Archive for October, 2008

Jambo

Every year around this time I think of one of my good friends: Godrick. When Godrick came to America, I was a bit of a mentor to him. I brought him to the mall to buy his first pair of “American” shoes and a winter coat that wasn’t a woman’s purple parka.

“What is wrong with my coat?” my friend asked. “It keeps me warm. It is a fine coat.”

“It is a woman’s coat,” I said. “When you walk down the street people point at you a laugh to themselves, ‘That man is surely sho-ga.’”

“No,” he said incredulously.

“Yes,” I said firmly.

Sho-ga is the Swahili word for homosexual. And, like many American curses, it transcends its original meaning. Calling a man a sho-ga is the wost thing you can call him, even if he is gay.

Godrick told me, “If you call a man sho-ga, he will certainly punch you.”

He moved here from Kenya and decided to use his middle name, Godrick, instead of his first name, Kokonya. “It sounded more American,†he told me.

“No more American than Kokonya,†I said.

“In Kenya they call me Kocks.â€

“Well, then it was smart to go with Godrick, wasn’t it?”

Godrick was born and raised in a very rural village just outside the savanna in western Kenya. “In the shadow of Mount Elgon.”

Growing up, nothing scared him more than the sounds of lions at night. Monkeys threw fruit at the girls (not the boys, because the boys had slingshots — monkeys are quick studies). Young boys became expert in packing t-shirts into tight balls that the older kids and adults used as soccer balls. There was a communal water pump and no electricity.

He wanted to be a doctor, “but I didn’t have the grades.” Instead he was educated as an Occupational Therapist. He went to college in Nairobi City. Soon after graduation he told his family that he wanted to move to the United States. This was a scary idea. Even scarier when you consider what they thought about the United States.

“We thought that there were no trees in America,†he sai. “And everything was made of metal. Robots, my mother told me, did everything.â€

“This is what you thought?â€

“This isn’t what we thought. This is what we knew.â€

Other than that, Godrick knew very little.

Every five years or so, Godrick goes back to Kenya. I ask him to bring me back a necklace from a Masai warrior. “But I don’t want the trinkets he’s selling. I want the necklace from around his neck.”

“I cannot ask that of a Masai. They are fierce. And they carry spears.”

“I’ll pay any price.”

“They will chase me!”

He did finally bring me back my necklace. It is draped on the lion on top of my bookshelf. I love my Masai necklace. You can see a picture of it here on Flickr.

“Did you get it from a Masai, Godrick?”

“Yes, of course, like you asked,” Godrick answered sheepishly.

“Did he take it from around his neck?”

Godrick was slow to answer, “No.”

“No?”

“No, Jim. He had his spear; I did not want to be killed that day.”

I think about Godrick (who I just spoke with yesterday) every Halloween because fifteen years ago last night, his plane landed in the United States. Tired, he hobbled to his hotel room and slept until afternoon.

“I went down into the lobby when I woke up, you know, to see America. I was amazed. The people all dressed in wonderful, elaborate clothes. Costumes. And some had masks! And they all handed me candy! Mother was right about America!â€

Godrick is a citizen of the United States now. He has since sent for his wife and, four years ago, they had a child. A boy the same age as my youngest.

A couple of years ago they went Kenya. They lost his young son in the forest. At night. You know, wild Africa.

Do you know how they found him? His sneakers. Every step that the young man took, his sneakers lit up. Someone eventually saw the flashes.

Jim Was Quizzical

This morning Vinnie Politan, a talk show host on Sirius radio’s Independent Channel, took a weighted quiz regarding the two presidential candidates. When the test was over he filled out his absentee ballot — basing who he was voting on solely on the results of the quiz — and mailed it out.

Each issue (on the quiz) was graded on a scale of 0-5. Then each issue was rated in importance from 0-5. The two numbers for each issue were multiplied together to arrive a weighted score, and then all the results were added together.

The issues were:

  • Economy
  • Taxes
  • Commander-in-Chief
  • Vice President
  • Healthcare
  • Energy
  • Supreme Court
  • Immigration
  • Intelligence
  • Independence
  • Leadership

Vinnie, an attorney, was a prosecuter and a litigator before turning his sites to talking on the radio for a living. He is more level-headed and, well, independent than the people he interacts with on his radio show. (His cronies are wildly liberal.)

His scores surprised him: McCain 131, Obama 129.

Vinnie filled out his ballot, sealed it up, and mailed it in.

I took the same quiz. I was only surprised because it didn’t come out dead even*. My results: McCain 129, Obama 131. I didn’t have an absentee ballot to fill out. Too bad for Obama, I s’pose.

*If I’d given Palin a single point (which I almost did), the score would’ve come across as even, 131 to 131.

The Unforgettable Fire

I fell in love. Hard.

Her name was Isabella. Blonde hair. Olive skin. Deep, dark, penetrating eyes always with the hint of a smile.

Dug from the night – your eyes as black as coal

I knew, as long as I had her, everything was going to be alright. As long as we had each other, life was good.

Walk on by – walk on through
Walk ‘til you run and don’t look back
For here I am

For a short time, we did everything together. She was always by my side; I by hers.

We read stories and painted wonderful paintings. We enjoyed plays and walked through the park. Our favorite place was the children’s jungle gym, where we would swing and hide and giggle and laugh. Children.

Carnival – the wheels fly and the colors spin

When she asked me to follow her I was powerless not to. It was love. It had to be. Love.

And then one afternoon — at a party held in her honor — it all came crashing down. After the party, she’d be gone. Forever. Out of my life.

Walk on by – walk on through
So sad to besiege your love so head on

I knew it was over, but that afternoon was the best of my life. We sat together at the table of honor. We danced. We sang. We bowled (yes, we bowled). And when the lights went out, we went our separate ways. Our lives were never to cross again.

I cried myself to sleep that night. Not a quiet, pitiful cry of introspective sadness, but the kind of wailing that is open and breathless.

Even my family couldn’t comfort me.

Stay with me – Stay tonight
I’m only asking but I think you know
Come on take me away
Come on take me home

That weekend was the longest of my life. I was lost. All thoughts raced toward Isabella. What was life going to be without her? Could I love again? Could I really live again? Is any of this worth it anymore? I will miss her.

Monday morning, I asked my sage Teacher about Isabella and my sadness. She said to me, “Just because Isabella is five-years-old now doesn’t mean that she leaves preschool and goes right to kindergarten. She’ll be here the rest of the year with us – with you, in preschool. And both of you will go to kindergarten. Together.”

“Together.” My heart lifted a little – and then Isabella walked through the classroom door. I ran to her.

I could finally breathe again.

And if the mountain should crumble
Or disappear into the sea
Not a tear – no, not I
Stay this time
Stay tonight
Ever after, this love in time
And if you save your love, save it all

:::

That was the story of my four-year-old son. He went to his best friend’s birthday party. She turned five. Five-year-olds go to kindergarten. They move on and the four-year-olds stay in preschool  — or so my son thought.

Several weeks ago, my son called me at work to tell me about this girl, Isabella, “Daddy, I think I’m in love.”

And the love is reciprocated. Isabella’s mom told my wife that my son’s birthday gift to her — a pink stuffed dog, with a dress, and a carrying bag — is her ever-present friend. She brings it every where she goes, and even sleeps with it.

The handwritten (four-year-old hands) card that came with it is steadfastly on her nightstand.

Love. The Unforgettable Fire.

:::

Loud and Clear

The father of one of my 4-year-old’s friends is deaf. I’ve seen him at several functions and spent time with him at a birthday party today.

Even though we share little more than a friendly smile and a knowing nod, I find the man to be engaging. I pay attention to him and wonder what he does to make it in a world that is so full of sound. I was surprised by something I realized and a little sad that I haven’t quite pulled it off in my life.

He and his daughter, mutually, were always in visual awareness of one another. She knew dad was watching her, not just babysitting or “watching out for her”, but visually aware of her at all times — absorbed by her; similarly she was visually aware of him. They shot constant glances and reassuring smiles at one another. They are in each others moment. It’s not like if she needed him, she could call to get his attention by calling his name. Ditto for him to her (even if he can make noise, it probably isn’t instinctive for him to use it to get someone’s attention).

And when they talked (in sign language), they were also in each others moment. For those of us who can hear, conversation is often distracted and disjointed — attention is taken away by television or by haste or the ringing telephone, all sorts of things. There seems to be no room for that when you are conversing using sign language–you have to stay there, in the moment, and pay attention. These two have that in spades. And, you know what, I was a little jealous of it.

They were also very physical with each other. There was a lot of touching — it’s how they got each other’s attention or directed the other to see something. And when they laughed, they would touch the other’s face or shoulder. They often talk close, sometimes touching the other’s hand gently in the middle of a signing stream as if to say, “I know” or “You don’t have to say anymore.” I was a little jealous of that too.

Maybe I don’t give people (particularly my children) enough of my undivided, visual attention. Maybe I don’t touch my children enough.

When I came home from the party I looked up how to say, “Hello. My name is Jim.” in American Sign Language. It’s pretty easy.

The next time I see my deaf friend, I’m going to touch him on the shoulder to get his attention. And then I will tell him my name.

I’m looking forward to his company.

Weekly Tweets for 2008-10-25

  • Obama ’08: Get disappointed by someone new. (Bumper Sticker)
  • Slowly but surely I will be breathing life back into my long-time personal website: JimFormation.com. Look for it in a browser near you.
  • “Oh no. I think I just put an ear in the testicle bucket,” Mike Rowe.
  • I know Dan Quayle. And Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle.
  • Do you want to learn about hope? Watch a 4-year-old bowl.
  • There’s something cool about a short-order cook.
  • In about a half-hour I think I’ll crack open a pumpkin beer. Or two.
  • The “Jelly Belly” jelly beans that are yellow with dark spots are infected sinus flavored. I’m sure of it.
  • The Twitter message says that Twitter is “tits up” when they’re, well, tits up. I think that’s funny.

Go to …

JimFormation.com

(I’m back to writing under the JimFormation name. Sorry for the confusion.)

Jim

Children Learn What They Live

Torrence, California. 1954. Dorothy Law Nolte quickly wrote a poem for the Torrence Herald’s weekly family advice column. And forgot about it.

Between 1954 and 1972, her poem had been reprinted in at least 30 languages and was hung up on refrigerators all across the world. She had no idea.

In 1972, she found the poem being given away. It was packaged with “baby nutrition products” to new parents. Millions of the poems were distributed.

Dr. Nolte decided to take ownership of the poem and had it copyrighted. Shortly after that she used the poem as the keystone for a book of the same name: Children Learn What They Live.

The world would be better place if we parents would, once again, hung Dr. Nolte’s poem on our refrigerators. I know I would be a better parent if I had these as a constant reminder every time I reached for the milk for my coffee:

If children live with criticism,
              They learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility,
               They learn to fight.
If children live with fear,
              They learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity,
              They learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule,
               They learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy,
               They learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame,
               They learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement,
               They learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance,
               They learn patience.
If children live with praise,
               They learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance,
               They learn to love.
If children live with approval,
               They learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition,
               They learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing,
               They learn generosity.
If children live with honesty,
               They learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness,
               They learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration,
               They learn respect.
If children live with security,
               They learn to have faith in themselves and in
               those about them.
If children live with friendliness,
               They learn the world is a nice place in
               which to live.

Dr. Nolte died in November of 2005. Her obituary can be still be read in the LA Times archive. A history of the poem (with variations) can be found on Hawaii’s Pineapple Middle School’s website.

Pop Quiz

As I said, I’m sitting on the fence struggling with who to vote for: Obama or McCain?

My most important issues are:

  1. Foreign policy,
  2. Supreme court nominees.

I find it difficult to vote for someone who would, to use Charles Gibson’s words, “(launch a unilateral) pre-emptive strike against any country we think is going to attack us.” I find it difficult to vote for someone who, given the facts that we know now about Iraq (that they were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, that they did not have weapons of mass destruction), would still go to war with that country. I find it difficult to vote for some one who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

I find it difficult to vote for John McCain.

I find it difficult to vote for someone who would choose judges that believe in a “living Constitution” or someone who would say this about nominating federal judges (as Mr. Obama did in 2007):

“We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.”

I want to vote for someone who thinks that judges ought to understand the United States Constitution and its history and would make judicial decisions based on the original intent and language of the Law.

I find it difficult to vote for Barack Obama.

But I’m going to vote for one of them: McCain or Obama. I’m not going to vote third party. I did that once (Harry Browne, Libertarian, 1996) and walked out of the polling place feeling like I wasted my vote. I won’t do that again.

:::

So, for shits and giggles, I took one of those online quizzes that tells you where you stand when it comes to the Presidential candidates. I took the Candidate Match Game at USAToday.com. Basically, they ask a question about current events, score it’s importance, and plot out your answer against the presidential candidates’ positions.

I’ll be damned if the stupid quiz didn’t land me right in the middle between the two candidates. I discovered that if I just tweaked my answers or my weightings just-ever-so, the balance would tip from one candidate to the other.

I’ll be damned if the stupid quiz didn’t land me right in the middle between the two candidates.

So as I teetered on the USAToday’s cyber-fence, I decided to take a different quiz. The one over at VAJoes.com is quite popular.

VA Joe’s quiz is very similar to the USAToday’s quiz, only they include all the Presidential candidates in their conclusion. Guess what? I think I failed the quiz. Says I should vote for Ralph Nader (Independent). Even Nader doesn’t take himself seriously anymore.

Let’s say I didn’t want to vote for Nader, the quiz says I should give Bob Barr (Libertarian Party) or Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party) a shot. You don’t like them? We have another: Cynthia McKinney (Green Party).

Finally, there, way down at the bottom of the list, paired up in their own box that seemed to say, “Don’t vote for these shmucks. They don’t agree with your politics.”: Barack Obama (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican).

Christ.

On the Fence

Every four years I asked Nan, “Who’d you vote for?”

Every four years she said, “Your grandfather.”

“But he wasn’t running.”

“I wrote him in.”

She didn’t write Pop in. I knew that, and she knew I knew that.

To her, voting was private. As far as I know, Nan and Pop never talked politics. Oh, they both watched the 6 o’clock and 11 o’clock news. They read the paper every day. Pop rubbed elbows with the local politicos. Nan volunteered with the election committee.

Politics (and religion and sex) were very important in our lives, but never discussed. At least not in front of the children.

I’ve voted for president every year that I was eligible. Unlike Nan, I’ll give a full confession.

  • 1984 ….. Ronald Reagan;
  • 1988 ….. George H. W. Bush;
  • 1992 ….. George H. W. Bush (held nose);
  • 1996 ….. Harry Browne (middle finger in the air);
  • 2000 ….. George W. Bush (I voted against Al Gore);
  • 2004 ….. George W. Bush (fuck!);

No Democrats. Not a one. I don’t like their politics.

This year I have a problem, not only don’t I like the Democrat politics, I think I like Republican politics even less. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, who early in his political career left the Democratic Party:

I didn’t leave the Republican Party, it left me.

For the record, the above paraphrasing of Ronald Reagan is not unique to me, Christopher Buckley (William F. Buckley’s son) famously quoted it just before his father’s magazine fired him for writing just that thing in a post at The Daily Beast. So I’m in good company.

“So who are you voting for, Jim?” you might ask.

“My wife,” I might answer.

“But she’s not running.”

“I’ll write her in.”

But you know I’m not going to write her in. And I know you know.

Hope

If I followed a sage, his name would be Robert Fulghum. My holy books would all have his name on the inside jacket.

This evening, while researching my forthcoming ABOUT page, I came across his Storyteller’s Creed:

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge,
That myth is more potent than history,
That dreams are more powerful than facts,
That hope always triumphs over experience,
That laughter is the only cure for grief,
And I believe that love is stronger than death.

In these troubling times, the fourth line is beginning to speak to me.