Arianna Huffington: Get 16-Year-Old Kylie Jenner’s Bikini Selfie (And The Rest Of The Kardashians) Off Your Website

My dearest Arianna,

First off, I’m a big fan of yours.

Since its launch on May 9, 2005, The Huffington Post has served as a phenomenal news aggregation service. For some, your website is like a Democratic (read: reality-biased) version of The Drudge Report, culling blogs, articles, columns and breaking news into an accessible and efficient variety of any type of news our on-demand culture requires. You’re really quite something when it comes to giving us political junkies what we want.

Your site isn’t perfect (because we can’t all be 4chan), but for progressives like myself, I can’t think of a better way to start my Sundays than with Jason Linkins’ breakdown of the Sunday news shows, followed by links to the major newspaper columns of the week, and a look ahead at the stories breaking in the days ahead.

Really. You’re quite something.

You, in particular, have been on the forefront of civil rights news, climate change, LGBT stories and thoroughly-researched rebuttals of easily disprovable Republican talking points for decades now. Your blogs are followed by millions around the world, facilitating HuffPo’s growth into Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and more. Your opinion is one of the most influential among progressives and conservatives alike, and few media moguls have garnered as much respect as you have over the years.

Your site was also the first commercial digital media service to win a Pulitzer Prize, thanks to “Beyond The Battlefield,” David Wood’s fantastic reporting on the physical and emotional challenges faced by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

You’ve done quite a bit of good around the world for journalism, civil rights, and ethics in media.


I think today of all days is the best time to bring this up, considering the Supreme Court today decided that corporations are a bit closer to being considered people. The 5-4 decision protecting Hobby Lobby’s right to restrict contraception coverage for its employees will dominate the news for the next week, as the Supreme Court recesses until October.

Mandated contraceptive coverage, though supported by a majority of Americans, was dealt a serious blow, but this news will dominate every sector of traditional media for the next few days.

You know what won’t? A 16-year-old girl’s bikini selfie.

That’s right. Just under the story about the Supreme Court delivering the first of two controversial decisions, my HuffPo app for Android decided to let me know that one of the most famous pieces of jailbait in the world put on a bikini in June, took a picture, and posted it online. The story wasn’t without news, as I learned that Kylie Jenner has 9.8 million followers on Instagram. And I learned that she’s 16 years old.


You’re better than this smut, Arianna.

You speak about women’s rights more eloquently than most. Yet the site that bears your name has more stories about Kylie Jenner (54,700+ search results) than contraception (33,000+ search results). Do the search yourself. If you combine each individual member of the Kardashian clan, the number of search results reaches the millions (in no small part thanks to the ABSURD amount of coverage your site gave to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding).

My point is the Kardashians are not as ubiquitous as your site makes them out to be. Yet every American is or knows someone directly affected by decisions governing birth control and contraception. Even if the opinion is in line with Hobby Lobby supporters and right-wing radio hosts, those opinions comprise one of the most important conversations our country needs to be having, along with crucial debates on climate change, immigration, jobs, Iraq and Afghanistan, and so many others.

And yet somehow, inevitably, I’m being offered a slideshow of “Kim Kardashian’s 32 Hottest Moments.” I get headlines like “Kylie Jenner Does NOT Look 16 Years Old” and “Khloe Kardashian Dons Daisy Dukes, Thigh-High Boots For Rick Ross Concert.”

Stop dumbing it down/horning it up for your audience, Arianna.

Whenever you speak on television, in print, on your blog, or anywhere else, about empowering women, about standing up for women’s issues, or anything along the lines of “women deserve more rights,” remember that you run a website that focuses way too much attention on a privileged group of socialites that already have TMZ, Access Hollywood, The Insider, Entertainment Tonight, and (oh yeah) THE ENTIRE REST OF THE INTERNET to put it out there that they wore something, went to a music show, got into a bikini during the summertime, or tweeted something.

Quite frankly, Arianna, you ought to be disgusted and repulsed as a mother. Just because Kris Jenner appears to have little to no control over her children, does not make it okay to be de facto endorsing said bad parenting.

Whenever you speak out on women’s rights, I’d like you to remember that you’re helping dumb us down with these “stories” on the website with YOUR name. Your website (whether you know it or not) is objectifying women when it promotes 16-year-old cleavage pictures and “stories” about famous, young, and wealthy white women (I don’t see any 16-year-old bikini selfies from poor black women on HuffPo, for the record). You’re setting women back with every attempt to confuse The Huffington Post for yet another softcore porn website.  And an illegal one at that, at least until August 10, 2015, when Kylie Jenner turns 18 (see? I have Google. I can find out whatever I want on my own).

If someone wants to see a picture of an underage girl in a bikini, they should go to a source that WASN’T awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism.

Dear God.

(Wait, no.)

Dear Arianna:


(And again, huge fan.)




Introducing: A Naive Look At Both Political Parties Ahead of The 2014 Midterm Election

If Eric Cantor’s monumental loss this week is any indication, we’ve got no idea what to expect this November for the 2014 Midterm Election.

Midterms are about die-hard politicos — people who mainline CNN like the ATF is seconds away from shutting that whole thing down. Midterm elections drive the fringe left and right into a “fringe-zy”: a biennial exercise in futility, possibility, and the ever-present reminder to us simples that if you ain’t got money, you ain’t got any damn thang.

For people who check Politico’s front page before making coffee in the morning, midterm elections are ostensibly the World Cup and San Diego Comic Con put together.

The environment is different than in years past: five-and-a-half years into the presidency of the first African-American in the Oval Office, America looks like a middle school prom dance, with boys on one side, girls on the other, each riding the wall afraid to venture into the center, where everyone can see them make the inevitable fool of themselves for reaching outside of their comfort zone. Neither side is willing to be the first to step out of their comfort zone and into the middle of the arena.

Except that the first one who steps in the middle, the first to venture into the shaky no-man’s land between two prepubescent extremes, could save the day. That first poor soul could still inspire enough of both sides to come together, realize that they have a common enemy (for our dance, it’s just teachers and parent chaperones; for America, I guess we can call it stagnation), and start boogeying like there’s no tomorrow.

For those destined to ride the wall, there’s no ungodly reason to move toward the middle, hearing less of a dance atmosphere and more of the thumping bass pounding the intro video of UFC 535: Congressional Edition.

Sadly, our politics has devolved into the same flashy, money-driven circumstance that draws eyeballs to any prize fight. We won’t remember the details about whether Floyd “Money” Mayweather withstood the bout or landed some haymaker — we’re only going to remember him walking to the ring flanked by Lil’ Wayne and Justin Bieber (aka “Tunechi and the Biebs” — let me know, CBS! You need a fresh angle on cop dramas!)

The same could be said for our politics — flashy prize fights funded by billionaires and their respective companies. It’s the cult of association. It doesn’t matter that Eric Cantor could actually work with the White House on immigration reform, or that John Boehner really did aspire to be Speaker of the House since he was a child, and those tears he shed upon receiving his gavel were as genuine as our own bawling at Woody and Buzz accepting their fates.

What matters now is who was there, who was around, who we got to see, why that one guy is completely wrong, and why we decided to stop listening to them, all with spinning HD graphics and special sound effects that let you know WE HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY, RIGHT THIS SECOND, AND YOU BETTER LISTEN, BECAUSE IT HAS TO DO WITH YOUR CHILDREN.





And Benghazi, Libya, a city that 99 out of 100 Americans couldn’t locate on a map two years ago.

The hipster’s answer is to say “I don’t care, if you vote, you’ve got no right to complain,” and the like. We don’t have compulsory voting in America, but we seem to be more concerned with keeping people from the polls than getting them to the polls. Sadly, more than most registered voters stay home, deciding the circus is so far out of their control, they’d rather just go home after work (because elections happen on non-holiday Tuesdays, the ideal time to let Congress know what you think of them).

The correct answer is to give a damn. Elections matter. The country matters. Issues of national and international significance are decided every two years, and voting on the people who vote on those issues matters.

I know it’s naive. I also know it’s America. It’s still real to me, damn it.

So this summer, this space will be dedicated to spotlighting issues that arise over the next four and a half months, before we elect a Congress. This space will give the day to naivete, discussing the issues at state in November, so as to clearly figure out (1) what each side wants you to know, (2) what each side thinks of the other, (3) what’s actually happening on each side, and (4) the bottom line. You’ll be able to follow the issues using the tag #ANaiveLook. As we get closer to Election Day, the stories and issues of the day will carry more weight, so we’ll intro with a backdrop of issues and positions to get you primed for the impending news stories playing themselves out, again in flashy HD with the swishes and bells and things.

Nate Silver can give you numbers. The politicos can give you spin. I can sort through it so you don’t have to. Like it or not, the rest of the world is watching.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be one jaded-ass summer.


Firing Congress Won’t Work. We Actually Need To Hire 10,000 More Representatives.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to engage in a redress of grievances, the American public turns to the halls of Congress to decide matters of social and political importance. Lately, we’re only getting grievanced-er.

Yet today, the underlying impression of the process seems to indicate unfairness and indecency among those charged with the power to improve citizens’ lives, millions at a time.

That would be math’s cue to take center stage.

According to the latest Census, the United States population approached 314 million people in 2010, an increase of over 33 million since 2000 when the population hit 281 million. Our current population rose three and a half times in the past 100 years, growing from 92 million in 1910.

We’ve gone from 92 million citizens to 314 million citizens, from telegrams to Instagram, and from hula hoops to Hulu loops. Our president has gone from being the leader of “The Land of the Free” to “Leader of the Free World.” America is the most powerful, wealthiest, and most advanced superpower in human history.

And yet since 1912, only 435 people are elected to the United States House of Representatives every two years.

Opinions on the U.S. Senate’s size heat up quickly, as many argue that a state as vast and populous as California should not have the same representation as Wyoming in a federal body. After all, over 38 million people live in California, whereas only 571,000 people live in Wyoming. If population were taken into account, one could argue that Wyoming’s two U.S. senators hold exactly 66 times as much influence as the two senators from California. But the U.S. Constitution mandates that Senate seats are two to a state, and that the House be apportioned “according to population.”

In theory, House seats are apportioned according to where people live, and for the moment, we’ll ignore the blatant gerrymandering of congressional districts that occurred following the 2010 Census.

At 435 seats, the U.S. House stands at a roughly 721,839-to-1 constituent-to-representative ratio (or another way to put that, about one-and-a-quarter Wyomings). Article I, Section II, Clause III of the Constitution originally proclaimed that representation “shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand” citizens. But that clause goes on to define who a person is, and that whole “three-fifths” section needed a complete rewrite.

Fast-forward to the 1920s, when the Calvin Coolidge Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. The 1920 Census was about to force uncomfortable electoral realities for the Republican Party, who were looking at a higher rate of growth in the deep South, already full of old-school, pre-FDR shift Democrats. So the Republicans decided not to pass a Reapportionment Act (to secure their electoral position), meaning congressional representation would remain the same as from the previous act passed in 1912, which had raised the level of seats to 435.

When a new Reapportionment Act was passed in 1929, it effectively locked in the number of congressional seats, and the House hasn’t grown since, despite the tripling of our population to over 300 million. Along with the number locking in, control over the borders of each congressional district were given to the districts themselves who, in coordination with state legislatures, redraw the lines every year.

In 2010, Republicans swept to power in the same year as we counted everybody and began redrawing congressional seats according to population shifts. At least, in theory.

Today’s congressional districts average about 720,000 people per district, and yet the Bronx (exactly twice that size) has only one congressional representative sitting next to Rep. Cynthia Lummis, the only representative of the entire state of Wyoming. But if the original language of the Constitution prevailed, Rep. Lummis actually ought to have 18 other representatives hailing from the Equal Rights state, whereas the Bronx would have about 47 representatives.

If the original constitutional language were in place today for purposes of apportionment (read: If we went back to what the Founding Fathers wanted), then the U.S. House of Representatives would have 10,466 seats. This might come off as unrealistic, but maybe not, considering Americans feel like Congress is vastly out-of-touch with their needs.

When the people claim they aren’t adequately represented in Congress, they’re telling the truth. But it’s not because their representatives aren’t doing enough. It’s that Congress ought to be a lot bigger.

Fox News and CNN originally reported the Supreme Court struck down the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. Then they kept reading the Supreme Court's decision. On air.

Why quitting cable freed me from Fox News — and everyone else

I returned my cable box and disconnected my cable services. Along with the relief of a bit heavier wallet, getting rid of cable came with a built-in anti-spam filter: no more Fox News.

Bill O’Reilly is gone from my TV set, as are Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto and all five of “The Five’s” hot air balloons, punditing on the same stage Glenn Beck presented Republican talking points as puppet-based performance art. Getting rid of cable relieved me of the curiously challenging step of understanding Rupert Murdoch’s Vac-U-Spin 9000 — not that I ever came close. In fact, I never made it seven straight seconds without getting dizzy.

“But then,” you may ask, “why not just change the channel?”

Because the alternatives are worse.

What Fox News lacks in, say, being right, they make up with brilliant messaging, relentlessness, and an unflinching and infectious sense of self-righteousness. It’s OUR news. It’s OUR kind of news. It’s the news you won’t get from THEM, because they’re ALL lying to you. It works for the three million a night who tune in to O’Reilly, even if the average viewer is old enough to remember when Duke Ellington was the biggest threat to American values (and had parents who stopped their kids from hearing Duke Ellington).

Fox News will deliver the line clearly. Devilishly, hypocritically and ignorantly, for sure, but clearly.

CNN and MSNBC don’t even realize just how clearly. That’s because they’re worried about delivering “Breaking News” after finding out that they still haven’t found anything to report. When they’re not using toy planes to describe a missing airliner carrying over 200 people, or cutting away from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives discussing NSA policies to show Justin Bieber’s bond hearing, they’re just embarrassing themselves.

But it’s not their fault. They’re competing against Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Gawker and Buzzfeed. Increasingly, their “Breaking News” comes from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Gawker and Buzzfeed, with an occasional look at a Gallup Poll or New York Times piece — or what they call, “analysis.” That’s when, as filler, they look for people who shouldn’t be on TV to get on TV to say something asinine.

In journalism, reporters are taught to report the news, never to become the news. On cable television, pundits are competing with the speed of the Internet for relevancy, and are forced to spark intrigue and conflict by embodying the news of the moment, meaning their opinion was conceived and developed in the time it takes “Trending Topics” to change on Twitter. People take sides without examining the nuance, so viewers are told HOW to see the news before actually seeing the news. It’s the exact same principle behind Stewie Griffin running under Ross and Rachel across the bottom of your screen, letting you know that “Family Guy” will be on after “Friends,” and that it’s “Very Funny.”

On cable TV, ideology is a brand. Regardless if you’re “Fair and Balanced” or “Leaning Forward.”

Either cable TV can’t make the time for in-depth reporting and original content, or they’re so afraid of being behind the other networks in developing a story that they go in-depth on the wrong issues (see: Fox News’ Benghazi crusade). They’re either afraid that viewers will abandon them altogether, and are going all-in on trying to deliver news faster than a YouTube refresh, or they’re clueless as to what information viewers are looking for on any given day.

I think it’s both, but I don’t have the problem of finding. I’ll leave it to the octogenarians to keep up with breaking Bieber news, and why it’s bad for America.

Not that that was really “news.”

The GOP Has a Big Electoral Problem This Year. Hint? It’s Obamacare’s Secret Weapon.


President Obama MUST have planned it. The timing of the Affordable Care Act’s full implementation couldn’t be a coincidence.

A few Republicans are beginning to realize what’s beginning to unfold, but it’s too little, too late.

2014, President Obama declared, would be “a year of action.” Underlying his pledge is the beginning of the true strategy of ObamaCare, in that its full implementation — other than a few notable exceptions — begins in earnest this year, with the death of pre-existing conditions as enrolls new customers every day.

The Obama Administration announced that enrollments hit 4.2 million this past week, with three weeks left before the current enrollment period reaches the March 31 deadline. Millions more have obtained health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid in 31 states.

Now, the refrain from Republicans about ObamaCare is that it’s a job-killing, tax-hiking, non-functional piece of a Big Government hell bent on putting pressure on the backs of hard-working citizens who like their guns and want to keep them. Beyond the talking points, the GOP’s ideology against the Affordable Care Act is that people shouldn’t be forced to buy something they don’t want (despite the fact that this was the Republicans’ idea in the mid-90s, but that’s a post about race for another day).

Considering the only tax hikes in the bill affect those who want health insurance plans so lavish they cover Botox, considering the only jobs being “killed” would have been worked by people who no longer needed the job just for the insurance it carried, considering the website’s main bugs have been fixed and the site now works, Republicans need something else to shout in order to distract the impending story of the year.

Go back to when I wrote about millions signing up. Through Medicaid expansion and the number of enrollees on the open market, millions of people now have health insurance that didn’t.

One of them qualified under the expansion of Medicaid in his state, made appointments for a new Primary Care Provider, optometrist and dentist, saw them, had dental surgery, was prescribed and issued bifocals and has a recurring appointment to discuss his smoking cessation, diet and exercise regimens with a trained professional, ALL within a span of five weeks, ALL directly thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

One of them is still proud to be able to write those words.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, now when I watch a Lunesta commercial and the voiceover suggests I “ask MY doctor” if Lunesta is right for me, I can call MY doctor and ask her if Lunesta is right for me.

(I asked her and she said no, but I’m glad that MY doctor told me so.)

Republicans actively fighting against Obamacare underestimate how huge it is — to be able to make the leap from “the doctor” and “my doctor who keeps tabs on my health and gets to know me and my concerns.” For Republicans, ObamaCare is a job-killing whatever whatever. For me, the Affordable Care Act enables me to pay attention to my health with a doctor for the first time that isn’t prohibitively expensive.

The secret weapon?

In this election year, there are now millions of us.

Yankee Dispatch #6: Chappelle’s (non) Show

(Photo Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: The following Dispatch features language not suitable for children, the workplace, or the overly sensitive.

One night in Hartford, Connecticut, I saw something few people have actually seen, yet many claim to know how to recognize when it happens. But more on this in a little bit.

With my newly-Northern-acclimated Connecticut cousin Laurie, I drove up to Hartford to attend the Funny or Die Oddball Comedy Tour. Hartford’s Comcast Theatre (which is misspelled – “theatre” refers to the genre, while “theater” is an actual venue, but I digress) hosted the tour, featuring an outdoor freakshow, an up-and-coming comedians stage, and a duo singing songs about how big the lead singer’s breasts were. On the main stage, inside an open-air venue of 7,500 seats with a capacity of 20,000+ on the upper lawn behind the seating area, the Oddball tour featured Daily Show veterans Al Madrigal and Kristen Schaal, deadpan one-liner artist Demetri Martin, professional up-and-comer Hannibal Buress, and the previous main event, Flight of the Conchords – “previous” because Dave Chappelle joined the tour late, and as a surprise.

When the tour was announced, it seemed like a fun time, but after Chappelle signed on, Funny or Die needed more tour dates, quickly. It’s with those additional dates that Laurie and I decided to attend the Hartford, CT show, as opposed to Camden, New Jersey a week later (this coming weekend). As Hartford was closer to her, I made the trip up to CT to see one of my comedy heroes, as well as one of the more justifiable holders of the “Funniest Person on Earth” crown during Season 2 of Chappelle’s Show.

There wasn’t a single person at school the day after “Rick James” that wasn’t quoting the whole episode. You remember where you were when you saw it. Or maybe for you, it was “Prince Playing Basketball” or “The Player Haters Ball” or even “Clayton Bigsby” from the pilot. The sight of Dave Chappelle playing a blind, and black white supremacist challenged and changed comedy, choking the crowd and home audience with laughter. From “The Niggar Family” to “The Mad Real World” to “Racial Draft,” Dave Chappelle rested on the top of the hilarity world, untouched, as the undisputed king of side-splitting, controversial comedy. The country loved him, his fans adored him, and I was inspired by his laid-back attitude towards success. No less a fan was Inside the Actors’ Studio host James Lipton, who hand-picked Dave Chappelle to sit in his seat when it was time for Lipton to give us his favorite curse word.

Suffice it to say, Laurie and I bought tickets, not for the Funny or Die Oddball Tour, but for Dave Chappelle.

We arrived at Comcast Theatre to a packed crowd of well over 20,000 people anxious to see Chappelle. The Freakshow outside the theater kept asking if we were ready for Chappelle. The host of the night, “The Roastmaster General” Jeff Ross (fresh from The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco with cornrows atop his pale, sweaty head), asked if we were ready for Chappelle. The other comedians made jokes about how ready they (and we) were for Chappelle.

We were ALL ready for Chappelle.

Al Madrigal led off the night, turning the sparse crowd into his own intimate comedy club. Kristen Schaal had an off night, with jokes about being the only woman on the tour falling flat before the crowd. Hannibal Buress brought the noise, and the flashiest silver pants I’ve ever seen. Demetri Martin brought his ruthless yet effective one-liner shtick to resounding applause. At intermission, Laurie and I walked back into the main lobby for more overpriced beer. The gift stand for souvenirs featured about 20 different Flight of the Conchords T-shirts, Al Madrigal CD’s, but it was clear Chappelle arrived late to the tour, as the FOTC shirts had well-done signs promoting their brand, while the Chappelle paraphernalia was advertised on 8×11 printed paper.

So I bought a five-dollar keychain with the Chappelle’s Show logo. Five dollars. For a chain and a hook. They didn’t put bourbon in it or nothing, just the keychain.

After intermission, Flight of the Conchords took the stage, and the crowd was not only larger than before, but increasingly intoxicated. As the Australian duo performed their set, a particularly drunk young man in front of me began to make his lack of sobriety known.

I don’t follow Flight of the Conchords, I couldn’t name two of their songs, and even after listening to their set, I wasn’t sure if “Albie” is actually a song of theirs, but the gentleman in front of Laurie and me had his heart set on requesting “ALBIIIIIIIIIE” at the top of his lungs, between songs. (A quick Google search led me to “Albie,” a song by Flight of the Conchords whose full name is “Albie, The Racist Dragon.” It’s a fitting bit of research that will segue nicely into what’s about to happen.)

He screamed so hard, the joint tucked away in his ear nearly fell out.

As the collective sobriety of the Hartford crowd slowly disappeared, it was finally time for the main event. After a brief break (for people to grab more beers, for more weed aroma to circulate from the lawn above, for those in the audience needing to stand in line for 20 minutes to relieve themselves of way too much beer), it was finally time for Chappelle.

Behind a top-to-bottom gray curtain, a shining light illuminated the bald silhouette of the genius himself. And without further introduction, Dave Chappelle emerged to thunderous applause, cheers, hoots and the love of a grateful audience.

At first.

Chappelle started by greeting those at the end of the bathroom line rushing back to their seats. He greeted a few, made pleasantries. “Don’t worry, I’m here, no need to rush, we got this,” he said to the excited crowd. Someone in the front row asked about his future while people settled in, and he said, “No, you better believe it, I’m back.”

Again, to thunderous applause.

That kept going.

And going.

And turned into yelling.

And then heckling.

And calls for his previous acts. I heard at least one person yell out, “I’M RICK JAMES, BITCH!”

After shaking the first wave off, Chappelle started with his act, which included a racial joke about Paula Deen, and how he wanted to hire her as his personal chef. But the screams continued. The crowd wanted his old act. They wanted him to perform for them. They wanted him to meet their expectations. They wanted him to be what they assumed he was: A comedic icon, a voice of his generation, a shining light of illuminating comedy for all to behold and marvel, a powerful and raw legend of comedy.

But they wouldn’t quiet down. They wouldn’t respect the genius that they’d come to expect. The crowd was hell-bent on turning this legend into a YouTube act about whom they could comment anonymously, other than the headliner most had paid well over 80 dollars a pop to admire in person. They wanted him to be more than what he was.

After the Paula Deen joke, the mood changed for Chappelle. “After about three minutes, I was thinking ‘It might be me,’ but I’m sure it’s not. I’m pretty sure it’s you. I have a private jet on standby. It’ll fly me to Newark, and it’s an 8:30 to South Africa in the morning. I’ll do it again, I swear to God I’ll do it, I don’t give a fuck.”

He added, “I learned the last time. I got paid before the show.”

More thunderous applause, but the thunder rolled a bit less intensely this time.

That was when Laurie and I learned that we weren’t watching a comedy set anymore. We were seeing a guy frustrated by overblown expectations.

After a couple more attempts to start his act, and being repeatedly interrupted by the drunken crowd (and then some, as not only was there a distinct aroma in the crowd, but our friend “Albie” in front of us lit his joint, and two whole seconds later a security person walked up to him and said, “PUT THAT OUT. RIGHT NOW.”), Chappelle said, “Someone just screamed out ‘Oprah.’ Does that make any sense? To anyone?”

(It didn’t.)

Someone else screams something from Half-Baked (which I swear sounded like “ON WEED!!!), to which he says, “Sir, you’re never gonna see another Half-Baked movie again. Well, you might, but if you do, make sure that I’ve run out of money.”

The heckles continued. “This shit is noisier than a fucking auction.”

They continued again. “If you love me, write a note, hold on to it until the end of the show, and give it to me then.”

And again, they continued. “I’m fucking quitting this tour tomorrow. Two more nights, and I’ve got enough to build that wing on my house. You guys fucking suck as an audience. As a group, not individually.”

It kept up, and kept up, and kept up. He asked us to Google him and look at the press he’s had. He told us stories about how he hated audiences in the past.

“A guy just said, ‘Be real! Be real!’ This is real as it gets, motherfucker, you’re a terrible audience member.”

Now the crowd doubles in noise level, with about half of the noise coming from the hecklers, and a new half yelling at the yellers to stop yelling. Chappelle even gave us options. “If you see someone yelling, punch them in the kidneys.”

The heckles continue, and Chappelle is now visibly upset. “Hey, it’s your money, motherfucker! I’m not saying another goddamned word until you’re reasonable. Oh shit, look! I got a pack of cigarettes! Oh shit, and a glass of water! And a towel, you know what that means? I can wait for hours.”

Laurie sat bewildered as our image of a legend dissipated at the whim of an increasingly unruly audience. We knew it was over when he started chatting with a lady in the front row who’d hawked her book to every comedian before her. He took the book and started reading from it as the crowd began to get up and leave. The heckles turned to boos, the boos were interrupted by frustrated customers looking for their money’s worth, and the crowd stood in shock.

As Chappelle told stories about how Damon Wayans and Richard Pryor had confronted hecklers, the crowd knew they weren’t going to see his act. With Chappelle ticking the minutes off his contractual obligation, Laurie and I sat, disappointed and angry, but at Chappelle, not the crowd. Our seats prevented us from hearing the front-row hecklers, but we could definitely hear our friend Albie, who tried to calm shut someone up by yelling, “FUCK YOU, CRACKERRRR!!!!”

The crowd kept booing. “You’re booing yourself,” Chappelle said. “You’re booing yourself. I want you to go home tonight, look in the mirror and say ‘Boo.’”

Chappelle closed his “set” with, “Alright guys. I like some of you, I hate some of you, I forgive some of you, but I don’t forgive all of you.” He walked off, and we pleaded with him to come back, but it was over. As he exited, he told the house DJ to put on Kanye West’s “New Slaves” as his exit music.

Jeff Ross ran back to the stage to close the night, asking what the crowd thought of Dave Chapp….”BOOOOOOOO”…..and Flight of the Conchor….”YAAAAAAAY,” and bid us all a good night.

The “cracker” then wanted a piece of Albie. Words were exchanged, and Albie charged at the “cracker,” who wanted nothing more than to return the insult with injury to this drunk idiot. A crowd formed, but Albie was restrained by his friends, and he walked off, yelling at all passers-by on his way out of the Comcast Theatre.

Walking out, Laurie and I tried to put into words what we’d just seen. We knew, like when I heard Yeezus for the first time, that we’d never experienced anything remotely like it, but this time, it hurt. I’d driven four hours to be in Connecticut to see Chappelle, and the crowd prevented that from happening.

Since that night, many, MANY YouTube videos surfaced of the “meltdown,” despite Chappelle saying at the beginning, “Put the phone down, man, I’m not shooting a YouTube special up here.”

Twitter exploded with news of Dave Chappelle’s “meltdown” in Hartford, CT, many shocked that Chappelle’s comeback was going so badly. Many people online made Africa jokes, including Chappelle that night, who lamented turning down $50 million to make Season 3 of Chappelle’s show. “I could have had 22 minutes on television and read the phone book for $50 million,” Chappelle said on stage.

The next day, an Ebony article from someone else at the show made the rounds, saying that Dave Chappelle was basically asked to do a “shuck and jive” for a largely White audience, and that Black people understood why he walked out (capital letters in “White” and “Black” were the author’s style). He was being asked to perform a minstrel show for a large audience, lining up with his reasons for quitting Chappelle’s show, meaning that he got uncomfortable with how hard the white people in the audience were laughing at his racial humor. That opinion has merit, but I don’t think it gets to the root of what was going on.

Chappelle pointed out that this was his first official performance schedule since quitting Chappelle’s Show. He had previously turned up for a few surprise appearances at comedy clubs, including one infamous night when he talked with the front row for 45 minutes without telling any jokes to the larger audience. The Ebony article mentioned that this wasn’t the first time he had been accused of having a “meltdown,” and that his behavior on-stage could be perfectly explained and understood.

The article was right. At first, I thought Chappelle really was having a meltdown. My initial reaction to the hecklers was that there is no stand-up comedian, alive or dead, who hasn’t had to deal with assholes in the audience trying to ruin the show for everyone else, either purposefully or not. I even posted on my Facebook after getting back from the show that he quit on his fans and had a meltdown. The reading of the front-row lady’s book (a woman named “Mack Mama,” who is both the epitome of “shameless” and needs to be Googled to be understood, I’ll let you do the honors) was a page right out of Andy Kaufman’s playbook who, after being heckled into giving a college-age audience one line of his famous “Latka” character from Taxi, pulled out a copy of The Great Gatsby and read it, cover to cover, as the crowd walked out.

It turns out that, like Kaufman, Chappelle is just a man. Imagine that. He’s a guy with a wife and kids. He’s a professional comedian, and a damn good one, but he’s also a real person, and it’s in that respect that Chappelle truly shocked me.

I was mad at Chappelle for not tuning out the hecklers and performing his act. I was upset at looking forward to this for well over a month, only to have it turn into a news story on The Huffington Post about “Dave Chappelle’s SHOCKING MELTDOWN in Hartford.” What I didn’t realize on the night of the show was what I’d just seen. I didn’t understand what it was because to act in such a way had been turned into a cliché, peddled by anonymous bullies on the internet about a perception of how to act and how to carry oneself. I didn’t understand it because popular culture provides so few examples of it, and when you see it happen, it looks like something other than what it very clearly is.

On August 29, 2013, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Comcast Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, Dave Chappelle kept it real.

He helped make that expression famous, but like all popular things, it wasn’t long before it was turned into a cliché. It’s now something vapid people say when they worry about seeming authentic; consequently, it makes those people sound even less real. But for Dave Chappelle, reality is something he clearly strives for, otherwise he’d have taken the money and continued to please millions of fans, and he clearly didn’t want to take that route. We just happened to be on the wrong side of “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong.”

In his sit-down interview with James Lipton, Dave Chappelle said, “The worst thing to call somebody is ‘crazy.’ It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit, because these people are not crazy, they’re strong people. Maybe the environment is a little sick.”

Talking to Laurie after the show, we both agreed that neither one of us knew what we had just seen, but we knew that it definitely happened, we definitely saw it, and neither one of us would ever forget it. “It was,” we both kept saying. I walked out of the Comcast Theatre feeling upset I didn’t get to see Dave Chappelle tell jokes. But I never said, “I’m going to see Dave Chappelle do stand-up comedy.” I kept saying (to everyone and no one I knew) that I was going to see Dave Chappelle, and that’s exactly what happened.

The next night, I read the Funny or Die tour went to Pittsburgh, and by then, everyone had heard about what happened in Hartford. So everyone in the crowd was on alert for any potential hecklers. Apparently, Chappelle was greeted warmly, he did his full act, he broke the crowd with laughter, and his family (including his wife on her birthday) joined him on stage after his comedy clinic of a performance.

So, Mr. Chappelle, thank you.

Thank you for the privilege of your real, actual company that night in Hartford. Thank you for not rolling over, for not having to “push through” or be anything you didn’t want to be. Thank you for not breaking at the sign of a few idiots in the crowd, although we didn’t get to see your act. Thank you for being you, and for not changing who you are.

Maybe someday, I’ll get to see you perform. But it really was a privilege to see you.

Yankee Dispatch #5: Earth Cup Coffee


Coffee plus me plus positive energy plus a double-shot of espresso equals happiness.

I found my hole-up spot, two blocks from my house in Philadelphia. Every single time I’ve come in here to start writing, I leave with 1200 caffeinated words about America, traffic, the human condition and what it means to miss your friends while never wanting to call your previous home “home” again.

Baton Rouge, you don’t have Earth Cup Coffee. New Orleans, you don’t have mild weather in August. Louisiana, you just don’t get it. Or maybe you do, and you hate it, and it means I have to hate you for getting it and hating it.

Because I love it.

I love the smiles I see at Earth Cup. I love the families coming in with their strollers, the free bowl of doggie treats on the counter to match the community doggie bowl just steps from the front entrance. I love seeing people I’ve met a few times, telling me their own stories of America, traffic and the human condition. Mostly it’s traffic, but all three are warmly welcomed at Earth Cup. I love the friendliness with which the barista points a non-patron to the restroom on an unseasonably warm August afternoon. I love it that warm August afternoons are “unseasonable,” though I’d care for a bit more seasoning elsewhere.

Most of all, I love the coffee. It’s fresh, they serve it by the pound or by the glass, at reasonable prices. They offer “veggie” and “meatie” breakfast sandwiches, and as I type, the “Soup du Jour” is being sold to a fan of sweet cherry tomato.

My mother worked here for a few months after moving to Philly so, inevitably, I run into people all the time who ask me if I’m my mother’s kid. If my face isn’t a dead giveaway, it’s the charm. Or the fact that for these people I’m the other person they’ve met wearing LSU gear.

No wifi, no problems. I’ve got music, pictures and a blank Microsoft Word document to fill.

On the wall, to the left of the sparse menu, has dozens of denominations from around the world. Putting the “Earth” in “Earth Cup,” the wall presents itself as a call to all nationalities, ethnicities and persuasions, loudly proclaiming that all are welcome in this space.

And yet outside, the banner of its previous tenants remains unchanged. I never knew Sam or what kind of place he envisioned, but the current owner decided to leave “Sam’s Place” on the top in homage. There’s an “Earth Cup” sign hanging from the door, but maybe hanging on to the old lets people know that while there’s a new business in town, it doesn’t have to wipe its feet on the memories of the previous space.

The current owner, a six-foot, Eastern-European goddess of a woman, flaunts her “goddessness” in this space every day as she shuttles back and forth between her two locations. Sometimes she arrives with her daughter, the third-cutest baby in the world (my niece and nephew being Nos. 1 and 2, obviously). Everyone in Earth Cup, at once, are greeted by two shining, smiling faces among a tranquil, ceiling-fanned solace center with teapots hanging from the ceiling brightened with fluorescent bulbs and worldly artwork.

Speaking of goddesses, I mentioned August, aka “almost sweater weather.” One thing has slowly but surely become clear about the North, and about Philadelphia in particular that makes it a joy to be here, and it has to do with women. I thought I knew what “attractive” was. I thought I understood what “hot” meant. I even imagined I had a concept of what “out of my league” truly signified.

I had NO earthly idea.

OK, back to the coffee. Just got my second cup, and George Harrison’s “What Is Life” is playing in my headphones. “What Is Life” would make up an entirely different dispatch, because I’m not quite sure what life is. Not really sure anyone knows, but I guess that’s the point. Life could mean a 9-5 job, a steady wage, then coming home, making dinner, watching a TV show and then going to sleep and doing it all over again. I guess it used to be that, and for millions, it is. But it doesn’t seem enough, to me at least. It doesn’t seem like we need to live that way anymore. Sure, garbage still needs hauling, roads still need maintenance and, perhaps most importantly, coffee still needs brewing and pouring. But none of it defines us, or should define us, anyway.

It’s the moments between the mundane that define us. It’s walking with a friend, seeing something go by for a matter of seconds, and both people catch it and laugh about it. It’s the common and not-so-common bonds between people that define who we are and what we should be. I don’t think it’s naïve to say we should be there for each other. Maybe cliché, but not naïve. I refuse to believe the world is fundamentally cruel, despite examples of it every day. We see it on the news, we read it in a letter we’ve been avoiding, we feel it when a child cries, and we curse it when pasta burns.

But here’s the secret: We’re all the same. I’m sitting here writing this as a middle-aged Asian woman with a bookbag and a Hispanic gentleman with a fedora and a striped sweater (ok, maybe it IS sweater weather, after all) start talking about traffic. Both with coffees in hand, the two start opening up about how lanes just won’t open up. I don’t know if they know each other or if they’d ever met before, but for a minute, the two of them are perfectly in sync, bonded by their love of coffee and their rather extreme hatred of rush hour on I-95 (not that extreme, I’ve suffered with them).

As the gentleman retreats to the restroom and the woman departs, I’m left with my thoughts, my headphones, a barista that looks like a grown-up orphan Annie, and the not-so-subtle feeling that I’m at home.

Oh. And my second cup of coffee. I don’t have to wonder what life is. It’s right here at Earth Cup Coffee.

Yankee Dispatch #4: Cape Cahd

cape-cod-scenic-drive_650x366If heaven were a tangible place, it might be located in Cape Cod.

Then again, if heaven were a tangible place, no angels would make the wrong turn on the rotaries (henceforth referred to as “rotariums,” with apologies to both syntax and those who call them “round-a-bouts”).

On Cape Cod sits the forearm of Massachusetts, right down to the shoulder. Fox News would have you believe that in this place, along with San Francisco, lays the undead heart of anti-American sentiment, but what I found were some of the most patriotic things I’ve ever seen, and not the classical ones. Sure, there are American flags everywhere, the buildings and businesses say “God Bless America,” but what I found to back up my claim of “most patriotic” has to do less with symbolism and more with community, with the “we’re all in this together” mentality that inspired the first three words of our Constitution.

I thought Ben Franklin was patriotic. He may as well be sending a threatening tape to al-Jazeera compared to Cape Cod, where the American Dream itself has a summer house.

The occasion was a family matter: a cousin of mine has a “second family,” headquartered in and around Cape Cod, where they gather in the beginning of every August for good times and a barbecue (more on this in a bit) in a community of cottages and cabins around a “woods-ish” area. I shared a cabin with my cousin and her mom, and our cabin hosts a plaque identifying it as a member of the National Register of Historic Places, which is code for “200-year-old shanty made for a grown man barely bigger than I was at age fourteen.” At 6’4”, 300+ pounds, I had to go up the stairway sideways and hunched over.

Basically, when I set foot in the kitchen, everything moved.

The cabin itself was awe-inspiring. My second thought after walking in was “I need to write here.” I’ve always said that my second move if I won the lottery (after paying my student loans back, in person, with cash, like a boss) was to buy a cabin in the woods with a phenomenal view, and write until I couldn’t anymore. Ostensibly, this was that cabin, except I wasn’t counting on a community turkey.

That’s right, a community turkey, roaming the grounds pecking at bugs here and there. After getting over the urge to punch it in the face if it got too close, I made peace with the turkey.

Back to the cabin (or “The Coddage,” as a sign lovingly proclaimed): I didn’t want to go anywhere that first day. Anyone that wanted to see me could come visit me in my cabin. I know other places have cabins, but all of a sudden the concept of a cabin became brand new, considering the cabin is resting on Cape Cod, which had only existed in my mind in the same vein as the Hamptons, South Beach or Orange County (read: places I can’t afford). Saying “I have a cabin at Cape Cod” could have meant the same as “I have a summer house in Greece.” But for four amazing days, on a technical but real basis, I had a cabin in Cape Cod.

Poseidon, look at me. Whoa.

These cabins are passed down by the generation. It’s almost impossible for an outsider to purchase one of these cabins, and if someone wanted to, an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors would be called and consulted about the prospective owners. But for somewhere south of $70 a night (as opposed to $200+ for a hotel), a cabin can be yours if you know the right people.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I know people that know the right people.)

So the locals were advised that there would be a large man in a Wu-Tang shirt (who needs a haircut) roaming their grounds, they smiled and approved, and I began the adventure in Cape Cod.

To say Cape Cod is beautiful is to say red beans are red. It’s gorgeous. Although the drive there took us through a monsoon, there are few things more right than Cape Cod in August. The towns teemed with tourists and locals alike, the rotariums confused the newbies, and every business along a stretch of Main Streets hopped like a bunny in April. Sea gulls echoed across car dealerships and airports alike, as the smell of beach, fish and other seafood wafted across the forearm of Massachusetts, to the delight of food lovers everywhere.

Well, not everywhere.

I learned an important difference between Philadelphia Northerners and Cape Cod Northerners. At least Philadelphia Northerners have enough self-respect to salt their food, kinda. I thought I knew what “unseasoned” really meant. I was wrong.

The first clue occurred when my uncle had a bottle of Tabasco at the ready, before our food even arrived at an Italian restaurant named “Alberto’s” on Main Street in Hyannis, Mass.

The second clue happened when I took the first bite of my food at an Italian restaurant named “Alberto’s” on Main Street in Hyannis, Mass.

The final clue hit me like a ton of bricks after I dashed a dash of Tabasco on my food at an Italian restaurant named “Alberto’s” on Main Street in Hyannis, Mass., and needed more.

I didn’t kill the entrée, but I did make it unlike anything they’d ever eaten before. I also learned how to pronounce what I ate. I was under the false impression that I’d just had “Baked Stuffed Scrod.” Allegedly, what I’d eaten wasn’t “scrod,” but “scrahd.” Because in Cape Cahd, the scrahd is a locahl delicahcy straight from tha hahbah, and tahrists needed to learn hah tah say scrahd befah they eat thah scrahd. Naht impahtant, but yah ahtah knah.

Gahd help me.

(And if you think I didn’t spend 45 minutes trying to nail my Cape Cahd accent, even though I slipped more into Long Island than Cape Cahd, you’re kidding yahself. It’s the difference between “scrahd” and “scrow-ad.”)

A driving note: Rotariums are one thing, but if you get lost in Massachusetts, it’s gonna take you a good 15 minutes to find the one “One Way” that will lead you back to where you were going. This is a place where settlers sailed across the ocean, landed and stayed right where they were, thank you very much. Anywhere else, the towns were developed as an afterthought to the major roads near them. In Cape Cod, and the northeast as a whole, families expect roads to be paved around THEM, meaning rotariums, one ways and side passes that make little to no sense to outsiders. We’re talking about 300-year-old homes and towns, built long before anyone could conceive of an interstate. Generations ago, families landed and just stayed put, expecting the world to expand but not necessarily making them move out of the way just because some nut wants to (gulp) leave. Whenever you Southerners complain about traffic or construction, keep in mind that millions of people live in the North, and they were there first. They expect people to want it (I mean, WANT it) if they get visitors. Otherwise, be ready to navigate a labyrinth of one-way blind turns if you want to make it to Main Street.

Then again, Dunkin Donuts is everywhere. I’ll be sure to navigate that labyrinth well-caffeinated.

I didn’t take my laptop out once. The cabin had cable TV, but I only watched a couple of times, including a speech by President Obama outlining new veterans’ benefits (I half-expected Fox News to be blocked out, but it was there, although its ratings are probably low in Cape Cod. Maybe not in the mega-mansions, but still.) The outside world ceased to matter for three days. We had political chatter, but the differences weren’t left versus right, liberal versus conservative, far-left radical versus completely batcrazy nuts. Our differences weren’t about what to do, but how we do it, where the country is (and MUCH more importantly, where we’re going), and what to make of recent events. But the politics didn’t matter nearly as much as a collective deep breath around comfortable people, away from the worries of real life. All we had was ourselves, the weather, nature and a peace of mind that far surpasses any tanning bed, swimming pool or all-day sauna. All we had was family, friends, and barbecue.

One more thing. Barbecue, for the North, is actually just hamburgers and hot dogs. My aunt (visiting from rural Louisiana) and I almost expected things like pulled pork, ribs, brisket, etc. I don’t know why we expected that, maybe just basing it on every other barbecue we’d ever been to, except that this was the North. This was Cape Cod, m-f’er. Hamburgers and hot dogs are what a barbecue is in Cape Cod, along with buffalo chicken dip, homemade guacamole and taco dip, homemade hummus, plenty of beer, wine, coffee and chips, children running around playing and stepping on feet while their mothers celebrate a few moments with their arms free, a family picture on a merry-go-round, black-eyed Susans blooming around a magnificent garden, belly laughs, “Eagles” sing-a-longs, old stories, older jokes, and a dog napping in an American flag-designed lounge chair.

How much more American can you get? All that was missing was apple pie, and I’d gladly trade pie for homemade clam chowdah.

Yankee Dispatch #3: Blurred Lines

DSC_0091A whole month has gone by, and it still hasn’t hit me that I’ve become a Yankee.

There are obvious signs. Like the signs that read, “97 miles to New York City.” That one’s pretty obvious. The millions of people, hundreds of traffic signals and eight-lane loops (not interstates, just the loops) all exist as tell-tale signs that you’ve entered the land of the Yankee, where food isn’t seasoned enough, bike lanes are everywhere and the people keep moving towards their next piece of the American Dream.

This land is for the dreamers of the dreams, and their dreams vary based on life experience and perspective, of course. But some have given up. The North crushed any semblance of opportunity long ago for some, whether they dealt with the fallout of a closing manufacturing plant or a freak fire accident in an office building.

There was a story of a man who rescued upwards of 200 people in Staten Island after Superstorm Sandy, and he was lauded as a hero at public events and even a Knicks game. Recently, his house caught fire, forcing him, his wife and three kids into homelessness, and now he and his family are dependent on the very help he selflessly provided in the tragedy’s wake. He remained resilient in interviews, telling people that he wasn’t asking for a handout or anything else, but that he understood the plight of the people he saved, and it bonded him even further to his community.

It’s tough to see that bond sometimes, but not only does it exist, it’s stronger and more resilient in the North than in the South (yes, Southerners, I just went there). The South may have the hospitality moniker to itself, but the North’s sense of community is virtually unparalleled. At least, it seems that way after a month.

Maybe it’s the change from parishes to suburbs, commonwealths, townships and mountains (more on those in a second), but the North is so vast and widespread, yet dense and internal, as if any moment one could slip into a completely different country (and sometimes you do, if you’ve ever been to Manayunk – read: Europe). The towns slope and slide through tunnels and highways with steep, blind turns and carved-out corners of communities living as their piece of the bigger thing.

Some corners are tough to carve, brushing up against some other slice of humanity. Others, like in Roanoke, VA, have the luxury of BIG DAMN MOUNTAINS ON ALL SIDES.

I went to Roanoke to visit some friends of mine that got married a few months ago in Baton Rouge, about a month before I moved to Philly. The happy couple came to Roanoke to celebrate with the bride’s Northern family (when you’re from Louisiana, Virginia is pretty solidly “Northern”), so the affair doubled as a family reunion for the Virginia delegation. The first (and most) striking thing about the drive were the mountains. My cousin and I debated as to whether these massive mounds of earth were actually high enough to be called “mountains,” or if they were just “hills,” but our suspicions were repeatedly laid to rest under the shadows of clear, definable mountain peaks. On top of one of these peaks rests a star. A big star. An absurdly-big silver star.

The quixotic name of this mammoth attraction: Big Star.

Driving up to this peak with my cousin and the bride and groom, up winding roads on the side of Mill Mountain in Roanoke, the four of us took as many small moments to ourselves as we did collectively rejoicing in this altitudinal expanse of nature opening before us, unlike anything geographically possible in Louisiana, where swamps sink the sand into the Gulf of Mexico. As we left the car and began walking the trail leading to Big Star, the groom and I traded joyful realizations about ourselves and our surroundings, perplexed at nature’s expansive braggadocio, heretofore unseen or cherished by our Southern eyes.

Perched over a cliff, his eyes widened by trees nestled atop 1,045 feet of mountain, the groom motioned over the peak and exclaimed, “THIS isn’t a video game.”

Were it a game, I’d have put the controller down after setting the intro on repeat.

We moved to the star, the “world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star” (according to Wikipedia), and a few small groups of people shared our view of the overlook, towering above Roanoke and providing a 60 mile view in every direction opposite the star. We took our pictures and shot our cell-phone videos, after which we made our way down the trail to a small, vacant pavilion area as we reflected on the opportunities available to all of us. The bride and groom are still considering a move in the future, and my cousin and I are still earning our tags as full-fledged Yankees (my cousin’s car even has updated Northern tags and license plates).

(Side note: during the drive from Philly to Roanoke and back, my cousin and I would scan the radio, making it a game as to how many times we would hit Robin Thicke’s summer smash “Blurred Lines” on the way. Last count has it at 11 plays, although the triumphant moment occurred five minutes away from our hotel, when I said, “Bet I can hit ‘Blurred Lines’ before we make it to the hotel.” Sure enough, with a minute to go, I turn to a station and “GOOD GUURRRRRLLLL…. I KNOW YOU WANT IT…” If it’s the “Song of the Summer,” I have no problem with that, although Michael Jackson’s estate and Justin Timberlake are both owed royalties. But I digress.)

130322-pharrell-blurred-lines_0It’s not hard to imagine someone being awestruck by sights like Big Star and mountains in general; in fact, it’s perhaps harder (for me, anyway) to imagine taking these sights for granted, which I can only assume is a daily reality. Now, it’s not hard to imagine people that have lived in Roanoke their whole lives and would be perplexed at the sight of interstates that don’t wind and dip (as I-10 only does over water), or maybe they’ve never had the chance, having never left Roanoke or Philadelphia once in their lives. But it’s weird to consider the possibility that Northerners may not see all of this as what it is: glory, plain and simple. These are the same mountains, forests and plateaus that inspired Thoreau and Emerson to wax poetic about finding oneself in the wilderness. These are the same places that inspired Washington Irving to write a story about a man who climbed a mountain and fell asleep for 20 years. The same places through which Paul Revere rode to warn of the British, where Quakers came to tolerate what people believed, and where delegates worked into the night to announce to the world that they were going to do their own thing from now on. Unfortunately for me, Lake Pontchartrain and miles of wetlands don’t provide the same muse-like qualities. Inspirational, for sure, but maybe I’m just used to them.

What they do provide, however, is a reference point northward. They provide a home base from which one can only rise upward and onward. It also makes things like Big Star or mountains in general seem that much more sensational. It’ll always be a privilege to say that I was “born and raised in New Orleans,” but the ultimate tragedy would be thinking that staying in the South was somehow “good enough.” Not to say I won’t be back for Mardi Gras (first parade: Rex 1987, at one week old, only missed one season in my life). But it’s not the worst thing that the North won’t take the week off for some parades. There’s too much life up here to worry about petty things.

(Side note #2: I keep referring to “up here,” and I feel I must give at least some apology to Canada, but I can only assume they’re cool with it. They were cool with considering Bryan Adams a star, after all.)

Maybe the biggest difference is that this Dispatch was written outdoors, without a cloud in the sky, in the beginning of August, and I’m not drenched with sweat or murderously angry at the squirrels for being so calm. In fact, a recent study confirmed that the planet’s temperature spike over the past 10 years can be correlated to a rise in worldwide violence and strife, not to mention drought and famine. If only the Middle East had a big damn mountain with a star.

Jai guru deva om.

Yankee Dispatch #2: Culture Shock

No matter where you go, there you are.

In traffic.

Changing lanes without signaling.

People in the South used to complain (well, they still do) about people who wouldn’t signal. They make their memes and Facebook posts, passive-aggressively hinting that there are these things, called “indicators,” that can let people know when they plan on switching lanes, so as to not cause a wreck. Clearly, none of these Southerners ever ventured on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Turns out, people in the North have an unspoken pact that no one, NO ONE, NO WA-AH-HA-HAAAAAANE can get in the way of someone changing lanes. Being frantic on the road seems like a rite of passage for the uninitiated, as nine cars fight for three spots at a tollbooth while several hundred bring up the rear. People in the North understand the drive to be first, to be the best, to be the one that can celebrate in the middle spot of the trophy steps. They want what they want how they want it, and they want it before they even realize how to get it. But they’re not going to spend any time flicking a lever to let people know. I mean, you never want to let the enemy know what you’re going to do.

Other people, it turns out, are the enemy.

But there’s comfort up here. Seriously, there’s millions of people packed within a few hundred miles, and everyone wants to carve out their niche and spread the borders between them and everyone else a bit wider. But for the people that have made it, that can afford the luxury of privacy, they have no problem showing it off.

So I’m in Connecticut, driving with my cousin down the road, and to my right and left I see mansions. Not McMansions or a new development. I’m talking about giant houses OLDER THAN THE COUNTRY ITSELF. I’m talking about towns older than the country itself. Townships and historical markers that predate our Tea Party and Revolution. There were people comfortably settled and ready to relax before there was a Bill of Rights. And their houses have only gotten bigger and more lush.

Take one house. Yellow paint with sky blue trim on the shutters and window frames. American flags draped along the front porch. More than a couple of acres of land on four sides. Beautiful tree in the front yard. But under the tree, half-resting and half-gloating for all the passers-by to admire, sat a brand new, fully waxed, red Ford Mustang GTO convertible with the top down. Can’t tell the year, but I can tell the worth.

Ladies and gentlemen, I just found the American Dream. It’s in Connecticut.

It’s everywhere you want to be, really. For most of the country, the concept of the “American Dream” is a lie, told by politicians hell-bent on gaining votes, endorsements and contributions to a campaign for incumbency in the next election. But for these people, nameless and faceless along the highway at 45 mph, their American Dream is sitting right under their tree.

And maybe they think their American Dream is their kids, or their jobs, or their stock portfolio or even their coffeemaker. But nothing has said “America” to me in my time up here quite like that Mustang GTO. The house didn’t have a garage, but I guess when you’re surrounded by Dreamers in small-town America, there’s nothing to fear by leaving the top down.

Three blocks later, I see a cemetery. To say this is a normal cemetery is to say award-winning mountainsides with cliffs that wind and dive make for perfectly average eternal resting places. I don’t know whose idea it was, but when good and wealthy folk in Connecticut pass away, they have the best view for all time. Even though the graves are underground (a reality in every place but New Orleans, modern-day Atlantis when it comes to graveyards), there’s no telling how much that real estate is worth, beyond the emotional level for the families and friends of the fallen.

Even the dead show off.

One thing I miss about the South is the food. At a diner in suburban CT, I saw something on the menu I had to try, just once. A “New Orleans omelet.” I didn’t tell them I was from New Orleans, and that there would be hell to pay if they got it wrong (and that they misspelled “omelette”), just wanted to experience what they thought my hometown tasted like.

They got it wrong.

First off, when I think “New Orleans,” I don’t think “ground-up Italian pizza sausage.” But apparently, Northerners (or maybe just this small CT town) think New Orleans tastes like an unseasoned meat omelet with peppers and onions. No hot sauce (though I was offered it four times before I even ordered), no spices, not even any salsa. At least salsa would have been close. The most inspired thing on that plate was the buttered pumpernickel slices. Even the hash browns were wrong. If you think you know what it means, you need to try a “New Orleans omelet” in Connecticut. I know there’s better local fare up here to try, and that I shouldn’t try to order some imitation garbage (thanks, one Facebook poster, you know who you are), but I was curious to see it, and when I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.

One thing I DON’T miss, though, is the heat. And the heat, it seems, came with me. It’s been unbearably hot for the past two weeks, like some sick joke to a Southerner moving partly for the seasons. It would be funny to see the Northerners’ reactions to the heat wave, but I’m suffering as well. Even being from New Orleans, this is too much.

In fact, New Orleans is faring better right now. Two days ago, the temperature in Philly was 96 degrees, heat index at 110. In New Orleans the same day, the temp hit 87. “Feels like 87.” Thanks, Weather Channel, for letting me know that my old friends are doing just fine right now.

Well, they still have Hurricane Season. And August. Good God, will they have August.

This coming August for me, on the other hand, is for bragging. I can’t wait for the seasons to change, for the leaves to fall and the whole area’s sigh of relief. For everyone stymied by the heat wave, there’s everyone in the South laughing about their reactions. They’ll all get quiet when Hurricane Holyshit hits the South shore. Or when they’ll need their air conditioner to cool their Christmas morning (like I did last year). Ain’t no heat wave like a northern heat wave, cause a northern heat wave don’t stop. Except that it does, just not before the A/C arrives and people get heat stroke.

My, that was cheery, wasn’t it?

Speaking of cheery: bike people. These people LOVE their bikes. They love them so much, every street has a bike lane. Too bad no one uses them; otherwise, you’d think that bike lanes should be a nationwide idea. These helmeted do-gooders feel as though the car traffic is an affront to their civil liberties. They organize things like “Critical Mass” to raise awareness of car traffic, basically just by causing more car traffic. (They also do this in the South, but 20 people does not a “Mass” make.) And they don’t think about how my ’98 Corolla could turn their bikes into kindling for the heat wave.

Buncha two-wheeled showoffs, I tell you. There’s a smugness to the bike riders up here, juxtaposed with the quiet resolve of Southern bike riders, always on the short end of few and far infrastructure improvements. It’s because the North appreciates the size of the population relative to the confined space within which they live. People need to get around, and there’s only so many roads. I mean, there’s a bunch of roads, but gas is more expensive, parking is limited and, of course, the millions (AND MILLIONS) and millions of people that live here.

I also brought my bike up here. Pretty soon, I’ll be one of those people.

I live in a place where someone could drive 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia and end up in another city. Every city up here is just outside of another city (not town or place or area, but city). With that comes a potential unlike any other area of the country. When Jay Z said about New York City, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” he was talking about the drive to greatness that leads people forward, but you better make plans if they wanna change into your lane.

And that might be the biggest difference between the North and South. The South appreciates what they have and doesn’t want it to change, or at least not dramatically. The North is perpetually unsatisfied. When you have it all, it means someone might want what you have, and you have to either protect or look for something else. You have to be first. And if you ain’t first, you’re probably next, but the guy in front of you is gonna beat you to the parking spot.

Another thing about traffic. “DON’T BLOCK THE BOX.”

Seriously, though, don’t block the box. For those without a local government that cares about infrastructure, “the box” is an intersection with crosswalks connecting all four street corners. When a car pulls up to a downtown intersection on a midday Monday, there’s dozens of people waiting for the walk sign to cross the street. If you’re blocking the box, people have to (gasp) go around your car. And they don’t like it. In fact, they hate it. They hate having to adjust their movements. I mean, they have to be first, even on foot. Especially on foot when it’s “110” degrees outside. I haven’t blocked the box yet, but in some downtown intersections, THEY’LL FINE YOU. You can get a ticket for making a businessman step two paces to the right to get around your car.

Pedestrian justice as I’ve never seen it.

(Side note: overheard at the café where I’m writing this: “Rabbits are weird. But a lot of people just don’t get rabbits.” Just thought I’d throw that in.)

But for real, don’t block the box. Only assholes make phone-tethered pedestrians look up.

About that drive to Connecticut: I passed through three states. New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The town I visited is about two minutes from the Massachusetts state line, but the most fascinating thing is the difference in gas. On Main Street in Connecticut, the gas was $3.94 a gallon. Yet, two minutes down the road, at the Massachusetts state line gas station, gas falls to $3.61 a gallon. Needless to say, that station was packed with Connecticut tags. I don’t know who was filling up at that CT gas station, but they must have a deal with that station, because if they have my size tank, they paid an extra four bucks to fill up. That’s good coffee money they just put in their car, and that’s no way to live.

More adventures to come, if I can just get out of traffic. I’m so hungry.