What Could Be

I had this great plan to put up some details about various hikes I like, to keep going with the “Yellowstone Practical” idea. I even started a post on that for today…

As you can tell from the lack of a morning post, I didn’t really follow through. Not because I couldn’t have, but because something else rose in my mind last night. Now, I’ve mentioned before one of writing’s primary rules: when an idea comes to you, YOU WRITE IT!

Last night I, err, did not write it. I didn’t quite forget the thought, but I did have to spend the better part of today reconstructing it while I worked in the store.

At any rate, here goes:

I spent some time reading the news on my day off. I know, I know…that is always a mistake. You’d think I would know better by now, but nope.

Most of the crap I was able to ignore, but something stuck with me: the whole damned NFL-anthem-flag controversy. How the hell is this still a thing?

Look, I realize I am not the most grown-up person in any room (including a room full of kindergarteners), but even I can see how stupid is this whole thing. And by stupid, I mean everyone involved. I know we’re talking about the confluence of politics, culture and sports here, but isn’t there someone who can be the adult in the room?

Apparently not.

So, what the hell, I’ll throw in my two cents. Actually, I’ve got two opinions/thoughts here, so I’ll round it all up to a nickel.

First of all: I am a sports guy. All of my life I have been a sports guy. More than that, I have been a team sports guy. Team sports are the everyday embodiment of self-sacrifice. Well…at least…they should be. In all of the bullshit, dating back to last year, I saw very little conception of team-first. I saw an awful lot of “me-first”, but not much else.

I will, however, call out for credit those that did put team first, that acted like the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. I think the Seahawks nailed it last year when they linked arms as a team. Much as I detest Jerry Jones, the Cowboys this year got it right, as well.

Those teams that had no unity? Truly sad.

And the cowardice of those that simply hid away in the locker room and hoped to bury their heads? Beyond sad, beyond weak, and well into the territory of truly pathetic.

Right or wrong, at least the other guys picked a side. I’ll always take someone who picks a side, whether I agree or not, over someone who tries to ride the fence and please everyone.

Okay, so that’s the first bit. The less important bit. Now comes the second part…

By definition, no society, no country, no people is perfect. To dredge up an old quote, “All are judged and found wanting.” The United States is anything but perfect. The flaws in our society today are manifold…and, in many cases, obvious.

Hell, I write about many of those flaws: about the exploitation of the weak, about the vast, indefensible chasm between rich and poor, about the evil one human can do to another for the smallest of reasons, about the suffering and despair that suffocate so many lives…

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think and dream of better. That doesn’t mean I think we as a species, as a society, as a country are irredeemable. If I thought that – if I bought that deeply into cynical nihilism – it would be time to just plain give up, and that I refuse to do.

To redeem ourselves, however, we need aspirations. More importantly, we need aspirations that can pull us together. We need symbols, and dreams, that we can all share.

I cannot comment on other countries, nor other peoples, but to me the dream of what the US could be is one of those aspirations. But to get there we have to value in common the effort and work it will take to get there.

The American flag is just a bunch of fabric stitched together, in one sense. It is nothing more than a glorified bed-sheet tied to a stick. In another sense, however, it is something very different: it is a symbol of what could be. It could/should be, when you get down to it, something to unify, something to symbolize all of our aspirations.

See the problems…speak out on the problems…give your time and your money and your life to fixing those problems…but dream and aspire together. Value what could be together.

You and I don’t have to agree. We can argue and debate and oppose each other all we want, IF we both believe in and value where we’re going…value what could be.

If, however, we hold nothing in common – if we share no aspirations or dreams – then we are doomed to strife and discord. And, eventually, to the disintegration of the little that still holds the many, many different strands of the US – as a nation and as a people – together.  In the end, all we will have left is the regret of what could have been.

A Full-House

“Your bet…” prompted the transgender girl slowly turning into a boy, looking to the left.

A shake of the head and a quick reply from the big, straight guy in that next seat. “I need another beer, first.”

“I’ll get it.” This from the rail-thin gay kid on the other side of the table as he stood and stepped over to the ice chest.

“Keep betting like that and you’ll need more than beer,” laughed the blonde, tougher-than-she-looks ex-cop.

In the background, a tall and aging server – head shaven to hide receding hair – is still throwing his all into hitting-on the pretty girl from Romania. She laughs and shakes her head; she still has a boyfriend back home.

College is a long time ago for me…err, both stints are a long time ago. It has been, over the years, hard to remember the semi-forced intimacy of that period. That period when boundaries are expanded, when preconceptions are shattered, and when new ways of looking at life are learned. That time when you well and truly grow up.

Six months ago, most of my friends looked like me. Most thought like me. Some even acted like me.

Now?

Now I play games with a transgender girl-turning-into-a-boy. Now I have real, meaningful discussions with a rail-thin gay kid. Now I feel avuncularly protective of a tougher-than-she-looks ex-cop. Now I laugh (with all the empathy and understanding of the fellow-aging) at a trying-oh-so-hard server*.

Six months ago, not a single one of us would have spoken three words to the others. Hell, none of us would’ve so much as entered each other’s orbit, let alone become friends. I’m a straight, white guy who is addicted to hockey and writes in brewery taprooms…what the hell do I have in common with any of these people?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

*Note: there are far more characters – and friends! – up here. The cast above, however, illustrates better than anything the variety…and the chasms crossed.

How Dare People Want To Learn About The US?!?!

A guest got mad the other day. Nothing terribly unusual in that, to be honest: even on vacation, some people just want to find something about which they can be upset.

No, what makes this event stick out in my mind is what the guest got pissed about. This person was mad because the cashier she was dealing with has a strong accent and is still working on her English.

I was nice, let me emphasize that. I very nicely implied just what a jack-ass this guest was, and very nicely got them the hell out of the store as fast as I could.

I carry bear spray whenever I hike – I may have to start carrying tourist-spray when I work.

I should probably expand on why this irritates me:

Roughly 40% of the seasonal staff up here (and in any national park) are here on what’s called a J-1 visa. Now, a J-1 is not a normal work visa, it is an educational and cultural visa. It is for kids from other countries to come and work in the US to improve their English, and to learn about our people and our culture. It also ain’t cheap…these kids spend a lot to come here for this.

Sometimes what they learn isn’t all that great.

The cashier in question happens to be from Taiwan – she not only is a college grad, but happens to be one of the hardest and best workers I’ve ever seen. I would trust this girl with any job I could dream up and know she would exceed the goals I set.

I’m good at languages. I’m very good. I speak several, and can make my way in a few more. But in none of those languages am I perfectly fluent, in none can I hide my American accent. Yet never have I had any random, tourist asshat get pissed at me because I struggled from time to time.

Well, except in Spain…they made of fun of me because I speak Mexican Spanish, not “real” Spanish. Fuck Spain.

Err, never mind…back to the point.

We, as the US (both nation and people), have prided ourselves on the worth and strength of our attempt at a meritocracy, and tried to build that on the equality that all humans bring to the table regardless of their origins.

Believe that many of us might, but we sure have a shitty way of showing it…

Every single person should have to spend a few months living in another country, learning another language and culture. It might sound trite, but that really does change you: changes your outlook, changes your thought patterns, and sure as hell changes the boundaries of what really matters to you.

Being A Kid Again

I was not happy with The Force Awakens.  You have no idea how hard it is to write that…let alone how hard to think it.  Star Wars is my childhood.  My current fascination with photography was born from that movie, the first film I really remember in detail.  And don’t even get me started on my love of sci-fi and fantasy…

As bad as were the three prequels, the three “originals” are the apex for me in oh so many ways.

That is why, honestly, it was so hard to be disappointed with The Force Awakens.  I wanted very much to fall in love with that movie, but it failed on just way too many levels.

But Star Wars is Star Wars, and I could only hold out for so long: I finally sat down to watch Rogue One.

I was, sadly, prepared to be disappointed.

Oh boy, was I not.

This is the Star Wars movie we’ve been waiting for since Return of the Jedithis is what Force Awakens should have been.  I rediscovered the magic of being that young kid sitting again in the theater and losing myself in a movie.

It sounds inadequate, but I can think of no higher praise to offer the writers and director and cast than to say, “You gave me back the magic.”

Well done, folks.  Well done.