JUST MUSING: “The wait staff pretended not be listening, not to be watching…”

The invitation to give a speech at the Baytown Country Club was bittersweet in a number of ways.  From third grade through high school my family lived in the shadows of the country club, a world apart, foreign to our everyday reality.   The invitation came two years after an extended and bitter fight over prayer in school.   The case, Santa Fe School District v. Doe, wound a tortured path through the United States District Court, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.  My representation of the Doe(s) served as one of the impetus for then federal judge, Samuel B. Kent, personally expressing his intended life’s mission (“I will make the  next forty years of your life miserable” (his actual quote was more profane and colorful – mean-spirited, bordering on bullying.  Absent spelling out the profane words, the descriptive words used above, coupled with one’s imagination should suffice to provide a proper setting)).

I drove that day with the intent to make the luncheon speech on time.  It was now clear to me His Honor had made good on his promise of my intended demise.  He had dismissed 18 out of the 25 cases in which I had in his court.  His Honor crafted three opinions a week, over a six week period, releasing each opinion with great fanfare.  The opinions inferred the plaintiff’s lawyer (interpretation – me/moi/mì) was suffering from drug or alcohol problem(s).  Each opinion contained faint praise – he at one time was an excellent lawyer, but that something was now amiss in his behavior and practice before the Court (please read this with a cultural twist on my part – “He be talking about me”).

His honor, in those 18 orders, directed I forward a copy of the orders to the affected clients.  All of the orders contained an explicit recommendation for plaintiff file a grievance against their lawyer or sue the lawyer (again, me/moi/mi).  Not surprisingly the clients took the Court’s advice, 18 grievances alleging their lawyer violated his obligations to them.  In hindsight I don’t blame the clients.  The cases were now dismissed.  Their only remedy was an appeal.  They didn’t know my history with His Honor.  Not many people would resist an explicit order from a federal judge inferring their lawyer was a drunk, on drugs, or made a mess of their affairs.   Part of me was internally insulted:  never consuming alcohol in my life, refusing to allow any type of drugs/mind or body altering substance to enter my body.  Avoiding advertisement, peer pressures, expected behavior.   I saw too many of my classmates succumb and fall by the wayside because of the use/abuse/addiction to those substances; substances readily available, far more available than say a fresh apple in our neighborhood.  I wonder why?  I wonder why?

His Honor also visited his fellow federal judges and told of his life altering plans for me.   He requested his fellow “his/her honors” become active participants his goal to rid the bar of my presence.  His expressed invitation was extended in a meeting of his fellow judges for the Southern District of Texas.  One of his fellow judges revealed this secret to me, even though the judges’ meetings are confidential.  Her Honor wasn’t the only one who told, another Her Honor spouse revealed the remaining judges’ decision to reject Judge Kent’s invitation to participate in my demise.  The judges directed me to file any new Galveston Division case in the Houston Division.  The remaining judges directed me to file any new case in the Houston Division, assuring me those cases “would not” be transferred back to Judge Kent’s court.    My complying with the other his/her honors’ request did not protect me from the pending grievances, nor shield me from the public relationship war being waged by Samuel B. Kent as he continued to issue opinion after opinion.  The other judges also made clear they had no authority to remove any of the pending cases from Judge Kent’s court.

When Judge Kent issued his weekly opinions, he followed his orders with a phone call to the local print media (Houston Chronicle and Galveston County Daily News).   The reporters would then in turn call me for my response to the latest edict.  I gracefully demurred.  My addressing the press in a state of anger simply didn’t seem to me a likely path for success or survival.  Judge Kent’s initial attacks began in 1997.  The Supreme Court heard the Doe case in 1999 and issued its opinion in 2000.  I was now two years removed from the Supreme Court’s decision; time’s passage did not make my drive any less internally traumatic.

҉            ҉            ҉

The drive from Galveston to Baytown was bittersweet because all which preceded my invitation to speak gnawed at me in the same manner the chemical plants gnawed at Baytown’s harbors.  My office had now been gutted.  Fear of the unknown became the burden imposed on the young lawyers and staff members prior to their fleeing to safer, more reasonable and lucrative harbors.  As they fled, the office became a poor facsimile of our previous self.  His Honor’s much public attacks devastated our federal docket, obliterated the overall caseload and caused our income to plummet.  Samuel B. Kent’s actions mirrored others’ acts which had played out during my existence in Galveston – different actors, a different time.

The trip to Baytown allowed His Honor’s unwanted attention and my childhood memories of a changing/challenging world of a desegregating south to play out.  The landscape was familiar to me, somewhat akin to watching a well-worn movie, listening but not listening, watching but not watching.  However, none of this is why I muse.  I muse because history is a vicious reminder of our past, and a wonderful predictor of our future.  I muse because as I happily now exit the legal stage somewhat similar to the boxing ring, my history tells me that my being excluded, mistakenly being invited or being expelled from the ring were constants of history’s lessons.

I was running a little bit ahead of schedule.  My decision to travel to the speech immediately after my court appearance in Galveston allowed me to save some time.  I left early also because of other obligations, a requirement I appear in federal court in Houston after the speech.  My office had informed the Houston court of the conflict and the possibility of running ten to fifteen minutes late.

When the invitation was extended, I had not been told much about what my host wanted me to speak about.  The only information given was their wanting to hear of my experiences in Santa Fe v. Doe, no other instructions.   My childhood anxieties refused to remain in the car – they walked with me every step of the way – from car, to sidewalk, to door.  The well-appointed room served as a backdrop for my history and anxieties.  I was immediately met by a gentleman.

“I am glad you made it.  I am glad to meet you personally and not just talk with you on the phone.  We were worried whether your hearing in Galveston would go over.  And then the rains came.”

“I finished early and made up some time.  Thank you for the invitation.”

“I am so excited you are here.”  It was at this time I was given a fuller picture of what the host wanted to hear.  “We want to know whether you were disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling and if so what do you expect in the future?  … Is there a chance of any additional test cases?  … Prayer in schools is important to our members.  … We request you speak for thirty minutes, leave a little time for questions.”  …

The host left me little time to answer his questions.  He left even less to take in this new information, saying, “Excuse me, I must check with my colleague on something else.”  Walking away, leaving me to my own devices.

Why on earth would I be disappointed with a ruling which was in my clients’ favor?  What test cases was my host referring – I didn’t have a clue.  This smartly dressed business man moved across this once prohibited sanctum to visit with others of like ilk.  I had not moved far from the front door when Wanda Cash, a former Assistant Managing Editor for the Galveston County Daily News, approached and asked whether I remembered her.  I assured her I did.  She now occupied the position of editor and publisher of The Baytown Sun.  Wanda too expressed unbridled excitement with my appearance.  A smile seemed permanently etched on her face.  Wanda appeared to be enjoying herself a little too much.

When Wanda left my presence, I reached for a program on the front desk.  I was now confused.  I was described in the program as the lawyer representing the school district.  “An unfortunate loss” the members were informed, but “optimism for new strategies, new cases all to assure prayer in school.”  The Baytown Rotary Club invited the wrong person.  I wasn’t the other lawyer.  I had no earthly idea how those lawyers felt, and was pretty sure no one was going to inform me of any planned test cases in order to get the question of prayer in public schools back before the United States Supreme Court.

My predicament was not one of “guess who coming to dinner”.  I was already at dinner.  When I looked up from the program my smartly-dressed host was approaching again.

“We are going to do some general business first.  There are some agenda items we need to address before I introduce you.  I say five minutes.”

            “Sir, I have something to tell you.”

“You need something from us?”

“No sir, I’m fine.  The description of me on this program is not me.  I think you invited the wrong person. I represented the children and parents who challenged prayer in the public schools, not the school district.  We won.”

As Ali’s phantom punch of Sonny Liston, in their second fight, was too fast for the human eye to perceive so was the effect of my words on this stranger.  Those words propelled his 165 pound frame across the floor.  The tails of an immaculate grey suit flapped as he approached other similarly attired men.  He may have attempted to mask his horror, he couldn’t.  His hands served as tell-tales, flailing uncontrollably.  His body appeared distended with gas.  He attempted to whisper, but the other men did not.

             “Oh shit!”

Oh shit is right.  I’m hungry.  I did not eat breakfast.  I started my day at 5:00 a.m., prepared for two hearings, spent two hours in the first hearing and traveled here in a driving rain storm for the last hour.  If I don’t find something to eat, I’m not going be able to get anything in my stomach until 4:00 p.m.  The first time my Negro butt gets to go the Baytown Country Club and I am going to get kicked out!  I have seen this dance before –‘no you can’t come in, no don’t use that water fountain.  Why to the back of the bus, are you kidding me.’ It wasn’t my mistake! Oh come on, I’m hungry!

 I immediately identified where the food was coming from and played bird dog and headed in that direction.  I was met by one of the wait staff at the door.  I told her what I perceived, what I expected to happen.  I don’t remember what she looked like.  I only remember her showing all thirty twos when I told her what was going on.

           “Can I get a plate to eat before I get kicked out?”

“Sure baby, absolutely.”

When my food was brought, it appeared the entire kitchen staff came out – all people of color.  They were the most friendly, happy bunch of Black people I have ever seen.  Joy filled the air.  Joyous, joyous people of color; I expected a chorus line to form.  While I ate I noticed the word of the mistake passing from lip to lip, ear to ear.  I noticed Wanda Cash standing and watching – the wait staff – her fellow Rotarians – me.  She was happy, a profane giddy happy; happy, happy.

The food was excellent.  The okra gumbo competed with my mother’s.  I consumed the food as fast as I could – wiping and eating, wiping and eating – as efficiently as a starving man could only achieve.  The same fast when you realize the dad doesn’t like you.  The same fast when you realize you don’t like him.  I knew I had to leave as soon as possible.

“Thank you.  The food was good.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed the food.”

“Did you cook the okra gumbo?”

“I did.”

“Check your foot, one may be missing.”

“Oh baby please, you made all our day.  If you want to take some with you, I will make you a container.”

Their day became more joyous as I approached my hosts, still conversing in the southwest corner of this temple of my anticipated expulsion.

“Sorry, excuse me.   I figured out how we can address the mistake.  You can tell your members, I got sick from the food.   I will gracefully excuse myself and make my court appearance on time.”

I expected my host to accept my proposal, he did not.  The frown gracing his forehead, which first appeared when I told him of my discovery, seemed to have become permanent scarring.  “No we want you to stay.”  I was shock by his stance, shocked enough to accept and begin thinking about what I could possibly say at a luncheon I shouldn’t have ever appeared.

The wait staff pretended not be listening, not to be watching.  I pretended not to be noticing those colored people now lining the walls.  Wanda Garner Cash wasn’t having any of our cultural “not be(s)”, she smiled, bounce in her chair in a perceptible manner.  She enjoyed these events more than anyone should publicly enjoy themselves.  Her public display of joy in all probability could meet the definition of obscenity.

I told the shocked faces I knew of the mistake.  I identified myself.  They didn’t clap.  The … Oh Shit … moment still lingered in the air.  The wait staff was having none of our socially acceptable behavior – clapping, smiling, watching – standing in a row, glued in place, collective humanity holding up the wall.

I explained, “My belief in the Constitution was borne in Goose Creek’s public schools, funded by their tax dollars.  “You have no one to blame but yourselves.”  Visions of years past came back, flooding and clouding my thoughts.  Some in the audience flashed oblique smiles.  The wait staff didn’t care, extending a laugh of appreciation, as if Richard Pryor had healed and was on stage again.

I tried to explain the importance of free speech, why the parents’ complaint was upheld by the Court.  “Thank you for the food.  Thank you for the invitation.”  They remained in their seats – astonished – well, except Wanda and the wait staff; standing, clapping, enjoying life’s contradictions a little too much.

After speaking, I hurriedly made my way through the sea of blues and grays.  I was stopped by Wanda before I could escape.  “Anthony wasn’t this just a great meeting”, all spoken while her body continued to tremble with glee, a giddy glee.  Wanda’s only attempt to control her condition came in the form of wiping her eyes.  We wished each other well as I made by dash for the door to escape   “Wanda, I’m so glad you had such a good time.”

 

 

[Author’s note:  The above muse was initially published on November 1, 2014 on Blog.com – thus a throw-back musing.  The musing is the Web-Manager’s favorite musing, and remains so.   It is hoped you enjoyed this version, with slight modifications from the original.]

Advertisements

JUST MUSING: “I think he died during the zombie apocalypse…”

The well-known term, writer’s block, needs little explanation; the inability to think about what to write, or how to proceed with writing.  Merriam-Webster defines the condition as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.”  Others have mused and written on the condition, telling of their frustrations, seeking others’ counsel, admitting inadequacies, shooting blanks (spoken in a literary sense).   I muse to say the purported writer’s block is a writer’s admission of being human, without conceding they are no different than anyone else.

Tossing, turning, awakening, attempting to comprehend, words, images, failing woefully; watching text float, disappearing into the unknown, seemingly propelling me into the same unknown space.  Describing such a condition as writer’s block is too kind, almost dismissive.  A more telling description – The sprinkling of invisible dust – by someone, something – in the cranial cavity, while placing locks on all windows to the world, rendering one a proverbial idiot.  No dictionary definition, my definition.  How about this as an alternative definition? – Gathering collective thoughts, ideas, images (collected over time, stored for prosperity sake, and later use) in a dust-pan, then a wheel-barrow, moving to the edge, dumping all contents into the abyss, rendering the subject, plain, simple, stupid.  With that, my admission – such has been my wont.

The human brain weighs 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) – approximately – making up around 2 percent of our body weight.  The brain operates as the command center for the human nervous system, “receiving input from the sensory organs”, sending “output to the muscles.”  This rudimentary explanation of brain function is to make clear the later part worked, sending output to muscles, compelling functions; the former did not.  World and local events have meant nothing.  Seeing, reading about matters which normally serve as an insult to my understanding of history of the world, politics, religion have had no effect; frozen, seized in time and place, caring little of events, war, famine, crime, deceit – so be it.

The bane of the medical profession is not single-payer health insurance.  The health care industry represents 17.8 percent of the American economy.  Even in my current condition (feeling as if I have been handed a dumb-down membership card from the Zombie Apocalypse Club), I have figured out the profession/industry’s greatest threat – internet research.    Giving us too little information, and even that information over our heads because our lack of knowledge base, assuming we can become competent by reading an incomplete explanation of terms, concepts and conditions someone has spent years studying, causing us to become dangers to ourselves.  I muse to say, I am no different.  In searching for answers, I read, “Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or another dementia.  Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.  There are 10 warning signs and symptoms.  Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees.”  Moving back, away from the computer, grasping the chair, holding my breath, thinking, not thinking, counting signs, diagnosing, self-diagnosing, dismissing the notion of a temporary condition, jumping logical chains, assessing my condition.   My, my, my, I knew I should have eaten more spinach!

Years ago, I was requested to take on a death penalty case in which the condemned man’s lawyer had just died.  The State of Texas in its good wisdom thought it wouldn’t look good to execute a man just after his lawyer died.   In this void I received a call from a local district judge (I. A. Lerner).  Judge Lerner informed me that an execution date was pending (“you can probably get the date moved”, as if this information was comforting), that the Court of Criminal Appeals had just recently affirmed the sentence of death (something I had read about in the newspaper), and that the condemned man needed a new lawyer (I remember His Honor inserting the word, “immediately”).  My mental synapses were sharp enough to know there was no mystery as to whom he (the good judge) thought the new lawyer should was going to be.  Before terminating the conversation, “His Honor” informed me the county had no money to pay for my anticipated good favor.  Tendering the man’s name, providing a case number and his location in the prison system, thanking me, terminating the conversation; I thanked him (for what I don’t know) (maybe this was the first sign of early Alzheimer’s).

Working under an impossible timeline, rifling through thousands of pages, grading another lawyer’s trial and appeal work, looking for any error which would stop the execution – was my task.  Day and night, day and night, day and night – three weeks with little or no sleep; travelling from court to court, preparing hundreds of pages of briefing, counting the time – the days, hours – before the execution.  Ignoring all signs of trouble, speech, balance, the loss of fine motor skills; incessantly talking, taking a seat on the floor, recounting what had to be done next, never seeing the Gods reach and turn off the lights, falling fast asleep in mid-sentence, never completing the thought, being stripped of every sign of life, save a deep sleep – out cold.  Told later, not remembering any of events leading to the mind shutting all impulses, shutting down, refusing to further participate in the body’s demise.

So maybe my current condition is a temporary one, which has lingered for two/three weeks; maybe it is not.  Life has a funny way of letting us know – when the internal insult returns, becoming too much; words, images, events causing one to protest internally, then verbally, or even by the use of the written word; telling the good story, the colorful tale, or to participating in resisting when the synapses can take no more.  We’ll see.

JUST MUSING: “You’re sure nobody died in your story…?”

The persistent debate is whether life mirrors art or whether art mirrors life.  I will confess early, I stand with the camp with believes the reason fiction is referred to fiction is because it is made up, somewhat anchored in life, real and imagined facts oft-times blended to tell the tale.  Taking real life events, changing names, dates, sequence, then pretending the events do not represent real people; while friends snicker, knowing full-well where the line between truth and fiction divide.  Art most times remains grounded in real life, providing a starting point, deviating at the split in the road.

I have this friend who traditionally interrupts any story with the statement, “umm, and nobody died in your story.”  Her point is rather simple, someone has to die, pay the price for each insult, offense, every challenge to the protagonist’s dignity.  Much like a Hollywood driven plot, keeping the audience anchored in their seats, forgetting to remember (needing to pee), knowing the plot line, waiting to see, who is going to die.  Fifteen seconds in the movie, illicit activity in an darkened room, somebody making love, then the woman dies – flash, flash – followed by disjointed, disconcerted events, someone walking across the street (death of the only black guy in the movie) – two minutes in no less, musical score playing – blacks, greys, blues, a panoramic scan – Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Lake Shore Drive, Fifth Avenue, the cobbled streets of Istanbul, Avenida de Maceo – scan right, scan left – a view of the sky, setting the tone and tenor, an explosion, additional deaths.  Five deaths in the first ten minutes of the movie, tracking the first two chapters in the book, remembering now – you need to pee – refusing to move, remaining anchored in place, the light from the screen casting harrowing images over the audiences, settled, calm, satisfied with death, telling a predictable tale, halos magically lowered over everyone, now believers; art is life, not the contrary.

“And nobody died in your story?”

“No, no one died.”

“Then your story has a fatal flaw, somebody has to die for their transgression.”

A comma, followed by a gruesome death; semi-colon, two death; a dash preceding a calamity; more deaths than births, deaths preceding celebrations, deaths accompanied by dynamic descriptive words, flipping pages; the only ambiguity in the story is how many deaths, counting again, wondering why the characters never take a pause in life, seemingly avoiding depression, particularly when annihilation abounds, Armageddon is the path.  Step by step, another death; inch by inch, death – turning, turning, turning – seeing death with each turn, each blink of the eye.

Politicians running into trouble with approval ratings, criticizing enemies, perceived or otherwise, leading to the predictable, wagging their proverbial tails (or is the right word, tales), watching their ratings improve, flexing the nation’s muscle, proclaiming leadership – much like the movies – followed by sanitized deaths.  Absolutely, I admit my friend’s version of life is correct – in this context – somebody does die; invisible, sanitized death, somebody dies.   Flipping channels, seeing the same story, flipping again, and again, seeing predictability unfold, accompanied by music, commercials, telling and retelling the story.

“Somebody gotta die!”

“Somebody …?”

“Somebody gotta to die …!”

Death is inevitable.  This doesn’t mean good story telling must always include multiple deaths, retribution for the offender, living by the Old Testament (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth), in living color, with a dynamic score playing against the backdrop of blacks, whites, blues, still-waters, a victim lying in the street.

“Every time …?”

“Yes, every time – at least in my version of life, my version of the story.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the death rate in the United States in 2014 was 823.7 deaths per 100,000 people, with the life expectancy being 78.8 years. The number of deaths in 2014 was 2,626,418.   The CDC reports the birth rate  was 12.5 per 1,000, with 3,988,076 births (in 2014).  The data seems to indicate my friend’s analysis is flawed.  There remains still more births than death – in most societies – not the contrary.  No the statistical data does not mean every transgression is followed by a birth, breakup to makeup, with The Stylistics singing the score, followed by another car chase, music – reds, whites, blues flashing across the screen – followed by birth, another, another.  The statistical data suggest that every good story need not entail 5.3 deaths for every 50 pages of text, a minimum 30 deaths per feature film, untold number of deaths to others when our elected leaders desire to show leadership, bravery, to support the good tale.

The evening light settled on the window sill, refusing to intrude farther than two inches from the edge of the ledge, hindered by time, the rotational pull of the earth, the Gods.  The tables in the restaurant no longer seemed sequestered, each now occupied.  Kissing, hugging, staring stories, reflecting emotions, sharing their day, interacting with the hostess, the wait staff which moved through and among, those same worker bees moved much like the sugar ants moving across the door’s transom, down the side of the building to the sidewalk.  The sun retracted further, out of the building, tracking time, reminding all she was no longer a participant, promising to reappear, settling on the sidewalk, winking, yawning; the proper tenor and tone, a well written play, directed and produced by Hollywood.

The stranger’s eyes pointed in one direction, watching, listening not listening, to her companion.  Her ears moved to the next table, listening, following the story-line, directing her attention away from the Eggplant Parmesan placed on their table – yellow, red, purple, white,  contrasting against fresh basil – listening, listening, listening – a participant from afar.  No deaths took place.  Everyone made it through dinner without the hallowing sounds of anguish, allowing the stranger to hear clearly, to participate.  Captivated, remaining part of the story, finishing her meal, situated in one world, a participant in another, finally fully intruding.

“Which soap opera are you talking about?”

She believed the story had to be fiction, intricate facts, stranger than fiction, interlaced with intertwined relationships – tears, anger, infidelity, love – reflecting colors, light, life.  Her reaction told me she believed, pulling away much like the sun, returning fully to her companion, her table when my friend bellowed a hearty laugh, replying, “No, no dear, no soap opera, I am talking about my friends!”

 

JUST MUSING: Whack, whack …”

I am kind of whacked about House Bill 4260, the Man’s Right to Know Act, which is pending for consideration in the Texas legislature.  The proposed bill proposes to fine men $100.00 for each time they masturbate, more specifically, for each and every “masturbatory emissions.” Emissions means, “emissions outside of a woman’s vagina, or created outside of a health or medical facility” – then the $100 civil penalty kicks in – for each emission.  The offending conduct is considered an act against an unborn child, failing to preserve the sanctity of life.  A masturbatory emission is defined as an emission which takes place outside a woman’s vagina or a hospital.  The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Jessica Farrar, explained later the bill was intended to be satirical, to make a point surrounding legislators’ persistent attempt to regulate a woman’s body, somewhat akin to “take that”.  For some reason, I’m not laughing, can’t laugh … will not laugh.  I don’t believe her.  This is a call to action, resist! Whack! Whack!

My form of resistance is to write an open letter to the State Representative, asking her to withdraw the bill, amend, clarify; joke or no joke.

“Dear State Representative Farrar:

I write this letter because of my concerns with regards to H.R. 4260.  Don’t’ you see the unintended consequences of your bill?  Don’t you?  First, there are too many holes in the bill for comfort.  The bill requires the State to level a fine for “each masturbatory emission.”  It seems to me the bill fails to protect the non-emitter.  Electing to whack, hold, grab, pull, prevent emission, building in a presumption of emission, by the act itself.  This is unfair.

My other problem:  do you want to make liars out of some of us?  Much like those who lied to us years earlier, predicting our demise, the loss of sight, blindness.

“I didn’t emit.  I didn’t emit.”

I recognize the Snapchat generation couldn’t care less; filming, snapping, telling on themselves, showing all, posting each and every emission, believing the snap disappears, into the ethos, never to be seen again.  Excuse me for a moment … whack, whack, whack.  The Act will drive some of us to the recesses of society, to counselors (for our guilt), hiding in corners, confessing our sins, confused with the loss of control over our bodies.

What about multiple emissions performed in the same event?  Ma’am, there are some talented whackers out there.   You thought about that, have you?  Are you trying to make criminals out of men?  Do you hate us?  Are you lesbian?  What’s the issue?  I know during the elections one of the candidates admitted, “Someone has to be punished.” He wasn’t talking about men.   I know.  I know.  I know, it takes two to tango, but come on – it seems to me you are criminalizing victim-less conduct.

What about the trial? The proposed bill says the fine is civil.  I doubt this.  What happens when the victim disagrees with the proposed civil fine?  Are they subjected to confinement when refusing to pay?  Do you admit the bill will ultimately impose a presumption of emission, to avoid creating proof problems for the prosecution?  A presumption imposed on proof of the act, an assumption there was an emission, to avoid the messiness a fully prepared case would entail, requiring measurement, quantifying the amount of the emission.

Ma’am your fatal attempt at satire fails woefully.  I’m insulted.  Nothing in the bill grabs and holds my gay brothers.  Exempting them from liability, seemingly exempting them from the Act, whacking away and allowing them to defend on constitutional grounds, claiming the law is not applicable to them; while channeling the rest of us to hospitals seeking to fall under the exception to the law.  What if we are situated in a part of the state where there is no health facility or hospital?

If you pretend this is about regulating health and safety, you still fail.  Your bill is unconstitutionally vague, and requires reworking.  It has no language requiring ones admission in the hospital.  You are creating a dangerous environment for me and others, requiring us to invade the space of the smokers, standing outside, in the corners, to the side of the doorway, abiding by the smoking law, now encumbered and partnered which others who have decided to go to the hospital to whack away.  I am not imagining.  Nothing in Bill 4260 requires admission to a hospital.   Whack, whack.

One final point, who receives the civil penalty?  Is this like the lotto promise, that the lotto dollars would go to the schools to educate Texas children? Look where that promised got us.  Seems to me you are imposing a sin tax.  Maybe even viewpoint discrimination, striking at the core of the right of self-expression.  Using taxpayers’ monies to legislate your views, when life begins, is that your aim?  Come on, don’t go there.

Whack, whack, whack!

Please withdraw your bill.   We get your point and you’re not funny!”

_____________

Postscript:  Don’t believe a word I said.  The letter is a satirical treatment of the Representative’s bill, attempting to aid in her point; a societal insistence on packaging a women’s body; commoditizing that which is not a commodity – something we (not the Southern “we”, instead the collective “men” we) simply don’t own.  Written in the tradition of Mark Twain, The Onion,   Charlie Hebdo, Chris Rock, hoping, just hoping, … the challenge is appreciated, even if done circuitously, while my tongue remains firmly implanted, in cheek.

So I muse.

JUST MUSING: “Use by date…”

Life is somewhat akin to the use by dates on the side of food products.  An estimation, predicting, “best when used by.”  Smelling, poking, lifting, checking color is no different than parenting.   Kicking ourselves for forgetting, tucked behind something else, wondering whether, “still good” – our treatment of friends, love ones, family.  In college, I took a course entitled Chemistry for Non-science Majors, an experiment by the Science Department, in hope of stripping the mysteries and fears of science away.  “Making science friendly again – to make America great again” – no I’m making that part up, digressing early, my apology.

May I continue? – One of the areas covered dealt with food sciences.  The preservation of food, learning about the chemical compounds printed on the side of foods in the marketplace, discovering how plants are genetically modified, understanding how substances change when one molecule is removed, another added.  No different than life.

Years ago, a friend of mine by her fortieth birthday began to read the obituaries in the Houston Chronicle daily.  I didn’t understand what she was doing.  A big city paper, surely Donna didn’t expect to see someone she knew in the paper everyday.  I didn’t understand Donna was lamenting aging, seeing time pass, her use by date approaching fast, wondering whether the “best by this date” was approaching, or even passed.  Lamenting, lamenting, lamenting, reading, expressing anger, frustration, pointing at someone she didn’t even know.

I understand now.  Smelling, poking, pushing … looking for signs of imminent death – like I am going to see some magical clue from the image looking back at me in the mirror.  Expressing condolences, barely able to contain myself, wanting to ask, having to ask, “What did he die of?”, “Oh, I’m so sorry”, “How old did you say he was?” – “My, my, my” wrapped, packaged around my concerns, Donna’s concerns, for the “best used by date.”  Reading the obituary closely, seeing what they didn’t say.  Much like high fructose corn syrup, sodium erythorbate, erythorbic acid, seeing the words imprinted on the packaging, having no concept what I’m looking at, looking for.

“Died how young?”

“Did they say why?”

“Cancer, diabetes, didn’t eat right, didn’t exercise?”

“Oh, died in a car accident.  Good!  Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”

Seeing the meat in the refrigerator, immediately realizing it was purchased a week ago, knowing you forgot, wondering whether it is past it’s “use by date.”   Reaching to throw it out, remembering your mother’s instruction to drain the meat, wash off the blood, then smell.  Salting, seasoning, smelling, using in a meal, eating.

Smelling the milk, retching, embarrassed at the waste, seeing starving children in River Oaks, before adapting, stirring, folding, mixing with other sour milk for bread.  Remembering the lessons, their history:  never throwing anything away, born during the depression, on farms, surviving, reusing, adapting, saving, feeding their families on little, proud of their resourcefulness.  Developing idioms to explain life problems, life events, reminding their heirs, not to throw away objects – things – people:  “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  “Making chicken salad out of chicken gaga’” (even though the wrong word used, I think you get the point).

The medical profession raves against the over-consumption of anything – salt, sugar – while failing to point us to the operative word(s), over-consumption.  Not ever willing to deny that salt is a necessary nutrient, in turn posting warnings, placing salt on the Most Wanted Criminal List, a criminal, dangerous.  That same profession sits back in shock at our willingness to by-pass substitutes for the real thing, an organic substance.

So label me confused, wondering what the fuss is about surrounding food labeling – much like life.  Finding myself doing much more important tasks, reading the obituaries daily, attending more funerals than weddings, expressing my condolences to get close enough to ask additional questions, looking in the mirror, poking, prodding, smelling, seeing the use by date approaching fast.

“Nope, doesn’t smell like death.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with you boy!  You need to take a shower!”

JUST MUSING: “Mad hatter like …”

I seldom watch horror movies, refusing to revisit living-color, vivid, life altering nightmares.  Believing the monster on the railroad track still exists, aging ugly, scarier than ever, drinking ditch water, waiting for me, to get me.  No, no, no, I will leave the medium to others.    When I grew old enough to protest, I refused to pay people to scare me, refusing to enter the ridiculously long lines to ride the wildest, scariest, tallest roller coaster in the free world.  Stepping out of line, letting others walk around, never having to reassure myself the decision not to ride was the right one.

“No, no, ma’am you can have my spot.  Please.”

Letting Stephen King scare Stephen King, and his demented followers; knowing my limitations, putting his books down, stopping on page one, paragraph one; cursing him, and the three-eyed monsters appearing early, on page two.  Attempting to sleep, revisiting what I saw, what I read, hearing clanging sounds, suffering an withering attack from imaginary bed bugs, falling, falling, falling, to a painful, disfigured death, emoting my last, predictable words, “My death was caused by Stephen King.  Stephen King killed me.”

Life’s wonderful contradictions continue to play us for the proverbial fools.  Cutting and pasting, lifting faces from different sources and placing them onto another; posting stories as a reliable entity, when caught saying the error was a mistake – casting doubts, creating new truths.  Borrowing copyrighted mastheads, redirecting attention, posting to justify one’s worldview, even if a lie.

A little white lie is defined as a minor, benign lie.  I don’t believe a lie should be parceled into minutia.  What is the contrast?  What is the opposite of the little white lie? –  A big black malignant lie.  Parceling facts, dissecting truth, justifying the lie, birthing confusion, providing a platform for fake new, alt-news, alternative facts is our bold new world.

No, please don’t place me in the category of the folks who disingenuously disrespects the advancements in technology.  Absolutely, the information age has allowed the world to become smaller, more connected, allowing information to travel across the globe, blending cultures, traditions, and peoples.  No longer needing to ride a horse to Boston to declare, “Give me liberty, or give me death”, possessing a printing press within inches, a multitude of presses, publishing at a nominal cost, at will.  A new world which benefits, advantages, disadvantages, challenges, sows confusion, daily.

Lying about the existence of big foot seems problematic to me – cutting, pasting, borrowing pictures around the world, then placing text, and quotes from fictional people and posting the story as true is nothing more than the big lie and should be called out as such.   Posting pictures to make a point, “she looks Angelina Jolie”, hiding identity of the source, scurry under cover of a non-existent entities, false names, is different than Benjamin Franklin’s use of pseudonyms, both male and female.

Benjamin Franklin and Stephen King’s publishers were honest, labeling the story under assigned categories, horror, science fiction, fiction, non-fiction, playing by a set of principles, being held accountable.  The First Amendment protects us from our government, the right of free speech, a press, to religion, creating a freer society, allowing for the exchange of ideas.  The First Amendment protects truth and lie.  No problem here.  I only muse to say we should be more diligent in calling out the lies.

New technology shouldn’t mean we should not filter the lies out.  Free press, free speech means the lies should be exposed, parceled out, and then relegated to the dark web of our mines, the trash bins of history.  Force the liars to become more creative and a tad-bit more honest, labeling their writings as the new futuristic comic books seems appropriate.

“Lies, lies, more lies, up, up and away!”

Force them to admit their writings were borne at a time the free press was at its weakest, under attack externally (loss of advertising dollars, politicians running against the press attacking a fundamental tenet of a free society), and internally (power in the hands of a few; caused by consolidations, closings, unreliable and unpredictable new business models).

Demand power be bequeathed to the entities who now dominate the medium (Google, Facebook, etcetera) (the gatekeepers), granting them publishing rights, forcing the separation of wheat from the chaff; requiring categorization of our new printers, opinion writers, bloggers – fiction, non-fiction, horror, a literary lie.

Oh absolutely I believe there may be problems – times when entities, governments, individuals will overreact, censoring the message disfavored.  There will always be this type of pull and tug.  My concern is different.  The lies are overwhelming, creating an alternative universe, establishing different rules, allowing the purveyor of the lies to avoid accountability.  Mad hatter like, wicked witch evil – untouched – the disfigured man on the railroad track eating little black boys screaming in their sleep, “Mamma, the King has no clothes.”

“Not a black suit!”

“But the suit is black!”

“No … it’s not!”

“I’m sorry, that color is black.  Wait, why are we talking about the color of the King’s suit?  I asked a different question.”

“Dishonest media … dishonest media, when you finally recognize ‘us talking to you’ is a privilege and not a right, maybe then, you will agree, ‘what you see is what you see.’”

JUST MUSING: “Another crazy billionaire from New York…”

If the Republican administration and Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, the former status quo revisits us, meaning twenty million people will be without insurance, possibly incapable of affording a market-based replacement policy.  I am not sure the administration or Congress cares.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) makes clear the Act represents a fundamental sea-change in health care in this country, particularly as related to the treatment of mental health and substance use disorder:

The Affordable Care Act provides one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, by requiring that most individual and small employer health insurance plans, including all plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Also required are rehabilitative and habilitative services that can help support people with behavioral health challenges. These new protections build on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) provisions to expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections to an estimated 62 million Americans.

Years ago, during a Saturday meeting with students enrolled in a trial advocacy class at the University of Houston Law School, the pre-meeting discussion moved from gossip, classes, to regional differences.  Listening, not listening; unfamiliar with any of the names, never part of the conversation, waiting on the clock to strike the anointed hour before beginning.  One of the students was an African American female from Detroit.  She started down the ill-advised road, meaning she turned the conversation toward regional differences.  I attempted to stay out the conversation, listening, not listening; diverting my attention to the traffic below, casting periodic glances at the time, the oleanders swaying in the medium, counting the number of boards interwoven/interlaced in the alcove.  The sun remained affixed on the other side of the room, staring, not yet making its journey over, across the room.

She didn’t stop at any of the visible stop signs.  Continuing, never taking a breath, openly questioning, “I don’t know why I’m here”, “I was accepted to at least two other law schools located in the northeast”.

Interspersing choice words, “backward”, “different”, “in the North we” … words designed to invoke a difference, assertions of superiority; driving a chasm.  Directing words at the six other students, five females, one male, all white Southerners; erecting walls, using truths, half-truths to evoke myths, northern myths, as much a part of America’s historical lore and the War of the States.

Dividing to strengthen her sense of self-worth, ignoring commonalities, not recognizing everyone has a crazy Uncle Donald, irascible, stupid; forever a tad bit narcissistic.  Tortured accents, fly-away, fly-over hair (blue-grey, black-grey-dirty white, brown/grey/black/blue), commonalities not seen solely in the South.  Generations’ past styles, mouthing the inappropriate, crazy, stupid-crazy souls, a universal commonality, as common as the universe of males suffering from male-pattern baldness, our crazy Uncle Donald, everyone got one.  Digging and picking inappropriately, wrong place, wrong time, from crotch to ear, to nose, to mouth.  Shocking everyone by the choice of movie, “Has anyone seen Finding Dory”, with the rest of us remaining perplexed, not able to tell if he is serious or not, or if it’s just more craziness.

Telling stories thirty years old, always beginning with, “I use to”, followed by and the word, “boy” and too many exclamation points.  Forever non-hip, even when trying to be hip; two steps forward, five back, stumbling over the table, breaking the table on step three, every time, every time, step three.

Touching every female relative the wrong way, a generational repulsion, none willingly to ride with him, stay in the same room, hastening a retreat when he smiles and moves one inch in their direction. “Uncle Donald” … always followed by that exclamation point, slanted eyes, and a look of disbelief, directed at anyone who would dare suggest any other conclusion than crazy; crazy yesterday, today, tomorrow.  My, my, my … I’ve digressed.

The African American female never crossed the line of attempting to compare her relatives to theirs.  No she didn’t go that far.  She might as well have done so; hers were the words of myth-making.  Somewhat akin to “Mexicans will cut you”, “Black people will shoot you”, “Southerners are backward.”  Seeing their eyes and body movement, the appearance of pride (in their southern heritage), causing her to abruptly change course, seeking support and affirmation, searching the room, turning to the only other African American in the room, me.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  I didn’t, lend support, suggesting instead she should look at transferring to Wayne State.   “If we’ve that stupid, move back.”

Years ago the New York gifted the rest of us another billionaire scion.  Traversing the country in disguise, living a vagabond’s existence, dressing out-of-type, hiding, secreting his wealth, killing, discarding the body, possessing enough money to structure more than an adequate legal defense – yes, he did.  He sure did.  Killing a white man, oddly named Black, cutting him up in discrete parts, discarding the parts against the wind, into the surf … Lord knows where ….  His acts, actions, conduct were never identified as “not as sophisticated.” No one categorized the behavior as the fundamental character trait of rich white men from New York. Never distinguishing them from others, refusing to apply the adverse label to the region, the small sub-group (rich white men existing in the unique world of the nano-percent).  Everyone agreeing, even those who have a tendency to trend toward urban myths, the conduct was that of a demented soul, and nothing more.

Myth-making represents the blending of facts, half-truths and flat-out lies.  Sometimes working to type, other times against type; always working toward a desired end, casting aside “the others” in order to bind a targeted group.  Done both orally, in writing, consciously and subconsciously, part tradition, evolving and perfecting over time; dividing, driving wedges, sustaining itself against logic to make the myth-maker more confident in himself/herself/themselves.  Oftentimes packaged differently, combed-over, dyed – the packaging matters not – the message is essentially the same, to convince the listener of the difference.  “We will be great again.”  “They’re different from us.”  “We are superior.”

Sometimes we have to just say no, and work against type.  Other times we have to ignore the persuasive messaging, no matter how wonderfully packaged.  No matter how well delivered, even when our conclusion seems illogical at the time.  A crazy Uncle Donald with money doesn’t mean he is any different than other crazy fools showing up at family affairs.   No one, in none of our families, dare assume our Uncle Donald is anything but crazy.  Crazy, always has been, always will be, crazy, money or no money.

“You are kidding me, right?  Please – that’s Uncle Donald – enroll him in the Affordable Care Act, get him help while we still can, and pass the peas.”

*          *          *

Today the oleanders remain in place, swaying gently against the southern breeze.  Last time I checked, the sun still tracts east to west.  Today, tomorrow, the day after, we must cast aside half-truths and lies, no matter how discomforting; a necessary elixir to protect “the others”, to protect ourselves.  If not, we should be free to believe that all billionaire white men from New York are crazy.