Friday, September 2, 2011

Spamily Flame Night

It's been a week of bad decision-making on my part. Which means my long weekend will be all about damage control. It's bad enough when a holiday weekend starts out with a long list of household chores. Now I have to add formal apologies and ruffled-feather smoothing on top of that.

I need to remind myself that these situations can be learning experiences, and that I need to better manage in the future how my emotions guide my actions.

Let's start with a hypothetical example. Say your best friend, while on a business trip, has the opportunity to casually socialize with your long-time online crush, even before you ever got the chance to meet said crush in person. Should you:

a.) Encourage the meeting, taking satisfaction in the idea that two people you respect and admire have the opportunity to become friends because of you? 
b.) Encourage the meeting, but secretly worry that your online crush might find your best friend attractive and that your best friend might take the opportunity to get back at you for that time you slept with his ex?

c.) Prevent them from meeting by not bothering to help arrange it at all? 
d.) Encourage the meeting but tell your online crush that your best friend has pesticide-resistant crabs, then tell your best friend that your online crush is self-consciously germaphobic so please don't call attention if he hesitates to shake your hand or use the same toilet seat?

In this completely hypothetical example, I chose D. And now I feel a passive-aggressive twinge of guilt about that. Hypothetically.

Now for a less hypothetical example. Earlier this week, I publicly snapped at a family member. By "publicly snapped", I mean I cyber-pantsed him in front of family, friends, complete strangers and a handful of career politicians.

Somehow, after my dad's funeral in Feburary, I made it onto my uncle's (Mom's brother) right-wing political rambling e-mail list. After months of silently deleting conspiratorial missives regarding our President's citizenship status, and how Barak Hussein Obama wants to sneak into the homes of capitalists to rape them in their sleep... I finally had enough. It didn't help I just got home from a particularly unproductive evening at the bar knowing my best friend was crossing time zones to hijack my fantasy life... er, sorry. Suffice it to say I probably wasn't in the best frame of mind to be sorting through my inbox.

I love my uncle, and don't believe for one second that he's a bad person. I know he's just forwarding whatever resonates with his beliefs, and that he doesn't write this crap himself. Although he does often add his own thoughts to the top, like "Yeah! Where IS the birth certificate?" or "Yeah... How come Obama didn't have any girlfriends in high school?" or the ever-witty "WAKE UP AND THINK SHEEPLE!" And every single e-mail ends with the same inspirational quote by Edmund Burke.

He doesn't seem to understand how ironic that quote looks under a message like this:

Wow, a two-fer. How... efficient.

Maybe it was the volatile combination of liquor and jealous sexual frustration, but for the first time Tuesday night I finally took my uncle's favorite quote to heart. He'd just sent another rant about illegal immigrants, this time about a wily Mexican named "Jose Illegal" and an unfortunate "American" named "Joe Legal". (I quote "American" because Joe could actually be of Irish, African or -- like my uncle -- Croatian descent. The term "American" as used in the e-mail should imply a nationality, not a race.  "American" can be used to refer to a race when speaking about indigenous peoples including those of Mesoamerican descent which, ironically, include the majority of people from Mexico.)

Whatever merit this moral parable might have carried in a legitimate discussion about immigration policy and the abuse of public tax dollars was lost because of the names given to these two characters. I mean, you can't possibly have a hispanic-sounding name and be "legal", right? If they chose "Jose Illegal" and "Jesus Legal" then my beef would be moot. Okay, maybe not.

I know I've made fun of the JB's family on occasion, if only because I mistakenly thought my own Wonder-bread family suffered from a lack comedic appeal. But I love JB's family as much as my own, and at that moment I let my emotions get the better of me. I hit the Reply button and -- very politely, I thought -- told the story of my partner's family.

I wrote about JB's mom who, as a young single mother reeling from the untimely death of her husband, had the audacity to move to the U.S. from Mexico, intent on giving her children the opportunity for a better life. And how her children are all fine, upstanding, hard-working, tax-paying American citizens, with children and grandchildren of their own. Although I admit to expressing dismay with some of them intermarrying with Italians (not that there's anything wrong with that) and others becoming Republicans Party campaign volunteers (which is just all kinds of wrong).

Okay, I may have hit the "Reply-All" button. Then maybe added a bunch of friends to the BCC. And copied my ex, Joe. (Which seemed funny at the time.) It crossed my mind to wait until morning before sending it. For a few seconds.

The next day the shit hit the fan. Understandably, several of my uncle's like-minded friends on the CC list took issue with my response. The overwhelming whine was "this isn't about legal, tax-paying Mexican-Americans, this is about illegal immigrants."

"Perhaps, but the e-mail never made that distinction, resorting instead to inflammatory stereotypes and over-generalizations," I would say if I were crazy enough to actually respond to these people.

A few of the responses actually took a swipe at my homosexuality, which I guess I implied by referring to my "Mexican husband". I even got an automated response from one of the U.S. Representatives on the original CC list, telling me that she only responds to e-mails originating from within her congressional district. (Don't ask me how she determines that.)

Then my cousin called in tears, angry that I broadcast my response rather than replying privately to my uncle or calling him on the phone. Evidently, it's okay to "broadcast" offensive, ignorant nonsense, but it's highly inappropriate for the recipients to rebut using the same forum.

Then all sorts of feelings came to the surface which took me by surprise. Evidently there's a significant chunk of my family that think I don't like them and believe I'm a snob who thinks he's above them. What? That was news to me, as I've always felt they looked down upon me. Especially considering some of their attitudes toward Mexicans. And gays. And (I'm guessing by pure extrapolation) gay marriage to Mexicans.

My cousin went on to accuse me of "starting trouble" in the family and demanded I apologize to her father.


Of all my family drama, past and present, it was only a matter of time before it was my turn to grab a giant spoon and help stir the pot. Yes, I'm going to apologize. But I'm also going to try to use this opportunity to foster a better mutual understanding which is obviously sorely lacking.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll get off that damn mailing list.


  1. That sounds like some serious drama

  2. Its funny that no one gets upset about casual stereotyping and bigotry that gets forwarded along but the second you stand up to it, you become a troublemaker. I have Aunts that used forward me the same garbage all the time. That shit stopped after I did something very similar. Hope you don't feel too bad about this.

  3. Wait a minute... "race car" spelled backward is "rac ecar". What the hell is a rac ecar?

  4. Google results suggest that RAC ECAR alludes to a cabal of religiously oriented real estate agents.

  5. Thank goodness @Erik! A real estate cult I can deal with. I was afraid for a moment it had something to do with NASCAR.

  6. Do NOT apologize. I've done the same thing to family and "friends" who send this kind of crap.

    In theory I hope it changes their behaviour. In reality, I think it gets me off the list and they still go on with their shitty emails.

    If your cousin is in tears, I'm doubtful it was actually you who drove them to that brink.

    Personally, I'm proud of you......hypothetically.

  7. I am proud of you. I know it isn't your way to respond. If it ever is, you can go ahead and enlist the Facebook Heimers to step in and we'll exhaust your family from ever using any social media again. We never shut up.
    I still remember you helping me with a similar situation, a girl who sent emails pleading me (and others) to vote for Bush to keep gay marriage illegal. You provided 10 awesome responses, but I went with number 2 "Are you hitting on me?". It was effective.
    I feel the urge to find that list today.
    I love you.

  8. I don't believe there's any need for you to apologize. As Dr. Seuss once said, "Be who you are and say what you feel. Those who matter, don't mind. Those who mind, don't matter."

  9. I can't / won't tell you what to do. Its your family and relationships that you know better than any of us. However, I do sympathize with your situation and can relate in a way that is both incredibly personal and eerily familiar.

  10. I say fuck 'em all. There's no law that says thou shalt love, or even like thy relatives. They sound ignorant, and you *are* better than them. So it's ok to look down on them.