Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 21

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Chloe Cooper Jones wrote an article for The Verge chronicling the post-fame life of Ramsey Orta. Ramsey Orta was briefly famous in 2014, though not for the type of things most people get famous over. He was the man who filmed a cop choking Eric Garner to death in New York City.

I don’t want to spend too much time summarizing Jones’s article – mostly because she tells Orta’s story better than I can – but to give a quick run-down, Orta was trailed by cops, harassed, and eventually arrested on maybe-propped-up-but-definitely-exagerrated gun charges after coming forward with the film. He’s still in prison. He’s got anxiety. He’s got a checkered past – he once held a knife to a kid’s throat in junior high – and he admits it. At prison, they tried feeding him rat poison. He didn’t eat it. Now they destroy any food his family sends him so that he has to eat what they serve.

Here’s what I want to talk about: democracy. On paper, we live in a country that is by and for the people. We have a right to vote, a right to elect. We can choose whether or not to exercise that right, but regardless of our choice, we are all beholden to the (popular) outcome. Of course, nothing’s perfect, and some peoples’ voices don’t sound quite as loud as others – there’s whole textbooks full of laws to ensure we have uneven representation. But still, a vote’s a vote, and your vote does have power. This is what we, as a country, have voted for: feeding a man rat poison for trying to save his friend.

There was some commotion across the street from the bank today. Someone reported gunshots, someone else said there was an accident. On the way to lunch, I saw three cop cars and one ambulance by a bus stop. The cops were talking to a black man. Another black man was watching some distance away. I tried to get a good read on the situation – no guns were out, no one was dead or dying. I decided not to stop. When I passed back the same way after lunch, the cops were still out there with the black man. He was wearing red. He had a baseball cap.

I didn’t do anything. My thought was – this seems safe; no-one’s on the ground; everything’s fine. And maybe it was. Or, maybe they’ll arrest him for whatever reason – good or bad – and cart him off to a cell where they stomp on his ramen and put rat pellets in his meatloaf. Who knows?

The point is, I’m responsible. Good or bad, freedom or tyranny, you and I are responsible. Every man or woman that’s beaten, abused, or murdered by government action is blood on your hands. In very limited cases, that blood might be justified. But look in the eyes of Ramsey Orta and tell me – are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure?

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED! 

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Paranoia and fear form their own prison, one Orta is likely to live in for the rest of his life.
Do you wish you could go back and do it differently? Not take the video?
I’d waited a year, known him a year, before I asked this question. He looks away from me and lowers his head.
Finally he says, “What does it matter?”

Chloe Cooper Jones, Fearing for His Life, published March 13th 2019 on The Verge


Coffee Log, Day 225

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

Friday pushes hard brakes. The week smashes the median and things fly out: stress, joy, muddles, that clean feeling of starting something new. Now there’s just the curb and the smoking engine. It’s a busy road but no-one’s stopping. All the other cars have their own wrecks to meet.

I’m working tomorrow. I’m also driving home. I’m also, surely, going to be glued to the news, both at work and at home, to see the country put on it’s best dress as it swears in 30-40 more years of patriarchy. People will gnash teeth. Protesters will be arrested. By all indications, Kavanaugh still takes the post. Here’s a guy who spent his precious hours allotted to advocating for his competency and composure by mocking alcoholics and ranting about beer. If you cut the Capitol out of the image you could imagine him in a blue or red jersey, laughing at the tail-gate, waiting for the opposing team to leave the stands so he could smash a bottle in someone’s face. And yet we treat him like a victim, like someone owed the most prestigious legal position in the nation.

And of course he is owed. It’s his birthright: rich, straight, white man, the bleak dragon that devours us all.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would blaze an hour longer in the zenith,…” – Marcel Proust

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Coffee Log, Day 217

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted “It’s nice to see a conservative man fight for his honor and his family.” He was talking about Brett Kavanaugh. Around the same time, in response to Sen. Patrick Leahy questioning Kavanaugh on his arguably misogynistic comments in his High School yearbook, Kavanaugh defended himself by saying: “I busted my butt in academics…I finished one in the class…I played sports. I was captain of the varsity basketball team, I was wide receiver and defensive back on the football team…I did my service projects at the school which involved going to the soup kitchen downtown.” Effectively, he was arguing his good character as a shield against Ford’s allegations. Tellingly, his arguments reflected every pedestal of the perfect Patriarchal Male: smart; ambitious; well-educated; a sportsman; given to charity, but only in one-off increments, donations of free time.

I want to relate a different picture.

My whole life, I’ve struggled with the label of my Manhood. It was front and center, glaring, prominent. I was well-enough-to-do. I was smart, academically gifted. I had no talent in sports but made up for it in other extracurriculars. I won every award my schools could offer. I won some State awards, too. Early on, I was popular, later I was bullied for my successes, but even that bullying added to my mystique. I transferred districts in eighth grade. The prettiest girl in my new school came up to me and said “It’s cool that you stand out so much.”

I’ve talked a few times on here about the girls I kissed in Elementary. There were a few of them, always unwanted, but one girl, K, became my ‘girlfriend’ after, probably because she felt she had to. I remember hanging with her at the skating rink. She was with friends. I wanted to skate. She told me “Later,” I said “Now.” We skated a run, she hit me. It was hard enough to hurt, but that felt like license: I took her hand and held it for five minutes. Eventually she went away. We stopped sitting together in class. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. After that year, we didn’t speak again. When I asked my parents why she hit me, they said little girls have a strange way of showing affection. Teachers, friends, friends’ parents said the same. I didn’t tell anyone what happened after – that I took her hand and held it, half to stop her from punching me, half because I knew I could. Still, I’d seen love. I’d watch my mother cry when our old dog died, then again when she buried her father. I watched my dad get rosy when he came home and took my mom and I out to dinner. I’d seen love. Whatever me and K had, that wasn’t it.

I felt sick for a long time. I started running as far as I could go in the opposite direction. For six years through High School into the beginning of college, I called myself celibate. For even longer, a tee-totaler. It was it’s own form of arrogance, running away from myself instead of fixing the man who knew he could take anything he wanted. Eventually, I lived with a woman, got possessive, fell in love, broke up, and tried to reckon with my Manhood for the first time in a long time.

Being a Man in America is a terrific line-dance: check the footwork, perform the moves, take the girl. People like Trump, like Kavanaugh, have built long careers out of flashy performances. Trump Jr. said Kavanaugh is a man who protects his family. What he means is an animal bearing teeth for territory. That nuclear bubble, that man-and-woman-and-kids, that wife who might be a career woman in 2018 but who still goes home and does the laundry, all of this is currency paid to Men who can perform well, who know the moves, who dance so sumptuously that society forgives them the women whose lives they snuff at 15, the girls they tried to strangle.

Fuck that forever.

I don’t have an answer for what a Man should be. I think about it often, spend hours with my own damn face in the mirror. But America’s vision is wrong, that much I’m clear about. It needs to change. Between the Women’s March and #MeToo, it looks like it will. As usual, we place the burden on women, force them to fight the fight we all should be fighting. I can’t know what Ford and others are going through, can’t in good conscience say I’m a perfect ally, but for everyone’s sake – men, women, my own soul – I can say my blood is there, my thoughts are trying, I’ll vote better, live scrutinously, atone humbly, and teach whatever son I may someday have to hold a different sense of ‘Manhood.’

Until then, I’ll call bullshit when I see it: Kavanaugh, go to hell.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“However, once he was selected and it seemed like he was popular and that it wasn’t a sure vote, I was calculating daily the risk benefit for me of coming forward and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed, to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated.” – Christine Blasey Ford

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Coffee Log, Day 182

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

A few days ago, the blood of my great-great-grandfather was shoved violently into summer soil. I couldn’t be happier.

It’s gotten national press so I’m sure you’ve heard about it: Monday night, August 20th, Americans tied ropes around the head of Silent Sam – a famous statue memorializing the dead confederates who’d left their studies at UNC to fight the Union – and pulled him down. In April, Ms. Maya Little had mixed red paint with her own blood and marked Sam with it. It was a fair warning, raw art, the State had ample time to dismantle its own awful legacy, but like most things to do with entrenched power, nobody raised a finger. Monday, people got tired of waiting for justice that would never come.

I’ve seen a lot of pushback. Internet hailstorms of ‘respect history!’ or ‘honor the dead!’ A vicious funeral, cries of violence against the protesters, Americans gasping for the right to strip breath from other Americans – we re-enact the Civil War on message boards, painting bleak pictures, goading and goading until some white man or scared cop decides to paint history in three dimensions, black body canvases.

I’m sympathetic to the feeling of watching your past torn down. It’s my past too. But behind the best lace curtains, the wide summer porches, the blue shingles, there’s a black man bent over a table with his shirt off, dancing a waltz with your great-great-grandfathers’ whip. So no, not every student of grand ole’ UNC marched off with blood and slavery slavering out their mouths, but when they loaded their muskets and took aim they still still stood as bastions against humanity, against peace, against justice for all Americans.

There’s no honor for a nazi, and no honor for a confederate son.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“A statue that advocates violence against us, that honors slave owners. At this statue I have felt degraded, and I have also been harassed. I have been surveilled by police. I have been called a n****r. I have been told that I will be hung from the tree right above Silent Sam.” – Maya Little, interview on Democracy Now, https://www.democracynow.org/2018/8/22/meet_maya_little_unc_student_whose

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Coffee Log, Day 73

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Bolivian Blend, Trader Joe’s brand

They canceled the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. It’s the first time since WWII that they’ve done so. Reason being is a good one: mass scandals of bigotry, fraud, and sex abuse by the committee members. Female voices were silenced or worse. I’m glad the prize is canceled. I’m also heartbroken.

I grew up hearing the word ‘Nobel’ as one hears the train coming from a mile away. It was ripe, exciting, and I saw myself boarding imminently. I know that’s a big goal but I’ve always dreamed big. At first, I wanted the Nobel Peace Prize. Some kind of white savior complex, mixed with a bit of mishandled chivalry, but as I’ve grown and grounded I’ve looked at my name in the lights of the Nobel Prize for Literature. No significant expectations of achieving that place but the goal’s kept me pushing. Hearing the news of its 2018 cancellation flips a dirty page of reality.

I worry often that the things I love should have no place in the world; or more darkly, that the things I love contribute to the world’s wrongs. I admire Hemingway and eat up Bukowski and there’s no arguing that both of them participate in a culture that dominates women, even if both do so with honesty and reflection. In my personal life, I’ve sought love and family that’s structured and possessive and I struggle daily with how to evolve that love into something more just.

I don’t blame myself for being cultured but I do take blame for every time I participate in that culture knowingly. I still want to be a writer. I still want prizes, though maybe not the Nobel. It’s tough to see a future without knowing what it’ll give you, but that’s been the lot of oppressed communities forever and it’s about damn time I catch up.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway

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