I’ll Stay. Still.

Now our luck may have died, and our love may be cold
But with you forever I’ll stay. – The Boss

I couldn’t find a clever introduction for this, so I’ll just begin. In the past week, I’ve been figuratively kicked in the gut on several occasions, by strangers, and reduced to silence.  For me, anything that causes the loss of words is a big deal. I guess you could simply say that things have gotten to me. They’ve knocked me upside the head and forced me to acknowledge overt prejudices that I already knew existed but don’t like to acknowledge. Because like everyone else, I never want to feel out-of-place. No one does. As humans, we want to be comfortable. In our lives, in our environment. Our experiences, are our realities. And being uncomfortable makes reality very unpleasant.

It hasn’t all been bad. I managed to have an awesome experience last weekend. The Word of South festival was held here in Tallahassee and was once again phenomenal. Even more so this year because The Bitter Southerner had a booth, a stage, a panel and brought many great artists to perform. I got to see John Paul White again, which was surreal to me, as always. He can take the saddest songs, and make you smile from ear to ear.  I met Chuck Reece. Well, not really because I was afraid to ask for a picture, but he did take the time to tell me that he really appreciated me doing business with them when I bought my T-Shirt. Not one of the other vendors we visited took the time to say anything like that us. I thought that was pretty damned cool of him.

I also saw Parker Millsap perform which is one of those moments you experience in your life, that you never forget how you felt right then at that very moment. He is just that good. That was twice Mr. Millsap evoked that feeling in me. The first time it was when I heard his song “Heaven Sent” while driving to work. I found myself pulling into a parking lot just to get my shit together. It was profound.

I missed out on any pictures with Patterson Hood, John Paul White, Reed Watson, and Sean Dietrich because I chickened out. Like some damned teenager. I did almost ask for a picture from a man I thought was Patterson Hood, but praise the gods I didn’t. See, Patterson Hood is a tall guy. The target of my misrecognition was about the size of Danny DeVito. Yeah. Praise the gods I didn’t go over.

Social anxiety has been a struggle for me for as long as I can recall. I quelled it for years with alcohol, but I’ve put that away and it is hard sometimes. I just didn’t have the nerve to ask for pictures this year. Prior to the festival, my already slack confidence level was, well, leveled before it even began, by complete strangers.

A few months ago, we bought a used Toyota truck. I joined a couple of groups on Facebook to get tips and advice on upgrades and maintenance to the truck. I soon discovered, that on one of the pages, many members like to show off their firearms and animal carcasses. No dick pics, just that. Maybe as a substitute I suppose. But I digress.

To be honest, I started the fray on a post, by mentioning that trophy hunters were pussies, in my opinion. By trophy hunters, I meant people who kill just to kill. A man posted a truck bed full of coyote carcasses. Then another showed a bed full of fox carcasses. Then came the bobcat, the puma, and then some wild hogs. (Which to be fair can be eaten if you’re really hungry or just that manly.)

After some back and forth, rather harmless banter, and myself and my “supporters” (mostly Yankees and Californians) being called hippies etc., the gay bashing started, hard-core. Major. Bigly. Finally, either the page admins or the original poster, removed the original post, and the poster PMd me to let me know that he was sorry “about those fucking assholes”. (By that time, he and I had actually begun a productive and educational conversation about his state being overrun with coyotes to the point there was a bounty on them for a limited time, as the State tried to cull the population). But the entire episode left me bitter. Pretty damned stunned. I’m not sure whether Art from California is gay or not, but he and I took a lashing for certain. And it stung. Out of 57,000 members of that group, about eight people chimed in to stop it. Then, the admins just removed the post. But did nothing else to address the language. The abuse.

Earlier this week, I saw where the Texas GOP Convention refused to allow the Log Cabin Republicans (a very confused sect of gay and lesbian and trans folk) to attend their event, and nobody seemed to notice, other than “gay” websites. Because nobody cared. After I shared it to my FB page, some of my right leaning friends were a little shocked. One declared he may be more of a Libertarian than he thought because this was “just dumb”. Another face palmed and decided this was “why we can’t have nice things”. Another challenged a blanket statement and asked for an example of any anti-gay legislation proposed by the GOP. I’ve decided to wait until she takes her Elephant goggles off to put the list on the post. But, the point is, that this happened in Texas and nobody knew. Because nobody cared. Or maybe they “understand where they’re coming from.”

Lastly, to top off the week, I also learned that one of the organizers of the Charlottesville bullshit last year has been outed as an active duty U.S. Marine. Well, he was active until earlier this month. Seems the Corps doesn’t take kindly to their men advising civies on how to use cars as weapons in large crowds and other such tactics. Nor do they take kindly to neo-Nazi, white supremacists within their ranks. At least not openly. Once he was outed, by a civilian with a conscience, I figure they were backed into a corner. That old corner of public opinion. But, I read all about this on Al-Jazeera. Not on any of the mainstream news websites.

For the most part, I have quit looking at those because if I wanted opinions and propaganda, I’d go to AA or church. But I do browse through Google news each morning, and I don’t recall seeing anything about this ex-Marine and his thousands of contributions to the planning of the Charlottesville debacle.  Nothing about the intricate network of like-minded assholes that share his beliefs and were actively engaged in planning attacks in Charlottesville. Nothing. Because nobody cared. Or because so many people think like him.

And that is just the bottom line for myself, and thousands of people like me. Since early to mid-2016 I have seen a trend. On social media, with friends, family, Facebook friends and acquaintances (not to be confused with real friends), and even coworkers, showing very clear and concise evidence, that people like me are not really welcome in their world. We are, at best, tolerated. I’ve seen this with my own two eyes (and only one of them is bad).

Some of “us”, from smaller communities, do enjoy a level of comfort in our area of origin, only because the people there have known us since we were in diapers. We have been sort of grandfathered in, if you will. But even then, it is only to a point. Only to a certain level.

I’ve heard it with my ears too. Loud and clear by the deafening silence that follows stories like these, and worse, from the “right” leaners of my life. Just crickets. But, let another unarmed black man take multiples to the torso or get thrown out of a coffee shop for waiting on a friend before ordering their six-dollar latte, and my news feed explodes with opinions and reasons and excuses and justifications. Because like “us”, “they” aren’t welcome in that world either. Not welcome in their society. Not welcome in their political party. Not welcome on their truck page.

I’d like to say that I don’t care, but I still do. For some damned reason, I do. See, I like the South. I like “down here”. A lot. I like the music, the food, the literature, the land, and hell, I even like a lot of the people. But, really, I don’t see that anywhere north of Orlando on upward to the Canadian border and across to the California border, likes “us” too much for the most part. And I don’t want to live here anymore. Period. It’s been a long week.

I think the reason I was so excited about the Word of South festival was because I’ve started to read The Bitter Southerner a lot lately. There seems to be a sense of normalcy and acceptance in their work that provides a comfort to me. They tell great stories. Stories that I relate to. Stories I could have written. Stories I have lived. A few of their slogans that I am fond of include “All Y’all” and “Abide No Hatred” and “Mayo and Tomato”, because I damn sure relate to that. I find a sense of normalcy when I engage with their various social media pages. I felt it at their stage last weekend as well. I guess because there are other people like me in there. And there are people out there that do care about us. All of us. All Y’all. And they’ve had some of the same experiences. And they love this place. The South.

No. I don’t want to live here anymore. Not where I am now. But, I will likely always live somewhere in the South. Because it is home. It may have gone cold right now, for me. But forever I’ll stay. Somewhere in the South.

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