Martyrdom, Anyone?

September 21st, 2017

“We have to be ready to die for the rights of others!”

Aaron Eick said that yesterday, or something very similar to it. This is not an exact quote.

Aaron is a teacher at Horlick High School in Racine, and he is a labor organizer. Aaron has dark, curly hair and dark, piercing eyes. He was speaking to us, a small group of people, standing in front of the office of Congressman Paul Ryan in Racine. We were all there with Voces de la Frontera, to demonstrate for the rights of DACA recipients. Aaron had started talking about DACA, and then he gave everybody a quick history of the struggle for workers/immigrants rights in the twentieth century. As he spoke, Aaron got increasingly passionate, and he ended at a fever pitch. That is when he suggested that we might have to sacrifice our lives for justice.

The immediate reaction in my mind to Aaron’s words was: “Who the fuck are we?!” I don’t remember signing up for for martyrdom.

In a way, Aaron’s words sounded a bit excessive. It is never wise to talk about death in a overly dramatic way. His comments seemed a little over the top because at this time, and in this place, we are not risking our lives for our beliefs. America isn’t Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Not yet. 

I could be wrong. Remember Heather Heyer? She was the woman who died in Charlottesville last month when some right-wing fanatic ran her over with his car. She was a martyr. She died for her beliefs. It’s hard to tell if her death was a fluke or a harbinger of the future. Her death does bring up the question of what risks we run if we fight for our beliefs.

Valeria and Jose spoke before Aaron talked to us. Valeria and Jose are young people who are both DACA recipients, and they have justifiable fears about what might happen in six months when DACA is no more. These two came here to the United States from Mexico as very small children, and they do not know any other country besides the U.S. Because they are undocumented, they could possibly be deported back to Mexico, a land that is foreign to them. Their lives could be destroyed because of a draconian American immigration policy. This is scary stuff.

So, would I be willing to die for Valeria and Jose? That question ran through my head as Aaron spoke. I really don’t know. I’m not going to promise people something that I may not be able to deliver.

Being raised as a Catholic, I am familiar with the stories of the Christian martyrs. The stories all show the martyrs as being bold and fearless defenders of the faith. In stain glass windows, they always look noble and brave. I wonder if they were all like that. We only have the stories of the martyrs who had good PR. Were they all courageous to the end? Or did some go to their deaths in fear and trembling? Or did some of them look into the eyes of their killers, smirk, and say, “Fuck you, Asshole.” I don’t know what I would do, but I can imagine myself as being one of the smirkers.

There is no shortage of martyrs in our time. I don’t think that any of them sought out that particular career path. I don’t think that Martin Luther King or Malcolm X looked forward to stopping a bullet. I don’t think that Bishop Oscar Romero hoped for a martyr’s crown. I don’t think that Franz Jagerstatter or Dietrich Bonhoeffer ever dreamed of dying in a Nazi prison. They got caught up in events. They may have expected to die, but I don’t believe that they desired it.

Martyrs are by nature gamblers, risk takers. Even though the odds are against them, they still roll the dice and hope that they can live and work another day. They do it because the struggle is worth the risk. I think of Sophie Scholl and the Weisse Rose in Germany in 1942. They knew that they probably would die for fighting against the Nazis, but they also knew that they could do better work if they stayed alive. They didn’t want to get caught, but they pushed their luck as far as they could. Nobody wants to end up in a konzentrationslager or a gulag.

How does a person get to the point where they are willing to risk their lives for another person? I’m not sure. Maybe for some people it is intuitive, and it happens in a flash. I suspect that it might also be a slow, incremental process. A person may gradually become used to the idea of taking certain risks. Maybe, at some point the possibility of dying even becomes acceptable.

I look back on my own history of being an activist. I went to my first demonstration probably in 2001, when people were protesting against the execution of Timothy McVeigh. After that, I became more involved with protests. I wrote articles and letters.  I gradually got deeper and deeper into it. I went on peace walks that lasted two weeks. I tentatively stepped out of my comfort zone.

For many years I avoided getting arrested. I didn’t want to cross that line, not until this year. In April I took the plunge and I got busted for civil disobedience in Nevada. It was an in-the-moment decision. No prior planning there. It stung a little, but the experience didn’t actually cost me much. I saw and heard quite a bit. Did I learn my lesson? The cops would probably say “no”, because now I am more willing to be arrested for a cause. I crossed a threshold, and there really isn’t any turning back. I’m not a virgin any more.

Before I left home yesterday to go to the demonstration in Racine, I told my wife, Karin, that I was going. I told her about Voces and the DACA protest.

Karin nodded slowly. She was watching Netflix and knitting, and she didn’t even look up when I told her.

I put on my sandals and walked to the front door.

I yelled to her, “I’m going now!”

She replied from the bedroom, “Don’t get arrested!”

The new normal.

 

 

 

Stadtbummeln

August 11th, 2017

Karin and I were making a “Stadtbummeln”. Roughly translated from the German, that means taking a “city stroll”, or in our case it meant “wandering around aimlessly in a strange town”. Karin and I were spending the morning slowly exploring the Uptown district of the north side of Chicago. We used to make a lot of “Stadtbummeln” back when we were dating in Germany. Now, on our 33rd wedding anniversary, it felt good to do it again.

Karin and I had stayed overnight at the home of Voices for Creative Non-violence. Voices rents the upper floor of a house on Argyle Street. They use most of it as an office for their peace activist work. There are three bedrooms on the floor. There is also a large attic loft, which has a couple more beds. Sometimes there are only a few people at Voices; sometimes the place is packed. The Veterans for Peace Conference was happening that week in Chicago, so the house was full of people who wanted to attend the meeting. Generally, there are only a few regulars staying on Argyle street. Kathy Kelly lives there, when she isn’t flying to Afghanistan, or attending a rally, or doing time some place. Otherwise, people tend to drift in and out. Voices has a large transient population.

Karin and I got up early that morning, and we walked from Argyle Street to our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on the corner of Ashland and Wilson. We went to Mass there. Oddly enough, there was another couple in the church who were celebrating an anniversary. These two people had seventy-one years together. That was kind of overwhelming. I have trouble imagining living for seventy-one years, much less being married for that length of time.

The joy of making a Stadtbummeln lies in its inherent unpredictability.  A person tends to go places and do things that are unexpected. Karin and I had made tentative plans for our exploration of Chicago, but they changed as soon as we left the church. I had intended to show Karin the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple that was right across the street from the Our lady of Lourdes. Karin had asked to see it. However, once Mass was over, Karin realized that she was hungry and that we should find a coffee shop ASAP. We went in search of a cafe.

I told Karin about a nice, cozy coffee shop nearby. I had spent some time in there during my last visit to Chicago. We walked east for several blocks on Wilson and never found the place. Apparently, it was on a street running parallel to Wilson, but I couldn’t remember exactly where. Looking around, we spied another cafe on the other side of the street. We crossed Wilson and entered the Emerald City. It was kind of artsy, and obviously an independent operation. They had excellent breakfast burritos.

From the Emerald City we got back on Wilson and walked all the way to the lakefront. We came upon the heavy stones that make up the barrier wall near the beach. Karin went down to the water. I watched people running their dogs along the sand. Karin came back with the hem of her skirt soaked with water from Lake Michigan. She had waded in just a little too far.

We sat together on the stones for a while. We felt the sun and the wind. Karin said to me,

“It’s about seven o’clock in Germany. On our wedding day, we were having our first dance at this time during the reception in Markelsheim.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

Karin smiled. “Should we dance a waltz?”

I shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

We both got up and danced on the beach, something slow and melodic from Strauss playing in our heads and guiding our movements. I was never much of a dancer, and I had forgotten how to waltz. Karin helped me to remember. When the dance was over, we brushed the sand from our feet and walked through the park. Karin scored a coconut Popsicle from a Mexican vendor during our travels.

We walked from the park west to Broadway, and then we headed north. We were making our way back to Argyle Street. Where Broadway crosses Argyle is the Vietnamese neighborhood. The area has small, family-run groceries, Pho restaurants, Asian banks, and the ubiquitous nail shops. It seems like everybody smokes there.

Karin wanted to check out a Vietnamese supermarket. As we walked to the entrance, we were accosted by a Buddhist monk. The man was short and squat, with a shaved head. He smiled broadly. He wore saffron-colored jacket and pants, and he had an orange cloth draped over his shoulder. I am guessing that he was a monk from Southeast Asia, but I’m not sure. Buddhism has a lot of flavors.

He stopped me and asked, “Do you know Buddha?”

“I know a little about him.”

The man had a thick accent. “Do you want picture of Buddha?”

“No, not really, but thank you.”

He pointed at his van. “I have many pictures. You take one.”

The guy had an old van that was packed to the roof with pictures and posters. They all seemed to have Buddhist themes. They were also remarkably tacky. His pictures of the Buddha were the artistic equivalents of portraits of Jesus that are painted on black velvet backgrounds. I had trouble imagining us displaying one of his pictures in our home.

The guy got excited. “You must know the truth! We know that we all die soon! We have no time to lose!”

“Yeah, okay…”

“Drop your anger! Lose your desire and attachment! That is what Buddha say!”

“Yes, right, of course…”

“We must break free from suffering!”

“Hey, uh, my wife wants to look in the store. Thanks for sharing with us.”

Then I asked his name.

“You call me ‘Monk’!” My name not important. All things transient!”

I offered to shake his hand, but he said, “No! No! We don’t shake hands! We do THIS!”

He put his palms together and bowed slightly. Gassho. Karin and I did the same.

We walked swiftly into the store.

The store was full of the exotic: tiny Confucian shrines, oddly shaped pots and pans, unidentifiable types of seafood, an infinite variety of noodles, small mechanical cats that waved and smiled at me. Karin bought some dragon fruit and some soap. We got some incense for Stefan.

Karin and I exited the store. Karin turned to me and said,

“Look behind you.”

Bad vibes. I turned slowly to see Monk eagerly waving at me, beckoning me to return. We walked back toward him.

Monk held up a paper towel and smiled at me. He loudly blew his nose into the towel and dropped it on to the pavement.

“You see? You see what I do?! You must let go of your anger, just like I let go of the rag!”

“Cool.”

“Look! Look here! You see picture? You go do meditation?”

“Yes…”

He grinned. “You take picture to meditation hall! I make it just for you!”

“I don’t think so.”

Monk was perplexed, and appeared to be slightly hurt. “But, I make it just for you.”

“Sorry. I just can’t. Thank you.”

I put my hands together and made gassho. Karin quickly did the same. Monk bowed to us.

Karin and I walked away rapidly. We did not dare to take a backward glance. I had never experienced a Buddhist hard sell before. The guy was pushing the Dharma like he selling me a used Pontiac with high mileage. It was somehow deeply disturbing. It felt so wrong. We didn’t want to visit the temple any more. It would have been a let down.

 

 

 

 

 

Beeswax Candles

Early December, 2007

This story is from almost ten years ago. Hans was twenty years old, and he had just recently moved to Texas to seek his fortune. Hannah was in the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. Stefan was an eighth grader at the Waldorf School. At this point, many things were still in the future and unknown. Hans had not yet gone to war. Hannah had not yet attempted suicide. Stefan was dreaming of becoming a chef, rather than the welder that he is now. The people in this story may or may not even exist any more. If they do, they have changed. I have changed.

There was a feeling of innocence then. Perhaps, it is worth remembering…

Snow was falling outside of the classroom window; big, wet flakes swirling in the breeze. The classroom itself was very warm, and it smelt strongly of beeswax. There was a table set up in the middle of the classroom. It held several pots full of melted wax. Near the door was a rack full of strings to be used as wicks. The room was part of the Waldorf school’s holiday fair. I was there to help people make their own beeswax candles as part of the fundraiser. Anybody could come inside and make themselves a candle for two bucks a pop. The room was full of noisy children and harried parents.

The candlemaking took place at the Tamarack Waldorf School on Brady Street. Our youngest son, Stefan, was going to school there at the time. When Hans, our oldest son, was small he had also attended a Waldorf school for a while, and we had been part of the holiday fairs at that time. Hannah went to Tamarack too, and we went to fairs with her. The fairs tend to be big on magic, myth, and mystery. You have to be a bit of a dreamer to appreciate them. You also need a high tolerance for chaos.

As I looked around the room, I saw a little boy who seemed a bit forlorn. He had a shock of blond hair, and he had a string in his hand. He was clearly too small to reach the pots of molten wax, and he didn’t know what to do. I saw his mother sitting nearby, and I asked her if I could hold her son to help him make his candle.

The boy looked at me, and then he looked at his mother and asked, “Darf ich ?”. That is “May I?” in German. The mother replied to him, “Mach’ nur.” ( Go ahead ). I remembered years ago when Karin and I had spoken German with Hans. Hans was about the same age as this boy when we did that. The mother smiled at us, and I picked up the young man and set him on my right hip.

We walked around and around the table, repeatedly dipping the wick and watching the candle grow ever thicker. I spoke to the boy as we made our way from pot to pot.

“Wie heisst Du?” (What is you name?)

“Ich heisse Louis.” (I am called Louis.)

“Wie alt bist Du?” (How old are you?)

“Ich bin drei.” (I am three.) He said this as he held up three tiny fingers.

 

Louis grew tired as we walked and walked (candlemaking takes a while). He rested his head on my shoulder, and I could smell his hair. He had that “clean-little-boy” smell that told me that his mother had spent some time getting him ready for the fair. At last the candle was complete and Louis ran to his mother, proudly showing her his oddly-shaped candle.

I walked away and a moment later I felt a tug on my pants leg. Louis looked up at me with bright eyes and said, “Ich wille noch mal!” (I want to do it again!). So, I picked up the lad and we started again. I was out of practice holding little boys on my hip. Either Louis got heavier or I got tired, but eventually I had to put him down. He ran to his mother to show her his new candle.

I felt hollow as he ran off. I suddenly realized that I had been holding somebody else’s little boy. This was Louis, not Hans. My little boy was long gone, and he would never come back again. There was a young man in Texas using his name, and that young man was already thinking about joining the Army, although I didn’t know it yet.

I turned to look out the window. My eyes burned. It was still snowing, but the snowflakes were all blurry. The windows must have fogged up.

 

 

HaShem is at the VA

September 6th, 2017

“The extreme limit of wisdom, that’s what the public calls madness.” – Jean Cocteau

Another night at the VA hospital. I arrived there just before 6:30. Sister Ann Catherine and Brian were already there. So was Jim. He’s a retired Milwaukee cop, and an all-around decent guy. They had a wheelchair filled with food and drink. Sister A.C. pushed the wheelchair to the elevator and we went up to the third floor. We passed through the two sets of doors to the psych ward. (There are two sets of doors to prevent people eloping, i.e. escaping, from there). Once we signed in, we set up our snacks in the break room. I set out plates of grapes. Jim got the sodas and ice ready. Sister A.C. laid out boxes of doughnuts and cookies. Jim gave me some plastic bowls for popcorn.

Gradually, patients shuffled into to the room. That’s what they do: they shuffle. I don’t know if it’s because of age, or infirmity, or because they are all wearing socks, but that’s what they do. Nobody walks with a purpose, maybe because nobody really has one in this place. They come slowly into the break room, wearing their pajamas and white bathrobes. All dressed up with nowhere to go.

Somebody put the Brewers game on the TV.  The vets grabbed their snacks and sat down. Some of them sat at a table with Brian and Sister to play cards. I spied out a guy who sitting off by himself, and I went over to talk with him.

“Hi, I’m Frank,” and I held out my hand.

The vet looked up at me nervously, and shook my hand.

He said, “I’m Richard.” He paused for a moment, and said, “I have a drinking problem.”

This man was definitely in the right place.

We went through the usual introductory questions. I asked him, “What branch were you in?”, and “When did you serve?”. There is kind of ritual to it. We had to feel each other out.

Richard stared at me and asked, “So, are you a patient too?”

“Uh, no. I help bring the snacks.” This was not the first time that a veteran has asked me if I belonged in the psych ward. Apparently, I look like I should be there. I’m not quite sure how to feel about that.

Richard told me his story in great detail. I listened. He had been working a job with an abusive boss. Richard told me that he left the job over a year ago. It wasn’t clear to me how he left. I asked him,

“Did you get fired, or did you quit?”

Richard looked perplexed. “I didn’t really quit. I took some vacation, and I went to Aruba. I really didn’t want to work there any more. Then I went to Peru. My boss just wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept calling me, and nagging me about coming back. I went to Brazil.”

“That sounds to me like you quit.”

Richard shrugged. “I came back here from Thailand, and I was staying in a motel. I just wanted to drink. I decided that it wasn’t working with me drinking a bottle of whiskey and ten beers every day.”

“No, that’s not a good way to live long term. How long have you been here?”

Richard told me, “Today. I got into the hospital after noon, and I’ve been on this floor since five or so.”

“How long do you think you’ll stay?”

Richard looked at me and said, “I don’t know…maybe three or four days. Then I should get into the dom, you know, the domiciliary.”

The dom.  The guys in the ward talk about the domiciliary like it’s the Promised Land. I’ve never been in the place. I would be curious to see it. It’s a transitional living space on the VA campus. Richard spoke of it with wistfulness in his voice, like: “Once I get in the dom, things will be okay.” God, I hope so.

Jim, the retired cop, asked me about my daughter. I told him about Hannah having a relapse. We talked about drugs. We talked about depression. We talked about the fact that Hannah had been clean for six months, and that it was impressive.

A voice interrupted our discussion.

“I could not help but to overhear your conversation about your daughter. How old is she?”

“Twenty-six”, I replied.

The man who spoke was elderly. He was sitting alone at the next table. He had a short white beard, and longer white hair. He had full lips and a Roman nose. The man’s eyes were large and intense. He wore a black skullcap, which was slightly askew on his head. He wore a silver ring with a Star of David on his right hand. He had been nibbling on a chocolate cupcake.

The two of us talked for a while. He asked me more about Hannah. He was genuinely concerned. He told me that he had a bipolar condition, and that he had recently experienced a manic episode. That was the reason for him being in the ward and sitting across from me at the table.  He gave me his history, and I told him about how Karin and I were dealing with Hannah’s struggles. I listened to him explain what he had all learned over the years.

I said to the man, “I wonder why we have to suffer these things.”

He shrugged and said, “Sometimes God is angry with us.”

I replied, “That’s okay. Sometimes I’m angry with Him.”

The old man laughed. He straightened his yarmulke.

I told him, “Some weekends I go Lake Park Synagogue. You know where that is?”

He smiled and nodded.

“Do you ever go there?”

Still smiling, he shook his head and said, “No, I’m with Lubavitch!”

It was time to leave. I stood up and extended my hand to him, and said, “I have to go now. Thank you.”

He remained seated. He grasped my hand tightly in both of his. Then he gently kissed it.

I felt like crying. Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hustling for Loose Change

September 5th, 2017

Every Wednesday evening, after I teach a citizenship class at Voces de la Frontera, I get on to I-94 at the on ramp at the corner of 5th Street and Lapham on Milwaukee’s south side. There is a traffic light at the intersection, and I always have to wait for a green light. It’s a gritty part of town, and it houses a mostly working class, Latino population. St. Stanislaus Church is a block away. Its twin, golden steeples glow in the twilight. The church is a reminder of years gone by, when this neighborhood was completely Polish, and somewhat more prosperous.

There used to be a sign on the light pole at the corner that said, “No Panhandling”. There has almost always been somebody standing directly under that sign, doing exactly that. Some person stands there and hustles loose change from the drivers waiting at the light. I have to admire the chutzpah, and somehow I enjoy the irony.

The hustlers come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe they take turns. Sometimes there is a woman there, sometimes a guy. They might be white or black or Latino. Young or old. That corner is only empty if the weather is truly terrible.

They always carry a cardboard sign. Always. I don’t think that people ever really look at what is scrawled across the cardboard. Usually, it says something like: “Homeless vet”. It probably doesn’t matter what is written there. Somebody could write: “Please help! I am a lost Klingon!”, and the effect would be the same. Personally, I would like to see a sign that says, “Need money for vodka.” The honesty would be refreshing.

I try to have some cash with me on Wednesday nights. I know that there are all sorts of excellent arguments against giving money to panhandlers. I just look at these people, and I see suffering. Begging for money on a dirty street corner is a lousy gig. I don’t know how these folks got there, but they are hurting. It’s that simple.

Last Wednesday there was young man on crutches on the corner. His left leg was in a cast that went from his foot to his knee. He looked rough. He hadn’t shaved for a while, and he had bruises on his face. However, he had his cardboard sign.

The light turned red just as I pulled up to the intersection. I called to the guy. He limped slowly over to my car. I pulled some singles out of my wallet. I put the money into his hand, and asked him his name.

“Chris”, he said. He was grimacing as he tried to walk with the crutches.

“How are you?” I asked. I already knew the answer to that.

“Not good at all, Man.”

“What happened?”

“I got mugged last night. Some fucker hit me with a golf club. Then he broke into my car. He took my blankets and my clothes. Fuck. I got no place to stay now.” He didn’t look at me while he talked. He was staring into the distance.

A couple cars pulled behind me at the intersection. The light suddenly turned green.

“Hey, I got to go. Take care of yourself.”

He glanced at me. “Yeah, you too. Thanks.”

I shifted into first gear and took off.

 

 

 

Have A Heart

September 5th, 2017

My family has a history of heart disease. My dad’s father had a chest grabber while mowing his lawn back in August of 1971. The mailman found him face down in the backyard later that day. My dad has had two heart attacks and a quadruple bypass. His younger brothers have both had work done on their cardiovascular plumbing. This is the sort of thing that should give me pause, especially as I am approaching my 60th birthday. However, thus far my blood pressure and cholesterol have been good, so I don’t care that much.

However, our younger son, Stefan, likes to keep me straight. He tends to comment on my eating habits. Here is a sample conversation:

Stefan: “You making a sandwich?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Stefan: “You got enough butter on that?”

“Maybe”.

“I’m going in the refrigerator. I could grab you another stick.”

“That’s okay, but if you are going in the fridge, could you get me the Miracle Whip?”

“You’re going to put Miracle Whip on there TOO?”

“Yeah, why not?”

Eye roll. “Never mind. You know, there are other food groups besides meat, cheese, bread, and butter.”

“That’s what I’ve heard. I did have a pickle.”

Another eye roll. “Do you have enough bread to hold that thing all together?”

“Yes. Bread is simply a vehicle for the other stuff.”

“Is your heart pounding yet?”

“No, I have to eat this first.”

“Enjoy.”

 

 

 

Looking at It from the Left

September 4th, 2017

Events move too quickly. Just a couple weeks ago, people seemed deeply concerned with the violence at Charlottesville. Now, the nation is looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea, and the frightening prospect of Kate Middleton and Prince William having yet another child. Madness, utter madness.

I’m kind of slow at this sort of thing. I ruminate and mull things over stuff for a while before I take any action. That usually puts me at least two weeks behind the news cycle. So, I am still lingering in Charlottesville. Specifically, I am intrigued by the “Antifa”, the anti-fascists. These are the people who want to battle against the Neo-Nazis, and appear to be hopeless romantics. These are the people that the talking heads at Fox News grimly point out as being left-wing thugs when they want to divert attention from the right-wing thugs. These are the people that the Left would prefer to officially ignore, while perhaps secretly applauding their actions.

The Antifa don’t advertise much. I did a brief scan of the Internet, and found that these folks generally keep a low profile, except in the instances when they decide to raise some hell in the streets. They love to out people who they have branded as fascists. Neo-Nazis can expect to have very little privacy. There is no hiding in this modern age.

In the course of my research, I contacted the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World). It is difficult to get further to the left than these people. I have met them at rallies in the past, and they usually come with their red and black flags, looking all serious and shit. The truth is that they are sincere. and they look forward to the Revolution, whatever that is and whenever that may happen. I admire that sort of commitment, mostly because I don’t have it. Their hearts are in the right places.

Last Wednesday I had lunch with a guy named John. He’s with the I.W.W. We met at the Fuel Café on the south side of Milwaukee. The original Fuel Café is the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. It is old, and it has a gritty, working class feel to it. Most people there seem to be living on the edge. The employees there play whatever music appeals to them. The boys who sit on the sidewalk out front, they are all in some sort of recovery, and they indulge in the last acceptable addictions: caffeine and nicotine. However, the new café on the south side, the Latino area, has a very hipster vibe. It’s just not the same. As our youngest son, Stefan, told me, “It’s hard to make a brand new place look grungy and old.” Sad, but true. I prefer grungy and old. It feels real to me.

I had expected to just have coffee with John. He planned on eating lunch. John offered to buy lunch for me, but I stuck with my black coffee. I was probably being rude, but I wound up eating some of his lunch anyway. Fuel has some very good meals, at least at the south side location. John ordered a beet and goat cheese salad. He offered me some of it. It was good. He also ordered a salad with smoked trout. He offered me some of that too. It rocked. Even revolutionaries get to eat well.

John is a big guy. He looks like a boxer. I am guessing that somebody rearranged his nose at some point in his life. He’s about ten years older than me. He told me that he has spent the last fifty years working as an organizer. He loves that sort of thing, which is why we had lunch together. John is not an ideologue. He is interested in doing. So am I.

John is from Nyack, New York. That really isn’t very far from where I went to school. I graduated from West Point, and I mentioned that to John. He wasn’t that surprised. I suspect that very little surprises him any more. John told me his history. It’s quite interesting. I told him mine. We ate smoked trout.

At one point John paused in his meal. He asked me, “So why are you interested in the I.W.W.?”

I told him, “I have been reading about the Antifa. I want to know if you guys wear ski masks and torch Starbucks.”

John looked at me and said, “Well, generally not. We don’t usually operate like that. That does not mean that it’s impossible that specific individuals in the organization might decide to engage in that sort of behavior.”

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I see.”

John is not the kind of guy to start dumpster fires or beat up people. He’s old, like I am. He is passionate about certain topics, as I am. We talked a lot about immigrants. Back when John was is in Nyack, he helped to protect a Salvadoran family that was threatened with deportation. He, and forty other people, made that particular ICE action very public and very uncomfortable for the government. John and I talked about the possibility that it may soon get to the point where we need to hide people. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Anne Frank story.

John and I agree on a number of things. Mostly, we agree that it’s best to do something, and stop talking shit. I like that. I really hope to be able to work with John in the future. He, and the I.W.W., know that I care about immigrants and vets. Anything that has to do with those two issues is interesting for me.

I didn’t get to meet an anti-fascist. I’m not sure that I want to.