State of the Island (May 2015)

Chris Bord

My fellow citizens…

Last Sunday I made a final appearance as Alan, in God of Carnage. Monday I was depressed, out of sorts, but Tuesday was lighter and I felt more like myself than I had in weeks. The character was gone. He wasn’t a healthy guy. After a performance, a friend said “You were a real bastard!” and I was hurt – I knew objectively that Alan was unlikable but he’d been part of me. I knew things about him that my friend hadn’t seen. Acting is crazy business.

I took a week off from Moss Island and didn’t record a podcast either. The world kept turning. Riots in Baltimore, candidates pandering, more Cosby accusers, Antonin Scalia mentally composing ways to say “The founders never intended to allow gay marriage…” Social media posts and tweets and shares all insisting, “If only everybody in the world could be just like me things would be wonderful.” And the New York Times wrote a piece about toilet seat bidets.

Chris BordSo let’s start with bidets. I had a high school teacher who liked to say, “What if your hands get dirty? Do you rub them with paper?” Of course not – you wash them. It’s a no-brainer. I first tried a bidet in Italy, and I bought an electronic bidet toilet seat about five years ago. Dozens of guests have come to my house, used my bathroom, and have been intimidated. I’ve offered to explain how it works, but they want nothing to do with it. “Warm water on my bottom – how revolting!” (They must be thinking.) It’s wonderful. Here’s the problem – once you start using a bidet, going back to toilet paper is awful. Read Farhad Manjoo’s piece here.

Last week, This American Life told a story about an inner city program that gives money to violent offenders, helps them establish life maps and turn things around. The program has an astonishing 80% success rate – that is, 80% of participants do not commit violent offenses after finishing the program. Crime is down. But of course people are upset: “Those thugs get money because they committed crimes? Sign me up!” The same people can’t believe prisoners are allowed to attend college.

This is our “What about me?” culture. We want things to be “fair” but we don’t recognize all of the breaks we’ve gotten ourselves. We’re offended when fast food workers want more money (God forbid a Big Mac costs more, or the franchise owner can’t get a bigger boat.) Why? Because fast food workers should make a lot less than firefighters, or whatever. Does raising the minimum wage really devalue everyone else? Some think it does. Get over it. Let’s help each other. Nobody is successful in a vacuum. Nobody does it on their own. It benefits the community when everyone does well, instead of just a few lucky ones (most of whom think their success was entirely their own doing.) As for the Baltimore riots, we need to look at the big picture. It’s not true that “violence never solved anything.” In the society we’ve built, it’s sometimes the only thing that gets attention.

I heard a story about families in California whose wells ran dry when an industrial farm drilled a much deeper well. This isn’t illegal. Those families still have no water, and can’t afford to move. What recourse do they have? Get the press to report their plight. But the corporation bought some counter-reporting, and waited for the outcry to die down. And those families are still fucked.

Speaking of counter-reporting, the list of Cosby accusers is over 40 now. Plenty of Bill Cosby’s peers have gone on the record and said the accusations are credible. Those who defend him say, “innocent until proven guilty,” which must be enough for ticket buyers who want to hear him make lame jokes about the situation.

Presidential campaigning has begun. We are codependent in this process. We say we want positive campaigning but the polls prove we want them attacking one another. We say we hate corporate money in politics but we elect the ones who advertise all over TV. We are conditioned to criticize everyone in office, even if they’re achieving what we said we wanted them to. Politicians use that old line, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” I’d like to hear someone say, “Are we all better off?” And generally speaking, yes we are. Republican candidates are selling a “rollback” agenda – close the borders, cancel universal health care, put the gays back in the closet. They are selling nostalgia: “America can be great again, just like it used to be when you were young.” (You can get your childhood back!) And maybe that will work, and in four years we’ll forget the good stuff and we’ll want to throw out a new set of bums. Same as it ever was.

A protestor was removed from the Supreme Court last week after he interrupted arguments about the legality of same sex marriage. He apparently shouted, “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in hell.” After the man was gone, Antonin Scalia reportedly said, “That was refreshing.” Which might mean, “We don’t often get excitement like that around here,” except it’s unlikely Scalia would have said that if the protestor had said “Monsanto made it impossible for me to keep my farm.” And if you’re wondering, Glenn Beck says he doesn’t care one way or the other, but church attendance will decline by half if SCOTUS rules in favor of same sex marriage.

Aside from any religious definition, marriage is a contract between two people. Churches have never been forced to marry anyone they don’t want to marry. Those who argue about the “sacred tradition” of one man and one woman might pause and consider how well the tradition is working out. The divorce rate is something around 50%, and I can’t think of too many marriages I admire. (Of those, probably half are same sex.) Those who argue traditional marriage is better for children aren’t supported by research, although there’s plenty of research about how divorce hurts kids. (Let’s make divorce illegal! Then lawyers would decrease by half.) Those who say people will soon be marrying hamsters should be reminded that people can’t enter into contracts with hamsters. This is what it all boils down to: “But we don’t like it!” (Why can’t everyone be more like me?) Get over it, and stop watching Glenn Beck.

Coming up on Moss Island, more guest writers, more movies, and a few more episodes of Podcast Season 1. I’ll start brewing again, now that it’s warmer. For the month of May the only thing I’ll eat is Soylent, a powdered food replacement I started using back in November after reading about it in The New Yorker. Forget about the name – it’s not people, as far as I can tell. In June, I’ll write about how it went. (I’ll drink coffee and water, but nothing else. That’s right, no beer or Scotch either.) I’ll be stage managing the Syracuse High School Theater Awards, to be held on May 30 at the Landmark Theatre. And Moss Island is producing Stephen Sondheim’s Putting It Together, which will be performed July 24-26 at the Earlville Opera House. Lots going on. Stay tuned.