I see their faces

From time to time, horrifying images from the Holocaust death camps pass before my eyes, prompting me to consider the magnitude of the unfathomable cruelty inflicted on an entire race of living, breathing people… grandparents, children… young people… newlyweds… babies.

BABIES.

If I consider that moment in history long enough, it sucks the oxygen right from me. I don’t have the cruelty gene in me. I am unable to force my brain to even go there. I am intrinsically unable to inflict pain or violence on a completely innocent person. Sometimes as I consider what some humans have done to other humans, I seriously wonder if I’m simply not of the same species. Or maybe they’re not.

I was not yet born during World War II, so all of the images and stories from it are in shaded gray photographs and film clips… something that, while growing up, was a thing that happened a long time ago and shall never happen again. And of course, I grew up, and discovered that bigotry, racism and cruelty continue to flow through the collective psyche of our pathetically flawed species like a current of toxic waste.

I was watching some documentary awhile back, forget which one exactly, in which there was a video clip scanning past a group of starving, suffering Jewish women in a concentration camp… their eyes, pleading and pain-stricken… wrenching to look at. But not as painful as the eyes that held nothing at all anymore. Just dull resignation, like candle wicks gone cold. If you don’t convulse in compassion when you see such suffering… again, we are not of the same species.

And then… I suddenly imagined the faces of my Jewish friends in that clip… Sunny or Amy or Beatrice or Sivan or Beth or, or, or… and it was like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. Putting the faces of actual beloved women I know, women who have enhanced my life in so many immeasurable ways… imagining that every one of those faces touched other lives in the same way. I can’t even bear it.

The shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue yesterday again prompted me to think of my friends’ faces, male and female, and how any one of those people could have been them, and despair wells in my heart. Putting a personal face on these tragedies ratchets up your empathy. Try it. Think of your own Jewish friends behind hogwire in a death camp or being herded in for a “shower,” or simply attending a family religious ceremony peacefully in their house of worship and then being gunned down by a racist lunatic… that’ll make it sting a little more.

I was pondering all that this morning, thinking of my Jewish friends and how I’d feel if something happened to them, and then it hit me… thinking of familiar faces as victims was easy. But there’s another side to that coin. What about the faces of the perpetrators? Those who shout (or silently think but won’t speak the words) “All Jews Must Die!” Or all Blacks. Or all Liberals. Or, or, or… what if I insert the faces of people I know who hold racist views into the role of Nazi or mass shooter? That’s a whole nuther kind of sting.

Try it. Insert the face of the most racist person you know onto the Pittsburg shooter. You know who they are. They routinely spout racist, hateful things, parrot what they hear on Right Wing TV and radio; marginalize those they irrationally despise as the “other.” Their “other enemy.” The one who steals what they feel they’re entitled to, simply by virtue of the color of their skin or the symbol of their church.

I imagine people I know throwing the switch on the showers or firing their machine guns at emaciated, naked men standing on the precipice of a mass grave in a concentration camp… and laughing. Let me tell you, it’s a mind fuck. Stopping to consider that the murderers and torturers and mass shooters all have familiar faces too, to someone.

There’s the more difficult task. Putting a human face (rather than a monster’s) on those who hate and those who kill, and realizing that they’re around us too. I know people like that. But I don’t view them as friends. I can tolerate a great many things, but I will not tolerate a racist.

I’m not a violent person by nature. I don’t believe in physically lashing out to solve differences. However, words are also weapons. What happened in Pittsburgh has renewed my resolve. I will stab a verbal machete into hateful, divisive words. Not into the people saying them. Just their words, their bigotries, their actions. Stab a machete through those. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, words are weapons. Very powerful ones. But the larger weapon is silence. If you aren’t brave enough to slash hatred with words, at least don’t tolerate it. Walk away from hateful people. Shun them. Cut them out of your life. Let them know it’s not OK and you refuse to tolerate it. Don’t participate in enabling their poisoned souls. If you think about it, shunning a racist is an act of kindness, because silence equals endorsement. It assists that person in remaining psychologically toxic.

Silence. Stab a machete through that. If you have to start there, then start there. A small start is better than no start at all.

“Silence must die.”

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Megyn Kelly, we hardly knew ye

Photo by Vulture.com.

I know when I say that I’m feeling sorry for Megyn Kelly, it’ll have the same reaction as farting in a crowded room. People will wrinkle their noses and get as far away as possible. Well, hold your nose, because I do.

Kelly is one of NBC’s more recent news anchors, with her own block of the Today show at 9 a.m., and what made her actually interesting is that she’s a Fox “News” transplant. She arrived on the Blue side of television after departing from Fox, maybe after an epiphany that the truthfulness of most everything spoken on that network, with the possible exception of the weather, was suspect. Somewhere along the line — maybe after Donald Trump so famously referred to her as “bleeding from her wherever” after she grilled him mercilessly during a presidential debate regarding his blatant misogyny — Megyn had to choose between her integrity and her paycheck.

Brava! You chose well, Megyn!

That said, at first, that was an awfully hard Left turn for me to navigate. I had to set down my precious disdain for anything and everything associated with Fox “News” and give Megyn a chance. She was walking away from the Dark Side, and in my mind, that deserved such a chance because maybe she is setting an example. Others on the Radical Right may follow her lead. Megyn was a walking talking crossover vehicle for Fox viewers realizing they needed to hightail it to somewhere sane. Or maybe they were just tired of being assholes. Whatever the reason, Megyn pointed out the exit a door for those folks.

I remained skeptical of course, because Megyn had been hanging out with the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but she seemed to be reasonably human after all, unlike her former harpy co-workers. By all accounts, Megyn — with a reputation for being fearless and articulate — was doing just fine at NBC. She was learning to adapt to a liberal atmosphere. She was gaining a new audience and siphoning away some of Fox’s. And then, yesterday… she face-planted.

Oh, Megyn, Megyn… how is it possible that anyone your age, with a background in journalism, (which implies that you know how to check facts and do research) doesn’t understand the inherent racism of blackface? Blackface was designed to ridicule an entire race, one that has experienced (and still experiences) horrific treatment and , sadly, ongoing racism? You’re a smart gal… but this was your “I didn’t know Chicken of the Sea wasn’t chicken!” moment. We’re left slack-jawed in amazement that anyone could be that dense.

But there it was.

“It’s not chicken???”

And, like a toddler asking completely inappropriate questions at the most awkward moment, Megyn continued and asked why blackface was racist if it’s Halloween and you’re dressing up like a character, citing a TV personality who dressed up like Diana Ross and wore dark makeup. Megyn asked, “Why is that wrong? Who doesn’t love Diana Ross?”

Ummm… ummm… how to put this in a way that even a clueless innocent might understand…  Because not everyone feels the same way about everything, and what is not painful for you is very painful for someone else, and therefore, in civilized society, we don’t do things that hurt other people.

Maybe that’s a start… and then hand Megyn a U.S. history book and send her to her room and tell her she can’t come out until she’s read the whole thing, and oh yes, there will be a pop quiz.

I watched Megyn stumble deeper and deeper into the mud of her own making in that segment, while her guests squirmed uncomfortably, trying to explain how blackface, even on Halloween, is offensive. It was one of those moments where you want to grab someone by the back of the neck and walk them away and hiss in her ear, “Just stop talking!!!”

The backlash from this incident was swift and harsh. Did she have it coming? Oh, yeah. We must hold people — particularly those in positions of power —  accountable. The following morning, a visibly angered Al Roker, the usually jovial weatherman for the Today show, said that although Megyn apologized to her staff, audience and co-workers, she owed a larger apology to all of People of Color for saying something so offensive. Roker was spot on. She deserved to get the stink-eye in the company cafeteria for a good long time. But Megyn listened, and quickly issued what seemed like a heartfelt apology and, more important, she finally “got it” — blackface is just completely offensive, in all situations. Even on Halloween. She learned something, dammit! But that wasn’t enough for NBC. By the end of the next day, Oct. 24, the news was out that Megyn was being canned by NBC.

NBC… I get WHY you made that decision, because you must be pristinely PC, however, jettisoning Megyn wasn’t a very well-considered move. Given, Megyn revealed that she has some astounding blind spots in her understanding of U.S. history and racism. However, if you watch the clip, she seems to be genuinely trying to understand. She didn’t seem mean or intentionally hurtful  — just utterly clueless.

It’s not chicken. It’s tuna. They called it Chicken of the Sea to get squeamish people in the 1950s to try canned fish, and probably also to play on the “tastes like chicken” explanation for anything that tastes dicey. And the mermaid on the logo… also not chicken. There are no chickens in the sea. It’s tuna. TUNA. OK? 

I know, Megyn…

Mind.

BLOWN.

So, let’s just go with the theory that somehow, Megyn never learned the truth about blackface in all these years. She existed in the Fox “News” echo chamber, and remained completely clueless… Blithely going through life hurting and offending people without ever realizing it. But here’s the thing… stop and consider how many other essentially kind but grotesquely clueless Americans there are out there? Megyn represents an uncomfortably large portion of the population that’s just as clueless, and harbors the exact same questions. But at least Megyn asked. She was trying to understand. And then, holy cow, did she get a heaping helping of understanding from every direction. Oh, she “gets it” now.

And got canned anyway.

That’s troubling for other potential Fox crossovers, who are beginning to have an inkling that what they’re hearing isn’t quite accurate. Like Megyn, it’s as if they’ve been raised by wolves and have no idea how to behave like a human. But they’re trying to understand. They want to ask questions. But having seen Megyn excoriated for her clumsy attempt to gain understanding, and may think instead… “Hmmm… if I ask a question, I’ll get my head chopped off too. Think I’ll stay in the Fox hole where it’s safe.” And just like that, we prevented more folks from seeking truth. Remaining ignorant is less painful than ridicule.

Well, we didn’t. NBC, this one’s on you. You botched a truly teachable moment. One that could have opened up a conversation and raised awareness and understanding. But, in a knee-jerk reaction, you didn’t look outside your own interests and ratings to recognize that Megyn blundered into the tip of an ugly racist iceberg. You had your chance to bust it up, and by firing Megyn, you are helping it to continue drifting along. You should have accepted her apology, issued a stern statement, and encouraged Megyn to start thinking, looking and interacting outside her lily white box.

For a network that likes to trot out the “The More You Know” tagline, you really blew it. it was a chance for Megyn and so many more like her to know more. And now they won’t.

Show me your boobs

breast-pe2Show me your boobs.

I don’t mean in a “flash your titties and I’ll toss you some Mardi Gras beads” way. Or “just for fun” or “let’s be naughty.” This is serious. Post some photos of your breasts, right here on this thread. Not pretty tittie photos. Photos of the miserable rashes, welts and bruising caused by your bra.

When I first started writing about the horrific rash caused by my Victoria’s Secret bras, information was very scarce online or anywhere else about this condition. It took me a long while to recognize the pattern of unbearable itching connected to two specific VS bras I’d just purchased. I started searching for information, and discovered the story of a women who believed it was formaldehyde in the bras that caused her allergic reaction — which looked just like mine: ugly, angry red welts, with an itch worse than poison oak, so bad that scratching until I bruised and broke the skin was less painful than trying to tolerate the itch.

I started writing about bra rashes, and rashes caused by Victoria’s Secret bras, and women began pouring from the woodwork, reporting similar conditions. The vast majority were associated with wearing VS bras. Since that time, other brands have popped up, creating similar reactions, but VS is still the largest offender — likely because they’re the largest manufacturer.

People have asked about suing VS, but I think that’s a dead end. It’s been tried, and it failed. For one thing, their position is that they don’t add chemicals to their bras. True enough — the chemicals are already in the fabric and they purchase that fabric after the fact.  So, they can legally claim innocence. For another, no one seems to have died from “contact allergic dermatitis” caused by whatever is in the bra fabric. That said, who knows who might have died from absorbing those chemicals over long periods of time? Those of us who react to the chemicals are the lucky ones — we stop wearing the bras. Those who don’t continue to expose themselves to toxins. Who knows how much they have absorbed through the skin, and what those chemicals do once they reach a toxic load? Could there be a connection to breast cancer?

VS will not acknowledge this problem, let alone take responsibility. I’ve talked to their reps on the phone, and they carefully choose their words so as not to even hint of culpability. But they KNOW there’s a problem. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached out to me. Yes, you read that right: VS contacted ME, not vice versa. They KNOW. Many, many women have returned their bras to the stores, and get their money back, no questions asked. Of course they do. If VS has the bras, they can destroy the evidence.

The most egregious facet of this story is that VS is aware of the problem, and they just don’t care. Despite customer loyalty, despite the fact that all of us with the allergy would flock to buy the products we want (and sadly, no one has found an acceptable substitute product), they just don’t care about us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve easily spent thousands at Victoria’s Secret over my life. Add us all up, all the money we’ve collectively spent… it’s substantial. Amazingly, VS doesn’t care. Which reveals just how much money they’re making. Easily enough money to deal with this issue. They don’t even have to acknowledge it. They could just quietly make it go away.

I suppose, legally speaking, it really isn’t VS’s problem that some of their customers react so violently to whatever is in that fabric. It ultimately isn’t their fault that some of their customers have allergies. We are like people with any other allergy — peanuts, eggs, fish. It is up to us to recognize our symptoms and carefully avoid products that contain that allergen. That said, food products are labeled with their contents. Clothing is not, other than basic fabric, like cotton, linen, etc. It’s time that allergens and chemical content are listed on labels so those of us with the allergy can safely buy products, rather than suffer the “trial and error” method of excruciating itching, bruising and welts.

It would also be wonderful if VS and other garment manufacturers could produce hypoallergenic lines of clothing. Make them just as cute and sexy as the others — but without the poison. They’re capable of doing this… they just don’t want to.

However, maybe if there was a collection of visible evidence of what this chemical allergy does, it would not only be taken more seriously, but maybe some intrepid clothing/lingerie manufacturer would strike out and make hypoallergenic bras and panties that don’t cause pain and misery. So… show me your boobs.

If you have that bra rash, take a selfie or ask your partner, a friend, or family member to take one for you. If possible, to protect from being labeled as porn and banned from social media sites, cover your nipples with your hands. Just get a picture of the rash caused by your bra. When I’ve collected enough, I’ll launch a Facebook page for this. VS, and all the other clothing manufacturers may be ignoring this issue and hoping it will disappear, but actual photographic evidence is much harder to ignore than words.

Let’s get the evidence IN THEIR FACE.

One more reason to post photos: It will help the many, many women out there who are frantic because they believe they have some sort of exotic breast disease or cancer discover that they aren’t sick after all. It’s their bras that are making them sick.

We are only a few weeks away from Breast Cancer Awareness Month — October. I’m hoping we will have enough photos and testimonies to have a Facebook page by October 1. If all the women who have responded over the years to my Boob Blog posts participate, it will be MORE than enough.

So, show me your boobs. Because pictures speak a thousand words. Let’s start yelling.

Banning fireworks would be ‘safe and sane’

Setting: In the background, the blue-green coastal hills just west of Winters are obliterated with dull, gray, choking smoke, that just gets thicker as the hours tick away and firefighters try desperately, and ineffectively, to get hold of the latest wildfire scorching the land. In the foreground, “safe and sane” fireworks stands are doing healthy business.

What’s wrong with this picture?

No, not the obvious irony  — it’s that fireworks sales are allowed at all in California, which is nothing but a vast sea of kindling from June through October. The rationale: these are great fundraisers for local youth sports teams.

No. Just NO. This is dumbshittery at its pathetic worst.

First off, sports teams – sell cookies. Wrapping paper. Offer community services. Raise the prices at your snack shacks. Do a boot drive, a swim fin drive, or just start a GoFundMe. There is absolutely no rationale for risking the property and lives of people statewide, of destroying vast acres of natural lands and endangering and even killing animals both wild and domestic, just so ya’ll can play Little League or be on the swim team for $10 less. Enough’s enough. The pyrotechnics party must end.

Hey, here’s an idea: How about if the sports teams and other non-profits that raise money through fireworks sales be required to donate their proceeds to a California fire-fighting fund, and only collect the money that’s leftover?

Short scenario: Ain’t nobody collecting a dime, because it will all go to fighting fires, and it will amount to less than 1% of the millions upon millions, and even billions, in damages that happen due to fires in California every single year.

Unlike states that enjoy four seasons, California only has two: Fire Season and Not Fire Season. Why on earth should anyone be encouraged to light sparking fires in the heart of Fire Season?

Here in Winters, with the County Fire blazing on and at this moment, 44,500 acres scorched and only 3% containment after fire crews have battled this blaze all of yesterday, last night and today, to even entertain the idea of hundreds of happy idiots blithely lighting miniature explosive devices on fire on every block is jaw-droppingly stupid.

At least our City Manager had the good sense to cancel the annual July 3 (yes, July 3) fireworks display, for a variety of reasons, including very poor air quality right now, as well as the fact that with an active fire burning in the hills, and lives and property on the line, if emergency crews need to get through on the one and only highway that leads to that area, the last thing they need is to attempt to navigate through streets choked with cars and people from the thousands that descend upon our town to see free fireworks every year.

And why do all these people come to Winters? Because the cities where they live don’t allow them! Surrounding areas have wised up — no fireworks displays, no fireworks sales. Why? Because they’re smarter than we are! What does Winters get out of this gig? NOTHING! They ask people to donate to the fireworks, but the vast majority park themselves outside the school grounds so they don’t have to drop a buck or two in the donation can. It’s lunacy!

In addition to clogging the town with people and cars, these folks buy their fireworks here and then settle in on any random corner or parking lot and set off their Block Party packs. When all the fun is over, they pack up and leave the charred trash right there for our city crews to clean up. Our city doesn’t make a dime from these folks, but it spends quite a few.

Oh, but meanwhile, the sports teams are cheering because they’ve made money. The city and community would be better off to donate funds to the teams in exchange for banning fireworks sales. Adding in fire crews running to this and that lawn or roof fire started by fireworks, and the city might come out ahead by banning fireworks and giving the teams money.

This is the fifth July in a row that rural Winters and the hills to the west suffered wildfires that turned the sky gray and the sun into a red, glowing ball, and the air became acrid with smoke. Our cars and sidewalks are covered with a film of ash, and our lungs and sinuses probably are as well. And we have four more months of Fire Season to go, and plenty of kindling-covered hills and fields primed to go up in smoke with one spark.

For me, this was the third year in a row that I stood guard along with my stable pals near Lake Solano where we board our horses, but this year was different. Whereas the last two years, we merely stood guard and fretted, this year, mid-afternoon, a sheriff’s posse officer pulled onto the property and said we needed to get the horses out NOW.

There are about 40 horses on that property. Some of the owners were out of town. There were not enough horse trailers for all of the horses, even if everyone was there. We asked if we could go and drop horses off and come back. The answer was “no.” We were told that once we left, we would not be allowed back in.

In the case of me and my stable sisters, all together, we were two trailer spaces short. So, what do you do? Flip a coin to see whose horse stays back and maybe burns to death? Luckily for us, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Posse brought in a trailer and rescued the odd-man-out horses, one of which was my own beloved Pendragon. Thankfully, the horses were all safely rescued, and all the other horses were eventually evacuated as well. No small feat when you consider that in addition to the emergency situation, horses aren’t exactly the most cooperative animals when they are terrified and smell smoke. And, they weigh about 1,500 pounds each.

Thankfully, they all made it out alive, and the stable is still standing. This time. For now. The fire, as I said, is only 3% contained at this moment, and the wind could kick back up any time.

But what if the wind had shifted yesterday in a moment? What if our only choice was to leave our horses or die? Only those who’ve never loved a horse with all their hearts would say, “Just leave.”

Now true, the County Fire likely wasn’t started by fireworks. However, the Cold Fire (I think that was the name — there’ve been so many that I’ve lost track) was started by campers out near Monticello Dam setting off fireworks under dry, windy conditions. That particular fire turned the beautiful Stebbins Cold Canyon into ash. It was heartbreaking. Was losing that pristine nature preserve worth setting off a few Piccolo Petes or Sparkling Showers or Flaming Dollar Bills (what they all should really be called)? Let’s give that a collective “HAYULL NO.”

There are those who object to the notion of a long-overdue fireworks ban and say, “Well, this fire wasn’t started by fireworks.” Fair enough. But will the next one be? Why the hell would you even take that risk? How stupid are you? Do you put on your own pants in the morning or do you require assistance?

Is it fair to have fire crews go running around after little front lawn fires while acres of dry brush are being gulped by flames and racing toward someone’s home and livestock herd? I’d say the only fair thing in that situation would be to tell the fireworks-lovin’ homeowners to bust out the garden hose because they created their own problem through nothing but sheer, grotesque stupidity.

Add to all that the massive air pollution from all the sidewalk fireworks displays and the impact on local creeks and streams after all the ash and debris is washed into city drains, as well as all the trips to emergency rooms from “safe and sane” fireworks accidents, and there is just not a single valid reason to allow fireworks in California, and maybe anywhere else either.

Safe and Sane? What a JOKE. The ONLY “safe and sane” solution is to ban all fireworks sales in California. Period. We have enough trouble fighting fires caused by other things than to risk igniting another one just for the sake of simple entertainment or to save $10 on the registration fee for our kids to play sports.

This was the view of the sky over the stable where I board my horse. It was about 3:30 p.m., the height of a sunny day. Yet, the sky, and the whole area was as dark as dust from smoke from the County Fire yesterday.

Trump holds gun to the heads of immigrant children

Were I a cartoonist, I’d draw this: Trump holding a gun to the head of a weeping immigrant child, harkening to the chilling 1968 photo of the Saigon execution, with the caption “Give me my wall or else.”

This is the ugly underbelly of one of the ugliest situations in American history — Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border.

If you peer through the smoke and bullshit of Trump’s mind-numbingly inane assertion that the policy of separating children from parents is the fault of the Democrats (entirely untrue — just Google or Snopes it; this policy can be cancelled in one moment if Trump wished it, without even a vote from Congress) you can see what he is alluding to: It’s the wall.

What he’s really saying in between the lines of his brain vomit is that if the Democrats would just give him his southern border wall, he’d stop pursuing this crime against humanity. Since they will not (because they’re sane), sadly, children must continue to be ripped from their parents and detained weeping and terrified in dog kennels until King Baby gets what he wants.

Trump and his toadie Jeff Sessions are quite literally holding more than 2,000 children hostage as a vehicle for getting what they want.

The wall.

These detained children are the poster children for what happens when a tyrant is willing to do anything to get what he wants. No wonder Trump licks the feet of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. They are his role models. He lusts for the sort of mass obedience both of these dictators command. Trump recently said he wished Americans would sit up straight and listen whenever he spoke. Well, guess what pal… we ARE listening. And not in the way you wanted.

People! If you aren’t thoroughly disgusted by the state of our country right about now, I ask you: What the hell will it take?

According to the June 19 Morning Joe opening segment, 55 percent of Republicans SUPPORT Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. To support holding innocent children hostage in order to advance your personal and political desires is the very definition of deplorable. That 55 percent? There’s your “Deplorables.”

The text of the poem (also known as “New Colossus”) honoring our Statue of Liberty reads as follows:

New Colossus

 

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-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What is happening right now in our country is a disgrace to the very foundations of this country of immigrants. Unless you are Native American, we were ALL huddled masses yearning to breathe free when our ancestors arrived on our shores. Trump is shitting on everything we stand for. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans stand there, trying not to wrinkle their noses in disgust, and declare that Trump’s dump smells like roses.

You too, Congressional Republicans, are Deplorables.

Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border in order to propel his desire to get that wall built is worse than the potential Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential campaign. Why? Because unlike the Russians, who laced social media with inflammatory false stories and memes to successfully persuade voters to support Trump, we are committing this crime against humanity ourselves. This time We the People are willfully and wantonly destroying our country and everything it stands for.

Yes, it is now OUR fault, if we do nothing to stop it immediately.

Ageism, nepotism, and getting over the bitters

Yes, it’s been awhile.

Sorry about that. I was preoccupied with gathering up the pieces of my life after the jigsaw puzzle was abruptly thrown into the air. Oh yeah, it was me who chucked the whole neatly arranged picture skyward, and honestly — it wasn’t all that abrupt. I could see this coming for awhile.

It began in January, when a new, young, and very inexperienced publisher took ownership of the Winters Express, of which I’d been the managing editor for 26 years. The day he took charge, I’d already had more experience managing a community newspaper since breakfast than he’d had in his whole life.

Rather than sit back and learn from my experience, he resented it and resisted it. The feeling was mutual. In my mind, he was dismantling everything I’d invested nearly half of my life in. I assume that in his, I was hindering him from making all his grand plans come true. “Because this is the correct way to do it” locked horns with “Because I’m the owner and I say so.”

Irresistible force meets immovable object.

Boom.

One of us had to go, and given that the irresistible force was now the owner, well, I exited stage left in May. I guess the notion of “immovable” has its caveats.

Rather than belabor a point I’ve already made elsewhere, you can read my exit column for the Express, as well as my exit column for the Davis Enterprise, for which I wrote a column for 23 years. Sadly, because the new Express publisher is also the son-in-law of the Enterprise publisher, family ties forced me out of the Enterprise as well.

Am I bitter? Oh yeah. I’ve got a bad case of the bitters. It’s surreal to be marginalized when you’ve accumulated as much experience — and success — as I have, and then suddenly be shoved into the “too old and too expensive” column, but it is what it is.

What it is, by the way, is a noxious cocktail of ageism and nepotism, and if you’d been forced to gulp it down, you’d be bitter too.

Yeah, yeah — I know this sounds bitchy and petty, but here’s the thing about being bitter: It’s like pus — the only way to relieve the pain is to lance it. And yes, it is a big, oogey mess, but ya gotta get all that poison out before you can heal. This is me, doing that. And yes, little by little, it’s getting better. Healing takes time. But it happens. You get up, you move on.

So, here it is, my side of a sad, ugly story, now you’re all up to speed, and this is the last you’ll hear about it. But I had to write something, because it would be really strange and weird to just keep on keepin’ on as if nothing had happened, as if nothing was different. That wouldn’t be the truth, and it wouldn’t be genuine. In 27 years of writing opinion, I’ve never hidden from the truth, or the truth about myself, and I’m not starting now.

Ah well… a new chapter can’t start until the old one is finished. And the old one is definitely finished. As for the new one? Well, I’m beginning it now. I’ll be blogging, I’ll still be a contributing columnist for iPinion Syndicate and finally — finally — I’ll have time to finish the unfinished books, novels and screenplays languishing on my iMac and taking up disc space. I’m a great starter… not such a great finisher. That deadline was my Mistress, whipping me along and making sure I’d produce something printable each week. Without any deadlines staring me down anymore, I guess I’ll have to be my own Mistress now. And let’s all take a moment to be thankful that you can only see me in print and not in that black leather corset.

Anyway, here we are — cut loose, cut free and running wild. Where will we go? I guess you’ll have to stick around and find out.

 

East Area Rapist — part of the montage of carnage

Well, this is unfortunate.

I mean, the larger story is astounding and relieving and huge, but for me and my husband, there’s a little asterisk to it. Let’s just get over this little speed bump before moving on: Joseph DeAngelo, identified and arrested this week as the elusive and terrifying East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, is not — I repeat, NOT — the same person as Joseph DeAngelo, my husband.

Ouch, right?

When the story broke, I was simply stunned. The East Area Rapist was part of my adolescence. I lived in the “East Area” back then, Carmichael, to be exact, and news of his capture instantly made me recall the fear that permeated our daily lives because of him. I was even further stunned, however, when I read his name.

Ouch.

I texted my husband to inform him that he may experience some collateral damage over the next few weeks, sharing the name of one of the most notorious serial killers/rapists in California history. He grew up in Pennsylvania, you see, and stories of the East Area Rapist’s ongoing monstrosities weren’t as in-your-face as they were here. Our lives, our thoughts, our behavior patterns — everything was colored by continually emerging horror. (Anyone else stack empty coffee cans behind the front door of your apartment in the ’70s so they’d crash and wake you up if someone broke in during the night?)

When Joe and I watched the evening news together the day the story broke, the shock of hearing his own name attached to these unspeakable crimes brought it painfully into focus. I’m sure all the other Ted Bundys out there can relate.

(Programming note: If you’re tempted to rib Joe about murders or rapes… Just don’t. It’s not funny. Additionally, this monster has NO relation to us whatsoever. So, don’t “go there,” okay? Don’t be “that” guy/gal. Joking about anything that has to do with those times is about as funny as a dead baby.)

The late ’60s and the ’70s weren’t all peace, love and flower power. They were a boiling pot of human cruelty and misery; a spray of carnage and chaos. Against the ongoing backdrop of the Vietnam War, little drops of horror fell into our collective experiential pool, making huge, stunning ripples: Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated; the Kent State shootings; the evening news littered with images of coffins returning from Vietnam; and then… the granddaddies of serial murderers: Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer entered our lives.

The late ’60s and early ’70s were when I first became aware of the news and the larger world, and it scared me senseless. I was pre-loaded to fret, fear and worry in 1974, when the East Area Rapist began terrorizing our neighborhood. I was a freshman in high school then, and everyone in the “east area” of Sacramento was psychologically held hostage. We feared being the next victim. Every single day. Fear permeated everything.

Mix into this gruesome cocktail the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the emergence of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Hearst’s brainwashing at the hands of her captors and reemergence as a machinegun-toting bank robber in 1975 — right there in Carmichael. The SLA robbed the same Crocker Bank we went to, and gunned down an innocent woman right where we’d stand in line.

That same year, Manson Family member “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, also in Sacramento. In the midst of all this, Ted Bundy emerged on the serial killer scene, challenging the East Area Rapist as the bogeyman monster of the time, simultaneously raping and killing multiple women concurrently with the East Area Rapist’s attacks.

We were all riveted to the evening news and front pages of newspapers in screaming-sized fonts, informing us of the latest slaughter. No wonder my perception of the world was that it’s endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous.

When I moved to Davis to go to college, the carnage train rumbled onward. In 1980, my heart was broken when John Lennon was assassinated. The same month, I learned that one of my high school friends was amongst the victims of serial killers Gerald and Charlene Gallego, who kidnapped young women to use as sex slaves and then murder when they tired of them. My friend, Craig Miller, was dating one of those girls. At least he wasn’t used as a sex slave… just marched into a field near Bass Lake and assassinated face down in the weeds.

Just after this, Davis residents Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins were murdered. They were last seen buying ice cream on their way to a party — at the same grocery store I was in, on the very same night, at the very same time. It’s not much of a leap to “it could have been me.” It wasn’t long after these murders that Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) and Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) vied for the serial killer spotlight.

As I look back on those years, it seems like a montage of horror; a serial of serial murders. But then came the ’90s, and it seems that serial murder fell out of favor with white sociopathic males. Maybe mass shootings are serial murders, 2.0? You can slaughter scores of innocent people in mere moments with the pull of one semi-automatic weapon trigger and be home in time for lunch. Even our psychopathic killers are lazy and impatient now. Why do all that homicidal planning when mass shooting provide a one-stop-shop for killing many, many people?

Honestly, I’m unable to even make sense of the scope of human cruelty and carnage. Why, when we are capable of immense kindness, are we such horrible creatures? At least one horrible creature was captured this week, never to harm again. I suppose it’s some small consolation. However, his capture is a bitter reminder of my teenage conclusion: Life is endlessly, astoundingly, arbitrarily treacherous. Why? Because humans seem incapable of being better than they are.

Five years later and our breasts are still angry as hell

One year ago, I wrote about the fact that I wrote about this topic four years prior to that, and was surprised that not only was the issue unresolved, it’s ongoing: horrific breast rashes triggered by Victoria’s Secret bras.

Rinse and repeat.

Women continue to contact me each week on this blog, reporting that they’re suffering with itching and rashes on their breasts, which means that manufacturers continue to churn out products made from fabrics infused with irritating chemicals. And the garment manufacturers know it. They just don’t care. Why? Because the percentage of customers that react to these chemicals with allergic contact dermatitis is relatively miniscule. It’s cheaper to ignore them than to do anything about it.

Note that I said “manufacturers” because the problem has spread beyond Victoria’s Secret. While most women commenting on my blog report issues with Victoria’s Secret bras, more and more are reporting the same thing from bras made by other manufacturers.

This makes sense because Victoria’s Secret is the largest and most popular bra manufacturer, therefore, by the numbers, their customer base is larger, and within that base, the number of women with an allergic reaction is larger. It makes further sense other bras are triggering the reaction because the issue isn’t Victoria’s Secret bras per se. The issue is the fabric itself, available to any garment manufacturer. In fact, this is how Victoria’s Secret handily crushed a lawsuit filed in 2008 by a women claiming her rash was so severe that she was disfigured from the formaldehyde that Victoria’s Secret was putting in their bras.

Victoria’s Secret responded that never added any chemicals to their bras. Technically, this was true. They didn’t add chemicals to their products — the chemicals were already in the fabric, from which their products are made. The plaintiff lost her case. And yet… the rashes continue.

Despite claims of innocence, I know for a fact that Victoria’s Secret is aware of the issue because I was contacted by two of their representatives, who gave me very carefully worded responses to my concerns, and also because Victoria’s Secret follows me on Twitter and I doubt it’s because they’re my corporate fangirls.

I think Victoria’s Secret’s motive in contacting me was to see if my plan was to lawyer up. This sentiment is very common amongst women visiting my blog. They’re furious about being mistreated and betrayed by a company to which they’ve been loyal, and their reaction is “take ’em to court.” Over the years, however, and also because Victoria’s Secret’s pockets are deeper than all us disgruntled customers combined, I’ve come to realize that the courtroom isn’t the place to address the problem. The place to address the problem is our wallets.

Even though I’m unable to find a product I like as much as Victoria’s Secret’s, I’ll never buy anything from them again: bras, panties, sleepwear, lotion or perfume. And, their “Heavenly” perfume was my favorite. But I’ll never buy it again. I don’t reward people or companies for disloyalty.

When women come to me seeking advice, this is what I tell them: See your doctor and have your condition documented, and if your doctor doesn’t know about bra-related contact allergic dermatitis, direct her/him to my blog; rather than get your money back for the bras (which Victoria’s Secret will happily do without quarrel because they’d love to destroy your “evidence”), store them in a zip-lock — you never know when (under a more caring administration) the federal government may step in and take a look at harmful chemicals in fabric, and they may want sample evidence; to determine if the bra is really causing the problem, don’t wear it until the rash is healed — about three weeks — and if you’re brave, put it back on and see if the rash comes roaring back. If it does, that will confirm your suspicions.

What does the rash look like? In my experience, it began as rough, dry, tissue-paper like skin on the areola, that didn’t get any better with moisturizer or lotion. Over time, it began to itch. Over more time, it began to itch more and welts appeared all over the breast. Over even more time, the itching became excruciating and irresistible, like poison oak, and I scratched myself raw and bruised. Even then, I couldn’t stop scratching. And then I got some new bras and started to notice the itching subsiding with the new ones and exploding if I wore the old ones. Little by little… I narrowed it down to two specific bras, and — bingo — I figured it out: it’s the bras.

As consumers who have this allergic sensitivity, we must take responsibility for recognizing the symptoms and avoiding the triggers. We have the ability to protect our own health. And here’s something to consider: Those of us with the allergy are the lucky ones. Our bodies alert us when we’re coming in contact with a toxin. Those who don’t react to the chemicals are continuing to saturate their skin with toxins, which build up in your bloodstream and tissues.

Our skin isn’t merely a covering. It’s an organ, and it absorbs chemicals. That’s why nicotine or hormone patches work: the skin slowly, constantly, absorbs the chemicals, just as it will in a lesser but more pernicious way from chemically laden fabric.

The real concern is “toxic load.” How much cumulative chemical exposure can our bodies handle before our own genetic triggers go off and react with cancer or immune disorders? That’s still a medical a mystery. Until the mystery is solved, here’s the takeaway about toxic load: the less, the better. There are chemicals in our air, our water, our food (yes, even organic food, unless it’s not exposed to natural air or water), and most of this is unavoidable. But we can avoid the products that our bodies tell us are harmful. Once you’ve experienced the allergic reaction, you’ll recognize it immediately. Your body is telling you “stop!” Your body is right.

(For more information about breast rashes caused by bras and fabrics, search “boob blog” right here on this blog.)

 

 

Teens start talking about their mental health struggles

I was asked by the Friday Night Live club mentor at Winters High School recently to do a story on their upcoming Mental Health Awareness Week event, and while normally I might be inclined to pass this story on to one of the reporters, this one grabbed me.

While I’m no fan of guns or the NRA, even in light of the epidemic of school/mass shootings, I don’t think gun control is the complete answer. The mental health issue still must be addressed, because there are all sorts of ways for a deranged person to kill lots of people, from cars to pressure cookers, and the fact is undeniable: It’s the person pulling the trigger that actually causes the carnage.

It’s that person we need to work on. We must teach kindness, empathy and anger management beginning in kindergarten and onward through high school. Prevention may be more difficult than cure, but the results are infinitely richer.

In my day, school was the only safe place from my tumultuous home life. Nowadays, going to school seems ominous. Who will snap next? Much of the “cure” talk has included gun control, arming teachers, fortifying classrooms and having armed guards on campus. Even with all that, I’m skeptical that a deranged person dedicated to creating horror will not find a way around all those things. Sociopaths are very creative.

So, when FNL mentor Olivia Rodriguez asked me if I wanted to write about their prevention event, I immediately said “Yes.”

At the interview, I sat at a table with Olivia and some FNL members and we started clicking through the basic information and schedule. As I asked more questions about the mental health issues themselves, the students began opening up about what their worlds are like, and depression and isolation are front and center.

Several said they feel like there’s is no one they can trust to turn to and, worse yet, they fear that if they do reach out, that person might not care.

Wow.

I asked Olivia, who has taught for 12 years, if she’s seen an escalation in mental health issues amongst teens and, if so, what has changed. Her response was “yes” and “social media.” By contrast, she said that in her own high school days, back-stabbing was limited mainly to passing nasty notes and doing the whole “mean girls” thing; only a handful of people involved.

Today, it’s no longer backstabbing. It’s front-stabbing. It’s right in their faces. Victimization, bullying, harassing and humiliation is played out on social media, and the reach is exponentially farther and faster than the nasty notes of days past. A single humiliating or hurtful post not only singles someone out for a thread of vicious comments, the “shares” start to fly, and in moments, a teen is in a very painful and unavoidable spotlight… with no way to escape.

And here I viewed the impact of social media on teens mainly as a colossal waste of time, a distraction from real life, a huge danger if texting and driving or walking and, worst of all, an activity that is retarding them developmentally and socially. They aren’t learning how to read body language and facial expressions (beyond emojis) because rather than interacting with each other, their faces are buried in their cell phones with their thumbs a-flyin’. The world doesn’t exist around them anymore. It exists in their cell phones.

But I learned it’s so much worse than that. Because social media is embedded in teens’ lives, it’s their source of approval and validation. It’s where they get attention. Should that attention spin in the wrong direction and become a source of pain, stress and sadness from which they can’t break free — from a teen’s perspective, it ruins their lives. They’re teenagers, for heaven’s sake! They have no defenses, no coping strategies, and in the case of social media bullying, they’re wildly outnumbered.

Think back, all of us who haven’t been in high school since the 80s or before: Weren’t our teen years not painful, awkward and drama-laden enough, without the added magnification of social media bullying? Teens have never been well-equipped for dealing with drama. Every heartbreak or insult is the end of the world, and now, the social media stress is omnipresent in their lives, 24-7.

But there’s another angle, said one student: Sometimes lack of attention is just as painful, like when you post a picture of yourself where you think you look pretty and… nothing. No one “likes” it or comments. You become publicly invisible. And it hurts.

As these students shared their experiences, I wanted to throw my arms around them and say, ” In 10 years, none of this will matter! All this high school drama and conflict will disappear! You MUST trust that this too shall pass!” But, I kept quiet because I know that I might as well just walk around quacking like a duck. That much about teens hasn’t changed: old people are lame, and that goes double for everything we say.

All this said, these students were opening up a little, and that’s the beginning of hope. They’re learning to talk about their feelings and encourage others to seek out support; they’re creating activities to bolster self-esteem, and talking kindness and empathy. Better that all this begins in kindergarten, but hey — late to the party is better than not showing up at all.

Speaking of showing up… could we show up for these students who are getting to the heart of the matter regarding school shootings, violence, bullying and mental health? There are three ways: reach out to Olivia at the high school and offer financial support, sponsor a table at their lunchtime event on Friday, May 18, and offer information about local mental health services, and/or volunteer to help. We need to show up and set an example about the value of kindness.

It’s all about the kindness, man. It’s the flower we can stick in the gun barrel.

Feline existentialism and the strategy of the settler and the searcher

Minnie and Maxx… Yin and Yang

Everything you need to know about satisfaction (or lack thereof) can be learned from my cats, Minnie and Maxx, the Yin and Yang of feline existentialism.

Minnie, jet black from head to tail, was clearly traumatized before I adopted her. She wanted nothing to do with people whatsoever and communicated that quite clearly. When I’d pick her up, she’d clench her entire body and then suddenly twist into the air and take off like a rocket at the first opportunity, leaving tracks of red slices on my arm or chest after using them as a launching pad for her back feet.

Consequently, I didn’t pick Minnie up much in the early days. I just left her alone and didn’t put any pressure on her. Four months later, she popped up on the footrest of my recliner, stared at me intently with her huge green eyes, and then delicately walked up my body, curled up on my chest, began purring and fell asleep. She’s been my Velcro kitty ever since, and has claimed me as her personal human. We’re each other’s familiar.

I like to describe Minnie as reclusive or sensitive or shy. My husband describes her as “psycho” and insists that she’d eat my face if she had to. Let’s not be judgmental, now. Who’s to say whose face we might eat if we had to survive? One can never truly be sure.

So, why on earth did I adopt a cat like Minnie, given that on that Petco Black Cat Adoption Day, there were scores of other choices, peering miserably from their cages and sliding their silken ebony paws through the grating as if beckoning and begging, “Please, pick me!!” As opposed to Minnie, curled in a ball in the back of her cage, trying to block out the world.

Well, the reason is that curled around that curled up black ball was a big, boisterous pure-white lovebug, licking Minnie furiously as if trying to comfort her. I called to get his attention and he came straight to me, rubbing his body back and forth on the grating, nibbling my finger affectionately, oozing love.

“I’d like to hold this one,” I told the rescue mom.

Once he was in my arms, there was just no way I was going home without that big purry squirmy ball of adorableness. I named him Maxx, (Cattus Maximus, of course) in contrast to Minnie (Cattus Minimus, and yes, I know that’s not a real word), because he overflows with personality. He makes facial expressions like a person, and is doing his best to speak English. He often calls “hello,” (it sounds like “herro”) when looking for someone, usually my hard-to-impress daughter, who he’s completely charmed.

One recent lazy “couch, coffee and cats” Sunday morning with my husband, Minnie was curled up in “her” lap (it used to be mine) and Maxx was perching on the back of the recliner, jumping onto the sofa arm, walking across the back, squirming around apparently unable to get comfortable, and then jumping down to go scratch at my daughter’s bedroom door and yowl “Herro” because he was displeased with the amount of time it was taking her to wake up, and I started analyzing the existential difference between Maxx and Minnie.

Yes. I’m about to anthropomorphize shamelessly.

Here is Minnie, never imagining she could be happy at all, let alone in the company of a human. Humans meant fear and pain. Except for one. Me. She is perfectly content to be bonded only to me, and makes zero attempt to interact with anyone else. She’s satisfied and grateful to have just this much. However, if she’d take the risk to interact with more humans, she’d reap an abundance of cuddles and strokes. But no. That’s just too risky for her. The luck of finding one loving human exceeds her wildest dreams and to seek more might ruin everything.

In other words, Minnie is content with “enough” — just enough, and not one bit more, whether it’s human attention or food. She’s a dainty little thing, all of about nine pounds and never overeats, satisfied with whatever food I give her.

And then there’s Maxx.

There’s NEVER enough for Maxx — food, water, attention, toys, playtime or even soft horizontal surfaces. He wants them all, and he wants them now. He’ll walk all the way across the house just to harass Minnie out of her warm, peaceful little spot, simply because he can’t stand for her to have something he doesn’t. And that goes for food too. If she starts to eat, he butts in and pushes her aside. Just because he can.

At the risk of cat-fat-shaming — Maxx is rotund. Joe calls him “Maxxie the Hut.”

At more than twice Minnie’s size, Maxx is immense both in bulk and personality. Everyone who comes to visit is drawn to him, perching on his cat tree and serving as the official welcoming committee. He chats them up, rolls around and flirts, and is simply irresistible. Minnie, on the other hand, greets visitors by streaking away to hide.

So, here’s that feline existential irony: Minnie seeks, and receives, relatively little in life, and is content. Maxx demands everything there is and usually gets it, but is restless and always wanting more. Even though he actually gets more than Minnie, he’s never content.

Some might call Minnie’s behavior “settling” — a dirty word in my book, one tick away from “giving up.” But maybe there’s happiness in settling? Is there satisfaction in not yearning for what might be beyond the horizon? Conversely, by perpetually chasing the horizon, we fail to realize that we can never really reach it. There’s always more.

Hmmm.

If you settle, you give up the search. You “get there.”

If you search, you give up settling. You never “get there.”

Which is the better strategy? I’m not quite sure. I’ve been both a settler and a searcher. I’ll let you know when I “get there.”