Splitting it Three Ways



The fan stirred the soupy air with none of the force necessary to transform it into a cooling agent. The A/C had clunked off again and hour ago with the sound of a drunkard falling down a metal staircase. Candles guttered on the mantle over the sealed up fireplace, my little piece of protest against the gagging efforts of the landlady over the antebellum charms of the split-level ghetto cottage. I’d left the door to the porch cracked for the prayer of a breeze off the Cape Fear, though I knew it meant there’d be a cicada or two to scare up from the filthy living room the next day. Also, open doors and windows were kind of like television—they could bring entertainment in the form of domestic quarrels or drunken sing-alongs or whispered plots. It wasn’t uncommon for the Wilmington Police to play a role in a production just beyond the edge of my rental property as they did this particular night.


A blue loop of light went round the ceiling at a quicker clip than the fan and a red one chased it. Radios squawked and tires chirped on curb; other clichéd sounds of The Man arriving. I listened. Car doors heaved closed, muffled protests, young men’s voices raised in timbre (which, I once read, is an inheritance of ancient survival tactics, like dogs showing their bellies or avoiding eye contact). I slipped out from under the damp sheet, clicked the dog shut in the bedroom with her peaked ears and ready bark, slid out to the balcony and beheld the quotidian sight of three young black men cuffed on my curb with two white policemen standing practically on top of them. One cop was advising them to divulge or produce anything that could hurt them.


Boys, he drawled, I’m tryin’ to help y’all here. If y’all got something in that car I should know about, go on ahead and let me have it before my partner digs it up? Much better idea.


The young men chose to remain silent, which they had not been made aware was their right. Silently myself, I congratulated them, lit a smoke and leaned over the railing. Good cop let his veil slip as he scowled at me through my smoke; I waved lazily like I was on his side and he, no doubt divining my skin tone, eased his scowl into a tight-lipped smile. Presumable bad cop emerged from the Nissan Maxima with a Mag Light trained on his opposing palm. He slammed it down on the cruiser’s hood like he was at cards.


Which one of y’all shitbirds owns the crack?


Soft curses, almost like prayers, puffed up from the young men on the curb. I felt my own crawl up my throat with an exhalation of Marlboro. Stay silent, I implored them, three times over, catching myself as my voice almost became audible across those impossible ten yards. They did as I wished. Good cop paced like a professor, hands at his lower back.


C’mon now y’all, he cooed, I can split this rock three ways and charge all of y’all or one of you can man up and take it.


The filter burned my thumb. Now I didn’t know what to implore them to do. My memory scrambled over legal knowledge—wouldn’t the driver just automatically get it? But if he did, and it wasn’t his, what did that mean for these men?


Y’all got ten seconds to get smart, good cop sighed.


Bad cop took up a position behind them with fat fingers that tickled Glock grip. I dropped my smoke in the grass accidentally, grateful for the first time for the humidity of the night that would extinguish it. My mind raced: could I call out advice without getting arrested myself? What would I say? Stay silent? Someone claim it? Should I at least let the cops know I was watching with the eye of a critic and not some smug white interloper in this blacked-out block? Time ran out. Bad cop hoisted the first young man one and folded him—bam!—on the hood. Bam!, two, bam!, three. Three distressed, bruised letter L’s with cheeks pressed to the hot hood of a Caprice. Good cop flipped a blade open and sighed again, snapping that rock in three. I went inside to try for sleep.


How to Slip Your Cage



For survivors of Narconon and the Church of Scientology

First, pretend to be delighted that you get to enter. If you buck and fight, it will only end in your blood spilt and a longer time until you are ultimately free. If you buck and fight, they will take the violence out of you and turn it against you so that your first couple of days in the cage will be spent on the ground (not that there is anywhere else to be) and in agony—trust me, I made the wrong choice. So you must enter willingly, will forth a tear if they don’t flow naturally, act relieved to finally be getting the help you need.


Second, do not look for a comfortable place to arrange your body. You will not find it. There are no chairs, no bunks, not even so much as a ledge to perch your ass upon. You have a floor and walls with the uneven roll of hand-hewn log cabin, so leaning your spine against them is no relief. You have to figure out how to sit on a dirty wooden floor in a way that doesn’t produce agony or, if like me, this is impossible—with all the bruises and scrapes—you have to learn how to sit through agony. This is probably the best thing, so in that case, if you need an extra dose of agony to create the necessity of sitting through it, disregard step #1.


Third, eat the vitamin blasts that they push on you through the cracked door as if there were the most delicious fucking snack you’ve ever tasted. Suck down the horse pill capsules like they are pieces of your lover whom you can only save by devouring. Feel the gritty work of those capsules in your abdomen, the slow slink of a hundred doses of vitamins into your veins. Trust not that they are good for you, not in their claims that they will silence the voices in your head or extinguish the gnawing need for dope, but trust that compliance is your only hope of escape and so swallow those fuckers.


Fourth, defecate and urinate in the bucket. Do not succumb to urges to paint arcs on the dark wall. It will not spite them because you will be forced to live with the stench and ultimately clean it up. Do not succumb to this also because it will make you appear yet more deranged and will extend the time you spend in your cage.


Fifth, when they bring stacks of paper to sign, sign. Do not ask questions and do not try to read the tiny font in the weak light that slices a rectangle around the door. Do not attend to useless thoughts about your rights, or lack thereof, or the meaning of your signature on those many pages. Refusing to sign, or asking questions or trying to read the tiny font, even, will probably earn you another blast of vitamins and another day at least to consider the foolishness of resistance.


Sixth, when the voices get louder, listen closer. Because here’s the thing: the voices are your own. And even if they’ve landed you in a lot of trouble in the past, when you’re locked in a cage breathing feces in the dark for long enough, jailed by people with blind faith, no mercy, ballpoint pens and vitamin blasts, the voices will begin to serve you instead of betray you. The voices will tell you the truth: that these people are not going to let you out until you deny your voices. That these people are not going to let you out until you profess that your cravings for dope have subsided.


Seventh, if the voices guide you, obey them. If they say to scream out in agony, do so. If they say to scream for mercy, do so. If they tell you to mutter gratitude to your captors, do so. If they tell you to remain silent for long stretches, do so.


Eighth, when you no longer expect the door to open, expect the door to open.


Ninth, when the door opens, remain still and make an attempt to smile.


Tenth, when they ask you if you think you are ready to come out, tell them you think you need just a little bit longer.

Richard Sherman & Macklemore: Seattle Raises Race

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You can’t tell me otherwise—I’ve lived in and traveled through too many other sections of this nation: people think of Seattle as a “white” city.  And with good reason.  In 2010 the census put as at 69.5% whitey—though 33.7% people of color, however that works.  Secondarily people think of Seattle as Asian, also with good reason given our historical influx of Vietnamese, Japanese and Pacific Islanders and the robust and colorful “Chinatown” they brought with them.  But for white boys like me who grew up attending inner city schools in Seattle, it’s always been a little bit schizophrenic to consider our city “white” because our experience was anything but.  Even if the majority of Garfield High was white in 1995, for example, Garfield was considered a “black” school—in large part due to its location in the Central District, its fierce athletic and music departments, etc.   It was also known—and still is to some—as “the slave ship,” due to the AP and predominately white classrooms located on the top floor.  More to the point, inasmuch as hip-hop culture is identified with black culture (much more so when I was a kid) that was the dominant and “cool” culture that we all came up with.  By definition, being a white boy and being popular in the schools I attended presented challenges (I don’t mean to imply that it presented more challenges than being black in America).  So there was always something that bugged me about the impression of Seattle as a white city, awash in sonic waves of Nirvana, packed full of limp-wristed, pale people that inhabited dark coffee shops (where I sit right now typing).  I don’t think I was the only white boy to come out of that academic/social experience constantly managing the temptation to say, “not the Seattle I know” when people generalized or guessed at our culture in far-flung cities. 


Anyway, I say all of this just to frame the irony that Seattle, in the last ten days, has produced the two individuals and the two incidents that provide the most useful fuel for discussion of race—particularly racism against blacks—that I’ve seen in a long time: Richard Sherman’s interview after the Seahawks’ win against the 49ers and Macklemore’s commentary about walking off with all the Grammies last night.  More to the point, I’m proud—proud that these two famous Seattleites (ok, I know Richard Sherman’s from Compton) have led the way in pushing hard on the nuances of race and racism in their respective industries. 


Sherman’s inspired soliloquy after he outclassed the San Francisco offense as well as his eloquent press conference have been properly dissected in the media already, most impressively, I think, by Dave Zirin.  I love it: Sherman doesn’t waste any words: “thug” is the new way to use the N word.  And what better evidence of the broad blindness of American racism than the fact that this man who’s being called a “thug” is a Stanford grad and deeply invested in service to his community, in addition to, as he said in his moment of thrall, “the best” at what he does on the field.  The fact that a broad swath of America could watch Richard Sherman celebrate the win with panache and joy and see only an angry black “thug” underlines either how unfamiliar most of this country is with black culture or points to the fact that any “black” behavior is “thuggish.” 


Macklemore was polite at the Grammies last night and he failed to make any political statements under the limelight.  But just after he texted and tweeted and did all those things he does so well about how Kendrick Lamar had been “robbed.”  Implicit in this message is that Macklemore understands that his race had more than a little to do with the sweep of awards he made. When Macklemore released “white privilege” all those years ago, some people yawned, some people snickered, some people hated, some people nodded.  And I admit that I was suspicious about the transparency of what he was doing on that track—standing on white privilege to decry it seemed  ideologically tautological.  But then again, how else do you do it?  Make an indie-alt record?  Dude is a b-boy, by any measure.  At any rate, at least to my mind, Macklemore’s messages on social media last night mark his integrity and his awareness of the mindfuck of racism in the hip-hop industry more fully than any track he could write and sell about it. 


So it’s a validating if frigid and foggy January morning for me—to see that at least for the moment national conversations about race are emanating from Seattle, and they are not laced with the inoculating agents of political correctness or expediency.  Go Hawks; rock on, Ben (Macklemore).  Maybe at this rate Garfield High School won’t always be known as “the slave ship” in the neighborhood.  


ABC_capitol_car_chase_2_ml_131004_16x9_992 imgres 250px-WashBullets90s


I’ve never come across a document of any kind that reflects upon the incredible irony of the Washington Bullets NBA franchise.  Ok, so team owner Abe Pollin saw the light and changed the name to the “Wizards” in 1995, claiming the assassination of his friend Yitzhak Rabin as the final straw in scouring overtones of violence from his team’s name.  First element of irony: the final straw was not the ridiculous level of inner city violence in DC., but the death of an Israeli politician. Second element of irony: The Clash put the song “Washington Bullets” on their bestselling super anti-imperialist 1980 album Sandinista! possibly to shine the light on U.S. policy emanating from DC, though The Clash have claimed innocence about that.  Third element of irony: this is what passes for gun reform in America: changing a basketball team’s name, versus, say, passing legislation or addressing the root causes of conflict in the inner city. 


I got to thinking about this, of course, because of yesterday’s supernova ballyhoo about the depressed, unarmed mother who drove her car to the White House and got smoked by volunteer (thanks to the shutdown) DC Police and Secret Service Officers.  I half-watched the colorful wheels of CNN and MSNBC spin while I cooked dinner.  Every congress member interviewed regarding the shutdown of the government was first asked where they were and what they saw of the violence yesterday.  The shooting took most of the time of each segment.  And no doubt in the days to come we will hear the depths of Miriam Carey’s life and the composition of her demons spelled out with the flair of prime time inquiry.  This offers the possibility of a look at mental health treatment, so there is a silver lining to the prurient blender we’ll be watching. 


But I couldn’t help but think if I were a black or brown inner city resident of DC, I’d be a little cynical about the intensity of coverage.  I imagine I might say to myself, Can you believe this shit, self?  A shooting right HERE in Washington DC!  Then I’d cackle but it wouldn’t feel funny and I’d probably want a drink. 


In 2011 there were 78 homicides by gun in Washington DC.  Of the victims, 2 where white.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Miriam Carey has gotten more attention than any other black victim of gun violence in our capital.  I wish for her and her orphaned child that somehow her death might at least light that up on our collective radar.   






Being a media junkie often sucks.  Far from prurient, sensationalism-seeking, soulless, pale geeks shoveling celebrity joys and miseries into their slack jawed maw, many people I know who might be accused of this moniker are actually deeply empathic—to say nothing of deeply political.   They feel a responsibility to know what is going on in the wider world from day to day; for some, it’s simply a commitment to keep watch on what our tax dollars do to other peoples; for some, it’s a passionate desire to stay on top of the latest versions of oppression (think NSA wiretapping); for some, yes, it’s an unhealthy sort of addiction to tragedy and injustice that produces less catharsis and more stagnation.  I’d like to think of myself as the prior—a privileged white American male who feels some responsibility to know day in and day out what the vast majority of people in America and the wider world are experiencing.  Call it peeling an eye for where and how to be an ally.  And the argument can be made, too, that simply being aware of what’s going as a member of privileged class that doesn’t “need” to expose himself to such quotidian sorrows as the death count on Chicago’s south and west sides (500+ YTD), is being an ally.  If only because it gives you something to verbally punch the idiot at the hardware store with if he gets going on sanctity of the 2nd amendment.  Especially in this era of jacked-up, super-fueled right wing smack talk and draconian legislatures (hi, NC!), to many of us “junkies,” I think, it feels important to stay tuned in the same way it’s important to stay warm before boxing match.


But there is also far too often a gap between empathic pain/outrage and any reasonable possibility of action.  In other words, far too much of what I consume about the suffering world is not properly digested.  I try to find ways to speak out or take action or, at the bare minimum, incorporate what I’m learning into my worldview so I might sometime serve someone with a connection or understanding that they don’t expect.  And sometimes I write. 


So I’m taking the chance today to write in a celebratory vein.  In the last week, the United States crowned its first ethnic Miss America. Nina Davuluri wore the tiara at the end of the day.  And in the last week the United States saw its first transgender person chosen as homecoming queen.  Cassidy Lynn Campbell wore the tiara at the end of the day. 


The fact that both Davuluri and Campbell immediately were assaulted with hateful backlash is not surprising, nor does it mean very much.  I’m saddened by the focus of much of the media on tweets toward Davuluri that suggest she is a terrorist infiltrator, or commentary direct at Campbell that she is just a boy playing dress up.  But then again, maybe focusing on the tone and content of that backlash is wise.  Maybe by casting the depth of that ignorance into the limelight along with the beautiful young women wearing those tiaras, the juxtaposition will move someone, somewhere in middle America who’s just not sure how they feel yet about such radical change. 


But radical change it is.  Gay marriage is sweeping the nation, marijuana prohibition is finally eroding, gun control is flaring as a debate at least, some healthcare reform is coming despite the blood surging through Boehner, and  in terms of foreign policy, at least it is now, more than ever, also under the flashbulbs.  It must be a horrible time to be a xenophobic, homophobic, militant fundamentalist.  We ought not be surprised if we hear many explosions of ire from that quarter as a result.  But we ought to listen to just how dumb and tired they sound and know that they’re loud because they’re losing. 


Even at corporate beauty pageants and football games.   


Stubborn Ounces: A Question

I’m sitting in the offices of the Social Justice Fund on the 8th floor of an old office building in the heart of downtown Seattle.  I’ve spent dozens of hours in this space, watching dust motes in the sunrays and, alternately, discussing and debating grant proposals, race and class issues and strategies for social change.  I’m no longer a board member after four transformative years, but it still feels a bit like work—and a bit like a kind of home.  I’m back here to sit on a committee that will pool brainpower for the efforts of large-scale fundraising. 


On the wall is a handwritten copy of a poem by Bonaro Overstreet, which a staff member pinned to the wall to break open the last long meeting I sat through here (if memory serves).


Stubborn Ounces


You say the little efforts

Will do no good, they will

Never prevail to tip the hovering scale

Where justice hangs

In the balance


I don’t think I ever

Thought they would.  But I am

Prejudiced beyond debate in

Favor of my right to choose

Which side shall feel the stubborn

Ounces of my weight


On the way here this afternoon, Democracy Now’s daily podcast played in my ear through the new Bluetooth earpiece that I bought to raise my safety quotient (though on a motorcycle, it’s really neither here nor there since I wouldn’t likely be noodling my phone with one hand anyway).  As per policy, DN throws their beams of light around neglected corners of the days’ dark news.  In this case, that meant spotlighting the numerous and passionate street protests that have indeed erupted since the Zimmerman verdict came down on Saturday night.  Without the char and bite of blood and fire from riots in the air, the MSM would have us thinking that all was quiet on the sweltering blocks of America.  Not true: instead, as one youth activist stated on the show, young people are smarter than riots now—they have social media and savvy and history lessons and, just slightly, the momentum of the modern world on their side. 


But I wonder how all the young activists in the streets of Austin and New York City and Oakland and Tallahassee feel about stubborn ounces.  I can recall wrestling with this notion myself in college, long before I ever heard of the poem.  In 1997 I marched with the United Farm Workers through Watsonville, CA to protest the brutality and exploitation embodied by the strawberry industry (I also got tossed from an IHOP for distributing flyers to waffle-and-compote munchers, which felt carefree compared to the march under central Cali heat and the glares of state troopers).  I remember telling a friend who’d tagged along for the adventure of it that “I’d march even if I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to do any good for the workers—it’s still the right thing to do.”  I was more thinking aloud than articulating a philosophy; I was asking myself the question more than stating a principle.  It just came out as conviction like so much of my hubris did then. 


But in truth I am not sure I’ve answered the question fully.  I’m not as sure as Overstreet.  When placing your stubborn ounces costs you tears, blood and sweat, does it make sense to place them when you don’t necessarily believe they will tally a victory or a change?  Does it make sense instead to place them on scales that they can tip?  And what does that mean?  What does that look like?  Should I finish my module on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy instead of blogging about Trayvon Martin so I can serve my clients with more clinical skill tomorrow?  Should I go home and play with my son tenderly to inch him toward a man I can be proud of in this world instead of attending another SJF meeting?


What do you think?  

COLT 1911: A Partial Timeline


Part Iimages


Colt (n.):


young male horse;

inexperienced young person


The M1911 is a single-actionsemi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated pistol chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge,[1] which served as the standard-issue side arm for the United States armed forces from 1911 to 1985. It was widely used in World War IWorld War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The M1911 is still carried by some U.S. forces


[Patented April 20, 1897, September 9, 1902, December 8, 1905, February 14, 1911, August 19, 1913, Colt’s Pt. F.A. Mfg Co, Hartford, CT, USA, United State Property No. 1138164, M1911 A1 U.S. Army]





The man-boy is slope-shouldered and a very long way from central Illinois.  He walks the battlefield with a gait that would be considered leisurely if he were barefoot on a beach or even sneaker-shod on his suburban block back home, strolling to a cheerful country store for this or that staple.  But the slow scissoring of his legs now navigates him through trenches, disappearing his sodden boots in muck and gore.  He moves across charred ground, between and over corpses in some cases still smoking from the heat of their end.  These are Germans—Krauts—and he is American—brave and righteous—but I imagine that he glimpses the features of other human boys fading like the cordite clouds wafting around him.  I imagine that he has drawn the 1911 and grips it like one might the bar of a roller coaster or the armrest of the seat on a turbulence-tossed jetliner.  I imagine that he spools through his marksmanship training in his head, sees pumpkins on some Midwestern range, orange planets burst against the horizon by his rounds and tries to take comfort from that.  I imagine that at least once a body not fully finished with the grisly kinetics of this world jerks and that the boy fires an unnecessary round into a thigh or shoulder or face.  I imagine that there is something of both unveiling and of disguising in the macabre work he begins to do: plucking two pound steel swastikas from around the necks of the gone boys in the mud, tugging away helmets that despite his gentleness retain a lock of bristly hair, the more familiar and mechanical unholstering of Luger pistols that he then slips into his belt on either side of where the 1911 will ride when he can afford to release it from his ready grip.  I imagine that taking these things is, for a soldier, bittersweet vengeance and ritual, but that in this removal of Nazi symbols, he is also returning these boys to boyhood, hiding them in the mass grave for innocence he and his generation were digging faithfully.  I imagine that this disrobing of the accoutrements of war is, to him, a counterpoint to what he has done, does, will perhaps have to do, with his 1911.


I imagine that this is what my father imagined of his own father; it’s what I remember seeing in my mind, more or less, as a result of the words my father spoke about this.  But my father is dead and gone now and my aunt chops down my version with a brief email correction even as I type the last line.    


My father was first commissioned into the army as an officer. He was transferred to the Navy as Lt. JG and serviced on the ship the “Normandy.”  He was assigned to the ship’s store and as far I know, he remained in that capacity until the end of European invasion in 1943 (?).  He reached the rank of Lt. Commander. 

     Your version would make a better story, but his war memorabilia was acquired through his shipping connections.

He was quite a collector.  I think it was his curiosity and the love of documentation taught by a beloved aunt. 

     He was a Delta Kappa Epsilon with its incumbent appreciation of aromatic spirits of the beverage variety.


I must have imagined the traumatic traipse of another man across some savaged dirt of France. Perhaps my own father did, too. Maybe I’ve written pure fiction about the original journey of the M1911 Colt—then again, given the truth of that memorabilia in my basement, how pure could it be? 

Badges of Hope

Cowlicks and peach fuzz, wilding dreadlocks and casual piercings and sleeves of green script tattoos.  Kids in here wear badges of cool intended to contradict the irremovable signs of their youth, which feel more like scars by the time they’re hunched in Echo Hall with Pongo mentors.  Many say they wish they were older—and why wouldn’t they?  All the liabilities of adulthood have been strapped on them since they were far younger than they are now; hunger for the relative privileges of adulthood is comprehensible.  I want to tell them not to hurry, but it’s too late.  I don’t know how to tell them to flip a U-turn on the interstate.  I want to believe and therefore be able to tell them that there are still carefree times to be had, but it’s a lie that I could only believe if I failed to examine my own life.  A liberal arts college degree and raucous rule-free dormitory are not in many of these kids’ futures.  To try to resuscitate childhood in this kind of dormitory—deadbolts and rubber tables, surveillance cams and plexi-glass—is a joke.  Often, the best we find here is eulogy for childhood.  Inasmuch as eulogy is intended to bring closure, it’s a worthy aim.


So this is the context for how I find myself thinking about the presidential election tonight: which candidate is likely to care about the welfare of these kids robbed of their innocence?  Which candidate possesses the empathy to witness these children as something other than statistics?  Which candidate has the ability to cut through fog of stigma around their actions and see the resilience manifest in their survival?  I’m under no illusion that “at-risk youth” or juvenile “justice” is at the forefront of either candidate’s mind anymore than climate change.  But, much like climate change, we can assume that one candidate at least believes that it’s a problem—and, much like climate change, it’s a problem that threatens our future.