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Monthly Archives: September 2016

When I was Your Age: The Real Version

When I was Your Age: The Real Version

Here’s a post that’s been popping up on Facebook a lot from my Buffalo people:

“I grew up on (random street name) in Buffalo, NY during the 80’s and 90’s, during a time when everyone treated each other like family. We went outside to play, got dirty, and we didn’t eat fast food, well maybe McDonald’s but not very often. We ate bologna and salami and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cooked food, and got ice cream from the ice cream truck. We ate penny candy, yes I said “penny,” because that’s how much it cost back then. We played Mother May I, 1 2 3, Red Light Green Light, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Monkey in the Middle, Tag, Dodgeball, softball, basketball, baseball, kickball, football, rode bikes, and raced against each other in the street. We cried if we couldn’t go outside and play. There was no bottled water, we drank from the tap. We watched cartoons on Saturday morning, we walked to the corner store, and we rode our bikes for hours without a cell phone. We weren’t AFRAID OF ANYTHING. If someone had a fight, that’s what it was – a fist fight. Kids didn’t have guns when I grew up. The street lights were our curfew. School was mandatory and we watched our mouths around our elders because ALL of our neighbors were our parents so we knew if we didn’t we were in big trouble when we got home.

Re-post if you’re glad that you came from a close-knit community and will never forget where you came from!”

This is idyllic-binder bullshit. All of it. While this is the prevailing oral myth passed from generation to generation about Buffalo these days, I have a unique hatred for this version of it because it seems to be snaring people who I thought wouldn’t become so Buffalo-ized. In other words, I see it being posted by people whom I’ve long believed know better.

This post is the ultimate embodiment of Buffalo’s refusal to change its guard. It drives me nuts, and not just because its platitudes revolve around a generic kidsville where every Boomer claims to have been raised.

Let’s break this ridiculous sucker down. First, you’ll notice that there’s nothing unique about it. It’s the life of kids from 80’s sitcoms, which does sum up the city in its desire to stay inside its fake little bubble. A post like this says to the rest of the world, “we never moved on.” It says that yes, someone saying it has seen that the planet left the past behind, but their little corner of the world has refused to acknowledge it.

The first delusion of this post is right in the first sentence: The whole neighborhood treated each other like family. It’s true that Buffalo has some close-bonded neighborhoods, but in this case, the bonds are all a bit TOO close. If you’re thinking of moving in with the hopes of integrating yourself into the action straight off, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. What this post doesn’t say anything about is the way they welcomed the newcomers with baked gifts. That’s because that doesn’t happen. You’re going to be welcomed by a lot of closed doors and binds, and that’s in the best-case scenario. There’s a good chance the people in your new neighborhood are never going to come around, and if you’re a minority moving into a white neighborhood, just forget it. My close-knit neighborhood where everyone treated each other like family chased every minority that tried to move in right back out in a matter of months.

For next couple of sentences, the food comes up, and it’s purely kiddie food culture. You can tell because processed junk gets brought up in a nostalgic way. Now, anyone who really missed processed meat sandwiches can go out, buy the ingredients from the grocery store, and make them at home, but I’m guessing they don’t. That’s because we know it’s bad for people. That line about not eating fast food just isn’t true – fast food is one of the primary dietary staples of the city. The people of my generation in Buffalo ate it all the fucking time. They just don’t recognize anything outside of national chains as fast food, which is why all the pizza and chicken wings they chowed down aren’t being counted. I’ll give them this: At least they’re eating local fast food. But as for the platitude about not eating fast food, don’t believe a word of it. And no, nobody cooked food, either, unless microwaving frozen and boxed dinners from the grocery store suddenly counts as “cooking food.” Ice cream from the ice cream trucks was an occasional treat, but most people got theirs from grocery stores as well. And anyone who repeats that penny candy bullshit to you just needs to be smacked in their fucking face as hard as possible. Penny candy has never existed in our lifetimes, so anyone feeding you that line better be a grandparent.

Now we come to the point of the activities, which is just funny to me now. People claim they used to do these things, which got them outside for fresh air and exercise. Now the question is, what’s stopping them now? There are organized leagues dedicated to most, if not all, of those games mentioned. It’s not that someone who posted that can’t go back out and do those things. It’s that they won’t. I chalk this one up to being a bad side effect of what happens when people develop too much of an obsession with the interests and habits of “proper” adults, and that phrase holds almost no meaning in Buffalo. Proper adults drink beer and watch TV. And no one cried about not getting to go outside and play. They played video games, because this was the time the age of video games was starting.

Or they played with the toys that their favorite Saturday morning cartoons were created to sell. I hate to come down so hard on this part, because I have the same fondness for those same cartoons as everyone else in my generation. So after all my anti-corporate, anti-studio ranting, it was grounding to learn that toy companies were busy back then making cartoons to sell already-existent toy lines, and not the other way around.

The original author of this post seems to have a thing for kids bicycling. He makes two references to it. This is another thing that’s funny to me, because if the author is native to Buffalo, they probably have a cold heart toward cyclists. I’ve already spent a lot of words in this blog writing about Buffalo’s attitude toward cyclists, so the only thing to think about now is how many people who were brainless enough to repeat this post have assaulted cyclists after becoming adults. Cyclists are like door-to-door salespeople in that the older they are, the less people are eager to see them. Little kids? Great! Teenagers? Just don’t pull anything outrageous, you little shit. Adults? You need to be killed. I can only hope repeat posters are cyclists themselves, because if they’re not, there’s a good chance they hate cyclists and have verbally – and maybe physically – assaulted a cyclist at some point, since bicycle hate is a prevailing ethos in Buffalo.

My friends and I were never afraid of anything either, and here are some things we did: One friend broke another’s arm; we climbed on top of a moldy and old tool shed that was older than our parents but still being used; climbed down to the bottom of a bridge; climbed back up that same bridge using a vertical pillar with lots of sharp rocks below; ran through mazes of tall sidewalk grass while onlookers threw rocks; brought down a phone line; ran screaming across backyards which weren’t ours; fell off low-hanging tree branches; and chased cars which were driving down the street. No, we weren’t afraid of much, even if we could be killed. Fistfights were part of playtime, and bullying was seen as a toughen-up tactic rather than a mental scar. (I had a neighbor who swore by the advice that a bully would leave me alone if I ignored them. This has never been true in any time or space. I’m pretty sure said neighbor hasn’t been very far outside of Western New York.) If someone had a REAL problem with someone else, the knives came out. The Police were called in at school at least five times.

School? Mandatory? You don’t say! Well, I guess it would have to be. Where else could a teenager find a teacher to try to beat up? Yes, this happened at my school; in fact it was so commonplace that, after one particular assault which was covered on the news, the big deal in school was that the footage showed by the station was of a student/teacher attack that happened at a different school. It amazes me that anyone could write with any pride about how school was mandated, because my schools all specialized in propaganda. Most of my schooling took place in the inner city, where City Hall didn’t care for real education. They cared that we knew just enough about the American Dream to let our corporate overlords do our thinking for us and were blatantly grooming students for 50 years in the nearest factory. Or the Military.

I’m sorry, but if all your neighbors are your parents, you’re from a creepy neighborhood. People complain about how social media invades privacy, but if you’re from a place like this, you probably never had much of it in the first place.

Naturally, here was my response to this post, altered to be realistic:

“I grew up on (street deleted) in Buffalo, NY, during the 80’s and 90’s, during a time when everyone treated each other like family unless they were outsiders, who were all suspicious intruders. We chased every minority that tried to move in off the block. We didn’t go to McDonald’s; well, maybe once a week, but we fucking gorged on fast food – pizza and wings from local joints ARE fast food. We ate bologna and salami and other kinds of unhealthy processed trash, microwaved food, and got ice cream from ice cream trucks if we were lucky. We ate penny candy – yes I said “penny,” because I’ve now confused reality with stories my grandparents told me about their childhoods. We played Mother May I, 1 2 3, Red Light Green Light, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Monkey in the Middle, tag, dodgeball, softball, basketball, kickball, football, baseball, rode bikes and raced against each other in the street; healthy activities that got us fresh air and sunshine but which we now get together and deride and disparage people who do those things as adults while we sit on our asses drinking beer and watching football. If we couldn’t go outside to play, we stayed inside and played video games; hell, we did that anyway. There was bottled water, but we were too smart to buy it; we bought ice water for a nickel at local fast food places instead. We watched corporate advertising disguised as cartoons on Saturday morning. We walked to the corner store for junk and rode our bikes for hours without a cell phone but but now hate and try to kill anyone we see on a bike. We weren’t AFRAID OF ANYTHING, which is how my best friend nearly killed himself climbing a bridge on Cazenovia Creek and brought down a telephone line. If someone had a fight, someone would get stabbed. Kids didn’t have guns when I grew up. They just had knives. School was mandatory but we never worked or studied. We watched our mouths around our elders because ALL of your neighbors were fucking creeps who despised anything that was different and didn’t meet their weird obsession with “normality.”

Re-post if you’re proud that you shed your when-I-was-your-age binders and have vowed to never repeat the same lines of bullshit to any kids that grown-ups used to tell you about what things were like when they were kids!”

Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

I’m going to be blunt with my definition of what tradition is: Tradition is a series of things you keep doing even though they’re useless and unnecessary and useless at best and dangerous to the welfare of other people at worst. No one ever bothers to give it any thought because that’s the way they were raised, dammit, and the way they’ve always done things, so therefore it must be right. Tradition is a series of hollow, meaningless gestures which maybe – MAYBE – had some great purpose back in the Victorian era, but since then has been worn down by the demands and conditions of a surrounding society and become stupid and self-destructive.

There are good traditions, but even those hold no more meaning than the bad ones. If you’re using tradition in an argument as your sole excuse for trying to preserve a practice or an idea, you’ve already lost.

You’ll have to excuse me for wondering what all the hoopla is about when people talk about traditions. If tradition was still king, women and black people would still be considered property.

Let me be clear about this: Tradition has never had anything sacred about it. It was something someone sat down and drew up on a lunch napkin during break that blew out of proportion. It’s also used as a way to get people to ignore certain issues about the surrounding world which need to be addressed.

Take the American flag, for example. We get so busy huffing and puffing over it that we forget the root of what it really is: A piece of cloth with a specific dye pattern. Broken down, it’s not even close to sacred, and even the pattern on it which is so recognizable everywhere in the world hasn’t been solid in basically forever. Everyone knows the stars on the flag represent the 50 states in the United States. What gets lost among all the nice unity chatter is the fact that the 50th state, Hawaii, was granted statehood in 1959, right on the heels of Alaska. That’s means there’s a sizable chunk of the population both alive and old enough to remember a time when this great sacred object only had 48 stars. You can imagine what it must have been like before then, especially during the 19th and 20th century turnover, when the country was adding a new star to the flag every three years. How tiring that must have gotten.

The precious, Precious, PRECIOUS flag is steeped in a tradition which has been surprisingly fluid is what I’m getting it. They never kept the damn thing the same. Wikipedia even has a section about the United States showing the planned flag designs of the future just in case more states are added to the country. The thing changed, and it’s going to keep on changing.

That brings me to the American Flag Code. Yes, there’s an American Flag Code, a good long list of behaviors and regulations of what to do when the flag is barging around the room. It was apparently written by over 60 organizations – including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, and American Library Association – and adopted in 1923 by something called the National Flag Convention. “Written by over…” is usually a code term for “the interns punched it out in a couple of hours.” But what really gets me about the American Flag Code is that the fucking thing is COPYRIGHTED. That means if you’re dying to get access to a hard copy of it, you’re going to have to engage in the one thing about America that has always been it’s great inarguable tradition: Paying money for something which, given the unique circumstances surrounding it, should be free! It’s the American way, really: We make you think it’s cool before selling it to you.

Having familiarized myself with a little bit of the American Flag Code, it’s a shock how extensive it is and how little the general public gives a shit when it gets violated. Section 176 specifically forbids the flag’s use as clothing or drapery. But how many people would be out of their jobs if that section was honored? The number of workers in factories making American flag clothes has to be in the thousands. And not everyone stands up and salutes the flag while the National Anthem is blared over the loudspeakers, either. They’re all still milling about and socializing amongst themselves, and the Respect the Troops rhetoric that these flag ceremonies hypothetically represent is left on the shelf while I-don’t-feel-like-it takes over.

It’s funny how a kneeling quarterback suddenly reminded us how much we love the flag. Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, recently did something pretty simple: He kneeled during the National Anthem because he was tired of being forced to salute a country where no one can seem to get over the habit of treating black people as something between second-class citizens and threats. Kaepernick was protesting Police violence against unarmed blacks on the outside, but his protest gained traction because this is coming at a critical juncture. Texas has banned the use of the term “slave trade” from school textbooks, Fox News has used on-air arguments justifying and excusing slavery, and the Republican Presidential candidate might as well be BFFs with David Duke. We like to think racism ended with Jackie Robinson; in fact, the school textbooks I grew up being force-fed adopted that attitude. “Hey, there was a ballplayer named Jackie Robinson who was black! Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream! After that, racism went POOF! in a cloud of hippie love!” It doesn’t mention that the hippie love puff was probably a cloud of weed – it made us look for and sometimes even see something that wasn’t there.

Yes, laws changed, but that doesn’t mean the people changed. Hell, even poor Martin Luther King only hit the public school mainstream because his famous dream is the only thing people want to remember about his beliefs. The dream sticks with people because it’s warm and fuzzy and deals with the individual viewpoint. Delving further into his work reveals the pissed off writing of a very angry man who believed the white moderates who emphasized his dream were more of a threat to his people than the KKK for that reason: Their belief in order and civility above real justice. Kaepernick’s protest is starting to reveal the people King was writing about. No one seems to care about all the crimes committed by countless other NFL players and the league not giving a damn. But Kaepernick broke our sacred tradition and now we’re talking boycotts. People use a lot of different methods of hiding from a lot of real issues in the country, and by kneeling during the National Anthem, Kaepernick cut them off from one of their escapes: Football. Now he’s being accused of creating controversy, but as another famous loudmouthed athlete I like, Charles Barkley, once said, he’s not creating the controversy. The controversy was always there. Kaepernick is merely bringing it to our attention.

It’s funny to me that our obsession with tradition is the only thing that’s making Kaepernick’s action controversial. I don’t believe most other countries would raise an uproar like this. They have something that we have and claim to love but appear to secretly hate: Freedom of speech. That’s the first law written in the United States Constitution, a document which does – or at least should – mean something to the country because it’s the supreme law of the land. What’s written in the Constitution is what goes, which is why there’s been so little change in it. Kaepernick probably knew about the uproar he was going to cause, because we’ve come to accept that our flag and song mean something – god only knows what – over his own right to express his displeasure over the fact that his people are routinely shot to death on traffic stops while white rapist Brock Turner was put in jail for all of six months because the judge worried about his prison time having the kind of impact on him that prison time should have on rapists.

If you want to drag one of our stupidest traditions into it – I’m talking, of course, about religion – you should know the god of your Bible specifically forbids the creation of graven images, and that’s what has now become of the flag. It’s apparently something to be worshipped no matter what. And if you want to bring the third Abrahamic religion (Islam) into it, the Quran’s version of the story of Abraham takes a special pain to point out how stupid it really is. In the Quran, Abraham’s father was a man who made idols, and Abraham wondered if there was a contradiction apparent in creating something which you then bow down and worship. That’s why God started sending him messages. Back in the land of reality, if we weren’t so busy being outraged at someone for having the gall to not stand up because our favorite idol was now blasphemed by someone expressing a constitutional right, then we could be enjoying the new season and this whole thing never would have been an issue.

But that’s the kind of bullshit that blind obedience to tradition makes you do. Ultimately, we’re going to go home and not give another thought about it until someone breaks from the sacred flag traditions again. In the meantime, we’re going to wear our American flag Calvin Klein underwear and send kids to school to recite words they won’t even think about. I’m of course referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, which wasn’t formally adopted until 1942, and which wasn’t written in its current form until 1954. And which was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. You may want to look him up. He was an outspoken socialist.