JUST MUSING: “It never rains in southern California…”

Years ago Roberta Flack hosted a radio show which originated out of New York – WKRS, KISS FM.  The show aired in Houston at 4:00 a.m. each Sunday morning.  As with her music, so was her hosting; soothing, instructive, invoking memories.  Laying a marker in time, before and after, educating her audience how music, life, and time remain forever interconnected.  I religiously rose, turned on the radio to participate in Roberta’s music appreciation class.  One particular morning, Roberta seemingly isolated us by age, instructing the listeners of a certain age not to ignore new artists.  Marveling over “those artist under twenty five,” before introducing the musical group Tony! Toni! Toné!

Roberta spoke of those who influenced Tony! Toni! Toné! ’s sound, imploring the rest of us to listen to their voices to hear the voices of others.  Playing the song, stopping, allowing silence to invade – one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three – before speaking again, forever soothing, pulling us closer, rewarding our joining her so early in the morning.

“I am going to do something I normally don’t do.”

Playing the song again, allowing the voices of the artists to instruct the class.  Making the point, bridging the gap, making sure those who arose each and every Sunday morning understood why she rose each and every Sunday morning to share with the rest of us.

So that I am clear, this musing has little to do about music, less about Roberta Flack, and absolutely nothing to do about Tony! Toni! Toné!  It is, this musing, is written to discuss the dance the mind does to make sense of nonsense.

In listening to presidential candidate Donald Trump explain away his conversation with Billy Bush, my mind tried to make the sense of what I heard, what I saw.  Bragging, pointing, ogling (in front of others), caring little what others said, thought, or heard.  Allowing their handlers to depart the bus, while they remained seated, continuing to share their views on women, assessing their figures (“move, move”), comparing (“the short one”) as men or wont to do, then reaching for the tic tacs – not caring their mikes were hot – behavior which had normally been protected.

My mind did that dance, jumping over logic, not hearing the voice of a grandparent, parent, or theorist, ignoring the political pundits, instead hearing Roberta Flack’s voice, while Tony! Toni! Toné! ’s lyrics rang in my head.

It may never rain in southern California –♫ “They tell me.” ♫ – Trump’s voice, and Bush giggle, said that it didn’t.  At least they have never experienced such rains.  Their setting was no different – the comforts of luxury, surrounded by handlers, protected, sunny California weather, privileged – allowing them to let down their hair, to share a commonality; and share they did.

Perfect, perfect for ten years, until someone told.  Putting NBC in a bind; causing them to hold the tape for a week, refusing to tell the rest of us (my paranoid surmise), suddenly hit with a stark realization – sometimes it rains in sunny California.  Sometimes you have to tell, even if it hurts the franchise.

Perfect, perfect weather, until someone got angry at NBC’s refusal to tell (the tattle-tale among us strikes again), sending the tape to the Washington Post – the Post told, telling the rest of us.

♫ “It never rains in Southern California.”♫

Trump apologized – “if any of us were insulted.”  Bush suddenly became “embarrassed and ashamed.”  It felt if both were actually apologizing for getting caught (as men are wont to do) before he – Trump – instructed the rest of us to dismiss what we heard, saying it was not what we heard.

♫ “It never rains in Southern California.”♫

Of course it doesn’t (never rains) – so they assumed.  So we were told.  So we have always been told.

Explaining bigly styled – as if life experiences and time suddenly became irrelevant – so he says.  So his handlers say.  So they will now tell us?

Hearing the explanation causes me to hear the voices of others.  Life and time forever remains connected.  Playing life’s song, stopping, allowing silence to invade – one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three – knowing what we heard, hearing Roberta’s voice, soothing us, knowing it finally rained in southern California.

JUST MUSING: “Calling a sumbitch a sumbitch when you see a sumbitch …”

Years ago a colleague promised to move to Canada, “if George W. Bush is elected President of the United States.”  Hers was not the only promise heard.  Others made a similar screed – promising, promising, promising to move, – flat out leave.   When she (Debora Perkey) drew her proverbial line in the sand, I questioned her decision, not at all looking askance to the Canadians; mind however was a different concern.  “How on earth are you going to survive during the cold months?”  Her tale of why she moved to the Houston area from Pennsylvania burdened my memory, forever ingrained as the core of my question.  She cared little for my concerns, curtly responding, “I will tolerate it.”  I must admit however, Debora differed from others, making good the promise, changing professions, moving after the Canadian government approved her papers.

I always wondered, but never said it, what would moving accomplish? I saw what she saw.  I heard what she heard.  I lived her frustrations.  Fearing the continual assault the election results wrought, seeing the nation move to the right, then backward; seeing the familiar mask, masking true intent, talking in code, invoking class and race.  Compelled to take flight, taking flight she did, moving from Galveston to Vancouver, changing professions, tolerating Mother Nature’s differing breath.  Always questioning, always wondering, what did the move accomplish?

There have been a number of stories reported recently of celebrities making similar declarations – Lena Dunham, Samuel Jackson, Molly Cyrus, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Griffin, Cher – are some I remember reading making declarations.  Declaration designed to make a point, at times the speaker seemed deadly serious, a few casts humor with their declaration, others seemingly made their statement to direct attention their way.  Each capable of moving, each blessed with the fruits and rewards of their industry, promising to flee while ignoring societal truths and life’s persistent dance.  Whether one, two, any of them moves or not is not why I muse.  The gnawing which existed when Debora said what she said still exists, wondering still, what will the move accomplish?

All politics is local” has been assigned to the late Tip O’Neill.  I always interpreted Speaker O’Neill’s adage to mean that no matter the office occupied, the position held, the issue before his body (United States House of Representative), politics reduced to its most basic level percolates locally, extending, reaching and touching the daily lives of each of us – you, me, them – friends, enemies.

Recently a British publication (Independent) reported that Texas’ infant mortality rate is the highest in the developed world.  An article published by Mother Jones described Texas as “one of the most dangerous places in the world to have a baby.”  A New York Times’ article assigned the increase to drastic cut of funding for Planned Parenthood by the state, “The study did not offer a clear cause for the dramatic increase, but the spike coincided with a 66 percent slash to family planning funds in the 2011 state budget. The cuts forced 82 family planning clinics to close — a third of which were Planned Parenthood clinics — leaving Texas women’s health programs able to serve less than half the women they served previously.”

When reading, I again saw what Debora saw.  I also found myself repeating her frustrations.  Seeing politicians obscene aversion to the poor, refusing federal dollars for health care; seeing her State government send back to the federal government money designed to address housing for the poor (both urban and rural families); seeing abortion made a political position, watching the shifting, turning which takes place when the fetus is birthed, pretending the State possesses a magic wand that allows it to meet the needs of its citizens solely with volunteers, prayer, Texan mojo and waving the wand at a ninety degree angle.

Texas’ Low Income Housing and Information Service in a December 2009 report entitled, USDA RURAL HOUSING SERVICE IN TEXAS: TURNING AWAY FROM THE POOR explained:  “In 2008 and 2009 Texas was one of only a handful of states to return unused federal funding for the 502 Direct loan program.  We estimate Texas returned as much as $14.2 million of funding in 2009 and is on track to return additional funds allocated to the state through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Texas ranks between Rhode Island and North Dakota in spending Recovery Act Direct funds.”  The report further provided:  “[t]he purpose of the Direct Rural Housing Service single family housing loan program is ‘to provide low- and very low-income people who will live in rural areas with an opportunity to own adequate but modest, decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings and related facilities.’ This is referred to as a ‘direct’ loan program because USDA Rural Development funds the loan directly from its appropriations and directly services the loan. The program is often referred to as the ‘502’ Direct Loan program because it was authorized in Section 502 of the Housing Act of 1949.”  We can pretend Texas has no poor, and that since 2009, the problems has been solved – it has not.  We can also pretend that decedent, safe and sanitary housing exists in the State for all of Texas’ citizens – we can also pretend Harry Potter is real.

The second societal truth can’t necessarily be assigned to anyone.  It is a life lesson.  Run – move – quit – the problems will still exists.  Babies will continue to be birth.  Life, time, fate means we will continue to die – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Somebody, somewhere will say something, do something, take an action designed to insult the most of us, while pretending to be one of us.  You will be able to see their clothes under the wool – other may not, seemingly blinded – and no matter how many times you scream wolf, they will ignore you.

With births and deaths, we are permitted, if we are lucky to continue the fight, no matter the consequences, no matter the results of a given election.  So that you are clear, this muse is not designed to hate on anyone capable of moving, nor is it designed to express a position seeking to prevent ones right of right of free movement.  No, no, no, I dare not be so short-sighted.

The status quo will continue to be the status quo unless we extend a foot preventing the door from shutting.   Absolutely, we are free to place one foot in the front of the other (instead of the crack of the door) and flee, moving from one particular locale to another – even to the supposed safe confines of Canada; apparently the favorite country of attribution.  Proclaiming, declaring, exculpating the wrong, stating our intent to move post-haste – fleeing.  Yes, we can.

The last of life’s lessons – some can’t move, deprived of the freedom of movement – history, class, race – trapped.  For some moving is outside of the world of possibilities – satisfied, blinded by their station in life, seeing nothing wrong, sublimely content.  Then there are the others – flat-out refusing to move – unwilling to acquit the sins of life, and history because of an election loss.  Continuing to slip a foot in the works; pointing, screaming, participating, yelling, calling a sumbitch a sumbitch when they see a sumbitch, hearing Tip O’Neill’s admonitions ring in their ears as they wish their fleeing compatriots well.

So I muse.

JUST MUSING: “Parental Advisory…”

When first reading of his transgressions, our mouths grew agape, wondering how could he?  Tweeting, posting, flashing, showing, and sharing intimate details, varying his routine, wittingly making his child a participant.  His habit, his ritual; once, twice, now a third time – same picture, same color underwear, sharing, sharing, sharing, is his addiction.  If he had been the inventor of the Polaroid camera, he would have pushed, zipped, and pulled, turned to someone, to anyone, requesting they take possession of the picture.  Because of his insistence, the invention would have been ignored, someone – anyone – we – concentrating instead of what he took a picture of – “See, see, see.”  But I digress, he was not the inventor of Polaroid; such is not his generation.  The reach out and touch generation requires no printing, developing, waving, blowing – no, no, no – such is not their encumbrance.  His generation only has to aim, push, type a message and forward.

Most commentators expressed sympathy for his spouse, knowing she stayed, suffering the public embarrassment of the wayward one.  Seeking to maintain the union, pleading to the rest of us to allow her and her spouse to work out the details in private – once, twice – she plead.  Her embarrassment seemed to compound itself when he didn’t exactly deny he had ceased sharing his Polaroid.  Whether he thought the press in New York was not going to ask, or whether they were going to stop being the New York press, or whether he had magically created another invention – privacy in a sphere where there is no privacy – I don’t know the answer to any of the inquiries into the world of mythical possibilities.  I like most instead thought – What was he thinking?

An addiction is defined “as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.”  During the comedian Richard Pryor’s struggled with his addiction – cocaine – he joked the first thing he noticed during sobriety was he wasn’t what he thought he was.  “Hey I have been robbed.  Somebody stole my dick and left me with this little child’s wee-wee.”  His personification of the penis evoked laughter, while stating a matter of fact life truism – “Damn straight, men have dick hang ups.”  But Richard’s generation was a couple of generations before Anthony’s. Richard’s Polaroid was not Anthony’s Polaroid.

Whether an addiction is modern day addiction or not, it matters not – it is an addiction.  Threatening Anthony meant nothing to him.  Demanding he not do again what he did before were hollow words.   Anthony is an addict, addicted not to Dr. Pepper, Pepsi or Coke.  Not to coffee.  Not to alcohol or tobacco.  Not to cocaine.  He is still an addict.  Always denying the addiction then once cornered promising to correct his behavior.  I’m sure he promised.  I am sure he did.

His wife could have cut through the years of heartache by giving him a Polaroid camera the next day, reaching for his cell phones, pads, and computers and walking him through the process of closing all of his social media accounts.  No Facebook (and its associated Facebook Messenger), WhatsAppTumblrInstagramTwitterBaidu Tieba, WeChat,  Line, Google+,  Skype, or Snapchat.   Reading off the list, asking yes or no, “do you or do you not have an account?”  Demanding any and all assumed names, and passwords, watching his eyes, his hands, listening to his words and anticipating the utterance of the words, “I don’t have a problem.”  If those words invade the room, get up and leave!  He is an addict.   If he delays, and says he will think about it, then refuse to give up the cell phone (“Step away from the cell phone!”) – leave!  He like most addicts will always take the side of that which possesses him, capturing his soul, imagination, and reasoning.  If he says he doesn’t remember his assumed names – he’s lying – has the information written somewhere or has subjected the passwords to memory – leave!  He is addict.   Pointing, shooting, typing, sending – he still an addict, “as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.”  Read the definition over and over again, this will help you ward off self-doubt when it visits your cranial space.  After you are safe, secure and separated, send him a link of Lil Kim’s How Many Licks [look – don’t click on this link if you are easily insulted or have no idea who Lil Kim is!]  He will find no humor in tit-for-tat.  He will call you crazy, and will never call again.  You made your point and will have your peace.  Remember, you can’t cure him.  He has to be willing to change, admit his addiction and seek help for Anthony and Mr. Polaroid.

JUST MUSING: “Only one hobby…”

The questions for the most part were standard, asked in a mundane, oft-times repetitive manner, extending “thank yous” by rote, not at all sincere, seemingly layered with a veiled undertone, as if she was beneath him, not as worthy.  She remained attentive throughout, sparing with her inquisitor, engaging, pulling away, touching my hand, shoulder, side when in doubt, making eye-contact, searching for reassurance that she was answering correctly.  She was.

The questioner’s name escapes me.  I still see a male lawyer, situated on the other side of the conference table, barely making eye contact, most times staying within the rules, pausing long enough to allow objections, then proceeding, lobbing his next question across the table, looking down periodically, checking what appeared to be a list of questions situated in front of him.  Inching forward, progressing; posing the next question, then the next, then the next.

“Did you have any hobbies before the accident that you can’t do now?”

There was nothing unique about his question, nor any of the questions he had posed previously.  Questions which invited few objections on my part, causing me to reposition my place in the chair, fight an unexpected visitor – boredom – recounting the questions asked, estimating the time we had been in the room, seeing the new question scroll before my eyes, typed in script – as slowly, as fast – as the questioner posed them.  Fighting sleep, turning to the client, leaning, wondering why she had not answered the lawyer’s last question.  A pause was followed by the bowing of her head.  A tear came to rest – pooled and suspended – on the edge of the orbit of her left eye.

“He asked, ‘did you have any hobbies before the accident that you can’t do now, ’” as if my repeating the question made a difference.   She didn’t turn my way this time, as she had done earlier in the deposition.  I wondered whether I should have spoken louder, maybe she didn’t hear me.  Her bowing became more severe, burrowing now, her chin against her chest, the singular tear now accompanied by others, pooling, mounting, collecting, their numbers caused an avalanche, flowing over and downward, cascading.  She didn’t bother to wipe, as if frozen in place; communicating silently, without words, motionless, conveying she understood the question.  He didn’t see our communication, oblivious; her silence didn’t mean she didn’t hear, didn’t mean she didn’t understand.

“Do you want me to repeat the question, ma’am?”

“No sir.”

Father Time stood over her left shoulder, counting, he too oblivious to what was occurring, he, refusing to miss a beat – for a moment, for a second – ignoring that he had done so consistently.  When grief strikes; when a child dies unexpectedly; when anyone of us become unexplainably embarrassed by unexpected life events – deviating, stopping the count, providing an exception to life’s dance.  Such was the practice, but not this time, for some reason he continued to count – counting, counting, counting – he did.  “One-thousand, one; one-thousand, two; one-thousand, three” – methodically cataloging time, moving his left hand upward, downward, upward again.

“Can we take a brief break,” I inquired, not fully understanding the client’s pause.

“No, I am going to insist on obtaining an answer to my question before breaking,” was the lawyer’s response.

“One-thousand, four; one-thousand, five; one-thousand, six,” was the count.   Father Time bent over, gazing directly into her eyes, unperturbed by tears occupation – counting, counting, counting – closing his eyes to keep his concentration, refusing to freeze for a moment, a second, ignoring Mother Nature’s whisper, touch, explicit words granting permission, “this one time, this one exception.”  “One-thousand, seven; one-thousand, eight”, he said.  He said.  Yes, he said.

“Ma’am I going to insist on an answer.”

I moved forward in my chair, touching her left hand.  She moved forward, not in my direction but his, correcting her posture, raising her chin from her chest, looking directly his eyes, answering, briefly, succinctly, “Yes, sir, there is.”

He smiled, knowing full-well he had her.  She was his.  Looking up from his typed questions, placing his pen down on the table, deviating from his normal procedure, locking his eyes onto hers, no longer practicing by rote, excited that he was about to have his Perry Mason moment.  The birthing of a lawyer, the making of a man, his moment, his time, a well-placed question which invited unexpected tears, the time was his.  The hairs on his hands stood in salute, memorializing the moment, paying tribute.  His eyes now sparkled.  Father Time continued his persistent count, eyes closed, head back, concentrating, recording life’s moments, knowing full-well his decision not to stop the count for a second, a moment, was a wise one – “One-thousand, eleven; one-thousand, twelve; one-thousand, thirteen.”  He said.  Yes, he said.

Mother Nature stepped back as if now granting permission, allowing her answer, insisting on no further interruptions.  Smiling, crossing her legs, placing her hands in her lap, at peace, then extending her right arm, pointing in a gentle manner, imploring the client to continue.

“I only have one hobby.”

“And that is?”

“Sex …”

He, that lawyer, immediately picked up his pen, lowered his head, looking for another question to ask.  Mother Nature blew sand in his eyes, causing temporary blindness.  He, Father Time, attempted to stop his count.  Mother Nature blew a cold, stiff wind his way, isolating him, forcing him to continue.  The lawyer’s hand recoiled, pulling back, turning away, as if embarrassed by his own question, not wanting to hear her answer, wishing that she stop.  She didn’t stop.  She didn’t.

“I only have one hobby, sex.  I like sex.  Since the accident I haven’t been able to do my hobby.  It is frustrating.  Do you want me to explain?”

He … no, no … not Father Time … the lawyer – acted if he accidentally walked into the room witnessing his parents’ having sex.  He acted as if he was trying to explain to his first wife why he looked too long, why he ignored her pulling him to come along; never realizing she walked away, drove off, leaving him to ogle at “that woman”.   He demonstrated the same emotions he showed when he answered honestly, but incorrectly, in his eighth grade Sex Education class, thinking he was right, insisting – “Masturbation does cause blindness.”

One who had practiced by rote, now sat waving with both hands, erecting a stop sign, trying to take his question back, praying for time to stop, wishing he could have a do-over, never appreciating the honest answer.  Fumbling, not able to form his words, casting demons, looking about the room for help – none me – not the court reporter, she was too busy giggling; wanting a time-out, even though he detested time-outs, since the time his third grade teacher sent him to time-out for talking too much.  “No, you need not explain further,” said without an explanation point, or a period; an incomplete sentence, scattered words, juking, dangling, hanging in suspended animation, a dangling participle indeed.

She ignored him, gifting him instead.  Explaining why she liked sex, telling secrets, moving her left hand over her right hand, subconsciously touching her neck, consciously using words to explain how her injuries prevented her from engaging in her one hobby.  Nothing perverse, blowing a breath of honesty about the room.  Words stated without grandeur, without embarrassment, allowing the persistent partner, anger, to co-exist.  Anger openly busied itself by summoning tears, pooling them together, pushing them over – face – neck – dress – onto the table.

The hairs on the lawyer’s hands now curled inward, contorted by her words, and the stark realization his Perry Mason moment was not to be.   Instead of joining in our laughter and smiles, he wanted to flee.

The silent mantel he was, communicating without words, communicating none-the-less; lifting his pen, marking through the remaining questions, thanking the witness, immediately terminating the deposition.  Moving upward, looking downward, hurriedly gathering and grabbing his pre-prepared list of questions, revealing a face scant of smile, devoid of laughter, moving around the conference table, exiting faster than he had entered earlier.  Father Time continued life’s count, one eye open, the other eye closed, counting, counting, counting; never turning as the lawyer beat his retreat, pretending not to see Mother Nature exit at the same time, following, pulling at the tail of the lawyer’s coat, winking at Father Time as she passed, granting permission for the count to continue, for life’s dance to continue.

“Did I do alright?”

“Oh yeah, you did just fine … Only one hobby, huh?”

“Yes sir, only … one hobby!”

 

JUST MUSING: “Ali, Bomaye!” …

Recently I read a story where Barry Bonds commented on his relationship with the press during his heyday.  Bonds was a baseball prodigy, born into baseball royalty, the son of Bobby Bonds, the godson of Hall of Famer, Willie Mays, learning the game by watching San Francisco Giants’ game, consisting of a lineup featuring his father in right field, Al Gallagher at third base, Willie Mays in center field, the great Willie McCovey at first, Ken Henderson in left field, Dick Dietz catching, Tito Fuentes at second base, and Bob Lanier, shortstop.  I, like others, watched the Game of the Week, San Francisco against Los Angeles, marveling at Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal, both too baseball Hall of Famers.  For those of you who are not baseball fans let me summarize Bond’s accomplishments, leaving out most.  Bonds is a seven-time Most Valuable Player (MVP), holds baseball’s record for the most home runs (762) (not Hank Aaron, not Babe Ruth), an eight time Glove Glover recipient (meaning he played defense also), and was one of baseball’s greatest players, bad attitude and all.

In March 2006, the book Game of Shadows was published.  The authors, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, alleged in their book Bonds used the drug stanozolol, and a host of other steroids.  The books contained excerpts from grand jury testimony that was supposed to have been sealed and confidential under law.  A subsequent federal investigation into the leaked testimony, led to the defense lawyer (for one of the targets of the investigation), Troy Ellerman.  After Ellerman plead guilty to prison time, the charges against the Williams and Fainaru-Wada were dropped.

In May of 2006, Jeff Pearlman, a Sports Illustrated writer, penned an unauthorized biography of Bonds entitled Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero.  Pearlman described Bonds as a polarizing insufferable braggart with a legendary ego and staggering ability, conclusions he based on conducting over five hundred interviews, except he never interviewed Bonds.  The rest of the nations’ baseball press and writers were no different, making Barry Bonds the anti-Christ, the bad-boy of baseball (alleged drug use), while others of different skin hues who grew larger, faster, and stronger, were not accorded like treatment.  Even after Bonds was indicted and ultimately cleared (jury trial and dismissal of remaining charges on appeal), the baseball writers to this day continue to hold him to an untenable standard (a “we were right, tell us the truth Barry” kind-of-standard), publicizing their intent never to elect him to the Hall-of-Fame.  Others escaped Bond’s treatment when investigations revealed others of America’s heroes were complicit; these revelations caused those same writers to grow silent, quieting the pursuit to uncover every stone.

Bond’s interview was posted by SportsOnEarth.com.  In it, Bonds attempted to make his peace with baseball, and the writers, taking blame.  “Me.  It’s on me.  I’m to blame for the way I was [portrayed] because I was a dumbass.  I was straight stupid, and I’ll be the first to admit it.”  He then continued, “I mean, I was flat-out dumb. I’m not going to try to justify the way I acted toward people.”  When I read the interview, I felt as if Bond’s was giving me permission to no longer remain angry.  Permission to cease my protest of the game … watch a game … follow a team … become a fan again.  Bonds said it is okay.  He said he is okay.

Nelson Mandela in assessing the role sports plays in our society said, “Sport has the power to change the world.”  When reading Mandela’s statement, I readily agreed, being born at a time fundamental changes were playing out.  The Negro Baseball League was winding down (a league formed because major league baseball’s refusal to allow the Negro ball players to play on their teams, in their league).  Reading Mandela’s words caused me to recall my mother telling me of the Negro baseball players she fitted, “repairing the uniforms for visiting clubs, and making uniforms for the Dallas team.”   Mandela explanation went farther however, “It [sports] has the power to inspire … the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.  It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”  With his words, the separate water fountains of my youth appeared, segregated public facilities and schools flashed before my eyes, words used to control were heard, the violence used to slay remained imprinted.  I saw the anger in my mother’s face when I went to drink from the assigned fountain located in downtown Fort Worth.  “No, no, you drink from that one.”  I dared not disobey, drinking fast, slurping, wiping, and walking quickly away.

Absolutely, I knew of Rosa Parks, but I knew more about Wilma Rudolph.  I knew that Hank Aaron played in the Negro Baseball League before reading about Hank Aaron playing in the Negro Baseball League.  My imagination allowed me to see him standing in the middle of a black woman’s home, like my mother’s home, being measured and later fitted.  I saw Dr. King on the television and in Jet and Ebony, while being able to quote more about Jim Brown’s background than Dr. King’s.  Elijah Muhammad spoke of self-determination, the white devils, and the Fruits of Islam – words never fully heard – and not ever fully remembering his full name, but knowing Cassius Clay’s given name, the new name, then serving as a sponge, absorbing his every word.

The birth of the civil rights struggle, and its continued vitality would not have reached the four corners of this country, without the black athlete’s participation, even sometimes leading the way.  Along the way, I was no different than every other negro/colored/black child in America, collecting and recounting the quotes of coaches who vowed never to allow a black player on their teams; marveling when seeing white institutions with even just one black player on the field, court,  diamond, or track; bursting with pride, when an all-black starting five (basketball) won the national championship (beating an all-white Kentucky Wildcat team); shouting, screaming, urging them to run faster, as Tommie Smith and John Carlos crossed the finish line in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics (and not at all being horrified when they raised their fists in a black power salute).  Celebrating each time because it seemed important, bringing about a collective hope, progress.

Muhammad Ali’s death is a reminder why Barry Bond could be surly and why some of us could protest Bond’s treatment for over two decades; maybe because we remember; maybe because we could.  In 1964, Ali knocked out Sonny Liston, afterward running to the edge of the ring shouting, “I shook up the world.  I shook up the world.”  At the time, Ali had not yet to change his name.  During the post-fight interview, Ali was referred to by his given name, Cassius Clay.  The interviewer appeared to mock him, at the conclusion of the interview, as if for good measure, he turned and said, “Let’s get our champion, Joe Louis get over here.”   Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion from 1937-1949, and had been retired from the ring for fifteen years.  His message was clear to a black child’s ears; Louis was more passive, acceptable, “our champion”.

Ali’s words have proven to be true, actually an understatement.  His bragging, predicting, standing firm, changing faiths, lecturing, worked to implant his face to the pride, hope, and struggle in which we were all participants.  In context, it made sense, his actions allowed us to scream for Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they crossed the finish line in the 200 meters; Smith breaking the world record in the progress; seeing them as one of us (black) and not as American athletes.  They represented hope.  Nights later, we screamed, booed and hated George Foreman’s action, when he placed an American flag in his hand after his victory in the ring, appearing to be a counter-protest to Smith and Carlos’ acts of defiance, even though he said his actions were not, even though he too was black – so it seemed, so we disbelieved.

Ali shocked the world indeed, speaking out about the game of boxing (benefiting other boxers of his day and even today), participating in the advent of pay-for-view, demanding more the monetary pie, staging events in other countries, perfecting the art of putting bottoms in the seats, becoming one of the most recognizable faces and personalities in the world.   Preaching race pride at a time it was desperately needed, protesting the war against Vietnam, grappling with life issues, making mistakes, ultimately evolving on the issue of race (as most of us have) and in the process making us laugh, think, and cry.

In 1971, when Joe Frazier’s left hook connected with Ali’s face, we collectively wailed on our living room floors – all over the country – envisioning white America laughing and celebrating the loud mouth’s demise.  Years later, Ali proved his humanity (as in being human, making a decision, even if a mistaken one), refusing to quit when age, time, and the diminishment of his skills came knocking – once, twice, three times – causing him to take beatings from ordinary fighters, lesser men, forcing us to our corners, missing his voice, wiping away our tears.

I will probably never understand the bravery needed to take a beating and remain constant in ones’ belief about the humanity of humankind (as in Dr. King).  I will forever marvel at Mandela’s reaction to hatred, after his decades of confinement, while his country’s mimicked America’s system of apartheid.  He, Mandela, too shocked the world, preaching that they (the Black South Africans (Bantustans)) could not act in the same manner as their oppressors (Whites (Afrikaners)), instead he reached out, calmed the waters, preached truth and reconciliation, demanding a peaceful transition.  Mandela’s actions and words seemed inconsistent with the acts of others, unparalleled in civilizations which have forever cherished conquest, leaving a world forever grateful.  And finally, I will never understand the modern day athlete hiding behind 140 characters, muted messages, gated lives, quieted, as if every day is a day at Disney.

In 1974, Ali fought George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire.  In anticipation of the difficulty of defeating a younger, talented champion, Ali incorporated the will of the people, using the phase “Ali, Bomaya!” (Meaning “Ali kill him” in the Lingala language) to his advantage.  He, Ali, accomplished the seemingly impossible, defeating Foreman, knocking him out in the eighth round, contributing another life lesson, dream the impossible.

Barry Bonds making peace with baseball is because he can, not at all impossible act.  My deciding to now attend a baseball game will be preceded by watching a couple of games, not  imposing, in that permission has now been granted.  And I predict, Bonds’ delayed induction into Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame too will pass, but not if the baseball writers fail to hear the collective voices of history.

“Insufferable braggart with a legendary ego” – that Willie May’s godson and Bobby Bond’s son, for God’s sake, what are you thinking?  And by the way, if the man has been acquitted in a court of law, then your only fall back is his attitude, for which he is now apologizing.  And you’re upset about a prominent athlete’s attitude? – have you had your heads in the sand the last fifty two years? “Ali, Bomaya!”

JUST MUSING: “Bending it like…Beckham”

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport.  More fans, money, participants and countries than other sports; earning soccer its’ title, “the world’s game”.  No matter how Americans doth protest, others in the world understand the term “football” to reference soccer.  I will not – hear me out – I will not refer to soccer as football in this musing, hoping to sooth the insanely unconvinced American football fan to continue reading, so soccer it is.

The FIFA World Cup, which is held every four years, in alternating countries, is amongst the most viewed sporting events on television.  Approximately 3.2 billion people watched at least part of the 2010 World Cup coverage on TV.  FIFA, which is the governing body of [soccer] and the World Cup organizer, generated more than 700 million U.S. dollars in revenue from broadcasting rights from the event in 2010.”  American professional football is not the only sport which should take note.  ESPN in its Annual Sports’ Poll determined “soccer was America’s second-most popular sport for those aged 12-24, ahead of [the] NBA, MLB and college football.”

So that I do not digress – soccer’s popularity is not why I muse.  The game’s popularity is discussed in order to provide context of a culturally misused soccer idiom, “bending it like Beckman.”  The phase is certainly a reference to the talents of the former great, David Beckham; describing a method of kicking a ball.  I muse to contend its current usage and meaning is inadequate, a woeful misuse of words for an otherwise wonderfully descriptive word-play.  I firmly believe, this is an area where a tortured American mind may be of use.

When John Miller pretended to be John Miller, he was undermined when the reporter for the Washington Post recognized his erstwhile as his erstwhile – Trump – bragging about his sexual prowess, wealth and virtue.  Maybe Trump’s wealth removed him from the activities of the average American youth of his generation, before caller-id, the alternate universe of party-lines and land-lines.  Making prank phones to friends, strangers, businesses, practicing voices, sometimes successful, most times not, participating, while unknowingly developing a sixth-sense (seventh-sense for some), the ability to detect false voices immediately.  A generation which grew up watching Candid Camera, instilled with a suspecting nature, not wanting to be tricked by friends, family, strangers.  Moving the curtains back, examining the vase on the table, looking for the camera.  In 2003, the show, Punk’d, a reality television series, aired on MTV, arrived on the scene.  A themed show evolving around the practical joke, with hidden camera included, borrowing from Candid Camera.  The show worked because the producers were able to target a generation who did not know about Candid Camera, whose sixth-sense had not yet evolved, preying on the unsuspecting.

The reporter for the Washington Post probably didn’t grow up wealthy (my best guess), watched Candid Camera every Sunday evening, and was part of a generation imbued with conspiracy-theorists, tricksters, and Cold War angst.  On more than one occasion she pulled the curtain back looking for a camera.  On the occasions John Miller called she immediately recognized his voice, playing along, steeled and ready, with no intention of being pranked by John Miller or Donald Trump.  Trump knew none of this; his was a different world, isolated by wealth and servants.  He also didn’t view his conduct as being a prank.  He was then, and remains still, obsessed with himself; bragging, bragging, bragging, as he is wont to do.  Once placed under oath, John Miller – excuse me – Donald Trump confessed, admitting to bending it like Beckham, attempting to deceive, slicing the ball, allowing it to curve, attempting to score by deception.

We fail when we use the less than apt-metaphors, allowing the purveyors of words and stories – writers, reporters, actors, news show hosts, even comics – to cheapen the language by failing to couple their words with an appropriate smile, grimace, raised eye-bow, followed by questioning whether John Miller “‘Bent it like Beckham’, you tell me; thank you goodnight!”

In April 2015, Business Insider reported that “Scientists are skeptical about the secret blood test that has made Elizabeth Holmes a billionaire.”    The company, Theranos, “a company founded by Stanford sophomore Elizabeth Holmes in the fall of 2003 (she dropped out a few months later) has generated a lot of buzz for developing a revolutionary approach to the blood test.”  Promising faster, cheaper blood tests, by using less blood, “upending [and invading] the branch of medicine that provides the data used in roughly 70% of medical decisions.”  The Business Insider’s article discussed the failure of Theranos to publish peer-review studies comparing it tests to others, or even allowing independent experts to publicly assess its labs.   On May 18, 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Theranos Inc. has told federal health regulators that the company voided two years of results from its Edison blood-testing devices, according to a person familiar with the matter. … But Theranos has now told regulators that it threw out all Edison test results from 2014 and 2015. The company has told the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that it has issued tens of thousands of corrected blood-test reports to doctors and patients, voiding some results and revising others, according to the person familiar with the matter.”

I believe Theranos’ mess could have been avoided if those suspecting Theranos’ claims early-on had requested the scientific-data and testing, then opened asked the rest of us whether the company was “bending it like Beckham.”  Humor mixed with real-world consequences oft-times reveals the lie.  A more deadly use of words; more telling than describing a method of kicking a ball by one of the game’s greats, reporting the facts, using cultural references to explain to the rest of us, “Bending it like Beckham, are they”?

I am not saying the metaphor should always describe a lie.  To work, it has to be a double entendre (possessing a double meaning) – a lie sometimes, tongue-in-cheek other times.   By way of example:  “a new study has found that the health of an adult-male can be determined by the strength and flow of his pee”, tested by placing hidden cameras in roadside restrooms for a six month period (reminder:  this is a fake report, the same utter nonsense your Uncle Bob says all the time).  Of course, it is part true (old men pee more), the other part of the story’s line is designed to grab the listener’s leg and pulling as hard as possible (remember Uncle Bob also lies a lot).  More importantly, one need not worry about the lawyers; humor is protected by the First Amendment, and “bending it like Beckham” is  powerful, readily understood, more meaningful than April’s fools, in that the use of the phase is not confined to a once a year phenomenon, using words which are cross-cultural, attaching to the popularity of the world’s game.

Still don’t understand?  Let me take a couple more stabs.  Recently the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department played their annual football game for charity.  This time the game was marred by violence – a brawl.  A flat-out New York brawl; grown men and presumably women, flailing away – falling, falling, falling – over themselves, and others.   Swearing, cursing – blessing, blessing, blessing (as only New Yorkers can) – their fellow professionals.  Spewing testosterone (and estrogen), as they brawled; as the bees disperse pollen, as the birds scatter seeds, another wonderful spring day in New York.   Our double-entendre now becomes a triple-entendre, much like a Swiss knife.  The Fire Department publicist should arrange a press conference with Black Lives Matter (first slice), announcing that a portion of next year’s NYFD’s proceeds will go to Black Lives Matter (this could very well be the second slice, but I am going to assume NYPD understands the contributions are needed), followed by playing of a snippet of the fight (explaining the source is from Fire Department’s cameras), a brief explanation (“Maybe the police cameras weren’t working!”), laying blame at the feet of NYPD – sowing derision in all directions.  Questioning why NYPD didn’t have body cameras (second slice), ridiculing any report blaming NYFD for the fight, describing NYPD’s accounts of the report as “bending it like Beckham.”   The last reference is the third slice, using a soccer term to reference America’s game, heresy!  Smiling, slicing, serving up truths and half-truths with raised brows; fielding only a few questions before escaping, leaving the stage with smiles intact.  Oh yeah, the fight would be on, the point would be made, and next year’s event sold out in minutes, the American way.  John Miller would be so proud.

My last stab at sanity – a friend of mine (Elisa) and I one day were discussing the lies our parents told us when we were children.  Her attesting to the unique Mexican American experience, the lies told.  Mine the African American experience.  Laughter, smiles abounded, a shared experience – until Elisa so rudely interrupted me and my contribution to our modern day cultural exchange program!  She explained not all African American parents told the lie about the existence of Santa Claus.

“What?”

“My friend refused to tell that lie.”

“What?”

“She said she couldn’t, just couldn’t.”

“What?”

“She, Shirley, said ‘I was working two jobs and I didn’t want my children to believe a fat, White man was sliding down a non-existent chimney bearing gifts, gifts in which I worked too hard buying for them.  I couldn’t do it.  Just couldn’t.’”

You see my point? – You got to bend it like Beckham.  Shirley did.  Yes she did, achieving clarity in far fewer words.

JUST MUSING: “Sleepless in Seattle…”

I stood in the middle of Westlake Mall looking for anything uniquely Seattle.  I had traveled to the mall to waste time, not necessarily to shop, not because I was hungry, not because I intended to see a movie.   Escaping to watch, learning about a city by studying her characters from a strategic observation post.  My memory assures me I had hours to waste, having completed a speech to the Legal Aid Society with the next speech, to the State Bar of Washington, the following day.  I begged out of dinner with my hosts, instead electing isolation, sitting and watching, taking mental notes, adjusting my position periodically, smiling when they smiled, wondering from afar when they wiped, not knowing the source of their anguish.

Years had passed since Jill’s harrowing call, telling me of her discovery.  I listened.  Her tears and anger dominated the call – laden with her plea.  A call which now flooded back – revisiting, lingering, remaining with me, as if sitting next to me.  The sun reflected off the glass, a reminder of the promise made years before, now far removed in time and place.

People flowed to and from, oblivious; eyes affixed elsewhere, at least not meeting others’ eyes.  Objects affixed to their faces, as if glued, engaged in conversations afar, even if a companion stood within inches; seldom touching, looking, or interacting as they travelled.  I didn’t record the number of those acting contrary, their number was too small.  The vast majority were preoccupied, otherwise engaged, traipsing a disengaged path.   Our phones were not as smart then, however they foretold a transition, a fixation with an inanimate form of communication; years before texts, eons before Facebook, a Messenger then was a Messenger – someone who picked up a package at point A and delivered the package to point B.

The smell, sights and stores were not different from any other mall – Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Portland, Detroit, – anywhere U.S.A.  The names of familiar stores – the blending of cultures – uniformed services, chained stores, the destruction of regional differences.  Glass and steel structures serving as hosts to different hues and genders, moving about in isolated bubbles, laughing, talking to others unseen, located elsewhere.  I had seen these faces in other cities – Nashville, Madison, Little Rock, Chicago – preoccupied; for the most part orderly, sometimes chaotic, manner and mode mattered not.  Their similarity involved caring little about their surroundings, interacting little, never engaging.

As our world has grown smaller, the crevices between us have grown wider, dividing us, threatening to consume us.  Not talking; not interacting; failing to look for signs of changes.  I could hear Jill’s voice.  I could see her face.  The pattern continued – connected but not connected – passing from port to port, never conversing; somewhat akin to a daily surreal exercise.   Chatter … Chatter … Chatter.

Recently the National Center for Health Statistics issued Report No. 241 [Increase in Suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. 8 pp. (PHS) 2016-1209. April 2016].  The Center’s report serves as a reminder of the disjointed chatter.

  • From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24%, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population; the pace of increase greater after 2006.
  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
  • The percent increase in suicide rates for females was greatest for those aged 10–14, and for males, those aged 45–64.
  • The most frequent suicide method in 2014 for males involved the use of firearms (55.4%), while poisoning was the most frequent method for females (34.1%).
  • Percentages of suicides attributable to suffocation increased for both sexes between 1999 and 2014.

In 2014, the age-adjusted rate for males (20.7) was more than three times that for females (5.8); from 1999 through 2014, the percent increase in the age-adjusted suicide rate was greater for females (45% increase) than males (16% increase), resulting in a narrowing of the gender gap.   Suicide rates for females were highest for those aged 45–64 in both 1999 (6.0 per 100,000) and 2014 (9.8).  This age group also had the second-largest percent increase (63%) since 1999.  Although based on a small number of suicides compared with other age groups, the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 had the largest percent increase (200%) during the time period, tripling from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.5 in 2014.  Percent increases in suicide rates since 1999 for females aged 15–24, 25–44, and 65–74 ranged between 31% and 53%.

Broken down in terms of race and ethnicity the chatter is just as telling.  White females have seen a 60% increase in suicides; White males 28%.   Black females have seen a 2.1% increase; Hispanic females a 2.5% increase.   American Indian and Alaska Natives have seen a startling 89% increase among women and 38% among men.  As to the latter group, the Huffington Post, October 2015 [Native American Youth Suicide Rates Are At Crisis Levels] explained:  “Native American suicide rates look very different in Native communities than it does in the general population.  Nationally, suicide tends to skew middle-aged (and white); but among Native Americans, 40 percent of those who die by suicide are between the ages of 15 and 24.  And among young adults ages 18 to 24, Native American have higher rates of suicide than any other ethnicity, and higher than the general population.”  Chatter … Chatter … Chatter.

The American Society of Suicide Prevention draws further distinctions.  “In 2014, the highest U.S. suicide rate (14.7) [per 100,000] was among Whites and the second highest rate (10.9) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Hispanics (6.3), Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.9), and Blacks (5.5).”  The study revealed that the only sub-group which saw a decrease in suicide rates was the African American males.  As to the latter group, or stated differently, for those of you who are one, don’t glow too bright.  Your numbers for untimely deaths are enhanced by homicide, disease, and drugs – leading to a much lower life expectancy than other groups.  “Some studies have found suicide can be considered a ‘white thing’, among African Americans, ‘anathema to a culture noted for its resiliency in the face of racial discrimination and oppression’ – but suicide is not an insignificant issue for black Americans.  A recent study found that black children aged five to 11 are twice as likely to kill themselves as white children, and suicide is the third leading cause of death of young black men ages 15 to 24.”  My point, celebrate not my brother, if our government under-reports on everything else, don’t you believe our suicide rate is also underreported.

If fact, none of us are immune.  Moving around each other, never looking, checking, or realizing our love ones have become less connected.  When we do notice, somehow justifying the differing behavior, rationalizing and then putting aside contact for another day.  We have a problem, a problem which will become worst as our cultures become more reliant on technology, manipulating our new toys, tools of avoidance.

A text, a message, an email are not akin to an actual conversation.  A digital picture transmitted instantly surely provides instant gratification.  Your friend, parent, love one would readily forfeit the picture to hear your voice, even if just briefly.  For every text, email, message – promise, promise, promise – a call, a visit, a touch, reminding your child, friend, love one, parent, how important they are to yours, theirs and others worlds.  Reach across the bed and remind him/her.  Intrude in your child’s world, even if they tell you they don’t want you to intrude … silence, silence, silence, surely follows …turning, turning, turning away … attempting to hide their smile of appreciation.

No, please don’t accuse me of believing depression, hopelessness, and act of giving up can be conquered by pulling oneself up by one’s bootstrap.  Some can, I guess, but most of us need more.  Also, please don’t assume that my musing on the need for human interaction in anyway equates and substitutes for the work of health professionals.  No, the actions I suggest only constitute the act of being human, sharing, watching, talking, listening, helping those we care for, and ourselves, exist and survive in an oft-times hostile world.  And finally, there is no hidden religious message contained in this muse.  I am surely not qualified.  You need not believe and should not believe I consider myself an expert on anything – yes, you read right – on anything.  My advice and observations are more life’s truths than anything else.

Wondering whether you can take another step has been experienced by most, even those who will never admit to experiencing such a human emotion.  Crying outwardly, then inwardly, grabbing at the seen – then the unseen – feeling isolated while moving inward to a place in which others are not invited.  Remembering you smiled once, mimicking the smile to mask your true feelings, not the same smile however; eyes venturing elsewhere, not dancing, laughing, not celebrating life, serving its purpose however, to mask the pain.  Watching others pass, rationalizing that no one cares; convincing yourself that no one cares.  And we all must agree, no matter how much we protest to the contrary, life has no meaning if no one cares; whether the belief is real or imagined.

Oh, surely, the manly/big girl thing to do is to declare, “Not I”, turn, and walk in an opposite direction, rationalizing the numbers apply to others.  However, they don’t, they reach and touch us all.

So care.  Listen.  Talk.  Watch.  Write a letter.  Make a call.  Take a little time to say that you care, so that their, ours, your world actually becomes a little less hostile.  Remember, even if we ignore those inanimate appendages attached to our ears, fingers, sides – even if only for one memento – it – they – that – thing,  will still love you, not needing any reinforcement, touching, reminders.  We are not things, we need more.

I watched that night in Seattle for an hour, never venturing into any stores.  Still hearing Jill’s voice, mentally charting my course through the streets of Galveston, wondering what I could I have done differently, worrying what to say to Jill when she opened the door, asking the question why?  Jill’s anguish stayed with me that night moving from the mall, to hotel, intruding into the speech the next day.  A voice which has followed me in my life’s path, accompanied by the voices of others, asking the same question, when their love ones unexpectedly took flight, leaving them.

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.”

“Here?”

“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.”

“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: “Happy belated Black History Month”…

He, Elmo Willard, sat before me, a mixture of both anger and sadness.  A sadness which should not have existed, which belied his history, inconsistent with his recent nomination by the Eastern District Judges naming him as the next United States Magistrate for the Beaumont Division of the court.  He held in his hands a package, obtained after making a Freedom of Information Act request, containing letters opposing his appointment, from members of his bar, some even occupying the state court benches in Beaumont.  The names had been redacted, even with the redaction, a careful read allowed one to determine the author of most, if not all, the letters.  Time slowed, we both grew quiet, we both started to cry.  Not the cry you cry when you lose a parent. Not the cry which accompanies the unexpected death of a child.  Not the cry you cry with the loss of a love, no matter whose fault it is, no matter what each of you have said in anger, matters not, you cry.  I excused myself from the table, moving around, passing this elegant man, reaching, grabbing for tissues, as if they were our life-line – blowing, blowing, attempting to blow away the years the documents’ history represented, the memories.

We shared stories and cataloged names: Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, Ned Wade, Matthew Plummer, Aloysius Wickliff, Theodore R. Johns.  “I receive, one, maybe two calls a year from Mr. Plummer and Mr. Wickliff.”  Men I had not personally met, always encouraging, inviting me to visit when I was in Houston.  “I know who you are, sir.  I am honored to receive your call,” I told Elmo.   I said I understood the importance of their calls, binding history, providing understanding of my work as a lawyer, lending an extended hand.

“I know who you are,” telling Elmo the same thing I said to Mr. Plummer and Mr. Wickliff, without telling him the source of my knowledge.  My source was reading, and conversations with Gabrielle surrounding the contributions of the African American bar.  Contributions ignored by our profession, leading to attacked by our colleagues, the public, using the grievance process as both shield and ax, part of the continuum.   I reached and grabbed another tissue, continued to read, thumping, cataloging, seeing and remembering history, mindlessly wiping and blowing.

I mentioned Ned Wade’s disbarment.  Ned represented the best of us, not a race assessment – he was the best of us.  I told Elmo of the outpouring the Houston bar showed at his funeral, “not an empty seat, not a dry eye.”  I saw and heard shame in the faces and voices of the lawyers and judges who paid homage.  Ned’s smile radiated from the pages of the program.  His anguish still remained in my heart.  “Prior to Ned’s death, he hired me to determine how he could obtain his law license back.  He had no intentions of practicing again.  He wanted his license back, maybe he anticipated his death.  I proposed a constitutional challenge to the requirement that he retake the bar exam, studying, suggesting, evaluating.  It was not to be, maybe age, maybe time, maybe he was just tired.  Ned always kept in touch, calling, stopping into the office, looking for, “my constitutional lawyer”, causing my chest to swell, the color in my hands to become more intense, forcing my eyes to cast in another direction, the same casting a boy does when a father’s acknowledges, bestowing blessings.

Elmo and his partner, Theodore Johns, brought suit in September 1954 against the City of Beaumont to open the golf course and other city facilities, including the public libraries, to citizens of color.  In 1955, they sued Lamar State College, now Lamar University, to end discrimination.  Suits against the school district and other public entities followed – he didn’t have to tell me who he was, I had studied history, wishing to meet him and Mr. Johns one day.  While reading, I too cried history’s cry, understanding then and when he sat before me that the redacted letters represented the historical hate he endured, and fought against.

“What is the position of the district judges, are they going to stand by their recommendation?”

“As far as I know, they are.  They are encouraging me to continue through the process.  I believe I still have their votes.”

“You do intend to continue through the process?”

“No, I do not, I do not.”

The big, tall man, with elegant African features, withdrew further, curled his body inward, placed his hands over his face, steeling tears, reliving those years, attempting to mask his anger, failing he did, the tears flowed.  He didn’t bother to wipe at this time; didn’t bother to mask.

“I want you to write a letter to each one of the persons (confession:  Ned actually used another word to provide a description of persons) who wrote these letters, demanding an apology and retraction.  If an apology is not forthcoming, I want you to sue them for defamation.”

I tried to lessen the hurt, I told him of stories told to me by others and their experiences.  My words didn’t matter.  Others histories didn’t either.  His history lied in the contours of his hands (age lines telling their own story), and in the copies of the documents he had provided me, documents which he had tabbed, and annotated.  Elmo then reached in his bag, pulling out yellowing and slightly torn news articles, and letters he had saved over the years (containing veiled threats and promises of retribution), allowing me to identify for myself the authors.

“I have already told the judges of my anticipated intent to withdraw my name from consideration after this meeting.  Will you represent me?  Will you write the letters?  Will you bring the lawsuits if necessary?”

“Yes, sir, I will.”

Time continued to conspire.  Images of separate bathrooms, restricted water fountains, segregated schools, and the harrowing resignation sealed and contained in my father’s eyes, played out while we talked.  Words of hate, danced about us, occupying the physical and emotional space we occupied.  Elmo, generations older than I, became licensed the year I was born, extended his graceful hand, then just as fast withdrew his hand, grabbing and pulling instead.  Holding, hugging, and securing, bound by a bellowing laugh-cry; complimenting, “happy to meet you.” I too laughed and hugged while attempting not to see the mythical words and images which hung above us, in a cartoon bubble no less.  I dared not interfere with his thoughts, dared not puncture the bubble, causing the words to flow outward; I didn’t want to cry any more.

I wrote the letters, letters addressed to district judges, politicians, prominent members of the Jefferson County Bar, men (and if I remember, one woman) who were the status quo, or represented the status quo, who fought to keep segregation forever.  Men who had not forgotten, promising Elmo that they would pay him back for his challenge, lawsuits representing social change, and decades later making good their promise, writing letters opposing his appointment to the federal bench.  “He divided our community”, were their words.  “He should not be rewarded with such an august appointment”, was their conclusion.  The letters inferred criminality, without any proof of criminality.  They hinted at moral transgressions, spreading dirt, covering and soiling, as best they could – actions designed to prevent Elmo’s assignment to a bench traditionally reserved for them, for their heirs.

I never saw Elmo again.  We received letters of apologies and transmitted those letters immediately to him.  Some of the letters came from the very judges I practiced before, apologies extended, letter withdrawn, and admitting the falsity of their words.  I handled my business, moving in and about their courtrooms and then escaping as soon as I could.  Elmo and I never talked again.  He withdrew his name from consideration, asking the federal judges to appoint someone else.   He copied me with a copy of the letter and their acknowledgment.  Elmo Willard, III passed from this earth in 1991, at the age of sixty, I sure still crying, laughing, and hugging.  I know Black History month has since passed, “may I, Mother may I”, muse on why race still matters.

*          *          *

 Recently, Judge Olu Stevens, a Circuit Judge in Louisville, Kentucky (pictured above) was declared ineligible to try criminal cases.  This occurred after Judge Stevens granted motions, and stated verbally, that black jurors too should be allowed to serve on jurors.  Judge Stevens’ rulings, and verbal statement, were consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky.  After being reinstated to hear criminal cases (by the superior court), the prosecutors renewed their motions, accompanied by a public debate as to the ability of the judge to be fair.  His Honor then brought suit seeking to protect his First Amendment rights.  When I read, I wished, I wished, I so wished I could have introduced Judge Stevens to Elmo Willard.

The web-site, Race, Racism and the Law provides a review of the problem:  The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) reported that [o]nly 1 in 25 lawyers is African American, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. These numbers clearly illustrate that minority groups are severely under-represented in the legal profession. African American males, in particular, are among the most under-represented groups.  Based on the 2000 Census, African Americans represent 3.9% of lawyers in the country, of whom 2.0% are African American males. Even though there has been some increase in the number of African American male lawyers during the past forty years, the increase has only been marginal.  One study of census data reported that in 1960, 2.0% of male lawyers and judges ages 36-45 were African Americans. After several decades of litigation, affirmative action, and various initiatives, in 2000 the proportion in the same group has grown only modestly to 2.8% of male lawyers.”   The Guardian (May 2015), surmised what the numbers meant (Why the US needs black lawyers even more than it needs black police), writing, “According to the American Bar Association, 88% of all lawyers are white and only 4.8% are black, so for each of the 60,864 black lawyers, there are 686 black citizens needing assistance (compared with only 282 white citizens for each of the 1,117,118 white lawyers).”

The source of the quote, “You’re still black” can’t be determined by a quick search.  Since, I can’t determine the source I will assign the quote to my mother.  A generational reminder, something she didn’t want her children to forget; something the society will never let us forget.  Let me see if I can make this make a little more sense, not so esoteric.  The Guardian article recounts the story of Assata Shakur, which evolved out of a police stop on May 2, 1973. “Assata Shakur was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike by a state trooper named James Harper, allegedly for driving with a faulty rear light. In the car with Shakur were fellow Black Liberation Army (BLA) members Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli. In a second patrol car was Trooper Werner Foerster.  Minutes after they pulled over, both Zayd Malik Shakur and Trooper Foerster were dead, and Assata and Trooper Harper were shot and wounded.  In 1977, Shakur was convicted on one murder charge and six assault charges and sentenced to life in prison. She escaped in 1979 with the assistance of BLA members posing as visitors, and has been a fugitive ever since. … The FBI placed the 66-year-old on its list of the top 10 most-wanted terrorists.”  Shakkur met Lennox Hinds, the National Director of Black Lawyers, while in the hospital.  After his hospital visit, Hinds told the press, “In the history of New Jersey, no woman pretrial detainee or prisoner has ever been treated as she was, continuously confined in a men’s prison, under 24-hour surveillance, without adequate medical attention and exercise.”  Hinds’ statements were made before bringing a civil rights suit against the state to address the constitutionality of her pre-trial detention.

“In January 1977, after years of incarceration, the case was brought before a judge and jury in New Jersey.”   Hinds called the trial “a legal lynching and a kangaroo court”.   Hinds’ inability to keep his mouth shut caused the New Jersey Bar Association to bring Hinds up on ethics charges (seeking disbarment), a case which wound itself in and out of the court system for years before Hinds’ was exonerated.  The best I can tell Lennox Hinds is still living.  Somehow I wish the good professor would pick up the phone and instruct the good judge to attribute the statement on race to his mother or even better, allow him, the good judge, to attribute the statement to his mother.  I wouldn’t object.  Elmo wouldn’t object – I’m sure – even though the reminders would cause him to wipe, and clear his voice, before agreeing.

My memory tells me that Judge McDonald faced at least two motions from litigants questioning how a non-white judge could ever be fair to whites, there may have been more.  May Judge Stevens not be discouraged and recognize other judges of color have been likewise treated.  May he and his lawyers study history, and others’ treatment, as he continues his fight to remain a judge; salvaging his reputation, quieting the voices of contempt?  If Judge Stevens won’t listen to Judge McDonald, possibly he will read and study the history of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.  Judge Higginbotham too was subjected to similar motions.    I am sure he, Ned and Elmo have spent a many nights discussing the law, casting aside aspersions, laughing and hugging while wondering whether race still matters, even though they have long since left us, gifting us with illustrative histories, histories which suggest race still does matter.

So go figure, an African American judge residing in the State of Kentucky, removed for seeking to make sure juries reflect the community’s composition; a ruling supported by the highest court in the land’s previous decision, directed to the conduct of prosecutors in the same state – Kentucky.  We are a funny, funny country.  Happy belated Black History Month “Your Honor” … so I muse.

JUST MUSING: “The greatest show on earth” … Act 2

She, Whitney Houston, granted a long-awaited interview.  The year was 2002, we, the public, watched from afar as Diane Sawyer, with ABC News questioned, and explored, asking the obvious and the not so obvious.  No one can dispute that Whitney was an accomplished entertainer, the voice of weddings, anniversaries, and reunions; casting memories, blessing us with her gifts, delivered with an engrossing smile.  Cissy’s daughter, Dionne, Dee Dee, and Leontyne’s cousin; bonded by tradition, imbued by blood, blessed to be undeniably great.

Her voice seemed coarser, body thinner – still pretty she was, a familiar face, looking like our sisters, daughters, friends.  Letting us into her home, knowing full-well that our wonderment and curiosity, permitted entrance with the cameras, allowed us to dissect her every word, movement, and flinch.  Denying but not denying, admitting but not admitting, she did.  Yes, she did.

“Crack is cheap; I made too much money to do crack.  We don’t do crack, crack is whack.”

We then knew what we suspected, confirming, watching a star descend on a not so starry night.  She never blamed others, never attempted to place blame at anyone else’s feet.  “It is my decision, the biggest devil is me”, while pivoting, professing a desire to live, looking to the future.  Whitney Houston lost her battle with her devils, dying on February 11, 2012.  I muse to say we need not lose ours.  Thrills are cheap, a dime a dozen, as this current presidential campaign has shown.  The greatest show on earth is mimicking Whitney, too much money to do cheap.  “Crack is whack.”

*          *          *

Why is the greatest show on earth broken?  Some preliminary concessions are necessary  – from a pure First Amendment analysis I believe money equates to free speech.  I believe everyone should be able to participate in the election processes, not without limitations however.  You can’t yell fire in the theater (if there is no fire) and believe free speech is going to protect you.  I disagree with the Court’s myth that corporations are persons.  I do not believe corporations represent unmitigated evil, and I am not willing to rant and rave about a supposed change, knowing full well they (corporations) touch every aspect of our lives, providing wealth, differentiating our society from others.  This does not mean we shouldn’t continue to fight for change, adapting the positive part of Whitney’s self-assessment – we too shouldn’t lay blame at anyone’s feet.  “Crack is whack.”

The presidential campaign in the United States is a two year process, costing 2.6 billion for the 2012 election cycle (this is the amount of money spent by the candidates; the number does not include the costs of running the election in the various states, nor the parties’ costs), entails  primaries and caucuses for each state and territory (some closed and some open).  Time, geography, the length of the process has birthed a system allowing small, less diverse states define the initial viability of candidates, permits the southern strategy to ferment and remain a reality (pitting the north against the south, races against races), and a ridiculous debate schedule, laden with an ad nausea speaking schedule (an horror on Elm Street reality-show, birthing silly statements, promises, and contentions, once, twice, thrice).  Multiple time zones, three to four cities a day, blending night and day, sleep deprived creatures propped, prodded, kneaded into submission.

Canadians elects their Prime Minister in a far shorter period of time, a minimum length of a campaign is 36 days.   Even if we account for population (35 million) (Canada) versus the 326 million (United States), Canada remains the second largest country in the world (land mass) and the United States the fourth.   The use of technology, a condensed debate schedule, and having all the states hold their primaries on the same day would work to drive the cost down, lessen the influence of money, and work to stop the insanity, spending billions of dollars which can surely be placed to better use.  The reduced and condensed schedule requires the media to condense its reporting (pooling reports), narrow their questioning (more pointed questions), strip and repackage their presentation (taking the show business influence out, recognizing time is at a premium).  The population difference between the United States and Canada is accounted for by adjusting Canada’s election period by ten (36 days x 10) still means we can accomplish the election of a president within 360 days (less than one year) from the date everyone is required to announce their candidacy for the office.

So you contend that the schedule means the candidates can’t visit every state – so what.  Surrogates, television, and the internet solves the problem, causes the world to become smaller, more connected.  The Trump phenomenon should be studied, twitting, telephoning in, dismantling the consultancy industry; reducing the costs by rejecting the previous history and pattern used when running for the highest office in the land.  Skype rallies connecting millions.  A new day indeed is called for when reality strikes and we realize the billions spent represents money directly and indirectly tied to our pocket books.  HULU, HULU … who would have ever thought I would ever compliment Trump?

I bet.  I bet … the data reflects the candidates don’t visit every state, concentrating instead on battle ground states, avoiding the blue-blue states and the red-red states.  Most of us decide our choice of candidate within months, and absent mind-bending revelations, we don’t move off our position.  Technology increases our ability to discover those mind-bending events (there are no secrets anymore), takes away the time for mischief, cheating, and lies and makes the candidates, parties and power brokers realize the reduced schedule levels the playing field, making the political system more responsive.  Crack is whack, a slow and predicate death to the greatest show on earth.