COVID Voices: These Are the Things They Did

“For sale. Baby’s shoes. Never worn.” That’s a six-word short story often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, widespread doubt notwithstanding. Hemingway’s talent was brevity of prose, his ability to tell a big story in a few words, and his style sparked a writing tradition in American fiction.

You can’t help but recall this six-word story when you read through the list of names in the New York Times May 24, 2020 edition listing people who died of COVID-19.  Okay, I confess to being a sucker for someone’s story, and I zoom in to these names and brief obits with imagination unloosed. As the Times puts it, “None were mere numbers.”

I’m channeling Mr. Greeke. “William D. Greeke, 55, Massachussetts, thought it was important to know a person’s life story.” There are just over 329 million Americans right now, but there was only one William D. Greeke.

What’s moving is that the same kind of uniqueness is true for every other victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

“June Beverly Hill, 85, Sacramento, no one made creamed potatoes or fried sweet corn the way she did.”

“Clara Louise Bennett, 91, Albany, Ga., sang her grandchildren a song on the first day of school each year.”

“Cynthia Whiting, 66, La Plata, Md., determined to spoil her granddaughter.”

“Robert L. Crahen, 87, Waunakee, Wis., nicknamed ‘Boxcar Bob’ for his luck in shaking dice.”

“Harley E. Acker, 79, Troupsburg N.Y., discovered his true calling when he started driving a school bus.”

“Stanley Marvin Grossman, 83, Nanuet, N.Y., known to many for his amazing Donald Duck impersonations.”

Most of the stories I’ve cited so far are of really old people, with whom, being 72, I feel a certain consanguinity. As I’ve said before, I can’t recommend old age, since its future is somewhat limited. On the other hand, Senior Citizens is the only minority group I ever aspired to join, the alternative being arguably worse, although I’m open to discussion on that one.

But each of these people’s death notices evokes thoughts beyond the mere dates and places of their beginning and end. They plant the seeds of wonder, curiosity, and emotion that bloom in your imagination, in your heart.

Contrast the older folks with  “Skylar Herbert, 5, Detroit, Michigan’s youngest victim of the coronavirus pandemic.” With those lines, you can’t help but go back to the baby’s shoes, never used. No soccer games, no first time on a two-wheeler, no graduations. A life scarcely lived. But you can imagine the memories never had and create the same stories as you do with the others.

A few more before closing.

“James W. Landis, 57, Krocksville Pa., loved his truck, Dorney Park, Disney World, model trains, and especially California cheeseburgers.”

“Steve Dalkowski, 80, New Britain, Conn., gifted pitcher who never made the big leagues.” I hope he’s waiting in the bullpen at the Field of Dreams waiting his first major league start.

“Asela E. Dejo, 92, New Jersey, excellent cook, though she hated the task.” I wish I had her grit.

“Robert M. Shaw, 69, Beverly, Mass., loved being Grandpa to his ‘little man’ and ‘sweet pea.”

You run with that one. I’m done for right now.

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COVID-19: Waving from Across the River

“U.S. DEATHS NEAR 100,000, AN INCALCULABLE LOSS, said the May 24, 2020 New York Times headline over an article that calculated the loss. It was a stunning piece of work, really. I had no intention of reading the whole thing–the headline pretty much said it all–but after reading the first name, I read the next, and the next, and so on until the end.

“One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic,” Joseph Stalin reportedly said. I was never a big fan of Joe, but he’s sort of right in a perverse way. The Times piece, though, was no mere glorified Vital Statistics section. The names, listed by date of death, included lines from the obituaries or death notices, adding dimension to the statistic and weaving a quilt of incalculable loss.

We lived in San Francisco years ago, where people you met never asked the usual, “What do you do?” They didn’t care where you worked so much as finding out who you were, what made you tick. What makes the names in the Times story so compelling is the sense of the whole person radiating through mere words.

Each entry, each death, is a story. Some are novels. For the reader, it’s an encounter with a whole life, not just its end. I’ve selected just a few, here, which was hard, because they’re all really interesting, and I could go on for 10,000 words. This Styx thing is interesting. In any event, here’s the sampling.

“George Freeman Winfield, 72, Shelburne, Vt., could make anything grow.” Who doesn’t know someone like George?

“Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, La., renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages.” At some point in her life, Theresa thought, “Hmm, I can make some money with this,” after creating her tenth or twelfth corsage. Or, perhaps a friend or relative said, “Theresa, these are so beautiful you ought to sell them.”

“Romi Cohn, 91, New York City, saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo.” Generations and friends of generations didn’t just know the rabbi and what he had done, but many owed their existence to him..

“Fred Walter Gray, 75, Benton County, Wa., liked his bacon and hash browns crispy.” With that, Mr. Gray came to life. You can hear him barking at the server in the diner to make sure the bacon and hash browns were crispy. You can see his wife and kids cringe just before he does it, because they know it’s coming. Of such things are memories made.

“Helen Kafkis, 91, Chicago, known for her Greek chicken and stuffed peppers.” You can smell Ms. Kafkis’s kitchen. You can see her bent over the range, stirring and tasting with the steam rising on both sides of her tiny gray head. You can see her stir with one hand and grab for the hot pad with the other and open the oven.

“Angelo Piro, 87, New York City, known for serenading friends with Tony Bennett songs.” Can’t you hear his friends? “Angelo, Christ Almighty, stop it with ‘The Good Life’ already and do ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, wouldja?”

“Ronald Willencamp, 75, Wisconsin, proud to have logged over five million miles behind the wheel.” Like anyone else, Mr. Willencamp no doubt had a few regrets over choices not made, over opportunities squandered, whatever. But goddamit, he logged five million miles and you didn’t.

“Susan Great Hopp Crofoot, 97, Westwood, N.J., took great joy in writing little ditties under her pen name, Penelope Penwiper.” Most of these names brought me to the brink of tears, but this one put me over it. I imagined her getting the idea of writing her ditties for posterity. I imagined her deciding she needed a pen name when her real name kind of sounds like one. And I imagined the person who put this into the obit and the affection he or she had for Ms. Crofoot.

“Tommie Brown, 82, Gary, Ind., who died the same day as his wife. Doris Brown, 79, wife who died the same day as her husband.” Think about that one for awhile.

“Edward Cooper, Jr., 83, Louisiana, he loved his wife and said, ‘Yes, dear’ a lot.” This entry, as with all the others, stunned me in saying so much more than the mere words.

Okay, a couple more before I stop.

“Jerzy Glowczewski, 97, New York City, last of the WWII Polish fighter pilots.” Wow. I didn’t even know there were WWII Polish fighter pilots, which, I guess, is dumb on my part, but did you? His name made Memorial Day all the more special for me.

“Muriel M. Going, 92, Cedarburg, Wis., taught her girls sheepshead and canasta.” Sheepshead (I had to Google it) is a German card game. With that, you can see a history or a persona and a family, and even share, if vicariously, the love people had for Ms. Going as well as the way she had to have affected so many.

Quite a few names of famous people appear, but it’s the ordinary folk who grab you by the heart and shake it. What you realize is that a neighborhood, a city, a county, a state, a country, a world, when it’s all said and done and the historians are outlining their essays, is that it isn’t the great ones, the billionaires and the star athletes and the presidents and the generals who make society work, it’s all of us. Each one of us is a tiny speck of life that forms into sand and then into mortar and then into bricks and then into buildings, and that’s what makes a society, a culture what it is. And who’s to say which morsel is the most valuable?

 

Ruminations on the Road to the River Styx

When you’re young, you view your life as a series of options, but when you’re old, you see choices. Once you get within spitting distance of your date with Charon, you inevitably try to put it all in some kind of order.

One of the first things you learn in an entry level J-school course is that the most popular sections of the newspaper are the Letters to the Editor and the Obituaries. True, that was in the olden days when lots of newspapers existed and people actually subscribed to and read them. But still.

The custom now is for the newspaper to peddle space to the bereaved to place obits for the deceased. These tend to be florid and abstract, quite lacking in the neat conciseness and paucity of words that used to be requisite. Real journalists knew how to make them newsworthy, realizing obits are for the public, not the deceased.

On one hand, I don’t want a boring obituary. On the other hand, I’ll be dead and won’t give a damn. Threading together those extremes requires me to write my own obituary and stick it in with all the other stuff for the heirs–the will, the key to the safety deposit box, the list of website passwords, and that sort of thing. No one will have to argue over who gets to–has to–write the damned thing. All someone has to do is fill in the blanks.

Blanks? Date of death, cause of death, that sort of thing you don’t know until it’s too late. The memorial service, if any, which will be for the survivors’ benefit and not mine. Obits need to have that sort of basic information. Business is business, and one of the things I can do by writing my own is to cut the fluff and to the chase. When you’re dead, you’re dead, and three weeks later, nobody will think about you anymore, my father said. Not counting your creditors. But you will have something of an adoring public for part of those three weeks, so take advantage of it.

I’ll be sure to say I died. Not “passed,” “passed away,” “left this world to be with Jesus,” or any of that kind of crap. I’ll enliven it a bit by saying, “croaked,” “bought the farm,” “bit the dust,” or somesuch, but what happened will be unambiguous. The date of death will be noted. This is basic journalism–who, what, when, where, how, and why.

Ah, the why. Obituary habitues want to know why you checked out. Car accident? Got drunk and fell out of a window? COVID-19? Cancer, stroke, heart attack? Some long illness? Suicide? It needs to be there. If you leave the obit writing to others, they may feel a need to mask the cause of death for one reason or another. Don’t let them. Unfortunately, you’ll be dead and won’t be able to do much about it, but you can do what you can.

Parenthetically, I can skip platitudes with illness, such as “ended his long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” or whatever.  You don’t battle ALS, you suffer from and endure it. “Battle” implies that you could have won through pluck or effort, and had you tried harder and not been the slacker you were, you might have lived.

At your memorial service, assuming anyone shows up, people will ask, “Was he old” or “Was he ill” or “Did he ever smoke” or whatever. Those questions will really piss off your surviving relatives, since the answer means either (a) your time had come anyway, so your demise is no biggie, or (b) you asked for it. To them, you’re dead and that’s (presumably) sad, so what difference does it make why you croaked? They’re entitled to their moment of grief, so just get it out there in the obit and forestall the issue.

The hard part comes with the dash, that little nugget of punctuation that’s a trope of your existence between the date of your birth and the date of your demise. The events of a life, such as birth, marriage, parenthood, and so on. The feats you accomplished. The mountains you climbed. The selflessness you exhibited. The way you made the world a better place.

But whoa! What if you didn’t do anything to make the world a better place? What if you weren’t, say, a teacher, or public safety worker, or nonprofit world-saver, or philanthropic gazillionaire, and you lived a life that was comparatively uneventful? “You need to do something to put in your obituary,” my father said. Well. No outsider can put lipstick on the pig of your mortal journey. But you can.

Just come up with a bit of wisdom and run with it. It’s your obit, after all, and you’re paying for it, so it can say what you want. W.C. Field’s tombstone said, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Not an obituary exactly, but it’s in that same vein. There’s also inspiration in last words:

  • Humphrey Bogart: “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.”
  • Oscar Wilde: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
  • Groucho Marx: “This is no way to live!”
  • Marie Antoinette: “Pardon me, I didn’t do it on purpose.”
  • Auntie Mame: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” (Okay, I took liberties with that one)

But you get the point. Use your imagination and go from there. For example, if you have more than one child, you can say, “Beatrice was right–Arthur was always the favorite.” Or showcase your regrets: “I should never have dumped the sugar into the vice principal’s gas tank.” In my obituary, I intend to recommend against old age, as there’s very little future in it.

There’s the old story of the funeral where the preacher ended his litany and asked the assembled if anyone would like to say a word about the deceased. A long silence followed, until a voice from the rear said, “His brother was worse.” Writing your own obituary gets you and your bereaved out in front of these types of annoying inconveniences.

Or, to put it all another way, what happens if the Grim Reaper is knocking at your door and you’re not ready to open it just yet? I don’t think anyone’s ever ready to answer the knock until the very end, but as rhyme and meter make an epiphany into a poem, so might tinkering with your final panegyric offer some perspective.

Just a thought.

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Celebrities: Freeze, Flee, or Chat?

If you saw a famous person, not like a local mayor or whatever, but a really really famous one–say, a George Clooney or a Michelle Obama–what would you do? Prance over and introduce yourself, wave, maybe, or just look on?

Have you ever encountered someone pretty famous? If so, what did you do?

When I was a boy in the early 1960s, my family often decamped to San Francisco, where famous people loved to gather. because no one pestered them, In North Beach, particularly at places like Enrico’s with outdoor seating for people-watching, you were likely to see celebrities anytime, and we did. In the 1990s, my daughter and I saw Julia Child in the San Francisco Airport.

But that was just seeing, not encountering.

I went to New York City in 1975 for the first time as a buyer for a Reno, Nevada, specialty store. I was both excited and nervous, a small-town kid trying to act as though the frenetic Manhattan bustle was normal and to not come off as a total rube. And failing, in hindsight. 

The buyers and merchandise manager were to meet in the hotel lobby around 7:30 a.m. before heading to the buying office. They all stared at me when I arrived, late. I realized I’d left my briefcase in my room and they all rolled their eyes and glanced at their watches before looking away and glowering. I slinked back to my room to fetch the briefcase and waited for what seemed like the entire Pleistocene Era for the return elevator.

On board, I was too agitated to pay much attention to the only other person in the elevator, except that he was tall and wearing an elegant dark suit and his face was riddled with pockmarks. To this day, I can still see his facial skin. At the time, though, I was mostly looking back and forth at my watch and it didn’t dawn on me until we arrived at the lobby that my fellow passenger was Muhammed Ali. I snapped back and stared at him like the idiot that I was. He looked back at me with a half smile, and nodded. Even if I’d have been able to talk, I doubt I’d have said anything. What do you say to Muhammed Ali in an elevator? 

New York in those days was practically a foreign city to a small-town Westerner. The Garment District was absolute bedlam with the clothing carts snaking through the honking traffic along with the shouting, the clanking, and the general chaos. Despite the apparent pandemonium, conversation was in pre-recorded messages and manners were high context, with many strictures on what one did and didn’t do. It was all quite formal. You didn’t talk with someone higher up the food chain than you without first being introduced. You didn’t crack jokes. Social distancing was understood. I was a nervous wreck, a year later, when we entered the GM Building on Fifth Avenue to see if the Estee Lauder company would deign to allow their cosmetics to be sold in our store. 

The product was in such high demand that Estee Lauder didn’t sell to you, you sold yourselves to them. Bud Goldstone, our General Manager, knew Leonard Lauder and he hoped that connection would count for something. We met in their offices for a time with everyone but me having something to talk about–someone at Bonwit Teller doing whatever, and the same for Lord & Taylor, or Neiman Marcus’s or I.Magnin’s figures off a bit, all formal, all abstract, all hinting politely and circuitously as to why Estee Lauder cosmetics would never, ever, appear on our shelves and fixtures.

Leonard Lauder and staff left with us. The elevator stopped unexpectedly two floors down and the door opened to a diminutive, dark-haired woman in an understated classic navy blue suit. A sound like the hush in a theater when the lights go off and the curtain goes up swept through. “It’s Estee,” someone whispered, as she nodded at everyone and took her place alongside…me. And smiled and introduced herself.

I told her my name and she broke into a bright smile and her eyes sparkled. Her maiden name was the same as mine, she said, and was I also Hungarian? [Editor’s note: Her maiden name was actually Mentzer, but hey, close enough]. She proceeded to ignore everyone else and just chat away about her family, her roots, how dumb the mayor was, and some plays I should see. It all became a low din, because I could not get over being in the GM Building on Fifth Avenue in New York conversing with this woman about being a Hungarian when two months ago, I don’t think I knew there really was an Estee Lauder.

It was kind of cool, though.

Okay, one more and I’ll stop. When we moved to San Francisco in 1987, it turned out that Robin Williams’ son attended the same school as my sons. It was not long after Williams’ fame went viral following the release of “Good Morning Vietnam,” though we’d become groupies following “Popeye” years earlier. The school had some kind of parents event at a local park, and I saw Williams and his wife pushing their new baby in a stroller. What the hell, I thought, and knowing that even if I forced myself to say something, I’d freeze up. Nonetheless, I went with a small group of other parents to say hello.

The parents exchanged pleasantries. I looked in at the baby and said, “Oh my god, that baby is networking to get into the school.” In a flash, Williams morphed into comedian mode and began ad libbing a four-year-old taking an oral entrance exam, providing both sides of the conversation between kid and administration official. I laughed so hard I choked. It lasted all of about three minutes.

I know some people have no problem prancing up to some celeb’s table and asking for an autograph. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that. A lot of celebrities, though, seem pretty interesting, and I wonder what makes them tick and what they think about and what they’re like. But despite imagining myself being clever and erudite with celebrities, I just shut down. 

What do other people do? What stories do you have?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus Shines a Light

Though no longer a baseball aficionado, I’m a big fan of newspaper sportswriters. The best of them don’t lack for point of view, attitude, and craft, as though they’re the noirish ghosts of another time–cynical, crusty, yet perennially hopeful despite themselves. One is Mark Kizla of the Denver Post, whose May 13, 2020 column is entitled, “Can MLB Survive Greedy Players, Owners?”

The coronavirus is shining a light on us all, not just professional sports. Painfully out there for all to see are society’s crunch points. Its fault lines. Our hierarchy of values. Through it all, Major League Baseball (MLB) owners and players, and even a few fans say the show must go on, epidemiological inconveniences notwithstanding. In that argument, MLB is a metaphor of America writ large.

“Whether we see baseball in these strange times will be as much about the Benjamins as safety concerns regarding COVID-19,” Kizla writes. I loved that line. As it does in a poem, a good line says so much. “Wouldn’t it be just like America if what kills the baseball season is the same dysfunction we’ve seen COVID-19 bring out in the rest of us? While the death count mounts, so does finger-pointing and name calling about the value of money and freedom versus health safety…,” he continues, noting that MLB gets 40 percent of its revenues from ticket sales, concessions, and related gate income.

That dough comes from us–the hoi polloi. Inside the pre-game ballpark, hot dog concessionaires and beer vendors and  maintenance people scurry into action. Outside, excited fans are shoulder-to-shoulder in the clanky bars and cafes staffed with harried servers. With the coronavirus stepping up to the plate, though, strike three. Fans and service people go on the DL, many of them filing for unemployment benefits.

National unemployment could hit 25-30 percent, but some middle-reliever or backup infielder you never heard of will collect his $5 million or so salary.

Unlike Kizla, I don’t blame the players and owners and call out their greed. Maybe they are greedy–what do I know? I doubt they’re much different than the rest of us. They’ve placed themselves into the professional sports machinery society created, and they do what they do. Maybe they’re holding a better hand than most, but it’s the one they were dealt.

According to the website marketwatch.com, the average MLB player salary is a shade under $4.1 million. The highest paid, pitcher Mike Trout, bagged $396 million in 2019. It’s more than a teacher makes. It’s more than a cop or a nurse makes. And it’s way more than a service worker makes. A worker–any worker–performs labor whose worth society collectively ascribes to that job, but when it’s all laid bare, what is a worker’s value? Does the worth we’ve ascribed to MLB players reflect their value to society?

What happens when the season is ready to get underway and nobody comes? Nichts. Nada. When the taken-for-granted fans and the low- to medium-paid don’t show up, the whole creaky engine grinds to a halt. The unimaginable media payouts, the gargantuan salaries, the engorged team balance sheets, and the ESPN froth all stop faster than a kid in socks hitting a patch of spilled honey while gliding across a hardwood floor.

Pro baseball needs more than the highest paid–athletes and owners–to function. Similarly, America has belatedly realized the value of grocery store and health care and delivery workers and how their worth does not at all correlate with the value we’ve given them. The term “income inequality” had been something of an abstract concept, but with the klieg lights of COVID-19 illuminating the 99 percent, everyone gets it.

For some time, corporate America has referred to low-level employees as “team members,” a transparent attempt to spit shine their image while refusing to pay them more. When the threat of COVID-19 lessens, perhaps our society will appreciate which team members provide the greatest value and which ones don’t, and adjust their compensation accordingly.

Never let a crisis go to waste, right?

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Still Vertical

I haven’t posted in a really long time.

I’ve started dozens of posts. Maybe more. But when I get into it a couple of paragraphs, the topic just doesn’t interest me anymore, so I stop.

Actually, not being interested anymore has become a problem. I don’t know why I’m not interested in anything. Old age? Maybe. Its definitely not something I can recommend. There’s not much future in it. I suppose I should at least write something so there’s something to put in my obituary, and maybe that will be a motivator too get going.

But that’s not really it. I don’t know what is. Whatever “it” is.

But I will get going, and soon.

Watch this space, as they say.

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A Voice From Trumpland

I haven’t posted in a while, for reasons I won’t go into. Today, though, I’m running a long Twitter thread (a series of related posts) from a man whose handle is DumpsterFire45 (@DFire45). The only editing I’ve done is to put the thread into paragraphs. I hope you find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I have.

Dear liberal Twitter,

I am a white male in a red rural area of a red southern state. I wear wrangler pants from Walmart to work, I drive a 4×4, I own a firearm. I am a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Democrat. But I look exactly like the magas, and work with my hands so I come into contact with them regularly. Daily even. I believe I have some insights to offer.

They are propagandized. Decades of faux and talk radio in combination with conservative social media have ingrained right wing talking points into even casual viewers. It’s everywhere. On every TV at the doctors office. In every gym. On every radio. Everywhere. There are virtually no public or private areas that are not being inundated, outside of rare private homes. If a station besides faux is on at the doctor’s, the patients turn the channel.

Even the folks that are starting to (only just now) realize that something is “wrong” about Individual-1 are actively shamed if they question his actions openly. The words “liberal” and “democrat” are said through clenched teeth here. Folks are afraid for their social standing, friendships and jobs. So all that is openly spoken of him is good, and any bad is suppressed.

This is exactly the type of environment that would make a reasonable person question their own judgment. And the negative incentive to avoid dissent is real. The possible dem voters are pushed too far right culturally to vote progressive right now. I’m sorry. I don’t like it either and I wish it wasn’t so. But if everyone around you is claiming that the dems are out to destroy the country, it’s a goddamn stretch just to voteBlue. And if done, will mostly be done in secret to avoid ridicule.It’s about race, replacement, and Obama, with a side order of Hillary hate for good measure. And they can’t get past it. These folks are so radicalized against Obama, he is literally seen as a usurper And foreign agent that took the presidency with the help of the deep state (Hillary) and tried to bring down democracy. Watch Tucker or Hannity, or Ingraham. You’ll get the idea. They fear brown people, and losing the control that they presently enjoy. They believe that They are fighting for their lives and country, and that if they lose, their grandchildren will grow up in a country with open criminality and Mexico style narco-wars. They also believe that illegal immigrants have been allowed to vote, and feel justified in voter suppression as a result. Because they been sold the status of “victim” they feel justified in winning by any means necessary. See @Teri_Kanefield for excellent threads on hardball democracy if you’re interested in more on that.

We want them. The folks that are coming around. We want them and we need them. If crossing over will result in more shame folks will stay where they are. We need em. We can teach them all about embracing progressive values after we get em… But right now, we need them to walk into a voting booth and put a mark next to a blue candidate while that’s still an option. Embrace that. Wars are won one battle at a time. We need to take any victory we can get. The bigger the better? Sure. But small ones too.

Dems must embrace reality. I’m uninsured right now and it’s scary. I can’t afford the marketplace and I’m cash-n-carry at the doctors office. I want a progressive. Badly. But if a centrist gets the nomination I’m all in. This is about democracy. And keeping it.

So. It’s probably best if we don’t get the nominee we’re all hoping for. Twitter is not our country, and we have to accept that. Not everyone has the same understandings we do and we all still need each other to stay intact as a democracy. Vote for the dem that can win… And encourage/help others to do the same. Don’t hit the folks crossing enemy lines with fire and brimstone. Help them ease over to the side of tolerance and acceptance. That’s our strength. We let people have different points of view and choose how to live without shame. That’s who we are. It’s literally the reason we’re different. Let’s keep it. It’s fucking awesome. Individual-1 doesn’t get to take that from us.

Sorry for the typos and grammar. I have very little formal education. This concludes today’s public service announcement. When I said that I was fiscally conservative, I meant personally. I personally, am conservative financially. Dems wind up cleaning up the mess after every repub administration. We’re actually better with money than they are, but they’re better at claiming to be. They’re lying.

Some folks have brought up the gun ownership thing so… Rural areas tend to have as much, or more, crime than cities. And there are generally only 4 patrols working in my whole county at night. If I call 911 at 1 a.m., it could be a half hour or an hour before they arrive. And my neighbors are farther than in the city. They wouldn’t likely hear if help was needed. I’ve never pointed it at a human being, but I have used it to protect the animals from raccoons and possums. I believe gun ownership is a right, but would love to see reform/education.

It was pointed out to me that I’m asking a lot from people that feel marginalized, especially people of color. It’s true. I’d just like to remind everyone that the magas feel marginalized and attacked. Right or wrong they believe it. It’s the reason they feel justified in… Fighting dirty.

The problem with us joining that is that we’re the only goddamn adults right now. If we don’t do the right thing, nobody will. Sorry y’all. It’s not fair. But it is fact. There is nobody else to do it. It’s on us.

Some folks said I was pushing Biden. Actually I prefer Warren. I just really identify with the way she sees things. But we need the candidate that will pull the most dem votes. And I will vote for whoever that is. The idea that we shouldn’t act strategically in choosing a candidate is literally the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard.

And claiming that we shouldn’t care about pulling maga voters is a bad argument. Why? Because of the electoral college, and the “winner takes all” state systems to distribute those electoral votes, only a few… States will actually pick the president. Those are not liberal states. Sorry. I wish they were. But they’re not. And we have ZERO chance of fixing that right now. We just have to navigate it. Sucks right? We gotta make the “least bad” choice. But that’s where we are.

 Editor’s update: I harbor suspicions that @Dfire45 may not be a real person. Why? His posts are well-written for someone who claims to have little education (I didn’t correct much of anything) and the points he’s making could have come from a book or something. But still. They’re valid.

 

 

 

There’s a Man With a Gun Over There.

It was morning and the dog stared out the window, as dogs do, so I joined him. It’s hard to say what interests him. He’s a dog and likes dog things. We live in an older neighborhood with a pond and large natural area  in front of the house. Sometimes one or both of his nemeses, Big!White!Dog! or black Pointy Dog show up and annoy him. Besides other dogs, the area is home to wildlife–coyotes, waterfowl, foxes, rabbits, and so on. A juvenile bald eagle seems to have taken up residence, which is kind of cool. It’s private property but lots of people stroll through whether they live here or not.

A man bouncing along the path caught our attention. Short arms swinging, he was pudgy and round, fairly short, gray hair, Irish walking cap. He wore a white short-sleeved shirt and sky-blue Bermuda shorts pulled up too high, and socks. Think Midwestern tourist in San Francisco. Think the Monopoly Man on the beach but without a mustache. If you saw the little man in a shopping mall or stadium, you wouldn’t give him a second thought. He was so nondescript that I’m having a hard time describing him.

I didn’t give him a second thought either, until he rounded the walk and I noticed he had a pistol strapped to his belt. It wasn’t a big pistol, like a Navy Colt .45 or a 9 mm. Glock or something you’d see a police officer packing. His gun was compact and angled in its holster, maybe a .22 or .25. or .32 caliber. I waited, hoping to check him out further, but instead of turning and walking along the front of our house as most strollers do, he turned the other way and disappeared.

A few months ago, my wife and I rounded the aisle in a grocery store and ran into a guy with a large automatic pistol cinched to his waist. He was a big guy in a tank top and jeans, backwards baseball cap, normal guy, not a security guard or cop or anything. It was unsettling, so we turned and left.

You just think, Why? Why do they have to sport a pistol in public?

Everyone knows the gun arguments on both sides, so I won’t get into them here. What difference does it make? Everyone’s mind is made up and nothing will change anyway. 

But still. What goes through people’s minds when they get dressed? They think, “Well, I’ll wear this shirt and these pants” or whatever for whatever reason–it’s hot, they’re going out someplace, time to go to work, they’re heading for the gym, they’re visiting their in-laws–all the places people go to do whatever it is they’re going to do, and dress accordingly.

But with this little man and the guy in the grocery store, they had to have thought before heading out the door, “Oh, I have to strap on my gun.” Again, why? Obviously, they want people to see they’re packing heat. Why do they want others to know that? Do they want to get in an argument over gun rights? Do they want others to notice them and go, “Whoa?”

Again, why? Okay, maybe they’re undercover-law enforcement, but that’s not likely. Are they afraid of something? Did the little man on the path think he might have to shoot a coyote? Was he looking for terrorists behind the cottonwood trees? Did the guy in the grocery store think he was going to take down some bad actor? What would they say if you asked them why they were packing heat? Do they imagine scenarios where they can be heroes helping people, such as stopping an in-progress burglary, preventing a schoolyard shooter, saving a woman being raped?

I don’t know.

When we lived in Portland a few years ago, a man with a gun intervened in a car theft by trying to shoot out the tires of the fleeing car. One of the bullets bounced off the tire and hit a pedestrian. Who knows where the other bullets went? 

Recently, the Denver Post ran an item about a dispute between two men over a parking place resulting in one of them being shot and killed. Stories run several times a week about road rage incidents ending up in shots fired, injuries or fatalities resulting. In this story, a man killed a 13-year-old boy and shot the boy’s mother and little brother, along with a bystander, over a lane change.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my former dentist, whom I adored for her skill and humor. Her husband killed her. I’m still not over that one.

The thing about guns people seldom talk about is that they make their holders do something they otherwise wouldn’t have done. You get in an argument with someone. It turns into shouting. Then, maybe, name-calling, even shoving. If there’s no gun involved, it stops there. But if one or the other yanks out a gun, it’s a different situation.

When I saw the little man with the gun and they guy in the grocery store with his gun along with other times of seeing people packing their firearms, gun rights never occurred to me. All that comes to mind is, “What’s that person going to do with that gun?”

Because you don’t know.

 

 

Pissed.

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”

Edgar Allen Poe’s Montresor used a cask of Amontillado to exact revenge. But I, devoid of anything so exotic, had to settle on unfriending a guy on Facebook. I’d never done that before. I just hide someone I find disagreeable, or even ignore them. Who cares?

But when it gets out of hand, it gets out of hand.

It started a few years ago with his emails of Far Right memes–Obama birtherism, Clintons and hidden crimes, Muslims secretly instituting Sharia law–that sort of thing. He found them (a) amusing, (b) profound, or (c) both. Then the pro-Donald Trump crap started coming, which fell into the same categories.

As a rule, I try not to give a shit. Sure, these memes were based on falsehoods or lies. Yeah, they were meant to inflame. On the whole, I just thought, Really? “Based on this bizarre meme replete with misspellings and poor grammar, I will totally change my mind,” said no one, ever. The email headings and openers were in two or more smarmy fonts in colors such as magenta or aqua blue and often in all caps, so they were easy to delete without reading them and getting upset.

I made sure he knew my convictions were far different than his and called him out a couple of times, politely, when I found something over the top. I probably should have cut him off, but I didn’t. What the hell. An old man with a hard-wired point of view, he’d never change anyway. Besides, unlikely as it was, you never know when you might learn something, right? And aren’t we supposed to transcend mere conviction and look for common ground?

At some point, Fate intervened and crashed his computer. He lost much of his contact information, including mine. Yay! A few weeks ago, though, he asked me for my email address–“I have some really interesting things I want to show you–” and I gave it to him. Okay, I knew what was coming, but why not tolerate the old SOB?

He is an old man, a World War II veteran. He can be really funny. And he’s smart, a holder of several patents, a long career in both engineering and marketing, and so on. In person, he is a pleasant and engaging fellow with interesting life experiences and observations.

Then came a series of anti-Muslim screeds, all containing rank falsehoods roundly debunked by Snopes, Politifact, and other such sites, which, of course, I pointed out. I asked him to stop, that I found these personally offensive, that I had Muslim friends and family in Istanbul. Some of the stuff he was sending, I told him, was as hurtful as his calling my nephews and niece, who have an African-American father, by a racial slur. No matter.

Then, this one came: “Im not a bible thumpin’ Christian, but I do believe in God, heaven, hell, the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments. Were supposed to be a Nation that has complete freedom of religion…….we certainly condone Muslims even tho they preach death to non-belivers, lying to their enemy’s and treat women like pond scum………but taking away our right to pray in school is unconscionable! Remember this when you go to vote!” A bizarre “poem” entitled “The New Lord’s Prayer,” purportedly written by a 15-year-old high school student in Minnesota, accompanied the rant. A three-minute Google search proved the letter to be a fake.

But the part about Muslims preaching death to non-believers and treating women like pond scum really irritated me, and I let him know it, along with every other recipient in the chain. That said, I also took it as an opportunity to engage, to pass along some informative tracts on Islam, the context behind the medieval Koran writings, its similarity to the Old Testament in that regard, and so on.

One result was a back-and-forth with on of the recipients, who claimed to be a business person with years of experience in the Islamic world. Okay, so our politics were different, but it was a polite and the exchange useful. However, he ended one of his letters with, “When they try to force those beliefs on others, particularly me, I will exercise my 2nd amendment rights!”

So much for reasoned discourse.

Okay, screw it, I said to myself. This is going nowhere. I’m gone.

Then, this email:

With our somewhat stupid view of political correctness these days, some will probably find this offensive.  But I believe in laughing at everything………..it will keep you alive longer.  And I find this funny.  I also thought Amos and Andy, Step n’ fetchit’ and a host of others were funny…….but I guess that’s another life.  You can’t ignor (sic) something and it will go away! 

Subject: FW: Breaking News 

Al Sharpton reported today that Walt Disney’s new film called “Jet Black,” the African-American version of “Snow White” has been canceled. All of the 7 dwarfs: Dealer, Stealer, Mugger, Forger, Drive By, Homeboy, and Shank have refused to sing “Hi Ho” because they say it offends black prostitutes. 
They also say they damn sure have no intention of singing, ‘It’s off to work we go
‘.” 

A real screamer, no?

Does tolerance and open-mindedness require you to bend when someone throws something at you that’s so offensive, so horrible that you can’t think of anything else the next few hours? Days later, I can’t get it out of my mind that someone could be so vile, so depraved as to send such trash out into the email-o-sphere and think it was funny, let alone just okay.

Constantly plagued with self-doubt, as I tend to be, I waited overnight before responding. Good thing, maybe, because I tempered the profanity-laced invective I’d readied for the guy and let him know how offended I was and that I wanted nothing further to do with him. Ever. I blocked him on social media and blocked his emails. Not as good as walling him up, ala the Poe story, but this is 2019, when Amontillado is rare and hidden niches in wine cellars rather hard to find.

He also has an email chain who probably thought the meme was ha-ha-ha hysterical-funny, and everyone in the chain has their own chain who has their own chain and so on.

I’m not over it.

This is the country we live in.

Conforte and Me.

I was 7 or 8 years old in the mid-1950s when I met Joe Conforte at the old Sewell’s grocery store on 5th and Virginia in Reno. He was just kind of standing there at the end of a grocery aisle. I was with my older brother, who said something about Conforte’s notoriety and my brother introduced himself. Conforte struck me as a pleasant man. I didn’t know what a hood or a pimp was, yet, but I was way more interested in the parakeets.

For a short time, parakeets were a fad, kind of like Hula Hoops and Paleo and Beanie Babies and bitcoin, and Sewell’s loaded up a section of the store with parakeets and cages. The store ran a promotion offering a grand prize if anyone could teach their parakeet to say, “Sewell’s.” I don’t think anyone ever won. We bought several and none ever said “Sewell’s.” The store also sold 45 rpm records to play for the parakeets that said, “Pretty bird” over and over so the parakeets would think, “Hmm, that’s pretty cool,” and decide to say “Pretty bird.”  My mother bought a record. My brother tried to teach them to say, “Goddammit.” The parakeets never said either one but all either died or escaped. I don’t think Conforte bought a parakeet, but if he had, it probably died or escaped.

***

In the early 1980s, I met Bobby Moore in Little River, California, where a bunch of friends used to go for fun, adventure, and abalone diving. We mostly drank beer and wine and ate a lot and hiked all over Mendocino. My wife bought a mushroom-colored, oversized thick-knit sweater because it was cold there, and Bobby called her “hippie girl.” She liked that. I was a horrible diver, but Bobby was pretty good at it along with several others, so we ate a lot of abalone, too. He was a modest, gentle, kind, and subtly humorous guy maybe in his early fifties, didn’t talk much, and never said a bad word about anyone. He was an attorney living in Verdi, retired, because he was an early investor in the Boomtown Casino, and Mendocino with your friends was way more fun anyway.

I discovered our paths had crossed years ago. Not our lives so much as our personal trajectories on a single incident, which I asked him about. His eyes widened as he set down his glass and leaned in. “Was that old son-of-a-bitch your uncle?” he said. It was the first time I’d heard him swear.

He referred to my uncle, Fred Crosby, founder of Crosby’s Landing at Sutcliffe, longtime denizen of Wadsworth, Sparks, Reno, and who knows where else. My mother, born in Lovelock in 1913, was a Crosby, and she spent much of her girlhood in Wadsworth. Uncle Fred did whatever he could to get by–a bit of ranching, fishing, brokering, whatever it took. At a family reunion once, he took me to a big storage cabinet loaded with candy and let me take my pick.

***

He really looked like this.

Uncle Fred came to own a small ranch near Wadsworth where the Washoe, Storey, and Lyon county lines came together. It was called the Triangle River Ranch. Maybe the ranching business wasn’t so good–I don’t know, but Uncle Fred wasn’t one to  miss an opportunity. In 1955, he leased the ranch to Joe Conforte, and the Triangle River Ranch, housed in a trailer, became one of the more well-known whorehouses in the area. They could have had parakeets. Who knows?And I know you’re supposed to say “brothel” instead of “whorehouse,” but I’m a Nevadan.

And at the time–this would be 1957 or 1958–Bobby Moore was the Storey County District Attorney. Parenthetically, no one in my family talked about these events in real time, so I’m piecing together what I overheard in subsequent years.

The Triangle River Ranch attracted trouble. You can look it up. At the time, prostitution was illegal in all three counties. Disreputable people hung out there, Conforte paid off local officials, and it was an ongoing target of law enforcement. All three counties attempted to raid the place, but–according to legend–when Conforte got wind of county law enforcement coming from Lyon County, he’d haul the trailer across the county line to Storey County. Or to Washoe county. Wherever he couldn’t be touched. I do not know if parakeets sounded the alarm, but they could have.

Bill Raggio, the new Washoe County District Attorney, declared the whorehouse and its owner a public nuisance and threat to safety. When Conforte came to Reno, Raggio would arrest him for vagrancy (an old law on the books declared pimps were vagrants). Conforte finally had enough, and set Raggio up in an extortion sex trap with girl purporting to be 18, but who was actually 14. Unfortunately for Conforte, Raggio had wired the room, and the resulting charges took Conforte down, sending him to prison for two years.

And it was the end of the Triangle River Ranch. Bobby got the court order, Raggio got the torch, and the Triangle River Ranch was burned to the ground. I asked Bobby what my uncle Fred did to deserve his contempt, but, true to his character, Bob refused to say anything.  Coincidentally, Bill Raggio pretty much refused to talk about Joe Conforte for the rest of his life. The silence of parakeets, I guess.

***

I haven’t seen Bobby Moore in twenty-five years or more, nor Bill Raggio for that matter, my having departed the land of the setting sun a couple of decades ago. Bill passed away, and I presume Bobby is fine. My father used to say if he’d known he was going to live so long, he’d have taken better care of himself, and Bob pretty much did that.

Joe Conforte, as best as I can determine, is alive and well in Brazil. So it goes.

 

Update: This screed isn’t an attempt to lionize Joe Conforte. People have differing views on him, ranging from seeing him as a benign scofflaw and supporter of charities to a petty hood, corrupter of public officials, and sex trafficker. My own views tend to the latter, and I’d even add Accessory to murder (Google Oscar Bonavena).  But bad people do some good things, and good people do some bad things. As my father put it, “There’s so much bad in the best of us/And so much good in the worst of us,”It ill behooves any of us/To talk about the rest of us.”

Whatever else Conforte is (or isn’t), he’s a part of Northern Nevada’s history.