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Archive for November, 2008

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

One never tires of New York City.
Start spreading the news.
San Francisco dances like a gypsy on the Bay
A red bracelet dangles from her cliffs
In Brooklyn we walk
Over there, they drive

Two libraries within walking distance
Books are due
‘The Art of Crochet’
‘The Iliad’
‘Jesus– A Story of Enlightenment’

Our neighborhoods are of mixed races
The blocks are close
To the right– a Dominican owned deli
Further down– the Hamood deli– the Muslims pray in a basement
Under an open trap door
Just there to pick up kitty litter
Excuse me

India?
Pakistan?
Taj Mahal?
Last night their heads were covered
High holy day?
They seemed American until last night
I hope they stay in the hood
Need Newports at Midnight sometimes

Blacks buying chips in that deli
Call them terrorists to their face
Hamood children work behind the counter
Dark black eyes
Too young to face such hate

To the right, the libraries
Larger supermarkets
The art store at Pratt

Lots of yarn
A new book to read
Christmas gifts to make

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The Hogs of November

Carl Cauffman butchered pigs on Thanksgiving.

We shot a chosen, fattened few from the herd at Cauffman pigpens in Saltillo. Early in the morning on Thanksgiving, just as the sun mounted the hillsides of Central Pennsylvania, taking on the subtle trot of daytime, I watched as the pig killings went down.

While most across America watched the Macy’s parade on television, in Three Springs, we stared mesmerized as nearly one hundred oinking, curly-tailed, docile creatures with coarse, white hair and beer can-shaped snouts ran for their lives with nowhere to escape. Death was not sudden for the pigs that were slaughtered in late November– even after a rifle bullet entered the large pig brains and sharp knives pierced across fattened necks, below lipped mouths. Pigs who were not taken seemed to smile after the last shots were fired. They immediately went back to feeding as the men dragged the fallen swine from a muddy, blood-stained stye.

Art Cromwell had a hammer. He slammed the fading creatures across the head after shots from rifles were fired, to bring death on more suddenly, without such squealing– then came the knives and much blood. There was little sadness in the eyes of townsmen who stood, leaning on a wooden fence, dressed in tight blue jeans and pointy cowboy boots nodding their heads, covered in baseball caps that adverted local trucking companies. We all watching as the harvest of farm- raised swine was taken down on another chilly, Thanksgiving morn.

Nothing was wasted from the pigs. Even the guts were pulled from the animals, moments after the twitching of strong legs and arms with hoofed ends ended. This was not murder. It was a cycle. The pigs were to reincarnate– that’s what they told us, as children. The intestines were quickly tossed into buckets of cold water seasoned with salt. The parts still steamed of gestation as long, translucent, rope-like out-testines were rinsed in ice cold water. The seemingly endless, rope-like portions of pigs insides would be used as casing for sausages made later that day.

Carl Cauffman’s Thanksgiving pig-events were like pagan harvest festivals. It was a time to not only eat, but to gather more food for the long winter ahead.

Turkey was merely a side-dish at Cauffman feasts. Wild turkey are as common in Pennsylvania as pigeons in New York City parks in 2009, but in 1984, the wild game, the birds with giant black feathers and peculiar, liver-like lips that covered from where they pecked, were few and far between. Hunting laws brought the land-based avian species back to the rolling hills of the Appalachians and they flourish there now. But in the old days, there were very few turkey in PA. Pigs were far more plentiful.

Turkeys were nearly extinct there, in 1984. In Three Springs, pig was served as the main dish, at Thanksgiving anyway. Supermarket turkeys were much more tender than the wild ones, so very few hunted them. Spotting one was highly unlikely.

Linda Cauffman roasted a store-bought turkey in the Cauffman kitchen while the men slaughtered, but most guests to the celebrations were full from pig and had very little room to pick at a bird.

Linda, the quiet wife with a warm smile had a large, purple birthmark above her left-eye. When she looked at me, she reminded me of cranberry sauce. Linda was my mother’s best friend and the two stayed in the kitchen all afternoon while other women, with their husbands in trucking, baseball caps, watched as sections of swine were submersed in scalding water that was boiling in large, black kettles over flames flickering upon charred locust wood.

Although most of the meat that came from the hogs was carefully preserved in white freezer paper and stacked away in two deep- freezers located outside the Cauffman home on the porch, certain portions of the pig were eaten fresh, on Thanksgiving Day.

The white, coffin-shaped freezers were plugged into an outlet behind Linda’s wooden porch swing. The house, although made of wood, was covered in the most exquisite of white, sandstone brick, obviously purchased from the sandstone quarry in Mapleton, PA. There is so much sandstone in Central Pennsylvania. Lenses from the worlds largest telescope, prior to the launch of the Hubble spacecraft, came from the hills just a few miles from Three Springs. The white sandstone was rare. The Cauffman home reminded me of a mansion.

My Uncle Daryl built a fireplace in his basement made of the same stone used to cover the entire four- bedroom Cauffman home. The place sparkled. Ryan Cauffman was still my best friend. We had yet to enter into full-blown puberty and adolescence and break our childhood bond. We still played football and hadn’t yet grown apart. We were inseparable for a time– that was until Bill, my older brother became best friends with Ryan and the two cut me out of their lives because my interests went beyond plastic bats and balls. I enjoyed board games like Risk. Ryan was still close with me though– never choosing sides with Bill just because Bill insisted that I was really a girl and didn’t like to play football and that Ryan should just stay away from me.

It was Thanksgiving. Ryan still wanted to hang out with me. He suggested that after the pigs heads were cut off and the brains pulled out, that we run around in the junkyard up back, jumping from car to abandoned car, pretending that we were still the Dukes of Hazzard, the blonde one and the dark-haired one. He was Bo, I was Luke.

“Bill and Ronnie don’t want to play the Dukes,” I explained to Ryan. “We better play football with them.”

Pork and turkey go together in the stomach like two brothers, close in age, who originated from the same womb. The Cauffmans ran an automobile repair garage and a junk yard to supplement their pig farming. On Three Springs standards, the Cauffman’s were wealthy.

Carl Cauffman invited all his employees and close friends to the house, to eat of Linda’s turkey and the tons of fat pigs that were killed that day. The murder was sloppy, but they were pigs. It was nothing like hunting deer. Black Friday was the next day. Women went shopping and the men entered the woods to hunt Buck on the first day of deer season.

There was always much tension in town on Thanksgiving, with deer season and so many guns approaching. The Thanksgiving holiday was supposed to be a sacred time, celebrated with a meal fit for kings. The holiday marked the start of butchering time. The blood made us wild and our stomachs roared.

Soon, the next day, our most cherished meat– venison would be brought in too. 1984 was the first year that both Ryan and I were old enough to go hunting for deer.

For people of meat, it made more sense to get all the butchering out of the way at the same time. Thanksgiving was so close to buck season in Pennsylvania. We butchered the pigs to prepare the knives and grinders for the red meat that was sure to come, sharply at 7 a.m. on Friday, when buck season kicked in.

We butchered truckloads of deer at the Cauffman’s where the large attic of the car garage afforded the ambiance of a chilly butcher shop where at least fifty men could work, in assembly line fashion, putting away enough food to feed their families for a year– all within a three week period.

There was blood everywhere, over everything on Thanksgiving.

Grown male guests, to include boys over the age of twelve ,stinking of Thanksgiving pig slaughters, participated in Cauffman deer-drives, the following morning. We all drank from large kegs of beer and bragged about the big ones we were sure to bag the next day. Men in bright orange would line up in a row and walk through the thickest parts of the forest, frightening the animals out to hunters on opposite ends of the forest. We lined-up in flanks with powerful rifles armed and ready to fire. We looked for horns through finely-tuned scopes and pulled the trigger when the moment was right. We picked white- tails off with more precision than the pinned pigs that never seemed willing to die, not matter the method of slaughter.

Every bang fed a family of eight for a month.

As men dreamed of the deer they would cross the next day, pigs were shaved of coarse hair and the skin was cut into quilt-sized pieces and was tossed with splashes into rapidly boiling kettles of water. After several hours of cooking and stirring with a wooden, oar-like device, it was time for cracklings. After hours of boiling, the skin was pressed in old, hand-cranked sieves – the juice caught in buckets, later to turn white, solidifying in the form of lard. The left-over, dry pig skin was eaten like fresh potato chips, lightly-salted with perhaps just a dab of hot sauce.

The kids played football when the men butchered the pigs. My brother Bill got into a terrible argument with Ronnie Cauffman. The two started fighting like pigs over slop, arguing over a pigskin as if it were edible.

Mom and Linda came onto the porch and screamed at the boys to stop fighting. Our dads and the men put down their knives and saws. Moments later, fists were tossed and blood flew. Bill pounded the crap out of Ronnie Cauffman. Suddenly, my best friend, Jimmy Cauffman turned on me and wanted to slam me in the face hard because our older brothers had gotten into a squabble. I held Jimmy in a head-lock and shoved his freckled face into the cold, November ground. His hair– grabbed that too– shoved him up and down until he screamed to tell me that he was still my best friend.

Our stepfather, Bob, sent Bill and me home from the butchering to cool down. Our place was just down the road.

“Why not take a walk up into the mountain behind the house?” Dad suggested. “I don’t think we will be driving deer with the Cauffmans tomorrow. Go see if you notice where the deer have been sleeping at night. Look for fresh droppings and places where they may have bedded. Figure it out because you will not be driving deer with the Cauffman crew tomorrow– just for that little stunt on Thanksgiving Day! Take the 16-gage shotgun with you– the Winston.”

Bill and I walked up the quarry road. Large stones, shaky beneath our feet, almost caused Bill to drop the gun on several occasions. It was the first time we were ever alone, without supervision, with a gun. Bill was glad to get out of the pig roast and couldn’t wait for the next morning– the start of deer season. He wasn’t hungry anyway. At least we wouldn’t have to help shove ground pig meat into stinky casings with the Cauffmans again.

We passed the massive thicket of birch near the abandoned powder house at the top of Quarry Road. A few of the spotted birch trees had grown taller than the small, stone building with a metal door. Some of the older perennials had trunks nearly as round as the oak that dominated most of the mountainous terrain upon which we were strolling and cooling down as brothers who always had each other’s backs. I broke off a small branch of birch and rolled the twig under my front teeth, peeling the tasty, pungent wooding from the stick, creating a candy-cane effect with the gap between my two front teeth.

“Holy Cow!” Bill cried. “Did you see that turkey?”

“That black thing?” I asked, thinking until then, that turkeys were white, like shown on television in the Macy’s parade.

“I’m going up Swope Road to head it off. I need you to drive it up to me.”

I was enjoying the flavor of my birch and knew that turkey season was out. It was Thanksgiving. Hunting was forbidden by Pennsylvania Game Commission laws. Bill didn’t care. He ran, unsafely with the gun in his right hand. I hoped that the safe was still on.

Just as I entered the woods to begin the task of driving out a turkey from the underbrush, I stumbled upon the turkey that had crossed the road. The bird was motionless and didn’t move despite the fact that I was standing withing petting distance.

“Bill,” I tried to whisper. My brother was nearly 300 yards away– waiting for me to start my drive. He couldn’t hear my whisper. Bill stood in a clearing, his white eyebrow shining in the warming afternoon sun, just watching me and wondering why I wouldn’t walk through the woods towards him.

I slowly lifted my left hand and motioned to him to return to me.

“What happened?” Bill asked. “Where did it go?”

“Look. It’s just sitting there.”

Bill shot the turkey before I could protest. The giant pterodactyl-like bird attempted an immediate take off– flapping finger-like wings like a quarterback in a tackle, tumbling hard upon the onset of a pounding blow of hundreds of tiny pellets shot nearly at the speed of sound.

Bill hugged me. He handed me the gun and flapped his skinny arms like wings to mimic the bird.

We walked the turkey to our house by its feet. Blood dripped from the pointy, black beak that bounced upon the rocks we sometimes tumbled upon. We rushed down the rocky mountain road, wanting to get home and show off the prize. Would our stef-father be mad?

“He didn’t tell us to take the gun along for nothing,” Bill reminded me in my nervousness.

Bob left the butchering ceremonies to return to our house to see if we had returned from our hunting walk and investigation of deer trails. Dad said the turkey was a nice one. We took it to the Cauffmans and boiled it in the same water the pig skin had simmered.

The wild turkey was the tenderest bird the town ever tasted. The Cauffman boys dropped their jealousy and asked how we managed to shoot such a rare bird on a day that was not a legal hunting day. Bill said it was flying and he shot it out of the sky just for practice.

I looked at my friend, Bo Duke and winked.

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Kick the Cans

Barron was abducted during a game of kick- the- cans. My little brother vanished into the pine- scented air behind our home. I prayed that he hadn’t been taken away by aliens in a UFO.

The sun was down and stars already dotted the purple and orange sky. Crickets were crooning in an evening opera of insect unison. Soon, the entire mountainside that extended beyond the periphery of our pole light would turn darker than the blackening sky. Billions of sand-sized points of lights would cover a shore of total nothingness above. Somewhere in the forest below, my little brother was lost and night was falling. We were so worried. We searched desperately for hours and it seemed that UFO’s were real.

Night snugged in, wrapping a dark comforter of blackness gently over the landscape . We hoped that Barron wasn’t bitten by a snake and now dead somewhere in the woods.

Bob warned us constantly about playing kick-the-cans, especially in the Fall when it was dry and the rattlers from the sandstone quarry nearby slithered down Jack’s Mountain to find water and cool places to shed paper-thin skin. Bob didn’t want the entire neighborhood hanging out at our place–

“I can’t be responsible for all these damned kids. Too many snakes around. One of younz is going to get bit if you keep crawlin’ round that woodpile,” Bob snipped. “Go play at the Hoffman’s… Better yet, if you have so much energy, why not wheel in six loads of wood tonight. I want that done before any games are played on my property.”

“It’s still September and we haven’t built a fire yet,” I protested.

“Just for that, carry in seven loads tonight!” My stepfather yelled.

Playing kick-the-cans at Brian Hoffman’s was fun, and Brian’s parents, Pam and Dave seemed to enjoy us running around the yard as they sat on their front porch, smoked cigarettes, and aimed their smoldering butts over our heads, towards an area of the yard where the grass was at least three times taller than the rest of the lawn. Pam’s hair was as red as the ember on her Winston and Dave’s was grey like the ashes that they flicked onto the porch without using ashtrays.

There were not as many hiding places for playing kick-the-cans at the Hoffman’s. At our place, there were abandoned snowmobiles to duck behind, a rust Chevy Impala to crawl under, and a tractor shed that stood adjacent to the wood shop and a race car garage. Our place offered the perfect hiding-spots for a game requiring stealth. Besides, Barron wasn’t old enough to travel to the Hoffman’s, three doors away. He was much too young to understand the concept of the game, but we let him play anyway when the town gang came over.

I regretted not keeping a close watch over Barron during the advanced game of hide-and-go-seek. At least if we had gone to the Hoffman’s, like Bob said, we wouldn’t have lost him.

Unlike in tag when one is ‘it’, there is a ‘guardian of the cans’ in the game of kick-the-cans. He or she who is ‘it’ is not required to run after and touch those being captured. The guardian must only see an opponent to capture and ‘tag’ them. The guardian simply taps the cans and reports where one was seen hidden. Hiding well is the key to success in kick-the-cans. The guardian of the cans must spot and capture everyone else in order to relinquish the title. There is no physical chasing in the game. The guardian, after seeing a player, touches the top of a stack of beer cans, and shouts out who was seen and where they were spotted.

It’s infuriating for the guardian of the cans if and when the cans get kicked. The trick to winning is to capture everyone before anyone kicks the cans. A guardian cannot simply hover above the cans and expect to find everyone, especially those who hide in the most obvious of kick-the-can spots.

The first player spotted in a round is ‘it’ in next match. Being the guardian of the cans is not fun, so everyone works to free the person caught first, whose destiny may be to serve as ‘guardian of the cans’. Only after the guardian has spotted, or ‘tap-tapped’ everyone out, does guardianship change in kick-the-cans. If the guardian wanders too far from the stack of cans, trying to spot others in hiding, one may just sneak up and kicks the cans– freeing everyone previously called-out. The game begins anew with no changeover in guardianship of the cans.

The guardian, when spotting an opponent, touches the cans and shouts the phrase– “Tap- Tap” and then reports the name of the kid seen and where they were hiding. That was when we realized Barron was missing. The guardian had spotted and captured everyone but Barron. We were all now desperately searching for him as guardians, not protecting the cans at all, hoping the little boy would sneak out of hiding and kick the cans– freeing us all of the torture of realizing he was lost. The game ended hours ago. We hoped he understood the rules.

“I can’t be responsible for everyone’s child,” Bob snipped before the game even started. “Go play kick-the-cans at the Hoffman’s tonight. Better yet, I got work for you boys to do. I want six wheelbarrow loads of wood carried into the cellar before you start stacking beer cans in the driveway.”

Everyone pitched in to help with carrying the wood because it wasn’t as fun playing the game elsewhere. Chris Smith, the kid our age with a single mom was always tickled to help with our chores. He lived two doors away in a light-blue trailer with insufficient hiding places and wished his mom, Deb, had a wood stove like we did. Chris didn’t mind helping us carry in wood, so that our nightly game of kick-the-cans could begin. Bob was fond of Chris, taking the blue-eyed chap under his wing in step-father fashion too, instilling in us all a hard work ethic and understanding of enlightenment– chop wood, carry water…chop wood, carry water.

Poor Barron wasn’t much taller than ferns that grew among orchid lady slippers in the woods up- back. He could easily have hidden there, not wanting to come out, crouched down in hiding among the ferns like a tiny snail that had out-grown a diaper shell.

There was soggy marshland just beyond our woodpile where the ladyslippers grew. We didn’t hide among the ferns during kick-the-cans, not out of respect for the rare orchids, but because the ground remained saturated with water all year long. If one stood too long up there, their sneakers would get soaked and white tube socks would be drenched in a black muck of a decomposing forest floor that poured into high top shoes like wet cement into a footer.

I searched way beyond the ditch that separated the marsh from the woodpile and kept yelling “Bear-Bear,” almost crying with every shout. Bob had the ditch that I leaped over like a deer dug into the outskirts of his property when he first purchased the land. The ditch was wide enough to make jumping across a slight challenge. Was it even possible for Bear Bear to make it to the other sid? Bob said that if hadn’t dug that ditch we’d have lady slippers all around the cellar would stay flooded. There would have been water in our basement all the time, especially after heavy rains. He dug the ditch before he married Mom. Already, the clay embankments had caved in from erosion, forming more of a natural streambed than the hollowed portion of earth that had been ripped out with a back-hoe, long before Bob became our Dad.

“Game’s over, Barron. You can come out now,” Sally Benson belted at the top of her tom-boy wind pipes as she too crossed the ditch to join me in the search in the dark recesses of the woods where the lady slippers grew.

Barron didn’t respond. I figured he was well on his way to Jupiter, held hostage by aliens in a UFO, by the time the evening faded to total darkness and he was still nowhere to be seen.

Typically, Barron hid behind the woodpile during kick-the-cans, but close examination under the blue plastic tarp that protected the chopped wood revealed only the severed inside of logs, piled neatly, at least nine feet high.

Sally Benson saw Barron last, just after Jason North had kicked the pyramid pile of fifteen aluminum beer cans– freeing everyone who had been captured by Chris Smith who at the time was ‘it’– with a responsibility of guarding the cans while searching for everyone else, hoping that no one would kick the cans, not even little Bear Bear. Such a kick would cause Chris to start his game of go-seek all over again.

Nobody was paying attention. Poor Bear Bear!

Sally said she spotted Barron crawling down the ditch.

Evening had fallen and the pole light came on.

We all started crying, standing on a little wooden bridge that crossed the ditch on the road that led to the Benson’s trailer. We searched under that bridge thoroughly after Sally Benson reporting seeing Barron hidden well in the ditch.

The crickets stopped chirping the moment the pole light flicked automatically on at the cusp of twilight .

“Help,” Barron cried in a faint whisper, nearby.

He was stuck in a cement pipe that littered the forest floor. The tubing was supposed to be placed under the wooden bridge, but like rusting snowmobiles, the piece of the industrialized world was overgrown by the forest. The pipe was never rolled or kicked into the ditch. It became as much a part of the landscape as ladyslipper orchids.

Barron was stuck inside a giant can-shaped ring of concrete that was overgrown by thick briers and covered in a blanket of green moss. He whimpered when we discovered him, obviously relieved because he could hardly breathe. His leg was jammed in the narrow space between the round walls of where he was hidden– his chest was pressed in as he sat there hunkered over, sealed by the pressure of cement all around. He tried to un-lodge himself but only made his predicament worse. He could hardly cry for help.

Bill reached into the pipe and yanked Barron’s jammed leg free.

He explained that he got jammed when he attempted to turn around inside the pipe just as Chris Smith walked right by.

“If I was a snake, I would have bit, ‘em,” Barron explained, upset that the game had already ended.

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Netting for Minnows

Perhaps I was a bad brother. We haven’t spoken much since adolescence. Ever since Bill wrecked his knee in high school football, he hasn’t really spoken to me. My words must have hurt him terribly– more than that aching knee–

“Well, so much for becoming the second Lynn Swan!” I teased. “You just knew you were going to be a star. Now look at you. The doctor said you’ll never play football again. You should have stayed in the band like me– I’m the drum major!”

“Shut up you little fag! Everyone knows you are a big queer. It’s embarrassing to even be your brother,” Bill snapped. His face was as red as the dried blood under the cast that encased his leg. It wasn’t worth arguing with him any longer. He bored me anyway.

So many years I wasted of my childhood entertaining Bill when he needed a kid brother to play with. His favorite hobby was fishing. I hated fishing. Never caught more than a minnow. Bill always seemed to know where to cast and how to flip a feathery fly upon a line. His youthful strength was to be envied. His blonde hair blowing in the breeze. His blue eyes sparkled like water in a still pond. His eyebrows were two colors– one blonde one really blonde, almost white, enough to make anyone look twice at him.

He mimicked the most minute details of nature with his style– fooling smart trout with his knack for being like a man. Such a little girl, I was. I tried though. Bill often fished alone, rarely did I go with him to waste time waiting for a fish to bite. I couldn’t stand the smell of nightcrawlers on my fingers.

When Bill begged that I help him catch minnows in a net in a little stream that flowed through the forest near our home, I went along. Fishing was boring but wadding was interesting.

Bill held the net and I kicked the stream– turning over rocks, splashing the river harshly– making as much commotion as possible to scare hundreds of belly-up, sparkling minnows into the space between two sticks between Bill’s muscular arms.

The minnow net broke.

“No, please don’t go yet, Charlie. Stay here and help. Please. Come on, just a few more times. The trout ain’t bitting on worms after all that heavy rain on Monday.”

My legs were freezing. I wanted to go home and listen to Duran Duran. But I helped because he was my brother. I never should have been so mean though. Why was I so jealous of him?

The net was still good, but the pieces of wood that held the contraption together snapped under the weight of a smooth bolder that I kicked towards Bill and the net . He quickly reconstructed the trap by cutting two tree branches, replacing the broken beams by securing the net back to the original form with pieces of fishing line.

Before untangling the net, we watched as a rainbow trout flipped and struggled to break free from the cleverness of two competitive brothers.

“Let’s keep it!” I shouted.

“Nah…I don’t feel like cleaning it. We’re after just the minnows.”

“What a dork!”

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The Neediest Case

 

I’ve been suspended from work without pay again this week. Yesterday, Maria Barreto read a second final warning to me– one that promised ‘this is your real final warning’.

The Jewish Board is being sleazy. My suspension without pay has nothing to do with job performance. This is the second time I have been suspended without pay in three months– not including the $5,000 reduction from my annual salary that occurred two years ago. My pay was cut after I asked to be relived of new job duties for which I received a bonus. I requested reasonable accommodation because I have schizophrenia. They had grounds to take my bonus back, but they have no right to continue to suspend me without pay, threatening my very livelihood.

Paul Levine offered me a $5,000 raise to take minutes for the Youth Counseling League’s Divisional Board. My style of writing caught the attention of powerful people at JBFCS and they thought they were doing me a service by giving me more money and more job assignments.

“Look, I can’t do this. It’s not as simple as taking minutes,” I said to my boss at the time, Joan Adams. “You also want me to call and remind everyone of the meetings once a month, order food, reserve meeting rooms…the list goes on and on. Listen, Joan. I’m not exaggerating. I was institutionalized for over a month in 2002. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I don’t want to go back there. Please just let me do this one job.”

“You don’t have schizophrenia, you have bi-polar disorder,” my employer informed me.

My case was heard by the New York State Division of Human Rights, but no wrongdoing was found because too much time had passed from the moment the claim of discrimination occurred.

I’m a cripple. I told them to keep their money and let me continue doing the job for which I was hired to do– Office Manager. I’m protected by federal and state law.

I understand why and how what I write causes such a stir, especially when what I dictate in minutes serves as official documentation to remain in organization by-laws for decades. Most secretaries cannot do what I do– write well. My disability should not be written off simply because of my prose.

The Jewish Board has cut more than $7,000 from my take-home pay, and yet they continue to make me perform job duties from which I was relieved of doing after the pay cut. Last week, I reminded my boss that my pay was reduced and no longer was I being paid to write grant proposals on behalf of Susan Marx, a consultant grant writer who sits on the Board of Directors for the Jewish Board.

Apparently JBFCS will never forgive me for calling Joyce Cowin, the powerful Board Member, an ugly, old bitch– well, that’s not what I called her, but that’s what was on the tip of my tongue on the day I told her off. My words to Joyce Cowin on a Monday were these–

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you on Friday to remind you of the Board Meeting, Ms. Cowin, but I was told to call everyone on Monday.”

“You better straighten-up,” Joyce threatened.

“Who the hell do you think you are? This isn’t the West Bank of Israel. Listen to me, I have schizophrenia – a disability– and I’ve already requested ‘reasonable accommodating’ with Human Resources. Why are you calling to hound me?”

“What? What was that? What did you just say to me?” Joyce Cowin asked.

“You heard me. I am an individual with schizophrenia who just so happens to work for an institution that serves individuals with mental illness. Now get over it. It’s my right to request reasonable accommodation when things get too stressful at work. One should expect more from such an institution– one that receives funding from the New York Times Neediest cases fund. Try practicing what you read, honey. You have no right to complain to me directly. You are a Board member. If you have a complaint about the work I’m doing, take it up with Human Resources. I’m tired of all the whining, bitch!”

“I’ll take care of this matter,” Joyce threatened. She sure did. Our telephone argument resulted in a full investigation by the JBFCS Human Resources Department and New York State Division of Human Rights, under the scrutiny of Alton Wolff, Human Rights Specialist. The Jewish Board still took back the $5,000 despite our meeting at the State Office Building in Harlem. JBFCS has suspended me twice, for an entire week, without pay.

Joyce Cowin really is a powerful bitch.

According to what was written in my first ‘written warning’, I called Joyce Cowin a “money grubbing whore”– I never called Joyce Cowin a money grubbing whore– I said that to my boss, Joan Adams, who tried to make me take on new job responsibilities, despite my request for reasonable accommodation due to schizophrenia.

I never called Joyce Cowin a money grubbing whore. When the state asked Joyce Cowin to report to my disability hearing, JBFCS’s lawyer reported she couldn’t show, supposedly because her daughter’s tit had cancer in it. All I can say is that what comes around goes around, Joyce–you big cow!

The Jewish Board’s game of discrimination has grown old, like Paul Levine, the President and CEO who earns almost $1 Million a year, for looking old and ugly all the time.

Thanksgiving this year may consist of turkey burgers with all the trimmings at my house, but guess what, motherfukers– I’m free.

You have a demon and her name is Joyce Cowin!

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Huntingdon Daily News

I placed Edna Swope’s newspapers in her hands. Never did I slam a wrapped bundle of paper against her door. The noise of a harshly-delivered newspaper may have given her a heart attack. I pampered many, old, white-haired ladies along my paper route. The little Pennsylvania town is a retirement community. The dedication paid off. During the Christmas holiday, I received more than $1,000 in cash tips from my customers. I bought my first car, a green Ford Pinto, with tips from a paper route.

Edna Swope was one of almost 70 customers who depended on me for the news, six days a week. Residents of Three Springs didn’t always have money to pay their monthly newspaper subscriptions. (The paper required paperboys to collect subscription funds.) I knew just how poor some of them were. My customers gave me lots of confidence on my first real job in life. They reminded me, almost every day, that I was a special young man. I enjoyed the flattery. Never was I pushy when it came time for them to pay for their subscriptions. I knew their next paycheck was just days away. I was always willing to come back if they asked. I knew that eventually, after they paid their arrears, that I would get paid and could put more gas in my car.

In Three Springs, the daily newspaper was delivered in the evening, not the morning. “The Daily News” was an evening paper. It never made sense to me, as a paperboy, why they called the paper ‘news’ when most of the people who had it delivered already had time to watch the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Most customers said they got the paper, not for the articles, but because the weather forecast was always right. How would they know? They were never outside as much as I was!

It would have been much easier to be a newspaper boy with a morning route. At least at that time of the day, most customers would have still been in bed when I drove up on my blue bike with wide tires. Evening routes were demanding. The job required much social etiquette. I had a light on my bike that I never used because it simply wasn’t bright enough to see with, and I knew that if most of my customers saw me coming, they would step outside to chat for a moment. I didn’t mind chatting with my customers, but often, it took several hours to complete the deliveries. I knew there were other customers waiting. Often they complained: “The paper gets delivered later each night, Charles. What took you so long?” The town depended on me for more than just the news, so I always made room for small talk, no matter the urgency.

Edna lived alone in a trailer on the outskirts of Three Springs. Her mobile home was parked at the very end of Swope Road. Her place was way past the point along the road, near the Wible’s apple tree, just where street lights end. I rarely bothered turning on the light on my bike, despite the fact that I had to ride in the dark, almost one quarter of a mile, to get to Edna’s. I carried papers for more than six years and could do the route with my eyes closed. Edna found it difficult to get out of her chair. She was partially crippled. I felt obligated to do the right thing and take her paper to her. I often thought that perhaps one day, I would be the one to find her dead in her chair. She was so old, yet she still lived alone, and her mind was a sharp as the edge of a thin, hometown newspaper.

Edna knitted every day. She had nothing to do but read and knit line upon line of colorfully, patterned blankets. I wondered how often she looked up to see the sunshine outside or the snow that often piled above the knee. Edna kept her fingers busy as she waited for me to drop off the newspaper. Edna couldn’t wait to read it and put down her yarn for a while. She was always happy to see me come in the screen door. I never knocked. People still don’t lock their doors in that little town– I’d just walk in and say ‘hello’ with a paper in my hand.

Edna was always busy with her knotted hands. She worked her yarn in loops in an attempt to work out kinks in her knuckles, caused by an advanced case of arthritis. Her doctor told her knitting would be good therapy, and God knows, she had to do something to ease all her pain. Edna reached for the paper with a hooked-hand, retrieving the black and white like the point of a needle grasping yarn in a loop– knitting one, pearling two.

“Thank you, Charlie.”

“You’re welcome. You sure are making good progress on that blanket.”

“It’s going to be a coat.”

“Must be for a fat person.”

Edna laughed.

She was always grateful that I came inside to see her. I saved her the burden of suffering through excruciating wobbles to the screen door. Her legs were so infused with arthritis that she could hardly stand and only got up to use the restroom, to eat and go back to bed.

We’d talk for a little while each night. I was just doing my job as the town paperboy. It was never too much of a bother for me to walk the Daily News to her or others like her. They seemed so grateful. I knew that I would be old one day and would want the same respect and warmth.

 

The “Daily News” paid me five cents for each paper delivered. I spent at least ten minutes a day with Edna and chatty customers like her. It was never easy to simply drop- off the paper and head toward’s the next glowing doorway on a mobile home. The old gals waited at their windows and doors for me, often pretending to have already been outside, sweeping the porch or putting wet clothing up on lines.

Edna, like Grace Hershey and Mildred Brown always smiled at me, no matter what may have been on their minds. I found old men along my route grumpy. They were not always as sweet as the ladies. I encouraged the women to talk about what was bothering them, or what good happened that day, or what grandchild was coming by soon, or what things were like a long time ago. They said I was nothing like most young men.

Edna said the pain in her fingers would never go away. Grace was going to marry a rich man before she died. She seemed to be a character in the soaps she watched and told me about when I brought in the paper.

“No Grace. I’m at school all day. The Young and the Restless is boring. I watched it one day when I was home sick from school.”

“I’m going to marry a doctor. That’s what I want– a rich doctor!”

Mildred always made me eat something because the Brown’s often were just sitting down for supper when I walked their paper in.

“Hi, Chuck! You want some chicken and dumplin’s.”

“Alright!”

Edna hated the pills she took for her arthritis. Grace lived through the Depression and hated being old. Mildred called me “Chuck” and hated the name “Charles”.

Uncle Frank, Mildred’s husband told me that I spent too much time talking to the women along my paper route. One evening, he came right- out and asked me if I was queer– in front of Aunt Mildred and my cousins, Denny and Karen, and Denny’s new wife, Janet– all sitting at the supper table like a pack of hungry wolves.

I was only fourteen. I didn’t say anything. I just looked down and excused myself out the door.

I felt bad for Janet. She knew it wasn’t funny. She just smiled at me when Uncle Frank read me.

The pills made Edna sleepy.

Grace needed someone to mow her lawn.

Mildred and Frank lived near Grace. Mildred reminded me every day of how much Grace appreciated me stopping by to talk to her.

“You’re a good boy, Chuck! Don’t listen to Uncle Frank.”

Edna kept moving with yarn, stopping only to eat, to watch the news, to read the paper and on good days, she did dishes too.

Grace could still do dishes but left them pile up, as porcelain gauze awaiting miracle surgery.

Grace’s eyes were sometimes too bad to read the paper so she asked me ‘what’s new’ every night. Her un-read newspapers piled up like dirty dishes. She didn’t have to get out of her reclining chair with me, the paperboy, making life comfortable. Grace was such a dear old woman. She lived up to her name. She smiled at me every night in bright red lipstick with hair whiter than the background of the newspaper. Grace knew I was gay. She didn’t have to say anything about the topic– but she insisted that I should love the soaps.

Mildred smiled at me too– every night. She was so proud to be my Aunt in such a small town.

“What’s up, Chuck,” the Brown’s asked every night– laughing every day at the same line– “What’s up, Chuck?”

I’d hope Uncle Frank wouldn’t say anything about me being ‘queer’.

“What’s for dinner?” I’d ask.

They laughed no matter how many times we repeated the same joke, night after night,

“What’s up, Chuck?

“What’s for dinner?

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President Obama’s economic stimulus package will likely include millions of dollars in funding for the arts.

Millions for violins may seem like wasteful spending to many, initially, when still there are no jobs and money is earmarked by a president with very big ears for communities that still matter.

In the end, the investment into the backbone of civilized culture, made by our next President, will prove historically, to be the leadership decision that changed the concept of modern art.

Factories that hire many are managed directly by the government. Almost everyone is offered a job working on the pyramids of a new Egypt.

A million points of light.

We will build solar panels, in a Hoover Dam project of the new millennium and construct a public education system that damns all to Master’s level apprenticeships. No more dropouts. College degrees are mandatory.

Drug laws are banished.

Harvard will always be there, but no longer will produce the best.

Teachers teach as women factory workers during the war, but are our new ‘presidents’.

Children of tomorrow are born into freedom, not capitalism.

Obama’s new Home Garden incentive will spawn millions in private contract funding and solve the immigration issue.

Front lawns will be transformed into private, organic greenhouses where robots and Mother Nature does most housework. Most choose to still get their hands dirty and work the soil, simply because it’s still feels good to be alive and not working at Walmart.

Knitting circles are how women share stories again.

Oprah goes off the air. Video games are banned. Again we are taught to read.

Our plan will be objected to initially; but as each town and city is welcomed with soft cash for the arts, a light of hope for tomorrow will shine. Our children will pull up their baggy jeans and learn of the softness and beauty of musical theater.

Gay men will be in demand.

Well- funded public libraries, community theaters and art museums everywhere!
Welfare to work programs that embrace the concept that it is not necessary for everyone to have jobs, but those who don’t should have flat-screen televisions and a little more than just cheese and butter.

Yes, it’s time for change.

Lots of it.

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