I Could Have Walked, But It Was Cold: In Memory Of Those Who Died Without Homes
Dec22

I Could Have Walked, But It Was Cold: In Memory Of Those Who Died Without Homes

I could have walked, but it was cold. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but on Saturday morning, the wintry wind whistled through the trees and my single-pane windows cracked and shook as if in pain. I heard noise from the house next door and realized they were having a yard sale in the 28 degree weather. I watched a few cars pulled up to examine the two small tables of items. I knew they were out there in the cold selling random household crap in order to have money for Christmas presents. I looked at my own front yard and laughed. We weren’t having a yard sale, but with the four bent barbells, exercise bike, stall mats, and assortment of storage containers sitting in the grass and on the porch, a random passerby might certainly think otherwise. The two Bernie 2016 signs in the yard fought valiantly to stay upright in the frigid wind. Fortunately, this is not the kind of neighborhood where people complain when your yard isn’t mowed or if the new trim on your house doesn’t mesh well with the landscaping. I watched Chocolate and Rico, two canine partners in crime, walk down the street. Rico stopped to look at me and yip. Chocolate scratched his butt on the asphalt. I think of them as the neighborhood mascots. Last Christmas, they went running up and down the street dressed in Santa outfits, but today they were unclothed. “Go home!” I yelled and pointed. Rico yipped loudly. “Go home!” He gave one more yip and then headed toward his house. Chocolate was still rubbing his butt in the street. I’m always surprised that they haven’t been killed by a car yet. When I moved into this house three years ago, an acquaintance told me I was moving into “the ghetto.” I guess the public housing two doors down spooked her. Could it have been the simple fact that this neighborhood is actually racially integrated? Or was it because I don’t have a dishwasher or a garbage disposal or air conditioning? My washer and dryer are next to my refrigerator, and the kitchen lacks granite counter tops and shiny stainless steel appliances. But, I have a house with a roof and running water and heat. The walls have chalkboards and whiteboards, and there are books in every corner. My kids can do gymnastics on the mats in the front yard, climb our lone tree, and shoot baskets with their friends. When my daughter walks out the door to have a sleepover at the neighbor’s house, my only real concern is the black bear that frequents the trash cans on our block. Not long after I...

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The Plight of the SS St. Louis: Hope, Desperation, and Death
Nov18

The Plight of the SS St. Louis: Hope, Desperation, and Death

For a number of years, I ran a youth program for 8th – 12th graders at a synagogue on Miami Beach. The 9th grade program focused on Jewish immigration and culminated in a trip to New York City that included visits to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The first program of the school year was always one with a man named Herb Karliner. Our 9th grade group headed to downtown Miami on a weekend evening, boarded a large boat, and then sailed out into Biscayne Bay. Under the stars, Herb Karliner spoke to us. Herbert Karliner was born in 1926 in Peiskrescham, Germany. On November 9, 1938, his family’s business was destroyed in Kristallnacht. They decided to flee Germany and secured passage on the SS St. Louis with landing permits for Cuba. There were over 900 refugees fleeing Nazi persecution on board the ship. Herb was 12 years old when the St. Louis set sail from Hamburg on May 13, 1939. When the ship arrived in Cuba, the refugees were informed that the Cuban government would not let them enter the country. The Cuban government had changed their immigration policy and retroactively invalidated the passengers’ landing permits. After six days in the harbor, the ship’s captain headed to Florida. Despite pleas to President and Mrs. Roosevelt, the United States refused to allow them to enter either. The ship was forced to head back to Europe. The St. Louis arrived in Belgium on June 17, 1939. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands agreed to take the refugees. Herb and his family were sent to France. In 1940, Germany invaded Western Europe. Herb Karliner was almost 14. Herb and his brother survived the war in hiding. His father, mother, and sisters died at Auschwitz. 254 of the refugees who were sent back to Europe died in the Holocaust, most in Auschwitz and Sobibór. My 9th grade students listened as Herb told them how he could see the lights of Miami Beach from the St. Louis 70 years earlier. He and the other refugees were that close, and then they were sent away. Gazing at the palm trees of Miami Beach, 12 year old Herb vowed that he would some day make it to the United States. He did. It’s been 10 years since I last heard Herb Karliner speak, but his story remains forever burned in my mind. On that boat, with the wind in their hair, the stars in the sky, and the lights of Miami twinkling in the distance, the students understood. Herb Karliner and his family had been in a boat off the coast of Florida 70 years earlier full of hope. But,...

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Hungry, Please Help: When Your Heart Breaks Under A Bridge
Nov07

Hungry, Please Help: When Your Heart Breaks Under A Bridge

“In America, we believe in pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. But what if you don’t have boots?” – Homeward Bound of WNC, White Paper on Homelessness I was on the way to pick up my son, Ari, from school. As I exited I-240 at Merrimon Avenue, I could see a man down near the stop light holding a sign. “Hungry, please help,” it read. The line of cars at the light was backed up the ramp, and I was too far away to call to him. I had a single dollar bill on me and some change. When the light changed to green, he stepped back from the curb against the cement wall, and I had to drive by and turn left. I got Ari, and I headed to the convenience store near his school. As we pulled into the lot, Ari said, “Mom, we got gas this morning.” “I know,” I said, “but we are going to get some food for someone.” I grabbed a bottled water and some chips, nuts, cheese crackers, and mini donuts. I paid, and we got back into the car. I cut down the tiny side streets to yet another convenience store in front of the I-240 ramp. The man was gone. I pulled into the parking lot of the gas station to look around but didn’t see him there either. “We’ll find someone else who needs the food,” I said. I turned right out of the convenience store and drove under the I-240 overpass. I looked to my right and saw a man with white hair sitting hunched over with his back pressed against one of the cement supports. We turned to go around the block, and I pulled into the parking lot on Lexington Avenue under the bridge. “Stay here for a minute,” I told Ari. I hurried across the small parking lot with the plastic bag of food and water in hand. “Excuse me, are you hungry?” I asked the man. He stared at me for a second. “Yes,” he replied. “I have water and some food in this bag,” I said as I handed it to him. “Thank you,” he said. I quickly ran back to my car. A woman stood under the bridge on the other side of the parking lot. I could see the tattoos on her arms. There were a few other figures huddled in shadow of the overpass. I got back in my car and shut the door. “Homelessness is a human tragedy. Our own community members live in tents and under bridges, vulnerable to inclement weather and violence, stripped of dignity and our collective respect.”...

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Butterfingers, Cigarettes, And The Andromeda Galaxy: The End Is Nigh So Be Nice
Aug23

Butterfingers, Cigarettes, And The Andromeda Galaxy: The End Is Nigh So Be Nice

“The End is Nigh!” the man shouted. “Is there still time for hot chocolate?” Riley asked. The-End-is-Nigh guy blinked. “Ah, maybe, I don’t know.” ― Jana Oliver, Forbidden The shouting was coming from a small man checking out at the grocery store. Nick and I stepped into the line as the cashier handed him his change. I don’t know what he thought was wrong, but he was quite unhappy and yelled at her. She calmly tried to show him his receipt, but he wouldn’t have it. He yelled again and shook his finger and stormed off. I saw the cashier’s defeated look as she turned around to the next customer, and I smiled at her and loudly said, “Good morning!” She smiled as did the next customer. Nick and I had a small shopping cart full of items, including athletic tape and garbage bags. The current customer had a Snapple and a Butterfinger. I saw her glance at the screen as the cashier scanned the two items, which totaled just over $3.00. The woman asked, “How much was the candy bar?” The cashier told her, and she said, “Can you take that off, and I’ll just get the Snapple?” My heart sank. The woman pulled out her card and swiped it and then walked out the door with her drink. “Hand me the candy bar,” I said to the cashier. I ran out the door and called to Nick to pay for our stuff with cash from my wallet. The woman was approaching her car as I ran up behind her. I was worried that I might frighten her, so I waited until she’d turned to open her door. “Here,” I said, and I handed her the Butterfinger. “Thank you,” she said. I walked back into the store. “That was nice of you,” the cashier said with a smile. Nick was puzzled. He’d missed what had happened, and he asked if the woman had forgotten something. “No,” I whispered. “She didn’t have enough money to pay for the candy bar.” “I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.” ― Richard Feynman “Mom,” Ari called from the back seat. “Did you know the Andromeda Galaxy is going to crash into the Milky Way Galaxy in a few billion years, and then we’ll all be dead?” “Yes,” I said, “but I think we’ll be dead before that happens.” “How many earths can fit inside the sun, Mom?” “I don’t know, but I bet the internet can tell us.” “Do you know how many suns can fit inside Betelgeuse?” “No, I don’t...

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Living Your Dream: Are You A Quitter?
Jul11

Living Your Dream: Are You A Quitter?

My family moved to Miami in December 1988. My brother, Jon, was nine years old at the time. We used to go fishing with cane poles in the canal and the neighborhood lake, and my dad bought a small boat. From the time that he was nine years old, all my brother wanted to do was fish. At the age of eleven, Jon got a job at Burt’s Place, a bait and tackle shop near our house in Saga Bay. He spent the next four years picking the brain of every boat captain who walked in. In ninth grade, Jon was fortunate to have an English teacher who let him write almost every paper on fishing as long as he used different resources. I think he might have failed English if that weren’t the case. My brother worked waiting tables and bartending to save money while he practiced tying knots and throwing nets. He got his captain’s license and logged hundreds of hours on boats to become a captain. Jon was always working, always saving. Finally, in 2002, he obtained his USCG Captain’s License. For nine years, he was a captain and a mate on other people’s boats, and in 2011, Jon finally bought his own boat. I don’t know much about boats, but I have been around them enough to know that they are an endless money pit. Forget the hurricanes and oil spills and all of the other major shit that affects the fishing industry. I’m just talking about daily and weekly problems. Fishing is a brutal job. Jon wakes up at ungodly hours and works long days that are almost entirely physical labor. His hands are constantly ripped and gashed. He’s sunburned, sore, and exhausted. But, my brother bought his own boat. He’s living his dream. I had a dream when I was nine years old. I wanted to be an astronaut. I mean, I really wanted to be an astronaut. That dream stayed with me for three or four years and then I allowed it to die a slow death when I was rejected from a junior high summer space program. I gave up. How many people had a dream at nine years old and then actually achieved it? I realize that most people won’t actually want to follow through on their childhood dream. I think about one of my college students who told me last year that his dream as a child was to be a dinosaur. That wasn’t quite possible. But, even if it wasn’t a childhood dream, most people have given up on a dream at some point, and in all likelihood,...

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AMERICAN REFLEXXX: Misogyny, Transphobia, And The Mob Mentality In Action
Apr25

AMERICAN REFLEXXX: Misogyny, Transphobia, And The Mob Mentality In Action

“A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know – – doesn’t say much for them, does it?” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird I watched AMERICAN REFLEXX today. It’s a 14 minute short film made by Alli Coates and Signe Pierce. Pierce is filmed by Coates as they walk down the busy streets of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Dressed in a tight, short dress, high heels, and a mirrored mask, Pierce becomes a target for almost everyone on the street. They follow her, catcall her, splash her with water, throw water bottles at her, and attempt to trip her. Finally, she is violently pushed to the ground from behind. All for being different? Sexy? A woman? Possibly transgender? The people watching her argue about whether Pierce is a man or a woman, call her a “shim,” scream in fear, and run away when Pierce turns around. “And the bible says god will laugh at your calamity.” You can watch the film...

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