Sunday, February 10, 2019

Out on the Road Today, I Saw 10 White People in MAGA Hats

A little voice inside my head said, "Don't look back.  You can never look back."

If you're like Thee Optimist, then you're fortunate enough to live in a sort of splendid isolation, where unpleasant things (for example, people) rarely visit themselves upon you.

Take, for instance, people in MAGA hats.  People are unpleasant enough, even without the hats.  But people in MAGA hats are beyond the pale!

MAGA hats, as most know, are those red baseball-style caps, made in China, which say "Make America Great Again" in white letters across the forehead. 

Wearing a MAGA hat is generally considered evidence of stunted emotional development, mental incompetence, failure to thrive, or some combination of all three.

In fact, if three days ago you had asked Thee Optimist, "Do you suppose grown-ass adults wear MAGA hats when out and about?"

He would have said, "You mean outside, in public places?  Where other people can see them?"

"Yes," you would say.

And he would have shook his head and enjoyed a chuckle.  "No.  That would be kind of embarrassing, wouldn't it?  I mean... maybe, as a joke, or at a costume party, or filming some kind of video.  But otherwise, not a chance."


A bunch of young guys wearing MAGA hats and filming a video.  This is a good use for the hats.  Keep them indoors, people.  (Nothing remotely explicit about this photo, Google.  This is a family website.  Okay?)

A Beautiful Bike Ride... Spoiled

This time of year, Thee Optimist isn't usually thinking about MAGA hats.  When things are going smoothly, MAGA hats are not top of mind for him.

Instead, he enjoys riding his bicycle rather a lot.  In part, this is because he is in Florida, and he lives across a small, one lane bridge from a lovely barrier island called Casey Key.

Casey Key is a place where very wealthy, lonely, irritable people rattle around in overlarge mansions.  The author Stephen King has a house on the island.  As does the famous person named Rosie O'Donnell, not to mention European aristocrats and South American narco-traffickers.  

New York City mafia boss John Gotti once lived there, as did tennis great Martina Navratilova.  If you can believe the rumors, disgraced former Trump confidante Steve Bannon recently purchased his own little Casey Key getaway. 

What's most great about Casey Key?  There is a narrow, winding road on the island, that often fronts the Gulf of Mexico, and is perfect for bike riding.  The road leads you to Nokomis Beach, which is about as nice a public beach as you will find anywhere.  When it's empty.

But in February, Nokomis Beach is not empty.  It is the polar opposite of empty.  Which means there are people on it.  

And that's how the trouble starts. 

Aerial shot of Casey Key.  They often use shots like this when trying to unload pricey real estate on the next greater fool in line.   

The undulating Casey Key Road.  This part is a straightaway, but trust me, it undulates.

Nokomis Beach on a relatively unpeopled day.  Beautiful!

People in MAGA Hats

So Thee Optimist took a fairly typical bike ride to Nokomis Beach just the other day, on a bright sunny afternoon.  And what he found there was disconcerting.  

People, for one thing.  On the beach.  

Now, to be clear, it isn't Thee Optimist's beach.  He doesn't own it, and people are allowed to be there.  It is cold in northern parts of the United States this time of year, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there are people on the beach.  A lot of fucking people.  

That would be okay, except the sea of people is dotted with red baseball caps with white lettering.  I don't want to overstate it.  It isn't a lot of people wearing the caps.  It is some people.

Mostly, they are white men.  They are older, maybe in their 60s, often overweight, with skin like leather.  They are smoking a cigarette and drinking a can of beer (open container laws, if they exist, are rarely enforced on Florida beaches).  

They have tattoos - old, faded tattoos, from back in the days when getting a tattoo was something tough young men did as a rite of passage, and not something everyone does whenever they've saved up $300.  

Maybe the tattoos say USMC.  Maybe they say NAMbLA.  Hell, the tats are so old, it's impossible to guess what they say.  But the men wear them with evident pride, and with a surly sort of anger, just as they wear their red hats.  

Here's the odd black man wearing a MAGA hat.  Okay, it's Kanye West.  Make that the very odd black man.

The hats gore my mood.  They are alienating, even jarring.  It is not a nice beach day anymore.  People, grown ass adults, are wearing MAGA hats.

I feel like I want to sit down with the MAGA people, introduce myself, and interview them about what the MAGA hats mean to them.  Unfortunately, my hair is so long these days that I look like an extra left over from The Woodstock movie.  In fact, I look like Sasquatch.  

What former, aging NAMbLA warrior is going to grant Sasquatch an interview?  Especially since I don't have any recording equipment with me.  I don't have so much as a pencil. 

No.  The MAGA people and I are not going to intersect.

Some old fart wearing a MAGA hat on TV.  TV is an okay place for MAGA hats.  Better than the real world.  If you wear a MAGA hat on TV, I won't have to see it.  Wasn't this guy somebody once?

I Don't Blame Trump for Trump

Donald Trump gets blamed for a lot of things.  People don't seem to realize that he is who he is, and nothing more.  He is the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. 

The problem is large and intractable, but Trump didn't cause it.  He merely arrived on the scene, more or less at his appointed time.  

I'll give you an example to clarify this:

When I was a teenager, I used to ride the New York City subway to school five days a week.  The train passes through the South Bronx, and while there, it runs about one or two stories above ground.  Which means you can see the surrounding area.

People call subways like this "the El," short for elevated.  this particular El, the #4 train, goes underground just south of Yankee Stadium.  During the time I was in school, the entire South Bronx had recently burned to the ground.  

All of it.  In fact, it was still burning.  It looked like the Hiroshima bomb had hit it.  And there were people out there, wandering around in the blasted wasteland.  I could watch them through the windows of the subway car.  

It looked just like this.  South Bronx buildings in 1979.

Why did this happen?

Well, it was a decades long process.  Over time, the neighborhoods became poorer and poorer.  Bank redlining meant that small businesses in these areas couldn't get loans.  Many of the poor people became addicted to drugs.  Crime increased.  

Greedy landlords felt that it wasn't worth the money to maintain the buildings.  The nearly bankrupt City didn't bother with code enforcement.  It was a vicious cycle and a downward spiral.  

Finally, the landlords hit upon an astonishing idea: burn the buildings down and collect the insurance money.  And that's just what they did.  From the middle 1970s through the early 1980s, they burned the buildings down by the thousands. 

They hired arsonists to do this work.  Of course, the long decline of the South Bronx was not the fault of the arsonists.  They were just criminals, amoral people, who arrived at their appointed time.

Donald Trump is an arsonist.

Watch a short, fascinating video about the Burning Bronx.

What Happens Next?

In March of 2003, my wife (now ex-wife) and I were on our way to warmer climes for some well-deserved and much-needed rest and relaxation.

Coincidentally, the American invasion of Iraq had begun just a few days before, with a night of Shock and Awe bombing.  The deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people had been turned into TV entertainment for morons.  

My wife and I were living in Maine, and had driven down to Boston to stay in a downtown hotel and have dinner before flying out of Logan Airport the next morning.

We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on that very modern bridge into town.  The one that looks like some sort of electrified fiber optic cabling.  

You mean this bridge?

Everywhere I looked, there were American flags.  I mean everywhere I looked.  

Giant American flags hung from the bridge itself.  Flags hung from construction cranes.  They flapped from the other cars.  There were easily a hundred American flags within the range of my eyesight.

Also, there were yellow ribbon decals seemingly on every car.  It was such a breathtaking display of mindless nationalistic jingoism that I began to cry.

Talk about a snowflake!

"I can't stand this shit," I said.  "I gotta get the fuck out of here."

My wife was still tolerant of Thee Optimist-style foibles in those days.  She was doing something with her makeup in the mirror embedded on her sun visor flap. 

"You're in luck," she said, not alarmed by her husband's behavior in the slightest.  "We'll be in Costa Rica tomorrow.  They don't even have an army."

We all know how that story ended, don't we?

The Iraq War (and the Afghanistan War that preceded it) dragged on, for years, then for a decade, and then for an unspeakably long period of time.

Many people died.  Many more were injured.  And the war(s) never really ended.  Don't expect them to, either.  As long as there are foreign people situated on top of our oil, there are going to be wars. 

But what did end was people's enthusiasm for war.  Gradually, the American flags disappeared.  As did the yellow ribbon decals.  

Where did they go?  

I can only assume that people became embarrassed by them, snuck outside in the middle of the night, and took them down.

The MAGA hats will disappear, too.  Trump won't be President forever.  Indeed, he may have less than two years to go.  And the MAGA hats will begin to become a vague dream to the people who once wore them.  

One day, pictures of people with MAGA hats will seem just like pictures of people with 1980s-style big hair (for the ladies) and mullets (for the gentlemen).  Out of date.

Of course, the reason they wore the MAGA hats - the problem, the feeling, the yearning, whatever it is - will still be there.  It'll be there just like the bloodthirsty eagerness for sending adolescents to kill people half a world away is still there, lying dormant.

And that's something we will eventually have to deal with.

The MAGA man himself.

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