Dawn

Today we got up at 6:00 am, and by “we,” I mean all of us. Gina, Willie, Cora, Bea and I piled into the Dad Van and dragged our weary asses over to NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital to recognize the nurse who saved Willie’s life just over four months ago.

If you’ve never read my account of that harrowing day, here’s a link. Keep in mind, however, that I was exhausted and a bit angry when I wrote it. I’ve calmed down since then, and last time I saw our OB-GYN I shook his hand repeatedly and got choked up like the sappy old man I am. We’re cool now. That day, not so much.

It was nice to hear my nomination email (which was an extremely truncated, much more positive version of what I’d previously written) read aloud at the ceremony today. If I’d known they were going to do that, I would have added a bit more flourish, but it already read like a Medal of Honor citation. When the head nurse said Sara was selected from 32 nominees, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, I crafted a helluva letter.” As always, it’s all about me. Seriously though, she’s a helluva nurse, and I have her to thank for this sweet little guy I get to snuggle every day.

I’m absolutely pooped and short on time. You’re going to have to make do with that old post and this rump of an update. Sometimes full-time Dad plus full-time book ninja equals tapping out essays on lunch break or on the toilet. No one said it would be easy to have literally tens of readers a day, but I manage.

Hug your loved ones, folks, and thank you again, Sara. There are heroes, still.

TCB in a Flash

Bea is the best errand companion.

Some days I’m consumed by a general malaise. Some days it’s all I can do to drive to work, clock in, and avoid being terminated for bad decisions made in the throes of exhaustion and caffeine withdrawal. Today, however, I am kicking life’s ass.

It’s worth noting this, especially now that the Doomsday Clock has melted down into a Dali-esque puddle. If I get more done before 11 am than most people get done in a week, it’s time for a celebration. Rare Earth or Kool & The Gang, your choice.

Bea and I took Cora to preschool then we headed to the Poinsett County Conservation District office to register wells. That’s right. My family owns six wells, which are registered at ten bucks a pop so the Gubmint can keep tabs on pesky soil erosion. I also found some cool acorns for Cora to give to Totoro later (if you don’t know what this means, go watch My Neighbor Totoro). After that, we headed back to town and visited Trina Smith at Centennial Bank. Bea made out with a cool heart-shaped sucker, and Trina gave us one to give Cora later.

Then we went to the insurance office, the post office, and the CPA’s office, and let me tell you, getting a 2.67-year-old kid in and out of the back of a van repeatedly is a workout. It was just a warm-up, really, because then we went home so I could get swole, bro. I had to sneak the weights out of the bedroom so I wouldn’t bother Gina and Willie, but that’s okay. Stealth low-light dumbbell transport is part of my routine now. I put the ninja in book ninja.

Last and certainly not least, I dragged the old dead television set out into the garage and replaced it with one Mom brought over yesterday. Apparently it’s a hand-me-down from my sister Lauren, so go Lauren! Thanks, sis. The kids will enjoy viewing the four existing episodes of Masha’s Spooky Stories repeatedly on Netflix. I never thought my kids would be watching a weird Russian cartoon, but then again, there are all sorts of Russian surprises these days.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had time to tweet this horrible joke at Steve Inskeep:

Until I saw his name on a book cover last year, I was sure the folks at NPR were referring to their totally tubular coworker, “Steveinsky.”

If he replies, I’ll be the happiest boy in the world.

Gina and Willie have arisen, so I’m off to do other things. Tomorrow morning we’ll attend an award ceremony in honor of someone I nominated. I hate to be so vague, but there’s a tiny chance they’d see this and ruin the surprise. I will say that without them, it’s likely our lives would have been a sad affair for a very long time. I will happily fill you all in tomorrow.

Too bad Keep Calm and Carry On is so cliché. They beat that dead horse to a pulp years ago, and I wish someone had made it viral today instead of back then. It would be a great slogan to rediscover, now that it’s actually time to keep a stiff upper lip. There’s something soothing about taking care of business and getting things done. Maybe it reminds us of what normalcy looks like. If making lists and checking them off is what it takes to get through this thing, well, Bea and I have half a tank of gas, two suckers, it’s nice out, and we’re wearing our seatbelts.

We’re on a mission from Bob.

A Place to Squirt

Yesterday a friend of mine made a short post about public restrooms and transgender people, which prompted a firestorm of responses after one particularly daft American Idiot posted a retort comprised of a flag emoji, “u” in place of the word “you,” and the classic line, “I don’t care if your [sic] gay straight sideways whatever I have many different friends lol and never have heard wining [sic] about the bathroom.”

I won’t spend any more time on that brilliance than I have to, but it did bring up an important question. What are our actual solutions with regard to this issue? My knee-jerk response was to suggest unisex public restrooms. I mean, most of us use the same restroom at home. Nobody frets over who uses a Porta-Potty (the trepidation is more about having to use said convenience in the first place). I was about to present a grand unisex strategy when my going-on thirteen years of experience in retail struck me like a bolt of lightning.

Guys, I am intimately familiar with what goes on in public restrooms, and it’s fucking revolting. In the men’s room, specifically, there’s almost constant whackin’ going on in there. Let me pause to apply a disclaimer. There is a way to masturbate in the privacy of a public restroom stall that will not arouse suspicion. I will not confess here to having done so, but hear me now and believe me later, people are busting nuts quickly, quietly, and efficiently into the toilet all day every day all over the world and flushing it down without bothering anyone. It’s a bodily function like any other and we shouldn’t be ashamed of this or shame others for it.

That said, there still exists a huge segment of the population who get their kicks out of jizzing on everything in sight. The restroom I’ve been forced to clean for over a decade now is usually dripping with cum, and I gave up long ago trying to Sherlock this situation to a standstill. In my early managerial days, I actually had a folder full of evidence (don’t worry, no samples, just dates, times, and a list of destroyed merchandise, although I’ve often fantasized about submitting swabs to the state crime lab). I’d stare at the CCTV for precious minutes on end in attempt to pin down a culprit, and I even approached the regional loss prevention manager with my endeavors, to his absolute horror. I never successfully apprehended anyone, but believe me, I have the guy who keeps pissing all over the toilet paper whittled down to four or five suspects, including a regular customer and an employee. Watch out fucksticks, I’m coming for you (no pun intended).

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve entered a stall at work and had to step around someone’s steaming manmilk. Better yet, sometimes it’s on the toilet seat, the paper dispenser, or even the changing station (I got out bleach for that one, believe me). I don’t even want to go in there after we unlock the doors for business unless I’m armed with Clorox wipes and rubber gloves. I absolutely don’t want my kids in there, regardless of gender.

Don’t leave home without it.

Maybe this is endemic to bookstores, but I seriously doubt it. I didn’t spend nearly as much time in the john at Sam’s Club because I didn’t have to clean it, but I do know the lockable unisex restroom was used for a romantic encounter by a couple of lovestruck employees on at least one occasion. Still, I’d rather deal with that situation than nutsicles hanging off the rails in the handicap stall.

Men can be absolutely disgusting, folks. I think you all knew this, but it’s all the more reason not to have unisex restrooms. There may be some strange horny outlier woman leaving snail trails in women’s restrooms all over America, but I seriously fucking doubt it. Even so, it doesn’t make it a trend. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe in the ladies’ room, but none of them had anything to do with the issue at hand, which is that someone is apparently going to be exposed to unsolicited sex (or its aftermath) in a bathroom. It was more like, “Oh, the sanitary bag has fallen down into the bloody rag receptacle, I think I’ll shove my kid’s dirty diaper and my empty Starbucks cup in there for good measure and place my used tampon on top like Dracula’s first birthday candle.”

Hell, I have a solution. Let’s split it by gender then split it more. Maybe we could have a kids’ restroom and an adult one. Maybe a family one, adult ones for men and women, a kids one for each, and separate ones for people who require assistance. Nah, that’s a bit out of control. How about we dig a latrine in the alley and make the men go spray their DNA outside? Maybe this is why there used to be restroom attendants. The towel and mint thing was just a cover. Dude was actually there to keep people from blasting semen all over the fucking walls.

I keep seeing this well-intentioned no sex in the champagne room argument where people, often women, imply that everyone is in there to do their business and leave. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to dodge nad tadpoles daily on their way to the pisser, but it’s not true. The men’s restroom is a den of debauchery. I’ve run a few straight couples (this is worth highlighting) out of there over the years, but I’ve never seen any sign of predation. It’s always been hot-and-bothered shoppers or lone wolf goo-graffiti artists.

So, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with transgender people. Well, one would assume people would be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender, or the facility they’re most comfortable in, since it’s not always so binary. The genital configuration they were born with isn’t as important as their current attitude. If they want to shove used toilet paper in the trash can, they can use the women’s room like everyone else. If they feel the need to junk-slime the tile, they should perhaps do it in the men’s room regardless of their delivery system.

There’s a case to be made for three restrooms, men’s, women’s, and other, because some folks have kids, are differently abled, or just want to go without dealing with the aforementioned associated bullshit. It’s not without its logistical issues (expense, lack of space, occupied by lovers), but I concede it’s a step in the right direction.

As a (mostly) straight cis man, my hot take on this subject means little to nothing. I’m not a loo engineer, and I probably won’t sway any bigots by appealing to their better nature. Right-wing politicians have done a great job painting transgender people as perverts, and the fact that we’ve all been going to the restroom with them without noticing since forever will inevitably be lost on the misled masses. I expressed this idea in that initial online discussion only to have another Great American reply, in broken English (OH BOY I AM NOTICING A TREND) that, and I’m translating from Redneck here, she didn’t mind using the restroom with post-op people who passed as their gender. 

The implication was that she didn’t acknowledge transgender people unless they’d had surgery, and even then it was more of an out of sight out of mind thing. I’ll grant that most sexual violence is done with a penis without getting into the demographics of to whom. I’ll not erase the percentage of people victimized by women, but we can all agree that man, woman, or none of the above, if there’s a sex crime going on there’s generally at least one dick involved. That’s why people focus on trans women in this regard, and it’s not just conservatives. See also Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.

Thing is, the conservative/TERF trope of the hirsute faker cruising bathrooms in a miniskirt isn’t real. It’s just not happening, folks. I know that just because I’ve never seen it doesn’t make it not so, but I’ve seen people in dresses in the men’s room because they didn’t know where else to go. They were visibly embarrassed and they definitely weren’t cruising. The onus of evidence is on those who claim some crime is being committed. I can’t prove a negative. I just don’t see it, and as a 38-year-old world traveler, I’ve seen a lot of goddamned restrooms.

However, I will say the only man I’ve seen barge into a restroom he didn’t belong in without asking permission was a Jonesboro city cop in pursuit of a shoplifter. The only sex I’ve known of was between consenting hetero cis people, and the only love leavings I’ve had to clean were left by single lonely dudes in the men’s room. Sure, I can’t be certain of their gender or orientation, but 100% of the soggy periodicals I’ve recovered featured naked women in various salacious situations.

Let’s get the water closet out of the closet here. Why must we pretend the places where we milk out our leavings are the holiest of holy holes? It’s a minefield of vectors in there no matter what, guys, and the people who’ve deflowered its surfaces since time immemorial are not trans. My mind isn’t closed to exceptions, but we have to examine this statistically. Over 90% of the population is cisgender and heterosexual. My anecdotes do not equal data, but please present some evidence of wrongdoing to counter mine other than, “My preacher said so.”

If you’re still afraid of the non-existent specter of transgender people jumping out of stalls and sexually assaulting your entire family, allow me to point out that your beloved President’s opinion about how women should be treated is on record. As the one who rescinded Obama’s instruction on restrooms, he’s not off topic. If your argument is, “Think of the children,” then think of how you’re going to explain his lecherous boasting to them. If your argument is about public safety, consider the effect his remarks had on impressionable young men who look up to that tangerine turd. If you think beskirted strangers are waiting to penetrate you in a public restroom, consider that most crimes are perpetrated by friends and family, coworkers, or the guy you just met at the bar. Or, hell, the President of the United States of America.

There’s a Supreme Court decision coming up on this one, but I’m sorry to say I can’t hold out much hope in this political environment. It’s going to be a long road, but I want you all to know I fully support your use of the facility of your choice. Luckily, my company supports me in this endeavor. If you pick the men’s room, though, please step carefully. There may be puddles.

The Routine

The girls let me sleep until 8:32 am, which was miraculous. They only woke me up once at 6:24 am to ask for their tablets. When I was a kid, that was time to creep into the living room and watch Tennessee Tuxedo on WPTY. These days, it’s tablet (still pronounced “Talbot”) time, and that’s fine, especially if it buys me an hour or two of additional rest.

My true form.

This has become pretty routine. Sometime between 5:45 and 6:30 am, I’m inevitably roused by stomping on the ceiling directly above my head. I’m the genius who decided the girls’ room should be at that end of the hall instead of at where my office is, at the other end, conveniently located by the upstairs bathroom. In addition to the morning wake-up call, I’ve usually been startled out of sleep two or three times already by Cora’s bounding potty runs.

If the drum-like beats of little feet flying across wood flooring don’t pull me out of my sweet slumber, the rattling of the baby gate at the top of the stairs does. It’s usually just Bea, but sometimes I find both of them up there doing their best to rip it from its moorings. Cora has come up with an impressive strategy where she sits down and kicks it with both feet. The shaking is almost always accompanied by yelling, “Daaa-aaaaad,” and if I’m lucky, there’s singing, which is impossible to sleep through. Believe me, I’ve tried.

If I’ve remembered to charge their tablets, I can usually take those up to the gate and placate the girls for an hour or two. The gate still seems like a weird concept. When I was a kid, we had free run of the house and we usually remained in our rooms under threat of bodily harm until the sun came up. I have stairs, though, so I don’t want to wake up to a kid somersaulting down them, and I’ve experienced the heart-exploding terror of a two-year-old flinging my bedroom door open at 2 am. After a half-dozen times pacing the house, clutching my chest, and seriously considering a trip to the hospital, I’ve decided the gate is the only thing that stands between me and a child-induced early demise. I’ve already given instructions to Gina in this regard. If I keel over after one of their late-night alarms, my epitaph is to read, “Here lies Bob Talbot, killed by toddlers.”

Depending on how hungry they are, there may or may not be another wake-up call after the initial 6-ish affair, and depending on how tired I am, I may or may not deliver waffles to the gate at 7:30 am and request a reprieve. If I’m done attempting sleep, I go ahead and release the krakens. I’m not a fan of the girls eating up there anyway, because I end up finding green mystery food months later.

If I haven’t seen the cat in a while, I check the girls’ closet to make sure she hasn’t decided to spend twelve hours of power in there. Lady has a knack for hiding behind doors that are only opened briefly and usually kept shut. The first two times it happened, I blamed her. After that, I blamed myself. At this point it’s happened so many goddamned times I’m not sure whether she has a death wish or I’m the most irresponsible pet owner on Earth, but I promise I’m not trying to murder the cat. I’m backed up here by enough proverbs, curiosity, nine lives and the like, so rest assured I did not invent cat endangerment.

The girls are good at traversing stairs because they were raised on them, molded by them (I didn’t see stairs until I was already a man, by then they were nothing to me but tiring!), and they are a feature of their mother’s domicile in addition to mine. Cora flies down on her butt at an alarming rate, and Bea sorta bumps along if she isn’t at my feet yelling, “Hold me, hold me.” Often enough, I end up walking down holding two blankets, two cups, and 32 pound Bea clinging to my chest hair like a baby gorilla. I grit my teeth and bear it, because there’s only so many times I’ll have the privilege of carrying my daughter downstairs, but I’ll never get accustomed to the pain.

If waffles haven’t already occurred, they happen now. I’m pretty adept at loading the coffee maker and setting sail for percolation before the toaster pops up. Bea has gotten into the habit of asking for chicken as well, and it’s no hassle to throw a few Dino Chicken nuggets into the ol’ science oven, but I’m endlessly amused by the fact she came up with chicken and waffles all on her own. Left to her own devices, what other wheels would she reinvent? Pyramids on different continents don’t equal ancient aliens, folks. Some things just make so much sense a baby could come up with them.

After tablets get tiresome, there may be television, but today there will be none. When I went to power on the over-a-decade old Ölevia I inherited from my father, nothing happened. After a quick Google search, I learned a couple of things. First, that company declared bankruptcy in 2009. Second, the flashing blue power light means there’s a short and a melted $150 capacitor somewhere in there. Looks like we’re going to be watching our bootleg Real Ghostbusters cartoons on an old desktop PC screen until I figure something out.

It’s 10:40 am and Bea has already self-destructed herself into a naptime. I keep trying to impress on her how splendid Saturdays are. They are precious rest time, especially to kids who spend the week exhausted from early preschool and day care drop-offs, but she doesn’t get it yet. Her vocabulary is shockingly huge for a not-yet-three-year-old kid (her day care supervisors are continually astonished), but her comprehension level sometimes doesn’t match up with her usage. Bea’s big brain doesn’t mean she necessarily has the emotional maturity of an older kid, so we can talk about it all morning, but she’s still going to collapse and throw a fit.

Cora wants me to color her Shopkins playing cards with markers, so I best comply. I’ve done my best to salvage the ones Bea scribbled all over. Cora has recently learned to stay in the lines, an achievement worth mention. There are so many little things that go uncelebrated. A good night’s sleep, a Shopkin unsmudged. I’ve never been good at filling out those baby books. Time has convinced me they’ll only be something else to lose, or something for someone to clean out of a closet in a few decades.

I’ll do it my way, for now, which is standing in front of a shelf, perched by my broken television set, with my left foot up on the entertainment center in a pose Bea hates. “Dad, get your foot down!” she’ll say while she pulls on my leg. That thing Commander William Riker does, I’m doing it now while I hammer away on my aging laptop, and it’s actually pretty comfortable.

All this is comfortable enough. Here in sunny February, out at the end of history, it is all we could ask for.

Neighborhood

Bea and I stopped by Kroger this morning after we took Cora to school. I just realized I forgot to buy Nutella. I also purchased a package of frozen bean and cheese burritos when we already have an unopened package in the freezer at home. Why am I allowed to buy groceries? My incompetence has been proven repeatedly. At least I remembered the important things, like diapers and diet root beer.

Bea was pretty helpful and only dropped her tablet five times. Those engineers at Amazon know what they’re doing, because that sucker bounced and safely came to rest every single time with her device intact. She did give me a scare in the canned vegetable aisle when she launched into straining grunt mode. This usually means she’s laying something the size and consistency of a goose egg in her drawers.

“Are you pooping your pants?”

“No, I’m pooping in my diaper.”

“Don’t you want to use the potty like a big girl?”

“No.”

I checked her and she wasn’t even pooping. We have these false alarms from time to time. Maybe she’s confused by gas or cramps. I’m 38 and it still throws me for a loop. I know some of you guys are into intelligent design but you cannot convince me that someone sat down and decided we’d need to not only shit out our asses but be inconvenienced and confused by it. Wait, let me prepare your rebuttal for you. Adam and Eve didn’t have assholes until Eve bit the apple. There you are. We can hand-wave this and blame women all in one go.

As we rolled through the mostly-deserted aisles, populated only by grocery stockers, I found myself singing songs from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I can’t help but get a bit emotional when I do this. You guys can argue all day long about what Jesus would have thought about Trump, and I can’t really refute that shit. For every verse I could quote, there exists another that waits to be twisted against it by people with bad intentions. We have Fred Rogers on video, though. I don’t have to argue over the interpretation of texts when I can log onto YouTube and watch him passionately and successfully defend PBS funding against a hostile Senate committee¹.

I recently saw a guy “thank the LORD” that Fred Rogers wasn’t around to defend public television against those who seek to destroy it. It took under ten seconds of clicking to find out his political affiliation. I’ll give you three guesses.

I’m trying to remind myself that the folks who embrace musclebound capitalist Rambo Jesus are in the minority. I really am, and it’s silly, even, that I have to do this. The shitty militant atheist inside me reckons your vast and varied interpretations of the man are about as historically accurate as Robin Hood. I guess what gets me more riled is when folks have forty years of television to reference and access to multiple interviews where people ached to find some controversy (there was none), and still they discount one of the top five kindest people to breathe our polluted air.

PBS funding is about $445 million a year. Trump has cost taxpayers $10 million going to Mar-a-Lago this month. Add in Trump Tower, DC, and daily trips between all three. I’ll let you do the math, but suffice it to say there’s a way to budget Big Bird if we stop dropping that much money on Small Hands.

So, we rolled through Kroger while I sang my hymns. It is nice to be moved. I used to think something was wrong with me if I got verklempt, but I’ve realized what a wonderful thing it is to feel, especially when it’s brought on by song. I’m not a young man anymore or an old man yet, just a man, but I never had a good example of who or what I was supposed to be in this regard that wasn’t a problem. That is, except for Fred Rogers. I’ve cobbled together (sometimes conflicting) influences over the years, but he’s the head of my pantheon. Forgive me if I to go un-Rogerian lengths to defend him.

How the mighty have fallen.

My personal deities aside, it feels a bit weird to buy groceries where the Indian Mall² once stood. A decrepit Sears looms like a headstone over the grave of good times, but it too will soon feel the dozer blade. Babbage’s, later Game Stop, was in that patch of tall grass pictured above. I don’t know exactly how many hours I lingered and stared at their wall of PC games, but smashed together it must total something between a day and a week. I’d furrow my brow³ and pace back and forth as I decided what my computer would run and what I could afford. KB Toys was across the hall to the right. We purchased the first Final Fantasy game there, about a million years before Bain Capital took over the company and scrapped it. Apparently there was no hooker with a heart of gold to save that place from liquidation⁴.

Poltergeist potential or not, it’s a damned nice grocery store. As a trembling wad of clashing ideas, I often find myself admiring shiny new capitalist enterprises. I’m a landowner and a retail manager, so I might be the World’s Shittiest Space Communist, or at least the most hypocritical. If they can make a film about Dalton Trumbo, the vilified, vindicated and venerated rich Hollywood screenwriting communist, though, maybe I can pull it off without looking as ridiculous as the cabal of Reds in Hail, Caesar.

I tend to narrate everything I do when I’m with the kids, so when I picked out the aforementioned burritos, Bea was convinced I’d meant Doritos. I should have known, because she’s nuts about the latter, and she pronounces it like “burrito” despite my repeated corrections. I didn’t realize the discrepancy in our respective definitions of burrito until we’d arrived home and started unloading the van.

“We don’t have DO-ritos, Bea,” I said, “we have BU-rritos.”

“But I want burritos!”

“Bea. It’s Do-rito. Burritos are filled with beans. Do you like beans?”

“No.”

“Hey, how about a Fiber One bar?”

“Okay!”

Here’s some unsolicited advice to new parents: Misdirection is one of the most valuable tools in your bag.

“Are you ready to go potty now?” I asked.

“No. I don’t have to.”

“Come on, Bea, let’s give it a shot.”

“I don’t want a shot!”

It looks like we’re going to be buying size 6 diapers for a little while longer.


¹ I link to this weekly these days and I’ll never stop. I’ll probably do it more when they start dismantling public television and radio.

² If you aren’t from around here, yes, it was called the Indian Mall. It opened in 1968 and   was named after the Arkansas State University sports mascot.

³ I’m aware that I overuse the brow furrowing but guys, I furrow the shit out of my brow. I don’t know what else to tell you.

I really wanted to run with this Pretty Woman metaphor and draw some parallels between Mitt Romney, Richard Gere, and Jason Alexander, but I have readers who keep me honest and one of them would have pointed out that Mitt retired from Bain a year before they purchased KB. Chuck Palahniuk wouldn’t let this stop him. Hell, he wrote a book about a guy who travels through time and becomes his own grandfather by repeatedly getting rabies. Somehow I can suspend disbelief for the time travel but not the rabies. You get rabies once, and if it’s not treated immediately, you’re fucked. Once I based an entire essay on the notion that caterpillars turn into goo in their chrysalis before they emerge as a butterfly. One of my dutiful unpaid fact checkers let me know this is demonstrably false. I didn’t scrap it after it had been published, but I’m not going to be a terrible liar by doing it on purpose, no matter how sweet it feels.

The Brig

Nicholas Courtney died six years ago yesterday. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s okay. It meant absolutely nothing to me at the time, and even if it had, I wouldn’t have noticed. I was too busy occupying a couch in the St. Bernard’s Regional Hospital MICU waiting room.

Waiting.

I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Courtney until Gina introduced me to Doctor Who. Since then, we’ve spent many afternoons and nights plowing through over fifty years of British science fiction, the brilliant and the terrible.

We didn’t cosplay when we first started doing conventions, but it looked like so much fun that we couldn’t resist for long. I went through a number of ideas before I settled on Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (who was played by Nicholas Courtney, of course). I didn’t really think I looked like him, but I don’t look like anyone from the show. I can, however, grow a helluva mustache, and I’ve always had a thing for military garb.

Better yet, he’s British, so I wouldn’t have to worry about any stolen valor bullshit when I put on his uniform. I stopped wearing my olive green jacket years ago because some dude at the Memphis Zoo had marched towards me and shouted, “Where did you serve?”

“Nowhere, man.” I said. I should have sung it. “Nowhere.” It was covered in patches from places I’d been. I pointed at one. “See,” I said, “It’s just a Ron Jon patch,” which was doubly idiotic because I don’t know how to surf.

I’ve been the Brig a few times now, and I have a wall full of photos of Gina and myself standing beside British actors old and young. Once, I didn’t have time to grow a mustache, so I sported this funny fake thing I glued on with spirit gum. It was a sonofabitch to keep on, and I vowed, “Never again.” From now on I’m sprouting my own, and if it’s a week old and mostly eyeliner pencil, so be it.

Convention goers tend to get pretty excited when they recognize me because people don’t often cosplay the Brig. From the reactions I’ve received, I assume I do a decent job. I’ll never forget when Peter Capaldi saw me and shouted, “Brig!” with open arms. That’s endorsement enough.

Part of me wants to draw a connection between Mr. Courtney’s departure from this earth and my father’s a day later. I’m not sure things actually rhyme this way in real life. It wasn’t the same day, just close enough for curiosity, and it’s confirmation bias to draw such conclusions. There are only so many days in the year. After you’ve lived long enough, you’ll certainly pile enough events in one spot to look like a pattern.

Still, I think it might be ironic (I’ll have to run it by Alanis first) that someone I loved, love, passed one day, and the day before (unbeknownst to me) someone who I hadn’t been acquainted with yet had passed away and I’d end up dressing up like him in convention centers years later. When I put it like that, yeah, it’s a complete coincidence. It’s mildly interesting, but not a humdinger.

I’ve invested in a few new costume pieces, and I’ve planned to attend at least a couple more conventions this year. Six years ago today I watched my father stop living. If you haven’t been there, it’s something that sticks with you. I’m not sad today, though. I’m excited about putting on that uniform and walking into the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Gina and Willie will be with me, and so will Dad, in a way. He’s not here, because he can’t be, but he’s part of my programming.

Maybe a bit of Nicholas Courtney dwells there, too. Just a smidge. A suggestion. An idea. As long as someone is thinking of you, you aren’t gone. Pretty gone, maybe, but not completely.

Not by a long shot.

Standing

I have a t-shirt to sell. It says, “I watched fifty people get arrested on the #noDAPL livestream.” On the back it says, “Even the press.”

They’re arresting the press right now, at this very moment.

This is America, Shailene Woodley. It was so cool to hang out in North Dakota, right? Like Occupy and Woodstock all rolled into one. One day she had warpaint on. You could tell from the color she’d improvised it from her makeup kit. Conflict attracts narcissists like flies to shit, but after they’ve laid their eggs and the hot stink grows clammy, they buzz along to fresher dung.

It’s still happening. They snatched a praying man. They’re rushing the press down the road, picking off journalists one by one. I don’t know what happened to the water protectors. Three hours ago, about 150 of them walked out singing, and there were maybe thirty or forty left at the edge of the encampment when the police rushed in. I’m sure they’re all shackled now and on their way to a dog kennel.

This is America, Dr. Jill Ellen Stein. Where are you now that there’s no election to run? Vandalize a bulldozer today. Hop on a plane. There aren’t enough cameras here for Jill. Not ones that count, anyhow, and the cow pies are stale. Maybe she’s too busy building a grassroots Green Party movement. Guffaw.

I hate to use the word noble. It’s been misused in these affairs, but I don’t know what else to call activists who are willing to sit in the mud and pray while militarized police violently snatch them away. I’m not sure what else to call livestreamers, none from major media outlets as far as I can tell, who are willing to stand in the ice and muck and pump out grainy videos on social media while risking their lives and equipment.

They’re running past parked vehicles now. A few more people went down. Someone just shouted, “They’re deploying less-lethals.” The remaining journalists are entering their cars. A commentator just mentioned that he already has metal pins in his hand from a previous run-in with crowd-control weapons.

I want to identify with this. I absolutely lust for it. I’d like to think if someone wanted to push a pipeline through my neighborhood, or my farmland, I’d be willing to risk my freedom and the teeth in my head. I’d like to imagine I’d be steadfast and stalwart, standing in defiance, but that’s another white man fantasy. In my mind’s eye, I see a rifle in my hand, but we all know I’d probably just call a congressman (they’re all men around here), make a social media post, and end up taking a payment and crying in my Cheerios. I can’t possibly know the rage of hundreds of years of oppression, and I’m so used to getting my way that I immediately daydream about violence when the water protectors are sitting and praying. They are sitting in the cold mud, patiently waiting for the brutalization that’s about to unfold. I don’t have the strength.

The cops have moved forward a couple more times, picking off press and protectors a few at a time, a common tactic design to prevent mass melees. Divide and conquer is the plan, and it’s working. The stream I’ve been tuned in to is amazingly still broadcasting. It’s Revolutionary_Z, Jon Ziegler. I click on CNN. Seven extrasolar planets found. I click on U.S. News. Raped in America’s nursing homes.

Oh. There it is. Right under the manatee.

We have failed Standing Rock. It wasn’t short and sweet enough for the American Attention Span. Where are those thousands of Veterans? I don’t even see RT. One of the streamers just said the cops broke a man’s hip as they wrestled on the ground. The police line has pulled back a bit. The next rush will bring the citizen observers close to their vehicles. I’m not sure if they’ll flee at that point, or if the cops will even allow it.

A plane buzzes overhead. The press discuss past events during the lull. Jon is telling the story of the time his finger got blown off by a rubber bullet. He’s cutting the feed to charge up his gear and start his car. It is all but finished. At least a couple dozen people will sleep in jail tonight, if they’re lucky enough to avoid the dog cages.

The bulldozers will move in at 9 am tomorrow. It is finished. Instead of risking a mass confrontation that would have resulted in death and destruction, the water protectors have gone home to fight another day.

If you purchased one of Shailene’s cool t-shirts, don’t feel too bad. Many a kindhearted folk have been pulled in by the like, whether it be Komen or some other such huckster. It feels good to throw money at a thing, and it’s easy if you have it to spare. Ask any political organizer how difficult it is to get feet on pavement and hearts and minds into voting booths.

Be wary next time you care about something and a grinning attention seeker comes waving, dragging their fame and entourage with them. Unless it’s Sean Penn with a shotgun and a rowboat, you’re probably going to end up in a worse place than where you started. Just don’t marry him, for god’s sake.

The government’s feelers for what will pass muster with the common folk have extended. Those tentacles are probing you this very moment, and like the wave of cops rushing forth, drowning brave Americans in a blackened sea, and receding like the tide, it will pick the citizenry apart at the edges until we’re too tattered to stand against them. This is the challenge here, at the end of History, as America buckles under its own weight. Our immune system acts in outcry, the virus adapts, and soon Trump’s pen strokes an order, dissimilar enough from the last to stop people from filling the streets. There it is, the sweet spot of what we’ll tolerate.

“Eureka! I’ve found it,” they’ll say. “The limits of what they will endure.”

Not That 1984

“I wasn’t sure there were still bookstores,” he said. “Poor bastards.”

Sometimes I work the music counter. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal. I get to see the new releases and keep myself current on all the band names so I don’t look like the out-of-touch old man I am when young whippersnappers ask for the Chainsmokers.

One time, back in my longhaired days (the ones before my haired and unhaired days), I’d just pulled into my Pawpaw’s driveway in my Ford Ranger while I blasted Metallica from its shitty factory speakers, which prompted him to say, “You playin’ that Three Dog Night?” Sometimes I’m tempted to say that to youngsters when I hear the unmistakeable tinny sound of eardrums being destroyed point blank. I’m sure they’d be confused if they heard me, but I’d get a kick out of it and that’s all that matters.

Ten years and a lifetime ago, I applied for the position of Music Manager. I was sure my experience bustin’ heads for Sam’s Club would make me a shoo-in. I’d been tossing bargain books around at Ye Olde Books & Caffeine Emporium for a few months and I felt like I’d earned a promotion. Unfortunately, I lost out to a charismatic fellow who’d gotten terminated from his previous job for running a discount scam. We all make mistakes. If I hadn’t gotten caught fudging the payroll to cover someone’s missed lunch break, I’d still be doing 70-80 hours a week for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. between (and during) hangovers.

Ten years ago today.

I was disappointed, but I’m grateful that train was derailed while my brain was still relaying rail to Company Man Land. Yank on your bootstraps hard enough and you’ll find yourself on the ground with leather in your hands. Down low is a great place to start when you’re rebuilding. Foundations are important, and it’s easier to spot assholes from underneath. 

Ultimately, the company downsized that title out of existence, and for the past couple of years I’ve had the honor and privilege of performing the duties I’d so sorely missed out on a decade ago anyway, except without any change in position or pay. 

There was a time when I would have unfurled the red banner and barricaded myself inside the customer service desk if I’d been asked to take on additional responsibilities without due compensation. However, the entanglements of circumstance have only highlighted the impracticality of rebellion. I’ve often wondered how people with so much to lose are able to rush into danger. They must be more courageous than I, or at least a little more irresponsible. Maybe I’ve just learned to pick my battles. A van full of small squishy humans will do that to you. Plus, we’re not fighting fires here. We’re carrying out convoluted corporate orders in a dying industry.

I spent my little days hanging out at the Trumann Public Library, where I was allowed to shelve books and check people out, so it’s no surprise to me that I’ve ended up here. If anything else rhymes with my past, it’s the teenage hours I spent in video stores and music shops. Perhaps something echoes further back, like the memory of Van Halen’s 1984 in the front window of Hot Dog. A cherub smoking a cigarette? I was enthralled. Eddie’s guitar licks still do their thing, and I have to tell you, I’ve never quite trusted anyone who preferred Van Hagar.

All in all, shelving records (it may be on vinyl, kids, but they aren’t vinyls) isn’t a bad way to burn time until the next recession. We’re all poor bastards here at the end of all things. The Glorious Workers’ Revolution can wait until these albums go to that big clearance sale in the sky. They say (the word on the street, book ninja scuttlebutt) the last stickers you receive when you’re going out of business are not red, but white. Every time a register rings, an item gets its wings. I think I can hang in here until I have to shuffle 1984, George’s and Eddie’s, off this mortal coil. After that, who knows? 

Freedom of Screech

Survival Bias is a great logical fallacy to point out when your friends and family give you the ol’, “Well, back in my day!” Imagine if everyone did this.

“Well, back in my day, security screenings were the least of our worries! We didn’t even land at the airport! Everyone just ditched their Airbus 310 in the Indian Ocean and clung to wreckage in the middle of the night until they were rescued!” – Bahia Bakari, lone survivor of Yemenia Flight 626.

“Well, back in my day, we didn’t have a safety net! We didn’t even have enough lifeboats! You helicopter parents with your soft kids wouldn’t know what to do if an iceberg hit you in the face!” – Elizabeth Gladys “Millvina” Dean, last living survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, passenger at eight weeks of age (died May 31, 2009).

“Well, back in my day, we didn’t need vaccines! We got polio then we liked it so much we became President of the United States of America and got re-elected three more times because it felt so damned good!” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945.

The Russian Roulette World Champion might say putting a loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger is a great way to make a living, but you’ll find that those who could deliver an enthusiastic rebuttal based on first-hand experience remain silent. You’ll also find the other 150 passengers on that plane, the over 1500 dead on the Titanic, and the thousands buried during the polio epidemic are withholding comment.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. The people who get it are already familiar with confirmation bias, and the people who don’t probably won’t. In the rare instances when I catch a stray reader, it’s usually some proud white supremacist who wandered here from one of my comments on KAIT Region Eight’s Facebook page (which is a breeding ground for their ilk) looking for a fight. They all give up after they realize their attention only thrills me more.

The chances of a light bulb coming on for them are slim to none, but I guess you never know. The probability of life springing forth on Earth was almost nil, but exposed to enough time and repetition, here we are arguing over politics. I guess some eons could spark an understanding in the guy with a Trump cover photo or the proud Christian mother who doesn’t understand why they won’t let Milo speak, but even the most incrementalist moderate would consider this a slow evolutionary crawl out of the muck at a pace we cannot afford.

Recently, as I fretted (shitposted) about the nature of existing online, which is to be exposed to a constant onslaught of bad ideas, someone interjected that this cacophony of wrong thinking might serve to save us from our own ridiculousness. How can we reason properly if we’re insulated from anyone who might disagree?

Haha. Hahaha. HAH. Look, guys.

I’ve seen the Star Wars prequels. I know the dangers of being surrounded by yes-people. I have my secret cabal of advisers with political views ranging from Maoist Revolutionary to “Say what you will, but Kissinger is a brilliant statesman.” If I’m confronted with a concept and my reply is, “Well, that’s fucking stupid,” go ahead and assume I ran it by a Trotskyist and a guy who voted for Gary Johnson (because he was the only other person who wasn’t busy), and they both echoed my sentiment. There’s shit going on behind the scenes you ain’t privy to, fam.

So no, I don’t have to tolerate Babby’s First Political Opinion, and if it happens to be your father-in-law or something, then shame on you for marrying into that shit and not having the fortitude to hit block when they started displaying symptoms of the disease. My hug box is secure. Now I have to deal with the Trumpanzees outside my circle because some people refuse to take out the garbage.

Maybe I’m the intolerant one. As far as I’ve come personally, you’d think I’d be more understanding when faced with Red State logic, but at least I had the capacity to learn. The reason you can’t keep comparing Idiocracy to our current situation is that the characters in the film actually responded to instruction.

This is, however, at the heart of it, silly shit. An old friend once told me, “I’ll run my Facebook however the fuck I want,” and that’s advice I’ve taken to heart. I can block your grandmother just as easily as you can and save you the explanation. Please forgive me in advance, though, if I tell her to go fuck herself before I do.

The Weekend

I’ve received a rare gift: A three day weekend off work with all of my children. This is a blessing I’ll not squander. I’m signing off until Monday. I know all twenty of you will be heartbroken.

I’ve put great pressure on myself to write against all odds over the past year, and I’ve become better for it. Sometimes I’ve probably done too much, between family and work, but the worthwhile things are not the easy ones. My site traffic has grown, and while I’ve experienced ups and downs, much like the arc of history, it bends towards something.

I hope you’ll read the archives if you haven’t already. This isn’t something that happens as often as I like. Every once in a while I view the metrics and notice someone catching up, or engaging in discovery. That’s a nice process to witness. Uncommon, but nice.

2016 Archives by Arbitrary-Ass Category

2017 Archives Organized Whimsically

Events global, local, and personal have granted me even more perspective. Unlike building character, which I am absolutely done with (when someone pulls out that old zinger, I always reply with, “I already have way more character than I’ll ever need.”), perspective is something that always needs refilling. It’s not an accomplishment, it’s a fuel tank, and if insulated from circumstance, we’re susceptible to tunnel vision.

I don’t know if I’m chronicling the fall of Western civilization, as I have so often quipped. I am chronicling the last days of Bob Talbot, long may they be, because anything we record has potential to stand as our final accessible thought. Here it is, on my own website. I hope someone pays the bill after I’m gone. I hope there’s a bill to be paid.

If I had one request, it would be that when you see something you like here, or something that rings true, you share it with a friend. That’s all. I get no money from this endeavor and I don’t want any. All I’ve ever wanted is for people to read what I write.

This sounds a bit morbid, so let me assure you, I am fine, or as fine as anyone can be. These are perilous times, and Bea is here asking for a hug. “Hold me,” she said. I picked her up and told her I have to finish writing one thing and then I’ll play with her all weekend. “I think you want to play with me,” she said. “Can you get Hungry Hippo out of the closet?” I did.

I’m already screwing up my pledge so I’ll sign off here. It can’t always be kid time, but when it is, it is. The bills will get paid when they get paid. Work will wait. The rush beckons, for it needs participants to be considered a stampede. If everyone stayed home for the weekend, what bustle would there be?

Today on the day of the General Strike, which never got legs as far as I can tell, in the middle of February when things seem uncertain, the sun is out, and it’s unseasonably warm, a harbinger of what’s to follow. We have light and life today. There are dandelions for Cora to pick and pile. I’ll call the lawn man soon, and we’ll start over.

Have a good weekend, dear reader. Thank you for your time. It is precious.