There Was This One Bad Day…

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I woke up in a messy dorm room. My assigned roommate was a sheepish and sad lad from California who seemed to struggle with the new life that was thrust upon him; a kind and gentle young man, he was polite and terrified with the prospect of learning how to operate a washing machine. He told me about his horse, Sundance, and the life he had lived before being stuck in a dorm room with the likes of me.

Everybody adapts to life away from home differently, I guess.

It didn’t really matter on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was eighteen and I’d had been away from the home for less than a month, just like most of the other folks in the dorm. Unlike most of my dorm mates, I’d made the foolish decision to take early classes; everybody else liked the idea of being able to sleep-in until ten or eleven and built their schedules accordingly. There aren’t many people walking about campus at seven o’clock in the morning, but those that were about were carrying their heads between their shoulders. I found myself standing by a coffee cart outside of the student union, huddled with a few other people, listening to the radio, to the play-by-play of what was happening in New York. Only one tower had been hit at that time.

It was hard to conjugate Spanish verbs that morning.
My second class, calculus, had some students weeping over their pop quiz papers.

Young girls at the dorm that night, blonde teenagers with tight shorts that read ‘juicy’ or ‘U of A’ across the ass, were shouting among themselves that “we need to bomb them,” even though we hadn’t yet identified who “they” even were at that point. And while these groups of young ladies were talking retribution, all the young men in the dorm were quiet. We had all just signed our military draft paperwork in the previous months, right before applying for federal student aid. The gravity of the situation was a little different for the lads than it was for the ladies.

My buddy Newman, a Jewish kid from Manhattan with the palest skin and the largest red curly afro you’d ever seen, wasn’t wearing his usual smile. He was the guy who’d dig through that ridiculous mound of hair at a house gathering and pull out a joint to share with everybody. He’d never worked a square job in his life and he was always the life of the party. We sat with him in his room for hours, nibbling on stale pizza even though we weren’t that hungry, not really able to take our eyes off of the repeated footage on the television. The whole time, Newman tried to get friends and family, anybody from back home, on the phone. Cell towers were down and too many calls were traveling to Manhattan, so he just kept hitting redial, eyes dull and glassy and distant, all day long, staring at the fire on the television screen.

It was a bad day. I was reminded of a school project from fourth or fifth grade, when I was told to ask a family member where they were and what they remembered about the day John F. Kennedy was shot. I had the thought that this was that day for me – that some day in the future, I’d be telling my son or daughter where I was when I learned about the attack on the World Trade Center. My parents were just children when Kennedy was killed, not even ten years old, but they remember. Some things just stay with you, and I know I’ll never forget the feeling, the anchor in my stomach, the sadness that made me want to cry, even though I didn’t, hanging out with my shaken friends.

Not every day can be great, I suppose. Sadly, too many of our days end with images of needless horror funneled into our living rooms. School, concert, movie theater, and church shootings, bombings, assassinations, and gruesome rhetoric from politicians, pundits, and citizens alike. It’s easy to be frustrated, benumbed, and hateful. But these are always opportunities to learn, to grow more resilient, and to come together. The greatest result of the September 11th attack was watching a nation of three-hundred million people, probably for the last time in these past two decades, come together in support of one another, if even only for a few days.

“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
~Dalai Lama

The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.

Trump – The Stakes Are High


With the Republican party cannibalizing itself, Trump’s race to the White House has managed to plow forward unimpeded. After the first wave of disillusioned Democrats, scratching their heads wondering how on earth a boorish windbag like Donald Trump could continue to pull off victory after victory, establishment GOP figureheads have themselves joined the ranks of Trump critics. He is a chameleon, a game changer, an insurgent candidate – it’s true. And there is nothing good about it. We can advocate for change in our political process, but this is not the proper path.

At the end of the day, Trump can scarcely claim to be a Republican in the first place. His base is not a contingent of highly educated political scholars. They are average working people who are as fed up with the broken machinery in Washington as anybody else, and they support him from a place of absolute knee-jerk emotion, checking reason at the door. How else could his proven lies stick? How else can a politician, of any stripe, behave the way he has behaved – and continues to behave – without backlash?

It’s a dangerous game we’re playing. There’s nothing wrong with an electorate that’s fed up with political gridlock and economic despair, but flocking to the loudest, meanest bully in the schoolyard is destructive at most, foolhardy at least. We need look no further than what we’ve seen at his rallies – from photographers being choke-slammed and press members being penned in for ridicule to ethnic minorities and protesters being assaulted – and we ought not talk ourselves into thinking that violent rhetoric doesn’t influence violent behavior. We are better than this. There are better people to represent the conservative half, and it is a damn shame that the largest barrier preventing genuine intelligent statesmen (and women) from entering the race is money. A Trump victory will be the ultimate proof; we will no longer be able to say that political positions in America aren’t flat-out bought.

Will tonight’s debate be the same shit-show as the previous dozen?
My money is on continued chaos and a dangerous lack of much-need discussion.
Follow me on Twitter @LenseBender for live updates.

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Trump – We Should Be Afraid

Fascist Trump postWe can talk about the politics of fear. It happens during every major election. We are reminded that everything is terrible, that morality is splitting at the seams, that the world is falling apart. Talking points hinge on inflaming our sense of injustice, and sensationalizing tragedy.

Our elections are run like a Hellman’s Mayonnaise commercial.
Product ‘A’ is better than product ‘X.’

And people are buying it.
A lot of people.

There is no civility. There is no interest in policy. There is no desire to improve the lives of the American people. This is all business – business and entertainment. The crowds at the last Republican debate could easily have been borrowed from the nearest WWE performance. We laud the contenders as boxing opponents, and the cult of personality has blinded any real discussion about what these figures actually stand for. “People love me,” isn’t a good argument when we consider education reform. “I love the uneducated,” would probably be worse. “I can do stuff.” How does that inspire confidence, among any demographic?

Tell me about the wall you’re going to build. Tell me about how you’re going to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Spend all of your time highlighting perceived failures. Terrify me when you spend no time telling me what you would actually do differently. The best thing Trump has achieved? He has illustrated how profoundly disconnected the political class is from the working class. He has illustrated just how dangerous we have become. All talk, no policy, but definitely great at nabbing ratings.

This isn’t a run for class president. We aren’t in high school. Trump, with his decidedly undiplomatic rhetoric and grandiosity, will get Americans killed. He is dangerous. And we are marching down a very perilous path, toward greater internal conflict, and international paralysis. “Listen to me, I’m awesome” just doesn’t cut the mustard.

A lot of words. No action.
Much pomp. No circumstance.

What the fuck is actually going on here?

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Fiorina Drops Out – But The Damage Has Been Done

Fiorina postAfter demonstrating unexpected prowess on the debate stage during the fall season, the meteoric rise reversed course; technology executive Carly Fiorina has quietly excused herself from the table. After declining poll numbers and her absence from the most recent debate, news of her quitting comes as little surprise. After the indictment of anti-abortion activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt – the individuals responsible for the altered Planned Parenthood video that Fiorina relied so heavily on – Fiorina’s dismissal from the race couldn’t have occurred soon enough.

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Fiorina entered the GOP race in April 2015. Extolling the virtues of small government, she relied heavily on her business experience – especially her “elegance under pressure” during her tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard. She effectively handled critics who drew attention to her firing from Hewlett-Packard after a merger with Compaq – an action that led to 30,000 layoffs – as well as critics of her stance toward de-funding Planned Parenthood.

“While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them. I will continue to serve in order to restore citizen government to this great nation so that together we may fulfill our potential.”

Pretty words to conclude an ugly presidential bid.

While Fiorina’s bid has ended, her repeated lies continue to circulate, and promise to continue influencing the Planned Parenthood and abortion debate well into the future. Hers is a legacy of dangerous disinformation. Even though she lost, she has once again proved how influential and effective a well-told lie can be.


Why We Need To Eliminate Marriage

Equality post“When I am instructed by the all-knowing Jehovah to profess an ostensibly ‘equal’ brotherly love within the same pages where I am instructed to murder my fellow man for engaging in a love act, I can’t help but look elsewhere for guidance.”

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Among people of all ages, ethnicities, and religions, a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has been growing. This acceleration of tolerance culminated on 26 June 2015 with the Supreme Court decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, declaring that states cannot prohibit the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or deny recognition of lawfully performed out-of-state marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In the 5-4 decision, the highest court of the land invalidated gay marriage bans in the United States of America. This was no longer a state’s rights issue. A push for equality and a celebration of our inalienable rights had occurred.

Many consider this a progressive forward movement, failing to recognize the near fifty-fifty split in the court’s decision, a figure which loosely reflects the national attitude toward same-sex marriage. Some citizens of faith – certainly not all – viewed the move as an attack of their religion, and the bellicose rhetoric of conservative radio began once again to sound the trumpets about the “War On Christianity.”

The decision to overturn gay marriage bans has been viewed by some as the first stumble on the slippery slope. Some groups genuinely believe that the government has become a bloated, liberal bureaucracy that intends to dismantle their church, manipulate their faith, and legislate morality. Regardless of how foolish such an attitude may outwardly appear, the court’s decision served not to end the argument, but to reinvigorate opposition to marriage equality.

There has been unanimity among the GOP presidential candidates to have the decision overturned. The only difference in their rhetoric would be the degree to which they would fight. Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa Caucus on February 1st, has spared no opportunity to express his fervent opposition to same-sex marriage – an ironic stance for any patriot, especially a student of constitutional law.

In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, Thomas Jefferson made reference to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. He wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

If we are to examine the topic, perhaps we could recognize that the issue of marriage equality truly does hinge on the definition of marriage; we have a semantic legal problem, not a religious or moral one. The term itself, marriage, has both secular and religious connotations. In a land where there is a supposed “wall of separation” between church and state, it is the word itself that has led to such persistent conflict. The only sensible argument – an argument that has yet to be made by any politician on the hill – is the argument to eliminate marriage from our legal doctrine altogether.

It sounds extreme, but it’s actually quite sensible. If we view marriage as a tradition largely steeped in religious values, then we all ought to acquiesce and consider the term a religious one. If there is indeed a separation of church and state in these United States, then no statehouse should recognize any marriage of any kind. If we can view marriage as the joining of individuals in a religious ceremony, then it is appropriate for the ceremony to be privately held, between those individuals being married and their faith community. The government ought have nothing to do with it.

In order to honor the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, it is necessary to strip marriage of its legal status. Heretofore, the legal benefits of marriage have been distributed by a discriminatory legal apparatus that would not grant those same benefits to same-sex partnerships. This is wholly in violation of the 14th Amendment which mandates that individuals in similar situations be treated equally under the law. This is precisely why the Supreme Court eventually ruled as they did.

All partnerships, homosexual or heterosexual, should be required to apply for a domestic partnership – not a marriage license – should they seek legal status and the benefits bestowed upon legal partnerships. Fears of government intruding on hallowed faith traditions will be quelled. Citizens will enjoy greater equality under the law. People can continue to define marriage however they please, and there will be no legal consequence to those who disagree.

Supporting strong domestic unity will have a net-positive impact on our society. Such unity will serve only to create more satisfied, socially invested patriots, regardless of the form their love happens to take.

It would be a challenge to identify a distinction between denying same-sex lovers equal rights under the law and refusing to let a black person drink from the same water fountain as a white person. This is the 21st Century, and we cannot accept any argument that would diminish a person’s inalienable rights.

Spread the word.

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Murder Of Crows At The Cemetery

Murder of Crows postThe wind came from the southwest yesterday afternoon, bringing with it the threat of colder days. Flags whipped their heavy canvas sounds into the air, popping in the sky, rattling the halyards. A cluster of dry, cotton candy clouds slid across the darkening landscape.

I took a walk out to Lenexa Cemetery, a small patch of land we used to drive past on our way to church every Sunday morning. I know a few people buried there, but I’d never walked the grounds – only driven past. It strikes me as odd, these cemeteries, tucked in, flanked on either side by apartment buildings, within eyesight of the Hy-Vee Supermarket, FedEx Office, the McDonald’s. I’ve grown used to cemeteries always being on the outskirts, but that model doesn’t work in cities like this, which continue to expand their circumference, slowly devouring the pastures that I remember from my childhood.

A murder of crows were perched on the mausoleum in the center of the yard. One would occasionally pop into the air, circle around fighting the wind, only to settle back down onto it’s original perch. As I approached, their rhythmic cawing rose. Their heads would shoot left, shoot right, cock to the side, as if considering whether or not to fly away from me and into the unforgiving wind.

Save for the sound of their cawing, the wind in my ears, everything seemed still, despite the tide-pool of traffic that circled around the cemetery. Life in the city continued to pulse forward – just not here, in the crunching yellow grass, amid the blackbirds and the headstones.


Farewell, Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda post

Some people manage to live long enough that their passing isn’t considered tragic, but inevitable. No passing of a beloved figure is easy, but old age is a far lesser tragedy. Abe Vigoda was the subject of a rash of internet hoaxes over the years, with fake news articles and memes prematurely declaring the ‘Barney Miller’ and ‘Godfather’ actor dead. David Letterman often made ‘Vigoda is dead’ jokes on late night television, persistently poking fun at the rumors that had stretched back as early as 1980. As it was noted in his ABC New York obituary Wednesday afternoon:

“When a published report erroneously declared Vigoda dead in 1982, he responded by taking out an ad in Variety showing him sitting in a coffin reading his obituary. Abe Vigoda, until the real end, showed a sense of humor that he flashed one honest, pained look at a time. ”

It took a slow steady tide Wednesday afternoon for the news to settle in; this time it was real. Mr. Vigoda had indeed left us, at the age of 94. Most of us probably hadn’t thought about him too terribly much, but the news is still enough to give one pause.

I didn’t watch ‘Barney Miller,’ despite an addiction to classic television that started when I was about ten years old. I can remember summer evenings spent watching ‘Get Smart’ and ‘Dick Van Dyke’ marathons on Nick At Nite, but it was only the comedies that grabbed my attention. I never knew Detective Fish.

My earliest memory of the man stretches back to a living room at a friend’s house when I was in elementary school. The VHS cassette was the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan original rom-com. It was ‘Joe Versus The Volcano,’ and I loved it. I can’t remember why, exactly. Most of the plot escapes me, but I remember that weird tribe of orange-soda obsessed villagers (an irony today that reminds me of my father) and that classic scene at the beginning of the film when Tom Hanks quits his job.

“You look terrible, Mr. [Boss Man]. You look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit. Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. For 300 bucks a week, I’ve lived in this sink, this used condom!”

But this is all beside the point. The first impression of that long-faced grandfather that Abe Vigoda has always been, at least during my lifetime, came from that film. He was painted up and stoic looking, with that aggrieved look, that furrowed brow and that unsmiling face which, for whatever reason, made him seem wise and lovable. At 94 years of age, I am certain that he was wise. And with a career as long and successful as his, there’s no doubt he was greatly loved.

Good night, sir! Perhaps we will meet on the other side.


(and don’t worry, pal – I won’t mention your small role in Goodburger. I don’t think anybody involved – the studio, the actors, or the audience – really want to remember)


A Self-Indulgent Birthday Post (and Claire Danes)

Claire Danes

It doesn’t always have to be serious, now does it? It’s my birthday, and I’m feeling nostalgic.

Four years ago, I had the extreme pleasure of driving hours in early-morning darkness north from the Mexico border to Tucson International Airport to visit my sister in Boston. About an hour into the drive, going through Tombstone, my car punched through a thick fog, crawling at a twenty mile-per-hour pace. Before me, like an apparition, more than a dozen deer, wreathed in fog, trotted confidently down the main stretch of road through the town like a team of brewery horses.

Watching them clop at an even unbroken pace, I felt as though I had been teleported. Steam blew out of their nostrils. My car didn’t frighten them. It was a sight.

I met my first-born nephew when I finally arrived in Boston. After climbing an ungodly number of flights up from the red-line to Harvard Square, my brother-in-law was waiting to take me to their flat. Having lived in a small southwest town for several months, it was an exceptionally peculiar transition into the bright-light bustle of Boston. Overwhelming even, but not frightening. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt to our surroundings, how quickly everything else becomes alien.

The squealing sound of the rails, the parade of lights rushing through the streets, the mass of rigid shoulders marching about, fists buried in winter coats – I had almost forgotten what winter was like for the rest of the country. I still prefer a chilly Arizona mountain to drifts of snow.

My sister and I went out for lunch the day after my birthday, a lovely restaurant with the gayest of the gayest of all hosts leading us to our table; lisping, delicate-wristed stereotypes abounded. Every café and restaurant feels like paradise when you walk in from the forbidding cold. My sis was happy to have some time away from the apartment and the rigors of raising a new-born child, and I was happy to drink a beer and warm my hands in a corner pub with my sister – someone I’m confident still knows me better than anybody else, despite years of living thousands of miles away.

When we eventually emerged onto Harvard Square, the ‘Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year’ parade was winding it’s way through. I wasn’t aware of this tradition, but it’s an event put on by the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Society at Harvard. Beginning in 1951, the society bestows an award to performers deemed to have made a “lasting and impressive contribution to the world of entertainment.” The television series “Homeland” had just wrapped it’s first season and had attracted a significant amount of acclaim, and at the head of the procession was Claire Danes.

I only managed to nab a few little snapshots, but it was still a lot of fun to walk up to the snowy street, not expecting anything, only to have a brass band and a load of wagons dig through the thoroughfare with crowds of people all about. Excitement is contagious, and the streets were lined with people. My birthdays, ever since I left home, have always attracted tragedy – break-ups, job losses, frustrations with family, work, or school. But this was a good one. The last good one I can remember. The only good one I remember since I left home for college.

I’ll never forget it. I have the pictures to remind me.


Trump – There’s Nothing He Can’t Say

Trump Naked post

Saturday brought more of the same from GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who was campaigning in Iowa. With the caucuses less than two weeks away, one would expect his words to be strong, calculated, and to the point. In a not surprising move, however, Trump shot from the hip, remarking at one point that his supporters wouldn’t abandon him even if he killed somebody.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he said at the campaign rally.

This brand of brash confidence has been a trademark of the Trump campaign, who has launched vicious personal assaults against his competitors, journalists, and even entire ethnic groups. In a world of reason, these kinds of remarks would be identified by what they actually are: denigrating, unprofessional, and even dangerous.

A clear line, as an example, cannot be drawn between pulpit-pounding (in the name of ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood) and the shooting that occurred on November 27th, but it would be a mistake not to entertain the possibility that staunch political rhetoric may have played a role in hardening the attacker against his victims. This should be an object lesson; when politicians speak passionately, about any issue, there are a lot of people listening, and not all of them will respond with consideration and restraint.

With shootings in Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, the Northern Arizona University campus, and elsewhere during this election cycle, one of the major talking points has revolved around firearms legislation, culminating in President Obama’s executive order on January 5th. With a great deal of opposition from the GOP, it is still in poor taste for a Republican presidential candidate to invoke an image of gun violence to illustrate how politically impervious he believes himself to be.
At it’s best, Trump’s statement in Sioux Center has a callous ring to it. What does it say about the Republican electorate if Donald Trump’s statement is true? Are they that forgiving? How can a political figure ascend to an “above the law” position that allows murder? What does it say that Trump’s supporters aren’t offended by his comment?

Since the presidential race began, commentators on the political left have disregarded Trump as a non-threat, a narcissistic media whore who would eventually prove ineffectual and irrelevant. It’s been stated, on too many occasions, that it’s only a matter of time before he says something so outlandish that his supporters will turn on him. That time has not come, and it might be wise to put that notion to bed.

Donald Trump has racked-up a number of media gaffs that have proved not to be gaffs – his supporters seem to love him all-the-more for his aggressive cruelty toward anyone or anything that might oppose him. He rebounds when making offensive statements about Mexicans, when he insults the looks of his party competitors, when he mimics and pokes fun at the physically disabled. And his attitude toward banning Muslims isn’t just a slight against an entire population – it runs contrary to the spirit of the United States of America itself.

We should not forget about the neoclassical statue that sits in New York Harbor. A symbol of American values, it is a depiction of the Roman goddess Libertas. In her left hand is an engraved tablet with words from “The New Colossus” penned by American poet Emma Lazarus.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Building walls and closing doors does not a great nation make. Joking about killing people isn’t anything we should tolerate from our political leaders. Donald Trump is not irrelevant, and the other shoe isn’t about to drop. He has money and he has support, and it’s time we all start paying closer attention.