When Laughing is All You Have

IMG_3028

“… Are you funny?”

I’ve always loved standup comedy. I’ve also always been timid and risk averse, which has led to varying levels of regrets from every period of my life for things I’ve been interested in but talked myself out of trying. I’ve spent the better part of the last three years trying to reinvent my life after some seismic changes, and somewhere within that stretch, I began to question my strategy of always making the choices that seemed safest.

So when I slowly started confiding in friends that I wanted to try standup, the “are you even funny?” question was a pretty common one. The answer is … I dunno. But I have stories to tell.

In high school, I had a 10-disc CD changer installed in the trunk of my 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix. Two of the 10 discs that never left the rotation were Martin Lawrence and Chris Rock standup albums.

Don’t judge me here (I was a college white dude so I was the correct demographic) but one of my favorite comedy moments at Oakland University revolved around Dane Cook. One night, he was performing for free in the food court in front of about 80 people. I was walking through the building after a night class and stopped and listened to him. Less than two years later, he sold out Meadowbrook Hall on campus, with people driving from all over Michigan to see him.

I love stories. I love that standups can create something that resonates, find an audience, and have it grow relatively rapidly with the right combination of luck and tenacity. I love hearing about people’s fucked up experiences, especially when they can find humor through pain. And I now have plenty of fucked up, painful experiences of my own that laughter has helped pull me through. So I found an open mic and I did it.

*     *     *

I made my standup debut on April 20 at The Independent Comedy Club at Planet Ant in Hamtramck (they have comedy shows every Friday and Saturday — they’re great, you should go!). There were two open mics to choose from — 8 p.m. or 11 p.m. I had friends who wanted to watch me embarrass myself. They couldn’t get there early, so I decided to wait until 11 p.m. to sign up.

The caveat — the 11 p.m. spot includes a comic on stage who heckles you throughout your set. Which I was totally prepared to handle the first time I’d ever done comedy and the second time I’d ever talked while trying to remember to hold a microphone near my mouth. Worst case scenario, I humiliate myself, which is still a pretty great story, so I rolled with it.

I watched the first open mic, and it made me much more confident. The performers had varying styles, some who were experienced and some who weren’t. Mostly, they were just casually and informally testing material. The audience at that point was … my friend Rhiannon and I. So it didn’t exactly seem intimidating. I could do this!

Thennnnnnnn … the actual show started. And the burlesque show that was going on next door ended, that audience came over, and all of the seats in the club filled. Then a couple dozen more people were standing in the back of the room. Then a couple of the people who were casual during the early open mic got up during the main show and did sets that were really polished. Then two professional comics who were headlining had killer sets and did NOT carry notebooks up there with them like I fully planned to do. Then they filmed a live episode of a podcast, and I’m not really sure what was going on but there was an Easter Bunny, a Spiderman abduction, and loud music and dancing that had the crowd really hyped. And a few people ready to fight Spiderman for crashing into them too aggressively as he ran through the audience.

Also, I’d written a five minute set, based on googling and reading that most open mic sets are about five minutes. I found out this one was three minutes. I kept trying to read my notebook in the dark, figuring out what I could cut on the fly (after three Jamesons). I lost my pen so I couldn’t make notes.

Oh, and it was 420. I’m not sure if the number of high people wandering around was a help or a hindrance for doing standup, honestly. But I, a moron, didn’t realize I chose the biggest pot holiday of the year to try to do standup for the first time.

So my relaxation dissipated and no less than four times I plotted how I could sprint out of there and not go through with it.

But the crowd thinned out after the main show ended, so it was slightly less intimidating. I was second on the signup sheet, and got called up by EJ Watson — the comic who was serving as the open mic heckler and who was really funny in his set earlier in the show.

I led with confessing it was my first time — I googled what to do at open mics relentlessly, and found something that said you should fess up to being new, so I took that as gospel and did it.

The premise of my set was app-based dating. Namely, being an old loser who hadn’t dated in 13 years trying to figure out how people date now and then realizing that it can be pretty easy when you realize a huge percentage of men are creepy scumbags. So it was a celebration of my averageness. I had to cut a joke I liked about craft beer being commonly listed as a hobby (and noting that not only is leading with alcoholism a weird choice, but also craft beer is just regular beer with varying amounts of coffee poured into it). My joke about women having collections of tiny penis trading cards on their phones based on the number of unsolicited dick pics they get seemed to get over.

The tiny penis trading cards line got callbacks during two other sets, so I feel confident that, if nothing else, I accomplished creating a new creepy man shaming tool. Seriously, if Instagram and Snapchat created a trading card filter, it would be so popular — slap the filter on the unwanted penis and post it to the internet with the sender’s personal info. Collect them all!

I also joked about my own lame hobby — loving professional wrestling. But I have to be honest — a professional wrestling tool helped me deal with EJ’s heckling. Anyone who has watched the WWE over the last 20 years knows about “WHAT?” chants. They started in 2001 because of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Essentially, whenever someone is talking on the mic, the crowd continuously cuts them off with “WHAT?” because Austin used to do it. Somehow, even though Austin is long retired and now hates the chants he started, they haven’t died.

The best performers in WWE overcome them by changing their cadence and eliminating their pauses, which makes it hard for the crowd to keep up the rhythm. So I stole that idea and tried to talk a little faster every time EJ interjected. He got his jokes in, but I didn’t get super thrown off. All those years of watching men roll around in their underwear finally paid off with practical advice.

I was worried time would drag when I got on stage, but the wrap it up light was on before I knew it. The setups I wrote to get to my main jokes were a little too long. And I didn’t rehearse as much as I could’ve, so I looked down at my notes too much rather than paying attention to how people in the audience were reacting. There were a couple of lines I didn’t deliver right, and one I didn’t like when I heard it out loud.

So am I funny? No clue. But I tried something, I didn’t make a complete fool of myself (YET!), and I am definitely going to do it again. I have waaaaaay more messed up topics to cover publicly.

Kofi Kingston is the Pipebomb

kofi-kingston-new-day-elimination-chamber
Image via WWE Network.

One of my earliest memories as a kid was watching Superstars with my dad, uncle, and cousin, crowded around a 20-inch tube TV with rabbit ears that sat on top of a non-working dryer (that was for some reason in the kitchen) at my uncle’s perennially under construction house.

More accurately, wrestling was on in the background. What I was usually more intently watching was my dad and uncle throwing toothpicks in each other’s faces while doing poor Razor Ramon impersonations or standing wobbly on chairs, arms raised majestically, while doing even poorer Randy Savage impersonations.

Since, wrestling fandom has come and gone from my life in waves — a nomadic attention span in the face of the daunting investment required to actually consume all of the content produced by modern WWE is not atypical and totally understandable as fans age and add life responsibilities.

My meandering back into the sport, roughly, matched when a lot of people regained interest — the 2011 Summer of Punk. But, as much as CM Punk’s pissed off, bitter, upset at the system, chip-on-his-shoulder persona spoke to me as a mid-30s khaki wearer stuck in a boring desk job, it wasn’t CM Punk alone that renewed my interest in wrestling. It was Kofi Kingston.

Punk famously name-dropped Colt Cabana in his electric fourth-wall breaking pipebomb promo, which introduced me to Cabana’s podcast. One of the most relatable episodes I listened to was Cabana’s interview with Kingston in 2012. The whole interview is great, but Kingston discussing his post-college career dissatisfaction, working in a cubicle proofreading catalog pages for Staples spoke to my soul:

“No matter how excited you seem about it, it’s still paper clips and push pins and ergonomic chairs. I can’t do this the rest of my life.”

He even drops an Office Space reference!

I’ve watched WWE consistently again since that summer in 2011, and thanks to a powerful combination of the Network, insomnia, and an … uh … exciting personal life, gone back and filled in gaps that I missed in years prior. Kingston has been among the most consistently good performers in a variety of mid-card roles throughout that entire time. He’s done it organically, with almost nothing to work with. Consider some of the following:

  • He debuted in WWE playing a Jamaican character, with Jamaican music, gear that used Jamaican colors, and vignettes that promoted his Jamaican heritage. He’s … not Jamaican. It’s the type of classic WWE cheeseball gimmick that, in the hands of the wrong performer, would’ve been dead on arrival. It’s also the exact sort of deadend gimmick often given to performers of color. Instead of failing, Kingston’s charisma combined with his unique in-ring work got him over pretty seamlessly. Relatively quickly, Kofi Kingston was so good and so popular with the crowd, the corny WWE packaging didn’t matter and in fact quietly disappeared altogether. That’s a testament to his talent.
  • In 2014, when the New Day was formed, rinse and repeat with the lame/borderline racist WWE packaging — vignettes that didn’t make sense, that with less talented performers would’ve thoroughly ruined any chance of popularity for the individuals. But, Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods are so damn good at this that their own natural abilities to connect with a crowd, tell stories that are entertaining, and off-the-charts chemistry as a group triumphed over any poor creative they were hamstrung with. I remember the initial New Day vignettes. I remember myself — and a lot of the collective wrestling internet — groaning with worst case scenarios based on WWE’s history of presenting black performers using the worst stereotypes. Even with the undeniable talent of the three performers, I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted then that the New Day would grow into what they are today.
  • Kingston is one of the best tag team wrestlers of all-time, with eight different title runs. The New Day is clearly his most successful team, but he’s won titles with a pretty diverse set of talents — CM Punk, Evan Bourne, and R-Truth. His run with Bourne was disrupted, twice, due to Bourne’s suspensions, and Kingston still recovered. His teams with Punk and R-Truth were seemingly thrown together and made little sense, and both were entertaining.
  • He makes everyone look good. On Cabana’s podcast, he talked at length about his belief in helping other performers achieve their best, stating, “I’ve always been willing to help people out.” It is hard to find any match over the course of his career that wasn’t entertaining. He’s had seven combined runs with the U.S. and Intercontinental titles. He’s pinned Chris Jericho — arguably the greatest of all-time in terms of longevity. He’s also served as fodder for debuting talents, like Rusev and Bray Wyatt. He’s college educated, beloved by all fans but especially young ones, and a great face for modern WWE the company in the external PR appearances that they love. His career, in terms of being a talented jack-of-all-trades, is similar to Dolph Ziggler’s. Yet Ziggler has, here and there, been boosted into the main event scene and even has two world title runs (the most memorable of which, coincidentally, came when he was in a faction that included Big E). Kingston has never received those types of opportunities.
  • He’s been in seven Money in the Bank matches — tied with Kane for the most ever — and won zero. Damien Sandow and Baron Corbin have won Money in the Bank matches, by the way.
  • He’s been in 12 Royal Rumbles, tied for third all-time, and delivered arguably the most memorable spots in the history of one of WWE’s most iconic matches, yet never come close to winning one. For comparison’s sake, Cody Rhodes has been in half as many Royal Rumbles and has more than three hours of cumulative time (among the most all-time) in those appearances.

WWE accidentally realizing that Kingston is a major star — thanks in large part to a totally organic reaction by fans combined with Kingston having incredible matches when he was subbed into the WWE title picture earlier this year — is both gratifying and frustrating. Gratifying is the easy part — anyone who has watched Kingston’s career objectively is thrilled to see one of the most talented, overlooked members of the roster finally get a main event opportunity. And frustrating, because this immensely talented, popular performer has been there since 2008! What took so long?

During this recent run, I’ve thought about Kingston a lot in the context of Punk’s famous promo.

Punk played into the belief that he’d been held down, that the company didn’t want someone like him as the face of their product despite his popularity with fans, that behind the scenes mysterious power-brokers had worked nefariously to limit his opportunities. He delivered his words compellingly, and they told a great story. But were they true beyond the storyline sense?

Perhaps, at least in Punk’s mind, which helped them resonate. But, even before his record-breaking title run, Punk was featured prominently. He’d had world title runs. He’d won Money in the Bank. He was in the main event scene and had worked with major stars. He’d led factions. When he was injured, they put him on commentary. He even got a famous Royal Rumble spot with the Straight Edge Society, where he had a microphone and got to spend a significant portion of the match as the center of attention, an opportunity to add significant nuance to his character.

Were there, surely, people who didn’t want him to succeed? People who didn’t like his look or his attitude or his independent scene credentials? I’m sure that was probably the case. But, in terms of TV time and being prominently featured, there’s not really a reasonable case that Punk was overlooked.

Now apply the sentiments of his promo to Kingston, a talented performer who — despite his popularity — was never really in the main event scene. Someone who did have the ability to talk on the microphone but never got significant mic time to help add motivations to his character. Someone who was shuffled in and out of midcard stories, often working with the same performers repeatedly (hello, endless matches with Ziggler!) with little storyline explanation as to why those feuds continued endlessly. A black performer who, when you factor in WWE’s poor history with handling race, gender, sexuality, etc., would have an extremely credible argument for why seemingly less accomplished performers get more prominent spots than he does.

Kingston has already proven himself as an all-time great, something his mentality when he talked to Cabana in 2012 foreshadowed: “I’ve always been one to try to do things differently, to the point where there’s not many people out there who can do what I do the way that I do it.” He, more than anyone in recent memory, has earned this spot, and had to do more to get there than just about anyone else.

Those realities make this, perhaps accidentally, among the most compelling stories WWE has ever told. Even if it is technically part of a storyline, the history of Kingston and the believability of performers of color having a much harder path historically to main event opportunities within WWE, make the “reality era” aspects of the story resonate even stronger. Kingston’s ascension, and more importantly where they go with this story, has captured my attention as a fan differently than any wrestling storyline ever has. The New Day as performers clearly have the ability to take this story to a riveting, satisfying conclusion. Does WWE?

Being Rich and Useless in Flint

IMG_2616

University of Michigan-Flint faculty member Mark Perry filed a lawsuit against Wayne State University for hosting a coding camp for black girls.

Though dickish, the lawsuit in itself is not surprising given his history. Perry has filed at least 35 lawsuits against Michigan universities alleging discrimination against males, according to his prideful bragging in The Detroit News. He has a track record of weaponizing lawsuits and media attention to push universities into bending to his will — notably, two years ago, Michigan State University changed the name of a women’s lounge on campus because Perry was aggrieved that men also couldn’t go in there.

Perry — who makes over $140,000 annually from UM-Flint — has a singular intent: to protect male, particularly white male, privilege in higher education. His viewpoint is so absurdly stupid, that it hardly merits a serious response. So let me start with a non-serious one — pointing and laughing at some of his Rate My Professor reviews:

He is a terrible professor. He lectures for hours from powerpoint slides provided by the textbook company (which he is friends with and mentions several times). He offers only one point of view and references his blog often. His political views are very obvious.

Wastes all his class time by talking about his blog posts.

Website dedicated to his stupid hobbies. In love with himself. Lives in fantasy world. Needs to get in touch with reality. has no sympathy for the common person’s struggle. Hard to do when you are a fat spoiled out-of touch brat.

He is extremely boring and seemed to have some build up frustration. He is practically useless when it comes to answering students questions.

Doesn’t seem to create any of his own curriculum, which should be considered academic fraud at the graduate level. Lectures are deadly boring.

Seriously, he namedrops being friends with a textbook publisher in class? What a hip dude! And I really enjoyed that The Root put him in their “Mayo-American Hall of Fame.”

But that’s immature of me. So here are a few better-formed responses.

  1. Mark Perry draws a $140,000 salary in one of the poorest cities in America. Forty two percent of the University of Michigan-Flint’s student body consists of students whose families earn less than $65,000 per year and it is 24th among all Michigan colleges in median parent income, according to The New York Times. If those students are Flint residents, depending on what neighborhood their families live in, there’s a chance they still can’t drink water from the tap in their homes since the lead pipes have still not been replaced in some of the city’s poorest areas. University of Michigan-Flint is a public university. So his salary is being paid by taxpayers and tuition from a large number of students from middle class and lower families so that he can file frivolous lawsuits aimed at eliminating protections for women, show students boring PowerPoint presentations, and write riveting blog posts about the scourge that is massage therapists with long fingernails.
  2. Mark Perry teaches at a university that is more than 60 percent female. This month, he said this to The Detroit News: “We’re still stuck back in the 1960s or 1970s with outdated thinking that women still need special treatment and special preferences.” Wait … I’m very curious about the “special treatment” women were getting in the 60s and 70s. And if he’s arguing that things like Title IX, scholarships, and other initiatives to provide opportunities for women have now outserved their usefulness and are depriving white men, is he really saying that, what, like, 30ish years of these things existing or being thought about in any sort of serious manner is enough to undo … I dunno … forever? I guess? … of women and minorities being excluded from opportunities?
  3. He successfully bullied Michigan State University into changing the name of a small women’s lounge and making it a common space where men are now allowed as well. You know, the same Michigan State University that harbored a serial sexual abuser of women and complicit administrators who protected that criminal for years, not to mention an athletics program that has had its own severe issues with sexual violence against women on campus. Why would they possibly need a safe space for women???
  4. While he’s attacking Wayne State for offering a Black Girls Code camp, here are a few relevant stats that I’m sure he very much considered before filing his pointless lawsuit: 95 percent of the tech workforce is white, and 76 percent of it is male (Forbes); a Brookings Institute study noted that while women’s “digital skills” have rapidly increased, their share of the “highly skilled digital” job pool has not; a Google engineer was fired after circulating a manifesto that argued, among other things, gender gaps in tech jobs exist because women are not as psychologically suited to those jobs as men; 83 percent of tech executives are white, half of Google’s and Apple’s employees are white, and unfairness/mistreatment in the work environment costs tech companies billions of dollars per year in turnover/replacement costs when those frustrated employees leave (Tech Republic).
  5. College computer science departments are still overwhelmingly white according to Wired, hence the importance of pre-college programs like Black Girls Code. Despite Mark Perry’s “what about the men!” protests, colleges are actually very successful at getting white boys into computer science programs and don’t need the help of his frivolous lawsuits to bolster those efforts.
  6. Seriously, he’s filed 35 lawsuits against public universities in Michigan! Hey guess what, taxpayers? Since these are public universities, you get to pay for the legal resources that universities have to devote to this frivolity. Hey guess what, college students? This frivolity helps your tuition costs go up!

I worked in higher education for eight years, including a significant amount of time at a STEM university. Every major company in America is looking for increased diversity in its workforce. Every major company in America is eager to fund tech-related pre-college opportunities for diverse students. Early exposure to concepts like coding is critical, especially for underrepresented or economically disadvantaged populations who haven’t traditionally had opportunities in STEM education and fields. Black Girls Code is an amazing national organization that every college campus in America would be proud to partner with.

Mark Perry’s contentions, as cited in The Detroit News, that women are actually over-represented on college campuses and, thus, don’t need additional measures like scholarships, specialized camps, and women-only spaces on campus, is infantile. Here are a couple of the more ridiculous passages:

At UM, women dominate in 17 out of 21 fields of study, with business and engineering being the only areas where women are underrepresented.

Hmmm … so business and engineering, the two fields of study that traditionally yield the highest paying jobs to graduates, are the “only” ones dominated by men. Got it.

“Gender discrimination has been embedded, accepted, embraced and institutionalized in higher education for decades,” Perry says.

Just want to throw this statistic out there: despite women composing the majority of students on college campuses, nearly 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted during the time they are in college. And that number is likely much higher considering the number of sexual assaults that go unreported. Oh, and female administrators are still paid less than male counterparts (Inside Higher Ed). White men hold 55 percent of full-time professor jobs nationally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And male faculty members are not only more likely to assign works by male authors than female authors, they also hilariously and sadly assign nearly three times more of their own published work than female faculty. Which fits with one of the Rate My Professor descriptions above of Professor Cool Blogs here.

So no, Mark Perry, discrimination against white men has not been an “embedded, institutionalized” issue in higher ed. Higher ed mirrors the rest of society, where it has been substantially easier for mediocre white men to advance than anyone. 

Sadly, based on my anecdotal experience in universities, Mark Perrys aren’t uncommon, he just happens to be more media savvy than others I’ve encountered. I’ve witnessed tenured male faculty dominate or actively belittle or resort to passive aggressive tactics to derail meetings or silence voices of female colleagues. I’ve heard horror stories from female colleagues about the behavior of men on tenure committees who made the process exceedingly difficult for them. I’ve seen men openly scoff at being open to or showing empathy to the experiences of marginalized or underrepresented groups of students. Not all of the male colleagues I’ve worked with have done these things, but an emboldened and vocal enough minority of them certainly wield enough power to make things hell for those with good intentions.

It is disappointing that Mark Perry is allowed to use his position at a great university in a community that I love to gain media attention to attack marginalized groups. It is disappointing that he continuously finds media outlets who give him a platform and are complicit in his attacks. And it is doubly disappointing that he’s protected by a tenure system that often enables bullies rather than protects academic freedom.

When You’re Wrong and Can’t Fix It

wrong
Image source.

My son Oliver was born in 2010, just before the Michigan State football team finished 11-2 and won a share of the Big Ten Championship – their first of three Big Ten titles in his lifetime after the team hadn’t previously won one since 1990.

 

That fall, Oliver – approximately the same shape as a football – and I were glued to our rocking chair religiously on Saturdays, watching Michigan State. His wise, gigantic brown eyes, even at just a few months old, were intently focused on the T.V., and that intrigue has only grown as he has become a competitive, sports-obsessed 8-year-old.

I am a graduate of Michigan State. I finished my master’s program in journalism in 2010 – struggling to take the last two classes to finish that degree in the winter, after Oliver was born while also working full-time. I also worked at Michigan State for a year in 2012.

I’ve always had a natural affinity for MSU even before attending and working there. My first exposure was obviously through sports. My dad loved the University of Michigan, but I’ve always found the prestige, the self-importance, the elitism, associated with U of M football to be exhausting, honestly. I’m much more interested in losers, especially losers who lose colorfully. And over the course of my lifetime, Michigan State has certainly delivered unique moments for sports masochists out there.

Oliver, though, has had a much different experience as he’s grown into a sports fan – his only point of reference in his lifetime is Michigan State being a dominant, premiere football program while Michigan has been the program that, despite near-constant hype, can hilariously never get out of its own way.

Over the past eight years, he’s seen Michigan State consistently win rivalry games, win conference championships, compete for national championships and, after a down year, quickly reload and return to form. He has followed players he grew to love as Spartans make it and have success in the NFL and NBA. He has been to Spartan Stadium and the Breslin Center and regularly asks when we will go back. Nearly every chance he gets in school or in his spare time to draw, he draws something Michigan State-focused. He has memorized the fight song (okay … maybe not the words, but he definitely hums the beat correctly). He has talked about wanting to go to college at Michigan State. He dreams of playing college basketball there someday.

He’s done all of this at my encouragement, because of me exposing him to follow this university and this program, literally, from the moment he was born.

And now, the all-consuming thought I have, is how do I undo this? How could I fail him so badly?

*     *     *

I knew better. I spent six years as a sports journalist. I left that industry, in part, because sports journalism is often complicit in creating unworthy false idols, in trading puff pieces for increased access, in glossing over major character deficiencies in an effort to find the next “redemption” story.

Writing about sports can be really rewarding work. But at the highest levels, the desire to deceive or create a false narrative in the interest of making obscene amounts of money is immense. And the NCAA is the worst offender of that concept, with universities, administrators and coaches making tens of millions of dollars by exploiting an unpaid labor force, often from the most poor and marginalized backgrounds. The incentive to perpetrate or cover up, sometimes with the assistance of friendly media, truly evil acts is extremely high in major sports.

I knew all of this. And I still indoctrinated my son from the moment he was born.

*     *     *

The evil that Larry Nassar was allowed to perpetrate at Michigan State and with USA Gymnastics is nearly incomprehensible, and yet it happened. It happened systematically, clinically, in a university environment that is supposed to be filled with enlightened people who are the most aware of the needs of victims, of marginalized or vulnerable people who speak up or ask for help, who are the most distrustful of institutional power structures.

Adding to the sheer horror is the fact that, as a current university communications professional, I can’t comprehend the heartless, completely lacking in empathy statements made by two university presidentstwo prominent coaches and multiple board members. Resh Strategies already wrote an in-depth piece on the communications failings of the university. All I can do is fully endorse what they stated in their piece.

As a parent, I’ve had to look my son in the face and say in no uncertain terms, “Hey, daddy fucked up badly.” (Okay … so I didn’t say ‘fucked up’ to him).

IMG_0731

I checked out on Michigan State athletics somewhere during last basketball season, after Tom Izzo said, among other things, “I hope the right person was convicted.” Which along with being about the most offensive thing anyone can say in response to the Nassar crimes, also makes no sense. As insignificant as quitting watching a team is, it was actually difficult. The team’s star player, Miles Bridges, is a beloved player from my adopted home of Flint. Their other stars, Jaren Jackson Jr., Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward, were all hard-working, easy-to-root-for players. And, purely from an artistic standpoint, I love basketball. It’s beautiful and has resonated with me in a way few other things have in my life have since I was younger than my son currently is.

But as with any parenting fuck-up, it has also provided me with an opportunity to repair mistakes. It has provided the opportunity to talk to him about the overwhelming propensity of violence committed against women in our culture. It has provided me the opportunity to begin (as best as he can understand) conversations about consent, boundaries and respect. It has provided the opportunity to talk about what true leadership means by highlighting tragic, visible examples of failed leadership. I have been able to talk to him about the phony idea that “brands” of any sort – university or otherwise – are worthy of adulation.

He still loves sports, loves Michigan State sports, and I won’t tell him he has to stop. But, if nothing else, I have been able to reinforce that there are far more important things in life than sports. I just hope it’s not too late for it to resonate.

*     *     *

I have wanted to write about my anger at Michigan State for several months and struggled to find the words (and, truthfully, the time … out-of-nowhere needs of babiez absorb A LOT of intended writing time). I couldn’t summon the combination of rage and words necessary until John Engler, who was about the WORST possible choice for interim president of Michigan State, accused a Nassar survivor of receiving “kickbacks” and then feebly apologized for it.

Predictably, the still-hurt and angry MSU community as well as state legislators called on Engler to resign. Even more predictably, based on the consistent pattern of hubris displayed by MSU leadership throughout the Nassar criminal proceedings, Engler lacked the self-awareness to resign.

As a parent who wants my children to learn to exercise their own judgement, I won’t tell my son he can’t root for MSU sports teams. But I will provide him all relevant information. I will challenge him to think beyond “I like their sports teams.” As a person who will help my children finance their college educations, I would strongly object to them attending Michigan State without significant changes made to the university administration and board.

Ultimately, that sentiment might mean less to Michigan State than whatever their wealthiest donors or whoever they’re taking cues from are telling current administrators. As much as I would like to believe my sentiment is widespread, I am not confident it is. Less than a year after Jerry Sandusky was convicted of molesting kids for years at Penn State while administrators and the legendary football coach knew, the university boasted of rising applicants. After a sexual assault cover-up scandal at Baylor, the university quickly touted a record number of applicants. Michigan State has already bragged about its, “largest, most diverse freshman class.”

The bleakest outlook is that, even in the face of the absolute most horrifyingly evil circumstances, there is evidence that universities face little pressure to systematically change anything.

I can’t change Michigan State. But I can hope that enough parents with similar feelings about the university are initiating important conversations with their kids.

Black Panther And The Power Of Siblings

Black PantherWriting in Rolling Stone this week, Tre Johnson had the following line about Black Panther:

Like anything black in America, Black Panther will be politicized for being black, which is to say for being and for announcing itself as a having a right to be here and to be heard.

Johnson is right, of course. There are dozens of Google search results pointing to troll sites dedicated to ruining something beautiful and non-white, with idiot takes if you’re so inclined to seek them out. But the easiest summation of the irrational fear related to the film is the simple fact that Snopes.com had to publish an article debunking an insane lie that white people were getting attacked at movie theaters for daring to see the movie.

I took my kids to see Black Panther because, first and foremost, I wanted to see it, and they were with me (I’m not a perfect parent … sometimes you have to do what I want to do, babiez). But it wasn’t just a selfish choice – my 7-year-old son was Black Panther for Halloween, even though he was only vaguely familiar with the story through a few comics we read together, so that piqued his interest. And my 4-year-old daughter generally enjoys anything that involves kicking ass, so she was on board as well.

There are an abundance of reasons to see the film – all of the detailed reporting on its beauty, on its relevance, on its power, on its importance … none of those things are undersold. Along with being a fan of the comic book, all of the critical acclaim Black Panther is receiving is well-deserved and can’t be overstated (although I’m positive the internet take economy will inevitably produce some contrarian ‘actually it wasn’t that good’ troll pieces). I caught myself in awe of the story and the amazing performers bringing it to life on multiple occasions.

But as most parents probably understand, I have a hard time watching things through the lens of an adult anymore. I am constantly trying to put myself into the minds of my kids, to understand what they’re thinking or how they’re processing what they’re watching or whether they’re too young for ideas I’m trying to introduce them to. Constant anxiety over whether or not you are screwing up your kids is pretty much neverending.

There are so many elements of the movie that I’m still thinking about and processing, but the relationship I was fixated on throughout was the one between T’Challa and his younger sister Shuri. I saw my son and daughter in them – a stoic, pensive older brother and a brilliant, feisty little sister who are amazing friends, supporters of one another, and reliant on each other. That is exactly the relationship I witness every day between Oliver and Isla.

Beyond that, there was a male hero whose support system and inner circle was comprised almost solely of badass women (and … uh … Tim from the British Office for some reason) who were smart, strong equals who saved him on multiple occasions.

Given the current political climate where there is an administration in power who clearly sees humanity in tiers of worthiness, or where nobody Fox News hosts can show their ass by unsuccessfully trying to chastise one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, Black Panther at the most base level is just a giant middle finger to that worldview.

My son ranked it right behind the Star Wars movies (a minor miracle considering Star Wars has been in a class by itself for him for nearly two years now) and better than any super hero movie he’s watched. My daughter, who spends a good percentage of her free time dressing up as super heroes and performing stealth fighting moves on unsuspecting adults, was in awe of the Black Panther costume.

So obviously, for my kids it wasn’t that deep. They saw it as a great superhero movie with characters they both easily related to without a second thought. And that’s exactly part of its power.

Flint Couture

Flint Couture

A ridiculous thing happened to me. On the day I found out I was an honorable mention for My City Magazine’s Greater Flint Best Dressed, I had accidentally worn two different socks that I didn’t realize were mismatched until like halfway through the day.

Being selected for this honor came with the promise of an interview about my fashion sense, an interview I took extremely serious. But, sadly, my fashion hot takes were dramatically condensed in the print version of the story. So below are my complete responses to their questions. The world needs to know.

Name: Patrick Hayes

Occupation: Director of Marketing & Communications, Kettering University

What three words define your personal style?: My boss at Kettering, Kip Darcy, best summed it up in two words: “Aging hipster.”

What’s your signature wardrobe piece? I don’t know if I have a signature piece, but I have a go-to category with core components: Dress shirt, unbuttoned top button with loosely knotted, solid-color skinny tie. It’s versatile. In the office, it gives off the aura that you’re attacking those deadlines with such great vigor that you had to loosen the tie, roll up your sleeves and get dirrrty. But untuck the shirt, swap the khakis for some jeans and throw a thin sweater overtop and you have a great semi-formal bro-on-the-town look.

Also, I do have a somewhat renowned banana yellow sport coat that I break out on only the most special of occasions.

Who are your style role models? My wardrobe’s personality is inspired by a weird mix between Eddie Vedder, Rashida Jones, C.M. Punk, Cardi B, Hunter S. Thompson, Randy Savage, and Rasheed Wallace. I don’t necessarily dress like any of those people, but I would want them all to think I’m interesting and approve of me, so my fashion choices probably reflect that on a subconscious level. Also, and somewhat related, I’m deeply insecure.

What’s your favorite outfit or article of clothing you’ve ever worn? I have a pleather motorcycle jacket that I bought on Amazon for $18 last year. I am a pacifist, and I don’t condone violence, I should say that up front. But should I ever be in a situation where a threat of fighting was possible while I happened to be wearing that jacket, I like to think the aggressors would look at me and say, “Whoa … let’s think twice before we attack the guy in the Danny Zuko jacket. He looks like he can handle himself.” So the jacket is both a great look and an insurance policy.

What are your favorite places to shop in the area? I have a very brick-by-brick mentality for outfits, which requires a lot of bargain shopping. T.J. Maxx, Goodwill, any clearance rack, and Old Navy late in the fall when all of the thin sweaters go on sale for super cheap are all my go-to spots. America is a Trunk Club culture now where people just want virtual stylists to do all of the outfit assembly for you and hand-deliver perfect wardrobes that some algorithm figured out. I’m a blue collar guy. I believe the components of a great outfit have to come together organically, sometimes over a period of months or even years. It takes persistence, a keen eye and patience. Never give up on an article of clothing. Sometimes, the right accessory comes along like an RKO out of nowhere and takes an outfit from good to great.

What’s your favorite fashion trend right now? When I was an 8-year-old whose mom forced him to wear elastic-banded sweatpants from Kmart, I never imagined “cuffed capri-length sweats” would be a fly look, but here we are. I don’t own any (YET), but I’m pretty jealous whenever I see people wearing them. Clothes that automatically make you look athletic, whether you are or not, are a lasting trend in my book.

What fashion trend do you wish would go away? To borrow a quote from Fetty Wap, “Everybody hating, we just call ’em fans though.” Fashion is art. It’s an extension of all of our personalities. If dressing a certain way makes you feel good, you should do it. I have no hating to add to the world and support every trend. All looks are good looks.

Silence is Privilege

Privelege 2

A couple of weeks ago, I took my kids to play and swim at our apartment pool. As we got closer, something fairly … uh … conspicuous caught my eye: a giant swastika tattoo on the chest of a man in the pool.

I grew up in and spent a lot of my life in mostly rural, “salt of the earth” places, so I’ve become pretty accustomed to how casual white people can be with their racism. But still … seeing it literally carved into a person’s chest is jarring, especially when you have a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old with you. My son noticed as well and asked what it was. I gave a typical parent non-answer, unsure where to start with explaining Nazis to a kid.

A panicked fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. On the one hand, I was by myself with my two small children, children I am very protective of, whose youthful innocence and the infatuation they have with the world around them is a constant source of joy for me. So obviously, we’d just go find something else fun to do.

But I also had this angry urge to shame this person. I don’t know exactly how I would’ve gone about that, but I also feel strongly that too many otherwise decent people are simply silent when it comes to hate – whether out of fear, over-politeness, apathy, or some combination. He deserved to be embarrassed. Innocence is worthy of protecting, but I also don’t want my kids to be sheltered, and I don’t want them to be intimidated or daunted by having to speak hard truths or stand up for things they believe in.

In the end, we just left. Me getting beat up by a Nazi while my kids were in my care wouldn’t have exactly been an exemplary parenting decision.

But tonight, in the face of the awful white terrorism and violence occurring in Virginia, I’ve thought about that moment a lot. I did the wrong thing by ignoring that guy.

*     *     *

I have two younger brothers who are biracial. Their dad was an important part of my life and father figure for me growing up. Living in Lapeer, Michigan, our family stood out – let’s just say that when I was in fourth grade and my black stepdad took me to play basketball at school playgrounds, it was noticed. I was too young to understand the complexities of racism at that age, but I … uh … noticed us being noticed, I guess you could say.

Privelege 1

Steve did too, I’m sure. But no one would ever know it. He was always the friendliest, most outgoing parent in those situations – shaking hands, smiling, making eye contact, saying hello to people, inviting others to come and play with us (interestingly, other kids always wanted to … it was their dads who were resistant). I’m sure people were rude or cold to him, knowing the place we lived. I distinctly remember people crossing the street when we were walking on a sidewalk, then crossing back once they’d passed us on one or two occasions. His positivity and kindness in those public situations never wavered – he made any stranger he ran into feel like a buddy. As a kid, I didn’t notice. As an adult, I think about it constantly – what it would be like to have to be “on” like that all the time, just to do basic things like go to a park and play basketball, or take a walk. As someone who can trend toward painfully introverted in social situations, the thought of having to be that friendly and outgoing to strangers – just to disarm them or keep them from judging you – all the time is anxiety-inducing.

My brothers went to Lapeer Schools and, often, were the only black faces in their classes. They had to assimilate, they had to deal with being treated differently, they had to deal with the idiotic thing that white people do when they act like they can ask racist or offensive questions about black people to their “black friend.” My brother Adrian came home from elementary school one day with a confederate flag sticker – the symbol of treasonous traitors and losers – proudly on his shirt. Adrian was happy that someone had paid attention to him and given him a gift. He thought he’d made a friend, a “friend” who was no doubt laughing behind his back. I was in high school at the time, and I just remember my mom, sister and I sitting around thinking, “how the hell do you explain the shitty thing that just happened to a second grader, and tell him he can’t wear that sticker that he’s excited about?” There are probably countless other experiences that they can share that range from simple ignorance to maliciously racist interactions with people when they were just trying to go to school like everyone else.

Privelege 3

And, as most black people in this country experience at some point in their lives, my brothers were harassed by the police. Dangerously harassed once, in fact. They were about 13 and 12 (or in that range) and playing with toy airsoft guns in my parents’ yard. One of the dogs got out of the house and ran across the street into a field (my family has a long history of having the worst dogs on the planet, but that’s a story for another day). They crossed the street to get him.

By the time they’d got him corralled and back home, multiple local police cars had sped into the driveway and road in front of the house. Someone had called the cops and reported “two black men with guns.” They were children. My brothers, children, were forced to lay face down in the ditch, were handcuffed, had grown officers put their knees in their backs. They were not resisting or doing anything wrong. They were terrified. Thankfully – as if “not being killed” is any reason to be thankful – that’s as far as it went. A state police officer showed up, noticed from far away that the two guns laying on the ground were toys, pointed it out to the yokels who’d cuffed these children, and they were let go with a stern warning to be more careful when playing in their own yard.

I tried to file complaints and get information, FOIA’d the police report just to try and make the officers involved feel ashamed and ultimately, nothing happened. No one really forgot, necessarily, but time has a way of pushing things to the back of your mind.

And then, several years later, Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland. A 12-year-old child who was killed for playing with a toy gun. He was roughly the same age my brothers were that day.

*     *     *

My brothers are smart, talented, funny, grown men (who have EXACTLY the same ripped, muscular physique that I do, it’s weird how genetics work). My kids adore their uncles – they can climb on them, wrestle with them, get thrown around by them and they light up any time we get to visit them. I’m not sure Adrian and Anthony look forward to getting immediately pummeled by two babies (babies who are unafraid to go directly for punches to the groin), but they’re good sports about it.

I love seeing my kids with them, I love that my kids just automatically connect with them and solely see them as nothing but their fun uncles.

But it also makes me think about my own privilege, about things I’ve never had to worry about, about inherent obstacles that Adrian and Anthony have just had to deal with and figure out ways to maneuver around that I never will have to worry about.

It actually isn’t hard to get white people to discuss race. We do it all the time – cable news and the internet are filled with white people (to be more descriptive, mostly white men) who do nothing but tell people of color, women, and the LGBTQIA+ community how to feel about their experiences, what is “real” racism and what isn’t, why they themselves couldn’t possibly be a racist. White men talk too much. (Yes, I get the irony that I, a white man, am writing a wordy blog post about white men talking too much, but if it helps get other white men to shut the fuck up, then it has at least provided a service).

Understanding your own privilege is a starting point. I grew up poor – a long portion of my life was spent in a trailer park with three siblings being raised by a single mother. I had to work nearly full-time in high school (thankfully, my boss ignored the legal limits on hours teenagers could work) to save enough money to have a car, to pay for college. I worked all the way through college just to be able to stay enrolled. I’m still paying student loans off. I’ve rarely taken vacations. My life isn’t luxurious by any stretch.

And I’ve benefited from being born into privilege. As a poor white child, I still lived in a community with well-funded and well-run schools, so I received a good, free, public education. I grew up with people around me who told me that I could, in fact, go to college even though my family couldn’t afford it. I grew up in neighborhoods that were safe, where crime and drugs weren’t major day-to-day presences. I did not grow up fearing the police. As an adult, people listen to me and give me more automatic credibility simply because of what I was born as.

My life hasn’t always been easy, but it has certainly had privileges built in that have removed barriers that minorities, that women, that LGBTQIA+ people face on a daily basis. I could choose to never think about those things – and A LOT of white men do make that choice every day. But just being mindful isn’t enough, that’s what the ugliness in Charlotesville illustrates.

It’s easy to see a guy with a Nazi tattoo and be horrified. But what is more horrifying to me is this picture. Those are just everyday, mayonnaise, white bread joes. They could be your cubicle mate, they could be your neighbor, they could be members of your church. They have the same views – and the same level of comfort espousing them – as the guy who felt the need to carve a symbol of evil into his chest.

Hate isn’t an ideology. Hate isn’t the norm. People aren’t born into this world full of hatred. And even in the face of awful, soul-killing days like today, there is always, always more love in the world than hate.

But don’t be silent. Silence is complicity, and complicity is what normalizes and emboldens people like this.