Thursday, November 27, 2003

Well, after the hoopla about security in London during the Bush visit, I have to take my hat off to the President for spending some two and a half hours at Baghdad Airport to have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops. Probably for the first time ever he has my admiration.

* * * * *

Attention to detail is what makes the difference, they say. Well, the detail I missed was the Thanksgiving Parade which flows past a very short city block from where I live, so that it was, indeed, difficult to cross over to the East side this morning. Willy-nilly, I got to see a part of this year's parade, in a police "shute" (their choice of words, not mine) that eventually allowed me to cross over Broadway.

As usual in a New York crowd, you could see all the living races of man, and hear all their languages: English, American, of course, from all the states of the Union, French, German, Italian, lots of Spanish, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Urdu, Arabic, Russian, Polish, Czech, I don't know what else. The whole of humanity is represented here.

I managed to cross underneath one of Maurice Sendak's baby monsters, a perfect choice for me. Among the sights:

A dimininutive girl, set on top of a small wall by her mother wearing a hijab, the tiny girl wearing a coat that will probably be just the right size for her three years from now, the coat worn open onto a frilly little shocking pink dress. She had a huge grin on her face about something. I caught her eye and grinned back, and her bright eyes followed me as I passed by, my head straining to keep her in my sight, and her grin got bigger and bigger.

A homeless man, sitting cross-legged, leaning back against a wall, in a bright hand-knit sweater. In front of him were his two cats, sitting like the lions of the 42nd Street Library on top of individual cushions, each one wearing a different colored, bright turtle neck sweater, blinking their eyes in the sunshine. Each cat had his own bowl of water, and his own bowl of cat food set carefully down beside an open, empty can of cat food, and in between, a glass jar with a simple plea "Please help".

New York was Oh! so noisy, with the overhead choppers and the crowds. Up in Carol and Larry's apartment, the sun was streaming in, it was bright and quiet, it is amazing what double glazing can do.

I did the cat chores. They followed me around, anticipated my every move and wanted to use just exactly what it was that I wanted to pick up to clean and refill. Eventually, things quieted down and I sat down with a cuppa tea and the papers. Somehow, I was not in the mood to write in this particular environment. Towards the end of my stay, just as I expected it would come to pass, Smitty, the girl cat, came to ask to be petted, which I did, abundantly. Ra, or Rha, or Raa ( I stupidly forgot to ask how it's spelled) came over. I said: "Hello, Waa," but he would not let me touch him. He's a very new cat, he has not got used to people yet, he only wanted to sniff my hands, in a very delicate and fastidious manner.

Anyway, I felt I had done my duty in the petting department, and left around 2:30 p.m.

Thanksgiving, after all, is all about eating late. I have just had perfect al dente spaghetti with a tomato "a la vodka" sauce. That may sound tame, but when I boil spaghetti, it is a miracle if I don't forget all about it, to the point of either eating glue, or having to soak the burnt pot for days to save its bottom. It's one of the hazards of cooking for oneself, one tends to start something else and get absorbed. It is much harder for this to happen when you are cooking for company, because any extra thing you might also be doing at the same time is somehow related, like setting the table, or opening the wine, or washing the salad.

Before I do my rant on what I saw in the papers, let me fulfill my promise to tell about Aunt Marie and prescription drugs.

I believe I already told you Aunt Marie lived alone in a mobile home in Chula Vista, near San Diego. I went out there to meet her for the first time when she was 88 or 89. We were sitting in her kitchenette one day, drinking something, when she suddenly startled me and said: "Oh, I must take my pills!" and she pulled out one of those weekly pill organizers, and a whole 'nother bunch of pill bottles.

"Heavens!" I was appalled. "What's all this for?"

Aunt Marie laughed. She had a wonderful, young girl's laugh, very musical and catching.

"What are you taking so many pills for?" I insisted. "You appear to be in perfect shape."

"Well----" Aunt Marie hesitated. "My doctor gives them to me." (She meant "prescribes them for me").

Now Aunt Marie at her advanced age lived alone, had no assistance from anyone except the odd transportation problem, here and there, now and then, because she didn't drive and, therefore, had no car. But she did her own gardening entirely by herself, including all the double-ditching, which is a man's work at the best of times. I couldn't imagine what might justify so many prescriptions.

"What's wrong with you?" I kept insisting.

"Well ------" More hesitation. "My doctor gives them to me whenever I go in for my check up."

"Does he tell you why?"


"So, why do you think he gives them to you?"

"I dunno. Maybe because I'm nervous. Maybe for my heart."

"What's wrong with your heart?"

"Nothing. My heart is fine."

"Then, what's wrong with your nerves? What's making you nervous, as you say?"

There was another moment of silence. Somehow, she could not "verbalize" whatever it was. She just couldn't say.

"You live in very comfortable circumstances." I was trying to help her out. "Your children are married. Your grandchildren are almost all married. Your great-grandchild is doing well. You are independent and free, your have no financial problems, you can afford to do whatever you want to do, you have no pressure on you from outside."

"No, no, no!" She agreed, smiling. "Everything is fine!"

"So what makes you so nervous that they give you all these pills?"


"Are you nervous because you are afraid of dying?" I finally asked. "If that's what's the matter, let me put your heart at rest..."

Aunt Marie burst out laughing, slapping her hands down on her knees.

"Oh, NO! I'm not afraid of dying... I've lived a wonderful, full life. I've done every single thing I ever wanted to do. I can go any time, any time at all is fine with me, I've had a great life."

"So, Marie", I continued, "What makes you feel nervous, if it's not the thought of death?"

She looked deep into my eyes and said, very quietly:

"I'm afraid of what happens next. I'm afraid that my sons are going to come and get me, and take me back to Texas to be closer to them. I hate Texas!"

I went to Japan for four months on a business trip, end 1987, beginning 1988. When I came back, Marie was no longer in Chula Vista and one of her neighbors told me one of her sons had come to fetch her, and had taken her back to Texas "to be closer to him".

I called my cousin. He explained to me that one of his mother's neighbors had called him one day, to tell him that his mother was beginning to forget what she had had for breakfast. He flew in, packed her up, got rid of all her things, including her mobile home, and brought her back to Texas. He took her to his GP, who found absolutely nothing wrong with her, and who couldn't figure out what the heck she was taking all those pills for. He took her off the pills, all of them cold turkey, and within less than a week, Marie could remember what she had had for breakfast.

I was so sorry to hear that Marie was exactly where she didn't want to be, Texas. I could very well understand that my cousin wanted to look good, that he wanted the world to recognize him as a good, dutiful son, who took care of his mother and didn't leave her to "struggle all on her own in the Californian hell of Chula Vista". Harrumph! Had he even asked her what she wanted?

Since I have only met my cousin a very few times, I thought I was hardly in a position to give him a piece of my mind. So I just wound down the conversation and asked him for her address, so that I could write to her.

"Oh, she's right here," he said.

"You mean she's with you, in your house?"


"Oh great, then I can talk to her now," I said brightly.


"No?" I was startled, I must admit. "Are you saying she can't come to the phone?"

"No!" he repeated.

"Are you saying you refuse to allow me to speak to your mother?"

"No!" he repeated. Small silence. "It just wouldn't do any good, she wouldn't even know who you are."

At this point, I have to say, the mustard went up my nose, and I firmly articulated, syllable by syllable"

"Well, I absolutely insist on talking to my aunt, and I absolutely refuse to take no for an answer."

He was furious, but he went to get her.

She picked up the handset. "Hullo?" a small frail voice.

"Hullooo! Marie?"

"OOOOOOOOOH! Pat! It's you! Are you back from Japan already?"

It didn't do my cousin any good, that's a fact. We spoke in French. Her son, my cousin, doesn't speak a word.

It turns out all the pills the "nice doctor" at the VA "gave her" had some sort of complex interaction after a while. She was miserable in Texas, because she was locked into her room to prevent her from wandering out into the local parks, where she would be discovered talking to people on park benches. She was no longer independent, no longer free, she was allowed no friends, she was lonely, she missed her garden, she was miserable.

Every time I called Marie at my cousin's house, it was like pulling teeth to get her to the phone, whether my cousin or his wife answered. Eventually, she was shipped off to an old people's home in Corpus Christi, which she really, truly hated, because it was where she had been with her husband during the last fifteen years of his life. They took good care of her, there, but the nuns did not allow any phone calls at all. So, I never go to talk to Marie again, and eventually my cousin notified me a few months after the fact that she had died one evening, after dinner, very quietly, in the minutes between being tucked into her bed and the aid turning out the lights.

It is my belief old people are given prescription drugs whether they really need them or not for two reasons. The first is that they expect to get a prescription, when they go in for a check up, and the second is that in this culture, old age is considered to be a disease, instead of a natural process, in the same way that pregnancy and menopause are treated as diseases, and mourning widows and widowers are treated for the "disease of depression".

'Nuff said.

* * * * *

Wot's going on in the WOT (War on Terror)

The New York Post, p 4, headline:

"GIs seize family as bait for top goon."

"American troops hunting for a top Saddam Hussein deputy who's master-minding anti-U.S. attacks arrested his wife and daughter in an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender."

. . .

". . . American forces have frequently arrested relatives of fugitives to interrogate them on their family member's whereabouts and as a way of putting pressure on the wanted men to surrender." (emphasis added)

Nice thinking, someone. I'm sure everyone feels much, much safer now.

The New York Times, p. A3 headline:

"Turkish Town's Despair Breeds Terrorists, Residents Fear"

"Did Suicide Bombers turn to extremism to replace hopelessness?"

"At least two of the suicide bombers who struck Istanbul last week were reared and spent much of their lives in and around Bingol, Turkish law enforcement officials said."

. . .

"Isolated by the mountains that surround it, Bingol has about 70,000 people, [omission] although its crude concrete buildings look like they can accommodate only half the number. Unemployment here fluctuates between 70 and 80 percent, local officials and residents said." (emphasis added)

. . .

"Children who lose their fathers early, in our society, feel oppressed, discriminated against" Mr. Kara said. "He was a walking bomb." [describing one of the suicide bombers, Mr. Erkinci.] (emphasis added)

. . .

"Look at this," said an uncle, Vahit Besgul, as he drove on Monday afternoon through the outskirts of Bingol, on the way to his nephew's grave. He was pointing to shanties and refuse on the side of the road.

'If people had education, if they had money, then they would not become the tools of others', he said." (emphasis added)

Interesting? I think so. Particularly for us in America, where there is no national draft and the voluntary army is drawn mostly from the ranks of the poor and underprivileged, who are looking for education, or employment, or a better chance at the full American dream, and who end up in Third World countries, or developing countries, and come to see how much poorer, more underprivileged, less likely to succeed or even satisfy humble needs such as hunger, millions of those people are, who despite the way they look and dress, and the foods they eat, and the religions they practice, and the languages they speak, still carry in their hearts the one common human aspiration of wanting their families and their little children to be safe.

Of course, my heart bleeds for those Congressmen and Senators from those states whose full employment figures depend on the war industries, who for sure would not be reelected if those industries were to be closed and the monies redeployed to peaceful endeavors, such as education for all, affordable housing for all, healthcare for all, rightful employment for a fair salary for all, drinking water for all, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And another thing, in such a world nobody would get to swab the deck with testosterone.

* * * * *

New York Times, p. A24


"Group Wants Investigation of Police Tactics at Miami Trade Talks"

A picture is worth a thousand words: there is a photo by Al Diaz of the Miami Herald, via Associated Press, of the Miami police in their riot gear.

So now you know where that $8.7 windfall went. Kinda interesting, for anyone who still remembers the story of our men and women in Iraq, who were sent there without enough of those special little armor plates to put inside their Kevlar vests. The same thing happened to the Brits, whose families often bought the proper gear for their sons and daughters out of their own pockets, to make sure they were adequately armed for the war they were going to fight for us.

"Critics have accused the city [Miami] of using whatever means necessary to ensure that its downtown remained calm and attractive for the trade ministers." (emphasis added)

"Calm and attractive", eh? Oh, it's gonna be a beautiful convention next year.
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