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Black History Month: which, and whose, civil rights are you advocating for exactly?

History can be a funny thing. Once those who lived it are gone, we can tell the story in whichever way we wish, in order to serve our own circumstances. It seems that we ignore living figures regarding them as old fashioned and outdated until they die. Then we revere or demonize them in whichever light we choose. Opinions are never historical because they are always current.

Like I said, history is a funny thing.IMG_1989

One of the greatest achievements of the civil rights movement was not MLK’s speech, or the signing of the civil rights bill (though those things were great), but rather the convincing of black folks, who were just trying to survive, to walk out into the face of danger in the name of rights… and not defend themselves.

You see, there was a time, a long time, when Black Americans didn’t have any rights let alone the one in the second amendment. They may not have had rights but they had some sense, and when you live in a world where vigilantes regularly come and haul you away at night, sense means you keep a gun in the house.

What a miracle that people could be moved to put down those guns, intentionally, and walk to the polls, or walk across a bridge, or to a lunch counter, or to Ol Miss, when you knew full well that those against you had guns… and especially at Ol Miss, they also had badges.

But they had to leave the guns at home so the press could see more obviously what was going on. They had to leave the guns at home so no one could argue about who shot who or how “they” were dangerous. And it worked- kind of.NRA

It worked in that it got laws passed, but passing laws has never been the same as people following laws.

So eventually these Black folks, who had put away the guns, who had already got laws passed, got tired of still getting beat down. The laws passed but they still didn’t get actual rights.

So a lot of them got the guns back out.

And wouldn’t ya know that is when “the law” got real worried about who owned and carried guns. The law came and took the guns away. That is when the people getting their guns taken away crafted the argument that the constitution protected their right to bear arms. They were Americans in a regulated militia fighting against actual tyranny. America took their guns.

But that was history.

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Are Words Necessary?

Why do I love food so much? I’m addicted.

My House

My House

Dog Haus

Dog Haus, Pasadena

Cheese Cave, Claremont

Cheese Cave, Claremont

"Lette, Pasadena

“Lette, Pasadena

Slaters 50/50, Rancho Cucamonga

Slaters 50/50, Rancho Cucamonga

Seoul Sausage Company, LA

Seoul Sausage Company, LA

The Dip, Rancho Cucamonga

The Dip, Rancho Cucamonga

Tijuana Taco, Pomona

Tijuana Taco, Pomona

lunch at my desk

lunch at my desk

Philly's Best, Rancho Cucamonga

Philly’s Best, Rancho Cucamonga

Some Crust, Claremont

Some Crust, Claremont

Cowgirl Creamery, San Fran

Cowgirl Creamery, San Fran

Home

Home

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Building a Child, Reluctantly

I am probably not the best parent in the world. I am definitely not the best parent in my house. I normally think of myself first, my wife second, and then there are these small people with these endless needs and demands that normally don’t fit neatly into my ideal plans on how to spend my day. I am currently working on being less self-centered, but it is hard to do since everywhere I go, I find myself tagging along. I am hard to shake. Not only am I hard to shake, but I’m also a little bit lazy.IMG_9091

This is problematic in that when the kids are too lazy to clean their room, I am frustrated because I am also too lazy to clean their room. There are those who will (and if they are reading, already have in their minds) retort that a good parent doesn’t clean the kid’s room because they need to learn to do it themselves. I make no claims at being a good parent and find myself in a pickle because teaching a kid to clean their room is much harder than simply cleaning it myself, and as stated before, I am too lazy to clean their room.

With this as context, I was sitting in the living room reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol II, when my six year old looked up from her note pad and asked, “Dad, what are these things called?” pointing to the door hinges. “Those are called hinges.” She went back to the couch and her note pad, then asked, “How do you spell hinges?” I answered appropriately.

“Dad. Will you build me a house?”IMG_2141

She presented to me a drawing, plans really, of a house, complete with directions of where each “nale” should be placed and instructions on putting h-i-n-g-e-z on one side of the door. I was impressed with her level of forethought and terrified, not by the thought of saying no to this child, I’m good at that, but rather terrified at the amount of work building a house would take.

“Uhhhh, we already live in a house.”

“No Dad. Like a small one. Like maybe this big,” she said holding her hand about four inches above her head.

“No.”

“Then can I build one?”IMG_2131

A child willing to do something I was unwilling to do is hard to turn down. Maybe I was enticed by the possibilities this principle might introduce, like maybe I say no to doing my taxes and she offers to do them for me. Paying bills? Going to my job? This had possibilities. “Sure you can build a house, but it’s going to take some planning. Where is this house going to live?”

“Out back.”

“The courtyard out back looks very nice. What if I don’t want to look at your house? We are renting our house, what if we move? How will your house fit through the door when we want to move it? Nails don’t come apart.”

She bit the back of her pencil and looked up at the ceiling. She didn’t have an answer. This was perfect, because I am not only lazy, but I am also a know it all. “What if you use hinges instead of nails? The whole thing can fold up like Ikea. Go re-draw those plans.” She re-drew the plans.IMG_2130

Were I to write a book on being a great parent, which would be fiction, I would recount all the events that followed. Not only did I allow my child to pursue her dreams but I let her use a power saw in the process. My theory on fatherhood is that if you are lucky enough to get a good kid, don’t mess them up. This is best done by getting out of the way. If getting out of their way takes effort, like getting off the couch, then by all means let the child get themselves out of the way by building their own house out back. This is what I did. Rather, this is what she did.IMG_2152

My next plan is figuring out how to motivate this six year old to want to pay rent. After all, her house is on my property.IMG_2161

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Here’s to a good 2014 and a great 2015

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December 31, 2014 · 11:48 pm

In The Studio, Holiday Version

The newlyweds were gifted a commission. They were told they could choose anything. Portraits of themselves, or their wonderful uncle, the sky was to be the limit.

This is what they asked for:

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Merry ChristmasIMG_1206

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Shakespeare in Chicago: New Zealand All Blacks

The game of rugby was born at a small boarding school in England. These young boys grew up and took the game with them, spreading it around the world, or at least anywhere in the world that at one time saw a concentration of former English school boys. This game remained a game till it hit New Zealand. There it became an art.

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The United States was well established as its own country by the time rugby was invented, but American Universities like Harvard and Princeton were still fashioning themselves in the image of places like Cambridge and Oxford. All of those schools, especially the American one’s, played rugby. Over time the American version morphed a bit, we started blocking players who weren’t carrying the ball, stopped play after each tackle, and finally, the move that forever swept American’s away from rugby, the forward pass was made legal.

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Rugby became football and Americans fell into a deep passionate love with gridiron. It started in the ivy league schools of the East Coast, spread to schools nationwide, and then, mostly in the Midwest, the game went professional. Those early days of the NFL are forever in our memory as black and white images of games being played on frozen fields in places like Green Bay, Cleveland, and Chicago. Soldier Field in Chicago, home of Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears, is a living temple dedicated to the memory of the early days of football and the steel toughened game we love.

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I love both games. They are cousins. Birthed of the same parents but reared oceans apart, they tell the same story in different languages, and as the language of rugby goes, the New Zealand All Blacks are Shakespeare. The Americans who still play the game are more like Steinbeck.

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They flow with flourishes of color and beauty. We are straight forward, dusty and plodding. I like Steinbeck but watching the Grapes of Wrath performed is not Midsummer Night’s Dream. Reading either is fun, but New Zealand performs. They embody beauty. The Americans travel dirt roads toward California scrounging for a better life.

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New Zealand rarely plays against the American national team (Eagles). When they do meet, it isn’t in America. Every time they have met, New Zealand has won. Handily.

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But sometimes legends do meet, Washington knew Jefferson, Socrates and Plato, and then Soldier Field and the All Blacks. The match was attended by 60,000 people, the largest crowd in American rugby history, and I was there. Me and every other rugby fan in the States. Every thick chested, Guinness drinking, tree trunk legged American sat in the frozen stands and got wobbly kneed when the Kiwis did the haka.

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The score was as predicted- Shakespeare plays never have new endings, but the performance is always worth watching. Seeing it live…

transcendental.

haka

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The Suburban Middle Class Mind-Set: Four Wheeling Through Poverty

I have always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. Four slightly large but not huge tires, top down, and the doors removed from the hinges. Forest green, maybe black or midnight blue, not yellow. I have pictured myself driving it off road in the dirt, on the streets passing strip malls, and even pictured parallel parking it in Manhattan between a cab and a Smart car.  It was never an obsession, not a top priority, but it was always there. In 8th grade, drifting off during math class-Jeep. College, sitting in a dorm room eating instant noodles-Jeep. I have always thought it the perfect vehicle for the person I wanted to be, the vehicular expression of the inner me. I may wear a suit and tie to work, but deep inside, I’m a Jeep.

Funny thing happened when I lived in Philadelphia’s inner city, the Jeep drove away. It was not buried under life’s cares, it wasn’t towed away by day-to-day practicality, it simply drove out of my consciousness.061004-philly-W(4)

I have since moved to another local and to my surprise, the Jeep, or rather a vacant parking space meant for a Jeep, has returned to my imagination. I can’t shake that stinking contraption, it’s there all the time. I suppose I could exorcise the demon by simply buying one. I can think of a million reasons not to do that, but none of those reasons can shake the fantasy. I’m doomed and the realization of this doom has caused me to reflect a little on why this is the case. I have also reflected a little on why Philadelphia somehow made me mentally Jeep-proof. I think I know the answer, and it makes me just a little afraid of myself. It makes me a little afraid of us all. I will explain.

Philadelphia was the first place I had ever lived, not visited, where there were a lot of poor people. Now I have never been wealthy, or even very stable (reason number one for lack of four wheel drive dream car), but in Philadelphia there were people, a lot of them, that were very visibly doing much, much, worse than I. The longer I lived there, the more I not only saw such folks, but I got to know them. Names. Situations. Humans. This familiarity and proximity provided for me a new opportunity; I was able to help. I didn’t help much. In fact it could easily be argued that the net effect of me living there nine years was zero. At least zero in the dent I made on poverty. But being there and working there made a huge dent in me. That dent came from a constant blow to my chest that eventually crushed by ribs and touched my heart. I felt it. It hurt. But it didn’t only hurt it also gave me this sort of zealous energy and joy. This trying, this being needed, and this involvement in something bigger and more important than my day to day life was invigorating despite the pains I picked up along the way. Not only was it not only painful, it was also not only poor people. This was the first place I met real life rich people.

When I say rich I’m not talking the “I own a car dealership” kind of rich, I’m talking the “My name is Henry Ford the 5th”, kind of rich. Now no, I never really met the heir to Model-T dynasty, but surely I now know players in that same league and I will admit there was excitement in such encounters. Some such folks were wonderful, and others not so much; just like the poor people. Some people were doing fascinating and wonderful things with their resources, and others were just minding their own business. Knowing these people and peeking into their world taught me a few things, but it didn’t hit my heart. Some of those folks bruised my eye a little, but nothing lasting.cheesesteak

In Philadelphia I saw these two worlds, the wealthy and the destitute, rub up against each other. Watching these two tectonic plates, these huge forces of nature that have to our knowledge always existed, grate and rub, I learned what humanity is. Humanity is people, you me, us them, rich and poor. Humanity, these individual and singular people are what are important. Not the money, not the lack of it, but the person is what is important and one person interacting with another can do big things. Huge things. Things that matter! Not matter in the way that getting the high score on Angry Birds matter, but matters in the life outcomes and eternity sort of way. I got to live in that world. I was one of those people getting ground up between these two forces of nature, poverty and power, and I got to do a few little tiny things that really mattered.

And none of those things required, or had anything to do with a Jeep. That gorgeous chariot and all it offers never even occurred to me while I was there.

I have since left that city. It is a hard place to be and my job sent me somewhere else. Where I live now is wonderful. No potholes. No abandoned houses, no panhandlers, and no rib crushing blows. My kids go to a great school where I never worry about their safety and my wife never complains about the weather. I like my job, my friends, most everything about the place. I love it here-but the Jeep is back. I see it driving down the sunny streets and parked right over on the other side of my desk where chairs should be. It no longer has chrome rims, but it’s still green or blue. My dream car has returned and my chest has started healing. That dent, that damage, doesn’t hurt quite the same way, and that, is what makes me afraid.IMG_3945

My daydreams are not the faces of the people struggling to make it day to day but rather a gas guzzling car. The pain of tragedy and struggle is being replaced for a desire to have a little fun. Now make no mistake, I never abandoned fun, but it’s becoming my default setting. I had for some time filled my thoughts with doing good for other people, but without even trying, my thoughts are drifting to Jeeps. In fact I’m trying really hard to focus on doing good stuff for other people but Jeeps are all-terrain and apparently so are my daydreams. I have learned that seeing struggles on television, or the radio, or even talking to struggling people on the phone, just doesn’t hit my heart quite the same way. There is too much meat and bone, perhaps a little flab, protecting my heart from the outside world and I have a new found appreciation for a wounded heart’s ability to heal. This makes me afraid for myself. It also makes me afraid for all of us. I’m afraid because I think I might just be a normal person. Not super special or unusual, and if this is the case, than what are the rest of us dreaming about when we could be dreaming about helping people? Mine is a Jeep, what is yours?

And this matters because the one thing I refuse to forget is that those others, the ones who need help, really do need help. They need help from other people… more than I need a Jeep.

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