Sunday, December 28, 2014

Potato Salad

Here is a true story: there is this thing called Kickstarter.  And people can put their ideas on Kickstarter, and get funding from people to make those ideas come true.  People will do it to make a movie or pay for chemotherapy for their child, and anyone can donate.  It’s a pretty cool thing. 

Zack Brown decided that he wanted to make potato salad.  And so he put his pitch out on Kickstarter.  He literally wanted to make a bowl of potato salad, and thought it would be funny to get it funded.  Well, he made $70,000 doing it.  People actually put out their own money, for whatever reason, to help this guy make potato salad.  To the tune of 70K.

Here’s another true story: Wiley Bridgeman spent 38 years in prison, some of them on death row, for a crime he didn’t commit.  Almost four decades, in an incredible miscarriage of justice.  He was finally released from prison about a month ago, at age 60, along with his brother and friend, also improperly convicted of the same crime.  And now that he’s out, he has to start over completely.  With clothes, and sheets, and dishes, and food, and toothpaste, and shoes, and laundry detergent, underwear, napkins, salt and pepper, pots, pans, lamps, gloves….you get the picture. 

There’s a fund to help him, too.  On a site called GoFundMe.  So far, it’s raised somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 bucks.  So, in case you’re keeping score, potato salad raised about five times more than a man who lost his entire life for something he never did. 

And some of you might be thinking, “Well, the government will take care of him.”  Well, it’s not that easy.  He has to hire a lawyer to file a suit, and then the suit has to be accepted, and then someone has to decide how much his life was worth, and then maybe, in a while, he’ll get some money, but his lawyers might get some of that money, too, and meanwhile, the guy can’t wait years to buy socks, pay rent, keep his lights on, eat food, or anything else. 

And I think it’s so sad, that if the friends of Wiley Bridgeman had only thought to offer to make potato salad, or the world largest meatball, or took a picture of Kim Kardashian’s butt, that they could far surpass their modest goal to raise $30,000 bucks for the man.  But they have only provided the facts: that this was a man who was falsely accused of a crime that was not adequately investigated by the police, or properly prosecuted by the government, who spent 38 years in prison for something he didn’t do.  And these facts, for some reason, do not strike the same chord as potato salad.

I’m not doing Mr. Bridgeman, or his friend Ricky Jackson, or his brother, Kwame Ajamu, justice.  I can’t convey their joy in being free, or their forgiveness of all involved in their nearly lifelong incarceration.  But this is what I can say: all of us reap the benefits of having a capable police force, and ethical, dogged prosecutors.  We all reap the benefits of having the bad guys in jail.  We can sleep safer in our beds at night and walk the streets feeling secure because of these things.  And when something goes wrong – goes terribly, horribly, wrong - as a society, we need to take care of the people whose lives were ruined so that we could have peace of mind.  It’s your choice: potato salad, or justice. 


For those who are interested in providing support to Mr. Bridgeman, click here.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bootstraps


When I was 19, I was living on my own, working full-time, and paying all of my own bills.  And suddenly had a spate of medical issues that put me deeply in debt, despite my health insurance, and in dire financial straits.  I mean dire.  I recall one time when I was out of money with a week to go until payday.  And by out of money, I mean that I was able to cull about two bucks in pennies and nickles out of the corners of my wallet and the cushions of my couch to get me fed, to and from work, and meeting my basic life needs until payday.  At the time I smoked, so cigs were part of those basic life needs.  Don’t judge; we all smoked back then.

For a time, when I told the story of this week in my life, it was the classic “And I made it by sheer courage and force of will” story.  I bought a loaf of stale bread from the bakery outlet from around the corner, and ate an egg sandwich for breakfast, and an egg sandwich for dinner.  I skipped lunch.  I managed to make my pack of smokes last a week.  And I made it until payday.  I bootstrapped it, goddammit.  All by myself.  Because that’s what winners do. 

But reality was completely different.  I did eat egg sandwiches for breakfast and dinner.  I did get the day-old bread from the bakery outlet.  But I also had a family and friends and resources to help.  I didn’t skip lunch.  I remember a coworker bringing me a pretzel – one of those big bakery kinds – out of the kindness of his heart, and pretending he didn’t want it.  Another friend sported me endless smokes – an absolute need when you’re hungry.  I got the eggs for the egg sandwiches as a donation from my father, who gave me the idea to get the day-old bread, too.  And my parents offered me all the free meals I needed, if I needed them.  It’s true that no one else paid my bills, but I certainly didn’t do it on my own.  Not at all.

And that’s what I hate about the modern bootstraps story.  The one that says, “I was hungry, cold, and needy, but I pulled myself up and muscled my way through it.”  Because that’s a lie.  No one does it on their own, and to say that they do is to discount the luck that most of us have – either to have families to help, or friends to provide support.  And my support system just happened to be people with enough money and means to help me out.  There are folks who just don’t have that.  They are in need, and their friends and families are in need.  They don’t have that person to sport them a dozen eggs, cigarettes, medication, housing, money, emotional support, or whatever they need.  All that surrounds them is more need.

Anymore, I don’t want or need to say that I got through that week on my own.  I’m fortunate as hell to say that I had people around me to help.  Who wouldn’t let me starve or come to harm.  And it would be the absolute height of arrogance for me to say that I did it on my own.  No one in this world can do it on his or her own.  We all need people.  And there comes a time when we need to be those people, too.

There’s a popular phrase, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life.”  Well, I think that phrase is what sanctimonious assholes say.  Sometimes, you have to give a man a fucking fish.  Kindness and caring go a long way, and to deny it to others because you have your own bootstrap story is revisionist history, and not helpful to someone who’s hungry and in need. 


In this season of giving, we often look for a charitable cause that’s “worthy” of our largesse.  But in truth, anyone in need is worthy.  We’ve all been there, and we’ve all received help – whether we want to acknowledge that help or not.  The least we can do is return the favor. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Another Thug

It’s been really hard for me to figure out what to write lately, because I feel like the thing I need to talk about is Ferguson.  Brooklyn. Cleveland.  But I don’t want to talk about these things because nobody will think differently.  People will just evaluate what I say against their own firmly-entrenched beliefs, and, if they agree with it, support it, and if they disagree with it, give me ten thousand reasons why mentioning racism is, in fact, racist, and “thugs” deserve it, and, implicitly, that black people are shiftless, lazy leaches, and a drain on society.  Yes, I’ve heard it all before. 

So, I’m not going to talk about it. 

Here’s what I’m going to talk about instead:

When my son turned 16 and got his license, I sat him down and had a talk with him.  “If you’re ever pulled over,” I said, “you need to put your hands where the officer can see them.  You need to say, ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir.’  You need to keep your voice calm.”  Did I say this because I was worried about his manners?  No.  His manners are beautiful.  But my son is mixed, and it is a fact that black people are more likely to be pulled over and arrested than white people. 

Now some may say, “That’s because they’re more likely to be doing bad things.”  Really?  How do you know that?  If white people aren’t being checked, then how do we know anything about the good or bad things they’re doing?  But none of that matters to me.  What matters to me is keeping my son safe.  And I felt, as a mother, that I had to say this.  

And when my son went to college, I said to him – in fact I wrote it in this blog – “If you are at a party and the police show up, you WILL be arrested.”  Did I say that because I questioned his ability to be responsible in college?  Not at all.  I said it because he is mixed, and I know that, when there’s a group of people, the immediate suspect is the black guy.  And because I wanted my son to be safe, I gave him that information.  I told him that his right to speak his mind, to question the police, to in any way contradict them….well, he didn’t have that right.  Because the police don’t like being talked back to by black people.  Everyone knows that. 

And you may be saying, “You’re just paranoid.”  Except that I’m not.  My son has gotten pulled over plenty of times for no reason.  He was subject to a Terry frisk at college, for the suspicious behavior of standing with a backpack.  He’s a good kid, but he has to have the same wariness, the same watchfulness, the same worry as any black person, because….well, because people fear black people, and people distrust people, and black people are subject to a different standard than white people.  All black people. 


I’m not talking about Ferguson.  I’m not talking about Cleveland.  I’m not talking about Brooklyn.  I’m talking about a kid who was kicked out of a friend’s house by a drunk mother who didn’t want a black kid in her house.  A kid who has to listen to the “I’m not racist, but since I’m white, and I’ve never experienced racism, you haven’t either,” from his own relatives.  A kid who, were he murdered by the police, would be called a “thug” by countless morons on the internet.  I’m talking about my son.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Merry Christmas - You're Doing it Wrong

Here’s what I hate about Christmas, aside from green beans: how everyone always tells me how I’m celebrating it wrong.  If it’s not people demanding that I keep Christ the fuck in Christmas, it’s the losers who have to make everything into a competition and win Christmas.   Oh, and then there are the people who insist that I buy everything local, avoid Wal-Mart, spend time with the dumb people I love, make homemade everything, or do nothing at all, and ONLY read an obscure poem.  That they wrote.  I can’t hack it, people!

And I’ve been trying lately to understand why people have to have everyone do the exact same as they do. Like the “Christ in Christmas” people.  What are you so worried about? That people will mistake a candy cane for Jesus?  I just never read the part of the Bible where Jesus said,  “And I say unto you, that on each year, you will celebrate my birth with extra church and, by the way, if any philistine tries to ‘Seasons Greetings’ you, I command you to smite them with a frosty, ‘It’s Merry Christmas, bitches.’”  Although I have to say, I may have missed that part.  Most of my Catholic education focused on the leper-washing, wine-drinking Jesus, not the prune-faced dickhead. 

But don’t think you hipster agnostics are off the hook, either.  I am SO over you all demanding that I shop local.  Sometimes locals suck.  You know a local who sucks?  Liz Lessner.  Fuck you, Liz Lessner and your extra salty food, I’m glad you’re moving away.  But also: I don’t need all the soap/honey/hammered steel bracelets/crocheted purses/other useless stuff that’s made locally.  I need mass-produced and inexpensive things, preferably made by Indonesian children, because THAT’S WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT.  No, seriously, until the local folks can make sweaters and skinny jeans for 6’4” tall 21-year-old young men that don’t cost 1 million dollars, I’m getting my stuff online.  I AM SORRY, OKAY?

Last, I don’t need anyone posting pictures on Facebook of their families with the caption, “This is what the holidays are all about.”  Families can make you twitchy sometimes, with their weird politics and dumb life choices and mannerless kids or whatever.  For some people, a merry Christmas means having a couple of days off of work, watching a Law and Order SVU marathon, and getting drunk on Kahlua.  Who are we to judge?  And stop bragging about your 70-degree temperatures, non-Ohioans!!!!  WE GET IT, YOU’RE WARM! 


We are in a tender place right now in this country.  One party just got smashed in an election, people feel misunderstood in their own communities, and God keeps punishing OSU quarterbacks. We don’t need to foment more misery by forcing our own ideology of how the holidays – and I mean whatever holiday you do or don’t celebrate – should be celebrated.  Just try to be nice, okay?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Incredible Lack of Empathy

I was reading the USAToday.com this morning, and the headline was that Marion Barry had died.  He was 78, and not in good health, but all the same, it was unexpected, and I am sure that his loved ones and family are feeling pretty sad right now. So imagine my surprise when I scrolled down to the comments, expecting condolences, and saw the following:

“Good riddance! Now come back and take some more undesirables with you, like Obama, Biden, Reid, Pelosi, Sharpton.”

“Thank goodness he’s gone.  He surely won’t be missed.”

“The world is now a little bit better without that crook.”

“I hope this is a good start.  Next up: the Clintons.”

And on and on and on.  Now, I know that I have bemoaned the utter assholery of USAToday comment posters before, but sadly, this merely echoes what I see on Facebook, Twitter, read in the news, and hear in conversation.  And it’s ugly, and it’s heartless, and it is a blatant rejection of empathy. 

Here is another example: you know those poor parents who lost their child in Ferguson?  The Browns?  Well, the mayor of St. Louis invited them to take part in a tradition of handing out Thanksgiving turkeys to those who can’t afford it.  Mr. Brown said that it was healing for him to help others, especially since so many others had supported him in his grieving.  Here were some of the comments:

“His biggest turkey is pushing up daisies.”

“How about they give back to the store owner the college bound baby robbed?”

“FREE food for future RIOTERS???”

(This next one from a poster who purports to be from Columbia University) “He should do something to give back. UM, robbery with a gun or a dead son who robbed. Son robbed the store and the turkey got plucked. the father used his turkey son and robbed us and we got F*********”

And on and on.  Now, just a reminder, these are PARENTS who lost their SON, and who are HANDING OUT TURKEYS.  TURKEYS!!!!  The absolute lack of empathy is deafening. 

And I guess this is what I don’t understand: what is the benefit of being so obtuse, so small, so hateful?  Who is it helping?  What feeling do people have in their soul that can only be satisfied by this kind of callousness?  If I only saw this shit from strangers, then I would figure it was just a fringe segment of the human race, using to full advantage their ability to speak to a broader public.  But I see this shit from people I know:  Women who get raped should know better than to dress like that.  Deport all the illegals.  Arm yourself against the Ferguson protesters, because, God knows, black people are dangerous.  Fuck the poor who dare to want healthcare.  Bomb the Middle East back to the Stone Age, because it’s not like they have children or non-terrorists there.

This lack of empathy is a sickness.  But it’s a sickness with a cure.  Anyone can learn empathy.  It just takes imagining how other people might feel.  Give it a try.    

And rest in peace, Mr. Barry.