And I held you closer than anyone would ever guess

Book 1: The Great Shark HuntHunter S. Thompson

I couple weeks ago my best friend called and we bullshitted on the phone for several minutes. There is nothing routine about our calls, but it’s something we’ve done with more frequency since I switched cities last year. I’m just inaccessible enough to where the two of us can fall out of contact for a handful of days, or a week, at a time. Which was rarely the case when we lived five minutes from each other in San Bernardino. Our calls are usually to talk about big scores we had at work, or his obsession with prospective cars he wants to buy, or my obsession with sports I want to (or have) bet on and U.S. politics I can’t avoid. Whatever is going on, basically.

There was, however, a little bit of substance to this specific call. He mentioned that he and his wife were having a baby shower on Saturday (the 21st), and that he expected me to go. “I know I’m scheduled to work,” I told him, “But I don’t think it should be a problem to get it off.”

This was true: because of the on-call position I occupy at work, where I only average 30 hours a week such that the Indian tribe I work for isn’t required to pay me benefits, the bigwigs rarely put up roadblocks if I request a day here or there. If I had a thousand dollars for every time I got denied time off, I would be broke as fucking shit.

So overconfidence was my obvious problem when, on my way to take the first break of the day, I strolled up to the shift manager, Jim, as he opened the craps game the Wednesday before, and asked, “Is there anything going on this Saturday?”

“I don’t know,” he responded. “Why?”

“I was wondering if you absolutely needed me that day,” though a third party would have easily recognized the bullshitting-a-bullshitter expression I gave off.

“Yes,” he said, flatly.

“Fair enough,” I finished, turning to the Team Members Only area to get my phone from my locker and a cup of coffee out of the dining room.

At the side of the casino is the patio, the hidden area outside where employees unite and smoke their cigarettes. After about five minutes Jim came out to light up, and told me to see him on Friday to try and figure something out.

Here I realized the classic boy’s club posturing exhibited by Jim, who put on his tough guy act in front of the other dealers on the floor. It was just for show. Jim likes to talk about sports, which is (evident per this blog) right in my wheelhouse. Privately I know I am one of his favorite craps dealers, or dealers in general, and he usually accommodates my excessively low-maintenance demands. I understood this even on the floor. So I wasn’t going to whine or attempt to plea my case out there. If that was it then that was it.

On Friday I approached him again, and the two of us walked to the table games office. I sat down in the chair across from him and he pulled out Saturday’s roster, noting that I was scheduled to work on the dice crew. “I could take Tim out of blackjack rotation and stick him on craps,” he told me.

Easy enough, I thought.

Then Jim took out the calendar, the one that showed all of the upcoming events. When he arrived to Saturday, the 21st, there was a snag. “Oh, shit,” he murmured. “Stephen Tyler is playing tomorrow. Sorry man, I can’t do it.”

A couple thoughts passed through my head as I left. The first, most obviously, was basic math. It was a sold out show and all of the other on-call dealers were scheduled to work. So I couldn’t switch the day with anyone even if I wanted to. My only other option would have been to call off, an offense I would absorb two points for. Ten points is grounds for termination, and right now I am at five. That wouldn’t leave me with enough breathing room, especially with the NCAA Tournament coming up in a couple months.

The second thought was of Jim, and if our meeting was really just a ride he was taking me on. I don’t think that was the case — because as I mentioned above, he usually comes through in the rare cases I have asked for something — but then again if he was playing me, that would have been the proper way to go about it. To get until the last moment, when suddenly the calendar made an appearance, before shutting me down.

Either way, fuck it. I told Trey and he understood. It was out of my hands.

On Saturday morning Trey and I got our hairs cut. I mean can people really claim to be best friends if they don’t schedule their haircut appointments at the same time? While we were there Trey handed me a new Polo hat and some Polo sunglasses that he had recently bought, just for the hell of it. I smoked a cigarette and we shook hands and I headed off to work.

This wasn’t an ordinary Saturday. On this Saturday 2.6 million people took to the streets for the Women’s March, highlighted by three quarters of a million in the nation’s capital. This was for a variety of reasons, including now-President Donald Trump’s utterly sexist comments about women during his campaign, in support of Planned Parenthood, in defense of the woman’s right to choose, and so on.

Naturally, in step with the same leaders and politicians who never have their backs in return, there was a dirty social media backlash against the march. Some of it was conflated, and inaccurately, I should add, with the protests of the inauguration the day before. People just cannot stand for individuals who come together to make America a better place. For everybody.

Here is my thing, and it’s not true in every case, but as a general rule it’s fairly spot-on: if you had a problem with the Black Lives Matter protests, then most likely you had a problem with the Women’s March. If you had a problem with the protesting and rioting after the results of election night, then most likely you had a problem with the protesting and rioting on inauguration day. People with this mindset generally believe that, in America, if you don’t like something — like basic human rights, for instance — then you should sit down and shut up.

I say this because the same, stupid, questions and comments keep getting asked and made. Like “What is the point?” or “Is it just because Trump is president?” or “Name me one right men have that women don’t.”

Nonsense, all of it. Nonsense and capitulation.

What makes me most uneasy right now about the other side is how Donald Trump has seemingly been elevated to God status. Totally decent people are actually buying his bullshit, and they have gone too far to give up now.

For instance, Trump claimed that he would have won the election in a landslide if not for all of the illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. We know voter fraud is and always has been a myth, used by the Republican Party to suppress votes in typically urban and low-income areas. (Also known as black areas, which tend to vote heavily Democratic.) It’s a long game strategy. More stringent laws against voting rights creates a lower voter turnout, and lower voter turnout always benefits the GOP.

But when somebody, take me for example, points out that voting is a right, these supporters respond by saying any old immigrant could walk into any voting booth, claim citizenship and — poof! — their vote counts. They’ve never checked my I.D., these supporters might say. (Like, sure, as if an immigrant wants to risk getting arrested or deported for casting a vote in a country they are not even a citizen in.)

Tomorrow Donald Trump could claim that the sky isn’t actually blue, but red, rather — due to a government conspiracy against the color red — and his supporters would say But what evidence is there that it’s blue? Do you believe everything people tell you? It’s impossible to have grownup conversations with people who reject facts.

But it’s like this across the board. Trump says he’s going to drain the swamp, and instead he fills his cabinet with his multi-millionaire and billionaire friends. His supporters say What’s so wrong with being rich? I want people who have been successful running my country. Trump appoints a climate change denier to run the EPA, and his supporters say The jury is still out on the climate change hoax. Trump appoints a guy who is anti-labor to be Secretary of Labor, and his supporters say But he runs successful companies, what’s so bad about that?

On and on it goes.

With all that aside, I think my real contempt is for the people who are attempting to make a moral stand, saying that abortion is wrong and the women who march for it are somehow less than. I’m of the opinion that abortion is a difficult topic, and people can feel how they want about it. But for me, personally, it always comes back to a basic principle: that the individual should have the right to decide. In this case, it’s the woman’s choice. I do not believe men should have a seat at this table.

In a way this is what all of these topics boil down to: men, and specifically white men. They turned out in the election, and were the driving force that elected Donald Trump to be the president. See for them (or us), having equal rights to a woman, or a black person, or a brown person, is akin to oppression. Donald Trump convinced enough white men that we are the ones being oppressed.

With individuals like this, we see a soft bigotry: they might not be racist, or sexist, or xenophobic, but if they are in opposition to Black Lives Matter protests, or the Women’s March, or just general protesting of Trump, then what other conclusion are people like me supposed to draw?

In the United States, the first amendment of The Constitution gives people the right to organize and protest. If you are against this then you are against the very thing that makes America what it is. If you believe everyone should be quiet and keep their opinions to themselves, there are plenty of totalitarian countries that are more than happy to grant your wish. Most of them are in the Middle East.

It just amazes me that these are the people who consider themselves to be more American than the rest of us, even though they oppose the first amendment under every circumstance that doesn’t suit them. Somewhere, along the line, they were convinced that the U.S. was already the best, and that normal protest for even the most basic rights somehow makes it an un-American act. You could drop these same people in any generation — back when women didn’t have the right to vote, or the Civil Rights Movement — and they would have believed the same trash.

This type of backwards-thinking, this growing wave of anti-intellectualism, is crippling the culture and should be challenged whenever possible. It is holding everybody back. America did not become the best country in the history of the world because god woke up one morning and thought it would be a fun thing to experiment with by using his play toys. It’s been a struggle the whole way, and it continues to be a struggle.

It’s with much disappointment that I had to work on Saturday the 21st, though if I wasn’t there I would not have been in Los Angeles marching with my fellow brothers and sisters. I would have been at my best friend’s baby shower for their first kid.

But for me, this self-labeled Socialist, whatever I have been doing or saying has not been enough. Donald Trump is the president now. That shit really fucking happened. The protests are not going to stop, so my participation in this struggle cannot stay stagnant.

In the near future I intend to become a member of the Democratic Socialists of America Party, and if I’m not able to hit the streets with my people, then I can at least donate some of my resources. If that is all I am good for then it’s an improvement on what I am doing right now. Which is to say not nearly enough.

It is true that I have a very specific lens that my worldview travels through. But it is so specific that it’s simple: I want people to have as many rights as possible. Rights are a big deal to me. Deeper down the rabbit hole we get into economics and foreign policy and the same general concept applies. I want people to be as equal as possible, whether that is financially, scholastically, or socially. The destiny of America has always been a melting pot of all shapes and sizes and colors, meshed together from generation to generation.

It would be boring if everybody else thought the same way I do, regardless of whether or not I believe in my heart that it’s the right way. I’m so American that I’m of the opinion you should be able to think how you want, just as I have the the right to say that you are wrong (and vice versa).

My problem is with the people who don’t like the marches and protests, who don’t think these issues — or any issues — are worth criticizing America over. And to them I say, plainly, that it’s not un-American to want to make this country a better place. It makes you more American. It’s how the United State became so great.

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