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.

These are Some Mean Times

We dumped our investment advisor because he loved Donald Trump.

Oh, there was more to it than that. Somehow, he felt emboldened to send me a nasty, untruthful meme about Barack Obama during the 2016 election. It was so out of character I figured someone had hijacked his account.

But no, it was him. He defended himself even after I pointed out how his meme was factually incorrect (as if facts matter). And then he went on to explain how Trump’s election would be fabulous for all of us.

We’d known this guy for a long time. Trusted him with some pretty important decisions and certainly a lot of information. We had invested years in our professional relationship with him but it was finished in mere minutes. Done, just completely done.

There was no way we were going to do business with him anymore. That’s how immediate and extreme our reaction was. And that was before we even knew how epically bad Trump would be as president.

Now, I’m not sure I could even carry on a conversation with someone who still supports Trump. And that’s not good. We used to be able to overlook someone being a Democrat or Republican. Heck, we figured all stockbrokers were Republicans, focused completely on making money and minimizing taxes. We were down with that even though when we aren’t talking investments we are on the far left of the political spectrum.

So we straight up asked the next investment guy if he voted for Trump. We now had a litmus test and there was only one right answer. A yes with an explanation wouldn’t work. This was a yes or no question, the upshot of which might have been stuffing our money in the mattress.

It hasn’t stopped there. I just can’t fathom someone still supporting Trump and, as unpleasant and closed-minded as it seems, I can’t knowingly do business with a Trump supporter. I will cross the street, find another gas station, find a different store, change my own oil if I have to but come at me with anything with the slightest whiff of MAGA and I will have to go.

And it’s not one-sided. Oh no, don’t think that it’s only liberals who are drawing their lines in the sand. The MAGA folks are doing the same only they’re louder and not so discreet. Don’t get me started.

It’s kind of crazy if you think about it, that we basically can’t even stand to look at each other. Let’s hope it’s just a moment in time.

The Long Process of Making Amends

I think the trick to dealing with terrible stuff in your past is to own it.

Virginia Governor Northam wouldn’t be in the fix he’s in if he had Xeroxed the page from his yearbook, kept it in his wallet, and pulled it out every chance he had to talk about race, racism, white privilege, and arrogance.

He could have said, “I did this. At the time, I felt that it was okay to do it. It was only later that I figured it out and I’m here to talk about me then and me now.”

I would have listened.

I’ve never been in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) but I know people who have so I’m tuned in to the notion of making amends (Steps 8 and 9 in the 12-step program).

Governor Northam could have spent the entire time between his medical school yearbook’s publication and last week making amends for participating in a blackface/KKK event memorialized in a photo which he now disputes included him even though it’s sitting right next to his graduation picture in the yearbook. Quite an editing error, I’d say.

But he didn’t do that.

He pretended like what was in the yearbook didn’t matter. He ran for office, asked for support, got others to mobilize the substantial black vote in Virginia, and never once mentioned that he’d had this awful behavior in his past. Two explanations for this oversight: either he thought no one would ever find his yearbook or he thought it didn’t matter. In either contingency, he overestimated himself and underestimated others.

Think how differently this whole mess would have played out had the dear Governor decided long ago to make amends.

When a recovering alcoholic makes amends, he is really doing three things. First, he is owning his behavior. Even if he doesn’t remember it, even if he was blacked out at the time, even if he knows he wronged someone only from the dreams of his now-sober sleep, he is claiming his own deeds. That takes great honesty.

Second, by his apology and his efforts to make amends, a recovering alcoholic is validating the distress he caused others. The acknowledgement of the pain one has caused has great meaning to the people who were injured. “Thank you, it’s not nothing that you wrecked my car, punched out my brother, and retched all over my wedding gown.” It takes courage to acknowledge and apologize directly to the persons one has harmed. It’s humbling, maybe humiliating, and then it’s righteous.

And last, owning up to one’s past and making amends reminds everyone of this one essential truth in life: Redemption is possible. It has to be or we’re all sunk. There is nothing greater, nothing more impressive than someone who has seen the error of his ways and now spreads that word to folks hiding their own failings. It’s powerful.

It isn’t the photograph that has disqualified Governor Northam from holding office. It’s what he has done since the moment he opened his yearbook and saw the photograph sitting there next to his yearbook picture. He had a choice right then and again at every college reunion, every walk down memory lane, every time he pulled the yearbook off the shelf to show to his colleagues, to his children, to make amends and be an example of change and progress.

That wasn’t his choice, though. And so it’s right to expect him to resign. Now he will have the time he needs to understand the damage he caused and begin to make amends. I wish him well in that long process.

99 New: Somebody’s Baby

Somebody had to flip the switch, pull the trigger, throw the canister, aim and fire, probably several somebodies. And it wasn’t on a computer screen that they did the pointing and clicking, there was nothing antiseptic about it. People employed by the American government fired tear gas at refugees seeking asylum in the United States including women and children, small children, children in diapers.

So who are these somebodies who have worked it out in their heads that tear-gassing refugees is personally morally acceptable because that ultimately is what we’re talking about – what is personally morally acceptable. They probably had time to consider it ahead of time. It is unlikely that the decision was a spur of the moment one, the tear gas had been ordered a while ago and, I’m betting, there had been plenty of tear gas drills to make sure everything went smoothly, without a hitch, except for the part where ace photographers were able to catch refugees’ trauma in real time.

The trap is thinking that the people who did the tear-gassing are freaks. This is what I used to think about the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, dropped the Zyklon-B in the gas chambers, rousted people from their homes, made them dig their own graves, and shot them one by one. I figured that Hitler’s crew had figured out how to find all the country’s screwed-up sadistic characters, put special outfits on them, and let them loose to torture and murder.

But it wasn’t like that. Each of those Nazis was somebody’s baby, each grew up to be somebody who looked like everybody else, and then became somebody who could bayonet a baby in his mother’s arms. They weren’t freaks, they were just everyday Joes that grew up and took root in a hothouse of hatred and white supremacy.

They were just following orders.

The Americans at the border who tear-gassed refugees were just following orders. We don’t know if there were one or two or twenty who said “no, I’m not doing this.” There might have been. We do know that there were enough willing to do it that it got done. And those Americans went home to their families, helped their kids with their homework, and went to sleep in their beds while families at the border were still struggling to breathe.

It’s really unfathomable until you think about it.

Vicious, horrible things are the meat of America along with its beauty, its freedom, and its dream. We indulge our pride and patriotism while pushing institutionalized cruelty – historical and current – to the back of our very big American closet. We have the potential is what I’m saying, we’ve proven that. We are not so very far from the bayoneting Nazi because, remember, they weren’t freaks. Each was somebody’s baby.

What would have happened at the border if every single person had said no to using tear gas? What if the designated tear-gas shooters saw the desperate people coming toward them and just said, “Nope. Not doing it.” Did they think it but not have the courage to act? Or did they not think it? Neither bodes well for us as a country.

Maybe what is needed is more visible moral courage. Like the 27 Methodists singing Amazing Grace who surrounded an ICE van to protect an immigrant from deportation. The pastor said to police, “We understand this is your job, but we need you to understand that as a matter of conviction we cannot move, and you will have to arrest us.” (The Hill, 11/26/18)

Let’s lift up the Methodists and be like them. Let’s stand and sing Amazing Grace instead of lobbing tear gas at babies. Let’s beat back our bad selves and our lazy, scared, silent selves and start singing as loud as we can. Nobody will do this for us. We have to do it, even if we don’t know the words. All together and really loud.


99 New refers to a writing challenge; this is 72/99 consecutive blog posts.

99 New: An Open Letter to My Dear Friend Hillary

Dear Hillary,

I daresay in this age of hyperbole and conjecture that it is entirely possible that someone without your best interests at heart planted the rumor that you are thinking of running again for President in 2020. They might have sown those seeds of your wanting another run just for the fun of seeing all the new trolls and memes emerge, new ones specially crafted just for you, wicked ones, best not to look.

So though it may be a great fiction that you are contemplating a third run for President, I still feel compelled to write. Knowing you as I do, a compatriot of age and temperament, I can say things to you that maybe younger people or people less traveled in the world of hard knocks might say. So here goes.

It’s done. The third time will not be the charm, it will just be the third time, the third time you knock yourself out, spend millions of dollars, put your real life on hold, build unholy alliances, make mistakes, work harder than everyone else, know more than everyone else, and lose. And it won’t be fair. Just like it wasn’t fair the first two times.

It is someone else’s turn.

I don’t say this because you’re old or your politics are bad (although some would argue both are true). It’s because you already lost twice. You smell like defeat. No one will tell you but I will. You reek of it. It’s in your clothes like smoke from a bad date. It smells used and musty like a mistake left to rot on the vine.

Here’s my advice. Take all your old stuff to Goodwill, the pastel pant suits, all of them, and go buy some new jeans. And after you get your new jeans, buy yourself some great boots. And after you get the great boots, find a new way to be great. Don’t go back to the place where you got fucked over. That’s crazy. Go somewhere entirely new – Go West, Young Woman – and claim a new space. Create your own world and be extraordinary there. And free. Be free there.

Trust me, I’m right about this. I see things you can’t see because you’re still crying even though you’re pretending you’re not. Take your wounded feelings and your mad desire for revenge and shitcan them. Go find out what comes next.


Your devoted supporter, Jan.


Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash