On the run after Trump win

It’s not easy being Muslim in a country that thinks you’re Mexican

Poet and author Ibrahim Ahmed, a Muslim who has been mistaken for a Mexican, went into hiding soon after Donald Trump declared he would banish Muslims from the US. He was last seen heading for Mexico.

by Ibrahim Ahmed

Now that fiction counts as news it’s getting harder to know the difference, or why it even matters.

I doubt anyone knows when I’m reporting news or creating fiction that traffics as “news,” and it doesn’t seem to matter, not when you can create your own story, your own version of the “facts,” and make money and increase your followers on Twitter. I do it all the time.

I’ve been telling my wife, for example, all kinds of stories, some factual, some not, and she, in turn, has been making up stories about me. I’ve been cherry-picking bits and pieces of these stories and posting them as “news,” some of which have gone viral.

My wife’s not impressed, however, and she’s started sending me turd and foot fetish emojis in response.

Recently, she got pissed about my drinking and bar-hopping, and turned me over to the feds by telling them I’ve run off to Syria to meet with ISIS recruiters. She thinks I’m hiding out in Fresno. She thinks I’m a no-good bum, drinking, carousing and running from the law.

She threatened to vote for Trump if I didn’t come home immediately. I told her she’d regret it, and she’d get deported, and she’d just have to wait until I take care of some personal business before I come home.

“Personal business?” she mocked. “You call masturbation ‘personal business’.”

My wife’s not impressed, however, and she’s started sending me turd and foot fetish emojis.

Contrary to rumors, I’m not working the streets of Las Vegas, posing as a high-rent hooker and robbing people once I get them into their motel rooms, nor have I given up my manhood, nor do I plan to come out as the world’s first Muslim transvestite who’s about to have the “procedure.”

In fact, I’ve been hiding out in Orange County, Calif., living briefly with a Mormon couple that took pity on me after the election. I’ve been haunting Laguna Beach bars.

“Are you from Mexico?” they wanted to know.

I met them at the bar down the street from their home in Irvine. I could tell right away they were good people. Nice shoes, nice clothes, prim and proper, hair in all of the right places, although they’d come, they told me, to let their “hair down a little,” even though Mormons don’t ordinarily drink.

“Ah, no, I’m recently from Fresno, where I lived in a ramshackle trailer for a few weeks and worked with a crew of Mexicans as a farmhand because the rancher thought I was…”

“Oh, you poor fella!” the wife interjected. “You’re a migrant worker!”

They told me about their love of canning and building a family, and the husband winked, after his second beer, when he hinted at the possibilities of a heaven populated with many wives. He seemed to know I’d like that idea. We downed a few more beers and pretty soon they were inviting me to come stay with them “until the heat dies down, maybe after they build that wall.”

I moved into an extra room, which they had turned into a pantry, its walls lined with canned goods and basic staples. I quickly scored a job with Uber. The couple thought I was a Mexican immigrant until, after a week of living with them, they saw my “morning prayers.”

I’d left the door cracked a little and was on the floor, kneeling down, looking under the cot for my car keys, and blurted out in a panic:  “Please, Allah, just let me find my keys and get back home to Grover Beach before my wife, or some alt-right kook, kills me first.”

The wife was standing there and she was horrified. “Would you mind handing me that bag of flour above your head, please?” she asked, pretending she hadn’t seen me kneeling on the floor or heard my pitiful supplication. Then, “Are you Mexican and Muslim?”

“Well, sort of….” I didn’t know what to tell her. I’d made up so many stories, I didn’t know where to begin. If Facebook can destroy the world of thought and conversation by doling out unfettered lies and fake news, I mused, then I will start by telling the truth. “…I’m on the run, actually.…”

“OH.MY.GOD!” She dropped the bag of flour on the floor and it burst into a white Jackson Pollock mess all over the tiles. “You’re a Mexican terrorist?!”

“No, ma’am, I’m not a Mexican and I’m not a terrorist, I’m a Muslim, a not-so-good Muslim, on the run from my wife, who’s turned me into the feds, and now she wants me back…”

“Get out!” the husband shouted. He stood behind me, shotgun cradled in his arm. “GET OUT!” With his free hand, he waved me out of the house. “Get your things and get out!”

“But…”

“Leave! You’re not welcome here anymore.”

I grabbed my belongings and I as walked out the door, I heard the wife on her phone, “Yes, homeland security?”

I drove straight to the nearest used car lot and made a quick transaction, trading in my Honda for a VW bus and headed south to Laguna Beach to have a few drinks at the Marine Room Tavern where a live band was playing the blues.

I found a place at the bar and ordered a whisky.The place was jumping and between songs an old man playing the trombone slammed down his vodka tonic, grabbed the mic and shouted: “Let’s all get drunk and be somebody!” §

Ibrahim Ahmed is a poet and essayist who has been hiding from the feds, sending dispatches from the road about what it’s like to be a Muslim in America.

THANKSGIVING AT THE A.M.E. CHURCH

An agnostic Jew finds sanctuary among black worshipers

Photo from gallery of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

The ladies seemed aglow with the proposition of their attendance, as if this was a highlight in their lives, or perhaps the highlight of their lives. Photo from gallery of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

by Dell Franklin

Maybe it was time I showed up at a “house of worship”—church, synagogue, mosque, etc.—after a more than 50-year absence (except weddings and funerals) as a fully committed agnostic. So when my brother-in-law, who along with my sister is white and a volunteer sponsor of minority foster children for an organization associated with the black A.M.E. Church, invited me to join him for morning services at that church in Los Angeles, I said yes.

I was curious and also looking forward to entering the unknown as the 1 percent minority, if that. Also, having lived on the mostly white conservative Central Coast of California for the last 30 years, I was excited, as a kid reared in mixed-race Compton, to again rub elbows with black folks.

The church was a huge, stately structure. We arrived early and people were milling around, dressed in their best for a festive Thanksgiving. At the entrance we were greeted by a man in an immaculate black suit and white gloves who welcomed us, while another man similarly clad handed us programs titled, “God’s blessings inspire an attitude of gratitude.” A few ladies stood talking, nodded at us, smiled, and I was immersed instantly in a cocoon of warmth and graciousness of a different kind.

We found our seats up front, in the second row, along the middle aisle. Already, the choir was in place behind and beyond the pulpit as dignitaries of the church sat in a row behind the lecterns. My brother-in-law, Bruce, was eager to hear a visiting pastor from the Dallas, Terry White, and the church’s own pastor, “J” Edgar Boyd, in the face of Trump’s recent election as president.

But to me, this occasion posed a brilliant cornucopia of unrivaled people-watching, my favorite pastime. The ladies seemed aglow with the proposition of their attendance, as if this was a highlight in their lives, or perhaps the highlight of their lives. How could an agnostic, a cynical bastard like myself feel cynical about this as these ladies caught my eye and smiled and welcomed me to their church?

As the massive cavern filled with black people only, a different emotion filled me—I was getting with it. I was among the congregation and did not suffer the usual guilt of being a nonbeliever facing a man preaching the Bible, nor the self-betrayal of just being in their midst, nor the boredom and manipulation I had resented and endured in the synagogue growing up, or any of the other churches I had been forced to attend for weddings and funerals. I felt utterly at ease here—and safe.

The service began and hymns and litanies led to prayers by a lady reverend, another lady, and  a teenager. Scripture was read—Samuel—a commentary having to do subtly with Trump, followed by the choir, which was just warming up, and then came Pastor Boyd, his constant refrain, over and over and over again, with more and more emotion, what these people, his people, felt after the election, after years and years of struggle: “WE MADE IT!”

“YES, WE MADE IT!” People began to stand, mostly women. They nodded and raised a hand and announced their agreement. “Yes, we made it!”

“AND WE WILL MAKE IT AGAIN!” Over and over again, and Trump’s name was never mentioned, but everybody got the pastor’s message. Black people had overcome slavery, lynchings, beatings, the unleashing upon them of vicious dogs and powerful water hoses and teargas, incarceration for whatever the white man deemed guilty, centuries of civil rights abuse and bludgeoning of spirit, but always, always, they “made it.”

The reverend was a resonant showman, the ebullient spirit pouring forth from his every pore, preaching that two-fisted old fashioned religion, and Bruce and I found ourselves rising with the throng, clapping our hands, and when the pastor finished in a rousing finale, a tall man in a light brown suit led the choir, and now the place was really rocking, the blend of powerful, magnificently blended voices leading a chorus among the congregation, and I found myself not singing, because I know no words and I was not really a person who talked about the lord or Jesus or even God, but instead watched the people, and especially the ladies, so carefully attired, jewelry gleaming, and I was reminded of the hardship most black women endure, reminded of my days of working on the riverboat Delta Queen on the Mississippi River back in 1969, and being the only white employee below the officers, and of being taken as a guest to a blues club in Memphis by a crew of waiters and maids, and getting with that music, and watching my friends react to this music, such sad, woebegone music, and, while dancing with one of these ladies, who was sending her pay home to her children and family in New Orleans, I asked how people could be so joyous over such brokenhearted music, and she told me, “Honey, we got to celebrate our sufferin’, or we ain’t gonna make it.” And, “We got our blues, and our church, and they can’t take that away.”  And she smiled, knowing I had no clue to either and probably never would, but that was okay, too.

It made me think about my own life, and how easy things were for me, how I, a white person, could hitchhike from LA to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and land the best job on the Delta Queen as the ship’s storekeeper. No black person could hitch through the south without fearing disaster, and none of the uneducated blacks on the Queen had the training to be a storekeeper, as I had, starting out as a 15-year-old stock boy in Compton.

Those maids on the Delta Queen reminded me of the ladies in this congregation, who, as mothers and providers, and believers, beamed with pride and hope and faith cutting through hardship and hurt. The faces and  bodies of these women depicted heroic resilience beyond my comprehension, and the more I watched them, as the choir moved into a higher gear, and the people began swaying and repeating, a spirit entered me. I saw what religion meant to these people, and joining them made me feel good, and grateful, and strangely whole. I didn’t have to believe in Jesus, or the lord, or God, or any god, but just needed to be among people who genuinely believed, and shared, and found this day, and perhaps every Sunday of their lives, a salvation and a salve for the week’s wounds and life’s unfairness, a refuge from what occurred daily outside the walls of this massive church.

The Gospel ended and now Reverend Terry White Sr. from Dallas took over, and his oration, like Pastor Boyd’s, came from an echoing chamber deep within, and his showmanship and passion soon had everybody rising and repeating his words, and he wound himself into a fury, moving this way and that, his voice powerful, and the whole place rocked and rocked, and I thought to myself that if I lived around here I might show up at this church more than a few Sundays a year, to again drop some cash into their coffers and experience what was proving to be to me an almost Zen-like occasion.

In the end, we all held hands, swaying back and forth, and afterwards I was myself shaking hands with men and hugging women as we headed toward the exit in a cloud of jubilation. Outside, a few more hands were shook, and then I ran into the man in the brown suit who led the choir, and I told him how great I thought they were, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you, we give it our all.”

I ran into a lady who must have been well past 80, struck up a conversation, and she urged me to come back, and hugged me. Driving back, Bruce said, “You think we feel entitled, going in there, because we’re white?”

“Probably.”

“You think two black men would be as welcome in a Southern Baptist white church, or any white church?”

“I don’t know. Churches are supposed to be welcoming places. Maybe, but I doubt it.”

We talked about the white man who went into the black church in South Carolina and shot and killed innocent people. And they forgave him, prayed for him. To those people I don’t think it was just about Jesus, or the lord, or God, but a spirit of humanity and magnanimity, just as they would accept me in that very same spirit as a nonbeliever, a person who walked out feeling that humanity and magnanimity and carrying it with him for that day and to this day too, and perhaps for some time to come. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he maintains his love for humanity, and the hope of people who struggle against ignorance and hate. His other works can be viewed at dellfranklin.com

We Can Blame Others, or We Can Learn and Grow Ourselves

Viewpoint from a Progressive activist

comment-progressivesBy  Sean Shealy

We may not have much control of the present situation. But we can choose to learn from it.

It is easy to look at Trump voters and say, “These people are just idiots and racists!” But if you read any coverage of the exit polls, you know that it isn’t that simple. I did, because I want to understand their concerns, the reasoning behind their votes. I want to make sure that I hear their voices, so that next time we might appeal to them better. They give myriad legitimate reasons for voting for Trump: The bad economy, the hopeless corruption in DC, the fact that Hillary was seen as an insider. We should study these reasons in detail. We should do so to empower ourselves.

No one has power over Trump voters. No one has power over progressives who spurned Mrs. Clinton. The singular power we have is to learn.  Blaming anyone else is fruitless. It simply means that we won’t change anything — we’ll end up doing the same thing again, with the same result.

Progressive votes for Jill Stein cost Hillary Clinton nothing—she would have lost even if she’d gotten every Stein vote. But what did cost the Clinton campaign, dearly, was the absence of progressive activists, those who man the phone banks, walk precincts, and help organize marches and rallies. These activists multiply their votes many times over.

Progressive activists—for whom the value of justice is paramount—tend not to be party operatives. Their loyalties are not conveyed simply because a politician carries a party label. They’ve been burned far too many times for that.  And burned doesn’t mean not getting your favorite piece of feel-good legislation; burned means that people died. It means that people were maimed. Families were ripped apart. It means that these activists laid awake at night, driven to despair, to rage. This is why they work to multiply their votes, why they vigorously support candidates who actually reflect their values: Otherwise the injustice will go on forever. They will never sleep.

Party political operatives will say, “Well, Clinton voted for the war in Iraq because, in 2003, the intelligence we had and the geopolitical calculations necessary for the strategic….” And the progressive activist gives not a shit about any of that. The progressive activist sees instead an Iraqi mother cradling her dead child. This activist knew that the war was based on lies at the time, as anyone who was paying attention would have. The reason for the war was unjust, the vote for the war was unjust, the death of the child and the pain of the mother was unjust.  And now you ask these activists to campaign for someone who sponsored all of that? Injustice.

Some progressive activists might triangulate, and “vote for the lesser of evils.” But hold your nose and vote is not the same as campaigning. On myriad levels, they saw Bill Clinton’s policies as a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s — because, on myriad levels, they were.  If you do not know this, HERE IS YOUR POWER: Question it. Learn about neoconservatism, neoliberalism. Read Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser to witness the dovetailing of the two parties under Bill Clinton; read Fighting Words: How Liberals Created Neoconservatism by Ben Wattenberg. Don’t be afraid. Be curious. Learn.

Progressive activists saw Hillary Clinton’s policies as a continuation of her husband’s policies. And why wouldn’t they? She said that they would be. She touted her eight years in the White House as her guiding experience.  Many, having spent decades fighting Clinton’s unjust policies, decided that the Green Party had to be supported, if there were ever to be hope for justice. Stein’s vote tally did nothing to change the outcomes of the election—but Stein’s support did double from the last election. And that was the result of the efforts of those activists.

“Well, why didn’t they do that for Hillary?” you ask. “It would have saved us from Donald Trump!”

Because these activists, who have lain awake nights for years on end, tortured by the thought of the dead and maimed in Iraq, the endless shredding of families torn apart by Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies, by the economic devastation caused by Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street, are not going to help paint a smiley face on any of that. They oppose all of it. They will oppose it to the grave, and into the bowels of Hell, if necessary.

They will not triangulate injustices. They will not trade two lives here for four over there; they will not be told that they should support Clinton because she will only kill thousands while Trump will kill tens of thousands.

They will not support lesser evils. They will not support evil at all.

And if you want to win next time, you will have to reject evil, as well. §

Sean Shealy is an activist and the author of Corruption & Cover-Ups of the Bush White House Unmasked and the novel Killing Limbaugh.

TRUMP TRANSITION STAFF MEMO

At first glance you might be skeptical about a black Jamaican-born dwarf who infamously got his eye shot out in a domestic dispute, as cabinet-level material.

At first glance you might be skeptical about a black Jamaican-born dwarf who infamously got his eye shot out in a domestic dispute, as cabinet-level material.

Department of Satire
Pre-Vetting Memo
From: Transition Staff
To: VP-Elect Pence

It was recently brought to our attention that the field of candidates to fill key new positions in the Administration is, well, a little white. Okay, a lot white. And, after Ben withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday, like, Klan-rally-in-a-blizzard-white. We’re not quite sure what to do about this, as we feel like we’re getting conflicting signals. Steve keeps saying “think back to the future,” that we really need to reassure the white voting bloc of the New Model Coalition that the 1950s are just around the corner—which is already hard enough to do without old-school Jim Crow. (The libs are hip to the new kind, dammit, but with our man Jefferson Beauregard Sessions heading to Justice, looks like happy days of the new being old and the old being new are just around the corner.) And Chuck has kind of menaced that thinking outside the box might put us on the To-Be-Transitioned-From-The-Transition list.

But Reince and Kellyanne seem to think we need to make at least some nod to racial diversity, but on uniquely Trumpian terms: Even if insanity is not only not a disqualifier, but a recommender, in this nascent Administration, any nominees we make cannot be drawn from the usual suspects. Or, as Kellyanne put it, “I don’t want to see Herman Cain or Alan Keyes on the list. Find someone’s who’s a real political outsider.”

So we think we’ve got a good one, and for SecDef, at that:  Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys.

Now we know, Mr. Vice President-elect, that as a white Christian conservative from Indiana, at first glance, you might be skeptical about a black Jamaican-born dwarf who infamously got his eye shot out in a domestic dispute, as Cabinet-level material. But he might be more your kind of guy than you think. And if you take away the “black Jamaican-born” part, Bushwick could fit right in with any of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy family, We know that comparison might not sit well with our white supremacist—check that, white nationalist—bloc, but we think we can use it to our advantage in an SNL “Black Jeopardy” kind of way.

As you know  (or maybe not—some say you’re “Quayle v2.0,” while Milo calls you “that clueless Hoosier fuck,” which is actually a term of endearment—if he didn’t like you he’d say “cuck”), the President-elect’s national security/foreign policy stance during the campaign was to righteously excoriate Bush 43 elites and Democratic elite enablers for undertaking an unnecessary war costly in blood and treasure on the one hand and, on the other hand, promise decisive unilateral action against truly deserving enemies that might make even circa ’64 Barry Goldwater blush. The President-elect has also repeatedly emphasized his desire, however hazily, to improve the lot of African-Americans, which appears to have gotten some traction well beyond our top black booster.

While we suspect that, if you heard it at all, you were probably reflexively opposed to anything labeled “gansta rap” in 1991, we think that the band’s Bushwick Bill-authored “Fuck A War” very presciently articulated many of the sentiments on war Mr. Trump has seen and tapped into during the campaign:

Motherfuck a war, that’s how I feel

Sendin’ a nigga to a dentist to get killed

‘Cause two suckas can’t agree on something

A thousand motherfuckers died for nothing

As we know, the President-elect will most definitely not be sending members of the working class to be cannon fodder (especially when his children can continue bilking and stiffing them, while he rounds up and deports at least a few million of the browner ones). But it’s Bushwick’s stance on use of nuclear weapons, though, that really excites us.

Admittedly, Bushwick would prefer to have his finger on the button. But given the decisive zeal of his position, we suspect that he’d be happy for a subordinate-but-synergistic policy relationship with Mr. Trump. Unlike Kissinger, who couldn’t rise to his president’s exhortation to “think big,” and more like Richard Perle, who was always keen to “move up the escalation ladder,” we have no doubt that Bushwick would champion an eschewal of diplomacy for swift, decisive, taxpayer-efficient military action when obviously necessary:

You’re lucky that I ain’t the president

‘Cause I’ll push the fuckin’ button and get it over wit

Fuck all that waitin’ and procrastinatin’

And all that goddamn negotiatin’

Flyin’ back and forth overseas

And havin’ lunch and brunch with the motherfuckin’ enemies

I’ll aim one missle at Iraq

And blow that little piece of shit off the map

Yeah, I wouldn’t give a fuck who it ices

‘Cause I’m tired of payin’ these high-ass gas prices

Clearly someone not only attuned to populist sensibilities, but also a potentially excellent collaborator for John Bolton, wherever John ends up in the New Order.

This is not to say that Bushwick’s confirmation would be without challenge, even in a rubber-stamp Senate. We acknowledge that Bushwick’s derisive metaphorical allusion to the United States for its perceived institutional and international racism

You can’t pay me to join an army camp

Or any other motherfuckin’ military branch

of this United goddamn States of this bitch America

Be a soldier, what for?

They puttin’ niggas on the front line

But when it comes to gettin’ ahead, they put us way behind

The enemy is right here g, them foreigners never did shit me

All of those wasted lives

And only one or two get recognized

But what good is a medal when you’re dead? Tell Uncle Sam I said

I ain’t goin’ to war for a shit-talkin’ president

Fuck fuck fuck a war

could present problems at a confirmation hearing, as could his near-deportation as a result of drug charges after a lapse in sobriety some years back. But on the other hand, the adjudication of Bushwick’s case shows the immigration system can, in fact, be fair and just; and Bushwick’s status as a born-again Christian (including calls for self-reliance and responsibility) since the late aughts, and astute assessment of a certain timeless quality in veterans’ issues, all but makes him an expert and broadly-appealing sympathetic figure:

You know how Uncle Sam treat its veterans

Absolutely no respect

Get a plate in your head, lose a leg, you might get a check

We also note, as a bonus for our brand of anti-Republican-Elitism, that Bushwick’s “Fuck A War” lyrics—which, though written during the first Gulf War, could easily apply to the second—show no love for the House of Bush, and indeed an unambiguous desire to punish gratuitous warmongering elites:

I ain’t gettin’ my leg shot off

While Bush’s old ass on t.v. playin’ golf

But when you come to my house with that draft shit

I’ma shoot your funky ass bitch

A nigga’ll die for a broil

But I ain’t fightin’ behind no goddamn oil

Against motherfuckas I don’t know

Yo Bush! I ain’t your damn ho

In sum, Bushwick seems to perfectly capture the national security sentiments that have propelled Mr. Trump to power: Weariness with war and contempt for elites on the one hand, but a desire for maximalist unilateral action on the other. And beyond policy matters, we think Bushwick and the President-elect would get on well on a personal level: While the scale of reversals of fortune between the two is vast, Bushwick’s 1995 “Times is Hard” kind of parallels Mr. Trump’s bankruptcy rise and falls, and perhaps reflects a “come to Jesus” dimension the President-elect has had with regard to women and chronic scoff-lawing upon his election:

Rollin’ through my hood like a superstar

Turnin’ corner after corner in my brand new cars

These hos used to call me baller

But that was before I lost my grip, now they barely even calla

Player ‘cuz they know that I’m broke

No Rolex, no Benz just spokes (shit)

Now that I’m back to life, and back to reality

Got one life which ain’t shit without a salary

No more playing mack daddy for you skeezers

I got one lover, I love her, so I’ma please her

And leave you tramps alone

Since I’m getting shit straight, I’m starting at home

I’m on a long road to nowhere if I don’t change

Life with no crime on my mind feels strange

Working like a motherfucker, slick like a Benz seat

Backing off my old hustle, trying to make these ends meet

It is possible, however, that Bushwick might consider Mr. Trump to be exactly the “shit talkin’ president” for whom one wouldn’t go to war; and that the Little Big Man with the jaundiced-but-astute one eye might see some other Administration nominees as being hostile to minorities. Perhaps the real question is, how much of the old “Fuck A War,” ‘hood vs. The Man Bushwick is there with the newer born-again, get-the-behind-me-gangsta Bushwick? Though someone is actually in the process of figuring this out, we recommend sending Milo to sound this out. Whether he comes back with a cap on his tooth or a cap busted in his ass, someone, somewhere, will be happy. §

The Secretary of Satire thinks the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me”  is one of the best songs ever, but in light of recent events, also recommends doses of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” and Steve Earle’s “Mississippi, It’s Time.”

When the bad becomes good

 

The worst are filled with passionate intensity

culture-rockaway-bully2by John Willingham

Last weekend, my wife and I decided to go a hotel in Rockaway Beach, Oregon, an unpretentious beach town on the Central Oregon Coast, hoping that a trip to the ocean would reduce the considerable anxiety and anger that we both were feeling after the election. The place had a real bargain: for $70 a night, a two-room apartment about 90 feet from the ocean, with only the beach in between.

We hit the local cafes and bars for eating out. The Bar & Grill was toward the end of our list. The internet said the place had broasted chicken and my wife wanted that for dinner. We sat at the bar, as we often do, because it’s easier to have conversations with the locals.

On my left was an empty stool, and on the next stool over was a big man with a Dallas Cowboys hat and jacket. His wife was the bartender/manager. She had on an Ohio State sweatshirt. I love to gab with locals in a bar, so I started talking to the guy about the Cowboys. Well, I hate the Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, but I was careful to say that I loved the old Cowboys teams from the ‘60s and ‘70s but didn’t really care now how they did.

Someone down the bar said the guy was actually from Arizona, and his college team was Arizona State. He told me, yes, that was his team. He was vague about why he liked the Cowboys. His wife said it was the cheerleaders.

“One of the most admirable people in the country came out of Arizona State,” I said.

“Oh yeah?”

Pat Tillman. He played harder than anyone in the NFL and then gave that up to go fight with the Rangers in Afghanistan after 9/11.”

“Yeah,” the guy said. “And he was killed—you know how? With friendly fire.”

I already knew that. Then I said, “I have great admiration for the military, but one thing that really hurts me is that so many fine young men and women have been killed for a bunch of crazy bastards in the Middle East who hate us no matter what we do.”

He put down his beer, puffed out his chest, and said, “I guess you’re one of those Clinton lovers.”

I tried to get the conversation back on the military, in a positive way. “Look, what I’m saying is that this country has sent a lot of kids to die with nothing to show for it, beginning with Vietnam. I hate that.”

“We could have won that war. We never put everything we had into it. What kind of fucking shit are you talking here?”

He was loud. My wife was next to me. It pisses me off for people to be that way in front of a woman. Old School, I know, but there it is.

“Look,” I said, pointing my finger at him, “let’s have an understanding. We can say whatever we want to say except let’s not use the F-bomb and call names.”

He thought for a moment, took a sip of his beer. His wife came over and shook her fist at him and told him to shut up. He agreed with me to keep things civil. We shook hands on it.

We talked briefly about something else, I can’t remember what. Then he said something about Obama causing all the problems in this country and now things would be great. I said that Obama had at least kept young Americans from getting killed for nothing. “Fuck you,” he growled. “Fuck you, you goddamn liberal pussy.”

I said, “Fuck you, and shut your fucking mouth.”

“Go ahead, take a swing,” he said.

I have a standing rule about this. In this day and time you do not take the first swing unless you are being robbed or someone has moved to attack you. Otherwise, you will be sued or thrown in jail. So I put my right fist, tightly clenched, on the bar, clearly visible to him but just behind my right shoulder so I could hit him with everything I had if he made a move.

“You go for it, you fat son of a bitch, and I’ll knock the living shit out of you,” I said. He was at least ten years younger, heavy but very strong, as his handshake had shown. Maybe an out-of-work lumberman, or maybe just an asshole with a big mouth. But he just sat there. He was a bully, pure and simple.

His wife was beside herself. “I told you!” she screamed at him, shaking her head and retreating to the kitchen.

I paid the tab. My wife was not happy with me for having begun a conversation with the guy in the first place, but she was, thank God, agreeably intoxicated. As we walked past the guy she tapped him on the shoulder. He turned his face and she gave him a peck on the cheek, laughed, and we walked out the door. He had no idea what to make of that, God bless her.

Here’s what I hope I learned from this:

No doubt there are white people who have been left behind in the “new” economy. No doubt it is easy for many of these people to believe that identity groups have gotten all the attention, and political elites have either taken the white working class for granted or screwed them directly or deceitfully for years.

But, too often, their legitimate gripes are subordinate to the hatred they have cultivated over the last two decades, and especially the last eight years. Everything must be good or evil, and everything that is not blindly pro-white, pro-military, and anti-Obama is evil. As Yeats wrote, “the worst are filled with passionate intensity” and no longer have any real bearings, only irrational fear, hatred, and resentment.

The “alt right” has scooped them up and brainwashed them into believing that the worst part of themselves is now the best part of themselves, justified, heedless, self-righteous and authoritarian.  It’s not just the economy, stupid. It’s humanity led once again to its darkest side.

My ill-advised visit to their dark place will be my last. I was close to being there myself. §

John Willingham is a writer and editor from Portland.

REMEMBERING MAJOR ADAMS: AWARDED THE MEDAL OF HONOR IN KOREAN WAR

culture-major-stanley-adams

MAJOR STANLEY T. ADAMS

by Dell Franklin

Heading toward the mess hall in my still-rumpled fatigues, I noticed this big lumbering bear of an officer, a major, limping toward me across the walkway bordering the parade field, a man around 40, who did not even slightly resemble an officer, but whose gaze was so penetrating and fierce I snapped my salute in quaking fear. He did not slow down but his eyes told me everything as he snapped off his own salute—I was the lowest form of life, the most worthless piece of shit in the entire United States Army.

I’d only been on post at Verona, Italy, as a private in August of 1964 about two weeks, and was still in the process of getting squared away.

A couple of troops in our medical detachment, the 45th Field Hospital, clued me in: Major Stanley Adams had won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Korea as an NCO and received a field commission. Nobody really knew just exactly what he’d done to get the award, but evidently it was beyond unbelievable, included leading his out-numbered, trapped platoon in a charge against some 250 North Koreans. He was shot in the lower leg and kept on charging. He went down four times from grenade concussions and kept on charging. He engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat, killing one after another with his bayonet and rifle stock in an hour of furious fighting. And then he stayed on to hold fire while what was left of his platoon and the rest of the company retreated to its battalion.  His medical file was as thick as a small-town telephone book and dated back to WWII, where he’d also been in combat in North Africa and Italy.

The major worked in an office next to our commanding general, and, with the exception of Gen. Power, it seemed there was not a troop on post, enlisted man, NCO, or officer who did not tread carefully around his fearsome demeanor, including West Point colonels.

Then one day, about two months into my tour in Verona, I was manning the immunization room as a PFC when he came in for his annual smallpox shot. I quickly administered the shot as skillfully as possible and signed his card and, as he rolled down the sleeve of his shirt, he sized me up, and said, “You able to give me a rubdown, Franklin?”

Having no clue as to how to give a rubdown, I quickly said yes, and the major took off his shirt and walked over to the padded training table and lay on his belly. “Get with it, Franklin,” he snorted, “I got a goddamn crook in my neck and shoulder, won’t go away.”

I took out a liniment-smelling ointment called Logangesic balm and slathered it on his broad, meaty back. I began kneading the area between his shoulder blades. The major instructed me to go higher. I did as told, and then he roared, “Goddammit, don’t worry about hurting me, harder, goddammit, put some meat into it!”

I dug my fingers and thumbs deep into the area between his shoulder blades and pressed hard. I worked up to his trapezius muscles and down, my hands and forearms starting to burn. I did not dare cease. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I judo-chopped his spine, up and down, to the neck, then began digging into his shoulder blades when he sat up and said, “That’s enough.” I’d been at it a good 20 minutes.

He stood and pulled on his shirt, tied his tie, slipped into his green jacket, and nodded at me, as if I was no longer the lowest piece of shit in the entire US Army, but still nothing to brag about.

***

A week or so later he was in again. “Gimme a rubdown, Franklin,” he grunted, going straight to the training table. I quickly got out the balm and went to work. I really worked him over. Finally, as I kneaded his back, he decided I was worthy of conversation.

“Where you from, Franklin?”

“Los Angeles, sir.”

“You like the Army?”

I hesitated. “Uh…”

“I miss the NCO club. Miss my old pals…harder, Franklin, goddammit, don’t be afraid, dig in!”

He began showing up every two weeks or so, going straight to the training table. If I was busy, so what, everybody cleared out. What the major wanted, the major got; he’d earned it. Such was the Army way.

One night I was on graveyard CQ in the clinic, with the ambulance driver, PFC Alvin Callock, a black dude from Cleveland, and Major Adams came in with a cast on his arm, from knuckles to elbow. He had the cast on a week and wanted it off. He was pissed off at doctors who always wanted to put casts on him. I told him I had to consult a doctor before I could take it off. I went to the phone to get the doctor on call. The major shouted, “Hell with the goddamn doctors!” and ordered me to take the cast off. The glance Callock shot me said I’d better do as told. I got out the plug-in vibrating cast cutter and began sawing into the cast, making a racket. Major Adams growled at me to stop being timid and get the damn thing off, he was sick of it, hated it, “don’t worry about burning me or cutting me with that goddam thing, just get it off!”

When I’d cut through the entire cast, he reached down, tore it off, tossed it across the emergency room, stood, and walked out, still grumbling about casts and doctors. None of our doctors said a word to me about it when he showed up without his cast.

A couple weeks later he was back in the immunization room, needing a rubdown, and I hopped to it.

***

We had organized sports on post, and I participated in all of them, including tailback and defensive back in eight-man flag football, played without pads by pent up troops in a manner so bruising that generally we beat each other up. In one particular game, which was more like a vengeful war, our team of medics and MPs were battling an imposing headquarters team, and on a kickoff I was blindsided and knocked out for about 20 seconds, so teammates told me, and found myself crawling off the field, trying to stand up, my nose broken all over my face, bleeding profusely. Somebody hauled me to my feet and I kept right on going, staggered into the emergency room in the clinic, where our company commander, Captain Benincaso, placed me on a table, stanched the bleeding, and informed me he’d have to put about five stitches in my nose and set it.

At this point my mind, though still a buzzing fog, was starting to clear, even if my nose and head throbbed. I asked the captain if I could get back on the field, for the game was  close and I really wanted to beat headquarters.

“You’re not going anywhere, Franklin,” the doctor said. “You’ve got a bad concussion, and your nose is a mess.”

I began pleading, telling the doc I was feeling fine, that I’d be careful, that my teammates needed me…but he continued to shake his head and had already called on a medic to sponge and hand him instruments to work on me when a deafening roar, like thunder, rocked the emergency room where I lay: “LET THE KID PLAY! THIS IS THE FUCKING ARMY! NOT SUMMER CAMP FOR GODDAMN PUSSIES!”

It was Major Stanley Adams, hovering near, holding an unlit cigar.

“Sir, I can’t let him play,” Captain Benincaso insisted.

“Bullshit!” The look on his face was beyond determination to get his way. Benincaso lowered his head, sighed, stood back; took off his latex gloves. “Okay, Franklin, go ahead,” he said.

I jumped off the table and tore through the clinic and onto the nearby grass field. I sneaked immediately into the game and resumed my position as deep defensive back. Nobody on the headquarters team saw me and I asked one of my teammates who’d cheap-shot me. It was a muscular troop, a buck sergeant named Small, a lifer. On the first play they ran the ball, and I slithered into the blocking interference Small was leading for their running back, accelerated and clobbered him on the side of the face with a forearm shiver. He staggered. I blasted him again, then again, drove him to the side lines and had him staggering toward the ground when one of the referees, a black staff sergeant pulled me off, and exclaimed, “You got your revenge, Franklin, now get back and start playing right!”

I watched Small, woozy, stare at me, and beyond his shoulder, on the sidelines, alone, imperious, arms folded, cigar in puss, stood Major Stanley Adams. He issued me the slightest of nods, and I found myself swelling up like never before. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., and served in the U.S. Army as a medic in Italy.

OLD GUY FISHING

Watercolor by California artist Steve Santmyer

He pulls the
hand cart
out of the back of the truck
I don’t know the parts and
pieces that make a fishing rod
but the old guy is fitting piece into
piece into piece
the way I imagine a gun
would be assembled
and this, no less lethal
if one is a fish

Bottom-weighted with an
ice chest
bait box
lunch
lawn chair
nitroglycerine

one more day amongst the living
spent killing, maiming
it all feels good
against the ripple of blue
blue sky blue ocean
fog bank kept at bay by
thousands of spiraling seabirds
off the pier

it all feels good from above
below,

bottom weighted
the ocean waits
it will survive him
everything will
reefs and jetties don’t live
by rules hard and fast
survival is neither a given
nor necessary in any grander plan

we are the rule makers
we are the hard and the fast
the old guy fishing is a rule
maybe a broken one
either way
the ocean, bottom weighted
will win

Monalisa Maione