Belonging

When my grandparents came to these shores on a boat (in steerage), they were strangers in a strange land.  And they had nothing.  They remained that way their whole lives.

America.  Such a strange country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as he shook his head about something peculiar he read in the newspaper or saw in person or on TV (female wrestling was one such thing).

America.  Such a vondehful [wonderful] country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as looked at the success of, and integration of his children and grandchildren into, American society.

My grandparents were not of this country, although they were naturalized citizens.  They left their home countries to escape atrocities.  So, they were not of those countries either.

They were displaced people their whole lives.  But they felt safe here.  They were citizens here.  They loved this country.

Next to the pictures of Mom and Dad on their wedding day and our various graduation pictures, was a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act. 

Because a person could do anything and be anything in America.  And America took care of its people who worked hard and raised the next generation of contributors to society (and tax revenue).

My parents and we, their children, grew up with a sense of belonging.

We belong.  This is our country.  We are Americans. 

And, in this country, we have the luxury of a prefix — Chinese-, Japanese-, Polish-, Russian-, Anything-American — because 

We belong.

That is not to say that being Jewish or of Polish, German, Russian and Prussian descent was easy.  Educational and employment discrimination, fights and name-calling of my parents’ generation gave way to schoolyard name-calling and social discrimination in mine.

And, in the next generation, there is still anti-Semitism.  Because prejudice will always exist.  Because crazy people vandalize synagogues.

But we belong to this country and we can, and do, succeed in this country.  But we had to work hard and deal with stupid people and prejudice along the way.  That is a fact of life.  But because I am a citizen, I have the same rights as the bigots.  With education, I can make sure they don’t lord over me.

I think about the Algerians and other North African people in France or “guest workers” across Europe.  These individuals and their families can be two or three generations in Europe and still not be citizens.  Bigotry and malice can cripple their advancement.  They are effectively ghettoized.

In Europe, Asian and African immigrants cannot be citizens. Even when two generations have lived there and no where else.  Even when the grandchildren only know how to speak French, Dutch, German, Flemish, etc. and not the language of their grandparents’ country.

And so they DON’T belong. ANYWHERE.

And they have opportunities. NOWHERE.

And their country of birth claims them as citizens. NOT AT ALL.

And they have bright futures and integrate into the larger culture without losing their cultural and religious identities.  NOPE. NOT HAPPENING.

(This sounds like the story of the Jews in Europe (other than, ironically, Germany) up until just before Hitler came to power.)

I wonder what would happen if these immigrants and guest workers, or at least their children or grandchildren, could be citizens.  I wonder what would have happened in my parents’ and my generation didn’t “belong” to our great nation.

What if they belonged . . . .

276 girls

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/09/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/

How is this possible?  There have been decades of atrocities, unbreakable cycles of violence, the world over. Countless children sacrificed to the power struggles over land and its resources.  Nigeria has devolved into chaos.

Legacies of colonialization and Western arrogance.  And backlash.

This is the one case that is gaining international attention.  Because of the brazenness and insanity of the Boko Haram fighters.  How does a militant group, fighting in the name of God, kidnap 276 school girls to sell them into marriage and slavery?

These girls.  These poor girls.  Their poor families.  I cannot imagine what it is to have my child taken from me by lawless gangs who roam with impunity.

This massive kidnapping is about radicalism and the cheapness of human life, in general, and that of a girl’s life, in particular.

And the knowledge of the perpetrators that we, in the United States, will soon turn back to the results of the NFL draft.  And then they can do this again.  And again.  And again.  Until no child is spared from the war crimes.
Our souls, and our beliefs in the sanctity of human life and in the God-given right of a child to realize his or her potential, lie in the balance of our nation’s response to this crisis and others like it across the globe.  Let’s find these girls, airlift them and their families and share the bounty of our nation with them.  It isn’t fair to those left behind, but it is a start.  And, in Jewish theology, it is a person’s moral obligation to save even one life even if one cannot save everyone.

God bless and keep these girls, and keep them safe from more ravages of war.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

[For the song, “Mrs. Robinson”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1BCAgu2I8]

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns [our frightened] eyes to you.  (Woo woo woo.)

Once we believed that our political and sports heroes could save us our innocence and our dreams from the stark realities of war, assassinations and a nation divided.

We looked to them — to Joe after Marilyn’s death, to Jackie after JFK’s assassination, to Coretta after Rev. Dr. MLK’s assassination — to steady us.  To remind us of better times and take us past the tragedies.  To take us back to a winning baseball team, to Camelot, to a place where dreams were possible.

God bless you, please, [this America].
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
(Hey, hey, hey.)

Today, I am scared.  Because we are a nation so bitterly divided.  Because my dreams are ever less fanciful, my reality ever less comforting, my hopes and expectations ever lower, than just a week, month or year ago.

And there are no heroes, but where is there a parent who wants to tell that to his/her children?

Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

What is the embodiment of my fears?  Heritage Action for America scuttled any potential deal on the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives.  Because lawmakers are taking their cues from lobbyists-thinktanks-donors and not their frightened constituents.  That very action breaks the very foundation of our nation — representational government.

Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

And all that people have worked for, and saved for, and paid taxes for, hangs in the balance.  Because we, the people, are pawns in a power grab.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

We whom our government serves.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

About whom no one seems to care.

WE, THE PEOPLE.

Joltin Joe has left and gone away (hey hey hey).  It isn’t the same to turn our frightened eyes to A-Rod.

Marbles

Mom and Dad always taught us that if you lose, you lose with dignity.  You don’t take your marbles and stomp off.

Except I never played marbles and I had no idea what they were talking about.  Just like my son doesn’t understand the phrase, “you sound like a broken record.”

But, eventually, I got the point.  If you lose fair and square, then you congratulate the winner and move on.  You don’t try to pretend the game never happened or that the winner cheated or that you were robbed of the trophy.

Unless, of course, you are part of the Tea Party.  Then you think that G-d is your co-pilot and that Barack Obama is not a legitimate president because, well, how could we elect a black man and no black man was ever born in the State of Hawaii.  (SIDEBAR:  Ted Cruz, you were born in Canada and had dual citizenship until a week ago.)

Let’s be fair.  We have had presidents who ascended to the highest office in the land under a cloud.  The “elections” of John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush come to mind.

But the Tea Party did not mind George W. Bush being president.  Hmmmmmmm.

Maybe because they “won”?  Hey, I remained an ordinary, law abiding citizen and patriot even through the terrible years of Bush/Cheney.  And I did not think they were duly elected, but the Supreme Court spoke.

I didn’t take my marbles and stomp off.  But, now the Tea Party is mad because Barack Obama is president, and a legitimate president.

But the government shut down and the debt ceiling should not be about one man and his health care reform and his birth certificate. 

These issues are about the people you all pretend to care about.

This is America and the majority spoke.  Be patriots.  Show the world that this is your country, come what may. Come on, I dare you, Tea Party members of Congress.

Put country first.

Hey, I am as liberal as they come and I say to you, “Less government? ok.  No government? Anarchy.”

And anarchy is treason.

And so are breaching the public trust and the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

And then you will see citizens like me  — middle-aged, economically secure (or so we thought) taxpayers — take to the streets and scream for your heads because you let our nation default.

So, before you smugly take your marbles and stomp off, remember, if you let our nation default —-

then you are no better than Benedict Arnold, betraying your country and fellow citizens and playing roulette with the total collapse of the republic.  

The hangman awaits.  Your move.

Another Gut Check Moment in New York City

I don’t take cabs as much any more — economical and environmental reasons — but so often when I do take cabs, I learn life lessons from the drivers.

Thursday night was no different.  The driver had a French African accent I found hard to understand and identify. After we both understood our destination, I asked, “Where are you from?

Africa.

Where in Africa?

Burkina Faso.”  This was the first time I had ever met anyone from there.  And now that I am used to the cadence of his English, he is very well-spoken.

I have heard of it. It used to be called Upper Volta.” I said more for my benefit as if telepathically showing to my parents — one dead, one alive — that there was something to my liberal arts education after all, even amid the four years of debauchery.

Is your family there?” I continue.

Yes.

That must be hard. Do you see them?” (Of course, I make that inappropriate assumption that others have families like mine, whom I would dearly miss.)

Ten years.

How long have you been here?

Ten years.

Do you have a family here?

I come with my friend.

My friend. Ahhhhhhhh.

I am a lesbian; is your friend a man?

Yes.” He says with openness but no relief.  We weren’t navigating the great divides between our lives.  We were just able to be less vague and more truthful.  I was still a white, well-heeled American sitting in the back of his cab and he was the refugee driving me around and trying to make a life in a strange and, at times, harsh city.

And you can’t go home?

I would be killed.  Even by my family.

We reached our destination.

I am glad you are here and I am sorry that you had to leave your home.”  Not a brilliant sentence but heartfelt, even if for a stranger.

It is the punishment.

“It is the punishment.”  As much as this man traveled to be free, he carries the homophobia inside.  Two people in the same car, worlds apart.

Oh, Rush, please don’t go

Rush Limbaugh, please stay in the United States.  I know you threatened to go to Costa Rica if Obamacare was upheld, but what did the Costa Ricans ever do to you?

We already export fast food, inane television shows, and grotesque materialism to the rest of the world.  I think your bile and insane rantings would make the US a true pariah among nations.

You spent years berating Democrats as being unpatriotic because they protested Bush/Cheney policies they didn’t like.  Now you don’t like something and you are going to “self-deport” (to quote Mitt).  Now, who is being unpatriotic?

When you are talking to your friends in the Congress, could you please tell them that they need a remedial course on the Constitution and constitutional law.  Since Marbury v. Madison, it has been well established that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of whether a law is or is not Constitutional.  Senator Rand Paul doesn’t seem to know that.  And, if he doesn’t understand some basic principles about how our founding fathers set up our system of governance, then maybe he is unfit for his job.

But you are perfectly suited to being a shock jock on talk radio.  You are crass, bellicose, incendiary, pig headed, and an ego-maniac with one or more personality disorders.  That you are popular says more about us than about you.  And that is truly the pity.

But stay here, Rush, because other countries have enough problems without you.  Not that you were really going anywhere.  Because you really are too much of a hypocrite and meglo-maniac to give up your fame and fortune for principle.

Principles can be soooo inconvenient.

The Checklist

In my professional life, I always having a closing checklist for each transaction.  Every piece of paper, every action, every issue goes on a centralized list, with responsible parties, deadlines and status.  Good practice (or malpractice) starts with organization.

As for my personal life, well, not always.  I try to maintain some type of order amid chaos, but let’s face it:  without POB, my life would be a compost.  Even POB was surprised, initially, at what lurked under the veneer of successful urban professional: my bespoke blazers and trousers held together with staples and scotch-tape (but never spit).  Indeed a metaphor for my life then.  The saving grace:  I did have someone come in to clean, do laundry and re-stock toilet paper and other essentials.

So, I wasn’t joking 10.5 years ago when, during a discussion about whether to have a child, I asked POB, “am I not baby enough for you?”  And now we have SOS and I have matured beyond my post-adolescent years.  I am now a somewhat disciplined person in my personal life.

Still, a wedding.  That is a huge undertaking and our mothers are not alive (and even if alive would not be young enough) to take over the process, make it their own, and forget about the two main characters.  How I long for that.  Yes, I said it.  If I could outsource this to our mothers, I would in a heartbeat.   I would get endless blog material.  So, clearly, outsourcing to a professional wedding planner is, well, no fun.

So, here is where we stand (using lavender, as the official color of gay weddings):

  • Dresses:  
  • Undergarments: next weekend (stay tuned)
  • Shoes: next weekend (stay tuned)
  • Flat tummy and chiseled arms:  works in progress
  • SOS’s suit, shirt and tie: next weekend
  • Rabbi: 
  • Venue: 
  • Caterer:  tasting ; final menu:  open
  • Photographer:
  • Band:
  • Centerpieces:  in process
  • Wedding cake:  
  • Invitations: in process (proofed; waiting for printer to send)
  • Ketubah: in process (actually waiting for feedback from rabbi)
  • Chupah: in process (poles reserved; cloth to be determined)
  • Ceremony:  needs work
  • Vows:  oy, don’t ask
  • Our song: still need to tell the band
  • Get:  get what? 

A get.  Let’s just say that one of us needed a religious separation from a long-ago prior commitment.  Traditionally, a get is something that a man gives a woman.  But a man can say no and still, he can remarry (I think).  If a woman doesn’t get a get, she is in limbo; she cannot remarry and her community will shun her.  Forever.  And there are horror stories even today about women in this very circumstance.  It is a terrible rule that confirms a woman’s second class status in traditional Judaism.

In our case, the prior commitment was with a woman, so no need to get a get, right??  Pretty good argument, eh?

Well, since marrying two women under religious law isn’t exactly, let’s say, kosher, our rabbi considers that the getting of a get should also be gender neutral.  Especially since, according to our rabbi, in its best sense, a get is a mutual release from the past.   Really, rabbi?  Sometimes, the past should just hang out there in the ether.  No one ever got bit from a sleeping dog.

Ok, ok, ok, ok, ok.  Service of papers at last known addresses, summons to appear before a Beth Din, a religious court of three rabbis.  Pretty serious business.  The religious court convened on Friday, in the West Village.  The three rabbis, two lesbians and one transgendering person, conducted the proceedings and finalized the releases.  (To show our diversity, the rabbi officiating our wedding is straight.)

The ancients and the current, living orthodox would have keeled over.  But they would have keeled over at the thought of the wedding.  So, I say, let ’em roll, let ’em roll, let ’em roll.

So, to update our checklist:

  • Get:  GOT

POB

I love POB (partner of blogger).  She is the better half of my soul.  She is extraordinary.

She is also “at liberty” these days, since losing her job in a corporate restructuring.  To my mind, she can rest on her laurels and eat bon-bons for the rest of her life. I want her to be happy.  But recently, I think she needs to have a job for her sanity and well, frankly, for mine.

A few weeks ago, I learned from POB all about the scam of recycling plastic bottles.  The bottles are shipped to China (add to carbon footprint) where the process of recycling those bottles causes noxious gases to be released into the atmosphere (EPA would not allow such recycling in our country) and then the recycled product is shipped back to us (add to carbon footprint). All this, over dinner, after a long day trying to woo clients and bring in business.

Last night, we were at dinner at a restaurant with friends and POB had questions about the fish special.  Was it farmed? Was it certified as “happy fish” before it was fooled by bait and impaled on a hook?  Where was it fished? (as in, was it fished in a place that is overfished?)  I had an extra glass of wine that had a huge carbon footprint.  I felt bad but the wine felt good.

But it was really the other week that I decided that POB needs a job, ANY job, with or without pay.  POB announced over a gluten-free, nut-free and (dare I say) taste-free dinner that we should get one of those apartment-size composting kits so that we can create fertilizer and then drop it off at compost-receiving stations in Central Park.  That way, the parks will be greener and we will be, too.  Ok, ok, ok, ok, at age 47, I am composting nicely, thank you.  I will disintegrate enough just in time for the worms, etc. to break down the rest of my cells at my death.  POB is not mollified by the knowledge that I am in slow-burn compost mode.

What, am I not compost enough for POB????  At long last, has it come to this?

President Obama, Save the Date

Dear President Obama:

I know, deep down, in your heart of hearts, you are not anti-gay marriage.  In fact, I think you don’t understand why people draw the line in the sand on this issue.  Given what a mess heterosexuals make of marriage, who should care if more people want to get married and then pay the marriage tax, to boot.  If some crazy gays want to do this, then G-d bless, right?

But you’ve missed the point.  It’s about taxation.

People don’t want to subject us queers to the marriage tax because the problem in Washington is spending, not revenue.

How about if you have a special tax code exemption for us so we don’t have to see our hard-earned dollars go into social programs? Maybe speak with Majority Leader Boehner (and how come his name isn’t pronounce “Boner” anyway?) about this.  I am sure that he will drop his Defense of Marriage Act defense once he realizes the gay marriage is not back door taxation.  (Don’t even think that was a clever pun for those who are male.)

Look, the GOP standard bearers want to protect our lives and our incomes.  Why else would they not want us to serve in the military?  And not marry?  Well, aren’t we the unanticipated darlings of the far-right?

This is the triple negative political action play that is making my head spin.  But never mind the GOP.

Andrew Cuomo, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have all stepped on the bandwagon.  Now I know the Clintons aren’t running for political office anymore (maybe a seat on the Supreme Court . . . ).  But Cuomo figures by 2016, equality will be a non-issue.  And he is right.  But you are in the “here and now” where it is gutsy to be a sitting President and lead by example.

You’re in a tough spot.  Let me sweeten the pot.  POB (partner of blogger) and I are getting married next year.  We had planned it well before the vote because we just wanted to celebrate our family and friends.

There’s an invitation with Michelle’s and your names on it if you just say. . .

Yes, gays can.”