The Coffee Shop

In a small coffee shop in Cleveland, Ohio, not far from Playhouse Square, two men were discussing the state of the war. One of them, a redhead with glasses and a flat cap, seemed particularly agitated. “The president said he wasn’t ruling it out,” he said. His friend, a tall bald man with a long beard, just shook his head. “They already used them in the Middle East,” continued the red-headed man.

“There is a significant difference,” said the bearded man, “between using nuclear weapons on foreign soil and using them against American citizens. Even if they are rebels.”

Jared listened to the two men as he swept the floor behind the counter. He knew eavesdropping on them was rude, but he couldn’t help it. It was that time of evening when hardly anyone showed up. Not many people needed coffee after six o’clock. He and Kelly barely needed to do anything. Jared looked around the shop at the customers. Apart from the two politically-minded individuals, there was a middle-aged couple a few tables away. The husband had on a Cavs jacket and an Indians baseball cap. Every so often he would turn away from his wife and look over at the two men discussing politics. His wife, meanwhile, was trying to keep him engaged in their own conversation, which had to do with school choices for their children and how they were going to pay for college. The only other person in the coffee shop was a young woman, around college age, who was pretending to study a calculus textbook but kept checking her phone every few minutes.

Looking around, Jared realized that, once again, everyone in the coffee shop was white. This wasn’t surprising: people of color hadn’t been coming to the coffee shop for a long time. Jared recalled one particular Middle Eastern couple, neighbors of his named Aleah And Brahim, who used to be regulars. Aleah would get a medium latte and Brahim enjoyed a large black coffee. One day, while Jared was driving to work, he noticed a couple of black vans parked in front of their house. They stopped showing up to the coffee shop after that, and the next time Jared drove by their house there was a for sale sign in front of it.

Even the staff of the coffee shop was now completely white. Jared’s friend Jamal had left the coffee shop a little over a month ago. Rumor was that he’d run away to New York City, deep in rebel territory, with one of the regulars, Marcus, who he had been dating. Jared liked Marcus. Marcus would come in and order a latte with a shot of pumpkin spice every fall, and Jamal would laugh. “You’re such a little white girl, Marcus,” he’d say. But if Jamal and Marcus had been planning on fleeing to New York, they had never told Jared. Sometimes Jared wondered what had really happened to the two of them. Were they really going to New York? If so, did they make it there? Did Jamal join up with the rebel army, or were they living peaceful, civilian lives?

“Would you really put it past the president to go that far?” the redheaded man asked his friend. “He’s always said that we need to get tough on them.”

“But what happens when the war ends, and there’s a big radioactive crater where New York used to be?” replied the bearded man. “Think of all the money that would need to go into the rebuilding effort. Do you really think that the president wants to spend that much, especially with the national debt as high as it is?”

“I suppose not,” conceded his friend. “God, can you just imagine, though? All that destruction, thousands of people dead. And not just troops, but civilians, too.” The bearded man nodded, a grim look on his face.

The man in the Indians cap leaned towards the two gentlemen. “Hey,” he said. The men ignored him.

His wife put a hand on his shoulder. “Jack, don’t,” she admonished. Jack ignored her.

Hey,” he said again, louder. Again, the two men ignored him. Jack got up from his seat.

Hey, you ginger fuck,” he said, “you some kind of rebel sympathizer?”
That got everyone’s attention. Even the woman in the booth stopped pretending to study and was now looking up at the scene unfolding a couple of tables away from her. The red-headed man turned to face his accuser. “I’m sorry?” he asked, a bewildered look on his face.
“I asked,” said Jack, “if you and your friend were a couple of rebel-loving traitors.”

“Of course not,” said the redheaded man. “I wasn’t—”

“Because it seems to me,” said Jack, interrupting him, “that any real American wouldn’t have the slightest bit of sympathy for these traitors. If they wind up dead in a crater, then I say they got what’s coming to them.”

“But what about the civilians?” asked the redheaded man.
“Anyone who’s over there with the rebels is just as guilty as any rebel,” said Jack. “They’re just as guilty of abandoning American values as the rest of them, and they deserve to die just the same.”
“Even the women and children?” asked the bearded man.
“Everyone,” said Jack. “Which brings us back to you two rebel-lovers.”

Jack’s wife stood up and put her hand on his shoulder. “Jack, stop,” she said. “They’re not worth it.”

“Shut it, Martha,” barked Jack, pushing her hand off him. He stepped towards his two targets. “I think we should have a look inside your houses,” he said. “I’d bet we’d find some interesting stuff.” He inched closer. “Stuff like letters to rebel soldiers. Maybe even a prayer rug or two.”

Jared could see where this was going, and he knew he needed to put a stop to it. “Hey,” he said.

Jack turned to look at him. “What?” he asked, annoyed.

Jared swallowed a lump in his throat. Jack was at least six feet tall, and he had a chest like a barrel of whiskey. Standing across from him, Jared felt like a housecat that had just picked a fight with a mountain lion. He shook himself out of it. It was too late to back down now. “If you’re going to continue to harass our customers,” said Jared, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Jack turned towards Jared, directing his fury at the barista. “Oh yeah?” he said. “You a rebel-lover, too?”

Jared pointed at the flag by the door. “You see that?” he said. “I put that there myself.” He hadn’t, but Jack didn’t need to know that. “Now, do you see the sign next to it? The one that says ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody?’”

Jack didn’t say anything. He just stood there, his eyes going over every inch of Jared’s face as if he were memorizing it. Jared felt a sinking feeling grow in the pit of his stomach. He knew what happened to the people who spoke up. Everyone did. One day a friend or acquaintance of yours would be running their mouth off. A few days later, they were gone without a trace. No one ever wondered where they had gone off to. Not aloud, anyway.

Finally, Jack broke his gaze from Jared’s face and sat back down at the table with Martha. A haze of tension seemed to drain away, and the coffee shop returned to a level of normalcy. The woman in the booth went back to her textbook. Jack and Martha tittered away about the educational prospects of their children. Jared continued sweeping the floor. And the redheaded man and his bearded friend began conversing again, albeit in more hushed tones. The malaise of a lazy Ohio evening began to take hold once again.

A few minutes later, the woman in the booth got up and asked for a refill on her mocha. Kelly rung her up at the register while Jared began making the drink. As she waited, the woman once again whipped out her phone and began scrolling through what must have been status updates. At last Jared finished her drink and brought it over to her.

Here’s your drink, miss,” he said, holding the cup out for her to take. The woman didn’t respond. Jared struggled not to roll his eyes. “Miss, your drink,” he said again. The woman still didn’t respond. She was staring at her phone, her face completely pale, as if all the blood had rushed out of her at once.
“Oh my God,” she said, her eyes glued to the screen.

Jared was becoming a bit impatient. “Miss,” he said again, more forcefully, “your drink.”

They did it,” said the woman, her voice shaking. “They actually did it.”

Something in her tone unnerved Jared. He began to feel that something was wrong. “What did they do?” he asked.

New York just got hit with a nuclear missile strike.”

Every eye in the shop shifted towards the woman. For what felt like hours, no one said a word. Slowly, Jared put down the mocha in his hands. Then he began taking off his apron. For a moment, he just stood there with his apron off, not doing anything, not saying a word.

Kelly,” he said finally, “I’m not feeling very well. I’m going to go home.” Kelly didn’t say anything. Jared went to get his coat from the back of the shop.

Am I just going to be here by myself, then?” Kelly asked suddenly, as if she had just awoken from a trance.

Jared almost told Kelly to call Jamal, but he stopped himself before uttering it. “Call Brent,” he said instead. “He owes me a favor, anyway.” He heard Kelly sigh.

OK,” she said.

Jared grabbed his coat and walked outside. The sun had just finished setting, and a cool night breeze wafted through the air. There was a National Guardsman patrolling the street, his eyes scanning up and down the sidewalk on both sides. Eventually those eyes came to rest on Jared. Jared kept his head down and didn’t say anything.

I wrote this story about a year ago. I tried to get it published in a punk zine, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t try to get it published elsewhere. I was afraid it would be seen as “too political.”

After what happened today in the Senate today, I simply don’t care anymore.

Net Neutrality

Hello Internet! I’m going to write a more standard blog post in the next couple of days, but today I want to focus on Net Neutrality, an issue that is especially near and dear to me. It’s likely that you already know what it is, considering that everyone is talking about it right now. But if you don’t, Net Neutrality is a serious of protections that basically keep every site on the Internet more or less equal. Your ISP cannot prioritize one site over another. My blog gets exactly the same treatment as any other site. However, the FCC is voting to repeal Net Neutrality in a couple of days, mostly because ISPs have been campaigning against it. They want to prioritize access to sites that make lucrative deals with them, and sell you certain sites as part of packages, as if it were cable TV.

Naturally, this is really bad for anyone who makes a living on the Internet, which these days is a lot of people. There is no way a site like, say, Topatoco.com can compete with Amazon when it comes to getting the best deal with the most ISPs. In fact, it’s likely that a lot of independent sites could even get blocked, so that ISPs can direct traffic to there preferred partner.

If this upsets you (as it should), you still have a couple of days to act. The vote is on December 14th. As I am writing, it is currently the twelfth. That means you can still call your representative tomorrow, or participate in the internet-wide protest going on right now. Head to battleforthenet.com for more information. And make sure to let your Congressperson know that if the repeal does end up passing, that you will be keeping their actions in mind next year when midterm elections roll around.

This Post is Dedicated to Everyone Freaking Out Right Now

So today I was feeling depressed, as I was yesterday, about the state of the world. About how white supremacy continues to be normalized despite the violence in Charlottesville. About how our own president is basically a white supremacist. About how someone could be holding a rally in Cleveland sometime soon and friends of mine could wind up getting hurt, because I know a lot of people who would show up to the counter-protest (note: this isn’t a criticism. You’re all super brave and I love you). About how this could be the beginning, and that my friends of color could be targeted by white supremacist violence. And I was generally feeling powerless.

And then, on my twitter feed, something weird happened. Patrick Rothfuss was tweeting about a Kickstarter he’s promoting, when all of a sudden things got real.

I remember thinking two things. The first was “Aw, Pat, not you, too!” and the second was “Wow. It’s like my thoughts are getting reflected back at me.” Because I had been thinking about similar things. And suddenly, I knew exactly how to respond.

After I had sent the tweets, I looked back at what I had written. And I realized that I had found the words that I needed to hear myself. This was the key to getting myself out of my funk and continuing to live my life. Because to give in is exactly what those people want. They want us to be afraid, to spend our every waking moment terrified that they may be coming to our town next, or that we won’t be able to protect our loved ones. And it’s up to us to prove them wrong.

We have to keep going, because that is how we hold on to what we love. It’s how we keep the dream of beauty and the goodness of humankind alive. We have to keep living our lives and creating beautiful things.

So to Patrick Rothfuss, myself, and to everyone else who may be freaking the hell out right now, I’d just like to say, do your best. Create good work. Raise your kids to be amazing people. Cultivate goodness and beauty in all that you do. Because to do otherwise is to let the fascists win. So promote that Kickstarter, or make that comic, or build your Patreon following, or whatever you need to do. The beauty of human life is that it keeps going, no matter what.

In other words,

Incidentally, this is what the poster was originally referring to, before it became a meme. Let’s bring that meaning back.

Political Depression

I’ll be honest: I’m in a bad state of mind and it’s not getting better. And it’s mainly to do with politics.

Charlottseville shocked me. And had we, as a country, come together to denounce white supremacy, I might have recovered sooner. Instead we got a president who equivocated and a conservative movement that was willing to defend him for doing so. I was amazed by the number of people who tried to tell me the counter-protesters were just as bad as the Nazis, as if that isn’t tantamount to tacitly supporting them. So now I’m scared for our country and questioning my friendships.

Naturally, this is making my depression get really, really bad. Facebook is exacerbating it, but I can’t quit Facebook because I rely on it too much. It’s the main way my D&D group gets in touch. Twitter is better but not perfect, but again there are people who I can only tall to on twitter. Even worse, if I want to grow my blog, one of the best ways to interact with readers is social media.

I am constantly inundated with article after article that makes me question just how selfish and evil and close-minded people can be. I try to get out of it for a few hours but I can’t seem to stay away. I want to be an informed citizen, but I have a hard time feeling like I can do anything. I feel powerless to change the country.

I feel like I’m drowning. This is the worst I’ve felt in a long time. Not even losing my job was this stressful.

A Not-So-Patriotic Fourth

The Fourth of July is making me feel particularly depressed this year. I try to summon up a little patriotic glee, some good old fashioned “‘Merica!” pride, but all I can think about is how the Republicans are tying to screw me out of healthcare. And then I get worried that I won’t be able to afford my anti-depressants. And then I start to think about what it would be like to to have to live through the Trump presidency without access to anti-depressants, and I get mad and angry and I want to call my Senator and yell at him even though he already said no to the bill. But then I remember that it’s the Fourth of July so he’s out of the office anyway, and then I feel sad and ineffectual.

This is the first fourth of July in my entire memory that I don’t feel like celebrating my country. Even during the last Republican administration, which happened around the time that I first started forming cohesive political opinions, I still wanted to go outside and wave sparklers around and go see fireworks displays. I didn’t like Bush or what he was doing to the country. At all. But he never made me feel depressed the way the current administration does.

I’m clearly in the minority, at least in my White suburban neighborhood, because I can hear people setting off the occasional firecracker outside my house and it’s not even dark out yet.  But I bet I’m not the only one feeling this way, because from what my psychologist tells me, anxiety about Trump and the current government is really, really common right now. So if you’re out there feeling alone,. like you’re the only one who can’t seem to muster up good feelings for a country that is continually letting you down, I have this to say: I’m here, too, and I’m just as scared as you. Let’s hide under the covers together.

P.S.: I think I know who to blame for everything that’s going on in politics right now. You see, I was going back over my Facebook time-line and I happened to find this post from a particularly cheeky asshole on the day of the election:

I fucked it up

Can you believe this guy? He actually had the nerve to wear a First Order T-Shirt on the day of the election because lol irony lol and now our democracy’s backsliding into a dictatorship. Hey asshole: maybe if you had worn a Resistance T-Shirt, Clinton would have won, yeah? Way to jinx the entire country, jerk. Honestly, the nerve of some people.

Screw Politics

I hate elections. I really do.

I get really emotionally invested in the political process here in the United States. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing at first. After all, the whole point of democracy is that people get to participate in running the country. Theoretically, being invested in politics is a good thing. And it can be! When people are excited about politics, great things can happen. Real change can be achieved.

But when I get engaged in politics, I tend to get angry. I get angry at politicians I don’t like. I get angry with the people who support them. I get angry at laws that happen three states away that technically don’t effect me, nor anyone I know. I get angry at hypothetical wars and imaginary injustices. And I get really, really angry at poll numbers I don’t like.

Then, when I’m done being angry, I just get stressed out. I worry about the politicians I like losing. I worry about the politicians I don’t like winning. I worry about what might happen in a country where someone I particularly dislike, like, say, a certain orange-faced billionaire, became the president. The thing is, I am prone to bouts of depression and anxiety. Politics tends to exacerbate these things for me.

Usually, I can brush this off and go about my daily life, knowing that outside of voting, there’s not that much I can realistically do. I have a full-time job to think about and student loans to pay off. Politics can wait until election day.

Except, in an election year, it really can’t. The long stretch of debates and primary elections means that politics is on all the airwaves constantly. It dominates my Facebook feed. It conquers my twitter feed. It’s on every newspaper, magazine, TV show and blog. It’s practically in the air we breathe.

It can be hard to find a place to take a break from politics in an election year, so I’m going to carve one out for myself. I’m going to try my damnedest each day to find an hour to put aside all the politics and news and just relax and enjoy a book, or maybe get some writing done. I’m setting aside a daily “Screw politics” hour so that I can keep my sanity. If nothing else, let that be the one thing that politics can never take away from me.