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Teaching Reflections, 10/14

Posted in Uncategorized on October 14, 2022 by Mike

I’m currently in the middle of grading my first batch of Blinn papers, so naturally I’m spending time on this blog post instead of making more progress. All the papers are attempting to do the same thing, so it gets repetitive reading them. That’s the nature of assigning papers and instructing students how to go about writing them, but the monotony is difficult to overcome. I wonder if there would be a way to assign a choice of prompts for the first essay to offer some variety (for my students, sure, but largely for me), while all accomplishing similar tasks?

Returning these first essays will change my relationship with these students – it usually does. The first paper grades are often a bit of a wake up to those who don’t invest in what I’m selling, and perhaps some of the silliness I’m seeing in my classes from some of the guys will cease. A sizable portion of my students need to understand that I’m serious about their writing, and serious about the course. When I’m teaching these same courses at Blinn, I don’t get the same level of distraction from the students – there’s something about being on an actual college campus vs. a building you’ve been roaming for four years that dissuades cutting up; that and being surrounded by strangers instead of friends.

Moving on…

My AP approached my about the freshmen book choices they’re given for one reading assingment. We’ve had a few parents rebel against their kids having to read works that aren’t written by dead white men this year. Certainly, there are works that many freshmen probably aren’t ready for, but the novels being assigned to PURPOSEFULLY ask students to read a different perspective than their own aren’t outrageous: The Hate U Give, Speak, Aristotle And Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a couple others. All pretty tame stuff, and all YA lit. No one’s being asked to change their views about anything (INDOCTRINATION!) – but there’s value in students reading different perspectives, and deciding what they agree with and what they don’t, and being able to EXPLAIN that. Right?

AP asked me to consider getting some more “vanilla” options in there. That was the mom’s request/word, not my AP’s. A couple titles were thrown out: Catcher in the Rye, for one. You know, the one with this passage:

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.

I don’t quote the above passage to say kids shouldn’t read Catcher. ONLY 16 year olds should read Catcher. But there’s objectionable content there, as any work worth its salt has. My AP knows/understands this. But authors of color and LGBTQ authors more often bear the brunt of complaints for their content in this community, and that’s not right.

Teaching Reflections 10/4

Posted in Uncategorized on October 4, 2022 by Mike

Grading essays is the most tiring part of any English teacher’s job. I don’t know that any other course’s grading load requires the time that an English class does (if the English teacher is doing the job correctly). This is not to slight other courses or to suggest they don’t work hard, or to say that their grading doesn’t take time, but I think any honest comparison will tell you that grading 75 three-page essays is more of a burden than taking on 75 of any other kind of assessment. I’ve never met a teacher from another department who has expressed any jealousy about the type of grading I do.

But that’s what I signed up for.

I just finished reading/grading my classes’ college application essays. I’ve got 108 seniors in my 4 classes, so it took me a while to even get motivated to start looking at them, even though they usually are one of my favorite assignments to read. And they were by and large enjoyable again this year. As I told them when I let them know I was finished grading, I appreciated the honesty and trust they showed in sharing what they did with me. I’m at times floored by what my students have experienced.

Their first college papers were due last night, so I’ve now got another 108 essays waiting for me in, which the district wants me to get back to them in two weeks. Doable, I suppose, but at about 15 minutes per paper that’s a little more than a full day of grading, non-stop (27 hours? Math, meh). So there go a lot of evenings and my weekends. Not counting any other work I assign to keep them honest with their reading/research paper progress.

It piles up.

Admittedly, I find I enjoy the process of giving feedback on essays. I’ve heard from too many past students that “You taught me how to write” to resign myself to the belief that no one actually looks at anything but the grade. What helped me out a couple years ago was my realization that there’s no need for me to be a copy editor, hitting every little grammatical miscue leaving their papers bleeding. Students get overwhelmed, maybe start to feel hopeless about their writing. I don’t want that, so I hit the bigger issues on their papers after marking mechanical problems on the first page. And then I encourage students to come talk to me about their papers, which reminds me that I’m going to offer points back on their essays for those who do. But I need to figure out a system that doesn’t just encourage grade-grubbing.

Today my seniors are beginning the research process on their topics, ideally recognizing what they don’t know and locating sources that will fill in some blanks.

The idea of what my students don’t know is an important one. I’ve recognized that I at times assume a bit too much about my students’ knowledge of the research/writing process. Today I had a kid tell me he wasn’t finding a lot on the databases about police reform. I logged in and did a quick search and got a list back of about 70 articles. I showed him what I had done to get those results (“police reform in the united states”) and he told me he had been separating all the search terms individually in the search boxes: “police” “reform”. Not coming back with anything too useful.

A lot is said about kids and tech, but I think too many overestimate their knowledge base. They know their phones. Outside of that, real lessons are needed when asking them to use actual tools.

That’s it for now.

Teaching Reflections 9/21

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2022 by Mike

As a personal goal for this school year, I wanted to reflect each week on what transpired, hoping that might lead to some insight into what I do well and what I need to work on. The thought that I’d actually be more deliberate in writing was a motivation as well. So of course it’s taken me a full six weeks to sit down and actually write my first one.

Today was a good day (yes, Ice Cube has immediately come to mind). I talked to my dual kids about how we don’t often like thinking about opposing arguments and discussed the text’s “collaborative rhetoric” chapter which their first paper is based on. I tell my students every year that I thrive on discussion – it’s what I truly enjoy in my classroom – and being able to talk about how we all hate having to think about why others believe the things they do is just human.

My activity I planned for them could have been stronger. I found an article critical of Biden and one critical of Trump and had them read through the one they thought they’d disagree with more, answering questions geared toward thinking about why they got defensive about the argument being put forth. But, as one of my students early on asked, “what if we dislike both Biden and Trump?”

Fair enough, kid.

Now I’m waiting to have a discussion with one of my newspaper staffers about him not doing a thing for the paper this six weeks. He was a bit of a worry when we took him on last year, but he tended to get most things done (though he’s not the strongest student). Now he just seems more distracted by everything else. Will have to tell him he’s not going to the journalism conference in two weeks, and will have to prove that he’s actually interested in being a part of the staff over the next three weeks or I’ll find another class he can be in. Our NP staff is so dependent on everyone getting their work done; he’s put a burden on everyone else by slacking off entirely.

Last point for today: our on level teachers have a real problem with student apathy. As one of my teachers pointed out during lunch, teachers not being able to seriously hold students accountable for late work is a real grind for them. When the constant question seems to be “what can teachers do to help their struggling students?” – a fair question, but one that ignores the reality that the VAST majority of students are putting themselves in this position by not doing anything in class – it wears on us as teachers.

OK, enough for now.

The last years of 80s Hair Metal – Intro.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2022 by Mike

A look back at some albums you probably don’t remember…

I was a teenager through most of the ’80s and as such lived through the heyday of hair metal (otherwise known as glam metal, pop metal, or my favorite, “crotch rock”, as these bands’ lyrics often revolved around getting laid). I’d assume most people over 40 have some association with this music as bands like Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi and Poison tended to stick around the Billboard charts during the late 80s, competing with more traditional pop acts like Madonna, Phil Collins and Michael Jackson, though songs by all could be heard on any mainstream pop station then (I’m thinking back to Dallas’s 97.1 The Eagle right now).

Hair metal would culminate with Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction (1987), just a monstrous rock album without a loser of a song on it. This album gave us “Paradise City”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, all songs you’d hear in heavy rotation on any pop/rock radio station from 1987 onward but also songs you STILL listen to today (if you’re still reading this post you know you do). While Guns N’ Roses would continue to see a great deal of success with their Use Your Illusion follow up double album (and the multitude of film-like MTV videos it spawned). nothing GNR put out would ever match their first album, and after Illusion GNR ended up devolving into Axl Rose’s seemingly decades long Chinese Democracy vanity project.

Now, there is the argument that GNR wasn’t actually “hair metal” – that they were hard rock and I understand the objection: the songs off Appetite had a different feel to them when compared to, say, Poison’s Look What the Cat Dragged In from the year before or even Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls released the same year as Appetite. Still, GNR had pretty strong ties to the L.A. glam scene, and early on the band’s appearance reflected some of those influences. If anything, GNR’s emergence marked a need for bands to start moving away from the pop metal scene (not many did), but the sheer popularity of its music was similar to most other inarguable hair bands at the time. I doubt many contemporaries would make a huge distinction – even GNR deliberately competed to take away Crüe’s “bad boys” crown that first year.

I say Appetite was the culmination of the hair metal genre as after 1987, while a lot of hair metal was still to come (as this series of blogs I’m planning will illustrate), Appetite proved to be a cultural touchstone – nothing matched it. Sure, 1989 saw Mötley Crüe release the hugely popular Dr. Feelgood and Skid Row’s self-titled album debuted the same year, but the die had been cast – everything after felt “been there, done that.” Hair metal bands weren’t able to offer up anything actually new and then along came Nirvana and the rest of the grunge scene to put the genre down for good. I mean, Mötley Crüe released three albums after Feelgood, and Poison released at least four after Open Up and Say…Ahh – can you name any one of them?

In 1987 I turned 15 and by that point was cutting my teeth on established 80s rock acts: Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, The Cars, and other bands that filled the airwaves at the time. From 1987 through 1990 I bought A LOT of hair metal albums. These cassette tapes would end up littering the floor of my ’81 Buick Regal as I made my way through high school and filling up storage cases placed beside the boxes of comic books I collected. Posters of these bands would decorate the walls of my bedroom over the next few years (I never broke my mom of the habit of calling GNR “Blood and Guts” when she would enter my room) and I even made it to a few concerts at what was then Starplex Amphitheatre.

What I’m saying is, when I was 17, I LOVED those bands.

So, for a reason I’ll get into later, I’ve decided to take a look at some of those bands’ albums I was listening to as I was finishing high school. Not the albums everyone remembers – I don’t really feel the need to look back at Ratt’s Reach for the Sky and explain why “Way Cool Jr.” might still hold up (I’m not sure it does). But there are bands whose albums I bought for THAT ONE SONG that MTV played the video for that ONE WEEK in July in 1989, whose lyrics I for some reason STILL KNOW, and as I am close to turning 50 I guess I’m interested in reminiscing a bit with a part of my youth that occupied so much of my time 30+ years ago.

Now where to begin…?

My Uncle Leroy – a story

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2021 by Mike

My uncle, Leroy Hahn, passed away from Alzheimer’s last Saturday at the age of 86. He was a farmer his entire life and as his son Bobby said at Leroy’s funeral today, an intuitive mechanic who had an innate ability to solve the problems he faced as a working farmer (Bobby related a story about Leroy combining two tractor engines to get more power, resulting in a tractor with four large drive wheels and an elaborate setup involving two clutches that had to be engaged in the correct order).

When I was younger I found Uncle Leroy…intimidating (to be honest I still found him intimidating when I was 45). He was a huge man – I suppose a lifetime working the land will result in that, and I know my brothers and I marveled at the size and strength of his hands. My dad – eleven years younger than Leroy who as a boy worked for Leroy in the fields – related a story about Leroy that stuck with the three of us about Leroy’s strength, and I thought I’d retell it here.

It may be a bit apocryphal, and as Adam said the other day, I hope nobody tells me if it’s actually not true.

It seems Leroy was attempting to loosen a bolt and broke a wrench in half while doing so. The wrench having come from Sears, and thus holding a lifetime warranty, allowed Leroy to return it and get a replacement.

In talking to the Sears sales rep, the rep looked at the broken wrench and agreed it should be replaced, but added to Leroy, “Yeah, wrenches will often break like that when you use a cheater bar.”

Now, for those who don’t know the term, a “cheater bar” is a piece of pipe that would be placed over the handle of the wrench, which would then offer more “torque” in attempting to loosen a tight bolt or valve. Using these kinds of things would probably void the warranty of the wrench as well, but I think the rep just thought he’d call Leroy on it a bit.

Leroy told the rep he didn’t use a cheater bar. When the sales guy looked unconvinced, Leroy asked, “You have a vice here?” When the guy nodded, Leroy had him get another wrench and tighten it in the vice. That done, Leroy took the wrench in both hands and 1-2-3, jerked hard and – BAM – broke the wrench in two. With his bare hands.

“I didn’t use a cheater bar.” Leroy got his replacement wrench.

Of course, Leroy HAD been using a cheater bar when he broke the wrench, but I guess he felt he needed to prove a point.

Dad told us Leroy’s arms were sore for days afterward.


Leroy loved his family and God, and I saw this every time I was around him. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, and to hear how it affected him this past year makes me understand his passing is a blessing. I know Leroy’s enjoying a long deserved rest now…

What else are fools good for?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2021 by Mike

There’s a scene in the 1996 film The Crucible (a very good rendition of Arthur Miller’s play starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder) where the girls who have been accusing various Salem residents of witchcraft faint together as a group when one of the accused reasonably (even obviously) questions in court how he could possibly be guilty of the crimes when he has to hobble around on two crutches, and has been known by the accuser’s family for years.

Upon seeing the girls lying on the floor, another resident, Martha Corey, a no-nonsense woman, guffaws while the other attendees gasp in shock. The town sheriff attempts to rebuke her: “How dare you mock them, Martha Corey!” to which she replies, “What else are fools good for?”

This scene came to mind recently when I posted an article by Kevin Williamson to my Facebook feed. It’s a biting article that takes to task Trump and all who deify him, pointing out just how ignominious Trump’s presidency has been. Trump is and always has been a cretin, and completely unqualified – intellectually, morally, emotionally – for the office. I’ve been upfront about my feelings about Trump since the day he announced his candidacy, and the past four years (culminating in an attempted coup by MAGA Trump supporters) have done nothing but prove me right.

Now that he’s gone, I’m seeing a lot of calls for unity, both at the national level and on social media. I get that, and I want to see this nation less divided, too. But unity is a pipe-dream as long as we’re willing to turn a blind eye to or placate those who choose to ignore reality. We have MILLIONS of people in this country, including elected representatives, who argued and still believe this election was rigged/stolen by the Democrats. I’m supposed to accept that their point of view is in some way valid? That I should pay any attention to them? What do they give in return? A promise not to engage in any more coups?

No, I’m with Martha Corey on this one. People who willfully choose to delude themselves and commit themselves to lies deserve to be mocked, need to be mocked. Trump’s unprecedented commitment to lying during his four years shouldn’t be forgotten, nor should his inflammation of the crowds who stormed the Capitol.

If January 6 should teach us anything, it’s that this country can no longer afford to ignore its fools.

Drafting a 6 word story

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 24, 2018 by Mike

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference offered attendees a chance to have a little fun this past weekend (besides sitting in on some pretty great sessions on the craft) with a six word story contest. Based on the apocryphal Hemingway legend, the Mayborn asked for us to tweet our entries with the hashtag #maybornbabyshoes attached; the winner would receive free registration to next year’s Mayborn Conference.

My entry took second place. Here it is:

6 word entry

If you have a Twitter account, you can check out all the entries by searching for the #maybornbabyshoes tag. If you’re curious about which story won, comment and I’ll tell you, but for now I’ll let you decide which ones you like best.

Also thought some of you might be interested in seeing the process of how I created my story. Here’s a pic of the work:

drafting pic

I began with a throwaway “hold my beer” joke, but didn’t submit that one as I figured humor would be plentiful in this contest and thus cheap. I was correct. The first real step to my eventual entry was a thought about a leash hanging by a door, worn but stiff from lack of use. A bit morbid, sure, but I wanted to affect the judges in some way.

I moved away from the leash image fairly quickly as I thought an empty collar would strike a richer chord with readers, but was still looking at a home setting. BRP was sitting next to me and I pointed to the bracketed line in the middle of the page telling him I needed to get that idea down to the six word limit. He nodded and then went back to listening to the session. I was pretty much gauging his reaction to the line, attempting to confirm that the idea had merit.

The next couple lines narrowed it down to six words but I thought both could be explained by something other than the pet’s death, or more importantly a death that might not allow for the dignity I wanted to give to the animal. This led to the movement of the setting from the home to the veterinarian’s office. Also, I had named the pet to give the pet a personality. You might notice I never specified the pet as a dog or cat – I purposely left it open after doing away with the leash idea.

The last couple lines toward the bottom were attempts to avoid the passive tense (and the “only Finn’s collar…” line seemed overly dramatic and bit nonsensical). I wanted to have some image of action and that’s about the time I decided I’d get the vet involved, which also helped drive home, in my mind, the lifetime of memories the owner and pet had along with the relationship they had with their vet.

The two attempts on the lower right side of the page show me getting close to the finished product, but the second I felt could’ve been interpreted in a few ways. It was when I struck on the word “afterward” that really nailed it down for me – any pet owner who has given their companion a dignified death would understand what had just occurred.

So there it is – about 40 minutes of work for 6 words. Six words I felt told a pretty involved story that we as pet owners suffer through yet celebrate because we love and know love.

Also, writing is rewriting. Because your first draft is crap.



My attempt to annoy everyone regarding the Confederate flag controversy…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2015 by Mike

The sheer number of Facebook posts on my feed concerning the Confederate flag should probably dissuade me from adding to the clutter, but it’s been hard to squelch the thoughts turning around in my head so I’m going to go ahead and put some of them down.

Warning: opinions ahead.

Those defending the flag mention “heritage” and honoring those soldiers who fought bravely for the South in the Civil War, who acted on their principles and apparently never out of any actual desire to see the continued subjugation of the African race (“most Southerners didn’t even own slaves” – as if that’s a defense for not seeing anything wrong with the others who did). They also mention the fact that the flag wasn’t THE flag of the Confederacy – “it was only a battle flag” – and thus doesn’t REALLY signify the hatred, bigotry and intimidation that many in this country seem to think it does. I’m not really sure what argument is being made with this one, to be honest – the flag represented men who were fighting to support the South’s desire to maintain slavery (sure, and state’s rights), who were killing Northerners who, yes, were probably just as racist, but who were fighting for the morally defensible side.  Sorry, the side fighting against slavery trumps everything else.

Then I’ve seen supporters trot out pictures of the Klan carrying American flags, and asking why THAT flag isn’t subject to the same outrage. Or they point out any number of awful things committed by America under the American flag. A disingenuous argument at best, as the American flag has not been co-opted by outliers, whether they be racist organizations or just regional areas. The American flag is a national symbol – it is flown everywhere, from Maine to California and everywhere in between and represents to the majority of Americans the ideals of freedom and opportunity. The Confederate flag?  Not so much. Isolated to the Southeast, it has its roots in the “War of Northern Aggression” and enjoyed a resurgence in the South as a symbol of defiance against the Civil Rights movement. Anyone who claims that the Southern Cross doesn’t carry some pretty heavy racist baggage, then, is either misinformed at best or lying. And, really, if the best argument that can be mustered in defense of a flag is, “well, America’s done bad things, too” then it’s probably time to reconsider your stance a bit.

That being said, the current rush among retailers to ban the sale and manufacture of the flag is an empty gesture, at best. What does it accomplish? A store declaring “We’re against racism”? Pardon my french, but no shit, really? It’s the easiest thing in the world for these companies to do, and amounts to nothing more than a public relations ploy. How much will it effect Wal-Mart’s bottom-line, you think? Amazon’s? And yet that’s where our attention has been turned.

It’s a band-aid fix for something that requires major surgery.

That’s what frustrates me the most about this.  The racist killer Roof is seen in a picture holding a Confederate flag, and suddenly all the attention is placed on the damned piece of cloth. In the rush for the easy action, the simple action, the harder questions aren’t being asked, much less answered: what led Roof to hold these views? How did he decide that killing members of a church was the right course of action?  What needs to change in society that these views no longer have the ability to develop and grow?

Probably obvious, but the Confederate flag isn’t the answer to any of the above.

WB’s Suicide Squad…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25, 2015 by Mike

…will be an unmitigated disaster. This is supposed to be The Joker:

Calling it now. 

Why we read Invisible Man…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 25, 2014 by Mike

12 year old boy shot by police while holding an air pistol

Unarmed man, father of 2 year old, shot by officer

Someone nudged me and I started. It was time for final words. But I had no words and I’d never been to a Brotherhood funeral and had no idea of a ritual. But they were waiting. I stood there alone; there was no microphone to support me, only the coffin before me upon the backs of its wobbly carpenter’s horses.

I looked down into their sun-swept faces, digging for the words, and feeling a futility about it all and an anger. For this they gathered by thousands. What were they waiting to hear? Why had they come? For what reason that was different from that which had made the red-cheeked boy thrill at Clifton’s falling to the earth? What did they want and what could they do? Why hadn’t they come when they could have stopped it all?

“What are you waiting for me to tell you?” I shouted suddenly, my voice strangely crisp on the windless air. “What good will it do? What if I say that this isn’t a funeral, that it’s a holiday celebration, that if you stick around the band will end up playing ‘Damit-the-Hell the Fun’s All Over’? Or do you expect to see some magic, the dead rise up and walk again? Go home, he’s as dead as he’ll ever die. That’s the end in the beginning and there’s no encore. There’ll be no miracles and there’s no one here to preach a
sermon. Go home, forget him. He’s inside this box, newly dead. Go home and don’t think about him. He’s dead and you’ve got all you can do to think about you.” I paused. They were whispering and looking upward.

“I’ve told you to go home,” I shouted, “but you keep standing there. Don’t you know it’s hot out here in the sun? So what if you wait for what little I can tell you? Can I say in twenty minutes what was building
twenty-one years and ended in twenty seconds? What are you waiting for, when all I can tell you is his name? And when I tell you, what will you know that you didn’t know already, except perhaps, his name?”

They were listening intently, and as though looking not at me, but at the pattern of my voice upon the air.

“All right, you do the listening in the sun and I’ll try to tell you in the sun. Then you go home and forget it. Forget it. His name was Clifton and they shot him down. His name was Clifton and he was tall and some folks thought him handsome. And though he didn’t believe it, I think he was. His name was Clifton and his face was black and his hair was thick with tight-rolled curls — or call them naps or kinks. He’s dead, uninterested, and, except to a few young girls, it doesn’t matter . . . Have you got it? Can you see him? Think of your brother or your cousin John. His lips were thick with an upward curve at the corners. He often smiled. He had good eyes and a pair of fast hands, and he had a heart. He thought about things and he felt deeply. I won’t call him noble because what’s such a word to do with one of us? His name was Clifton, Tod Clifton, and, like any man, he was born of woman to live awhile and fall and die. So that’s his tale to the minute. His name was Clifton and for a while he lived among us and aroused a few hopes in the young manhood of man, and we who knew him loved him and he died. So why are you waiting? You’ve heard it all. Why wait for more, when all I can do is repeat it?”

They stood; they listened. They gave no sign.

“Very well, so I’ll tell you. His name was Clifton and he was young and he was a leader and when he fell there was a hole in the heel of his sock and when he stretched forward he seemed not as tall as when he stood. So he died; and we who loved him are gathered here to mourn him. It’s as simple as that and as short as that. His name was Clifton and he was black and they shot him. Isn’t that enough to tell? Isn’t it all you need to know? Isn’t that enough to appease your thirst for drama and send you home tosleep it off? Go take a drink and forget it. Or read it in The Daily News. His name was Clifton and they shot him, and I was there to see him fall. So I know it as I know it.

“Here are the facts. He was standing and he fell. He fell and he kneeled. He kneeled and he bled. He bled and he died. He tell in a heap like any man and his blood spilled out like any blood; red as any blood, wet as any blood and reflecting the sky and the buildings and birds and trees, or your face if you’d looked into its dulling mirror — and it dried in the sun as blood dries. That’s all. They spilled his blood and he bled. They cut him down and he died; the blood flowed on the walk in a pool, gleamed a while, and, after awhile, became dull then dusty, then dried. That’s the story and that’s how it ended. It’s an old story and there’s been too much blood to excite you. Besides, it’s only important when it fills the veins of a living man. Aren’t you tired of such stories? Aren’t you sick of the blood? Then why listen, why don’t you go? It’s hot out here. There’s the odor of embalming fluid. The beer is cold in the taverns, the saxophones will be mellow at the Savoy; plenty good-laughing-lies will be told in the barber shops and beauty parlors; and there’ll be sermons in two hundred churches in the cool of the evening, and plenty of laughs at the movies. Go listen to ‘Amos and Andy’ and forget it. Here you have only the same old story. There’s not even a young wife up here in red to mourn him. There’s nothing here to pity, no one to break down and shout. Nothing to give you that good old frightened feeling. The story’s too short and too simple. His name was Clifton, Tod Clifton, he was unarmed and his death was as senseless as his life was futile. He had struggled for Brotherhood on a hundred street corners and he thought it would make him more human, but he died like any dog in a road.

“All right, all right,” I called out, feeling desperate. It wasn’t the way I wanted it to go, it wasn’t political. Brother Jack probably wouldn’t approve of it at all, but I had to keep going as I could go.

“Listen to me standing up on this so-called mountain!” I shouted. “Let me tell it as it truly was! His name was Tod Clifton and he was full of illusions. He thought he was a man when he was only Tod Clifton. He was shot for a simple mistake of judgment and he bled and his blood dried and shortly the crowd trampled out the stains. It was a normal mistake of which many are guilty: He thought he was a man and that men were not meant tobe pushed around. But it was hot downtown and he forgot his history, he forgot the time and the place. He lost his hold on reality. There was a cop and a waiting audience but he was Tod Clifton and cops are everywhere. The cop? What about him? He was a cop. A good citizen. But this cop had an itching finger and an eager ear for a word that rhymed with ‘trigger,’ and when Clifton fell he had found it. The Police Special spoke its lines and the rhyme was completed. Just look around you. Look at what he made, look inside you and feel his awful power. It was perfectly natural. The blood ran like blood in a comic-book killing, on a comic-book street in a comic-book town on a comic-book day in a comic-book world.

“Tod Clifton’s one with the ages. But what’s that to do with you in this heat under this veiled sun? Now he’s part of history, and he has received his true freedom. Didn’t they scribble his name on a standardized pad? His Race: colored! Religion: unknown, probably born Baptist. Place of birth: U.S. Some southern town. Next of kin: unknown. Address: unknown. Occupation: unemployed. Cause of death (be specific): resisting reality in the form of a .38 caliber revolver in the hands of the arresting officer, on Forty-second between the library and the subway in the heat of the afternoon, of gunshot wounds received from three bullets, fired at three paces, one bullet entering the right ventricle of the heart, and lodging there, the other severing the spinal ganglia traveling downward to lodge in the pelvis, the other breaking through the back and traveling God knows where.

“Such was the short bitter life of Brother Tod Clifton. Now he’s in this box with the bolts tightened down. He’s in the box and we’re in there with him, and when I’ve told you this you can go. It’s dark in this box and it’s crowded. It has a cracked ceiling and a clogged-up toilet in the hall. It has rats and roaches, and it’s far, far too expensive a dwelling. The air is bad and it’ll be cold this winter. Tod Clifton is crowded and he needs the room. ‘Tell them to get out of the box,’ that’s what he would say if you could hear him. ‘Tell them to get out of the box and go teach the cops to forget that rhyme. Tell them to teach them that when they call you nigger to make a rhyme with trigger it makes the gun backfire.’

“So there you have it. In a few hours Tod Clifton will be cold bones in the ground. And don’t be fooled, for these bones shall not rise again. You and I will still be in the box. I don’t know if Tod Clifton had a soul. I only know the ache that I feel in my heart, my sense of loss. I don’t know if you have a soul. I only know you are men of flesh and blood; and that blood will spill and flesh grow cold. I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know that all cops carry guns with triggers. And I know too how we are labeled.
So in the name of Brother Clifton beware of the triggers; go home, keep cool, stay safe away from the sun. Forget him. When he was alive he was our hope, but why worry over a hope that’s dead? So there’s only one thing left to tell and I’ve already told it. His name was Tod Clifton, he believed in Brotherhood, he aroused our hopes and he died.”

I don’t know all the facts about either of the shootings I posted links to at the top of this post. Reading those stories, I do question what made the officers so quick to shoot, though I understand there are a lot of factors at play. But I have a 12 year old daughter, the same age as Tamir. Would a responding officer have felt as threatened had she been in Tamir’s place?

As Ellison notes through his narrator, there is a deep, abiding sentiment among the black population that police often are too quick to use lethal force. This is just one of the sentiments fueling the protests/riots in Ferguson.

But to attribute the riots/protests to ONLY Brown’s shooting is a mistake. If this were an isolated incident, I don’t think we’d see such unrest. And I don’t mean to be an apologist for the violence and criminal behavior, nor do I think that anyone should be willing to excuse it.

But what we are seeing is a symptom of how the US has failed to truly and honestly address its racial past, and how far we as a nation still have to go.