Repost: Get to Know Me!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm a San Francisco Giants fan. We're never going to win the World Series.

I hope that's not why I'm a San Francisco Giants fan. I think I'm a San Francisco Giants fan because when I was seven years old, my grandfather took me to Candlestick Park and I saw the Giants lose to the Reds.

I think I'm a San Francisco Giants fan because of Mays and McCovey and Clark and the greatest hitter who ever lived, Barry Motherfucking Bonds.

Okay, let me back up. I finished third grade in the spring of '79; now, I don't know which year of school you consider your favorite—maybe 11th grade when you lost your virginity after the junior prom...or your sophomore year in college when you lost your virginity after a particularly inspired coffeehouse reading of "Sailing to Byzantium"...or maybe it was the morning you were supposed to defend your Masters thesis on civil disobedience ("I Don't Believe In Beatles, I Just Believe In Me") but instead drove to Tijuana and lost your virginity in a back alley to a nine-dollar transsexual Latina hooker who kept screeching, "Chu better pay me, Yim Yividen!"

Me? My favorite year of school was third grade. Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Heh, Heh, Heh.

I'm not really sure why; my teacher, Mr. Callan, gave us candy for good grades and I still have a weathered certificate as evidence of a victorious class election; but that really doesn't explain why, as I walked home after the last day of school with the sing-song sounds of my classmates...

No more pencils/No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks

... ringing in my ears, I began to weep uncontrollably. As I reached my house I was stopped by my grandfather:

"What's the matter?"

"Third grade is...gone."

I was just about start the third grade when I went to that first game at Candlestick Park in the fall of 1978. My grandfather took me as would he throughout the season. Giants vs. Reds! Knepper on the mound! Hot dog in my hand! Cap on my head! Blanket across my lap! We lost 5 to 2!

I vividly remember a McCovey pinch-double and, earlier, my absolute shock at seeing a man in a Cincinnati cap shout with joy, "The Reds are runnin'!" as the not-as-Big-as-they-used-to-be-but-still-Bigger-than-us Red Machine strung together a few extra-base hits.

I thought everyone was a Giants fan. Well, every adult, anyway; I didn't really have any friends who were Giants fans (and I was the only 'Niners fan in four counties, so a little perspective is a good thing). My grandfather said that was because my friends were just kids and their skulls hadn't fully hardened yet.

He didn't say that, but he should have, 'cause that's a good line.

I think that's why I'm a San Francisco Giants fan—why my only ever fight was in a crowded stadium parking lot in Miami after Game 2 of the 1997 National League Division Series with a Marlin fan (got my ass kicked)—why, when I was 8, you could have convinced me that Los Angeles Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey ate babies (I met him in 2000, good dude) why I still blame myself for our blowing a 5 run lead with 8 outs to go in the 2002 World Series. (I was upstairs and when Dusty gave Ortiz the ball I went downstairs, I still can't talk about it. Converse amongst yourselves while I compose myself.)

But there might be another reason.

You know the Great Pumpkin? Charles Schulz was a Giants fan, and there's a theory that the Great Pumpkin which rises up out of the pumpkin patch that it finds to be the most sincere, was a Giants allegory (Halloween, like the Series, is in the fall—the Giants, like the pumpkin patch, are orange).

Linus is never going to see the Great Pumpkin. The Giants are never going to win the World Series. But yet, I sit in that pumpkin patch with my blanket, every single year (we got the Unit; if we don't peddle Sanchez, that's a real strong rotation - the pen might hold up with Affeldt; and if we get Manny...)

A Giants fan of another era was discussed in the fabulous opening chapter of Don DeLilo's book Underworld.

"He knows how to find the twisty compensation in the business of losing, being a loser, drawing it out, expanding it, making it sickly sweet, being someone carefully chosen for the role."

You don't know me, gentle reader. We weren't in 9th grade together. We've never had hot, nasty sex until our bodies dissolved into puddles. We've never stayed up all night taking care of my cat after another trip to the vet.

But that quote right there, that shit rings an uncomfortably familiar bell. You feel me?

A couple years ago, I had lunch with a buddy of mine and confessed that I was rooting for the United States in the World Cup. He guffawed, as I'm unlikely to ever root for the United States in any international competition; and upon my explanation that U.S. soccer is so historically marginalized that rooting for it is hardly supporting the American Empire, his response was that I just identify with underdogs.

Huh. That's...Huh.

I don't think he's right; I think it's less that I identify with the downtrodden than the other side of the coin, which is that I absolutely loathe the big foot. See...I was trained to be a gladiator.

This seems like hyperbole, of course, because it is; even as a younger man, I was largely a frightened guy in an ill-fitting suit trying to stay a step ahead of the Bar Association's disciplinary committee. A criminal defense attorney is taught to love and fear the god-like power of the State. He stands as the sole force opposed to the exercise of that power upon his client.

He is the Superego forever trying to moderate the primal urges of the prosecutorial Id; without the attorney, the client, and by extension, all of us, are devoured by the machine that goes by itself. The truest thing I have ever read about the law was written by Robert Cover in a piece for the Yale Law Journal entitled "Violence and the Word":

"Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death. A judge articulates her understanding of a text, and, as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life."

Cover recognized that the law is drenched in blood; debates about legal realism vs. positivism might be conducted in ivory towers, but their impact is on the ground; it is in the lifting of eighth grader Mary Beth Tinker's suspension for wearing a black armband in protest of the Vietnam War; it is in Herman Marion Sweatt, a black postal worker, being allowed to attend the University of Texas Law School in 1950.

It's 2K9 and, my brothers and sisters, I'm sorry, but you gotsta pick a side—you have to root for your team—and either you root for the one dude, standing alone, just trying to express herself or live his life, or you stand with the machine. Either you see Bill O' Reilly attack Jeremy Glick and you cheer him on or you recoil. Either you stand up for the lifelong committed gay couple who want their relationship respected by the state as equally as heterosexual relationships, or you say "God hates fags" and look to amend the constitution to stop them. Either you see that George Bush frat boy swagger and say, as supposedly left-centrist commentator Chris Matthews did, "Everybody sort of likes the President, except for the real whack-jobs" or you wonder how many hundreds of thousand of civilians a dude has to kill before his habit of handing out nicknames to casual acquaintances becomes a little less endearing.

I don't care which side you pick. I just want you to see Spoon Millionaires ( But you gotta pick a side, and you're kidding yourself if you think you don't.

A couple years ago, an 11th grade public school student in south Florida was suspended for refusing to comply with a district rule (a Florida state statute, actually) that he stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

That statute's unconstitutional, and has been found such, which I knew it would be, leading to my writing a letter to the editor of the same area newspaper which later interviewed me to talk a little Spoons, explaining the story of Jehovah's Witness schoolchildren, twelve year old Lillian and ten year old William Gobitas, who, in 1935, refused to salute the American flag at their school in Minersville, Pennsylvania, a tiny town north of Philadelphia which was almost ninety percent Catholic. For Lillian, this meant giving up her status as class president and losing most of her friends. "When I'd come to school," she said, "they would throw a hail of pebbles and yell things like, 'Here comes Jehovah!' William's fifth grade teacher attempted to physically force his arm out of his pocket to make the requisite salute. (The high school junior in south Florida, when questioning his teacher, was told, "I have a big desk, you have a little desk, so you do what I say." The idea that, in any sense of the word, some high school English teacher has a "big desk" makes those of us who teach for a living weep at the lack of self-awareness that displays.) The children's father, Walter—a lifelong Minersville resident and proprietor of the town grocery store—filed suit in federal district court, claiming violation of his children's right to freely exercise their religion. Gobitas won at both the local and the appellate levels, but in an 8-1 decision announced on June 3, 1940, he lost at the U.S. Supreme Court. Only Harlan Stone bravely dissented from the majority's decision in Gobitis (the misspelling is a lower court's, not mine):

"The guarantees of civil liberty are but guarantees of freedom of the human mind and spirit and of reasonable freedom and opportunity to express them...The very essence of the liberty which they guarantee is the freedom of the individual from compulsion as to what he shall think and what he shall say... "

Take a moment to consider that, please. If we have any freedoms worth all the killing and dying soldiers have done, aren't they exactly that; the freedoms to think and say what you wish? And, maybe more importantly, to not say words you don't wish to say?

The reaction in south Florida (the most liberal area on this side of the Mason-Dixon line) was overwhelmingly against the high school junior, against the court which would correctly side with him, against, well, me, as letter writer and member of the organization (American Civil Liberties Union) which successfully filed the suit that would overturn the Florida law. "There's a war, people die for your freedoms, if the government says give the Pledge of Allegiance, then give the fucking Pledge of Allegiance."

Man, I do not understand that. I understand why you want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but I will never understand why you want to make me do it. What possible meaning does "pledging allegiance" possibly have if you only do it under threat of punishment? While "rain on your wedding day" illustrates nothing more than a failure to read the Farmer's Almanac; let me suggest that forcing someone, at threat of a school suspension, to say the words, "freedom, liberty, and justice for all" is the definition of ironic. Don't you think?

"Say you're free! Say you're free cocksucker! You better say you're free or you're suspended! I have a big desk, you have a little desk; say you're free and do it right fucking now!"

Honestly, if you saw that in an 80's movie, with say, some plucky young dude fighting a doddering old and possibly corrupt Sheriff or Dean or Minister Who Hates Dancing, you'd all know, all of you, who the good guy was and who the bad guy was. All of you.

But even in my county—the most progressive part of the South—everyone lined up against this 11th grader the same way they all lined up against the Jehovah's Witnesses in the 30s. Reasonable people. Decent God fearing people said to me, "Well, what's the harm? They're only words."

They're only words. Then why are you so upset I don't want to say them?

That's the kind of thing that drives me out of my mind.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with me.

No, not this Supreme Court. No, that would be too forward thinking for the Supreme Court we have in 2009. I'm talking about the Supreme Court in 1943. You know, not during a period of heightened patriotism at all. 1943.

The United States Supreme Court heard the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943. Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Robert Jackson emphasized that Marie and Gatha Barnette, more schoolchildren expelled for refusing to recite the Pledge, had not committed an act which directly affected anyone. "The freedom asserted," Jackson wrote, "does not bring them into collision with the rights asserted by any other individual... The sole conflict is between authority and the rights of an individual."

"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us."

Those are some of my favorite words ever written in the English language. I think they're fucking beautiful.

I love me some Shakespeare; some Fitzgerald and Faulkner. I've read The Ballad of the Sad Cafe thirty times, because of which, if I am ever fortunate enough to meet a woman with such poor eyesight and judgment that she's willing to bear a child with me, I am so going to press the name Carson if it's a girl. When I read Prufrock...

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each
I do not think that they will sing to me

that shit speaks to my core in the same way that "Breathe out, so I can breathe you in, hold you in" does.

But none of that is Justice Jackson, in the middle of fucking World War II, with the Nazis on the march and the American way of life actually at stake (as opposed to an obviously phony war which is solely about putting more dollars in the pockets of military contractors, oil executives, and the Saudi royal family, and keeping Americans afraid so they don't notice how much of their income they're giving away to the wealthy and how much of their liberty they're giving away to the White House) what did Jackson (by no means a wild-eyed leftist like myself) write?

He wrote—I don't care what the majority opinion is—not about your government, not about religion—not about nothing—those sons of bitches can't make you believe it—and they can't make you say it. They can't. It's the United States of By God America—we're different from those fascist, totalitarian regimes who are trying to take over the world—in this country, you don't need to live in fear of your fucking government. You don't work for them. They work for you. They don't spy on you. You oversee them. I don't care how many people say it's your duty to salute the flag. I don't care how many people say it's your duty to follow what the guy we think lives in the sky says. It's the United States—when they say "jump," feel free to say "fuck off".

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.
One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

Know what Jackson's saying there? Not everything is subject to vote. Even if there are a hundred thousand of you and only one of me, that doesn't mean you always win. That's why we have a Bill of Rights. Read them sometime. Not just the 2nd Amendment, which is the only one the 21st century conservatives have read. Read them all. Read the Establishment clause that says there's no national religion. You know, they could have made one—the framers of the Constitution certainly weren't adverse to putting forth their own interests (just like Aristotle said the best age for a man to get married was 37 and the best age for a woman was 18...and somehow he just happened to be a 37-year-old man who married an 18-year-old girl...the framers said only white, male property owners had the right to vote...and shockingly enough, they were all white, male property owners) they knew how to write into the Constitution exactly what best suited them...but despite that, not only didn't they say, "Oh, by the way, we're all Christians, Jesus is Lord, bow down and salute Him and then stand up and salute His flag." They said there is no national religion. The concept of the separation of church and state wasn't a creation of some liberal judge in the 60s, it was Jefferson's (who also created his own Bible, incidentally, by tearing out all the pages where Jesus was anything other than mortal—he thought that was bunk—and he's the one who wrote the Declaration of Independence that uses the phrase "...endowed by their Creator" the theocrats like so much.) Read the warrant requirement for searches and seizures and talk to me about random drug testing and NSA wiretaps. Read the due process amendments and tell me about Guantanamo. Read the absolute prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and tell me about torture.

Read any of Jackson's opinion and tell me about compulsory flag salute—or all the censorship of the FCC—or the bills that are currently sweeping through legislatures to force any progressive, "non orthodox" thought out of classrooms—tell me again about compulsory flag salute or putting the ten commandments in courthouses. Evolution's as accepted within the scientific community as is the heliocrentric universe or the shape of the earth. In stark contrast to every other western nation, only 28% of Americans are able to accept that truth.

The previous President of the United States says, "The jury's still out on evolution."

No, it's not. It came in a more than a hundred fifty years ago; perhaps he really doesn't read the newspapers.

The disparity between American truths and "everywhere else truths" can be found in our inability to recognize the value of stem cell research, the immediate threat possessed by global warming, and the absolute catastrophe that is our continuing involvement in the Middle East. If you detect a religious component to all of that inability to accept truth, I won't dissuade you. Ron Suskind wrote a piece before the 2004 election in which he was told by a Bush official that the problem with the Eastern media was "they were in the reality based community."

The truth, a joke on the Daily Show once went, apparently has a "liberal bias."

You can believe in whatever you want. You can cheer on Rush, Hannity, Ann Coulter, or Bill O'Reilly. You can frame your gay bashing as "hating the sin, but loving the sinner" the same way your "greatest generation" grandparents said Martin Luther King was a communist puppet and it was those outside agitators who were stirrin' up trouble with their good coloreds. You can sneer and spit and scream whenever someone doesn't tearfully join you in a full throated rendition of whatever jingoistic chant or song that turns your crank. You can decide that we should build a big fence on our southern (as opposed to our northern, interestingly enough) border and pass laws prohibiting flag burning and use all the earth's resources because the guy you think lives in the sky says they're here for us to use. You can support torture and murder of the people we're supposed to be liberating. You can trade the 4th Amendment for security. You can oppose cervical cancer drugs and emergency contraception. You can believe that, despite the Inquisition, the Crusades, witchcraft trials, the genocide of the Native Americans, and that it's your 2,000 year old book that prescribes death as the punishment for nonbelievers (Deuteronomy 13:7-11), taking your lord's name in vain (Leviticus 24:16), and working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15), that yours is the religion of peace and goodness—and people like Gandhi (and eventually, even, somehow, people like me) are burning in hell even as you read this.

If I believed in a book that said you should die for your beliefs; if I supported public policy measures to enforce my beliefs on you because I had the numbers; if I had hundreds of years of history of persecuting you for your beliefs; and if I really believed, no matter how well I knew you that I was a more moral, more ethical, more righteous person than you are because I had a 2,000 year old book that told me so, you'd have me locked up. And if you say you wouldn't—if you say it wouldn't bother you if there were 92 of me for every one of you—if you say it wouldn't bother you if polls said people thought you were a bigger threat to the country than terrorists (True story; more Americans think atheists are a bigger problem to the country than think terrorists are such. True story.)—if you say it wouldn't bother you to have absolutely known your whole life that, because of your beliefs, you could never ever be President—if you say it wouldn't bother you to be afraid to express your beliefs out of concern you will be shunned, degraded, belittled, attacked, fired from your job, and completely marginalized in society—if you say it wouldn't bother you to always know that virtually everyone you ever met in your life held you in a little bit of contempt because what you saw when you looked into the sky wasn't what they saw...'d be a little bothered. And if you say you wouldn't, you're a damn liar.

But hey, you can roll any way you need to roll. I'm a live and let live cat.

You can root for the Dodgers. You can think that Lance Armstrong is innocent. You can deny evolution. You can say the United States in the 21st century has been a moral force for good all around the world.

You can. But, brother, you're wrong. And it's not even close. I don't care how many of you there are. I don't care how loudly you chant. I don't care how many school boards, circuit courts, media conglomerates, and corporate boards you completely control even while you ridiculously claim persecution.

Build your 500 foot stone ten commandments. Put them in my fucking driveway.

I'll stay by myself in my pumpkin patch, thanks. I'm a very sincere boy, and y'all can get along fine without my kind. I won't say the sun revolves around the earth when it doesn't.

Unless it'll buy me a World Series. 'Cause, I'll flip like Wilson for a World Series.

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