Disappointing truths accidentally revealed
1. Last week I told a coworker that I would like to make a standing desk in my cube, but I’m worried people will think it’s weird. He said reassuringly, “Nah. A guy worked here a few years ago who had a standing desk. He had this little tray he wore around his neck, and he put his keyboard and mouse on it.”
The guy who wore his desk established a precedent for standing desks. I am the new Guy Who Wore His Desk.
I did fashion a makeshift standing desk, and people do think it’s weird.
2. I bought an Aeropress to keep at work because the coffee here is undrinkable, and it’s nice in the afternoons to make one small cup. The Aeropress makes great coffee but looks like a science experiment splayed across the counter.
Yesterday a coworker saw it and asked what I was doing. I said, “Making coffee. Also I needed a way to make myself seem weirder.” She who is so smiley and giggly said, “Oh, no, there is much weirder stuff happening around here!” This seemed like it could be true. There is, for instance, a poverty-themed park with live chickens behind my office. She continued: “Like… there’s a box of donuts laying out on the table!” That was the only weird thing she could think of, a box of donuts in an office kitchen.
A box of donuts is not weird. She could not think of a single thing weirder than my coffee science experiment.
Peanuts salted with tears
DISPATCH FROM JIMMY CARTER’S SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS
In between “waging peace” at the Carter Center and shooting the breeze at the U.N., Jimmy Carter occasionally teaches Sunday School at his Southern Baptist church in rural, rural southwest Georgia. A few things were remarkable when I went on Sunday:
- He is intelligent, easy to listen to for 45 minutes, and genuinely funny. I don’t expect that combination from any president, much less one as maligned as Carter.
- One personal characteristic required a separate line. He has a warmth. It is not just that he is personable, because any politician or CEO or glad-hander can be personable. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are warm: inviting, unpretentious, happy to be with each other and seemingly happy that you are there, too. Ashley and I had our photo taken with the Carters, and Jimmy and Rosalynn are inconspicuously holding hands in that photo.
- The catalog-purchased Sunday School booklet mandated that this week’s topic was justice. He began by describing it as fairness—a thin conception—but worked out to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to sentencing reform, to Israel’s oppression of Palestine(!). He wove the political stuff into Leviticus and the story-arc of Jesus in a way that was loose, jazzy, and classical liberal Christianity, for better and worse.
- Here is the part that moved me so much that I got emotional: he said that when he was GA governor, he had an annual contest with neighboring governors to award the one with the fewest new prisoners. Show me a governor in any region of the country who, today, would brag about how few people they imprisoned last year. Our sentencing laws and the way we run our prisons are fucking evil, and no one in power acknowledges it, and here is this guy who used to be president who gets it, and I got teary-eyed for a second at hearing it named. Sorry if I’m a liberal dipshit. The things that I dislike in others I have inside myself (in this case utopian sentimentality).
- But why is Jimmy Carter maligned, even by many dipshit liberals? He described a program he instituted as governor called Volunteer Probation Officers in which members of congregations, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, etc. helped to secure jobs for released prisoners. The volunteers met with prisoners’ families, liaised with employers, and checked in with the released inmates. It sounds like a bread-and-butter church program stretched across the public space. It was a program built on compassion, human understanding, and deep optimism—it was, in other words, the utter opposite of anything that our public life is about. Jimmy Carter governed Georgia and the U.S. like a pastor. On Sunday the only brag or defense he offered for his presidency was this: “We were a nation at peace.” It is a deeply un-American brag. Is Jimmy Carter even an American? Did anyone check his birth certificate? There may be a fundamental incompatibility between whatever he is and the workings of power.
- The impossibility of a pastor-president is that you can’t be the richest country without being a violent country. It seems that people working for peace must work against the government, as there is no history of them successfully running a government. That peacemakers have never successfully run a government does not make them wrong or stupid or unimportant; it just helps us define their roles. In that way Jimmy Carter’s legacy is complicated. I’m not sure what evidence you can hold up for his success. But I believe that he served faithfully to some high ideals, and given the opportunity I would rather imitate him than any presidents since.
This town is rural and populated by lifers except for the Habitat employees. Coworkers in my program are from Chicago, Denver, Boston, Houston, Iowa, and Sri Lanka, so we’re easy to pick out in the Walmart aisle. Local-outsider relations in New Haven were tense, as if the university community was usurping the locals’ space, but I’m not sure if that’s the case here. Maybe the locals are happy we’re here.
Last night we went to an authentic country bar. A guy in his 30s who was handsome but rough around the edges overheard that we work at Habitat and, because lots of people associate us with Jimmy Carter, called out, “My daddy whooped Jimmy Carter’s ass on the courthouse steps,” and those were the words he used, I wouldn’t play up some country caricature, “because Jimmy stole a hog from my grandaddy.” He wasn’t telling it to be funny. “You ask Jimmy if he remembers the Wilfords, he’ll tell you he does.” It also wasn’t a moment to get technical and explain that we don’t work for or with Jimmy Carter. A coworker who’s a local said, “He’ll remember it if the whoopin’ was good enough,” which was the perfect endcap to the exchange, and if you’re not charmed by that, then I don’t recommend you come to visit me in south Georgia.
Not that kind of blog
When I left town recent friends and acquaintances said, “You should start a blog.” Today I realized why it felt mismatched to tell them about this one: they want a narrative blog, the kind that college students write on trips to Europe, so that they can hear about new weird Americus. I would not know how to write that kind of blog. I rarely think to take photos. They would be disappointed to find posts about George Jones.
Ride in a truck, nap on a hay bale, wink at a peanut, tour the slum theme park
Hi, OK, life newz, this week I accepted a job at Habitat for Humanity. Habitat is my favorite nonprofit*, I’m thrilled to be working for them, and my job will be Volunteer Engagement Specialist, coordinating build trips to Africa and the Middle East.
Here is the weird part: I will be moving to Americus, GA, the absolute middle of nowhere, one town over from Jimmy Carter and this 15’-tall fiberglass peanut with squinty eyes and buckteeth, three towns over from the Watermelon Capital of the U.S., and zero towns over from lots of cows and pigs. I am going to live in the country. It’s probably only for a while; they are trying to move the position to Atlanta.
Questions like What will I do there? and Who will I do it with? and Will I be miserable? feel so distant that I can’t imagine answers to them. All that is in my head now is that I’m curious, excited, and confident that I am making a good decision. Historically my blogs are funnier when I’m bored or lonely, so we could be heading into Peak Eddie Blogging.
You are invited to my going-away party with the “Dress Sexy at My Funeral” theme.
*Habitat is my favorite nonprofit because: (1) They don’t do that imperialist charity bullshit where a bunch of white people in the U.S. tell brown people in the majority world how to live. They partner, not bulldoze. (2) These trips do new construction but also building repair and water treatment projects. There’s merit to the work beyond photo ops. (3) North American teams who go on build trips must contribute double their expenses; the second half remains in the community they visit to fund further projects. (4) If you accept “human rights” as that which people have a responsibility to provide for each other, then I take housing as a human right, and Habitat is excellent at building decent, affordable housing.
**P.P.S. So it’s a Christian organization, but look: if you don’t have much patience for Christians, you can be glad that they’re spending their money building houses and hospitals and water treatment, right? It’s work that we all want to see done. Habitat is run by a bunch of communitarian hippies and libs, and it’s an advocate for the poor to shitty governments and corporations, a rare opportunity to come by.