Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Time I was Totally (Accidentally) Racist and Why it’s Still Not OK

I recently read this blog post by comedian W. Kamau Bell about an experience he had with racism at the Elmwood CafĂ© in Berkeley. Reading the post was like a punch in the gut. It’s well written. It touched me because I have almost always been in inter-racial relationships, and because it shows how easy it is for people to look at a scene, apply their (sometimes) unconscious ideas about race, and then act like racists. In Bell’s story it’s a waitress, but in other stories it’s a cop, or a teacher, or the unofficial neighborhood watch vigilante. But that’s not why the story resonated for me.

When I was in my early 20s I was a waiter at a fairly popular restaurant in Berkeley. Now, if you’re not from Berkeley, there’s a belief that Cal (University of California) has a high percentage of Asian students. I have no idea if this is true relative to the numbers of Asian students at other universities in California, or in the US. I know that the folklore of it is enough that when I was a senior in high school my Japanese grandmother told me, “Don’t put down Asian on your application. They already have too many Asians and they won’t take you. Just put down Puerto Rican.” I don’t think my Asian-ness hurt me. I probably would have done better if I could have hidden my 2.3 high-school GPA. At any rate, there’s supposedly a lot of Asian students running around Berkeley.

One day I was working a lunch shift. It was kind of a slow day, but for some reason I was feeling really rushed. I think it’s because I had some tables outside and some tables inside. Whatever it was, I was not doing a good job in general that day and not for any good reason, I remember that much. A couple came in and sat in the back. It was an Asian couple, dressed in nondescript clothing, the woman had long hair, the man wore glasses. I was tardy in greeting them, I was embarrassed about that, and I was rude because I was ashamed of being bad at my job. I took their order, but for whatever reason I was slow in bringing it out.

While I was being slow and terrible at waiting tables I kept an eye on the couple as best I could. At one point the guy said something like “Are you ever going to acknowledge us?” He was clearly exasperated. I think I gave him weird grumpy look. I went and got their drinks and brought them over.

“We didn’t order these.”

“Yes you did.”

“No. We didn’t.”

“Yes you did. This is a heff, and this is a pale. Did you not know what they were?”

“You haven’t even talked to us yet.”

“What are you talking about? Of course I have. Fine, what do you want?”

“You know what, never mind.”

And with that they got up and left. I was furious. Sure, I hadn’t done my best job, but this seemed insane. I brought the drinks back to the bar and was telling the bar tender the story when I looked up. Coming back from the bathroom was the couple who had ordered the drinks. The guy gave me a look that said, “Yes, you took so long we both went to the bathroom and now we’re back and you still haven’t gotten our drinks.” I thought to myself, and probably muttered, “Oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Yup. The couple I’d had the confusing exchange with was a second Asian couple in nondescript clothing. The man had glasses, the woman had long hair. The couple that had decided to leave looked back and locked eyes with the couple I was sheepishly bringing drinks to. They didn’t say anything, but the small nods and grim smiles they exchanged said, “See, this guy’s a fucking racist.” I knew right then that at best I wasn’t getting a tip, at worst I was getting fired.

I made a lot to excuses for myself over this. They were dressed so similarly. Their other features, the hair, the glasses, would have produced identical answers in a game of “Guess Who?” They had decided to sit at identical copper stand ups at opposite ends of a part of the restaurant where the north side mirrored the south side. I’m not racist towards Asians, I am Asian!

I made a lot of excuses, but I never really believed them. This experience has haunted me for years and I almost never talk about it. The truth is I failed to take the time to see people as individuals. I made quick decisions based on superficial factors. I proved that I’d be a terrible person to task with picking someone out of a line up. (I think this helped me understand how unreliable eye-witness accounts can be.) I could have remembered if they were on the brewery side or the bathroom side.  I could have looked at the woman’s purse to see if it was a clutch or a purse or a bag.

But even if you buy any of the reasons to let me off the hook the fact is that those four people didn’t know any of that. Their experience of it was that I just mixed up two Asian couples, who to each other probably didn’t feel like they were alike in anything other than being Asian. I caused them to feel the sting of casual bullshit racism. And it was my fault.

So what’s the take away?  I’m not writing this to make excuses for the woman at the Elmwood. I’m lucky that this was before social media and blogging because I was able to learn a valuable lesson without being fired (neither couple even talked to the manager). I also hope that it can show that we do have to be vigilant in our actions and perceptions. I grew up as a mixed race kid in the most famously liberal city in America, and I got so comfortable in the idea that I was past racism that I made a mistake that offended four people. Maybe you think “Come on, it’s not like you were yelling slurs at the JCC.” OK, sure. But I don’t like the idea that four people were able to feel confirmation (probably for the millionth time) that the world sees them as a homogeneous “other.”  Even if I’m not racist, I contributed to the experience of racism in the world. That sucks.

When I talked to my wife about this she was relieved. She constantly beats herself up about things she thinks about race, especially when she doesn’t feel like she can think of a way to mitigate those thoughts. She’s not a racist. Far from it. But she did grow up in a mostly white world. This is something she’s confronted head on over the last ten years in exactly the ways you would want an ally to do. For her, this story validated the work she’s done, because it shows that even us iPride veteran hippie POCs have work to do. So I think that’s part of the take away too. Not to excuse racist acts, but to produce some empathy for people who misstep in their thoughts while on the journey to cultural enlightenment. And to take some of us, who might think we have it on lock, down a notch, and encourage us to keep being mindful and vigilant.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Here is a version of my remarks at Affys memorial. It's not exactly what I said, I didn't have much written down. Instead this is culled from my memory of what I said, or wanted to say. But I wanted to share it with you in case you wanted to have it.

Photo of George Bertelstein by Jessica Rose

Standing here now reminds me of the last time I stood before many of you in the woods and spoke. That was at Affy and Katy’s wedding.

Unlike George, I have an almost complete in ability to speak in any way other than off the cuff. So I hope you’ll forgive me if the transitions and relevance of my comments don’t totally flow in a way that makes sense. But that’s what having a conversation with Affy was like. He’d make three or four logical leaps in his mind that he wouldn’t share and then he’d give you the conclusion, and it was up to you to try to put it all together and figure out how he got there.

Afran Abraham. Abraham is fitting. Affy was a father, not just to Leo and Sophie, but in a way he was the father of our mirth. From the time we met him it felt like any gathering of people was just that, a group of people in a room, until Affy got there, and then it was really a party. It’s like, when he got there everyone could totally relax and have fun. Like air had been pumped into the room. Affy was fun in a completely unselfconscious way. He could dance like no one was watching while also totally hoping everyone was watching. He was like a miniature Bacchus, our personal God of carefree enjoyment.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this has hit me so hard, why I’ve felt so unstable the last week and a half.  We’ve lost people before, I’m sure we all have. But this was different. When we were in our teens and twenties we knew some of us weren’t going to make it out. That was who we were, it was how we lived. When we made it into our thirties I thought we were safe. That the danger had passed and we wouldn’t have to do this again for another thirty years. The reason I’ve been so unstable is because I’ve lost one of my pillars. I’ve lost one of the people who made me who I am. Affy was one of the few people who have ever made me feel totally accepted, totally comfortable. He did that for a lot of people. He treated everyone like they were his best friend. He made me feel so comfortable I would do things for him that I probably wouldn’t do for anyone else.

I’d like to tell a story about that, if you’ll indulge me. This was back when we were both working at Togo’s, and living at Affy’s parents’ house. I was renting a room in the attic. Some of the old Togo’s crew is here today. So we lived on the north side of campus, and worked across campus on Telegraph. Togo’s had a very simple dress code, pants and a white polo shirt. I had just been promoted to low level shift manager, and it was my job to enforce the dress code. So one day Affy shows up. Late. And he’s wearing the most ridiculous pair of acid-wash, cut off, jean shorts you’ve ever seen. And that’s not the worst part. He’s also wearing, and if you will, please close your eyes and try to picture this shirt. It’s a purple t-shirt, and says, “LOVE” spelled out in glittery, rainbow puff paint dots that look like tiny Hershey’s Kisses. And I’m like, “Affy, you can’t work in that outfit.” But I also know that he’s going to have to walk all the way back across campus and all the way back, and he’s already late. So I grit my teeth, and I take one for the team. “The team” being Affy.

“OK Affy. We’re going to trade clothes.” So we go to the office and trade clothes. Now, Affy was slightly larger than me, so now not only am I wearing this Tobias Funke outfit, but it’s huge on me. Have you ever seen someone in baggy cutoffs? So now I have to walk back across campus in this outfit. And it’s the first really nice week of spring, and the college girls are out in their it’s-finally-spring-and-I-can-get-some-sun outfits. So there’s just beautiful girls all around looking hot in their spring garb, girls I want to date because I’m eighteen, and I’m wearing Affy’s acid wash Daisy Duke nightmare outfit. So what do I do?

I strut.

Because I know that’s how Affy wore it over there.

I strut, because if you’re going to wear the man’s clothes, you have to sport the man’s confidence.

I think many of us are searching for answers, and I don’t know if there are any answers to be had. Something that has helped me, that has gone through my mind often these past days, is a prayer we say each week in church. We say this prayer to God, but I think it works just as well for Affy, or for each other. I’d like to share it with you, and though I know that we have many different faiths and beliefs, I hope there’s something we can take from this.

We confess that we have sinned against you
In thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone
We have not loved you with our whole heart,
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.

The message I take from this that we have to commit to loving each other. I think that when we look at the regret in our life, it’s the things left undone that we regret the most. So I urge you to take the time to reach out to the people you love. Do it small ways. Let them know you care, that you’re thinking of them, that you love them. We are a community, and it’s only by loving each other with our whole hearts that we will be able to survive.

Thank you.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Love of a Good Man

I should be grading, but I'm not. I was grading on Sunday when I learned that one of my closest friends had died. His wife called me to tell me, and ask that I help inform our friends.

Afran was young. Too young to be lost like this. His children are too young to have lost him. His wife is too young to be a widow, and a suddenly single parent. They are all too young to face the enormous task of living a world without him. They are all forever changed.

Over the last week I've been asked to help with some small tasks for the family. Part of that has led me to have contact with many people in Afran's life who I either did not know, or did not know we had in common. The common refrain from all of them is that Affy was a bright, charming, witty, wonderful person. They're not wrong. He was also a man who liked to play the fool.

This was a guy who could have what, on the surface, appeared to be a very knowledgeable conversation about literature, when the truth was that he spent time memorizing the synopsis and analysis on the dust jackets of important works. He could have read the books. He would have understood them, and likely come up with insights and connections to other works that I would never have figured out. But he was busy playing Madden.

If you met him at the right time (say, after a dust jacket binge), you'd think he was Will Hunting. If you met him at the wrong moment you'd think he was a living, breathing Homer Simpson. Here is how he described himself in a Facebook note a few years ago:

"11. I got 760 on my GRE in Math (99th percentile). I’m not a dumb as I pretend to be.

12. That’s not true. I can be quite dumb on certain subject matters, and astute on others. Depends."

What it usually depended on was whether he wanted to do the thing or not. If he didn't want to do it he'd pretend he didn't understand it. I once found him washing a cereal bowl by holding it under the faucet, filling it with soap, and then dumping it out and putting it in the drainer. No scrubbing, not even using two hands. After that I never asked him to do dishes again. Point, set , match, Affy.

I loved Affy. And he loved me. It was a very real example of platonic love. Love that could be expressed openly and honestly and physically. One of the other things people have talked about recently is how much they'll miss his hugs. They were epic and comfortable hugs. Affy was a moderately large man, and when he hugged you knew you were being hugged, and you knew what was behind it. (I am happy that I can say this about many of my friends.)

The physical expression of love could also be wonderfully violent. Another random fact from Affy's Facebook note:

"8. The worst fist fights I had in my life were with my best friend Roberto. A drunken brawl outside Albany Bowl was, in my mind, glorious. That said, never doing that again. Ah, teenagers."

To me this was platonic love at it's best in young men. The desire to fight and wrestle, but with the ability to end it, bloodied and battered, with hugs and drinks and composing heroic poems about each other. Keep in mind this was several years prior to "Fight Club" coming into the wider public consciousness. Often we would have these fights over the course of a night out, and then go into work together the next morning full of silly pride.

I loved Affy. And he loved me. As I noted in one infamous speech, his wife thought he and I were a couple when she first met us. Affy and I shared things I haven't shared with most other friends, at least not to the same extent. At various, and occasionally overlapping, times we shared jobs, apartments, girls we'd made out with, enemies, a phone line and game consoles. I've never before or since gone halfsies on a video game system, but Affy and I had both a Sega Genesis and a Super Nintendo that we shared. We were so comfortable together that I'd sometimes wake up and find him perched at the foot of my bed playing Donkey Kong Country, even when I wasn't alone. It didn't phase him, and eventually my girlfriend got used to it.

I loved Affy. And he loved me. Our friendship was born out of a love of theater and poetry. We fancied ourselves romantics. I even dabbled in writing poetry because he inspired me. None of mine was very good, which I learned when we did a reading together for his poetry class his senior year of high school. They hated me. It was fine, because I'd done it with Affy, and he supported me.

One year, just before Christmas, we were out shopping together. We'd been up to Telegraph, and down to Fourth Street. We were at the Barnes and Noble on Shattuck Avenue when we decided to call it a day. We walked outside, and then Affy dashed back in asking me to wait. He came out with a Yale University edition annotated complete works of Shakespeare, which he presented to me as a gift. He had this amazing, self satisfied smile. The kind you get when you know you've done something great for someone else. I had 30 pound book and a long walk home. And that was Affy, equal parts thoughtful and careless.

Over the years our friendship grew from a foundation of literature and drinking and video games, to one of sharing marriage tips, and parenting tips, and drinking, and playing video games with our kids. Still, we knew we could see each other when we needed to cry. Or when we needed to be told we were full of shit. Or to go and seriously geek out because we knew we were going to sing our way through "Mama Mia" no matter what the rest of the people in the theater thought.

In the wake of Affy's death another friend of ours told us that he had a copy of a book of poetry that Affy had written. This was years ago, when we were all in our early twenties, and I had forgotten about both the book and its contents. But I remembered one poem, one that my cousin had liked, because it was about me. I remember not being able to even really think about the poem when it was written. I think it was too much for me at the time. I wasn't ready for it.

I've struggled with the idea of sharing it. I don't want to seem narcissistic. But I do have another point to make. Here is Affy's poem about me, written almost exactly twenty years ago, a poem about a younger, more perfect version of me.

The Importance of Being Santiago
by Afran Hirsch

The importance of being Santiago is not obvious
But essential to understand.
Though I do not know his heart,
I know his actions
And thus I have speculated on the nature of his being.

The importance of being Santiago is this:
The genius Santiago is is smart enough to know
That if one is not the victimizer, one is the victim
And yet understanding this
Is compassionate enough not to make victims
Of those he keeps company with....

The genius Santiago is hilarious enough
To always be the center of attention
But always destined to be under appreciated
For his genius is constant
So that his praise is not......

The genius Santiago knows
Better than anyone
That the world needs a good laugh
So he plays the jester
Even at the expense of his reputation
Because I believe he dreads a silent dreary existence
Even more than I do...

The genius of Santiago
Is resigned to his commision
Liked by all, loved by few,
Understood by even less....

Yet Santiago himself likes few things
Loves most, and understands it all...
Even in harshness, Santiago is compassionate enough
To mix jest with villainy, because he has looked at the sun
And not been blinded. And never aims to steal vision
With self-inflicted tears, from others...

Santiago knows life is a stage
And is the best player
This writer has ever known
And loved.

The importance of being Santiago
Is as important as the meaning of life.
One may never learn it
But seeking its meaning
Makes one a better person
Than had they left the dilemma unchallenged.
Thank you Santiago, for allowing me to travel
The path that is you
With the person that is you...

Love is a secret
Cloaked in obviousness
And one of the truer paths there
Is to know the importance of being Santiago.

I don't know much about poetry. I don't know if this poem is good as a piece of poetry, but it's important to me. Reading this for the first time in over fifteen years, it's important to me for reasons beyond it being a nice thing to have someone say. I have struggled throughout my life with believing I was worthy of being loved. So many people have loved me, and I've ruined so many relationships because I didn't believe them. I didn't see myself as being worthy of that kind of love and so I thought they must be lying. It's prevented me from loving people as much as I've wanted. It's prevented me from showing people how much I love them. Reading this poem, written to a 16 year old me, from an 18 year old friend helps me realize how wrong I've been. Even with all the crappy things about me. The stupid things I say. The stupid things I do, or stupidly fail to do. Even with all of that, I am worthy of this kind of love.

We all are. You are. The people in our lives are worthy of this, and we have to show it to them. We have to remember that how we feel is not unique. We share common insecurities. We have to get past them in order to love each other with our whole selves.

If Affy had known this he might still be with us. If he could have known for sure that he was worthy of love he might still be here. Of course it's infinitely more complicated than that. But those of us who are left behind have to try to find something in this we can use. We need something we can salvage so that it doesn't just seem totally devoid of reason.

I loved Affy. And he loved me. And now I finally totally believe it.

Thank you for the gift that has been your life Affy. I will miss you forever. I wish I could have helped you understand the things you've helped me to know. I am forever changed.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The idea of not caring what people think has clearly been around for a long time. It's a phrase I remember as far back as I have memory. It often goes something like, "I'm going to do ____ and I don't care what people think."

This used to be a liberating idea. It used to be rebellious, at least in my experience. For me it was paired with things from the 1960s and early 1970s. (Sometime things from the 1860s and 1870s too I suppose.) Things like, women wearing pants or baseball players wearing mustaches, or same-sex couples holding hands in public. But the idea of it always seemed to somehow relate to fighting off some societal oppression. Not big things, like civil rights, but smaller everyday things, like the time I wore a cape and goggles to school. Over the years I've been alive it's become ubiquitous.

But now it's also become a tool of small oppression. Or at least a tool of expressing oppressive thoughts. Over the last couple years I've seen the phrase morph into something more like, "I don't care if I offend people." The one that spurred me to this writing is a post that's been going around social media regarding the pledge of allegiance.

Theres' nothing more American than not caring about offending people. This is really just one example of many posts like this one that claim some virtue in not caring about offending people. Now, I'm not going to get into a long screed about when the words "under God" were added to the pledge. I'm also not going to get too far into the separation of church and state and state except to point out that making little kids of other religions, or no religion, recite the pledge as written is horribly oppressive. (And the idea that they can opt out by sitting quietly is hogwash, singling them out as different opens them up to bullying etc.) What I will go into here is that the backwards idea that doing something oppressive is now somehow a noble act.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. We live in an era of white men claiming injustice at any threat to their power or privilege. They feel they have to take back the country and what not. And I suppose it's not new to point out that the oppressors often try to adopt the tactics and slogans of the oppressed and turn them to the purposes of continued oppression, but this bothers me. it bothers me because it's not being used in the cause for equality, it's being used to foster anti-social behavior. It's a call against civility.

There was a time when it was cool to not care what people think, like in "Footloose." Now it's been carried too far. Now it's being used to say rude things to people. "Fuck it, I'm going to drive between lanes. I don't care what people think." Just this morning a grounds keeper on campus told me "Don't worry about it." when I pointed out that they were blocking a busy drive way. "It'll only be an hour." she said, despite the fact that if she moved her truck eight feet to the right she wouldn't be blocking anything at all.

I care intensely what people think. I want to be liked. I don't think this is a bad or weak or anti-revolutionary thing. I take pride in doing small, polite, things to try to make people around me happy and comfortable. I walk on the right side of the stairwell. I drive fast in the fast lane. I wear headphones on the metro. These are small things that help people feel happy and comfortable. I curse way less than I used to. Not because I think swearing is bad, but because I know it bothers other people and I'm educated enough to find other words. I care about not offending people. I'm a religious person, but many people don't know that because I'm not loud about it. I don't care what other people believe. I don't care if other people believe the same things that I believe. But I do care that big outward displays of religion can make people uncomfortable. I work in a university, big outward displays of religion are not appropriate in most of what I do. I care about that. I don't feel censored, or stifled, or oppressed. My beliefs are mine, whether other people want to hear them or not doesn't affect me. I can be just a religious quietly as I can by being in everyone's face. But one way doesn't bother people and the other way can, so I'm quiet.

I'll give another example. I teach a class that focuses on business and government. I encourage students to know what's going on in the world. I try to help them build habits that will keep them informed. My default is to tell them they should listen to NPR at least an hour each week. But NPR is a liberal station. So I don't tell students to listen to NPR, I tell them to listen to news radio. I offer NPR and Capitol News Radio as examples. One is more liberal, one is more conservative. I offer the conservative example for my students because I don't want any of them to feel uncomfortable because they think I'm pushing a political agenda. That feeling could damage their trust in me as an objective and neutral instructor. They may then feel they have to censor themselves in order to protect their grade. I would hate for that to happen, in part because it's the kind of thing that may never come to light. Then that person has had a negative experience that I can't help fix because I don't know that it's happened. So I offer both liberal and conservative views in my class because my job is to serve the needs of all my students, not just the ones who feel comfortable with my views.

I care about people's feelings. I care about offending them. This is a good thing. We can't get to a point where we don't care about anyone or anything. We can't become completely self centered. We have to be willing to do the small, but important things that improve life for all of us. So I urge people, stop labeling anything that asks you to make an effort as "PC." As if being PC is a bad thing. Call people what they want to be called, it doesn't cost you anything. Wear headphones. Don't burn smelly candles with your office door open. Don't bring nuts to school. It's basic common courtesy. Being a dick isn't revolutionary. Respecting people isn't an affront to your rights. You should care about offending people, especially when it's small things. If you want to kiss your same-sex partner in public, kiss that person! Who cares if people don't like it, it's a basic human need, to love and be loved and express love. If you want to make Hindu kid feel isolated at school you're being a dick. There's a difference.

This is how to not care what people think

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Remember When This was So Fictional it Was Funny?

Another one from December that I hadn't thought to put here.  Check out the quiz at the end.

R̶a̶c̶h̶e̶l̶ ̶P̶h̶e̶l̶p̶s̶ Lew Wolff, a f̶o̶r̶m̶e̶r̶ ̶L̶a̶s̶ ̶V̶e̶g̶a̶s̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶w̶g̶i̶r̶l̶ real estate mogul, has i̶n̶h̶e̶r̶i̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶C̶l̶e̶v̶e̶l̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶I̶n̶d̶i̶a̶n̶s̶ purchased the Oakland Athletics baseball team from h̶e̶r̶ ̶d̶e̶c̶e̶a̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶h̶u̶s̶b̶a̶n̶d̶ a couple guys who didn't want to win. S̶he wants to move the team to the w̶a̶r̶m̶e̶r̶ richer climate of M̶i̶a̶m̶i̶ San Jose. In order to do this, s̶he must reduce the season's attendance ̶a̶t̶ ̶M̶u̶n̶i̶c̶i̶p̶a̶l̶ ̶S̶t̶a̶d̶i̶u̶m̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶8̶0̶0̶,̶0̶0̶0̶ ̶t̶i̶c̶k̶e̶t̶s̶ ̶s̶o̶l̶d̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶c̶h̶ ̶w̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶t̶r̶i̶g̶g̶e̶r̶ ̶
a̶n̶ ̶e̶s̶c̶a̶p̶e̶ ̶c̶l̶a̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶t̶e̶a̶m̶'̶s̶ ̶l̶e̶a̶s̶e̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶C̶l̶e̶v̶e̶l̶a̶n̶d̶ to perpetuate the narrative that Oakland fans don't care about the team.  He alienates every fan possible starting at the introductory presser.̶ After s̶he moves the team, s̶he would also be able to release all the current players and replace them with new ones. S̶he instructs n̶e̶w̶ General Manager C̶h̶a̶r̶l̶i̶e̶ ̶D̶o̶n̶o̶v̶a̶n̶ Billy Beane to hire the worst team possible from a list she has already prepared. The list includes v̶e̶t̶e̶r̶a̶n̶ ̶c̶a̶t̶c̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶J̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶T̶a̶y̶l̶o̶r̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶p̶r̶o̶b̶l̶e̶m̶s̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶k̶n̶e̶e̶s̶,̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶l̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶p̶l̶a̶y̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶M̶e̶x̶i̶c̶o̶;̶ ̶i̶n̶c̶a̶r̶c̶e̶r̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶
p̶i̶t̶c̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶R̶i̶c̶k̶y̶ ̶V̶a̶u̶g̶h̶n̶;̶ ̶p̶o̶w̶e̶r̶-̶h̶i̶t̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶f̶i̶e̶l̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶P̶e̶d̶r̶o̶ ̶C̶e̶r̶r̶a̶n̶o̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶p̶r̶a̶c̶t̶i̶c̶e̶s̶ ̶v̶o̶o̶d̶o̶o̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶r̶y̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶p̶ ̶h̶i̶m̶ ̶h̶i̶t̶ ̶
c̶u̶r̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶a̶l̶l̶s̶;̶ ̶v̶e̶t̶e̶r̶a̶n̶ ̶p̶i̶t̶c̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶E̶d̶d̶i̶e̶ ̶H̶a̶r̶r̶i̶s̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶n̶o̶ ̶l̶o̶n̶g̶e̶r̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶s̶t̶r̶o̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶r̶o̶w̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶r̶m̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶o̶c̶t̶o̶r̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶
p̶i̶t̶c̶h̶e̶s̶;̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶r̶d̶ ̶b̶a̶s̶e̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶R̶o̶g̶e̶r̶ ̶D̶o̶r̶n̶,̶ ̶a̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶-̶t̶i̶m̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶r̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶c̶o̶n̶t̶r̶a̶c̶t̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶c̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶h̶i̶g̶h̶-̶p̶r̶i̶c̶e̶d̶ ̶
p̶r̶i̶m̶a̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶n̶a̶.̶ trading current all-stars "to get back younger players in return than those they dealt. They aren’t hiding the fact that the players they’d be looking for are ones who’d be playing in any potential new stadium. The soonest the A’s could get a stadium completed would be in three years, for the 2015 season. So Double-A players, maybe even high Class-A players could be on their wish lists, conceivably."  As manager, P̶h̶e̶l̶p̶s̶ Beane hires L̶o̶u̶ ̶B̶r̶o̶w̶n̶ Bob Melvin, a̶ ̶t̶i̶r̶e̶ ̶s̶a̶l̶e̶s̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶"̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶a̶g̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶T̶o̶l̶e̶d̶o̶ ̶M̶u̶d̶ ̶H̶e̶n̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶3̶0̶ ̶y̶e̶a̶r̶s̶"̶.̶ who had been twice fired and failed to get a job during the regular off season.

Think you know the difference between the 2012 A's and the movie "Major League?"  Click here to take the BISR quiz.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A's Give up on 2012-2014; Santiago May Opt Out

 I posted this on Facebook in December but didn't think of putting it here too.  Well, here it is.

The A's have officially given up on the 2012 season and are just playing out the string. Long time fan Roberto Santiago has informed the team that he is considering opting out of his contract and exploring free agency.

According to Susan Slusser of the San Fransisco Chronicle the A's have traded All-Star pitcher Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects.  This move is in keeping with the A's philosophy as they look towards a future that involves moving to San Jose.  As Slusser had previously reported the A's are looking to trade many of their recent All-Stars, "to get back younger players in return than those they dealt. They aren’t hiding the fact that the players they’d be looking for are ones who’d be playing in any potential new stadium. The soonest the A’s could get a stadium completed would be in three years, for the 2015 season. So Double-A players, maybe even high Class-A players could be on their wish lists, conceivably."

Today Slusser reports that the trade of Cahill, an All-Star in 2010, and RP Craig Breslow, “lines up with what Arizona is trying to do, and what Oakland is trying to do. Win now – or win three years down the road.”

This news may be the last straw for long time A's fan Roberto Santiago who has expressed reservations about his future with the club ever since Lew Wolff bought the team in 2005 and immediately announced he was moving them to Fremont.  Santiago, who grew up in the Oakland/Berkeley area told reporters privately that any impending move could jeopardize his future with the club.  With the A's clearly trying to alienate fans and tank everything in advance of the 2015 season Santiago's future with the club is very much in doubt.

 Santiago has been tied to several major league markets including Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, and Boston. The Red Sox may be in position to sign Santiago after previously signing him to a ten day contract in 2008. To date that ten day deal represents the strongest move made by an MLB team to recruit the long time baseball fan since 1989.

Despite the Red Sox strong financial commitment some speculate that Santiago might sign with Washington, where he keeps a residence, in order to be closer to his family.

"My son goes past the National's stadium everyday on his way to school so it would be cool to be a part of that." said Santiago. He continued, "With the new park, some good young players and a willingness to try for quality free agents Washington could be a good place for me.

Sources say there is little credit to the idea that Santiago would consider a move to the either of the New York teams. Much like the rumors around Cliff Lee last year there is a feeling that Santiago would be more comfortable in a smaller market. Even though he has family ties to both the Mets and Yankees, those close to the veteran fan doubt he would consider New York unless they made an overwhelming offer, several times what the Red Sox committed in 2008.

The Dodgers are thought to be ruled out due in part to their unsettled ownership situation and reports linking Santiago to the Angels and Orioles were dismissed as being completely without merit. According to one source, "His long time hatred for those two franchises would make them highly unlikely fandom destinations despite loose geographic ties."

There is still a chance Santiago could remain with Oakland, the franchise that drafted him in the first month of 1977. Santiago has stated that beyond this year his decision to re-up with the club is likely contingent on them building a new stadium in downtown Oakland. In 2006 Santiago was quoted as saying, "I don't mind rebuilding, but I don't want to be involved in a move."

"I'd love to stay in Oakland my whole career." Santiago continued, "But it's not totally up to me. The team has to show that they want me. At the same time we all have to understand it's a business. We all have to do what's best for us and our families even when it hurts."

The Giants front office is rumored to have hopes the two sport fan who has been a long time supporter of the 49ers might follow former A's All-Stars Barry Zito and Vida Blue across the bay. This harkens back to speculation that the Giants might have been courting Santiago in 1997 when he was seen in a Candlestick Park luxury box with former Giant and one-time Athletics hall-of-famer Orlando Cepeda. Though those rumors never found legs, Santiago claimed it was merely a social call, it wouldn't be a surprise if people tried to draw a connection. Also Fueling the Santiago to the Giants talk is the story that as a kid in the late 80's Santiago liked those funky hats that were half A's and half Giants.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Tonight I did something I haven't done in several years, several more years than the four represented on the death certificate, I sat down and had a beer with my dad.  The last time I remember doing this, just the two of us has to be around 1998.  He was managing a movie theater in San Mateo, California (or somewhere equally foreign to  Berkeley boy with no car) and he insisted that we walk around to the other side of the mall and have a couple tall boys in the parking lot.

The next time I remember seeing him we didn't drink, which was a bit of a surprise.  Dad always drank.  But this next time I saw him he was in his apartment and a problem with his foot wouldn't allow him to get around like he used to.  This time it was 2003 and I was there to extend an olive branch and invite him to my wedding.  He showed me around the apartment building, the pool, his car, the cute neighbor.  That was one of the few times we talked about our past.  About him disappearing for log stretches of my childhood.  It was one of the few time I got a glimpse of his shame though he never said "I'm sorry."  Through that shame shone the same man I'd come to know over the years.  The one who didn't understand that a kid doesn't need a hero or a grand gesture, all he needs is a dad.  All he needs is the dad he remembers best.  Not the one with presents or an old Cadillac, but the one who can throw a football in the park or who has just enough money for a malt in the bleachers.  He wanted me to forgive him then, as he had when he'd first gotten back in touch again, after vanishing for a period of years.  Again. What I had to offer him was a wedding invitation.  He accepted though he didn't actually come.  By the time the wedding came he couldn't drive.  His foot condition had gotten worse.  His helper was supposed to bring him but something came up. 

The next time I remember seeing my dad, or even talking to him was a few years later.  I was bringing my new fiancee, or maybe she was still "just" a girlfriend at the time, to meet him.  We went out for Mexican food.  I took a short video of them dancing in the restaurant.  I think it was the last time I saw him.  He didn't make it to that wedding either.  Diabetes had taken his sight and his mobility.  He'd already survived throat cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, at least one pneumonia induced coma, alcoholism, heroin addiction, and the Bronx.  He was in no shape to travel.  I couldn't commit myself to keeping in touch.  After all, this was the man who'd abandoned me so many times and who kind of shrugged off my attempts to hash this out.  I knew he was sorry, I knew he was as damaged by it as I was but I just didn't care.  I wanted my pound of flesh.

My wife got pregnant at just about the very first possible chance after we were married.  My mom had been dead for a year already at that point and my contact with that side of the family was dissolving.  I kept meaning to call my dad and tell him but something, friends, work, resentment, always came up.  Besides, we were waiting three months before telling people because we knew the statistics.  About a week before we were ready to tell the world that there would indeed be another generation of the Santiago line I came home to find a business card stuck in the screen of my front door.  It was from farther away than I'd have expected and my first thought was that my grandmother had been compelled to drive farther than she should have.  When I called the number and got the news I couldn't believe it, mostly because I'd expected to hear it twenty years earlier.  Then ten years earlier, then five.  "We regret to inform you that your father is dead.  He was found by a friend.  Here are some numbers where you can reach people who knew him."

While my dad's death was shock it wasn't really a surprise.  The amazing thing is that he'd lived this long.  My senior year of college I'd spent three weekends driving from Los Angeles to the Bay Area to be by his side because the doctors swore "He's going to go this weekend."  This was his pneumonia (and vodka and pills) induced coma.  After three weeks he still wasn't dead.  I stopped going.  Two weeks later they found him wandering around the ICU.  He'd woken up suddenly, pulled all the tubes out and was trying to go home.  He'd been on a respirator.  He had a tube running down his nose to his stomach to feed him.  None of that seemed to matter to him, he just pulled it all out which means he was either on a ton of pain meds or just a complete badass.  Whenever we'd discuss any of his seemingly life threatening ailments later he'd always come back to one explanation, which he'd draw out in his raspy, one-lunged-life-time-smoker rattle, "Nothing can kill me, I'm from the Bronx."

In the end he was right.  It wasn't the various cancers that got him.  It wasn't the diabetes or the vodka.  In the end the only thing that could kill my dad was himself.  One day he called his case worker, told him what he was going to do, took a shit load of who knows what, laid down in his La-Z-Boy and went to sleep.  I got the card from the coroner's office a few days later. A few days before I was really going to call and tell him he was going to be a grandfather.  A few days before I might have given him something to live for.

I've carried that guilt with me the last four years as I've watched my son grow up without half his heritage.  I don't know if my dad would have been any better a grandfather than he was a father, but I wish we'd had the chance to find out.  Now, instead of answers or apologies, I have a five by seven by three inch box.  It's strange to think that all that we are can be distilled to 105 cubic inches.  I always felt like I was going through the motions when I tried to openly converse with the dead.  There's something about talking to a headstone or a photo that always seemed like I was just acting out a trope from a thousand staged dramas.  But recently it's felt real.  So tonight I sat down to have a beer with my dad.  To forgive him. To thank him for the good things I remember.   For the lessons he provided if not by instruction, then by example.

I love you dad.  I miss you.  I wish you could have met Feechy Jr.  Thank you for giving me baseball.  Thank you for buying me that yellow Pittsburgh Pirates pill box cap even though we were at a Giants game.  For letting me love Willie Stargell.  For letting me see those old rainbow Astros unis in person.  For letting me steer the van as a kid.  For teaching me about the Three Stooges, Little Rascals, and Honeymooners.  For taking me to one of the last lunch counters.  For giving me some moxie.  For that little taste of the South Bronx.  For my name, for my looks, thank you.

I love you dad.  I forgive you.  Happy Father's Day.