A Songwriter Picks a Fight
Homophobic Coffeehouses part II, the World Cup, and the price of giving a shit
My student says, “you just go looking for a fight, don’t you?” I laugh and start to protest, but she’s right. If there’s an easy way to do something, I’m clearly not smart enough to take it.
Unfortunately, I was born giving a shit.
First, let’s go back through our flexible time to September 27th and the aforementioned Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Why? Because I love coffee and the Tivoli doesn’t just provide coffee, it provides this machine so you can have any kind of coffee you want! Flat White, Mr. Bell? Certainly, just press here!
If I need coffee before a show in the United States, I usually need to find a Starbucks. Sometimes, finding coffee can be an adventure.
What you can’t see in this picture is the little basket of cookies, because when you get coffee in Europe, it always comes with a cookie or a piece of chocolate.
I don’t need the cookie or the chocolate, but it’s nice to see and save for later. If you understand why it’s important that a musician waiting in a green room feel a little bit more important for a few seconds, you might be a musician, or an actor, or anybody expected to entertain in public.
It’s the little things that make the big things work. And I love coffee.
It was a cup of coffee that got me through the first post-Covid show.
It was 12 cups of coffee, one before each show on the UK/Euro tour, that set the tone for the first notes.
When I got back home, one of the things I was looking forward to the most was sitting on the porch the next morning with my crush, drinking a cup of coffee from my favorite local roaster, watching the birds and our one very industrious chipmunk.
I had just enough coffee for a week.
As I’ve written before, when I went to buy my beans I discovered that the roaster/coffee shop had been sold to a different coffee shop, one that was owned by the head of a local church. And that church had a policy, stated clearly on their website, against marriage equality.
I just wanted to keep buying my coffee because it was just a bag of coffee, a few bucks, nothing much in the grand scheme of things.
But there I go, giving a shit, again (credit goes to the Bunk from The Wire for this).
You have to have something broken inside you to meddle in how other people love, or who they love, and advocate for their unhappiness. A preacher like that? Well, you know.
You’ll notice I’m not naming the coffeehouse or the church. I told the owner/preacher how I felt and how I thought others might feel. Maybe he’s heard this before. Maybe my comments were the few straws that were the last straws. Maybe.
I hope they’ll find it in their hearts, their Christian hearts, their Jesus’s love filled hearts, to change for the better.
Until then, the price I pay for giving a shit is very small, but real. I can’t drink my favorite coffee.
This morning I had different coffee. It was pretty good, but it wasn’t the same.
I liked the little coffeehouse here, on this mountain. It had a great vibe. I never really had time before, but I was looking forward to spending time there a couple of mornings a week.
I’ve learned that if you sit in a coffeehouse and just drink coffee without picking up your phone, you learn a lot about the people around you.
I’m sad that I won’t be sitting in this lovely coffeehouse.
I like my coffee with people-watching when I’m killing time. I try not to look at my phone when I’m in a coffeehouse.
In Manchester, I sat at a table with a borrowed dog and watched people go in and out of the train station.
In Glasgow, I sat outside a Costa and eavesdropped as a couple spoke about finally being able to afford to fly their parents out of Turkey to come live with them.
In the Amsterdam airport, a mother and father wrangled their four children, all under the age of 10, into a reasonable line to board a plane for a vacation. The oldest kept talking about building sandcastles.
As I waited for my cab to the airport in Amsterdam, two guys from Scotland sat nearby, probably waiting for their cab, fiercely agreeing with each other that Scotland needed to vote for independence soon, before the money was worth nothing and they were carrying it around in shopping carts to pay for bread and eggs.
I’ve listened enough to know that I’m not the only one who gives a shit. I’m not even somebody who has had his life disrupted much by giving a shit. But our world makes it harder and harder to give a shit.
Take the World Cup, for example. It happens every two years now because the Women have their own long overdue event, but it doesn’t happen a lot, so I only have a limited number of World Cups, my favorite corrupt and nationalistic event, to watch before these notes from the road become notes from under the road.
I love the World Cup so much that when I was working 60 hours/week I still got up in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning to watch games!
We’ve known since the very first day that construction on stadiums began in Qatar they were effectively enslaving and abusing migrant workers, yet, somehow, there will be a World Cup played there this year.
FIFA, the world soccer governing body, is the only organization in sports more corrupt and abusive than the NCAA, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but why is the United States Men’s team going to the tournament? Why are any of the nations sending teams?
Amnesty International has documented a few of the almost uncountable offenses.
“I remember my first day in Qatar. Almost the very first thing [an agent] working for my company did was take my passport. I haven’t seen it since.”
-Shamim, a gardener at the Aspire Zone from Bangladesh
Bhumisara,* whose husband’s death in Qatar remains unexplained, told Amnesty:
“Now everything is shattered… Life itself has become like a broken mirror…I have cried many times in emotion. Being alone is very difficult…I feel like I’m burning in oil.”
I can’t watch the World Cup. I’ll have little to no effect with my personal boycott, but, regardless of how bad previous world cup build outs have been (and they have been horrible, including stealing land from indigenous people, graft, bribery, and sex trafficking) Qatar sets a new standard for profiteering on the backs of people who have no choice but to take whatever jobs are offered, regardless of the threat to their health and well being.
So, I’m out. And boy does that piss me off. I love football (soccer). There’s a character in Ted Lasso (which, despite the very slow and sometimes comically bad actual football, is a heck of a fine show) who says “football is life,” and that’s how I feel. And I’m still not going to watch the World Cup.
I’m a little surprised at how much mental real estate I’m dedicating to my simple, unseen, ineffective boycott.
Here’s a screenshot of a UK minister not giving a shit. Another reason to avoid the World Cup. In a world of homophobic religious regimes, Qatar ranks in the top five for anti-gay policies and rhetoric.
My “boycott” will have no impact. But I don’t have a choice.
And that’s the price of giving a shit.
I grew up with the big fights: Vietnam, Civil Rights, Women’s equality, LGBTQ+ rights.
It felt like I was in those fights with many of my fellow Americans. In my 9th grade year, 80% of the students in Iowa City High Schools and Junior High Schools walked out to join a rally at the Old Capitol building against the Vietnam War. I’ve never forgotten that day, primarily because their were kids there from families of all political stripes. As much as it sounds like 70’s hippy shit viewed through rose colored glasses, much of it happened exactly as you’ve been told. Even the so-called Straights were there, tired of seeing American kids come back in flag draped coffins from a war fought for a few Harvard Business School Graduates.
Something has changed.
The big fights are still there, and they are more obvious than ever: Hunger, income inequality, religious oppression, and more ills that most people acknowledge as unacceptable in a humane world.
But nobody can band together over anything.
I blame Zuckerberg, Musk, the new “fuck you, I got rich,” tech economy.
But the Pandemic was the nail in the coffin for civility and widespread charity.
Since the Pandemic, it feels like all the fights are small, daily, and personal: my cup of coffee, watching/not watching this year’s Soccer/football World Cup, singing or not singing the National Anthem, what we say to our neighbors, how we represent ourselves doing business. All of that seems more critical than ever.
All of it seems much harder now that giving a shit feels like a minute by minute battle. I honestly never spent so much time giving a shit!
And since the fascists have come out from under their rocks, emboldened by people who don’t deserve our respect, our attention is drawn every day to how we act, what we say, and who we are.
Are we carrying forward the love and future we wish for, or just keeping our heads down and hoping that it all goes the right way?
Because “hope” is just a word we use when we feel like we’ve lost control.
The Webb Telescope’s “Pillars of Creation.”
I think a picture that is taken from so far away that it is effectively able to document something that is is happening in the past is a good example of what amazing things humans are capable of. And that makes the world we are struggling with right now even more frustrating.
I work with people who are doing everything they can for the good of other people. I’ve seen the toll that giving a shit is having. The Pandemic brought out great kindness and also, sadly, brought out incredible selfishness.
North Georgia Blues (featuring Missy Raines and the New Hip)
I live less than 50 miles from all of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s North Georgia House District. Greene, if you’ve been paying no attention is a US representative from a fairly well off family who ran for, and won, office in a district that she never lived in, a district that has been so economically oppressed by a few rich families that they were easy targets for the people who exploit other people.
Since being elected Greene has made it her business to express only hatred, bigotry, and to encourage Americans to turn on each other. Instead of running, and likely losing, in her own home district, she made a decision to go where she knew that a desperately insecure carpetbagger like herself would look familiar.
That area of Georgia is also the home of Newt Gingrich, the dumbest, most selfish bastard to ever be called “Professor.”
Lastly, that part of Georgia is as close to actual Plantation culture as exists in modern America, the rich white families making all of their money off of the backs of immigrant and sharecropper labor.
I know this because I spent two years driving around that area and the racism and cynicism was palpable. Most of the C suite people I met were white Americans who made all their money exploiting Georgia’s lax environmental and labor laws and were going to spend their retirements in a place like Costa Rica, continuing their tradition of making somebody else do the hard work while they whiled away the time blathering on about how important they’ve been to the economy.
In short, selfish bastards.
During those two years I met more hypocritical “followers” of Jesus, and more “do you know who I am” white men, than I met in all of my previous 50 years.
I also met countless Mexican, Guatemalan, Colombia and other Latino families who were working to make their lives better. People, who like my Grandfather and Grandmother on my father’s side, believed that there was a ladder and all they had to do was get a foot on the first rung and everything good would follow.
So when the C-Suite legacy people dropped little hints, or said bluntly that the “Mexicans” (all latinos were assigned the sobriquet, “Mexicans,” used as an insult) I would push back, even though I was there to sell them business services.
I didn’t make a lot of sales by giving a shit. I’m not sure I made ANY sales by giving a shit. In fact, I lost sales.
Eventually I was transferred to a different market where I found other ways to give a shit and pick fights until they tired of me.
I guess my student was right.
If you look closely you can see the bent sign holder. This sign has been kicked all over our yard twice in less than a week.
Our sign is paying the price for giving a shit. I’ll just keep putting it back up.
And what does it say that a sign that only encourages a vote in defense of human rights makes somebody so angry that they need to kick that poor defenseless sign all over the yard?
I’m glad I’m not that person.
In his early days as an actor, Paul Newman was told to change his last name to something less Jewish. He refused. He saw it as a cowardly act.
Obviously, his career didn’t suffer. But at the time he made that decision, giving a shit might have slowed everything down. He had no way of knowing what the future held.
Newman’s entire life of charitable giving shows that, in addition to being one of the greatest actors to ever live, he spent the rest of his life giving a shit.
Bob Zimmerman, on the other hand. I’ll let you decide.
A teacher, one of my former students, stopped me in the hall of the Arts Center where I teach to discuss the erasure of female composers in classical music. I can tell that she’s taking that first step down the road toward a life of giving a shit. I’m proud of her, but I know she’s not making it easy on herself.
I’d buy her for a cup of coffee and tell her that she’s making the right choice, that she will sleep better at night, she will make the right enemies and the best of friends. That she will know that everything good that comes her way will be earned. It’s a great life she’s choosing.
But I can’t buy that cup of coffee in this town, on this mountain.
Two people who give a shit shouldn’t spend their money at a Coffeehouse that is owned by a man who leads a church that doesn’t believe that all humans are fully deserving of equal rights and protections under the law.
I think maybe the Coffeehouse that took over my favorite Coffeehouse would be more comfortable in Qatar, where homophobia and discrimination are celebrated.
The preacher can watch the World Cup while he sips my favorite coffee.
I won’t be there.
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I wish we were neighbors.
Telling it like it is. Thank you.