The Heart of the Matter


Here are some rantings.  A little too much for one blog, but this has been long simmering…

The 2016 election seemed to reveal the inhumanity of our fellow citizens.

Narcissism, racism, selfishness, and just plain meanness, won by a landslide.  And a mentally unstable, know-nothing, racist, xenophobic man with a history of sexual assault and fraudulent business deals became our commander-in-chief.

This was not America.

And then I learned, from people I admire and respect, that day-to-day life — as viewed on November 9, 2016 — would not be so different for far too many people when Agent Orange was sworn in. 

  • It would still be dangerous to be African-American in this country — the traffic stops, the arrests for wearing a hoodie, etc.  [I learned that even my classmates from an elite American college were not immune.]  Except even more police officers would walk away from murder charges.
  • People of all colors (other than white) would still be harassed and hounded and taunted.  Except it could be more blatant now.
  • Women would still face gender-bias and harassment in the work place and everywhere else, but it could be more blatant now.  I am in my 50s, so no one grabs at me anymore; it just affects my business generation and income.  [That anyone thinks it is ok to grab another person’s body part without permission is such a clear example of unexamined biases in our society.]
  • Immigrants or perceived immigrants could be told to go back to their countries even if they have always lived here (even if they born here – or brought here as children — and had been here as many generations as the hate-spewing white person).
  • People who blamed others for taking away the jobs they were unqualified to have could rage with abandon.
  • And the ends justify the means. And if it meant that some powerless person was harmed or killed to make otherwise ineffectual white men (mostly) feel empowered, well, all the better.  And these ineffectual white men did not hide it.
  • Neo-Nazis still existed, except they no longer hid behind hoods.

We were, of course, united by the existential threat that the Mango Mussolini would get us blown up by nukes or cause our economy to melt down because of unbridled greed and abject stupidity.

This is not America (but it is).

While I was tortured and devastated, I thought that my life — even as a white, liberal, Jewish lesbian — that would not change, as long as I lived out Trumpism in New York City. 

But the vitriol and the hatred unnerved me.  And the hate crimes surged here.

And I felt powerless.

And then my perception of reality did change.

I would love to say that I resist and march for others.  But that is not true.

I fight for my life, my beliefs and my family legacy.  I own this fight.  And every win is a triumph — if a racist cop is imprisoned, a Trump associate is indicted, a government subsidy to the wealthy is revealed, or a judge smacks down Administration for its Muslim travel bans. Maybe that makes it more real for my compatriots when they look at this middle-age, well-to-do white woman.

Because it is about me.  And about you.  And about you and me.

And standing up is itself a gift.  The Sunday after Rosh HaShanah, there was the Muslim American Day parade.  There were about seven of us who went to hold up the sign:

We were greeted with such love and joy.  I was the one crying from gratitude.  And then we were asked to march in the parade.

So seven New York Jews marched in a parade alongside Muslim Americans whose heritages spanned the globe.  

Everything in my life brought me to that day — my immigrant grandparents, my striver parents who didn’t speak English until first grade, who became upper middle class professionals, through public school education and the GI bill.

I am learning about the America that was and that is.  And I am learning about the necessary work to make good on the promise of America.  Because I want America to be that of my grandparents’ fantasies.  Because I want everyone I know and everyone in my subway car has an equal chance at prosperity, safety, security and health. (Happiness is never guaranteed.)

And then, daily indignities of having Trump as president, backed by the political sewage that is the GOP leadership, gave rise to a “I am too tired to be silent” rage.  And then came the tidal wave that was the culmination of each act of love, patriotism and resistance:

“Me, too” meme that has felled so many (except for the Groper-in-Chief). 

The teetering campaign of Roy Moore, the poster child of ‘America Gone Psycho.”

The clear inability (thank G-d) of the GOP to govern.

The people associated with Trump getting indicted.  

People realizing that taco stands on every corner is an awesome concept. 

The realization that the children of those who are running the stands are the future of American.  Just like my grandfather with his apple stand.  

Also? head scarves are cool.

And then hope came this off-year Election Day.  Democracy could carry the day.  If we stay vigilant and take nothing for granted.  And if we believe that we are all created equal and with inalienable rights to life and prosperity.  Maybe not happiness, but maybe safety in our homes and on our streets from robbers, thieves and agents of local, state and federal government.

And one more wish?

Let that same damn landslide bring them down. (oh, for all the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists, thanks for taking off your hoods.  Now we know where to find you.)


And let’s take a moment to remember:

Because when next our nation sings Hallelujah it will be because we stood up. #ImStillWithHer



The Wreckage

Mom’s and Dad’s house is empty of the objects that made it our home.  In fact, worse — the built-ins have been torn down with the most ginormous crowbar and sit as wreckage in the living room. 

The apartment looks like sullied shambles of an ordinary place. 

But it isn’t ordinary.  It is where our young lives happened and generations argued and celebrated, laughed and cried, welcomed new life and mourned those who died. 

And it is ok that realtors fix a value to a life-battered, empty, and unrenovated space.  The price is what the market will bear.  Memories don’t add value.  How could they?  They are only priceless and unique to us who lived them.  And those memories — the love and hurts and pain and epiphanies (few) — don’t live there.  They live in the three of us — my siblings and me.

So, on Saturday, as we schlepped the last boxes of slides and books that HOSOB (husband of sister of blogger) so lovingly packed up, POB (partner of blogger) asked me if I wanted to take down the mezzuzah on the doorpost of house.

I couldn’t.  At the time, I didn’t understand my visceral “nooooooo!”

Later, I realized that removing the mezzuzah was the final, symbolic gesture that would transform my parents’ home to a vacant apartment up for sale.

But, at the time, I knew it was too much for me to bear.  And too much to do alone.  It was a moment that needed all of us kids to do.

So, I will wait for SOB (sister of blogger).  Next weekend, she and I, with our brother on the phone, will take down the mezzuzah.  We, three.  Together. 

And, we, three, together, will close a chapter. 

Sounds of Silence

I don’t usually wear headphones in the subway and I try not to look at my emails or texts.  I like to be “in the moment” with the chaos and the subhuman conditions of the New York transit system.

It was Friday evening around 7pm. Maybe the slog of a week of work, the intense cold, the endless winter, the bleakness of the gray-black ice still on the streets were heavy on most of the passengers in the subway car.

Those are my guesses, but I don’t really know why the West Side 96th Street station was quiet and the subway car, too, was quiet.  Silent, actually.  I could feel the silence because I was not connected by headphones to another reality.

It was a rare moment of peace in the City That Never Sleeps (or Shuts Up).  In fact, it was a cosmic anomaly.

And then this bubble of peace was punctured by a man with a nervous laugh and a too-loud voice saying to his co-worker (I was following the thread since 42nd Street), “It is literally so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.  Where did that saying come from?  The quiet is freaking me out a little.” [screechy giggle followed by senseless ramblings.]

Actually, dude, it wasn’t quiet anymore.  But your interruption of it made it so much sweeter by the contrast.

And the co-worker you were hitting on isn’t interested.  Just sayin’.

Shirley Hirsch z”l (1925-2014)

Shirley could have been in the New York Times year-end edition of the Lives They Lived.  As a tale of lost and found.

She was born into a poor immigrant family and was, as they used to say, “not quite right”.  After her father died (her mother died in childbirth with her younger sister), she was put into a public-assisted halfway house system.  She was thereafter “dead” as far as the family — her surviving siblings — was concerned.  Ultimately, she ended up in a public assistance psychiatric nursing home.

One of her nephews discovered her existence 60 or more years later and began, with his wife, visiting her.  Through their interest and kindness, she spoke for the first time in decades.  And she kept talking, but not like a made-for-TV movie — it was intelligible, although often guttural.


We buried Shirley today.  Forgive the non-adherence to the Jewish 24-hour burial rule, but her nephew only found out two years ago that he was Jewish (for another blog) and is trying to integrate that knowledge into his otherwise Christian life.

In most other respects, we followed Jewish tradition.

The usual litany of readings and meditations didn’t fit this particular situation.  I talked with my cousins about what we would say about Shirley during the graveside service.

My cousin showed me the poem he wrote.  There were no better words.  Rest in peace, dear Shirley.  We will remember you.

For Shirley:

She a little left
a little different
and we a little right
perhaps indifferent
but was it right
to let a loved one
cling fast
to family long past?
we forgot that past
while she forgot this present

Finally we unlocked the door
and dove right in
to days left behind
all day into the night
hiding in plain sight
We found each other
Surely we were ignorant
but we were not
we ran away from each other
and surely that was not right

Reunited, we clung fast
she managed soft whispers
of that past long gone
we hung on every word
as we held onto her hand
soaking in precious moments
making up that lost time
when we went left
and she went right
a family come full circle

and surely this is right.


New Year’s Day in the Coffee Shop of the Undead

Ah, life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is, well, hanging by a string.

Back story:;;;

Maybe not life, as much as sanity.  Ok, not sanity so much as functional insanity.  Life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is measured by the functionality of those with dementia and other neurological disorders.

I guess it is also measured by physical compromise.  If you aren’t crazy, then you are most likely so enfeebled that, if you make it to the place from your house, you (actually, your home health aide) should do a victory lap around the (tiny) place.

So where else would Dad go to see his friends?  Regardless of Dad’s daily level of crazy, which hit the nuclear contamination levels today, he tips his hat to the elders already seated.  For over 50 years, some of them were just passersby on the street, but now that they are the surviving remnant, they acknowledge each other.  Others, like Marty and Joan (the kids of the group at mid-to-late 70s) get a real greeting.  Dad reserves the warmest greeting for Sam, his old friend.

But Sam wasn’t at lunch today. Always a worrisome sign.  Sam has Alzheimer’s and some other dementia diagnoses, but like any disease, he can function some days and not others.

After we left the coffee shop, we bumped into Sam just outside.  (I am grateful that Dad and he have known each other for so long that, even with his mental disease, he recognizes Dad (and us)).

We greet Sam.

Sam says, “I have some very bad news.  I was going to call.”

SOB and I hold our breaths.  Is it his companion, Norma?  Is it his ex-wife? His daughter? His granddaughter?

Sam continues.  “My brain is not working so well.  I have issues now.”


Dad — even with his nuclear-level dementia today — didn’t miss a beat, “if you would like company, we will come over or, food, we can bring it over.”

SOB and I marvel at the way Dad can summon the man he was for a friend in need. 

The man he was.  The totally addled man he is.  They live side-by-side in the same body.

That is why it is so hard to handle the bad days.

Because there will be good moments to give a child hope.

And then, a moment later, the child wonders where her daddy has gone.



If you were to read my blog entries over the past years (don’t, really), you would know that my siblings and I have taken care of the elderly of our family, in all stages of life, death and that gray area in between.

We have found people collapsed in their homes, held their hands as they died, negotiated for access into their homes, slipped past police tape, found blood heirs because — while they were our relatives in love, mind and time — at their deaths, they were strangers as a matter of law.  (Love matters in life; legal papers matter in death.)

I have surrendered firearms, repatriated funds from unnamed accounts, and taken those suffering from acute dementia and paranoia to psychiatric wards and held their hands through the process.

Aging is a nasty business.

These experiences must emanate from my being.  Sometimes I think that there is a magnet implanted in my forehead in the shape of S.


How do I know, you ask.  Thank you for that segue.

Just last week, I was on the phone (being all important, OF COURSE) and another call comes in.  I can tell it is an internal call, because the name flashes up.  I get an email from my assistant that someone from one of our Florida offices asked that I call back (instead of the usual: “oh I will just email her”).  I have never heard of the person so I look her up as I am dialing her back.  She works in the records department in another office so I cannot imagine why she is calling me.  No way our paths would have crossed.  I have never been to our Florida offices and it is not likely that she traveled to the New York office.


“Hi, Cindy, this is [Blogger] returning your call.  How can I help you?”

“Thanks for calling back.  My brother died yesterday in New York and I need some advice.  Because he was relatively young, the police have cordoned off his apartment.”

Really, you are kidding me.  Someone with whom I have never possibly crossed paths knows to call me when there is a death in the family.  And a messy death, at that.


And what is crazier?  I actually have experience in this.  Because I had an aunt who. . . . blah blah blah.

I offer advice, not as a lawyer but as a family member who went through this.  Her brother and she were not close, at all.  She wants it all to go away.

Days go by.  I email Cindy and ask about everything.

She types back:  “Oh, yeah.  He is really dead.  There is some lawyer handling this. Thanks.”

Soooooo many things wrong with that.  The obvious ones are too good to pass up:

  • of course, he is [still] dead.
  • I am invested in the outcome, but
  • in the span of three days, she has moved on.

Me? I am still in freeze frame in my own Law and Order episode.

I deserve the magnet.  But, it may be that I am the one who gets sucked in.

The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what he eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.


Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}.”

“Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”


All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:



58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

Saturday in the Park . . . .

I have been pretty overwhelmed by life and responsibility.

Then, as if from on high (ok, via cell phone), comes a booming voice:

“I read your blogs.  I have a few comments:  Schmuck, you are 50. Count them, I will wait.  [No waiting time] Ok, I will bottom-line it for you.  50 years old.  Are you going to spend the next decade in the dumps?  Because your father will live that long.  You know he will —”

“But,” trying to get in a word, “there was AROB and ULOB and —-“

“Done.  They are gone.  It is hard to clean up after people who are dead.  But you are not hurting them by selling their stuff and doing whatever you have to do. It is a job.”

Pause.  I am trying hard not to shriek, “You don’t f&^*ing understand!  It has been toooooo much these past two years!!!” But I didn’t.

I did seethe, however.  And think about my martyrdom.  I felt sooooo self-righteous.  And then I remembered I was Jewish and there is no sainthood.

And, then, I thought:  Really, [Blogger]? Are you kidding me?




Do ya read the newspapers?  [NOW, I am calling myself, schmuck.]

I stopped.  Mostly because I exhausted myself, even without uttering a word. And, I was letting stuff get me down which, if I stopped for a little perspective, is hard but so life-affirming.  I was getting stuck in a quagmire of details and legal issues and I forgot to be grateful for the lives my elders lived and my part in making those lives happy and secure at the most vulnerable times.

But, perspective can be tiresome and short-lived, especially if one is a self-indulgent, overly-consumptive New Yorker.  (Oops, that would be I.)

Still, even I couldn’t shake the idea that I need to think differently about a situation that isn’t going to change (until the BIG change).  Saturday was such a sunny beautiful day that it was hard to feel sad.

I decided walking to Dad’s house for lunch (at the you-know-where) was just the thing to put me in a good mood.

I walked the three or so miles there, through the city streets and Central Park.

It didn’t start out so well.

I heard a woman ranting at her boyfriend (possibly fiancé) about how much money he gives to his dead-beat dad.  The man didn’t even utter a word.  She just kept on responding to his unspoken answers.

I wanted to scream. Oh, please, shut up.  Did you ask what he gets out of it and what pain he avoids by doing this, even though you say he doesn’t want to give his dad money?

I heard two joggers disagree about whether helmets save lives.

Ok, thought for the day: it may or it may not, but what the hell, wear it.  I couldn’t hurt.

OK, this walk in the Park thing is — how shall I say it — no walk in the park.

Then, I heard one biker, who apparently had been cut off by another biker, yell, “Youw mothah is a man!!!” [English translation: your mother is quite unattractive.]

So unexpected in a City where, in fact, his mother could have transitioned from, or to, a man.  Such a throwback comment, ripped right from the urban playground where we born-and-bred New Yorkers cut our teeth in the 1960s and 70s.

I don’t know why, but I laughed so hard.  Maybe because it was a different kind of nostalgia — ludicrous one and so out-dated.  And the laughter made the sun felt brighter and warmer.  And I hummed all the way to Dad’s house, even skipping a little.

I think I will try to walk to Dad’s as many times as I can.

What’s in Your Wallet?

On Friday, I found a wallet on a New York City bus.  Money still in it.  Driver’s license. VISA card. Debit card.  Picture of Jesus.

I called the VISA card company and reported the now-found, but previously lost, wallet.  And I gave my name and number so that man could call me and we could arrange to meet so I could give him back his wallet.

This man has an out-of-state driver’s license  — and I don’t mean New Jersey.  The state was clear across the country.  What if he cannot get home because he has no ID with which to board the plane?  I felt bad for this man I did not know as I imagined how unnerved he must be not to have the contents of his wallet.

After a few hours of not hearing from the man, I started to go through his wallet more fully.  It felt ooky.  His wallet told a confusing story.  Why two NYC metro cards? Why so many New York-related business cards?  They were not new cards; they had frayed edges.  And a New York State health insurance card.

At least it was clear that the resolution would NOT be sending the wallet to the address listed on his driver’s license.

All of the detective shows started rushing through my head, complete with Law and Order music. Except this was nothing so dramatic.  I was not searching for a missing person, just a person who was missing his wallet.

Next course of action?  Social media.  That scourge and blessing.

I found him.  He does, in fact, live in New York.  I sent messages to him through various social media outlets.

On Saturday, he responded and we talked. I told him I also called the debit card company to report the lost card and there was still money in the wallet.  He seemed happy and relieved.

We arranged to meet on Sunday.  He brought his wife, and two kids with him, so they could all thank me.  He was in his early thirties and she was younger.  I was introduced to his son as the “person that Mommy and Daddy had prayed for” and the wife was grateful to God that I used my “lawyer mind” to figure out how to find them.  (She had asked my profession.)

“So, you aren’t from around here, are you?”  I asked with a smile on my face.

“We are not.  We did not think that we would ever get the wallet back, here in New York City.”

Oy.  Oy.  Oy.

“Well, as someone born and raised here, I think you will find as many good and kind people here as anywhere else.”

SILENCE.  Did they want this to be Sodom or Gommorrah?  And raise kids here?

“How can we thank you?”

“You seem like a lovely family and kind people.  That is thanks enough.  All the best to you.”  And I shook their hands and we parted.

Back into our separate worlds.  Because strangers don’t have to become friends.  And not every chance meeting needs to be a religious and cultural enrichment moment.  We, strangers and friends, just have to watch out for each other sometimes.

Social Security

Contrary to what our “rugged individualists” and Tea Partiers say, relying on social security is a little like being on death row.  You just never know when the Great Machine will stop payments and you will die in the streets.  Ok, it IS different.  On death row, the Great Machine actually kills you.

I had to go to the Social Security Administration the other day to get a replacement 1099 for ULOB.  I walked in, without an appointment, and was stunned by the stench, the number of humans and the number of crippling ailments in this vast room.  I immediately thought that this could be in a scene in the streets of Calcutta or Mumbai.

I spoke to the security guard, who told me I was in luck!  For replacement 1099s I got to go a different floor, to a quieter room.  As I got onto the elevator, I held the door for two people who could not stand up straight or walk without assistance.  They were indigent, in bad health, and had atrophied limbs.

I got off at my floor and walked into a room with upbeat and helpful security guards and less people.  Still the intermittent, pungent wafts of air made me want to faint.  There, as I soon understood, slightly demented people sat waiting for information.  Some, frankly, had no where to go and wanted to ask hypothetical questions, which were met by screams from the Social Security Administration staff who stood behind bullet-proof glass.  Although doctors and hospitals cannot give out medical information without violating a myriad of laws, everything is OUT LOUD and PROUD at the SSA office.  Or, OUT LOUD, anyway.

After many hours, it was finally my turn and I presented my uncle’s death certificate, my letters of administration and my driver’s license and asked for a 1099 for his social security income so I could finish his final tax returns.  The lady behind the bullet proof glass looked at me, looked at my papers, looked at me, did stuff on her computer, looked at me and then got up.  Uh oh, I thought.  But she walked over to the printer, brought back a piece of paper, stamped it and said, “here you go.”

It was the 1099!!!  I thanked her for a most enjoyable experience with government.  I even thanked the nice security guard.

I told this story tonight to someone who is an advocate for the indigent and the sick.  What was a funny story became less so because all of a sudden I realized that I sailed through the morass (relatively) quickly, but there are some people who are stuck in that vortex, deserving of aid but without the right paperwork necessary for the vast governmental program.

Yet without social security, even more indigent and tragically maimed people would be on the streets.  And our cities would be indistinguishable from Calcutta or Mumbai.  And then all of America would see what our nation would look like without social security.  And then we wouldn’t think of our nation as the nation of the able-bodied and young and fearless.

We would know that social security is to protect our most vulnerable, our tragically ill, as well as our seniors.

When I looked at the mass of humanity in that first room I entered (and even in the smaller room), I knew these people cannot be hired, cannot be trained and cannot survive without our society’s help. They are not lazy.  They are just, sadly, not competent.  Even to help themselves get the social security benefits they need to survive.

No one would trade places with these people.  They are not laughing, collecting money off of our hard work and living the high life.

If you believe that every life is valuable (and not just at conception), then you need to believe in social security for those who are physically or mentally or educationally unable to work and support themselves.  Because they are part of us and the American Dream — while some achieve great things (and even fortunes), all our citizens deserve at least an opportunity to live in a clean home with enough food.

This started out in my mind as a funny story of the privileged New Yorker enduring the vagaries of government sponsored programs solely for the purpose of paying taxes on ULOB’s social security benefits.

It turned into a lesson about all the politically invisible people in our society who need us.

Let us not turn away from them.