Monday, January 22, 2018

Thinking About It

My mother in law was admonished by her parents not to speak her native language when she went out in public. This was in attempt to mask their heritage. "Only English," they were scolded as they headed out into the world that was mid-twentieth-century Detroit. My mother in law is eighty years old and she can remember the fear of feeling different, being the xeno in the phobe was not the way to school.
Years before, there was an American family named the Joads. They left their home and moved to what they heard was a land of plenty: California. They knew that the rest of the country frowned on these Okies, and worried that they would be chased out or worse if they didn't do their menial labor and move on without a fuss. The milk and honey from this land was not meant for them. Their eldest son, Tom had been thinking about this. Here's what he had to say: "Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too."
Back here in the twenty-first century, I remember sitting with my little family at a hotel coffee shop as we prepared to make yet another trek to the Happiest Place On Earth. We were up moderately early so we could avoid the lines and maximize our fun. Looking out the window into one of the few remaining open plots of land in Orange County, we watched as a group of men and women ran back and forth, down lanes of short bushes with bushels, filling them up, and racing them back. They ran both ways. The sun was still rising, and it was obvious that they were rushing to get as much work done as they could before it was high above them. I knew none of these families would be joining us at Disneyland. I thought about the fruit they were harvesting and went back to staring at the table, just a few blocks from that happiest place. 
I got an email from our school district's superintendent, reminding us of our rights and responsibilities as employees of a Sanctuary District. We were warned of a potential ICE sweep in the coming weeks, and what we could do to protect our students and their families from being rounded up because of their race, creed, religion or skin color. 
And so, like Tom Joad, I've been thinking about it. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Year One

Notes from the field:
Happily, the wi-fi is still working, and I am able to warm myself by the glow from the screen of my laptop. Presently, the federal government has been shuttered for fifteen hours. There are ominous signs, mostly being carried by angry women and men who had planned to march in the streets a year after the inauguration of this "President." The shutdown was kind of a bonus agitation tossed in on top of three hundred sixty-five days of fear, racism and futility. Like a great big advent calendar where behind each door was something obnoxious and vile. What will happens when night falls?
In Mar-a-Lago, they're stacking the chairs that were supposed to be filled with the fat bottoms of well-heeled investors in the campaign to elect the spokesperson for Trump Steaks. Some have begun looking for flights out. Others have begun to eat their young. It's obvious now that this crowd wasn't in it for the long haul. They expected the tax cuts to be all they needed to control the country from remote control for the next dozen years.
Now it doesn't appear as likely. A forgotten component in this equation has shown up to make things more difficult for the oligarchy: The people. It turns out that the American people, many of whom were fooled into believing that this amber reptile was going to lead us out of lethargy but has instead found a way to continue to line his own pockets while ignoring the sounds of those crying in the streets.
That's us. From the journalists who continue to report the bizarre goings-on because it is really happening to the factory workers who are losing their jobs even though their "President" promised to save them, the fight goes on. And on. There will still be a party overlooking the golf course in south Florida, but the guest of honor is stuck at work. At a job for which he is uniquely unqualified to do. At a time when the world could really use some competent leadership, we have an aging, Diet Coke swilling geriatric playboy who seems most interested in making America into some dystopian wasteland that he calls "Great." As the planet teeters on the brink of chaos in so many forms, the true art of making a deal seems lost on this casino owner. He is playing with house money: ours. And he doesn't have the cards. What should he do?
Fold.
For this story to have a happy ending, we need to remember that this is just one man. A man who found a way into the Oval Office by losing the popular vote. If there were another election today, those results would be much different, and he would be back behind the desk of his real estate company, dealing with the mess that he left. That day will come. Soon. Hopefully there will still be an earth we can reclaim. It will take all of us. The people.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Answering A Question With A Question

I am not sure if it makes me feel any better, but a familiarity with the works of Lewis Carroll helps me to track the logic of the Trump White House. Let's take, for example, the dismissal by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders of the suggestion that our "President" might be racist. “I think that is an outrageous claim,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, adding that if he was who critics said he was, “why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV? Why did Chuck Schumer and all of his colleagues come and beg Donald Trump for money? …Why did they want to be with him for years and years, whether it was various activities and fundraisers, and other sorts of things?”
Why indeed, Sarah.
In the history of show business, which is the milieu to which Ms. Huckabee Sanders was referring, there have been a number of aberrant personalities have held positions of responsibility and even stardom in places where their quirks and ugly behavior were tolerated in exchange for ratings. Or ticket sales. Or publicity for publicity's sake. P.T. Barnum, acclaimed by many as The World's Greatest Showman, once said,  “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”  He is also the guy who gave us the assertion that there is a sucker born every minute. 
And that would be the answer I would give the White House Secretary, whose job is to answer questions, not to ask them. It's that kind of squirrely logic that runs rampant in and around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days. Like kicking a reporter out of the Oval Office because the "President" did not like the tenor of the questions being asked, on immigration: “Just Caucasian or white countries, sir? Or do you want people to come in from other parts of the world… people of color?”
All of which is why, sitting in a movie theater last weekend watching The Post, the crowd around me murmured and chuckled knowingly at the attacks by the Nixon administration on the press. How does this keep happening? Maybe I should ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Name Calling And Finger Pointing

There is an art, I am told, to The Deal. Negotiations are often times very tricky, and having a strategy moving ahead is vital. This is what you get when you think ahead. Sometimes you have to get in the head of the other side, just to get a sense of what you're up against.
Or you could stick out your lower lip and pout: "No one is going to play if I don't get my way. Now."
Let's take a look at how things are progressing currently for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democrats are for it. Republicans are, mostly, against it. Especially the "President," who insists that if this program were to continue he would have to get everyone to promise that his Wall would be built. The Wall that would keep immigrants from coming across the border because that's what walls do. Never mind the Wile E. Coyote-ness of the "President's" plan, that's just his vision of how to make America Great Again. Create an air-tight seal to keep the freshness in and the drugs out.
Since playing his cards, the "President" has doubled down on his rhetoric more than once, particularly when he wished for more Norwegians to come to our shores, yearning to breathe free, and fewer huddled masses from those countries he described (by his own admission) with "tough language." These were countries whose people would not pass the lily white litmus test that seems to be required for the comfort of our "President." Some, including myself, have found his responses to the world around him racist. 
Limping to his defense is Senator Rand Paul, from Kentucky. ″You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody’s out there calling the president a racist,” Paul said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday. “They’re actually destroying the setting in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration.”
Destroying the setting? Did I miss something? By pointing out the way our "President," who just happens to be named after one of the world's foremost ducks, walks, talks, acts and drinks a lot of Diet Coke just like a duck, we are "destroying the setting?" Profuse apologies, but I don't think that there was really a deal in the air to begin with, but now it's our fault for not being more polite. Well excuse me
On second thought, I think I will hold my breath until I turn blue. Or we get a DACA agreement. So there. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Product

So here I am: Middle Age. Well, I didn't just arrive. I have been here for some time and I don't really mind, except for that whole "middle" part that  reminds me that the end comes on the other side of that. Somewhere. Which is okay too, since the idea of spending eternity wandering around looking at everyone I know getting older and slower makes me feel just a little more old and a little more slow myself.
And it occurred to me just the other day in the midst of all this middle that I am a product of all my previous relationships. I am very fortunate that I have had a box full of happy and nurturing relationships, starting at home when I was in my Beginning Age. More days than I can count, when I came home from elementary school, my mom sat down at the kitchen table when I came home and over a glass of Kool-Aid we talked about my day. When my father came home later in the evening, we would all sit around that same table and have dinner. Together.
What a surreal bit of suburbia that seems now. The five of us, mom and dad and my brothers and I, eating a casserole my mother had made from scratch while the dog waited with limited patience for his dinner. Up and down the street where I lived, the same thing was happening in my friends' homes. We moved through the day as a group, dads pulling out of the driveways in their race to the office, kids piling out the door on their way to the neighborhood school. Moms were at home, doing the things that moms did to make that cycle continue.
It wasn't until I got to junior high school that encountered children of divorce. It made me uncomfortable to think about these kids who were going home to kitchen tables without dads. They were spending weekends at their dads' kitchen tables. Some of these kids started making their way home with me. We would have a snack in the kitchen with my mom. Homemade cookies. Or maybe some of that chocolate cake. For a few minutes, they were living that dream with me.
When I moved out to go to college, I left the home I had known for my entire life. There was a store room full of boxes filled with my childhood. It was there for safekeeping. I went off into my twenties with the comfort of that kitchen table in my heart.
When my parents split up, I was already on my way to Middle Age. I graduated from college. I came home from California with my fiancee. We had those celebrations around that kitchen table. My brothers had wives. My niece was there. At grandma's house. That's where she learned to bake cookies.
Now I have my own kitchen table. It's where the cookies I bake sit while they cool. It's in the house where my son was born. Where he brought his friends. For a snack. The dream continues.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trouble In Paradise

I remember my first few hours in Hawaii. My wife and I checked into our hotel, went up to our room where I collapsed on the bed. After a moment, I reached over and grabbed the TV remote. As soon as the television blinked to life, I saw the swirling opening credits of Hawaii Five-O. Jack Lord. James MacArthur. And Kam Fong as Chin Ho. I truly was in Paradise.
Eventually, we did go out into the lush tropical scenery afforded by our visit to the island. Our first stop was a record store where we purchased a fistful of cheap cassettes for playing in our rental car. Another wave of joy washed over me as we drove along the Pali Coast with the Trashmen roaring out of our speakers. What was the word? Surfin' Bird.
All around me were the mountains rising up out of the  jungle, behind which I was sure to find King Kong. Or the gates to Jurassic Park. At this moment, I was as far away from home as I had ever been, but I didn't feel nervous or worried. Somehow I had found myself in a place that brought me familiarity and comfort. This allowed me to do something that normally I would have found difficult if not impossible: I spent three days in a bed and breakfast. I am pretty solidly a motel guy. Give me my room key and a map to where the ice machine is and I'm fine. Contact with other humans should be limited to the desk clerk and with whomever I happen to be bunking. Yet, there I was, relaxing into both bed and breakfast in the middle of the Pacific. And we drove around the island with surf music looking for shaved ice, eventually finding ourselves on a beach. We swam in the ocean and watched the waves wash the sand. It was that sound that eventually lulled me to sleep there on my towel. For one of the very few times in my adult life, I took a nap.
Later that evening, after we had returned to our B&B for a shower and a change  of clothes, my bride and I went out for dinner. As I sat there, waiting for our waiter to return with our entrees, I absently tapped my left hand on the glass tabletop. It took just a moment for me to recognize something was wrong: the reassuring click of my wedding ring. I stared down at my ring finger: It was gone. For the first time since we arrived, I felt a chill.
Somewhere during that idyllic afternoon my wedding ring had slipped off. A combination of sunscreen, sand and surf took it away. My very patient wife went back to that beach with me in the dark and made the vain attempt of a search.
In a different version of this story, that would have been the vacation killer. But that didn't happen. My wife found me a replacement ring from a local vendor. With scalloped waves etched in black, it reminded us of where the original had gone to sleep with the fishes.
All of this is why I was so devastated when I heard that Hawaii had been destroyed in a missile attack over the weekend. Or not.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Metamorphosis

Our "President" says that the reason he has decided not to go to London is not because he is so universally disliked outside of his own country, but rather this: "Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for 'peanuts,' only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!" Never mind that the deal to move the embassy was made months before Barack Obama took office. Never mind that there are certain duties that heads of state attend and put themselves through in order to preserve a modicum of what we used to call decorum. Like those funerals for deceased heads of other nations. So somber and depressing, with very little time for golf.
Our "President" has been defending his "tough talk" about other countries while discussing immigration policy. Senator Dianne Feinstein has suggested that if our "President" can't stop being racist, that he has to go. I suggested at the time that if a seventy-one year old man is capable of spouting such bile that the likelihood of his turning over a new leaf in the last chapter of his life would be something even Charles Dickens wouldn't write.
And here is the kicker: There are still millions of Americans who proudly stand behind this man. Back him up. They don't even bother making excuses for him because he represents their own thoughts and ideals. Never mind the hate and fear, since that is fuel for the fire that burns within them. What seems forever ago, Michelle Obama suggested that whenever "they go low, we go high." In this game of ideological limbo, we seem to plumb new depths each day with our current "President." As long as there are people who are willing to say, "Yeah, but he's got a point," then we will be lost in a vortex of lower than low expectations.
When will the bright light of reality fall on the man behind the curtain? It already has, while his supporters continue to blame the light. It's not the light that is to blame, it's the corpulent, wispy-haired cockroach that doesn't even bother scurrying to the baseboards when it shines on him. He just looks back over his shoulder and growls something about "Where's the Diet Coke?" Again, this is not a story by Franz Kafka. This was a cockroach when he was elected and he will be a cockroach when he leaves office. My apologies to our former First Lady for my inability to keep going high. But I'm still miles above that cockroach.