‘Very special people’

“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here — although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what? I like you. Because you are special.”

~ President Donald Trump to two WWII veterans and Navajo code talkers Continue reading

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Horror vacui

Many artists throughout time have feared open spaces. The distance between the clouds and the horizon was simply too much for them to fathom. It made them uncomfortable when they painted it, the same way certain subjects leave a writer with a knot in their gut.
*
My girlfriend tells me this as we make our way south on Highway 101, fresh out of the Redwoods in Northern California, in her dirty red Mini-Cooper. She’s reminded of this phobia as she can’t bring herself to look out the passenger window at the all-consuming black mass of the Pacific Ocean, just a stones throw from the highway.
I can’t say I blame her. I glance out the window and it’s like looking into space. Silent. Black. And huge. I love Humboldt County and the whole Pacific Coast, but it’s not a place I can quite call home. As a Puget Sound local, I’m not used to the unobstructed view. I need some peninsulas, islands an rocky beaches.
We’re on our way to Disney Land. It’s only for a few days, but the four days of driving is supposed to be “half the fun” as they say.
I realize how different a thousand miles makes. For one, Lorde’s “Royal” isn’t every other song that’s on the radio (the others being Macklemore). But the freeway code is different. More anarchistic. Common law as a whole is different. Discussing pot in public is a taboo. Littering is a more serious offense.
I’m getting older now. The once-silly notion of “life decisions” is a very real and serious matter. Do I stay in the Pacific Northwest? Do I travel with my girlfriend to Arkansas?
*
The ocean only seems to get bigger when you drive down the coast. You drive faster, not knowing what else to do, but eventually find yourself in Southern California. The air quality sucks. The people don’t know how to drive. Looking out the passenger window at a horrible black mass seems like a century ago.

Funny, But Full of It

Bill Maher is not for everyone. I tried to explain this to my girlfriend’s parents, who are both conservative politically and spiritually. One identifying with the Mormon faith, and the other identifying with the Republican party.

“You either find him hilarious or repulsive,” I said to them from the back of the car as we drove to the Robinson Center Music Hall, in Little Rock, Ark., where Maher was performing for the night.

I didn’t know the guy did stand-up comedy. I thought he was just a professional smart-ass and political pundit with a TV show. I was curious to see what his stand-up routine would be like. I was also a little nervous to see what everyone’s reaction would be like once he started ripping into republicans and religion. Out of everyone in that car, I had the least to lose going to a Bill Maher show. I’m a twenties-something white male from a blue state.

Fortunately, it was too funny for me to even care. As the parents sat tensely in their seat, listening to Maher tear into Mormonism and Mitt Romney, I was barking out laughter. I am truly sorry that I did that, but I couldn’t contain myself. Me and my girlfriend had been visiting her parents for more than a week and Maher’s reckless and rude commentary was just what I needed to relax a little.

However…

Maher is a comedian. Don’t mistake the gray hair and smooth voice for someone truthful. Much of his material is based on misinterpretations of the truth. He frequently distorts, exaggerates and misleads to get his laughs. Maher is damn funny, but much of his humor comes from a liberal elite angle, whereas, if you don’t get his jokes you’re an idiot – or worse, a redneck. This pushes people into accepting his stories and commentary as truth.

For instance, he remarked that happily married Mormon couples get to rule over their own planet in the afterlife. This might be true to a degree, but lacks its context and is incredibly vague.

He also made several remarks about the Republican party “saying” or “doing” some profoundly stupid shit. We get it, Bill. Republicans are stupid. But the party can’t be defined by the words or actions of a few unlikable characters. But anytime a Republican opens their mouth, Maher has something to counter. In the end, it’s the whole party that’s wrong.

I will give him Kudos for dishing out some insults to the Democrats as well, specifically with the president. But it wasn’t enough. There is an obvious sympathy with Democratic Party. Just the way he changes the tone of his voice when talking about President Obama is enough to tell his audience who the good guys are.

I made these mental notes on my way back from the show. I wasn’t so critical while I was there. Ninety-nine percent of the audience really seemed to love his show. I, for one, would pay to see him again. The audience was a good mix of people too. No one seemed under or overrepresented in the theatre. Every mention of marijuana legalization, marriage equality, pro-choice, etc. got big cheers from the crowd. Clearly, a progressive crowd. In the Arkansas Times, Maher had this to say about his audience in red states:

“…there is an extra bit of enthusiasm in these states you’ve mentioned, what they call the red states, because I think it’s more unique for someone like me to be in a state like that and the progressive people who live in those states, I think they find it more of a special event that someone who thinks like them who they don’t usually see comes to their state.”

(Full story here.)

So maybe they were a bit overzealous. But it was also Maher’s first time in Little Rock.

Showing your support for a political idea is fine, even if the facts are a bit distorted. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert aren’t much better. I’d really like to see a comedian who can use accurate political commentary to get laughs. Or maybe that’s what we call good journalism.

 

The Engima of Arkansas

I was in Little Rock, Ark., last week. I just recently came back to my hometown of Bellingham, Wash.

My girlfriend’s parents bought both of us plane tickets to fly down south for 11 days. This was both exciting and terrifying since I have never really been in “the South” and I have never met her parents.

The trip started off with our arrival in New Orleans on the opening weekend of the football season. We were there for about three days and enjoyed all kinds of touristy activities like graveyard tours, voodoo tours, airboat rides in alligator infested lakes and, of course, Cajun dining.

I had a long list of writing on my to-do list by the time we left New Orleans (along with a couple books that sat idle in my suitcase). We stayed one night in Monroe, La., the hometown of Duck Dynasty, and made our way to Little Rock.

I’ve lived in Washington most of my life, so I have a pretty strong idea of how Washingtonians identify themselves. That is, somewhat outdoorsy, eco-friendly, liberal-leaning and –in the case of Bellingham – subdued. Coming to Louisiana I had a similar notion of how people identified themselves (however stereotypical as it might have been). But I did not know what to expect of Arkansas.

Arkansas is an enigma. It is one of those middle states – like Kansas, for which its name is derived. From a northern point of view, I can only tell you a few things about Arkansas.

–          My girlfriend’s parents live there.

–          It’s muggy.

–          There aren’t any cafés (excluding Starbucks).

–          The population of North Little Rock is about 60,000

The rest of the details are pretty generic. Arkansas has highways, shopping malls, big bugs and a lot of Southern drawls. The culture shock wasn’t as big as I anticipated, and even though that was a bit of a let-down, I’m glad I wasn’t perceived as “the other,” with my hiking boots, “accent” and northern pallor.

A couple things that should have happened:

–          A deer strapped to the hood of a pickup should have flown by on the highway.

–          An old grisly man should have said to me: “you ain’t from around here, are ya boy?”

–          A string band should have asked me to tour with them as their lead banjo player.

I digress. Arkansas and Louisiana were both fun, and so was meeting my girlfriend’s parents. They were extremely kind and very laid back. I was happy to find that I could speak my mind and make crappy jokes around them.

Finally, I’m back home. I can play video games in my underwear until 4 a.m. and poop in my own toilet. Hooray for that. Time for some writing.