Right v. Wrong

We're often told that we have a chance to be on the right side of history, but are very rarely reminded that we're also positioned to be on the wrong side. For instance, back in 2009 I thought Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown" would hold up as a perennial classic. Man, am I glad that wasn't an election year...

Dear "Patriots,"

I'm about as tired of "love it or leave it" as I think I can get. As if the "it" is a static thing. This "it" is nebulous and evolving. It's something we should all have the ability to love and disagree with, and make statements about that create dialogue to assist in that evolution. If you're discounting the messenger because the message makes you uncomfortable, then the only thing static is you. The evolution is going to continue, regardless of your supposed patriotism, and it'll probably be televised, so please enjoy.

 

Unity

Apparently "unity" is the answer to every problem we face as people, but in my mind unity is exclusive, not inclusive. Do people really think we're all going to join hands and sing for the greater good? Because I'll be honest with you, I really have no interest in uniting with a bunch of narrow minded, short sighted, religious bigots, and I know for a fact they don't want to hold my hand. The entire idea of unity, to me, is divisive. Folks will unite for things or against things, but it's impossible, on a cellular level, for an entire population to agree on what those things are. Unity is right up there with tolerance as election year catch-all claptrap.

Let it Fly

"Hey faggot, how gay are you today?"

That was the greeting I used to get almost daily from my High School gym teacher Coach Roberts. Seriously. There were years that went by where not only me, but most of my friends were referred to as just that: faggots. Mostly by peers but also at times by certain adults who were supposed to be the wise sages of our wonderful educational system. Seriously. My teacher called me a faggot. Often. This culminated with Mr. Roberts being admonished in some feeble manner, my senior year, when he called me a faggot, after slapping my ass in front of our Vice Principal who was standing behind him after an air band competition in which my friends and I did a rousing, and well choreographed version of YMCA. It's a story that comes out during dinner parties and reunions, and it's funny in hindsight. Hell, it was funny at the time because I didn't know any better. But it's not funny.

I was at a dinner party not too long ago and people were talking about their High School reunions and how much the people had changed in the 20+ years since graduation. They were all talking about how fat certain people had gotten, how successful, how bald etc. Everyone was so happy with themselves, so pleased with their station in life, bragging about the odds they'd conquered, the way they'd played the game. Whatever. I didn't want to go to my 10 year reunion, and probably never will attend one again, but I was talked into it and I went. The entire experience was just plain horrible, save for one thing: the number of people who had come out. Finally comfortable enough, confident enough, to be who they were, what they were; no apologies, no nothing. It was amazing, heartwarming, empowering as hell. Exactly as it should have been.

Listen, I'm not gay, at least not in the way most of the World chooses to define the word. Sure, I'm weird, a freak, happy at times, at other times not so much, but I still consider myself queer as a football bat. I'm here, get used to it, but I don't know the struggle. I never have and never will, because let's face it, I'm a straight white male in America...

I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to write this, the stories I would tell, the pedestrian insight that I think makes me a person of the World at large...and, well, fuck all that. We, each and every one of us, has a certain responsibility on this planet as humans, to preach peace, knowledge, empathy and sympathy to our fellow human beings. This isn't about sex or sexuality, not to me. This is about individuals and individuality, and the right to be who and what we are born to be. Period. Any of you getting caught up in "hot button issues" during an election year are missing the point. If you can't see through the fog that religion, society, your parents or teachers have dropped on your sponge-like head, then we will never progress as people. Well, you wont anyway. Feel free to be left behind while the rest of us stand up, build up and defend ourselves against your ignorance and hate.

I'm coming out today, for everyone who feels trapped by their circumstance, whatever that may be. I'm coming out. I see this flag every day, and it empowers me to be who I am, and not judge anyone for any reason. At all. We are who we are, all of us, and we should be proud no matter what. So let it fly folks, let it fly.

Happy Pride Y'all!

Also, as an addendum, I'm sure I've possibly offended some friends, both gay & straight, with the potential misuse or misappropriation of a phrase or two, or a word or 3, here or there, and for that I do apologize. I have nothing but love in my heart for all of you, but do tend to run off at the mouth...

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Get Your Foot In The Door

One day in High School, the members of our elective Guitar class staged a sit-in protest aimed at the fact that the band teacher, would force us to put away all the chairs & music stands from the band class before us, even though we, as a class, never used them. We felt that he was wielding unnecessary power by making us clean up what the previous class was responsible for, and thereby giving them preferential treatment. Also, we were a bunch of bored, directionless youth, living in a shit-town, looking for any reason to start trouble.

As soon as he caught drift of what we were doing he started threatening people with failing the class. One by one, the kids stood up, falling victim to the threat. Our numbers started dwindling fast. Kids are easily leveraged with threats of parental disapproval coupled with this legendary, yet never seen, “permanent record.” As it came down to the last few of us, we looked at each other, there was a nod, a silent agreement, then the last of them stood up, leaving me alone.

Mr. Johnson threatened me again, as I recall, quiet vehement in his spittle driven rage. Dude had completely lost control. As I stood up, defiantly daring him to give me that F, he grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me against the classroom wall. This man, this pudgy, mustachioed, saliva spraying man…pushed to the breaking point by a bunch of teenagers, more or less assaulted me. In the midst of his attack, he realized his mistake, turned tail and bee-lined for his office. I, of course, ran after him, summoning centuries of sailor-based insults. As he attempted to close himself into his office, I managed to wedge my 16 year old foot into the door and push it open. He cowered behind his desk and screamed at me to go to the office immediately. “No problem,” I said, “I’ll see you there later...and if you ever lay your hands on me again, you’re going to have an entirely different problem…” In my testosterone addled brain, I truly believed I might meet this cat in a dark alley somewhere, and beat the talent out of him with a music stand. Laughable then, even more so now.

In the end, I didn’t fail that class, but I did get suspended from school for a week. I believe he was forced to allow me to pass with a C, even though I was a D level guitarist (and still am…) just to avoid any potential fallout from the physical part of the altercation. That was his punishment for the part he played in losing control.

And no, we never did have to put those chairs and music stands away again…

Anyway, just musing on these Dem’s sitting-in for gun control. Admittedly this is an amateur parallel story, that really has no relatable importance, but I truly hope they can get their foot permanently wedged in the office door of sensible gun control.

Also, sorry about the drama Mr. Johnson, but I stand by our message, and our tactics, because as I recall, you wouldn't even listen to our reasoning. It was your way, or the highway, as they say, and as we all know, that never get's us anywhere but jammed up in traffic and late for dinner.

This is a threat

Dear Berners who are saying they wont vote at all if Hillary get's the nomination, because you wont be able to reach the ballot from your high horse: I will fight you. Bare knuckled or with a weapon of your choice. And I will do so in the name of my daughter, wife, mom, every woman in this country, every member of the LGBT community, immigrants, minorities, people of color et al., because while the anti-establishment rhetoric does have it's place, and I most definitely agree with you on almost every point, I'm still not willing to risk the alternative when it comes to their rights. If you're willing to allow your sour-graped complacency to help a repugnant, racist, misogynist waltz his way into power to prove some kind of over-arcing idea of immediate and impossible change, I am willing to put you out of your (and my) misery. If you're thinking that your thinking is more solution than problem, and that thinking is so narrow as to force us into a new and greater problem, then that shit will fall at your feet.

Commute diary, 02/19/16

6:42 am: Man enters Bart train and screams: "Alright you motherfuckers, I ain't aiming to take shit from any single one of you today!" A handful of people jump up in a panic, but before they can all run, he laughs and steps back out as the door close.

6:46 am: Young, freshly showered woman enters Bart train, phone pressed firmly to her face. She wanders aimlessly for a second before the train lurches forward, catching her off guard. She flies backwards, crashing without grace into the empty seat beside me, whipping her long wet hair across my face and smashing her lead filled purse into my knee. She settles in without a word, phone still attached.

6:47 am: I'm counting the minutes, afraid they don't make numbers that big.

Consequence

That moment when you are confronted with a scene involving a berserk drifter wielding a knife in a Muni station and you're thankful you can't get cell service because you don't want to get him killed. 

God save the Queen(s)

I love this town, my town, my home; the city I chose to stay in. I don't love it for its scenic qualities, I don't love it for its urban glory or it's famed landmarks. I don't love it for its left-leaning politics or wild-eyed policies. I love it for the diversity of people and the disparity of their experience.

While I'm not necessarily a "people person," I still consider myself a social scientist. I like to experiment with action and reaction. I hate being the center of attention but I can't stand being ignored. I aspire, at the very lest, to just be acknowledged by my fellow man.

Have you ever worked with or around someone who for whatever reason, refuses to notice you? Acknowledge you? Admit that you exist and even share the same air, in the same space, in the same hallways that they roam everyday? They look at the ground when passing by, or when forced, look right through you with that million mile stare that you might have seen before on the faces of continuation high school students, homeless people, drug addicts in the midst of a fix, priests in a confessional, DMV employees, bus drivers or court bailiffs. It's all a ploy to stay sane in the face of the horrible side of humanity, a ploy I appreciate and understand when it's defense time, but in the work place it's just downright de-humanizing and hostile. It pisses me off to no end; to the point that it causes me to stare hard, smile maniacaly, to grin like a murderer serving as a pallbearer at my victims funeral. Damn it makes me mad.

So I have a particular co-worker who fits this description. We've been sharing space for over a decade at this point, and not once have I gotten a nod or a smile. Not a slight wave or a wink. Not a hello or a how are you. Not an excuse me, or a pardon. Nothing. No matter how much eye contact I make, no matter how hard I try to be the very glowing essence of pleasant, all I get is the million mile stare or the acknowledgement of her shoes existence. Hallways, lunch room, lobby, everywhere; same deal, different day. Whatever. I just keep smiling like an asshole.

Today, on my way back into the building from lunch, this person damn near knocks me down in a mad rush to escape the elevator. I mean it was close. This close. Finally, at the realization of a collision, I think for one brief second that we're about to have a moment. Maybe not the greatest way to establish a relationship, but fuck me if it isn't a start. So I see it happening, brace for the blow and smile wide; searching those vacant eyes for something, anything, anything...and then: nothing. She swerves, missing me by less than an inch, and stalks away in an angry stagger.

"Jesus Christ," I say, as I enter the elevator, now occupied by myself and a classic, stout, San Francisco Queen.

"What the fuck?"

"Did she almost run you down?" he asks in a thick, Castro Street lisp.

"It's not that," I say, "have you ever worked with someone that just refuses to admit that you exist?"

"Oh shit yes," he says, "honey, fuck that bitch, I mean for real...what a cunt."

The elevator hit's the 3rd floor and he exits, looking back at me with a wicked smile.

"Cunt," he repeats and swishes off on his merry way.

Exactly.

That's the moment, that's this town, that's my love. I love that guy; that queen. For a single moment in time I got what I was looking for: recognition, acknowledgement, empathy and approval. I knew it wasn't just me, I know it's probably you too. So let's all say it together: "FUCK THAT BITCH."

On being offended by honest answers

That which might move you deeply, might not move me in quite the same way; you can walk away mad, but that wont change the way I go about my day.

SAVING FACE IN A SHIT-STORM (Welcome To Chitwan)

I figured since I'm doing this, I should get some older pieces posted not only in the name of content, but also for fear of losing them to the black hole of the interwebs. My mind is anything but fresh, and I'm definitely guilty of losing old stories posted on long lost blogs. This isn't posthumous, it's (for) posterity. This was written the day after the events in the story took place, and transcribed with very little editing so as to keep the emotion intact. Reading through it all these years later, I certainly can admit to the massive chip that had built up on my aching shoulders. At the time I was beyond road-weary, coming off of the back-end of one of the greatest physical and emotinal challenges of my life. It was incredibly transformative, both physically and mentally, but had yet to take hold. I offer that as no excuse, only as explanation for what appears to be quite a dark outlook.

Names have not been changed, but might have been exaggerated.

Pokhara to Sauraha, Nepal - 12.23.2002

The bus ride went by quickly for once, and with a minimal amount of pain. Perhaps the last few weeks of rough living on the Annapurna Circuit had put calluses on our bones, or perhaps had just made us a bit callous. Either way, we were harder. Suddenly we found ourselves moving about with a smooth, tough to penetrate protective coating. A new element added to our defense, and a welcome addition it was.

10 minutes away from our destination: Bus stops. Doors open. 3 new “passengers” join us and start plying their wares. Bus lurches, pitch starts. There’s nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. Their use of over-polite English is almost as rude as the pushy, in-your-face manner in which it’s delivered. As if all the “please sir’s” and “excuse me sir’s” and “over here sir’s” cover up and distract me from the 3” distance between our faces. The gap closes quickly, filling up with rotten breath and suspicious, world-weary too-good-to-be-true offers. Bus jolts, teeth grind. Questions fly like a shit storm; All of these “where are you goings” and “what are you doings” and “where are you froms” rain down upon us. It’s the same old tactic: Answer nothing, divert eyes, avoid any dealings with those trying so hard to deal. Side-step the finders and seek out the found. By trying to get away, you’ll find that you can never really get away, no matter how deep or how far you go.

Let’s talk touts. Imagine yourself surrounded by frantic, shouting liars. Men desperate enough to sell you a story or their sister. Whichever might give them a chance at surviving another day. These are men of chance encounter who rarely encounter chance. Men with nothing to lose. No rules, no morals, no boundaries. These are men dying to make a living. Men dying to live. Men I might have some respect for, some empathy, even sympathy, if I wasn’t the one they were lying to, if I wasn’t the one they were trying to get over on. These are the men that turn the trusting, naïve traveler into a distracted, suspicious, defensive tourist by leveraging doubt and fear into intimidation. These are men we could all do without. All of us but their families, whose lives depend on the intimidating hard-sell that awaits us all in small towns around the globe.

Bus Stops. Doors open. Game on. My eye’s are wide open but refuse any contact. “Find bag” becomes a momentary mantra. Push through the motion showing no weakness. Scowl, posture, “find bag.” Scrubby men hover all around, every space on the horizon filled with bobbing heads and raised hands. It’s 360 degrees of desperation. No peace at all, everywhere I look. All of them appear to be representing The Royal Chitwan Tiger Jungle River View Rhino Lodge or The Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave? No thanks dude, I’m in Nepal, I’ll come and go as I please. 

I find my pack flying overhead, tossed recklessly from the roof of the bus. The sharp edge of something tears a nice groove into the flesh of my palm as I struggle to pick up my overloaded burden. Sweat streaks my brow, stinging my eyes with yesterdays dirt. “Bag found.” Focus. “Find Jessica.” It’s tough adjusting to the arrival chaos. You forget that they were waiting for you all morning. The time you spent staring out the bus window daydreaming, was time they spent awaiting the possibility you provide. A tout might have spent all week dreaming of the cold hard cash you might be willing to part with. Most are quite determined to see the dream through. A sure detriment to any hope of success.

The scene swirls. This is the eye of the storm, and it’s not so calm. Heart pounding, struggling with my pack; “find Jessica.” Focus. And she appears, trailed by 5 or 6 new friends, then departs quickly to freshen up, leaving me to guard her bag with nobody guarding my back. I can feel the vice tightening and I have no wagons to circle. It’s then that the shouting starts. A shout here, a shout there. Here a tout, there a tout, all of them shout, shout, shouting. It’s all over but the fighting. 

Overwhelmed with rising panic, I raise my hands and ask loudly: “Have any of you heard of the law of diminishing returns?” 

More shouting erupts: “Yes sir, me sir, I have…” 
“My place sir, free ride, no obligations, many returns…” 

I lower my hands: “The more you shout, the less I’ll respond folks. The quiet one gets my business, it’s as simple as that.” 

Again with the shouting: “Me sir, I’m quiet, very quiet, my place quiet too, come look, free ride, looking is free, very nice…” 

And it just don’t stop. No sale. Kick dirt, wait for Jessica, work on your million-mile stare. These daily battles will wear you down until you’re wearing a cold-heart on your sleeve for all to see. Desperate people learn to posture with the best of them.

Jessica returns, parting the crowd with our sinister savior in tow. All we wanted was a ride into town. No stops, no sales pitches, no bull-shit. That’s all we asked of anyone; No free rides, no free looks, just a ride. Plain and simple. Easy money right? Right… So we go with the first guy that says “Town Only.” Jessica made sure, she was very clear about our request. Asking, checking and double checking: “Town Only Right? We want Town Only.” Right, no problem. “30 Rupees”. Decision made. Hope, faith and the daily balance; too much caution and care and you might never make anywhere. 

So we’re off, the four of us, in a vehicle loosely fitting the description of a Jeep. Four new friends. Driver, tout, tired tourist and sick & tired tourist, bouncing along, looking around, straight through the river and right into town, and except for the continuing pitch, the questions and bits of local information tossed at us, we had no reason to believe we were headed anywhere else. Town here we come. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, nowhere near town, the driver makes a sharp right turn away from the road. Town my ass. Shit. The Jeep lurches down the driveway of the first Hotel we come to: The Royal Chitwan Tiger Jungle River View Rhino Lodge. I notice The Hotel California right next door, and laugh. I can feel Jessica boiling next to me. Here we go…

At every stop and every turn. In every town and every country, they always addressed me first, under the impression that I was in charge. Not very perceptive. 

Tout turns: “Sir, if you would please, my place is new, just have a look, no obligation, look is free…”
Me: sighing, ground down and ready to go. “You Lied!” I said. “This isn’t town.” 
Jessica: growling, steam rising, not pleased at all. “We made a deal, you said you would take us into town, no stops, no bullshit.” 

Game on. Friendly eyes breaking contact. Friendly folks breaking contract. And it just don’t stop. Seriously, some people enjoy this and sometimes I just don’t get it. It becomes easier to accept but harder to understand. The upper hand is always up for grabs. 

Tout turns again: “Please sir, just a look…”
Me: grumbling , fumbling. “Fuck no! You lied to us. Let’s just pay them and go.”
Jessica: outraged, exploding. No! I’m not paying them shit unless they take us into town That was the deal. If you want the money, you’ll take us into town.”

Not a creature was stirring, not even a tout. Surprised again by a sudden stand-off, a close encounter of the 3rd world kind. People can starve in these stalemates. Silence will kill the deal. Seconds that feel like minutes pass by. Don’t move, don’t speak, wield what little clout you can muster to try and save face. Whatever that means.

Driver turns, breaking the silence: “I’ll take you. ”60 Rupees.”
Me: head in hands, slowly shaking.
Jessica: counter punching. “No, 30 Rupees is the going rate.”
Driver turns, eyes returning, coming back: “30 Rupees each!”
Jessica: parries, thrusts. “No! 30 Rupees is the going rate. Take it or leave it.”
Driver shakes head, unsure of his next move.
Me: a month of anger spilling out; The ugly American rearing its head: “Fuck this! You lied, you’re a liar. We don’t have time for this shit. Fuck you 10 times, thanks for the ride. You lose. Let’s hoof it Kitten.”

I hop out of the jeep, pack on shoulder with Jessica close behind. Both of us fuming and a bit frantic, we kick a few chickens and head out, heads down, quickly covering the last half mile into town. The farther we traveled, the funnier it was. Here were four people trying to survive a difficult situation by misrepresenting their services and themselves when the truth was easily accessible. A free ride is a free ride, emotional warfare or not.

We ended up staying at The Royal Chitwan Tiger Jungle River View Rhino Lodge, but they’re all called that. We were in the one NOT next to The Hotel California

Public Transient / Pulling People From My Hat

I've been traveling the same tracks every day, at roughly the same time, for over a decade now. I see the same people on the same tracks, every day, at roughly the same times. Some of them stand out. Most of them do not. I make mental notes on those that do, knowing that at some point we just might collide. There is a young man that I’ve noticed for quite some time. It’s hard not to, his presence is a visual magnet, the attraction, unavoidable.

If anyone is going to snap, it’s going to be him. He sputters along with a thin veil of tension, throwing facial tics and fits at strangers. Initially I would see him during my morning and afternoon commutes. He was always wearing scrubs of some sort and carrying a backpack, giving the appearance of a medical student, or intern. But over the past year his scrubs have been replaced by a Raiders jacket and brown pants, giving the appearance of guy who is used to being consistently let down. Year after year after year. I only see him in the afternoons now, usually 2 or 3 times a week. Dirt has begun to cling to the high points of his landscape. Erratic behavior becoming the norm, replacing what used to be the lurking potential for weirdness.

I’ve witnessed a half dozen bizarre verbal assaults on wary and weary passengers. Nothing vulgar mind you, but still intense, confusing, at times nonsensical. Once, grabbing at and missing, then demanding an empty plastic water bottle be handed over to him from a harried tech-bro. He got his prize, but not before being vocally put in his place by his victim. Crushing the bottle and quickly shoving it into the pocket of his Raiders jacket, he jumped off the train at Civic Center, stood on the platform looking around in a panic, stopped, glared at the train and waved his hand dismissively, shaking his head in disapproval. Another time, after emotionally grabbing onto the arm of a bewildered man in an overcoat and spouting off an unintelligible plea, he turned foot and ran half the distance of the train car, threw himself into an empty spot next to a horrified middle aged lady (who retreated into her iPhone, pretending that nothing was happening), doubled over with his eyes squeezed shut as tight as humanly possible and pinched the bridge of his nose with a scary intensity. Then began to rock a bit, back and forth, almost imperceptibly. There is obvious pain, somewhere deep in his psyche. He maintained this pose from 16th Street to Glen Park, where I exit.

I’m just trying to get off of this train alive every day. At the very least uninjured and uninvolved. I have 40 minutes to make it from my office to get my daughter from school, and that’s really the only thing that matters to me. I don’t pray, I see no point in it, but I do hope, and I hope that when this cat snaps I’m not around, because I’m afraid I’ll have no choice but to get involved and I really, really, really want no part of it. I just want to commute in peace, so I pull my hat down low, slouch a little bit, and feign disinterest.

Yesterday he was at it again, stalking the aisle, picking up trash then tossing it aside. Making guttural moaning noises at nobody in particular. The entire train tensed up, most of them looking away, not confident enough for the challenge of eye contact. You should never make eye contact right? Right. Only I can’t help it. I’m not going to shy away or be intimidated. If he’s going to come at me, I want to see it. I’m already ready. I’ve been ready. Ready for what? Fuck, I don’t know, ready for anything I guess. Ready to protect myself. He lurched by, noticed me watching and immediately diverted his gaze, because apparently the eye contact thing works both ways. I turned to watch him go, followed his path to the doors that divide the cars, and made damn sure he went through them and didn’t stop to come back. The next stop was mine.

As I exited the train, I turned right, right into him as he turned left. I rolled my eyes with teenaged annoyance and settled in to dance the dance of avoidance. I shift left, he shifts left. I shuffle right, he shuffles right. Gritting my teeth, I go into my best urban juke-move. He extends an arm, taking me by surprise, putting his open palm to my chest and pointing at my head with his other hand. I quickly pushed him away and stepped back, trying to find my balance for whatever would come next. Six hundred and twenty three thoughts entered my mind at once. Yes, I counted them. But the only thing that came from my mouth sounded something akin to: “…’the fuck…?”

“Your hat,” he says, pointing at my head again. “I like your hat.”

And that was it. I muttered a rushed acknowledgment, and scurried off, relief flooding my psyche, but also fueling the silent browbeating going on in my head.

My hat, he liked my hat. At the very least we had that in common, because my hat is fucking awesome. It’s a brown Kangol tropic player stingy brim, and really, there’s not many hats around that can compete with it. It adds instant street-cred to awkward white guys like me. I certainly didn’t buy it as a way to attract compliments, and had I known it would do just that, I might have thought better of it, but as it turns out, it’s kind of nice. Two weeks ago a little old lady stopped in front of me while attempting to step up onto a bus, looked me in the eye, and said: “I just love your look…that hat really sets it off.” Which prompted me to offer her my hand and help her up and on to her seat. That exchange, that most human of human moments, would never have happened had my hat not been doing its job up there, covering my furrowed, tired brow, and expanding bald spot. All I really want is to be anonymous, which I am for the most part, but there are times when standing out is unavoidable. There are times when the hat stops becoming me, and I become the hat, its very nature the antithesis of mine, not discriminating against crazies or diminishing the distinguished, both covering myself up and inviting folks in at the same time.