Tag Archives: being American

A man and a dog, on the road home

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I picked up a hitchhiker on my way home from the writer’s conference a week ago.

The way it happened was, I left the highway to buy gas, and on my way back to the highway I saw a dog lying just off the on-ramp. As my foot shifted to the brake I saw that someone was already there, so I thought, “Okay, not my problem.”

Bubba on the onramp

A dog, a backpack, and a highway.

I was halfway up the ramp before I heard that still, small voice that speaks to all of us, if only we listen. “Go back,” it said.

“What? I can’t reverse down an on-ramp!” I argued indignantly, but I was already braking. I know that voice. I don’t always like what it says, but I’ve learned to pay attention. I reversed down the on-ramp, and I didn’t hit anyone or go off the road or get fined.

When I was close to the dog, I stopped and honked my horn. The man kneeling next to it looked up, and jogged over to my car. In my rear view mirror I saw the dog raise its head, and then move to a more upright position. I realized it wasn’t hurt – it had just been sleeping … but I was there and the man was leaning to peer through my side window so I rolled it down.

“Is that dog with you?” I asked him. “Is it okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, and smiled. I glanced at my rear-view mirror. The dog – it looked like a pit bull – was watching us. It looked healthy, well-fed. I looked back at the man. He was dark, and had gray hair in a long braid down his back, and wore a red bandanna. Even with him outside the car I could tell he needed a shower, yet he looked … well, not clean, exactly, but put together, as though he’d taken some trouble. The air billowing in through the open window was hot and heavy, and I turned up the fan on my air conditioner.

That voice wasn’t saying anything. It didn’t need to; I knew what I had to do. I sighed. “You need a ride?” I asked.

His face split in a huge grin. “Yes ma’am!” he replied. “Are you going near Ellensburg?” I was going 100 miles beyond Ellensburg – further than he’d hoped to get that day. We stashed his backpack in the trunk, and the dog, Bubba, jumped into the back seat and settled down with a sigh.

He introduced himself – I’ll call him Cajun. I’ll pick up hitchhikers when the voice says it’s okay, but I don’t feel obligated to entertain them, so I told him I was in the middle of listening to the final book in the “Wayward Pines” trilogy and didn’t want to stop. I brought him up to speed on the story and we listened together, but every now and again he’d drop a comment, and I’d switch off the CD and we’d chat. That’s how I heard his story – in bits and pieces interspersed with the bloody destruction of the last humans on earth – until I decided his story was more interesting than the book.

He told me he was part Cajun, part Mexican, part African, and two parts Native American. He’s been a mechanic for Boeing and a Marine, and a street preacher to the poor. Now, he does construction work and roofing, and picks up odd jobs here and there when he needs to. He’s a musician and songwriter and has supported himself and Bubba more than once by playing on sidewalks and street corners. At the moment his guitar is in Idaho, but he played me one of his songs that he’d recorded on his tablet. The recording wasn’t good, and I really wished it was. That song sounded worth hearing.

His regular-people life fell apart around 2001. The Man kicked him in the ass, so he gave The Man the finger, acquired a backpack, and hit the road. Since then he’s lived on the streets and wandered the highways of the USA, trusting God to provide, which He does mainly through the kindness of strangers. A few years ago he picked up a job in Sedona, Arizona, and within a few weeks he’d saved enough to rent a home. That job was followed by a couple of others. Life was good. He celebrated Valentine’s Day in 2015 by visiting the local animal shelter, where he found Bubba, and since then they’ve been inseparable.

But things fell apart in Sedona too, and soon Cajun and Bubba were back on the road. I was puzzled that he gave up on a place where it seemed he’d been content. This is not a lazy or stupid or unskilled man. He likes a cold beer at each end of a hot day, but he seemed sober to me. I asked him what had happened and he didn’t want to go into detail, but he said, “I don’t define my work as who I am. My purpose is to live in poverty and share God’s love with the discarded people in this earth.”

He has a grown daughter whom he hasn’t seen for years. He had planned to connect with her when he passed through Seattle a couple days before I met him, but something went wrong and a payment he was counting on was delayed. He didn’t want to face her with empty pockets so he canceled, and now Seattle was behind him and she was pissed.

“You think she’d have cared that you were broke?” I asked.

“I wanted to at least take her to lunch,” he replied.

“You’re an idiot,” I informed him. “You should go back, or at least apologize.” (I am so good at telling other people how to run their lives!) I don’t know that he cared much what I thought – why should he? – but a bit later he was texting with her. He didn’t want to go back, though – he was focused on his next destination.

Dream home

When Cajun is surfing the net, imagining his dream home, this is the kind of picture he’s likely to save.

Before Seattle, on their way up the west coast, he and Bubba got a ride with a long-haul trucker, who told him all about the trucking life. So he was on his way to Salt Lake City, where he’s signed up for a training course with a trucking company. Not too far down the road he reckons he’ll be able to buy his own truck – apparently trucking companies contract with drivers and help them do that. He was excited at the prospect of having a real home, but one that wouldn’t involve staying put in the same place.

“Do you think of yourself as homeless?” I asked. I was trying to puzzle him out. He’d told me he could not “live the American life”. Some of the things he says sound as though he’s on the road by choice – a hobo rather than homeless. He says he has no regrets. But then he’ll say something else that aches with hurts and disappointments, both suffered and dealt out, and I wonder what he’d change, if he could.

“I can’t afford a home,” he said, and he sounded sad.

“So you’re not like Reacher – just choosing to live on your own terms?” I asked.

“Jack Reacher? Like in the movie?” He laughed. He liked that idea. He said he personally didn’t want a home, but he thought Bubba would like one, and that’s what mattered most.

Just east of the Cascades he asked for a restroom break, so I pulled over in Cle Elum. While he was taking care of himself and Bubba, I texted the Hubbit to let him know I might be bringing someone home for dinner. The way things work with the Hubbit and me is, we each make our own plans and the other accommodates, but each of us has veto power. So I waited an hour or so, until we were near the Tri-Cities, before I said, “Okay, you have three options. I can take the next exit and drop you in town – there’s a McDonald’s, Walmart, etc. Or I can take the exit after that one and drop you there; there’s nothing there but you say you do better getting rides from country people. Or you can come on home with me, and tomorrow morning I’ll drop you at the truck stop.”

His eyes lit up, then he looked worried. “But won’t your husband mind?” he asked.

“I texted him hours ago and he hasn’t said no. And he’s used to me picking up strays,” I said. Plus, if the Hubbit won’t remember to keep his phone with him and check for texts from his loving wife who is driving along a lonely highway through the barren wastes of Eastern Washington, that’s on him, right? “You’ll be welcome, so it’s up to you. It looks as though you could use a shower and a washing machine,” I added, ever tactful.

So he came home, and the dogs weren’t assholes when I introduced them to Bubba, and the Hubbit was surprised but welcoming. Well, resigned, anyway – and once Cajun had showered and dinner was on the table, the Hubbit discovered for himself that the company was good, as promised.

Cajun's feet

Cajun prefers his tent to a bedroom indoors.

Cajun didn’t want the spare bedroom. He pitched his tent under a tree in the back yard. The next day we offered him the option of staying on for a few days, helping out a little on the farm in return for his keep, and giving himself and Bubba a rest – but he was in a hurry to continue his journey. He repacked his backpack – traded me some cheap dog food that the chickens like for the better stuff we feed our dogs, and left a small blanket and an umbrella on the washing machine. I guess when you have to carry everything you own, you don’t hang onto an umbrella during the dry season.

It turned out that the truck stop near us, that I’d planned to take him to, was on the wrong route, so we drove into Oregon, and he kept studying Google Maps on his tablet and saying, “It’s pretty soon … I think the next turn-off … Or maybe the next one.”

“I’m not taking you all the way to Salt Lake City, you know!” I groused – not because I minded so much as I was worried about running out of gas, and it was nearly the end of the month so I’d already run out of money. The truck stop was at the next turnoff after that, and he put $30 in my tank, because he may be homeless but he’s not a bum.

I texted with him while writing this story. I had to ask his permission to use photographs off his Facebook page, and I wanted to check in with him anyway. He’s in Utah, just outside Salt Lake City, feeling down in the dumps. It seems people there don’t respond to a “Hungry” sign, and no one is stopping to give him a ride. He’s hoping a trucker will come by soon, because they usually stop when they see Bubba. He’s moving on, going to Laramie, Wyoming, where he reckons he has a better chance of finding work. His course is in September and it lasts a month, and he can’t have Bubba with him while he’s training, so he needs to save up for a boarding kennel.

I hope they get a ride soon. I hope they make it home.

Do you pick up hitchhikers? What about hitchhikers with dogs? And … what do you think, when you see a homeless person?

 

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A question of character

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So on Monday night we had this…

debate vs hillary donald

… which one could explain away as a combination of “the American political system at work” and, well …

Election 2016 gary johnson libertarian party

And one could, if one chose, simply leave it at that. But for some reason I feel compelled to say more, if only I could focus on the presidential election without perpetually being distracted by a need to hit something with a mallet, run out to the corral and shovel manure, or just, you know, bang my head against a wall.

Politics makes me go

snoopy-bleh

because I just don’t get it. Seriously, why would anyone want to be president? Here in the US you spend a year being alternately (or sometimes simultaneously) pilloried and on parade. You also have to spend a shitload of money – and I say “a shitload” intentionally, because to get it you have to kiss a lot of butt, not all of it clean. That gets you about three years to play the blame game while trying to unravel the mess your predecessor left behind. Then you pretty much put your presidential day job on hold for a year while you get back into pillory / on parade to win another three-and-a-half years in which to do the things you promised to do the first time you ran, when you were still fresh-faced and naive and thought the White House would be a cool place to live. Finally you have to spend your last six months in the job back on pillory/parade patrol, only now your party has chosen someone new to lead the parade and your job is to smile, smile, smile while they explain how they will actually do the things you said you would do only you were distracted by a war / tsunami / hurricane / plague of locusts. Then the voters pick the other party’s candidate and it’s your fault.

And that’s how it goes if you win.

Frankly we’d probably both have more fun if I just yattered on about the latest exploits of my favorite crazy goofball.

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Argos: focused, likable, and he probably won’t hurt you.

But I am a Blogger on a Mission to Fulfill my Civic Duty. I am going to discuss the US presidential election if it kills me because, notwithstanding all the noise and fuss and expenditure of obscene amounts of money, only one person can win it, and we the people have to decide who that person should be. And since clearly only an insane person could actually want the job, it’s very, very important that we take the time to understand each candidate’s particular brand of insanity, and determine whether it’s the kind of insanity that could result in us being blown up or obliged to live in cardboard boxes, because those are the kinds of insanity we should try to avoid.

Pretty simple, right? All we need to do is make a list and then cross off anyone who is untrustworthy, unqualified, unrighteous, undignified, unrestrained, unbalanced or in any other significant way un-okay.

dollary-clump

For the deluded and confused: Dollary Clump.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, once we have eliminated the deplorable, whoever is left must be the true choice.

Look, I’m not going to discount the possibility that you might actually like Trump or Clinton and earnestly desire to vote for one (or both) of them. But in such a case I really don’t know what more to say to you. Let’s talk about something else. Have you read any good books lately?

On the other hand, according to RealClear Politics 55.1% of voters object to Clinton while 58.3% dislike Trump, so it’s statistically likely that you plan to hold your nose all the way to the ballot box before you sadly scrawl your mark next to one or other name. These numbers make perfect sense to me since I think they’re both horrors for so many reasons that I don’t have the space or the inclination to enumerate here. (The information is all out there, guys – no need for me to repeat it. If you’ve been vacationing under a rock, please go here, here and here for a few probably-incomplete lists of what’s scary about Trump, and look here and here for a glimpse into Clinton’s dark side.)

What doesn’t make sense to me is that people are still voting for them, apparently on the basis that if they pick one the other will lose. Really, guys, the best you can do for America is pick the least worst? You’re seriously willing to live for four years with your selected portion of the bizarre mess the DemRep Coalition has sicked up on the national carpet? Come on, you can do better than that! Go for the gold!

Yes, I said it: you have a choice, and its name is Johnson/Weld. Yeah, yeah – third party, wasted vote, spoiler, blah blah. Just stay with me a little longer, okay? Let me explain why you’re wrong. Well, potentially wrong … if you’re willing to stop believing the myths and being scared by the lies. And, most important, you have to be willing to quit thinking that choosing a president is like betting on a horse race. This is not where you assess the “odds”, pick a winner and hope for the best. This is a time to think long and hard about the candidates – their character and qualifications – and choose the one who can best be trusted to deliver on their promises.

johnson-weld-2016

Libertarians Bill Weld (VP candidate) and Gary Johnson (Presidential candidate). (Side note: Johnson may look like a shrimp next to Weld, but in fact he’s 6 feet tall at sea-level, and spends a lot of his time standing on mountaintops. This means that Weld is probably taller than Abraham Lincoln – whose legs went all the way to the ground – which may or may not be significant, in that Lincoln ran as a third party candidate to become the first Republican president. Lincoln would not like the sorry, self-indulgent mess modern Republicans have made of his party! In fact, I’m pretty sure if he were running this year it would be as a Libertarian.)

One of the problems with Johnson/Weld is that they aren’t well known, even in an election that has voters riled up and paying more attention than usual. The best way to get known – and possibly the only way to stand a real chance of winning – is to participate in the presidential debates. These are controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is essentially a joint venture between the Republican and Democratic parties. The CPD requires that, for a third party candidate to take part, they must average 15% in five preselected national polls. Sounds reasonable? Tell you what, let’s get it into context.

  • Both Clinton and Trump won their presidential nominations, which the CPD recognizes automatically, on less than 9% of possible votes.
  • The polls the CPD chose to determine whether Johnson/Weld were eligible to debate have used some questionable research methodologies, such as interviewing only people contactable via landline. This means they don’t connect with younger voters, who tend to use only cellphones, and who strongly favor Johnson.
  • The CPD’s stated mission is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners”.
  • Various polls indicated that Johnson/Weld were unknown to around 70% of voters.
  • According to a report by the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, from January through August this year the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts gave Trump 1,773 minutes of coverage, and Clinton 1,020 minutes. Johnson received 11 seconds on the NBC Nightly News in May, when the Libertarian Party announced his nomination. The other mainstream media, both print and broadcast, have paid him minimal attention.
  • Johnson/Weld are the only third-party candidates who appear on the ballots in all 50 states. To get there, they had to win the support of nearly a million people, spread across every state.
  • A Suffolk University poll released early this month asked voters: “If a third party presidential candidate is certified for president by a majority of state ballots, should he or she be included in the debates this fall?” 76% of respondents said yes.

So yeah, Mr Trump, you’re right. The system is indeed rigged. Lucky you.

Anyway, under the circumstances it’s impressive that Johnson/Weld averaged 9% in the selected polls – a record high for a third party contender. But the CPD wasn’t impressed, and the first debate, last Monday, went pretty much as expected …

Animatron donald trump hillary clinton debate argue

… and nobody learned anything new … EXCEPT that laid-back, chill, ever-friendly Gary Johnson could get angry. Apparently that came as a surprise. Me? I’m delighted. Let me tell you why.

But first let’s backtrack a little. You remember that Aleppo debacle? The Great Gaffe that magically knocked all of Trump’s uglies and Hillary’s sneakies off center stage for at least five minutes, until until some new dreadfulness emerged about them? Here’s a reminder.

So the interviewer asked what he planned to do about Aleppo, and inside Johnson’s head a synapse misfired and his brain went, “Umm … ALEPPO … acronym meaning whut?” instead of instantly understanding that the conversation had shifted to the conflict in Syria. And the internet lost its collective marbles. Suddenly, people who on a good day could barely find their own way to the bathroom were bumping into each other and going, “Haw! Gary Johnson! Aleppo! Haw haw haw!”

How big a deal was this? Well, on the plus-side, his name recognition improved significantly. The downside was that the mass media (and, with them, the masses) jumped to the conclusion that Johnson didn’t understand foreign policy. Obviously it would be a very big deal if a potential Commander-in-Chief didn’t know what was going on in a war zone where American troops are engaged, and didn’t have an opinion about how to deal with it. But that’s not what happened here. For a moment he lost the bubble, but as soon as he regained it he was off and running again – and by the way, I love his ideas about foreign policy. (Essentially, they amount to: “Let’s get the fuck out of everyone else’s business and clean up our own shit.” I may be over-simplifying just a little – don’t you go labeling him isolationist – but I don’t have time to talk about that here, okay? I’m starting to realize this is going to take more than one post. Oyyy…)

A couple days ago it happened again. In an interview, asked to name a leader of any country in the world that he admired, he couldn’t think of one. Now it’s possible that he thinks they’re all flawed, and it’s also possible that he’s just not good at pop quizzes. Seriously, so what?

What matters to me, and what I took away from these “gaffes”, was how he handles a setback. Unlike Clinton, he doesn’t deny. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t tweet, threaten and blame. After blanking on Aleppo, the first thing Johnson did was apologize to his supporters: “I’m so sorry. You all work so hard and I let you down.” For the week or so that followed, every time a reporter said the A-word he took responsibility and refused to make excuses. And when he couldn’t think of the name of a national leader he admired, he commented with wry humor that he was having “another Aleppo moment”.

He kept his chill until last Monday, when he was preparing to watch the first presidential debate of 2016. He was working Plan B, connecting with the press and active on social media, but it must have been heartbreaking to be muzzled, denied a space on the stage, when he had worked so hard to be there.

So when some reporter chose that occasion to ask him, yet again, about Aleppo, he came unglued. “I’m tired of innocent people being killed in these countries!” he exclaimed. “Hillary Clinton dots the i’s and crosses the t’s on all of the names … but as a result we have the foreign policy that we have right now that I have to tell you I think is horrible. Horrible!” He was angry, he said, that people were calling him out on the names of geographic locations and foreign leaders, while “the underlying policy has thousands of people dying! And that is unacceptable!”

And that, friends, is why I’m delighted. Push Hillary and she slithers behind a denial. Poke Trump and he shouts and calls you names. Put Johnson under enough pressure to dent his cool, and what flares up has nothing to do with his ego. What we see is anguish over the mess we’ve been making, and a passion to clean it up.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to be president, but I think I get why he’s running. He’s proved himself in government. He’s been outstandingly successful in business. He’s climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents. What else does he have left to do but save the world?

As for me, it’s a matter of personal integrity. When someone of such caliber asks for my vote, how can I throw it away on someone who would not respect me or honor my trust? I don’t care about his so-called “odds”. I’m in.

[All GIFs from giphy.com]

What are your thoughts on this election? What do you think is the most important character trait in a good president? Have you read any good books lately? Let’s talk!

Want to know more about Gary Johnson/ and Bill Weld? Go here and here to learn where they stand on the issues that are important to you. Wikipedia has good biographical information on both Johnson and Weld. Also, go browse their Facebook page and watch some of their online town hall meetings.

Some truths about American exceptionalism

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I’ve been wanting to write about “American exceptionalism” ever since I learned it was a thing … but I could never quite do it without foaming at the mouth and ranting. Now one of my favorite bloggers has done the job – and far better than I could have done.

This is worth reading, folks. It’s important stuff – especially if you’re someone who gets to help choose whom to put in a frighteningly important position in only a few weeks time.

Just wanted to mention: I support Gary Johnson, of the Libertarian Party. Because yes, we actually do have options, and if half the people who are wandering around saying “I don’t trust Clinton and Trump scares the heck out of me and I really like Johnson but I don’t want to waste my vote” had the courage of their convictions and voted for him, he’d win by a landslide. Yes, actually, he would!

Deb, the author of this wonderful bit of thinkology, supports the Green Party’s Jill Stein. I like her, you might too … I wish Bernie had endorsed her rather than Hillary, because then she’d actually stand a chance. If you vote for her, in my opinion, you’ll be Making A Statement (which neither Clinton nor Trump will care about) but I think her chances of actually winning this time around are slim at best. On the other hand, you won’t have any reason to feel ashamed the day after election day.

So that’s enough of what I think. I may say more in a future post (soon!) … for now, over to Deb. Because if you think America’s in good shape … think again, friends. Think again.

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke to an Ohio crowd about U.S. exceptionalism.* One of the ways the U.S. most excels is in weapon sales. In 2014, it was the world’s #1 arms exporter, beating the next in line–Russia–by a very, very long shot. This isn’t a Republican thing, either; arms sales have […]

via Saturday Soliloquy: American Exceptionalism — The Monster in Your Closet

Being color brave

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I had in mind to write a post today, because it’s been way too long. Then … I read this. And nothing I have the energy or the time to say measures up.

Please read it. Think about it. Click the links. Something has to change, and it starts with you – and you – and you – and me – and you.

Oh, and by the way, I am routinely stopped for traffic violations. The routine goes as follows: Cop peers into car. Sees apologetic middle aged white woman and a couple of cute dogs. Says, “Ma’am, slow down. And you have a nice day now.” The end.

The Monster in Your Closet

Sandra Bland was taken into custody after failing to signal a lane change.

She died in custody a few days later. Though she’d tried to post bail just two hours before and would soon be starting her dream job, she was reported as having committed suicide.

I would have taken this story at face value a few months ago, but something happened to change that.

I was between jobs a couple months after events in Ferguson, Missouri inspired a series of protests across the nation. While my children slept, I browsed Twitter, Instagram and Vine for firsthand accounts of both protests and police brutality. I became increasingly agitated by the stark differences between firsthand–yet somehow “unofficial”?–accounts and the secondhand news media accounts treated as official. To hear the secondhand accounts represented as truth infuriated me. I also felt guilty, because I’d never before thought to question reporting I’d more or less taken for neutral presentation of fact…

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British stereotypes of Americans–and my own

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So there are bloggers that everyone follows because they are brilliant. And then there are bloggers who, while they may not have many followers, are so brilliant (or something) that brilliant bloggers write about them, thereby sparing them the embarrassment of being too lazy to write their own posts!

Guess which kind I am! And then go read another great post from Ellen Hawley, featuring yours truly.

Notes from the U.K.

In the U.K., Americans have a reputation for bluntness, but do we live up to the stereotype?

In my last post, without even noticing it I went along with the stereotype, and Belladonna Took wrote, “It absolutely fascinates me that you consider Americans ‘blunt and to the point.’ Maybe that’s true over on the East Coast, but here in the Pacific Northwest? Oh dear, hmmm, I think perhaps it may be a little different. (Note: Everything in the preceding sentence after ‘Oh dear’ is Pacific Northwestese for ‘Oh hell no.’ And it’s pronounced in a lilting smiley voice, so I should probably insert lots of smiley faces. Only stuff it, I won’t, because I’m from Johannesburg.)

“…I had lived here two years before it finally dawned on me that when smiling women remarked, “You’re very direct, aren’t you?” they weren’t actually complimenting me.”

Irrelevant photo: flowers growing in a drystone wall Irrelevant photo: flowers growing in a…

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