Eagle Scout

I just bought a copy of the Mueller Report.

When I was 16, I bought a copy of the Warren Report. And I read it which is even weirder.

And, at the time, because the Warren Commission was headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I figured what was in the report was the absolute truth and that conspiracy theorists were crackpots. I still mostly think that but it’s harder since it has been revealed to me that truth is like jelly, deceptively solid, fluid with the merest heat.

I ordered the Mueller Report after I saw on the news that a particularly vociferous defender of the president, some Republican member of Congress whose name I don’t recall or refuse to commit to memory, admitted he’d not read the report because, well, why would he have to since the president already told him what was in it and I was reminded of people who run around quoting the Bible because of verses they’ve read on restaurant placemats. It’s hard reading the real stuff. Real hard.

So to make myself feel extra righteous about this purchase, I’m going to quote President John Kennedy’s famous statement about going to the moon.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Now we are entering the realm of the sanctimonious. I understand that. And I would apologize for this, for “making a show of being morally superior to other people” as the helpful Google dictionary puts it, except I think reading the Mueller Report is the morally superior thing to do and that’s why I’m going to do it despite the fact that it will probably take me well into the next decade to finish it, my attention span and preoccupation with social media being what it is.

I was a student once, though, a serious one. So my plan is to approach this task like homework. Now, leafing through this 448 page masterpiece, it seems that the reading might go faster than I thought.

The Trump years have worn me down. I find myself shrugging off things that would have made me careen into a light pole three years ago. Worse, the people around me are shrugging. We’re all shrugging. And many of us, tired of the discipline required for effective moral outrage, are skipping out on the hard work of resistance. It really is such a bitch to deal with national politics. Easier to be a thorn in the side of local elected officials. It’s way more fun and offers the prospect of immediate results.

I think the opposition, and yes, the Republicans are opponents, never mind the nostalgia of Joe Biden in his claim that the GOP would return to sanity once Trump is out of the picture, anyway, the opposition is assuming that we over here in the resistance are so gosh darn tuckered out with all our marching and yelling and sign-making that we’re just going to wander off and watch Seinfeld reruns and remember old times when we thought things made sense.

Nope. Not me. I’m working on getting my citizenship badge at this year’s jamboree. One page at a time.

More Later

Tonight, in one sitting and with the comfort of two rum and cokes, I watched When They See Us on Netflix.

I’d been dreading it but knew I had to watch it. It seemed to me to be a moral responsibility, to not just read about the exoneration of the “Central Park Five” in the newspaper but to sit there and have what I knew would be layers of injustice pile up before my eyes.

I wasn’t astonished by it. I think there are many people in prison who were wrongly convicted largely because of racial bias in the legal system. I don’t think that’s rare; this case was rare, though, for the fear it struck among women everywhere. Wilding. That was the term that was used. The “Central Park Five” – all young teenage boys – were accused of wilding. It was terrifying. They were just boys but they were black boys and so people accepted the wilding label as if it made all the sense in the world. Of course, that’s what black boys do. They go wilding. I remember at the time, we bought that. Everybody bought that. Why.

The film connects us to the five boys in deep, personal ways. We get to know them as regular teenagers, then terrified boys, and then incarcerated people and never once are the characters overdrawn and nothing seems to have been exaggerated for effect. The truth was bad enough without embellishment. And their mothers. We get to know their steadfast, flawed, heartbroken mothers. And their fathers, who sometimes had to disappear to cope with their own grief and helplessness. They were loved boys and the love lasted.

What is missing from the film and reality as well, I suppose, is retribution. Once the actual rapist confesses and all five are exonerated, there are brief scenes where the prosecutor confronts the cop who extracted their confessions and the district attorney who, essentially, constructed a scenario whereby the boys were guilty while ignoring vast evidence to the contrary. I wanted to see her ruined, humiliated, anguished, and repentant. But she wasn’t. Maybe that will come in a sequel.

The racism in the film is profound and will stun a lot of people. But I was not stunned. I was ashamed, though.

It Only Took One Question to Make Me Go Sit Down

“Who would vote for you?”

I’d scheduled a lunch meeting with my longtime mentor, a former priest who was an administrator at the local anti-poverty agency where I was working, to tell him I was thinking of running for Alderman.

And that was the first thing out of his mouth. “Who would vote for you?” It didn’t seem to be a question intended for analysis, like ‘let’s sort through how you would appeal to various voting blocs.‘ It was a reflex statement that read to me like ‘really? you think you should run for Alderman?’ And in that moment, I knew I’d overstepped. It wasn’t my place.

That was twenty-five years ago but I can still remember driving away feeling completely foolish. Who was I to think I could organize and run a campaign, raise money, go door to door, convince people to vote for me?

A friend put me in contact with a leader of an ad agency known as a political kingmaker. I was surprised when he agreed to meet me at a local Mexican hangout. We ate enchiladas on paper plates and he grilled me. “Are you active in the Democratic Party? Do you belong to a church? A synagogue? Do you belong to any groups? Any large groups of people who would support you?”

The answer to all of his questions was no. I didn’t have a base or a group or anything. I just had myself and my family. I also had a lot of experience and knew a lot of people. I had a good reputation and was willing to work hard. It seemed to me that the people who were already Aldermen didn’t have much more than that going for them.

He looked at me and shrugged, “Who would vote for you?” From the campaign kingmaker’s lips to my ears, ‘you wouldn’t have a prayer.’ And right there, in that moment, I gave up on the idea and almost became embarrassed for ever having had it in the first place.

The guy who was eventually elected was younger than me with less experience, a staff person in a neighborhood organization. A good looking guy, suave and lovable, but I don’t know which church he belonged to or who was his base. Apparently he had one, though, or people thought he did. So he won.

Looking back, I know it was my fault for being so easily discouraged. I let myself be marginalized and diminished, maybe because it was what I had come to expect being a woman in America, maybe because I thought it was what I deserved. But I accepted it, that’s the unpleasant truth. I didn’t question their judgement. “They said no one would vote for me,” I told my husband. He started to argue but gave up when he saw I agreed with them.

I don’t think I was unique or that I had some pathologically low self-image. I had plenty of ego even then. I thought I was smart and capable. I believed I was exceptional. Until two men told me I wasn’t. Who would vote for you?

So the women who ran for office twenty-five years ago, those women were lions. Because I’m betting they got the same reaction I did when they started out but they didn’t quit. They refused to believe that no one would vote for them. I wish I had been like them but I wasn’t.

And women who are interested in elective office now? They support each other. They train each other. They knock on doors and take over social media and they win. All over the place. Locally, at the state level, in Congress. It’s beautiful to see. Any one of the many women I know who are in office or are running would laugh in the face of any man who asked them “Who would vote for you?” and then they’d hand him an invite to a fundraiser and keep moving down the line.

It’s so grand. I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see this.

Imposter Syndrome

This morning at the dog park I got irked by a man who wouldn’t keep his dog from trying to pick a fight with my dog. His dog was relentless, chasing, body-slamming, humping so much that my mild-mannered dog, Swirl, snapped back. He finally leashed up his dog and we split up on the trail.

Even while I was immersed in my aggravation, I realized that a few months ago I had a dog, albeit very briefly, who herded every dog he encountered, picked fights, pinned smaller dogs, and took running jumps onto the laps of people sitting on benches enjoying the sunshine.

How fast we forget.

I have been enjoying the sense of superiority enjoyed by a mother whose kid has never tantrumed in a grocery store. Other people might have awful dogs but I don’t. And, oddly, and pretty quickly, I’ve lost any empathy I might have once had for the owners of bad dogs. I only had empathy for people with bad dogs when I had a bad dog. Then we were in it together.

No more.

I’ve crossed over. I’m with the moms whose kids sit quietly in the grocery cart and sing songs from day care and never ask for candy at the checkout. I’m with the moms who shake their heads at the screaming two-year old in the next lane over grabbing gum from the rack and throwing it over his mother’s head at the old lady trying valiantly to smile and be understanding.

Never mind that I’ve had this dog for six weeks and he spent his entire life of seven years raised in a kennel with 200 other sled dogs so however well-behaved he is has zero to do with me or my dog handling capabilities.

I’m not going to let that small piece of history bother me. I’m going to act like I belong here – with all the other owners of good dogs. This is my life now. I’ve earned it after all those years at the grocery scrambling around putting the gum back in the rack.

Love is Patient

“Wait a year until you let him off leash. Wait until he really knows you’re his people.”

So said Tasha, the owner of the sled dog kennel where we adopted our big beautiful sled dog, Swirl.

He follows us through the house, looks back at us when we’re walking sometimes, not very often, comes when he’s called at the dog park his own way which is running toward us and then past to let us know he heard us but wants nothing to do with us, a lot like our kids when they were teenagers, never really taking off but never under control either.

We spent the weekend at our cabin on Lake Superior. There we were with the sand and the lake and the bluest sky, the one that only exists up there in the north, and we ached to let him go. Watch him lope along, no leash, no harness.

But we did what Tasha said. She hasn’t been wrong so far, we figured. She was the expert on all things dog.

Later in the day, coming up the driveway to our place, we saw a red fox leaping high in the beach grass, flying across our property like a swooping eagle. It was breathtaking. For us and for Swirl and had he not been at the end of a leash I was holding he would have torn after the fox and gone wherever the fox decided to go.

It wouldn’t matter if we called him back. He wouldn’t have come. We’re his people. We know that. But we love him more than he loves us. He loves chasing the fox he’s never met more than he loves us. And it’s going to be that way for a while.

Maybe a long while. That’s fine. We’ll wait.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Muddy Waters

If big pompous guys knew how many times I’ve been waved away in my life and how inured I am to the gesture, maybe they’d try something else to counter my comments and questions. Minimize and diminish, it’s such a favorite tactic of big pompous guys. “You obviously don’t understand.”

I have on my To Do List a recurring task called “Call out B.S.” It never gets completely crossed out as completed, instead it is carried over from day to day, because the river of bullshit is wide and endless, starting somewhere in China and encircling the world five times at least, maybe more.

Wiser people than me say to let the bullshit river flow. Pay it no mind. Bullshit will find its own level as they say in the world of civil engineering and Emily Post. And a lot of the time, I adhere to that belief because, after all, it can be a full time occupation calling out B.S. and I have other things to do.

Still, some bullshit I can’t ignore. And so I call it. Sometimes in person but usually on social media because Facebook, in particular, is a bullshit magnet. And it never goes well, no one rowing on the bullshit river ever hangs up his paddles willingly. I know that. I get the futility of it but somebody has to talk back sometime or we will just be flooded by, you guessed it.


I can’t even talk about Alabama because, if I do, if I even start thinking about it, I’ll start hating on people and that’s contrary to where I want to go with my life at this point since I’ve resolved to stop making people I differ with my enemies and to start finding common ground with them but there is no common ground to be found with people, men and women, who would force a younger me to have a stranger use a wire to end a pregnancy that I couldn’t have a doctor end because he would be breaking the law and so I had to take my life in my hands because that was less terrifying than what would lie ahead if I continued to be pregnant, and that’s what I’ll think about if I think about Alabama, that they wouldn’t care about the wire, it wouldn’t mean anything to them, but it could have killed me.