Monthly Archives: April 2015

Baltimore Is Burning—Do You Really Not Know Why?

Many have said that Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland declared a state of emergency too late in the game.

Call me stupid, but it seems that the residents in West Baltimore have lived their whole lives in a state of emergency.

The life expectancy in West Baltimore is 69.7 years vs. the U.S. life expectancy of 79.8.

Baltimore’s infant mortality is on par with Moldova and Belize.

Here is what I have to say to all you presidential wannabes out there:

PART ONE:

Quit blathering about the budget deficit and the national debt, and let’s have a frank and meaningful discussion about the problems that are really plaguing our country, like:

Racial inequality

Educational inequity

Income inequality

The low minimum wage

Father-absent families

Subpar urban living conditions

Ineffective, under-resourced, and inferior schools in urban school districts

Racialized mass incarceration and the need for criminal justice reform

Racial profiling

Intense and disproportionate police scrutiny amongst ethnic and racial minority groups

The lack of community programs and recreational centers in minority neighborhoods

Body cameras for all police officers nationwide

PART TWO:

Stop pretending that the best way to reduce poverty is by lavishing tax breaks on millionaires and billionaires.

Lift the cap on payroll taxes so the rich pay the same share of their income as everyone else.

Stop defending capital gains loopholes, offshore accounts and all the other scams that rig the game for the wealthy.

Stop rejecting Medicaid, the literal lifeline for poor Americans who have no other health coverage.

Stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, whose actual repeal would cruelly end coverage for tens of millions of Americans.

Stop undermining Medicare and Social Security, the two most successful anti-poverty programs in our nation’s history.

Stop legislating cutbacks in Pell Grants, federal student loans and other assistance to young people from modest backgrounds.

The elephant in the room is NOT race relations.  The elephant in the room is excess inequality.

My Elusive Father and the Chance Meeting I Blew

Mario Martini

This has been an extremely difficult and depressing blog to put together.  Mostly because not knowing my father, has created a life-long hole in my heart. I was once told by a close friend, who has been the unfortunate recipient of my non-stop father narratives, that I have a broken wing. I tend to disagree. To me, I have two broken wings.  As far as I’m concerned, as long as I have unresolved father issues, I will never fly free.

While writing and agonizing over my father these past few days, one question kept popping up in my head: How could I possibly share my heartbreaking story about my lost father to the cyber world?

A friend recently assured me that the best story tellers are those who are brave enough to tell their stories. And this is by far the most painful story for me to tell, on so many levels. But here goes.

My father was AWOL. He was absent from his post without, (or perhaps with), official permission (from my mother), but without intending to desert. This is how I choose to describe my elusive father.

On a side note, Mario’s Place, the legendary restaurant and bar in Westport Connecticut, and a mainstay since 1967, served its last meal on Saturday night April 4. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about the last supper, until this past weekend. Another blown opportunity.

Mario’s—as it was known to all, was across the street from the Westport train station, and the place to be, starting around 6 pm every Monday-Friday. Mario’s was frequented by the original Mad Men, their wives, their kids, and pretty much everyone who lived in Westport and beyond.  The “beyond” is the story I want to share with you.

In my twenties, my favorite night was Wednesdays. I would jump off the train after a grueling day at the office, and treat myself to a Mario’s dirty martini with bleu cheese olives—considered by many to be the best martini in Connecticut. Several of my old high school friends had the same idea, and we would all meet there pretty much every hump day for martinis, laughs and some much needed sidekick therapy.

I know you’re asking yourself what Mario’s has to do with my father.

Because he was right there at Mario’s.  And I was so close to living out my father dream.

According to my not-so-long-ago-discovered paternal half siblings and aunts, my elusive father followed me via private detectives my entire life.

At my first meeting with my five half brothers and sisters—and two aunts, they explained to me that “our” father, the man I assumed deserted me, had a “Teri suitcase” full of newspaper clippings, photos, investigative reports, and returned letters and cards he had sent to me over the years.

One of the investigative summaries was about Mario’s—and my Wednesday martini run.

According to my new-found family, I was an urban legend. And this is the story that my father on many occasions, told to my half siblings and aunts, in their words:

In December of 1978, Mike hired a detective to find Teri just after her 25th  birthday. “Bingo. Right around the corner two towns over,” the detective told him. “She gets off the train and goes to Mario’s across the street. She has a drink with her friends and eats dinner there every Wednesday. She usually gets there around seven, seven-thirty.” So Mike pains over the decision. What to do?  Should he go to Mario’s?  Introduce himself?  “Hi, I’m Mike–your father. Nice to meet you,” he recants to my siblings and aunts sadly. It had taken him twenty-five years to get to this point.  And now he didn’t know what to do.  It was close to six o’clock one random Wednesday, and as he gazed at his little girl Georgette in her crib, his answer was clear.  He held Georgette close to him and told her, “daddy needs to do something very important,” grabbed his wallet and drove over to Mario’s.  When he got there at 6:50 the place was packed. He found a seat at the bar, took out his wallet, and ordered a shot of scotch–he needed it badly.  He asked the guy behind the bar to make it colder in the place. He felt hot and nervous. The bartender tried to make small talk but Mike was too distracted to engage. He had a couple more shots and was feeling no pain. Soon Mike heard the train whistle and his heart was pounding out of his chest.  When she walked in, tears welled up in his eyes. “She was tall and thin, and simply beautiful,” he recalled to his family. She walked by and her scent left an aura, which left him weak.  She was practically standing right next to him talking to her friends. It had to be her–she was the spitting image of him.  It was unmistakably Teri, even though the last time he caught an actual glimpse of her, she was around six years old. Mike turned toward her and watched her as she laughed with her friends. She walked up to the bar, and ordered a dirty martini, with extra bleu cheese olives.A martini drinker,” he proudly told my siblings, “a real man’s drink.” She opened up her purse and took out a cigarette–a Marlboro, and asked the bartender if he had a light. Mike looked at her then and said “Here, I have a lighter; let me light it for you.” Mike said it a little too loudly, hoping to beat the bartender to the punch. As he fumbled in his shirt pocket for his lighter, Teri turned to Mike then, and her deep brown eyes met his. They looked straight into each other’s eyes. “Dark Syrian eyes,” he told my siblings. “Just like mine.” She smiled at Mike and said “thank you” as she leaned close in for him to light her cigarette. Her scent drifted softly around him.Beautiful smile, beautiful teeth,” he told my siblings. After Mike lit her cigarette she looked in his eyes once more, thanked him again, and walked to the end of the bar to hang out with her friends. Just like that, she was gone. He was devastated, he told my family. He was stunned–and intimidated. He felt like he had been punched in the gut.  He ordered shot after shot, while trying to drum up the courage to introduce himself—and explain everything. He watched her for another hour.  But he was a chicken—a coward. So he left Mario’s wondering if he would ever see her again. He also left behind his wallet, and never went back for it. He drove the rest of his life without a license. And he never saw Teri again. But he never forgot her face, their encounter, or her scent. 

That was their story. He never saw me again. I had looked straight into my father’s eyes and didn’t even know it was him. He lit my cigarette. As I sat at the table stunned, I was thinking about so many scenarios that could have happened. How I wish he would have put his hand on my shoulder and said “Can I talk to you for a sec?” He told my siblings and aunts that I was a high class girl and he was just a nobody.  He didn’t know me at all. I was just a poor girl from the streets of Bridgeport. Just a nobody in desperate need of a dad.

I thought that was all my newly-found family had to say. Hadn’t they said enough? I was fighting back the tears and wanted to get the hell out of there.

But they weren’t done with their story…Or me.

In or around September of 1991, Mike found out he had stage IV lung cancer. The doctors gave him approximately six months to live.  According to my two aunts, all he wanted was to fulfill his dream of meeting me before he died. He wrote and rewrote his letter to me numerous times. And finally in late 1991, he mailed it to the last known address he had for me. And then he waited and waited for my response. After a couple of months he figured I either wasn’t going to respond, or I never got the letter. He was hoping it was the latter of the two. And then one day, to his surprise, in early March of 1992, a letter arrived from me. He was unsettled and troubled, and it took him two days to open it. The contents of the letter devastated his already fragile state. “Don’t ever contact me again,” I wrote, “I have no interest in ever having a relationship with you.” It was simply signed, “Teri.” He put the letter in the “Teri suitcase” along with all the other data he had accumulated. And he never spoke of me again.     

“Why did you not want to meet your father?” my aunts queried. “His heart and spirit were broken,” they continued.

My father passed away on March 24, 1992.

To be clear, I wrote no such letter.  And it is beyond my comprehension why anyone would be so callous as to write such a cold-blooded letter to my father in my name. But it had been done, and now he was dead.  And worse, he died thinking I wanted nothing to do with him, and he actually believed that I had so cruelly written to him in his hour of death.

Today, as I finally finish up this blog, I’m depressed, and weary.

So to push away the darkness, I’m taking stock of what I have and I’m feeling pretty grateful.

But I sure could use one last dirty martini at Mario’s in my father’s honor.

And the Teri suitcase?  Oh, that went missing years ago.

Teri in 1978

Keeping Children Safe from Fire and the Life Saving Importance of Fire Safety

Seven Orthodox Jewish siblings, ages 5 to 16, died early Saturday morning of March 21 in a raging Brooklyn house fire that sent their mother Gayle Sassoon, and teenage sister Siporah (15) smashing through second-story windows to escape. Their father was at a religious retreat in Manhattan at the time. The fire was the city’s deadliest since March 2007.

The medical examiner said Elaine (16), David (12), Rivkah (11), Moshe (8), Yeshua (10), Sara (6), and Yaakob (5), died of smoke inhalation. I pray that’s how they died.

As of March 21, Siporah was in critical condition at Staten Island University Hospital North, while her mother was placed in the hyperbaric chamber at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx as she fought for her life.

How did something so horrific happen to this beautiful family of ten?

The smoky inferno was ignited by an untended hot plate used to keep food warm in the first-floor kitchen, as the Sassoon family slept upstairs on the Sabbath, officials said.

It is a practice common among Orthodox Jews observing the Sabbath to leave a hot plate or a stove burner on overnight, so that food can be kept warm without violating a stricture against working. This ritual, carried out from sundown every Friday, to sundown on Saturday, has life threatening risks.

One of the precautions issued by the Fire Department urges Sabbath observers not to leave cooking food unattended. The other precaution was that at a minimum, every home should have a smoke detector on every floor, as well as outside areas where people sleep.

The tragedy has some observers reconsidering the practice of keeping hot plates and stove burners on for the Sabbath, but not everyone agrees. “You’re expecting people to sleep in the kitchen,” said Yaakov Kornreich, an Orthodox Jewish journalist who lives in Midwood, Brooklyn. “That’s unrealistic.”

News of this disaster brought back my own horrific memories of my mother’s “accident.” When I was fourteen years old, we had a fire in our home, and my mother suffered devastating third degree burns.

The memory of the suffering and pain my mother endured for years, made me extremely vigilant about cooking with oil, candles, fireplaces, fire detectors, electric cords, and the like.

When I became a mother, I never allowed my children to light candles, or come anywhere close to the stove or extremely hot liquids.  I embedded into their brains the importance of fire safety. Unfortunately, it took the “accident” to educate me about home fires and the crushing destruction they can cause.

And I can tell you this: After the nightmare that I lived and witnessed, in the unlikely event that I should ever decide to leave a hot plate or a stove burner on overnight, I will make it my business to sleep in the kitchen.

I wrote the short story below when I was in high school, several months after the fire in my own home, and amidst a very dark time in my life.

MOMMY

Machines were doing her breathing, and a heart monitor loomed near her bed.  She was a tangle of needles and tubes, unmindful of the nurses, doctors and commotion surrounding her.  I sat there in a dream, no a nightmare–wishing to awake.  But there would be no waking from this nightmare.  I reached for her hand, searching for a place to caress. A small spot free of burns and bandages.

“How do I look?”

There she stood, like a movie star.  Tall and slim, she wore a magnificent suit of hunter green velvet.  The long, straight skirt fashionably hugged her curvaceous figure.  The tightly fitted jacket accentuated her small waist and long slender neck.  Her shoulders back, her head high, she was a vision of loveliness in her dark green suit.  Green was her color.  It matched her eyes so well.  Those captivating green eyes of hers.  Everyone who saw them commented.  “They shine like emeralds.” … “Eyes like a cat.”… “Green like the sea.”…

But to me, they were the eyes of a queen.  Queen green.  Sparkling, radiant, luminous.  Magazine eyes.

Her eyes provided a mere backdrop for the rest of her face.  Her ivory complexion laid the foundation for her stunning silhouette.  The chiseled nose was a perfect ski slope, and her ruby red lips made her teeth look even whiter.  Her ash blonde hair, pulled into a chic French twist, framed her elegant features. 

Her style was unquestionable.  Her beauty formidable.

“Well monkey face, how do I look?”

Seventeen years older than me, she bent close to me for my answer.  Mischief, youth, and excitement filled her amazing green eyes.  The scent of sweetheart roses permeated the air around us.

“You look like Grace Kelly mommy.  No, I take that back…More beautiful than Grace Kelly.”

She raised herself then, with a satisfied smile on her face.  And she ruffled my hair, pulling herself straight like a marionette.  I fell to my knees and hugged her legs, gently stroking the soft green velvet.  Closing my eyes, I held her adoringly.  

When I opened my eyes the room was cold.  The rough material of her hospital gown and bandages chafed my cheek. 

Bullies Are Cowards and Why I Refuse To Turn the Other Cheek

I have been working on this bully post for a few days now, and maybe the “bully tome” has gotten the better of me—because lately everything I watch on television, read in The New York Times, or witness while I’m out and about, comes back to a bully or a bully tactic.

Watching the knockout round of the Voice the other night, I found it hard to comprehend that Team Levine’s church singer Deanna Johnson was bullied in school. The Maroon 5 front man, Adam Levine has been tirelessly working with this shy 18-year old beauty, who has been crippled with stage fright and low self-esteem for years—the devastating result of bullying.

Take a look at Deanna Johnson’s incredible Voice performance from this past Tuesday.

It is believed that bullying is aggressive behavior that occurs between school-aged children until they eventually grow up and out of their vicious behavior.

But bullying goes well beyond adolescence—it’s a rampant problem that extends to all walks of life.

Because many school yard bullies, who are long past their school days, never grow up and out, and morph into adult bullies.

And adults can be some of the worst aggressors, who use their cowardly and downright manipulative bullying tactics day in and day out.

According to Vital Smarts, a corporate training company, 96% of people have experienced bullying at the office. And 79% of bullying involves emotional attacks, such as biting sarcasm or spreading malicious gossip.

Bullying is so commonplace, and so destructive, that it may possibly be the single most important social issue of today.

I’m not a big fan of the “ignore it” school of thought. I think ignoring bullies gives them way too much power, and reinforces a sense of powerlessness in the target.

If someone is belittling, humiliating, or insulting me in a work setting, in my “friend” zone, at the Motor Vehicle department, when trying to make a doctor’s appointment, etc., etc., etc., I deal with the situation head on.

Bullying cuts deep, but I try to remind myself that whether in a school lunchroom, the nursing home, or anywhere in between, the bully is the one with the problem.

And I let them know it.

The message I verbally convey to a bully is: Don’t mess with me, because I am not going to accept or ignore your bad behavior. While I try not to escalate a situation, more times than not, when I have responded to a bully by calmly but assertively explaining that I won’t tolerate their uncalled for cruelty, it doesn’t go well. But that doesn’t stop me from putting them in their place. (Note: I never put the police in their place. Just saying.)

I have to admit that on occasion a bully will arouse intense feelings of displeasure in me. And even though I know that fighting back gives the bully exactly what he/she wants, which is to get to me—I simply can’t turn the other cheek.

These miscreants feed off putting other people down, because it masks their own inferior and insecure feelings about themselves. It’s only by making others feel less than whole, that they can raise their own self-esteem.

And as recently as a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that reacting to a workplace bully only further encourages and worsens their unwanted behavior towards me.

And I have made some nasty bully enemies, with the distinct possibility that they will escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation against me and will up the ante when it comes time to serve out a cold dish of revenge.

But I don’t care. I refuse to be subservient.  I can take it.  Bring it on, you cowards.

I am so tired and fed up by bullies thinking they can say and do anything they want, with no repercussions at all. And I have learned from years of being bullied that their snarky, cutting comments, insulting innuendos and malicious rumors won’t stop until you make them stop.

I have a recurring shut-down-the bully scenario that I play over and over in my head: I contact a lawyer to write to the bully, with a threat of legal action, pointing out that he or she is subject to the laws of slander, libel and defamation of character. I take down the bully and I win!

And if you ever witness someone being bullied, speak up and say something. Most people don’t want to get involved, and want to stay out of the fray. But please consider the consequences of not getting involved and allowing a bully to keep on trucking. You are unintentionally sending a message to them that their abhorrent behavior is acceptable.

How many times have I heard from witnesses to bullying, as well as friends, business colleagues and family members that know the bully personally, who say “yeah, so and so is a real jerk.” But there is nothing they will do about it (and later, when you ask for their support, they deny having agreed with you at all).

Here is my short list of bully categories in no particular order of offense, although I find children who bully other children to be the worst bully offense of them all. Please feel free to comment with other categories.

Children Who Bully

Airline/Flight Attendant Bully

Airline Passenger Bully

Business Colleague Bully

Boss Bully

Ex-Spouse Bully

Medical Receptionist Bully

Motor Vehicle Worker Bully

Nursing Home Bully

Cyber Bully

Family Member Bully

PTA Bully

Restaurant Customer Bully

Government Worker Bully

Anti-Abortion Bully

The Christian Conservative Bully

Sorority and Fraternity Bully

Police Bully

The Sports Fan Bully

 The Axis of Evil Bully

 Racist Bully

 The Wanna Be in Organized Crime Bully

 The Rich and Famous Bully

 

Ted Cruz Is a Presidential Contender???

“It just takes a random billionaire to change a race and maybe change the country.” TREVOR POTTER, a Republican campaign finance lawyer, talking about Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge-fund magnate who is believed to be the main donor behind a network of four “super PACs” that recently raised $31 million for Cruz’s campaign.

I wasn’t going to blog about Ted Cruz, but after seeing his commercial on television, I just couldn’t resist. First off, it seems way too early for campaign commercials, and I really hope I don’t have to see this one a gazillion times, because it’s a real beaut.

Three seconds into the spot, viewers see the Cruz family praying. Twelve seconds later, viewers see some children praying. Twenty seconds in, viewers see another person praying. Praying in and of itself is not the issue. I pray all the time.  But we’re talking about a 30 second spot. Give me some meat Cruz.

Ted Cruz, the first Hispanic U.S. senator from Texas (R), officially declared his bid for president with his first television ad of the 2016 campaign cycle over Easter and Passover weekend.

What I took away from his commercial, is that he supports praying.

But what else does Ted Cruz support and is he presidential material?

Here are a few interesting facts (at least to me) about Ted Cruz, the 44 year old senator with a mere two years of experience in elective office.

  • The senator’s full name is Rafael Edward Cruz.
  • Ted Cruz was born in Canada. Since his mother, Eleanor, was born in the US, he was a dual citizen of Canada and the United States—until he renounced his Canadian citizenship in June of 2014.
  • Cruz’s father is an evangelical pastor who has said that President Obama should be “sent back to Kenya,” is a lot like Fidel Castro, and that Obama “seeks to destroy all concept of God.” Okay, we’re talking about his father here, but a lot of people are judged by the company they keep.
  • Cruz has proclaimed himself as a steadfast conservative who would stand for Christian ideals, and undo much of President Barack Obama’s agenda.
  • Cruz, who attended Harvard Law School, once declared that some members of the faculty were “Marxists who believed in the communists overthrowing the United States government.”
  • Cruz stopped listening to rock music after 9/11 because he “didn’t like how rock music responded.”
  • Cruz does not believe that global warming is supported by data.
  • Cruz is opposed to same-sex marriage and if he were to be elected President of the United States, promised to “uphold the sacrament of marriage.” Cruz has also been one of the biggest defenders of the Indiana religious freedom law, and forcefully argued this week that the outrage over the law is an “assault” on the First Amendment.
  • Although Cruz is described as one of the GOP’s Hispanic stars, he has taken positions that are out of sync with most Latinos. Cruz has introduced legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is strongly supported by Hispanics, and he is against “amnesty” for the undocumented.
  • Cruz wants to do away with the federal government’s tax collection agency. He thinks we “ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax where the average American can fill out taxes on a postcard.”
  • Cruz voted against Hurricane Sandy relief.
  • Cruz voted against the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Cruz voted against John Kerry’s nomination for secretary of State.
  • Cruz avidly supports gun rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s Second Amendment. He has said that “Congress should not create new legislation restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”
  • Two tea party groups — the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund — are Cruz’s two largest campaign contributors.
  • Cruz does not play well with others. His brash style has inspired less than flattering name-calling from both sides of the aisle. Harry Reid once described him as a “schoolyard bully,” while John McCain called him a “wacko bird.”

To be clear, I have no interest in Ted Cruz. My interest is in seeing how many Americans actually buy into his “values.”

My Birthday, First Night of Passover & Good Friday

Whenever I hear the phrase “Born on the 4th of July,” it reminds me of my own special birth mantra: Born on Good Friday.

As a child, I was often reminded by my Catholic maternal grandmother, who raised me and raised me up, that because of my birth day, I was forever blessed.

As Friday’s child, she would tell me that I was loving and giving because this was my destiny.

She also believed that as a Good Friday child, I would be forever protected, because Jesus gave His life that day, so that all may live.

Ironically enough, as a young child growing up in the slums of Bridgeport Connecticut, I didn’t feel protected or blessed at all.

Heck, I wasn’t even born Catholic. I was baptized Greek Orthodox at birth, and was subsequently baptized Catholic at age 6, in order to attend first grade at St. Ambrose Catholic School. My entire public school kindergarten memory is filled with bullies and getting beat up every day—totally and wholly unprotected. Being baptized Catholic created for me a glimmer of hope that my bullying days would finally be over, although that’s not how it went down.

I spent the next 24 years as a practicing Catholic, until at age 31 I converted to Judaism, a nerve wracking decision that caused somewhat of a rift in my Catholic family.

The rift did not include my grandmother—she died at age 64, the year before I converted. I was 30 when she died. (Yes, you’re reading this right.)

Had my grandmother lived, I would have never converted to Judaism, because my final decision to walk away from my religion was based on circumstances surrounding her death.

So the great religious celebrations of Easter and Passover are very special and significant for me this year, because the first evening of Passover coincides with the solemn Christian celebration of Good Friday.

I feel incredibly pious and faithful, because what this convergence means for me is that the celebration of the Catholic Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) will be aligned with the Jewish Passover feast.

If you check the Jewish calendar, Jesus died on April 3, 33, which is also the date of Good Friday this year. And based on my research, the last time that the Roman calendar, the Jewish calendar, and the Western Liturgical calendar coincided was in 1863.

And since Passover starts every year on the 15th day of Nissan, and the Hebrew months are based on a lunar (moon) cycle, the first night of Passover, when Jews sit down to their Passover Seder, is always a full moon.

But the coincidence and confluence that makes this occasion so very special and blessed for me is that my birthday is April 3, and this is the first time it has fallen on Good Friday since I was born in 1953.

My grandmother waited and waited for Good Friday to fall on my birthday again, but it never did. And after she died, I waited and waited for Good Friday to fall on April 3 again, in the hopes of some sort of karmic connection, but it never did.

How utterly thrilled and moved I was when I discovered that not only was my birthday going to fall on Good Friday this year, but also that it would fall on the first night of Passover.

So when I say my prayers on Good Friday and the first night of Passover, April 3rd, as an ex Catholic and practicing Jew, and I gaze upon the radiance and splendor of the full moon, I will fondly remember my grandmother, and hope that her sprit will be all around me, blessing and protecting.