No, Beto

So I’ve lived in Texas for about three months now and I can’t claim to be a local.

I don’t own a 10-gallon hat, a gun or a truck. For that matter, I still despise contemporary country music. Hey, Clem, you lose the authority to tell me how all hip-hop sounds the same when every song I hear in a Whataburger is about heartbroken drunken driving in your Ford.

But you, Mister or Ms. or Cis Coastal Democrat, do not know Texas, either. For that matter, you don’t know Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. You support him both in word, tweet and wallet, but you do not know him or Texas. You know you hate all things Republican and surely want current Sen. Ted Cruz to lose because he came in second to President Trump in the GOP primaries in 2016.

Yep, ousting Cruz — who didn’t even support Trump at the GOP convention — would be quite the plume in the Resistance’s musketeer hat.

Only problem is, Beto O’Rourke is a jerk. A shiny, dashing, well-spoken jerk, but a jerk nevertheless.

Not for what he believes, which appears to be a helping of everything on the progressive menu. (Believe in whatever you want. So be it.) No, he’s a jerk for what he did in 1998. Back then, as a young fellow in the badlands of El Paso, O’Rourke pled guilty to a DUI.

Now, I agree that a garden variety DUI is not the worst thing in the world. Maybe you have that one extra beer. You live less than a mile from the bar. That just so happens to be the night the local police put up a checkpoint. You blow a 0.09. Sucks for you.

Only that’s not what happened in O’Rourke’s case. The dude hit somebody, then according to police reports, tried to flee but was stopped by the driver he hit.

You get a DUI. You spend a night in the drunk tank, you pay the fine and the spiked insurance. You learn a lesson. Virtually all of us can live with that. Maybe you even have multiple DUIs, realize you have a personal flaw and you work tirelessly to stay sober. I root for people like you.

But you hurt somebody and try to run? No, dude. You’re a jerk.

I don’t care how sleazy or over-rehearsed Cruz is. Cruz didn’t stoop to that level.

Now you might say “But James, Beto denied that.” True, he denied running. He denied running away after he started to fall seriously behind in the polls.

Your denials are 30 years too late, Beto. They should have been in court, or when you ran for public office before. They should have been at the start of this campaign. And they should have included the dude you hit. “He was drunk. He made a mistake, but he didn’t run,” should be out of that guy’s mouth.

Instead, it is you, your guitar and skateboard against the police … and the person you plowed into.

What do I know about Texas? It seems to be a decent state. Most of the people are nice. The culture is a little gaudy, but so is Florida, California and New York City. Cruz hasn’t embarrassed the state other than his overgreased hair. In other words, I do not know enough about Cruz or Texas to tell you why he should go.

Other than it is what The Resistance wants.

That’s not good enough.

Not every vote for a conservative is a vote for Trump, no matter how much you want it to be.

And I’m not voting for someone whose first inclination at the sign of trouble is to run like a punk.

Colin Kaepernick and the Civil Rights Museum

Disclaimer: Any perceived “virtue signaling” is entirely unintentional, because all of these social justice warrior buzzwords are inherently grossly narcissistic.

Serendipitous might not be the precise word, but last weekend I went on one of my “amuck in America” jaunts. I drove to Memphis, Tenn. The state is beautiful. Memphis, not so much. It is a fascinating city, however, and the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.

It is not a perfect museum, but it is an engrossing place that examines many of our nation’s self-inflicted wounds regarding race relations. It is absolutely worth a visit.

Unless, of course, you prefer to wage social struggle at your keyboard. If that’s the case, you post about Kaepernick and his Nike ad this week.

Full disclosure: I have no problem with the former NFL quarterback/civil rights provocateur being the male model for a Nike ad campaign. A job is a job. Besides, even after visiting the museum I would be a damned fool to claim I’m an expert in civil rights. At best, I am merely a student. All I can say about him as a quarterback is that once defenses figured out the read-option, he was pretty much done.

But regarding this alleged controversy and “the struggle,” I have to confess something: I just can’t see an advertisement for a shoe company as a civil rights triumph. It doesn’t anger me. It just seems so, so cynical. Like the quest for justice has gone corporate. So small.

I can’t see it as a victory. Not after Rosa Parks. Not after the sit-ins. The Freedom Riders. Not after Diane Nash, John Lewis, E.D. Nixon.

Not after the Rev. Martin Luther King, who was slain at the Lorraine Motel, which was refurbished into the museum I attended.

Maybe I am still blind.

Look, you go to the museum and you learn that legions of famous black performers and dignitaries stayed there because it was the only hotel in the city that would welcome them. Imagine going to see Aretha Franklin in concert, but she gets denied entry at the hotel you are staying in.

Then you learn that the wife of the motel owner was so traumatized by King getting shot that she had a stroke that night and died. That’s in the first exhibit.

Much of the museum is organized around King’s leadership. He was a reluctant authority figure, recruited by Nixon to lead a lengthy boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., bus system in the aftermath of Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat. (A side note: The bus exhibit is disappointing. We don’t know if it is the actual bus, and to make people feel the discrimination, sensors in the bus trigger “the driver” to order you around. It’s quite distracting while you are trying to read the display.)

From there, you pass exhibits where you learn of dangerous moves black men and women felt compelled to take to simply assert their humanity — in education, economics, where to go to the bathroom. You learn who embraced the message in Washington and who shied away. Sure, President Johnson was assailed for the Vietnam War, but it was apparent he accepted the call moreso than JFK, which to me was a little startling. My family reveres Kennedy.

What resonated with me on a deeper level, though, was one of the latter exhibits. Sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike when two black coworkers died after being forced to work in dangerous winter conditions. They died a week after I was born. The strike eventually inspired a visit from King, which led to his death April 4, 1968. I wasn’t even three months old.

It moves me even now, sincerely. When you consider life expectancy now, King could have been alive today.

Now, I think of all I learned last week in Memphis, the men and women who lost their freedom, their lives. Real blood, real pain, real death … and now I’m supposed to feel the same way about a shoe ad?

I can’t.

Again, if you want to appreciate Kaepernick, do so.

But a shoe ad is not the same as a letter from Montgomery jail.

The your-girl-is-right-don’t-visit-every-baseball-stadium tour guide 30) Tropicana Field

To be clear, at this moment, I have not visited every MLB stadium. I have six to go. But I have little doubt the remaining stops are better than this overturned trash can in central Florida.

Tropicana Field has been home to the equally overlooked Tampa Bay Rays since their inception in 1998. Every few years, the Rays play pretty good baseball. The abomination of Tropicana Field, however, is eternal.

The domed stadium was complete and ready for business eight years prior, which is a testament to how little desire other teams had to play in it. They have given the concourses paint jobs and added a bar in the left-field upper deck, but make no mistake, The Trop is the case study to stop this idiotic quest American men have to visit every Major League Baseball stadium.

To get here, you make a pleasant drive over Old Tampa Bay on Interstate 275. Ahead, St. Petersburg beckons with clear skies and gorgeous blue waters (unless you are traversing one of Florida’s famed daily monsoons) and you think to yourself: A fella could live here.

Sure, you could. Until you see that giant concrete pimple on the horizon.

Where to start on how bad of an experience this is? … OK, first of all, nobody there particularly likes the Rays. Half of the upper deck and parts of the lower bowl are covered in tarp, lowering seating capacity from about 45,000 to 31,042. Why lower your seating by one-third? It’s because the Rays are a way for the locals to see their beloved Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have played spring training games about a block away from the Buccaneers stadium for decades.

Therefore, if the townies won’t provide the Rays with a home-field advantage, what is the point of making the home field appealing at all?

When the Yankees aren’t in town, you can get in the lower bowl of the place for about $20 on StubHub.

Know this, however, when you go it is most uncomfortable. Florida is a giant retirement community. Imagine being boxed into an enclosed space with 15,000 octogenarians. Try getting to your seat when the four people in front of you are blocking the slender concourse because they can only advance their walker a painful quarter-inch at a time. After a lifetime of binge smoking, Rays fans can’t fill their lungs to cheer. As a result, the team sells small cowbells to rattle.

Oh, that doesn’t get annoying.

Aesthetically, Tropicana Field is like Daubigny’s Garden, which is to say it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s last work before committing suicide. Sportswriters, in their short-sightedness, complain about the catwalks. It’s not just the catwalks. It is a genuinely ugly interior, the same color as your work cubicle — which you wanted to flee from in the first place. And consider the place isn’t even that clean. It’s not exposed to the outdoor elements! It’s indoors! Wipe the place down, for Pete’s sake.

Also, Tropicana one of two stadiums in MLB that stubbornly clings to its artificial turf. The outfield seating, of which there is little because of space, are park benches. The scoreboard also can’t be upgraded, due to the enclosed stadium’s size.

Home runs are celebrated not by fireworks and hype videos, but by the Tropicana logo lighting up and rattled cowbells.

I made multiple laps around the stadium in a desperate search for redeeming qualities. I found one. Take a walk on the dingy lower level behind the outfield wall. Eventually, you will see an opening to centerfield, with a chain-link fence. There you are, level with the centerfielder, getting his view of home plate.

The kids might like petting stingrays in a tank over centerfield, but the water isn’t clean and isn’t that how Steve Irwin died?

The Rays take great pride in being a cutting-edge franchise in terms of analytics — the fancy-pants term used to discover inexpensive players by going blind over spreadsheets. To be fair, every so often, the Rays play well. They are currently 10 games over .500 with a payroll of about $71 million. That would be a reason to watch the Rays play, when they come to your town.

As for taking a trip to central Florida, take the kids to Orlando or head east to the Atlantic Ocean for Cape Canaveral.

A Catholic conundrum

Dad would be furious with me at the moment if he knew.

Yesterday, he was in at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Fontana, Calif., getting treated for the another malady that naturally happens as we age. I’m the oldest sibling and I work in healthcare. I see things such as advanced cancers, blood clots and aneurysms on a daily basis. Dad, God bless him, has faced off with his health problems like a champ.

That was yesterday — Saturday. Today, he is most assuredly back in a Catholic church somewhere in Southern California’s so-called High Desert.

And I am not.

I can’t.

Today, the Catholic Church repulses me. It doesn’t make me question whether there is a God. It makes me wonder how best to appreciate and worship an omnipotent being, because dropping money into a collection bin that on some level financed sexual abuse makes me ill.

If I listed the number of recent discoveries in the church, it would simply take too long. The most damning is a grand jury report about 900 pages deep released in Philadelphia in August. It asserts more than 1,000 children were abused by about 300 priests.

Moreover, sex abuse cases have popped up in Latin America and Australia.

Full disclosure: my uncle was a Catholic priest who served around the world — including in Houston, Salt Lake City and Connecticut in the United States. I will not entertain any jokes about the man. Truth be told, having him visit our family when I was a child was pretty convenient. On Sunday, we could sleep in and he would hold a private family Mass in our house.

In later years, I learned that in many countries having a priest in the family is considered a status symbol, looked at with the same reverence that we Americans look at relatives who are doctors or professional athletes. To a degree, it makes sense. What’s left if you live in a country that doesn’t revere wealth or pop culture? Would it not be a relative who has dedicated his life to Christ and has the pedigree to prove it?

Because you have to be intelligent to be a priest. You have to be a college graduate before you begin seminary, preferably majoring in philosophy. If you didn’t major in philosophy, you probably have to go back to college for yet another year. Then you go through four more years of intense theological study in seminary. After that? One more year serving as a deacon.

Side note: I was a philosophy major at Cal State San Bernardino, but I digress.

The reason for all of this study is a good priest will spend the rest of his life serving a being that millions of people do not believe exists. You’re also about to be the last line of defense for people who are considering turning their back on Christ, or children who do not comprehend how evil exists in a world with a benevolent God, or taking positions against war. And all that study, which you could have used to become a doctor with a trophy wife? Nope. You will live a spartan lifestyle to serve your fellow men and women on a path to that God.

You better know your stuff.

Only none of this justifies a damn thing that I have seen.

While I am not questioning my belief in God, I have no choice but to question the church. Better stated, I’m furious.

Because where am I supposed to go now, Pope Francis?

Before anyone reading this makes a suggestion, rest assured I have been to a number of different churches. I think they are populated by mostly nice people. Others, highly judgmental folk. Greg Laurie of Harvest Crusade fame — and by extension, a Calvary Chapel near you — is a highly judgmental man. I have conversed with him repeatedly. Joel Osteen just looks slimy.

I once went to a six-hour Pentacostal service where exactly one Bible verse was read, but more people collapsed in the aisles than if a plague had broken out. Bring your dancing shoes and plenty of blankets. Your Bible? Maybe not.

I enjoy the structure of a Catholic Mass — which attempts to take a chapter in the Old Testament, one Psalm, a third biblical chapter and the Gospel and weld these passages into a unified message of hope. That is not a simple task. There is a gap of about 500 years between the old and new testaments. We spun from Barack Obama to Donald Trump in one day. How much did society change in 500 years? Yet, if you pay attention, a Catholic Mass led by a dedicated priest can be an enlightening experience.

I’ll give an example. One Sunday in Lake Elsinore, I’m at this run-down church and the Old Testament chapters are from Leviticus, an extremely boring book of Jewish laws. The Gospel reading was about Pharisees who rebuked Jesus for helping the poor on a Sabbath. After all, it’s against the law to work on Sabbath, right? Jesus’ reply was how you can’t ignore helping desperate people to obey a law.

The priest gets up. I am wondering how he will make a coherent message out of that. “I spent a month in Central America this year. I saw people dropping dead in the streets because they starved and we had no food to give. … I know many people do not give a shit about people in Central America. I also know many of you are more concerned that I used the word ‘shit’ than helping starving people in Central America.”

And then he sat down. He made the point in less than a minute.

Mind. Blown.

But I can’t accept a message of hope if I think it is from a criminal pervert.

And so I sit here in a fast-food restaurant, ranting about what the hell I’m supposed to do next.

Because I still believe in God.

Hopefully, Dad is OK with that for a while.