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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Some Thoughts on Orlando

    It’s hard to know what you or I would do if confronted with a gunman in a crowded nightclub. Any decision about where to run or hide would be a complete game of chance. Predicting the trail of a killer, where he will turn and shoot next, would be impossible to gage, so in the end we’d only have our instincts, hoping against hope that where we chose to hide would be the one place the killer would not look.
   In many horrifying accounts of mass murders, there are always reports of people who pretend to be dead in order to fool the killer. But pretending to be dead takes a certain amount of risk. You pick a spot and you stay there, immobile, until the killer passes over you but one false move and it’s over.  
   If you run and hide in a bathroom, as many in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub did on the night of the killings, you risk penning yourself in a corner with no way out, hoping somehow that the killer will forget to check the stall where you are hiding. Since bathrooms generally only have one exit, this solution isn’t a good one. When a shooter is shooting there’s no time to debate the pitfalls of various hiding place. 
   Of course, if you had a gun, you might get lucky and pick off the killer but a revolver is no match for the Sig Sauer MCX-semi automatic assault rife that killer Omar Mateen used in his slaughter of 50 gay people and the maiming of 50 more in Orlando’s Pulse.  
        When Mateen began the shooting at Pulse he knew he’d be encountering people at a vulnerable time: at the end of a long drinking night when individual responses would be staggered or slow. As news reports indicate, as the shots rang out, patrons assumed they were a component of the music, a DJ improvisation. During the Paris massacre in 2015 at the Eagles of death Metal concert at the Bataclan, concert goers at first thought that the opening gunfire from the terrorists was fireworks or pyrotechnics. It took a couple of minutes before reality set in. By the end of that slaughter, 130 people had been killed, the largest public massacre death count in France since World War II. 
  The massacre in Orlando got me thinking of a lot of things. I thought of the big gay dance clubs I used to frequent with their erotically charged reverely and music, of jam packed dance floors where thoughts of violence and death were as far away as the Arctic Circle.
  I also thought of sudden death, and why it is that some say that it is the worst kind of death because it takes us unaware without time to pray, meditate or say good-bye to loved ones.   
   St Nicodemus the Hagiorite, an Orthodox saint who died in 1801, wrote that “death shows up like an unexpected thief and we do not know how or when he will visit us. He may appear today, at this hour, at this very moment and you, who woke up feeling fine, will not last until the evening, while you, who have reached the evening, may not wake up…Therefore, my brother, take heed and tell yourself: “If I die suddenly, what will become of the wretched old me? What would be my benefit even if I enjoy all the pleasures of the world?”
   The massacre also made me think of what a (now deceased) friend of mine was fond of saying: “Line them up and mow them down” whenever he talked about his political enemies. He was talking about mowing down members of the religious right, bigots who preached hate in the name of Christ, bigots who should not really call themselves Christian.  “Line them up and mow them down” had an offbeat forbidden ring to it although my friend was far from violent. Saying this for him was a kind of catharsis or personal exorcism.  

    I used to repeat my friend’s line myself line when feeling especially exasperated by certain groups of ignorant people.  Line them up and mow them down.  I’d laugh while saying this to offset the horrible sound of it. After Orlando, however, I’m through saying anything remotely like this again. 
   The aftermath of Orlando set off a series of political fights, of liberal vs. conservative, gun righters vs. 2nd amendment advocates, Trump vs. Sanders and Clinton supporters. Orlando hadn’t been in the news for five minutes before certain people started blaming Christians for the slaughter. The reason? Because two or three crazy ministers announced that they supported the jihadist Marteen who murdered 50 gay men and women at Pulse. Blaming Christians for Orlando is as absurd as blaming Tony Orlando and Dawn for the floods in Paris
    We also saw the antigun folks call for a ban on assault weapons as if banning assault weapons would make terrorism disappear. Jihadists, however, can just as easily don a suicide belt or “recycle” household items like gasoline or kerosene into fatal weapons.

  Assault weapons like the Sig Sauer MCX, however, do not belong on the open marketplace. Even Ronald Reagan (a man I do not admire) advocated their banishment except in the hands of the military. Assault weapons do not belong in the dens and kitchen cabinets of ordinary Americans.
    Next up was the Facebook wars over the Orlando massacre. These battles were disheartening to observe, mainly because of the polarizing opinions there.
    Some said that the massacre was caused by the easy access of assault weapons, while others blamed homophobia or radical Islam. It was the rare, intelligent commentator who put the blame on all three.   
     God forbid that a card carrying progressive should admit that Fox News might be right when it comes to fighting radical Islam. Just because Fox News is wrong 90 per cent of the time doesn’t mean it can’t score a bull’s eye on one or two issues. Neither the right nor the left are infallible sources when it comes to political solutions.  
     MSNBC, Buzzflash, Alternet and Salon. Com, all progressive news outlets, might be clueless when it comes to President Obma’s or western Europe’s immigration policies, but these sources get my vote every time when it comes to their opposition to tampering with Social Security and programs for the poor.
    Sadly, the “mow them down” mentality resigns supreme in America. The vitriol against Trump on Facebook is so thick that one can easily imagine an anti-Trumper edging towards violence.
  Obama haters are just as ferocious in their obsessive rage. Some of these postings on Facebook express the wish that some disastrous event would come along and end the Obama presidency. 
   As for the Omar Marteen, since the massacre it has come out that he was a frequent visitor to Pulse. There have even been reports that he picked men up there despite his marriage to Noor Salman. Gays are all too familiar with this type of man, the downlow covert guy who lives one life on the outside and a gay one on the inside. As I used to tell people, the numbers of men who live this way are far more numerous than the ordinary person could imagine. It is, in many ways, America’s biggest secret.
   While there’s nothing wrong with a healthy, questioning curious sexuality, in some men this secret life has adverse effects, especially when they hate themselves for what they’re doing.

     This rage, this self hatred of course might at any moment coalesce into violence, especially when fueled by religious fanaticism.
  This is why men who have nagging, persistent secret homosexual thoughts and fantasies they wish to get rid of are the ones who often lash out at gay men who feel comfortable in their own skin. In plain terms, the man who is always yelling “faggot” is somebody to watch out for and take note of. More often than not, this man is fighting repressed homosexual desires and putting on a show so that his friends and family will not suspect his secret desires.
   I experienced this on a Septa bus recently when a passenger, a male, lashed out at me as I pulled the cord for my bus stop. Perhaps I glanced at him too long when I boarded the bus at Front and Girard, but is this any reason to get upset?
    Whatever the reason, he yelled “pervert” as I got off the bus, then said it again. He wasn’t carrying a gun or a knife but he might have well been.
                  I gave him the finger, although even after I got off the bus he was still making hostile gestures through the window.  This fanatic would not stop.
                  He wasn’t Middle Eastern; he was just your run of the mill neighborhood dude in black athletic shorts… with a very bad attitude.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Regressive 'New' Left

   While attending a recent lecture at the Catholic Historical Society, I spoke with a woman professor of religion at Temple University who told me about a book she had just published.

    Since we were both authors scheduled to speak at the Society, we talked for a while before our conversation turned to what it was like to teach college students in 2016. That’s a big subject given the atmosphere on many college campuses.

   That atmosphere is very much like a police state in which certain words and ideas are not allowed a place at the table. Guest speakers with opinions outside the current accepted academic norm—a left of center social justice worldview- are treated as heretical that should be denied a voice. 

    Professors teaching today have to weigh every word uttered in a classroom for fear that it may offend a few students. In the old days, if a student was offended by something a teacher said, they took it on the chin or marked it up as a difference in opinion. Today a college professor risks reprimand from school administrators if the words or ideas they express in class make just one or two students feel “uncomfortable.” 
   I asked the professor what it was like to have to walk on egg shells when she speaks before her class.  “Do you introduce so called controversial topics with trigger warning alerts?”

    She answered in the affirmative, adding that whenever she was about to speak about something that might make a student feel uncomfortable, she used the words ‘trigger warning’ before doing so. I thought about this for a moment, picturing a hundred red flag interruptions, like a series of red flags strung along I-95.   

     Let’s say our professor wanted to talk about the nation’s rape laws. In that case she’d have to announce “Trigger warning, rape,” before proceeding. This gives anyone in the class who felt an emotional connection to rape a chance to leave, cover their ears with their hands, or suck on a binkie to temper their discomfort. Of course, the few objecting students could also quit college altogether and go home to the ultimate safe space, Mommy and Daddy’s house, but not many would opt to do this.

    Many other topics besides rape would also “require” the professor to issue a trigger warning. 

   “It must be exhausting,” I told her. Much to my surprise, she seemed to defend the trigger warning system although she did hint that there were certain aspects of the system that were less than fortunate. But she didn’t come out and condemn it outright, which was disappointing.   

    In this new world of student pampering, there are also what are termed, microaggressions. 

Microaggressions are defined as “subtle but offensive comments or actions directed at a minority or other nondominant groups that is often unintentional.” In other words, better put a filter in that mouth of yours before speaking. And watch those jokes. A microaggression can also be as benign sounding as, “Where are you from?” or “Where were you born?” This is how crazy the new college world has become.
    The professor’s trigger warning system even extended into her teaching of religion. I got a sense of this when she told me that her students had congratulated her on her universal teaching methods in which it was impossible to detect any sort of bias in her presentations. In other words, the students could not tell whether she was Catholic, atheist, Baptist, Muslim or a Mormon. I don’t know about you, but I would rather that professors offer some hint or at least a story or two about their own religious beliefs. This would greatly enhance any discussion on religion. I have to wonder if the professor’s going to great lengths to appear neutral or non-committal when it came to her personal beliefs didn’t have its roots in a trigger-based fear more than a yearning to appear neutral. What’s wrong with a professor sharing personal religious views in order to highlight a discussion on what people believe? Nothing, unless of course saying you’re Catholic, Baptist or Jewish might set off trigger alerts from that odd, unhappy atheist student in the back row.

    As someone who came of age during the leftist revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I know first hand how hard the fight for free speech was fought. My generation protested the war in Vietnam and the draft. We witnessed the shutting down or censorship of editors and writers from underground and alternative newspapers.  We campaigned against unlawful arrests, the freedom to read banned books and poems like Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. We hated censorship of any kind and never advocated that Vietnam War proponents be banned from public discourse. Who among us would have thought that 50 years down the line it would be the descendents of the 1960s left progressives (now called regressive leftists) who would become the chieftains of cultural authoritarianism?
    Take the case of conservative pundit, Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. The 32 year old Yiannopoulos has made an international reputation as a gay man “with the wrong opinions.” This Donald Trump-loving, anti-feminist, and proudly promiscuous gay man (he’s against gay marriage but encourages heterosexuals not to abandon the venerable institution) once told interviewer Dave Rubin that if he could take a pill that would change him into a straight man, he’d do it. Despite the positive changes in society when it comes to the acceptance of homosexuality, Yiannopoulos believes that it is still easier to be straight. When you are gay you are not allowed to say things like this, even though Yiannopoulos is on record as saying that gay people are Mother Nature’s special creation. “Gay people are one of the groups that Mother Nature has given license to go wild. That’s why so many great artists, authors and inventors have been gay, because gays have the ability to push further than ordinary people can.” 

   Yiannopoulos, who is Catholic, is currently bringing his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” to 60 US college campuses where he is cheered by mostly straight university students who love his cultural libertarianism, and who don’t mind it at all when he mentions his interest in black penises. 

    “The regressive left believes that words have the power that they don’t have,” he tells audiences.

    He is demonized by groups like Black Lives Matter, feminists and more than a few hard core LGBTQ ideologues.  

      His talks at colleges are often interrupted by so called social justice warriors, feminists and regressive leftists who want opposing ideas to be snuffed out. Some of these SJW’s wear masks that mimic the masks of bank robbers in the 19th century.  

    Yiannopoulos has problems with modern third wave feminism with its emphasis on man hating, man spreading while these same feminist groups ignore the real oppression of women in Middle Eastern countries. Modern feminism, he says, never comments on the brutal treatment of women in the Middle East because they are afraid of charges of Islamphobia.

    Yiannopoulos insists there’s no wage cap difference between men and women, citing studies done by the American Enterprise Institute. “The wage gap is a feminist myth that will not die,” he says. 

    To me, Yiannopoulos seems like the reincarnation of Oscar Wilde, especially with his flamboyant, outrageous mannerism and his UK accent. He’s a bit of a showman to be sure, but he’s smart and many of his views are spot on. 

   Another “freedom of speech” conservative speaker, the Canadian born Libertarian commentator Lauren Southern, also lectures and debates at college campuses while confronting armies of SJW’s who want to snuff out free speech. 

    Southern has been thrown out of Amber Rose Slut Walk demonstrations because she dares to raise pertinent questions like, “Do you really think that we live in a rape culture?” Just asking the question is reason enough for organizers to call the police. Southern was also once covered in piss in Vancouver when she dared to announce that there were only “two genders.” This was decried as hate speech by the people wearing those cowardly 19th century bank robber face masks.  

   What I’ve presented here is a short look at America’s new culture war. We will see ample proof of this during the national political conventions this summer, when violence, unrest and total anarchy will take the spotlight.
     But this violence will not come from those “crazy” Trump supporters, but—mark my words-- from social justice warriors (in masks) hot on the warpath.    


Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Kate Banford Comedy routine as Mr. Nickels, a high school principal who tells his students that the prom will not happen until the student murderer of other students is caught. At Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th Street, Philadelphia, Saturday, May 28, 2016.

Monday, May 23, 2016

       DAN BERRIGAN, S.J. : The Activist as Saint? 

Thom Nickels

   Long before the Occupy movement and the ascendancy of Bernie Sanders, there was Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the fiery Jesuit who rocked the then complacent American Catholic world with its ties to government power elites. Catholics in the 1960s and ‘70s knew priests as ‘Bells of Saint Mary’s’ stereotypes, men who would no sooner join a picket line or a war protest than raise a fist against their superiors.  
    Few young people alive today have any sense of how difficult life was for young men during the Vietnam War. That war split families apart much the same way that the Civil War set brother against brother. Draft age men who opposed the war and the draft, escaped to Canada or registered as conscientious objectors were often disowned by their families. Conversely, antiwar men and women, called ‘peaceniks’ by their detractors,  sometimes returned the favor by disowning their war hawk parents or their military enlisted siblings. By the war’s end in 1975, U.S. military personnel casualties numbered 58, 220 with 1.3 million deaths overall. This was not the era of the carefree collegiate spring break in Cancun. Life for the average young male was consumed by worry about being drafted and killed.   
    Fr. Berrigan broke the priest = Bing-Crosby association like a meteorite hitting Kansas City.  With his younger brother, Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest, the two made their mark as antiwar activists when they joined two other men in pouring animal and human blood on Selective Service records in Baltimore. Known as the (October 1967) Baltimore Four, this “sacrificial act” was followed six months later by another non violent raid. The Catonsville Nine involved the pouring napalm on Selective Service files in Catonsville, Maryland.
   The choice of napalm as a protest tool was significant because during the course of the war over 388,000 tons of napalm had been dropped in Vietnam.   
    In Napalm in the Vietnam War, Alan Rohn wrote that the wounds caused by napalm are too deep to heal. “When contacting human, napalm immediately clung to the skin and melt off the flesh. The only way to put it out is to smother it as trying to wipe it off only spread it around and expanding the burnt area.” Napalm became a symbol of the war’s ultimate brutality. The word was part of the general lexicon in 1970. One saw it on political posters, graffiti postings and on the cover of magazines like Time and Ramparts.

   After the Catonsville Nine raid, indictments were brought against the Berrigan brothers but the priests initially evaded prosecution when they went underground. Eventually they were apprehended and served time in prison. Philip’s total time in prison before his death in 2002 amounted to 11 years.

   The average American Catholic at that time supported the Vietnam War. The belief then was that elected public officials knew what was best for the country. Members of the so called Greatest Generation could not wrap their minds around the concept of an illegal or unjust war. Their memories of WWII were just too vivid.  The fact that the Berrigan brothers were both priests led to long stretches of silence when their names were brought up at Sunday family dinners. This was certainly true in my parents’ home. 

      Dan and Philip were two of six sons born to Thomas William and Frida Berrigan. Thomas, a railroad engineer, had an unmanageable temper that frequently erupted into violence. Dan was a sickly child with weak ankles who didn’t walk until he was four years old, a condition that kept him out of the WWII draft. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1952. A decade later he became familiar with the Catholic priest worker movement when he went to Paris on a teaching sabbatical. While working as a professor of New Testament Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY his poetry attracted the admiration of Marianne Moore while his (Gospel-based) activism irritated the American Church’s most ardent hawk, Cardinal Francis Spellman. Spellman, eager to snuff out the renegade priest and the Roman Catholic “left,” had him removed from Le Moyne before he could gain tenure.  

    Spellman blamed Berrigan for the self-immolation death of a young 22 year old New York Catholic Worker activist, Roger La Porte, an acquaintance of Berrigan’s. On the morning of November 9, 1965, La Porte, in protest of the war in Vietnam, left the NY Catholic Worker house with a large container of gasoline. Sometime after 5 am he arrived at the United Nations Plaza and set himself on fire. A priest, Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, reported that “The intensity of the heat melted the pavement.” 

    He lived in agony for several hours; and, according to the priest who administered the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the hospital he made a “profound” confession. Roger insisted that he wanted to live, that he did not strike the match in order to kill himself but to try to communicate to the American people the reality of the horror and misery they were mindlessly, callously and self-righteously pouring onto the people of Vietnam.”

   A total of 8 American set themselves on fire in public places to protest the war in Vietnam, while many more burned their draft cards, like Catholic pacifist, David Miller, who was the first person to be prosecuted for his action.  The epidemic of draft card burnings caused President Lyndon Johnson to sign a law in 1965 making it a crime to mutilate draft cards. 
    In 1980, Dan and Philip and six others entered a GE plant in King of Prussia where the group struck two missile nose cones with a hammer, in their words, “turning them into plowshares.” Throughout his years as activist, poet and author, Dan avoided the trappings of fame but dressed simply in a Beat manner of dress.  Philip left the priesthood after it was discovered that he was secretly married to Sister Elizabeth McAlister. They were excommunicated long before Philip’s death in 2002. 

    Dan, who remained a priest until the end, wrote in To Dwell in Peace, that he “had come of age in a church that, for all its shortcomings, honored vows and promises. I had examples before me in the people of the church, especially in laypeople and nuns, of those who lived to the hilt the life commended by the Gospel. Such were my people.”
   His critics within the Church, included some progressive thinkers like Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who wrote in a 1968 journal entry that, “[Berrigan] is a bit theatrical these days, now he’s a malefactor—with a quasi-episcopal disarmament emblem strung around his neck like a pectoral cross.”

    Dorothy Day, whom Berrigan credited with influencing his views on pacifism and war, disapproved of some of his protests but remained united with him in spirit. “Dorothy Day taught me more than all the theologians,” Berrigan told The Nation in 2008. “She awakened me to connections I had not thought of or been instructed in—the equation of human misery and poverty with warmaking. She had a basic hope that God created the world with enough for everyone, but there was not enough for everyone and warmaking.”

    Kurt Vonnegut was moved to comment: “For me, Father Daniel Berrigan is Jesus as a poet, if this be heresy, make the most of it.”
      In the 1980s Berrigan turned his attention to the plight of gay men dying of AIDS in New York City. He would visit the sick and dying in St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC at a time when few Catholic priests would do so.  True to his respect for all life, he angered political progressives when he made known his anti-abortion, pro-life views.  He was not going to follow a left political agenda blindly, unlike many of today’s social justice warriors.  “I have always made it clear,” he said in an America magazine interview, “that I am against everything from war to abortion to euthanasia. I have avoided being a single cause person. “ 

    Before his death in the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University, Berrigan did offer his support for the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, although it’s doubtful he would have approved of “trigger warnings” and the insanity of “safe spaces” on college campuses. 
 In one poem, Berrigan writes:  
Were I God almighty, I would ordain,
rain fall lightly where old men trod,
no death in childbirth, neither infant nor mother,
ditches firm fenced against the errant blind, aircraft come to ground like any feather.
No mischance, malice, knives.
Tears dried….


When City Community Parks Become Gated Properties

    Cione Field in Philadelphia's Riverwards neighborhood at Lehigh and Aramingo used to be one of those special places where one could enjoy the gentle breezes of spring and summer while sitting on a bench with a chicken salad sandwich. The field (it is officially registered as a playground) with its large space capable of “hosting” team sports like soccer, lacrosse, baseball or football, was for years also used as a walker’s short cut to other parts of the neighborhood or as a place for a leisurely stroll when one felt the urge to walk on green instead of asphalt. 
    While I rarely get an urge to walk on green, I don’t necessarily want to have to walk all the way to Penn Treaty Park to do so. I shouldn’t have to hike to Penn Treaty Park for a small dose of green, especially since Cione Field is in my own neighborhood. A handy, ready-made nearby community field (as Cione Field is repeatedly called) is the perfect place for nearby residents to enjoy a bit of grass and open space. While I might visit Cione Field just five times a year, it has always been nice to know that this community field of green was always accessible, its gates open to one and all, whether they be kids playing ad hoc basketball or football, or city walkers in search of a relatively peaceful green space away from the endless noise of traffic on Aramingo Avenue and elsewhere.  

    Cione Field is on my mind because recently I had one of those green urges after buying a chicken salad sandwich at a nearby deli. It was lunchtime, the sun was out after weeks of rain, and I wanted to eat outside in a green, community space. But when I went to the field I noticed that all the gates around the field were padlocked. While one may make an argument that the field should be locked late at night (I think this community field should be open 24/7), the fact that it was locked in the middle of a glorious afternoon troubled me.
       What good is a community field if it is always closed off to neighbors? 
      What good is a community field if it is only allowed to be used by certain segments of the community, like organized sports teams from various schools?  Don’t individual neighbors count as members of the community?

      Must neighbors like me organize picnic lunch or chicken salad sandwich eating teams in order to gain admittance to the field?  
    Roman Catholic High School, for instance, wants to use the field as a practice field for their football, rugby and lacrosse teams. This sounds like a charming idea, especially if RCHS can put big bucks into improving the field, but not at the expense of community residents who would like also like access. Community residents want their piece of the field too unless of course the field’s decision makers love the idea of padlocks and a Donald Trump Wall. If indeed this is the case, then please stop calling Cione Field a community field but change it to something like The Cione Field of Intense Sports Teams Practice.     
     All of this begs the question: Has life in our over survillanced world gotten so bad that neighborhood residents can’t be trusted to enjoy a green space in the middle of the day? Northern Liberties has Liberty Lands, which of course is not surrounded by a fence, so it can never be locked, meaning that it is accessible to everyone, with or without a chicken salad sandwich. But the Riverwards people in Olde Richmond (though real estate agents will call this area Fishtown until the end of time), have no open free public green space at all. The fact that Cione is registered as a playground might be the real obstacle here, but if that’s the case, then the field should never be referred to as a community field. Perhaps it’s time to redefine Cione as a park. 
   Neighborhood open green spaces with benches are essential to the health of any community. In all of Olde Richmond there are very few public benches. Two public benches were removed recently: one in the traffic island near Cumberland and Aramingo Avenue and one on E. Thompson Street. The message here is clear: Pedestrian traffic must keep pace with automotive traffic.

     Port Richmond, to its credit, has wonderful parks like Campbell Square on E. Allegheny Avenue and General Pulaski Park, where there are no fences or locks and where people can eat chicken salad sandwiches, walk their dogs, ruminate, play with their I Phones, file their nails, contemplate their navels, talk to friends, or read the latest bestseller.

    Several months ago I spoke with a Cione Field neighbor who told me that the fence around the field was locked to keep homeless people out. Trouble started, he said, when the homeless started to build a cardboard tent city in the middle of the park. Homelessness is a problem in most major cities, especially with the disappearance of the middle class and the division of Americans into rich and poor. In Atlanta, for example, park bench designers have come up with benches that make it very difficult to sleep in. That city has also installed spikes on the reverse side of dumpster and trash lids to ward off homeless dumpster divers.

   As Robert Rosenberger pines in The Politics of Park Benches, “The way to deal with this problem is not through design strategies that help us to ignore it. The question of bench design for the Beltline — where homeless men and women walked and rested before trees were cleared and concrete poured — is emblematic of the larger tasks in front of us. As we expand and improve Atlanta…, we must decide what our vision is for the city. Who gets included and excluded? And how should we build those decisions into our infrastructure? “

    That Cione Field neighbor also told me that dog walkers who don’t clean up after their dogs was another reason why the field was padlocked. The piles of doggy do left in the grass proved too much for the organized sports teams, he said.  While I support organized local sports as much as anyone, this is no reason to lock a community field. It’s a little like closing a music venue like the Mann Music Center because some of the concert goers there don’t know how to dispose of their trash.

   As for the homeless, are people who sleep on green grass more dangerous than people who sleep on asphalt?
    Most of the homeless in the Olde Richmond area seem to be transitory. They pass through the area from various parts of Kensington and then retreat elsewhere but they are rarely stationary. They are more like vagabonds on an eternal quest. The danger of a permanent tent city in Cione Field is about as real as an alien invasion near St. Anne’s cemetery. The doggy do problem can also be managed if people who saw dog walkers not cleaning up after their dogs would issue forceful reminders. They used to call this making a “Citizen’s arrest.”
     I doubt whether Cione Playground’s original designers envisioned the field as a private-only lock down zone for special recreational activities. Ideally, the Cione fence needs to come down, and the area needs to be opened like Campbell Square in Port Richmond and filled with park benches. Area schools should really be responsible for their own practice fields and not impact a residential area with restrictions based on their own selfish needs. 
     “Beginning around 1990, many city and town councils began forcing developers to add open space to their projects,” writes Paul M. Sherec in The Benefits of Parks. “Still, these open spaces are often effectively off-limits to the general public; in the vast sprawl around Las Vegas, for example, the newer subdivisions often have open space at their centers, but these spaces are hidden inside a labyrinth of winding streets. Residents of older, low- and middle-income neighborhoods have to get in their cars (if they have one) and drive to find recreation space.”

   So, let’s remove the padlocks from Cione Field and stop living like we’re in a re-militarized zone somewhere in the Middle East.
   Let’s put the real meaning of community back into Cione Field.         

Saturday, May 7, 2016


    He took the Greyhound bus to Vegas, a book by Jack Kerouac in his pocket, the bus passing through Pittsburgh then on through the Midwest as he slept in his clothes and washed his face in the tiny bus sink, eating road stop cafeteria food, beef jerky, and marveling at different cities, like Saint Louis, Kansas City and Denver, until at last the chrome plated Greyhound pulled into Vegas, where the air was dry and hot.
            “My new life is on” he thought, combing back his long hair. 

            “Welcome,” Master said, his six foot three lean frame emerging from a long white car, “Let’s grab some pancakes.” They shook hands, Master giving him an all knowing look as if he had been picking up his thoughts the entire time he was on the bus. Remote viewing was something Master had explained in his letters; the ability to see what family and friends were up to at great distances. Master compared it to an E-meter, and the philosophy of Scientology’s E. Ron Hubbard. From there it got complicated especially when Master talked about how the E-meter registers repressed emotions and memories and how that registration works as a guide in releasing bad energy, false teachings and…f crap.  
             The thought of talking to Master over a meal appealed to him because he hadn’t talked to anyone in days. Shyness was one of his problems that Master said he could fix.  Master drove to a little sun baked place near a filling station. It was obvious Master had been there before because he knew the waitress. “Hello Vera,” he said, as they entered the diner, “I’m here with a young writer friend from Baltimore.”
            .Vera’s hair was dyed dark and piled high on her head. She had a whiskey voice and a weathered complexion that reflected the soul of the west. She could have come from a family of gunslingers and outlaws. Her wrinkles made him think of cracks in mud after a soaking rain though he felt her tough exterior hid an enormous heart.

            He wondered if Vera was Master’s old fling because in his letters Master was always making references to sweetheart-waitresses in old cities like Dodge, Cody, Montrose, and Colorado Springs.
            He gobbled up the pancakes, the largest he’d ever seen, and felt real joy at being out of the east, with its manicured lawns, flat surface horizon, and smelly Gingko trees.
            Master asked him about his trip, then started telling him stories about his old job as a traveling salesroom that had him driving all over Wyoming.
            “Still working on The Family as Evil Entity?” Master asked, raising his left eyebrow. 
              “Yes,” he said, “I’m recording the time father came in my room and ordered me to stop reading books and how he threatened to burn them. That’s religion for you.”
            “I figure we’ll go over to Reno and meet Kay sometime tomorrow,” Master added. “We can get a reading on your life blockages, and see what needs to be worked on.  Kay’s a designated Clear and works with a lot of people. I had her clear out a whole bunch of shit ten years into my marriage. It’s not an infallible system like that old pope of yours but it’s damn good.”

            Vera gave him more pancakes, and piled on the coffee. This was freedom, he thought, this was intelligence and mental expansion. What did they know of Scientology E-meters back in the land of Gingko trees?
            “Well, honey, you take care now,” Vera said to him when they left. She gave him one of those western winks she must have used as a young woman when saying good-bye to boyfriends.
            Master’s way of driving was to lean into the steering wheel so that his back rarely touched the car seat. This is when he told his greatest stories about being a young man in the west, his days as a wild drinker, a handsome rabble rouser, and a serious seducer of women. 

            Kay’s house was a simple bungalow in a small sprawl of whitish houses not far from the casino district. En route he kept asking Master if E-meters hurt; if they stuck into the skin like syringes or were strapped to the wrists like watchbands. Master said it was a real meter with wires or straps connected to pulse points.
            Kay, Masters said, was an advanced Clear, somebody who had washed away all the emotional garbage in her life. She was now set on life’s path as one without a psychological history. She was a healthy blank slate minus the crap.   
            As they left the car and walked to Kay’s door, he hoped he wouldn’t appear too screwed up to her. Catholicism has screwed him up; that was Master’s message to him anyway. Catholicism had planted its repressive roots in him and was responsible for many hidden damages as well.
            Kay was a tall slender woman with brown hair that fell to her shoulders. She wore long delicate Native American earrings. Her welcoming smile suggested a new way of living. He was sure that she knew something that he didn’t know and he wanted to know what she knew. Her living room was awash in sunlight and Southwest tapestries. Kay shook his hand and stared into his eyes. He knew that Master had told Kay about him before their arrival. Kay offered them tea and there was some small talk. He looked around for the E-meter, thinking it might be in a case or box somewhere.
            “We are in endgame,” Kay announced. “What a fantastic time to be nineteen. Everything in the world is about to change.”
  He noticed a small framed portrait of Charles Manson on the wall.

He could not believe that he was sitting with a perfect woman who had gotten rid of all her personal garbage. She had triumphed over the debilitating effects of family. Master had always told him that he had so much family crap tying him down that it was like a corpse riddled with bullets.

            “This is not a magical gadget,” Kay insisted, finally revealing the cream colored E-meter that for some reason reminded him of an Edsel or his great aunt’s Chevrolet Impala.  “The meter will show you where you need to do work.” A long tube contained a Velcro-like wrist band, and there were wire ends that plugged onto your skin but held in place by suction cups and tape. It reminded him of a blood pressure pump. Other wires connected to the tips of the fingers. It connected to your pulse so that when you talked the reader could gage the responses of the needle.
            Master began the questioning.

“Can you remember the first time you expressed your natural self and then received punishment for it?”
                He talked about wetting the bed as a child. Wetting the bed was about retention, holding things back and then letting them go inappropriately.  His stuttering was another issue.  Someone early on had blocked his flow of words so that when he talked he sounded like he was slowly suffocating to death.
            “Relive that memory for me now,” Kay interjected. For some reason his eyes drifted to a small Mayan artifact on a bookshelf where E. Ron Hubbard’s book lay open like a bible. It seemed as if Manson was looking directly into his eyes.
            “I was ten,” he said, going back in time to a family Philly Sunday dinner with Grandma Kelly. “Grandma was seated at the head of the table. Mother had cooked a pot roast and put out her best silver.  Everyone was in high spirits when for some reason I blurted out that Grandma looked like a spider. We may have been playing some kind of game in which we were supposed to say what people at the table looked like. “
            “What made you say a spider?”
         “Grandma wore hats with netting in the front and back. The netting covered the back of her head in big swoops. She looked like a spider because the nets reminded me of a web “
             “What happened then?” 
             “Father ordered me to go to my room. Then he came upstairs and beat me. I was screaming. He kept doing it until my brother came up and told him to stop. My brother threatened to beat him up though he was just a little runt. He did eventually throw a punch, and father stopped.”
                  Master and Kay were peering at the needle like scientists. They asked more questions, very personal ones. He began to feel they were intruding. He was letting everything out; stories about Fluffy the sexual molester babysitter and how his paternal grandmother and an aunt had died in an automobile accident while on their way to his  fifth birthday party.  Kay’s ears perked up when he mentioned the car wreck.  Her facial mannerisms told him that this accident had created a deep wound in him.
            “Look at that needle,” Kay remarked. He looked at the little Mayan god and recalled what he remembered of that day: a festive mood in the house with the dining room table set before the phone call came in. The heavy black rotary phone with white dials bore his younger aunt’s frantic voice: “Get your mother! Get your Mother!”

            It was hard for him to dig further into his past after that.
            “Calculations are iffy,” Kay told Master. “He should not go home again.” 

             “He’s actually killing off his family as he writes his book,” Master said.  
            Kay undid the E-meter and replaced it in the box. Master reminded him that his task was to go on and write as if he still had the meter strapped to his wrist. That would take some time, he said, but the important thing was not to hurry. Life overhauls are not done overnight.  Although the meter was in the box he felt a pulsating in his arm and a vague tingling throughout his body. It was as if an energy form was rushing through his cells to every organ and limb. He told Kay and Master that he felt something “electrical.”
            “It’s a process,” Kay said, flinging back her long hair
            The next thing he knew he was in Master’s car traveling through the desert. They had said a quick good-bye to Kay; Kay had hugged him and wished him luck on his journey. “Remember, you are your own god,” she advised. “You have a new father now.” She pinched his cheek. But in the car all he could think of was what lay ahead, all the work it would take to undo the layers of crap his family had imposed on him.
            They drove for what seemed like hours, Master talking non-stop, relating experiences from his youth. In every story a similar moral prevailed: the necessity to reject what was given at birth.
            The terrain changed. They drove through a mountainous area where there were streams and rocks. The sky, a cobalt blue, brought him a sense of peace.  Master said it was Wyoming’s the Snowy Range. A magnificent cliff rose high up in front of them; it was as if a mountain had been cut in half and molded into a flat surface. Master and he got out of the car and walked over the boulders, which were spread out over a grassy surface. Together they looked at the mountains. 

          Master stood atop one boulder, he on another. It was a pivotal moment, during which something was exchanged. He had a sense of vows being exchanged, of a promise not articulated but something deep, a connection that would last.  He looked out into the rugged landscape and as he did so he made a promise to himself that he would always do what Master told him to do. He would obey Master in all things, and he would remember this landscape in times of weakness; he would recall the feeling, the sky, and especially the mountains.
He would remember it all forever, even when Master was dead, and even long after he realized that in Las Vegas at age 19 he had made one of the worst decisions in his life.