Monthly Archives: May 2020

A mile in their shoes, or maybe just a few seconds

The woman’s tweet recounts something that happened in 1991. She was working and asked a co-worker for a ride home. He was uncomfortable at the prospect.

“You’re a white woman and I’m a black man,” he said. “We’ll get pulled over.”

According to her tweets, he was right.

The officer looked into the car and asked one question. “Are you all right, miss?”

This didn’t happen in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson became the first black man in 60 years to play Major League Baseball. It didn’t happen in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act passed. It happened in 1991, just two years after the NFL hired its first black head coach.

Yesterday, I was called a racist in a church-related setting, solely on the basis of not favoring socialism. It pissed me off and I overreacted.

You can’t quantify the difference between my slight yesterday and what happened to this black man 29 years ago.

I won’t defend the rioting, arson, and looting that’s mushroomed over the last few days. Based on my overreaction yesterday, though, I have no choice but to understand it.

While I didn’t break, pillage, burn, or steal, I did lash out with a mighty, righteous anger, by da-a-a-amn. Because of something a guy said to me on a Zoom call.

I had the luxury to do that, unlike the guy in the car who simply gave his colleague a ride home 29 years ago.

I don’t think you have to be a Bernie Sanders fan to avoid racism. You don’t have to condone the damage being done to the businesses the aggrieved count on. You don’t have to support the rioting and looting.

But you might put yourself in that guy’s shoes in 1991. He literally did nothing wrong, except give a white colleague a ride home. How angry would you be?

And then consider what happened to Philando Castile and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

You don’t have to raise your hand and accept your share of collective blame for everything. You don’t have to purge yourself publicly for being white. This shouldn’t be about guilt.

It’s about, as St. Francis suggested, seeking to understand before being understood.

If we’re all in this together, it’s a necessary step.


Minding your business and living your life shouldn’t be a privilege

I went for a run this morning in the dark, alone, without worrying about anything except hitting my goal. No one wondered what the hell I was doing there. No one threatened to call the police on me. No one knelt on my neck until I died.

Except that everyone else was probably faster, everyone who ran today had the same experience, regardless of race, skin color, or ability to pee standing up.

In terms of expectations, that’s another story.

Floyd George was detained on suspicion of forging a check. When he was killed, he posed no threat to anyone. Some reports say he was struggling to not be placed in the police car. Even if that’s true, police are trained to use only enough force to prevent harm to themselves, the person their arresting, or others. If there were danger, it was gone the majority of the time Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck.

I’m whiter than Drew Carey, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same experience. I can do pretty much whatever I want and no one will call me on it. I take that for granted. It’s part of the world I live in.

For some, that’s called white privilege or male privilege.

I reject those labels. Minding your business and living your life without threats shouldn’t be a privilege. Being treated appropriately by law enforcement shouldn’t be a privilege.

Going for a run without being harrassed or assaulted shouldn’t be a privilege. Watching birds in a park without someone threatening to call the police on you and bringing your race into it shouldn’t be a privilege.

If a bunch of white idiots can invade Capitol buildings armed to the teeth and hang political leaders in effigy and live to tell about it, a black man should be able to live through suspicion of forging a check.

The maneuver police officer Derek Chauvin used to pin Mr. George tends not to be taught and sanctioned by police academies. When it is used, it should be discontinued when the threat is over.

It’s possible Derek Chauvin didn’t do this because George was black. Maybe he views all citizens that way. But in Minneapolis, which has a history of non-violent black men being killed (Philando Castile), it sure looks that way.

What’s certain is that I can go for a run without worrying about anything except my performance. I can experience the freedoms this country has to offer. If I break the law, I can expect appropriate treatment with some care to my well-being.

Call it what you will, but until we reach that point where everyone can enjoy those freedoms, the greivances of those who don’t have that freedom are valid and need to be heard.


Looting and pillaging aren’t acceptable, but stopping it’s a shared responsibility

The protests and anger involving the killing of George Floyd are absolutely justified. But it’s not just George Floyd. It’s Ahmaud Arbery. It’s the guy who asked the woman to leash her dog. And so on and so on.

But rioting and looting? That’s a more complex discussion.

A cop named Derek Chavin allegedly murdered a guy suspected of passing a bad check. That fact doesn’t entitle you to a free item of your choice from whatever business is handy. It doesn’t mean you get to beat the hell out of whatever plate-glass window happens to be handy. Nor do you get to burn down buildings.

When the rioting and looting is over, the people most likely to be victims of crime or police brutality will be victimized again. The businesses where they shop or work will be closed. Many won’t re-open.

Insurance rates will be higher for any businesses that do re-open, which is likely to lead to charges of insurance redlining, adding another layer of distrust.

And yet…the counter argument is that they tried the peaceful way and people keep pushing back. It was a bigger deal when Colin Kaepernick kneeled on a football field than when Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes.

If this angers you more than Derek Chauvin kneeling on a guy’s neck, you need a soul transplant. (Also, benched for Blaine Gabbert.)

President Trump practically dared people to turn violent by saying “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” When you throw a flaming match at a cauldron of gasoline, you can’t pretend you’re shocked at the results.

YouTube’s Uncle Rob, doing a Donald Trump twitter account impersonation

Also consider the element in society that’s drawn to violent rioting like insects to a light. One of the reasons it’s important to identify and prosecute the looters is to separate the angry people who were outside protesting from the troublemakers who came from outside to exploit the situation, either to destroy or to loot.

Most of the people in this picture aren’t rioting.

George Floyd’s murder is a tragedy that strikes deep into the heart of this country. If you aren’t taking a second to try to understand what it’s like to be black when these things happen, maybe you need to think again.

But that tragedy will only deepen as the city is devastated and the limited opportunities that exist there are taken away. Or as people who aren’t looting or pillaging become collateral damage.

While it’s incumbent on people who are outraged to stop short of criminal, self-destructive acts, law enforcement and political leaders are also responsible to defuse the situation.

While criminal justice can never be used as a means for placating a group, all four of the former officers involved should be charged. They should be processed as if they weren’t officers, because they aren’t. And justice must apply.

Accused murderer Derek Chauvin

More to the point, elected officials need to listen to complaints before things reach the flash point. An officer with 18 conduct complaints should be very closely supervised, if not fired.

Low-income high-crime areas are where police presence is most needed. Even with a coordinated effort to listen and build trust, the lines are drawn so deeply that years will be required to establish even minimal trust. Maybe generations.

Killing someone for kiting a check is a criminal activity. There can be no equivocation on that. And why law enforcement should not turn the other way on pillaging, it must act with as much zeal to listen to communities and find way to act in concert with them to reduce the dangers that exist for everyone.


Covid-free Friday: My favorite place in the whole world

My legs were toast that day on our trip to Utah. I’d walked my ass off. Slot canyons. All the way to the bottom of Bryce Canyon. Up a good deal of the Narrows in Zion National Park. I needed a rest.

Laura, my wife, wanted to take another hike.

God bless you, no. I’m taking a break.

We were staying in Springdale, Utah, the village just outside Zion. The main industry–the only industry–is the tourism that comes into the park.

The thing about Springdale, is that while it’s not literally in the park, it’s still breathtaking, if you consider the American west to be such a thing. The park permeates everything about the village, from the small army of adventure companies and outfitters, to the motels and small markets, to the restaurants. There’s a bit of a new-age vibe.

There are tour guides, motels and lodges, restaurants, stores, a microbrewery (not the best in Utah, but not bad), and a coffee shop, called the Deep Creek Coffee Company.

The coffee shop isn’t big. Inside, it seats maybe ten people. If memory serves, the floor and the furniture are well-worn. But then, that’s part of the appeal. The vibe was what college Chris would’ve derisively called granola. Peace, love, and frisbee.

Then again, you’re spitting distance from one of the greatest national parks in the country. You shouldn’t be expecting Wall Street chic.

If memory serves, it was walking distance from the motel, so I walked there, got some coffee, and retreated to the rooftop deck.

The end of vacation loomed, just close enough to be noticeable, but not quite on the doorstep. But for that morning, it might as well have not existed.

I enjoy sitting in a coffee shop and writing. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be Panera, the local bagel place, or the deck on the roof of a place in paradise.

The temperature was perfect. You didn’t notice the air. There was no chill, but the sun was comfortable. A slight breeze, just enough to be pleasant.

And the scenery was amazing.

When Laura plans a vacation, there are binders full of materials and an itinerary that provides comfort for those who need structure, but flexibility for the guys (me) who want to roll with the moment and find those little hidden outcoves.

Utah is filled with them, but this was the best.

It was one of those times and places that you want to bottle and save some of for later.

Were I to hit Powerball, I’d be drinking coffee on that deck tomorrow.


When the world was small

A few years back, when my daughter was looking at colleges, she was invited to fly to the United Arab Emirates for the weekend. On a few days’ notice.

In the space of three months last year, I went to Mexico City, on a cruise to the western Gulf of Mexico, three times to Chicago, to Northern Virginia, and to San Diego and Los Angeles (even saw Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve).

Me. At Nakatomi Plaza. On Christmas Eve. With my Christmas shirt. The guards ran me off.

In short, six months ago, the world was tiny for me. As much as travel was an adventure, I was ready for a break.

Side note: I don’t recall praying that God keep me home for a while, but if I did, all of this is my fault and I apologize.

Since arriving home at the beginning of January, the farthest away I’ve been was this past weekend, when I drove to St. Pete to get a pair of running shoes.

I was eighteen the first time I boarded an airplane. I never crossed the Mississippi river until I was 31. To this day, I’ve never crossed an ocean. Until I went on a cruise, the only other country I’d ever been to was Canada.

Geez, he’s a world traveler, eh?

For the majority of my life, the world has been enormous. During the winter, I’d watch the late football games out west and envy them their sunshine and December shirt sleeves, never dreaming I’d ever be there myself.

The LA Coliseum, Shirt sleeves and sunshine while it was dark and cold back east.

After Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, word got out that he was lonely. If you watched his shows, you’d wonder how that was possible. He traveled everywhere. He ate everything. And in every episode, there were always people there to help him wash it all down with some of the local alcohol.

And then they went home to their families and he went home to a hotel room.

I miss the small world. I miss walking around a neighborhood I’ve never been to and wondering where I should go to eat. I miss finding a microbrewery I found on Google and trying what they have (even in Mexico City).

I miss my little bit of Bourdain, the time I ate crickets at a fancy restaurant in Mexico City. (Verdict: the spices were good; the crickets, not so much).

And as stir crazy as this home confinement has made me, as much as I really want to just go anywhere at this point, it’s not lost on me that a big world isn’t always such a bad thing.


It’s okay to live in fear; it’s not okay to be paralyzed by it

Monday’s post about my back and forth on the Covid got one response on Facebook: “Be not afraid…” There’s a popular meme that says wearing a mask isn’t living in fear…and then the rest of it.

We’re in the middle of a giant global pandemic unlike anything that’s happened for 102 years.

If there’s ever a time for fear, this would be it.

Fear’s a useful tool. As much as we like to lionize the people around us who live without fear, there’s a name for people who live without fear: dead. (Or Evel Knievel, who’s currently…dead.)

It’s okay to fear the unknown. And we’re pretty much hip deep in the unknown just now. When things like global pandemics occur, the fear’s gonna come whether you invite it or not.

The question isn’t about whether you should be afraid. It’s about how you process the fear.

For some, the answer is to capitulate to whatever generates the fear. Right now, these are the people who want to barricade themselves in, who demand everyone do the same, and who–until there’s a vaccine==view deaths by Covid as the number one thing to be avoided. They’re so fearful of the Covid that they ignore deaths happening because of other things as a result of the Covid response.

On the other side, there are people so afraid that they can’t compromise as a result of their fear. I went out and crowded places before and, by damn, I’m gonna do it again. Because if they give in even a little to their fear, their resolution will crumble and everything will go to hell.

You can’t beat something you fear by hiding from it. And you probably won’t beat it by running across a long, open field to attack it, lest you not be thought of as courageous.

True courage lies in assessing the fear and taking reasonable steps to reduce risk while confronting it. Wearing a mask is a reasonable step. Social distancing is a reasonable step. Taking calculated risks is a reasonable step, even if you agonize a little over them.

Fear isn’t an enemy. At our best, we recognize the fear and come up with ways around that fear. Sometimes that’s a full-on, direct assault, and sometimes it’s running and hiding. There’s a reason guidance for active shooter situations is run-hide-fight. Based on circumstance, each is appropriate.

But I’ll take the fear. Taken with an equal measure of wisdom, it’s the map to success.


Pretending to lynch the governor isn’t American or Christian

As part of a protest outside the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort, Kentucky, several men pulled a stuffed dummy with Governor Andy Beshear’s face attached from a car, tied a rope around its neck, and hanged it from a tree. (Credit: Sarah Ladd)

It’s ironic that as these two fine patriots–guys I assume love the hell out of Jesus–pretended to murder a duly elected official, Lee Greenwood (recorded) sang about how he’s proud to be an American where at least he knows he’s free, in a song called God Bless the USA.

I’m an American and a Christian, too.

Plenty of damn Bibles. Both of us.

To quote the great theologian Frank Barone, I’ve read plenty of damn Bibles. My Bible includes 1 Peter 2:13, which says to submit to those in authority, whether a king or a head of state. Then there’s Romans 13:1, which says to submit to governing authorities, for all authority comes from God. And if you want to go there, my Bible also says to love one another, to bear each other’s burdens and all that.

There’s nothing in my Bible about arming up, driving to the place where the governor lives and metaphorically executing him.

Of course, I’ve only read the NIV, NRSV, and NLT versions, not the original King James Version*, so maybe it’s different in other Bibles.

No. The other King James.

Tying a rope around someone’s neck, tossing it over a tree limb, then pulling it until the person can’t touch the ground, then leaving him there to struggle until he’s dead is called lynching. It has a very specific history in the south, especially for a segment of voters who supported Beshear.

I’m certain the America-loving Christians in the video know that. I’m pretty sure they were counting on it.

A good deal of President Trump’s base is evangelical Christians, people who claim to have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Whose sins have been washed away by the blood of the lamb. Who would have no standing in front of God, because of their sin, if not for the sacrifice of His Son Jesus on our behalf.

My Bible also has a story in Matthew 18 in which a debtor who owed his king a ton of money couldn’t pay and begged his master for forgiveness to prevent him, his wife, and his children to be sold into slavery to pay at least some of the debt. The king forgave the debt, leaving the man free and unencumbered, as the evangelicals claim to be.

To celebrate, the man went right out and found another guy who owed him a few thousand bucks–and had him imprisoned until he could pay the debt (because that’s how you get money to pay debts; you go to prison).

The king wasn’t pleased and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth and all that.

That story is featured in one of the for most important parts of the book these hypocrites claim to base their lives on.

People who do these things aren’t good Americans. They sure as hell aren’t good Christians.

They’re a stain on both groups and they need to be called out as such.

(* — I know it’s not. I’m making a point.)


The high-wire Covid balancing act

Yesterday, I finally broke down and went out for a beer. The microbrewery has outdoor seating and social distancing. I’m not sure they’re as diligent as I’d like about cleaning the living crap out of everything after each person leaves. But we don’t live in Manhattan. We live in Pasco County, Florida.

The beirgarten I sat in yesterday

And as soon as I got back to the car, I washed my hands with sanitizer, then went to Publix with a mask on.

The risk is miniscule, pretty damn close to functionally zero. For me to get the Covid, someone with the Covid would have to sit in the same spot–extremely unlikely considering the numbers here. Then I would have to come in contact with the exact spot where the Covid cooties are. Then I would have to pick it up in enough concentration to infect myself. Then I would have touch my mouth, nose, or eyes.

And yet…my wife is in a high-risk category. Ninety percent of the people hospitalized with the Covid are high risk. While the risk of my potential actions is extremely low, the impact is very high.

Going out, being around people, having a beer–all of that helped my mental health. But the truth is, it could’ve brought back the Covid to my house. Ninety-nine percent of me is certain my actions functionally carry zero risk; that other percent speaks very loudly.

To be clear, my trip to get a beer put myself before my wife. It was probably selfish. In three weeks, I could be lamenting my action. In three weeks, I could be dead from my trip to get a beer.

Chris went to get a beer. Wormer, he’s a dead man. Marlalard, dead. NIEDERMEYER…

If that happens, then no, a single beer wasn’t worth my life. Then again, neither were the running shoes I got because my current kicks are reaching the end of their useful life. Neither was the last time we sat with the neighbors six feet apart in the driveway. Neither is getting the mail.

But I really needed this yesterday. It was like a magic elixir.

It’s apparently 70s day on the blog today.

There’s a reason solitary confinement is used as an enhanced punishment in prison. we’re built to be around each other. Next week, we’ll enter the fourth month of Covid-related isolation.

You can’t expect people to live their lives without getting out forever. The toll it takes on mental health isn’t a fiction.

But the risk I took yesterday wasn’t just for myself. My wife and son, who lives with us, took that risk, too.

I hope it was a reasonable risk.

If not, it could kill me. And others, too.


Shutdowns aren’t a panacea

Friday, I had a minor outpatient procedure. My wife dropped me off. I wore a mask the entire time. The temperature check was done before I entered. And I was asked multiple times whether I had or was around someone who had the Covid. I got some great drugs. The procedure was done. I came home and napped.

The procedure was put off from April because they couldn’t do it then. I almost put it off again.

Because of the Covid.

I still say if you make golf balls that look like this, you’ll make a brazillian dollars.

Had I done that, I wouldn’t be alone. According to a letter sent by 600 physicians to President Trump, 150,000 Americans per month who would otherwise have cancer screenings aren’t having them right now. Calls to suicide prevention hotlines are up 600%, at a time when 38 million Americans, more than 10% of everyone who lives here (including kids and retirees), have lost jobs and millions of others have had pay reduced.

The number of severe heart attacks being treated at nine major US hospitals is down 40%. That’s not because we’re suddenly more health conscious. Sales of alcohol have risen as much as 50%. (The WHO, one of the bodies we’re supposed to uncritically take direction from, has issued guidance saying alcohol sales should be restricted.)

There are predictions of mental health issues not only for front-liners, but for children, teenagers, and young adults for years to come.

The letter calls this a Mass Casualty Incident.

Marilyn Singleton, one of the physicians who signed the letter (and an apparent Trump fan) adds these statistics:

  • 80 percent of all Covid-19 deaths occurred among people aged 60 or older.
  • 25 percent were residents of long-term care facilities.
  • 90 percent of those who are hospitalized have underlying conditions.

To be clear, this isn’t a call to sacrifice Grandma so the stock market can go up. It’s a call to understand where the primary risk lies and to act accordingly.

It’s also a call to understand that if grandma has “the worst headache of her life” and doesn’t go to the hospital because of the Covid, she could die of a stroke caused by a brain bleed. If your diabetic brother is sent to the hospital and no one can visit, his recovery will be affected by the enforced lack of visitors. Or if your uncle lives out in the sticks, that hospital that’s sort of close might not survive financially, meaning when that heart attack occurs, he’s more likely to be screwed.

It’s a call to wear your cockadoodie freaking mask and don’t be an ass, so we can mitigate some of this. It’s a call to stop treating every Covid-related limitation as the climactic battle scene in Red Dawn.

If Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson can’t get their hair cut, they’ll fill your ass with lead.

The hardest-core governmental proponents of the shut down everything movement (in particular Andrew Cuomo and the perfectly coiffed Gavin Newsom) have greatly mitigated that approach in the past few weeks.

Finally, it’s a call to not treat every loosening of restrictions as a battle against the worst caricature of soulless capitalism.

All people who oppose keeping the shut down. Or not.

We all have free choice and responsibility for ourselves. If you’re diabetic and you don’t feel comfortable going out, don’t. If you’re over 60 and you don’t want to go someplace, don’t. In saying that, I accept that it’s grossly unfair.

Nothing about this is fair. But we have to stop acting like everyone is equally at risk. We simply aren’t.

Full disclosure: I live with someone who’s at risk. I fully understand that what I’ve said may keep me at home and largely alone until early next year and that’s the best-case scenario.

We have to stop acting as if this is the only medical problem out there and ease toward a cautious return to something approaching normal. Because this threat isn’t likely to disappear.


Don’t let the pinheads ruin what we’ve done

A couple of days ago, I wrote about a patriotic, freedom-loving pantload with 3000 Instagram followers (3000!) who refused to wear a mask in Costco. That post included a reference to a woman who figured she didn’t need to worry about the Covid at church because she was washed in the blood of Jesus.

God bless her.

The same day, my son had someone challenge him for wearing a mask at WalMart. Amurka, right?

Actually, wrong.

For every person who acts like their freedom is absolute, regardless of who else it affects, there are tens of thousands of people who don’t act that way. For every Christian who demands to pack a germ factory church to praise Jesus, there are tens of thousands who attend Mass or services remotely just fine.

Crap. Father Jim always buffers during the Eucharistic Prayer.

For every nincompoop who views other people wearing masks as somehow violating their constitutional rights (I haven’t quite figured that one out), the rest of us do what we have to do.

A CDC-compliant masochist

This pandemic didn’t suddenly turn us into a psychopathic cesspool of soulless, selfish jerks. It’s given the jerks an opporunity to trumpet their jerkiousity from the rooftops. And since a lot of us are stuck at home without a lot to do, we’re paying more attention.

Are these people out there? Yes, they are. But the media needs ratings and these numbskulls are good for those ratings.

Personally, when I think back on this, I won’t think of the self-important putzes who got our attention on the socials and Anderson Cooper.

I’ll think of that single mom with two kids in a tiny apartment who somehow got through it all. I’ll think of a colleague who’s home schooling her kids while working a demanding job and spearheading a group to help my employer shift to virtual.

I’ll think of that guy battling depression and loneliness and still doing his best to bring his A game every day. Or the woman who just moved to a new city and lives alone, whose only real contact with other human beings was a once-a-week trip to the supermarket.

I’ll think of Chef Bruno Serato whose restaurant closed for many weeks, but who still fed kids every day through a charity called Caterina’s Club out in Los Angeles. Or Guy Fieri, who raised $21.5 million to help keep people who work in restaurants solvent.

Chef Bruno Serato

I’ll think of a friend of a friend who lives in New York City and pushed until she got herself moved to the emergency ward. And I’ll think of the ER doctor who couldn’t take the death any more and killed herself.

If you’re painting a picture of this country during this crisis, those are the people you need in the picture. Along with the vast majority of the rest of us, who maybe misstepped here or there, but in general tried to do the right thing.

We flattened the damn curve.

U.S. Daily Deaths 5.15.2020 (Source Worldometers.com)

We aren’t perfect, but in general, most of us are pretty good. We may disagree on politics and the proper approach to a once-a-century pandemic, but we get along on the important things.

I will not have this victory ruined by some dillweed in Costco who can’t see beyond his own nose.

Dammit.