STUPID SMART PERSON

One of the more humiliating moments in my life occurred around 1997.

I was working as a waiter at Jimmy Armstrong’s Saloon in midtown Manhattan.

It was lunchtime.  The place was packed.  I was scrambling to get the food out.

I noticed a man leaning over a table.  He was an older man, African-American.  I could only see his back.  He was wearing a faded, olive-green military jacket.  He appeared to have flowers in one hand.

I thought he was selling them.

I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Sir, we’re not allowed to have solicitors in here.’

He turned to face me.

“Excuse me?” he asked.

Immediately, I knew I had screwed up.

He wasn’t selling flowers.  He knew someone at the table.  He had stopped to say hi.

Now that he was facing me, he wasn’t the guy I’d expected.  Instead of someone hustling to make a buck, living at life’s margins, this man was wearing office attire.

“Because I’m a black man.”

Fuck.

“Who do you think you are?”

Fuck, fuck, fuckity-fuck.

As his voice grew louder, the restaurant din subsided.  We had the floor now, just the two of us.

“I am so sorry,” I said.

“Do you have any education?”

“I’m really, really sorry.”

“Yeah, we heard that part.  Now I’m asking you a question.  Education?  You got any?”

It was an unholy, slow-motion disaster.

I nodded, head down.

“What kind of education?”

“I really apologize.  Please forgive me.  I didn’t – ”

“Did you go to college?  Just answer me.”

I exhaled and nodded.

“WHERE did you go to college?”

I was fucked anyway.  Might as well just roll down hill and let it be done.

In the quietest voice ever, I said, “Harvard.”

Perfect silence in the restaurant.

The man smiled.

“Harvard???”

My body was still in the restaurant, but the rest of me had already crawled out to find a place to curl up and die.

“Harvard.  Huh.”

I shrugged.

“Well, I guess that makes you just about the STUPIDEST FUCKING SMART PERSON I ever met!”

Even right then, in my agony, there was a tiny sliver of me that actually appreciated the phrase.

Indeed, when he said it, I think he and I actually both smiled, at least a little.

Customers went back to their food.  I went back to work.  The man bid farewell to his friend and left.

As awful as the afternoon was, I’ve always liked the phrase.

Over the years it would even pop into my head as an appropriate tagline.

For instance, I thought of it when Donald Rumsfeld was discussing the brand-new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when he pontificated about “known unknowables and unknown unknowables.”

Stupid smart person.

Or when Bill Clinton was musing on possible interpretations of the word “is.”

Stupid smart person.

It’s a great phrase.

Cosmically huge bummer, of course, that it was christened at my own expense.

But credit where credit is due, the guy got it right that day.

 

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PERFECT INSTINCTS

I’ll say this for Trump, his instincts for fascism are perfect.

Single out immigrants as source of nation’s problems?

Check.

Brand journalists as “enemies of the state?”

Check.

Threaten to throw opponent in prison after election?

Check.

It remains to be seen how far he is allowed to stroll down the path which Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin walked.  But for a rookie, he’s an absolute, breathtaking natural.

Encourage supporters to beat up protesters?

Yes.

Orchestrate meetings so that ministers take turns praising you?

Hell yes.

Hire your family for top jobs?

From day one.

Label as traitors those who disagree with you?

Daily.

Tell police to forget about civil liberties and rough up suspects?

You know it.

Ridicule the weak?

Why stop there?  How about disabled people!

Trump even has the trademark aesthetic flourishes of a dictator, including the weird, affected, almost effeminate pumping of fist to signal strength and victory

All of it … the overwhelming narcissism … the perennial nursing of grievances … it’s all there.

Let’s stop for a moment and contemplate this.

Right off the bat, just days into office, he was complaining about his treatment.  First it was the press coverage of crowd size at his inauguration.  Then it was leaks to media regarding his phone calls with other heads of state.

This is a (supposed) multibillionaire, just elected to the most powerful job in the entire world.  He is wealthy, he is powerful, he has the world at his feet.  He has won.

And what does he do, right from the start?

Whine.

Has any leader in recent memory whined longer, louder, more passionately than our president?

Who uses a Boy Scouts meeting, of all venues, to air grievances, threaten subordinates, and make fun of foes?

That’s not strong.  That’s pathetic.

President Trump has just two areas of interest:  himself, and accumulating power.  He was born for the dictator gig.

Just a matter of how far we let him explore it.

finger

 

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WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

We usually have little idea, immediately, how significant a moment is.

The first time I became aware of Armenia, I was listening to an announcement during a school assembly in 10th or 11th grade.

A younger student stood up and spoke briefly about the yearly anniversary of the Armemian Genocide.

I don’t remember what he said, though in hindsight, I can guess.

At the time, his words barely registered.  I wasn’t sure whether ‘Armenian’ was a race, nationality, or religion.

If anything, I just thought, Ah, this sucks for the guy.  He probably has to get up and do this every year.

I didn’t give Armenia a second thought.

A few years later, on my first day of college, I met a girl and her mother.

It was the girl’s first day, too.  She was assigned to a room across the hall from me, on the fourth floor of the dorm.

The mom asked if I could help carry some bags and boxes upstairs.

No worries, I figured. It would give me something to do.

Easy way to meet a girl anyway.

The girl and her mom were Armenian. The mom spoke about the country and its people. She mentioned the genocide.

I listened politely, finished helping, and moved on with the rest of my day.

All the things I thought were important that day – where I was attending college, what classes I would take first semester, whether I would play soccer for the college – none of it turned out to be remotely as consequential as what had just happened.  I had just met my wife.

Oh, Armenian… interesting… no problem … happy to help.

So now here I am, 31 years later, sitting on a plane waiting to take off from Yerevan, Armenia. I’m heading home to Los Angeles.  The trip will take roughly 17 hours.

I know plenty about the country now.  I have traveled here, made friends here, and dropped off my daughter for a 3-week youth program.

I even speak the language, albeit badly.

For my wife, Armenian culture and heritage are hugely important.

And my daughter, 15, has always gravitated toward Armenian people, stories, and experiences.

So I’m hauling luggage again, but this time for my daughter.  And this time in Armenia.

My own impressions of the country aren’t unique or important. As thousands of travelers before me have noted, it’s an ancient place with stunning vistas, fascinating artifacts, and many kind people who are willing – excited, actually – to show you around.

The place can be a pain in the ass, too, in the same way that any faraway, less developed country can be (or any country, for that matter).

But mostly, I am just startled, looking back, at the total … nothingness of those first, throwaway moments.

A school announcement.

Carrying boxes.

Nothing is happening.

Except, of course, it is.

I guess if I had paid closer attention, I might have heard the first faint whispers of what life had in store for me.  It probably would have saved me some time and heartache and needless wandering around.

Instead, I was just bumbling along, worrying about all the other stuff I wound up not giving a shit about.

God only knows what hidden, pivotal moments I am traipsing past today, heedless.

Time will tell, I guess.

 

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InstaHate

My wife, who is a talent manager in Hollywood, has 84,000 followers on Instagram.2015 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals

This is mostly because of her client Selena Gomez.

Selena fans, or Selenators as they are known, skew toward the teen and pre-teen.  They are big users of social media.

When my wife posts an image of Selena, or even just a photo of our family dog, the love and emoji-kisses pour in from around the world.  Japan, Sweden, Brazil, everywhere.  It’s kind of random, but awesome nonetheless.

But the love dried up on April 26.

My wife posted a photo of an Armenian Genocide memorial event two days earlier in Los Angeles.

Geno2

A few words about the Genocide.  No reputable historian disputes it happened.  An estimated 1.2 to 2 million Armenians were murdered or starved to death during forced relocations by the Turkish government during World War I.

As with the Holocaust, there are thousands of hours of recorded testimony from survivors.  There is an entire book by Henry Morgenthau Sr., then U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, detailing not only the daily slaughter, but also Morgenthau’s conversations with the genocide’s architect, Talat Pasha.

hanging

Contemporary accounts from American and British missionaries described public hangings, rapes, mutilation, and the deadly march of hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees into the Syrian desert.

Hitler himself took encouragement from the Turkish example as he contemplated his own race-based extermination.

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler said.

The heads of Armenian men decapitated during round-up and execution of community leaders in 1915

Armenian men were decapitated in attacks targeting community leaders

In the United States, many were at least dimly aware of the tragedy.

When my parents were growing up in Nebraska, if they left food on their plate, they were told to eat it up.  Think of the starving Armenians.

Today, countries such as Germany and Rwanda publicly acknowledge the famous genocides which took place within their borders.

Germany, in particular, sets the gold standard for coming to grips with historical atrocity.

However, Turkey has taken the opposite approach.  The government aggressively denies the Armenian Genocide occurred.  Denial is a staple of public education and a basic criteria for doing business with other countries.

The United States and Israel, which should lead the way, instead refuse to recognize the Armenian Genocide as a genocide (even though the word itself was created by human rights lawyer Raphael Lemkin in specific reference to both Armenians and Jews).

The U.S. and Israel don’t want to alienate Turkey, an important strategic partner in a chaotic region.

On the other hand, countries such as France, Italy, Greece, Germany, Poland, Russia, Sweden and dozens of others have all done the right thing.  They recognize the Armenian Genocide as the first mass kill-off, by race, in the 20th century.

Back to the young Selenators.

My wife’s words about the Armenian Genocide unleashed an absolute torrent of abuse from Turkish Selenators.

SLUT!

BITCH

Fuck you

#fuckarmenia

Why are you so stupid

FUCK YOU!  SHUT UP BITCH ARMENIANS

MOTHERFUCKER aleen YOU SHOULD BUY A BRAIN AND USE IT

ASSHOLE SHUT THE FUCK UP BITCH

We hate u

Go and buy a brain racist

Oh, baby, you make me laugh.  Am i wrong?  Can you show me proof ’bout ‘Ottoman Turks killed 2 million Armenians in 1915″?  You can’t.  Bc this never happened.  You don’t know your “great” grandparents’ history.  Ironic.

You should read a book

Racist bitch

hate makes you ugly, you’re selena’s manager and i’m sure that selena isn’t a racist.  stop lying about us, we didn’t kill Armenians. YOU killed our people, and we made your parents go to another place. we did it with respect, please read history.

i hope you die

You don’t know anything about history

You should read history Aleen.  I don’t want to be rude but you shouldn’t judge people by ‘wrong’ history information.  Don’t be racist and vengeful.  God bless you

Aleen keshishian you are writing this article for what.  Yes we understood you are a fuckin disgusting human.  Sorry I said human.  You can’t be human if you think this about us

Racist prostitute!!!!

This single post by my wife triggered more than 14,000 comments.  Nearly all of them said similar things, either in English or Turkish.

By now, the hatred has migrated onto all of my wife’s other pictures on Instagram, too, including family ones.

hate

For a while I would comb through these comments and report them to Instagram, one by one.

But for every comment I reported, ten more would pop up.

Finally, I decided to leave it alone.  The comments speak for themselves.  They are testament to the Turkish government’s 100 years of aggressively denying what happened.

Most comments are from teen and pre-teen girls.

You can get cancer ‘kay?

All the usual disclaimers apply.  The above comments do not reflect the views of all Turks.  There are plenty of honest, fair-minded Turks who acknowledge not only the genocide, but also the wholesale expropriation of Armenian lands and property.

But the Instagram comments do illustrate, at least anecdotally, the results of extreme, aggressive denial.

So, for people who DO want to ‘read a book,’ as the Turkish Selenators helpfully suggested, I recommend four:

  1. The Murder of a Nation, Henry Morgenthau Sr., 1918
  2. Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian, 1997
  3. There Was and There Was Not, Meline Toumani, 2014
  4. Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian, 2015

Also worth reading is A Century of Silence, which appeared in the New Yorker on Jan. 5, 2015.

Or go to the Wikipedia page about Hrant Dink, the courageous journalist in Istanbul who kept writing about the Genocide despite multiple prosecutions by the state for ‘denigrating Turkishness.’

“There are Turks who don’t admit that their ancestors committed genocide,” Dink said in an interview.  “If you look at it, though, they seem to be nice people …. So why don’t they admit it?  Because they think that genocide is a bad thing which they would never want to commit, and because they can’t believe their ancestors would do such a thing either.”

Hrant_Dink

One of Dink’s prosecutions stemmed from this public remark:  “Of course I’m saying it’s a genocide, because its consequences show it to be true and label it so.  We see that people who had lived on this soil for 4,000 years were exterminated by these events.”

I wish there were a happy end to Dink’s heroism.  But as you might guess (based on the venom unleashed by a simple Instagram post), his courage ended up killing him. Dink was shot to death in 2007 outside the newspaper office where he worked.

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PAVEL’S MOUSE

A couple months ago, I clipped a news item for my wife.

It was about an alleged rape at her old high school in New Hampshire.

To me, the story was of passing interest, mainly because it occurred at her alma mater.

But my wife really went in-depth.  She stayed up late reading articles online and printing them out for our children, ages 13 and 12.

In the morning, two neat little stacks of stories — collated and stapled — sat beside each child’s bed.SPS

“So they learn what constitutes rape,” my wife said.

“And how to avoid the situation,” she said.

Hmm.  Okay.  I hadn’t really intended to start a household conversation.  But no problem.  Always good to talk things out.

Soon enough, I realized my wife and daughter were following the court case closely.  They were waiting eagerly for the verdict.

They were rooting for the defendant to be acquitted of the felony charges.

Wait, what?

And somehow my daughter had come away from the news stories with a positive picture of the school.

“I kind of want to go to there,” she said.

What the hell?

All this culminated in an animated discussion one evening at our kitchen table.

I started by telling my wife and daughter:

a) They were both insane;labrie 2

b) They were on the wrong side; and

c) Of course the kid looked nice in court, he was dressed up for court. 

As usual, my own opinions went in one ear, out the other.

The boy wound up getting convicted of multiple misdemeanors and one felony which, admittedly, seemed somewhat misapplied.  (The felony was ‘using a computer to seduce, solicit, lure or entice a child under the age of 16.’  He was 18, she was 15.  They had traded emails about their upcoming date.)

But ultimately, some tangential good did arise from our household fascination with the case.  It yielded two new entries in my wife’s already impressive array of mangled idioms.

THE HERRING BONE

As Aleen discussed the rape case, she referred to one set of emails as ‘the herring bone of the whole thing.’

This might have confused other listeners, but I have spent 30 years de-coding Aleen.

There was a double error, I realized.  She meant ‘red herring.’  But even that was wrong, since a ‘red herring’ is a seemingly important clue which turns out to be irrelevant.

What she really meant was ‘smoking gun,’ or alternatively, the ‘backbone’ of the case.

But hey, ‘herring bone’ works, too.

PAVEL’S MOUSE

Here, Aleen was aiming for ‘Pavlov’s dogs,’ but wound up instead with ‘Pavel’s mouse.’  (Sounds like the protagonist of a children’s story.)

Pavel's MouseI’m pretty sure her version will now pop into my head whenever I hear someone say ‘Pavlov’s dogs.’

Aleen has always blamed her aphoristic smash-ups on being an immigrant. She arrived in the U.S. from Beirut at just 10 months old.  Her parents never used any American sayings, she says.

Maybe mangled idioms ought to factor into our national debate on immigration.

If we restrict immigration too much, it could reduce the number of humorously bungled sayings. leens and lools

I, for one, would be against that.

But I’ll discuss it with my wife and daughter.  There’s a good chance they will see it differently.

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FREE TOM DAILEY


As I watched coverage of the latest shooting, I thought of Tom Dailey, the Sprint employee who got in trouble last month after the Nashville theater attack.

Dailey was being interviewed on live TV by Fox News anchor Shepard Smith.  While breathlessly describing events next door, Dailey somewhat jarringly promoted Sprint’s Cut Your Bill in Half plan.

“We were trying to promote our Cut Your Bill in Half when we had a couple police officers come in, tell us to lock all the doors, close everything,” Dailey said.

The news anchor let the first mention slide.

“Where do you work in relation to this place?” Smith asked.

Dailey, ever enthusiastic, hit the sales point again.

“We work at Sprint.  Where we cut your bill in half.”

The Fox News anchor grew annoyed.

“That’s nice advertising, here in the middle of a shooting at a movie theater,” Smith said.

Dailey quickly apologized, and blamed habit.

“I’m just so used to saying it so much,” he said.

The next day, Dailey wound up in hot water with his employer.  Sprint announced it would take action in the matter.

My heart went out to Dailey.  (And not just because he kept pronouncing ‘theater’ as thee-AY-ter.  Which I always appreciate.)

The guy was excited and discombobulated.  The guy lives in a nation where people are regularly shooting up public places for no apparent reason.  He was just yards away when one of these terrifying eruptions occurred.

Further, he has probably said the phrase ‘Where We Cut Your Bill in Half,’ oh, I don’t know, about five thousand times?  He probably gets written up if he doesn’t say it.  I bet he says these words so often, he doesn’t even hear them anymore.

To me, this weird little moment in the midst of an interview said more about the state of our nation than about Tom Dailey.

We interrupt this shooting coverage to express our outrage over the crass marketing which just interrupted our shooting coverage.  Which will be soon be interrupted by more marketing.

Or,

We apologize for this idiot accidentally reminding us that these workplace shootings are becoming so common that most of us care more about our mobile plan rates.

Or,

We apologize that the real business of America — making money — reared its head at a moment when we were pretending it was something else.  Like being a community.

Or,

We apologize for this guy shilling for Sprint after an attempted murder.  Even though we ourselves plastered the TV screen with Fox News logos, banner art, and branded ‘news personalities.’

Sprint has not said what action it took, if any, to punish the employee.

What Sprint should do instead is start using its corporate muscle to lobby lawmakers to curtail gun violence, to protect workerbees like Tom Dailey.

As for when salesmanship is appropriate, it occurred to me that a flow chart might help Dailey and his co-workers.

So I made one!

Flow Chart 4

 

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CLEANLINESS NOT NEXT TO GODLINESS IN OUR HOUSE

youngAKbirthday3

ca. 1971

Happy birthday, Leens!

I won’t bother trying to find the perfect gift.  You return most of my presents anyway.  Instead I’m giving you this blog post, plus a manicure and pedicure.

When you were a little girl in Manchester N.H., you used to comb the fringe of your family’s oriental rugs until it was perfectly straight.

You used to dump clean clothes down the laundry chute, so they would magically re-appear the next day, neatly folded.  I’m sure your mom loved that.folded

For fun, you used to go to your friend Sharon Rosen’s house to clean and organize her closet.  (Sharon’s mom probably did love that.)

I once found you in our kitchen staring at the carefully labeled, pastel-colored Pottery Barn organizer boxes above the computer.

“This is the only place in the house I feel safe,” you said.

You are a neatnik.

I am not.fringe

But you have been a good sport.

For years you have put up with my messy minivan, my dirty fingernails, my chipped, coffee-stained teeth; with me wearing outdoor clothes into bed; with me rarely attending your work dinners or movie premieres; with the dog digging in the garden and jumping in bed; with smelly hockey gear in our garage; with annual Troyer family vacations in the woods; with all the endless crappy hotels at youth hockey tournaments in Phoenix, San Jose, Vegas, Detroit and Chicago.

Not supposed to jump in the pool.  Or eat footballs.

Not supposed to jump in the pool. Or eat footballs.

Do you remember when I used to take the kids ‘splash walking’ in the rain?

They would go stomping and splashing through the biggest, deepest puddles they could find.

You were a good sport about that, too.

post-splashwalk lollipops

post-splashwalk lollipops

You have put up with the mess, the chaos and, above all, the nagging feeling — once you finally got home from work each night — that I had put all my energy into the kids and dog and was now just a tired, cranky, wrung-out dishcloth of a husband.

mudrace2

possibly raised on a farm

So today, for your birthday, I will finally get that manicure/pedicure you’ve been pestering me about for 15 years.

dirty nails

I can’t promise it will last for long.  My nails may look good for only a day or two.  But at least for today, I’m cleaning up my act.

Happy birthday, sweet Aleeno.

May you live a long time, and may you always have this same beautiful smile on your face.

lama

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