I received the expected call, “Pat wants to see you.” I didn’t ask when. I didn’t have to; I didn’t ask why. “I will be there in 20-30 minutes. I am going to ride my bicycle; it will take a little longer.” The person on the other end of the was Pat’s provider. You know, provider, one who tends to the sick and infirmed. After a long struggle Pat was dying. T. J. acknowledged my response, in her now familiar raspy voice – “I will tell her.”

I had spent the last two weeks avoiding this moment. Pat’s eyes seem more distance, her responses slower. Getting her wish I thought. Not wanting her wish; wanting the pain to stop; still loving life. I expressed the same contradictory wish, wanting this moment to come, not wanting at the same time. I wanted the dying process not to be so cruel and painful. Those eyes, that voice, and the restricted movement said, enough, enough, enough.

“I won’t be here much longer,” she told me the last time I saw her. I hushed her at the time. Hushing her did not make her words vanquish. She didn’t say anything else during that visit. She knew. In some sense, we both were ready, not ready at the same time. 

The weather seemed typecast –petulant, irritated, angry. She pushed the slow-moving bicycle from one side of the road to the other, causing me to utter everyone’s name in vain. Annoyed, persistent, incessant, truculent – while I pushed and struggled against her attempts to deviate my path on this my recently most well-worn path. She began to cry, intermingling the Gulf’s mist with her tears. I did too – cry – releasing stored tears, held for months. My nose ran faster than I was moving. I dared not release the handlebars to wipe. She would have pushed me over. She lowered the temperature to 45° causing the winds to now scream, hers an extended death growl, increasing the trip from twenty-minutes to forty-five; pushing, shoving, begging the near violent lament to abate.

 I was a new lawyer, a year in the practice – twenty-five at most – when I asked Pat to come work with me. At the time, Patricia Ann Tate was an employee of the district clerk’s office, fourteen years my senior. She agreed to leave her secured job for an uncertain one and come to work with a man-child whose everyday existence was an adventure. On her first day of work, I was called to trial. Towards the end of the day’s court proceedings, I was held in contempt and faced immediate overnight confinement.

“Judge can I call my office?”

I think I was calm. I don’t think my voice broke. I know I didn’t cry. Besides these uncertainties- the “I thinks” – I wanted to make clear my inability to assure you of my then condition are more the byproduct of time’s passage and aging, than my not being forthright. The only certain assurance I can provide is I called to try to convince this new employee not to be afraid. I envisioned her quitting on the day one. I also wanted to call before she heard from someone else. Envisioning her writing a brief note (maximum of two words), picking up her purse and walking out the door.

Galveston is a small town, full of ghosts and secrets which travel faster than the speed of sound, capable of telling before one can even think about telling. I knew this and attempted to beat them – those ghost and secrets… so I nervously called.

“Judge Dalehite has held me in contempt and is getting ready to put me in jail for the night.”

Pat was silent. I adjusted my stance, moving from one foot to the other. I adjusted my vocal cords, concentrating at a spot on the floor. I didn’t cry. Remember, that’s my story, I didn’t cry.

“Can you do me a favor and call the National College of Criminal Defense in Houston and ask them to put someone on standby in case I am put in jail?”

I thought this would be the moment, but it wasn’t. Instead, in a calm tone, she responded, “Okay, where can I find the number?” She came back to work the next day, and the next. We spent close to twenty years trying to figure it out. We argued, disagreed on important and unimportant matters. She was critical of my wastefulness (office supplies), she teased me when my suits became threadbare, she helped me to work on my youthful racism. When I elected to represent the Klu Klux Klan, she screamed (a scream of deviance, “no, no”) and walked out of the room. She never would work on the file. She politely exited the room when Michael Lowe, the Grand Dragon appeared. She calmed later because I gave her the same lecture, in which she gave me when I was a younger man. She spent twenty years calling me Mr. Griffin and my calling her Ms. Tate. The first time she called me by my first name, I did a double take – in shock. I was also honored.

When I entered the house, T. J. updated me. Her head was tilted to the side, she couldn’t, wouldn’t, did not look at me. “I came to work this morning and she had fallen; she was on the floor. I told her we can’t keep leaving her alone at night and we must do something. She said, ‘call Anthony.’” My head moved downward as we talked. Seemingly, I still had some more in reserve, tears fell – to my legs, to the floor.

“Okay. I will…”

I moved towards Pat’s room, slower than the speed Mother Nature permitted me earlier. No, there was no force working against me other than the powers of memory and time. She languished in place – resolute, still, staring into the distance. Her laughter was no more. Her strength had been stolen. Death was present hovering in the same manner he/she/it did when both my father and mother died. Not a smell but a presence, visible/invisible, palpable, not imaginary. We talked. I held her head against my stomach. I stroked her head and kept telling her, “I don’t want to decide.” She never responded.

Time, she stopped keeping time. Death, he, moved away – for a moment slightly – permitted us to interact. Mother Nature, she continued her lament, a mere three feet away, shaking tapping the windows, reminding me of her presence. I held on and openly cried and only released my grip after telling her clearly, “I love you.” For the first time, forty-three years later. “I love you.” I released her head, placed my cheek against hers and repeated, these three words –again, again, and again. Her eyes remained sullen; a barely imperceptible nod followed.  

He/she/it – death, moved back in place and prepared for the transition, taking her five painful days later.       

JUST MUSING: … nah, nah

I know. I know – tis the season.  Are you permitted to finish the rest? – You are.    To be jolly – perhaps; for love – maybe; giving, cooking, eating – sharing?  Pick one, pick all – tis the season though, isn’t it?  The reaffirming of traditions, renewing old acquaintances, family – the old, a little bit of the new, same-same.  Remembrances, faith, lives lived and lost, ode to the holidays; the holidays – ah yes, the holidays. 

Years ago, I traveled over the holidays to visit my mother.  Immediately upon my arrival she said what was on her mind… “…don’t get too comfortable, you need to visit your grandmother.  She has been asking about you.”  Her words were spoken in a mother’s way, saying what she had to say – never asking yes or no, telling.  Said not in the same voice and manner as, “close the refrigerator” … “close the front door”, although similar – a demand, an expectation to be acted upon immediately – parental love is apt description when these words are stated in the best light.  I answered how I was trained to answer, “Yes, ma’am.”  “Yes ma’am” was the answer, even if a multiple choice quiz is given; even if the test is a blind-test – the blinking lights of a well-lived relationship told me how to answer.  Doing what I was told to do, reaching holding, hugging – a hug the equivalent of a childhood tag – “I got you”; then changing direction in mid-step, moving sideways, then backward, to do what I was told to do, “not tomorrow, right now.”  Not the song’s lyrics, but Georgia’s words. 

She told me to visit soon, “Your grandmother is not feeling well.”  Not tomorrow right now.  I immediately turned to comply – but I digress.        

Before leaving I noticed my younger sister standing in the kitchen.  I pivoted and moved in her direction.  She smiled. I smiled.    

“…come with me.” 

“I don’t think so.” 


“Grandmother Vide has never treated me nice …”

“That’s not true, is it…?”

Honestly, I didn’t know whether Viola Richardson did or not.  Yes, I saw her as firm – resolute – woman, a tad mean.  I never knew her to treat any of us differently.  Absolutely, my view originated from child’s eyes – viewing the world through a limited prism, seeing the immediate, and even if I saw my eyes were probably too colored. 

“It’s true”, Ima Jean said, she lowered her head, turned away; still waters indeed run deep.  Momma said nothing.  She let us talk.

“Oh come with me…,” grabbing Jean’s hand, retrieving a coat of the couch, pulling her with me out the door.  Jean willingly complied, in part – I say – even though her shoulders and a palpable silence said she wasn’t. 

“If she treats you differently today, we can leave immediately.” 

Jean remained hauntingly quiet; sitting in place, looking out the window, staring.   Neighborhoods hovered overhead, the wind whistled, we moved west on Interstate 30; past downtown, Mrs. Baird’s Bread bakery, nearing our exit to Lake Como.   The uncomfortable cold, the smell of breads, the holiday lights didn’t stop Jean’s voice playing on a repeat cycle … “She has never treated me nice” … 

This was a time before others discovered Lake Como was near the downtown district, was ideal for prime development, when others who didn’t look like us only visited to pick up domestic workers – “I know it’s late, oh, come on and steal away.”   

Grandmother Vide greeted me.   An invisible wall appeared before she could say hello to Jean – which she didn’t – silently engulfing its victim from the time Jean entered to the time she took a seat in the kitchen.  She never said a word to Jean.  Not a word.  The words directed my way now seemed cloistered.  Hers was a palpable, striking coldness, no child deserves. Viola Richardson, my father’s mother, did what she did comfortably – a practiced behavior, done over and over again, throughout the years – Merry Christmas indeed.  You are so welcomed.

My father, Leon Griffin, gave up early on life.  A mixture of segregation, deferred dreams, and the onset of mental illness proved too much.  “He gave up.  Came home one day, frustrated, in tears; he said he was never going to work another day for a white man and that a Negro couldn’t afford him.”  I heard Momma’s words.  I saw my father’s withdrawn eyes, barely audible mumbles.  He withdrew – quit work – another victim of the unequal distribution of societal resources – so I thought later, so I learned much later.  This was the promise I made, an internal promise to work at leveling the playing field; wanting to become a lawyer, working toward law school; “a privilege not accorded…”, Momma said – “in nineteen thirties, nineteen forties Texas” – jingle, jingle.

One time – two, three – four times I saw what I saw; talking, moving uncomfortably about the house, trying to convince myself none of this was true; wanting none of what I saw and heard to be true.  I watched Jean move from one level of withdrawal to another – cowering, crying internally, saying nothing – the same nothing she said stumbling out the door, into the car, exiting the car, into the house.  Naïve, naïve, me – solving the problem, dismissing what she said, by my actions, my words – nah, nah.     

“Grandmother … Jean told me you treated her differently, rude in fact”, were my words.  I didn’t let her respond.  I didn’t want a response.  I saw what I saw.  “She is my sister.  She will always be my sister and I love her.  Your treatment of her is telling me you don’t want anything to do with me.  I will never see you again.” 

I had never talked to Viola Richardson in such a manner.  I never contemplated I ever would.  My passage into these unknown waters was before our children were born.  They would not have the life-privilege of meeting Viola nor Edward.  I was still in college.  In hindsight, I was barely considered to be a man – seventeen, perhaps eighteen. 

Jean remained seated.  She never looked up.  She continued to speak silently.  The silence though was loud and clear, a continual run-on silence.  Childhood anxieties, life experiences, well-worn personality traits said she didn’t want to be in the room; no matter what I said, no matter what I did.

I moved past Grandmother Vide, and grabbed Jean’s now compliant hands.  I didn’t have to grab her coat; she had never made herself comfortable.  We moved from the kitchen, the living room, to the front porch, to the car, never looking back. 

After my father withdrew, Momma divorced him.  She ultimately remarried.  She had my youngest sisters, during the second marriage (Ima Jean and Ida Dell).  One time – within her reach and ears – one of us began to utter an impermissible tease.  Georgia wasn’t having any of this:  “Don’t ever say step-sister, don’t you ever permit anyone else to do likewise, y’all are brother and sisters.”  I believe this was the only time we were given permission to fight by Georgia.  I believe my disrespecting my elder was the permitted fight.  I told Momma what I saw and heard when we arrived back home.  She didn’t chastise me.  She said nothing.  She had seen me act this way before – doing what I was told to do as a child; fight for my siblings, for me – for her.  Jean moved from the perimeter to the back of the house.  She continued to speak with a profound silence.

🎄         🎄         🎄

Viola Richardson loved food, her church, family, design – blending colors, fabrics, linens – nice things.  Original and reconditioned antique furniture graced her home.  She never permitted Grandfather Edward to cook, even though he readily bragged of being a better cook.  “I don’t get it, a chef on the railroad can’t cook for his grand kids”, he said.  “She won’t let me cook because I’m a better cook.”  Grandmother Vide continue to set the table, pulling out nice plates for dinner. 

“Get up and wash your hands”, she said to us.  “Shut up” – told to Edward.  Strangely, these memories remained etched in place; her immaculately kept home, the wafting smell of the cigars Edward chewed constantly. 

I don’t remember seeing Ida. I don’t remember seeing Jean when we moved from the kitchen to the restroom.  I complied, oblivious in a child’s way; laughing internally at their banter, ignoring a profound banter which worked to batter the psyche of a child – my sister – over the years. 

My other grandmother was Chester Anna was much like Viola in certain ways, they differed though in others.  Both brown skinned, good complexion, religious women – firm and plain-spoken.  They differed in locale – Chester Anna born, raised and lived in a farming community up until her illness; Viola a city girl.  Chester Anna a master of the English language, never a profane word uttered from her lips; Viola’s used only one curse word – repeatedly, even when professing her love for Jesus.  “S_ _ t, I love me some Jesus!”  I don’t know whether she ever saw or heard us laughing in the other room when she said what she said. 

Chester Anna set the table with black rimmed, white metal plates.  Like Viola the expectations were clear:  children never reached and touched without washing, without paying homage.  She made her positions clear, in the same firm, no-nonsense matter.  We complied in the same no-nonsense matter, moving away from the table, rushing in the opposite direction, arriving back mere seconds later with part clean hands aloft. 

Muh Chest told me the animals knew when their time had come – a rite of passage perhaps – moving from the barn area to far off fields – foretelling their demise; from ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  She never called a veterinarian – she knew.  Grandmother Vide also knew. 

She called my mother.  My mother called me.  “She wants you to come, Vide wants to see you.”   

“I can’t.  I won’t.”

“She called Jean.  She apologized and asked for her forgiveness.  She wants to apologize to you.”

“She doesn’t have to apologize to me…”

“She wants to see you…” 

Momma didn’t say I had to travel to Fort Worth.  No, no, no – her words were coded in parent-speak, a language I was good at interpreting.  This too wasn’t a choice.  I traveled to Fort Worth two days later. 

Daddy Leon let me into the house; he nodded, moved out of the way, and pointed.  I found her in her and Edward’s bedroom – in the back of the house.  The curtains were drawn; the room was dark; isolating, warm.  She was lying in her bed, her head appeared sweated.  The covers were pulled up to her chin.  Edward had long passed – the Chambers stove was no more, the kitchen table looked different – no linens, no china – perhaps a different dining room table.  The house looked nothing like I remembered: unkempt, smaller – not dirty, not meticulous – not Viola’s home, not kept to Viola’s standards.  I quietly moved from place to place – to my place – next to her bed.  She extended her left hand from under the covers.  She asked me for my forgiveness.  I gave what I could – “Yes, ma’am … Momma told me you talked to Ima Jean.”   

We didn’t talk long.  She didn’t ask much of me nor me of her.  I held her hand and heard Chester Anna voice, “it won’t be long”.  Seeing animals move to the other field.  Seeing elders in the community come to Chester Anna’s home to die.  Listening and helping her wash their bodies, seeing the dying process play out in front of my eyes during those long, hot, memorable Texas summers.          

🎄         🎄         🎄

The dishwasher was invented in 1850.  The original machine was a wooden contraption which had little no practical application to the home.  “When Miele introduced the first automated model in 1960, it was still costly – as much as a housekeeper’s annual salary, in fact. Yet the concept stood the test of time and by the end of the 1970s, the dishwasher had become one of the most common home appliances.”  

The history of the dishwasher is not the reason I muse.  It does help one understand the reason I muse.  One set of grandparents having better plates than the other is not why nor is both grandmother’s sternest, bordering on meanest is not the reason why.  Such was their way – part of their ingrained personalities, surviving in a hostile world, making sure their charge remained respectful, dutiful and fed. 

Members of Viola’s church spoke of her meanest less than a month after my visit – followed by polite, church giggles, layered with “yes Lords”, before smiling, looking outward, comforting with references to her kindness, and multi-fold, complex personality – as we all are.  I tell these stories because this is what holidays to do us – what makes us happy, what makes us sad, a time for reflections.

Please permit me to explain this way:  Market Insider issued a 2017 Press Release:

The US paper cups and paper plates market reached a value of US$ 104 billion in 2016 … The market is expected to reach a value of US$ 119 billion by 2022.”  

Much like pestilence, paper plates and cups, plastic silverware seems to me to be a resistance played out in reverse, by those who were compelled to wash the dishes after meals, during the holidays, after being awaken from a fake/real/deep sleep – drug back to the kitchen to finish the assigned chores.   Are you still dreaming of that white Christmas?  

I muse to say nah – nah, don’t you dare pull out the paper plates, plastic glasses, and utensils during the holidays.  If the sky is not falling, if the sun fails to come up, if you aren’t sitting on a beach during the holidays – these are the best of times, these are the worst of times – don’t.  I don’t care – don’t.

There is no reason to continue this misplaced, misguided, ill-defined resistance – nah-nah.  Stop invidiously disturbing the minds of your children, relatives, me with a Dixie plate – nah – nah … nah, nah – nah-nah.   Life is too unbalanced and unfair for you to put such a burden on them – me.  Put the paper and plastics products down – save a psyche.  If you’ve been putting off getting therapy for your not yet diagnosed, childhood trauma of too many dishes washed – do so now.  Momma didn’t have, papa didn’t have – so what!  Use a real plate.

One of the nation’s Founding Fathers, John Adams, wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, on May 12, 1780:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.  My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelains.  

We are almost there, be patient with me.

I don’t care what generation you are dealing with.  I do know when you reach the generation which has the privilege to study “painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelains”, the insult to history and lives lived can be no clearer – we should no longer continue the tragic slide to the absurd – nah-nah, nah-nah. 

“I said wash the dishes!” 

Sometimes we hold onto petty things much too long.  You also said at one time you weren’t going to eat another potato, rice, beans, tortilla; life is too short and complex to continue dabbling in these continued idiocies. 

I need not bother with whether you are the thrower or the throwee, we need not confuse issues.  The purpose of the common vessel known as a plate is not for tossing at other human being.  Likewise, plates and silverware are not meant to remain closeted forever, never to be used, protected, stored in much too much expensive cabinets and cases – don’t insult the craftsmen, artists, silversmiths – history’s voices will appreciate your acknowledgement. 

Use these cultural vessels, relish their history, understand these are goods which have moved around the world – traded, shared, modified – the subject of exchange by different cultures, and peoples.  Clay vessels in some cultures, tin, glass, copper … china.  If you aren’t convinced, then move to your living room and grab a plastic cover and cover every chair, couch, lamp, share inch of the floor – sometimes one must reduce an absurd practice for the blind to see.       

The quality of the plate doesn’t matter – metal, melamine, bone china – doesn’t matter – the point is use a real plate.  Nah, nah, nah – caring means putting down the paper, plastic, the strange composite objects and do what Georgia, Chester Anna, Viola did, what your mothers and grandmothers did – reach for a real dishes and serve real food – for the ones you love.  I say, I muse.

JUST MUSING: “She ran fast – fast-fast…”

Jennifer Anderson began April’s London Marathon intent on besting an existing record contained in Guinness’ World Records, for running a marathon wearing a nurse’s uniform.  She did – bested the established record.  So she thought – crossing the finish line at 3:08:22, faster than the record-breaking time on the books of 3:08:54.  Guinness said she didn’t – didn’t break the record – because the outfit she wore wasn’t proper.  Is that not the proper British way of saying what was said?  Who cares?      

Nurse Anderson wore blue scrubs.  Her supposed failure was she didn’t don a traditional cap, a pinafore apron, and a blue or white dress.  What period of time was Guinness dragging us?  Did the definition of a nurse’s uniform derive from the trove of Eighteenth Century Romance novels found under the editor’s foot board?   

Nurse Comwell slid the brass spittoon in place.  The vessel was cool to touch.  Madelyn wasn’t. The metals emitted a muted tinge, brass against the iron running board.  Her dying patient was not aroused by the contact, not so in her head; Madelyn’s  desires were awaken.  She adjusted her pinafore apron, the blue uniform next, followed by the nurse’s hat sitting on the rear portion of her head – much like an invasive phallic symbol – standing at attention, claiming possession of tousled, auburn hair.    

Jennifer doth protest – she knew, just knew, as did the public, Guinness read the wrong novel. She explained to Guinness its type of uniform was outdated.  Days later Guinness agreed, ruling she did – win. 

Guinness didn’t say what it based its reversal. I imagine they probably heard the howls of those nurses who have cared, pinched, cajole others over the years; running hospitals, clinics, nursing home – nursing family members when off-duty – whispering, when moving from place to place, to others higher in rank to stop, “before you kill him.” 

I muse to say the competition didn’t have a chance. Nurse Anderson was in her element, running hither and yon with ease.  She probably had time to tell other runners to correct their posture, alter their running style, or to stop running on the side of their feet.  At the three mile post she passed a colleague.  She whispered he should stop at the next rest station – “your color is off a little” – doubling down, increasing her pace, while sweat properly wicked within the scrubs, doing what they were designed to do.  The advice Nurse Anderson bequeathed is not the point of this mythical musing.  The competition didn’t have a chance because Nurse Anderson was running in well-worn scrubs, washed repeatedly, folding and bending with the contours of the body as she ran.  Riding the back of Pegasus, dismounting half-way through the course and mounting Flicker, and two hundred meters from the finish line dismounting, looking around to see if she had any paperwork to do, and computer entries to make, prior to crossing the finish line in record time. 

Postscript:  Maybe she knew she could do it because her mother was of the switch persuasion – pulling, tugging, ripping a branch from the tree, causing her to fun faster than humanly possible to do what she told her mother she had done, supposed to have done, four hours before.  The dishes remained mounted in place, the kitchen floor still contained specs of food she had been told to sweep and mop, the dogs still had not been fed.  She didn’t know the dogs told, jumping and knocking on mother’s bedroom window.  She ran. She ran fast – fast-fast. Washing, moving from station to station, keeping her head down, mouth shut, cleaning, sweeping, thinking what profession she would be able to join to use her considerable multi-tasking skills and knowledge – how best to run from a switch – Pegasus’ and Flicker’s absence – and the type of uniform worn – be damned.   

JUST MUSING: “Shame on you…”

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is abandoning the presence of the comedian/comic/comedienne during next year’s annual dinner, April 27, 2019. For those you who are slow on the uptake – the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) is an organization of journalists who cover the White House and the President of the United States. The organization was founded in 1914 and has an annual dinner. The dinner began in 1921 and traditionally is attended by the President and Vice-President. Since 1983 the feature speaker at the dinner has been a comedian. The proceeds from the dinner funds scholarships for gifted students in college journalism programs.

*       *     *

Crumbled – an imperfect ball – tattered along the edges, perfect for tossing into the nearest receptacle, with no intent at recycling; done with little explanation, substituted with a clean sheet, replaced by a historian. Are you kidding me?

*        *     *

There is no intent on my part to speak animus/hate against historians, or against next year’s speaker. He may be the kindness, smartest, most articulate speaker in the world. That is not my point. I simply possess a disdain for willful, historical ignorance which equates comics to court jesters, whose role is to willingly pay homage to the King.

Who is the press paying homage to by discarding the comic? The President, members who have been insulted, a marauding, insulted public?  The comic part of my personality tells me most of them didn’t grow up in large families, possess little melanin in their skin hues, exist in a new world in which the comic are pulled out of the classroom and placed on Ritalin protocol.

They are the protectors of the socially awkward; capable of reaching upward, disturbing the normal course of business, asking the most asinine, brilliant, observant questions. They – comics – seemingly gilded with a gold coated fearlessness, capable of saying what others thought, needed to be said; smiling, smirking outwardly, while the rest of us struggle to contain and envelope the same smirk. Seeing our insecurity, channeling their and our anger, stress, undefined plight – saying, saying – saying – what needed said.

What part of Michelle Wolf’s – last year’s featured comic – routine wasn’t true? Absolutely, she didn’t say what she said in a light most favorable to a sensitive press. She raised her hand, introduced herself and poked; doing what comics do and should do.

She called you – the press – cowards and complicit with the White House.  Isn’t this the same as telling the rest of us the king has no clothes?  She didn’t tell knock-knock jokes and she shouldn’t.  She didn’t tell us why, what or where the chicken was going or doing when it went from one side of the road to the other – who gives a hoot!  She didn’t pay homage to Bob Hope, comic to the Presidents. Maybe too many of them are still alive, missing the days of yore, Bob Hope – Bing Cosby – Jerry Lewis – Dean Martin – Joey Bishop. Men who admitted their role was to support the war, any war, and the presidents, growing incredibly wealthy along the way; forever refusing to make those in power the brunt of the joke. In their world humor never had a double edge.

I’m going to skip a lot of the normal pleasantries. We’re at a Hilton, it’s not nice. This is on C-SPAN, no one watches that. Trump is president, it’s not ideal. White House Correspondents’ Association, thank you for having me, the monkfish was fine. Just a reminder to everyone, I’m here to make jokes, I have no agenda, I’m not trying to get anything accomplished. So everyone that’s here from Congress, you should feel right at home.

She did what comics do – didn’t she?  Showing up with a shit-eating comic grin intact, the same grin we have seen for years; the class clown, much like our friends whose sense of humor tilted both left and right, forever smiling, struggling with his/her demons through humor. Making the rest of us think; taking risks, while exposing the King and his minions. She/he is/was/will remain an equal opportunity slayer. This is why the comic is loved/hated/despised, saying what the rest of us wished we could.

Now, before we get too far, a little bit about me. A lot of you might not know who I am. I am 32 years old, which is an odd age — 10 years too young to host this event, and 20 years too old for Roy Moore. I know, he almost got elected, yeah. It was fun. It was fun.

Honestly, I never really thought I’d be a comedian, but I did take an aptitude test in 7th grade, and this is 100% true. I took an aptitude test in 7th grade and it said my best profession was a clown or a mime. Well, at first it said clown, and then it heard my voice and was like, “Or maybe mime. Think about mime.

Poking the bear, the bully, then turning on the bully’s supporters before laughing at a beguiled audience who entered moments earlier, naively believing the role of the comic was to support them. The Press now mimics the executive branch, revoking the comics’ pass.  How sad is this?

No more comedians at the press dinner; smells a little too repressive to me.  Does the press association actually believe playing to totalitarian impulses doesn’t make them complicit in the behavior? “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, seems to be the best way of explaining the Press’ reaction; standing for free speech until punched in the mouth, turning, running for cover; trying to make sense of this bold new-world, while the bully keeps punching; refusing to stand and fight, and punch the damn bully in the nose.  Turning on the court jester, blaming her/him; instead of supporting the jester for telling the truth about him – her – others.

Thanks to Trump, pink yarn sales are through the roof. After Trump got elected, women started knitting those pussy hats. When I first saw them I was like, “That’s a pussy?” I guess mine just has a lot more yarn on it. Yeah. You should have done more research before you got me to do this.


Good joke, bad joke, some hit, some don’t … comme ci comme ça… that’s my point. 

The press should understand the importance of the comic.  Comics invite the diversity of life into any room, telling tales in an apropos/in apropos manner, tone and tenor, particularly when the traditional outlets fail, causing the listener to believe they are forever one of us – even if they don’t know your Aunt Matilda from pooh.  So the Press Association slays the comic while a full-scale assault on the First Amendment and our rights takes place on the other side of the walls.  None of this makes sense to me.

Have they bothered to read Mark Twain, wasn’t he in part a comic? How about Benjamin Franklin, forever poking the bear – farting proudly – even though most of his life he was just as much part of the den as others.

Now, I worked in a lot of male-dominated fields. Before comedy, I worked at a tech company, and before that, I worked on Wall Street, and honestly, I’ve never been sexually harassed. That being said, I did work at Bear Stearns in 2008, so although I haven’t been sexually harassed, I’ve definitely been fucked. That whole company went down on me without my consent. And no men got in trouble for that one, either.

*        *     *

Count me as confused. Stupefied by a stupid decision, made in board rooms divorced from the rest of the world, looking at their bottom-line, hurriedly moving toward black limousines waiting out front, not knowing the driver is still laughing at Michelle Wolf’s routine, not listening to no damn books on tape, instead listening to what pissed them off so much, to the extent of killing the comic, her/his classmate. Shame on you!

You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. If you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money, because he doesn’t have any.


JUST MUSING: “Tattle-tale, tattle-tale, tattle-tale…”

Years ago in the bowels of the federal courthouse in Houston was situated a press room; manned by a number of press agencies: the Houston dailies (Chronicle and Post), United Press International (UPI), Associated Press (AP), radio stations, KPRC and KTRH, and whatever television station needing the space.  A place to make calls, collect data, to conduct interviews.  A few years prior to exiting the practice I happened upon the press room.  Appearing abandoned, no longer manned.   UPI no longer remained the same organization. The Houston Post ceased operations in 1995, after it was purchased by the Houston Chronicle.   KPRC and KTRH still existed, in different forms, more talk less reporting.  The current press landscape is exhibit 1 on the effect of new technologies and the changes in the media landscape – cell phone, internet, corporate consolidations and buyouts, bankruptcies and the formation of new, less substantial entities.

I was watching television recently when the question was asked of one of the participants, “have you ever been bullied.”  The person the question was posed seemed slightly embarrassed before answering, “Yes.”  My pause was shorter than his, answering before he did.  I too answered yes.

One definition of bullying is the “use of superior strength or influence to intimidate, typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”   If you are willing to accept this expansive definition of the word, I submit that most, if not all of us, have been bullied at one point in time in our lives.  If you have not – been bullied – you are a fortunate soul.  If you have, you start slightly more ahead in understanding the observations I make.

When in middle school and high school, I never worried about the physical form of bullying. I existed in a quasi-protective custodial world.  No, I wasn’t incapable of fighting, had plenty in elementary school, did not shy down from fights, and like most kids spent most of my time trying to make sense of the world, wondering what the future would bring.  I just didn’t have to fight.  Johnny Brown and Leon Dennis served as the protectorates.  Well-defined man-child(s), stronger than most, patrolling, protecting, never picking on others, making clear they were willing to fight if challenged, that the bullies had to go through them if they wanted to get to me.

I only saw one person challenge.  He – the bully – flew – actually took flight, flew – flying in one direction.  I walked away to take a shower – in the other direction – marveling at his, Robert’s, ability to fly.  Johnny took a seat, placed his thumb in his mouth, and removed his clothes, never bothering to worry whether Robert – he who defied gravity – would land, return or attempt to challenge him on his statement, “You have to go through me.”

Both Leon and Johnny skipped a step in puberty; moving from childhood to man-child status overnight, growing faster than most, obtaining their man’s weight and height in middle school, appearing out of place, but not.

Johnny was 6’0” – 6’1” man child, weighing 265, who was more than comfortable playing sports barefooted, sprinting, making a tackle, retreating to the sideline, resuming his thumb sucking.  No one dare teased.  No one dare teased.  No one dare teased.

Leon, 5’10” – 5”11”, 180/190 pounds, well-defined shoulders, expansive chest, flat-broad feet.  Strangely, Leon was defined more by his smile and laughter than is brawn.  He however still possessed the same aura of invisibility; warning off all comers, smiling while he did so, never ever having to lift a finger.

Johnny and Leon existed in the pre-steroid, supplement era, the era which only a few were man-sized.  Prior to the food manufacturers injecting cattle with growth-hormones, before McDonald’s became the dominate force over the American landscape, prior to the use of amphetamines, to a far greater extent in our food chain, than in our hospitals.  They existed in a period when the average height of an American man was 5’8”.  The United States Food and Drug Administration’s website is instructive:

Since the 1950s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a number of steroid hormone drugs for use in beef cattle and sheep, including natural estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and their synthetic versions. These drugs increase the animals’ growth rate and the efficiency by which they convert the feed they eat into meat.

But I digress.

Bullying can also take on forms other than physical intimidation; psychological and intellectual bullying are just two examples.  This type of bullying is somewhat akin to a chameleon, changing colors, adapting, persisting; oft-time more destructive than physical bullying.  Acts designed to provide false data, littering the landscape with words of belittlement, causing others to view one as less worthy, unwelcomed.

I have always viewed the press, for the most part, in the same light as I have viewed Leon Dennis and Johnny Brown.  Initially, I was introduced to press room by the UPI reporter, Olive Talley; bringing light to cases, sharing with the public, making the courthouse less hostile.  Serving as a tattle-tale, reporting on matters others ignored.  On most occasions I never fully agreed with the tattle-tales, never fully disagreed.  Walking, running away, meeting deadlines; printing, broadcasting, telling, telling, telling was their roles.  No one ever fully likes a tattle-tale.

If you have a difficulty in following me, let me try it this way.  In most families, there is a hollow place reserved for the tattle-tale.  A role which can be filled by any of the family group members – the youngest, oldest or the middle children – doesn’t matter.  He/she is the person who reports back to the head of the family, telling of wrongdoing, faults, doing what we weren’t supposed to be doing.  This is my view of the press; they are our constitutionally protected tattle-tales.  You ask, what does this have to do with bullying?

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports the attacks on journalist and the press is at an all-time high.  Information from the Committee’s website:  Nigeria threatens journalist for not revealing sources; Thailand pressures two broadcast journalist off the air; Bangladesh journalist could face 14 years in prison for refuting rumor; Egyptian press advocates faces life in prison, Indian journalist, magazine face criminal complaint for investigative report;   Iranian journalist Issa Saharkhiz sentenced to three years in jail.  I think you get the point.  The Committee also reports that since 1992, 1208 journalists have been killed doing their jobs, 27 killed in 2016; 199 were imprisoned in 2015; 456 exiled since 2008.

The unfortunate part of any review of events around the world is to assume we are immune from the analysis.  In this country the recent attacks on journalist is just as disturbing.   Political candidates jeering at the press, pulling press passes, putting the press in press pens – acts designed to control the tattle-tale’s right to tell – on them, on us.

Ignoring the importance of the First Amendment, viewing journalists’ questions as being bothersome, blaming their faults on the press, refusing to answer the question, never calling press conferences, telling reporters to “shut up.”

So that you are clear, I have not always agreed with everything the press has written, the conduct of some reporters, or the conduct of certain entities.  My beliefs have been formed as being both a beneficiary of good reporting and from finding myself on the other side of the story.  Once disagreeing when quoted in the paper (an accurate quote), because the reporter agreed the comments were off-the-record.  Vehemently sickened when sitting in chambers and witnessing the federal judge tell a Houston Chronicle reporter what he was going to do in a case just beginning, before jury selection; shouting, bragging that a famed lawyer had met his match (the lawyer Joseph Jamail).   Leaving chambers and witnessing the same judge make good on his threats.  Not able to keep my mouth shut, telling Jamail, ultimately telling a Fifth Circuit investigator.  His Honor’s promise never made it to the paper.

Watching the worm turn, witnessing the same federal judge hold press conferences; placing stories in the local papers, for five years, expressing his disdain for a different lawyer (myself); seeking to destroy, destroying, waiting for public fight, using the press as his tool.  His Honor’s conduct again never made it to the paper, enabling abusive conduct, threatening the checks and balances necessary, ignoring all of us can be subjected to tyrannical conduct when the press fails its entrusted role.

I say all this to say, no, I have not agreed with everything the press has written about me.  I am far from a press enabler.  That is my point and the reason I muse.  It is not my role, the role of politicians, or any of us to suppress the guardians of the First Amendment.  The press with all its faults serves an important role of protecting us from them, us from ourselves, telling the story.

The press has a fundamental (read fundamental as meaning constitutional) right to report and should.  You, I, them (read them to mean, politicians) have a fundamental right to remain quiet, not talk, move off the stage, if we don’t want to talk.  Injecting “no comment”, refusing to return the call, invoking the Fifth is our right.  You, I, they (read they to mean again politicians), do not have a right to silence, intimidate and attempt to bully the press.  To do so lessens our rights and privileges, our constitutional reason for existing, threatening the fourth leg of the foundation of our society.

Oh, how I wish the press drop the objective part in writing, speaking, reporting for a moment.  Oh, how I wish they take the politicians up on the threats and embargo all their stories for a week, and reach a collective agreement to engage in a conspiracy of silence.  Ignore their the tweets, emails, and scoops – right and left – throw a hissy fit and refuse to show up and report.  Assign the reporters to human interest story instead, hold seminars on the First Amendment, informing the rest of us why reporting protects us from our stepping over the line, becoming a totalitarian society.

Call it Press Week if you may; take a break, to make a point.  Not showing, not reporting, leaving the pits empty, killing the electronic feed, mailing back all press passes with a simple, direct statement, “attacks against one of us, is an attack on the rest of us.”   Expecting to hear complaints, inquiries – why?  Directing the callers, emailers, tweeters, texters, and press secretaries to a diverse group of organizations (by way of example: the Committee to Protect Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and Freedom Forum).  Surely, it will take more than one group to handle the anticipated fight for attention.  It takes a village doesn’t it?

Oh how I wish, the tattle-tales push away from the same-old-same-old, in order to underscore the importance of the right of a free press.  And after the collective boycott, the press should remain mindful; there will no apologies issued for past conduct.  There will however suddenly be a desire to hold press conferences.  The press pens will disappear, as will references to the dishonest press.  Press passes will be readily reissued, with no reference to being told to shut up, be quiet and write what we want you to write – at least for a year – until the next Annual Press Week.

Absolutely I recognize my wish is an impossibility, wistful thinking.  Tattle-tales are, because of their genetic makeup, incapable of participating in the conspiracy of silence.  They never do, always running to tell momma, daddy, telling on the rest of us, not able to keep their mouths shut, telling, telling, telling, getting the rest of us in trouble, as they should!

So I muse…

JUST MUSING: “The greatest show on earth” …Act 3

We had been having plumbing problems in the downstairs’ conference room for some time, a year or more.  The plumber assigned the problems to the city’s side, line failure.  “We’ve done all that we can do.  You need to call the city.”  We did call and when the city finished its examination of the line, a city worker pulled me to the side, admitting the problem was theirs.  “If the line breaks, the sewer will flow from roughly eight blocks down, into this line, terminating at this point.”


“Yes, here, the line is failing on the other side of your office and when it breaks the only place for the sewage to go is here.”


“Yes, here.”

“Are you going to fix it?”

His response was both shocking and telling.  Lowering his head, diverting his eyes, moving away while answering, “No, we will wait for the line to break and then address the problem.”  He entered his city issued truck, maneuvered around the pumping equipment, never acknowledging, as he drove away.  He didn’t drive into the sunset, he didn’t play the role of a television hero, going to get help; he was not the intervening soul who provides otherworldly wisdom – none of those – he just drove away, leaving me hanging, wondering what he meant by “when it breaks.”

“We will clean the line, there are no guarantees.  Tonight, a week, ten years from now, who knows?  We do know one thing, it will break.”

I didn’t possess the power or authority to dig up the city’s sewer line to make the repairs myself.  Those are powers not bestowed on an individual citizen; money, status, location may have made a difference in what the city was willing to do, shouldn’t be and surely wasn’t something I could exercise as my hero of lore turned the corner.  As a singular voice, I was incapable of causing him to return, to turn around, saying he made a mistake, “we will do the repairs.”  He drove away, leaving me standing in place wondering when I would be gifted with everyone else’s waste.   The system was broken.  There is nothing he could do about it, so it said.  There is nothing he was willing do about it, so he affirmed.  Just wait … just wait … just wait, it will break was his assessment, his solution.  And wait I did, hoping for ten years, praying for a lifetime.  I didn’t get the ten years.  I didn’t get a lifetime.

When I entered the conference room I spoke to Debbie as she neared completion of a brief to the appellate court.  Our conversation was no different than most of our late evening exchanges, sharing our day, addressing any emergencies, gossiping, then inquiring of the other whether help was needed on a particular project.  I moved around her to enter the restroom, brushing her right shoulder as I did so.   At this time, the conversation I had with the city’s supervisor had long recessed in the crevices of my mind – but not now – flowing upward and outward in a brown funnel, with great force, forcing the toilet seat backward, the seat seemingly riding the violent wave – bouncing, bouncing, bouncing.  The funnel struck the wall, situated two feet away, seemingly remaining intact as it flowed as a unified body unto the floor, immersing and coloring the carpet, creeping, moving as a united force, somewhat akin to gelatin, with bits of shredded coconut – everyone’s fecal waste for an eight block radius – upward, outward, downward.  My brain told me not to inhale, not to smell – standing in place I did, watching with amazement, if only for a nanosecond, a force I had never seen before – at least not in this form; uniformed, invading, forceful.

Scientists tell us the neurotransmitters for fear and excitement are essentially the same – I think that’s right – it matters not – I was now serotonin inspired, propelling a scream, still not breathing, still not smelling, while moonwalking backward, lifting one foot, then the next,  wishing I could fly and hover,  touching but not wanting to touch the floor, daring not to move forward as a force greater than I moved towards me, forgetting I needed to use the restroom, slamming the door too late, the invader now splashing and pushing on the underside, then seemingly reaching and removing my hand from the knob, pushing and opening the door, smiling and stinking at the same time.  Instead of slightly touching Debbie’s shoulder, I now grabbed both shoulders, pointing at the problem, describing the problem with two words, followed by an exclamation point attached, exhuming fears thought long buried, grabbing materials, moving backwards, never forward, escaping with the visions of the continual violent dumping taking place.

*             *                   *

In an article published by Aljazeera America [Most Americans don’t vote in elections. Here’s Why, June 27, 2015], an initial assessment of the health of The Greatest Show on Earth is provided.  “New U.S. Census data released on July 19 confirm what we already knew about American elections:  Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the developed world.  Only 42 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest level of voter turnout since 1978.  And midterm voters tend to be older, whiter and richer than the general population.”

The problem however does not stop at voter participation.  Exclusion is just as telling.  The number of citizens disqualified from voting because of felony convictions now stands at roughly  5.85 million. A Sentencing Projects Report reveals some startling findings:

  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • 1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than        four times greater than non-African Americans.  Nearly 7.7 percent of the adult          African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-  African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In three    states – Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent) – more  than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

The greatest areas of disenfranchisement takes place in the southern states, home to large African American populations (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas), in states in which there exists large Hispanic populations (Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho) and/or in states where large Native American populations (American Indian/Alaskan Native) exists (North Dakota, Alaska).  History’s whisper tells us these truisms are not happenstance.

Absolutely there have been improvements – gone, all white primaries; gone, literacy tests; gone, secret ballots; gone, poll taxes – exiting stage right – then seemingly doubling around the back of the stage, down the steps to don new costumes, make-up, props – then reemerging – stage left – proclaiming to be a new act, a new show, new characters.

Indeed the show must go on – voter id laws, voter purges, and machines which can’t count, don’t’ count or don’t work.   A new script, attacking long-established cast members; whispering to us, its audience, telling us absence does make the heart grow fonder.

The show always goes on doesn’t it?  – Enduring without violence, for the most part; self-sustaining, however imperfect; inclusive, while still insisting upon excluding.  A union formed by revolution is the same union which never contemplated “others” as being beneficiaries of the union – an imperfect union indeed.

*             *                   *

I had options on the Day of Judgment, screaming, slamming the door, and moving away from our unexpected guest.  Debbie and I fled, hoping the courts would make sense out the anticipated motions to extend the time and our stranger than-life explanation of being unprepared.  “Things happen” – is that the idiom?

I also had additional options when the giver of the unexpected gift stopped the flow the next day.  Hauling, discarding, tearing, bleaching, wiping, smelling and insisting on a new toilet – even though the last act was only symbolic – then bleaching, wiping, smelling; over and over again.  Nearly eight months passed before we occupied the conference room again, quarantined, quartered off – bleaching, wiping, smelling.   Or is the idiom? – “Thing – happens.”

And even though individually I had options, collectively we don’t have the same options when it comes to voting and political participation.  We should never fool ourselves in believing we are a true democracy – that is not why I muse.  We should never ever attempt to convince ourselves that ours is a perfect union.  We should never allow The Greatest Show on Earth to continue on without addressing what we know is broken:  historical patterns of non-voting, barriers to voting, not counting every vote.  We will not have options if and when these historical truths flow upward, outward and downward, flowing uncontrollably, causing the union to cease, the citizenry to disbelieve, then divest, discarding as they flee.  The Greatest Show on Earth even repackaged, reinforced, sustaining itself by character changes, makeovers, and makeup will be no more; something predictable and foreseen, the same prediction the city supervisor gifted me with when he lowered his head and moved away.

JUST MUSING: “Mississippi goddam” …

One of the salt-of-the-earth lessons provided by our elders is that “there are times when you shouldn’t talk”: exercise silence, wait for the conversation to detour in another direction, pretend not to be concerned, practice the lost art of avoidance.  They preached – “oft-times you talk when you shouldn’t”:  unintentionally confessing, not shutting, closing, zipping, securing or cloistering the words spoken.  I pretended I heard.  I pretended I understood.

Years ago, when traveling from Houston with a friend (Bruce V. Griffiths), I failed to follow the truism, the advice, failing woefully.  I failed to pretend I didn’t hear his question; failed to gracefully detour the conversation, running through the obvious stop signs along the way.  Running, running, running, my mouth; confessing I earned extra money writing papers for nursing students.  Mine was not a created market, in that nursing students generally hated writing, and I didn’t mind writing.  I also believed researching the different subject matters would expand my knowledge base – “a willing buyer and meets willing seller” – the American way.  I ventured to the medical school’s library two to three nights a week.  The staff was always helpful, answering questions, helping to locate documents, papers, pulling master’s theses and doctoral dissertations when needed.

Bruce and I made the trip from Galveston to Houston – Houston to Galveston – daily.   Ours was the “Debating Society Held in a Honda Civic Automobile,” discussing, solving, arguing over every imaginable societal issue – followed by laughter, then scorn, before reverting back to laughter.  Bruce was a new lawyer, a graduate of University of Texas Law School, at the time forging a new law practice in the Houston legal community, while his wife attended the University of Texas’ Medical School.  I was in law school, while my wife attended the University of Texas’ School of Nursing.  After spending four and a half years sitting atop a motorcycle, Bruce’s offer to share the commute seemed attractive – so we did, so we did.

On the day of my violation of the truism, I was consumed, no, troubled, with the results of the last group of papers I had written.  A pattern was starting to develop, a life pattern I had seen before.   My turning inward was obvious, not wanting to participate in the last debate subject.  Glancing out and beyond, repelling Bruce’s attempts to scale the wall dividing us.

“Why are you so quiet?  What is wrong?”

His questions printed out, before my eyes, ticker tape fashion, rolling by slowly, not at all like the credits at the end of a movie, allowing sufficient time to read the question, more than adequate time to feign sleepiness, illness, even die.  I did neither, instead I straightened my posture, and told, flat-out told – ignored the blinking lights, the cries and screams, driving around the pedestrians screaming for me to stop.  I told on myself.

“My customer base is one-third white, one-third Hispanic, one-third black.  I have created a chart reflecting the white students are receiving across the board “A’s”, no lower than a B.  The Hispanic students, “B’s” and “C’s”, and the Black students, “C’s” and “D’s”, same author, me!  Same time spent on each paper!!  On the second set of papers, I spent more time on the Hispanic and black students than I did on the white student papers – same results!  Now tell me the difference, if it isn’t racism Bruce, what is?  Bias in the professional schools, Bruce! Not mathematically possible to justify, not by accident, not by chance, not a mistake!”

So I did.  Yes, I did.  Barreling ahead, letting the floodgate of words escape.    Confessing, confessing, confessing … moime …. Yes, I did.

“I want to sue.  I think I have standing.  I then want to call a press conference.  This is racism!” – Proclaiming, unwittingly confessing my own malfeasance, somewhat akin to the criminally accused complaining of not receiving his Miranda rights (right to remain silent), while holding the bloody knife (over the body), a picture perfect pose for the kind police officers as they enter the crime scene, with camera in hand.  When defending, you can only tell the client, “You took a good picture.”  But I digress.

Bruce nibbled on his lip, suppressing laughter, pulling on his beard, as if comforting himself, the conflicting emotions dancing on the head of life’s pin.  I continued my confession.  He continued to drive.  The more I confess, the more he stroked and nibbled.  The flat landscape of the Gulf Coast inched slowly across the landscape; the sun continued to bid her adieu, lazily dancing over the horizon, the ticker tape playing out in my head, then before my eyes, now slowed.   Bruce’s words followed, imploring me to “think about what you’re saying.”  Not disagreeing, laughing still, a muted laugh, causing me to laugh, causing me to realize the insaneness of my rant.  A well-intentioned rant, coupled with misplaced righteous, existing and stand side-by-side with my ethically challenged business model.  Please be sure, my confessions are not the reason I muse.  No, no, I confess my sins in order to provide an appropriate metaphor to discuss the strange and bewildering tentacles of racism, an oft-times hostile subject, which reaches and touches us all, far more than we realize.

*          *          *

In 1964, Nina Simone, the renowned singer, songwriter, and civil rights activists, released Mississippi Goddam. Albeit, the song was banned in much of the South, this did not mute Simone’s voice.   Mississippi Goddam was Simone’s response to the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.  A product of the segregated South, Simone explained her work best:

Nightclubs were dirty, making records was dirty, popular music was dirty and to mix all that with politics seemed senseless and demeaning.  And until songs like “Mississippi Goddam” just burst out of me, I had musical problems as well.  How can you take the memory of a man like Medgar Evers and reduce all that he was to three and a half minutes and a simple tune?  That was the musical side of it I shied away from; I didn’t like ‘protest music’ because a lot of it was so simple and unimaginative it stripped the dignity away from the people it was trying to celebrate.  But the Alabama church bombing and the murder of Medgar Evers stopped that argument and with “Mississippi Goddam,” I realized there was no turning back.

Thereafter Eunice Kathleen Waymon continued to challenge, publish and perform, leaving behind a trove of musical genius, spanning generations, before passing from this earth on April 23, 2003.  And again, Nina Simone is also not why I muse.  Please be patient while I detour slightly, before making sense out my madness.

Recently, controversy has arisen surrounding the selection of Zoe Saldaña as the lead in one of the films about Nina Simone’s life.  Saldaña is a native of Passaic, New Jersey, the daughter of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother.  She also claims her Haitian and Lebanese roots.  Born Zoe Yadira Saldaña Nazario, an accomplished practitioner of her craft, suddenly finds herself in the middle of a historically constant and persistent racist debate normally conveyed in subtle code, asking, whether she is black enough.  The argument is a simple one, representing a continual play on the color line.  It goes something like this:  Saldaña skin is lighter than Simone’s.  The application of makeup is the same as playing the role in blackface.  Saldaña’s nose and lips are not as broad, not as full as Simone – so they, the producers, should have picked someone else.

An inherently racist attack, directed at the actress’ skin tone, as if disqualifying – not black enough.  I muse to say attack Saldaña for her acting, I am sure she has been criticized before.  Criticize the script, writers, or producers; there are few great scripts, writers, or producers in the industry.  Constructive criticism is as much a part of the art, as praise, helping an artist grow and develop.

The Encyclopedia of Race and Racism is a ready source for understanding my frustration.  The slave trade deposited Africans throughout this hemisphere.  The majority of the slaves were deposited in places other than the United States.  Brazil received 40.6 percent (land colonized by the Portuguese), the British receiving 29 percent, the Spaniards, 14.3 percent, the French, 12.0 percent, and the Dutch, 2.7 percent.   By way of example: “[t]he local population of the territory now known as Mexico estimated to be at least 4.5 million by the time of the Spanish Conquest.  African slaves arrived with the first Spaniards.  … Between 1500 and 1600, it is estimated that the number of blacks was double the number of whites in Mexico.”  This type of dichotomy played out in other locales:   Jamaica (British colony), Cuba (Spanish colony), Barbados (British colony), Panama (Spanish colony), Puerto Rico (Spanish colony), Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix),  Trinidad and Tobago (changed hands between the British, French, Dutch, then back to the British), Turks and Caicos Islands (British colonies) and La Isla Espanola (later known as the Saint Dominique, then Haiti and Dominican Republic).

La Isla Espanola … was the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean.  It was considered the ‘Pearl of the Antilles,’ by the French.  By the end of the eighteenth century, more than 450,000 black slaves on the island produced half of the world’s sugar and coffee, plus indigo and cotton.”   This diaspora involved a diverse group of people subjected to enslavement, encompassing and including persons from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar, enslaving 10.24 million people between 1650 and 1900.

So, with this understanding and background, criticism is being lodged against a person (Saldaña) of mixed heritage (as an aside, most of us are), because she is not black enough.  I muse to say the position taken represents the personification of racism.

One of those critics is the songstress/artist, India Arie.  Arie complained Saldaña’s casting is a missed opportunity, explaining that – the way the filmmakers made Saldaña look betrayed the late singer’s true beauty.  Arie then seems to caveat her remark, appearing to step back away from the bridge, clarifying – that arguing Saldaña isn’t “black enough” for the role is a “messy” way to frame a bigger issue.  I don’t know what her caveat means and whether it makes a difference.  I do know the more she talked, she confessed, failed to zip, secure, and cloister her words.   “When you look a certain way you get certain privileges; when you look another way you’re denied access to certain things, especially in her era,” Arie said. “So in the context of the politics of race in America and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf. To propagate that institutionalized racism that is historical in Hollywood in a movie about her is ironic in the worst possible way.”

*          *          *

In college I vividly remember a debate waging in the classroom posing the question whether blacks could be racist.  I readily answered yes, most of the others students answered no.  Those in opposition were probably right if the classic dictionary definition of racism is use: “usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others, or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”  The opposition posed their answer from the standpoint of looking outward, never looking inward.  I didn’t cloister my words, complaining loudly, protesting the question, inherently self-fulfilling – myth making.

Barrack Obama wasn’t black enough (when he ran for the Senate in Illinois).  Do we forget that during slavery there was a practice of bestowing greater privileges to slaves who were “blessed”/ “cursed” / “is what it is” – with lighter hues and tones?  When segregation was the law of the land, I remember sitting in classrooms divided along color lines, with the lighter-skin kids being accorded greater privileges, assigned to the advanced classes, deemed prettier; clearly behavior mimicking the dominant society.  The behavior was reinforced once integration occurred, whites stepping above, around, and over the lighter skin blacks in the privilege line, with the other of us, falling in place, based on skin color.  Maybe my complaint is not about racism.  Maybe I am using the wrong word, or phrase.  Maybe the proper description is misguided self-hate.

Actors and actresses have been known to put on weight to play a particular role.  The art form, if done right, allows us to see the best and worst, reveal traditions and customs, pimples and warts, love and hate.  Voice and cultural nuisances mastered, pleasing and stark images presented, a world in which we grow younger, older, darker, yellower, browner, … beiger … whiter, … peering into others’ worlds, crying, laughing, rejoicing – an art form practiced around the world.  The beauty can co-exist with the beast.

I muse to say the criticism of Zoe Saldaña playing Nina Simone is misplaced.  Of all the children of the Africa diaspora, the descendants claiming birth in the sovereign state of Dominican Republic, situated on the island of Hispaniola, as speakers of two, three, four tongues, the original subjects of the slavery holocaust, long before it was exported our shores,  cannot ever be considered – “not black enough.”  Saldaña’s skin being lighter shouldn’t matter, unless we want to continue placing ourselves in the same box built years ago to justify a shameful institution which cannot and should never be justified.  Saldaña’s placement in the role is not a stretch; the criticism lodged is very much so, a continuation of the same standards imposed upon us to exclude, and differentiate … Mississippi Goddam!



I have always possessed a tormented relation with organized religion.  My feelings were openly discussed with my mother as early as middle school – in hindsight she provided incredible tolerance, understanding and guidance – her words were always accompanied by a smile and her blessings.  “You have been imbued with religion and the church, you will return.”  Because I am willing to admit my ambivalence, does not mean I swore against supporting others rights to worship.  Absolutely, I understood the importance of religion (a belief in something); this too was always part of the discussion. Sure, she always rolled her eyes when I started talking about the sun, moon and wind.  When contemplating a major in college, I considered a divinity degree; even the mere mentioned caused her to revisit the subject – the same guiding hand directing me elsewhere – “maybe not, maybe not” … “read, study, understand and appreciate … you have no intentions of using a divinity degree to provide for others….”   She was right again, I changed majors, continued studying, trying to understand – while always wanting never, ever, to infringe on another’s right to worship.

*          *          *

 David Savage worked for Los Angeles Times, and the last time I checked he still does.  His long-term assignment is reporting on matters before the United States Supreme Court.  Mr. Savage travelled to Galveston to meet the Doe clients, clients who sued under fictitious name(s) to protect their identities, anonymous.  Savage expressed he wanted to hear the clients’ story, and provide the Los Angeles Times’ audience, and reach, the backstory.  He related he understood the clients’ protecting their identities because of their living in a small town, still having school age children, and because of their concerns over the volatility of religion and faith.  For the uninformed, the Doe(s) were not conflicted with regards to organized religion.  They were not atheist, did not purport to be agnostic, questioning, questioning, questioning.  They were not of the belief that human existence just happened, with no explanation needed, nor did they assign human existence to luck, chance or magic.  The Doe families were of the Mormon and Catholic faiths.

Savage agreed to protect the clients’ identities, recognizing the Doe(s) had undertaken a challenge most would never undertake.  They challenged their local school district, and its board, for imposing religion in their public schools.  The school district, Sana Fe, is and remains a public school (meaning taxpayers dollars).  The dominant religion-sect was, and still remains, Southern Baptist.  Such was the setting, trying times, a challenge and one of our society’s most emotionally charged issues.  A challenge probably more aptly described by the venerable songstress, Roberta Flack, “Trying times what the world is talkin’ about.  You got confusion all over the land, yeah” – so it seemed.

Mr. Savage’s agreement to protect the clients’ identity however was with a caveat – he wanted the opportunity to ask them to make an exception for his paper and for him.  I explained that the Doe families had consistently refused others offers and that I didn’t believe their position was going to change.  With such an understanding, I agreed to allow the interview to happen.

The interview took place.  The Doe families, I believe enjoyed the interview, telling stories they were never able to tell the federal district judge (the backstory).  They got off their chest their understanding of the Constitution – there exists no religious test; that the public schools should stay out of religion and that they as parents should be allowed to provide their children religious training of their choice, not the school’s.  They were particularly galled the school district thought otherwise.  When the interview was drawing to a close, the reporter, of much repute, finally asked the question he wanted to ask early on but did not – “Whether they would trust him enough to expose their names to the public.”  Any sleep threatening my participation in the meeting disappeared at that point.  However, my awakening and anxieties were misplaced – the Doe parents well-understood how dangerous the issue was and with school-aged children, they were not about to expose their children to their decision to bring suit.  Their answer was the same, always a consistent one, “No.”

When Texas Monthly published a story indicating, inferring, artfully writing – that possibly one of the people they interviewed (and published pictures of in the story) was one of the Doe family members – the Doe(s) remained quiet, saying nothing.  I remember the family who appeared in Texas Monthly. The visited but abruptly fled when fear gripped them, compelling them to refuse to participate as plaintiffs.  After the lawsuit was filed, and won, the frustration of seeing their fifteen minutes of fame escape them was too much.

When the Hugh Hefner Foundation wanted to honor the Doe families for their courage, they had one stipulation – they, the Doe(s) had to reveal their identities. The Doe(s) settled instead for their principles, ignored the money and recognition and went back to raising their families.  The award was never forthcoming.  Television news shows, journals, and newspapers received the same consistent message – “no, thank you.” I have seen their children over the years and they have expressed to me their relief that their parents’ were able to protect them, while still protecting their faith – a message always delivered with a smile, a handshake – a hug.

I muse not because of the Doe families and surely not because of the results of the case.  The Supreme Court decided and hopefully the case will stand the test of time.  I muse because we as a society continue to make the same mistakes.  With the recent debate of religious-based admission into the United States, to the painting of an entire faith as terrorists, to candidates for public office forgetting they are seeking office in a Union formed without a religious-based test, to these same candidates fumbling over the tenets of their own faiths while condemning others, I can’t help but fume and still muse at the same time.

How dare them.  Yes, how dare them.  They can’t make the Constitution say Christians only – unless they rewrite it – or can they?   They wouldn’t dare repeal the Bill of Rights, or strip away our protections, the core of the document, prohibiting “Congress making no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – they wouldn’t, couldn’t, do that, would they?  They wouldn’t dare pass laws providing for religious-based admissions into the United States – no, no, no – that’s not possible, is it?  Have these folks ever played dominoes? – “What goes around comes around!”  Wait, that’s not how it goes… “A count (points) ignored will always come back around!”  Wait, wait, wait… that is not a good analogy, please bear with me a little longer.

I muse because anything is possible.  We, as a society, are a resourceful people, capable of doing great things if done as a collective whole, meaning we, as a society, are also capable to doing collectively bad if the rest of us don’t recognize they is us and unless we fight to protect our/theirs/others individual freedoms, then we are doomed to allow them to do anything they wish.

When a local Mormon group came bearing their book of faith, after the Doe(s)’ victory, they extended an invitation to visit their house of worship – I waited for them to ask me to reveal who brought the lawsuit – they never did.  I visited, accepting the congratulations on behalf of the Doe(s) even though I well understood the Mormon’s historical view of blacks (a view now discarded).   When a local Muslim group came bearing their book of faith, no invitation to visit followed, just a profound thank you and a request I deliver their love and appreciation to my forever silent clients.  No, none of the Doe family members were Muslim, but they were (“I’m Muslim, but not”).  Only one of the families was of the Mormon faith, they too are Muslims, but not.  Both families probably remembered history’s tale, one time subjecting both faiths to the same frightening rhetoric as their Muslim brethren, exclusionary policies and hostilities, threatening their very existence, all coupled with potential and actual violence.  Their faiths are long past having to prove their humanity – why should Muslims be required to do so.

Hypocrisy is also what I protested as a child – something my mother did encourage, providing her blessings to my insanity.  So I muse – for holding any of us to an impossible standard is fundamentally unfair.  If we ignore these historical lessons – they (they, which the Constitution says is us) – do win.

A Happy New Year it is…