Wind

The wind has always inspired me.

A gust can bring the spirits of the dead whispering into my ear.

A breeze reminds me of the past or a sort of mental nirvana where I have no care in the world.

A gale can generate fear in my heart and noise in my soul.

The windy day I stepped into the park wasn’t sunny. I hate sunny days. The light burns my eyes and stings my skin. I feel like the sun is trying to burn me out faster, igniting me, firing me up until I am nothing but ash and bone. Cloudy days cushion me like a dimmed light, cradle me in grayness where the sun doesn’t exist, but the lighting is better, softer, diffused.

The air was swirling through the trees on the bluff leading down to the Hudson River. Leaves followed its path, snaking in and out making the invisible visible. The October atmosphere carried the promise of a coming winter, and the mystery of the approaching Halloween.

I sat on a bench near the entrance, too tired to go down the slope to sit near the mall. The smell of leaves decaying perfumed the air with a loam where when I closed my eyes I saw fat pink earthworms wiggling through the soil creating a fertile base for next year’s seeds. Like the wind they circled in and out of the dirt, taking little bits of rotted trees in their wake.

“Mister? Are you okay?” A teenage girl was standing in front of me about five feet away.

I stretched my neck before answering her. “I’m okay, I guess.”

“You were moaning. I thought for a second that you were singing, but it sounded like you were in pain.”

I patted my leg. “Maybe I was a little. My hips really hurt sometimes.”

“You should tell me about it.” Her long, reddish brown hair had a glint to it as she swung it back over her shoulders.

That’s odd. It’s not sunny at all.

“Why should I tell you about my pains?”

“I’m a very good listener.” She sat on the next bench and turned towards me.

So I told her. I spoke about how I had arthritis and had just gone through a severe depression where I didn’t go outside of my apartment at all. The doctors at NYU said that I’m de-conditioned and it made rehabilitation much harder, even if I did get a hip replacement. I confessed that to her too.

She seems genuinely interested in my story. She asked about my depression, and I told her how alone I felt after the death of my partner. Leaning towards me, she beckoned with her hand. “Come one and sit next to me so I can hear you better.”

It was a struggle to stand up and limp with my cane over to the bench where she sat. I didn’t know why I was doing what she was asking me to do, but I did it anyway. Talking to anyone was hard, but a teenaged girl?  It was remarkably easy, quite unlike me. I felt like I was somehow changing. As I spoke I felt lighter and lighter.

The breeze picked up and chased brown and yellow leaves down the paved mall. The girl spoke and it sounded like the wind sprinkling itself through a wind chime. The gray day darkened, and she kept talking, lighter until it was just a whisper. Then it was dark, and the girl was gone.

I got up to walk back home. My back and hips weren’t tight and aching. I left my cane behind. Every step I took was easier and easier until I was floating up above the trees, above the clouds, and into the starry night. I reached out and the air felt like silky water running through my fingers. I looked far below and saw a little old man, sitting slumped on a park bench, blue lights flashing around him.

 

 

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She’s There

Last night, after the 10,000 Maniacs concert (thank you, Beth), I waited about 20 minutes on the bus at Sixth Avenue. After it pulled up and I boarded and sat in the last single seat on the side. A man wearing a black leather jacket and a black watch cap got on after me. He was grizzled, wearing sunglasses, and using a walker.
 
“Hey man.” His voice was loud and deep, his tongue twisting in and out between prominent, large teeth. Although he seemed a bit impaired, he was not incoherent.
 
“Hi.” I replied.
 
“I been lost all day down here. Glad to be on the bus home.”
 
“Lost? Are you sure you’re on the right bus?”
 
“Yeah. The five take me up to my apartment.”
 
“Well, as long as you’re sure. It’s no fun being lost.” Yeah. I know. I’m effing Pollyanna sometimes, but someone has to do it.
 
“I couldn’t find that employment place and I went from Battery Park all the way up to Canal.”
 
“The unemployment place? It was on Vandam, but I think part of that program was discontinued or shut down.”
 
“Vandam! That was it! I never even went past there!”
 
“Well, it wouldn’t have done you much good now anyway. It’s 11 at night. Good thing you’re going home.”
 
He held out his hand for me to shake. It was so dark, almost the darkest hand I had ever seen. His palm was warm, dry, and calloused. After we shook hands he launched into a very long story. He talked and talked. He told me about his family when he was a teenager. They seemed to be a physically violent family, but as he told his tale, it didn’t seem to be something that bothered him so much as he expected it.
 
He started working at the Beacon Theater many years ago preparing seat backs. He had been a security guard at the Naval Yard, and had ended up back at the Beacon where he ended his career. He launched into visceral detail about a terrible infection he had that had put him into intensive care, then a long hospital stay, then a rehab stint to help him become mobile again. His mother passed away (at 99, it seems, after climbing six flights of stairs) while he was out. Then he got even stranger.
 
To my surprise he told a ghost story. He heard his mother calling him while he was in his bed in rehab. By the time he got home, she had passed away, and though she was gone, she still slapped the back of his head as she liked to do in life.
 
“It’s nice to know my mama’s there.” His voice had gotten thick and soft.
 
“I’m so sorry for your loss. And I’m glad to know you’ve got some comfort. Hey, this is my stop.” The bus had traveled from Soho all the way up to the Upper West Side.
 
The man took off his sunglasses. He was crying. “Thank you for listening to me. I don’t know why I told you all of that, but I feel better.”
 
“Any time. Happy to lend an ear.” I smiled and waved at him. As the bus pulled away, I looked back at him through the window. A small woman who was not on the bus when I got off was slapping him on the back of the head.

Presidents and Chumps

When you go through a bankruptcy,personal or corporate, someone is going to get screwed. Corporate bankruptcies are not just “debt restructuring.” Someone is not going to get paid.
 
Now if things have become so bad you have to go through a bankruptcy, there’s no shame in that. And sometimes a company has to go through bankruptcy. Things happen. But serial bankruptcies speak to something different, someone who is playing the rules.
 
Let’s say you had a “restructuring” and that negotiations and results took five to seven years. Let’s say five and low-ball it. You did it four times. That takes up twenty years of your working career. That’s twenty years of bad decisions, twenty years of other people having to make up for your mistakes.
 
Now let’s say you’re trying to “make” your money back after these business events. You decide that you’re going to build things. You work with local, state, and federal governments to obtain land so you can build golf courses, casinos, apartment buildings. You work through laws of eminent domain so you can get what you want. You work hard, taking advantage of every loop hole that you can.
 
By this time, people have lost money being in business with you. People have lost land and homes they owned because you wanted these things to benefit you, not them. You take the money you make and live loudly. You have a lot of money now. You can afford to be louder than most people. People “respect” your money because, in spite of some charity work, you use your wealth like a club. Growing wealth beings power and a louder voice. You get extremely loud. “Yay freedom of speech,” you think. “I can say anything I want!” People forget about
 
So you proceed to speak your mind. Good for you! Really! Truth is usually appreciated, and there is so little of it in today’s world. Now you’re on a role. You’ve not only been in the media, you’ve become a master of it. You’ve successfully “branded” yourself. You’ve even built a fan base, You want more.
 
The one problem you have is your past. You’re a serial cheater, multiple divorces. Okay. You handle that by marrying a smoking’ hot babe. Everyone likes a pretty girl. The American public will give an older guy a wink and a nod if they’ve got a pretty girl on their arm. Public displays of wealth help too. Giant towers with your name in glittering letters, television programs, you have it all. Throw enough glitter on a pig, and the first thing you’ll see from then on is the glitter.
 
Most people don’t go beyond the glitter to find the pig. You begin to ride a wave with social media. You equate having millions of followers with having some special influence. Then one day you’re golfing in Arizona and one of your toadies is listening to one of your tirades, which are legendary by now. He pokes his buddy on the arm and mouths, “watch this.”
 
“Hey.” he says.
 
“Shut up. I’m trying to concentrate.” You try to line up an easy putt.
 
“Okay.”
 
The putt completes in 5 strokes. “What do you want?”
 
“You should run for president!”
 
The other toady croaks in. “Yeah! You’d make a great president.”
 
You think for a minute and put your face towards the sun. “Yeah. I would, wouldn’t I?”
 
Your toadies snicker and turn their faces from you. “You said it first! Run for president!”
 
This is how you get the idea that you’re going to run for president. It gnaws at you. You’ve become very powerful in the real estate world, and you like it. You’ve done all the rich things from private yachts to private jets to great cars. You can buy buildings, build buildings, tear down buildings. You won’t start with just running for mayor of New York City. You’re going to skip all the preliminary preparation. You jump into the fray. It’s a race!
 
Your numbers go up every time you open your mouth. You say outrageous things to appeal to a populist viewpoint that increases in its xenophobia and nationalism every day. It stops making sense, but you keep saying things like you can build a wall and get someone else to pay for it without hurting US/Mexican relations for decades to come. But even though you can make shrewd moves and say that if you’re president that you will hire the best, you can’t seem to hire a team that grasps local and state politics.  You engage in speculations about dick size and the sex lives of family members. You stumble and blame that stumble on “the system” rather than on your own team that really made a lot of mistakes. You may want to change the system, but if you can’t hire a team that understands it, how are you going to figure out the root of problems, other than speculation? People see these bumps in the road as your numbers keep rising. You get even more outrageous.

 

You’ve set up a scenario that where, if you don’t get your way, you are perfectly fine with violent results. You’ve encouraged violence by the crowds, seemingly not understanding that your tone, your word choice, no matter how “politically incorrect” you are aiming to be, should never incite or “approve” of violent acts. But hey, you’re gaining in polls, and getting loads of coverage. Any publicity is good publicity, and you understand THAT, at least.

So how would you be as a president?  You’re being infuriated by regulations and old set ups in a private political party. What’s going to happen if you run across several different problems across several states where as the federal government it would be proper for you to step in? If you can’t put together a team that understands the system, how are you going to fix it? Knowing what’s wrong and knowing what works to fix things are two different skill sets. And as yet in your life you are unproven as a political leader where you must compromise, watch what and how you say things, understand that the buck stops at the White House, and that when you get in too far, you can’t declare bankruptcy for the entire country, but you can bankrupt us morally as well as monetarily.

Asylum

Our country of immigrants, a country which has historically been an asylum for refugees, is falling back into an old pattern. In the 1920s America was seized by xenophobia. The Emergency Quota Act, passed in 1921, restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. For the geographically-challenged, that includes Italy, Greece, and Hungary among others. It was the first “Red Scare” when people were fearful that communism and anarchy were going to take over. This attitude lingered until even the late 1930s when people were against European Jews coming into our country. We all know how that panned out.

Now we have many of the same things happening again. People are fleeing terrorism, war, persecution. Many are women and children. The U.S. House of Representatives  recently voted to keep out Syrians. There is even talk about shutting down the government over this issue. It’s become a political football and popularity contest among presidential candidates. Donald Trump wants to make Syrian refugees carry special identification. Yes, the same policy Hitler and the Nazis used is being touted by a potential United States president. The “special identification” for Syrian refugees is just another form of the Star of David badge used to segregate then exterminate men, women, and children of the Jewish faith. Others wore badges that declared their “otherness” too- gays, the Romany, the mentally handicapped among them.

The events today are a prime example of “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Not only was xenophobia and separatism part of what made World War II so horrible, so destructive, each time it reared its ugly head, injustice and tragedy reigned. Think of how many lives were ruined in the 1950s under McCarthyism. Black lists were made. Congress was involved in hearings that were basically kangaroo courts, ferreting out “pinkos” and “commies.” It was a shameful and dark time despite many peoples’ wistful but flawed memories of the decade. And 60 years later, it continues.

It’s not the “damn liberals” or the “stupid conservatives” that are taking our country down. It’s regular people of all stripes that haven’t learned a thing from our past. They see heinous acts of violence from terrorists, and they succumb to fear, exactly what the terrorists want. Exactly. Closing our borders to those seeking refuge is what ISIS wants. They will use our denial of refugees against us, telling their people that no one cares about them, that their religion, their faith is what America is against. It won’t matter to these people that there are some here that are scared of the violence coming to our shores, hiding it under bravado and propaganda about the Islamic menace. The refugees will only see rejection, and in that way the extremists will win their hearts. And the violence is already here anyway. The Boston Marathon bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 all resonate with violence against our government, way of life, and our citizens.

When you read Facebook memes and posts, including mine, remember the entire history of the United States, our traditions of immigration and asylum, and our tragic memories of the awful results of xenophobia. See that the politicians who use fear are no better than the terrorists themselves- they are all people who will use death and destruction to gain power whether or not they caused it directly or indirectly. Take care when you hear media outlets, news agencies, radio hosts, television personalities, church leaders telling us that we should not help these particular “others,” that we need to take care ourselves first, that they aren’t “Christian” or that they are infiltrating and hellbent on changing and killing us. That’s code for “fear strangers” and by that, all the terrorists accomplish their goals.

We all were the “others” at some point in our family trees. The Pilgrims fled persecution in England. The Huguenots ran from France. Jews, Italians, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Cuban, Nicaraguan- the list of asylum seekers goes around the world. And they all came to America. It is who we are and who we were. Taking precautions and carefully examining refugees is a necessary and prudent thing in today’s world. But flat out refusal is a mistake on our part, and playing right into the hands of our enemies and detractors.

Gullah Video

I am editing my Gullah trilogy, so I found this article to be quite interesting. It’s short, but it gives a brief explanation of how Gullah came to be, and a few phrases of the beautiful language. While you’re on my page, check out some of my past stories and essays. I am working on a new (belated) Halloween story which should be up in a few days.

How To Get Into A Bad Mood

I have been trying recently to let a lot of things go. Cut in front of me in line, I just sigh and go on with my life. If the bus is really late, no problem- I’ll just listen to a full concerto or the complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination on iTunes. You run out of food at a fast food place and I have to wait a few minutes, ok. I’ll write some on a story I’m thinking about.

But today tested my limits. I made an appointment to see the orthopedist for today at 11:45 two weeks ago. I schlepped all the way down to Union Square, a place I truly, truly hate. So many horrible, inconsiderate people swarming just everywhere. People with baby carriages using them as force shields. A billion students walking down the sidewalk in lines all the way across the sidewalks. Aggressive panhandlers. Crappy box stores and hipster joints. Just awful. I hobble with my cane feeling like a salmon swimming upstream.

I get to the doctor’s office, and the buzzer is weird. It takes me a couple of minutes to figure it out. Maybe I’m just slow, but there was nothing intuitive about that thing at all. The assistant finally buzzes me in and I get upstairs. Very chic. I tell her I’m there for my appointment with Dr. (Insert Doctor’s Name Here) and she tells me she called all of the appointments on Friday. The doctor had an emergency.

Well, okay, but I didn’t get a phone call. I had emailed them and we corresponded that way. I gave them my phone number and made the appointment through that. I can’t take the crowds during morning rush hour, and I told them that too. All nice and written down in email. But I didn’t point that out. If the doctor was out, the doctor was out. No point in hashing over something that couldn’t be changed. She apologized to me and made another appointment, even though I’m sort of in a weird constant pain. Then she told me her name, and I knew it was the woman who I had corresponded with. Still, what could being cross with her accomplish. At least I could walk over a block and catch another bus uptown and it would just be a transfer.

Lucky me, I catch the bus fast. But even though I was the first person at the stop, people bum-rushed the door, and I had to get in line behind some woman that decided to chat up the driver while digging her transit card out of something that looked to be a tea cozy for a 20 gallon cauldron, but was actually a beach tote she was using as a purse. I get on and there’s a slew of people, non-handicapped (not that I am permanently handicapped, just temporarily I hope). I need those seats. I can’t hobble to the back of the bus while it’s moving, which by that time it was. I look at a young man sitting in one of those seats and ask him to move. Politely. The bus driver had to tell him to get up. Really. How was he raised? By wolves? I’m beginning to lose my patience.

So I’m riding along, letting the tension of the moment go, and looking out of the window. Zombies were everywhere. People have stopped looking where they are going and have instead taken up screen-gazing. I want to shout “You’re in New York city, you dolts! Look around you or go back to wherever you came from.” Really. Even obvious tourists were nose-deep in their phones.

A little old man gets on the bus. He has a large rolling walker. I mean huge rolling walker. I’ve seen big walkers, but this one is the biggest I’ve ever seen. He pauses at the driver, and people moved got up from the front seats. But that was’t good enough for him. He screamed obscenities because his wide load walker is actually bumping the sides of the passageway to the seats. He made a big deal out of it and finally sat down. Again, I tried to mellow out, and stared out of the window. The walking dead stumbled around on the sidewalks and I let that roll off. I can’t stop people from wasting their lives constantly updating Instagram. It makes me sad more than mad.

The bus turns off of Sixth Avenue onto Central Park South then onto Broadway at Columbus Circle. We stop by the Trump Monstrosity (formerly known as the Paramount Building) and something goes wrong with the computer or something technical. The driver has to wait. Okay. I don’t sweat that. It’s a beautiful day, and I’m just happy to be in a seat instead of walking and having my hips burn. We finally depart, but the driver was ordered to take the bus out of service. He has to put up the “Next Bus Please” sign, which means he can drop off passengers but he’s not supposed to take in any more. Oh well.

The bus veers off onto Amsterdam and stops to let people off at 72nd Street. A woman who had been waiting for the bus with her little snowflake child marches up to the open door. She doesn’t even give the driver time to say “Please take the next bus. This one is being taken out of service.” Instead the woman starts screaming, “I pay $160 a month! I’m getting on this bus!” She keeps it up while the bus driver tries in vain to reason with her. She pushes her kid on in front of her, maintaining her shriek. She drops her Metrocard into the slot and marches to the back of the bus, still yelling about how important she is, and how crappy the MTA is, and what a jackass the driver is, and how much money she pays for a Metrocard a month and how she has a car and could drive places faster than the bus.

The driver tries to get her to be quiet, but she keeps it up. He sighs and drives on. One, two, three, four stops he stops and because the cow won’t stop bellowing, he takes on more passengers. He’s just doing his job and the witch won’t really let him.

Now all this time I’m listening to Cannibal Corpse. Loud. It’s a coping mechanism I have. Thrash metal or death metal where the singer sounds like he’s making Satanic burps into a microphone and the band plays a G chord as fast as they can usually drowns out the hoopla. Not today though. The woman came through loud and clear.

So after I have tried to let things go all day, after I regained my composure and patience again and again, I had enough of her.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I could barely control my mouth to form the words. I turned around to face the back where she and “Snowflake” were sitting. “CAN YOU SHUT UP? NO ONE CARES AND ALL YOU ARE DOING IS BEING FUCKING ANNOYING! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” My voice, which is usually quite high and edges on the effeminate came out of me like a testosterone-ladden pro-wrestler. It surprised me.

Maybe tomorrow I can have a stress-free day. I don’t have any appointments and I don’t have to go out into a loud, ruthless crowd that tries my very soul.

The Complexity Of Gender And Other Heroic Things

People are born intersex all the time, from those with “ambiguous” genitalia, genes that don’t match outward secondary sexual characteristics, and other physical variants from the “binary” norm. Geneticists studying the “traditional” XX/XY chromosomes that have been associated with gender determination have found in studies that there is more than just absolutes at work.

Years ago people used the term hermaphrodite to refer to children that were born with different types of genitals. That term came about because people didn’t fully understand what was going on with the physical characteristics of the baby. Hermaphrodite has mistaken connotations of being both fully male and fully female at the same time, which is a physical impossibility. Often these children were subjected to gender assignment surgery at an early age with the assumption that growing up “one way or another” would be the healthiest psychologically. This sometimes had disastrous results.

So with all the unknowns in genetics, all the myriads of ways people can branch out from the accepted norms, why is it so hard for some to accept that the same sort of thing could be happening to those that are transgender? In a world where there are multiple possibilities, where some people that have XX chromosomes can present as physically male, and some people that have XY chromosomes can look completely female, why is it so difficult to see that some people who look male, have male genetics, can have “female brains,” and vice versa? Is it because some people don’t fully understand the complexities of psychology and physiology? Is it because some think in a black and white manner about sexuality when it is really far more complicated than an either/or situation?

People are very, very quick to judge before they have all the information in a lot of situations other than gender and sexual identity. So it’s not really surprising that more than a few cannot or will not make the leap to understanding how someone can be transgender. They don’t see how difficult it can be for someone to understand and come to terms with their gender identity, and what a long process it can be. It took Caitlyn Jenner 65 years to come to full terms with self-acceptance and to present herself as she felt. The teenager Jazz Jennings who has her own “reality” show not only fights with her own self perception, she has to endure people that can’t or won’t understand her situation. Personally I think if we can call someone brave for their religious beliefs, or their career choices, or their sociological accomplishments, then we can call people like Caitlyn or Jazz heroes of a sort too. They are out there showing other people, other human beings with feelings and situations similar to theirs that they are not alone, that life can be good, and coming to terms with who you truly are is sometimes the bravest thing you can do.