Reflecting on a broken election and presidency

I am not happy right now. I’m tired. You grow up thinking that the process of vetting candidates and voting, though riddled with smarmy, lecherous assholes, still pushes forth people with at least a facsimile of humanity or dignity in them. You think, “I’m not sure what kind of person willingly signs up for that kind of bullshit” and vote for them anyway because, well, who else is gonna do it?

I was living in Platteville, Wisconsin during the 2016 election. I remember being on the phone with my wife as we watched the results, the slow dread creeping through us across several state lines as we realized what was happening in real time. “What are we gonna do,” my wife kept asking and the only answer rolling through my brain was, “I’ve got fucking NOTHING for us right now.” As I cracked open my fifth beer of the night, I thought back to when I was on my campus visit driving into town and seeing a large cherry picker with a huge fucking Trump-Pence flag flying from it. Grant County, where I was living, went over 50 percent Trump during that election. It felt like a nightmare. [Side note: the next afternoon, I ran into one of my department colleagues who said, “wow, I’m surprised you even showed up today.”]

President McNuggets at his finest

Four years. Four years of this repulsive, lecherous asshole packing his cabinet with the most unctuous, disgusting, slithering, contemptuous blowhards and spineless cowards. For four years this fucking asshole refused to do the bare fucking minimum and say, “hey, maybe racists shouldn’t be racist”; opting instead to say that both literal fucking nazis and protestors wanting not to get murdered by police were basically two sides of the same coin. I…we (my wife and I) could not stomach the idea of four more years of president dipshit sauce, so she mailed her ballot in while I registered and voted day of (because that’s the bare minimum of what our voting process should be like in a supposedly “free” country). And still, we had to wait four more days in order for the election to be called.

I got a text from my dad letting me know that the AP and Fox News called it. I told my wife, who immediately turned on the tv, as if she (and me, to be honest) couldn’t believe it without seeing it firsthand. Sipping on our coffee as we did some light cleaning, my wife sighed and said, “I’m not happy right now.”

And she’s right. This isn’t happiness; this is fatigue from four years of living with racists showing their asses at every opportunity. Four years of seeing a red MAGA hat and walking the other way. Four years of chucklefucks completely bumbling through executive decisions, not to mention completely fucking up a pandemic that has claimed almost 300,000 American lives. My wife was a Warren supporter, while I was and always will be a staunch Bernie-crat. We both want progressive politics and, despite not getting either candidate (and me losing my shit at all of the DNCC fuckery that happened), the alternative to Biden-Harris was too fucking much to bear. I can’t protest vote when there are people literally plotting to kill a US governor. I can’t protest vote when people who look like my family are getting shipped off to Mexico, even if they served in our military, because fuck them. I can’t protest vote when Black people are getting gunned down by police officers for selling cigarettes, sitting in their grandmother’s back yard, or even sleeping in their own god damned apartment.

This is, and always will be, the bare minimum. I want prosperity for people, but I also want more investment in public education, student loan forgiveness, restoring voting rights for felons, medicare for all, a green new deal. All of this shit is possible if we actually hold these motherfuckers accountable for the things we voted for them to do. Get the fuck involved, people. As much as possible. Keep an eye out for progressive candidates. Make donations. Phone bank and send letters: a good time to start is now, seeing as how there’s going to be a fucking SUPER IMPORTANT RUNOFF in Georgia. As Killer Mike said in a speech for Bernie-the time is now.

P.S. Fuck Aaron Sorkin

My self importance is saving me

Everything feels fucked right now, in very thorough ways. This election and all of the personal and professional strife surrounding it makes it feel like I’m living in the end of days, some weird postapocalyptic scenario where the wrath of God is just around the corner.

After my last blog, I took a step back in order to reorient myself and try to make sense of it all. I was recently a respondent on a virtual panel on race and social justice for a conference that was originally supposed to take place in my home state. I’ve been to many academic conferences-it comes with the territory when you do what I do. As with any other conference they are meant to be a site for networking and learning new developments in my field, but I generally use it as a chance to drink heavily and hang out with friends I haven’t seen in ages. The last few conferences I’ve been to have drained me for a variety of reasons and conference life in general is sitting in panels and hoping they’re engaging. I go, meet up with peeps, learn some shit, then head home tired. And that’s usually it. But for whatever reason, I felt…inspired after this conference. Maybe it was that I wasn’t the only brown person speaking. Maybe it was the fact that people liked what I had to say. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was receiving validation from my peers. Hell, it could’ve been the fact that I gained a bunch of followers on Twitter (like maybe 10, but that’s a lot to me). Either way, that was the point where I started to feel inspired. Around that same time, my wife was talking about how I should go back to the more theory-driven work I’d been talking about for years.

I’m the kind of person who has lived a life of quiet desperation in that I don’t like to project my wants or desires out into the universe. I don’t do the whole “secret” thing because I’ve always felt that I would be setting myself up for failure; there’s a certain power to announcing and saying aloud what you intend to do. If you think back to those ancient Athenian auditoriums where philosophers, sophists and rhetoricians would speak to students and government officials, they were always designed in ways to center the speaker and project the voice. They (the Athenian Greeks) believed in kairos: simply put, it’s the idea that the right time and circumstance (place, setting, company) are just as important as the words or choices you make. Traditional rhetoricians lazily mutated that concept to mean that a good speaker/orator takes advantage of the moment to be a good speaker, but newer theorists argue that kairos actually compels you. It’s the other way around: the circumstance reveals itself and gently nudges you towards an action or a statement. This is not to say that you don’t have agency; rather, it’s the good rhetor that will attune themselves to kairos and actually listen rather than ignore it.

Right now kairos is compelling me to keep going with my writing. I’m at that moment where my brain is moving from a stop to a slow churn. I’ve been feeling a restlessness that I’ve not felt in…who knows when. It’s a good kind of unease where, when I get into a rhythm of writing I rock back and forth in my chair every time I pause to think about what I’ve written. When I’m not writing, I’m anxious to get back to work writing and just offloading ideas onto OneNote or GoogleDocs or this god damn WordPress site. And I want to give reverence to this kairotic moment and treat it with the respect it deserves; I’ve been journaling more and even ordered a mechanical keyboard in the hopes that the tactile sensation will further encourage me to write. I figure that it’s a tool of my trade so why not invest in it?

Baby’s first mechanical keyboard. Already have my eye on another…

All of that to say, I’m ready to admit that I’ve started working on a book proposal. I’m returning to some of the work I’ve already done and connecting it to things I’ve been reading recently. I don’t want to say too much about it quite yet, only that it’s prescient and involves the movement of people and capital. I’ll be ready to say more once the proposal is finished, but right now I have to finish a couple of other things first – namely, an article I’m 90 percent done with and awaiting feedback on and another article I’m co-authoring with a friend and colleague of mine that is likely 75 percent finished.

I want to be better at what I do. I’ve never had a problem believing in my own capabilities, but have lived a life of either a) coasting through, or b) actively fucking myself so that I don’t need to actually try. But as the end of times rapidly approaches I want to be blatant and intentional and, frankly, cavalier about this. I want to see my name on a cover of a book. I want to know that I went through editors and publishers and manuscript edits and at an actual artifact that I can hold in my hand and say, “that was me. I did that.” In all other aspects of my life I am a certified self deprecating motherfucker, so please allow me this one space where I can actually lean into my own self belief. I know

This book will get done.

The election that broke my brain, my family, and my heart

“I’m tired of explaining to these people, something that’s SO god damn obvious.”

-Dave Chappelle “8:46”

This is neither a brag nor a humblebrag, but I think I’m pretty smart. You don’t survive 7 years of graduate school without being at least a little bit smart [citation needed]. By that same token, I do NOT think that I am the smartest person out there. I think that there are much smarter and harder working people out there and, in general, I tend to trust the smart hard working people when they say things. People like, oh I don’t know, the Southern Poverty Law Center. Or the Pew Research Foundation. Not some asshole who recorded a video on his iPhone and uploaded it to youtube. Hell, I’ll even seriously analyze conservative news outlets in order to try triangulate the different types of news out there.

Because that’s what I learned in school: read and watch (but mostly fucking READ) as many of the things, see who the authors are, what their agenda is/could be, suss out conflicts of interest, and THEN make a decision. Watching a youtube or tiktok video is NOT “research”. Reading fucking peer reviewed articles, news stories, and literature reviews? Research.

So when The Guardian, a newspaper founded in 1821, says police violence against Blacks is entrenched in US culture and it’s accelerated and become more institutionalized, I fucking believe them. Because they’ve been around for a fucking long time. When Forbes, a magazine that is staunchly pro-capitalism, calls out Trump’s bold-faced lie? I’m gonna lean more towards the “yeah, maybe he is a narcissistic, dumb piece of shit” side of the fence.

I’m rewatching Dave Chappelle’s “8:46” right now. It’s uncomfortable, even on a second watch. But it’s important because, in talking about the George Floyd video, he describes his reluctance to watch such a violent act. “For a week, I didn’t watch it-I KNEW…I don’t wanna see this, because I can’t unsee it.” When you see ugly, vicious, unforgiving violence, it changes you at a molecular level. Poverty. Trauma. They change your very being. So, when you look at your family, the people who have helped raise you, and you see that their politics support those of the people who view you as subhuman?

Well…likewise…you can’t unsee that. And as Dave says, “nobody’s going home [after seeing this].”

I just learned that members of my family voted for Trump (or were going to). The fact that my family are Mexican-American, that just a generation ago, WE would’ve been the “people that have problems” bears no weight on them. Because, it doesn’t affect them personally. Again, just a generation ago, we were those people that Mexico “sent over” that 45 refers to as “rapists and murderers”. Those family members accept that, because “at least he’s not a politician”.

My family was never one of those that ever overtly talked politics. I was MUCH older when I realized my dad’s political leanings: he’s an accountant who is pro-business, so naturally a Reaganite. Even HE, a lifelong Republican, went on a rant about how unhinged and truly fucked up 45 is. And yet, those other family members, who say “no politician is perfect” but couldn’t cite an actual bill they support of our current commander in chief, support him. They support a man that is so unctuous, a group of almost 500 military chiefs of staff, admirals, and generals all support Biden, including one who served under our current president. Those family members accept that because they, “don’t like Biden”.

Somehow, their act of voting for a man who says he grabs women “by the pussy” isn’t somehow a reflection of their values and should not be judged. Somehow, they support a man who called a Vietnam vet a “loser” while he himself dodged the draft and I’m supposed to be ok with that after my best friend’s Vietnam vet dad died of a pandemic that was totally preventable had we had an administration who actually believed THE MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS AND EPIDEMIOLOGISTS WHO KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY’RE DOING. The president who blocks Dr. Fauci, a man who has advised every president since Ronald Regan and was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, from attending press conferences. Those family members are ok with a president who rejects scientific and medical consensus.

No. Those family members don’t get to vote for a man who says that there are “good people on both sides” when one side wants to not be killed by police, while the other thinks minorities are inferior and think that we can just ignore that and still say, “I love you.” Your vote says otherwise. Your vote says you don’t give a fuck. Your vote has material consequences. Your vote is a symbolic gesture. What you’re saying when you cast your vote for 45 is, “I’ll accept the racism, narcissism, mocking of the disabled, sexual harassment, because hey; at least he’s not a ‘politician’.”

Yes, you can critique politicians. I myself have been critical of Obama’s “I’m gonna drone the shit out of the middle east” policy. I am VERY critical of both Bill and Hillary’s interventionist positions regarding Latin America. THAT’S critiquing policy. None of them, however, told known white supremacist groups to “stand by and stand down“. None of them mocked John McCain (who I personally dislike, but whose military service is unassailable). None of them acted as openly heinous and disgusting as this man. I’ve spent the last several days thinking and writing about this, working to provide link after link, because that’s what you do when you write – provide EVIDENCE of the shit that you’re saying. Will they read this? Maybe. Will they change their minds? Probably not. Reflection is tough and cognitive dissonance is a motherfucker.

A while back, I ran across the concept of “native futurisms” and the idea that in indigenous communities, you no longer see narratives of apocalypse in their fiction because for them, the apocalypse already came with colonization. That’s what this feels like right now: I’m staring at the upcoming collapse of society and trying to warn people, but they’re acting like the large meteor in the sky heading towards us is just business as usual. I don’t know what the fallout of all of this is going to be because my mind is exhausted from all of the spinning that’s been happening these days; thinking about what this means for me and my wife.

What this means is that these choices have a ripple effect, and myself and my Black wife are affected, because we know what your choices symbolize. You may not mean it, but that’s the consequence. I’m angry. Hurt. Numb. Full of self loathing. All I can do to work through all of these feelings is the thing I know to do best: write. Because I feel powerless to do anything else. Most people who know me know that I’m not a melodramatic person given to fits of public posturing, so when I say this I feel it with every fiber of my being: I’m broken right now.

But hey: at least he’s not just another politician.

[Please note: I am not calling out or naming those family members because, despite how hurt I am, I refuse to do that.]

Racism is an American Virus

They’ll write about decolonizing as they gentrify every black and brown neighborhood.

They’ll say “black lives matter” but never when it actually matters.

They’ll talk virality and viruses but never point their microscopes at the virus of racism.

They’ll praise solidarity while looking away when the boot is on our face

or when the arm is around our neck

or when the man is following us as we try to leave,

gun at his hip.

I don’t want your grief

when you do nothing to stop the cause of it.

Representation and rap/rock

My most powerful memories revolve around music and my earliest memories revolve around two songs: Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody wants to rule the world”. When I hear the former, I think of being cramped in the back of my dad’s red Ford Escort driving…somewhere. The latter reminds me of the wood paneling of the Woodriver Apartment complex that we lived in in Corpus Christi, Texas. What got me to finally sleep by myself was a boombox that my parents got me where I could pop in Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack, or the top-40 station…well, that and the incessant crying of my infant sister. But I digress…

I inherited my love of R&B from my mother; growing up in Saginaw, Michigan in the 70’s, she was fond of Gloria Gaynor, Chic, Sister Sledge and everything disco (in addition to the compulsory tejano groups becoming any Mexican-American at that time). My mom told me that for the most part, she didn’t like school except for choir, and I would inherit that love of singing throughout my life. As such, when I heard the song “Mowtownphilly” by a group called Boyz II Men, I went deep into a rabbit hole of what would later be called “New jack swing” (a subgenre of R&B popular in the early to mid 90’s). This was years before the internet, so I didn’t know much about these groups other than what was in the liner notes, so I obsessed over the songwriter credits and names like “Tony Rich”, “Babyface” and my personal musical heroes, “Jimmy-Jam and Terry Lewis”. I saw those names on other artists’ catalogs and learned that singers and songwriters weren’t mutually exclusive; that producers often wrote songs and could win awards of their own. In the 6th grade, me and a group of friends covered “I Swear”, which had hit the charts when All 4 One covered it earlier that year, for a choir performance.

7th grade: new school and new discoveries. My older cousin brought me a double-cd that I just had to listen to. It was 2pac’s “All Eyes On Me”. Down another rabbit hole, only this time it was West Coast G-funk inspired rap. I never caught onto the Bad Boy roster, which I think was mostly due to the disco samples. I repped the West Side and devoured artists like Cypress Hill, Kid Frost, Richie Rich in addition to stalwarts like Snoop, Dr. Dre and the Death Row roster. Mostly though, it was 2pac and “Me against the world” is one of those albums that I still find myself digging into as I inch closer to middle age.

I don’t know how an album can feel both comforting and claustrophobic, but “Me Against the World” is that album

After football practice one day, I was in the locker room changing while listening to some tunes when one of the coaches grabbed my headphones, asking what I was listening to. It was Pac’s “Hit ’em up”.

“Does your mom know you’re listening to this,” he asked.

“Yeah, she bought it for me,” I answered.

He didn’t believe me, so he confiscated my discman and told me to have my mom write him a letter saying I had permission to listen to “that” music. I went home and told my mom and she was LIVID. See, I never hid what I listened to from my mom and she never censored my music choices. She wasn’t always happy if there were curse words but she never really cared because she knew I was obsessed. Plus, I got her to actually fall in love with 2pac after I showed her “Dear Mama”. Now I don’t remember exactly what she wrote in that first letter, but I do remember that she proceeded to write a 3 page letter about how I was an honors student who never caused trouble and how dare this football coach judge my listening habits because that meant he was judging her parenting and he had no right to censor what I listened to. I asked her to reign it in, as I didn’t want her telling him off to result in me doing black halos after practice, so she wrote a shorter letter. I took it to him, he read it, and gave me back the discman without a word. I took music seriously and was staunch about listening to whatever the fuck I wanted to.

But by and large, outside of tejano bands, I never really saw any music groups who looked like me and my friends. Late high school I’d started listening to rock music, mostly metal. Yeah, hip hop had some Mexican representation (like Cypress Hill and Kid Frost), but metal was pretty god damned white. Then in high school, a friend introduced me to Deftones’ “Around the Fur”. The opening track slapped HARD and that riff (which would be the first riff I would learn to play by ear) just hypnotize me. Down another rabbit hole I went, but first I wanted to know what these fuckers looked like and…

Pictured: my friend group in high school (aka Deftones)

I felt like I knew these guys personally. Chino, the lead singer, looked just like my cousin Sergio while Stephen Carpenter looked like my classmate Eric. That these So-Cal skater punks could write some fuckin heavy-ass riffs while Chino screamed/whispered his way through their catalog was just the thing I needed in high school. You could sub any of my JNCO or dickies wearing friends in that band and no one would bat an eye. It was the first time I saw brown dudes in bands. Incubus, Sevendust, Fear Factory and fuckin even Coal Chamber had a pretty diverse band (and I even went so far as to rip off their guitarist Meegs Rascon’s move of painting my nails cause it looked cool while playing guitar).

Far left: Miguel “Meegs” Rascon, Mexicali born guitarist from Coal Chamber

I saw a good amount of these bands live because, get this, they actually would make the journey down to the Rio Grande Valley and play. No one EVER fuckin played the valley because most acts would go as far south as San Antonio then turn right the fuck back around (and even that was rare as they mostly stuck to Dallas and/or Houston). I saw Coal Chamber open for Slipknot and busted a dude’s nose with my elbow after he kept using my shoulders as his own personal spring board. I pulled a friend out of a dangerously collapsing mosh pit during a Sevendust concert. I saw the band Kittie and they were more terrifying than 90% of bands full of dudes (and I also had a mad crush on their guitarist Fallon Bowman, who cemented my love of brown women). But it was the Deftones and that weird genre of rap/rock/nu-metal or whatever the fuck that first opened my eyes to the fact that people who looked like me could be musicians and I was super happy that they played the Villarreal Convention Center in my town (fun fact: Incubus opened for them that tour so I got to see them right before “Morning View” blew them the fuck up). At a lyrical level, these bands were even broaching subjects like sexual abuse and mental illness, which I still firmly believe was one of the good things that came out of that movement.

But the late 90’s were fuckin weird. That genre that started more punk than anything started to morph into something more insidious, misogynistic and mostly just lame. Sure you had bands like Korn who were ok, but then you also had your Limp Bizkits who were just god awful and made that whole scene just look like one giant frat party. It always made me angry that Fred fuckin Durst’s band got so big when all he did was mercilessly rip off Chino Moreno’s fashion sense AND musical sensibility (seriously: Durst is the Diet Rite to Chino’s Coca Cola). Musical fads shifted and by the early 2000’s that nu-metal scene was largely a joke-and it was, because by its very nature it was an attempt to put a label on what was actually a dynamic and largely diverse musical landscape and almost all of my friends who were into those bands ended up starting their own bands at one point or another.

Because that’s the point of that thing called representation: it’s a moment where you recognize you and give yourself permission to do the thing that you’ve been dying to do. And when you’re a young, pissed off, sad bastard who lives in a place that feels like its the end of the fucking earth, it makes a world of difference when you go from consuming the thing to making a thing. In my case, it was the Deftones and you would be hard pressed to find a better album to listen to than their unassailable album “White Pony”.

Edit: just so we’re clear, I don’t consider the Deftones a part of the whole nu-metal scene and they’ve been very adamant about distancing themselves from those other bands. I only speak of them as a larger entity because they largely broke through around the same time. I would never sully the Deftones’ name by calling them nu-metal because they’re better than that.

A Midwest Death

Her name was “Ms. Scooby” and she demanded your attention.

“But she’s all alone in there at the vet…” my wife said to me. I was a year into my first academic job as an assistant professor of English in Wisconsin. My wife and I already had two cats: Pippin and Merry and they lived with her while I basically commuted between households. I was against it. I had just moved from my first apartment in P-Vegas to a lovely home on 4th street with another academic couple with the most adorable children. I didn’t want to, but like many things in our relationship, I acquiesced (with the lovely permission of Vikki and John P., who owned the house I was living at).

My first year at P-Ville was a learning experience. I was teaching a 4/4 course load with advising duties during that first fall of 2016 (the year of the presidential election, btw). Every two or three weeks I would drive to Indiana to spend the weekend with my then girlfriend (now wife). I barely decorated the two bedroom apartment that I really couldn’t afford…on top of that, we were planning our wedding. After moving to the new apartment, my wife found Scooby at the vet she took our cats to. Over a month-and-a-half period, she kept talking about how much I’d appreciate having an old girl around. We picked a weekend in November and I drove down, we picked her up, and had her stay in our bathroom overnight to keep her separated from the other cats.

Scoob was a great travel companion. This is us on our way back to Wisconsin.

Things we learned from the vet: her previous humans had tried unsuccessfully to introduce her to some new kittens, and Scooby didn’t like it. So rather than try to figure it out, they took her to the vet to get euthanized. The vet refused, seeing as she was in good health, so they boarded her while they tried to find her a new home. She’d been declawed and at 17 years old, she didn’t really jump well. But oh boy could she yowl. As soon as I woke up in the morning, she was yelling at me to feed her. When I got home, she was yelling at me because I was gone all day. I had to go buy a set of stairs so she could climb into bed or onto the couch with me since she couldn’t jump. Sometimes, late at night, she’d yowl for a few minutes straight: I think she was so old that she’d sometimes wake up and not know where she was.

But as my wife and I got new jobs this past year, we had a crisis: Scooby was pretty curmudgeonly and didn’t get on well with other cats. Pippin and Merry (especially Merry) were fine, but Scoober was just not having it. My wife’s Nana graciously offered to take her in-she was a fan of cats and had a soft spot for the old girl. So a few months before we moved to the Pacific North West, we drove Scooby to her new home. She eventually acclimated and was doing well up until last week: she had stopped eating and wasn’t drinking much, we’d heard (signs of kidney failure). Then finally, we found out that Scooby crossed the rainbow bridge.

That was her look of love, if you can believe it. Note the crossed paws.

It didn’t hit me at first. But then as the evening wore on, I started to think more and more about Scooby. She was the last thing I’d had left from my time in Wisconsin. She was there during those cold winters, laying down next to the heater to warm her old bones. My wife has talked a lot about mourning lately: we’ve lost quite a few family members in the past year, but I’ve also been mourning in a different way. I’ve moved from a tenure track job to a lecturer position, I’m farther from my family than I’ve ever been before, and all of these changes have had their challenges. Scoob’s passing feels like the death of my midwest self-as busy as my time at Wisconsin was, I loved the people at that school. Now that Scooby’s gone I feel like I’ve moved into another stage of grief. It’s a new chapter in my life and it’s a little more difficult than I’d anticipated to let go of the last one.

But she was a sweet cat and I’m glad that we were able to give her a warm, safe home for her golden years. Rest easy, old girl.

I swear she was sweet. Don’t let her scowl fool you.

When I had it my way

I’d like to say it was my first job, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t. My real first job was working in the fields with my cousins. We’d moved into a pretty nice neighborhood when I was a freshman in high school. My dad, in his infinite wisdom, decided that I was to help pick melons with my family during the summer as a means of humbling me in my country club lifestyle. This, despite the fact that I had absolutely no control over where we lived, but whatever. It was the first time I was “working” and the money I earned went towards some bitchin’ rollerblades. But I digress…

It looked very much like this, except I was in a truck and accidentally hit a dude in the head with one of the spoiled cantaloupes.

The following summer I applied for a job at Burger King. I’d started playing guitar and was eager to move on from the Stratocaster copy that my mom ordered me from a Fingerhut catalogue. I dropped off an application and a few days later got a call that I was going to be interviewed. Like the huge fucking dork that I was, I listened to my father’s advice and dressed up for the interview. You could imagine my shock at the fact that I was the only asshole who showed up in a freshly ironed dress shirt and slacks as I sat in the lobby of the Burger King on Military Road in south McAllen. I was, as always, a polite and deferential motherfuck and SURPRISE! I was hired and ready to be trained. I was excited: I was going to spend two weeks training at the McAllen store then move to a new store opening up in nearby Edinburg.

But HOLY SHIT was I unprepared for fast food. First of all, my trainer told me that they hire men to cook/bus/dishwash and women to take orders and/or cashier. We were the seedy underbelly while the women played the face: no skin off my back though, I didn’t really feel like dealing with people. My trainer, a man who seemed like an actual adult but in retrospect was probably only 5 years older than me, was a cool dude. Speaking mostly Spanish, he taught me how to grab the buns from the steamer, place ’em on the board, and depending on the order, throw the meat, veggies and condiments all together, wrapping in wax and sliding them down the waiting tray. Assembly line production at its finest: we had to make sure to be well stocked with Whoppers that we could slightly modify at a moment’s notice, followed by Western Bacon Chee’s and another “special” that was hot in 1997. The first day was a fucking whirlwind: I struggled to keep up, but my trainer was really patient with me. With the location being right on the border, we were constantly swamped with people traveling in and out of Mexico. A real trial-by-fire. I trained from 6PM til closing, which meant I had to help clean and close the store. Most nights I didn’t get home until about 2 in the morning.

At that point, my maternal grandmother (grandma Mary) was living with us. She had a “boyfriend” who she begrudgingly acknowledged at the time, which meant that my mom, sister and I would mercilessly tease her about him. It also meant that she was up late at night talking to him on the phone, on the one land line that we shared. Our family, two adults in their 40’s, one junior-high aged daughter and a tech savvy high school aged son along with said matriarch, shared a single phone line. Naturally, this meant passive-aggressive battles over the phone. It also meant that my grandmother was up late at night when I made it home. She’d be watching tv in the living room while my parents were asleep and I’d chat with her for a bit. One night, I asked her if there was anything I could bring from “El Rey”, to which she replied, “whatever you want to bring”. So I’d bring a burger, maybe some fries at first. Then one night I brought some breakfast cinnamon rolls (cini-minis, they would later be called), and grandma Mary fucking LOVED them. Thus, I’d bring her a nightly sixer of cini-minis and a whopper junior and fries for my sister on the rare nights I was being nice to her.

In high school, summers are prime fuckaround-time, which sucked for me because I’d get home so late, wake up at the crack of noon, then would only have a couple of hours to kill before I had to go into work. My friends had the same schedule sans work, so I never really got to hang out with them. It was a pain in the ass, yet…I kinda started to really like the job. As the days week went by, I was slingin steamy burgers with the best of them, and talking shit to my trainer while slappin meat and pickles on buns. Sometimes, when it was particularly slow, one of the girls would hand me the headset and I’d take some orders. After work, we’d shoot the shit in the parking lot after closing: one specific night, my co-workers were smoking cigarettes as we chatted. I asked for one, at which point one of the girls called me a poser (in Spanish), laughing as she said that I would have no clue what to even do with one. A grabbed one from the pack, punched the car lighter in, popped it out and inhaled, exhaling the smoke out of my nostrils directly into her face and saying, “que dijiste?” It’s probably the most badass I’ve ever been in my life. Weeks later, I’d move to the Edinburg location and work for another couple of months.

And to be honest, I really liked the gig. There was something simple about burger slinging: no crazy responsibilities, no pressure to be a stellar student. Just get those burgers rolling and you’re good. My manager would constantly compliment me on how polite and hard working I was and I honestly ate it up. My coworkers were a ragtag bunch of misfits that I got along with very well-hell, towards the end, I was even training another dude to sling steamy buns.

But it was never gonna be permanent. I saved up enough money to buy a Hamer electric guitar with a hum-single-hum, floyd rose configuration that I was dreaming of and with school coming up, the idea of working while being a full-time student didn’t really appeal to me. Again, following my dad’s advice, I put in my two week’s notice: my manager asked me to stay, saying that I could easily work my way up to assistant manager and they’d work around my school schedule. I had to say “no”.

I’d go on to graduate from high school, but it took almost a decade of fucking up to graduate from college, work for a couple of years as a pack-a-day journalist at a local newspaper, until I’d move onto graduate school. But I look back at my time at the King with fondness: what if I’d gone that route and worked through high school and college? What if I’d gone on to manage a BK of my own? Maybe I’d have taken advantage of their “we’ll pay for yourfuckingcollege” program. Who the hell knows?

I was never going to be a fucking chef. But I think about that experience when I go out to eat or pick up food at any restaurant. In a future blog, I want to talk about my adoration of the late Anthony Bourdain, whose “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations” were essential viewing for my mother and I. But he astutely pointed out that, when you look in any kitchen, chances are that those people cooking your food are people that look like me: brown, Spanish speaking people of the Latin-American diaspora. Again, I was a fucking BK cook, not a Michelin star winning sous-chef. But my food, your food, our food that we eat at those taquerias, sushi joints, food trucks, cafe’s and, yes, fast food joints are largely staffed by brown people that will toss off a “chinga tu madre” if you cross them.

It’s why, even here in the Pacific Northwest, I feel a slight sense of ease when I hear some norteño music piping out of the kitchen, or a “que le damos, joven?” from the cashier when I walk into the taqueria down the street. However small, and however brief, I did my part.

On NewThings: Tech yourself before you wreck yourself

There’s something appealing about new tech. It’s one of the reasons I like watching tech reviews and unboxing videos on Youtube. The past year, I’ve been extremely dissatisfied with the Macbook I bought in 2015 – several keys stick while typing and the space bar stutters as well. After hearing about problems with newer Mac keyboards, in addition to the bloated corpse that iTunes has become, I’m just fucking tired of Apple. As part of my contract with my current job I’m getting a 2-in-1 laptop and I’m excited to be able to edit and comment on essays using a pen and touch-screen and am trying to figure out what my new workflow is going to look like. Thus, I’m currently obsessed with 2-in-1’s: I’ve spent the last month-and-a-half looking up Youtube videos and articles about the Microsoft Surface and the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Yoga.

I mean, just LOOK at it. But LOOK!

But this is what it’s always been like for me. Every time I buy some new device, whether it be a phone, video game console, or even a controller, I spend an alarming amount of time smelling it: no joke, I adore the metallic, plastic, sterile scent given off by newly opened tech. Now I’m not one of those people who watches ASMR videos – that’s just not my thing. But the tactile feeling of devices is what I fuckin’ live for.

Which is hard to reconcile with considering how much I loathe tech culture. I currently live in north Seattle and ho-ly shit there are some problems that these huge companies have created and/or exacerbated here; rampant homelessness, astronomical housing costs and overall cost of living. In some of the research I did in the planning stages of our move here, I found that there’s been a lot of backlash over this. The development of things and this constant push to STEM-ify everything without considering the consequences is creating this ouroboros of capitalism – prototype NewThing, create a market for upcoming NewThing, obsess over NewThing, buy NewThing, tire of it…OOH! NewThing2 is coming out!

NewThing sucks us all in; its promise creates cults of personality around NewThing creators/disruptors. It’s why people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs can get away with being supreme assholes. Because they’re so capable of making NewThing people constantly acquiesce to their demands and whims, providing tax breaks for their factories, giving them free passes for creating inhumane conditions for their workers. In the rush to find the next NewThing master, Silicon Valley keeps funding increasingly aggressive grifts, from Theranos, to Juicero, and even Bodega. And the BigBrain Bandits of Silicon Valley can’t help but continue shooting themselves in the dicks by investing millions of fucking dollars in the name of “disruption”.

I, for one, CERTAINLY trust this man’s water takes

It’s all a grift and I’m just as guilty of falling for it as the next person. The laptop thing I can at least defend: both my job and my hobby involve a lot of typing and my current device drives me mad. But what about the next console? Or the newest phone? These NewThings always promise so much but end up costing us even more. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the rampant sexism, racism and cyberbullying inherent in tech culture. And it’s so easy for kids, particularly young males, to get sucked into these technological cults and transforming them into violent, hateful techno-radicals. It’s honestly frightening and I don’t know how to reconcile these things. I want to be reasonable and like things I like, but it’s hard not to feel complicit in feeding into NewThing culture.

Hard and heavy

In case you haven’t heard, Andrew Luck (quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts) recently announced his retirement, to the surprise of everyone. For those less inclined to watch football this is huge because Luck was, for all intents and purposes, the centerpiece of the Colts franchise. A Stanford grad and seemingly decent dude, he blindsided everyone by making his announcement before a preseason game.

In most cases, athletes tend to retire at the end of their respective sports’ seasons, usually citing age and declining performance as factors. What makes Luck’s situation so peculiar is that he’s relatively young (29) and in a sport known for its hyperviolence, quarterbacks tend to have longer careers than other positions; Tom Brady, for example, is 42 and just received and extension with the Patriots. For a qb that young to essentially walk away from millions of dollars is reflective of a larger issue in the National Football League–the increasing awareness of how much damage the sport does to its athletes.

My wife and I have been watching the Netflix series “Last Chance U”. I’d already seen it, but didn’t mind watching it again because it’s really good. You see these kids throwing their bodies around, knocking the everloving piss out of each other, in hopes that they’ll eventually get Division-I scholarship offers and, eventually, get drafted into the NFL. Time and time again, these kids (some of them as young as 17) battle through injuries, lifetimes of poverty and socioeconomic struggles, all while saying “all I know is football. I gotta make it.” Your heart breaks when you realize that the odds of a high-schooler eventually making it to the NFL are jarringly slim–just 0.08 percent of high school football players will make it to the pros.

But then, what if they do make it? What’s the cost? Even if, say, they don’t go broke, don’t suffer a career ending injury, what then? They have this to look forward to. And this. And also this. So Luck, rather than have his brain rattled into early onset dementia, retired. And what does he get in return? Hot takes. Crowds booing at him.

Whole lotta “protection” happening here

I grew up in Texas, so naturally football is a part of my psyche. I’m in a fantasy football league, which measures athlete performance by a set criteria week after week. And yet, I’m become more and more disillusioned with the sport knowing just how much it asks of its laborers and how little it gives back in return. I’m part of the problem, for sure and its part of the reason why I’ve transitioned to watching basketball instead–I feel less complicit in the offenses the sport commits on its employees.

Andrew Luck isn’t a “millennial snowflake” – he read his coverage and made the call to sacrifice short term gain for long-term dividends. To treat him as some sort of traitor to a sport or team is disingenuous at best, completely insidious at worst. And if you feel the need to fire off your own spicy hot take, think about people like hall of fame linebacker Junior Seau, who was so debilitated by CTE that he died by suicide after suffering from years of mood swings. This is a symptom of a larger problem within the NFL, one that won’t go away, no matter how many obstacles the league tries to put in front of it. Luck knows the game all too well and made a choice. People like Doug Gottlieb are contemptible ratfucks for giving Luck even a modicum of static for it because they’re not the ones who will forget their family members’ names, or become violently angry at the drop of a hat for absolutely no reason, or will only live until the ripe-old age of 52. Luck made the right call, and I sincerely hope there is a place in hell reserved for people like Gottlieb.

Back from the east

I’m back in Seattle right now after having spent almost two weeks in China. This is the second, and most likely, last year I get to do this and now that the jet lag has (mostly) worn off and I’m back to some semblance of a normal routine, I’m using this time to dwell with my feelings on my experiences – both in China and this past year.

My hotel room the first night in China. My accommodations were not like this the rest of the time, trust me…

At my (now) former university, I was one of a handful of instructors who had the opportunity to teach for 12 days in Wuhan, China. The university has a partnership with the South Central University of Nationalities (SCUN) and as someone with a background teaching in Tech Writing, I was offered the chance to teach graduate students my first year there. However, I couldn’t at the time because I was too busy getting married…The second year, I jumped at the chance and it’s been very enlightening.

Just outside the dorm I stayed in at SCUN

It’s a strange sensation to step into a country and have your biometric data scanned while seeing all of the cameras around. It’s another thing entirely when it’s all happening in a context where the language is so different from yours. But taking the taxi from the airport, to the hotel, to the next flight, and then to the university, I start to get a sense of just the immense size of this country. My students referred to Wuhan as a “small” town: this “town” has a population of over 10 million and just the amount of buildings, high rises, and apartment complexes is staggering. SCUN itself feels less like a college campus and more like a self-sustained suburb within a larger town.

I’d jog past this building sometimes. I believe it’s the “cultural center”.

My schedule: up at around 5 a.m., call my wife and chat for half an hour, make myself some instant coffee and eat some sweet bread, shower, then head to the “canteen” (cafeteria) around 8. From 8:30-12:00, it was class time every day (except Sunday). The first couple of days I’d just pass out in my dorm and nap for a couple of hours. After that, I’d get up and either a) grab food from the canteen, or b) head out to the shopping center and grab food there. The whole time I’d just have my headphones blasting (usually Bombay Bicycle Club, Tool, or the new Bon Iver album).

The students are extremely friendly: they’re quick to invite you out to lunch when you arrive and are (almost to a fault) eager to get you to try the various regional dishes that stand as testaments to each students’ particular home province. At some point, a student will ask if you “like spicy food”. All I’ll say is be careful if you say, “yes”.

From Summer 2018. The dish I really liked was translated as “black fungus” (sauteed mushrooms).

I know I’m not always the most social person around, but it’s hard to even mimic social behavior when you’re in a completely different social context and can only say “thank you”, “hello”, and “beer” in that language. I took to taking long walks in the evening before it would get dark.

This shrine was tucked away in front of a shopping center. I paused for a moment to briefly still my mind, but not too long as to arouse any suspicion. I am a brown American and very aware of my American brownness regardless of country.
This shrine was tucked away in front of a shopping center. I paused for a moment to briefly still my mind, but not too long as to arouse any suspicion. I am a brown American and very aware of my American brownness regardless of country.

Outside of class and lunch, I was pretty much left to my own devices. Dinner meant walking to the store to restock on water and maybe more sweetbread. But mostly, I tried to limit that as it’s still kinda embarrassing to only be able to communicate through points and nods. It gives you a lot of time to think about things. Here I was, 37, teaching graduate students in China. If you’d have told 13 year-old me that I’d be here, I’d have chucked a rock at you.

Outside an art studio that I decided to name “A E S T H E T I C”.

I’ve been going back-and-forth about my commitment to academia, which is understandable given the year I’ve had. I’ve moved from a tenure-track position at my previous university to a full-time lecturer position and, though my wife and I fully believe our current university will do everything they can to find something more permanent for me, it’s still risk. I built three years of tenure and stellar reviews at Previous U and, as one of my best friends pointed out, it’s an ego hit to put that work on hold. That, coupled with the economic anxiety that comes with having to wait months for your first paycheck while living in a city that’s more expensive than Tokyo, makes me question what value there is in this prestige-chamber that is higher education. I don’t want platitudes; I want to get paid, and this shit sometimes makes me think that all those seminar papers, theses, dissertations and applications were just an extended exercise in fucking around. Some sick, masochistic labyrinth of obstacles meant for people who can afford to get paid in praise or esteem. Does that praise and esteem feel good? Of course it does. Does it keep the lights on? Fuck no; if anything, academia does a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re always hobbling to a finish line that never comes.

Cohort 16

I’ll be honest: I’ve applied to several jobs these past few months. My wife has been supportive of this idea the whole way, which is helpful, but I don’t know what this year is going to bring. Right now, I think I’m taking more of a wait-and-see approach with higher ed. This could be the year my publication submissions start to take hold and the teaching rhythm starts to hit a groove. But I can’t help think about any other industry that, granted, would be pretty fast paced and likely higher stress.

This was one hell of a view (by that I mean the scenery, not me). Not pictured: the rest of my sweaty Macho Man t-shirt.

But the students this summer were so kind that maybe they’ve pushed me towards the wait-and-see. So as of right now, I’m still teaching. I can’t say that this’ll be the case a year from now, hell even a month from now. But I think I’d be doing these students, those from Previous U and Grad School U a disservice if I didn’t give it one last shot.

My taxi driver was fuckin next level. An iPhone Megatron, if you will.