Time for a new old holiday

I am writing this on May 1 – International Workers’ Day – a good old-fashioned socialist-minded holiday celebrated around the world. In the United States, we make a point of celebrating working folks on Labor Day in September, a holiday removed by months and capitalistic attitude from International Workers’ Day.

The holiday we overlook actually commemorates an American event. On May 1, 1886 members of a growing labor movement in the U.S. started a general strike for the eight-hour workday. On May 4, in Chicago, police moved to disperse a crowd supporting the strike. A bomb was thrown, and police fired on the crowd. Seven police officers and at least four civilians were killed; many others were injured. Hundreds of labor leaders and supporters were rounded up. After a travesty of a trial, four were hanged to death.

Maybe it’s time for us to bring this holiday home and make International Workers’ Day an all-American event. We’re already celebrating our “essential workers.” Why not expand on that sentiment? For a change, we could even bring some substantive assistance to the party this time.

All manner of lawn signs and TV advertisements make much of our gratitude to essential workers. But you can’t live on gratitude alone.

I’m always suspicious when lip service is so very bright and shiny. Such accolades are often slathered on – extra thick and syrupy – to cover up rotten day-to-day treatment. Think of Veterans’ Day, Mothers’ Day, or National Administrative Professionals’ Day (the latest incarnation of Secretaries’ Day).

Throw ‘em a parade, give ‘em a bouquet, and praise ‘em as indispensable. That’s enough.

Talk and confetti are cheap, unlike raising wages, or protecting rights and safety on the job.

The latest insult on top of injury comes to a group of workers who help to keep us fed.  Before the pandemic, workers in meat processing plants in the United States were a frequent focus of immigration raids by ICE.

Now, we’re told these are essential workers, who heroically allow us to keep on keeping on. They are brave (their jobs are dangerous), and we do need them. But all the props and huzzahs are empty when we treat these workers as expendable.

Other essential workers include doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, grocery store employees, food service workers, janitors, delivery drivers, bus drivers, warehouse workers. Unsurprisingly, it appears many of these workers are contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than the general public.

Some essential workers – from Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Target and others – have called for protests, including a mass strike, for today. This being the 21st century, the protest has a hashtag: #EssentialWorkersDay.

Beyond this protest, there’s another reason to celebrate the holiday, thanks to a recent proposal in Washington.

Just a few days ago, on April 28, Rep. Ro Khanna, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and more than 50 other legislators  issued a proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to be included in the next coronavirus relief package. Among other measures, the bill of rights would require workers receive appropriate safety equipment, a livable wage and paid sick leave, and enjoy protected collective bargaining agreements.

What better way – and what better day – to cultivate a brighter future from the bitter seeds of a pandemic?

Sounds like a holiday to me.


Time for a new old holiday

Playing the keep-away game

During this surreal Covid-19 shutdown, it’s easy for those of us who are homebound to dwell on our losses. Chief among them: the company of others. That means no more gym, no more cuddling grandchildren, no more going out on the town.

But paring away so much from our daily routines also reveals a strange streamlined beauty to this life in the end times.

Among the things that have been tossed and are not missed, for me, anyway: Wake-up alarms, makeup, hairbrushing and shaving.

My wardrobe has been reduced to post-apocalyptic simplicity. Basically, one outfit — blue jeans, T-shirt and once-nice-now-holey sweater — worn for several days in a row before laundering. Then, I put on another nearly identical outfit of blue jeans, T-shirt and well-worn sweater. These two outfits go from morning till night, from casual breakfast to Zoom book club meetings to dinners in front of the TV, from April to May, June or however long this goes on. (Don’t worry, I change my underwear daily.) Shoes are even simpler: No more alluring, strappy F-me shoes; it’s F-you athletic shoes and soft socks all day every day.

One bespoke fashion accessory for this time when lives hang by a thread: a homemade T-shirt face mask (here’s a link – no sewing required).

Like many others, I am spending hours and hours wandering around outside, taking in the rambunctious beauty of spring. The flowers are especially vivid this year, the red-winged blackbirds more plentiful than ever.

Perhaps all this natural beauty is a promise of better days ahead, as the rainbow was for Noah. Of course, it might instead be a sign that all the living things of the Earth will flourish as never before once the virus has gotten rid of all of us and our pesky polluting ways.

Learning the steps to the new dance of social distancing is the hardest part of all in this new viral regime.  As a person who has long relished the thought that sharing germs is a lovely way to give one’s microbiome a rigorous workout, it feels very odd to be pumping alcohol gel onto my palms and refusing to push the walk-sign button at an intersection.

We stay home and apart because we must protect ourselves from ourselves. And so, these perilous times reveal another streamlined truth: Caring for each other is the first of our duties.

Should you walk down the street coming my way, I will scurry to the other side. But please know this:  I shun you with love.


Playing the keep-away game


“They look so innocent; they’re not innocent,” Donald Trump, speaking about immigrant children crossing the U.S. border (May, 2018).

The word on the baby cell block is that our mothers have all gone home. Adios and good riddance.  It’s all going according to plan.

Like most of the kids here in the tender-age shelter in southern Texas, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to come to the U.S. I’ll be part of a vast napping sleeper cell for the MS-13 gang. We look so innocent; but we’re almost as heartless as the Donald.

The gang has a really solid year-by-year program to help us bide our time until we’re big enough to join the ranks of MS-13.  If you’re enough of a bad hombre, you can join MS-1 once you’re 12 months old; MS-2 at 24 months, and so on.

I’m in MS-2, but since I turned 3 last week, I hope to move up to MS-3, but I have to prove myself. I don’t want to pass up the chance to flow through the preschool prison to adult prison pipeline.

I kind of miss my old gang. I was a real jefe with the MS-2 set, but I know it’s time to move on since I passed all the entry skills tests for MS-3  – hopping on one foot, using a toilet, knocking over smaller children. I even gave up the binky; that was tough.

MS-1 and MS-2 members are often toothless, but they can still be ruthless. They are masters of the surprise attack; one minute they’re happy, the next they throw up on you, or start shrieking and holding their breath. They know how to terrorize adults, and they never feel bad about it.

Before I was put in baby prison, I lived in a small town in El Salvador. My mom took me and my brothers north to the border. She looked sad and tired, but she kept telling us we were going to meet Mickey in Disneyland, far away from the bad guys with guns back home.

Then at the border,  a strange man in a uniform grabbed me from my mom’s arms. He took me to a place that looked like my uncle’s barn and was full of bawling kids. We were put in wire cages  like the ones my uncle’s goats sleep in before they are taken away for butchering. At first I thought I was destined for the stew pot, so I refused to eat, figuring they wouldn’t want scrawny toddler nuggets. All I could do was cry like a big baby.

But I got to thinking about my future and my precious goal of joining MS-13, where the big boys make my version of mayhem look like, well, child’s play. I started to think maybe this barn wasn’t so much a holding pen as a cage-fighter training facility.

Our caregivers are really helping to toughen us up.  For instance, they don’t hold us or comfort us, so we press our faces against the wire walls of our enclosures at night and grab our tiny tinfoil blankets tight. (Let me tell you, don’t try sucking and chewing on the blanket; it will make your teeth feel weird.)

Hey, are you looking at me like I’m no threat? You shouldn’t act like you’ve never seen a sinister baby mastermind. You know Stewie, the scheming  baby on “Family Guy.” I’ve been studying that show for as long as I remember, which isn’t long, but still.

Not sure we have what it takes? Look closer. Don’t you see us slashing the air with our little plastic spoons? We’re practicing for the day we’ll get our first machetes. See us stacking those blocks and learning to count? We’re preparing for the day when we’ll take over the books for MS-13’s business ventures.

Glad to see you cooing as I bat my lashes. My peepers are weaponized. And wait till I smile – I think I remember how.  I’m learning how to turn up the charm so I can grow up to be the murderer and rapist of your dreams.






Restoring faith, door to door

Are you suffering from election anticipation anxiety? I have a cure for you. Walking precincts.

I had no idea it would be so reassuring and so much fun.

My first experience was supposed to be all business, a serious civic-duty field trip: Four middle-aged retired women determined to do what they could to make sure Hillary Clinton wins.

We had signed up to knock on voters’ doors in Sparks, Nevada, on a rainy Sunday. That meant hitting the road in Sacramento at 6:30 a.m., piling into an SUV loaded with extra coats and rain ponchos, thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, sandwiches and pastries.

We were already friends, but it turns out we’re also a powerhouse campaign team. As we approached Sparks, a rainbow greeted us. It wasn’t just auspicious – it was metaphorically apt. Together, we made up a perfect rainbow coalition for the community we were walking in:  black, white, Latina.

We stopped at the campaign office and picked up our list of likely Hillary voters with spotty voting records. The campaign folks wanted us to verify and bolster their support, talk to them about their voting plans and encourage them to vote, early if possible.

Our assigned neighborhoods were not like any I usually spend time in. They looked like they belonged in some weird PovertyWorld theme park. Most of the houses were mobile homes, long since as mired as their residents’ prospects for upward mobility. They were parked and patched and sinking into the mud of bare-dirt lots. Remodeling was strictly of the duct-tape-and-plyboard variety.

Many of the front doors sported dents and steel-plated repairs from being kicked in. Made you wonder how much the residents had been kicked in, too. Made you think they might not like strangers banging on their banged-up doors.

We stuck together, three of us approaching each house, as the fourth sat in the car that served as a rolling office and break room.

I usually made it to the door first to knock. Perhaps I just move more quickly than my friends. Perhaps I was the least afraid of being greeted by a pitbull or a shotgun, counting on my white-privilege cloak to shield me as it usually does.

Which of us took the lead on the talking was easy. Those answering the doors automatically focused on the person who most looked or sounded like them.

There was the young black Bernie Bro who seemed to honestly enjoy Ginger schooling him like a righteous Auntie, even though he was not going to be persuaded. There was the Latino man who cracked the door a grudging inch until he heard Yolanda speak. Then the door opened wide, his shoulders relaxed, and smiles and nods punctuated a discussion of how importante this election is.

I was a little jealous of all the instant ethnic rapport my friends enjoyed, but I had some sweet moments too, like the big young white guy with tattoos strangling his neck and arms who broke into a big smile and assured me he was voting for Hillary, and taking his grandmother to the polls to vote for her, too.

There were many moments of grace during our day. Almost every one we spoke to was welcoming. Many appeared to be taking this election seriously – and personally.

“My husband could be deported,” said a woman who came out in her bathrobe to talk to us. “Don’t worry; I’m voting.”

A girl riding by on her bike stopped to talk to us. “I really like Hillary, but I can’t vote. I’m only 8.” We told her time would take care of that, and suggested she remind the adults in her life to get to the polls.

Many of those we spoke with thanked us for letting them know about the early voting locations, including a nearby Scolari’s grocery store.

All in all we knocked on about 60 doors, and spoke to about 30 people.

By the time we dropped off our annotated list of voters contacted, we were feeling pretty darn pleased with ourselves, and with the voters of Sparks.

During this crazy campaign, it often seems we have lost our sense of community, and misplaced our faith in leadership that is pragmatic, collaborative, and that insists on progress that is shared. Way back when Hillary Clinton was first lady of Arkansas, she worked on making sure disabled kids were in school. It was one of the many efforts she has taken on that change lives, even though they don’t lead to big golden letters on high-rise buildings.

But those oversized shiny letters tarnish, and the people I met in Sparks know it.

As Pogo said (Sorry, youngsters, you can look it up),  “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” On Sunday, my friends and I met our greatest hope. That’s us, too.





Restoring faith, door to door

Bright eyed, bushy tailed and barbequed?

In late spring this gardener’s fancy often turns to murder.

Pink blushing orbs peek through the dense greenery of my weeping Santa Rosa plum. They promise so much sweetness ahead. But all the juicy dreams dry up as a squirrel flits along the top of my fence. I swear he’s casing the joint, his twitchy little nose pointed toward the fruit he will shamelessly steal.

The gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus if you want to get formal about it, may look adorable until it has filched your entire fruit crop. And it will. Is it really coincidence that the creature’s  Latin name includes a near-anagram for scurious?

Reading up on squirrel control makes it quite clear there really is not much one can do beyond trapping and killing the little thieves. Maybe I could get a BB gun. But even if I could really do such a thing, there would still be a problem: What to do with all the dead squirrels?

I found the answer in my trusty 1975 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (which I now think of as “The Joy of Killing and Cooking”). It has handy instructions, including helpful drawings, for going about this butchering business. Honest.

First, cut the tail bone from the belly side, being sure to leave the other side of the tail’s skin intact. Then cut the skin across the width of the back. Now you’re ready for the main course: “Turn the squirrel over on its back and step on the base of tail. Hold the hind legs in one hand and pull steadily and slowly until the skin has worked itself over the front legs and head.” (Sounds a bit like taking off support stockings, so I figure I’m capable of doing this. I particularly like the way the  drawings show a cute little lace-up boot firmly stomping on the tail as gloved hands pull the skin up and off.)

After a few more little steps, such as cutting the head and feet off, removing internal organs plus some small glands, you can stuff and roast the little fellow much as you would a pigeon. (The next entries in the book cover other rarely eaten fare: oppossum; porcupine; raccoon; muskrat; woodchuck; beaver; and armadillo.)

I know I will never skin or cook a squirrel. But just reviewing how to do so soothes and sates my bloodthirsty yearnings. As a recovering English major, I also find it very comforting to know that in my own life the printed word has proven to be mightier than the BB gun and my desire to harm a fellow creature with it.

(For more, check out this Smithsonian.com article, which includes a reproduction of an early “Joy of Cooking” drawing of squirrel-skinning. According to the article, squirrel recipes were dropped from the cookbook about 20 years ago.)


Bright eyed, bushy tailed and barbequed?

Charging up your woman card

There is a consumerette query burning through my Facebook newsfeed: How can we make better use of the woman card?

The question came up once Donald Trump explained that Hillary Clinton is relying on the “woman card” to purchase the presidency. It’s hard not to be miffed by this revelation since  all most of us have ever gotten out of it is reduced wages, curtailed opportunities and dismissive attitudes.

Among the comments posted by my Facebook femmes are the following:

Every time I try to use my woman card, some man shows up out of nowhere to tell me how I’m doing it wrong. 

Trouble is that the WomanCard is only worth 70 cents on the dollar and can only be used in stores with a glass ceiling.

Ladies, have you found any stores that will take your WomanCard? I always end up having to use my Visa instead.

Yes, I have. I use it at the same place I use my black card.

Great tips, if only we could cash in some of them. Actually, we can – just by voting. If we play all our cards right, the women of America can hand a lovely bill of no sale to the one person who is banking on holding the Trump card in the current presidential contest.

As the candidate who has my vote put it when asked about The Donald’s woman card critique: “Deal me in.”






Charging up your woman card

Dates for the Dateless

The following listing of Saturday events is tailored for all the people who are destined to never be lucky in love. Those of you who lead a date-free lifestyle may think your solitary status is one of choice. However, we know that your loneliness has probably been thrust upon you by a tragically misguided notion of what constitutes a good time. If you find yourself drawn to attend any of these events, consider it confirmation of our analysis of the cause of your singletude.

Hairs Apparent: The Moustache and Beard Social Club (official motto: “Who else will have us?”) holds its fifth annual who-would-kiss-that competition; 7 p.m., at the Dork Central Station exhibit inside the State Railroad Museum.

Doll & Teddy Bear Show and Sale: Take home a button-eyed love object if you correctly guess the yards of gingham and rickrack used to create this year’s stupendous Ursus Stuffus Colossus display; noon, Cal Wrexpo.

Doggone It: Squirrel chase competitions for the pooches and poop-scooping relay races for their human slaves; 3 p.m., at the Doodoodon’t Dog Park.

Tortoise and Hare Games: Will Lumbering Jack defend his title in the race, or will Peter Cottontail stay on the course this year and bounce to victory? All pets are welcome to compete in this and other contests, including lettuce eating and dirt digging. 3 p.m., TurtleTastic Speedway.

Eleanor Rigby Beauty Experience: Learn which cosmetic essentials to put in a jar by the door. That way, you’ll be ready in case someone stops by and asks you to go out and do something. Maybe the next knock on the door won’t be a case of mistaken address. 5 p.m., HartBrake Community Center.

Crafting for the Commode: Have you been coveting your neighbor’s crocheted spare toilet paper roll cover? Make your very own! It’s easy, and only takes about 200 Saturday nights. The design options are nearly endless. You’ll hear nonstop guffaws of awe from guests marveling at your dozen-of-a-kind spare roll cover that looks like an infant-sized top hat, or a Barbie princess dress or even an octopus. 3 p.m., Sew-Sew Arts and Kraps Center.

Dates for the Dateless

So Schlong, it’s been weird to know you

The presidential campaign has become quite the parade of the dick brains, particularly on the Republican side.

The latest jerk-off in full public view came during the most recent Republican debate when  Marco Rubio managed to suggest Donald Trump’s supposedly small hands may indicate a small, uh, penis.

I was going to use the word “cargo,” but apparently euphemisms are going out of vogue.

Take the word “schlong.” It has just one meaning in any dictionary we know of – and that meaning is “penis.” But of course, Trump said that wasn’t at all what he meant when he said Hillary Clinton “got schlonged” in 2008.

The list of sexist takedowns of Hillary is long, from the characterization of her being “shrill” to the desire voiced by Ted Cruz and Chris Christie to “spank” her. There’s plenty more of the same and worse making the rounds.

At the debate, Trump stood up for his manhood, countering Rubio’s innuendo by raising his hands and saying: “If they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee.”

But seeing is believing, so show me. Maybe it’s time for everyone in this campaign to put up their dukes and pull down their pants.

How about some power-genitalia moves on the other side? After all, the way Trump beats up on women, including saying Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her “wherever,” suggests he may have some deep fear of lady parts.

Shock-jock Howard Stern, during an interview with the Donald back in the ’90s, said the two agreed that every vagina is a potential “landmine.” They were talking about sexually transmitted diseases, but the weaponized imagery has me dreaming of women lining up to blow up Trump’s quest for the White House.

One of my friends who feels the Bern for Sanders asks: “Just because I have a vagina, why should I be expected to support Hillary?”

No reason, really. But watching Trump and the circle-jerk going on in Republicanland has me all steamed up at the prospect of helping to deliver a whopping p—y whipping at the polls.


So Schlong, it’s been weird to know you

Tick, tock, running down the Doomsday Clock


Earlier this week (Jan. 26), the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists unveiled this year’s setting of its Doomsday Clock – a metaphorical timekeeper designed to demonstrate how close we are to the midnight of planetary catastrophe.

This year’s time – three minutes to midnight – is the same as last year’s. It reflects the risk that we will do ourselves in by nuclear weapons and climate change.

Sounds scary, but just like an old Timex, the Doomsday Clock’s impact is winding down. This year’s announcement was pretty hopelessly hoopla-less, and was met with a  resounding ho-hum.

Maybe the risk of annihilation just doesn’t grab us like it used to. Maybe we have risk fatigue. After all, most of us never knew a time before we human beings had fully demonstrated our capacity to destroy ourselves and pretty much every other living thing (well, except cockroaches maybe).

It was different back in 1945, when the mushroom clouds of World War II detonated shockwaves of appreciation for mankind’s newly demonstrated power to destroy everything. That year some Manhattan Project scientists who had worked on the first atomic weapons in the U.S. came up with the idea for the clock. The clock made its debut in 1947, and its time was pegged at seven minutes before midnight.

The workings of this metaphor have some glitches. The hour hand, for one, has never changed. It’s always set at 11. Just the minute hand moves – and it doesn’t just move in a clockwise direction. Also, the risk the clock reflects has become somewhat muddled. Initially, it reflected just the threat of global nuclear annihilation. In 2007, climate change was added to the mix.

The clock’s past settings serve as a kind of time capsule of fears over the years. According to the clock, 1953 was the year of living really dangerously, when both the US and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices. The clock was set at 11:58 p.m., the closest to midnight ever.

The end of the Cold War in 1991 moved time backward to reflect the world at its safest point since the clock started ticking. That year the US and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the year the Soviet Union was dissolved. The clock was set at 11:43, 17 minutes before midnight.

Maybe we need a new alarm clock, one that will wake us up to different threats. Nuclear apocalypse is so last century, and even climate change can seem a little passe.

How about a clock to reflect the likelihood of increasing obesity wiping out lengthening life spans in the US? Or a clock to reflect the risk of incurable bacterial disease epidemics due to rising antibiotic resistance.

We don’t really need a clock to count down to the end of civil political discourse. Midnight is long past on that, particularly in this endless campaign season.

Think I’ll stick with my regular old clock to help me count down the hours until the presidential election. You can wake me up then so I can vote.

Tick, tock, running down the Doomsday Clock

Pants on fire, sometimes caught on a smartphone wireless connection

Truthiness has had a rough time lately. Trumpeled and Cruzified, you could say.

Turns out, we are prone to believe even outrageous untruths when we hear them repeatedly. Starting in the ‘70s, psychologists have noted this “illusory truth effect.” It helps to explain the evil genius behind the Fox effect, which relies on replaying scripted statements to overcome all common sense.

Liars don’t even have to say they believe what they’re saying for people to believe them. Donald Trump did it masterfully, using the old “just repeating what I heard” trolling trick when he went all birther on rival Ted Cruz: “I’d hate to see something like that get in his way,” Trump reportedly said. “But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly.”

Right out of The Demagogue’s Big Bad Book of Rhetoric.

Another liar’s trick is to insist that words don’t mean what they do. Ted Cruz tried this strategy to cleanse the term “carpet bombing” of its essential meaning. When he called for it against ISIS, he explained that he used the term to mean bombing “not a city, but the location of the troops.” Shaggy carpet story, if you ask me.

We’re not always gullible, though. Sometimes the truth wins out over the verbal feints, even in these dark days. And sometimes the same instant-broadcast technology so beloved by liars can actually serve the truth.

Consider the video recording in 2012 that revealed presidential candidate Mitt Romney asserting that 47 percent of Americans are victim-minded “takers” who believe the government should care for them. (The lesson for liars: Beware caterers with gadgets; bartender Scott Prouty used a Canon camera to capture the damning truth at a private fundraiser.)

More recently, there is an ongoing revolution in awareness that has actually begun to be televised, after being broadcast widely by everyday citizens. Domestic acts of terrorism against black people in the US have been captured, over and over and over again, in sickening and undeniable images on smartphones. All those images have piled up so compellingly that it is now much harder to look away from the truth and dismiss complaints of law-enforcement abuse and bias as paranoid exaggeration.

Some of the takeaways: Turn off Fox; always carry a smartphone; and try not to believe everything you hear, whatever your preferred channels of information.



Pants on fire, sometimes caught on a smartphone wireless connection