Friday, March 26, 2010

What about them?

In this season of new life, promise and renewal, here is a recent column of mine published in the Claremont Courier.


"We should treat sexual predators no different than murderers. Sexual predators should be put away for life. Period."


These are strong words, and "period" is the strongest, making the rest of the words all the stronger. And they, and other such words, are being heard more and more. No doubt they are heard in Claremont.

But does Claremont really want to say "period?"

These words aren’t from Claremont. They are part of a letter appearing two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times, written in response to the rape and murder of Chelsea King, a high school student in northern San Diego County. The writer is from Chino.

Yes, the person who abducted Chelsea King (allegedly a man who may have killed another teenaged girl) was a killer as well as a sexual offender, but I have no doubt the writer’s words would have been just as strong if the person was just a sexual offender. And I’m pretty sure that Claremont, in this case, may well have been Chino. I could easily see this letter written here. For better or for worse.

This is a town that can’t even stand having a 7-11. For better or for worse.

Much more than even the outcry years ago over the opening of a Starbucks in the Village, the uproar over the proposed 7-11 convenience store, which would be open late at night and sell alcoholic beverages, at Foothill and Mills proves that Claremont goes out of its way to protect its image as a nice, clean, safe town. Never mind that there are two similar mini-marts a block away. Never mind that there is a 7-11 store on Foothill Boulevard in Pomona just outside Claremont. Never mind that Claremont can really use the sales tax from such a store.

The argument that a store selling liquor, much less at all hours, shouldn’t be across the street from the colleges makes the most sense, but let’s not kid ourselves. For one thing, does anyone think that the kegs at the big parties at the colleges are filled with root beer? I was once at a meeting of theater students where a party featuring 100 bottles of wine was being planned.

In any case, not wanting a store in Claremont is one thing. Not wanting a person in Claremont is another thing.

Of course, we don’t want anyone like who raped and killed Chelsea King living here. If any such thing happened in Claremont, there would be shock and outrage, to say the very least. And rightly so. Claremont takes great pride in being a good, safe place for raising a family, a good, safe place to grow up in. (It should be noted that Chelsea King lived in a gated community.)

I remember protests in Claremont over rapists and child molesters living here. Some years ago, a convicted child molester living in La Verne voluntarily returned to prison, because there was so much tension, including in Claremont, over him living there.

New laws have made it virtually impossible for released sexual offenders to live in the community. There are so many places - parks, schools, libraries, churches - that they can’t live near. In addition, where they live is made public. They are all but driven out of town. Any town.

To where they can’t get the help and support and the sense of community and belonging there so clearly need. To where they have more loneliness, more hurt and anger and all the more reason to lash out.

Is it just better to not let these people go after they serve their time? Is it just better to lock them up and throw away the keys? Or to just kill them, as obviously dangerous and worthless people?

And what about Marcia Meier’s brother? He’s pretty scary.

Ms. Meier writes about her brother in an op-ed piece that appeared a bit earlier in the Times, on February 28:

"He is agitated. Someone is trying to harm him, take his money. He’s going down to the sheriff’s office. He’s serious. He’s going to take a gun and shoot somebody if those people don’t back off.... And so my gesturing wildly, storming about the yard. I am wary. He threatened to kill me once.

"I look at him. Reed thin. Hollow cheeks. Half his teeth are gone. He is 52."

It looks like this guy should be put away, locked up with the key thrown away. He is definitely bad news, a real danger.

But, as Ms. Meier writes, her brother "lives in a world of shifting realities, voices and paranoia." He is mentally ill and disabled. He has severe schizophrenia and needs help.

Being in prison isn’t what he needs.

Ms. Meier worries about what her brother needs and how he will get it. Ms. Meier writes that her brother has been in and out of jail for petty crimes and that he has done drugs. She writes about how he lives - barely - on Supplemental Security Income and about how their mother always helped him out, buying stuff and paying a bill here and there. She writes that their mother has died and that she is now the one looking out for her brother.

Who, she wonders, will care for him when she no longer can? Will anyone?

I wonder if Claremont would. I wonder if there’s a place in Claremont for this man if he wanted to live here. I wonder if he would be welcomed, would be part of the community, here.

Some years ago, Claremont decided to restrict the number and location of group homes for the developmentally disabled here in town, saying they can’t be less than a considerable number of feet away from each other. To this day, I still don’t understand what it is about the developmentally disabled - which I technically am - that their presence have to be so limited.

At about the same time, there was much tension over a proposal to house developmentally disabled criminals at Lanterman State Hospital (now in the process of being closed down). A San Dimas man stated at a public hearing that he was concerned about a man "with a carrot for a brain" escaping and causing harm.

What I want to know is this: How much harm can a carrot-brained man concoct and accomplish? That is, if he can manage to get anywhere. Or are we, even in our post-9/11, on-guard society, that scared and paralyzed?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Talking needs

Last week, I went to be evaluated for a speech device at Casa Colina Hospital for Rehabilitative Medicine, a very well-regarded institution not far from here (in fact, I traveled there in my wheelchair, and I work out in a gym there twice a week). This had been a long time coming, with friends encouraging me to do this for at least a year and my calling for an appointment in October. To say the least, Wednesday afternoon was eye-opening, making the wait totally worthwhile. I was quite impressed, in every sense.

When I went, I took a note that I had typed, explaining that I had used a LightWriter, a voice synthesizer with a small typewriter keyboard, for about five years but that it ended up being frustrating and tedious, that the letter board that I use is only a bit better and that friends have asked me why I don’t have a device like Stephen Hawkins uses. Meeting with me were a speech therapist and a young woman from Dynavox, which designs and makes a variety of speech devices, and both clearly knew what they were doing. Within five or ten minutes, they totally "got" me.

I have to say that this was most refreshing. It hasn’t been since I was in elementary school that I received such caring and thoughtful attention in regard to my disability and what I need to make it easier to deal with it. The two women were even ready to order me a new wheelchair ("Look at the chair you’re in!"), although they agreed that I’m happy with and used to the chair I have! (See - I didn’t have this kind of evaluation when I got this chair.)

I like it that they quickly saw that, yes, I can type with a finger, but using my finger on even a touch screen is too much work and not practical in a conversation. I like it that, when I said I hate using a key-guard (I get my finger caught), they didn’t have me try one. I like it that they quickly saw that, even though I can easily click, push a button, flip a switch or whatever with my finger, my elbow, my knee or whatever (but probably not my eyebrow), it would be too tricky and not practical in a conversation. I like it that, for the most part, they didn’t argue with me or try to tell me I wasn’t trying or working hard enough.

So they had me try the eye thing, which involves a camera that follows my eye movements to operate a mouse on a screen that can feature a keyboard, words, phrases and predicted words. This pretty much drove me crazy and was clearly not practical. Later, I realized that this works with people like Stephen Hawkins who essentially can’t move, whereas my body, including my head, is in constant motion, and isolating my eyes is a real challenge - something like following the eyes on a bobble-head. (But I don’t understand how Hawkins "speaks" without pauses. Does he pre-program all his statements - even his replies in a conversation?)

Next came a sticker on my forehead, which the camera followed. So I looked like a Hindu, but that’s cool, because it worked! This may be the jackpot. Yes, I will need to practice, will need to try harder and work harder, but, with my getting noticeably better in the short time I used the device, especially when I sat up straight in my wheelchair, I have a clear sense that this effort will make things easier in my life. (Among other things, in addition to getting better at using the device, I’ll have to keep a supply of stickers and make sure one stays on my forehead, like when I sweat, and figure out what hats I can still wear. Also, after a lifetime of thinking out lots of what I say, spontaneous conversation will be almost a new world and an interesting challenge.)

The two women were almost more excited than I was. They saw me as a project, an unique challenge, with great potential. Calling me a "complicated case," they wanted to set up another appointment, also including an occupational therapist, requiring another prescription from my doctor. The Dynavox rep said she is even willing to get up early and drive through the morning rush-hour traffic from Long Beach for a 9 a.m appointment with me. I asked them point-blank if I am eligible for this device, even though they could kind of understand my speech, and they said, "Oh, yeah," that I "definitely" am.

When I left the two-hour session, I was drained and exhausted, and I went home with a bunch of feelings. Some were positive:

INTERESTED, FASCINATED - What is available now is really amazing, jaw-dropping.

EXCITED - Wow! I see my life getting easier and many possibilities, doors opening, etc.

HOPEFUL - This may well happen.

And some were negative:

FRUSTRATION, ANXIETY - This is taking so long! I just found out, finally, that my next appointment is on Tuesday. (The new prescription and occupational therapist were rounded up.) And, yes, I’ve been assured that the case for me getting the device is strong, especially with an occasional therapist chiming in, but what if Medi-Cal won’t pay for it? I keep hearing about what Medi-Cal won’t pay for and am amazed that it is paying for these appointments. If Medi-Cal does pay for the device, it will probably take months.

ANGER AND SADNESS - I shouldn’t be worried about all this. I should just get the help I clearly need to live the fullest, most productive life I can. Also, why didn’t I get this device years, if not decades, ago? Why was typing on the LightWriter deemed best for me? Why wasn’t this device considered at all? Or was I too proud and stubborn? Come to think of it, why, when I was in elementary school, did therapists make me spend hours dressing myself, and why did another squeeze my lips while I ate canned peaches, trying to get me to eat with my mouth closed? I don’t want to cry abuse, but....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Time in our hands

Saturday night was the start of Daylight Savings Time. This meant that we set our clocks forward an hour, which meant we lost an hour, an hour of sleep. I’ve always hated this, and every year I gripe and say I look forward to getting my hour back in the Fall. I even went to bed an hour early on Saturday night, but I still ended up groggy.

I remember one year the beginning of Daylight Savings Time fell on Easter, and I wondered with amusement about all those people who found themselves getting up even earlier - an hour earlier - for sunrise services.

This year, I had at least one more question than usual about this annual time-changing. Why was it on the second Sunday of the month this time? This seemed so random. And who picked it? For as long as I can remember, Daylight Savings Time has started or ended - I get my blessed hour back! - on the first or last Sunday of a month. This any-Sunday stuff really has me going!

Last year, I was away for the first weekend of March, and I completely forgot about Daylight Savings Time starting. If it was not for my friend’s iPhone making a big scene, I would probably have missed meeting on Sunday morning. Someone always forget about the time-change, and this will no doubt happen even more with random Sundays.

Another weird thing is that I seem to be the only person I know who likes Standard Time more than Daylight Savings Time. And, no, this isn’t about the lost hour of sleep. Everyone says they like it when it when it stays light in the evening, that they get depressed when "it gets dark so early." But I like it when it gets dark around dinnertime, like it’s supposed to, although it was a bit much when I lived in London for a year, and it got dark around 4 in the winter.

I think this is really about the weather. I don’t like the long, very hot summer here, and the start of Daylight Savings Time means that it is coming, and the end of Daylight Savings Time means that cool weather is here. Indeed, this week, the temperature has suddenly gone way up, and, although I’ve been enjoying these warm days with clear blue skies, bright green grass and snow-capped mountains not far off, I know that it will get much hotter before long.

Then there’s the whole thing about messing around with time. It has always freaked me out a bit that we can change the universe just by changing our clocks. Is time really that much of a man-made construct? Also, I used to try to get a picture of how all this works, of how changing the clock makes it get dark later or not changing the clock makes me late. And what about states, like Arizona, that don’t change their clocks? Are they off, or are we?

Finally, if the purpose of Daylight Savings Time is to save energy by having it light in the evening, and if we need to save energy so badly, why not have Daylight Savings Time all the time - and stop fooling around with it? Time, that is.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The more they know

Yes, as we have been reminded of this week in California, there are gay legislators who push for anti-gay laws, and there are those like Pete Knight, who wrote Proposition 22, banning same-sex marriage, despite having a gay son. However, I do think that it is correct that more people support gay rights, because more people know GLBT people.

I see this all the time when it comes to disability - people tuning into disability issues and rights when they know someone who is disabled or when they become disabled - and it is more often than not dramatic and moving. Take what happened when I was at the Post Office yesterday.

I was buying stamps, and the clerk who helped me was a guy who has been there for years. He has always been nice enough but a bit brusque. Just doing his job. Dealing with people, including people like me.

As he was assisting me with getting out my cash, he asked me if I know what Bell’s Palsy is.

I said I did, wondering what was up. Did he think I have Bell’s Palsy instead of Cerebral Palsy?

"I was out with it for three months last year." He must have seen that I was still looking for a point, because he quickly added, "The point is that I really admire you, John. I got a tiny idea of what you go through every day."

Sure, maybe he was being patronizing, but I think - or like to think - he was too much of a man changed for that. He did say that he had only a "tiny idea."

I’m thinking we might get somewhere if everyone was disabled or gay or something for three months.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Time to stop hiding behind the signs

My Quaker meeting marching in a gay pride parade. Imagine that.

This was, literally, the challenge given when a friend of mine, a gay man who attends another meeting not too far away and who is very active in the unprogrammed Quaker community, gave a presentation at my meeting last Sunday. I had asked him to speak on GLBT issues and Quakers just over a year ago when we attended a national gathering of queer Quakers.

He didn’t give the talk I had in mind, but it was the richer and more powerful. He spoke of accompanying someone through a hard or challenging time and how it can be both very difficult and very rewarding. He spoke of helping friends and his sister as they went through the process of dying, and he spoke of assisting me several years ago to get to a gathering in a rural area in another state.

My friend pointed out that it is important to be open to the other’s experiences and feelings and not to presume to know what s/he is going through. Also important is being patient with the other’s anger and frustrated and not to take it personally.

What my friend did so marvelously was to relate all this to how Quakers can embrace GBLT people. He talked about not only supporting but being an ally to queer friends in their struggle for validation and equal rights. He mentioned that, as in many cases of accompanying, this involves recognizing privilege and moving beyond it. For example, it is important to see that, in sharp contrast to a common argument, a straight couple’s marriage is devalued when a gay couple isn’t allowed to marry.

My friend stressed that it isn’t enough for Quakers to say, as my meeting does in minutes deep in our files, that GLBT people are equal and that they can marry. He said that Quakers need to "hang out there" with queer folks.

As in a gay pride parade. And not as individuals but as a meeting. And with a sign proclaiming our name. (My friend mentioned that this would be ten times more powerful than a gay church, like the Metropolitan Community Church, being in the parade.)

I’ve been saying something like this for a while. The way I put it is that Quakers have been hiding behind their "No on Proposition 8" signs (referring to California’s initiative banning same-sex marriage) and behind their minutes. It’s time for Quakers to stop hiding and to come out.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Giving into the T.V

Last night, I recorded a television program. Not only that, I was able to watch another program at the same time.

To say the least, I am thrilled. Even as I am grumbling - if not kicking and screaming.

Faithful readers know that I haven’t been able to do this for about nine months. It would have been a year, except that the government delayed the switch to digital T.V from February to June when so many people had trouble with it. They also know I haven’t been able to record at all since September when I bought a digital television after going through two converter boxes with which my ability to record was severely limited, and I certainly couldn’t record a program while watching another. What’s more, I haven’t even been about to watch D.V.D’s and videos, because I wasn’t getting sound with my V.C.R.

Yes, faithful readers know all about my railing. I proclaimed that it’s totally unfair that the powers-that-be took away my ability to do something. At least for free. Indeed, after months of looking, asking people, paying for advice, thinking, whining and even making a misguided purchase and returning it, I realized that if I want to record, I have to pay. At the very least, I needed a D.V.R (about $375 - more than what I paid for the T.V), plus a monthly service. I also griped about not wanting hundreds of channels, sports, movies and whatever.

This weekend, I stopped whining and had DirecTV installed. I got the cheapest package, and I think it’s a good deal. After paying $20 for the professional installation (the guy also fixed the wiring on my V.C.R, so I can now watch D.V.Ds and videos with sound), I’m paying about $41 a month, and it includes a D.V.R. I need to call, as I was instructed by the very nice, understanding and helpful man who took my order, and cancel Showtime, the one cable channel in the package, before the free three months expire.

What’s more, I really like the features. Not just that I can record, including while I watch another program. It lists the actual T.V programs, and I just click on a program to record it. No more time-setting, etc. Pretty cool. And no doubt there’s more cool stuff that I may or may not discover or use.

But, as happy as I am with what I got, I still, in addition to wondering if I’ll be able to afford this, as good as the deal is, feel like I’ve sold out, given in. I’m still pissed off that I now have to pay to be able something that I used to be able to do for free. I still say that this is terribly unfair, and I wonder if other low-income people are stuck with regular T.V and no recording.

And here’s another thing I can bitch about now: I’ll be spending more time watching T.V!