A Lib Confesses

A Lib Confesses

I’m an NPR guy, okay? Yeah, I got beat up by the bike rack in 7th grade, earned my stripes like the rest of my lot – by being ill-advisedly sympathetic at the wrong time (see Homebuilders Association of Northern California versus the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp). The bully, who I’ll here call JK, had kicked poor little big-butt Tony Matthews so hard in the ass during a soccer game in PE, the force had actually lifted Tony off the ground. I’d reacted spontaneously and unwisely, earning my adolescent “Bleeding-Heart-Soy-Based-Bonehead’ creds by briskly hollering at JK and eliciting from him a promise he would meet me after school. “Naw, we don’t hafta meet,” I’d actually said in those first panicked seconds of sobriety, attempting to de-escalate. Think that worked?

Stingray in the Stingray Day

When after last period I went to retrieve my Stingray with its sparkly banana seat and faux-wood-knobbed 3-speed stick shift (litigiously positioned to bludgeon my groin in the event of even the most minor biking mishap), JK was there grasping the handlebars of my beloved. This weasel-faced bully was about half my size and so homely I found myself actually pitying him (see?!) in the seconds before his surprisingly practiced fist introduced itself to my left cheekbone. Could I have taken him? Yeah. I could have taken him for a short run by fleeing like a panicked rag doll. But I knew he and his two minions would quickly catch and thrash me with renewed vigor. That’s right, he was backed up by henchmen, or henchmiddleschoolkids, more precisely, though to me at that moment they looked like grown bruisers with police records. While the two assistants stood in the background smirking with their arms crossed, JK struck me in the head once, twice, Three Times a Lady. There was no ceremony, no verbiage, just a dreamlike minute whose sweep-second hand took its sweet time rounding the face of my cheap ‘takes a licking’ Timex. POW! two three. POW! two three four five six seven……hoo boy glad that’s over the future pessimist exulted…..POW!!!

The blows fell with a stunning blunt force that to my utter surprise did not mimic the slappy-sounding, easy-to-shake-off punches one saw on TV all the time. I vividly remember thinking, as the punctuated jabs landed with the sickening sound of skin smashing into skin; “Shit! This is nothing like I imagined!” From that moment on I understood that were I recipient of a Kojak or Mannix-quality beating in real life I would likely not survive it, let alone straighten my collar and make out with a beautiful woman afterwards. Huh UH. The next day I walked into Ms. Stone’s math class with a face so swollen my cheek stood out in my peripheral vision, a nagging omnipresent reminder of my humiliation the previous day. “Hey, what happened to your face, Wing?” JK chided when I walked in, and from the back of the classroom Tony Matthews giggled with the rest. An early dose of The Bitter Medicine. I looked shamefacedly at Ms. Stone and the concern in her beautiful eyes made me love her anew. But that’s another column.

Mug of a Carpenter

Later that same emotionally misbegotten lifetime, I of course became a member of NPR; the broadcast maypole around which we mercy-dispensing Libs delightedly prance in our forest-green tights. I love NPR. My ex-girlfriend (read: wife) and I pledge to them semi-regularly, and in pitiable dollar amounts insufficient to earn us the coveted NPR Grail, or mug, as it’s known to the unwashed. I depend on NPR’s deep reporting, interestingly unpredictable interviews, and frontline real-time dispatches to help augment my world view, which is informed by the twin lights of mercy and fairness.

Having said that, I can tell you that when I turned on my car radio the other day and the NPR team were murmuring soporifically about salad or human rights or some such, I reflexively punched the AM button for escape. Sometimes the radiant self-congratulation of the NPR gang makes me want to go out and shoot an endangered Snail Darter in the legs. There, I said it.

The Left! Look at us! (those of you who are sick of looking at us, look away) No wonder JK beat me senseless by my newish Schwinn! Was it this quality of mercy that so strained the Romans that they simply HAD to beat up our Guy? Oh, and speaking of Christ, how did the ‘Left’, whose goofy public policy positions actually reflect New Testament teaching, lose Christ to a Conservative movement that has not only armed the Lord with a machine gun, but seems to crap on His less-advantaged sheep with impunity? I’ll tell you how. It’s a little something called Freedom; a much-maligned and tactically abused concept. Freedom is a cult here, I would suggest. It is safe to say the U.S. is beholden to a cult. Do we need deprogramming?

How May I Help You?

My friend David, with whom I discuss much, once asked me out of the blue, “Do you think the Socialist experiment in Europe has been a success?” It’s one of those Great Questions whose discursive answer-seeking can sum up so much. As I said to David that day, “…it depends”. What does our race want? What are people for (all thanks to Vonnegut) and how shall we address this exalted animal? How shall we comport ourselves in this dumb, brutish life, whose pageantry includes both creme brulee and slow beheadings? Shall we build elaborate systems to ensure that no individual goes unfed, unsheltered? Arguably, yes. In the U.S. , where Modern American Liberalism is practiced (vs Classic Liberalism), a microcosmic outcome of this seemingly sensible and Christ-like philosophical practice is the awarding of a little tin trophy to every kid on the losing soccer team. Yes, some of us see a merit-based reward system as barbaric, or at least unnecessarily hurtful to the little boob who can’t kick a ball when it’s right in front him, and should be taught that ineptitude can also be rewarded, and handsomely. Or should the goal of our species be individual excellence? To be superb, a roman candle fulfilling in absolute terms as much of ones human potential as possible in the time allotted, whatever that may be? Arguably, also yes.

What else are we gonna do with our idiot’s eyeblink of a life down here on this meaning-starved wet rock in the middle of literal nowhere? I mean, we got the overcomplicated neural firings, the opposable thumbs, the inexplicable qualia. It’s not like we’re simply very expensive dogs. Having been handed all this largesse by the Big Bang/Giant Bearded Man in a Terrycloth Robe (to summarize the two most popular hypotheses), are we really just supposed to stand down and shade each other from the sun? That’s it? Are we self-actualized, pinnacle-seeking animals, or cosmic social workers adrift in a poetic vacuum, placed here against indescribably remote odds to be at rest, absorb the moments, and see that no one starves? Your answer will depend largely on whether you live in a cardboard box or in a three bedroom house with a mortgage.

Coming Clean

Okay, I’m gonna come clean, as they say (or used to say – and seeing it in type I understand why they stopped saying it): I get Conservatism. At least, I grasp their once doctrinaire embrace of Freedom as an undervalued social compact whose role in history has been that of a golden thread weaving in and out of a shit-smeared burlap onesie. I do understand the inherent common sense and actual human glory that inheres in the Every man for Himself model. In the heat of an argument I once yelled at my conservative nemesis that the U.S. has a “cult of Freedom”, by which I meant we hold people hostage to the idea of Freedom, and in policy debates consider top-down systemic attempts to alleviate suffering a blow against absolute freedom. What good is this double-edged Freedom if it doesn’t help anyone who is suffering?

Eugene Delacroix-La Liberte guidant le Peuple

Lady Liberty’s wardrobe malfunction scarcely registers as she leads the revolutionary French in Delacroix’s famous painting

True Freedom can be shown to leave people worse off, from a public policy standpoint, when Freedom is invoked to push back against government policies that seek redress for the helpless. Seeing Obamacare’s mandate as a blow against Freedom seems absurdist on its face. Christ in his mercy would surely have forced such an issue in the interest of decreasing suffering. The Lord didn’t give a shit about anything but saving people. But, this Freedom thing; it is the natural state of affairs in the universe, like gravity, the weak nuclear force, and so on. Does it exist apart from or somehow loftily above our questions about suffering? Is it a Golden Thread?

 

Bible-Thumping Darwinists

It’s a fact, oft-noted, that the Conservative aspirational model that posits a human life as a pinnacle-seeking enterprise is simple Darwinism (tactical Bible-thumping aside). And that is not to denigrate the term. Still another name for it is Freedom (yawn). Does an animal in the wild give up his taxi to the wheezing guy next to him when it’s pissing down rain? Nope. Is that a bad thing? Only if you’re the wheezing guy with walking pneumonia. Contrary to the religious posturing that is anymore an essential amino acid in the GOP’s political DNA, the party that champions individual accountability and liberty (within the party’s own curious limits, it must be said – wombs and pills still fall under the Heisenbergian “both wave and particle” purview of Freedom’s High Priests) is the party that favors the Shaggy Ol’ Laws of Nature as a design for living. And they don’t even like animals as much as we snuggly Libs do! Can you imagine a platoon of Republican PETA militants angrily breaking into a cosmetics lab and liberating the helpless test beasties? If you ever see that happen you can bet the rescued Maybelline rabbits will make their next appearance on a rotisserie being brushed with clarified butter.

Libs are philosophically the opposite and apposite. They want to lend a hand to the poor, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed; a decidedly anti-nature way to go about things. Animals in the wild are as free as freedom gets, and they screw and eat each other with thrilling/disgusting abandon (respectively). So it’s a little odd how feverishly Liberals venerate the natural world given their total abandonment of that model when attempting to retool civil society as a Play-Doh equality factory.

The Paragon of Animals

Big Bill Shakespeare described a human being as “The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.” We are probably that. Oughtn’t we, then, encourage one another to stand and fight with all our exalting means, and not succumb? I’ve taken my shots at Conservatism, have gotten hot under the collar just looking at the way their chins interact with THEIR collars. And they are a fat, slow-moving target at a glance. But I think I do understand that the heart of TRUE and unpolluted conservatism is not contempt for the poor and the downtrodden, but contempt for a culture that doesn’t see them as the Paragon of Animals but as lost ninny children who will never find their way.

A Conservative can be the most ardent humanist you’ll ever meet in this regard. And I get it. Homelessness and hopelessness and poverty and the desecration of the human spirit – these are real, misery-sowing, ongoing diseases that need a dose of burning disinfectant. But awakening the latent immune system inside a human individual, arousing the army of antibodies placed in us to overwrite our weaker nature and to buttress our better one – surely this is part of the cure, if only a small part. Yeah, we’re only animals. We’re not beings of light, but we have a strange capacity for renewal that isn’t explicable in the Darwinian model. We have the ability to incandesce.

Freedom Isn’t Boring and May be a Two-Faced Biatch

It does come down to Freedom, I’m afraid; an uber-American noun so laden with baggage it looks like an Eastern Airlines scab on Skycap strike day. Freedom? Haven’t we long since become bored silly by that numbing word, inured to its deeper, almost religious meaning by the stupidity of today’s polarizing shitheel discourse? Today’s Conservatives champion “Freedom” but many of them throw the word around so recklessly it amounts to disrespect for what is a sacred state of being. Take for instance the “Freedom Fries” the House of Representatives cafeteria began serving in place of French Fries when the Gauls had the balls to equivocate at the U.S. decision to lay down a generation-screwing dose of shock and awe on the already massively f****d people of Iraq. I mean, Freedom Fries?!

I don’t know that King John at Runnymede had that kind of semantic b.s. in mind when he momentously (if a little reluctantly) signed that piece of parchment in 1215. Freedom is not an invention, and neither a discovery. It’s like oxygen. But here in the States, where it is as ubiquitous as actual oxygen, “Freedom” has the same spoken narcoleptic firepower as the words “beige” or “Jimmy Fallon”. Freedom is the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and Dr. King’s defiant march from Selma to Montgomery, and is absolutely central to every incandescent quality that makes us unique among the animals, that makes us human. Freedom isn’t an optimizer in a speech. It’s an element of the biosphere the “lower” animals don’t even notice. We’re higher animals, though. We owe it to ourselves to notice.

The Crackers and the Lorax

So, Conservatives? I understand that not many of you are raging bags of homophobic racism, but a few of you are. Dump your crackers in the public square, they’re screwing your mission. And your patriarchal ovum-diddling. WTF? Freedom, right? There is no Half-Freedom. For our part, maybe some day soon we Libs will stop glad-handing the Lorax, Dr. Seuss’ mustachioed, forest-defending cuddler that pit family members against each other for a time in the Pacific NW where the demonized logging business put food on many many families tables. Kids were suddenly questioning their parents’ working in the devil’s business, sawing down trees and upsetting the Lorax. I have yet to meet a Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp or laudably ancient tree that merits starving out a hardworking family of human beings. We’re the paragons, not that dumb little cross-eyed shrimp. Time and the universe stretch out forever. The shrimp will be back, as will the tree. Let’s get real.

Final nagging note to Conservatism from a smug Liberal weenie. You’re right – the Freedom of the human being may qualify for Grail status, and all barriers to its hegemony should be thrown aside. But Freedom isn’t curbed by government policy that reaches out to the dispossessed and downtrodden, those imprisoned by circumstances. On the contrary. Policies that alleviate suffering give thinking Hobbesian animals the possible respite they require to avail themselves of the graspable rungs of precious Freedom’s ladder. To put this in awkwardly scriptural terms, the means to grasp Freedom is to Freedom itself as John the Baptist was to the Savior. Just sayin’.

 

a hideous sibilance

ctygwxcv2lsn8igcs2zs

So the guy in front of me orders his accompanying sandwich sauce, and it’s that sauce I absolutely love, but whose delightfully tangy flavor I have long since had to forgo. The sauce has a name that can’t, or shouldn’t, be spoken aloud without blushing, so potent and spiritually crushing are its delicate, sibilant particulars, its phonetic suggestion of fey, doomed humanity. We didn’t claw all this way up from the trilobite just to stand in a little line and delicately ask that Sweet Onion dressing be applied with a squirt bottle to our Black Forest ham sandwiches. Did we? Who wants to be illuminated so strikingly on the Sad Mortality Radar? So I order mayonnaise now. The word is comparatively robust and plain, despite its sounding, on repeat murmurings, like the name of a little French village with a water pump in the town square. ‘Sweet Onion’ is an inapproachable sauce name so alive with sibilance it collapses the Moment.

“Sauce?”

“…mayo.”

But this guy in the line ahead of me – he just says it without stammering or blanching, because he wants it on his sandwich. As if that’s reason enough. He just wants to taste the sauce on his sandwich, never mind that he has to pronounce the sauce’s name aloud to our common shame. He would rather have a great tasting sandwich than his pride. If only it were that simple.

For him though, this knapsacked specimen with his neck beard and staring inspection of chilled lunch meats through curved glass, it is that simple. There may be a lesson here. He isn’t afflicted with the crippling self-awareness that hobbles the rest of us when we are ordering sauces or buying chewing gum or shirts. What a grinding mockery our sauce orders invite! Our little sandwich predilections, the watchbands we lean over and choose with such deliberation, our carefully sat-through new haircuts and the mirror our beauticians hold behind our new hair or behind the reflected image of our new hair, so we can make sure that, even where our eyes can’t go, the hairs are arranged correctly and cut and shaped correctly, these micro-trunks of cracked dead protein sprouting out of our fool heads, so that people whose eyes CAN go there see what we are paying to have them see. Who do we think we’re kidding?!

“Sauce?” asks the wall-eyed kid in his visor.

“Sweet Onion,” the guys says, seemingly without hesitation. My skin jumps once and begins to crawl in earnest. I grasp the vestigial little ledge that is offered, like succor, by the Subway set designer. Who in his right mind would say that? Move on to another sauce, you dumb brute! Hearing the sauce-appellation spoken aloud I feel the tingle, the icy straight-pin piercing my groin. I’m about to double over. Who are these people who can say ‘sweet onion’, just like that, without a helpless, grand mal shudder? Who are these freaks? I ask you.

song for us

pugmug

When he boarded he saw in his familiar annoyed periphery the Beautiful Teenage Typical, already looking off with her studied thousand-yard stare, her paralytic nonchalance. ‘Yeah, I’m Beautiful. It is my misfortune and I can’t unlearn it now. I have seen it in the helpless puppy eyes of the boys since fourth grade recess, where it startled me at first.  I’ll have nothing to do with you now but a masked drinking in of your helplessly flung gamma.’ But he brought his iceberg zeal to the demonstration, as he had done for a lifetime, since Lisa devastated Tony. He took his seat and opened his book without looking up. If you are beautiful you have been furtively glanced at enough already. This will be for your own good. I can see it on your expression of studied indifference. Rewarding you with even a glimpse would be pouring gin down the neck of a furniture-smashing golem. Awkward girls and boys with dated hairbands and tucked-in shirts bought off the wrong rack, they are the prize, you are the wallpaper. Your carefully arranged, traditionally attractive sphinx-face is as thrilling as a spiral notebook. I’m still on fire, still on fire, I believe you broke me that day, and in the many days after that day. In Mrs. Petrie’s third grade lunch line at Clark Elementary in Cheyenne we waited in blanched sunlight and you told my penurious friend Tony, my quiet buddy with the always-mussed hair and worried expression, the farm kid, you said that of all the ink-clumped mimeographed recipes shared through our weekend assignment, his was the worst. ‘We tried your Breakfast Cookies and they were awful.’ Tony looked down and away, horrified. He’d worn the same checkered shirt all the previous week, the hem shiny and frayed with wear. Your macabre attack was an air horn in a stilled chapel. My scalding blood sprayed into my head and I saw stars. What did she say? Someone can say that? I looked sideways at Tony, his eyes brimming, and I crushed my beige circular milk ticket in my shaking right hand oh god! oh god I could have killed you, Lisa! I could have maimed you! In too many dreams that year I lunged at you, madly clawed your beribboned hair, your self-satisfied little face, your beautiful little ferret face with its cheekbones and haughty forehead. If you’d taken a shot at my mom’s Angel Food Cake recipe at that moment I might have torn you like a phone book. Rage at all the well-built assholes who criticize our Breakfast Cookies! ‘Well-Lisa-we-tried-your-cake-and-it-was-terrible!’ I bleated in cracking girl-voice, a Tourette’s attack that seemed to gush from someone else before I knew I was saying it, I could not believe these goings on. And you said ‘Ha ha! My recipe wasn’t for cake, liar.’

defecatory mayhem and spirit beings

gods, hear me

I was standing in a public restroom, frankly, whistling ‘Mrs. Robinson’ through my teeth while self-consciously dispensing a repurposed cup of recent Earl Grey. Without warning or preamble there issued from a closed stall at the other end of the room an amazing basso profundo blast whose endurance and brief series of modulations almost mimicked primitive speech. In the echo chamber of the lavishly tiled room the sound reverberated like the report from an elephant gun. I stopped my tinkly winkly in momentary shock, heard a sharp intake of breath followed by a muted sigh of what sounded like surrendered frustration. This closeted unfortunate had hoped to mute Gideon’s Trumpet and so be surreptitiously about his business. He would deliver the flowers then slink out of the little booth when his peeled ears told him the coast was clear. We all know that at any given, panicked moment, I Am The Only Human In The World Who Defecates. We are at pains to keep this weakness a secret. ‘If the others find out I crap it’s all over!’ etc.

The brief rolling echo subsided and I silently commiserated. Those among us brave enough to void our solids in public restrooms are a nervy lot, and count on a certain element of stealth and a kind of secrecy to see us through the ordeal. The horror is of course only partly cultural. Animals in the wild are most helpless when hunched backwards over their processed steak tartar and the predator is programmed to strike when the prey is prone this way. It is physically very difficult to run and defecate at the same time, your Indian Fry Bread Incident at the Arizona State Fair notwithstanding. Nature knows this and many of our brethren in Darwinian steerage are overwhelmed and consumed while themselves in the process of unpacking their own recent meal. This is an aspect of the Circle of Life that Disney won’t likely ask Ms. Dion to describe in song.

I continued my tinkly winkly and hoped to assuage and screen my fellow human’s distress with a concealing bit of water music and some mercy-flushing. I would lay down a bit of urinal white noise that would put this desperate and already humiliated shitter at his ease. I reached for the silver handle, so like the sphincter-taunting joystick of a damnable airplane, and another sudden and prolonged blast roared out of the closed stall. It was literally extraordinary. This one sounded like an angry vole trying, with desperate tooth and claw, to free itself from a snare that had captured it about the neck. For about 20 seconds the strangling vole clawed and howled, louder, louder! Let him go, for God’s sake! When this soundscape ended it did not do so with a bang, but petered out into a long, whistling, defeated Cminor chord; the vole’s death song. The sound was positively inhuman, and it broke the spirit of the musician who loosed it.

“God I’m so embarrassed!” he yelled from behind his closed booth door, surrendering everything.

A miracle! Part of me wanted to rush to the stall, flatten my palms against the gunmetal and hiss “We’re all in this together!” “We’re only human!” or maybe “I also crap!” But I didn’t. His outcry, though – what a wonder. An oath to heaven from a momentarily enlightened little animal in deepest space. Why are we so terrified! At the end of all this crapping-in-secret, kissing our sleeping kids’ heads when they’ve become too leggy and self-aware to allow it during waking hours, watching in delicious awe as our spouses grow older, taking our parents’ hands for the last time, making heat behind locked doors, awkward and strangely thrilling periods of onanism (as the Bible says, ‘Jacob I loved, but Onan I really really loved’) and bouts of weird grief and looking backward; what do we have? We have it all. We have it all right now. Why can’t we know it? The present tense is for fools and glory. Why be bashful? Why self-edit? There’s no time. When a guy jumps out of frame by yelling out how revolted and shamed he is by the yowling of his own ass, he is beatified.

Gas. On our one family trip to the local planetarium years ago, the lights went down, the sonorous recorded voice began to yammer, the ceiling miraculously became a night sky. The stars began slowly to wheel and in the awed hush my adorable toddler turned to me and said in his loud girlish voice, “DID SOMEBODY MAKE A POPPET?”

Emancipation Declamation

Image

Our Honda died. She was euthanized, actually.  No. She was towed away as an unmoving derelict. 72 hours, folks; keep your cars on the move or the City kidnaps. The punitive expense of buying our hobbled dear out of impound compelled us instead to sell to our friendly and honest longtime mechanic. He would make some repairs and give her the semi-active retirement she deserved. I last saw her parked in front of his garage on that side street in downtown Goleta. I was in that neighborhood running a work errand and glimpsed her as I passed that block. Her pursed little Honda mouth didn’t change expression but I felt her trying to move when she saw me. I got misty then stopped myself. Keep driving, dumbass. Her final symptoms; indecipherable and always burning Check Engine light, dangling side-view mirror wrapped in two pattens of duct tape, AirBag warning lamp an overfamiliiar Christmas-colored bauble on the instrument array, oil leaking everywhere and amazingly without cease, a sort of automotive Hanukkah.  The car in its prime was a loudly spectacular totem of middling-class and middle age; the dreaded White Station Wagon. She had finally as many miles on her as the u-turning Apollo 13 Command Module, and was sometimes as smoke-filled.  I was sad to see her go. We become attached to our cars, yeah. The grills become grimaces, the headlights eyes, malfunctioning seat belts the saddened, panicked grasp of a death-bed jalopy. I won’t miss waving to friends out the window of a long white station wagon, though. That I won’t miss.  So we’re a sudden one car family.  It’s taken some hasty getting used to. Now I take the bus, yet another window through which you won’t find me excitedly announcing myself on arrival. Being a bus rider, though, does make me more fully human. Oh, and more attractively urban.

This morning the ride rattles, lurches, bumps, hisses. What holds the bolts in place on these juggernauts over the years? I look deliberately down the length of the bus from my seat near the back; the Mike Nichols shot at the end of The Graduate as Hoffman and Ross’ smiles fade and they realize the dawning fucked present.  As my ride chugs and grunts and turns through the mean streets of SB, the expressionless, staring whole of the passenger list dazedly sways like sea grasses with the stiffened twisting progress of the thing.

A large black man in a worn blue jumpsuit always sits in the same spot and is mildly affronted to have this new interlocutor, me, drop into the adjacent seat for the 4th day in a row. Calling him a ‘large black man’ raises internal alarms as I write, not sure why. That’s just the deal, I guess. If you know why it’s a little jarring to write large black man, let me know. If you are a large black man you may be particularly qualified to school me on this one. I can be taught.

He seems interested in the stupid little challenge of our personal spaces intersecting, a Venn Diagram to celebrate the 50th of the March on Washington. I plop down every morning with my laptop and girlish little lunch box, his draped arm dangles partially and deliberately into the space between us, bemusedly, it seems, though he remains stone-faced. He shifts his arm every morning, minutely and ceremonially, a centimeter closer to me, demonstrating both his situational awareness and his general ascendance over my blanched, white, culturally lightweight little ass. I infer all this from an arm.  The man seems to have more specific gravity in the bags under his eyes than I do in the whole of my bantamweight being.  This is a form of White Envy, though there is nothing historically to be envied. Is there?  The Oppressor gets his comeuppance by being shown, finally, to have only a European dandy’s paper-thin Beau Brummel costume to show for his bloodied efforts, while his formerly defeated charge gathers an unstoppable strength and rises and rises on the column of righteous fire, and moves his arm at will on the number 11 line.  My obeisance to his strength smacks lightly of yet more inescapable racism. How? Because he’s a sleepy hardworking guy in a jumpsuit and not a glowing totem of endurance born to accrue lavish heaps of my chickenshit praise.  Right? I imagine if he knew what I was thinking he would be disgusted with my busy array of romantic presuppositions. My prejudices, I guess they’re called. Or he might find it flattering and ennobling. There. Another layer of shellac for you, sir. If you could wear my overwrought thinking you’d need another cane just to get you to the door of the bus. I wouldn’t daydream such majesty into a white guy in a blue jumpsuit on the bus. Why not?

I sometimes see a large group of African-Americans gathered laughingly, I would hesitatingly say ‘joyously’, before a church on the near East side, downtown.  The sight of them milling about and laughing and leaning into each other on a sunny Sunday morning outside this handsome, demure little wooden church makes me envious and inexplicably excited and happy. Another species of racism, a gladdened broad-brush tone poem that finally insults through a refusal, or simple inability, to individuate.

Across the bus aisle two peeps are asleep,  one in a ‘hoodie’ (freighted), the other a small attractive brown woman the beautiful color of a polished walnut (dare I), maybe middle aged, in an inevitable-seeming brightly colored shawl, her lustrous hair pulled back, the skin of her face smooth and beautiful, her blue jeans threadbare where visible. Her ears are predictably and disappointingly plugged with ear buds while she sleeps, the white wires trailing. Apart from that she could be straight out of a Diego Rivera painting, expressionless and indomitable, doubled over in her colorful shawl, a huge undefined hump of nourishing Marxist encumbrance strapped plainly to her bent back. But she’s not expressionless here on the bus. She’s beautiful.  The  properly tuned academic will see my gazing for the subjugating Colonial-Think it can’t help but be, a rattling of chains.  Does a small brown woman in a colorful shawl have to be a symbol of third world struggle?  Are small brown peoples always bent under bushels of grain? No. Many of them are surely CEOs, Corporate Raiders, Divorce Attorneys, Thieving Hedge Fund managers and such, and some of these well-to-do will have found a way up and out of the sometimes grinding penury that defines their fellows. They will have grabbed the brass ring, entered the First World orbit at that laudable remove from the poverty-stricken natural order.  Better to live in comfort than in wholeness. Everyone wants comfort and the argument that the disenfranchised may be aspiring to something that is actually beneath them; it’s a specious, racist point of view. People just want to be comfortable. It’s a fact.

Then at one of the stops a young handsome Latino guy gets off the bus in his dangerous-looking baggy clothes, ‘shorts’ down to here, voluminous white t-shirt, knee socks like Bruce Jenner wore in the 70s; the loose-fitting uniform of a brawler, I imagine, the flying fists and jabbing knives unrestricted by the tailoring that, in another reality, would make this handsome guy an Armani model. I guess he doesn’t want to be an Armani model.  As he passes my seat I can see a longish line of blue script on the back of his bobbing head, above the occipital ridge, can just barely make out the blue tat script through the translucent scrim of shaved hair. He passes and the tattoo is lurking on the back of his receding head like a warning, a finger waggling a threat to the staring masses as he pushes daily through an ongoing little clot of cowards. At least that’s how it seems to my silly awed witness.  He exits the bus with a fitful hop and sees a friend. With big beautiful smiles they hoist their hands in that long drifting preamble to the Handshake, hang their hands at chest level for 5 or so seconds, palms down, as if to say “Hey, my little cousin Carl is only about this tall!”. Then the hands fall together in a sudden, fluid and complicated series of twists and bumps and sliding, then a brief, spartan full-body embrace. I realize I’m staring through the bus window at all this and feel even more diminished. Compared to that Knights Templar handshake, street-esprit de corps and manifest commonality of purpose, what do I have? A tight t-shirt and bald spot. Then, hoisting their backpacks, the guys hustle down an oleander-choked passageway alongside a nearby building, and are gone. Florists, model airplane enthusiasts, aerospace engineers. Butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. I don’t know shit. In the absence of knowing I presuppose something like this; danger, pain, a warrior spirit. Through no personal experience of same. At all.

One night over dinner Stella queries us about a sweeping new definition of racism she picked up on the playground. At first recess that day one of her friends solemnly informed Stel that her parents had laid it all out for her the night before and the essence was this; simply noticing that someone is black is itself racist. Try hard not to notice. Built into that idiot proclamation is the inference that ‘black’ is a pejorative, and that being put on high alert not to notice something actually works. The poor child is being raised by sprinting cowards. One could get a nice tan from stupidity this radiant. We loudly shout to Stella that her friend’s guardians are dim-bulbs. While our cultural quarterbacks try to move the ball in the direction of a character-driven, colorblind society, the little girl’s folks and many many many of her desperate, race-horrified ilk are rooting for actual blindness. That may be the end game; a gouging out of the senses. Kind of a reverse burqa. You can’t judge what you can’t see.

With eyes closed we’re all the same curious stumbling ahistorical dimwits, but living with eyes closed is screwed. Our kinda-cute if-not so-death-and-misery-dealing melanin obsessions continue to maim the world, and artillery rains down on the hapless, and chinless frightened little men sneak out in the evenings with the wife’s ironing and by firelight call themselves Grand Wizards and so on. We’re a riot. And we’re all clods. Agreed? Sorry about that kidnapping and murder thing, and sorry we continue to fuck up. You do, too. But I guess we’re still owed that. It’ll take some time for the imbalance to redress. How long?