Friday, October 24, 2008

A View Of The Choice Is Yours

A wise man once said, "You can get with this or you can get with that."

Guess which one I'm getting with?

Click here to learn more about "that one."

That's right. I'm voting for that one. You may make a different choice and that's cool. One of the wonderful things about living here in the US of A is the freedom of choice - even ones that aren't necessarily the best.

Anyway, I got an e-mail today that talked about how to maintain composure on November 5th if the rest of the country chooses to go with "That One." No matter what your choice may be, you have to admit this "November 5th Etiquette" list is funny as hell.

Good Morning My People.

After watching the final debate the other night, it dawned on me that Obama could actually win this thing. If that happens, there will be a lot of people (some of our co-workers included) who will be afraid that an Obama presidency will usher in the end of days. They'll be watching us on November 5th (the day after the election) for signs of the end times. To keep the peace and keep a lot of folks from getting nervous, I think we should develop a list of acceptable celebrations and behaviors we should probably avoid - at least for the first few days:

1. No crying, hugging or shouting, "Thank you, Lord!" - at least not in public.
2. No high-fives - at least not unless the area is clear and there are no witnesses.
3. No laughing at the McCain/Palin supporters.
4. No calling in sick on November 5th. They'll get nervous if too many of us don't show up.
5. We're allowed to give each other knowing winks or nods in passing. Just try to keep from grinning too hard.
6. No singing loudly, "
We've Come This Far By Faith." It will be acceptable to hum softly.
7. No bringing of barbeque ribs or fried chicken for lunch in the company lunchroom for at least a week. (No chitterlings at all - this may make us seem too ethnic.)
8. No leaving
Kool-Aid packages at the water fountain. (This might be a sign that poor folks might be getting a breakthrough.)
9. No "
Cupid Shuffle" during breaks. (This could indicate a little too much excitement.)
VFTT Note: There's no official word on whether the "
Obama Shuffle" is acceptable.
10. Please, no "
Moving On Up" music - we are going to try to remain humble.
VFTT Note: There's no official word on whether "
We're A Winner" is acceptable.
11. No doing the
George Jefferson dance - unless you're in your office with the door closed.
12. Please try not to yell----BOOOO YAH!
13. Just in case you're wondering, doing the
Running Man, Cabbage Patch, or a backhand spring on the highway is 100% ok.*

If I've missed anything feel free to add to the list. I just want to make sure we're all on the same page when Obama brings this thing home on November 5th. Please add to the list and forward if you like.

14. Everybody, just act like you did after O.J. was acquitted.
VFTT Note: You know, maybe we should just leave any O.J. references out of the Obama campaign. Let's just pretend that O.J. doesn't even exist.
15. Everyone, don't breakout with the
Electric Slide in the middle of the office....*
VFTT Note: The Electric Slide is
over 30 years old? And under U.S. copyright? And registered with the Library of Congress? Really?
16. It will be acceptable to play, “
Head of State” in the office break room as long as you don’t hunch a McCain supporter and say, “Bet that brings back memories, huh?” during this scene.
17. It is acceptable to give people copies of “Head of State” as an Election Day gift. It is not acceptable to use or give people a bootleg copy of “Head of State” that you bought from Pookie or Ne-Ne down the street.
18. In reference to #13, you may do the Running Man, Cabbage Patch or even Raise the Roof. You may not, however, do any of them in combination. It’s okay to be joyful, but even
Hammer doesn’t do all these moves in combination any more.

*VFTT Note: Give the links in #13 and #15 about a minute to get to the good stuff. Trust me, it's worth it.

I added #16-18 to the list. Feel free to put any additions you have in the comments section, but behave. Any comment that's rude, vulgar or has me saying, "Oh hell no!" won't get posted.

More later, after you get with this, or better yet get with that.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A View Of Prevention

In November 1982, my father committed suicide.

Click on the picture for a link to a previous post about my dad's death.

The exact date is a mystery, but it's believed it would've been the beginning of the month. He was found about three weeks after he died in the Detroit River behind Cobo Hall. My family was notified by the police the day after Thanksgiving. In one form or another, we've been mourning his death ever since.

The exact reason he decided to take his life is also a mystery. We don't know why he chose to take his life the way he did. We don't know what drove him to suicide. He didn't leave behind a note. He said goodbye to his friends and family in his own way, with visits and calls just before he disappeared but nothing set off any alarms or made anyone think that he was considering such a drastic act.

All we know is that he decided life was no longer worth living and that he took his life. What we don't know about what he did and why he did it has taken on a life of his own.

I can't speak for my family, but I can tell you that not a day goes by when that November in 1982 doesn't cross my mind in one form or another. I wonder what he would be like now - what my family's life would've been like had he not committed suicide. I wonder what sort of pain must he have felt - and why he decided the only way to ease that pain was to end his life. I wonder how come he felt he couldn't talk to someone about what was bothering him - then I wonder if he did and just picked the wrong person or couldn't find the relief he needed.

Those questions came to mind today as I read two articles about suicide and the impact it has on people. The first was a tragedy on many levels. It was about the families of David and Rose Cobb. On December 26, 2007, Rose was murdered in the parking lot of a local drugstore in a brutal fashion - shot in the head four times by a lone gunman. Evidence seemed to indicate that her husband David had her killed because she was contemplating divorce. She believed he was having an affair. There had also been accusations of him soliciting sex from a minor - accusations that led to a trial, where he was acquitted. Still, it was enough for Rose to wonder if was hiding any other things from her.

David denied having sex with the girl who brought the charges of solicitation, denied having an affair with any woman, and denied having anything to do with his wife's death. The Wayne County Prosecutor also declined to bring charges against him for his wife's murder. Despite all of this, there were still accusations, evidence that seemed to indicate he was involved with the shooting according to the Detroit Police, and rumblings that a plea deal was being negotiated that would've led to charges being filed against him.

On September 26th, David Cobb drove to a park in Sterling Heights and hung himself. Like my father, the report said he went to visit family and friends before he took his life and now they realize it was his way of saying goodbye. Unlike my father, he did leave letters to his family that gave some insight as to why he took his life. According to David's father, he didn't feel like life would be worth living without Rose. The letters, however, seemed to do little to ease the pain that the families of David and Rose Cobb are feeling. Her family sees his suicide as an admission of guilt, and are angry that they had no part in any of Rose's funeral plans. His family believes he never would've been charged in her death, and believe he was consumed by the loss of his wife.

Whatever may have happened, nobody will have any definitive answers because both David and Rose are gone. Their families are left behind with hurt, confusion, and an endless list of unanswered questions. They also do not seem to be eager to reach out to each other to try and heal their pain, to try and answer the questions that they'll think about in one form or another everyday for the rest of their lives. I can understand their pain, their need to know why. I can also understand how frustrating it must be for them to know they will never get all the answers they need about what happened to David and Rose, or why it happened.

I can only hope they try to work out the complicated mass of feelings the deaths of their loved ones have left on their lives. I hope they realize that what happened to them is not their fault, and they don't give in to the temptation to let the anger, mourning, and helplessness they feel consume them. One tiny bit of good that came from my father's suicide was learning the importance of talking, especially about talking about the dark and ugly things many people don't want to talk about. Expressing one's feelings, one's fears, one's weaknesses can only help make a person stronger in the long run because talking about the dark, the ugly, or the scary sets those toxic feelings free. Holding in the negative is like trying to keep acid in a paper bag. We can't be afraid to talk or to reach out for help.

Another article I read today seems to indicate this isn't happening. According to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the suicide rate in the United States has been increasing since 1999. The largest increase appears to be among middle aged adults between the ages of 40 and 64. The rate for this age group rose almost 16% between 1999 and 2005. The scariest part of this increase is not that it's happening, is that the cause of the increase is unclear. According to experts quoted in the article, it could be because of an increase in the abuse of prescription pain pills, more stress in people's lives, it could be anxiety that's heightened in our post 9/11 environment - no one knows for sure.

All the authors of the study know for sure is that the leading cause of suicide is untreated depression. Depression is one of the easiest mental illnesses to treat - according to the All About Depression website, up to 80-90% of persons who seek treatment for depression can feel better within a few weeks. Depression may feel like a tidal wave when it hits, but if treated, it can be nothing more than a tiny puddle.

I've had my own battles with depression - click the picture for a previous post.

Suicide, however, is like a tsunami and just as devastating to those left behind in its wake. Knowing that many of its victims could be saved simply by seeking someone to talk to makes the impact even more corrosive. It doesn't have to be this way. If you click this link, you'll see the warning signs to look for in a person who may be comtemplating suicide. This link will take you to a depression screening test to see if you or a loved one may need help.

Don't be afraid to talk about depression or suicide. I can't tell you how many times people have told me that it's wrong or inappropriate to talk openly about my father's suicide. I can't tell you how many times I've responded by saying that the only thing inappropriate about talking about it was that the talk came too late to save him, or that the only thing wrong about talking about it is that keeping silent keeps in the shame and the hurt and that prevents healing. Not talking allows fear and shame to grow. Talking banishes the fear and shame, and clears the way for one to move on.

David Cobb committed suicide - possibly to escape some horrible truths in his life, possibly because he was so consumed by grief he couldn't figure out how to keep living. My father committed suicide for reasons my family and I can speculate but will never fully know. Whatever the case, their deaths - just like the deaths of suicide victims everywhere - were an unnecessary and avoidable waste of life. If reading this post impacts one person, leads to one person seeing a warning sign in themselves or a loved one, then perhaps some good can come from their losses.

More later. Go talk to someone now.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

A View of the Passing

Almost a decade ago, my mother and I went on a trip to Las Vegas. My cousins were on a traveling bowling league team just to go on the annual year end trip to Vegas. It was a lot of fun. We did a little gambling, a little shopping, a little sightseeing, and a lot of people watching. We stayed in the old Maxim casino - forever infamous as the location where Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in 1996 - but didn't spend much time in there. It was simply a place to hold our clothes and grab a nap between adventures.

The most memorable part of our time together in Vegas was the day we went to lunch at the old Motown Cafe inside New York, New York Casino. It was one of those theme restaurants that served so-so food and overpriced drinks, but people went for it because who can resist a "Baby Love Burger" or a "Sugar Pie, Honey Bun"? My mom often said the world fell into two distinct groups - the good people who loved the Temptations (her all time favorite singing group), and the hopeless people who loved the Four Tops - a group who, in her eyes, could never equal the Tempts.

The restaurant featured a show from "your favorite Motown artists" every hour or so, and my mom was hoping to see a Temptations revue. She asked the hostess for a seat close to the stage so she could see and hear everything. Just after we placed our orders and began sipping the most expensive Coca-Cola we ever had, the lights dimmed in the house and a spotlight was trained on the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemem," a deep voiced announcer boomed on the overhead speakers, "the Motown Cafe is proud to bring to you...."

My mom held her breath and closed her eyes in anticipation.

"The Four Tops!"

Everyone cheered and applauded - except Mom and I.

"I hate the goddamn Four Tops!" she exclaimed as four young men came bounding onto the stage dressed in tuxedos that were just a touch too big, shiny white patent leather shoes that were just a touch too small, and a remarkable ability to hear her exclamation over my laughter and the opening strains of "I Can't Help Myself." One of the young men looked over at our table upon hearing her, made a quick turn to his fellow Tops and gave a quick wink. They found the perfect foil to play to for the duration of their enthusiastically danced, partially lip synched, partially sung show. For the next 20 minutes or so, they danced around our table, sung to Mom, dedicated songs to her ("This one is for our number one fan - what's your name, dear?"), and had the time of their lives at her expense. After a while, she kind of got into it and began singing and dancing along.

I couldn't applaud because I was laughing. I laughed so hard through the whole show my sides hurt, especially when the group had her sing along to "Bernadette" - her least favorite Four Tops song.

Over time, she revealed her theory about the world being either a Temptations or a Four Tops fan wasn't as carved in stone as she wanted us to believe. While she absolutely loves the Temptations, my sister and I would occasionally catch her singing along to a Four Tops song. One day as I was driving her to work, "Still Water (Love)" began to play on my iPod and she admitted that it was pretty good, "you know, for a Four Tops song." Coming from my Mom, this was high praise for that "other Motown group."

The tide completely turned when Levi Stubbs, the lead singer for the Four Tops, made an appearance on a tribute show and tearfully sang as a thank you to everyone who came to salute him. It was one of his last public appearances. He was in a wheelchair, suffering from the effects of a stroke and cancer. His appearance and sincere appreciation of the love everyone sent his way brought her to tears just as it did with everyone at the event. Just as it will probably bring you to tears if you watch the clip.

Today when I read the news about Levi Stubbs's passing, I called her to see if she'd heard. When I told her, she quietly gasped and then was quiet for a few moments.

"Wow," she finally said. "I'm really sorry to hear that. He went through so much."

I thought about that day at the Motown Cafe after I hung up the phone. So much has changed since that trip. The Las Vegas Motown Cafe is gone. I just read that it closed permanently not too long after our visit. In fact, it looks like the entire chain is gone. The Maxim Casino is gone. It closed in 2001, and is now a Westin hotel and casino. Three of the original Four Tops are gone. Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton preceded Levi Stubbs in death. Abdul "Duke" Fakir is the only original member of the group still with us. Even Motown Records as it once existed and dominated the airwaves is gone. Berry Gordy sold Motown to Polygram, and (there's no other way to put it) stands in the shadow of its former glory.

The memories are still there, though, alive and thriving. The music is still there and still lives. The power of strong clear voices singing in harmony still lives and thrives. And the impact groups like the Four Tops had on the world will always live. Like them or loathe them, you cannot deny the impact their songs, their performance, their love of music had on everyone who came in contact with them.

Rest in peace, Levi Stubbs. You will be missed.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A View of the Recoil

Last October, I bought a new car. Nothing fancy - just your average family sedan with four doors, a four cylinder engine, and what I thought were basic aluminum wheels. One morning last March, I was awakened by my sister calling me to let me know that all four tires had been stolen off my car. The thieves were kind enough to leave the car on two cinder blocks and all the bolts behind. When I called the police to report the theft I found out they won't send a squad car out on car theft calls (they only show if someone's life is in danger according to the dispatcher), the office that took the reports doesn't open until 8:00 a.m., and if you want a hard copy of your report - not just a report number to give to your insurance company - you have to go to police headquarters during normal business hours and pay $10 for it.

Nothing like being victimized twice, especially by those in authority.

The insurance company covered - after a $500 deductible - the cost of replacing the wheels and the body damage done when a car rests on a cinder block for a couple of hours. They even threw in a set of wheel locks to help prevent another theft in the future.

Last Sunday morning, I was awakened by my doorbell ringing. My neighbor was at the door, and as I was trying to find my keys, all I could hear through the door was, "They got one of your tires...."

Not again.

This time, they only got the bolts off one of the wheels, loosened the rest (taking one), but they couldn't get past the wheel locks. Fortunately, the missing bolt was the only damage done - this time around.

I wanted to get different wheels - some basic, hubcap needing junk wheels. No can do - my car has a tire pressure monitoring system, and the cost would be crazy. My sister now insists I park in our driveway instead of on the street to help discourage a thief, but means we have to play the "hey, can you let me out" game if one of us is blocked in. Someone suggested getting more wheel locks to make it even more difficult to get the wheels off.

Another person suggested I buy a gun.

This is either really brilliant or really sick. I haven't figured out which one yet.

"You need to protect yourself. People are crazy out here. You need a gun. What are you going to do if someone tries to get in your house?"

I've been resisting this idea for years. It's not the first time I've been told I need a gun. When the suggestion's been raised before, I've dismissed it because I don't believe in guns. I'm terrified of them and the damage they can do. I don't want to think that the only way I can be safe is to arm myself.

Still, lately it's been harder to resist the idea of gun ownership. My city is becoming more dangerous. There are more empty homes in my neighborhood, more faces I don't recognize, more sirens and random shots in the middle of the night. The streetlights on my block have been out for months at a time. When my sister leaves out for work, it's dark. Pretty soon, it will be dark when I leave for work and dark when I come home. As much as I try to vary it, anyone in my neighborhood paying a bit of attention knows my routine.

Some may know more than that. As I was leaving out this morning, one of my neighbors made a very odd comment.

"Hey, I see you still have your tires and rims," he said as I was walking up to my car. It rattled me, and I had no idea how to respond.

"Yes," I said, unlocking the door to get in, "but not for a lack of someone trying." I couldn't help but think, "Was it you who was trying?"

"Have you thought about getting wheel locks? he asked. I nodded yes.

"That's why they're still on the car. Someone just tried again last week." "Was it you? Did you see something? Would you tell me if you did? Or if you knew who it was?"

"That's good," he said as his ride pulled up. I got in my car and sat there for a minute to compose myself.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by a gun shop near my job to ask about how I would go about getting a gun permit. Just walking in the door made me a bit queasy. Everyone working in the store was armed. There were weapons everywhere - revolvers and semi-automatic handguns in display cases, rifles hanging on wall displays, paper targets shaped like armed intruders hanging behind the counter. The man I spoke to told me about how he carries a handgun, a knife and pepper spray on him at all times because "you can't be too careful." He also offered to give me a discount on a CCW permit class if I bought a weapon from his store. He had a guy who gives one-on-one target and gun safety training show me a couple of semi-automatic handguns to "see which one fits your hand."

I told the man I didn't realize I'd ever come to a day when I'd need to know my ring, glove, and gun size. He had me handle a couple of guns ("we even rent some of them - you know, for target practice"), showing me how the grips on one could be changed out for more comfortable handling, and talking about how many bullets each one held. He gave me a card with his phone number on it and said to call once I got my permit to schedule my private shooting class. As I walked out of the shop, I swore I'd throw away the card and never again think about getting a gun.

This morning, as I sat in my car trembling after a chance encounter with a neighbor, I found myself thinking that maybe it's time to get a gun and never again think of being without one. That made me tremble even more.

More later.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A View of Being a Big Sis

One of my co-workers is about to have her second child. She's due next month. We had a baby shower for her today. There was the requisite pink frosted cake, frothy, ultra sweet punch mixed with sherbet and scooped with a ladle into paper cups, a fruit tray that everyone pretended they wanted as they devoured a second slice of the cake, and a "welcome baby" banner draped over a window. There were presents in glossy gift bags adorned with paper rattles, storks, and sleeping baby princesses. Mother-To-Be was glowing. She hugged everyone who came and shared a bunch of fun pregnancy stories with everyone.

The one that stood out to me was about her daughter's lack of enthusiasm over the new baby. Big Sis is about two years old and just getting used to being the center of attention, and she's not to thrilled about becoming Big Sis. Over the weekend, as Mom & Dad watched TV and Big Sis was lying on the living room floor playing with a coloring book, she said out of the blue, "That baby no share my crayons."

Mom & Dad tried to stifle a laugh, and asked her to repeat what she said.

"That baby no share my crayons," Big Sis repeated, never missing a beat with her coloring.

"What baby?" Mom asked. This was the first time Big Sis even acknowledged a baby coming. Big Sis put down her crayons, stood up, and walked over to Mom.

"That baby," she said, pointing at Mom's belly for emphasis, "no share my crayons." She then turned around and went back to her coloring.


The story took me back to when I was a child and my baby sister came along. We had the same sibling rivalry, evolving over the years into a relationship where it was clear to everyone who knew us that we could pick on each other at a level that would make Itchy & Scratchy look like amateur hour, but nobody else had better dare think of picking on one of us. It brought to mind our own crayon story, too.

It would've been around the time of this picture. I was about nine, my sister about four. I told her that crayons tasted just like food.

"In fact," I said, "The green one tastes just like green beans." Green beans, or bean beans as she called them, were one of her favorite foods.

"Really?" she asked. I assured her they did. How I kept a straight face until she bit into that crayon, I'll never know. Who knew she could yell so loud, run so fast, and hit so hard?

We still joke about that crayon prank to this day. I wonder what crayon prank Big Sis and her new baby sister will share - or if they'll share one. Big Sis has to be willing to let that baby near her crayons first. Over time, I know they'll become close. They'll share secrets, borrow each other's clothes, play with each other, and learn to become each other's best friend, just like my sister and I are today.

Then, my thoughts turned to a little girl who may not get the chance to run, play or be a Big Sis.

Tangena Hussain has been on my mind a lot since the news of her disappearance broke and an Amber Alert was issued last week. According to reports, she was with her mother's boyfriend, Jamrul Hussain (no relation to Tangena) that night. He told police he took Tangena with him to pick her mother, Nilufa Begum, up from work at Northland Mall and stopped at a gas station on the Detroit-Southfield border to buy a pack of gum. He left the little girl in his car while he went inside. When he returned to the car a couple of minutes later, she was gone.

As the case has progressed, Mr. Hussain has since been charged with the kidnapping and rape of a 15-year old girl. He's taken a polygraph test, and there are conflicting reports about the results of the test. Some reports have his lawyer saying he failed the test. In other reports this is a claim denied by his lawyer. Today, the FBI raided Tangena's home and the home of two neighbors, Mamunur Rahman Khan and his wife, Hena Begum (no relation to Tangena's mother). Mr. Khan and Mrs. Begum have been charged as accessories in the kidnapping and rape case. Crime scene investigators and the FBI seized items from the Khan residence, even going so far as doing some excavating in their backyard.

Nilufa Begum is scheduled to take a polygraph test tomorrow.

It's almost been a week since anyone has seen Tangena Hussain alive. Her mother pleaded with the public to help her and her daughter in a report published today.

"I'm still hoping that my daughter's still alive somewhere. Please, go out there and look for my daughter," she pleaded with reporters. Let's help bring Tangena home.

Tangena was last seen at approximately 9:00 p.m. on October 2, 2008 at the Marathon Gas Station on the corner of Greenfield Road and 8 Mile Road. She has a scar on her upper lip and chin. She was last seen wearing a brown long sleeved shirt with a cartoon character on the front, white cargo pants, and gold sandals.

If you know anything about the disappearance of Tangena Hussain or have seen her, please call your local police department, or call the Detroit Police at 313-596-1240.

Let's be a Big Sis for Tangena. Here's hoping she's safe wherever she may be.

More later.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

A View of the Sacred and Profane

Put those idle hands to use - click on the picture and check out "Lio"
This post is all about heaven, hell and temptation.
After work today, I decided to make a quick stop at one of my favorite stores before going home to browse a bit and possibly use a coupon I got in the mail. (Temptation got the best of me even thought I know I didn't need to buy anything.) When I got to the store, it was closed - the strip mall was experiencing a power outage, so I was saved from the urge to do a bad but stylish thing. I decided it was best to do the right thing and head home. I hopped on the freeway and as I was speeding along (giving in to the temptation of speed - I had to keep up with the flow of traffic), an unusual sight caught my eye.
At the foot of a very busy entrance ramp, at a very busy junction of a local freeway, there was a man working on making sure all the afternoon's commuters made it into heaven. From what I could tell he was a younger man, wearing dark slouchy pants, an oversized polo shirt layered over an equally oversized t-shirt, a baseball cap tilted to the side, and a very large dark jacket of some sort. He was also holding a very large handmade picket sign that read, "JESUS IS LORD."
"What the hell....?" I said out loud, trying not to cause an accident as I strained to reach for my purse to get my cell phone.
The cars speeding by didn't seem to faze him. He rocked slightly back and forth, as though he were trying to keep himself warm in the cool air. He clutched the wooden handle of his sign close to his chest, looking straight ahead facing the cars coming onto the freeway. I couldn't make out his facial features or what expression he had on his face, but judging by the way he stood without flinching, I'd imagine he was pretty content and stoic. I was the exact opposite. As I sped past, I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
All I could think was I hope some careless or speeding driver doesn't send that young man to his maker. Reaching for my cell phone, I decided to play guardian angel to the young evangelist and placed a call to 911. I got right through to a Detroit Police dispatcher and told her what I saw.
"Hold on, I'll put you through to Michigan State Police," she said. I thought I'd go right to another operator. Not so much.
"Thank you for calling the Michigan State Police. If this is an emergency, please remain on the line and an operator will be with you shortly." That's right. I was in voice mail hell. One minute passed. "Thank you for holding. Someone will be with you shortly." Two minutes passed. By now, I'm more than two miles away from the man trying to save souls. What if this were a life or death emergency? Finally, someone answered and I made my report. "Okay. We'll send someone out," the officer said once I was done, then he hung up.
With that, all I could do was shake my head and hope that the young man wasn't hurt. Then I wondered what would happen to him and his sign. Would the officers dispatched to the scene treat him with respect? What would they do to the sign? It was much too big to fit into a squad car? Would they try to fold it and put it in their trunk? Hell, would an officer show up at all? Did anyone else see him? Did they think of his safety and call the police, or did they just look at his message and take it at face value?
It was one of the few times I wished I believed in heaven, salvation, or prayer. My grandmother used to say God watches over old folks, monkeys, and fools. Who looks over those saving souls at the foot of a freeway entrance ramp? Or the nonbeliever who, speeding past and minding her business, sees that person and can only think of saving the prosthelytizer from himself?
I wish I knew the answer to that question. More later.

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A View I Dare You To Take

Damn, I depressed myself with that last post. It made me feel like crying when I was done. Here's a video that may make you laugh until you cry. View if you dare, but if you end up with this song stuck in your head, don't blame me.

A View Of Handling the Truth, Ready or Not

Need to learn basic instructions for daily life? Click on the picture for a healthy dose of knowledge.
I married for the second time back in September 2007. After my first marriage failed, I vowed I'd never remarry because the first failure was emotionally and financially catastrophic. Why go through that pain again if I didn't have to, right?

Well, I ended up meeting a man who I thought was worth the risk. It seemed like a good investment at the time - he was kind, we had a lot in common, he seemed to genuinely care for me, and I fell head over heels for him. He assured me time and time again that he wanted to be with me for the rest of our lives and pledged his fidelity to me. After thinking it over, I decided to make the investment and give marriage another shot.

Roughly six months later, my emotional investment crashed. Turns out he was, to keep with the theme, was investing with me and at least two other women. He thought he was keeping his, ahem, assets safe by making sure the women were in other states. What harm could come from diversification, I imagine he thought. One was long term - he'd been seeing her almost as long as he'd been seeing me. They even began talking about marrying in 2010. The other(s) just offered, shall we say, short term liquidity. I chose to divest and get out of his market. I can't begin to tell you how angry, embarrassed, and confused I was as I went through my separation and divorce.
Through it all, one question kept coming to mind: Why? I wondered how I let myself get taken in by someone who was not the best choice for me. I wondered how much of what he said, did, and vowed was true and how much was pure junk. I wondered if he'd said the same things, made the same vows, and pledged to love the other women the same way he'd done with me. What I've tried not to do, however, was blame the other women. It was (and still is) hard, but in the end I had to remind myself that in the end it was his actions that were wrong. (In fact, I found out the one he was involved with the longest didn't even know he was married.) The women may have had some culpability, but not as much as him. They didn't take a vow before all creation and the state to love, honor, and foresake all others with me 'til death.
I also had to remind myself that I had some culpability in this situation. There were several times when I had the nagging feeling that something wasn't right. Instead of paying attention to that gut feeling and exploring it, I chose to move forward without seriously thinking of the future. I didn't question the long term and chose to focus on the immediate moment. That was a bad emotional investment, but I went forward and ended up paying a high cost in the end. I also had to accept the fact that I may never truly know why he did what he did. I didn't (and don't) like the idea of not knowing the full truth, but in the end it's more important to learn from the mistake and move on than dwell on what may have happened to the point of emotional paralysis.
My marriage and the way it ended came to mind as I watched the news this weekend. It's funny how the financial crisis and bailout parallels my personal situation. There's so much anger, resentment, hurt, and fear in the country today based on the ongoing failures of the financial system. There's a ton of mistrust about how the bailout package will work. The panic that's setting in seems to be taking us to the point of economic paralysis. There's so much fear that things are going to get worse that things are getting worse. Just today the Dow took another tumble, falling below 10,000 because fear that the credit crisis is spreading globally. People are afraid of failing and don't trust the solution they pushed so hard to put in place, so they're pulling out of a perceived failing market - leading to more failure and mistrust. It's an ugly, downward spiral.
What's even uglier is that there doesn't seem to be is a willingness for everyone involved to accept their share of the blame. One example of this can be found in today's Washington Post. The National Urban League sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asking him to refute claims by conservative pundits that subprime mortgages to minorities led to the current financial crisis and needed bailout. According to the report, Mr. Paulson received an electronic copy but did not respond.
This is sad on several levels. First, it seems to me that it would be an unfair overstatement to lay the entire blame for the current financial mess on minority home ownership opportunities. Many people took advantage of too good to be true financing and mortgage opportunities, buying homes they couldn't afford based on the allure of easy financing and ARMs that seemed like they'd never adjust up.
Next, it seems to me that the man who now controls the purse strings for the proposed bailout should, at the very least, make some sort of public response to the letter. I'm not saying that he has to agree with the charges or disagree with them. What I am saying is that he should be willing to sit down with the National Urban League and hear them out. Their concerns have some legitimacy, and any solution to the credit and financial problems need to include open discussion about how to make sure the housing market is accessible by everyone in this country. To not respond sends a message that the Treasury Department - an arm of the federal government - either doesn't care or doesn't know how to respond to the letter. Whatever the case, that doesn't help to instill trust that our government is willing to do any and everything to resolve the ever growing problem.
Finally, it seems to me that all of us need to step up and take some ownership of this problem. My ex-husband, for whatever reason, wanted to be unfaithful. His ability to act on that want was made easier by my willingness to look past my feeling that something was wrong, and his ability to find other willing partners. Similarly, the financial system was allowed to create an unchecked, lightly regulated loan market with little regard to future cost. People were willing to buy a home that under different circumstances they would be scarcely able to afford because there was easy "buy now, pay later" credit. When the market could no longer support that model of financing, bills came due and it was time to pay the consequences.
It's time to acknowledge that we (and I mean the collective "we") helped create this situation by not being fiscally responsible ourselves, then work individually to make sure we never give into financial temptation like this again. I'm just as guilty of financial irresponsibility as the next person, indulging my urge to buy something pretty by whipping out the credit card instead of truly determining the difference between want and need. I'm not as bad off as some, but I could be a lot better financially. I also could've followed my head instead of my heart when it came to remarrying, but I didn't and ended up having to deal with the emotional fallout. The good thing about this is learning from the situation and it's aftermath, making the pledge to improve instead of lashing out and looking for a scapegoat. Improvement and growth starts with each of us individually, then working together to make all of us better. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy folks. Here's hoping we're brave enough to accept that.
The truth is right there in front of us all the time, waiting to be acknowledged. Are we ready to face it and do the right thing, or will we keep looking for the easy way in the short term with no regard for long term effects? In other words, why go through that pain again if we don't have to?
More later.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

A View of A Little Bit of Sugar

In my old, worn out pantry, next to the boxes of Gevalia coffee I've had for at least two years and still haven't finished, is an even older amber colored plastic jar.

It's dusty, sticky and hasn't been opened in years. Inside it holds a plastic bag - I think it held coffee filters or some other food item that I can't remember. The bag is crammed full of packets of Equal and Sweet & Low pilfered long ago from restaurant tables, purchased from grocery stores, brought home from hospital cafeterias and office kitchens. I don't know if the contents of the packets can safely be consumed, or even if the lid of the jar will come off. Anyone who sees the jar would either toss it out, or pitch the contents and give the jar a good scrubbing in a hot water & bleach mixture in order to use the jar for something else. Anyone except me. That jar is priceless and will remain sticky, sealed, untampered and in my pantry. It's one of the last items I have that my grandmother used on a daily basis.

The jar originally held powdered coffee creamer. When it ran out, my grandmother washed the jar and began keeping packets of artificial sweetener in it. Whenever we went somewhere that served coffee, she'd put a packet or two in her cup and put several more packets in her purse, which she always called her "pocketbook." Once we got home, those packets would go right into the container. It never seemed to run low.

My grandmother was the one who taught me how to drink coffee and eat toast. Every morning, she'd have breakfast at the kitchen table. She made toast so dark, it was almost burnt. She'd spread on a generous smear of margarine (which she called butter or "Oleo"), and she'd boil water in an old saucepan that didn't have a handle (why have a handle when you can use an oven mitt) for her instant coffee - always Taster's Choice, regular. She'd scoop one heaping tablespoon into her cup, then one teaspoon of sugar and creamer. Then, she'd sit at the table sipping her coffee, dunking her toast into her cup then taking a bite. One hand would hold the toast, the other usually had a pen in it as she worked on the crossword puzzle in the paper. There was always an ashtray nearby with a lit, unfiltered Pall Mall cigarette that she smoked while she worked on the puzzle. There were also at least two dog eared, well worn crossword puzzle dictionaries nearby to help her with the particularly tough clues. One day, I don't remember how or why it came to be, she made me a cup of coffee and two pieces of toast, just like hers. This became our daily ritual as I got ready for school in the morning, on Sundays before going to church, during the summer when it was easier to linger over a cup and not worry about the time.

We'd sit and talk about all sorts of things - school, church, how to be a lady, current events, what she was making for dinner that night. Sometimes, she did all the talking and I listened - especially when she talked about what it was like for her growing up in Alabama, or how she worked as a cook at an Italian restaurant and how she wanted me to study hard so I didn't have to do the same. Sometimes I did all the talking and she listened - especially when I'd tell her about what I'd learned in school the day before, or what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometimes neither of us talked. She worked on her puzzles, or nodded off to sleep at the table, or paid the monthly bills. I watched her every move as I ate my toast, dipping it into my coffee just like she did.

Over time, I became a teenager who was too cool for old fashioned things like instant coffee and dunking my toast. She grew older and her health began to suffer. The sugar had long been traded in for sacchrine because of heart problems and blood sugar issues, her crossword puzzles and dictionaries put aside because of her failing eyesight. She moved slower because of arthritis and circulation problems - eventually becoming so bad that she soon needed a wheelchair. We didn't talk as often - sometimes we argued more than we talked. Whatever the exchange, it was always heartfelt, warm, and full of love.

I can't remember the last time we sat down to have coffee and toast at the kitchen table. I can't remember when she stopped collecting packets of Equal or boiling water in that old saucepan with no handle for instant coffee. What I do remember is her wisdom. Her strength in the face of adversity and illness. Her ability to make you laugh when you felt as though you'd never be able to feel joy ever again. The way she'd listen to you, take your hand and say, "Baby, everything is going to be alright." The way she'd smile as she cooked because the food she made was filled the love she felt for anyone she invited into her home.

When I look at that old, sticky, sealed jar full of sugar substitute, decades old and stashed away in my pantry, I hear her saying, "Come here and give Dear some sugar," turning her cheek toward me, and smiling in a way that showed off her dimples. She's been gone since 1991. Today would've been her 94th birthday. If she were here, I'd make her a cup of instant coffee with water boiled in an old saucepan on the stove, light up one of her Pall Mall cigarettes, spread the crossword puzzle and her dictionaries out on the kitchen table, and make her some dark toast smeared with Oleo. We wouldn't say anything to each other - we wouldn't have to. We'd just dip the toast in our coffee, take a bite and enjoy each other's company sitting at the kitchen table.

Happy birthday, Dear. Here's a little sugar from me to you.

A View Of Over and Under Reactions

When Sherman overreacts, it's hilarious.
Check out "Sherman's Lagoon" by clicking on the picture. You'll enjoy the trip.

I'll admit it - when I first stopped writing updates to my blog a couple of years ago (time flies when you're procrastinating), I overreacted. I let a temporary case of writer's block keep me from something I enjoyed and that was a silly.

I take comfort in the fact that I'm not the only one who falls victim to overreacting under duress, no matter how minor. Like, for example, the Westland Police Department employee who cited a woman for contributing to the delinquency of a minor because her son urinated in a strip mall parking lot. Her 3-year old son.

This picture may get me cited in Westland. (File photo, not an actual photo of the incident.)

According to the mom, the man (later revealed to be an undercover police officer for the city) refused to show a badge to the woman and threatened to call Child Protective Services on her because she was "making excuses" to "justify" her son's actions. A 3-year old boy. Who announces he has to go potty and before mom can get his (not much older) sister out of her car and into a restroom, he takes matters into his own hands and relieves himself on her tire. I think this sounds like someone who just loves using the power of a badge on someone he can bully. Don't you think so too?

Sometimes an overreaction can be met with an equal and opposite overreaction. Take, for example, the situation with reporter Karen Dinkins. Ms. Dinkins, a reporter for local news radio station WWJ 950-AM, covered the recent Obama rally in Detroit last Sunday. Her overreaction was showing up to cover the rally wearing an Obama t-shirt. Not the smartest move - reporters are always supposed to present an impartial demeanor when covering a story. Her employer's reaction, however, was not the smartest either. They chose to fire Ms. Dinkins, a 13 year employee of the station. She expressed surprise about the firing, and journalism experts expressed surprise at both her actions and those of WWJ. None of the reports mentioned whether Ms. Dinkins had had any other performance issues or problems during her employment at the station, so I have to assume she had a favorable work record up to this incident. I understand WWJ not wanting to compromise its credibility, but I can't help but wonder if firing her was over the top. I understand that Ms. Dinkins may have wanted to capture the spirit of the rally and create a rapport with the attendees by wearing an Obama shirt. Maybe she thought that her attire didn't matter because, after all, she's a radio reporter. Who would see one little shirt? I also wonder if maybe her personal zeal got in the way of her professional judgment. It's hard to say because Ms. Dinkins and WWJ are refusing further comment.

Refusing comment, while legally sound, may come across as an underreaction by both parties - an action to which I can relate. After I realized I missed writing my blog, I underreacted by not putting fingers to keyboard as soon as acknowledged those feelings. Every once in a while, someone would ask if I planned to come back to the blog and I'd brush off the question with a smart alecky comment or a vague "maybe" or "soon." I guess I did it to underplay my embarrassment that I let something that I enjoyed go and didn't think that maybe others missed the blog as much as I did.

Again, I take comfort that I'm not the only one who falls victim to this line of thinking. Right now, for example, the news media is holding its collective breath in anticipation of tonight's Vice Presidential debate between Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. The focus is on the intense work Sen. McCain's camp is doing to get Ms. Palin ready for the debate and the inevitable "who will win" question. There hasn't been as much of a focus, however, on her recent interviews from what I can tell. I knew that she was interviewed by Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News recently, but I just found out that it was - for lack of a better word - underwhelming. Take a look at this post on the Reuters website to see for yourself.

It makes me wonder if, in an attempt to address the issue, advisors to Ms. Palin will overreact and over prepare her for the debate. Whatever happens, I just hope the preparations don't include lip or pork products. That will start the overreaction cycle over again and lead to an underreaction we don't need - like a lack of focus on the issues voters care about.

That reminds me: The deadline to register to vote in the November presidential election is next week for many states. Here in Michigan, the deadline is October 6th. If you haven't done so, please register to vote then go to the polls on November 2nd and vote. The only way change can happen, no matter what change means to you, is to let your voice be heard and have your vote counted. Rock the Vote has a pretty cool Election Center with all sorts of information about registering, voting and the candidates, including links to all sorts of campaign and voter information sites.

Here's a fact I found on Rock the Vote I didn't know: Eight states allow voters to register on Election Day? Some even let you do it at the polling site. Here's a big VFTT shout out to Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming - states that neither over or underreact when it comes to voter registration. They get the balance just right.

More later. TTFN, y'all - and keep an even keel.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A View of the Reboot

If you aren't down with Pearls Before Swine, you should be. It's comedy gold.

It's been a while. Over two years as a matter of fact. I hadn't planned on abandoning my blog, but it happened. Why?

At first, I just ran short of time to post entries. Then I got embarrassed because it had been so long since I posted. Then I got involved with a man - ended up getting married, something I vowed I'd never do. Big mistake - making a long story very short, I picked the wrong man and got divorced about six months later. (Long story coming later - trust me.)

I never gave up on returning to the blog, I just didn't know where to begin. After letting it go for years, there just seemed so much to say. I had no idea how to start over. Well today, I got my way to start over.

One of the sites I enjoy visiting is USAToday's Pop Candy blog by Whitney Matheson. Everyday, she picks a reader to feature - her Reader of the Day. Today, she picked me - quite the honor, don't you think? Being featured in a national publication is more than the catalyst I need to restart my blog and start writing again. So here we go again. I've freshened up the e-mail address and will clean up the place as the days go on. I'm sure there are dead links and old references all through this site that need to be cleaned up.

Let's start with two links that will give you an idea of what's been up with me in the absence. The first is a link to an article that ran about my mom and I in the Detroit Free Press last year about life in Detroit during and after the 1967 riots. (Yes, my living room is crazy orange too.) The other is a link to DRIS, the Detroit Radio Information Service, where I work as a volunteer reader for the blind. The service and my work there helped keep me sane when things got ugly over the past couple of years. Check them out, and make a donation if you feel inclined. Better yet, consider volunteering time to a local service or group to which you or your family feel a connection. It will help others and help you at the same time.

Peace to all the readers. It's good to be back.

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