Unfriend THIS

So I have kittens right now, who are learning to be independent, and teaching them is a never-ending source of amusement, anxiety, the fear of getting way too attached, and precious moments. Many hours are whiled away with a tiny fuzzball cuddling against my chest, or giggling while another fuzzball chews on the hair on the back of my head.

Kiko
Sully

I should be up, doing stuff, or out and about, but how do you put a precious baby down when they sigh and relax against you? Don’t get me started on how addictive their baby smells are. Bury your nose in a six-week-old kitten’s warm, fuzzy, vaguely pink tummy and inhale: there’s a very faint, almost indiscernible scent of pee, but then the warm fur/skin scent takes over, with a faint blush of cinnamon.

Intoxicating.

At least, until he or she latches onto your face with baby claws that barely know what their use is for.

Anyway, while I allow Sully or Kiko to use my dirtypillows as a soft bed, I scroll through Facebook and check out pages, or research ideas for home renovations, or read good articles (and blogs). Facebook is usually an exercise in self-control, because, as an old friend once said, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.

This is unfortunate, because invariably, one encounters dissenting opinions from that which one holds personally. However, when one delves into the black abyss of uneducated opinions, one risks becoming caught up in a fecund quagmire.

It often mystifies me that there are so many grown-ass adults who believe blatant bullshittery and refuse to educate themselves. Here are some recent statements I’ve read, just today:

“The coronavirus is just political B.S. and NOBODY is gonna make me get a vaccine.”

“Flu shots are LIVE VIRUSES they inject into you!”

“There are pieces of fetuses in vaccines.”

Okay. Unpack those. Yes, grown-ass adults made those claims. My first reaction was to say, “The fuck outta here with that” and unfriend, because honestly, it’s a friendship that has been peripheral, at best. We met at a job, this person left said job, and moved in with the first (of my association with them) of at least a dozen individuals they have been “truly in love with” over the past couple of years. I used to feel sorry for them – everyone deserves to be loved, right? – and so I hung in there, offering support and encouragement. At about #6 of their choice in life partner, I began to lose faith in their ability to pick a decent human being. You don’t know what to say to a person who obviously neither loves themself, nor has the ability to discern good from bad. You begin to see, as a casual observer, that this person’s life has been one trainwreck after another, mostly of their own making. You quiet your urge to shout, “Are you fucking serious???” when they introduce Mr or Ms (inserted here-because-while-I’m-certainly-an-asshole-I-am-not-that-asshole-who’s-going-to-out this-person-on-the-chance-that-they-may-read-this) Right (now). You continue to reply to their self-defeating posts with inspirational memes.

Seriously, the world does not give up enough gratitude for memes. They replace the need to come up with real words and often summarize how we’re feeling perfectly. Instead of replying with some lame comment we don’t feel, we can meme a bitch with fake affection.

Anyway, I really ought to unfriend. I guess I was looking for the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I guess I’ve found it, because 𝗪𝗛𝗔𝗧 𝗜𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗔𝗖𝗧𝗨𝗔𝗟 𝗙𝗨𝗖𝗞𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗙𝗨𝗖𝗞 is this shit about COVID-19 being “political bullshit?” Have I been wrong, all my life, in my voracious quest for knowledge about the history of the world and the scientific discoveries that have saved the human race from all things plague-like? I mean, is it all political bullshit: measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, whooping cough, chicken pox, et al?

Image courtesy of Never Stay Dead

I’m actually grinning as I write this because 𝗼𝗳 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀𝗲 𝗶𝘁 𝗳𝘂𝗰𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝘀𝗻’𝘁.

I could have gone onto that post and replied, asking them where they went to school and if there was a history class or are they Scientologists who believe in the magic underpants, or if they were awake during a single history class throughout their education, or if they’ve ever fact-checked a single thing that, well, if it sounds like fuckery, it likely is, indeed, fuckery? I could have cited facts and articles from reputable sources, because SCIENCE.

I could have done any number of things that would have satisfied my desire to educate, to dispel rumors and blatant fallacies, to provide a moderate voice of reason. I didn’t, though; I didn’t use SCIENCE and try to educate. Know why?

Because my efforts would not have come from a sincere desire to persuade, or teach. They would have come from my desire to be right. Don’t get me wrong – I am right – but why do I need to attempt to prove that to people I really don’t know intimately and who I would definitely avoid, were they to approach me? Because even if they are the sweetest person in the world at work, they are, in fact, a Trump-loving, Confederate flag waving, ignorant, narcissistic, middle-aged dirtbag who has fucked more people in two years than possibly the entire population of some blink-and-you-missed-it town in Texas. I no longer feel compassion, or a sort of camaraderie (we self-loathers recognize our kind) with this person.

No, with that statement: “Flu shots are LIVE VIRUSES they inject into you,” my brain just shrugged in defeat. I didn’t even post “Read a book, you dim-watt doofus” or react with an angry emoji. I came here, instead, to write, while Sully snoozed on my dirtypillows and Goose looked on in disgust.

Next, I need to go find my Unfriend button, now that I’ve exorcised this particular demon. It’s almost time to feed the kittens, anyway.

Science Fiction, American-Style

Have you ever pondered the possibility of time travel? Are the fantastically portrayed ideas of alternate realities and parallel timelines something you enjoy reading about or watching at movies and on TV? Is Dr. Who and his timey-wimey stuff something you could imagine happening? I dunno how it happens: you are given a tiny, little green pill to swallow, which will send you to a future not of your choosing, or HG Wells will have built a working time machine somewhere and you’ll get to take a ride; possibly there’s a real-life T.A R D.I S. with your name on it. Maybe there’s a rip in the time continuum and you fall through the hole. I am clearly just riffing, and completely unknowledgeable about time travel. That’s not the point, though. The how of getting to this future isn’t important. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s just say you were able to.

I did. It was altogether alarming, and I almost hesitated to write it, lest it become an actual possibility. Some might read it and think, “Oh, come on! This can never happen here!” I may be told, point-blank, that I’ve got one fucked-up imagination. (I do not deny this, by the way.) I would then invite them to have an honest look at the state of the union today. Take a good look, if you have, thus far, been able to fracture your world from that which is happening all around you and affecting people you know. As an aside, if you have been able to separate your life from the dumpster fire that is the United States throughout the last 3 or more years, please: tell us your secret. We beseech you.

Really examine just the events of the past six months, if the whole Trump presidency is too much for you to rehash. Then, tell me that this scenario I offer below doesn’t at least stand a very real chance of becoming true as things stand today.

This is not for the faint of heart. Continue……

I wake up. My bed is the same soft, cozy surface. The room is the same. Everything around me is normal, the house, the cats, and, I assume, the humans. Let’s say that I forego the morning routine of looking at social media and checking out the news. That’s not likely to happen, but since this is my little work of science fiction, let’s say it does. I suddenly have a craving for a breakfast burrito, and I walk down to a place where I would normally get a breakfast burrito. Names aren’t important here. Context, people. Use your imagination.

When I get to the entrance, I don my face mask. There’s a sort of big, red, symbol on the door that closely resembles an elephant. I pay it no mind; I’m hungry, and my stomach is growling like a fucking angry bear. I get to the counter, standing the usual 6 feet away; the associate’s eyes go up, and she gestures to my face. “We don’t do that here, and you don’t have to, either,” she says. I shake my head and say, “Better to be safe.”  Then I peer back into the kitchen area. There’s one guy back there, wearing gloves and a hairnet, but neither he nor this girl have a face mask on. Pick your battles, I say to myself. “I would appreciate you wearing a mask to make my food,” I say, and she rolls her eyes. She asks me if she can help me. I order what I usually do: a breakfast burrito with sausage, cheese, peppers, onions, and tomato, with salsa and sour cream on the side.  Oh, and a large, black coffee. We cannot forget that most important item. She places the order and begins ringing it up, after asking “For here or to go?”  Obviously to go, lady. Then, it gets strange.

“I need to see your card,” she says.

“Oh! I’m using cash. Besides, I could just use the swiper you have here,” I answer, not troubled by her assumption that I would be using a debit card. Most people do, these days. She purses her lips tightly and says, “No, not your debit card. Your card.” I look at her, not comprehending. My ID? My library card? Do people still have those? My {insert restaurant’s corporate name} points card? Seeing my confusion, she rolls her eyes again and calls back to her manager. “Hey Frank? Can you come here a minute? We might have a situation.”

A “situation”? What is the situation? Why am I a situation? Is there suddenly a ban on cash, or green peppers, or sour cream? I mean, I know coins are becoming scarce, but I want to give you cash, which will help with the national shortage, at least. Clearly, I should have checked the news this morning.

The guy who is all hair netted-up strips off his gloves and walks up to her. “Again?” he asks? She gives him a look and he regards me with a sort of bland, slightly disinterested gaze.

“Ma’am,” he begins pleasantly, “she has to see your card. With the mask on and all, it’s a red flag.  It’s necessary.” 

What? Just……what?

“You mean, since you can’t see my face, you need an ID for a burrito and coffee?” I sputter, completely exasperated. What he says next in reply sends my head spinning.

“No, not your photo ID. Your voter ID.” He seems perfectly serious about this. He does not seem batshit crazy. He seems to think that am batshit crazy, though. When he sees my eyes widen in a way that must make me resemble a Bratz doll, he elaborates in a sort of bored, I’ve-memorized-this-spiel-before monotone.

“This is a Republican-owned restaurant. We must see your United States Voter Identification and Party Affiliation Card in order to serve you. Come on…. you know that. Why do you people have to be so difficult, with your masks and your shields and your outrage? I mean, we have 331,000,000 Americans in this country and only 14 million have died of the ‘Rona so far. It’s a big, fake story.” The associate next to him nods like a bobble head as he says this to me. I remain standing there, incredulous, wondering just what the hell happened while I was sleeping or if maybe I am still sleeping, and this is all a jacked-up nightmare. I take a deep, shuddering breath. Easy, my inner voice warns. Don’t lose your shit.

The manager holds his hand up swiftly. “I need to warn you that I will call the authorities. The Federal Karen Act of 2021 makes it unlawful for you to express any so-called “outrage” about any and all regulations. So please, don’t make me have to call them. No card? No service. If you’re a Democrat or an Independent, go to their restaurants. You know who they are.”  He shakes his head, clearly exasperated with me. Bobble head just keeps bobbling. Turning to her, he asks, “You got this? I have to step out for about 15 minutes to run my mom to the doctor for her test. She’s had the ‘Rona 3 times now and they keep saying they don’t know why. I mean, my uncle only had it once before he got it that last time and died. I think there’s some secret stuff going on. That Dr. Fauci might really be the descendent of the Nazi doctors.” Bobble head replies. “I hear they’re giving you the test so they can inject a time-release capsule up in there, so you keep getting sick and the numbers stay high.” He shrugs, then nods his head nervously. “I mean, I don’t want my mom having the test again, but her insurance company is owned by  Democrats.” 

I back out of that restaurant slowly but steadily, not trusting them and not really trusting myself. Outside the restaurant, I pull my phone out of my pocket. The news is easily accessed; I search words on Google. I don’t even realize that I’ve sunk to the grass in front of the store until I look up from my haze. 

Somehow, I lost 2 years of my life and somehow, I woke up in an alternate reality where Donald Trump is still President, having declared martial law back in 2020 when Joe Biden won a decisive victory over him in the election.  Biden was assassinated on December 18th, 2020, before he could ever take the oath of office. The date was horrifying: it was the same day his wife and daughter had died in a car accident in 1972. The nation had become gripped in what was nearly a civil war, and Trump had declared that it “wasn’t safe” to have another election. The borders remained closed and we were at war with China now. The United States was being funded by Russia, with Vladimir Putin having his own office in the White House for his frequent visits to “advise”. Somehow, the US was trying to function in a way that allowed citizens their simple freedoms, but also allowed racism, prejudice, and bigotry to run free.  

I learned that my assigned “times” to be able to shop at Walmart and most big box, “bipartisan” stores were from 12pm-5pm. Republicans shopped from 6am – 11am.  Independents got 6pm-11pm. The store closed from 11am to 12pm, and again from 5pm to 6pm, to restock. Small, local businesses were permitted to choose how they wanted to do business. A red elephant symbol appeared on Republican-owned and operated stores, and a blue donkey symbol appeared on ones owned and operated by Democrats. The Independents had an eagle with an “I” symbol affixed at their locations. The government refused to address the needs of Libertarians, and there was a lot of civil unrest because of that. They were lumped in with the Independents, a fact that irked both parties.

There were federal troops in every large city now, dispatched to try and stifle protests. There had been one defining protest during a week in July of 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Some women who called themselves “The Wall of Mothers” had formed in response to Federal interference and occupation of that city.

They had appeared in front of a federal building, locked arms, and stood, chanting. Suddenly, strangely camouflaged soldiers had appeared out of nowhere and mowed them all down, using rubber bullets. One pregnant woman had been hit by three bullets and had gone into premature labor, losing her baby.

Another was shot in the face and lost an eye. One had been trampled in the ensuing chaos and died at the hospital later. The rest were loaded into vans and driven away. Three were still missing “in custody”, despite pleas from their families and demands for transparency by the Oregon Attorney General and many other officials. It was said that they had been taken “where the Mexicans go.” Tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets were the rule of thumb, but there were lots of class-action suits being brought against the companies who manufactured these things. Apparently scores of Americans had been gravely injured or died as a result of peacefully protesting and being shot or sprayed by these federal troops. Trump didn’t care how the suits went; he was a big supporter of “a person’s right to sue.”

As I read the absolute chaos the country has descended into, I begin to cry.

We had lost one Supreme Court Justice in 2021, and another conservative had been named. When calls for a fair and balanced Supreme Court were vociferously voiced by both Democrats and Independents, Trump had merely answered, in a two-word tweet:

”Make me.”

The ”Great Pandemic of 2020” was called, simply, that. Most news outlets had simple, stark tickers at the top or bottoms of their pages and channels that continued to keep track of the numbers of those infected with COVID-19 and those who had died: state by state and national totals. Apparently, there was a vaccine, but it was only 45-52% effective, and a full one-third of the country refused to get it, because Trump had stated, “It’s not for me, I don’t think.” He continued to refuse to wear a mask, and only went out to golf, having completely given up on rallies and appearances over a fear that “some Left Wing Nutjob” would target him, “and very unfairly.”  At his last appearance on Fox National Television, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, he had appeared to weigh an estimated 390 lbs. He drooled from one side of his mouth and slurred his words. It was said he could not walk unassisted. He refused to address his immobility, insisting, instead, that he never be seen attempting to walk. Sources at the White House refused to comment on his appearance or health, declaring Trump to be “as fit as a 30-year-old.”

I rise to my feet. I cannot read any more. I need to get home and to make sure everyone I love is okay. The incredible reality – that I was somehow caught up in an alternate universe – has settled deep within the pit of my stomach, where it pours black terror into my veins. The how and the why don’t matter right now.  I stumble up the hill as quickly as I can, aware that I am running on no caffeine or food. It doesn’t matter; I am functioning on pure adrenaline.

 As I near the front of my house, a white ATA van pulls in front of it. The driver smiles and waves to me as the door slides open. I hear the sound of a lift, and suddenly, a figure pushing a walker slowly makes his way off the lift and out onto the sidewalk.

It is The Male Sibling Unit.

He grins tiredly at me and shuffles slowly to the front door. The bus driver calls out to me.

“He had a really good day at work! He’ll be tired. He’s really getting around good with that walker now!” The look on my face must startle her, because she turns off the van. “Hey,” she says, compassionately, “Chin up! I know how hard it has to be to see him have to fight so hard every time he’s gotten the virus. You do all you can to keep him safe. No one could have known he’d have a stroke this last time. But look at him! He’s such a fighter! He never gets down! I’ll bet he could get it a fourth time, and a fifth. He’s a strong guy. I admire how he just says that life’s too short and you gotta live.” Winking at me, she turns the key in the ignition. “I’ll see you Wednesday! I have to go pick up a crew at the Elm Street group home for testing.” With a short beep of the horn, she pulls slowly away.

The next thing I remember, I am coming to on a gurney in an ambulance. A figure, clad head to toe in blue and with a full-face shield and mask works over me. A neighbor found me on the pavement. I had passed out. “Hey, no worries,” he says to me as I jump at the sight of him. ”Your husband gave us all your info. He’ll follow in your car. Just relax for now. We’ll be at D-UPMC Erie before you know it.”

“E-Erie? Am I that sick?” I stammer. “What’s the matter with Bradford Hospital?” He rubs my shoulder softly. “You really did hit your head, didn’t you, Dear? Remember, Bradford closed a year ago. Budget cuts on the federal level. Insurance costs skyrocketed. Everyone goes to Erie or Buffalo now, depending on their party affiliations. It’s okay – let me give you something to help you sleep. It’s just a little, green pill.”

No.

It is not okay.

*******************************

I know, I know. It can’t happen here. The thing is, we said that about a whole host of things that did, indeed, happen. Here’s a great article on how the Trump Administration is corrupting government. And here’s a Trump timeline of shame, in case you need one.

We have less than 4 months to neutralize the batshit crazy and inject some sanity into this country’s leadership. If we allow what is happening to continue unchecked, my fear is that my science fiction will become less the musings of a writer who drank too much caffeine and allowed some of her darkest thoughts to make it onto the page and more of a prediction and a premonition.

No, it’s not reality. Let’s keep it that way.

We don’t need another hero. We need a woman.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t raised with the idea that I could be anything I wanted to be. One might be shocked at that, really; my family was stocked with really strong, opinionated women who were quite comfortable telling men to fuck right the fuck off. My great-grandmother ruled with a benevolent, iron fist that would pull you into her arms for a loving embrace even as she was ordering you to go outside and cut yourself a switch. She was truly the head of the family, and her children – 4 sons and 6 daughters – idolized and followed her every word and deed.

My grandmother was a much freer-minded spirit than her mother, but she proved, again and again, that men were a luxury to her – not a necessity. When my grandfather established the pattern of an Irish drunk who had numerous talents, but who could not hold a job long enough to provide a stable life for his wife and children, she took matters into her own hands. I mean this literally. She knocked the crap out of him, beating him about the head and shoulders with a stilleto heel while he lay, passed out. He awoke the next morning, hung over and bruised, thinking he’d had a fall.

She took jobs housekeeping, and when the final straw came – he went to the bars on a Friday after work and spent an entire paycheck on booze, staggering up the hill on Sunday afternoon with naught but lint in his pockets – she sent him away, chasing him down Hillside Avenue, a butcher knife in her hand. Had she caught him, who knows if I’d even be here today. She then moved in temporarily with that mother who gave her that strong countenance, and took a fulltime job. She divorced my grandfather. This led to a much higher-paying job, and when she took a chance and married another man who proved to not be up to the task of providing, and who committed the cardinal sin of disrespecting her children, all bets were off. She lived, happily single, for the rest of her life. Oh, she dated, a lot, and a couple of guys were fortunate enough to meet her exacting standards and were permitted to stick around for long periods of time. One, I even knew as “Grandpa Mick.” The point was, she never needed a man to fulfill her; they were simply an option.

My mother – her daughter – was as tough as her, but I think she craved a different kind of happy ending in the beginning. She had a father she adored, and visited, and I think she thought that having the husband, the kids, the house, and the picket fence was the ultimate win. She saw her friends doing it and dreamed of such a life, too. She also dreamed of travel, and independence. She wanted to be an airline stewardess, but lacked the willpower to lose weight. She was never quite able to disentangle herself from my grandmother’s apron strings, though, and so they were kind of a package deal.

My uncle noped it the fuck out of town as soon as he was 18, joining the military and going to college, but my mom never seemed to be able to envision a life without her mom in the picture. She also possessed a nasty temper, as fiery as Grandma’s, and a vicious, rapier-tongued attitude. She lost a lot of jobs because, when some man would tell her what to do, she’d be just as likely to tell him to shove it up his ass as she would be to follow directions. She liked to drink, too, and this led to bars, and an eventual meeting with a smooth-tongued asshole who she thought she could tame. That he was already married wasn’t important. She wanted what she wanted, and when she got the kids, but no husband, house, or picket fence, she was sufficiently put off men as necessities – for good.

No, I was not taught that I could be whatever the hell I wanted. I was taught that I didn’t need no man. Men were, at best, luxuries. At worst, they were a nuisance. A man would try to control you. A man would hold you back from the things you loved. A man would lie. A man thought only of himself. Men were optional in one’s life, and the minute they overstayed their welcome, there’d be the trouble of getting them to go, and who the hell needed that headache? It was better to just forget they existed.

I weighed this advice carefully, but with suspicion. My aunts – my mother’s closest friends who were not related by blood but who I referred to as aunts – had husbands. Their husbands, my uncles, were nice guys who provided well for their families. They were great daddies, as far as I knew. They were funny and kind and honorable. My great-uncles were, too, even if they were old guys. They had all made really wonderful, successful lives. All of my great-aunts had careers, too – in independent, small business; in farming; in office administration. These couples seemed to complement each other inasmuch as being partners in marriage.

While I never said it out loud, privately, I held onto the thought that my grandmother and my mother tried to instill the belief that all men were shit into my psyche because they hadn’t met the right men. I wasn’t going to be like that. I’d be smarter, meet a good guy, like my uncles, and he would respect me.

Uh, yeah.

Okay, it took a while, and my first choice was made hastily, out of a desire to escape being stuck, like my mother had been. It was made because no one had ever said they loved me with the fervent conviction that he did, and I needed that. (Girls, if he says he loves you 5 days in, please take it with a grain of salt until a lot of time has passed and you’ve fully vetted him. I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed him today.) That choice was certainly a Big Fucking Mistake, but I scored five huge prizes, so it wasn’t for nothing. I’ve made massive corrections in that thinking, and chose more wisely the second time. No, I don’t need no man, but the one I have, I truly want.

That was as far as my female predecessors got in teaching me women’s rights. I grew up knowing I wanted to “do” something; something that included writing. I did not believe that I wanted to shatter glass ceilings and charge at the head of a pack and to lead. I’ve learned, along the way, that I am a natural-born leader who prefers to go it alone if given the choice. I’ve broken a couple of plexiglass panels, I suppose; but I definitely have no desire to aim for the sky above.

I did not -for instance – dream of being President of the United States. I admire those who did, and who do. That kind of single-minded ascension does not appeal to me. I am good – great, actually- in a crisis. You want me there if you need triage or a quick assessment. I’m as apt to do as I am to issue quick orders, because I’m impatient and convinced that, while I think you could do a good job, I can do the thing the way it needs to be done. Nope, I would not be a good President, because politics is filled to the brim with acts of diplomacy and the delegating of tasks. I’m too much of a lone wolf, and I know that would be a recipe for disaster.

We are living in a reality TV shitshow. The entire planet is suffering an existential crisis of common sense, kindness, and community. Calmer heads are not prevailing, and the only credentials one seems to need in order to run a country is that they’re louder than the loudest person in the room. (And more orange, but I digress.) There’s a novel virus tearing ass through all of the countries, and glaciers are melting; kids are eating laundry soap pods and yeeting themselves out into traffic. We are arguing about how we all deserve a piece of the pie but that we don’t want to pay the wages to get it. People in this country are dying because yes, they have insurance and yes, they do work fulltime, but they’ve been diagnosed with MS and the copay for a series of shots as treament is over $100,000. Yes, you read that right – I have facts to back that up. Insulin is unaffordable. Life-sustaining drugs and healthcare are unaffordable in this country for most.

Going to college means taking on debt in your first semester and not being able to pay it off until it’s time for your kids to start college. You have to be situationally aware everywhere you go, because somewhere, there’s a mentally unstable person, off his meds and growing increasingly paranoid, who may decide that the day you chose to go get groceries was the day he was going to shoot up the store; that is, after he posted his manifesto on 4chan.

Your kids are being taught by teachers who qualify for food stamps, have to work second and third jobs, and who buy a lot of the school supplies your kids use themselves because the school district’s budget doesn’t include funding for pencils, erasers, and yes, even paper. And let’s not even get started on kids in cages and robbing Peter (The Pentagon) to pay Paul (The Wall).

Meanwhile, your President plays his 238,004th round of golf on your dime, tweets reflexively and compulsively, and undermines the authority of every organization on the planet. He’s a fucking imbecile, but he does this with aplomb.

These are just some of the problems our country faces, deals with, and wades into. We, the people, face these realities every day. “It all needs fixed,” we say, “but what do we do?”

Elizabeth Warren had a plan for it all.

Elizabeth thought through all of these problems and wrote down her thoughts. She methodically consulted with experts and asked constituents what they thought. She weighed pros and cons and ins and outs and ups and downs. Then, she came up with plans. No, they weren’t perfect, but they were smart, and allowed for a fostering of ideas and a coming together of like minds. It would be hard, and dirty, and decidedly not pretty, but she rolled up her sleeves and beckoned to us, “Let’s go DO THIS.”

We let her down. In refusing to get behind her and to make her our candidate to defeat the Orange McMenace, we essentially said, a-fucking-gain, “A woman cannot lead.We let so many down, from the first woman who said, “No, you may not disrespect me simply because I’m a woman” to the Suffragettes, to every woman who burned her bra or walked into a roomful of men and explained her ideas. We let down the female warriors of the past and present: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, Abigail Adams, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Gloria Steinam, Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sally Ride, Sacajawea, and Oprah. We let down Oprah, y’all.

We let down RBG; RBG, who famously said “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Mostly, in continuing to allow old, white men to advance in a world that is so 🅒🅞🅛🅞🅢🅢🅐🅛🅛🅨 🅕🅤🅑🅐🅡🅔🅓 that it doesn’t even resemble itself anymore, we let down ourselves.

This cocked-up mess desperately needs a woman to fix it. It needs her to inject new life into old attitudes and mores that have become stagnant. It needs her to find all the misplaced things the men can’t find – values, decency, empathy, patriotism, truth, and fundamental good – that are hiding in plain sight, like the car keys/his glasses/his phone. We’ve been doing that for millenia. We’re doing it now. We’re the “fixers”; the doers, the nurturers, and the no-nonsence pragmatists. We need COMPETENCE. And Elizabeth Warren is the epitomy of that. She is nothing if not credentialed to the max; she is unapologetically exemplary.

Yes, Elizabeth had a plan for it all, and yet here we are, facing a choice between Statler and Waldorf to overcome the old, demented, but eminently dangerous self-tanning nightmare currently inhabiting the Oval Office.

We deserve everything we get.

Chapter Two: Nefarious Beginnings

The Mad King had come into power in quite a farcical manner.

He was not royalty; not a royal subject, nor relation. He was not of a lineage to rule over the land. The only claim to heir that he could make was to be that of Dr. Crookenspiel’s Traveling Medicine Show; his father before him had amassed a fortune in promising poor “marks” miraculous cures for what ailed them. This financed what he truly desired to be: a land baron. After making his money off the backs of these people, he began to build “affordable cottages” on land he bought for a song. He would rent these cottages to those unwitting victims of his fake elixirs, promising them in his smooth, conversational way, “warm, cozy nights” and a small tract of land with each for them to plant a “fruitful” garden in. What he did not tell them was that he had used the cheapest materials imaginable to build these cottages, and that they were drafty, the roofs leaked, and vermin could easily invade. The soil for the gardens was made up of clay and rock, and little could grow. He charged them extra for passage across his land to the stream that flowed nearby, so that fresh water had to be collected in rain barrels – which he also collected an extra charge for, since he alone provided the barrels.

Every year, the rent seemed to rise, but when you’re poor, with no claim to your own land, something is better than nothing, even if your children have runny noses and chilblains and your front is warmed by the fire even as your backside has goosebumps from the draft.

When Fred Crookenspiel had children of his own, he instilled in them a sense of overblown entitlement, even though he himself had grown up in a dirt floor shack, the son of immigrants who had fled religious persecution in their own land. He whitewashed over the petty details, and his children grew up spoiled, and loud, and filled with bullish tendencies. His second oldest son – The Mad King – was the worst of the lot. In those days, narcissistic personality disorder only existed in examples, and The Mad King was afflicted with this in spades.

While his brothers and one sister were, in fact, awful humans, they never rose to the level of despicable rogue that he did. He was a bully from day one who cared not for school, or hard work, or anyone but himself. He was only kind when he could be rewarded, or when he could wrestle the reward away. He cried the loudest, shouted the most profane blasphemies, and could not tell the truth about anything to save his life. It was often ruefully said, amongst his peers, “If Aul’ Fred’s kid says the sky is blue, I’ll go have a look for m’self.”

He did, however, understand his father’s business model, and swore to build a bigger, and better empire. He declared himself, and his family, to be tycoons of the highest repute, and could often be found in the most popular taverns and homes, holding court, so to speak. He would travel to other kingdoms under the guise of “making deals” but often left before his debts could be paid. “Holding court” with the wealthy wasn’t the kind of court he felt he aspired to, and his criticisms were often directed at the current king or about rulers in other lands. He had an opinion about everything, whether asked for it or not.

Throughout the years, he gambled heavily and bought into risky business ventures. He often lost the riches he invested, because despite understanding his father’s ways, he himself was not a very good businessman at all. His need for bigger and better consumed him, and and although he would praise his father for his “modest” successes, in private he raged with all the greediness of his 6 year-old self. He wanted all the cookies, Mummy – not just one or two.

When he began to muse, “I should be king,” people laughed into their pints. Sure, he seemed to be rich, if all that gold decor he surrounded himself with

and all those furs his wives and daughters wore was any indication; but surely he wasn’t smart enough to become king?


“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things… I know what I’m doing and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But I speak to a lot of people. My primary consultant is myself, and I have, you know, I have a good instinct for this stuff,” he would assure those who doubted his ability to become ruler of the kingdom. “Plus, I’m like really smart.”

Over the years, the kingdom went through many transformations: there was a king who led the country into war and quadrupled the country’s debt. A great many soldiers lost their lives, throwing families into chaos and poverty. The people began to complain amongst themselves, wanting change. They were tired of being poor, and being oppressed because they were poor, or had sought freedom from oppression in other countries, only to be dragged down by the crushing weight of racism and prejudice that prevailed throughout the warmonger king’s rule. “We need HOPE,” they cried. And so the country was thrown into a revolution, and for 8 years, a benevolent king had ruled.

However, it was hard for the benevolent king, because while his supporters were many, his enemies had money, and power. The rich in the land saw him as a threat, because he was asking them to pay their fair share and to help their fellow man. One of his enemies was Aul’ Fred’s son, who raged that this usurper must be stopped. “Why, he isn’t even one of us,” he would claim, to anyone listening. “He was born in Africa!” At this point, Fred’s son was knee-deep in murky, financial waters, having needed to travel to mysterious, far-away lands to beg and barter in order to save face. As has been stressed before, he was not very smart, and didn’t care that, in asking oligarchs in far-away lands to bankroll his lifestyle, he was actually giving them the power to control his own country. As long as he looked good, and could still claim to be the biggest and the best mostest, they could do whatever they wanted.

Which was music to their ears.

Covfefe: A Fairytale

The Mad King awoke in a fury one morning.

His realm was in chaos ever since the villagers had discovered that, instead of using the goods he regularly required them to donate – the chickens and livestock, part of their harvests, assorted leather and iron goods crafted by artisans, and the fine, strong broadcloth the women weaved over the winter months with the wool he allowed them to retain – he was using it for himself, the Queen, his five homely, gluttonous children,

and his assorted mistresses in court. He did not support his mistresses, but instead, paid them handsomely for their silence.

Instead of making good trades with other kingdoms, he would promise them payment in return for the things he desired from them, be it support on the battlefield, goods, information about his enemies, and safe passage through their lands in search of the elusive covfefe bush. He would make these “deals” but then renege on most of them.

Now, the hungry villagers were realizing that while their children starved and their faithful menfolk went off to do battle for a King who cared not about the danger he was putting them in, the Mad King and his lazy family were becoming richer and fatter by the day.

How had the villagers discovered his duplicitousness? He raged within the castle walls, his fury unhinged, his demands to know “who blew the whistle” met with silence. His advisers sought to calm him, placing great platters of hamberders in front of him, and sweet drinks, and desserts, and whispering in his ear;

“Your very stable genius is unmatched, Sire.”

“You have the biggest brain, my liege.”

“You possess the best words, your Majesty.”

This would calm him for a moment, but then he would spy someone in court looking slyly his way and then whispering something furtively to another subject, and he would erupt with anger, spittle spraying from his lips as he decried, “YOU SPREAD FAKE NEWS! YOU ARE HUMAN SCUM!”

At least 5 times a day, official proclamations would be dispatched to be announced by the town crier in the village square and missives would be sent by messengers on horses to the more remote areas of his realm. Sometimes, there were more, but his advisers would group these proclamations together so that the messengers wouldn’t have to make a dozen or more trips. As a result, one proclamation often contradicted the one right before it. It was not uncommon for the villagers to be told “I solemnly swear, as your king, that I will not send our soldiers to war” and then, in the next official announcement, hear that “We may need to go to war in order to stop the war.” At times, he was cryptic, proclaiming only “Wait for my words!” with ellipses…only the villagers did not know what ellipses were. Despite his claims of “the best education gold and silver could buy”, neither did he.

This morning, he instructed his Royal dresser to powder his face with extra color, so as to convey strength, health, and vigor, and donned his best, most golden wig, crafted by the virgin hair of a 13 year-old lass – this was the type he liked best. He was draped in voluminous robes to attempt to disguise his ever-widening backside and his rotund stomach, his sash hanging most unfashionably below his portly knees. Surveying himself in his looking glass, he murmured, “Who is the smartest guy? Who has said a lot of things? Me. I am the most bigly, huge leader!” Satisfied with his morning pep talk, he convened his most salacious, bottom-dwelling, foxy advisors to his drawing room.

“Tell me the news!” he demanded.

“We have sent spies to the other, far-off lands, Sire. They are to collect the information about those who wish to see you fail. We await their return,” said one.

“The witch hunt will not see you falter, my illustrious King! It is all false information, spread by those who are jealous of your great, powerful brain. They are unable to handle your genius!” gushed another.

“Perhaps,” said the quietest one, “it is time for a distraction from this terrible travesty, this attempt to destroy all of the wondrous things you have accomplished. Why, haven’t you built a strong wall around our kingdom to keep the dirty, maggot-encrusted beggars out? Have you not made the rich richer and taught the poor the most valuable lesson: to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to never expect a handout? All wise, most useful points of knowledge, Sire! My fear, however, is that the evil, crafty opposition will take advantage of the weak and sow more lies about you.”

The Mad King leaned forward, his eyes shining like the scales of a fish in the sun. “What do you suggest?” he asked his adviser. The adviser’s bald pate reflected the torch light as he looked up from his templed fingers.

“Sire, as you well know, there are bandits outside the kingdom walls who take part in this great witch hunt, as well as having their own delusions of grandeur about toppling your monarchy and taking your riches for themselves. I have knowledge that one of the most ardent thieves – one who has set fire to cottages, stolen artifacts from the churches to boil down into gold bars, and who has attacked our forces while on the road – may be holed up in a cave to the east. I think we should send our best knights to kill him, and then display his head in the town square. The word will spread throughout the kingdom that you have toppled the enemy, making them safer, and they will be so filled with gratitude that they will forget this inconvenient, distasteful business about your family growing wealthier due to their donation of wares to the cause of the monarchy. Why, Sire, they will be happy to give you everything they own!”

The Mad King’s brow furrowed as he contemplated this idea. Finally, he spoke.

“Will I receive the credit? You know, I never do, but that’s okay. As long as the kingdom knows that I was the mastermind, I guess I can live with that.” he mused.

The ferret-faced adviser bowed to the Mad King. “Of course, Your Majesty. You will receive all of the credit. The villagers are idiots, if I may be so bold. None of them possesses your magnificent intellectual gifts! They believe anything we tell them.”

The Mad King mugged for his advisers, making a face and pantomiming, ‘I’m a dumb villager! I’m so stupid!”

His advisers laughed loudly and politely. Then, he held his hand up for silence and spoke.
“I’m not changing. I went to the best schools, I’m, like, a very smart person. I’m going to represent our kingdom with dignity and very well. I don’t want to change my personality – it got me here,” he addressed them. “Have my knights get the fella. He’ll die like a dog, crying and whimpering. Have them whisper in his ear, ‘This is from the King’ before they cut off his head.”

Dismissing his advisers, the Mad King suddenly felt more ravenously hungry than he had in weeks. “Didn’t we receive more chickens from the villagers for our deal in Nipple and Nambia? Prepare me some straight away. I could eat a bucket of the stuff.”

I am so tired of writing these political blogs.

“Breaking News: We have an Active Shooter.”

Just another day in the United States.

In less than a 24-hour period, 29 people are dead and 42 are injured after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Less than a week ago, 3 were killed and 13 wounded in a shooting in Gilroy, California.

This marks a year where so far, there have been at least 32 mass shootings, defined as three or more killings in a single episode, in this country.

It is only the beginning of August. We have five months to go.

Each shooter fit a certain demographic in these cases; in fact, in most of them. The American Mass Murderer is a single, young, white, male who identifies as a Conservative.

El Paso’a shooter, who looks like any, other shooter: young, white, pissed.

Conservative is perhaps too broad a characterization. A more concise, better description is that he is a Trump supporter.And oh boy, he is filled with hate. Certainly, he is twisted with mental instability and maybe even groomed by years of bullying, of being an outcast; a loner. He is probably that newish type of young male: an incel. He probably acted out in bizarre ways for months leading up to these tragedies: coveting guns, and violence, and publishing manifestos on social media, and photos of himself with guns, and Old Glory, wearing a MAGA hat.

The result of such ravings are devastating. They aren’t the bizarre rants of an angry, young adult who’s frustrated by his friends, his circumstances, or because Mommy and Daddy don’t love him enough; a continuation of the teenaged angst we all know and recognize because the rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so. (Very recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with their prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part.)

If only it were that simple.

This kind of anger and irrational thought may be borne as the result of some sort of chemical imbalance within the brain, but it certainly needs fuel with which to grow. While many angry, young people – raised by angry, older people – may agree with the vitriol spewed by a petulant, mean-spirited bully who managed to get himself elected into the highest office in the land, they don’t run out and begin shooting people. They may talk big, racist, prejudicial, bigoted talk and they may even gather at rallies to chant things like “Lock her up!” and “Send her back!” while their smug, tangerine leader eggs them on, but they don’t take it to that next horrific, final level by mowing down innocent fellow Americans.

Those young, adult, white males who carry out their Final Solutions have lots and lots of venom that has been built up within their systems by an increasingly frenzied, relentless narrative of hate coming from an unsecured cell phone, wielded by an unhinged septugenarian.

Are we going to normalize this, like we are normalizing the crazed rants, filled with divisive hate, that our Fascist leader publishes via dozens of tweets every day?Is anything about that normal? Please. Tell me why you think it is. Tell me why the things he says aren’t racist, or suggestive, or just downright inflammatory. Tell me that his words haven’t emboldened the angry, racist, young, white, male supporters of his. I’ll wait.

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell … I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.” – Trump, on Feb. 1, 2016, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

“He’s walking out with big high-fives, smiling, laughing. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.” – Trump later that month, in Las Vegas

“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just seen them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice. When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put their hand over [their head]. Like, ‘Don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head.’ I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’ ” – Trump, to Police, in 2017

“Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!” – Trump, at a Montana Rally for Republicans, referring to Rep. Greg Gianforte, who allegedly body slammed a reporter back when he was initially running for his congressional seat in 2017

“Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled. I’m not proud of that but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way. The difference now is that I like to use my brain instead of my fists.” – Trump in The Art of the Deal, 1987

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible,” – Trump, Sioux Falls

Explain to me how these are the words of a sane person tasked with running a country. Then tell me that the country isn’t 1940s-era Germany or North Korea or nearly any Middle Eastern country.

Tell me that this is the United States of America. Tell me that this is what we believe, and stand for, and that God wanted this man to lead our country because “he is the only one who can”.

Tell me that his words, and the hate he has whipped into a frenzy in this country, are not responsible for 32 instances of slaughter in 7 months. Sure, it was happening before he was elected, but the one difference between the sorrowful confusion of then and now is that we actually had a man in office who was PRESIDENTIAL. Who spoke with measured eloquence, with rational words meant to comfort and calm, not to incite and jeer. He may not have had the answers to the increasing violence, but he damn sure wasn’t the cause.

I would give anything to feel safe again. I would give anything to see my President and be filled with reassurance that he was competent, fair, balanced, and just. I would give anything to be proud of my country again.

I truly believe we are leaderless. And that is a terrifying, lonely feeling.

Weekend supplement, because everyone keeps saying I’m a writer.

This week, our local hospital announced that it was closing the Maternity Ward, effective October 1st. Our community was immediately vocal, expressing outrage, disbelief, and sadness. The opinions were filled with rage and confusion.

Over the past 20 years, the hospital had undergone massive renovations under the auspices of becoming more competitive and state-of-the-art. The network running the show – the names are no longer important because that network has changed too many times – had what we now know to be delusions of grandeur, but we in the community were reluctantly along for the ride, as long as our access to healthcare was not only continuous, but vastly improved.

We observed, warily, as the hospital’s health system bought out the neighborhood directly to the southeast of it, razing houses and historic buildings and re-zoning and even eliminating side streets.

For parking.

In 2007, Hamsher House, the original site of our hospital, which was built in 1917, was demolished in order to make way for 50 additional parking spaces. This building had become a school of nursing when the present-day hospital was built, then was sold to the University of Pittsburgh. Eventually, it was sold back to the hospital and used as doctors’ offices. The explanation for the demolition was chronicled in the local newspaper, and can be read here. Their reasons were perfunctory and typical for a big, corporate monster chewing up and spitting out obstacles. “Out with the old; in with the new.”

The original Bradford Hospital and Maternity, courtesy of The Bradford Landmark Society. Notice “maternity”?

The Hamsher House nameplate being removed. Out with the old, in with a dinky little conglomeration of shrubbery.

That 72×18-foot garden? Basically a bunch of shrubbery and perennials off to the side of what is now the hospital’s main entrance. With a bench. My garden in front of my house, while certainly not upscale, is more interesting to visit.

Harry Potter cat will read to you in my garden. The hospital’s “garden” doesn’t offer such perks.

We continued to ingest the press releases and ribbon-cuttings and announcements of new specialists moving into the area to provide us with closer options, instead of the realities many semi-rural and rural communities face: if you need specialized care, you’re going to have to travel to the big city. In our case, it was always Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. Some are 100 miles away; some 200. That’s quite a trek for anybody, and when you’re sick? Being able to get your chemotherapy 5 or 10 or 15 minutes’ distance from home is a major improvement on a 2-hour drive to Buffalo.

For a very short-lived time, all seemed good. The hospital was beautifully renovated and whole wings added on. It became a massive, steel and glass puzzle to navigate, but that’s the price we pay for progress, right? In 2012, I had a heart catheterization there in our state-of-the-art cath lab. Just a few, short years before, I would have been “sent out”. It was so comforting to be five minutes away from home for a procedure that petrified the fuck out of me.

Then, suddenly, the gears began grinding; softly at first, then a little louder. Doctors began leaving for “other opportunities.” There were rumors of unrest between the hospital’s network and those doctors. Then, our health system was changing. It was announced that our hospital would be consolidating – partnering, so to speak – with a hospital 25 miles away, across the Pennsylvania border, in New York. I chronicle that in the following piece, which I wrote on Friday, when the news that our hospital was now going to cease delivering babies, broke. The hospital’s official statement can be read here, if you’re interested in their mealy-mouthed explanation, citing declining births and such.

I know that many, many rural areas are watching this very same scenario happen. We aren’t unique, or special. But in a country that has given carte-blanche to insurance companies, essentially allowing them to maintain a chokehold on patients as consumers, and not with compassion and the very tenets that the Hippocratic Oath spells out, when are we going to insist that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, ALL-FUCKING-READY?

Our healthcare system is broken, and yet we are allowing a certain demographic in this country to continue to hand over power to the 1%. It’s business as usual for them; they don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies; they just know how to capitalize on an industry. Yes, that’s right: healthcare is an industry. Every time you get sick, or a family member does, a corporate CEO gets gets his wings. In this case, it’s a lear jet.

So, without further ado, here is my editorial, if you will. Call it my shot over the healthcare business’s bow. It caused a little stir in this sleepy little town, and I submitted it to the local newspaper after private and public messages to do so, daring that conservative publication to print me. “You’re a writer,” one person said, “and we need your voice!”

Consider this my roar.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

FOLLOW THE MONEY. This was less than 3 years ago.

Years of mismanagement by CEOs and a hospital that tried to grow too big for the area it served has been culminating in a facility that ships its patients out, rather than keeping them, when a condition proves just a tad bit complicated. Every day, we in Bradford hear the whirr of rotating wings as the medivac helicopter lands to whisk a patient off to Buffalo, to Erie, or to Pittsburgh. The ambulance services work overtime to transport patients who aren’t stable enough for the air transport, or in inclement weather. This adds up to massive profits for those services, since a medivac transport costs as much as $40k and ambulance transport – even from your house to the hospital – has skyrocketed in cost. This is healthcare as a business, people, and it isn’t progressive, or more advanced, or state-of-the-art. It is services gouging the consumer; the injured, sick, stressed consumer. It is big insurance business. It is criminal.

When my mother was rushed to the hospital that last time, almost 7 years ago, it was decided that her developing pneumonia required treatment at a “more skilled” facility 100 miles away. More skilled? What, exactly, was this behemoth hospital we were at, with its many wings, departments, and skilled staff?

This community had watched as houses were razed to create parking lots for 3 blocks. We had watched as “advanced, state-of-the-art systems” and testing machinery and whole wings of advanced care (the Cardiac Suite, for one) were brought in, and new specialists joined the staff. We saw outpatient services open all over town, from a lab downtown to hospital-contracted physicians’ offices. Historic buildings were torn down to add on to an older hospital, creating a maze of hallways and more than a little confusion. Whereas at one time, you walked through the front doors to a lobby and took a elevator to the floor you needed for whatever reason, be it tests or to visit someone, NOW you had to enter through a DIFFERENT lobby and access a different set of elevators depending on your destination. The front became the back; the back became the place where you could go left, to one set of elevators that couldn’t take you to the area of the hospital you needed; that one was down the hall on your right, winding along another hallway, and to your left.

Confusing? Yes. But progress! It was going to make our hospital a cutting-edge center of diagnostics, of surgeries, of specialized care. Progress! That’s the line we were fed. Healthcare professionals rejoiced at the idea of being involved in something so exciting. We, the public, weighed our discomfort at a new, confusing system and thought, “At least we’ll get the best care here.”

Then? The specialists began to leave town, citing a myriad of reasons. The cardiologist you began treatment with would leave and a new one would come and you’d have to establish a new relationship; then HE would leave, too. Then? An unexpected merger with a nearby New York State hospital. Staff was either moved or let go to allow for the staff in the New York hospital to work here, or vise-versa. There were rumors of salary cuts. Whole jobs were disappeared. There were layoffs. A laundry list of predictive events began occuring: transporting patients out; sending patients to other facilities for tests or treatments; rumors of executives making money hand over fist while the quality of care suffered overall. Who cared if that shiny, expensive lobby had marbel floors and welcoming seating and a patient concierge service and a boutique-level gift shop? We wanted to be cared for; to be made well again.

My mother was to be moved to Erie for her pneumonia. Her blood oxygen levels were hovering at 90-92%. They were rapidly stabilizing just being in the ER. The decision was made to move her, and we left ahead of her to get there as quickly as we could, to meet her there. While enroute, about an hour into the trip, I was called and notified that they had “wanted to medivac (never discussed while we were at the hospital), but the visibility was poor due to rain.” Instead, they were loading her into the ambulance when “suddenly” her blood oxygen bottomed out and they had to intubate.

While I would never, ever suggest that BRMC killed my mother, I do believe that the decision to move her was a mistake, and contributed to her lightning-fast decline over two days. Intubating her then – I believe because the stress of the move caused her stats to drop – almost certainly signed her death certificate. She went on life support and never came off; that is, until I had to make that decision for her. Sure, she had amazing care in Erie, but they were fighting a battle that was exacerbated by poor decision-making at home. Despite their advanced care and superlative staff of rns, specialists, and hospitalists, my mother was doomed to never leave that hospital at the moment OUR hospital chose to send her there. She might have died anyway, sure. But she would have done that here, at home, where we could be with her ’round the clock. Empathetic care cannot ever be downplayed. Now, she is gone, and the massive bills incurred just over 2 days seem like blasphemous footnotes to me.

Today, the news was announced that we would be losing our Maternity/Women’s health wing. It will close its doors on October 1st. This is an enormous, tragic blow to this community. After October 1st, there will no longer be any babies born in Bradford. Their parents will have to drive 25, 45, or more miles away to give birth. This seems inexplicable to me; two of my deliveries were there, my hysterectomy was performed there, and five of my grandchildren were born there. We have been very fortunate in this semi-rural community to have had the ability to have our children in a hospital just 2-10 minutes from home. I know other communities have not been that lucky. I can’t even imagine the added stress and worry that expectant mothers will encounter knowing that the hospital they’ll need to get to for delivery is, at a minimum, 30 minutes away. 30 minutes is a crucial amount of time, and things can change very quickly when you’re bringing a tiny human into the world. Let us not even begin to contemplate the many reasons why infant mortality rates are high in a country that should be number one in healthy, viable births; this kind of scenario likely contributes.

The news, though, is devastating to the community and to the truly excellent staff, and further demoralizes an area that can’t take much more. Something HAS to give, and while I will not point fingers at the current administration in DC – because the wheels that would bring us to this conclusion began turning more than a decade ago – I will point out that nothing will be fixed while tycoons and their special interests run this country. We deserve so much better. Don’t we?

Of racism, white nationalism, and why can’t HE go back to his country of origin?

This year, for Mother’s Day, my daughter bought me an Ancestry DNA kit.

This was not so much to question my Irish roots as to solidify them, and to find out what, if anything else, lurked within my family lineage. I’ve always suspected (feared, maybe) that there was something else mixed up in my family tree that is decidedly not Celtic. As a child, my olive skin, darkest brown-black straight-as-an-! hair, and slightly upturned at the outer-corner, deepest, darkest, black eyes moved people to exclaim “Aren’t you just the cutest Asian girl!” I don’t see it, but that’s perception for you. As I matured, and my high, prominent cheekbones emerged, I was asked, more than once, “Excuse me, but are you an Indian?” Not Indian as in chicken tikka masala and all that spicy goodness, Bollywood, and revering cows as religious deities, but as in Native American.

I always responded with a resounding and somewhat defiant, “I am Irish.” I’ve always been proud of that fact, as fiercely as I am proud of my kids. It’s been the one constant belief I’ve held since I was young enough to ask, “Where do we come from? I’m proud of the Irish story; of stubborn pride, of revolting against tyranny, of the ability to turn a yarn and tell a joke while simultaneously drinking (a dozen) pints. I’m proud of the fierce love of the motherland and the emotional pull I get whenever I see pictures or watch footage. Someday, I will stand on that Emerald Isle and feel the force of all my ancestors rushing up from the earth to infuse my soul.

But the eyes. The hair. The skin that always looks just a tad tanned and browns in summer like a breaded, chicken cutlet. Where did those attributes come from? Of course, I know the history: the British Isles were stormed by many different armies bent on overthrowing its people and controlling it. The Norsemen, the Romans, et al. They raped, they pillaged; some settled and integrated with the native people. Ireland and Scotland bore the brunt of these invasions, and the resulting dark hair and complexion could very well be explained by that. I would shrug my shoulders, thinking that there lurked, somewhere deep in the past, an emigrated, olive-skinned person who mingled his or her genetics with that of my Celt ancestors. I was okay with that belief.

But beliefs are sometimes challenged, and it’s healthy to question them. Therefore, I spit in a tube, packaged it up in the provided box, and mailed it off to Ancestry and then tried to forget about it as the 4-6 weeks of testing and processing commenced. I don’t know what I’m worried about, I thought. I’m Irish enough and nothing can take that away. So what if maybe I’m a little Mongolian or Roman? That might be cool.

I had opted for text messages advising me of my test’s progress, so for the first couple of weeks, I received texts reading

Thank you for registering your kit

and

We have received your test and are processing it

and

Your DNA has been extracted and is being analyzed at this time.

As I settled in to wait the remaining 2-4 weeks, imagine my surprise when, 3 weeks and 3 days after I’d been notified that my test was commencing, it was complete, and my results were waiting!

I was suddenly terrified. I texted my daughter. “The DNA results are in.” She responded almost immediately with, “OMG! I can’t wait! Tell me when you’ve read them!” She and her two brothers did have a stake in this, since 50% of mine would be theirs. The great news is that only one of them will need to take the test in order to form a full picture of their shared heritage. Since they’ve all given their father the boot and consider The Husband, their stepfather, “Dad”, they aren’t too concerned with that. I’ve heard more than a few vows of, “I’m you, Momto know that whatever the other 50% is, it’s not that important to them.

I was sitting in my garden with a cup of coffee, so I figured “No time like the present” and clicked the link. After a couple of screens, I came to my analysis.

Surprise, surpise! I’m “Irish as fuck”, as the daughter declared, but more pointedly, I’m a Celt, through-and-through. 62% of my heritage goes back to counties Leinster and Munster in Ireland. I am OVERJOYED at Munster, because I’m nocturnally me, of course, and because I always wanted to be a Munster growing up.

The other 38% is dispersed between Scotland, Wales, and England, with County Wicklow in Ireland highlighted, as well. The map bore heavily on the Scottish side, which made total sense. Many years ago, there was a cousin doing genealogy on my mother’s side and she discovered evidence of “a smidge” of Scots-Irish.

Just a smidge? A smidge from Edinburgh to the Highlands, to be exact. The Welsh was a surprise, but not much, because we’re a broody bunch, the Barrs, and the idea that my kin once wandered the Moors, searching for Wuthering Heights, seems somehow appropriate.

All in all, I spent a couple of weeks fanatically fleshing out my family tree and discovering cousins I never knew I had. Specifically, I am tied by genetics to 887 other Ancestry members, which widens my circle quite a bit. Can you imagine that family reunion? We’d need to rent Rhode Island. And take out stock in Guinness.

Now, so many things make sense. My fierce pull to the Atlantic Ocean that wars with my “love at first sight” of the Colorado Rockies; my people came from both an island and lived in the Highlands.

My belief system, very much pagan, with a lot of witchcraft thrown in, harkens back to a people who took the earth’s gifts seriously and were drawn to mystical practices. This conflicts with my love of the ritualistic pageantry of the Roman Catholic Church, but my people were of course baptised into the faith, so it makes sense that I would feel so strongly about one, and so bewitched by the other. My Catholic guilt doesn’t necessarily stem from the Church’s shaming of its members, but by my blood.

I love who I am.

I love that I come from such pragmatic people. While I haven’t gotten far enough back to discover exactly why my Scottish ancestors came to America, I do know that my Irish ancestors came over during the potato blight, as Leinster and Munster Counties were heavily affected by the famine. I’m a third generation Irish American on my father’s side, and it’s looking like I’m Scottish American at least 4 or 5 generations back on my mother’s side. It has really made me think about heritage, and leaving one’s home. I also started The Husband’s family tree, too, and we’re going to get his DNA tested. His family is even “newer” American than mine, with he and his brother being second generation Italian and Slovakian.

In every case, our ancestors came from countries embroiled in troubles, with famine and political unrest and poverty. They knew that, while it might not be easy at first, America was a land of opportunity, where hard work would make their dreams come true. They didn’t dream of untold riches; all they wanted was a safe, warm place to call their own and to lay foundations on which they could build a future for their children. They wanted to worship their God freely, to teach valuable lessons to their kids, and to lay out a future for them that would not include freezing and starving in the dead of winter. They weren’t asking for a handout; they were asking to work for their fair share.

And work, they did; in factories, metal works, delivery companies, and on farms. They dug graves and took care of cemetaries, learned electrical trades, and most of the men joined the military to fight for their country. (One of my great-aunts served, too. Aunt Beryl was an exotic specimen to me the single time I met her. She gifted me with a little, bejeweled, leather purse and realistic toy alligators, because she lived in Florida and she had traveled the world. I thought her to be a superhero of Captain Marvel proportions.) They helped to build this still-young nation and they established themselves as respected American citizens.

Aunt Beryl, right. Patriot. Veteran. Alligator-tamer.

Why is it so hard for some to believe that the refugees at our Southern border aren’t thinking in the same way? Back when my ancestors were emigrating, they had to raise (back then) exorbitant sums for sea passage on ships that were crowded, vermin-infested, and where disease spread like wildfire. Recall the “coffin ships” that bore so many Irish to their deaths because they were shoddily built? It wasn’t exactly a safe, cushy ocean voyage aboard a cruise ship to the shining land of opportunity. One needed to be really desperate to willingly embark on such an uncertain journey, many with their young children.

When they arrived, it wasn’t to a comfortable house or apartment, a job, and cupboards filled with food. It was usually to a dirty, crowded rooming house or to stay with relatives, where 20 people would crowd into a two-room apartment with a bathroom shared by the entire floor of tenants. They would find work in factories, where they would work 16 hour days for a pittance, and be spit upon on the street and told to “go back where you came from, you dirty dago/dumb mick/sneaky kike.”

Come to think of it, why would anyone want to come here? Because things haven’t changed, have they? Only the color of the skin, the language, and the entry point have changed. The racist attitudes, the prejudiced rhetoric, and the startling bigotry are one and the same as that of a younger America. For a while, it seemed we had moved past it, but most of us were aware that it had never truly abdicated this land. Those of us with certain immigrant roots that weren’t that far back were raised with the knowledge that our people were looked down upon because of the country they originated from and the accents they spoke with. We bore that shame and that defiance; the fury within us teeming, railing against an Establishment that held our people (us) down. We tried to be just a little kinder to new citizens, and to understand their plight. However, when you live in the slice of Americana that I live in, you become very aware of the undercurrent of anger, exasperation, and intolerance that seethes just underneath the surface whenever the subject of immigration comes up. The snide comments in break rooms and in community groups about interlopers who must be bringing illegal drugs into our communities because they have brown skin; they’re obviously just here for the “free handouts” of welfare and food stamps and health insurance. They don’t “speak our language” so therefore, they don’t belong. They’re dirty, they’re gang members, they bring filth and bugs and crime. They’re stealing our jobs.

Give me a fucking break.

Those “proud Americans” who speak this way have found their patron saint in Donald Trump, who took it a step farther on Sunday when he tweeted that four American, freshman, female Congresswomen of color should “go back to their countries of origin”. He painted them as hateful women who detest America and who are Communists who embrace terrorists. He might as well have called them traitorous, treasonous interlopers who schemed to get into Congress just to tear down the very foundations that America stands upon.

Except, isn’t that an apt description of him? Who buddies with anti-American thugs and has taken advantage of every, single loophole afforded him in order to seem powerful? If you are one of the ones who doubt that (and honestly, why are you reading my blog if you are, because this is Anti-Trump country) then I will submit EXHIBIT A,B,C, an informative, fully-sourced article about how far back this sleazy, corrupt con man has cozied up to Russians who are hell-bent on destroying America.

I found a poem today. It sums up, perfectly, why anyone would desire to leave their homeland for the unwelcome uncertainties of America. It says it better than I ever could. It practically weeps with the tears of those who embark on the perilous journey north, where they are separated from their children and thrown into cages. Don’t call them concentration camps, some people say. Well, what else are they?

Home

~ by Poet Laureate and Activist Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well.

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Happy Treason Day seems about right.

I’m taking a moment to analyze my feelings without emotion or preference. Would I be upset at any other President holding a soiree on the National Mall on the 4th of July?

Wait. I don’t think I need to analyze my answer. That answer is no. I would not be upset at any other President holding a soiree on the Mall for the 4th of July because no other President would hold a soiree on the Mall for the 4th of July. No other President would decide to divert millions of dollars to another event when there is already an event in place.

Am I confident about this conclusion? Yes, I am. There are already soirees and celebrations aplenty on this day in Washington DC. There always have been. A Capitol Fourth is a big draw, and PBS televises it every year. The fireworks over the Mall are a long-standing crowd pleaser. These events have deep roots and always draw a massive crowd, as both residents of DC and visitors enjoy.

This display on the National Mall must not be mistaken for what it truly is: a concession. Trump wanted a military parade. Congress, in its endless string of stupid flagellations in accedence to the President’s demands, first said sure, and then it didn’t happen. But Trump is like a spoiled, little rich child who wants a pony NOW, and he means to get it. This is how he’s getting it, building upon the very apparent manifesto he harbors within to be “King” and to usher in fascism.

He got his tanks, his pomp, his circumstance, and it will all play out as he thanks himself for attempting to hold the country hostage and force us to praise the Almighty Donald. Later on, there will be attacks at the “fake news” and “corrupt media” for refusing to air his Ode to Himself, and praise for the essentially state-run news channel, Fox.

People are comfortable in their traditions, be it having parties at home or traveling somewhere to celebrate the day the 13 colonies affirmed that they were independent of Great Britain and began the process of creating a nation where

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”

We are no longer that nation, in the spirit of which it was intended. Donald Trump has poked the beast that lay, hiding, in the shadow of shame; the beast that resides within the hearts and minds of certain American citizens who defiantly hold onto “This is MY country!” and forget that it is their country because someone came to this land under the protection, and in belief, of those reverent words. Those who blazed a path before us did so by ruthlessly taking the land from those who came before them; who began existence here; and then built the colossus on the backs of slaves, be they African or indentured. I’m not going to single out the United States as the single-most horrible evildoer in this, because other societies have and will do the same things. It is the very nature of the beast to “conquer” that which it feels threatened by, wants to possess, or simply abhors.

The difference, however, between your average (“woke”) beast and the beasts Trump prodded with all of his verbal sticks is that the average one realizes that all of those violent, unfair, inhumane acts of this country’s past belong precisely there: in the past.

And yet, the Southern Border.

Forgive me if I think that the last thing this country needs is another party. For those of you protesting, saying, “But this is not who we are”, I want to say to you that

Oh fuck me, it’s a political rant.

This month, back in 2012, I lay on a procedure table in a Cardiac Cath Lab, technicians milling about, doing their job; which was to diagnose why my heart was galloping, racing, pausing (gulp), and flopping inside my chest in ways that an unborn baby does in the womb. I was experiencing pain and shortness of breath.

My cardiologist came out of the booth after my catheterization and held my hand. He was aware of the structure of my life: the elderly mother at home, a daughter and grandkids living at home, and a full-time job that was both thankless and required me to do illegal things on a daily basis. He said, “You’ve got to end some of the stress in your life. Is any job worth dying for?” Afterward, as I lay, flat on my back for 4 hours in order to give the femoral artery that the catheter had been inserted into time to close and seal up a bit, I was inundated with calls from my workplace.

“You ARE coming in tomorrow, right?”

“No, I am on bed rest tonight and tomorrow; no stairs or overexertion for 48 hours after that.”

“Well, then Jennifer can’t take her vacation.” (A coworker who had put in for that day six months earlier.)

I resigned, by email, the following Monday. I did not hand in a two-week notice or give them time to scramble and offer me maybe a dollar more an hour. They never called to see if I was okay; not once.

Turns out, my doctor was right.

Six weeks later, the entire remaining staff walked out, too. The morning that happened, my former boss made frantic calls to my voice mail, asking how I was and begging me to call him back.

I declined.

I learned how to be terrified every, single day in my five years there. I was angry, sick, and worried about going to jail due to the questionable business practices I was forced to engage in. I’ll be on meds for my heart until I die, but the friends I made there went through the fire like I did.

One died of a cancer not diagnosed in time because she gave her whole being to that thankless job – 25 adult years, then death at 48.

One struggled with infertility that only resolved itself after she left and removed the stress. She now has two beautiful children.

One was only there for a few months, but was of independent enough mind to say, “Fuck THIS” and get out.

Countless others left for better atmospheres and less stress both before and after I resigned.

We all share a kinship; we were in the trenches together, commiserating wearily whenever we could. We are all better for not being there anymore.

What’s the point of this little ponderance? I honestly don’t know. I guess I’ve been feeling my age lately, seeing it on my face and realizing that I more than likely have less time left on this rapidly-heating planet than I have thus far lived.

I feel a sense of urgency, especially when I ponder the alarming rate at which this country is going to shit due to the admittance of prejudice, bigotry, and racism; all just fancier words for hate and intolerance. Two states have curtailed the rights women fought for decades to secure and one more is set to do so.

The country is being governed on a social media platform.

It’s been proven that a dictator so filled with loathing for our country that he wishes to destroy it by any means necessary has, in fact, set the stage for it to happen. He has done so with the help of those who were voted into office under the auspices of wanting to “Make America Great Again.”

I asked, when this campaign slogan first emerged, “What makes you think America isn’t great now?”

The truth is, we weren’t – aren’t – great. We allowed a reality circus act to take over the White House; a criminal and charlatan. He brought with him his crime family and then installed more of his kind to Cabinet positions.

Oh yeah, we, the opposition (the Resistance) wring our hands, bitch, shout, and roll our eyes every day. We demand change. In the beginning, we took on his supporters and tried to “understand” them. The marginalized. The unheard. The forgotten Americans.

Where, exactly, did that get us?

I’ll tell you: it got us here. Here is where we are, in a dystopian sort of reality where even the movie Idiocracy seems better.

In this reality, the *President spends hours on Twitter, bullying and giving stupid nicknames to those he’s actually really threatened by, and in Alabama, you better not get raped by your uncle and then find yourself pregnant because guess what?

You’re gonna be giving birth to your son/daughter-cousin!

Did I ever expect to be contemplating just what relation a figurative baby conceived by the rape-incest of a niece by her uncle would be to the niece forced to give birth to said baby? Fuck no.

And yet, here we are.

I can almost look back on those five years of hell, from 2007 to 2012, with fondness and nostalgia. I was stressed, but at least we had a noble, presidential man in office for most of that time, and I never feared for my grandchildrens’ futures. I could sleep at night, knowing that competent people in government weren’t going to get us blown up. No, nobody is absolutely perfect and none of them were infallible, but at least they could read.

And spell.

And pronounce “origins”.

And never used words like “bigly”.

Or made fun of prisoners of war, disabled journalists, or referred to a black supporter as “my black man right there.”

They didn’t think white supremacists were “very fine people.” They didn’t sexualize their daughters. They didn’t refer to their meetings with the North Korean dictator as “A love story”.

Neither one of them – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – was accused of sexual assault. Neither one of them had declared bankruptcy 7 times. Neither one of them had such bad credit that only Russian Oligarchs would lend them cash.

Say whatever you will about either one of them – especially Dubya – but I was proud to call him my President, and even prouder to call Obama my President, too.

I will never say that about Trump.

Yep, 2012, on that Cath Lab table, I was scared, but I knew there were solutions. Ah, the memories!

I’m more afraid now, because, according to polls, 48% of the country thinks like Trump. What’s the solution to that kind of hate? How do we walk back the wheels set in motion to reverse Roe v. Wade?

I fear for my granddaughters.