What’s Your Morbid Hobby?

Life is full of “which is worse” scenarios. There’s the “death by fire” or “death by ice.” Here it is in the poem “Fire and Ice,” as could only have been written by the great American poet Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The political parties have us vying for which is the worse social problem and no, it is not Planned Parenthood. I’ll tell you straight out I’m going with opioid addiction. The biggest threat to our nation. The biggest threat to our people. That’s right, the fact that many people don’t want to acknowledge even exists. And this is why it’s so dangerous.

One of my more morbid hobbies is collecting headlines that deal with opioid addiction and drug overdoses. I’ve been doing it for years, the pile is getting higher, but recently it’s been a real jackpot.

It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I collected the rare articles of addicts who had fought through their addictions and made it. Addicts who had ultimately gone to college and gotten major degrees in major universities. One black American from an inner city who went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School. If I can dig the article out from my ever-growing pile, I’ll add the link here. There were articles about homeless who had gone into halfway houses and used that as a place from which to stabilize their lives, which included finding steady work and thus having a stable and proud income.

I clipped and sent these articles to send hope to a young relative of mine who was an addict and always feeling darkness. “See? You can do it too.” I’d like to think my hobby made a difference, helped this relative make good choices, but it seems like it did not. And now I cannot find the articles, even online.

Several years ago I would talk to a lot of my friends about this problem, and this pain of mine. On days when my relative was being arrested, or days when he was being released from prison, or days when he was beginning rehab and there was hope, I would sit in my seat during religious services and cry to myself. I’m not sure if anybody ever noticed my red eyes or my irregular breathing. If they did, they sure didn’t say anything. A few would tell me an aside about a relative who was an addict if I brought up the topic.

A few years back, my stepson died of an overdose of legally prescribed painkillers, shocking us all. He was a pleasure-seeker but he was not an addict. So my headline search and article clipping widened to include deaths by legally prescribed painkillers for things like, quite simply, pain. You know, those pain centers that are everywhere? Particularly in Florida?

Within the last few years, several parents in my community have lost a young adult child. Some of the parents have been brave and willing to confront this public epidemic. Others have not.

A few years later, after I was already personally grappling with this problem, the headlines expanded to include elderly adults who had been bankrupted by their addict children and grandchildren. I knew about this from personal experience, too.

The Untold Cost of the Opiate Epidemic: Elder Abuse

The headlines have continued to change over the years. In the last election, people started to care about the problem of “solving” the problem by throwing people in jail or prison. Were we creating solutions? Or new problems for even more people? A few times I sat in at a drug court. I saw young hopeless male adults. Five or so young adults would stand in front of the judge, who would ask them if they were on anything at that time. I saw them, in unison, lie. Five No‘s. I saw a pained grandmother as the judge would approve this one for drug court and that one – her grandson – to return to jail.

In the months and years after that, I started seeing headlines about large and small towns that were creating drug courts as a new approach.

This recent headline shows where we’re going, as a nation:

Life Expectancy in U.S. Declines Slightly, and Researchers Are Puzzled

Get this subheading!

African-American men gained 0.4 year of life expectancy in 2014, to 72.2 years.

My monthly AARP magazine is getting into the act, too, and not just about elder abuse by those seeking to get grandma’s retirement money in order to fund their heroin addiction. Once a place to find articles about cell phones and travel destinations for seniors, this 2011 headline was a first:

Boomers on Drugs

What you didn’t know about grandma!

Opioids and addiction are a national issue now because of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes attempts to eliminate – just when America is acknowledging this deeply entrenched and growing problem – American’s ability to get detox and rehab not just for the rich, who can afford private pay rehab stays, but for the poor and middle class who cannot. The people who care about this are elderly, farmers, veterans.

About six months ago I sat at a forum in my town for high schoolers, the goal of which was to open up a discussion about opioid dependency and provide referrals for those who needed them, and so on. A few audience members asked questions, and the oldest was about 90 years old and he had become an addict after radiation treatment for cancer. Whoever we are, we are at risk. There is no safe corner.

Yes, this is no longer a problem that white Americans or educated Americans, and so on, can ignore, thinking erroneously that this is “their” problem and not “our” problem. There is no way to hide from this situation.

Sadly, my morbid hobby continues and my pile continues to grow. Urban, rural, east coast, west coast, white, black, young, old, rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, we are one nation, drug addiction and opioid overdose does not discriminate, and neither should we.

More to follow.

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Film Review – Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

stefan_zweigWe rarely view a film with five principal languages – German, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. But the film Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, written and directed by Maria Schrader, pays homage to the last seven years of the extraordinary life of the great Jewish Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (Josef Hader), whose popularity in the 1920s and 30s made him the most translated author in the world. It also telescopes us into his world where, after his writing was banned in Austria and his citizenship revoked on account of his Jewishness, Zweig fled – in exile – to live in London, New York City, and to settle, finally, in Brazil.

The film is divided into segments, each reflecting a different time and place where Zweig and his second wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz) travelled – Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, to name a few. But wherever Zweig is, the realities of the ascendency of fascist Europe form, although off-screen, an inextricable part of the story. Nazi horrors and the decline of moral values are never far from Zweig’s inner and tormented world.

One of the earliest dynamics shows itself in Rio, 1936, where Zweig is being honored by the P.E.N (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) Club for their 14th International Conference. American-Jewish journalist Joseph Brainin (André Szymanski), also of Austrian heritage, confronts and challenges Zweig to use his international literary clout to publicly condemn Nazi aggression. Zweig, however, lives in two worlds and one of those worlds is the intellectual world, where there is no room for polemics.

Balancing against the intellectual world of his writing and his idealistic hope for the long-run future of Europe is his emotional world, in which he has lost the very bedrock of his life: his home, homeland, citizenship, and the world of German, the language in which he thinks and writes.

Wherever Zweig goes, requests to sponsor a fellow Jew in Europe for travel to Brazil pursue him. In a remote village in Brazil, he steals time, as the town’s mayor is honoring him, to make some arrangements before Brazil ceases to issue visas. “He who has no country has no future,” he states. In New York City, he and Lotte are guests of Zweig’s first wife Friderike (Barbara Sukowa), who, with her two daughters from her first marriage, crossed the Pyranees by foot in order to escape France and reach the United States. As the clouds of war, devastation and anti-Jewish legislation begin to mount in Europe, Friderike prevails upon him to sponsor another desperate Jewish acquaintance still in Austria for travel to the U.S. Zweig himself aches to have a sense of belonging and of peace, which he needs to write and make a living in this new world. He cannot sponsor everybody.

To demonstrate the increasing desperation of European Jews, director Shrader’s clever camera work shows not scenes of war, but a shot of piles of bundled mail on Frederike’s table with similar requests awaiting the revered writer.

In Petrópolis, Brazil, he and Lotte choose to settle down where they feel the warmth of acceptance, racial and ethnic diversity, and the beauty of an unspoiled land. In this paradise still his mind is restless. He and friend and fellow writer Ernst Feder (Matthias Brandt), who has also settled there, look upon the splendor from the balcony of his home. “We have no reason to complain.”

“No.” Each man stares into the tropical distance. The silence answers.

“Not us.” Both men attest to the impossibility of blocking out the suffering of their kinsmen and the moral depravity now marking Europe.

Most viewers will not know of Zweig or his international renown and will have to piece together a great deal of background information, the film’s most prominent shortcoming. We will wonder what he wrote, the specifics under which he left Austria, why he and Friderike divorced and how they yet maintained a trusting friendship, and more. The transitions between segments are somewhat bumpy.

But the reward of seeing this strong film overcomes this. Passionate acting dynamics, in particular of Josef Hader and Barbara Sukowa, and dialogue place us in the middle of ethical dilemmas. I’m hoping the film inspires viewers to read Zweig’s stories and novellas and his revealing and magnificent autobiography “The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European,” completed in 1939. Viewers may be surprised that his writing was the inspiration behind the critically-acclaimed film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” or that a Jewish writer in the 1920s and 30s could have the international stature that rock stars have today.

One of the film’s lighter moments takes place in a Brazilian village where Zweig is so revered that the mayor hires a marching band to serenade him and Lotte with “The Blue Danube” waltz.

Interestingly, the film’s original title is Stefan Zweig: Before the Dawn, and we might ask what dawn this refers to. Perhaps this is the author’s personal search; perhaps it is the viewer’s search, hoping that Zweig personally, and Europe overall, will reawaken from its Nazi horror and, one morning all will be well.

The final scene in the bountiful unspoiled Petrópolis connects eerily with the film’s opening scene, where he is being honored by the president of Brazil with a lavish and highly orchestrated meal. Flowers  are arranged by attendants with the delicacy of heart surgery. How better to then transition to the contradiction between that, and Zweig’s internal world and the external horrors of a suffering Europe and Jewish population.

Some may judge the way the revered Zweig and his wife’s lives ended, so gingerly depicted in this film, but Maria Schrader’s film boldly depicts the monumental challenges encountered by Zweig – a great writer, refugee, pacifist and idealist in search of pride, self-esteem and a life of meaning – when all of Europe and the world he knew was falling apart.

 

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Book Review: Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS

french_identification_certificate_for_marcelle_montagne_an_alias_of_oss_agent_virginia_hall

When we hear CIA – it’s impossible for this acronym to not conjure up an image – but how many of us know what the OSS was? During WWII, the Office of Strategic Services became America’s first central intelligence agency, with offices in Washington DC, which expanded to London, Spain, North Africa, Scandinavia and more, as the war theater expanded yet into the China/Burma/Japan theater.  And many of the most important figures in its mission to espionage were women.

Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth McIntosh, herself a woman of the OSS, gives us a look at that this dangerous enterprise that spanned continents. It is written as a combination history book, and memoir – but a memoir of hundreds of women who risked it all for freedom.  Not only did the author, herself a member of the OSS in the Pacific theater and charged with “black propaganda,” do her scholarly research, but she visited those women who had survived and who were still alive many years later, interviewing them and piecing together the heroic stories of their daring exploits, and their after-story, always one of pride in what they had done as members of the OSS.

Some readers (such as on Goodreads, etc.) have complained at the litany of women whose exploits were described. For sure, some women’s stories are told in vivid detail, while others’ exploits are mentioned but briefly. It was wearing at times, particularly toward the end of the book when the topic turned to the China/Japan/Burma front. But there’s still so much more ahead: How many of us are surprised to learn that Julia McWilliams, who later married Paul Child and became our French Chef, Julia Child, was an OSS agent and stationed on in the Pacific front (See her recipe for sharp protection, below:)? sharp-protectantBut I think that’s the point. McIntosh wants us to know, although perhaps there is sometimes too much detail, that each woman was an integral part of the effort, each working efficiently, creatively, and utilizing her own talents, and each took risks. As the history of WWII fades in the minds of Americans alive today, as espionage is performed more by drones, satellites and computer hacking, we understand less and less what it took to defeat the Axis powers and Nazi Germany during the 1940’s. Some women packed parachutes, some encoded, some turned Nazis and German POWs into spies for the Allies forces, some traced Nazi gold as far as South America, some forged documents, some monitored the manufacture of weapons and other war supplies, and some rose to heroic stature.

virginia-hall

We also must marvel because any detail overlooked might cause death to one and to many: Women of the OSS often kept counterfeit money in their brassieres to soften it up, to make it look old and used. Women of the OSS COI (Cover and Documentation) research, and provided clothing for those going undercover so as not to alert a Nazi soldier to the irregularity. Women of the OSS trained men to smoke cigarettes down to the butt, as European men did. Nothing was too small to notice. Details meant lives saved.

There is no typical profile but for a woman who had skills, education, and a sense of mission. Many who we read about were Americans educated, at least for a while, in Europe, and so were multilingual, speaking English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Czechoslovakian, and more. Many were not even Americans, but were dedicated to the Allied cause.

Among those who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star or the Career Intelligence Medal, or other honors. Cordelia Dodson, among her many other exploits, became a driver, which required driving in war-torn London, and relayed men to planes that were airlifting and dropping them off behind the lines in France, to join the men and women of the resistance. Marked by an artificial limb, “The Limping Lady,” Virginia Hall,  entered occupied France and organized, armed and trained three units consisting of 300 agents who took part in sabotage operations against the Germans; she located drop zones for supplies and money for the resistance, and recruited French citizens who would establish safe houses for agents and supplies, often carrying her detachable brass foot in a bag. Gertrude Legendre, a debutante who was initially supposed to supervise the routing, delivery and verification of intelligence in London, ended up on a mission in Germany with several others that found her in a prisoner of war camp in France, interrogated by the Gestapo, and later made a daring escape into neutral Switzerland by jumping off a train. Maria Gulovich, from Czechoslovakia, translated front-line intelligence from Slovak or German into Russian, and was eventually recruited by the OSS to lead a group of resistance fighters through occupying troops to the Russian front, acting as interpreter and foraging for food in the villages while on route. Chased for months by Germans and braving snowstorms, starvation, enemy fire, gangrene, betrayal and ultimately capture, she and her two companions made a final daring escape and were rescued by British and American OSS authorities.

What I also found unique about this book is that it also gives voice to the these women’s scorn toward the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews. OSS women cared not just about Germany’s military takeover of land and territory in its quest for global domination, but about how Nazi’s treated other humans, including the Jews and Nazi attempts to exterminate them.

Wrote Cornelia Dodson, a graduate of Reed College in Oregon who was studying in Vienna in 1938 when Hitler’s troops marched in: “I learned to hate the Nazis from that time on. They were so arrogant, so merciless, rounding up anti-Nazis all over town, even during opera performances.  Their persecution of the Jews was inhuman.” (p. 172) Dodson returned to the U.S., but became a member of the OSS X-2 (Counter-terrorism Unit) later, then went on an undercover mission to Bern to obtain the complete set of diaries written by Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano.

Maria Gulovich began her anti-Nazi covert operations and resistance in her native village of Hrinova, Czechoslovakia, when she hid a young Jewish woman and her five-year-old son whom her sister had brought to her in her home.

In the first part of the book, the author mentions discrimination (such as the State Department being closed-minded about women), but in the epilogue she strongly advocates for equality of advancement when the CIA becomes America’s intelligence organization. She questions not just where women would be allowed to be in combat, notes advancements, but also advocates for rising within the organization, even for a woman to one day be head of the CIA.

Still, overall, McIntosh’s focus is on honoring these brave thousands of women, some named, many nameless, the choices they made and the sacrifices they made in the name of freedom and against tyranny, totalitarianism, and madness. As the conversation these days shifts to questions about women in combat and sexual assault in the military, this is the story of the brave women who, during World War II, were dropped behind enemy lines to defeat a “well-trained enemy” bent on world domination and genocide.


*The one historical inaccuracy I found was this, in reference to the  Enigma machine, the German cipher machine which GB had in its possession: “Later, code manuals and additional apparatus were captured.” (p. 146) After the truth about Enigma was declassified, it was revealed that Alan Turing devised the electromechanical machine that allowed the British to crack the Nazi code. Turing was later arrested, prosecuted and publicly humiliated for homosexual acts, and died young (either of poisoning or suicide) and thus during his lifetime was never able to be acknowledged for his singular role in winning the war. See also Joan Clark, the only woman who was on Turing’s code-breaking team. See “The Imitation Game,” screenplay by Graham Moore loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

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“Was He Black?” The Unfortunate Aftermath of an Incident

It was already scorching hot at 5 a.m. and the morning sun already lit up the city streets that stretched east and west, and those that stretched north and south, as well as the rivers that bounded the city limits, when the three cops parked their squad cars and walked into the street-level mini-mart on the southwest corner as soon as it opened. The morning coffee was hot and fresh, from the first batch of the day. The donuts, fresh and chewy.  The three cops walked back to their squad cars, ate their donuts, drank their coffee, and talked. In the background the scratchy 911 dispatches were already steady.

Joe the gay guy who lived on the ground-level apartment of a 3-story building in the middle of the block that housed the mini-mart was up early, as he usually was. But this morning was different, not just because it was so hot so early. This was the gay guy’s first morning unemployed, and he was awake out of habit. He used to wake up early to open up one of the neighborhood gay bars. I actually never knew this: For all the years he and I were neighbors I never asked him what he did for a living.

Somebody else was awake at 5 a.m. – the black guy who was making his way up the fire escape of our building, past the vacant second floor, and in through the tiny bathroom window that was open on the third floor. I first saw him as I heard the words, “Take off your clothes,” and opened my eyes to see him standing above me with a 12-inch knife blade pointed right at me.

I’ll skip the next ten minutes, except to say eventually the gay guy heard a lot of screaming and figured it was just my TV. When the screaming didn’t end, and when it sounded really loud to him, he went to his phone and called 9-1-1. Then he  went out to the street and waited for cops, with the front door wide open.

As fast as a donut crumbles, the three cops were there at the front door and running up the winding staircase stairs to my 3rd floor apartment. The cop with the biggest foot bashed the door down and all entered behind him.

Hearing the decisive call “POLICE,” the assailant abandoned his struggle with me, ran out the kitchen door that led to the fire escape, down the fire escape, down the path, and jumped over a high wooden fence, to the narrow cobbled street beyond.

The cops watched as he jumped over the fence, then quickly ran back out to try to capture him.  My gay neighbor Joe came up to my apartment to see if I was okay. I offered Joe some apple juice that I’d had in my fridge and had a little for myself. I think it was the first time that Joe was in my apartment. That’s also when Joe pointed to my hand and showed me that I’d been stabbed.

The next time I saw a cop, one was assisting me in getting downstairs to the street in front of my apartment where I was asked me to ID the guy, who was then led into the back of the waiting paddy wagon; and then the cop assisted me into the back seat of a squad car and sped me off to the hospital.

Later that day after I came back to consciousness, a black detective, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, was by my side, gently asking me questions and writing my answers. His being there was comforting. I never saw him again; I think he got everything he needed.

The second day in the hospital was special. Beaten and wounded, I was recuperating when three cops came into my room. Three white cops, standing shoulder to shoulder, by the side of my hospital bed. They introduced themselves: Gary, Pete and Mike. Gary, Pete and Mike.

One said, “You look beautiful.”

I’m thinking to myself, my face is swollen and black and blue. I can’t find the glint in my eyes because the whites are now red. They told me even that the swelling had gone down from what I looked like the day before. (How mangled did I look like the day before??)

I asked “Why didn’t you shoot when you saw the guy running away?”

Gary said, “You can’t shoot at somebody who is escaping from a crime.” I think about that nowadays especially.

Pete told me how the guy, who was cornered in somebody’s back yard, was capture. He had “the business end” pointed at him – I had to use my imagination but figured out what that was – but didn’t use it and didn’t need to.

Mike was the guy with the big foot, and apparently his big foot left a big mark in the door.

Eventually I was discharged from the hospital, and then had to meet with the District Attorney on my case. He was a big D.A. – what I mean by that is that he was a big black guy with the smile of a teddy bear. I hadn’t seen many smiles lately. I liked him right away. I asked, and he told me a little about himself, where he had gone to law school, and about his father being a military man, about how his little son was looking forward to him coming home that night so they could have a “man to man talk.” As difficult as it was to go over the details of the case, as difficult as it was to look at photographs from my apartment, now the “crime scene,” I was comfortable and confident around him. We met again before the preliminary hearing. Same soft smile. Same personable air.

The days and months leading up to the trial involved lots and lots of physical therapy appointments.

People would see my injured arm and ask, “What happened?” They were more than I little surprised that the answer wasn’t something simple like “I was ice-skating” or “I fell off my bicycle.” It was painful to review the incident but I’d answer the basics, at least what they needed to know. My answer was usually something like “A guy came into my apartment early one morning….”

A good bit of the time the first question back to me would be:

“Was he black?”

“Why do you need to know that?” I’d ask. Or maybe I’d ask,”What does that matter?”

I never ever got an actual reason why. But maybe half the time they’d ask.

Sometimes my answer would be, “Why do you need to know? My DA is black and he’s really really great.”  People cared when the criminal behavior reinforced a negative notion they already had of the black race, but didn’t care, or weren’t impressed, when the person and his behavior was exemplary.

About one month later, I went back to my old building and visited Joe. Joe-whose-last-name-I-don’t-even-know. Joe the gay guy. I thanked him for what he’d done to save my life. He didn’t see calling 9-1-1 as anything heroic. Thinking about it now, I should have gotten Joe a gift. But at that time, and for many many months after, I was traumatized. I wonder where he is, what he’s doing.

During the months of my recuperation and while awaiting the trial, I heard on the radio that one of the three cops had been brought up on charges of abusing somebody he was taking into custody. One of the three cops who had visited me by my bedside. One of the three cops that had rushed into my apartment, and that had pursued the assailant through the city streets, and who had been so careful to not injure an escaping assailant. To the court, I submitted a written character witness statement, and showed up to his trial to attest to his character. The lives these cops live.

In the middle of everything,  the Italian judge sitting on the case was fired for corruption charges and we had to wait until a new judge was assigned.

Then I was told that I had a new D.A. Why? The name of my very likeable District Attorney had been submitted by President George W. Bush to serve as a United States Federal Judge. Sorry to lose him, but cream rises to the top, and he was recognized, and he was deserving. But the Republican Senate refused to ratify him. I followed for months, when his name was resubmitted by President Bill Clinton and he was approved by the United States Senate for the Federal judgeship. Which is where he honorably serves to date.

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My next D.A. was also male, and he was white, like me, and Jewish, like me.

What a varied bunch we were, working together for life and for justice. But that’s what it looks like, in order to secure the blessings of liberty… And some cop to tell you – when you’ve been down and almost out – that you look beautiful.

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Feminism Among the Plaques and Tangles

senior votingIn the tumult and the excitement of the decades of the ’60s and the ’70’s, my dad insisted that I go to college, and ranted and raved if I indicated any level of disinterest or interest in attending a college that wasn’t on his list. Although I would be the first child, and daughter, to attend college, the word “feminism” was never spoken in our home. I was expected to attend college but, ironically, the notion of women’s rights was taboo.

My mom knew when to keep quiet so as not to raise her husband’s hackles, and quiet she continued to keep for years when he had his temper tantrums — even for years after he, the self-appointed chief of our family’s Thought Police, walked out. It took another 45 years after Dad left home for my parents to be officially divorced, allowing Mom to finally sell the family home and discard as much of the old (emotional as well as physically moldy) baggage as possible, and move into the present. The hallelujah celebration was muted, however. Just a few months earlier, signs of Alzheimer’s had appeared. Mom now finally free from one form of oppression, another toxic and unknown form took its place.

Among all the millions of little details of moving an elderly parent from one home to another, and one year later to yet another, is the change of address for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And in that process is yet another question:

If you are a registered voter in PA and are changing your drivers license or photo ID address, would you like us to notify your county voter registration office of this change? Yes or No?

YES!

Sometime later, she received her official new voter registration card, which I put in a safe place.

In a political vacuum, Mom and I would talk about whether she was registered as a Republican or as a Democrat. The ghost of the conversation was always about what party her ex-husband, my father, chief of the now former Thought Police, thought was best. Pennsylvania had a long history of being a Republican state.  Meanwhile, her memory and cognitive functioning were in declinem as was her ease with walking.

And then came Hillary.

Primary after primary I heard my mom talk about Hillary. Mom wasn’t interested in watching the debates on TV.  If the content of the debates was lacking in substance or difficult to follow an argument or a position, the brain disease of Alzheimer’s made it even more impossible for her to follow the candidates. No matter. My mom knew whom she wanted to vote for. Hillary. She also knew whom she hated.  Trump.

“I want to throw things at the TV when I see him.”

The Pennsylvania primary was months off but meanwhile we would just have to figure out how to get her to the polls. The senior community would be running buses to the polling site. My biggest fear was that I would determine she had registered as a Republican and would be unable to vote for Hillary in the primaries. When I had time one day, I checked that out… Nope, Democrat. My other fear was that when she got into the voting booth, she would forget whom she wanted to vote for, or wouldn’t be able to figure out how to actually vote. Or maybe she just wouldn’t want to get up and out of bed on that day.

The Pennsylvania primary was one of the last.

The afternoon before the primary, I phoned her to check in. “Hi, Mom.”

In the most casual voice, she answered: “I’m sitting on the floor. I just fell. I used my cane to pull the phone toward me. My legs are off to one side. “

Okay, I remind myself to not panic. Among all the other thoughts encircling what remained of my brain was: Had she broken a bone? Had she fractured the hip that had been replaced years earlier? Did I need to figure out how to get her to the hospital for evaluation and x-rays?

“Mom, I’m going to call the front desk but they might want you to go to the hospital for x-rays. Would you be willing to go?”

“I’d rather not.”

I phoned the front desk, who got security there right away and a nurse from the clinic to her apartment to assist. The nurse determined that it was most likely a groin pull. That was a relief! Still, the nurse asked me to make a judgement call on whether to get her to the hospital for x-rays, just to be certain. I hate making judgement calls like that. Just to be certain.

The rest of the evening, her aid made a special trip in offer assistance, as did my mom’s sister, with ice, food, anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter painkillers, and love and comfort. Mom’s sister brought the supplies of a democracy: a paper sample ballot for a serious training session.  She had my mother practice picking the candidates of her choice. Also of concern was now getting my mom to the bus to the polls the next day. Mom already was walking slower than a sloth even with the assistance of her walker and making more and more stops along the way to catch her breath. How would she ever make it to the Main Building where the bus was picking everybody up?

The following day, my mom’s aid showed up, got Mom dressed, and fed, iced her knees,  groin area, and hip area, applied Voltaren Gel, and had her take more over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She stayed a little longer, long enough to get my mom into her car and drive her to where the bus would pick her up for the 4pm run to the polls.

At 3:35 I phoned my mom. “I’m sitting outside. The breeze is blowing and it’s lovely here. I’d rather be here than inside.” So far so good. Her sister would be along shortly and the two would take the bus ride together to the polls. Mom was relaxed and calm. I was not. “This is so exciting, Mom!”

“What’s the big deal” my mom asked. “I’ve voted before.”

Later that night I phoned my mom.

Through all the amyloid plaques and the tangles of the Alzheimer’s brain, through the loss of memory and what they call cognitive functioning, through her depression and her desires to stop living, feminism – and Mom’s voice – had finally broken through. Mom had voted for Hillary.

Said my mom a bit later, after she’d had some rest, “She’s a woman. I like the fact that’s she’s married to a president. I like her policies. Liberal woman. Aggressive. Conservative. I think she’ll do what’s good for women. Good for the country. Her husband was a good man and they can talk it over. I voted for a Republican candidate once but I can’t remember who.”  Then she answered the question that hung in the air, which settled this question, “I wouldn’t have voted for a woman if I didn’t like her policies.”

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Stray Bullets

Yesterday’s paper carried the sad story about the tragic death of a 12-year-old girl who was inside her family’s Long Island home when a stray bullet entered – and killed her. This is not the first such story. What are your feelings about the use of guns and of gun control?   Do you feel that it’s not such a big issue where you live, so that you don’t have to be concerned? Or have a voice in this issue?

flowers_5Let’s take a look at a nice peaceful senior community in West Palm Beach, Florida. The community is gated, as are most Florida communities. The evenings tend to be fairly quiet. Security there is pretty good:  Large dogs, i.e. dogs that weigh more than 30 lbs., are not allowed in, unless they’re with somebody visiting for no more than one day. The powers that be are committed to keeping large dogs OUT! I’m not sure they’re policy on guns and handguns, however. But this is Florida. It’s probably easier to get a gun into the community than to get a Labrador Retriever in.

That said, canals of water separate the senior community from other land.  Lest anybody think of swimming or walking across these canals, alligators live in the channels. Real alligators. Unless you’re a duck or a turtle, you’ll have a hard time getting across the canal.

To one side of this senior community and separated by a canal, is another gated community. There are condo units there, and a large parking lot where, on a New Year’s Eve, somebody who lives there, or who is visiting a resident, decides to “celebrate” by shooting off his firearm.

The person is not shooting straight up into the air – apparently.

In the nice gated senior community where a large dog can’t even live, a bullet has pierced through a window in the patio, shattered it, sails across the room, right over the dining table, and lands in a utility closet where it goes through the closet door and hits a concrete wall. It ricochets off the concrete wall and stops when it hits the concrete floor. This patio is OUR patio in our condo and this table is our table where we sit and eat.

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We are not home at that moment, but we soon find shattered glass on the floor, and a broken window. The person who examines the window, having worked in security for some time, recognizes the pattern as that of a bullet hole. He follows the trajectory, which is slightly below shoulder level, to the opposite wall, opens the storage cabinet and finds a lone bullet. The person who shot the gun aimed straight across.

The path of the bullet is too high to kill a Labrador Retriever, but it’s a perfect height to pierce our skull or hit a major artery in the neck or puncture a lung, depending on whether we’re standing up or sitting down.

The police interview some people from the condo across the canal. Nobody knows anything, of course. The police cannot trace the bullet. The case dead ends.

I fail to see how everybody owning a firearm – which is what the gun lobby recommends – would protect us, would have protected us, in this situation.

I fail to see the same for a little 12-year old girl in Long Island, now dead.

looking in_2
I have a great idea. Maybe the gun lobbyists should all get Labrador Retrievers – and forget about their guns. I’m sure they’d all have a much better time!