maybe the most anachronistic bumper sticker ever



Oregon vacation from the summer: Dropped the camera and the back popped open, lots of smashed windshields everywhere, and a bit of light calisthenics.



seattle sojourn so many years later

self portrait from another dimension

got to take the ferry out to Bainbridge Island with these two legends and couldn't believe my good fortune to do so the whole time


I had written 3200 words on this day's visit to the NCGA but won't post it on the advice of my editors. Maybe I'll start another blog, one that's even more anonymous! The 'net is a tricky beast.


Screaming into the void:

My family moved to North Carolina about two years ago, and the North Carolina state government has been an ideological national embarrassment ever since we landed. They passed a trans-phobic bathroom bill making national headlines last year and have recently been making moves to strip the incoming Democratic governor of the some of the same powers they expanded for his Republican predecessor, again raising blue eyebrows nation-wide.

The recent presidential loss made me rue the fact that all I did this year was vote – it was my first election in a swing state and I didn’t realize it or appreciate the gravity of the situation until it was too late. About a week before election day I walked into a Democratic headquarters building that looked like the white house, got an email address of an organizer, emailed her and never followed up when she didn't respond. I wanted to do more but I didn't try hard enough to make it happen. After the loss I considered a career change - where maybe I could do something that mattered. It’s a hard way to make a living, I concluded after thinking about it for 4 minutes one day.

My office is about three blocks from the state legislative building, and the legislature (here called the general assembly or NCGA for short) was in a special session to strip the aforementioned power. I recently navigated a tax deadline and work wasn't too busy so I walked over. I knew that they were making national news there so I figured it would be something to behold.

Between my office and NCGA is the state capitol. The grounds have a few statues - one to "our confederate dead." My favorite day of every year is when someone tags BLACK LIVES MATTER on there. The memorial’s existence is one of those gross reminders of the gross past here. The NC state capitol is one of the oldest still standing and serves as the governor’s office and is otherwise basically a museum. I guess all the older capitols in the country burned down.

If I had an architect’s vocabulary I’d say the General Assembly building is an exemplar of a modern civil structure. The same architect did the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. This building is similarly white, slate, flat roofed in places, although this one is less ostentatious and large. The NCGA building fits with the surrounding state buildings, some very old, some garish and imposing, others under construction and brutalist. It serves as the center of gravity for the state grounds, it seems, fittingly. The building has four quadrants, several of which, on different floors, have terrific water features, great light drifting through the ceiling, and small doors and strange small offices for the legislators.

I signed in with three old beautiful smiling cheerful women working the front desk. One of them had the same smiling vibe as the old beautiful woman that works at my local library branch. It wasn't my first time signing into the NCGA building, but it was my first time when the NCGA was in session. It's a part time job for most of our representatives, as is the case in most states, as far as I know. I walked up an enormous staircase to the third floor, following my ears toward the unsettled din. An old timer in a jacket and tie was holding court with a bunch of protesters around a few cool couches, a bright American flag burning at half-staff in the sun filling the window behind him. The senate was in a recess.

I walked around and tried to smile at the protesters so they'd know I was simpatico (I was dressed as an accountant, which you could confuse for GOP wear). People were charging their phones at every available outlet. Some had signs. A woman came out of the bathroom as I was making my way to the galley - she asked if the session was beginning. I said that I had no clue.

I opened the door the galley and a security type usher hybrid in khakis and a jacket with a patch or a button asked if I had any water (no) do you have any projectiles (no other than my cellphone wallet keys and body I guess), and I proceeded to take a spot in the galley overlooking the senate floor. The galley is a floor above the square senate room, with seating of two rows of pew like benches covered with a soft black pad. I took a front row seat on the aisle, imaging if there was ever in history a thick cloud of cigarette smoke up here, hoping there was. The clock said 3:24 or so, and that the recess would end at 3:30 according to a television display on the wall opposite. So I was right on time and just early enough to get a good seat. I was probably one of 10 people in the galley.

It began to fill up. A woman sat next to me a few spaces down, and a man with disheveled thinning hair and askew glasses and skin gingerly made his way down the few steps to join her in the front row, teetering. I briefly feared that he would fall and careen over the hand rail separating us from a 20 foot fall to the floor of the senate, or collapse into my lap. He cursed the rule regarding the water in the galley and something about the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was tinkering on my phone, simultaneously trying to learn the rules of NC governance and checking to see if anyone had posted a can’t miss joke on twitter. I looked up and tons of people had entered and had signs and suddenly there was standing room only, people shoulder to shoulder up against the blinds of the large windows behind. A chubby man in an ill-fitting sharpied t-shirt (“stop this de-mockery”) looked like he trying for a job as a body double for Philip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights, but with longer redder hair and more visible and revolting underwear. So here was the scene. I tried to behold it.

I took a few pictures of the room on my small 35mm camera, loaded with inappropriately speeded film. I’m hoping to learn to love blurry pictures, because they’re always the best if you can get over the medium. 330 came and passed and I looked back at no one in particular and said they're not a punctual bunch, are they? The man with disheveled hair and a disability made a crack that gave me a little insight into his political leanings, where previously he could have been a crackpot of any persuasion. The galley was not here to cheer the republicans. Someone came down the aisle and offered me a sign. "This meeting with no public policy implications is costing the state $42,000 a day." The annual state budget must be in the billions ($44.4B estimated in 2015 per unverified research) I reckoned, this is a bargain, a drop in the ocean. Do you have a better sign, I asked. Oh I like that one, the woman said. She gave me one that said We're watching you. Kind of too menacing for what was my aim but I didn't want to go back to the well again so I said ok sure. This one is fine.

This group of senators was elected via racially gerrymandered districts and will have to re-run under redrawn districts next year, I think the US Supreme Court recently found. I think I’ve seen the map and it is mind boggling and frustrating and infuriating. Someone called the session to order at about 345. I began trying to figure out their protocol. First was a prayer. They asked everyone to stand. I thought of Colin Kapernick and how I'm with him 100% and sat. The man prayed. For a while. I was looking around. At least one other white guy was seated. He was bearded. I hadn’t shaved in about 10 days and just recently developed a slight 5 o'clock shadow. The prayer was off-putting but maybe that’s just a personal sensitivity. I didn’t hear any of the words. Most of the protesters had no problem standing. I always curse the bible belt and the theocratic vibes I get Sunday mornings, when you can’t get a beer.

Then I think what happened was they submitted a bill, and I think someone walked up with an amendment. I was trying to guess the party of all the people to determine whether I was supposed to agree with them or not, without much luck. I figured the guy in charge was the senate president pro tem, but the guy that I googled didn't look like him at all, at least from this distance. I don’t think the bills were publicly available. They had only been released to the senators for review an hour before, or something like that.

I was furiously trying to get my phone to cooperate in real time and trying to figure out who was who and how does this representative democracy work in this micro-sense. What is the process? I thought the house drafted bills and passed them to the senate for approval but I think this bill originated in the senate. I need a civics refresher, but the topic is so mind numbingly boring that I always pass. I was a ways away from the people, up in the balcony, and I've never been good with faces anyways, especially from this distance. Names are a no-go too. I was in Greece, contextually speaking. Plus legislators at the state level don’t have great search engine optimization or great head shots, honestly. The website I desperately needed in these moments either doesn’t exist or I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s optimized for a desktop.

Turns out it was the lieutenant governor up front. He was a handsome man, well-spoken and younger than the average senator out there. The senators themselves seemed to be very old, but the lt. gov was striking, handsome, and surely the boss of his own deal. Most of them looked like white bread old timers in suits that look like a thousand other state senators probably, fiddling around in semi-retirement. Here you have the bald guy that looks like a cartoon duck. Here’s the kind of fat one with a white bull cut and wire rimmed glasses. One looked like an old school New Yorker with creased facial features. I couldn’t determine his accent but it wasn’t stock southern. He seemed to play a central role in the process.

People in the galley on the opposite side of the room had one sheet of paper each, the 5 of them spelled SHAME. I took a few pictures trying in the backlit scene to try to juxtapose the folks. People up here, haphazard, and ordered other people down there, in their desks arranged in an arc. I thought about trying to use the ballpoint pen in my pocket to send a custom message on the back of my sign, something to the effect of …. I never came up with a catchy phrase and figured a ballpoint pen wouldn’t be visible anyways.

One of these nondescript white men began to describe the bill, droll, but he said it would depoliticize the elections in the state midway through. The galley erupted in mocking theatrical laughter. It was a sad place for irony, but I guess that's politics in the 21st century. The lieutenant governor up on the stage at the front of the proceedings told us that he was happy we were there and that our participation was a cornerstone of our system of government, but it was time to shut up. He reminded us that these representatives have been elected and it’s now their job to govern and represent us. Everyone’s eyes rolled on both sides.

I would have bought him a beer for all his charisma, no joke. I think one of the biggest lessons of the recent presidential election is that likability kind of trumps ideology, on the margins. All else being equal I think people want to vote for likable, persuasive, cool people (honestly not sure which of these the PEOTUS is, but he is captivating, that's for sure). The lieutenant governor would probably make me sick to my stomach if I only read about him and his positions to the extent there are any. But in person he was a cool collected dude that I instinctively wanted to believe.

The first democrat spoke, eventually, basically complaining about the bill. She had a back and forth with the first senator where she had to ask if it was ok if she asked a question, and the answerer had to approve. The process. This woman was clearly a democrat, because she spoke plainly, she was a black woman with long grey braids, and the people approved. I don’t remember the specifics but the gist was this was dirty pool. She tried to confirm a few facts with one of the Rs, which I think she did but I don’t think it mattered. She said a part of her piece and the galley clapped in approval.

The lieutenant rolled his eyes violently, impatient, and said that at the next infraction he would clear the galley. I was starting to like him less. Our pitiful protest would be over and our participation would be nixed. I alternated holding up the sign and propping it message side down against the wall at my feet. I was leaned forward in my chair, chin in hands. A woman, I think she was an usher or something, came over and told me to lean back and relax, I don’t know why. My posture remained for a while. Clearly I should have stood up during the prayer, but how can an honest to god citizen relax in times like these, I didn’t actually think. I didn’t want to block anyone’s view so eventually I tried to lean back, but not for long. Can’t a guy sit how he likes? There were construction workers on the roof pounding away at some structural feature and I wished someone would call them to order.

Another democrat spoke, saying everything we were all thinking. Our guy. This was a craven dirty trick, a “power grab” to use his words. He was a black man with a slight lisp on certain plural letters, skinny, suited, glasses, and short trimmed hair, maybe a v neck sweater vest under there? The galley spontaneously began to do jazz hands with twinkle fingers in appreciation. I halfheartedly joined in, barely bringing my limply animated hands above my shoulders. I tried googling each of the D senators that were speaking up, with moderate success. Neither was from my district.

This was, all else being equal, an unusual state government proceeding in many ways. The New York Times was reporting from the building, and my twitter feed of Hollywood writers was lamenting all these fascistic tendencies – NC is a preview of the business we can expect of our federal government. This was the vanguard of what’s to come. Actually being there though it was like any other state legislative session - that is, kind of boring and procedural, and for someone without a ton of context actually being the room didn’t mean anything other than actually being in the room. The R faction had about a 35-15 advantage, roughly, over the Ds in their illegally drawn districts. The writing was on the wall and the shit would hit the fan, one way or the other. The other guys would forever be ruthless weasels and our guys would always be right but they’d always lose.

I stood up and looked around, trying to make eye contact with some standing older woman, letting her know that she could take my primo seat. No one would meet my gaze, possibly on account of my garb, or probably not. Probably they thought I was weak to be leaving. I wasn’t in it for the long haul. I took my sign with me out of the galley. The usher, at the threshold, asked if I was leaving. I said yes and b-lined for the nearest men’s room.

At the urinal I had my protest sign under my arm and I heard a short eruption, the kind you hear when the other team hits a buzzer beating three. A short chorus of sadness and the stages of grief. I laughed at myself, missing the moment. They must have passed the bill. I left the restroom and left my sign propped up against the wall around the sofas that had a few backpacks left around from the gentleman's talk earlier, before the senate session. The man holding court with the flag filling the window behind him—liberal HQ.

The protesters were gathering in the common room outside the galley, outside the glass walls, filing out frazzled. Everyone was being removed. Camera men were eagerly jockeying for position, trying to get the best shot of nothing in particular, hoping for a thrown punch or outraged shouting. A few older women outside the galley, exited, were screeching platitudes, kind of grade school type stuff. TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE A RIGHT, DIDN'T YOUR MOM TELL YOU THAT. I wished someone would get it together. It was kind of embarrassing - these were supposed to be my people. Why did I kind of like the shit eating lieutenant governor more than the protesters? The reality of life is a complicated thing.

It turns out they were removed for doing the jazz hands thing. That was too disruptive for the lieutenant governor. I knew there was something about that guy I didn’t like, thinking back to the look of contempt he had when delivering his second warning to the galley. A look of hatred, same way I was trying to look at all those white shitty senators from shitty KKK counties. Sometimes you wish you could shoot deadly lasers from your eyes, more than just figuratively.

I walked down the steps, not wanting to get carried away, resigned to be a spectator this time, just kind of sightseeing. There were talks of people purposefully getting arrested. I had shown up hardheartedly and only because it was easy and I was happy with that baby step. That was enough for today. I'll get arrested or spew sophomoric invectives at the next one. There were sure to be more shitty sessions of the NCGA and there were sure to be more protests. There would be small protests for the Electoral College vote, there would be protests at the inauguration, there would be protests every day of the new year. Now I knew.

On the two block walk back to the office I passed two black men walking in the opposite direction on the capitol grounds. The first I made eye contact with and nodded a hello, but tried with my body language and eyelids and irises to somehow do more—to apologize like no one has ever apologized, to show that I empathize, to repent for this terrible history and these terrible forefathers and these garbage senators. The second man was on his phone and I said nothing.


camera's gone batty

work bins

my folks were in town for xmas and new years - we built a shelf for my burgeoning record collection and made cookies and played cards and dominoes. Good visit! Love you mom and dad.

b I'm back out my coma

slightly dent your corolla, ok I smashed your corolla. I had the life of pablo on repeat more than anything else in 2016. Trying to think of what could have been a close second.

Just back from Asheville. Cool town! Was wishing we had dropped the kids off somewhere for the trip though. Long drives, double queen rooms, and the coolest used bookstores aren't so conducive to being 3 or 5. We did hike up to a waterfall today though and that was fun for the whole family. And of course road snacks.