Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I was driving down a long stretch of Western Kansas highway. It was the kind of drive that grants me visions. To the side of the road, I saw a man walking. He was wearing a backpack and was carrying a wooden cross over his shoulder.
My initial response was cynical. "Another Jesus freak. I wrote a story about one of those guys for a paper in Oklahoma 20 years ago. Same story."
I'm so ashamed now to see how detached I'd become from that life loving youth with the insatiable curiosity. But that's what I am now, though I'm trying to walk back a little, to find that something galvanizing in myself and all the life that surrounds me. I work a job. It's a wagon I'd never hitch my star to, a box where I'll never be a star, a cold place. I accept that I'll never be a company man even though life would probably be easier if I were. I can change some things about myself, but I can't change who I fundamentally am.
Then I heard a voice in my head
Go to him
I'd heard that voice before. I knew to listen to it. So I turned on a dirt road, parked my car in the dry Western grass and walked forward, toward the man. As we inched closer to each other, I could see he was wearing an LA Dodgers baseball cap, faded jeans and a black T-shirt, being in white letters, the words, "We Are One."
"How's it going?" he said, calling across the space between us.
"Well, thank you," I answered. "How 'bout yourself?"
Initially nervous to make his acquaintance, I found this bearded T-shirt wearing man in faded carpenter jeans, light cross beams slung over his shoulder, to be inviting.
"Jared Cassidy," he said, extending his hand. "Jeff Guy," I said, reciprocating.
We made small talk. He told me he was walking from New York City to San Francisco. The end of the continent.
"What's the significance of the cross," I asked.
He told me how he'd gotten off a plane from Los Angeles to New York, walked into a Fifth Street Ace Hardware, asked to borrow a power tool and a man with cross tattoos on his arms and the words, "Jesus Saves" showing on the T-shirt behind his work vest held the beams while my friend drilled the pieces together. He was carrying it on his walk across America.
"The cross is a symbol."
Of what? I asked.
"Peace, unity, harmony, all of us coming together. I'm a Christian, but you know, once you start labeling, it causes divisions. There's just so much political rancor and cops killing people, people killing cops, people fighting over religion and sports."
"I see," I said, inquisitively.
"But the thing is whether you believe in his deity or not, Jesus did a noble thing for mankind."
"Listen," I said, "I have to be somewhat clandestine about my job, but I'll just tell you, I work for an underworld writing society. I give myself assignments, looking for American beauty and that sort of thing. Is it okay if I write your story and take a picture for our files?"
"Sure, my life's an open book."
"Mind if I ask how old you are?" I said as I steadied my camera phone at his standing figure.
After snapping a few pictures and making small talk with the man, I figured I'd better split before I wore out my welcome.
"Well I don't want to take up too much of your time," I said.
"I appreciate that."
"But I wish you peace on your journey."
He walked on and I turned a corner with my car.
I wrote a blog, elucidating just what I thought of people who voted for that racist pig. Then it became like Civil War. "Why are you being so hateful?" a dear member of my family asked me.
"So when your dad posts his Hussein Obama shit, it's just an old man engaging in his hobby, but when I tell how I feel, it's hateful?" I said. "You have a double standard."
I posted what I thought was an innocuous message about peace and inclusion, but the people on the right and the left fought over it on my Facebook wall. A guy I'd been friends with since 7th grade -- well, that's all over. "You're a puppet for the left who believe anything the (sic) leberal media puts in front of you," he wrote. "Think for yourself. There's a media conspiracy. The media lies to you, my friend."
"You're outa here, you sonovabitch," I said and blocked him from ever seeing my Facebook again.
He was no big loss, but my family. God, my family -- I love them like nobody else. How do I reconcile it? I don't think I'm wrong for writing my feelings about the whole Trump fiasco, but I don't want my family to think I'm hateful and I don't want my liberal friends arguing with my more conservative family members on Facebook.
I hadn't been to church in weeks. In my travels, I'd attended a church where someone said something that pissed me off. We read a Bible verse in the Sunday school class:
He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? -- Jeremiah 22:16
"I admit, I'm judgmental," the woman said. "You see the same poor people coming back time after time and I'm like, 'What are you doing to help yourself?'"
I became incandescent. "I've read the Gospels. Jesus was helping people all the time and he never asked, 'What are you doing to help yourself?' Hell, Jesus was itinerant, probably homeless. He relied on the kindness of strangers. He said himself at Matthew 25:35 'I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.' You ever had to live hand to mouth? Have your suburban Jesus, I'm outa here," I said and stormed out the door, ignoring their pleas for me to stay.
Now here I was weeks later. After all that happened, I needed spiritual rejuvenation. Weeks of travel had went by. And I was finally back where I felt safe and real in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s). I went to the one church where I felt free to by myself, Community Crossroads Church off State Street. The pastor, Kyle Whitman, and I seemed to have some rapport and I liked the way he shared a name with Dick Whitman from Mad Men and the poet Walt Whitman. Kyle digs Nadia Bolz-Weber, the author and tattooed pastor of the House For All Saints and Sinners in Denver so I decided he was all right.
Sandy, the liberal children's Sunday school teacher hugged me when she saw me in church. "I feel like I have someone on my team."
Blake, a 60ish man in the class, said, "How 'bout a prayer for Donald Trump who won the majority vote for President?"
Sandy and I looked uneasily at each other.
"He didn't win by a majority," Kyle said. "He was declared winner by the Electoral College."
"Well you can say he won by a majority through the Electoral College," Blake said.
"I wouldn't though," Kyle said.
After taking all the prayer requests -- for people in the hospital, for people to find jobs, for the president-elect, Kyle bowed his head.
"Lord, we know there are differences on this election even among people in this room, but let us remember that we're all here as one for your kingdom. We pray for our leaders to have wisdom because that's what you ask us to do."
We read from the sixth chapter of Second Kings about a small miracle in which a man retrieved the ax he had dropped in the Jordan River. I thought about small miracles. Jared, the man carrying the cross, told me after he'd given money to poor people with signs, other people had come along and given money to him for his journey.
"The Lord provides," he said.
In our area of Western Kansas, the pastor of a small town Methodist Church had given him a place in his church to shower and sleep for the night. Funny, it was a Methodist Church where I'd gotten mad and walked off, but this pastor -- I think Jesus and John Wesley would be proud of him.
I'm happy I talked to that guy, glad our paths crossed. I feel precarious and unsure of my future, but I guess we'll get through life and I'll hope for peace --
as i walk
on my journey
"One Toke Over the Line" -- Brewer and Shipley
Thursday, November 10, 2016
I went to bed early on election night. I was certain that when I woke up the next morning, Hillary Clinton would be the President-elect. There wasn't a doubt in my mind. It was close, but at the end of the day, Americans would do the right thing.
Arch-conservatives in my family would be mad and say the country was lost, but I was eager to say the country was moving on, that people weren't going to tolerate small-minded bigotry and bullying anymore, that we could accept that people other than white males had rights.
I remember lying in my bed before getting out, anticipating that Clinton won the election. At around 6 a.m. I woke up, turned on my laptop, googled the name Hillary and the words "Clinton defeated" followed. News stories popped up, saying Donald Trump won the election. I was flabbergasted. I felt like I'd woken up in an alternate universe, you know like some place where the South won the Civil War and Germany won World War II. This kind of thing happened in sci-fi novels and dystopian novels like "1984" and "Brave New World," not in real life. Never in my worst nightmare, did I see this coming.
"Way to fuck yourselves, America," I said. I was irate that people voted for him. We all know what he's done, that he said racist things against blacks, Hispanics and Muslims, that he encouraged violence at his rallies, that he wants to build a wall, that he paid no taxes, that he's having a bromance with Vladimir Putin, that he insulted the parents of a fallen soldier, that he mocked a disabled reporter, that he threatened to put his opponent in jail, that he joked about sexually assaulting women and may have actually done it. They knew all this and still voted for him.
Maybe that's why they voted for him. You don't have to go further than Facebook to catch all the cruel, racist things people say. They reveal who they are on social media.
The people of my country let me down. Let the world down. The world looks upon the United States to be a leader, but how can we ever be taken seriously again? We're telling the world, "This is who we are."
Yes, Clinton won the popular vote. By a razor thin margin, 45.7 to 45.5 percent. (The Electoral College put Trump through.) But it should never have been close. I agree with the progressive Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans: "That the election is this close is an indictment on our country."
I have to identify Evans as a "progressive Christian" to differentiate her from the evangelicals who have given Christianity a bad name. By voting for Trump, they have proven it was never about Christian love with them. It was about power. They love authoritarian figures. Marginalized, oppressed group, my ass. They're about control. Their power is contingent upon their oppression of others -- people of the wrong religion, wrong sexual orientation, wrong country, wrong language, race or political party. The lie has been exposed. What you have done in darkness has come to light.
David Duke is celebrating. Best night of his pathetic life. Hispanic and Muslim children are afraid. Some are being bullied in school. But a bully is what America wanted. You got your president with balls.
Trump voters, you have taken America back 50 years. Indeed, 50 years ago, you would have been against Martin Luther King and for segregation. Many of you would have joined the lynch mobs. Had you lived in Germany 80 years ago, you would have supported Hitler. Yeah, you took America back.
We're a sick nation in need of a healing. We may have to pay and pay for our sin of giving a stamp of approval to an oppressor, which is in the family of sins upon which this nation was founded -- slavery and genocide.
Remember, if Trump takes us to war or hurts people in any way, blood will be on your hands.
Making America Great Again
Sunday, November 6, 2016
5:30 a.m. this morning. I was out walking through a nice, tree lined neighborhood in Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s.) I have white male privilege, I can do that. It would have normally been 6:30, but the clocks got turned back, meaning we have another hour of this election. (I voted last week.) Good family-looking houses align the dim sidewalk and leaf-scattered lawns. Signs in the yards read "Trump/Pence, Make America Great Again." It's all I can do not to cross out some words and write "white again." After all, that's what they really mean. But that would be wrong. They have a Constitutional right to express their stupid, racist opinions. I'm obligated as an American to respect that even though I hate everything they're about.
At around 6 a.m. I stop in Schnierheizen's Donut Shop for a glazed donut and a cup of their delicious coffee. The coffee drinkers are sitting at their table. One of the old guys is wearing a Hilary for Prison T-shirt. He'll probably wear it to church this morning.
I sit alone at my own table and observe them.
"I don't care what Trump said 10 years ago," one of the old farts says. "What man hasn't talked about pussy. He would've never said that if he knew a tape was rollin.'"
"You hear Hilary's involved in some devil worshiping scandal, some orgy with menstrual blood, semen and urine?" one of the men says. He's wearing one of those Make America Great Again ball caps. "I read that on Alex Jones's website."
Alex Jones, the whack job who called the Newtown shooting massacre of first graders a hoax instigated by the liberals who want to take your guns. You know, like climate change is a Chinese hoax.
"I heard there's some sex trafficking or pedophilia thing goin' on with the Clintons and that goddaman foundation where they steal money from people."
"If Kilary wins, we'll all have to learn to speak Arabic."
"I'd rather shoot first."
Second Amendment remedies, Sarah Palin called assassinations.
"Had eight years of that Muslim jungle bunny in the White House. Hell, he's the racist,dividin' this country every chance he gets between the whites and blacks. And his wife looks like an ape. Only reason the damn liberals voted for him was 'cuz he's black. Now they're only gonna be votin' for that bitch 'cuz she has a pussy."
I see vulgar terms becoming more mainstream. The election of the first African-American brought the word "nigger" out of the closet. If Clinton is elected, I'm sure we'll hear the words, "bitch," "cunt" and "pussy" more in the mainstream than we do already. Eight years of racism eclipsed by four to eight years of misogyny.
The good Christian Trump supporters
Mr. Chapps, a deacon at the Methodist Church, comes in and buys a few dozen donuts for the church members to have with their morning coffee before Sunday school classes starts. Good Mr. Chapps buying the donuts. On good Mr. Chapps's Facebook page, you'll find he likes, not only Trump, but Ben Carson, Rush Limbaugh and Todd Starnes, a lesser known alt-right conservative commentator who likened the taking down of Confederate flags to what ISIS is doing in Iraq. Mr. Chapps also likes a cute little page with a crude African American caricature and the mocking words, "Does this offend you?" Yeah, I checked out the old man's page. A guy's gotta know these things. My family went to Mr. Chapp's church for awhile and now we know we never want to darken their door again.
Well, the good moral Family Values Christians have decided they want an obnoxious, loudmouth blow hard who brags about sexual assault and is alleged to be a sexual predator ("those women are on Hilary's payroll," the stupid old men say). The charade is over. They never really cared about Christian values like "love thy neighbor." It's all about power with them. Political power. Trump's racism? Hey, the Religious Right was founded on racism. Don't be fooled for a minute into thinking it was about abortion.
(oh, but Hilary has email-gate.)
I'm pissed off at close to half the American population, just as I was pissed off at the people of my home state of Kansas for re-electing Brownback. How can nearly half the country's population back this mad man? Maybe it's because in his racism, misogyny, virulence, love of violence & torture, disregard for democracy and hatred --
they see themselves
here in the disunited States of America.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
She told me she wouldn't last long either.
"Women tend to be more mentally cruel to each other, don't they?" I said.
"Yeah, we are," she said emphatically.
Anyhow, it's not that I want to be in a fight. I was just bemoaning the fact that I'm overweight and out of shape. As for violence, I eschew it. It's everything I'm against.
"When I was in sixth grade, I was in a fight. It must've lasted an hour. Childhood is only easier in hindsight. Today, I'd just write people off, but back then when they said, 'You'll be a pussy if you don't do it,' that got to me. I was in a lot of fights in junior high because I was unpopular."
"Yes, we talked about that," she said, while sitting behind her desk with her computer and files and handy letter opener in the drawer.
I remember being in a fight and a school custodian stopped it, saying fighting didn't solve anything and it was stupid. We acted disappointed, but I was secretly glad because I was losing. That's just a vague memory though. The one that really sticks out was when I was in seventh grade. Me and this kid, Devin Lancaster, had been arguing in gym, our last class of the day. We were serving a volleyball over the net to each other and for some reason, maybe many, we were all pissy to each other.
"Well come on," I said. "Serve the goddamn ball."
"Hey," Coach Gaston barked. "Quit that swearing."
At some point, Devin came up to me and said, "I challenge you to a duel."
It was after school. We were behind some bushes to the north of the junior high building (It's long torn down now. Good riddance.) just past the sidewalk where the hoodlums smoked cigarettes before and after school.
He got the first punch and got a smug look on his face. A few minutes later, he was on the ground and I was winning not that that means anything. I remember looking up and seeing a big group of kids watching, but I don't remember any of those faces except one -- Aaron Doyle. He had a shitass grin on his face. He lived for this crap. Doyle was short, but stocky and and with muscular arms. He was the toughest kid in school and he let everyone know it one way or the other. Anything was a reason to fight. Someone chipped his eraser in math? That was a good enough reason to go fisticuffs. Real high-minded guy with his shitass grin.
The next thing I knew Coach Gaston grabbed my arm and with his other hand grabbed Lancaster's arm. He said to the policeman walking up, "Here they are, officer."
They don't give a damn
The officer talked frankly, but fairly, and a little about life as we sat in the police car, later to be hauled to the police station and picked up by our parents.
"Junior high is your toughest years especially the seventh grade," he told us. "I got in scrapes when I was a boy but later you realize that's not the way mature people settle differences. If you were adults,
I'd have to arrest you for disturbing the peace."
He said something that's stuck in my mind ever since.
"Those people standing around out there watching you, they don't give a damn if you get your nose broke and have to go to the hospital."
No, they really didn't. Fighting and blood and shit -- it was all entertainment for them. Cheap stuff for the likes of Aaron Doyle and his shit eating grin.
"So, how about it boys, do we need to go somewhere and put on the boxing gloves or have you got it out of your system?"
Neither of us wanted to go on. We were sapped of our earlier volatility. I wondered about Aaron Doyle. He'd probably be all up for the boxing gloves idea.
As I got older, I found the people I admired were the peacemakers -- Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus Christ. People like that. I wrestled for Coach Gaston in junior high and high school, but in that arena, a pugilistic contest is an athletic event, "an art form" as Teri would say.
My adult life has been about peace. If I see two people in a disagreement, I'm usually the guy trying to defuse the tensions. This is not to say I've never fucked up and said cruel things to people. To my everlasting regret I have and I've prayed to God for forgiveness.
"I think violence is the coward's way out," I told Teri.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Waking up is an elaborate process for me. I don't just jump out of bed and into the shower. I need some kind of caffeine jolt, something like an injection to the arm. I need darkness & music & alarm clocks that are messed up as to the actual time.
My job entails writing, but it's watered down. I know if I wanted to I could find a portal in the job through which I could write about those things that piss me off and in some small way maybe I have used the key a little to unlock that window, but it's still mostly an insipid world I inhabit. I mean I can't write about everything that pisses me off because there's a script I have to follow, a formula & I've met those conditions smoothly, albeit uninspired.
What pisses me off? Pet peeves? Bad drivers, mostly. But also guys who piss all over a toilet seat. If you're too lazy to lift a fucking seat up first, there's something wrong with you. What if someone has to take a plop? You sit down and there's a bunch of piss all over your ass. What if you're in high school and you're with the wrestling team changing in a girls' locker room before the tournament? You know, they don't have urinals.
And bad writing? I have no tolerance for it. I guess I should be forgiven for being skeptical when someone tells me they're a writer. I mean, sometimes they surprise me by being a good writer. But I've met a lot of people who call themselves writers and maybe they've written entire books, but they can't write for shit. I read something a guy had written the other day and in the first paragraph, he said, "My heart skipped a beat." Why you wanna use a hackneyed phrase like that? A cliche' should never be applied unless it's used for a damn good reason. Mostly it's depressing, a disappointment. I hate bad writing like I hate bad art.
Even good writers can piss me off. Robert Christgau is the self-professed "dean of rock critics" & I find that title so pretentious.
I hate sanctimonious fucks. All these so-called patriots with their priggish outrage because this football player, Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for the national anthem. Do we have a First Amendment right or what? They say they're all about the flag, but they don't know shit about the Constitution. Why aren't they mad about the injustices this guy is protesting? Why aren't they bothered by the offensive stuff Donald Trump says to his rallying audiences? You know, the people who spout "bitch" every time Hillary Clinton's name is spoken, who say "nigger" when Barack Obama's name is mentioned and unconsciously give heil Hitler salutes?
I should get my ass 'outa here. Bitch Day ain't movin' anywhere but forward. Just remember, if you straddle the right lane, you suck.
"Even Flow" -- Pearl Jam
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Bub ran the barbershop for 50 years just like Ray has turned out to do. When he finally retires, as he keeps saying he's going to do, Jayme, the young lady barber working the chair beside his, will probably take over.
Ray is an old guy, set in his ways. A nice guy, but stuck in his time, retrograde and non-progressive except for in the '70s when he learned how to cut long hair. It was two days after the tragic murders of five police officers in Dallas following what had been a peaceful protest. The news reports I read off Facebook said the sniper who did the shooting was not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. People like Ray are still going to associate them, though.
"Just terrible, those five policemen getting killed," Ray said while bent over, looking at the side of my head and clipping the unruly hairs.
"It's a tragedy," I agreed. "I feel terrible for their families. I pray for them."
The five officers killed were: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa and Brent Thompson.
"I tell ya, ya get a bunch of people in a situation like that, blockin' the streets and shoutin,' carryin' signs and it's just askin' for trouble and you got people bringin' their kids out when they should be at home eatin' supper. I tell ya what I think, it's a bunch of hypocrites, all those black people protestin' the cops. First sign of trouble and they go runnin' behind the police to protect them."
"I think they would say they weren't protesting police," I said. "They were protesting police misconduct."
"You talk about misconduct. A policeman tells you to do somethin', you do it," Ray said as my graying middle aged hair fell from his barber's scissors to the floor." That's all they gotta do. Do what they tell you to and you won't get killed."
"Well, yes, you should comply with the cops," I said. "If someone is resistant, however, I think killing is extreme. It should be a last resort, something an officer doesn't do unless he feels his life is threatened."
"It was threatened," Ray said, his voice raised for emphasis. "We need Obama or someone the black people'll listen to to come on TV and say, 'listen, he robbed a store, then he was wrestlin' with a cop, trying to get his gun so he got capped.' And I don't understand why anyone would be recordin' with a phone after her boyfriend got shot. I think those phone cameras are the worst thing's ever been invented."
It wasn't clear whether Ray was talking about Michael Brown, Alton Sterling or Philando Castile. He appeared to have the people and situations mixed up.
Or maybe Ray just lumped them all together.
"Well as I understand it," I said, "that one guy, Philando Castile in Minnesota, was just sitting in his car, doing everything he was supposed to do. He let the officer know he had a permit to carry a gun like you're supposed to do and he was shot."
"I think there's some proof he didn't have a permit," Ray said. "He was reachin' down. He looked like a robbery suspect. What are you gonna do?"
Ray was quiet for a minute while applying Bay Rum to the nape of my neck after shaving it clean. Then he continued on talking.
"Now what I like was that black mama slappin' the shit out of her kid for bein' out there. She was a good one, I'd like to see more of 'em like that."
"I think the vast majorities of protests are peaceful just as I believe most cops are conscientious," I said.
Ray talked about how the protest in Dallas wasn't peaceful, how Black Lives Matter had led to the deaths of the five police officers. I told him I'd read in the news that the protest had been peaceful and was over when the sniper started shooting and that he was not connected with the BLM movement.
"Why aren't they protesting those five officers who were killed?"
"They've condemned the killings," I said. I told him about the images I'd seen on TV of BLM folks and police in Dallas hugging and crying together.
"I think them Black Lives Matters people are responsible for the police killings," the old guy who Ray called Slim said. "They went and stirred up some shit, and they're racist. Hell, we're all human beins' bleedin red. Them cops, them blue lives, don't they matter?"
"Of course all lives matter," I said. "When they say black lives matter, they're not saying other lives don't. I believe they feel black lives have been treated as dispensable, that systematic racism has treated their lives as if they don't matter."
"Oh, I've heard all that shit before," Ray said as he brushed the hairs from the back of my neck . A bunch of cryin' and whinin' and bitchin."
"Always cryin' race," Slim said.
"That's what they always come back to," Joe said as he sprayed Tea Tree Tonic to my finished haircut. "I'll tell you what, you wanna make them protesters leave, just offer 'em a job. They'll cut loose real fast."
I stepped down from the barber's chair, just as Jayme walked in. "Morning, Jayme," I said. "Morning, Jeff. Looks like Ray took good care of you."
"Ray's the man," I said after, shifting a side glance at my haircut in the side of the mirror. We get along great, Joe and I even though he sometimes calls me a "liberal socialist." The old man's been cutting my hair since I was a little kid. He knew I was going car shopping that day, having recently totaled my old car, hitting a deer. I was using a rental.
"You oughta be able to Jew that car salesman down good with a fresh haircut like that," he said.
"Thank you very much for the haircut Ray," I said as I handed him a 10 and a 5 dollar bill. He handed me three dollars back, but I told him he could keep the change. He thanked me.
Sometimes I get my hair cut at the Old Town Barber College in downtown Wichita where I can get a haircut for $6. Most of the student barbers there are young women and black and Hispanic males. I wonder where the conversation would go if they weighed in on the divisiveness between police and African Americans.
I've read how the Dallas Police Dept. has been heralded as a model for the country for relations between black activists and police. I hope more people can come together, but how do you get past all the narrow minds that fuel the trash talk we encounter in barbershops, bars, the work place and all over social media?
It's in the news how BLM leaders and police in Wichita will co-sponsor a barbecue this Sunday. I hope for the best.