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Name Drop!

More to come later, but here’s the short version of last week’s excitement. The fine folks at Ulysses recently sponsored a writing contest to celebrate Disney’s Flora & Ulysses. I entered, and was one of ten finalists in the shh…not telling yet group. The winning entries are available now on their blog, and if you’re the kind who needs proof, you can see my name at that same address. They should be publishing the remainder of the entries in the next month or two, and I’ll provide an update when mine is available.

Categories
Politics

Good Riddance

There was an article in The Atlantic recently titled, “Trump’s Presidency Is Over. So Are Many Relationships.” There’s a lot in it that resonated with me, in particular the following:

“If we fundamentally can’t agree that Black lives matter or that people have human rights to be protected and respected…that is a very different divide than, ‘We can’t agree about trickle-down economics.’”

Unfortunately, that’s as hard-hitting as the article gets. For the most part it takes the tack of “why can’t we all get along,” and “should who you voted for matter so much?”

Yes, it should. And it does.

These relationships are not falling apart because Republicans lowered taxes on the rich. They’re falling apart because Republicans have become a fundamentally bigoted, authoritarian cult. Look at the GOP’s 2020 platform, which boils down to “Whatever Trump says! 👍 Do I need to trot out the “fine people on both sides” thing again? Or sharpie gate? Or the half a million dead people from COVID? Or gassing people for a photo op? Or the January 6 invasion of the capitol? Or Qanon? The revival of Jim Crow laws? What they’re doing to trans people? The list is horrific and seemingly endless.

I would argue that as painful as it might be, it’s good that these relationships are ending. Think of it in terms of Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. There are beliefs that should be considered beyond the pale, and if friend or family espouse them, cutting them out is the only moral thing to do. They are not “people you disagree with.” They are bad people.

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I got jibber jabbered

(No, this is not the thing I hinted at earlier in the week. That’s still coming.)

Got my COVID vaccine shot this morning, thanks to Chandra. Let’s be honest, left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine until it was required for work. Not because I don’t think it’s important, but because adulting…is not my strong suit. Plus the whole needle thing, about which I remain a big baby. True fact: as the nurse was preparing the injection, she remarked on how they kept the room on the cold side, while all I could think was, “Man, is it hot in here?”

Anyway, Chandra got her jab a couple days ago, and we both got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so we’re done except for the waiting. It’s only been an hour & a half, so I haven’t been hit with any side effects yet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that whatever I get will be mild…and in a couple weeks, game night!

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Whee-eee!

More later. Shh-hh…secrets.

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*sigh*

Looking forward to the “who cares about COVID”/”OMG WHY DON’T THEY DO SOMETHING ABOUT COVID” version of this that we all know is coming. 🙄

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So How Was YOUR Friday?

A rough approximation of Friday's path of destruction

I was still working through my morning email when there was a loud “BANG” in the house. Thinking the cats had done something spectacular, I ran upstairs to find Chandra already on the phone to 911, and a flatbed truck smooshed up against the house. The path above is not 100% accurate, but it’s as close as I can gather. In particular, the first couple vehicular hits are probably not in the right place, and Chandra says the dude plowed through our yard twice. There’s more about the incident on the Fall River Reporter.

We’re fine, the cats are fine, as far as I know all the vehicle occupants are fine, and the house should be easily enough repaired. Our Friday was pretty much shot, though.

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This is an “I Can Read” Post

Because this is about all I have the mental energy for today, for reasons big (that truck) and small (Tr***). Over the summer, I designed and printed a little paper holder for one of those tear-off paper cubes. It has a pen holder, and a slot where I can drop the slips of paper. I keep it on my nightstand, and use it to keep track of the books I’ve read…because why not. I’m sure somewhere out there, Mrs. Millen is thinking, “Great, Jason. Why didn’t you do this forty years ago?”

Anyway, it only covers the latter half of the year, so there’s a bunch of stuff not included in it. The first couple date ranges are estimates. I used orange for purely prose works, and green for graphic novels and comics. The items in red I couldn’t get through. Mr. Moore, if you’re out there, don’t take offense at how I got distracted from your novels. I just found Shakespeare for Squirrels hard to get into, and it was just bad luck that From a Certain Point of View arrived when it did. I’m a sucker for those collections.

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Categories
Fiction

Scary Dating Stories

It’s mid-morning on a Sunday, and a group of friends are having brunch at a popular spot downtown. The plates and bowls on the table haven’t been cleared yet, though they are mostly empty. Conversation has briefly paused while a waiter finishes topping off everyone’s drinks. Mimosas for the ladies, and a Bloody Mary for Doug. Mark has nothing.

Once the refills are done, Kate says, “In honor of Halloween, how about we share our scariest dating stories?”

Lauren shoots eye daggers across the table at Vanessa. “Did you put her up to this?”

Vanessa grins into her mimosa. “Maybe.”

Doug scoots his chair back and announces, “I think I’m going to get some fresh air. Mark, you want to join me?”

“Dude, it’s forty degrees outside.”

Doug gives him a look that says, do you really not see where this conversation is going? He gives Mark about a second and a half to register this, then says, “I’ll be out on the patio if you want to join me,” and leaves.

Vanessa is by now grinning from ear to ear. She says, “Okay, I’ll go first. Stalker, restraining order.”

Amanda and Tracy follow next:

“Attacked a work friend. Restraining order.”

“Roofied. Restraining order.”

Mark stands up abruptly. “You know what, I think I could use some fresh air, after all.”

The women at this point are in a groove, and barely acknowledge him. Heather chimes in next. “Told me I was the love of his life on our second date, blah blah blah… Restraining order.”

Kate looks around the table, confused. “These aren’t really stories. ‘Blah blah blah’?”

Vanessa dismisses her concerns with a wave. “Shhh, it’s okay. We’re getting to the good part. Lauren, I believe you were next?”

Lauren offers a feeble protest. “You’ve all heard this story multiple, multiple times. Do I really need to tell it again?”

Everyone around the table agrees that yes, she absolutely must tell this story again. 

“And no shortcuts,” orders Tracy.

Amanda chimes in, “Because we will know.”

Lauren takes a deep drink from her mimosa and begins. “Fine. So I had been seeing this guy for a while, nothing serious. We had come back to his place after an afternoon movie and dinner. I had parked my car there earlier and was going to go home, but he invited me inside first, and I figured it was still early, so why not. He pours us both a glass of wine, and then asks if I mind if he ‘takes off this monkey suit.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I mean, he’s the one who decided to wear a coat and tie to see some old B-movie, but whatever.”

“What was the movie?” asks Heather.

“’Invaders from Mars.’ This guy was super into science fiction.”

Tracy snickers, “Ooh, foreshadowing.”

“Can I continue? So anyway, he’s gone for like, fifteen or twenty minutes. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s forgotten I’m there, when all of a sudden the lights go out. At first I think it’s a blackout, but then I see all the little red and green LED lights are still glowing on the TV and stereo. Some kind of whirring sound starts up down the hallway, and I’m like…what the hell? Then a super-bright light starts strobing out in the hallway, and I see fog billowing out of it. A shadow appears, and then there he is, dressed in costume. He’s got a fake head on that’s bald with giant black eyes, basically your classic grey alien look. He’s got weirdly long knobby fingers, and must be wearing platforms of some kind, because his head is practically scraping the ceiling.”

“So it’s like a full body suit then?” asks Vanessa.

Lauren shoots back, “Do you want to tell this?” 

“No, no. You’re doing fine. I’m just interested.”

Lauren spares a moment to impale her friend with a few more optical daggers, then continues. “No, not a full body suit. It had the head and arms, whatever he had on his feet, but the middle part…well, there was no middle part.”

The only person hearing this for the first time, Kate gasps, “He exposed himself?”

Tracy pantomimes a hand job and cackles, “Take me to your beater!”

Ignoring this, Lauren continues, “Yeah, so he shows up like, I don’t know, Gort or an extra from the X-Files, his junk completely hanging out. Which I should say, that part took me a while to realize with the lights and everything else. Anyway, he raises one of his weird alien hands and declares in a really loud voice, ‘Be not afraid, earthling. I mean you no harm. I merely wish to learn more about your strange ways.’“

“Oh my God, what did you do?” asks Kate.

“Well, at first I just stared. All my brain could muster was, ‘wha-at the fu-uck is happening.’ But he just stood there with the lights flashing, fog pouring into the room and his hand raised like I’m supposed to take it. I don’t know how long he stood there waiting, but eventually I just figured fuck it. My calendar’s clear tomorrow, let’s do some alien autopsy.”

Vanessa adds, “Plus, long knobby fingers.” Lauren shrugs.

Kate at this point is vigorously shaking her head. “Uh uh, nope. I would have run away so fast I would have punched an outline of my body in the door, like Wil E. Coyote.”

“Okay, so we go to his bedroom, which is thankfully not strobing like the hallway, but he’s got it lit in some sickly green color. He doesn’t lay on the bed, he just stands there. With the mask on, I can’t tell what he’s even looking at. I’m trying to figure out what to do next, when he points at my chest and says in that same loud voice, ‘The females on my planet have three breasts.’ All I can say to that is, ‘Yeah, I just have the two, sorry?’ Then he says, ‘Everything on my planet is in threes.’ At this point, I look him up and down trying to figure out what he’s talking about, because all I see is one head, two arms, two legs, his chest is covered in latex so who knows what’s going on there, and then the standard bait and tackle. I say, ‘You mean your internal organs?` So then he slowly moves his hand to his junk, and lifts up his pecker to expose his nuts and says, ‘You may inspect yourself, if you like.’”

Everyone watches with glee as Kate throws her hand over her mouth and whispers in horror, “No!”

“So I grab it, or them, and sure enough, there are three of the little buggers in there. I blurt out, ‘What the hell? Are these real?’ He’s so proud, he drops out of character and says, ‘I got an implant. It’s usually on the bottom, or in the back. It’ll be just like having sex with an alien. I even have mating jelly.’”

“Wait, ‘mating jelly’?” asks Kate.

“Yeah, I never did find out what he meant by that. So anyway, at this point I’m not even thinking sexy times, but I am definitely checking out what’s going on down there. I’m squeezing it trying to figure out if it’s plastic or silicone or what, when the thing pops out of my fingers.”

“You broke it?” asks Kate. 

“Not…exactly. As best as I can figure, it squirted free and pinballed around in there, punching his real testicles like speed bags. All I know is, all of a sudden he’s screaming, he takes a step kind of sideways and kind of backwards, loses his balance, falls over and smacks his head on the nightstand, which knocks him unconscious. That’s when I pretty much Wil E. Coyoted out of there. He never called me back.”

Vanessa raises her glass in salute and says, “God, I love that story.”

Lauren took a sip of her own mimosa and asks Kate, “So, what about you?”

Stunned, Kate says, “Oh, uh…my last date told me I reminded him of his mother.”

Everyone around the table shudders in horror as Vanessa signals the waiter for refills all around.

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Juneteenth

Let me start by dispensing with the idea that Donald Trump had anything to do with my awareness of Juneteenth. As always, when that ding-dong says “Nobody knew,” what he means was it was news to him. I will readily admit that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Juneteenth as a holiday, but I’ve been at least dimly aware of it for a while. However, this is the first year I’m actually doing anything for the holiday.

The reason I’m observing Juneteenth is two-fold. First, with everything that’s going on in this country, it seems important to mark the end of slavery in it…or more precisely, the moment when the last group of Black people were told that slavery had been abolished. Second, like any holiday worth its salt, Juneteenth is providing an excuse to gorge ourselves. In our case, we’re pulling out Weaver D’s cookbook tomorrow and are trying some recipes from it. Automatic.

I should also note that Brown University has recently decided to make Juneteenth a paid holiday, which doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to be part of an organization that whatever its flaws, does seem to be trying to do the right thing. They are encouraging us to take this as a day of reflection, thus my sitting down to try and think some things through.

So. White people are the worst, amirite?

*sigh* Not helpful, I know.

Let me try to structure this a bit. First, how have I personally been affected by, or benefited from racism? Second, what can I do to move the ball forward in ending/correcting it?

There’s an image I’ve seen floating around recently. I pulled it from a page on White Supremacy from the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice, though they are not the original authors of it.

There are a few concepts here that I recognize. “Colorblindness” and its variants are one. I couldn’t pinpoint when I wised up to it, but I do remember in college believing in the notion of “I don’t see color.” Another one that pops out is “Fearing people of color.” Yes, I recognize the conflict in that. Had you asked me when I was nineteen if I thought color mattered, I almost certainly would have said no. At the same time, I know damn well I consciously locked the car doors going through certain parts of Kansas City. This is where my time at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman University) served me well. The combination of having a Black roommate for a year, a couple well-chosen history classes, not to mention being exposed to Spike Lee films all helped to open my eyes, at least some.

There are other items in that pyramid where I honestly don’t know if they’ve affected me. Housing discrimination is at the top of that list. Growing up, did we benefit from discrimination, or did it cause us to live in a segregated neighborhood? Maybe? I don’t remember our place in Independence, but our first house in Liberty was on the edge of a heavily Black neighborhood. We moved a few years later to a different house, where I can’t remember a single Black family living. Was that de facto segregation? Similarly, as an adult, have we been steered away from “bad” neighborhoods that were historically redlined? Again, I don’t know.

I do want to focus on “Police Brutality” for a moment, and tell a small story. This is one I’ve told before, but recent events have put a new spin on it.

Back in June 1998, I was working with NCTM on their Standards 2000 project. At the time I was just finishing up a graduate degree in Instructional Systems Technology, and I was part of the team building the new web site. There were some working meetings in the Bay Area, I think Oakland, and I was flown out there to participate. I forget how long I was there, but it was several days at least.

While I was there, a new Prince CD came out (Newpower Soul, if you’re wondering). There was a CD shop down the road from the hotel we were staying at, so I looked up directions on MapQuest and during a break I walked down there to pick it up.

Halfway there, a cop jumps in front of me, points a gun at my face and does the whole “freeze, hands in the air!” bit. Except he actually said something more like “hands behind your head.” I have a distinct memory of being aware I was doing the wrong thing even as I did it, then having to correct myself. Anyway, he made me lie face-down on the sidewalk while he checked my wallet. Then he took me to a police car parked at a gas station nearby and made me sit in the back while some woman around the corner they didn’t let me see had a chance to tell them whether I was the guy who had assaulted her. The whole time as my heart is racing, I’m either explaining that I’m an IU graduate student or trying to figure out whether I should call the hotel or Chandra, who was back in Bloomington. At any rate, the woman must have said I wasn’t the guy, because they let me go and I got my Prince CD.

Now at first, this seems like just a random police encounter, and a case of mistaken identity. But let’s unpack some of it. To begin with, while I found the whole thing alarming, I never felt like my life was in jeopardy. As a White child, my parents never had to give me “the talk” that so many Black parents have with their sons. Second, think back on all the stories of Black men (and women!) who have been shot dead by police for such things as reaching for their wallet, holding a cell phone, or performing some other innocent action. Remember when I said the cop wanted me to do one thing and in my confusion I did something else? What are the odds that had I been Black I would have shot dead on the spot?

Okay, so I can come up with some examples of white privilege, racism, whatever you want to call it. I don’t feel like this affects my daily existence, but maybe it does, and either way it’s certainly there. The next question is, what can I do to combat it, to be anti-racist? Sadly, I don’t have a good answer to that. I can work to better educate myself, and I’m doing that (book club, anyone?). I can give financially, and both Chandra & I do that, hopefully where the funds can do some good. Hopefully these things help, though it doesn’t feel like much.

What I suspect could be the most impactful is also the most difficult, and that’s talking to White people about racism. The problem is the same one that we’ve all been dealing with since at least 2016 if not before, and that’s White People Don’t Listen (#notallwhitepeople). If you know a Trump voter, you know a racist. Hell, if you know a Republican, you know a racist. I can (and do) talk about this stuff with people, but they’re not the ones who need their minds opened up. Sure, there are always things we don’t know and can share, but ultimately most conversations I have around this are preaching to the choir. The White people I know in that racist camp? They don’t/can’t/won’t hear it. That’s the nut I haven’t been able to crack, and I expect will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out.