Sunday, September 09, 2018

My White Privilege

Race relations and racial inequality are all over the news today; in fact, it's rare when a newscast doesn't include at least one report of racial violence, especially in Chicago.  Right now, the city is tense awaiting the finished trial and verdict for white city police officer Jason Van Dyke, accused of murdering black teenager, Laquan McDonald in 2014.  Van Dyke has been indicted on 16 counts of aggravated battery (1 for every shot he fired), six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct.

Shortly before 10:00 p.m., police were called to investigate McDonald at 4100 South 
Pulaski Road (in the westside neighborhood of Archer Heights) responding to reports that he was carrying a knife and breaking into vehicles in a trucking yard at 41st Street and Kildare Avenue. When officers confronted McDonald, he used a knife with a 3-inch blade to slice the tire on a patrol vehicle and damage its windshield. McDonald walked away from police after numerous verbal instructions from officers to drop the knife, at which point responding officers requested Taser backup.

Video of the shooting shows that Van Dyke was advancing on McDonald, while McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when the first shot was fired. The first shot hit McDonald, who spun and fell to the ground. As McDonald lay on the ground, still holding the knife, Van Dyke fired more shots into him. In total, Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times in 14–15 seconds, expending the maximum capacity of his 9mm semi-automatic firearm. Van Dyke was on the scene for less than 30 seconds before opening fire and began shooting approximately six seconds after exiting his car. The first responding officer said that he did not see the need to use force, and none of the at least eight other officers on the scene fired their weapons.
The eventual verdict of this trial has the same measured intensity as the OJ Simpson verdict back in October 1995.  A return of "not-guilty" for Van Dyke will certainly put Chicago into chaos.  I would expect the National Guard, which has long been rumored to be coming to Chicago to assist with our gun crisis, will finally show up in anticipation of riots, looting and other violent activity.  However, a "guilty" verdict may be the atonement for a metropolitan police force that has largely gone unchecked on their behavior until now.  Chicago has a long history of white police officers targeting young black men who may/may not have committed crimes, but are murdered in the street by police before they can even make it to trial.  

It's as if Chicago is two different cities: the white northside, and the south and west sides made up of mostly people of color.

With this in mind, hear my story:

A few mornings ago, I was driving home from the gym.  It was about 7am and Western Avenue was particularly busy, which made turning left off of Western onto any street very tricky.  Just like in most towns and cities in American, Chicago drivers do not understand the concept of "don't block the box" - otherwise known as don't block the intersection. After waiting through 3 cycles of red-green-red-green-red-green, I took a chance and turned on a red light just to make the turn.  And right on cue, an undercover police car flips its lights on behind me.

My first thought was, "Well, shit!"

My second thought was "I haven't been pulled over since 1991."

My third thought was, "My driver's license is sitting on my desk at home."

To avoid going to the gym locker room and possibly forgetting them, I leave my license and credit cards at home in the morning when I go to the gym.  All I really need is the fob that allows me access to the parking lot and the gym itself.  My gym is 5 city blocks from the house.  It's definitely walkable, but not at 5am.  So I drive.

I pulled over and the two white officers approached my door: 

"Yeah", the one started, "that was a red light back there."  I apologized and tried to explain how I had sat through several light changes unable to turn due to traffic.  He asked for my license and I admitted that I did not have it on me.
"That's okay," he said, "what's your name?"  I answered.
"And this car will come back registered to you?" To me and my husband, I answered.
"Okay, do you have insurance on the car?" Yes but I can't find the ID card.
"That's okay, who do you have insurance with?"  Geico
"Okay, I'm just gonna let you off with a warning.  You have a good day."  
Then the officer walked back to his car.  He had taken me at my word that I was who I said I was and that the car was mine.  He didn't run a background check on me of any kind.  And I couldn't help but think to myself, "it's good to be white."

So there are lots of things at play here:
1)  I was driving without my license on me
2)  I could not provide proof of insurance
3)  The proof I did give was erroneous; our car insurance is with State Farm, not Geico.
4)  I outed myself to a police officer.
Believe me when I tell you that black people in Chicago have been killed by police for far less than this - in fact committing just one of these offenses can get you shot on the south and west sides.  African American males who get pulled over call it "driving while black".

In many respects, I count myself a fortunate person:  I'm healthy, educated, have a nice home, great friends, close family ties, and am married to my best friend - all things that I have had a hand in cultivating in my life. However that morning, the only thing I was grateful for was the one thing I had no control over: the color of my skin.  I could say I was lucky that morning.

But I shouldn't have to.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Year Without Dad

One year ago today, July 22, 2017, Dad passed away from complications associated with dementia.  We believe he died peacefully in his sleep after all of his visitors had gone home for the night.  He had turned 78 years old 29 days earlier.

Today also marked the final day of "Firsts".  For the past year, we (especially Mom) have been ticking off the days and how they related to July 22nd.  It's difficult to not be a little maudlin about it all.  I guess when someone close to you dies, you have to go through your year of "first _____ without" before the real healing begins.  First wedding anniversary without him, first Thanksgiving without him, first Christmas, New Year's, Super Bowl, Opening Day of baseball, NASCAR season, etc. And on June 23rd last month, Dad's 79th birthday, the first one he missed.

I went home the weekend before Dad's birthday to be with Mom on her birthday (my parents' birthdays are a week apart) and it wasn't easy to celebrate her 75 years.  We all got together and it was nice, but it wasn't the same.  And it's really strange because for the last 4 or 5 years of Dad's life, he wasn't around for these celebrations anyway, being unable to leave the nursing home.  But at least he was around.

Through all these events, it felt weird to not go shopping for a card or find some wacky gift online to send, or to even call Dad on the phone just to say hello.  I would compare the feeling to being single on Valentine's Day.  But while it's easy to remember the feeling of being alone when the rest of the world seems to be paired up, it doesn't compare to the overwhelming sense of loss from the definite absence of a particular person who you will never see again. Being alone on Valentine's Day feels annoying, but not having your Dad on Fathers' Day feels hollow.

But all that is in the past now.  A full year has gone by, and along with it all the markers we had ridiculously set up to help mark the passage of time.  Starting today, we just go on living without keeping track of anything anymore. 

But the memories will never go away.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Farewell Facebook

Yesterday, after threatening to do so for months, I finally disabled my Facebook account. 

I stuck with it as long as I could, but eventually I just couldn't take it anymore.  The fake news, the unsubstantiated rhetoric, the click bait, and the conservative propaganda made me long for the days of when people posted actual life updates, pictures of the food they were about to consume, and photos of kittens hanging from tree branches.  I stayed on it so that my family and friends who do not live in Chicago, and even a few friends who do, could stay updated on my life and what Kevin and I are doing.  But most of them are connected to Kevin now anyway, and he will share stories and photos with me when those we love have life events.

Back in March, I took 5 weeks away from Facebook just to see how it would go.  And I didn't miss it at all.  Of course I missed the real updates from friends, but they were hard to find amidst all the crap that filled my newsfeed.  I tried in vain to us block content, but to no avail.  So after a few more months of dealing with it, I decided to just disable my account with hopes that eventually Facebook will do what they keep saying they will and return their product to what it was before foreign countries began using it for political gain.

Back in February 2014, I noticed some of my friends were starting to leave Facebook.  Same thing happened again en masse back in April this year when 87 million Facebook users had their personal and private information compromised.

Time on Facebook has cost me dearly.  I can't begin to think of the number of minutes/hours/days/weeks I spent cumulatively just aimlessly scrolling through my newsfeed looking for nothing in particular.  While I don't consider it a waste of time, I do have to wonder if that time would have been better spent spending time with friends or reaching out and calling them for updates rather than relying on a website to keep me updated.

Things I have posted have cause problems with friends, just like some of the things they post have caused me to rethink friendships.  The one that bothers me the most was the deterioration of my relationship with my best friend, Jeff.  And now that he is dead, I will never get those estranged years back again.  Please take a lesson from this.

I used Facebook to help promote this blog, so my readership will most likely go way down.  But that's okay.  I write mostly for me anyway.  But I do hope to return to Facebook someday.  I hope they get their stuff straightened out, for their sake and the sakes of all those who don't realize the lies they read every day.


Sunday, May 06, 2018


Last week while on vacation, I received a text from my friend Jeffrey letting me know that Carl had died suddenly following a seizure of some kind.

Carl was a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix.  He was rescued by my friends Jeffrey and Michael, who were also the parents of Tucker, whom I also watched for several years when we all lived in DC the same time.  After moving to NYC, and Tucker had passed, a friend reached out to them to tell them about Carl.  At the time, they weren't sure they wanted to adopt another dog.  Tucker had been the love of their lives and the freshness of his passing was still looming large with them.  But the friend was apparently persuasive enough, and sooner than planned they adopted Carl.

Carl had been living on the streets somewhere in the Carolinas, eating pigeons and anything else he could get his paws on.  He was very thin when he moved to NYC, but within a few months of a completely changed lifestyle, he had put on a good bit of weight and much needed fur.  The guys quickly fell in love with Carl, but then so did anyone Carl ever met.

Despite how he had been living, Carl was the gentlest soul I had ever met.  I was fortunate that Jeffrey and Michael would invite me to NYC to watch Carl, just like I had watched Tucker previously.  Kevin joined me the first time we met Carl.  The guys were out and left a key with their doorman.  Kevin and I spent a few minutes fumbling with the keys in the lock, unable to get the door open. We figured the guys must be taking Carl for a walk since we didn't hear any noise from inside the apartment while we played with the lock.  After several minutes, we figured it out and opened the door to find Carl, just laying towards the door, front legs crossed, tail wagging, not making a sound - apparently entertained by our buffoonery.  He slowly stood up and crossed the floor to greet us.  For me, it was love at first sight.

During my first walk with Carl, it didn't take long to realize that he was the unofficial mayor of East Greenwich Village/SoHo.  It didn't take long for Carl to establish himself and make friends in his neighborhood.  He had a walking path that he preferred and you just kind of loose-leashed him and let him lead the way.  He knew where to go, where he would get a treat or a belly rub.  Everyone knew Carl.  I'd walk him down the street and people would ask, "Is that Carl?" and as soon as I said yes, their demeanor changed and they greeted him the way you greet an old friend.  And Carl's tail would just constantly wag.

It was as if Carl realized how good his life was compared to what it had been.  He seemed grateful for the friendships and for the life he had, going from living on the streets to being flown in private jets from one home in LA to another in NYC.  I believe he knew he had it good; he had the best temperament of any dog I've ever met.

Along with Jeffrey and Michael, I imagine the entire neighborhood is feeling Carl's loss these days.  It was as if people were just waiting to see him, or that he had the power to improve their day just by walking by them.  Even here in Chicago, I can sense him gone.

I have to laugh a bit when I think of Carl and Tucker meeting up in wherever dogs' souls go when they die.  If you really believe that all dogs go to heaven, then I am imagining the two of them comparing notes on everyone they mutually knew - which is hilarious in thought because Tucker and Carl couldn't have been more different from each other.  Tucker was as eternal puppy, always a little needy, a bit  mischievous, disobedient, and impatient.  Carl was just the opposite: an easy going old soul, steady and stable, and would stand on a street corner for hours just waiting for you to take the first step.

And so the universe claims yet another kind, tender soul from my life, one that I was lucky the universe brought to me in the first place..  I wish him peace and send my condolences to Jeffrey and Michael, who plucked Carl from an uncertain future and showed him how to love - which he spent the rest of his life giving back to everyone else. 

R.I.P., my sweet friend.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bad Neighbors

The sidewalk in front of West House
on our block.  Ugh.
If there is any semblance of justice in the afterlife, Hell is 10 degrees hotter for those people who simply refuse to shovel the snow from the sidewalk in front of their residence(s). Because the only 2 reasons for neither doing it nor having it done are 1) laziness and/or 2) a complete lack of respect for your neighbors.

On either side of our adorable and well-maintained house are neighbors who live in variant degrees of negligence when it comes to the upkeep of their premises.  Neither neighbor lives on their actual property:  The house to the east (heretofore "East House") is a rental property with two units.  It was renovated all last summer and tenants moved into it in September.  The house to the west (heretofore "West House") is in transition from being single family to being two rental units, just like East House.  Sadly, West House is about 90% completed with its renovation, and that's where it's been since we moved in three years ago.  Since March 2015, the same bottle of Windex has sat in a window in West House without moving.  No work has been done in or on the house since we moved in next door.

While admittedly it was somewhat nice NOT having neighbors, the City of Chicago is still very clear when it comes to maintaining your property, specifically mowing the lawns in the summer and removing the snow in the winter. 

For grass that need mowing:  Any person who owns or controls property within the city must cut or otherwise control all weeds on such property so that the average height of such weeds does not exceed ten inches. Any person who violates this subsection shall be subject to a fine of not less than $600 nor more than $1,200. Each day that such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense to which a separate fine shall apply.  

And for sidewalks that need shoveling, a City of Chicagordinance makes it crystal clear that property owners are required by law to remove snow seven days a week: For daytime snowfall, sidewalks must be cleared by 10 p.m., and for nighttime snowfall, it must be removed by 10 a.m. at the latest.  Violations during both summer and winter are to be reported to your Ward Alderman.

The owner of East House has been very responsive to my requests to maintain his property once I presented my concerns.  While that house sat empty for the first two years of our living here, I mowed the grass on the parkway and kept the snow shoveled on the public sidewalk - mostly because we didn't know who actually owned the building.  The owner rents the house to tenants and now employs a service to maintain the sidewalks and lawn for the house.  But still, now and then, I need to call him because the service doesn't show up according the to regulations listed above.  But it's mostly taken care of within hours.

The neighbor for West House is a different story.  And I could easily write an entire blog about my interactions with him, and will probably do so.  We've been in a few verbal altercations.  It's a hoot.  But I digress...

Lovely, isn't it?  I am going to covertly throw
down wildflower seeds in the spring.
He's completely unresponsive when I call him to complain, so then I call the Alderman's office who then, in turn, fines him and gives him a deadline to bring his property up to snuff.  Within hours of receiving the fines and notices, he shows up.  But instead of mowing the grass in the summer, for example, he pulls it all up by the roots so that the entire yard is nothing but a giant dirt pile (see picture to the left).  In the last three winters, he's never showed up to shovel the public sidewalk or the sidewalk and stairs that lead into his house.  Looking at the property, it's glaringly obvious that no one lives there and looks, for all intents and purposes, to be abandoned.  Which it is, for the most part.

So for the 4th or 5th time this winter, it has snowed here in Chicago.  Which mean I've had to call the Alderman as many times to complain about my neighbor not doing his civic duty.  I don't know if he pays the actual fines, but according to Chester, our self-described "octogenarian pre-Stonewall 'mo" who lives on the OTHER side of West House, the neighbor is a piece of bad news who owes back taxes on more than one property in Chicago.  (Chester has lived in this neighborhood since the '60s and once operated a bookstore in the building in which he currently lives.  Chester knows.) 

The saga continues...