Migrants: Humanitarianism vs. Greed and Egoism

 

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“Myanmar migrants on a boat stranded for a week in the Andaman Sea with no food or water say 10 people have died, while some are resorting to drinking urine.” (BBC News 14 May 2015)

“Nearly 2,000 migrants are estimated to have lost their lives attempting the perilous sea crossing from North Africa to Europe in 2015, and it’s not even fully five months into the year.” (CNN 13 May 2015)

“A UK warship rescued about 450 people from the Mediterranean on Wednesday. The UN estimates that 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa this year. More than 1,800 migrants have died – a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.” (BBC News 13 May 2015)

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These are the daily headlines and stories. I wonder how many details people read before selecting a different story. I wonder if they probe the faces well photographed to feel the anguish of mothers and children floating on abandoned boats by smugglers. What is the supposedly civilized world focusing on these days?

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This morning I took the time to study the tenets of the major religions of the countries most affected by the immigrants attempting and succeeding in seeking shelter. In Southeast Asia I searched Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. I didn’t need to probe so deeply Europe’s Christianity or my own Judaism to learn what we consider humanitarianism. The first precept is to save human life and do nothing to abet its termination. Yet in Asia, Australia and Europe this precept is subject to debate. Why is there a question? People are risking their lives to escape secular persecution, lack of basic human rights, summary executions for being the “others”. In the United Nations and in the capitals of the rich and powerful nations of the world, leaders and diplomats argue over responsibility and cost.

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Americans in the disunited states are as guilty as the British or Thais in talking while people are dying at sea by the hundreds. Americans in the disunited states are divided over what to do about their own immigrants. They have a government that can’t arrive at a definitive policy that will reduce or eliminate the number of deaths, rapes, and sequestration for ransom perpetrated upon those who have fled from similar circumstances as the Africans and Asians who occupy today’s headlines.

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Americans have learned nothing from their own history regarding preserving lives in imminent danger in their native countries. What does the S.S. St. Louis mean to you? If you don’t know, Google it and learn of just one more shame staining the U.S. flag. How many of you gripe at the number of recent Syrians who have gained asylum? Do you ever wonder where you would try to go if your ethnic or religious group became victimized by another group in the U.S.? Do you think the U.S. is immune to such a secular division? A religious division by fanatics as strongly pro-fundamentalist as Islamic State, al Qaeda or Taliban? A political division fomented by nationalists as we’ve seen gathering as militias in Idaho or at Tea Party meetings near your house?

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Doesn’t it seem contradictory that the crowd that shouts about American values and a Christian nation is the same mob that seeks to deport the helpless albeit willing to pay their return fare? That wears WWJD bracelets and crosses around their necks don’t get Matthew 25:35-40? You know, the part that says, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus feeds 5000

Jesus feeds 5000

How can any self-declared “civilized” human being deny life to any other human being? How can any person of power and authority not take whatever steps are needed to allow these migrants to drown at sea, to close your ports to their landing, to direct them to return from whence they came? I do not recognize you and I as being of the same species.

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Old Friends’ Reunion

I spent the morning with some old friends I hadn’t seen in years. I kind of bumped into them almost by accident. It was a joyous reunion for me since I’d known many of them since my boyhood. But there were a lot of tears as well. I soaked two handkerchiefs and most of a third when they revived old memories of some of the happiest events in my long life. The truth is that most of my old friends and acquaintances are dead. Some have been gone for a number of years. As is the case when one is almost eighty, I recognized some of their faces but I couldn’t remember their names. As is my habit nowadays I wait for someone to call them by name and then the pieces come together.

This is a marvelous age we live in. I spend a lot of time on my computer but until recently not as much as I’d have liked to. You see, my provider wasn’t allowing me to download at the same speed as the rest of the region. I finally grabbed a technician working at a relay station and he got the ball rolling to where I can now watch videos and stream sports from the U.S. to my home in El Salvador. This is what brought me and my old friends together.

Country music has been the center point of my life as far back as I can remember. I loved listening to my sister’s records on our Victrola and radio programs from Newark, NJ to WSM’s Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when it played on WEAF in New York. When I had access to my sister’s radio at night or on weekends, I’d find WWVA’s Wheeling Jamboree or some other popular programs from across the Mexican border that were powerful enough to reach Piscataway, NJ.

As a teenager in 1953 I started singing and picking my Gretsch guitar at local gigs and with some moxie and pushes from my friends found myself being part of the “local talent” in Grand Ole Opry package shows in some of the larger venues in Northern New Jersey. Back then the stars were just regular people who traveled by car to sing and play and mix with the people who came to listen. I got to meet and become friends with many of the true country performers of the 50s and 60s.

Television brought country music superstars into our homes. “Ozark Jubilee” was hosted by Red Foley. The Grand Ole Opry had specials. People like Jimmy Dean, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and others came on as summer replacements and some became regular shows. Then there was the most durable country show of all, “Hee-Haw”.

Meanwhile, I was playing in different clubs in New Jersey and attending every country concert that came to the area. And there were plenty. I’ve got a fortune in autographs to prove it. But what affected my life and my twenty-five year career was the friendship and counsel from the many popular stars of the day. I learned to appreciate their humility despite being adored and even worshipped by millions of fans across the country who bought their records, listened to them on radio or TV, and drove for miles to see them in person.

That’s all past history. Now we’ve got YouTube and videos of my heroes performing live or just audio with photos. The country music TV channels that taped their shows are able to bless old-timers like me with short and lengthy videos of my idols at the beginnings, highlights, and ends of their public careers. A series of “Family Reunion” videos hosted by Bill Anderson that go back several years caught my eye yesterday. I spent part of yesterday afternoon watching different episodes and couldn’t wait to pick up where I left off this morning. Some of the old-timers were doing their best to recreate their hits of twenty or thirty years earlier. Nashville’s best studio musicians played the original arrangements and made the experience of watching more real for a fan like me. But as the camera would pan the many stars listening and also reminiscing, I could see how the years had taken a toll by the age on their faces and the many stories they told of their contemporaries–in the past tense.

I don’t recognize the names of current award winners nor do I listen to their music. It all sounds the same to me. I came across an impressionist whose specialty is the older country singers. He’s very good both with the voices and the movements. His name is Johnny Counterfeit and he’s on YouTube. The golden age performers were unique and easily distinguishable one from another. Even their bands were unique. Today’s “country” music seems to be played by singers with stock voices and bands that blare jazz chords.

If you’re from my generation, check out classic country music on YouTube or search for “Family Reunion”. You might get teary as I did running into my old friends. 

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Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff

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Dixie Lee Lesko, nee Brown Sept. 2, 1957-Feb. 8, 2015

 

Doris & Dixie Lee September 1957

Doris & Dixie Lee
September 1957

Dixie Lee Brown was born prematurely in Middlesex Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ. She spent her first days in an incubator as was the practice then. I remember holding her on the day Doris and I brought her home. She was so incredibly tiny. She weighed about four pounds and fit easily in my hands. She was ugly–but not for long.

She cried with the teeniest mewl and waved her wee arms about as babies do but she was loved. As she grew she had allergies and other baby problems that meant doctor’s visits and special care but she was loved.

Every other year Doris and I created another daughter. First came Karen Jeanne. Dixie was a loving big sister. Next came Lorene Marie. Dixie was even more a loving big sister.

Dixie, Karen, & Lorene               1962

Dixie, Karen, & Lorene
1962

Unfortunately, her father was a rectal sphincter and he abused her mother physically and emotionally for the most immature and selfish of reasons. The marriage ended in divorce and the demise of the family. Doris remarried and their petition to adopt my daughters was granted by a judge whose area of expertise was in business and criminal law, not the family court judge. His logic was he’d be saving me child support.

  "Uncle" Daddy with Karen, Dixie, & Lorene      Easter visitation.

“Uncle” Daddy
with Karen, Dixie, & Lorene
Easter visitation.

During their childhood years there were long periods of time when I was unable to see them but Dixie managed to get to a pay phone from time to time to call me. Visits to their home were infrequent and Karen managed to “disown” me. By the time I moved to California in 1978, the children were old enough to become closer to their real father. Dixie had lived with us for a short time. Lorene came to her old house to say good-bye.

     Dixie, Dad, and granddaughter Kathy

Dixie, Dad, and granddaughter Kathy

I flew home to New Jersey several times and motorcycled across country two or three times to visit all three of my daughters and their growing families. Dixie had made some unwise choices in her life just as her dad and others have made. She was still my daughter and still loved as always. The girls were not happy with our move to California, but I needed to move on from the by then two divorces. It was one of the worst decisions of the many I have made in my 79 years. I wished they could have understood the pain and helplessness I’d gone through from not being with them as they grew up. A pain that would never subside.

Dixie too fled from her problems. She chose to move to North Carolina where a friend helped her get restarted. I never saw her again but we’d write to each other and I’d call her as well. Then suddenly it all changed. I’m told it was the drugs she had used back in New Jersey that distorted her thinking and she stopped communicating with me. My grandson Michael also stopped our regular Email conversations. My heart has been broken ever since. But I always loved my daughter.

I hated California almost from the beginning. It never felt like home. I added to my university degrees, had a good job and some good friends. My third wife and I had our kids and the chance to realize the “American Dream”. But unforeseen, unexpected and this time undeserved circumstances blew the dream to smithereens. I lost everything including my family, my position in the community, most of what I owned and my savings. I had to start all over again.

  Roger in Nicaragua Working on a building.

Roger in Nicaragua
Working on a building.

God works in mysterious ways indeed! He led me to a humbling job and then caused me to have to give it up because of surgeries I needed. It was during this off-time that my church called for volunteer short-term missionaries to help in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. Money was provided for my passage by the church. It was a wonderful experience that led to several more annual trips to Central America. Being single again in 2008 and frustrated with my life in the U.S. I moved to El Salvador. I became very active in my church here and regained the sense of fulfillment I felt had been taken from me in the U.S. Through Email I kept in touch with my children. But over time they stopped communicating for various reasons I’ve been told.

I have pictured my Grandpa Roscoe, who died before I was born, living alone apart from his estranged wife and children and perhaps discovered one day dead at 75 in a lonely room. He’d been active to be sure but alone. I imagined my own last days being like that, thousands of miles from my uninterested and uncaring children who were living their lives as though I never existed. I never considered that any of them would precede me in death.

Adriana & Margarita,     Mis dos amores.

Adriana & Margarita,
Mis dos Amores.

I continue to serve my church and community as best I can. But my focus is on my wife and especially my daughter. I live to ensure her a better life than her mother could have imagined, a life certainly better than her own. Sometimes I wonder about Adriana’s perception of me as a father, as her father. My girls were always great huggers, jockeying for position on my lap, three kids wanting to hold my two hands. Adriana isn’t like that for the most part. I can count the times she’s kissed me on the cheek on one hand. Her mother had to encourage her to give me a hug at bedtime. A man who has lost the confidence and love of his natural and adopted children is insecure. As a teacher I thrived on the love of my students. As a parent I had little to show. Adriana is perhaps a measuring tool in my last years as a father. Among all my endeavors and successes, the most important endeavor, fatherhood, feels like a loss.

But this morning when Adriana found me sitting on the edge of my bed crying aloud over the loss of my first daughter, she threw herself into my arms holding me ever so tightly and lovingly. Not one of her typical hit-and-run ‘OK, I’ve done my duty hugs’, but so genuinely in tune with what I was feeling. I don’t know how many times a day I tell her that I love her and how happy she makes me. No one child can make up for the loss of or separation from another. No one child is more loved than another. As I wrote to my grandson Michael, Dixie’s son, love is forever. I will always love Dixie, my other children and grandchildren, and Adriana.

 

It’s Been a Long Ride but the End of the Trail Is in Sight

 

I’ve been retired from any real job for around fifteen years. It’s been a great ride in that I’ve been to places I never would have dreamed of even visiting let alone making my home in any of them. But El Refugio has treated me relatively well compared to my previous fifteen years in California. I’m enjoying my freedom, my church and community, but most of all my family. Not to take anything away from 3/4 of my previous wives or most of my girlfriends, Margarita is as close to the perfect wife as I could want. She takes such good care of me and seems to anticipate my every need and wish.  Our son Luís at thirteen can be a handful. Sometimes I wonder if he’ll amount to anything for all the hours he wastes doing nothing. We’ll watch fútbol together on TV if Barcelona is playing or on my laptop when there’s no TV coverage.

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Ten-year old Adriana is a miniature version of her mother. She checks me when I forget something and corrects me when I misspeak in Spanish. I’ve come to depend on her for many things. She’s been letting me help her more with her homework and that makes me very happy. She’s not only mommy’s helper but her confidante as well. I enjoy watching them do “girl things” or study the Bible together. Still, she’s got plenty of little girl to allow her to make clothes for her dolls and do their hair. She’ll kick a plastic ball with her brother and ride her bike around the yard. I do my best to spoil her.

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Adriana & Margarita, mis dos amores.

 

During these years I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the world in which I’ve lived but experienced little of until the turn of the century. I’ve had to learn to live with the extreme disapproval of most of my children. I forgive them their ignorance and realize that if they can be happy without a father or a grandfather for their children, I can’t mourn their loss only pray that they don’t experience the same now that they’re middle-aged. They’ll never appreciate what they’ve lost and what they’ve cost my grandchildren. But my life is the better for needing to focus my attention on the needs of others rather than my own wants. I believe God has blessed and rewarded me in gifting me Margarita and the children. Her extended family might not fit the image that my blood relatives envision as ideal (albeit their lives have not made them role models for their kids) but people here are closer to living in God’s love than they are. My in-laws, my nephews and nieces, legitimate or not share their love with me as I share mine with them. Love and caring here go beyond family lines. Little things. It seems I’ve become a godfather to a two-year old girl, daughter of a teen-age mother who is part of Margarita’s Single Mothers’ support group sponsored by a nearby church. I saw the child’s front teeth yellowing from lack of oral hygiene. I bought her a little tooth-brush and paste. I gave the young mother some advice on the importance of caring for baby teeth to have healthier adult teeth. She has been following my advice (which sometimes is contrary to local beliefs). I’ve never seen the child with shoes. Yesterday, I bought her a pair for $3.00. She was sick and stayed home with her mom but I gave the shoes to her great-grandmother who was deeply appreciative.

Before I married Margarita I did a lot of similar things for families of my students and members of my church. Little things. Adriana is accepting my philosophy that there is more in life awaiting her than looking for a man with a steady job and having his babies. She wants to be a dance teacher. This past December during “summer” school break she began dance lessons, something she and her mother would never have considered before I entered their lives completely. She’s learned poise and public presentation because I could give her the clothes she needed to enter the Miss Chiquita contest four years ago. I do my best to encourage the kids in our community to excel at what they love to do even if it won’t earn them a dollar. It helps them to do better at what might earn them that precious dollar. It all feels so good. Little things.

On my four and five- hour bike rides I have made friends out of acquaintances and acquaintances out of strangers along my route in the nearby city of Chalchuapa. If a kid greets me in English I’ll take the time to give him a little more vocabulary. If a family hears me translate “God is love” into Spanish for a child’s understanding, I’ll get to talk about Jesus to the mother. If I see a three-year old boy sitting at a table with his mom and grandmother who sell fruit on the curb and he tells me he doesn’t have a ball to kick I’ll stop at the local store and invest 30 cents in a plastic ball for him.  If the boyfriend of a long-time dear friend wants help in his English studies I invite him over and we set a schedule for him to converse with me. Little things.

It is so far removed from the U.S. life here that one has to adjust to the absence or unavailability of restaurants, movies, places of entertainment, transportation to visit relatives and friends, books, hobby and craft materials, familiar clothes, foods, and personal items, technology needs, and other items you don’t spend too much time thinking about when you need or want them. But it’s not too far from the Stelton I grew up in 70 years ago.

Unfortunately or fortunately, I was not a life-planner. How I’ve spent my life happened more at chance than by design. Therefore, after several wives and children, more jobs than I can remember before choosing an advanced educational program that led to an entirely different career, and acquiring some unearned credits in the California prison system, I should not be surprised to find the long and winding road has brought me to this unlikely destination surrounded by some of nature’s most beautiful landscapes, some of her most beautiful women, a family which loves me unconditionally, and some fantastic spiritual experiences.

I confess that as I approach the 80th anniversary of my birth, I feel the aches and pains of joint overuse. I yawn more than your cat. I can fall asleep watching an exciting or emotionally stimulating TV show. And the longer I have to wait for my wounded “good” knee to self-repair the more frustrated and depressed I will be. But when Margarita comes up to where I’m sitting and plants her soft, full lips on my soft, Anglo-thin chops I feel rejuvenated. When Adriana creeps up on me to let me watch Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Prince Royce, or Wisin and Yandel on her Android tablet, I am surely a kid again.

Roger & Margarita

Roger & Margarita

I have no doubt that when I’ve reached the end of the trail I won’t be alone. I’ll have a smile on my face and a beautiful, loving woman holding each of my hands. I can’t ask for more than that! Thank you, Lord.

 

 

The Kastle is Krumbling and Kollapsing!

 

 

 From August 2, 2014 (I’m trying to finish old drafts I’d started.)

 A year or so ago I felt ten or fifteen years younger. I was jogging almost every morning as the sun rose. It seems I was busy with Margarita once we saw the kids to the schoolhouse door. I had a dog to walk and chickens to raise. I played my guitar now and then. The kids and I took bicycle rides–not the 50 km ones I’ve done recently–around the neighborhood and to the park so we could play.

In January of 2013 our landlord wanted to double our rent so I taught him some English and we moved to our current house. It was larger, the roof leaked less during the rainy season, and it was closer to what little there is to have convenient in El Refugio. The family we rented from was amiable, cooperative, and was happy at the improvements we made to the property. We deducted the costs from the rent. The two men who lived in the two separate apartments on the property were no problem. They were helpful and friendly as well as we moved our chickens into unroofed “rooms” at the rear of the property.

One of the men, Don Saul, is part of the family who own the property. The water and electric bills still bear the name of his long-dead father. The other rented a smaller room for $10 a month and was rarely here. He was a night watchman at one of our schools and I imagine he could sleep on the job. By day he either found other work or he worked in the lovely garden behind our house. Unfortunately, he wasn’t paying his rent and he was asked to leave. When that happened the family raised our rent by $10 but didn’t offer us the departing gentleman’s space. This was eight months after we moved in. We ate the raise and life moved on.

We’d gotten over Don Saul’s friend’s robbing our bathroom of toilet goods and light bulbs and put a lock on the door. Then we had a music issue with him. He loves norteño music as do I. But the bass volume was extremely loud and unbearable in our house with its metal roof. The vibration amplified the bass painfully in my ears to the point where I couldn’t remain in the house. Margarita spoke to him and to the family member to whom we paid the rent. It took some convincing but they liked us as tenants and he turned it down–for a while. When he began entertaining the community again and Margarita was too shy to confront him, I went to his door where he stood smirking. I could barely hear my voice telling, not asking, him to turn the volume down. He just stood there like the senile old coot that he is. I shouted at him in both Spanish and English and he wouldn’t budge. I threatened to kick his ass but he seemed to be enjoying hassling me. Margarita tells me this was July 10th.

I haven’t spoken to the man since the robberies, but he likes to talk to Margarita in the morning when she’s washing the dishes or hanging clothes outside. He told her he wants us to move. She told me this a few weeks ago and I told her I’m not moving. I will not look for another house. I have lived in six houses in six years and I will die in this house since I will never be able to afford one of my own.

In the time that we’ve lived here, we’ve learned that like everything and everyone in this world, the house and location have their downsides too. There are few pedestrians who pass our house and that shut down Margarita’s cooking-on-the-sidewalk business. Then we learned how noisy it could be with a few local families owning large trucks that they warmed up at 4:30 a.m., the Chinese motorcycles with no mufflers that used our street to get to the main road, and the incessant horns from the bicycle bread vendors. The family across the street owns a bus whose route leads to a farm community. Seasonal workers gather in front of our house awaiting the driver and they are quite vociferous. Sleeping in is an impossibility.

The family of a couple of my ex-students with whom we are friendly own a house a block from where we used to live in Barrio Nuevo. It’s a much quieter location, still close to the school and on the microbus route. It looks nice from the outside. The owner told Margarita that there are three bedrooms. At present, Luís has a large room to himself but Adriana shares the big room with Margarita and me with a wall of furniture between. She would be able to have her own room and we would have the privacy we haven’t enjoyed in 20 months. But I’ve never been inside the house and have no idea what kind of space is available. I’ve bought a lot of large furniture for the bedroom, living room, and kitchen. I will not live in a crowded space. I don’t even know if there’s a place for our chickens.

The owner lost his wife a couple of years ago and is raising two kids younger than Adriana with the help of his mother-in-law. He drinks a lot during the day. Every six months he tells us he’s got problems with the current tenants but they never leave. I passed by last evening and they were enjoying dinner. But I remember how much damage was done moving here in Margarita’s brother’s antique pickup and the brutal handling of good stuff by our helpers. I do not want to move. Since I haven’t seen the inside of the house I don’t know if I should even think about it. But Margarita won’t let me forget.

Part of me would like to get away from this old fart who somehow seems to be in his shower adjacent to our bathroom when we get up in the morning. I’ve got a ten-year old daughter who has finally stopped playing in the yard bare-chested in her panties as she did in the privacy of our old house. I might be happier with an overall noise reduction and to live among old acquaintances and friends.

We (Margarita’s son Juan and I) recently finished rewiring the electricity from the house to the bathroom and the chicken coop so we can now use switches for light rather than plugging in an 80 meter length of rotting insulation wire segments and having to pull chains on the various light fixtures. I’m not giving that away! 

That’s just the first part of the krumble and kollapse kalamity. The main concern is about me. I am aging too quickly. I’ve enjoyed a long run of good health and activity. I think that once our church school closed down my mind started shutting down as well. When the perra who destroyed the church’s CDI program for kids continued with her husband and extended family to make the church their personal fiefdom, I who came here as a missionary to serve it had no alternative but to leave. That left me with no regular activities to occupy the bulk of my days. No planning, no supervising, no teaching, no working with kids and their families, no mental challenges other than trying to understand the local brand of Spanish in my own home.

Then my wonderful legs, the legs that ran marathons, 10 k and 5 k runs regularly in the U.S. decided they’d had enough. I had lived for more than 30 years with pain in the right ankle I’d broken sliding into second base but now my left knee screamed, “No more!” It took me a while to develop a bicycling program for myself but I did it. I was able to keep my weight in check, follow my rides with stretches and upper-body exercises, and feel good about my old body. But in the last couple of months my mileage has dropped dramatically. I feel strong while I’m on the road but as soon as I get off my bike I find I can’t put weight on my bad right ankle and the left knee is sorer than normal. I walk like, well, an old man.

My hearing has not been 100% for the past 40 years since the air hose gauge at a gas station didn’t work and a bike tire exploded in my ears. I’ve had an annoying multi-tonal ringing ever since. It’s gotten to a point that if two people are talking at once I can’t distinguish or separate the voice of one from the other. Certain voice ranges are impossible to hear clearly. And the worse part is not being able to understand Margarita when she talks too fast. My tendency is to just nod my head as if I understand. I’ve agreed to things I wouldn’t have agreed to or was surprised to learn I’d assented to something I didn’t remember. That called into question my mind vs. my hearing. Either way it is frustrating.

I have eye glasses for regular wear but my current prescription hasn’t helped me to distinguish people at what used to be a normal distance. I have bifocals to carry with me to church for reading and to the store so I can read expiration dates on the milk bottles. I don’t wear the bifocals when I walk on the street or even in the house in fear of misjudging a change in ground levels and a fall. I have a third pair that I use exclusively for the computer. I also have contact lenses which I haven’t worn in years. If I try to walk with them I’ll see the world as a blur. So I have to change glasses often. From all the time I spend on the computer for lack of anything else to do, my eyes get very tired soon after supper.

I try to explain to Margarita who I am and why I get depressed. There is no one like me in her world. Salvadorans are content to sit on their asses all day and just eat and talk. That’s the main reason we’ll never see eye-to-eye about her son Juan who was content being a parasite until I finally got him out of my house. I have been active all my life. I have never been content to do nothing. I don’t believe in wasting the daylight hours relaxing, watching TV, or sitting on the park bench to fantasize about my past or chat about the hot chicks walking by. I’m a very light sleeper and she doesn’t understand that even if we had a darkened bedroom and air-conditioning, I wouldn’t be able to take an afternoon nap like she and the kids can.

I don’t like to compare any of my U.S. lifestyles with my current Salvadoran mode. There are regular things I wasn’t crazy about doing in the U.S. that I can’t do here but would love to have as options. We can’t go for a drive for lack of a vehicle and the means to obtain one. We have no real restaurants with a variety of meals to break the gustatory monotony. No adult recreation facilities for entertainment. Certainly nothing for seniors. And while Margarita has duties and responsibilities with the church, the school, helping her ailing mother at her house, in addition to her house chores, I’m only able to participate in a smidgen of her activities. When I’m motivated, I write. Sometimes I’m kvetching as in this piece other times I’m trying to educate, inform or entertain. A couple of videos I started a while back I’ve slacked off on because they involve either walking or biking with my camera. Walking hurts and I don’t want to risk having my camera stolen.

Since writing the above we’ve changed churches. The new church meets five afternoons or evening per week. I’ve been asked to play the guitar for the praise songs and Margarita is leading a cell group in a nearby neighborhood that is already growing. She’ll be doing some preaching at the church as well. There are a few members whom I have known for years but most congregants are new to me. We currently meet in a comfortable-for-30+ house while a large church is being built across the street. As excited as I get anymore, I’m excited for this new adventure.

On the way home from church a week ago, a car was approaching a group of us. I made for the side and tripped in a hole in the road and smashed my right (good) knee on the corner of the curb. I haven’t been able to ride since. I literally haven’t a leg to stand on with both knees aching. Last month I set a distance record for myself of 423 miles. I was on a pace to break 500 for March but that’s not going to happen.

We have had another incident with Don Saúl’s elderly lady visitor. When we left for church on Friday evening she was pounding on the garage door which is his point of entry to the property. We told her he had left earlier. She opted to wait for him. He must have come home while we were gone and let her in. When we got up Saturday morning Margarita saw she was missing some chili pepper and peppermints she had planted. She confronted the old man and he evaded the issue. A call to his niece wasn’t very helpful.

Margarita also told the niece about his increasingly strange and potentially dangerous behaviors regarding his lurking and voyeurism habits. He recently cut his bushes and flowering plants to a height low enough for him to be able to view our house and activities from anywhere in the yard. I found him at 4:00 a.m. lurking near our outdoor bathroom as I exited it. He was just staring at my startled countenance focused on the wraith in a nightshirt like Marley’s ghost. His other strange habit is listening for me to pass gas on our toilet and muttering some intelligible comment. Perhaps a curse. He does burn candles at night.

I have acquired an English student who will be coming to the house a couple of times a week for help. This will give my routine a little variety. I don’t know how long it will be before I will feel able to ride my cobweb covered bike. But this hiatus may turn out to be a good thing. I’ve been ignoring my guitar, my video projects, and probably a host of tasks I had intended to complete with all the free time I have.

The kountry kastle is krumbling and I can’t do anything about it. I’ll endure the pain in my aged legs as best as I can. I may even endure and outlive the old pain in the butt who lives behind us. My goal is to see my daughter grow up happy and independent. With God’s mercy and Margarita’s love I just might make it.

 

 

 

 

Sports and Sportsmanship

 

Like most American boys and men I enjoy sports. I have my preferences. My favorite sport has always been baseball. My second favorite is basketball. Since moving to El Salvador I have become an aficionado of fútbol, what I used to call soccer. As a boy I never participated in soccer. AYSO either wasn’t organized or just hadn’t gotten to Central Jersey. Getting the guys together for a game of softball or baseball was my focus throughout my teens. It didn’t matter if the field was dry or wet. It could be sunny or threatening rain. There could be puddles or deep mud on the base paths. I’d be out looking for someone to start a game.

Basketball didn’t come into my sports schedule until my mid-teens. We had no basketballs or baskets. There were no local recreation centers for the sport. The NBA was in its infancy and wrestling had more TV time–for those few of us who had televisions. But we did manage to put together the Jive Five and play a few years in another town’s Recreation League. I wasn’t very good at it because we had no one to coach us and we really had no roll models to emulate. I became a nominal Boston Celtics fan because a couple of their players’ off-season jobs were playing in  the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization. Football was always available and willing to push those of us who preferred baseball off the field as fall approached. September to me was a bad month. It marked the advent of a new school year and the return of football. I didn’t like football. Someone always wanted to trip you or throw you to the ground. That’s not fun! If you tore your pants or scraped the skin off your leg, you’d probably get in trouble with your mother. It wasn’t worth the effort so a few of us would prolong the baseball season as deeply into autumn as possible. Eventually, we round-ballers would have to give in to the prolate spheroid set and join the bloody “sport”.

Boxing and wrestling are also sports. Boys get into fights sometimes spontaneously over an insulting word or phrase, or some unwelcome physical contact interpreted as a challenge. Other times the fight is scheduled  for after school to avoid dealing with teachers and principals. I hated to have to fist fight. You can get bruised and bloody as in football. I could see no sense in settling a difference with fisticuffs. It would be bad enough to earn a black eye for kids to make fun of but hell to answer to your mother. After telling you how stupid you were she’d then call the mother of your opponent to either call her child a bully or to lay the blame on him for hitting first. The kid would get mad because you squealed and he’d be looking for you again the next day. I preferred wrestling.

In wrestling you drastically reduced the chance of shedding blood, scraping skin, or fracturing a bone. The object was to make the other guy “give” by exacting pain or by pinning his shoulders to the ground to a count of three. It therefore helped if you were just a little bigger and stronger than your antagonist and if you knew enough about the best places to apply pressure and pain. That was my forte.

Our exposure to professional sports came via radio and newspapers until television became affordable for we country kids with working class parents. Living so close to and being influenced by all things New York we had our baseball rivalries amongst us. The city had three teams in those days, the New York Giants, the Yankees, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Interborough rivalry made for great arguments while waiting for the school bus or when choosing up sides. Pro football and basketball never seemed to stimulate such conversations during their respective seasons. In those days the three major sports didn’t overlap as they do today. No one followed hockey.

As television became more common, our sports vision expanded. We could now see professional wrestling and boxing. I remember listening to Joe Louis’ championship fights on radio. Now we could see two men pounding the pudding out of one another. It never appealed to me until Cassius Clay came along.

Wrestling was another matter. My friends and I would often engage in wrestling matches evenings on the front lawn of our local school. Now we could watch Gene Stanlee’s haughty flair and Argentina Rocca’s flying drop-kicks. We had teachers and that made our matches more daring. We had little thought of our heroes being merely athletic actors with predetermined conclusions to their performances. It wasn’t as sophisticated and intricate as today’s WWE enterprise but it was the McMahon dynasty’s baby back in the day.

We were taught the value of sportsmanship. Sports had rules. Sports were judged fairly. Athletes had respect for their opponents. There was no place for trash talk or animosity. At the end of the contest the antagonists shook hands and congratulated each other for their effort. The winner didn’t gloat and the loser didn’t sulk or make excuses. He might promise to do better at their next meeting. We really never thought about the financial aspect of professional sports. We rooted for our team and our favorite players.

With baseball as the dominant sport, we knew our idols had off-season jobs and accepted that as the norm. They lived modestly with their families just as our families lived. Contract signings were more about who would be back for the next season than what their salaries would be. Sports were fun. Players were loyal to (owned by) their teams and fans and were missed when traded. DiMaggio was always a Yankee. Mays a Giant. Musial a Cardinal. Williams a Red Sox. Snider a Dodger. We got used to that.

There have been so many changes, eye-openers to what sports have become during my lifetime. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles it was like having our right arms amputated. Free agency suddenly emancipated those in bondage to their owners. Players became able to negotiate moves to other teams. Loyalty went out the window. New sources of revenue for Major League Baseball meant the end of post-season jobs to make ends meet. Salaries skyrocketed. Chemical enhancement for performance broke the “unbreakable” records. It became more obvious that it was all about the money. Scandal followed scandal. No one needed to throw a World Series as in 1919.

Leagues in the four major professional sports were able to expand the number of teams. End of season playoffs were also expanded. New markets were opened to increase fan base, sales, and income. Network television lost out to cable and satellite providers but overall viewer numbers increased. Even wrestling with its bad actors in great bodies grew in popularity filling arenas and selling their brands. WWE is everywhere. Vince McMahon, Sr. would be so proud of his son’s growing the family business to where it is now. Rich professional teams are able to buy the best players. College football and basketball team players are now looking for a piece of the action from the NCAA. College sports are big time money makers for schools and sponsors. Be a regular in the top 25 of your sport, qualify for the increasing number of bowl games and March Madness, and watch the money roll in. It’s all about the money not how you play the game. To me it’s very sad.

 

Loving America

I am an expatriate living in El Salvador for nearly seven years. For the most part I feel an emotional as well as geographical distance from my mother country. But I do follow news and opinions as much to see how the changes are affecting family, friends and the world at large as to not forget my first language.

There’s been a lot of controversy on the news recently regarding President Obama’s love for America. It awakened some thoughts about love for one’s country over the nearly 80 years of my life. One particular blog on Huffington Post prompted me to write this personal essay.

I grew up during WWII. The word “patriotism” was thrust at us via the radio and movies. We lived next to the army camp from which soldiers were shipped to Europe to fight to keep America free. Kate Smith sang “God Bless America”. Frank Sinatra sang “That’s America to Me”. Elton Britt sang about a blind man who was unable to join the military in “I’d Like to Give My Dog to Uncle Sam”. Loving America was never questioned–unless you were of Japanese, German or Italian descent. All 135 million of us united in a common cause, to defeat the Axis powers and keep America free. We were still Democrats and Republicans but somehow our President and the Congress were able to work together to get the job done. We saved paper, scrap metal, grease to donate for the war effort. We survived with ration stamps for food and gasoline. We developed substitutes for goods we couldn’t import. We loved that America! We believed in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. We paid little heed to the issues of segregation, discrimination, and many other negatives that needed correcting to make the words of our Great State Papers become a reality for all who lived here.

Mr. Blow (in his Huff Post blog) rightly comments that we haven’t gotten there yet. The 21st century has carried us by our own volition even farther from the ideals we took for granted during the 40s and 50s with the inception of the Cold War, democracy vs. communism.

America has strayed from the concept of E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. The “one” has been rent into “many”. There is no common goal. Even the artificially created wars beginning with Viet Nam have not brought us together. We are not of one mind in domestic or foreign policies. The progressives continue to be assailed by the backward thinking conservatives who are trying to recreate a fanciful past that never really existed and was before their time, their memory.

Who loves America? There are too many “Americas” in America today. I lived through the McCarthy era, the America for Americans era (that didn’t mean Native Americans), the America, love it or leave it era, so many eras that further divided America into opposing camps. In 2015 I don’t even trust my own memory to recall the America I used to be able to say I loved.

Now I live in El Salvador. As different from the U.S. I lived in for 70 years as day is from night. Do I love El Salvador? No. It’s another piece of real estate on Planet Earth. Much smaller than the U.S. Fewer inhabitants than New York City. But it does have one language. It does use the U.S. dollar so I don’t have to do any calculations when I shop. It has its own tropical beauty and a lot of people who will never have what you have. Is a country like a sports team to root for as the best in the league? A genre of music? A particular poet’s or writer’s work? I don’t think so. The world has gotten much smaller since the 1940s. We are almost all connected and close in one way or another.

I’ve learned it’s not about countries and trying to be the biggest, baddest, most generous, or most controlling. It’s about people. All people from all parts of the planet. Ask me if I love the Earth. I’ll tell you, yes. It’s got lots of problems. Mostly of our own causation. I’d like to resolve or see resolved as many of them as possible through the efforts of all people of good will. If the U.S. can be a leader in resolving problems rather than causing them in its efforts to be number one, I just might be able to say, yes, I love America.