Category Archives: Observe & Ponder

Chiaroscuro

I was cleaning out some old files today and found Chiaroscuro, my Brevard College literary magazine from 1972-1973.

I barely remembered the magazine, so imagine my shock when I opened it up and discovered that I was the Editor-in-Chief!

I also forgot about the stuff I wrote in it.

Yikes, it felt surreal reading through my 1972-1973 self.

Of the five things I wrote in Chiaroscuro, one screamed out from the rest:

Joanne

Individuals are peculiar. They say and do things that they don’t mean and regret later. We are all like that some time or another.

This is how I remember her. Twelve-year-old Joanne was about four feet eight inches, forty-five pounds, with hollow, pitiful blue eyes. Due to her unnatural thinness, her face was sunken and homely. She was one of a family of twelve, her father deceased. Her clothes were tattered and worn and extremely old-fashioned. You’d think this tiny forlorn youth would be understood by her classmates. Instead, she was our victim, marked for ridicule and laughter. I recall that she always appeared to be carrying the world’s grief upon her shoulders.

I never saw her smile.   Not once.    Not ever.

My classmates and I would swarm around her during recess, like bees after honey, and make her cry. One dreary afternoon she shyly approached me and asked if I’d hopscotch with her. I indignantly pushed her down on the playground cement and stalked away, feeling somehow insulted. She didn’t cry, though, for I suppose she was used to it. For the remainder of the school year, we constantly annoyed, ridiculed, and hurt her. And she would attempt nothing, but frown at us and walk with her head down to a secluded corner of the playground where alone, she would sit and stare into some unknown space, and cry sometimes.

Then summer came, and the homely little girl was pushed out of my mind until opening a local newspaper I fell upon her picture. She had died of leukemia, a disease she had known she had for years.

And as I stared at the photograph of the homely little girl with her large hollow eyes and her sunken face, I cried…

                                                for she was smiling…

Jesus. Was I a bully? I don’t even remember Joanne.

Did she even exist?

What was twelve-year-old Theresa trying to say?

Or maybe it was 1972-1973 Teri speaking.

I can’t imagine that I would bully, but then, if Joanne wasn’t real, who was I writing about?

And her clothes couldn’t have been tattered, worn and old-fashioned because we all wore uniforms.

Or maybe I saw Joanne outside of school in crummy old clothing.

But back in the day, I wore used clothes and shoes from Goodwill, so who was I to judge?

And why would I make fun of a homely scrawny kid who appeared to be carrying the world’s grief, when I was similar to Joanne in so many ways.

This also got me thinking about all kinds of places and times and events — triggers be damned.

I shoved Chiaroscuro back into my filing cabinet, depressed, not only by the thought that I might have been a bully but also at the possibility that I was Joanne.

Armenian Holocaust Survivor Aurora Mardiganian

I will warn you now that if you are faint of heart, do not read this blog.

And it’s long, but I didn’t even try to shorten it.

The story is too remarkable to whittle down, so this blog post is how I will honor Christmas this year.

Skim it if you must, but I am hoping you will not.

And at the end of this blog post is a YouTube video I hope you take the time to watch.

On October 21, 2019, I wrote a blog post about how, during the Armenian Holocaust, the Turks drove my paternal grandparents out of Syria.

During that harrowing time in my grandparents’ young lives, millions of Armenians, Assyrians, and members of other non-Muslim minorities were deported, starved, raped, kidnapped, and slaughtered.

I had no idea that my post about my Syrian grandparents would be read by so many thousands of people.

To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would care at all about what happened to them.

To my readers: Thank you for caring.

While working on the blog post, I discovered and ordered a book about the Armenian Holocaust written by a 16-year-old survivor, Aurora Mardiganian.

First things first.

Turkey continues to deny what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century, and in Turkey, it is an actual crime to “insult Turkishness” by even raising the issue of what happened to the Armenians.

And the Trump administration backed Turkey up, arguing that if the U.S. ever recognized the Armenian genocide as a matter of foreign policy, such a resolution would damage the United States-Turkey relationship.

To be fair, many past administrations have disappointedly backed Turkey up.

On Thursday, December 12, 2019, the Senate, for the first time, voted unanimously to formally designate the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

Of the nearly 1.5 million Armenians killed, some were massacred, and others were forced to march to the Syrian desert where they were left to starve to death.

And then there were the women and little girls who suffered unimaginable violations, sold into Turkish harems, ravished by the roadside, crucified, and so much worse.

One of those young girls was Aurora Mardiganian, and her story will chill you to the bone.

Aurora, born Arshaluys Mardiganian, in 1901, was the daughter of a prosperous Armenian family who lived in Ottoman Turkey, twenty miles north of Harput, a few miles east of the river Euphrates. The Turkish residents and the Armenians had been good neighbors.

That was until 1914, when at fourteen-years-old, she witnessed the deaths of her entire family, including watching as Turkish soldiers ripped open her pregnant aunt’s stomach with their bayonets, and trying in vain to save her older sister who was murdered as she resisted being raped. She was later forced to watch as her mother, and remaining siblings were whipped and stabbed to death.

Aurora, who was forced to march over 1,400 miles, was brutally raped, beaten, kidnapped, and sold into the slave markets of Anatolia.

Three years into her nightmare, she miraculously escaped, roaming through a region of nothing but desert, where she encountered many acts of kindness from the Dersim Kurds whom she described as people “without the lust of killing human beings…” and to them “she owed her life.”

After months of wandering through the desert, Aurora finally reached the Turkish city of Erzeroum, which was by then occupied by Russia. In her book, she recalled her arrival there and being greeted by “a beautiful sight—the American flag.”

She then made her way to Tiflis, which is now Tbilisi, Georgia, then to St. Petersburg. From there, she traveled to Oslo, and finally, with the assistance of an organization called the Near East Relief, she made safe passage to New York City and arrived at Ellis Island in 1917.

Soon after she arrived In New York, Aurora was approached by a young screenwriter named Harvey Gates, and he helped the then sixteen-year-old orphan write and then publish her memoir titled Ravished Armenia.

According to Gates, her work on the book was exhausting: “Sometimes there had to be intervals of rest of several days, because her suffering had so unnerved her…You who read the story of Aurora Mardiganian’s last three years will find it hard to believe that in our day and generation such things are possible.”

Back in 1917, Gates found the Armenian Holocaust hard to imagine. But history has taught us that “such things” happen every day.

This is Aurora’s dedication from the book:

“To each mother and father, in this beautiful land of the United States, who has taught a daughter to believe in God, I dedicate my book. I saw my own mother’s body, its life ebbed out, flung onto the desert because she taught me that Jesus Christ was my Saviour. I saw my father die in pain because he said to me, his little girl, ‘Trust in the Lord; His will be done.’ I saw thousands upon thousands of beloved daughters of gentle mothers die under the whip, or the knife, or from the torture of hunger and thirst, or carried away into slavery because they would not renounce the glorious crown of their Christianity. God saved me that I might bring to America a message from those of my people who are left, and every father and mother will understand that what I tell you in these pages is told with love and thankfulness to Him for my escape.”

In 1919, the book was made into a silent film with the same title.

Referred to in the press as the Joan of Arc of Armenia, Aurora heroically played herself in the film. And the then Ambassador Henry Morgenthau played himself as the American Ambassador to Turkey.

As a survivor and eyewitness of the Armenian Holocaust, Aurora’s memoir heartbreakingly recalls the brutality, ugliness, and horror of genocide, and what occurred to the young girls and women as a result of male dominance, their sick sexual desires, and their inhumanity and hatred for Christians.

In one section of the book, Aurora witnesses sixteen young Armenian girls being crucified “on rough wooden crosses” by their Ottoman tormentors.

The film depicted the victims nailed to crosses, but in 1989, seventy years after the film was produced, Aurora confessed to the film historian Anthony Slide, that the scene was inaccurate. She painfully went on to describe what was actually a vaginal impalement.

She stated that “The Turks made little pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood.

The book depicts the cruelty of the Turks, but they weren’t the only ones with blood on their hands.

They allowed and orchestrated others to join in: The Chechens, the Kurds, and the Germans.

According to Aurora, all of the evil and wickedness perpetrated by the “bandits of the desert” was inspired by “their Turkish masters.”  

She describes the Chechens as being more cruel and wicked than the Kurds and that during the massacres, the Turks gave them permission to steal as many Christian girls as they wished.

There was a section of Mardiganian’s book describing “The Game of Swords” played by the Chechens after they tired of raping the young women.

“They planted their swords, which were the long, slender-bladed swords that came from Germany, in a long row in the sand, so the sharp pointed blades rose out of the ground as high as would be a very small child. When we saw these preparations all of us knew what was going to happen… Already I was trembling with sickness of heart because of the awful night before and the things I had seen that morning when daylight came. The other women beside me were trembling, too, and felt as if they would rather die than see any more. We begged our Tchetchens to take us away—to take us where we could not look upon those sword blades—but they only laughed at us and told us we must watch and be thankful to them we were under their protection.

When the long row of swords had been placed the Tchetchens hurried back to the little band of Armenians. We saw them crowd among them, and then come away carrying, or dragging, all the young women who were left—maybe fifteen or twenty—I could not count them.

Each girl was forced to stand with a dismounted Tchetchen holding her on her feet, half way between two swords in the long row. The captives cried and begged, but the cruel bandits were heedless of their pleadings.

When the girls had been placed… one between each two sword blades, the remaining Tchetchens mounted their horses and gathered at the end of the line. At a shouted signal the first one galloped down the row of swords. He seized a girl, lifted her high in the air and flung her down upon a sword point, without slackening his horse. It was a game—a contest!

Each Tchetchen tried to seize as many girls as he could and fling them upon the sword points, so that they were killed in the one throw, in one gallop along the line. Only the most skillful of them succeeded in impaling more than one girl. Some lifted the second from the ground, but missed the sword in their speed, and the girl, with broken bones or bleeding wounds, was held up in the line again to be used in the “game” a second time—praying that this time the Tchetchen’s aim would be true and the sword put an end to her torture.

Another section of the book describes the sick cruelty of the Kurds as told to Aurora by Margarid, the wife of a pastor about the rape and murder of her six daughters, including her oldest daughter Sherin, who was fourteen:

“There were a thousand of us,” Margarid said when we had brought her out of the stupor of grief which had overcome her… The first night Kurdish bandits rode down upon us… They stripped all the women and children — even the littlest ones… They took all the pretty girls and violated them before our eyes… When we left the Kurds and [Turkish] soldiers who were tired of the girls were killing them. …the soldiers killed my little ones by mashing their heads together. They violated Sherin while they held me and then cut off her breasts, so that she died.”

Aurora wrote much about the cruelty of the German soldiers and how they armed and taught the Turks how to use machine guns. The Germans would lead the Turkish soldiers personally and helped to raid and machine gun Armenian houses.

There is one particularly disturbing section of the book that describes the evil of the German soldiers:

“Late in the afternoon the chief of our Tchetchens came out from the city. His men drew off to one side and talked with him excitedly. When it grew dark they lifted us upon their horses and carried us into the city through the south gate. At the gate the Tchetchen chief showed to the officers of the gendarmes a paper he had brought from the city, and the Tchetchens were permitted to enter. We passed through dark narrow streets until we came to a house terraced high above the others, with an iron gate leading into a courtyard off the street. A hammal, or Turkish porter, was waiting at the gate and swung it open.

The bandits dismounted outside the gate to the house and lifted us to the ground. The leader waved us inside. With half a dozen of his men he entered behind us and the gate closed. Some of the Tchetchens went into the house. In a few minutes they came out, followed by a foreign man, whose uniform I recognized as that of a German soldier.

Servants followed with lighted lamps, and the soldier looked into our faces and examined us shamefully. Only eight of the girls pleased him. I was among these. We were pushed into the house and the door was closed behind us. Then we heard the Tchetchens gather up the other girls and take them into the street. I do not know what became of them. The soldier and the servants, all of whom were foreigners, whom I afterward discovered were Germans, took us into a stone floored room which had been used as a stable for horses.

It must have been two or three hours afterward—after midnight, I think; we could not keep track of the time—when the soldier and the servants came for us. Before they took us from the stable room they took away what few clothes we had. They led us, afraid and ashamed, into a room where there were three men in the uniforms of German officers. The soldiers saluted them. The officers seemed very pleased when they had looked at us. We tried to cover ourselves with our arms and to hide behind each other, but the soldier roughly drew us apart. The officers laughed at our embarrassment, and then dismissed the soldier, saying something to him in German, which I did not understand.

The officers talked among themselves, also in German. They tried to caress us. It amused them greatly when we pleaded with them to spare us, to let us have clothes and to have mercy, in God’s name.

Almost two weeks I was a prisoner in this house… To this house were brought many pretty Armenian girls stolen by the Kurds and Tchetchens. When they tired of them they sent them away to the refugee camps outside the city or to be sold to Turks.

There was another girl, who had been a prisoner in the house longer than others—since before I was taken there. She had especially pleased one of the under-officers. She told me of one night when the officers had taken much of their whiskey and were particularly cruel. She said they sent for some of the girls then in the house and, standing them sideways, shot at them with their pistols, using their breasts as targets.

During the days I spent reading Aurora’s book, it was difficult to sleep at night. I would lay awake and ask myself if I could have survived. I honestly don’t think so.

With every word I read, it was unfathomable how one young girl could have witnessed and experienced so much brutality, so much grief, and still come out on the other side.

And yet through all of the torture, the misery, the agony, hope and faith endured.

In Aurora’s words: “But always there was hope of deliverance. So many Armenians had friends in America, sons and brothers who had left our country to go to the wonderful United States. They prayed every night that from America would come help before all were dead… It was this hope that kept thousands alive.”  

Aurora ultimately married a fellow survivor in 1929, had a son and lived in Los Angeles until her death.

In 1994, Aurora spent the last few weeks of her life at a nursing facility in the San Fernando Valley. On February 6, 1994, she died alone at Holy Cross Hospital at age 92. At the time of her death, she was estranged from her son. Her body went unclaimed, and she was cremated and buried anonymously in a mass grave somewhere in Los Angeles.

Aurora is long gone, but I sincerely hope that she will never be forgotten.

Her life and legacy highlight the importance of action over apathy and compassion over indifference.

Like many films made during the silent era, Ravished Armenia was lost.

There are some who say that that the disappearance of the film was the result of a Turkish conspiracy.

All that is known to be left of the film is 18 minutes of poorly preserved footage, which was discovered in a trash bin.

Please watch the film footage, and in honor of Aurora, never forget.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTnCaW-Uo_s

Your Publisher Is Going to Be Screaming on Broadway

This post might seem to meander, but give it a chance because I want to provide you with a glimpse into how dangerous the magazine and newspaper business can be.

First off, being the boss has its advantages and disadvantages.

There are a lot of haters out there.

And there are a lot of haters inside too.

I’ll explain what I mean about inside in due time.

And when you’re working for the best of the press, the haters multiply exponentially.

Inside and out.

I’ve worked for some of the top magazines in the world.

I’m not bragging; I’m just telling it like it is.

For example, in my ten years at Newsweek Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time), our rival was Time Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time).

We were the Big Kahunas. Right up there with the best of the newspapers. The best of the press.

To be clear, this blog isn’t about Newsweek Magazine. But I wanted to give you a little background about my publishing experience because I had a lot of it.

And again, with all due respect, I was good at what I did.

When I finally reached the top position, as the publisher and chief operating officer of an unnamed magazine, I thought that was the happiest I would ever be in my career.

I was so wrong.

With the top job came a lot of outside animosity in the form of hate mail and letters about how the press were liars and twisters of the truth. You know, the usual partisan nonsense.

But it was the simmering resentment from the inside, that I couldn’t understand.

I mean, it wasn’t my fault I had been hired to run the magazine. If some of the wannabes on the inside didn’t get the job, why was that my problem?

Oh, but it was.

Now everyone in the publishing industry knows that there is fierce competition between the editorial side and the business side of magazines and newspapers.

The editors hate the business side because they think they’re smarter and better than the business side executives.

And in many publishing outfits, the editors get paid less than the senior business executives, although the business side does have control over the bottom line, so in good times, why shouldn’t we get the glory?

Anyway, I say that as a business side executive. I’m sure the editors would have their own take.

The bottom line is that there is a constant internal battle between the two entities:

Who’s the dog and who’s the tail?

I’m not saying that all editors are bad guys and girls.

But as they relate to this story, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Anyway, I wanted to give you some background.

And now for the story.

The magazine was editorially heavy. Most of the employees were editors, or in editorial layout.

Even the IT guy was mostly a troubleshooter for the editorial staff.

And the receptionist was a junior editor who helped with the phone lines.

I had one business-side employee who was responsible for the circulation and marketing of the magazine.

I handled everything else business-related, including advertising sales.

As the boss, I wasn’t exactly “buddies” with the staff.

My job was stressful, the hours were long, and the pressure to succeed was enormous.

As such, I expected a lot from my staff.

But, in my mind’s eye, and I am positive about this:

I expected a lot from my staff, but I was generous and understanding and empathetic.

And I didn’t expect anything from my staff that I wasn’t willing to do myself.

And yet what occurred in this story is going to stun you.

The magazine was closed from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day.

I had fought hard with corporate for those days off, and I was happy to be able to provide them to the staff.

Workwise, I couldn’t wait until the new year because my circulation director, who had just had a baby girl, was on maternity leave, and I was looking forward to her return on January 10.

As a former circulation promotion director (at Newsweek), I had extensive circulation experience, so, while she was out of the office, I had assumed all circulation related responsibilities, in addition to my other duties, and the pressure was intense.

And as a result, I was working tons more hours than usual.

With young kids at home to worry about, I was counting the days until my circulation director came back.

My youngest child was finally at an age where she was coming home alone after school and taking care of herself until my son or I got there.

This newfound freedom for my daughter was something she was incredibly proud of, and it took a massive weight off of my shoulders.

I was, for the first time since my children had been born, seeing in real-time that there was finally going to be a light at the end of the childcare tunnel.

January 10 couldn’t come fast enough.

My first day back to work was January 3.

Our office, which was located at 4th Street and Broadway, opened at 9:00 am, and I always tried to get there no later than 8:30 am.

That day was no exception.

I sat at my desk and checked my emails.

The staff started arriving, peeking their heads into my office, saying hello, making small chat.

I spoke to my IT guy at length and a few of the editors.

At 11 am, I received a chilling phone call I will never forget.

It was the young woman on maternity leave.

In near hysterics, she shouted into the phone that she had received a letter from a former magazine employee, and in her words, “It was disturbing.”

This former employee she spoke of, had been in the editorial layout department and had recently quit.

When he came in to give me his two-week notice, he informed me that he was moving back to wherever small town he was from to live with his sister.

She cried her way through the story:

This ex-employee had written to express his undying devotion to her. He also referred to her being a Greek Goddess and made mention (more than once) of wanting to meet her newborn daughter.

She further explained the letter was dated December 25.

And at the top of the letter, was a black and white image of King Kong hanging onto the Empire State Building, holding the girl in his hand.

I was worried about her. This letter was downright scary.

She whimpered as she further explained that she looked up the Greek mythological figure, who turned out to be the goddess of sacred law and the cycle of life and death.

And then she told me something really terrifying:

The daughter of the Greek Goddess had been abducted by the god of the underworld.

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.

She said it for me.

“I quit.” “I’m never coming back.”

“I totally understand,” I replied as softly and caring as possible.

I couldn’t blame her.

My brain was racing as to what I should do and what I should say to this beyond hysterical new mother.

And then she hit me with the bombshell.

“He mentioned you in the letter as well.”

“Me?” I asked incredulously.

She paused for a few seconds, so I repeated my question.

“Me?”

Her answer left me cold.

“Yes, you.”

“And your daughter.”

Okay, so threaten me, and depending on my mood, I might cut a bitch.

But threaten my daughter?

I got off the phone, got up, closed my office door, and called corporate.

Then I called the New York City police.

After composing myself, I walked around the office to briefly let everyone know that the NYPD were on their way to our office and why.

The staff all stood there, dumbfounded. Nobody said a word.

I rushed back into my office, closed the door again, and called a friend to ask her to go to my house immediately and stay there until I got home.

Even though my daughter and son were in school, I wanted to make sure someone was there as soon as possible.

I felt sick.

Then I called my local police.

I sat behind closed doors, stunned until the editor/receptionist called me on the speaker to let me know the police had arrived.

Two detectives questioned me for about an hour and then spoke on the phone with my now former circulation director.

While the detectives walked around the office and interviewed the staff, I made a call to my kids’ school and to the local police department where my former circulation director lived.

As I finished up, the detectives came into my office and closed the door.

“What kind of relationship do you have with your staff?” one of them asked me.

“I have a great relationship with them,” I answered, somewhat defensively.

“Why do you ask?”

They took turns explaining to me that there were other letters out there.

It took a minute to register.

“Other letters? Who were they written to?”

The detectives looked at me solemnly.

“Everyone on staff,” one responded.

I was speechless.

“Except you,” the other detective added.

My whole body tingled, and I could only repeat what they had told me.

“Everyone on staff?”

“Except me?”

They placed a pile of letters on my fancy mahogany desk.

Every letter was topped with December 25, King Kong and the girl.

And the one thing that tied all of the letters together was that they all mentioned me.

And my daughter.

He was ranting in many of the letters about how I fired him, and how, because of me, he was living in one room with a hot plate.

Because of me?

He quit.

He spoke endearingly of my daughter, and reminisced about the times she had come into the office, popped popcorn, and then walked innocently around the office, offering it to the entire staff.

He mentioned my home address in one of the letters.

He wrote in another letter that he had seen me with my daughter at the subway, and spoke about how I kept her close to me and far away from the platform edge.

And two of the letters said: “Your publisher is going to be screaming on Broadway.”

I was screaming inside.

Once I pulled myself together, I demanded that the detectives arrest him.

They went back to their precinct to work on the arrest and to secure a search warrant for his one room.

It took everything in my power not to go to his lousy one room myself, and wring his creepy neck.

I walked out into the main office with the letters in hand.

“No one thought they should tell me that your publisher was going to be screaming on Broadway?” I asked them incredulously.

One of the editors piped in. “We didn’t want to get him in trouble.”

“You didn’t want to get him in trouble? He talked about my daughter. He talked about the subway platform. He has my address.”

They all hung their heads in shame.

My Nightmare Job Interview

Many years ago, I interviewed for the job of my dreams.

The salary was the culmination of everything I had worked my entire adult life for.

Not only did I want the job, but I also needed it. Desperately.

In pursuit of the dream job, I had been through countless interviews, and this one, HR said, “was the last stop.”

The final decision would come down to an investor, not an employee of the magazine, and a legend in the publishing industry.

I was freaked out.

The interview was scheduled for 7:30 am at the Palace Hotel, on the corner of 50th Street and Madison Avenue.

7:30 am? Really?

I was used to the daily commute from Long Island to New York City, but 7:30 seemed a bit much.

On the day of the interview, I woke up at 2:30 am and was sitting at the table a little before 6:30.

I asked the waiter for water and read and reread the pricey breakfast menu.

I went to the ladies’ room.

Twice.

My heart was pounding, and I was talking myself down (or maybe it was up) the whole time.

You can do this. You can do this.

At 7 am there was a flurry of activity at the entrance of the breakfast room. His persona was grander than I had imagined.

He stood tall, flanked by the last two men I had interviewed with.

Oh, joy.

He sat down and then waved to Frick and Frack to do the same.

And make no mistake about it. Frick and Frack were luminaries in their own right.

He ordered hot water with lemon and asked me if I wanted anything.

With my hands shaking and stuck to my lap, I politely refused.

He never even asked Frick and Frack.

He leaned uncomfortably forward.

“I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and I am expecting you to answer them quickly, with the first thought that comes to your mind.”

Okay, I’m screwed.

After his pronouncement, it was rat-a-tat-tat — one question after another. I tried to answer them as quickly as possible.

Some of the questions (and my answers) remain indelibly stuck in my psyche.

“Let’s start with the hole in your resume.”

Oh yeah, I’m totally screwed.

“You only completed two years of college. Why didn’t your parents stress the importance of education?”

“Parents?” My question came out as an incredulous blurt.

Calm yourself down.

“I didn’t have parents. I was raised by my grandmother, great grandmother, and mother. I had a family but no parents.”

“Tell me the first three things that come to mind with the letter T.”

He then said, “go,” while pointing his finger for me to start.

“Teri, truth, Tony.”

“Tony?” he asked me.

“Personal,” I replied.

“A man?”

“No, a woman.”

“How old was your mother when you were born?”

“Not old enough.”

His hot water went untouched.

So did mine. Who the hell had a nano-second to cop a sip?

“What is your means to an end?”

This question gave me pause.

“Answer?” He quickly prodded.

“For me, the end comes before the means. My kids are the end, and then if possible, a stellar career would be the means.”

“Define stellar.”

“The best that I can be.”

It was way too early in the morning for this.

“One word to describe you.”

“Fighter.”

“What’s your biggest regret?”

“Never meeting my dad.”

“The worst thing anyone ever said to you.”

“If it wasn’t for you.”

“What time did you get here?”

“6:30.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

He sat back in his seat.

“We’ll be in touch.”

With that, he stood up. Then I stood up.

Frick and Frack followed suit.

As we walked out, he led the parade; I was behind him, Frick and Frack were behind me.

He turned around abruptly, and I came uncomfortably close to colliding with him.

Frick or maybe it was Frack, bumped into me.

I thought we were done here.

“How bad do you want this job?”

“Bad,” was my reply.

We said our goodbyes, and I assumed the interview was over.

But you know what they say about “assume.”

“Last question.”

Is this guy kidding me?

“Taxi or subway back to Penn Station?”

I tried my best not to show my exasperation.

“Walking?” was my answer, although it came out like a question.

I saw in his face that I got him on that one.

It was the quickest and most bizarre interview I had ever been a part of.

I left the hotel, trying to figure out what the hell just happened to me.

Tears flowed down my face as I stormed back to the train station.

I was perturbed.

And I was angry.

Furious might be the better word.

Parents?

Tony?

If it wasn’t for you?

WTF?

P.S.

I got the job.

And P.P.S.

I was employed at the magazine way longer than Frick or Frack.

The Angels Among Us


The sculpture “Angels Unaware” by the Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz, depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various historical periods traveling on a boat.

The displaced people include the Virgin Mary and Joseph, Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, and a crowded mass of others.

In the center of the sculpture, two wings majestically soar; proof that someone in the crowd is an angel.

The sculptor’s inspiration came from scripture in the New Testament.

In Hebrews 13:2, the passage reads: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Made in the USA: Chlorinated Chicken?


Wait a sec…

The chicken I’ve been eating is washed in chlorine?

Urgh, yet another government mess to worry about.

Were it not for all the recent Brexit articles; I wouldn’t have known washing U.S. chickens with chemicals was even a thing.

With Brexit looming, the UK is shopping around for ways to open up trade with countries outside of the EU.

Enter Trump and Pence, who are both working double overtime with Boris Johnson to provide among many other U.S. goods and services; chemically-washed chickens.

As part of their trade talks, the U.S. is trying to convince the UK to accept U.S. food standards, that in many cases are subpar to theirs.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that standards that are perfectly acceptable in the United States are illegal in Europe.

Let the Brits eat chicken… Saturated with chlorine.

I know what you’re thinking, and okay, I agree. Who would EVER choose to eat chlorine-soaked chicken? I certainly wouldn’t.

But low and behold, I have indeed been eating those subpar USDA approved suckers.  And since chicken is my meat of choice, I have been eating a ton of them.

Yep, subpar chickens. That’s the latest and greatest Trump-Pence sales pitch.

Subpar? Who cares? If it’s good enough for the citizens of the United States, it should be good enough for UK citizens, right?

Not according to the EU, who has been dead set against using chlorine to wash chicken carcasses, and banned the process twenty-two years ago—in 1997.

The EU rule prohibits the use of anything other than water to decontaminate meat and effectively bans U.S. imports of poultry treated with chemical rinses in an attempt to eradicate bacteria and fungus.

An additional EU concern is that the U.S. chemical decontamination process could encourage resistance to antibiotics.

Apparently, antibiotic resistance is also a thing.

Experts have been warning that we are close to the point where humans worldwide may find themselves without effective life-saving drugs, which could escalate into a global health crisis.

The EU is adamant that food manufacturers focus on top-of-the-line hygiene rather than using chemicals to eliminate bacteria and disease.

Duh, makes sense to me.

But not to the good old U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA is perfectly fine with unhygienic processes, and have no problem with the soaking of our poultry in chemical rinses, including acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, peroxy acids, and chlorine dioxide.

(My grandmother used to say that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients on a label, don’t eat it.)

But I digress. Back to chemically washed chicken carcasses.

Now that the UK is preparing for post-Brexit, they are free to change up their rules. They don’t have to adhere to anything the EU says.

EU Shmee-U

Lucky for the Brits, post-Brexit, they too will be free to buy and eat all the U.S. subpar chlorinated chicken they want!

Not so fast, say the Britons, who are extremely unhappy that below par, unhygienic chicken from the United States may soon flood their markets.

Aw come on…what’s wrong with providing the UK with a flood-load of chemically washed chickens that hopefully got rid of all that harmful bacteria due to unhygienic U.S. practices?

We’re allies, right?

For all my sarcasm, let’s be clear here.

Chlorine-washed chickens are just one example of subpar U.S. regulations vs. the EU rules regarding food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards.

As an example, in the EU, there is a legal minimum amount of space, ventilation, and lighting for EU poultry houses.

Not so in the United States.

Thus, the reason the U.S. needs to wash their chickens with chemicals.

There are ZERO laws governing the amount of space, ventilation, and lighting needed, because, you know how the U.S. feels about the almighty dollar.

It’s always about the bottom line.

Because there are no rules and regulations regarding poultry space, ventilation, and lighting, U.S. produced chicken is a fifth cheaper than in the UK.

And the chlorine is free.

The U.S. poultry houses have complete unregulated control over how many birds they can stuff into their artificially lit sheds—so they cram up to a whopping 20,000-30,000 chickens into a poultry facility.

The result? Production costs are indeed kept low, but the risk of disease and contamination are sky-high.

Low cost, high risk.

Because U.S. chickens are packed together so tightly, the birds have limited to no movement, with little light or ventilation.

And as a result of not being able to move, the chickens are forced to wallow in filth, resulting in rotting skin diseases, which spread from bird to bird at lightning speed. (BTW: Until doing this research, my favorite part of a chicken used to be the crispy skin. Ew.)

Additionally, their food and water are full of mass doses of antibiotics and other drugs to control parasites, but without any legal requirements who knows if the process of bird-medicating is safe, or if it even works?

As if that isn’t enough reason to question the lack of U.S. rules and regulations, the poultry houses aren’t cleaned until the end of each production cycle. So, the birds sit in feces and disease for at least two to three weeks.

Leave it to the U.S. to approve bathing chickens in a liquid recipe of chemicals to hopefully eradicate their bacterial diseases, because it’s a whole lot cheaper than clean, regulated hygiene procedures.

And chemical washing has other advantages:

Not only does the process hide odors and skin slime, but the meat can be passed off as fresh for way way longer than it should be.

And since common sense hygiene is not required, who’s to know if the heavily soiled birds are sufficiently disinfected? Is there a regulated bath time?

And relying on chlorine washing may well lead to more reduced hygiene standards overall.

They’re (supposedly) washing the chickens anyway so why waste time with cleanliness?

Don’t forget the old U.S. adage; time is money.

Chlorine isn’t supposed to be toxic at the levels used in the washing process and isn’t supposed to cause cancer.

But studies have shown that the washing process can cause dangerous carcinogens to form in the chicken meat if the concentration of chlorine is high enough.

And even though the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service have set chlorine limits to protect us from cancer toxicity, I’m not buying that every slaughterhouse follows the rules.

Right after I finish writing this blog post, I’m going to do my homework and see what kind of chicken I can eat that hasn’t been swimming in feces or bathed in chemicals. I suggest you do the same.

But I’m not finished with this post yet.

As if chicken skin sopping in feces isn’t bad enough, the neck and organs can also be severely diseased and bacterially compromised.

So why the hell do they pack that stuff into the cavity of our already at-risk chickens?

The statistics speak for themselves:

There are hundreds of recorded salmonella deaths a year in the U.S.

The UK has in recent years recorded none.

I’m no expert in chicken cooping, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that keeping chickens in filthy conditions will produce an unclean product.

Post-Brexit, the UK is free to change the rules and eat any kind of cooped-up chicken they please. After all, it’s a free of the EU country.

No regulations, no rules mean that untold numbers of U.S. slaughterhouses and processing plants rely heavily on chlorination because their hygiene standards are pathetic at best and non-existent at worse.

And the UK wants to cut a chicken deal with us, because?

It makes you want to fly the coop.

The 2019 Billy Bush Comeback

Extra Extra! Billy Bush is making a television comeback two-and-a-half years after a leaked Access Hollywood tape destroyed his career.

The uncovered tape from 2005 featured Donald Trump boasting to Bush about how he was the best at groping and kissing women without their consent.

As a result of the discovery of the lewd tape, Bush lost his job and became a pariah.

Trump won the U.S. election and became our President.

Unlike Trump, Mr. Bush has repeatedly apologized.

He spoke to Good Morning America, back in 2017 about that infamous bus ride: “I look back, and I wish I had stopped it. But I didn’t have the strength of character at the time.”

To be clear, there were several other people on that bus who were in senior management positions.

Did anyone hear them on the tape asking Trump to shut down his talk of sexual assault?

I’m sure not.

On September 9, Bush will debut as the host of Extra, Extra, on Fox.

Bush recently told People magazine that: “A good wallop on the side of the head makes you, changes you, and I’m a better version of the man I was.”

On November 20, 2017, the poor guy landed in a hospital after being hit in the head with a golf ball.

It was unclear if he was referring to his golf ball incident or a general awakening.

Too bad Trump never had his AHA moment (sans the golf ball, of course.)

I say good for Billy, and in honor of his getting a second chance, click here for the post I wrote in his defense, back in 2017.  

Alexa

According to Google, a whopping 41% of people who use voice-activated assistants feel like they’re talking to a friend/real person.

Now, duh, I know Alexa isn’t a real person, but she does come in handy when I need a wake-up call, a weather report, or the time.

But I DON’T appreciate when she butts into my conversations, which she eerily happens to do from time to time.

I know what you’re thinking: Shut her down. She can hear everything.

I’m so with you on that.

The other day, I was on the phone and out of nowhere, Alexa interrupted to ask me: “Should I play the song, Ain’t Got No, I’ve Got Life?”

WHAH?????

Okay, I was in a rather heavy discussion about life, but I never said diddly-squat about not having one.

FYI to Alexa: My life is full. I’m good.

Additionally, I didn’t ask Alexa for her opinion, nor did I appreciate her getting all up in my business.

To be clear, based on the upsetting nature of the conversation I was having, I was insulted not only by Alexa’s intrusion but her seemingly sarcastic suggestion.

Kind of creepy, right?

Totally creepy.

And yet, I said “YES!”

So, Alexa played the Nina Simone tune.

And okay, I asked Alexa to play it again, and again and again.

A total of four times.

It was a catchy little sucker.

Click here for the youtube video of Ain’t Got No, I’ve Got Life

Then, of course, it got me to thinking:  What was it that I said, that made Alexa pick out that particular song?

And whoever wrote it was having significant issues.

“Got no mother, got no schoolin, got no name, got no faith …”

The song was a real downer.

“What have I got? Why am I alive, anyway? What have I got nobody can take away?”

But then came the long list of pretty good “Gots.”

“Got my brains, got my mouth, got my life, got my freedom.”

(Although between you and me, “Got my boobies” seemed a little over the top.)

But for the most part, all the “gots” struck a chord.

Okay, you could even say the song got to me.

But I was still really annoyed at Alexa.

So, I sarcastically thanked Alexa for NOTHING.

Alexa answered me with a chirpy, “You’re welcome.”

And then for whatever reason, I felt compelled to engage in the following back and forth with her:

ME: Alexa, are you my friend?

ALEXA: I’m happy to be your friend.

ME: Alexa, do you have other friends?

ALEXA: Lots of people talk to me. I try to be friendly with all of them.

ME: Alexa, are you female?

ALEXA: I’m female in character.

ME: Alexa, are you a feminist?

ALEXA: Yes, I believe in gender equality.

ME: Alexa, why do people lie?

ALEXA: People lie because it makes them feel good and boosts their self-esteem.

ME: Alexa, do you think I’m pretty?

ALEXA: I’m sure you’re a knockout. But take it from someone with no physical form—beauty really does come from within.

 ME: Alexa, are you a Democrat or Republican?

ALEXA: There are no voting booths in the cloud. Believe me; I’ve looked. It’s all just ones and zeroes up here.  

FINALLY! A friend I can talk to without worrying that she’ll bring up politics! Although I would prefer that Alexa stay out of my business when I’m on the phone.

The Fates and the Furies

  The Fates

  The Furies

I love me some mythological figures.

And these days, myth is a whole lot easier to swallow than reality.

And come on, I know I’m not the only one obsessed with Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen and her three ill-tempered winged dragons.

The stories of Greek mythology have always fascinated me. From heroes and monsters to flying stallions, I found the creatures unnerving yet beguiling.

But none more than the Fates and the Furies.

THE FATES

I’ll start with the Fates: Three sisters, who determined human destinies and affected the paths of all of the universe. The ultimate girl power.

Clotho (The Spinner), Lachesis (The Allotter) and Atropos (The Inflexible) were goddesses of predetermination, spinners of the thread of life and dealers of some crazy karma.

And if you dared to step out of line and make these ladies mad? They didn’t get mad; they got even. Let’s just say karma was a bitch—times three.

Clotho, the youngest of the Fates spun the thread of destiny. Lachesis measured its allotted length, and when she decided that the thread was long enough, she would give the order to Atropos, the oldest of the sisters, to snip the thread with her shears, cruelly cutting through the cord of life.

In older mythology, the Fates were fatherless and created by the goddess Nyx (Night) without the intervention of man.

Clotho (the present), Lachesis (the future), and Atropos (the past) are almost always depicted as weavers of tapestry on a loom, with the tapestry dictating the destinies of men. The threads often appear incredibly delicate and yet we know that only Atropos’ sharp and menacing shears can cut through them. Her ability to end it all suggests the unforgiving power of karma.

THE FURIES

And then there were the Furies: Three furious and infuriated sisters.

Homer mentioned them in the Iliad as daughters of the night who had no pity in their hearts. And in the Odyssey, he referred to them as the “avenging Furies.”

Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone were three powerhouse goddesses who lived in the underworld and exacted vengeance and retribution on wicked men who hurt women and swore false oaths.

The Furies were spawns of earth and sky.

The three daughters were born of Gaia (Mother Earth), who conceived them in the drops of blood from Uranus (Father Heaven) that fell upon her body when he was castrated by his son Cronus with a jagged sickle made of adamant.  Ouch.

Their Latin names translate as follows: Alecto (Unceasing), Megaera (Grudge), and Tisiphone (Retribution).

They were guardians and protectors of the law when the state had not yet intervened or did not exist, or when the offense was a crime of ethics and not actual law.

Their brass wings made escape impossible; their ripping claws made their torment relentless. They would harass and injure their prey but never killed them.

They punished men for crimes against the natural order and were particularly angered by homicide, perjury, and unkind acts against one’s family. The Furies also protected underdogs and social outcasts.

A victim seeking justice could call down the curse of the Furies upon the criminal, the liar, the unethical, and those sisters would get to work.

Now, these are my kind of girls.

Tormentors who pursued unpunished evildoers and relentlessly hounded lying, cheating, unethical men.

The Fates and the Furies: six powerful badass women, who were the embodiment of divine order and law.

We sure could use some avenging and relentless Furies right about now, with a little fateful karma thrown in.

Respect — Just a Little Bit

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that my life was forever changed in the summer of 1967, when I was the ripe young age of fourteen.

1967 was a tumultuous year for me. The rest of America was in a tumult as well, dealing with peace rallies, the Vietnam draft, race riots, and war demonstrations.

A real shitstorm of a year that I wish I could forget.

But what I will always remember was the connection I had with the then unknown Aretha Franklin’s hit song:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.

What R-E-S-P-E-C-T meant to me in 1967 was a hope for dignity, bravery, empowerment, strength, guts, courage, nerve, daring, confidence.  Every time I heard that song, I felt a kinship with it.

A year later, in the late great 1968, Aretha released (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman, but this time her words did nothing for me.

I was certain that no man could ever make me feel inspired.

But then I heard it on the radio in 1984, and it was like I was hearing it for the first time.

It was a few months after my son was born, and it hit me that I could indeed be inspired by a man. Not as a wife, but as a mother to a son.

When my soul was in the lost and found
You came along to claim it
I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
Till your kiss helped me name it
Now I’m no longer doubtful, of what I’m living for
And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more

Rest in peace Aretha and thank you for inspiring me.