Camping in Khakis 

Posted: July 6, 2015 in Intangiball

Camping in khakis…allow me to attempt to illustrate the profound in that.

To be a 30-something in Saint Louis represents an interesting dynamic. Commonly referred to as a “big city with a small town feel”, contradiction is prevalent. Neighborhoods are segregated in a manner that would suggest little has changed over the past 50 years socially. Reality would prove that, though racism is evident and sensationalized by the media, diversity exists. I would say that Saint Louis is “reluctantly diverse.”

I digress. I’m as exhausted with discussing the city as I am with the city itself.

Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods to live deliberately. To live deep, and suck the marrow out of life.” Or something like that. My scenario is not as dramatic, and without internet access I can’t tell you exactly. I came to peel off a few layers of stress and disenchantment. Like a cool onion left in the fierce July sun. I did not build a cabin from the ground up, nor will I be testing my survival aptitude in these Ozark mountains if I can help it. Though I did pitch my tent with the quickness and fashion a fire from damp logs like goddamn Bear Grylls. The only witness to my woodland prowess, my German Shepherd.

Not bad for a city chap donning khakis upon arrival. Not bad for a man trapped in the modern day-to-day grind, governed by corporate America on this Independence Day. Not bad for spontaneously packing some shit and shoving off. Not bad…recognizing the rare combination of the need for freedom and the inner turmoil that spawns the spontaneity required to command it.

A tough few weeks had transpired, as they do sometimes. Tough enough that identifying them as if they were bullet points would be both tedious and disingenuous. So, I’m not going to do that. We all know what a tough few weeks feels like, relatively speaking. Remembering this fact alone makes the trip worthwhile.

Most people, when feeling distant to even those closest to them, hoard the feeling and react towards others based upon it, but without actually addressing it. Not to themselves…and most certainly not to others. Leaving all parties involved to suffer the harsh expression of it, none of whom necessarily deserving of it.

I’m especially guilty of this, as it is perhaps my nature and a reflection of my own insecurities, to be overly independent and distant at times. When life feels unpleasant, I sometimes force its unpleasantness upon those within the ropes of my squared circle. I lash out impatiently, and regret it almost instantly. Fortunately, I have very understanding people in my squared circle. May I continue to be so undeservedly charmed.

Point is, I’m recognizing my tendencies earlier and more often. I find myself acknowledging them before words spill and feelings are hurt. I find myself biting my tongue. I take my time. I take my space. I sulk, and I check & balance. I aspire, make goals and regroup. I come back better than ever. Because the Universe has allowed for my repositioning of the scales in a way that better suites my ideals, which I recognize. I take action.

I invited a handful of guys to join me, knowing full and well that it was a long shot. Not only was the notice short but I understand not everyone is feeling caged at the same moments that I am. It’s all good. Though I found myself wondering: who does this shit? Once the initial shame sensations subsided (read: what the fuck is wrong with me?), like a whitewashed table the solid surface beneath was revealed and it was proud as oak. Driving two and a half hours out of town felt obvious. Watching my dog bewilder herself with wave patterns caused by her lanky legs in the river current felt necessary and perfect. After all, if any animal has the right to feel caged, it’s the ever-obedient, loyal and loving domestic dog.

At various points during the retreat – canoeing down a river so quiet an apocalyptic event could have occurred and I would not have known it, or moving my chair from beneath the oak and maple canopy above to take in the stars – I found myself reassuring myself.

I do this shit.

I move through the timid exercises of social understanding and approval, and on to riding the tide of self-awareness. Even when the parts of myself that I’m suddenly self-aware of are not very savory.

I suppose if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I feel lucky to have beer. For better or worse, the beer helps.

While renting a canoe, my dog lay on the store’s linoleum floor as peaceful as I’d ever seen her. Exhausted by the complete assault on her senses, I’m sure. The kind of pleasant, casual conversation probably enjoyed regularly by those beyond the light pollution provided extra time for her to relax. She’s an opportunistic beast. To me this kind of friendly banter feels foreign. Which is unfortunate. Should I be instigating these moments? Would anyone back home want me to?

Who does this shit? Who overanalyzes conversations at Harvey’s General Store and Canoe Rental six hours after they occur?

Another transcendentalist and fellow Gemini, Walt Whitman, wrote that the world for which he was born did not exist. I respect the feeling. I know the feeling. But this is a cop out. We must create the world for which we were born within the world we are given. When changes are called for, when we feel dissonance within ourselves, we must address it hastily. Or we must accept our recurring plight and subsequent discontent as our reality responsibly, doing our damnedest to not smear our shit onto everyone else’s canvas.

So I’m here. A few hundred miles from vandalizing lives. Sitting by the fire I made, next to the dog I love, doing what I know I should be doing so much more than I do: writing.

Just like that, an epiphany drops down like a tick from a tree. There are things that I do that are filling the spaces of the things that I should be doing. This is the internal conflict that I’ve been feeling. I must do more of the things that I know I should be doing. Plain and simple. Being kind and compassionate to those close and to those unknown to me. I need to be doing more of that. Creating my life more carefully and with greater precision. Writing. In a proverbial and in the literal sense. I need to be doing more of that.

Having done so for a respectable bit of time, I stare at the campfire as if it may have more answers. But I expect and hope for none. Enough introspection has been had for one day and now it’s time to rest my brain. The khakis…they were just the pants easiest to grab on my way out the door. Because I wear them a lot. “Business Casual.” My summer conformity uniform.

Wearing them inappropriately never felt better.

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was posted via InsideSTL.com in July of 2013 and is now being added to the archives

I met her at the grocery store. Beyond the long blonde hair and curvy, feminine frame, to me she had the kind of dynamic, charismatic demeanor rare among a lot of attractive women. (It’s an ignorant prejudice, but I all but expect “hot” girls to have unimpressive personalities) I managed to catch her attention in produce and fabricated the ever precarious conversation from scratch somewhere near the milk, securing the ever elusive, actually actual phone number.

Cart full of fruit and veggies…she was healthy. Splatter of paint in her hair from some abstract painting she’d been toiling on…an artsy chick. She lived a few blocks away. She was practically my neighbor.

And she had a very nice ass. I do like a nice ass.

Less mature and less secure at that point in my life, I got busy creating poetic imaginings of our connectedness from the vacuum of initial infatuation. Though I had impressed upon her enough to secure a future get-together of some kind, all the pluses I’d assumed amplified by a desire to be as special to her as I thought she might be to me began to cause me to question my qualifications as a suitor.

The confidence that allowed me to approach her in the first place began to erode. Within a few dates of her confirming many of the aforementioned qualities, my need for her validation was proving disasterous. Nearly as fast as it had sprung from ceramic tile beneath those fluorescent lights, the whole thing had withered and died.

It’s a slippery slope, the moment you begin to sacrifice any part of yourself to gain the approval of someone else. It’s ineffective at best. At worst, it’s a mental disorder.

I wasn’t mad at her. How could I be? I had acted like a child at a point in my life I was certain I was past such behavior. Fortunately, I realized it right away, forgiving myself with the solemn promise it would never happen again. I can say with absolute certainty that it has not.

About a year and a half later I was at the Bread Co. on South Grand with a very attractive female friend. Lebanese, olive complexion, curvy body and dark wavy hair. We remain close to this day, though the nature of our relationship never took a romantic turn. Still, she is the kind of girl you don’t mind other girls seeing you smiling and laughing with. Our relationship itself was a pretty strong testament to my progress.

We were standing close together when, for some reason, I looked to my left and there was grocery store girl waiting for her order. The moment I saw her, she saw me.

With her.

I smiled dispassionately, recognizing what was taking place and her expression let me know that the great, karmic equalizer of life had officially balanced the scales.

She did not look as angelic as I remembered. When we met it was the dead of winter. My pasty, dry, whiteness cloaked in layers. Now midsummer in the middle of a sunny afternoon, I was tan and, having been working out religiously, feeling as fit and attractive as I had at any point in my life.

She on the other hand looked…average.

Did I feel momentarily vindicated for whatever brief pain my ego had endured upon being dismissed so casually? Sure. But mostly I was just puzzled I’d been so enamored with her in the first place.

Then I felt kind of sorry for her. She was 2011 Ryan Howard in the corner of the screen, crumpling to the ground in agony while Cardinals players celebrated. I felt sorry for her, but was glad I’d won the game.

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But the fact remains that once I had decided to never again place somebody else in the driver’s seat on my road towards self-acceptance, I set into motion a future of more promising prospects.

**

When Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – the glitzy, pretentious, oozing with envy-inducing talent, glamour and capital Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; an intoxicating ideal of offensive perfection incarnated complete with that New Car smell – I was stunned.

The thing about getting dumped is that you are forced to entertain the fact you may not be as desirable as you imagined yourself to be with the help of a person you very much trusted. That smarts, I don’t care who you are. And we proud and faithful fans of the home team got dumped, plain and simple.

Pujols going 1 for 11 in the series against the visiting, first place Cardinals was a Bread Co. moment.

Lately, the Great Albert Pujols looks…average.

That we as fans of the Saint Louis Cardinals enjoyed the best of this phenomenal, far-from-average athlete’s brilliance for over a decade while Los Angeles now boasts the most overpaid DH in the history of humanity has been beaten to death. The team’s success since Pujols’ departure further validates that it was us who came out on the winning end of the divorce. But there are still a huge number of “best fans in baseball” representatives bashing the guy which no longer makes any sense to me whatsoever.

Grown men behaving like lovers scorned in a relationship of any kind no longer makes any sense to me whatsoever.

I am neither advocating for, nor admonishing Albert Pujols for taking an enviable amount of money to skip town. Whatever insincere lip service he paid us as he played like a man possessed to our delight…we should be embarrassed for taking any of that seriously to begin with. He’s a professional public figure. But why any grown man would still be taking personally the actions of another man nearly two years later and a thousand miles away is, in my amateur opinion, borderline homoerotic.

Let me be clear: if you think I am suggesting that one man’s inexplicable emotional fixation upon another man, be it Albert Pujols or otherwise, could be an indication of deeper psychological issues, including potentially one’s unwillingness to accept their own dormant homosexual desires, that is exactly what I am saying.

Like women that ditch us for reasons we cannot understand, and other public figures that fail to fit the ideals we choose for them to adopt, every adult has every right to do whatever he or she wants and to reap those consequences. Good, bad or indifferent.

The moment he resigned himself from the bondage of Cardinal Nation via the expiration of his professional contract, from that day forward, Pujols owed Cardinal Nation nothing.

NOTHING.

We owe it to ourselves to remember that our debt to others who no longer value our companionship or involvement in their lives is the same.

Nothing.

This is as much about being a man as it is being a baseball fan and it all boils down to a very valuable, very important philosophical virtue, which is living in the present moment.

In the past lives our regrets, mistakes and other baggage. In the future, our fears and insecurities. In the present, whether eating meal, washing dishes or enjoying a baseball contest, ideally, there is only the unwavering focus upon the task at hand.

Which is the very thing that made Albert Pujols so goddamn fun to watch.

When he uncoiled on a nasty, two-strike slider for a double to the gap…when he got brushed back by a fastball high and tight only to lock in on the next pitch for a bomb – which he seemed to do remarkably often – it was more than just extraordinary baseball. It was the very method of living towards which we should all aspire.

And maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s that, regardless of the win/loss column, we fear never being able to witness such a thing so regularly ever again, and so use anger and angst to cope. Extraordinary individuals like Pujols are vessels of brilliance…evidence of the greatness we painstakingly seek within ourselves. Personally, I believe that is what draws us towards sports and the arts to begin with.

Maybe it is time for us to look as deeply into our own worlds to find some of that shit.

Or, perhaps bitching on Twitter and radio programs and creating mock #5 jerseys with duct tape is all the creative energy your sad little soul can muster. Either way, contrary to your belief that a ballplayer’s peace of mind is solely attached to his batting average with RISP, AP is doing just fine.

The girl from the grocery store…probably also doing just fine.

Maybe we should all be doing just fine.

Good luck, AP.

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was posted via InsideSTL.com in January of 2013 and now being added to the archives

It’s the second week of January. Have you failed yet? Has your will relented to the gentle, persistent persuasion of your silver-tongued mind? Have you allowed yourself a puff, a drink, a bite, an extra day away from the gym? Can you feel the excitement and novelty of your annual resolve fading to reveal failure that is all too familiar?

Don’t worry. Justification rides shotgun by default. It will be there to stroke your bruised ego and relieve you of guilt with its standard mechanical responses, just as it has in the past.

It’s not the right time…I’m too stressed…I’m not ready

And my personal favorite, it just wasn’t meant to be.

This “meant to be” shit has got to stop.  Along with its contemporary cousin, it is what it is…at least in reference to anything more meaningful than the weather.

I digress.

I say “mechanical” because these responses are beyond predictable…they’re automated. As complex as the mind is in so many ways, overall there is a simplicity to most psychological processes. So when after several months of prepping yourself for a change of habit…after convincing yourself that on such-and-such a date you are finally going to begin creating a person you will like more than the person you currently are, you fail and the realization sets in that you must accept being no better than you were when you hated yourself, your mind gets to work defending your inaction.

It is a necessary defense mechanism, really. After all, life goes on and there will be another benchmark date to effect the change you seek.

The right time…when you’re not so stressed…when you’re ready…when it’s meant to be

Right? Fucking hippy?

A friend and I often laugh about our personal afflictions with money. We earn about the same amount and neither of us is an extremist in any particular direction, but he is more “penny saved is a penny earned” by default and I am definitely more “you can’t take it with you”.

One day he explained his fundamental fear that he not have it when he needs it, to which I jokingly replied that mine is I would die before I spend it.

While banks benefiting from interest earned on our dime would have us believe thinking long-term is always most prudent, I’m not convinced. Sure, a degree of preparation is essential, especially when others are counting on you. But acknowledging that another moment on this earth is hardly guaranteed is something most people refuse to do.

That pesky ego…it yearns for immortality. It dismisses any evidence of our impermanence with a vengeance. This is a fear-based motivation that religion has fed upon since dirt was on fire, and it is the voice you hear when you fall short and feel guilty about it. It is the internal whisper, vindicating procrastination, assuring you that there is plenty of time before you get cancer…a heart attack…gain another 30 pounds of pure, delicious fat. It reasons with you that none of that stuff will probably happen to you anyway. It is the reason I have not written my first book and struggle with more than an occasional Black N’ Mild.

They’re not even good cigars for shit’s sake.

Indeed, your ego is one arrogant, clever son of a bitch. But I have something important to share with you that, with all its savvy and good intent your ego does not want you to believe. If you will be so brave as to take a few deep breaths, push it aside and find that elusive quiet, calm state of mind that is so fleeting in our busy lives, it is a message that will change the way you live your life for better and for good:

You are going to die.

You are all going to die. I am going to die, too. Some of us might even be dying sooner than we think, sooner than is fair to our ambitions and loved ones. But, sooner or later, we die.

Before you call me out for stating the obvious, ask yourselves: have you accepted this simple truth? How many people do you know who clearly, truly believe and understand this?

It’s scary shit, no doubt. Though your faith (or lack of ideology for that matter) may bring you a degree of comfort, death is the ultimate unknown, and therefore the ultimate fear and a terrifying threat to the ego’s need for permanence.

But you must soak it in, in order to appreciate the evanescent nature of life. Every truly great and truly despised person in human history…religious, agnostics and atheists alike…brave men and women and heroes who served others with their last breath…weaker, more pathetic souls who panicked and shook…at the end of the day they all died just the same. And in a manner that at least at this moment is still to be determined, so will you.

This is not about what you believe does or does not happen on the other side. This is about life, right here and right now being all that we have. Acknowledging that when death does pull your card, which it will without the shadow of a doubt, the opportunity to procrastinate goes with it. 

That’s the thing. You have no time. None of us do. Time is an illusion. It is a measurement system we concocted using planetary patterns in an attempt to wrap our brains around day-to-day activities. Activities many of us have become so disenchanted with that we find ourselves adopting lesser ones out of boredom and self-loathing.

Habitually.

The single act is not the problem. The habit is the problem.

And so you designate a day to begin anew. A “special” day. A new era in your brief existence. A New Year. But the even more temporary period of discomfort that accompanies that change is simply too much right now. Which boils down to a false lack of a sense of urgency, provided by your well-meaning but severely mistaken ego; your inner dialogue, whose sole purpose is to alleviate pain and discomfort, emotionally and physically. Which, ironically, founds its logic in the present at the expense of a future it believes goes on into forever.

But then one day you die. Your loved ones aren’t likely to dwell upon your selfishness or weakness, for we all dwell in this glass house together.  Flawed, sinful, blemished…however you choose to identify our human condition. But we die, nonetheless. Guilt-ridden at best; painfully, sickly or tragically at worst. Our legacy, well, is what it is.

Or we change.

We do everything in our power to alleviate the guilt that resides at the heart of our desire to transform our will and we feel fucking fantastic as a result. We smile in the face of the reaper, in the face of the unknown, and live rich, healthy lives because having found lasting peace in life, death isn’t so disturbing.

Happy New Year.

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was posted via InsideSTL.com in January of 2013 and then removed from the site. I was told that an NRA card carrying advertiser was greatly offended (and also that they only read half of the article). So, I am posting this because, fuck that guy and their shitty chicken wings. It’s a good article.

The Sandy Hook shooting hit me hard. The least of our parental concerns should be sending our children off to school. Ask my little girl, “What’s daddy’s number one job?” and she will reply without hesitation, “To keep me safe.”

I have reminded her of this since she was a toddler. I want her to feel as secure in this world as possible. It also helps reinforce my credibility when explaining or instructing her in other precarious subjects that she does not understand. This goes beyond crossing the street and speaking to strangers; the strategy helps me explain confusing nutritional practices and an adherence to age-appropriate music, movies, etc.

She also knows that if an individual were to pose anykind of physical threat to either of us, Daddy is going to handle it. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but she has witnessed my paternal rage on a few occasions.

This is the cross a father bears. That she feels safe is enough for me to carry cynicism and distrust in my heart. The luxury of ignorance enjoyed by those who smile gregariously at passersby and assume the best of everyone is not an option for me. If my daughter is by my side at the grocery store or gas station and you are in close proximity I am probably sizing you up.

The fact that our eyes are centered upon our faces in a frontward manner is proof of our inherently violent nature. We are born hunters. Men embody these physiological and psychological attributes to a greater degree than women, but even my sweet little vegetarian sister would protect her three small children with her life and at the expense of yours without hesitation. Survive her and you get her husband…a Special Forces soldier.

We come full circle to the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Let’s take a look at the etymology behind this provision:

Bookended between “well regulated” and “shall not be infringed” resides that which most hold to be the meat of the amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear” that which is identified simply as “Arms”.

Okay, let’s not. That may be the most ambiguous piece of legislation in our nation’s history. It is also worth noting for the fine conservative patriots who view all things related to the Constitution sacrosanct and impervious to debate that the Bill of Rights originally excluded anyone not white, wielding a penis and owning property. This means that, as a renter, my pasty ass would not have been protected. Furthermore, it was implemented in the late 1700’s, a time when an infant democracy was being born via a tyrannical Great Britain.

The premise that a society must guard itself against the threat of its government using its own arms against them is viable. It has happened. In other parts of the world it continues to happen. Is it likely to happen in modern-day America? No. But I understand and agree with the premise.

The notion that gun restrictions, and/or removing full-blown assault weapons from the hands of criminals and psychopaths would solve many acts of violence in this country is honorable and rooted in good intention. Not only is this premise viable, but the reason for doing so gets no more real than dead 1st graders in a normally peaceful Connecticut community. Is it likely to happen again? Yes. Gun violence is so prevalent in America that we barely even acknowledge it unless it occurs in an extraordinarily extreme manner. This is the case in few if any other “civilized” parts of the world. Therefore, I wholeheartedly agree with this premise.

And so I write this from the rational middle. I am an advocate of the good guys exercising their right to keep and bear arms, to protect themselves, and others, from the bad guys (and the so-called good guys) and the right to protect our children. I am generally untrusting of government and the idea of some kind of uprising or revolt does not seem so farfetched to me either, so I even hold a certain level of respect for arguments made by conservative alarmists like this fucking cracker:
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And as batshit as this guy may seem, I do not fear guys like him. Partly because I am certain I would hear them coming. But also because, politics aside, we would both merrily throw copper at movie theatre gunman James Holmes.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter.

There is no solution to a sociopath whom while in the midst of functioning in society becomes bent on killing innocent, defenseless people without rational purpose or regard, but restricting the availability of guns to them is a good start. If you find yourself unable to acknowledge this simple truth your priorities are completely fucked.

Since many of you that I just offended are card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association, let me go all-in and add that we should not be letting an organization considered to be the most powerful (see financially-backed) lobbyist group fluffing the Congress to hold such sway over lawmakers. They are interested in the profitability of the industry, not public safety.

And let’s push government conspiracy aside for a moment and focus on exactly that for now. If Obama suddenly decides to push tanks down Market Street, your AR-15 with the laser scope was not likely to save you anyway.

Still concerned you won’t be able to purchase a gun if and when you need to? Please. Relax. In fact, here’s a hooker and some controlled substances to help calm your nerves, compliments of Craigslist.

Let me be clear: if the government has guns, we should have them as well. I don’t care if we are talking about a .22 caliber more likely to do damage via pistol whipping, or a rocket launcher. Civilians have the right to own them or Uncle Sam should go weaponless as well. Everybody can learn karate or some shit. But if our elected officials cannot render a peaceful determination as to the criteria that must be met in order to obtain firearms, especially those capable of mass murder within seconds, then our nation, its precious constitution and those elected to political office, all of it…a joke. Similarly to operating a vehicle, there are people who have lost the privilege and others who just shouldn’t be able to drive to begin with. No gun measure taken could be much worse than the DMV.

Maybe our collective mental condition is a much bigger problem that we allow ourselves to believe. You cannot deny the inordinate amount of violence in this country. We practically celebrate it. Coupled with the ever-increasing disparity between the rich and the poor and the withering of religion as a means of ethical guideposts (which even as an agnostic I feel is unfortunate in many ways), access to weapons is a ticking time bomb. Even without them…an inmate will sharpen bread crust into a prison shank if need be.

The real enemy is mental illness. Does anyone really see that getting solved with more assault rifles?

When my daughter tells me what she doesn’t want for dinner I reply that she needs to give me solutions, not problems. Those whose only concern is their “right to bear arms” with no “regulation” and having nothing to do with any kind of organized “militia”, they sound like bratty children. Selfish, spoiled and shortsighted. Many of them have not read the amendment in its entirety – hell, neither had I  and more still have not taken the time to thoughtfully consider it.

Contrary to the NRA’s sensationalism and perversion of real issues into, not a threat against the well-being of our children, schools and freedom from fear, but a threat against gun sales, the President took steps in a positive direction. The “If someone tries to take my guns I’ll kill ‘em!” response is not applicable, as nobody has attempted to do so. The Barack bashing and extremist paranoia – other forms of mental illness – need to stop.

So long as our real governing bodies are fear, greed and ego, it will not.

Another J. Adams, founding father and our second President said it best, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Maybe there is no solution. Maybe we’re fucked. Maybe a revolution is inevitable.

Guess you’d better pass me a bread crust.

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was my last column written for publishing via InsideSTL.com. It was scheduled to be posted on August 17th, 2013. The column was refused by website ownership/editors due to its controversial nature and, presumably, its potential impact on advertisers. Fucking lame, I know. I have not written for the site since. However, given the current state of unrest in regards to racism, especially in the Saint Louis/Ferguson community, I felt it important to awaken this sleeping dog and let it run free. The views expressed are mine alone and, obviously, IN NO WAY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF INSIDESTL.COM OR ANY OF ITS EMPLOYEES. However, I ask that you read the column in its entirety before casting judgement, as I believe this type of open and explicit dialogue is essential to lasting peace and the abolishment of tribalism in its many outdated forms. One love, sincerely. Enjoy.

—  


Listen up, my niggas and honkies. It’s time to talk racism.

I can say that because everybody knows blacks don’t visit InsideSTL.com any more than they do site advertiser Hotshots Bar & Grill.

I kid.

It seems like every few years a judge is suddenly charged with, not only delivering a verdict on a particular case, but deciding once and for all whether racism is alive and well in these freedom-gloating United States of America. The case of George Zimmerman and deceased Trayvon Martin thrust it back into mainstream consciousness and the absurdly reactive masses jumped into the fray via their hardly transparent puppet strings.

To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to the case. From the very beginning I felt at odds with the conversation. My first thought when racial tension began to slide into the fold was that the only thing white about the suspect was the name under his mug shot. Now, I ain’t pass the bar, but I know a little bit (Jay-Z reference…street cred…holla.) and as the case went on I wondered why the charge wasn’t manslaughter, as that seemed more appropriate from my lens of limited interest and information.

The most offensive part of the whole thing is obviously that a 17-year-old boy died an unnecessary and violent death. It hit me when a friend with police contacts showed me a picture of his body lying motionless on the ground, facial expression suspended in those final dramatic moments of his young life.

17 years old.

I think back on the “man” I was at 17 – how immature and foolish I was and all of the stupity I was fortunate to survive and/or get away with – and I become humbled and grief stricken. I realize that such an age exists within a gray area regarding accountability, but if you know anyone, particularly male, who is 17 years old, I am certain you will agree that, as a rule, the age does not qualify as “mature”. Most would also agree that any crime against a child is unequalled in terribleness and punishment is crucial.

The justice system failed in this case, but not for the reasons many are arguing. George Zimmerman killed a boy and that is abhorrent, with or without fabricated subplots. A message should have been sent.

I’m not saying there is no reason to debate the prevalence of racism in our country. I am saying this particular case was a poor platform for it.

In fact, I believe racism to be thriving in this country and I have no desire to contest the fact. Quite the contrary, I think it is time to accept it, and move on.

That’s right. I believe the biggest propellant of racism is not racism itself, but the constant referencing of it in the form of accusation, theory and debate. It’s far from theory…it’s fact.

The other issue is that as a society we are not even sure what constitutes “racism” anymore. Or, perhaps more importantly, to what degree we are allowed to reference racial and cultural patterns. But make no mistake, we all judge early and often. And, in many cases, accurately so.

Saint Louis is hugely segregated geographically and that did not happen overnight. It happened because Caucasians did what Caucasians did and oppressed any and every threat to their pathetic sense of superiority, driving certain people into certain areas with certain and dishonorable intent. They did this for a very, very long time.

I say “they” because those Caucasians are not the vast majority of today’s Caucasians.

As most of you north of Crystal City know, laws eventually changed and improvements were made, but African-Americans and other minorities are not as far removed from disgusting acts of prejudice as many white people wish to believe. Many blacks still fight civil liberty battles in their communities and workplaces, and many neighborhoods remain in shambles because of relentless admonishment, regardless of paper legislation.

Many whites berate blighted areas for a lack of progress in what they arrogantly assign yo be a “level playing field” from sea to shining sea. The worst of this in my opinion comes from conservative, affluent whites that preach, “if they (read: poor people of minority descent) would just pull themselves up by their bootstraps like…”

Like who, pretentious fuckers?

Let me tell you something: if your entire multi-century lineage on this continent was marked with – literally – physical and mental abuse along with near constant persecution up until the most recent 40 or 50 years at best, where pray tell would you, your family, your community be?

Shut the fuck up and get your dog another sweater. Ivory towers get drafty at night.

This is why my basic position on racism is that black people and other minorities have every right to develop trust in what I hope is a collective lack of offensive racism by white folks at their own pace. End of discussion. And white people would be best served to let it happen. Doubt, distrust and disenchantment are the fruits of bigotry and oppression. Centuries of it assures a long road to recovery.

That being said, my friends of a darker shade, if you are truly most concerned with equality and ending the bigotry that plagues this country, it is in your best interest to let some shit slide and pipe down as well. Do not perpetuate the debate! Continue to nullify it with actions contradictory to whatever perceptions soil the truth. And when some ignorant cracker pops off with his nonsense, recognize that it is not a testament to our opinion as a whole.

Unless it’s the fried chicken thing, or your collective fear of German Shepherds and swimming pools, which seems to be entirely accurate.

Jokes aside, assuming one jackass columnist, or one judge and jury, or even a particular community speaks for or represents the rest of us makes you just as racist as them.

Case in point, it is 2013 and I have no idea what the reaction will be to my use of the slang term “nigga” in this column. Will black people be angry? What about “spics” and “chinks”? What will they think? Is “nigga” okay but “nigger” not?

“Spics”…like my Venezuelan girlfriend and her family? “Chinks”…like the physician I trust with the health of my “cracker” kid? “Niggers”…like some of my closest friends?

I sincerely have no problem accepting any minority’s initial assumption that any particular white person is racist. Right or wrong, if that is the pattern they have observed then so be it. It would be difficult for me to doubt having known so many in my 33 years of whiteness. But I also have no problem with some white people shitting their pants when their Subaru breaks down off Goodfellow. Many predominantly black areas aren’t doing themselves any favors in regards to stereotypes.

Bottom line, intelligence is little more than the recognition of patterns via personal experience, and I am of the belief that one’s survival is largely predicated by one’s ability to recognize patterns intelligently. However, if 90 out of 100 of any particular race you come across prove to be kind if not decent human beings, then by virtue of intelligence – the recognition of patterns – you must acknowledge that any and all particular races are, as a rule, good…aight…bueno…好…whatever.

In my experience, that 90/10 rule is indeed the case.

Sure, every culture has its quirks and idiosyncrasies. Black women for example are clearly awful drivers. I am not even sure I can call them “drivers” because they seldom seem to be only driving. But they are certainly no worse than snooty, middle-age white women in enormous SUV’s. As a motorcyclist, both terrify me equally.

Eastern Indian people are way smarter than most all of us midwestern hicks, or at least their accent creates the illusion of it, which they seem to take full advantage. In any case, they are smart enough to know they are making the break room reek of curry daily and it annoys the rest of the IT department.

Japanese people in the service industry are so nice that I don’t know how to act in sushi restaurants. It’s borderline offensive. I can’t tell if they’re fucking with me or not. I find myself saying “thank you” more than any paying customer should. But I can’t help it. My understanding is that your men have extremely small penises so it seems like the right thing to do.

And Mexicans don’t put a goddamn song in rotation without a trumpet being involved. Is that the only horn you could fit into the Astro Van without injuring a member of the 32-person, Roman-Catholic family inside of it?

In the name of Mother Mary, enough with the fucking trumpets.

I will never understand why some of these commonalities exist anymore than I can understand how “my people” can be such square, cowardly, self-righteous, non-dancing assholes. But I enjoy the jokes because I deem laughter to be good. And I deem people to be good, even if a seemingly endless supply of individuals represent exceptions.

Hell, one of my black friends was just telling me about an African cab driver slighting him in favor of a white fare. An African profiling an African-American! What kind of shit is that? Then again, if in his personal experience the white fare was the better chance at a safe, lucrative fare, I suppose that is up to him.

Just like it is your right to believe whatever you wish or to be governed by ignorance. But the fact remains: arguing racism encourages others to justify it, which spreads it. And arguing that another race is racist is racist…and a hypocritical.

Racism will only become a nonfactor when people stop generalizing instances they believe it is prevalent. We’re human beings, not different species. Ultimately, perhaps we just all need to stop being so fucking dramatic.

And there you have it. So easy drunk Native Americans and Polacks can understand it.

Now go out there and spread love the exact opposite way Jews spread wealth…with everyone.

It is said that one is better off avoiding the discussion of sex, religion and politics in certain environments.

Sounds like a pretty shitty office party to me.

Personally, I like to hit on these subjects as often as possible. Sometimes I like to see if I can generate a spirited debate involving all three at once. Often times I am “successful” in this and find myself offending and/or alienating friends, family and strangers alike. Obviously, this is not ideal, but I accept it. Still, it leaves me to wonder when, and perhaps more importantly how we all became so damn sensitive. 

God forbid you suggest Christianity be removed as a staple of American democracy to a patron of the church. For shame you would boycott a fast food chain, or support it for that matter, for their position on gay marriage. And any philosophy advocating the distribution of any portion of our nation’s unmatched wealth with those less fortunate…well, that’s just socialism, bro. And you should be probably be lynched for suggesting it. 

Of course, these all pale in comparison to the unfalteringly consistent and utterly useless pseudo-replies from those “exhausted” with the self-expression of others via social media.

You know what I’m talking about… 

“OMG. I’m so sick of people commenting/tweeting about (insert subject). Enough already.”

and

“I really wish I knew your opinion on (insert subject), said no one ever.”

Perfect. Tip of the cap for putting the “wit” in “Twitter”. Rather than engage in in-depth conversation or simply ignore it in favor of a more productive activity, you hit others with unsolicited mockery, denying us of what I am sure is an immense wealth of knowledge on the topic.  

How long did we tolerate your Farmville obsession again? 

The reality is that our individual position, no matter how powerfully we may feel about it, is far less important than how we react to those who feel differently. Furthermore, the intolerance of the opinions of others does nothing but more deeply entrench our adversaries in their cause.

The real issue here is that many citizens within our great nation shine soft, insecure, uneducated, highly-impressionable and hyper-sensitive when controversial subjects are broached. The ease with which we are able to access information and the interconnectedness created through modern methods of communication, both of which should bring us closer and towards a greater collective empathy have, regrettably, amplified our collective ignorance. People without knowledge or the conviction required for debate yearn to disagree, to validate their position and identity and often end up the loudest voices of all. Meanwhile, those better equipped to articulate their point lose interest in drawing with crayon. 

Look, I get it. Many of us are passionate about our beliefs and the masturbation of one’s ego does indeed feel good. But passion not preceded with investigation and an open mind is not passion at all. Your so-called argument becomes nothing but loud, regurgitated hype. You become the Flava Flav of political discourse. That is, if Flava Flav were both surrounded and preceded by a thousand other Flava Flavs. Deep down (actually, probably not that far beneath the surface at all) we know this and we feel guilt, which makes us quick to become defensive and overly sensitive. Especially online. We morph into cyber pussies shrouded in a translucent layer of internet tough-guy and inevitably reveal our inner idiots. We become “Pussidiocrats”, if you will. 

Those of us secure and intelligent enough to engage in actual intellectual confrontation are tired of it.

In no way do I claim to be South City’s James Carville. As a matter of fact, I am pretty green to the world of politics. But I enjoy a good mental dust-up as much as anyone I know and as long as your expression of your beliefs does not impact me in some extremely personal way, I am not going to take it personally…or even that seriously. I will take it into consideration, however, because I care more about having the greatest possible understanding than I do instant and fleeting ego-gratification. What I have noticed is that when many seemingly intelligent sparing partners become frustrated or painted into a corner, they just get mad and defensive and the discussion becomes more juvenile than it should. I’ve been guilty of this myself. I imagine we all have. 

Example: I recently stated in a Facebook post that if you are voting Republican solely because Mommy and Daddy voted Republican, then you are an idiot who, for the greater good should probably not vote at all. I also offered that the only reason the statement was directed at Republicans was that they were the only ones I had literally heard this offered up as a reason for voting the party. One response I received from a friend said that it was in fact I who was the idiot for suggesting that anyone not vote at all.

Rock the Vote. Fine. Whatevs. 

A feed manifested and I apparently struck a nerve with some individuals who were probably less informed than they would like to be. In fairness, aren’t we all less informed than we would like to be? I know I am. Which is why I try to remain openminded. The fact that not one Republican friend agreed with me seemed odd. The conversation eventually took a turn towards my abhorrence of religion in government and things got even more ridiculous. Next thing I know I am being told that I hate God and those who believe in a god.

All this stemming from an opinion…a statement suggesting that uneducated voters not vote.

Jesus.

I can only assume that whomever the individual was that stated sex, religion and politics should remain taboo had a wisdom that I do not possess. He or she clearly understood that most individuals are too insecure for debate. He or she probably also identified it as a waste of their time. This column itself…probably also a waste of time.

But I can’t resist. I love all things polarizing because I believe they offer the most efficient path towards personal and communal growth. 

Which is why those of us with the balls and the brains to drop educated knowledge must continue to be more vocal than those who have nothing but high-speed internet access…aka the Pussidocrats.  

But I’ll acknowledge that there should be some guidelines. If we’re all guilty of the same egomaniacal shortcomings to one degree or another, it is in our best interest to have some guidelines.

So, in the spirit of sacred unmentionables, I give you the 10 Commandments of Political Discussion and Debate.  

1. Thou Shall Have No Higher Purpose Than The Truth. There is a fine line between being steadfast in your belief(s) and being shamelessly loyal to your own narrow-minded  dogma. An open mind is a sign of integrity and when changed is not necessarily a declaration of defeat. It is merely the opportunity to more closely align yourself with the truth, which should outweigh your ego’s need to be “right”. 

2. Thou Shall Not Make For Yourself A Carved Believe System. At least not one of stone. It should be more like a bar of soap. Residing in any one set of beliefs by default is not only foolish but boring. Contrary to religious figureheads, there is no singular formula for ethical perfection, and even the most fixed items in the natural world are changing before our eyes. To quote a favorite Buddhist proverb, “The bamboo which bends is stronger than the oak which resists.” 

3. Thou Shall Not Make Ignorant Ass Arguments In Vain. I also recently posted an image that listed some of the retarded shit GOP reps have recently said in regards to rape. I posted it without comment for the most part…kind of felt the quotes spoke for themselves. But at least one person had the audacity to suggest they were being taken out of context and that it was just more Democrat propaganda designed to pick up sympathy votes. After all, who do rape victims think they are, wanting sympathy and crap?  

Regardless of which direction you lean, sometimes your guy just fucks up. Own it and move on if you see it fit to do so, but some shit is indefensible. That a female body has magic ways to shut down reproduction in the event of rape-induced pregnancy for example is clearly beyond ignorant; it’s horrifying. It is an example of an instance where you have no choice but to acknowledge your guy is a moron. At least in regards to the matter at hand. 

4. Remember The Present Day, To Keep It Holy. Things that held true for you in the past may not hold true for you in the future. To assume that your position is not subject to change is self-defeating and the worst kind of arrogance. I will most likely continue to be socially liberal. Though as I get older and hopefully continue to accumulate wealth, maybe I’ll become more fiscally conservative…who knows? But pigeonholing your beliefs only leads to a more lengthy maturation process.  

5. Honor Your Mother And Your Father But Make Up Your Own Mind. You did not choose to whom you were born. And you will most certainly take much of your upbringing into adulthood, for better or worse. But challenge your indoctrination from time to time. Hopefully, your parents gave you a solid foundation. But more importantly, they hopefully gave you the confidence to figure a few things out on your own. My parents made plenty of mistakes, but I can tell you one thing: they didn’t raise a doormat. 

6. Thou Shall Not Murder A Dead Horse. It is a blessing and a curse that we exist in an era that it is so easy to blast our position all over the social landscape like bukkake. Don’t beat a dead horse. Especially if it is clear that you have won the argument. If you know you have won the argument and your opponent is still fighting the good fight, you weren’t going to convince them anyway. At a certain point, let it go.

7. Thou Shall Not Commit Argument Adultery. I doubt I am the only one who has watched as someone adjusted their beliefs to better fit the company they kept. And double-shame on you if you stood witness to it and said nothing. This makes you as much of a little bitch as them.     

8. Thou Shall Not Steal The Beliefs And Arguments Of Others And Use Them As Your Own. Draw from the input of others, obviously, but formulate an opinion of your own based upon your experience and the most updated facts you can uncover. There is more information available to you than ever before in human history. Use it or stick to the topics you know.    

9. Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness Against…well, anything. Or anyone. In my own naivety I often forget about dishonesty. I suppose that because being forthright comes so naturally to me it often slips my mind that someone might make shit up just to win an argument. Lying, at least about most things, baffles me. For some people I think it may truly be a mental illness. Avoid mental illness when possible.  

10. Thou Shall Not Covet Donkeys And Elephants. People just love to adopt an identity. They fucking love it. It helps them to forget the parts of themselves that they hate, at least temporarily. Or until a more appealing identity becomes available. Is there a more effective way to cloud one’s judgment than to endorse a group’s beliefs in their generalized entirety? Do I lean to the left? Absolutely. I also endorse the right to bear arms, as well as the notion those receiving welfare aid should be drug-tested. Want to have a discussion about a direction our homeland should take? Cool. Using a political party to define yourself? Wack. 

Which brings us to the Golden Rule of talking politics: The moment you discover a conversation has less to do with the subject than the person debating it, walk away. 

Even if that person is you. 

There are places you go to drink and enjoy live music that require you check their website beforehand to see who is playing. Broadway Oyster Bar is not one of them.

You just go.

You wake up one absurdly nice March morning, run a few errands with your favorite Pandora station cued up and almost suspiciously serving your favorite tracks with little ad interruption…you do a little yard work…you realize it is a perfect night for Broadway Oyster Bar. You call a close friend you have known since high school, one who after so many years of good times and laughs you know will be able to comfortably relax with you into the ambiance of the event, and you go.

You just go. Because you know the place you are heading will deliver.

Broadway Oyster Bar delivers.

Ironically, I had been there many times before I ever sampled the oysters. I’m not really into oysters. They remind me of snot. That is until you cover them with garlic and butter and parmesan cheese and grill those sons of bitches, which Broadway Oyster Bar does with precision.

Whether their oysters are an aphrodisiac, I cannot say. I have been too busy enjoying the refreshingly balanced ratio of women to men. In fact, the first time I sampled their signature dish, a girl I had met that night convinced me to give them a try and showed me how to slurp them properly.

Later that night she introduced me to a bottle of wine I also had not tasted before. At her place.

Oysters may be an aphrodisiac.

There always seems to be attractive women there. And not the insecure, uppity women that flock from Washington Avenue club to Washington Avenue club with lips puckered in contempt even tighter than their buttholes. Generally speaking, the women who frequent Broadway Oyster Bar will actually smile back at you. Appears to come from a mutual appreciation of our collective humanity or something.Baffling, I know.

While I have never met the person or people who own the place, or even those who manage the place, what is clear is that someone there is doing something right.

Saturday night was no exception. My friend and I arrived a little after 10 o’clock, about the same time the band Big Brother Thunder & the Master Blasters took the patio stage. Theirs was a high-energy act with a Prohibition, speakeasy type flare…funky, soulful brass instrumentals with sexy, playful lead vocals in a delicate red dress.

Flawlessly tangled between their sets were the talents of one DJ Mahf. If you have not bared witness to the stylings of Dan Mahfood – mix master behind local hip-hop group Earthworms – you probably don’t get out much. The dude is simply a staple of the local music scene; a true artist in every sense of the word and one hell of a nice guy.

Frankly, if you find yourself at a venue with him operating the turntables and people are not bobbing their heads in accordance, leave immediately and begin stocking your pantry with batteries and potable water: the zombie apocalypse has begun.

Big Brother Thunder & the Master Blasters, on the other hand, I had not heard of them prior to Saturday, yet I enjoyed them just the same.

This is why Broadway Oyster Bar is a success. All aspects of the operation are evenly and tastefully distributed in such a way that it would be difficult to leave dissatisfied.

Everywhere you look, the place is accented in a kind of raw, artistic fashion. Oyster shells garnish the mural on the wall to your left as you enter the outside bar and are also used in the landscaping as one might use loose rock. Christmas lights add to the festive atmosphere without giving it the feel of a college dormitory. Even the cramped, mosaic-mirrored restrooms are somehow endearing.

Somewhere Jimmy Buffet eats a cheeseburger and is pleased by all of this.

Baseball season is now right around the bend and preludes the immediate and oft-unjustifiable patronage of bars and restaurants neighboring Busch Stadium. In droves we will head south to the cavernous warehouse that is Paddy O’s to loiter with fellow fans and north to Shannon’s Outfield where we will tolerate the awful playlists of Curt Copeland and Z107. Both will honor our patronage with outrageous drink prices and an indifferent staff.

That’s not a shot; it’s just the nature of the beast. There is no doubt a time and a state of mind suitable for such environments. I’ve had great times at both.

But just yards away in distance and miles apart in value, Broadway Oyster Bar waits coolly with fair prices and the aesthetic appeal of a place that has weathered time. It is a place you can count on to provide a vibrant and diverse scene, unpredictable but good music, and arguably the best Cajun-Creole fare in the city.

They have been around for over 30 years already. I’ll never forget attempting to tell my dad about the place and discovering that he knew more about it than I did.

Oh, and the best part about Saturday night? My bar tab was $18.

Eighteen dollars, y’all.

Certified.