“You Can’t Get There From Here” Is Such A “White” Way To Think…

Every summer, from the time I was six until I was twelve, I went to a sleepaway camp in Naples, Maine called “Camp Skylemar“. I don’t think there’s a Skylemar memory that isn’t happy. I was independent from the womb onward, so, the distance from camp to home (I grew up in Baltimore) didn’t concern me in the least. There were nonstop sports and crafts, plays to be in and so many friends to make. When you’re a kid, the adults in a place blend into the place. The locals there in Naples including Earl, Skylemar’s ever-present groundskeeper and handyman, were as much a part of the environment as each and every pine tree. There’s something so distinctive about the downeast accent they speak with in Maine. Those elongated vowels. Cod becomes “cawwwwwwwwwwwd”. Like “caught” but with a “d” at the end instead of a “t”.

There’s one sound byte locked in my head – something I know I heard Earl say (and say repeatedly which is why it stuck in my head). The camp was fairly rustic. There were sixteen cabins (we were all organized into “cabins going from “Cabin One” being and housing the youngest campers to “Cabin Sixteen” being/housing the oldest). Each cabin had one toilet in a literal water closet (showers were in a separate cinderblock building). The sewer lines going out from each cabin to the camp’s septic tank were rudimentary. Consequently, they clogged easily.

One thing you gotta know about young males is they can’t stand to be anywhere near their own shit. Having both a son and daughter (both out of the home now), I’ve observed that things what were so in my youth have not changed in subsequent generations. Boys are more likely to clog a toilet than girls because boys never really learn to wipe themselves properly. Ever notice how boys piss everywhere (sometimes except the toilet bowl itself)? That “untidiness” carries over to when boys have to sit down to relieve themselves.

Not wanting to get anywhere near their shit, boys tend to wad up toilet paper when they go at themselves (very much the “more is more” school). That makes for both crap crap wiping and a challenge to even good plumbing. Up at Skylemar, the individual sheets of blue toilet paper – it came in interwoven stacks, not rolls – felt “unsubstantial” to the task. As an adult, it would have been a challenge to be efficient with them. For a bunch of pre-adolescent and adolescent boys, it was way too much to ask.

We clogged those toilets as regularly as the sun rose. And, each and every time – as he plungered the offending clog of blue paper (plus shit) free – Earl would admonish us “You caaaaan’t use so much blue paaaaay-puh!”

That’s how I’ve thought about plumbing ever since.

Mainers are famous, of course, for saying “You caaaaaan’t get there from hee-yah.” What’s usually clear when they say it is the unspoken emphasis on the word “you”. Wherever there is, YOU can’t get there from here. The guy from Maine? No doubt he knows a shortcut through the mantle of the earth. That’s a secret you’ll never learn, so you’re on you’re on!

Did I ever hear Earl say those words? I doubt it. I can’t imagine the context. But I sure can imagine Earl saying them.

Strangely, as another mass-shooting incident breaks as news (in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an irate back surgery patient just murdered two doctors, a receptionist and himself using guns – including an AR15 he just bought for this very purpose!), Earl’s admonition to us about using the blue paper comes back to me.

Earl said those same words to who knows how many summers-worth of campers seemingly without ever making a dent in their behavior. The calculus on one side: young, squeamish males (all from the city, don’t forget) plus toilet paper not up to the task plus plumbing not up to the task. How to achieve toilets that never get clogged? “You can’t get there from here”. That would be the seeming takeaway.

Now, maybe that really was the case. But, I wonder, did anyone at any time ever consider swapping out the blue paper – just to see if there was “a way to get there”? I’m willing to bet it never crossed anyone’s mind. I’m willing to bet that no one even experimented so as to assure themselves that the problem-solving (assuming anyone wanted to solve this problem) would have to come from another direction.

Why does this matter? Why FFS am I even going on about it (and dragging you along)? “You can’t get there from here” is always horse shit at its core. Of course there’s a way to get from here to anywhere – that ain’t the question. Is the path easily do-able from here – that’s really what’s under discussion. Just because a path will be hard (and require innovation to travel) doesn’t mean it’s not do-able. “You can’t get there from here” ends all discussion. It’s the improv-ending “No”. What it’s really doing is projecting its own intellectual laziness (if not outright dishonesty) onto everyone else.

Did I mention that it’s horse shit?

We keep telling ourselves that our gun crisis is un-solvable. We can’t get there from here.

Well, sorry, Earl, but you’re wrong again. Of course we can get there from here. If we stop thinking we’re trapped inside a box, we’ll stop being trapped inside a box. The box is entirely of our own making.

I’m pretty sure that when James Madison composed the Second Amendment, he did not imagine anything like what’s happening in America today. He certainly didn’t envision this as his goal as he wrote. Madison was in the middle of a battle that America’s still waging between federalism and the cynical states’ rights crowd (they want each state to have the option to be backwards and regressive). Madison had to balance each state’s “fear” of the larger federal government (this was all a proxy battle over slavery) with the larger ideal only a federal government could manifest uniformly across all states. To that end, Madison framed guns as a question best left to the states with the caveat being that the authority overseeing questions about “arms” being up to that state’s militia – their organized military.

Clearly, organization over chaos was the intention, as Madison assumed those militias would all be “well regulated”. That’s “not regulated at all” or “semi-regulated” or “kinda-sorta regulated”, it’s WELL-regulated. Lots of rules and regs, not a few here and there. So, the only authority to make gun decisions lies with the militia. Great! And what decisions are those? Who gets to “keep” and “bear” the arms. Please note: Madison chose NOT to use the word “own”, a perfectly good word at the time.

One can “keep” and “bear” things one doesn’t “own”. If I lease a car, I get to keep it for duration of the lease. But, I do not own it. There are clauses in my lease wherein the leasing company can take the car back. They have that right because they own the car! Ownership is different. And ownership is not on offer in the Second Amendment.

The first thing Greg Abbot did at that first lying press conference after the Uvalde tragedy was insist this wasn’t a gun problem, it was a mental health problem and a school safety problem. “You can’t get there from here!”, he wanted to remind us. Safe schools? “We can’t get there from here!”

Reasonable gun laws of any kind? We can’t get there from here either!

That’s horse shit, too. And it’s going to take something other than blue paper to clean up. We may have to spend a little money to upgrade the plumbing. Or innovate a solution. Once we open our minds to actually thinking about the problem – rather than settling back into how it’s always been? Who knows what can happen?

In America, you never hear anyone other than white people insist “you can’t get there from here” because it’s all those other people who are trying to get there from here. They understand how hard it can be. But that’s never deterred them the way “You can’t get there from here” is meant to.

White people expect “You can’t get there from here” to end any questions or curiosity. The answer’s “no”, so stop asking.

But, the answer’s not “no”. Sure, it can be – but does it have to be? Only a white person terrified of what that other world could be would insist to the end that “you can’t get there from here”.

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