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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lawyer. Doctor. Banker. And the Body Behind the Dumpster.




Nothing is both funnier and sadder to me than Facebook posts describing the lives of poor people as written by Team Trump members. They talk about how easy it is to be poor. They talk about government programs that turn people who might otherwise be industrious, law-abiding, and contribute to society into beggars who are spoon fed easy lives.

Recently I had to make a phone call, and request something. Really. That was all I had to do. Make a phone call. Request something.

An economically comfortable friend, a good person, volunteered to help. I don't think she understood why I asked for her help. Until she helped.

It took us two days. Really.

Dialing the same number. Getting the same phone tree. Talking to the same customer service representatives located in India or the Philippines. Explaining the same situation, over and over. And being put on hold, or cut off, or encountering people who had no idea what to say.

It was a *really simple request.* And it took two women, with two phones, two days.

My friend said something that I often think. If you were seriously ill, or had a short temper, or suffered from any degree of dementia, or were otherwise inarticulate, how could you navigate this system?

My brother just died. I'm really sad. And around the same time, something came up that threatens my healthcare and my housing.

It's been three weeks. Every single day in that time I've been researching, phoning, emailing, and no one seems to know the simple answers that would get me out of this trap. I've gone to elected officials, social workers, and the administrators who directly handle the paperwork involved.

I heard this story years ago. I don't know if it was true. Even before I tell you this story, I rush to tell you that the main character was not only white, she was German. I mention this because there are so many lies about poor people in America, and many of those lies are wedded to race.

"Mary" was German-American. Working class. One day she heard some beautiful music in school. It was classical music. She asked the teacher if she could borrow the LP. The teacher lent the LP to Mary. She took it home, listened to it … and her father lifted the needle off the record. "That is not music for people like us."

This story says so much.

Mary married a Vietnam vet, and had four kids by him. She discovered that he was harming small animals in front of the children. She got a divorce, and went to college. She'd get the higher education that was not part of the plan for someone from her milieu. She'd be able to support her kids. She also began to receive government benefits.

Her dad got old and sick, and could no longer drive. He gave her his junky old car. Mary's social worker told her that unless she got rid of the car, she would lose her benefits.

Again, I heard this story years ago, and I don't know if it's true, or if I am remembering it correctly. What I do know is that every one of these programs is a trap. You live within the trap, praying that you never step on the mechanism that springs the trap. Thing is, you can't avoid the mechanism if you don't know where it is. Mary didn't know that accepting her father's jalopy would put her kids' food in jeopardy.

After I was first diagnosed with cancer, that same good woman I mention above went with me from hospital to hospital, begging for care. This was before Obamacare. No, I was told. You don't have insurance, you don't have money, so we can't do anything for you.

Late one day, we were meeting with a plump, kindly, harried woman. She said that given the specific body part affected by the cancer, her hospital would give me care. We were so relieved. We knew it would all work out. We smiled at each other.

The woman left the room to get the forms. And then she came back in, looking sad. She discovered that one of the requirements of this particular program was that my cancer had to have been diagnosed at this particular hospital. And it wasn't. It was diagnosed by a private physician I had paid out of pocket. My paying for my own care knocked me out of consideration for this program.

I don't receive all the benefits for which I qualify. That's partly pride, and it's mostly the trap aspect.

My apartment gets very hot in summer. So hot that I once bought chocolate chips to make cookies. In my cupboard, in hours, they melted into a puddle. That hot.

One of my chronic illnesses makes it hard for my body to handle extreme temperatures.

So, I swallowed my pride and applied for LIHEAP – help with paying utilities. I'd buy an air conditioner. I was told I qualify, in terms of income, but I can't receive it, because PSE&G has not cut off my electricity. I said I would never let a utility company cut off my electricity, because I always pay my bills. I've never had a late bill in my life. I didn't want to have one now. I didn't want to have that on my record.

So, no LIHEAP for me.

Now I'm facing bigger challenges. They are so stupid, I know there must be an easy answer out there somewhere, but no one, not even those charged with handling my paperwork, seems to know what it is.

So, I'm living with daily terror.

And that's what it's like to be poor. It's not the peel-me-a-grape, lying back on one's couch life that my Team Trump Facebook friends depict in their posts and memes.

How did I get this poor? Many factors contributed, but a medical catastrophe played a big role. Medical bills, they say, are the biggest cause of bankruptcies in the US.

Some of the folks on Facebook talking about how easy it is to be poor are Ayn Rand supporters. Ayn Rand, that famous champion of individualism and bad hair, ranted against Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand received both. Ayn Rand was a big, fat, phony. Read more here.

I phoned an organization that says it helps the poor with legal issues. They said they'd help only after I am evicted. I said look, I'm old; I'm chronically ill; I'm a single woman. Do you really want me living on the street? Yes, they said. I said You should be ashamed. They said we are very proud of what we do.

I phoned another such organization. They were REALLY hard to get through to. I had to jump through numerous hoops. Lengthy phone trees, a lengthy internet form I had to fill out four separate times.

They sent me an email saying they'd phone yesterday morning at nine. I sat by the phone. They did not call. I sat by the phone for half an hour. I then received an email saying that I did not pick up the phone when they called (!). That email offered a number that an actual live person answered. I got to talk to the adviser. She interrupted just about every sentence I spoke.

I'm not stupid and I'm not inarticulate. She asked a question; I tried to answer in an efficient and courteous manner; she interrupted every sentence. It was humiliating, but I knew I had to endure it. She's doing something kind and helpful for a poor person and she's probably pressed for time.

Then I went to the doctor. I am seen by students at a medical school. Had to drive far through driving rain. I had one of the worst medical experiences of my life at this school. Three hours of minor surgery with minimal anesthesia in a public place, followed by a narcotics prescription. All necessitated by a student's error. I didn't sue. I still return. I have no choice. Yesterday was no big deal, but I was still afraid till it was all over.

Then the banker, in yet a third city. I like driving but I was on four major highways yesterday, in bumper-to-bumper traffic and rain, and I had to swerve onto ramps on roads I'd never driven before. I'm surprised I survived. I'm surprised there aren't many more traffic fatalities on New Jersey's crowded highways.

The banker's office served bottled water, Danish butter cookies, and miniature Milky Ways and Three Musketeers bars. The waiting room furniture was supple leather that I enjoyed stroking entirely too much. I almost felt that the chair should start purring. I wanted to take it home.

The banker was as clueless as everyone else. She kind of said, "Why don't you just give up?"

Given the tension I've been feeling lately, I feel I'm gaining insight into my poor neighbors who have given up. The folks who inject heroin on my street.

So much easier to forget about phone trees and threatening numbers and guidelines out there, somewhere, like an enemy in tropical jungle, whose locations and demands I cannot know, because no one, not even the social workers working the system, know them.

Yesterday, after I was done with the lawyer, the doctor, and the banker, I went for a walk in Garret Mountain, even though it was raining. So much rain this spring that I must saturate my sneakers with Lysol to fight back smelly growth. And my apartment clothesline is always crowded with clothes and backpacks I'm trying to dry.

There is now a small memorial to Samuel Nunez, the adjunct professor who apparently ended his life by jumping into Barbour Pond on April 24. There is a cross with his name on it, a bouquet of what appear to be real roses, and a bouquet of plastic, white flowers. I wanted to leave something. I wanted whatever I left to be beautiful, spiritual, and biodegradable. I left a wooden crucifix on a cotton cord and a long, beautifully formed turkey feather.

I frequently walk along the Passaic River. Every now and then I see a flat-bottomed aluminum boat and white men in helmets and fluorescent vests, or men along shore with long poles. I go home and google "body found in Passaic River" and I then have to differentiate *which* body was just found in the Passaic River. Was it the miracle baby, whose corpse was used in a black magic Palo ceremony? Or the rich white man who committed suicide, whose corpse, following some class-inflected physics, migrated to be found not among his native McMansions, but in low-rent Paterson?

Today's headline offered a variation: "Body Found Behind Dumpster at Fried Chicken Spot in Paterson." FTA:

"Drug use is often reported in the area …

Victoria Oquendo … noticed police lights flashing and saw the body … Oquendo was not surprised, calling the neighborhood a 'valley of death.'

'It's so common, it's like finding that on the ground,' she said, pointing to a dirty, empty Styrofoam cup … Oquendo described him as 'purple,' with rigor mortis having set in, his hands curled. Another witness, Renee Dickson, said the body was 'twisted,' with the man's pockets turned inside out, as though someone had gone through them.'"

I don't know this man. I didn't know Prof. Nunez. I didn't know the rich, white guy whose body was found, incongruously, in Paterson. I pray for all of them as if they were distant family.

I suspect that we all have two things in common. I suspect that others talked about our struggles in clueless ways to make political points. And I suspect that we all heard the invitation to give up. I understand. But for now, I am still resisting.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Grieving My Brother's Death Three Weeks Later


I think if my dog had died I would receive more sympathy. That isn't a snarky comment. It's a factual observation. 

I'm still crying every day, though not, of course, all day. I've never had that luxury. 

I am overwhelmed. I face medical crises of my own. Financial. Legal. It never rains but it pours. 

Behind all that what was once my natal family appears and disappears in my every waking hour. And there is no one there here in the land of the living to share any of this with me. Folks who had talked to me when I was not this grieving person are now ignoring me. Given that they are ignoring me, I see no reason to talk to them, thus divorcing me further from the land of the living. 

I wonder if I'll have any friends, even in the denatured Facebook sense of the word, when this is all over. I wonder when this will all be over. 

Google has changed solitude. You can google what you are feeling and you soon discover that you don't hold a patent on anything. 

I googled "sibling loss" and found "The Loss of a Lifetime: When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies" by Lynn Shattuck. She is saying many of the things I am feeling and experiencing. 

Shattuck writes, "There were more books on losing a pet than losing a brother or sister. "

The rest of her article is equally good and applicable. 

There's a fact I think about a lot: if brothers and sisters are adopted separately and raised apart, and they meet as adults, they sometimes fall in love. That is because we tend to fall in love with people who are like ourselves, and who look like us. There's a safe, sterile name for it. Genetic sexual attraction. 

Somehow Mother Nature, usually, prevents that misfortune if you are raised together. A wall of familiarity and annoyance is raised that protects you from the love. Your live-in sibling is the one who plays music loud and prevents you from sleeping, or who picks his nose, or who leaves his dirty clothes on the floor, or who makes fun of you and punches you, or whom mommy or daddy likes better than you. 

But that connection, based on similarity, is there, beneath the surface. 

Losing a sibling, even one to whom you are not close, is not easy. 

Losing almost all your siblings, before they live out what we think of as normal lifespans, is a bitch. 


Saturday, May 12, 2018

I Wish Sibling Death Were More Sympathy-Worthy

Antigone and The Body of Her Brother, Polynices. Lytras Nikiforos
Source

I wish sibling death were more sympathy-worthy. I've been wishing this for forty-three years.

After I got the news of Phil's death, I went across the street to the home of the person I thought of as my best friend, Alice Gilabert. Her parents said she wasn't home. I went to Alice's room, the same room in the house as my room – all of our houses had the same floor plan. I curled up in Alice's bed and cried, alone. Alice never came home. She told me later that when she heard that my brother had been killed, she left town, because she knew I'd be crushed, and she knew I'd need her, and she felt she didn't have anything to offer.

Mike died while I was in Nepal. I got the news over long distance telephone in the Peace Corps office in Kathmandu. There were a couple of other volunteers in the office. As soon as I heard, I started crying. One of the Peace Corps volunteers, within earshot of me, criticized me to my bosses. She felt it was not the behavior worthy of a Peace Corps volunteer to cry in the Peace Corps office. PCVs are supposed to be noble and tough and above-it-all. I wish I could remember her name, so I could relay it here.

At the time I was dating a Scottish physician I had met at a remote and dusty border crossing between India and Nepal. He was very cute, very idealistic, and a birdwatcher like me. He later felt compelled to confess to me that he had distanced himself after Mike died because he couldn't handle my grief.

My fellow volunteers had never experienced the death of a loved one, and they just didn't want to be around me if I began to talk about it. They wanted me to fake it, to be my entertaining self. Nepalis couldn't grok the news at all. They couldn't believe that a healthy young American man, husband and father, would die. They thought we had cures for these things. I had nightmares. I had to talk myself through it. There was no one else around to talk to me about it. I had to remind myself: Mike is dead. Mike is dead. Mike is dead.

Antoinette was a wife and a mother so of course everyone's focus was on her daughters and her husband.

Joe was much older than I, and a male, and a different kind of guy. I'm not supposed to feel as sad as I do now.

I'm avoiding Facebook. I like and value Facebook for what it is. Part of what it is, all too often, is a place where some percentage of your friends are people who are living out fantasy selves, thus the term "Fakebook." Wow – spellcheck didn't even flag that. "Fakebook," evidently, is an actual word.

One fantasy self that some like to promote is "I'm really caring." If you talk about a death on Facebook, people will publicly post sympathy, but only a tiny fraction of the folks who engage in that public show of sympathy will ever send you a private message. One woman – I woman I like and value and am glad to have as a Facebook friend – posted on my page, "I am so sorry for your looks." She meant "loss" of course. She had not waited till my brother's death to remind me that I'm not pretty. But I need to avoid that level of insincerity right now. Death nails you to what is true.

Another thing I really couldn't handle reading. The – small minority of – folks who say, "I support you." I want to say to them, "Really? You support me? And all this time I thought it was me supporting me. That's why I've been going to work. I guess your checks have been getting lost in the mail."

One more gripe. The folks who wait till you are hurt and vulnerable to snipe, take swipes, settle scores. One woman made some comment about how she thinks I don't listen well so she didn't want to post condolences because I wouldn't "hear" them. Good grief.

No, two more gripes. The unsolicited advice. The poster who left instructions on how to grieve. Seriously? *Seriously*? Maybe I should leave her some instructions on how to communicate.

With most folks, I expect nothing. I recognize that our connections are ephemeral and shallow.

Some connections are not so ephemeral. I've known one Facebook friend, through the internet, for twenty-four years. We've been in touch regularly throughout that time. From her? Nothing. But she is a member of a religious cult that reassures her that she is righteous and the rest of us are damned. Why waste a condolence card on the damned?

Liberal atheists are not necessarily any better. I've known two liberal, atheist men for as long as I've known the above-mentioned woman. Neither has breathed a word to me. Or typed a word. Eff 'em. Seriously.

I don't always sound this bitter.

What would I prefer?

Kindness.

Send a card. Catholic? – Not you. The person who is mourning? Send a mass card. It's easy. It's not expensive. See here. You fill out an online form, donate $7.00 to Maryknoll missionaries who are doing great work, and a priest says a mass for the diseased.

Is that too much to ask?

Guess so.

Do I send mass cards?

Is the pope Catholic?

Or bring a casserole. Grief kills the appetite. Or you eat too much. I had vodka for breakfast day before yesterday. Today I had a Snickers bar that has been sitting in my refrigerator ever since it was leftover by some students playing a game who offered Snickers bars as prizes. Live far away? Send a ShopRite gift certificate.  

Or send flowers. Flowers represent beauty, life, and caring.

Just please don't post on my Facebook page, "I wish I could come over." The woman who posted that COULD COME OVER. But she didn't. Sheesh.

So, yes, avoiding Facebook. Soon enough I will regain the necessary rhino defenses. Not right now.

Last night I hit "I can't take it anymore" mode and "I need some human contact" mode. I knew I wouldn't be getting any of that so I watched endless puppy videos on YouTube.

I've said it before; I'm saying it again. If I survive this, I'm getting a dog.



A Rich, White Man


A rich white man.

And whom you can rely on in a foxhole.

My beloved brother, Joseph Goska, just died, God rest his soul. His death is a shock and a heartache.

At the same time, I am facing a legal problem. A legal problem so scary it might mean no more healthcare, no more roof.

It's hard to mourn your brother, almost your entire family, at this point, and, at the same time, confront the possible loss of healthcare and roof, especially when you yourself are still being treated for the same disease that killed your brother ... and your sister ... and your mother ... and your other brother.

I've been on the phone, on the internet, in person, asking / begging / pleading.

I need information. That's really all I need. Information.

I turned to a Catholic deacon. I cried in front of a banker. I interrogated my apartment manager, whom I had to chase to find -- it took three visits to her office just to collar her. I phoned and then visited the office of my Democratic congressman. I importuned legal aide.

Legal aide said they would not help till I was evicted. I said, "You would actually wait for someone with my health issues to be living on the street before you would help?"

They said yes, and they said "We are very proud of what we do."

The deacon never responded. The banker wasn't sure. My congressman's office hadn't a clue.

It's been ten days, and I've been on this one question every day.

Not taking breaks to cry. Not taking breaks to reminisce.

In desperation, I asked a rich, white man. His name comes up in local media.

The rich, white man responded to my email. He suggested something.

I told him that I had already tried that and it didn't work. That's all I said. I didn't cry or beg. I just said, "Thank you. I tried that. It didn't work."

I thought I'd never hear from him again.

But, without telling me this, the rich, white man had kept digging. He did original research. He contacted a government office it never occurred to me, or anyone I've told about this, to contact.

And he helped me.

The rich, white man. Helped me, a complete stranger, who can do nothing for him.

I'm not in the clear yet. He got some preliminary information, and he told me that I needed to contact so and so and provide more information, before they can guide me through the briar patch I now inhabit.

But he did something that it never occurred to me to do, or anyone else I've asked.

Believe me. You do not know whom you will be able to rely on in a foxhole. Those who publicly self-advertise as helping the poor and the needy may come to your aid, or they may bail at the first crackle of enemy fire.

And it may just be a "selfish" "white" "capitalist" "male" who saves your bacon.


PS: I already posted this on Facebook. Posting twice for anyone who reads here but not there. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Goatsucker at Garret Mountain

Chuck Will's Widow photo by Lilibirds / David Speiser
It was one heck of a cold, dark, long winter on Garret Mountain. 

I was out in all of it. There were days when I had to remove my glove for a moment to tie my shoe, and I really thought I was risking permanent damage. When I would get inside again, and the agony that reduced my hands to throbbing, icy stumps retreated and I could flutter my fingers again, clap, pick my nose, I rejoiced. 

I do envy Facebook friends who can afford tropical vacations. 

But being up at Garret several times a week, and watching spring arrive ever so slowly and coyly, deepened my relationship to that basalt carbuncle, rising bluntly from over-paved and over-populated Passaic County earth. I felt more connected to every new forsythia blossom, splashing yellow against white snow, to every crack in the ice, to every onrush of snow-melt. I felt as if every palm warbler, pumping its yellow tail against a newly blue sky, was punching out to me personally a Morse code announcement: it's spring. It's spring. It's spring.

Miracle is the only word. Really. When you've been up there when it's dark at midday and you are the only warm-bloodied thing in view, and you return and see that same landscape suddenly polychromatic and pulsing with life, miracle is the only word. 


Migrating warblers move through Garret in May. Birders come from far and wide to view them. They usually arrive early in the a.m., before their workdays begin, and station themselves on the red, grassy igneous ridge facing the sunrise and the Manhattan skyline, and count, in company with other, temporarily-allied birders, multiple species. 

My mornings demand heavier focus these days. Death, if nothing else, involves much, and scary, paperwork. Paper wet with tears; paper punched in rage. "Why didn't you tell me? I would have helped. I would have had time to prepare emotionally. It would kill Mommy, if she were not already dead, to know that you died without a blood relative present." 

You can't turn back the clock. And who would want to? January, when he received his diagnosis, so I've been told, was a gray and frozen month that promised nothing but rest for the future burgeoning.

So, since I am not at Garret in the a.m, I miss the biggest crowds, and the high species counts. 


I have been going later in the day, and stationing myself in a cubby corner of the park. 

There is a chain link fence, mud, moss, the trickle of water, low-slung, concrete rectangles that seem to have outlived any man-made plan or purpose, pines, sycamores, moldering logs, gnats, the occasional bit of trash, the occasional walked pooch, and the sound of nearby traffic. It's not exactly Yellowstone. 

But as I stood there the other day, I was mere feet away from jewel-like black-and-white warblers, black-throated blue warblers, redstarts, parulas, myrtles, kinglets, nuthatches, gnatcatchers, cardinals ... all dancing before my eyes, so close I didn't need my binoculars, 

I felt myself smile for the first time since I got the news about Joe. 

I *felt* that smile. I registered that smile. Keeping it in the archives. 

I also wrapped my fingers around the chain link fence, leaned into it, and cried for all I was worth. There was no one around to see or complain. That felt as part of it all as the smile. 

Recently a better birder than I spotted a chuck-will's-widow nearby "my" "private" park cubby. I was lost in my flock of warblers, feeling as if one of them, although rejecting insects for dinner, when I realized that people in white-collar work clothes and shiny shoes with utterly impractical soles were marching past me, stopping, and craning their necks. I followed.

A chuck-will's-widow is a goatsucker. Their scientific name, caprimulgidae refers to their goat-sucking habit. 


What, you didn't know this? That you are surrounded by birds like chuck-will's-widows and whiporwills that suck on goats' teats? 

How do people live at that lack of awareness? 

Of course I'm kidding. Goatsuckers are nocturnal, and they have large mouths for catching insect prey. Humans are weird and suspicious, and they made up this idea that goatsuckers come to their farms at night and exploit their goats' milk. Just like Hillary Clinton ran a child sex slavery ring from a DC pizza parlor basement. 

Anyway. Chuck-will's-widows are an uncommon bird for this neck of the woods, so the other day streams of birders were reporting to this little, anonymous corner of West Paterson to achieve "darshan," a Hindu word for the benefit you get from seeing something or someone holy. Probably most birders don't use the word "darshan" but I lived in the Indian subcontinent and I can't get the lingo out of my head. 

It was exciting and fun. Again, it was fun to see people in office attire, people who had received the internet alert of the goatsucker's presence, left their cubicles, and rushed to Paterson, not a place many well-to-do people rush to, in normal hours. 

One woman asked me what they sound like. I did my best imitation of a chuck-will's-widow call. You can hear the real deal here. Another pilgrim, astoundingly, didn't know what a chuck-will's-widow looks like. I found it very impressive that she rushed here to see a bird she couldn't even envision. I had my Roger Tory Peterson field guide with me and showed her the picture. Chuck-will's-widows, like whiporwills, are nocturnal birds who must be safe in daytime, so they look like dead leaves. They are, God bless them, no match for the brilliant full palette displayed by the warblers I had left. The woman to whom I showed the picture was suitably disappointed. 

I knew I was surrounded by birders better than I and I liked it that I could offer some info to newbies. I like teaching, in any venue. 

As I was leaving, more and yet more birders were approaching. They were carrying giant lenses that could possible photograph a zit on the nose of the old man in the moon. They asked me, "Is the chuck still showing? Are birders on it?" Yes, I said, in answer to both questions. Many of the birders had accents. This was truly an international event. 

When I was younger, I wanted to go everywhere, and I almost did; Africa, Asia, Europe, North America. Not the Amazon, but the Ganges, three times, and if I had to pick one or the other, it would be the Ganges every time. 

Jesus said to Peter, when you are younger, you went where you wanted. When you are older, you will no longer have such freedom (paraphrase.) 

True for me. I stopped traveling long ago and a walk to Garret Mountain is my vacation. Being so pinned to one spot has taught me something, something I can't hope to get onto this page, that being so mobile never taught me. 

I was pleased and excited to rub elbows with folks who follow alerts to rare birds, just as storm chasers follow alerts to photogenic tornadoes, as butterflies follow the wind's message to patches of rampant flowering abundance. These folks contribute something that I can't; they know something that I don't. But I couldn't help but think that seeing Garret Mountain only during this lush, furious spring, and not knowing Garret Mountain as I do, in the depths of a winter so severe I thought I might lose my hands if I needed to blow my nose, that I know something that they don't know. 

And I hate to say this, but the metaphor here is obvious. We must walk through the frightening, life-sucking, obliterating void of losing those we love if we are to know life at all. 


Monday, May 7, 2018

Grieving Joseph Goska, My Brother



May 1, 2018, 7:36 p.m. It had been a long day. End of the semester. Much going on at work, with my writing, and the warblers were moving through Garret Mountain. 

Dinner was cooked, and much awaited. Rice, lentils, and vegetables. A standard. A favorite. I glanced at my email before walking into the kitchen to spoon everything onto plates. 

I saw an incoming email from an unknown sender. I saw the subject line, "Joseph Goska." I said, oh, effing no, not again, I cannot do this again. 

Phil. Mike. Antoinette. Now Joe? 

I just knew from the subject line. But I read the email. 

"Hi Diane...
My name is ____ _____ and I am a friend of your brother, Joe.
I'm very sorry to inform you that he has passed away this past
Friday, April 27.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience.
973-___-____"

I've been crying a bit every day since. 

I've been reliving every memory I have of my brother Joe. Frankly I did not know I had that many. 

I've been living, at moments, in my childhood home every day since. The close, fragrant, and humid kitchen. The upstairs bedrooms with the slanting walls festooned with Raquel Welch in a fur bikini, cubby-hole-bookcases full of paperback sci-fi. The backyard where Tramp, holy medicine dog, keeps secrets and keeps watch. The stoop on a summer night, katy-dids, lacewings, and frogs. The languages, the songs, the stories, the Slovak, the Polish, the poppy seeds.  

Antoinette, present, palpable and real as any Paterson street dweller, is making sharp-tongued comments, scolding me not to be such an emotional dyslexic feather-head, and urging me to get on the stick and take care of concrete, real-world, white-collar type things that need taking care of. She's reminding me of my tears at Phil's funeral, and she's saying that crying was stupid and didn't help then, and it's not helping, now. 

Mike is dynamic and annoying. He's making some point about the universe, while simultaneously trying to pick up some girl. 

Daddy is harrumphing while reading his newspaper. 

My mother's heart is utterly broken that no one Joe was related to was with him at the end. 

I wish Joe's friend had told me sooner. I cared about Joe. Aunt Madeline cared about Joe. Sister-in-law Annie cared about Joe. Cousin Margie, aka Marcus, cared about Joe. Niece Amanda cared about Joe. Amanda and I went to the house a couple of years back and left a note. Joe, what's up? We care about you. Get in touch. 

My childhood friends, lived down the block, Joanne and Elaine, cared about Joe. 

Elaine emailed me Thursday: "Danushha, just got off the phone with my sister Joanne. She told me that your brother Joe is home under Hospice Care. Didn't know if you were aware of this or not.Thought you needed to know. God bless and keep you in this time of suffering." 

I am coping as best I can. At moments I feel totally sengue. (Sengue -- a word from CAR. It means "empty" or "naked" and also "I do not have malaria at this moment and I am not peeing blood so really I have nothing to complain about.") 

At other moments I cry. 

I just had one of those moments and so I am posting this now, sending it out into the void my brother now inhabits and where I too will soon go. 

I am grateful to a couple of friends who have sent me emails asking me questions like, "Are you eating?" 

Believe it or not even a food-a-holic like me loses her appetite at moments like this. That dinner of rice and lentils and vegetables ended up in the trash. 

Joe is holding me in his lap in this photo of Phil, Mike, me, Joe, and Antoinette. I'm the only one left from this photo. God has not allowed any of my siblings, so far, to live to the Biblical three score and ten, ages that our parents reached and surpassed.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Black and White on Campus: A Viral Video, the N-Word, Liberal and Conservative Responses

Restless Mind by Robin Rhode



A Viral Video Featuring the N-Word 
Sparks Calls for More Black Campus Hires
Black Conservative Authors Suggest a Different Response


On April 22, 2018, Miki Cammarata, the Vice President for Student Development at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, released an email. Cammarata condemned a social media video featuring a William Paterson student, Jasmine Barkley. Cammarata called Barkley’s comments “abhorrent and racially charged.” “We are disgusted,” Cammarata wrote. Barkley’s statement “does not reflect our values.” “University staff are investigating.”

In the video, Jasmine Barkley asks, “Is it appropriate for me to say the word n-----, if it is in the lyrics of a song and I’m singing the lyrics, or is it not appropriate for me to say n-----? Let me know.” Barkley’s video is eleven seconds long.

A Twitter user who self-identifies as “Seun the Activist, Son of the Most High,” aka Seun Babalola, tweeted the video at 8:57 a.m. on April 22. Cammarata’s response appeared three hours later. Also on April 22, Nicole DeFeo, International Executive Director of Delta Phi Epsilon, Barkley’s sorority, promised “swift, decisive action.” In 1984-style language, Barkley was “disaffiliated immediately.”

On Monday, April 23, the Beacon, the William Paterson school newspaper, posted an open letter from Barkley. “I am not a racist. I believe in equality … I posed a controversial question.” Barkley quoted TV personality Lenard McKelvey, aka Charlamagne Tha God.

McKelvey, in a 2013 interview, said, “Until we stop using the word n-----, we can’t get mad at nobody else for using the word … If something’s bad, it’s bad, period. It can’t be good when I do it and bad when you do it … If you really want to make a stand against the n-word, stop using it. Teach people how to treat you. People are going to treat you how you treat yourself.” Protesting when whites use the n-word is hypocritical, he said. If Malcolm X or Martin Luther King returned, they would not be shocked at whites using the n-word; they’d be shocked at blacks using the n-word. “Is this what we died and marched for? Is this what we got beat with sticks and had dogs sicced and got sprayed with hoses for y’all to be walking around and carrying yourselves like this?”

Freaky Friday,” the song Barkley’s friend was singing along to, does indeed contain the n-word, repeated eleven times. “Freaky Friday,” as do many popular rap and hip hop songs, refers to women as “bitch,” including the singer’s mother, and “hos,” or whores. It also refers to “pussies.” In the video, nearly naked white women advertise the black singer’s worth by writhing against him. “Freaky Friday” includes graphic references to male anatomy, for example, “his dick staying perched up on his balls.” The f-word is repeated ten times.

“Freaky Friday” depicts a nerdy Jewish man desperately wishing that he could be changed into a cool, sexy, powerful black man. “Freaky Friday’s” creator, Lil Dicky, was born David Andrew Burd. Burd telegraphs his acknowledgement of his whiteness and inadequacy through his stage name, a reference to his miniature, white penis. An accommodating Chinese man – a stereotypical “inscrutable Oriental” – transforms Lil Dicky into his desired ideal: a black rap star. In his song, Burd specifically chooses to become Chris Brown, notorious for beating Rhianna.