Friday, September 25, 2009

Atoning Up

Atoning Up
I panic when I realize that most of my clothes are snug and the scale indicates a nearly 20 lb. increase in girth over the last six or so months. I try eating only protein bars for a couple of days but get frustrated and give up when there is no significant weight loss. Towards removing the pressure of choosing foods and achieving the satisfaction of relatively quick results, I have been drinking only protein shakes, coffee and diet soda for the last 10 days. I will probably get some flack for publicly admitting that I am foregoing food on a long term basis but given my age and metabolism, it really is necessary to give my system a little shock and I make sure I get more than the RDA of protein and vitamins. I feel ok physically and have even had a number of three mile treadmill sessions but I have been more of a bitch than usual to the kids and himself. The not eating isn’t the hard part. After struggling with obesity my entire life and having endured being a fat child (I cannot imagine anything more difficult than this) being in the familiar “dieting/punishment” mode AGAIN brings up my indelible historic identification as the embarrassing out of control fat daughter of a lovely thin self disciplined mother.

I bring a tray of cookies to a dinner party. The hostess’s 8 year old daughter is fat. She is very beautiful and smart and lovely but the fat is the first thing I notice. I ask my friend if in this time of enlightenment, the world is kinder to her daughter than it was to me and she indicates that perhaps it is. I realize though that I never shared with my own mom the cruelties I suffered, and that this girl too, is probably doomed to endure in silence. I struggle, based on my own pain, for some illumination or sage advice but all I can suggest is that she be enrolled in some sort of fun exercise program. She is apparently in a swimming club she likes and comes home after the first session and reports with delight that she isn’t the fattest girl there, something that would have given me satisfaction too. She asks her mother if she can have a second of the cookies which I now feel like an asshole for bringing. The mother looks at me, tears welling, and says, “No.” Sometimes there are no friggin’ right answers.

I carry a lot of baggage that I’ll probably never shed from having been fat and I have enjoyed the last few years of presenting myself to the universe as otherwise. It is a remarkable difference to venture into the world as merely a woman and not as a fat woman. I have never watched The Biggest Loser but while channel surfing, I see a promo for the show. A very large woman stands on a scale weeping while the show’s life coach screeches, “At four hundred seventy pounds, you are the fattest contestant in the history of the Biggest Loser.” I think that at several points in my life I would have been desperate and full of self hatred enough, that if I thought it might help me lose weight, I might have subjected myself to humiliation as extreme as being weighed and chastised on national television.

I never buy magazines but the January issue of Oprah was a must have. On the cover is a photo of Oprah at her lowest weight (160), side by side with Oprah at her current weight (about 200) with a huge banner headline that says “How Did I Let This Happen Again?” Oprah admits she’s embarrassed. This has been prominent on my desk for over nine months. Ironically, Oprah, to me, looks better at 200 lbs. than at 160. I am also embarrassed to have gained 20 lbs. It is noteworthy, that even at 160 lbs. at 5’5”, Oprah, according to current BMI scales is still considered obese, as am I, even carrying twenty fewer pounds and wearing size 12.

A study of 400 doctors from:
1 out of 3 listed obesity as a condition to which they respond negatively, ranked behind only drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness.
Obesity was associated with noncompliance, hostility, dishonesty, & poor hygiene
Self-report studies show that doctors view obese patients as lazy, lacking in self-control, non-compliant, unintelligent, weak-willed, and dishonest
Psychologists ascribe more pathology, more negative and severe symptoms, and worse prognosis to obese patients compared to thinner patients presenting identical psychological profiles
In a survey of 2,449 overweight and obese women:
69%experienced bias from doctors
52% experienced recurring incidents of bias
In one survey of nurses:
31% said they would prefer not to care for obese patients
24% said that obese patients “repulsed them”
12% said they would prefer not to touch obese patients
Avoidance of proper care
Reluctant to seek medical care
Cancellation or delay of medical appointments
Delay important preventative healthcare
· Doctors seeing overweight patients
o Spend less time with patient
o Engage in less discussion
o Show reluctance to perform preventive health screenings (i.e., pelvic exams, cancer screenings, mammograms)
o Do less intervention

Of all our convictions about health, the belief that obesity itself is a killer has no rival when it comes to the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific evidence," writes
Dr. Glenn Gaesser, University of Virginia Physiology Professor, "The heath risks of moderate obesity have been greatly overstated." Dr. Paul Ernsberger, Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University agrees:
Expert panels from the NIH have claimed that obesity is second only to cigarettes as a preventable cause of death, and kills 400,000 people a year. If so, then major increases in the incidence of adult obesity should have a negative impact on life expectancy. The opposite is true, as death rates have fallen.

From a great Newsweek article, The Fat Wars "There's a widespread belief that fat is controllable," says Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. "So then it's unlike a disability where you can have compassion; now you can blame the individual and attribute all kinds of mean qualities to them. Then consider the thinner people that are always watching what they eat carefully—fat people are symbols of what they can become if they weren't so virtuous. Some of it has to do with the psychological phenomenon known as the fundamental attribution error, a basic belief that whatever problems befall us personally are the result of difficult circumstances, while the same problems in other people are the result of their bad choices.”

I wonder what would become of me if there is a big consciousness raising and new understanding about weight. We did elect a black president. Is the pervasiveness of people being complete assholes to fat people a motivator for me to keep my weight down or have I been so damaged by the fat people are bad mindset that I am doomed to struggle with my weight and ultimately fail? My thinner body is more efficient and comfortable in motion than the fat one was, but sometimes the pressure to maintain it seems insurmountable and my submission to the struggle brands me a hypocrite, buying into something that the preservation of my mental health seems contingent on rejecting.

My mother took me to Weight Watchers meetings, always wearing a wide waist cinching belt. She would always ask the leader if she might work there, as she, being so thin, would be a good example to all the dieters. She was told repeatedly that only members who had lost weight on the program could be hired but this never stopped her from asking. She would monitor the food in the refrigerator and kept the pantry pretty spartan. I would often have toast spread with margarine as a snack when she was out on a date, thinking that this was something that might escape her strict surveillance. One night she called me into her bedroom and made me read out loud a line from a novel she was reading. It described the heroine’s fat loser daughter gorging on bread and margarine and she glared at me while I read it. She would buy me 35 cent cartons of cigarette from the PX at the V.A. hospital where she worked, advising me that smoking would help control my weight. This seems barbaric now, but watching my friend refuse her daughter a cookie demonstrates the complexity and heartbreak of parenting an overweight child in a world where, even with a black president, fat is reviled.

Mom was still fairly lucid during my big weight loss and while she complimented me, she seemed also to go out of her way to fatten me and constantly criticized me for eating too little. She hated my fatness in some ways but I think in another way she had grown dependent on it to make her own thinness all the more laudable.

My stepmother has a big fit and calls repeatedly, worrying about the boys riding their bikes from school to the train. I blow her off politely and don’t admit that I hate the idea myself and am agitated every afternoon until they phone that they are safely home. My stepmother has never held a job and can’t understand why one of us can’t simply leave work and fetch them. My own mom was vain and selfish, and even through the dementia, these qualities are still evident. But, I feel strangely adrift and motherless. My mother would have hated the thought of the kids riding their bikes 2 ½ miles down city streets and probably would have made an even bigger stink about it than Aliki, but she worked and would have at least understood how often kids get short shrift to the requirement of making a living.

It is Yom Kippur, although this year, the fasting is the same old same old. There are probably a lot of people I have wronged and should apologize to, but as I struggle with the humiliation of being reduced to dieting and our Kafkaesque saga of applying for mortgage modification, it occurs to me that the little fellows who don padded helmets and pedal through triple digit heat in Pasadena to return to an empty house, are the ones most urgently requiring my amends. I have been sinking in doubt and ineffectual at shirking off a sense of failure. I tell myself I have concealed it from them but they are of my flesh, perfect, genetically honed bullshit detectors. They are of my flesh and as I write this they are probably maneuvering their funky bikes up the steps to the train. I am fat and poor but the only thing I have to be ashamed of is that for a moment, fatness and poverty distracted me from how precious the sprats are and how much I love them and also my beloved partner in their creation. I am going home soon. Thank you God for this season of atonement.

L’shanah tova and shabbat shalom.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It is the second anniversary of my father’s death. Aliki, my stepmother, in a model coat, brings a cake to the office. I order a pizza and she props an old college portrait of my dad in the center of the lunch table. She cries a lot and shares an extremely vivid recollection of caring for him when he was afflicted with dysentery from sepsis he’d contracted at a hospital. She is alone now but for her seventeen year old cat, who ails and is perhaps the victim of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Aliki reports she wakes thrice nightly to provide cat ministrations similar to the ones she provided for my dad and which she describes with equal attention to detail. There is plenty of pizza left for the next day’s lunch.

When my father was alive, it was impossible to reach Aliki on the telephone. She was always out running errands. Since his death I am usually unsuccessful in reaching the answering machine. She is always at home. She diligently tracks the comings and goings of the other residents of her Pico Robertson condominium. Recently she reported to the manager an apparently drug fueled nine p.m. swim gathering hosted by one of the residents (a Doctor!), which to her satisfaction was immediately nipped in the bud. She hasn’t touched any of my dad’s possessions. His slippers still wait for him beside the bed. She puts the canister containing his ashes on the table when she lights Shabbat candles. She has stepped very slightly out of her grief and has taken on the role of nosy neighbor and is, to her credit, self deprecating in her acknowledgement of this.

She sees a bike rack on my car and I tell her that I am going to drive the boys to school with their bikes and in the afternoon they’ll ride them to the train station. I assure her that they are experienced bike riders but she is alarmed. I get home late after a miserable day of traversing myriad bureaucratic channels, none of which apparently lead to mortgage modification and sitting with my dad’s portrait and a strawberry cake listening to Aliki struggle to depict the precise coloration of his diarrhea. The kids are hungry and I have some cooking to do for a potluck too. Four pots boil on the stove, I am drenched with sweat, my feet ache and dinner is an hour late. Aliki calls, so hysterical it takes me a minute to recognize her voice. “You cannot allow the boys to ride their bikes! I am worried sick about this. What if they get abducted?” I manage to end the call relatively graciously. My dad would have exploded at hearing her suggest that I am recklessly risking the abduction of my children but he is no longer here to protect me from her. The saddest thing is that he is no longer here to protect her from herself.

My dad would have been 90 this year and I would have had a blow out party for him. On the anniversary of his death, I am invited to celebrate the 90th of Joe Feinman who is as close a kindred spirit to my dad as I’ve ever met. Joe remembers his L.A. visits and several genial coffee shop lunches with my dad and says, “If I’d moved to California and he hadn’t died, we would have been friends.” Dad and Joe were from a generation of Jews who had to be tough. Sometimes through the lens of my college education and expensive therapy it seemed my dad was hard and crass. But he grew up being as he had to be, his toil and his sins, the seeds of my softness.

Himself posted on his blog the results of his Belief-O-Matic test which confirmed my suspicion he’s morphed into a Buddhist. Based twenty questions, the higher a faith appears on this list, the more closely it aligns with your thinking. My gravitation towards Unitarian and Quaker, with their emphasis on social justice, makes sense to me, and at least Reform Judaism ranks in the top ten, although behind Neo-Pagan and New Age (wtf?) and even Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestantism and Buddhism.
Layne’s Belief-O-Matic:
Unitarian Universalism (100%)
Liberal Quakers (98%)
Neo-Pagan (93%)
New Age (82%)
Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (79%)
Mahayana Buddhism (77%)
Reform Judaism (76%)
Secular Humanism (70%)
Scientology (66%)
New Thought (65%)
Taoism (64%)
Theravada Buddhism (63%)
Orthodox Quaker (62%)
Baha'i Faith (62%)
Sikhism (60%)
Hinduism (56%)
Jainism (55%)
Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (54%)
Orthodox Judaism (47%)
Islam (42%)
Nontheist (40%)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (39%)
Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (34%)
Seventh Day Adventist (34%)
Jehovah's Witness (26%)
Eastern Orthodox (24%)
Roman Catholic (24%)

I’m not going to get into a froth over an Internet quiz, although this one is more provocative and thoughtful than a lot of crap on Facebook I waste my time with, like “Which Disney Princess are you?” (Cinderella). It is erev Rosh Hashanah, one of the few times a year I go to shul. We were weekly minyan makers for a number of years and we have great affection for our tiny backwater temple but lately I go more out of a sense of obligation than with the expectation of sustenance.

A Beliefnet survey indicates that 75% of Americans report that they engage in regular prayer but only 39% attend religious services with regularity. This statistic is noted in a New York Times article “The Right Way to Pray?” by Zev Chafets
A reform rabbi suggests to Chafets that there are only four basic prayers. Gimme. Thanks. Oops. Wow. I like to think that my own spiritual life is more complicated but this is what it really does boil down to. I do pray, usually by myself and with only short spurts of concentration. I seldom go to temple but we are helping Spuds pursue Bar Mitzvah and dedicated to keeping the experience a meaningful one. I write weekly to Jewish convicts, and while I am hard pressed to provide much Jewish content in my letters, I write to them as a Jew, and this correspondence is perhaps my best tribute to this heritage.

Services have always been tough for me because I haven’t bothered to learn Hebrew and while I’ve heard the same prayers over and over, I only have a vague notion of what they mean and my mind wanders. The temptation is to beg off and pursue my own quiet private attempts to tap into the divine. Yet, while I often attend services out of a sense of duty, inevitably, if only for a very brief instant, the experience of prayer is heightened by being surrounded by others in prayer. When I write to my penpals I tell them I am personally ashamed for belonging to the society that imprisons them in inhumane conditions and the truth of this weighs heavily on me and is a main focus of my private prayers. The Days of Awe though, exhorts us to share the responsibility and atone as a community and as a people for all that we should, and should not have, done. I will stand in the crammed old sanctuary and the sun will shimmer and the gray heads crouched over Torah shine silver. We will pound our chests with our fists, so great is our collective sin and so urgent our desire for tikun olam (to heal the world). This will fortify, and not too soon, my belief that the planet can be a more tender place. My private prayers shift from gimme, thanks and oops but perhaps it takes the rarified circumstance of praying as beams of light radiate through the stained glass in the jammed sweltering sanctuary to get to wow.

It is the 2nd anniversary of my father’s death and it is also 21 years ago this week that I met Himself. We have borne two sons and gone gray together. The memory of first laying eyes on each other is hazy. I was wearing a green wool jacket with buttons made from real buffalo nickels and a black silk skirt. I think he was wearing something tweed. Twenty one years later this meeting, a lifetime ago, is the thanks part of every single prayer and without even praying, a constant wow.

L’shanah tova

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Last Paragraph is All That Matters

The Last Paragraph Is All That Matters

The Supreme Court seems poised to eliminate the need for the sham that is the Political Action Committee (PAC) by reinterpreting the constitution towards ending the prohibition against corporations donating to political candidates directly. The rationale is to preserve First Amendment right to free speech for shareholders. But most Americans who have stock investments are passive or captive owners, via mutual or retirement funds respectively. At the risk of accusations of xenophobia, I am also concerned about the huge amount of foreign investment in U.S. companies, er, like China. Whose free speech is actually being protected?

Obama’s Heathcare reform bill is now Dickensianly thin gruel due to intimidation by healthcare profiteers like hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical firms and the politicians who are beholden to them. The banks are bailed out to the tune of nearly a trillion but mortgages are not being modified and the foreclosure rate is at its highest since the depression. Bailout recipient and whopping Republican PAC contributor, Bank of America posts a 4.2 billion dollar profit.

The outstanding website Open Secrets has lots of statistics about contributions to candidates and causes. Some corporations and special interest groups donate to both Republican and Democratic candidates but certain factions very seldom cross party lines. I boycotted them in support of the Farmworker’s Union for so long that I still, on automatic pilot, seldom buy grapes. Now though I am tetchy about labor unions. I wonder if there isn’t some way to protect the rights of workers without manacling management to rotten lazy assed employees and policies that stagger modernization and growth. Almost every union in this country strongly favors Democratic candidates.

Neither is the party line particularly nuanced when the American Medical Association, almost every bank, insurance company and pharmaceutical shows a consistent preference for Republicans. Corporate political interests are served with more than just PAC and political contribution monies; three billion dollars was spent on lobbying last year. Until we reform election financing and corporate and special interest lobbying, most of the political rhetoric which addresses moral position and the public good is bullshit. Perhaps candidates should be permitted to use donations exclusively from private individuals to finance the collection of ballot qualification signatures. After qualification, candidates should be issued equal stipends of public monies to conduct a campaign.

Joe Wilson shouted “You’re a liar!” when Obama promised that no illegal aliens would receive subsidized health insurance. My friends at aptly point out that if some pinkish congressman had shouted the same at Bush when he addressed the Congress, most of the left would have gone gaga with joy and even centrists obliged to address civility and decorum would have been secretly smug. Rapture readers also noted that Obama’s choice to specifically single out abortion is pretty revolting and that Hilary would never stoop this low. The jabber about Wilson’s hotheaded immaturity obfuscates the gesture’s poignancy in characterizing the blatant hatred for immigrants there is in this country where over 46% of the voters did not choose Obama. This contempt is directed at ILLEGAL immigrants publicly. Of course that is not the IT of it and the IT of it is mired with racism. I am nonplussed by Wilson’s outburst but I am made bitter by Obama’s wussy pandering.

We are arrive at Julia’s for dinner to discover that our hostess is covering a nursing shift for her A.L.S. stricken mom, who is adamant about remaining in her home. My own mother at least has no say in where she is to be cared for. Actually, I don’t much either because Medicare has no coverage for Alzheimer’s residential care. Mom has been wandering at night and becoming agitated and waking up everyone else. There is a message on the machine from her former residence that the police have picked her up wandering and confused and found the old joint’s brochure in her purse. I call her current facility and find she is safely ensconced there and I do not make a fuss. I have dropped by unexpectedly and have consistently found her being lavished with care. I know how treacherous she can be and I ask for no elaboration about the escape incident. I notice the house is newly fitted with buzzers on every door and I trust the caretakers not to let it happen again.

I stop by the board and care to drop medication for my mom on my way to work several mornings each week. I have already done several hours of work at home before I arrive there and the time of my arrival at the office is of no real import. When I drop her meds, the attendant asks me if I want to come in and say hello to her, I lie and say that I am late for work. I see my mother on the weekends, every weekend that I am in town. I bring her ice cream, cookies, candy and makeup. I try not to go alone and either drag Richard or one of both of the boys. Turner Classic Movies is usually on the big t.v. and the two or three other residents sit in their assigned recliners, laps quilted. There is a turnover in residents that remains unmentioned. I ask my mother a few questions, confer with the caretaker and then we watch TV. I log an average of 45 minutes a week visiting time. Julia spends hours every week ministering to her mother’s every physical need but I cannot bear to sit on a couch and watch an old movie with mine for an hour.

I bring my mom a box of brownies and cookies that I baked. She eats a brownie with relish but keeps glaring at the cookie. “That doesn’t look very good.” It has a powered sugar icing which I have forgotten she dislikes. Richard tells her that I’d baked the cookies but this is beyond her realm of possibility. She attempts to scrape the frosting from the cookie with a fork but decimates it in the process. Then, she offers the plate of crumbs to us about a dozen times and each time we refuse, she approves. “It wasn’t very good anyway.” She compliments my fair skin and my profile and notes that my hair is becoming gray. She remembers that I am left handed. She asks the sixteen year old his age and insists that I am only a few years older. We tell her that I am his mother. She waves her hand. This is ridiculous. She introduces me as her daughter. I am curious about what she understands that to be.

Given my mother’s recent agitation there has been an adjustment in her medication. A new sedative has been ordered. It is covered neither by Medicare or her supplemental policy. The price is $257.00 for a thirty day supply. I ask her physician if there is another medication that might be less expensive and he prescribes exactly the same medication in a higher dosage. It is covered by Medicare and the co-payment is $11.00. I wonder how consistent this coverage only for high dosages is and if it has any bearing on the huge number of the elderly who suffer from overmedication.

Many of the most vocal opponents of universal health coverage are Medicare recipients and this and Social Security are sacred and I hope to live long enough to avail myself of both. For the greater common good though, these should not be guaranteed entitlements and the extremely wealthy would not suffer at the loss of them. David Goldhill challenges our philosophy about Health Care in an excellent Atlantic piece “How American Health Care Killed My Father.”

Goldhill proposes that all but catastrophic health insurance coverage be abolished. The government would issue each citizen a coupon for a physical examination every two years. Routine and minor healthcare costs would be borne by individuals and every American would contribute to a medical savings plan. The government would subsidize routine expenses for those unable to pay for them. Every individual would be required to maintain a balance, determined by age, in a heath care savings account. Loans would be made against future deposits when necessary. The government would supplement the required balance on an as needed basis. There would be a ceiling placed on each account based on age and owners would be able to withdraw and use freely any amount in excess of this and account balance upon death would be dispersed as inheritance. This seems reasonable as it is predicted that based on the current structure, by 2083 the cost of administering Medicare alone will consume 11.4% of the Gross National Product.

Eight years ago I was stopped in traffic in front of the Pancake House on Figueroa taking the kids to school and I heard an odd news flash about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I called home and told Himself to turn on the TV. I dropped the kids at school and then sat slack jawed in front of the set at the office until it was time to fetch them. I must have said something to the boys about it but I can’t remember what it was and know only, because even now eight years later I have no words befitting the scope of 9/11, that I must have been ineffectual.

It has been two years since the death of my father. His neat printing on film cases and film notes and shot lists fills the office and I feel unworthy to be his daughter every time I take up a pen and struggle to make my childish scrawl tidy and legible. I am glad for both of my parents that neither will witness financial conditions that hover perilously close to those of the Depression which wounded them both in ways I can only barely glean. I mocked and derided their frugality and while I would spare them both this current terror, if a magic wand could give me one moment of parental lucidity, I would apologize for my failure to respect and understand the poverty that formed them.

Kismet has sent me for my very own, to have and to hold, the most pessimistic person on the face of the planet. I intuited early on that it is our destiny that my optimistic disposition balance his gloomy outlook. I keep him from opening a vein in despair and he keeps me real and from becoming a superficial ninny. This year though has proven a challenge and it is a struggle to keep the realness from kicking the sunny optimism in the ass. I need to be reillusioned. I need Obama to do something really brave and ballsy. I need to make payroll. I need my thighs to transform while I sleep without the pain and expense of plastic surgery. I need an ironclad guarantee signed by God that my children will never, faced with the prospect of seeing me, become sick in the pit of their stomachs.

Like nearly every Friday for over three years, I have come to the last paragraph, the harbinger of week’s end and my first ritual towards the creation of Shabbat. This is where I tie everything together and try to finesse, from all the shit I rant about, a message of hope for myself and the few patient readers who get this far. I will proofread one more time and hope that a title presents itself and I can find a complimentary illustration. I will push the publish button and then clean out the office coffee maker and empty the wastebaskets. The computer is turned off and the alarm and answering machine turned on. I stop for a challah. I arrive home to find the table set for Shabbat but, ostensibly to complete work, I log on to the computer instead of starting dinner. There is very seldom e-mail of importance at 6 p.m. Friday but I check for my beloved’s comments on my blog. It embarrasses me how important this is to me but the satisfaction and comfort I get from his recognition of my life and my ideas , in a world that feels more and more hopeless and torn apart, is constant and solid and I realize as I tweak this sentence, a blessing greater than anything I could have dreamed of. To have this makes it not seem stupid to be filled, despite the fucking nightmare of a world, with hope. A brief comment a few lines below this one is what sustains me and with this I am able to truly breathe out, and then in, when we light the candles and our day of rest begins.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brown Bag

Brown Bag
Three months ago we were counting the days until summer, the sweet expectation of sleeping a bit later and going directly to the office. Now I count the days until school begins on one hand. There is a knot in my stomach. Summer is over. Have I gotten my money’s worth? I return only to lunchmaking, relentless driving and cruel homework interrogation. For the kids though, the first day of school is giddy and fraught and sets the tone for the unforgiving year. Choice of clothing for boys who have grown out of most of what they started the summer with is a maddening science. Wearing all new clothes is geeky but pants that barely reach ankles aren’t too cool either. My crystal ball says they’ll opt for the new jeans and t-shirts that are hip and/or insider and/or thinly straddle the line of taste and decency.

Himself comes home from graveyard teaching just as I am falling asleep. It is hot and I remark that I don’t remember the last heat wave that was this relentless. “It’s global warming,” he comforts me. He is on hell schedule and is not with us until after bedtime, mine at least, three nights a week. The only consolation is that we can eat things he despises like salad and meatloaf and artichokes for dinner but after the kids abandon me for electronica, even the salad isn’t really worth it. But it’s 2009 and you’re lucky if you have a job. I wonder how many more lonely spouses and kids there are now that most breadwinners are friggin’ petrified and groveling and doing the extra work of laid off former comrades. Of course, the approximately 15% of American adults who are unemployed would delight in having an employer to grovel to.

Alan, my penpal, noted diplomatically that Himself’s political proclivities, as contrasted to my predictable Volvo driving sanctimonious over-educated pinkish persuasions, are more than a little outrĂ©. A link to Himself’s blog is one of the first provided at the provocative whose mean spiritedness for the cult of Obama caroms perilously from dead-on, to unfair and outrageous. Nevertheless it is a site I admire and find funny. I just need to temper it with Bill Maher, the sort of Hollywood intellectual-poser pothead godhater Liberalrapture reviles, and the East Coast pedigreed liberalism of the New Yorker.

A Ron Paul interview that was apparently “banned” for broadcast on ABC is linked on LiberalRapture. Paul points out that state should just get out of the business of marriage altogether and the institution return to the religious provenance of its origin. Some of his other “government hands off” rhetoric frightens me but it makes sense that the faction of the liberal establishment who has thrown in the towel on Obama may find it compelling. I want a little “government hands on” with things like social welfare, health care, education and criminal justice though. Government has failed and institutions that were once a source of pride are broken now, seemingly beyond repair. But there are eloquent voices and it is time to listen. People are beaten down and cynical and selfishly hoarding the little that’s left and until we rise above this, it is good for the government to lead us to the better common good. I have not yet totally given up that this is the government Obama envisions and will boldly pursue.

The State Assembly did pass a watered down bill that will lead to the early release of 17.000 prisoners within the next ten months. Inmates will receive sentence reductions based on their participation in rehabilitative and educational pursuits. There is also a redesign of the parole system which should create a more efficient use of its resources. A huge chunk of money could be saved by closing down death row and abolishing the death penalty. But the murder of Lily Burk by a parolee is still fresh memory so this isn’t timely. I wonder if Lily had a position on the death penalty and how she’d feel about her death being exploited in defense of it. Republicans evoke kidnapper rapist Philip Garrido lest, we consider for one moment, going soft on crime. Did anyone point out that if the prisons weren’t stuffed to over double their capacity with inmates serving long three strikes sentences for heinous crimes against humanity like receiving stolen property or selling marijuana, there would be more resources available to identify and treat mentally ill convicts, like Garrido or Lily’s suspected murderer, Charlie Samuel?

In the summer of 1991, newly married, we toured the Gold Rush Country in a big rented Ford and listened to the surreal Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings on a.m. radio for hour after hour as we survived a flat tire, traversed covered bridges and ODed on twee little towns. Thomas came off like a nasty little dweeb with a stick up his ass and it was like a weird dream when he was confirmed by a narrow margin for the Supreme Court. Thomas has not asked a question from the bench in over three years and has consistently been the harshest justice in interpreting the 8th amendment rights of the convicted.

There is a lot of press about Texan Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed for the arson murder of his three daughters.
It is a fascinating, horrifying story because it reveals a profoundly broken down system that sanctions the execution of a clearly innocent man. I am pleased that this piece is getting such wide attention but readers should bear in mind that this is not an anomaly and there have been serious questions about whether justice was properly served in a number of past and pending executions. Clarence Thomas supported an opinion rendered by Antonin Scalia that states, “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeus court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Himself and other illiberals are cynical about universal health care and see overpopulation as a constant deterrent to doing anything positive in the world. Ever. I can see the glint in his eye when he reads that a member bit off the finger of a man demonstrating in opposition to proposed healthcare legislation. Thousands of people wait in long lines for free treatment at a medical fair in Inglewood. Forty five million Americans have no health coverage. We don our Medicare or private policies like blinders and whine that we cannot afford to provide this very basic human right for everybody else. A Japanese company, Dainippon purchased the American pharmaceutical Sepracor this week for 2.6 billion dollars. This is reported quietly in the back of the financial pages although it seems that those lobbying for universal coverage should scream from the mountaintop about the healthcare industry’s obscene profiteering.

Healthcare is a huge creator of personal and corporate wealth. The wealthiest one percent control 23% of our country’s income. Tax rates on the richest have not been lower since before WWII. Investment bankers and hedge fund managers, as a bonus for having nearly brought the world to economic collapse, do not have to declare their earnings as income. Via a loophole, their plunder is classified as capital gain and therefore only taxed at 15%. But we can’t afford education or healthcare.

My Beloved’s prescription for a better world may be limited only to the addition of contraceptives to the water supply. Ironic, because otherwise he is of that Irish Catholic, born to suffer and pray the rhythm method works with only with the comfort of an occasional beer, mindset. His cynicism finds a kindred spirit at bad assed LiberalRapture but just like when I looked over at him on the balcony at the El Capitan during a matinee of Beauty and Beast to find him weeping, I found a trace of sentimental optimism at this unusually ornery website that took me by surprise.

There is a new website called Splendeed.
If the nasty assed Liberal Rapture hadn’t directed me there, I would have written it off as being trite and simplistic. The site posts a suggested good deed weekly. The first suggestion:
Make a sandwich (or buy one — it doesn’t matter). Bag it ‘school lunch’ style with some chips or fresh vegetables, maybe something sweet, and a bottle of water or a hydrating sports drink. Find a stranger on the streets of your community who needs a meal and give it to them. Click the “I’ll Try” button below to let us know you’re game. Once you’ve done the deed, check back here and click the “DONE!” button below to let us know that you were successful and perhaps tell us a bit about how it went.

There are only a couple of responses. One involved tears and hugging and seeing God but another addressed drolly the weirdness of taking this on. My favorite response was from an uptight do-gooder who wrote, " I bought a sandwich this morning along with a Gatorade, a pear, a bottle of water and a dessert item. I also bought a bottle of hand sanitizer and a pack of Kleenex. " I’m not sure if the Kleenex and hand sanitizer were for her or the sandwich recipient.

I was sort of surprised that instead of making mincemeat of such a hippie dippy scheme, LiberalRapture seems a bit soft and smitten. True to form he asks, “Should I be cynical about this? Frankly, doing 1 good deed - or 2 or 3 or 16 - in your personal sphere is a direct counterpoint to all that Hope and Change bullshit from the Obots...Without the element of star fuckery 75% of the "liberals" in America would be M.I.A." But then in perhaps a brain chemistry lapse into a more gentle people with flowers mode, “This idea is simple and eloquent. And frankly, a relief from the usual assault of online petitions that get nowhere. Simply doing a single good deed is deeply satisfying whether one is spiritually oriented or not. I sure hope this site takes off.”

So maybe this Splendeed thing really has more substance than visualizing world peas. I’ll be making lunches for the kids everyday. I can see them snickering and rolling their eyes when I tell them why I’m making an extra. They humor me and make birthday cards for prisoners and collect clothes for charity and take the train home so I can tutor. They get that it’s more about cleaning up personal karma than making any meaningful dent in the world and indulge me by letting me at least think of myself as aspiring to be a good person. The hard thing will be to take this brown bag in my hand and go out into the city in search of someone who looks poor but not dangerous and that terrifying moment of handing over to a person something of mine that I have decided, based on a split second decision, is what he needs.

Shabbat Shalom