Friday, June 12, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

How much is your life worth? Seriously. To you. It ain't worth shit to anyone else. Maybe your family. The motherfuckers you bowl with. Shoot hoops with. Shoot heroin with. But nobody really cares, man. Ain't like we're running out of people. They're coming out of the goddamn woodwork. We're thick with 'em. We're choking. Can't breathe.

I mean it ain't like you're famous or pretty. You're just a human being. No one cares about the thoughts you have and the fears you harbor and the hopes you've defaulted on. Dude, look. The whole world's a fucking whore. You're just a John.

You think God cares? You think he's out there? If he is, he's laughing a sick fuck laugh while his creation destroys itself. That's right. Clearly a Him. A white Him. In case you were wondering.

You think the kids are gonna care? Fuck, man. The kids are carving pathways through their brains. They're courting anxiety disorders and nerve malfunction. They want their legs to twitch when they try to sleep like mine do. They have Xanax and ASMR porn. The fuck they need you for? They don't care about themselves, you think they waste time wondering about your wrinkly ass?

The Cops don't care, man. That's clear. Straight up; everybody was all: hey, maybe you should think about the way you treat black people. The way you beat black people. They're not just meat, black people!

And those motherfuckers came back angry. Wounded! They shot tear gas into the face of incredulous humanity. They beat on Moms and kids and even black men. Who'da thunk it!

You can go to a Trump Rally, but if you get sick and die, that's on you. Ain't nobody give a shit about you. Don't try to convince yourself otherwise. We care about the stock market. We care about flags. We care about ourselves because we don't think anyone will care about us.

And we toss and turn, trying to find comfort in the bed we made.


  1. Man. That's some truth and power. Thank you.

    1. Yeah, truth bomb after truth bomb. The last line a surprising payoff in that it's so lyrical and almost gentle in the wake of the preceding rhetoric (I mean that in the positive sense not the negative). Maybe oratory. I don't know. Whichever one means well-chosen and powerful, emotive words.

    2. Powerful, goddamit! Loving that last line. And I really like the paragraph about the kids and how they're sucked into their own thing and don't notice his wrinkly ass.

  2. She overslept
    so when she woke from the dream
    behind her eyes the words were still scrolling
    She attempted to catch and make sense of them
    but they were going and coming so fast
    even a pen and paper wouldn’t have helped—
    wouldn’t have matter
    So elusive… so desired….
    the words, like the first kiss from that man you only know well enough to want
    so badly, you already know what his kiss will feel like,
    way before he touches your hand.

    She woke up from the dream
    following a man long dead because he opened her door like
    he’d once had a key, letting a small girl inside.
    And when he sat on her new couch the girl disappeared inside while
    he spoke angrily to her
    Angry about so many things not the least of which that he needed to stay in this place and save the children he didn’t know,
    because he did know what young pain felt like.
    That it never really went away.
    Only morphing into something icy and hard,
    a hybrid of every pain, that you could break a heart against.

    She woke up from the dream
    because he spoke in familiar ways
    with the indignation of the principled and decent
    raging dismissively at her and everyone else,
    who’d let it get so bad.
    They say the dead don’t lie but they do and they do it purposefully.
    There is no uncertainty in death.
    They know things we don’t and therefore,
    have license to malign the innocent as well as the guilty if they choose.
    But who the fuck is really innocent except the child?

    She woke up from the dream
    sobbing in anguish,
    in no small way, undone by the magic of it all.
    Heart thumping wildly like helicopter wings.
    She did wonder what it all meant
    even when she knew in its essence it didn’t matter
    clinging to the cleansing,
    she also knew she would write it all down.

    1. Oh, this is beautiful and my heart was thumping. Love this:

      She woke up from the dream
      following a man long dead because he opened her door like
      he’d once had a key, letting a small girl inside.

    2. Agree with Laurie, even down to the section she highlighted.

      Also, "clinging to the cleansing" and the satisfying last line, echoing and resolving an earlier mention of how elusive the dream was.

    3. beautiful and poignant with an ache at the heart of it. I'm reading innocent stolen? And the inability to get beyond it. And it's jumbled in the way dreams are, repetitive and semi-real weird.

  3. Part one

    I wonder about it too. I think because the institution has changed so much. I mean, they didn't exactly endear themselves to us as teenagers. I think I talked about a few of those incidents on the phone with you, but at least we weren't beaten or roughed up. I'd still call it harassment, though, as they had no reason to keep stopping us like that just because we were teenagers. But I think that's what black people experience even more often, and their experience goes beyond harassment into life-changing violence. I was talking to a couple of friends who are black, and you know how white families have "the Talk," which is about sex and the birds and the bees, well, black families also have "the Talk" in which they drum into their kids how to avoid the very kind of situation we've seen here with George Floyd and all those other names. How to not appear threatening, how to stand, how to keep your voice low, how to address the officers as "sir" or "ma'am." I mean eight, nine, ten-year-old kids. Remember, Tamir Rice was only twelve when he was gunned down without warning.

    I think racism has always been built into the very institution, and sadly, most white people simply didn't believe the black experience in relation to law enforcement. Until now. And maybe it's changing at last.

    The other huge part of this is the militarization of the police. They're not meant to be soldiers. They're peace officers. And what kind of soldiers train their weapons on their own citizens anyway? Those in the service of murderous dictators do that. Why do we put up with them doing that in a so-called democracy? Armoured cars? Flash-bang grenades? Teargas that's even banned in war? Helmets and riot shields. If you were an alien and came down to earth and saw these ranks of helmeted, shielded men with deadly weapons and you saw the widely disparate and largely weapon-free young people with their signs and their peaceful demeanours and their vibrant colours and diversity, you would assume the cops are the bad guys. They are the Empire's stormtroopers, and the kids in the protests are Luke and Leia and Han Solo. We are the Rebel Alliance.

    1. Part two

      And another piece of the puzzle was the moment police forces began to prioritize "officer safety" over the safety of the general public. I'm not saying they shouldn't be safe, but I'm saying they should never have prioritized that. And if safety is their first concern, perhaps they're not cut out for the job, which requires some personal risk.

      And that brings me to recruitment. They need to screen for the right personalities and skill sets: people who are community minded and caring and prefer to deescalate conflicts and build relationships with all the other community stakeholders. Instead they recruit lowest common denominator angry and frustrated young men (I know women are in law enforcement too, but women tend to be less angry and frustrated, or at least not in that horribly toxic way that men are) who are more predisposed toward racism and judging others and blaming people for their situations—situations that are social facets of our society and not criminal, such as mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. So recruitment is big.

      Oh, and one more: the justice system itself is weighted to clear police officers of most crimes they might commit in the course of exercising their duties. District Attorneys and clever prosecutors in general have convinced juries that when a cop merely says he felt threatened then he has the right to exercise lethal force, and maybe that's sometimes even true. But the problem is, it usually isn't, and as we've seen now in a great number of these recent cases, cops lie about this stuff all the time. They did it with George Floyd (remember? they claimed he was "resisting arrest"?), they did it with Walter Scott, even going so far as to plant the Taser on his still-warm body, and they do it because ninety-nine times out of a hundred they get away with it.

    2. I find it nearly impossible to critique non-fiction David. I'm not that smart. I can only add a subjective modification. I was 6 when I got 'the talk' you referred to. I remember because that's also the same year I got the Birds/Bees talk too.

    3. Wow, six. :'( I even wondered if I was going too young here, but that's heartbreaking. I'm still learning so much about all this, and I now have a bunch of Toni Morrison lined up on my Kindle.

    4. Heart. Broken. So many voices think the problems are simple. So many don't believe there's even a problem. One of my colleagues talked about giving her boys "The Talk." They were maybe seven or eight.

    5. Good point about the police supposedly being peace keepers, not military. I am so glad we don't have American gun laws in the UK. I think we're safer for it. I never got the birds and the bees talk. I had to guess. At school we had one video that made no sense!
      Toni Morrison is great. I recommend James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain too, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. And Maya Angelou's I know why the Caged Bird Sings & poetry.

  4. This is a separate piece, a little angrier.

    Part one

    All those names. I remember almost all of them. And this is in the age of the camera phone. Can you imagine the abuses that happened when they thought no one was filming them? I think a lot of white people thought Rodney King was an anomaly, and whenever anyone tried to say it was commonplace, white people dismissed it as anti-police rhetoric. They are basically an armed gang sanctioned by the state. Why we put up with the idea that a stranger with a deadly weapon can pull us over in our car at their discretion, especially given the fact that most cops are lying far-right zealots with massive anger issues, is beyond me. We're partly responsible for this—our meekness and docility, and also those of us who dismissed or didn't believe black folks. It's good to finally see people acknowledge it, but where was everyone when Trayvon died or Tamir Rice or Amadou Diallo or Sandra Bland or Philando Castile or Sam Dubose or Atatiana Jefferson or Walter Scott or...? I have so many of these names memorized, wondering when the world would start to care. You can research any one of them and it'll break your heart and enrage you.

    Just to take one, Walter Scott is the man right at the beginning of that clip in the green shirt. Now, Walter wasn't a perfect man (who is?), and he did run from a cop, but that should never be a death sentence. He was stopped for a faulty brake light. The cop fired eight rounds at him as he ran, hitting him five times from the back (remember in westerns how shooting a man in the back is synonymous with cowardice?). He then radioed in the shooting and lied, claiming Scott had grabbed his Taser, which he then took and placed on Scott's body before the other cops arrived. All this was caught on camera by a bystander. At least in that case some semblance of justice was done, as the cop was convicted of second-degree murder and is in prison.

    But these aren't anomalies. Cops lie all the time. Take my experience, a stupid traffic offence that the cop escalated. I decided to fight the ticket itself in court just so I could have my say in front of a judge, and sure enough the RCMP officer who’d lied at the time and threatened and cuffed me immediately lied in his recounting of the events (an important detail of when he turned on his flashing lights). I called him on it and told the judge he'd committed perjury. Now, this is risky, as judges are not impressed by people wasting the court's time trying to get out of a ticket, but my judge was clearly sympathetic. I should tell you the full story of that one day. It was an interesting experience.

    1. Part two

      Anyway, I think we should rethink the whole idea of policing. Modern police are a militarized gang allowed to operate with near impunity, and they only attract more goons. Here's a sobering stat: ten percent of families experience domestic violence, while forty percent of families with police officers experience domestic violence. They're not our friends, and we should never trust them. If for any reason you're stopped or detained or arrested, the advice from any lawyer is to literally say nothing. They will use and twist every little word you utter.

      I know people get scared of the word "defund," but it really means divert their funding to more effective ways of dealing with social issues like mental illness and addiction and homelessness. We need to stop criminalizing things that could be tackled via different avenues. Even most cops would probably say they would welcome not having to attend every mental health incident. There are specialists (social workers, community organizers, therapists, outreach workers, etc.) who could do that.

      Anyway, it's a complex issue, and I'm glad it seems like more people are open to change at last. But Trump is going to cause way more damage as he wants to frame this as a "lawless anarchists against the brave men and women in uniform" issue, and he will try to poison and muddy the waters for the next five months, playing a law and order president like Nixon successfully did. Fortunately, at least for now, a significant majority of Americans are not buying Trump's view.

    2. This was not as "angry" as it was well thought out. Maybe a freelance oped possibilities?

    3. Yes. What Lily said. From what I hear, "defund" is being weaponized. That breaks my heart, too. With so many public services truly defunded, the police are the last resort. I talked for a long while with a cop (long story) who was miserable with his job for this very reason.

    4. Thanks, both of you. And yeah, it's so sad that there isn't a better administration helping to frame this more fairly and accurately. Each state and even each jurisdiction has its own unique and specific needs, but done right, this could work for everyone, even for cops, as you say, Laurie.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. My grandad was a police officer in London up until 1982, I think it was, so it disgusts me when I see corruption, cruelty, violence and prejudice from those wearing a badge. I think he'd be horrified. I've had to go to the police a couple of times in my life and one experience was really bad, but not something I can repeat on here.

  5. Raw

    Face on a bridge
    Screaming. A wrench
    Of time blown out.

    An eyeless skull,
    Unrecognisable maw.

    He seeks to perfect
    In this imperfection.

    The red sky bleeds
    As the wild sea roils.

    He carries a half-moon,
    Its shine blackened.

    Shaped like a claw,
    It’s forgotten him.

    There is no shelter.

    He cries out his last
    Thought. Raw and still.

    1. So many great pictures. "He carries a half-moon..." Love that.

    2. Is this based on the Munch painting, Vickie? If so, you captured it and I saw it in my mind's every bit as vividly as in reality.

    3. Thanks, everyone. David, it is based on the Munch painting. I sometimes write poems from photographs and images. Top marks! Thanks about the half-moon, Laurie.

  6. A protest hijacked

    Bloodied horses rearing,
    Men stood still like jagged teeth.
    Bricks and words.

    Anger spiralling. Short fuses
    Lit for fireworks soaring
    Into anger under anger.

    Clash of bones. Wrangled fear.
    Peaceful placards bleeding

    1. I love this. There's more I think.

    2. Effective use of short, punchy phrases.

    3. Lily, there's no more. It's just a little one this time. I've been writing a few poems about the protests. This one was about a peaceful protest that was taken over by a right-wing contingent. It turned violent.
      Thanks, David.

  7. The drumbeats quickened. He thought he could hear someone's breath on the breeze, matching tempo with their rhythm. The hedges were taller here, tall enough to hide the sun, rendering everything between them in monochrome. He'd begun to feel disoriented, confused. If only he could find something he could take a fix on. That would be helpful, even if it was something temporary like a cloud. He hated not knowing where he was.

    He remembered the tea he'd drunk, the spices it had been laced with. Elodie had spilled hers, knocking her cup to the ground. She'd run away from him then, returning to the house for more china, cursing in French in that way that aroused him. She'd said she'd be back again soon, but that he shouldn't wait. His tea would be better for him if he drank it hot, and that she was a moose.

    That had been an hour ago, maybe more. He'd begun to regret giving up his phone when they'd entered, Elodie slipping it into her pocket. She'd taken his watch from him too, laughing as she did, wrapping it around her slim wrist. He was to be hers for the rest of the day, she'd said. He should let her be in control, surrender himself to her.

    He'd been deliriously happy then, not a doubt in his head. Maybe he should have stayed where he’d been a little longer. Been more patient.

    And what was it with those drums? Why had they started?

    1. This is ominous. So many possibilities. I'm intrigued.

    2. Feels somehow Kafkaesque. Or even Lynchian. A great atmosphere of dread.

    3. OOOOh this is very ominous. Like a reversal of The Story of O, I'm thinking for some reason. I like the confusion shown in her being a moose and her returning to the house for more China, which would make no sense to someone feeling fully with it. Scary.

  8. Part 1

    It was 1976. Her name was Mary. We were partnered as YMCA summer day camp counselors. Volunteers, in charge of a group of “inner city” girls, which was, at that time, nonprofit speak for black and poor. Mary didn’t want to sit home until school started again and neither did I. We were both fifteen. She was taller than me, and strong, her arms nearly as big as a boy’s. She was so proud of those arms, running her fingers over her bicep when she said that those muscles came from playing handball against the curb, and the boys didn’t even try to beat her anymore. I had some muscles myself, from playing tennis, and we compared arms, one next to the other, and asked the little girls we were watching to say who was bigger. Mary won.

    “You pale, even for a white girl,” she said, laughing, knocking her shoulder against mine as we rolled our T-shirt sleeves back down. True enough. You can see all my veins under my skin, and I burn after about ten minutes in the sun. Our charges giggled. They enjoyed teasing me, and I let them. To a point. There was always a point, and somehow Mary knew it, and would bark at them, “That’s enough now,” and shuffle them into another activity.

    Mary and I worked well together, or at least I thought so. We pooled our strength to keep the girls busy. She had a loud voice and wasn’t afraid to use it, wrangling the girls into games of tag and kickball and Simon Says. When it rained, we were forced inside. Those were the days I liked better. I’d “get small” with the girls, coloring and sculpting things out of clay, admiring their drawings, having fun making snacks in the camp building’s kitchen.

    My mother had suggested that I work for the day camp. She probably thought the experience would be good for me. Even though I came from a very liberal family, I’d been mostly sheltered as a child. Our little neighborhood was built over a razed corn field, in a town that used to boast of a KKK chapter. My neighbors were all white except the one mentioned in whispers as “that mixed couple.” There was one black boy in my school, Alan Hairston, who was from Jamaica, but the teacher swore he was boasting and that it was actually Jamaica, Queens. (She was wrong. And a little racist.) I’d idolized and was fascinated by Inez, the big beautiful woman who helped my mother around the house when she decided to go back to school, who made me cinnamon toast and watched Jeopardy! while she dusted, laughing to herself when the questions she yelled out were wrong.

    1. Part 2

      But volunteering for the day camp was my first experience where I was the only white person in the room—or on the playground. I’ve always been introverted around strangers, and apprehensive about new situations. This was definitely different. I didn’t feel afraid in the slightest. I was part of the “Free to Be You and Me” generation, after all. Marlo Thomas sang to us about sharing your mangoes and not having gender expectations. At the day camp, I was just…quiet and watchful and a little intimidated about the new world I’d been tossed into.

      I learned so much from those girls, and from Mary. One of the girls shook her head at me when she saw me attempting to wash some dishes by hand—we had a dishwasher at home—and she showed me the right way to do it. I was embarrassed by my privilege (even though nobody called it that then) and took the lessons humbly (or so I hope). But I also loved to watch Mary with the girls, her easy sister/mother vibe that I couldn’t pull off. One day we were eating lunch outside on a variety of benches. Mary sat on top of the picnic table, her sneakered feet on the bench, one of the girls on either side of her. She knocked her left knee into her neighbor’s right.

      “You ashy,” Mary said.

      The girl looked at Mary like she had three heads.

      “No one told you about ashy?”

      Apparently not. Mary pulled a bottle of lotion from her backpack. “Put it on your legs. Can’t believe no one at home told you about this stuff. You special. You gotta take care of your skin.”

      We all did. It became a daily ritual. I can’t smell cocoa butter without thinking about that summer. Or wash a dish without remembering how I’d been schooled by a nine-year-old girl.

      I’m grateful that I was booted out of my comfort zone, at least for a while. But as time went on and the country seemed never to learn from its mistakes or face its violent past, I wonder what happened to the “Free to Be You and Me” generation.

      Maybe we were the minority in the room.

    2. What you call "suckiness" I deem a fascinating summer that was. Loved: "I was part of the “Free to Be You and Me” generation, after all. Marlo Thomas sang to us about sharing your mangoes and not having gender expectations." Sheesh I kind of remember her doing that.

    3. With Alan Alda... Rosey Grier, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross...

    4. Dang it. Just remembered that it was the summer of 1977.

    5. This is great. Something about 1977 was an amazing moment; I felt it in my small parochial English town all the way across the Atlantic.

      Anyway, I always love your unobtrusive way of painting character, of creating just enough brushstrokes to show a person, such as: "There was always a point, and somehow Mary knew it, and would bark at them, 'That’s enough now,' and shuffle them into another activity."

    6. Wow, wasnt't the summer of 76 the hot one? I sometimes think the 70s-90s were simpler than now, but they had their own issues too :)
      Love the characterisation in this and the interactions, and the little details. The smell of cocoa butter took me back to university days. Love the comparing of arm muscles. Almost a guy thing. And the 'getting small' with the girls. I like how the experience brought her out of herself and gave her confidence.


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