Noun

Reb Herring: (n.)

A racist symbol that draws attention away from the systemic inequality and hatred it represents.

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Let’s start here: South Carolina should take the Confederate flag down.

*NB: I will be using South Carolina as a stand-in for any government, institution, or individual who flies or wears that particular symbol.*

The First Amendment purist in me maintains they shouldn’t be made to take it down. I don’t think anyone has the right to do that. But the people (legislature, governor… whomever it is that makes the official decision) of South Carolina should absolutely choose to respect the wishes of so many Americans (and, ya know, the tenets of basic human decency), and remove the Confederate flag from their state capital – and ideally, everywhere.

But here’s the thing – even if it is taken down – it doesn’t actually change anything.

This issue has overwhelmed the media right now. It’s being discussed on every news channel – editorialized and analyzed and explored in countless magazines and blogs. Facebook is replete with endless threads debating and pontificating on either side of the issue. It’s the one hashtag to rule them all.

But all I can wonder is what the actual outcome of its removal would be.

The lowering of the flag would be a kind of victory, yes. For well over a century, it has been a symbol of hate and violence and treason, and to fly it today over a state capital is a symbol in and of itself. It is a tacit suggestion that the government of that place, and the people it represents, endorses those beliefs. It’s vulgar and hateful, and a daily reminder to some that they will never be truly welcome, and that the suffering their ancestors endured, and the inequities they themselves must face are alive and well right there… in the seat of that state’s political leadership.

Lowering that flag would be a victory of symbolism, for certain.

But we’ve had symbolic victories so many times in our history. Marches and elections and even legislation. And while those symbols have represented a beautiful and moral intention… they’ve honestly done little to render a meaningful change in the fixed and unjust realities they opposed.

Poverty has worsened. Racism has woven itself into every single institution of power. Rates of incarceration, drug policy, education, home ownership… you know the list… there’s no need for me to continue it. The effects of institutionalized racism have become a kind of offhand reality in this country. And those realities and the horrifying effects they have on our neighbors remain unchanged no matter how many symbols we upturn.

The men and women protesting right now understand far better than I ever will the toil that remains to turn a symbolic victory into something real.

Doubtless, they have known and lived an inequity I’ve only read about.

And really, I’m not writing this to them. I’m writing this to people like me. Those with the privilege to talk about these symbols, just to hear ourselves talk. People who rant and speechify and tweet tweet tweet about our thoughts and feelings, in the absence of real, substantive action.

We should take the flag down. Yes. And we should feel pride in its absence. But let’s not for a moment think that its removal erases the very real and persistent inequities it represented. Or that we are in any way released from our responsibility to act, to vote, to work, to toil, and to fight for the betterment and equality of our neighbors.

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Noun

Fandalism: (n.)

Deliberately damaging, setting ablaze, or otherwise destroying public or private property in order to celebrate the victory of a local sports team.

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Burning a cop car in protest of institutionalized racism and murder – the act of animals and cowards and beasts.

Tipping over food trucks and setting a tree on fire because the Eagles beat the Cowboys – just some lovable hijinks… an ol’fashioned boozy good time!

Welcome to America. We’re (mostly) all fat and stupid down here.

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Noun

Oddler: (n.)

A creepy, ghoulish, or otherwise disturbing looking child.

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Look, I don’t hate kids.

Far from it, actually. I’m happy to report that I’ve become a man who rather likes them. They’re wonderful, and strange; they’re hungry little ids who run around all hopped up on fudge, asking uncomfortable questions and occasionally pooping themselves. How can you honestly not appreciate that?

These behaviors are the proud marks of a free creature, flaring gloriously through the black misery of the Cosmos. Kids are great. They should be celebrated. Hooray for kids.

That said…

There’s a time in every child’s life… somewhere around three, I think, when they take a turn.

They get spooky looking. Eerie. Their parts start growing at varied paces, making them physically syncopated and rangy. Suddenly afire with curiosity and wonder, mind overrides mien… so, when unoccupied by iPads or juice-boxes or coloring books, they often appear vacant and expressionless… leering about and gawping… their mouths faintly reddened by juice, their smiles a mushy handful of baby teeth.

I like kids. But goddamn they look damn scary sometimes.

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Noun

Eturnity: (n.)

The endless circumnavigations one makes while searching for a parking spot in the city.

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I spent nearly an hour trying to park my car the other night. The minutes, they wore on and on… and with every turn of the steering wheel I felt the fabric of my sanity fray until finally all hope had eroded completely away. Was there ever such a thing? Hope? Certainly not. The world is a barren and dead place. Bereft. A crypt of rubber and steel and glass. Yes, young couples may love. Men and women might indeed walk their dogs and jaunt happily through the streets in their well-tailored, seasonally-appropriate jacket. But I would never know that happiness. Never see my girlfriend again. I was born to die in that car… lost forever in this… place… this horrid metaphorical hellscape of the human condition.

And then, abruptly, without any reason or purpose… I found a spot.

And all was better again.

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Noun

Firsticuffs: (n.)

A fight over who originated a certain thought, statement, or opinion.

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The other day, while waiting for a barista (sullen, sighing, and beautiful) to put the finishing touches on my Americano (yeah, I know…), I overheard two early 20-somethings debating… something. I didn’t actually get to hear the subject of the debate… all I could glean was that this thing was “so derivative.” On this opinion they both steadfastly agreed. It was indeed derivative. Totally derivative, actually. When and from what it was derived, who knows? They didn’t say. But boy howdy did they agree in ways numerous and emphatic, that it was not really, “as, ya know… legitimate… ya know?”

I paid for my coffee (four bucks! what?!) and listened for as long as I could, smiling. I remember having conversations like this. I remember how much they mattered.

The first time I heard anyone use that word in such a context was when I was 23 years old. I had just graduated college, and I was putting my English degree to exceptional use at a book store (RIP Borders). I was about as obnoxious as you can imagine. I spent my days condescending to perfectly friendly suburbanites, flirting with my coworkers, and wearing hats indoors. I donned ironic t-shirts and carried novels around with me for everyone to see (Lolita… because I was a romantic) and was basically your bog standard, twenty-something twit cleaving desperately at a borrowed sense of individuality.

One of my coworkers – I’ll call him Randall – was a smokey, Derrida-quoting hipster. Randall was 30 years old… he wore a lot of black. He liked his movies Swedish, and his authors unpronounceable. He was preoccupied by the postmodern, and, of course, Randall was working on a screenplay. His second. Everyone at that particular Borders had their own side-projects. We were all writing something. I was pretending I wasn’t pretending to be Kurt Vonnegut. Another guy was writing a scifi epic about aliens, enslaved and harvested by an evil galactic empire in order to open conduits to “blood space” (a magical, transwarp corridor through spacetime, fueled entirely by blood… which in retrospect sounds kinda awesome). Out of all of us, Randall was the least hopeful, the most frustrated, cynical and disengaged, entirely assured of his own obscurity, but pused forward anyway… because it wasn’t about success… “it was about the work.” Randall had the least hope, the least excitement, and that made him the most legitimate.

It’s a common enough image, but this was in 2004. Hipsterism was still in its earlyish phase. We’d yet to reach the comfortable age of the beflanneled, urban lumberjack. There was no Warby Parker, and jeans had yet to constrict to their skinniest. People chatted on Motorola Razors about the article they read in Adbusters. These were early days. And yet, there was Randall – perched behind the info desk at Borders books as though he’d always been there, running his hands through his hair, and staring down his nose at everything.

I adored Randall. And luckily, Randall adored Randall. So upon that rock, we built our friendship.

One night as we were closing up, the CD player (physical media – the dark ages!) chunked its way over to Madeline Peyroux’s debut CD, something I’d chosen because I’ve always been an old mom in my heart, and Peyroux reminded me a lot of Billie Holiday (who I grew up listening to… because of my mom). Within moments of her first throaty ballad, Randall slapped the CD Change button and announced to no one (by way of anyone nearby) that, “I can’t listen to this. It’s just so… derivative.” He punctuated this observation with a haughty snort, and gazed around for reply.

“Ugh,” I fidgeted, “Right? SO derivative!”

Randall smiled at me. The CD player shifted its tray. Interpol’s second album spun to life, and I trundled off to the stacks, a tower of trade paperbacks in my arms.

So, I’d ask why I did this… but we all know why I did this. I didn’t want to appear lame in front of a guy I thought was cool. My question is, why was that one CD uncool (aside from its inherent mommishness, which I do not debate) just because it was similar to another thing? I enjoyed listening to Madeline Peyroux… not in spite of her similarity to Billie Holiday, but BECAUSE of her similarity to Billie Holiday. Because there’s something sweet and romantic to her voice. Because it reminded me of the music my mom listened to in the car, or in her office, when she was trying to work her way through a problem.

Why is novelty so goddamn important? Does it really, honestly, matter that much in the end? Why can’t we be as delighted by the copy of a thing? Or at least appreciate it for the thoroughness of its approximation? Where do we learn to obsess over that one particular neurotic bugbear?

The barista handed me my Americano, and seeing that there were no open tables at the cafe, I headed for the door, past the two twenty-somethings still agreeing to disagree with everything – bouncing around through a jangly, caffeinated debate that I’d had so many times before. We’ve all had that debate. A hundred times. It’s such old hat. It’s so unoriginal. And I’d tell them that… but honestly, where’s the fun in originality?

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Noun

Iraqtile Dysfunction (n.)

The inability to keep a puppet government from collapsing.

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Here’s the thing… I know I’m supposed to let this one go. I get it. I should just let my outrage cool and petrify into cynicism.

I mean… I’ve already kinda given up on so many other things.

Like… for instance, the fact that the United States sold us all down the river forty years ago… and that we’re essentially living in a store-bought, capitalistic oligarchy where the owner classes maintain a fixed control over the land, money, and resources and mollify a largely somnambulant public with mind-numbing cultural nonsense, beer, and superhero movies… all while they pillage our habitable environments for what’s profitable at the cost of what’s precious, market the erosion of our civil liberties as the defense of our people, and perpetuate a centuries-long system of cruelty, indifference, and racial disenfranchisement… a system enforced by a violent, corrupt and often murderous police force, and a legislature utterly bereft of vision and leadership which sags to the point of bursting under the weight of its own corruption.

<puff… puff… puff… puff>

I don’t approve of any of this. I don’t want it. I’ll gladly work to fight against it. But, if we’re being honest… this is how it’s always been. And it’s probably how it always will be.

I can wrap my mind around it, though. I get it. I get why it’s like this.

What I don’t get is Iraq. How could that have happened. What absolute blunder. What a complete lack of foresight and strategy. We broke a whole quarter of the world… and we’re probably going to be paying for that for the next hundred years.

How the hell did that happen?

Guh.

Anyway! That was a total bummer. To leaven the mood, here’s a list of things that are completely wonderful:

Sandwiches. Carl Sagan. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Internet videos of people falling down. The way puppies’ and kittens’ noses get all dry when they fall asleep. Old Bay seasoning. Modelo Especial AND Negra. The first ten seasons of The Simpsons. Half of the next ten seasons of The Simpsons. Gnocchi and Meatballs. Madeline Kahn. Kermit the Frog. Hot and sour soup. Mary Oliver. The Big Bopper. Stephen Fry. Blondie. A really crisp green apple. Bunnies. Key and Peele. Jonas Salk. Charles Barkley. Emma Thompson. The entire Radiohead discography…

See? There’s all kinds of stuff that’s good.

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