Friday, September 28, 2007

The Genuine Original

The Internet feeds my need for information. Like that robot on the movie Short Circuit, I need more input. Today while roaming around cyberspace seeking facts and anecdotes about the Gilded Age, I met Kate Carew.

It was a bittersweet meeting. Kate's career title is caricaturist. She has the enviable job of interviewing famous movers and shakers and drawing caricatures to run with her stories in the New York World. Well, that was her job back in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The bitter part of the meeting is that Kate died in the 1960s and I will never get to meet her. Her observant, energetic, skilled interviews will not include any new assignments. I wonder what she would have made of George Bush or Princess Diana or Yo Yo Ma. We'll never know. We'll never see her drawings that capture the attributes a person can not fake. She certainly had an eye and an ear for human nature. Her own caricature included here of 'Kate herself' tells us much about this feisty professional reporter.

But the Internet does include a few of her earlier interviews and that is sweet. I get to sit beside her as she interviews Wilbur and Orville Wright, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Picasso....

Kate's true name was Mary Williams and she was born in 1869 in Oakland, Calif. She traveled the world, settled in New York for a time and returned to California to die in 1960. Along the way she wrote with a freedom and unaffected style that I can only wish for.

For example she wrote in one column:

Knowing nothing of politics and caring less, I had the proverbial luck of the beginner at cards.

The Governor of the State of New York waxed confidential with me at a time of great political excitement arising from his having apparently overthrown and usurped the power of the "Boss" of his party, and I treasure a souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a handsome ring sent to me with a letter of commendation by Mr. Pulitzer, the unseen but very-much-felt power behind his great newspaper.

She's a more genteel Dorothy Parker, a fresh voice for a transitional time when Americans were shedding their awe of Europe and finding their own technology. A time when the gap between the wealthy and the poor was widening at an alarming rate. A time when women were fighting for their right to vote and getting rid of corsets and letting machines do the housework and searching for ways to limit family size. And Carew was there to find the humanity in each person she interviewed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just....

In my little hometown, population maybe 500, vandals defaced the Civil War statue in the center of town -- again. A group of residents pooled resources and had it cleaned. It was defaced again, a few days before Memorial Day. This dedicated group were able to get the statue cleaned for the holiday events that would take place at its base. And then something mysterious happened.

A guard appeared at the side of this statue. I mean a military figure in full uniform stood at attention for hours and hours, days on end. He was the unknown soldier. He would not talk while on duty. No one knew his name. He was simply a veteran who knew what that statue really stood for. He understood blood, fear, putting life on the line and facing a job from which many of his friends did not survive. He understands patriotism and duty and symbolism. He fights his own demons every day -- as every warrior must do. Some win that demonic battle, some don't. Some quietly opt out of the mainstream population and slip into homelessness.

Statistics show that on any given night about 200,000 United States veterans are homeless and living on the streets of this mighty country they vowed to defend. More than 400,000 experience homelessness sometime during each year.
Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. -- NCHV
These figures come from the Veterans Administration via the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website. And according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, those numbers are growing. Soldiers coming back from Iraq, some are living on the street. How can that be? Another article cites domestic disputes as the reason more Iraq war veterans are on the streets than even Vietnam veterans. The photo above runs with that article.

These warriors who had the courage to face an armed enemy, put their bodies in harm's way. Do what is required of them. Even if the war is a farce, the bullets are real. But they return home and can't deal with day to day life once they return to civilian status? Why are they homeless?
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness -- extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care -- a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
The VA system is responsible of course to help these veterans. But much of what they provide is tied to local or community organizations. In Florida property taxes have been cut -- most people received a $100 reduction in their tax bill. County coffers have lost, just in my county, approximately $68 million dollars. That means that local and community organizations that provide the kinds of services necessary to help veterans find a home and live more productive, self-sufficient lives, are cut or ended. Throughout the U.S. need outstrips help available.

The U.S. Labor Department funds a program Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program. Veterans helping veterans seem to be the most effective organizations. But they all need our help.

Since the Civil War, we've mistreated our veterans. The GI Bill took a stab at compensating them for the losses they sustained defending their country, but that bill has been gouged and vandalized by our government. Remember the Walter Reed Hospital images on television of the kind of environment wounded GIs were dumped into?

The army of homeless veterans is just one symptom of a failing society. In addition to homeless veterans, we have had multiple eye-opening glimpses at stifling free speech just this week. Memos to stifle peaceful protesters and keep them from appearing on camera at rallies for the Democratic and Republican candidates. Sally Fields and other celebrity voices were censored during the recent Emmy Awards program on Fox Television Network.

Haven't you felt it for the last six years? A fear? A fear of saying what you think or of disagreeing with our government. Activists may be the new heroes of our country. They alone are standing up for all of our rights, including those homeless veterans. Standing up against our own government that has a concerted effort to silence them.

I say 'them,' because I have not picketed, carried a sign, or stood up for anything. All I've done is feel the fear. With the divide growing between have and have not. Raising home prices, elite gated communities, mortgage lenders taking advantage of the poor or uninformed. Insurance companies failing to pay or canceling policies that are not lucrative. More and more without health insurance and medical costs forcing families into bankruptcy. All of these problems come together to make more of us face homelessness. I guess when that day comes, we'll get a better understanding of the homeless veteran's situation.

Homeless veterans, all homeless are invisible in plain sight. What's that old adage about old soldiers? Old soldiers never die, they just fade away -- in plain sight.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Counting the days till season's end

No, I am not referring to the annual football season. But rather hurricane season.

Until moving to Florida, hurricanes were someone else's problem. But moving down here during the year of the multi-hurricane hits, I quickly set aside a big chunk of time to watch skies and the weather channel. What about that tropical storm developing off of Haiti? We cross our fingers and will the weatherman to tell us that it is NOT heading toward Orlando. The photo shows Hurricane Ivan -- not a picture we like to see on the weather channel. Not, not, not!

I'll be glad to shrug off the storm stress as well as the heat. Both seem to head out to sea together. Cooler temperatures, lower humidity and a gentle breeze all sound wonderful after too many months of sweltering and sweating. My only silver lining is that my skin has never been so frequently exfoliated.

Just because a date comes and goes, that doesn't mean hurricanes can't form at times other than the designated storm season. May through November we consider hurricane season. But once September passes, we begin to breathe more easily again, and in October, we might even skip a weather broadcast now and then. This info about dates and hurricanes is just one of ten myths that appear on Lake Worth's website.

While debunking myths, check out Global Warming Hurricane Myths. And if you're interested in hurricane names, everything you always wanted to know is right here. For the science of hurricanes, visit Howstuffworks.

Now, if there was just as much info available about dealing with humidity and perspiration as there is about hurricanes -- I might find a way to overcome living in a mist, or at least learn to 'enjoy' it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Time, the coin of my realm

Time as well as money always seem to be in short supply in my life. I fear that in both cases the problem lies with me -- I spend both so unwisely. Flitter here, fuss there, waste time thinking about what I should be doing, where I should be going, why I'm not there already.... I am a follower of spontaneous consumption. I see it, I like it, I buy it. The Internet has certainly enabled that little weakness. Usually my husband curbs any spending concerns I might have. But time wasters -- I'm an expert.

I spend too much of my time thinking about what I should or would do. A great example. I have all kinds of fabric and books of patterns and ideas for making quilts. They fill a room in my house. I wander in there, finger the fabric, flip through a book, pick out a few that would be fun to make and think, "later."

My cousin goes to the library, finds a book about quilts that fascinates her and fits into her other interests of paper cutting and family history. She brings the book home and immediately begins constructing a quilt. What a great investment compared to me.

My money investments seem to run along the same lines. Perhaps I would have purchased some of that Apple and Yahoo stock way back when, if I hadn't spent so much time thinking about it and then concluded, "Maybe later...."

I'm finding that 'later' never comes.

There's also the fact that others are experts at investing my time and money. Bosses, family members, neighbors, friends, even strangers have an idea of what I should be doing. Telemarketers call with 'just what you need' suggestions and arm twisting. My sons are experts at finding ways to spend my money and know that I thoroughly enjoy spending it on both of them. But, the other day, I found a few lines by Carl Sandburg that reminded me that my money as well as my time are limited, finite, will come to an end one day and I am the only one who should be controlling at least the way my time is spent.
Time is the coin of your life.
It is the only coin you have,
and only you can determine how it will be spent,
Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg

Friday, September 7, 2007

Parking Space Envy

Maybe because I've been caught up in the web of discourtesy lately, I hone in on other discussions on the same topic. But recently several threads have been woven on an online writing forum concerning courtesy.

Most recently a young writer admitted to parking in a space designated for handicapped parking. Her excuse was that the parking lot was small, she had to get her children's school supplies, no one would be parking there because there were other empty handicap spaces, and she had children.

Another member pointed out that 'children are not a handicap.' Well, some of us might make an argument in favor of kids as handicaps, but agreed in principal to her rebuttal.

The reason for the woman's admission of parking in a designated space was to garner feedback on her own meltdown when she came out to find her car towed to a nearby lot by the towing company that resided next door to the store she had just visited. This happened in New York. Evidently it is kosher for private towing firms to police the parking lot and tow anyone breaking the rules. It cost her more than $100 to get her car back, in cash, on the spot. Sounds like extortion. Of course if the police towed my car or gave me a ticket in my little town, the cost would have been at least $250.

Yet, she was a law breaker -- what could she do? Call the police? She paid. But in the process she freaked out, screamed, yelled, cursed, and all in front of her children.

The problem for many of her co-list members and me included, came not in the freak out, not even the fact that she parked where she shouldn't. It was her attitude. Her jealousy over reserved spaces that only people with disabilities are to use. Her list of excuses never ceased, she tried to vindicate herself for parking there. Someone tried to help, likening it to using a stall in the restrooms that are designed for people with handicaps.

No one bought that comparison.

But still this Me-First-Mommy persisted saying 'no handicapped person in their right mind would have gone into that store with the chaos inside' -- evidently several parents and kids were there getting school supplies at tremendous mark-down prices.

But what if that person not only had handicaps, but also had children? She, a writer, a creative person, failed to see people with handicaps as people with responsibilities, children or a life....

When did this world get so me-centric that even the writers and dreamers can't see another person's situation and accommodate their needs as well?

It was encouraging that most of the people chiming in to her little thread seemed to get what this ego-centric mother did not. Yet, how could she not? It must be that adage of walking in another person's shoes.

Just a few weeks with my leg in a cast several years ago cured me of any parking-space envy. I'd much rather have a healthy body and the ability to walk for miles, than the right to park in a handicapped parking space.

I hope she realizes the truth without hobbling in the footsteps, even temporarily, of someone with disabilities.

How would she feel if she had to take her children to get school supplies, but first must find a way to drag herself to the car, then out of the car, into a wheelchair, across the driveway, up the curb, through the doors, down the narrow aisles, avoiding people who treated her as invisible or an impediment to their own destination. What would she have done if her children took off and left her stranded unable to find her babies, follow them, or keep control of them because she had only wheels for legs? Or what if her arms didn't work as well? How would she reach the displays and shelves of products? What if she had to breathe through a tube? What if she couldn't talk? What if she was wracked with pain? What if her bones easily broke....what if other Me-First Mommies simply pushed her out of the way or took her parking space so that in addition to all of this, she must also find a way to get her wheelchair out in a small confined parking space?

And what if she was disfigured and had to fight for her right to be considered human....seems a long way from parking-space envy. I hope she never must make that trip.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Waning Gibbous tugs us toward chaos

Today's moon is a waning gibbous, which means more than half, less than whole. Basically, the moon has a hump back. This may be the cause of the atmosphere of discourtesy and chaos we encountered today at Sam's Club.

The full moon's tug is still strong. That explains a lot. People are known to do weird things while under the effects of a full moon. Or at least that makes a great excuse.

I didn't expect Sam's Club to be a location where people are so vulnerable to the moon's phases. Evidently it is.

People were pushing and shoving. Some stood in the middle of aisles staring at the same frozen fish or unripe mango unable to see the bottle neck they'd created. Cell phones crushed tightly to ears transported people to another time, place and relationship to the detriment of those milling around them. Clerks tapped feet, gritted teeth, and then whirled and stalked away or yelled like a mule skinner trying to get recalcitrant shoppers to form two lines. "There are two lines people, two lines, two lines, two lines...."

My husband, riding a motorized cart, was marooned more than once by people jumping in front of him, driving their carts into his path, or some tried pushing him out of the way. Maybe we didn't get the memo about rescinding the rights of people with disabilities.

I wondered if there might be a natural disaster coming that no one mentioned to us. Each person bent on his own needs, his own path, his own space, his own survival. But, maybe someone should tell the one woman in the milk and egg aisle, that her world will not end if she did not get a gallon of milk precisely when she wanted to get a gallon of milk. I originally wrote 'the lady' -- but had to change that. She was definitely not a lady.

This was Sam's Club, not Hurricane Charlie.

I can't explain why people can't be courteous. Interact with a smile, take a deep breath and stop fighting the fray.

We were exhausted by the time we exited the store. I'm just thankful I don't work there and never need return -- except for the kitty litter. We can't seem to find that brand elsewhere, but maybe we could teach our cats to sit on the toilet and flush. It might be easier than facing that mob again.

Or maybe we'll check the moon phase before heading back. A gibbous moon seems to turn everyone into mannerless boors. Well, not everyone. My husband and I and the guy behind us in the check out line seemed to be resisting its effects.

In total honesty, I felt the moon's pull when the woman pushed me out of the way as she reached for the milk. It was a strong urge to grab the cell phone from her hand, throw it to the ground and stomp it to smithereens. I had a flashback to working at the library, emptying the book drop. A patron drove up in her Lexus, thrust a book in my face while she babbled into a cell phone, then drove off forcing me to leap back so she didn't run over my foot.

I do so hate cell phones and the boors who must babble on them in public places. I think the moon made me say that....