Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Cross Thief?

Last Sunday, Belle, our four year old Sheltie, was hit by our new neighbor’s truck late at night. The dog was walking across the street and apparently the neighbor didn’t see her. My wife was very attached to Belle at least partly because our youngest left for college back East about a year ago. To note the passing of our dog, she put up a white wooden cross in a flower pot near the front of our driveway. It’s not a large cross. She made it from strips of leftover floor molding from our garage and painted it herself.

Two days later, she came out to the front yard early in the morning to discover that the cross was missing. Nothing else in our yard was disturbed. Shortly after that, my wife made a second cross, stuck it in the same flower pot, attached a pair of notes explaining that they were for our dog near the new white cross and you guessed it some time last night (3 days later), the cross was stolen again. My wife thinks its someone who hates Christian symbols. I think it’s our crazy rageaholic neighbor who kidnapped our other dog once and demanded two thousand dollars in ransom. One of my colleagues thinks it’s the neighbor who happened to run the dog over. I haven’t eliminated the possibility that something supernatural is going on as well. One of the oddities is that we haven’t found any signs of the stolen crosses nearby.

I’d assume that it is someone who lives near us. It also seems to be happening very early in the morning or very late at night. A few people have suggested installing a video security camera. Mostly though, it just seems to be one of these thoughtlessly mean acts that’s compounded our sadness about losing our dog. I try to think the best of most everyone, but this is just one of those “Why would anyone be this cruel?”

In the meantime, my wife’s been getting cards, calls, and even flowers from other neighbors, friends, and relatives about Belle. It reminds me that there’s still a lot of kindness out there.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

A Weekend from Hell

I talked to my mother on my way home from work on Friday night and my stepdad and she were doing well. At 8:00 pm, she left a message saying that he’d had a stroke and that she was on the way to the hospital. We called my stepsisters, etc. They made it to the hospital okay and he did indeed have a stroke. They had caught it early, partly because he was able to tell my mother that he felt one coming on. 911 was right on time and the emergency room gave him an anti-coagulant to break up the blood clot very quickly. When we saw him the next day, my stepdad was in the emergency room. His speech was affected, but it wasn’t a strain to understand him. A couple times, he tried to scratch the right side of his face with his right hand. He’d bring his arm up, get within a couple inches, then switch over to his left hand.

For an 85 year old man, a stroke is a very serious matter, but this was pretty good as these things go. I have to say though that you don’t really know how it’s going to go for a while. They have gotten him to stand and he’s going home very soon.

The scarier thing is that my mother is 79. She came back to the hospital at seven in the morning. The nurse in the emergency room accidentally sent my mother to the wrong room where a man with my stepfather’s first name happened to be. He had a breathing mask on, but other than race looked completely different from my stepfather. My mother spent four hours tending to, comforting, and talking to the man in the mask. She was laughing about it as was my stepfather, but it’s scary. When we left that evening, I think we were at least as nervous about my mother as we are about my stepfather. Making matters worse, my mother couldn’t find her car in the parking garage that night. She wound up flagging down a group of three strangers who offered to take her keys to look for her car then call the third stranger who stayed with my mom to let her know they located the vehicle. Fortunately, they were honest folk.

I was very impressed with the level of medical care available for my stepfather. Some of the other stuff, I’m not so sure about like taking 10 hours to find him a room (they left him on a gurney the whole time). I’m also not sure about my mom being taken to the wrong room. Still, these episodes always make me think about how much is involved in providing any individual with health care. I can’t imagine having to make any of these decisions without it. It strikes me as barbaric that so many people in this country don’t have coverage.

Earlier in the day, I had played basketball just before we left for the hospital. I rarely shoot much in my games, but on a whim I took a shot from just inside half court on game point. It’s pretty much the opposite of smart basketball, but the ball went straight through the basket. I had thought that might be a sign of a good weekend. Instead, late yesterday after we’d had dinner with two of our friends, my wife decided to take Belle our Sheltie out for a walk after dark. Just before she could get the leash on the dog, Belle saw a couple kids across the street and ran towards them. A truck came up the street and hit Belle, apparently never saw her.

We put her in the back of our station wagon and tried to get her to the vet, but we both knew there probably was nothing that could be done. There’d been too much blood. After first leaving her with the vet for cremation, my wife decided that she wanted to bury the dog in our backyard, one of the dog’s favorite places. I wound up spending the first part of the morning digging a big hole in the yard until my wife returned with a cardboard coffin. I got a blister from the digging and as I sit here that blister feels strangely reassuring and I don't want it to go away for a while. One of the saddest moments of the morning came when Chance (8 years older than Belle) came up to the porch to eat. She kept looking towards Belle’s bowl wondering where her companion had gone. Lucky, Chance’s original companion, died two years ago.

It’s an understatement to say that my wife was attached to Belle. I used to tease her constantly and tell her that none of the rest of us liked Belle. She was a mischievous but very sweet dog. She stole a lamb gyros off the table from me once a couple years ago when I left the kitchen. She also used to run around in tight circles when she got excited. Of course, she also ate our daughter’s Ipod, several pairs of shoes, and a bunch of underwear (ickk). She also used to sneak onto the living room couch and sleep upside down, then when we’d caught her she’d pretend like nothing had happened. She was one of those dogs that always wanted to be near us physically, assuming she wasn’t trying to steal cat food. For some reason, she had an obsession with the cat food. I insisted it was because she wasn’t quite as bright as our cat who had learned to open both the front door and the cat food storage container and she had thought that it would make her smarter to eat like a cat.

Now that our kids are all out of the house and on the other coast, I think we saw Belle as the critter who’d keep us company in the meantime. It’s funny what you assume sometimes and how quickly things can change. I’ve seen so many sudden changes and all I know is that the practice doesn’t make you any better at getting through the rough ones.

I hope that Belle has moved on to some place where she is smarter than all the cats. They used to wrestle with one another in our living room. My stepdad started physical therapy today and my mom didn’t have any memory lapses when we talked. These are small things, but I’m grateful for them. My wife seems to be holding up well. I broke down crying last night after I came to bed and in the weird way things work, that seemed to make her feel better than anything I did to overtly comfort her. I just hope the next several weekends are better than this last one.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Henry Louis Gates and the Most Disliked Athletes

Since we started saying President Obama, there’s been widespread sentiment that “race” as issue in American may be in our cultural rear window. For instance, a number of my progressive friends supported the firemen in the New Haven firefighter’s case, Ricci v. De Stefano simply because they supported the virtually inarguable position that at some point America needs to be a country where decisions are based on merit and not skin color. As a number of folk have pointed out, President Obama has had virtually perfect pitch on racial matters. Not many people folk noticed that his administration backed the fire department in the New Haven case on the little understood basis of an increasingly obscure notion in 14th amendment law, disparate impact.

A couple weeks ago, the media heated up over yet another cultural moment, Henry Louis Gates-gate. I’ve looked over the police report and my read was that Professor Gates overreacted. That said, it’s also true that a well-dressed 59 year old man trying to open a door in the middle of the afternoon with a pair of suitcases right next to him probably wouldn’t be enough of an incident to call 911 had the 59 year old man been a white or Asian Harvard professor. A lot of passerbys might have walked up to them and said something like “Is there a problem here?”

In fact, twenty plus years ago I was on the upper east side of Manhattan with my girlfriend one afternoon when we saw a young black man hacksawing a U-lock that held an expensive bicycle frame to a parking meter. Yes, our first reaction was that he might be stealing the bicycle, though it did seem like a peculiar thing to do in the middle of the day on a very busy street. Instead, the two of us decided to stand about eight feet away and watch him or let him know that we were watching before we did anything else.
After a couple minutes, the young man said calmly and politely “Yes, it is my bicycle.”

It was an embarrassing moment for us, because would we have suspected him of anything had he not been black? Well, arguably yeah! Wouldn’t it be reasonable to ask anyone with a hacksaw something like “This is your bicycle right?”

So with Henry Louis Gates, Officer Crowley is thinking if I got a 911 call about a man breaking into a house I’d ask anyone for his ID. Henry Louis Gates is thinking I’m Professor Gates god dammit, I teach at Harvard, this is Cambridge, I should be treated accordingly not like some potential burglar especially when this happens to be my own home. I imagine Officer Crowley could have determined easily enough that Henry Louis Gates lived at the address in question without an ID. Unfortunately, the rest is literally history.

The African-American president with the perfect pitch on race matter decided to stand up for America’s most famous black academic, one who endorsed Hillary Clinton no less. Unfortunately, he did so before he had all the facts. Similarly, Deval Patrick, the African-American governor of Massachussetts also jumped in to defend Professor Gates. Suddenly, it was arguably three of the most powerful African-American men going vs. some white Cambridge police officer who by virtually all accounts was just following procedure.

The moment breaks in the news as yet another example of how the race pendulum has swung too far and once again it takes the form of a well-connected black man vs. either police or firemen. For once, our ultra-cool President didn’t do the “cool thing”, he spoke too soon and it hurt him. While it was smart politics, I don’t know that the beer summit helped that much. The point to many Americans is that this well-connected black man was screaming “racism” when no one hit him, called him names, and bottom line the officer was actually just helping Henry Louis Gates protect his own property. The last time the public remembers the race card getting played like this, it was OJ.

To some, Gates-gate is supposed to be the cultural moment that puts an end to the race card, just like the New Haven firefighters case spells the end of affirmative action. The mantra is “See, we’re so far beyond that now. Black President, black governor, black Harvard professor. All within a lifetime of Emitt Till. Need I point out that all the people accused of bilking money for Emitt Till’s coffin were African-American?”

So, even I’m more or less down with that, but the same day as the White House beer summit, was it dark beer or light? I happen to seem the following seemingly unrelated story, a list of the most disliked athletes in America. Here are the top ten,

1. Michael Vick quarterback and dog abuser
2. Manny Ramirez slugger and performance-enhancing drug abuser
3. Alex Rodriguez slugger and performance-enhancing drug abuser and adulterer
4. Terrell Owens wide receiver and quarterback abuser
5. Kobe Bryant shooting guard and one-time accused rapist
6. Alan Iverson point guard with lots of tattoos who doesn’t come to practice
7. Isaiah Thomas basketball coach, sexual harasser, and really bad GM
8. Stephon Marbury point guard with a bad attitude
9. Nick Saban football coach with a big contract
10. John Mcenroe tennis player with a temper who last mattered about 25 years ago.

What’s the first thing I noticed about the Forbes list? How about the fact that the first eight names are all black and the only two white guys on the list arguably aren’t athletes at this point.
Kobe Bryant was acquitted btw. Does anyone even know that Ben Roethlisberger was recently accused of rape (he may well be innocent, but then so was Kobe). What’s your bet that the Steelers quarterback made the top 50 on that list? How about Roger Clemens who threw his wife under the bus by saying the HGH was hers? How about the hockey player who put a hit on someone? Or the various NASCAR drivers who have either gotten caught cheating (somehow that’s just part of the sport as opposed to steroids) or literally doing speed?

I’m not defending Michael Vick. I’m just wondering why the list of most disliked sports figures is so black in a time when we’ve allegedly gotten so far past race.

Let me mention the reason why President Obama and Governor Patrick might have been so quick to speak up on behalf of Professor Gates. I don’t know a single adult black male who hasn’t been stopped by the police in completely innocent circumstances. No, that’s not what happened to Henry Louis Gates that afternoon, but don’t let that convince you that it doesn’t happen anymore.

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