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Entries in Protests (2)


Manning the Ramparts

“It’s still out there,” he said. He wasn’t fully worked up, but she could tell he was headed that way. Not frothing, just the usual rolling boil. He was exhausting. Always had been.

She looked at him, now, as he stood tensed at their living room, peering through a parted curtain at the offending van parked out front. There were times lately where she noticed herself being a little disgusted by him. Now, in his agitation, was a such a time. He was only on his first goddamn cup of coffee, and he was already in a lather. Which was made worse, somehow, by the fact that he was still in the dingy long johns he slept in. They were all stretched out in the ass, making him look even more disheveled and pear-shaped than he already was.

She directed her gaze away from him, standing there all aggrieved and saggy-assed.

“Joel. Just leave it,” she said in the same kind of exasperated tone you’d use with a dog you caught drinking out the toilet for like the millionth time.

She turned back to her tablet and read the same goddamn line for the fourth goddamn time. Jesus. She just wanted to read the goddamn paper before she had to shower for work.

“Listen,” she said. “Could you grab me some more coffee?” He shambled over to her, eyes still fixed on the gap in the curtain where he’d been surveilling the van. He took her mug and headed to the kitchen, muttering.

“Idiot,” she said softly, at the screen of her tablet.

She didn’t even want more coffee. She was just redirecting him. The way you do with a toddler. He brought back her mug, trailing steam. He returned to the window. She read the same line again.

“Been out there for like thirteen days,” he said, in that voice he got when he was seething about something, but trying to sound like he was not seething. He also, she knew, tried to sound like he was estimating. “Like thirteen days,” he said. As though he didn’t know exactly how long that van had been parked out there, which she knew good and goddamn well he did. He always knew the particulars when he was on one of his tiny crusades. He believed that facts imbued his idiot causes with something like justice. In this, as with so much, he was entirely wrong.

She turned off her tablet. If she read this same line one more goddamn time, she was pretty sure she’d whip her coffee cup at him.

“I’m gonna shower,” she said. He gazed out at the van. He called it the Abduction Van. Cause it looked like the kind of van you’d see in an Amber Alert.

She turned the handle, held her hand under the faucet, waiting for the water to get hot. Was he technically correct? Sure. That skeevy-looking van should not be out there. Or the guy who owned the van should have gotten Illinois plates and a city sticker and all that shit. But he wasn’t gonna. He was gonna leave his beat-to-shit van right where it was, hulking on the goddamn curb like a dented primer gray pile of robot poop. And the handyman or whoever it was that owned the thing was probably not making a goddamn nickel now, in February, because everybody who might hire him was just hunkered in their houses waiting for a thaw to start refinishing their floors and shit.

And, yes, it sucked that this ugly space-and-a-half-taking van was out in front of our place; and yes, it is technically wrong that the dude has not gotten his Illinois tags and stuff; and yes, this unsightly Abduction Van represented an incremental increase in the hassles Joel encountered trying to park their car on the block – but guess what? Living in a city means dealing with all manner of inconvenience and indignity – it’s death by a thousand cuts. That’s what it IS. If you goddamn rail against every goddamn cut, you have no goddamn time for anything else.

But Joel was nothing if not compulsive – he pursued every inconsequential thing to the bitterest extreme. Because like every armchair revolutionary, the closer he got to being absolutely right about something, the more feverishly insufferable Joel became.

She couldn’t do this today. She had to get ready for work. Joel had time for this shit. He freelanced writing blog posts for a handful of search engine optimization companies – brainless, easy work she considered not merely beneath him, but beneath us all. As a species. Because his mind was effectively unoccupied, he could spend his days surveilling the offending van and its criminal owner.

The next day, after a crappy workday, followed by a tense dinner where Joel’s attentions remained divided, followed by passing out on the couch to Netflix and snorting awake in the dead of night to shuffle, teeth unbrushed, to bed, she awoke to find Joel skulking at the window with an even more crazed edge to him. He was just about dancing like he needed to pee. She said nothing and headed to the kitchen.

Joel had made no coffee. As she grabbed the filters, she made a mental note to use this fact in their next fight.

When she had a coffee, finally, she went out and sat in her chair and fire up her tablet to read the paper. Out the corner of her eye, she could see Joel bouncing on the balls of his slippered feet, head swiveling between the van outside and her in her chair. He was clearly bursting with a desire that she ask him what he was so keyed up about. She sipped her coffee, pointedly ignoring him.

Something happened outside. Something Joel had been waiting for. He flattened his nose against the cold window. She sipped her coffee. Joel, suddenly, was crestfallen. She suppressed a malicious laugh.

She rose to get ready for work. Joel followed her to the bathroom, and the bedroom, and the kitchen and the bedroom again, barely taking a breath in his incensed monologue about the note he had written to Van Guy, a note that Joel quoted liberally, using air quotes each time, a note that repeatedly featured the word “discourtesy” and told the heroic tale of how he snuck downstairs in the predawn to tuck it under the van’s wiper then hustled back upstairs for the big reveal. Then, in sputtering outrage, as she snagged her keys and made for the door, Joel told how Van Guy had plucked the note from under the wiper, balled it up unread, and deposited it on the curb.

As she left, the thought she might have seen a tear quivering on Joel’s lower lid.

“Idiot,” she said, as she made her way down the stairs.

Of course it escalated from there. Of course it did.

In the coming days, Joel called the city’s non-emergency number a bunch of times, anonymously, to narc on the shirking van. Then he let a bunch of air out of the van’s tires. His masterstroke, she thought, was when he scattered a bunch of birdseed and crumbled suet cakes on the van’s roof. Within hours, the criminal van was spattered and streaked with a Jackson Pollock’s worth of bird shit.

But ultimately, of course, Joel’s frenzy and fury led nowhere.

Because Joel, she could see clearly, now, was very much the idiot she’d been calling him for months. As his jihad gathered intensity, she soured on him completely – expressed as a line graph, Joel’s van fervor climbed in spiky ascent, while her Joel fondness plunged precipitously downward.

Joeal was an ineffectual turd and she had come to hate him.

Eight days after the bird shit caper, she kicked him out. Joel made like seven trips back and forth past the van as he loaded his shit into an Uber.

She watched out the window as the Uber pulled away.

“Idiot,” she said, really meaning it.


Tears of the Magnificent

The Chicago Tribune ran a photo essay on its site about the Michigan Avenue Black Friday protests in the wake of the release of the police cruiser dash cam video of the murder of Laquan McDonald. It contained lots of pictures of brown-skinned people (and a smattering of white faces) standing resolute across the doorways of the Apple Store and Water Tower Place; standing nose to nose with cops itching to unload the pepper spray; locking arms and chanting.


For a certain kind of person, these are stirring images of everyday people asserting their rights of assembly and expression, of seeking redress of grievences perpetrated by the excesses of the state. For me, it was a heartening display of people - people trampled generation upon generation by a system resolved by means economic and racial to marginalize and subjugate - rising up and reasserting their humanity.

For another kind of person, these images represent the dissolution of social order - the lippy and ungrateful grousing of "those people." In interviews with shoppers - who mistakenly take themselves to be the stars of this story - several among them expressed variations of "mistakes happen" with regard to the pumping of 16 bullets into a 17-yar-old kid. One wonders what the individual and public response on the part of these inconvenienced people might be if a constable had emptied his clip into one of their sons on the village square in Glencoe

As rousing as I found these images, and the protest that inspired them, I found the picture above the most telling and troubling of the bunch.

The Little Girl

She's the only blameless one of this trio. She wishes to make her way to the American Doll Store. Where her guardians may purchase for her some overpriced figure nearly her own size that comes with its own reductive and revisionist back story, accessories, and apparel line. The fact that she has been raised to want this connotes a set of problems - of class, gender conceptions, consumerism - larger and older than she is. If there is criticism to be leveled here, it must be directed at the people who are raising her in the bosom of some shitty priorities, not at her. She has inherited a series of stupid and destructive desires, but cannot be held to account for this dubious bequest.

In 12 years, when this little girl is cutting me off in an Audi her dad bought her, I will hate her on her own merits then. For now, she gets a pass.

The White Fucking Coats

Setting aside the vast obliviousness required to try shopping your way through or around these protesters; or your willful minimizing the scale and impact of these protests upon your dipshit errand; setting aside your evident lack of compassion and respect; setting aside your bone-deep fucking BLITHENESS - you might at LEAST pay some heed to the optics of the fucking costume you put on for your little outing. When the Consumerist Corridor is choked with hundreds of brown people - people who have lain their brown bodies across the road bed to interrupt the flow of traffic, and insinuated themselves between you and the doorways of the shops, then fucking MAYBE it might make some sense not to wear BLINDING WHITE OUTERWEAR. The only shittier move would be to wear satin fucking sashes that read "White Privilege" while dispersing the brown bodies with cattle prods. 

Again: Little Girl - you seem sweet and baffled by the proceedings around you in an age-appropriate way.

But Ostensible Grownups: develop some SMIDGEN of self-awareness, no? Because to sashay past a throng of people mourning the murder of one of their own at the hands of the state in whit motherfucking coats seems a trifle Marie Antoinette-ish, wouldn't you say?

The White Fur Fucking Coat

This is appropriate attire for those seeking the role of White Witch in fucking Narnia, not for your jaunt down the Mag Mile of a city whose cops have killed a kid and covered it up. And - just from a style standpoint - those Ming the Merciless shoulders have got to go.

The Grisly Back Story

Whether this trio - again: not your fault, kid - arrives for their Black Friday sojourn from the suburbs of the North Shore or from some kleptocracy in the former Soviet Union, it doesn't matter. They arrive as unconcerned white people, into what they take to be a bastion of plundered white privilege, because that's customarily precisely what it is. Even the name the marketing hordes tasked with reinforcing the cycle of privilege and stoking the aspirational embers that permit it to continue steaming along have bestowed upon the place - The Magnificent Mile - reveals not merely an unquestioning embrace of consumerist excess, but of exclusivity. Because for a Mile or a Kilometer or a League to seem Magnificent, it must be surrounded on all sides by the Dingy and Ordinary, the Tacky and Mundane.

For the denizens of such a Magnificent place to claim and reclaim their stranglehold on the sumptuous, they must distance and re-distance themselves from the plight of the subhumans whom they must pass when accessing the wonders it contains. This distancing is not restricted to the grimy primate who shakes his beggar cup, pleading for stray coins - he is easy to deny and step over, the arhythmic clank of his cup receding behind the walls of consciousness, tucked away like the sigh of steam pipes and crackle of wires - the shake of his battered cup is just the turning of the watchworks that makes the machine go.

And this distancing is not restricted to the valets and shop clerks, in their vests and tunics with unnoticed names stitched over the breast. These murmuring and deferential people, averting as they do their gaze from the incandesence of the Magnificent, scurrying to fetch that wedge of lemon, that room key, that starched napkin. These primates are meant to remain translucent, and just dimly audible. These primates - as a class - are obviously indispensible, as pampering is a labor-intensive proposition, but as individuals, they are identical and interchangeable. Any individual among these primates may scuttle off to foam the latté, to plump the pillows.

And this distancing is not restricted to the merchant primates, the florists and jewelers, whose shabby little lives are devoted to swirling around the Magnificent to offer their fawning, subhuman counsel about which sailing vessel is suitably yar, what thread count is minimally acceptabe for the guest rooms. These primates have names. It must feel to them like the Magnificent have bestowed a soul-cooling balm when they speak these names.

And this distancing is not restricted to the primates in suits, the bankers and other stewards of the capital, the vault-keepers and bean counters. Due to their proximity to the capital - the fuel that fires the entire engine - these primates must be granted the delusion that they are Fully Human. They have names that must be remembered and added to the Christmas card list that's managed by one of the lower primates. Because they are sentinels and servants of the capital, theirs is the highest work a primate can undertake, and as such they are very nearly cherished - these are the only primates permitted to curl on hearth rugs at the feet of the Magnificent.

For it is the Magnificent alone who may occupy the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human. To offer sanctuary to any among the other primates - who, though rumored to share some long-distant branch on the evolutionary tree, cannot hope to mimic convincingly the refinement and grace of the Magnificent - would constitute treachery of the worst kind. Occupants of the Very Tiny Island of the Fully Human, when they are young, may indulge in casting their moon-eyed gaze across the Insulating Sea of Blessed Capital and imbue the primates with something akin to Full Humanity. These Young Magnificents may sound out the names embroidered on the smocks of the primates, and intensify their eye contact when they encounter these helper primates on docks and at ski lifts, in hotel lobbies and at poolside bars. But this effort (which the Young Magnificents could never really bring themselves to really believe) costs too much, and is a fallacy of youth, so must be tucked away in the same attic as the trunks filled with kite string and sand pails, picture books and pinwheels.

These Young Magnificents must mature and ripen into the bloom of their Full Humanity, and stop filling the heads of the primates with aspirations they can never realize, mobility they do not have. These Young Magnificents must one day embrace their Humanity in its Fullness, and concede that there is only room for a select and limited number of inhabitants on the Very Tiny Island. Besides, the primates, being coarse and deprived, could never feel truly at ease on the Island. So it is a mercy, really, to deny the primates admittance, as they would be all in a muddle. 

This mercy is the burden of the Magnificents. And the primates are ill equipped to understand such a burden. So can never be anything like Fully Human.