The Little Boomerang That Could

People take misinformation seriously. 

A friend’s intellectually disabled son was recently caught gargling with liquid dish soap as mouthwash. “I’m trying to fight the Coronavirus,” the young man told his supervisor. 

She reached for the bathroom door frame when she heard his answer.

Going without a mask for portions of the day had been approved, since he interacts only with her. Apparently he was trying to “make up” for the security that covering his face had provided.

Coworkers ran through her mind. Had any of them made jokes that might have been overheard? Would any be so monstrous as to tell the young man to do this?  Those answers would have to wait.

Informing his father would be a grueling experience.  

“Riley,” diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, is affected by accompanying health issues which, unlike CP itself, are progressive. His dad is a single father who manages care and medical treatment for both his son and his elderly mother. Despite these and other challenges, my friend’s dedication and focus are almost insect-like. He exists for his family, for the next day, the next bill, the next appointment. 

Fortunately, by all accounts, Riley is an easygoing employee. He may not be a workplace dynamo, but cheerfully doing what he can with what he’s been given is definitely his thing. Riley’s most unfavorable report involved his devouring a coworker’s tortellini from the lunchroom fridge. I enjoy imagining he did that as payback for being called “slow.” 

Because Riley can be defiant, sure. Who isn’t? And despite supervision being a mainstay of his life, he isn’t without sense. His father’s surprise is warranted. His confusion, disappointment, and fear are immediate and tangible, whereas his anger and what to do with it will either have to wait or simply be let go. 

I would find that difficult to do, myself. And this is as close as I’ve come to witnessing the boomeranging consequences of the laughable, dangerous, proposals being floated as solutions to the pandemic. I’m unsure of what to do with this other than scream it from the rooftops. 

The good news is that Riley is okay. He has been gently counseled. He goes a little less solo these days, but Riley is no different than the rest of us facing the domineering sway of misinformation and the vulnerabilities it exploits.

Being thankful that Riley only used dish soap creates a lot of what ifs.  


The Soft Spot of Exemption

A pathological adherence to: “It’s okay if I do it because I’m a good person” is America’s worst curse.

It’s hard to fathom the conscious human brain hemorrhaging the idiocy required to esentially set off fireworks on a 118° day in one of the few California forests not already engulfed in a sea of flame, but here we are.

And I say “we,” of course, because the assumption that we’re not, at times, idiots, criminals, or racists applies to everyone. It’s a delusion arising from the same soft spot in our psyches that produces the two things we deny the most: stubbornness and cowardice.

A “gender reveal” smoke bomb ignited the 8700+ acre El Dorado fire because some asshole simply assumed safety would accompany their self-congratulatory antics. The fire rages because a “good person” believed this “goodness” was the totality of their identity.

It’s a line of thinking reminiscent of:
Well, I’ve have NEVER been mean to a person of color, so…
…but it’s a pipe bomb in honor of MY baby!
And now, of course,
Bikes are freedom! Nobody’s telling me to wear a mask at SturgiCon!

If you’ll pardon a little excuse theory, what’s hiding behind an excuse is often the most interesting part, because it says something about all of us. We spend our lives buying and selling justifications, training ourselves to accept various levels of self deception, leaning on more shades of gray than there are rain clouds. We cite mitigating circumstances before we can damn near walk. In every conceivable aspect of our behavior we allow ourselves to escape consequences whenever we can. When we take things too far and wind up pulling something illegal or stupid, we even feel betrayed by these  pillars of rationalization, because somehow they don’t save us.

And to think, gender reveal parties were lame as hell before this.

Whatever amount of restitution this family is expected to pay, they’ll never escape the fact that their monsterous entitlement resulted in the death of a career-skilled firefighter, the destruction of 20 homes, and 22,600+ burned acres of forest.

That’s a lot to own for such a frivolous gratification.

In Support of AB-2147

UPDATE: AB-2147 is now law. Each year, more than 2,000 inmate firefighters battle California wildfires for less than what we civilians pay for a cup of coffee. These current and formerly incarcerated offenders will remember 2020 as the year their hard work was finally recognized and their professional skills ratified. 


If Governor Gavin Newsom signs California AB-2147, former inmates who have successfully participated in the state’s Conservation Camp program may soon see employment barriers related to their past criminal records lifted.

These ex-inmates would be able to request accelerated expungements and apply for a number of state emergency technician licenses, all of which would put to use the training, experience, bravery, and heroic skills they honed during incarceration, but which have so far been deemed valueless outside the perimeter walls.

AB-2147 would acknowledge the contributions Conservation Camp inmates make each season in assisting professional firefighters, including the danger they put themselves in to defend the life and property of Californians like you and me. That includes finger pointers who’d prefer to keep them locked up forever as well as people who say things to “relate” to ex-felons, such as, “Heh-heh. The only difference between me and you is I never got caught.” And finally, it would mean de facto recognition for the three inmates who have died containing our state’s wildfires. 

But maybe you’re not quite ready to call these guys “heroes.” Fine then. Call ’em “survivors,” as in, California wildfire containment survivors. If even that makes you grit your teeth, I’d like to see you stand up to a wall of flame for between $2.90 and $5.12 per day. Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, one of the key sponsors of AB-2147, put it clearly: “I would hope that most of us would agree that an individual willing to face down a fire and smoke is much more than the sum of their previous mistakes.”

I last addressed the misadventures of inmate firefighters as they were being bureaucratically bounced between the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (the crafty union representing prison guards) and the professional firefighters relied upon by California’s prison system to select and train volunteer inmate-applicants. The passage of this new bill would send a needed and powerful signal about the sorts of sacrifices we truly value.

For a fresh take on AB-2147’s promise for both Camp program graduates and California taxpayers, check out Los Angeles Times columnist, Erika D. Smith’s relevant reckoning

There’s a reason why some call Conservation Camp participants the “special forces” of California inmates. Here are some of the questions and qualifications offender-applicants are expected to meet.

And of course, here’s AB-2147 for your perusal.