Monday, December 26, 2011

Tech support

I continue to marvel at how technology can help people. (Never mind for the moment, during this joyous season, how it can harm people.) Take my DynaVox, for example - the speech synthesizer I have written about several times here, which I use via a camera that follows a silver dot stuck onto the bridge of my glasses and which I now call Dyna. Incredible!

Dyna was outdone, though, when I attended a P-FLAG meeting earlier this month in Los Angeles. This was my second time at this meeting. I wrote here about my experience going to this meeting for the first time in October, saying I missed going to these supportive meetings after the one in Claremont faded out years ago.

One thing I didn’t write about at the time was that there was a transgender man at the meeting, accompanied by his mother, an American visiting him from Quatar.

The young man was at this month’s meeting. The mother had long since returned to Quatar, but she was there, with her son and us, at the meeting. Literally. The son plugged in his laptop, and there was his mother, on Skype, able to see as well as hear us, for the entire hour and an half.

That’s what I call support - through the wonder of technology. Like I said, incredible!

And all I want is my parents to just go to a P-FLAG meeting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Season's reason and reasoning

Things are getting plenty scary in this season of peace and joy. I read yesterday that Newt Gingrich, the new favorite among the Republican presidential candidates, declared that, if he is president, he will ignore court rulings that he doesn’t agree with and perhaps do away with some courts. He maintains that it’s time to end the tyranny of “activist judges.” (Interestingly, when asked if President Obama can ignore the Supreme Court if it outlaws the national healthcare law, Gingrich demurred.)

More timely, if not even more frightening, is that Rick Perry, another viable GOP presidential candidate, recently said that “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” He went on to say, “As president, I’ll fight against Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage...”

There’s something wrong, terribly wrong, in this country when these utterances aren’t from a Saturday Night Live skit, when these guys are for real and are taken seriously, when one of them may well be our next president. I’d like to think that it’s less likely that the unpopular Obama will lose if up against one of these men rather than the less outrageous Mitt Romney, but, given the rabid Tea Partiers and evangelicals and the Democrats’ (arguably unfair) disappointment in Obama, I’m not sure if this is a real hope or just wishful thinking.

I don’t want to end with a bah humbug! To make these holidays a bit saner, if not merry and bright, check out these videos:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

America can't take a holiday

My family lived in London for a year when I was 15, and Christmas was on Saturday that year. The next day was designated “Christmas Sunday,” a holiday, and Boxing Day, a holiday usually celebrated on the 26th, was observed on Monday. (Never mind that a couple centuries ago, celebrating Christmas was heresy to some in Britain.) This meant three days off, and when I say off, I really mean off. There wasn’t even a newspaper published for three days.

This drove my father crazy. As he said, a nuclear bomb could be dropped somewhere in the world or our house in California could be destroyed in an earthquake, and he wouldn’t know. (The news was on the BBC, but my dad has never been one for television.)

He didn’t mind the stores being closed; he just couldn’t stand there being no newspaper for three days. My father - and anyone in my family - has never gone to a sale on “Black Friday,” the all-important shopping day in America on the day after Thanksgiving - and definitely not at 5 a.m.

This year, in addition to the market again being open on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday crept into Thanksgiving, with many stores opening at 9 or 10 that evening.

So much for Thanksgiving. So much for taking a day, a whole day, off. In America, it’s all about “for your convenience.” It’s all about having every chance to cash in and for someone to make a buck.

There was a woman interviewed on the news on T.V - PBS - saying that “this is what’s wrong with this country.” As hysterical and right-wing as she sounded, she is right. To paraphrase, America is going to Hell in a shopping cart.

Pretty soon, stores will be open on Christmas Day, so there will be another shopping day “for your convenience.” After all, isn’t there a wall between church and state in this country?

There are those who argue that all this shopping is a good thing - and not just because it helps the economy and, as George Bush said, defeats the terrorists. In an Op-Ed piece published on Black Friday in the Los Angeles Times, James Livingston, a professor of history at Rutgers University, statement that “consumer culture is good for your soul.” He argues that “it is a part of leisure, not work” and goes on to explain, “Whether you’re purchasing food for a family meal, buying someone a drink or getting in line to buy a gift on Black Friday, you’re spending time and money to create new circuits of feeling among friends and family.”

So, in this essay, titled “Spend for your soul” and which was paired with an article titled “Stuffing ourselves” condemning Black Friday and the consuming it encourages, Livingston, who most recently authored “Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment and Your Soul” (really!), is positing that we need to spend money to find community and get love (“create new circuits of feeling among friends and family”).

To paraphrase again, something is indeed rotten - and terribly sad - in these United States.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy Thanksgiving - bringing the movement home for the holidays

Below is my latest column in the Claremont Courier. Meanwhile, two addendums:

1. Occupy L.A has been offered some offices for $1 a year and some land to farm for free in exchange for moving off the City Hall's now-dead lawn, in yet another instance, unlike in other cities, of the city bending over backwards to be accommodating. Mmmmm... I'm not sure if this - being bought off - is, or should be, what the occupiers had in mind. Then again, Occupy L.A has always been the Hollywood version of the movement.

2. There is now Occupy Claremont - two tents set up in front of the City Council chamber by Pitzer College students on Sunday, after my column came out. I can't help but chuckle at the fact that the students won't be there for the Thanksgiving break!


There it was. For all to see. It couldn’t be missed.

The words were spray-painted in deep red on the white wall of the exterior of the Bank of America branch in the Village when I passed by two Friday mornings ago. The paint dribbled down the wall at a few points, like blood oozing from a fresh stabbing.

“Pay tax.”

There was no mistaking the message, and it was indeed a piercing of sorts.
In my last column, I wrote about how the Occupy Wall Street movement, protesting corporate greed and other injustices, social and otherwise, isn’t so far off from Claremont. But I wasn’t expecting it to be this close. Then again, I can’t say I was that surprised.

“That’s horrible!” a friend exclaimed. “How could this happen in nice, little Claremont?” I couldn’t tell if my friend was genuinely disturbed or was being tongue-in-cheek.

When I passed the wall again a few minutes later, a man was working to clean off the graffiti.

“I wish they had done this on the windows,” I heard the man say as I passed by. “That would have made my job a lot easier.”

Maybe it was just as well that he was having a hard time scrubbing off that graffiti. Perhaps we next to look at the writing on the wall, so to speak, here in “nice, little Claremont.”

No one can tell me that there are no people living in Claremont who agree with the sentiment sprawled on the wall, that big financial institutions should be more socially responsible, should be more fair to consumers and shouldn’t be bailed out by the taxpayers. No one can tell me that there are no Claremont residents who are frustrated and hurting, maybe out of a job, maybe out of unemployment checks, having trouble making ends meet.

I don’t think this was some high school kid thinking he was being cool with the message of the moment. After all, it was reported that there was a similar message written on the wall of the other Bank of America office in Claremont, on Foothill Boulevard, that same morning. No, this was someone who knew what they were doing, who had a specific plan and a specific message.

Heck, there are probably at least a few students at the colleges here - or recent graduates sticking around town, who are feeling all but frantic and despairing about paying back hefty student loans, perhaps without being able to find a job.

Not that writing on walls is the best way to express anger and try to change things. But I have to say that I can’t get that worked up about this vandalism. It was not a threat, and I much rather see this than something more destructive or lethal.

I think the real question is, what do we do with the message on the wall? Do we just have it scrubbed off and then go about our way in “nice, little” Claremont?

With the holiday season coming up or more or less already here - we can tick off Halloween and the Pilgrim Place Festival - this may sound like the way to go. It may be best, it may be easier to snuggle into the celebrations and merry-making as the year winds down, even if things are not the best for some or many of us. But it could be that the disturbing, piercing writing on the wall is more bounty in this season of giving thanks.

It could be that, even as we want to not hear all the bad news and all the loud back-biting, this venting, this expression of anger and frustration is a rich bit - a rich, unexpected and even, yes, unwanted bit - in this harvest season.

This venting, this messy, ugly outcrying, even on our quiet, leafy streets, could be seen as a curse, but it is really a blessing - another one this Thanksgiving.

It is unfortunate and sad that things have gotten to the point where people feel that they have to camp out or scrawl messages on a wall, but such activism, such passionate, hands-on civil engagement is something to behold and be thankful for.

That what this is. The Occupy Wall Street movement is way past being a bunch of kooks. It is getting harder and harder not to take it seriously. The question, again, like with the graffiti in the Village, is what to do with it - or should we be doing anything with it here in Claremont?

In my last column, I wrote about visiting Occupy L.A and about how, although things are relatively, even surprisingly calm at the encampment (I think of it as, appropriately enough, the Hollywood version of Occupy), there is notable tension there, with people having differing views and styles, even if they have the same desires and goals. I wrote about the detailed guidelines there for holding meetings and reaching consensus and that, if nothing else, the protesters are learning and showing us all how to and how not to live and work together in community.

Since then, I have heard about people at Occupy L.A getting tired and yelling at each other about smoking pot and drumming late into the night and also segregating themselves. I have heard about people there coming to blows. I have also heard about some of the protesters meditating together and about the suggestion of asking someone who is angry to sit down, “because it is harder to be violent when you are sitting down.”

What can we learn from all this here in Claremont? Is there a message here about making this community more inclusive, where people can express differing views and improve things together, and even more something to be thankful for? Or do we just do what’s easier and only scrub off the unattractive, challenging writing on the wall?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eye in the sky

Starting next year, the city of Lancaster, in the desert roughly 45 minutes northeast of Los Angeles, is set to have a plane flying around 24/7, keeping an eye on the city. One resident quoted in the Los Angeles Times calls it a “spy plane” and is happy that it is coming.

The ACLU isn’t so sure. There is concern about privacy - duh! - especially with the plane videotaping and being able to see into backyards. The Lancaster police point out that the plane will enable them to see someone in trouble and needing assistance, and they promise that certain people won’t be targeted and that a very limited set of people can see the videotape. Meanwhile, Mayor Rex Parrish declares that he wants to make Lancaster “the safest city in America.”

Ah - Rex Parrish. Is he still the mayor there? Apparently so. This is a mayor who tried to have the City Council start all their meetings with a prayer to Jesus. He also tried to make it harder for landlords to rent to people with Section 8 housing subsidies, who are poor and tend to be of color. In fact, there is an ongoing federal investigation into surprise inspections of Section 8 rental units within the city (the annual inspections are typically scheduled weeks in advance) which are usually and very atypically accompanied by gun-toting police officers.

I draw two conclusions from this. One is that it really is the case that things tend to get much less progressive pretty quickly as one heads inland, at least on the west coast. The other is that it might be time to donate to the ACLU.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Looking at looking at the disabled

When I got to the theater, the man who was to speak wasn’t there. But he did speak. He was on a large screen, and not only did he speak live, he could see those of us who were there in the theater at Scripps College here in Claremont.

It is amazing what technology can do, and that was the point that Tobin Siebers, the V.L Parrington Collegiate Professor and Professor of English Language and Literature and Art & Design at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, started off with in his lecture, pointing out that it makes things easier or possible to do for people with disabilities. In this case, as he said, technology made it possible for him to be with us, so to speak, without having to travel. I am assuming that Siebers is disabled, although I couldn’t tell by looking at him, at least on the screen.

This was ironic - eerily so - since he was talking about how we judge whether someone is disabled or not by how they look. In his talk, entitled “The Mad Woman Project: Disability and the Aesthetics of Human Disqualification,” Siebers discussed the fact that disabled people have been dismissed, pitied, seen as in need of curing or repair, segregated, even eliminated primarily because they are unattractive, ugly, grotesque. Siebers posited that, even with recent civil rights laws and other gains, people with disabilities are the only minority that it is “okay” to do this to (for example, trying to cure them, the implication being that they are “not okay.”) I would add that some may argue that this is also the case with queer people, but I would also say that this is really getting to be less okay.

The talk, part of a series called “The Body Politic” put on this semester by the Humanities Institute at Scripps College, was full of facts and insights - many more than I can convey here - but focused on a collection of photographs called “The Mad Woman Project” by a Korean artist. The photographs, shown on the screen along with Siebers, featured women who were mentally disabled/retarded, looking unkempt, disoriented and disheveled and sometimes behaving inappropriately, and were clearly meant to make us uncomfortable. Siebers later revealed that the women in the series aren’t disabled and talked about how the artist is also commenting on the powerful role of beauty or the lack thereof plays in how women are judged (i.e: an ugly woman is or can be more easily called “mad” or, more often, a “bitch”). He went on to briefly contrast this artist’s (I regret that I don’t recall the name) intentions with that of American artist Cindy Sherman, whose photographs are more simply about theatricality and shock.

I want to mention that Siebers took time to point out that the academic field of Disability Studies is not about understanding the disabled and how to help or cure them. Rather, it is about looking at disability as a social concept and how society, in how it does or does not accommodate, makes those with limitations inferior, left out and, indeed, “disabled.”

Aside from the photo project, none of this was new to me. In fact, much of my artistic work has been about how people judge me by how I look as a severely disabled person, and I have also written here about this and what I call the “disabling society.” It was just nice to see it all laid out plainly and matter-of-factly, if not simply, for a general audience (too bad the audience was small), including in the very way it was presented.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Welcome to Camp Sociology

In my last post, I mentioned my visit to Occupy Los Angeles and said that I would write more about it. I did so in my Claremont Courier column which comes out today and which is below.

I’ll mentioned as an addendum that I read an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times several days ago about how, for the most part, progressive Christian churches aren’t involved in this movement, especially in L.A, despite sharing many of its values and goals. As one religious scholar was quoted as asking, “Where are the Quakers?”

Also, it seems that, with the relative lack of police action and violence and even inclement weather associated with it, Occupy L.A, perhaps appropriately, is the Hollywood version of the Occupy movement. There's something pat and movie-like and not quite real about it.


“Welcome to Occupy Claremont.”

Perhaps not everyone in the Village for the Friday Night Live concert by Squeakin’ Wheels a few weeks ago appreciated this repeated barbed salutation from the band. It is likely that the commentary resonated with fans of the longtime Claremont folk group as it played in front of the City Council chamber, but I wonder if there were other passerby that evening who were shocked that Claremont could have anything to do with the boat-rocking, rabel-rousing Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic as well as social and environmental injustice.

It was about this time, in fact, that it fully dawned on me that Claremont isn’t so far off from this phenomenon - literally. After all, Occupy L.A, which started in September on the lawns flanking Los Angeles City Hall, is just some 30 miles away. Not even that, it turns out.

As I saw several days later, it is an easy Metrolink train ride and a few blocks’ walk away. One can also include a short ride on the Red Line subway. So, really, it is a jump and a hop, or perhaps a jump, skip and hop, away to a fascinating bit of history being made.

In a bit more than an hour after leaving Claremont, I was in the colorful sea of tents that I saw on the front page of the Los Angeles Times before I left. (According to the Times story then, there were about 350 tents, with something like 700 nightly residents.) I immediately thought of the music festivals I have camped at, except that the tents were much more jammed together, and there were many more, and more pointed, signs and banners (mostly hand-made).

Yes, as an article in the next day’s Times pointed out, the lawn was quite brown, but just as notable was, unlike with occupiers in some other cities and in day-and-night contrast with what happened in Oakland last week, how welcoming a host City Hall is. I saw several police officers chatting with the occupiers in a friendly manner, and it is well-known that Mayor Villaraigosa gave out plastic ponchos when it rained last month. I also quickly noticed that, for its part, the encampment is really quite tidy. There are “zero waste” trash, recycle and compost bins in various locations.

Indeed, what struck me most was how very well organized this group is. On a monument at the center of the main encampment south of City Hall were posted a series of large-print broadsheets with detailed guidelines for conducting business and reaching consensus. Also explained was the difference between a general meeting, a committee, a workshop and an affinity group, as well as a number of hand and arm gestures to facilitate communication in a large meeting. Nearby, there was a whiteboard with a full schedule with all these meetings, plus mealtimes.

While I was there, there was a short pep talk by a comedian, Jeff Ross. (Unlike on Wall Street, where the occupiers have come up with the “human microphone,” there was amplification, and it was announced that the microphone was “solar-powered today.”) It was also announced that there would be a workshop the following day on how to make one’s own generator. In addition, during my visit, an affinity group meeting for GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) folks got underway.

These protesters may not know exactly what they are saying, but they definitely know how to say it. Too bad we have seen the focus on the former rather than the latter.

I am not saying that there are no problems and that all is lovey-dovey at Occupy L.A. While I noted the peaceful atmosphere, there was some tension in the air - another thing, as with the drumming also evident during my visit, that the mainstream media unfortunately tends to focus on. It is evident that some chronically homeless/street people and an anarchist element have gotten into the mix.

I heard one occupier, apparently on security/maintenance duty, say into a walkie-talkie, “Oh, that dude! I know the one. He’s always causing trouble!”

Several times during the comedian’s spiel, there would be a shouted interruption (“Down with the capitalists!” or whatnot) and some spontaneous chanting.

And the guys with bandanas over their noses and mouths? What’s that all about? Please don’t tell me it’s supposed to make them look more serious, like they mean business.

The next day’s Times article mentioned that one woman had left the protest, feeling that it was corrupted by people who didn’t care about economic justice. “Everybody is pretty much partying it up,” she was quoted as saying. The article also said that there was tension in the encampment over drug use and drinking. I have to say that I caught a sweet whiff or two during my visit, and I hope, especially with City Hall bending over backwards to be tolerant, the protesters nipped the use of illegal substances in the bud (pun intended). Otherwise, Occupy L.A will be gone. Like that.

As I write this, it sounds like City Hall may be running out of patience, even if the occupiers keep their act straight. Whether or not Occupy L.A remains, it, along with all the other occupiers in other cities, have brought up plenty to ponder.

At one point while I was there, a man rode a bicycle around and around the center of the protest, joyously shouting, “The revolution will be televised!” Whether or not the revolution will be on T.V, it will certainly be on-line. During my visit, I saw a number of people using laptops, and I made note of the “media tent.”

It has been said over and over that the occupiers’ message is vague and unclear. I think the message is pretty clear, and I’m beginning to wonder if the media - and the rest of us - don’t want to hear it.

Another thing that has been said, awfully glibly, is that the Occupy Wall Street movement is the Tea Party of the left. At the risk of being glib myself, I would argue that there is a crucial difference: the tea partiers don’t want to pay taxes to fund services for others, and the occupiers are happy to pay taxes but want everyone to get the services the taxes fund.

At the very least, the occupiers are learning and also teaching us all dramatically what it’s like to be homeless, when having to pee or sleep can be a crime. (I saw that someone had set up a solar-powered shower tent, but why have it so close to the street?) But there’s more. This protest has become a big social experiment, challenging both its participants and the rest of us, both in its message and how it is done, to consider how a fair and decent society works or should work.

As for Occupy L.A being not so far from Claremont, it may be even closer. Soon after I arrived, a woman I didn’t know approached me with the greeting, “Rise up, Claremont!”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Waving the the (P)flag

I went to a P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting last week. It wasn’t my first P-FLAG meeting, but it may as well have been. And not just because it was at a place I’ve never been (the Metropolitan Community Church) in Los Angeles, and nobody knew me when I made my entrance in my wheelchair, and I was asked, “And who are you?” (Yikes, but I’m delighted to say that I passed with flying colors - pun intended - with my speech device.)

I had learned a few days earlier that a friend of mine is involved with this group, and I decided to go out there on a whim. As I told the group, there used to be a P-FLAG meeting here in Claremont when I came out about ten years ago. Going to the meeting at that time was very helpful, and I missed it when it ceased to exist.

But I really didn’t remember. I forgot how powerful a P-FLAG meeting is. I forgot about the funny and wrenching coming-out stories, about how moving it is to hear a mother say all the horrible things she thought when her son told her that he’s gay, about how touching it is to see a father cry when telling how he rejected his lesbian daughter. Even more powerful is when, as in a couple cases at this meeting, both the child and parent are there.

I forgot how much I love having this community, even as it hurts me when I, as I also said at the meeting, wish my parents would attend a P-FLAG meeting (if not march in a gay pride parade as part of a P-FLAG contingent).

I also remembered the piece I wrote attending my first P-FLAG meeting. I was terrified - not only of announcing that I’m gay, but this was long before I had my speech device - and I was accompanied by my friends Alan and Jim, who all but held my hand. Unfortunately, I can’t find a hard copy of the piece, which was published in the chapter newsletter and which was lost, along with all my other writing, when my hard drive crashed two years ago. (Hard lesson learned: Always back up your files!)

Soon after attending the meeting last week, I got the idea of getting the Claremont P-FLAG meeting up and running again. I probably can’t, but I sure would like to. It is crazy that I have to drive to L.A and my P-FLAG-attends Claremont friends trek to Orange County.

There’s something more, though. It can be argued that the laying down of a P-FLAG meeting is a good thing, because it means that everything is okay for GLBT people. I don’t buy it. I don’t think P-FLAG is about or all about getting gay rights. Even if we queer folks get all the rights we need and want, it is still important to have places where we and our loved ones to go and have community and support.

P.S: Speaking of community, I went to Occupy L.A a couple days ago. What struck me most was how very, very organized it is. There are detailed guidelines on conducting business and reaching consensus, and there are general meetings, committees, workshops and affinity groups (including “GLBTQ”. (Sound familiar, fellow Quakers?)

However, that doesn’t mean that there are no problems and that everything is lovey-dovey. For example, I read yesterday that the people there are arguing over drugs. They need to nip this is the bud - pun definitely intended - and ban illegal drugs, or Occupy L.A will very soon be over. (I plan to post more about Occupy L.A soon.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oh, Claremont!

Here, in my latest column in the Claremont Courier, is an example of how my beloved hometown of Claremont, like with all that we most love, sometimes drives me crazy.

I’ll also note that this column coincidentally appeared during the same week that Ken Burns’ Prohibition was broadcast on PBS. The three-part documentary about the constitutional amendment banning the sale and purchasing of alcoholic beverages in the 1920's is a brilliant look at the folly of legislating morality. What started as a well-intentioned attempt to end a possibly dangerous and destructive behavior went terribly awry and ended up making the behavior not only more attractive but also even more dangerous and destructive.

I should also point out that Rancho Cucamonga is a town several miles east of Claremont.


Now, the picture, with its fine lines and exquisite details, can be seen. At last, the message, whether it be small and ever-so-discreet or big and out-there bold, can be exposed. Finally, the truth, either in simple black and white or in glorious color, is revealed for all to see.

After all this time, the Claremont Tattoo Parlor can now, finally, be in Claremont.

At least, technically.

The Claremont Tattoo Parlor? Yes. There has been a Claremont Tattoo Parlor - actually, Claremont Tattoo Studio - for years.

In Rancho Cucamonga.

Not in Claremont.

Because the Claremont Tattoo Studio, which is at 3086 Archibald Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga, couldn’t be in Claremont. It, along with all other tattoo parlors, was banned in Claremont.
The Claremont Tattoo Studio has been in Rancho Cucamonga for over 15 years since, in 1994, it tried to open up shop in the arcade in the Village and it was deemed necessary to outlaw tattoo parlors in Claremont.

That’s all of Claremont. Not just the Village. (I’ll get to why this is important later.)

Never mind that, at the time, most of the guys working at Some Crust Bakery, just down the street from the arcade in the Village on Yale Avenue, doling out our beloved croissants and cookies, were covered in tattoos. Not only did they have the standard tattoos on their upper arms, they had tattoos running down their arms. And down their legs, which the guys showed off in their shorts.

Yes, this was a big deal, a huge bruhaha. I got three columns out of it. Three consecutive columns. That’s about a month and a half that the controversy went on for.

And it was weird. Just as weird as it sounds, with a bunch of tattooed bakers a block down the street. Just as weird as the Claremont Tattoo Studio being in Rancho Cucamonga.

The City, backed by the City Council, kept coming up with problems that a tattoo parlor in the Village would present. There were concerns about the instruments being kept sanitized. There were concerns about the tattooing being screened off.

It was argued that there were not enough or strong enough state and county regulations pertaining to these and the many other such issues that the City came up with. That other towns which had tattoo parlors also didn’t have all these health regulations didn’t matter.

The thing was that the City had no rules regarding tattoo parlors, and here it had the Claremont Tattoo Studio wanting to set up shop. The City, backed by the City Council, deemed it best to ban tattoo parlors.

Of course, the sanitizing and the screening and all that weren’t the issue. But they were easier for the City to say than something like, “We don’t want these seedy joints and the kind of folks they attract here.”

It was even easier just to outlaw tattoo parlors.

Like I said, it was weird. Because look at the folks Some Crust was attracting. And - oh, yeah - what about Rhino Records?

But it gets weirder. Or, really, it gets logical and makes sense.

Flash forward twenty years, and the brilliant colors are filled in on this puppy.

Because, now, after all this time since the Claremont Tattoo Studio was told that it and its fellow establishments weren’t welcome here, tattoo parlors are allowed in Claremont.

And that’s because it turns out, these twenty years later, that banning tattoo parlors may well be unconstitutional.

It turns out that Claremont can’t ban “these seedy joints and the kind of folks they attract.” Even when these folks are already here.

Like I said, brilliant.

It turns out that a tattoo artist tried to set up shop in Hermosa Beach and was stopped because of a ban similar to Claremont’s. The tattoo artist appealed, and, last year, the U.S 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban violates the First Amendment, with its guarantee of free expression. Especially with the state and county health officials beefing up their inspections in the last decade, there was no escaping this conclusion.

And there was no escaping for Claremont. The City realized that its ban is a no-go and that it too could be sued.

Brian Desatnik, director of community development, couldn’t have said it better. “Banning tattooing is unconstitutional. Changes needed to be made in order to be in compliant with the law.”

So, in order to be legal, in order to be constitutional, Claremont now allows tattoo parlors.

But not in the Village.

It’s still weird but not as weird.

Along with lifting the ban, the City Council approved restrictions on where tattoo parlors can locate within Claremont. In addition to not being able to set up shop less than 200 feet from any residential district, religious institutions, school or public park and 250 feet from another tattoo parlor, tattoo parlors are only allowed in business/industrial areas just above Foothill Boulevard and just above Arrow Highway.

The Village is out - no question.

Mayor Pro Temp Larry Shroeder assures that the City will have “the ability to place those businesses in the appropriate space and not necessarily right in our Village.”

Of course. Not “those businesses.”

Like sex offenders.

It doesn’t matter that, while tattoos aren’t for everybody, an awful lot of people under about 35 have them, and more and more don’t hide them. It doesn’t matter that, yes, gang-bangers and ex-cons have tattoos, but so do office workers, teachers, computer technicians, postal workers, waiters - all kinds of people - and don’t forget bakers and record store clerks. It doesn’t matter that all these people, with all their tattoos, frequent the Village, and some also work in the Village.

Speaking of frequenting the Village, I always hear it lamented that not enough of the college students, as well as others, go to the Village. Well, if there was a tattoo parlor in the Village, more students would definitely be in the Village.

Or maybe we don’t want those kinds of people.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And, furthermore...

For worse and for better, when it comes to two issues I wrote about earlier this year, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

*I wrote about how crazy it was that Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman in January’s Tuscon massacre, was being forcibly medicated so that he can stand trial and be convicted. According to recent news, things are still crazy, if not crazier.

Last week, U.S District Judge Larry Burns, who ruled in May that Loughner was mentally unfit to stand trial, extended Loughner’s treatment, including forced medication presumably, at a federal prison hospital in Missouri by four months, declaring that “measurable progress towards restoration has been made.” It was noted that, although his lawyers say that he is so disabled that he has been on suicide watch since July and continues to be psychotic despite medication, Loughner no longer smears feces on his bed, is less likely to speak in a confusing “word salad” and has expressed remorse. Loughner has also spoken of his dogs and turtles with affectation, and one expert said, “His humanity is coming back.”

Good. That means, hopefully, he can be put to death.

*Last week, I went to a talk at Pomona College by Carlos Motta, a queer artist and activist. He talked about his on-line project,, featuring interviews with dozens of queer activists, and I was reminded of a transgender performance artist and comedian I wrote about seeing at Pomona College in the Spring saying that while gay people want to be like everyone else (marriage, military service, etc.), queer people want everyone else to be like them.

This wasn’t just a joke, and I feel this way more and more. As Motta pointed out in his talk last week, rather than celebrate the end of don’t-ask-don’t-tell as in the gay community, queer people ignore or reject it, in that it promotes the fighting of war and the destruction of humanity.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A September come true

I could have told you. In fact, I did tell you.

At the end of last month, I wrote here that I was happy that September was on the way. I wrote about how I really like September here, about how things really pick up at this time in this college town, even though it can be awfully hot. And I wrote that I liked knowing that everyone else is here, at work, even in the horrible heat, like me - and not off on some vacation.

Yes, I shouldn’t be surprised. It always happens. Just when I’m ready for the cooler weather, just when I’m set for my favorite season of Fall, which starts today, it gets really hot.

Then why was I surprised yesterday when it got really, really hot and really, really humid, leaving me again with no energy? Why am I shocked today to be starting another Fall shirtless in my cut-off overalls?

I really can imagine a poor freshman kid from Vermont or somewhere at one of the colleges here calling home in tears and saying he had made a terrible mistake.

Like I said, along with many other things, in my Claremont Courier column earlier this month.


Random thoughts - like the leaves that will start falling soon enough:

*A grunt is not like a cobbler. Instead of a topping, a grunt has little dumplings.

*It’s amazing what can be learned - like what a grunt is - on-line. (I was looking for a recipe with blueberries.)

*The hand-painted signs on the buildings at Pomona College for freshman orientation this year were very clean-cut and straight-forward. No crazy curves and tie-dyed rainbow colors.

*Speaking of tie-dyed rainbow colors, I found out this summer that Spensers has way cooler shoelaces - and lots of other way cooler stuff - than Hot Topic. In fact, I don’t know how Hot Topic gets by with Spensers two doors down in the Montclair Plaza.

*I didn’t find this out on-line. The guy at Hot Topic told me to check out Spensers when I couldn’t find my usual rainbow shoelaces at Hot Topic. I wonder if he tells this to a lot of people.

*Hey, if I could buy rainbow shoelaces in Claremont, I would. I certainly wouldn’t go to the mall.

*In Claremont, September might just as well be January. With Claremont being a college town and with all the students settled back in school, it really feels like a new year here.

*Or let’s just say it’s a turn in the year. A big turn.

*Unfortunately, the weather in September isn’t like the weather in January. It may be cool at times, but September has been known as the hottest month here. After all, it’s “Fair time.”

*Why can’t the Los Angers County Fairgrounds be pretty - that’s right, pretty, with grass and pine trees - like the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley?

*I wonder why The Help came out last month instead of in the Fall, when the better, more prestigious movies come out. It is an old-fashioned good movie. Too bad it also has an old-fashioned Hollywood view of a white person coming to the rescue of the blacks.

*Am I the only one who looks forward to the end of Daylight Savings Time?

*The Hodads, who played at Memorial Park last month, give the Ravelers a run for their money in my book. As for the Answer, please - it’s so old-hat.

*Speaking of books, it’s not too late for a good, crazy, trashy read. Mark Haskell Smith’s Baked, which I happened upon at Barnes and Noble after buying the rainbow shoelaces, fits the bill quite nicely. The blurb on the back - “murder, mayhem, marijuana and Mormans” - pretty much sums it up. And Smith, by the way, is a damn good writer.

*It’s also not too late for one last trip to the beach. Or two or three.

*Lots of times, I wish there was only one band playing in the Village on Friday evenings. Maybe they is just the obsessive compulsive in me, who wants to respect both acts, speaking. At least have the two acts be completely different.

*I’m actually glad that Sunset Junction, the annual two-day street fair in the Silverlake neighborhood in Los Angeles, was denied permits due to not paying thousands in fees and had to cancel at the last minute. It got too big for its britches with its big-name acts. I remember getting in with a $3 voluntary donation, in contrast to the $25 charge in recent years.

*And I get cranky when the Village Venture - yep, another thing that’s coming up - takes over our downtown for one day. Imagine having to pay $25 just to go to the Village, before shopping or anything. That’s just wrong!

*Actually, I was on-line looking for a recipe for blueberry glop, but I couldn’t find one. Was blueberry glop - a very loose cobbler with lots and lots of blueberries - something we made up when I was a kid?

*I have written a lot about how Claremont in recent years has gotten to be not quite so dead in the summer, with the street fair and all the music in the Village. But it’s still nice to have the colleges back in session and having all those talks and performances going on.

*Okay, I have a confession: Another reason I like September is that, even if it gets really hot, everyone is back at work and back at school. I don’t feel like I’m stuck here working while others are off on fabulous, cool vacations. We’re all in the same boat.

*I wonder how many students from back east call home during a heat wave saying they made a horrible mistake after taking a campus tour on a bright, crisp February day.

*I’m also looking forward to those falling leaves, so brilliantly colored.

*And apple crisp, speaking of crisp.

*Apple is the best crisp, but what about making a crisp with blueberries? It’s not bad with peaches and raspberries.

*It’s sad to see Borders book store closed down.

*Shame on trying to get away with not collecting state taxes so that it can look more like a bargain, driving stores like Borders and especially smaller book shops out of business. And more shame for trying to do this by having us vote on it.

* - the new Walmart.

*With apologies to the Claremont Forum’s used book store benefitting its wonderful prison library project, the Village needs a good, big book store. And somewhere to buy tie-dyed rainbow shoelaces.

*Spensers. For such a hip store, it sounds so old-fashioned. Like a five-and-dime. Or a grunt.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Living on fear

There he was, advocating torture, pure and simple, in no uncertain terms. He said he would use water-boarding in a heartbeat (if it would lead to any terrorist information).

I never did like Dick Cheney, and I didn’t expect to like him when I saw him interviewed on television last month. The man widely believed to be the force - the force for evil, many say - behind President George W. Bush was making a very rare appearance to promote his recently published memoir, and, not surprisingly perhaps, he didn’t pull any punches.

What was surprising was that, even as he was spewing awful things, I found myself having feeling, having heart, for Dick Cheney. That’s because he literally doesn’t have a heart.

In the interview, Cheney sat in a room and walked around his Wyoming ranch wearing a bulky vest loaded with batteries and wires. Quite eerily, he looked like a suicide bomber, but these batteries and wires keep his heart going after so many heart attacks. The interviewer panicked when, at one point, he disconnected the batteries and it beeped.

This may make Cheney look even more like Darth Vader, with powered breathing, but it occurred to me, as I watched all this, that this is a scared man, a man living in fear. His life is based on fear. To Cheney, death - never mind illness and disability - is imminent, and he has done everything, to the extent possible, to shield, if not arm, himself against it.

Unfortunately, perhaps because he is not good at dealing with this fear, he made everyone else feel it and the need for shielding and arming. And unfortunately, this fear was all too evident in many of the wall-to-wall commentaries and events marking Sunday’s tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The end of the tunnel

I am happy that I’m writing this. It means this month is over. And what a month it has been!

It started off with my birthday, August 1, falling on not only a Monday but the Monday I returned to working after more than two weeks of more or less not working. I was bummed big-time.

Because of the two and a half weeks off in July, I had to write three instead of two columns for the Claremont Courier, and I wrote a report on Pacific Yearly Meeting, an annual gathering of Quakers. This was on top of my blogging and some other work - and all in August, a month God made for laying out by the pool, if not the beach, with a trashy novel.

What’s more, I think the last week of August is one of the year’s arm-pits (the other is the week below Christmas and New Year’s). This year, it appropriately enough came with a big heat wave - but at least not a hurricane!

The other reason I’m happy is that I really like September - and not just because I’m taking off for six days on the first. For one thing, it means it won’t be too, too long before the cool weather comes, although there may I be some serious bumps along the way. Also, here in Claremont, September is really a new year, with all the college students coming back and things really picking up. But the real reason I like September is that, even if it turns out to be the hottest month as it sometimes has, with everyone back at work and at school, I’m not stuck here working while others are away on fabulous, cool vacations.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Where are Jerry's Kids?

A few weeks ago, the big news was that Jerry Lewis was ousted as the spokesman and public face of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He will no longer be doing his famous - or infamous - stint as host of the M.D.A’s marathon Labor Day telethon.

In what I read in the Los Angeles Times, there were plenty of people who were “outraged” that the “iconic” comedian was “unceremoniously dumped” from this “legendary” role. There was mention of how important it was to Mr. Lewis to find a cure for muscular dystrophy and to help to do so, including by annually hosting a live television broadcast for 24 hours straight. There was comment on how the comic is beloved despite having made impolitic remarks about women and gay people.

But there was nothing, other than a brief mention in a commentary, about Jerry’s Kids. There was nothing about how Jerry’s Kids have always considered Jerry Lewis and the telethon - or his telethon? - to be infamous, to say the least.

Jerry’s Kids are adults living with Muscular Dystrophy, spearheaded by Mike Ervin and others, who are active and productive and who have strenuously objected to the way Mr. Lewis has always, often in tears on the telethon, portrayed those with M.D as helpless, all-but-dead victims to be pitied. I remember at one point the Kids got into a public argument with Mr. Lewis, in which Mr. Lewis, in a television interview, not only adamantly refused to say he was doing anything wrong but also chastised the Kids for causing a ruckus.

There was nothing about this in all the news I saw. And I think this is more than another instance of the mainstream media ignoring the disabled and what matters to them.

In fact, Jerry Lewis’ ouster as the M.D.A spokesman can be seen as a victory for Jerry’s Kids and at least in part spurred on by them. The M.D.A surely recognizes that Mr. Lewis’ pity model is badly outdated (as is the telethon, which has been drastically shortened to 3 or 4 hours). Give the Kids some mention, if not some credit.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Good-bye, Mr. Weinberger

This was my column in the Claremont Courier a couple weeks ago.


“Do you need to wear shorts for therapy?”

Mmmmmm. Shorts for therapy. It was the perfect excuse for a guy fresh out of high school. Yes, I need to wear shorts to keep my legs in shape. Or how about this? If I don’t wear shorts, my health will be endangered.

Alas, I couldn’t use it. It was the Friday of my first week of being a summer intern at the Courier, and Martin Weinberger, my first boss, had gotten me. I went home, red-faced - why didn’t he tell me on Monday that short pants weren’t allowed at the office? - and made sure I wore long pants when it was time to go to work, no matter how matter how blazing hot it got.

Later, when I began writing my column at home and before I could e-mail it in (hopefully not the same as phoning it in), I would sort of panic when I showed up at the door to drop it off in my overalls, especially if I wasn’t wearing a shirt.

I thought of all this in the days after I heard that Martin had died a couple weeks ago during a hot spell. I also thought that it was most appropriate that this passing took place - almost like with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams - only a few minutes after the Fourth of July.

For Martin was always, always a teacher - sometimes quite a stern one - and his principle, most heartfelt subject, much more so than office attire, was a free, accurate press and its critical role in there being citizens with the right, if not the obligation, to be informed and active. I wasn’t surprised at all to read in his obituary that he wrote news stories as a child in school. And longtime readers surely remember him frequently opining in these pages on the importance of voting, lamenting and even chiding those who didn’t.

The summer of no shorts, in 1980, was the first of two or three, and it was when the Courier office was still on Harvard Avenue, with Martin perched at his desk on the upstairs balcony from where he could see all (including, no doubt, my bare legs...). It was when Martin’s bold, innovative use of super-sized, close-up photographs in the paper, with which he told me he wanted “to bring Claremonters into each other’s living rooms and kitchens” (remember the “Mug Shot” features?), were still causing a bit of rumbling and when Thelma O’Brien and Hope Weingrow were furiously banging out their stuff on manual typewriters, gunning, with cheers from their ardent fans, for the Pulitzers. It was also when I noticed that I was one of the few guys working there and first heard of what was affectionately referred to around town as “Martin’s harem.”

My job - or assignment, since I wasn’t getting paid then - from 8 to noon weekdays was to rewrite the press releases that kept piling up, taking out all the hyped-up language, giving “just the facts” but in a dynamic way, as Martin insisted. These came out as blurbs in the “Our Town” section. I also got to do some wedding and engagement announcements and even a few back-page items. None of these had a byline, but when the Courier came to my house, I very proudly circled every piece I had written in bright red.

My first byline came that first summer when Martin bought tickets to two Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labors Lost) at the Old Globe Theater complex in San Diego’s Balboa Park for me review. I was absolutely thrilled, having let him know I wanted to write reviews. He said this was fine but made sure I understood that what I was writing was not news. It was a review, an opinion - not news.

Martin loved - no, he adored - doing this kind of explaining. He really was a born teacher. And more often than not, as in his “My Side of the Line” column, there was a story or two, usually humorous, that went along with the explaining. I soon saw that these stories were quite familiar; as beloved as they were, there was always some eye-rolling from a staff member or two.

As with the bright, bold layout of the Courier, Martin liked trying new things, and I was certainly a new thing for him. Here I was - a kid in a wheelchair with speech he couldn’t understand. He clearly enjoyed the challenge. Even when he got stern with me, he would grin and chuckle. We were off on a grand, wild adventure together. (I just now realize he had me re-writing all those press releases so that I could do some straight journalism without having to interview people.)

After a few summers of doing internships in Riverside and then graduating from U.C Riverside in 1985 with a B.A in English, I was looked around for a job I could do and wrote to Martin, asking about doing movie reviews. He said that he already had a movie reviewer but suggested I write a regular column on goings-on in Claremont and how I saw them. This would be sort of like reviewing life, Claremont life - cool! At $10 a column, I was off and running.

We agreed that I would not mention my disability, except when it had something to do with what I was writing about (sidewalks and curb cuts, etc.). I loved not being a disabled columnist and that Martin encouraged this. (I’ve had plenty of other forums in which to write as a person with a disability.)

We did have our disagreements, though, especially in the first ten years or so, when he kept a particularly sharp eye on my column and although he would occasionally raise my pay in $5 increments. He got nervous when I got partisian (even though he agreed with me), didn’t like it when I didn’t mention Claremont in a column (“That could be in the Washington Post.”) and really had a problem when I wrote about an African-American professor publicly accusing (in an Op-Ed published in the Los Angeles Times) Claremont Graduate University of racism after being fired. He also told me not to include my poetry in my columns.

Most of these discussions, if that’s what they were, didn’t take place in person. (He had a fondness for typing out notes on his “letterhead” letterhead.) Once I started doing the column, I really didn’t see Martin much. This was no doubt for the best, since I had started wearing overalls - including, yes, short ones - and doing all kinds of things with my hair.

Much later, I would see him in passing slowly walking his dog Rosie outside the office on College Avenue. But I prefer to recall one of the other last times I saw him.

It was, in fact, in my final year at U.C.R. I was going down the hallway in the humanities building when I passed an open classroom door - and did a double take. There he was - Martin, standing at the head of the class.

Teaching. As always.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Playing with disability

“Sadly, the cost associated with taking the medication to control that illness was that he completely lost what he called ‘the pep.’ The pep stemmed from that manic energy that would compel him to just burst out into song and write and create music. Once he started taking the medications, sadly that ended. He was no longer Wild Man Fischer... He became Larry Fischer.”

Yes, it was sad, but for who?

It is bad - and sad - enough - or perhaps I just find it irritating enough - when disabled characters, especially those with psychological illnesses, are portrayed as oh-so cool, even hip. I’m talking about movies like Benny and Joon and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, in which the eternally cool Johnny Depp puts up with being responsible for his schizophrenic brother played by a young, hot Leonardo diCaprio. There’s also Girl, Interupted, in which the hip, pre-shoplifting Winnona Ryder plays a young woman chills out in a mental institution.

I can list other films, but I think you get the point: Being crazy, being a freak can be cool and entertaining, even fun.

However, these are just movies. What about the case of Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, who died last month? According to the large obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Fischer was a mentally ill man who hung out on the streets of Hollywood ranting like many others. But his rants were particularly creative and entertaining and caught the ear of Frank Zappa and other who got him gigs on recordings and shows.

Fischer got to be a star, a cool, hip star of sorts, but this stardom depended on him for being sick, on him being a freak. As conveyed in the quote above by Jeremy Lubin, a documentary filmmaker, when he sought to get more sane and “normal,” he lost the ability to be entertaining. He lost “the pep” and was no longer a star.

Again, who was this sad for? Fischer, who was relieved of the demons in his head, or those entertained by his creative and cool rants?

I have also been thinking of Jared Lochner, charged in the mass shooting in Tuscon in January, who is being held in a mental ward, having been deemed unable to stand trial. That has been a legal fight over whether he can be forced to take drugs that will enable him to stand trial. A court has ruled he can’t be forced to take drugs for this purpose, but I just read this morning that he is apparently being drugged anyway.

This literally doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know who’s crazier - Lochner, or those who want to dope him up so he can be tried and convicted.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Red, white and "shoot!"

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I hate the Fourth of July and that the primary reason for this - on top of the All-American-America-is-Always-Right jingo-ism - is that I have a very difficult time, being startled, with the noise from the fireworks. This year was particularly tough, with there being more illegal fireworks than I remember in a good many years. They started going off around here more than a week before the 4th and kept going until after midnight on Monday. I even heard a couple the next evening.

“Don’t they know it’s over?” I kept saying to my attendant when she came to put me to bed on the 4th.

Who were they? I wondered, figuring they were more than the usual bad boys being bad. And why were they shooting off so much? A few thoughts:

A lot of people are angry, what with all the unemployment, foreclosures, high prices, etc., and this was a good way to let off steam. Who cares if it’s illegal? The government and laws are stupid, and, Hell, it’s the 4th, and everyone’s doing it - and should!

It has been ten years since September 11, and, by God, we’re still standing and still strong - and more of a big deal should be made about it!

Then there’s the killing of Osama Bin Laden - certainly something worth celebrating with pyrotechnics, even if it’s illegal. But this presents a quandry, because it was done under President Obama, which no doubt drives some people nuts. Which leads back to pissed-off folks blowing of steam.

Or maybe there were just more bad boys out there.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Unhealthy play

I’m not a sports fan. Never have been. Frankly, they’re boring. I might watch some figure skating or gymnastics (or hot boys swimming in the Olympics!), but I far rather see a play or a movie or a concert. I could be cute and say that this is, of course, because I’m gay, or I could be profound and say that watching sports is silly when there is so much more important stuff going on. But the simple truth is that I just find sports boring.

At least until now. I think I have another reason for not liking sports. There’s something sick about sports and the way people like them.

Last week, after the Canucks lost the deciding Game 7 of the Stanley Cup hockey finals, there was a riot, causing much damage in the handsome city center of Vancouver, Canada. It is a bit like this happening in San Francisco (from what little I remember of a summer spent in the Vancouver area when I was a child, the city is quite elegant and sophisticated, not to mention remarkably green and lush).

It is really tragic that this destruction came out of a game and that, as an article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, this isn’t unusual. What was unusual, as also noted in the article and bizarrely so, I think, was that this riot came after a hometown team lost. It was just a year ago when, as I noted in a post here, downturn Los Angeles was smashed up after the L.A Lakers won the basketball finals, which, weirdly enough, is far more typical.

Why riot when your team wins? Another fact that the Times article brought up is that, in these sports riots, the fans aren’t the ones throwing the bottles and lighting the fires. The actual rioting is usually done by anarchists and other rabble-rousers, along with those revved up after drinking, taking advantage of there being a large, boisterous crowd in which there is anonymity. But I don’t think this lets sports off the hook; these still are unique and still are sports riots.

About a week earlier, the L.A Times sports section had a big pictorial homage, including on much of its front page, to those who have played or competed and were victorious while sick or injured. Among those honored under the headline “Hurts so good” were football players who had played with the flu and runners who ran with sprained joints.

I can understand someone being hailed for saving a life or accomplishing something that improves society while ill or hurt. But for playing - even, yes, winning - a game? Shouldn’t they not be playing if they have a fever or a torn ligament? Shouldn’t they be taking care of themselves or getting care?

Instead, they are seen as heroes. Not only does this put things dangerously out of perspective - after all, kids have died after playing football in the hot sun or getting hit in the head - it reflects our society’s warped, nutty - yes, sick - view of the disabled as people to be pitied or admired or often pitied and admired at the same time.

Hey, it’s only a game.

Or, with it causing riots and such (heat-related deaths, brain injuries, etc.), is it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The year of (V)maxing out

I recently improved my experience with my Vmax, the voice synthesizer/computer attached to my wheelchair that I operate via a camera tracking a silver dot on my glasses and which I’ve now had for a year, by at least 100%. In late April, I was able to get an unit, called a WPAC, which enables the Vmax to run off my wheelchair battery.

I immediately loved this little thing. As far as I was concerned, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I was able to leave the Vmax on, ready to use, all day. I didn’t have to always worry about its battery running out and about rationing it.

Then, one morning earlier this month when my attendant went to plug the unit into my chair, the plug wasn’t there. I had no idea how this happened - all I could think was that it came unplugged or wasn’t plugged in and got caught under my wheel when I was out - and I was devastated. I was crushed, ruined.

There was no way I could come up with another $400 for a new WPAC. And it didn’t help when my attendant called the company, DynaVox, several times, and they were less and less sympathetic, saying the warranty had expired, etc. I was stunned - yes, naively - that a company that had helped me so much (with the Vmax and the WPAC) could play such hardball (it is a business, after all....) and thinking of other options (hot-wiring....?) until, after more calls and waiting on hold, a senior manager agreed to send me a new cable in exchange for the broken one. (And when I get it, I’ll have it attached more to my chair so that it won’t dangle down so far when unplugged - lesson learned.)

So I’m happy again.

Happy, like I am with the Vmax - in general. I say “in general,” because, although it’s a fantastic help, I have learned a couple other hard lessons in this past year:

*There are definitely times and places where using the Vmax is very effective and other times and places where it really isn’t. It does help when, at least initially, people can see the screen and what I’m doing, but, in very general terms, the more comfortable (or sometimes even just familiar) people are with my speech, the less patient they are with my using the Vmax.

*Not unrelated to this and an even more difficult lesson is that, when I use the Vmax, people still have to stop and take time to listen to what I say. The difference with the Vmax is that - and this is a choice for those who know me - people don’t have to make the effort to try to understand my speech, but the hard fact is that, unless I pre-program it, I can’t casually toss off a comment.

I have learned other things - like typing in an initial comment before I approach someone and it sometimes being better (and okay) to just use the touch screen - but, all in all, the Vmax is a fantastic, life-improving device, even when I just use it to listen to my iTunes when I go out. At a recent gathering, I was able to talk to many more people or people I couldn’t talk to before. For me, this is what it’s all about.

At the same gathering, I also discovered that reciting limericks, especially naughty ones, on the monotonic Vmax is quite amusing. (Perhaps I’ll have another video out on YouTube...)

Friday, June 3, 2011

One less light left on

It may be a bit harder to say that Wal-Mart is evil, now that the mega-retailer is going green. (In addition to recycling, energy-saving practices and all that good stuff, I read - no, I’m still not going there - that one can buy organic produce there.) Now that summer is approaching, and I’ve been making reservations, I’m here to say that it is Motel 6 that is evil. I see again that the light may well be left on but not for the disabled.

In a post last summer, I wrote about how I stayed quite happily and cheaply at Motel 6's - they suited my simple needs and limited finances quite nicely, thank you - until several years ago when they stopped having two beds in their wheelchair-accessible rooms, forcing me, in an unfair and discriminatory manner, to reserve and pay for two rooms for me and my attendant. I wrote about taking a trip and being pleased when a friend told me that the Motel 6 in Bishop, CA, has a wheelchair-accessible room with two beds, which I reserved, and then surprised when the the Super 8 Motel in Gustine, CA, where I had reserved a two-bed, wheelchair-accessible room in which I had happily stayed several times, turned out to be a Motel 6 but with the same nice wheelchair-accessible room with two beds.

Well, like I said, I’ve been making motel reservations recently. In planning the same trip in July, I called the Motel 6 in Bishop and got the two-bed wheelchair-accessible room. No problem. Then I called the now-Motel 6 in Gustine.

And I was told that its wheelchair-accessible rooms have only one bed.


No, make that grrrrr.

This is, as far as I’m concerned, proof. This is proof that Motel 6 is unfair and discriminatory to the disabled. Not only that, it is proof that Motel 6 is making money off the disabled.

If this is not evil, I don’t know what is.

I don’t know what the deal is with the Motel 6 in Bishop. It could be the only Motel 6 left with a two-bed wheelchair-accessible room. I don’t know whether to bless it or boycott it. I do feel a bit guilty about staying there, but, hey, it’s what I need and the right price.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More rainbow power

This is my latest column in the Claremont Courier. I think it speaks for itself.


“Lesson number one: Always check the weather forecast.”

This wasn’t an admonition to the planners of the outdoor graduation ceremonies at the Claremont colleges two weekends ago. Although I’m not sure if looking at the forecast would have helped, since, from what I saw, it didn’t indicate that there would be drizzle and even a few little showers on Sunday morning right before the start of the commencement exercises at Pomona and Scripps. No doubt there was some big-time panicking underway.

Nor was it exactly like when the late, great Kurt Vonnegut famously told a group of graduates to “wear sunblock.” I think this advice was somewhat less flippant and had more of an unique background story.

Jehan Agrama, a 1980 Pomona College alumna, was addressing a group of Claremont colleges graduating seniors, was talking about when she was a student at Pomona “before there was e-mail and cell phones.” As she explained, “When you wanted to make a call, you had to stop. And use a pay phone.”

She talked about how, at that time, she was very involved in a student group called Feminists Against Repression (FAR). They wore bright red t-shirts emblazoned with “Go FAR” in white. One night, they splashed red paint in a quad at C.M.C - then Claremont Men’s College - to protest some doings of a fraternity. However, it rained a bit later, and the feminists awoke in the morning to find their efforts all washed away.

Hence the importance of checking the weather forecast.

But there was something more unique about this address and Ms. Agrama giving it. Now the head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Anti-Defamation (GLAAD) in the Los Angeles area, Ms. Agrama went on in her comments to explain that she later found herself coming out as a lesbian - something even less easy to do in a family with a Middle Eastern background.

This was a very important part, more or less the key part, of the address, which wasn’t given during commencement weekend. It took place several weeks before, and the assembled students, from all of the colleges here and all about to graduate, were all lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The event, taking place on a Friday afternoon at the end of April in Balch Hall at Scripps College, was Lavender Graduation, Class of 2011, put on by the Queer Resource Center (QRC) of the Claremont Colleges.

I don’t know how long this ceremony has been going on. This was the first time I heard of it, and I’m glad I did and went. It was eye-opening and heartening.

This may have been a small gathering on a Friday afternoon, but it was obviously a highlight to the students who were there. The stage was decorated with balloons, and there were plenty of colorful dresses and bright shirts, jackets and accessories. There were also lots of cheering, whooping and joyful squealing.

The graduates were welcomed, warmly embraced, by Angie Moore of Pitzer College, who praised her peers for being “beautiful deviants” and for “daring to be who you are.” The same warmth radiated from Adriana di Bartolo, QRC Coordinator, as she went on to preside.

A particularly meaningful part of the ceremony was when each of the presidents of the colleges were recognized for their support of the QRC. Each of the presidents or their representative - David Oxtoby of Pomona was the only president who attended for this - got on stage to receive a plaque and some love and have their picture taken. A few professors who had given GLBT-related presentations during the year were also recognized.

It was very clear that those served by the QRC, located on the Pomona College campus, make up a real community. It was also evident that this community, as vital as it is, thrives with support from others.

I was reminded later of the importance of community at the colleges during another ceremony, the baccalaureate service on the Friday afternoon of commencement weekend this month. During her few minutes at the podium on the Garrison Theater stage, Abi Weber, a Pomona College graduating senior and one of eight graduating seniors to speak, told of getting weary of washing dishes after the hillel service and dinner every Friday evening in the tiny kitchen at McAlister Center as her friends headed off to parties and other fun activities. She was about to give up when a few other students joined her, and the dish-washing became a wonderful, rich time of sharing thoughts on religion, philosophy, books, movies and whatnot.

Two other things struck me about the Lavender Graduation, both having to do with names. One was that it was put on by an entity calling itself the Queer Resource Center - when the very use of the word “queer” is controversial in the GLBT community. Some claim and use it with pride; others see it, still, as a crude put-down. I suspect today’s younger-generation students are mostly among the former.

Arguably most moving and remarkable was that not only were these queer graduates named and presented, walking across the stage one by one, at the ceremony, they were listed, in black and white, for all to see, in the program. It wasn’t so long - less than 50 years - ago when people, in general, didn’t dare admit that they were homosexual and often went to considerable lengths to hide the fact. It was, after all, thought to be a sickness, if not a crime.

To paraphrase an old ad line: You’ve come a long way, fabulous babies, and will no doubt go much further!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A painfully sorry state of affairs

I recently had a really bad toothache. If only my tooth was the only thing that was a severe pain.

Actually, the tooth - a lower right molar - had been bugging me for about a month, giving me occasional twinges of pain, but I thought I could deal with it. What was really going on was that I didn’t know what to do, where to go. I knew that Medi-Cal no longer funds dentistry, except for extractions and “emergencies,” and the local dentist I’ve been seeing for cleaning, funded by my parents, doesn’t take Medi-Cal and also can’t put me to sleep, which I now need when having any real work done because of my spasms. So I was going along living with it until one evening last week when I was eating pasta, of all things, and there were suddenly sharp pains and deep throbbing which eventually radiated throughout my head. I was about to discover that everything I was afraid of was true.

I began taking Tylenol, and the next morning, I had my attendant call the dental surgery center at Loma Linda University where I had gone annually for some years (they would put me under and fix any problems they found). I was in severe pain - could they help? No, Medi-Cal is no longer paying, and they no longer see Medi-Cal patients. Did they know where I could go? No. So much for Christian charity from the Seventh Day Adventists.

I felt quite small and not a little afraid, not to mention in considerable pain. My attendant and I decided to call my case worker at the Regional Center, who answered right away and got me in touch with its “dental coordinator.” That the Regional Center has a “dental coordinator” indicates that my sad problem was, sadly, not unusual. If it was not for this woman, I’d probably be still in pain, living on Tylenol and destroying my liver or something.

The woman asked about my pain and financial situation and said that getting help is tricky, but she soon had us on a three-way call with a place called Alta-Med in El Monte, about half an hour to the west. They take Medi-Cal patients because of a court ruling and take walk-ins at 1. Could my attendant and I go. Yes. Good.

The place was large and attractive and busy, mostly with Spanish speakers, and the woman at the front desk was very friendly, although harried. When I got in after more than two hours, the technicians had a difficult time getting a clear x-ray - only one is allowed - and I felt I was wasting time. Unlike the local dentist I’ve been seeing, they wouldn’t let me stay in my wheelchair, and I felt very unstable in the dentist chair, like I would fall over. No wonder it was hard getting a picture. When the dentist came, he said that he could see that, although there was no infection, the tooth was completely ground down, with the nerves exposed. He said that this was an emergency, that this was an extraction that Medi-Cal should pay for, but that he couldn’t work on me, because he couldn’t put me to sleep. I liked him - he got it - but it felt like a wasted afternoon.

When we got home, we called the dental coordinator. She didn’t answer, but she called back right after my attendant left and said that she’d be out of the office the next day but left her cell phone number.

The next day was Friday and I was in a lot of pain, not really able to eat or drink, and I was desperate not to spend the weekend like this. My attendant called the dental coordinator, but the phone seemed to be off. I had my attendant called the local urgent care center, but the woman there said I had to see a dentist. I told my attendant to call my local dentist - the one I see for cleaning - yes, I was desperate - but she called back Loma Linda. When the woman there heard about Alta-Med and the x-ray, she was much friendlier and asked for the x-ray to be faxed over. My attendant called Alta-Med, and the friendly woman at the desk said she would fax the x-ray when she could, explaining that she was working alone. Time went by, I was hurting and worrying about the weekend, and the dental Coordinator with a surgery center in Redlands, about half an hour to the east, not far from Loma Linda. It takes Medi-Cal and can put me to sleep. Could my attendant and I be there at noon? You bet.

We were at the Redlands office for less than an hour. When I first saw the dentist, I thought the pain had overtaken me and I was seeing things. He was so cute and looked like he was fresh out of high school! I pictured him surfing on weekends. (I was more than happy to have him put me under!) He also turned out to be quite smart and understanding and more or less got me. He asked me what I wanted done, mentioning a root canal, but my saying that I’m on Medi-Cal ended that conversation. There was also bad news and good news. The bad news was
*I had to have my physician sign an authorization before I could have the surgery. When I said that I’m changing doctors, because I’m not happy with the one I’ve been seeing and can’t see the new one until the end of June, I was told to see the old one. Damn!
*The earliest time for the surgery I could get was on Tuesday.
*and I would have to pay for some work that Medi-Cal doesn’t cover.
The good news was that the dentist gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and for vikadin. It turned out that the Alta-Med dentist was wrong about my not having an infection, for the pain dramatically subsided soon after I began taking the antibiotic. I only took the vikadin at night, because I didn’t want to be a complete zombie.

On the way home, we went by my doctor’s office. I was told that I had to see her, and I could get an appointment on Monday. I wasn’t happy, but my attendant pointed out to me that everything was lining up.

After a long, very quiet weekend of not doing much, including eating, I saw the doctor. Going in without my attendant and with my Vmax voice synthesizer - something I should always do - helped, cutting down her defensive arguing, and I left within minutes with the form signed.

That afternoon, my parents arrived from up north for a long-planned visit. I had not been able to tell them about my tooth, and they were dismayed to see me in such sad shape. They told me they would help with the extra costs and wondered about paying for a root canal, but I was concerned that they would have to pay for the whole surgery. (Loma Linda once told me that a surgery costs well over $1000.) When they called the office to ask questions, it was literally too late - the office was closed.

After not eating the next morning, I had to wait for more than two hours at the office in Redlands. I wondered about the other disabled people who were there, including a man who repeatedly moaned and slapped himself - where was their funding from, and were they just getting extractions? I was starving by the time of my surgery, and I again felt unstable when on the dental chair before being put to sleep - and frustrated when asked to sign a final form while on my back. The last thing I remember is the dentist looking at me - a nice last thing to see, indeed! - and asking if I was still okay with what he and I had agreed on on Friday.

I was pretty much zonked out for the rest of the day (I don’t remember waking up from the surgery or getting into my van - I would have loved seeing my attendant navigate my motorized wheelchair into my van!), and, with eating jello and fried eggs and hot cereal, I was more or less fine, if a bit groggy, the next day. I was a bit sore, but the toothache was gone - gone! I never did hear back from Loma Linda and don’t know if the nice busy lady at Alta-Med ever did fax them the x-ray.

I have left out some details, a few twists and turns, but you get the gist. Yes, I got what I needed, thankfully, but the system was, as someone commented and to say the very least, clunky. Be warned - or grateful for your coverage and funding that you have.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Reality check - or not

Can we ever really know what is true, what is real? I’m really beginning to wonder. Really.

It was pretty bad two weeks ago when Barack Obama, the President of the United States, felt that he had to present the “long form” of his birth certificate. I call it sad and humiliating, as well as outrageous. How did the “birther” movement get this far? This is the man who was fairly and squarely elected, after all.

Now, there are people who are saying that the “long form” certificate is a fake, that it isn’t real. They point out differences in font, paper, whatever.

Although a recent poll indicates that their numbers have dropped notably, there is still the question: What will it take to satisfy the “birthers,” who insist that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S and thus can’t be president? Nothing. This is the ultimate form of denial - to say that someone who is different or not liked not only isn’t qualified but also doesn’t exist to boot.

I thought it was crazy enough that there are people who say that global warming isn’t real. Talk about being in denial - denying that something bad or not liked exists.

There is a new twist to all of this: People who say that Osama bin Laden wasn’t killed and is still alive. These are the “deathers,” and they not only include some of his followers in the Middle East but also some here in the U.S (not wanting to have Obama, who really isn’t the president, to have this victory). It is true that the photographs of the dead bin Laden won’t convince these people, and that this was articulated by President Obama in deciding that the pictures won’t be released is an absolutely delicious irony.

In my last post, I implied that I wasn’t wowed by bin Laden’s death, that I didn’t buy into the cheering and hype. I will concede, however, that, as someone who also wasn't into the hype pointed out, this was a major bit of history we have lived through, but I will also admit that, in addition to not wanting to applaud a death and act of war and all that, for some time, I half wondered if Osama bin Laden - Osama been Forgotten, who was all over but no one could find - wasn’t real.

Flat Earth Society, anyone?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Never enough

When one of my attendants told me on Sunday night that Osama bin Laden was dead, my first thought was: who? After all, this was Osama been Forgotten.

My second thought was: does this mean the war is over? Finally? Please...?

I can only wish. Yesterday, even as there was talk of a great victory and of it being “a good day for America,” we were told that there might well be a terrorist strike to avenge bin Laden’s assassination. We were told to be on the lookout for the next six months or so. I think that if the terrorists are smart - and they seem to be - six years or so is more like it.

All this also made me think of Proposition 8, the California same-sex marriage ban now wending it’s way through all manner of hearings and courts. Not only is this anti-gay measure, along with others like it, an unique form of terrorism, this looks to be a fight that will never end. When there is finally a ruling - now slated for next year - no matter what it is, it will be appealed. That has already been said. And there can always be another ballot proposition.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quite a plateful

I have always heard that a meal is the thing to bring people together, that sitting down and breaking bread with one another promotes community. We see this especially at times such as Thanksgiving and in this week’s Passover and Easter feasts. But it appears that, in Washington, D.C these days, even eating is a divisive issue.
Maybe the “tea party” is against organic food, like it doesn’t believe in global warming.
That would appear to be the case as, according to the Los Angeles Times recently, a literal food fight has broken out in the cafeteria where the nation’s lawmakers eat. Since gaining more seats in November, the Republicans have done away with many of the changes that Nancy Pelosi instituted in the dining hall when she was Speaker of the House. There are still organic options available - with the emphasis now surely on “option” - but gone are the biodegradable and recyclable plates and utensils. There was supposedly too much griping that the cardboard dishes and corn-based spoons melted or fell apart.
So, it’s back to plastic and styrofoam. Yes, good old American plastic. “The future,” as Dustin Hoffman was famously once told.
Who knew that dining would be such a partisian matter? Not Dan Lundgren, a Republican representative who claims to be surprised by all the fuss and is quoted as saying, “I never thought I’d be known as ‘Styrofoam Dan.’”
There is talk of experimenting with washable mugs, perhaps leading to real plates and silverware, but one Republican warned, “You’re going to have lost silverware or you’re going to have drawers full of dirty silverware.” He went on to say, again not unlike a father who knows best, “Either way, that’s not going to save you money.”
And Heaven forbid we ask our esteemed congresspersons to have their own mugs and cloth napkins.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by this dining divisiveness. Not only is there chronic gridlock among our lawmakers these days, with them not agreeing on almost anything, but I was once in a market’s produce department and heard one woman say to another, “That’s organic. You don’t want that.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Making it hurt more - or not

Derence Kerneck and Ed Watson’s story is a pretty sad one.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times a couple weeks ago, Derence and Ed are a gay couple in California who have lived together for 40 years, and they would like to get married. As sad as it is that there can’t marry now because of the passage of Proposition 8 two years ago, what makes their story all the sadder is that they don’t know if they’ll be around when the law banning same-sex marriage will be repealed, as most say will happen.

See, Derence is 80, and Ed is 78 and is in rapidly failing health, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Derence is concerned that if they don’t marry soon, it won’t mean anything to Ed (or he won’t remember it), and says that traveling to a state that sanctions gay marriage would be too hard on Ed. “Besides,” he says, “we wanted to do it in California, where our friends are, where we live.”

Meanwhile, it looks now like the Proposition 8 will be in the court for another year, since the California Supreme Court has been asked to decide if the backers of the proposition have the “standing” to fight the appeal in court when the appropriate officials wouldn’t. Recently, after hearing an argument on behalf of those like Derence and Ed, a federal appeals court ruled that the ban will stay in place during this process, not allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in the meantime.

I am sick of reading stories like this. I am sick of people arguing that gay marriage will hurt the institution of marriage - what about adultery, divorce, etc.? - and I am sick of this argument being used to degrade and hurt gay people. Every time there is a story like this, it increases the pain, like a twist of the knife, like salt rubbed in the wound. As Derence says, “I just don’t see how who I love hurt anyone else’s marriage.”

But there is a part of me that doesn’t let this bother me so much. It’s the part of me that says, “Fuck it! Fuck them!” and doesn’t really care, doesn’t give a damn about what goes down in the larger society.

It’s the part of me that says that, when I find a mate, I will get married, whether the State recognizes it or not. It’s the part of me that, when, as a severely disabled person, it was nearly impossible for me to get a “real job,” I created my own job. It’s the part of me that doesn’t get caught up in the fight over same-sex marriage and other such gay rights - a fight likely to go on for some time, with appeal after appeal and counter-initiatives after initiatives.

It’s the queer part of me.

I was reminded of this last week when, at Pomona College here in Claremont, I saw D’Lo, a gay, transgender performance artist and comic born to parents from Sri Lanka. One of the things that he said that really struck me was that the difference between gay people and queer people is that gay people want to be like everyone else, and queer people want everyone else to be like them.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In the mean-time

I recently received a thick envelope from Medi-Cal. No doubt it cost more than a first-class stamp to send. It basically contained a multi-page letter, including a sheet in a number of languages, stating that, according to a new law, in order to remain on Medi-Cal for another year (this letter comes every year, I guess), I have to provide proof that I am an U.S citizen unless it is already proven that I am an U.S citizen. According to more than one of the criteria listed, it is very much established that I am an U.S citizen. As I threw out the letter, I wondered why I got it and how many others, for the same reason, were throwing out the letter.

In the meantime, the State of California is something like $26 billion in the red. I can’t even imagine $26 billion!

In the meantime, friends keep asking me if my attendant hours have been cut more than they have been. All I can say is not yet. Nearly every day, I read about new cuts in funding for schools, parks, roads and, yes, as always, the aged and disabled.

In the meantime, Medi-Cal no longer pays for nutritional supplements unless the patient is tube-fed. As Elizabeth Landsberg, a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says, "Two years ago, we cut dental services for people on Medi-Cal. We won’t pay to save teeth, only to pull them. Now for people who can’t eat because they don’t have teeth, we won’t pay for nutrition they can ingest." I have written here about being thankful that my parents help me pay for dental check-ups and wondering what will happen if I need major work done.

In the meantime, Governor Jerry Brown is racing time and Republican legislators hell-bent against taxes to place measures on a June ballot, before the end of the year, to let voters decide, as he promised during his campaign last year, whether to extend certain taxes to prevent a complete services meltdown. He is now considering a citizens’ initiative for the November election - meaning the taxes will be "new" - or somehow doing an end-run around the GOP lawmakers in regards to the June ballot, both will be harder to pull off, and the latest poll shows that public support for the June measures has eroded.

In the meantime, one of my attendants says she is thinking of voting against the tax-extension measure. She has also said she wishes it was the 1950's. When I pointed out that if it was the 1950's, I’d be hidden in a back room, she said, "Oh, I hadn’t thought of that."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hunger wins

"I love working with hungry people."

So says Simon Cowell, who, according to an article last week on the Business page in the Los Angeles Times, is all but salivating over Pepsi sponsoring "X Factor," his new singing competition show which has been a smash hit in the U.K and will debut here in the U.S this Fall. It is widely thought that "X Factor" will give "American Idol," which is sponsored by Coke and has persistently topped the T.V ratings, a run for its money.

Cowell, who was arguably the most popular element of "American Idol" with his snide judging until he left last year to start the new show, loves this. Not only does he love it that Pepsi was the most aggressive, the most hungry sponsorship rival after passing up the chance to back "American Idol" when it launched. He loves it that the Coke-Pepsi rivalry, in which millions of dollars are at stake, will ratchet up the competition between the two shows.

"Bring it on," Cowell says. "I love it."

Never mind the stupidity and absurdity of artistic expression being in competition, on - more accurately - the chopping block. Or what it says when snide, humiliating judging is so popular. (I don’t think I need to say that I’m not one of the millions who watch the show.)

On the same page where this big, multi-million dollar soda story made a big splash, there were not only articles about the economic havoc caused by the earthquake in Japan but also an article saying that food prices are going up, probably permanently, and that there’ll no doubt be more hungry people in the world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

All fun and games (until someone shoots themselves - maybe)

I wonder if Dave Duerson will be heard. That is, if his shot will be heard.

Dave Duerson is a former NFL star who shot himself not long ago. His suicide - or, more accurately, his shooting himself or, even more accurately, the way he shot himself - was clearly meant to send a message.

We’ll see if anyone gets it.

Duerson shot himself in the heart and not in the head. He did this very carefully, with much thought, for a very specific reason: so that his brain can be examined. He was obviously sick of hearing about retired football players having brain damage - dementia, Parkinson’s disease, etc. - stemming from having their heads banged repeatedly during games.

He was no doubt sick about football players, including in high school, being allowed or even pressured to play after their "bell has been rung." (This practice has been more or less stopped.) He was no doubt sick of hearing about high school football players collapsing on the field and dying soon afterwards.

I always thought that boxing is bad enough. I have never understood people being encouraged to punch the living daylights out of each other, sometimes quite literally, and why this is a sport, much less a massively popular one. Look at Mohammad Ali, who is celebrated as all but a god even as he is a stumbling mess.

Now it turns out that football is just as bad. Bad enough for a man to kill himself to make the point.

But will the NFL get the message? We’ll see. As with boxing, football is big business, with billions of dollars at stake and fans not likely to settle for less excitement and, sure, danger. Even now, the NFL is floating the idea of adding two more games in its regular season. Two more chances for head banging and concussions.

Interestingly, Duerson’s suicide occurred at about the same time as the ten-year anniversary of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt being killed in a fiery crash during a race. Yes, NASCAR has made significant and commendable safety improvements, including a more secure, protective seats, in the accident’s afternoon. But it was also noted during the anniversary that Earnhardt surely would have laughed them off and refused to utilize them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Under lock and key - disabled or not

Too bad I can’t find the two books of cartoons by John Calahan that I had. I think one was stolen, which is perfectly understandable. John Calahan is a brilliant disabled cartoonist. I think he draws with his mouth, but he’s definitely no Joni (no doubt this would be a joke to him)! He has a wonderfully wicked, black sense of humor. One of his more well-known cartoons shows a desert scene with a man in a manual wheelchair and a sheriff and his deputy on horseback. The sheriff says to his deputy, "Don’t worry. He won’t get far."

Apparently, California officials didn’t get the joke. According to the Los Angeles Times last week, a law, adapted a couple years ago, saying that terminally ill prisoners are to be released isn’t being enforced. Instead, as described in the Times, inmates who are in the hospital and barely able to move or walk, if they can at all, are shackled to their beds. Not only that, but each is watched over 24/7 by at least two guards.

These guards, who are paid quite handsomely with taxpayers’ money, consider this to be a "plum assignment." One guard was quoted as saying that, unlike in the prisons, these hospitalized inmates can’t do much to talk or fight back.

Not only is this inane, as John Calahan would no doubt gleefully point out, it is a scandal in a state that is awash in debt and slashing services, including those for the disabled. Indeed, the day after the first Times story appeared, it was reported that the state will consider releasing the ten most terminally ill patients. (Don’t ask me why it’s ten. I guess it’s a nice, easy, people-pleasing round number.)

There are hard-line conservatives who are raising objections to this releasing, who are saying "not so fast." They are asking questions like: What if these people get well? Who will now pay for their care? These are problems that aren’t problems or are easily resolved.

Mostly, though, these are silly, stupid questions hiding the real issue. These right-wingers, even as they insist that costs be cut, even as they loudly profess to follow a loving and forgiving Jesus, can’t stand the idea of a crime going unpunished, of an eye not given for an eye, a tooth not given for a tooth.

And no matter that the criminal can’t get far. They’re worried.