On what really matters
“Lionel, Michael died.” Three words said by my mother on January 3rd at 8:31 am. In that moment, I didn’t know what to feel. I wasn’t so much shocked – my older brother had been suffering with an illness for over a year. I was sad, but I didn’t cry. The only thing I did was to ask about my father and my brother’s wife then told my mother that I would be back home by Friday morning. I was focusing on what mattered in that moment.
In life, my older brother, Michael Galloway and I, couldn’t be more different. My brother, aka Cool Mike G, was a gregarious, boisterous man who enjoyed a good beer, working with his hands and good game of pool. I, the middle three brothers and third child over all – was the bookish, tea toddling comic book geek who preferred a good fantasy novel and a quiet coffee shop. I am a technophile who can wax on for hours about the importance of encryption, the advantages of open source, analog to digital integration and the optimal design of a network. My older brother, at 45, still only used a flip cellphone from 2003 and barely understood email.
But because my brother was some different from me, I learned a lot from him and admired him, even though he likely never knew it and wouldn’t believe it. Michael was far more adventurous than I was. He started his own vending machine company while, I, with my fancy Ivy League degree, often found myself staying corporate jobs I hated until I downsized or was terminated. He, like my older sister, spoke his mind, even when he was dead wrong. He was flawed, but ultimately Cool Mike G was, if nothing else, an honest human being.
He was also pragmatic, particularly in his view of the political world. My brother was one of my biggest backers when I first started in local politics back in 2001. He would canvass with me. (The time he canvassed downtown New Haven’s gay night clubs in a three-piece suit during a hot summer evening was one of our more colorful outings.) He convinced some of his and my sister-in-law’s friends in the biker community to support my run.
More than anything, though, my brother’s contribution to my political thought was to illustrate in plain terms what was and what wasn’t important. In canvassing with me, Mike could communicate why anyone should care about voting for the Board of Aldermen or the Registrar of Voters. He got it: if you don’t have a seat at the table, you have no say at the table. He was above all else practical.
One of the more practical moments was a story Mike told me while were driving back to New Haven, CT. Shortly after graduating high school, one of Mike’s friends asked him to escort her to Planned Parenthood to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. She was scared and my brother was one of the few people she trusted. As they approached the clinic, they were approached by anti-choice activists screaming at the young woman and my brother Michael about being baby killers. Now, my brother not one to back down from a fight, responded in his usual, and colorful manner.
“Look, motherfucker! First of all, this ain’t my goddamn kid and it’s not my business! Also, you gonna take pay for this baby’s daycare? You gonna pay for this girl's pampers? You got money for a doctor? Kids cost money! And if you ain’t offering no money, get the fuck out my face, cracker!!”
Now, from that combative and profanity laced tongue lashing, the anti-choice activist stepped aside. My brother didn’t hit the man with facts or an essay on feminism. He practically and forcefully laid the fundamental flaw in a pro-lifer’s argument. He stuck to the main points: women need prenatal care and, yes, sometimes pregnancy termination because of real economic issues. He thought the same way about drugs, poverty and mass incarceration—here’s how these issues affect real people, what are you, Mister or Misses Conservative, going to do to fix these problems?
Now, my brother would never be considered liberal or ‘woke’. We debated gay marriage for years and it took him a long time to be convinced about recycling (mostly because it was his then 16-year-old kid brother lecturing a 24-year-old man about trees and plastic). And it took me years to convince Mike that no, George W. Bush didn’t blow up the Twin Towers with explosives (As an aside, if you still believe that foolishness in 2017, despite mountains of evidence, please stop and ask what’s lacking in your life. You sound as ridiculous as a certain basketball player debating the heliocentric universe.) But one of the big things I learned from my brother is to, as he would always tell me when I talked about politics, “I don’t understand what you’re saying!! Cut through the bullshit Lionel, make it plain!” And so, I will.
On Monday, March 6th, I turned 39. I got the usual birthday greetings – morning texts from my sister, my brother, my cousins and mom, who texts me at the exact moment of my birth every year, 8:31 AM EST. I got the usual short and to the point phone call from my dad (no text, Calvin Sr. is even a bigger technophobe than his eldest son or my mother). My wife took me out for lunch, which was welcome after a frustrating day at work. And, in the age social media, I got plenty of wonderful and sweet Facebook birthday wishes.
But there is one greeting I didn’t get. My brother would normally call me later in the day, after my sister in law got off work, to wish me happy birthday, ask about my wife and then rail on about how he doesn’t trust Google. I’m going to miss the call of my brother railing on about how he thinks Trump is a criminal. I’m going to miss that call this year… and forever.
However, as a part time political blogger, I can honor my brother by doing what he taught me best—cut through bullshit can keep it plain. Because we have a president—and I use the term very loosely—who seems to spout complete bullshit almost on an hourly basis.
Between banning Muslims and Latino immigrants for imaginary crimes, to lying about something as irrelevant as his crowd size for inauguration to, as of this weekend, claiming former President Obama was spying on him (while balking at the infamous and comically controversial dossier about his ties to Russia) Trump lies as easy as others breathe. Trump seems to bullshit, fabricate and just plain says imaginary things almost reflexively.
Our current White House resident can be described as many things, all of them terrible. But one that’s fitting is Bullshit Artist—perhaps the greatest Bullshit Artist ever to enter the political stage. We, as a nation, elected a narcissistic con man and a gaggle of imbeciles and outright cronies who seem to live on bullshit, like an aggressive colony of dung beetles.
That’s what we’re going to need over the next four years—keeping it simply and cutting through bullshit. Because bullshit is what we’re swimming through right now. Thanks Mike.
In honor Michael Kevin Galloway September 11, 1969 - January 2, 2017
Your kid brother, Calvin Lionel Nicholson
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