Who Is Dangerous?

Current events have gotten me thinking. Or rather reflecting.IMG_0361

The most dangerous demographic in America are white, suburban, middle class, teenaged boys. A close second would be white, teenaged, farm boys in Southern Idaho- but they are mostly only dangerous to themselves, so the rest of the country need not concern themselves with young men attempting to water ski in the drainage canal next to a dirt road being pulled behind a pickup. Yes, that’s a thing.

Growing up I definitely thought the most dangerous demographic was black men in Compton. I didn’t really know any black men but there was Boyz ‘n the Hood, N.W.A., and pretty much any other late 80’s or early 90’s messaging, including the news, telling me so. Why would I think otherwise? I didn’t think the guys and I were dangerous, we were just normal. Maybe even a little sub-normal. Like not quite as cool or fun as normal since we did after all live in Utah and we all knew that Utah, while being great for skiing, was still mostly white, nerdy, and above all else- safe.IMG_0364

It wasn’t till I left the suburbs and subsequently really got to know some people who weren’t white, middle class, or from the suburbs, that I realized that what I saw or did growing up, was horrible.

To understand just how horrible let me qualify this by confessing that I myself have never tasted alcohol. Not a drop. I was a virgin when I got married, I never stole anything, and I never actually swung the bat. That last one always makes me cringe because it illustrates just the sort of faux moralistic chicken I was. While I never swung a bat at a mailbox I was present in a car when at least 250 mailboxes were destroyed by someone else. Not all in one night mind you, it took a lot of nights to run up that score. We also destroyed mailboxes with dry-ice bombs. We didn’t just destroy mailboxes but also trash cans, porch lights, garage doors, and if I remember right there was at least one windshield. But like I said, I never swung the bat. I only cheered. We were just having fun.

rockonprep

I never drank a beer, but a saw a lotta beer get drunk. I have been the guy who drives people home, who hoses someone down, but mostly just been the guy who everyone called a derogatory name for being too afraid, too weak, too uncool to have a beer. Or a Zima. Or a cigarette, or smoke cloves, or smoke weed, or hit acid, or snort coke, or do meth, or take steroids. But by the time I graduated high school I had been present when all of that was done. I was there, I saw what happened, I remember.

Just because I never had sex before marriage does not mean I am proud of my behavior back then. The guys I knew didn’t just talk about girls as objects, but we acted that way too. I blush when I remember the way we talked in middle school and am ashamed at many of the things we laughed about doing once we got just a little bit older. The stuff I knew about was legally consensual, but very little of it was respectful. While I declined when invited, by the girl, to a train, and I left the house before a planned rodeo (all the guys hide in a closet till a couple starts coupling on the bed, then everyone jumps out of the closet and times how long it takes the girl to buck the guy off) I still knew all the stories. Despite my non-participation I was still one of the guys. I was complicit. I had a number of girlfriends but was incapable of having actual relationships. This isn’t to say I didn’t ever talk to girls or treat them as people, but I didn’t know how to deal with girls as a whole person, both mind and body.  In my mind they were one or the other. I knew what it was to be physical, but not intimate. I didn’t know how to do that. I was somehow incapable.

My church and parents taught me how and where to draw physical lines or boundaries, but that was just prevention of personal disaster, not appreciation of the other. Or respect. Or simple humanity. Again, Incapable.

It was more than that, it was a lot of things. We drove cars recklessly, we were hazed in football and even hazed in choir. We took our turns hazing others. We fought. fist fights, fights with baseball bats, fights with friends and fights with strangers. There was shoplifting candy and snacks from 7-11 or that time we took the neighborhood park’s volleyball net home with us. I never took those things, but I did trade a used pair of cleats for a pair of Ray Bans that I knew someone else had stolen. I existed in a place where right and wrong were distant points at far ends of a spectrum and the grey area in between was vast and mushy. It is like we knew some things would be wrong later, but for now they were just questionable, and what mattered in the end was how we viewed ourselves. And we were safe and good.

We didn’t think we were bad, definitely not dangerous. We were mostly bored and hormonal. We drifted crashed and slurred our way through adolescence protected by parent’s money and the benefit of the doubt. We got grounded and suspended and pulled over, but we were also listened too, believed, and excused. None of us went on to become anyone you have heard of, we weren’t in those circles, but we did become mid-level managers, cops, firemen, teachers and citizens.

Since those days I have met others who because of their skin, their neighborhood, and their budget received none of the grace I was granted. None of them committed even a fraction of what I did and they got expelled, arrested, and banished from the professional realm. On the occasions when I have shared with them, stories from my youth there is always a certain level of disbelief. Those stories don’t sound like me, or the kind of guy that I am now, nor does it sound like where I was from. Beyond that the stories of my teenage years sound impossible to most who didn’t grow up suburban as such things should have never been allowed. But they were. And they are. And because it is who and where I was and that I completely understand what I watched this week in the senate. I understand it and am horrified. Not horrified in that I fear my own history hurting me now but horrified in how much I recognize all of it. I was not in the D.C. burbs nor do I know any of those people and hence can make no claim of knowing what “really” happened, but it is all strikingly familiar. Except the stakes are so much higher than the little burb outside Salt Lake and the marginal levels to which my cohort have achieved. I am horrified because I have met and know kids who were so much better than me, and better than what I just saw in the senate, and those kids will never be nominated to the Supreme Court. Not only will they never get nominated but those doing the nominating are more likely to send these kids away.

For any one of these kids, the ones I knew, or know, in Philly, or Atlanta, or anywhere, they have to be near perfect from front to back. Beginning to end. They live with zero tolerance which means zero grace, zero room for growth or forgiveness.

But then people like Kavanaugh, or like me, can be angry, be indignant, and rail at the world demanding a blind eye regarding their own indiscretions while meting out Justice on others. To be in a position to decide what Justice is for others, and be so blind to the grace, forgiveness, and mercy you have yourself received, makes you dangerous.

And that is why we, people like me, are dangerous. It starts with well-funded boredom fueled by hyper sexual masculinity, and then our corruption starts to metastasize more and more every time we get laughter at our stories, or we don’t get expelled, and don’t get arrested. Then years go by, we grow up, and others forget what we did, and we forget we were ever wrong at all.

And in our amnesia, we legislate, enforce, and systematize inequity.

 

Dangerous

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The Icarus Conundrum: a flight manual for conformity

While many know the tale of Icarus, the guy who flew with waxen wings, then traveled too close to the sun and fell, few realize that his father, Daedalus, made it through that flight just fine. In our focus on failure we forget that a guy crafted wings and successfully flew like a bird.heylook

Sure one of the two who attempted it died (a full ½) but the one who lived, accomplished something so amazing and absurd, that he should be celebrated. Focusing on failure can be such a downer.

I have flown many times myself and no one considers it an accomplishment. So I’m pretty much the same as Daedalus. On the other hand my nephew has learned to be more than just a passenger, taking control of his own story, which my wife fears makes him destined to be Icarus. She protested us flying together and made me show her documentation of my life insurance policy before reluctantly consenting.

It is on odd thing for those of us accustomed to regimented boarding procedures that begin curb side, and march you to, and through, seat belt instructions, to just walk right up to a small tin can, then simply climb inside and fly. The process felt so… casual- but I was too excited for it to be just that.IMG_8658

This was a first for me. New ground.

Or new air.

Whatever.

I had never been so happy to be crammed into such a small place, overlapping the passenger next to me. He happened to be my father. I am used to sitting at a desk, or in traffic, and when my miniature mother took over the controls, despite us flying between two mountains and her not being able see over the dashboard, I was happy. I loved it. I understood how Icarus would want to climb higher and higher, I wanted my nephew to roll and loop, but I had been warned by that myth and I didn’t want to die.

So we flew straight and lived.backseat

Thinking back on my little voyage and appreciating the value of humility in youth versus vain hubris, I wonder a little about Metion- Daedalus’s Dad. Had Deadalus never ventured out, pushing beyond and above his own father like his son Icarus did, no one would have ever flown at all. Where is that lesson taught?

Thus is the paradox of generations and family. Of innovation and respect. Of wisdom or adventure. How does one, or we, value both in these couplings or all in the big picture? Should we be conservative out of respect for the wisdom gained by our predecessors at the expense of progress toward things that could be better? Do we strive and push past the others that came before, risking separation when they are unable or unwilling to make the same trip? Where is the balance? Where is that myth?

Much like Sway, I do not have the answers.

What I do have is an offering for “The Trad”, mocker of my footwear and needler of my regular faux-pas, at the risk of Icarus-ish disrespect toward my parents, who are truly wiser than I… I have indeed flown past the footwear from whence I came- though my journey may admittedly not be complete. I am also much larger and younger than they which will be necessary in defending myself once they read this. Mom taught me the value of kicking shins when you can’t reach your opponent’s chin.

Which would hurt more were she not wearing socks and sandals.

parents

 

Tis’ the Season for Festive Foolishness

I advocate for leading a life of sophistication and collected calm. Anything rowdy or without deeper meaning is to be avoided. As the kids might say, I keep it classy.sammytree

For example, I support the attendance of dinner parties where one can commune with thought leaders and sophisticates. Mingling with those who elevate thought and decorum is the best use of one’s evenings.img_2419

There may be occasions where physical exertion is appropriate, but dignity should predominate. If an outing is to happen, one need not lower one’s self. img_2985

Music is an important part of creating an atmosphere of celebratory sophistication. Many of the great symphonies and orchestras perform the classics during this holiday season as a service toward the elevation of humanity.img_3341

When dining one should not overindulge. Moderation takes a back seat only to presentation. Please remember that seating arrangements and plating are what truly makes a dining experience “fine”.tghl2098

There is at this time of year a tradition of gift giving. I reservedly participate but remind us all that the appropriate response should always be quiet reserve and calm.kujg1621

I like to think of myself as an example of intellectualism and decorum. The world needs more of this. There is far too much noise and irreverence. I am above such things and would that this were true for us all.img_3490

Yes. A paragon of elevation am I. And as such, I bid you all a happy new year.xqcy1470

Newport, RI

A nameless beach, somewhere just south of Rhode Island.

We have probably all heard the saying that we have two ears and one mouth, to remind us to listen more than we talk, but I say its more than that.  I say we have two ears to remind us there are two sides to every story we hear, two feet so that we aren’t forced to stand in only one world, and two hands so that we can do more than one thing.  Life, and our navigation of it, should be balanced.  Sometimes, really quite often, we forget that balance. 

I was reminded when I headed up north to Rhode Island.

I had been on the road for some time and tired of the hammock in the back of the van.  When my eyelids gain weight and my joints beg for oil, I start looking for a motel.  I enjoy a comfortable bed two floors above a swanky lounge with fine dining, but my default setting is cheap.  Make that dirt cheap.

After two stops at what looked like subpar accommodations for double eagle prices, I found this place.

Low in cost, high on trust.

The sign said vacancy.  As I walked up the steps I could see the office was empty and a note was taped to the inside of the window.  “Call {this number} for room.”  I called the number.

The man who answered told me the room would be $50 cash.  This was far less than half of everywhere else and after a quick inspection of my wallet, I accepted.  The man, upon hearing that I did in fact want a room, paused, letting the phone go silent.  “Uh, hello?”  I said, wondering if my reception was bad out here in Nowheresville.

“O.K. here is what you do.  Pull around to the back of the building, all the way to the far side.  Upstairs, second to the last door, is room #54.  Go on in, and just leave the cash on the desk when you leave and lock the door behind you.  Or you can just slip the money in the office mail slot.”

I convinced myself that my integrity is so sound that it had become audible rather than the more likely idea that it was late and whomever I had just spoken with, was willing to gamble the $50 in order to stay in bed.

I half way expect a cheap room to smell of smoke but the mix of mildew and dust was quite an unexpected treat.  I was happy to have a shower despite my having to slay two spiders before using it.  I was also happy to have a balcony overlooking some salty inlet, but not quite as happy to find said balcony decorated with Miller Lite bottle caps.

Happy to have a room without tires.

The bed did its job, I did mine by leaving my money on the table, and I pressed on to Newport.

Newport has always been a nautical place.  At one time most all of the New World’s ships were built there.  Supplying England’s colonies with ships also led to “supplemental” enterprises.  Not supplemental as in GNC vitamins and protein shakes, more like rum and people.

Fort Adams, built for the war of 1812, finished in time for Vietnam.

It turns out that in the early days of English colonialism two of the most financially rewarding things to do with ships, were the exporting of rum, and the importing of slaves.  These activities quickly made the town flush with cash and stills. 

A pre-Revolution still.

Ships were built in Rhode Island, filled with rum that was taken to England to be sold, then sailed to Africa to pick up human “cargo”.  These ships were then navigated to the West Indies where the holds were emptied of people, then re-filled with sugar cane and molasses.  The sailors would then go home to Newport and start the loop all over again. 

So early on, while few people in Rhode Island owned slaves, most slaves were sold by someone from that state.

These merchants must have had mouths that matched their wallets.  Wealthy plantation owners who could not bear the summer heat as well as those they “employed”, began building summer homes in Newport; so much so, that the city won the nickname “little Carolina”.

The Wharton for whom the business school at U Penn is named after, built this house as a "man cave" for he and his buddies. It is accesible only by boat... his wife did not like to sail.

Fast forward a hundred years or so and these New World merchants were now old money.  Old money has a funny way of starting trends and then calling them traditions.  By the gilded age summering in Newport was a tradition.  The traditions of the wealthy spawn the trends of aspiring, and in those days of conspicuous consumption the residents of Newport were fully pressed to outpace the aspiring.  Names like Vanderbilt, Onassis (the “O” in Jackie O.), and Eisenhower, would have been on the mailboxes if these palaces had mailboxes.

Site of JFK's wedding and Jackie O's childhood.

  Old newspapers covered Newport the way we now cover Hollywood.  What are they wearing, how do they live, and who are they dating?

But that was in times past, so now grounded people like myself, ignore US Magazine and MTV Cribs, but pay $20 to tour the homes of yesteryear’s celebrities.

the "Breakers"
view from the Breakers back porch.
One of three sitting rooms.

Having parked my domicile in the gated drive of residences with names like “the Marble House” and “the Breakers”, I nearly forgot that these gaudy mansions were not where the wealthy once lived, but rather where they summered.  I summered in a tipi.  I broke the rules by taking pictures behind docent’s backs, was offended by the snobbery of the rich, and quietly wished I was one of them.

the Marble House
Foyer of the Marble House
The Vanderbilts had great taste in sports.

So it is in life.

Some live in palaces and some live in vans, and each look down their noses at the other.  So it is with me.  I pride myself in my ability to “rough it”, then pay special attention to monogrammed shirts and cuff links.  I steadily build my library then take up sports like boxing; filling my head up with things, and then quickly getting those things knocked back out. 

The early residents of Rhode Island didn’t allow slavery at home but were fine with selling slaves to others.  The rich on Bellevue Ave built walls and gates to keep the world out, and then invited Photographers from Life magazine to come take pictures.   We stand in two worlds, give with one hand and take with the other, and then I get back in my van drive off, happy that I came here.

How fitting that the gate is closed.
All the luxury I need.
Who am I kidding? I would take this in a heartbeat.
These folks are who Trump wishes he was.
and finally... none of us, no matter our class, envy these guys.

P.S.

To the incredibly amiable retired couple I met while “taking a break”…  It was my pleasure to have met you.  I found talking with you more than enjoyable and I am sorry I had to run off so quickly.  I did catch my boat and it was more than worth it.  I would say I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip, but for some reason I’m sure you did.