President Trump

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Yesterday, a client asked me if I was nervous about the election results. I replied confidently, with spirit and heart and mind all in a line, and with a smile on my face.

“I’m not nervous at all. I believe in my heart that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency. Because she is qualified and competent, because she stands for positive values, because it is long past time in our history when women had a turn, and because all the polls support her triumph. And I cannot conceive of a world where Donald Trump is the President of the United States.”

Then, hours later, I watched with shock as the poll numbers started to roll in. I couldn’t believe even a few states were going for Trump. Then a few more. And over the next few hours, a deep dread and shock settled into my system as I realized the gap was closing. I stayed awake until nearly 2 am, fighting to fall asleep while the television droned on in the background, waiting with all hope that Hillary would pull out a victory at the end. But she didn’t. The American people, as a majority, voted for Donald Trump as President.

In two months, Donald Trump will be President. President Trump.

I tossed and turned all night, trying to come up with an optimistic view of our future. I’m not sure I can, I thought. My stomach was upset and my head hurt and I kept getting tears in my eyes. I would drift off to sleep for 15 minutes, exhausted, and then wake up for 45 more, my brain spinning and spinning.

To me, this election felt like all our hard work had paid off. All of our years of screaming to be noticed. So many incredible things happened in the last 8 years to give me hope, to make me trust. It’s like I spent 8 years in college and just knew I was going to get into the medical school I applied for. But the letter came back and I was denied entry. And I didn’t have a back-up plan.

I sat down with my sons last night, ages 8 and 5, and we had a conversation about the election, about how girls make great leaders and about how it isn’t okay to be a bully or to do mean things to people. And I so looked forward to showing them that the principles I am teaching them are corrupt, that the bad guys don’t win in the end. And I laid in bed last night in abject fear, not knowing how to have this conversation with them today, about how the bully won.

As I try to take my brain to the big picture, first I go to history. This country was founded on freedom for white men from oppressive religions and taxes. It was also found on the owning of Black people as slaves, the slaughtering of Native Americans, the denial of rights for women, and the heteronormative idea that there is only one way to love. Our most historic moments in the last 200 plus years have all come out of protest and strength: women picketing for the right to vote, black people marching for Civil Rights. We have survived the Depression and the Civil War, Viet Nam and Iraq, Watergate and the AIDS crisis. And I think the disenfranchised have found a voice, a movement in all of that to latch on to, to demand equality and freedom and a place at the table. And none of that changes today. We must still fight and organize and stand tall and lead our lives and demand equality and respect.

I then take my brain to this election itself. And I realize that I’m not sure there is much I/we could have done differently. The votes were close in those key places that would have made history different, like Florida and Pennsylvania. But the public voted for Trump, ignoring the Access Hollywood tapes and the lack of political experience and the mocking and violent rhetoric and the Twitter account, and they seized on Hillary’s Emails and her untrustworthiness. They equated the competent and professional woman with the billionaire reality television star with the rape allegations. I don’t know if there is a single thing that could have turned out differently.

I’m feeling a lot of things as I type this. In the past 12 hours, I have ranged from outraged to devastated to anxious to horrified to exhausted to crushed to baffled to despondent to numb. I remember September 11, 2001, being a young college student and waking up to the news feed as a reporter stood in front of the Twin Towers. On the live news feed, the second plane struck, and I fell back on the couch with an empty pit in my stomach knowing that everything had changed in that split second. I walked around in a daze for hours afterwards. And that’s how I feel today.

I have a friend who once attended an American-themed party in France. The European guests there dressed in baggy flannel shirts and jeans and Duck Dynasty beards, they carried toy guns, they ate popcorn by the handful and drank cheap beer out of plastic cups. They laugh at Americans, the rural white men with Southern drawls who thump Bibles and shame anyone who doesn’t look like them. This morning, I feel like we are an international joke because this is exactly what we look like today. The new president incited violence at rallies, encouraged revolution, and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Hillary is going to be fine. America isn’t.

All this said, I always fall back on optimism. I expected to wake up this morning to a sunny beautiful day. Instead, it was a massive snowstorm. And I can spend time railing and screaming at the snow as it continues to blanket the earth. Or I can put on my coat and earmuffs and boots and grab my snow shovel and start putting the back work into clearing the sidewalk, knowing I’ll have to do that same work again in a few hours. I can get snow tires put on the car and I can drive more carefully to get to the places I need to go.

In another harsh reality comparison, imagine getting diagnosed with cancer. That is devastating. There will be grief, emotional and physical pain. But there must be a plan of action. A clear understanding with medical professionals about how to move forward with full knowledge about diet and stress levels and sleep patterns and medication routines and social support. If this is cancer, we need a clear path moving forward.

So today, I’m going to hug my sons, and take gulps of fresh air, and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and walk forward as I grieve. Because the next four years are going to be the worst reality television show ever made, and I have a life to live.

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NYPD Adventure

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“So when I get there, are you going to demand money for my phone?” Cooper stared off into space, negotiating with the man who had robbed him. I heard the man’s voice come back through my cell phone.

“That was the wrong question to ask me, son. Now you have thirty minutes to get here or I’ll just sell your phone. Meet me at the Bank of America.”

“At least tell me what you look like!”

“You don’t need to know that either.”

Cooper got off the phone quickly and looked at me, not knowing what to do.

We were sitting at a Starbucks in the heart of midtown New York City, just blocks away from the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the New York Public Library, all iconic and famous buildings.

My sister Sheri and I, there on vacation, had just left the United Nations after a wonderful tour through the massive and reverent facility, and Cooper had messaged me, saying his phone and wallet had been stolen at the coffee shop. He was in town auditioning, preparing for a big move to the city as an actor a few months down the line, and we had talked about meeting up while we were both in the same place. He and I had been on exactly one date a few years ago, and had stayed friends, but he had moved to Los Angeles now and was working as an actor, while I was still in Utah working and raising my sons. He had been working on his laptop, had bent down to get something out of his backpack, and had sat back up to find his phone missing, and with it the attached case that contained his cash, credit cards, and identification.

Before Sheri and I arrived at Starbucks, Cooper had opened his laptop and accessed an IPhone tracker app. By entering his number and password, he was able to see the location of the phone through the city, and it was several miles away. Cooper had entered a phone number of a friend into the phone, which would then allow the robber to call that number only. Cooper could also push a button that would make the phone ‘ding’ loudly, even if it was on silent mode. The only way to quiet it would be to shut it off, and so far the man hadn’t done that. So once we arrived at Starbucks, Cooper changed the number in the tracker to my number, and the robber had called it.

“What did he sound like? Do you know what he might look like?”

Cooper grimaced. “I don’t want to sound racist, but he sounded like an older black man. I know that type of voice. And I think I remember a guy like that here. He was an older guy, blue shirt, with a cap on his head.”

I laughed, lightening the moment a bit. “You aren’t racist. If I said it, it might sound racist, I’m the white Utah kid. But you’re the black Utah kid, so saying another man sounds black is less racist.” We both chuckled a bit.

“Okay, listen,” I told him, leaning in over the table. “This is clearly some kind of scam. When I was 21, I was in Philadelphia, and a guy tried engaging me in conversation on the street. When I slowed down, he signaled his buddies and suddenly I was surrounded by men who mugged me. I ended up unconscious as they ran off. So this guy clearly has some sort of plan. This is something he has done before. You can’t go up there, and even if we had a car, there is no way you could make it in thirty minutes. Maybe you call 911 instead.”

And so Cooper called 911. “What’s my emergency?”  he said when they answered, and he explained the whole situation, how he could track the man with the phone, and how the man wanted him to show up by himself to a bank. The unsympathetic operator told Cooper to head up there to the bank on his own and see if the man was there, and then to call the police and they would arrive. Except it would likely take the police over an hour to arrive. The call ended abruptly.

We strategized briefly. Cooper had a plane to catch the next morning. He absolutely couldn’t go meet a criminal with a credit card at his bank. A call to the airlines confirmed he could still board his plane if he had a police report that showed his ID was missing, so he could cancel his credit cards, get a new phone, and get the police report.

On our walk to the police station, the man called back and I found myself laughing out loud as Cooper channeled his inner black girl in his responses, his walk more confident, his gestures more dramatic.

“Okay, listen, nigger, there is no way on God’s green Earth that I am coming up to you in a place I don’t know when you won’t describe yourself. No! Just leave my cell phone with a bank teller then! What’s that? Oh, you want me there in person so that you can see the look on my face when you hand it to me! No! I’m not a fool! What do you take me for! Fine, then sell my phone! The screen is cracked and the battery is almost dead, and I have the charger, but I bet you can get 20 bucks for it! Go ahead! Go right ahead!”

The man hung up, and although we tried calling several more times, he didn’t answer again. But he didn’t turn the phone off either. Cooper, strangely, was a bit elated. He talked about having the best time with this, and how this was an epic New York adventure. We kept laughing as we walked into the local police station precinct of the NYPD, an older tomb-like building with poor lighting inside and a set of chairs in front of the reporting desk. We saw several policemen walking around, all men, a multi-ethnic team of professionals of all ages.

Cooper explained the story to the dispatch officer, who called in his supervisor, who called in his supervisor, who called in his supervisor. We showed them Sheri’s phone, which now had the IPhone tracker downloaded on it, and we could see the man had moved several miles again to Central Park. We tried calling him again with the police there, but he wasn’t answering. And suddenly, one of the men spoke up.

“Well, let’s get an undercover car, and let’s go get him.”

And before I could blink, Sheri, Cooper, and I were piled into the back of an unmarked police car. In the front sat Sergeant Morales, a thin, handsome Hispanic cop with a no-nonsense attitude, and Officer Francis, a linebacker-sized Caucasian man with a tremendous sense of humor. Both men had huge hearts and were clearly very passionate about their jobs.

The car began whizzing in and out of traffic down Fifth Avenue toward Central Park, and I had to crack a window to keep from getting nauseous. I was fatigued, and hungry, and dehydrated. The officers triggered the siren to clear traffic when necessary and ran several red lights.

As we drove, Sheri, ever the comedian, quipped, “Cooper, what if the guy just thought you were hot? What if he stole your phone to get your attention?”

Cooper, all smiles, laughed back. “That would be the most twisted and elaborate story of all time. Maybe I’ll meet my future husband now!”

Sheri kept going. “What if the cops are in on it? Are you guys just actors leading Cooper to an epic date?”

Officer Francis looked back seriously. “Yup. Surprise!”

And Sergeant Morales, more serious, still chuckled. “Right. Cause we could get an unmarked cop car and break traffic laws for that.”

Cooper and I exchanged an ‘is-this-really-happening’ look and soon we were near Central Park on a busy intersection, right on top of the blipping dot on the tracker.

“Okay,” Officer Francis explained. “Chad and Cooper get out and walk down the road. Push the little button that makes the phone ding. I’ll hang out behind you and as soon as you point him out, I’ll grab the guy.”

We walked up and down the block, watching for a man that met Cooper’s description. He pushed the button, but we heard no pings. My heart was pounding and my senses on hyper-alert. At the end of the city block, the tracker suddenly showed the man another 8 blocks away. We all piled back in the car, wondering if he was on the subway or a bike or a city bus. Two more times, we walked the busy streets filled with pedestrians, and each time he would be blocks farther away. We kept calling and pinging the phone, but the man never answered.

Finally, we identified the bus he was on. And so the NYPD activated their siren and pulled the bus over. On Fifth Avenue. In New York City. Blocking traffic. And my friend, my sister, two cops, and me walked on to the semi-crowded bus. To catch a criminal. Who had stolen a cell phone. My head was spinning.

As we got on the bus, an older woman rushed off. “I want nothing to do with the cops!” she exclaimed, basically fleeing.

Sitting right there at the front of the bus was an elderly black man with a walker. He was wearing thick black glasses, a blue ballcap, a grey sweater over a plaid shirt, and blue pants. Cooper was off the bus pushing the ‘ping’ button and I heard it going off in his pocket. The man’s walker was draped in clothing and bags.

“Is there something going on, officers?” the man asked. They explained they were looking for a stolen cell phone and the man reached into his sweater pocket and pulled it out. “You mean this one? I was at a Starbucks a few hours ago and I found it sitting in a bathroom. I have been trying to talk to the kid to give it back, but he didn’t want to, so I kept it here in my pocket. I’m just on the bus, headed down to K-Mart to buy me some socks.”

The police pulled the man off the bus and he took a seat on his walker on the sidewalk as the officers got his identification. His name was George and he was 72. He had no criminal record except for a speeding ticket back in the 1970s.

George kept talking, professing pure innocence at what he had done. He seemed to mostly be dialoguing for himself, and now, days later, I’m not sure if he was a master criminal with a very convincing cover story that he has used over and over, or a slightly senile old man who was purely innocent. I found myself questioning him as he spoke, as did Cooper, as did the officers, but his story didn’t change.

“Look, I found the cell phone in the bathroom. I didn’t realize it had your ID and credit cards in it. Look, nothing is missing, see? I had no idea the police could track a phone like that! Wow, how did you guys even find me? And on a bus! Anyway, I didn’t steal it. I didn’t give the phone to someone at Starbucks or see if anyone there had lost it because I didn’t want anyone to steal it. You say you left it on a table? No way, I found it in the bathroom. So I just put it in my pocket. I was trying to give it back to you, wasn’t I? I didn’t ask for no reward. Why didn’t I describe myself? Because I wanted you to be surprised! Why didn’t I just leave the phone with a bank teller? Well, because, I wanted to see the smile on your face when you got it back! That would have been my reward! Why did I threaten to sell the phone? Well, what else was I going to do with it! Why was I miles away at a bank? Well, because I had to go up that way for some glasses! That was just a good place to meet you!”

And in the most telling moment of the entire conversation, the man turned to Cooper and said, “Look, did I ask you for any money for your phone?”

And Cooper quipped back, “No. But I had to get the cops to chase your bus downtown to grab it.”

Officer Francis explained that they definitely had enough evidence to arrest the man, but that he rather believed the man was a bit senile and didn’t mean to steal it. He said it would be the weirdest arrest he had ever made, taking the man in his walker back to the station for booking. He explained that since there were credit cards with the phone, that George would be charged with a felony. And Cooper, magnanimously, decided not to press charges.

Before the police gave us a ride back to the station, before we firmly shook their hands and sincerely thanked them for their amazing service, before we all went about our days with giant smiles and spinning heads, before I could ruminate on what an insane adventure that had been, before George got back on the next bus to go on and buy his socks (and maybe to steal another phone)… before all that, I made one suggestion.

“Hey, Cooper, you and George want to get your photo taken?”

And so Cooper held up his phone and stood next to George, who stood up off his walker and put his arm around Cooper. They both smiled and held up their thumbs as I snapped the shot. People passed behind them, texting, oblivious.

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Out of the Basket of Deplorables

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“I’m telling you, we are in the wrong war on terror!”

The man leaned over, looking a bit like Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd’s character in Back to the Future, his wispy white hair unkempt, his eyes wild and a bit mad. He was wearing black jeans and a dark black shirt with a single word printed on it in capital letters with a period: WHATEVER.

“We keep getting ourselves involved in the wars in Iran and Iraq and all those places, when they have already been at war for years! Have you ever heard of the Iranian/Iraqian war? Look it up, I’m telling you!”

He took a long sip of his coffee, an iced caramelly drink pumped full of cream and sugar, then leaned forward, speaking more loudly.

“Those ISIS guys, they are just the new version of the Taliban. And what’s the worst that could happen? They send some suicide bomber in, all crazy with some bomb in a balloon or something, and they blow up some stadium and kill, what, fifty sixty people at most. But North Korea, there is your real problem! We just keep ignoring them with all their political games! I’ve been saying this since before Obama, since before Bush, we just keep ignoring North Korea and they are gonna send a nuke to, I don’t know, Seattle or San Francisco or something and we have a couple million dead! Then they will see I was right!”

“Yup, I hear ya.” His companion, looking like a stand-in on the Duck Dynasty, had an ample stomach that stood out over his jeans. He had a long white beard, rather Santa Claus like, and a pair of dark sunglasses under a red ballcap.

“And those suicide bombers, I totally get it! They get a few seconds of anxiety and nervousness or whatever, then they blow up and they get to Heaven where they get all the virgins they want! I mean, according to them, they go out on their terms! They get to do it how they want! What’s their other alternative, to submit to, what is it, Sharia Law, and they get to get hung up in some public square with their throats slit! So, yeah, you go out on your terms and you get the reward. It’s like, kinda like, Mormons get to have all those wives in Heaven and they are just waitin’ to get there!”

Duck Dynasty laughed heartily. “Oh, I love a good Mormon joke in the mornings.”

Doc Brown took another long sip from his drink while his friend sipped his coffee. They were silent for a second before Duck Dynasty started talking, much lower and more even, leaning back in his chair comfortably and choosing his words carefully.

“The way I look at it, 90 per cent of people who are devout about their religion were born and raised in their religion. There’s a bunch of studies on that shit. And we got billions of people in the world in certain religions, and parts of them is pushing their religion to those crazy levels. That’s Mormon, that’s Muslims, that’s whatever the North Koreans are, and it turns into war wen we start killing people, but maybe the war needs to be on the religions themselves. That’s why I liked Trump better before he brought religion into it. He’s gotta get more voters and everyone is all God and Jesus in America, I know that, but I had more respect for him before he was swaying in those churches. But at least he’s not that bitch, Hillary.”

Doc Brown almost stood up he was so excited. “She thinks she is so smart, but she is so stupid! Just like all of them! All of them who think ISIS is like some world-wide problem, it’s so freaking stupid! We need, you know what we need, we need Harry Truman back in office. Or–or Porter Rockwell. We gotta dig them out of the ground and put them back in the White House to make more sense of the world, to make it look like sense again. It’s the same damn thing over and over. The Civil War, and here we are a hundred years later with the same problems. You can’t get people to change how they think and feel. People in the South would still take us to war over blacks and slavery. ISIS is the exact same thing. But I tell you one thing, Trump has a lot of things right! He stands up and says that if he was in charge, ISIS wouldn’t have the money they have to blow things up! And he isn’t gonna tell the whole world his military strategy, that’s stupid! You tell everyone what you’re gonna do like Obama did and they know what you’re gonna do and fight back! Trump is keeping it secret, that’s smart!”

“You know what I like about Trump is he’s tenacious. He’s put up Trump Towers all over, Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York, all over. He sees the whole country and he builds it up, and when he gets shot down, he gets right back up. He’s got what it takes. Clear vision. He’s the only guy we can put up to the top. And you don’t get there unless you’re a bit of a rebel.”

“Yeah, I think when history is all said and done and in the books or whatever, they are gonna chop Obama up for what he’s done in the Middle East! He’s a politician, but he isn’t no president. Besides, it isn’t the liberals we have to thank for where America is now, it’s Japan. If Japan hadn’t ever bombed Pearl Harbor in World War II, we would never have entered the war and beefed up our military and economy and become the strongest guys ever in the world. I hate when the liberals try to take credit! And that’s what we need is to draw together as a country after 911 after we did in World War II, that’s all we need.”

Duck Dynasty nodded. “Maybe that’s what we need. Someone to piss America off again. 911 happened and we got pissed and look what we did. It’s just like Japan. We get pissed enough and we stop worrying about all this stuff that keeps hitting the news. We quit talking about cyber-terrorism and mental illness and the LGBT community and all of that, and we just go about our days kicking butt.”

Doc Brown threw his arms up in the air again. “Yes! That is exactly what I’m talking about! I don’t care if you believe in Jesus or Allah or whatever you are! It’s just time for things to change! We may not be the best country in the world anymore, may not be number 1 anymore, but this country still has a lot of life left in it!”

“Yeah, it makes me damn mad. The whole thing makes me damn mad.”

“Well said, my friend. Makes me damn mad, too.”

After a few pauses, Doc Brown stood up. “Well, I gotta head in to work before the wife kills me. It was nice meeting you here. I’m Chris.” He extended a hand.

“Don. Great to meet you, too.”

The two men clicked their drinks together in a cheers and headed out of the Starbucks, where I sat at a table nearby, my fingers furiously clacking at the keyboard to capture their unbelievable words. I watched them embrace outside before heading their respective ways, viewing the world, like every other person, with their own sets of eyeballs.

Pulse

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What is happening today will be the history we talk of tomorrow.

Truthfully, America’s history of full of brutal attacks, so many that we can barely remember some that happened only weeks ago, no less ones that happened years ago. But some are so terrible, so bloody, or so unique that they find a way of imprinting on our long-term community consciousness.

You may not remember Ruby Ridge, or the Washington DC sniper, or Haun’s Mill, or Fort Hood, or the Green River serial killer, or Andersonville, or even Trayvon Martin, but you do remember…

9/11.

Pearl Harbor.

Matthew Shephard.

The Challenger explosion.

Stonewall.

Sandy Hook.

Added to that list, those events which will imprint upon our community consciousness I believe, will be the Pulse.

With all of the horrible mass shootings that keep taking place, with it being almost commonplace, we just grow accustomed somehow to the terrible. It isn’t that we don’t care, it isn’t that we don’t feel, it’s that it is too much. It is too much for our brains to process.

Picture your day-to-day routine. Pick any place. In line at the grocery store, with your children at a public park, dropping your daughter off at school, at the movies, sitting at a table waiting for the food you ordered at your favorite restaurant. In any of these places, a man with a gun could walk in, his only intent is to kill as many people as he can. He ignores cries for help or people cowering in corners begging not to be seen, he just shoots and shoots and shoots.

We watch violent movies all the time. That violence is okay to our minds generally because we know it is fake. We know it is makeup and special effects. In a situation like this, though, there is blood and brain and bone and body.

Those lives that were cut short. Boyfriends holding hands, sons texting their mothers goodbye, people rushing for every exit. This is the world we live in right now.

Gun violence is happening in every corner of this country. California, South Carolina, Florida, the northeast and southwest and every place in between. It is horrifying. It is terrifying.

It’s only been about 60 hours since the Pulse shootings. We’ve attended vigils. We learned about the attacker. We’ve seen the names of the victims. We hugged our friends and shed some tears and lost some sleep.

But this time, this time something must change. How could we have let this continue after Virginia Tech? And Fort Hood? And Sandy Hook? How can we have let all this happen without changing things?

The country seems divided politically, as it always does. One side is crying out for stricter immigration reform, going so far as to suggest a ban all Muslims from American soil. The other side is calling for gun reform; not for taking guns away but for making mandatory background checks, mental health evaluations, and perhaps waiting periods before gun purchases.

I don’t understand why things aren’t changing. I can’t comprehend it.

In Salt Lake City, I work as an on-call crisis responder. Since the Pulse shooting, I have been called out twice, in my own city, to respond to the scenes of robberies where guns have been drawn and lives have been threatened. Twice. Since the Pulse. Angry men pointed guns at innocent people and made demands. No one was killed, but in both of these cases, the victims went home with deep emotional scars that may take years to recover from.

As I type this, several survivors of the Pulse shootings are fighting for their lives in hospital beds. Mothers are going to their sons’ apartments and cleaning up their belongings: their laptops with unfinished projects, their journals which now have a last entry written in them. Bosses are cleaning off the desks of their dead employees, putting their family photographs and coffee mugs into a cardboard box. Funeral directors are preparing coffins and urns, and memorial halls are being booked out.

It’s Tuesday and tomorrow is Wednesday and my heart still hurts and I don’t know what to do to make sure this never happens again.