The young woman had been camped out in front of City Hall for over a month. Her hair was straggly, but she had a smile on her face and she was holding a donut.

“Can you tell us why you’re still here?” the local news interviewer asked.

“I’m here because of my deep commitment to equity and fighting the oppression of marginalized communities,” the woman said. Granted, she looked like she wouldn’t recognize a marginalized community if she tripped over it on her way to her local co-op vegan cafe, but I loved her anyway.

I was obsessed with the protests. Every afternoon, as soon as I got home from work, I dropped onto my couch, slipped off my shoes and watched the latest. The campers were opposed to the Mayor’s harsh treatment of the homeless. Their encampment was supposed to be a reminder to him of how those without a home were forced to live. It sprawled out from City Hall into the nearby park, littering it with insulting signs, red flags and communal kitchen pots.

They weren’t going to accomplish anything in the end. And there was no way that I could go sit there with them, not with my job and my mortgage. Despite all of that, I fantasized about the protesters. I fantasized about ordering pizza for them, going to bring them homemade soup. Maybe I could knit scarves for them. I would hand out a scarf to each of them, give them a hug and tell them how special they were. I would be like the Mother Theresa of the City Hall camp. It was the least I could do.

I turned off the TV and went to pour myself a glass of wine. The rice was already cooking. I switched on the radio. The local leftie community station was broadcasting from the camp. I listened and the little butterfly of excitement started fluttering around my belly again.

I could feel a shift in my body and suddenly, another voice drowned out the activist on the radio. The voice was calm and logical, sounding very confident even though it was offering public testimony in front of the city council.

It’s not that we don’t want this development to be built at all. It’s just that it’s too big. It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood…

I shook my head and stared down into the sink. No matter how much I wanted it to turn off, the voice continued.

And is the building going to have sufficient parking? Where are the residents going to park? I’m betting the cars will end up on our street…

I turned off the radio. Mother Theresa. What was I thinking? I walked back to the living room with my wine glass, but the voice followed me.

We all agree that affordable housing is so important, but…

The shift had already happened to me a long time ago. I had turned into the person who testifies against affordable housing projects if they’re being planned for her neighborhood. I could indulge in rebellious nostalgia all I wanted to, but I was not who these anarchist hippie kids wanted to see at their protest, not any more than I wanted to have an actual conversation with someone who was homeless. Not any more than I would have liked to see the City Hall camp in my backyard, if I was going to be honest.

I had shifted far past what I had once believed in, floating off on the stream of comfortable daily habit until I no longer knew where I was. Was I even a progressive? I had no idea.

Well, sitting here and feeling bad for myself certainly wasn’t going to help anyone. I wiped my eyes and turned on the Lifestyle Channel. They always had the best decorating tips.

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A few decades had gone by, and still the war went on.  Nobody in the country even remembered who Osama bin Laden had been, although some had a vague memory of a terrorist getting killed at a televised White House dinner.

And yet, every Friday afternoon the same thing continued in my hometown–the old hippies came out to protest.  The real 1960s hippies had died out by then, but these folks proudly carried on the tradition.  They slouched down Main Street with signs proclaiming hilarious things such as “Troops Out Of Iraq!” and “No Money For Israel!” and “Funding For Infrastructure!”  They circled the downtown blocks, screaming at a President who couldn’t hear them, and who wasn’t listening anyway.

I could hear them, though, every week when I left the office.  The company I worked for manufactured toy drones, and I was always worn out after a long day of customers with malfunctioning drones which crashed into trees or attacked their children.  Friday was when I would treat myself — fries and a beer at my favorite downtown pub.  Even as I chewed, the hippie chants echoed in my direction.  Rain or shine, they were there.  And she was there.

I did my best to keep my eyes on my plate and avoid eye contact as she went past the glass. But on that particular day, much to my dismay, she came in to talk to me.

“Hey, Mom.”  I managed to fake a weak smile.  “I’m very tired right now, so…”

“Can’t I even say hi to you anymore?”

“Not if it turns into another crazy rant…”

“It’s not crazy.  It’s not crazy to tell you that your job is bad for you.  You’re wasting your life. You hate those stupid toys…”

“Oh, sure.  And you’re not wasting your time doing this?”

“I’m doing it for my country!”

“Look, Mom.  Nobody cares.  Your country isn’t paying attention.  This is my one reward for my shitty week–could you please leave me alone?”

“Okay.  Have a good dinner.”  I felt her move away and walk out behind me, but didn’t look back.

But once I’d finished my beer, my anger faded away.  Alcohol made me sentimental.  So what if she wanted to walk around and yell with her anti-war sign, or tell me about all the conspiracy theories she’d read on the Internet?  She was retired, and retired people got to spend their time doing whatever silly stuff they felt like doing.  Hell, maybe I’d join her at the rally.  I wouldn’t hold any signs, of course–I didn’t want any embarrassing pictures of me online–but I could applaud the speeches and pretend to chant along a little.

I paid for my meal and went to the city square, where the marches ended every week in a sparse, hoarse-throated rally.  I must’ve taken too long, because the square was empty by the time I got there.  The cops were half-heartedly arresting one or two people.  The grey-bearded little man who liked to throw eggs at them was being led away.

No rally, no protest, no chance to chant.  No chance to make it up to Mom.  It was now drizzling miserably.

I heard indistinct shouting to my right.  It was the other protester who was there every week — the one with pictures of chopped up babies.

“You’ll burn in eternal Hell!”  he boomed at me through his bullhorn.

He eyed me with suspicion as I approached.  I handed him a twenty.  “For your church,” I said.  I didn’t tell him that I felt sad for him.

He glared at me, but he did pocket the twenty.  In return, he handed me one of his anti-abortion brochures.

As I walked away, he called after me:  “Remember, God doesn’t just want your money!  He wants your soul!”

I laughed.  How sweet of him to assume I had one.

When I was little, I mimicked a saying I overheard from my Dad about a tiger biting off somebody’s balls.  The tiger-and-balls sentence happens to rhyme in Polish, which made it hilarious to both my Dad and me (we were at about the same maturity level).  When I repeated it to my Grandpa, I expected hysterical laughter.  Instead, he was aghast, and proceeded to express his strong views about the dangers of hippie childrearing.

Maybe I’m just getting too old for this, or maybe things have really gotten worse, because I’ve been aghast myself at some recent examples of foul language being directed at kids.  First, there was the video of a swearing toddler in Omaha, Nebraska.  In the video, a child still in diapers is both getting cursed at and encouraged to repeat cursewords and obscene phrases by the “adults” in his life.  Then, Madonna got in hot water for using the n-word to refer to her son on Instagram (she claims this was a “term of endearment”).

Now, we’re definitely in apples and oranges territory here.  Madonna’s use of the n-word obviously carries different racial connotations than the same word being used by the black family in the Nebraska video.  On the other hand, the toddler in the video is younger and more vulnerable than Madonna’s teenage son.  But I still come away from both situations with one thought–can we try to restrain our use of swearing and coarse language (not to mention racial slurs!) around our kids?  Regardless of whether we’re a regular working family or a wealthy celebrity, let’s try to set a good example for our children, and raise them to be polite and classy people.

God help me–I’ve turned into my grandfather, and I’m okay with that.

Christmas may be gone, but the War on Christmas never ends.  Or the War on Christianity, by which I mean True Christianity—the Christianity of virtues, and traditional marriages, and pie-baking of various kinds.  I’m starting to realize just what sad shape the soldiers of Christmas are in these days.

Of course, the True Christians are excited at the thought of Obama getting kicked out of the White House in 2012, since as we all know, he’s secretly a Muslim.  But if he does lose, what is coming to replace him?  Mitt Romney—a Mormon. Definitely not a true believer by Tea Party standards.  Then there’s Gingrich.  He might just barely qualify to be a Christian, but as a Papist with multiple divorces under his belt, he’s not exactly a prize.  For some reason, all of the True Christian candidates have bombed in the polls.  Surely it’s not because their ideas suck.

No, let’s not forget that the heathens are being aided in their success by the media.  The journalists, who are atheists or agnostics (and Commies).  The entertainment industry, which is full of old hippies and pagans.  One might wonder why all of these disparate and often contradictory theologies would unite just so they can oppose the evangelical Christian.  There’s probably an intricate conspiracy theory connecting them all, one which I don’t have the time and energy to think of right now. 

Maybe I’ll ask the people who believe in a War on Christmas.