Lifted from the Facebook timeline. Saturday, August 20, 2016..
Today's medical update contains a minimum of whining (I hope).
First, I still hurt but I’m definitely on the mend. Taking longer than I expected but I can see and feel the progress.
Second, and more important, thank you all for your concern, support, encouragement, advice, and well-wishes. You've done more than cheer me up. You're really helping with my getting better. It's that mind/body thing my friend David Weiss (which should be pronounced Wise) has opened my eyes to. I've also had the love and support of my wonderful family, starting with Mrs M and Ken and Oliver, Mom and Pop Mannion, my brothers and sisters and their spouses, Mrs M's family, and all my nieces and nephews. It's been great hearing from everybody. I especially enjoyed getting a phone call from our old pal Nancy Nall Derringer whose voice I don't get to hear often enough anymore.
Third, I want to give a special shout out to my worrywart Jewish uncle Mortie also known as Stephen Kuusisto. If Steve could have, he'd have checked into the hospital with me, set up a camp bed in my room, and rode herd on all the doctors, nurses, and techs the whole time I was in there, AND he'd have moved in here and be fussing and fretting full time. What a mensch! Also, what a nut. But I love the guy!
But back to the Mannion Men.
They've been great. They've done heroic work taking care of me, their mother, and the house. I'm proud of them both.
But because of their schedules and because he's the biggest and strongest, Ken has had to be my arms and legs and back more of the time. In fact, he's been my surrogate me since I began having problems three years ago. It's been a job for him. And he should be able to put it on his resume. So, that's the why the photo. It was taken in Valley Forge in the fall of 1993. He was 4 months old. The circle of life, huh? This leads to the question I probably never foresaw back then, Who's carrying who now?
Sunday, June 5, 2016.
Mrs M: So here's the plan for dinner. Lemon chicken. Corn on the cob. Tuna and macaroni salad. Strawberry shortcake for dessert. How does that sound?
Me; Better than my plan.
Mrs M: What was your plan?
Me; Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Mrs M: That's not a plan, it's a surrender!
Sunday morning. December 20, 2015.
Rachel McAdams as Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer realizes that a “retired” priest who’s admitted to molesting children lives unsupervised down the street from a school in Spotlight, the movie about the Globe’s investigation of the sex abuse scandal that should have brought about the collapse of the Catholic Church.
The last serious conversation I had with a priest was nearly fifteen years ago and it ended with him calling Mrs M and me bad parents and me telling him to go to hell.
That was the day I was done with the Catholic Church forever. And it broke my heart.
By that point in my life I wasn’t much of a Catholic. I was barely a believer. But I had been both whole-heartedly when I was young. I was proud of having been raised Catholic. I was grateful for my Catholic grade school education. I had nothing but fond memories of being an altar boy. The priests I served with were great guys. The nuns who taught me were smart, progressive, demanding, and kind. Over the years, my faith and the practice of it brought me mostly joy. I was a lazy CAPE Catholic by the time we became parents, but when Mrs M decided she wanted to raise the boys Catholic, I was glad. And when the time came I was happy and proud to send them off to Catholic school. Which is where the trouble began.
In first grade, Ken’s physical and emotional development problems started to show themselves, his several learning disabilities and blocks began to take their toll. And we had no idea what was happening to him. All we knew was that a very bright, imaginative, creative, happy, and kind little boy who wanted nothing so much as to please his parents and teachers and other kids suddenly couldn’t do anything right. With his friends and in class, it seemed to be always the case that whenever he should have turned left, he turned right, whenever he should have pushed the on button, he pushed off. He was constantly annoying the other kids, exasperating his teachers, and frustrating himself. He became anxious, fretful, lonely, and desperately unhappy. Predictably and understandably, he acted out by misbehaving. Not by being naughty and disobedient, exactly, at least not usually. By either refusing to participate, getting silly, or by melting down in tears.
Having no idea what was wrong and therefore no ideas about how to help him, Mrs M and I turned for guidance and advice to the people whose job, we thought, was to look out for the children in their professional care, his teachers, the principal, the pastor, and eventually the head of the diocesan schools.
That last person was the priest who called us bad parents and I told to go to hell.
We got no help or guidance. The pastor and the principal made it increasingly clear that Ken was our problem to solve and the way they thought we should solve it was by taking him off their hands. We should have done it right then. We might have if we weren’t afraid he’d get lost in the public schools---the public elementary school in our neighborhood was one of the most chaotic in the city, with a reputation for a lack of order and discipline, and one thing we knew was that Ken did best in quiet, structured, predictable situations---and if we weren’t such still-loyal Catholics. We thought it was important that he get a Catholic education because almost unconsciously we believed that was the only kind of real and complete education there was.
Mrs M and I weren’t helpless. We didn’t throw our hands up in despair. We sought out specialists and counselors on our own. But it was slow going and led to many dead ends. Eventually, our family doctor got Ken in to see the top child neuropsychologist in town and he made the diagnoses of Asperger’s, ADD, and dyscalculia that got Ken the IEP and the special education he needed and essentially saved his life. But by then he was in fourth grade and well and good out of Catholic school.
Two-thirds of his way through second grade, in the spring of 2001, our pastor told us Ken would not be welcomed back for third grade. Not only that, he would have to finish second grade at home or somewhere else.
That’s when we made one last appeal to the head of the diocesan schools. That’s when he called us bad parents. That’s when it finally dawned on me.
While Ken’s situation was coming to a head, the molestation scandal was breaking. The Boston Globe’s investigative series that’s at the center of the movie Spotlight hadn’t yet begun to run but there’d been enough stories in the news in the Globe and elsewhere and over a long enough period to realize, if you thought about it, something even more heinous was going on than that a few bad priests here and there were sexual predators.
There were too many for the church higher ups not to have known. There were too many who weren’t defrocked for it not to be a policy not to punish them as they deserved. There were too many put back into regular parish work after a year or so of “counseling” and “therapy” for it not to be the case that pastors and bishops cared more about the deviant priests than about their past and future victims. There were too many of these predator-priests and too much official looking the other way for all the other priests who weren’t idiots or predators themselves not to know what was going on and too few of them on record as having tried to put a stop to it even by complaining to church authorities, never mind going to the police, for it not to be the truth that just about every priest was to some degree complicit.
Even the rare bishops who policed their own dioceses and punished the predators and protected their flocks were guilty of not doing more to stop what they knew was going on in other dioceses.
The Church was rotten from top to bottom, and while it was desperately protecting and enabling child molesters, it was throwing our child to the wolves.
It was hand-feeding other people’s children to monsters.
That was it. I was done. It didn’t feel like a momentous decision at the time. For the past few years, I’d only been going through the motions of being a Catholic anyway, and I’d only been going through those motions for the sakes of Mrs M and Ken and his little brother. But something else had happened it took me a while to notice, something more wrenching when I finally realized it.
In going through the motions, I’d been keeping what residual faith I had alive. When I stopped going through the motions, that last bit of faith died.
Sadder to me than that, though, was that all my joyful memories of my life as a Catholic were tainted and made suspect. I couldn’t go back to church physically in the present and I couldn’t go back in the past by remembering without anger and without mourning. There were priests in the background and foreground of all my memories and I had to wonder. Those great guys I served with, was one of them…? The priest who married Mrs M and M, was he…? How about the priests who baptized Ken and Oliver and gave them their first communions? And what about all the other children, my fellow altar boys, my classmates, Ken and Oliver’s friends…?
And then all around them and through them was the Church itself and weren’t all of us foolish and to an extent complicit too by turning our lives over to an institution that demanded obedience and loyalty but didn’t care about us even enough to protect our children in return?
This is one of the reasons I was so impressed and moved by Spotlight. It’s a terrific film, beautifully directed by Tom McCarthy working in a minor key and with a muted palette to create a world that is somber and sad and fallen but lovely for the warmth of the good hearts beating at its center, and brilliantly acted by a cast led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Live Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci. But it’s the screenplay, by McCarthy and Josh Singer, I want to talk about here.
The dialog isn’t packed with snappy one-liners. There are few big and meaningful speeches. No angry confrontations. No pithy back and forths. It’s realistically conversational. Characters simply talk to each other. And they reveal themselves, their personalities, feelings, thoughts, experiences as people tend to do in conversations in real life, indirectly, off-handedly, often unintentionally, in asides, in lead ups to making a point, or in expressing a concern or working out an idea or asking a question, or wrapped up in their points, concerns, ideas, and questions so that nothing they say doesn’t tell us who and what they are. And who and what the four journalists working on the story---the movie’s four lead characters, editor Robby Robinson and his team of reporters, Mike Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matt Carroll, played by Keaton, Ruffalo, McAdams, and James---are all lifelong Catholics
All of them were raised Catholic and to varying degrees they’re believers, but none of them think of themselves as that connected to the Church anymore. Carroll attends his wife’s Protestant church. Pfeiffer regularly goes to mass but only as a favor to her grandmother who needs the ride and likes the company. Rezendes hasn’t been in years. And Robinson is more or less a social Catholic---he’s most Catholic when in the company of other Catholics and his ties to the Church are based on friendships, social connections, professional obligations, and nostalgia. And while of course as they investigate the story and uncover the breadth and depth of the scandal they are shocked, angered, and outraged, they are also...wounded.
To different degrees and in different ways they are shaken. Things they thought knew, things they thought they believed, their sense of who and what they are are called into question, become subject to doubt and rejection. Whatever pleasure, comfort, and joy they had gotten out of being Catholic is tainted, even lost, and it breaks their hearts.
Just as it did mine.
And Mrs M’s.
And millions of other Catholics’.
I can’t believe the scandal didn’t bring about the collapse of the Church.
Spotlight might not have been the best movie to see the weekend before Christmas.
I’m glad I did, though. I was forgetting how angry I was.
We’d never told our sons the story of my conversation with that priest. I finally did before we went to see the movie.
They wanted to know if I’d really said go to hell to a priest.
I told them no.
“I said, ‘Go to hell, Father.””
Once an altar boy...
Wednesday. November 11, 2015.
Got to thinking as I was in the grocery store today, buying canned goods for various Thanksgiving food drives…
Most charity in the country is a matter of people without a lot of money helping out people with no money.
Rich people when they give tend to give BIG but to institutions or causes. Their money helps individuals, eventually…
But help for people who need it right now to get through the week or the day tends to come from people digging into their pockets…
Pockets that usually aren't deep and have been dug into a lot already by their owners who needed to pay their own bills.
Simply put, it’s the difference between people who can afford to dash off a check and people with change left over to throw into the jar by the cash register.
Food banks are stocked with items thoughtful people put in their grocery carts as they’re shopping for their own dinners and judging they can manage the little added expense this week.
The result is that food drives mean a lot of people eat canned vegetables and boxed sides bought on sale for their Thanksgiving dinners.
I'd feel bad about this...well, worse, if it wasn't for the fact that canned vegetables and boxed sides were what I was raised on...
...and we thought we were eating well.
“Mmm. Creamed corn! Thanks, Mom!”
But we were eating well. This was how the middle class lived. Think about it, what a convenience and a relief and a help and a luxury it was for housewives and mothers of Mom Mannion’s generation to be able to go to the supermarket once a week and stock up!
Full cupboards. Full plates.
And of course many of these donated cans are going into the cupboard. People have to eat on the days after Thanksgiving too. The food has to be stored. It's going to sit in cupboards on a shelves for a while.
So it's all for the good, I guess.
What I really wish is that I could afford to fill up two or three or four shopping carts with canned vegetables and boxed sides…
and throw in some jars of jam, bottles of chocolate syrup, and boxes of cake mixes and Frosted Flakes.
Vegetables are good for you and Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without creamed corn and yams. But life is meant to be a banquet and every meal should be a celebration.
Back in grad school I taught a creative writing class for the university's correspondence degree program. I was teaching online before there was an online.
A student, a wife and mother on a farm in the west of Iowa, out where the difference between Nebraska and Iowa is lost in the endless cornfields, submitted a long poem detailing her many hardships, troubles, and sorrows.
And she had many. It was a heartbreaking poem. It was also a good one. But its last verse bewildered me.
It was very upbeat. Literally her un-ironic riff on God's in his heaven and all's right with the world.
She finished saying she had a good life and she was happy. There was no blessing counting either. I didn't know what to think. Still don't.
I mentioned all this on Twitter tonight and a friend posted a possible explanation: “Poetry/prayer as self-medication?”
I think he may be right. It was a prayer as much as a poem.
I was reminded of this student and her poem by today’s overhyped news story of the day.
A study has been done showing that Republicans have happier marriages than Democrats.
Well, that’s what the stories are saying the study shows.
You know how well journalists handle stories that involve numbers and research.
The headlines are click bait and the stories themselves are written to emphasize controversy and stir up arguments.
What do you know, news outlets in the Digital Age doing the cyber-equivalent of trying to sell newspapers!
If you want to give them the page views, I’ll be putting links to a few of the stories at the bottom of the post.
But, boiled down, the study does seem to show that if you want to know if someone is doing well financially and if their kids are all right and their marriages stable, and you don’t want to pry too deep, ask them how they vote.
When it comes to those measures of the quality of people’s lives, Republicans are better off and as a result report that they are happier all around than Democrats, especially when it comes to their marriages.
This is causing consternation among many liberals online.
It’s a part of our conventional wisdom, a point of pride, and a key component of our economic and political argument that red states---those states where Republicans run the show---are by most measures worse off than blue states. This is as true of people’s domestic lives as their economic lives.
So we think.
Red states have higher divorce rates, more children born out of wedlock, more high school dropouts, more poverty, more violent crime. But people forget that there are Democrats living in red states and Republicans in blue states, and if you look at where the Republicans are clustered in just about every state, you find that people in those areas are, like I said, doing just fine and are on the whole happier.
Their marriages last, their kids finish school and go on to college, they report they’re generally satisfied with their lives. It’s related to money, of course. People are happier and more content and better able to cope when they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from and if they’ll still have a job next week and what they’ll do if their kids get sick.
Well-off white people living in affluent neighborhoods and towns have more stable marriages. The assumption behind some of these stories seems to be that stability must be the result of happiness. The reverse seems more likely. But it’s not that Democrats are unhappy. (We’re still talking about well-off, mostly white, middle and upper class people of both parties.) Republicans are more likely to say they’re happy. Very happy. But Democrats don’t say they’re unhappy. They just say they aren’t as happy as Republicans say they are.
The important word in those statements is say.
They say they’re happy. Are they really? We have to take their word for it.
And what do they mean by happy?
Some people confuse complacency with happiness. Some people confuse discontent---the natural unease caused by the sense that things not only could be better but should be better that’s one of the curses of consciousness---with unhappiness. The former sounds like many conservatives I’ve known and the latter like many liberals. And in my experience, conservatives tend to be more self-satisfied, unreflective, and accepting of the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds. Liberals tend to be anxious, self-doubting, and incapable of relaxing and enjoying the moment---which is to say, the liberals I have known and loved have shared a bad habit of making themselves unhappy.
This doesn’t tell you anything about anything except the kind of people I’ve happened to know.
But among those people, it’s the conservatives who have been more inclined to make a virtue of putting on a happy face.
But maybe that’s a necessary step towards being happy.
I had no way of knowing how that student voted. Out in Iowa back then, being Christian and living in a farm town was as likely to mean you were a liberal Democrat as a conservative Republican. It was the summer of 1984, but there was no sign in her poem that she thought it was morning in America, and it was God who gave her hope and comfort not Ronald Reagan.
What I do know for certain about her is that she did not have a good creative writing teacher or at least not a very wise or sensitive one. He was young, inexperienced, and full of himself.
I was arrogant enough to think what she wanted was an honest critique of her poem so in my notes I told her how much I liked her poem and pointed out the lines and images I thought were very well done but I added that her last verse didn’t fit with the rest of the poem, either thematically, tonally, or stylistically. As gently as I could, which probably didn’t strike her as at all gentle, I suggested she just cut the verse and end the poem with whatever solid image she’d crafted for the last line of her penultimate verse.
I never heard back from her.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Republicans More Happily Married!:
Sez Emma Green at the Atlantic here: One Shortcut to a Happy Marriage: Vote Republican. I recommend this one because it’s a little more in-depth and skeptical and because Green suggests that an alternative headline for the story might be “In Polling About Marital Happiness, Nearly All Americans Are Liars.”
Sez the New York Times’ David Leonhardt here: Republicans Say They Are Happier With Their Marriages.
But not so fast, sez our sociology professor pal, SocProf, pointing to this post by sociologist Philip N. Cohen at Family Inequality: That thing about Republican marriages being happier (isn’t true).
Updated: an extra to the extra: At the Guardian, Thomas Batten offers The Republican guide to a happy marriage. I think some sarcasm might be at play in this one.
That’s not a date stamp on the post. That’s a date I’m looking forward to. Friday, August 7, 2015. That’s the day I’m going in for the procedure that’s supposed to fix up my back. Two shots of steroids straight to the spine. If it goes the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be up and walking normally by that afternoon. Then watch my smoke!
First thing I’m going to do is take a walk in the woods.
Or through the meadow.
Or along the river.
Or over the hills and far away.
Or just around the block.
All my life I’ve been a walker. Not a hiker. Not a stroller. Though I’ve done a fair share of both. I’ve simply gone for walks.
At all times of day. For whatever length of time it takes me to get there and back, wherever there happens to be. Sometimes I walked with a purpose and a specific destination in mind. Sometimes I walked just to see where I’d end up. Often I walked just to walk, to be outside and in motion.
But at all times, wherever I walked, for whatever other purpose I walked to pursue, I walked to think.
It’s been frustrating not being able to get easily from here to there, even when here is the kitchen table and there is the living room. It drives me nuts that I can’t walk to the store for a loaf of bread or down to the library to return a book. It’s depressing and humiliating having to hobble with a cane into the bookstore or the movie theater or the supermarket, wincing every painful step of the way. I keep telling myself how many people have it so much worse. Doesn’t make me dread running an errand any less.
Running an errand! Good one, Lance.
And for over two years now I’ve been convinced that not being able to take walks has been making me stupid and crazy…because for two years I haven’t been able to think.
A lot of what’s called thinking isn’t having thoughts but arranging them, putting some together with others, pulling thoughts that had been together apart, sorting them, storing them, throwing some out. I used to do all that while walking.
I’ve tried to do it while sitting. I can’t. When I sit and try to think, I end up brooding or dreaming. Whichever I do, it’s a piling up of more thoughts that need arranging. The arranging doesn’t happen. Those thoughts remain unarranged. Disarranged. My mind’s a jumble.
It’s a wonder to me that I can teach. I’m told I’ve been doing a good job. I believe it’s my students who are doing the good job. They’re honors students. They think at the drop of a hat. All I have to do is sit there and smile encouragingly and they’re off to the races.
Back when I was young and truly a good teacher, I did all my teaching on my feet. Walking back and forth. You can call it pacing. But I walked at least a mile every class.
It’s even more of a wonder I have been able to write.
I don’t feel like I have been able. Not the way I used to. I know there’s been a significant fall off in the numbers of new posts to the blog. That may be a good thing. I suspect there’s also been a decline in quality, although no one’s been straight-forward enough to say so and many kind readers have assured me it’s not true. But tell you what I am sure of. There’s been an important loss in subject matter.
There haven’t been any reports from my walks which used to be a regular feature of the blog.
So the first post after August 7th is going to be a report from a walk. Might just be a walk around the block. But I’d like it to be here, the Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Which is not too far from here, although a little too far to walk along busy roads or across private property with cows and horses and dogs guarding the paths. Believe it or not, I’ve never been there. I didn’t even know it was there until a couple of years ago when, driving one of Oliver’s friends home after some event at school, we drove past it. A couple of years ago, you’ll note, is when my back gave out.
Anyway, that’s the plan, to go out there and take a walk as soon as I can after I’m up and walking. And if taking a walk works on my brain the way the shots are supposed to work on my back, I’ll get my thoughts arranged again. Maybe I’ll even feel somewhat sane again too.
Like I said. Not walking in the woods or in a meadow or along the river or over a hill has been driving me nuts. Which I didn’t need this New York Times article to tell me. Still, it’s always reassuring to have the New York Times tell you you’re right about something.
A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature…
…Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?..
The article, by Gretchen Reynolds, goes on to report an attempt to answer that question. It also has some pertinent things to say about brooding. You can read the whole piece, How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain, at the New York Times.
Wednesday. July 8, 2015.
Story on NPR's Morning Edition this morning about ongoing attempts in Congress to fix the No Child Left Behind Act.
Fix is my word. The headine on NPR's website says "revise".
The summary says “reauthorize”.
Passed in 2001, the education law established more standardized testing and education data collection than at any time in U.S. history. Congress is looking to reauthorize it, but roadblocks remain.
In their Q&A, reporter Juana Summers and host David Greene say "rewrite".
GREENE: So why is this rewrite happening?
SUMMERS: This rewrite's happening because No Child Left Behind hasn't done what it was supposed to do.
SUMMERS: When it started, it was supposed to close gaps in achievement between poor students and students of color and their more affluent peers. And to do that, there are these annual tests in reading and math. Critics say it's trouble. Teachers don't like that they're teaching to these tests and that it just makes students have to take too many tests to actually see results.
Whatever you call what they're up to, it appears to be trying to turn it into more of a No Child of Mine Left Behind, Your Child is Your Lookout Act, with the House's version being meaner and stingier and more unworkable than the the Senate's.
Since Republicans are behind both versions---Summers calls the Senate's bipartisan because Patty Murray is a co-sponsor and energetic advocate---spending the money that should have been spent from the beginning isn't a major factor in either version. The common factor is decreasing the amount of say in how the act is implemented away from the federal government and giving more of it to the states and local school districts.
GREENE: Well, and this rewrite sounds a little complicated because there are separate bills in the House and Senate.
SUMMERS: You're absolutely right, and it is a little bit complicated. So let's start with the Senate. There's a bipartisan push there led by Lamar Alexander of Tennessee - he's a Republican and a former education secretary - and Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat who's a former preschool teacher. Now, according to their bill, students would still have to take reading and math tests, but those tests would effectively mean less. The states, instead of the federal government, would decide how to use those tests when they measure and assess school and teacher performance. The Senate bill would also bar the federal government from setting any specific set of academic standards. Now, that is, of course, a swipe at the widely adopted standards known as the Common Core, which are a frequent punching bag of conservatives. They say the Common Core increases federal involvement in education.
GREENE: OK, so is the House bill that different from what you're talking about here in the Senate?
SUMMERS: It is different in a lot of really important ways. This is a Republican-led bill, not a bipartisan push. It would give the states more control over accountability rather than the federal government. And it also includes a provision that's a little thorny that would allow public funding to follow low-income kids to different public schools. So say a low-income student leaves a high poverty school and enrolls instead in a more affluent one. The federal funds would then go with the student. Republicans really like that idea, but Democrats and the Obama administration have said that it would starve the nation's neediest schools from federal funds that they desperately need.
Less testing and less bullying schools and teachers and students with test results, that would be good. The Common Core is problematic. It’s not the fact of there being a nationally applied high standard of what constitutes learning that’s been at issue here in New York State. It’s that it’s been applied high-handedly, with little or no input from parents, teachers, and students, and some of what’s in it is intellectually suspect and the required pedagogy seems to have been designed by people who have not only never been in a classroom but have never had any dealings with children.
But---and here I’m going to sound like my second least favorite Obama cabinet appointee, Arne Duncan, Tim Geithner being number one---on the even more local level, within school districts, what many parents are looking for is the power to prevent their kids from learning anything that might make them smarter than them or give them the knowledge to question their authority.
There are a lot of parents out there who never want to have to explain a decision or a rule or a life lesson with anything more than a “Because I say so.”
There are also a lot of parents out there who don't want to be the parents of C students but don't know how to make their kids turn off the TV, put away the cell phones, or shut down the video games and pick up a book.
Also homework interferes with sports and band.
These sorts of parents live in every state and every school district in the country but they tend to be concentrated in places that vote red. It’s not been made much of an issue yet, but every single declared Republican candidate for President except maybe Chris Christie, who probably just hasn't gotten around to cravenly and opportunistically adopting that Right Wing position yet, is anti-education. I don’t mean in their being anti-public schools and anti-teachers unions and anti-uppity college professors and anti-spending on poor people’s kids, although of course they’re all all that. I mean they don’t see the use of education beyond mere vocational training at any level, even for their own children. They send their kids to the best schools to make social contacts that will get them jobs. And, as I’ve said, politicians sing to their base. And the base's answer to George W. Bush's question, "Is our children learning?" is "They better not be."
But I don’t think that’s what’s weighing most heavily on the minds of the Republicans who control Congress, when it comes to No Child Left Behind.
GREENE: So this was a law that President Bush, you know, really pushed when he came into office. Many are seeing it as not succeeding, and there's this push to sort of rewrite it in different ways. I mean, is there something broad here that this debate is about?
SUMMERS: From where I see it, the debate is really about who gets to decide what works best in the classroom. One of the big questions here is who gets to decide how to define and fix failing schools. Republicans would like to leave that up to states, but many Democrats want to see the federal government force states to act when schools fail to meet their testing targets. And another question that's a little bit related is how much the federal government should do to make sure every student gets the resources that he or she needs to learn best. Democrats think that states need to be held accountable for providing low-income students with resources. But the GOP says that states make that decision, that the federal government shouldn't compel them. So it really is of two different questions, who gets to decide these things, and that takes us into a broader discussion about states' rights.
When they’re not using it as code for you know what, when Republicans take a stand for states rights they generally mean a state has the right to take as much federal money as their Congressman can rake their way but not to have to spend it on things and people---especially nonwhite and poor people---the feds want the money spent on. It means states reserve the right to let big businesses do whatever they want in their state even poison the air and the water and underpay and overwork employees in factories and warehouses and mines and on other job sites posing constant threat to life and limb.
Republicans have become more circumspect about it, and the press still won't call them on it, but the basis for every GOP idea for dealing with poverty is that it's the poor's fault that they're poor and it's up to individual poor people to work to work themselves out of being poor. If you do that, it's not because you tried and failed, it's because you didn't try hard enough, so again, your fault. You deserve your fate.
This even applies to children. They can be left to go hungry, to attend not just inferior schools but dangerous ones, to not see doctors when they're sick, to not see their parents because their parents have been left to work three jobs just to make enough to get by, to live in neighborhoods that are shooting galleries, because the deserving ones, the ones with ambition and virtue, will survive and triumph, having learned the right lessons about the values of hard work, free enterprise, and a can-do spirit.
This goes back to Calvinist roots of most forms of American Protestantism but you don't have to trace it back that far. In One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Kevin Kruse calls it Christian Libertarianism and recounts how in from the late 1940s and throughout the 1950 its lessons were persuasively preached by mountebanks and charlatans like Billy Graham:
[Graham] chided Democrats for wasting money on the welfare state at home and the Marshall Plan abroad. "The whole Western world is begging for more dollars," he noted that fall, but "the barrel is almost empty. When it is empty---what then?" He insisted that the poor in other nations, like those in his own, needed no government assistance. "Their greatest need is not more money, food, or even medicine; it is Christ," he said. "Give them the Gospel of love and grace first and they will clean themselves up, educate themselves, and better their economic conditions."
But there’s not really anything theological in it. It’s just human nature at its most selfish and meanest. It is now what it was way back when, an excuse not to have to care and, more important, not to have to pay.
Click on the link to read and listen to the whole story at NPR.
Also see GOP Governors Line Up to Defy Obama's New Climate Rules by Reynard Loki at AlterNet.
Monday. July 6, 2015.
Traveling home this afternoon from our visit with Old Mother and Old Father Blonde, we took a break for lunch at a rest stop in Jersey and joined a throng of Americans on vacation parade, all dressed for summer and comfortable travel. Not a pretty sight.
I decided to do my bit to beautify America by taking to Twitter, because the power of social media solves all things.
Note to aging American men, I typed, It's been at least 15 yrs since the t-shirt and gym shorts looked good on you and it didn't look that good back then.
I was mostly justly ignored.
But one of my followers took issue.
Dude, he typed in admonishment, Other humans do not exist to make your world look nice.
I just love being called dude.
I almost typed back, Note to aging American men. Calling other guys dude is the verbal equivalent of t-shirts and gym shorts.
And ball caps worn backwards.
I was in a mood.
You couldn't tell?
But I was nice. All I typed back was Since when? and left it at that. I had to. It was time to get back on the road.
But I thought about it the rest of the way and have been thinking about it since we got in. And know what I've decided
That's exactly what other people exist for.
It's what I exist for for them. It's what we're here for to do for each other. Make our worlds look nice.
And sound nice and feel nice.
Of course I mean something more serious and life-improving and life-affirming than not calling attention to our knobby knees and pot bellies.
The ambulatory scenery at turnpike rest stops might look nicer if thirty-, forty-, and fifty-something men didn't dress like sixteen year old boys on their way to an outdoor rock concert. But then all manner and levels of mischief, mayhem, and outright evil has been perpetrated by men who dressed like grownups.
Nixon and his henchmen wore nice suits.
I mean we're here to make life less miserable for each other in whatever ways large and small we can manage. We're here to make the place nicer.
We should be aware and careful of our effect on others. To a degree---the very least degree---this means taking care of our appearance and minding our manners. It means doing our best not to be offensive. It means going out of our way not to cause offense, even accidentally. It means taking others---strangers---into consideration. Considering their feelings. Remembering that they have feelings. It means remembering what Dickens says Scrooge had forgotten and needed to be reminded of, that we’re all fellow passengers to the grave and not separate races of creatures bound on other journeys.
It means being considerate. Being polite. Being...nice.
There is no heaven. The best we can hope for is little moments of heaven on earth and for most people too much of the time moments here are one hell after another.
We're here to lessen that hell.
It's far from enough to be " nice" but being nice is the least we can do and often that's all we can do.
Seven-thirty. Sunday morning. May 17, 2015.
At McDonald's. Young mother out for breakfast with kindergarten age son. They're being very quiet together. She's texting. He's sitting very still. dividing his attention between his Egg McMuffin and a blue balloon tied to his wrist with a long, curling white ribbon. Focused and serious, studying the balloon’s movements, as he gently tugs it up and down and back and forth. Making me miss the days of early morning outings with small boys. Time to get out of here before my heart breaks.
May 12, 2015.
Texted from the past: selfie of my date to the high school senior ball. Time-traveling video uploads to Facebook and Vine below.
Prom season and I 've been seeing and skipping over the usual spate of the usual stories. Every spring they appear along with the blossoms on the apple trees to let us know that tra-la it's May, it’s May, the lusty month of May, that shocking time of year, when tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear. By the way, if you don't understand that Guinevere is still in her teens and Arthur and Lancelot are barely out of theirs when Lancelot arrives in Camelot you're missing the beauty and poignancy behind that tragedy. Anywho. Here come the stories about students banned or ejected from their proms for various reasons, a favorite being what some girl has chosen to wear. Seems always to surprise people that pretty young women want to dress like pretty young women.
Old, old story probably going back to the invention of clothing but likely even farther to when humans began living long enough to not be young and discovered it's more fun and feels more pleasant to be young. Old men have always hated it that they retain their desire for young women long, long after young women have stopped showing any desire for them. Middle-aged women have always worried that men their age prefer younger women and younger women don't necessarily mind or discourage it. And every generation throughout the millennia all these supposed adults have gotten together to blame and shame the beautiful young women for their own disappointment, regret, bitterness, insecurity, and fear of death.
They get back at beautiful and young men by sending them off to war.
Because of when and where I went to high school, what the girls wore to the prom and senior ball wasn't an obvious issue. Disco was in the air elsewhere, but at our high school James Taylor and Joni Mitchell dominated the soundtrack of our lives. It was a GE town and most of us were the children of scientists and engineers and aspiring to be scientists and engineers ourselves---those of us who weren't aspiring artists, academics, intellectuals, and other sorts of bohemians. Even the cheerleaders and football players were nerds. One of the most popular clubs was the Folk Culture Club. We weren't such a collection of hippies, folkies, and geeks that Earth Shoes were considered the height of fashion. But I never saw a real live girl my own age tottering along on a pair of Candies until I got to college. Girls went to the prom dressed like their mothers did to theirs. They went to the senior ball, which was semi-formal, dressed like they were going to a quilting bee or the Renaissance Fair. No cleavage, no shoulders, no long, endless views of naked backs, no flashes of thigh, no leg at all, all the dresses were ankle-length. Another reason to hate the 70s. I skipped my junior prom, so fortunately there are no pictures of me in a baby blue tux. My girlfriend my junior year was a senior and she invited me to her senior ball. She was a talented seamstress and she made her own dress. It was lovely and she was beautiful but she looked like one of Guinevere’s shyer and more modest ladies-in-waiting in a Pre-Raphaellite painting.
My girlfriend my senior year was a sophomore and I took her to the senior ball and like my first girlfriend, she also looked like she'd stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Once again, I was saved from a baby blue tux. I wore a sporty blue gray suit with thin red pinstripes I thought made me look like Robert Redford in The Sting. She was the girl who looked like Scarlett Johansson, by the way, so we made a pretty good looking couple for the time. If you looked at the pictures now though you'd probably think we both could have used a good haircut and a decent meal.
I haven't seen or heard from her in over thirty years. I don't know how her life has gone or what kind of adult she became. I wonder if she looks at pictures from those days and sees the resemblance herself but wishes she'd dressed more like Johansson in The Avengers than in The Other Boleyn Girl. Well, not for the ball. A catsuit wouldn't have been appropriate. And the choices for bouquet that went with black leather would have been limited. But you know what I mean.
As for me, like I said, I'm just grateful there was no baby blue tux. But I look at the pictures from that night and from the previous senior ball and remember the thousand stupid things I said and did both nights and the bad 70s hair is among the last of my regrets. There's so much I wish I could undo, so much I would have done differently if only I'd known better.
If only I'd known better?
That's like saying if only I hadn't been seventeen and eighteen at the time.
Youth is wasted on the young is something only stupid old people with bad memories say and mean when they say it.
To be young is to waste your youth.
It's to not know better because you can't know. And I don't mean in the sense of not having the experience and knowledge necessary to making sound decisions. I mean that you can't know the future. Gaining experience is a matter of learning to be afraid of the future and anyone who is afraid of the future isn't young even if their age says they are. And while I think it's a job of adults to teach the young to slow down and think, to make them look both ways when crossing metaphorical and real streets, I think one of the cruelest things any adults can do is teach young people to be afraid of the future.
In fact, name any cruelty an adult has committed against a child and part of that cruelty is teaching the child to be afraid of the future.
When I started out as a young college professor I worried that I wouldn't like my students. I thought that over time I would grow to resent their ignorance, self-centeredness, and general foolishness. I was afraid I wouldn't make allowances for their not having arrived at a premature middle age.
That hasn't happened.
I liked my students then and I like them now. In fact, over time, as I've grown old and they've grown younger and younger,I like them more and more. I try to keep this to myself. I don't think they want to hear how fond their geezer professor is of them. But it's true. I enjoy their company and get a kick out of talking to them. It makes me happy to watch them busy being young. Fortunately, I'm busy being old and don't have the time or energy to try to horn in on their fun in any way. I think it's almost as bad for an adult to try to join in on their fun as it is to try to take it away. But I want them to have that fun. I'm glad when I see them having it and sad when I see they aren't, especially when I see that the reason they aren't is some adult's fault.
Like I said, I don't want them running out into traffic but they have to be allowed to waste their youth. They have to make mistakes, do foolish things, do things they will regret, break each other's and their own hearts. They have to be young because that's what they are.
My students are technically and legally adults but they are also still children. At any rate, I see them as children, maybe because they are the same age as my children. Again, this is something I try not to let them know. But the point is that not only do I see them as children but in looking at them I am reminded. I remember but remember it differently than I used to. Seeing them I see me and my girlfriends and our friends and classmates as we all really were, as young.
I wish there were more pictures of us when we were that age even if it meant there was one of me in a baby blue tux. What I wish more is that I could have known better. Not about everything. Just enough to know I was young and not to have hated myself so much for that.. But it's nice now to be finally able to look back and forgive myself a little for it.
It's a clichéd lament that this generation is addicted to self-documentation. These kids and their compulsion to take selfies and share them with their world! Who do they think is looking? Well, only them, and that's how it should be. We old folks should look away and mind our own business. But you know who will be looking? Their future selves. And I think it will be a joy to most of them to be able to look and see and say to themselves, "How about that? We were young and it was fun to be so."
Keats said it better, didn't he?
Anyway, I hope they all have a good time at their proms and they don't break each other's hearts and don't wind up with too many or any serious regrets. I hope the pretty young women and the pretty young men get to dress like pretty young women and pretty young men, and at that age they're all pretty. I hope they'll take lots of selfies even ones that will embarrass them later. And I hope the adults stay out of their way and let them waste their youth.
Except for the part about teaching them to look both ways, of course.
Painting, "The Lady of Shalott," by John William Waterhouse. 1888. Via Wikipedia.
Scenes from my senior ball?: The movie version of Camelot isn’t very good. It’s not as though the camera is never where it should be but more as if you can feel it wanting to pull away to find something else to look at. I don't think the director Joshua Logan trusted the material. Or his stars. For instance, he didn’t seem to want to keep the camera on Vanessa Redgrave for “The Lusty Month of May”, although I can’t figure why he thought the audience would prefer to watch extras who were bad actors having “fun” instead. The song is really a solo and it’s part of a triptych as well: Arthur’s “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight” and Lancelot’s “C’est moi” go on either side of it. Keep that in mind when watching the clips. (Logan did much better with “C’est moi”.) Keep in mind also that Guinevere’s nineteen at most and Lancelot’s maybe twenty-two. Then both songs will break your heart.
And Franco Nero as Lancelot:
Wednesday. April 29, 2015.
Had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I almost blew it off. Too much to do. Too much else on my mind. What was he going to tell me anyway? “Well, looks like the diabetes hasn’t killed you yet. Keep up the good work.”? But I thought better of it. Would have been the third time I’d rescheduled and doctors can get persnickety about that. It’s almost as if they think they have other things to do with their time than be at my beck and call. And I was feeling sorry for myself. Here I was, worrying about everything and everybody else, hadn’t I earned the right to have someone worry about me for an hour or so? Didn’t I need to be worried over a bit? So off I went, already feeling better because I knew how pathetic I would appear to the doctor and nurses and they would soon be worrying about me right to my face.
Which sort of happened.
The nurse who showed me to the examination room and took my vitals was one I don’t remember ever dealing with before. On the short side, reddish hair in a short ponytail, in her early to mid-twenties, seemingly friendly and chatty enough, and she started in as if I was about to get what I came there to get or at least some interested attention.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” she said, after inviting me to step up on the scale.
“Gorgeous day. We may finally be getting some spring…”
“Too hot in here though.” I noticed she was wearing a sweater over her scrubs. She seemed to remember she was too. “Now. Earlier it was too cold. That’s the way it is in here. First, it’s too hot, then it’s too cold. Two-twenty.”
That was my weight apparently. “Two twenty? That’s down from last time, I think. What was it then?”
“Hop up on the table and I’ll take your blood pressure.”
I don’t hop these days. I climbed, painfully. She didn’t notice my heroic efforts or remark on my stoicism.
“One twenty-six over eighty.”
My blood pressure. I was impressed. With myself. “Now that is way down.”
“Is it?” she said. She was already at the computer, typing the numbers into my chart. I assumed the results from my last visit were right there. If they were, she wasn’t bothering to read them.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “And it was down last time. I think it’s because…”
“Now I have to ask you some questions.”
“Oh, ok.” I was disappointed. I had a bunch of ideas about how I’d lowered my blood pressure and I wanted to share them. Not to brag, of course. Because it might help her to know. She could pass along my secrets to other patients. I’m always the altruist. “Ask away.”
“We have to ask these of everybody. They’re about finding out if you’re suffering from depression. There’s a lot of that going around.”
“Oh boy, don’t I know it. I know several people---“
“Do you find yourself not enjoying the things you used to enjoy?”
Ah! Here was my chance. I was ready to tell her all about how my back problems were causing frustrations and disappointments. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, it’s more…”
“Do you feel hopeless?”
“Not hopeless, exactly, but…”
“A lot of people feel that these days.”
“There’s just so much going on in the world. You can’t help thinking it’s never going to bet better.”
“Oh. Well, maybe now the winter’s finally over, things will…”
“Every day, there’s something new that’s awful.”
“I guess. The economy…”
“It’s not the economy.” She was emphatic.
“It’s the world.” She sighed. “It’s the way the world is. It just is.”
“The doctor will be in in just a minute.”
And she was gone, leaving me alone to worry about her.
Wednesday. April 29, 2015.
Check-up went well, by the way. Blood sugar’s down. Blood pressure’s down! Weight’s down. I’m practically back in fighting trim. Ten more pounds and I’ll be ready to climb back in the ring.
When we were finishing up, the doctor typing into the computer the information he needed to renew a couple of my prescriptions, I asked him, “So how are you doing?”
He looked up from the keyboard with a baffled expression.
“How am I doing?” he said.
“Yeah. Things good with you? You’re feeling ok?”
I like this doctor. He’s been treating the Mannions since we moved here, over twelve years ago now. He’s a very thin, affable guy in his late forties who squints behind his black frame glasses as if the lights are just a little too bright for him. He’s generally brisk, direct, and on point, but never brusque or dismissive. He gives the impression that he would be glad to sit and chat if he didn’t have a line of patients waiting and he expects that you have places to go and people to see yourself and would just as soon be out of there as quick as possible. But if you do have to talk or if thinks there’s something more you need to hear he will stay there and listen and chat as long as it takes. So it wasn’t that I was keeping him (and myself) there with my question that had him flummoxed. The question itself had him perplexed and he didn’t seem to know what to make of it or how to answer.
“Doesn’t anyone ever ask you that?” I said.
He thought about this. His expression turned amused. “Not very often,” he said. He thought about it some more. “Not lately than I can remember.”
“People probably don’t want to hear it if you’re not ok. We need to believe doctors never get sick themselves, that you’re all superhuman.”
His smiled. “We’re not,” he said. His smile broadened. “We’re definitely not.”
Saturday. April 25, 2015.
“That your car?”
A brusque, accusing voice. From off to my left and a little behind. I looked over and around. And down.
White-haired guy in a low-slung wheelchair.
“That your car?” He said again, and again with the accusing tone.
"Which one? The van?"
"Next to it. The black one."
"The blue one?"
"You're blocking me in." He didn't give me a chance to respond. "I have a ramp. You're blocking me in."
Hold on. Few things I need to tell you before I continue telling this story.
I sometimes make myself out to be the Disability Sheriff, policing the handicapped slots in parking lots, checking for window tags and plates, delivering homilistic lectures worthy of Andy Griffith to insensitive temporarily abled folks who don’t consider what it’s like to have to navigate through public spaces blind, deaf, leaning on a cane or on crutches, depending on a walker, or rolling a wheelchair and fail or refuse to make simple accommodations or show a minimum of common courtesy and respect. And I have played that role and I’ll play it again when it needs playing and I’m the only one there to play it. But the truth is the opportunity doesn’t come along all that often. I find that people are mostly considerate and helpful and would be more helpful if I let them. I usually don’t let them. I don’t need a lot of help and consideration myself because my problems aren’t that bad. I can get around well enough. I can’t walk far but I can walk far enough and I can tote and carry, not barges and bales, but bags of groceries and most items that need to be carried out of a store. I rely on the cane for support but my main difficulty is that holding the cane leaves me having to do many things one-handed so I do a lot of juggling when I’m out and about and that gets frustrating and comical in ways I don’t always feel like laughing about. The point is, though, that for the most part I am only mildly inconvenienced by my bad back and gimpy leg. There are plenty of people who have it far, far worse. Which brings me to another important bit of background for this story.
I try not to use handicapped parking slots, especially when there are only one or two in the lot, because I know there are people who have it worse. It’s much harder for them to get into and out of their cars, much more of a challenge to get from their cars to the door of whatever business or store they’re on their way into. I often wish there were more spaces. If you want to hear me play Disability Sheriff complain in front of me about the all times you had to drive around a crowded parking lot for hours looking for an open space and there were all those empty handicapped slots. Know what you encountered? A coincidence. You just happened to come along after the last people who needed one pulled out and before the next who’ll need them pull in. Another time, another day and all those slots would be full and some of the other cars driving around with yours hoping for a space to open up would have handicapped plates. Whenever it happens that I can’t find an open slot and I start to bitch and moan inwardly that I’m going to have to walk a few extra yards, I remind myself of the time another car beat me to the last open handicapped slot at a McDonald’s and an eighty year old woman bent almost double over two canes painfully worked her way out of the driver’s side door and onto her obviously swollen legs.
Okay. On with the story.
“That your car?”
I was at the post office. Outside the post office. Waiting in line to buy Girl Scout cookies. I’d been out running errands and as I’d passed by I’d noticed some Girl Scouts had set up a table just outside the front door. Of course I’d immediately hit the brakes.
It was a busy Saturday morning. The small lot was almost full. There was only one open space and it wasn’t the handicapped space. That was taken by a big red van. Which didn’t bother me because I almost never use the space when I go to the post office (and the space happens to be open) because it’s the only one---see above---and the lot is small and there’s no parking spot that’s far from the door. (By the way, the van had a handicapped license plate. I checked.) As luck would have it, the one open space was right next to the handicapped slot. In fact, because of where the sign’s placed on the wall of the building, it can be mistaken for a handicapped slot. Which is why I hung my window tag after I pulled in. I didn’t want some other self-appointed disabilities sheriff to think I was one of those people. You know, the “I’m only going to be a minute” people. I felt lucky but I wouldn’t have minded if I’d had to find a slot farther away. Like I said, it’s a small lot. More daunting than the prospect of having to walk the extra distance was the sight of the line at the Girl Scout’s cookie stand.
Lines are my biggest challenge and my fear of getting stuck in one is the main reason I have the cane, to lean on and take the pressure off my back and my leg when I have to wait in line somewhere. That’s what I was doing when I heard that brusque, accusing voice behind me.
I looked over and down.
“That your car?” the white-haired guy in the wheelchair said---demanded---again.
“Which one?” I asked. “The van?” For a second I was thinking he hadn’t noticed the van’s plates and was doing his own handicapped parking sheriffing.
“Next to it. The black one.”
“The blue one?” My car’s dark blue but it’s dark enough that it looked black to him. He didn’t feel he had to explain that. He meant my car.
“You’re blocking me in.” He didn’t give me a chance to respond. “I have a ramp. You’re blocking me in.”
Now I was thinking the red van was his and I was chagrined. The van was on my car’s left and I’d been careful to leave room when I pulled in to because I know how it is. My friend and colleague, the activist, blogger, and anthropologist Bill Peace routinely returns to his car after running some errand to find someone’s parked gunwale to gunwale with him, leaving no room for him to open the car door wide enough to get himself and his wheelchair inside and forcing him to have to wait for the other driver to return from their errands. It’s often a long wait. I was about to apologize and offer to move but I happened to notice his gaze and follow it.
He wasn’t looking at the van.
He was looking at the car on the other side of mine.
An ordinary four-door sedan.
“I have a ramp,” he repeated, but edgier now, almost angry now, like I’d known this when I’d parked and blocked him anyway.
I hadn’t paid any special attention to the sedan when I’d pulled in. Maybe if I had I’d have seen the handicapped plates. I’m not sure what I’d have done about it. Tried to leave more room on that side while still leaving room between my car and the van, I guess. I wouldn’t have left room for a ramp though, because it wouldn’t have occurred to me there might have been a ramp to leave room for.
A ramp? I thought. In that car? That’s interesting. I wonder how that works with a car like that. Would explain the low ride of his wheelchair. He can fit it behind the wheel. Driver’s seat’s probably removed. Bill Peace doesn’t have a ramp. He gets in on the passenger side, boosting himself up and onto the seat, then reaching down to lift his wheelchair which he quickly and deftly disassembles, taking off the wheels and collapsing the chair to stow beside him, locked into a special set of brackets. Bill’s chair isn’t motorized. It’s hand-powered. Manual wheelchairs are more expensive than motorized chairs, by the way. Much more expensive. Good ones have to be custom-built and special ordered. This guy’s chair was also manual. I almost asked him about his ramp, but there was nothing in his expression or voice that invited friendly conversation.
There was also nothing in either that suggested he was asking me to do him a favor and move my car. He was asking. Wasn’t about to. There wasn’t going to be a please, wasn’t going to be a You mind?, and there probably wouldn’t be a thank you after. There was just the expectation that I would rectify my mistake.
Know what else there wasn’t?
Any acknowledgement of my disability.
It wasn’t that he’d overlooked the cane. The cane is how he picked me out as the driver of the car blocking his. He saw the handicapped tag and then looked for a handicapped person to go with it. He knew I wasn’t someone who could snap to it and go skipping right off to take care of a problem he clearly considered I’d caused. He knew it was going to take an extra effort on my part and that it was going to cause me to lose my place in line and that I would then have to spend more time leaning on my cane. And he could assume that I would also probably lose my parking space because I couldn’t just back out and wait for him. I’d be blocking other people’s way into the small and busy parking lot. I’d have to go out the back way and circle around the post office and by the time I returned the space would almost certainly have been taken by someone else. I’d have to re-park farther away. But he gave no indication he knew or cared that by doing him this favor I’d be causing problems for myself. He gave no indication he knew or cared I might have problems or that I would be doing him a favor. He gave no indication he felt any solidarity or sympathy between us. Of course, to someone in a wheelchair someone getting about with just a cane must look as an Olympic hurdler looks to me. And I’m probably a good ten years younger. It’s because there are people in his situation---that is, people who have it harder than I do---that I try avoid parking in handicapped slots. And my tag’s a temporary one. As far as he could know, I might have been using the cane while my sprained ankle healed. So I wasn’t irritated that he was indifferent to my plight. It was his plain, ordinary, inexcusable rudeness that made me mad.
I kept it to myself, though.
Sometimes I can be such a saint.
I gave him a long, level, less than genial look to let him know he had failed miserably in his attempt to make a new friend, then said I’d move my car and hobbled off to do it.
No thank you followed.
And I did lose the space. I had to park across the street. The wait at the cookie stand wasn’t terribly long, however, and I came away with three boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Worth the trouble so I wasn’t too mad in the end.
Would have felt differently if they’d sold out of Tagalongs while I was moving the car.
Now, here’s the thing.
Whatever that guy was expecting of me, I wasn’t expecting anything out of him but ordinary politeness. I was doing him a favor, but it wasn’t much of a favor. You might not even call it a favor. It was simply an act of common courtesy. A thank you would have been nice but he wasn’t obliged to be excessively grateful. Bill Peace and my longtime friend, the poet Steve Kuusisto (who, some of you may not know, is blind) have written and spoken repeatedly about how the temporarily-abled often seem to expect a disabled person to gush and fawn and flatter in gratitude for what amounts to a simple act of common courtesy or, and not incidentally, obeying the law. There’s also the expectation that pity and condescension are like gifts for which the giver should be rewarded with extra does of gushing, fawning, and flattery. “Oh, how kind you are to feel so sorry for me. God bless you!” On top of this, is a general expectation that the disabled should be cheerful, uncomplaining, humble, and brave as if it’s our purpose and responsibility in life to set an example of perseverance and hope in the face of adversity or as if we should know how much trouble we’re causing the abled and go about in a permanent state of smiling apology.
This is from people who want to be kind and are tying to be helpful.
There are plenty of others who make it clear they think the disabled should just stay home or at least out of their way.
It’s surprising how many of these others make it clear while they are working at jobs that require them to make accommodations for the disabled as a matter of course and of law. Bill can tell you stories about flight attendants who seem to think it’s their duty to keep passengers in wheelchairs off their airplanes and Steve can tell you stories about restaurant hosts and hostesses who’ve all but said shoo when he’s showed up at their front doors with his guide dog. And since both Steve and Bill are activists, advocates, and educators---in very real ways one of their jobs is Disability Sheriff---they’ve interceded on behalf of many other disabled people and can tell you their stories about when they were abused, insulted, belittled, dismissed, shamed, humiliated, discriminated against, and denied their rights by all sorts and conditions among the temporarily-abled making it clear they think a disabled person is practically committing a crime by trying to live a normal life.
Here’s another thing.
I know that guy I encountered at the post office. That is, I know who he is. He’s a prominent citizen here in Mayberry and I’ve met him at a number of public events. And this is a small small town. We bump into each other often. He almost certainly recognized me. The other thing I didn’t get from him besides a please and a thank you was a Hello, how have you been? And it wouldn’t just have been neighborly of him. It would have been typical.
I would never have thought of him as a rude or unfriendly guy and I still don’t. I’m thinking of him as someone who was probably having a bad day.
I have no reason to think his bad day had to do with his disability. Another thing Bill and Steve will be glad to talk to you about is how disabilities don’t define people except in the eyes of others who think of disabilities as defining and limiting. But the fact was that however his day was going, at that moment it was worse on account of his disability. Not because of his disability. Because there was only one handicapped parking space. And this is routine problem for him and therefore a constant frustration. I didn’t mean to block him in. I wouldn’t have if I’d known it was his car. He didn’t know either of that but that was beside the point. The point is that the guy spends a lot of time being blocked in and in more ways than just not being able to get to his car right when he needs to.
And that’s the way it is almost all the time for everyone who is in any degree disabled. One way or another, at one too many times or another, we find ourselves blocked in when all we’re trying to do is live a normal life. And it doesn’t matter how many people there are who are kind and considerate and intent on doing the right thing, which is, the commonly courteous thing, there are still plenty of others who think that our being blocked in and blocked out is the way it should be and who are determined to keep it that way. At least one of them is running for President, and I can’t say this enough, Fuck you, Rand Paul.
That gets infuriating, when it’s not depressing, demoralizing, and flat-out overwhelming. And it doesn’t matter how cheerful, uncomplaining, humble, brave, resilient, resourceful, persevering, or hopeful we try to be, we’re like everybody else.
We’re not saints.
Saturday. April 11, 2015.
Just back from the post office where I watched a postal worker turn into a machine right before my eyes.
I’ve seen this happen before. Many times. And not just to postal workers. You’ve seen it too, I’m sure. Postal workers, store clerks, low level functionaries working the counter any place where your needs and interests collide with those of a public or private bureaucracy---all at once a seemingly nice and helpful human being or at least a not overtly hostile one ceases to be nice and helpful and becomes if not overtly hostile maddeningly passive-aggressive and instead of doing what you thought was their job, being of service to you as a customer or client or taxpayer, robotically starts quoting rules that prevent you from getting done there what you came to get done.
I was there to renew my post office box for another six months. Turns out I was a day late. I was supposed to have taken care of this by the close of business at five o’clock yesterday. According to the rules, because I hadn’t paid up on time, my box had been “closed”. If I wanted to re-open it, I would have to pay an extra $21.95 in “handling fees.”
This was annoying but it was also absurd because as she was reciting the rules I realized that whatever bureaucrat up the line had come up with the idea that customers should be penalized for making clerks reopen a closed box and assessed the fee had counted on customers wanting to keep their boxes or, rather, their box numbers---this bureaucrat, no doubt seconded by a committee, figured it would be so much of a pain to notify friends, family, work, creditors, magazine subscription departments, etc. of an address change that customers would willingly pay to save themselves the headache.
But for me it didn’t seem as much of a pain as having to come up with the extra twenty-one ninety-five.
“What if I open a new box?” I asked.
The clerk looked baffled but she recovered quickly and told me that opening a new box would cost forty dollars, the same as renewing the old box would have cost if I’d done it on time. No handling fee.
“Then I’ll open a new box,” I said.
This involved some paperwork, of course, and while I was standing at the counter---leaning on the counter. I want to stress that because it’s going to come into this rant in a minute.---I made the mistake of pointing out the absurdity of the handling fee. More handling was taking place in opening the new box than would have been involved in renewing the old box. This sent her back to reciting the rules again but this time she included an official lecture, basically reminding me of the terms of service which were either not given to me when I opened a box a decade ago or I’d filed away or lost or thrown out but which I was apparently supposed to have memorized just as I was supposed to have the rules memorized and around which I was expected to have arranged my life.
“You had a ten day grace period,” she said, in that flat tone people think disguises the scolding they’re giving you. “You should have come in sooner.”
I told her that I in fact had. I’d come in almost a month ago but the computer was down and of course whoever was working the counter---I don’t think it was her---hadn’t offered to help me by doing things the old fashioned way, with paper and pen, probably because there were rules against it, although opening a new box required filling out paper forms and, as far as I could tell, no immediate use of the computer. Not only had I come in, I said, but I tried to take care of things online a couple of times and the website was down both times.
She only recited the rules again along with the official scolding, making the point again that I should have come in before the deadline.
This is when I lost my temper and here I have to tell you that when I left there it was my intention to write a post on living with a disability and the general lack of awareness on the part of the what Steve Kuusisto calls the temporarily abled---because we are all fragile creatures and we all get injured or sick at some point in our lives and we all get old and our bodies break and break down to the point we’re not able to do what we had just yesterday, it seems, been able to do. We become disabled. And by the way, fuck you, Rand Paul.
The clerk had seen me hobble in with my cane. She’d seen me leaning heavily on it while I was waiting in line. She could see that I was holding myself up by propping myself against the counter.
“You know what?” I said. “I’m in pain. It hurts to stand here. It hurt to walk in. It will hurt to walk out. This is constant. I’m in pain all the time. There are days when I can’t walk father than a few feet at a time. There are days when I can’t stand up. Days I have to spend lying flat on the floor because that’s the only position that doesn’t hurt. Yesterday was one of those days. Don’t look at me and tell me I should have done what I wasn’t physically able to do.”
I tried to keep my voice level but I couldn’t keep the anger out of it. I knew I was being an asshole too. I was breaking one of my own commandments: Try not to make anyone’s day worse than it probably already is. But she was making my day worse and I couldn’t help resenting it. On top of that, though, was what I feel is my responsibility to stand up---so to speak---for others who are disabled. I wasn’t the first and wasn’t going to be the last person with a disability who could not easily follow rules that were written by indifferent bureaucrats working on the assumption that all human beings are the same. I felt I had to tell her off so that maybe in the future she would try not to make other disabled people’s days worse than they almost certainly already were.
But I went on, “Beside that, I have a job, I have a family, I have other responsibilities. I have other things that need to be taken care of and there are only so many hours in a day. I can’t live my life as if the most important thing I have to do is comply with the Post Office’s rules. And that’s true of everybody who comes in here, whether or not they have a disability. We have lives to live. We don’t work for the Post Office. It’s not our job to save the bureaucracy the trouble of actually helping us. I understand there has to be rules. I understand you don’t make them. I understand that you probably don’t have the authority to make exceptions. But that doesn’t mean you get to lecture us on what we should have done and tell us how it’s our own fault you won’t help us.”
If life was a movie, the customers in line around me would have broken into applause.
There were only three other people there and they just stared at me.
I left feeling like a jerk.
I still feel like one.
But I also left with a new address---P.O. Box 1197, New Paltz, NY, 12561. Cards and letters much appreciated.---and a packet full of discount coupons because it’s also a rule that new box holders are treated as if they’ve just moved into the neighborhood and the Post Office is in partnership with businesses who want to help with the move by offering deals on things like new furniture, home repair, cable installation, and home entertainment systems and computers. One of the coupons was from Best Buy and when we apply it to the purchase of Mrs M’s new laptop tomorrow it will offset the cost of my new post office box. In short, instead of getting a handling fee out of me on top of the forty dollars for renewing my old box, the Post Office essentially gave me a new box for free.
How nuts is that?
But that’s really beside the point.
The thing is I do understand that there has to be rules. And I do understand that that clerk doesn’t make the rules and probably doesn’t have the authority to make exceptions. If she hadn’t decided to include the lecture along with explaining the rules I would have grumbled inwardly but kept my mouth shut. And I still wish I had done just that anyway. She could have been more tactful. She could have been more sympathetic. She could have acknowledged my physical problem and offered to find a chair or a stool or even a cardboard box for me to sit on while I filled out the paperwork. She could have been more…human.
But she couldn’t have done the human thing which would have been to waive the rules because it would have cost her her job and her job is to represent the bureaucracy and take care of its interests ahead of those of the customers. Her job, in other words, is to be the face and voice of the machine.
Which makes her part of the machine.
Which is the job of too many people in too many jobs.
When I say there are too many of these jobs I don’t mean that there should be fewer and that people doing them should be laid off. In fact, it bothers me that many of these jobs are being outsourced or are being handled by computers or are being done by one person when they should be being done by two or even three people. I mean that it’s a shame that so many people have to spend their working lives functioning as not much more than parts in a machine.
These jobs don’t pay very well, comparatively. Benefits are often minimal. They confer little status and inspire little respect. They rarely offer opportunity for real advancement. They don’t encourage or reward and in fact penalize individual thought, initiative, and creativity. They mainly put the people who hold them in the position of being adversaries to the public. Most of the day in and day out encounters between the workers who do these jobs and the public are superficial, impersonal, and only perfunctorily polite. Real engagement occurs only when the customer has a problem and the workers aren’t allowed to solve problems on their own. They are only allowed---directed---to make those problems go away as quickly and expeditiously as possible. And in these encounters the poor workers have to take the heat and the blame for the bureaucracy’s indifference and intransigence.
These can be mind-numbing, heart-hardening, and soul-deadening jobs and it’s a wonder that the people who do them manage to find any satisfaction or enjoyment in doing them or take any pride in their work. But they do.
Many do, at any rate.
Intransigent and soulless bureaucracies which function as if their sole purpose was to perpetuate those bureaucracies are as old as civilization and have probably been integral to civilization going back to the days when forms had to be filled out with hieroglyphs.
Can’t think of what to do about this except keep reminding myself to keep the commandment and try not to make anyone’s day worse than it probably already is.
Pass this church just about every day as I run various errands and every time I go by I feel a little tug. Some part of me wants to stop in and say hi.
I’m not sure who to.
I don’t know anyone who belongs to this congregation. I don’t know anything about the church. It appears to be non-denominationally Protestant, but whether it has any broader affiliations I can’t tell. Their website is as spare and unadorned as the church building itself with barely more information on it than is in this photo. Doesn’t even give the pastor’s name. Sunday services are at 10:30. The office is open Tuesday and Thursday mornings and part of the afternoon and on Friday morning. They have a food pantry. On the second Friday evening of each month they hold a “Prayer for Israel.” I wonder about that. Are they praying for Israel’s continued survival and well-being or for its conversion? Do they think they’re living in the End Times? No clue on the website. In tiny script way up in the top left corner there’s a citation. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2, verses 1-5. It’s one of those convoluted and ambiguous passages of Paul’s that have always given exegetes fits and put altar boys to sleep. This one is as Jesus-centric as you might expect from a church that feels it has to identify itself as “Christian,” but the gist of it is that we should strive to be as humble as Jesus was. Paul’s riff on the first shall be last. So there’s a hint here that at this church you’re expected to do a little more than praise Jays-us and boast of your personal friendship with him to get into heaven. Still, prejudice and experience make me suspicious of these little, out of the way, unaffiliated “Christian” churches. Odds are there’s nobody in the congregation I want to get to know more than to say hi to.
On the other hand, the messages on the marquee change regularly and are always cheerful and welcoming, often amusing, sometimes genuinely witty, although usually they include a bad pun. But the pastor is clearly trying. I’d like to think he or she is being self-expressive and is like the messages, cheerful and welcoming and possessed of a sense of humor. Maybe the pastor’s somebody I’d enjoy saying more than hi to.
But probably not much more.
After all, the pastor and I wouldn’t have much business to conduct together, me being an unbeliever and not just uninterested in conversion but actively hostile to the notion and anyone who’d think to try.
But you know what? It may be that the person I feel like saying hi to isn’t the pastor but the pastor’s boss.
And HIS son.
I don’t believe in God but I remember believing in Him intensely enough that sometimes I forget I don’t believe. The memory of my former belief fools me into thinking it’s the actual and present thing. So I routinely backslide. The moment of doubt in the form of reflexive, remembered belief never lasts more than a moment. I quickly catch myself and drag myself to the Mourner’s Bench to testify to my lack of faith. But the fact is that I still believe in Jesus and Mary and in many of the saints as real people who used to walk the earth and whose teachings and examples are still inspiring, encouraging, and worth following and now and again I forget in their case too and catch myself thinking of them as still alive---up there, out there, in here, somewhere---and paying attention. And when I shake myself out of it, I feel their loss. I miss them. I still miss God like that sometimes too. I miss the company.
Even when I was a good little Catholic schoolkid and an altar boy---one of the world’s top altar boys, as a matter of fact---I didn’t believe God was involved very much in His children’s daily lives. He obviously didn’t answer all prayers. I couldn’t decide if it was because He wasn’t actually omnipotent, that in creating the universe He’d made a rock too big for even Him to lift, or if it was the Free Will thing at work, or if He just had other things to take care of, or if it was simply that His plan for the universe didn’t hinge on any of our individual happiness. Whichever it was, it didn’t stop me from thinking of Him as benign and, if not involved and constantly interfering, always sympathetic and ready to listen.
I was skeptical of the catechism on the point of God’s having made me because he loved me. I got into trouble in first grade for asking Sister Mary Francis about that one. “How could he love me if I wasn’t born yet?” I wondered. She made me kneel down in front of the crucifix at the front of the room and pray for forgiveness for I was never sure what. I prayed, all right, for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to save me from this crazy nun. I never doubted, though, that God cared that I had been made.
I believed it mattered to Him when I was feeling hurt or scared or alone.
I believed this more strongly about Jesus and even more strongly about Mary.
That’s what I went to church for. Their company.
Over time I came to believe that that’s what everybody who went to church regularly went to church for. The company. But not the company of God or Jesus or Mary or the saints.
For each other’s company.
I still believe that. I believe that’s true of everybody who goes regularly to a temple, synagogue, mosque, shrine, or a circle in the woods.
And this is why I’m not an enemy of religion.
Yeah, right, Lance, say some of you who’ve noticed I don’t have much good to say about Christians.
I don’t have much good to say about the Catholic Church either or, at any rate, about its supposed princes.
But I’m not completely in agreement with those online atheists who seem to believe that all the world’s problems would go away if people would just get it through their heads that there is no God.
There are moments when I think the only hymn any of should know and sing is John Lennon’s “Imagine”, but those moments pass like the moments when I think I still believe in God. People don’t kill each other because of religion. They kill each other for self-interested reasons and then justify it by invoking their gods. Take away the gods and they’d find other justifications or they wouldn’t bother justifying it at all.
There are forms of religion that are dangerous and destructive. It’s long past time to do away with the Abrahamic sky-god who has done nothing but cause 3500 years of trouble in the Mideast while he’s had fun inciting the believers of three versions of the same religion devoted to him to kill each other a over a patch of sand. People are adept at perverting the most benign of beliefs. There are militant killer Buddhists. And the Religious Right here has turned Christianity into a cult of enforced joylessness, ignorance, paranoia, and self-sabotage.
Still I don’t believe religion itself---the human habit of organizing around a common belief in a deity---is bad in itself. I actually see it as providing some good things.
One of the goods that religion provides is an argument against getting caught up in the mundane cares and concerns of our daily lives.
But nothing’s good that’s not also bad. The idea that this world and this life don’t matter as much as we think they do gets dumbed down into the idea that this world and this life don’t matter at all, which is very useful to the mountebanks, charlatans, and con artists passing themselves off as preachers and to the corporatists who run the Republican Party. There’s money to be made and power to be gained in convincing the suckers there’s no point trying to fix problems in this world because it’s all part of God’s plan, the point is to get to the next world, and whoever says otherwise---liberals and intellectual types mainly---that the problems of the here and now need to be fixed and can be fixed by us without God’s performing miracles and that we can and should be happy, is doing the devil’s work.
On the whole, I think the best way to show faith in God, if there is a God, and do His work is to pay attention to what’s happening in this world and not think too much about the next.
But I see another important good religion---really going to church or schul or temple or mosque---provides, what I said above, company, as a good it’s not my place or my wish to disparage, downplay, or discourage.
It’s not God believers are putting their faith in as much as it is each other. They are putting their faith in a community, not experienced as an abstraction, but physically. They need that. We all need that. We all need to feel we belong, that we’re involved, that we matter. We want to know others notice we’re there and notice when we’re not and care.
This isn’t something we can only get from going to church or should only get from going to church. We get it first and foremost from our families---or should get it from them and do if we’re lucky. We get it from our neighbors. We get from the places where we shop regularly. We get it at the barber’s and the stylist’s. At the doctor’s and dentist’s. We get it from the local post office and library. We get it at our favorite bar, restaurant, diner, and coffee shop. We get it down at the garage, at the bank, at the town hall when we stop in to renew the sticker that lets us use the town dump. We get it at the town dump. Some of us still get it at the lodge or at the union hall. That’s one of the chief goods unions provide, in fact. We don’t matter to the bosses. We do matter to each other. Most of us though get it primarily from work, from being at work and from doing work.
And these days we seem hell-bent on depriving ourselves of each other’s company.
In the online Utopia we’re in a hurry to create the library is always open, the bank, the bookstore, the video store, and school and office too and isn’t that wonderful? As if the whole point of anything and everything is an immediate material benefit.
We don’t go to the library just to look something up. We don’t go to the bank just to cash a check and go to the post office just to buy a stamp. We don’t go to work just to earn a paycheck. And we don’t go to church just to worship whatever version of God gets worshiped there.
We go, I say again, for the company.
And this is what I’m reminded I miss when I pass by the Mid-Hudson Christian Church. It’s not anyone at that church I feel the urge to stop in and say hi to. It’s people at my church, my old church, my old churches, the one I grew up in, the ones we raised our sons in. And I shouldn’t say I miss the church. I miss the parish. I miss belonging to those communities.
I could remedy this easily enough. It would be no problem to start going to our old church up in New Paltz again. It would take some pretending. I’d have to go through motions I now think of as dumbshow and nodding along in put on agreement with things that now strike me as childish nonsense. But I could do it. And I could sing along with the hymns or at least mouth along---I can’t carry a tune and I’d be embarrassed to offend the ears of people in the pews around me. I could stay for coffee and donuts after mass. I could attend the pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners and take part in the parish festivals. And maybe I’ll start doing that.
Someday when I’m feeling hurt and scared and alone and need the company.
You can’t wait tables from home. You can’t sweat pipe from home. You can’t load a truck, mix paint, swing a pick, deliver a calf, mop a floor, scrub a toilet, wash dishes, wash windows, wash cars, wash down a plane or wash out a stable. You can’t stock or bag groceries. You can’t wire a house. You can’t mend a roof or a fence. You can’t lay tile, repoint brick, hang dry wall, or install a new oven. You can’t fix a furnace, stop a leak, sweep a chimney, drive a nail, drive a cab, clean a wound, clean teeth, clean drains, make a bed, fold towels, empty the trash, empty a bedpan. You can’t cut hair, cut bait, cut cloth, or cut grass. You can’t dig a well, dig a ditch, dig for oysters or rake clams. You can’t sort mail or sort laundry. You can’t tune a car engine from home, although that day’s probably coming.
You can teach a class.
I’ve done it.
I don’t like it. I’d rather be in the classroom body and soul. I’d be in the classroom every day if I could. Not in the way grade school and high school teachers and too many adjuncts have to be. I’m lazy and I’m spoiled. But I like seeing my students. I like talking with colleagues. I like sitting in the office staring out the window, watching the world go by, and being able to feel like I’m working. I like being on the job. But the fact is I couldn’t do this job if I couldn’t work from home as much as I’m able to. Syracuse is too far away and don’t get paid enough to rent an apartment or even a cheap hotel room. But I can be there when I’m not there thanks to email and Facebook and Twitter and cell phones and Skype. If I had the app, I’d add Snapchat to my virtual teaching toolkit. This is great. This is fun. This is fortunate. This is a perk most people don’t have.
I read a couple of posts this morning that got me thinking about how lucky I have it: The Adult Snow Day Is Dying, and That’s Sad, by Jesse Singal at New York Magazine’s blog Science of Us, and Mike the Mad Biologist’s Snow Days for Adults at Mike’s place.
In my wanderings around the web, which I have the time and freedom to do even when I’m ostensibly at work and even while I’m actually working, I often get the sense that many of us who spend our large chunks of our workdays online forget that most people don’t.
They have jobs that don’t allow it, jobs that don’t require it. And many people whose main tool is a keyboard are as chained to their computer as seamstresses and tool and die makers are chained to their sewing machine and their drill press, and for all it ever varies and for all they are free to vary their routines what they see on their screens might as well be automobile chasses, circuit boards, or beer bottles needing labeling or pills needing sorting. It’s assembly line work and the people who do it probably have different ideas about working from home, the end of adult snow days, the changing nature of work, and lives lived virtually in general from college professors, journalists, software designers, lawyers, stockbrokers, graphic artists, and other white collar professionals whose jobs are made easier, more interesting, more productive, more creative, and therefore more rewarding by the the internet, even if it does mean no more adult snow days.
I don’t have anything profound to say about this right now. It’s just on my mind because I read those two posts, and because I might be working from home tomorrow. Snow’s predicted for the morning, pretty much the whole way from here to Syracuse, and since I can work from here and have not just the boss’s blessing but his command to stay put if staying put means not risking getting trapped at a rest stop in Utica, from where, by the way, I could still work, thanks to the New York State Thruway Authority’s providing of free WiFi.
I’m not working from home today though.
I’m working from Barnes & Noble.
It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships.
From an op-ed by Berkley professor David L. Kirp, author of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools. Read the whole piece, Teaching Is Not A Business, at the New York Times.
The view out my windshield.
Says “TEMPORARY” but I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking.
I put off requesting one of these tags for a long while. Had myself convinced I was going to wake up one morning and my back problems would have miraculously cured themselves overnight. Hasn’t happened. Ain’t gonna happen. In fact, things have gotten worse, two vertebrae are slip-sliding around in there now, and surgery’s probably in the offing. Couple of other things yet to try first. Meanwhile, I’m glad to have the tag. It’s been very helpful. But I still try hard not to use the handicapped spaces, especially when there are only one or two in the lot or there’s a regular slot open that’s not to far a hobble from the door. There are people in a lot worse shape who need the spaces. Yeah, I’m a saint.
Actually, what I am, or what I’m becoming, is the Handicapped Parking Space Sheriff. It’s always bugged me when I see abled people taking a handicapped space, but now I’m on the watch for it and I don’t keep my mouth shut and let scofflaws off with a disapproving glare.
Me: You forgot to hang your tag in the window.
Scofflaw: Oh. I don’t have one.
Me: Then you’re parked illegally.
Scofflaw: I was in a hurry.
Me: There’s no I Was In A Hurry exemption. It’s illegal and selfish!
That one’s routine. Last week, after Ken’s karate lesson, he and I went out for pizza, as usual. (Well, he went out for pizza. I went out for salad. Sigh.) And when we pulled into the pizza parlor’s small lot we were blocked from our usual parking space by an RV parked broadwise across six spaces including the handicapped space.
This is one of the places where I don’t use the tag because I don’t need to, no space is all that far from the door, and we were able to find an open slot on the other side of the lot. But like I said, I’m the sheriff.
Me (to someone inside the RV reading a newspaper): You’re blocking the handicapped space!
Him: Oh, I know. I’m just picking up a pizza.
Me: Ah. I see. Well, that’s all right then. Have a good night.
Me (really): That’s not an excuse. You’ve got the whole lot. You’ve got twenty feet of room ahead of you.
Him: I know. (With a gesture indicating the RV.) Just these things are hard to maneuver.
Me (lifting my cane): So are these. So are wheelchairs.
Him: I’m sorry. I’ll be quick. I’ll go check on the pizza now.
He dashed inside ahead of us and do I need to add he didn’t hold the door?
News from the Mannionville 24 Hour Health Clinic and Riding Stables: Facebook friends know this already, but something new has been added to the hit parade.
Diagnosis came in about five weeks ago. Went like this.
Me: Hey, doc! How’s it going?
Doc: Fine. Got the results of your blood workup.
Me: My cholesterol’s up, right?
Doc: Nope. Cholesterol’s fine.
Me: Good for me!
Me: Oh no.
Doc: Oh yes.
Me: Give it to me straight, doc. I can take it.
Doc: You have diabetes.
Me (From the floor): Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.
And I didn’t. It sneaked up on me sometime in the last two years since my previous blood tests. I would have thought the symptoms would have been more pronounced. I asked what I should have noticed.
Doc: Have you been tired a lot lately?
Me: Who isn’t?
Doc: Finding it hard to concentrate? Lose focus easily?
Me: I’m sorry. What did you say?
Me: I don’t think I’d notice, considering how much coffee, soda, milk and juice I drink.
Me: My family says that’s been my default state for years.
This is Type II Diabetes. And I’m just over the line from hyperglycemic into diabetic, which means I don’t need to get insulin shots. A little smarter, healthier eating, lose some weight, get some exercise (Easier said then done. Back condition update to follow later in the week.), take my medicine, and I have a good chance of not just getting it under control but making it go away.
I took immediate action. Filled the prescription, saw the Diabetes Educator, got a home blood test kit, made drastic changes in my eating habits, and sought and received sage advice from the wise and experienced in these matters Wev McEwan. Thanks, Wev!
Eating healthier hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. It’s meant cutting way back on the bread and wheat (Carbs=Sugar) and replacing it with more vegetables, usually served in salads.
(Rumpole’s doctor: And what do you normally have for lunch? A nice salad, perhaps?
Rumpole: Who am I to deprive a hungry rabbit of his meal?
Ron Swanson: This is the food my food eats.)
And the result is I don’t get filled up at meals and feel hungry all the time.
It’s also making me something I never thought I’d be and now hate. Food obsessed.
Can I eat this? Can I eat that? If I have this now, do I have to skip that later? How much sugar in this? How many calories? How much protein? How many carbs?
I bore myself silly!
Of course I set right to work eliminating as much sugar from my diet as I could, starting with my coffee, and I discovered something. Apparently it wasn’t caffeine I was addicted to, it was sugar! I only used a teaspoon a mug, but then I was downing half a dozen mugfuls a day. With the milk added, I was probably drinking the equivalent of three giant Hershey bars daily. Once I replaced the sugar with artificial sweetener and the whole milk with one-percent, I found I didn’t need the second cup, let alone the fourth, fifth, and sixth.
This has already been good for my blood pressure. Which I need to keep down so that it has room to spike when I read the labels on packaged foods.
I knew sugar was in many things. And, worse, high fructose corn syrup. What shocked me is that it’s in just about every thing! So is HFCS! Often they’re in there together. And lots of it! This is usually on top of the wheat, which is in the form of refined or enriched flour, that is, white flour, the bad flour. By the way, apparently, all you need to label a product whole wheat is a dash of whole wheat. We were buying “whole wheat” bread that included the other stuff, along with sugar and HFCS! Sayonara to that brand.
Sayonara to many of my favorite canned soups, as well. And sayonara to Ritz Crackers. Sayonara to ketchup. Sayonara to most peanut butters.
And adios Chobani Greek yogurt, which, I just learned, contains “evaporated cane juice.”
Know what you get when you evaporate cane juice?
I’m eliminating the Chobani more on the grounds of deceptiveness than because of the sugar itself.
Anyway. Enough of this. For the record, I already feel better. Not as tired all the time. Still thirsty but I drink gallons of water. Giving up soda’s been surprisingly easy. I seem to be more focused. I’ve lost some weight. My blood pressure’s down. I test my blood sugar level every day and the numbers have been in what the diabetes educator said was the right range. My family says I’m still Mr Irritable but I think I’m all (artificial) sweetness and light. I wish I wasn’t hungry all the time and, like I said, I hate being food obsessed. But Wev assures me that when I get used to the new routine both the hunger and the obsession will go away.
For now, though, while I haven’t become a sugar scold, I have become a convert to the anti-sugar/HFCS cause and the perfect reader (sucker?) for articles like this one from Salon, a profile of pediatric endocrinologist and anti-sugar activist Robert Lustig, Is Sugar the Next Tobacco?
Public reception of Lustig’s new book, Fat Chance, will likely be just as divided. The book repeats and expands on the main point of contention in the sugar wars: whether our bodies treat all calories the same. The old guard says yes: A calorie is a calorie; steak or soda, doesn’t matter. Eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Lustig believes that our bodies react to some types of calories differently than others. Specifically he believes that sugar calories alter our biochemistry to make us hungry and lazy in ways that fat and protein calories do not. As a result, he says, the ubiquity of sugar in the Western diet is making Americans sick, obese, and bankrupt.
You should read the whole article. ( Editor’s alert. There are things in the article that could be interpreted as fat shaming.) Meanwhile I’m going to go stare mournfully into the refrigerator and cabinets at all the things I can’t eat.
Hat tip to Parks and Rec fan Oliver Mannion for the Ron Swanson quote.