Category Archives: Essays

It’s Still a Matter of Respect

Yesterday, July 3, the Washington Redskins football team made the stunning announcement that they would actually consider changing their name; at least change the “Redskins” part of it.  If there’s a true case of better late than never, this is it.  For decades, the nation’s Native American population and their supporters have demanded Washington remove the “Redskins” feature of their moniker.  As recently as 2013, team owner Dan Snyder scoffed at the possibility of such a move.  Many have expressed surprise that Snyder would be opposed to the alteration because he is of Jewish-American extraction.  But I say it’s because he is Jewish-American that he remained reticent to a change.  From what I’ve seen, many people of Jewish faith and ethnicity feel they are not only the “Chosen Ones” of humanity, but they are the ONLY ones who have ever suffered the horror of genocide.  So much so that the term ‘holocaust’ has metamorphosed into ‘Holocaust’ as a direct reference to Nazi Germany’s attempt to obliterate the Jewish people.  Snyder had spat out the usual Caucasian rhetoric of venerating Native Americans as fierce warriors with the word “redskin”.

In his formal statement, he declared, in part, “This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise, but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.”

Not once did Snyder mention the derogatory nature of the word “redskin”.  In the spirit of thick-skin football, I presume Snyder wouldn’t mind me recounting a couple of old Jewish jokes someone told me more than 30 years ago.

“Hear about the new German microwave oven?

Seats 500.”

Or…

“What’s a Jewish woman’s favorite sex position?

Bent over the checkbook.”

In the spirit of racial unity, I wanted to refer to one of my earliest essays, “A Matter of Respect,” in which I address this very issue.  Because, like love and hope, respect never dies.

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Coloring In

We’ve heard it so many times before.  History has always been written by the victors.  It’s a sad reality, yet very true.  It means that much of the history of Africa and the Western Hemisphere has been recounted with a decidedly European viewpoint.  As someone of mixed European and Indigenous American extraction, I always felt conflicted about this disparity.  While trying to find information about Native American Texans in an encyclopedia during my grade school years, for example, I noticed that references to pre-Columbian peoples were treated dismissively.  It wasn’t just archaic history in standard academic circles.  It was irrelevant.  Even mention of the state’s Spanish colonizers – the first permanent European settlers – was dubbed “pre-history.”  It seemed Texas history didn’t actually begin until the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston arrived.  And it didn’t matter that these men weren’t even born and raised in the state.

Only within the past half-century has the truth about various indigenous societies been revealed with advances in archaeological research and detailed forensic analysis.  Lidar, for example, has taken the concept of neon lighting from the banal presence of liquor store signs to the jungles of Central America where long-abandoned Mayan structures remain shrouded by the foliage.  As a devotee of Archeology magazine, I’m constantly amazed by discoveries of ancient settlements across the globe.  Areas once thought to be occupied by nomadic hunter-gatherer types at best are revealing the ghosts of thriving population centers.

Yes, history has always been dictated and composed by those who somehow managed to overcome the locals – usually through the casualties of disease and pestilence or the sanguineous nature of war and violence.  But the blood of history’s victims seeps into the ground and eventually fertilizes the crops that feed the newly-minted empires.  That blood eventually metabolizes into the truth of what really happened – albeit many centuries or millennia later.  Still at that point, it can no longer be ignored.

Here in the U.S. we’re now seeing statues and other emblems of the American Civil War come down by government decree.  Supporters of that conflict have maintained its genesis was the battle for states’ rights, while truth-tellers insist it was a battle over slavery.  They’re both correct, in some ways.  It was a battle over the right of some states to keep an entire race of people enslaved.  I certainly feel removal of these statues is appropriate.  Those who fought for the Confederacy wanted to rip the nation in half over that slavery issue and therefore, should not be venerated as military heroes.  They’re traitors.

The debate has now shifted to renaming many U.S. military bases.  In my native Texas, one military base is named after John Bell Hood, a Confederate general who – like so many other Texas “heroes” – wasn’t even born and raised in the state.  Hood also wasn’t an especially adept military commander; having lost a number of individual conflicts.  And yet, a military base is named after this treasonous fool?

The U.S. Pentagon has expressed some willingness to rename military bases that reference those ill-fated Civil War characters.  Naturally, it’s upset many White southerners who annually reenact various Civil War conflicts; not realizing how ridiculous they look in their antebellum garb.  I can’t help but laugh at them.  They’ve been fighting the war for over 150 years and STILL haven’t won!

In his usual brusque and toddler-esque manner, President Trump announced last month he would veto a USD 740 billion defense bill if it included an amendment that would rename many of those military bases.  He declared, “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”

Remember, the Confederacy lost that war.  A million reenactments won’t change that reality.

Some 30 years ago my father discovered that Spain’s Queen Isabella (who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage) was an ancestor of his mother.  According to documentation my father found, Isabella learned of the atrocities Spain’s military officials were committing against the indigenous peoples of the “New World” and ordered them to stop.  That’s one reason why Latin America has a stronger connection to its native peoples than the United States and even Canada.

It should be worth noting that, while Italians celebrate Columbus as a national hero, he probably wasn’t even a native son.  For centuries he was considered a Genoese sailor with grand visions of finding a westward route to India and subsequently gain an edge in the then-contentious spice trade.  Contemporary research, however, has declared he was actually the son of Polish King Władysław III; often dubbed the twelve-toed king because allegedly had 6 toes on each foot.  And I have to emphasize that Columbus couldn’t get Italian leaders to finance his ventures, so he turned to Spain.  In the 15th century C.E., Italy was actually a conglomeration of city-states.

In one of my earliest essays on this blog, I lamented the term “redskin”; a derogatory moniker for Native Americans that has figured prominently into the names of many sports teams, from grade school to professional.  Just this week the Washington Redskins football team announced what many previously considered unthinkable: they might change their name.  Team owner Daniel Snyder conceded he’s bowing to pressure from its largest corporate sponsors (big money always has the loudest voice in the corporate world), as well a growing cacophony of socially-conscious voices demanding change.  Snyder said the team has begun a “review” of both the name and the team’s mascot.  Detractors, of course, moan this is political correctness at its worst.  But, just like Civil War reenactors still haven’t won, Eurocentrics still won’t admit they didn’t obliterate North America’s indigenous populations.

Change on such a grand scale is always slow and painful.  But, as with time itself, change will happen; it can’t be stopped.

We can never correct or fix what happened in the past.  Nothing can ever atone for the loss of millions of people and the destruction of the societies they built.  But we can acknowledge the truth that is buried.  It’s not rewriting history; it’s writing the actual history that remained entombed in that bloodied soil for so long.  It’s adding the needed and long-absent color to reality.

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Mother Wolf Transitions

My mother’s official 1959 wedding portrait

My mother told me that one day in the early 1960s, she was strolling past a row of file cabinets at the insurance company in downtown Dallas where she worked at the time, when a man who had a history of playing pranks on his coworkers suddenly leaped out and popped her bra strap.  At a time when people could normally get away with such shenanigans in the workplace, my mother said she didn’t think twice once she saw the smirk on the young man’s face…and smacked him across his face, sending his glasses to the floor.  She cursed at him – something that most people, especially women could NOT get away with in those days – and merely walked away.  Trying to play the victim, she said he complained to his manager who subsequently called her into his office.  She reiterated the entire scenario, which generally would be a true case of he-said-she-said.  But she had a supporter.  Another man had witnessed the incident and confirmed her version.  The bra popper was merely reprimanded verbally, and my mother was forced to drop the incident.

Not until years later did she reveal that to my father who surely would have stormed into the office and cracked a few heads of the all-male management.  In fact, she told me she never told my father most of the stuff that happened to her at work – the ongoing and pervasive sexual harassment she endured in the old days – because she feared his retribution upon her male colleagues.  But really didn’t need to do that; she could fend for herself.

My mother, Maria Guadalupe De La Garza, passed away last Monday, June 22, at the age of 87.  She had endured a lengthy battle with dementia and the effects of a stroke she suffered last January, which almost completely rendered her left side immobile.  After a lengthy stay in a rehabilitation center, I had to bring her home in May; whereupon she entered home hospice care.  That, in and of itself, was an ordeal.

But I knew her time was coming to an end.

My mother had a difficult start in life.  Her mother, Esperanza, was seven months pregnant with her, when her parents traveled to Taxco, a town just outside of México City, to attend some kind of family gathering in December 1932.  While there, Esperanza suddenly went into labor.  My mother barely weighed 2 pounds at birth; she was so small they carried her home in a shoe box and used her father’s handkerchiefs for diapers.  She was born on December 12, which to Latino Roman Catholics is Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe).  Thus, her parents named her Guadalupe.  Knowing that she had slim chance of survival – like most babies born prematurely in the 1930s – a local priest baptized her and gave her last rites in the same ceremony.

But she did survive – and fought various battles throughout her life with that inborn sense of determination and perseverance.  I still believe the unique mix of German and Mexican extraction only accentuated her unbridled individualism.

Esperanza died in México City on Christmas Day 1940, just 11 months after giving birth to her only son, William.  They had wanted to name him after his father, Clarence, but no one could a Spanish language version of that name.  Esperanza’s mother, Felicitas Basurto, stepped in to help Clarence raise his 4 children.  Felicitas had lived in the United States for a short while and worked for a U.S. Navy admiral as a governess to his 2 children.  She had actually taught herself English.  Felicitas returned to México in the summer of 1940, as Esperanza’s health began to fail.  She was there when her daughter succumbed to an abdominal infection.

In the September of 1943, Clarence moved his children and mother-in-law to Dallas where he’d found a job working an auto plant.  He wanted to return to his native Michigan, but he spotted an ad for the job in Dallas.

It was a rough transition for my mother and her 3 siblings.  None of them could speak English.  Many strangers thought my mother and her older sister, Margo, were Americans because of girls’ fair coloring.  But their maternal grandmother helped guide them into their new lives.

My mother met my father, George, in 1957, and they married two years later.  I’m their only child.

My mother’s strong personality made her almost fearless.  At some a gathering in the early 1950s, a nun got angry with my Uncle William for some unknown reason and called him a “spic”.  My mother was nearby and slapped the nun across her face.  That got her into trouble with the church and her father and grandmother.  Shortly before my parents wed, a priest told my mother that he hoped she’d do the “godly thing” and have lots of children.  My mother said she didn’t want many children, but the priest insisted; telling her it was her duty as a married woman.  She then agreed – and told the old man she’d bring all those children back to him so he could help her raise them.

Her sharp criticism of some people – especially other women – was boundless.  She called Paula Jones – the woman who accused Bill Clinton of exposing himself to her – a “dumb broad” because Jones apparently believed that she really was going for a job interview at his hotel room at 10:00 at night.  In May of 2004, my father’s second oldest sister, Teresa, died of cancer.  At the rosary, we spoke briefly with the husband of one of my cousins.  He was a police officer and mentioned that he was part of the security detail for former First Lady Barbara Bush when she came to Dallas and had to carry his gun.

“Why did you need to carry your gun?” my mother inquired.  “I mean, who wants a piece of that old hag?”

I burst out into laughter, as my cousin’s husband tried to keep his eyeballs from falling out of their sockets.

She called another former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, a “screaming banshee”; said she didn’t realize how fat Oprah Winfrey was until she saw her in jeans, when the talk show maven visited Dallas; and denounced Monica Lewinsky (the woman who had a sexual tryst with Bill Clinton in 1996) as a “cheap-ass whore”.

My mother and me, Christmas Eve 1965

My mother first started showing signs of dementia more than a decade ago.  Recipes for the simplest things sometimes eluded her.  My father and I finally got her to start seeing a neurologist in 2011.  In the four years since my father died, she occasionally referred to me as her brother, William.  A few times I had to call the paramedics to help me deal with her increasingly erratic behavior.  Their sudden presence always managed to calm her down.  I believe it’s because they were all men, and my mother was partial to men.

At the end of this past January, she suffered a mild stroke.  I didn’t realize it at first, but noticed she couldn’t get up out of bed.  I had her transported to a local hospital where an MRI discovered bleeding on the brain, which had already begun to heal.  It had paralyzed her entire left side.

I had to make the difficult decision of admitting her to a rehabilitation center to help her recover.  I found one nearby, but I developed a sense of dread the night the hospital transported her to the facility.  I felt like I was abandoning her.  I had promised my father many years ago that, if she should die first, I’d do everything I could take care of her.  And, of course, he died first.

The rehab center turned out to be incredible.  Physical therapists helped her regain mobility in her left arm and even her left leg.  I brought her back home at the end of March, as the COVID-19 calamity was unfolding.  I’d reports of residents at similar facilities contracting the novel coronavirus and even dying.

I contracted a health care agency to help me care for her.  But, after a week, things didn’t turn out well.  She became increasingly hostile and combative.  She also developed a urinary tract infection, but I thought she was experiencing another stroke.  After one night at the hospital, I had her readmitted to the rehab center.  Unfortunately, health care in the United States is still very much an actual business.  Her Medicare benefits were exhausted, and the facility had to discharge her in May.  I wrote about this in an essay a few weeks ago.

After returning home again, she entered a home hospice care program with same health agency.  They were quite phenomenal in helping me.  I couldn’t depend too much on relatives, friends or neighbors.  But her health continued to decline.  I had told a long-time family friend who lives nearby – a woman who’s known my mother for close to 50 years – that I didn’t feel my mother would make it to the end of summer.  Our friend was shocked, but when she came over to visit on the 18th, she realized I was probably right.  My mother had grown incoherent; she didn’t seem to recognize anyone, even me; and would often lie in bed staring at the ceiling or a wall and asking for her sister, Margo.  Margo had died of cancer in June 1989.

It’s incredibly frustrating and sad to watch someone who raised me descend into the depths of cognitive bewilderment.  The once vibrant, strong-minded woman I’d known my entire life had reverted to a child-like state of mind.  Now I know why dementia is often called “the long goodbye”.  You see your loved one disintegrate before you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about.

In the few weeks preceding her death, I often felt we weren’t alone in the house.  I had prayed to my Aunt Margo to come get my mother, and I actually began to sense it was her moving about.  I also began to see shadows of a small animal trotting down the hall or the sound of tiny footsteps.  I realized immediately the figure was my dog, Wolfgang, who died in October 2016; just less than four months after my father.  In many cultures, animals, birds, and butterflies are often seen as either an omen of death or a conduit between our world and whatever other world might exist.  Both my parents absolutely loved that little dog of mine.  He actually became our dog.  Since I never married and had children, Wolfgang became their pseudo-grandson.  I even mentioned Wolfgang as a “canine grandson” in my father’s obituary.  On just a handful of occasions, though, I actually did spot Wolfgang – but only for a second or two.  I needed no further reassurance that my mother’s time here was coming to a close.

There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a loved one.  As a friend told me, that person can live a thousand years, but their demise is still painful.  I’m at peace, though, with what happened.  I’m glad I could get her back home to die.  She and my father had worked very hard to get and to keep this house.  We’ve been here almost 50 years.  And I couldn’t let her die anywhere else.

Now, I move forward.  Goodnight, mother.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

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Tulsa and June 19th

Page 1 of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863.

“And so when this terrible thing happened, it really destroyed my faith in humanity.  And it took a good long while for me to get over it.”

– Olivia Hooker, survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots

It’s a typical story: White woman claims Black man assaulted her; mob of White men become enraged and launch a hunt for said perpetrator; any Negro male is automatically presumed guilty; exact details supposed incident are unknown.  This was the scenario in May of 1921, when a young White female, Sarah Page, in Tulsa allegedly screamed after a young Black man, Dick Rowland, entered the elevator she operated.  Even today the circumstances of the exchange between Page and Rowland remain unclear.  But, in 1921, scores of hate-filled White men didn’t need to know such minutia.  The White woman’s words were the only details they needed.

And thus, commenced what is now known to be the worst race-based riot in U.S. history.  Police found Rowland and charged him sexual assault.  The sheriff had refused to hand Rowland over to bands of outraged Whites.  The throngs of self-proclaimed vigilantes stormed through Tulsa’s Black-dominated Greenwood neighborhood to exact further revenge.  Greenwood featured a district known as “Black Wall Street;” where businesses owned and operated by African-American residents had become an incredibly independent and thriving economy within a city of some 100,000.

When the initial chaos was over, upwards of 300 Greenwood-area residents were dead and thousands left homeless.  Some Black veterans of World War I (then called the “Great War”) had taken up arms in defense of their community, which surely incentivized the angry White men to continue their violent retribution.

The same madness would occur in Rosewood, Florida two years later.  A White woman reported that a Black man had entered her home and attacked her.  The woman’s husband gathered a group of about 500 Ku Klux Klan members and began a hunt through the area for any Black man they could find.  They learned that a Black member of a prison chain gang had escaped and believed Black residents of Rosewood were helping him hide.  The mobs then systematically tore through town, killing whoever they could (mostly Black men) and driving out most of the survivors.  The entire community of Rosewood was decimated.  The story of what happened remained largely unknown until at least the 1980s.

The story of Tulsa still remains largely unknown.  I’d heard of the horror some 30 years ago and wondered why such a calamity would be so obscure.  I now know why.  Like much of Native American history, true aspects of the African-American experience are often overwhelmed by the cult of American greatness; the “Manifest Destiny” myths stained heavily with Eurocentric viewpoints.  The Tulsa Massacre has received greater attention in recent months because of the tragic deaths of several African-Americans.  Its significance has grown even more within the past couple of weeks, as Donald Trump was set to stage a campaign rally in Tulsa today.  But that’s been postponed to tomorrow.

COVID-19 concerns aside, the event would have been held on one of the most historic dates in American history.  On June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the state of Texas – more than two years after then-President Abraham Lincoln had signed it.  The decree established “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Known as Juneteenth, the event is now celebrated as a turning point in the U.S. Civil War; bringing an end to one of the bloodiest conflicts on American soil.  The Emancipation Proclamation forcibly freed millions of people from the carnage of slavery; granting them the dignity of their humanity; something that had been stolen from their ancestors ensnared in the traps of slave traders on the beaches of West Africa.

That Donald Trump – one of the most cognitively-challenged and covertly racist presidents the U.S. has ever had – would hold a reelection rally on this date and 99 years after one of the single worst racial holocausts in modern American history speaks to an incredible level of ignorance among the historical elite and certainly of its arrogance.  Knowing Trump, this shouldn’t be surprising.  But the partiality of U.S. history also shouldn’t be surprising.

Many factors of our history – some dating back thousands of years – have been absent from the historical account.  For decades, myths persisted that Native Americans willingly bowed down to Christianity and that Blacks lived happily within an enslaved existence.  Even now, for example, many Americans believe most Hispanics are Latin American immigrants; when, in fact, the history of Hispanics in the U.S. goes back further than that of other Europeans and is tied inexorably with Native American history.  In other words, it IS American history.

Anger over Trump’s June 19 convocation forced organizers to reschedule it for the 20th.  But that won’t solve the dilemma of deliberate ignorance – just like civil rights legislation didn’t make all racial transgressions moot.  The 1965 Voting Rights Act eliminated many of the barriers to voting obstruction.  But, since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, we’ve seen Republican-dominated state legislatures try to roll back some of those protections under the guise of preventing voter fraud.

A photographic overview of Tulsa’s Greenwood area after the 1921 race riot and massacre. (Greenwood Cultural Center)

Much of the anger among Whites in 1921 was that Tulsa’s Greenwood section was prosperous and independent.  The same happened with the Tigua community 18 years ago, when the state of Texas shut down their casino under the ruse of combating illegal gambling.  The Tiguas had become wealthy and independent with proceeds from the casino; thus, lifting most out of poverty and off of welfare.  But they hadn’t gotten permission from the conservative, predominantly White state legislature; an affront of unimaginable proportions the latter.  Therefore, then-Governor Rick Perry and then-State Attorney General John Cornyn forced the casino to close.  Many of the Tigua have now slipped back into poverty and back onto state assistance. Even as of last year, Texas is still trying to stop the Tiguas from becoming self-sufficient.

Again, anyone with a clear mind shouldn’t be surprised.  Economic independence and wealth translates into political power.  The voices and experiences of those communities are no longer silenced.  That, in turn, upsets the self-appointed power elite – and the oppression begins.  It used to come at the end of firearms and sticks.  Now it comes with legislation.

It’s too easy to dismiss the ignorance of people like Donald Trump.  But it’s also dangerous.  And it does a disservice to the American conscious.

We can never truly make amends for incidents like Tulsa.  We can, however, honor such brutal transgressions by remembering them; remembering exactly what happened and not deleting any feature of those accounts because some are uncomfortable with it.  Again, that’s a disservice to the American conscious.

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Wait? We have.

I looked at Tom* with what he later described as a scowl.  “Are you serious?” I asked.

“Um…yeah,” was his only reply.  He then looked embarrassed – almost as if he realized he’d just said the wrong thing.  Or, in this case, just pissed me off.

It was the fall of 2002, and we’d known each other for a few years and been roommates since May.  Things weren’t turning out as well as I’d hoped.  Pooling resources is supposed to help people get through tough time.  So far, the only thing that had turned out well was the new puppy he got in August, after the death of his last dog.

I like Tom – for the most part.  You never really know someone unless you either spend the night with or move in with them.  Tom and I had never spent the night.  I do have standards!  But Tom was smart and highly-educated; something of a wild man with few bounds.

He was a little like me: a native Texan of mixed ethnicity (in his case, German and Indian) who graduated high school in 1982 and attended the University of North Texas (although I didn’t arrive there until 1984).  But he was more conservative, and our political discussions on race and gender often went sideways with his right-wing logic.

This evening’s conversation was a perfect example.  I can’t remember what set it off, but I had mentioned that the modern civil rights movement “had to occur”; that it had to take place.  He refuted that claim; calmly stating that it had been completely unnecessary; that eventually society would “come around” and realize it was only fair to give all people a chance; that folks just “needed to wait”.

Thus, my…scowl.

“Wait?”  People had already waited – more than 400 years, from the arrival of the first Europeans to the 1950s, when Martin Luther Kind launched his quiet revolution.

People had waited through the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.  People had waited through every major political and social event since the Salem Witch Trials for an equal place in American society.  People had waited through the name-calling, beatings, shootings, stabbings, lynchings and relocations.

People had waited.  Long enough.  And that’s why everything finally exploded in the 1960s.  I believe the catalyst was the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Just a few years into the decade, the first U.S. president born in the 20th century was cut down by a delusional madman (or a cavalcade of them, depending on who you ask); thus squelching a promising future to an American that was moving irreversibly forward.  But the centennial of the Civil War – a conflict about one group of humans owning another group, not property – helped fuel the embers of dissatisfaction.  People had finally said, ‘I’ve had it.  This is it.  We’ve done everything possible to make ourselves valuable and worthy of a seat at that great American banquet table.’

And, in the midst of the mayhem, old White fools like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan stood around saying, ‘I don’t know why they’re so upset.  They live in a free country.’

Define free.

A high school English teacher once said all that happened in the 1960s was boiling in the 1950s.  The Korean War – the sadly “forgotten war” – was a blight in an otherwise great decade.  It was marked by the creation of the grandest economy at the time and included the seminal Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.

Tom didn’t know what to say to me after my rant.  It was more of a lecture.  I can get emotional with those sensitive issues, but I’d maintained my decorum – each of us standing there in boxer shorts chugging beers.  He was truly speechless – a rarity for him.  But alas… he had to concede I was right.  Or more, that he could see my point.

Wait…no longer.

*Name changed

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Aged Out

“I hope I die before I get old.”

– “My Generation”, The Who, © 1965

I’ve thought about this scenario: I’m home alone at age 80-something and I have a stroke or some kind of cardiac event.  I can’t get to a phone and I don’t have one of those Life Alert devices.  As a staunchly independent, childless 50-something with few friends, that thought has crossed my mind on more than a few occasions in recent years.  It became even more glaringly realistic this past January, when I told my mother she needed to take a shower.  I realized she had urinated on her bed; a simple of case having fallen asleep and – given her age, I thought – wasn’t able to make it to the bathroom in time.

“I’ll change the sheets,” I told her, before retreating into the hall.  A moment later I saw she was flailing her right arm and leg.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.  “You need to get up and take a shower.”  But then it became clear.

She’d had a stroke.

It apparently had been a brief event and was already starting to heal by the time she’d arrived at the hospital.  But her left side was mostly paralyzed.  I sat beside her in the emergency room, as she gazed blankly into a flickering light panel, and thought, ‘Now what?’

Years ago, when her mental health started to wane, someone asked why I didn’t place her in a “home.”  “She has a home,” I replied.  “It’s the one she’s in now.”

But the now had changed.  And I was forced to contemplate the unthinkable: putting one of my parents into a “home” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to entail.

I had promised my father that I would do everything to ensure he didn’t pass away in a hospital; ensconced in a strange bed with tubes wrapped around him, as if he was a hostage.  And I was able to help him achieve his desire.

But this situation is different – and far more complicated.  After her hospital stay, I had to place my mother into a rehabilitation center.  I found one nearby and was able to tour the facility a few days before she arrived.  It’s an older building that looked like it hadn’t received a fresh paint job in about four presidential administrations.  On that Friday evening I accompanied her to the place, I felt as if I’d swallowed a tree branch – and it was now stuck.  The center looked even more dismal than when I’d first entered.  And that night, as my mother lay in bed, glancing around the room – her left arm and leg still mostly inert – my heart filled with trepidation.  I couldn’t stay that night, so after more than an hour – assuring her things would be alright and consulting with the amiable staff – I departed.  I almost felt like I’d abandoned my mother into a pit of despair.  And, even worse, I’d violated a solemn vow I’d made to my father more than a decade ago: if he should pass away first, I’d take care of my mother.

Looks, indeed, can be deceiving.  While the rehab center was an aged structure, the staff was incredible.  I did have a good feeling from the start, though, when I first spoke with one of their representatives.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize I’d made a great choice.

I brought my mother home in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation.  The startling number of coronavirus deaths in similar facilities alarmed me.  The center had banned visitors a few days earlier, but I had to get her out of there.  As good as the place had been for her, I didn’t she feel she was safe.  And I knew I could care for her just as well as the rehab center and get her back to some semblance of her former self.  I should know by now that far-reaching plans always look great on paper or in dreams.

After only a week, I had to return her to the rehab center.  Her health had deteriorated in that short period.  But, once back at the facility, she improved.  She’d regained some movement on her left side and was alert.  She still didn’t recall what had happened.

But then, matters became even more complex – and aggravatingly unsettling.  My mother’s lengthy stay at the rehab facility had exhausted her Medicare benefits.  They paid 100% for 21 days, when they lowered the rate to 80%.  My mother – and I – was obliged to pay the remainder.  But she didn’t qualify for a supplemental insurance policy – even through Medicare.  Or the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The requisites for either make the Harvard Law School entrance exam look like a daycare application.

Medicaid was our last option.  Completing the application for that was tantamount to completing one to be a Central Intelligence Agency case officer.  And my mother wasn’t approved.  With her Social Security and two pensions, she earns too much per month; just a “few dollars” too much, the rehab center associate helping navigate the morass informed me.

And what, I inquired privately in my angry cogitations, qualifies as a “few dollars” too much?  I researched a handful of other available and plausible alternatives – enough to fill a tea cup – and could find nothing viable.  Absolutely nothing.  For my mother even to begin to qualify for some semblance of Medicaid coverage to help with her health care expenses, she’d have to cede all of her assets, including this house – the house she and my father worked hard to get and to keep; give it all up to an omnipotent entity that designed the very system to which my parents (and millions of others) annually pay homage and taxes.

And she earns a “few dollars” too much.

By the end of April, the rehab center – the place that had proved life-saving and life-changing – had reached its financial breaking point with us.  They had to let her go.  They had no choice, they told me – and therefore, neither did we.

Fortunately, Medicare does pay for extended hospice care here at the house.  Representatives with the agency I selected have been incredible – even angelic – in their commitment and service.  They’re as concerned with me, also, as my mother.

Still, I seethe at the thought of the financial fiasco in which we’ve now been placed.  We’re in debt to the rehab facility now, as well as to a slew of doctors and the hospital.  My mother is just one of literally millions of Americans in similar straits.  At current rates, the crisis will only deepen nationwide.  The number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to almost double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060; rising from 16% to 23%of the population.

A half-century ago, programs like Medicare and Medicaid were designed to assist the elderly and poor with health care needs.  They’re not just altruistic; they’re vital.  As with the Social Security system a generation earlier, Medicare and Medicaid provided necessary safety nets for many Americans.  The nation had matured into a contemporary society where even the most vulnerable of citizens were not left to fend for themselves.

As usual, social conservatives scoffed at the notion.  Just like with the post-World War II GI Bill, they denounced such aspirations as welfare and socialized medicine.  These were the same fools who demanded people swear allegiance to the United States, be willing to sacrifice their lives to the Constitution, abide by established laws, and blindly pay money to ensure a safe democracy for all.  They still do.  Yet, when people earn a “few dollars” too much…they shrug their shoulders and change the subject to American exceptionalism.

My mother began working for an insurance company in downtown Dallas in the fall of 1952 at the age of 19 and retired from an insurance company in February of 2003 at age 70.  With the exception of taking off 15 months for being pregnant with and caring for me – at a time when maternity leave was more of a concept – she worked for half a century.  Fifty years.  And, as her physical and mental health decline from years of just being alive…she earns a “few dollars” too much.

“Age is just mind over matter,” my father once told me.  “If you don’t mind, who gives a shit?!”

People have told me that, for being a good person, I deserve a “big reward.”  And I’ve also told some they deserve a special place in the “Great Beyond” just for being themselves.  As genuine and thoughtful as those words are, does anyone have to wait until life in some other realm to be appreciated for their actions?  Is it truly necessary to wait until we’re dead to receive the respect we’re due in life?

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100,000 Dead and Still a Circus

“When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads: Le Cirque des Rêves. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.”

– “The Night Circus”, Erin Morgenstern, © 2011

On Wednesday, May 27, the COVID-19 death toll here in the United States achieved a brutal milestone: 100,000Globally, some 5.6 million infections have been confirmed, with more than 353,000 fatalities.  Bearing only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has roughly one-third of deaths directly related to the COVID-19 scourge and about 1.7 million infections.  Sometimes being first isn’t such a good thing.

About 300 municipalities in the U.S. boast populations of about 100,000.  We have sports arenas that can seat 100,000 people.  Despite the viral carnage, many cities across the U.S. are moving towards a re-opening; albeit with a few restrictions.  The limitations appear subjective.  Some restaurants, for example, remain delivery or curbside pick-up only, while others allow a small number of patrons indoors, with tables kept at least six feet apart.  Most demand employees wear masks and latex gloves at all times, but don’t require the same of guests.  Then again, it’s sort of difficult to imbibe in food and beverages with one’s mouth ensconced in a piece of cloth – no matter how fashionable it might be.

Is this the new normal?  And who designates what is or is not normal?

For me social distancing and frequent hand-washing have been normal since color television was still a novelty.  Yes, I am that…mature and I was that precocious!  But, for some people, washing their hands after they pick up dirty laundry or take out the trash is a catastrophic lifestyle change.  Hence, my social distancing predilection.

Such habitual alterations aside, I can only shake my head at the blatant disregard some people have for their neighbors – what I also call downright stupidity.  Am I sadistic in chuckling at the thought of moronic infidels perishing in the morass of their viral incompetence?  I view it merely as being practical – in a Darwinian frame of mind.  Among lower mammals, those that cannot maintain pace with the herd are sacrificed to the course of nature.  Among humans – at least in democratic societies – even the stupid are afforded some level of sympathy.

However, it’s tough for me to sympathize with many of our elected leaders, including the psychotic, discombobulated clown the United States calls its president – Donald J. Trump.  The alleged liberal media has noted the president’s distortion of facts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic – from his pronouncement that April heat will kill off the virus to his suggestion that injecting basic household cleaning chemicals into one’s corpus is good preventative medicine.

One hundred thousand is not just a number – it represents human beings; lives lost to a disease that, oddly enough, has a low fatality rate.  The U.S. death toll to COVID-19 is equal to the number of fatalities in this country to the 1968 Hong Kong flu, which killed roughly 1 million people globally.  One would think a nation as developed and affluent as the United States would be able to confront any scourge as influenza.  But looks are often deceiving.  The U.S. has been good at developing weapons of destruction.  Our military is the most highly-trained and well-prepared fighting force in the world.  Yet health care issues always seem to be relegated to a Neanderthal-style the fittest shall survive type of mentality.

And it goes back to what political structure is in place at the time of the crisis.  Forty years ago, when AIDS arrived on the world stage, the U.S. was beset by the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan – a half-ass actor cum political assailant.  While contemporary conservatives deify Reagan and tumble into near-orgasmic frenzies at the mere mention of his name, the rest of us clear-headed folks understand what an incompetent dolt he was.  And not just because he turned his back on the working folks of America!  As a social conservative, he and his minions felt justified in categorizing people into those who deserve to live and those who don’t.  With his banshee of a wife beside his feeble body and mind and an attorney general who thought waging war on the adult film industry was a noble cause, the Reagan Administration ignored the very real calamities of a growing crack-cocaine epidemic and the burgeoning AIDS crisis.  Thus, thousands died, while Reagan uttered a few quaint phrases that cemented his aw-shucks persona as adorable to his legions of blind disciples.

I see much of the same happening now with COVID-19.  As thousands fall ill and the economy sinks, Donald Trump is more engaged with his Twitter account and continues propagating the myth of rampant voter fraud.  Now we have 100,000 dead from this novel coronavirus – and growing – with more than 1 million infected.  And despite that low morbidity rate, just recovering from the ailment seems to be a slow ride through the fires of Hell wearing tissue paper-thin clothing soaked in lighter fluid.  Moreover, scientists still aren’t certain of the long-term effects of COVID-19.  Most people recover, yes, but at what cost?  How will the disease impact their health years from now?  What of their cardiovascular system?  Respiratory system, metabolism, digestive tract, immunity?  Like AIDS forty years ago, COVID-19 is fresh off the virological boat.  We just don’t know.

I do know, however, that a conservative ideology is bad for health care.  Like the schematics for the Titanic, everything looks great on paper – until it slams into something, and we see what happens.  No one knows what the hell to do!  Except pass judgment and make light of the matter.

That’s what Reagan and his ilk did during the AIDS mess: toss around cruel jokes and tap-dance on the graves of the fallen.  And it’s pretty much what Trump is doing now.  He’s not exactly making jokes – his presidency and leadership have taken the top awards on that.  But he’s not providing any true direction.  He did order some manufacturers to being producing much-needed medical supplies.  But even that came with some arm-twisting!

Think about that number, however: 100,000.  What number of dead do we have to see before everyone takes it seriously?  When is it no longer just a very bad day?  What price is a life?

Images: Alejandro De La Garza

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Circling

Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me.  It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas.  I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001.  But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day!  Wow!  The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life.  A lifetime ago.

And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then.  Both society and me.  I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990.  I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since.  I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore.  I’m just reflecting.  I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often.  I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.

It makes me recall how my parents often did the same.  ‘It’s been how long?!’  I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016.  Now, I find myself doing the same.

I’m certainly not upset about it.  I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors.  That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds.  It’s inevitable and unavoidable.  Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone.  The alternative is not as attractive.

After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years.  Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago.  My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters.  After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”

Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”

Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled.  Even the priest laughed, she told us.

My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”

For me, those “little things” have added up.

A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work.  They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution.  I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues.  One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time.  Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic.  I laughed.  It didn’t make me feel old.  I realized immediately it was just progress.  But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner.  I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE.  I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room.  Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder.  I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.”  And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.

In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.

“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me.  “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.

Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them.  Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her.  Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing.  Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family).  My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten.  He grew to like them, especially my father.  I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company.  On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.

I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.

“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.

“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.

While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other.  Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not.  I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did.  Within no more than a moment, the two were playing.  Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates!  They got along very well.

At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard.  He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018.  I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.

“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised.  As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer.  I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something.  “Work hard and play hard, yes.  You’re young.  There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women.  Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking.  You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”

Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing.  But I feel Andy understood how serious I was.  I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog.  He had to think for a moment, before he finally did.  “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”

“Yes!”

He asked me what had become of him.  I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening.  I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.

Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry.  His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man.  Sorry to hear that.  I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”

“No,” I answered.  “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.”  No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected.  When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise.  It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it.  I could understand.  We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.

Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education.  I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return.  I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.

About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time.  She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor.  I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble.  “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said.  “It just does.  You realize you want to do more things.”  I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.

Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.

“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.”  But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it.  As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20.  Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way.  I let life keep getting in the way.

It’s a curious sensation, though.  Life is now coming full circle.  And it actually feels pretty good.

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Earth Day at 50

A lion pride naps on a road in Kempiana Contractual Park, South Africa, an area tourists do not see.  The park has been shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds” was an innovative horror film.  A small, peaceful town in northern California suddenly finds itself the target of avian rage.  Seemingly unprovoked and without explanation, untold numbers of birds begin assaulting the townsfolk; leading to death and destruction in the most surreal ways.  Some film historians consider “The Birds” to be a call to action for the burgeoning environmental movement.

But I consider a movie that came out nine years later, “Frogs”, to be an even greater homage to environmental action.  It points specifically to environmental degradation caused by irresponsible and reckless human activity.  Whereas “The Birds” deals with one type of animal that suddenly goes insane, “Frogs” gathers an entire gallery of creatures that seek revenge on their human adversaries.  Just about everyone likes birds.  But few truly like spiders, snakes and alligators – the monsters that seem to band together in “Frogs”.  Even snapping turtles and clever geckoes get into the act!  And yes, frogs join in the mayhem with their ominous croaking, as if directing the chaos.

Unlike “The Birds” where both characters and audience are perplexed by the deranged airborne assaults, it becomes clear the frightening swamp creatures inhabiting “Frogs” are colluding to exact their own brand of justice.  As laughable as the antics can be at times, I always find myself gleeful at the sight of upper class people, trapped on an island off the coast of Georgia on Independence Day weekend, suddenly realizing their wealth and luxurious possessions can’t save them from the brewing ecological nightmare.

It’s the same feeling I get when I see bullfighting matadors gored by the massive horned beasts they stab with spears or when a circus elephant decides to bitch slap people dancing on its back.  It’s also the identical sense of euphoria I’ve been getting in recent weeks as I read of vacant cities resulting in clear skies and see pictures of wild animals strolling through urban streets because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day 2020, a movement begun as the realities of an industrialized society became brutally clear.  A number of celebrations and gatherings had been planned for this day.  The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has stifled those activities, and the revelry has been limited to virtual commemorations.  But, as raucous as some festivities have been in the past – with the usual cadre of corporate scions sneering overhead – perhaps there may be no better way to celebrate Earth Day than watching the world go quiet.

Satellite photos of many locations taken before and after mandatory quarantines and lock-downs exhibit how the reduction of human and vehicular traffic has resulted in less-polluted skies.  On clear days, for example, overhead views of Lake Michigan often reveal shipwrecks on the sea bottom.  But recent COVID-19 restrictions have produced many more of these days.

Undoubtedly, the disease has been heartbreaking and tragic.  But as Earth Day 2020 quietly sunsets, I still feel things couldn’t be more glorious with quarantining and social distancing have become common practice.

A fox wanders through a residential street near West Middlesex University Hospital in London, England on April 2, 2020. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Jackals howl in Hayarkon Park, in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel. (Oded Balilty/AP)

A Hindu holy man feeds monkeys at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, the country’s most revered Hindu temple on March 31, 2020. Guards, staff and volunteers are ensuring animals and birds on the temple grounds don’t starve during the country’s lockdown, which halted temple visits and stopped the crowds that used to line up to feed the animals. (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

Horses in Huajchilla, Bolivia, on the outskirts of La Paz, wander a deserted highway amid government restrictions that limit residents to essential shopping in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus on April 15, 2020. (Juan Karita/AP)

Two women take pictures of the pelicans in a deserted St James’ Park due to the Coronavirus outbreak in London, England on April 14, 2020. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

Cats eat food on a street that is almost empty before a nighttime curfew imposed by the government to help stem the spread of the coronavirus in Beirut, Lebanon on April 3, 2020. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

A lone peacock walks along a street in Dubai on April 1, 2020, past shops closed during the pandemic. (Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

Fallow deer from Dagnam Park in Romford, England rest and graze on the grass outside homes in the Harold Hill community on April 2, 2020. The deer are a regular sight in the area around the park, but as the roads have become quieter due to the nationwide lockdown, the deer have staked a claim on new territories in the vicinity. (León Neal/Getty Images)

A young puma wanders the streets of Santiago, Chile shows on March 24, 2020. According to Chile’s Agricultural and Livestock Service, the animal arrived from nearby mountains in search for food as fewer people occupy the streets due to COVID-19. (Andres Pina/ATON CHILE/AFP via Getty Images)

A wild deer, from a herd used to mingling with and be fed by the local population, roams a deserted street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown, in the port city of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka on March 31, 2020. (STR/AFP Getty Images)

Mountain goats roam the streets of Llandudno, Wales. The goats normally live on the rocky Great Orme but are occasional visitors to the seaside town, but a local councilor told the BBC that the herd was drawn this time by the lack of people and tourists due to the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantine measures. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A stray dog walks in front of an empty historic India Gate as a nationwide lockdown continues over the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 30, 2020, in New Delhi, India. (Yawar Nazir)

Stray dogs stand on a deserted square in Pristina, Kosovo on April 1, 2020, during a government-imposed curfew from 5pm to 5am as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19. (Armend Nimani/AFP)

Sika deer cross a road on March 12, 2020, in Nara, Japan. Like a number of tourist hotspots around the country, Nara, a popular ancient city where free-roaming deer are an attraction for tourists, has seen a decline in visitor numbers in recent weeks amid concern over the spread of COVID-19. Some groups of deer have begun roaming in the city’s residential area due to shortage of food partially fed from tourists, according to media reports. (Tomohiro Ohsumi)

A seabird swims across clear waters by a gondola in a Venice canal on March 17, 2020, as a result of the stoppage of motorboat traffic, following Italy’s lockdown within the new coronavirus crisis. (Andrea Pattaro/AFP)

Sea turtle hatchlings scamper towards the water. (Ben Hicks)

The History Channel’s “Life After People” series examined what the world could look like if humanity disappeared.  It didn’t describe what might cause a massive die-off of humans, but a variety of experts discussed how flora and fauna would slowly consume and ultimately destroy human-made creations and induce a chemical- and pollution-free world.

Hm…would that be a bad thing?

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Truth Amid the Obstruction


No time is right for a health pandemic, but COVID-19 couldn’t have arisen at a more inconvenient period for Americans: at the start of the 2020 presidential election race.  Things had been proceeding somewhat normally until March, when concerns about the “novel coronavirus” began altering the social landscape.  When I saw that this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo had been postponed – possibly to next year – I knew our world had been capsized by this invisible biological menace.  Viruses, like facts, always have a way of sneaking into our lives and making us rethink everything we’ve ever learned.  Facts, however, are good things.  But, while a crisis of any kind can bring out the best humanity has to offer, it can also bring out the worst.

Right now political conservatives in the U.S. are trying to finagle the COVID-19 miasma into an obstructionist nightmare for the voting populace.  Last week thousands of voters in Wisconsin were forced to leave their homes and venture out to designated polling places to cast their votes for a candidate in the Democratic primary.  On April 6, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, refused to allow an extension of absentee voting in Wisconsin; thus, forcing the primary to go on as planned on April 7.  On April 2, a federal judge had ruled that absentee voting can be extended.  But unsurprisingly, the Republican National Committee appealed the ruling, which landed on the docket of the High Court.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that “the court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement.”  She went on: “Because gathering at the polling place now poses dire health risks, an unprecedented number of Wisconsin voters – at the encouragement of public officials – have turned to voting absentee.  About one million more voters have requested absentee ballots in this election than in 2016.  Accommodating the surge of absentee ballot requests has heavily burdened election officials, resulting in a severe backlog of ballots requested but not promptly mailed to voters.”

Political conservatives don’t like it when people they consider insignificant actually have the audacity to practice their right to vote.  For a good part of American history, they’ve done just about everything they could – including intimidation and violence – to stifle voting rights; which, they’ve obviously forgotten, is one of the fundamentals of a democratic society.  The right to vote is clearly mentioned in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution!  Then again, they may not necessarily forget about it, as they just ignore it.  And they always seem to skip over to focus attention on the 2nd Amendment, which addresses firearms.

Conservatives established and enforced such obstructionist tactics as “grandfather clauses”, literacy tests, and poll taxes.  Voting advocates had to fight for confidential voting.  Early feminists had to do the same to get the 19th Amendment ratified.  When President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, he conceded that he and his fellow Democrats had probably handed the South to the Republican Party.  And he was right!  Slowly, but surely, over the ensuing decade, many White southerners began switching to the GOP.  A number of well-known U.S. politicians, such as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, also changed their allegiances to the Republican Party.

The election of Barack Obama solidified in the minds of many conservatives the horrors of expanded voting.  They then launched a number of efforts – both at the national and state levels – to ensure that would never happen again.  A slew of voter identification rules were suddenly enacted.

The COVID-19 scourge has prompted calls across the nation for expanded absentee voting, such as mail-ins, which has been rebuffed by conservatives who holler voter fraud could result.  This week Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opined that fear of catching the virus does not qualify voters to vote by mail

But State Judge Tim Sulak ruled that Texans afraid of catching COVID-19 should be allowed to vote by mail during the pandemic, using the state’s disability clause in the state’s election code, and said he will issue a temporary injunction.  The Texas Democratic Party and several had filed a lawsuit over concerns that voters in this July’s elections, including the primary runoffs, could come in contact with infected people when voting in person.

“Based on the plain language of the relevant statutory text, fear of contracting COVID-19 unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Election Code,” Deputy Attorney General Ryan M. Vassar wrote in a letter to Fort Worth State Rep. Stephanie Klick, a fellow Republican.

And, of course, Paxton was “disappointed” that Sulak had “ignored the plain text of the Texas election code to allow perfectly healthy voters to take advantage of special protections made available to Texans with actual illness or disabilities.”

The voter fraud claim is the default mantra of right-wing politicians every time they enact legislation that impacts the voting process.  Texas Republicans have long opposed the expansion of mail-in voting.  In 2017 the GOP-dominated state legislature stiffened penalties for election fraud.

“Our state is better off when more Texans participate in our democracy,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party.  “Voting by mail is safe, secure and accessible.  It allows more voters to participate in our democracy, and it’s a common sense way to run an election, especially during a public health crisis.”

Like the Texas Innocence Project, you know the Texas Democratic Party has their work cut out for them!

Currently, residents over age 65, military members, those who will be away from their residence during voting and people with disabilities can request mail-in ballots.  Democrats argue that a disability, defined as a “sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring voters’ health,” covers all Texas voters under the age of 65, including those who are afraid to catch the COVID-19 virus.

In his letter to Klick, Vassar naturally disagreed, stating that fears of catching the virus is neither a sickness nor a physical condition, but an emotional reaction to the pandemic is not “sufficient to meet the definition of disability”.

It’s ironic that Vassar regards concerns of contracting COVID-19 as emotional.  Throughout Obama’s presidency, conservatives screamed that his administration would ban all firearms, abandon Israel, and force churches to conduct same-sex weddings.  None of that happened.  It never has and most likely it never will.  Yet, liberals are always justifiably concerned that voter suppression is a real possibility when conservatives are elected to office.  Justifiably concerned because many state legislatures, such as Texas, actually have moved to enact legislation to combat the ubiquitous pandemic of voter fraud.

During Black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, news cameras captured horrific scenes of police physically assaulting individuals or using water hoses to attack groups of African-Americans.  I’ve seen some of that footage – startling black-and-white images of mostly peaceful citizens wanting to vote or be able to enter a restaurant and have a meal.  We don’t see that now.  Instead, we see elected officials use the power of their position to suppress voting.  Firearms have metamorphosed into pens – but they pose no less of a risk.

While I have my own doubts about the effectiveness of the voting process – the fraud-ridden elections of George W. Bush and Donald Trump being the most recent examples – people in any truly democratic society have the right to cast a ballot.  And eventually, the obstructionist tactics of those elected (not ordained) politicians will reveal the truth behind their dubious motives.

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