31 October 2008

Miracle dog

I’ve been dog-sitting for my Mom since Monday. Today is my last day.

Used to be that when my Mom and Dad traveled, they’d take their Boxer dog, Mugs, with them. But sometimes bringing a 75-pound bundle of goofy energy along wasn’t practical, so they’d kennel him at the local vet’s office. They never liked to; when they picked him up he was always sad, skinny, and had managed to catch a dog-cold. They felt guilty and it would be a week before Mugs got back to normal and fully forgave them.

Dad died in 2005. Mom hasn’t done a lot of traveling since then, but when she does, she can’t bear to put Mugs in the kennel. And so I dog-sit while she’s gone.

We always laugh when we do this. And it is sort of funny, the idea of baby-sitting a dog. But Mugs is very special. I know – all pet owners think their little darlings are special. Mugs really is.

In 1998, my dad had heart surgery. It was the second major heart operation he’d had – the first was a valve-replacement in 1986. This one, 12 years after the first, replaced the wearing-out replacement valve. Both surgeries were dicey and the second far more dangerous than the first. He was older. There was more disease. They had to do bypasses too.

Mom and Dad's previous Boxer had died two years before. They missed him – we’ve always had a Boxer in the family – but he and Mom traveled frequently and, finding themselves dogless, decided they didn’t want the hassle of kenneling yet another dog.

It was a rough surgery. Dad was on the operating table for nearly 10 hours while they replaced the valve and did three bypasses, discovering the need for those after they’d opened him up. At some point during those hours he suffered a small stroke.

Dad survived the surgery, but spent two-and-a-half more weeks in the hospital, recovering very slowly. There were several set-backs. It was a miserable experience for him.

We knew when he came home, his convalescence would be long and arduous. Dad was an avid golfer, and in the years since he’d retired following his first heart surgery, he’d become a very active senior citizen. He was always busy – doing taxes for seniors through the AARP, volunteering his time with the local Sheriff’s Dept. in their senior program, and getting together with his buddies. He played poker, he golfed three times a week, he gardened. And he and Mom traveled frequently.

Now all of those things would be out, at least for a while. The doctor estimated it would take him six months to a year to regain his strength, and at that point we didn’t even know how the stroke might affect him.

My sister and I decided that what Dad needed when he came home was another Boxer. Mom was a little reluctant – she didn’t want to have to look after a messy, rambunctuous puppy and Dad – so we decided to check out the local Boxer rescue organization, hoping to find a full-grown, house-trained, nicely mannered dog.

We found Mugs. He’d been picked up by the dog catcher. His owners had disappeared. He was pathetically skinny, about two years old, full of energy and friendly in the way that only Boxers can be. The rescue people had bailed him out of the animal shelter and set about finding new owners for him, people who really loved Boxers and would give him a loving home for the rest of his life.

That was us.

When Dad was finally allowed home from the hospital, Mugs was there waiting for him. Oh, was Dad surprised. He was absolutely delighted with his new Boxer buddy. See, my sister and I sat down with Mugs before Dad arrived and explained to him what his job would be – he needed to be gentle with Dad, keep him company, and make him laugh. Dad really needed to laugh. It sounds strange, I know, the idea of explaining such things to a dog. But we believe dogs can be very special people.

Mugs was. He knew exactly what to do with Dad. Though he was only a couple of years old and full of young-dog energy, he was incredibly careful – and incredibly gentle – with my Dad. When Dad regained enough strength to walk slowly without a walker, he’d go out onto the deck that stretched the length of the house and overlooked his garden. He'd walk from one end of the deck to the other, over and over again, enjoying the sun and the fresh air while rebuilding the surgery-wounded and wasted muscles in his legs. It was painful and exhausting. But Mugs would be right there with him, walking alongside. Not in front. Not behind. Right next to Dad. He walked slowly. Steadily. Dad talked to him and Mugs listened with his big silly ears cocked, his droopy brown eyes on Dad’s face. His ridiculous stub of a tail wiggled madly. He was Concentrating.

Mugs understood what his job was and he did it. It was amazing, really. He helped my Dad through that long, long recovery time, and when it was over and Dad was strong again, he remained central in both Dad’s and Mom’s lives. They spoiled him rotten. He was a “talky” dog, making the funniest “mwah-mwah-mworf-mwooo” sounds in response to questions, or when he wanted to be walked or fed. He cracked us all up. Both of my parents were delighted by him. They loved him dearly, and we were all convinced that without Mugs, Dad would have had a much harder time recovering.

The stroke hadn’t impaired Dad physically at all. We noticed a few small changes in his personality and the way he dealt with frustrations, but they were minor. Dad made a complete recovery. He got almost all his strength back. He started golfing again – twice a week! He walked on his treadmill every day, even though it hurt his feet and legs something awful. He picked up his volunteer work again. He and Mom traveled, together and with friends, all over the country.

And then, in May 2005, the chair Dad was sitting on slipped out from under him while he was tying his shoes to go play poker with his buddies. He fell and bumped his head on the tile kitchen floor. He was all right, but he had a big knot on his head. He went out and played poker anyway – it was just a bump, after all. He told my Mom it didn’t even hurt. But a few days later – after he started getting a little sleepy and disoriented and, finally, developing such a severe headache that he could barely hold still – Mom took him to the ER. And it turned out that there was a massive bleed between his skull and the membrane that protects the brain, caused by the bump on the head and the fact that Dad was on Coumadin, a blood thinner.

This was to be my Dad’s last stay in a hospital. Although the bleed stopped by itself, he never recovered. The damage to his brain was too massive. Two weeks later he died, peacefully, in his hospital bed.

As you might imagine, we were all devastated. We’d called Dad the “Miracle Man” because he’d survived his two earlier heart surgeries – and not only survived, but thrived. He’d refused to give up. Dad had a huge circle of friends and acquaintances, made during his many years as a CPA, and even more after he retired. We all knew we’d lose him someday, but we figured it would be his heart, not a silly household accident. He was 77 years old.

And where does Mugs come back into this story? Well, after the funeral, after everything was settled back down to something like normalcy (though it could never be truly normal again without Dad), Mugs turned his full healing attention on my Mom.

She was lost in grief. She and my Dad were one of those lucky couples who never fell out of love. They were together for 49 years, and he’d been her everything. Now she was alone, trying to figure out what to do with her life post-Dad. Mugs did with her just like he’d done with Dad seven years before. He never left her side. He was with her constantly, whatever she happened to be doing. He started “talking” even more, which made her laugh in spite of herself. He took her for walks. He curled up with her on the sofa for naps and hogged most of the queen-sized bed at night. He kept her company, filling her long hours alone and giving her a reason to get up each morning.

Mugs has this way of coming up to you and laying his warm, hairy cheek up against yours, just holding it there, being gentle. Understanding. He knows.

He's 12 years old now. He’s got arthritis in his hips and knees, and his muzzle has gone white. So when Mom decided this year, for the first time since Dad died, to go on the yearly trip to Monterey she and Dad used to take with several other couples, and asked me to baby-sit Mugs, I was delighted to do it. Spending this week with her dear friends, people who’d also loved my Dad, was a big step for her, a new step into life. Mom will be 78 in two weeks.

She's healing. And Mugs, that sweet old dog, is still doing his job perfectly. Keeping him company 24/7 while she's gone is the least I can do.

23 October 2008

Meme without politics

Lucy over at A Commonplace Book has a nice meme going in which she eschews speaking or thinking of politics. She’s burned out. I understand and empathize, so I’ve stolen her meme for use here. I don’t think she’ll mind too much.

See, there’s so much politicking and stress going on in the world right now, I’ve found myself at a loss for words again. I get overwhelmed. And I don’t have anything new to say about it all. It’s been about a week since I posted to Blue Wren, and I was out of ideas. Fortunately, Lucy came along just in time. She's my hero.

It took me a couple of days to decide to pick up the meme. I was thinking it would take too long or perhaps dig into personal areas I didn’t want to touch. But in reality, it was fairly quick and much easier than I expected. Painless, even. Feel free to have at it yourself:

What is your favorite thing to wear? I have an oversized, patchwork shirt made from lots of old, worn fabrics stitched together. It’s a wonderful hodgepodge of blues, muted purples, lavender and green. It’s soft and flowy. Not showy. I like wearing it with my comfy old jeans. And on my feet? Fuzzy chenille socks and German woolen slippers.

Last meal you had at a restaurant: It was a café, not a full-fledged restaurant. I had a so-so spinach and mushroom omelet, crunchy-creamy hash browns with ketchup (they tasted even better for being verboten), half an English muffin, and great coffee.

Name one thing that scares you: Being helpless and dependent. A close second? Wasps.

Who was the last person in your bed? Me.

What were you doing at 7:00 a.m.? I was filling the electric kettle with fresh water so I could make a cup of coffee. I did this while tossing lamb-flavored treats to the dog, who does not understand the words “wait a minute!” He was drooling on my knees, so I had to keep him occupied.

Last person you hugged? My friend J., for being so dear.

Does anyone you know want to date you? If he had any money, my cat would take me out on the town.

When was your last encounter with the police? About four years ago a young neighbor from up the street failed to make the turn at the end of our cul-de-sac and zooped headlong in his Toyota pickup down our short, very steep driveway. Apparently he forgot where his brake pedal was. He reached the bottom of the driveway at roughly 30 mph, where he crashed through the chain link fence dividing our property from our next-door neighbor’s. After taking out her second fence and heading into the forest, his Toyota finally stopped when it got stuck between two pine trees. The poor guy was, as you might have guessed, very drunk. Miraculously, he wasn't hurt, but he was dazed and disoriented. I helped him into our kitchen, gave him a cup of coffee and called the sheriff while he sat there alternately apologizing and complimenting the decor. The officer who showed up arrested him for driving under the influence. I felt bad – the guy was young and obviously messed up – but what do you do? There'd been damage done to our neighbor's property, and it was just sheer luck that I’d happened to park my own car up on the street the night before. Normally, it would have been right at the bottom of the drive, and he’d have crashed right into the back of it. At the time of morning this happened, my daughter and I could well have been getting into the car to go to work. We just happened to be running a little late, so we weren't walking up the driveway when he flew down it. So ... yeah. It was an interesting encounter. It was made even more memorable when the officer, who was sorta cute, flirted with me.

Have you ever driven without a license? Only by accident when I left my wallet at home.

What time of the day is it? It’s 11:43 a.m., by my laptop clock. I should probably try to be a little more productive than this today.

Who/What made you angry today? I haven’t been angry even once, so far. It feels good.

Do you want anyone? Not really. I’ve learned that what we want and what we get are rarely the same thing when it comes to people.

Do you like birds? I love birds because they make me smile, every single time.

Do you download music? Occasionally, through iTunes.

Do you care if your socks are dirty? Only when I don’t have any clean ones handy. In which case I’ll put the dirty ones on, wrinkling my nose, but I soon forget all about it.

Opinion of Chinese symbol tattoos? I’ll pass, personally. I’ve always loved the look and design of Chinese characters, but since I don’t speak Chinese, I’d be afraid I’d end up with a tattoo that said “Kick Me” (or worse) in Cantonese or something.

What are you doing tonight? I will attempt, once again, to progress a little further as I write the Great American Novel.

Do you like to cuddle? Briefly. Then I get too warm and start feeling claustrophobic, and I have to break free. Gently. With apologies. I think I like the concept of cuddling more than the actual action.

Do you love anyone? Oh, yes.

Whose bed did you sleep in last night? Mine.

Have you ever bungee jumped? Nope, and I never will, either. I’m a shivering coward when it comes to heights. I’d pee myself. It wouldn’t be a good experience.

Have you ever gone whitewater rafting? Once, by accident.

Has anyone ten years older than you ever hit on you? Yes. It was both flattering and distressing.

How many pets do you have? Two – my cat, who velcroes himself to my legs these days, and my dog, who loves me best at mealtimes. Oh, and then there are the five hens, but they’re not exactly pets.

Have you met a real redneck? Yeah, I’m married to one.

How is the weather right now? It’s really nice. Temp’s in the mid-sixties, there’s an intense blue autumn sky studded with clouds, plenty of cool, shifting sunshine and a light breeze. The Stellar’s jays are yelling in the trees just outside.

What are you listening to right now? The clock ticking over the hearth, the hum of the refrigerator and, through the open window, a firetruck siren, moving away.

What was the last movie you watched? That one with Kevin Spacey as the guy in the mental facility who thought he was from another planet. Maybe he was. Or not. It ended ambiguously. I was bemused.

Do you wear contacts? No, I wear bifocals. And they’re not working so well these days. I guess it’s way past time for an eye exam and new specs. Sigh.

Where was the last place you went besides your house? The tiny local post office a few blocks away. I needed stamps so I could mail a bill payment. The postal worker at the counter was very friendly and had a nice smile, which he used freely. I was pleasantly surprised, so I gave him my smile in return. And so the world turns.

What are you wearing? Don’t laugh. It IS noon now, after all. I’m wearing warm, comfy, black-watch-plaid flannel pajama bottoms and a very old, holey, Natalie McMaster "In My Hands" T-shirt.

What’s one thing you’ve learned this year? I’m much stronger, physically and mentally, than I would have believed.

What do you usually order from Starbucks? I rarely go there, unless it’s to meet my buddy J. When I do, though, I get a small mocha or a chai latte. The merchandise – the coffee cups, the coffeemaking paraphernalia, the music CDs, even the little tins of mints – always tempt me. “Waste your money!” it yells at me. It’s terrible. I have to tell myself to be strong before I walk through the door.

Ever had someone sing to you? Yes. When my daughter was six and we were living in Germany, we heard some music through the window of our third story flat one winter morning. We went out on the balcony. There on the sidewalk below was a very old man, dressed in a threadbare overcoat, a wool cap and baggy old clothes, playing an accordion. He saw us standing up there, turned our way, bowed and started playing a new song, singing to us in German. We were both mesmerized. Charmed. He sang two songs for us. We made him a cup of hot cocoa and took it down to him, along with all the German change I had in my wallet – about four Deutschmarks, I think. It was just lovely, one of those special moments that comes along now and then over the course of a lifetime. I’ll never forget that wonderful old man and listening to him sing to us in the cold.

Have you ever fired a gun? Yes, but only at target ranges. I fired an M-16 semi-automatic rifle in Air Force basic training, and then years later fired a sniping rifle (and hit a distant target on my first try, which was sobering), a .22 pistol, and a Magnum that kicked so hard when it fired I nearly knocked myself out with it. Except for the M-16, I fired the guns as research for a story I was writing at the time.

Are you missing someone? My Dad.

Favorite TV show? The only TV I watch is Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, and that’s only occasionally. So I guess that’s my favorite. I’m one of those annoying, self-righteous people who hate television and won’t watch it unless forced. Sorry.

What do you have an obsession with? Writing.

Has anyone ever said you looked like a celeb? Not even once. When I was a kid, I thought I looked a little like Hayley Mills. Now I'm not so sure.

Who would you like to see right now? My daughter.

Ever had a near death experience? No, and I’d rather not. I can just imagine the medical bills.

Are you afraid of falling in love? Not afraid, but I’d be very, very wary.

Have you ever been caught doing something you weren’t supposed to? No. I’m either really clever or deadly boring.

Has anyone you were really close to passed away recently? My Dad died in 2005, and my aunt and uncle died, several months apart, in 2007. It’s very strange knowing I’ll never see any of them again. Most of the time, I don’t think about it, but once in a while something will bring them all to mind, and I’ll miss them. Sharply, hopelessly, and with love. And then I move on, as we do.

What’s something that really bugs you? Hypocrisy.

Taco Bell or Burger King? When I was in my twenties, I liked Taco Bell better. Burger King was (and still is) off the list because I got violently sick right after eating a Whopper one time. I don’t think it was the burger that did it – I was coming down with the stomach flu, as it turned out – but for me, it ruined Burger King burgers for life. Today, I don’t eat fast food, period. It makes me fat.

Next time you will kiss someone? Does the cat count? I’ll probably kiss his fuzzy head several times today. Mr. Wren will get a few kisses, too, if he’s nice.

Favorite baseball team? Don’t have one. I’ve loathed baseball ever since I found out there was no half-time entertainment to relieve the tedium.

Ever call a 1-900 phone number? No.

Nipple or Nose rings? Argggh! Dang, both would hurt waaay too much. I had to be tricked into getting my ears pierced, you know. I'm a total wuss.

What’s the longest time you’ve gone without sleep? Years and years ago, when I was taking part in an Air Force training exercise, I stayed awake for about 48 hours straight. It’s a very odd feeling, that. I didn’t like it.

Last time you went bowling? In 1989, at the bowling alley on Karl Schurz Kaserne, in Bremerhaven, Germany. I rolled many, many gutterballs and two actual strikes!

Where is the weirdest place you have slept? In the dark, creaky wooden hold of a tall ship docked at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. I was doing a story for the newspaper about a group of local fifth-graders who were taking part in an historical “experience” during which they acted as the “crew” of this beautiful old schooner for 24 hours. The ship was authentic and had carried cargo along the West Coast until around 1910. I didn’t sleep in the ship’s hold alone, though – I shared it with 23 exhausted, overexcited, giggly kids and one very grouchy, 350-pound newspaper photographer.

Who did you last speak with on the phone? Mr. Wren, as I roamed the aisles at Costco searching desperately for the restroom.

What does your last received text message say? “New blog!” It was from my daughter, who writes the blog, Dream of the Dragon.

What’s the closest orange object to you? A pillar candle that , when lit, smells delightfully like cinnamon. It makes me think of autumn. Now I’m going to have to light it, you know.

15 October 2008

What's ... that smell?

The city down the mountain from me, in whose suburbs I did most of my growing up, has made the national news.

Oh, joy.

It would be nice if Sacramento had attracted the nation’s attention over something benign, like the Governator’s camp-outs in a big tent on the capitol lawn, early in his regime, so he could enjoy his cigars without breaking California anti-smoking laws. Or because there’d been a large tomato-truck spill on the freeway. The Sacramento Valley provides a good portion of the country with fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, you see. This time of year, the semis piled high with red tomatoes are everywhere.

But no. It was nothing so mundane as salsa-makings smushed all over the freeway. My home town hit the national news today because, along with several other images nearly as bad, the Sacramento GOP put the disgusting, fear-and-hate-mongering image above on its website.

When I learned about it this morning, I was appalled, even ashamed. But not surprised.

I tried to leave Sacramento, and California, for good back in 1978. There were lots of reasons: The Sacramento Valley is sweltering hot in the March-through-October summer, and I hate the heat. That was reason Number One. Two: Back then there wasn’t much in the way of culture in Sacramento (and there’s not much more now). I’d decided I wanted some. Third, the suburbs were becoming increasingly unattractive, with strip-mall after strip-mall stretching as far as the eye could see. It was boring. Unattractive. Soul-deadening. Today you have to drive nearly 20 miles in any direction to escape the sprawl. Another reason was that I wanted my independence. I wanted to go far away from my family and see if I could make a life for myself.

And finally, there was this: An underlying sense of small-mindedness permeated Sacramento and the region. Like a whiff of sulfur, it disturbed me. But if they noticed it at all, most locals seemed inexplicably proud of that ugly, floating darkness that loomed just out of sight, but was there all the same.

To get away from it, I joined the military – a move you’d think would shape my young mind in a most conservative way. And the military is conservative. But back then, it wasn’t necessarily a political conservatism. Instead, it was, and is, an excellent, working example of successful integration and diversity. Within its ranks everyone had one common goal: to serve and protect our country. It didn’t matter whether you were a Democrat or a Republican. Or any other.

Joining the Air Force forced me out of Sacramento. And believe me, I immersed myself in that new, breath-of-fresh-air environment with enthusiasm, working and living with people of all colors, religions, cultures and social statuses, all of them from my own country. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. But it was just what I’d hoped for, and needed, even though I chose in the end not to make the military my career.

A few years later I moved to Germany, where I worked for the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense as a civilian. There I met and lived with and learned from an entire world of diverse people. Being exposed to them, to different languages, different cultures and different surroundings, even different histories, shaped my eager mind in ways I’d never have dreamed of before. I loved being a part of that fascinating hodge-podge of cultures and people. It fed something in me that had been hungry for a very long time.

I did a lot more growing up. I became a confident adult, far more sure of myself and my place in the world. And I’d grown politically, too. I voted for the first time while I was living in Germany, using an absentee ballot to cast my vote for Bill Clinton. My exposure to the larger world had turned me from a politically ignorant and apathetic person into a very sure Democrat.

But circumstances kept sending me back home in spite of my wanting to set my roots elsewhere.
I left Germany, with huge reluctance, when the Army post I worked at closed during the military drawdown of the late 80s and early 90s. I divorced, finding myself once again a single working mother. My family, including aunts and uncles on both sides, still lived in Sacramento. My parents were growing older. Living closer to them seemed the right thing to do.

By then, Sacramento’s old, festering stink was a lot stronger. So I just held my nose and, in time, remarried and settled in the mountains east of the city, far enough away not to be part of it, but close enough to visit my aging family members.

I like my little house and my rural, way-out-in-the-country community. The summer heat isn’t quite so bad up here, and the seasons are more distinct. The pollution isn’t as bad, either. When I was employed, my job was within commuting distance, but it was still a good 10 miles outside of the city. I liked my job. It kept me busy and distracted from the things I’d disliked about the Sacramento region all those years ago.

Still, it was hard sometimes to accept that creeping darkness, that narrowness of mind that still formed the undertone to life here. That ugly … smell.

Now, the stench is nearly overpowering. It has even reached up here, into the mountains. This county was, during the last presidential election, 80 percent Republican. It’s almost all white. I think there are, like, two Negroes in the whole county. The population of Latinos is a little larger than that, as there’s a lot of agricultural work around here. It’s a far cry from what I grew accustomed to while I was in or working with the military. But most people here don’t talk much about politics, and a good number don’t bother to vote at all. Most of those who do are Republicans.

My cousin, a suburban/city boy to his bones, told me once that he and his friends considered those of us who live up here in the mountains to be hillbillies of the “Deliverance” variety. Like me, he’s a Democrat. He lives in Sacramento and works for a Democratic legislator. But he won’t come up here to visit. I think he’s afraid the Republicans who live here may know what he is and … what, attack him? I laughed when he told me that.

I’m not laughing anymore. What the Republican Party has turned into is ugly. It’s filled with fear, with hate, and with barely disguised violence. It’s repressive and wants to be oppressive. It’s intolerant. It vilifies the “other.”

Under pressure, the Sacramento GOP has taken the hatemongering images off its website. But the stench remains and will remain until the way people think begins to change. I’m glad the Republicans are about to finally lose power in this nation. For 30 years, they’ve turned Americans against each other when what we needed to do was learn to live and work together for the common good.

Barack Obama couldn’t have come into his own at a better time for America.

Note: This video has been out for a couple of weeks, but I only got around to watching it this morning. The speaker is the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka, and he's talking about racism, fear, and intolerance. It's nice to know that there are people out there like him, speaking the truth and working to make the world a better place for all of us. Watch the video. It will be worth your time.

10 October 2008

Sturm und Drang

I always know that fall has finally arrived here in the Northern California mountains when my Dr. Bronner's liquid soap turns from clear to cream-colored. Means the indoor temperature has dropped to 55 degrees – or below.

And indeed, that's what I found when I got into a hot shower this morning.

You'd think I'd know from the signs everyone else in the country goes by: cooler temperatures, the leaves turning fall colors on the trees, flocks of Canada geese headed south, the bloody calendar.

But here in California, even at 3,200 feet above sea level, these things take a little longer to happen. I've known the temp to break over 95 degrees in mid-October. I don't usually make my first woodstove fire until November, after waiting a few weeks to be sure that it's going to be chilly enough all day that the heat from the stove won't force us, sweating and swearing, out of the house by the mid-afternoon. Instead, Mr. Wren and I just break out the warmer clothes. Shirts with long sleeves, maybe sweatpants. My favorite warm, fuzzy socks on my feet, slipped snug into my wool slippers. Nice. See, since turning over the half-century-mark in my personal lifetime calendar, I get cold feet. Up 'til then, you could catch me barefooted or in sandals almost year-round.

But today, I know autumn is here. When I reached through the billows of steam in the shower for the Dr. Bronner's Lavender Soap, it was that milky color, rather than the clear amber I've grown used to seeing since, oh, around March. This pleases me, though my fingers are freezing.

I choose my shower soap according to my mood. It was sweet, feminine and flowery this morning. Tomorrow, though, I might choose the peppermint soap, as my mood will still be sweet but sharp, with a bit of burn and zing tossed in.

Or is that Sturm und Drang? Certainly, in the world outside my little house, the words "storm and stress" are a good way to describe the general mood. In politics, the McCain/Palin campaign continues to rile the crowds that come to see them speak, using words against their opponents Obama and Biden that turn crowds into mindless mobs. That a man that was once seen as honorable would use these tactics in a desperate bid for power is not only disgusting, it's frightening.

In other news, it seems that the American – and indeed the world's – economy is collapsing. Everyday people like you and me aren't just losing their homes or closing their eyes when the groceries are rung up now; they're losing their life savings. They're losing the money they hoped to retire on one day. Suddenly, next year's vacation isn't possible. Perhaps there will never be another vacation, period. Instead of looking forward to a time when we might finally relax and put our feet up after working hard for 45 years or more, we'll just have to keep on working. And many of us won't be able to. There might not be jobs. We might be physically unable. This is all frightening, too.

I know I have a Pollyanna-ish tendency to look for the bright side in everything. It's part of my nature, something I just can't seem to control. I stay calm when things turn chaotic. I look for the way over, under, or around obstacles. I compromise. I do my best to live by the Golden Rule, and I hope that the other people I encounter will do the same.

And I hope to be able to continue living that way, in spite of everything. I know we've got some hard – very hard – times ahead. We'll have to change a lot about the way we live now. We'll have to rethink what's important to us, and try our best to reach a helping hand out to those who are even less fortunate than we are. All my life, I've been told that this is what Americans do. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I believe we'll do it again, which is why I'm planning to vote for Obama. His philosophy rings true to me, and if it's idealistic, so be it.

We've seen what unfettered power, greed, and dispassion toward others brings to all of us. It seems autumn has arrived. And the winter will be long and hard. But like all people, all over the world, from time out of mind, we'll set our hopes on the spring and summer. They'll come. They always do.

For an apt comparison ...

Do click here.

I 'bout passed m'coffee through m'nose, laughing. I needed it, too, after watching 15 minutes of market meltdown and economic savagery on MSNBC. Yeah, I know, it's only my personal endorphins kicking in to make me feel a little better, but I'll take it where I can get it.

Tip o'the hat to Sullivan for sharing.

08 October 2008

Come along with us

It's easy, when we're worried, distraught and filled with amorphous fear about the future, to forget just how far America has come over the last 50 years. For young folks, it's all history, it all happened in the long-ago and doesn't seem to have any real relevance today. For those of us who lived as that history was made, it's also easy to forget how different our lives are than they were then. We get caught up in the everyday. We take our world for granted.

It's good to have an occasional "reality check moment" for just those reasons. And a few minutes ago, I had one.

Donna Brazile was on a New Yorker panel hosted by Jeffrey Toobin on Oct. 4 -- and at the end, she stole the show. I can't get the video to show up here, but do click on the link and watch it from the New Yorker's web page. It's not very long, but it's worth your time. Brazile reminded me where we've all come from -- and she both made me laugh and brought tears to my eyes.

Update: For those of you who prefer your upliftin' accompanied by music, enjoy:

07 October 2008

America the hateful

I think we all knew that this presidential election would be a big deal.

There's a lot at stake, what with the ongoing war in Iraq; the saber-rattling of the Bush administration (and the McCain campaign) against Iran; the cynical and systematic shredding of our Constitution; the fact that America is now known and despised as a country which tortures; the open, active and disdainful contempt of our Republican leaders for the law of the land; and now, finally, the sudden, shocking implosion of the economy.

Those of us with open eyes and minds saw all this happening years ago. We warned there was trouble ahead, and we were put down as "unpatriotic" and even "treasonous." But I'd never have believed that so many of my fellow Americans would embrace hate.

And yet, I saw with my own eyes the result of hatred in the booming bedroom community in which I edited the local newspaper. A young Iranian-American man, born and raised in California, opened a small hair salon in a nice, local strip mall. A year later he was gone, hounded out of business by anonymous individuals who pissed all over the door of his shop, left dripping red, spray-painted hate messages on the plate glass windows, and left threatening, recorded messages on his answering machine. It had happened several times when the owner got in touch with me. And of course he'd reported the attacks to the police.

They responded, took his statements, saw the evidence, commiserated with him, and promised to keep a close eye on his salon in the hopes of catching the vandal(s). But of course, nothing came of it. "Hate-crimes," I was told by one of the investigating officers, are notoriously difficult to prosecute. They're hard to define, and it's easy to accuse others of them. He said it's tough to catch vandals who do their dirty work under the cover of darkness. And of course, our local police force was woefully overworked and under-staffed, with only three officers in cruisers to cover an area of about 25 square miles every night.

I wanted to write and publish a story about the hateful vandalism the salon's owner was enduring, figuring that most people in the community had no idea such a thing was happening right there, under their noses. I thought that if they were informed, this sort of thing might be stopped. It was nice, upscale community, growing quickly, attracting many well-to-do young families from Southern California and the Bay Area who'd relocated there because it was less expensive, had such good schools and seemed a quiet, safe place in which to raise their children. I thought that many of them would be as appalled at this sort of crime taking place within their community as I was.

But the salon's owner wouldn't let me write the story. He was afraid – and perhaps rightly so – that publicizing what was happening to him would only make it worse. This was going on about 18 months after 9/11, and "hate crimes" against the "other" were becoming more and more common. He said that since looked "foreign," with dark skin and hair, he was fearful of being further singled out. He expressed his fear and frustration to me, but insisted that it was all "off the record," hoping that as a member of "the press" I might help him by bringing his plight to the attention of the local police once again.

But when I did, I was told that his was the only business in the area under "alleged" attack. To my surprise and disappointment, my contacts within local police force were unhelpful, even curt.

I talked to his fellow shop owners in the strip mall. Those who'd met him said they liked the salon owner, but they'd never seen anyone "suspicious" hanging around after dark. Most of them closed shop by 6 p.m., though, and their own businesses hadn't been vandalized. A few of them didn't know that there was even a problem.

Without statements from the victim or permission to print his name or the name of his salon, and without anything of substance regarding the crime from the police, I reluctantly dropped the story. Not long after that, the salon closed its pee-stained doors and the salon owner left the community. I felt bad about it. Helpless.

And now I read that Sarah Palin has been whipping up the crowds during her campaign appearances, using hate as a weapon against Barack Obama.

Am I surprised? No. Palin has proven herself an unrepentant liar, a closed-minded, rigid fundamental Christianist, and more than a little stupid. The campaign has kept her well away from the press unless the circumstances are tightly controlled, and she's the only Vice Presidential candidate in memory who hasn't held a press conference to take unscripted and perhaps uncomfortable questions from reporters. We know very little about her but we're expected to elect her as the person who'd take John McCain's place as president if he were to be incapacitated or die in office, both of which are dangerously likely given his age and medical history.

I'm not surprised that unbridled hatred has entered the ugly Republican McCain/Palin campaign, but I'm saddened that my country has come to this dark place. And I'm chilled that my fellow Americans would embrace, with such rage and glee, this naked hatred and fear-mongering, reacting to it with enthusiastic bloodthirstiness and even more hate.

I find myself thinking more and more often of that hapless Iranian-American salon owner. I wish I'd written and published that story.

04 October 2008