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24 February, 2015


Every few weeks, school starts late, and I have the joy of an extra couple of hours with my youngest kid. For a while now, we've been using that time to head downtown to Darby's for breakfast; it's happened enough that we could call it a Tradition if we wanted. It's a luxury, having this extra time, and being able to spend it sharing coffee (she mostly warms her hands with it, but usually also sneaks a sip) and eating pancakes is a treasure I will not trade for anything.

Sometimes on weekends, we pry her older sister out of bed and head downtown to the diner. Or maybe it's not until afternoon, but that's no problem, because like any real diner, you can order breakfast all day. One time, the music was some rap about pancakes, and we could hear the cooks talking about pancakes (sorry to be repetitive about pancakes, but me and the girls tend to be selective with our terms, and cannot abide flapjacks, hotcakes, and especially flannel-cakes). One of them said, "I guess I eat a pancake about every damn day!" We cracked up, and repeat that phrase often, if not every damn day. Beneath the laughter, we all recognize a purity in the boast: the guy really enjoys having a pancake every day. A humble pancake sticking to your ribs gives you strength to face whatever the day throws at you.

Even a short stack can be too much for a kid, and sometimes there are leftovers. She works her way through methodically, cutting enough to eat and saving the rest of the disk, so there will be a substantial something instead of a pile of syrupy pieces. Usually, the dog is the beneficiary. Only recently, DNA analysis showed that a key difference between domesticated dogs and their wolfy cousins is that dogs can digest carbohydrates, and our hound excels. She gets a stale pancake and prances around for a while, showing off to those crows who sometimes taunt her that she has a delicious pancake, before settling down and gobbling it up.

Sometimes, I cook the pancakes. After years of messing with recipes and bisquick versions, I found a local pancake mix that does the trick best. These days, the youngest daughter mixes it, then I come along to knock out a few more lumps, and we let the batter rest while the skillet heats up. Cast iron is the only acceptable surface for me. Some of my earliest memories are of the thin blue smoke that my grand-dad let rise before flipping. Then watching my dad, him teaching me that watching the bubbles pop led to browned perfection without grand-dads carbonized edging. Dad cooked on an 11.25-inch Griswold skillet that family lore (or at least my recollection) says was given to him when he went away to grad school. With this classic American iron, he could cook anything the lone male physics student was apt to eat (all three meals). I have that skillet now, and continue to cook all kinds of stuff in it, sometimes to the chagrin of my kids...except when it's a pancake day.

For some reason, my recollections (not yet lore) of Dad's last few days focus on pancakes missed. He had a terminal illness--refusing to knuckle under to the "terminal" label for a couple years already--and was having such a hard time we'd scheduled a doctor visit. After some listening to lungs and flipping through charts, the doctor sat down with Dad, Mom, and me, and explained that Dad needed to be admitted to the hospital. I knew, and I think Dad did too, that the unspoken end of that sentence was "to die."

It was mid-morning now, and Dad said he was hungry. Stupidly, I sought permission go out to eat before going in to the hospital. I should have just taken him. But the message from the nurse was something like, "Now, you know we can't let you do that." That special gentle condescension that transforms dead men walking into incompetent children had already kicked in. I should have nodded, walked him out, turned the other way, and escaped to a stack of pancakes, but Mom was also worried about what might happen and still believing that after a day or two of hospitalization, we'd go out for breakfast. I didn't want to take that from her, and besides Dad probably wanted to believe in that too.

Instead of dropping dead over pancakes, he died in a bed surrounded by machines, stuck full of tubes. My aunt did smuggle in one of his favorite meals before the end, but we never got that last moment of freedom, that last stack of pancakes.That that's my big regret is a blessing, but I still wish I'd whisked my parents away and met my sister for a Last Breakfast.

So, on those late-start days, I'll be sitting at a table with my kid, looking out at the street-scape shenanigans of making silverware sculptures while was await the pancakes. Falling behind a little on work doesn't matter. Eating carbs I don't need is not as unhealthy as missing time with my kids. Following hospital protocol but subverting a dying man's wish was a shame. Pancakes are life, and even if you cannot have one every damn day, it's worth sharing a stack with someone you love.

08 February, 2015

Guns at the Capitol

Some guy from Alabama running his mouth on the Washington State Capitol steps.

This past Saturday, our local paper reports, about 50 people showed up to protest what they see as infringement on their right to carry arms. A couple of legislators showed up to support them, and nobody was arrested. Washington state, characterized in the media as a liberal haven of pot-smokers and same-sex-marriers, turns out to also be one of the few states that does not outlaw carrying guns into its capitol building.

Still, the good voters of this state did vote last November to require background checks on all gun sales. You can still buy guns, a bunch of 'em, all kinds,...the voting public here is pretty tolerant of gun owners, but We the People decided it's reasonable to try and limit gun ownership by violent criminals and the mentally ill.

And it really pisses off a few people. Maybe the dude in the colonial outfit worries he'll be deemed as crazy as he looks. Maybe the guys covered head to foot in "tactical" paramilitary costumes genuinely believe that a background check is tantamount to tyranny.

But of course, it wasn't the legislators that passed the background check referendum. It was the neighbors of the protestors. Initiative 594 was not the work of some liberal cabal, but the result of a popular vote. Think about it for even a second, and you have to realize that many of the people who voted for the measure actually own guns themselves. No, this was not a top-down clampdown.

Some guys from Seattle standing in ordered dignity.

Not that there's not some precedent for the legislature curtailing the right to bear arms. In 1969, another protest occurred in Olympia, also making its way to the Capitol steps. That time, though, it was the Black Panthers. And that time, they were protesting a bill in the Legislature that aimed to outlaw the public display of firearms, echoing the California Legislature's act, one that was squarely aimed at the Black Panther Party. The Seattle Black Panthers stood silently on the capitol steps, rifles and shotguns aimed at the sky. When the State Patrol asked that they unload and put down their weapons, the Panthers did so, and after about an hour, they left. [Here's the firsthand account, so you don't have to take my word for it.]

To reiterate, faced with legislative action directly aimed at a political party to whom 2nd Amendment rights were a core principle, that party protested peacefully. They did not attempt to enter the Capitol building (as recent gun rights protestors have), and even allowed their weapons to be unloaded by State Troopers (as contemporary gun rights protestors swear they would never allow).

In 1969 (as in 2015, sadly) young black men were shot by policemen for minor alleged offenses. The Black Panther Party included people who had directly experienced repression by The State. Not minorly incovenienced by a referendum-passed background check, but subjected to full-on harrassment and injury at the hands of law enforcement. Break-ins, frame-ups and shootings perpetrated by local, state and federal governments, not to mention the lack of enforcement when amateurs stepped in with murders and lynchings. Thus the Panthers' belief that they needed to police the police and to arm themselves for self-protection. Thus the February 1969 protest here in Olympia.

The crowd this past Saturday did not include any black people that I could see in the available photos. They were prevented from entering the actual legislative chambers with their arsenals of handguns and assault weapons, but no legislation was passed that targeted them, or even gun owners in general. Yet their statements and signs show that these modern protesters feel that they have been grievously wronged, and are being oppressed.

If the Black Panthers had showed up with military assault weapons, would they have been treated as civilly? The 1969 photos show a bunch of guys in berets and jackets holding rifles and shotguns, hands visible and not on triggers, not handgun in sight, no paramilitary "tactical" gear at all. Had the Seattle protesters insisted that the State Patrol could unload Panther rifles once they had--in the words of Heston and any number of white NRA advocates--"pried it from my cold dead fingers," the Panthers may well have been obliged. I mean this not as a statement about the Washington State Patrol, who in fact seem to have been equally adept at diffusing tense situations then and now, but about the relative value of black and white lives then and now.

The local paper also reports that protesters this past Saturday expected to be arrested (read, "martyred") and were selling hats to cover bail that said "Fight Tyranny--Shoot Back." I'm not sure they had Michael Brown or Eric Garner in mind, but what if black men did just that? We don't have to speculate about the answer, because history provides it: those black men would be jailed, beaten, shot. In my own lifetime, I remember rowhouses in Philadephia being fire-bombed--with men, women, and children inside--because they were black nationalists. Now that's oppression. That's being Tread Upon by the iron heel of The State.

But background checks? Get real, your rights are in no danger.