A regular column from publisher Franklin J. Dubbles about the nation's most pressing issues
We are at a turning point in history. Just as the pendulum of justice is finally swinging in the right direction, a tide of indignation is rising. In short, a maelstrom of metaphors is sucking us all in, forcing us to look one another in the eye as we swirl round and round.
Given that we are finally willing to evict the Confederate flag from public spaces and condemn it to gather dust in basement museum displays next to Andrew Jackson’s copy of “Mein Kampf” and Dolly Madison’s leather KKK-patterned thong, might we not go ahead and exhume the commander of the Confederate Army and give him a good talking-to?
General Robert E. Lee, also known as the Racist of Raleigh, the Bigot of Birmingham, and the Neckbeard of Nashville, is the most recognizable face of the losing side in the War to Eradicate Hate. Many people, myself top among them, know that unless we get this man to open what remains of his heart to love — and reject the Confederate flag and all that it’s politically expedient to say it stands for — this country will never heal itself.
I know what you’re thinking: Robert E. Lee is dead, and so are his ears and brain. Even the clothes he was buried in, the nice grey suit, all rotted away, along with the tiny embroidered Confederate flag that a kooky old granny probably sewed to his lapel seconds before the coffin was sealed. And even if he could hear us, you wonder, how could we possibly change the mind of a 209-year-old villain who not only fought a war to preserve and protect hate, but whose very legacy depends on it?
But what if … we could raise his consciousness?
Might he admit that he had been, well … wrong?
Would our generous use of ellipses … appeal to the better angels of his nature?
It’s not desecration of a corpse if it’s for a good cause
A good friend of mine, who incidentally writes code for military-themed video games, says that any mission needs one thing: a plan. And what a plan I’ve got.
I’ll form a crack commando unit of social justice warriors — the brightest undergrads from the best peace and social justice studies programs at the top schools — and in the wee hours of night, we’ll break into Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University, wherein lies the General’s tomb. Energized by nothing but our righteous indignation, we’ll dig up the coffin and remove the General, all the while passing no judgment on his degenerated physical state, as doing so would constitute ageism, lookism, and alivism.
Once he’s secured in the back of a rented freezer truck, I’ll bid my farewell to Justice Team 6 and embark with the General on the two-hour drive to where resides Miriam S., an old friend of mine from prep school whose estate happens to contain a climate-controlled wine cellar — perfect for a serious tête-à-tête with Lee.
While Miriam and I are getting reaquainted with each other, her personal assistant will take the General into one of the cool, dry caves to be coiffured and given a change of clothes. A simple Brooks Brothers grey three-piece suit should suffice. Personally, if I’m not bathed and shaved, I’m in no mood to listen to others, no matter how just their cause.
Face to face with such an infamous personage, how does one proceed?
It’s possible that General Lee has spent the last few decades stewing in his own guilt, just waiting for the chance to come clean. I’ll take his hand — assuming that it’s still attached to his wrist — and say, “Are you, sir, ready at this moment to renounce hate and all symbols of hate, including the Confederate battle flag?”
If the General appears to nod, we’ll take a selfie and post it to Instagram with the hashtag #HateLoses. History will crumble into to sea, a renewed spirit of love will sweep over the land, and my social justice warrior friends and I can expect to be honored with a slew of honorary degrees, glowing profiles in the best news websites, and 20 years of highly paid speaking engagements.
But what if the conversion does not go so well? What if the General is angry that I’ve removed him from his resting place, and he loses his temper, comically stands up on his rickety bones, adopts the voice of Foghorn Leghorn, and declares, “Go, I say go away boy, you bother me. Leave me be.”
What if General Lee is stubborn, tells me that I know nothing of history, that I’m the one who’s got his head up his ass?
I must remain strong, for I am on the right side of history — assuming that time goes forward and can be diagramed by a single line, easily divided to two sides, that is. Of course, if we believe in the existence of multiverses and accept that time is relative, well, then there’s no such thing as the right or wrong side. What if General Lee has been studying theoretical physics this whole time? What if he’s a regular Stephen Hawking and just blows my bold proclamations out of the water? How will I respond? I know nothing of physics. Might I lie? Insult him? No, I will remain true to the cause.
I will declare in no uncertain terms that hate is bad. Who but the devil himself could disagree? Next, I’ll posit that symbols of hate are just as bad as hate itself, if not worse, because symbols keep emotions burning long after their grip on the heart has naturally loosened. General Lee, a keen thinker and a graduate of West Point, would recognize this as “reason” and concede the point.
I will say in a firm but loving voice, “You and your rum-sipping plantation owner friends waged a war in the name of hate, General Lee. You lost that war, but you thought you could keep hate alive by sneaking your little flag all over the place, from beer cozies sold in Mississippi truck stops to the tops of Dodge Chargers driven by the Duke boys. Your plan worked for 150 years, but not anymore. Do you know why, Mr. Lee?”
I’ll wait for him to shake his head and hope that it doesn’t roll off his neck. Then, in the most of economical of arguments, I’ll say:
Will he cry? Will I cry? Will Miriam save a space for me in that large bed of hers? Will federal agents come bursting through the door? We’ll never know until we try. So let’s try. Because doing something is better than doing nothing. Even if that something fails. Because failure is the first step to success.
Franklin J. Dubbles is the publisher of the Dandy Goat. He completed nearly two semesters of art school and has travelled extensively.
I read an article about a feral boy who had been living for some time in the air ducts of a Virginia prep school. Two pupils had been sneaking him sushi, mineral water and other provisions. This went on for months until one pupil’s father demanded to know why his store of single malt Scotch had been emptied. His son admitted he’d been giving the whisky to the feral boy, who had become increasingly dependent on alcohol to get him through his long, dull days eavesdropping on history and geometry lessons. The police were called, and as it turned out, the boy was from from a neighboring town and had such a proclivity to run away that his parents hadn’t even reported him missing.
This story leaves many questions unanswered. If the boy was inclined to run away from home, why had he not been fitted with a tracking device? Why didn’t the school employ someone to check the airs ducts for feral boys? Why had the two pupils not been taught that raw fish can go bad very quickly, especially in a warm air duct filled with all manner of bacteria and mold spores? Finally, why don’t we, as a society, have a Feral Boy Awareness Day?
Reflecting on the article, I was reminded of something unfortunate that happened to me last year in London. I had flown there to meet with The League Against Hedgehog Batting, an animal rights group that had contacted me via Facebook to solicit a donation. Since I’m the last person who wants poor hedgehogs to get batted around like cricket balls, I agreed to a meeting.
When my flight from Paris arrived at London City Airport, I was warmly greeted by a smartly dressed fellow with a sign that read “Mr. Franco.” How very nice of the league to arrange for transportation, I thought, even if they did misspell my name.
The driver took my suitcase and led me to a black Audi A8 — very classy, I thought, for an animal rights organization that claims to operate on a shoestring budget. Once comfy in the back of the car, I pulled out my iPhone and retreated into a game of “Flappy Bird” (RIP, by the way), adrift in a sea of the hypnotic flapping of the bird’s sad little appendages.
After an hour, I was alerted to the fact we were no longer in London, or any city for that matter. We were speeding through the countryside, green fields as far as the eye could see. The League Against Hedgehog Batting was located near Regent’s Park, in the middle of the city, and I had flown into London City Airport, so something was amiss. So struck I was by the uncanniness of my situation, I could barely muster a word. After an eternity, I managed to peep, “Where are you taking me?”
“Why, to Toddington Manor, sir,” was the response. When he noticed my confusion, he added, “In Gloucester.”
I mulled over this information for some time. Gloucester, in the west of England, was most certainly not where the office of The League Against Hedgehog Batting was supposed to be. Was I being taken to another, more private place for VIP donors? Or was I being kidnapped?
“Who asked you to take me to to Gloucester,” I inquired several minutes later.
“Why, Mr. Hirst did, sir,” the driver said.
I pondered this name. It sounded very familiar, but also frightening. I became so nervous that I returned to playing “Flappy Bird” in order to calm my mind.
“Mr. Hirst?” I said after several more rounds of flapping through a gauntlet of green pipes.
“That’s right, sir,” the driver said. “Mr. Damien Hirst. We will be arriving shortly.”
Indeed, Damien Hirst, the famed artist and preserver of animals. I understood. He was probably on the league’s board of directors, and was lending his hospitality to me and other generous donors. What a nice surprise, I thought.
We might have ended at Toddington Manor, and I might have met the famous artist, had the driver not received an angry phone call.
I enjoy the holiday season. Now you have it: my public confession.
I know, we are not supposed to “enjoy” a season that highlights the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. We are not supposed to “enjoy” the tradition of frenzied consumerism. We are not supposed to “enjoy” a religious holiday that is offensive to so many clever people. I know, I know.
My only consolation is that I am not alone. Millions of Americans currently derive warmth from the Christmas season. If you are one of those people, hopelessly happy, read onwards and bear witness to my story of struggle and triumph: how I learned to fight Christmas cheer — and win.
My enjoyment of Christmas goes back to my childhood, even though I was often alone during the holidays, as my father’s work that time of year kept him busy and in the Bahamas, and my mother was often away with friends, getting rest at spa resorts. Despite this, I really liked Christmas — what I could see of it on television, anyway. The giant, sparkling Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza. Reruns of the “Little House on the Prairie” Christmas episode when Laura gives Nellie her pony and Nellie vows, “I’ll be good to him.” That McDonald’s commercial when an ice-skating Ronald lifts sad little Bobby into the air while cartoon forest animals watch in awe.
When I was about fifteen, we lived in a large house in the countryside and our only neighbors were a family who didn’t like us, a couple of college professors and their daughter, Olive, who was a little older than me and just as unfriendly as her parents. Her coldness may have been a result of the fact she was mute, the cause of which — physiology or psychology? — was a frequent topic of discussion between me and my parents.
Still, I was enchanted by Olive. She had the most striking horn-rimmed glasses, milky skin that seemed to have never touched the sun, and shiny black hair, bangs trimmed short — a very unusual look for that time, and one that gave her instant credibility as an intellectual. Because she couldn’t speak, she would communicate with me by slowly mouthing words, lending our short conversations an impediment I found very erotic.
When I was 27 years old, I learned a very important lesson from my father, which is this: we must pay our bills, even if that means taking out a dubious loan to do so.
Let me give you some context. I had been living in Paris for a year, having a go at being a writer and basically trying to soak in a much life as possible from “la ville qui m’adore.” If you haven’t spent much time in Paris, I suggest you do. Of course, you’ll need to first learn French, and because the cost of renting a decent place is astronomical, I suggest you have a friend who lives there who can lend you his flat while he finishes his MBA at Columbia.
Anyway, Paris is a costly city. Eating out is not the problem. You can have a very good dinner and not spend more than sixty or seventy dollars. What’s really expensive is daily life — you know, shopping for clothes in the Marais, buying new furniture for your friend’s flat so it doesn’t look like an Ikea ad from 2009, and going to “discothèques” where a simple cocktail can run 25 dollars.
During my year in Paris, I dated a woman whose uncle was a government minister. I won’t give any names, of course, but he was considered quite important at that time, having been named by the influential magazine Le Canard Enchaîné as one of France’s sexiest socialists.
Although she couldn’t make sense of my French, the girl and I were very much in love. I was enchanted by her beauty, particularly her scarves that never seemed to be the same. Her uncle the minister was on the board of a charity organization that provided little butane stoves to the city’s homeless street artists. If you are French, you will certainly recall this program. Vanessa Paradis appeared in the posters that were all over the métro.
Anyway: butane stoves to keep homeless artists warm at night and give them a means to cook their food — a very worthy cause, wouldn’t you agree? Since I appeared to have no shortage of money — thanks to my proud last name and my impeccable choice in clothes — my girlfriend convinced me to donate to the cause.
Normally, I wouldn’t have hesitated for even a second. We who are comfortable must help out the less fortunate — the impoverished, the miserable and the weary. That’s something I learned at a young age from my father — or, at least by watching him on television giving speeches. However, there was a problem, and I’m ashamed to admit it. Despite my monthly allowance of (I’m not going to tell you how much, you curious cat!), I had fallen into severe debt.
What would you do, dear friend, had you been in my shoes? Deny money to this most worthy of causes, thereby ensuring that the street artists of Paris freeze and eat cold coq au vin? Or help out, as much as my credit would allow?
I called my French banker and asked him to further extend my line of credit. Then, I called my aunt in New Hampshire and secured a loan from her, agreeing to an interest rate of 27.5 percent. I even called my bank in New York and took out two new platinum credit cards. That is how committed I am to today’s most vital social issues.
Alas, you know how this story ends. Months later, the piper came to collect his pay, but as I had not yet begun to earn an income, my tweed pockets held no coins.
There are details I might be leaving out, but they’re not important. For example, it’s not important that the charity soon collapsed after my sizable donation, and this was not only because some of the homeless were set up by a television crew who recorded them inhaling the butane to get high. The charity also went bust because the good minister himself had been embezzling funds for his own serious butane addiction. And it’s also not important that my girlfriend broke up with me when I could no longer take her on trips to Capri, Corsica and Cape Verde. (For reasons I never understood, she only vacationed in places beginning with the letter C. She even refused to go with me to Australia, but that may have been due to her fear of large spiders more than anything.)
What is important is this: I called my father and yes, he was angry. Yes, he scolded me for having fallen for the old ruse “my-uncle-who-runs-a-charity-providing-butane-stoves-for-homeless-Parisian-street-artists-would-like-your-financial-support.” Apparently, that scam is as old as time itself. However, he agreed that he and I (well, mostly he) needed to pay off my debts. The problem was that despite his wealth and numerous properties, he lacked liquidity, he said. So he took out a rather sizable loan from some of his more nefarious professional contacts. And this is the happy conclusion:
I paid off my debts, every last penny.
You are clever enough, dear friends, to see how this story pertains to the current standoff between a few rogue conservatives and the more sensible Democrats and moderate Republicans. We have accrued debt, and we must pay the debt no matter what. Even if that means we have to ask our fathers to get their hands a little dirty by dealing with shady loan providers whose company we’d rather not admit to having.
Be safe during this government shutdown, and I wish you luck with eating food that hasn’t been tested by the Food and Drug Administration.
Thank you for reading The Dandy Goat and I remain your humble servant,
Franklin J. Dubbles
-Letter no. 3