A Prayer of Thanks and Thanksgiving

For some of us there is an inexplicable need to crash into another person. There is no malice in it, just a reciprocal pleasure in collision. Its fun.

At this season of giving thanks, and turkey bowls, I must offer my gratitude for those who have fostered God’s great game on Earth. Whether it be the primordial birth at English boarding school, the formation of an ivy league, or the frozen tundra of Vince Lombardi’s soul- thank you.133982157633763565_FF2pqoAT_f

Thank you to Joe Cool, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, the backfield combo of high knees crazy eyed Roger Craig and smash mouth soft handed Tom Rathman and the greatest second string QB to ever play, for making the fandom of my youth worthwhile.

Thank you Walter Camp for making Web Ellis’s game into a militaristic chess match and thank you Bo Jackson for knowing.

There may possibly, but only maybe, be some other way to satisfy the mannish desire to dress up in armor and gear and run and jump and win and lose and scream and play and dance and fall down and put your face right into someone so hard that snot bubbles up in their nostrils and spit flies from their throat and then you offer your hand to help them up. Or maybe you just stand over them and roar. There may be some other way, or venue, to do these things, but they are, or would be, inherently inferior.bowlfight1905

Thank you Barry Sanders for shifting sideways better than everyone. Thank you TO for giving me reason to say out loud, “Wait! Did you see that? Did he just pull a Sharpie out of his sock and sign the ball? Did you see that!?” Thank you Lawrence Taylor for that moment of sympathetic terror we all had in those moments when you got around the corner and the QB hadn’t seen you yet. Oh yes thank you for that.

Thank you Jonah Lomu for being a freak before Jevon Kearse and thank you Jerry Collins for making my sternum hurt despite having never met you.Chabal_Rugby_Racing_vs_Stade_Toulousain_311009

Thank you Chad Hauser for that one time in wind sprints where you didn’t see me coming and thank you Asi Mohi for my first broken nose. Thank you Deb Bilbao for teaching me in 6th grade that a girl can pick a boy up over her head and toss him away like trash, and thank you Vern for teaching me every dirty trick a lineman should know despite my being 2 years and 100 pounds your inferior. Thank you gigantic racist Afrikaner for teaching me that if you reach your right arm all the way over toward the loosehead’s waistband it will keep him from boring in.270919733803588039_YMsWTYK4_c

Thank you Jon Brown for being both classy and terrifying. Thank you Randall Cunningham for throwing the ball in Randy Moss’s general vicinity so he could make amazing things look easy, and thank you Steve Atwater for nearly chopping people in half.

And thank you Thanksgiving for providing a day to celebrate gluttony and collisions together.

click here for a visual ode to beauty, grace, and truth.

Also… team in D.C…. Change your name. You are ruining everything.

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When You Realize Your College is a TV Sitcom

When I was a kid there were television shows that portrayed college. They were bright, shiny, and had laugh tracks. Where I came from college was just part of growing up, it was a natural next step. So it made sense that Denise from the Cosby show went off to college after high school, it was natural that the kids from Saved by the Bell would all do the same, and thanks to a lack of cable- I watched both those shows. Being a teenage heterosexual white male meant I felt myself expert in pretty much everything, and as I watched those shows with my finely tuned critical thinking mind, I knew that what I was watching, was ridiculous.Image result for A Different World

I saw students living in dorms where professors and influential alumni frequently engaged in teaching moments punctuated by one-liners and every now and then, there would be a song and dance number that was supposed to somehow appear normal. I always chalked it up to lack of casting budget when the school’s quarterback would also star in the school play with a confused pre-med major doing everything she could to impress the dean. I knew college wasn’t really like that.Image result for saved by the bell college years

I knew this because my parents had both graduated college, so had all the parents of my friends. So I was confident in knowing that above all else college was: harder than high school, expensive, and that athletes did not go to class let alone star in plays. Those shows with all that good natured life lesson fraternizing and goofy situations, were nothing more than B level showbiz lies.

Then came last week.

I work at a small liberal arts college in Southern California and we have a live bulldog as a mascot. His doghouse is a miniature version of the school’s main administration building, complete with Greek columns and terra cotta roof tiles. He was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and so just last week, the president of the university, the provost, and hundreds of students and administrators all gathered in the amphitheater to watch the bulldog, dressed in cap and gown, receive his diploma and be sincerely praised over the podium while everyone cheered. We graduated the dog.Image result for thurber graduates

It was surreal. It was almost as if Freddy from a Different World, the bi-racial adopter of whatever social movement was in vogue, the meddler attempting to solve a roommate’s generational family drama, the silly one, had taken it upon herself to honor the ailing symbol of our school’s pride. Except Freddy is fictional and I was there in real life.Image result for freddie different world

This alone would have just been cute, but two weeks before that was homecoming. A few hours before the big homecoming football game I sat in the memorial chapel and watched as the music majors played polka music and a crowd of students and professors danced on stage in lederhosen singing a song about study abroad in Vienna. After that number was over the president of the university did an actual song and dance to introduce an alumni, whose name is on several of our buildings, who then came up on stage and announced a fund raising campaign. It was almost as if Zack Morris had gotten Mr. Belding to participate in a half-baked scheme to save the library. Except Zack isn’t real and the tubas in that chapel definitely were.Image result for redlands forever yours

It made me question my entire upbringing.

All this time I thought those shows were not only fake but ridiculously preposterous. I thought college kids, including myself when I was one, were mostly cynical and isolated. I recall being an undergrad not knowing the name of any adult on campus who wasn’t my professor, and absolutely none of those professors knew me. I remember college being just like my teachers and parents had told me; harder than high school, expensive, and mostly about football games. Fraternities were not inclusive bands of brothers but rather exclusionary bastions of alcoholism and sexual abuse. I found my place on the rugby team but no one ever came to watch our games. We had to pitch in to buy our own uniforms and the administration was always reluctant to let us use the field. I regularly had to skip important games because my part time job had inflexible hours.

There is a useful lesson here. Almost the kind of lesson a wise old cafeteria cook would teach a disappointed freshman after failing a test. The lesson is that college can be exactly like I thought it would be, or, to my surprise, it could be exactly like TV. Both exist. Both are right, or depending on where you end up, either could be wrong. But I didn’t learn this lesson till long into adulthood and I mostly learned it by mistake. Over the years I have traveled across America and visited hundreds of college campuses. I have studied college types, different educational models, and counseled hundreds of aspiring college students. And what I tell those kids, and as often as possible try to tell their parents, is that college isn’t one thing. It can be all sorts of different things. Sometimes it is like Hillman College with singing and dancing pre-med majors, and at other times it is State University with power forwards courting the NBA. It isn’t really about which one is or isn’t real, it is more about what sort of experience you want to have. What is even more relevant is that all of these different types of experiences lead to different results depending on what kind of kid you are. These experiences vary so much, that when thinking about college it makes sense to ignore the question, or even more, ignore the advice of others, regarding what college is like, but rather consider more the qualities and needs of the kid in question.

But so many of the people I know don’t do this. Not only don’t they do this, but they ignore me, and others like me, when we give advice about what college can be (see what I did there?). Most people prefer their personal anecdotes and experiences and then pass those along to the next generation as universal truth. We all think we know best because we were there. And sure, you were in fact there, but you weren’t everywhere. You can surely say how it was for you, at that place, in that time, but that is all you can say. Because everywhere, and everyone, are not all the same. And because not every person is the same, if we want each person to grow and thrive, we should start by realizing that maybe not everyone should go to the same place we did or do the same things. Maybe, if we didn’t like our college experience, it shouldn’t cause us to condemn the whole concept of college, but rather it is possible we weren’t well matched to our institution. Or, then again if we loved college, we may need to consider the idea that our school might not be best for everyone else.

I think most of us get this, but only when it comes to rooting interests or US News & World Report rankings. When thinking of colleges outside our own experience we think good better best, as in who is ranked higher or who won which bowl. That isn’t what I mean.

What I mean is that at some places you are 1 of 100,000 other fans in the Rose Bowl, and at others you do song and dance numbers with the provost.

I still can’t believe we graduated the dog.

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Foundation Room: worth the dry cleaning

Every now and again​ Yelp serves up more than you expect. I picked the Foundation Room because it was the closest thing to my location with an acceptable number of stars.  What I got was almost enough to inspire an arson laden revolution against Olive Gardens world wide. But do not fear, as I think your endless bread sticks are at least one Yelp dollar sign into safety. I don’t think I could rile up the masses for anything past 2.​

The Foundation Room is the restaurant lounge attached to the back of Houston’s House of Blues. I guess this makes it a chain establishment, which should offend me, but it didn’t. The decor could be best described as South Asian rock n roll in red and orange, the service was casually attentive, and the food was the best I’ve had in Texas. I would need to investigate the locations in Vegas, Chicago, or New Orleans to see if the ambiance is dictatorially scripted, but after testing Texas I might be up for finding out.

I chose to eat in the lounge with the live music, versus the back room with booths, making it my own fault that the table was at knee level. Moving sauce covered chops from plate to mouth without dripping on your suit is hard with a table that low. My scientific testing says it is impossible.

But whoever that no-name, or maybe not-yet-name was, up there singing Jill Scott and D’angelo covers, made the suit splatters worth it.

 

 

Yelp didn’t tell me I would hang out way past my bedtime, or long after the check was paid, just because I liked being there. I’m not sure I have ever loitered past paying at an Olive Garden.img_1069

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Texas Toast: and brisket

When asked about food I easily fall into an oft repeated diatribe against chain restaurants. Occasionally I wonder if I am being unfair. But then I remember that I have not once, not ever, seen a pickup unloading stacks and stacks of mesquite logs at a Chili’s, or T.G.I. Friday’s, or any other of those other places that list “smokehouse” items on their menus.

So when I recently visited Texas I did not eat at Texas Roadhouse, but rather my brother took me to an actual Texas roadhouse.

Ribs and brisket, side of slaw, potato salad. The food was great, the company was even better (because it was my brother), and while we comfortably ate outside in November, two guys were adding mesquite logs to the stacks that surrounded the building. At the Pit Room in Houston, the wood decor isn’t decor, it is fuel for the fire. No shtick, just barbecue.

So moving forward, should you want to know how I feel about eating out, just know that I no longer have any reservations about my explicit, overt, stated-up-front, bias against those share-holder liable staples of mall parking lots nation wide with their dispassionate standardized menus and liquid smoke injected ribs.

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Buffalo Soldiers

Bob Marley’s song Buffalo Soldier was played at every youth dance I ever attended. I’m not exactly sure why that song, out of Bob’s hundreds, was such a mainstay on the dance circuit, right alongside Alphaville’s Forever Young, but without fail you would hear that brass prelude, duuuuuuuh- duh dah. Duh-duh, dah-dah, duuh da-da! Then we would all start bouncing and singing along.​

​They didn’t play that song at the National Buffalo Soldier Museum grand opening in Houston Texas this Veteran’s Day. It was noticeably absent. My brother and I on the other hand, were present. So were a grand assembly of 10th Cavalry reenactors. Formed in 1866, the 10th Cavalry, while not being the United States’s first black regiment, they were the first black regiment formed during peacetime. Now of course “peacetime” is a bit of a misnomer since the U.S. was indeed engaged in a number of armed conflicts with various Native American nations, and also Spain, and then Mexico, and also with a bunch ranchers, miners, and farmers intent on putting the “wild” descriptor solidly into the Wild West.

From 1866 through 1918 the Buffalo Soldiers fought against all of them. They fought well enough that over that time 26 of these soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. All those medal winners are notable for a number of different reasons, but the biggest one, is that despite those hard to earn honors, officials in the United States government, the military, and white Americans in general repeatedly withdrew praise or sanction whenever things got anywhere near complicated. And by complicated I mean whenever white people complained.

This makes sense when considering the relationship between black people and the United States overall. It has always been this sort of “complicated”. Let me offer a few examples that illustrate what I mean by complicated, and remember, these guys earned 26 Medals of Honor.

After the civil war, where black units like the Massachusetts 54th earned high praise, the ever striving Armstrong Custer accepted a demotion rather than accept command of the Buffalo Soldier’s 9th Cavalry. With a lower rank he took command of the 7th and headed for Little Bighorn.

John J. Pershing, before he became the commander of all American forces on the western front of World War 1, was the commander of the 10th. He sang the unit’s praises and in return was mocked by the rest of the army who gave him the derogatory nickname “N—-r Jack”.  When Woodrow Wilson, the president who re-segregated the Whitehouse staff and held screenings of the film Birth of a Nation, placed Pershing in command of the whole army, Pershing abandoned the black units, handing their command over to the French. He refused to allow any other American units to integrate with, or be commanded by, anyone but other Americans.

In 1897 the Buffalo Soldiers were considered the best equestrians in the armed services and it was proposed they take over the riding instruction at West Point. This proposal was ignored or declined for ten years till 1907 when West Point’s cavalry unit was designated as a colored unit. It remained so till Harry Truman desegregated the Army.

It should be remembered that this period in United States history, let’s say 1866 through 1920, encompasses a number of different era’s ie. Reconstruction, Industrialization, the Gilded Age, the Nadir, Westward Expansion etc. I call that entire time “White People Gone Wild”. Those were the days where defeated confederate soldiers burned down black neighborhoods to regain political office. That was back when live ammunition was used to break up steel worker strikes. This was when prospectors got military backing to kick Sioux of their designated homelands, bison nearly went extinct due to recreational slaughter, and Chinese immigrants were encouraged to help build railroads after which they became the target of our countries first immigration law aka the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was an era where America decided, officially on paper, that it was going to not only stretch from sea to shining sea but that it would also continue to be explicitly the home of white people. And the government was more than happy to wield black soldiers in the fight against brown people in order to establish national whiteness.

That is what I mean by complicated.

All history is messy. American history around race is especially so. Things aren’t all that clear cut today either.

But what was clear on Memorial Day in Houston Texas, is that there exists a strong tradition of African-American military service and a well-earned pride in the history of that service. A pride that despite its complications was fought for and claimed, and it is a history that should be preserved.

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Kicks, Cars, and the Green Book: Route 66

I first knew the song thanks to Depeche Mode, my Dad probably knows it thanks to Chuck Berry, most kids today probably know it from Pixar’s movie Cars, but the song Route 66 first hit the charts in 1946 thanks to Nat King Cole.

I live on Route 66.

I get both my kicks and my groceries there.IMG_0374

Touted as Americas first interstate, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to
Santa Monica. Oddly enough, for a road that stretches across so much of the country, most of that road goes through nowhere.IMG_6160 My particular stretch of that old road is the kind of no where that filled up with people yet never quite became a place. There isn’t a solid there here.

When driving through nowhere you best mind the gas gauge.IMG_6165

Back before the Prius cars needed lots of gallons for very few miles and this meant pulling over and filling up in places like Cucamonga California- or Barstow. Because of that long gone need, or maybe somehow in honor of it, my little stretch of this road is frequented by all sorts of cars you don’t see every day in other places.

I live where old cars go after they die.IMG_1699

When me and my little one stopped by the only museum in my city, they had one artifact that surprised me. They had a Green Book. I had heard of it, known what it is, but never seen one. It wasn’t in great shape and was framed.IMG_6153

The Green Book was something like a AAA travel guide for Black people. This was necessary because, much like planning out where to plug in a Prius, in those days you had to plan out your pit stops, and only certain pits would do business with Black people. The Green Book listed the places a Black family could fill up, eat, or stay the night.

Which I knew but didn’t really think about in California. Not that California is immune to that sort of thing entirely, but sometimes in my mind, back when stuff like that was in its hey-day, California didn’t even exist.

Sometimes my mind is wrong.IMG_3176

Anyone out there know where I can get my hands on a copy of the Green Book? That little museum (which has the friendliest docents I’ve ever met) could use a better copy.

Green Book

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James Brown was Rich

In 1964 when James Brown went on the T.A.M.I. show, he had already earned more than a million dollars. He was rich. He wasn’t only rich, but he was so universally popular that on that show he shared the stage with the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones. A lot of white people loved James Brown- in 1964. That’s kind of a big deal.

The very next year John Lewis’s skull was fractured by a police officer when Lewis attempted to walk across the Edmond Pettus Bridge. The year after that, James Meredith was shot for trying to help black people register to vote. Then, another year later, a song by four black singers, The Four Tops, sat solidly at #2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. By this time Berry Gordy had been rich for a decade.

All of this, the success of black people and the extreme violent oppression of black people, were happening in the same country at the same time. On the grand timeline of history James Brown and James Meredith are on the same dot. This reality is worth some extra consideration, especially considering where we are right now.

Colin Kaepernick made millions of dollars for playing quarterback better than Alex Smith, in the same year that unarmed Chavis Carter allegedly shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police car. This is the same year that Wiz Khalifa was featured on a song that hit #4. Same time.

While we are not living in the same America that existed in the 1960’s and plenty of things have changed- some things haven’t.  Human nature doesn’t change. That is why history’s lessons are applicable. It is why, despite retrospect, we sometimes repeat ourselves. We think we do, or have, evolved, but we are really still the same types of people as Nathan Bedford Forest or Frederick Douglass. Or maybe James Brown, James Meredith and Bull Connor.

We cannot simply look in the rear view mirror and assume we are safe from whatever it is that’s back there. It is why when solving the problems of today we must persuade ourselves to do what is right, while simultaneously building protections against those who do, or will, choose otherwise. Because our children will be just like us.

In 2008 people started using the word post-racial to describe a supposed new America. They pointed to the elected leader as proof that the struggles of the 60’s had born good fruit and we were now past the season of labor and into the time of harvest. White America looked around and saw LeBron James or Beyonce just like we might have seen James Brown or Jim Brown, but in 2008 we didn’t see, or we ignored, George Wallace.

Perhaps a part of the reason racism hasn’t been solved, why Dubois’s color line remains, is because we white Americans both forget and deny Bull Connor. Some of us might learn about James Meredith integrating Ol’ Miss, but we don’t linger on the lessons inherent in the fact that it was the local Sheriffs who started the ensuing riot. We just rest on the idea that those who fought Meredith were wrong, but we spend no real time wondering why back then they thought they were right. We could ask Trent Lott, he was there, but instead we march forward with pride believing we are past that and thinking we are now somehow individually better. And we aren’t. And because no humans are magically better than all of the humans that came before we will still fall for the same traps as our predecessors unless we look back and learn. And understand. And own. Then grow. And change. And work. Then teach.

I wonder if Hazel Massery, the white girl seen screaming in that iconic photo of Arkansas school integration, liked James Brown and thought this meant she wasn’t racist. I wonder if the man who shot James Meredith resented Meredith’s college education and saw that as proof that people like Meredith were just snowflake complainers. Maybe most of us don’t wonder this because we have no intentions of shooting anyone. So they are nothing like us now, not really, and I guess there is some truth there. But the people back then, the ones who didn’t shoot anyone, who just went about their lives, but thought it was all a ruse by the commies or who dismissed Martin Luther King as an adulterer, might be just like me. Maybe an unemployed and struggling white man back then, marveled that a bunch of black college kids could find the time and money to spend a summer just riding the Greyhound around starting trouble, and he just knew this meant black life wasn’t so bad. Maybe he thought that their time wasting bus stunt earned them the beatings and burnings they received. Maybe the father who simply loved his children and had never even thought the word n****r, only moved away when the black people arrived because his family’s stability hinged on real estate value. What if the PTA president who watched the Watts riots loved the Four Tops, but simply loved following the law even more?

What if today we are all just like them?

And so the color line remains.

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