Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The guy with the pies

Just over a week ago, there was a story about some guy who bought 23 pies at a Burger King for the purpose of not letting some spoiled brat in the middle of a temper tantrum from having one. Of course, lots of people chimed in...
"I love this man."
"This is amazing."
"A true hero!"
"Bravo sir. Bravo."
"I would have eating it in front of the kid and tell his mom you let you kid talk like that !!!! were did he /she get that from???? hummmm"
I don't want to comment directly on the incident itself; seems like there are questions about responsible parenting and common courtesy at the root of that and I know nothing about either of those concepts.
I do want to talk about some of these comments though, except for that last one because I have no idea what that person is trying to say. The other ones, though. The ones featuring the words "Love", "Amazing", "Hero" and "Bravo"? This is the level to which we have sunken, folks. Where we draw inspiration about making the world a better place from a bitchy little counter-tantrum (if it even happened) committed by someone else, not even something we did on our own. I think that qualifies as aggressively passive aggressive. Hey, troops deployed to Afghanistan and whatever other hellholes around the world; you're trying too hard. Just get somebody to pee in the enemies' drinking water and come on home.
Because obviously the most effective way to teach a child a lesson about indulging impulsive behavior is to lower yourself to that child's emotional and intellectual levels of maturity and then trumping that with cash. There's no way that kid comes away from that thinking that if you have money, you really can do whatever you want.
.

Monday, August 18, 2014

What's YOUR town packin'?

Over the last week, we've all seen what the Ferguson, Missouri, police department is workin' with. Well, check out this video (set to the mellifluous tones of "Die M*therf*cker Die" by the modern jazz combo known as Dope), which until just a few days ago was posted on the Doraville, Georgia (population 8,482), police department's web site (I can't imagine why they removed it).


I'm trying to be a more positive person these days, so I'm not going to worry about the Doraville PD being prepared to deploy military grade hardware on their own citizens, like what's happened in Ferguson. No, instead, I choose to imagine the citizens of Doraville lined along Main Street, all singing "Die M*therf*cker Die" (I wonder if they have that inscribed on the police cars where most departments have "To Protect and Serve"?) together in harmony as this thing leads the annual homecoming parade.

I wish I could go to the park

In my still-new (to me) neighborhood, I live very close to the Hillsborough River. There's a little park there with benches where you can sit and watch the water and the fish and birds and maybe an alligator or two. Fresh air. Sunshine. Very tranquil and relaxing. I wish I could go there.
"What's stopping you? It's a short walk from your house. Go to the park and hang out."
That was a comment from someone who doesn't get it. She doesn't share a point of reference so she can't possibly relate, but I happen to be at that awkward stage in life where I can't just go to a park and hang out. I'm not welcome there. I'm a 50-year-old single white male. There is literally nothing I can do at a park by myself that is not inherently creepy. If something tragic ever happens at a park, the police are writing a description of me before they even interview a witness. Maybe, maybe, if I were few years younger or older, I could go to the park. Or if I were walking a dog or toting kids of some kind, but definitely not now, not as is. Nobody wants to see me sitting there, smiling at their children. Young women in yoga pants don't want to try to guess if they can outrun me (spoiler alert; most, not all, probably can). Guys who do have dogs don't want me petting theirs. There would be people calling the cops if I drive by too slowly. The only people happy to see a 50-year-old single white man show up at the park is other 50-year-old single white men, and even then, it's not for good reasons.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Embarrassed, confused and scared

I'm a middle-aged white man who grew up the son of a policeman in a small Midwestern town whose population consisted almost entirely of black people. Riots in Benton Harbor, Michigan, caused the city to burn in the '60s, the '90s and again in 2003. Abject economic despair will do that. It's not like the times in between those outbursts were laden with milk and honey.
I remember one day as a small child, I was out with my father running errands. We were at a hardware store. A black man approached my dad and engaged him in conversation. "How ya been, how's the wife and kids"-type banter that failed to hold my interest. I stood there, bored but patiently polite as is expected of children, until he left. Curious, I asked, "who was that, dad?" and he replied, "He's somebody I arrested a long time ago." Even as a small child, this interaction struck me. Here were two people that had, at least for a time, been on opposite sides of the law and probably never had very much in common. Yet, they shared enough for them to be able to speak to each other with mutual respect and civility. Without being asked, my father further clarified, "he made some mistakes, that's all."
A few years later, I was still little but dad had worked his way through the ranks and was a detective. However, due to some bureaucratic policies, he had reached a dead end that would hamper his ability to advance and his earning potential, so he quit. I took it hard. I had always identified with the police and had been really proud to be the son of a policeman, knowing that what he did for a living was cooler and more important than what most other kids' dads did. As a result of this turn of events, I pitched a miniature societal rebellion, manifested mostly by rooting for the bad guys in cops and robber TV shows and movies. That never felt right, though, and I outgrew it pretty quickly. Over the years, there have been a few stories about villainous police officers, but for the most part, when cops are portrayed as bad by Hollywood, they're unwitting, misguided, faceless pawns in a grand scheme that's beyond their comprehension and they're mostly just kind of in the way of the real heroes. If they knew what was going on, they'd never take the stance that they do, but as it is, if a few of them have to get knocked around en route to a triumphant resolution, so be it. Overall, I came away from all of that with the belief that The Bad Guys may not always be bad, but that The Good Guys, while not perfect, were always good. I still identify with the police and keep my dad's badge as a proud souvenir today.

That belief was forged a long time ago, but it's been strongly challenged recently. I don't know what to believe as the events in Ferguson, Missouri continue to play out. Police officers, better armed and armored than troops we send into combat, trampling the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens gathering to protest the shooting of yet another unarmed black man. I simply don't know how to process that as a reality.

Growing up where I did, when I did, with whom I did, I consider the social education I received outside of the classroom a tremendous blessing. I had the fairly unique opportunity to be able to experience life as a minority while maintaining all the inherent advantages of being a Caucasian. I can't say that I know what it's like to be black but I feel like I can safely say I know some definite aspects of what it is to be a minority. Growing up under these conditions, I had black friends. My first face-to-face encounter with racism occurred when I was (again) very small. I was spending a weekend being babysat by my grandparents. I went out to play and met two black kids, Petey and Andre, on the block behind my grandparents' apartment. We tore through Andre's house for hours like the maniacs that we were until Andre's mom understandably reached her breaking point and kicked all three of us out of her home. No problem, I thought, and invited the boys back to my grandparents' apartment to play. My grandmother was less than accommodating. She wouldn't let us in and at one point screeched, "They would never let me in their house, why should I let them in mine?". I remember thinking, "Well, no, not now. That's why we're here." I was shocked and embarrassed, never imagining that would happen. Andre's mom hadn't reacted to me like that when I showed up at her door and proceeded to run around her house like an animal. Petey and Andre didn't seem to think it was that big of a deal, kind of like they expected exactly that to happen. That was something I never forgot.
Years later, while in high school and working as a busboy at one of the nicer restaurants in town, there was a night when we were short a dishwasher. Tom, the head chef told anybody within earshot to get somebody, anybody, to fill in. I called my friend Tony, a skinny black guy I ran around with, who had been looking for a job. Tony came in, did fine and was hired long-term. At the end of the night, Tom took me aside. "When I saw a black kid show up, I was ready to kill you. But he did a good job so it all worked out." Gee, thanks... I guess? You're telling me that you were admittedly desperate to fill an opening but you were still almost willing to run your kitchen at a substandard level rather than let a black guy wash dishes? Wow. Also something I never forgot.
During my whole time growing up, I was never once treated by any black people I dealt with (friends, their parents and siblings, adults in positions of authority) the way I personally witnessed my own family members and employer treat black people in those instances. I'm not making any kind of proclamation that one group of people is better than another, these are just my personal experiences. They're things that happened and shaped who I am and how I think about stuff today.

These days, most of my friends and the people I deal with on a regular basis are white. Not because I sought out more white friends when I became an adult. I just leave my door open and see who happens to wander in. It's all just by virtue of who happens to be around, really. Many of these people feel free to say things and ask questions, not knowing that the perspective and influences I gained as a youngster allow me to respond in ways they may not expect. The big one they ask these days is, "Why are black people so angry? All that stuff happened so long ago and I'm certainly not responsible for any of it. What's the point of dwelling on it? Why not let it go and look forward?". My short answer to that is "Why aren't black people angrier than they are?" 'All that stuff' actually didn't happen that long ago. Any black person with gray hair has probably personally experienced some of 'all that stuff' and they're going to tend to dwell on it. While contemplating that, ask yourself why you don't see more black people with gray hair. There are a number of factors. There are people whose opinion is that going forward and getting ahead isn't an option until they have an opportunity to catch up and get even. Not get even as in revenge but as in a level playing field. You can disagree with that if you want but that's their experience and it shapes their view and I don't think it can be categorized as right or wrong. Plus, how can anyone say 'all that stuff' happened a long time ago when what's taking place in Ferguson is happening right now? Frankly, I honestly wonder why black people don't riot more often. Considering the rhetoric I hear from some white people, I wonder if they'd show the same restraint and tolerance under similar circumstances?
Today, I live in Tampa, Florida, where I do not fear the police. I believe our chief, Jane Castor has done an exemplary job and that the officers under her command are well-trained professionals. Probably not all perfect, because that's an unrealistic standard, but overall, people doing a good job. For that, I feel fortunate. Because outside of my blessed little bubble, I question what's going on with the institution on a greater scale. I hate painting with a broad brush, but what's happening in Ferguson indicates failure on a systemic level, not the unfortunate errors of one or two unqualified, ill-equipped officers. It's more indicative of a shared mindset that has little regard for the citizens these officers are supposedly sworn to protect and serve, or their constitutional rights. And why does a small town like Ferguson have so much weaponry, including armored vehicles, drones and state-of-the art body armor, anyway? Also, do you really believe that Ferguson is the only place in America so equipped?
On behalf of my upbringing and what I still feel is a pretty strong allegiance to the police, I'm embarrassed.
As someone who served in the army, having taken a sworn oath to uphold the constitution, I'm confused.
And as I see how we continue to relate to one another after all these years, with what seems like a complete lack of civility and respect, I'm scared.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The truth about the sad clowns


I'll be back next Monday. Have a nice weekend. Seriously. We all deserve it.



"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone." 

-- Robin Williams

Monday, August 11, 2014

An impromptu reading and an unsolicited review!

Remember that time I published a book? Well, that time was then and it's also now because the book is still in circulation. It will ALWAYS be in circulation. Some time in the distant future when my illegitimate half-ape (don't ask) great, great, great grandson is publishing fart jokes three times a week on this site, there will still be a link where people can buy that book!
Recently my friend, the vivacious and voluptuous Vanity Styles, introduced her friend Joe to the book. He apparently really enjoyed it. The proof is in the video she shot of Joe (without his knowledge. Ha ha!) reading from the book ("What's in a name?", page 42, for those of you who'd like to follow along at home) and then pledging to buy a copy for his mom.

Isn't that nice? For me and my relatively modest writerly aspirations of wanting to share funny stories and make people happy, that's just about the best thing ever... although positive reviews posted to Amazon.com are pretty great too (hint, hint).
So get out there and be like Joe and buy a copy of my book for your mom!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Chipotle: Super excited about cheese, maybe not so much about our collective IQ

Wednesday morning, I was on my way into work and I had the radio on because I'm not smart enough to remember every day that I always own an iPod and can listen to music that I like whenever I want. Anyway, an ad came on for Chipotle Mexican Grill and it struck me as unusual. Once I got to work, I wrote them an email (because priorities) and asked them about it. Here it is, along with their response.


"This morning, I heard an ad for Chipotle on the radio and the announcer was talking about cheese and how Chipotle uses it in various menu items. He went to great lengths to enunciate certain words and explain how cheese is a dairy product produced by cows who eat grass, as though he was explaining these concepts to a very slow-witted or stupid audience.
My question is why?
I'm not insulted or offended. I don't even think it's necessarily a bad idea. I mean, we are consumers and it's an indisputable fact that many of us are extremely stupid. There are many successful companies that would have gone out of business long ago if this wasn't true. But it's pretty uncommon for companies to acknowledge this fact, so I'm just wondering what the circumstances behind this current radio advertising campaign might be.
Thanks!"

"Clark,

I'm so glad our ad sparked your interest; that is exactly what it was designed to do. We not only want to cultivate great food, but also cultivate great thought. I am relieved to hear that you were not insulted by this campaign because that was not our intention at all. We are super excited about our cheese because it is so deliciously perfect; even down to where it comes from. Our Food With Integrity mission is at the core of our identity and our advertising campaign is designed to give you a sneak peek.

If you are interested in learning more about why we want to celebrate our cheese, please learn more about our Food With Integrity program on our website: http://www.chipotle.com/en-us/fwi/fwi.aspx

Thanks for having an open mind about our advertisement and we hope to see you in one of restaurants soon!

Sincerely,
Stephanie

Fundraising Coordinator
Chipotle Mexican Grill"


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

More of this, less of everything else please.

Somebody along the way managed to convince us that shopping malls are wonderful. Vibrant, happy places filled with music, bright shiny colors, happy merchants and fresh-faced, smiling shoppers. That person is a genius. An evil genius, because the mall is none of those things. The mall is a dank, loud, sweaty, smelly living nightmare populated with just the worst human refuse imaginable. Any place where there are that many children crying at one time is obviously a place where unspeakable atrocities are being perpetrated. I spent most of Sunday in one this past weekend in spite of knowing I didn't want to be there, because a woman asked me to go with her and of course, I said yes. I'm pretty sure I complained enough throughout the course of the day that I shouldn't have to worry about being invited again.
"Would you rather be watching some sports thing? Is that it?"
"No, it's that I'd rather be doing anything else, up to and including having my eyeballs extracted through my rectum."
I like to try to paint portraits with words.
Anyway, after standing in lines of sweaty, horrible hairstyles, waiting to give money to bored and surly teenagers for stuff that will be thrown away this time next year, and taking a break for "lunch" in the "food" court consisting of congealed, deep-fried orange lumps over rice-like sodium shavings (I passed) and just spending hour upon hour of watching Americans demonstrate every single behavior that makes people hate Americans, I was wiped out.
Amazingly, it took only four minutes of YouTube therapy to turn me around, at least to the extent that I no longer wanted to lay on the floor and pour poison in my ear...