On gestures, meaningless and otherwise

img_5089I got my first tattoo at a place called the Jade Dragon in Chicago.  It’s a pretty famous tattoo parlor; there’s pictures all over the walls of various celebrities who have gotten work done there and there are billboards for the place all over town.

At the time, much like now, I was bald and had a goatee.  In between my tattoo and the tattoo the friend I was with got, we ducked into a bar next door so that she could have a quick drink.  It was her first tattoo too, and hers was a lot bigger than mine was, and she wanted a touch of liquid courage.

A guy at the bar, also bald and bearded, wearing a denim vest over a black T-shirt, made eye contact with me, did some sort of fist-pump gesture, and yelled “Skinhead!  RAAH!” at us.  We got the hell out of there– I told my friend to steal the fucking glass her drink was in if she needed to– and went back next door to get her tattoo done.

You get a T-shirt if you spend more than a certain amount on your tattoo, and the place is overpriced as hell so just about everyone qualifies for a free shirt.  It’s got the logo of the place on it and a bunch of symbols all over the place.  I figured they were just random flash tattoos.  The shirt looked cool.  I wore it as often as I wore any of my other shirts, I suppose.

Fast forward about a year.  I’m chatting with this girl online and we get to talking about tattoos.  I mention that I’ve got one and tell her it’s from the Jade when she asks where I got it.

“Ugh,” she says.  “Don’t go there.  The place is run by neo-Nazis.”

I flash back to that guy in the bar next door.  And I do some research, and I discover that I’ve been wearing a shirt covered in white power symbols for a year.  Luckily for me, a shirt covered in obscure white power symbols, as I’ve been wearing them on the South Side of Chicago and that could have ended up going very, very poorly for me.

The shirt is thrown away on the spot.

I am on an L train heading somewhere; hell if I remember where any longer.  There’s a mom with several kids in the back of the train.  The kids are being loud– not ridiculously so, but they’re clearly excited to be on the train and I get the feeling that they’re not from Chicago and this might be their first time.  The train is maybe a third full; a few dozen people, perhaps.  Some jackass starts yelling at the lady about how loud her kids are being and how she needs to keep them under control and it gets very creepy and threatening very quickly.  The rest of the train car goes dead silent.

I unleash my teacher voice on the poor stupid bastard and redirect his attention from them to me.  I am still bald and bearded and I’m wearing a black trenchcoat.  I basically order him to shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down and not say another word until either the family or him is off the train and then stare at him until he complies.

No one else on the train says a word.  One person– a white guy, maybe in his mid-fifties– nods approvingly at me.  I get off the train a stop early at the same place the family does in case he decides to try and follow them.  The mom thanks me.  The guy gives us the finger through the train window.  I blow him a kiss.

My wife and son and I go to hang out with some of our friends a few days after America decides to elect a fascist.  One of our friends is wearing a safety pin on her shirt.  I am not wearing one on mine.  I think about that family on that L train, and wonder about that safety pin.  Were they supposed to look around for someone wearing a safety pin, to appeal to that person for help?  If it’s winter, does the safety pin move to the outer clothing, or does it stay on the shirt, where you can’t see it under the coat?  And if the person wearing the safety pin stands up and makes herself visible, or speaks up and makes his voice heard, is the safety pin really making any difference?  Who is it there for?  Is it a reminder to ourselves?  A signal to other people that we are virtuous?  Both?  Neither?  If it’s not combined with action, does it really mean anything at all?

My friend has five children.  Those kids need to know to stand up, and she’s teaching them how.  And she walks the walk and talks the talk.  She will stand up.  The pin represents something real, on her.  I wonder how many others that’s true for.  How many people are just trying to make themselves feel better?  And do I have any right to criticize anyone else for making a small gesture that makes the world seem a little less bleak than it has recently?

I probably do not.

There is an American flag on the wall in my office.  America decides to elect a fascist and I find that I can’t stand to look at it any longer.  I order a rainbow flag from Amazon and hang it over the American flag, without taking it down.

I still believe in the things that America is supposed to represent, but I’m not sure the Stars and Stripes represents those things any longer.  The rainbow flag is better.  It expresses my ideals more concisely.

It’s on the wall in my office.  No one but me and my family is ever really going to see it.  I leave it there anyway, because I need the reminder.  So, for that matter, does my son, once he’s old enough to understand what it means.

I find myself looking forward to the day when I can take it down.


As we were drifting off toward sleep last night, I remarked to my wife that it had been something very close to a perfect day.  We’d gotten a major project done in the house, had pizza for dinner (there are times when pizza is the best food; last night was one of them), gotten some landscaping done outside, had some cuddle time on the couch with the boy, and spent a pleasant half-hour or so sitting outside and enjoying a summer breeze in the shade on our back porch.

The moment lasted for, well, a moment, before I remembered that the day had started with her telling me not to look at the news until I was more awake, and that fifty people had been gunned down in Orlando, the second time in less than a week that the phrase “murdered in Orlando” had made national news.

This shit happens every week by now, right?  It’s like a ritual; I always hear about these things on Twitter first, and it’s always something slightly opaque, so there’s that few moments of oh I wonder where and how many this time before I find out.  It’s almost always a white guy doing the shooting.  Sometimes it’s not.

I’m at the point where I want the Second Amendment repealed.  Period.  It’s been made obsolete by technology in a way that no other part of the Bill of Rights has, and it needs to go.  But I really don’t want to write a gun post, and I’m even less interested in policing comments about a gun post.  But I do want to make one specific, and probably unnecessary, point about this specific atrocity.

Here’s Omar Mateen:


The majority of the pictures of him I’ve seen are selfies.  In a lot of ways this guy seems to have been as American as they come (he was born here, after all) and I suspect that the NYPD gear is going to end up being overlooked more than perhaps it should be.  Reports are contradictory on how much of a role Islam played in his life; his father claims religion had nothing to do with it, and his ex-wife, who had to be “rescued” from him by her family, also says that he wasn’t radicalized at all at the time of their divorce in 2011.  But that was five years ago; five years is a long time.

Donald Trump is yip-yapping about “radical Islamic terrorism,” and there’s more fooferall about whether Obama should have used that phrase, or whether Hillary did, and what it means that Hillary Said It but Obama Didn’t, and a whole bunch of nonsense.

I’d like to submit here that it doesn’t really matter all that goddamn much whether this dude was a radical Muslim or not, because the way things stand right now in the US there is no goddamn daylight at all between “radical Muslims” and conservative Christians on the issue of the gay community.(*)  When a leading Republican candidate for President is introduced to a cheering crowd by a pastor minutes after that same pastor calls for the execution of gay people, I don’t want to hear shit about Islamic terrorism.  Republican legislatures across the country have spent most of the last couple of months wetting their pants about whether trans people should be able to pee in public restrooms or not.  Out gay people are in danger in this country every time they leave their homes.  I don’t wanna hear shit about Islamic terrorism when we have an entire political party gleefully making the lives of gay people as miserable as they possibly can every chance they get right here in the United States.  It’s just not relevant.  I don’t care what this guy’s religion was.  He was a homophobe.  That’s the relevant variant of asshole we’re dealing with here, and it’s the only one that matters.

(Two side tangents: 1) I also don’t give a damn about his little 911 call before he drove off to kill people.  I can call 911 and proclaim myself a member of the Harlem Globetrotters right before I go shoot some folks; that doesn’t mean Big Easy and Flight Time are gonna know who the hell I am.  2) Yes, I know about this guy.  I’m not going to talk about him because the case appears to be getting murkier by the minute, and I’m already speculating enough right now.)

Actually, one more thing: it’s interesting to see signs of Mateen starting to get the “mentally ill” edit, which is normally reserved for white people and certainly not for Muslims.  Mental illness is a dodge of the real issue, as usual; a mentally ill and homophobic Omar Mateen who does not have access to a weapon that can shoot a hundred people in a matter of minutes is substantially less dangerous than a healthy and homophobic Mateen who does.

(*) There are so many acronyms.  I feel like “queer” is better as a single umbrella term but “queer” still feels like at least half a slur to me sometimes so I don’t like using it; I’m hoping we can agree that I’m trying to write in good faith here and leave it alone?  I really do hope that at one of the Gay Agenda meetings at some point they sit down and decide on one acronym.  I like QUILTBAG because it’s fun to say, but as a straight cis dude I don’t really get a vote.

In which I’m ahead of the game

800px-PeteButtigiegI’d like to point out that I was calling the Mayor “Mayor Bootyjudge” way before he came out of the closet today, and I can’t decide if amending his nickname to Manbootyjudge is homophobic or not, but at least for the time being I find it hilarious.  Is “lovingly homophobic” a thing?

At any rate, I’m glad to have played a part in allowing him to live long enough to make his big announcement today by not hitting him with my car back in December.  Keep an eye on this kid, y’all– and I can call him that, because he’s still like twelve years younger than me, even if he’s got a gray hair or two now– because while I don’t doubt any of what he says in his statement to the Tribune, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is Bill Clinton-level scary-smart, and he knows full and goddamn well that this is only going to raise his profile.  He’s still the youngest mayor of a city with more than 100K inhabitants in the country, and now he’s one of only a handful of openly gay mayors.  He picked up a profile in the WaPo today, ferchrissakes.  You know when the last time was that the Washington Post mentioned South Bend?  I do.  It was the last time they wrote a profile on Pete Buttigieg.  It’s happened more than once.

You watch.  I don’t know if he’s planning on ending up in Washington through the Senate or the Governor’s mansion or both, but by 2032 everybody in America is gonna know this guy’s name.

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I can’t tell if this story is sad or funny

11138588_10206547522310491_2102370222246627824_nAnd the answer may very well be “both.”

(There is another Star Wars post coming.  Soon, I expect.  This will not be that post, but I could not pass up this image.)

A couple of months ago one of my sixth grade boys attacked me in the office.  I didn’t mention it here.  It wasn’t a big deal.  The kid was in the midst of a massive emotional meltdown and he has trouble controlling his temper on the best of days.  I wasn’t mad.  We had to put him up for expulsion, but when a kid’s special education disability can be found to have caused the behavior that led to an expulsion, that kid is frequently sent directly back to school and everyone involved knew that that was exactly what was going to happen and it did.

(I understand that this policy may prove controversial.  I’m not super interested in defending it or denigrating it at the moment.  It’s just how things work in our current system.  Roll with it.)

At his expulsion hearing, I went over what had happened and spent a few minutes talking with the kid about things he could have done to make the situation work better.  I made it very clear to both him and his mother that if he’s in a situation where he feels like he’s about to lose his temper, I want him to come talk to me if he needs to, and that under most circumstances my office door is going to be open to him whenever he needs it to be.  Since he came back, I’ve checked in with him on my own two or three days a week, and he’s been referred to me once or twice a week as well.

Basically what I’m saying is I see this kid every day for one reason or another, and I spend a fair percentage of my copious spare time talking him off of ledges.  But!  He hasn’t gotten into a fight or hit anyone since he came back.  In fact, to the best of my recollection he hasn’t even had a day of home isolation since he came back.  This represents incredible progress.

He needs a name.  We’ll call him David.

So today I got a phone call from one of the special ed teachers that David had been sent to her room by another teacher on a time-out and that he was insisting on talking to me.  I went to the classroom and found him in the hallway about halfway to meltdown mode– hands clenched into fists, breathing heavily, pacing around, the works.

I got the story out of him fairly quickly, and this is the part where telling this story gets a bit difficult, because I don’t quite know how to describe this other boy, who we’ll call Jonathan.  Jonathan is probably gay.  He certainly acts the part; he’s noticeably effeminate and he plays up his effeminacy (is that a word) to a degree I have literally never seen from a twelve-year-old before.  He gets picked on by the other kids from time to time, which will surprise no one, but what may surprise you is that we’ve had to deal with him for sexual harassment issues before.  For example, we had a big fooferall on Monday just this week because Jonathan was blowing kisses at several of the other boys in the room– a fact that they did not react to with calm equanimity.

Put the pitchforks down.  As I’ve said many, many times, bullying is an infinitely more complicated issue than society is ever willing to admit, and frequently what people might want to point at and screech “bullying!” is actually a situation with multiple bad actors.  This is absolutely one of those situations.

At any rate, David has gotten into an argument with Jonathan, and rather than punch Jonathan in the face he’s left the room, gone somewhere else, and asked to talk to me.  He’s upset with Jonathan because he doesn’t like “that gay stuff” and blah blah blah garden-variety middle-school homophobia.  Am I happy about it?  No, absolutely not.  Am I willing to pass over GVMSH because at this precise moment with this precise young man right now we’re working on don’t punch people in their faces, a lesson that he seems to actually be learning?  Yes.  Yes I am.  Judge me as you see fit.

I get a description of what has happened out of him.  As it turns out, what specifically set him off was Jonathan telling him, loudly, in class, that he was going to “do a booty porn” with him.

You read that right.  Booty porn.  David does not want to be in a booty porn!  In fact, he quite badly wants to punch the faces of those who suggest that he should be in booty porns.  But he has been told not to punch faces, so instead he left the room.

I deposit David in the office, tell the office to sit on him and let him calm down for a few minutes, and go find Jonathan.  I have a problem here; I can calm David down easily enough, especially given a few minutes.  What I can’t do is put him back in the classroom with this kid, and if Jonathan really suggested he was going to fuck this boy in the ass and videotape it– because hell if I can figure out what else “do a booty porn” might mean– then we’re right back to sexual harassment issues from Jonathan, and my day, much like an erect penis, has just gotten longer and harder.

(I’m very sorry.)

I talk to Jonathan in the hallway.  A bunch of the boys realize immediately why I’m there and a bunch of hands shoot up from kids who want to tell me what happened.  I wave them off.  Jonathan comes outside.  His story is largely the same as David’s in terms of the mutual harassment and name-calling that started the dispute, and then he says something that stops me dead.

“I told him I was gonna do a bully report, and then he got mad and left the room.”

Say “bully report” a few times really fast.  Now say “booty porn” a few times really fast.

oh what the hell am I doing with my life.

Now, here’s the thing: Jonathan is just clever enough that he could be lying.  And David, as much as I like the kid, is just volatile enough that he could have put the worst possible spin on what he thought Jonathan was saying.

Do you see where this is going?

I had to pull, one by one, and at random, about half of this poor teacher’s class into the hallway, to ask them if they heard the words bully report or booty porn.

The results?  50/50.

And then I had to go talk to my boss, and say the words booty porn to him a bunch of times, and explain to him why I was resigning immediately and refusing to deal with any of this nonsense any longer.

The end.

On boycotts

I’m writing this at home and in bed; my head has been swimming intermittently for a couple of days now, and I intend to spend as much time as humanly possible right here where I am before dragging my ancient carcass to OtherJob for a few hours tonight– mostly because, unlike RealJob, OtherJob doesn’t pay me if I don’t show up and I need money. But if this happens to get incoherent at some point do be aware that I’m not entirely in my right mind at the moment.

Ender’s Game comes out today. Or… soon? I think it’s today. I won’t be seeing it. Why I won’t be seeing it is an open question, really; I’d like to pretend that it’s because Orson Scott Card is a nasty bigoted asshole but the simple fact is the last movie I actually saw in theaters was… (draws blank)… shit, I know the answer to this… Christ, it wasn’t Iron Man 3, was it?

(Texts wife)

Holy hell, it was Iron Man 3. That’s ridiculous.

If I didn’t have a kid and a job that ate every Friday and Saturday night, I might see more movies– I haven’t seen Gravity or Riddick or the remake of Carrie or just to stick with the Chloe Moretz theme, Kick-Ass 2, and those are movies I want to see. So to say I’m boycotting Ender’s Game probably overstates the case, as I likely wouldn’t have seen it anyway. I want to see the new Thor movie next weekend; we’ll see if I make it or not.

Orson Scott Card doesn’t get any of my money anymore because 1) Orson Scott Card is a major-league asshole and 2) Orson Scott Card has made sure that I find out that he’s a major-league asshole. If he wasn’t a major-league asshole or if he hadn’t made sure that I knew about it, I’d very likely be climbing over things to get to go see his movie this weekend, because I loved the book. He’s on a fairly short list of business or people whose work I have stopped patronizing because of political/moral reasons but otherwise would, along with Dan Simmons, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, and Chik Fil-A. It doesn’t count if I was never interested in your shit in the first place; I’m not boycotting Rush Limbaugh because I never gave a damn about his show. I know Domino’s Pizza is run by Christianist lunatics; I wasn’t a fan of their pizza anyway so I can’t really pretend that I’m boycotting it now. For all I know, Jack-In-The-Box is run by Satanists, but I can’t boycott their food because there aren’t any of their restaurants near me.

Do I feel like my personal withdrawal of my patronage is making a difference? No, of course not. But it doesn’t have to. I don’t feel the need to drive CFA into bankruptcy; I just don’t want to help them have money any longer. Are there other artists or businesses whose work I do patronize that are as bad or worse than Orson Scott Card? I’m sure there are, which is where the You Don’t Want None, There Won’t Be None policy comes into effect. I don’t have time to submit the author of every book I read or the owners of every business I spend money with to some sort of personal Decency Commission to make sure that every penny I spend only ends up in the hands of Good People. But I feel like if you’re going to go to the trouble to make a stink about what an asshole you are, you probably ought not to whine when said assholery has some consequences.

I’m writing about this because, first, Card’s been in the news lately, for obvious reasons, and second, some of the arguments against not seeing the film (call it “boycotting” if you want) seem pretty intensively infested with stupid. This is manifestly not a free speech issue, for example. I am not the government, for starters, and perhaps more importantly Orson Scott Card is not entitled to my money. There’s always this deeply weird group of people who pop out of the woodwork whenever something like this happens to shriek about how Liberals Don’t Really Respect Free Speech because Look What They Do When They Disagree with People.

If you think that, kill yourself. You’re too fucking stupid to live.

Orson Scott Card is not entitled to my money. Neither is Chik-Fil-A. I will not give them my money based on any goddamn criteria I choose, regardless of the ridiculousness of said criteria, and there isn’t a drop of free speech involved. He has the right to be a public asshole, and I have the right to call him one, and I sure as shined shit have the right to decline to pay the man for his hatred.