Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Keys

At a party at Bill's home, I met a charming young couple who had just come to Hollywood to pursue their promising careers.  The next day they were dead.  Two of ten struck down by an "old man" driver who plowed into pedestrians at a mall in Santa Monica.  It was one of those "I put my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake" stories.

The man was so universally despised that I believe some of the rage was directed at the cruelty of randomness itself.  Isn't that the reason we search so relentlessly for the "meaning of life"?

Recently Venus Williams broke down over her involvement in a fatal accident even though she was held completely harmless.  Laura Bush admitted to carrying forward a lot of pain.

As for the "driving while old" situation, I am not going to agonize too much when my time comes.  It's going to be 90 years or sooner if I decide I am slipping.

If you're around, can I have a ride?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Mystery Remains

I heard a great story on the radio.  There was this husband and wife team who were very popular magicians in the late '40's and '50's.  They had one amazing trick that sealed their fame.  I missed the part where the trick was described, but it was very complicated.  Eventually, the couple retired and grew very old.

They decided never to reveal how they accomplished the trick.  Famous magicians like Penn and Teller begged them to let them in on the secret.  "We'll name the trick after you," they said.  "You will live on in magician history."

After the husband had died and the wife was on her deathbed, she was asked one last time.  "No," she said, "I believe it's better if you figure it out for yourself."

So now the question is:  Would you rather be like most of us who strive to set things up for our children? Wills, tax shelters, executors, etc.  Or, are you among the few who believe that you deserve to find your own fate and your sense of accomplishment in the process?

Is it better if you have to figure it out for yourself?

Monday, September 4, 2017

After the Line

One of the loveliest place in nature I've visited was on the grounds of a trailer park near Kissimmee, Florida.  As I was suffering through the last days of a crumbling marriage, my great friend Kathy suggested I tag along when she drove to pick up her folks and bring them back to Chicago.

I had never been to a trailer park or stayed in a trailer.  This one was nothing like my silly expectations.  Spacious, modern, and situated in a park with a club house, little putting green, swiming pool and lots of green space and water.

Kathy's father and I walked around.  He told me that most of the people who lived in the park were retired auto workers from Detroit.  They had been able to secure this amazing retirement because of social security and the wages they earned from working forty, even fifty years on the assembly line.

Now, we've turned much of that work over to robots.  No retirement required.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Solidarity Forever

When I was a teenager in Detroit, Walter Reuther moved in across the street.  It was after he got shot and he had a security detail guarding him and the house.  They were big guys who kept an eye on everything.

They kept an eye on me when I would be sitting in a car with my date, or acting goofy with my girlfriends.  My mother loved it.

I didn't know who Walter Reuther was when he "made us behave."  But later, I made it a point to read up on his amazing life.  Especially the sit down strike at the River Rouge plant.

The relentless attack on unions has destroyed what I believe was most "American" about this country.
The ordinary guy had a chance.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A New Country for Soo

Aside from a few harrowing tales surrounding World War II, most of the immigrant stories I know about took place one or two generations ago.  My friend Soo is from Korea.  After our lovely breakfast last Sunday, I became curious.  Here is part of her story.

Q:  When did your journey begin?  Was it sometime around the time of the Korean War?

A:  I was born three years after the end of the Korean War.  Then, as a teenager I came from Seoul to Chicago.

Q:   Were there a lot of difficulties?

A:    Definitely.  My mother had only recently obtained permanent resident status (Green Card), so, she could only bring me over on a tourist visa. There was a huge set back when the US Consulate denied my visa initially during the visa interview.  It took another year and the help of a very compassionate stranger. He was a minister who was a friend of my mother's pastor in the US.  I remember going to the visa interview with that minister and, although I did not understand a single word he spoke in English, I could tell that he was making a cogent plea on my behalf. I had already withdrawn from my junior high by the time the first interview was scheduled, and was devastated because everyone in my school was absolutely thrilled that I would be making an imminent journey to "America" where everyone was rich and beautiful.

Q:  What was it like to be a teenager in a new country?

A:   At fifteen, there was real culture shock. Pizza and hot dogs were so salty! Other food was so bland. 

For my first day at Evanston High I wore a dress my mother made from a Simplicity pattern.  It was a white one piece with red stripes and a red cloth belt.  I also wore faux patent leather pump shoes.

I was completely shocked at the behavior of my fellow students, smoking: and African-American girls bullying and hitting white girls in gym classes and white girls just taking it.  The kids thought I was either Chinese or Japanese.  No one knew where Korea was back then. 

I had a friend Stephanie who had a locker near me and she was pretty nice to me. In Korea, you hold hands with your friends of the same sex. When I tried to hold her hand walking up to our biology class on the second floor she batted it away.

Q:  Do you still have a “Korean identity” ?  If so, how does that play out?

A:  Because Evanston had hardly any Koreans and my mother was a 'self-hating' Korean (being a single mother carried a big loss of face in the Korean community), I distanced myself from other Koreans in Chicago. For for a long time, I think I behaved as if I were "white."  I had worked pretty hard to assimilate and speak English without an accent. It wasn't until l went to Michigan State University for graduate work that I realized I was still the “other.”   It was a huge shock to me when I went to the Dean to ask what happened to the teaching assistantship I had been promised. He told me that it was only available to graduates from US universities.  When I told him that I had graduated from University of Illinois in Champaign, he then said that the it was only available to US citizens.  I told him I also qualified on that account.  This interaction left me bitter about MSU.  Because U of I in Champaign had so many Asian American students, I did not realize how provincial some academic institutions could be.  

My Korean identity also took a toll in my relationship with my American ex-husband.
I also think that my affinity to Buddhism has something to do with coming from a country where Buddhism was one of the early religions and the philosophy of Buddhism, especially Chan/Zen/Son Buddhism is still quite deep in the culture.  

Q:  And, your “American identity”?

A:  I am very grateful to this country for taking me in.  Even with harassment and other very insensitive behaviors, I am deeply committed to the ideals of this country. I do think of myself as more American than Korean.  America, where there are more equalizers than many other nations.  America, where programs like Job Corps is funded by its citizens to help the disadvantaged youth to become productive citizens.  America where immigrants come with only $200 to their name to start a whole new life to prosper and contribute to the fabric of the country. 

And no, this is not blind adoration. This country does have a history stained by blood of those it exploited and abused.  But I think that there is more good than evil here.  And I cannot tell you how upsetting it is to see this administration trying to dismantle all that is noble and good about this country.  

Thanks, Joan, for this opportunity to share my story with you.  

And thanks to you Soo, for giving us a glimpse of your life.  I’m really glad I know you. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Not done yet?

It's been so long since a woman draped herself over a man I was with.  And to think, I was the one who waved her over to join us.  "Oh well," I thought as she turned her back on me to gaze at her desired object, "might as well observe and maybe enjoy this."

I readily admit that I live in a political bubble, but now I have to consider whether I have totally left the flirtation bubble behind.  Without doing it on purpose.  Just slipped away.

Is this another part of life relegated to the past?  A lost talent like when I could play a decent game of tennis?

No, I don't think I'm through with this yet.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Readers Live a Thousand Lives"

I remembered that great quote that Carole Reedy posted on Facebook as I finished reading The Nix.  This is a big, sprawling story a la Tom Wolfe (Craig's idea) or Jonathan Franzen, but it definitely has its own voice.

The Nix is a family saga while it looks around at America, then and now:  computer gaming, low-life academia, sexual abuse, police brutality, the Iraq war.  One of the best chapters takes place during the riots at the Democratic Convention.

The Nix is a mix of satire and sincerity.  It manages, amid all of its twists, to have a heart.

P.S.  May this is "Nix picking" but I don't think any book needs to be 600 pages.  Save some of those exquisitely worded riffs for another book or short story.