Infectious Fascism and Someone Else’s Beer

Our local liquor store had been in business since the early 1980s, when the shopping center was built. The original owner passed it along to his 3 sons when he died, many years ago. There was nothing special or fancy about the shop, which had long, wide shelves stocked full of not-too-high-priced wines and liquor that tended to come in the Handle Size. They did a brisk trade in beer, $1 shooters sold out of an empty fish tank on the counter, and “Oh, jeeze! We’re all out of vodka/wine and I’m almost home!” purchases.

It had a coveted corner location on a major intersection with high visibility, and was next to a busy grocery store. The long floor-to-ceiling windows faced due west, which meant high cooling bills as the high altitude sunshine blasted in year round, roasting  the products on the front shelf and raising the temperature unbearably during the summer. A few years ago the Brothers balked at the raising utility prices from keeping the store cold enough to properly store their inventory, and slowly adjusted the thermostat upwards. The heat coupled with storing the wine upright – as one would store a fine vintage Yoo-Hoo – served to spoil their wares.

As if wine bottles that were warm to the touch weren’t enough, over the years the shop developed a nose-curling funk stank from their dogged insistence upon carpet, which served as a 1-way booze sponge when a bottle or case was inevitably broken, and because one of the brothers smoked indoors while doing the books afterhours.  Mmmm… the cheeky bouquet of nicotine braised in sour carpet wine!

We began shopping elsewhere, save for the times we emerged from the adjacent King Soopers, arms full of groceries (yes, we brought our own bags), and too tired or lazy to drive 6 miles round trip for a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Don’t judge me! The cork that crumbles like The Mummy is punishment enough.

Just before Valentine’s Day we found ourselves lacking the fortitude of an additional errand, the grueling 15 minute drive more than either of us could possibly handle, and so found ourselves choosing from wine bottles with dust on them.  I noticed a marked lack of champagne and other bubbly beverages appropriate for a manufactured holiday. “This is weird,” I told my husband, “Why aren’t there cases of cheap champagne stacked 5 high and 2 deep in here? In fact, there’s almost no champagne at all,” I gestured to the picked over front shelf, which was normally full of the boxed wine and cheap champagne that the Brothers counted on their clientele not being able to suss out were treated to daily solar pasteurization. It was a minor curiosity, one I chalked up to a screw up in ordering and went on with my evening.

A few weeks later, before St. Patrick’s Day, it was obvious something was up. The store was still very busy, but their stock had visibly dwindled – the shelves were no longer full, with empty spaces behind the wine and spirits.

“What’s going on?” I asked the young woman who worked there. “Not much,” she replied absentmindedly. “No – I mean ‘What’s going on here?’” She stopped and looked at me in confusion. She really had no idea what I was talking about. I gestured with my arm, “The shelves aren’t fully stocked…” She had a blank look on her face. “Are you guys remodeling? Selling?” Again, the clerk had a blank look, “No…” I left it at that, but told my husband changes were coming.

I wondered if they were going to finally move the stock out of the beating summer sun in the front window… Maybe they were going to set up a Growler station, or a tasting counter – moving forward  with the upwardly mobile neighborhood and appealing to the higher income residents who were replacing the middle income folks that had been a staple of the area when it was built 35 years ago. I had mentally moved the first row of shelves, replaced the nasty carpet with some easy-to-clean wood flooring that would brighten the space up, and show off the better selection of wine they would carry. I couldn’t wait.

At the end of March the only vodka left was bubblegum or peach flavored, the Bourbon shelves were flat-out empty, and most of the decent wine was gone. The Smoking Brother told me they were having distribution problems, but they would be getting a shipment in the following week. What he was telling me didn’t feel right – but I had been doing business with him for 16 years and gave him the benefit of the doubt by allowing him to assure me I wasn’t seeing what I was looking at.

We were gone most of April and upon returning we immediately noticed the barren shelves. Most telling is there was not a whiff of the upcoming drinking holiday Cinco De Mayo: No cut-outs of busty Latinas shucking gag inducing Lime-a-Rita beer, no garish plastic Papel Picado banners stamped with ‘Corona’, or posters of a Sombrero-sporting mustachioed stereotype peddling rot-gut tequila. You know – The Free Crap distributors beg store owners to take and give a price break for the best placement. But, there was still lots of beer – a good deal of it craft beer from start-up breweries & local brew pubs.

Several customers walked in and stopped dead, looking around at the long, mostly-empty shelves. They would do a 180 or full 360 to take it in; most left empty handed. It was clear the store was closing, but no sign indicated a last day or what was going on. I asked the only employee (someone I’d never seen before) what was going on and was answered with ‘Dunno’.

I suddenly realized: They must have sold the liquor license to King Soopers, the grocery store in the same complex. A recent change in the law allowed grocery stores to sell liquor, but only if they buy an existing license. I was happy for them in the distant way you can be when you hear good news from a stranger you’ve known for 15 years: It doesn’t change your life, but it gives you a pleasant feeling.

A few weeks later they were still open – somehow defying retail gravity. Richard walked the empty aisles with a curious expression on his face as he passed islands of bottles neatly arranged – 6 Rieslings here, 4 Moscatos half an aisle later, a lone bottle of gin in the next aisle. What stock was left would have neatly fit in 12 or 15 feet of shelf space, but instead was spread around the empty shop with the fastidious denial of a screamingly bad comb-over.

“When’s the last day?” I asked Morose Brother who spent a decade and a half demanding I show my ID every time I used a credit card. “Before the end of the month,” he answered with his usual dourness. Looking into my eyes he said “We sold the business,” and then spit into his dip cup.  “I… did you sell the license or the business?” “We sold the business and we’ll be closing sometime before the end of the month,” he repeated with a finality that forbade further discussion.

“How could they be selling the business?” I asked Richard when we were in the car, “When there’s no business to sell? I mean… there’s no inventory – and they lease the space. The only thing of value in that store is the license on the wall.” I chalked it up to him being contractually prohibited from discussing the details of the sale.

The very next day the City seized the store for failure to pay Sales & Use Taxes.

A quick call to City Hall revealed that they hadn’t paid a dime of the taxes they’d been collecting since January, and they’d been sending in partial payments for months before that.

It suddenly became clear that the inventory sell down was really them stiffing their suppliers – everyone from Coors to small craft brew companies struggling to make ends meet – and pocketing the money.

They stole not only from their liquor distributors and the city, but from their customers as well, by not submitting tax revenue that keeps schools open, roads paved and a live voice when you dial 911.

In retrospect it was quite obvious what was happening, but I didn’t want to accept the grand theft in front of me, so I provided pretty stories about Growler Stations and wood floors that morphed into them cashing out big by selling the license for a keen profit. None of it made sense to the scene in front of my eyes, but I held on to the fable rather than accept the felony.

I had been performing Olympic-quality mental gymnastics trying to explain away the obvious because the obvious made me uncomfortable.

It was a personal microcosm of what’s happening around the country: How we’re all staring in disbelief at the emerging Fascism around us, willing it to be something else.

We’ve watched fanaticism morph into a Fascist Cult of Personality, yet refuse to name it as such because then we have a REAL problem on our hands.

We’ve heard friends, family and colleagues embrace a man whose beastly policies call for banning Muslims, gutting the EPA, drilling for oil in National Parks and Monuments, building a useless Wall, disenfranchising women, and simultaneously cancelling the insurance policies of 23 million Americans while making it unaffordable for tens of millions more.

These aren’t policy differences on things like how to best fund infrastructure improvements or whether schools should focus more on science and less on the arts. This is the fundamental rejection of the invisible frame of our Social Contract by an alarming number of Americans.

They *like* the idea that ICE officers ate lunch in a café before arresting the kitchen staff.

They’re THRILLED journalists are finally getting the beat down that’s coming to them.

They’re relieved they can stop acting tolerant and want LGBTQ folks to climb back in the closet and for anyone darker than a flat white to know their place.

These people who benefit so much from the Public Commons of Society honestly don’t care if you lose your job, house or insurance – they don’t give a tinker’s damn for anyone who loses their disability, Medicare, Social Security or any other safety net program.

“I DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING” they shriek like a misunderstood teen, unironically running the Social Contract through Mom & Dad’s shredder after they’ve slammed the office door.

The toughest thing about watching acquaintances and those we love support such heartlessness is when we finally realize they understand fully what they’re doing. It’s much easier to deal with people when we convince ourselves they are ignorantly supporting evil policies, and that if it was properly explained they would be enlightened. Otherwise, we have to accept that an uncomfortably large chunk of America is okay with a semi-literate bully dragging us backwards 6 months for every day he is in office.

Accepting that this is actually happening is a real hurdle. None of wants to stare into *that* abyss and it’s ever so much easier not to court discord and just let sleeping dogs lie.

Please don’t be like me, though, when I watched the local liquor store go under and cheat its vendors, and I chose not to see it because I couldn’t accept the Brothers could do that. Don’t imagine people are constrained by your sense of decency, however well or little you know them.

Once we see the hard truth of Trumpers actions, we have to either accept this Fascist Cult of Personality or fight it. There is no middle ground. When you stop selling yourself on proverbial Growler Stations and wood floors to brighten the place up, you can’t unsee the unsavory and uncomfortable truth that 45’s followers heartily approve of a stratified society that plays out like Lord of the Flies – only, in this story line there are no adults to step in to save the day when things are at their bleakest. There is no higher authority to appeal to, because our current POTUS thinks laws are impractical to follow (his words, not mine).

Make no mistake that we are in dangerous territory with 45’s spreading Fascism, and we ignore it at our own peril.

During the election 45 promised the state sponsored murder of children, he promised to crack down on Freedom of the Press, and he promised to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

When you look at it this way 45 had a spectacularly successful first 100 days, now didn’t he?

Trumpers voted for him *precisely* because he promised to abuse other people and break things. They are the groupies that enable a bully to prevail, and who become emboldened by their support of him.

Trumpers like the chaos, the angst and the destruction they were promised when they voted.

It’s hard to see friends and family infected by Fascism. Worse – when they demand our tolerance while spreading this virulent disease of hate.

But, it is no longer possible to separate the Message from Man or the Masses – they own who they support and his policies, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you someone else’s beer.

I’m A Bad Sport Bitch

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It’s 1991, and I’ve been hired at WKRC in Cincinnati (it’s a real station, look it up). They’re changing formats – sort of. They want to be part of the great Talk Experiment, and it’s my first full time gig. The problem is they only want a talk show from 10 am- 2 pm M-F; the rest of the time it’s oldies music. Oh, and then there’s the cinder block wall of a half hour newscast from Noon to 12:30, followed by 15 minutes of Paul Harvey.

Thinking I had a shot of making that horrible format work (ah, youth!), I took the job they offered me at the interview and agreed to move my family to Cincinnati in a few weeks. I was to start Monday.

That first day – April 1st – I’m ready to prove my mettle: The news ends, the sweeper plays and I’m waiting for “Wild, Wild West” by Escape Club to play. Instead the guitar riff from ‘The Bitch Is Back’ by Elton john starts cold.

I sit there for a minute blinking. First, I think the producer has made a mistake, but then I see the look on his face, he’s smiling. I’m confused and am trying to focus on opening my first show, and I realize the PD is at the door laughing, along with any number of male colleagues. It dawns on me what music is playing and I am hurt: Mortified, angry, humiliated. I feel the sting of tears in my eyes as I realize what they are doing to me. I swallow, breathe, smile like I’m in on the joke and open the mic and the show.

What I assumed was an April Fool’s first-day-on-the-job hazing was to be my regular music: My PD refused to allow me to use any other intro but ‘The Bitch Is Back.” Every. Single. Show.

Walking into that studio to hear myself called a bitch everyday was beyond degrading, but my male colleagues made sure I knew I was in a ‘Man’s Business’ and heaped the humiliation on me.

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WKRC Part 2 – “You’re just not a good sport,” my Program Director was telling me at the end of my first week. You know, the one that started with my being forced to use ‘The Bitch Is Back’ as my theme music.

I’m sitting in my PD’s office for a sound check and show meeting – an event that shouldn’t even happen for a few weeks that he has turned into a daily exercise in torture that lasted at least an hour.

My ‘not being a good sport’ was because I had complained to him that the day before I found the picture of my 3 1/2 year-old son I had put on my cubical wall with red thumb tacks driven through the eyes. I was furious, and put a note up next to the picture, “This isn’t funny. This is a picture of my son, who is 1,200 miles away and whom I miss very much. His grandma sent me this picture.” That morning when I got to work the tacks were back in his eyes and more tacks outlined his smile, with 2 pennies taped to the note. I was apoplectic. The morning guy’s producer sauntered by and informed me that I had no sense of humor and admitted his boss had done it. Maybe I was not fit to be in radio, opined the teenager who had never – EVER – been on the air.

I listened to my boss tell me how I needed to roll with the punches, him being oblivious at how he utterly abused and misused the metaphor. You’re not supposed to dodge punches from your co-workers!

I couldn’t get back to my hotel room at the Omni fast enough, so I could call my son and ground myself – remind myself why I was doing this. As I was changing from my suit into my sweats I had the radio on, listening to the station. A promo came on that made me stop dead – my foot poised above my sweat pants. “Win lunch for your office for Secretary’s Day!! All you have to do is send Claudia Lamb a picture of you sitting in your bosses lap!!”

I tripped on my sweat pants, sprawling on the floor in my rush for the telephone to ask my boss what the hell was going on.

“Isn’t it great?” said my PD – I could hear him leering on the phone.

I spoke eloquently about how dehumanizing and sexist this promotion was and how it contributed to a culture of misogyny, and how I didn’t want the stink of it on me. He admitted that it was a publicity stunt he dreamed up to get some cheap publicity for my show. I was aghast and strenuously objected, but I was contractually obligated to participate.

The following Monday I read the promo liner cards in my utmost cardboard voice. I was white hot furious at being dragged into a sexist promotion. It was bad enough they were still calling it Secretary’s Day, but to drag me into humiliating people so they can eat? A few minutes later one of my callers lit into me, she couldn’t believe I’d do something so sexist. I told her that I found the whole thing in appallingly bad taste, but that I was a professional and would meet the terms of my contract.

The blow-back was swift and severe, and for the most part I avoided being the brunt of it. People were furious at my boss and the calls poured in that first afternoon – my boss grinning and loving it. The next day someone in corporate HR told him that the station could be liable if there were a sexual harassment suit filed and that promotion was pulled like a needle across a record.

He saved face by giving the prize to a small business owned by a married couple. He honestly thought the avalanche of shit he brought down for his sexist promotion was a success.

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WKRC Part 3 – The hits kept coming when, about a month after I stared pushing a rock uphill for 4 hours a day, my PD announced we would be getting station jackets. He had decided on a Members Only-style silver satin jacket with the station logo on the back, and the employee’s name embroidered on the front.

Sure the style may have been half a decade late, but the good news was we would have to pay for it ourselves. This was something the PD didn’t bother to tell anyone before taking their size and ordering. I remember him walking around the station hitting people up for $60 to pay for their own company branding, and the stunned looks on everyone’s face. One person told him they’d have never ordered the jacket had they known they would have to pay for it themselves, and the PD grinning, “I know. That’s why I didn’t tell anybody. I wanted everybody to be wearing one!”

When the big day came and the jackets finally arrived the PD stood with a crowd gathered, handing them out of the box in a fashion that suggested they were gifts he had paid for. He made a show of handing each person their jacket.

Mine was one of the first he handed out – when the crowd was the largest. The PD took it out of the plastic bag it was in and held it up for all to see, first showing it to the left and to the right.

‘Bitch’ was embroidered in large cursive letters on the left breast. The assembled crowd roared with laughter. That asshole made me pay for my own jacket, and then ruined it with the repulsive epithet he knew offended me.

I again felt the sting of tears, but wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry, and gamely grinned. I snatched my jacket out of his hand and left the laughing crowd, going back to the desk upon which I knew I couldn’t put a picture of my family without it being defaced.

That night at home I took a pair of manicure scissors and tweezers and carefully cut that vile epithet off of my jacket. I painstakingly pulled every black thread out of the silver satin, and in the morning took it to a tailor on the way in to work, explaining what I wanted done.

A few days later I sported my WKRC jacket into work – with the name Claudia embroidered in cursive over my left breast. My PD was angry I’d changed the jacket he was so proud of. I was again told how little sense of humor I had – I was a bad sport.

Thankfully that job lasted only 4 months. The parent company switched formats again, and paid off my contract in full.

I earned every penny the hard way.

 

The sad thing is: I haven’t finished telling the worst stories of the sexism I have experienced over the years, and ‘Grab them by the pussy’ is long out of the news cycle. Sexual assault is passé and old news.

And that, my friends, is how rape culture festers: Society loses interest in the issue, and in doing so tells those who have survived that their story really doesn’t matter that much. Or, worse, in revealing what actually happened to us we will be judged or met with disbelief.

It wasn’t okay then, It’s #NotOkay now. #SexismIsReal
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With the election of Trump and the validation of racism, sexism misogyny and homophobia it’s only a matter of time until the bullying begins again.

For fuck’s sake – We elected a man who bragged about sexual assault.

Shame on us.

 

Justice Denied

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How often have you heard someone decry the fact that they have jury duty? I can think of half a dozen times in the last year where people have complained about their civic duty. I can’t think of one time – ever – that someone has been happy about getting jury duty.

It’s crazy. These same people would want the best minds on their trial, but somehow have a disconnect about the need for them to show up and take part in the process. It’s become a past time to complain about having to participate in one of the most important thing we do as citizens (let’s not even talk about voting). Why do so many people have such a negative opinion of jury duty?

For the most part people just think they’re too good to do it. They’re under the impression that the world will grind to a halt if they don’t show up for work. It’s a self-important way to view your contribution to the world: That somehow things just won’t get done if you’re not there to do them.

Well, in a way it’s true. If you don’t show up to court and try to give the best you know how for someone who’s facing trial things are definitely not getting done. You are definitely failing the person who’s facing civil or criminal charges.

There’s an old saying about trials being decided by 12 people not smart enough to get out of jury duty. What a shitty way to look at it. How much do you have to think of yourself – and how little do you think of anyone else – when you parrot those ideas? Do you really think you’re too important, smart or valuable to participate in the effective governing of this country? No, no, really, you are that special.

It’s a privilege to be on a jury. It’s one of the defining measures of our democracy that we all get to participate. Some would have a system of professional jurors replace a jury of our peers. What a staggeringly bad idea. Professional jurors would bring their prejudices with them to each and every trial. Part of what makes our system work is that there is a new group – new eyes, as it were – to judge the facts for every case. Professional jurors would run the risk of having seen so many similar cases that there would be a rush to judgment amongst some groups. Being a juror would be something to aspire to for a long-term career path, and as such, potential jurors would be tempted to rule to favor whomever it is that hands out those jobs.

You would see pools of jurors conforming to the wishes of the people who held power over their careers. The toadying and ass-kissing you see in a regular office would exist in court, only the consequences would hold so much more weight. It could literally mean the difference between freedom and imprisonment or possible financial ruin.

Professional jurors would open the door to corruption, as lawyers and defendants could potentially target jurors to affect the outcome of a case. It is a certainty that if there were professional jurors that within a year you would have a case of a juror accepting payoffs for a favorable ruling.

Avoiding jury duty is so prevalent that Wikihow even has a popular page called ‘How to get out of jury duty,’ that outlines 8 steps to take to avoid your civil duty. The suggestions range from lying about hardships and pretending to be stupid to saying you have your mind already made up. Shame on Wikihow for having this page, and shame on anyone for using it.

The people I know who try to avoid jury duty doubtless don’t question their ethics when they lie to get out of it. They think it’s a social norm, and do what others are doing. They feel a greater need to take care of themselves than they do to be a good citizen who participates in the democratic process.

For all the chest beating we do about American exceptionalism, we certainly disdain the things which supposedly differentiate us from less free societies. We don’t want to participate, but by God that’s what makes us great. Or something.

So, forgive me if I don’t give you a pass and say it’s cool to lie your way out of your responsibility as a citizen. Understand that I don’t think you’re special and the world can’t get along without you while you do your civic duty. No, it’s not beneath you to participate in representative democracy.

I have often thought that karmic justice would be served if the people who actively avoid jury duty needed the remedy of the courts and the only people to hear their case were a dozen people as apathetic and disingenuous as they were when called to serve their country.