Trump supporters have a point

Yesterday Doug Masson and Aaron Renn had a spirited discussion about Trump supporters on Twitter. Broadly about whether supporters know what they’re doing and if Trump is reasonably the person most likely to make their lives better.

This hearkens back to my post earlier this week about progressivism vs. conservatism and how Republicans have failed to share a vision that actually makes people sit up and listen. Trump is closest to articulating it, even if he mostly says nothing concrete. He’s at least reciting and admitting problems, where others aren’t. The bar was set very low and he set it slightly higher by at least talking about some things.

What are those things?

  • Loss of manufacturing jobs
  • Quick and steady diversification of the population
  • Relatively heavy tax burdens with no clear benefit from expenditures

I’ll leave it at those three because this is the Internet and you have other things to read. My point here is Republicans have largely failed to articulate meaningful solutions to these problems. And people who scoff at Trump supporters as expendable pawns must recognize that’s not very supportive or nice, either.

There hasn’t been much articulated well enough for people with limited time to understand. So it doesn’t get talked about. Things are reduced to petty issues and problems that no one really cares about.

I say this from experience, because while Aaron has talked to his dad in New Albany about why he supports Trump, my dad also no doubt supports Trump a few miles up the road in Salem. Why would someone do that? Because Trump at least re-states the problem that impacted him greatly: “The jobs are all in Mexico and China”, “The neighborhood isn’t as nice anymore”, “There’s too much drug violence”, etc.

To a guy like my Dad and many Trump supporters, things distil very neatly:

  • “My job went to China. Therefore, if we just make it so companies can’t offshore so easily, my job will come back and things will be fine again.”
  • “Drugs are everywhere. We know it’s from Mexico. If we could just shut the door on that, things will be fine again. Plus, they took jobs, too, so why do we even need to care about them.”
  • “My insurance was fine at my last job. If we could just bring that back, things will be fine again.”

“Make America Great Again” isn’t about race or gays or whatever for most people (I said most, not all. We’re being too simplistic when we paint with that big a brush). It recalls that time 20 years ago when rural communities had factories that paid well because profits were high and things were great for themselves. People are selfish beings, let’s not gloss over that. But also American. Guys like my dad genuinely just want the opportunity to work, provide, live securely and just be left alone.

The truth is we have all kinds of jobs available. Just not in those rural spots anymore because rural places don’t offer much anymore. They lack things new American manufacturing can only find in cities: big airports, highways, broadband, bigger talent pools, etc.

All this is to say Republicans aren’t acknowledging those problems. If you’re somebody who left high school and started making $20/hr with the promise that things were going to be great forever, and suddenly it’s not because companies have to make common sense decisions about their own well-being, you’d be mad, too.

I know someone is reading this and saying, “Yeah, well, it’s systemic.” Sure, there are things that are a problem. And Republicans have largely ignored that, too.

  • People like my dad didn’t develop a desire for education. Because they didn’t need to for 50 years.
  • These same kinds of people don’t have much access to educational opportunities (libraries, adult learning, etc.) even if they wanted to.
  • The work they’re offered to “retrain for” is often so wildly out of line with what they know and makes government programs look out of touch. My dad loaded trucks for 35 years. Now you want him to go back to school, do a bunch of fractions and basic algebra at the age of 58 and be, what, a nurse practitioner?

No, Trump supporters aren’t stupid. Ignorant of some things, yes, but they’re not stupid. They feel like you might feel if, in 20 years, the Internet just vanished in a span of 5 years.

To be clear, I don’t think Trump has much of a clear vision for what, exactly, he’d do to help people. I don’t think anyone does, and that in and of itself is the Republican vision: “In a land of personal freedom and liberty, you have the right to do as you please. In many cases, that’s going to involve a lot of work.” And by “lot of work”, that’s learning all about fractions and algebra and technology and the Internet and a bunch of other stuff you never had to deal with before.

Can we all admit how terrifying that must feel? Can we all agree that is like saying to you, dear reader, “Sorry about your job and that you have no money anymore. I guess you can become a brain surgeon now.” Yes, that sounds ridiculous to some degree, but you get the point, right?

At this point they just want to know what to do and they want someone who will just tell other people (like Mexico) to screw off. “What’d you ever do for me? Nothing. So screw off.” Obviously Mexico does provide value to us through all sorts of imports and exports, but again, put yourself in their shoes for a minute.

What could Republicans articulate that might help? I’m not entirely sure there’s much, largely because a large swath of those people are between a rock and a hard place physically and emotionally. You can’t take someone who’s barely literate and make get them into spreadsheets in a year. Or two. Or maybe ten. They don’t have that much time.

Democrats have a very clear, “We’ll just pay for everything now” response to this. Which is pretty darn clear about what that means: healthcare, college for your kids, retirement, we’ve got that covered. Republicans ought to be strengthening the things that can make people empower themselves (more on that in another post). Because to guys like my Dad, “I don’t want you to just give me these things. I want to be able to provide for myself like I always used to.” It’s demoralizing, for better or worse.

Additionally so when you’re told to pay for these things your taxes have to go up. To a group of people who live in places without access to broadband Internet, or little to no library service, or weak cellular coverage, or a tiny hospital or 1 or 2 doctors, and what money you do makes goes to the Federal Government for things you’re never going to see a benefit from. That’s rough. So we don’t get to be confused why they’re angry. It’s obvious, and you would be, too.

My dad doesn’t need free college. Even if he wanted to go he can’t because what’s he going to do? Drive 2 hours to IU Bloomington every day? Drive 90 minutes to Ivy Tech to enroll in one of a few programs? At that point he doesn’t need an education, he needs gas and a new truck. Are we just going to pay for that, too? My dad just wants the government to “bring some factories in” (his actual words). Which it can’t do. So he’s always going to be upset about that. Like if, in 20 years, you and I were voting for the guy who would “turn the Internet back on”.

The best we can do to insure against this in the future is making sure people recognize the new deal: “Things will change. You will have to adapt. So learn to be adaptive and don’t stagnate. People, like businesses, will fail hard and slow if you stagnate.”

Salem Class of 2005: A look back at High School

This is part three of a three-part series on the Salem High Class of 2005, which graduated 10 years ago this month. Monday’s post is on K-5. Tuesday’s is on Salem Middle School. Today, High School.

Upon exiting 8th grade the mantra was about how terrifying high school would be. No more “spoon feeding”, no more coddling, it was all on you from here on. It was as if history was repeating itself.

But before I get too far in, I want to take a moment to mention Mr. J.D. Martin, my 7th grade math teacher, and the staff at Salem Middle School.

My mom died on January 18 of my freshman year of high school. On the day mom died, then at 11:30 a.m., I went home and handled details around getting her moved.

But that afternoon, sometime around 4:30 p.m., J.D. Martin arrived in his pickup truck and knocked on the door. Mom had already been taken away by Ben Weathers and J.D. stood with a card and an envelope. I didn’t open it right away, but he gave his condolences to myself and my dad and left shortly after.

Later when I opened the card there was about $700 and signatures of practically every staff member at SMS, save the lunch staff and some of the custodians. That gesture, and the seemingly insane amount of money, has not been forgotten.

Mr. Stephenson, 9th Grade

Larry Stephenson had a rough few years. When my class was in 8th grade he developed a brain tumor and spent most or all of that year out of the classroom. By the time we moved into high school he came back, only to suffer a setback a year later and eventually die.

I mention this because Mr. Stephenson and I had a strange relationship. There are three over-arching stories with him.

First, he was suffering the same kind of brain tumor (right down to the cell type), as my mom. Since mom had died at the same time, I think he was somewhat forlorn about his prospects. The kind of cancer cells he and mom faced have a 99% fatality rate with almost no measurable remission time. “It always comes back”, according to mom’s doctor.

Second, Mr. Stephenson wanted a website and decided that I should do it. It was my second site ever, after Lori Hazelip requested a site. I was off to the races there, career-wise. But one day over the summer we worked on his site through the day and had dinner at KFC. Over a buffet of mashed potatoes and chicken we talked mostly about his treatment. In retrospect, I think he was trying to gauge how it felt “from the other side”. To find out what it felt to be someone who had to watch someone else suffer through cancer.

Third, Mr. Stephenson somehow came to my defense when I didn’t even know it. At the time another student, who I will allow to remain anonymous, was spouting off a tirade of derogatory terms about me online (ICQ!) and in school. Mr. Stephenson heard about this from another student (who I didn’t even know knew about any of it), and he wasn’t having any of it. After some yelling and swift calls home to a parent, that little problem went away. I like to think that this person isn’t the same today. I didn’t know any of this until weeks after it happened.

Mrs. Duffy, 9-12 Grade

Doris Duffy is about the closest living embodiment of Aunt Bea we have today. She cared about a lot of students in a very motherly way, but one remarkable achievement: she and I sent an email to each other almost every single day for four years.

They weren’t even about anything in particular most of the time. It was just what we did the night before or that weekend. It was a rare bit of routine in a time when my day-to-day life was far from consistent. Since I woke up extremely early to get mom early-morning pills, I’d be up and awake around 5 a.m. to respond to her before heading to school. (Part of the reason I showed up to work with Bonita Purlee each morning was just because she was about the only person there, but I literally had nothing else to do. Joan Barrett was always first in to school, followed by either Bonita, Derek Smith, or me).

It was (and I promise to move on from the sad stuff in a moment) Doris Duffy who received the note from the office, just as I sat down from lunch to start her 4th period class, that said my mom died. It didn’t actually say that, of course, but we knew, and she turned to me and I could tell from the look on her face that mom had passed.

Ms. Cooper, 9th Grade

On Wednesday, August 13, 2003, Ms. Cooper did the dumbest thing I’ve ever experienced with a teacher.

Why do I know that date so specifically? Because I have a ticket stub on my wall right here next to me from the Aerosmith concert she took me and Mariah Gilliatt to that night in Cincinnati, Ohio.

You can see why this is incredibly dumb: first year teacher takes two underage students across state lines to be with a bunch of Aerosmith, KISS, and Cheap Trick fans.

I think she figured this out at some point around 8:30 when a drunk guy rolled down the hill beside us. On a school night no less. We got back in town sometime around 3 am.


Almost as good as that time Louis Snider put a numbing agent on the lip of her Mountain Dew bottle.

Mrs. Hartsook, 10th Grade

I hated doing “projects”. They took much time. I could bang out a 3-page paper in under an hour. But a shoebox diorama? That really screws with my Saturday. You can only glue shit together so fast.

So it’s no surprise that while I enjoyed the lectures and the energy and knowledge that Jeanne Hartsook imparted, I absolutely dreaded the projects.

So much so that by the time I was in 11th grade I asked to get switched into Derek Smith’s Government and Economics class instead of Mr. McKay, who was also project-heavy. I just wanted to write papers.

Mrs. Campbell, 11th Grade

I think it was my junior year, anyway. I made a habit of walking into class every day and saying, “I’m here, make a big deal.”

On my birthday they did. Office staff arranged to stall me after my 5th period class, which was weird because none of it seemed at all important. I think the discussion was just, “How are you doing?”

Eventually we walked upstairs, which was also weird, and every one in Shenan Campbell’s 6th period class, including my good friends Heather McDaniel and Rebecca Scott, were lurking in the dark to yell, “BIG DEAL!”

Mrs. Allen, 9-12th Grade

What can I say about Debbie Allen? I spent four years in her classroom, most memorably with Thomas Smith, Chad Curtis, Shaun O’Donnell and Chris Shireman.

But later on there were web courses with other folks, including Heather McDaniel and Rebecca Scott, where it felt like Thomas and I were the only ones doing anything.

I think Thomas’ site for the Washington County Community Foundation lived on for years, as did mine for the Salem Education Foundation (which I can’t even find online at all now). Though I believe they still use some of the graphics Thomas did in places, so I guess he wins the longevity award.

It was in 10th grade that I remember thinking very clearly, “Holy crap, I can make money at this, like, now. Someday I’ll run my own business.”

Mrs. Quatroke, 10/11th Grade

Early in my sophomore year Roseanne Quatroke was administering our graduation qualifying exam to me and a class full of other people. This was the morning of September 11, 2011. She stayed collected through the morning, but by lunch too many TVs were turned on and we knew what was going on. Or at least as much as anyone knew at the time.

I imagine that sort of “carry on, let’s finish this first” sort of mentality can’t happen today with a phone in every pocket.

Mr. Carter, 12th Grade

I don’t say this lightly, but my etymology course with Mark Carter has probably proven to be one of the most useful classes I’ve ever taken. I routinely run across words as an adult and think, “Hmm, this has a Latin prefix, so it must mean such-n-such.”

Mrs. Bedwell, 12th Grade

Jeanne Bedwell closed out her decades-long career with our class, and I’m glad she was there for the 04-05 year. A lot of people come back later and routinely say she was the most in-line with true college-prep of any other teacher.

But I just appreciated someone who would laugh, sometimes inappropriately, at whatever thing I would say. It could go over everyone else’s head in the room, but not her’s.

Other Notes

I remember this kickball tournament. I can’t remember if it was to raise money or was just for the sake of a game. But the late Louis Snider was playing and you had to have a custom-ordered T-Shirt in order to play and he didn’t have one.

So to make it work, him and Josh Sebastian would just space themselves out in the kicking order so when Louis went he’d have enough time to run around and get back to home base. There he’d just take the shirt off and give it to Josh, who would throw it on, kick, and keep going.

This went on for some time and I remember this only for the ingenuity of the loophole.

I imagine the model biological cells we made are still sitting in the showcase outside Greg McCurdy’s door.

Jeanne Bedwell’s “I -heart- Clean Air” sign.

John Calhoun never washed his water cup. And Bonita Purlee never drank the bottom swig of coffee until Joan Barrett bought her a coffee mug warmer for her desk. I remember this only because on my desk right now I have a cup I never wash for water and a coffee mug that I only drink every drop out of because of my mug warmer.

My famous penis-bruise came after I gave blood. I had just turned 17 and was in the gym, squeezing the little ball to give blood. Except I kept squeezing. For three hours.

I just wouldn’t bleed and the nurse kept coming over to twist and prod me to get me to bleed. By the time she was done my arm was so bruised and sore. Sadly it was in the shape of a giant penis on my forearm.

When I finally did stand up, I started to faint because the bandage didn’t hold and blood immediately gushed down my arm. I haven’t donated blood since.

Rebecca Scott ruined one of my favorite shirts by placing a small marker dot on the arm. I haven’t forgotten.

The second-most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen after Andrew Armstrong’s mustard use in elementary school was Derek Smith’s PopTart.

Every morning he’d walk into Bonita Purlee’s office with two PopTarts and place them in the microwave. With butter on top.

They came out just as soggy and bastardized as you can imagine. I’m guessing he doesn’t still do that given his success at losing a lot of weight. So that’s just good all around.

Jackie Arnold would sometimes write passes to pull me out of class, usually with “friendly” teachers like Jeanne Bedwell, so she could ask me how to do something on a website. This was back when she was in charge of the SCS website.Fun fact: the swirly marks around the SCS logo? It’s just the letter “Q” stretched all out of proportion around the courthouse.I didn’t think about it at the time, but now I recognize how incredibly ballsy and somewhat funny it is that Salem used the Courthouse in their logo, which is a county-wide symbol. So screw you, Eastern and West Washington.

Rebecca Scott, Heather McDaniel, Ian Hartsook, Heather Mannely, Shenan Campbell, and myself all went to London the summer of 2005. While in London we’re hungry and Heather Mannely just looks at us and says, “Well, we can go to a gas station for chips or something.”This has been a refrain we have not forgotten. Of all the times to skimp on dining, who would go to a gas station for potato chips in London?

About a year after my mom died, I got a pass to go see Judy Matthews. She had decided it would be a swell idea to send me and Chris Amick to this camp for kids who lost a parent. God knows what sort of story would have come out of it if Chris and myself had entertained the idea.

Obligatory mention of Terry Griffus. Sorry, bro.

Sometime after I received my driver’s license Jake Hattabaugh and I started spending every weekend together. Usually we’d head up to Seymour to see a movie, or go to Clarksville. The stories of these weekends could fill a small book.

As is the case when one of the few (and for a while, the only) openly gay people in a small town are together, people just assume you’re together. Which was never the case with us. I mean, come on, he wore a tail for, like, a week.

Judi Howey approached me one day in the hallway and just said, “I have a job for you.”

She literally had a job for me. I was to go to the Washington County Historical Society that weekend, a few weeks before my 15th birthday, and talk to Willie Harlen.

I walked in and said, “Judi Howey sent me here.”Willie replied by setting down his newspaper, turning around and saying, “Oh, good, you’re good with computers, right?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”

“Good. You can start Saturday.”And that was my first job.

Tanner Terrell was the best waiter I’ve ever had. After working at the Historical Society, I’d go down to Christie’s every Saturday afternoon for lunch. My lunch hour started at 1, I’d walk in at 1:10, and he’d practically have my sweet-tea-no-lemon with a club sandwich and waffle fries ready and waiting for me.

I still remember the sincere look of appreciation on Ashley Harmon’s face when she came up to me in the hallway and said, “Justin Harter, thank you so much.”

Her home had just burned down and I remember going out to my car to write a check. I can’t remember how much I donated, but it was evidently enough to write a check. I had been working for a little while and was making solid money for a teenager doing odd-jobs fixing computers and stuff around town. I dropped it in the donation jar and didn’t figure I’d hear anymore about it, but I still remember her sincere appreciation.

What a crazy time.


Salem’s Class of 2005, a look back at the Middle School years

This is part 2 of a 3-part series at the Salem High Class of 2005, which graduated 10 years ago this month. Yesterday’s post is on K-5.

Middle school was under and over-sold in all the wrong ways. In 5th grade it was how they had to prepare us for middle school, that we weren’t going to be coddled, no more “spoon feeding”, whatever that meant. This was The Real World, where this was somehow a tween Fight Club. I remember thinking on the way in and on the way out, “This wasn’t hard at all.” I suspect teachers still sell this line today, like parents proclaiming they’re going to call the police on their kids.

Mr. Selman, 6th Grade

From the Class of 2005 and earlier, Mr. Selman is legendary. He moved to California after my class came through, but everyone before us remember’s his sparse corner class room. There were a few things about Mr. Selman that stick out:

  1. He had a specific sweater and pant outfit for each day of the week. Monday was red, I think. Ever Monday. Tuesday was UK Blue.
  2. He had a giant pointing stick that was a big wooden finger at the end.
  3. His Friday morning extracurricular activity was called “Current Events”.

You may not remember Current Events because so few people took part in it. It was “boring” compared to the other activities, where we’d take a look at the news and discuss, well, current events.

I remember myself, the late Gary Hartsook, Mark Fanning (both of whom were two years my senior), and I believe Thomas Smith, all together in this room. There may have been one or two more people.

Mr. Selman decided because we were such a small group we’d just rename it to “doughnuts” and every Friday morning there were fresh H&R Bakery doughnuts for us. Yeah, you didn’t even know, did you? Best kept secret in school.

Mrs. McKay, 6th Grade

In the graduation from 5th to 6th grade, we know longer had “English”, but “Writing and Language Arts”. One wonders how “writing” isn’t already a “language art”, but I’m 11, so okay, I’ll play along.

Mrs. McKay was gone one day, but left explicit instructions for the substitute teacher. We were to write a letter to a contact at the National Archives, where we’d also attach and submit a piece of writing we did. I’m sure the Archives promptly filed it in a dumpster, but this is what we were to do.

Except the substitute caused a problem when, instead of addressing the letters to Ms. So-and-So (I don’t remember her name), we were told to address it to “To Whom it May Concern”.

It was anarchy. No one knew who this “Whom” character was, but we were sure we didn’t like it or trust him. There was yelling, I’m pretty sure Tyler Trueblood cried or something. To us and our tiny mob mentality, everything was ruined. So we did it to appease the man but we knew everything was just wrong.

Mr. Vannoy, 7th Grade

Mr. Vannoy was an occupier. An interloper. A rabble-rouser who couldn’t be trusted.

First he comes in and takes Mr. Selman’s classroom. Then, all sorts of shuffling happens with teachers and grade levels and none of us liked it.

I had two big beefs with Mr. Vannoy and his language arts class.

Mr. Vannoy kept this can of Campbell’s Beefy Beef Stew on his bookcase and would point at it whenever he thought a paper wasn’t “beefy enough”. I had no idea what that meant. I still have no idea what that means.

But whatever I wrote, it was never beefy. He constantly gave me C’s on papers. I was so confused by this because everyone else gave me A’s and even the State of Indiana saw fit to tell me I was doing fine. What’s this guy’s problem?

Jessica Gilstrap, however, would always do fine. I couldn’t figure out why. And the one day he sat down and explained it to me.

“You need to make your writing more descriptive and detailed,” he said, as his pillowy mustache wiggled across his upper lip (Detailed enough for you, eh?).

To me this was awful. I hadn’t found books I liked yet, but I knew which ones I didn’t like: all the ones in the library. They were fiction and had sentences like, “The dark blue car thundered down the dusty and worn dirt road.”

This bored the everlasting shit out of me. Cars don’t thunder, thunder thunders.

“But I don’t like the author telling me what to think, I like to fill in some of those details myself,” I replied. To this day I’m the same way. Don’t tell me what color the curtains are, I like to fill in those details myself with environments I’m familiar with.

This did not go far. I think the response was something like, “Well, just do it.”

To this day I still do not like reading fiction. I started reading the first Harry Potter book that came out that year and made it 4 chapters in when I realized I hated it. Then he decided to make the class read it as a whole. Now I really hated it. And I still dislike Harry Potter to this day.

Mrs. Mahuron, 7th Grade

My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 7th grade. It was the morning of our Rube Goldberg machine demos and I was responsible for getting it to school so Andria Wiseman, Randy Hamilton, and myself could present it in Mrs. Mahuron’s class.

I had rarely ever missed a day of school. Since 1st grade’s chicken pox, I had perfect attendance. Except that January 20, 2000. I was at the hospital watching the busses roll by. I’m sure both of them were about to throw up not knowing where everything was, but there was nothing I could do. The next day I came to Mrs. Mahuron with perhaps the best excuse and reason she ever heard: “Sorry about not being here yesterday. My mom had a seizure and stroke and we spent all day figuring out she has cancer. Can we try again tomorrow?”

Mr. Myszak, 8th Grade

Algebra became a thing we had to learn in 8th grade. Mr. Myszak and I shared one and only one thing in common: a genuine love of ER. So each Thursday I’d tape ER for him so he could watch it because he invariably couldn’t stay up late and evidently couldn’t program a VCR.

Mrs. LaFollette, 8th Grade

I’m not entirely sure why all my memories seem to be from English classes, but I remember sitting in Mrs. LaFollette’s English class and Chris Wright asked a question like, “Do we return the books to the library?”

To which I replied, “No, we just throw them away when we’re done.”

I didn’t even think about what I was saying as I was saying it. It just came out, and I had a moment where I thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that?”

Mrs. LaFollotte, not even bothering to look up from her papers on her desk said, “Which one of your parents uses sarcasm?”

I was slightly confused, maybe because I didn’t realize fully what sarcasm was, or that my parents used it. But today I can answer that: it was mom.

The Post-Columbine Threat

The Columbine High School shooting happened sometime when we were in 7th or 8th grade. The event had everyone on edge and when someone started putting death threat notes in lockers, people were scared.

So scared that Louisville news stations showed up to cover the story and no one felt safe. Parents were pulling kids out of class and taking them home. I remember going to school one day when the absence rate was somewhere around 70%. I sat in an English class with 3 people and played a board game. Mom eventually came to get me because, “We saw on the noon news more threats were made.”

In retrospect, I can see how most parents were absolutely terrified. The school didn’t do much because what could they? No one knew that you had to have metal detectors, cameras, and police presence. Though the police were there, it didn’t matter. Until the suspected student was caught, no one came to school.

Other Notes

Brittany Hacker somehow dated me for two years, but had a crush on Jordan Hobson. Hindsight is 20/20.

Donald Stinnette, for all the things people love and hate about him, gave me my start in computer tech.

Mrs. Barrett started her “Kool Kreations” Small Business group. Heather Kidd (Gurt) and myself (Dingus), were (if I remember correctly) Treasurer and President, respectively. We made T-Shirts on Saturday mornings with Evan Gorman and a few others, and that was fun.

Salem’s Class of 2005, a look back at the elementary years

This weekend Salem High School matriculated another class across the stage. I walked across that stage 10 years ago this year. A lot of thought gets poured on to high school years, but I think there’s value in looking at every year of a K-12 career.

To start with a multi-part series, let’s begin with elementary school.

Kindergarten with Mrs. Kramer

Kindergarten was where I learned I am a morning person. I took a.m. kindergarten for the first semester and so feared being relegated to the waning backwater hours of the p.m. group my mom personally requested an a.m. slot. It could also have something to do with the fact she didn’t want to miss her afternoon soaps.

I was in Mrs. Kramer’s and Ms. Geralde’s class. I would learn years later that Mrs. Kramer’s son was responsible for the biggest news story to hit Salem since Morgan’s Raid.

I would also learn the difference between “Ms”, “Miss”, and “Mrs”, because “Ms. Geralde” was such a stickler for it. I’d also learn years later that Ms. Geralde was directly related to my best friend.

I remember painting a really shitty rainbow, Bradley Nicholson throwing rubber bouncy balls behind the “cubbies”, and my determination to beat Derik Early at owning all of the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys for show-and-tell.

As an aside, my mom met Derik’s grandmother, Judy, and would routinely chat in the hallway as they waited for class to end. I remember them calling sometimes, too, and like to think they had a pretty casual friendship. I don’t know if Judy is still alive or remembers much about my mom, but I’ve long wondered if she has memories of the conversations to share today.

First Grade with Mrs. Catlett

First grade was where I learned I have no patience for people who don’t gather up a lot of evidence before making decisions.

I remember taking a spelling test. I sat next to Cassie Coleman. She and I were taking our test and the paper towel dispenser started making bizarre noises. It was like someone was using it without actually using it. You know the kind: a big metal box that you pushed the heavy metal button on the front of to let you “wind” out a towel with the side crank.

The class was super quiet and this noise of the button being pressed by itself captivated me. “How is it doing that? It can’t be from the other side of the wall because that just leads to the hallway,” I wondered. Cassie, evidently, was curious, too.

Eventually, as we both sat facing this thing while the rest of the class was either really involved in spelling or dead, Mrs. Catlett spoke up.

“Cassie, Justin, put up your portfolios.”

I would learn years later that calling folders “portfolios” was borderline insane. But there sat Cassie and me, putting up our “portfolios” to serve as barriers to us cheating, evidently. All because the wall was making noises and no one seemed to care but us.

Mrs. Catlett didn’t bother getting all the evidence of what we were doing, and it has bothered me ever since.

Second Grade with Mrs. Senn

Second grade is where I learned math was completely useless and had no business cluttering up my brain.

We received our first ISTEP test this year and math was evidently not a thing I was going to do well. There it was in black and white. I scored in the 91st percentile for “Language Arts” — a process I would repeat biannualy, culminating in a 99th percentile rank in 10th grade. I was an English prodigy; the State said so.

It is also where I scored in the 60th percentile for math and would repeat biannually culminating in my lowest math score on the SATs because I would not take the SATs.

This all warranted a parent-teacher conference about how to improve my math skills. I believe flash cards must have been the weapon of choice thereafter given the speed at which they appeared in drawers across the house. This also led to third grade where…

Third Grade with Mrs. Gruesbeck

…I met my third grade teacher in the toilet paper aisle at the Clarksville Wal-Mart. It was summer and as Salem-ites are wont to do, we went to Clarksville to shop.

As we were looking at rows of Charmin, we heard “DONELLA!”

It was Mrs. Gruesbeck, who had my mother, who’s actual name was “Donna”, as a student in third grade so many years before. Like all those years before, she still couldn’t remember it was “Donna” and not “Donnela”.

After light conversation it became apparent that the student rosters had been circulated and I was placed with someone not Mrs. Gruesbeck.

Third grade is where we learned multiplication tables. Those, I was told, were of super mathematical importance. But every parent knew Mrs. Gruesbeck had a proven record of “raising scores in math” and anything less would not do. So a trip to the school later and I was placed with Mrs. Gruesbeck. Because mom’s flash cards were not going to cut it.

Turns out I can rattle off any of the multiplication tables today. It’s about the only thing I can do reliably and from memory with math.

Mrs. Gruesbeck had this weekly table test and each student was represented on the blackboard by a football helmet. I was the Packers. Jackie Hamilton was whatever the godforsaken thing she was. All I remember is that Jackie Hamilton and I blew out way in front of everyone else and it quickly became a 12-week horse race between her and I. We were tied each week, even failing to advance on the 7s, but then retrying a week later and carrying on. Eventually we’d get to the 11’s and I think she missed something that must have been a typo. I can’t imagine anyone screwing up on the 11’s. But the important thing is that I finally pulled ahead of her and beat her a week later when I completed my 12’s. It was the first and last time I’d ever win at a math competition.

I also had a strange crush on Jackie Hamilton at the time. Which is weird and would be incredibly ironic in about 8 years.

Third grade is also where I learned that my mother thought the principal at the time was a complete idiot. This came after the principal took a small group of students outside for recess. In freezing rain.

Fourth Grade with Mrs. Holsapple

Fourth grade was a lot of fun. I remember it fondly. I was in there with folks like Brian Duffy who was already very tall, Catherine Libka who made fun of my dismal math test results, and I think Bradley Nicholson, who I feel like shared a class with me every year but third grade up to this point. In retrospect, Zeb Jones was in there, too, evidently doing recon on me for fifth grade.

I would learn years later that Mrs. Holsapple’s class was the “enrichment class”. Which is a fancy way of ensuring students lacking in discipline did not get in our way. I’m not sure how I got in with my math scores, but maybe my triumphant defeat of Jackie in multiplication tables took the world by storm.

I suspect you could look at this class as the early indication from The Adults that this was the group to watch. My class was already getting a reputation for being a terrible, awful, no-good “Class from Hell”. We’d wear that moniker proudly years later at graduation, but it was cool to be known for something already.

I think 4th grade was where I met Randy Hamilton (I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong). We would be good friends for years. We also named the two swings on the playground “George” and “Clooney”. The goal each recess: swing high enough to dislodge the swing set from the ground. I’d lose a tooth to a starburst he gave me a few years later, too.

This is also the year that Andrew Armstrong completely ruined mustard for me. He put it on everything in the lunch room. Sandwiches, vegetables, fries, fruits, applesauce, even the milk. I can’t look at the yellow bottles anymore and not gag.

Fifth Grade with Mr. Crane

Mr. Crane was the first male teacher I ever had. It was different and somewhat terrifying. His booming voice was capable of overriding everything in the room.

This was the year I learned Zeb Jones would forever be my mortal enemy. And also sorta Kelsey Hunt.

Mr. Crane awarded “rubies”, which were just beads from the craft store. But each time you did something useful or good, you’d get a certain amount of rubies. Bring in a box of tissue? That’s 20 rubies. Get a good grade? That’s 50. And so on.

The top-earning boy and girl got to teach the class on the last day of school. Each taking turns with one in the morning and one in the evening.

I didn’t even care about that. I just wanted to DESTROY ZEB JONES. He leapt out in front and it was apparent he was the one to beat. I’d scrounge up rubies everywhere I could and then-some, like a squirrel in a trash can. But he still won. I was second at the end of the year, by about 100 rubies or so. Kelsey won for the girls.

I think Zeb should be investigated by the SEC, inflation-adjusted.

Mr. Crane also hosted Bradie Shrum’s annual “Grammar Gulch”, a performance (if you can call it that) where each student is assigned a role.

I was the Sheriff (LEAD ROLE! EAT IT, ZEB.) and had to arrest “the outlaws”, which included Steven Bailey, for using bad grammar. I can’t remember who else was in there, but I got to don my best flannel and Andy Griffith swagger and “arrest” people.

But what I remember most is my “deputies” (I can’t remember who they were) running around and when asked, “Are you an outlaw?” They would reply, “No, I’m an in-law.”

All I could think was, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

Thoughts on race, class, and WTF is wrong with people

A new Wal-Mart Marketplace just opened up across the street from me. If you look at the Judgmental Map of Indianapolis, you can see that I live in an area called “Laid Back Black People”, which for the most part is pretty accurate.

So it’s no surprise that the majority of the people working in this store are black. The manager is black, the cashiers are black. Some of the store workers are white, but most are black.

They wear these ugly pastel green-ish colored shirts to signify their employment. On opening day, when I needed a bag of chips to go along with a sandwich, I walked in and immediately noticed one thing: they were all wearing large and extra large shirts. They were incredibly ill-fitting. It struck me as sloppy, unkempt, and tasteless.

“Don’t get worked up, Justin. There’s a culture, there’s a style, it’s just their thing. Like kids with those dorky Bieber style haircuts that make boys look like lesbians,” I said to myself.

I get that if you’re poor new clothing is not at the top of the list of expenditures. It may look old, dated, or not “new”. That’s fine — totally just doing what’s best for you. I don’t shop at Hollister either. But see, clothing has these little labels. They have sizes. And stores, even Goodwill, has lots of clothes in lots of sizes. So no matter what your race, I do not understand people who wear t-shirts that are two sizes too large.

If you were wearing a suit it’s the difference in saying to the world, “I have a career” and “I have a court date” with a bunch of wrinkled jeans and baggy shoulders. Maybe that’s “white culture”, but I think any rational look would point to that being “having gainful employment”. There are rules and we have to play by them. I don’t like wearing a suit, but if I wanted a job in a downtown tower making $90,000 a year, I’d get a damn suit that fit and made me look like I give a damn, even if I didn’t.

But there are a lot of things I can’t wrap my brain around. Things like why people smoke, drink in excess, or Lady Gaga.

If you’re under the age of 35 and you smoke, I can’t understand why. I will never understand why. Because it seems incredibly straightforward to me that you have received immense amounts of education and understanding about smoking and yet you still do it. As a result I will probably look down upon you in some way. I just do. I don’t think there should be any laws against smoking, you can do whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions.

It’s like if you have a tattoo of a spider on your face, it will probably impact my opinions about you in whether I do business with you, talk to you, hire you, etc. People with tattoos of spiders on their face do not get to be in the boardroom. Well, you may be cleaning the boardroom after everyone else has left, but you will not be running the room. Sure, there’s probably some hipster indie bullshit shop out there where you can prove me wrong, but the CEOs of America’s biggest companies do not have a spider on their face.

But there have been a few things that have been bugging me lately all in light of recent Ferguson, MO developments. They deal with race, class, and just not understanding people. I was curious whether black people commit murder at a higher rate than white people or other races. Turns out, they totally do:

The department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics report offers a snapshot of racial disparities among violent crime victims. Black people represented an estimated 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2005, the latest data available, but were the victims of 49 percent of all murders and 15 percent of rapes, assaults and other nonfatal violent crimes nationwide. Most of the black murder victims — 93 percent — were killed by other black people, the study found. About 85 percent of white victims were slain by other white people

So white people commit more murders because, obviously, there are more white people. But per capita, black communities clearly have a problem. And this is what white people just can’t understand. Those of us not committing murder just can’t wrap our brains around this.

It’s like a little kid who is about to touch a hot stove. “Don’t touch it, it’s hot,” you say but the kid does it anyway. “Don’t murder people, that’s not cool,” you say, but there people go. I don’t get it — no amount of poverty or discrimination makes me think that murder is ever the way to go.

I’m a gay man, so I’m aware of cultural discrimination. I just shut up about it. I don’t have to walk into a meeting and say, “Hey I’m Justin, gay, and here to help you with your website.” Doesn’t really work that way, and it doesn’t matter. Yes, I get that black people are visibly black, but a lot of gay men are clearly gay, so it’s not all lost.

It’s the label we’re all hung up on, partly because the government and everyone else is so fixated on “getting numbers” about literally everything. Point is I just don’t think you can “explain away” the violent crimes that are committed in the black community.

Black people totally get the short end of the stick on a lot of things. I get that economic opportunities are lower, pay is lower, stereotypes are rough to shake, the police aren’t really on your side, probably because it’s hard to get a good education and get a break. But you can’t tell me you had to commit murder today because you had to eat.

And when situations like Ferguson happen and we see looting and theft and battery and assaults, I hope to goodness it’s just bad reporting. That it’s a media bias covering a store not in a biased way, but because it’s happening, and the looting and rampaging is just part of the story that trumps the peaceful protests.

But there are some things that just don’t translate. So looting happens in Ferguson, but I think we can all agree that absolutely would not ever happen in Carmel in any circumstance except nuclear holocaust. “Oh, well, there’s a big income disparity.” Okay, so looting happens in Ferguson, but can anyone honestly say that would happen under similar circumstances in Salem, Indiana? In Shelbyville? Maybe?

It’s as if the logic is straight from middle school. “I’m mad at my teacher so I’m going to go break this window at the hardware store.”

It just seems very simple to me, and I think most of us, no matter where we grew up. Indianapolis’ crime problem (and any inner-city) has always puzzled me because compared to my upbringing, I’m just sorta flabbergasted. There are museums, libraries filled with literally everything, and things to do a bus ride away. $1.75 gets you from 30th street to downtown. In Salem I remember playing with sticks. There was no library for my taxing district, there was no transportation, and there were no people around to play with.

People in rural communities have just as much trouble with meth and drugs (my old neighbor holds the record for Indiana’s largest marijuana growing operation bust) and lack of parents and access to higher education as anyone in Ferguson, and to my knowledge there’s never been any looting in Salem.

I have no idea how to fix any of these problems. I almost believe you, me, or “the government” can’t fix them. It seems apparently entirely cultural — for the majority and the minority — but that could be part of the solution. Stop referring to people in groups and just call them “people”. No more “black”, “Mexican”, “white”, or “gay” labels. Just people.

The rest is on you as an individual. The police are just there to protect private property. And I imagine if there were a riot outside my house or even down the street from my house or business I’d want the police to exercise every imaginable bit of reasonable force to keep my stuff safe, because that’s what the government is there for.

We’ll have to see how the investigation shakes out and whether the police were inept or wrong, but it doesn’t excuse the actions of a lot of people, white and black.