A REVEEW OF “PATHS UPWERD”, THE BOOK MY HEATHIN COUSIN WRIT

Well everbody, it’s been a good whall since I last wrote anythang here on this web blog, I speck. Like most of yall, I ain’t got no pertensions bout myself as t bein no “writer” or nothin like that, so unlike some people who shall not be namd, I spin most of my time workin at my job and spendin time with my famly, not sittin on my ass tiping on no dang computer.

But my cousin, the feller who this web blog is named after, and the main contribyeter here, he wrote a book a while back. I red it, and I don’t thank to much of it, and I sure as far don’t care nothin bout writin no glowin reveew of it, but my wife, fer some reason I caint quite git at, she likes this book my cousin writ, and she likes him and his heathen web blog to, and annyways it aint out of no sort of obligatun to annybody but my lovly wife that I’m here typin today. I love that woman, and if she ast me t cover mysef in honey an go stand in a far aint bed, well, I’d probly do a good bit of arguin, but, well, Walmarks would have t restock the Callomine loshin pretty soon after, if you git me.

I red that book, “Paths UPWERD” or whatever he calld it. Me, I was dangd offended by it. There wernt no big mass of cussin or nothin, and it wuddnt nothin to explissit in there, but all the same I didnt like it.

Somehow, dispite his bein brout up rite in a propper Christian maner, my cousin done got the idea that all relijuns is equaly true. My wife says it ain’t really him sayin that, its the caracter he wrote sayin it. My wife also said my heathen cousin mite a bin bein sarkastick to a digree, or the caracter he wrote was bein sarkastic, or whatever the case mite be. My wife is a schoolteecher, and she studyd littrature and that sort of thang in collige, and I figger she nose more about the subjict then I do, so I gess I will admit that mebey I mist somethin.

But I will also say, here on my heathen cousin’s web blog, that my wife, angle that she is, aint willin t write no reveew of “Paths UPWERD” or whatever it is, bein that she dont wont her name on this web blog neither, an also because “Paths UPWERD” aint no book for noboddy under the age of 18, an my wife, she teeches elementry.

Buncha dopers and emoral heathins in that book. Since I aint usen my reel name here, an since I beleeve in bein honnest, I will admit that ockasenaly, me an my wife will watch one of them adult paper view movies on the dijitel cabble. But I dont aprove of what them people is doin, and I always make it a point t say so.

What my wife thanks about my heathen cousin’s little book is that hes tryin t be “sibversuve,” or somethin to that affect. Hes tryin t paint them people in them paper views as human beeins, she says. Like I said she nose more about littrature and thangs than I do, but I dont thank I agree. I thank hes just tryin t be sinnsashunal, and writin bout thangs that disterb good Christian people just t git a rise outen em.

Althogh I do admit parts of “Paths UPWERD” was kinda funny. That feller Pops was my kind of feller, althogh he did drink a mite to much. Me, I woulda kickd that idjit Floyd the hell off my property the minnit my doughter broght him home the first time, thogh. Woold have saved her a lot of time.

In concluson, I didnt like this book, but my wife did, an she made me write this. I dont no when I will write nothing else here. I dont reckon to many decent people read this web blog lest I’m writin on it. Me, I look at it now and agin, but not often cause it usully just pisses me off, what with all the libral nonsense my heathin cousin writes.

He done ruint MASH for me, I tell you that much.

So reed his book “Paths UPWERD” if you want t git good an pisst off, I gess. I wooden recomind it, thogh.

 

(The novel Cousin Ronald so graciously reviewed for me is available at the Kindle store: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HHKY5V0#nav-subnav. — MNW)

WOOP WOOP

There’s been a lot of talk lately about police in the USA. One recent conversation came about following the mass shooter in Dallas who targeted police officers.

And yes, the man was black, but no, he was not involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The Dallas chief of police made the suggestion that #BlackLivesMatter protesters who were concerned about predominantly white officers policing predominantly black neighborhoods should sign up for their local police force.

This suggestion was met with mixed responses. Some people seemed to think it was a good idea. If people from specific neighborhoods became police officers in those neighborhoods, there would be more openness and dialogue between the police and the people they are obligated to serve and to protect.

I think that argument has some merit. If every neighborhood, town, and city in the country had friendly police who not only get along with the local people but also play an active role in their communities above and beyond their duties as police officers (think Mayberry, think Andy Taylor, think Barney Fife), violent conflict between the police and the public might — *might* — occur less frequently.

Not everyone agrees with that line of reasoning. Some people maintain that it is not necessarily the police per se that are the problem, the problem is the policing. Many studies have shown that wealthy neighborhoods — specifically wealthy white neighborhoods — are simply not policed the same way that poor neighborhoods — specifically poor black neighborhoods — are policed.

If people from poor black neighborhoods become police, according to people who opposed the Dallas police chief’s suggestion, that’s not solving the very real problem of disproportionate policing, it’s maintaining it.

I see the merit in this latter argument also. And this argument doesn’t rely on unrealistic ideas from classic sitcoms, to be blunt.

Before I type anything else, I would like to state unequivocally that I have nothing but respect for the many upright, honorable police men and women in our country. Taking it upon oneself — *sincerely* taking it upon oneself — to protect and serve the public and maintain law and order is one of the most noble things any American can do.

I would also like to state, however, that there are very few things in the world that I consider more vile and unforgivable than corrupt police officers. These wastes of flesh — not to mention public funds — do not protect and serve, they murder, they rape, they supply drugs to drug dealers in exchange for a cut of profits, they ruin lives as well as entire communities through their abuse of authority.

I am not making these things up, for the record. Anyone who keeps up with national news — even casually — knows all too well that this sort of thing happens quite frequently in our country.
For anyone reading this — especially upright police officers — please don’t think that I am writing about these things in an attempt to demonize all police officers or to encourage hostility towards police officers. I most certainly am not.

I am writing about these things because these things are a legitimate problem in our society. And yes, I have a few suggestions that I feel might help the situation. These suggestions would not magically fix everything, but I think they would help.

I do not mean this disrespectfully toward anyone currently employed in law enforcement, but I think a very good place to start in solving these problems would be to make it much more difficult to become a police officer.

Put simply, not everyone is cut out to be a police officer. The vast majority of people do not possess the strength of character, level-headedness, and personal skills necessary to be an effective police officer. And again, I don’t mean this disrespectfully toward anyone currently employed in law enforcement, but hardly a week goes by where there isn’t a story about a police officer shooting someone under questionable circumstances.

People who shoot first and ask questions later should not be police officers. To be sure, there are many situations that arise where it is necessary for a police officer to shoot a criminal, especially if that criminal is shooting at the police. But far too many unarmed people — unarmed *citizens* who are legally and constitutionally entitled to be not only treated fairly but also *protected and served* by the police — are shot and killed by people who should never have been given a badge and a gun in the first place.

That’s my first suggestion: make it harder to become a police officer. I am sure that there are psychological tests in place already; I say make them more intensive and thorough.

If an applicant displays tendencies toward panicking in tense situations, that applicant shouldn’t be given a gun.

If an applicant displays tendencies toward sociopathic behavior, that person should not only be denied a gun but also escorted out of city hall post-haste. Anyone who would knowingly bring harm to others for personal gain should not be given one iota of the public’s trust.

And perhaps most importantly, if an applicant displays the slightest bit of racial prejudice, that applicant should not be given a job on any police force. Police are supposed to protect and serve everyone, not just people of a certain skin color.

“Hold on,” many people may be thinking. “Not many people want to be police officers to begin with. If we make it harder to be a police officer, won’t we likely be reducing the number of police officers on duty?”

If anyone thought that, I would advise them to reevaluate my first suggestion after they read my second:

Increase pay and benefits for the police officers who make it through the more difficult screening process. Not only that, make sure that all police departments across the country are fully funded.

A big part of disproportionate policing is (arguably) a direct result of economics. Underfunded police departments all too often rely on revenue from minor offenses, and not only that (i.e. fines stemming from minor offenses), but also on fines for being unable to pay the previous fines on time. These fines — for things like minor traffic offenses — affect people from different economic strata disproportionately: for someone making minimum wage, a hundred-dollar traffic ticket is is a significant blow to their finances, and if they have to make the decision whether to pay a hundred dollars for parking in the wrong place or paying their rent, well, they are likely to use that money to pay their rent. Which leads to an increased fine, or maybe an additional criminal charge, or maybe even jail time.

For a person on a middle class salary — and I mean “middle class,” not “just above the poverty line but driving a nice car to keep up appearances” — a hundred bucks is nothing. Having to give a hundred bucks to the police department represents the difference between eating at Applebee’s next Saturday night instead of at that new upscale joint downtown that everybody at work has been talking about. It’s a minor inconvenience, I mean.

Police departments depend entirely too much on fines to generate revenue. Is my point. If they weren’t underfunded, police in poor neighborhoods would have far less incentive to hand out expensive tickets left and right to people who (often) might not even realize they are breaking the law.

Now don’t get carried away here: when I say “make sure that all police departments across the country are fully funded” I mean “fully funded” with regard to covering administrative costs, paying salaries, keeping police vehicles in working order, that sort of thing.

I do not — do *not* — mean “fully funded” with regard to police having military equipment and fancy cars and flipping tanks and things like that. Sure, fully equip and fund SWAT teams and things like that. But neighborhoods in the United States of America should not be treated as war zones. People in the USA who aren’t committing any violent crimes should have no reason to fear the police, but if a person grows up in a neighborhood that is fundamentally no different than an occupied city during wartime, they’re not likely to think of the police in a positive light.

And again, I am not — *not* — trying to demonize the police or rile up negative ideas about police in general. I am trying to help find a solution that benefits both the police and the citizens they are employed to serve and protect.

Police officers are — first and foremost — public servants. If any police officer doesn’t understand this and accept this and make this the center of their philosophy toward policing, that person has no business being a police officer.

I don’t think that’s a controversial statement.

Do you?

At the same time, if we, the citizens of our country, want to have an effective police force to serve and protect us, we should be willing to fund the police departments these officers work for, and not force them to depend of revenues from fundraising events and ridiculously expensive ticketing. They should have what they need to do their jobs and live comfortably.

I don’t think that’s a controversial statement, either.

Do you?

#NOTALLTREKKIES

Please note: this post is based only on people I have personally interacted with online, and even among that limited sampling of people, there are exceptions to the phenomenon jokingly talked about in this post. So don’t nobody get upset or nothing, I am just kidding around.

There is — believe it or not — a long-standing dispute among sci-fi fans regarding whether Star Wars or Star Trek is the better franchise.

Up until recently, I considered myself to be wholly in the “Star Wars is better” camp, even though I fully acknowledge that Star Wars (original trilogy, prequels, new movies, and all the assorted “Star Wars Universe” stuff, which I don’t know a lot about) is just as much “fantasy” as it is “sci-fi.”

I have to claim ignorance in making such an uninformed choice: up until just recently — as in like up until a month or so ago — I had never really watched much Star Trek. And I saw most of one of the movies (the Kirk and Spock movies, I don’t remember which one) a while back, and I liked it, and BBC America plays “Star Trek: The Next Generation” reruns quite often…

And even though there are certain aspects of the show that, like Star Wars, lean out of “sci-fi” territory and into “fantasy” territory, the vast majority of what I have seen of Star Trek is based much more in actual science than Star Wars.

So, in conclusion, I guess if someone were to put a blaster or a phaser or whatever to my head and demand that I declare which franchise I prefer, simply for sentimental reasons, I would still pick Star Wars.

But seeing as how that situation is not likely to ever occur, I would like to state that I now like both franchises quite a lot, and that my preference for Star Wars, to repeat, is mostly sentimental.

But one thing bugs me: there are die-hard Trekkies out there who are also pretty hardcore “anti-PC” people. I find this interesting because these people attempt to denigrate “pro-PC” people using “science.”

The greater prevalence of science (please note the lack of quotation marks) in Star Trek is also, often, why these anti-PC people prefer Star Trek.

What’s interesting to me is that in my viewing of perhaps ten or so episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — I look forward to viewing many more episodes, for the record — I have noticed something very interesting:

The crew of the Enterprise all use PC language. Nobody gives Worf shit about his being a Klingon, at least not in the episodes I have seen. There are humans of all different skin colors on the Enterprise, and nobody goes around using racial slurs.

As a matter of fact, one episode I saw recently was about how an extinct humanoid race from many thousands of years ago left a computer program or something encoded in the DNA of various worlds, and when all of the pieces were put together, a hologram of someone from that extinct race appeared and told everyone present — humans, Romulans, Klingons, maybe another race — that they all were descendants of this one race, that this one race had essentially planted them all on various planets around the galaxy, their shared DNA or pre-DNA or whatever was why they all had similar body types (head, torso, two arms, two legs, etc.), and that she (the hologram) hoped that knowing this would bring harmony to all these various races.

The Romulans and Klingons (or whoever, I don’t pretend to be hip to all the lingo) denied that this was true and said, essentially, that there was no way in heck they were going to acknowledge it. Picard expressed how unfortunate this attitude was.

Also, religious beliefs of various races on Star Trek are treated with the utmost respect. I also watched an episode (“Icarus” was in the title, I think) about this one guy — one of the people who have big ears that wrap around and connect on their foreheads — who invented a new type of shield (“metaphasic,” I think) that would allow a ship to fly into a star unharmed.

This fellow gets killed under mysterious circumstances, and Dr. Crusher wants to perform an autopsy, but Picard insists that she shouldn’t do it because the dead fellow’s family wants to perform some mystic ritual with his body before anything else happens. I think she did the autopsy anyway, but nonetheless respect for religious customs are also present in Star Trek.

There’s no catcalling on Star Trek, there’s nobody degrading women, no women get talked down to or sexually harassed…

What’s funny is that strictly going on dialogue and storylines and whatnot, Star Wars is a whole hell of a lot less “PC” than Star Trek. And seeing as how Star Wars doesn’t contain any language that would be too harsh for a five-year-old’s ear, that’s really saying something.

And in my very limited experience, it seems like most “pro-PC” people (including me) are more into Star Wars — which has jokes based on appearance, mild sexism, mockery of the Jedi religion, etc. — and most “anti-PC” people are more into Star Trek, which, at least in “The Next Generation,” is just about as “PC” as a sci-fi series could possibly be.

Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t TNG change the original Star Trek intro thing from “…boldly go where no MAN has gone before” to “…boldly go where no ONE has gone before”?

I am not a “Trekkie,” so maybe I imagined that.

What gives, anti-PC Trekkies? How come you like PC sci-fi but not PC real life? Do you think that humanity will get to the stars faster calling each other by racial slurs, encouraging sexism and homophobia, and just generally behaving shittily toward each other?

What gives, you scruffy-looking bunch of nerf-herders?

Another big thing on Star Trek is accepting responsibility for your actions. This was mentioned to young Wesley Crusher by Number One (I can’t remember his name, he has a beard most of the time) when Crusher was put in command of a research mission.

Number One told Crusher to do what he thought was best, but to be prepared to acknowledge and accept responsibility for failure, should his judgment prove to be incorrect.

How in the name of Spock do you go from that to “nobody gets to be offended by anything I say unless I was trying to be offensive”?

Where do you get off, anti-PC Trekkies, calling people “too sensitive” if they accuse you of saying something offensive? Where do you get off, o graduates of Starfleet Academy, not only refusing to apologize to people you have offended, but also launching into personal attacks against the people you have offended?

Is that how Captain Picard would behave? Granted, I have only seen a small number of episodes, but I hardly think so.

Picard would lecture you on respect and manners, anti-PC Trekkies. Picard would embarrass you in front of everyone on the bridge, and if you continued to be insubordinate and disrespectful toward your fellow crew members, Picard would tell Data to beam your sorry ass off the Enterprise.

Although he wouldn’t say “ass” or “butt” or for that matter “sorry.” Nonetheless, you wouldn’t last very long on the Enterprise or any other such ship, were you to go around using racial slurs and sexual innuendo and harassing anyone who dared to complain about it.

So again, anti-PC Trekkies, what gives?

FISH CANNOT CARRY GUNS

I suppose one of the many drawbacks of trying to be a nice person is that people end up telling you things you don’t really want to know. They get something on their mind, and nobody else will listen, and so they tell you about it.

Just to clarify, please review my first sentence, particularly the part that says “trying to be a nice person.” Please note that I did not (as in did *not*) write “one of the many drawbacks of being a nice person” and so on. I am trying to be a nice person. I never claimed to be one. That is to say, I am not attempting to talk myself up with this rather personal/self-indulgent bit of prose, I am merely relating my experiences.

People tell me things. I don’t know if it’s because of some aspect of my face that sets them at ease, or if it’s the fact that I try to be a nice person; I really have no idea. I do not resent this sort of thing, on the contrary, I feel honored when someone confides in me, and I do my very best to offer advice, or if I have no experience in the sort of situation they are describing, all I can offer is an open ear and empathy.

And sometimes an open ear and empathy is all that people – including me – need. Sometimes advice does no good. Sometimes there are situations in life for which nothing can be done, other than simply to accept these situations for what they are.

My main course of study in college was “journalism.” And other than a few freelance articles here and there, and other than a handful of articles I wrote for the Traveler (the University of Arkansas’ student newspaper) as a student, I have not made any money from the specific course of study I chose.

There are a couple reasons for this. Actually let’s just go ahead and say there are three reasons for this:

1. While I do possess something of a knack for the written word, and while this “knack” was in fact augmented and honed during my time as a student, upon graduation, I found that it would be next to impossible to find a steady job writing for a newspaper that paid significantly more than the job I already had, which was working in a soil science laboratory and doing related field work. My rent and utilities were covered by the wages I earned from this job, and it was a full-time, 40 hours a week, eight am to five pm sort of job. A newspaper job – assuming I could get one – would have entailed more than 40 hours a week, it would not have been an eight to five job, and in all likelihood the pay would not have been any more (and possibly even less) than the job I had in the soil science lab.

You could say I should have chosen a more practical thing to major in; I would reply that you would be correct, were you to say that, but that at the time I chose my major, “creative writing” was what I really wanted to major in, but that I chose “journalism” as a matter of practicality.

So yeah, “oh, the irony” and so on and so forth.

2. You will note that I made it a point to add “assuming I could get one” in the above reason/excuse for why I haven’t made very much money from journalism in the 13 years since I graduated from the U of A. There is a reason I added that disclaimer: many – if not most – newspaper and magazine jobs require an internship process. That is to say, they require new employees to work without pay – sometimes for upwards of six months or more – before they will actually give these employees any sort of salary. This was at least the case around the time I graduated from the U of A. I wasn’t fully aware of that aspect of the field when I decided to major in it. I was merely following what seemed to be my natural talent, hoping that if I did what people were continually telling me I was good at, somehow everything would work out.

Perhaps if I had been a little more patient, I could have managed to work full-time at an hourly job and intern for free at a newspaper or magazine in the hopes that said newspaper or magazine would later put me on full-time. I suppose I have no one to blame but myself for doing what seemed at the time to be the practical thing and taking a full-time job in a mostly unrelated field.

3. While I do apparently have the sort of face or “demeanor” or “personality” or whatever you want to call it that generally puts other people at ease – the type of (whatever) that makes people “open up” and tell me things they wouldn’t dream of telling most people – and while this sort of (whatever) is something akin to the “wet dream” of many exploitative journalists who expose people’s vulnerabilities and secrets and what have you for profit, I am burdened in this regard by an all-but-forgotten remnant of what used to be called “being a decent person”: my conscience.

If someone tells me their deepest and darkest secret, I do not run off and tell everyone. I do not have the pretentiousness to congratulate myself for being able to trick someone into confiding in me so that I may profit from their having done so. As a matter of fact I do not “trick” anyone into confiding in me, they generally do so entirely of their own volition.

Perhaps I should have studied psychology instead.

I will now relate an example of someone confiding in me. I don’t feel that relating this example will do anyone any harm, since for one I will not relate the specific identity of this person, and for two this person has been dead for a little over five years at this point.

As a matter of fact, my relating this to you – whoever you are – is me confiding in you, whoever you might be.

Consider that a warning. You are free to stop reading right now, if you don’t want to be bothered or burdened with it.

But on with the show:

The person in question – the deceased – was notoriously quiet. This fact was expounded upon in his eulogy, as a matter of fact. He quite simply did not talk very much, at least not to most people. I worked with the fellow for a little under three years, off and on.

When I first met him, I had recently taken a job working for my stepfather. He and a small crew were building a decent-sized house, and I had just recently returned to the USA from a two-year stint as an ESL teacher in Gimpo, South Korea. This was the “full-time job in an unrelated field” I mentioned before. This was in summer of 2008. I didn’t have a job lined up when I got back – as a matter of fact I had planned on returning to South Korea, but for various reasons, well, I didn’t.

This notoriously quiet fellow had just gotten out of prison. I am not 100% sure exactly what the nature of his crime was, but he told me later that the charge was “simple battery” and possession of a small amount of “ice,” which I have read (or maybe heard on “Breaking Bad”) is slang for low-grade methamphetamine.

Despite his somewhat “rough” looking exterior, he and I always got along at work. He was an excellent carpenter, and as working people around my part of the country say, “he didn’t mind working.” He was a very hard worker, and he did in fact come in late a few times because he had stayed up too late the previous evening drinking or doing whatever he did late at night, but once he was at work he worked, and if he was ever hung over he didn’t let on that he was.

He had a tattoo on one shoulder with a skull that had the letters “F T W” under it, and another tattoo across the fingers of I think his right hand that said “O Z Z Y,” I suppose in sort of an homage to the “L O V E” and “H A T E” tattoos Ozzy Osbourne has (or maybe had) across his fingers.

This fellow was a pretty big Ozzy fan, and a fan of metal-type music in general. Once, while still on probation from his short stint in a Louisiana prison, he took a pretty serious risk – one I am pretty sure he knew he was taking – by crossing state lines into Texas to go see OzzFest with a group of his friends. He didn’t get caught, at any rate, and were he still alive, even though I have not and will not mention his name anywhere in this blog post, I wouldn’t even think about putting a potentially incriminating bit of information like that down for whoever to read.

It was quite stupid of him to do that, nonetheless he did it anyway.

After the house was built, he helped my stepfather and I on a great many carpentry jobs. And though he and I were quite a bit different, well, at least at work, we became friends. We got along and joked around with each other and that sort of thing, and he and I worked alone together for more hours than I can really count. I might have been able to give you a rough estimate some time around 2011, when he committed suicide, but the intervening five years have blurred the various jobs he and I worked together on, and all I can say for sure is that he and I worked together quite a lot, and despite our differences, and despite his continually getting in minor trouble with the law, all in all he was quite possibly the best – or at least my favorite – coworker I have ever had.

Excluding family members, of course. 🙂

He was quiet, is what his step-uncle said as he gave his eulogy. The Garth Brooks song “The Dance” played at his funeral, and I don’t know if I should be writing this or not but I remember Garth Brooks once said that some teenager who committed suicide (I think) said in his suicide note that he wanted “The Dance” to be played at his funeral, but according to Garth Brooks, if that teenager had understood the meaning of “The Dance” at all, he wouldn’t have committed suicide, or something like that, because the chorus of “The Dance” goes as follows:

“And now

I’m glad I didn’t know

the way it all would end

the way it all would go”

and if that weren’t enough, I assume Mr. Brooks reasoned, the chorus of the song continues thusly:

“our lives

are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain

but I’d have had to miss

the-e-uh-uh dance”

which I realize that many people who might read this blog have zero appreciation for country music, and the people who do appreciate country music may or may not like Garth Brooks (“The Dance” is one of my all-time favorite songs of any genre, FYI, but a lot of Garth’s stuff I don’t care for), nonetheless the basic “message” or whatever of the song is that things don’t always go the way you want them to, and as a matter of fact sometimes they turn out rotten, but to avoid situations where great things could happen simply because you are afraid something terrible will happen, well, you shouldn’t do that. Or something.

Hanging oneself with a belt sometime after midnight on a Sunday/Monday is not a good example of living out the message espoused by “The Dance,” at any rate.

The first job he and I worked on – the decent-sized house – has a pretty tall roof with a pretty steep slope, I think it was “nine and twelve” in carpentry-speak, which puts the angle of the roof in relation to the floor of the house somewhere around 45 degrees.

The house is built into the side of a hill, and even though most of the house itself – four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large kitchen and dining room, and a living room with a vaulted ceiling probably around 20 feet high in the center – is on a single, top-of-the-hill level floor, there’s also a spacious garage and basement underneath the main floor of the house. The attic area of this house, square foot-wise – is almost as large as the main living area, and it could have easily been made into a second story, or a third story if you count the garage and basement, which you might as well.

But the owners of the house didn’t want a an “upstairs” area in their house, they just wanted a tall roof, which many people nowadays seem to want, or at least seemed to want eight years ago, when the house was being built. So that’s what we built for them.

Our basic plan of attack for this house was to dig a trench – about eight or ten feet deep – at the top of the slope, just in front of where the front of the finished house would be. We tied rebar and wire into big squares, then lowered them into the trench. When we were done tying wire and rebar together, we filled the trench with concrete.

In case the purpose of this is not immediately apparent, we did this to create a retaining wall, one that would prevent the soil and eventually the foundation of the house from eroding away during rainstorms.

After the retaining wall had been given time to set up and harden, we hired someone to dig out the hill on the lower side of the retaining wall and to flatten out the area where the house would sit. After that, we laid out the foundation of the house with a transit, batter boards, and string.

Then a bricklayer came and essentially built the bottom half of the house with cinderblocks. Normally, on a house with conventional flooring – flooring made of wood, as opposed to a concrete slab, which is more common nowadays – built on more or less level ground, the cinderblock foundation would only be a few courses of blocks high, enough to lift the wooden floor off of the ground and provide a few feet of crawlspace under the floor. But in the case of this house, which you will remember is built into the side of a hill, the cinderblock foundation is somewhere around twelve or thirteen courses high. This serves to bring the back side of the house up to the same level as the front side of the house.

To help you envision this house, as in the finished product, when you approach the house on foot from the front side, when you walk onto the front porch – a foot or two above ground level – then enter through the front door, the main floor of the house is more or less at the same level as the front porch. If you walk straight through the house – through the foyer and the living room with vaulted ceilings, then step into the kitchen on your right and then go out one of the back doors onto the back porch – the other back door opens from the master bedroom – you will find that you are now approximately eight feet or so above ground level. When you are on the back porch, I mean.

The reader will have to pardon my digression there, if she or he found it unnecessary. The reason I added it was to help illustrate that there is quite a bit of distance – something like 30 feet, I think – from the tip of the roof to the ground on each gable end of the house.

To back up just a bit, after the bricklayer – who incidentally did quite well for himself on this job: he returned after we were mostly done and laid bricks (like reddish clay exterior bricks) around a lot of the house also; as a sidenote this fellow is quite likable and friendly, and he is a big NASCAR fan and often talked about going to various races here and there…I won’t mention his name here, but if you live in the El Dorado area and need any brick work done, I can give you contact information; he’s not the cheapest bricklayer in this area but he does damn good work – built the foundation/lower half of the house, we built the floor. After we built the floor, we put up most of the stud walls – they were taller than normal 8-foot stud walls, I want to say they were 10 foot but I don’t remember for sure – and after that we began setting the special-ordered pre-fab roof trusses on top of the stud walls.

The house is about fifty feet wide, so in order to give them the pitch and height that the homeowners desired, the trusses had to be quite tall, somewhere around 16-18 feet tall, if memory serves. As these special-ordered, pre-fab trusses were to be delivered on a flatbed truck trailer – like a quote-unquote “18-wheeler” type trailer – they had to be laid on their side in a stack. And since it would be impossible to fit a 16 or so foot item on a truck bed that was roughly half that amount of feet in width (without having several feet hanging off on each side, which would make driving down the highway impossible) the trusses were split roughly in half: there were trapezoidal pieces that were designed to sit atop the stud walls, and triangular pieces that were designed to sit atop the trapezoidal pieces.

So, what we had to do was to put the bottom, trapezoidal truss pieces on first, then come back later and attach the triangular pieces to the top of the trapezoidal pieces.

Being that these truss pieces were over fifty feet in length, roughly 8 feet tall, and constructed out of lumber and metal nail plates – and therefore quite cumbersome – this part of the building process was done with a crane. My role in the process was to attach each truss piece to the end of the line attached to the crane. The crane operator then (very carefully) maneuvered the truss piece over the house, as closely as possible to where it was supposed to sit on top of the stud walls.

Two carpenters waited on the truss piece to be set down on top of the walls, and using their hammers bumped the truss piece into the pre-measured pencil marks where it was supposed to go. When the truss was in place, they drove a couple nails through the truss pieces into the top of the stud walls.

This was only part of the process, however. The trusses also had to be secured at their tops, otherwise they’d simply fall over, pulling the nails out at the bottom.

This part of the process was performed by a third carpenter, in this instance the fellow I am more or less writing this blog post about, the one who has now been dead for a little over five years.

This fellow climbed up a ladder and nailed pre-measured and pre-cut pieces of 2 x 4 lumber across the tops of these trapezoidal truss pieces. I think he used two pieces of 2 x 4 to connect each consecutive truss piece to the next.

From his position atop the ladder – which was leaned up against the outside gable truss piece, which was secured by a temporary brace to the outside wall of the house – he could only reach the first and maybe second truss piece. So, instead of taking the time to climb down the ladder (which was an extension ladder), retract the ladder, carry it to the next spot, extend the ladder, position it against the most recently placed truss piece, then climb back up the ladder and secure the next one or maybe two truss pieces, and then repeating this process over and over, do you want to know what he did?

He climbed up on the truss pieces he had already secured, on his hands and knees, and waited for the crane to place the next truss. When it was placed, he nailed a couple of pieces of 2 x 4 to it, securing it to the previous secured truss, then he crawled onto it and waited for the next truss to be placed.

He did this without the slightest bit of hesitation or fear. The trusses – big, floppy things that they were – wobbled a little under his weight, even though they were secured by nails at the top and bottom.

There’s probably some sort of moral or something to be derived here: the trusses on this house – and the trusses on your house, if you live in a house – did not have much strength in and of themselves. When the 8′ by 4′ sheets of plywood were laid across them and stapled down, however, they became quite strong. This sort of thing is apparent in many aspects of carpentry, from stud walls to floor joists to garage shelves: each individual piece is not particularly strong by itself, but when put together in the right way, the pieces form something that is quite sturdy. But I digress.

From where I stood – remember that the house in question is built into the side of a hill – the fellow crawling on top of the truss pieces appeared as if he were quite a ways up in the air. The spot where I attached – or helped attach, I honestly can’t remember – each truss to the crane line was at least a few feet above the floor level of the house, and the hill tapered on off another 15 feet or so (from where I stood) down to the far side of the house.

The fellow crawling along the top of the truss pieces was, in fact, somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 or so feet above the floor of the house itself. But remember that the floor of the house was itself off of the actual ground about 8 or 10 feet, because of the house having been built into the side of a hill, and there being a garage and basement under the floor.

So, to me, the fellow appeared to be quite a bit higher off of “the ground” than he actually was. To be sure, falling 16 or so feet and hitting a solid plywood floor – one littered with lumber, power tools, and various hazards, not to mention interior walls one might ricochet off of on the way down – would be no picnic. At any rate, I think I was more worried about the fellow falling off the truss pieces than he was. My own blood pressure was soaring during this part of the construction process, even though I wasn’t in any danger myself.

The fellow crawling along the top of the truss pieces didn’t seem to mind doing it at all. Or if he did, he certainly didn’t say much of anything about it.

I do know one thing: even after several subsequent years of carpentry work, and finally more or less getting over my fear of working on rooftops (I found that my blood pressure could actually reach much higher levels than I had imagined while helping “deck” the roof of this house with plywood, after all the trusses were placed), there is no dollar amount anyone could pay me that would embolden me enough to go crawling on hands and knees (with a hammer in one hand and a couple pieces of 2 x 4 in the other) across wobbly truss pieces like that fellow did. If someone threatened to shoot me if I refused to do so, I likely would ask them to please not aim at my head or at any vital organs.

This fellow impressed me many other times, not only with his climbing abilities and fearlessness on rooftops and whatnot, but also with his skill as a carpenter. Many other times, many more than I care to list here.

It sounds incredibly stuck up for me to say, but if we hadn’t worked together, he and I would not likely have been friends. And I don’t know if he ever considered me to be his “friend,” but I considered him to be my friend, at least my “friend at work,” which if you’ve ever had a job you know what I mean.

After doing quite a few smaller jobs with him – building porches, remodeling rooms, putting metal roofs on (I was always the fellow who handed the pieces up to the people on the roof, ha ha) and various things – we began work on another, smaller house. This house has a concrete slab for a foundation, and we had to do quite a bit of “dirt work” before we got to where we could build concrete forms (this fellow knew a lot about building concrete forms, and I was more or less his “helper” for a week or so; actually I was more or less his “helper” a lot of the time we worked together and I learned a lot by working with him), and anyways at some point during this process we had a few days off where someone else had to come in – maybe it was the plumber laying pipes under what would become the concrete floor of the house, maybe it was the crew that poured the slab, I don’t remember – and work on the job site, and we (the carpenters) were not needed there.

During that time, we did a really small job on a trailer house, repairing a couple sections of floor that had rotted out.

And remember, when I say “we” at this point, I am talking about me, the fellow I have been talking about, and my stepfather. My stepfather had left me and the one fellow at the trailer house either to go get building materials or to discuss something with either the owner of the trailer or the owner of the house we were just getting started on or somebody. At any rate, I and the one fellow were there at the trailer house where the floor was rotting out in places, and nobody else was there.

I found a few pot seeds in the ratty shag carpet of this trailer house, if memory serves. But I digress.

The fellow – who was known to most people as “quiet,” including his family – told me something that day. I don’t know if “confided” would actually be the proper word, because he didn’t really get specific about what he meant by what he said, and I actually totally misinterpreted what he said when he said it to me.

He mentioned that everybody always seemed to “bitch” at him, no matter what he did. His mom and stepdad bitched at him – he lived in a camper trailer behind his mom’s house for most of the time I knew him – his girlfriend (and mother of two of his four kids) bitched at him, everybody bitched at him, no matter what he did. If he drank too much and got in trouble with the law – something that happened a few times while we worked together – he got bitched at. If he tried to act right and be a good guy, he got bitched at. No matter what he did, it seemed, it always ended up with somebody bitching at him.

“I can’t take this shit no more,” is what he said to me, as we were deciding how to fix the rotten spot in the floor of the trailer house with pot seeds in the ratty shag carpeting.

Since his girlfriend had been the last complaint he mentioned, I took “I can’t take this shit no more” to mean that he was going to break up with her. They had a lot of trouble during their time together, and I assumed he was planning on splitting up with her.

They had begun seeing each other during the construction of the other house I wrote about, the one where he fearlessly crawled across the tops of truss pieces. I think he met her at the gas station she worked at. While we were building the bigger house, she would bring him lunch, and I think they would mess around a little in the back of her car – or maybe it was his car, maybe she was driving his car, I don’t remember for sure – during the lunch hour.

At any rate, he had been telling me and my stepdad that he and his girlfriend hadn’t been getting along very well – he talked to both of us quite a bit, despite his reputation of being “quiet” – and anyways like I said when he told me “I can’t take this shit no more” I thought he meant that he was done with his girlfriend, who he had been seeing for almost three years at that point.

In retrospect, I don’t think that’s what he meant at all.

At the time of his death, he had no driver’s license, and he was unable to get registration stickers for the license plate on his car. Again, I am not a “snitch” of any sort, and if the perpetrator of this minor crime weren’t dead I wouldn’t think of mentioning it, but he forged registration stickers – which were yellow at the time; in Arkansas (and probably elsewhere) these stickers change color every year to allow the police to easily tell if any given driver’s registration is up to date – using the label he peeled off of a can of vegetables – the label was yellow, like that year’s registration stickers – and a pen.

My stepfather and I would pick him up every morning from his sister’s house. Her house was quite a bit closer to the main highway than his mom’s house, and he would drive on backroads to his sister’s house every work morning and we would pick him up and go on to the job site. This was done to save time, mainly; as I said his sister lived closer to the highway than his mom (and he) did.

Going down this highway toward the job site every morning, my stepfather and I would pass a road on the right that leads to where this fellow lived. On down the highway a bit – a mile or two – there is another road on the right that leads to where this fellow’s sister lives. These two roads are connected a few miles away from the highway, and the fellow would drive from his mom’s house – which is about 10-15 minutes down the first road on the right, from the highway – to his sister’s house, which is about 2-3 minutes down the second road on the right, from the highway.

One Monday morning, as my stepfather and I were approaching the first road on the right, we saw an ambulance coming from the opposite direction, lights flashing, turn down the first road. I don’t remember if we said anything to each other, but something told me…well, something.

We went on down the highway to the second road. We went to the fellow’s sister’s house, turned around, and parked beside the road – like we had been doing every work day for at least a few weeks – and the fellow was not there. We assumed he was running late – he ran late sometimes, as I think I mentioned early on – and we sat there and waited for him for a few minutes.

We finally decided that he had overslept, and that we would have to go pick him up from his mom’s house, something that had happened once or twice before.

When we got there, the ambulance that we had seen a few minutes earlier was parked in the driveway. And the fellow’s stepfather – incidentally one of the other carpenters who helped build the larger house mentioned before, someone I also learned a few carpentry things from – was outside. He told us that the fellow had hanged himself.

Construction of the new house was delayed for a couple weeks, not only to accommodate initial shock and going to his funeral and whatnot, but also to accommodate getting a new crew together: the other fellow who was helping on this new house (he also helped on the bigger house) was friends away from work with the fellow who killed himself, and he found that he simply couldn’t work with us at the time, because of grief and that sort of thing. We reminded him of his friend, I mean.

***

You may be wondering what in the hell the title of this post is in reference to. I will tell you:

“FISH CANNOT CARRY GUNS!” is the motto of the “Rhipodon Society,” a group of three people (four if you count Horselover Fat, which no sane person would) in the Philip K. Dick novel “VALIS.” A rhipodon is some sort of fish – maybe some sort of prehistoric fish, I forget – and the narrator of “VALIS,” “Phil,” has a dream where he is one of these fish, and he tries to hold a machine gun in the dream with his fish fins but cannot do so.

Fish are significant in the novel because the fish icon used by early Christians (the same one used today by many Evangelical Christians, you probably know the icon as a “Jesus fish”) resembles a section of the “double helix” of a strand of DNA.

The “nose” of the fish is where the double helix twists, and the “tail” is visible if you cut the double helix in half roughly halfway to the next twist in the double helix.

It’s one of those things you can’t unsee once you’ve seen it, even if you’ve only seen it in your head, such as I did yesterday and today, when I read “VALIS” for the third time. I have “VALIS” on my phone; I bought it and the other two novels in the “VALIS Trilogy” – “The Divine Invasion,” which you practically need a Religious Studies degree to make heads or tails of (I don’t have one, and it made no sense to me whatsoever), and “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer,” which was actually the first PKD novel I ever read years ago, despite it being the last one he published (it wasn’t originally supposed to be part of the “VALIS Trilogy,” FYI, and doesn’t fit especially well there) – as a set for $9.99 at the Kindle Store a few years back. I have read “VALIS” twice on my phone and once (the first reading) in paperback.

Many PKD enthusiasts – a subsection of society I consider myself to be a member of – consider VALIS to be PKD’s “masterpiece.” And while I do think the novel has, well, “merit,” I don’t consider it to even be one of his better novels. Other than “The Divine Invasion,” it’s probably my least favorite of any of them…even though it’s the only one other than “A Scanner Darkly” (his best effort, in my opinion) I have read all the way through more than twice.

So why do I feel compelled to reread “VALIS,” even though I don’t think very highly of it? Well, above and beyond searching for whatever intangible thing that makes many of my fellow PKD fanatics like it so much, a central plot element in “VALIS” resonates with me personally.

“VALIS” is narrated by “Phil,” a slightly fictionalized version of its author. Other PKD novels (including “A Scanner Darkly”) are mentioned in “VALIS,” as a matter of fact. The trouble is, it is impossible to tell how much of the narrator is based in reality and how much of him is fictionalized.

Phil has an alter-ego in “VALIS” named Horselover Fat. “Philip” is apparently Greek for “Horselover,” and “Dick” is apparently German for “Fat.” Ergo, “Philip Dick” = “Horselover Fat.”

Horselover Fat, for the biggest part of the novel, is presented as a separate character from Phil, even though Phil mentions early on that he and Horselover Fat are in fact the same person. He talks to Fat and Fat talks to him, and Phil’s friends also seem to interact with Fat as if he were a completely separate person from Phil.

And no, I do not have an imaginary friend whose name is derived from translations of “Michael Walker,” just in case you were wondering…although I do conduct mock interviews with myself on my Facebook author page, no disrespect to any mentally ill person who actually talks to himself or herself intended.

Nonetheless, the event that apparently split Phil Dick’s mind roughly in half does resonate with me somewhat.

As I mentioned, one of the things that I seriously dislike about “VALIS” is that it is impossible to tell how much of “Phil” is based on the real-life Philip Kindred Dick and how much is made up. In an abstract sort of sense, like as in a “how much of any person is really real, people only present a fraction of themselves to other people, and that fraction may not even actually represent the person’s actual self at all” sort of sense, I suppose the novel is quite compelling. But being as how I, a reader who strongly identifies with what might be a completely and totally fabricated major plot element, well, to say the least, in this sense the novel is quite annoying.

“Phil” has a female friend in the novel named Gloria. Actually, I suppose she is Horselover Fat’s friend.

At the risk of copyright infringement, I will type out the first paragraph of the first chapter of “VALIS,” capitalized words appear as they do in the edition I have on my Kindle app:

“HORSELOVER FAT’S NERVOUS breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more to be on the safe side.”

I have no idea whether “Gloria” was based on an actual person, or if the character is totally made up. What I do know is that in the novel “VALIS,” Horselover Fat becomes something of a scholar regarding ancient religious texts, that Horselover Fat writes page after page of something he calls the “exegesis,” and that Horselover Fat is addicted to “uppers,” i.e. amphetamines.

I also know that the real-life Philip K. Dick was, for much of his career, addicted to “uppers,” and that he spent many hours writing something called the “exegesis” which was published about 20 years after his death in the early 1980s.

The “exegesis” contains Dick’s interpretation of Gnostic Christian texts, intertwined with all sorts of stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of literal sense. This “exegesis” is something Dick actually wrote, and it is quoted partially in “VALIS” from time to time.

The entirety of what is quoted in the novel itself (plus quite a bit more) makes up an Appendix at the end of “VALIS.” This appendix is labeled “Tractates: Cryptica Scriptura.” This title is also mentioned in the novel, I think it means “Hidden Scriptures,” and I think it’s part of the “exegesis,” or maybe a short version of the “exegesis,” or something. I finished the novel itself this morning and read about half of the 52 entries in the “Cryptica Scriptura,” and they make less and less sense (and get longer and longer, and some entries aren’t in English and have no translations), and anyways I quit reading the damned thing.

It correlates ancient religious scriptures and figures and such things with events that happened in Phil/Fat’s life. The main idea of the “exegesis” is that God – or “the universe,” or something grand and all-encompassing, at least – was split in two a long time ago, that there’s a good half and a bad half, that the bad half thinks it’s the good half (or something) and the bad half is ruled by a blind “creator deity” who thinks he’s the only god, but there’s actually a bigger god above him that’s good, and this bigger, better god is trying to help the creation (the world) of the smaller blind god, but the smaller blind god fights it off, and the bigger, better god is made entirely out of information, and the early Christians got in touch with this bigger, better god through Jesus, and they knew that everything was essentially information, which is why they designed the “Jesus fish” to look like a section from a DNA strand.

It seems like, at the beginning of “VALIS,” that “Fat” is the one who came up with all this, well, nonsensical stuff, and that “Phil” doesn’t really buy any of it. “Fat” apparently seems to be the speed-taking, staying-up-for-days-at-a-time-typing-maniacally half of the narrator, and “Phil” is the more rational side of the narrator, who doesn’t quite believe any of that stuff.

As the novel goes on, the lines between these two blur quite a bit. As does the line between “Phil” the narrator of “VALIS” and “Philip K. Dick,” the author of “VALIS.”

For example, one major plot element in “VALIS” is that Phil/Fat gets “zapped” by a pink laser beam that comes pretty much out of nowhere and enables him to speak koine (common) Greek for a short time. This pink laser also tells Phil/Fat that his son Christopher is suffering from some sort of hernia that his doctor overlooked, and that if the hernia isn’t treated soon, Christopher will die. So Phil/Fat (I am not sure which one, or if it makes any difference) takes young Christopher (who has been complaining about pain) to the doctor, tells the doctor about the possible hernia, and the doctor examines Christopher and finds that he does indeed have such a hernia, and that it is indeed life threatening.

For a sci-fi novel with heavy religious overtones, that makes for an interesting plot device. The thing is, PKD spoke of this “pink laser” incident as if it were something that actually happened to him. As in him, the author, in real life.

I also know that the real-life Philip K. Dick died after having several strokes in a row, that long-term amphetamine abuse can put one at risk for stroke, and that major strokes are often accompanied by hallucinations.

I don’t know how seriously Dick – the real-life author – took any of this stuff. I am sure that (assuming he didn’t just make it all up) the “pink laser” incident was very real to him; nonetheless I have a very hard time even beginning to give any credence whatsoever to the idea that this “pink laser” existed anywhere outside his own addled brain.

So, getting back to the point, I don’t know if Gloria was real or not. And in addition to my being somewhat “annoyed” that one of my all-time favorite authors more or less documented his own descent into insanity in novel form, and that he may or may not have been insane enough at the end of his life to take these insane things he wrote about three-eyed people and “living information” and whatnot seriously, I am also very annoyed that I have no way of knowing whether “Gloria” – who you will remember is credited with Phil/Fat’s nervous breakdown – is merely a fictional character in “VALIS” or based off of someone Philip K. Dick knew in real life.

Gloria ends up committing suicide in “VALIS,” you see. Phil/Fat tries to talk her out of it, but she does it anyway, not by taking a hundred sleeping pills (Nembutals) but by jumping out of a tenth-floor window at – of all places – a drug rehab facility.

It annoys me to no end, not knowing if “Gloria” was based on a real person. Especially since the “Cryptica Scriptura” or whatever you call it repeatedly makes reference to some mythical woman who died long ago, and the quest to bring her back to life.

Gloria’s death is essentially the central theme of “VALIS.” Fat searches ancient religious texts and spends hours madly typing or scribbling notes in his “exegesis” in search of the new “savior,” not in order that he may be saved, but so Gloria can be brought back to life.

The whole book is insane. It presents itself as (at least partially) nonfiction, but which parts are nonfiction (other than references to real-life PKD novels) and which parts are fiction?

Is “Gloria” merely a plot device?

I first read “VALIS” (in paperback; I gave my copy to a friend) in 2008. The whole thing about a female friend committing suicide and giving Phil/Fat a nervous breakdown resonated quite strongly with me at the time.

I mentioned this event obliquely in another blog post, and I am not going to go into any detail here, other than to say that grief related to her quite untimely death is the principal reason I have yet to return to South Korea.

Suffice it to say that my co-worker was not the first person I had been rather close to who committed suicide.

As a matter of fact, I wrote something that could be called a “book” following this first suicide and shared it with a handful of friends. I have it saved on an old external hard drive, and out of curiosity I did a word count on it after I began writing this post.

The word count of this “book” is 82,792. I didn’t realize how long it was. It’s actually longer than my novel, which ended up being about 79,000 words.

The first “book” was written mainly as a sort of therapy; it was never edited, or for that matter even collated into a single document. It did me a lot of good to write it, and I am grateful to the people who read it.

It has not been – and will not be – published. Sorry.

Like I said, though, it was quite therapeutic. I finished it in early 2011, five or six months before my coworker hanged himself. So I guess it’s good I wrote it when I did, otherwise I might have gone full-blown Horselover Fat and started writing exegeses and Cryptica Scripturas and whatnot.

I don’t do any “uppers” stronger than coffee and energy drinks, though. Something else to consider, re PKD, is that long-term amphetamine abuse – regardless as to whether it gives one strokes or heart trouble – often leads to psychosis.

So, yeah, remember that, kids: don’t do drugs.

What led to this rather unpleasant little stroll down memory lane? I will tell you:

I got to searching for a collection of home-recorded “songs” I made in 2010 on my computer, and I couldn’t find them. I thought that I had copies of them on my current computer (which I bought in 2015), but apparently I was mistaken.

After spending an hour or two digging through CDs, looking for a copy of this collection, I looked on an old external hard drive, where I (luckily) found all the “songs” I was looking for.

While I was exploring the external hard drive, I also happened to look at a few pictures I took in 2008 of the bigger house I mentioned.

And so on.

Thank you for reading, if anyone read all of this. I will try to avoid this sort of unpleasant subject matter in the future.

PIZZA SURVIVOR — A FARCE

Imagine, if you will, four friends traveling across the countryside on an adventure. These four friends – all adults of legal age – have known each other since childhood. Like any group of friends, they have disagreements from time to time, but these disagreements usually resolve themselves of their own accord and never cause any real friction within the group.

This group consists of two men and two women. There has never been any romantic involvement between any two members of this group at any point during the group’s existence. The friendship among this mixed group of four is and always been strictly platonic, and despite what the reader or anyone else may imagine to the contrary, there has never been the slightest inkling toward anything romantic or sexual directed at any member of the group from any other member of the group.

They are, all four of them, just friends.

There is only one issue which causes this group of four genuine and lifelong friends any friction whatsoever, and while this issue may seem silly to anyone outside the group, rest assured that there are legitimate reasons this issue is so important to the members of this group. However, these reasons are so convoluted and arcane that it would require many thousands of words to accurately describe them, and even if these reasons were to be fleshed out on the page (or on the screen, or what have you) they would likely not make any sense whatsoever to anyone outside of this group of four friends.

These reasons are important to the four friends, and silly though it may seem to anyone else, the beliefs these friends have regarding this one seemingly trivial issue are so strong that any time this issue is brought up, heated arguments ensue.

As a matter of fact, this one adventure these four friends are on now is the first such adventure the four of them have undertaken together in several years. This long estrangement was due, mainly, to an unresolved argument regarding the aforementioned issue, and to repeat yet again, this issue may very well seem silly and frivolous and trivial to anyone outside the group, nonetheless within the group itself, this issue is anything but.

The issue is pizza.

Yes, it seems insane – and it very well may be – that four lifelong friends could come to blows and not talk to each other for literally years at a time over something as seemingly insignificant as pizza (what toppings to put on it, what type of crust is best, etc.), nonetheless the dispute over pizza among these four genuine, lifelong friends is an ongoing one, and one that they – all four of them – purposefully estranged themselves from each other over for several years preceding the adventure we find them on now:

Jill, Hillary, Gary, and Donald, after a long day of traveling and sightseeing and joking around and generally having a great time together, have found themselves in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The four of them, having been physically active all day and only eating a light breakfast and lunch, are all very hungry. It’s after 10 pm, and the only lights on anywhere in this small town in the middle of nowhere are in a small pizzeria on the edge of the town square.

Before the four of them go in, they have a short discussion regarding the issue that is weighing heavily on their hearts, that the good times they have been sharing on this adventure shouldn’t be ruined by their having to face the one issue they can’t agree upon – pizza – that they will simply order four personal-sized pizzas, eat them quietly without criticizing each other, then leave the pizzeria and find somewhere to sleep for the night.

The four of them – after circling the town square a few times to make sure there isn’t anywhere else open (even a convenience store) where they could grab a bite before bed – reluctantly start toward the pizzeria.

On the sidewalk outside the pizzeria, there’s a man lying on his side, moaning in what sounds like agony.

“What a bum,” Donald says.

“Really,” Gary replies. “There is nothing worse than a grown man who has no respect for himself.”

“I…I’m not a bum,” the man replies. “I…own…successful business…couple towns ov–” then the man begins violently retching upon the concrete.

Donald and Gary, disgusted, enter the pizzeria, discussing things like “personal responsibility” and “self-respect” and how “bums” like this fellow are “leeches on society” and that sort of thing.

Hillary and Jill take slightly more pity on the moaning, retching fellow. They ask him if there is anything they can do to help him, and after retching and moaning for another ten seconds or so, the man says “ambulance” and then retches some more. There is a phone on the sidewalk beside him, and the sound of an ambulance siren is just barely audible off in the distance, and Hillary and Jill assume that he has already called for help.

The man seems to be trying to tell them something, trying to warn them about something, even – he is grasping at pant legs and has a pleading tone in his voice, etc. – but before he can say anything other than “don’t” and “pep” (because of all the retching), Donald opens the door.

“Hurry up and come in here, ladies,” Donald says. “The pizza chef is about to close up for the night, and if you don’t get in here now, you don’t get to eat!”

Hillary and Jill note that the ambulance siren off in the distance seems to have gotten a little closer, and though they feel pity and concern for the moaning, retching man on the sidewalk, and though he now appears to have trouble breathing, they reason that as they are not medical professionals, there’s nothing they can do for him, and there’s apparently an ambulance on the way, and so on, and long story short Hillary and Jill go into the pizzeria and sit down at the table Donald and Gary have chosen.

The four of them are the only customers in the pizzeria, other than a young couple in the back corner who seem to have fallen asleep at their table.

The inside of the pizzeria is dimly lit, and there is an odd smell, and the atmosphere seems like less of a dimly-lit romantic Italian ristorante sort of atmosphere and like more of a dimly-lit B-movie “this is where everybody in the picture gets brutally murdered” sort of atmosphere. Everyone in the group notices this, but they all attribute it to their being tired and hungry, and none of them mentions it to anyone, and they revive the jocularity they enjoyed during the day and order something to drink.

When the waitress brings their drinks – four ice cold root beers in frosty mugs, a perfect beverage to top off a perfect day, everyone agrees – she informs them that there is only enough pizza dough left in the kitchen for the chef to make one large pizza. The waitress adds, somewhat cryptically, that “personal sized pizzas” are not allowed in this pizzeria, and to please not mention them again.

The four friends’ jocularity is suspended, and they all silently gaze down at the menus in front of them, realizing that the one issue that has bitterly divided their tightly-knit group many times over the years – the pizza issue – will have to be settled to some degree this evening.

They also – all four of them – notice something exceedingly odd printed at the bottom of each page of the menu:

“Do not order more than you can eat. Wasting food is a crime against Nature and the Supreme Being. Customers who do not finish their meals will be shot.”

The waitress says she will be back in a couple minutes to take their order, and she walks away.

“Ha. Did you guys see this disclaimer at the bottom of the menu? About customers who don’t finish their meals?” Donald asks the table. “I like a man who is confident about his product. It shows spunk, it shows panache, it shows that the owner of this place is a winner and not some loser like that bum out on the sidewalk. I’m going to remember that, that is creative marketing right there, ladies and gentleman.”

Before anyone can respond, the sound of a pump-action shotgun being shucked comes from over near the door. The four friends turn and see that a burly fellow of about 6’8” and 300 lbs is now standing in front of the door, facing the table, holding what appears to be a sawed-off 12-gauge across his chest.

Donald, Jill, and Hillary are all somewhat taken aback at this new development, and at first so is Gary, but after noticing that no one else noticed him flinching, and after noticing that the burly fellow is only standing there by the door and not actually pointing his sawed-off 12-gauge at anyone, Gary laughs and tells his three friends that they are all “pussies,” and that this one time when he was riding his ten-speed up the side of Mt. Everest with a pack of wild cheetahs chasing him, a Sherpa guide brandished a shotgun more or less exactly like that one at him, and he stopped his ten-speed, confronted the shotgun-wielding Sherpa, and even though the Sherpa – who was envious of the ten-speed which Gary had earned through hard work and a dedication to self-improvement and individuality and that sort of thing and wanted to steal it (the ten-speed) from him – actually managed to “wing” Gary, Gary tells the table, Gary was able to wrestle the shotgun away from the Sherpa and suplex this Sherpa over the side of a cliff, which by this time the pack of wild cheetahs had caught up to him, and he had to fight them all off bare-handed – he was only able to kill one with the shotgun (it was a double-barreled shotgun, and one shot had already been expended upon him) – and after a long, arduous battle there on the side of Mt. Everest with approximately seventeen wild cheetahs in which Gary eventually came out the victor, and “other than a scratch or two” (Gary proudly flopped his right leg up onto the table to show everyone a rather nasty-looking scar that he claimed still had most of a cheetah tooth broken off somewhere inside of it) he came out of the fracas unscathed. After he related the end of his tale, in which he tamed a ferocious grizzly bear merely by speaking kindly to it and then rode on the bear’s back up to the summit of Mt. Everest and then back down to the base, beating his bare chest with his fists the entire time, Gary reiterated that just because an intimidating-looking fellow of about 6’8” and 300 lbs was standing in front of the door with a shotgun here at this dimly-lit pizzeria that smelled sort of like the back room of a mortuary with menus that threatened death for anyone who didn’t finish their pizza, that was no reason for anyone to be upset, and that he wasn’t really surprised that the female half of the group was concerned about the situation (men being, to his view, the stronger, more resilient half of the species) but that the other male in the group should have the “balls” to not be afraid of a mere sawed-off 12-gauge, when he (Gary) had bravely endured not only shotguns but packs of cheetahs and grizzly bears, all while riding his ten-speed up the side of Mt. Everest.

“I’m not a pussy,” Donald began, the register of his voice a good bit lower than it had been just a few minutes ago. Before he could continue in his artificially-deepened voice, the waitress returned to the table.

“Are you guys ready to order?” the waitress asked. She seemed sort of nervous, but as everybody at the table was again preoccupied with the pizza issue, nobody paid any attention to it.

“Would it be possible to split the pizza four ways?” Jill asked. “I mean, like a quarter ham, a quarter Canadian bacon, a quarter ground beef, and a quarter pepperoni?”

It would be prudent at this point to discuss the individual pizza topping preferences of the four friends:

Donald’s favorite pizza topping is pepperoni. Hillary’s favorite pizza topping is ground beef. Gary’s favorite pizza topping is Canadian bacon, and Jill’s favorite pizza topping is ham.

The issue as to whether Canadian bacon and ham are actually the exact same thing is but one of many issues that has bitterly divided this group over the years, and the arguments presented for and against this issue would require several thousand words to transcribe. Jill and Gary – obviously – strongly disagree that Canadian bacon and ham are actually the exact same thing, and after verbally fighting tooth and nail against each other for hours over the matter, they are known to combine their vitriol and direct it against Hillary when she inevitably tries to get them both to concede that at the very least Canadian bacon and ham are quite similar. Donald finds the whole argument amusing, and tends to drop well-timed comments which alternately support both sides in order to egg on the conflict and amuse himself.

At any rate, the waitress informs them that no, this four-way splitting of the pizza will not be possible.

“The pizza chef is,” the waitress begins, “a deeply religious man.” She seems to be reciting something from memory: “His religion, is, um…his religion is single–”

The waitress’s recitation is cut short by a loud clanging sound from back in the kitchen, one which prompts the waitress to visibly flinch.

“His religion is singular, I meant to say,” she continues, “In that he is the only adherent of it. I am unworthy of such a faith, but…” she pauses, “but I espy– ”

More clanging, as if someone were hitting a stack of pizza pans with a sledgehammer, emerges from the kitchen, again causing the waitress to visibly flinch.

“…but I aspire to one day be worthy of aspiring to such a noble faith,” the waitress said.

The four friends at the table – all of whom respect the right of every individual to worship or not worship whoever or whatever they wish in whichever fashion they wish (Donald having, nonetheless, something of an aversion to anything and everything Islamic) – are nonetheless taken somewhat aback at the things the waitress is telling them about the pizza chef and his “singular” religion. The pizza chef, it seems, worships a Supreme Being who expresses Himself – the repeated use of “Him,” “His,” and “He” (the capitalization of these pronouns being easily inferred) indicating to everyone at the table that this Supreme Being envisioned by the pizza chef is, in fact, male – through the medium of pizza. And that he – the pizza chef (note that the most recent “he” is not capitalized) – is the vessel through which this Supreme Being expresses Himself.

One odd aspect of this “singular” religion, one which strikes everyone at the table as somewhat ironic, is that the “Supreme Being” worshiped by the pizza chef has given the pizza chef one unalterable commandment regarding the medium – pizza – through which the will of this “Supreme Being” is expressed: at no time, and under no circumstances, would the “Supreme Being” tolerate more than one topping on any one pizza the pizza chef makes. Therefore, according to will of the “Supreme Being,” the concept of a “supreme pizza” is an abomination.

It occurs to everyone at the table – being that all four of them have something of a talent for marketing – that the pizza chef could potentially be making quite a lot of money by using his religion as a gimmick and selling “Supreme Being Pizzas” and that sort of thing. Donald mentions this to the waitress, who responds with silence and a horrified look on her face.

There are, however, certain aspects of the pizza chef’s religion that appeal to the group: part of the reason that the pizza chef (or the Supreme Being, or whatever) allows only one topping on a pizza – and also one pizza to a table – is to promote unity among friends and family. One topping must be agreed upon, one and only one topping – it doesn’t matter which topping, but there has to be one, and “cheese” doesn’t count – before the Supreme Being would deign to commune with the group of family or friends at the table through the divine medium of freshly-baked hand-tossed Italian-style pizza created by the sole arbiter and vessel of the Supreme Being’s will, the pizza chef.

There was one other stipulation: if the group of friends or family dining at any given table at this pizzeria could not decide which of the many flavorful and delicious toppings to have on their pizza, the will of the Supreme Being dictates that the topping will default to pepperoni.

The four friends look at the long list of toppings – Jill and Gary feeling somewhat vindicated because of the fact that both “ham” and “Canadian bacon” appear on the list – and ask the waitress to please give them a minute. The waitress says that will be fine, and while she is saying “I will be back in a few minutes” she turns her back to the kitchen, scribbles something rather frantically on her notepad, tears off the top page, and nonchalantly places it on the table in front of Hillary before she walks back to the kitchen.

As Donald, Jill, and Gary discuss the pizza chef’s singular faith, Hillary picks up the slip of paper, the top left corner of which is apparently still on the notepad the slip came off of. In shaky, all-caps, Hillary is able to read this message:

“ERONI POYSIN
DONT EAT ANY
THNG ELSE OK”

Hillary attempts to show the note to her companions – they were talking among themselves about how interesting the pizza chef’s marketing strategy was – remembering the retching man on the sidewalk who had managed to choke out “don’t” and “pep” before she and Jill left him on the sidewalk for the ambulance to pick up…

And she realizes for the first time since she came in that the ambulance she and Jill had heard in the distance had never come, that the man on the sidewalk hadn’t called it after all, like she and Jill had assumed.

Hillary looks around the dining room of the pizzeria. The young couple in the back corner who appear to have fallen asleep at their table don’t seem to have moved at all since she and her three friends came in.

Neither of the two young people – neither of them could have been over 20 years old – appear to be breathing.

As Hillary turns back around to her friends, a muffled sort of scream emanates from the kitchen area. The screaming stops after a slight clanging sound – like pizza pans falling off of a counter – and a series of dull thumps – thumps that sound like someone hitting a side of beef with a sledgehammer – travel through the strange-smelling air between the kitchen and the dining room.

The four friends sit in silence for a few seconds. “You guys,” Gary says, his voice trembling, “what was that sound? It sounded like–”

“I vas tenderizing ze beef for tomorrow’s pizzas,” says a small man in a black apron who appears more or less out of nowhere. “Ze vaitress, she has gone home for ze evening. I am ze chef here. Vy name ist Heinrich. I vas named for mein great grandfazza.”

The man is fairly short – just over five feet tall – and he has neatly combed white hair, bright blue eyes, and a pleasant smile. “Have ze fine ladies und gentlemen decided vhich topping zey vill have?”

The man’s appearance sets Jill, Gary, and Donald somewhat at ease.

“No, I’m afraid not, Heinrich,” Jill begins. “Hillary wants ground beef, I want ham, Gary wants Canadian bacon, and Donald wants pepperoni.”

“I regret to inform ze lady zat zere ist no ham available tonight,” Heinrich says. “Ve are, as zey say, fresh out.”

“What about Canadian bacon?” Gary asked, his voice again evoking what he imagines to be rugged masculinity.

Heinrich smiles, with what Hillary and Donald both interpret as knowing condescension: “Yes,” Heinrich says, “I am afraid zat ve are out of zat topping as vell. Everyzing else ist, as zey say, still in fresh supply.”

“Well, if I understand the policy here, Heinie,” Donald begins, “If we can’t decide what topping we want, you just give us pepperoni, right?”

“Zat ist correct,” Heinrich replies. “Und let me assure ze fine ladies und gentlemen zat it ist pepperoni of ze highest quality.”

“I’m sure it is, Heinie,” Donald says. “I’m sure it’s some really luxurious pepperoni, my friend. And I just want to compliment you on your business here, I really like the whole marketing approach, the whole ‘Supreme Being’ shtick, I just think it’s fantastic.”

Heinrich’s smile does not wane in the slightest, but his eyes seem to betray a slight inner hardening of his demeanor as he says, “Let me assure ze gentleman zat mein Gott ist no, as you say, shtick.”

“That’s great, Heinie, just great,” Donald replies, then turns back to his friends: “Well, guys, it sounds like pepperoni, huh?” Donald positively radiates triumph over the fact that the inability of his friends to agree on a pizza topping essentially guarantees that his choice of topping will be the one they are all forced – quite literally at gunpoint – to eat.

“Could you just give us a minute to discuss this, Heinrich?” Hillary asks.

“Of course, madame,” Heinrich replies. “I vill be back in, as zey say, two shakes of ze lamb’s tail.”

“I just think he’s fantastic,” Jill says.

“His accent is scary,” Gary offers, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

“I bet that’s some real luxurious pepperoni,” Donald says.

“Guys, I think that pepperoni is poisoned,” Hillary says. “I think this whole restaurant is a death trap, and I think that guy Heinrich is a psychopath.”

The three of them laugh.

“Look at this note!” Hillary says, and shows them the note the waitress had given her.

“I can’t even read that,” Donald says.

“Look at that sloppy handwriting,” Jill says.

“That waitress writes like a pussy,” Gary says.

“Jill,” Hillary says, “don’t you remember the sick man on the sidewalk?”

“You mean that bum?” Donald interrupts.

“Proper penmanship is one key aspect of personal responsibility,” Gary says.

“When he wasn’t vomiting, he said ‘don’t’ and ‘pep’!” Hillary says. “Didn’t you hear that, Jill?”

“Well, I…” Jill replies.

“Probably hopped up on pep pills,” Donald says.

“People like that are pathetic,” Gary begins. “It’s like Ayn Rand always said…”

“LOOK AT THE COUPLE IN THE BACK CORNER, YOU IDIOTS! THEY’RE FLIPPING DEAD! THEY ATE THE POISON PEPPERONI AND NOW THEY’RE DEAD!” Hillary shouts.

“No need to act like a fanatic,” Gary says, his voice slightly quivering again.

“Must be that time of the month,” Donald says.

“You’re letting your emotions control you, Hillary,” Jill says.

“Are ve veady to order?” Heinrich says, again seeming to appear out of nowhere.

Out of frustration, Hillary presses the heels of her hands against her temples and puts her elbows on the table. “Anything but pepperoni,” she says.

“Ham,” Jill says.

“Canadian bacon,” Gary says.

“They’re the same FLIPPING THING!” Hillary says.

“NO THEY’RE NOT!” Jill and Gary shout in unison.

“Let me remind ze lady and ze gentleman zat ve are out of ze ham.”

Jill and Gary glare at Heinrich.

“…und ve are also out of ze Canadian bacon.”

“Yes,” Jill says, straightening up in her seat. “I know that you are out of ham, and I know that it is completely and utterly pointless and absurd for me to order ham, and that there is no eventuality whatsoever in which my ordering ham here in this pizzeria tonight will result in ham being put on the pizza that is brought to my table, because as I have been told there is no ham and therefore no possibility of ham being on my pizza, nonetheless, my conscience tells me that I should order ham anyway. I know full well that when I order ham – even if there were ham here in the pizzeria tonight, which it is a well-established fact that there isn’t any – that what I am essentially doing is ordering pepperoni – because of the rules you have here in your pizzeria, Heinrich – but these irrefutable and indisputable facts do not deter me in the slightest from doing what I feel I must do: order ham. I feel it is my duty to order ham, because I like ham, and I think ham is the best pizza topping, and even though there is no chance in hell – or for that matter heaven or Earth – that ordering ham tonight will lead to my being served ham on my pizza, and that ordering ham when I know this to be a fact is essentially an egotistical and foolish exercise in futility, I must follow my conscience and order ham anyway. I will have ham on my pizza, Heinrich, ham, I say!”

Gary stands up, clapping with vigorous aplomb. Tears are streaming down his face. “That was beautiful, Jill. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I mean, I probably could have said it better because I’m a rugged, manly man – these are rugged, manly tears streaming down my rugged, manly cheeks, by the way – and you’re just a dumb, frightened girl, but still, I agree with you a hundred percent on this. Except for me it’s Canadian bacon.”

“They’re the exact same thing,” Hillary says under her breath.

“NO THEY’RE NOT!” Jill and Gary shout in unison.

“Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. You’re being very immature, Hillary,” Donald says, then hands his menu to Heinrich. “You know what I’m having, Heinie.”

“Ze pepperoni it vill be, zen,” Heinrich says. “I hope ze ladies and gentlemen vill enjoy.”

“We’re all going to die here,” Hillary says.

“Stop being so emotional,” Jill says.

“Don’t be a pussy,” Gary says.

Hillary glares at Gary, who seems to shrink in his seat a little.

After a few minutes – fewer than one would think it would take to bake a pizza; Heinrich had apparently anticipated the outcome of the squabble over toppings ahead of time, and had done so correctly – the pizza is brought out, and Donald, Jill, and Gary eat heartily.

Hillary does not.

“Real good pepperoni, Hill, real luxurious,” Donald says several times.

After about ten minutes, Donald, Jill, and Gary begin to feel ill. They look at each other, noticing a greenish bluish sort of tinge in their faces. They look at Hillary, and notice that she does not have this sickly color in her face, although she does appear rather pale.

After about twenty minutes, the three of them fall over, moaning, clutching their stomachs in pain, retching violently all over the floor.

Hillary remains still, her elbows on the table, the heels of her hands pressed against her temples.

She hears footsteps behind her.

“Ze lady ist not eating her pizza,” Heinrich says, a playful sort of malevolence in his voice.

“You killed my friends,” Hillary says.

“Ja,” Heinrich replies. “Und now I vill kill you as vell. Come, Werner. Ze lady needs, as zey say, motivation.”

Werner shucks his shotgun.

FREE SPEECH ADVOCACY: YER DOIN IT WRONG

Ever since I was a little kid, I have been a huge fan of the English language. I was read to quite a lot as a kid, and as a result I learned to read at a pretty early age.

There are a lot of highly literate and articulate people in my family, also, people who read quite a lot and express themselves clearly. So my fondness for English is, quite possibly, the result of not only my childhood but also the result of genetic predisposition.

I was a big fan of Mark Twain as a kid — I am still a big fan, FYI — and one of my favorite things about his writing is his use of dialect, specifically southern dialect. He often wrote the way people I grew up around talked. He was a master of not only proper American English (and yes, I realize that many people consider “proper American English” to be an oxymoron) but also of English as it was spoken by the common people.

He’s certainly not the only author who has used dialect in his (or her) writing. But he was the first author I read who used it, and seeing as how “southern dialect” is essentially my native language, well, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Mark Twain’s writing “spoke to me” as a kid.

English is an extremely malleable language. There are a wide range of accents and dialects among native English speakers, and English incorporates and absorbs foreign words and phrases into itself quite easily.

Bing thet eets fonnettick, itt ken awlsew bee undurstuud evin ef itt izunt writun propperlee.

But all joking aside, despite what my fellow native English speakers may think or believe, English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. A great many words have really weird and seemingly arbitrary spellings. And if someone learns English as a second language from, say, Canadian teachers, that person might have difficulty understanding what in the hell a person with a southern accent is saying.

When I taught ESL in Korea years ago, for example, some of my Korean coworkers couldn’t understand much of what I would say to them at first. As they got more used to my accent — and as my accent softened and transformed, temporarily, into something close to a Canadian accent (“Canadian accent” is probably the least accented accent, FYI) — they could understand me, but at first, it was difficult. They told me this after I had worked with them for quite some time.

As a sidenote, the Korean language is also phonetic — constructed with vowels and consonants and whatnot — and while it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to pronounce properly, reading the language phonetically is actually quite easy. Once you get past how different it looks from English, and once you see the pattern of how syllables are constructed, it’s not that hard to read. With only a few exceptions, Korean words are written as they are pronounced, and rules for pronunciation are pretty much constant.

English is not like that. It is absolutely brimming with weird pronunciations and weird spellings.

Such as the phrase “political correctness.” At a glance, the spelling of this phrase would seem to be obvious.

But it isn’t actually spelled the way it sounds. Here is the proper spelling of the term:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-I-N-G
O-T-H-E-R
P-E-O-P-L-E.

Weird, huh?

People who oppose “politically correct” language don’t know the proper spelling of the phrase. Don’t hold it against them, just teach them the proper spelling.

And yes, I realize Mark Twain’s writing was often the opposite of “politically correct.” But I would argue with anyone that he opposed racism and bigotry, and that his intent was to lampoon and discredit racism and bigotry, not to promote it.

Anti-PC “free speech advocates” are doing the opposite of this. They are lampooning and discrediting the victims of racism and bigotry, not the perpetrators of racism and bigotry.

And they get rrrrrreeeeeeaaaalllllly mad at you if you point that out to them.

“Freedom of speech” guarantees the right to say offensive things. Nobody disputes this.

It also guarantees the right to call someone who refuses to treat people with respect a bigot.

Some “free speech advocates” might tell you that calling someone a bigot is “silencing their voice.” What these “free speech advocates” refuse to acknowledge is that the intent — as in the only intent — behind bigoted language is to marginalize and silence people.

You can say whatever you want. You can use any vile (I like that word, 😉 ), disgusting language you want to, and nobody can stop you.

They can, however, tell you to shut the hell up. They are not “violating your right to free speech” if they do so, they are expressing their own right to free speech.

If you can’t wrap your head around that, you have no business calling yourself a “free speech advocate.”

You’re free to call yourself that, of course, but doing so is roughly equivalent to saying “I got an A in algebra in high school, so I am an expert in math.”

You have a poor understanding of the subject, is what I am saying to you.

Thank you for reading.

SEVEN PRIVILEGES I HAVE, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

I am going to attempt to explain something here today, something that is misrepresented and misunderstood in the media and by many people.

As with everything, I reserve the right to be wrong – please correct me if I am, but be prepared to bring your A-game, ha ha – and I take full responsibility for everything written here. That is to say, if any of this offends you, whoever you are, I accept that it was me who offended you, and not you being “too sensitive” or something.

I don’t get to decide for you what is and isn’t offensive. I am a strong advocate for “free speech,” and I understand that your right to free speech includes the right to be offended by what I write and express your offense however you want to.

Many people do not seem to understand this, but that’s another post, one I probably won’t write.

I am here today to briefly attempt to explain the concept of “privilege” as it applies to society in the USA today. I am not talking about another society somewhere else, I am talking about the USA.

First, I want to list the ways I am “privileged,” and explain why my being and having these things carries privilege.

Before that, if you read this in such a way that makes you think I feel guilty for being privileged in the ways I feel I am privileged, or that I am apologizing for the fact that I am privileged, that is not my intent, and to my view it would be an incorrect interpretation of this post. But interpret it however you like, I am not the boss of you, and I respect your right to free speech.

First: I am an American citizen. This fact gives me the privilege of all the freedoms and liberties that many people in the world are not given. It also gives me privilege over people living in the USA who are not citizens. It doesn’t mean I am “better” than them, it means that I have a legal status that they don’t, and by virtue of that legal status, I can do many things they can’t. I did precisely nothing whatsoever to earn this privilege; I was simply born here.

Second: I am male. Historically speaking, men have dominated most societies in the world, including society in the USA. “Sexism” was not coined as a term because men were being mistreated. And to be sure, women are much closer to complete equality nowadays, but lingering effects of decades of institutionalized sexism still exist. I am a feminist, and I will be until society is completely and totally equal with regard to how men and women are treated by it. I don’t expect to ever stop being a feminist, so don’t bother trying to talk me out of it.

Third: I am straight. That is to say, I am heterosexual. I came out of the womb liking women. I grew up liking women. I like women as an adult. With regard to feminism, I admit that it is sometimes difficult to be completely objective when I am interacting with women, at least in real life. If I find a woman attractive, sometimes things happen to me that I can’t help. My palms might sweat. My heart rate might increase. I might turn into a blubbering idiot and say something stupid. But, also with regard to feminism, I recognize that those reactions are my responsibility. If I make an idiot out of myself because an attractive woman makes me nervous, it’s not her fault I got nervous and made an idiot out of myself. But that’s sort of a tangent, I guess…with regard to privilege, my being straight prevents me from ever having to deal with any sort of harassment or hate speech or hate crimes that LGBT people often have to endure. For the record, I also support full equality regarding the right to marry whoever you damn well want to, and I also fully support the right for everyone to self-identify however they damn well want to. I don’t get to tell you who you are, and nobody else does, either.

Fourth: I am white. White people – people of European descent with white skin – are and always have been the dominant demographic with regard to race in the USA. White culture – books, movies, TV shows, style of dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. ad infinitum – is and always has been the norm in our country. I am not “apologizing” by admitting that. My basic philosophy on life – which I may have mentioned it to you at some point – is “it is what it is.” “White” is still, despite the fact that our culture is evolving and other perspectives are emerging, “normal.” It does not require any white person to feel “guilty” to acknowledge this, this is simply a fact. And yes, of course, some white people are more privileged than others. There are poor white people. Believe me, I know. I have never considered myself to be “poor” (more on this in a bit) but many people would. I know a lot of white people who grew up with more money than I did. I know a lot of white people who grew up with less. And I also know that there are many rich nonwhite people. I even know some of them personally. None of these things, however, negate the fact – the fact – that “white” has always been considered “normal” in our society. And none of those things negate the fact that we white people – no matter how much or how little money we have in the bank – benefit from that in ways that we might not even be aware of. Acknowledging that does not – despite what many talking heads will try to tell you – imply that you hate white people. I love white people. As a matter of fact, most of my favorite humans (my family) are all white. A lot of my favorite celebrities are white, a lot of my favorite musicians and actors are white, and a lot of my favorite writers are white. I am consciously (and constantly) trying to expand such lists, and to be completely honest, my reason for doing this boils down completely to selfishness and self-interest: I want to broaden my perspectives on things. I want to understand what life is like for people who aren’t me. I will never be able to completely understand, but I want to listen and I want to learn. And I realize that sometimes in order to actually listen to people with different perspectives, sometimes I just have to shut up and listen. My point of view is not necessary or needed in some conversations. Sometimes I quite simply don’t know what I am talking about. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be a nonwhite person, or a gay or transgender person. And so on. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I believe people should be treated equally no matter their demographic, but in order to do that – and I am talking mainly to my fellow straight white male people here – sometimes we just have to shut up and listen. Trust me, you will never learn anything from anyone by talking over them. This is something I have had to learn the hard way, as a matter of fact: I have been guilty of it. Not actually listening to people who aren’t just like me, I mean. And it was my loss, not theirs. They had nothing whatsoever to gain by me telling them what to think or how to act. I regret that I was too stubborn to just shut my mouth and listen.

Fifth: I grew up in a pretty stable home, and I come from a pretty stable and moderately successful family. Many people don’t have that luxury. This luxury – this privilege – was given to me. I didn’t do anything to earn it. I have benefited from the love and support of my family my entire life. That’s a privilege many people don’t enjoy. As a sidenote, one family-related privilege that I don’t have is that I never really had much of a relationship with my biological father. My parents divorced when I was around two, and my mom remarried. I was raised by her and my stepfather, whom I have been calling “daddy” my entire life. I always had a father figure, but I never really knew my actual father, as in the person whose genes formed roughly half of me in my mother’s womb. If you know or knew your father, you have a privilege – something you didn’t earn – that I don’t have and will never have. And please don’t think I hold this against you. I most certainly don’t. I am just trying to illustrate that many things we humans take for granted are things we didn’t actually earn.

Sixth: I was raised Protestant, which is the majority religion where I am from. I was never made to feel different because of my religion. That isn’t to say that this privilege – being part of yet another empowered majority – didn’t have drawbacks. I was misinformed and misled about certain scientific topics, for example. I was taught very bad things about LGBT people, things I grew up to find aren’t true at all. I am glad – infinitely glad – that I was able to mentally overcome the stupid shit I was taught in church as a child, nonetheless, my being a part of that – being part of the majority where I live – was a benefit to me at the time.

Seventh: I am not disabled or handicapped in any way. I can walk and run and jump (and do one and a half chin-ups) and do all manner of things that many people can’t. That’s right, folks: the ability to walk and run and jump is a privilege many people do not have. You didn’t earn those abilities, though it’s certainly true that you can augment those abilities through exercise and proper diet.

And anyways, I suppose seven is enough for now. There are many more, but in the interest of brevity, I will end the list at number seven.

Because if I haven’t been able to express to you what “privilege” means in social discourse by now, well, I might be wasting my time.

Thank you for reading.

TL:DR

Something for Richard Dawkins fans to think about:

“Postmodernism” is a term for a branch of literary theory that questions the validity and certitude of every narrative and every assumption and pretty much everything there is, including itself.

One would think — at least I would think — that this sort of skepticism (skepticism of everything) would appeal to Dawkins’ followers, at least the ones who like Dawkins primarily for his writings on atheism and skepticism, but it doesn’t.

Why not?

Well, Dawkins, in his criticism of postmodernism — which postmodern theory pretty much requires that one question it — has not actually criticized the basic idea behind postmodernism. What he has done is criticize and lampoon one aspect of it, the aspect of it that questions modern science, that is to say the aspect of it that questions the way modern scientific concepts and assumptions are expressed through language.

Have I lost you? Let me attempt (yet again) to tell you what I mean:

Language itself — as in the words I am using to attempt to express what I mean here — is a product of whichever society or culture it arose from. The words I am choosing to use right now are not only the product of millennia of various cultures and societies developing and re-developing their medium of communication into modern American English, they are also a product of my own personal experiences with language and language use. There are a great many cultural artifacts metaphorically “buried” in every single word I am typing.

Postmodernism — as it applies to literary theory and criticism — is a way to “unearth” these bits of history and culture, and to examine why they are there and what assumptions were “buried” with them.

This is the basic premise of all literary theory: to examine the words we use and why we use them.

Literary theorists and critics use postmodernism and other theoretical frameworks to figuratively dissect a wide variety of texts, from novels to films to (the narcissist in me hopes) blog posts to — you guessed it: scientific writings.

That is to say, these texts — including scientific texts — are scrutinized regarding not necessarily *what* they say but *how* they say it.

To obliquely reference Marshall McLuhan, the “message” is not being criticized, but the “medium” is.

Richard Dawkins — in what he would apparently have you believe is his infinite wisdom — has gotten this very basic premise of literary theory ass-backwards:

To hear him tell it — and to hear many of his followers tell it — “postmodernists” and other literary theorists are not merely questioning the language used by science and scientists, but the concepts and theories science and scientists promote.

He’s convinced thousands and thousands of people that “postmodernism” is “anti-science,” when in reality that simply isn’t the case at all.

The ultimate irony of this is that he is essentially doing the exact same thing many creationists do when they claim that evolution — a theory no “postmodernist” actually doubts, I would wager — means that our grandparents were apes and that sort of thing.

He is — and has been for years — misrepresenting a very basic concept that he feels (quite needlessly) threatened by in order to discredit it.

Creationists do that, also, just over a different type of theory.

To conclude, if you want to say literary theory is esoteric and of less practical value than science and scientific research, well, you may have a point. I would even — despite my fondness for language and words — agree with you, from a pragmatic perspective.

If, however, you really and truly believe that postmodernism and other branches of literary theory are “anti-science,” all I can tell you is that you have been misled, much in the same way creationists have been misled by misrepresentations of evolutionary theory.

Ironic, ain’t it?

LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US…OR MAYBE JUST DRIVE, MAYBE THAT WOULD BE LESS OF A HASSLE, ACTUALLY

As whoever reads this blog may or may not have noticed, I have not updated it in over a month. There’s a reason for that: I have been mulling over whether to write the post I am about to write. It’s been kicking around in my skull for over a month now.

Why the indecisiveness? Well, it’s sorta complicated.

Actually, it’s not complicated at all, I am just making it complicated by over-thinking it. It’s actually pretty simple:

My writing it entails a slight admission of racism on my part.

And that’s racism I am conscious of. There may be latent racism elsewhere in this post or other posts, and if so, feel free to point it out. Actually, I insist that you point it out, should you notice any. I can’t get rid of it if I don’t know it’s there.

But moving on, this long-delayed post has to do with a trip I took a little over a month ago. I went to visit my cousin and his family in the greater Dallas, TX area, a visit that was equal parts social and work-related: I built some shelves for their garage, and did some other minor handyman-type stuff around their house. And before you compliment me on my generosity or anything, you should know that I was paid for my work, and my transportation to and from Dallas was also paid for. And not only that, I ate for free the whole time I was there, and I also had free beer. So compliment my cousin on his generosity if you compliment anyone – as a matter of fact, he’s also the person who designed this website, and currently it’s piggybacking on his GoDaddy account, and all I have paid him for his services as of yet was a liter of Maker’s Mark.

But I digress.

My transportation there and about halfway back was on a Greyhound bus. Actually, the first leg of the trip was on a CADC bus (Central Arkansas Development Council, I think) that went from El Dorado to Malvern, making a few stops along the way. Greyhound buses don’t actually come to El Dorado any more, so I had to ride a shuttle to the Greyhound terminal in Malvern…which is essentially a CADC office with a covered bench and a Dr. Pepper machine out front.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

As I mentioned, my ticket was paid for by my cousin. I got an email with a confirmation number, and to be able to get on the bus, I had to take the confirmation number to the CADC/Greyhound office in El Dorado and have the ticket printed off.

The website said to arrive at the Greyhound station at least an hour before the bus left, to ensure that I’d have plenty of time to get my ticket and get on the bus. Being that the entire trip was going to take around ten hours, I didn’t want to spend any more time at the terminal in El Dorado than I had to, so I went the day before my trip and had my tickets printed off.

When I went into the office, a young black woman and her mom were talking to the white lady that worked there, planning a trip somewhere. While waiting for my turn to talk to her, I absentmindedly began reading various things posted to the wall, as I tend to do in such situations.

One thing caught my eye: it was a poster with a list of things that were banned on Greyhound buses, including a list of things that were illegal to carry in your checked luggage, the luggage they put in the compartment in the bottom of the bus.

One of the items was “laptop computers.” This struck me as exceedingly odd, especially since Greyhound offers free wifi on their buses.

The mother and daughter finished planning the trip, and they got up and started to leave. The woman behind the desk wasn’t finished printing their tickets, though, and I had to chase them down and tell them to come back in. I am including that detail not to make myself look chivalrous or something, but because I did essentially the same thing they did before my return trip at the Dallas terminal…but I am getting ahead of myself again.

I had been planning on bringing my laptop with me on the trip, in my trusty Targus laptop backpack, which I would use as a carry on, like I normally do in such situations. I asked the woman behind the desk about the backpack thing, and she said not to pay any attention to that poster, I could carry whatever I wanted, and a laptop was fine to carry on the bus, and so on. Which I thought was kinda weird; I mean why hang the poster on the wall if it’s not actually a valid list, but I didn’t say that out loud.

But the lady said something else about laptops, and this is where the trouble started regarding me and my slight slip into racism: she said something like “I think they were worried about bombs, is why they put laptops on that list.”

Which, well, if you know me personally, you know that I have a tendency toward paranoia. And long story short, I didn’t just forget what that lady said about bombs, the idea of the bus I was on exploding during the trip started bouncing around my skull, much like this post has been doing.

Anyways, the next day, I got to the terminal in El Dorado about 20 minutes before departure time. And even though there was a scale there in the office, I was not required to weigh my bags. I had already weighed them here at home, and they were well under the weight limit, but anyways I guess that’s another digression.

The shuttle to Malvern – incidentally Malvern is pretty much in the opposite direction from Dallas, with respect to El Dorado – was driven by an older white man wearing a cap that indicated he was a veteran of some sort. I don’t remember from when, but I am guessing it was from the Vietnam War era, based on his approximate age. Including him and me, there were only five people on this bus. There were two black women – one probably in her mid twenties, the other maybe in her thirties…the older one was a truck driver I think, going to meet up with a truck she would then drive – and one young white woman who was maybe around 19 or 20. Her boyfriend or perhaps husband was at the El Dorado terminal, and he made an impression on me because of the way he was protectively kissing her goodbye, as if to let me and every other male person there know that she was his girl, and nobody better get any ideas to the contrary. I have to say I found the whole performance both cute and somewhat gross…there seemed to be a bit of “I own this woman” about it, but anyways that’s none of my business.

It’s worth noting that this detail of the trip stood out to me, and I have planned to include it the entire time this post has been bouncing around my skull, but I only just now remembered that the older black woman’s husband (or maybe boyfriend) was also there in El Dorado to see her off, and he was also hugging her and telling her he hoped she had a safe trip, and so on, but his demeanor seemed to be more of a “I am sincerely going to miss you” sort of vibe happening, as opposed to whatever I may or may not have accurately detected from the younger white kid.

I am including basic racial descriptions of people in this post for a couple of reasons, for the record. One, I am not a racist, and I believe in treating everyone equally and fairly no matter their skin color, but at the same time, I do not consider myself to be “color blind” when it comes to skin color. As much as I would like to live in a world where skin color makes no difference, well, the world doesn’t actually work like that. A person’s skin color does, all too often, make a difference in the experiences they have in their lives. I don’t like that fact, and I want to do everything I can to change that fact, but pretending that everyone has the same life experiences no matter their skin color is not going to help the situation. But I guess I am digressing. There are many articles online discussing this issue, and I encourage you to read them.

Two, due to the fact that I had an arguably racist thought a little later in the trip, well, I feel that it’s necessary to list the skin color of various people I encountered on the trip.

Moving on, the CADC bus stopped at a couple other CADC offices on the way, but we didn’t pick anybody else up. We stopped at one gas station, and the driver advised us to go get something to eat while we were there, because there wasn’t going to be anywhere to eat near the terminal in Malvern. I took advantage of this and bought an order of fried chicken livers and a decent sized catfish fillet (YUMMY!) along with another Dr. Pepper. I had brought one to the El Dorado terminal to take on the trip, and had drank most of it by the time we got to this gas station.

There was no wifi on this bus, and I thought to myself that if the whole trip wasn’t going to be any more crowded than this, these ten hours wouldn’t be all that bad. I was in for a rude awakening a few hours later, but again, I am getting ahead of myself.

When we got to Malvern, the driver let us all off and wished us a safe trip. The older black woman almost immediately walked off somewhere, I am not sure where, and the two younger women sat in the covered bench area. I opted to stand off to the side, both because I didn’t want to be all up in their business (the covered bench thing had two benches facing each other, and they weren’t very far apart) and also because the white girl was smoking in there, essentially “hot-boxing” the thing, and if you aren’t familiar with that term, just think about it for a second.

I got to looking at my ticket, and I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of the itinerary, but the bus to Dallas wasn’t going to arrive in Malvern for a couple hours. It was around one pm, maybe a little after, and my bus wasn’t supposed to get there until 3:40. I showed my ticket to the two young women in the hot box (I waited for the smoke to clear) and asked them “Am I looking at this right?” And they looked at their tickets, and their bus was due in like half an hour or so…they were going to Little Rock. When the older black lady got back from wherever she went, she mentioned that she was going to Little Rock and on to Manchester, I guess the Manchester in Tennessee. At any rate, my three traveling companions from El Dorado to Malvern and I parted company, and I remained at the bus stop for a couple more hours.

There was one other passenger getting on the bus to Dallas, a woman probably in her fifties who was Hispanic or maybe Native American. She and I talked a little, but not much. Her destination was Tuscon, Arizona, I think she said, and the bus from Dallas to Tuscon left at like three in the morning, I think she said. She smoked what looked like a Black and Mild cigar, and I went through a brief phase in college where I smoked those things, and without trying to sound too snobby or whatever, I am really glad I quit them. Apparently they are not good for teeth, and that’s all I will say about that.
The bus was an hour late. It had been held up because of a wreck on I-30, the driver said. The driver of this bus was a black lady. And anyways, when I got on the bus, I was quite disappointed to find out that this bus – the bus I would be on for about six hours – was quite crowded. There weren’t any empty seats – the lady that smoked the Black and Milds got the last one – and I began scanning the bus for the optimal seating partner.

Everyone who wasn’t already sitting next to somebody had their carry-on in the seat next to them, and they avoided eye contact, so as to discourage anyone from sitting next to them. Which, yeah, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

I didn’t want to sit next to any of the women on the bus, because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I am not an especially threatening-looking person or anything, but at the same time, I realize that a woman might not want to sit next to a strange man on a Greyhound bus for six hours. So I began looking for the optimal male seatmate: the physically smallest person I could find. This was simply to maximize my own personal space in the seat, you understand.

I settled on a skinny black dude – he kinda reminded me of Dave Chappelle, I guess – who was probably in his late twenties or early thirties, asked if he minded if I sat there, and he moved his bag from the seat and I sat down. He “manspreaded” a little into my territory, but I “manspreaded” out into the aisle to compensate, and all in all the seating arrangement wasn’t too uncomfortable.

It was at this point that I had my involuntary episode of mild racism. But it wasn’t against my seatmate, it was against the person sitting in front of us.

And let me remind the reader about the question I had asked the day before regarding laptops, and what the answer was: “Take anything you want,” pretty much was the answer, and “laptops are on that list because they’re worried about bombs” or something.

The guy sitting in front of me had light brown skin, curly black hair, and he had a goatee that was an inch or two long. I don’t actually know his ethnicity, but it could have been Egyptian, or maybe Cuban, or possibly part Hispanic and part African-American. I honestly don’t know.

His appearance regarding his ethnicity wasn’t exactly what set off the involuntary racism, though: he looked like he was pissed off. Like really, really, super-duper pissed off about something. And combined with his appearance, and combined with the mention of “bombs” the day before, especially since nobody even gave my bag a second look…well, I involuntarily went on a bit of a paranoid fantasy trip for about ten minutes where the bus pulled into the terminal in Dallas and exploded because this pissed-off looking fellow had planted a bomb in his suitcase.

As you have probably intuited, there was no bomb, outside of my paranoid and arguably racist little daydream. And I had only been on the bus for maybe ten minutes when I figured out why the fellow was pissed off:

I was sitting in the aisle seat, and he was sitting in the seat in front of me, next to the window. I could see the side of his face well enough to see his pissed-off expression, and anyways his phone went off – at least I think it went off, he might have initiated the call – and he began a video chat with who I assume was his girlfriend or wife. The face of a woman appeared on his cracked smartphone screen, and she was asking him where something was. She didn’t seem to want to take “I don’t know!” as a viable answer from him, and their conversation ended with him angrily tapping the “end call” button on his phone.

And I realized how much of a bigot I had been being, with my paranoid fantasy about him being an Islamist suicide bomber. He was pissed off over a squabble with his significant other, not at Western civilization. And right then and there is when I began mentally writing this post, and simultaneously, right then and there is where I began debating with myself over whether I wanted to write this down and publish it. It doesn’t exactly make me look good, I mean.

That morning, at the CADC office in El Dorado, I had been having a discussion on Facebook with another white dude over the concept of “white privilege.” He said it didn’t exist, I said it did…and my original angle for this post was that my racist reaction – which went on entirely in my head – to this pissed-off, vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow sitting in front of me on the Greyhound bus was, in my mind, proof that “white privilege” does in fact exist.

Nobody is ever going to accuse me, a white dude, of being a terrorist. Nobody is ever going to look at me while I am pissed off and wonder if I am pissed off at America. That’s never going to happen, at least not here in the USA.

I felt stupid, sitting there. I felt like a hypocrite. I call people out on racism all the time, and there I was, thinking a racist thought. I hesitate to say “Islamophobia” here, because for one, Islamophobia is to my view just one of many types of racism, and for two, I didn’t even notice the lady wearing a Hijab near the front of the bus until after I saw the angry “I don’t know where it is!” video chat conversation and realized how much of an idiot I had been.

I’m not perfect. I hope this isn’t reason enough for anybody to want to cut ties with me, but nonetheless there you have it.

Anyways, most of the rest of the trip was uneventful. Boring, yes, slightly uncomfortable, yes, and the wifi was weaker than my normal phone data connection. I got booted from a live chess game, and those games require practically nothing, from a data use perspective. I read a little, and eventually decided to take a nap.

On over in Texas somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, two more passengers got on: a black dude who was probably in his fifties, and a white dude in his twenties who looked like Mac from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” with long hair who reminded me of Richard Linklater’s character from his first movie, “Slacker”: he was very talkative and enthusiastic, and he spoke with the unique east Texas drawl/surfer dude mixture that Linklater spoke in in that film. Without even asking, I and the rest of the people in the back half of the bus learned that he could play like fourteen musical instruments, that he had a bachelor’s degree in music but couldn’t find a music-related teaching job, and that he had just finished truck driving school and was on his way to his first trucking job. I can’t honestly say he was “annoying” or anything, but he did talk a whole lot.

The bus ride continued on uneventfully until we got to Greenville, which is just outside Dallas.

This is where things got weird.

The bus pulled into the stop, and the driver informed us that a sheriff would be boarding the bus. He was going to check everyone’s bags.
Several people asked if they could get off the bus to go smoke – we had skipped a couple stops because the bus was behind schedule – and the driver said that would be fine. So several people got up and started heading to the front of the bus, but before anybody got off, a sheriff – a black man in his forties or fifties, plain-clothed, wearing a baseball cap and a badge on a chain around his neck, got on the bus and somewhat angrily told everyone to sit back down, and that he was going to check our bags for “drugs, money…and bombs.”

Almost immediately, the fellow sitting in front of me was removed from the bus. As soon as he was taken off of the bus, a white woman – mid to late 20s, dressed slightly “hippie-ish” – got on the bus. She sat in the only open seat, the one vacated by the fellow sitting in front of me. Before she sat down – and this might be the weirdest part of the whole thing – she put a plain white cardboard box into the overhead compartment. The box was about the size of a small cake or maybe a pie, and it had clear plastic tape going around the middle of it, like around it in both directions, forming a cross on the top of the box. I almost offered to give her a hand – that is to say, I almost touched this box, which would leave a fingerprint on it – but something told me not to.

The sheriff went to the back of the bus and began looking through bags. He instructed us to have our bags open and ready by the time he got to us. I put my trusty Targus laptop backpack in my lap and opened all the zippers, staring straight ahead and remaining silent.

For the record, if you ever find yourself in a situation involving the police, do not – repeat, do NOT – take it upon yourself to smart off at them. This goes for everyone. It is not going to help the situation, and it could potentially get you into trouble. Or worse. Don’t talk back, and do what they ask you…as long as what they’re asking you to do is legal, of course.

Actually, I am not 100% sure that a sheriff boarding a Greyhound and demanding to look through everyone’s bags is actually legal, now that I think about it. That may or may not fall under “unreasonable search and seizure,” but I may be all wet on that. At any rate, if Greyhound actually bothered to look at anyone’s luggage the way airlines do, this sort of inconvenience would be totally unnecessary…but again, I digress.

The black man who had gotten on the bus a few stops back with Linklater, Jr. was approximately the same age as the black sheriff. And the sheriff accused him of being drunk, and demanded that he get off the bus, also.

The dude didn’t look the least bit drunk to me, when he got on the bus, for the record, and he didn’t act drunk at all when he got off the bus or back on it a few minutes later. At any rate, I had been thinking to myself just prior to this stop that this whole trip would actually kinda be fun if I had been hammered…but I suppose it’s fortunate I know you can get into trouble for that now, ha ha.

The sheriff also made a black woman – maybe 20, 21 – get off the bus. I think she looked at him funny, or maybe said something he didn’t like. As I said, I faced the front of the bus for most of this episode, keeping quiet.

There was a white couple – early 30s, I am guessing – in the seat next to mine. They had tattoos, and a slight “punk rock” aesthetic about them, and the sheriff looked through their bags quite a bit. He made the woman pat her belly, like to hold her shirt up against her skin, to prove she didn’t have anything taped to her.
Then he searched my seatmate’s bag. He told me to get up while he did, so he could search my seatmate’s bag more easily. I got up and put my bag in the seat in front of me.

I don’t remember for sure, but the white woman may have gotten back off the bus temporarily. Maybe not, I can’t remember. Her appearance at the scene seemed, I dunno, weird somehow.

Anyways, my seatmate seemed to share my philosophy regarding the police: stay quiet, do what they ask, and don’t do anything to piss them off. He didn’t do anything, he didn’t smart off, he did exactly what the sheriff asked him to – moving things out of the way in his bag, so the sheriff could see the bottom – and the sheriff gave him a hard time anyway. He accused him of smarting off, of not cooperating, that sort of thing. My seatmate didn’t smart off, and he did exactly what the sheriff asked, and when the sheriff didn’t find anything in his bag, he asked to see mine.

I placed it on my seat, still standing. The zippers were all unzipped.

“Well, open it,” the sheriff said.

I opened the bag about halfway, revealing the two or three books I had brought, and then my laptop. “Books, laptop computer,” I said, and he told me to sit down and he moved on to the next person.

I wasn’t carrying anything illegal in my bag. The thing is, though, I very easily could have been. I am not writing this to encourage anyone to try and smuggle contraband on Greyhound buses – you are an idiot if you think that’s a good idea – I am writing to report that my bag was not as thoroughly searched as my seatmate’s, or as thoroughly searched as many other people’s on the bus.

To be fair, my bag was not as cluttered as my seatmate’s, or as cluttered as the white couple next to me who got searched much more thoroughly. The sheriff made a point to see the bottom of their bags, but not mine.

After I sat back down, the guy in the seat next to me brought out a bag of chips and declared that he was exited, because now he had dinner and a show. The sheriff said something back to him, but he didn’t make him get off the bus or anything.

Eventually all the bags were searched, and everybody who was taken off the bus – the vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow, the middle aged black man, and the young black woman – got back on. The sheriffs didn’t find anything, despite taking the luggage out from under the bus and letting drug dogs sniff it.

The fellow in front of me told everyone about his experience off the bus. He said that the dogs went after his bag, but when the sheriffs opened it, they didn’t find anything. A white sheriff asked him, “Do you smoke weed?” and the guy said “Yeah.” The sheriff said that was probably why the dogs went after his bag. He went on to say that next time he went on a trip he was flying, that the only reason he went on Greyhound was because it was cheap, and he didn’t mind the long trip but the thing with the sheriffs was bullshit. I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

Linklater, Jr. got off the bus a few stops later, and as we were about to pull into the Greyhound terminal in downtown Dallas, the driver came over the intercom and said that she was sorry the trip got delayed, but it couldn’t have been helped, and we should all be thankful that the accident that held the bus up originally didn’t involve the bus itself, and thanks for traveling with Greyhound.

Several people, including the fellow in front of me, said, “F**K GREYHOUND!”

Which I have to admit was kinda funny.

Here’s what’s weird about the white woman who put the box in the overhead compartment: she left it in the overhead compartment when she got off the bus. And this was the end of the line for this particular bus; i.e. nobody was getting back on, people going past Dallas had to get on different buses.

I started to mention it to her, but I decided not to.

I don’t know if that was the right decision; I was ready to be at my cousin’s house and I didn’t want to be involved in anything else Greyhound-related that night. I don’t know what was in that box, and for all I knew, she left it on the bus on purpose.

Wouldn’t that be something?

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY: I’M JUST A CAVEMAN

Just recently, there was a bit of a hullabaloo on social media regarding a paper written about glaciers. The paper was written by a history professor, I think. He wrote about different “glaciologies” or something like that, comparing the way Native people who live near glaciers see glaciers with how scientists see glaciers. The rationale was something to do with how modern science often overshadows all other perspectives, or something like that. It wasn’t a scientific paper, it was a paper about narratives and “different types of knowledge” and stuff like that.

This paper caused some controversy. The funding of the paper came from some entity having to do with climate change, I think, and articles were written with “your tax dollars at work” and whatnot as the theme. It was also believed that the paper was attempting to say that Native myths regarding glaciers were equally as valid (from a scientific perspective) as modern scientific knowledge about glaciers. Many believed the paper was an attack on science, even, like an attempt to de-legitimize science.

This, of course, was not actually the case. Writing about “different types of knowledge” does not imply that all “types of knowledge” are equal.

Think about it this way: one person has a completely irrational but sincerely held belief. Let’s say that somebody sincerely believes that the moon is made out of green cheese. It usually looks white because of a force field around Earth that is generated by the Great Pyramids of Giza, this person believes.

Another person knows this is all BS. From a scientific perspective, of course this person is correct: as everyone who is sane knows, the moon is actually a giant telephoto lens attached to an invisible camera that our alien ancestors from the Pleiades use to keep tabs on us.

Of course that was a joke. But regardless as to whether something a person sincerely believes is true is *actually* true, well, try convincing them it isn’t true. Try convincing someone who sincerely believes that the moon is made of green cheese, etc. that it isn’t.

For that matter, try convincing anyone who believes the glacier paper was an assault on science that it actually wasn’t. It’s not gonna be easy.

People believe what they believe and “know” what they “know” because of the culture they’re from. If a culture is modern and scientific, like ours mostly is, something like a glacier is going to look a lot different than it would from the perspective of a culture that is neither modern nor scientific.

Since we’re talking about glaciers, let’s imagine that a fully frozen and perfectly preserved adult Neanderthal man is found in a glacier somewhere. Let’s also assume that he is brought back to life by scientists, and that he has to adapt to modern life and integrate his prehistoric understanding of the world with everything in the modern world.

Assuming he is able to adapt at all, picture this guy trying to understand how a smartphone works.

Hell, I use a smartphone every day that goes by and I don’t actually have any idea how a smartphone works, from a scientific perspective. I have a vague, weakly articulated approximation of an idea, based on things I have read, but honestly I don’t have a clue.

I know that smartphones work, and I know how to use them. But I don’t know how they work. My approximation of an idea about how they work (which could potentially be embarrassing if I attempted to write it down) is a result of me being a product of a modern country like the USA. I learned about science in school, and I know modern devices like smartphones are a product of many years of scientific research.

The unfrozen Neanderthal guy doesn’t even know what science is. He could potentially be taught to read and write and use something like a smartphone, but how is he going to understand what is actually going on when he uses it?

If he’s like most people — including me — he isn’t going to think about that very much. But assuming he does, and assuming someone asks him how he thinks it works, how would he answer that question? Me, I would say “uhhh, errr, SCIENCE,” but what would he say?

To be sure, I am not comparing an unfrozen Neanderthal to Native people who live near glaciers. Neither am I comparing people who think the “glaciology” paper was an attack on science to unfrozen Neanderthals, hardy har. I am just trying to illustrate that there actually are “different types of knowledge”.

With regard to that paper, I would (and did) argue that Native myths regarding glaciers were worth studying, if only for their value as a part of cultural history.

So why I am only writing this now? Why didn’t I write this while the whole hullabaloo was going on about it? I will tell you:

I just watched part of a documentary about Easter Island. You know, that island with all the huge angular big-headed statues called moai. These statues are all carved from rock from one area on the island, but they are placed all over the island. Many people have questioned how the people who carved the moai moved them, because being that they’re huge stone statues, well, they’re pretty heavy.

Thor Heyerdahl (the Kon-Tiki guy) had a possible explanation. Heyerdahl theorized that the moai were moved by rolling them on logs. I think he may even have demonstrated that it could be done like that, but I am not sure.

Heyerdahl used his knowledge of science to “solve” the mystery of how the moai were moved all over Easter Island. And it’s definitely true that they could have been moved that way.

There’s another possibility, though: according to oral traditions of the Rapa Nui (the culture that produced the moai), the moai “walked” to their current positions.

I think I remember hearing or reading that years ago, in something else I saw or read about Easter Island. The way that’s usually presented is “these primitive people don’t know about science! They think stone statues walked! What a bunch of dumbasses!”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. But this is the sort of thing that I think the author of the “glaciology” paper was talking about: Heyerdahl ignored local legends about how the moai got to their current positions and came up with his own ideas about how they got there. As Heyerdahl was a representative of mainstream Western science, most Westerners believe his theory about log rollers.

And Heyerdahl may be correct. I am not saying he isn’t. The fact is nobody knows for sure. Nobody who actually moved them is still alive, and they were moved centuries before video cameras were invented, so there’s no footage of them being moved when they were originally moved.

And the only historical record from the Rapa Nui is their oral tradition, which claims the moai “walked.”

Do I think the moai actually “walked” to their positions on Easter Island, like I will get up and walk outside when I finish writing this, so as to get a better phone signal while I am uploading this to my blog? Of course not. But I do think Heyerdahl may have done well to listen more closely to Rapa Nui oral traditions:

According to the fellow on the documentary, who I think was Rapa Nui, when Rapa Nui storytellers would say the moai “walked,” what they meant was that the moai were “walked” to their current position much in the same way somebody might “walk” a refrigerator to a different spot in the kitchen: by pushing or pulling one side forward a few inches, then pushing or pulling the other side forward a few inches, and so on. According to the fellow on the documentary, abrasions at the bases of many moai support this theory.

Was Heyerdahl’s log roller method more practical? Perhaps. I really don’t know; I imagine moving one of those things by any method (including with modern machinery) would be quite an undertaking. I wouldn’t want to try it.

Practicality isn’t really the point, though. As mentioned, nobody really knows for sure how the moai were moved.

One theory virtually ignores Rapa Nui oral traditions. The other doesn’t.

Which theory do you believe?

Getting back to the “glaciology” paper, whether any Native traditions regarding glaciers will be useful from a scientific perspective remains to be seen. The paper may indeed be completely useless, from a scientific perspective.

Even if it is, well, we’ll know. And we’ll have documentation of it.

Thank you for reading.