in the faces of those around you. And I think I know what that reveals about your character.

 

I see your knowing looks and your secret handshakes with your cohorts. I see how you use coded language between each other so that you can claim that those of us drawing the sheet off the corpse of democracy can be dismissed as having misunderstood or misquoted or taken your words out of context. I hear you telling the people in the kitchen that the only people they can trust to tell them the truth are the people writing and cashing checks.

 

I see the look of desperate ambition upon those who are now in your elite club but whose starts were somewhere closer to the clubhouse kitchen. All of those men who have something to prove. In America we love drive, guts and determination. You see those traits in a few of your sycophants and nod in their direction to trigger actions that shape the lives (or the deaths) of hundreds or thousands. When they act, you praise. If they fail to act, you excoriate them. This is not the America I know. It is not the America I want to leave for my kids and grandkids.

 

In my America, drive, guts and determination are admirable character traits but they are not the goal of character development. In my America, a stronger union is formed on the back of ambition. Ambition is not best used in service to the self. It will take many ambitious Americans to stand up to the divisive politics used cleverly, if nefariously, by those in the National Country Club.  We have found our ambition in resistance. We will resist your personal ambitions to transfer all of the wealth to the Membership. We will resist your narrow and very white version of a national culture. And we will keep spitting in your soup until it is over.