call to action, Commentary, food, Gluten-free, Holidays, justice, kindness, lifestyle, neighborhood, opinion, Society, steak, Uncategorized, writing

Strange rites of passage and no bullshit: Welcome, 2017!

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Running toward a no-bullshit 2017!

2016 is in the rear-view mirror. Last night, we attended a New Year’s Eve party at a house we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to for the past several Dec. 31sts.  The host (a guy about my age) remarked that, “We’re old enough that the people who influenced us are starting to die off.”

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William Christopher as “Father Mulcahy”

The observation was his response to my sharing that William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on the sitcom “M.A.S.H.,” had joined David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Pfife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and others in wherever it is we End Up after we’re Not Here. (I am not discounting that we simply become ash or worm fodder, but given that death remains a Great Mystery, remain open to any and all possibilities.)

Which is one reason (shoutout to Eddie Izzard), I baked and brought a cake to the party.

(“Cake or Death,” the video, starring Eddie Izzard. Embedding was an issue, so here’s a link.)

The others were:

  1. At last year’s party, I didn’t have a job. This year, I do. That alone is worth cake.
  2. My first run at this particular cake – four layers with lemon curd filling, covered in seven-minute icing – was a month ago for my book group. It turned out well, but I wanted to try it again with a few tweaks. (ie: Upping the tart factor to showcase the lemon and getting the icing to not be so runny. I succeeded with the former, not so much with the latter.)
  3. There’d be a guaranteed gluten-free dessert, which could be my little secret.
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I need to figure out how to make the icing less runny.

The party seemed less crowded this year. One difference was the absence of vote trollers. Last year, going into an election season, there were a lot of “bright young things” (quotes intentional) sparkling up the front room, willingly engaging with anyone they considered worthy (each other) and pretty much ignoring the rest of us. I’m not entirely sad that the only bright young things there this year were the regular wonderful ones, and not just because (huzzah!) it meant more grilled tenderloin for the rest of us.

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This  is from another party featuring tenderloin. I didn’t take any pictures last night.

Tenderloin and cake aside, it’s good to assess where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what’s happening around us at various points along the way.

Which, for those of us old enough to have children in their 20s, 30s and 40s (whether or not we actually do), might be causing a few … twinges.

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In keeping with the food theme, here’s some “where we’ve been,” featuring adult children and elders.

Those children are adults, with all the responsibilities and privileges that word carries. And, at the same time, as Kevin wisely observes, the generation-up people we saw as heroes and role models – and some similarly-situated age peers – are dying within the time frame of a normal life span. (Some are at the younger end of that spectrum, but still within the boundaries of “normal.”)

Getting old enough to die at the point where no one is shocked at how “too young” you were is a strange rite of passage. I don’t spend a ton of time brooding about what that means, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about it at all.

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Me (right), not brooding. And probably not acting my age, either. 

As what is shaping up to be a surreal and potentially interesting interval in the life the world as we know it, or to put it more succinctly, 2017, commences, I’m trying to keep an open mind about things.

One certainty that is becoming clearer is making the best use of the time I have in front of me. Part of that involves making more words, more cake, taking the best possible care I can of the people I love and of the world in which I live.

Regarding that last, loving the world in which I live means doing my bit to create the one I want to leave for everyone else. Seeing the world as it is and not as I want it to be isn’t easy. Talking honestly about it isn’t always politic. But unless you’re willing to look at – and call by name – what’s happening in front of you, you’ll never be able to change it.

So, 2017, here’s a toast. L’Chaim and no bullshit.

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call to action, Commentary, community history, justice, kindness, neighborhood, opinion, organizing, politics, Social Justice, Uncategorized

“We the People” attend a Listening Session: Polite Rage in Action

Two days ago, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The woman on the other end had a story idea for a paper for which I’ve done a lot of work. Her son, a local orthodontist, was recently back from a medical trip to Guatemala, where he and several other dentists had spent 10 days treating anyone who needed care, at no charge.

We had a pleasant chat before ringing off.

Afterward, I thought about the numbers of people here who need and can’t afford medical and dental care. And I wondered what a medical trip from Milwaukee’s nicer, stable neighborhoods to the ones where boarded-up houses, absentee landlords and gunplay are rampant would look like.

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People lined up to speak at the Community Listening Session about the Milwaukee Police Department (Photo Credit: Martha Pincus)

Part of the reason could be where I’d been the previous Thursday. I went to a Community Town Hall Listening Session hosted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a branch of the US Justice Department. The session was part of its Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance with the Milwaukee Police Department. It’s basically a giant audit. A group of outside professionals examines every component of your operation and does focus groups with your customers. Then, they ride off into the sunset and come back with a report that includes a naughty & nice list –what you’re doing right, and what you might want to do differently.

More than 700 people packed the public auditorium. Demographically speaking, it was a very heterogeneous house. At least two different groups were dressed in matching T-shirts with printed messages.

There were political types,  incumbents and candidates both, mostly schmoozing with each other and the occasional constituent/voter. The exception was a guy I think of as Alderman Rage-a-holic, because every time he’s on TV – which is pretty often compared to other alderpeople – he’s spitting mad about something. He sure didn’t look approachable, sitting in a seat surrounded by empty seats toward the back of the room. His eyes were narrowed, and he looked as if he had just finished sucking the juice out of every lemon in the city.

Speaking truth

The program began. A sign language interpreter stood to the side of the stage, translating the speaker’s words into ASL. After lining up in front of two microphones posted at the edges of the aisles, everyone would have two minutes to speak. There was also a portable mic for people with mobility issues, and a Spanish-language interpreter. Note-takers were posted throughout the room to capture the information. The moderator invited people to approach the microphones.

A polite stampede ensued. People rose up from everywhere and aimed themselves at the aisles bordering the center section. In less than a minute, two orderly lines stretched back past the doors at the entrance.

I did what I always do when I’m not sure what to do and I have a computer in front of me. I took notes. Nine pages of notes, from 33 people. To a one, the speakers were respectful, even when they were angry, and many had a right to be angry. There were some terrible stories.

There was the woman who’d moved to Milwaukee at 18, and while visiting friends in a different neighborhood, was arrested for prostitution. When it kept happening, she asked one of the officers why, and he told her that then-chief Harold Breier said that if they saw a woman in a neighborhood more than twice, she was a prostitute. She had been ticketed 16 times.

Craig Stingley’s son, Corey, 16, died at a convenience store when three customers and a store clerk restrained him after seeing him shoplift. His death was ruled a homicide. Corey was black. The customers and clerk were white. No one was charged with a crime.

“My son was murdered by four individuals – choked to death … My son made an initial act that was out of order, but four adult individuals took it upon themselves to be the judge, the jury and the executioner.”

The mother of a six-year-old described how police had chased her son down, hit and arrested him after someone attacked him and his friends while they were playing basketball. Her son had begun running when he saw the officers. “He was scared,” she said, adding that “I speak for all the African-American boys who are stereotyped.”

The white woman who began by sharing that she’d “lived in a black neighborhood for 30 years,” elicited a collective gasp, followed by rumbles of disapproval. Someone shouted, “What’s a black neighborhood?”

Craig Stingley, who hadn’t yet spoken but was in front of the other mic, hushed the crowd.

“I have seen terrible, terrible things. Terrible things have been done to my neighbors. A man was kicked in the head by three black women. People have been dragged out of their cars. My tenant, a black doctor, was made to lie on the street in November while his car was carjacked. Our city has been overcome by violent black youth.”

The crowd was roaring, booing, shouting over her. She stood there.

Again, Craig Stingley intervened.

“It’s her truth,” Stingley said. “We’ve all got to get our shit together. Let her talk.”

When it was Maria Hamilton’s turn, she didn’t mince words.

“My truth is that of all these moms across the US whose kids have been taken from us through senseless violence by police departments.”

Her son, Dontre, was 31 when he was shot and killed by a police officer in a nearby park. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was homeless, and not on medication. His family cared about him and was struggling to advocate effectively for him. The officer was fired, but not charged.

Now, their advocacy work is focused on social and racial justice, with a focus on supporting mothers whose children were shot by police or vigilantes.

Some speakers had specific recommendations.

“We in Milwaukee need a good police department, and we have some good officers but also we have some bad ones. There are always a couple of rotten apples in any barrel, but when these apples have been able to survive, thrive and grow in numbers, there’s something wrong with the barrel,” said a 70-year-old Milwaukee lifer.

“We need to look at use of force as to how we train, how we weaponize and how we humanize.

Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked that the review not disappoint the people who live here.

“Don’t just look at what the police want to talk about. It’s an affront to human dignity when people treat people in a third-class fashion.”

At 8 p.m., the session was supposed to end. At least 30 people were still in line. The moderator asked that no one else line up. Then he said the session would continue until those people spoke.

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My Write-in Candidate is Dead and Reductive Disrespecters Want Your Brain: An Election Season Guide for the Perplexed

There are a lot of reasons I miss having a dog. Election season is one. Tuki used to come with me when I voted.

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She was also my candidate of choice on more than one occasion. I voted for Tuki when it was clear that, compared to the humans on a ballot, she would represent my interests more competently.

I wrote in Tuki for County Supervisor the whole time Lee Holloway was in office. The only time I ever saw him at my door was after a pension scandal (he and his fellow supervisors voted themselves and county employees fat pensions at the expense of the county’s well-being). When I asked him about it, he got owly. His opponent had no political experience and misspellings on her campaign literature. Tuki was the clear winner.

Even before she died in November, I knew there was a viable human candidate for County Supervisor this coming April. When my friend Mike found out I’d been laid off last July, he told me he was running and asked if I’d be willing to help with his campaign.

Lke me, Mike is a progressive communitarian. Of course I’d be willing to help!

Also, I quite adore him. I also adore his wife Trudy, their kids Jon and Carolyn and their special needs dog, Turbo. (Turbo is an epileptic – but courtly – German Shepherd.)

I asked about specific things he could affect as Supervisor.

“Three things,” he answered. “Transportation, parks and jobs.”

“Four,” I said. “Mental health services.”

“Absolutely!” he said.

So, since fall, Mike’s been walking the district, knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters. By the time it was time to collect the 200 signatures he needed to get on the ballot, he’d gotten a lot of exercise. He’d also gotten a lot of information from his prospective constituents.

It used to be that simple. Candidates declared their intentions by going directly to We the People to talk about who they were and what they’d do, and We the People listened, used our brains to make an informed decision, and voted.

But most people are busy. Or lazy. Some are so turned off by having seen nothing change for so long that they’ve abandoned the process entirely and don’t even bother with elections or voting any more.

All that is a big mistake. Because people – on the left and the right – have figured out how to turn that cynicism and laziness to their advantage, and they’re doing just that. They’ve given up on changing the system. They’re just trying to milk it in order to get more for themselves or keep what they have by maintaining the status quo. And they’re using your brain – with your cooperation – to get the job done.

You can see it working right now in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. Who will Hispanics want? What about women? How do we get the Black vote? What about the Jews? How do we reach White Men?

Local party/organization bosses are exactly the same. They go out and find people they think the Hispanics/Women/Blacks/Jews/White Men will vote for and recruit them to run. Then, they pour money and publicity into their campaigns and send out press releases touting their credentials “S/He went to a rally for {insert cause here} and is an activist in his/her {insert demographic-catnip-sounding group name here}!”

It’s all designed to appeal to your emotions.

Which is reductive and disrespectful. Almost as disrespectful as the fact that these decisions are, by and large, made by people who don’t even live in the districts they’re working to influence.

So, yeah. Qualifications aside, I’m a little cranky that Mike, who is in his 50s and white, is being told by the people who don’t live here that they have to support the black woman in her 20s because she’s a black woman in her 20s.

Anyway, all this to say that during this election season, don’t take anyone’s word for what the person who wants to represent you stands for. When those glossy things start showing up in your mailbox, or if candidates show up on your doorstep, find out how long they’ve lived in your district, what drove them to run, what they want to accomplish in office and how they plan to do it.

Then, stick it to the reductive disrespecters. Use your pre-frontal cortex  instead of your limbic system when you decide who’s getting your vote.

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Screamers, speeders, and drawn guns: Just another night in the neighborhood

Being woken out of a sound sleep by angry screaming is not my favorite way to be woken up. I much prefer my usual way of being woken up – a hug and a kiss. Then, Sweetheart hands me a cup of hot coffee.

Sometime after going to bed Saturday night and well before Sunday’s sunrise, though, I was jarred awake by screams. It was a mild night. We’d left windows open, so I couldn’t localize the sound precisely, but I was hearing it from the south- and west-facing windows.

I walked to the phone, listening to whether the screechers were moving in a particular direction. When I got through to Police Dispatch, I told them it was two, maybe three people. Then, I woke Sweetheart.

He went outside.

I put on a sweatshirt and went downstairs. The dog was in the living room. I rolled my eyes – what was he thinking, walking out there by himself? – and held the door open for Tuki. Sweetheart was standing on the grassy median between the sidewalk and street in front of the house next door, watching two women and a man. They were standing in the street close to the sidewalk on the other side. The women were screaming at each other, the man chiming in less frequently. They stopped when they saw the dog.

Dog sniffing by tree

Tuki, standing at the point where she was when the combative lady threatened to tase her. She and the two other screamy people were standing in the street a bit behind the parked car opposite Tuki.

“Is that dog on a leash?”

One of the women was asking.

“No.”

“I got a taser,” she said.

The dog, having just taken care of some dog business, was busy sniffing the ground. At 14 ½, with a bad back leg and an arthritic back, she’s not exactly a threat. But she still looks to someone who doesn’t know anything about dogs as if she could be.

I was in the process of deciding exactly how to respond when the first squad came around the corner. The SUV stopped short of the trio standing in their way and an officer got out.

“Is everything okay?” His voice was friendly, neutral.

“Fine, officer,” one said. “Nothing’s going on.”

“Where did all this blood come from?” His tone was no longer neutral, and as he spoke, another SUV rolled up behind the first one. More officers got out. Another car came around the corner and stopped – I thought it might be an unmarked car. It was the paper carrier, who couldn’t get around the two squads.

He’s not a fan of Tuki, who hadn’t noticed him placing the paper in front of the next-door house. So, before he got wise to her presence and she to his, I offered to deliver the rest of his papers. We walked back to his car together. The back was piled from the floor to nearly the top of the seats.

“That is a $&#(load of papers!” I said.

As he reached for the right ones – a Chicago Tribune, a New York Times and two Milwaukee Journal Sentinels – he told me it was because he was delivering an extra route.

I walked down the street, putting the papers where they belonged. In the time that took, three more squads arrived in quick succession. Officers were talking with the combatants one at a time; the others were sitting on the curb. As I was laying the last paper in front of Linda’s, a beat-up 90’s junker came screaming around the corner, its driver flooring the gas as he pushed the engine to its limit. He was probably clocking 50 mph.

His reaction to the phalanx of squads at the other end of the short block was to do immediately what the cops were yelling.

The car screeched to a stop in front of Linda’s. I could see the driver through the open car window – an overweight man, Hispanic or African-American (the light wasn’t good enough to see more clearly).

The police were yelling loudly enough that I could hear it from the porch. So I knew he could hear it from the car.

“Why are you driving like an idiot?” one said.

“Get out of the car!” said another.

He did not get out. He sat there, with the engine running.

The officers were not impressed.

“GET. OUT. OF. THE. CAR!!!!

That was when he started, very slowly, to back up, away from the other end of the street. Away from the squad cars. Away from the officers. Away from Sweetheart, still standing in front of the house next door with Tuki beside him, and away from the combatants on the curb.

At the other end of the street, one officer yelled his plate number. Three officers began walking toward the car, guns drawn.

“STOP. THE. CAR!!!!”

The driver stopped and got out. I walked down to where Sweetheart and Tuki were still standing, watching the proceedings. We wondered aloud what kind of summer we’re in for if this was how the first warm night of the season was going, marveling at both the speed of the police response and our dumb luck at them being on-scene when the wannabe Demolition Derby driver shot around our corner.

Two officers came over to talk to us before we went inside. One took down my information after asking whether I’d be willing to be the complainant for a disorderly conduct action involving the screamy trio.

The other approached us shortly after.

“I want to talk to the only sensible person on the street tonight,” he said. “And that would be the dog.” He knelt down in front of Tuki. She buried her face in his chest as he rubbed her head and skritched her ears.

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