A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

American Flag

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Hadestown and Why We Build the Wall

A friend of mine sent me a link to a song called Why We Build the Wall, and it is so apropos that it sent chills up my spine. But the irony is that the singer/songwriter, Anaïs Mitchell, didn’t write it recently. In fact, she said, “This song is ten years old… Any resemblance of any contemporary political figures to the King of the Underworld is purely coincidental.”

She wrote the song to be included in a musical called Hadestown, and that play has gotten a bit of a revival of late. It will be playing Broadway in 2019, and they’ve announced a London run as well. If it ever tours this country and comes anywhere near Seattle, I definitely want to see it.

What I find most amusing about this song is that Trump supporters think it’s pro-wall, and that building a wall actually makes us free. So they tend to like the song, too. But in fact, if you listen to the lyrics closely, and actually know the background story of the play, you know that this is Hades attempt to distract the people of Hadestown. He wants to keep them busy, so he can maintain control. He gives them convenient sound bites to repeat until they believe what they’re doing is the right thing. Sound familiar?

Here are the lyrics, but I hope you’ll click on the link to the song above and actually hear it. Only then will you experience it fully, and hopefully realize that walls don’t just keep people out, they keep us in. In fear.

It makes me wonder why we’re being distracted. I mean, we all kind of know. But what don’t we know?

Why We Build the Wall by Anaïs Mitchell

HADES
Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children,
Why do we build the wall?

CERBERUS
Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children,
How does the wall keep us free?

CERBERUS
How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Who do we call the enemy?
My children, my children,
Who do we call the enemy?

CERBERUS
Who do we call the enemy?
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Because we have and they have not!
My children, my children,
Because they want what we have got!

CERBERUS
Because we have and they have not!
Because they want what we have got!
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children,
What do we have that they should want?

CERBERUS
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none,
And our work is never done,
My children, my children,
And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free;
That’s why we build the wall.
We build the wall to keep us free.
We build the wall to keep us free.

Special thanks to M for inspiring this post!

hadestown

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Seattle Womxn’s March 2019

The day after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, there was a Woman’s march in Washington DC, and in many major cities across the country, including Seattle, where 130,000 people showed up and spoke out. I wanted to be there so badly that it nearly killed me, but I had to work. (I always work on the weekends, so I miss a lot of the good stuff.)

I also wanted to attend the march in 2018, but I was in the throes of a deep, dark, yawning pit of loneliness, one that I knew would only be magnified by being surrounded by strangers, so I couldn’t bring myself to go alone. But I swore to myself that in 2019, come hell or high water, I was going to attend the march. I was so determined that I asked for the day off a year in advance.

It just so happened that I married an amazingly woke and liberal guy in the interim, one who would walk beside me, supporting women, without hesitation. So I got increasingly excited about this event. I spent months trying to decide what signs to carry.

I settled on the two below. Special thanks to my best-friend-in-law, Mike, who is an airbrush magician extraordinaire, for making the signs at really short notice. I was proud to carry them, and was often stopped on the parade route by people who wanted to take pictures.

So, my impression of the Seattle Womxn’s March:

It was a safe, welcoming atmosphere, full of people of all shapes, colors, ages, and sizes, coming together to speak out on women’s rights, gender equality, health care, the wall, immigration, and the current sorry state of politics.

There was one little 4 year old girl in the crowd, proudly carrying a sign that she made herself. It was multi-colored scribbles. It was on a little stick. That sign brought tears to my eyes, and made me want to hug her mother. That’s right, mama, start ‘em off early. There will always be work to do.

march6

There was also a 92 year old woman from France. She had protested fascism in her country in her younger days, and she was still going strong. I was impressed that she made it the entire 2.5 miles.

There were people on walkers and in wheelchairs, too. Because this stuff is too important to stay away. There were mothers carrying babies.

The march went on for blocks and blocks and blocks. I particularly love the photos included with the article from the Seattle Times. They show what a powerful sea of humanity was out there. And I was right in the middle of it.

There was this amazing, cheering wave that moved from one end of the parade to the other, and back again. It was like doing the wave at a sports stadium. It made my heart swell with hope and joy.

It made me feel much better about the future of this country. We care. We’re not going to be silent. We won’t go away. It was healing to be in that crowd. I was proud of us again, for the first time in a long time.

And then, at parade’s end, like the middle class white folks that we are, we stuck our protest signs in the trunk of an Uber, rode back to our Volvo, and came home to soak our aching backs and feet in the hot tub. But, I mean, hey… baby steps, right?

There are more events going on today, so if you missed the march, you can still participate. And if you can’t do that, for God’s sake, vote.

Here are some amazing photos from yesterday, a day I’ll never forget and was thrilled to be a part of.

 

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RIP Mary Cerruti

Every once in a while I’ll come across a news item that I know will stay with me, probably, for the rest of my life. Mary Cerruti’s story is one of those. On the surface, it seems fairly simple.

In 2015, she went missing. Later that year, her Houston area house was foreclosed upon. In 2016, the house was renovated and put up for sale. In 2017, the new owners moved in. They’re the ones that found Mary’s bones in the wall.

The question is, how did they get there? Some people think it was foul play. But I can’t imagine someone killing an old woman, and then somehow dragging that dead weight up into the attic, only to stuff her in a hole that they wouldn’t have known was there in the first place.

I think the more simple answer is the more likely one. She was in the attic and fell into that hole, and got stuck in the area where her bones were found. A 61 year old woman living alone. A freak accident. A sad ending to a solitary life.

What I don’t get is, wasn’t the attic’s ladder down when the police inspected the house? Couldn’t they smell the decomposition? Rats did wind up devouring her flesh and leaving behind very little evidence, but they don’t work that quickly, do they? It’s just that she didn’t have enough loved ones to work up enough of a head of steam for the authorities to find her. There’s no way of knowing how long she was gone before anyone noticed.

Did she die instantly? I hope so, for her sake. I hate to think that she was stuck in there, injured, slowly dying of thirst and crying for help as she listened to her beloved cats starving to death on the other side of the wall. Please, God, let her have died instantly.

What really gets to me about this story, though, is the things I have learned about her through the collage of photographs that she left behind. I think we had a lot in common. We even look alike. Brown hair, glasses and all.

Like me, she was a homeowner. She was only 8 years older than I am. She lived with 8 cats, which would probably be my fate if I weren’t so allergic to them. Like me, she loved photography, and preferred to be alone. She also took pride in her house and seems to have kept up with the repairs herself. I could see myself living in that cozy little bungalow.

She watched in horror as the houses along her street got torn down and replaced by apartment buildings. She mourned the loss of each grand old tree. She even plucked up the courage to speak out at a city council meeting about it, for all the good it did. She refused to sell. And she hated all the construction noise. I would have reacted in the same exact way.

Here’s where we part company: In the photographs of the houses in her neighborhood that were subsequently demolished, she called one a “whore apartment” and another a “multi-Mexican crash pad.” While the writer in me appreciates creative descriptions, I find these sentiments unappealing, and kind of get why she was alone. She was also known to write the occasional incomprehensible letter, which makes me wonder about her mental health.

Still, I can relate to Mary a little too well for my own good. Because of that, it’s really unpleasant to contemplate such a strange and lonely death. I hope there are no rats in my future.

Even those of us living in cute little houses in very big cities may as well be on far flung islands. Our connections are becoming ever more remote. Note to self: reach out just a tiny bit more.

Mary, rest in peace.

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Mary Cerruti

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On Being Politically Violated

The mansion had been locked up for so long that most of us had never glimpsed the interior. There was no need, we thought. It looked beautiful from the outside. Grand. Stately. Well-landscaped. We were proud that it was the blueprint for mansions around the world. We were proud that it was ours.

And then cracks began to appear, in the windows, walls and roof. The foundation started to crumble. We began to wonder if its residents were actually doing anything to maintain this landmark edifice. This problem seemed to be one of long-standing, but we hadn’t been paying attention.

Then, about a year ago, an ungodly stench started to emanate from the bowels of the building. A coppery smell, like blood. The odor of stinking, raw sewage. Something was not right. We all knew this, but seemed at a loss to do anything about it.

The newest residents of the mansion didn’t seem to care. They actually seemed to delight in the decay, or at least were indifferent to it. They made all sorts of bizarre excuses. They pointed a finger at everyone except themselves. There were even feeble attempts at fireworks displays to distract us from the real problem.

There was talk of putting up a great big wall around the mansion, to keep out the undesirables. Perhaps, too, that would keep us from peeking in the windows and seeing the criminal neglect that we have allowed, and in some cases even encouraged, and the illegal acts that are causing this decay and this acrid pong of corruption and defilement. All this, in our house. OUR HOUSE.

There has been quite a bit of talk about this, actually. So much talk. And yet, no action.

Now, here we sit, feeling helpless and frustrated and sick, watching as this beautiful symbol slowly sinks back into the earth, and leaves behind an empty space, and a bittersweet memory of what we once had.

white house

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On Being Approachable

I have a friend whose heart is as big as Mount Rainier. She’s one of those people who lights up a room just by walking into it. People are naturally drawn to her. It really fascinating to watch.

We can be walking down the street and it’s inevitable that we’ll be stopped several times by total strangers. Well, she will be stopped, actually. I stop, too, so as not to leave her behind.

People ask her for directions. They try to sell her things. They ask for money. They comment on what she’s wearing. She is the human equivalent of a lodestone. I bet her aura sparkles.

Me? Not so much. I may be wide open in this blog, but not in life. I’m not a hostile person, but I’m pretty sure that much of the time I walk around in an impenetrable bubble that, could it speak, would say “eff off and die”. I’m usually lost in thought, or intent on my errand, or in a hurry. I really don’t want to be bothered, and I suspect it shows more than I intend it to. No doubt I miss out on a lot of interesting encounters because of that.

Not long ago I was stopped on the sidewalk by someone who reads my blog. (Waving at Rahul!) I was delighted. I mean, it made my day. I was so gratified to get feedback, because I often forget that there are actually people out there who read what I’m writing. Wow. Mind blowing. In retrospect, it must have taken a great deal of courage for him to break through my wall to approach me. I’m so glad that he did, though.

I’m entirely too introverted to ever be as approachable as my friend is. It would require a level of social energy that just isn’t in me. And that’s okay. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt me to at least knock a few bricks out of this wall of mine, so that people can peek in here every once in a while and see what there is to see.

wall

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My Jacksonville to Seattle Odyssey—Part 5

Today was going to be a busy day. There were just too many cool places between Chamberlain, South Dakota and Billings, Montana to not check out at least a few of them.

First, I looped off the highway and into Badlands National Park. I was instantly transported to what seemed like another planet. The landscape is surreal and stunning. And to make it even more otherworldly, I was listening to Ravel’s Bolero on the radio, which always reminds me of that episode of Star Trek where Spock goes back to Vulcan. Then it switched to classical guitar, which seemed rather fitting as well.

IMG_0098

Since I had gone off the direct route, my GPS kept saying, “Turn around when possible.” I imagine that when people explored this area for their first time, back when there was no infrastructure, their horses would have liked to have said the same thing to them. This would be brutal country to find yourself in back then.

Just as I was beginning to wonder if I was going to see any wildlife, I came around a curve, and there was a prairie dog sitting on the side of the road. And around the next curve, a bighorn sheep.

We stopped at a lot of overlooks and the dogs enjoyed walking in the mud and scaring the bejeesus out of me by trying to get too close to the edges of precipices. I took a lot of pictures. I’d like to come back here someday, dogless and with a companion, and actually hike some of the trails.

Next I stopped at Wall Drug. It seemed kind of mandatory. I’d been seeing their billboards for two days. It was cloudy and rainy and actually kind of chilly out, so I felt comfortable leaving the dogs in the van for a half hour.

Wall Drug is every bit as tacky as I anticipated. Acres and acres of tacky. You could get lost among the Mount Rushmore shot glasses and the jackalopes and have to send up a signal flare to be rescued. Yet they still got my money. I bought some postcards, a fridge magnet, and a t-shirt. The place is a tourist trap beyond belief. But I enjoyed it, actually. I’m glad I went. I recommend that everyone go. Once.

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The population of the town of Wall is only around 800. I bet 90 percent of them work at Wall Drug. It’s actually a brilliant way to make a buck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve got to hand it to them. That survival skill has probably been passed down from their pioneer ancestors.

Next on the agenda was something I had been anticipating for weeks. Mount Rushmore. I’ve always wanted to see it, but couldn’t ever justify the journey. I actually thought that there’d be nothing else to do in South Dakota (silly me) so I couldn’t see myself going all the way out there just to stare at a rock. But since it was relatively close to my path, I was going to see it! Woo hoo!

And while dogs aren’t allowed in the park, I read that there was a covered area where you could park when you have pets, and it’s right next to a dog comfort area where they could do their business. I could leave the dogs in the van, go into the visitors’ center and get a much coveted stamp in my National Parks Passport, walk the grounds and take tons of pictures, and be back before the dogs even knew I was gone. That would work out perfectly! Or so I thought.

This trip had been going smoothly. Almost too smoothly.

So I drive up to the parking attendant, roll down the window, pay for my parking pass, and head into the covered parking area. And my automatic window won’t roll back up. I toggle the switch. About a million times. Nothing. Hmmm.

So I walk the dogs over to the comfort area, and think. I can see Mount Rushmore from there, if I stand on tip toe. And the full gravity of the situation begins to dawn on me. Now I can’t leave the dogs in the van. They’d jump out the window and explore South Dakota. And a lot of my worldly possessions are in there, too. People could just help themselves to the detritus of my life. I stood on tip toe and realized I was getting my only glimpse of Mount Rushmore. Sigh.

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I walked back to the car, and thought maybe I’d blown yet another fuse. This vehicle is known for that. Just the other day I had to replace the fuse for my radio. So I looked in the fuse boxes. Unfortunately none of the fuses are labeled “windows”. I got in the van, toggled the switch another million times and thought some more. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?)

My dog Blue jumped out the window. I chased him around the parking garage. I got back in the van. I thought some more.

This window HAD to go back up. There was no two ways about it. It was getting cold. And the clouds were looking ominous. I looked on my GPS for a mechanic. The nearest one was about 15 miles away in Hill City, which was even further into the middle of nowhere.

And it was going to cost money. Money that I don’t have. I don’t even know how I’m going to pay for this relocation. And it was going to mean I probably wouldn’t get to my motel in Billings, Montana until about midnight (that is if they could even help me that day or at all). And I had to pee, but couldn’t leave the dogs.

I go to the first mechanic and the guy says he can’t help me because his guy isn’t there. He sends me down the road to Route 16 Autobody. And it’s closed. I sit in the parking lot and burst into tears. I look on my GPS, and the next nearest place is 30 miles away in Rapid City. I’m cold and I have to pee. I keep toggling the window switch. Nothing. I call my friend who can’t stand it when I cry, and I just blubbered.

And this lady walks out of the office and says, “Can I help you?” By then I’m crying so hard I’m hiccupping. She must have thought I was crazy. I told her I had driven all the way across country for this great job, and now I can’t roll my window up and I didn’t get the Mount Rushmore stamp in my National Parks Passport and I didn’t know what to do. In retrospect, this probably did not improve her opinion of my mental state.

Her husband had a doctor’s appointment in Rapid City, which was why they were closed. She offered me plastic for my window and was very comforting. I told her I’m usually not hysterical. She said it was due to the stress. I said I guess I’d have to go to Rapid City.

After I drove off, it occurred to me that I should have had her watch the dogs while I used her bathroom, but by then I was already 5 miles out of town. So I just gritted my teeth and pressed forward. About 10 miles down the road, I decided to toggle the accursed window switch one last time, and the window went up.

I stopped at the nearest gas station and rushed into their bathroom. Then I bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch and sat there and ate the whole thing. I will never try to roll that window down again. Ever. I HATE automatic windows!

By now I’m emotionally exhausted and still 6 hours away from Billings. Nothing for it but to keep driving. At least I’m wide awake thanks to the coffee ice cream.

When I got to the Western Inn Motel in Billings, I was appalled at the conditions. Housing is at a premium in that city because workers have come in to work the oil fields, and there is not enough accommodations for them, so the hotels know they can charge whatever they please. So this dump, which might be worth 27 dollars on a good day, charged me over 100. There were muddy work boots scattered in the hallway. But I was too tired to care.

Random thoughts I had during the long open stretches of road today:

  • All this wide open space and no wind farms. Why aren’t there any wind farms?
  • I don’t know what’s happening in the world. I haven’t heard the news in days. I kind of like it.
  • Getaway is really kind of a hostile term when you think about it. Get away.
  • I entered the Mountain time zone today. If there ever was a day I needed to gain an hour, it was this one.
  • I passed through Wyoming. Another state I wasn’t expecting to see! I really need to brush up on my geography.
  • Normally I find the actual travel part of travel to be very stressful. Usually it’s the destination I enjoy. But I find myself really loving this process, except for this whole Mount Rushmore nightmare. I’m enjoying the journey.
  • After I left South Dakota, suddenly NPR radio stations became extremely available again. Am I back in a more liberal area? I heard an ad for a concert entitled “It’s Baroque and We Ain’t Fixin’ It.” I love a good pun.
  • I see Custer’s name everywhere. Towns and memorials and parks and forests. You’d think he’d be persona non grata around here.
  • I hit a torrential downpour in Montana. I couldn’t see a thing. Thank God the window went up. There are no overpasses to hide under, no gas stations in which to take refuge. I’d have been one wet, cold, miserable person.
  • You know you’re in cow country when there’s cattle grating on expressway on ramps.

Places I saw that must have a story behind them:

  • Winner, South Dakota
  • False Bottom Creek

 Places I would have loved to have had the time to visit:

  • Devil’s Tower
  • Little Bighorn
  • Glacier National Park
  • Pictograph Cave

 Interesting and random stuff I saw:

  • Amber waves of grain. Actual, honest to God amber waves of grain.
  • A camel grazing in a pasture outside of a tourist trap called 1880’s town. I almost drove off the road.
  • In the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, the highway was blocked off for funeral procession. Dozens of veterans in leather jackets, police officers, and a truck driver were standing along the route saluting the dozens of cars. It was sad to see, but also heartening that the family was getting so much support.

Something I learned today: I can take care of myself, even in the worst of circumstances. What a pity it took me 49 years to figure that one out.

God, what a day. I’m hoping tomorrow will be a little bit less eventful. Next stop: Spokane, Washington!

Check out part 6 here!