I Died in My Kitchen

These god damned fever dreams coming at night, at naps. Lately I’m beached at dusk, briny coastal fog helping the sun get spent, while I’m eaten alive by a blackened, scabby whale’s liver. And ambergris – word from a dream – a putrid smell strong enough to be there when I wake. Unless that’s just me now, rotting from the inside out. Diagnosis prognosis hypnosis, waking is a kind of psychosis where I learn that I can’t see much of anything and then find out that I wish I really couldn’t. Half-blind is normal enough with my lazy left eye doing what it wants, but on a hungover morning with both eyes gooey and gluey from whatever it is in the booze or the body or both that does that, the only thing I can really do is cover that wandering oculus with a grimy hand and look around from my sticky naugahyde bed for whatever in the hell is making those noises. “I’m going to take this,” someone says and I wonder if I had asked anyone over. The smell is normal the hell is normal the visitor is not. I kind of fall up off the couch and plod pigeon toed – why is hockey on the TV in August – across my tiny living room. There he is in my kitchen taking things and stacking them on the table while I let the doorway hold me up. A conspicuous lily sits his lapel and whispers up at him. He grabs a picture off the empty, buzzing fridge and doesn’t ask who it is because I guess he knows and says as much: “Your mother. Homely, and your freckles are a tether to her.” He cocks an ear to the lily and tucks the polaroid into his coat in a pocket with my toothbrush. Beyond his bony shoulder my pills – due for a dose – stand soldiered between inert oven coils and I worry over having to shimmy past him to get to the orange bottles. Socks on linoleum, a sweaty, graceless glide through six feet of fear that he doesn’t even notice. I push down and turn and ask “Are you taking my dictionary?” The fridge stops buzzing. The Bruins score in the living room. Over the mute bay a fog horn gives its bovine low. In place of an answer comes an unexpected correction: “Those are your morning pills you’ll need the others now.” I know they are I just woke up – but I’ll be damned if it isn’t umbrella black outside the fire escape.

So Who Gets To Know

cities burned and traffic stopped
people beaten by mobs of frightened citizens
united
supporting and defending each other
gathered and powerful
but
claiming to feel unsafe
the group growing
their security growing
their safety
they say with each other’s voices
somehow shrinking anyway
a man hides behind a mailbox
trying to be tiny
forgetting his red hat like a beacon
wondering where
can I go
who can I ask
to find out what it feels like
because
if this crowd is so afraid of me
like they keep saying
why do I have to hide from them
they’re after me
and I feel unsafe
wondering how
to find out what it feels like
does somebody know
because this me and this them
sure feels like all of us
so who’s left
and where
and who gets to go
and who gets asked
and who gets to know
what it feels like to be safe.

 

Drunk in the Desert

I have such a bright memory –
our sturdy room that mom kept up
where we jumped from bed to bed
while thunder boomed outside
and you said
it’ll never stop raining.

But it did.
The sun came out and stayed.
You were dried
shriveled
shrunk
and have hoarded every drop
trying to outdrink the desert
ever since.

The bottom has no rocks.
The bottom has no bottom.
Just walls
all the way
down
wobbling
forever
in
half-
collapse.

Freedom to Donut

I do love my donut mornings. They’re getting to know me, and when I slapped down my full punch card like it was the winning domino – ameriCANO, mutha fucka! – they gave me the coffee I asked for, and gave me the donut free, too. Thanks, friends.

But first, in my car, I rounded a turn up high on a hill before descending to the beach for my goodies, and was greeted with a view of an aircraft carrier lumbering through Elliot Bay. Probably the Stennis from Bremerton – that’s the one we usually get around here. A quick check reveals that no, it’s actually the Nimitz heading back after sea trials and flight certifications. Another tool in the fight to maintain rights like our freedom of speech.

Having seen the Nimitz out there, I figured it would be worth it to give you a peek into what I am working on at school. This is my Social ethics class. As you can see, the questions are framed to discourage disagreement with the prevailing ideology. It doesn’t mean that the questions can’t be answered in the negative, but most young students aren’t geared for that. They’re just going to read the question and answer it, and store that tacit agreement away in their consciousness. It’s soft, oblique conditioning, and the teachers know full well what they are doing.

This week we did sexual and racial discrimination. People have lost jobs and have had their right to free speech completely revoked for saying some of the things I say below. Innocuous things that nonetheless are not allowed to stand against the dominant narrative on campus. Which is relevant to last week’s topic of free speech and speech codes. Campus speech codes claim to target and limit hate speech, but their target is, in every instance, free speech. My current college has a seemingly reasonable speech code, but it uses words like “harm” and “harassment” without making any effort to define them. When those definitions are left up to the accusers, good people get hurt.

The questions are in italics, and come from the teacher. Answers are where you’d expect them to be:

1. Can you think of other instances or phenomena that are indicative of, or might contribute to, the so-called “rape culture”? What, if anything, can men do to fight against “rape culture” and stereotypes that promote overt male dominance?

I find, first of all, May and Strikwerda’s statement that “rape is a crime perpetrated by men as a group, and not just the individual rapist” to be wildly irresponsible. It’s a moralistic assignment of blame without due process, and a sort of high command to all men to stop everything now and do everything differently. To imply that there is no such thing as a man who is innocent of rape is so absurd that it alone is enough to refute any claim of a rape culture.

If there is a stereotype of overt male dominance, I don’t know it. It’s a trope that’s been “fought against” for so long, and opposition to it has been the dominant narrative for so long, that it seems unlikely that if the stereotype does exist, it holds any sway in society. I just don’t see how socialization can still be blamed for “rape culture” when for decades now the overwhelming social momentum has been against it.

2. In regards to racism and sexism, to what extent [if at all] do you think that being “tolerant” involves tolerating others who are intolerant? In other words, if we are to truly respect others as autonomous agents, how ought we respond to those who do not respect others? Explain your reasoning thoroughly.

This takes us back to the free speech discussion in some ways. It seems more right to tolerate an intolerant person, if his intolerance doesn’t come in the form of speech or expression that causes harm, however we might define that. So yes, in terms of an obligation to respect the autonomy of others, we should tolerate the intolerant up until the point that his intolerance is an infringement on the rights of someone else, does someone else harm (which we must clearly define first), or otherwise restricts the autonomy of another. Still, to show too much respect may cross into the territory of the self-deprecating person (or Uncle Tom or Deferential Wife) in that we may forfeit our own rights and demonstrate a lack of respect for morality in general by doing so. All of which makes my answer remain a firm “yes.” Tolerate the intolerant, but do not tolerate her infringement on your own rights.

3. While we may reserve the right to socially exile or pressure others to be respectful to all, to what degree do you think such pressure should be exerted legally? For example, the fact that former Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was banned for life from the NBA for his racist comments. Or the President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, who publicly spoke about men being better suited for the sciences and engineering because of their innate aptitude for such demanding fields, while women have more natural “family desires”. Should either, or both, of these individuals be legally or professionally punished for such statements? Why or why not, and to what extent?

I’m all for people like this being professionally punished. The court of public opinion matters, and is a helpful check against unwanted behaviors. Legally speaking, however, no. They may have made poor comments, but they did not cross any boundaries of free speech protections that would warrant legal ramifications. Certainly nothing in our readings would support legal action, even the broadest of speech codes. There was no incitement to violence, and no issues of time and place that would have bestowed their comments with anything resembling a promotion of physical harm.

4. Choose one of the media items from this week’s module that you found the most interesting and summarize its content. Why did you find it interesting? What, if anything, do you think could be done to promote equality between the sexes, races, or both?

I think that to help equalize society, the primary focus needs to be on honesty. For instance, the article “Debunking the Mythical Gender Pay Gap” does not debunk what it claims to. The gender pay gap, the “77 cents on the dollar figure” makes no effort to control for any variables at all. It is the average of all women’s earnings in the US subtracted from the average of all men’s earnings in the US. That is literally all of the data that goes into that number. No data about the types of jobs, hours worked, education of employees, tenure, or even how many women vs men are in the workforce. Therefore, to start a conversation about equality with the 77 cents premise is to start the conversation dishonestly, and push for change from there.

And so much of the rest of our conversations about equality go the same way. The data concerning police brutality does not remotely support the claim that minorities are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. An honest conversation would start by acknowledging that fact, but that never happens.
We cannot work to promote equality between anything if we are not willing to be honest about it.