Friday, February 21, 2014

On the other side

   I recently had the experience of what it must be like for a stranger hearing my speech. What was most eye-opening and startling were the strong feelings it evoked in me.
   I was at a weekend gathering, and the keynote talk was given by someone who, like me, has impaired speech stemming from Cerebral Palsy. There was no speech device used, and no one repeated what was said. (The text of the address was widely distributed after the weekend.) Although the speaker’s speech isn’t as impaired as mine and although I had understood and conversed with the speaker at other gatherings, there were large sections of the talk I couldn’t make out.
   Much to my surprise, I found myself feeling quite angry. Not just sad and confused, lost, but downright mad. In a case of sharp irony, with the talk being about inclusivity, I felt excluded - and I felt that the speaker was excluding me. (Let me be clear: I am not naming names, because my purpose here is not to blame, and I was able to read the text of the talk later. My purpose here is to reflect on how I felt.)
   I felt that I have always tried hard to make sure people understand what I say - having people repeat what I say, using speech devices, etc. - and here the speaker was not seeing to it that I understood what was said.     A bit later, I thought that, rather than sitting there feeling excluded and angry, I should have spoken up. I should have asked for someone to repeat what was said. Or maybe I should have asked for one of the few copies of the talk handed out for those who were “hard of hearing or non-English speaking” (which I’m not).
   But it wasn’t and isn’t that simple. I may have been rude if I had spoken up. After all, no one else spoke up. Was I the only one having difficulty? Or were the others wanting to not be rude?
   And how does this all fit in with the theory, which I subscribe to more and more, that disability is a societal issue, a problem for society to deal with, providing more easily obtained services and accommodations, etc., rather than a problem for the individual to handle? Does it go with the idea that disability is hard because society makes it hard - or that society makes disability harder?
   If society did indeed take on the responsibility of accommodating the disabled, making disability less hard, if not not hard, perhaps it would be more my responsibility to understand what the speaker was saying. Perhaps I would have been trained, as I have been in arithmetic and grammar, to have the skills and the patience to do so. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to make so much of an effort to make sure that people understand what I’m saying.
   I want to add, as an aside, that the weekend involved flying and that I couldn’t help noticing again that, ironically enough,  the Transportation Security Agency has gone out of its way to accommodate those in wheelchairs, with a separate area and agent for the pat-down. I thought it was pretty funny when the agent did a very thorough job of checking me and my chair out on my trip home in my Jesus-hippie overalls with the “Another hippie for peace” patch.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter wonder(iing)land

   It got cold here last week, and it did rain a bit, but it is warming up again. This winter is even weirder than usual in sunny, funny So Cal, to say the least, and all the more so with the rest of the country gripped in a deep freeze. Here is a column I wrote for the Claremont Courier last month which appeared on its website (


   My friend sighed. He really didn’t want to go home.
   It was a few days into the new year, and my friend came by for a visit. He had been in Claremont, also going to other places like Palm Springs and Laguna Beach, for two or three weeks over the holidays. As we talked in the warm afternoon sun and went into my house, he was dreading flying home the following day.
   I don’t think my friend was particularly upset that the holidays were over. He may or may not have been unhappy about having to go back to his work. What he really didn’t want, what he was absolutely dreading, was just to go home to Vermont, where, at the time, it was even colder than it usually is in Vermont in January.
   My friend never likes going back to Vermont after spending the holidays here, but it was all the harder with the unusually cold spell. Spending the holidays in Claremont and environs is always a bit magical, a bit of heaven, when his driveway at home is blocked with snow. Later, after his return home, he remarked that, during his trip, he had eaten many of his meals outside, surrounded by blooming flowers.
   I haven’t been eating my meals outside, and I can’t say that I’m surprised by flowers blooming in January, but I have been reading a lot in my yard, and I was doing so in short-sleeves when my friend came by before returning to Vermont. I’ve been going out in tee-shirts during the day in recent weeks, and, except when I was up north in the Bay Area for several days after Christmas (when I really didn’t need them), I haven’t worn long underwear since mid-December. And I definitely haven’t wanted thermal sheets on my bed since early December when we had that cold snap here (remember that?).
    I couldn’t even laugh at the college students walking around in shorts and flip-flops when they returned to classes last week.     Sure, January often has warm and dry days here (see: the Rose Parade), but this was getting weird, with day after day warm and dry. Yes, it was a special, luxurious, decadent treat to read in the bright sun, lounging on the dark green lawn by a row of brilliant red and white camellias in a festive red tee, on Christmas Day, but it was downright strange when I was still doing it a month later. At least it hasn’t been so warm that  I have wanted to go without a shirt.
   There was sure something unusual going on here. Just as the frigid, brutal weather in most of the rest of the United States was unusual.
   I knew, however, that this was no idyll, no pleasant dream, no paradise on earth (at least for those who like it warm or hot all the time), when it hit the news. The two headlines at the top of the front page of the Los Angeles Times on January 16, told it all - or a lot of it.
   “Cutting back as levels fall” was the headline on one article, with the sub-headline reading “Concern is that state is headed for major drought.” The article said that many lakes and reservoirs in California are at historically low levels and that
residents in some towns up north are being asked not to water their lawns. It was one of several that week noting the lack of rain, saying that last year was the driest in decades and that this January appeared headed to be the driest ever. It was also reported that this year’s snowpack, vital to the state’s water supply, is 20% of the average. Although it also had been mentioned in these articles that Southern California has enough water stored to last a year or two, it was no surprise when, on the following day, Governor Jerry Brown declared that California is in a drought.
   (What I’m left wondering, though, is if Southern California having water stored up makes it okay for us to keep watering our lawns and to use thousands of gallons to make a hockey rink in Dodger Stadium.)
   The other story topping that front page was about how cell phones and other nifty technological devices that we now rely on may well be rendered useless by an earthquake. This article didn’t come out of the blue. There had been not only a number of articles commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Northridge quake and about concerns over old buildings and new earthquake faults in Los Angeles. There had also been a number of small quakes in the area in the previous week or two. Many of these stories included the reminders that we are well overdue for “the Big One.”
   There were also the fires, including the dramatic one in the hills above Glendora. Several articles in the Times noted that, while it is highly unusual to be concerned about wildfires and to need fire-fighters and equipment available in January with the “fire season” usually ending in late November or December, foliage is tinder dry and combustible due to, yes, lack of rain.   Furthermore, there was a report several days later about how the high pressure weather system that is keeping rain away is also trapping air particles and making it smoggy, not only unusually so during our winters here but also sometimes unhealthily so to an significant extent.
   What do we do with all this ominous news? Continue to bask and play in the sun, glad we’re not in all that snow and ice, perhaps while buying more bottles of water and hoping for the best when the large earthquake or no rain comes? As a friend from L.A said when he was here on the same day that the two articles appeared, “It’s so beautiful that it’s getting dangerous.”
   I think he was only half-joking, if that.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A place like home in Claremont?

   Here is my column that appeared in last Friday’s Claremont Courier. ‘Nuff said, as my friend Chris would say.


   Karl Hilgert, Mary Cooper and Andrew Mohr knew that what they were doing wouldn’t be easy.
   When they got together with others from Pilgrim Place and the Claremont Quaker Meeting last year, inspired by Occupy Claremont, to not just talk about the homeless in Claremont but to actually assist them, they knew that it wouldn’t be simple. In forming the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP), they knew they were in for some hard work.
   The idea behind CHAP and it’s “Summer to End Homelessness” was to pair volunteers up with homeless individuals to help them go through the gauntlet of bureaucracies in order to get the services they need. Such an endeavor included, at the very least, waiting in crowded rooms, sometimes for hours, and filling out lots of forms - challenging enough for those with stability in their lives.
   This was difficult and frustrating, and, no, the people in CHAP didn’t end homelessness in Claremont. They were under no illusions that they would, but at least they were trying and getting something done about an ugly and daunting problem. It’s a problem that many people don’t want to even think or talk about.
   And now CHAP is trying and doing something more. With the Claremont Quaker Meeting providing space, the people in CHAP are giving overnight shelter to homeless people in Claremont. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Quaker meeting but not involved with CHAP.)
   This is a huge and even scary undertaking. It has started off small, with only men and only a few of them each night, but that still involves needing people to stay overnight as hosts and providing a simple breakfast each morning. This bold, hands-on leap had to be taken, Mr. Hilgert, Ms. Cooper, Mr. Mohr and the others in CHAP believe, because the nights are cold. As they see it, the question is: How can one try to assist the homeless and leave them to spend the night out on the street? The plan is that more homeless people and not just men will be able to stay at the shelter, and there is hope that other faith communities in and around Claremont will get involved in this effort.
   It is easy to say that this is too difficult and won’t last. It is easy to say that this shelter program isn’t enough or won’t work, even that it will cause trouble, attracting more homeless people to Claremont.
   But, as its people well know, what CHAP is doing isn’t easy. CHAP is doing something hard. At the very least, the CHAP folks are trying.
   Which is a lot when it looks like there are people in Claremont who don’t even want to think about trying.
   Just as CHAP was getting set to open its overnight shelter for homeless people in Claremont, there was grumbling and all sorts of alarms being raised - again - about low-income housing in Claremont. Correct that: there have been people upset about the idea of low-income housing in Claremont.
   We have seen this before. But in the past, the outcry has been over proposed projects, like the one several years ago just north of the 2-10 freeway. This time, the bruhaha is over a site that may - or may not - be used for low and very low-income housing sometime in the future.
   The city was only trying to identify land that could be used for such a project, as required by the state of California. However, when it came to a 5.9-acre parcel on Mills Avenue across from Chaparral Elementary School, there was confusion, with a good number of people thinking that a 100-unit low-income housing project was to be built there. This, as Kathryn Dunn reported in these pages on January 24, lead to a “backlash.”
   According to Ms. Dunn’s reporting, “The city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocations require city staff to identify possible locations for future very low and low-income housing development. The city is not, however, required to actually build the units. This fact did little to assuage residents’ fears about the project. About 45 people showed up to the January 7 planning commission meeting citing concerns...”
   Forty-five people showing up at a meeting to denounce a project that could possibly and is not required to happen sometime in the future is a lot. There were also letters and other pieces in these pages lamenting this low-income housing project that isn’t planned.
   The backlash was such that City Manager Tony Ramos decided to send the Housing Element Update back to the planning commission for a second review, although it will most likely mean that the city will miss a state deadline. As Mr. Ramos explained, “We need to vet this make sure all residents’ concerns are addressed.”
   The City Council agreed at its January 28 meeting, at which dozens of residents were present to register these concerns.
   The concerns and fears about this proposed low-income housing project that isn’t there include those voiced in previous years about low-income housing projects: traffic, quality of life, negative effects on surrounding property values and wildlife. Another familiar element of the complaints is that the site that they concern is north of Foothill Boulevard. It is interesting that I haven’t heard about complaints about two other sites on the list that are on Arrow Highway.
   Why is low-income, high-density housing acceptable in the south area of Claremont, even next to the Village where it has turned out to be quite successful, and the mere possibility of it is met with strong opposition? Also, as for the argument that people with lower incomes shouldn’t be relegated to housing near a freeway, where it has been shown that the air quality is worse, the low-income housing projects and the Arrow Highway properties aren’t all that far from the 10 freeway. What’s more, I haven’t seen much of an outcry over the standard housing projects being built near or even off the 2-10 freeway.
   It has also been pointed out that the parcel on Mills Avenue is currently owned by Golden State Water Company, with a water well being operated on it. But surely the planning commission knew this when it made its recommendation. Isn’t there a creative, uniquely Claremont way to accommodate the well along with housing?
   I can’t help wondering this when CHAP is trying and finding a way to do something to provide shelter for the homeless on these cold nights.