Challenges of Recovery

The second greatest challenge about recovery is recognizing my limitations. The greatest challenge is recognizing I have limitations.

This was not an issue before the TBI, if something needed to be done I did it. Even in the immediate aftermath of the TBI, I needed a room painted for a tenant and was not happy with the job Sam was doing, so I took over and painted the room with my left hand, the right being immobilized.

Over time I realized that some of my limits were because I never recognized how difficult daily activities were. Driving, which was once as difficult as breathing, involves several portions of the brain simultaneously; I had to recover enough to realize I wasn’t doing it well. Today I limit driving to less than one and a half hours each way, with a rest period of at least as long as the drive once I reach the destination. My first attempt at driving on my own, when I was still in physical therapy, showed me the variables I had not considered. Sure, I could drive ten miles to my therapist, but I could not change a tire when I had a flat.

A good part of my time is spent weighing the possible hazards of any activity. I am not paranoid, but the majority of my various careers revolved on my ability to identify the worst case scenario, I’m good at it. Sam has noticed my energy limits, allowing me to budget my activity. I presently have less than five hours a day in which I can be physically or intellectually active, after which I am physically and intellectually exhausted. Breaking down events, allowing rest or at least inactive periods, allows me to go a full five hours. Pushing myself can bring that to three hours.

This weekend there will be a march in my old town of Princeton, NJ. It appears the town that invented “Jews vs NAZIs Beer Pong” was a natural for a white supremacist group. The Mayor and Police Chief of this Sanctuary town have advised against counter protests, on the surface claiming a public safety issue. Knowing the Mayor and Police Chief, I suspect the reason is to avoid making the national news, which might hurt enrollment at the University.  A friend is involved in the counter-protest.

When I heard of it last night, my first reaction was to ask “When and where?” with every intention of being on the front line. Even when Sam said we had guests expected that evening, I was working out a way to do both, and/or explanations why I couldn’t be home for the guests. In an odd nostalgic way I miss the taste of tear gas.

Another thing that (should) happen with TBI is the ability to slow down. As I slowed down and considered the possibilities, I realized it could easily be more than a five hour trip (one hour each way travel plus three hours on site). Emotions would be high, violence could be expected, and arrest was not out of the question. I am somewhat ashamed to say I would rather be incarcerated in my home town than in another state, but it is true. The Princeton Police have gone out of their way to prove their stupidity several times in the last few years, I do not wish to be their latest example.

When I woke up in the hospital I felt old, now that feeling is more of defeat. I have tried to publicize the counter protest, this article being one of the ways, and I have known that I am not up to front line activism for a couple of years, but there are NAZIs in my old neighborhood! I should be there! Not this time, but if they come to my neighborhood I will be out there in a wheelchair if that is the best I can do, depending on circumstances I may be armed.

Another challenge of recovery is accepting my current capabilities. I don’t like it, and see a couple of therapists and a support group to try to deal with it. Fortunately (?) I am actually old, turning sixty last November, and have had Multiple Sclerosis for thirty of those years; I would have become more cautious even without the TBI (maybe). Part of accepting change is recognizing how powerless we are to stop it.

There are many challenges on the road to recovery of TBI, the majority of which are mental. Unfortunately, following TBI mental faculties are typically lower than usual, making the recovery a longer path than originally suspected.

 

My old school

NPHS class of 1977

Nothing reminds you of the passing of time like a High School reunion. It has been forty years since I have seen some of these people, and we had a wonderful time reminiscing.

I have been thinking of abandoning writing. It is no longer easy, I have not written in a month, and I had already started the first draft of my exit. For perspective, I have never written drafts in the past, I just wrote. At a pre-reunion get together on Friday, I received several meaningful compliments, words such as “eloquent” and “thought provoking” were repeated. The very best came from my friend Carrie, who said “I don’t always agree with you, but you make me think.” What more could a writer ask for?

We have spread about the world, and a surprising number of us stayed nearby, some still in town. I’ve been out and back, some never left. Ten percent of our class has shuffled off the mortal coil, which seems high; although there have been a few instances in which I could have been a member of that group. We are, as a generation, perhaps the last of the risk takers.

My own memory is a bit damaged, I could not recall everyone, but I was warmed by the way I was remembered. One man, football player then, told me how he realized later how brave I had been. He spent thirty years teaching High School students and saw how difficult life can be for the outsider. I arrived in New Providence for my last years of High School from California, a long haired freak in a buttoned down community. Forty years later I am still the long haired freak, but the community has grown in many ways. Still some bickering over the election, but for the most part we are a mature bunch. Closing on sixty is a part of that I suppose.

Tied to this were packages from both parents, photographs and memories of my youth. There apparently was a period in my teens when I grew a mustache and goatee, I saw a picture of it a few years ago and my father sent me several others, in which I was wearing a yellow blazer of which I have no memory. I’m hoping they reflect a bad week, the combined photographs represent two moments.

I am fully aware that I do not remember everything. A bit of a disappointment, but considering the memories I have confirmed as true, it’s been a good life.

 

 

 

 

Life

I have not written in a month. A great deal has been happening, much of it beautiful, all of it fascinating. Someone else was making plans, I was living.

Today, 1 April, is the sixteenth anniversary of my wedding to Emma. So much has taken place since then, meeting her family, moving to South Philadelphia, discovering the mysteries of pancreatic cancer. Emma now watches over me from an urn on the shelf, having witnessed the five years of my life since her departure in relative silence. I would so like to hear her opinions.

After Emma left I retired, focusing on a life of writing, letting go of the stress of the world in which we had lived. You know me, the dreamer. I wrote a book, kept a daily blog going, learned a new language, and gained a score of pounds as I discovered Belgian beers.

New stresses were waiting around the corner. C’est la vie. This is, after all, where Emma wanted me to be, alive, doing what she could not. My retirement savings were designed for a solitary life in South Philadelphia, after watching them evaporate I find myself back in the workforce, writing less and less often, and once again single.

Today is also an intermediate step in the marriage I entered after Emma moved on. The divorce papers are being delivered, with which my current wife and I will attempt to convince the State of New Jersey to end our marriage. These are melancholy times, I do not have ill feelings towards my wife, in fact in many ways I still love her, but time and space never quite placed us on the same plane. It’s so much easier when your ex is the object of disgust, divorcing someone you love is counter intuitive.

Emma steps in to help again. I loved her, but I moved on. So again, I move on.

I had largely lost the desire to live alone, that has not changed. Other people have come into my life, one of them quite a bright star at the moment. I would like for that to develop into a relationship which would rival mine with Emma, but I have learned that promises are not always fulfilled. I have also learned that tomorrow is not even promised, so today is all I have. And today is far more interesting than I had expected it to be.

Which brings us to today, April Fool’s Day.

Emma and I were both the others third spouse. She had been widowed twice, we entered quoting Oscar Wilde, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This being each of our third, April Fools day seemed a natural. She was supposed to out live me.

My friend used to love “practical jokes,” yet they were neither, usually just rude and crass. This was sad, because John was such a warm and loving family man and trusted friend. One year when he was at lunch I placed a “While you were out” note on his desk, saying a witness wanted him to call, the name was “Coati Mundi.” There was a phone number, that of the small mammal house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I happened to know the person who would answer the phone and hear him say “Hello, this is Detective Murphy, may I speak with Coati Mundi?”

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

 

They both laughed about it later. That’s what life is about. Being able to laugh about it later. Make it easier by laughing today. What purpose is served by any other action?

 

Laugh.

 

 

Let it snow

SNOWFLAKE

My first memory of snow is from, of all places, Texas. I was younger than four, living in Trinidad Texas. I had done something which was going to result in a spanking, so I ran out the back door, and was unable to move. Must have been a drift, there was snow up to my waist. I recall the confusion, the unexpected barrier was both scary and fascinating. After the inevitable spanking, my mother made ice cream with the snow.

I can look back on the experience (which is rather amazing in itself, I have about a dozen distinct memories from Trinidad) and see it as a formative moment. An entirely new substance, which fell from the sky, which could turn into ice cream. What an incredible planet I found myself on! As I got older and examined the incident it became even more interesting. Living on an island in Texas named for a Caribbean nation, hydrogen bonds creating hexagon based crystals which lock together turning an inch of rain into a foot of snow. Memories of a three year old that remain strong fifty years later. A lifetime of incongruity.

It snowed a few more times while I lived in Texas, once in Dallas we built an igloo. Twenty years later I found myself back in Dallas as an adult, four inches (10cm) of snow causing panic, without snow removal equipment the city was a catastrophe, tire chains were placed on the Police cars to handle the “treacherous” road conditions. In the interim I had been skiing in the mountains of several states, and lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through some heavy Winters. The biggest road hazard was not the snow, it was the other drivers.

The severity of a snowstorm is best measured by the affected area’s ability to adjust. Snow in the Northeastern States is routine, they are better prepared for snow removal than areas in which snow is rare. As a young man in North New Jersey I drove a car with a four inch ground clearance (and a pointed nose) through drifts higher than my bumpers, driving in snow was an excellent exercise in inertial navigation. My Subaru makes it far too easy.

Imagine my dismay upon returning to the Northeast a few years later. I might retain memories for a lifetime, but my neighbors could not recall how to deal with snow from one year to the next. The first snowstorm each year is a disaster, even a dusting is more than some people can handle. There is another “tradition of ignorance” that amazes me even more, which I refer to as “French toast syndrome.” Rooted in the days before commercial bakeries and dairies, the days before a forecasted storm there is a rush on the grocery stores as families stock up on bread, milk, and eggs. The supermarket I frequented in South Philadelphia placed those items near the door in winter so people could grab everything and get out quickly. People who don’t even use these staples anymore go out and buy them before a storm.

Which brings me to today.

We’ve had a few inches of accumulation, and the forecasts suggest there may be a foot (30cm) of snow tomorrow night. I probably won’t go to Gallucio’s, my typical Monday night of music and dancing will most likely take place at home (If anyone would care to join me, the couch folds out to a bed). Most annoying, it is time for my weekly shopping trip, and crowded grocery stores remove the joy (yes, I love shopping for food) from the excursion.

The cold still paralyses me, shutting down my motor control and causing immense pain from direct exposure, but I do love the snow. I can bundle up, looking rather healthy in heavy clothes, and adapt to the environment. A warmer climate would probably be better for me, but then I couldn’t dress like this.

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If you live in this part of the country, relax. Snow is an above ground reservoir, allowing moisture to slowly melt into the ground for next Spring’s seeds. It absorbs sound, muffling humanity’s noise allowing an undisturbed view of nature’s beauty. With any luck it will knock out the power, forcing you to actually talk with your loved ones. Get out and make snow angels, make a snow Al Gore, make ice cream.

 

 

A Day for Danny

One question often asked is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I have come to the conclusion that things in and of themselves are neither good or bad. They simply happen, the measure of the person they affect lies in their reaction. Matthew 5:45 states this well, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

We can all be crushed by circumstances beyond our control, rising above our personal pain is what makes us good people. If you have never been tested, you are only potentially a good (or bad) person. One person who is currently being tested is Dan Scimeca, retired Chief of Police from Manasquan New Jersey, and husband of a High School friend of mine, Colleen (Walker) Scimeca. Not that he has not had other tests in life, and proven himself thoroughly, but as “Q” says to Captain Picard in the final episode of Star Trek; The Next Generation, the trial never ends.

Colleen has worked for years raising funds for ALS, being involved with the Valentine Plunge each year. In an amazing twist of irony, Dan was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. They are both weathering this storm with grace.

Yesterday was a day of that rare event, Karma making itself obvious. Over eight hundred of Colleen and Dan’s friends gathered to raise funds for Dan and others who have ALS, packing Leggetts Sand Bar for “A Day for Danny.” It was quite amazing, the building was overflowing, and despite the great music from Ronnie and The Engineers, far too crowded to dance, or even move through the room. A small group of Colleen’s High School friends managed to stake claim to a table outside, driving in from as far away as Iowa. That’s me in the lower left corner.

 

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

Yes, we had fun, we always do. We are also comfortable supporting friends in need, there is a charitable streak that runs through this group, championed by Tim Sickel (who is not pictured because he took the above photograph).

I don’t know what the final tally for funds raised is, a low estimate would be $40,000, a drop in the bucket when it comes to the special needs of a family dealing with ALS. The love shared is immeasurable, just a wonderful thing to witness.

Your financial situation has nothing to do with your charitable contributions. You may not have money to share, but you have a heart to love others with. If all you can do is smile then do that. Helping a stranger find something in the grocery store doesn’t cost anything, kind words are free, why not share them?

We are all human, we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We are family, lifting up a fallen brother will never cause you to fall.

 

 

 

 

 

Save

The news

A body was found on the street. The police investigated, cause of death was obvious, a fall from the adjacent parking garage. Surveillance footage showed the young man entered the garage alone, he left some personal belongings behind, climbed up the wall on the edge of the garage, and jumped. Police interviewed the family and found he had been having “mental health issues” lately, and had researched suicide. He left no note.

If you knew him, you know. If you didn’t know him, you now know all you need to know.

Suicide doesn’t solve problems, it is an escape for the person choosing to take the exit, and places the problems in the hands of those left behind. Some psychiatrists have said that suicide is an act of violence towards the survivors, although sometimes it is the only rational choice available. I can only imagine the horror of losing a child, losing one to suicide is beyond my imagination. I would like to believe I could intervene, but the question might be “Should I?” Maybe it was the best choice for the individual.

This young man’s family requested the police not release his name. The police tried to honor the family’s request, but being public officials, their work and records are public, so they advised a public records request could be filed to obtain the identity of the young man. One local paper made enough of a fuss that the police backed down and released the name. Say that again, out loud. The police department, standing firmly on a legal procedure, backed down to pressure from a local newspaper in a matter of hours rather than respect the family of a citizen.

A town of 28,000 people has two free newspapers, one commercial newspaper, and one internet local news source in addition to the major media outlets of the state and the two actual cultural centers , Philadelphia and Manhattan. There’s a lot of talking, not a lot of thinking, and almost no “doing”. The answer to the question “What are we going to do about this?” is most often “Talk about it”.

Despite having one of the nations highest ranked private universities in its backyard, Princeton is still just another small town. Its local government and police department wouldn’t be out of place in Mississippi (okay, the police would be eaten alive day one), all the weaknesses borne out of inbreeding are present and even celebrated in a perverse local pride.

After another news outlet in town (Planet Princeton, operated by Krystal Knapp) firmly stated they would not publish the deceased name, the Princeton Packet decided they didn’t want to be the “jerk” in “jerkwater town” and chose not to publish the name either, proving that no matter how evil a managing editor’s parents may have been in naming their child, he won’t take it out on other parents. Had he not made that decision, you would have been reading his name, phone number, and email address in this paragraph. Ethics in journalism may be dying, but it’s still kicking.

Of the seven billion people on Earth, one million will commit suicide this year. America rates as 33rd in the world at 12 per 100,000 (2009), below the world average of 16 per 100,000. Worldwide, a life ends due to suicide every forty seconds, and that rate has risen sixty percent in the last forty five years with no indications of slowing. The important story is not who the person is, it is not why the person chose to escape, the important story is what the alternatives are. Option one, keep talking. If only to understand the choice.

I know that privacy is an antiquated, foolish notion, but decency doesn’t have to be.

A barrel with two spigots

It is said that Benjamin Franklin described New Jersey as “A barrel with two spigots”. He was speaking to the fact evident even then, the two major metropolitan areas in New Jersey are New York City and Philadelphia. What are classified as “cities” within the boundaries of the state are urban nightmares even Jersey natives avoid. Camden has been declared the least safe city in America, Trenton required the deployment of State Troopers to control a spiraling crime rate and their mayor refuses to leave office even after having been found guilty of corruption, and just speaking the word “Newark” strikes fear in most Jersey hearts.

Among New Jersey’s long list of personality disorders is its fear of commitment.

Looking at the last twenty years, the position of Governor has been a tough gig. Years passed in which no one really knew who the Governor was. Campaign slogans were typically variants on “at least he’s not the other guy”. Jim Florio faced derision from almost the moment he was elected in 1989, bumper stickers of “Florio free in ’93” popped up in January 1990. He was replaced by Christine Todd Whitman, who was embraced for a few years until she fled to the EPA to get away from a New Jersey that had turned on her. A variety of appointees held the post until the election of Jim “Mcgreedy” McGreevey, who was only slightly less faithful to New Jersey as he was to his wife, revealing to both simultaneously that he was not only a homosexual, but he had appointed his long time lover to a position within his administration, and would be resigning as governor, husband, and father all in the same speech. At least he was efficient. He was replaced by Jon Corzine, a Daddy Warbucks type who found that flaunting your wealth in the midst of a recession is not the best way to endear yourself. After being injured while not wearing his seatbelt in a speeding car while his State Trooper driver was texting, Corzine just paid the fines and publicly paid his own medical bills, rather clearly stating he was wealthy enough he didn’t have to obey the law. He then went on to “misplace” one and a half billion dollars at his new firm before resigning.

Which brings us to Chris Christie.

The Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, endorsed Chris Christie for reelection as Governor last year. Tough editorial call, Christie was walking on the water left by super storm Sandy, no credible Democrat was interested in wasting time running against him. Barbara Buono took advantage of the vacuum and jumped into the race, but her policies alienated even hard core Democrats, she lacked party support, and trailed by more than thirty points at times.

Displaying the same level of integrity with which they haltingly endorsed Christie for Governor, the editorial board of the Star Ledger has decided to rescind its endorsement, just ninety days too late.

Still holding to the position that Buono was seriously flawed and “bad for New Jersey”, the Star Ledger says it “regrets” endorsing Christie, based on allegations of inappropriate behavior. I would like to allege that the Star Ledger is inappropriate to line bird cages with, as there is the distinct possibility a canary might lose it’s tenuous grip on life if exposed to the toxic opinions held within.

The Star Ledger still thinks Christie is the superior candidate for President of the United States in 2016, he’s just not “good for New Jersey”. That squirming is because sitting on the fence is awfully uncomfortable. How can a candidate who is not good for New Jersey be a good choice for New Jersey voters as President? Has journalistic integrity become passé? Do they really think their readers can not recall the last sentence?

Chris Christie is currently being tried in the court of public opinion. No evidence has come forward linking him to any of current scandals, some of which are only alleged scandals at this point. He openly admits members of his staff acted inappropriately, and has fired them (unlike our current president). Should any of the current allegations prove true, it might be appropriate to not vote for Christie in the future. There is nothing we can do about the past. What will the Star Ledger do if these accusations are proven false? Will they re-endorse Christie for the 2013 election?

A newspaper is supposed to deal in facts, working with hearsay gets messy fast.

 

 

 

 

Happy Health Insurance Hotline

I don’t have health insurance. I don’t want to have health insurance. I don’t trust doctors, they have caused me more pain than relief.

Nonetheless, as an American citizen, I am required by law to sign up for health insurance. Were I single, it wouldn’t be a problem, I have no income and thus don’t file income tax, which is the only way the government can prosecute me for exercising my freedom of choice. That’s the funny thing about this administration. You have the right to choose as long as you choose what they tell you to choose.

My wife does file an income tax return, so unless we can figure out a way to declare me as a dependent so she can file as “Head of Household”, we’ll have to file a joint return or face a tax rate penalty.

So I went to the Wonderful Worldwide Web healthcare site, and although Healthcare.gov is linked to every government data base, they couldn’t get the NSA to verify who I was, even though they were watching me as I typed. Instead, they wanted a more trustworthy institution, The New Jersey department of motor vehicles. The New Jersey department of motor vehicles is a stickler for proper identification. After we married, they wouldn’t change Lieve’s name on her driver’s license, even after Social Security had changed her name to mine. They wanted it officiated by the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve never felt as safe as I do living in New Jersey.

The nice folks at Healthcare.gov gave me a bar code to print out, which would identify my documents with my healthcare file. I was amazed how clever this was. So I made photocopies of my drivers license and mailed them off with the bar code.

Two months later when I was hearing about how healthcare.gov had been fixed, I went back to the website. They still didn’t know who I was. They were able to accept digital copies of documents, so I uploaded my drivers license and social security card. Still nothing.

Now it’s January, and being the good citizen I am I gave it another try. I’ve been accused of having a dissociative personality thanks to parents who graced me with an unacceptable name, so I tried using a couple of different variations. It appears I do not exist. I may need healthcare to cover the emotional damage this episode has caused.

Today the website said I had exhausted the allowance of attempts to verify my identity online, so if I wanted I could upload my documents again. Wouldn’t that be on line? I tried to upload anyway, but it wouldn’t take the documents. Then a box popped up and asked if I’d like online chat assistance. Why not?

BrianaC was there to help me! I explained the problem. A few minutes later I asked if she was still there. She responded that this was an online chat and I would need to call the 800 number. I’m not sure what we were supposed to chat about, apparently something other than healthcare. At least she didn’t give me a 900 number to call.

I called the 800 number, and the most pleasant young man with a Southern accent answered. I thought maybe the NSA would be listening in and would just verify my identity, but they didn’t want to break cover.

First he wanted my ID number, but wasn’t sure where it would be on the website. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I stayed on the phone with him while he accessed my account. After trying everything he could think of, he said “Oh, I just got a message, we’re having trouble with the website”.

He must have hung up, he wasn’t there when I picked the phone off the floor. I was laughing so hard I just dropped it.

I am not worried. How can they prosecute me if I don’t exist?

Apologies

The reason for apologies is not to sooth the person who has been injured. It is to better the soul of the person offering the apology.

Forgiveness should be given regardless of apology, in fact it is better without an apology. Forgiveness is the grace of the injured. Demanding an apology is a lack of grace. Desiring an apology is hoping that the person you have forgiven will grow from the damage they have done. The reason bad things happen is so we can all grow, victims and perpetrators alike.

A few years back my step son showed a great lack of respect for his mother. We demanded an apology, wanting him to acknowledge the pain he had caused. Instead, he refused. He said, “I’m not going to apologize because I’m not sorry”. At that moment he earned a great deal of respect from me. He was not going to give a phony, meaningless apology. I realized that he had adequate character to learn from the situation, and some time later he did make amends. I think we all learned from that incident.

A few other people out there have displayed only their weaknesses, we all travel through life on separate paths. I was speaking with someone about one particularly disappointing individual the other day. He has my forgiveness, but I will never let him close enough to do any more harm. In Matthew chapter 18, “21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” It takes a lifetime to forgive that often, until the only response left is to expel the person from your life, as earlier in Matthew 18:17 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” So it goes.

The essence of an apology is the recognition of injury, and the desire to cause no further pain. In the case of spreading hurtful words, an apology does not require the strength to face the injured party(s), but a first step would be to stop causing pain. A person of character might rescind his comments, “Bob, you know when I said this? Turns out it wasn’t true”. A truly weak person continues spreading the story, knowing it to be false, to preserve their own ego. That person requires forgiveness, an exposure to grace, more than anyone. Sometime after seventy times seven times it is time to just walk away, as a final act of grace.

These things have been difficult for me to learn. My life has been entwined in repairing things that are broken, giving up was never an option. I wanted apologies not to ease my pain, but to satisfy my need to repair the other person. Some people can’t be fixed. It was never my job to fix them, just to give them opportunities, which I have, as they have given me the opportunity to grow.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Christ gives what I consider to be our most important lesson, “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Those that hurt you give you people to forgive, and for that alone you should love them. Continue to aim for perfection, which in this case means “completion”. We exist in our own bubbles, other people are only opportunities to respond gracefully, or less so.

Driving

I take driving rather seriously. While I may appear “casual” to some people, I’m always in control of my vehicle. I spent a good part of my youth learning precisely what the limits are, usually by exceeding them. There is nothing that gathers your attention like asphalt where the sky should be.

I’ve done just about everything you can do with a car, and when I was a field technician my drive time between calls was described as “traveling in low Earth orbit”. I would rather drive a manual transmission, no power steering or power brakes, to easier be one with the car. Traffic is like floating down a stream, or being a leaf in the breeze, I am aware of everything in front of me and behind me. Driving in Manhattan is like Fólkvangr, a field where I can commune with my peers, without the distractions of mortals.

It didn’t take much for me to stop driving. I was pulled over for not slowing down in a school zone. I hadn’t noticed the flashing yellow lights on the sign. It occurred to me that if I didn’t notice the lights, I might not notice a pedestrian. I called my manager and told him I wouldn’t be driving, and if that meant he would need to dismiss me, I understood. Instead, he called me back the next morning and told me he would be creating the first walking position in the district, I just needed to take the train into the city every day.

I didn’t drive for over ten years, then after I stopped working and moved to Princeton I decided to give it a try again. It’s took a bit, but I’m comfortable behind the wheel again.

Now, even more than ever, I am amazed at the way other people drive. I stopped doing what I loved so that I wouldn’t be one of these people.

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This is a corner on Quakerbridge Road. You are observing the barrier on the inside of the corner, the recommended speed limit for the right turn which the car you see just made is twenty mph. It’s a ninety degree turn uphill. The barrels you see crushed were whole the other day. I have no idea how they were hit, nor do I know how the section of guardrail, nice and shiny in this picture, gets crushed. It’s shiny because it has just been replaced for the fourth time since I moved here, and the entire road was closed for almost a year at one point.The road also closes regularly during heavy rain. The stop sign you see is on a gate that swings across the road when the road floods.

I can’t figure out how someone making a ninety degree turn up a hill runs head on into a guard rail on the inside of the turn and crushes twenty feet of guard rail. Four times in two years. And they all wonder why insurance rates are so high.

Lieve and I made a wager the other day when we noticed the rail had been replaced again. Lieve thinks it will take a week until it’s hit again, I immediately went cynical and said within twenty four hours. At the time the orange barrels were in tact, so someone has hit there, just not hard enough to crush the rail.

Apparently, it really is difficult to stay in just one lane for people in Princeton. It’s much safer driving in Manhattan, people who can’t stay in their lane don’t make it through the tunnel.

 

Update, 13 December 2013: The guard rail on Quakerbridge road has been crushed as of this morning.

 

The Gods of spin

You may never have seen a person who had contracted meningitis. It’s curable, but the symptoms in humans are similar to rabies. It’s a scary disease, with a mortality rate of about 11%, with about 20% of survivors suffering long term damage, from hearing loss to brain damage.

About 1500 people in America contract meningitis every year. That’s about one out of every two hundred and eight thousand people. When five students at Princeton University (student population 7,912) contracted meningitis last Spring, the University responded by handing out party cups with measuring markers on them, emblazoned “Mine, not Yours”. The idea was to prevent the spread of meningitis through shared cups, but no where in the design was a place to personalize the cups. The issue that the rate of meningitis at Princeton University was one hundred thirty times the national average wasn’t mentioned.

It is, unfortunately, common for schools to hide health and safety issues. It is not unusual for colleges and universities to investigate crimes internally so levels of violence do not make it into the papers. Bad for enrollment you know. In this way Princeton is not terribly different than other schools. With a campus safely away from metropolitan centers, it can hide a great deal of what happens. With a local presence that overwhelms small time politicians, Princeton University’s control of local politics and media is probably quite normal.

The University showed its ability to spin a few years back when they built a parking garage with no entrance. No problem, tear out the train tracks. Oh, some people like to take the train. So they called the project to reduce public transportation the “Arts and Transit center”. Without transit. Or Arts. But there will be a restaurant. Without a liquor license. Until they can find a way around that.

Some things cannot be hidden, like deadly communicable diseases. After seven confirmed cases of meningitis (bringing the University’s rate of infection to 1:1750, or almost 200 times the national rate) the New Jersey Board of Health declared an outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, essentially “the National Board of Health”, took the extraordinary measure of obtaining permission from the Food and Drug Administration to import a vaccine not presently available in America.

Princeton University agreed to discuss the issue. Wouldn’t want to be hasty, you know. There are still freshmen choosing schools.

So despite a precedent setting move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the students of Princeton University and everyone in close proximity to them may remain in danger of contracting a lethal disease.

Last minute update, the Gods of spin have spoken. “Princeton University will make a vaccine available”. In the local news story, one interviewed student was unaware of the meningitis outbreak, but was thankful to the university for “looking out for the students”. Another story carried the headline “Princeton University takes the extraordinary step of making an unapproved vaccine available”.

Well played Princeton.

The gorilla in the room

Rated PG-13 for frankness

Gorilla, Elephant, Ass, whatever

Gorilla, Elephant, Ass, whatever

You may be familiar with the term “Eight hundred pound Gorilla in the room” used as a simile. Maybe not, literacy is rapidly decreasing, and common phrases are often mangled beyond recognition. I have seen the words “It’s not rocket scientist” in writing, making it clear that the writer was indeed not a rocket scientist nor capable of rocket science, or even forming a grammatically correct sentence.

There is an alternate term about an elephant in the room. If you’ve been in a doctor’s waiting room you no doubt have seen the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine in which they used the simile to represent New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Almost funny, certainly derogatory

Almost funny, certainly derogatory

Time magazine lost most of its credibility when it joined Warner Communications in 1989, subscriptions have dropped steadily since then as it has become a pretentious version of “People“. Vying for readership in waiting rooms across the country with such journalistic titans as “Highlights“, Time has come to depend on striking cover images to attract readers.

Cute, right? The elephant as a symbol of the Republican party, Christie as a poster child for morbid obesity, its all in fun, because of course no one takes Time seriously. Remember this cover?

Time for double standards

Time for double standards

Of course not. Calling Obama a jackass would be disrespectful. Which brings us back to the gorilla.

How much time do you expect it would take the NAACP to don its hoods and robes and burn every document within Time Warner Communications if Obama was depicted as a gorilla? I seem to remember a fair amount of outrage when the simile was made of Rodney King.

The elephant, gorilla, jackass, or iceberg in the room is the double standards applied to journalistic integrity. In fact, the term “double standards” infers that there are standards, so let’s just cut through the bullshit here. Sycophancy hasn’t been so popular since brown shirts were in vogue.

Do not mistake the object of my disgust as being its propagators. When a society accepts, endorses, and makes profitable the unrelenting hypocrisy which twists the mores they claim to uphold into apologies for the willful disregard of basic human decency, that society is no longer a consumer of such trash, it is the manufacturer.

I present to you this example. Are you able to laugh at yourself?

There is a satirical news program, “The Daily Show“. The host, John Stewart, pokes holes in the rhetoric of groups all over the political spectrum. It is the one program I can laugh about every night. Segments of the program are routinely held up by the side that was not satirized. They routinely miss the point that both sides were satirized, seeing only what they want to see.

When “The Daily Show” covered the topic of this Time magazine cover, the story started with poking fun at Christie, displaying an “alternate cover” with the words “The elephant in the room” replaced with the words “The Fat Fuck in the room”. I’m willing to bet Christie found that hilarious, I certainly did. As the story progressed, Stewart delved into the disingenuous explanation by Time editors, claiming that the headline wasn’t insulting because it’s a common expression.Continuing with the editor’s logic, Stewart presented a cover of Time magazine showing a pile of dog feces, with the headline “Time is a steaming pile of shit”, saying “see, it’s just a common expression, I don’t really mean anything by it”. Equally hilarious.

People who chose to hold up only one of those “alternate covers” as some sort of evidence of their views being supported by “The Daily Show” miss the point. Yes, Chris Christie is overweight, but that has no more to do with his ability to govern than the color of his skin. Yes, Time magazine is a parody of a once great publication, but they are in no way unique.

If we cannot discuss our differences without being insulted or insulting each other, we will just remain different and insulted. If you can’t support your opinion, it really isn’t your opinion then, is it? So don’t be a jackass, ignorance is nothing to be proud of.

Dutch political poster. "Believe no poster. Inform Yourself"

Dutch political poster. “Believe no poster. Inform Yourself”

In all honesty

Our gubernatorial election is on Tuesday. At least, Governor Christie and a large percentage of the population believe it is. Democrat opponent Barbara Buono seems to think that she’s the only one running.  Her ads are quite amazing, unless your question is “How is a Democrat trailing in a traditionally Democratic state by more than thirty points?”.

Politicians are quite used to simply saying things which have no basis in reality. Sometimes it’s purely delusion, sometimes the politician has been misinformed, sometimes it’s just a semantic issue. As in when Obama said “If you’re happy with your healthcare, you can keep it” when what he meant was “If I’m happy with your healthcare, you can keep it”. The truth is, if your healthcare doesn’t meet the standard, you probably weren’t happy with it.

I’ve lost most interest in political speeches. I hear excerpts of the President speaking, saying “I want…” and I wonder if he realizes just how few people care what he wants? When was the last time he asked what I want?

I don’t mean to sound self involved, but there’s a lot going on out here. And the more I know about what’s going on, the more I realize that I just can’t care about everything. I have to prioritize, or my commitment becomes diffuse, and eventually meaningless. I’m approached about animal cruelty at least twice a week, bullying at least once a week, natural disasters happen routinely. Discrimination, Education, The Homeless, Autism, Cancer(s), and Mass Transit all tugging at me, and I’m supposed to care about what the President wants?

I recently saw an article with the headline “Jimmy Carter calls Obama an incompetent president”. I wasn’t a big fan of Carter, so his opinion isn’t that important to me, even if I agree with it. When I checked the article’s source, Carter did not say Obama was incompetent. He had said that Obama’s major accomplishment was Obamacare, and the implementation of Obamacare was “questionable”. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of defending Obama, who is certainly incompetent, but was not called such by an equally incompetent president.

An article in Snopes took apart misquotes of George W. Bush (with an obvious slant). We want to believe things we agree with, but as prominent Climatologist Kerry Emanuel of MIT commented about the false information tying superstorm Sandy to Global Warming, his statements still carried a headline implying that Sandy was the result of Global Warming and more storms of the type would occur. He was saying that false headlines damage credibility. I find myself in discussions with people who believe they are well informed because they read the headline, but having read the article and its sources, I have an opinion opposite of theirs. The false headline clearly damages the credibility of the person who repeats it.

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette took an “Emperor’s New Clothes” approach, claiming that Global Warming caused the dull leaf hues this Autumn. The article itself was filled with invalid conclusions and a little bit of absolute nonsense, but what was amazing to me was the online comments. The majority of comments pointed out that the autumn leaves were unusually colorful, and that the paper had in fact predicted brighter colors due to the amount of rain in the spring (which they also had blamed on Global Warming). Moving beyond “anything that happens is because of Global Warming”, they take a “Even if it isn’t happening, we’ll say it is and blame it on Global Warming”.

There was an article in Scientific American, reporting that Public Health England (PHE) had studied fracking and found that public health concerns were minimal if operations are properly run and regulated. Rather than embrace the study as evidence of negligence in the situations in which fracking has resulted in pollution, the article was attacked, with many suggesting that Scientific American should be banned. Could it be any more clear that some people have absolutely no interest in the truth? Have we reached the point where we just can’t do anything right, so we should stop doing anything at all? Public opinion says that nukes are unsafe, fossil fuels are either going to pollute us to death or run out within our lifetime, carcinogens are a byproduct of solar panels, wind power endangers wildlife, bio fuels require an unhealthy diet of deep fried foods, and we need to consume almost nineteen trillion Kwh of electricity every year.

We have to make some important decisions in life. We can’t make those decisions in an intelligent manner if the information we receive isn’t presented honestly, and we are hopeless if we can’t be honest with ourselves.

Growing up

Last week I spent some time with a group from high school. Some of them had known each other since grade school, I had only spent my last two years there, and I was asked more than once “Where did you grow up?”. The answer that came to mind first was “Who said I grew up?” but the one I vocalized was “America”.

I was born in a hospital in Corsicana TX, my parents lived in Trinidad (1), in a company community serving the power station of Texas Power and Light, for whom my father was a chemist. I have several distinct memories of these years. My parents other son was born while we lived there, on reflection I realize that I could tell the that he wasn’t of this world. Many years later he told me the community no longer existed and had been flooded. A check of Google satellite shows that the homes are gone but the island is still there.

In another year we moved to Dallas TX, my father taking a job with Beckman Instruments. At first we lived in an apartment(2), where I managed to experience all the childhood diseases, among my memories are house calls by the doctor for my chicken pox. Then we moved to a house on Flaxley Dr.(3) not far from my maternal grandparents. Loads of memories from there, Kindergarten, first grade, half of second. Getting in trouble doing kid stuff, family, friends and church. Oddly, when you click on that link, it brings you to the exact house. one of those trees I had planted as a pecan from my paternal grandparents farm.

Christmas of 1966 we moved to Walnut Creek, CA,(4) the first of many moves caused by my father’s rise through his company. We lived in the shadow of Mt. Diablo, in an odd little community of British ex pats. Some of my friends parents still observed afternoon tea. We lived there for eight months. The most interesting eight months possible, including the “Summer of Love“, visiting relatives first tourist stop was the Haight.

In August we moved to what is now Tustin CA,(5) but was actually an unincorporated area at the time. Because of that, I ended up going to two different elementary schools, neither of which still exist. In fact, looking at Google Earth, the house I lived in has changed so much it may have been demolished and rebuilt. My parents divorced while we lived there, I had my first kiss, took piano lessons, leared saxophone and started on drums. After the divorce my mother and I, along with the alien, moved to an apartment(6) and I started junior high, then Mom got married and we moved to Ventura CA on Halloween. At first we lived in an apartment(7) just two blocks from the beach. I attended the same junior high as Kevin Costner. Mom and her new husband bought a house in Saticoy the summer before ninth grade, and for a few months we lived in a different apartment(8) in the keys, but Saticoy(9) was still in an area where I was bussed to the same junior high. I ended up at a different high school than my beach friends, oddly so had Kevin Costner. When I look at the google satellite of Saticoy it’s kind of sad, most of those neighborhoods were orange groves when I lived there, they were a great place to party.

My sister was born while I lived there, but my step father was getting to be more than I could handle, so I moved in with my father in Murray Hill, NJ.(10) I liked the east coast accent on girls, so even though I had a driver’s license in California but was too young in New Jersey, I’d get to drinking age first in New Jersey. This is the way a kid’s mind works, measuring benefits that never occur to their parents. I experienced all the “first” that young people experience during those years. I formed friendships that have lasted through now. After graduation, my father moved to Perth Amboy(11). I pretty much stayed in the house in Murray Hill, which hadn’t yet sold, and then one snowy morning decided to move back to California. I left the next day.

When I arrived in Ventura, where my mother had moved to a condominium, I lived with her(12) for a few months before getting an apartment(13) on “The Avenue”. This was far from the nicest section of town, a welfare housing project was across the street, but we had wonderful old hippie neighbors on our side of the street. After I was assaulted we decided to move anyway, this time to El Rio,(14) for an exceptionally earthy experience. We had a cute little house on a deep property with two other houses. I drove a converted mail truck, friends from New Jersey could visit safely.

Me and my van in El Rio

Me and my van in El Rio

My mom had moved to Las Vegas with her husband and my sister, things weren’t working out for them so Cindy and I found a larger place(15), just a few houses down from where I had first lived in the keys. It was nice being so close to the beach again, I finally decided to start college, and things looked stable for a few minutes. Then one day Cindy called me and said “I’m pregnant, I’m going home (Pennsylvania). My aunt has already arranged airline tickets, I’m leaving day after tomorrow”. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy, the idea of my child being born and living three thousand miles away was not an option, so I hooked up with a friend who was also moving East and we dragged our stuff across the country.

When I first arrived we lived with Cindy’s mother(16) until we could afford a little place(17) in Bloomsburg. College wasn’t going to happen, I found a decent job for the area and we saved enough to buy a little house overlooking the river(18). Bloomsburg is rural enough that there are no street views available on Google satellite. After a couple of years Cindy was pregnant again, and as nice as my job was, there was no way to support a family of four with a new house on it. The best choice available was the military, so I enlisted in the Air Force.

Basic Training was in San Antomio TX(19), and Technical school was at Lowry AFB(20) in CO. Cindy decided to rent out the house and join me in Colorado, so we rented a place in Aurora(21) while I finished school. We received our orders, and a couple of us ended up stationed at Offutt AFB, SAC HQ. We arrived at Offutt in time for our second child to be born there, after we had moved out of temporary quarters(22) and into base housing(23).

My story takes a fork here, there is the official version and the classified version. You’ll be getting the official version, with a bit of the other to kick it off. I was approached with an opportunity that would involve a little travel and no uniforms. I would receive an honorable discharge but it would be recorded that I lost my security clearance.

Cindy and I moved off base(24) to a nice house in a neighborhood that was rebuilding. Then we moved to Dallas TX, living with my aunts (first one(25), then the other(26)) until we determined we would stay in the Dallas area after our third child was born. We moved into an apartment complex(27), where Cindy was able to take the position of manager after a few months, and we moved into the management apartment(28). There are few things worse than moving your entire household one hundred yards. I worked for the City of Dallas, and spent a lot of time away from home. Cindy got bored and decided to have an affair with one of the tenants, so I moved in with a coworker(29) (who happened to be female, but we had separate bedrooms) while Cindy and I figured out what we were going to do. It appeared it was going to take a while, so my coworker and I decided to rent a nicer condo(30).

I got another call from Cindy. She was taking the kids to live in Pennsylvania, her aunt had already purchased the airline tickets. Certain things never change, I helped pack everything and moved up to Pennsylvania with her. We lived with her mother at first(31), until we were able to find a place in town(32). At that point, she basically said “Thanks for the ride and all your money and credit, you can go now”. That was over twenty five years ago, I’ve gotten over it, but for some reason she’s still angry. I moved into a long term hotel (33), but there was nothing to work out, so I followed a coworker to Wildwood NJ where there were plentiful summer jobs. I took an apartment(34) and stayed the summer, then moved to Bryn Mawr PA with the woman who had been a coworker, became a girlfriend, and later became my wife. She was living in the dorms of Combs College of Music, and for a while I assumed a female persona so I could live there(35). After a few months I found an apartment(36) in Lansdowne PA, and I took a job at the SPCA and then the police department. After a few years Paula became pregnant, so we moved to another apartment in the building (37) (I hadn’t learned the lesson in Dallas, now I had a piano) and then about a year later we took an apartment(38) in Aldan. Paula wasn’t crazy about the neighbors, so we ended up moving again, this time to a house(39) in Prospect Park.

Paula and I were decreasingly happy with each other, so I moved to an apartment(40) in nearby Wilmington DE just off the shore of the Delaware river. I met a woman from Bensalem PA and rented an apartment(41) there. We eventually moved in together (42), and found yet another apartment (43) before we broke up. I shared an apartment in Warminster, PA (44) before moving in with an old friend in Lansdowne (45). When my friend realized that we were just friend and I was not going to marry her, I moved to South Philadelphia (46).

Shortly after that I met Emma. I moved to her apartment(47) in Crum Lynne, PA where we lived for a few years, until an unfortunate incident which caused us to move back to South Philly, first living with her brother (48) and then to an apartment on Tenth and Wolf(49).

That was supposed to be it, but Emma died. I had intended to finish my days in that apartment, but then I met Lieve, and moved to Princeton(50). A couple of things made us decide that we wanted to have a place we could call “ours”, with no ghosts of our pasts, so we currently live next door to the Governor(51). It’s a nice place, he doesn’t invite us to any parties, but we can sit in the yard and listen to the music. Eventually, we’ll move again, Belgium is certainly in our future, and as long as I can keep the number of my addresses lower than the number of my years. I’m comfortable.

Home is where you wear your hat.

Burnout

At one point, it was very convenient to throw a “Cup o’ soup”, an apple, and a piece of cheese in my briefcase everyday for lunch. After about a year of that I noticed I couldn’t tell the difference between the ramen in the cup o’ soup and the styrofoam cup itself.

Burnout can occur in any activity. Ideally, you move on to something else. In a worst case, there are no alternatives and depression takes hold. The ” traumatic stress” in post traumatic stress disorder can be the stress of inescapable burnout.

In my life, I have had the opportunity to turn the page. I know how to pace myself both physically and emotionally. In the case of natural disaster victims, there are no choices. The same can apply to the volunteers helping at disasters. Some can pace themselves, some burnout and step away, and some are so invested that they cannot step away.

The victims of superstorm Sandy are still dealing with the effects of the storm, which occurred 29 October 2012, over eight months ago.

bridge

The Mantoloking bridge

Mantoloking was one of the locations where the bay met the ocean, eliminating the island and everything on it. The flooding was widespread, most of the island submerged for days.

033371-storm

When the water receded, the cleanup began. First were the volunteers just bringing in food. In some locations broken gas lines caused fires, and entire neighborhoods burned. Keep in mind, it was the beginning of November in the Northeast, sleeping in a tent in the backyard (if the backyard doesn’t have someone elses house in it) was out of the question.

Find a place in this story and try and imagine it. Your home is gone. Your street is gone. Your employer is gone. Everything you own is gone. You’re a volunteer and the lines of needy are unending. You need to get back to your own home which suffered some damage even though you live fifty miles from the shore. You need to get back to your job, but the victims are still hungry, homeless, and seemingly infinite.

Give it a few months, It’s January in New Jersey. The Red Cross has finished its emergency mission and moved on. Local volunteers are exhausted, the strong ones are still coming on the weekends. The carpet baggers have been through, scamming those with insurance out of their settlements. It’s cold and desolate, and the things that usually get you through this time of year are somewhere in the Atlantic. Depending on where you had lived, you are now in either a deserted neighborhood plagued by looters, a temporary shelter because your house was destroyed, or in a temporary shelter because you have not yet been allowed to return to your neighborhood. Merry Christmas.

Two months later now. February. You’ve been allowed to return to your neighborhood, to find your home A) one of the isolated surviving structures, filled with moldy furniture and clothing, several inches of mud in your living room, and all of your electronics destroyed, B) Damaged but repairable, but all of your possessions are gone or destroyed, C) Damaged beyond repair, or D) Missing. Either way, you still owe your property taxes for the year. Depending on your home loan and insurance, you may have to elevate your home to rebuild and receive flood insurance. Elevating a home is expensive and there are only a few contractors who can do it. There are several con artists who will take your money, and if you’re lucky they’ll run. If you’re not lucky they’ll start the work and destroy what was left of your home.

Two more months. April. You haven’t been able to work since Halloween, but your taxes are due. The weather is getting better, you’re thinking about the tourist season, and if there will be any tourists. The motels are packed with workers rebuilding the businesses, where are the tourists and seasonal workers going to stay? It’s been six months since the storm, the volunteers are thinning out, getting on with their lives. In the rest of he world their are other natural disasters, you fade from public memory. The politicians who had been praised for quick responses during the emergency are now being blamed for not draining the ocean.

Five vacant lots to the beach, five blocks wide.

Eight vacant lots to the beach, five blocks wide.

June arrives. The boardwalk has been rebuilt (not in your neighborhood, but at the amusement piers), but most of the beaches can’t open. Many of the damaged homes were rental properties, and the hotels are still full of construction workers, so there is little overnight tourism, and the weather isn’t the very best it could be. The complaints are starting to increase, a snowball effect that slows everything. Most of the residential streets still aren’t clear, and even the main roads are still detoured. A line of hurricanes in Oklahoma last month have erased the effects of Sandy from the public mind as they race to assist those victims. Still, houses on your block are mere piles of rubble, and the wait for building permits from an overwhelmed inspection office is months long.

August, the height of tourist season. You’re at the end of the block, because the five houses closer to the beach have finally been removed. The street ends next door, even though it used to run another hundred yard to intersect with another street, which was last seen last fall. A couple of other houses have been finished, standing out starkly on the moonscape that was once your neighborhood. Because your street is now a cul-de-sac, it is blocked off at the main road. The volunteers are gone, although sometimes on the weekends people come through to clean up a lot. The police still patrol constantly as looters still search for anything of value. You’re paying property taxes on a property that you can neither inhabit nor sell.

Mid September. After a lackluster tourist season, a fire breaks out on the boardwalk. Fifty four businesses that were barely breaking even are destroyed. Several blocks of boardwalk burn, and the progress of the fire is slowed by tearing out sections of new boardwalk.

Seaside Heights boardwalk, 12 September 2013

Seaside Heights boardwalk, 12 September 2013

Do you throw in the towel? If you have one?

Not if this is your home.

You weather it out. The people stand together, pick up the pieces, and continue to rebuild. The residents from the shore, the volunteers from all over the state, and the friends of these people are a family. Family doesn’t give up.

This last week a former New Jersey resident brought his friends from Iowa and Ohio, met up with friends from High School, and made new friends rebuilding houses and clearing lots at the shore. We saw desperation and burnout, and the joy that fresh faces bring.

We are family. Not because of our parents or our homes, but because of our spirits. The team that met forty years ago in New Providence brought hope to Ortley Beach, a commodity much more precious than hammers and nails. Our payment was far more valuable than the lodging and meals that were graciously provided. Our payment was the joy that we brought and shared with the people of Ortley Beach.

There’s still work to be done, come on down and join the family.

My American Dream

I saw on the news the other morning a story about two young men in Texas. I was writing as I listened to it, so I didn’t look up to see the story at first, but I always like to see video from Texas so I took a break and watched.

The two young men had seen a woman in a car, and she mouthed the words “Help Me”. They thought something looked suspicious so they called 911 and kept the car in sight until the police could arrive. The woman had been kidnapped at gunpoint, and was rescued by the police. The driver of the car she was in is in custody.

I thought it was a nice story of two responsible teenagers, and some beautiful footage of Texas, then they showed the two friends, and you could tell they were quite good friends by their body language. One was white, the other black. In rural Texas. Stuff your stereotypes about Texans, wankers of America.

I was driving down to the shore later, and passed through Lakewood, New Jersey. A quiet little town along route 9, medium income from the looks of it. I stopped for gas, civilians are not allowed to pump gas in New Jersey so the station owner, a friendly Pakistani gentleman filled the tank. As I drove on I noticed that there was a very large Hasidim presence. It was Rosh Hashana, and there were cute kids in their black suits and hats, due to the holiday they were everywhere. There were other people around to, Whites, Hispanics, Blacks going in and out of the little strip malls, a huge synagog across the corner from a Catholic hospital. Everyone just getting on with life.

I know there are plenty of wankers out there, there are plenty who think hate is funny, spreading their hate with joy. There is hate in every corner of  the world, a great deal of uninformed prejudice. Miserable people who can only share their misery, who spew hatred without thought, but are the first to take offense at anything. I think of the words of Aunt Em in the Wizard of Oz when it comes to them, “Almira Gulch, for twenty-three years I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now…well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”

The rest of us are just getting on with life.

National Public Radio posts stories on Facebook, with a link back to their website. It’s typically the case that the comments on the Facebook posts are by people who didn’t click the link and read the article, they’ve made up the article for themselves from the headline. On the National Public Radio site, while there is a standard deviation, most comments are intelligent and thoughtful, and conversations result in one or both parties learning something new. I tend to look at the differences the same article can generate as directly related to the media in which they are seen. The Facebook crowd by and large can’t handle more than a headline, those that can handle reading the entire story speak on the National Public Radio site.

Those wankers who can only handle the headline, and not always understand it, are not the majority. They are the loudest. They stand out because they’re wankers. It’s the only thing even remotely interesting about them.

The rest of us are much more boring. People getting along with each other just doesn’t sell papers. So the news media presents this view of America as a bunch of wankers. Being isolated as they are from society, I’m sure the media types really believe that it is a representative sample of America. And the wankers watching are reaffirmed that it is they who are normal. Thus, Honey Boo Boo.

There will always be racism, it is human to be wary of differences. This is an evolutionary trait, sickly and deformed infants were killed, and their genes went with them. Today they get a cable series. But the enlightened human learns that they don’t need to kill the tribe next door because they wear funny hats. Morgan Freeman has said, “The best way to end racism is to stop talking about it”. Not talking about it doesn’t end racism, but it does end racists.

I think we’re doing a lot better than the media lets on. The wankers will see what they want to see, instead of what is really happening, so why talk about them? This dream is coming true.

What’s wrong with GPS?

As part of the “Saturday Rewind” series.
Yesterday Gertrude took us to and from Red Bank New Jersey. Other than the Count Basie Theatre and Teak restaurant, I have no idea where I’ve been or how to get there.

KBlakeCash

Yes, if you’ve been following along, you can guess that there must be something wrong with GPS if I’m writing about it.

Being one of those XY types, I’ve never cared for asking for directions. Being one of those old fashioned XY types, I typically know where I am, and where I am going, before I start out. I once drove from New Jersey to California with only the knowledge that the interstate road system connected the coasts, I should drive West until I see the ocean then I can find where I’m going on the Pacific Coast Highway.

The United States Air Force decided to spend a fair amount of money teaching me how to read maps anyway. It was in that class that I learned that many people cannot read maps. Many people do not in fact have any idea where on the planet they are. I can…

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