Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Vegetable Bingo

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary, and my birthday, by going to Chicago for three nights.  My wife plans these trips and occasionally consults with me.  We were packing a lot in.

ü  Nice downtown hotel booked cheaply on an internet travel site.
ü  Dinner at a PiIsen steakhouse restaurant with the kids.
ü  Chilling at a lakeside beach
ü  Dinner at a hip new place complete with street side seating, people watching, and happy hour
ü  Discussion of a new book by its author at the nearby American Writer’s Museum
ü  Matinee performance of True West at Steppenwolf
ü   Drinks and live blues with friends at Rosa’s on West Armitage
ü  Vegetable Bingo at the Hideout

Wait.  Vegetable bingo?  How did that make the list?

At dinner my daughter and her partner suggested we join them at the Hideout the following evening for a weekly event that benefits neighborhood gardens.  Years earlier she had been part of creating such a garden, Mindful Living, in Logan Square.  All volunteer, city sanctioned, neighborhood supported.  We visited.  It was a labor of love.
There are 1800 such gardens throughout Chicago and the surrounding area.  An organization called NeighborSpace (www.neighbor-space.org) preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of community groups through property ownership, insurance, water, education, tool lending, project planning, fundraising support, and more.  With that support, community groups operating gardens like Mindful Living can focus on gardening, generating food, beautifying neighborhoods, engaging families and contributing to safer neighborhoods.  The Hideout had the idea to help gardens, hooked up with NeighborSpace, and Vegetable Bingo was on.

Our daughter Moe described it much more simply, giving us the elevator speech version. 

“The Hideout gives up their back room every Wednesday to help out the gardens and maybe sell a few more drinks, a different community garden gets the bingo profits every week, and it’s a lot of fun.  (Moe understands collaboration).  You should come.”
So we did.  We have been to the Hideout before.  As its name suggests, it has a colorful history.

Legend has it the Hideout was built, slapped up might be a better verb, in 1881 with building materials of an unknown origin by area factory workers who needed a boarding house.  It became a public house serving alcohol in 1916 and continued serving throughout prohibition as a neighborhood tavern and speakeasy.  It never had a name, until it was required to as a legal bar in 1934.  Even after gaining a name, it did not sport a sign proclaiming it until 1996.

The wooden two-story Hideout is inconveniently located on West Wabansia in an industrial area between Lincoln Park and Bucktown.  Its neighborhood is changing.  The Hideout now finds itself on the very edge of the proposed Lincoln Yards development.  Across the street, where they tore down a big Chicago Streets and Sanitation facility, they built a soccer field.  Regular patrons are worried for the Hideout’s future.  My guess is any dive joint in existence since 1881 will find a way to survive even the best of times.
Vegetable Bingo is held in the back room which was added on in 1954.  It’s where bands play, when they are not jammed in the corner of the bar.  Sometimes bands play in both places.  It’s musical heaven for tunes of all genres.  Playing the Hideout is a distinct Chicago honor.  Robbie Fulks played there every Monday night for six years beginning in 2011.  Their house band, Devil in a Woodpile, can still be seen regularly in the back room.  The cover charge is only $5.

Music is not all they do back there.  In addition to Vegetable Bingo, they started and still maintain a popular event known as Soup and Bread, an ongoing community meal and hunger relief fundraiser, and are hosts to a couple of local TV shows, First Tuesdays put on by reporters from Chicago Reader and Propublica, as well at The Interview Show produced by WTTW.  Quite the place.  Eclectic to say the least.

I like it because it is one of the few Chicago places where you can get a drink at a reasonable price.  Last Wednesday they were selling cans of PBR for $3 and bottles of Old Style and Miller High Life for $4.  Thank you god for reasonable prices and a non-snooty (non-snotty?) vibe in a metropolitan area.   I love it there.

My wife and I got there early from the Steppenwolf matinee.  The Hideout opens at 4:00.  We sat at the picnic tables on the front patio till then.  There was a beautiful breeze off the lake.  It was quiet.  If you forgot about the city for a moment you might think you were sitting at some old place in the Illinois Valley.  After a while a young guy opened the door and invited us in.  Low ceilings, ancient  bar, scuffed floor, a beer can collection in a glass case on the wall by our table, various clever hand-written signs.  We ordered coffee with shots.  Believe it or not the bartender carded us.

A young woman we’d talked to outside took a stool at the bar and was soon joined by her boyfriend.  They sat close together and touched constantly.  I took them as Hideout regulars.  A steady stream of people walked past us to the back room carrying bins of vegetables, empty straw baskets, various gear.  They set up a makeshift table near the entrance and filled it with old bingo cards.  Three for $10.  Vegetable Bingo was getting ready to go.  Moe texted.

Moe-Do they have a grill set up in the front?

Dad-Not yet.

Moe-I’ll bring food.

Dad-Sounds good.

Moe-Save 6 seats. They fill up.

Dad-Will do.

Our son Dean texted soon after.

Dean-Stayed late, bad traffic.  Won’t be home till 7:00.  Can’t make it.

Dad-That’s OK.  We’ll see you soon anyway.

Dean-Have fun.

Dad-Will do.

Texting it so right to the point.  I love it for that.  Dean just started a good new job and is working a lot of hours.  He seemed energized when we all had dinner together two nights before.  Our kids have a lot going on in their lives.  I’m just glad we can be part of it.

I realized spots were being taken quickly at the folding tables in the back room.  I laid claim to six and spread our stuff around on the chairs.  I won’t say we were the oldest people there, but it was close between us and the owners who came in and made a brief appearance.

The young people who asked about the availability of our other four chairs were so nice when we claimed dibs on them.  It was a big mix of folks.  Some well-dressed coming off work, others in tattered shorts and t shirts, tattoos, dreadlocks, bald heads.  No matter what they were wearing or how they looked they seemed relaxed.  There was a lot of laughter.

They seemed to have regular places to sit, and most brought snacks if not dinner.
Moe and Don showed up with fat falafel sandwiches, spicy hummus, soft warm pita bread and stuffed grape leaves.  Along with it were little containers of a creamy red pepper paste and cucumber sauce.  We don’t get those kind of eats in Ottawa.  The sandwiches were so big my wife and I split one.

“How much for the sandwiches?”  I asked.
“Four bucks.  Good cheap place near the store.”

Moe and a business partner have a business in the Fulton Market district on Randolph.  I didn’t think there was anything cheap there.  Goes to show if you know what you’re doing you can still find a bargain in Chicago.

Her business partner, Liz, came with her baby, who we hadn’t seen since Memorial Day.  Amazing how much he’d grown over the summer and how alert and inquisitive he was.  He took a liking to the pita bread in a big way.  He was busy but well behaved.

Adults who brought kids stayed on the patio our front.  Older kids played bingo along with their parents.  They had good speakers out there so the numbers could be heard from the stage in back.  It was a beautiful night.  Eventually they began selling hot dogs in the front, at $3, a pop as an additional way to raise money for the garden.  Little in the way of fresh condiments though.  I kept thinking I could grab one of the big white onions I’d seen going up on stage and chop one up so the hot dog eaters could have a more authentic Chicago hot dog experience, but it was not my gig.

As we began to eat, Vegetable Bingo at the Hideout kicked off.   The bingo caller was a young guy with big black frame glasses and a voice with a satiric twist to it. He began by admitting it was his first time calling bingo.  He was helped by a young woman who seemed to know him and was originally from Peoria.  Throughout the evening he made lame references to Peoria that no one got.  In fact, his attempts at humor had people groaning.  His corniness itself was fun.

Part of the deal with anyone calling bingo are the clever side remarks the caller makes about the numbers.  Without it, bingo calling is a pretty mundane.  Say the letter and the number clearly, repeat it, and move on to the next. 

I used to call bingo (very loudly) at the nursing home when I worked as a nurse’s aide.  At the home, I had to wake my players up.  Other aides would stand over residents and cover spots on their card they missed.  A lot of dozing took place among the senior set.  The Hideout crowd was much more animated.

When someone from the crowd called BINGO, the crowd would loudly chant as one PROVE IT!  PROVE IT! until the potential winner climbed onto the stage, verified the numbers and letters with the woman from Peoria, and claimed their prize.  Behind the Bingo set up was a table loaded with nice baskets of vegetables, and a few other things; 4 packs of hoppy craft beer, a coffee per week for a year from some obscure espresso place.  But the crowd was clearly there for vegetables, both to win them, support those who grew them, and eat them.

I got close several times.  There was a big ass basket of kale I planned to choose if I won that eventually went to someone else.  My daughter Moe won and came back with a basket of heirloom cherry tomatoes and very sleek purple and tan striped eggplants.  Her partner Don immediately had recipe ideas for the eggplant.
We stayed till the last number was called, and then the crowd made its way to the bar.  It had been a long day.  Colleen and I said our good byes and grabbed an Uber, leaving the young people behind.  

As we travelled back downtown, I began thinking about Chicago and how we imagine it as downstaters. Some of us ascribe violence and danger to the entire city, are intimidated by its size, puzzled by its neighborhoods, blown away by both the traffic and the transportation systems designed to avoid it, and generally at a loss as to how to navigate it all.  We know cities offer much more,not only culturally but overall, yet we are dubious about how day to day life feels.  When downstaters pop into the city for a few days they can easily feel anonymous and small.

We tend to believe small towns have an edge on creating community.  And that may be true to some extent.  But community is not defined by city limits.  Community is the bond you feel to others through relationships and membership in groups.  Community gardens; the people who plant and tend them, and the people who support them, are an example.   Who would think a sliver of Chicago dwellers would be bound together by kale and zucchini?  The feeling in the pop-up bingo parlor in the backroom at the Hideout that night, even the Hideout itself, was of shared values and enjoyment. 

Community is where you find it, and if you look closely you will find that community abounds in Chicago and other big cities.  You may have to look for it in unusual places, but don’t ever think its not there.  The crowd at Vegetable Bingo was young and hungry.  Hungry for vegetables, but also hungry for a sense of belonging.   I think they found both inside that beat up old building on Wabansia.  I know my wife and I did.  It may have been the nicest part of our short stay in the city our kids have taught us to appreciate.   

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Understanding Horror

I read the essay written by the El Paso shooter.  Just reading his words is controversial.  There’s a belief we should not give those words credence, not help their author achieve fame, and not repeat them.  But in college I had a wise English professor who believed this; It is always better to know than not to know.  I’ve stuck with that idea ever since.  How can we recognize terrorism, understand it, and challenge it in the future if we don’t know read and understand the words and thoughts of terrorists?
In his essay, the El Paso shooter begins by expressing support of the Christchurch shooter who, on March 19, 2019, shot and killed 49 people in two New Zealand mosques, a hate crime against those of the Muslim faith.  That shooter was armed with an assault style weapon and concurrent with his murders published a 71-page essay online.  The El Paso shooter obviously read and agreed with it.

Following those terrorist attacks, New Zealand not only banned the sale and possession of such weapons in their country, they made possession and distribution of the shooter’s written message a criminal offense.  That New Zealand law has not stopped its publication on the internet.  On the contrary, it has perhaps expanded its readership.  
The Christchurch shooter took his deepest inspiration from another anti-Muslim fanatic who in 2011 murdered 77 young people in an attack on two Labour Party youth camps in Norway, and produced his own 1,500 page essay.  He wrote that he was striking back at the Labour Party for “failing to prevent the encroachment of multi culturalism and a Muslim takeover.”

America’s El Paso shooter also claims to have also read the writings of the shooter in Charleston who perpetrated a massacre in a black Charleston, South Carolina church on June 7, 2015 in which nine African American church members were murdered.  He reportedly said, at the crime scene while wielding his weapon, “I have to do it.  You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.  And you have to go.”
It’s an international chain, perhaps cluster is a better word, of hate and death made possible by the internet, the most powerful information sharing tool ever developed.  I think Americans like you and I should know the common theme that runs through these screeds.  I’m going to concentrate on the El Paso shooter’s words and thoughts.  We all know a 21-year old American white man, right?  Imagine that young man speaking and believing the words and sentences that follow.  I’ll give you the highlights of what he posted on social media just 19 minutes before he began shooting and in essence ended his life as he knew it, turning himself into a symbol of hate and violence.

This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.  They are the instigators, not me.  I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
Actually, the Hispanic community was not my target before I read The Great Replacement “ (a book).

America is rotting from the inside out.  Due to the death of the Baby Boomers, the increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right, and the ever-increasing Hispanic population, America will soon become a one-party state.  The Democrat party will own America and they know it.  They have already begun by pandering to the Hispanic voting bloc in the 1st Democratic Debate.  They intend to use open borders, free healthcare for illegals, citizenship and more to enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters.  With policies like these, the Hispanic support for Democrats will likely become near unanimous in the future.  The heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold.  Losing Texas and a few other states with heavy Hispanic population to the Democrats is all it would take for them to win nearly every presidential election.
So the Democrats are nearly unanimous with their support of immigration while the Republicans are divided over it.  At least with Republicans, the process of mass immigration and citizenship can be greatly reduced.

Immigration can only be detrimental to the future of America.  Continued immigration will make one the of the biggest issues of our time, automation, so much worse.  Some sources say that in under two decades half of American jobs will be lost to it.  Of course, some people will be retrained, but most will not.  So, it makes no sense to keep on letting millions of illegal or legal immigrants flood into the United States, and to keep the tens of millions that are already here.  Invaders who have close to the highest birthrate of all ethnicities in America.  In the future, America will have to initiate a basic universal income to prevent widespread poverty and civil unrest as people lose their jobs.”
The less dependents on a government welfare system the better.  The lower the unemployment rate, the better.  Achieving ambitious social projects like universal healthcare and UBI (universal basic income) would become far more likely to succeed if tens of millions of dependents are removed.

My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.  The job of my dreams will likely be automated.  Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.  They will turn Texas into an instrument of a political coup which will hasten the destruction of our country.
If you take nothing from else from this document, remember this:  INACTION IS A CHOICE.  I can no longer bear the shame of inaction knowing that our founding fathers have endowed me with the rights needed to save our country from the brink destruction (sic).  Our European comrades don’t have the gun rights needed to repel the millions of invaders that plague their country.  They have no choice but to sit by and watch their countries burn.

If our country falls, it will be the fault of traitors.  This is why I see my actions as faultless.  Because this isn’t an act of imperialism but an act of preservation.  America is full of hypocrites who will blast my actions as the sole result of racism and hatred of other countries, despite the extensive evidence of all the problems these invaders cause and will cause.  People who are hypocrites because they support imperialistic wars that have caused the loss of tens of thousands of American lives and untold numbers of civilian lives.  The argument that mass murder is okay when it is state sanctioned is absurd.  Our government has killed a whole lot more people for a whole lot less.
Even if other non-immigrant targets would have a greater impact, I can’t bring myself to kill my fellow Americans.  Even the Americans that seem hell-bent on destroying our country.  Even if they are shameless race mixers, massive polluters, haters of our collective values, etc..  One day they will see error of their ways (sic).  Either when American patriots fail to reform our country and it collapses or when we save it.  But they will see the error of their ways.  I promise y’all that.

I am against race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems.  2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics form interracial unions at much higher rates than average.  Yet another reason to send them back.”
The best solution to (race mixing) for now would be to divide America into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race. This physical separation would nearly eliminate race mixing and improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).

My ideology has not changed for several years.  My opinions….predate Trump and his campaign for president.  I putting (sic) this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack.  This is not the case.  I know the media is infamous for fake news.  Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that.
Many people think the fight for America is already lost.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe.  I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction. 

Chilling isn’t it?  I got a little shaky just retyping his words.  If there is a theme to this rambling, it is centered on the replacement theory as found in the book the El Paso shooter referenced, The Great Replacement.  It’s widely read and considered the inspiration for the right-wing anti-immigrant movement now growing across Europe. Here’s a quote from its contemporary French author Renaud Camus describing replacement as more than simple demographics.  He contends it is an unavoidable part of human nature.
“People don’t want other people to come into their territory, in their country, and change their cultures and their religions, their way of living, the way of eating, their way of dressing.  It is a worry that is central to the very essence of being human.  Being human is being not replaceable.”

Renaud Camus’ theory seems to justify xenophobia.  The pace of change in our modern world is accelerated.  So is our knowledge, our awareness, and our ability to learn about and accept each other.  We can rise above fear.  Clinging to racial identity, using skin color as a defining trait, can and should be overcome.  In fact, I see tolerance of each other growing.
Perhaps that’s the threat.  White supremacists see their power slipping away.  In a true democracy everyone is represented.  Power ebbs and flows.  What is their fear exactly?  The replacement theory may be the last gasp of an old order trying to preserve itself, when what it should be doing is welcoming the change and working to make the transition advantageous for us all.  White supremacy is a throwback.  We need to put it firmly in our past. 

In our United States white supremacy goes back to our slave roots, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, the Birmingham church bombings, all the way through Timothy McVeigh bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, to Saturday’s attack on Central American shoppers in El Paso.  All were carried out by radicalized American born white supremacists committing domestic terrorism.
Call it white supremacy or white nationalism, it is one in the same and it continues to bring violence to our country.  Does America have a white supremacy problem?  Of course it does.  We’ve never lost it.  White Supremacists are America’s ISIS.  You don’t have to look far to find evidence of white supremacy in public discourse, even among our elected officials.  It’s right in front of us.

Steve King, U.S. Representative from western Iowa, now stripped of all committee assignments by fellow Republicans for his racist statements, has supported white supremacy, practically channeling its most racist tenets.  In March of 2017,while on a tour of Europe in which he met with French politician Marine Le Pen, President of the far right National Rally political part in France, and Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the reactionary Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, King endorsed their efforts by saying:
We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

In a 2011 objection to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception, King said in a speech on the House floor:
That’s not constructive to our culture and our civilization.  If we (white people) let our birthrate get down below the replacement rate, we’re a dying civilization.”

In a New York Times interview Earlier this year he asked this of a New York Times Reporter during an interview:
White nationalist, white supremacist, western civilization-how did that language become offensive?”

The words of the replacement theory hit many of us over the head in August of 2017 when torch carrying right wing marchers, from various Neo Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and other White Supremacist groups, collectively referred to as the  Alt Right, staged their deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia chanted these haunting words:
Jews Will Not Replace Us.  You Will Not Replace Us.”

Until Trump’s election I knew little or nothing about the Alt Right movement, had never heard of Breitbart News or its executive chairman Steve Bannon who, after being a key campaign strategist for the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, became a top aide and advisor in the narrowly elected president’s early White House staff.  Little did I know appealing to those on the extreme right would prove so lucrative in terms of mining votes.
But it did.  That campaign accomplished its objectives.  And here we are, with 22 people dead in an El Paso Wal Mart at the hands of a white supremacist simply because they are Hispanic.  Just as 11 people died on October 27, 2018 in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue at the hands of a white supremacist because they were Jewish.  

A mental health professional with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual will form a diagnosis that determines if the El Paso shooter was mentally ill, and no doubt a judge will later rule on it in court.  I have a feeling, based on very little I admit, that he won’t prove to be insane.
We want to think that you have to be crazy to commit such a horrific crime.  It comforts us to believe that political ideology and beliefs do not compel humans to kill each other.  But they do.  Those responsible for such terror often disagree with attempts to view them as mentally ill.  Timothy McVeigh wanted his terrorist act, setting off a truck bomb outside the Murrah Federal building which killed 168 and injured 680, regarded as a rational act serving a political purpose.  He wanted to prove a point, his own radical point, was not the work of a madman.

Ted Kaczynski, former brilliant mathematics professor and avowed anarchist who became known as the Unabomber, who killed three and injured 23 over 17 years through mail bombs, fought tooth and nail not to be declared criminally insane.  He insisted he knew what he was doing and wanted his actions to be thought of as a logical means to the ends he espoused.
Of course, those guys, all white men by the way, survived their crimes.  Like them, the El Paso shooter is in custody, and we will learn more about him.  Expect to be appalled but at the same time listen to what he is saying, twisted as it may be.

If only some balanced person had been part of the El Paso shooter’s young life, gained his trust,  created enough safety around him so that he could express his murderous ideas in human conversation, and then worked to help him consider other views, persuading him there are other ways to pursue change when we believe it is needed.
But that didn’t happen.  Instead the El Paso shooter was radicalized, likely by strangers, and his conviction for hateful beliefs allowed him to carry out the August 3, 2019 massacre in Wal Mart of 22 people he regarded flatly as “Hispanics.”

The El Paso shooter quite likely lived inside his head, spoke his truths online, in an echo chamber of like-minded hate filled readers, and found no brake to his violent plans.  I think he was probably encouraged by the hateful rhetoric that seems now to be everywhere in America.  What are we doing to each other?
Chances are we will hear the El Paso shooter’s story repeated by others.  It’s a narrative now, and tragically it will attract other believers, as other narratives attracted him.  God help us find a way to engage those who justify such killing so that we might save both their lives and the lives of their potential victims.  We’ve seen hate destroy lives time and time again.  I fear, as you might, that current American politics only compounds that hate, making its way into our communities and our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors.  Americans must find a way out of this, both for each other and for ourselves.

P.S.-If you are interested in reading the entire essay, The Inconvenient Truth, by the El Paso shooter I can’t help you.  I read a redacted version published at www.latinorebels.com. in which they blacked out references to the guns, the ammo, the gear, the tactics employed to carry out the shooting.  I’m glad they did.  Once on the site, look for “Parts of the Manifesto…”