Thank God, a White Man is Weighing In

Nothing I say can really help right now, especially when there are other voices than mine who need to be heard, and the last thing I want is to be congratulated for saying or thinking the right things. It occurs to me, though, that doing good within the reach of my arms isn’t enough and maybe it’s time to try within the reach of my voice, too.

I used to write about politics a lot more in years past. That was before I gave up on the idea that people choose them through reason instead of picking a group they want to be part of and then rationalizing and performing their membership in it, including me.

A long time ago, I was part of the stern realists who feel brave by facing (and maybe enjoying) the brutal truths that life is hard, work is mandatory, feelings don’t matter, and we all should get only what we deserve in this life or the next.

This, if you can’t tell, is a young Republican.

These days, I’ve opted to be part of the passionate and naïve do-gooders who think there’s not much point of money or civilization or government if it isn’t making people’s lives better, regardless of the cost. If America can collapse because of gay marriage, pollution control, racial and gender equality, fair wages, easier healthcare, better education, and nicer cops…maybe it should.

This is an old liberal who is more popular with dogs.

I’ve tried to determine forensically just what changed my mind between 1996 and 2000, in case it is any help for someone else.

  • Star Trek laid the foundation for the goals of freedom from prejudice and economy, but The West Wing (Star Trek for civics nerds) inspired me to think that conscientious and smart people could be working in that direction now.
     
  • A professor at UNF, Dr. Pritchy Smith, assigned us to watch the PBS show Eyes on the Prize about the civil rights struggle and I was horrified by how people could fight AGAINST such a basic and fundamental value.
     
  • My notion of how much of our fate is luck versus work changed from a 10%/90% split to a 70%/30% split after meeting countless wealthy incompetents in my working life and many more broke and brilliant people.

  • The mental gymnastics required to rationalize conservative ideals began to feel exhausting and thin. If you’re digging deep enough to get to things like, “Helping the homeless really hurts them in the long run,” and “The Civil War was about states’ rights” without feeling a little sick and desperate, you’re a better rationalizer than I was. Too good, maybe.

Mostly, though, that shift came from meeting and talking to and caring for people who weren’t as well served as I was by the system. I wanted both of the gay Roberts in my life to be able to marry who they loved. I wanted my nieces to make as much as I do. I wanted my friend Ray to get the same shitty service at the deli that I was getting instead of even worse.

The first half-step of love is thinking that the people you care about are exceptions who deserve more than they’re getting.  

The second step is realizing that they’re not exceptions.

The Less-than-Terrible Curse of Nori the Cat

I’m bad at naming animals what they would likely want to be named, but not as bad as my father: the cat who came to be known in our house as Nori (from Mr. Norrell) was known as Cat-Cat in his.

I’m sure a psychiatric professional can make something of my tendency to make my animals reflect my literary pretentions (Oscar, Edgar, Truman, and Sylvia) and his to be vaguely infantilizing and humiliating, but this isn’t about us – at least not directly.

It’s about Nori, a cat I rescued seven years ago from my father’s creepy and depressing house who has lived with us up until Sunday when he was overtaken by a mass around his heart and lungs. He’d been losing weight for a few weeks and breathing heavily, and it was less than 48 hours after taking him to the vet that he was dead.

(Not that I fault them in any way. The doctor came back to town on a Sunday night so we could spend Nori’s last few minutes with him, and it would have haunted me forever if Nori had died thinking we’d abandoned him.)

He came to live with us on October 28, 2013. I’d received a call a few days earlier that my father was dying in hospice so my sister and I went to visit him. She hadn’t seen him in thirty years and I hadn’t seen him in ten, but the visit was disappointing in a way that visits with a narcissist and sociopath almost always are. He complained about the ambulance ride, asked about my car, and ignored my sister, and I was angrier at that than I was at all his other years of evil because it was his final chance to be human and he predictably blew it.

Karen and I drove to his weird little house in his weird little town, and he’d built a peculiar fantasy cabin of a humble Dartmouth alum living out his years with badminton rackets and fake degrees hanging on the walls and shelves of self-help books about power.

He also had a cat.

The cat immediately jumped on my lap as soon as I sat down, and he seemed happy to be there. I worried that he was mistaking me for my father, thinking I’d come back from hospice cured of my creepy sociopathic aura.

Aimee had told me not to bring home any animals from my trip, but I couldn’t leave him alone there in a scary house so I took him with us.

(She eventually came around.)

We had a good nearly seven years together, us and Nori, and he enjoyed sleeping on my chest at night, usually facing outward. The charitable interpretation is that he was guarding me. The likelier one is that he just liked having his ass in my face.

That last day we saw my father, his final words to me were, “I’ll always be with you,” which is the closest I’ve ever been to being literally cursed. I wondered sometimes if Nori was my father’s black magic scheme to infiltrate my life, but if it was, all he got out of it was seven years of naps and sharing a litter box with three other cats.

Which, as curses go, worked out pretty well for both me AND Nori.

We’ll miss him terribly, the best curse we ever had.