Berries

May 18, 2018

“I want berries.”

“What?”

“I want berries. You know, like the fruit. Strawberries, blueberries, whatever.”

“Oh…”

Sometimes while visiting the girl we love, I get thrown for a loop. The conversation suddenly veers in a new and unexpected direction. We had been talking about her release date, and then she decided to let us know that she wanted berries once she got out of jail.

She continued, “The variety of fruit we get in here is limited: oranges, apples, bananas.”

“No berries?”

She shook her head, “No berries.”

I thought for a moment and said, “Tell you what. Make a list of the kinds of food you would like, and we will make sure we have them available.”

She smiled. “Cool. Oh, I would also like hot wings, but I probably won’t be able to get them right when I get released at 3:00 AM.”

“Uh, no, probably not.” Then I suggested half-jokingly, “We could celebrate your release by going to George Webb’s for breakfast.”

(Note: George Webb’s is a local diner chain that is open 24/7. The chain is famous for incredibly greasy food served by a surly wait staff. The only thing healthy in a George Webb diner is the pickle that sits on top of the hamburger patty in one of their sliders. The clientele at Webb’s at 3:00 AM on a Sunday morning is eclectic, to say the least. Eating a pre-dawn breakfast there is akin to being part of a Twilight Zone episode.)

The girl thought about the offer, then she replied, “How about Denny’s? They are open all night.”

“Yeah, we could do that.”

She smiled again and said, “We would probably be the only sober people in the entire restaurant.”

Oh, so true. The bars all close at 2:00, and drunks with the munchies descend on Denny’s like locusts. It would be entertaining, if nothing else.

The young woman seemed quite pleased. After all these months of incarceration, a restaurant menu would probably be sensory overload. What would she pick? Everything? I am imagining a long and careful selection process.

I know for sure I will be ordering coffee.

 

 

 

 

I Can See My Breath

May 16th, 2018

I like to walk Shocky just as the sun is coming up. As I walked with her out of our front door, I could see my breath in the cold air. Yeah, I know it’s half way through the month of May already. However, we live in a climate where winter leaves grudgingly, and it is always a good idea to have a sweater handy. Spring is here, but it comes reluctantly. The surest sign that the seasons have changed is the sound of lawnmowers in the distance. Also, motorcycles and tulips suddenly arrive on the scene.

I enjoy this particular time of the year because it is dynamic. The leaves on the trees are still budding. The crab apples and the dogwoods are just getting their blossoms. All things are becoming alive. Nothing is complete. Each morning of each day the landscape looks slightly different. Nature is giving birth. It is almost like Eden.

Sadly, not everything is vibrant. There are still bare trees in the woods. They will stay that way. The emerald ash borer came through this country during the last couple years, and all the ashes are dead, hundreds of them. Their skeletal remains are visible on the horizon. Already, other species of trees are taking their places. Maples, cottonwoods, and walnuts are slowly filling in the spaces that are now bare. In a five or ten years, it will be impossible to tell where all the ash trees were. For now, they stand leafless and naked and dead.

As Shocky and I walked back east toward our house, I saw the sunlight flash through the branches of a red maple. The wind blew the tiny leaves on the tree branches, and the light made the tree seem to be aflame. I stopped to look at it for a moment, and savor its beauty.

I love spring.

 

Xenophobia

May 17th, 2018

The Capitol Times of Madison, Wisconsin, posted this letter from me today. It’s a rant, but it comes from the heart.

Dear Editor: The administration of President Trump has been relentlessly antagonistic to immigrants. All immigrants. Trump and his xenophobic supporters have steadily made it more difficult for refugees and others to enter the United States. They have worked tirelessly to deport undocumented persons, regardless of the damage done to their families and their communities. Now, Trump and his nativist followers are trying to get rid of people who are here legally with temporary protected status. So, what is the next step? Will the Department of Homeland Security start deporting green card holders? Does all this end when the Trump regime decides to exile undesirable U.S. citizens?

Francis Pauc

 

Arguing with a Liberal

May 15th, 2018

Yesterday I sent Hans a text: “I hate talking to liberals.”

Just seconds later, Hans replied, “Why?”

That’s a good question. It’s kind of funny too, because in most circumstances Hans thinks of me as an old school, hippie-style liberal. My redneck son considers me to be a classic peacenik. So, he wants to know: why would I hate talking with other liberals?

I didn’t answer Hans’ text, so he called me later in the evening, brimming with curiosity. We had a long conversation. In order to explain myself, I had to tell Hans about a discussion I had earlier in the day. I will have to describe it to you too. It went like this:

The traffic on I-43 was heavy between Port Washington and Milwaukee, and I had an older woman in the  passenger seat of my car who insisted on talking politics as I changed lanes on the freeway. I don’t multi-task, so I found it stressful trying to avoid an accident while responding to her various assertions.  At one point I attempted to simply ignore her comments, but the woman was uncomfortable with silence, and kept sucking me back into an interminable argument. It’s not that I actually disagreed with her so much, it’s just that she wouldn’t quit.

In a way it’s my fault. I started telling her about a person who is important to me, and that this individual is currently in jail. I mentioned that this young woman is looking at three years of probation, and possibly two years in prison if she can’t stay straight.

My passenger asked, “Will she get psychological help while on probation?”

I answered, “I don’t know. Possibly.”

“Well, they really should offer her some services.”

“You’re right, they should, but often they don’t.”

“Our criminal justice system doesn’t help these people.”

“No, not really.”

“There was a wonderful special on PBS about the German prison system. Did you watch it?”

“No, we don’t watch TV”, I replied, as I attempted to watch the car next to me.

“It was really an excellent show. The Germans have a system that doesn’t harm the dignity of the the people in prison. Any developed country should have a system like in Germany. But, then maybe our country really isn’t so developed”, and then she laughed at her own joke.

I responded irritably, “But we don’t live there. We live here.

I became frustrated at this point. For one thing, I almost hit the guy in my blind spot as I tried to change lanes. Second, my loquacious passenger was discussing the justice system from a safe distance. I saw it up close and personal. I was going to the jail that evening to visit the person I loved. I am dealing each day with the experiences of a specific individual who is firmly enmeshed in a fucked up government organization. I don’t care about what other countries do with their prisoners. I only care about one particular prisoner in one particular system.

There was time for my passenger and I to talk about other topics, with generally the same result. She had opinions on nearly every subject. (So do I). It seemed that she thought any social ill could be solved by a committee of well-meaning zealots. Anything can fixed with a new law or a new program.

Somehow we found ourselves discussing white privilege. That was a mistake. I told her about our youngest son, Stefan, who was working as a welder in a shop with no ventilation in the Riverwest neighborhood. Most of his coworkers were black or Latino. I told the woman that sometimes they would needle Stefan about his white privilege. Stefan would respond to them by saying,

“If white privilege is so good, then why I am working in this shitty shop with the rest of you guys?”

(By the way, Stefan has a long time Latina girlfriend, and he speaks Spanish. Just sayin’).

My copilot wasn’t buying Stefan’s comment. She told me in great detail about economic inequality and racism. Everything was based on environment: schools, transportation, available jobs. Fix the system, and you fix the environment, and it’s all good.

Anyway, I told Hans about my long conversation with my friend on the left. He then told me about when he was laid off in the Texas oil fields, and he became both homeless and jobless for a while, that he was not able to get benefits that he believed were available to other people in his situation. Hans didn’t seem perturbed that other folks got help from the government, but it bothered him that he didn’t qualify for the same assistance. It was a question of fairness.

I asked Hans, “You are aware that there is such a thing as racism?”

He sighed, and said, “Well, yeah… “.

“Okay, I was just checking.”

It’s strange. The conversation I had with my copilot was not unique. I have similar arguments with conservatives, like Hans,  but for the opposite reasons. I know people who are absolutely convinced that everything is determined by human freedom and responsibility. While my passenger was determined to show me that people are products of society, and often victims of that society, my right wing friends will tell me that each person has the ability and duty to decide their own fate. I knew an Evangelical woman who talked to me once about someone who was in trouble, and she told me earnestly,

“She just needs to learn how to make good choices.”

Sometimes there are no good choices. Sometimes there is only a spectrum of bad choices.

Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong.

Some people do get dealt a lousy hand. They start life with health problems, or family problems, or race problems, or whatever. Other people seem to have it made right from the beginning. The playing field is never level. We can and should strive for equality, but we will never completely attain it.

Some people make good decisions and they prosper. Some people screw it all up and suffer the consequences. Some people do everything right, and life still kicks their asses. And others break every moral code and succeed beyond their wildest dreams. At times there seems to be no rhyme or reason for how our lives turn out.

I don’t deal well with groups. I don’t understand groups. I can’t identify with groups. I can identify and care about individuals. I can care about a specific person who is hurting. I can care about Hans and his struggles. I can care about Stefan. I can care about a young woman in jail. I can care about any person when I recognize that he or she suffers.

That’s all I can do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staring into the Darkness

May 13th, 2018

“How do you sleep? How do you sleep at night?” – John Lennon

Karin came to bed a little after 11:00 PM. She brought the dogs along with her. Shocky finds her place on the floor, and Sara whines until she can climb up on to the comforter. Sara is thirteen years old, and she struggles now to jump on the bed. I’m not sure how we will manage once she is too old to get up at all.

I go to bed early. Karin is a night owl. I am usually in bed for a couple hours before Karin decides to to call it a night. Once Karin got settled, she kissed my forehead and said,

“You had another nightmare. This one wasn’t too loud, so I didn’t try to wake you up.”

I mumbled, “Yeah.” It is not unusual for me to have nightmares early in my sleep cycle. Sometimes, I just struggle though them. Sometimes, I scream and thrash about, to the extent that Karin fears for my safety. She’s grown used to these episodes.

There was a thunderstorm in progress when Karin came to bed. We have a skylight in the bedroom, and I can stare straight up through it as I lie on my back. The rain splattered on the glass, and I could see the flashes of lightning in the night sky. Immediately following the flashes came the deep rumble of thunder. As accompaniment, the two sump pumps in the basement took turns pushing water through a PVC pipe to the outside of the house. All in all, the conditions weren’t conducive to going back to sleep.

As I was lying there, I heard my cell phone vibrate. So, who is texting me at 11:30 at night? “Hmmmmm, I better check.” I got up and found my phone.

The text was from Hans.

He wrote, “I just watched 12 whatever it’s called. It’s about the guys in Iraq and it started bringing up memories and I am starting to be stressed.”

Great.

I wrote back to him, “Try to relax”. That was kind of a useless thing to say, but I had nothing else.

Hans replied, “I am trying. We should have just killed all them fuckers.”

I texted back to him, “Hug your puppy.”

I could have told him to hug his fiancee, but she might be asleep already, and perhaps not interested in being hugged. Odds are good that Hans went outside, and smoked a couple Pall Malls and/or slammed some Lime-a-ritas. Hugging his dog seemed to be the best answer available. Hans loves dogs. They love him.

I got back in bed, and stared into the darkness. Sleep eluded me.

Hans didn’t text back. Hopefully, he’ll call today to talk with Karin. It is Mothers Day after all.

I hope that, eventually, he slept well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endgame?

May 10th, 2018

“The details don’t matter. All you know, for sure, is that your brain starts humming with brutal vibes as you approach the front door. Something wild and evil is about to happen; and it’s going to involve you.” – Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Karin and I walked through the front door of the court room. We had been there twice before. The room itself was rather innocuous. There was some wood paneling on the walls. A few watercolor paintings of landscapes passed for artwork. Behind the judge’s chair were two flags: that of the U.S., and the Wisconsin state flag. We sat down on one of the wooden benches in the back of the room. The court room was nearly empty. The only other people there were the prosecutor, who was looking intently at his laptop, and some mysterious guy whose job apparently was to make sure that things kept moving along.

Yes indeed, I could feel the brutal vibes. In about ten minutes the judge would pass sentence on the girl we love. Our loved one’s attorney walked into the room. She chatted briefly with the assistant DA. Then we heard the sound of rattling chains, which meant that our young woman was being led into the court room. She came into the room, fashionably dressed in a bright orange clothing. Our girl and her lawyer walked into a back room to talk over some last minute details.

Those two returned to the court room, and then both attorneys indicated to the quiet and unobtrusive man in charge that they were ready to start the show. The man wandered into the back room and mumbled something to someone. Then the bailiff came out of the back room, said, “All rise!”, and then the judge walked in and took his place.

There is a certain amount of drama involved in a sentencing. In some ways, it is anti-climactic because most of the decisions have already been made. The woman we love has already pleaded guilty. The prosecutor has already made his case. The defense attorney has already made her bid. Everybody is done except for the judge. Now it’s his turn to rock everyone’s world. He did.

There was some initial discussion between the judge and the attorneys about the pre-sentencing investigation, and about other details. Then the judge got down to business. He started by saying how difficult it was for him to decide on an appropriate sentence. The vibes got really brutal at that point. The judge patiently explained that he had to balance the prospects for rehabilitation of the defendant with the safety requirements of the public at large. The fact remained that this young woman was now guilty of four drunk driving charges, and the question was: “Will she do it again, and maybe kill somebody?” The judge made it absolutely clear that the young woman was not in court because she drank too much. She was in court because she drank and then drove a car. The judge acknowledged that there were mental health issues involved in the case, but the crux of the matter was whether or not our girl would commit the same crime again, and thereby endanger other people. The judge had no desire to allow our young woman to kill an innocent person or herself by driving drunk.

Things hung in the balance for a seemingly endless period of time. Finally, the judge announced that he would stay the sentence (two years in prison followed by two years of probation). Instead, the young woman would spend another two months in jail, and then she would have three years of probation. If she keeps clean, then everything is fine after the three years is up. If she screws up, the sentence takes effect, and she goes to prison. Done deal.

The ball is in her court.

It’s not over. Nothing is over. We are just starting a new chapter in this saga. Regardless of what happens, Karin and I are deeply involved in the process. We have some answers, but we also have more questions.

It’s not the endgame.

 

 

 

 

May Day

May 8th, 2018

“For What It’s Worth” from Buffalo Springfield

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware.
I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

 

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?”

 

Voces de la Frontera had its annual May Day march and rally a week ago. It was another “Day Without Latinxs and Immigrants”. People came to Waukesha from all over the state of Wisconsin. The reason for holding the march in Waukesha, as opposed to any other location, is that Waukesha County Sheriff Severson has agreed to participate in the federal government’s 287g program, which essentially makes Waukesha County deputies into ICE agents. Seeing as Waukesha County is the most Republican county in the entire state, it isn’t really a surprise that the sheriff would want to team up with the Trump administration on this program to help ICE deport more undocumented persons. So, we all gathered in Cutler Park in downtown Waukesha for the demonstration against the 287g program. There were other reasons to demonstrate, but that was the main one.
Voces claims that there were ten thousand people in Waukesha for the march. I don’t know how they come up with that number. I guess there must be a way to estimate crowd size, but I don’t know how to do it. I do know that the park was packed full, and the march itself extended for blocks and blocks. Various political leaders gave speeches rouse the rabble, and other speakers led chants to get everybody wound up. Most people were carrying signs or banners. The vast majority of the participants were Latino, but there was also a small Muslim immigrant contingent. There was a group from Planned Parenthood. I am not sure why they came. The Planned Parenthood members were easy to pick out because they all wore bright pink shirts. ACLU was there to observe the demonstration, and to keep an eye out for trouble. I saw a few Franciscan brothers in the crowd, along with some other representatives of religious organizations.
When the march actually began, I helped to hold up a huge, round banner that looked a bit like a cross between a parachute and a trampoline. At least a dozen of us were needed to hold it up. Little kids played and danced underneath the banner. There was a beautiful drawing of a mother holding a child on the top of the circular banner. Unless a person was close by, it was almost impossible to see the drawing, and that was a shame. Somebody decided to solve that problem by flying a drone directly over the circle. The drone hovered over the drawing, sending images to someone, somewhere. It was kind of cool in a way, but I also found it a bit disturbing. It’s one thing to have somebody nearby take a picture with a phone or a camera. It’s quite another to have somebody unknown to me take pictures by remote control.
We walked slowly through downtown to the Waukesha County Courthouse. The crowd flowed into the parking lot where other speakers were eager to encourage the demonstrators. As I arrived in the lot, I saw that the Socialists had set up a small folding table to display their books and pamphlets. I found that to be delightfully quaint. How many Marxists did they think were in the crowd? Did they really believe that somebody was going to buy a book with quotes from Castro? The whole thing was totally retro.
A young man who was with me told me of an encounter he had with a female Trump supporter. The interaction between the young man and the Trumpist occurred just prior to the march arriving at the courthouse. Apparently, the woman was deeply opposed to the rally and said,
“All immigrants need to be deported for the sake of humanity!”
The young man had responded to woman by saying, “Fuck off, Bitch!”
Sigh. This is a perfect example of the current level of political discourse in our society.
I am nostalgic for people like William F. Buckley Jr. and Ted Kennedy. I miss those days when people could actually speak intelligently about issues. I used to enjoy watching “Firing Line” on PBS. Does anybody still discuss important matters in a civil manner? I guess not.
A friend of mine once told me. “Never argue with an idiot. They will just drag you down to their level.”
Sound advice.