Monday, June 30, 2008

Time To Lighten The Load

I recently realized that one reason I like to travel is because of the uncluttered presentation of hotel rooms. If the room is large enough for a couch and coffee table the coffee table is not stacked almost to the ceiling with books and magazines and junk mail and the couch is not standing in for the closet and acting as catch all for clothes. And the closets are not full and there is probably not an attic safe guarding thirty years of treasures.
OK. I'm exaggerating a little. But you get the point.
So I've decided to lighten the load and have started sorting through possessions. The problem is that every thing I own is priceless not in monetary value, certainly not that, but in memory and potential probable future use.
My father saved bailing wire. He rolled the wire once essential for keeping a bale of hay from falling to pieces into a neat coil and tossed it into the bailing wire pile next to the tool shed where it joined the other rusting coils of bailing wire. His rusting coils of bailing wire were often used to repair fences or automobile engines probably never for very long because rusted bailing wire does not have a lot of strength. But then, most repair jobs are temporary so it didn't really matter that the rusted bailing wire repair was soon replaced by another piece of rusted bailing wire. What mattered what that he never ran out of bailing wire.
I sometimes yearn for a piece of bailing wire. Instead I have clothes in need of patches but, man, that's the shirt I wore on the roof in Mississippi that week. And I have chipped crystal goblets given to me by some relative. And audio and video cassette tapes I recorded with great enthusiasm but neglected to label. And yes I have hand outs distributed during some college class which I fully intended to read one day. They are perhaps outdated by now but I still feel an obligation to read them at my first opportunity. After all, I paid for the class.
So you see how difficult it is to lighten my load. I imagine your load is just as difficult. Loads must eventually, however, be lightened by someone.
I have decided to face this task with discipline and determination. In fact, I have already begun the task. Granted, I'm not yet ready to part with physical possessions. I'm still sorting through memories and meanings.
However, I am deleting old e mails. It's not easy. But I'm doing it. And with each e mail I delete I feel a sense of liberation which, quite frankly, leaves me a little light headed.
The load is definitely getting lighter.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Break Is Over

The Staten Island Ferry -- operated by the New York City Department of Transportation -- runs between the southern tip of Manhattan Island and Staten Island. It's free. Hard to believe, but it costs nothing to ride. It's a five mile journey and takes about twenty-five minutes each way.
Chances are wherever we are we can find moments of escape that don't cost anything or much. The challenge is to carve out time in schedules already too full to spend an hour or so doing nothing more than feeling the wind in our faces.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's Happening to Our Essential Social Services?

As funding for social service programs throughout the country dries up, the always increasing and desperate need becomes even greater. In New York City a rape crisis center will close at the end of this month. Rape does not respect age or gender. Generally the focus is first on the perpetrator, sometimes on the prevention and lastly on the child, the adult, the male, the female who is the victim/survivor. In Brooklyn, after June 30th, that last group will have a much more difficult time surviving an event that was never under any circumstances their fault. Even more shocking than the elimination of this program is the apparent lack of public outrage that it has been cut. But then, public outrage over something we don't want to talk about is pretty hard to muster. One solution is to talk about it.

The following letter talks about it. Let it become a model of outrage.

A seven-year-old girl is raped. She is told that is was her fault. She had been told never to talk to strangers. She believes it was her fault. Life goes on. Not happily.

A woman finds out about a rape crisis/domestic violence intervention program in her area. She finds out that rape victims are called survivors. She takes the course to become a volunteer advocate. It is the best educational experience in her much-educated life. She has so many cases in the emergency room. With each survivor she feels she might one day be a survivor too.

I am both the child and the woman.

The Rape Crisis/Victims of Violence Program at Long Island College Hospital was a family of social workers and volunteer advocates that provided counseling during a period of trauma to a most vulnerable population. Who was that population? Anyone. No age, race, gender restrictions. Provided a hand to hold when the only feeling was pain and hopelessness.

I received a letter from the President and CEO of Long Island College Hospital, Ms. Rita Battles that states "…moreover, in allocating finite hospital resources, we must note that the program does not have the means to stand alone, synergize with other income centers, nor to complement its core hospital business. This letter will provide notice that as of June 30, 2008, we find it necessary to terminate services as they relate to and in connection with the New York City Alliance Against rape, the Criminal Justice Coordinators Office and the Kings County District Attorney Office."

The rapes will continue. The assistance to those who survived will not.

Bette Cohen, RN, PhD

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Educated Guess

There's such a thing as an "educated guess" and such a thing called "guess". The educated guess is from someone who's educated in a certain field and holds some credence. The guess is from the layman and is just that - a guess.
My experience with an educated guess put my son in the hospital. Prior to the educated guess, it was just his guess as to the proper medications to use for his medical condition after he did his homework and researched the medications he used.
Oh, I hold no malice towards the nurse with the educated guess but, would she care to possibly lose a leg or to share in the medical expenses involved to bring my son's condition back to the condition she found him prior to her educated guess?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Good Friend Is Also Hard To Find

"Tell me what company thou keepst, and I will tell thee what thou art."
Miguel de Cervantes

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Good Horse Is Hard To Find

Excuse me, but I think I just read a headline that went something like "Big Brown Triple Crown Tragedy". A healthy horse decides not to run in the heat of the day and this is called a tragedy? What was it then, when a race horse recently broke both of her front legs and had to be euthanized on the track?
The tragedy here is that horses with legs never meant for that sort of thing are bred to run because horse racing is, I know, a way of life and also really big business.
Now if the headline had read "Big Brown One Smart Horse" I would have felt that we had evolved up the ladder of humanity just a bit.
At any rate, whatever the reason Big Brown went for a stroll in the dirt instead of for a death defying run around the track, he deserves nothing but admiration.
When I was a child I had a horse named Charger. Charger came to me from my brother. He came to my brother from our father. He came to our father from a World Champion Cowboy named Everett Bowman. Rumor had it that Charger had once been Everett's champion roping horse. Now, a roping horse knows a thing or two about stopping. Which was why Charger was such a great horse for me. I fell off often. As soon as my weight left the saddle, Charger stood absolutely still and waited for me to complete my unbelievably complicated climb up his front leg to my stirrup and eventually to the saddle horn and finally back into the saddle.
Charger did not believe in unnecessary exertion. He and I once came in last in an egg in the spoon race. Not surprisingly, we were the only contestants who completed the course with the egg still in the spoon I held in my five year old hands. Of course, by the time the race was over, the egg had boiled in the hot Arizona summer sun.
Everett Bowman attended that particular rodeo. When Charger and I came across the finish line, the crowd and especially Everett clapped and cheered. The crowd cheered because the rodeo could finally continue with the next event. Everett, I suspect, cheered because he knew a good horse when he saw one. So did my father. So did my brother. And so did I.
Good horses know when to stop.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Global Warming Debate Dies In Senate

Yesterday a bill that would at least begin to address on a national level the global catastrophe to which we are careening died. Had the bill passed, this country would reduce carbon emissions almost seventy percent by the middle of this century. It's too tough. It will harm the economy, some said. It isn't tough enough. It won't help things that much, others said. Erich Pica, the director of Domestic Policy with Friends for Earth, called it a 'good exercise'.
Thanks to Senators John Warner, Barbara Boxer and Joe Lieberman for putting on their track suits and at least introducing the exercise.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Some things are harder to write about than others. This is one of the former.

In the Spring of 1968 I was in my second year of college; my first at Arizona State University in Tempe. My roommate at the time was the son of a Democratic National Committee Member (his father) and the Vice-Mayor of Phoenix (his mom). Kim and I were both deeply involved in the Anti-War Movement and Democratic Politics as well.

We both were working on RFK’s campaign in the Phoenix area; we had spent weeks going door to door in South Phoenix, one of the poorer areas, doing voter registration. I was making speeches, debating on and off campus and generally exercising my constitutional rights. It was a pretty exciting time to be 19 and a prime target for the draft (and the FBI-but that is a different story).

The night of June 5, forty years ago today, we were to be at a celebratory campaign party at the home of Kim’s folks. Democratic big-wigs from around the state were to be there. The night before the party, Kim and I spent at his parents’ house, so we could be up early helping set up things. The morning started just fine, a beautiful day in Phoenix. Things changed about noon.

About that time, I started feeling agitated, within an hour I was very agitated and, soon thereafter, way beyond agitated. I was close to hysterical and was crying, inconsolably. I remember that Kim was looking at me like I had gone off the deep end. I was pacing back and forth, crying, barely able to breathe. Kim good friend that he was tried to console me to know avail. He finally got me to calm down enough so that we could talk. He asked, quite rightly, what the hell was going on. At first I said I didn’t know (because I didn’t) and then started getting upset, very upset, again. Kim kept asking what was going on. Then I blurted out “They’re gonna kill him tonight”. Kim asked who and I said “Bobby, they’re gonna kill Kennedy tonight”.

Kim told his dad, who was a doctor, that I was freaked out and why and his dad gave me something to calm me down. I napped for a couple of hours. Then we got ready for the shindig. The party was fun. There was victory in the air and we all were having a great time. The TV was on in their living room. The networks were broadcasting from the Ambassador Hotel I was talking with some folks in the den. To this day, I can still see Kim’s face as he came in the room. We all know what happened that night. The rest of the night is sort of a blur for me. Neither Kim, nor his folks, ever looked at me quite the same after that.

I don’t know why I knew about it before it happened. I don’t think there is anything special about me. I do know that for days after that, I wished I had been higher up in the campaign, high enough that someone close to Bobby would have listened if I called and warned him to stay away from the Ambassador that night. This would have been a better world if that had not happened. At least, I think so.

That was not the first or last strange experience I have had. I don’t feel comfortable talking about this stuff. I think maybe I was just nuts then. Maybe I still am. But the memory of that day, that very sad day, remains. Kim passed away almost two years ago. I know we would have talked a lot today. About what could have and should have been. I think he would have seen, as do I, hope on the horizon.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Are You Looking At Me Like I'm Speaking Chinese?

I was walking to my car after work this evening, when I noticed a woman, smiling broadly and speaking animatedly, coming in my direction. Since I am fairly well known on campus, I smiled back although I did not recognize her. As she came closer, she looked straight at me, smiled, and said something. She spoke Chinese. I don't understand any Chinese. She continued smiling and walking towards me. She did not seem disturbed by the fact that I didn't respond or appear to understand her. Then, she took out her car key, opened the door of the car parked next to mine and, as she turned, I saw the Bluetooth device in her ear. She kept on speaking Chinese, but not to me.

This is only the latest in a series of misunderstandings I've had with people wearing wireless headsets. I don't seem to be able to shake the assumption that when someone is speaking and no one but me is present, that I am the one being addressed. I guess I will have to learn to wait until I hear, "Hey, you...yeah, you, I'm talking to you - you see anyone else around here?"

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Plumbing Problems

Yesterday the space shuttle Discovery blasted off and headed for the International Space Station. The Discovery is transporting Japan's one billion dollar lab designed to study and measure something delightful to the scientific mind. However, more urgent than the lab, Discovery is bringing a pump for the International Space Station's toilet. For an uncomfortable period of time, the space station's current residents have been using a spare toilet difficult to get to and limited in capacity. Okay. All of that seems important. I mean, how much can a pump for a toilet cost? Of course, the Discovery did take off on a Saturday so that would be considered, by earth plumbers' standards, after hours. That adds a little more to the bill. Apparently, though, money is of no importance when compared to how crucial it is to keep a ram shackle hut afloat in outer space.
The 2008 budget for NASA is roughly 17.3 billion dollars of which 6.7 billion dollars is allocated to space operations -- the International Space Station and the shuttle missions. Each shuttle flight costs approximately 427 million dollars. This Discovery flight will doubtless cost more on account of, you know, the after hours plumbing job plus parts.
In the meantime, on this international space station we call Earth, people live in slum lorded apartments where the toilets haven't flushed in months. Or people who have never seen a toilet use rivers and streets for urination and defecation. And, yes, some people are so ravaged by famine that they no longer have need of places to contain bodily wastes because their bodies are too wasted.
If health is all about balance, then flying toilet pumps into outer space seems pretty unhealthy. Unless, of course, you happen to be the guy whose legs have been crossed for so long he's forgotten he can walk.