Friday, December 28, 2012

More good Claremont thoughts

In my last post, I brought up some good - or at least amusing - things in Claremont. Here’s another, as I explored in my column which appeared in the Claremont Courier early this month.

It was great to see the write-up in these pages on Bridges Auditorium a few weeks ago, including a nice full-color photo on the front page.


Don’t get me wrong. I love this grand old theater on the Pomona College campus and have many wonderful memories, literally a lifetime of wonderful memories, of Big Bridges, as it is often called.

One of my strongest memories is of when I couldn’t get in. I went to hear Jesse Jackson speak on a weekday when he was running for president, only to have the front door close on me. I banged on the front door - yes, I literally banged on the front door - and was told there was no more room. Really? The gigantic auditorium was so full that there was no room for me? I had to go over to the side of the building and listen in on a speaker that kept going in and out.

Fortunately, I was able to get in many, many other times - maybe hundreds of times - over the last forty years or so. One of my earliest memories of Bridges Auditorium is my mother and I with tears streaming down our faces, laughing at Bill Cosby.

I remember seeing Marcel Marceau, the renowned French mime, two or three times, after he kept saying that he would no longer perform. And I won’t forget seeing Harry Belafonte, a true entertainer, putting on quite a show when he was well into his sixties.

I also have special memories of going more recently with a friend who had never been to Big Bridges to see Claremont High School’s production of Cats. Sure, it was a treat to see the students, as well as my awed friend, in the big-time theater, but who else but the indefatigable Krista Elhai, the CHS theater director, could get high school boys to wear, let alone sing and dance in bib overalls with tails sewn onto their butts?

No doubt many of us in Claremont have many such memories of going to Bridges Auditorium as I did to hear such people as Sandra Day O’Connor, Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Bono, Michael Moore and Ralph Nader and to be entertained by the likes of Margaret Cho, the Ahman Folk Ensemble, Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, Judy Collins, the Lar Lubovich Dance Company, Ben Harper and Willie Nelson, what is returning later this Winter. Many of us have also gone there for performances by the Inland Pacific Ballet Company and student groups like the ballroom dancers and the a-capella singers that I wrote about last month.

Yes, I’m sure we all love Bridges Auditorium and having this great, world-class theater, that has featured world-class acts, right here. That some of us don’t have to drive to get there is a bonus treat.

So why does it need to be saved or revived? And why does it need saving and reviving again?

This is why I didn’t like about the recent Courier article. Or what I didn’t like about it. Here is this immense 2,500-seat theater, built in a grand Italian style and completed in 1932 and named for a Pomona College student that died and which, as I always understood to be the largest collegiate auditorium on the West Coast if not west of the Mississippi, looks as if it might take over the campus and perhaps all of Claremont, and the big, happy news is that there have been a few shows scheduled for this school year (comedian Eddie Izzard on December 2, a musical production of A Christmas Carol on December 8 and 9 and Nelson in February, along with two ballet productions).

Something is really wrong here.

Yes, it is wonderful that, now under Pomona College’s purview, Bridges Auditorium has a new administrator, Christopher Waugh, who is thrilled to be in charge of the facility that he calls “stunning.” Yes, it is great that there is renewed commitment, with, according to Mr. Waugh, the college “absolutely looking at ways we can create a sustainable staffing pattern for the space” and “bringing back the classic Bridges” that was “about bringing world-class leaders, speakers and artists to the colleges and to the surrounding colleges and community.”

But why is this an issue? Why is this commitment “great news?” Why hasn’t there been this commitment?

What is more disturbing is that we have seen this story before. Every five years or so, for as long as I can remember, there has been an article in these pages about this magnificent white building, with hand-wringing over it being run down and not being used or with giddy hope about it coming back and being revived to its former glory.

Why is Big Bridges’ glory always former?

Also, in these articles more recently, it’s is mentioned that the theater has been handed off between Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium, like the proverbial hot potato. This latest article states that Pomona College obtain Big Bridges this time for $1.

$1. Like it was being given away. Like nobody wants it.

Definitely not like a magnificent, world-class treasure. And it’s certainly not used like a magnificent, world-class treasure. When I attended U.C Riverside, the University Theater brought in two or three shows each months during the school year. I often attended, and music ensembles and contemporary dance companies were emphasized. Also, it appears that UCLA’s Royce Hall is always booked with an impressive, big-name line-up. And these are in the U.C system, which isn’t exactly rolling in dough.

The article also mentioned a show with Taylor Swift that was filmed this Fall for a television broadcast. Apparently, “with colored lights bathing the 22,000-square-foot ceiling, famously embellished with a gold and silver-leaf rendering of the Zodiac, the 2500-seat theater his never looked better.”

Bridges manager Sharon Kuhn commented, “They took what we had already, this beautiful ceiling, and just highlighted it. It was glowing.”

Too bad Big Bridges isn’t always lit up and glowing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reaching for Christmas

I think it’s Lily who, as a teenaged girl, greets her family in John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire with “Merry Fucking Christmas!”

It is hard not to be bitter and cynical about Christmas, with its message of peace and hope and good will to all, this year when...

...there are plenty of people like the man who recently wrote in a letter in the Claremont Courier, “They obviously enjoy living under the Obama administration and in an entitlement state. No longer is it necessary for individuals to plan for and cope with tough times and take responsibility for their own lives. It’s one thing for the state to provide assistance for infrastructure or low-income people whose lives were wrecked as a result of Katrina. But it’s quite another for upper-income people on Long Island to be standing there after Sandy with their hands out to the Obama administration rather than sacrifice the buying of a new car or toys such as boats, instead of purchasing insurance for unforseen calamities.” (No wonder the healthcare law was/is such a long, hard slog.)

...not only is Newtown, Connecticut, along with the rest of us, reeling and mourning after the brutal mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and burying twenty 6-and-7-year-olds and nine others, including the shy, troubled shooter and his gun-keeping mother, but gun control is still a dicey proposition - although now, finally, after a number of these uniquely American shootings, it just may be a possibility. the same vein, on Black Friday, the biggest day for Christmas shopping, there was an all-time-high number of people asking to buy guns; there are people who say that, if we can’t have guns, there is no telling what the government will do to us and the N.R.A has just called for every school in the nation to have an armed guard - in other words, more guns!

I can go on with a bitter, bah-humbug list - the “fiscal cliff,” polio vaccinators killed in and driven out of Africa - but the world is about so much more. As Christmas reminds us and as I riffed on in my latest column in the Claremont Column below, the world is also full of hope and happiness and things seen in the best (or humorous) light. (Hey, if you’re reading this, that means the world didn’t end - and that’s a good thing!)


“Make a left at the light up here and we’ll go to Pomona.”

We were out running a few errands. We were heading north toward Foothill Boulevard when my friend, who was out from L.A, mentioned that he wanted to pick up some fast food. I had to explain to my friend that there are no drive-through fast food restaurants in Claremont. I had to tell him that we had to go to Pomona if he wanted to grab a burger or get a burrito from Hell Taco, as I call it.

I’m always having to explain to him that this is Claremont and that things are not quite the same as they are in Los Angeles and West Hollywood where he works. I have to explain that things are a bit different here in Claremont. Like how he might get a ticket if he parks on the street overnight, or like how there are hardly any tall signs.

It is also like how, as I wrote about some time ago, he noticed that the red lights seem to take a little longer out here.

I like having to explain to my friend that Claremont is a bit different. I think he likes it too.

My friend ended up stopping at Sprouts Market, at the light on Foothill, and getting a Salisbury steak dinner in the deli department. I don’t know if it was the best, healthiest thing, but it was definitely better than a Whopper and a large order of fries.

My friend would agree that he eats better out here in Claremont.
* *
It’s a good thing, though, that Pomona isn’t far, that it’s easy to get to Pomona. Not so that we can get fast food, but so that we can see Raul Pizarro’s paintings.

Raul’s paintings shine. Literally. They glow. I don’t know how he does it - no, he doesn’t use neon paint - but his works appear to have an inner light. The colors - especially the blues and white - are so rich and deep, they are iridescent. Magic.

This is what got me when I first saw the paintings when I first went to see Raul at his home in Pomona. Never mind that he has Muscular Dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. I don’t know which I like better: the large paintings that are like classic Disney films (I’m talking Fantasia, Pinochio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) on the big screen or his small pieces, many featuring bear-like creatures and stars, that are like jewel boxes.

Like I said, Raul’s paintings are magical. Which makes this exhibit nearby in Pomona a special treat for the holidays.

The exhibit, entitled Theatro Del Mundo, is up right through the holidays, until January 8, at the Bunny Gunner Gallery, 266 W. Second St., in the Pomona Arts Colony. I find many of the places there have weird hours or aren’t open when they say they are, so it may be a good idea to call before going. The number is 858-2808.
* *
Meanwhile, at Pomona College back here in Claremont, it looks like, as always, the kids are alright.

More than alright, actually. I went by Lyman Hall two weeks ago to hear the Pomona College Jazz Ensemble in an end-of-semester performance, and I was, as they say, blown away by the students, including a vocalist, Anna Miller, who sounded like a much older, seasoned pro. Not only did the kids sound great - cool and hot and swinging - but many of the pieces they played were pieces they had brought into practice sessions and “tweaked” themselves.

This was explained by Barb Catlin, who was directing the ensemble for the first time. She was clearly quite pleased and impressed and chatted up the audience between numbers with tid-bits about the L.A jazz scene and how this ensemble fits right in. She made the classroom-like hall feel like her living room.

All the more so when it turned out that the guest trumpet player, Wayne Bergeron, who has played in a bunch of places with a bunch of people and is big in L.A and Hollywood, is her fiancé.
* *
Sometimes, I wonder if these kids are completely sane. Another friend and I were laughing about these guys at the colleges who walk around on these cold, damp nights barefoot in sandals. And when I say sandals, I mean flip-flops.

They might be bundled up in sweat shirts and wool caps - except for the completely insane ones in shorts and tees - but they always have flip-flops. No doubt, to a kid from Pennsylvania or New Hampshire, flip-flops are obligatory in Southern California and make perfect sense - just grab and go - an long as it’s not snowing and Mom is a thousand miles away.
* *
I wonder if a few of the students are heading down to the Mayan pyramids this week after finals. At the very least, flip-flops may make more sense, and, in any case, Mom will be even further away.

Earlier this year, Ed Krupp, who runs the Griffith Park Observatory and who now and then enthusiastically pops up on T.V, gave a lecture at Pomona College, saying that the Mayan calendar 12/21/12 end-of-the-world prediction is bunk, based on a faulty miscalculation. Nevertheless, the Peruvians are cashing in on the date, expecting quite a crowd.

Another friend reports that a guy he knows with dreads down to at least his knees is on his way to the pyramids. He’ll be joining something called the Rainbow Gathering. My friend, who isn’t as young as he used to be, suggested that it is probably worthwhile to avoid this crowd.
Assuming we get through 12/21/12 and make it into the new year, we’ll be smack dab in a political campaign, complete with yard signs, coffees and debates, with Michael Keenan signing up at literally the last hour to run in the March 5 City Council election.

For a few days, it looked like there wouldn’t be more than the two incumbents, Larry Schroeder and Corey Calaycay, in the two-seat race, and, with the two simply being reappointed, we would have had a breather after the marathon of campaigning last year.

Oh, well. As usual after New Year’s Day, life - and the democratic process - goes on.

That is, if Ed Krupp is right.

Friday, December 7, 2012

See this film - and take a deep breath

I see that The Sessions is being nominated for some awards from minor groups. I hope this movie is nominated for many more awards, including the Oscars and, yes, even the Golden Globes. I’ll take Golden Globe nominations, because the more nominations this film gets, the longer it will be in theaters and the more publicity it will get. This is good - not just because it’s an excellent film but because I want people to see it.

I want people, many people, to see The Sessions, because it is one of the very few mainstream, non-documentary feature films that gets it about disability. Not since 30 years ago, when I saw Coming Home, which literally made me see that I could be sexual, have I been so turned on and encouraged by a mainstream movie dealing with living with a severe disability.

This film is breathtaking - literally - and not just because it puts living with a severe disability in your face. It is about Mark O’Brien (John Hawke, wonderful), a poet and journalist living in Berkeley in the 1970's who, having polio, spends much of his time in an iron lung and gets around by being pushed on a gurney and who wants to lose his virginity and, with the blessing of a cool, only-in-Berkeley Catholic priest (William Macy, better than ever with long hair), hires a sex therapist/surrogate (Helen Hunt, absolutely luminous) to help him do so. The film is based on an essay that O’Brien wrote about the experience.

If this sounds challenging, like “yikes!,” that because it is. From the time we see O’Brien being washed by an attendant that he doesn’t like, this is a hard film to watch. It just gets more real, painfully and brutally so, such as when the surrogate undresses O’Brien, prone and rigid, for the first time. As I said and as with Hunt’s full frontal nudity, this is in-your-face stuff. Definitely not like the all-too-glib, feel-good French film, Intouchables, that was all the rage earlier this year.

But this isn’t your standard sad, dreary, tragic-crip story. Yes, this is a man who can’t even use a wheelchair and has to suck on an oxygen tube, but he is brimming with life, love, wonder, curiosity and a sense of humor and adventure, if not mischief. (After all, hiring a woman so that he can fuck, not to mention consulting with a Catholic priest about it, is pretty gutsy and outrageous, while also remarkably naive and innocent.) Sure, that O’Brien is rejected when he makes romantic passes to his female attendants is morose, but it is frankly the way things are (believe me, I know).

At the same time, the movie, which was written and directed by a guy who has polio if I’m not mistaken, does a reasonable job at not making O’Brien too much of a brave, inspiring hero-crip. Although, as I said, what he does is pretty gutsy, and I guess it’s hard not to be inspired by him and his story - heck, I am (can you tell?)! There is some melodrama - there is a power outage one night, shutting down his iron lung, and he can’t call anyone on the phone (Why didn’t he have an overnight attendant? Did he not have enough funding for one? Mmm....perhaps the movie can be even more real....) - but it is again frankly the way things are.

Since seeing this film a month ago, I have also been even more aware of how I get around and how people see me in the world. For example, I whine about feeling trapped when it rains, but what about always being on a gurney? (The film opens with archival footage of O’Brien getting about on a motorized gurney, but, as explained in a voice-over, the motorized gurney was taken away because, even with a bunch of mirrors, he had no idea where he was going and caused “terrible accidents.”) And I both really see and am okay with sticking out when I zip around town in my chair with an attached computer that speaks and plays music even as I am more comfortable tilting back my chair and letting my body dangle when I’m out at talks and concerts.

There are several other things I love about this movie. I love it that it’s set in Berkeley, a city that I’ll always have a very soft spot for, even as I no longer want to live there or can take being there for more than a couple days. I love it that O’Brien has a very strong and pure Catholic faith and that he talks to Jesus and Mary and has a cool little icon sticker on the front of his iron lung. And I love it that his cat, that scampers in through an open window and brushes past O’Brien’s face at the beginning of the movie, is just like my cat Irie and that in the film’s last image, after O’Brien has died, the cat is perched on top of the iron lung, waiting.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Something black

“Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is kicking off its Black Friday deals earlier than ever, as more stores open their doors for holiday deals even before shoppers have polished off their turkey dinners.”

From the same Los Angeles Times article earlier this month regarding Wal-Mart stores opening at 8 p.m on Thanksgiving with the guarantee that items, purchased at sale price, will be shipped to customers if supplies run out: “Last year, a woman in Porter Ranch pepper sprayed fellow customers, and a 2008 stampede in Long Island killed one worker... ‘If they get the word out that if a store runs out, people shouldn’t panic and they can still get the deal, that will help with the crowds,’ said Ron Friedman, a retail expert at accounting and advisory firm Marcum in Los Angeles. ‘That is a smart move to prevent what happened...which really gave Wal-Mart a black eye.’”

Then there was this from a Times story earlier this week about how “picking a smart strategy - and the right Black Friday hours - is crucial” for small, independent stores as “goliath retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Toys R Us Inc. and Target Corp. advertise deals that launch as early as 8 p.m on Thanksgiving”: “Anton at Body Basics has dreamed up a ‘flash sale’ plan for Black Friday involving back-to-back 10-minute discounts on select items. Sales associates will walk through the store toting cardboard signs stating, for example, that between 1 and 1:10 a.m, Hello Kitty pajamas are 30% off... Once the 10 minutes are over, clerks will start another quicky sale on, say, cotton T-shirts or slippers. ‘It’s to get people excited about shopping,’ Anton said.“

In the paper yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, there was this in a front-page article about the Los Angeles Police Department preparing for Black Friday crowds, noting that Chief Charlie Beck says, “We are not in the optimism business”: “The LAPD has talked to other retailers about creating ‘time-specific entry passes’ that would stagger the number of shoppers who are inside the store at any given time. In a flier the department is handing out to store managers, officials note that ‘this process has been very successful at many of the major theme parks...’ The LAPD has also suggested that retailers avoid stacking sales items on pallets ‘to mitigate crowd aggression.’”

‘Nuff said, as my friend Chris would say. Except that I’ve also read in the last couple weeks that there’s a protest, as in a strike and boycott, afoot against Black Friday so that both store workers and shoppers can enjoy a holiday on Thanksgiving at least. How about stores being closed on Friday, in addition to Thanksgiving, to prepare for “Black Saturday” (not to mention “Black Sabbath”)?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Conversational equity

Last week, I got the chance to visit with a friend I get to see one or two times a year. It was particularly sweet that we were able to get together two times during the week. Sure, we e-mail a lot - thank God for e-mail! - but there’s nothing like face-to-face conversation.

I have been thinking about how one of the things I enjoyed about these visits is that they were a true interaction. I savored, deeply savored, that my friend and I both shared. I got a lot out of being able to talk about dealing with recent wheelchair problems and about being anxious about the upcoming holidays, and I also got a lot of out hearing my friend talk about needing more time alone and an aging family member’s diminishing abilities causing concern.

I know that this sounds like nothing and even idiotic (after all, converse and share thoughts is what people do), and I can’t say why I noticed it so much this time, but, to me, it’s a big deal. And one that I crave and love.

Too many times, because of my disability and need for assistance, I get the feeling when I talk to people that the focus is on me, that it’s all about me. One reason I say this is that whenever I approach people who don’t know me or who are not easy with my speech, before I can use my speech device, they ask me what is it that I need - if they don’t walk away, not wanting to be asked by me for help.

When I just want to ask how they are doing, if they liked the movie, if they want to talk about their dying aunt.

I know that I stick out, but I don’t want it to be because I need help or always ask for help. I know I am unusual - and I even enjoy being unusual - but, still, I long to be just one of the guys. The visits last weekend, for some happy reason that I don’t know, were a precious reminder that I’m making progress toward this goal.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The theater of politics

Yes, like everyone else, I can’t wait for this election to be over. Even though I am not at all sure I will like the outcome, and even though the election may not be over when the votes are counted.

And I too wish the campaigning had much more substance. I yearn for the debating to focus more on issues and less on personality and ideological pot-shots. Like everyone, I am disheartened by all the billions spent, by all the ugly sound bites, by all the half-truths and words taken out of contest.

But I have a confession to make. As sick as this messy, brutal campaigning makes me, I am fascinated by it! Sure, it’s like not being able to take one’s eyes off an accident, but, as a lover of the theater, I love watching the drama. As I recently told a friend, I like drama up on a stage - not in my life (although, yes, the result of an election may well cause drama in my life). I eat it up.

What’s more, like all good dramatists, like all good theater lovers and artists, not to mention good writers, I am fascinated by human behavior. And isn’t politics all about human behavior? Politics, after all, is people getting power, how they get power.

I often hear people say that they are bored by politics. How can they be bored by the way people use words and facts and, yes, twist words and facts to get power? It may well be ugly and even obscene and sickening, but it is definitely never boring.

I also, as I realized recently, read many articles in the newspaper not for the news content, which I more often than not already know, but to see what people say about it. I am fascinated by what people say and think and all the more so when they don’t say and think what I say and think. I am interested in what makes them tick. I know too many people who aren’t interested in this, who don’t want to even know what “the other side” are saying and thinking - which is exactly why things, including elections, are in such an gridlocked, polarized mess these days.

One more thing: If Romney wins, I’ll move to London or, far more likely, just keep being weird - and weirder.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A super sad true chair story

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about reading Super Sad True Love Story, a novel by Gary Shteyngart. Well, I have a super sad true wheelchair story!

It is about my new power wheelchair - yes, the one that I got in June and have written about here, the really cool one (a Quantum Edge 6) that is so agile and has an awesome tilting seat, the one that I ended up waiting nearly eight months for after a prescription was botched and nearly six months after my old wheelchair broke down. So this story is partly sad even before it begins.

The super sad true wheelchair story starts on a Sunday morning in late August, when I went out the door at the end of meeting for worship. I heard a man say my name. I looked back and saw that in his hand was a wheel from my chair. I looked down and saw that the rear left wheel had fallen off. This was most surreal and definitely ended worship, at least for me!

I got a ride home, and, the next day, called the wheelchair place and pushed to have the wheel fixed in the next few days. I was leaving on a trip on Thursday, and, after all, I had just had the chair for two months. The wheel shouldn’t be falling off - ever, and especially not after two months.

The wheel was fixed in time for the trip, and all went well while I was away, but on the day after I returned, it was apparent that the wheel was coming off again. I called the wheelchair place, and a technician came out a day or two later and declared the chair “unsafe to drive.” (Really?) When I called the wheelchair place to find out the next step, I was told that the wheel was bent, that it was something I did and that, since this wasn’t under warranty, a request would have to be sent to Medi-Cal - a process that we all know can take months.

A few days later, feeling quite low, I called the saleswoman, who had raved about how great the chair was outdoors, and told her what was going on. A few hours later, literally, I received an e-mail from the wheelchair place saying the wheel is under warranty. Mmmmm.... Someone’s face got saved.

Then, over the next few weeks, it turned out that the wheel was on “back order” - there were no wheels? really? MAKE ONE! - until early November. But, two weeks ago, a wheel was “found” - actually a wheel from the demo. Again, someone’s face got saved.

A few days later, a technician - a very nice, super polite man (not your usual mechanic - I’m just saying...) - came and replaced the wheel. The next morning, for the first time in a month and a half, I got into the chair and left to go to a memorial service for Karl Benjamin, the famous artist who taught at Pomona College here. I was 20 feet from the house and in the middle of the street, and the left motor began cutting out. My attendant was out at the time, and, by turning the chair off and on several times, I managed to get back to the house. I didn’t get to the memorial.

I immediately sent an e-mail on that Saturday and then called the wheelchair place on the next Monday, when it was again implied that I had bent the wheel and was lucky to be getting a new one under warranty. The same nice technician came and discovered that the motor has a short - nothing to do with how the wheel was attached, like I wondered. I immediately felt a sense or relief, that I wasn’t crazy, that it really wasn’t my problem. This was last week, and the technician, who seemed genuinely ashamed, couldn’t say when the new motor would come in. I will call again on Monday.

Too bad there isn’t a lemon law for wheelchairs! I asked.

I have left out some twists and turns here, including being told by a disabled friend last month that these six-wheel chairs really aren’t good for rough outdoor use, but you get the drift. I have also been trying to get a mount so that my Vmax speech device with fit onto the other power wheelchair I’ve been able to use (and may well need to use more than I had in mind in the future), but that’s a whole other sad, dreary story - right in time for Halloween!

Friday, October 19, 2012

True but strange

A few days ago, I read in the Los Angeles Times that some people calling the L.A County Registrar of Voters had been getting a recorded message saying that the deadline for registering to vote in ext month’s election has passed, even though the deadline is October 22, this coming Monday. It turns out that the phone system can handle 24 callers at a time and that the overflow callers had been getting the post-October 22 message. This message was reportedly removed the previous afternoon.

The Times said it is unclear how many people had gotten the wrong message, and who knows how many of these people read this small article inside the second section of the paper - why wasn’t it above the fold on the paper’s front page? - or got the news somewhere else. At least one can reasonably assume that this was just a technological snafu and not another attempt at voter suppression. (I got my permanent absentee ballot last week, but it seemed awfully late, and I had called a few days earlier and was assured it was on the way.)

This may well have been just a freaky error, but it is hard not to think that it fall in line with other strange goings-on. Unfortunately, such doings as those below are nothing new and, unlike with the phone message mistake, stem from an extreme ideology or belief. (I thought I had one or two other example but seem to have misplaced them. Perhaps readers can suggest others - the more specific and detailed the better.)

*The mayor of Costa Mesa in Southern California, according to a report in the L.A Times a few weeks ago, requested an investigation of some of the city’s most prominent and long-running charities in an effort to get the homeless out of town. Mayor Eric Bever targeted two organizations, Share Our Selves and Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, comparing them to nightclubs that have become neighborhood nuisances and said the that it would go a long way to solving the problem of homeless people coming to Costa Mesa “if we managed to put the soup kitchen out of business.” The mayor will be termed out of office next month, and the director of Share Our Selves, in addition to noting that the mayor has never visited the center and that “(h)is message is old,” said, “Thank God he is going out the door.”

*According to the L.A Times last week, Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun, running unopposed for re-election next month, said late last month that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang Theory are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.” He also stated that the earth is 9,000. What’s even weirder and more disturbing, if not anything new, is that this man not only is a physician, he also sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. So this is our government’s idea of science. Yikes!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book marks

I don’t think of myself as one of those people with a stack of books on my night stand waiting for me to read. But the fact is that I buy two or three books at a time, usually at a bookstore, have them spiral-bound (so I don’t have to hold them open if they’re paperbacks) and then read them one at a time. I am definitely not of those people who read more than one book at a time. So I guess the books are waiting for me to read, but they aren’t waiting in vain.

I’ve recently begun to read Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, and I can tell you it’s a loopy hoot. Told through diary entries, e-mails and instant messages (so far), it seems to be a love story between a mis-matched young man and a younger woman, set in a not-too-distant future in which America is a shabby, militarized state and, among other things, everyone knows each other’s credit rating and communicates with and reads each other through devices, sometimes even when they are with each other in person. The novel is quirky and definitely different, outrageously funny even as it’s depressing, if not tragic - not unlike its over-the-top, half-joking title.

The really weird thing is that a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately have been quirky and definitely different, hilarious and off-the-wall, sort of sci-fi but not sci-fi (Mark Haskell Smith’s Baked, Christopher Moore’s Bite Me, etc.). I’m not complaining - I laugh out loud reading these books - and it’s nothing new (Alice in Wonderland, A Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Universe, etc.), but, after a while, it does feel like the weird and wacky, if not always hilarious, is the new normal.

Then there’s John Irving, who can be quite weird and wacky and funny but is squarely grounded in everyday reality, down to the kitchen sink, being today’s Dickens. I did enjoy reading his reading his recent novel, Last Night in Twisted River, finding it a good, meaty read, but I have to say that he is getting tiring. I have enjoyed his books (The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House Rules, A Son of the Circus, A Prayer for Owen Meany, etc.), but they are getting to be the same. Irving’s novels, as rich and enjoyable as they are, are obsessive and cloying, taking an idea and hammering it, hammering it, hammering it to death. It recently occurred to me that Irving writes novels like Wes Andersen makes movies. Both are obsessive in their work, and both drive me crazy, despite, or maybe because of, their charm.

Having said this, I never get tired of Larry McMurtry, whose output I find astounding (something like 50 novels, many quite hefty, plus other writings, including the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain). Yes, he writes a lot about cowboys and the Old West, but he also writes novels like Terms of Endearment (the film covers only the last twenty pages) which are quite contemporary and sometimes remarkably female-oriented. His novels set in Hollywood are a lot of fun.

When I bought Super Sad True Love Story, I also found a huge McMurtry novel, published decades ago, that I never knew about called Moving On. At over 700 pages, it was a pain to lug around, but it was remarkable, even brilliant, in a laconic, meandering ways. Set mainly in Texas, with side trips to L.A and San Francisco and even Altadena not too far from here, it is about a woman in a stormy marriage with a man who tries doing everything from rodeo photography to graduate school in literature. I kept thinking of a cross between Lonesome Dove and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Real roadside attractions

On this last day of summer, I must say that I have traveled a lot these last few months, going to Northern California three times in my van. As I mentioned in recent posts, I went to the California WorldFest music festival in Grass Valley where I camped in mid-July, Pacific Yearly Meeting in rural Marin County in mid-August and the California Men’s Gathering near Santa Rosa over Labor Day weekend. Each trip involved a hotel stay on the way up and down, and it seemed crazy to return to Claremont between the latter two, being so close together, both in terms of time and geography. As much as I love traveling, I have to admit that I’m glad to be home for a while!

Over years of traveling, I have learned several things, including the fact that it taking six hours to drive between here and the Bay Area on Highway 5, or 8 hours on Highway 101, really depends on there being no traffic and hard, steady driving. I have also come across some nice surprises - really good places where I didn’t expect at all to find them. Here are a few.

*Taste of India, right off Highway 5 at the McKittrick Exit near Bakersfield. Although the selection is somewhat limited and basic, it’s downright exciting to see a sit-down, authentic Indian restaurant among all the nasty fast-food joints along this nasty stretch of the 5. It has tasty to-go wraps, a thoughtful nod to Highway 5 travelers who like good food, and the coolest thing is that its billboards along the freeway advertise its vegan entrees.

*In Bishop, of all places, across Highway 395 from the Motel 6, which, as far as I know and as I have written about here, is the only one left with a wheelchair-accessible room with two beds, there is a pretty good Chinese restaurant. It’s called the Imperial Palace or Imperial Garden, and it’s a nice, surprising bonus after a long, spectacular, rural drive. (I also can’t help but note that it’s in front of the county’s small Department of Public Social Services office.)

 *Also in Bishop on the 395 is Schats Bakery, which turns out to have awesome chili cheese bread. I always thought the place was just a tourist trap. You can actually order the large loaves and lots of other stuff by phone at (760)873-7156 or (866)323-5854 between 9 and 3 on weekdays. By the way, Jack’s, a few blocks down the highway, is good for breakfast.

There are a bunch of other places that I love and always return to when traveling in California, such as the Saturn Café in Santa Cruz, which I have written about here (on my visit this summer, my waiter was a cutie with a mohawk featuring four long spikes), and a few restaurants in San Luis Obispo, but these are weird, out-of-the-way treats. Who knew?

Friday, September 7, 2012

One more light in Claremont - even in the dark

Following is another of my columns that appeared earlier this summer in the Claremont Courier, this one about something else that makes Claremont a cool place to live - and perhaps to visit! It is interesting to note, by the way, that the artist James Turrell has Quaker roots, where the concept of light is paramount.

Meanwhile, I can use all the light I can get right now. In addition to having to be catheterized when I was not able to urinate several weeks ago while on a trip up north (I should get the catheter out next week and want to find out why this stoppage happened, as it also did about ten years ago, and how to prevent it from ever happening again), I now can’t use my new chair (and also my Vmax speech device). Two weeks ago, the rear left wheel fell off! Crazy! I got it fixed before going on another trip north last weekend, but when I returned, it was evident the wheel was about to come off again. The shop now says it has to request funding from Medi-Cal to replace the wheel. Who knows how long this will take? I am extremely frustrated and disheartened. Shouldn’t this be under warranty? (The trips - the first to an annual week-long Quaker meeting in very rural Marin County and the second to the California Men’s Gathering a bit further north - were both awesome despite my medical problem. Too bad I couldn’t just stay up there between!)


When Cameron Munter grew up in Claremont, it was special. Indeed, it was magical. Claremont was “a sun-dappled place where peace and all was possible.”

This is what Mr. Munter remembers, as he shared in his commencement address at Pomona College two months ago. The career diplomat, who recently served as U.S Ambassador to Pakistan, a faraway place that cries out for the possibility of peace, waxed fondly about growing up in Claremont, saying that it prepared him well for a life of trying to make the world a better, more secure place.

He spoke of spending hours playing in the street and then roaming around the college campuses. He remembered Claremont as a safe place to take off on a bicycle to explore and find what happens and what is possible.

I also spent hours exploring the college campuses when I was growing up in Claremont , although I wasn’t on a bicycle. This was after I went around more and more blocks in my neighborhood in my first motorized wheelchair. After I ventured across Indian Hill Boulevard, the world of the colleges opened up to me, and all that stopped me, really, was how much juice was in my battery (more limited then).

I would spend afternoons on the Scripps College campus, venturing down every path that didn’t have steps and into every courtyard. I would imagine - and still do - that in a few hundred year, the campus, with its jewel of a garden setting and its Mediterranean, Spanish and Moorish architecture, will be a three-star attraction in a guidebook, like a cathedral in a small, out-of-the-way town in Italy.

Or maybe not so small and out-of-the-way. It could well be that all or most of the Claremont campuses will be a tourist destination of note for future generations. I also imagined this as I enjoyed tooling around Pomona College and the other colleges, getting up close to the monumental buildings.

I don’t explore the campuses as much as I used to (I am more engaged with what goes on in the buildings), I have written about the stunning, world-class Prometheus mural by Orazco in Frary dining hall - quite a remarkable and lovely building itself - at Pomona College. Last summer, I wrote about getting reacquainted with the renovated Greek Theater, as well as the Wash and the Farm, also at Pomona.

Last summer, I made another discovery, again at Pomona College. Actually, I have heard about it for several years, but it was a year ago when I went with a group of friends and found out exactly where it is. I have since taken a couple friends. It is truly something magical.

“Dividing the Light” literally does that. It is a permanent light installation - a light show always playing - in the Draper Courtyard of the Lincoln Building at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Columbia Avenue, between Bridges Auditorium and Honold Library. The artist, James Turrell, who attended Pomona College and is known for such work, calls it a Skyspace, and, with it, he uses light to gently, playfully asks us to think about how we see things.

The Los Angeles Times called the piece, which debuted in 2007, “one of the best works of public art in recent memory.” It is that and much more. It is a trip.

The installation consists of an atrium above a simple square reflecting pool and framing the sky. At timed intervals, the atrium is bathed in changing colored lights which also, in deep contrasts, dramatically changes the color of the sky above.

This effect is heightened at sunset, when the sky itself changes color as color leaves the sky. As the atrium is filled with blue, red and yellow, the sky goes from rose to green to teal to jet black and back again. It is a brilliant, breathtaking sight - or sight trick - magic, as I said, and mind-blowing.

For those who like getting up early - perhaps appealing on these hot days - I suspect the experience is at least as spectacular at sunrise, when color blooms and fills the sky.

The college campuses are certainly more exciting when the students are around, with all that goes on during the school year, but there is much to explore when things are quiet in the summer. And, whether at dawn or in the cool of the evening, the Turrell Skyscape at Pomona College is a wonderful discovery, a refreshing, eye-opening treat.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can we talk - really?

Here is my most recent Claremont Courier column. I’ll just add that after a particularly harsh screed printed in the paper, the editor suggested in a note that if the writer hates Claremont so much, he can always move.



It was a church group.

I don’t know why people were shocked - shocked! - about what happened when, in a new addition to the City’s Fourth of July Celebration, the choir from the Pomona First Baptist Church presented a concert of patriotic music in front of the Claremont Depot at the beginning of July. Sure, “God bless America,” “In God we trust,” even “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” and “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” are familiar tropes in patriotic American song, but they do have a different, very distinct ring when put forth by a Christian body.

This wasn’t the Pomona College Choir singing a Bach mass. Or, perhaps in a better example for those with questions about Pomona College’s Congregational beginnings, the choir with students from Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer College singing “O, Magnum Mysterium.”

“What was the City thinking?” was the immediate question, including from members of the City’s Human Relations Commission, regarding what some saw as evangelism at a City-sponsored event. Or even in a public space. This was all the more poignant after the City ended up backing out of a celebration featuring a Catholic Mass in El Barrio Park not long before.

But perhaps the question should be “What were people thinking?” What was anyone thinking?

This is what I’ve been asking, with people firing off letters, printed in these pages, ricocheting off each other in a steady stream since the patriotic concert. These letters haven’t been about how good or bad the singing was, and they have definitely made summer even hotter and steamier around here.

Some letters have said that Christians should be allowed to express their faith in public, with a few at least implying that they have a duty to spread their faith. Some letters have said that religion has no place in the public square, citing the First Amendment and saying that it makes people of other faiths or no religious belief feel left out or estranged. At least one letter included the opinion that it’s unfair that it’s okay for Occupy Claremont to have a presence in front of City Hall, at least for a while, even as a Christian great doing so wouldn’t be tolerated. One letter was from representatives of the A.C.L.U threatening legal action unless the City draws up rules, or clarifies the rules it does have, regarding church/state issues.

Like I said, Claremont has been heating up in the last month or so, whether or not the mercury has been rising.

I’m wondering if the real question isn’t, what was anyone thinking, but, rather, was anyone thinking? Or, maybe, thinking too much.

It could be argued that Occupy Claremont is based on religious values, even Christian values - peace, justice and all that - but, as far as I know, it’s not a religious group. It is certainly not a church choir singing in front of City Hall. Or like a church choir singing in front of City Hall.

But what about Claremont’s Fourth of July parade? Do we really think about what goes on in it?

For many years, there has been a large contingent or two, at least, from fundamentalist Christian churches, with Christo-centric songs blaring forth. I am not here to advocate them being banned from the parade, like those who sue to have God removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, but what about the Jewish people, the Muslims, the Buddhists who are there to cheer on the parade? How do they feel when these contingents pass by? What about Sikhs, a group recently victimized in a recent terrorist act?

Likewise, the large contingent in recent years featuring people of different faiths championing same-sex marriage (which I have been involved in) has, for sure, elicited some frowns and thumbs down. Again, this is a case in which some feel obliged or called to express their beliefs, especially when they see them challenged or see those with differing beliefs as “lost.”

And, no doubt, there are those who rather see a contingent of soldiers or veterans waving the red, white and blue than a group of peace marchers carrying signs.

Over the years, such issues have inspired a letter or two regarding the parade. But then the topic quickly dropped, with no on-going conversation.

But can we have a real conversation, a constructive, productive dialogue, about expressing religious beliefs in public spaces, at public events? Perhaps what we should really ask is if we want to think about this and if we can talk about it without getting hot under the collar.

And I don’t know if suggesting that someone who doesn’t like what’s going on go elsewhere, no matter how negative and harsh the expressed opinions are, is what I mean by constructive and productive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Justice done

I have written a few times here about Jared Lee Lochner, the gunman in the Tucson shooting a year and a half ago, who killed 6 and severely wounded Senator Gabrielle Giffords among others. My last post on the subject was about how nuts it was that Lochner was being forcibly drugged so that he could be sane enough to be tried and sentenced to death.

So I groaned on Sunday when I read in the Los Angeles Times that Lochner, after being drugged and treated at a psychiatric prison, was going to be declared competent to stand trial at a hearing. I thought the insanity was going to continue.

On Tuesday, when the hearing took place, I was relieved to hear that Lochner, who did appear to be calmer and reasonable, plead guilty and that there will be no trial and no death penalty. This spares everyone a wrenching and expensive high-profile trial, and, best of all, at least in this case, it stops the insanity of the government having a hand in murder.

Lochner will no doubt get life without parole, which is absolutely appropriate. I hope he gets the helps he needs to be well in prison. The only other thing I’ll say is that, with all the hand-wringing going on but no action being taken after all the mass shootings that have happened, including the recent ones at a movie theater and at a Sikh temple, it appears very much that the N.R.A has America by the balls.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Acting my age

In my last post, I wrote about attending California WorldFest in Grass Valley and how fun it is. I have been attending this music festival for five years, and, before that, I camped at the Strawberry Music Festival, just outside Yosemite, focusing on bluegrass and folk for several years. When the Grateful Dead was still around, I attended four of the band’s concerts. My favorite of these concerts turned out to be the one I had the most trepidation about - on a big, grassy soccer field. I guess you could call me a deadhead, although nothing like the attendant I had who pulled my van over and burst into tears when he heard on the radio that Jerry Garcia had died (I really had to try not to laugh).

I have to admit, however, that, when I’m at these festivals and loving it, I find myself curious and, yes, bothered that there are people, especially men, in their 40's, 50's and 60's there. Sometimes, I catch myself appalled when I see an older guy frolicking and dancing around on the lawn and in the dust. I totally get it with guys who are 18 and in their 20's, but what are these older men doing there?

I think a lot of this is that I can’t imagine my dad doing such a thing. And aren’t these guys supposed to be playing golf, or talking about work while playing golf, or something.

And, yes, it does weird me out a bit that Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are about 70.

But the weirdest thing is what I realized last week: I turn 52 this week, and here I am, frolicking on the grass, dancing in the dust - not to mention lounging back in my new tilting wheelchair - with the rest of them. What’s more, I’m doing this shirtless in brightly colored overalls and mismatched high-tops with rainbow laces and sporting dreadlocks and now spiked mohawk.

Which is pretty much my standard look, festival or no festival.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Speak up!

This weekend, I was camping at the California WorldFest in Grass Valley, and, as in the last five years, I had a real blast there. There were incredible musical acts from all over the world playing on a number of stages all day and evening, as well as amazing food vendors and friendly, laid-back people, not to mention sweet eye candy everywhere. All this in a nice, woodsy setting and at really a bargain price. I highly recommend it, and, of course, I can’t wait to go back next year!

I say this even though the toilet is a bitch for me to use and although I felt like a huge fool for not really knowing about the band Cake, which attracted an insanely large and intense crowd (even more so than when Ziggy Marley and Ozzomatli appeared in years past) on Saturday night (I did recognize two songs they played at the end!). I also regret not even saying hi to a very cute guy in a wheelchair (with a “Stop the H8te” sticker.....mmmm) who was there - yes, on Saturday night - even with my Vmax speech device. I was shy. I was scared - scared of rejection? or success?

Later, on the trip home, I thought about two other times when I didn’t speak up or did speak up.

For years and years - and this was before I had the Vmax - I attended an annual Quaker retreat. One year, the facilitator was a gay man who had AIDS and was greatly admired in the queer Quaker community. Throughout the retreat, he clearly avoided me. It didn’t help that I had a bad cold; I later learned that he didn’t want to get sick. A few years later, he died, and I have always been sad and, yes, bitter that I didn’t make a connection with this guy who is still talked about with remarkable affectation.

Several years later, the retreat was facilitated by another gay man who also avoided me. This time, I wasn’t sick, and, after two or three days, I confronted him. The next morning, in front of the group, the man explained that his father had been disabled and had abused him as a child and that I reminded him of this. It was riveting - extremely powerful and emotional (in a group that happened to be already convulsing with emotion). All I could say was that I wasn’t his father and that I loved him. For him, as well as for me and the rest of the group of about 40, much therapy was done. It felt like a huge piece of junk had been at last dislodged.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No time to grow up

I know a young woman whose parents are both psychologists. I feel for her. She must feel that everything she does and everything she says is analyzed. I wouldn’t blame her if she was paranoid!

It seemed to me that all kids in our society don’t have it much easier these days. I’m not talking about the bleak future they face in the poor economy. I’m talking about the mixed messages they are getting. It is like no matter what they do, it’s not the right thing.

On the one hand, in recent years, kids have been told that they have to be super-achievers if they want to get anywhere in life. There is tremendous pressure on high schoolers to take accelerated classes and spend hundreds on test-prep classes in order to get into and do well at the top colleges. Some parents will do anything to get their toddlers, if not babies, into the right kindergartens that will feed into the right schools leading to the most prestigious universities. Last year, there was much talk about the Chinese-American “dragon mother” who demanded that her child studied and performed at the highest level.

I recently read about parents who threatened to sue officials when their graduating daughter was chosen to be the second-rated salutatorian instead of the first-rated valedictorian - the difference between 4.5 and 4.55, five hundredths of a point - at a Los Angeles-area high school. The mother complained of the daughter’s “sleepless nights” of studying being “for nothing,” while the father fumed, “You don’t want your kid to be a loser.”

On the other hand, there was the now famous high school commencement address a couple months ago in which an English teacher told the assembled graduates that they are “not special.” Not only is this a complete reversal from the popular good-try high self-esteem that they were brought up on in the last couple decades, it is probably a bitter pill to take with all the hard work they have had to do to get ahead.

When you add in the comments by some, as I’ve quoted here recently, that the new healthcare law babies young people by letting them stay on their parents’ insurance policy, it wouldn’t be surprising if kids nowadays feel they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. No wonder they’re lost on their iPhones.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Better - and older

I got my new chair. At long last, after nearly six months - actually nine months since my doctor signed the wrong prescription for Medi-Cal - it was delivered to my door on Monday morning. Actually, it was unexpected, not what I had planned for the day - it turned out someone didn’t e-mail me during the previous week - and somewhat unreal after waiting so long, but I now have it!

It’s a Quantum Edge (google it) put out by Pride Mobility (how appropriate!), and it’s pretty much a Cadillac among wheelchairs. With a central axle and four small auxiliary wheels, along with some hefty springs, it is extremely agile, with a remarkably smooth ride (more so than with my past chairs) - remarkable because the chair looks topsy-turvy.

For me, this is more than a new wheelchair; it is a new lifestyle. I have to make a number of adjustments in my life. For example, after always having rear-wheel drive, I need to get used to this front wheel - actually central wheel - drive. (When I want the front to go left, the rear goes right - weird!) I need to figure out how to attach a cup holder to the chair. And lights - something the chair company determines to have nothing to do with. Also, a huge issue I have to face is that, in this chair, I can’t access my backpack because of the headrest.

Yes, the chair has a headrest. I’ve never had a wheelchair with a headrest. I never thought I needed one. But, although I insisted that I didn’t want a chair that confined me or pinned me down like I was paralyzed, one of the best things about the chair is that I sit much better, helping my back and my butt, because it is like the seat is molded to my body.

Another great thing about the chair is that I can tilt the entire seat back - far, far back - which is heavenly. When I start to tilt back, I go into another space, and when I’m all the way back, with my knees far above my chest and my feet dangling, I am completely safe and relaxed - more than when I lay down. It is like I am being held. Like I said, it is Heaven. When I go back to the upright position, I really feel refreshed, with a burst of energy. I’ve been wishing for a simple way of resting during the day for years.

I wonder about tilting back in public. Will it frighten people? I’d love to tilt all the way back at concerts. I will probably tilt back part way at lectures and shows and during meeting for worship. (The chair can be driven with the seat tilted back to a certain extent - yes, I’ve been playing with it! - but, so far, I can only control it with the seat tilted back only a few inches.)

I realized the other day that the biggest change is that, in this chair, I am older. With the headrest, the tilting seat, the molded seat, it feels like this is a chair for an old man. There is a part of me that is fighting this, but it’s okay, because this chair will make my life easier. And - guess what - I am getting older.

The other good thing about having this chair is that it means I’ll get my Vmax speech device back. The DynaVox guy is coming to attach it on Monday, when he gets back from Hawaii. Whatever.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Missing an opportunity

Believe me - I wanted to like this movie. I really did.

There was even an article about it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. On the front page of the main news section - not in the entertainment section. Intouchables, or The Untouchables, a French film being released in the U.S, had been a huge hit - reportedly bigger than Avatar or The Avengers - in France and had won critics’ raves and a slew of awards. This was big news.

What was even bigger news was that the movie is about a severely disabled man. What’s more, it’s a comedy. It’s a comedy about a man, Phillipe, who is immobile and uses a wheelchair and who hires a “bad man,” Dris, an immigrant from Senegal with a rap sheet and whose mother has kicked him out, as an attendant, reasoning that such a fellow won’t pity him. Based on a true story, the film is about how the two became lifelong friends.

I had to see this. This was going to be a realistic, unsentimental and not sappy depiction of life with a disability. At long last! And it was a blockbuster! I rushed out on its first weekend of release to an outrageously expensive matinee showing about an hour away.

As I said, I wanted to like it, and I tried to, but the more I tried to like it, the more I didn’t like it. In short, the movie misses a wonderful opportunity. There is a line between funny and silly, and, while having a subject matter that is rich with unique, provocative, perhaps challenging humor, the movie too often slips over the line into the silly. When it could have been a thought-provoking, stinging “Odd Couple,” it ends up being a slick, screwball “Odd Couple.” Perhaps most upsetting for a French film, it is more of an empty Hollywood summer comedy than a rich, insightful European comedy.

There is a scene in which Dris balks at putting support stockings on Phillipe, saying that a man shouldn’t do such a thing with another man. This is good, meaty - yes, challenging - funny stuff. Too bad we couldn’t see Dris dealing with a catheter! Far more typical, though, was the wince-inducing scene in which the black, poor Dris shows Phillipe’s white, very rich family how to “get down” at a party. (Part of my problem with the film might be that Phillipe, unlike the disabled people I know, is quite wealthy.)

The scene in which Dris, driving Phillipe, careens down the road and Phillips fakes a seizure so that Dris won’t get a ticket when stopped by the police is funny (and not that far-fetched!), but it shouldn’t have been the opening. It was too over-the-top and set a frantic tone for the film. My favorite part of the film, perhaps the saving grace for me, was seeing the real-life Phillipe and Dris during the end credits.

Here are a few better bets for movie-going (although I tend to believe that, in general, going to the movies is a waste between May and September):

“Men in Black 3" - actually quite smart and funny.

“Moonrise Kingdom” - a sweet, if curious, hoot if you can stand director Wes Anderson’s increasingly obsessive hyper-stylization.

“Rock of Ages” - just a lot of summery fun, sweet, sticky, with loads of ear and eye candy, and who knew that REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” is a coming-out anthem!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Commencing along in Claremont

Following is my column which appeared in Wednesday’s Claremont Courier. I will add that Cameron Munter’s mother has long been active in the Claremont Quaker meeting where I’m a member.


Something revolutionary happened here last month.

Angela Davis was in Claremont. More specifically, the famous - or infamous - black, radical academic and activist was back in Claremont lecturing. Even more specifically, she was in the honored position of being the main speaker at Pitzer College’s graduation.

When I first heard that Ms. Davis was giving the commencement address at Pitzer, I wasn’t at all surprised. I thought, “Natch!” After all, Pitzer is well-known as the most liberal of the Claremont colleges, at least, and for proudly being pretty out there in terms of activism. But, as I was reminded during the bright Saturday morning ceremony, this was more than Pitzer being Pitzer, with the graduates choosing a provocative speaker; Ms. Davis speaking there was the triumphant closing of a circle and, in a sense, a sweet, victorious homecoming.

I knew that Ms. Davis had taught at the colleges, but I had forgotten just how controversial the appointment, made by the joint black studies department, was. I didn’t know that Ms. Davis accepted the position before it could be withdrawn and that the classes were essentially held in secret. The classes were scheduled on Friday evenings and Saturdays in different locations which the students had to swear not to divulge.

It was 1974, and Ms. Davis had been fired - twice - by U.C.L.A for her controversial views, her Communist sympathies and her activism. She had also been accused of murder, only to have the charge dropped. Ronald Reagan, who was then governor and an U.C regent, vowed that she would never again teach in California.

So Claremont was a refuge for Ms. Davis. Not only that, it rebooted her teaching career. Most ironically, she ended up holding a distinguished professorship for many years at U.C Santa Cruz. And Pitzer College President Laura Trombley said during the graduation that she is welcome to come and teach at the college anytime.

Such making a victory out of a defeat was one of Ms. Davis’ theme during her address. So was freedom and how it demands that we share our knowledge and talents. After asking the graduates to “look at all the men, women and trans-people around you,” she quoted author Toni Morrison, saying, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

And aren’t such turn-arounds and reaching out what Claremont is about? Isn’t it this revolutionary activity that puts Claremont on the map?

Angela Davis wasn’t the only one here talking revolution last month. There were many revolutions going on in Claremont, as there are every Spring, with thousands of students graduating from Pitzer and the other colleges.

This is what Claremont is known for, after all. Millions of people have come here over the years to learn and to grow, to find out who they are and perhaps, yes, reboot. Each Spring, we see the results, displayed with all the majestic regalia and pomp and circumstance, with a flurry of commencement exercises, as all these people are sent off into their lives and into the world with their new knowledge and inspiration.

Not bad for Claremont. “Claremont,” as student speaker Benjamin Tumin pronounced with some disdain the next morning at Pomona College’s graduation. To him, if not to all his fellow students, Claremont is, as he said, “nice retirement town.”

But, as was evident at Pomona College’s commencement, the colleges aren’t the only thing in Claremont producing revolutions. Growing up in Claremont can be revolutionary. Proof of this was Cameron Munter, the main speaker and a honorary degree recipient.

Mr. Munter didn’t attend one of the Claremont colleges but was raised here - he gave a Mother’s Day’s shout-out to his mother, Helen-Jeane, who, along with his father, Leonard, was in the audience and still lives in Claremont - and became a foreign diplomat, serving most recently in Pakistan.

Such a job is definitely not for the faint of heart. Much hope and faith is required. Mr. Munter said that a good preparation for this was growing up in Claremont, “a sun-dappled place where peace and all was possible.”

He talked about spending hours wandering around the college campuses as a kid. He also recalled his fellow Claremont High schoolers building a huge statue on top of Bridges Auditorium and adding the name Zappa, as in Frank, to the composers listed on the facade.

There are plenty of these sorts of memories of growing up in Claremont. There are plenty who have these memories. Some are still living here, and many are living far away and all over. They are all changing the world, whether in big ways or in tiny ways, and some of that is because they have these memories of growing up in Claremont.

Put all of these together with all of the students who come from all over to the colleges here and that’s a lot of lives, a lot of revolutions, shaped by Claremont. We see this, as we do every year, with the graduations, both at the colleges last month and with our high school students this month.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Harder and harder

“Illegals are like fleas on a dog... By definition, they are a class a criminals, and you romanticize them. I am voting against the tax increase. Perhaps we can starve them out without benefits.”

This kind of rhetoric regarding illegal immigrants is ugly and disturbing, to say the least, but what is even uglier and more disturbing is how common it now is. It is not only all over talk radio and the internet; it is at least cited in mainstream newspaper columns, and most of the Republican presidential candidates tried to outdo each other in saying how tough they would be on illegal immigrants.

The quote above was in a recent newspaper column - a column in the Los Angeles Times by Hector Tobar. The columnist, who often makes it clear that he takes great pride in his Latino heritage, wrote that this is what a guy named Steve wrote to him after a column Tobar wrote about literacy in Spanish-speaking household.

Never mind that what this guy Steve says is completely illogical - and to a dangerous extent. Not voting for the tax increases on the November ballot is inane. The vast majority of the increased funding won’t go to illegal immigrants. It will go to desperately needed services for us all - schools, healthcare, home-care for the elderly and disabled, police, fire, road maintenance, libraries, parks, etc. As Tobar says, “But starving that old dog called California won’t kill the fleas, Steve. It will kill the dog.” And, yes, there is fraud, ballooning pensions, etc., but this calls for restructuring, not destruction and the slashing of services we all rely on.

What is really disturbing is the dismissing of people not only as “illegals” but as “fleas” that are to be “starved out.” It’s the dismissal of a certain set of people as less than human.

But, as I said, this anti-illegal immigrant talk, as disturbing as it is, isn’t new. What is new and thus even more disturbing is people saying that young adults shouldn’t get help and aren’t being responsible. A while ago, I wrote about a letter in the L.A Times ridiculing the provision in the new healthcare law allowing kids to be covered by their parents’ health insurance until they are 25. Who knew that this is bad, that it keeps children from grows up?

A letter in the Times last week stated, “Unfortunately, our government encourages delayed adulthood by requiring parents’ health insurance policies to cover children until age 26, thus incentivizing the delay.

The people who write these letters can’t stand other people having it easier than - or even as easy as - they did. I guess I’m not surprised that a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of Republicans reject the idea that the government has a “responsibility to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” But I’m still disturbed.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Looking back, again

Two weeks ago, I shared a piece here that I wrote about ten years ago about coming out as a disabled, gay man. Here is another look back - my latest column in the Claremont Courier, recalling the Los Angeles riots twenty years ago.


He told me to go to Hell. Actually, what he told me to do is not something I can say here. In any case, it certainly was not what I was expecting.

I had called my friend, because I was concerned, because I wanted him to know I was thinking of him. I had called him to find out if he was okay. After all, the city had gone into chaos, with people setting fires and looting and beating and shooting each other, and my friend was living at the heart of it. I wanted to know that he was safe.

I had gone several times to where my friend was living was his mother in what was then called South-Central Los Angeles. His mother, who spoke only Spanish, was proud of the way she kept her house and had a spectacular garden. The home was essentially an oasis in an area that looked and felt dangerous, an area where, to be honest, I wouldn’t have gone if my friend wasn’t staying there.

My friend knew this. He had spent a lot of time with me in Claremont and knew that where I lived was much different. He knew that what I was used to was much different.

So when I called him two or three days after the L.A riots began with the inexplicable not-guilty verdict in the Rodney King beating trial on April 29, 1992, my friend more or less slapped me over the phone line and told me to snap out of it. He told me he didn’t need my pity. He told me I had no business calling him, that I had no idea of what was going on there, that I was putting my safe comfort in Claremont in his face.

I had not thought of this phone call in years, but it came back to me, painfully, when I read the series of articles in the Los Angeles Times marking the twenty-year anniversary of the riots. It could well be that there were other things going on with my friend that brought out this anger (when I saw him one or two times after this, there was a marked strain in our relationship), but, as was pointed out in many of the Times articles, the King verdicts and the subsequent civil unrest put the differences between people and between neighborhoods or areas into the sharpest of contrasts.

These differences and contrasts were all too evident. Before the riots, I thought the neighborhood where my friend was living was dangerous enough. When I saw the television coverage of the riots, with the fires burning out of control, with people running through the streets and breaking windows and stealing anything they could grab in stores, with the National Guard rolling in and patrolling the dead streets at night with guns, it was like watching something happening faraway, most likely in another country. With all this violence unfolding, with civil society coming undone before my eyes, it was like watching another world from the comfort of my nice, safe living room.

Except it wasn’t. Not really.

I don’t remember if it was before or after I called my friend, but it was seeing a play at Pomona College that made me see that what was going on in L.A wasn’t so far off. For one thing, my parents and I had tickets for a play at the Mark Taper Forum, but the performance was cancelled - due to “mayhem.”

So my mother and I decided to check out the show here. I also don’t recall - this was, after all and as the Times reminded me with its series, twenty years ago - if it was a department production. It may have been a student production, because the play was written by a student.

The student was an African American young woman, and her play was about growing up in poverty. I remember it being quite powerful and emotional, and, although I don’t remember it being a sad play, I remember that suddenly I was about to cry. I suddenly saw how people could be so unhappy and so angry that they not only lash out but also destroy all that they have. I suddenly saw that this was indeed what was going on in L.A, and this made it not so far away.

As the Times stories made clear, things are now better, if not much better, overall, in Los Angeles. Yes, there is high unemployment and other economic hardships, especially among people of color, but the crucial relationship between the police and the community is significantly improved, and the vast majority of people said that they get along and that it is unlikely that such civil unrest will happen again.

I got another reminder not too long afterwards, when the Northridge earthquake struck, damaging the 10 freeway near Santa Monica and causing its (surprisingly briefer than expected) closure. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure about getting to various activities. Summer was coming - could I get to my favorite beach?

Then, there was the Landrum shooting, involving the Claremont Police Department, several years later, and, now, we are being challenged by the Occupy Claremont activists to look at the homeless in Claremont. No, we here in our small town weren’t and aren’t so faraway.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lost in a bad budget

“‘All we’ve been told is that it’s really bad,’ said Vanessa Cajina, a lobbyist at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which advocates for the poor. ‘Essentially anything in the safety net is up for grabs now.’”

Is this why, after over five months, I still haven’t gotten my new wheelchair? Is this why, after my wheelchair broke down on January 6 while I was out, I am still using a less-than-ideal loaned chair (but thank God I have it!) and still not able to use my Vmax speech device (which I don’t have the mount for attaching to this chair).

Almost every day, it seems, I read newspaper articles about the horrendous shape the California state budget is, and I can’t help but think about how much I rely on it, not only for my wheelchair and health insurance but also, arguably even more importantly, for paying my attendants, allowing me to live independently. The quote above is from an article that appeared in Friday’s Los Angeles Times in anticipation of Governor Jerry Brown unveiling his revised proposed budget. When the critical “May revise” came on Monday, with Brown revealing the tax revenue from April and his proposal for what to do with it, it was every bit as bad as, if not worse than, what was feared. Instead of a $9.2 billion - with a b - deficit, as was estimated in January, the deficit is now nearly double that, at about $16 billion.

There are many explanations and arguments. People aren’t earning and then buying as much, so tax revenue is down. More people than thought are using state services and resources. Democratic legislators want to raise taxes, but Republican legislators are determined to block such attempts. The governor is desperately hoping that voters will approve temporary tax hikes that he has put on the November ballot.

All this doesn’t make the news any easier for me - not to mention I can barely imagine the sums involved. It is no fun always wondering if the cuts that have to be made, even if taxes can be raised, will mean that I can’t get the equipment and services I need to live my life to its fullest and be productive.

It’s also no fun when, as happened last weekend, I saw a friend who uses a power wheelchair using a pick-up truck to get around. I asked another friend how this is done and was told that my friend is taken out of his chair and put into the truck cab and then a board is used to get the chair into the truck bed.

“Why doesn’t he have a van? He should have a van,” I said. Yes, I was mad but not at my friend. I was, and am, angry at our rich society that makes it so hard to get the help that they so clearly need.

Meanwhile, I got a notice in the mail yesterday saying that my Medi-Cal is being terminated, because I didn’t return a form which I didn’t get in the mail. The notice was mailed the day after I mailed back the form I got after discovering the initial mailing got lost.

No, it’s definitely no fun.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Coming out of the past

Back in the Fall, I wrote about going to a P-FLAG meeting in L.A and how it made me miss the P-FLAG chapter that used to be in Claremont when I came out. It also made me remember a piece I wrote that was published in the chapter’s newsletter, and I thought about sharing it here but couldn’t find it. Then - as always happens, right? - when I was looking for another paper a couple weeks ago, I came across the newsletter. You can read the piece as it was published in the summer of 2001 below.

A short note: At the time, I was using a small voice synthesizer called a LightWriter, which was attached to my chair and consisted of a keyboard and a one-line screen. Unlike the device I now have, it required that I actually type, which ultimately proved to be too laborious, tedious and tiring.


When I attended my first P-FLAG meeting two and a half years ago, I was terrified. In fact, I went only on the condition that my friends Jim and Alan would be attending. I needed them there for support, if not to hold my hand.

Part of my concern had to do with how folks would deal with my impaired speech, even with my use of a speech synthesizer. I face this whenever I encounter people who don’t know me or aren’t used to conversing with me. A bigger fear was in saying, “Hi, I’m John, and I’m gay” in a public setting. I had come out a month or two earlier, and I was now announcing it for all to hear. This is a huge step and scary for many P-FLAG newcomers, but it was scarier for me, because I was afraid people would say, “Yeah, right!”

In addition to having impaired speech, I use a wheelchair. Having Cerebral Palsy, I am disabled - “severely disabled” is how it has always been put - and have been all my life. Although I had had vague sexual feelings and yearnings, I never saw myself in a sexual relationship, and I was never treated as if I would (or could) be, presumably because of my disability. Now, suddenly, at the tender age of 39, I found myself in a sexual relationship, and, in coming out, I wasn’t only saying that I’m a gay man; I was proclaiming myself to be a sexual being.

Although it was and is a great joy to say this, I feel that I was and am taking a real risk when doing so, not only in the straight world but also, and perhaps even more so, in the gay community. I have always loved dancing, but I have always been wary of dancing in bars or clubs, for fear I might freak people out (“Oh, he’s having a seizure!”).

Likewise, I didn’t and still don’t go to gay bars and clubs. I didn’t and don’t want to deal with the “What are you doing here?” stares and the “You think I’d want you?” laughter. (I’ve realized that this is why I didn’t come out five and even eighteen years ago.)

Real or not, these were the messages I got. Shortly after attending my first P-FLAG meeting, I began attending a local gay men’s conversational group. Although I was welcomed - it was an open group, after all, and there were rules about everyone being allowed to speak and not putting anyone down - it was clear to me that I was not wanted there. I went nearly every Thursday evening for the better part of a year, but it was a chore, and I only realized more and more that I didn’t look forward to going. I once had my former boyfriend attend, and he spoke quite movingly and in some detail about being with me, but it didn’t help. I still wasn’t one of those sexually active gay men, that is, if I was even gay. “What are you doing here?” was still the message I got.

In the past year and a half, as I have continued to attend Claremont P-FLAG meetings, if on a sporadic basis, I have become involved with several other groups with much more success. Two of these are the Moon Circle, a L.A area of the Radical Faeries, and, just recently, the California Men’s Gathering. Although my first meetings were still terrifying, I have found the mostly gay and bisexual men in these groups to be, for the most part, quite friendly and warmly accepting. There are still awkward pauses and side glances, and I do wish that I didn’t have to travel so far to participate in the many and varied activities, but I deeply appreciate these groups’ commitment to openness and diversity.

This isn’t to say that all is nice and easy. There have been plenty of times when I’ve had to get on these guys’ cases, rattle their cages, to remind them that I’m there and to accommodate and assist me. However, I sense that they mean well and that, for the most part, they are trying, and there is always the guy like the guy at a recent clothing-optional pool party who, without my saying anything, offered to and was not afraid to take me into the pool.

And there are still times when all my cage rattling doesn’t help. At the California Men’s Gathering over Memorial Day weekend, I read a poem of mine at the talent show. The poem is about my body, about how my body is sexual and desirable despite being crippled and contorted, and the reading was a dramatic one. A friend read it along with me, and, for the first time, I read it as I meant it to be read when I wrote it a few years ago - in the nude. For me, and most of the 250 or so men in the hall, it was a profoundly powerful experience and one of celebration.

I say most, because, as my attendant told me later, a man came up to him in the restroom afterwards and said that my reading was “the saddest part of the show.”

“Man,” my attendant said, looking at the guy as he left the restroom, “you’re missing the point. You just don’t get it.”

He doesn’t. And it’s his loss.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A bit too much sprnging

Spring has sprung - certainly here in So. Cal., where there’s a heat wave this weekend. I’m sitting here typing this shirtless in my cut-off bib overalls.

Spring is known as a time of re-awakening, when all things living come back to life at full force. As wonderful and beautiful as it is, sometimes, as I point out in the following column published in the Claremont Courier this week, this abundance of life is a bit too much.

I will add or reiterate that the bee guy was super intense - scarily so. I thought he would go off on an anti-gay rant when he started off his spiel by saying, “All animals are meant to procreate. Those that don’t, die off.” Later, on his second visit, he told my attendant that a bee sting might do me good. A very intense, weird


Who knew that bees need more water, more hydration, than any other animal?

Wow! I didn’t.

I learned this fascinating factoid when the bee guy came to my house, and I asked why the bees were dying. He said that it was lack of hydration. That, and that they were smashing the windows, trying to get out.

Yes, the bees were trying to get out - of my kitchen. Or, as the bee guy said, they were heading towards the light. There had been dozens of bees coming into my kitchen over the previous two days. Most were quickly dying, which was enough of a nuisance, but there had still been plenty buzzing around, making life unpleasant and somewhat dangerous.

This is why the bee guy was at my house. I wanted to know why the bees were in my kitchen. After all, I never had had bees in my kitchen - or anywhere in my house. More to the point, though, I wanted the bees out of my kitchen, out of my house, and I wanted them to stay out. Like they always had.

It’s not that I have anything against bees. Sure, they are annoying and can be dangerous, even quite dangerous, but they play a crucial role in nature and make lovely honey, and I agree that the recent massive bee die-off is alarming. But, please, I don’t want them in my house.

But, as happens with disturbing frequency, when the bee guy came to my house, the bees weren’t coming in. Unlike the previous two warm afternoons, when the bees were coming in at a steady pace, it was a cool and cloudy morning, and there wasn’t much bee activity. After looking around a bit, the bee guy surmised that they were getting in through a couple air vents. He went on to explain, among many other things like the hydration, that, like humans, bees look at an average of twelve different places before choosing a place to live.

Again, who knew? “It’s really an amazing thing,” the bee guy said.

He guessed that the bees didn’t like my house and had decided to move on. It looked like he was right until two days later when it warmed up again, and the bees came buzzing, if not roaring, back into my kitchen.

I called the bee guy again, and he said he would come back the next afternoon - a good time, I thought, since it was more likely that the bees would be more active (even if dying once they were in my kitchen) at that time.

Sure enough and much to my relief, when the bee guy came for the second time, there were plenty of bees buzzing about, including in my kitchen. Better yet, he saw them going in and out of a small crack in the wall, a crack that he hadn’t seen before. He plugged the hole - no long lectures this time - and I haven’t had anymore bees in my kitchen.

This is good, because having two cats, along with two caged parakeets, in my house is enough. After having one cat in many periods of my life, having two for the last eight years or so has really shown me, as if I didn’t already see, that we’re owned by our cats (if not all our pets) rather than owning them.

These two cats that rule the house are brothers, both extremely affectionate and with a definite foot fetish, that I got as found kittens. (I still have the Courier classified ad stuck on my fridge.) At the time, I didn’t know their distinct personalities and how correctly I named them. Elijah, with light champagne stripes, is rotund and voracious, likes to bully but is really a huge baby, spending most of the time when he’s outside sticking close to the house and loudly crying. I think he is jealous of Irie who, with his darker orange stripes, really reflects the term from reggae music meaning “positive” and “happy,” being adventurous and sleek, if not sneaky, having the run of the neighborhood and maybe the town.

They do get into spats with each other, but it usually means they want food or out. Usually. At least they don’t bring live birds into the house, as one of my old cats, Sam, was wont to do, and at least they’re not fighting opossums under my bed.

This is what happened to an old friend of mine here in Claremont years ago. She had a cat door in her back door and was awakened one night by her cat and an opossum in a loud, vicious fight under her bed. My friend sat up on her bed and frantically called the police and was told, “Lady, we don’t come out for opossums.”

Years later, I found out that that was wrong. I was living in an apartment here in town and had a roommate from England. He had never seen an opossum and panicked when he saw one one night out on the patio and called the police. Before I knew it, I was lying in bed at 11:30 looking out the window at two officers rooting around the patio with flashlights.

At least the opossum was outside. One another occasion at the same apartment when I had a different roommate, I was having a birthday party. Some friends and I were playing Uno or something at the kitchen table, and the sliding glass door was open in the summer. My cat - another cat named Professor (he really was a genius and quite dapper in his black tux) - came in from the patio, loudly making an announcement. It turned out he had brought his own guest - a baby opossum. And it turned out that it wasn’t dead. It was, of course, playing opossum.

I probably don’t need to say that that was the end of that party.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disabled by shame

This kid needs to be in school. Not only is there no reason for him not to be in school, it is all the more reason for him to be in school.

That was my immediate reaction when I read Steve Lopez’s column a few weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times. Steve Lopez is one of my heroes, an inspiration to me - a sharp, insightful columnist who writes with passion as well as compassion. With this column, however, he didn’t go quite far enough.

The column was about Jose Chojolan, a junior at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. Although he is quiet and shy, Jose is likable and smart, determined to go to college - preferably U.C Irvine. As his marine biology teacher, Jennie Jackson, is quoted, “Jose is probably one of the most humble, hard-working, reliable students I have ever known.”

That is, when he’s in school.

Jose hasn’t been in school since January, and he doesn’t want to. “He can’t quite imagine returning to school,” according to Lopez.

That’s because he now uses a wheelchair, having been paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a blood clot in his neck. He did visit the school recently but didn’t stay long. As he told Lopez when Lopez visited him at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital, “I didn’t want them to see me,” referring to his fellow students.

The column is about the students at Fairfax raising thousands of dollars for Jose’s family, who had been living in an inaccessible second-floor apartment and has lost income from taking time off to care for Jose. This is truly awesome.

But I keep thinking about the guy I wrote about a couple years ago who was found by friends in a nursing home decades after thinking he had died. I wish Lopez not only had written about how sad and ridiculous that Jose and his family are left relying on the kindness of students and strangers rather than the state. I wish mostly that Lopez had written more about the shame that Jose feels about being disabled, the shame he has learned to feel, the shame that is now what’s really paralyzing him.

After all, there’s a big sign in the window of his hospital room saying “We Love Jose,” signed by his fellow students. Think about it. He needs to be in school.

Friday, April 6, 2012

They like it hard

“There are no adult children, only adults who act like children... Your son may be 24, but he is not a child, I hope.

“Obamacare and the nanny state treat people like children. They can drink, drive and vote, but they are not responsible enough to pay their way...”

So spouts off a letter-writer not too long ago in the Los Angeles Times, referring in the already enacted provision in the healthcare reform law that allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until 26, in yet another incredible example of a conservative shooting themselves in the foot - literally. Come Hell or high water - especially so, in fact - they are determined that people be responsible for themselves and not get any help.

Even though they may very well need the assistance, the Tea Party types are waiting with baited breath for the Supreme Court to strike down the healthcare reform law. In the name of liberty, they insist on self-reliance and taking care of one’s own business, even when there is clearly a way to make life easier and better for all. In the name of freedom, the demand that nobody gets it easy, much less a free ride - and all the more so if they have to pay for it.

As the letter writer concludes, “Covering adult children costs someone or something. Nothing is free. Even lunch from a Democrat.”

This might - might - be arguable, if not understandable, but it often seems that conservatives want things to be even harder than they already are. It is as if life isn’t worth anything unless it is a complete slog and a complete fight. And they’ll bend over backwards and twist the truth to see that this happens.

Consider what is now going on in Lancaster. I have written a few times about this town in the desert northeast of Los Angeles and its mayor, R. Rex Parrish, who favors praying to Jesus at City Council meetings. I have written about there being a federal investigation into surprise inspections of Section 8 housing, often accompanied by armed officers, in the city. These units are usually occupied by blacks and Latinos. Now, the city has sued Section 8, claiming it coerces minorities to move to Lancaster rather than, say, L.A. It posits that this is unfair to minorities, despite the fact that housing in Lancaster is more affordable and less dense.

Talk about twisting truth and logic! In the name of fairness, conservative Lancaster is out to make things harder, if not downright impossible, for people.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sliced bread - and the pits

I recently got a keyless lock on my front door, and I’ll tell you, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

For the longest time, I wished I could have some kind of automatic door - something like the remote control unit that I was given in college to open the door to my dorm and hall. After I got out of school, my father made a key holder with a small piece of wood. I could handle it well enough, but it was always a challenge, a test, to get the key into the keyhole, especially if I was cold. Yes, it always felt good, like a victory, when I got the door open, but it was a pain, and that it took a few minutes or sometimes more pissed me off.

I kept thinking of those keypads where you punch in a code to open a door. Wouldn’t something like that work? But then all of my attendants would need to know the code, and maybe one of them might let it slip out to someone they knew.... More to the point, though, didn’t something like that cost thousands of dollars? I always thought there was no way to afford what I wanted.

This became an actual problem when I got my Vmax speech device a couple years ago. With it mounted on my wheelchair, unlocking my front door was all but impossible. Soon, I left the door unlocked when I went out on my own with the Vmax. Although my neighborhood is relatively quite quiet and safe, I knew this was unwise, if not asking for trouble. It only got worse when, because it was just easier, I began leaving the door unlocked - just this one time - when I left on my own without the Vmax. An occupational therapy appointment last year was no help at all. (I suspect I’m far more independent than any of the other patients seen.)

So, last month, when I complained about this after I returned home to find that an attendant had inadvertently locked the door, it was suggested I look on-line for a keyless door lock. Well, it turned out - hello! - that there were plenty of them, and I found one that, like many, was under $100, probably because it wasn’t marketed to the disabled (the picture in the ad and on the box when I got it showed a woman at a door with her hands full with a baby and a shopping bag). I ordered it on a Wednesday and, with standard postage, got it on Friday.

One of my attendants, who happens to be quite handy with such things, installed it easily that evening (I had also been worried that installation would be another big cost), and my life changed. The unit works on the dead bolt (I no longer use the door knob lock) and works just like a remote car key, with the fob taped onto the armrest of my wheelchair. There is a satisfying buzz and click when it works, and it even works when I’m in my van in the driveway.

I have to say that, for a day or two, I felt sad and even guilty about not experiencing the thrill of victory in unlocking the door with the key, like I was being lazy and giving up, but I’ve been much more thrilled with it now being so much easier to unlock the door. Like I said, the best thing since sliced bread!

But what about my attendants? How do they get in when I’m not here or when I’m in bed? Do they each need a fob, which I have to order at extra cost? No. As I was reminded, there is a back door that they can use and for which I got them keys. Hello!

Unfortunately, I have been unable to use the Vmax, to have it on my wheelchair - the reason I got the keyless lock - for nearly three months. Unlike sliced bread or the best thing since, this is the pits, and the reason is even more so.

My wheelchair broke down when I was out on January 6. Yes, Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany! Having witnessed my doctor signing a prescription for the new chair, which I can tilt back with the push of a button, back in October and having been told that I should get it in January, I called the vendor to see if I would be getting it soon and was told that my doctor’s prescription hadn’t been received. Why didn’t I know about this?... After making a scene (and later finding out that my doctor had signed the wrong form when I saw him in October), it was straightened out, and we are now waiting for Medi-Cal’s approval.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t get my chair fixed, because Medi-Cal is (hopefully) funding the new one. I have been using a wheelchair which I’m very grateful I have access to, but not only is it not the best for my legs and back, its frame is different and can’t accommodate the mount (which costs hundreds of dollars, being, unlike with the keyless lock, marketed for the disabled) I had for the Vmax. I had been told that the new mount for my new chair could fit on the chair I’m using, but when I received it last month, it turned out that it couldn’t.

So I’m enjoying some good sliced bread - or the best thing since - but I’m also having my share of pits.