Hi all – A partner and I are starting a podcast. You can catch the first episode here. Feel free to offer feedback here or there!
We drove to Cleveland to see Free Solo last night, and wow…
I am going to give a big spoiler immediately – he lived…
- Yosemite, as Alex says in the film, might be the most beautiful river valley on the planet. I personally am a bit biased towards the Grand Canyon, and my bias shows how US-centric I am, but I hear his argument.
- Selfishly, I thought of the times when I felt pushed to the edge physically – duckying the Upper Gauley always comes to mind.
- I also thought though of a time when I (we) just nailed it, in particular R2ing the Upper Yough on a crisp summer day…
- Other than that, I got nothing – just see this film…
On the eve of the confirmation hearing for an elitist preppie know-nothing of the sort who populated too much of my undergraduate days, I offer a reminiscence of earlier work experiences and a couple of thoughts on bar fights and masculinity.
The Senate hearings were a particular nightmare for those who have suffered sexual assault. I’m lucky – I have avoided that situation somehow in my life. It was also a showcase for what men get away with, and I hope it’s one of the last places in which I was lucky in that I never had to work for a yeller.
The one time in my corporate experience I had someone yell at me happened with one of my programmers. He came back from a meeting with a customer, and he looked sick.
“What the hell happened” I asked, with my usual ability to quickly judge the obvious.
“That guy is out of control – he yelled at me for ten minutes about the bill we submitted.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t want to pay a bill that has anything other than three zeroes at the end.”
I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I made sure that the next bill we sent was very large, with at least three zeroes on it. I’m not sure he got it though, because after I went in and talked to him, the situation got worse.
“You need to stop yelling. This is unprofessional, and treating people like this just shows what an asshole you are.”
I walk out. And the next day my bosses canceled the contract with his firm. We left them in the lurch, and probably hurt our ability to do business in the Boston area for a couple of years, but the guys I worked for weren’t having their employees treated like that.
Even in the early 90s we knew that yelling at others was not the way to make business happen.
The Bar Fight
Suddenly, the bar fight has become a marker of masculinity. Lots of folks are coming out of the woodwork with elaborate tales of bar fights they have managed to survive, and we now know that they are, truly, men.
Bullshit. As my brother says, getting in a bar fight is just stupid. None of us have any idea what the person who wants to fight has on them, in the form of weaponry, tolerance of pain, MMA cards, or whatever. Who wants to risk their future on a situation that they can’t possibly have any control over, and which can even accidentally go very, very wrong?
I’ve been in a bar fight once. Since then I’m always quick to either de-escalate or get the hell out, pulling friends with me. So many factors out of your control, and so many possibilities for very bad consequences, makes being in a bar fight seem like a stupid risk to me. To all the suddenly macho men who are bragging about multiple bar fights, I’d encourage you to find another way to prove your manliness. Perhaps you could take up rugby, a sport where foes actually do drink beer after matches, unlike the movie scenes of bar fights in which guys beat the shit out of each other and then drink afterwards. Try boxing, or MMA, or even a mosh pit, places where there are rules and referees and in which men can truly test their own strength and ability to take a punch or two.
Soon-to-be Justice Kavanaugh did the bar fight right, at least. He didn’t actually fight – he just taunted someone else until his friend (according to stories it’s Chris Dudley, who played in the paint in the NBA, a place to prove one’s masculinity like no other) did the actual fighting. My guess is that he’s a coward in all the truest senses, and I can only imagine the horrors he will be a part of as a Justice who has promised consequences as retribution to his political enemies, but perhaps one of his biggest accomplishments will be a negative one (from his perspective) – young men will no longer grow up to think that getting into a bar fight proves that they are macho.
I’ve been trying to reconcile these two thoughts lately…
The first comes from Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History
Surely the time of the soothsayers, who divined what lay hidden in the lap of the future, was experienced neither as homogenous nor as empty. Whoever keeps this in mind will perhaps have an idea of how past time was experienced as remembrance: namely, just the same way. It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.
Divination, if done on either extreme of the futurist binary, has the potential to be a well-paid endeavor. As citizens of the U.S., we relentlessly project ourselves into that future, often with a much-lamented ignorance of the past that is seen culturally as a feature, not bug. Benjamin’s point here, I think, is that relationships to time are cultural, not essential – a host of possible reasons exist for why cultures look relentlessly backward or forward. Continue Reading
We bought our current house as sort of a compromise. I worked in a city to the south, and my partner had her own business in a city to the north, and we decided to split the difference that we would need to drive and buy a house in between.
The town that we bought in was sort of run of the mill, but it had a river running through it, and our backyard borders that river (although we are about 150 feet above it – raft guides are aware of the power of floods). Our neighborhood is quaint and blue collar and well-established, with our house being built in 1929 (as are the houses of most of our neighbors). At the time we moved in, the next-newest family had been there seven years, so the neighborhood was obviously stable as well. Still, nothing here hinted at the sort of energy of living in a large city that we both enjoy.
Why this history? Because our town has sort of suddenly become a bit hipsterish…
We also have lots and lots of young folks, eating out, playing and listening to music, kayaking on a river that has had its dams removed, and in general staying out past the 8:30 bedtime of old folks like myself.
It’s all pretty awesome.
The reasons are complicated and varied, of course, but part of what attracted businesses was the older structures that were available for renovation. The welding shop that became an ad agency’s story is told here, and the agency itself has an interesting story and a commitment to inhabiting a reclaimed space.
Another attraction is the previously-mentioned open street. I was not a fan of this – I like walking, and pedestrian spaces, and was sort of annoyed by the idea that a place where folks could walk without fear of cars would disappear.
This summer has proven me wrong, and I hope that it continues. On our walk last night, we saw tons of people enjoying the beautiful evening, and every place we stopped for a sophisticated adult beverage was packed. There are now food trucks (young people have it so easy now – we got to enjoy Denny’s and/or White Castle for late night runs back in the day) and cool art shops and fountains and all the other stuff that makes our small town feel increasingly like a real city.
Is the lesson here that opening up avenues of all sorts is *the* way to enliven your town? I don’t know – the jury is still out. But the combination of ways that our city is now easier to travel in has clearly had a positive impact on the energy that feeds it, and the energy has been an unqualified boon.
I guess that we have traveled while at home, inhabiting this space long enough to see it time (and humans) change it in a way that we like, a lot. And as it continues this dynamic, we will hopefully continue the embrace…
If you’re reading this blog for discussions of fancy European cities, sorry, this post will not meet your expectations. However…
I spent time in Dayton, Ohio recently, and got some visit time in with family. I did sneak in one decent walk, and that walk prompted these observations (and photos)…
- On the surface, Dayton and Akron (where I live) are very similar – mid-sized midwestern towns, each of which is close to a major city. Both have industrial pasts
that are part of their glory days, both have been (and still are, sort of) the corporate headquarters of major manufacturing companies, and both are relatively famous for major icons – Dayton is of course where the Wright Brothers got their start, while Akron is the birthplace of Lebron – j/k, the folks at Goodyear, with the still well-known blimp. Both have legitimate claims to being hotbeds of innovation in the industrial past of the US.
- These similarities made me of course lump them together in my head, a lump that was knocked out after spending a couple of days. The cities have some pretty distinct differences in architecture and infrastructure, and
the differences are interesting and say a lot about some of the socioeconomic development of the two cities.
- In fact, some of Dayton’s architecture reminds me of Cincinnati, with the narrow houses built because the hilly city made cheap house construction difficult without terracing (in itself expensive).
- An exhaustive study is outside my realm of expertise (nice dodge that), but both are struggling with lots of the same issues – how to increase population, how to develop a solid economic base, how to keep young people in town. And, as in Akron, I saw lots of folks determined to make good, to help their city remain viable, livable, and functioning into the near future.
The title of this post is pretentious as hell, for which I apologize. It comes from a marvelous Friday working on our podcast series (we haven’t released them yet but I will announce on this blog when we’re ready), one in which we got to hear incredibly smart and conscious young people talk about their lives and what they’ve seen and experienced, their hopes and dreams.
It’s become less fashionable I think (and hope) to complain about the kids these days. I’m happy about that because I have a vested interest in this group as a college instructor, and I think there are some collective traits that make them pretty unique and that, without being too hyperbolic, give me hope for the future.
Among the many stories that I heard was one about visiting Asia. What struck me was the story was about Taiwan, a country about which I had heard very little. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, but Taiwan has a reputation as an incredibly friendly, warm place, one very different from China because of the omnipresence of the government on the mainland, an omnipresence that Taiwanese are free of (at least directly).
The story that most intrigued me was this one:
I went from Korea to the mainland to Taiwan, and the differences between them were most obvious in the conversations I had:
In Korea, folks tried to include me in the conversation but mostly spoke Korean. In China, when information was desired from me I was addressed directly. Otherwise, I was ignored.
Taiwan was different. There, conversations were held in English, and I was able to participate fully. It felt like a monumental difference.
The story in and of itself is fascinating, but what most struck me was the quality of the observation. Millennials are often chastised as being unable to look away from their phones and to have no abilities to interact with other humans. In fact, as I looked for images to accompany this post, most of them featured millennials on their devices, unwilling to look around and converse with their comrades. Clearly, as both of the young people we talked to demonstrate, once again the myth has a large element of exaggeration. My guess is that while there are many millennials who fit this stereotype (and don’t think that boomers or Xers are innocent of this – look who we elected as president), as always there are enough who are conscious and intentional and observant and, well, woke to make sure that perhaps human history does continue to obey the laws of social justice that Dr. King observed, the ones that move glacially at times but always, always bend forward.