Film Review: Menashe (2017)

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FULL REVIEW AND INTERVIEW NOTES WITH THE DIRECTOR, JOSHUA WEINSTEIN, AND THE LEAD ACTOR, MENASHE LUSTIG, and to SEE THE TRAILER

More to follow!

 

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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: My Hero Brother (2016)

Want to see a light film that you didn’t expect to like but has a subtle and uplifting impact? Read about some incredible sibling relationships, and a lot more!

The film is not in the theaters now, but you’ll be able to find it on Netflix and elsewhere.

Read my published review of the film, My Hero Brother, by Yonaton Nir. Here’s the link, as published in The Newton Tab:

‘My Hero Brother’ shows the treasure we share

And then drop me a comment!

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Truth or Mom?

As a college writing teacher, my students were required to write essays that would answer the question: Is it ever okay to lie?

Paper after paper my students would write “Yes” and go on to support their answers. I knew many people who lied regularly. But it was unusual for me to listen to somebody defend their lying.

The situation was often this: The student would have an elderly parent or grandparent who lived far away. Very far away.  Say, for example, the student lived in New York and the elderly grandparent was living in China. The student’s father was ill and nobody would tell the elderly grandparent back in the homeland. Their reasoning was this: That it would upset the grandparent so it was better to say nothing. I always just focused on the students’ writing, their development of ideas, sentence structure and grammar, but inside I was kind of horrified. How could you not tell a grandparent that their son was sick? Or dying? Or dead?

Recently I’ve started lying to my mom. It just happens. She’s elderly and has dementia. So when my husband came home from a business trip with a broken leg, did I tell her? Absolutely – NOT.

Last month I detected a large lump on the back of my head. To the doctor and hospital I went. Did I tell my mom? Absolutely – NOT. The lump thankfully turned out to be just a fatty deposit.

Sometimes I have to get my mom up and walking. She’ll stay in bed all day until dinner unless somebody gets her up and walking. I’ll call her around noon or 1pm and tell her it’s time to take a walk down the hall. She’ll ask, “Can I go back to bed after this?” I answer, “Absolutely!” Then in an hour I’ll tell her that her aid is coming. I don’t mention that her aid will be getting her onto the exercise bicycle.

Last week her home health aid texted me that my mom didn’t want to do a certain activity. She texted me, “I hate to lie to her but sometimes I just have to, to get her there.” To the home health aid I wrote, “You’re not lying. You are honest when you say, “Yes, you can go back to sleep after this. You’re just not telling her that she cannot go back to sleep right after this.””

It’s disturbing to not tell the truth, or to withhold the truth. It’s a line to be very very careful about. I have to decide in each and every case. But it does feel right to not worry somebody who, as part of her medical condition, lacks initiative and needs a little ‘help’ to get moving. I know what the consequences would be of my mom laying in bed all morning and afternoon. They would not be good.

With my husband’s broken leg, what I don’t want to have happen is for my mom to feel that she’s burdening me with taking care of her, on top of taking care of my husband. That could really be bad.

Maybe there’s somebody around and my mom will ask, “Have I ever met her (or him) before?” There was a time when  – without hesitation – I would say “Yes.” But now I hedge. “I don’t think so,” and she’ll feel better. It’s hard enough for her – she knows, she really really knows, that her memory is failing. Badly. But I’m not going to rub it in and feel unnecessarily badly about her condition.

Okay, let’s not call it a lie. Maybe let’s call it less than truth.

The last time I drove home from visiting her, a 7-hour drive mostly in the dark, she wanted me to call her when I got home. It was getting really late. Really late. Like middle of the night late. There was no way I was going to phone her at 3am. I considered lying and telling her I had arrived home, safely. NO I couldn’t do that. What if something actually happened to me on the road after I phoned her? Next idea: I might make her angry, but the call went something like this: “Mom, it’s getting late and I’m not home yet but I’m only an hour away from home. I’m not going to call you again because it’s just getting too late.” And she said, “That’s fine, dear. Thank you and drive safely.”

My religious tradition says one may lie to preserve the cause of peace, not to hurt another person’s feelings, or to provide comfort. One may also lie in a situation where honesty might cause oneself or another person harm.

Honestly, it’s not always so easy to tell what that line is. And dealing with aging parents is difficult enough. Maybe some of my students had this right all along.

 

 

“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.

256px-Liberty_Bell_2008

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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If That Wedding Ring Don’t Shine

WeddingringI first saw the small dark blue ring box on the front table as I was heading toward the kitchen, my eyes picking it out from the odd paper clips, mail waiting to be posted, set of keys, small jar of automobile touch-up paint, used AA batteries, loose business cards that had not been collecting for months. Hmph. I lifted the box and opened it.

Two gold rings sat in the empty hole of the small box. Typically people worry about their valuables being lifted. Here we seemed to have earned them.

The first one was a wedding band, not rounded but, as I lifted it from the box, eight-sided. Nice gold! Nice band. The second band was my husband’s initials. Also nice, nice work, nice gold. Fourteen caret. But he definitely did not have this made during our marriage. And the rings were really quiet, not giving anything away.

“Hey, honey,” I asked. Do you know anything about these rings?”

“Sure,” he answered. “Rachel (now a mother in her own right) brought it over from her mom’s this morning and handed it to me.”

“Just like that?”

“She said, “Daddy, Mom wants you to have this.””

I didn’t do the math at that time. I didn’t need to calculate that his divorce had taken place over 23 years ago and that his ex- had moved at least two times. In 23 years, your newborn kids will have grown up, gone to college, begun careers, and maybe even had kids of their own. But it’s never too late to put your children in the middle of your failed first marriage.

A few evenings later, when the only sounds to be heard were the ticking of the clock and the snoring of the dog, I took the wedding band out of its box again and gave it a closer examination. This time I saw an engraving on the inside. I took it over to where the light was pretty good, and strained to read it. Something about a heart and love. The words were familiar, but it was funny to think that there was a time when he meant them to somebody else. It’s okay. Man can neither create nor destroy gold; he can, however, melt it down and create something anew from it. Such would be the case with love. With that love.

The next day, my husband was downstairs in the TV room watching something. I called down,  “How about if I sell that wedding band for cash. You mind?”

Like a boomerang, the voice called back up: “Go right ahead.”

Today was a good enough day for that. I wrapped the ring up in a cheap plastic baggie, so as to not glorify it. Only a few blocks away was the first “We buy gold” shop. A pawn shop but really nice you wouldn’t think of it as a pawn shop; no guns, no interstellar aliens, certainly not the pawn shop I knew from “Men In Black II.” Regular people, musical instruments – flutes, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, horns, electric pianos, all in really good shape. Golf clubs. I guess a pawn shop reflects the town where you live.

“How much would you give me for this ring?” I asked the main guy at the counter, as I  unwrapped the baggie, removed the ring, and set it down on the counter. “Probably just the value of the gold but that’s okay.”

The main guy got out his scale, he and the other guy were talking back and forth and determined today’s price of gold, weighed the ring, did some calculations, and  and the one guy set the ring back on the counter and said, “Fifty dollars.”

“So what’s the story?”  I’m almost sure they thought I was selling my own wedding band. A recent divorce. Or maybe a bankruptcy . “It was from my husband’s ex” and I filled them in on the details. Big smiles! They liked the story.

This was a good price. It was the going price for gold. The ring, with the inscription, could never be resold, and it was better that way.

To my surprise, they asked for my driver’s license. That’s where things got really painful. I just last month had had to renew my license and get a new photo taken. It was a miserable morning and I was totally unprepared for that. Oh, what an awful photo this driver’s license photo is. Definitely looks like a mug shot. But the guys need to make sure the merchandise not stolen, just in case the police come looking for just that ring, reported as stolen. I decided not to say anything like “Don’t look at the photo” figuring that if I said anything, they’d look at it, and if I said nothing, I stood a chance that the would not.

I signed the receipt, got my money, and left, telling everybody that if I hear of anybody who needs a musical instrument, I’ll send them their way.

The cash was great. Only a few days later, my husband and I went to the movies and dined on popcorn, tea and soda paid for in fresh  cash, my wedding band and his securely on our ring fingers and coated with butter.

And I learned that the next time I get my photo taken for my driver’s license, I should go to the hair salon first.

Haiku Challenge: The Calendar

Reblogged and modified from my blog, “Mom, Me, and Elderly.”

TJ’s household weekly haiku website challenges us this week with the household item, a calendar. The calendar has a unique significance to me. To elderly moms, to elderly dads, to adults who are their parents’ caretakers, I dedicate this haiku:

I summon Mother

to mark this day from others.

Behold! We’re still here!

 

I try to “do the calendar” with my elderly Mom each Sunday. It’s the lightest day of the week, and prepares her for the coming week. She finds her pen and marks a big X on the day that just passed. 

It’s always interesting to see what she’s willing to do if we do the calendar at, say, 9pm and there are only three hours left to that day. She is not willing to X out that day.“I’ll just leave it.” 

I see that as a good sign. There is still time in that day, time to be lived. “Okay, Mom. That’s fine.”  In fact, that’s great.

The ritual usually begins with “What day is today?” and I’m not willing to tell her. I want her to figure it out. 

“Well, Mom, yesterday was your doctor appointment. What day of the week is your doctor’s appointment?” I want her to think this through. want her little nerve endings to fire away and connect. I’ll supply the safety net when the memory fails, which it is inclined to do.

“What day is today?” It could be overwhelming. More than 1, less than 30. Last night when we did the calendar, I suggested she try to find my birthday. She found it, and was surprised when I told her that my birthday was two weeks ago. She X‘ed the days and there were a good number of X‘es but she ripped right through them and landed properly on Sunday the 25th. Last night she also wrote down her 2:45 hair salon appointment for today. While I doubted she’d remember the appointment, or even consult the calendar, when “tomorrow” came, it was important for her to do, for many more important reasons.

Some “advice” blogs tell seniors to mark an X on each day at the end of the day. That makes no sense for somebody with dementia: They can’t remember they need to do this in the first place.

It was exceptional when Mom and I did “the calendar” on the first day of January of this new year. Off the wall came the one calendar, and up onto the wall went another. Something we all do, but for an elderly parent who has dementia and isn’t sure what day of the week it is, marking a new year carries heft.

All the more interesting is this process, because we do it by telephone: I’m 300 miles away.

This is the blessing!