Friday, June 24, 2011

This Group Met on the Lawn at City Hall

"These are the values inspiring those brave workers in Poland … They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." -- Ronald Reagan (Labor Day address, 1980)

This is quite an exciting quote from that great friend of labor, Ronald Reagan. An hour after reading the words, I realized a few things. Labor Day is the first Monday in September.Back in 1980, that was September 1, a full two months before the landslide election that made him President.

I do not believe it is healthy to prejudice myself against politicians. I know easy it is to say things to ingratiate myself before others. I will not debase myself by suggesting all politicians are liars. What is possible, likely I believe, is many politicians are horribly forgetful. Luckily for them, many reporters have great resources, and more reliable memories.

In his ninth month on the job, President Ronald Reagan was faced with a crisis when the air traffic controllers union, PATCO, went on strike. It could be argued that such an act is like terrorism, using their weight of 13,000 workers to bring all air traffic to a stop. It does seem almost wicked to realize their jobs are so important, so powerful, that they could demand whatever they want if we want our planes moving safely through the air .

This union action was brought directly to the President, who- without much negotiation, without his care for the "free unions and collective bargaining" of PATCO, took action to squash it like a bug. PATCO was dissolved, and all striking workers were fired.

Now, state and local governments throughout the United States are voting to rob unions' bargaining rights for all levels of public service. Democrats and Republicans are marching, arms akimbo to squash the labor unions of all civil servants; this includes the mayor and city council of my own home, San Jose. It is a heartless endeavor, and it is a radical solution for the many city councils and state legislatures that have decided we can blame our social workers and teachers for our unbalanced budgets.

To the degree we can trace President Reagan's failing commitment to free unions even thirty years later, I think it is immensely sad that we have forgotten what caused our economy to crash a short four years ago. It was not our public employees. It was not our welfare recipients. Nor was it caused by people failing to read their mortgage papers properly. I wonder why no one remembers AIG, or Goldman Sachs and the multi trillion dollar con game they perpetuated to destroy our stability.

I am not a reporter, but I do see that as many local and state governments scramble to pass budgets, many are speaking out trying to get us to believe our problems reside in bad teachers, apathetic civil servants, and cell phone allowances. I believe civil servants are our allies. I believe that once we rob them of their bargaining rights, the numbers of good candidates for those jobs will diminish. All this and more can be ours as we watch television shows chronicling the failures of American education. Crippling our unions may seem reasonable, but it could be irreversible. I think this should be long considered before we move ahead with something so dreadfully extreme.

Our public workers are not much richer than anyone else. Most of them work very hard to provide services to our communities. I will not look at them as my enemy, just because doing so might make it easier for some other bureaucrat to balance a budget.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You've Been Down That Road Before. You Know Where it Ends

"You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." --Heraclitus

"You know, even though we've watched Pretty Woman like thirty-six times, I never get tired of making fun of it. "--Michelle (Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion)

I suppose if someone wants to escape from frustration or pain, the temptation is always there to grab onto an experience that was fulfilling in the past. I love many things, many experiences, many memories now colored and forever changed by my wants and fears. With that in mind, I may be totally lost about what some remembered nugget from my past gave to me. All I recall, really, are a collection: some images, some smells, and the choice feelings I associate with that time in my life.

I suppose hanging around people with various compulsions, I know my experiences are relatively common. Instead of pursuing a new experience, it is easy to remember, codify, and render in my head an image and feeling from the past that was so gratifying, so thrilling, or so filled with emotion that my desire would be to visit that experience frequently.

So, when Heraclitus was talking about a river, a river that changes and renews itself with each passing of new water, he reminds me that no matter how hard I try to replicate an experience, I will always have the experiences that have changed me. I will always carry every memory I had between the initial experience, and the attempt to resurrect a feeling from it.

Amongst my friends it is often said the alcoholic or drug addict is the extreme example of this. That in addiction the addict had a spark, a feeling of such great intensity when they started using, that every time someone engages in their addiction, he or she is striving to capture a feeling , a precise feeling from the time they first got hooked. But "you could not step twice in the same river", and recreating that feeling is pointless, if not impossible.

I heard a story where Sir Alec Guinness was approached by a child who excitedly told him that he had watched Star Wars over twenty times. The old man bent down, looked the child in the eyes, and told him never to watch it again. I don't know if the child cried, sulked, or perhaps had some epiphany, skipping along with a vision of newfound promise and hope.

Sad to say, I still watch some movies I watched before. I discover shows and movies horrifying in their lack of inspiration, while others seem to recreate themselves with each viewing. I revisit restaurants, and reorder familiar entrees. I listened to a recording of Tony Robbins asking the audience if they rent movies they watched before, and he admonishes them to "Get a fucking life!" (I am reliving my shame as I type )

Of course, there are times for quiet, and even when I pray a Rosary, when I focus on a mantra, a meditation, and every breath opens my mind to a flood of thoughts, I realize even here, especially here, my experience renews itself. Every prayer, every petition becomes an opportunity for a new experience. In fact, that is true for me with each moment of the day.

The one thing that seems to renew reliably for me, is a desire to be useful. If I study and learn- read good books, volunteer, and choose to be fully present- then I can stop looking for fulfillment in reliving the past.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

SCI: San Jose ("I Got Shoes")

These are my legs. Only a small handful of people will note anything unusual here. My legs look about the same. Nothing terribly odd about my preoccupation with me. The legs as photographed have compression stockings, discount bulk package Fruit of the Loom cotton socks, and my most stylish ankle-foot orthotics (leg braces). This is my standard leg dressing from day to day.

As a spinal cord patient, I am thrilled my recovery of nerve function has advanced enough that my neurosurgeon, and therapists have closed my cases. I have experienced great recoveries, and they keep coming! As I have begun my second year of rehabilitation (anniversary May 24, 2011), I continue to grab onto my therapists' recommendations.

Piece by piece, I learn how many things, therapists' suggestions, that I pushed to the back of my mind- or disregarded out of hand- have turned out to be the points on which my greatest developments were founded. So, I realize many of my turn-arounds and breakthroughs came after my body had developed sufficient strength and nerve reprogramming to msake these experiences possible, I also know that following some, or all of my therapists' advice, may have advanced this process even more, and much faster.

So, in the past, my therapist recommended I wear stockings, but then my skin was unhealthy, and that had to wait. I was told long ago to buy shoes, and I told her I did not stand or walk and thus did not need them.

When my skin healed, and I was able to wear stockings, my life improved. Then, one day, I attempted to buy shoes, but only found sandals that fit. My life improved again. She capitulated and said the sandals would be fine for now. With my swollen legs sufficiently managed, I received my okay to get my legs cast for my ankle-foot orthotics. I discovered new abilities and new recoveries with each change.

So, with the eventual acquisition of my orthotics, I continued my therapy, my hours in my standing frame, my expectation of greater freedom, of eventually walking again. I realized recently that I had not worn shoes in over eighteen months, maybe even two years time. The sandals I bought over a year ago were falling apart; the velcro fasteners no longer fastened, and all my experience led me to one conclusion: it is time to buy shoes.

I attempted to find shoes with my mother once, and failed to find shoes large enough to accommodate my big feet. Then, recently I was near a Red Wing shoe store, and the man inside told me he does not have what I need. But, he knew a store that he assured me could meet my need.

I went to that store with my mother. Thrilled that I could finally find a pair of shoes that would meet my needs. I found shoes that fit, and were easy to put on my feet. Still, I was bothered by the pressure on my feet, and my Mom - still jet-lagged from a vacation overseas- reminded me that I am probably not used to wearing shoes at all.

I was assured enough to take the shoes, even wearing them out, and kissing my Mom good bye. I was out on the road when I needed to get out of my chair, and transfer to another seat. This is when I came to appreciate this one last piece of advice. My therapist's initial suggestion for me to buy shoes was now over a year old. When I lifted out of my chair, I stood temporarily to make my transfer, and had a brand new experience. My legs felt grounded. In fact, it felt like I had steel rods running through the heels of my feet into the earth.

At the same time, I was also able to move my feet with a fluidity and decisiveness I had not known in years. Today is a special day indeed. I am well pleased with these shoes.

Thank you for reading

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Walls Come Tumbling Down

My great frustration with the imminent closing of our neighborhood Save Mart is that it is the last traditional grocery store in the neighborhood. I stop in periodically to watch the closing down process. Old-timer employees run foot races down the spaces once filled with revenue earning tables of produce and baked goods. They are piece by piece closing down all of the functions of the store.

My room mate, Michael has been riding down to Save Mart daily for years, and his weekly routine has involved knowing the workers, haggling to reduce prices on late date produce, and memorizing the sales in the weekly supplement. Our home has enjoyed many a meal selected from the recipes they include each week.

So, he looks to me, and says, "Save Mart is looking like a ghost town." Of course, as the clock is ticking, I just watch the disassembly, and wait for the good deals. I pull discounted merchandise off the shelf; the employees nearby work quickly to take nonselling items off the shelves and into boxes to ship away. As a retailer, I remember many a manager telling me, "i do not want to see any holes on that wall." I have to believe that for anyone working years in the world of grocery, that nothing is more unnatural than preparing a store to close. Employees have to work in a manner contrary to years of training.

Recently, I watched the movie The Langoliers. In it, people land a plane in an airport where time has passed by. Food lost its taste, and clocks have all stopped, and this mechanical noise increase, as the passengers of this lost plane await the arrival of the Langoliers. No one knows what they are, but by they arrive, it is clear that these machines (or monsters) are the ones that come through, and destroy the past, after that time where the present has lapsed into the past. The plane barely takes off as the Langoliers chew cavernous holes in the tarmac.

I wonder if this closing is not like the Langoliers. These machines are eating everything. and my friend looks to me, and says it looks sad. He hates Wal-Mart, and I don't blame him. Still, our neighborhood continues to provide for all our needs. If I want to go to a real grocery store, I will have to climb on a bus.

It would be silly to get sad. This is a grocery store that opened as a Fry's over 40 years ago. Apparently its time has come. As a union grocer, I was taught the evils of Wal-Mart. I do not believe they are evil. But, entering that box, filled with inadequately paid employees, I just feel the chaos. But, I still comb their aisles, and sometimes, I shop. One day, the Langoliers will come for their store, too.