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October 8, 2017

Hi, I’m Scott, technically Michael Scott, and I’ll be reviewing your features today for my blog. Is it fair to say you’re an autonomous…

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Published on October 08, 2017 19:30 • 11 views

September 28, 2017

A Short Story

Many years later, as he faced his moment of death, dyspeptic wordsmith Michael Cash would remember that distant morning when his wife took him to the Pacific to eat ice cream.

The ice cream was lúcuma, blended from a strange, rare fruit grown in the Peruvian subtropics. It tasted like sunshine. No, no, it tasted like what sunshine should taste like after a dull and heavy fog had finally let up. Like a dream of sunshine. Like the gentle sweetness that dreams can precipitate. Like dreams could be wrung and juiced. Well, not exactly. That might not be it. But by that time, the world was so old that everything had too many names, and in order to understand something you had to stop naming it. Michael was in a position to understand this. He was a gringo, a bloated, blinding-white American male, and his wife was a dark-haired, olive-skinned Peruvian who’d immigrated to the U.S. and naturalized. Their marriage was a bridge between two cultures, not a fixed structure, but more like a swaying rope that sometimes held and sometimes frayed. He loved his wife dearly. But he learned in their many years of marriage that some things are lost in translation, that all ontology is relative, and that reality exists in a netherworld where nothing can be named.

No, no, not a netherworld. Reality exists in the spaces between cultures, in the interstices between identities. No, no, not just space. Reality exists in moments, events. These moments he could ascertain against any kind of nihilism. Like the morning his wife took him to the Pacific to eat ice cream. The flavor in that moment was real. The sounds and smells of the ocean in that moment were real. The love between two people in that moment was real. He’d like to name everything in that moment that was real, but he can’t. That’s the problem. Reality eludes naming. Why he chose to be a writer, a namer, and not a musician he didn’t know. Musicians have it easier, he concluded. For a while he stopped trying to name things, and instead let dreams play like music against the hard corners of his skull. Yes, music. Dreams, music. Or better yet, the rhythms of the ocean. Withdrawing from the world and the work of naming things, he felt connected to tides of consciousness, to the ebbing and flowing of thought and sentiment that somehow went up and beyond the hard corners of his skull.

This may all sound too philosophical. Michael had read entirely too much philosophy and critical theory before he was twenty-five. But it served him well in arguing with people on the Internet. His wife once called him “a word bully.” “But I’m defending your honor,” he said. “Please, never say anything about my honor again,” she said.

Now he was thirty-five working on a follow-up to his first book. He had chosen this life. To be a writer. The follow-up wasn’t going well. He didn’t feel washed up because that would assume he’d felt not washed up at some point. He felt exhausted. He felt lost. He felt like a cliché, a debut author who gets lost in their sophomore effort. He hated clichés, and he wondered if any attempt to be successful would necessitate his participation in a cliché. To make matters worse, America had elected Donald Trump, the planet was heating up like a bag of Jiffy Pop, and even wondering about his own career seemed vain and stupid. He hated the pressure. He hated Donald Trump. He also hated hating people who liked Donald Trump. He hated having to call out hate and name it. He hated hating. Hence his dreams of music. Hence his desire to return to Peru. To Maria.

Yes, Maria had moved back to Peru with their children. Not a divorce. Rather a readjustment after the election, when it became clear immigrants were no longer welcome. She got her old job back and moved in with her sister’s family in Lima. He would stay in the states, working on his follow-up, and in a few years they would reassess and choose one country over the other. He hated having to choose. He was the kind of man who would spend thirty minutes in the freezer aisle in the supermarket deciding which ice cream to buy. Some called his behavior “eccentric.” He preferred the more nuanced wording, “radically inclusive of all possibilities.” He didn’t like making choices, and he didn’t have any ice cream in the house the night he finally chose to give up, to stop trying, even the music, the dreaming, the not-trying. He stopped trying the not-trying, and he moved down to Peru to be with his family.

That’s how he found himself alone in the Lima airport one February morning wandering through the baggage claim, waiting for his in-laws to pick him up. That’s how he met Beatriz. The air was hot and dense and foul in the upside-down winter, which was summer, and she approached him as he walked outside to get some better air. The air outside was awful, even worse than inside.

“Want to get touched, gringo?”

He could tell immediately she was a prostitute. She wore a hideous hot-pink skirt that only a prostitute would wear. Or maybe a realtor. No, she was a prostitute. She had the long, hard legs of a streetwalker.

“Touched how?”

She got close to his face. Her skin was Amerindian. Not the light latte hue of his wife’s skin or even the mocha of mestiza. It was hard to tell race in South America because everyone fucked everyone, but he could tell she was more native than Hispanic.

“I don’t have any money. Besides, I wouldn’t anyway ‘cause I’m married.”

“Too bad, gringo. I like married men the best.”

“Hey, how do you know I’m a gringo? They’re people in Peru who look like me.”

She laughed, and her face was a blast of color in the stifling air, dark and ripe like fruit, like chocolate, and the sounds of her laughter were like bird calls, clear and musical, cutting through the horrid din of traffic.

“I know you’re a gringo ‘cause you’re a gringo. You can’t not be a gringo.”

“What if I practice my Spanish? What if I got a tan?”

“You’ll just be a gringo with a tan.”

Now he laughed, and his laugh was halfhearted, unsure of any existence beyond the body, more like a burp or a fart.

“I’m gonna be brown, you’ll see.”

She laughed again and moved to the street as a dun-colored Honda pulled up. Inside the driver had a mane of black hair and goofy sunglasses with neon-green frames. He was handsome and chic in a self-mocking way. He didn’t look like a pimp.

“Later, gringo,” she said, and she flashed out of his life. He would call her Beatriz, in honor of Dante’s beloved, in honor of chivalry. He didn’t know her real name, but they would meet again.

If he was honest about it, Michael came to Peru to escape American exceptionalism, to escape the tyrannical expectations that exceptionalism bred in all Americans. Peru was poor. It was growing richer, but it was still poor by first-world standards. It was poor, and it was beautiful, and it was alive in ways America was not alive. It was alive with trash. It was alive with spice. It was alive with living, not pretending. Sure, there were affectations, but these seemed spurious and easier to dispense with than American affectations, or at least less ingrained than American affectations.

“Americans have a sense of entitlement,” Maria had told him. “It’s hard to explain. They just do.”

She had struggled to make friends in the states. It was painful watching Americans approach her like she were an enigma, watching them hit the cultural divide and then silently retreat. It wasn’t that they were racist, per se. Some were smart and conscientious people, but they were instinctively wary of anyone not willing to instantly validate their Facebook-friendly lives. And they couldn’t see the irony in this tension. Michael sometimes couldn’t see the irony. Immigrants from the developing world came to the U.S. to carve out more stable lives for themselves—to breach a world order stacked against them—yet somehow, almost instantaneously, they were expected not so much to assimilate into American society as to accommodate Americans on their own grand journeys to find themselves.

Michael was still on this journey, as all Americans perpetually were. But Peru had changed him. The developing world had changed his perspective on American politics. It was hard not to see much of American politics as circular exercises in exceptionalism and economic supremacy. Though a registered Democrat in her first election as an American — the one in which the fluorescent-orange lunatic won the presidency — Maria had gravitated away from the ubiquitous agitprop on both sides and toward working-class people in the states who spoke plain English and other immigrants who spoke Spanish. She and Michael and the kids had spent many nights together in their local taqueria chatting up the waitresses.

For his part, Michael struggled to reconcile his own political beliefs. He was a good liberal, wasn’t he? Well, not exactly. He’d tried out many ideologies in his life — Christianity, Buddhism, existentialism, socialism, libertarianism, feminism — but always found too much division. He slowly became anti-ideological, nominally humanist, and because of this was accused of amorality, apathy, and a host of other social ills. Feminists denounced him as counter-revolutionary, the guarded effect of male privilege, no doubt. But the truth was traditional gender norms had long been reversed in his marriage: Maria was the tough, practical, breadwinning one, and he was the spacey, neurotic, sentimental one. The truth was he always thrived between groups, between identities. In high school. In adulthood. His failure to belong was rooted in his own distrust of the act of belonging. Joining a group, he feared, was a way to exclude others and to trap oneself in a hierarchy. He didn’t know if this fear was born of his egalitarian ideals or his authorial narcissism or a potent admixture of both, but he intuited that all human evil lay in the hardening of tribal lines. After the 2016 election, he wanted to be a pacifist, to resist his country’s relentless urge toward cruelty, to resist the way bitterness bites, hardens toward finality. The truth was he was starting to see Americans as less and less exceptional. He wondered if there were a point in everybody’s life when existence itself became the exceptional thing sought after, the very fact of existence, every moment.

Michael’s first time in Peru, before getting married, he was shocked by the slums around Lima, by the rawness and crudity of the poverty. There was nothing like it in the states. He was irate at a world order that had allowed such poverty to exist. But now, in his first days with Maria in her repatriation, he wondered if his initial indignation was itself born of first-world privilege and liberal guilt. He quickly started seeing life in the bodegas, in the streets, in the slums, as wholly unique, raw and fierce but also warm and magnanimous, teeming with colors. The food alone was an affront to first-world drudgery: yellow rice and peppers, white sea-flesh stewed in chunks, purple corn brewed with cinnamon, piquant limes and onions sliced paper-thin and curled tenderly, and of course the exotic vegetables and fruits that looked hard and forbidding on the outside but were utterly soft and savory and sweet within.

“You’ll hate it here once you understand the language,” his wife said. “People are snobs. They are racist. Maybe not as bad as Americans, but still…What’s crazy here is most Peruvians have native blood in their veins but won’t admit it.”

Michael didn’t want to believe Peru was racist or classist. His Spanish was getting better. Bilingualism offered a new mode of consciousness, a new frontier. He craved the lyricism of Spanish but also the in-betweenness of translation, the voluptuous indeterminacy between languages, which was like another dimension, a softer dimension.

“What if we move to Costa Rica?” Maria said. “What if we say, ‘Fuck you!’ to both America and Peru?”

It was as if she understood her husband’s aversion to belonging, his aversion to nationalism, as if she, too, wanted freedom, a blank slate away from culture and identity.

“Fuck it,” she said. “I don’t think they have good ceviche.”

She was crude like him, too. She always broke through pretension with nonchalance, perhaps an effect of having survived the country’s civil wars, having survived Fujimori and the Shining Path. Nothing really impressed her. It’s why he fell in love with her. He was addicted to her third-world toughness. She had a fiery self-reliance that steeled his frivolity.

“Eh, gringo, move up on the board or you’ll keep falling back.”

The voice belonged to a dark face breaking from the salty sea glass. The white blade of the board below the face was knifing the water and speeding past Michael, who was trying his best to straddle his friend’s long board before another set of waves rolled in.

“Hey, how do you know I’m a gringo?” he asked the man, whom he recognized as the surf instructor from the shore.

The shore of Miraflores was rocky. The man had set up his tent and surfboards in the dirt parking lot.

“Ha, I know you’re a gringo ‘cause you surf like shit,” the man laughed, and his smile was a toothy hook in the gouache light of a clouded sky. “You just need to move up on the board more or you’re never gonna take off. You’re too heavy.”

The man’s body was lean and lithe, and he had thick black hair, wetted in spikes, and the tips of the spikes were speckled gray. Prematurely balding, Michael was a little envious of all the lush dark hair he found in Lima. The man’s comment about his weight didn’t bother him so much. He had let himself go after Maria left the states. And now he bandied about his pale, bloated body as though the extra fat were an extension of his languorous mood.

“Just keep at it, gringo,” the man said, as he duck-dove under an approaching wave. He was headed toward the break beyond the pier where Michael’s friend Ricardo was riding the big waves. Michael hadn’t seen this new crop of secondary waves, and as the man disappeared on the other side, Michael scrambled on his board just as the first wave crested. He felt his legs burn and lift like iron as he tried to stand tall and ride it out, and he felt a fleeting thrill in the rush of sea-foam, like glorious Neptune come ashore, before he lost his balance and fell back into the unimpressed ocean.

“You look sunburned,” Ricardo said after they’d driven up the hill behind the beach.

They’d driven through the slums to reach Cristo del Pacífico, the statue of Christ overlooking the Pacific. The clouds had cleared, and the grimy and pocked walls of the concrete homes looked savage in the blood-orange sun. Below, Lima sprawled from the gray-blue littoral zone to the hazy brown mountains in the east.

“I didn’t put sunscreen on ‘cause it was cloudy.”

Ricardo made a taunting sound with his tongue.

“Tonto. Here the sun soaks right through the clouds. You’re gonna be a red gringo.”

Michael wished people would stop calling him gringo, though the epithet lent him a dandyish charm. Ricardo was an old classmate of Maria. Of all her friends he had taken the most initiative in befriending Michael. With creamy mestizo skin, he looked like the Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, to whom Maria had long expressed an attraction. When Michael and Maria were first married and living in the states, she would watch The Motorcycle Diaries over and over again in which a young Che Guevara — played by Bernal — ends up in Peru. Michael didn’t know it at the time, but Maria cared little about the merits of the film. She didn’t care that much about her crush, either. The film was her way of mitigating a nearly debilitating homesickness.

It was hard for Michael to express the crushing responsibility he carried in the states knowing Maria had left her country, her culture, her family, her friends, her knowledge — her entire existential framework — all to be with him. They had met when she was on a temporary student visa in California. In their early marriage, the rope between their two worlds frayed more than it held. Yet they couldn’t live without each other. They loved each other intensely, insanely, sometimes without a common language to mediate.

Now, sitting next to the statue of Christ, Ricardo handing him a cigarette, Michael wondered if there were something deeper between Ricardo and his wife, an amorous past, a deep and secret bond, a shared trust that would lead Maria to enlist his help in assimilating her gringo husband. Surprisingly, Michael didn’t feel jealous. More than anything, he wanted his wife to be happy. He wanted to repay her for her sacrifice.

He remembered what she’d said about racism in the city: “Maybe not as bad as Americans, but still — ”

Beatriz flashed in his mind. Her dark face like cherry chocolate. Sucking on his cigarette — terribly cheap cigarettes the American tobacco companies unleashed on the third-world — he began to tell Ricardo about his encounter at the airport.

“Serrana, eh?” Ricardo chuckled. “Hey, I’ll take you to the jungle. The women there will suck tu pinga for hours. But you’ll never leave. They put herbs in the drinks to make you weak. They keep you in the village forever. Son demonias.”

Ricardo had spent many years in the jungle exploring tributaries for the government, eating monkeys and snakes to survive, or so he said. His stories made Michael feel like he was living inside a Márquez novel.

“Maria says there’s a lot of racism in the city, between the Spanish and the natives.”

Ricardo made a more dismissive sound with his tongue.

“Serranos? Son diferentes. They’re from the mountains. Not the same as us in the city.”

“Huh,” Michael wondered aloud. “That sounds racist.”

Ricardo looked at him with with a peaked eyebrow and a dark, smooth, glib kind of assurance that Michael would never have:

“Que?”

One afternoon, after surfing, Maria called Ricardo on his cell phone when both he and Michael were on their way back to Surco. Maria inquired into her husband’s wellbeing. Ricardo, impelled by his perverse, almost spoiled, sense of humor, pretended not to know. He told her he’d seen Michael leave the beach in an unmarked taxi. Sitting in the passenger seat, Michael could hear his wife’s panicked voice rising like a hot whistle. Ricardo started laughing and handed the phone to the gringo.

“Carajo,” Maria cursed when the joke had been made clear. “Tell Ricardo I will not let him take you surfing anymore if he does that again. Not funny.”

It was kind of funny. But Maria was right to worry. Lima was a dangerous city. Michael had started to notice the hapless gestures of the city cops, who seemed to have little authority or control over the traffic — cars, buses, motorbikes, rickshaws all honking and hammering through the streets with little concern for stops signs or traffic lights. The U.S. State Department had recommended Americans not drive in Peru due to the high rate of deadly crashes. But it wasn’t just the traffic. As Michael’s Spanish improved, he began paying attention when his family members talked about the government, the dysfunction, the corruption, the cocaine, the mafias and cartels that battled for control of the port, the kidnappings, the assassinations. Lima was a dirty city by any standard, but Michael started to notice how some houses were cleanly swept concrete islands in the sea of trash and rubble, how the Spanish-style, almost brutalist structures had electric fencing around the courtyards and broken bottles beneath the windows as deterrents to thieves, presumably, and he started to notice the great number of private security guards working the neighborhoods at night, dressed in brown or dark-green uniforms, like paramilitary groups, smoking cheap cigarettes.

“I love America,” his brother-in-law told him that night.

His brother-in-law had been to Miami and Washington D.C. The two cities had formed his opinion of the states. Now they were barbecuing in the courtyard of his Surco home. He was preparing skewered anticuchos. The home was a modest stucco home, painted beige on the outside, with wood flooring and terracotta tiling on the inside. Like most designs in the city, the square footage stretched vertically rather than horizontally. The house represented what small middle class existed in Peru, not rich, not the old money of vice royalty, but not as poor as the Amerindians who’d migrated to the city from the Andean highlands to escape violence, who’d built their shanties in the sand dunes around Lima. Ironically, it was the Shining Path, the militant communist group, that slaughtered the natives and pushed them from their ancestral lands and into the slums of Lima. By that time, Michael had been in Peru long enough to understand the word “slum” was a misnomer. As he got to know many residents in the poorer neighborhoods, he learned they didn’t view their neighborhoods as slums. They exhibited pride in adding rooms — rebar and concrete — to their houses and rigging power lines and gravity-fed cisterns and hanging flags from their windows. He found them to be happy, happier than Americans at least, as if both sides of modern history — the communists and the capitalists — had gotten it wrong in projecting their ideological ideals upon them. In a near reversal of American cities, in which the middle class lived in the suburbs and commuted to the city, Lima’s poorest residents lived in the outskirts and commuted to serve the middle and upper classes who lived in the city. They worked as nannies, as cooks, as prostitutes.

“How could you like America?” Michael asked his brother-in-law. “After Trump, everything’s screwed up. Everyone’s racist.”

“Gringo, you still got rule of law. You take that for granted.”

They drank frothy pisco sours while they ate the roasted beef heart. Tipsy, Michael decided to give a toast. Several in-laws had come over for the meal.

“Thank you for welcoming me, for embracing me,” he said, feeling his mood slip in a warm, mawkish slop. “I’m starting to feel like a real Peruvian.”

His own son laughed first. He was a gorgeous boy, tinged with Latin beauty.

“You’re not Peruvian, dad. I’m Peruvian. Mom’s Peruvian. But you’re a gringo.”

Everybody laughed now. It was the first time Michael’s son had used that word. He was only six.

“At least I’m not sunburned anymore,” Michael said, hiding the mortification in his voice.

The alcohol had failed him.

“Got a nice tan going,” he said. “Gringo with a tan.”

Everybody laughed some more. Later, after putting the kids down, Michael left Maria to visit with her sisters and went and lay in bed. Their room — theirs until they found their own apartment — was on the top floor. The window opened to the street, and as Michael tried to fall asleep he could hear the city in its night throes: car horns and barking dogs and laughter and shouting and the smell of sewage and the ocean — the tang forming a sickly pearl in the back of his throat — and more horns and the many city lights wavering as if underwater, sunken in a dream, ghostly against the palms. Drifting in and out of the noise and light, he experienced an overwhelming sense of oblivion, of beauty wild and derelict. He wondered where his place was in all of it. He thought of his family. He thought of his book. He thought of Beatriz. He thought of many things and feelings he couldn’t name.

The next morning, depressed from the alcohol, Michael walked to the corner bodega to buy bread. By that time, it was June, the start of winter, and there was no good name he knew of for the sticky, sullen fog that slowly encased the city. The traffic screamed in it, even more urgent from the lack of visibility. The fog was deceiving, though, as behind it the sun still churned with subtropical intensity.

When Michael entered the bodega, he thought he was having a vision, a religious epiphany. Before him was Beatriz in her hot-pink skirt, arguing with her pimp, the man with the mane of black hair. Michael saw the anger in the pimp’s face, and at the same time he saw, in his own mind, the slums in the sunlight and broken bottles glittering beneath windows and the distant haze of his lost indignation and somewhere a spark in the shadows, a rose, the sound of classical guitar, a Spanish ballad, to him, his own heroics, and he was lunging at the man with the mane of black hair, pushing him away and trying to rescue Beatriz from a life of crime and dishonor and while doing this something muffled broke from his lips: “Eh…leave her be, homie.”

Homie? Did they even say that in Peru? Did they even say that in America anymore? And the pimp with the striped shirt and neon-green sunglasses and beautiful dark hair looked at Michael like he was crazy, and Beatriz, poor Beatriz, broke free from his heroic grip.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” she shouted. “You trying to save me? This is my life. You don’t getta save me. I take care of myself. I save you, gringo. Get the fuck outta here!”

She threw up her arms like she were thrusting confetti from a float in a parade, not his parade, and in that moment he stumbled back into the glass case that held the Peruvian desserts and he felt that fragile world of his own creation give before he heard the sound of breaking glass and he felt his erect posture, the crest of every assertion he’d ever made, crumble inward like a collapsing wave and then a sudden sharp burning up his spine tracking toward his head before darkness swept in and washed him clean.

“You’re an idiot,” she said, and he knew it was Maria’s voice and that he was alive.

It was always Maria’s voice in the back of his head, like a tenebrous root that existed there because they had planted their lives together.

He looked at the bandages on his legs. He looked at the narrow bed, the medical machines in the corner that appeared to be disconnected and turned off. He looked at the walls that were hard and barren like stucco, and he knew he was in Peru and he felt a throbbing pain in his head and wondered if he was going to die of an infection.

“Jesus, how long have I been here?” he asked, gravely, fatalistically.

“Oh my God, like an hour, you wimp,” she said. “You fell through glass and got a concussion. Your back and legs are cut, but the doctor says you’re gonna be fine.”

“An hour? That thing at the store happened an hour ago? How did I get all the way here?”

“We carried you after you passed out. It’s like two buildings down. You know we have hospitals in Peru, right?”

“Beatriz helped you?”

“Who’s Beatriz? You mean the woman you scared? She’s fine. No, Beto helped me, the clerk. He’s a friend. He’s gonna tell the owner it was a dog.”

“A dog?”

“A big dog. You’re lucky.”

The next morning they went to the Pacific. Beatriz was there, wearing jeans and a red blouse. Maria had gotten her number and called her and invited her out, partly to apologize for her husband, and partly to figure out why he’d been involved with her in the first place. Beatriz told them her name — it was long and complex and musical, too beautiful for English, and he would never be able to remember it or know it in any logical way — and she told them about the airport, their encounter on the sidewalk, perking Maria’s eyebrow just a bit, but that she didn’t mean any disrespect and had been working the streets for a while, saving money for her two kids, and that Manny, the guy with the black hair, was a family friend who looked out for her and wouldn’t fuss if she decided to quit and do something different in the future.

The future was both distant and imminently sensible, like a ghost, as they walked to a nearby kiosk and bought lúcuma ice cream. The three of them sat in the sand afterwards, licking up the melting sweetness against the crush of humidity, and Michael thought that there might have been more distance between the two women than between himself and either of them before the incident in the bodega. Perhaps that was his power now. To knock down walls and bring people together when he could, in his own weird and ridiculous way. And of course he still had his own life, his own sense of love and responsibility, and he would cherish his life, the very fact of it, every moment.

Years later, as he faced his death — that moment that makes all humans the same — he would remember the ice cream, and he would see that the ice cream was good, and he would separate the ice cream from the darkness.

Gringo with a Tan was originally published in Curiosity Never Killed the Writer on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on September 28, 2017 08:41 • 3 views

August 14, 2017

Mike Morbeck

For any fan following quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s roller-coaster NFL career, news on May 15 that Seattle was reaching out to him came like a godsend.

It felt like a godsend because the quarterback’s unemployment after declaring free agency in early spring had felt like a condemnation, a punishment.

What was his crime? Hard to know exactly. One camp of pundits and journalists maintained it was the decline of his on-field performance. Another camp, including NFL players like Richard Sherman, grew convinced he was being blackballed for his national anthem protest last fall, when he repeatedly took a knee during pre-game recitals to protest racial injustice in America.

The truth, as always, is a little muddled. But we have a clearer picture now of behind-the-scene machinations than we did a few months ago.

I should note that I’m a fan, though not a normal fan. I find Kaepernick to be a compelling human being, as well as a tremendous athlete. Part of my fascination is a personal connection. Kaep played high school football with the little brother of one of my college friends in Turlock, Calif. He later excelled at UNR, the flagship university of northern Nevada, where I live. When he made a run for the Super Bowl in 2012 with the 49ers, it was pure excitement for many people in my neck of the woods. It seemed like Kaepernick and head coach Jim Harbaugh were reinvigorating the promise of the storied yet struggling franchise.

Two years later, Harbaugh left, rather abruptly, after reports of infighting with the front office. Kaepernick struggled with two new coaches in as many years, and what looked like the beginning of a dynasty became one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Some people blamed Kaep. Some blamed terrible management. If someone had told me Kaep would be fired and banned from the NFL after his disastrous 2015 season, I would have believed them. For pure football reasons.

But things changed for Kaep in the 2016 season, which was to be his last with the 49ers.

First, the protest. He’d been speaking out on social justice issues for a long time, but when others finally noticed, holy shit, it ignited a firestorm. People denounced him like he’d eaten a baby. I remember seeing videos on Facebook of former fans burning his jersey. I remember thinking to myself, What exactly does someone have to do before being burned in effigy? Apparently, in America, land of the free, kneeling during the national anthem is enough.

Yes, Kaep’s not perfect. For one, he admitted he didn’t vote in the general election, which seemed irresponsible given the stakes. He also praised Castro, who had an abysmal human rights record. But Kaep’s protest was always peaceful, and it galvanized other sports figures to take a stand. It raised awareness of important race issues at a time when many white Americans, including myself, could no longer pretend we as a society were past those issues. It would be easier to dismiss Kaep’s protest as a publicity stunt or unnecessary distraction—as many have — if he hadn’t spent the entire offseason drawing attention to worthy causes and making seven-figure donations to social programs. If money talks, if cold hard cash is the cynical standard by which we judge others’ sincerity, then Kaep is a standout activist, one of the best of his generation.

The second thing that changed for Kaep in 2016 was his football playing. It got much better. He had some shaky games, including a painful breakdown in snowbound Chicago, but statistically speaking, it was one of his better seasons. He threw for nearly 400 yards against New Orleans. Against Miami, he threw for nearly 300 yards and rushed for over 100. Let me repeat that: last year, on a team wracked by managerial dysfunction, hamstrung by a lackluster roster, Kaepernick threw for 300 yards and ran for 100 yards against the Dolphins. And this year, he can’t find a job, even as a back-up quarterback?

As filmmaker Spike Lee tweeted about the whole situation, something’s “fishy.”

Kaepernick certainly has his weaknesses as a player; his transition from scrappy passer-rusher to pocket passer has been a rough one; but anyone who actually watched him break out last season knows there’s still something special there.

So what’s really going on? Is Kaep being blackballed for his protest?

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman spent the spring digging into the issue:

Colin Kaepernick Sentenced to NFL Limbo for the Crime of Speaking His MindNFL Still Shunning Colin Kaepernick Because of His Politics, Not His Play

Kaepernick’s protest has played a significant role in his current unemployment, Freeman concluded. His reportage reveals a league scared of political backlash—a backlash from jingoistic fans, from right-wing team owners, even from America’s new bully president. It reveals a league scared of their own players expressing political opinions, as though free speech were a grave threat to their bottom line. Brutalize each other on the field, even commit heinous crimes against women and animals, but don’t you dare say anything that could shake our patriotic image!

Remember that Kaep is only 29 and has already been to a Super Bowl. Not exactly washed up. Seattle reaching out in May was a positive development. Many players there voiced support for Kaep, which in itself was ironic as Harbaugh’s Niners and Pete Carroll’s Seahawks made for one of the best NFL rivalries in recent memory. But the Seattle prospect quickly fell through amid questions of whether the interest was real in the first place. Earlier this summer, Baltimore started to show interest — not surprising since Ravens coach John Harbaugh faced Kaepernick in the Super Bowl and knows what the gifted quarterback is capable of. He’s also the brother of Jim Harbaugh, the revered coach who, in continuing to support Kaepernick vocally, has taken a stance against the machoism and phony patriotism that plague too much of professional sports. Few people question Jim Harbaugh because his football record (at Stanford, San Francisco and now Michigan) speaks for itself. He knows football. And there’s little reason to doubt his or his brother’s veracity when they both claim Kaepernick is a player who can still win games in the NFL. A tug-of-war, however, has recently emerged between John Harbaugh and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. The latter has been “resisting” the move to add Kaepernick to the roster, according to Ryan Van Bibber at SB Nation:

Ravens' conflicted debate over Kaepernick sums up NFL hypocrisy

Like Freeman, Bibber writes of a conservative ownership class overprotective of its image and bottom line. Again, the revelations elicit a strange hypocrisy. Owners perceive themselves to be in some sort of moral crisis about Kaepernick, greater than any crisis caused by players committing domestic battery or worse.

“We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it and we’re still, as [general manager Ozzie Newsome] says, we’re scrimmaging it,” Bisciotti is quoted as saying of Kaepernick. “We’re trying to figure what’s the right tact. Pray for us.”

Bisciotti wants people to pray for him. Perhaps people should be praying about how to end racism and xenophobia in America. I know one guy who’s doing something about it. His name’s Colin Kaepernick. He’s already proved himself as an activist. Hopefully he gets another shot to prove himself as a football player. And hopefully the NFL gets over its fear of dissent.

Update Aug. 14: News breaking this morning that Baltimore will not be moving forward with Colin Kaepernick:

Ravens sign journeyman QB Thad Lewis, passing on Colin Kaepernick again

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Published on August 14, 2017 12:25 • 8 views

May 6, 2017

Ashley Pomeroy

I wonder what that unpopular pop singer is doing right now. Is she mining truth in the cave of self-deception, and asking why the darkness must come? Or has that passed? Maybe she’s toothing the flesh of a slightly moldy strawberry, the way I’m teasing beer with the end of my tongue from this foam-draped glass.
I know that stars are living now as the accommodating darkness quivers, years of darkness quivering now at the touch of something electric, in the eyes of Barack Obama as he confronts the violent fickleness of people, in the heart of G. Dubya as he imagines himself nodding to himself in the mirror.
I wonder while lighting this cigarette how that famous writer is characterizing the transcontinental wind now that he’s been on Oprah, or how the New York Times is characterizing his new characterization of the wind….
Is the wind a starved beast roaming westward devouring its critics? Is it a child, frightened and wailing, searching for its mother who’s fallen over the horizon? Or is the wind a benevolent prophet, teaching bodies how to let go as it blows, filling everything with pathos and forgiveness, with sadness deeper than sex, the way unassuming people are now filling this barroom with laughter?
I’m not wondering about traffic on the street in front of the bar, where semi-trucks pass with the ghost-offerings of grocery stores, and drivers smile in their own radio-lit darkness because they know the road, and there is no other road.
I’m thinking about standing on the banks of the Mississippi and writing a song to the mud, or climbing the Rocky Mountains and finding that final piece of clairvoyant sky, where we all end up dancing for the judges of the greatest reality show ever made.

— Gardnerville, Nevada, 2010

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Sailing through the Barroom was originally published in BullshitIst on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on May 06, 2017 14:38 • 35 views

April 6, 2017

Cover art for “In the Eyes” by Enrique “Kiko” Cavero

I just released a new single on Spotify

https://medium.com/media/efe7df1dde2e953f106b7666c6a1ac33/href

and I’m exhausted.

Not from the performing and recording. I did most of that last fall. Not from the mixing and mastering. Did most of that in early winter. Not from the release and distribution. CD Baby makes that easy for self-producing artists.

I’m exhausted from taking care of my kids, more specifically my three-month-old identical twin girls. They came in December, and they’ve thrown a wrench — no, a rattle — in my carefully maintained creative cycle. By the time I was ready to submit my track, album art (original painting by Enrique “Kiko” Cavero), and metadata for distribution, I found myself two months behind my preferred schedule, with bruise-like bags under my eyes and a numb, rambling kind of paranoia, the kind that a surfeit of coffee makes momentarily better before making worse. When my single finally did hit stores, I was too tired to celebrate or appreciate the work behind it. After a few minimal posts on social media, I went to bed.

This may sound like a complaint. But it’s not. It’s a recognition. For many creative artists out there — writers, musicians, painters, filmmakers — the urban ideal of the studio has given way to the suburban reality of the family. Again, not a complaint. I, in no way, resent young and beautiful artists living the glamorous single lifestyle in some glittering metropolis without a care in the world. Okay, maybe a little. But the truth is family life, parenthood, has grounded me and my art in ways I never would have thought possible as a bachelor. For me, the image of artist as selfishly free and self-destructive libertine doesn’t hold up. Domesticity has become the most real and valuable aspect of my life. Its rhythms and patterns. It quiddities. The shape and feel of a home. It sustains my art.

At the same time, I can’t sugarcoat it. Raising twins is hard. The question is how to balance the duties of parenthood with the demands of creative work. It wasn’t such a problem with my son, our first child. I was able to write and publish my first book when he was a baby. He even helped me record my first album when he was older. He contributed what we’ll call an ambient piggy-bank rattle on my song “Maria.”

https://medium.com/media/015282458395fade73844a5e737c5e83/href

And some darker, more indistinguishable ambiance on “Ready.”

https://medium.com/media/239b8e188da8c14bc13e0cf61be3790d/href

But the twins have been different. I try to work four-to-eight hours a day (a mix of freelancing and my own creative projects), and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t struggled with the double feedings and diaper changes and cranky outbursts. It’s uncanny the way they play off each other. All sweet and smiley, then, like a storm cloud, one grows dark and releases a sonic fury too powerful for such a small form, and the other has no choice but to join in. Like wolf pups learning to howl at the moon. Except the moon is their sleep-deprived, ultra-spacey daddy who’s up on his feet trying to pacify one with soothing platitudes and the other with a binky. It’s kind of like dealing with Trump supporters. Nothing you say or do matters because they’ve already decided to be governed by erratic, unaccountable forces.

One thing I’ve learned, though, with my son and my daughters is to include them in my creative process. This allows me to get work done but also to enrich their lives culturally. Sometimes, we’ll practice piano together. The girls recently got to hear W.S. Merwins’ “The Lice” in its entirety, as I recited the fiftieth-anniversary edition of the poetry collection while reviewing it for a freelance client. Were the poems’ abstract bleakness and relentless fascination with death too much for three-month-old babies? Maybe. But we’ll let their future therapists decide.

So it’s a balance. When the twins do sleep, as fragile as that sleep can be (don’t sneeze, don’t fart, don’t make a sound), I go to work hardcore. And sometimes I don’t get there. Sometimes the kids’ needs are too great and I have to put work on the back burner. And that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. I’ll allow myself to fail as an artist, but not as a parent. It’s a realization artists with kids need to make. Sometimes you got to let projects go. But if you can strike that balance, if you can get significant work done, then it makes the accomplishment all the sweeter, though you might be too tired to realize it at the time.

Now on to my novel!

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Making Music (and Other Stuff) with Kids in Tow was originally published in BullshitIst on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on April 06, 2017 22:09 • 26 views

March 7, 2017

I picked a crumb
from my daughter’s scalp
and it was enough.

Then I sat in my chair
and read books by authors
who at the very least tried.

There was that glass of wine
I had at dinner
but by then I already knew

the joy of a sharpened pencil,
the value of a line.
If you can see

the shape of your lies,
you can grasp them,
and reach for the other side.

If you like what you just read, please hit the green ‘Recommend’ button below. This collection is sister to The Curious Cat Project (CCP), a website that connects writers from all over the world. Follow us on Facebook . Get notes in the mail.

Enough was originally published in Curiosity Never Killed the Writer on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on March 07, 2017 05:36 • 42 views

February 19, 2017

David Cline/U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Some might be surprised by the impending possibility of a Trump-induced apocalypse.

Not me. I saw this coming when Duck Dynasty became a hit show and Baconnaise became a serious condiment.

We could spend time arguing about who voted for whom, who ignored the growing evidence of vast and dangerous incompetence in our government, who ignored climate change, overpopulation, surging inequality, who annihilated whose country first with nuclear warheads, blah, blah, blah, but what’s the point?

What’s important now is the new world order. I’m happy to report I’ve been planning a heavily fortified encampment in the mountains for years. And the good news for my readers is I’m now seeking to fill several positions in my post-apocalyptic commune.

Wild Game Field-Dresser

The Wild Game Field-Dresser will be responsible for all skinning, butchering, and preserving of whatever wild meat we catch for subsistence purposes. Although it would be nice to eat venison every night, in reality, due to cataclysmic changes in the ecosystem, we’ll probably be surviving off lizards and squirrels. The ideal candidate will not be squeamish around rodent blood and will have a naturally high tolerance to bubonic plague.

Death-Squad Spotter

The Death Spotter will be tasked with scouting and flagging the arrival of outside death squads. Because the remnants of the Trump government will most likely be bolstered by Russian combat detachments, this person will need a thorough understanding of Russian armament and military strategy. Ideally, they’ll be able to speak Russian and engage in negotiations when necessary. They’ll also have to demonstrate the determination and willingness to die first if negotiations should fail.

Expert Sniper

The Expert Sniper will work in tandem with the Death-Squad Spotter to protect the commune. Marksmanship is of the utmost importance as the only available firearm for the Expert Sniper is my lever-action Daisy BB gun. Therefore the sniper must be skilled enough to shoot any encroaching enemy in both eyes so as to blind them. Because my BB gun shoots no farther than fifty feet, stealth approach and accuracy will be crucial to the success of the Expert Sniper. Former Navy Seals are encouraged to apply.

Sex Mate Organizer

The Sex Mate Organizer will be responsible for implementing the egalitarian principles upon which my commune is founded. Though in theory commune members will be free to enjoy sexual relations with other members of their choosing, that might change based on my own jealous and authoritarian whims. The ideal candidate will be a natural peacemaker able to handle high levels of emotional stress and psychodrama.

Mascot Brainstormer

The Mascot Brainstormer will be tasked with all brainstorming matters related to our group name and mascot. As our name and mascot will necessarily reflect our character and mission statement to the roving bands of cannibals outside the camp perimeter, the ideal candidate must understand the importance of persuasive messaging. A portfolio with web clips is a plus. Any candidate pitching “The Wolverines” from Red Dawn will be dismissed outright.

Biographer

The Biographer is the most important position in the commune. They’ll be responsible for recording daily occurrences of camp life — what worked and what didn’t, who ate whom, etc. — but also for shamelessly exalting my own heroic leadership for posterity. The Biographer must be an impeccable researcher and writer yet also possess the willingness and ability to gloss over the horrifying truth. Former Fox News correspondents are encouraged to apply.

If interested in any of the above positions, please send resume and three references as clandestinely as possible. Though I prefer correspondence via passenger pigeon, I will accept conveyance by raccoon and other sneaky animals.

Entertained? Support the author:

Pay Michael Neuffer using PayPal.Me

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Now Hiring for Several Positions in My Post-Apocalyptic Commune was originally published in BullshitIst on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on February 19, 2017 16:21 • 31 views

February 5, 2017

You think of a single bird
in the tinny lamplight
of your bedroom
as if outside the window
in the dark interval between
imagining and…

Continue reading on Human Parts »

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Published on February 05, 2017 11:17 • 19 views

January 30, 2017

Liberty Viral

In the Not-So-Distant Future — It’s been a rude awakening for some Americans who thought Donald Trump would make their country great again by banning immigrants and refugees, escalating trade wars, and exhibiting unfettered belligerence and disregard for human rights in his every executive speech and action.

“I thought bananas were American,” said Alabama moron Ted Studden. “I didn’t know they came from other countries. I wouldn’t have supported no tariff on Latin American goods if I’d known that.”

Studden said he was shocked to find his neighborhood grocery store devoid of quality produce.

“I couldn’t even find lettuce. Did you know a lot of lettuce is picked by undocumented workers? I thought they just did drugs and committed crimes.”

Studden was further shocked to learn white Americans couldn’t meet the labor demands of domestic agriculture after Trump’s mass deportation of migrants.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, white Americans performed, on average, twenty-six minutes of manual labor before quitting.

“The most cited reasons for quitting were ‘I’m too fat to reach the ground,’ ‘My feet hurt,’ and ‘I didn’t go to community college to work twenty-six minutes a day in this godforsaken field,’” the department reported in a press release. “White workers also expressed dismay with the humiliatingly low wages offered by commercial monoculture farms.”

Things haven’t fared much better in Silicon Valley, where tech executives have struggled to find enough brain power for their engineering and research and development departments.

“We rely on intelligent, talented, and ambitious workers to bring products like the iPhone to market,” said tech mogul Flan Mollusk. “Unfortunately, after Trump’s annulment of immigrant work visas, we’re having problems finding the right kind of worker. We tried hiring some workers from middle America, but all they did was complain about their lack of Internet fame. We had to fire several of them for masturbating in the break room.”

Mollusk pointed out the same Americans who whine about losing low-skill manufacturing jobs overseas have been enjoying the products of cheap foreign labor for the past thirty years.

“It’s kind of fucked up to close the door on foreign workers — whose governments have oscillated between leftist dictatorship and the ultra rapacious capitalism of banana republics — just as they’re finding their place in a new global middle class. Immigrants, refugees, and migrants want the same quality of life we have. They want access to the same job markets and capital markets and consumer goods we take for granted.”

Mollusk’s words didn’t impress Idaho dipshit Shirley Plaster, however.

“Muslims are our enemy,” Plaster said. “That’s why I support Trump’s ban. I don’t mind people coming here as long as they accept our way of life. That means memorizing the Ten Commandments and sprinkling crushed Doritos on top of tuna casserole.”

When asked if Trump’s Muslim ban has alienated Muslim allies in the fight against radicalism, Shirley said, “I’m not sure what aliens have to do with this. I watched Independence Day 2, but that’s not what we’re talking about, is it?”

Most economists agree that Trump’s racist, protectionist policies have wrought irreparable damage to the American economy.

“Ironically, the people hurt most by his policies are uneducated, white, working-class voters,” said Dijon Goust of the Institute for Apocalyptic Economic Analysis. “Those with higher levels of education and adaptable skill sets are able to emigrate. Economists, for example, are finding work in Asia and Latin America, where they still care about evidence-based research.”

When pressed on this last point, Goust declined to elaborate, saying he was late for his plane.

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Entitled-as-Fuck Americans Find Life Without Immigrants Not So Great was originally published in BullshitIst on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on January 30, 2017 20:33 • 23 views

January 4, 2017

I’m still deciding the title of the film I have yet to write and am now pitching to you, dear reader, but imagine this:

Four thirty-something men, of varying background and ethnicity, sit around a table on a stormy winter evening drinking tea and swapping stories about life and love, occasionally pointing out the lovely vase of flowers in the middle of the table — roses and carnations and tulips.

That’s pretty much it. Maybe a brief mention of a setting — the suburbs of a smallish city like Cleveland or Seattle or Topeka.

The best way to describe my idea is to highlight what the film won’t have.

There will not be a single action hero or comic book character in this movie. There will not be the slightest trace of a franchise reboot. Not one person will be murdered. Not one fist will be thrown. There will be no fight scene or car chase. The characters will be able to resolve their differences like adults.

Nor will there be any of the tired and trite gangster tropes of modern cinema. There will be no peevish, emotionally damaged man looking to reassert power through Machiavellian violence and intimidation. There will be no film montage blending grisly assassinations with aloof and stoic silence. In fact, there will be no revenge at all, as the characters in my film will be intelligent and emotionally secure enough to obviate the need for vengeance.

There will be no badassery in general, no cutthroat competitiveness, no desperation for advantage or status.

Sure, there will be sex jokes, maybe even some healthy homoeroticism, but nothing vicious or malignant toward the appearance of women, nothing dishonest about sexual prowess, nothing boastful about the penis. These men will be good spouses, good fathers, flawed like all men, yes, desirous of great sex, great food, satisfying lives, but also of basic decency.

There may be one or two disagreements between the characters in the film, leading to tension and conflict, but nothing they won’t be able to handle responsibly.

The best moment will come near the end of the movie when these four full-grown men look at the vase of flowers in the middle of the table — the sweet, silken rapture of the blossoms — and, leaning into each other, give thanks for their own short and fragile lives.

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Best Movie Idea Ever: Men Not Being Violent Psychopaths was originally published in BullshitIst on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on January 04, 2017 05:25 • 7 views