Tonight I sit here in South Carolina and look at my wife. She’s wearing a fleece with a tiger on the back. Today, I drove my car to the gym. It has a tiger on the front license plate. All winter long, I wore a Mizzou pullover. I have a cap I wear everywhere with a tiger above the bill. There aren’t a lot of Mizzou fans here in the Palmetto State, but those of us who are here fly the colors with pride.
I graduated from Mizzou in 1997. In my time there, I don’t think I missed a football game. I was an Antler. I sat front row on the 50-yard line for season after season. I did push-ups with Truman on the grass around Faurot Field. I love Mizzou. I’m proud to have gone there.
A few days ago, my son asked for a new Mizzou jersey. He’s outgrown his Chase Daniel #10, and he needs some new black and gold to flash around down here in Gamecock country. When I asked him what kind of jersey he might like, he asked for #15. He wanted to wear Dorial Green-Beckham’s number.
See, back in December of 2011, my dad had just died. I had my family back in Missouri, and it was a tough time. In an effort to show my older son some sense normalcy, I took him to see my alma mater Willard High School play Hillcrest High in basketball.
“See that big guy?” I said to my son from the stands. “That’s Dorial Green-Beckham. Wouldn’t it be great to see him play football for Mizzou?”
And it was.
When the guy from my hometown came out on the Mizzou field in his #15 jersey, there wasn’t a person in my family who didn’t scream “DGB!” We wanted Green-Beckham to succeed. We wanted him to be Mizzou’s biggest star. We wanted him to be the guy from my hometown who made it to the NFL.
When Green-Beckham got busted for weed the first time, it made me uncomfortable. I don’t have a moral objection to marijuana, but Green-Beckham did show a certain lack of respect for himself. He got into a situation that could jeopardize his reputation and, by extension, the team’s reputation. It was easily forgivable though. Just as I forgave your DUI—we all make mistakes—I hoped that Green-Beckham and his family would understand that to be a role model, you have to act like one.
When he got busted again this year—again for weed—I started to worry. Once is a mistake. The second time begins a pattern. It not only showed that Green-Beckham was adrift, but it showed that people like his coaches, family, and friends weren’t paying close enough attention. Again, the weed doesn’t bother me, but disrespect for his station in life does. Still, I would’ve put a #15 jersey on my kid’s back and hoped DGB found a way to grow up and respect himself and his team.
But now I’m at a loss. The news from Columbia today indicates that the only reason my kid’s hero is not in a cell right now is because the victim of Green-Beckham’s alleged violence wouldn’t press charges. The text messages released by the police suggest that the victim made this decision after a great many conversations with Green-Beckham’s girlfriend. Those conversations indicate Green-Beckham’s girlfriend begged the victim to consider Green-Beckham’s potential NFL career. The conversations indicate Green-Beckham’s father was offering money to back down.They indicate a lot more than that, and all of it is terrible.
I don’t know what’s true, but if even part of what police released is fact, I don’t see how you could welcome Green-Beckham back to the Tiger team. Forgiving indiscretions with harmless drugs—even twice—is acceptable. But this? I don’t know how this can be forgiven.
There is part of me—the journalist trained at Mizzou—that needs to hear the other side before reaching a conclusion. That part wants to believe Green-Beckham, the kid from my hometown who could’ve been a star, is being set up, extorted, or confused with some other out-of-control kid with exceptional athletic talent. And I will wait for that. If he or you have an explanation, please offer it. Publicly. Stand before the cameras and put up the best defense you possibly can.
Because this must be explained. Weed arrests are forgivable, but violence against women in any form is not, no matter what kind of career is on the line.
Coach Pinkel, if no explanation exists, if this is a situation in which there might be a crime but there are no charges, I don’t see where you have a choice. Green-Beckham might have been a hero. He might have been the #1 pick in the nation. He might have been the biggest signing you’ve had at Mizzou. He might be the guy who could make the difference in the upcoming season. Even so, if there is no reasonable explanation for today’s news, you have to let #15 go.
Because my kid wants a #15 jersey right now. My kid wants to sit with me and watch Mizzou games and cheer for the same Tigers who made us proud last season.
When you and the rest of the team took the opportunity to “Stand With Sam,” I was the proudest Mizzou fan around. It made me sure I was rooting for the right team in college sports. If losing DGB means you have a losing season, I will still stand proud and support you. That’s what I want to believe Mizzou is all about.
Next September, you’re coming down to South Carolina, and I promised my kids I would take them to see Mizzou play the Gamecocks. I’ve got a dozen Mizzou fans ready to come down here from Missouri and cheer on the Tigers with me. Please let me do that with a clear conscience. I can explain to my kids that Green-Beckham doesn’t play for the Tigers anymore. I’m not sure I could explain to them how I’m rooting for a coach who values winning over doing what’s right.
Update: Friday afternoon, April 11, the Missouri Tiger football team dismissed Dorial Green-Beckham.
I was amazed at the feedback this little piece got, but it reaffirmed my belief that Missouri fans couldn’t abide Coach Pinkel accepting DGB back on the team. The coach is an honorable man, and he’s proven it again by making a very, very tough decision to cut one of his most important players. Pinkel deserves our respect for that.
Meanwhile, I hope Dorial Green-Beckham finds a way to become a better man and atone for whatever he has done wrong. If he does that, I hope he can find success with another team some day in the future.
Dear Senator Lindsey Graham,
I write today to applaud your courage.
Only a man like yourself–one worried that he might have to face a run-off in a primary election–would have the bravery to introduce a bill that would limit states’ rights, potentially remove billions of dollars from state coffers, and further restrict what Americans can do in the privacy of their own homes. That takes courage, Senator.
Moments ago, you introduced a bill that would slap the wrist of President Obama’s Department of Justice. When you weren’t looking, the DOJ announced that it had no interest or legal right to prosecute people under the antiquated Wire Act as it pertained to internet gaming. You saw it as a dirty, backdoor move to decriminalize the scourge of internet poker that had swept the nation since 2001, a monster that allowed people to play poker on the internet in their own homes. How dare the DOJ decide that a law written before online poker existed had no bearing online poker!
“The DOJ opened the door for massive change in policy without significant public input,” you said in your press release. I know you recognized this shady, backdoor activity. You’ve seen it before when you and your fellow Republican Senators slipped the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act into the Port Security Bill in 2006. Because you put it into a must-pass bill at the last minute of the session, it was passed without debate or consideration by Congress. It’s that kind of backroom experience that helps you recognize when the liberals want to decriminalize something as evil as a card game. It also opens your eyes to a political opportunity.
Oh, you surprised me, Senator Graham. Up to this point, you have personally shown almost no interest in the Wire Act or internet gambling. What’s more, you’ve lauded states’ rights as the backbone of our nation. I had no idea you had the moxie to take up an issue about which you simply didn’t care! But, you! You did! At first I couldn’t figure out why, but now your Washington experience is shining through.
See, I watched with trepidation as people within our own state rose up and had the audacity to think they could challenge you—our Washington lifer!—in the upcoming primary. Who could presume to unseat you? Libertarians who believe Americans don’t need the government to tell them how to live their lives? Please. Not in my state!
This part was beautiful. In your release today, you said, “In 1999, South Carolina outlawed video poker and removed over 33,000 video poker machines from within its borders. Now, because of the Obama Administration’s decision, virtually any cell phone or computer can again become a video poker machine. It’s simply not right.”
I know because you’re an educated man that you know that the video poker of 1999 and online poker of today are completely different things, but that didn’t stop you from conflating the apple and orange. No, sir! You’re counting on the people of South Carolina to not be smart enough to see through it. Your detractors may call it intellectual dishonestly, but I say it’s brilliant! How else are we going to slip this one by the electorate?
I should never have been worried, Senator. I should have known your Washington experience fitted you with the right way to approach the problem.
You know when the going gets tough in American politics, the tough find a deep well of money.
You know that when the going gets tough, the tough call casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and ask if he has a spot at his blackjack table with your name on it.
Oh, it’s a courageous move, Senator. A master stroke! The weaker-minded politician might cower, afraid that such a move might be seen as hypocrisy. Not you. No, you and your friend Sheldon—a man who has made his fortune from fleecing people at roulette wheels and baccarat tables around the globe—have a plan to get rid of the online gaming companies (including the likes of MGM, Caesars, and other well-known brands) that are currently operating legally in several states. These are companies that actively compete with Adelson’s Sands Corporation and his brick and mortar operations. As we all know, the free market loathes competition.
Finally, I appreciate how you didn’t let Adelson’s relationship with Newt Gingrich get in the way of your new partnership. After the tens of millions Adelson dropped on the Presidential hopeful, you might think the casino mogul was just looking to buy influence in Washington. I’m glad you were able to look past this to sponsor legislation about which you have never shown a lick of interest.
In all of this, though, what really took courage was your agreement to keep horseracing and online horse bets legal. I mean, I’m simply in awe. I know you understand horse racing is a grand American tradition with no history of organized crime, cheating, or costing people their fortunes, but most Americans don’t see that. They might have seen it as hypocritical for you to protect one form of gambling while fighting others. But you had the courage to stand up against those people. (And, hey, it helps that protecting horse racing means you won’t have a fight with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, am I right?)
You were my Congressman for years, Mr. Graham. You have been my Senator for more than a decade. We’ve met. We’ve shaken hands. We’ve had long, friendly discussions about policy and what’s good for America. Even in times when we’ve disagreed, I’ve defended you as a staunch and experienced advocate for both the Palmetto State and our nation. Today, I want the world to know about your courage and brave stand on doing what’s right for America…or, failing that, what’s right for Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Adelson!
In the face of a Republican primary challenge, you have stood firm in your belief that the only way to advance our nation’s economy, protect our states’ rights, and fight the nanny state imposed by the liberal administration is to attack existing legal businesses, restrict states’ rights, and further limit Americans’ right to do as they please in their own home. Bravo, Senator. I couldn’t think of a more conservative approach to governance.
Views expressed here are solely my own as a South Carolina citizen
My younger son met Mr. Andy at our local grocery store. Mr. Andy bagged groceries for hours on every shift. Once the bags were in the cart, Mr. Andy would push them out to the shopper’s car through rain, snow, ice, or 100-degree sun. Store policy forbids gratuities, but Mr. Andy wouldn’t take a tip anyway. He seemed to get something out of his work that you wouldn’t find on his W-2.
Mr. Andy gave my son Tic-Tacs and taught him to look both ways before stepping off the sidewalk. Today, if you hold my son’s hand as you walk, he’ll let you know how to cross the street.
“Look both ways,” he’ll say. “That’s how Mr. Andy says to do it.”
I don’t know when it started, but when my boy knew he was going to the store, he drew pictures to take to Mr. Andy. They were chicken-scratch crayon art on construction paper, the kind of thing any parent of a young kid might find all over the house on any given day, the kind of thing a parent might quietly slip in the recycling bin when nobody is looking.
Mr. Andy looked at the drawings differently. He’d tell you with nothing but honesty in his eyes, “His drawings are hung up all over my office.”
Mr. Andy worked harder than anyone at that store, and in the three years we’ve been going there, I never once saw him with a sour look on his face. Not when his wife was seriously ill. Not when the weather was terrible. Not when the cashier wanted to talk more than work. Mr. Andy simply was the happiest and kindest man I’d ever met.
And then one day, he didn’t come to work.
***A parent wants to believe in his child’s preternatural abilities, and it’s possible for people like me to unintentionally inflate what we see happening with our kids. Still, as he approaches five years old, I feel like my son sees people—really sees them for good and bad—better than anybody in our house. If left to decide whether to trust a person’s heart, my boy is the one in this house to whom we should turn. My kid decided a long time ago that Mr. Andy was one of the good ones.
When Mr. Andy stopped coming to work, we feared the worst, and we were right to do so. Polite inquiries revealed that doctors believed Mr. Andy had bone cancer. For a man of his age, the diagnosis was the kind of devastating blow from which one simply doesn’t recover. Everyone at the store knew the mutual affection Mr. Andy and my kid shared, and it made everyone hurt to report that Mr. Andy was sick.
That’s the bittersweet reality of my kid’s heart. He tends to gravitate to older people who share the type of kindness only age and experience can produce. Mr. Andy is the prototype for any child’s vision of a good grandpa. My son wasn’t even three years old when my dad died, and sometimes I think there’s a spot missing in his heart where PaPa should still be. Mr. Andy filled up that space, at least on the days when we needed a gallon of milk.
I never want that part of my kid’s heart to go away, but I also know it will mean he will have to say goodbye to more than his fair share of people he loves.
The clouds moved in overnight, and rain was just a few minutes away when I made it to the store this morning. I shuffled across the asphalt alone and tried to think about what I was going to make for dinner. That’s when I spotted an older man I’d never seen start jogging for the front door of the store. His face was alight, his hand was outstretched, and he looked happier than anyone I’d seen today. When he reached the sidewalk, he nearly knocked a young woman aside.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her. He turned to the man piloting the grocery cart and embraced him “I’m so happy to see you.”
Mr. Andy nodded humbly and smiled, perhaps knowing—perhaps not—that it wasn’t just my son who loved him. Any regular at the store, any employee who has worked there, anyone with their eyes open for goodness has discovered there is at least one person in the world who knows what it means to be happy and kind.
The doctors’ suspicions hadn’t come true. Whatever it was that took Mr. Andy away from his job wasn’t cancer. He’d been granted a reprieve.
I collected what I needed and made sure to steer my cart into the aisle where Mr. Andy was working. He dutifully went to work, and while he bagged my stuff, we talked about my son. I told him my boy is a good judge of character, and we agreed the kid has a good soul.
I told Mr. Andy a lot of people were going to be happy he was back. He’d apparently been forced to work as a cashier for a bit, but now he was back on the bags, the kind of job that let him teach little kids how to cross the street.
“I’m calling it my first day out of prison,” he said. “Now I’m back where I want to be.”
There was a pause in the conversation as I swiped my debit card. Mr. Andy bowed his head for a second, ostensibly to grab the bag with the bacon in it and place it carefully in the cart. He turned back to me and told me how he still looks at my son’s drawings on his office wall every day.
“I just hope I’m around long enough to see him grow up,” he said.
I wanted to let Mr. Andy help me to my car today, but I told him to help the next person in line. I didn’t want him to ask me why I was crying.
“Alright then,” Mr. Andy said. “You have a great Sunday.”
I walked to my car in the rain promising myself I would make good on his wish. His tax returns may say he is a bagger at a grocery store, but when it comes down to it, he makes it his job to make our days better. If only we could all be like Mr. Andy, imagine the days everyone would have.
I’m guest-blogging for Wil Wheaton this week. If you’d like to check in on what I wrote, you can find the stories here:
I grew up on the west side of Springfield, Missouri. If you look on the left part of Springfield’s gridded streets you will find the map of my childhood. It’s where I rode my bike, learned to drive, and fell in love.
It’s the place where on Tuesday, according to police, a man named Craig Wood—a public school employee—kidnapped Hailey Owens. Witnesses say Wood yanked her off a neighborhood street, drove her to his house, and shot her in the base of the skull.
Hailey Owens was ten years old and she lived less than ten minutes away from my childhood home.
The crime and its impact are the kind of things we, as a society, call “unimaginable.” For parents like me, a random kidnapping and murder of a child is the one thing we cannot bare to consider. My hometown—though large and spread out across a big county—is suffering a kind of collective grief I’ve never seen. The crime has left an entire community mourning and helpless to do anything about it.
That twisted place in everyone’s stomach is the physical manifestation of the question, “What can I do?”
My late father had an answer that I learned just in time. I don’t know how he came about it, but I feel like it’s because he had seen some of the worst of the world. I don’t know, nor do I really want to.
For the past 48 hours, I’ve been thinking about my dad’s advice. I’ve been thinking about the west side of Springfield, that sweet little girl, and what happened to her.
We call it unimaginable, but that’s not quite right. People my age have been imagining it as long as we can remember.
In the summer of 1981, I was seven years old. Everybody I didn’t know was a monster who crept out of Hollywood, Florida and spread out like a virus of fear across the country. Every man with a “different” face was the creature that took six-year-old Adam Walsh and left him in a way a boy shouldn’t be left. Back then, one only needed to say the name “Adam” to make any parent’s heart stop for half a second.
That monster went everywhere. He made sure kids’ faces ended up on the sides of milk cartons. There was no forgetting he existed. What we called unimaginable was actually a part of our collective imaginations every time we rode our bike a little too far from the house. When a van parked at the end of our neighborhood road and the man inside called for my friend to come closer, the fear could’ve lit the whole neighborhood.
Everybody was supposed to be afraid when I was a kid. It was part of the culture. The President told us the Russians wanted to kill us. The First Lady told us drugs wanted to kill us. Our milk told us somebody was killing us.
And yet, we played, we ran, we stayed out until dusk, and we defied the monsters in the only way we knew how. We ran sweat lines through the dirt on our faces, and we pretended our mothers weren’t scared. Our parents pretended they weren’t afraid, and somehow we all survived. Apparently, there weren’t enough monsters to get us all.
Living through it without losing any friends to the monster was a blessing, but it also numbed the part of my brain that kept watch. Surviving the years of fear was enough for a man of my generation to forget that the monsters were still out there.
I couldn’t figure out why Janice was crying.
I barely knew her. I’d worked at the TV station for just eight days. She was one of my new bosses. Now, on a beautiful 80-degree day in April of 1999, Janice was in tears at her desk.
For the better part of the next few weeks, the story of the Columbine High School massacre would dominate our news. It would affect me as it would affect anybody, but in those days, Janice’s tears made no real sense.
Columbine was halfway across the country. It was an admittedly terrible story, but Janice was a professional who had seen and heard enough death that more tragedy shouldn’t mean breaking down in the middle of the newsroom. I would learn that it was not Janice’s failing, but her humanity, one that I lacked. I was 25 years old and unmarried. My then-fiancée and I had a couple responsibilities: the rent money and the care of a 13-pound mutt. We didn’t cry. It simply didn’t touch us.
Two years later, I stood outside on a March morning. It was 30 degrees and dark, and I shivered as I looked at a nice little suburban house where a man named Michael Hiderbrand had killed his wife and two children. It was among the worst cases I ever covered. Two people I cared for deeply were within a stiff breeze of getting blown up by Hilderbrand’s improvised building-sized bomb in downtown Greer, SC. As sad as I was during the entire story, it never occurred to me to feel anything other than base-level disgust and professional responsibility. Nothing more. No matter how much hell I saw, I felt untouchable.
As odd as it seems today, I still remember looking into Hilderbrand’s backyard and thinking, “I wonder what’s going to happen to those dogs.”
So, imagine me in a diner. A clean one in a safe part of town where the pancakes are pretty much the best you’ll ever eat and the waitresses are the kind who consider it a profession.
My son is not yet in grade school, but he knows he is among men and wants to prove it. I’m with my good friend and his son, a world-wise fourth-grader. Both of the kids need to go to the bathroom. My son wants to go with his friend, and they don’t need any help from their dads.
It’s no big deal for the big kid to cross the 100 or so feet to the other side of the place. He’s done it by himself many times before. It’s no big deal. He’ll keep an eye on my boy.
But as I watch my son weave through the brunch crowd, my chest tightens up and my mouth gets dry. I lose all track of what my friend is saying, and I feel sick. My eyes are on the other side of the room. I’m not hungry anymore. It’s a foreign feeling, like becoming a father has somehow triggered some hormone that makes fear real again.
Too much time passes. I’m on my feet and making for the bathroom like it’s a house on fire. I know for a fact something is wrong. It’s a dad’s intuition.
And of course…everything is fine.
In retrospect, I probably gave my kid just enough time to find his zipper before bolting after him. It’s funny now, but funny in a way that still makes me sick to my stomach, because it was a reminder of the monster I hadn’t thought about since I was a kid. It was a monster that had been hibernating until I was old enough to understand what real fear really felt like.
DAD’S ADVICE, HAILEY’S LEGACY
This week, if police are correct, that monster took the form of Craig Wood, a mandolin player in a little bluegrass band, and the type of guy no one expected to be the kind of creature he apparently turned out to be. He’s in jail now, and there is little chance he’ll see a child again. There is precious little comfort in that.
When something terrible happens to a child, there is the gut reaction to fight. We look for someone bigger to blame, someone we can hurt worse than we can hurt the man we’ll lock in a cage. Sometimes the fight can take on real meaning, but in a case like this, we’re left only with a mugshot and the unsettling understanding that he is only today’s face of a fear we can’t control.
That’s really the point of it. Random kidnappings are exceptionally infrequent. They are lightning strikes without a god to blame for them. They are preciously-rare reminders that we have reason to be afraid.
That’s really the worst thing: despite all statistics to the contrary, we have reason to be afraid, and there is nothing we can do to change that. No amount of legislation, no focus on mental health, no Neighborhood Watch is going to change the fact that we will always have to be afraid.
And so, helpless, we ask, “What can I do?”
I look at my children—the sole reason I can live as I do—and I want to see them run. I want to see them smile because they are independent and can do things on their own. I leave them at schools. I let them run at the pool. I try to let them build their lives without building walls around them. I sit in muted terror and hope there aren’t enough monsters to get us all.
What can I do? I can heed my dad’s advice:
Make sure your children know you love them every day.
It sounds like simple advice, but in a world where we live in constant fear of what might happen, there is peace in knowing your child knows he is loved right now.
Today, I’m still thinking about Hailey and what her death will mean for her family. There is very little comfort in it, but there is this:
Thousands of children are hearing their parents say I love you a little louder and a little more often, and that’s because of a little girl named Hailey from my hometown.
There is a shiny headstone on the outskirts of Springfield, Missouri, and it’s where people who love my dad go when they want to be alone with him. I live 13 hours away. Over the river and through the woods. That’s how my old man would’ve said it. He and I had different ideas about what to do with someone after they die, and I figure that’s why he keeps showing up when I sleep.
In my dreams, Dad stands with relaxed shoulders, his spine loose and his head cocked just a few degrees to the right. His eyes watch purple charcoal clouds swirl over flat land, dangerous, angry, and anonymous. They form an unsettling wall and crawl toward us, a gray-black combine in a straw-house cornfield. Dad seems at peace. In fact, he looks almost happy at the coming chaos. Where he should be terrified—where I should be terrified—I feel as close to him as I ever have. Together we watch as the funnel drops down from the horizon line.
I try not to tell many stories about the three Ds (diets, dogs, and dreams) because they fall into the same categorical hole of interests that are only interesting to the storyteller. But this moment is not a nightmare, and it’s not even really a dream so much as it is a memory.
The soundtrack of my southwest Missouri childhood is the jangled harmony of the tornado sirens and KTTS radio’s weather warning. They are both terrible and sharp sounds, the kind of rusty metal screams that turn a hot day into cold sweats. I grew up in shadow of the Cold War’s mushroom cloud, but there was nothing scarier than the possibility of an Oklahoma storm blowing in a tornado that would kill us all. We ducked and covered for Russian nukes, but even as third-graders we knew we were more likely to die at the hands of the God we prayed to.
To watch him, Dad wasn’t afraid. He’d stand in the limestone gravel of our driveway—and then years later on the black asphalt that replaced the rocks—and watch the western sky turn orange, purple, gray, and black. He was a man who could track—with literally killer accuracy—a single niggling mole under his green lawn. He did the same with the clouds. It was a silent, patient meditation on movements beyond his control.
This is how I remember my father, a man who could sit for an hour and watch something none of us could see. It didn’t matter how much the radio screamed. Dad would stand with his head on an axis offset from our own gravity and decide whether we were in danger. Then and only then would we run for shelter. Sometimes it was to our house. Sometimes it was to a hospital parking garage. Every time, it was exhilarating and wrapped with the kind of complete trust only a child can have in a father. Several tornados hit that town in the 18 years I lived there, but I never saw one hit the ground.
It was probably no great coincidence that everyone I knew turned to my dad when the chaos became overwhelming. Even when a June thunderstorm wasn’t coming up from Miami, OK, Dad watched the world tumble and shake, and he made sure everyone was safe. Whether we stood over caskets or the wreckage of our own bad decisions, Dad found a way to put chaos in a box. I saw him cry only twice in my life, and both times it was because of things he didn’t see coming.
I think of all this now because the dreams are happening more frequently than they did right after his death. Sometimes Dad is a younger man still sweating from a game of basketball in our driveway. Sometimes he’s the white-haired grandpa he was when he died. He’s always watching the sky, sussing out the meaning behind the smallest black swirls in the clouds.
I would relegate it all—the recurring dreams, the ozone-aired memories, the slow-motion movements of my dad’s head as he watched—to no more than a byproduct of ongoing grief. That’s probably the most rational explanation. But before I can think too long on what it means for me, I think of my kids.
Someday—sooner or later—I’m going to be gone. Maybe my boys will dream as I do, and if so, I wonder what that dream will look like.
Will I be sitting on the bathroom counter playing my guitar while they take a bath? Will I be standing over a pot of gumbo on the stove? How will they see me after I’m gone? I don’t know if there is any way to predict it or plan for it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified every day that I’m messing up the dreams they’ll have when they’re 40 years old. The weight of it is sometimes so much that I’m afraid to do anything at all.
But then I think of my dad again.
A couple of summers before he died, Dad stood with me on Grayton Beach and watched this storm creep across the sky. There was wonder and joy absent of fear in his eyes. He was a man at peace in himself as the world looked like it was at its end. This wasn’t a dream, and I’m glad for that, because it’s real, and it’s not even old enough to be a memory yet.
I had the dream again last week. Dad was older this time. We were both adults watching the sky together. If I have that dream for the rest of my life, I won’t be disappointed.
When I wake up, there is always a gauzy half-second where I have to remember Dad is gone, and there is always a slow-slip into reality that makes me unbearably sad.
But even that sadness doesn’t last long, because every dream feels so real, it’s almost as if Dad is still alive. What’s left of him is what makes me dream. Of all the things he gave me, of all the things he taught me, of all the things he wanted for me, the greatest was the ability to detach myself from the daily reality and chaos. It’s during that untethered and floating time that I can be with my dad and he can continue teaching me how to stand fearless in the chaos.
Yes, there is a place on the edge of Springfield, Missouri where the people who love my dad can lay flowers on his grave and think about his legacy. Though I rarely see that place, I’m at peace knowing that if I want to visit my dad, all I have to do is go to sleep.
Jason Shelton, an American soldier, was on my plane to Greenville last night.
I hadn’t slept in two days. I’d left my hotel 22 hours before. My back and neck were knotted up. I needed a hot shower. I needed to sneak into my boys’ rooms and give them a hug. I’d been gone a week. I missed my family.
We don’t think about how long it takes America’s military personnel to fly home from the warzones in the Middle East or, in Shelton’s case, Germany where he was training. We don’t consider how uncomfortable they are during deployments that can last longer than their kids’ childhoods. I remember a decade ago when seeing our troops in the airports felt new and scary and patriotic. Now it happens so often, it’s weird not to see one of the brave souls in camouflage getting a Starbucks between flights.
The flight home from Atlanta lasts barely more than 30 minutes. I’d carried on both bags so I could make a quick escape for home once we taxied to the gate. I was on the aisle, Bose headphones on, “Astral Weeks” cutting off the sound of the engines. The landing was a little harder than normal, the kind that makes my eyes open a bit faster and my heart skip a half a beat.
We don’t think much about what the soldiers have to endure when they get back home. Their kids have gotten older. Their spouses have sometimes hardened or drifted. The things that make their eyes open and hearts skip are things we can’t see or hear.
When the seat belt bell dinged, I started to stand and grab for the overhead bin when I saw the honor guard outside the window. There were seven of them, all in dress uniforms and white gloves. Their salute wasn’t a snap to their foreheads. It was a slow, melted wax, almost robotic trip from their waist to their brow. One of them held an American flag folded into a triangle. The next thing I saw was the hearse.
The window seat in front of me emptied, and I sat down in it. Over my shoulder, I heard a man a little older than me whisper, “Kind of puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it?”
In a matter of less than a minute, the people who were going to leave the plane did. The rest of us sat in silence and watched Jason Shelton’s casket come out of the cargo hold. The man behind me had his hand over his heart. I put my forehead against the window and stared at the casket. It was silver and gray, attached to a wooden pallet with black fabric loops on the side. Someone had draped a flag over it from end to end.
In the background was a banner supplied by Delta that read “All gave some. Some gave all.” I felt something like anger tighten in my chest—not that the banner was there or that Delta had chosen that way to honor Shelton, but that this wartime has lasted so long that banners like this are part of a normal corporate operation.
I didn’t know who was in the casket at the time. Until I read the news this morning, I didn’t know Shelton was inside. As I sat there with my head against the cold window, I pictured him having a mother, or a wife, or kids, and I couldn’t stop the tears. I stayed until Shelton was in the hearse. When I stood, I saw the plane was still mostly full. There were eyes full of tears from the front to the back. I’ve been on hundreds of planes, and I’ve never heard one so quiet, reverent, or sad.
Jason Shelton had a wife. Her name is Heather. He’s from Madison County, North Carolina. At 22 years old, he died in a training exercise. Veterans on flag-flying motorcycles met the hearse in the cold air outside the airport and escorted the soldier the rest of the way home. I sat in my car and watched them pass.
It’s hard not to remember the time when the government didn’t allow pictures of dead American soldiers’ caskets as they came back from war. From 1991 to 2009, there was a ban on those photos. Some people said it was to protect the soldier’s family’s privacy. Other people said it was an attempt to hide the reality of wartime’s true hell. There have been thousands of those caskets since we went back to war in 2003. I’d say we should all have to see them on the national news every night. The sad reality is, dead soldiers aren’t news anymore.
When I got on the flight last night, I was tired, sore, and thinking about only myself and what I had to do the rest of the week. This morning, my kids jumped in my bed and kissed me. They told me they missed me and thanked me for their souvenirs. I may have to leave sometimes, but it’s almost always guaranteed I’m coming home. That’s not the case for the people we task with fighting the battles we choose.
It’s a good thing we can now see the pictures of our fallen soldiers coming back to America. If we stop bearing witness to their deaths, then we forget the meaning of what they do and the reason they are there. Today I wonder, though, if looking at those pictures is enough. Today my heart is hurting for a man I never knew and the family left behind. That’s because I shared Jason Shelton’s last flight to the Carolinas.
I wonder how we all might look at things—our country, our government, our soldiers, and our lives—if we all could be touched in the same way. I wonder how our leaders might think about the choices they make and the people they choose to carry out those decisions if they, too, had to share those flights, see the honor guard, and watch the casket slip into the back of the hearse.
We should do more than mark Veterans Day. We should do more than lay flowers on a grave on Memorial Day. We should do more than wave a flag on Independence Day. We should witness. We should simply do more, feel more, and honor more than we do. Put another way, we should all have to carry them home.
I’ll be honest. I’m about to go on a big trip, and I’m–for the first time in a very long time–a little nervous about it. It’s the good kind of nervous, but the anxiety is real and it’s manifesting itself as a niggling marmot of distraction. My focus on the big Ps (printing, packing, prepping) is shaky, which is how I ended up going to the comforts of Scalzi’s blog to see his Ten Additional Things I Have Done That You (Probably) Haven’t. At the end, he invited his readers to create their own list, and because my head-noodle is doing everything it can to avoid everything I need to do in the next 24 hours, here’s my list.
Ten things I have done that you (probably) haven’t
1. Talked with Willie Nelson on his bus after one of his shows
2. Fractured my sternum on a lectern
3. Stood in the middle of an interstate highway looking into a body bag half full with charred remains
4. Been the first to hear a murderer’s confession
5. Fired a fully automatic weapon
6. Had an intimate dinner with Norm Macdonald
7. Caught $10,000 in cash thrown from across the room
8. Had a bank robber use a “your mom” joke on me
9. Watched a pile of marijuana as big as a truck burn
10. Been (wrongly) accused of and interrogated for the hit-and-run of a bike-riding child
So, that passed ten minutes. Only 27 hours more to procrastinate before I board! Have your ten things you’ve done that I (probably) haven’t? Leave them in the comments.
This question, as all good questions do, begins with a cast iron skillet.
My wife is—and this is putting it in a way only a loving and understanding husband can—security conscious. When I buried house keys in our back yard, she dug them up to make sure no rapey yard guy found them by accident and broke in. Or she dug them up to make sure when she got locked out twice while I was on the road that she would have no recourse but to wait until a neighbor came home so she could get back in the house. It doesn’t matter, because love means knowing when to let your wife dig up the back-up keys and hide them where no one will ever find them.
This story is about love. This story is about Valentines. This story is about a cast iron skillet and me searing meat for a Valentine’s dinner and ignoring the smoke billowing up around my face. Because, in case you haven’t experienced it, love means getting smoke in your face. And love sometimes means getting to know your public servants.
We’d been in the new house for less than a year, and my wife insisted (see above) on the Hollywood-style security in our suburban home. I—a frequent traveler of questionable repute —relented. We got the works. If a North Korean dictator woke up with a scorching case of scabies, our security system gave us a heads up.
I was cooking. It was February, a time of Hallmark love and dinners prepared with the kind of affection only societal obligation requires. I was searing meat in a house I’d known for less than a year. And, if you have ever cooked with a cast iron skillet you know what that can mean.
When the alarm sounded, I stumbled for the keypad to punch in the same number I did every time I came in at 3am. Nothing happened. The alarm kept making the kind of noise that brings the neighbors. It also brought a lot of sirens and a fairly muscular firefighter who came into my kitchen to make sure none of my property was at risk. I assured him that everything was fine and offered him Valentine’s dinner. He declined.
I also offered—if he wanted to drop by again—to donate to the next firehouse fundraising drive. Why? Because the poor and perfectly-muscled dude wasn’t making any extra money by getting up and coming to my house. In fact, he probably missed out on some pretty good firehouse chili. I felt sort of bad.
In the end—yes, after the second time it happened—it cost me exactly nothing. The only reason the fire department came to my house both times was because of the contract I had with the private security company. The firefighters got paid by the taxpayers to respond when I—a semi-privileged and cast-iron-skilleted suburban warrior—got jiggy with the chicken on a Valentine’s night when my home alarm was feeling a little needy. The public servants would have made the exact same salary regardless of whether they were fighting my seared chicken breast or a five-alarm fire.
And now that has me wondering why we bother.
Why do we pay taxes for firefighting? Honestly, is fire such a rampant problem in our society that we need to pay annual taxes to fund fire protection? I mean, we all know that firefighters spend most of their time sitting around frying turkeys and directing traffic after fender-benders that keep us from getting to Old Navy clearance sales. When it comes down to it, people who work hard enough can afford sprinkler systems that could do the same job as a bunch of guys who wash their trucks for half of their working day.
In fact, why do we bother paying for police officers when we could hire private security companies to make sure our property and persons were adequately protected?
Or why do we bother to pay taxes to fund people to teach our children?
Why do pay taxes to pay people to build our roads?
Or monitor disease outbreaks?
People who work hard enough can afford other people to protect them from those dangers, right? Why do we get government involved at all?
I guess it’s because we have decided that these all are important, nay, essential parts of maintaining a safe and orderly society. We want to make sure our houses don’t burn down. We want to make sure people don’t rob us. We want to make sure our children are educated. We consider all of those things an integral part of living and moving forward as a people.
And you know what? They are. I was joking before. Firefighters, police officers, and educators are among the bravest and most important people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. They deserve a portion of the money I make because they provide services I can’t always provide for myself. What’s more, they make sure other people in my community have the same protection, and that means my neighbors keep their houses, don’t become victims of crime, and have children who have a chance at education that turns them into productive members of society.
Why don’t we don’t actively fight against these taxes?
Why are we not arguing that we shouldn’t give firefighting and police protection handouts to people who haven’t worked to earn them?
We all don’t use those services equally. We may never use the services at all, but we don’t question their absolute necessity. Why is that?
I know there is a reason, because otherwise America wouldn’t be in the massive debate we are today. I know there is a reason, because I pay for fire insurance and fire security, but I also pay taxes for firefighters, the people I’m actually trusting to physically save me. It’s unquestionably the most important part of the process, and that’s the one we control via government rather than private industry. Why is that?
The only answer I’ve come up with is this: there has to be a line between what we pay a government to do and what we pay private industry to do, because we count on the free market to determine what’s good and bad, what’s really necessary and what’s unnecessary. Otherwise, capitalism is dead. Worse, I’m told it would make us commies. And as a guy who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I know that being a commie is gray and sucky.
So, if I’m to accept that because I really don’t want Obama making my lunch sandwiches or spraying for palmetto bugs in my house, where exactly am I to draw the line?
Should we stop funding public firefighters?
Should we stop paying for public education?
And if not, I ask why those services are more important than the doctor who has to operate on somebody in my family next month.
Oh, yeah, there’s that. Much like a stupid cooking mishap or my car getting burgled, we have a little family medical thing we have to take care of. It’s nothing too serious, but it came out of nowhere, and it is going to be the kind of expensive that would hurt the pocketbooks of people who don’t have decent insurance, the kind of people who don’t qualify for government assistance but also don’t have a guaranteed 100% payment and could end up spending a long time paying for the emergency care.
It’s made me think back to that cast iron skillet and wonder what would have happened if I had really started a grease fire and there weren’t such a thing as government-funded firefighters. How long would I be paying for that out-of-nowhere emergency? How would losing that money affect my ability to be a productive member of society?
I know there are people on both sides of the privatization debate. I have friends who would be much happier if we privatized everything from the Centers For Disease Control to the ATF. I have friends who would be happy if we had Karl Marx over for a beer and wings. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. The question is, how do we as a society decide where to draw that line?
I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I think the question is instructive in itself, and it might help us have a better discussion about how we think about what is essential for everyone.
Why are some things so essential that we make sure we fund them with taxes without complaint, and why are other things too important to let government handle?
Put another way, why do we pay taxes in case I set my house on fire but not in case I set myself on fire?
I stood in my kitchen. I was tenderizing chicken. Beating the holy hell out of it. Destroying it, really. I turned to my wife who sat at the counter with her laptop. I yelled.
“Don’t you understand? We lose! It’s over! We lose!”
I beat the chicken some more. Killed it again, really.
My wife was sweating. She was back from a run, therapy from a bit of apoplexy brought on by the government shutdown and the rampant ridiculousness surrounding it. Somewhere along the way she flipped off a guy and broke her phone. In that order. I think.
“Just stop looking at the computer,” I screamed. The kids were napping. “We lose!”
The chicken didn’t look like chicken anymore.
Indeed, it’s over. We lost.
Oh, who? Not the Willis family specifically. We’re fine. I won at poker the other night. The kid won his last two baseball games. He turned on two pitches so hard last night, he made my chicken pounding look mediocre.
Who lost? America. All of it.
Who is to blame? America. All of it.
And, best I can tell, there is only one thing that can save us.
I stood in the pantry last night. I was ostensibly there for bread crumbs, but I found myself thinking about how everyone was screaming at each other, pointing fingers, and blaming the wrong people for the wrong things. Worse, no one—and I mean not a single person—was actually listening.
It’s Obama’s fault! It’s the GOP’s fault! I’m smarter than you, because I watched FOX today! I’m smarter than you because I watched Jon Stewart last night!
Nope. We’re all idiots, because we’re screwing up a perfectly good country because we don’t listen anymore, and we don’t expect our leaders to do so either.
Get this: one of my best friends and I are currently engaged in three very long-lasting arguments.
1) Whether George Thorogood or Steve Miller is worse
2) Whether a silverback gorilla or a grizzly bear would win a fight
3) Whether we would rather face off against a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses
These debates have taken several hours out of several nights of my life over the past six months. Notable about them in this context: the amount of listening that took place. We and the people who engaged with us listened more than we talked. It was heated at times, but there was mutual respect and constructive dialog. (Most of the time. Bad to the Bone, my ass).
“We need real statesmen!” my wife screamed from her computer.
“There is no such thing anymore!” I yelled back.
I crushed a bag of goldfish crackers and breaded the chicken with it, because what’s the damned difference anymore?
It was actually an email discussion with my Thorogood-friendly friend that sent me into the pantry in the first place and had me asking, “Are we actually doomed? Is there anything that can happen than will make Americans start listening to each other?”
I couldn’t come up with one thing. Not a damned thing. Everything that occurred to me was either Idealist Fantasia or had already been proven fruitless.
I have lots of friends who are a lot smarter than me. So, I spent a few hours prodding them via social media outlets with this question:
Honest question: What, if anything, could happen that would bridge the American dialogue chasm? Looking for real tangible possibilities.
I’ve spent hours reading what people sent me, watching videos, and genuinely doing something I wish everyone could do: listening.
I’d like to share some of what I received, ending with what may be the only solution for a doomed America. (Note: I’m not attributing any of this for privacy reasons, but if the people quoted want credit, please take it in the comments. Also, I’ve edited quotes and cherry-picked from conversations for clarity purposes.)
One of the most popular answers to my question involved the one thing that has proven in the past, if ever so briefly, to bring America together: disaster.
One friend wrote, “A devastating national tragedy – and even then it would mostly be to placate the masses. System is broken. Divide is massive.”
I thought of the same thing, and then I thought of Hurricane Katrina, and how our focus became less on coming together and more blaming either the people of New Orleans or the failed federal response. The water hadn’t receded before we stopped listening and started fighting among ourselves.
Of course, Katrina only affected the Gulf Coast and there was a lot of blame to go around internally.
Someone else suggested a true financial disaster in which the American dollar collapsed. While that might work as a reset, it’s hard to imagine a place where the oligarchy doesn’t come out of that scenario still on top.
So, what would bring all of America together. Of course! Another massive terrorist attack! But wait…
“Instinctively thought a 9/11 type event,” wrote one man. “Then thought, that’s what started us on the road to where we are today.”
And that left us with the real problem.
Wrote one friend: “At this point it might only be a disaster that was against (the government) directly.”
And other: “Something absolutely catastrophic. Like 100 times worse than 9/11. How’s that for depressing?”
By far, the biggest response was the idealists and the people who can see all the problems, but aren’t sure where to start in actually doing something about it. I am the patron saint of the Cherry-Pickers.
Indeed, these are people who, like me, believe the problem is multi-faceted and needs not just one thing fixed but dozens of them at the same time. Each of the suggestions below is something with which I would agree. I would also agree that you won’t see any such thing happen in my lifetime, let alone all of them.
For starters, we have to fix a broken fourth estate.
Said an American who now lives overseas, “A responsible media would neutralise talking point bullshit. Would have to dismantle all echo chambers. I think people are able to shop for info that panders to their bias. The media market is glad to serve that bias up for profit, increasing balkanisation and tribal allegiance over fact. 30+ yrs ago America got its news at 6PM from three people in total. I’d like to think those three people (i.e., Cronkite) felt a special responsibility to inform with facts.”
That friend also admitted, “Never gonna happen.”
If we can’t fix the messed up media, maybe it’s about doing what my wife wants to do and seeking out real statesmen. “The American people needs to have worthwhile leadership come forth, and not who the Dems/GOP think we want,” said a commenter. The question is, how do we do that?
“Campaign finance reform?” asked one friend. “As it is now, we’ve got oligarch pols who are so rich they’re used to always getting their own way. I don’t see how you blow up CNN and FOX News. Gotta work around them.”
Other suggestions included:
These are wonderful suggestions, but I think even the people who suggest them would agree they are pie-in-the sky. They might event actually agree with a Canadian friend who suggested, “Most realistically possible answer? All the old guard dies and takes their outdated views with them.”
Someone else said, “Actually, what we need is a Gen X’er in charge who really hasn’t been in national politics too much , who doesn’t care about the the old way to do things, who doesn’t want to blame either side just wants to fix the mess and move on after 4 yrs.”
But to do all that, you need voters, and, yes, that’s a problem, because there are a lot of people who think that process is rigged, too.
“Gotta think it starts w/figuring how to ‘fix’ redistricting,” said one politically active friend. “Too many politicians in uncompetitive districts spells disaster. Ironic that in creating solid R & solid D districts, politicians have abandoned capitalism when it comes to House elections.”
And so, we’re left with me standing in the kitchen, screaming at my wife, and holding a meat tenderizer high above my head. It’s not pretty, because we’re all…
Many of my friends were just me standing there in the pantry wishing they could find the breadcrumbs. They didn’t have solutions. They only had the same lament as I. Here’s just a selection of quotes.
“Unfortunately, absolutely nothing. Real debate and discussion have been replaced with screaming the party line.”
“Everything I can think of has all sorts of moving parts and any one of them breaking could make the whole process fail.”
“Since ‘decaying infrastructure leads to horrifying bridge collapse’ didn’t move the needle, I’m stumped.”
“Politics has always been dirty and divisive, but in the past 10-20 years politicians have been treating it as a zero-sum game. It’s become more of a sport; victory can be measured by your own wins or your opponent’s losses. It has also become more of a spectator sport, with people choosing and rooting for sides instead of compromises or solutions. As for specific ideas on how to change that … I’ve pondered it for a long time, but I have nothing.”
“Leaders should be allowed to learn and have their positions evolve without being labeled as ‘flip-floppers.’ We as a citizenry should know when to demand decisiveness and when to demand thoughtful investigation. We should demand more than soundbites from our politicians, and hold each other as citizens accountable for being properly informed.”
“I have nothing. I want to say something regarding children, but I can’t think of anything.”
“All I know is the last president who genuinely brought Congress and the American people together was Richard Nixon.”
“Nothing. And that’s the most depressing word I’ve ever written.”
THE WAR-HAWK BAIT
Yes, we’re all depressed, because historically, disaster has held us together temporarily, select reforms have worked until puppet-masters found workarounds, and, in the end, we’re sitting here in a decades-long war with our civil liberties in shards while our government shuts down in a battle over our own citizens’ healthcare and how to pay for it.
That’s when we need a real enemy. That’s when we need an enemy who isn’t some dictator we’ve propped up over the years or sadistic genocidal monster we’ve ignored for longer. What would it take? A real threat to the world’s last superpower. Somebody tough enough to meet us on our own soil.
One friend said, “Sadly, it would probably take an invasion or some fundamental undermining of religion to reorient extremist positions.”
Said an American veteran: “Invasion from without by a force strong enough to be a credible threat to America and/or the world.”
It’s hard to argue with that, but it’s not clear whether that enemy exists, and it’s certainly not what we want. And if that enemy isn’t coming, it leaves us with the old Pogo trope: “”We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Indeed, if we’re not to come together, then it’s civil war.
“At this point, breaking up the U.S. into 4-5 countries isn’t the worst idea I’ve heard,” said a friend of mine.
She was echoed by another who said, “Sad to say but default response to biggest political divides in American history (one I don’t endorse) has been ‘kill the other.’”
But you know, I don’t want to kill you, and I hope you don’t want to kill me. I want both of us destroying that chicken together. Fortunately, there are a ton of people who share that view, and there’s not enough chicken.
This was the very first response I got on Facebook when I asked the question there, and it came from a friend with whom I don’t always agree politically, but have always shared a mutual respect:
“I’ve always said that we have to stop vilifying each others’ motivations. We can disagree on policy, but don’t assume the other person’s motivations aren’t as pure as your own.”
That was so succinct, it broke my heart. It’s the very basis for how we begin to listen to each other. Remarkably, many of the comments were sweet echoes to that.
A neighbor commented, “Time to think of others first. We have created a society wholly focused on getting ours first. The simple fact is the more you give- the more you get. Greed is not good in any form.”
If we can somehow move to doing that ourselves, it might be something we can convince our leaders to do. It hasn’t been that long since we had leaders who knew how to listen. Another friend of mine who is also a veteran referenced Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil: “They obviously didn’t agree on much, but going into critical meetings, they both started from a point of wanting to make the system work. That’s pretty profound.”
The problem is, as another friend of mine (an expert on human behavior), pointed out, self-delusion is all-too easy. “Take any issue, find believers on both sides,” he said. “Present all of the evidence for both positions. Result? Everyone comes away more firmly attached to their previous belief. They (we) select evidence to back our present belief and reject anything else.”
Human nature is a bitch, one compounded by our constant addiction to TV, internet, and social media.
“Folks making the decision to shut off the mindless TV spigot would help reduce echo,” said a reliably introspective friend. “Quieter minds might then realize on a larger more serious scale that all sides are equally being fucked on a continuous basis.”
That’s why one friend privately suggested a controversial means by which everyone could get on the same page: psychedelic drugs.
“They give modern humans a 4-5 hour window in which all that brainwashing is removed. Barriers and walls are knocked down.”
Has it come that far?
Don’t ask me. I beat the hell out of a chicken last night, and I still don’t feel better. Which brings me to the only thing that could possibly bring Americans together.
That’s right. I couldn’t count the number of people who looked to another galaxy as a way to fix what’s broken on this little slab of land between the Pacific and Atlantic.
The very first response from three very smart friends:
“Alien invasion. (Not joking. That’s all I’ve got.) “
“How about faked alien invasion? The Watchmen method.”
And that’s where we leave it. We leave it with a 1990s Hollywood film. We leave it with this:
The only way Americans can come together as one is to have a common enemy from another planet that wants to kill us.
And you know what? I don’t know that I disagree with that proposition.
Do you? Do you have great ideas? Let me hear them.
I’ll be in the kitchen.
And I’ll be listening.
A lot of friends shared a lot of things with me. I’ve gotten to some of them, but not all. Still, I wanted to leave them here for you to do with what you like.