Mosquitoes Vs Nerds

It was a wet-ish Spring, and now with summer upon us Paul and I are routinely covered in mosquito bites and nurse each other with dabs of clear caladryl lotion. The air was fragrant with Windex and I victoriously scrubbing the bathroom mirror when Paul walked in.

“Didn’t you just do that?”

“Yup, but I got one!” Even if the one I’d killed had not revealed any of my O-, it was one less feasting upon us, and I was feeling a bit full of myself.

mosquito 2The night before, with Blanca, Paul, and Ivan the (recently) Terrible all snoozing peacefully around me, I awaited Morpheus while a veritable Starfleet buzzed about the room, making little reconnaissance flights past my ear while waiting for sleep to render me helpless.

“I’d leave it. Like a warning,” Paul advised. Instantly, I grasped his meaning. This is the stuff that makes our marriage tick.

“Like a head on a pike? Mounted as a warning to others: ‘So endeth all enemies of the Queen!’ I love it! The next one stays.”

And it did, for a week, the next hungry mosquito I slapped against the bathroom mirror was left, slightly gooey and dismembered, stuck to the glass, my version of a head on a pike on Tower Bridge.

I think they’ve taken it as a challenge. Since that day, we’ve bought a citronella plant to sit and smell off-putting on the back porch; a bug-zapper equipped with a mosquito-luring pheromone packet has been installed above the back door, and has quickly become full of the charred remains of unwary flying insects; standing water has been discovered and removed; and yet….. I’ve killed and missed roughly a dozen since. Each day, Paul, or I, or more usually both, count up our bites.

Anyone know of a good sale on caladryl lotion?

Sacrificing Innocents to the Cult of Trump

It was after a Maundy Thursday, or maybe Good Friday service and Paul, lapsed Catholic and attending all the Holy Week services for the first time in a very long time, was hearing all the readings and listening with a critical ear.

Allow me to paraphrase my wise hubby, “So, all these politicians cutting services like healthcare, food stamps, etc., to the poor are calling themselves ‘Christians,’ and yet, on the night before he died, Jesus Christ said to his closest friends, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourselves’; where in that was cutting food stamps and healthcare from babies?”

Where, indeed?

I go over it again and again in my head, trying to sort the cognitive dissonance which happens every time a “Christian” quotes the bible in support of the latest outrageous Trump Regime policy, usually with Old Testament scripture. And you know what? I am done trying to justify it, or even understand it. Folks are calling themselves Christian who are really, from my view, worshipers of the worst elements of the Old Testament, the judgy-est, most damning texts.  What we’re seeing is not Christianity, it is a new cult built around the most revolting, all-too-human figure currently occupying the White House.

While understanding that Jesus did not tell us to throw the old rules out with his coming, I do believe he told us to filter all that we do through his new covenant, that we love one another:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35

What we are doing to innocents brought here by desperate parents fleeing unimaginable violence will haunt us for years to come. The Trumpist cult that is now the GOP is fond of quoting the bible; here is one quote that has always intrigued me, as a student of psychology:

 

“The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.”Exodus 34:6-7

This doesn’t sound much like a merciful God. But as a student of psychology, I understand how mental sickness, like many other things, rolls downhill, or through generations. The man who hated his father for beating his mother becomes an abusive husband; children who are sexually violated become abusers themselves (sometimes). God doesn’t need to send specific punishments upon our babies, we do it for Him when we allow our sick, abusive behaviors to dominate and take us over. Our sins roll down onto our babies when we don’t actively address and heal our wounds.

I wonder how many people have had a conversation with a friend the night before he or she died? I have. When my friend Jeff and I talked, seriously and lovingly, alone for the last time, we had the gift of knowing it probably was the last time, and after I fed him beef stroganoff and we did our usual ridiculous cutting up, we talked of Love. It was a conversational treasure I will carry within my heart the rest of my life, and is the conversation which resonated within me that Holy Week when Paul pondered Jesus’ last words to his disciples.

Jesus, the original rule breaker, chastising those fussing at him for dining with prostitutes and tax-collectors, and choosing his last words carefully, mindful of the importance, tells his followers to “love one another as I have loved you” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

There is nothing of love in this:

horrible trump people on immigrants

Who are we becoming as an American People? This is what keeps me up at night. A populace which claims Christianity, but acts in distinctly unchristian ways? There is nothing of God in this policy and nothing of God in the people who revel in it. What we do know is that separating children from their parents in this manner results in trauma, the exact results of which may not be known for years.

The sins of the fathers will rain down upon us in ways we cannot even imagine if we let this stand, and they won’t be divinely sent. We will have seeded the clouds all on our own. We must not. We must contact our government representatives today and tell them this cannot stand.  Here is a link to find out who your representatives are: https://www.house.gov/representatives

Entertaining Angels and Con-men

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Hebrews 13:2-3

Long before I knew the passage, they’ve found me: people who need money, in parking lots with sad stories of sick mothers a bus ticket away, needing a room for the night and just $10 more, or, in this case, a bit of gas to get to his wallet, left at home in Denton while he was here, a stranger and lost.

The first time it happened, I was 16 and had just cashed and was carrying the $73 and change comprising my first official paycheck, money earned at a real job. She was not much older than I, skinny and scruffy, a bit nervous: after a terrible time in SoCal with a bad man, her mother was sick in Oklahoma and any money I could spare would help her scrape up the $50 bus ticket home. She only asked because I looked kind.

When I was 16, that might have been true. I probably did look like a nice, prosperous mark to those in need of quick cash. My family troubles had never involved hunger or homelessness, so I probably exuded the careless, confident openness of the Well Fed American Girl. Eager to please, trained to look after others, I gave her half my money and went home warm in the knowledge she’d get home to kiss her momma goodbye. Sigh…. it was a more innocent time, and I a lot more gullible.

As an adult, however, and really since my early thirties I have been assured by people I trust that I suffer from a pronounced case of Resting Bitchy Face, so I wonder they still find me, and find me approachable enough to ask for money.

But I do often wonder about that passage, and wonder if, from time to time, God Himself or one of his angelic minions walks among us just to get a feel for the mood on the ground, as it were. Does He test us, sending us opportunities to bestow a little grace in an increasingly dark world, standing back to observe our choice? Probably not. He’s got a lot on His plate. And what would the test be? Did she give the money? Cheerfully or resentfully? Did she treat him well, or like a problem? Acknowledge him at all? There are any number of ways One might analyze.

Of all the fives and tens and twenties I’ve passed along to the homeless or people in parking lots with fishy stories, I am thinking few made their way to the Greyhound station and Oklahoma, or a gas pump to a job, etc., etc. But a friend once said that even if my fiver went to a bottle, and I thus alleviated suffering for one person for one night, wasn’t that something? I don’t know.

But I do doubt that if God sends observant angels to beg cash from middle-age Christian women in grocery store parking lots, He sends the same angel twice, in the same guise.

“Excuse me Miss, I wouldn’t ask, but I left my wallet at home. My tank’s on empty and I just gotta get to my job.” He was an inch or so shorter than me, wiry, dressed in a clean gardener’s uniform, wearing a cap and a worried expression. Much as he had two weeks before, when he’d been lost in my town, his wallet left at home, and in need of gas to get to a job.

“Dude, you know I would except you got me two weeks ago with pretty much the same story.”

He blinked and said, a bit reflexively, “No!” but as I nodded at him with a rueful smile and he took a better look at me, he suddenly said, “Well God bless you!” and was off. He’d blessed me the last time, too, and hugged me. He smelled nice, but not angelic.

Was it a test, even still? I don’t know. I hope not. I kind of don’t believe God sends specific tests, and not the same one over and over. From my observation and experience, we tend to make our own circular hells with no need for outside help. I think God spends a lot of time, like all parents, clutching His head and asking Himself, What were they thinking?!

Probably, I should have told the store they had a guy begging in the parking lot. Businesses tend to not like that. But…. he was clean and polite. He stayed a respectful distance away. He’d only hugged me when I handed him the cash, while blessing me. He blessed me anyway, without the cash. I could give him that much, a wee bit of grace, to go unreported, surely?

Angel or con, we all can use a little grace.

 

So, I Never Thought I was Racist, but…

I never considered myself racist. Like, how could I be, raised in the wonderful melting pot of coastal, Southern California by liberal Democrats? When our family picture was a visual representation of the song, One of These is Not Like the Others?

Surrounded by Hispanic, Vietnamese, Persian, and many other cultures, African-American people were not too much on my radar. A few in my High school. My closest associations were the two different African-American women my mother employed as Housekeepers, first Bea, then Margaret.

During the summers Bea worked for my mom, she brought her grandson with her and we played, being of an age. We moved, moved back to another neighborhood, and Mom found Margaret. These two women did much more than clean; busy with their own lives as they must surely have been, both would stay to have a cup of coffee and some conversation with my mom, who was lonely.

So, all my few associations were positive. But I didn’t know any African-American people, so I just didn’t really think about them. And the Civil Rights Act, right? Everyone got a fair shake because it was the Law.

In the workplace, I witnessed in-the-face racism, the first time, I was 18 and waiting tables in Newport Beach, a tourist town. Despite the poshness of the address, the ventilation hood over the grill was always breaking down. On this particular night, the three grill cooks, Francisco, Vicente, and Jaime, all had water-drenched bandanas over their faces to screen out the smoke. They were drenched in sweat.

There was no soda fountain in the kitchen and during the night, waitstaff would run back pitchers of soda for the grill cooks; they needed the sugar and salt to stay hydrated. Francisco pulls his bandana down and asks of the three of us waiting for orders, “Can someone bring us some soda?” and he is clearly dying.  To my horror, Audrey pipes up, cool Audrey, whom I’d liked so much until this moment, and says, “We’re too busy! You fucking Mexicans are gonna have to wait!” Grabbing her platter of ribs and onion rings, she turns on her heel and probably doesn’t hear me when I say, loudly, “I’ll go get you some soda!” And I do. I bring back three pitchers of soda. Coincidentally, I never have to beg for special orders or favors from the kitchen, before or after I delivered those sodas. Just saying: treat people decent and they will, too.

But even today, Audrey’s words still feel like a personal slap in the face, and I guess it was. It woke me that things aren’t always like they seem on the surface. A pretty, friendly, fellow waitress, who had always been cool to me, can be a righteous bitch and a racist. It was an important lesson.

Many years pass and I see other crap like the above. I go to college and learn about Redlining. Laugh right out loud if you wish, but I was shocked to learn that devious white people perfected ways of skirting the law to keep out brown and black people. I learn about Brown V the State Board of Education, and Plessy V Ferguson, the legalized slavery of sharecropping, Jim Crow, the Klan in all it’s awfulness, Emmett Till, Billie Holiday and Strange Fruit.

I find I can no longer read my favorite book, Gone With The Wind, in quite the same way. When I read about “a lost civilization of Knights and Ladies” I keep hearing a whisper, built on the backs of slaves.

Many more years pass and I go to work on a highly diverse campus, and this time, it’s mostly African-American, not like my High school which was mostly Hispanic and Vietnamese. So I get to know a lot of African-American people: Principals, Teachers, Cops, Parents, and Students.

I am introduced to Black Culture, but here I am confused; just as there are a lot of different versions of White culture, each with their own peculiarities and traditions (my own natal Irish-American/Jewish-American,  or Italian-American, Polish-American, German-American, etc., etc.), I find a lot of different cultures among the African-American people I come to know: New Orleans Creole that came with the kids who arrived after Hurricane Katrina; our SRO, who liked to hunt and fish out on his land in the country but could also quote you the Bible, Shakespeare, and Walter Mosley; Teachers who came from highly-educated families, sometimes the third or fourth generation to Teach; Rap and Gangsta culture on display, comically often by boys too young to shave. I began to wonder, when people talk about Black Culture, what do they mean? Which one? African-Americans seem (to me) as wildly diverse as White Americans, or the myriad Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and so on. We’re just all a big mess of influences. For my money, it’s that mess which makes America truly great. The ultimate jambalaya, if you will.

But here is a thing I remembered, while pondering all of this: I was 16 or 17, and out very late at night, up in LA where I most certainly should not have been. I took a wrong exit somewhere, and got lost. Straight into Compton.

Compton had always been spoken of as a “bad” area into which the wise did not tread, especially if one were White. Blonde and  blue-eyed, I am Extremely White.

Before GPS on smartphones, we had Maps, specifically in SoCal, the Thomas Guide, and after this night I would definitely purchase one but alas, I had none, and would have to ask directions of someone at a gas station or convenience store. But all the gas stations I passed where manned by African-American men. So I drove until I found a gas station with an Hispanic attendant, with whom I felt comfortable and who sent me back down the street to the 405 Southbound, with which I was already intimately familiar and could find my way home.

It wasn’t that the African-American men manning the gas stations looked particularly malign or dangerous, it was that my life had not included, to that point, many African-American men, and I’d been warned about that part of the city. So I went to what was familiar to me, or at least didn’t seem threatening: an Hispanic male. I’d grown up with Mexican kids in every one of my classes and that culture, Hispanic people, felt safe to me.

Here’s my point: I thought I was pretty smart to get myself home by finding that Hispanic attendant. I was safely home, my parents none the wiser about where I’d been. Forty years later, my brain suddenly shouts, “A ha! Unconscious bias! Right there in your psyche big as life!”  That night, I was directed by the irrational fear of someone, a whole class of people, because they did not look like me, and I hadn’t known any closely enough to understand they are, actually, just like me. Eating, breathing, sleeping, loving, hating, yearning to live a life unmolested by others, just like me.

So, I never thought of myself as Racist, and I don’t know that I do now, but I do know I might find some more of these ugly little things, assumptions I didn’t know I had, but that directed my behavior. I hope I am brave enough to own them, too.

Questioning my strongly held opinions will never lead me astray; when they are the right ones, they hold fast. When I can see the wrongness, or….. unformedness? instability? When they are unsupportable by fact, or just plain erroneous? I am gifted with vision, to see another side, if I am brave enough. That can’t ever be wrong, and maybe it will help me be helpful, where help is wanted?

Where have you found your unconscious biases?

Mother’s (birth)Day

Today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. I can’t even imagine what a wizened old crone she would have been, what with the sun-exposure, the smoking, the arthritis and asthma. I can’t imagine this specifically because the cigarettes killed her at 49, when I was 21, and that was a long time ago.

We did not have a great relationship. As a small child I worshiped her, greatly assisted by the fact that I didn’t live with her. She was someone pretty and shiny, with whom I spent very little time and almost all of it fun. Except when it wasn’t.

She married a good man, my step-father, Jack, who adopted and adored me, raising me as his own and giving my mother and me everything a hard-working man could afford. He came to the school recitals, the ER visits. He was faithful, and a good father. She was miserable; it was her default setting.

She was also in need of some serious therapy to get over her own bad childhood, filled with the emotional and physical abuse she would pass onto me in due time, also possibly the three children born before me, whom I never knew, for whom she lost custody.

There was much anger between us, in those teen-age years. An estrangement, ended only by the news she was in hospital, dying. She was way too screwed up on pain meds for anything to be discussed, revealed, or mended, so we told each other we loved one another, and I brushed her hair and tended her nails. When the end came, my first thought was, “It’s over,” as in all that agita and mess between us.

And God laughed, and laughed….

Because of course it wasn’t over, not by a long shot. It was years later and I had my own daughter approaching adolescence before I realized that, for all the truly good work I’d done on my head in the years since her death, my mother was finding ways to screw up that relationship. That there were things in my head scary enough to need a professional to guide me through them. So I found a warm and wonderful woman with a doctorate and many years in the field of Psychology, and she guided me in laying to rest some old demons, and taught me how to recognized the un-slain in the future, and deal with them when they arose.

When I think of my mom now, two weeks past American Mother’s Day, on this, her 82nd birthday, mostly I just wish she had been happier. Never happier than when she was miserable, she was just so deeply sad and angry. I wonder who she might have been? So far as I know, no one alive now could tell me who Donna Dee Kelly really was before she jettisoned anyone inconvenient and created her own life narrative out of thin air, spinning an elaborate web of half-truths and lies completely incapable of withstanding the weight of, or shielding her from, the circling hawks of facts and truth. For most of my early childhood the answer was to run, moving us every two years, whenever (I now realize) those birds of prey circled too near her.

It’s easy to recall some of her characteristics: generosity; flirtatiousness; charm; a vile,  hair-trigger temper; a complete inability to accept responsibility for her own actions (“you made me hit you”); fear, always fear, of censure, of being discovered, of being less than perfect, of being found out.  While I can recall some of her character traits, I have no idea who she was. It’s entirely possible she didn’t know, either.

I wonder, have I shown my daughter who I am? (Leaving open the possibility that she might know better than I.)

The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas, in her excellent book, An Ordinary Death, writes movingly of sorting through her mother’s letters and writings, discovering a different woman than the one she knew, the woman her mother was outside of being her mother, and how she wished she’d had different conversations with her mother as an adult. I wonder if I do enough of that with my own daughter? Have I been brave enough?

I wonder, what conversations would you have, what things about your parent’s lives, would you want to ask? Keeping in mind that timing is everything, I’ll suggest to anyone reading this and fortunate enough to have a parent or two still around, it will be a treasure beyond price if you get their stories now.

School Shootings: It’s Not the Schools, It’s The Guns

During my time supporting three Assistant Principals and an Associate Principal, I saw all the Discipline on a 5A, highly diverse High school campus. Most is petty and routine: dress code violations, excessive tardiness, insubordination; a subset of chronic cases who had more serious offenses on their records; and maybe a dozen of the truly troublesome.

I thought of the truly troublesome as the Disaffected Boys, sometimes, because they just seemed adrift. They had messy or tragic home lives, often. If they had been involved in athletics, by High school they were kicked off their teams because of their disciplinary offenses, grades, or absenteeism. They had few friends or fluid, ever-changing friendships among the other truly troublesome students. They weren’t involved in clubs or activities, or seemed to have any church or worship life. Drugs were a common theme, both prescribed (which they either didn’t take or did so abusively) or recreational. They were adrift and seemed angry most of the time. A couple of them scared me, and I don’t scare all that easily; these were the ones who’s own parents were afraid of them.

What they were was dangerous, and they existed on our campuses for the same reasons there are students with profound mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, on your student’s campus right now: every student is guaranteed an equal and adequate education, and most districts find it cheaper to place difficult students or profoundly special needs students on standard campuses with sparse Special Ed resources available to them, than place them on smaller, more expensive campuses where more intensive interventions can take place. Parents may also object to their student being placed on an alternative campus, and most districts have policies of returning even suspended and/or expelled students back to a regular campus as quickly as possible, in order to provide that equal and adequate education.

From my seat in the AP’s Office, I witnessed Teachers, Principals, Special Ed Aides, and yes, Secretaries, too, doing everything in their power to help every student who had need. And you know, we don’t always like every student. Some students can be real jerks by the time they are in High school, and some have parents who are real jerks, too. But schools are staffed with professional, highly educated, big-hearted people who put aside personal animosity and go by-the-book, as defined by their District. I have never seen any who particularly wanted to stick it to even the most obnoxious student. They approach their duty in fairness and compassion, because they know what is at stake: a human being, a life. So I really don’t want to hear anyone blaming the schools when something awful happens. It’s way, way bigger than that.

Let’s look at our society: we’re so busy making money we throw money at our kids instead of time. Many abdicate parenting entirely to the schools, only to rail at them when they try to impose discipline. More often, I saw parents doing their best while working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and/or parenting alone.

Parents and schools are also struggling against a society which hyper-sexualizes and matures the young far beyond their brain’s still-developing capacity to deal with the issues this presents. TV, video games, movies, music, and their friends are all far more influential with the young by the time they hit Middle school, than are their parents or school administrators.

Increasing technology facilitates isolating oneself in a self-selected echo-chamber of voices, many quite dangerous and with malign intent, and validating one’s darkest ideas. Bonus: every one of a teenager’s flaws or mistakes are instant gossip fodder for their friends and enemies alike, via social media.

And we have guns, guns everywhere, big guns, readily available. Guns designed for the military, guns with high-capacity magazines which together permit rapid firing and achieve high body count in the hands of one bent on destruction. We have all these guns because a terrorist organization, the NRA, spreads so much money around the state capitols and the Nation’s capitol that they’ve created an impenetrable wall of cash between our elected officials and anyone who dares suggest meaningful gun reform. You can see how much your elected officials have taken from the NRA here. Over the last 40 years, the NRA has grown from a responsible gun enthusiasts’ group to a dangerous, far-right political lobby.

It is impossibly complicated – so much more complicated than I can express here but, here is the deal, folks: It is ABOUT GUNS. While I believe it is profoundly complex, this problem we have of disaffected boys shooting up their schools, involving a mixture of mental health issues, having nothing larger than themselves to believe in, a cynical culture which values money, power, and guns more than them or our consistently underfunded educational system, Districts with “zero tolerance” policies which do not take into account the individual student, and much, much more. But ultimately, if Nikolas Cruz went to his old High school with a machete or even a hand gun instead of an AR-15, there would be many fewer dead, maybe none, today. Without that AR-15, someone might have had time to help Nikolas Cruz.

After Sandy Hook, after Mitch McConnell filibustered against meaningful gun reform, America should just admit that it values the right to possession of military-style armament more than it does it’s children.

But I guess a little child shall lead the way: the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are marching on their State Capitol even as I write this, and students from all over the country are going to be marching on Washington next month. They watched as their peers and teachers were gunned down and they have had enough.

They deserve better, and they will show us the way.

They’ve renewed my hope on this issue. Thanks, kids. I see you. I am with you.

#ParklandStudentsSpeak

Ash Wednesday’s Angel

She was slender, in a coat too big for her and with a mop of dark hair in need of a good brushing. She might have been a small ten year old, and it was clear English was her second language as she handed me a note and asked, “Please you help?”

Paul’s eyebrow rose above the frame of his glasses as I took the folded scrap of notebook paper, soft and with a small wear-hole forming in the middle from many foldings and un-foldings. To paraphrase the contents, someone was ill, they needed a place to stay, any amount of money would help.

I hadn’t been approached by a child begging since visiting Rome in 2000, where I’d been warned to avoid getting swarmed by Roma children. So it seemed incongruous to encounter one at Firehouse Subs on Ash Wednesday, in Frisco, Texas, USA.

“Where…?” I started to ask the girl, and she gestured out the door where I could just make out the figure of a woman and two smaller children. I gave Paul the note, and he returned it unread to the girl, his eyebrow now approaching his hairline as he saw me wavering.

“Do you have any cash?”

“Some.” The eyebrow descended, he was now regarding me with wry amusement. He handed the girl the $10 in his wallet. She scampered out the door, and I watched as the woman sent her into another fast food place in the center. I didn’t recall seeing her approach anyone else in Firehouse; something  has brought beggars to me since I was old enough to earn money.

“You’re a good person,” Paul told me.

“‘…without knowing, some have entertained angels….'” I paraphrased, badly.  “All I did was give a little girl $10 of your cash while stuffing back a Hook & Ladder Fully Involved.” We bused our table,  and made it through the door of church with two minutes to spare.

The readings were long, and I thought someone should have had a glass of water for Jan, who did a beautiful job with the Old Testament and the Psalm. But Isaiah had me repressing a giggle and it was my turn to launch an eyebrow pointedly heavenward at Paul:

…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, cover them….  if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted then your light shall rise in the darkness….

“Ya know,” I whispered at Paul, “I cannot remember another time when God sent a specific scriptural reinforcement quite so soon. God must really love you.”

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday To Go

It finally happened: I stood on a street corner for God. Three of ’em. No sandwich board declaring The End Is Nigh, but still more evangelizing than I am comfortable with generally. Fortunately, I had my camera to hide behind.

There we were: three women waving on a street corner, one fully garbed in priestly regalia, beside a folding easel with a bright purple sign announcing, Ashes to Go. Busy people with places to go whisked past us in sedans, minivans, work trucks, and SUVs, and we wondered what lives they carried with them. I said more than one silent prayer for a driver who seemed particularly preoccupied, or grumpy. And the ones eating while dialing cellphones down Coit around 11:45 a.m., Dude, you know who you are and that call can wait. Just sayin’.

Most drivers were unmindful of us, but not all. There were a lot of smiles: puzzled, amused, delighted, approving, cordial as in, look at the crazy ladies but they make me smile, and they almost all came with a friendly returning wave. They came from guys in construction hard hats or dapper driving caps; women in hijab; firefighters, cops, and people in scrubs; guys in delivery trucks who tooted their horns Hello.

Black faces, White faces, Asian faces, Brown faces. All kinds of faces and many distinct styles of wave.

Mother Leslie offered prayer and ashes to all who asked, those in fine cars and those in ones with better days in the rear view mirror.

It’s a new thing, this Ashes to Go, and I know there are those might find it…. awkward. A bit irreverent.  But I say to them, not so long ago I was a working mother who just had no extra minute to carve from the hamster wheel that was my life for the full church service at the end of a work day which left me feeling like an over-cooked noodle,  yet I still yearned for the connection to my faith the observance of ritual and sacraments provides. And it occurs to me that Jesus spent very little time in the Temple, and there is a kind of fruit that might be planted only by non-traditional means. Or maybe it’s a return to tradition? Hmmm….. something to ponder this Lent.

The Cat’s Social Contract

When Paul speaks for our horrible cat, Ivan the (recently) Terrible, he does so in the voice of Stewie from Family Guy.  My internal voice for Ivan has become Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, complete with voluminous Roommate Agreement and it’s many Amendments, all written without our input or agreement.

It may be unwritten but, like Duke’s mayonnaise in the Deep South, there are things that shouldn’t have to be written down. One simply knows, and Ivan’s Social Contract with us is one of those things.

Full disclosure: I am most often the one in Breach of Contract. Damages are almost always forthcoming, both Compensatory and Liquidated.

When Ivan adopted me as The Human He Mostly Tolerates, his first change to our Social Contract was the Wee Hour Snack Amendment. In the early days when I was attempting to civilize Ivan, I bribed him shamelessly. In a spectacular example of Student becoming Master, Ivan quickly identified my insomnia as a weakness he could exploit. Thus Ivan will, a few times a week, launch Stage One: a series of plaintive meowings down the hallway to our bedroom (the small hallway aiding amplification). If I have been so heartless (and foolish) as to ignore what is clearly a starving feline nearing death, using his last gasps of breath to beg for a scrap, Ivan proceeds to Stage Two: I am Adorable, Why Won’t You Feed Me? This involves two minutes of wheezing and purring directly below where I am attempting to sleep, this being my signal to shove the dog over to the middle of the bed, creating enough room for Ivan to jump up and nestle down into the warm semi-circle I have created with my body for his specific comfort. Stage Two can go one of two ways; if he is feeling benevolent and not inclined to hold me to the letter of my contractual obligations, he’ll purr us both back to sleep for a couple of hours. More frequently, there is a combined purring and furious head-butting of whichever of my body parts he can get to, an arm, a foot, my face. Should that fail, should I fall so into breach that I remain unresponsive to his plight, his remedy is simple and deployed without hesitation or sentiment: Damages. Marching across my head to the night table, Ivan begins knocking the contents to the ground.

IMG_3100 (2)Mission: Accomplished.

The Litter Box Amendment is newish. As he enters his senior years, Housekeeping has become important to Ivan, and who would have guessed, what with the chaos and mess of his early years? Nonetheless, should I fail to scrape the litter box twice daily, Ivan is a persnickety customer, availing himself of the aforementioned Liquidated Damages to drive home his point. *In the voice of Stewie, “Oh, think you were clever removing the bathmat? How did you like that puddle in the middle of the bathroom floor at 5:00 a.m?”

We’ve managed to create a couple of Clauses in our favor, such as the one Concerning Lunch Meat, subsection 3. When I crack open a plastic box of lunch meat, Ivan comes in from the yard so I can close the door and, in return, he gets a bite. Roast beef is his favorite, in it’s place he’ll take turkey over ham. Like Chewbacca, he’s generally thinking with his stomach, and we’ve learned to exploit this to our advantage.

Our old dogs across the Rainbow Bridge had their own short Agreements with Ivan. Were they written they would have contained one line only: Let us mutually leave each other the hell alone. Lucy tried to warn Tasha when we moved in, but Tasha made friendly overtures, all rejected. It took her a week, but she joined the social contract of Ivan.

Despite my council, Blanca seems unwilling to enter into any such sensible Agreement. It reminds me of the time the telecom company I worked for was requested to quote on a $5 million dollar job at a time when we really needed work, and the executives got stupid and greedy and responded instead with a $330 million dollar “total network solution”. All Blanca’s bouncing and prancing and gifting of  balls means about as much to Ivan as the advanced software features meant to a company just trying to keep their backbone network from crashing quite so often. Despite several postmortems and fishbone diagrams when we lost the bid, those execs just didn’t get it – what they proposed was so awesome and exactly what the Customer needed! Why couldn’t they see it? Blanca doesn’t understand Ivan’s rejection of toys and play and an unfair portion of her own dinner but, unlike the execs, I think Blanca might eventually learn to give the Ivan Customer what he wants.

Blanca and I both understand this is where the furry little demon has us: the beauty of unwritten contracts is one would never agree to any of it if one saw it written down.

POTUS & Archie Bunker’s Toilet

It was a more innocent time, my childhood, when Jane Russell could only display the Platex Cross Your Heart Bra on a mannequin; it was a big deal that we heard the flush of the Bunker’s toilet; when a married couple must be shown to each have one foot on the floor in the marital bedroom (which contained twin beds). Some things were and still are illegal and other things, like underarms and Archie Bunker’s toilet, were considered crude, and either not permitted out of good taste, or played for cheap laughs. Both the extreme opinions of the far-right, bigoted Archie and his equally extreme, but far-left-leaning son-in-law were skewered by brilliant writing week after week; Archie’s toilet was daring for being heard at all, an extended fart joke. A much more innocent time.

Some firsts aren’t groundbreaking, or desired. This morning, mothers watching the news are shielding their children from anchors throwing around the word “shithole” because they are quoting the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Now, I am no prude and anyone who has talked to me for oh, maybe three seconds, knows I can turn the air blue. It’s not the language I object to; it’s who is saying it it, the context within which it was said, and his obvious, willful ignorance of History and breathtaking thoughtlessness of the world-wide implications of his every aside and tweet. How is it he doesn’t get that? Or, as I suspect and worse, he doesn’t care because this is him:  racist, misogynist, xenophobic in the extreme. Every day it is some new, crude, backwards-thinking embarrassment.

I am descended from people who came from places that, at the times they fled them, probably seemed like “shitholes”. But that did not mean my ancestors were ashamed of their origins – how could they be, when those places made them who they were? When those places gave them the very strength upon which America itself is built? People strong enough to leave a hopeless situation, strong enough to build entire new lives and a country, too, strong enough to send into the future tax-paying citizens like me.

I have had the privilege of working with immigrants from Africa, Mexico, South America, Pakistan, Lebanon, Singapore, Jordan, Kuwait, China, and Ireland. All were hard-working, and many were far better educated than I. To insult their homelands is to insult them.

When I look back at the TV of my youth, I am glad that the more ridiculous rules have fallen away; however, we currently have a Chief Executive with none of the governors over his behavior most sane people employ when in society, let alone anything like class or discretion. Every day his boorish, frat-boy behavior brings yet another new low, from bestowing ridiculous nicknames on world leaders, his insistence on propagating conspiracy theories despite empirical evidence disproving them, to the infantile Twitter battles with which he seems to start every day. He diminishes our good name with every waking hour, even as his robber barons strip healthcare  and food stamps from children and re-write tax code to increase their own wealth. Drain the swamp? Puhleeeze. He’s only added alligators.

Like getting spectacularly drunk at the office Christmas party, it is going to take us a long time to live down the embarrassment and regain our reputation. We will have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously after Trump (so for women and people of color, it will be business-as-usual on steroids).

The first place we can make a significant dent in that drunken reputation is this November. We have got to turn the GOP out, and I mean all of us, we can’t just let Black Women carry the weight. White Women: wake up. This POTUS is no good for us or our children. Vote in your best interests, which means can you get healthcare? Can you afford it? Can you afford your birth control?  Go away, Bernie. You’re not helping. Tell your voters to vote for a viable candidate instead of whining and staying home and then complaining when the Village Idiot is elected President.

Democrats need to clear out the Old Guard and yes, Nancy Pelosi, that means you. Let’s hear more from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro. Here in Texas, I am supporting Beto O’Rourke to unseat Ted Cruz.

The GOP owns this President and everything he is destroying in his path, but it is up to all of us, together, to rebuild our Country and our Ideals – this is no less than a battle for the American Soul, American Identity. We must tell our elected representatives this behavior will not stand. Call your representatives today: 202.224.3121, register to vote, and come November, VOTE. It has never been more important. Words matter.

When someone demeans your place of birth as a “shithole,” it is a fair bet he doesn’t think much of you, either. But he misjudges at his peril. Say it with me, like Ned Stark, “November is coming”.