This was recently shared by Carlton Milhouse, botanist extraordinaire, providing a brief and thought provoking piece on the subject of tolerance:
I first met Ford a little over ten years ago when my botanical enterprises were still in their infancy. In those years I regularly made the long runs from northern New Mexico, through Colorado and on, all the way to Montana and back again. We first became acquainted through an associate of mine, Javier, under less than conventional circumstances. Not at any time since can I say that any subsequent encounters with the man have even approached conventional. He no longer travels as extensively as he once did. I did have occasion to meet with him fairly recently, however, at an “undisclosed” location.
I met him at the agreed upon hour at a park and ride lot, right off of the interstate. There were no other vehicles in the small gravel lot but his nondescript rental sedan. I pulled up beside him, shut off the engine and locked up as I got out to head to the passenger door of his car. The windows were all up, tinted to reveal nothing, but the aroma of weed was unmistakable. As anticipated I was greeted with a sweet cloud upon opening the door and getting in.
Most people are afraid of this man. It gives some hope for the human race to know this: maybe some people have more sense than we give them credit for. He scares me. Still. Not in a Freddy Krueger or homicidal killer in the room sort of way. It’s the unpredictability of the man. Sadly this trait is exhibited very strongly in his driving, but our ride that day was relatively short.
We were headed to a breakfast diner, fifteen miles or so away. On the way he smoked me up with some premium bud and launched right into a really strange topic. This is one of those disturbing elements about Ford. Often meeting with him, especially for strangers who have not been introduced previously, there is the absence of any of the traditional niceties or introductions. He proceeds directly into whatever occupies the front of his mind at the time. If you have known him a while you must always be prepared that he may resume some conversation that he may have had with you weeks or even months before. This fortunately wasn’t the case on this trip, but even in his most lucid moments Ford can be difficult to follow.
“Hey Carlton! You know anything about silent films?”
“Uhh…a little bit. I guess.”
“Okay. You ever heard of Sergei Eisenstein?”
“Uh, no. That’s not one I know. I know a couple of the really old German ones, you know, like Nosferatuand Metropolis. And like old Charlie Chaplin movies, but no. Never heard of that dude.”
“Yeah, Eisenstein was like the Soviet Union’s Leni Riefenstahl…”
“Oh…never mind. He was a propaganda filmmaker for the Soviets.”
“Okay, what about him?”
“Back in the mid to late eighties Laurie Anderson did a brilliant multi-media arts presentation adapting Eisenstein’s famous film The Battleship Potemkin. You should check it out. Sure you can find it on the web somewhere.”
“I mean which one, the Laurie Anderson thing or the actual movie?”
“Oh, uh…the Laurie Anderson thing, but yeah…the movie too. Yeah we are approaching a Battleship Potemkin moment, Carlton. You know that, right?”
He gave me one of those looks over his glasses that really makes me nervous. I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about and so I did, as I have done before in these cases, simply nod, laugh nervously and agree with it. Whatever it is. “Yup. Heh-heh….sure are.”
When we got to the diner Ford ordered his usual special, Heart Attack on a Plate, with two eggs, hash browns, bacon and biscuits: all smothered in sausage gravy. Service was fast and the chow was good. We were completely baked so almost anything would have been good, but this place like most that he seems to find was a jewel. Over breakfast he shared with me his latest project.
“I’m doing a study on tolerance.”
“Yeah, tolerance. What does it actually mean? How are we defining it? You know, because it seems like the definition is changing. Either that or there are a lot of people misusing the term.”
“Okay, Ford. How do you mean?”
“Right. Let’s just take this diner as an example. Fifty years ago a patron here complained to the owner because he allowed blacks to sit at the counter. The customer was very loud about it too, you know. He was almost shouting Hey, I don’t wanna have to sit next to no fuckin’ niggers. The owner says, alright asshole! Get outta my store! Yay! Everybody cheers.”
He paused here to doctor the refill on his coffee. I didn’t say a word. I knew he wasn’t done.
“Then thirty years ago everybody starts whining about second hand smoke. The owner tells all his smoking customers , Nope! Sorry, can’t smoke here anymore. Yay! Everybody cheers. Twenty years ago? A customer starts bitching because the owner has allowed one of those faggot couples into the diner. The dumbass is wailing, Yer goin’ to hell for lettin’ them faggots come in here! The owner says, you get the hell out of my store! Yay! Everybody cheers.”
Another pause there, for emphasis? I guess?
“Ten years ago…..you get one of these painfully obvious transgenders. Wants to use the ladies room, right? Shouldn’t be a big deal, you know, but some patrons had to make a fuss over it. What does the owner do? He brands the complainers as haters and he tells ’em they can leave too. Yay! Everybody cheers.”
Ford stopped here and proceeded to attack the remainder of his plate with vigor. After several minutes he gave no sign of resuming his rant. I was left to form my own conclusions, which is often the case with Ford. I am usually more confused than when the conversation began, only slowly beginning to understand later what he may have been saying.
A burly looking character emerged from the back of the kitchen hailing Ford at the counter. Ford responded and the two chatted for a couple of minutes. No introductions were offered, but I gathered from the brief exchange that he was speaking with the owner and that this was actually the establishment’s last day in business. A short time later Ford settled the bill and with no lingering sentiment or long goodbyes we left the diner. I still wasn’t certain what all that had been about in there. Once seated back in the car Ford concluded.
” A few months ago a customer came into that diner wearing a MAGA hat. The owner got really pissed off and insisted that the customer leave.”
He stopped there, but that didn’t fit with the rest of the narrative. So I volunteered ” Yay! Everybody cheered?”
“No Carlton, not this time. There just wasn’t anybody left to cheer. This tolerance is a funny thing, you know?”