The Stain Of Protest

I watched as Bizarro Bonnie & Cylde McCloskey pointed an AR-15 at peaceful protesters. I watched as Bozo Trump encouraged Sideshow Barr to shoot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters.

Peaceful. Protesters.

All I have to do is close my eyes and there’s a rush of memory where Young John Lewis is leading an Orderly Line of Black Men and Women dressed in their Sunday Best across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in search of equality. They were met by White Devils On Horseback weilding a brutality that can only be unleashed by The Hellfire Of Liars determined to bend The Moral Arc in the direction of Injustice.

Peaceful. Protesters.

They want us to be passive so they can bash in our skulls with The Police Batons we paid for, and I’m not a violent person, but these terms don’t work for me. They want to point Semi-Automatic Weapons in our direction and pretend Stand Your Ground actually means something, and I’m not a violent person, but these terms don’t work for me. They want Roger Stone walking freely among us despite being found guilty on 7 Counts Of Driving The Getaway Clown Car, and I’m not a violent person, but these terms don’t work for me.

I’d like to go on the record as someone who encourages Trump Voters to succeed in pulling the lever for a 2nd term because the further they stretch The Pendulum in the direction of White Nationalist Insanity, the bigger The Backlash Of Righteousness.

I was on a Zoom Call the other day talking about Racial Justice. We were telling stories about a time when we stood up for something and it worked out. Sifting through the debris of memory, I had a hard time piecing together the fragments of something that actually worked out.

 In my life, the desire to stand up for something has always led to me being put in my place.

There’s an emotional hangover, where I punish myself by retreating into regret. It doesn’t last but it stings. Over time, I re-emerge better suited to the fight, thicker skin, better instincts for how to pick my battles and where to take the dry cleaning.

I remember having dinner with my Grandpa Bernie and his wife Patti. We were eating at Bob Chinn’s Crab House. I was just back from college, living in New York City, full of swagger and the feeling I had been transformed into a new man. 

That’s a dangerous feeling.

All my life, there was never a dinner where my Grandpa Bernie didn’t find the opportunity to say his favorite thing. It could be for the slightest perceived infraction. Maybe Patti interrupted him. Maybe her story went on too long after a few too many drinks. Maybe she was talking freely about something she really didn’t understand, taking license in the joy of vodka shaken over ice and served with orange slices, going with the feeling she could say anything she felt like saying if for no other reason than the simple joy of cracking apart stone crabs and being indulgent. 

Then it would happen, Grandpa Bernie would say his favorite thing…

“Shut Up, Patti.”

It brought my shoulders to my ears. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what to do. So I sat there, stunned by the moment, hating him for the abuse, hating her for accepting the abuse, hating myself for not knowing what to do. But now I was back from New York, full of pride, a new man.

“Why would you say that?” I asked. “I hate when you say that. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s unnecessary. Patti didn’t say anything wrong. Even if she did, so what? We’re 2 drinks in, having a good time. But then you do that, and you always do, and you know what happens? It feels like the world stops and all I want to do is pick up the tab and walk out the door.”

Grandpa Bernie sat there, thinking. He took a drink. Then he smiled at me and said, “You think you’re smart. You think you’re a hero. You think what you just said makes you brave, you ungrateful son-of-a-bitch! Pick up the tab. Walk out the door. Go ahead!”

He knew I couldn’t. He called my bluff, knowing I was barely getting by, needing the dinner more than wanting it.

“I’m going to the bathroom. When I come back I want an apology,” he said. “Next time you go all in, you might want to think about bringing enough to the table to cover your bet. My money says you’re sitting right where you are when I get back. My money says I pay this bill. Prove me wrong, Big Shot.”

Grandpa Bernie excused himself from the table. I sat there, my ears burning, on the edge of tears, hating myself, humiliated. I looked down at my plate, filled with delicious things I no longer had an appetite for and then I turned to look at Patti, hoping she understood.

She did.

“When I get home tonight, there’s going to be Hell to pay for what you just did,” she said. “I married your Grandpa. I know what he is. I know what he isn’t. And I don’t need you on a white horse. You’re not saving anyone. You’re showing off and you’re doing it at my expense.”

She finished her drink, ordering another.

“When your Grandpa gets back to the table, you apologize. Then you finish your dinner and make room for dessert. I’m not letting you spoil my evening with your One Man Show.”

Grandpa Bernie came back to the table. I apologized. He smiled, reveling in my humiliation. Patti acted like nothing had ever happened, which was her expertise. I swallowed my pride along with the remaining crab on my plate. Then we had dessert. Then he picked up the tab. Then we hugged goodbye in the parking lot, turning in different directions, still bound together by the ties of family, still loving my Grandpa Bernie, still loving his wife Patti, even though in their company, I never felt at home.

There’s no joy in the peaceful protest, not at the moment when you’re confronting injustice. There’s joy in the righteousness of the cause, there’s joy in the camaraderie of the march across the bridge, but when the baton strikes your skull, the pain is yours and yours alone, and unless you can pick up the tab, when your blood gets on their shirt, make no mistake, you’ll be the one to apologize for the stain.

Or there will be Hell to pay.

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