Breakfast with Rosie
(A Better Way to Say “Stop and Smell the Roses”)
Julius Cavira (MFA SC 2022)
(A Better Way to Say “Stop and Smell the Roses”)
Julius Cavira (MFA SC 2022)
Hey, Rosie! I’m here for my daily cup of coffee ... and I think I’ll have my Lorraine Bistro’s special platter—all sunny and a side of sausage on wheat. By the way, business is looking good for you, no? I see you upgraded the place, and the locals are starting to notice; soon you won’t be able to take my order if this continues. Hey, don’t give me that look! I’m no longer a cook for the Army and you can’t pay me to work for a crazy cat like yourself! Besides, I’m a visual artist. I came here to get away from my usual visual artist drama. I find comfort with you and this greasy pit of heartaches and heart attacks.
Anyways, it’s been a long year. Caucusing for Iowa was a nightmare. Don’t ask—even I’m baffled about people and their damn motives. That being said, “motives,” or rather “convictions,” can drive the most patient and logical people insane. More to the point, political neighbors are wholly convinced of their own fake news, steeped in the half-truths, conspiracy theories, political lies, etc., plastered on every electronic screen! It’s all insanity Rosie. Some blame the Russians, others the Chinese, or maybe it’s all coming from the Middle East. Actually, it’s our gullible, flawed logic that falls prey to disinformation. Rosie, there’s no way around it: journalistic integrity and investigative reporting have been replaced by digital melodramatic tabloids, and our loved ones or people we identify with convince us to drink the punch. Our country is being pulled apart at the seams with no regard or consequence.
It’s just exhausting to think about it … I tell ya Rosie, and I tell ya again … we should have known better! We feed off of the hate, blame, ultimatums, and “what-about-isms” within ourselves, and pass our so called opinionated “truth” onto others. And soon enough a spark becomes a bang, which leads to an explosion, riddled within our echo chambers. That was 2020. Rosie, what say you? I mean you care, right … a little?
Anyways … it’s finally 2021, and on January 6, things go from as bad as can be to even worse. The domestic terrorists from the Capitol insurrection came from all sorts of estranged parts of America. Rather than talk to their local government officials (the very persons they elected to office), they took a long and expensive drive to the Capitol and rallied with other extremists to charge the doorstep of the White House. These rioters, who claim to be predominantly peaceful, god fearing, empathetic, middle-class, blue-collar, and welfare-broke, internalized the overwhelming controversy and set forth to physically tear down the Capitol building. Did they feel threatened, or desperate, or thoroughly convinced that there was only one way out of their predicament?
A few weeks later I switched the radio on and heard Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s testimony of the attack:
Bang, bang, bang … on my office door … then every door … bang, bang, bang … I get up … run over to “G” … and he looks back and he goes, “HIDE! HIDE! RUN AND HIDE!”... And this was the moment where I thought everything was over. I mean, I thought I was going to die. And I had a lot of thoughts ... if this is the plan for me … where life was taking me, that I felt that things were going to be okay; and that I fulfilled my purpose.1
I was emotional and exhausted after hearing her accounts, and the headlines just kept on streaming through. There was this from The Washington Post:
“Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (Pa.) read a letter from 400 congressional staffers … Many of us attended school in the post-Columbine area, and we’re trained to respond to active shooter situations in our classroom … As the mobs smashed through Capitol police barricades, broke doors and windows and charged into the Capitol with body armor and weapons, many of us hid behind chairs and under desks or barricaded ourselves in offices. Others watched on TV and frantically tried to reach our bosses and colleagues as they fled for their lives.”2
I got to thinkin’ that January 6, 2021, could be the next big day that everyone in the world would remember... hahahaha… I doubt it too, Rosie! Mama didn’t raise no fool! We were taught to never repeat history and yet here we are... again. It’s so sad to think the public has this collective consciousness but eventually find themselves apathetic and emotionally drained, all the while seeing the same events play out before our eyes, or even worse, escalate. Thinking back over the past fifty years, we can see where all this tension, bloodshed, and anger came from. Yes, Rosie, five long decades of craziness. I bet that between the two of us, we could bore people to sleep, but if you had to pick your highlights… what would they be?
The first thing that comes to mind for me… well, I know I wasn’t born in the 1960s, but I grew up in the shadow of that decade’s angst. Like my high school teacher, have I ever told you about her? Rosie, my teacher Ms. Nunya had a black eye every single day. How could any of us kids relate to and console her? It was none of our business, but we noticed it, and it freaked us out. What the hell did she do to deserve a black eye? I mean—come on! This was eons ago, but look at the context. Back then, the Archives of General Psychiatry designated “wife-beating” as a form of “balancing out each other’s mental quirks.”  This bled into violence against women on national TV shows and movies being perfectly acceptable, then Clinton’s lustful abuses of power. You see Rosie, it was always there—the injustice in the back of our minds. By the time the “Me Too” movement rose to public consciousness, the persistent violence against women was finally fully exposed.
Rosie, it all connects, you see? And let’s not stop there… Lynching only ended in the late ’60s, you know! Yes, Rosie, lynching—barbaric death by hanging, predominantly reserved for African Americans. The reason I talk about it now is that it has come up again in the news. It’s only now, in 2021, that a measure to add lynching to the United States Criminal Code passed in the House. The Senate passed a version of the bill last year. It took 200 tries to sign the Antilynching Act, as reported in the New York Times: “Since 1900, members of the House and Senate had tried to pass a law making lynching a federal crime. The bills were consistently blocked, shelved, or ignored, and the passage of time has rendered anti-lynching legislation increasingly symbolic.”4 Yes, Rosie, Congress finally believes that it’s a hate crime to lynch.
If the ’60s weren’t bad enough … in the ’70s drugs were rampant. The illegal cocaine trade picked up, and the Medellin Cartel brought in up to $60 million a day in drug profits. The number of people dependent on heroin in the United States hit 750,000 in the early ’70s.5 Yeah, that number sounds pretty small now, with 10 million Americans abusing opioids last year.6 Think of it, Rosie, drug addiction is everywhere. Who’s not affected? It could be the people sitting next to you on the bus, in church, in this diner, your neighbor, it could be your family!
Then think about the 1980s, when I was growing up. Racial profiling was everywhere then, and hell, it hasn’t gone anywhere. George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Breonna Taylor, Samuel Dubose, Freddie Grey … there’s too many, Rosie, I can’t remember them all. I’m sorry. Back then, in the ’80s, there was the “broken windows” initiative, which gave police total permission to racially profile. Rosie, this so-called law was felt all around town during my pup days! The mayor had the boys-in-blue lock down the entire city, supposedly to crack down on gangs, violence, etc., but it didn’t stop a thing. Crime happens when a big recession hits but it’s no excuse when your whole job is to serve and protect.
Vincent Chin, Rosie, there’s another memory. Chin, a Chinese man, was killed in 1982 on the night of his bachelor party by two white men who bludgeoned him with a baseball bat. The two men—a Chrysler plant supervisor and his laid-off autoworker stepson—targeted Chin as Japanese, and assaulted him in response to the Japanese auto industry’s success. The murderers more or less got away with it, Rosie, which goes to show how blind our court system and this country is on race. And look what’s happening now, as people of Asian and Pacific descent are being verbally and physically abused in broad daylight over the so-called origin of the pandemic.
Wait-wait-wait, before we get to the ’90s, could I have more coffee, with a little please and a side of thank you? Did I tell you you’re my favorite waitress today? … Anyways, in the ’90s Rosie, it just kept coming. Who can forget Rodney King? His beating at the hands of the LAPD in 1991 was broadcast on every channel. Where was I when it happened, you ask? Well, like everyone else, I saw the beating, then the riots in response to the officers’ acquittals, on TV. Not long after, the Oklahoma City bombing, led by far-right extremist Timothy McVeigh, killed 168 people! Makes you think, Rosie … what the hell did Rodney King do to deserve his fate versus guys like McVeigh? Nothing. It’s like I said, racism is entrenched in America. Maybe that’s true everywhere in the world, but this is our home, our mess, Rosie, and we are responsible.
How did we begin the new millennium, Rosie? You remember: 9/11, when the Twin Towers came down. I remember that day so clearly, though it feels like a dream. I was still in college in Chicago. I woke up to find my friend staring at the TV, hypnotized, not saying much. I walked out, made it to class, saw everyone tearing up, heard every monitor and radio blaring, every room silent, then screaming when the second tower came down. For a while I filled my life with busy-nothings to not feel the magnitude of it, then, when the immensity of the damage, death toll, and grief hit me, I enlisted in the Army, knowing full well I was going to the Middle East to war. Left- and right-wing politics and people were unified for a moment then, Rosie … and yeah, it felt like the right thing to do.
Way back in the corner of my mind, I also remember a gorgeous French girl I was smitten with. Things got cold when she told me, “All good countries fall ... this country will fall.” I was taken aback. Rather than see her side, or even the hypothetical aspect, I got mad. It baffled me for months. The US will fall? Impossible. Then graduation came, a time of success and achievements, but also conflict riddled with speculation and no one to talk to. Too awkward to ask anyone out, too broke to go to the bars and clubs, too lost for being too young.
But why did I really enlist in the Army, even knowing I would go to war? Well, like many other minorities from disenfranchised communities, I found it was the only way to pay for a brighter future. Yes, people say that there are other creative ways to pay for our education, but it’s all privileged information; it’s not in front of us, so we make these life and limb decisions. The corruption in our education system is the worst kept secret, one everyone knows, at least those who are truly affected. As Fortune magazine reported, “More than 44 million people in the US are buried under $1.6 trillion in federal student-loan debt. And every year the crisis continues to get worse. Student debt is a tumor on our wallets and economy that now dwarfs Americans’ credit cards and auto payments.”  And that’s not all Rosie; here’s some especially sobering news I read: About 1.5 million veterans are poverty stricken.
You remember the 2010s, Rosie? Where to begin? The “Boston Massacre,” when Islamic extremists targeted the annual Boston Marathon. A white supremacist killing nine African American worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting, the 2019 El Paso Shooting, the shooting at the gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando. The list seems endless, to the point where people tend to just glaze over.
I’ll keep the rest quick, Rosie. You know all about the 2016 election and Donald Trump in the White House for four years thanks to Russian interference. When Trump won, it was obvious something was seriously wrong, but no one could prove any of it. It was a sad day, Rosie. Iowa turned red in that election, which shot all my caucusing efforts out of the sky. And then there was COVID, and the endless force of systemic racism, and where this conversation all began, Rosie, with the Capitol insurrection.
Rosie, I’m at wits end. It’s one kind of bad news after another, and at such a cost. Americans should know better, Rosie. We should have known better! To seek diplomacy, not wage war. Will Biden and Harris make a difference? Can we the people make a difference? We live in this world, Rosie, you and me. Some of us want to heal it, change it for the better; others want to morph it into a nightmare. Here’s my million dollar question, Rosie: Should I lay my paint brush down and try to make change, to better the communities that surround me? If we don’t do something, blood will surely paint the streets all by itself.
1. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Instagram Live chat, February 1, 2021.
2. Amy B. Wang, “Ocasio-Cortez, other Democrats recount on House floor what they experienced during siege,” The Washington Post, February 4, 2021.
3. Eliana Dockterman, “50 Years Ago, Doctors Called Domestic Violence ‘Therapy’,” TIME, September 25, 2014.
4. Jacey Fortin, “Congress Moves to Make Lynching a Federal Crime after 120 Years of Failure,” New York Times, February 26, 2021.
5. History.com, “History of Drug Trafficking,” June 10, 2019.
7. Ed Helms, “To Solve Our Student Debt Crisis, We Need to Fight Political Corruption First,” Fortune, February 4, 2021.
Julius Cavira is...