Ken Burns is my new booze & white Boomers with guns & those Americans who still have feelings left

Allison Gruber
16 min readJun 14, 2021


I write this from bed, & I think maybe these last two days are the first two days in about 16 months in which I’ve had nothing too major/pressing in my immediate periphery, over my head, nothing too major that requires immediate action. Not today. At least not that I’m currently aware of.
so what I’m saying is that this week
is the first week since circa November 2019
that I’ve been able to have little-to-nothing
on my calendar (except for a meeting I forgot about because I didn’t put it on my calendar); no appointments to make right this second,
no infusions or surgeries to schedule right this second,
no papers to grade, no classes to plan right this second,
not a single Zoom meeting in sight.

Outside of the periodic, albeit acute, cravings
(especially now that summer is here),
I don’t really miss booze and beyond that
I simply cannot have any. I mean, I could drink,
but I’m diseased around alcohol in such a way
that if I take one sip, I have no holy clue where things will go
from there. Could be fine. Could be that I fall and bust my face open.
For me, this is important to remember:
the minute I pick up a drink, I have no holy clue
how that drinking session will end.

I try, as a Buddhist, not to fear the “unknown,”
but this particular “unknown fear” serves me well
because it keeps me from engaging behavior that prevents me
from being well: body, mind, spirit.

I do, as it turns out, really enjoy being healthy in body, mind & spirit.
I do, as it turns out, really enjoy waking up every morning feeling 100%
clear. I mean, after a couple cups of strong, black coffee.
I still need some crutches in this life.
& moreover the idea of living my life
without another hangover?
That, in and of itself,
is enough incentive for me.

True story.

During her visit, my sister (who I hadn’t seen in 2 years) and I
went to a cannabis friendly cafe here in Tucson.
The entire place is dreamy and tranquil and one needn’t even partake
of cannabis to enjoy the environment which is, very much, designed
with keeping the vibe “chill.”
In these stressful American Years, I welcome
“chill vibes” wherever God provides them.
All cafe patrons, however, have to sign a waiver
saying they won’t sue the business if they “Maureen Dowd-out”
(see: The Maureen Dowd Affair).
Personal accountability: what a thought!
You would never find such a contract in establishments
where liquor is served. You simply couldn’t have it.
When I was drinking, the entire point of the activity was,
in part, to get a little (or a lot) out of control, to relinquish all fear:
even the normal, good kind of fear.
Compared to a bar, in the cannabis cafe, my sister and I noted
how quiet everything was when the hardest “drugs” consumed were
cannabis & caffeine. No yelling, breaking off bottles, weeping,
falling, vomiting & music is being played at a reasonable level:
you can hear it just enough to say “I know this song” or
“what’s this cool song?” but not loud enough to warrant any shouting;
& if you didn’t like the song, you could easily drown it out with cheap earbuds. Nice alternative for an ex-drunk like me who
really wants her summer break to be full of peace.
I need peace. After this year, I need peace more
than I need money or a steady job or personal success;
I need peace or I will die: physically, spiritually, or mentally &
well, I don’t want to die in any of those capacities inasmuch
as I can control such deaths.
I do miss bars, but coffee houses/cafes are going to have to become
my new social outlets. I’m not strong enough in my own sobriety for bars, yet.

I don’t use cannabis to “get high,” but the worst thing I’ve ever done “while high on weed” was eat too much unhealthy food. I won’t even get into shit that went down when I was “high on alcohol.”

So I have one week to myself before my parents arrive &
my doctors appointments in Tucson kick in &
my new job starts . . .
One little week.
Today I will be planking (yes, planking),
showering, planking again (yep, gotta strengthen that core),
writing on Book Three (which needs a title), planking,
meditating, writing, planking, writing, writing, planking,
eating, watching television with Sarah,
but mostly just planking & writing.
This is what I want to do with my time off.
In Tucson, it is about 732 degrees today.
Planking & writing in air conditioning
with Sarah, Abe, & the cats is my new
“perfect day.”

***Side note: Summer in Tucson is like winter in Chicago. Everybody hunkers down inside and limits their time outdoors and does weird shit to their cars to keep them functional & because analogies help me contextualize/feel less fear of the unknown I am always comparing neighborhoods in Tucson to areas in Chicago/Chicago land: yesterday, I compared a neighborhood in Tucson to “Hot Skokie.” ***

The only thing weird about my agenda today
is the planking part & the fact that my writing day
will not end with any sort of alcohol. Instead, my day, will conclude
with some cannabis, some tea, & probably Ken Burns’ Civil War
which, like Joyce’s Ulysses, I’ve been trying & failing to complete
since the 1990s.
Ken Burns & James Joyce are my new sleep aids.

As a new iMovie prodigy (you know I’m being flip, right?), the Ken Burns filter idea intrigues me.

If there’s one thing these (damn near) forty-five years of life
have taught me it is this: even if you’re bored/annoyed/frustrated
by body stuff because you’re far more interested in everything else
your body & inside your heart and soul & mind (that’s been my problem in this life), you still should take care of the body stuff because the body,
tedious and frustrating though it may be, is the thing that’s
allowing you to think your thoughts & engage with all the other cool “not-specifically-human-body related shit” in this human life. What I’m saying is that the human body is an amazing thing and you should be as kind to yours as possible. Dig?
And maybe here I’m talking particularly
to queer American women.
That body shit. Damn.
Worse now than ever.
As a babydyke in the 90s, I rejected all that “women’s shit” — I mean,
I rejected gender norms and my body never looked the way it was supposed to look — even among the lesbians, I was never butch/masculine enough — so like, I finally, as a woman, felt like “fuck this body. just fuck it. never done me any favors.” (but in fact it has done me a great many favors and continues
to do me favors every day) — all this to say if you’re a young reader, particularly a young female reader, particularly young, female, & queer
try & take the advice I just could not hear when I was young:
treat your body & mind & soul kindly.

a friend recently said something awesome to me, and it was this:
you are not
a bad person
trying to be good;
you are
a sick person
trying to be well.

Sometimes, I feel like this character. This is not a new feeling. When I was in undergrad, friends routinely called me Mother Gruber aka Mother Grubs.

I am kind of exhausted.
Ibrance + lots of socializing after 15 mos of quarantine
& basically being traumatized for all 15 of those months =
indescribable exhaustion. I used to hate summer break, but
this year I feel I need this summer break more than
I have ever needed a summer break in all my life.
My body needs the break.
My mind needs the break.
My soul needs the break.

Though white, I am a woman in America.
A queer woman at that.
A chronically (for now) sick queer woman.
We live in an America so sick on capitalism that even though I have
what’s commonly known as
“stage iv metastatic breast cancer,”
I, too, must still have a full time job
in order to pay rent, medical expenses, & maybe once in a while
buy something nice for myself or for my wife or for us both.
Like, I’m on day 15 of a 21 day Ibrance cycle & I feel like shit &
I feel terribly guilty that I’ve taken a day off to work on my own writing
after educating children for very little pay during a global fucking pandemic while receiving treatment for metastatic breast cancer. Seriously. I started radiation therapy in February of 2020.

I feel like the entire 2019–2020 school year was just me embodying this character in front of children.

I haven’t even had a second to process anything that happened
to & around me between 11/25/2019–6/1/2021.
Things are just now beginning to calm down in my life.
Sarah & I are settling into the rental house (which we both adore).
I love Tucson. I am thrilled about my new teaching post.
I am very excited about the work I’m doing on my third book & my second book, Transference (@TolsunBooks) comes out in November.

Most days, when I’m not far into an Ibrance cycle,
I feel fucking amazing. Since I quit drinking, my energy levels
have been through the roof, but not today because actual,
scientific, efficacious cancer treatment sucks.
Frankly, treatment for most chronic conditions
(physical and psychological) suck. And why? Well, kids,
because we live in an America that prioritizes paper money
over the common good. Even if that means you, like me,
have to muster up the energy on day 15 of a chemo adjacent drug
to do some actual labor so you can afford more of the chemo-adjacent drug that makes you feel like shit for about 7–10 days a month,
but will likely let you live longer than you might otherwise.
Ever since I began my 2nd “cancer journey” (I hate the word journey unless we’re talking about Joseph Campbell), American healthcare has felt, though mercifully not all of the time, like begging your own employees to pretend that they care about their job & hope that, at the very least, even if they can’t pretend to care about the job, they are competent enough to do the job properly. The job being, you know, your very existence.)

So many people in healthcare are bored with their jobs. Why? What are we doing wrong. I have some theories, but I’ll spare you.

So much shit went down personally & in America at large.
So much shit is still going down & that
brings me back around to the cannabis cafe & the Boomers with guns:
while Heather & I sat sipping iced cbd coffee & writing/sketching, a small group of white Boomers walked in, carrying guns, loudly announcing they were ex-military & interested in the discount.

Here’s the thing:
1) military discounts are good & right,
but why are you screaming?
sometimes, I get teacher discounts,
but I don’t walk into shops/stores fumbling with books and papers,
pencil behind my ear, frazzled, chalk on my face shouting,
“I’m a teacher!”
I just matter-of-factly inquire about the teacher discount,
quietly show them my teacher i.d.,
and accept my damn discount.
Like a Normal Adult.
But no, white Boomers have to come in screaming
about being ex-military, wearing guns on their khaki cargo shorts
so everyone in that fucking cafe, all six of us, were going to know
1) they were ex-military &
2) they were carrying weapons of murder & destruction.

Reader, I am trying to be a better Buddhist.
I am working, every day, on approaching
my fellow human being,
even the ones carrying guns in coffee shops,
even the ones who voted for Trump twice,
even the guy who tailgates me on Elm St.
with compassion.
I first try to understand, with humility, what the person
who brings a fucking gun into a quiet cannabis cafe
might be thinking & feeling.

If I approach the circumstance with compassion,
these loud, white Boomers are totally tweaked out
on fear & mistrust & powerlessness.
How fucking scared of life must one be to feel the need
to bring a gun
into a quiet cafe
where nothing harder than caffeine
is being served?
No one in that space,
to the best of my knowledge,
was drunk or high on any substance
that does in fact
make the human animal prone
to irrational violence & fearsome unpredictability
in behavior & being.

No one in that space was high on anything harder
than caffeine or cannabis so why
the guns?

If I ask the question with compassion, I pity
these white Boomers with guns; I pity them
for having to carry around all that anxiety,
all that fear. I lived in the city of Chicago for years.
I taught in “bad neighborhoods”
(i.e. Black or brown & poor) & yet even in those days,
as a woman, a small woman I never felt the need
to carry a gun. Not even at night.
Not even on the subway at night.
(Pepper spray, duh. I’m a woman.
Every woman you know has, at best, feared rape.
But I was never drunk in North Lawndale & Pilsen, &
when I was drunk in Austin, I was inside my cousin’s house.)
what I mean is that all the dangerous positions I’ve ever really put myself in were while under the influence of alcohol & I was only ever drunk in Boystown, Wrigleyville, Andersonville, Ravenswood, Lincoln Park &
not in the economically disenfranchised Black & brown communities in Chicago where white people like me went either to teach, sell guns,
or buy drugs.

I was far more likely, and indeed had far greater fear, of being assaulted for the way I looked or raped for the way I looked by a drunk white boy in Wrigleyville.
What I’m saying is that mere proximity to BIPOC males
does not a dangerous situation make. On the contrary,
the drunk or methed out white male is a far greater threat
to women of any race, color, creed, sexual orientation, et al . . .

Also, if you care about American History, you should read Coates’ “Case for Reparations.” This is a marvelous, brilliant, and painful, piece of nonfiction, but if you care to be awake to any kind of American Truth, it is a must read. Should be taught in all schools.

Now, if I’m not guiding my thoughts with compassion,
if I’m in judgmental, outraged American brain mode,
I see the white Boomers with guns in the coffee shop & think:
you motherfuckers.
You Trump-loving,
white supremacist,
habitual boundary stepping,
violent fucks.

& I know you have a fucking “right” —
we are in the Wild Wild West, Arizona.
In Arizona, I think it is probably legal
to carry grenades in your teeth
but only while parking backwards
on Fourth Ave when
the trolley is stopped.

I feel like I’ve mentioned this before, but I love how some Tucsonans just cannot get over that time Life or Time called Speedway Blvd “the ugliest street on Earth” or some shit. Seriously. Some folks here are still bothered by this & it happened in the 1970s.

So what about my right to live my life without being perpetually terrified? Positively terrified that you and your precious guns are going to
shoot the place up because you are triggered by me,
or this Black dude, or the Si, Se Puede sticker on my laptop,
or anything that deviates from your incredibly narrow & cynical
view of this American life & your fellow Americans?
What about my right to have space away from your spiritual & mental darkness?

What about my right to my American Common Sense
which notices, quite correctly, that virtually all mass shooters
in America are white males, often (though not always)
ex-military. & miss me with the very rare exceptions.
Truly. If you don’t like this Actual Fact
think about what you can do to change
the Future Facts when witnesses like me
(and there are many)
start to tell the Truth about Race & Class
in America. & ever since I quit the alcoholic menace,
I am really jonesing for every ounce of Truth I can
wrap my little brain around.

So based on my lived & witnessed American
Common Sense, when I see a group
of loud white “all-American” (flag t-shirt) Boomers
saunter into a chill coffeehouse
— where they have clearly never been before —
like they own the place
(colonists even as they visit
places within their own nation),
visibly armed, I am no longer relaxed.

Derry Girls. Watch it immediately. I re-watched both seasons with my sister who had never seen it before and was immediately hooked, also. Television shows — also good substitute for booze.

I am an American.
I am triggered.
Sorry. I have cause.
As an American, and an American educator,
I am a survivor of social trauma:
the trauma of practicing,
in the dark, with kids
for the very real possibility that someone
will walk on campus, into my classroom,
and kill us all and if that happens, I’m going to have to
— ethically — throw my fucking body between my students
and the gunman (it would be a man — almost certainly white
American, thoroughly-documented-western-european-national
citizen of ‘Merica). See, I was done with my undergrad degree by 1998.
I never associated the educational profession as one that regularly involves physical violence. Now? Violence, the possibility for violence in places where violence has no place, is a reality we all live with.

So yeah, I am frightened of guns.
I despise guns & I am too tired
to get super involved in this, specific,
American discourse.

I also have American Medical Trauma with cause. This meme (thank you FALA students for teaching me the value of memes) just says it so concisely.

Healthcare & education:
those are in my wheelhouse.

Those are the areas I can impact.

I have no proximity to those in power at the NRA (nor care to)
nor do I have much influence on the American military.

I do know that there are schools in this country where
we discourage students, staff, and faculty from calling police
& choose instead to deal with difficult situations through trained
& paid mediators. (If you’ve never seen the documentary
The Interrupters, drop what you’re doing & watch it now.
It’s about the Cease Fire project in Chicago — which I think has been,
of course, since defunded.)
Like it or not, the truth is this:
in communities with BIPOC, less police = more life.
We need to work on the fix for this problem. Maybe we need
to defund the police. Maybe we need to think creatively. There are many
Facts in life that are profoundly unfortunate.
Like, I find it deeply unfortunate that I am basically bedridden today
with Ibrance fatigue. This pisses me off. I could “push through it” & risk
making myself really, truly sick — like deathly ill — but today
I am choosing rest over work. It’s a damn good thing
I’m a writer & not an athlete
or I’d be depressed as hell.
Writing, fortunately, is a sport
one can participate in solo,
little cardio/physical effort,
even when down with Ibrance-flu.

Copyright @2020 Eric McGregor

You have a right to bring your gun into the coffee shop because America.
I know you have this right, and I am not here to debate the right
to love your guns as you should probably be loving the people in your immediate circle, your community, but could you maybe think for one moment about those of us who still have feelings left — I’m not even asking you to attempt to do the hard work of attempting to possibly fathom what your fellow BIPOC Americans feel when your lot strolls into a coffee shop with your guns and your blind allegiance to national philosophy that has been calculatedly hostile toward their very existence — a lot of us are really traumatized and fucked up over watching Americans murdered in places where the only “unforeseen catastrophe” should be a natural cause
or an act of God. What about our rights?
The rights of the Compassionate American?

Because here’s the thing, pro-gun reader (do I have any?),
I startle really easily. I’ve had a different sort of American life
than your average white upper-middle class bear. Take my word.
I’ve had a hard American life & I have tried to turn all that pain
& grief & straight-up anguish into — well, something, anything,
better than rage & resentment.

Just as I am a perma-cancer patient,
I will be permanently working on how I go through my life,
how I treat others, & most importantly: how I treat myself because
if I treat myself like shit, I have nothing left
to do all the writing & teaching & learning
I intend to do yet in this life, dig?
& I am really trying to live a good, calm, rational, sane life
& I don’t even drink anymore so I have zero actual escape hatches.
I just have to live my life & feel my feelings & as far as I can tell,
this life is the only one I get. & that’s fine. That just means, I need to
enjoy this life & do no harm. & I like this life that I am currently living.
I like dogs & cats & human beings & learning the names of new plants
here in my new desert home (that my wife tells me I’ve taken to as though I were native) & I want to live a little more, if possible, & while I’m living,
I don’t want to spend every fucking second thinking about my inevitable,
your inevitable,
end. It’s pointless. Tedious. Irritating.

I just don’t want to constantly be ruminating on death — yours, mine, ours — but when you bring your gun and your loud, white Boomer voices into a quiet space where I’m just trying to live & enjoy my nice little life,
you have diminished my quality of life & I would wager, the quality of life
for every other person in that place.
If you’re looking to start shit,
don’t come to a coffee shop,
a school, a temple. Frankly, if you’re looking to start shit
(and you are if you walk into a cannabis coffee shop,
in a politically moderate-to-left city with a fucking gun),
stay home. Don’t go out. You like online gambling?
Yelling at strangers on the internet? The shooting range?
Do those things.
Go be a miserable American at home.

Don’t come into peaceful spaces with your fucking guns.

Consider this a plea to my fellow white American —
Boomer, Gen-Xer, Milennial, gay, straight, undefiniable,
Elmer’s glue hue or olive-toned:
if you’re just going to a fucking coffee shop
maybe consider
for your mental wellness,
and the mental wellness of your community,
leaving your gun at home.
& if you’re not a member of the community,
maybe “gauge” (see what I did there?) the cultural “norms”
of the community in which you are a GUEST
before brandishing
a weapon-of-murder-and-destruction
in a cafe.



Allison Gruber

Educator, essayist, feminist, human.