So, this is what seven hours sitting in my car is like

February 23, 2018

My oldest kid’s high school doesn’t have bus service (though grades k-8 do, go fig) so I drive him to school every morning and pick him up in the afternoon. Same with his little sister and her head start program. These school shootings strip me of pretty much any imagination I have for how much control or power I can exert over their lives. I had just taken my little girl into her head start class. She doesn’t want me waiting around any more while she works at signing her name. She tells me to go. I still get a hug. So there’s that.

Then I’m sitting in my car in a mostly empty parking lot, looking at the woods that border the place. It’s a bucolic setting in a small town. I sit there with the car off and I don’t want to leave. I don’t have a gun. I don’t even have a stick. If someone showed up with an assault rifle the biggest obstacle I could be would probably just be a very heavy carcass the gunman would have to climb over. But I still don’t want to leave.

I saw parts of the CNN town hall. I’ve caught bits and pieces of the news. It’s pretty much the same inane crap from the right that we hear after every shooting. Anything to protect the profits made from selling high powered assault rifles and to keep mainlining fear and horror to white America, I guess. While goosing them with Rambo fantasies of taking down rows of poorly prepared and theatrically dying gunmen.

I hear about the deputy who stood outside of the school for four minutes rather than enter the building. I hate him but I also empathize with him. It’s his job, but he’s probably got a relatively small pistol and he’s expecting to turn a corner and face a crazy bastard slinging, well, what he was slinging and decked out in surplus body armor. He’s looking at his death sentence. If he has a family he’s looking at his widow. If he has kids he’s seeing his own now fatherless children. He’s seeing his own death. I hate him because I know I can’t count on my own police to walk into danger to protect my kids but I also frighteningly agree with him. I wouldn’t want to walk in there either.

I think of how it’s never mentioned that all of those years ago Columbine had a guard and it changed nothing.

I sit in my car and I don’t want to leave. One of the little things in my daughter’s cubby to take home is this flying heart they made the day before and the wings are cutouts of the imprints of her hands. Her little hands and I remember how it felt the first time her little fingers curled around one of mine, I think of how it feels when her hand now holds my hand instead of just a finger. I can’t imagine what the families of the 17 deceased are going through right now. I don’t want to imagine it. I don’t want to know it. I don’t want to leave the parking lot of my little girl’s school.

I think of an article about elementary schools practicing lock down drills and how three nine year olds have the job of pushing the teacher’s desk in front of the door while the teacher gathers the rest of the students at the back of the room. How three students have volunteered to stand at the front of the group, to shield their friends. We have nine year olds volunteering to die for their friends.

And the response I see is that we need more guns. We need teachers with guns. If only more people had guns. I think of the deputy with a gun who refused to go into the building. I think of the armed guard at Columbine who was busy investigating something in the parking lot while two kids massacred their classmates. I think of the nine year olds volunteering to stand in front of the horror. I think of the hands of my little girl and how they feel in mine.

None of this conversation makes any fucking sense.


so, it’s free, right?

February 6, 2018

Alright, I don’t know if this just a part of me that’s always been or something that has emerged since I lived in Cleveland for a few years. Over the weekend the wife and I went to McDonald’s and we’re sitting in the drive-thru lane waiting to order. Over the winter our local McDonald’s has been undergoing a renovation. A new exterior (a strange minimalist thing that embraces nothing of their past but the color red in one place), and what looks like a revamped interior. It was extensive but they managed to stay open through most of it, though their drive-through was too much of a hassle  to bother with until they the vast majority of work was done.

We’re sitting there, we’ve just ordered and I’ve inched ahead a bit to try to establish my position in the line. Their having split the drive-thru into two ordering lanes is more of a hassle than it’s worth. I hate it. Especially with the geriatric set who make up the majority of our town. They are either old and perpetually confused and hazardous or filled with sururban small town rage and drive like ass-hats. Civility is a foreign concept. Or it’s Ohio’s lack of a cohesive driver’s training program. Maybe.

But we’re sitting there and I look off to the right and there is a low dumpster sitting there, partially filled with empty cardboard boxes, the sort you see vinyl siding come in (long, low, and skinny). I comment that I’d like to grab our old couch tonight, haul it over, and just chuck it in. The wife chuckles. Then I see a small pile of lumber next to the dumpster.

And here is where I expose myself as probably having far more sketchy ethics than my wife. I mention getting out and grabbing the lumber. There is some cut plywood, what looks like a whole sheet, or near a whole sheet, and some 2x4s. My wife disagrees.

Wife: I don’t think you can just take that.

Me: Why not?”

Wife: It’s on private property.

Me: But it’s by a dumpster. It’s junk.

Wife: But there’s a pod right next to it.

Me: It’s not in the pod. If it wasn’t trash, why wouldn’t it be in the pod?

Wife: Because this is a small town.

Me: Well, in Cleveland we would have already filled that dumpster with junk and grabbed anything useful left laying around after the work day would be gone.

Wife: You don’t live in Cleveland any more.

Am I so entirely in the wrong in seeing some lumber next to a dumpster and thinking it should be up for grabs? I always saw that as how you tell people that you are throwing something away, but if you want it…well, you don’t have to physically haul it out of literal trash to get it. Or maybe I’m just thief.

So, what can I say?

February 5, 2018

I’m trying to come up with something to write about, something to react to, and I’m failing. I’m looking at yahoo news, I’m seeing what is trending on google, I’m checking my twitter feed….and nothing.

What’s really on my mind is that I’m cold and consciously trying not to eat just for something to fill some time. It’s what happens when you have come to lean on food as the crutch to help you through everything, and I mean everything. Nothing even sounds good right now but I still want to eat it.

The boy is home. All he wants to talk about are video games. He’s 14 and they are his world. I pick him up at school and he’s always alone outside. I pass kids grouped in twos and threes, I pass couples being couples, kids being kids. I see him alone, passing time until he can play whatever game he’s wanting to play – none of them really stand out to me, and after awhile all of the pokemon whatevers just blur – or watching some guy on youtube play video games. Which I really don’t get.

I have to leave and get baby girl in a few minutes. I’m putting it off as long as I can. I just don’t want to go. I don’t want to get in the car again today. I hate driving and dealing with everyone else on the road. This doesn’t happen often but right now the actions of others just seems unfathomable and scary. Like they are going to swerve across two lanes of traffic for no reason but to sideswipe me before careening back into traffic, a trout breaking the water then disappearing beneath the sheen.

A trout breaking water. I want to go somewhere there is a trout stream, just to watch the stream.

Can you see me now?

January 25, 2018

Well, the whole weight loss thing isn’t going poorly. I’ve been steadily chunking off the weight since I began. I was hoping to get below 240 pounds by the first of February and I have an outside shot at it.

My diet is evolving. I’m basically learning to eat again and to manage my time. Which partly means I’m eating yogurt again. I’ve latched onto Flips, mostly because they have bits of candy and junk to dump into every serving. It helps.

What doesn’t help is getting chocolate flavored Flips. This isn’t my first foray into flavored yogurts (my previous favorite had been Oh My Yog before it disappeared from my local grocery stores) and I had developed one hard and fast rule. Don’t buy the chocolate flavored yogurts.

There is something about the mixture of sweet and bitter, the chocolate and the yogurt m that just turns me off. The chocolate hazelnut Flip I’m eating this morning is better than the vast majority of chocolate yogurts I remember having in the past, but it still has that sweet and bitter thing going on. It’s also 40-50 more calories than the non-chocolate flavors I have been eating.

Part of me hates thinking about my food this much. Before I would just eat and then I would feel miserable about my weight afterward. Now, I feel better about my weight loss, but I’m also entirely conscious of trying not to eat lately. It wasn’t like this when I first started keeping track of my intake, and I’m not sure why this has changed.

Is this the withdrawal part of my dependence on food kicking in?

Is there a part of me that is so self-defeating that I’m trying to get myself to just go ahead and eat and fail at this?

I don’t know. It’s something. I just finished that chocolate Flip, I have a massive cup of coffee next to me. I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of making a ham sandwich with go-chu-jang sauce (a spicy-sweet korean sauce, sort of like American BBQ but way better). Of the Tim Tams in the cupboard. Of the leftover homemade pizza. Of the leftover lasagna. Or McDonald’s down the road and if I can go there after taking the daughter to head start. Of fried chicken in general.

Or is my life just this empty?

The USDA is telling me how fat I am

January 17, 2018

I eat too much. I’m not Orca fat, but I’m not tiny. I weigh 250 pounds, I stand 5’11”, there’s a lot of roundness to me. I’ve tried losing weight in the past. It’s went well at times, less well at others, and like annoying family on the holidays it always showed up again at some point.

So I finally took my wife’s advice and am keeping track of what I eat. The USDA has a life tracker website where you can catalog what you eat, how much you exercise, whatever. A few days ago I took the dive and started keeping track of everything I crammed into my face.

Now, my wife is  a vegetarian, which means that pretty much everyone in the house is a vegetarian 85% of the time. After a couple of days what stood out to me was how few veggies and fruits I ate.

A lot of carbs.

A lot of beans.

Occasionally way too much cheese (and always too much sodium, salt is everywhere).

But not nearly enough veggies and fruits and rarely enough protein.

So, I am a vegetarian who doesn’t eat veggies. Or at least enough of them. But that’s changing, and so am I. I’ve lose 5 pounds since starting, and I still don’t feel hungry. I want to eat, because that’s what I’m used to doing. Eating. Like washing my hands. Breathing. Eating a handful of oreos.

I’m still breathing, but I’m eating fewer oreos.

So many smiles

January 2, 2018

The Thanksgiving holiday was a long one for me. Dealing with family, in-laws, plumbing issues, kids, etc.  It was funny but the most hassle free and comfortable interaction was with my dad and he was the biggest pain in the ass to get a hold of and set something up with, finally getting him to call back Saturday morning to set up lunch before having to pack up our car and drive home Saturday night.

The plumbing issues were my mom’s. She has multiple filters on her lines because she won’t just get a water softener, so every time I’m home I have to change the filters. They don’t always come apart easily, and I had to apply a bit too much ooomph, breaking the seal on a nearby joint. So, I had to do some plumbing work.

My mom thought she had CPVC glue, so I didn’t grab any when I grabbed everything else. When I got there I found it had dried out, so I had to get some more. Having set up lunch that morning, I suddenly had a time crunch, so I decided to gamble and drive into the nearest small town and hope that the was still a Gamble’s hardware store and that it carried the glue. The good news is that they had the glue. The bad news is that I also got to drive past my old high school.

Or what was left of it.

I come from a small town. I graduated with 62 other people, give or take. My class had significantly more than that before graduation, which is a sadder thing to realize now than what I noticed then. But everything looked good. Not new, but not old. Not unkempt. Not roughly patched.

Driving by the high school now and I discovered the school board had been moved into the high school and half the entrances appear to no longer be used except for special events, sports, etc. They had build a new middle school twenty years ago (ten years ago? Time has a way of getting away from you and I honestly don’t remember exactly how long ago this was), and now they seem to just push the high schoolers through the new middle school towards the high school classrooms. Which is alright, but it looks like they did it in a panic, like the folks boarding up a shopping mall to keep out the zombies.

But appearances could be deceiving so I checked their website and, like a true weirdo, started looking at classlists throughout the school system and counting the number of students and trying to see how many names I recognize.

I recognized a lot of them.

There were also about half the number of classes in every grade as there were when I was in the school. Half, or less, the number of kids. There wasn’t a list of courses offered at the high school but there was only one high school student in the national honors society. I remember there being several in my grade alone.

My little town seems to be dying and it kills a part of me. It was a small town and I can remember pretty much everyone, even a number of kids going back to the first grade who were only there a year or two before disappearing to somewhere else in life. There was a tall, gangly kid in second grade named Robert with a perpetual snot ball hanging from his nose, and who sort of hung around with me and a friend named Mike. Both moved after that year, and I remember Mike trying so hard to make Robert a part of…something…at school but no matter what he did, Robert couldn’t pick up the ball and run with it and one day Mike just blew his top, the fact his seven year old self could have held it together this long before becoming too frustrated that his attempts were continually fumbled away. And the look of Robert’s face as Mike exploded, this whole thing clearly coming out of the blue for him. All of us still hung out together afterwards, but it was different.

There was Kevin, this nearly feral blonde bowl cut kid. I’m not sure when he moved away, but he was gone by the fifth grade. I’m not sure I ever heard him utter a single actual word, and he always seemed to be off by himself bouncing one of those big red playground balls on the cement or off the school or tossing into the air for himself to catch. You could try to play with him, he would greet you with this goofy big smile and goofy big enthusiasm, but it just never quite worked. And you would wander off and he would keep going. One day, I’m not sure why I was there or why I was alone, but I was at the school playground and there were like five or six mini-Kevins running around with full elementary school sized Kevin and all of them seemed just as crazy feral happy.

Later there was Amy, but not the Amy who was there at graduation. There was Don. And Clarence. And Justin. And Ben. There was Catherine, who we lost one summer to a car accident between seventh and eighth grades, and who I had formed a small hard crush on the previous school year when she was literally the only other kid who had ever talked with me about Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I wonder about the kids now going through my old school. I wonder about all of the kids who went through it with me. There were so many smiles. Not all of us liked each other. Obviously. But it was also so tiny, so interconnected and known that the dislike was more like not wanting to hang out with that one cousin who just pesters the hell out of you. It was family. Driving past my old school, seeing Time’s wearing on it, seeing the shifting of America wearing on it, and it’s a funeral I’m not ready to witness yet. I hope all of those kids I used to know so well are doing well. I hope they still remember how we used to smile.

It’s The Flinstones, the modern post-Apocalyptic Family

August 9, 2017

So, apparently my president has channeled the parts of the Bible where everyone dies to warn North Korea to play nice.  Watching Trump deliver this ultimatum does anything but fill me with confidence. He looks lost, he looks like he’s lying with his lack of eye contact and constant blinking, there is no conviction to his voice as he threatens Armageddon, a lack of sincerity that feels especially galling considering the threat he’s stumbling his way through.

Watching him talk, you wonder how the hell anyone believes in this guy.

Then you read a twitter feed for one of his prominent supporters, and it becomes clear. They mimic the same vapid, macho bullshit he’s saying. Nuke’em first, kill’em all, etc. To hell with the millions of innocents who will be caught in the nuclear crossfire.  They aren’t Us. They are Them. So it’s okay to kill them with blissful nonchalance.

We’re seeing the ugly self-centeredness and more bankruptcy that is America’s underbelly. As a nation we’ve long been too eager to jump at supposed horrors that lurk in the shadows, from racism to communism to rap music to Islamism; usually while we an actual terror stands in stark relief in the light, daring us to notice.

How should we react to NK? Calmly, with measure. Enforce the economic binds the UN has recently placed on them. Continue to try to talk. And be patient. NK is going to get the bomb. Years of self-imposed and enforced exile from the international community has all but guaranteed it. The fallout from that isn’t something that has to be rushed from a cliff, though.

so, why was she white again?

May 24, 2017

or maybe the question should be why was Ghost in the Shell (GitS), the recent live action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson, is set in an Asian locale since three of the main characters were Caucasians speaking English?  Ever since there was an initial blow back on the movie for whitewashing I sort of blew off the controversy.  I loved the original anime, and if they made a good live action movie starring Scarlett Johansson I wasn’t going to complain. After all, simply casting a white woman instead of an Asian one for the lead shouldn’t be enough to essentially hit a film with a racism charge.

The problem with GitS, and what makes the whitewashing so obvious that it becomes impossible to ignore, is how the rest of the film was essentially left in place. This was not a story that was appropriated, where its core elements were lifted and fit together with a different culture to create a legitimately new and self-standing work. This was putting white people into prominent roles because appeal to an audience solely through the whiteness.

To draw a comparison, look at Scorsese’s move The Departed. It was a reworking of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs that starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, among others. What GitS did would be like Scorsese filming a remake of Infernal Affairs set in Hong Kong, starring Asian actors and actresses in all of the side roles, using Asian motifs and cultural touch stones, and then still casting DiCaprio and Damon as the leads because, well, white guys.

What’s confusing is that this should have been an easy fix. If you want to cast a bunch of white people in the leads, set it in New York or LA or even London or Paris. Just pick a city in the west and go with it. Maybe they were worried about turning off fans of the original anime if they changed too much of the story, or maybe they just wanted to keep the Asian motif and didn’t think of how shallowly it used it. I don’t know. But it was a reflection of the general laziness in the script and execution that plagued the entirety of the film. It’s an incredibly slick movie. It looks incredible. But the writing was weak, the dialog clumsy, and it ended up not doing justice to the source material or to the actresses and actors.

Well, then where is single payer?

May 6, 2017

Give him credit, at least he’s facing his constituents. Of course, the line he offers at the end about Obamacare being unsustainable is an unadulterated line of horse manure, but at least he’s saying it to their face.

Our health care spending add a lot to our federal budget/debt. It’s expensive no matter how you cut it. The truth is, though, that the ACA has done more to reign in those costs and control them than we would have seen without it, or that we will see with the AHCA.

For the talk of the cost of premiums going up, they have still climbed at a slower rate than they did the decade previous.  For anyone who had health care, take a look at your premiums. They never went down. And while some places had hikes that were abnormally high, others didn’t. As a whole, it put our health care system in a better place.

It also extended the life of the social security fund. Now, to be clear, social security was never going to go entirely bankrupt. Even after the fund that was set up runs out of money to guarantee 100% of expected payouts, the yearly money coming in was still expected to meet anywhere from 75-85% of those costs. It was never going to shrink to zero and, if some pretty simple and relatively painless (compared with the pain of screwing over the elderly in 15 years who won’t have those social security checks they expect/need) taxes are enacted, there won’t be any short fall.

The ACA has made it possible for a whole bunch of people to have insurance that would have otherwise went without.  And going without insurance does, in fact, kill people. I’ve talked about the moral imperative of caring about your neighbor before. Personally, I think it’s just a bit easier to be okay living in a nation where we decided to put our money where our mouth was and ponied up to try to make sure they could be a bit more okay.

This doesn’t touch this unsustainable malarkey that Rep. Tom Reed went to, though.  The truth is that if the ACA is unsustainable, then market based insurance is going to be unsustainable unless you’re fine with everyone but the very wealthy being able to afford to see a doctor. Which is essentially saying that a whole bunch of people are going to live painful, disease-ridden lives before dying before their time in likely miserable, painful ways while afflicted with diseases and conditions that could have at least been mitigated with proper health care. This is a long way of saying screw the poor. Or even middle class, because health care is really really expensive and even if you’re pulling down $70K a year, if you get hit by the cancer stick you’re also going to get hit with the bankruptcy stick just trying to survive it.

The only fall back at that point is to just go to the emergency room for everything, where they have to see you and treat you since a law Ron Reagan signed in 1986, and then just not pay whatever bills result.

Which will increase costs for everyone else. So even if you’re not paying for someone to be on medicaid, you’re still paying for their care but in a far less efficient way. In other words, you’re spending more money to provide care to that person than you could have spent if you just made sure they could have some sort of insurance.

But, yeah, the ACA isn’t sustainable. Which should mean the only rational choice is to move to a single payer system. Instead, we’re going to go with a more expensive, less efficient system that gives coverage to fewer people. Because rich people, taxes, and an insanely selfish, short-sighted GOP that lies through its teeth about all of this.

I don’t need a Big Brother

April 21, 2017

There is something about the perceived dichotomy on the right between Big Brother and social welfare programs. We’re seeing the budget for the military likely expanded again. In the past fifteen years I’ve witnessed the rapid growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the acceptance of the government essentially having carte blanche to surveil its citizens and to use the information gleaned from that for whatever purpose they want. I’ve seen off-shore prison sites used by my government when they want to get around things like due process. And I’ve seen the FBI throw itself into the middle of a presidential election to influence the process. All of this represents a growth of government. And it seems the majority of those who make up the right wing of American politics is fine with it.

What they are not fine with is socialized medicine. Food stamps. Public housing. Even public lands, really, unless someone gets to pollute and destroy it first to try to pull a privatized buck out of it. I will unapologetically say that these things represent a growth of government, too, except it’s not a growth bent on killing or imprisoning people.

I will also admit to not knowing why the right supports the former but not the latter. I know there are all sorts of possibilities thrown about from a misguided belief that we live in overly violent times (we don’t) to just a pure one-sided “If it’s my team, I don’t care, as long as we win” mentality.  Maybe it just boils down to the idea that one is for our safety while the other is for freeloaders, though I think it takes a remarkable level of pessimism and disconnect with humanity in general to believe there is just this sea of freeloading ne’er-do-wells looking to take advantage of our kindnesses, and that this sea doesn’t include any of ourselves or the people we know and love. It’s all those other people.

A lot of this post stems back to Trump’s proposed budget that essentially slashed all discretionary spending to things like NPR, NEA, science funding, etc. to throw another half billion at the military. It’s also a reaction to the whole idea that you’re un-American if you ever don’t support spending more on the military.

I do not support spending more on the military. Pay the troops more, sure, but lets make fewer air craft carriers then, since they’re now being said to possibly be ineffective.  Our most effective strategy against ISIS has been making sure the locals are trained better paired up with smaller special ops units and targeted drone strikes.

Before I wrap this up I want to also say that I don’t support things like single payer health care and stronger social safety nets and free university education because I want or need the government to look out for me. I support it because I want to look out for my friends and neighbors and it’s my tax money, too. Knowing that the family down the road wouldn’t have to worry about their finances crumbling if their kid gets leukemia means something to me. I care about that, even if I don’t know them. Knowing that all of our kids could go to university or to a vocational school and not put themselves into thousands of dollars of debt to learn a skill to live better lives (and, in turn, to likely enrich the lives of many others) means something to me. This isn’t wanting my hand to be held. This isn’t being a snowflake or some other stupid disparaging crap.

This is how I define being human.  Caring about each other, supporting each other. Life is inherently unfair, and will always be unfair to some degree. But we have the ability to mitigate that unfairness, to level the playing field a bit to at least provide a minimum degree of safety and assurance. We have the ability to give a damn.