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i-insist-2

credit: Megan L. Nell

“No, I insist.”

I say this three different ways:

1. No, I insist.
2. No, really, I insist.
3. Doitforchristssake.

I’ll explain how this works.  Each is situational.

No, I insist.

My momma didn’t raise no fool.  Well, obviously she did.  This blog’s archives are all the proof of that you need.  But at least she taught me how to be a gentleman and I remember those lessons pretty regularly.

If you are near an open door, or the sidewalk is narrowing, or there’s an empty seat at the bar and you are not — or at least don’t appear to be, if we’ve never met — a hemorrhoidal asshat, “No, I insist” is how I let you know that it would be my pleasure to be nice to you.

No, really, I insist.

The tension is growing, here.  I’ve already told you that it was okay to walk first or sit down.  But maybe the gesture caught you off guard.  Maybe you are dumbfounded that I, unlike most strangers, opened my mouth and didn’t hit on you, insult you or just scream unexpected-crazy about how THE PURPLE LADY ALWAYS TUESDAYS WHEN I CHEESE, or something.  Or, better yet, maybe I’m saying this because you said “No, I insist” back to me.  In that case, brilliant.  We’re all getting along and living Rodney King’s dream.  However, no, really, I insist.

Doitforchristssake.

I think you know what this means.  This is reserved for a special class of people: those unable to take hints.  There are subsets of this class: really, really old people; parents with strollers that carry 37+ babies at a time like some sort of Fetal Utitilty Vehicle, but who just can’t seem to decide if they want to go right, left, forward or turn around and then make me miss the light; morons.

Luckily for them, if I am saying this, it is almost always internally; you know, using my thinking voice.  My eyes are like Shakira’s hips, though: they don’t lie, so you can be sure that I am trying to send eye-lasers at them like Cyclops.

If we are at this stage, you are dwindling my hope for humanity.  I am thisclose to spearing you or giving you a stiff-arm to the forehead and feeling great about it.  As a rapper might say, I’m a patient man, but I’m not a patient, man.  I do not have time to sit in the waiting room that is your indecision and read the outdated magazines, that are your facial expressions, while you struggle with the epic choice of “should I stay, or should I go.”

Just doitforchristssake.  I have places to be.

[Note: this post may appear in short form on telephone poles, street lights and storefronts near you.]

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ralphiemouthy

After reading an op-ed in Time, I realized this blog has been missing something.  Can you guess?  Other than “piss,” it’s the other six words Carlin noted the FCC won’t let us say on TV.  Actually, I guess it’s a bunch of their derivatives and sidekicks, too.

I’ve gone lengths to avoid them, even quoting a favorite Orbit commercial — “What the french, toast?” — to get as close to the Sun as possible without becoming Icarus.

But that analogy is totally misplaced, and not just because I’m not the kind of person who drops mythology in conversation.  I don’t believe that saying the more popular version of what “What the french, toast?” implies really puts anyone at risk of falling into the sea like Icarus did.  Actually, I think the opposite.  I always have.  So why the avoidance?

Blame it on my youth.

I thought it would (artificially) make me stand out; that I’d be the kid who didn’t curse.  So, in high school, I stopped.  Turns out, not cursing is a lot like not cheering in the center of a sea of screaming fans at a concert: no one notices, at all.  The silence your voice makes is drowned out by the shouts of others, fully engaged, enjoying the moment.

Stubbornly refusing to give in that readily, I convinced myself not cursing would be like an experiment, a challenge: could I always find a way to get my point across without it?

The results of the experiment so far?  They look bleak, kids, bleak.

gift_of_disapointmentWell, maybe the box in that picture shouldn’t be totally empty.  But much like with NaBloPoMo, a challenge I respect but have no interest in doing again, I’m bored.  I feel like I’ve been dieting for years; like I’ve been trying to convince myself just how delicious, for example, rice cakes can be, when everybody knows rice cakes are the toilet paper of the food industry.

And then I thought of James Lipton, because toilet paper and rice cakes make me think of James Lipton.

Ok, no.  I thought of Lipton because of the questionnaire, adopted from Bernard Pivot, he does at the end of every episode of Inside the Actors Studio.  I don’t know why only creative industry types get those questions.  They’re general enough for us all.

But the point…

The only way to fail a questionnaire, in which there are no wrong answers, is to not answer a question.  Question #7: “What is your favorite curse word?” therefore, would mean I’d fail a questionnaire.

Fail a questionnaire.  Why does this seem absurd to me?  Because the freshest memory I have of anyone failing at something that easy is one of the Celebrity Jeopardy skits on SNL, when Trebek presents the Final Jeopardy as “How about your favorite food? Just write down whatever food you personally like most, any food you like to eat… Keep in mind you can’t be wrong. You can even lie to me…”

Unless I start breaking in some words I couldn’t say on TV, I’m gonna fail a questionnaire (that no one is ever going to ask me to answer anyway, I know).  Me not answering question #7 is like the celebrities not being able to name a food, any food.  And the absurdity of that is a lot like the absurdity of thinking there is, if ever was, any value left in the pristine approach.  I’ve been told that choosing words carefully can be very gentlemanly, at times, but it’s also like speed-restrictor plates in NASCAR.¹  It’s a hindrance.  And it’s like playing a game no one’s ever heard of to win a prize no one wants.

More importantly, I think it’s hurting my story-telling.  And I can’t have that.

So, today, I need you to be obscene.  How would you answer question #7 and why?  Think of the comment box as a foreign language immersion program.  What word should I break the cycle/start with?  Extra points if you define it Urban Dictionary style and use it in a sentence.

_____
¹A NASCAR reference? You didn’t think I had it in me, did you?

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Photo credit: GearCrave.com

Photo credit: GearCrave.com

I probably should’ve loaded this post with some fanfare, some biting rhetoric about just how intimidating I can be when I so choose.  This was the time to break out a story about when I shamed a Southwest Airlines representative at BWI, or a time I made a dude at a bar regret he ever spilled his drink on me without apologizing.

But I’m not that guy.  I’m not an untouchable.  I’m Mr. Niceguy.

Largely rooted in my karmic knife theory, I often take abuse and hope the universe appreciatively balances the rest.  The problem with this approach is that satisfaction is dismissed.  If I feel like I’ve been wronged or shorted and I leave it to time to settle the debt, I rarely get to see, firsthand, what went around come around.

There’s a lot going on around me right now.  A lot.  Virtually none of it is fit for these pages.  I can’t tell you about [— — ——– — — —– —- —— — ——] or [— —- —- ———- –].  That [– ——- — ——– —— — —–] is off limits, too.

Part of me wishes these weren’t secrets.  But the redactions involve real lives of real people who know the hidden stories too well not to recognize them on this blog just because names were changed to singular capital letters or symbolic nicknames.

And so I wish I could tell you exactly why I’m so frustrated by my choice not to figuratively punch people in the throat when they kick dirt in my face.  But I have to stay away from details guaranteed to undermine the entire purpose of this choice.  This shorts you, I know.  And I’m sorry about that making this post incomplete.

I’ve heard life is healthier when you scream at people.  Sometimes I want that kind of health.  Believe me, I’ve often wondered if having a well-deserved yell is a lot like taking a multi-vitamin.  But since my idea of a multi-vitamin is more like a chewable Flinstones vitamin than a One-A-Day, you can see how the lighter, less nourishing approach is more my style.  I also realize how this analogy may make me seem childish, as if I’m unwilling to grow into the phase of adulthood that requires “setting people straight.”

I’m not unwilling to stand up for myself, though.  I’m unwilling to do so to no end, and so if I have solid reason to believe screaming won’t actually get the job done, then I save myself the spike in blood pressure.  And this just seems to usually be the case.  Adults who behave like children are beyond the point where screaming works.  Why?  Because they’re no longer actually children; they assume all the entitlement to being treated like an equal that aging affords, even if they refuse to abide by this principle themselves.  The end result?  Screaming at them for their ignorance means they look back with misplaced indignation.

There are just certain things – certain rudimentary, if-life-was-like-a-game-show-and-you-didn’t-know-these-things-you’d-be-the-weakest-link type of things – that I shouldn’t have to say to someone whose driver’s license says they meet the age requirement.  By extension, then, I certainly shouldn’t have to yell or sit someone down and teach them life’s rules like adult reality is some board game they haven’t played before.  If I have to, I’m no longer going to see them as a grown-up anyway.  Mission: unaccomplished.  And that assumes they respond in kind, which – of course – they usually don’t do.

But my patience is thin this week.  So I’m starting a campaign.  Let’s call it a forcible whisper campaign.  And I have a platform. It goes a little something like this:

1. I am not a parent/guardian.
2. I am an employee and a human being.
3. I will do favors without any expected returns, as long as there is genuine gratefulness.*
4. I ask only that others be aware that my outward calmness should not be confused with an eagerness to forgive colossal idiocy.
5. I remember like an elephant.

I know these promises seem vague. But it’s just politics. And all political promises are vague. It’s the only way they can be kept.

— —
*Insert sexual favors joke here, please. No, seriously: this post would love a little lighthearted poking.

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Before you (probably) ever read this blog, it was often very different.  Not that I’ve changed, but it is what it was: back then, “readers” were people kind enough to read the links I delivered to their inboxes, people who already knew me.  And so what follows today may feel different.  It’ll probably sound more like that thing I wrote about Gary Sheffield, or that thing I wrote about Imus.

Maybe you’ve heard about it already.  This made it into the New York Post yesterday:

2009-02-18-cartoon

Credit: Sean Delonas

I suppose I should “set the scene.”

If you don’t live in the NY metro area, you can find the cartoon in its context here.  It is the meshing of two stories, one literal and the other figurative.  The literal story is that police in Stamford, CT (my hometown, actually) responded to a 911 call regarding a domesticated chimpanzee, named Travis, that had escaped and mauled a woman.  They shot Travis to stop him.  The figurative story, at its most agreeable base, should be clear: a critique of the passage of the stimulus bill.

The problem, for many of us, is obvious and actually layered.

I’ll start with facts:
1. The economy is reeling.
2. Therefore, the stimulus deal (apart from its effectiveness and so at a minimum as an effort) is considered a big deal.
3. The economy was an integral part of the presidential campaign’s homestretch.
4. Obama has been active in making the stimulus package his visibly preeminent priority.
5. The stimulus package is lauded by many as the first major piece of legislation by Obama.

What all of this means: the stimulus package, certainly by its critics, is currently being affixed to Obama.  He is its figurehead.  This doesn’t seem reasonably debatable.  Sure: the truth is that it is an idea of many.  There are many responsible for its construction and passage.  Forgive the cliché, but that’s politics, and quite obviously so.

But not in that picture.  There is no team of experts, no crowd of faces, no group of monkeys of various sizes and shapes.  There is only one.  And that one chimp, the “someone” to whom the writing of the stimulus bill is attributed, is shot by police and rests bleeding on the ground, dead.*  So let’s not insult modern intelligence by suggesting that dead chimp isn’t supposed to represent the figurehead behind the stimulus package, punished for his “crime.”

Historically, though, it should be pretty widely understood that black Americans have been analogized to monkeys.  Hell, I bet we could even find that kind of information in one of those outdated, yellowing textbooks they still force upon some of our public schools.  The comparison takes at least a couple of forms: 1) the darkness in complexion, physical features and 2) the almost, but not quite human status.  That’s the funny thing about race: it’s so often really obvious and lends itself to similarly conspicuous interpretation.

And so it shouldn’t seem absurd to anyone that many of us drew a certain conclusion: Obama is that dead chimpanzee.  Simple, right?  And it shouldn’t be odd that many of us would feel that we’ve seen such images before.  And so we get to perhaps the most finely split hair of the new millennium: the difference between being a racist and being racially insensitive.

A racist is defined by her or his motivations; it’s as straightforward as understanding that the suffix “-ist” refers to an active, outward, purposeful nature.  Someone who is racially insensitive, however, is defined by her or his ignorance.  To be clear, then, this post isn’t about racism.**  I don’t know the cartoonist, Sean Delonas, and I won’t pretend to know his motivations.  My problem is with his ignorance.

He should’ve known the conclusions many of us would draw.  The New York Post should’ve known this, as well.  And that should’ve mattered to both of them, regardless of whether they agreed with our interpretations.  It’s not about bending to every whim of any group of readers.  It’s about a cognizance of the classic stabs at black presence in America.  It’s not like we’re a secret.  It’s also not like there’s only about a thousand of us (not, of course, that that would serve as justification).

Racial sensitivity is, perhaps ironically, about acknowledging the context of your own existence.  We don’t live in bubbles, at least not solitary ones.  And with that shared residence comes shared responsibility.  It’s what grown-ups do: they mature, then they appreciate and then they understand.  We forgive sensitivity mistakes in children because they haven’t had the time to experience difference.  Our patience for adult missteps is shorter.

But maybe that’s why the tone for this post is different than it would have been years, or even months, ago.  I’m not asking for repercussions to befall the paper or the cartoonist, because while my patience has long run out, so has my desire to scream about it anymore.  I’d love, once and for all, for us to have actual conversations about these dilemmas.

The true conclusion for this entry will be posted tomorrow.  But for now, I’d really just love for any people who read this to ask how readily they forgive themselves for not knowing about a life they don’t lead.  I do it all the time.  While I can confidently say I don’t do it like Delonas did, I do it.  I do it because it’s easy.  But I shouldn’t, ever.

I think one of the biggest pitfalls for the American conscience is the notion that none of us are mind-readers; that we don’t ever really know what others are thinking and feeling and that, therefore, we’re allowed to make huge mistakes out of that ignorance, and/or that we’re allowed to demand of the very people who are very often voiceless that they scream, only in a language the rest of us understand, loud enough for us to acknowledge as alarm.

But it’s really all just intuition.  We really are just other human beings.  It’s not nearly as difficult as we convince ourselves it is.  And that’s why the constant failure to empathize hits harder, each time.  Because we could just choose to be different, to be better, but we don’t.


*On another day, I’d have time to discuss our history with police violence in this country…
**Though, I don’t believe the nouveau theory that insensitivity is worse than racism. The power of active, direct hate seems unparalleled.

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My iCal tells me today is TMI Thursday.  Ok, well no, I haven’t actually scheduled it.  But I did do that thing where you know something at a previous point and then know it again later on — what’s that word?  Right, right: “remember.”  I remembered today is TMI Thursday.

Anyway, there are some new people with ready access to this blog because I use it in the signature for my official email address.*

And so, for the record, I have suffered some memory loss today.**

I have never done anything disgusting, I have never participated in anything gross and I wouldn’t even understand what it meant to disappoint my parents.  I am also a great addition to the workplace and a stand-up citizen.

Accordingly, the following are 5 TMI-caliber scenarios that have never played out in my real life.  Well, one did.  But I’m going to hide it amongst the other 4 so you can’t tell the difference.***

1.  At the ripe, budding age of 26, having spent 7 of the last 8 years in school, almost a third of my life has been dominated by roommate-living situations.  However, I have never had a roommate become so intoxicated that he barged into my room, late at night to give me the gift of being able to relate to the following song:
 

  
 
2.  I’ve never been adept at math.  Never.  I don’t like having to do it anywhere.  Anywhere.  And, necessarily, that includes while on a solo road trip between DC and New Jersey, on the bottom part of the Turnpike where there are virtually no rest areas, at 2 o’clock in the morning.  So, again, math I’ve never done out of necessity while in a car:
 

(empty cup) + #1 = relief.

  
  
3.  I am not a desperate man.  I am patient and kind; flatteringly so, I might add.  So, naturally, I have never gotten the “Spirit in the Dark” so badly, that I forgave a lady’s overly-curious domesticated animal for thinking its presence in the room meant it was invited to participate.
 
  
4.  I have never acted out of character; certainly never in the back of a jam-packed school bus.  And so I have never done/received such heavy petting in so public of a setting that while I wouldn’t have actually…
  

  
… I might have left a rather obvious “watermark,” for the whole world to see, in a place that needs no identifying signature.
  
  
5.  I have never been, am not now, and by the grace of jebus will never be the kind of guy who spent the night in a female friend’s bed — an actual, honest-to-goodness, seemingly-impossible-to-believe, you-still-probably-aren’t-buying-it-now, platonic, female friend’s bed — and to my surprise and hers woke up to find myself moving my hips towards her at a rate inappropriate for the platonic situation.  This is because my dreams are asexual and not vivid, and therefore the movement of my body during sleep is not vulgar.
 
  
Happy Thursday.

—–
*I know what I’m about to do, and I’m not proud of it.
**Spineless?  Probably.
***If you think you figured it out, click on the “Contact” tab above, or just hit me at franco.beans[at]gmail[dot]com, and we can talk about it over a drink or two.

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