MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE

ON THE STREETS OF WAIKIKI

Homeless people have been around since I was a young girl in the 60’s wandering the streets of New York City.  Back then, they were few and far between, sitting quietly beside a sign that read, “Spare change?”  Now, they are up front and very center across America. On any given night, half a million people are laying their heads on the ground, exposed to the elements, disease, filth and predators. Statistics say it’s due to unemployment, unaffordable housing, drug use and mental health issues.  And while those things do affect the numbers, there is something deeper at work:  they have lost connection with others.  Sometimes that connection is lost by accident.  Other times it is a purposeful break due to violence, trauma, or family alienation which now affects 27% of us.  

13 years ago, a Stanford graduate fell off the grid.  His concerned classmates, after a long, circuitous hunt, found him alive and sort of well living on the streets of New Orleans.  That story had a happy ending.  Most don’t but often it’s not for lack of trying.  My own mother spent her later years walking the streets of Long Island pushing a shopping cart.  At night, she slept in a baseball dugout.  Despite getting her into housing, she always bolted claiming that she needed, “fresh air and freedom,” both of which came at a price.

Homelessness is a broken connection.  It cannot be simply fixed by relocation, housing or even treatment.  There is no one size fits all when you are talking about people.  If you want to repair a broken circuit, you first have to turn off the power to it, troubleshoot which breaker has malfunctioned, replace and rewire it.  On a plastic panel, it’s a simple process.  In a human being, the breakers are endless and finding the right one to re-wire is often a crapshoot.  This crisis across America will take a multiplicity of interventions connecting together at the same time.   

I’ve spent the last few weeks in Hawaii.  It is not the paradise I remember from 25 years ago.  Now, I cannot go a single block without encountering a homeless person.  I often take the bus but have yet to be able to sit at the stop, since there is usually someone sleeping on the bench.  Once, I was chased into the street by a man who threw his socks at me because I didn’t have a light for his cigarette.  But I’ve noticed something:  The police are tolerant and the locals leave food and coffee by their camp sites.  Yesterday, a blanket and a cooler filled with water and bananas were left on a park bench.  This morning, I added my own pair of worn shoes.  As Iyanla Vanzant so poignantly said, “You have to meet people where they are and sometimes you have to leave them there.”      

SHAME ON ME

Just when I think I’m at a stage of life where things are straightforward and clear, I get a curve ball.  I’m doing a quick shop at Trader Joe’s.  As I enter the produce section, there is a man fondling the bananas.  Yes, fondling.  He eventually pulls off only one.  I’m intrigued.  His clothes are ill fitting and shabby and the seat of his trousers seems oil soaked.  When he turns towards me, his long, stringy, unkempt hair frames a gaunt face that is missing several teeth.  I peg him as homeless.

Two aisles later, we pass in the frozen food section.  His walk is jerky and odd.  Definitely not Parkinson’s, so I wonder if he might have Tardive Dyskinesia.  I vaguely remember it has something to do with taking too much anti- psychotic medication.  I smile at him as we pass and he smiles back.  

Later, as I stand in the checkout line with my small bag of five items, he comes up behind me, still carrying one banana and a small bottle of water.  I offer to let him go first.

“You only have two items,” I say.  “I have five.”

He insists I go first.  I thank him and checkout, silently wondering if it’s perhaps he is getting his food free from the cashier.  

As I maneuver out of the parking lot, he crosses in front of my car with that stumbly gait.  I wait for him, assuming that he might be going to the homeless encampment half a block away.  However, as he gets towards my side, he gestures at me to roll down my window.  I do.

“I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my house for dinner tonight and watch a movie,” he asks sweetly.  I’m stunned to almost wordlessness.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I reply, “but that is sweet of you to ask.”

“Ok,” he says and goes on his way.

I wrestle with myself all the way home.  Does he really have a house?  Is he delusional?  Am I?  Then I realize that it doesn’t matter.  For the whole time I was judging him, he was looking at me with hopeful kindness.  I saw only a burned out car and missed the fact that it was really a BMW.

LIGHTEN UP

Apparently, this is NOT a ballet barre.

There is perhaps no more mournful place in American than the local gym.  Where else can you see a sea of grimacing, grunting faces in various heave-ho positions?  It could be all the mirrors.  I’d be depressed if I stared at nothing but myself, too.  When folks aren’t staring at their anatomy they are deeply involved with their cell phones.  Deeply.  From my observations, the average gym goer spends more time looking at their phone than actually working out.

If you go to the gym, do NOT attempt to converse with anyone, particularly those with ear buds.  They do NOT want to be disturbed from their very, serious business.  Also, do NOT attempt to ‘work in’ with those who have laid sweaty bandanas across the equipment or placed a water bottle at the base.  They plan to occupy that territory for as long as it takes them to do 10 reps, then pause for 5 minutes to look at their phone, do 10 more reps, etc.  They are not in a hurry to work out.  They are, in fact, camping out.  This morning, a man sat on the same piece of equipment while I swam a half-mile.  After I showered and changed, he was still sitting there!

I dare you to go into a gym without your phone and ear buds.  You will get more done in half the time.  You’re also more likely to start up a conversation and burn social calories.  (Yeah, that’s a thing.)  I also dare you to ride a bike without staring at the TV.  Talk about feeling the road.  Distractions are just that.  They keep you from doing the work.  If you don’t do the work you won’t get results.  If you want results, stay out of the gym.  

If you do go, here are some ways to make it fun:

Ask the guy wielding two, heavy ropes if you can, “Double Dutch,” with him.
Ask the 6′ 4″ kid shooting hoops if he’ll take your picture. Explain you’re writing a ‘style’ piece for the NBA.
Pretend to get stuck and ask someone to extricate you from the machine.

But WHATEVER you do make it fun. Life is too short to take yourself that seriously.

USE YOUR WORDS!

OMG!  Hasn’t life been SO much simpler since we reduced words to three letters?  I checked the AQI this morning and decided not to go outside.  Since I don’t take PED’s, I had to do something so headed to the GYM.  (My acronym for Get Yourself Moving)

FYI, more people stare at their phones there than exercise.  So, while they’re texting LOL’s to their BFF’s, I wait and fume.  Finally I say, “Hey.  I’m getting OBM.  Can I work in with you before I GOP?”  A guy wearing a JDI shirt is sprawled in the middle of the mat doing nothing.  I ask if he would mind moving over.  He doesn’t budge.  RUS?  I say, “Don’t wear a JDI shirt if you’re not gonna DI.” 

I head to my car and pass a woman and her mom having coffee at an outside table.  The mom stares at her phone and says, “Honey, what does EMF mean?”  (Had she not told her, I’d have had to look it up). TMI? In the car, I turn the radio on.  WTF is up with all the commercials?  If you have a UTI, STD, PTSD, BPD, ED or OCD, you’re in luck.  There’s a drug for you.  If you just wanna listen to music, however, you’re SOL!   

Back in the day, cops put out APB’s if you were wanted. You were DOA at the morgue and SOS meant ‘Help!’  Now?  We’re living in a 3-letter world.  OIC.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this:  Ariana Grande’s last song was ‘POV’ and 60 Minutes just did a whole segment on NFT’s.  

FTR, I had lunch today with an older friend who doesn’t own a computer or cell phone.  As she struggled to recall where the Red Sea was, I opened my phone.

“Hey Siri?”  I ask.  “Where is the Red Sea?” 

“It is an inlet of the Indian Ocean between Africa and Asia.”

“Isn’t that cool?” I brag.  She looks askance.

“I could’ve looked it up.  Imagine all the other things I might have noticed along the way.”

Branson and Bezos just zoomed into space; a zillion dollars for 10 minutes of free fall but what did they see ‘along the way?’ Do we really need to spend that kind of money to “realize just how small we are and how fragile Earth is?”  DTS. We’re on the expressway of knowledge but everything is flying by.  Nothing is sticking.  Initialism has become our self expression.

Recently, I helped look after the adorable fellows pictured above.  Oh, how I loved listening to them use their words!  Every syllable was a symphony to my ears.  When the littlest dropped his toy and I said, “Uh, Oh.” He replied: “It happens.” Honestly?  Isn’t life short enough without shortening it even more?  IDK.  I’m thinking of adding all the letters back in. It might just prolong my life.

CHEAT SHEET FOR THE CHALLENGED

OMG: Oh My God

AQI: Air Quality Index

PED: Performance Enhancing Drugs

FYI: For Your Information

LOL: Laugh Out Loud

BFF: Best Friends Forever

OBM: Older By the Minute

GOP: Go Out to Pasture

JDI: Just Do It

RUS: Are You Serious

EMF: Enjoy Mother F…..

TMI: Too Much Information

SOL: S… Out of Luck

FTR: For The Record

OIC: Oh I See

POV: Point Of View

NFT: Non Fungible Tokens

DTS: Don’t Think So

IDK: I Don’t Know

SEE what i SAW

I took this photo from a hotel window.  Ironically, after taking it I was unable to see what had caused me to pick up my camera in the first place.  After enlarging it, what finally emerged was what first caught my eye.  You can do the same now and see what I saw.

How like life that is, I thought to myself.  What we think we see boldly may not be there at all and what we don’t see at all stares hard at us from the horizon.  If only our minds were as capable of opening as wide as our camera lenses.  Imagine what we could really take in? 

 This afternoon, there were scores of children at my health club involved in various summer camp programs.  A large group of six year-olds were playing basketball with a very, low hoop and a very, small ball as I passed by.

            “Can I play, too?” I asked several of the little ones standing along a fence.

They stared at me, considering this.  

Finally one said, “I think you’re too big.”

Then another one added, “And I think you’re too old.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

Several piped up, “Yes.  Yes, we’re sure.”

“Oh dear,” I replied.  “The truth is that I am neither too big nor too old to play with you.  You must use your imaginations!”

“Our imaginations?” one asked.

“Yes!  Because you must imagine that even though I am bigger and older than you, I still have a little child’s heart and I would love to play with you.”

“Oh,” said one little girl finally.  “Then I think that would be okay!”

I almost hugged her.

Later, as I was going through the grocery checkout, the clerk asked me, “How are you today?”

            “Adorable!” I replied.

For a moment he looked confused, then he said, “That’s pretty funny.”

“I wasn’t being funny,” I replied.  “I’m dead serious.”

Now he was getting nervous. 

“You just have to use your imagination,” I said.  “In my case, you need quite a bit of it.”

We both cracked up.

Li-Young Lee, one of our finest contemporary poets wrote, “The moon from any window is one part whoever’s looking.”   If that is so, I want my eyes to be wide, clear and far-reaching.  Above all, I must use my imagination.  Without it, I cannot soar like the person in this photo.  Without it, no one will play with me.  

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW!!

A few months ago, my eye doctor told me that I had cataracts in both eyes and one was a stage 4.  “Oh,” I said upon hearing the news, “I was having trouble playing tennis at night.”  He was incredulous.  “I don’t think you quite understand,” he replied.  “You’re actually legally blind.  You shouldn’t be driving, let alone playing tennis.”  So, I had one removed.  The change after surgery was so dramatic that I was utterly convinced my vision was perfect!

Nope.  Now you may see the difference between these two sets of pills, but my eyes fooled me last week.  The white, elliptical one is my heart pill.  The yellow, oblong one is for the thyroid.  Somehow, in the bright sunlight, I poured my new prescriptions into the wrong, waiting bottles.  Since I only take one of each every day, the mix up wasn’t particularly crucial.  But it did give me pause.  What if my thinking is as faulty as my eyesight is becoming?  What if what I think I see isn’t what is there at all?  And what if my mind makes decisions based on my faulty seeing?

Such was the case this morning at Ace hardware for one, young man.  As the cashier rang up my batteries, she noticed that one was mismarked and asked me to get another one.  The kiosk was only a few feet away.  So, I walked over, grabbed another one and as I returned to the cashier, a man in line yelled at me for, “cutting in line.” 

 I explained calmly that I did not cut but was merely finishing the purchase.  He was so mad he didn’t even let me finish my sentence.  “It’s about time someone put you in your place,” he barked.  “We’re all waiting,” he said, indicating the line behind him. At a loss for words over the absurdity of his behavior and complete Iack of awareness, I noticed that the back of his black, T-shirt said, “Only in darkness can you see clearly.” 

So, instead of saying what I really would have liked to say, I simply repeated the quote on the back of his T-shirt.  He had a blank look on his face.  Completely blank.  Then he said, “You know what?  You are completely wasting my time right now.”  

“Well, darlin’” I replied,  “I can see that.

I walked out thrilled.  Clearly, I am not the only one who doesn’t see clearly!

OUR CHILD

Last Sunday, CBS ran a piece on the Sackler family and their profiteering from opioid production and deceitful marketing.  Their company, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin plead guilty to three federal criminal charges for their role in creating our nation’s opioid crisis which has killed half a million people in the last 20 years.  As their name was removed from countless buildings around the world, there was another death.

This young man, the son of a very, close friend, was given a street Percocet laced with Fentanyl.  It stopped his heart.  Now before you criticize him, pause a moment to reflect on your own teenage years.   Do you ever count yourself lucky for getting away with things that might well have killed you back in the day?  I do.  He was 19, returning to college this fall, had a part time job at Home Depot and was teaching tennis lessons to kids. 

Our nation’s drug crisis is not trivial.  It is endemic and so deeply woven into the fabric of our communities that not one of us are immune to its’ peril and all of us have been touched, even tangentially. This child is not just my friend’s son.  He is our child and we have lost him forever.

We can do better.  So, while this mother grieves for what was and now will never be, we must see ALL children as our OWN. You can make a difference in your community. Who knows, you might even give a kid a second chance to grow up.

  1.  Encourage the use and distribution of Narcan, which can save someone from an overdose.  It should be available and affordable to anyone that might need it.  At present, it’s only legal in 8 states and astronomically expensive .  
  2.  Ask the courts to assign ‘help’ time not ‘jail’ time for our addicts and ‘REAL’ time for the dealers.  
  3. Insist that lawmakers tighten controls on prescription writing so that pills don’t keep falling into the hands of our children.
  4. Instead of penalizing drug companies AFTER the fact, hold them accountable NOW in both their product and marketing!!

Ironically, the Sacklers lost a son of their own.  He was an addict and committed suicide in the 70’s.  They never mention him.  

GET THE DAMN SHOT

My oldest daughter came home for a visit yesterday and as we walked across the patio she said, “Oh, Mom.  I love how you haven’t pulled the weeds.  It makes everything so GREEN!”  She was serious.  I was dumbstruck.  What a wonderful world this would be if all of us found that kind of positivity in a gnarl of chaos.

Since her visit, I have thought about moments recently where I could have employed that same outlook but didn’t.  What first came to mind was being cut off in traffic, mid-turn by a woman in a huge, pickup truck.  She blew through a red light and even though I had a green arrow, I had to slam on my brakes mid-turn to let her pass.  Lucky for me, she was going to Trader Joe’s, too.  Yes, I followed her in.  Yes, I stood outside her huge, orange truck looking up at her and waited for her to emerge.  When she did, here is what I should have said:  “How fortunate I am that you drive such a BIG truck I was able to see you in time and slam on my brakes when you ran that red light!“

When a friend of many years sent me a bizarre, far right, conspiracy video complete with grossly, false statements, here is what I should have replied:  “How wonderful I have your emails to remind me that some seemingly, normal people really are duped by QAnon conspirators!” 

When my tennis partner hit the ball to the net player for the third time in a row and I got blasted, she turned to me and said, “Look.  You need to be ready for those.”  She was dead serious.  I was speechless.  Here is what I should have said.  “How lucky I am that you’re so good at continually placing me in jeopardy!  I’m sure it will quicken my reactions in no time!”

 My daughter has given me inspiration.  Now I need to apply it to my next challenge:  a friend who is at high risk for Covid, has young children, is single and lives at the poverty level has just told me she is NOT getting the vaccine because she, ‘does not trust what’s in it.’  Here is what I am going to say:  “You don’t know what’s in bologna but you eat that!  Get the damn shot!”           

GENERATION (wh)Y NOT?

I love meeting new people.  Since the pandemic began, I’ve met more, younger ones than usual.  Perhaps it’s because the older folks are sheltering indoors.  It might also be that our youth are reaching out more.  Such was the case with the smiling fellow above.  

I ran into Josh in the parking lot of the gas station.  He was doing circles on his Onewheel; a cool contraption like a motorized skateboard that moves with your balance.  He is riding it from Florida to California, “Because I love America and really wanted to see it up close.”  If only his enthusiasm and affection for our country would rub off on the disgruntled among us, particularly those who spread their foment and feces through the halls of the Capitol last week.  

At 25, Josh has heart, imagination, gumption, and purpose but he is certainly not alone.  Who can forget Malala Yousafzai, 22, the young girl shot in the head by the Taliban as she rode her bus to school seven years ago?  She single-handedly shone the spotlight on the dearth of education for women in poor countries.  The activist and author is also the youngest to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  

These kids from Gen Y are hitting it out of the park. Their passion for life as well as their compassion for their fellow humans is beyond measure.  They are not asking what their country can do for them.  They are showing what they can do, in their own, unique ways.  I cannot WAIT until they’re in power!  In a sense, they already are.

I also had the good fortune to cross paths with another interesting fellow whom you should know about.  James Kanoff, 22, a Stanford student, started Farm Link with a group of like-minded peers during the pandemic.  They help distribute excess produce from farms into the mouths of the hungry.  Check them out and see if you can be part of Generation (wh)Y Not, too.  If you’re lucky, you just might meet someone new! 

https://www.farmlinkproject.org/about-us

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

No one’s in it.  I had the entire mall to myself this morning.  Where is everyone?  Holding out at home, too terrified to risk contagion at any cost.

Soon there won’t be any excuse for that.  We won’t have time to sit around and dream up conspiracy theories.  Thanks to thousands of scientists around the world, we now have not one but two vaccines to protect ourselves with!  This is nothing short of miraculous.    

 2020 has taught us more than we realize.  For one thing, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Clicking our heels together will not return us to any former semblance of what life once was.  We are poised to make it infinitely better.  So let’s get ourselves and communities up and running.  What does that entail?  Vaccinations! 

As one who goes faint at the sight of a needle, I welcome this one.  I will take it as willingly as I popped that sugar cube in 1961 to eradicate polio.   It is my duty as a human to be as impervious to this invisible plague as possible.  It is our duty to fight it together.  I will take it in the arm like a big girl to protect my family and friends as well as yours.  Hopefully, you’ll return the favor.  

If not, you will not be part of the solution and you know what that means.  

Do we really need any more grandstanding?   We’ve already watched the screen fall from our very own Wizard of Oz, yet he continues to pull the strings of his dwindling, political puppetry.  Incredulously, his flock follows him over one cliff after another seemingly unscathed.  Perhaps it’s because their bodies lack backbones.  

So,
let’s stiffen our resolve.  Together, we can give America and the rest of the world a real shot in the arm.  Let the Emperor walk around with no clothes.  There isn’t much to see anyway.  Soon enough, no one will be interested in him at all.  We will all be too busy looking at each other– face to face.