They were at it again.
“Can you just ACKNOWLEDGE—”
“No, no, no, it’s—”
“Can you just ACKNOWLEDGE that what Kaepernick was doing had nothing to do with the flag or our military operations across the globe, which, by the way, if you want to have a real debate here, are consistent bullsh—”
“Tony, I won’t have this again, not this early in the morning, can you just liste—”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me guys,” I said, throwing open the pantry. “I can hear you from upstairs! My alarm doesn’t even go off for another two hours! What in the hell is going on down here?”
“Relax, Joe, it’s just a discussion between two friends,” Tony the Tiger said, giving me a wave of his paw. “Go back to bed.”
“I can’t go back to bed,” I said, rubbing my temples. “I’ve got that presentation today. In front of the entire board. And now I’m all wired.”
“You see what you did?” Cap’n Crunch said, frowning at Tony, “You took it too far. You just had to roar. Whatever happened to civility in this country?”
“Well I heard you yelling too, Cap’n,” I said, lifting the boxes off the shelf and setting them down on the kitchen island. “Are you guys debating the NFL kneeling thing again? Really? Do you know how long that’s been out of the news cycle?”
“We’re cereal, Joe,” Tony replied. “We only just heard LeBron went to LA. You’ve gotta give us time to process these things.”
“Jordan would’ve never gone to LA,” Crunch began, “This generation and their ring-chas—”
“Woah woah, pump the brakes. One debate at a time, good lord. So where do you guys land on the whole kneeling thing again?”
“I think the kneeling is a noble protest of the mindless and horrifying violence regularly inflicted against African-Americans by the police in this country. Violence that rarely is punished. The fact that we’re talking about the kneeling means it’s been worthwhile. Sport and activism have always been intertwined. These protests are supposed to be uncomfortable! That’s the whole point.”
I nodded. “And you, Cap’n?”
“Maybe protests are meant to be uncomfortable. But they don’t have to be so blatantly disrespectful. The freedom to play a child’s game for a living is a national privilege won for these men by real heroes who spilled blood on foreign shores. That song means something. Our traditions mean something. This only divides the country further.”
“You guys make some passionate points,” I said, scratching my chin. “I didn’t realize how polarizing the pantry had gotten.”
“If you ever forget where we stand on an issue, just look at the color of our boxes,” Tony said.
I scanned them both. Right. Easy.
“Perhaps,” I said, speaking carefully, “We might not solve this issue this morning. But we can work to consider why the other box things the way he does. Right?”
“Continue …” Crunch said dubiously.
“Well, you’re an 18th-century naval captain, right? You’ve served your time. You’ve led campaigns all over the world. I would imagine it’s difficult to look at that flag and not think of all the times you had to hand one to a grieving mother, or a young, widowed wife.”
“It buries the soul,” Cap’n Crunch said, wiping a stray tear from the corner of his eye.
“And you, Tony. You’re all too used to brutality against tigers. The global population has gotta be down to what, 5,000 in the wild?”
“Just under 4,000,” Tony said quietly.
“Right. Just under 4,000. So you’ll certainly feel your heart moved by violence against a group that’s historically suffered from exploitation and violence.”
“Of course,” Tony said.
“My point,” I concluded with a sad smile, “is that it’s easy when we get swept up in these things to forget where the other person’s coming from. Especially this early in the morning. I mean, it’s early, guys. Even for breakfast food!”
Tony the Tiger and Cap’n Crunch laughed, then looked at each other shyly.
“You really fought battles all over the world?” Tony said.
“Sure did,” Crunch replied. “And your species … it’s had a tough time?”
“It has been less than ‘Grrreat’, let’s just say,” Tony chuckled.
“Bring it here, friend.” The cereal boxes embraced.
“You know what?” I said. “I think I’ll eat breakfast right now. Half Cap’n Crunch. Half Frosted Flakes. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like you’re gonna crush that presentation, that’s what it sounds like,” Tony said.
“Go get ‘em, Joe!”
“Daddy!” My daughter Amelia was at the top of the stairs. “Who are you talking to?”
“Just a couple of friends, sweetie!” I looked back at the boxes. “Just a couple of friends.”