American Just Desserts
It was a duplex in a mid-1990s tract home neighborhood where all the siding was the same color and an old folks home sat 50 yards off the back porch. We had a concrete slab as a patio, a triangle of hammocks we called “The Trinity of Leisure,” and a plastic orange bush that someone had decided needed to be planted in the ground alongside the rest of the scrubby shrubbery. We sat out by the orange bush on warm days, cooked over Frankie’s cinderblock fire pit, and waited for the daily escape from the nursing home. It was a like a very slow-moving version of Cops.
I can’t imagine a tighter group of friends. At any given time, we had four or five guys living in the three-bedroom condo and a like number of young women who lived in the other half. We hosted massive parties, gathered for relaxed “Corona & Lime Thursdays,” and engaged in a three-year game of “Look At My Ass.”
This is to say, not everyone had seen each other naked (yet), but it was getting close to that point when the Ice Cream Incident happened.
Richard (I’m changing his name, because he remains one of my best friends and is now a respected member of his community) loved his ice cream. He was generous with booze. He was our best cook and was just as generous with his time in the kitchen.
His ice cream was off limits.
Our fridge was like any other college fridge. Mustard. Leftover China Kitchen containers. Two shelves of beer. Something left behind by the previous residents. On a good night, somebody’s underpants.
The freezer, however, is where Richard kept his ice cream.
I can remember exactly where I was sitting on the day Richard decided that we had been stealing bites of his ice cream. We had a ratty old L-shaped sectional couch that should have eventually been donated to a forensics lab for further study. I was on one end of it as Richard opened the freezer in the kitchen and looked at all of us in front of our game of Madden.
I don’t remember what words he used, but we all looked up as he took out the half-gallon of ice cream. He was holding a giant serving spoon, and he used it to take a tennis-ball-sized clump of ice cream out of the container. He shoved it all in his mouth at once and waited just long enough for the man-sized-bite to soak in his DNA. He made sure we were all still watching.
And then he spit the entire wad back into the ice cream. He gave it a little stir, put the container back in the freezer, and walked away. Even if he’d made the ice cream a little worse for himself, he guaranteed it was forever ruined for everyone else.
No security deposit could ever account for what happened in that house. An angry girlfriend once threw a beer bottle across the entire house and shattered the oven door glass. There was also a large and very dark stain on the carpet which you couldn’t miss. The rest of the carpet was far from clean, but the stain stood out like a sore thumb. This was a job for the experts like Martin’s Carpet Cleaning Company, who offer Maidenhead carpet cleaning services, but it would even challenge them. Frankie–in response to the stain on the carpet–famously looked at it, turned his beer can upside down until he’d emptied it on the rug, and remarked, “Screw it. It’s a rental.” When I totaled my car, my friends carried the bumper home and left it in front of the fireplace for months until we bribed the trash man with a 12-pack of beer to take it away.
We were not people concerned with cleanliness or hygiene, but I’ll tell you this: nobody stole that spitty ice cream.
The older I get, the funnier that story is to me. I look at all of the people who lived there. We remain close, chat often, and travel to ball games together regularly. We love each other like family, and the Ice Cream Incident (like the Point & Poke, Slow Roll Across the Top, & Bacon on the Grill) has become an iconic chapter in the book of Who We Were Then.
I thought about Richard and the Ice Cream Incident this morning as I read about America’s continued slide into the Pit of You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me. It occurred to me as I considered America’s new tax bill, who will ultimately benefit from it, and how the people who helped make it happen-I’m talking to you voters-are likely not among the beneficiaries.
I thought about it as it became clearer that the man we made President is not only ill-suited to be the leader of our country, but also ill-suited to be associated with anything we care to curate for our futures.
It’s hard to think about this. I am not the guy who hates Republicans and conservatives as a rule. I may disagree with them on many points, but they are my brothers and sisters as much as anybody else. I have many, many friends who voted for the Republican candidate in the 2016 election. These are people I love. They are well-meaning, intelligent people who in many respects are much smarter than I’ll ever be. I know, in their hearts, this isn’t working out like they hoped. They saw something in the Democrats to which they’d always been averse, they saw the Republican choice, and they went with their gut.
There are those people who will continue to puff up their chests and proudly wear their MAGA hat, but let’s all be intellectually honest here. Even if you’re a good conservative-no…especially if you’re a good conservative-you are compelled to recognize the damaging effects of this presidency. This is not a philosophical debate. This is not a matter of policy. This isn’t even a moral question anymore. Donald Trump is not going to magically transform himself into Ronald Reagan. He isn’t going to pivot to decency. He will not grow into the role. He will not mature. Intellectually-for those who actually have intellect-everyone knew this from the beginning. There were those who fought against it. There were those who sat by and let it happen. And there were those that grabbed the biggest serving spoon they could find.
I don’t think I need to put too fine a point on it, but I will just because I really want to type these words:
Donald Trump is the ball of spitty ice cream.
A year ago, a bunch of angry people made sure everybody was watching as they spit Trump all over America and declared, “This is mine. Don’t touch it.”
But here’s the thing: any metaphor stretched this far is bound to fall apart, and this one is no exception. That’s the point. See, Richard actually bought that ice cream. It was his to spit in. On that day, he might not have been feeling particularly generous, but in reality, none of us had any claim on his dessert at all.
If I may be so bold, that’s not the case with America.
The people who spit Trump onto us believe in their hearts that this country is theirs. They don’t want to share it with people who are different colors. They don’t want to share it with different creeds. They don’t want to share it with people who grew up in less fortunate circumstances or have not yet been able to pull off an unlikely Horatio Alger story. What’s more, these same spitters are relishing everyone looking at the country and realizing it’s been corrupted to a degree that may have ruined it for generations.
Richard was always more mature than me, but in the two decades since the Ice Cream Incident, he has risen above even the expectations he had for himself. He is a mature, loving, generous, successful man. He remains proud of the Ice Cream Incident, but only because it is the stuff of legend, like Frankie sitting through nine pitchers of beer without getting up to go to the bathroom, me turning a dorm bathroom into a grape Mad Dog 20/20 re-distribution center, or Joey Two-Hands…well, all the things about Joey Two-Hands. The point is, Richard grew up.
America can do the same thing. We can stop pretending we all are having a reasonable disagreement about the President’s fitness for office. We can stop pretending democracy requires we ride this one out. We can stop clinging to the notion that it’s okay to burn down this village in order to save it from the prospect of liberals winning literally anything. We can be statesmen. We can work together at least long enough to save a few generations of Americans and then resume fighting over policy in the same vitriolic fashion we have been for decades.
If you’ve read this far-even in anger–you don’t believe Donald Trump is good for this country. I know this because you’re smart enough to read. I don’t even care if you’re angry or offended by this. I don’t care if you hate me as a result. This isn’t about Republicans vs. Democrats, as far as I am concerned. Republicans and Democrats don’t have to agree on much, but good ones must agree they have to reclaim the America they lost for a few months. This is about patriotism.
All I ask is that you be intellectually honest enough to admit that real patriots won’t sit by and trade their country’s morality for a couple of political wins. Real patriots won’t be led by the nose into Us vs. Them battles created in the hands of a propped-up madman in the West Wing. Real patriots will defend their country not only from foreign enemies but from the people who seek to destroy the nation and its ideals from the inside. You may hate liberals. You may hate your neighbors. You may be afraid that what’s yours could be given to somebody else. Fine. Fight them all if you want. But don’t lie to yourself and say what your president is doing to America is worth it. You’re smarter than that.
Right? You’re smarter than people who actively deride science as fake news. You’re smarter than people who believe widespread voter fraud exists. You’re smarter that believing it’s okay to overlook sexual abuse for the sake of politics. You’re smarter than the people who believe the America’s oldest journalistic institutions are a cabal to undermine democracy.
Right? I mean, ask yourself honestly: are journalists who have worked their entire lives in search of the truth suddenly working as part of a conspiracy to tell lies in an attempt to overthrow Trump? Or is it possible they are publishing bad stories about Trump because he has done bad things? Now, ask yourself, if it’s the latter, what damage could result from the leader of the free world declaring the fourth estate-among the last checks in our checks and balances system-to be fraudulent? He’s already declared Congress to be corrupt. He’s declared the courts to be corrupt. He’s telling you that the only branch of American government you can trust…is him.
Are you smart enough to recognize that? Are you smart enough to recognize that this isn’t just politics and that undermining the foundation of America’s entire system is going to have destructive and lasting implications?
Overlook for a moment that everything is messed up and that we’re supposed to be in two warring camps. Ask yourself if you can look at people like me and know we’re not out to destroy your ideals or asking you to give up your true beliefs. Ask yourself if you can look at people like me and know we still love you and respect you. I know many of you-even most of you-didn’t want things to turn out like this. I know you would change it if you could.
And that’s what this is about. Making the change where we can.
If you can do that– if you can look at all of the above and admit to yourself that you are smart enough to recognize those things–then you have a patriotic obligation to acknowledge it. I know it won’t be easy. I know it will feel like you’re sleeping with the enemy. But ask yourself, if you put God above country and country above party, and your party’s leader is working contrary to both your country and your God, then what does your support-tacit or not-indicate about you and your real beliefs?
I know what it says. And if you’re smart, you do, too.
So, pick a side. You’re not bound to where you sit. Pick a side now. Your patriotism can be saved with one sentence: “I am a proud American, and I won’t support anyone who supports Donald Trump.”
If you have that kind of courage, you can call yourself a patriot.
Otherwise, you’re not spitting in your own ice cream. You’re spitting in America’s ice cream.
And guess what? If you keep doing it, the only cold dessert you’re going to have is the collection of faux-patriot snowflakes Trump cobbled together for a quickie in 2016.
And that shit melts faster than you think.