Thursday, June 30, 2016

Immigration

With Independence Day just around the corner, I am pausing to think about what it is to be an American today.  When the time came in 12th grade English class for me and my classmates to register to vote, I needed to chose a political party in which to throw my support.

At the time, I remember asking Mom which one I should choose.  She told me which party she and Dad belonged to, but told me to find my own path.  So since 1984 and for the past 32 years, I have been a solid-footed Democrat and have never once voted outside my party of choice.

Why did I choose - and for that matter remain - Democrat, one might ask?
  • Obviously, I believe in civil rights and equality for every tax paying citizen in this country, including the rights to life, liberty and the ability to pursue and live your happiness as you see fit as long as it reasonably does not physically or mentally cause pain to someone else; 
  • I believe in pay equality, increasing the minimum wage slightly, reforming our criminal justice system, and gun safety and regulation (despite what Fox News reports, Democrats DO NOT WANT TO TAKE GUNS AWAY, we simply want to create some rules around how they are purchased); 
  • I support public education, abolishing the death penalty, and Wall Street reform; 
  • I believe in universal healthcare, expanding Social Security, and fighting climate change; 
  • I believe in congressional term limits, decriminalizing marijuana and a woman's right to choose. 
  • And while I'm at it, I'll even toss in two of my own ideas: 1) that if people can rent their houses and their cars, they should be able to rent their bodies, so I also believe in decriminalizing prostitution, too, and 2) I think the Presidency should be just one 6-year term with no chance for re-election so that the administration can focus on issues and not waste time and money on what amounts to a popularity contest.
But the one thing, the ONLY thing on the Democratic agenda that I simply cannot support is immigration reform.  I cannot defend the idea that we should reward citizenship to people who have entered this country illegally and perhaps chose to create families under the pretense that their American-born children would solidify their places as American citizens.  I can't hold up the idea that it's then okay for those people to then demand that this country treat them better, that is demanding not to be exploited while being hypocritical in taking advantage of what this country as to offer.

Of course I understand the desire, the need, the desperation of leaving a horrible living situation in hopes of something better.  And I applaud out loud for the millions of people who have come to this country without knowing for sure what lay ahead, not to mention the treacherous and most-often perilous methods used to get here from there.  If you read my blog then you know that I, myself, am not too far removed from immigrant relatives - all of whom came to this country as documented immigrants and who worked hard in order to gain their U.S. citizenship.  I mean, hell, we are a nation created by immigration.  And while I do believe we should never close our borders to people who are seeking a new and hopefully better life in America, I whole-heartedly believe that those who do come to the U.S. go through the proper procedures and channels in order to become citizens of our country.

When it boils down to it, I guess I simply do not believe we should reward people - any people - who blatantly break the law.  This is not a U.S. custom and I am just too much of a rule-follower to support the idea of granting something to someone who doesn't deserve it or who hasn't taken the proper steps needed in order to gain what they want.  Especially considering that the steps are not simple yet tough.  They take time, dedication and a deep desire to want to be legally included in our country.

Otherwise, I remain a die-hard Democrat and that is how I will be voting this November.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Global Online Enrollment System

The GOES Logo
Let's file this one under "Things That Don't Work The Way They Are Supposed To".

When the security lines in airports were starting to turn into 2- and 3-hour waiting lines, Kevin and I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and sign up for TSA precheck with the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection ("USCBP") by using their Global Online Enrollment System ("GOES").  It seemed easy enough:  pay a non-refundable $100 and complete a fairly easy online application.  The website states that the process will take 4-6 weeks.  Notice the organization's logo.  I think you will eventually agree that it's - at the very least - amusing.

At almost exactly the same time, Kevin and I submitted our online applications on April 21, 2016.  Within 10 days, Kevin had received notification that his application had been accepted and he would need to apply in-person at the nearest center, which happened to be at O'Hare Airport in Chicago.  We waited a few more days for me to receive the same notification, but since Kevin had a small window of time, he scheduled his interview and was accepted into the program.  No more long security lines for him.

We figured that mine would come within a few more days, since we had applied at the same time.  Four weeks passed.  Then five.  Then six.  My account was still showing "Pending Review".   Kevin's parents both thought that signing up through USCBP was a good idea, so after Kevin was accepted, they both applied.  And they both got interviews and they both got accepted.  Meanwhile, my account was still showing "Pending Review".

I tried calling any number I could find online.  There is no contact information on the GOES website.  I found what I thought was a customer service phone number, but when dialed, the phone number would connect, not ring, and then disconnect.  While Kevin's parents were at Dulles Airport for their interviews, they inquired on my behalf for a phone number to call.  USCBP gave them the same number I had been calling to no avail.  But it at least confirmed that I was calling the correct number.

So at six weeks + one day, I sat down and dialed the number only to receive the same disconnect.  This time, I decided to just guerrilla the line and keep calling until something different happened or someone answered.  It took 45 minutes of me robo-dialing but the number finally connected.  A recording came on welcoming to the USCBP and placing my call in queue.  I was caller number 15.  I then proceeded to listen to the more horrible hold music imaginable for the next 90 minutes, with the music being occasionally interrupted to let me know where I was in the queue.  Eventually, a real live breathing person came on the line.

Granted he was friendly enough.  I told him my situation, he looked over my record, and admitted to me that there was nothing flagging my application and it looked to him that I "had been forgotten about."  Lovely.  He said he would send my application over for review as well as flag it for expedited service.  He then instructed me that if I didn't hear anything within the next two weeks, to reach out to him.  He emailed me those instructions as well.


So guess what happens?  Two more weeks passed and my online account still reflected "Pending Review".  So as instructed, I sent a return email informing the USCBP that it had now been over 8 weeks (almost 9) and my account status had not changed and very nicely sought assistance.  Not one to trust just one form of communication, I again sat and robo-called the customer service number I had called before.  This time, it only took about 15 minutes, and I was caller number 8.  So I'm getting better at this.

After about 30 minutes, a representative comes on the line - a different man than before.  Once again, I recounted my story to him and told him what I had done up to this point.  He told me I shouldn't have done that - that being sent an inquiring email.  By doing this, he said, I removed myself from the researcher's queue.  Despite telling him that I had been INSTRUCTED by USCBP to do this very thing, he said I had been instructed poorly.

Picture it:  me, at my desk at work, phone on speaker, trying to stay calm, face red, blood pressure elevating...

Dealing with incompetence has never been my strong suit.  But I remained amazingly calm and asked the representative to understand my frustration.  His response was that I must have just gotten a researcher who is putting me through the grind and checking my background.  I asked what kind of background checks could possibly take 9 weeks to complete?

Let me say to you, dear reader, what I said to the representative:  
There is absolutely nothing in my background that would hint or suggest 
that I am any kind of threat to national and/or international security.  
The last driving citation I received was in 1986 
for driving 70 in a 55 zone.  I argued the ticket because 
my Honda would begin to shake and rattle when I hit 60.  
Ergo, I never drove above 60.  

So for the sake of comparison let's say, I can walk into any gun shop  in 'Murica and be cleared instantly to purchase a gun.  Any gun.  Any gun at all.  But even if I am not cleared instantly and the FBI has to perform the background check, the results take only 72 hours.  That means I can be approved to buy a gun 21 times faster than it takes - so far - to be processed for TSA pre-check.  Here's another comparison:  it took me exactly 10 days to obtain my U.S. Passport, the Federal document that proves I am a U.S. citizen.

The representative said he would resend my application over and, again, flag it for expedited service, which I honestly have no idea what that means.  Our original plan was that both Kevin and I would have clearance and try it out for a wedding we flew to Virginia for over Memorial Day weekend.  At this point, we hope that I will have clearance by the time we fly to Virginia for July 4th Weekend.  But by all means, we REALLY want me to have clearance by the time of our next international flight the end of August.

But it's not looking good.  "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?', indeed.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Alzheimer's Everywhere

Today, an employee came to my office to talk. I closed the door, she sat down, and told me her husband has Alzheimer's.  She's 70; he's 82.  He still lives at home with her and she is his primary caregiver.  She has someone come to the house to sit with him so she can work a few days a week "just for the break", as she put it.  But it is getting to a point where she feels she will need to take the inevitable next step because he's becoming more than she can handle.  Her guilt, she said, is mostly what is preventing her from doing what she said she knows she has to do.  And yet she has no idea why she feels guilty.

She caught him the other night, standing on a chair in the kitchen trying to turn off the ceiling fan while the blade was spinning.  She yelled at him to get down.  He yelled back at her to leave him alone because he needed to fix it.  She said there was nothing broken and for him to get down before he fell down.  They struggled with the chair.  He hit her.  She cried.  And she knew this was no longer her husband.

Mom and Dad, May 2016
Initially she came to me to ask about potential leave options for when she would need to make the dreaded next step.  After we worked all that out, I decided to share with her my parents' story.

I told her about Dad who developed this same disease 5 or so years ago and how my mother had to eventually make those same dreaded decisions.  I told her about Mom's commitment to Dad, and I told her what I have said to Mom many times:
The vows you took were to 'love, honor and cherish' your husband 'in sickness and in health'.  You did not vow to take care of him; you vowed to stick by him, be his advocate, see him through the ordeal, support him, but certainly not to do it all yourself.  There will come a time when you will realize that someone must be able to do a better job than you.  Accept that it's not your failure.  It's being realistic, fair, brave, and devoted to his care.
I told her that she needed to take care of herself first.  And that for selfish reasons, it's not fair to her kids for both she and her husband to be in failing health.  As I spoke to her, she would smile and nod.  She cried a few times and said that everything I was saying to her was exactly what her daughter has been saying to her as well.  And I could only understand how conflicted and troubled she felt because I see Mom continue to go through it.  Realizing that something is beyond your control, regardless of what that something is, takes incredible self-realization, confidence, and acceptance.

Talking with her made me miss being with my parents - both of whom have birthdays this month.  So when our meeting ended and the woman asked me if it was okay to hug me before she left my office, I was grateful for the opportunity.

When she left, I closed my door and cried for a few minutes.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We Will Always Rise

I was driving home from work today, listening to All Things Considered on NPR - you know, like I do - and I was listening to Ari Shapiro interviewing Eddie Meltzer in Orlando.  Eddie had been in PULSE that night, but left early to get some food, then went home.  He awoke to the news.

Eddie had spent the last few days acting as an ad hoc translator for families who had lost a child, but did not speak English.  The majority of the victims were Puerto Rican: children born in the U.S. to Spanish-speaking parents.  The stories Eddie told about the grieving families, the disbelief, the shock, were heart-wrenching.

But it was what Eddie said at the end of the interview.  He talked about calling up a friend who had also been at PULSE and asking him when they would go out for martinis again.  Ari jokingly questioned his sanity, and Eddie responded with this, which I think is the best and most eloquent encapsulation of who we are as gay men, and how despite the world's efforts to take us down time and time and time again, we will always rise:
“I’m just not going to subscribe to fear.  We are a strong community.  (You know) we’re gay men; we live in a world where we get a lot of hate, we take a lot of hate. And we know how the world feels about us.  And we’re strong people because we live in a world that was not made for us. And if tomorrow somebody took over this country and said, ‘we’re going to kill all the gays’, I will be the first one in that square saying, ‘shoot me’ with my big flag all over the place.  I would rather die for what I stand for.  You can’t kill me; I’m an idea.  I’m timeless.” 
We will always rise.  



Monday, June 13, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Infection

For the past 8 or 9 years, I've been developing sinus infections from air travel. With literally billions of people traveling by air every year now, researchers are finally starting to gather and publish more data about the health risks associated with airplane travel. In terms of the common cold, it is now well-accepted that acute respiratory infections are frequently experienced after air travel. Studies have found a high prevalence and wide array of respiratory viruses in people who have recently traveled. 

My sinus problems have ranged from slight dripping in the back of my throat to clogged ears to perforated eardrums.  Trust me, it's no fun when your ear drums burst while your plane is descending.  Sometimes these infections and problems have healed on their own, but most often times I've needed to see my doctor for an antibiotic.  For awhile, I used a nasal rinse to help me avoid sinus problems and it seemed to work.  But then I got lazy and stopped using it.

I recently caught what is undoubtedly the worst sinus infection of my life.  On May 26th, we had flown from Chicago to DC to attend a friend's wedding.  Flew on Thursday night, and by Sunday morning, I was starting to feel the familiar problems:  sniffles, sore throat, dripping sinuses.  Knowing we were flying back to Chicago the following day, I stopped into CVS to get a decongestant to hopefully ward off the congestion.  No such luck.  By the time our plan landed in Chicago on Monday night, both of my ears were completely clogged.  But I decided to tough it out.

I kept taking the decongestant and added a nasal spray to the mix.  By the end of the week, my face was swollen from the sinus infection, my nose was clogged and only one ear had "popped" since landing 5 days prior.  I now needed professional intervention.  

I visited a doctor in my usual physician's practice who prescribed me Azithromycin, or Zpak.  I was given a 5-day Rx, but after Day 3, there were no changes plus my face was in great pain.  I couldn't even touch the skin, it was too sensitive.  So I emailed my doctor who then prescribed a steroid for the pain.  So for about a week or so, I was on Zpak, a Prednisone, an OTC decongestant, Flonase, a nasal rinse, and sat over top of a steaming pot of water with my head covered in a towel every night.  

But this wasn't the worst of it.

The absolute worst part of this whole thing was the fact that I could smell the infection inside my body.  Perhaps because it's in my sinuses, I could actually smell inside myself.  And the smell ain't good - I could only equate the smell to sewer gas.  The smell was constant, but when I sniffled, the smell intensified.  It was unbelievable to me that others could not smell it or that it was not coming out through my breath, but I'd been assured that the odor was completely contained inside my head.

THIS IS THE MOST GROSSEST THING EVER!

I can handle the drippy nose and the clogged ears.  I can deal with the sore throat and headache.  I'll live with the feeling of nausea from the dripping and the acid reflux from swallowing bile.  I'll work around the sensitive skin and general overall malaise.  And I'll figure out how to handle the chronic constipation caused by taking a combination of antibiotics and steroids.  But constantly smelling the equivalent of an open sewer line is simply unacceptable.  And there's no escaping it.  It's always there - at least until the infection is gone.  Out of the many, many sinus infections I have ever had, this is the first time I can smell it.  And it's way stank.

So today is Day 16 of this endeavor and I am no longer on any medications.  Perhaps the sinus infection is still in there, perhaps it's gone and I now just have allergies, perhaps I'm losing my mind.  Whatever the case, papa ain't happy and I am no fun to live with.  Kevin has been his usual supportive, loving, wonderful self.  And I admit I am not the world's best patient.  So hopefully something clears up before we fly again over the July 4th holiday.

Click here for the continuing story ...


Monday, June 06, 2016

Grandmothers

When I was young, I spent most Friday nights (and many Saturday nights) at my Granny's house.  I loved going to her house.  Mostly just the two of us, our nights would be spent with me watching TV while she read or crocheted in her huge rocking chair.  Friday night TV in the late 70s/early 80s consisted of Donny and Marie, The Incredible Hulk, The Rockford Files, The Dukes of Hazzard, and later, the original Dallas and Falcon Crest.  A real treat would be when Granny would send me to the local store to get a large vanilla ice cream cone for her and a small plain pizza for me.  Together, they would cost a little less than $5.  We mostly would do this just in the summer, though.  But without fail, she always drank a Diet 7UP and I got to drink a whole bottle of Pepsi by myself. It was, in short, my nirvana.

This was our typical Friday night unless my Aunt Linda and Aunt Mary Lou would pop in to visit.  When that happened, the 4 of us would play either Chinese Checkers, which Aunt Mary Lou nicknamed Ping-Ping, or Aggravation, which Aunt Mary Lou nicknamed Peck-Peck.  When it came to choose which to play, Aunt Linda would ask me if I wanted to play with my Pinger or my Pecker.  They also taught me how to play craps with dice.  I credit my aunts with teaching me the art of the double entendre, as well helping to cultivate my dirty mind.

On Friday nights, I would fall asleep on the couch, usually before "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" ended (Granny never missed an episode).  I'd wake up early Saturday morning and turn on the TV to Channel 9 to watch the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, then flip to Channel 7 to watch the Krofft Supershow.  Granny would eventually roll out of bed and we would eat breakfast together.
We'd talk a lot about her childhood; she'd told me the same story about her dog Beans riding on the footboard of the car and popping up in church about a million times.  We enjoyed each other's company.  She liked having someone around and I liked being anywhere but home, where I got lost among my brothers and sister.  At Granny's, I mostly just watched TV or colored.  I'd walk to the post office for her or pick up stuff from the local store.  I'd also water her plants, and dust and vacuum her living room.  Every Saturday.  But mostly, I was just company for her.

In those days, Granny was in her late 60's to early 70's, about the same age as my Mom is today.  Granny was an old woman in my eyes back then, and I wonder if my nieces and nephews view my Mom like that today.  The relationship they have with my Mom - whom they called Meemaw when they were younger but have since shortened it to just "Meems" now that they are in their late teens and early 20s - is very different than my relationship with Granny.  They tease and cajole with Mom, which I never would have done with Granny.  They treat Mom's house as if it's theirs, getting into the fridge or opening up snacks; whereas I felt like I needed to ask for permission or wait to be invited before I could do anything like that. Their relationship with Mom is much more casual - and I'm sure she prefers it that way.

The three youngest of our nieces and nephews stop in to see "Meems" almost regularly.  The kids mostly sit at the dining room table and talk with Mom and each other, or make themselves something to eat, or go down in the living room and hang out, play video games or watch TV.  Mom  - like Granny - likes the company, and she likes the fact that the kids have someplace they feel they can go to just hangout.  She always has food and snacks and sodas at the house for them.

My hope is that they cherish this time with my Mom.  I knew back then that the time I was spending with Granny was special, so I hope the kids today understand what it means to spend time with their grandmother.  They clearly get a kick out of her.  And she provides a safe place for them where they also bring friends and dates to hang out.  It was no secret that I was Granny's "favorite", but I think it's only because I voluntarily spent time with her.  Of her 15 grandchildren, I was the only one who would stay at her house over night, and I always insisted that she be included in as much as possible when we did things as a family.  The one thing I hate is that I drifted away from her a bit once I graduated high school and developed a social life.  But gladly, that has not seemed to happen with my nieces and nephews - in fact, quite the opposite.  I love that they have not outgrown my Mom, that it's cool for them to hang with her and stay at her house, even though some of them have graduated high school and college by now.

Mom and Granny are very different grandmothers, and I think it's their grandchildren who helped shape them into their eventual roles.