“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” — George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
I was doing a search in WordPress on the PSL (a common initialism for the Party of Socialism & Liberation) and I got posts about Pumpkin Spice Lattes–a frou-frou espresso drink that usually pops up on coffee house chalkboards every autumn. I thought the initialization of a drink name went too far. Mind you, the first blog with a post about pumpkin spice lattes I saw from the PSL results page was a new-mom blog. I haven’t been a new dad for nearly thirty years so it wasn’t my thing. Anyway, the post was about a creamer that made a coffee taste like a pumpkin spice latte, so it was faker than the fakeness of a pumpkin spice latte. (In case you didn’t know it, pumpkin spice lattes don’t contain a drop of real pumpkin in them.)
The results page showed many blog posts on the seasonal espresso drink referred to as PSL. I did a Google search and found even more pages relating to the beverage in that abbreviated form. Later I walked into a coffee house and saw the initialism once again. WTF? We’re now abbreviating crappy espresso drinks?
Where do we draw the line on this kind of abbreviation nonsense anyway? Way back before I knew there was a drink referred to by its initials, my son told me about the Party of Socialism & Liberation, he called it PSL (dropping the definite article for the sake of elegance). Then when I asked what the initials stood for he spoke out the whole name. The “Socialism” part piqued my interest.
I stowed my understanding of what PSL meant and started reading the party’s website. Then, for me, it became what PSL stood for and nothing else. I’m addressing you, you stupid latte, and Pakistan Super League, and Person Stop Loss, and the Romanian sniper rifle called Puşcă Semiautomată cu Lunetă. Yep, Wikipedia makes me look worldly.
While looking up the origin of the PSLing of the Pumpkin Spice Latte and found on its Wikipedia article that Starbucks used the hashtag #PSL in a Twitter and Facebook blitz back in 2012 to push the product. The corporation may have used that hashtag in over 12 million tweets in a single day. Who in the hell Likes or Follows a lousy corporation, anyway? A lot of people, it seems. Depressing.
I was taught in college that there is power in initialisms especially the three-letter ones. This power is associated with the Rule of Three in writing. It is far easier to remember three letters subjects–FBI, CIA, BBC, BMW, JVC–than it recalls two- or four-letter themes. Add more letters and it becomes even more challenging to hold the thing in your noodle.
A good example of this power in words and in initialisms is the sandwich Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato. Invented around 1900, the Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich, or the BLT, is one of the greatest inventions in the history of food–and food has been around for a while! The prominence of the sandwich in American culture is so significant that it virtually owns its abbreviation. (Okay, there are a couple of odd exceptions, but unless you are a computer programmer or a perv they never come up in conversations.) The introduction of avocado has thrown a monkey wrench into the zen of this initialism. Whether or not you prefer the drupe in the otherwise beautifully understated BLT, the initialism “BLTA” puts the whole ordering thing off a little. I never order it that way–preferring to pronounce “avocado” after the core initialism. (Unless I feel like being a coastal elite prick and say, “I’ll have the BLT California Style, please” while inquiring if the establishment sells Pellegrino because nothing less will do!
I have looked up at a bistro menu and suggested (to myself) that the vowel gets pushed up in the order so the sandwich can now be a proper acronym: The BALT, but that does not do the sandwich justice–sounding like the bush-league pitcher error in baseball. We can switch the consonants around, but LABT and TALB won’t do and BLAT sounds horrible. Sometimes we just have to live with the awkwardness and I hate that, even with avocado.
To give you an aural example of how the Rule of Three in initialisms work just listen to Alan Rickman above. Now, imagine Rickman as a waiter delivering a certain sandwich…
At my job, I have written most of my unit’s procedures for over twenty years and dogmatically insist that the Rule of Three is employed in initialisms whenever possible in our documentation. For example, years ago, after someone suggested in a rough draft that Field Services (the group that is responsible for IT equipment installs and removals) be referred to as “FS,” I insisted that the abbreviated name include an additional “S” since the group is a Section in our organization. I spared them the Rule of Three spiel and just said the abbreviated name should be “FSS.” Damn, I don’t care if my fellow staff members immediately conjured up images of Brown Shirts goose-stepping down the office halls with PCs and monitors under their arms, FS just will not do!
My previous boss embraced the Rule of Three to an annoying fault. Back when he was in charge of my office it seemed like every unit in the bureau had a three-letter initialism: the first two initials explained what the office did, the last initial mostly was for the office’s type or size (e.g., unit, office, section, branch).
Using these abbreviations came in handy when it came to the written word, but my boss would speak in three-letter initialisms as well. It got to be that our weekly meetings sounded like code to any outsider listening in: “Is the TCO keeping up with FSS’ installs?” “I’m also concerned that NTS may not be reporting to TCO where they are installing the new hubs.” “Two inventory teams today: one for LDC the other for LCB. We’ll start on LOB tomorrow.” “Make sure BAS gets LAMS and FA showing the same search results.” If the language became any more coded the next step might have been for the staff to don headphones and tap out Morse to each other. After multiple reorganizations, many of the office names have become so long-winded, and clumsy it made rendering them down to initialisms essential for the written word, and almost impossible to use in speech. (I wonder if my old boss would throw around initialisms as LOPOD, LACC, WSCRM, WPCM, and CRPMS.)
Sometimes the aural initialization of groups and things turned unintentionally humorous (or at least to me it did). While everyone else referred to the office that provided ID badges, chairs, and ergonomics in our building as Facilities Management, my boss would continue with the abbreviations, so the Facilities Management Unit become “FMU.” So when he said, “What about, FMU?” I heard, “What about Fuck Me Up?” If I were current with urban abbreviations that clash with my internal office initialisms those meetings with my ex-boss could have been very funny, but as it is I didn’t know until now that the unit ETL also stands for “extraterrestrial lesbian,” the section BSS for “bullshit syndrome,” and–my favorite–the division EAD for “eat a dick.”
So, at times, we can abuse the shit out of the Rule of Three, but let’s get back to PSL. I wouldn’t be so touchy about this if it weren’t a damn marketing strategy taken in by, new moms and the other millennials targeted by corporate capitalists. I understand the heavy use of an initialism like the CIA, but maybe that’s because it has been around so long. By the way, two well-known entities use the same initialism and the two entities’ purposes couldn’t be further apart: the Culinary Institue of America and, of course, the Central Intelligence Agency. One gave us Anthony Bourdain and a host of other talented people who are known for their whimsy, creativity, and good taste (pun in place). The other gave us the Bush/Obama black sites, unconstitutional executions, drone strikes, the killing thousands of innocents, and a host of coups and abuses in the Global South. I’ll take the Lobster Frittata hold the waterboarding, thank you.
George Orwell devoted much of his career championing the written word and its meaning. While his classic and now surprise best-seller Nineteen Eighty-Four is best known as a futuristic dystopia based on trends he saw developing back in the mid-twentieth century, it is also about the power of words and how that power could be used to manipulate the reader:
“In the beginning, the practice had been adopted as it were instinctively, but in Newspeak, it was used with a conscious purpose. It was perceived that in thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it.” (Emphasis, my own.)
This is the danger in the power of initialism. Orwell’s Newspeak employed neither the acronym nor the Rule of Three, but a truncation or condensation of two or more words. William Safire, the late conservative syndicated political and grammar columnist for the New York Times, wrote a weekly column entitled On Language (now written by Ben Zimmer) where he would nitpick what he believed was the deteriorating of the English language. He had his critics who said English was simply evolving. That said, he has a good point here:
“… Both abs and ads are now being called abbreves, an abbreviation of abbreviations. The clipping of words is a harmless habit, used less for speed in spoken communication than for its sense of novelty or insiderness. A generation ago, kids shortened “parents” to rents, “family” to fam, “brother” to bro. A generation or two before that, when invited to legit theater, we said natch, saving two and then three syllables. Fab was so well understood to mean “fabulous” that ad execs used it as the name of a detergent…”
“I have gone figging and now believe that the youth of each generation is shortnin’-bred. We cannot attrib the present syllabic slicing exclusively to text messaging, Twittering or the latest cellphoney-baloney; rather, lopping off word endings is not laziness but a function of generational insularity. No tradition is more time-honored than rebellion against linguistic tradition. Youth must not only be served, but its insecure communications must also have its own coded server.” — “Abbreve That Template,” New York Times, May 21, 2009
Before I conclude, one last super-annoying example of an abbreviation or an abbreve, (just kidding) is “inno” for innovation. Thomas Frank uses it liberally in his blistering criticism of the Democratic Party: Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People. The author introduces the abridged word intentionally, I believe, to mock his subjects: the rich tech execs and the neo-liberal Dems that gush over them while offering only lip service to the working class. My basis for this assertion is listening to the audiobook version read by the author. Kudos to Mr. Frank for keeping up the level of palpable disgust in his subject matter for over eight hours!
Perhaps Safire’s “On Language” column wasn’t as stogy as we all thought. Perhaps our language is slowly devolving, after all. All I wanted was information on socialism and I got a frivolous espresso drink!
I just got back from a vacation in Vancouver British Columbia. I got to see my son, his wife and their daughter. They live in Beijing so it is a rare treat when we can meet. There was some business the young family had to conduct and we were happy to offer any service possible to make their visit a pleasant one. Below are some images and words describing my part of the stay. (My wife is still there.) This post is a test: about half of it was done using WordPress’ mobile app. This post is also an example of just how far I had fallen from the days when I had an SLR, multiple lenses, and a portable darkroom. Sorry about that.
Packing the Night Before
Sacramento International Airport
SeaTac car rental
Okay, I see one-third of a breakfast sandwich here
Vacation house for a week
First Meal in Vancouver
Vancouver International Airport
Loonies, Toonies, and different chips
Getting Settled In
Site Seeing Over the Week
Throughout my week, we drove around town to various offices so Bin Man could get her paperwork done and also had lunches and dinners at different places. A couple of years back I took a passive interest in the winter sport of curling. I still don’t know the rules, but find it fascinating. On one car ride, I saw the Marpole Curling Club! I wonder if Rachel Homan plays there when she is not on Canada’s Olympic women’s team. (I kind of have a crush on the lady.)
The Medicated Traveler
Getting Ready to go out
Peter and his daughter Alanis.
The Crystal Mall
If the reader has never been to Vancouver, they might be surprised the city has hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Canadians. This market caters to many of them. Think of a farmer’s market, but inside a building and seemingly endless. I have yet to go to China, but I am told that this market (among others in the city) is just like the kind in Beijing. All you would need to do is quadruple the number of people. The top left image is of a woman creating my Chinese pancake!
Chinese New Year Dinner
Sorry, no pix of the family dinner, but that’s a good thing, right? I didn’t sit there taking pictures while we were having a nice family dinner. My daughter-in-law cooked an excellent meal. I sat across from Alanis and felt a little more like a grandpa. It’s hard to get into that kind of mode when I see her as rarely as I do. At this stage, she has not warmed up to me, but that’s okay.
Fun at the (excruciatingly cold) Kitsilano Park
We went out to the park near our digs in Kitsilano located (sort of) across English Bay from Downtown Vancouver. Alanis had a great time. Growing up in Beijing, she thinks 35 degrees is nothing. My teeth were clenched the whole time so I didn’t rattle the fillings out.
Idle Time with Alton
The flights home
The only other time I flew on a commercial prop plane (top right image) was when my family and I flew from Acapulco to Cabo San Lucas back in 1977. (I remember we landed on a dirt runway!) I don’t have a fear of flying, but the Airbus Air Q400 and the choppy Northern Pacific sky made the one-hour flight nerve-racking. The landing was so rough the entire cabin burst into applause when we finally came to a stop. The trip from Seattle to Sacramento was also on an Airbus, but this bus had jets on its wings. I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The vacation is not over for my wife or me. She is still in Vancouver for another week and a half. I’m now at home with one more week off–a staycation albeit with a long honey-do list.
I remember when my terminally ill father asked me if I was happy with the career I had chosen. That might have been a good time to lie and make him feel assured that I was doing something I enjoyed–as in the way he enjoyed making boats and my brother presumably enjoyed running a lumber company. I told him I was somewhat content. The fact is I wanted to be a writer and I ended up a civil servant for the State of California, but I didn’t want to dump that on him, so I said something like I just followed the career path that I saw when I landed inside civil service and didn’t look back.
The problem was there was plenty of rubbernecking going on over the thirty years in civil service, but I never wanted to take the chance and just dive into a career in writing. I was too afraid. When it came to going after what you wanted in life, my father seemed fearless. He liked to race cars, boats, and dirt bikes, and he did all that with vigor and success. He seemed brave to me in other ways too, the ways that many grown adults are fearless–starting his own business in a leisure industry. An industry that was reactive to recessions, droughts, and the caprices of human nature.
Thankfully, my father didn’t point out that my mealy-mouthed answer to his question wasn’t much of an answer at all. So I got out of telling him my fear of pursuing a career in writing–my fear of rejection and my fear of the unknown (unknown paycheck, unknown medical/dental, unknown retirement income).
Passions Never Developed
I have always had a passion for telling stories–the vehicle was the problem. In elementary school, I liked drawing comics–well, sort of. My art was horrible–even considering I was an adolescent and just starting out. Unlike a few classmates, I didn’t have the raw talent for drawing. There was Scott Marmaduke (Yep that was his name!) He started drawing when I did, but he not only had a sharp eye, he also understood satire. So his pictures were far more sophisticated in style and message. I remember staring at one of his drawings: A parked Mayflower Moving van, the driver in the cab snoozing–the driver’s speech bubble filled with ZZZZs–while the company’s ship logo was sinking into the sea. My submission was Batman in his Batmobile. For starters, the chassis was excessively too high like the caped crusader was driving a monster truck. Comparing the two drawings was painful.
I recently read David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America, a book about the early comic book industry and the censorship that nearly killed it. The author wrote how the old masters like Will Eisner (author of the seminal comic book series “The Spirit”) started by tracing images. I did that as well, but I apparently didn’t get as far as Eisner and his peers. I just didn’t have the raw talent, the observation skills, or the patience of the people who–through blood, sweat, tears, and the avoidance of clichés–made it.
And like my short-lived training behind a drum kit, as a child artist, I was all dreams and precious little dedication. Getting my idea across on paper took too much time and patience. I liked conveying stories. I didn’t want to invest the time it took to draw or write them. I kind of had my own oral tradition and the friends around me were my audiences. Think of Homer, but instead of Odysseus and the Fall of Troy it was the neighborhood kids and the Collapse of Mike’s Fort.
I do remember handing in an assignment when I was in the third or fourth grade where the teacher encouraged the class to add drawings to our written assignment. I remember authoring my assignment “by Luke Isles.” Luke was my nickname. As for Isles, well it just sounded cool at the time. I remember being thoroughly embarrassed when I saw the teacher attempting to suppress a smile when I told her Luke Isles was my pen name. Perhaps I was overly sensitive at that time and/or I am overly dramatic now, but I believe that moment may have been a harbinger of my doomed professional writing career. Am I going to have to put up with those kinds of condescending smiles the rest of my childhood? When would someone take me seriously? Later, I would be crushed by bad marks on the few writing assignments I cared about. I think I received criticism from readers of my college newspaper articles harder than most of my fellow journalism students. If this stuff bugged me so much during these tender years how would I endure the rejection notices and having editors keep turning down my ideas for articles?
I think the cocktail of fragile ego and impatience prevented me from taking up writing (or any kind of art for that matter) over the next ten years. In the meantime, I would tell stories (usually true but embellished, self-deprecating stories that often had listeners responding through laughter, “You should write this stuff down!” At one point I became re-acquainted with a childhood friend, Rick, who was managing a shoe store. Against his better judgment, he hired me and we became close friends. It was at this point he suggested I take a journalism class at American River College with him.
I had begun studying there right out of high school in 1977 but dropped out. Thanks to Rick, I got back into college and (after a few scattered semester-long breaks) received a BA in Journalism in 1987–The Ten Year Plan. In the meantime, I got the writing bug again. I was a little more resilient and patient, but as I would find out later, not resilient or patient enough to make writing a career. Rick, who became the Editor-in-Chief of the campus paper, The Beaver (now The Current) and the journalism instructor, Charles “Doc” Slater, introduced me to the Inverted Pyramid and the Who, What, Where, When, and How of reporting. After a too-short stint as a news writer, I started writing film and music reviews. The following year I became the Entertainment Editor with my friend Erik taking over the helm when Rick left for film school at USC. After reading Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train, I decided I was going to be a music critic. For the first time since elementary school, I was expressing myself via the written word with a passion.
A few years later, I transferred to California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) and started writing for the campus paper, The Hornet, though I was not very productive–only submitting a review or story every few weeks. I remained a journalism major with hopes to become either a rock critic or now maybe an investigative reporter. A lot of hopes, but not much else. This aspiration began to show its weak foundation when CSUS had a career fair one spring day and I spent a couple of hours talking with Sacramento Bee writers under the paper’s big blue tent. When I left their tabernacle, I was filled with that all too common self-doubt.
Just like giving up on being the next Charlie Watts when told I would have to put in many years of diligent daily practice (not to mention even more years working in cover bands for tip money) before I would become a great drummer for an internationally-known band. I was told the road to a position like a music critic for The Bee (and ultimately on to Rolling Stone magazine) would take years of writing death notices or working with ad copy. Then, when I got through that gate, I would then most likely become a reporter doing straight news while submitting ideas to the entertainment/culture editor on the side, trying to get my foot in the door. Like a kid in the back of a station wagon on a cross-country trip, I wanted to be there and didn’t want to endure all of the miles between my diploma and my desk at The Bee with the other writers on the entertainment beat.
My dimming hopes of being a writer were marginally brightened when Mick Martin, the film critic of the now-defunct daily newspaper The Sacramento Union, approached me and fellow Tower Theatre employee, Paul Plain at a press screening with a proposition: write film reviews for his upcoming Video Movie Guide. I submitted six reviews and saw my name in print in a national publication (albeit buried deep in the Acknowledgements). As the first edition went to print, I agreed to be a Chief Contributor for the 1987 Edition. Paul was wise and turned down the “promotion.” When it came out it was nice to see my name under “Chief Contributors” with only twelve other names around it. But at a substantial cost to me as well as Mick and Ed Remitz, the Guide’s Consulting Editor: with only a few exceptions the films I reviewed were “Direct to Video” releases (read: crap) and I quickly tired of reviewing the worst of the worst.
Paul and I used to love laughing at horrible cinema together, but watching this shit all by myself, taking notes and then writing about it was a hell I never wish to tarry again. I kept misspelling words in my reviews as well as the names of cast members–a cardinal sin in journalism. Mick called me a couple of times to remind me to proof my work before submitting it. Finally, one night he had enough of my misspellings and general lack of care and gently fired me. You’d think that would have crushed me, but I was relieved. The embarrassing thing was that I hung on way past my welcome. Mick needed to fire me since I wouldn’t quit. A tiny part of me wanted to keep doing it, keep cranking out shitty reviews of shitty movies, peppered with misspellings; the tiny part that wanted to remain a proud Chief Contributor instead of an insignificant name in the crowded field of Acknowledgements. This is how truly horrible writing is created: lazy work and false pride. I still keep a couple of the guides around though I never recommended them to anyone–there are far better guides out there–especially online. After changing the title and format a couple of times, Mick stopped the Guide about ten years ago.
Meanwhile, my friend and fellow journalism student, Erik, had graduated a year earlier than I had and was already in the field. He was happy doing what I began to think was a high wire act without a safety net. How easy would it be for him to be let go? Would if his employer had to downsize and he was the least critical staffer? Let’s not forget starting out in a small operation where there were no health benefits. I take a lot of meds and need a neurologist and occasional EEGs and MRIs. Would I be able to afford to pay for my own health insurance? I was on my parents’ plan at the time and whenever this crossed my mind, it scared the shit out of me to think I will someday have to pay for this myself if I don’t get a job with some employer who offers these benefits. This was not the kind of mindset that fosters creativity.
In my last year of college, I got a job as a proofreader for the State of California. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the beginning of a career with benefits that would last to the time of this writing–over thirty years. From the first night, I showed up to work I kept thinking I wasn’t going to pass the probationary period. I clung to Dale, a veteran proofreader, who kept assuring me I would pass probation. I could tell this job was significant compared to stuffing tacos, selling shoes, tagging Giorgio Armani dresses, and tearing movie tickets. And because of this feeling, I became addicted to the security of civil service though I hadn’t finished my first month of service yet. Writing, what writing? I’ve got medical, dental, vision, and a CalPERS retirement account, Y’all! How quickly I dashed my dreams.
What little yearning to make a career expressing myself in the printed word was virtually suffocated by the security blanket that is civil service with a significant pay boost and a benefits package. A year later I was married and instantly became a stepdad. Erik was doing what he always wanted to do–working for a paper. I was proofreading bills, amendments to bills, and legal opinions. But let’s not bullshit, I never attempted any kind of professional writing gig.
Recently, Erik and I had lunch. We talked about our college days, our softball team, old college friends including Ethan and Barry, and Erik’s time as a newspaperman. (He now teaches high school English and Journalism in the Sacramento area.) I told him how I admired him pursuing what I was too cowardly to go after especially in a neoliberal economy with growing worker insecurity. Then there was Ethan who was on The Beaver staff and the softball team. He left American River College to go back to his New England home. He got into the small-market film business. I guess that’s not bringing in enough money because he is now a Lyft driver to help make ends meet. Ugh! Ever the showman he’s promoting his moonlighting job as a unique experience for his customers.
Barry, who Erik and I worked with on The Hornet had it rough after graduation. He bounced from one job to the next often having to settle for telemarketing. At the time of my lunch with Erik, Barry had been unemployed for so long that his unemployment insurance had run out. Erik and I had given him money to help make ends meet. He was also getting some assistance from his LDS ward. Barry set up a GoFundMe account at one point and a request for “mini-grants” through his Facebook page. At one point, the Sacramento theater community that he was once a part of came together and held a fundraiser for him at a local watering hole. Within a year of that event, he was found dead in his apartment. The same apartment he had nearly been evicted from on more than one occasion due to not being able to pay his rent. I realize Barry’s case is unique and as for Ethan’s, well one could say that comes with the territory.
I remember when, in my early teens, I made a weak attempt to learn my father’s craft. He was at times a harsh taskmaster because he was a perfectionist. Also, he couldn’t let me practice and screw up on boats that were already paid for by customers. I bailed out of that apprenticeship before it ever got formally started. A few years later, I asked if I could train to be a boat builder. I doubt I was earnest. I was probably just looking for some positive reinforcement. He snapped back at me, “Why the hell would you want to build boats…?” I don’t remember the rest of the reply, but it had something to do with his business weathering the OPEC Oil Embargo, followed by a recession, then a drought. I was hurt by his words, but a few years later understood what he was talking about when Reagan’s supply-side economics hurled us into another recession and I started reading about layoffs and businesses struggling or going under in the papers and orders for my dad’s boats sagging again. I got nervous about venturing out and doing something that might net true happiness with the understanding that I would occasionally have to weather unemployment due to the nature of the industry I chose to work in. I ended up “choosing” (more like stumbling upon) an industry that is virtually impervious to economic downturns.
My father’s career choice ultimately provided enough money to raise a family even if the waters got a little choppy at times. Then there is the kind of career that is similarly reactive to economic downturns but doesn’t net much money when days are fat. I give you the professional yoga teacher. I used to practice with a teacher named Aviv. Unlike the other teachers I’ve practiced with, Aviv exclusively taught yoga for a living. He bounced around town doing contract work in various studios and, occasionally, the City of Sacramento (the Yoga in the Park programs). He loved his career and that made me both jealous and sorry for him. He wore his hair long and out, dressed in basketball shorts and jerseys, and dirty, beat up crocs. He looks like the most comfortable–if not the most presentable–man in town.
His love for teaching yoga was evident: he was funny and talkative. On the other hand, in some of his ramblings, he would let slip about jobs that have fallen through that he said he needed. I also saw him come close to begging for more work; trying to sell an idea he had for a workshop to the group exercise director of the athletic club where I am a member. I became anxious just listening to him stress to the director how beneficial this workshop would be to the members. It sounded more as if he needed the money. This is the downside of being free and making your passion your paycheck–especially if your choice is something like yoga teacher or going it alone as a professional musician or–like my college buddy Ethan–try to break into the film business. I knew I never had to do that kind of thing to keep my job at the State. “Just don’t dump a pot of hot coffee in the manager’s lap and you’ll be fine,” Dale, my proofreading big brother assured me whenever I worried that I wouldn’t pass probation in my new job for the State.
Still, Aviv was doing something he really loved. My career is repetitive, mostly a dull eight to five with an hour lunch and excellent benefits. I have run projects before, but never felt the stress Aviv seemed to be emitting as he was trying to sell that workshop idea. For him, it could have meant a little something extra in his pocket towards replacing a worn tire on his failing car or maybe some coin to sock away to ensure he could keep the lights on next month if the work got thin. If my boss didn’t like an idea I had for a project I would just go back to the thrill-seeking job of verifying asset movements and scanning barcodes. A project didn’t earn me any extra scratch; my paycheck is the same size each month project or no project.
About three months ago, I found out Aviv was moving to Maui. We were all happy for him, but over the last two classes he led, many of his students including this blogger asked him what he had lined up over there regarding employment. Avoiding the question, he just kept repeating the locution, “I always wanted to live in a place where I could walk around without shoes and a shirt and not get hassled.” All I heard was the absence of gainful employment while also knowing the horrible homeless problem Hawaii has. The other students kept talking about how jealous they were. Not me, I thought of poor Barry.
Journaling & Blogging: the Amateur Writer
While I was finishing my ten-year stint as a college student–a dying career in journalism or some kind of job writing now removed from life support–I began journaling. Jimmy, my best friend at the time, fancied himself my muse, as once did my old girlfriend, and encouraged me to keep writing regardless of what I do for the rest of my life. He kept telling me to write every day. He instructed me to buy writing materials and get to it. He would repeatedly say to me “Read a word a day and write a word a day.” Presumably, he didn’t shoot for a high goal knowing my tendency towards idleness. I ran out and bought a fancy pen (because that’s the key to great writing!) and one of those diary-style notebooks. When he saw the journal, he chuckled then said he was thinking of something along the lines of a college-ruled tablet. I guess I wanted my writing to look like it was in a book. How utterly sad. (Then again, I found out a few months ago that’s how Joan Didion got her start. Of course, that’s where the Keaton-Didion comparison ends.) Looking back, I think I would have written a little more if I had the elbow room to wax eloquent instead of the cramped 5″x8″ format of the–at times femmy–looking notebooks I bought and wrote in over that short phase.
I wrote consistently if not rousingly in these journals from October 1984 through August 1987. I would reboot journaling in the early 1990s. The last two “reboot” journals are marked with long gaps of inactivity. The last entry in the last journal was dated March of 1996. All the journals, especially the last two, are peppered with short entries questioning my worth in this endeavor. For instance my ability (“Who am I fooling? My writing is crap!”); my passion (“I don’t know what I am doing.”); and my diligence (“Word.”). A bitterly sarcastic dig on Jimmy’s “Read a word a day and write a word a day” charge.
I was already working on this post when I ran into these journals while prepping my bedroom for painters. There they were, packaged lovingly in a box spine up to save space though I admit it looks kind of like it was in some library bookshelf: The Keaton Canon. As if, the collection would look entirely at home between the works of Dickens and Orwell. The only thing missing was my name and volume numbers on each of the masterpieces’ spine. When the paint was dry, I stashed them back up in my closet unintentionally mimicking Jimmy’s chuckle. Then laughing aloud in spite of myself. They are waiting the day I go through them one more time–looking for some rough-hewn nugget of genius to transcribe into this blog before I take a Zippo and lighter fluid to the lot.
About ten years after my last journal entry I got the writing bug again; this time without any pretense of being a great writer or journalist. I just wanted to express myself in prose. My friend and fellow State employee, Chip, had created a blog and was posting articles. After reading his posts on Blogger, I started my own.
Jockomo, my first blog, was born.
I named it in honor of Jimmy. That’s what he called me. Or at least that’s what I thought he called me. The first time he saw the blog he queried, what is Jockomo? When I told him he corrected, “No, Giacomo, as in Giacomo Puccini.” I didn’t chuckle this time, but a smile that delivered the same patronizing punch. I felt like an ass, but I also liked Jockomo despite its birth through ignorance.
I started posting my writing at this site in February of 2006. In June of 2010, with my blogging activity waning, I added an additional blog where I combine hamburger joint reviews with posts about my new scooter and scooter culture. The first version of Burger Scoot was born. The blog you are reading is my latest stab at writing along with some stuff I transferred over from my old Blogger account.
Somehow, I forgot all the grammar, punctuation, and structure I learned in my College English classes that got me a degree in Journalism with a minor in History–both disciplines requiring a high volume of writing. Speaking of college, many of the better-written, earlier posts were actually proofread by college students. I found an online service where I could email my drafts to a proofreading service and the service would have an English student go over them; mark them up (with some of the better proofers writing lengthy explanations why specific corrections were made). These notes also revealed just how far I had (have) to go to be a good writer. (I don’t think I’ll ever drop the passive voice. I like it too much.) I believe this service was replaced by a computer program similar to the Grammarly.com service I use now which just doesn’t come close to catching the plethora of errors an English college student finds in my prose. It may seem to the reader that paying a proofreading service for a blog post only a few people will read is indulgent. (Or is it overindulgent? See what I mean.) The practical side of me agrees, but I feel naked without that help–as I’m feeling right now as I am typing this, and how I felt when I hit the big green Publish! soft key.
If you are still with me, thanks for sticking it out. This post has meandered quite a bit. It started as one thing then became something very different with some awkward transitions in between and at least eight long paragraphs cut. (I nearly cut out many more. Perhaps I should have.) I usually start with some kind of outline in my head, but this one may have got away from me. What do you know: a post about writing, poorly written. Hang on. It is almost over.
My life as a writer has been marked by fear, insecurity, laziness, frustration. With all those attributes it is incredible this blog doesn’t cave in under its own weight. Ultimately, my desire for self-expression is the arch stone that keeps it together and me continuing to express myself.
Last Tuesday a friend stopped me in the lobby where we both work and told me a political meme that I had posted the day before was false–or at least Snopes.com claims it was false. That was good enough for me. In reflection the quote Vice President Pence supposedly said was crazy. Now, he has said and done some stupid things, but saying that the American people don’t need healthcare, but Jesus Care should have sent up a red flag when I first saw it.
But it didn’t.
Before I got back on Facebook to look at the quote and the comments Friends had left, I knew it was a lie. Then why in the hell did I post it? What I believe I did was part of a massive problem in social media. To be honest, I’ll get over the shame of posting this falsehood, but this kind of thing has been bugging me for a long time–people posting shit for other Friends to see. It’s an epidemic and I just added to the disease! David Harvey, author, distinguished professor of Anthropology, Geography at CUNY, and leading Marxist scholar says social media has had a radical democratizing effect on society, but it also is a form of social control and part of the Consumption of Spectacle. He suggests people, alongside using social media sparingly and responsibly, cultivate a circle of friends to discuss issues of the day. This works as a form of “group truthing.” He also suggests creating or joining reading groups.
My wife and my brother find social media a colossal waste of time. My youngest son and his best friend (who is an activist and I hope to interview for this blog someday) don’t have social media accounts because they value their perceived privacy and know whatever valuable information they can glean from Facebook they can access directly from its sources. I would be a pompous ass if I said I am leaving Facebook because of the Russian influence on the social media or Mark Zuckerberg’s reactions to that fake news scandal. However, some of the latest revelations are a concern. However, the problems with my relationship with Facebook are many. Here are the main ones.
Not Checking Sources
Too often I don’t check my sources before posting a meme or a quote. This incident was the last straw. I posted a political meme that a friend pointed out was false. This event was very embarrassing. What’s worse, it wasn’t the first time it happened. I have probably done this half-dozen times. I have also been one to bust others on this kind of activity.
Trusted Source, Excellent Writer, Hard-Hitting Title. Meh, I’ll Read It After I Post It
Too often I don’t wholly read an article before I share it. This is a big problem (see the first point) though I always post articles from reliable sources. Still, posting something I did not wholly read (or did not read at all) is believing in a source, but not necessarily the actual text. After years of putting up with followers and sycophants who seemed to take every word he said as the infallible truth, Noam Chomsky began to end his arguments with, “It’s all right there in the documents. Read them for yourselves.” I have the utmost confidence in sources like The Intercept, The Nation, and In These Times, but it is lazy at best, arrogant at worst to tell someone they should read an article on corporate farming on the assumption that whatever I read must be the truth.
My Facebook Page is Intended for the Serious Reader (That’s why it’s on Facebook)
I should be posting videos and pictures of cute kittens instead of damning quotes from/of politicians. Maybe I should change my material to better suit people like my wife. I think the only thing she likes about my otherwise useless and negative Facebook page are my humorous videos, extended family photos, or an image or video of cats (dogs too, but mostly cats). The funny thing is, I would love to share more stuff like the adjacent image, but most of my Facebook Friends don’t post that kind of stuff. That’s the Zuckerberg algorithm at work (i.e. I painted myself into this corner). I have friends and family members who almost exclusively use Facebook as family albums. That is a great idea. Almost as if Facebook was created especially for that. If I wasn’t so damn ugly, I might have used Facebook in this manner more often. Finally, there are the positive vibe posts. There are plenty of memes of Jesus, Buddha, Rumi, Yogananda, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other philosophers that I could choke my FB page with. Yesterday I attended a talk with the health expert and author Ruben Guzman who reminded me how when it comes to self-improvement I have always been un grand saboteur or as the philosopher James Allen said: “You are today where your thoughts take you.” And I just referred to myself as ugly. Un grand saboteur stricks again!
Can I Get a Hallelujah, Somebody!
When it comes to my posts, I’m preaching to the choir. Over the years my Facebook Friends list has been sifted to separate the politically faithful from the infidels. I rarely did the sifting. The chafe separated itself–sometimes with angry adieus. The few exceptions include conservative family members who, I am confident, gag on my political posts all the while hang on as a Friend for the occasional family image (not to mention a wine-drinking joke or a video of kitties sliding around on a moving turntable). So this business of posting something Bernie Sanders said or Kshama Sawant did so we can all metaphorically slap each other on the proverbial back seems foolish when a moment like the impetus of this blog post occurs. My Facebook posts aren’t converting anybody, only making some of my political kin feel good and in turn, making me feel good when they click on the Thumps Up.
… and the Obvious
I spend too much time on social media. From time to time I have looked for a time-motion tool that would tell me just how much time I burn up on Facebook. Between checking my feed at work and on my phone it has to be in the double-digit minutes each day, with a slight drop during the weekend and days off. Hanging out on Facebook is so unproductive, but who am I kidding? The void created by leaving Facebook will not be filled by Bible study, re-thinking the way I do my job, or thinking of what home improvements I can do this Saturday. Is there a cool zombie-killing app that can take the place of my deleted Facebook app on my iPhone 6?
The Other Time Wasters
Facebook takes up the lion’s share of time I spend on social media. I’m so glad I don’t take a lot of pix. Otherwise, I might spend as much time on Instagram as I do on Facebook. If you looked at my camera roll you would wonder if there is anyone more boring than me: pix of unique cooking ingredients taken at a grocery store, images of bike and scooter parts; also, a lot of pix of stuff I send to myself to investigate later. None of it the kind of things you usually see on someone’s Instagram.
Images of my wife and me on vacation? We rarely take those kinds of vacation pix, at least not us together. Pix of me far far away against the background of the Thames, or a famous Cape Cod restaurant, etc. When I first got Instagram, a weird error occurred. I would see that I had some new images of two or three young ladies crammed into a narrow picture, eyes full and up, lips in a pucker a la Marilyn Monroe, one of the young ladies wearing plastic sunglasses in the shape of stars. Over the next couple of weeks, I kept getting these kinds of pictures. It couldn’t be sex spam–the women were too scrubbed, the settings kooky, not suggestive–like the photos were intended for friends. I initially ignored them after wondering how they made it onto my phone and if the other account holder knew I could see these pix. Then I began to worry, would if the account holder might introduce a boyfriend into her/our photo library? Would if the pictures started to show more skin, intimate kissing, and, well, you know. I didn’t want to feel like a peeping tom so I finally broke my silence and commented on one of her “My Friends and I Having a Rad Time!” pix. The sender said we had the same handle so the pix were getting mixed. She must have seen one of my rare posts. Perhaps an image of an old fat fart in an A’s cap stuffing his hole with a hot link, the Oakland Coliseum in the background. There’s nothing cute or kooky or rad about that! Finally, the Instagrams from her stopped. Perhaps my brutal gray-beard double-chin close-ups did the trick and she changed her handle. Poor girl. Better changing your handle than gouging those pretty baby blues out, Sweetie.
Being an avid reader and a nut for lists I will always use Goodreads. Even if all my Goodreads Friends left me I would still use it. Of course, because I’m losing my marbles I often add a title to my Want to Read list then, a few months pass and I’m checking out the list and wonder what this book is and why did I add it to this list. The same goes for my Read list. I’ll hear about an exciting book and login to Goodreads to add it to my Want to Read file only to find I have already read the book. Getting old is a bitch.
I can’t say how many times I have downloaded then later deleted Nextdoor just to download it again. If you don’t know, Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. At first, I thought it was kind of handy and I still do today (mainly because this time around I turned off the notifications). I have now made peace with the app. I think the notification part of the tool is supposed to make the social networking app helpful. Do you see a stray dog running around in your yard? Check your Nextdoor app. There’s no information on a missing dog? Create a post. If someone is missing a dog that fits the description of that pooch they might respond. In the meantime, your phone will sound off whenever a fellow Nextdoor neighbor has a notification.
I do turn on the notifications if I see something strange, the power goes out, or I can tell a police helicopter is flying circles around my neighborhood. When there is some kind of activity happening in my hood I’ll turn on the notifications and my phone will go off every few minutes with a neighbor chiming in. About 80 percent of the announcements are dumb-ass comments or redundant information. Someone posted something they thought was important without checking the thread and wasted everyone’s time. Recently, there was a murder on a street adjacent to mine. An abusive husband did his wife in. A fraction of the updates was helpful–information someone got from the Sacramento Police Department. The rest of it just annoying beeping on my phone–Gladys Kravitz gossiping all night until I turned the notifications off. The developers made a useful tool that is often abused by the users (at least in my neighborhood).
I’m also on WeChat, a Chinese multi-purpose social media app. (Think Instagram with a messaging service.) Since China restricts most of the social media tools we use in the U.S. my wife and I use WeChat to keep in touch with our son and daughter-in-law and see the latest pictures of our granddaughter. I use the image viewer part of the tool the most. Being a stepfather means not being the point of contact. Sad.
Speaking of one-word sentences, I don’t think I will ever part with our President’s chief mode of communication to his citizens. Assuming I really stick with cutting back about 90 percent on Facebook I’ll keep my political ravings to Twitter. Did I say I was going to cut Facebook entirely out? Hmm, I’m reconsidering that. I logged off of my account on my work PC and removed the icon from my phone. If I don’t log in using either of these two devices I will have drastically cut my Facebook time. I’ll stay logged in at home. Gotta keep up with people’s birthdays, right?
I don’t know what the punchline of that joke would be. It’s been so long since I lived the actual setup. The last time I had lunch with my friend Jimmy was over seventeen years ago. I miss our time together, our unhealthy attraction to food, my guilt for pigging out on the stuff and his utter shamelessness for bingeing.
I met James Tatsch at a party of Tower Theatre and Showcase Cinema employees way back in 1980 when I was a new Tower employee. I was my usual wallflower self–not talking to nearly all of the guests since I had just met some of them as fellow floor staffers and the rest being complete strangers to me–some Showcase Cinema floor staff and the remaining friends of Tower/Showcase employees. I would find a corner in this Midtown Sacramento house to inhabit or just walk around aimlessly–rarely stopping at a cluster of chatting attendees. At one point I wandered into a bedroom with a one-sheet of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 film “Swept Away” on the ceiling. There sitting at a desk playing one of those now considered “old school” wooden labyrinth games was this morbidly obese man–older than anyone else in the party by at least fifteen years. (Yeah, that doesn’t seem much now that I’m 60, but the difference seemed significant at 23.) His isolation, WearGuard clothes, ankle-supporting leather hightop shoes, and his advanced baldness also added to his years, I suppose.
While I was stared at the sexy movie poster, Jimmy said hello. I said hello back and a perfunctory conversation ensued. While we talked–he working the labyrinth game and I staring at Mariangela Melato’s body. He rarely looked up when he spoke that night. He said his name was Wolfgang, a reinvention moniker after Wolfgang von Goethe–a name I would refer to him as until the last ten years of our friendship when I began to call him Jimmy–the name his family called him. I thought Jimmy was more endearing than Wolfgang or James.
He would only make eye contact briefly after he lost a game and just before he fetched the ball from the return and resumed the game. Was that rude? I don’t know. I liked that he was not so intensely engaged in our conversation. It provided an easy way out if it got uncomfortable and anyway, I was too transfixed by Mariangela Melato’s body. Later, I would find Jimmy fascinating, witty, charming, and–ultimately–tragic when others found him either weird, uninteresting or repulsive. Over the next thirty years, I found that most people chose one of the latter qualities rather than agreeing with my assessment of the man. We would become famous friends with many negligible things in common and one big one: we both liked to eat!
This post is about our friendship and mutual love for stuffing our faces. I originally wanted to write a comprehensive history of our friendship. Thanks to my poor memory I settled on the beginning and what I’m afraid is the end of our friendship and one element in between.
I have struggled with my weight since settling down with my wife. That’s not her fault. I have always been a little on the thick side. By the time I was in college–occasionally living (and nearly starving) outside the home–I was probably at my best weight. In fact, when I met Jimmy I might have been near my best weight. Yeah, I’ll blame my weight on him.
A few years into my marriage (in the early 1990s) I had gotten used to home-cooked meals again and was getting far too comfortable watching TV after dinner until bedtime. It was at this time Jimmy would come over about two or three times a month. We would sit and chat and often fetch fast-food dinners for the whole family. Other times he would buy some exotic food that he would share with my wife and I after the kids went down. We would sit at the kitchen table–Jimmy testing the tensile strength of the wooden chair he sat in–and chat and eat into the late night. So it was logical in that environment that I would gain weight.
Perhaps the best example of how the consumption of food was the bond between Jimmy and me was the night we chowed down somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen Jimboys Tacos. My wife had called from work or shopping to ask what I wanted for dinner. I replied, “Just bring home a shitload of Jimboys Tacos. Wolfgang (Jimmy) is here.” She didn’t disappoint. Jimmy and I ate somewhere in the vicinity of a twelve beef tacos along with some taquitos and plenty of Jimboy’s fake guacamole. We also emptied a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke (being on a diet and all).
It’s funny how, at the time, my wife thought that the whole scene was grotesquely humorous–two fat guys going through a sizeable greasy-orange bag of taco and taquitos, our bald foreheads glistening with sweat from the hot sauce we didn’t spare. Those days are long gone. Now, whenever I down a large flauta (basically a giant taquito) and prep myself for Flauta No. 2, she says in, with absolutely no humor in her tone, “You’re not going to eat both of those?” She’s right, of course. I’m a lot fatter and older than I was when I ate all those tacos and I need my wife to remind me of that, but I miss Jimmy and the free-wheeling taco jam; and hey, why did she buy two of these things when she’s eating a taco salad?
Then there were the excursions. About twenty years ago I had to surrender my driver’s license to the DMV after I started experiencing seizures that are usually suppressed by the medications I have been taking since I was twelve. This problem, it appears, has passed and I have my license back, but for nearly ten years I was at the mercy of my family and the horrible Sacramento Regional Transit District to get around. Jimmy–always wanting to be the hero–offered to take me out to lunch every so often and help me run some errands. We would sometimes go shopping at off-beat places: Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese markets where Jimmy–a student of linguistics–would try his hand at understanding the help that didn’t speak English. I bought stuff that I would have never purchased for my family. I’d show it to the household and Jimmy almost always took it home with him.
We would sometimes go to Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen where I would buy him some sausages and buy some landjäger for myself that I could take to work. (The stuff would keep without refrigeration for over a week!) Along with his bouts of Manic Depression, Jimmy suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an obsession to know virtually everything there is to know German sausages. We got kicked out of Morant’s once because Jimmy asked too many questions and when the butcher at the counter was through answering questions Jimmy dished out some of his choice sarcasm and the butcher told him to take a hike, shooting me a look like I somehow insulted him as well.
Whenever we went to a sitdown restaurant I had the misfortune to have an attractive woman wait on us. Despite his looks, Jimmy was a charmer, but his charm didn’t woo the waitresses. They always said their boyfriends were at the bar or waiting outside in the car or was “a line cook here–right on the other side of those doors”–pointing at the swinging doors as if to say if I scream he will hear me and kick the shit out of you. These waitresses would tell this to Jimmy as he continued asking them questions that got more and more personal. They always kept their cool but I couldn’t help thinking the replies to these queries were thinly disguised “back off, fatso” lines, and that these smoke signals were also intended for me, too, though I usually kept my face buried in the menu.
And if Jimmy was serious about flirting with the help his ordering completely obliterated what remote chance he had with these ladies. He ordered as if he were feeding two people and a small child. Jimmy also asked a lot of questions on various items, keeping the waitresses at our table and away from their other customers. The kicker came when we finally ordered he insisted on keeping the menu–on one occasion having a tug of war over the menu with the waitress. Jimmy won, placing the big laminated thing between his gigantic ass and the chair. (I dare you to try to snatch that menu now, flustered waitress!)
The weird menu-hoarding thing was because he had to “pavement checked” the menu before surrendering it. It was his OCD–he had to thoroughly scan the information and the actual physical menu before he felt secure enough to relinquish it. Also, he always ordered dessert. No matter how embarrassed I was, I also ordered something after our large lunches.
Bread was another thing. Whenever we ate at a restaurant that served a complimentary basket of bread, we would buzz through at least two baskets. Jimmy would stuff the un-eaten slices in his “bagatelle” (a double entendre for the brown paper bag he would carry with him everywhere that contained his glasses, a magnifying glass, tissue paper–trifles). He felt absolutely no shame in requesting additional baskets of complimentary bread. The waitress would come by asking “Is everything alright.” Jimmy would always be polite and say “Oh, yes!” or “It’s all excellent. Thank you.” Unfortunately, he took that time to ask something about the waitress: how long had she been working there, what kind of earrings was she wearing, does that ring signify you are married? As embarrassing as this was, he would always top all of this by waiting until the waitress was about two tables away before yelling, “AND MORE BREAD FOR MOPPING.” I wanted to slink down under the table grabbing my Penne Rustica and the remaining slices of bread on the way down, of course.
I ran into a clip from Louis C.K.’s FX TV show “Louie” and immediately thought of my lunch dates with Jimmy. I’m not sure how the reader feels of C.K. after his gross sexual misconduct. I am sympathetic of his and all other victims of sexual misconduct, but I also am selfish enough to wish the whole thing didn’t happen so he can keep making standup specials, TV shows, and films like the indefinitely shelved I Love You, Daddy. Anyway, below is a clip that is the closest thing I have ever seen on TV to my lunches with Jimmy. Jimmy would be Bobby, Louie’s friend: utterly shameless in his gluttony. I would be Louie: willing to stuff my face with my friend, but self-conscience about it.
For some reason, the lunches with Jimmy stopped. Maybe Jimmy ran out of places where he was welcome. I’m not sure, but around that time I got a scooter and I was pigging out on burgers alone and reviewing them for this blog. One of a few big reasons I do so few Burger Scoot reviews these days is because the empty chairs around me remind me of our Saturday lunches. His visits to my home were also on a less frequent basis.
In 2010, Jimmy overdosed on Lithium–a prescription drug his psychiatrist prescribed for his manic depression–which he had been taking irregularly since before I met him. I dropped in on him at the request of a mutual friend who could not reach him and was worried. I found him in a horrible state. I called 9-1-1 and saw the EMTs haul him off in an ambulance. I visited him in the hospital a couple of times. When he was discharged from the hospital his sister picked him up and delivered him to an assisted living facility in Washington. I called him about a year or so after he moved to his new residence, but now his medications were being managed by professionals and I was no longer talking to my old friend. It was like the meds killed the manic part and left him just depressed. I spoke with him a second time, but there was no change. He didn’t want to talk very long and I suppose that was a good thing: the old Jimmy–the Wolfgang I met at that Midtown house party back in 1980, the guy I ate a shitload of tacos with and got kicked out of Morant’s with–was gone.
As I type this Vivian, my lab mix is eating her dinner behind me. It hasn’t happened yet, but as soon as she wolfs her food down–not too different from the way Jimmy and I would attack our food–she will drink some water. When she is finished lapping up the water she will return to the empty kibble bowl with her wet mouth and lick the bowl clean. Aah, there she goes! Vivian doesn’t need bread, her tongue does all the mopping.
One night a few years ago I showed a 2-for-1 coupon for a local pan-Asian restaurant to my son. I wanted to know if he had visited the restaurant. He is a pescatarian, and places like this noodle restaurant are right up his alley. “Yeah, I’ve been there–many times,” he said. “It’s good. Our local chapter of the Wobblies meets there.”
Dad’s jaw dropped.
I wasn’t surprised that he would be associated with something like the Wobblies (Last time I checked he was still a Marxist.) I was shocked that the Wobblies were even around!
A week or so later I asked one of the officers of my local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organization if he knew the Wobblies (or the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW) were still around. He said yes, with a cynical chuckle. All I had to do was look online. The IWW has a presence on the web, but unlike popular political organizations like my DSA or progressive political parties like the Party for Socialism & Liberation and the Socialist Alternative party, the Wobblies don’t get a lot of coverage in the alternative press. Their history, however, is more vibrant than any other progressive organization in America.
Established in in 1905, by William D. Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners, the great Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party, and Daniel De Leon of the Socialist Labor Party, the IWW was comprised mostly of unskilled farm workers, miners, and loggers–many of these people immigrants. Unlike other unions, the IWW welcomed all working people–immigrants, minorities, women, and the unemployed. They advocated the overthrow of capitalism, placing workers in control of their own work lives. The IWW used walk-out and sit-down strikes, boycotts, slowdowns, and other forms of direct action to achieve their goals.
True to its name, the Industrial Workers of the World spanned the globe — an international history that has long been forgotten. IWW supporters in the early twentieth century. Even Americans familiar with labor history might be surprised by the slogan of the Congress of South African Trade Unions: “An injury to one is an…