"What is so rare as a day in June?" asks James Russell Lowell,
... in his abstrusely entitled and 'way too long poem, "The Vision of Sir Launfal," of which the above line is probably the best line in the whole thing.
My answer to the poet is, "Why, a day in April, of course."
Or so I've been thinking the past few weeks during my morning, afternoon, and evening walks around the neighborhood.
Over a year later, walking around the 'hood continues to be my main pandemic diversion, followed by streaming movies on TV,
...and whipping up fancier chow than I used to.
In truth, even after a year of laying low, and even after getting my COVID shots, I'm still not quite ready to circulate in public any more than necessary. And besides, I've grown as accustomed to walking around the block every day as I used to be to going out to eat twice a week and to the movies three times a week.
And so, after a year of strolling the neighborhood and watching the seasons change from spring,
..now back to spring again, I believe I would venture to tell James Russell Lowell that I'll see his day in June and raise him a day in April.
A couple of mornings ago I read in the New York Times that the United States is coming to the aid of COVID-ravaged India,
...sending that country shipments of raw materials to make vaccines, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic," said President Biden, "the United States is determined to help India in its time of need.”
Upon reading the part about the United States helping India in its time of need just as India had helped us when we were in need, I felt a warm little glow in my chest, kind of strange and foreign, yet somehow vaguely familiar, as if off somewhere on the far edge of my emotional memory.
Then again yesterday I saw another Times article, this one on the front page, stating that President Biden has vowed to restore the United States as a leader in global public health. To this end Biden has given the order to send 60 million doses of American-produced vaccine to countries that are desperate for help. The President has also begun providing financial support to help with the production of one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines for the people of in India.
Again I felt the vaguely familiar warm little glow, which had sparked at the part about restoring the United States as a leader in global public health.
What is this feeling? I wondered. Then it hit me: What I'm feeling...might it be...just the faintest glimmer of...patriotism? Pride in my country for stepping up and taking the lead in the fight against this planetary scourge? For once again having friends around the world who will gladly come to our aid as well? For having returned to being the country that is seeking to do the good thing, the right thing, instead of the strictly self-serving, self-enriching thing? For instead of promoting hostility, being a country that is now working to promote healing?
Yes, it was beyond a doubt patriotism that I was feeling then, and continue to feel now, and more than just a glimmer.
It was once said by some unknown observer of our country, "America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
It appears that today, in a suffering world in the grip of a terrible pandemic, America as a nation is back on the road to being good.
The guilty verdict in the trial of ex-police officer Dereck Chauvin for the brutal murder of George Floyd had barely been announced when the news broke of yet another police shooting of an African American, again in my city of Columbus, this time the victim a 16-year-old girl. Upon hearing of this latest shooting I stormed around the house, angry again, incredulous again, beyond outraged again by another senseless, heartless killing by a police officer of a person of color, a child, for God's sake, and not even the first Black child gunned down by a White police officer.
Though wondering if I'd be able to stomach it, I nonetheless made myself watch the officer's body cam video of the shooting on CNN. Then I watched it again. Then another time in slow motion. Then I watched the video taken by a neighbor's security camera. And what I saw in all of those films was not what I had expected to see - a police officer committing a murder - but rather a police officer stopping a murder.
The scene captured on the video was chaotic, a yard full of people shouting, one girl going after another girl with a knife, causing her to fall, then the girl with the knife going after a second girl who is wearing a bright pink tracksuit. The girl with the knife pins the girl in pink against a car, pulls back her arm, then drives the knife towards the girl.
There is the sound of four shots and the girl with the knife falls to the ground. The whole sequence of events takes only a few seconds.
There can be no doubt that Ma'Khia Bryant would have stabbed, perhaps killed 22-year-old Tionna Bonner if Officer Nicholas Reardon hadn't fired. The officer's body cam video makes this perfectly clear.
What is also very clear is that this officer was in a situation not of his own making and beyond his control for which there could have been no good outcome.
He pulled the trigger of his service revolver to stop one young woman from stabbing another. Had Reardon not pulled the trigger Tionna Bonner would have been badly injured at least, and the officer would have been blamed for that outcome, as well. The narrative would have been that the police are always shooting unarmed, innocent Black people, so why did this cop not shoot this time when he could have actually saved a life? There could have been an accusation of racism as well: cops will shoot a Black person for no reason, but not to save the life of another Black person.
For officer Nicholas Reardon the choices were lose-lose.
Except, possibly, for the one choice he could and most likely should have made that might have made a difference: Instead of firing four times at Ma'Khia Bryant he could have fired once. One shot would have wounded the girl. Granted, badly. But one shot might well have spared her life. Or it might well not have.
There are those who hold that Officer Reardon could have used a taser or tried to de-escalate the situation. Maybe. But from the moment the officer exited his vehicle to the moment the knife was raised the body cam footage records ten seconds .
But what about the other choices that could have been made before the police were called that might have saved Ma'Khia's Bryant's life?
What about the fight that was in progress between Ma'Khia and two other girls, one of them Tionna Bonner, when the police were called? What words were said, what things were done, that so enraged Ma'Khia that she grabbed a knife and pursued those girls outside to the front yard? Those who loved Ma'Khia have come forward to say that she was a peaceful, friendly, fun-loving girl. What set her on that violent rampage, made her so angry that she wanted to kill?
What if Ma'Khia had dealt with her anger in some other fashion than to impulsively grab a knife?
What about the screaming crowd in the front yard? What part did they play in turning up the heat in a situation already boiling over with rage?
And what about whatever situation it was in Ma'Khia's life that made it necessary for her to be living in foster care?
But at this point none of that seems to matter, at least not among those protesters taking to the streets of Columbus in outrage by yet another police shooting of a person of color in this city .
For them the blame lays squarely upon the officer who shot Ma'Khia Bryant, and he's been thrown into the same basket as Dereck Chauvin and all the other police officers before him and after him who've wantonly killed unarmed, non-threatening people of color.
The culture and lack of correct training and oversight within police forces across this country create a threat to people of color. And, in truth, to the officers themselves as well.
Two days ago after the guilty verdict was announced in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin,
...for the murder of George Floyd,
...there was rejoicing not only across the United States. but among social justice advocates around the world.
And though Chauvin's conviction is cause for celebration that justice has been served - finally - in this case of a police officer brutally suffocating an unarmed Black man to death, is there much to celebrate beyond this one outcome?
George Floyd's brother proclaimed that after the conviction, "we are able to breathe again."
But is that actually true?
Can Black parents be any less afraid for the lives of their children? Can Black mothers now stop worrying themselves sick that their sons might be stopped or pulled over or confronted by the police for any number of minor offenses, real or imagined, and end up dead?
When I think of George Floyd I think of all the other unarmed, non-threatening black men and boys who've been killed by the police, sometimes for no reason other than incompetence, malice or racism on the part of police officers. And I think of my own son,
...whom I cherish with all of my heart, knowing that every Black mother cherishes her own son just the same.
Now that Dereck Chauvin will be going to prison do members of communities of color everywhere need to worry any less that if they call the police because of a disturbance or danger that some person will needlessly die, not at the hands of a criminal, but at the hands of the police?
If a Black person sees a dangerous situation or finds themself in one, how can they dare to call the police if the police come not to bring peace and protection but to do them harm? What protection do people of color have in this country if they must fear not only being victims of crime but victims of the police?
All Americans live in fear of crime. But people of color still must live in as much fear of the police as of criminals. Maybe even more.
For me, doing taxes every year is an exercise in humility. And anxiety.
It's the same every year. The Lieutenant Colonel, among whose super powers is the ability to crack the tax code, appropriates the dining room table, sets up shop,
...then tears through forms, schedules and work sheets by the bushel while he whips his weight in pre-taxable, taxable and non-taxable entities, gross vs. net incomes, deductions, refundable credits, non-refundable credits, and applicable percentages derived by multiplying the light of the moon by a puppy dog's tail then dividing by your shoe size.
I, meanwhile, sit next to him because we are allegedly working on the taxes together,
...struggling, in spite of my spouse's patient and repetitive explanations, to understand what he and I are doing, scribbling the same voluminous notes as I scribbled last year and all the years before, feeling that same stomach-clenching anxiety that I used to feel back in all the Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus classes I cried, hyperventilated, and floundered my way through in school.
It's very non-empowering.
"Don't worry," says Tom. "If I go first you can just hire someone to do all this."
Squinting down a page of inscrutable line items I reply, "No, I really better go first."
The irony, I suppose, is that the lion's share of the tax agita at our dining room table goes down because I'm self-employed, though now only a little bit self-employed since the pandemic pretty much plotzed my once-thriving piano teaching studio.
So it's my teaching income, such as it is, and book income, such as it is,
...that requires the sorting out of all sorts of business deductions, applications and rules, not to mention a finity of forms and schedules to be filled in and submitted to the Federal, State, City, and various regional entities within whose jurisdictions I conduct my business. Such as it is.
But then, the moment arrives when all the boxes are checked, the figures entered, the sums resolved, the forms and schedules collated, the anxiety deflated, and I see within the data of the finished product a sort of narrative about myself: The monetary value of the teaching I did. The miles I travelled doing it. The money I made selling my books. The money I spent trying to sell them. In short how much, in the realm of dollars and cents, I was worth over the past year.
It's always an exercise in humility. Having spent the past year shut down by microbes, ten trillion of which weigh less than a raindrop, this time it was so much more so.
...Continued from yesterday:
In the superlative movie "Concrete Cowboy" about the Black riders of North Philadelphia (see previous post, "Why Had I Never Heard Of The "Concrete Cowboys?"),
...there's a scene in which some of the horsemen and women are sitting in a city lot around a "campfire" burning in a metal barrel,
...talking about the great number of Black cowboys there were in the early days of the American West and how generally ignored they've been in the history and lore of that time.
Now, I had heard of Black cowboys before. In fact, the first time I ever heard of Black cowboys was in my English 101 class my freshman year of college, the same era during which I was introduced to Plato's Allegory of the Cave (see previous post).
At some point during the course the Ph.D. grad student who'd been assigned to teach my group of freshman English students mentioned that all American Western movies had a major historical inaccuracy in that none of them (as of that year, which was 1969) included Black cowboys. Black cowboys, claimed my teacher, could be found everywhere across the 19th Century American West.
As I recall, I believed my English 101 grad assistant about the Black cowboys about as much as I believed my Philosophy 101 grad assistant about the guys staring at their wall in the cave. After all, I, steeped in the wisdom and knowledge of my 17 years, had never heard of Black cowboys.
Nor, in truth, did I hear any more about Black cowboys until I saw the Mel Brooks comedy "Blazing Saddles" about a Black sheriff who brings law and order to a wild Western town.
But what neither I nor probably most of the rest of the millions of fans of the 1974 hit movie realized at the time was that there was a great slice of truth amidst the satire and silliness, and that truth is this: that there actually were Black settlers, cowboys, and law enforcement officers in the Old West. And that there was blazing racism there as well.
It is a striking moment in "Concrete Cowboy" when one of the women sitting around the fire brings up that the word "cowboy" was coined to refer to the Black men who worked on the ranges. The white cattle workers on horseback were called "cowhands." The Blacks were called "cowboys." However, there being so many Black cowboys, eventually that word was used to refer to all the men who drove cattle and rode horses across the vast expanse of the Old American West.
So now we know.
Back in my freshman year of college I learned in my Philosophy 101 class about Plato's Allegory of the Cave, in which Socrates proposes that most people are like prisoners inside a cave chained to the ground facing a wall. We think reality is the shadows we see on the wall in front of us cast by the light behind us, meanwhile we have no idea of the world outside our cave.
I recall that back when I first heard of the Allegory of the Cave I had no idea what Plato, Socrates, or the Phd grad assistant who told us the story was talking about. In fact, replete with the wisdom of one who'd been inhabiting the planet for all of 17 years, I haughtily declared The Allegory of the Cave to be the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. (The grad assistant, impressed with my cheeky slap down of Socrates, invited me to come to his office to discuss the allegory further after I turned 18).
But if I didn't get the Allegory of the Cave back when I was a 17-year-old savant, now, a good half-century later, I do get it, oh so clearly. In fact in spite of all the many life experiences, discoveries, and megabits of information that have rolled my way over the years, every now and then I'll learn about the existence of something completely new to me, something I've never heard of before, the revelation of which leaves me feeling like the guy stuck in his own cave living in his own reality without a clue of the infinite variety of earthly phenomena and human experiences that exist on this planet.
I was hit with just such a Guy in the Cave moment a couple of nights ago while watching the recently released movie "Concrete Cowboy," an enthralling story of the Black cowboy community that has existed for decades in the heart of urban North Philadelphia.
The film tells the story of a delinquent teenage boy from Detroit,
...whose mother, no longer able to handle him, drives him to Philadelphia to stay with his father, who lives in what is by reputation the most dangerous, crime-infested neighborhood in the city.
But amidst the gunshots, drug deals, and run-down circumstances he's been dropped into,
...the boy discovers the existence of horses, stables, a meadow, and a community of urban riders who change his world,
...and under whose guidance he comes of age.
Complementing the interesting and compelling story of "Concrete Cowboy" are wonderful scenes of cowboys and horses roaming the streets of the notorious Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philadelphia,
...and folks at night sitting around a campfire burning in a metal barrel talking about life and horses.
A little into the movie my hubby Tom asked me, "Wait, is this a true story?"
To which, not having read the review as I often don't before watching a movie for fear of the presence of spoilers, I replied, "I don't actually know."
However, I pulled out my phone to find out, and found out to my amazement that the riders and horse stables of North Philadelphia are, in fact, real. And it was at that point that I was hit with one of my Guy in a Cave moments.
"Why have I never heard of this?" I wondered. After all, I grew up in Northeast Philly (Below are photos of one of my old neighborhoods. Our house was the one on the near corner with the red door and the brown fence. See post from 11/27/2018, "The Old House On Barnett Street"),
...which was just across town from North Philly, though, in truth, was probably socioeconomically and racially more like a world away. Still, being from Philadelphia, how had I never heard about the horses and cowboys in North Philadelphia? Growing up all I ever knew about North Philly was not to go there.
What makes it more unbelievable to me is that in my second novel "Hail Mary," which is set in Philadelphia, I included a small subplot that involved the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, though in my novel I changed the name from Strawberry Mansion to Wedgefield. So why, when I was researching Strawberry Mansion, did I not come across the horse stables?
Well, who knows, maybe I did but my eyes just didn't adjust to something I didn't expect to see on my cave wall.
My daughter Claire and her mate Miguel,
...and my mate Tom and I,
...made a pact that on the day when we were all safely immunized against COVID-19 - two weeks after the last of us had our second shots, our Freedom Day, so to speak - we'd celebrate with a visit. The day arrived on Friday, April 2, 2021, and so Claire and Miguel planned to fly in to Columbus from Chicago on that day for a quick celebratory Easter weekend visit.
"What would you and Miguel like to eat while you're here?' I asked my daughter.
"Pie," she answered.
"Anything else?" I asked.
"Pie," she said. "Just pie. Oh, and are we doing the bunnies?" she asked.
She was referring to our tradition of rising at dawn on Easter morning and surreptitiously (though I believe that by now everybody in the 'hood pretty much knows it's us) decorating the yards of our neighbors with colored paper bunnies (see post form 4/12/2020, "Bunnies, Bunnies, Bunnies").
"Yep," I replied, "There will be bunnies."
"And can we have Christmas Breakfast, too?" she asked, referring the the meal, also known as The Big Breakfast, that we eat every Christmas morning,
...though said meal is likely to meander on into the the afternoon.
Of course this past year, in the midst of the epidemic, there were only the three of us eating our Christmas Breakfast in our COVID bubble.
But now, with the local members of our tribe all vaccinated against the coronavirus, there was, happily, nothing stopping us from having Christmas Breakfast for Easter.
And so it was decided: Over the course of the weekend we would celebrate with pie, bunnies, Christmas Breakfast, and Saturday night dinner with my son Tommy and his mate Emily.
And so a few days before Miguel and Claire's arrival Tom and I got to work, making pies and cutting out bunnies.
Peach, cherry almond streusel, and apple pies,
...and a blueberry cobbler, hopefully enough pastry to get us through the weekend.
Though their flight was scheduled to land after 10 pm, on the day of their arrival I also fixed their favorite foods: mashed potato casserole, green beans almondine, and hot rolls, and also a new recipe I found for corn pudding,
...just in case they might be hungry when they got here.
Tom and I met Miguel and Claire at the Columbus airport, our first trip to the airport in a year and several months.
The place still touted Columbus as the city of "One of Us" (see post from 4/29/2018, "What's So Funny At The Columbus Airport"),
...and, even though it was after 10 pm, still the place was emptier than I ever remember seeing it.
We met Claire and Miguel at the arrival gate.
...then headed for home, where they opted to dig into the pie right then,
...and save dinner for breakfast the following morning, Saturday morning.
After breakfast Claire and Miguel did some computer work, while Theresa did some bunny work.
...and I worked on a salad for dinner.
When dinner time rolled around we headed over to Tommy and Emily's, Tom's and my first visit to their house in nine months.
Dinner was a couple of most excellent Detroit-style deep dish pizzas from Jet's Pizza,
...and, of course, pies for dessert, peach and cherry almond streusel,
...served with ice cream and whip-cream.
It seemed a most awesomely wonderful meal, the best I could remember having in a long time. But then, maybe it wasn't the food that made it so good.
After dinner we came home and worked on the Easter bunnies.
Watching Claire work with the tape used to secure bamboo skewers to the backs of the bunnies, it occurred to me that she looked like a nurse as she meticulously snipped the tape into half-a-dozen strips at a time, stuck the strips to a nearby tray table in a neat row, taped the skewers to the bunnies, then repeated the process.
We cuonstructed a total of 210 bunnies, 14 for each of the 14 houses on our block and a batch for for Emily and Tommy's house, which we secretly bunnied that evening before leaving.
Bright and early the following morning, Easter Sunday, Tom and I bunnied the neighboring lawns.
After all the lawns on our block were bunnied, it was time to begin working on Christmas Breakfast.
The menu was, by popular demand, scrambled eggs,
...and Chantilly potatoes (not to be confused with the potato casserole I'd made on Friday night - needless to say, we folks around here like our spuds), a creamy mashed potato mélange which involves, among other things, folding whipped heavy cream into cooked potatoes that have been squished through a ricer (a gizmo which I acquired for this very purpose) ,
...then topping said fluffy, creamy, well-buttered potato mélange with parmesan cheese and baking, the outcome being trés magnifique, as potatoes go.
We also had rolls hot from the oven and brie,
...and a cucumber and tomato salad.
For dessert we had fruit salad, cinnamon rolls
...and, of course, left-over pie.
When Tommy and Emily arrived they helped with the finishing touches,
...and when all was ready we sat down and dug into our Easter Christmas Breakfast.
And once again, Christmas Breakfast rolled on into the afternoon.
After breakfast, at the insistence of the oldsters, the youngsters went out for a walk,
...while we stayed home and finished the cleaning up.
We whiled away the afternoon,
Until, too soon, it was time for Miguel and Claire to leave for the airport.
We hated to see this lovely Easter day end.
But it did. And the following morning my mate and I did what we always do the day after Easter: We went around the neighborhood and took down the bunnies.
If you've read and enjoyed my books, "Equal and Opposite Reactions" and "Hail Mary," I would so appreciate a review from you, just a sentence or two, left on Amazon, Goodreads, or both. Online reviews are the best kind of word-of-mouth for helping an author’s book make it in the world and I would be so grateful for a few words from you.
In my previous post I wrote about being panhandled recently in a Kroger's parking lot (see post from 3/29/2021, "The Woman In The Parking Lot"). Among the comments on the post left on my Facebook page was one by a friend who brought up Mr. Alex, a man who can usually be found in front of the Dunkin Donuts on the corner of a busy commercial thoroughfare in our Columbus, Ohio suburb.
One sees Mr. Alex, a black gentleman who appears to be of middle age, all the time in his same spot surrounded by his few meager possessions. People wave to him when they drive by. He waves back. He seems a nice man. To my memory, Mr. Alex has been in front of the Dunkin Donuts for several years.
I've heard - though I can't verify - that the Dunkin Donuts lets him come inside to sit. I assume that people buy him food - or maybe give him money for it - because there are sometimes bags from the nearby fast food restaurants on the ground by his feet. In truth sometimes his space is a mess of bags, cups, containers, wrappers, and other food-related trash. But I expect he either eventually picks up after himself, or maybe some else comes along and picks up for him.
I don't know Mr. Alex's story, I've never talked to him. But my friend, an avid bicyclist, says on her Facebook comment that she stops to talk to him whenever she can and that he is, in fact, a nice man. She's taken him out to a restaurant for a meal. She says that a local dentist offered to give him some dental work and that several people contributed so that Mr. Alex could stay at the nearby Holiday Inn on the cold nights this past winter. My friend even suggested in her comment that maybe the woman in the Kroger parking lot who wanted me to put her up in a hotel room might have known about Mr. Alex and what had been done for him by community residents and was hoping the same might be done for her.
Now, this last observation by my friend got me to pondering how a homeless street person such as Mr. Alex elicits a different response than a panhandler, who might well also be homeless.
Maybe it's because a run-in with a panhandling stranger can leave one feeling either coerced, shaken down, unnerved, scammed, threatened, all of the above, or at the very least conflicted. But there's no coercion involved in giving to someone who asks for nothing. The decision to give is one's own and whatever is given is given freely and therefore gladly.
Or maybe it's that a person who sits peacefully in the same place, day after day, doing no harm to anyone, becomes a familiar, non-threatening presence, a part of a neighborhood. People have no fear or misgivings about acting on their natural human instinct to be kind and helpful, to provide for someone in need. Such a person's need is obvious, and we are assured that what we give is, in fact, fulfilling that need. A panhandler, on the other hand, not only breaks into our personal space, but engenders suspicion and mistrust: What do they really want money for? Is it really to fix their broken car? Really to get back home? Really to feed and shelter their children? And with the rash of purse snatchings and car jackings that has been plaguing the Columbus area, might this stranger not be a mugger in panhandler's clothing?
And then there's the worry that giving money to a panhandler will not go towards a necessity that will sustain their life, but rather towards a substance that will not only continue to destroy their life but other lives as well. What if the money you hand over is used to buy drugs, money which will then go from the user to the dealer to the members of criminal organizations who enrich themselves by distributing the substances that continue to destroy lives, ruin families, bring danger and violence to communities, and spread human misery?
Not everyone in our community is supportive of Mr. Alex. Some consider his presence a neighborhood blight. There have been complaints about him to the police, who respond that he's breaking no laws.
Others, though, such as my friend, consider his a presence a gift, because being able to give to another, to help another is, after all, the most gratifying of gifts.
Which still doesn't solve the dilemma: What do you do when someone approaches you in the supermarket parking lot and asks you for money?
by Patti Liszkay
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by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
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of German Village,
Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library
I am a traveler just visiting this planet and reporting various and sundry observations,
hopefully of interest to my fellow travelers.