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National Novel Writing Month is for the Weak

“Remember above all things, Kid, that to write is not difficult, not painful, that it comes out of you with ease, that you can whip up a little tale in no time…” –Jack Kerouac

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as its abbreviated. It’s a call to action for professional and amateur writers alike, to spend exactly 30 days drafting a story of fiction at least 50,000 words long. It’s a big task to take on, no doubt about it. But as someone who makes his living as a writer, someone who fantasizes pervertedly about selling a novel and having it reach literary legend status, this is an idea and a challenge for weaklings.

Jack Kerouac is lauded as one of America’s—if not one of the world’s—greatest writers. He defined a movement, he changed the way we read, write and perceive. If he had only published one book, On the Road, his affect would have remained the same. He wrote On the Road in just three weeks. In the copy of the book I own, his story spans 307 pages. The average word count per page is 250. That means that his masterpiece is more than double that of what NaNoWriMo is encouraging its writers to complete—minus seven days.

Kerouac was a maniac. Most of the greats are, but most of the greats didn’t write their defining work in less than a month. When he said that writing was easy, he was half right. If you know your story and you commit yourself to telling it, yeah, it’s a goddamn breeze. And it’s fun. But if you are trying to make something up from where there is nothing, or you don’t have the tools and the training and the discipline, it’s a wretched exercise in masochism. Most would be better suited to gargle nails or spend an afternoon discussing the benefits of deductive reasoning with Ann Coulter than to subject themselves to the self-doubt not being able to write can bring.

I didn’t know it was National Novel Writing Month until I saw a story on BuzzFeed just a day after returning from a week-long, self-imposed writer’s bootcamp. One of the greatest friends I’ve ever had and a fellow self-loathing employed writer, Jarret Keene, retreated with me to Michigan with the strict intention of each of us writing 50,000 words in seven days. We were idiots for thinking we could do it. But it had to be done. We had stories to tell. Stories that have been banging against the inside of our heads for years. It was time for the stories to come out. And there was no way we were ever going to complete these novels by finding time in our regular lives to write them.

Because our regular lives are filled with commitments, monied projects, friends, wives, kids, girlfriends, parents, meals and bathroom breaks. All these things simply get in the way of the writing mission and so, we turned off the Internet, shut down our phones and set up a writer’s sweatshop in a gorgeous and quiet hideout far away from any one and any thing that would deter from the mission. No TV, no women, no booze.

Because the important thing is discipline. Those participating in National Novel Writing Month, will need that above all else. And if these participants can do it, I applaud them. But not loudly. Because I can’t help but think National Novel Writing Month is just a big circle jerk of literary heroes and wannabes. Because here’s the thing; if you want to write a novel, you’ll write the damn novel. You shouldn’t need a special month set aside to do it. Because in addition to the stress and mental pains you’ll incur throughout these 30 days, you have that terrible deadline of November 30 staring you in the face. Deadlines are good. Most of us work better on them, I know most writers certainly do. But a hard stop for a novel with only 30 days to do it, is just absurd. You’ll be writing against time instead of writing to your story. That makes it dishonest. And no one likes a liar. Ask James Frey. (Unless of course you come right out and say it’s fiction, then everyone loves a liar and hopes you lie more.)

For seven days, Keene and I were liars. We wrote from mid-morning until early morning of the next day stopping only for egg and bologna sandwiches, to make another pot of coffee and to walk around our camp, fearing if we didn’t move our bodies out of the chairs, we’d end up dead from embolisms.

The first day there, I wrote approximately 5,000 words. The next day, I threw them all away and wrote another 5,000 words. The day after that, I panicked. I didn’t know how to tell the story, though I knew it well. I stood up from my chair across the long wooden table where Keene was steadily chopping away at his work and barked, “Christ! I can’t do this. I need to figure something out… I’ll be back.” I grabbed a few books we’d brought with us and ran out of the house raving about my inadequacies. After several hours of reevaluating the story, the process and everything I knew about myself, I had my story structure back in place. Keene came looking for me. By that time, I was wandering the grounds trying to understand the effect erosion has on property value. I couldn’t explain this concern to you today if I tried. It was pure mania.

We headed back to the sweatshop, he poured me a cup of coffee and I wrote out my plot and the characters on several pages of a legal pad. This is important to note because I did not use a Moleskine notebook as Molly Horan mentions writers might do in her BuzzFeed story. Moleskines are too small and too fancy for my purposes. I’ve never used one. Never will. I need something big and cheap because my handwriting is terrible. Plus, legal pads are harder to lose among piles of notes and coffee cups. And after four hours of scripting out my book, I started to type it. Six hours later, it was well into the next day and I had churned out over 6,000 words. And they weren’t all that bad.

When we were in it—our stories—punching away at the keys, man, I tell you we flew, we thrummed, we were machines, we were gods. It was when we stopped for the bit of sleep we did allow ourselves that things got bad. Keene howled at the walls as he lay in his bed. Moaning with pain, “Why? What am I doing?” I had dreams that I was still writing. When I woke 20 minutes later, I was heartbroken to realize that I hadn’t written what my subconscious had. We said to each other, “What are we doing here? Why are we doing this? What sort of monster writes a novel? This is hard.” We both understood why so many of our favorite writers ended up blowing their brains out—it’s a whole lot easier than writing. 

We didn’t reach 50,000 words in 7 days. We knew we wouldn’t. But we had to chase that goal. What we did get was about 25,000 words each in 7 days. That’s half a novel. So, now we’re stuck back home with our responsibilities, but we’ve got a helluva start. Half of two decent first drafts. We’ll finish them at a much slower pace with the howling and the sleepless psychosis in polite check. But we will finish them. And when we do, we’ll re-write them because the first draft is never on the bookshelf. Even Kerouac made edits to his On the Road manuscript.

And when we sell these novels and they do make it to some bookstore somewhere, we’ll want to make even more edits. Because the stories might be finished. We may have reached the conclusion, but a novel is never finished. Not in seven days, not in three weeks and not in a month. It’s cute that people want to think so. And it’s cute that they want to try. There’s a romance to writing a novel, a glamor, I get it. But the real truth is that there’s nothing glamorous about it. There are no shattered scotch bottles on the floor. There are no cigarette stains or half-dead hookers strewn about. There is, however, speed delivered from coffee and anxiety and adrenaline and a lot of yellow-lined pages of notes crumpled up at the table legs.

Perhaps I’m feeling a bit superior to the National Novel Writing Month participants. But that’s because if we could financially afford to take another two weeks away from the paid work, we’d have finished our novels and even had time to do a re-write. I wonder if these people taking part in National Novel Writing Month are going underground or just trying to squeeze this work in among their human daily activities. If so, I warn them against it. Their work may suffer. If they want to really bang something out, they need to disassociate themselves from their lives.

Because when you make the commitment to go quiet for a while with the sole intention of turning out a true piece of fiction, you end up taking yourself apart and seeing what you’re really made of and what’s really in there among the guts and bones and blood. And once you realize it’s all just junk and shit and bile, then you can find a quiet place to write your story and commit to making it good. And you won’t do it for some collective online glory with strangers, you’ll do it for yourself, then in hopes of someone somewhere one day reading what you wrote and think, Damn. That was good. I feel something. I want to read more.

But you won’t wait until November to do it. You’ll wait until you’re alone. Or at least with another equally lonely psychopath ripping his insides up, too.

Rosh Hashanah Goes Burlesque

I remember a time as a young, dogmatic Jew when High Holy Day services at Temple Anshe Sholom were the place to be for any other dogmatic Jew in the south suburbs. Aside from the children’s services, nearly every seat in the joint was occupied from the Rosh Hashanahh Evening Service to the Yom Kippur Memorial Service. From underneath the rabbi’s nose all the way back to the adjoining social hall and onto the social hall’s stage, pews and folding chairs chairs were filled with reformed Jews ready to celebrate the New Year and repent their sins.

Over the years, however, numbers at the temple dwindled. Still the folding chairs were set up in case, and in hope, that families and guests would fill them. I don’t know the reason membership declined. It could be that fewer Jewish families live in the south suburbs now. It could be that religion is becoming passé. It could be that parking is such a hassel. Whatever the reason, like most businesses, Anshe Sholom is desperate to get people through the door. And this year, the temple pulled out all of the stops.

After completing an intense demographic study on social behaviors and norms, the temple adjusted its approach to celebration, prayer and faith.

As is customary at Rosh Hashanah, the New Year according to the Old Testament, Jews celebrate by eating apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year. This year, Apples and Honey were the names of the two burlesque dancers hired to shimmy, shake and twirl their tassels on the bima while the rabbi and cantor led the congregation through the Gates of Repentance prayer book. The tassels, of course were traditional tzitzit taken from the temple’s old tallit collection.

The choir, usually, a mish-mosh of temple members, most lacking in vocal training, was replaced by the choir from South Chicago’s Salem Baptist Church and backed by the famed Grand Rapids, Michigan Christian band Uptown Praise Band. While the music at Temple Anshe Sholom has always been, in my opinion, nice, the rabbi, cantor and temple officers felt that this conglomeration of sound would liven the spirits of the Reformed Jews seeking annual routine celebration. Seasonal songs were still sung and performed, but Uptown and the Salem choir added a much needed flare that had been lacking for decades.

It was like being at a Christian revival concert for people with who give money to Israel.

Celebrity was not lost on the rabbi when he invited the rapper Snow to the pulpit to recite the popular Ve’ahavta. Although Snow’s relevance was lost on most congregants, since his peak came in the early 1990s with his hit Informer, everyone seemed to enjoy his Canadian-honkey-reggae styling of the prayer. When asked why Snow was chosen, Rabbi Paul Kaplan replied, “He fit the budget.”

The blessings over the Torah were chanted by a spot-on Woody Allen impersonator. Rather, they were nervously stuttered. Then a Mel Brooks impersonator read the passage flawlessly before David DeLuise, son of the late Dom DeLuise, a friend of the real Mel Brooks, ran in from the back of the social hall and up to the bima to read the English translation. He then reminded everyone he starred in Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place and proudly confessed he had Selena Gomez’s personal cell phone number memorized.

 The most fun was the drinking game instituted by Rabbi Kaplan: Every time the word “Israel” was said, each congregant, 21 years of age and older, had to take a shot of Smirnoff Green Apple flavored vodka. The one drawback to this was that there was a seven car pile up on Joe Orr Road following Monday morning’s services as attendees headed to the Egg & I restaurant. Sticklers for tradition, approximately 90 percent of Anshe Sholom’s members simultaneously embark the few blocks to The Egg & I for brunch in a way that recalls the flight from Egypt in Exodus. And hungry, drunk Jews at the wheel does not make for safe driving conditions.

I have to admit that while the approach was completely erratic and could have been thought up by an angry, developmentally challenged 10-year-old or Chicago-based PR firm, it was the most exciting and interesting service held during the temple’s 50-plus years in existence. Not all of the seats were filled. But the clergy and the officers are hopeful that Yom Kippur will have people fighting to get in.

My brother Steven, who lives in Los Angeles called me this morning and said, “I heard about temple. Pretty cool. I also heard they’re going to have Jon Stewart do the sermon at Yom Kippur.”

“No,” I told him. “They’re getting Lady Ga Ga to dress like Jon Stewart. And she’ll be reading the Mourner’s Kaddish.”

On the way out, each member was handed a pamphlet and an envelope, which asked for donations to Israel. Those who avoided the pile up in front of the Egg & I then ignored the nice homeless man in the parking lot asking for leftovers or a dime.

It was agreed that this approach to attract new and old members to the temple was a much better one than the Rabbi’s earlier suggestion to pass out magnets to attendees promoting his podcast where he recaps his weekly sermons.

Someone Teach Me to Strike

I’m having a hard time understanding the Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers strike. Since Monday, the union teachers have traded their lesson plans and business casual attire for picket signs and red T-shirts while they demand a more favored deal from CPS despite 10 months of arguing.


Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis negotiates with CPS.

 

 

The union’s president, Karen Lewis, has been soapboxing for higher pay, better benefits and dependable job security. And teachers should have those things. There have been complaints from teachers—and the union—to parents, the district and the mayor about a lack of necessary supplies like quality books, teacher training, air-conditioning in the classrooms and toilet paper. And teachers should have those things, too. So should the students.

Teachers are important—knowledge is power and all that—and for a majority of the calendar year, for most of the days in that year and for most of the hours in those days, teachers are responsible for filling our kids’ heads with useful information that will hopefully turn them into well adjusted, functioning, intelligent adults who will make the world a better place to live. Sadly, teachers are hard pressed to do this because of faulty programs like No Child Left Behind, being forced to teach to the test and not being able to wipe themselves after using the bathroom.

As it stands, CPS has offered what sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Over the next four years, union members will receive a 16 percent pay increase, paid maternity leave, short-term disability coverage as well as freezing the rising cost of healthcare for two-thirds of the union’s members. The total proposal laid out by the district will cost around $400 million of taxpayer money. That’s a lot of dough to spend, especially for a district that can’t seem to spring for a decent HVAC system or a roll or two of Charmin.

Yeah, that’s a real good deal. A guaranteed raise of 4 percent every year for four years is a perk found in few other industries. Many, if not most industries, are barely giving cost of living increases to their employees, much less annual raises. Times are tight. When I worked for Clear Channel Radio, there were a few years when we didn’t get any cost of living bump. I did the math once. Because of a spike in sales taxes and gas, etc., it was literally costing me money to go to work. “Thanks, Lowry Mays, for the opportunity to have a job. The check is in the mail.” And that was back before the recession tossed the economic system on its ass.

According to the CPS annual financial report, the average salary for a teacher in the district in 2011 was over $67,000. Some reports are claiming it was over $76,000 during the 2011-2012 school year. They have received a 4 percent hike every year for the past eight years, which is alien to most other employed American workers. Like the deal on the table, that ain’t bad. So union teachers get a decent wage, a guaranteed bump every year and benefits with the possibility of their healthcare costs not going up, while the rest of us scramble to pay more. The Chicago Board of Education has even offered to work with the teachers to improve the way they are evaluated. So, really, there’s little to be upset about. And what there is to be upset about, certainly isn’t worth walking out over.


If teachers remain on strike, this little girl will grow up to work for the government.

 

 

I have many friends that are teachers. And they often gripe about the wretched conditions they have to work with; the terrible kids, the maniac parents, the moronic principals… Yeah, work sucks. We all have bad bosses and deal with waterbrains on a daily basis. That’s just the way it is. And we’d all like bulletproof assurances that our jobs are safe. But we’re not China and our empire is crumbling. Fear of losing our job has become a skill set for the resume.

Teachers get great vacations, too. Granted, they’re kind of restricted as to when they can run off to sandy beaches or hop a cruise line, but they get winter break, spring break and summer break. More or less anyway. (I know not all districts work like this, but the vast paid-vacation package is there.) My good friend Liese is a teacher in the western burbs and she takes at least one big trip with her husband every year. Recently, it was to Australia and New Zealand. How nice.

I haven’t had a proper two-week vacation since 2005. I’m not complaining. I’m not saying it’s unfair. You won’t hear me cry about it because I chose to be a self-employed writer. Like everyone else, I hustle and struggle for every dollar I make, but if I’m not working, I’m not earning. A paid vacation is not a luxury I can afford. And this is a choice I make every single day.

In 2007, when I first moved back to Chicago and was just beginning my near three-year stint of unemployment, I considered going back to school to become a teacher. I figured I would earn a bankable buck I could depend on and use my summers to write books and plays. I decided against it for no other reason than I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a writer. That was, and continues to be my choice.

While 67 or 76 grand is nothing to scoff at, there’s no secret that being a teacher is not a fast track to becoming independently wealthy. Certainly not a teacher outside of a university system without a doctorate anyway. And most people that become teachers know this. They know they’re going to be dealing with horrible kids and awful parents and stupid bosses. And they choose to do it anyway. And they continue to choose it. Until they go on strike.

Early suggestion for the teachers strike uniform. Red T-shirts were eventually decided on instead.

 

 

And for what? The union is asking for preferential treatment above many other working-class drones. I’m anti-entitlement. I think most of the country is. Screw the 1 Percent. They take and take and then they go on lunch break before coming back to kill the afternoon robbing form the poor some more. That’s not right. For those evil Wall Street bastards, enough is never enough. And right now, I get that same feeling from the teachers union. They have an amazing deal before them. A deal most Americans would kill for. But instead of taking the deal, they’re stomping their feet screaming, “No. We deserve better. Because we said so.”

It is extremely unacceptable that students don’t have the proper books or best tools at their reach for learning. It’s not OK that classrooms are kilns in the early weeks of the school year. That’s a systemic problem within CPS. The city of Chicago and the State of Illinois seem to pride themselves on having no idea how to properly budget money. Chicago has the highest sales tax in the nation, we pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year in tolls for roads that are already paid for. We even pay an amusement tax in Chicago when we buy tickets for a play. What the hell is that? All of this money (and more) coming through the door and our kids and teachers still can’t find a damn roll of T.P. in the building. Obviously, there’s a problem.

Teachers, parents and unions need to be focusing on the source of that problem—the system. This requires more demands from elected officials and voting responsibly at the polls based on performance, not party or tradition like we did with Daley. Teachers, parents and unions need to remember that the kids, the students are the casualties of this faux friendly fire.

Still, the union strikes. Three days now. Parents are having to pull more money out of their already tight pockets for daycare. They’re having to adjust their work schedules because summer vacation isn’t over yet. This brings an unexpected additional expense to the household. Not only is the CPS budget screwed, but now thousands of family budgets are too because the teachers aren’t happy with their raise. And there are those families that can’t afford daycare while both (or the single) parents work two jobs just to scrape by. There’s a reason crime increases during the summer months.

In all my years of schooling, I can name one teacher that made a profound impact on my life. One. My creative writing professor in college at UNLV. He became my mentor and I learned a whole lot more from him than how to structure a narrative in a short story. What will these kids learn from their teachers on the picket lines today? How to bite the hand that feeds you? How to blame others for your own choices? How to be a cry baby and take your ball and go home when you don’t get your own way, right away? Teachers are meant to set an example for the students to follow. Instead, they are acting like cranky kindergartners in need of a nap.

What might happen is that these kids could grow up with a half-assed education after years in a hot, teacher-less classroom and end up working for CPS. Then history repeats itself because the deranged idiots are at the wheel again.

What does this strike mean? What is it going to do? The money they’re asking for isn’t there. The piggy bank is empty. CPS, while at fault for a great many things seems to be doing all it can. It’s not asking too much for teachers to show a little solidarity, good faith and responsibility, and continue mature negotiations while keeping our kids’ education as the main priority. Or they could just take the deal rather than turn the gift horse into glue.

I support teachers and their rights to a decent workplace, a proper living wage with benefits and raises and advancement opportunities. I support those rights for everyone. Right now, teachers need to go back to the classroom to brush up on the term Compromise.

But they should probably go to the bathroom at home first because the district can only do so much for them—wiping their asses is not something CPS is willing to bend on.

Boy Scouts Registration Straight Ahead

The Boy Scouts of America doesn’t offer anything that any gay person can’t get anywhere else. And that’s its undoing.
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My old friend Scott Robinson is an Eagle Scout. That means he went through every rank of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts imaginable. He spent hot summers at Camp Owasippe Scout Reservation Camp canoeing and camping and building fires with his father and friends.

But not me. I was in Cub Scouts and earned all of my badges, and during my two years as a Boy Scout, I mostly spent them in Monday night meetings at a local church where I would sneak out and make prank 911 calls from the pay phone. The fire department showed up twice. It turned out that did not qualify me for my Citizenship badge.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reaffirmed this week, their stance on excluding “open and avowed” homosexuals into their troops. However, there is the directive that membership inclusion should be left to the individual troops. Exclusion based on race, creed, sexual orientation and the like is hardly American. But it’s also very American.

The BSA is a private organization and it has every right to be as exclusive as it likes. If it chooses to remain an antiquated group that promotes exclusion based on differing lifestyles and opinions, so be it. The Boy Scouts also prohibit atheists from joining their ranks. And for a long time, it was anti-Semitic. It is this sort of behavior that will be the BSA’s eventual undoing. Adapt or die.

If you don’t like the policies of the BSA, go somewhere else. The Boy Scouts is not the only place a boy can learn to build a fire, form lasting friendships, develop a sense of community and citizenship. I don’t agree with the BSA’s stance, but I do appreciate that the ban isn’t a blanket ban. And I also appreciate that it’s the right of the organization to ban as it sees fit. I don’t, however, understand why kids and parents are fighting for inclusion. Who wants to be a Boy Scout now anyway? And why?

If it’s an issue of equal fairness to all, I can see that argument. For example, gays should be able to get married like everyone else, they should be able to like Judy Garland and sports, and should be mocked by Don Rickles just the same as the rest of us. Equality is about access to opportunity. It was wrong for the military to exclude homosexuals. The military is a federally funded entity. And if a gay man or woman wanted to serve his or her country by joining the armed forces but weren’t allowed to, there was no other place he or she could go. This is hardly the case with the Boy Scouts.

What my friend Scott took away from his time as a Boy Scouts is not unlike what I took away from my time at Greenwoods Camp, an overnight summer camp in Michigan. The big difference, I think, is that while Scott was learning how to wield a hatchet at age 12 and survive on Tang and granola with a bunch of other boys, I was sucking back bug juice and copping a feel on Jenny Silverman.

I can pitch a tent, build a fire, recognize poison ivy and oak, treat a wound, determine many different animal tracks and more. I didn’t learn this in the Boy Scouts. I learned it from my dad, my camp counselors, my run in with poison ivy and oak. And I did this all without wearing a silly uniform.

There’s no need to fight the BSA on this. Let them have their straight boys club—they have every right to do so. The BSA is not restricting opportunity, if anything, it’s pointing gay kids to more opportunity by allowing them to find other ways—better ways—to learn the life lessons and skills the BSA teaches. And more, really. Because anywhere else, a gay boy can learn not to be a bigot and enjoy the spoils that come with being part of a welcoming organization that is not likely witnessing it’s final days in the modern culture.

Also, I heard that Jenny Silverman has a gay nephew and that he’s at an overnight camp this summer. And if he’s anything like his Aunt Jenny, those kids are going to love him.

My Bar Mitzvah and My Big Jew Nose

I always thought my father and grandfather had large noses. They were Jewish noses and although I was proud to be a Jewish child, I was glad I didn’t have a big nose like Dad and Poppy. So I thought.

Until I was 12 years old, I had only seen my reflection from straight on in any bathroom mirror. It never occurred to me to turn my head and look at my face. When I did turn my head in a mirror, it was only for a moment so I could drench my hair with more RedKen hairspray before school. And a move like that never left me much time to get a good look at my profile.

So, you’ll understand why my heart sank into my guts when I tried on my first suit and took a look at myself in the three-way mirrors at Klein’s Department Store. As I stood there, admiring my new threads and how great my hair looked thanks to RedKen hairspray, I saw it. It was as plain as the nose on my father’s and grandfather’s faces – my big Jew nose.

The moment a boy becomes a man has little to do with puberty or reading from the Torah on his Bar Mitzvah. It’s when he realizes he is the same as his father, and his father before him.

Manhood under wraps or not, I still had to go through with my Bar Mitzvah. I had the suit, the invitations were sent, I’d spent all of those years getting in trouble at Hebrew School with Hillary Shaprio and Brian Wolff that it had to go on. Besides, I had memorized my Torah portion and suffered through Hebrew and chanting tutoring classes. We were invested. The plans had momentum.

My Bar Mitzvah was special, I suppose, to the rest of my family because I was the first male of the generation to be called to the Torah. To me, it was a day that I knew would be a busy one. It was also held the same day as my grandmother Joyce’s birthday, May 30. I recall sitting in Rabbi Gluckman’s office with Debbie Shapiro, Cantor Lieder and at least one other adult. They were discussing gay marriage.

I’m pretty sure everyone in the room was fine with it. At least, I’d like to think so. And that’s probably why I remember it that way. But what I remember for certain is the rabbi asking me if I had to use the bathroom before we began.

“No,” I said.

“Well then. Let’s have a Bar Mitzvah,” he replied.

We walked from his office across the temple foyer and into the sound room, which had a door leading to the sanctuary bimah where I would lead friends and family in a wonderful Saturday morning Shabbat service.

The intensity in my crotch appeared fast, from nowhere and without scientific cause. Just as the rabbi opened the door to the bimah, my bladder ballooned and tightened. I had to pee like I never had to pee before. The organ began to play; I was moments away from singing and praying my way to a few thousand bucks in gifts and Israeli bonds. Why didn’t I have to go before? And why did I have to go so badly? I didn’t drink an excessive amount of anything. It was too late, no turning back.

The pain and pressure I felt was soon forgotten, but not because I was in front of a room full of people. No, being on the stage, commanding the crowd was never anything but routine for me. I forgot about the pee and sailed through my service without pause or second thought about it. However, I did notice my girlfriend, Sarah Pulcini, was not in the congregation.

But I even forgot about that when my mother and father stood at the Ark with me and Dad tried to read his speech. He wrote a David Story, a tradition from when I was a little kid where Mom would retell the events of my day to put me to sleep. I’d like to think it was a comforting story of all that I had, “a mommy, a daddy, a little brother named Eric, a little brother named Steven and a cat named Smokey,” rather than Mom thinking the day’s events were so mundane, that they had to cause drowsiness.

As Dad told the story, which included the pride, he and Mom and Poppy and Nonny, Gramma, Grampa and the rest of the gang, all shared, he choked and began to cry. I had never seen such a thing. My father never cried. I remember reaching for a tissue from underneath the cantor’s podium and handing it to Dad. This drew a few laughs and that may have been the moment I realized that any situation, sweet, sad or otherwise ,could be lightened with laughter and that I was capable of providing it. This would go on to cause plenty of awkward moments in my early practices, but later, welcomed relief from the weight of whatever it was. Like death or divorce.

After the service, I found  my friendMissy Meilach and asked where Sarah was.

“She was mugged at Lincoln Mall,” Missy said.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Who mugs a 12-year-old?”

“She was at the mall yesterday and some man asked her for money.”

“That’s not a mugging. That’s bullshit. And that was yesterday.”

“You shouldn’t swear in the temple,” Missy scolded.

“Fuck it. It’s my Bar Mitzvah. That reminds me, I have to pee.”

But I couldn’t get away. I had to lead everyone in the Kiddush and Motzi. I had to shake hands and take pictures and collect cards and say thank you and listen to countless mazel tovs. Then, it was off to Ravisloe Country Club for a luncheon. Still, no chance to pee. I made a quick phone call to Sarah from one of the phone booths in the lobby. She didn’t answer.

My grandmother, Joyce Himmel; 88 years old. She drives a 2005 Thunderbird convertible.

I sat at a back table with my cousins and brothers during lunch. A piano played music while adults talked about things and I likely made wisecracks about all of it. I probably drank a Shirley Temple because my brothers and I loved those things and only drank them at Ravisloe.

I vaguely remember speeches being made. I remember my cousins Beth and Carrie getting up from the table and reciting something they wrote into the microphone. I didn’t listen. I didn’t think I had to. I thought they were making a speech for Nonny’s birthday. She was 68 that day. Why would they say anything about me? Who was I? What was the big deal? They’d never made a public fuss over me before, no one had. Why would anyone still be talking about me and my Bar Mitzvah? It was over with, right? How could I still have been the center of attention? Did I command such awareness? I never thought so. Not unless I was acting out, which I wasn’t. No one had ever made a stink about me unless I was making a stink. So any kind words said about me at that lunch were moot. I didn’t hear a one of them.

Beth and Carrie returned to the table and handed me their speech.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Your speech,” Carrie said.

“I have to give a speech?”

“No, the one we just read to you.”

“Oh. Yeah. I knew that.”

I didn’t want them to know I hadn’t bothered listening to it. Somehow, that speech got lost. I never knew what it said. But I hope it was nice. Maybe when I turn 40 they can write me another speech. My ego will be far more aware then.

The next night was the kids’ party and it was held at our temple, Anshe Sholom, inside the social hall. Missy and I were the best hula-hoopers in the south suburb Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit so it was no surprise we were pitted against one another during the contest. I knew Missy could beat me. And I didn’t want to lose so I decided to play dirty. I instituted bumper-hoops and sent my body spastically toward her causing her hoop to fall. But not before mine hit the floor. I lost. I didn’t care. I was still annoyed about the Sarah thing and Missy, as per usual, had inserted herself into the teenage drama so I was annoyed with her, too.

Sarah did show up to the party. A lot of kids did. I was surprised more than my immediate circle showed. I thought, Why me? Why take the time on a Sunday night to hang out and dance in my honor? Huh… I must mean something to these people. Am I more than a clown and good for a laugh? I did have a slew of girlfriends this year, but so what?”

I danced with Sarah but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as my father throwing me on his shoulders and dancing with my friends while they attempted the latest hip-hop dance moves like the Roger Rabbit and Running Man. My father never danced. But he did that night. All of his dancing and crying… who was this man? He sure looked like my father. I recognized that nose of his. That big Jewish nose of… ours.

Mom put a sign-in book together with pictures of me from the previous 13 years. This book was at Ravisloe and was signed with kind sentiments from the adults whose houses I slept at and by friends of my parents and grandparents I wouldn’t know if I fell over them naked on the street. There was a sign-in board decorated to theme – baseball – at the kids’ party. It also had kind sentiments scrawled on it as well as penises scribbled on the baseball cards.

When I read the adults’ book, I was shocked by what nice things everyone had to say, not just about the bullshit milestone of a Bar Mitzvah that every Jewish kid goes through, but about me and what I meant to them or what kind of person I was. One note from Dad’s dearest friend, Bob “Rootie” Ratke always stuck with me.

When I had my Bar Mitzvah, I had a deep relationship with God. So when Rootie wrote, “… I know God has wonderful plans for you,” I was struck with a strange sense of purpose. Perhaps God did have plans and wow, Rootie knew that and gave me the heads up. He was a boy scout and I suppose he just wanted me to be prepared for whatever it was. I was also shocked to see that Rootie was spelled, “Rootie.” I always thought his name was spelled “Rudy.” But Rootie was a nickname earned for his love of root beer. So that made sense, finally.

My Bar Mitzvah was about becoming a man. But not in a religious sense. Not for me anyway. I didn’t feel any closer to God or have a stronger connection to my faith. The Bar Mitzvah was simply a setting for the events that allowed me to see things about others and myself I had never seen before. Those events and realizations would serve as a foundation for a more adult and eventually, a hyper-realistic and often cynical approach to manhood.

My Bar Mitzvah also taught me to hold it.

It wasn’t until after the lunch at Ravisloe, as we were leaving, that I had a chance to pee. Mom and Dad were tired and wanted to leave, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I never felt such relief and joy before as I did at that urinal. And as I washed my hands and looked into the mirror, I turned my head from left to right to get a glimpse of my profile and thought, If I can avoid pissing my pants, I can live with this nose. Other great men have done it.

 

Love Fest for Obama on Gay Marriage is Unwarranted

Obviously, any modern thinking human supports equal rights for gays. Whether that’s using the same water fountains as the straights do, sitting at lunch counters like straights do or getting married like straights do. It’s not a religious thing, it’s a human thing. Equality. That’s all anyone is asking for.

So obviously, President Barak Obama “personally” feels gays should be able to marry. Obama isn’t an idiot. But he is a pussy. And that is no reason to celebrate the man.

Obama has said his position on gay marriage was evolving these last few years. I don’t buy it. He’s only come out with how he feels just now because it is politically clever. It’s campaign time. And Obama is a great campaigner. He’s real good at saying what we want to hear knowing he doesn’t have to follow his words up with any actions to garner support and financial campaign contributions. He did it in 2008 and he’s doing it now. It’s surprising to know there’s still plenty of Kool-Aid to drink. It’s sad that voters never learn.

North Carolina voters, specifically, are morons. No surprise there. And it’s a bummer that they opted to not be modern thinkers. Obama said he supports the states’ right to decide the gay marriage issue on their own, regardless of how he feels about it. Most laws should be determined by the state. This prevents the federal government from making all of the laws itself and creating a potential police state. But the equality that comes with letting every single adult American having the option to be married is not about law. It’s about human equality. And Obama should do something about it. His political coming out announcement is a step in the right direction, but it is not the only action needed and hardly worth popping the champagne over.

It is not the president’s job to create laws. But as the leader of the United States government, the president is in a position to affect the legislation and encourage Congress to act. He’s dealing with complete schmucks over there on Capitol Hill, but he could at least make the effort. The gay rights issues we’re dealing with today are not unlike the civil rights blacks were dealing with in the early 1960s. (Really, gay rights are civil rights, but our PC culture has deemed “civil rights” a pseudonym for blacks getting the same thing as whites. So to avoid confusion, I’ll refer to “gay rights” for the gays and “civil rights” for the blacks. If I mention “gay civil rights,” then I’m only talking about gay blacks.)

President Lyndon Johnson made a huge political move when he convinced the democratic-controlled Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He did even more for blacks when he once again pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act one year later. Johnson saw that equality for blacks was an important human right and he went above and beyond the constitutional duties of a president to see it done when he said, “Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: To right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.” This is not the same as the constitutional abuse we saw during the George W. Bush Administration. Johnson was utilizing his influence, not his power. LBJ made sure that a lot of good things happened to black Americans. Unless, of course, those black Americans were in Vietnam getting killed – but that wasn’t an issue of civil rights. That was an issue of Johnson being a warmongering dick.

Still, that dickishness was what got those laws passed. Every one who knew Johnson knew of the Johnson Treatment where he would bully and intimidate other politicos into getting them to do what he thought was best. Generally, I like Obama. I like that he’s calm and considerate in most of his judgements. But in situations as important as gay rights, this coolness makes him a complete pussy.

And we should stop cheering for him because he hasn’t done a damn thing for gays. OK, he helped get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, but that just let’s gays get killed for oil with one less frustrating restriction on them. And yes, great change takes time. Again, we look at the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage and slavery. These issues of equality that most Americans can agree are right took decades, more than a century, to make right. Equality for gays has had its share of decades in the struggle. And we’ve been down this road before, we know what to do. So now is the time to do what’s right and fair.

Obama is in a similar position as Johnson right now. He may not have a completely democratic-controlled Congress, but he should convince, pressure and persuade the legislature to pass an act or two. He should utilize his influence. But God forbid Harry Reid earn his paycheck. If Obama really cared about this issue, he would at least try to find a way to make it happen. But he hasn’t. And he probably won’t. Because we saw how well his influence in Congress has worked with his personal feelings on healthcare. This is where his calm nature backfires. Obama needs to stop being a pussy because what America needs right now is a big dick – like Johnson.

Americans’ support for gay marriage is growing and I’m uncharacteristically hopeful that within the next 10-20 years, our children will attend weddings with brides and grooms dancing their first dance as wife and wife or husband and husband to Indigo Girls songs and Judy Garland hits. And that will be a time to celebrate.

The president is paying lip service and has kicked off his 2012 campaign by making a bold statement, not by taking a bold stand. Because if he wanted to, he could get up and take action. Supporting him for blowing smoke up our assess won’t encourage good behavior, it’ll only further encourage the mediocrity. I’m afraid that those of you who think this is anything more than campaign rhetoric are just as nearsighted as the mongoloids in North Carolina. Save the celebration for the gay wedding reception when it actually happens.

Why I Hate Cinco de Mayo

The other night, I was drinking at the Waterhouse with Tommy Beardmore. Because of our regular status here, the bar maidens, bartenders and busboys are friendly with us. They become especially conversational after every other customer has left, the stools are lifted onto the bar and the lights are turned on. No one asks us to leave. Instead, they sit down and we all chat.

A new busboy named Edwardo was teasing us for not taking our whiskey shots immediately after they were delivered. Tommy and I were in no rush. We like to sit with our shots. “We’ll get to them,” we told Edwardo. “We always do.” We asked if Edwardo lived in the neighborhood.

“No. I live in Humboldt Park. North and Western. But it’s getting better. There used to be a lot of gang activity. The cops hang around a whole lot more. They basically gang bang themselves. Just sittin’ around on porches, watching everything. There’s an old office complex that closed down a while back. I’d like to see them tear it down and turn it into condos then have yuppies start moving in—no offense.”

What followed was a first-person perspective discussion about the benefits of gentrification. Edwardo, a Mexican-American, was all for white people moving in. I scoffed and reminded him that white people eventually just screw things up, like dancing (Lady Gaga), jazz (Kenny G) and Cinco de Mayo (most whites).

Everyone knows Cinco de Mayo translates to the fifth of May. In America, it’s treated as cause to get completely plowed on tequila and Corona while lining the stomach with chips and salsa. All of these things, of course, are very Mexican and therefore ritual and necessary for a complete celebration. But what are we celebrating on Cinco de Mayo?

A lot of gringos think it’s Mexican Independence Day, which it’s not. In fact, Cinco de Mayo isn’t much of a holiday at all in Mexico. It’s only celebrated in the state of Puebla and mostly ignored everywhere else. So, it’s really like our entire nation celebrating Casimir Pulaski Day or Nevada Day or any other state specific holiday. Not that gringos care, really, because gringos—white people, specifically—are horny to find any excuse to get drunk in public and with flare in honor of some other country’s history.

Cinco de Mayo recalls the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Batalla de Puebla or Battle of Puebla. In Mexico, the holiday is called El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla or the Day of the Battle of Puebla. It was important because the Mexicans were far outnumbered by the French and the odds were against them. The victory that day was inspiring for the resistance movement and gave it fuel to trudge on to an eventual independence. It gave the Mexicans pride. And that’s great. Every country needs its day that inspires pride. The United States has September 11.

So while the state of Puebla recognizes this holiday in a respectful, traditional way, and the rest of the country goes about its business, we in the United States are doing body shots and puking up guacamole in alleys and bar bathrooms. What’s worse, is that in 2005, Congress issued a concurrent resolution that called upon the people of the United States to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

Chicago, which has a large Mexican contingency, does host the Cinco de Mayo Festival. And that’s respectable. But there’s also Metromix Chicago, the pimp and pusher of all things drunk white assholes love to do, calling this weekend a “glorious drinking holiday.” It lists Mahoney’s Pub & Grille as a place to be to celebrate Cinco de Mayo because Mahoney’s is bringing in the Funky Monks to play. “Who are the Funky Monks?” you ask. A mariachi band? A Richie Valens cover band? Something Mexican, right? Of course not. The Funky Monks call themselves The Ultimate Red Hot Chili Peppers Experience. I don’t see how the Chili Peppers, or their ultimate experience, are even remotely related to the Battle of Puebla.

Oh, wait. Chili peppers. I get it. Because Mexicans eat chili peppers. There’s the connection. This is what Congress meant by “appropriate ceremonies and activities.” Congratulations white people, you did it. You’ve taken an idea, put it through the rape-for-profit machine and created a bastardized version of something that wasn’t yours and insulted an entire nation. Or maybe just a state. All this while counting the cash from your beer sponsorships and encouraging bars like Mahoney’s to promote rock and roll racism.

I’d like to see the day Mexico says, “No” to gringos acting like drunk dicks at its expense. It has stood up for what’s right once before. I’d love to see it do it again. And if so, I will definitely drink to that.

My friend, Pablo Migoya, a real live Mexican living in Mexico City told me not to worry about gringos getting drunk on Cinco de Mayo. “I’ve been drunk on President’s Day, 4th of July, Hedgehog Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, just to name a few,” he said. But at least Pablo knows what he’s drinking to. And those are gringo holidays so they’re designed with a strong purpose of getting drunk—and businesses having door-buster sales.

Still, if Edwardo really wants whites moving into his neighborhood, he should know that he’ll probably want to start looking for a new place to live.

A Royal Pain in the Ass

This article was originally published at TheBrideScoop.com

Someone told me that William and Kate have been married a year this week. So I told that someone, “I don’t care.” And I don’t. Although, I am surprised it’s been a year already. I promised myself I was going to find out what William’s last name was a year ago and I haven’t even begun to search Wikipedia. Again, it’s because I really don’t care. Does he even have a last name? Did his mother? Not that it matters anymore…

People went nutso over the royal wedding. Although I didn’t care about it a year ago, it was hard to escape it. The months leading up to the wedding were inundated with news reports, tweets, Facebook updates, grocery store magazine rag covers smeared with the betrothed. I couldn’t escape it. Luckily, Kate was pretty, so I didn’t mind that my brain was being filled with useless information via osmosis.

I had no intention of watching the wedding on TV as it was broadcast around the globe. However, when I habitually turned on my television that late April morning to gather the day’s headlines as I dressed for work, I was annoyingly surprised – and reminded – that April 29, 2011 would not be a day of news, but instead, a day of matrimony. Matrimony for two people I wasn’t even sure had last names. But I kept it on because, well, Kate was pretty. But then something happened. Pippa.

More to the point, Pippa’s ass happened. I have a tendency to talk to the television and while straightening my necktie I said to my Samsung, “What the holy shit is that?” I was flabbergasted, blown away, removed from my body and shocked by the sheer perfection of that girl’s ass. “Who is that?” I asked the Samsung. “Seriously. Who the fuck is that? Jesus. She’s amazing. Is that Kate’s twin? They look so much alike. Jesus! Would you look at that ass?”

I wasn’t alone in my amazement. The news bubble surrounding Mr. and Mrs. Nolastname turned to the girl with the great ass holding the bride’s train. Pippa Middleton. Suddenly, I, like every other idiot on the planet, cared about the royal wedding. Although by this time, we all cared about the maid of honor. The rest of my day was ruined. I nearly broke Google searching for more images of this Pippa girl and her incredible ass. I couldn’t get enough. Her ass consumed me. 

I’m a leg and ass kind of guy; I’ve never been shy about admitting that. And I’ve spent my pubescent years in search of the perfect ass. I found it that morning on Pippa Middleton. The problem now, is that I have been ruined. I may never get to hold her ass, spank her ass or sink my teeth into her ass playfully on our honeymoon, but knowing that it’s out there is enough for me. No woman can live up to it.

It may be covered in acne and she could have irritable bowl syndrome, but that doesn’t concern me. I’m in love with the fantasy and nothing will ever be as good as that. I will always be disappointed with every girl that crosses my path, and I have been in the year since discovering Pippa’s ass. It may be silly to fall in love with a fantasy, but all the rest of you did too, when you found the fairytale-like royal wedding interesting in the first place.

American Warlords, Joseph Kony and a Great Reason to Masturbate

After Jason Russell’s Invisible Children, Kony 2012 movie went bonkers on the Web, everyone with a wi-fi or 3G connection was up in arms, furious and disgusted by Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony’s actions. And they were moved by Russell’s initiative and by how cute his five-year-old son is. But I’m confused.

Over the last 20 years, Joe Kony has led a group of Christian guerillas known as the Lord’s Resistance Army to capture about 30,000 kids and commit vulgar atrocities in Africa. That’s bad. I get that, sure, Kony needs to be brought to justice. But where is the unrest, the call to action, the unsettling demand that people like Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney be brought to justice for their crimes against humanity? Because yeah, they’re criminals.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left hundreds of thousands dead. Afghanis, Iraqis, Americans, Brits …  In Afghanistan, around 29,000 civilians have died as a result of direct and indirect coalition forces led attacks with 20,000 of those in 2001 alone. According to an independent United Kingdom and United States group called the IBC, approximately 114,000 civilians have died in Iraq as a result of coalition forces led attacks.

Do the math. It’s easy. American leaders were the architects and decision makers that resulted in hundreds of thousands more innocents killed, wounded, left homeless and more in half the time time Kony has been at it. And no one cares. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney are retired or giving speeches or enjoying free dinners.

But they’re murderers.

Accidents happen in war, civilians die. But why were we there in the first place? Afghanistan? That makes sense. We went there to get the Taliban. Of course that was a mismanaged quagmire if there ever was one. Why’d we go to Iraq? Weapons of Mass Destruction? So we thought. But then our leaders admitted they lied to us. There were no WMDs. America had as much reason being in Iraq as Kony does kidnapping children.

So, why are Americans upset about Kony but not about the men in their own country doing far worse things with their own money and using their brothers, sisters, friends, sons and daughters as soldiers to kill, maim and, if things go well, eradicate  the brown, desert-dwelling enemy?

Maybe it’s too hard for us to think bad guys can be American. Maybe we’re too naive to think we could live next door to a warlord, much less elect one to power – twice. But it’s true. The numbers are there. At first glance, you might think Jason Russell is a hero. With his 30-minute viral video, he brought to light the atrocities of Kony to millions. Russell’s plan was to get the world behind his idea to find, capture and put an end to Kony’s career of kidnapping children and turning them into soldiers, rapists and at the core, boys of lost innocence. 

But what about the warlords in our gated communities? They make Kony look like a teething puppy. If it’s too hard for you to consider, take a cue from  Russell and pop the best X you can find, get drunk and jerk off in public until the cops have to stop you. Because that seems to be the best way of coping with the ills of the world.

Thank God for Black People

As Black History Month winds down, it’s necessary we acknowledge the importance of black people. Specifically, how important black people are to keeping whites entertained. Although the History Channel didn’t run any programming about it and BET doesn’t want to admit it, it’s true. White people would be bored to death if it weren’t for the contributions black people have made.

Windy City Social Club courtesy of TimeOut Magazine – a magazine for white people.

Once a month in Chicago, The Empty Bottle hosts the Windy City Soul Club, an all night dance party featuring the best sounds of the soul genre. Chicago can be proud for affecting culture in many ways. There were the riots of 1968, decades of unmeasurable political corruption, and the 1985 Bears. But what Chicago should take the most pride in is for  being the birthplace of soul music.

So it’s no surprise that the Windy City Soul Club is packed every month with a line pouring out the door and wrapping around the building for at least half a block all night long no matter the weather. What’s more, is that although The Empty Bottle may see several hundred people pay the $5 cover charge to dance to black people’s music, not a single person of those hundreds is a black person. This soul party is for white folks.

Well, wait. Now that I think about it… I was there recently and I did see one black guy. But that’s because every white people party has to have the token black guy. Rules are rules.

To be dancing at the Windy City Soul Club is to be involved in an orgy of triangle scarves, ironic facial hair, wrist tattoos, cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon and appropriate bumping and grinding. Even the DJs are two thin, pale honkies. There’s nothing not white about the party, except the music itself. 

But every cracker in the joint knows the words to every song. And they’re not all hits from the Oldies radio station. It’s much more than Queen Aretha, Reverend Green and Mr. Mayfield. It’s an absolute blast. Because soul music is wild and free and when you play it loud you can still hear each layer of sound that makes it. It’s not distorted or modulated. It’s perfectly crisp grit… It’s soul. And no one understands that more than white people.

White people wouldn’t dance if weren’t for blacks. Who gave us the Twist? A black man named Hank Ballard. Then Chubby Checker had whites twisting again. The Watusi was made popular by The Orlons, three black gals and a black guy. The Monkey? Major Lance. Black. You could list probably hundreds of dances that white people invented. And certainly whites were dancing long before the 1960s. But they weren’t dancing on their own. It was always with someone else. To dance required a dance partner. Black people and their music freed us to be individuals and move as we see fit. Everyone else’s moves be damned.

It isn’t just soul music we whites love. It’s our Rock ‘N Roll, which was founded by Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Black and black. All-around whitey Jerry Lee Lewis also had a hand in it, but majority rules here. Even the King of Rock ‘N Roll, Elvis Presley was doing black music. Eminem has been able pull off doing black music far longer and to a much more successful degree than any of us ever thought he would. Because we saw what happened to Snow and Vanilla Ice. Beastie Boys? Well, they’re Jews in show business, of course they were going to be huge.

The NBA wouldn’t be the gigantic moneymaking monster it is if it weren’t for the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and company. TBS wouldn’t still be a cable network if it weren’t for Tyler Perry sitcoms. Of course, white people don’t watch Tyler Perry sitcoms, but we watch “Family Guy” reruns in between Tyler Perry sitcoms.

We would be bored out of our skulls without the efforts of black people entertaining us. And how do we thank them? By giving them Black History Month—the shortest month of the year where most of the attention is focused on Valentine’s Day the first two weeks then how much Valentine’s Day sucked the following two weeks. But still, black history can be celebrated every month by going to the Windy City Soul Club.

Though I’m sure black people wouldn’t enjoy themselves. Because as my good friend James Ratke said as we looked into the sea of middle class whites dancing away to Wilson Pickett, “White people love black people. Black people hate us.”