Time After Time


My Pretty Pony, by Stephen King, is my favorite story about the passage of time. It’s from his 1989 short story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes, which is packed with brilliance, and if you haven’t read it you should do so immediately. Much like Weird Al Yankovic when he graces us with a top 40 polka medley, King shines in a brief, snappy format.

There are enough books about the science and philosophy of memory so I’ll not attempt to reinvent the wheel with my layperson’s shenanigans. It’s a muddy, murky thing from my perspective. I do know memory is not something to be trusted without verification, and even that can get skewed when folks put their heads together.

The older I get, the more it seems like now is something I can’t quite get my hands on. It’s nebulous. It runs through my fingers, and while I can consciously say, “It’s now,” it isn’t. It feels like I’m reading a status report about something that just happened. If I don’t concentrate and pay attention, I hurtle forward until my brain hits something with resistance and registers another bounce.

It’s difficult to break out of dualistic language when I describe this. I say, “my brain,” as if that isn’t what’s tapping words into this fine piece of Vietnamese manufacturing. Sorry Descartes, but I don’t think there’s a little man inside my head driving Beef Robot Bob around. That would present the issue of infinitely recursive homunculi, and I might as well nip it in the bud right here and now (Dennett, 1973, 1978, 1986, 1994, 2003, 2014, 2017). I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam (Popeye, 1928).

(Did you know Popeye once accidentally punched a horse to death? He’d planned to just apply some brutal motivation to its face, but they were in the middle of the desert and the poor beast was already about to swoon from heat exhaustion. It hit the ground with Xs for eyes. We’ll, blow me down, indeed.)

I won’t give you any more homework, so believe me when I say I’ve read studies where researchers have carefully exposed people to stimuli, such as a moving light, and produced results that look like precognition. We’re not wizards, Harry. We’re just not registering everything as soon as it happens. There’s a small buffer, but there’s not a part of our brain where the buffering happens. Our brain is the buffer. Maybe we’re always chasing now. Maybe this is a status report about a status report. Maybe I’m a status report.

I’ve written before about the levels of realization we attain as we age. Like when, for example, we realize we’re not going to live forever. If you haven’t read that, I wish you would, but you need to queue up “Dreamer” by Supertramp and crank it when you hit the dead link. They, or their lawyers, persist in reporting Digital Millennium Copyright Act violations to YouTube and it’s really cramping my style. The only remaining accessible version on there is a shitty half-time live rendition, and let me tell you, folks, live music is best experienced live. Supertramp wasn’t present in person when my memories were initially encoded on this rotten old brain. It was the clean, studio sound that studded those thoughts, and I own it on vinyl, on CD, and in my heart. Submit a DMCA request on that shit, I dare you.

There was a time in my adolescence, before puberty kicked into full gear, when things started to make sense. A previously unknown clarity, a realness had arrived. There’s a reason why eunuchs have historically been political powerhouses. I felt like I had a handle on what was actually happening around me before a flood of testosterone wrecked it.

I recall, quite vividly, standing around and talking with my friends for hours about life, about where we’d be in twenty years. I remember saying, “I’m sure none of us will ever speak. I probably won’t even know you.” This wasn’t a controversial statement at the time. Heads nodded in agreement. As it turns out, I was correct.

They say your frontal lobe isn’t done developing until you’re 25. They peg peak reaction time around 18. Peak health is somewhere around eleven years of age. We’re certainly people before that, but perhaps the land between childhood and adulthood is where we first become actual. Formidable. Then, of course, we transform into teenagers and berserker rage our way through life until we emerge a beautiful butterfly, or moth, or some other such horrid thing that only understands pain and THE LIGHT! MUST FLAP TOWARDS THE LIGHT!

Back in the late 1990s I was a longhaired college freshman. Mom had gotten me a job working for Residence Life on campus, and I was lucky enough to be on the crew who removed hundreds of rotten, bodily-fluid-stained foam rubber mattresses from the dorms. We took them down the elevators and threw them down the stairwells all day every day until we were covered in yellow plastic dust and decay. We filled the courtyard with them, piled high like plague corpses, until the dump truck came to take them to the landfill. Even through our flimsy cotton masks, everything smelled like hot piss.

I’d engaged in my usual level of teenage griping until one of my coworkers had had enough. He was an Air Force Gulf War (the first one, kids) veteran, which was 25 years ago, but my god at the time it had only been seven. He’d worked in the back of a cargo plane, and sometimes he’d tell me about flying over the Highway to Hell. You’ve probably seen the photos where the retreating Iraqis got bombed, murdered, and absolutely fucked, fried and fricasseed in their vehicles. He said you could smell them from the air.

I’d whined about our work conditions enough that day, I guess, and he told me to stop thinking. “Turn it off,” he said. “Don’t you know how? Get in the zone.”

So I did. I became one with the mattress. I engaged in zen furniture removal. At the end of one particularly hard day, I stopped and told him, “Wow, that just flew by.”

“See,” he said. “I told you.”

Most things seem to fly now, which comes with age, but it’s everything except what I’d like to fly. The times I’m away from my family seem longest, and while it might only be hours for Gina and Willie, or days with the girls, it’s still too much. An afternoon with the girls feels like minutes. A Christmas with the family, a mere split second. Work might as well be a time lock.

I can’t help but appreciate the view of another Airman, Dunbar from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, who cultivated boredom in order to make life seem longer. If one were bored enough, it might seem like they’ve lived forever. It leaves you with a hell of a decision, though. It’s a thousand years of mattresses, or blink and wake up filthy just in time to die.

There’s probably a happy medium there, some mindful Power of Now bullshit where I press fast forward through the drudgery and hit slo-mo on the joy, but biology demands the opposite. It’s been my nature so far to sleepwalk through fun and savor the pain. Even when I’m self-aware enough to put down my phone and have a good time, my internal news ticker still scrolls, “This is fleeting.”

I met Tom Baker once. He didn’t say much. Gina and I sat with him for a photo and we were probably in the room for less than two minutes. I shook his soft, old man’s hand and said, “We adore you,” because I’d read an interview once where he said, “People often say very nice things to me on the street, which still pleases me a lot. Because when I first became an actor, I wanted to be popular, and then I wanted to be loved, and as the figures went up and up and up I have to admit I wanted to be adored. And they did adore me for a while.”

He also once said, “I adore distilled whippet shit,” so he could have thought I was referring to that. In any case, he seemed a bit surprised to see Americans in Slough, and I wonder if it felt as whirlwindy to him as it does to me. It’s been ages since he was the Doctor. A lifetime, in fact.

When I look up and out at the weird little timeline that always floats ethereally behind my eyes, I mark my beginning, with history stretching out before it. There’s a big line at BC/AD (sorry, atheists, it just sounds better), and back up to where I’ve lived I see the end of the 1970s, the decades, a big mark for the century, and the individual years, of course. I know where I was when I was twelve and full of certainty. The year I graduated high school, 1997, is burned in solid. The Oughties are punctuated by 9/11, war, Bush, and Obama. The Teens, good lord, they’re almost over.

It’s fuzzy out here at the end of time. I see 2030, when Cora graduates high school. It’s an impossible future date, like the title of a science fiction film, but it hurtles toward me. It’s almost here. It’s tomorrow. It’s gone.

I’ve spent too long in this rectangle today. I still have tasks to perform before I’m freed from obligation, and then I’ll return home and take note of what I love, while I can.

It’s not now. It never is. This keystroke is a recent memory. Here’s what was. I adored it, mattresses and all.

Doldrums 

I just threw a pen in the presence of a customer.

There’s one book on knots in here. One. Sure, there’s a kit that comes with a rope, and there’s a handy fold-out reference guide the next aisle over with the nature books, which sorta makes sense, but there’s only one knot book.

I double checked to make sure, because one of my coworkers will inevitably see this and chime in, “Bob, you melodramatic whore, there’s a huge pile of them by the Music entrance,” or some such crap, but I’m telling you it ain’t so.

There used to be a whole shelf of ’em. What’s more, you could stroll over to the bargain section and have your pick of five or six different titles, all $6.98 or so, with no danger of running out. They were in double-digit piles, with boxes more in the back. Go get your knots on.

It must have been quite a treat to work in a mall back in their heyday, whenever the fuck that was, sporting a jean jacket and smoking cigs while you wait in line to see Tiffany. Lucky me, I get to witness the decline of Western civilization, malls, and bookstores all in one go.

They threw this place together back in 2006 and only killed one man doing it. I remember riding in my dad’s car as he drove past the cow pasture that’s currently emtombed beneath my boots. I’d say, “Dad, when are they going to build something out there?” He’d speculate about how and how much. Dad loved talking real estate.

That cool couple million or so in soil, fertile I’m sure from all the cow dooky, rests in a too-shallow grave. I’m an idiot who knows less than zero about engineering, but the floors are buckling and the parking lot is full of sinkholes. They get hot asphalt shoved into them once or twice a year and they’re broken open within a fortnight. Regardless, the spirit of bullshit lives on in the hearts and minds of those who tread here.

The roof has leaked since our first year of business, and it’s been almost eleven years since. There’s no telling what kind of mold we’re being exposed to. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe well in here, but it may be the dust, or the acute caffeine overdoses, or the crushing anxiety of going down with the ship but not knowing exactly when it’s going to roll over and rocket down to Davy Jones’ Locker.

The lease is up in 2020, and if the company and America are still here, that’s when we’ll go. That is, unless the recession hits first. Every Republican president since WWII has had at least one. Bush Junior had two. Eisenhower had three. The company barely squeaked through the last one. The next slowdown will come like the big needle of pink stuff Bowser gets when he’s had his last hunt. Such a good boy. Rest now. Such a good bookstore. We’ll see you on the farm, across the Rainbow Bridge, where there’s free coffee and more payroll than you could ever use.

I used to be super angsty about having spent my youth here amongst the dust and the incompetence, but it’s cool now. I also used to have hair, but it would have left anyway on its own accord. I don’t think I’d be the Space Communist you know and love if I were still cracking skulls for Wal-Mart. I’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life. I’d not wish the people I love away for a chance at not being the World’s Highest Paid Restroom Locator.

It’s right back there, to your left.

I’m not sure if anyone’s hiring potty-mouthed socialists who don’t like to shave. It disqualifies me from pretty much everything that doesn’t require more schoolin‘. Until it’s time to brush up the ol’ CV (résumés are for squares, I’m a goddamned adventurer) I’m going to creep around the building and hide messages where no one will find them until the end.

“I told you so.”

“How disappointing.”

“Looks like you made it. I hope I did.”

Thank You

I almost wrote about politics today. I clocked out for lunch, dug my big-ass Dell keyboard out of my laptop bag, and completed a couple of paragraphs about the tyranny of the Arkansas legislature before I realized I didn’t give a shit anymore.

It’s been too long since I’ve publicly declared my love for my wife. Maybe that’s silly, but it’s an important thing to engage in from time to time, especially when you have a teething infant in the house.

Willie is an absolute joy. He’s even precious when he’s sad. Last night he poked his bottom lip out and we distracted him with music and toys. Sometimes he would forget he was in pain and break into laughter. Sometimes it was just time to cry.

I am so glad Gina agreed to enter into a legal contract with me, move into our house, generate a combined-DNA copy of us inside her body (but make him look just like her), and allow medical professionals to torture her for hours before precariously ripping him out of her body. I cannot communicate how thankful I am for these things. It’s a massive debt to repay, but I’m willing to spend the rest of my days giving it a shot.

I knew that we’d make it forever when we missed a flight to London and spent a day traveling from Atlanta to Paris to Heathrow only to have arrived on the day of the Tube Strike. We walked miles to our hotel, got lost multiple times (my fault), spent hours stuck on a train back from Cardiff because of a signal failure, and somehow we refrained from killing each other. There was frustration and some tears, but we were together, on a mission, on an adventure. Adventures aren’t boring, and neither was that trip.

I dragged her, exhausted, to Slough (armpit of the world I’ve been told), to briefly meet Tom Baker. We saw Sylvester McCoy again for a slightly awkward chat, and I made eye contact with Matthew Waterhouse at his empty table. These days I would have sidled up to shoot the shit, but it was my second con ever and I didn’t know what to do. I still remember his gaze, and how it seemed to say, “It’s okay. I’m not a dick. I promise.” Maybe next time, Adric.

We returned to our hotel, no train breakdown this time, and took a nap. It was four or so in the afternoon when we awoke, and I was intent on going to Kensington to see the exterior shooting location for Rose’s apartment. Gina said, “Sure,” but she didn’t know what I was up to.

We were in the courtyard, alone (or so I thought) when I kneeled and removed a blue ring box from my backpack. The girls and I had picked it up the day before Gina and I left the country, and I’d been hiding it from her for days. After we embraced I noticed a couple across the way, in a laundromat right behind where the TARDIS would have landed. Their mouths were open. I waved. They waved back.

I would say that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever pulled off, but it’s second place to this, the thing I’m still pulling off. This bond, this marriage, we’re doing it. It’s solidly one of the most important things I’ve ever done. This is my crowning achievement.

Gina, I love you with all my heart. You give me gifts, big and small, every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now we’ve got some adventuring to do.

Allons-y!

Change

I’m having the fucking night terrors again. It’s been a few months since the last round subsided, but nocturnal panic attacks are back and better than ever. Sometimes they barely wake me up, which is almost worse than jumping out of bed and flailing. Almost.

When I don’t end up pacing and clawing at my chest, I get up in the morning with the vague suspicion something terrible has happened. Gina inevitably texts later to ask if I’m okay, and that’s when I know it wasn’t just a nightmare.

Perhaps this is why I opened my eyes three minutes before my alarm went off this morning and instinctively grabbed my phone. Might as well beam more horror straight into my undilated pupils before my feet hit the floor.

As Unprecedented Acts of Tyranny go, it’s been a pretty slow day. America’s tallest dam is about to explode, and the current administration has been silent as revenge, I’m certain, for California’s support of the opposition.

On the local beat, Jonesboro’s conservative rag, The Sun, printed an editorial arguing for sidewalks. Local business leaders, from martial arts legend Joey Perry to Captain Kangaroo Court Kent Arnold, agree it’s time for us to step into the twentieth century. I’m glad all the Whos in Whoville have joined hands to sing the praises of infrastructure. If only the Glenn Beckian (pre-election breakdown) Agenda 21 Grinches on the city council would hear our song.

This begs the question: who the fuck voted for these assholes?

As we reflect on the apocalyptic boredom of hurry up and wait, the denizens of Facebook have turned to eating each other. I felt no shortage of angst this morning after I digested the latest missives on the failures of the last election. I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen to procure legal stimulants. I considered chugging yesterday’s cold dregs straight out of the carafe, but after staring into space for a moment, I acquiesced to my better judgment and reloaded the coffee maker. I took precious time to rattle off some bullshit on my laptop, then I entered the shower to lean against the wall, grit my teeth, and ruminate. (Is that what they’re calling it these days?)

I’m glad I voted for Dr. Jill Ellen Stein in protest so I can avoid the labels of misogynist and fascist and embrace my true category, massive fucking idiot. Going forward, maybe we can all agree to disagree about Bern and the DNC, but something is going to have to give else we’ll end up reelecting Mike Pence and sliding comfortably into President Tom Cotton.

(Don’t get me wrong. You can slide into long, tall, and fascist, with his consent, if you wish, but he’s not my type.)

I’m selling Valentine’s Day cards to ancient men. I’m waiting while widows count out the smallest possible denominations to pay for the pile of clearance they’ve pillaged. “Gotta get rid of some of this change.”

If you say so.

I’m thinking we already got rid of change, or at least the positive type. Hope was generally implied when we’ve bandied change about politically, so maybe we should use a new word for the current situation. “Decline” is one. “Catastrophe” is another. “Death Spiral?” Hell, I hope not, but what’s the first thing I yell when things aren’t going my way? Death spiral it is.

I’ve run out of breaktime. As a retail SwiftKey jockey, this is all I can afford. I’ll proofread on the go, as usual, so assume I know what I’m doing until 24 hours have elapsed. After that, I’m just an idiot (again).

Everyone should sign off this way, with excuses. “I’d have delivered a hard hitting exposé, but my cat is sick.”

Well, all twelve of you (hi, Mom), I got a liberal arts degree and went into the lucrative field of book shifting. You’re welcome.

ICE, ICE, Baby

I’m not a journalist, I’m an asshole. Granted, there’s not much difference between the two. I don’t get paid for this (except in dopamine) and I don’t have to observe the style guide, ethics, or minimum standards of decency. This is, like, my opinion, mannn.

That’s why I find it sorta strange when my feet get held to the fire for communicating something important. For example, yesterday I informed my fellow citizens that the local cops were hassling Hispanic people in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I didn’t characterize it as anything but bothering. I didn’t say it was an ICE raid. 

I still got called hysterical and irresponsible, even after I conceded that maybe the current ICE raids we’re so concerned about haven’t surpassed the level of Obama’s. I don’t have that information, but I’d love to see it. Part of me wants to go ahead and believe the recent police action is unprecedented, since everything else has been, but I’m also a fan of facts. That said, even if the current raids are at or below the previous rate (I seriously doubt this), it’s good to shine light on the subject.

There’s no level of stop-and-frisk I’m willing to tolerate, people. No papers please bullshit in America, please. Even if someone isn’t getting thrown in the back of a paddy wagon, it’s not a problem to point out the inherent issues when the authorities profile people based on appearance. This seems very basic to me, but I guess it’s a big shocker to some Americans.

Over the past few days, I’ve reached a critical mass where moderates and libertarians have stopped tolerating my commie pinko beliefs. As far as I can tell, the breaking points have been their own xenophobia and love of authority. The authority part really blows my mind with the libertarians, but they’ll also slap a Gadsden flag sticker on their vehicle right next to their Blue Lives Matter decal, so I shouldn’t be surprised. To steal a quote, “One day I’ll own this boot on my neck” (Stevens 2017). I’ve seen others appropriate the alt-right’s cuck to ironically refer to these folks as liberty cucks, which I love for doing to language what the very term implies.

All I’m doing here is living up to my initial pledge, which was to give you the view from Red State Hell. As a father of three with a full time job, that often amounts to minutiae, but it’s my minutiae. Sometimes life comes to greet me in the bookstore, but more often than not, I spend my shifts dealing with dust and widows. I might catch a budding fascist on the weekends when the Hill Folk come down for their weekly trip to town, but these days it’s been mighty slow. Amalgamated Books & Coffee Incorporated can’t keep up with the competition, and many white supremacists don’t read. The stars aren’t aligned for political confrontation at the service desk right now.

Until the shit hits the fan, I’m going to deliver my turd nuggets one Tweet, one post, and one screed at a time. Forgive me if I don’t exercise due diligence and call the police station in an attempt to determine if they were actually hassling immigrants, as if that would be productive. I’ll go ahead and trust my sources, whom I’ve known to be dependable for years. I promise, however, that if I witness such an affair, there will be video.

That’s the weekend update. I made it out alive and with eight fewer Facebook “friends,” so I have that going for me, which is nice. I may have something for you tomorrow if State Senator Jason Rapert will answer my messages. Until Theocratic Arkansas lawmakers recognize the separation of church and state, make mine Marvel.

Swing and a Miss

As an overweight kid, PE was almost never a good time for me. If I had any constructive criticism in hindsight, it would be for teachers to find some physical activity each kid excels in, or at least one they enjoy, and let them pursue it. I probably would have loved weightlifting but I never got a chance to try it until I was an adult. I excelled at covering the goal in floor hockey, because I was so big. One time I delivered a shutout, which earned me one of the few genuine attaboys I ever received from a coach.

I usually ended up last man standing in double dodgeball because I was great at dodging but not too hot at catching or throwing. Inevitably, the weight of the world would fall on my shoulders while I faced off against two or three bullies across the line. The victorious squad was always made up of the guys who’d failed a grade or been held back a couple of times, and they seemed eight feet tall and/or 37 years old. This intimidated the shit out of me, which is funny because I probably outweighed them.

One day I’d finally had enough after I’d lost yet another game. I’d just been subjected to the groans of my defeated team behind me on the bleachers, and one of the smaller thirtysomething boys, a weasel-faced guy who delighted in tormenting me, called me a fatass. I lost it and let loose an awkward, feathery, glancing punch at his upper arm. He cocked back and popped me in my right ear, launching my eyeglasses across the gymnasium.

The PE coach shouted, “Hey!” and the battle of Central Elementary School was over. Dickhead McGee was dragged off to the Principal’s office where he was probably berated for at least 45 minutes, and I got away scot-free, which is nuts because the coach witnessed the entire affair. I can only assume that after she heard what he said and saw my pathetic attempt at reprisal, my pop in the ear had been deemed punishment enough. Obviously the bully had it coming, it being a gentle knuckle-shove in the bicep.

All I hear about is punching these days. The punch heard round the world, or the elbow to the head heard round Facebook, has taken on Harambe-like momentum. It’s not going anywhere, and I keep wondering why.

Last week, I looked up from the customer service desk computer and was faced with a big old dude in leather. His silver Schutzstaffel pin was right at eye level. He saw me pause and look at it before my eyes moved up to meet his. My balls sucked inside my body and made that “poit” sound from Looney Tunes when Bugs tricks Daffy into eating alum and his mouth disappears.

In my teenage years I had the fortune, or misfortune, of being invited into a biker bar a few times. The inside of the place was plastered with Confederate flags and Nazi memorabilia. As a young white boy from rural Arkansas, the Confederate stuff didn’t make me flinch. In those days I found it comforting. The swastikas, however, were always a bit weird. Even young, conflicted, Lynyrd Skynyrd white-boy-hippie me found it a bit extreme. I knew there was a motorcycle club tradition of using Nazi regalia, but I still didn’t think it was cool.

Back at the bookstore, I did my best to be friendly. He asked me if so-and-so was at work today. “Oh boy, he knows someone,” I thought. “This is wonderful.” Now I associate the other dude with motorcycle Neo-Nazis, but I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s the one who just couldn’t take Caitlyn Jenner being on the cover of any magazine without having to exclaim how disgusting he thought she was. Of course, he didn’t say she.

There’s something to the catharsis of watching one dude get elbowed in the ear while the entire world burns around us. Our leaders frequently, flagrantly ignore the law, and the only people who could stop them stand to profit too much from the system to tear it down. I understand now why we’re clinging to that imagery, be it a video with an amusing soundtrack edited in, a page from Captain America, or an Indiana Jones screenshot.

It’s something different, though, to walk the walk. One of my friends crudely suggested I stay on the side of the law during these troubling times or risk reenacting a prison scene from American History X. As an advocate of prison reform, I’m not too fired up about prison rape jokes, but it brings up an important point. How far are we willing to go to punch fascists, and if and when you’re prosecuted for such a thing, how do we think we will manage?

I’m a lover, not a fighter. I might be in the best shape of my life, but I don’t know how I’d fare at fisticuffs. I assume quite poorly. However, there’s something to this thing, which keeps boiling to the surface, I can’t ignore. If forced, I’d have to categorize it as more of a figurative ideology check than a literal set of marching orders. We can play pretend this thing is admirable while we recognize the inherent problems that come along with street violence.

If that’s fence riding, okay. I love this fence. This is the fence between civilization and anarchy, and I can see everything from up here. When it comes down to it, there may be a time for throwing an elbow, but it’s not something you talk about. That’s something the right does when they sit around and masturbatorily clean their guns while they post on forums about how they’d shoot an intruder. It makes you think they want an intruder.

No, when the time comes you just aim well, throw it, and hope the Principal understands why.

The Walking Red

I love to read, but it’s something I don’t do nearly enough. I’m not talking about gazing long into Facebook or staring at my Samsung so long the screen is burned into my brain, as if my vision begins somewhere out in front of me, in a box, within blinders. I’m talking about cracking open that pressed pulp and surveying ink.

Lately, my personal Jesus has been Daniel Dennett (eyeroll). I know. Here’s the latest tome on why we’re all meat robots. I’m going to get it right this time, I can feel it. Consciousness is a trick, a terrible lie, and you’re all fucking up by believing it (Dennett, 1971, 1978, 1983, 1985, 1994, 1997, 2004, 2014).

Still, it gives me some comfort to wrap my brain around these concepts. When I eschew Cartesian Dualism and start asking questions about things as they are, without roadblocks or shortcuts, it actually delivers relief from my anxiety, which constantly bubbles below the surface. My secret is that I’m always freaking out.

I’d tip my fedora pretty hard to claim I bear the burden of reality. I really don’t know anything, guys. People who tell you they know everything are lying and they want to control you. I can tell you what I’ve seen, which is anecdotal. I can tell you what I’ve read, which is what someone who hopefully knows something wrote, but who knows? Is this beginning to sound like a Trump supporter’s questioning of what the facts really are?

The difference is that I acknowledge the growing list of things we’ve pinned down and the vast universe of things we seek to discover. Even that which we’ve carved into granite is not beyond question. The questions about those questions are not beyond question. Nothing is.

This all probably seems super elementary, absolutely the bare minimum lowest common denominator understanding of our situation. Thing is, I keep running across people who think learning equates to changing your mind, and changing your mind makes you a flip-flopper. Flip-floppers are flighty, overly-emotional babies who cannot be trusted to make decisions. Why can’t you be a man and stick to an idea?

Something keeps picking at me, something that isn’t new under the sun. Over the course of human history the void of ignorance, which used to encompass everything, has shrunken into a ball, a small singularity, a black dot in our senses we’ve learned to feel around. It’s still dense, packed with an unimaginable depth of mysteries to unfold, but we’re out of the dark. It’s our burden to carry, all of us, and some examine it daily in order to decrease its span. Some of them share these secrets, and sometimes it works for others. There are failures, setbacks, but overall the march goes on, and each day we expose more of what’s around us.

I keep encountering people who not only admire the spot, they want it to be bigger. They don’t want to unlock its riddles because it’s always been there, that comforting inky hole. Their reasons differ, be it tradition, superstition, fear, or plain old greed. I’m not breaking any ground with this heavy-handed thing. Dr. Seuss could have done it better, and his would have rhymed.

It’s hard not to go to the place where these guys, who remind me of Junior High bullies (maybe because that was undoubtedly the high point in their mental development and social lives), become philosophical zombies. Something just ain’t right with them, as we say down South.

When I write appeals to the religious, to moderates, to the traditional folk, I feel like a revolutionary failure. It’s not lost on me when the progressive left says we should triage this and engage young people and new voters, throw a statement or two at moderates as a distant second form of a approach, and completely abandon these gruff dudes who’ve been voting Republican their entire lives. I probably spend too much time shooting missives at levels two and three while losing the fresh, hot first category entirely.

There may be a triage within a triage here under the third, previously untouchable section, and I love heuristics, so here we go:

Fascist Trolls get a fuck you. These are the guys who would read this and reply, “Gotcha, you just said you don’t know anything! Why should anyone believe anything you write! Hyuck Hyuck, LIEberals!” even though “I know that I know nothing” is pretty much the hallmark of understanding. It’s the starting point from which we must learn. Swirlie McJockstrap would claim to know everything he needs to know, or at least he’d trust some floppy-haired psycho who pretends to.

Lifelong Republicans are a sad affair, but even conservative brains (which are a thing) can be changed. The issue usually has to hit home and cause them so much cognitive dissonance that they’re forced to make a decision. The Dastardly Dick Cheney, war criminal extraordinaire, is strangely tolerant on LGBT issues because his daughter falls into that category. Hell, my own father went for Obama prior to his death, after voting Republican in every election since Nixon, and it was because he fell ill without insurance. It’s not hard to get in if you can find the key.

Religious Moderates are some of the best allies I’ve run into around here. These guys believe in God, or a god, but they’re brilliant folks who understand the separation of church and state and the importance of education. Almost all of them have stories of persecution at the hands of Southern Theocrats.

I’m not pitching this as political strategy. This fork in the chart is meant mainly for masochists, people like me who, misanthropic as we may seem, also aren’t comfortable writing off 95% of the people they live and work around each and every day. If you’re condemned to red state hell, be it by choice or by circumstance, this is a way to operate without having to role-play comrade Daryl Dixon and brandish your +5 Crossbow of Socialist Smackdown at every single conservative walker that comes lurching your way.

Blue state tactics work out differently, so if you reside in some shining city, regard this as a curiosity. These are letters from the edge of civilization, that’s all. You do you, because what you’re doing is fine. This is how we heathens have to exist down here, in the horde.

Surfin’ USA

This may appear sideways. I can’t fix this shit from my phone. Tilt your fucking head.

Yesterday’s open letter was an uncommon appeal to our more decent nature, and it took a lot out of me. Today I want to know why you’re all so fucking happy Barack Obama is windsurfing. 

Are you serious with this? Barry is a likeable enough dude, but his greatest power, tactful diplomacy, probably worked against him when the schoolyard bullies in Congress started shoving. I have a hard time forgetting he had at least one American child, a 16-year-old boy, killed overseas. The current regime blames Obama for the most recent Yemen disaster that killed, among other women and children, the boy’s eight-year-old American sister. There’s no way to tell who actually pulled the trigger on that bungled mission, but at minimum Barry handed them the gun.

Still, I won’t cry, “But the emails!” (anymore) and pretend all sins are equal. When we get into the human algebra, the sociopath math of running the most powerful country on earth, a minimum standard of evil must be maintained. Perhaps we have Jimmy Carter at the low end and Andrew Jackson high atop a pile of skulls. Harry Truman and LBJ whip around him as specters, fiery wraiths nuclear and conventional. I’d like to place BHO near the bottom of the pack, but his participation in the Forever War bumps him up to at least low-middle.

You’ve probably seen the clip of Fred Rogers defending PBS in front of the Senate. If you haven’t, go watch it now. I’ll wait.

Believe it or not, Fred was a huge influence on me, and I tried to channel him best I could in yesterday’s message. I estimate he’s one of the top five best people to have ever walked this earth. Still, I’m not operating under the assumption that his approach would move today’s Congress. Long have I wished for a person so saintlike they couldn’t be ignored, but that’s a cheat. It’s a lazy shortcut for magicking hard work. Fred defended his work. Now we have to defend ours.

Barack could also turn a phrase, back before he got tired and reverted to droning constitutional law professor. His eloquence and intelligence fell on deaf ears, and if he couldn’t get a Supreme Court justice seated in a year, well, I’m not sure what Fred or anyone could do in Donnie’s Dominion.

I realize I’m attempting to herd cats here, but I’m not the only one. I’ve been inundated with lists of tips on how the left should engage people politically. I can get down with a few, such as addressing the regime and not the man (though I still love using the diminutive Donnie), but I can’t stop talking gloom and doom altogether. Chicken Little is my bag, baby.

It’s okay if Barry tickled your pickle. I’ve had more than a few one-night stands with the Choomer-in-Chief. You don’t need me to tell you it’s okay to have emotions, but I understand why you’d be excited about an attractive, influential man engaging in watersports. Thing is, just because something is hot doesn’t mean it’s correct. Some of us have had to learn that the hard way.

So go ahead. Reminisce about the bad old days now that worse ones have arrived, but don’t get what feels good mixed up with what makes sense. When Hill-dawg rolls out her new talk show, a mix of Oprah and The View with a little Ellen thrown in, tune in guilt-free. Maybe she can give away green cards or health insurance instead of a brand new car. Bob knows they’re going to need it, but keep in mind the bottom line will be Clinton 2020.

Just don’t equate excitement with enlightenment. Windsurfing Barry feels a lot like the wrong kind of nostalgia, and as dire as this dry spell seems, that’s one booty call we can’t afford to make.

An Open Letter to Conservatives

I’m going to tell you a story, then I’m going to tell you why. I was raised by and around conservatives, so I hope I remember how to speak the language.

Once upon a time, a failed Austrian artist threatened the planet with destruction. Great people walked the earth, and they rose to the challenge. You’ve probably heard of Audie Murphy, who was a warrior first and an actor second, but did you know Hedy Lamarr invented a torpedo guidance system? Jimmy Stewart flew 25 missions over Europe (and one over Vietnam as a Brigadier General). Heck, Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services (that’s British intelligence, if you’re not up on your World War II history). I’m not here to talk about them, though. I’m here to tell you about a young man named Ronald Reagan.

Ronnie was an up-and-coming film star who probably would have attained A-list status if his career hadn’t been interrupted by the draft. His bad eyesight kept him stateside, but he didn’t have to see war firsthand to comprehend its horror. He’d acquired a reel of unedited footage from the liberation of Auschwitz, and he pledged to show it to anyone who questioned the absolute brutality of Germany’s crimes against humanity.

Not long after the war, he hosted a dinner party. A few close friends were in attendance, and as it often did in those days, the conversation turned to the war. One guest, a producer, turned to Ronnie and said, “Really? Surely it couldn’t have been that bad.”

Ronnie said, “Give me a minute.”

Soon, he’d wheeled in a projector and loaded up the film. Off went the lights, and Ronnie sat back and let the screen do the talking. By the time the end of the strip flapped against the side of the machine, the room was in tears.

Today on NPR (yes, I know. Liberal media), they interviewed Reagan’s Solicitor General. That’s the government’s top lawyer, right below the Attorney General. They asked him what Reagan would have thought of the Muslim Ban (Trump’s words, not mine).

He said that Reagan was pretty light on immigration, then he went on to say that while it may end up being legal, the way the ban was implemented was beyond the pale. “Even those who disagreed with Reagan held a sort of affection for him,” he said. “He never talked to people that way.” It’s true. I vehemently disagree with the majority of his decisions, but even I recall his popularity. Rehearsed or not, he had a way with words, and rhetoric counts for something.

I have a feeling that most of us, deep down, want a benevolent dictator to sweep in and tell us what to do. I’m not going to extol the virtues of the Democrat opposition. The DNC hornswoggled their constituents just like the Republicans bamboozled you, but I also won’t pretend it’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. She would have continued the Forever War and stoked the refugee situation you’re so concerned about, but she would have put a happy face on it. She’d have thrown the populace some social justice bones to keep them satisfied enough to go along with it. I mean, it’s not happening here, right? If the middle class is happy, everyone’s happy.

It’s still not in the same ballpark, though. What you call progress and what I call the long decline of late stage Capitalism would have continued. Now we’ve jerked the wheel hard to the right, and I’m not doing a very good job here because that’s where you think it should be.

Look. We all get sold lies. I’m not going to tell you to stop trusting your politicians and start trusting mine. Anyone who feels the need to control large swaths of human lives requires a certain combination of narcissism and lack of empathy to be successful. I’m not exempt from this declaration. If I could flick a switch and make everyone see why Star Trek should be a model for our civilization, I would. If that makes me a monster, so be it. I’ve been called worse lately. Naive, for starters.

There’s something dangerous, though, when the most powerful person in the world has Twitter tantrums. I’ve always disagreed with people, but you’re starting to frighten me, folks. This is my white man privilege talking. It’s okay if you don’t believe in that, but I’m still not used to this feeling. My security, which I’ve always taken for granted, is being nibbled around the edges by folks who think it’s okay to bully large groups of people, since the President does it.

Furthermore, facts aren’t facts anymore. Science is called into question because its very nature is to question. Science is never through, which is its power, but that’s held up by its detractors as a fatal flaw. Polls aren’t real because the media lies. Which media? All of it. Well, except for FOX, and a few alt-right bloggers.

People have always argued, but isn’t there something wrong when the man in the highest position in the land has convinced Americans that discussion is over? There are no facts but his. If Trump had been in that room and Ronnie had pulled out that film, and if it didn’t match up with Trump’s narrative, it wouldn’t have been real.

From immigration to the actual threat of terrorism to climate change to health care, I’ve spent weeks pulling out those proverbial film strips, and according to his supporters, they aren’t real. It’s not that we disagree, they’re fake, and make no mistake; I do not wield this analogy lightly. Millions of lives are at stake. Billions. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

Conservatives, I can’t call my representatives because they’re all Republicans and they don’t want my vote. They don’t need it. I speak to the parents, grandparents, the aunts and uncles. The Christians, where are you? We don’t agree on much, politically, but I know you. Is this where you stand? Do you stand with Donald J. Trump?

Rebellion isn’t in you, or you wouldn’t be conservative, but I beg you, we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to go to the place where discussion is over. Let them know you aren’t done talking. Let them hear you won’t be lumped in with people who don’t read studies. Let them see you refuse to be cruel.

If we play our cards right, there’s a place in the clearing where we can all pursue our interests without actively destroying each other. I must believe this. My fingernails dig into that cliff of hope.

We cannot go out like this. Let’s argue. Let’s live to fight another day. We’ll make it work with someone else, but this isn’t the answer.

I’ve been thinking about The Night of the Hunter lately. If you haven’t seen it, Robert Mitchum plays a killer, with love and hate tattooed on his knuckles, who masquerades as a religious man. He stalks a family and ends up singing a hymn outside their house, in the dark, as the grandmother keeps watch on the porch with a shotgun.

He’s out there, menacing, in his low voice, “Leaning, leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms.” She joins in, not in concert, but because it’s her song he’s stolen, her faith he’s appropriated to do evil.

Sing it. Sing it louder. Maybe I sell out every progressive position I’ve ever held when I ask you to take back your party in the name of a God I don’t acknowledge, but I’d rather live a wishy-washy NeoLiberal than die a beautiful, perfect Space Communist. I can climb that ladder again if we don’t burn it down.

Tell them he doesn’t represent you. Tell your legislators, then tell the world. We’ll be waiting. Ronnie thanks you, and so do I.

Super Bowl Highlights

Lookin’ swole, Star-Lord.

One time I asked one of my FULL COMMUNIST friends how the Marvel Cinematic Universe would exist in a FULL COMMUNIST society. He popped me across the mouth, hard, and said, “How dare you,” then he called me a garbage babyman and blasted the Soviet National Anthem on his cracked, three-generation-old iPhone as he walked away. Almost 67% of that story actually occurred, but you catch my drift.

I should have asked him how Marx would have viewed American Football, or how it would have sprung forth from the wheat fields of Eastern Europe, but that’s just a “fuck you” in the form of a fallacious question. Stalinism has nothing to do with Fully Automated Luxury Pansexual Polyamorous Space Communism, and the answer is we’d appropriate all the good things Capitalism has borne and leave the Wolf of Wall Street bullshit behind. There’s room for every interest on the holodecks of the USS Indefatigable-B.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer. Baby Groot sure is cute, and it looks like Karen Gillan’s Nebula may be getting a slightly larger role. Way to go, Karen. Gina and I were forcefully shoved out of a photo area by Karen once. Imagine a slightly perturbed Scottish woman in place of Santa Claus in the scene from A Christmas Story where he face-boots Ralphie down the slide. At least I’m pretty sure it was Karen. I have a running theory that she has a stunt double stand in for her photo ops since she hates conventions so much.

I still don’t believe this is Karen Gillan. The chick on the left is pretty hot though!

The Stranger Things season two trailer elicited shrieks of joy, especially at the Ghostbuster costumes. I really hope they don’t screw this up, but I am probably most nostalgic about the 1983-1984 period of American pop culture history, so this is going to be my jam either way. I’ll get a chance to meet those kids in Texas at the end of March, and I plan on asking them if they’ve seen E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I’m aware that, as kids, they have little to nothing to do with the direction of the show, but I want them to know how it makes me feel. Even though I was smaller than Gertie during the period they depict, I remember it clearly, and the atmosphere is correct. Thanks, guys. Sincerely.

Then, the blowout game from which the Patriots could never possibly recover paused for halftime, and the Queen flew down from the heavens. I am referring, of course, to Lady Gaga, whose talent rises above the obvious trappings of Capitalism. She’s at her best when she’s herself, sitting at a piano or pretending to half-play a guitar. When she sang the Sound of Music at the 87th Academy Awards, I sprang to my feet and wept like I’d seen the face of God. I may have been mildly intoxicated, but I refuse to believe it was anything other than divine.

I’m glad they didn’t have Tony Bennett chained to her ankle. I can’t stand the weird New Yawker she transforms into when she’s with him, because it isn’t her. She was free to do her thing last night, which was a less-weird medley of her hits since the beginning of her career. It was sanitized for general American consumption, with no edgy religious imagery or gross food and art supply related wardrobes. Still, her talent shone through, and praise be to Gaga they didn’t shoot Beyoncé’s double-pregnant-ass out of a trap door in the middle of “Telephone.”

I was half-hoping for some shitty provocative political message, but “Born This Way” was a subtle enough stand-in. Nah, she played it straight (no pun intended) and entertained, which is kinda her job, and scripted or not, I could sense some wonder on her part when she quickly paused to say hi to her mom and dad. I felt it too, as if I were witnessing something historic.

That is, until all the manbros on my Facebook feed started taking dumps all over her performance.

I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD

“ET” could probably be interpreted as a rage-misspelling of “it,” but I literally meant E.T., as in the Extra-Terrestrial. Do you see how this is becoming a perfect storm of emotion? Why do we have to do this thing every year where people like football then other people don’t like football, then they argue over talking about football and make triple reverse meta ironic posts about football and I’m still fucking talking about football when all I want to do is watch Lady Gaga without some pisswasser-swilling cretin insulting HER MAJESTY.

I’m pretty proud of TESTOSTERONE CRIMEGAME

Guys, I wasn’t cool in high school. I had long hair, which Coach Principal (an all-too-common occurrence in Arkansas schools) loved to take into his fist and pull while he yelled, “SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT, TALBOT!” into my face. Fuck you, Coach. I was in the goddamned marching band and while I had a couple of jock pals who acknowledged the skill required in such endeavors, most of them spent time throwing chewed gum into my hair and calling me a fag. Football wasn’t my bag, baby.

I had a brief fling with football again when I entered college, but my fraternity days ended prematurely, thank Gaga, because I never stopped being ostracized for asking questions about being forced to hold another guy’s balls or being forced to lie under a pile of twenty people while being beaten with pieces of wood. I never understood why “brothers” would do that to each other, so I left, and the fucking football kinda fell by the wayside.

I picked it up again when I started hanging out with Dad on the reg back in 2008. Today a photo of him I’d posted six years ago popped up in my Facebook feed. I’m pretty sure it’s the last photo of him I ever took.

I can look at this and pick out where those belongings are. Stuffed duck, girls’ room. Flags, my dresser. Plaques, garage. Stapler and tape dispenser, office. Desk, sold. Dad, in parts: my brain, my DNA, in photos, in memory, online, Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery, oblivion, unknown, etc. ???

We watched his last Super Bowl together. He slept through most of it. It was one of the things I cried over after he died. I also cried because I couldn’t remember who an old watch had belonged to. He’d told me, but I didn’t pay attention. I cried over the business things I knew he’d explained but I’d let it go in one ear and out the other. Silly things, really, but sometimes you need an excuse when “I’m just grieving” isn’t enough.

As far as football is concerned, third time’s a charm, three strikes and you’re out, and it got buried with him. I’m not saying I can’t watch it. I’m not fucking triggered by it. That part of my life, like the professional wrestling shows I so adored when I was an adolescent, is over. It didn’t come with me. Rebellion stuck along for the ride. Star Trek is still bopping along in this old head of mine. Football? It’s in a dusty box in the garage.

Pop music, though, that’s still a thing. We all loved Michael in the 1980s. You pretty much had to. Music, in general, has always been a part of my life, and whether I’m listening to movie scores by John Williams while I swordfight with the girls, or getting verklempt watching Gaga sing showtunes, it almost never fails to move me. I don’t know if football has ever done it for me, other than something like Rudy, and once again I attribute the frisson to Jerry Goldsmith’s stirring composition, not the sport depicted.

I’m not angry, guys, I’m sad. I’m sad that I have small children at the end of the world. I’m also a glass-half-empty kind of guy, thanks to the dysthymia, and while I hate plastering myself with labels, it’s a good enough word for everything-usually-tastes-like-dirt. You want to know what doesn’t taste like dirt? Music. Movies. Love. I’m glad football tastes like something to you, and I hope it’s better than Bud Ice.

Then again, it’s always the end of the world for someone. It always has been, and until the last human chokes out their last breath, it always will be. If I’m pissing all over Twitter in all caps, it’s because I love something, or I loved something, and that seems pretty precious these days.

When I am 57, Willie will be 18. Will he love football? I don’t know. If we all make it that far, I’m sure I’ll have exposed him to all manner of nerdcruft, but there’s no telling what influence his peers will hold. Maybe I’ll be dragging my old ass up to the stadium every Friday to watch him play at the Betsy DeVos Christian Academy, if I’m not in the GULAG. Old Dad, around all those thirtysomethings in the stands. “Is your grandkid out there?” they might ask. “No, just Old Dad here to see his son play.”

Proud Dad. That’ll be okay. That’ll be just swell. If football is all I end up enduring, well, that’ll be fine by me.