Saturday, May 31, 2008

RBC Saturday

RBC Saturday

This election season, I feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy held the football. It will all be over by Super Tuesday. (swipe - arrrrgh!) It will all be over by Supersonic Tuesday. (swipe - arrrrgh!) Just one more primary, one more caucus, one more debate, and it will all be settled. (swipe - arrrrgh!) This won't go past March, April – no, really, we have high confidence that May will see a final conclusion. (swipe - arrrrgh!) Come the first week of June, we can all start gearing up for the General Election. (swipe - arrrrgh!) Only Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota to go! (swipe - arrrrgh!) OK, let's go to the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee. They'll settle Florida and Michigan, and we'll call it a primary. Ummm ... unless we have to appeal to the Credentials Committee, maybe the floor of the convention. (swipe - arrrrgh!)

Speaker Pelosi calls this the “scorched earth strategy,” and vows to “step in” to head off a convention floor fight. Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi has not enjoyed positive results from her ultimatums, of late. In fact, Harold Wolfson, Communications Director for the Clinton Campaign, responded with a blatant: we-have-great-respect-for-the-speaker-but-we’ll-do-as-we-please-thank-you line to signal how seriously they take her. I wonder how the fact that the Democratic Party ignores both its rules and its penalties will play for the general electorate, come November.

And, why can’t they return from lunch on time?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Good People

Life, at its best, is a balance.

A few days ago, when my son was robbed, a worry-seed took root within me. I was not haunted, or overcome with anxiety, but I did worry at odd moments, that something terrible might actually happen to this man I had raised. I considered the crime rates, and the long list of TRUE CRIME STORIES (!!) recounted with studio-bred intensity on the evening news. I thought there might be too much evil in the city, that demons waited around every corner. Who could be safe in such a place – especially the young, who thought themselves immortal? I remember the casual confidence, believing that nothing could happen on such a beautiful night.

Then I received a message on my answering machine. A man was asking for my son, saying that he might have found something that belonged to my son (yeah, just like in that insurance commercial). When I returned his call, he told me that he had been biking that morning, and happened to see a flash of color on the ground (I wish my eyes were that strong). He stopped and picked up my son’s bank card. He was calling to return it.

The fact that he bothered at all makes him eligible for an enameled Good Citizenship pen, but, he went further. Since he had no contact information, this man actually looked for my son on the net, and finding a disconnected number, called people with our last until he reached me. That he went to those lengths to return my son’s property made me tear up (OK, I cry when I see Hallmark commercials … all of them). Where the robbers were immoral, this man was honesty, personified.

My spirits lifted, I thanked him. We commiserated about the state of things, me telling him of the robbery, him relating his own similar victimization in Istanbul (robbed by five men in Turkey, for crimey’s sake!). He cut up the card for me, since it had been cancelled, and wished my son well. I remembered falling asleep to a radio program the previous night, where a guest explained this theory that angels and men were closely related. He believes that angels walked among us, and we did not know because they look just like us.

Life is a balance. Sometimes we must wait for the scales to shift, and sometimes it happens so quickly that we can hardly overlook the message.

When next you find yourself believing that you are surrounded by assassins, try to stand up and take an actual count.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I was just wondering how we came to be so prickly. Have we always been so very sensitive? Or are we now just more bored? Perhaps, we have sanitized our lives to the point where we must seek out irritants in a drive towards balance. Just as we have worked so hard to eradicate danger in our lives (helmets and pads for kids who use those silly little wheelies sneakers? How is a child supposed to learn to get up if he cannot fall down?), we inflate the slightest offense into the catastrophic.

I don’t refer to those who invent offense to advance a political agenda. Those creatures crowd our televisions and radios and PCs, yearning to be heard amid the clamor of dissenting voices. They bark and coo insults at each other in a way that lets us know that they are really quite chummy in real life. They reveal themselves through their carefully slanted arguments. We know them by their extraordinary ability to focus lasers on the failings of their opponents, while displaying a peculiar blindness to their own. This election year has brought out the worst in those who are paid good money to point out every error, every slip, every misplaced word. Each blunder unearthed and attached to their opponent, they declare beyond reprehensible, while pouring out sand, dirt, boulders, trees, whole oceans to hide the transgressions of their chosen candidates.

No, I am talking about the man who snarls at the person who asks him to “Have a Nice Day!” because he doesn’t feel like having a nice day, and who are you to ask? I am talking about the one who reports an inspirational email to the HR department because – wow, I’m not even sure why (Doesn’t fit into his worldview? Doesn’t want to deal with that happy crap?). I’m talking about the woman who refuses to accept the apology of the driver who dented her fender. Why can’t we just accept an apology, accept that a mistake happened, and we were on the receiving end because … that’s life? Don’t say Merry Christmas and don’t say Happy Holidays either, because someone will be offended, somewhere, somehow. And, don’t tell the wrong woman that she looks nice (pig!).

So let’s say we call it an unfortunate defense mechanism. What what drives it, and why does it seem to have become epidemic? Are we so ashamed of our flaws that we must shine a klieg light upon others to console ourselves ? Does the age-old pursuit of power drive us to pummel others before they pummel us? Do we withhold forgiveness for fear of being labeled weak, or worse, irrelevant? And, why do we insist on perfection in others, when we know we have no chance of attaining it ourselves?

I say we should all make a pact to get over ourselves and give each other a break.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Brother, can you spare your wallet, and keys ... oh - and your cell phone?

I raised my son in the suburbs where I was raised. Like my parents, I wanted a safe, leafy green environment where neighbors kept an eye out for each other and our children. I wanted good schools where he could prepare for whatever future he set his sights on. I wanted a town where crime was remarkable only in its infrequency and violence, generally, remained at a distance – preferably, on TV. He thrived out here, growing into a strong, good man. And, he became restless (predictably) within the borders of the town.

Now, he attends Penn State (more green, but with mountains), and has only come home to visit. He has become restless there too, and dreams of pursuing his art in a city. New York, Tokyo, Toronto, Seoul, – he isn’t picky. So, when the opportunity for an internship in Philadelphia came along, he jumped at it. Philadelphia is not new ground in his mind, but is a city still.

My son has a respectable quantity of street smarts that steers him around truly bone-headed situations. He also has a healthy dose of testosterone which doesn’t. It was the latter that sent him out this morning at 3 AM for SNACKS in Center City. Likewise, testosterone drove two men to rob him at knife point on a dark street. Gone were the wallet, keys (locking him out of his apartment), and cell phone (preventing him from calling his roommates to let him into his apartment).

They told him not to follow them, along with various other threats, all roundly and righteously ignored. When he chased them around a corner, an accomplice was waiting to punch him in the face. Who says organized crime is not thriving? Thankfully, they did not hurt him seriously. Possessions can be replaced much more easily than blood. I stopped the cards and suspended the phone for him. His girlfriend had the numbers he needed to get in touch with his roommates. He is safe – and annoyed.

One bright moment came when his girlfriend told me the robbers (she called them “louses”) texted her, "Hi." "Hi yourself," she responded, then wrote "You are bad people whose karma is tainted, and until you rectify what you do to people, no good will come to you!" I imagine they were a bit taken aback. I love my son’s girlfriend.

What gets me is the complete lack of concern from the police. They took his statement, and gave him an official report to protect him from illegal credit card charges and such. What they did not do was ANYTHING about the crime itself. They did not take his address or phone number, and, therefore, cannot contact him to press charges, a clear indication that they did not plan to search for suspects. Certainly, they have bigger crimes to solve (123 murders and counting), but I have to think that the attitudes about the small crimes must lay the foundation for the larger ones. It’s no stretch to imagine some “louse” thinking, “Hey that was easy. Next time I’ll do TWO robberies! And, maybe sometime I’ll have to stab a brother!” Oh well.

How many of the over 120 murders that have occurred in Philadelphia this year have been committed by someone emboldened by getting away with the smaller stuff first? How many have watched a police car drive by, smiled and thought that no one cares about the crime they just committed – especially black on black crime (my son wondered why everyone wanted to know what color his attackers were. Was it a demographic thing? ). And, how many think that this is the price of life in the big city, and let it lay there?

For those who dismiss this is just another country mouse running smack dab into the cold reality of the big, bad city rats (boo hoo), I tell you this: If you don’t care, and your friends don’t care, and your neighbors don’t care, and even the police don’t care, all the Hope in the world won’t help you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Crossing my path and crossing my mind

So, I'm standing here on this road, thinking that we have always lived in strange times.

In the best of times, we spackle ourselves in layers of civility, agree on normalcy, nod and smile, compliment each other on our good conduct and social graces, poll each other for the lowest common denominator. At the first sign of weirdness in paradise, we avert our gaze (and everything will be all right). Pressed, we argue (in tones muted or sharp depending on our personality), and pray logic will return all to normalcy. Failing that, we isolate the troublemakers who dare confront us. We build factions against the rising clamor, denounce our enemies with ringing condemnation, and fight any suggestion that we have contributed to the troubles: "It’s them, not us! We were minding our own business! We were in church! We were watching American Idol! They came upon us, and …"

At some point, when we can no longer ignore the cracks in our world, we admit it: Strange times reign. We hope it will pass. We look forward to the return to normal. We crave normal. We prostrate ourselves before normal. Normal is the refuge of right thinking people. Strange will pass, and normal will reign forever and ever. Normal is right. Until then, we will live bitterly in these strange times.

What we can only see in hind-sight are the times when a strange wind blows, blows so long and so hard that it erases normal. Strange comes, and refuses to leave. The times change, and change us. We lose our bearings, and cannot really fully grasp the changes until we find ourselves in a new place. And, in that magical new place, we look around, purse our lips, wax nostalgic for the good old days, and grudgingly redefine a new normal.
I am wondering about the forces that are battling in America. “Old normal” stares across the plain today at “new normal”, determined to hold its territory. Anything-to-triumph-elections, econo-wars and eco-wars, the energy crises that they always told to scare the children, mass child seizures, mass home seizures, new civil rights battles that read like the old, hope against realism, natural disasters, the commercialization of crystal skulls and Mayan calendars, lying and spitting and cursing, overt racism, covert racism, the poor pitted against the disenfranchised, the battle of bad-boy preachers. I go on, in my head, and on down the road …