Tag Archives: history

Many Mirrors

JamesboxA man, standing at his mirror, visits his past and looks toward his future as 2010 approaches.  His laundry list of landmarks include so many more entries than he could have ever imagined in his youth. 

He has seen success as a singer, music director, stage director, and administrator.  He has written volumes of poems, short stories, and other works.  He has composed music that has been performed by seventy people at a time, to several hundred people in the audience.  This man has danced.  He has helped care for people in public health, assist in others’ healing through his spiritual work, and guided his beloved mother as she passed from this life.  He’s helped people plan trips around the world, select the colors for their quilts, and learn how to breastfeed their babies, as well as eat well themselves.  He has assisted both his father in the family pharmacy, as well as the Director of Public Health in the seventh largerst economy in the world.

He has been honored to teach hundreds of children and adults how to sing.  He’s been on film, television, radio, and stage.

He has reared five children in the best way he could.

He has recognized that there is a God and that his faith in our Creator is justified.

P1040582As he looks into his mirror, he sees a man who, in his lifetime, has lost one great-great grandparent, one great-grandparent, six grandparents, three parents, one step-parent and three parents-in-law, a brother, a son, a grandson, several students, and his first true love.  This reflected man has been married twice, once to a woman and once to a man.  He’s only been divorced once and that was from his ex-wife. 

He has seen all five of his living children taken to jail for various lengths of time, including thirty-two years to life. 

Next year, he will have nearly doubled his weight from 128 pounds to 240 pound in the last twenty years.  His hair will have gone from an elegant blue-black to a thinner dark brown with many grey strands dancing through his mane.  The black rings under his eyes share the arc of the jowels under his jaw line.  Stretch marks, varicose veins, and surgical scars all mark his body’s travel through time. 

His list of medical challenges rival the list of major accomplishments in his life.  He spends much of his time chatting with friends about the “good ol’ days.”  His husband and he don’t say much to one another now, since they’ve spent about a quarter of their lives together. 

Many of his favorite old time movie stars and singers are dead.  Some of his family photographs are now over one hundred-years old.

This man, whose truth is shining in the glass on the wall, is now the eldest in his direct lineage.  Patriarchy has overtaken his life. 

Next year, the nintieth anniversary of his father’s birth will transpire.  Next year, his youngest child will be thirty-years-old.  Next year, his eldest grandchild will be eighteen-years-old.  Next year, he will be fifty-one-years-old. 

This scene would be fairly poignant if it weren’t about me. 

Friend Laughing 1The surprising part is that even with the abundance that I’ve seen in my life, I know I still have work to do.  Even more shocking is that I still have energy to do it.  I suppose I’m no different than anyone else on the planet, but the depth of life never ceases to amaze and sometimes confound me.  Life’s intimacy envelopes me some days in a way that makes me feel profoundly cradled.

The little mirror into which I peer holds my entire countenance, but the breadth of my experience and hope for my future spills onto the walls, ceiling and floor, out the windows and doors, and into every corner in which I dwell.  It is also reflected in the many mirrors I see in my family and friends. 

And, thank God for that.

Some Perspective on the DOJ and DADT and DOMA

If Nathan Lane was President of these here United States of America (with Harvey Fierstein as Vice President, and Hedda Lettuce as U.S. Attorney General), his administration would have been required to support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) as it was for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in response to a court battle.  It is the law that the Department of Justice must always file friends of the court/amicus briefs that support current law.  We should not be getting upset about this amicus brief.  It’s a non-issue.

What should have gone along with this brief, however, is a statement from the President indicating his focus on getting a quick legislative repeal of DOMA.  His speech at the National Equality March did give us more hope; however,that’s how this should have been handled in the first place. 

It’s frustrating to realize that we are having issues regarding civil rights in our third century of existence as a country; we, whose ancestors left England, and many other countries for that matter, for freedom. 

hillbillyI remember thinking as a teacher about students who took a long, long time to get the concepts I was putting forth, “Bless their pointed little heads.” 

Sometimes, that’s the way I feel about us as a nation.

“Bless our pointed little heads.”

My point is, let’s stay focused on our next move and not get bogged down in those things we cannot change.

Stay focused, people!

It Feels Like a Final Exam… But, in a Good Way!

It’s a good thing that one’s fiftieth birthday only comes once in a lifetime.  Since July 17, every facet of my life has been represented and reviewed.  It’s like that flash before you die, only in really slow-motion. The strange part is that I feel like I’m taking an examination along the way, as well.

Aunt Mary, me, and the accordion

Aunt Mary, our accordion, her gorgeous flowers, and me.

I went to my hometowns this week in Siskiyou County, California.  Although I was born in San Jose, California, it wasn’t too long before my parents moved to McCloud where my father had his new pharmacy.  My parents’ best friends were the Baldis.   Uncle Pete and Aunt Mary were at every event in my life, until the day Uncle Pete died.  Aunt Mary, who is going to be ninety-years-old this year is still living in the house where she’s lived for several decades. 

When my husband, David, and I got there, Aunt Mary offered to make us toast to go with the fresh coffee.  She, then, broke out the homemade chocolate chip cookies.   My olfactory time travel in Aunt Mary’s kitchen never ceases to amaze me.

On my last visit in May, we were reminiscing that in 1970, my father guided me to decide that I wanted to learn to play the accordion.  I went to Redding once a week to study.  Aunt Mary provided me the instrument that she had purchased for her son, Michael, who lost interest almost immediately after Aunt Mary began her year long payments. 

Aunt Mary was curious as to what ever happened to the accordion.  I explained that I still play and that I’d actually played for a musical at the Woodland Opera House recently, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

After we ate and chatted a bit, I said that I had a surprise for her.  I went to the car, got out the famous squeezebox and proceeded to play, “El Choclo,” a wonderful tango, for my beloved aunt.  I, then, played the Clarinet Polka, as every good, little Polish boy should be able to do.

As we began our slow departure ritual, we decided to take a photo.  Aunt Mary and I stood at the top of the steps of her porch and David took the picture.  She is always so proud of her robust and vividly colored flowers that framed this photo, and rightly so. 

We bid one another adieu and started to drive off.  At the next stop sign, we took a look at the photograph.  Upon gazing at this particularly beautiful photo, my husband and I, without saying a word, both became so incredibly sad.  I suppose we realized that at 90 years old, this tiny powerhouse of a woman will eventually have to start her new job organizing heaven for God.   We both got a little teary. 

As hard as our melancholy struck us, I was still looking forward to rekindling my nearly fifty year friendships. 

David, John and James

David, John and James

During the trip, I got to see my friends, John from McCloud Elementary School, Martha from Dunsmuir Elementary and High Schools, Jeff, with whom I have a very important history, and Sharon who is more like a sister to me than a friend.  She is to me what Aunt Mary was to my mother.  Although they weren’t born to the same family, no two people could have had more history together. 

We even visited our friend, Ronnie, who is the brother of a very dear friend of mine here in Sacramento, and his two boys. 

James and Martha

James and Martha

So many men have talked about having a mid-life crisis.  I’m starting to think it’s because around the mid-century mark, their lives become splayed out on the table for memorial consumption.  They realize the impact, good and bad, they’ve had on all the people with whom they’ve come into contact, the love they’ve shared, and the love they’ve missed.  The reminders of celebration and the lamentations of regret become a cacophony of memories. 

There are things I know I’m supposed to remember about all these parts of my existence, but have honestly long forgotten.  I even remember things that no one else would ever remember.  Sometimes, I even wonder if some of the events actually happened. 

If a memory can’t be remembered by someone else, is it a valid memory? 

Of course, it is.  The secret benefit is that there is no one to tell you you’re remembering it wrong; however, even that has its detriment. 

James at his family's gravesite

James at his family's gravesite

This visit was primarily manifested to commemorate the tenth anniversary of my father’s suicide.  His ashes are now joined at his gravesite by my mother’s, brother’s, and my parents’ dog, Spot’s cremains, as well.  Of all the people who resided at our homes on Grove Street in McCloud from 1959 to 1967 and on Buckboard Lane in Dunsmuir from 1967 to 2006, I’m the only one left.  To tell the truth, at this point I’d love to have someone call me a liar as I regale my tales of adventure growing up on our hill.

So, as the parade of history continues, and it does promise to march forward, we’ll see how well I do remembering all the important things I’d sworn never to forget.  Wish me luck.  I don’t know if anyone is scoring my life test on the bell curve, but I do like to do well, nonetheless.

Are We Ever Really That Far Away Anymore?

facebook-logoOver the last couple of years, since I’ve started using the social networking sites, like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I’ve realized something.  We are never really as disconnected as we think we are from those who have been important to us, but from whom we have found our paths diverging.

I have reconnected with people, including family members, whom I haven’t seen in thirty to forty years, and I have realized that once one has loved or has been loved, that love is eternal.  This group includes long lost family, as well.  One’s history with another is valuable.  It’s impossible to realize just how strongly people have affected our lives until they have been gone for awhile. 

In some ways, technology has seemed fairly invasive and depersonalizing; however, I am so grateful to have my old friends return to my circle of connection.  It’s been like a treasure trove of joy!

I thank God for this blessing and for my friends, even as some are now leaving my general vicinity.

Only White People Died

380px-CousinTree_svgWhen my cousin, Catherine, and I began doing our genealogical research, one thing became crystal clear:  When it comes to death records in the regions of California we were searching, only white people died.  There were volumes of information on European-based individuals and their vital statistics.  As for Mexicans and Native Americans, for example, unless they were a part of the mission system or the Bureau of Indian Affairs in California, there was little to no information available to us.  Jokingly, my cousin and I suggested that only White people died in California prior to the late-1800’s. 

Now, I understand more clearly why this is the case.

In watching this verbal exchange between commentator and interviewer, Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, right-wing conservative commentator, author, and advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, there bubbled up a clarity why so much of our history reflects the Western European experience.  As Pat Buchanan states, he espouses a belief that, “this has been a  country built basically by white folks.”

During their exchange on Rachel Maddow’s television program, apparently Pat Buchanan more seriously espouses that same view.  “…nearly 100 percent” of the people who stormed the beaches of Normandy were caucasian.

There are statistics that Ms. Maddow recited in a follow-up to that interview about how many blacks and other races were present at many of the events that shaped our nation.  While it is true that “white folks” were the signateurs of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, they were not the only ones who fought against the British and at other times, the French and Spanish, Germans and Japanese.

I would probably get enflamed about Buchanan’s statements if I couldn’t so readily consider the source.  His arrogance and ignorance of others unlike himself has been so clear over the years that I simply cannot put any more energy into him. 

So, thank you, Ms. Maddow, for your humor and intelligence in this discussion.  They are appreciated by this short, Latino/Native American, dark-skinned, economically lower-middle class, fellow, whose family has served in World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and now has a Commander of the U.S. Navy stationed in Afghanistan. 

Pay attention, Mr. Buchanan.  Your ugly is showing.

Squeezin’ Squeeze Inn

Squeeze Inn

Squeeze Inn

If the title of this piece is a little cheesy, it is appropriate given the nature of this article.   And, incidentally, “No!  You may not threaten the tiny Squeeze Inn Restaurant.”

There is an horrific outcry from the affected citizenry in Sacramento, California at the recent lawsuit brought by a Sacramento resident against this tiny eating establishment. 

There are few things that would elicit this type of vehement reaction from those of us familiar with this Sacramento landmark.  Cruelty to a child.  Injuring an animal.  Damaging the Constitution.  Suing Squeeze Inn.  These are, for us, nearly equal obscenities.  The Constitution thing may actually come after the Squeeze Inn offense.

Kimberly Block, 41, of Sacramento is suing the tiny, beloved eatery because she says as an individual in a wheelchair, she does not have equal access to the inside of the building.  With a long counter, eleven stools and not much more room than a narrow hallway for customers to sit, I as a portly gentleman, barely have room to sit in that place.  I will say, however, that I don’t care.  I will squeeze my abundance into that phenomenal burger joint to share in one of  the most amazing hamburgers I have tasted in my entire life.

I can certainly understand why Ms. Block is frustrated.  I also respect her desire for equal access.  I must wonder whether she is going to sue the City of Sacramento because if she wanted to work in the sewer system, there isn’t adequate ability to do so?  It is a quandry whether she will sue the Lincoln Memorial because she cannot walk up the steps to see the enormous statue within?  Sure the are pulleys and ramps that will help with either of those situations, but there are some things that would radically change the environment about which we are discussing.

I don’t want to see a ramp into the sewers for easy access, and I don’t want to see a pulley system in the middle of the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial, quite frankly.

There are two options as far as I’m concerned that would resolve this issue at Squeeze Inn.

One is that they could expand the seating area to include areas for wheelchairs.  This, of course, would require that they change the name of the restaurant to “Breeze In,” since the entire ambiance would be changed indoors.  That wouldn’t be good at all.

The other option is to make an enclosed seating area for disabled people where the bottom of the stairs is now.  That way a server could go outside and serve the customers while they wait for their delectable, cheesy meals.  This is the more acceptable solution, although the limited parking in front of the store would be even more limited.  Squeeze Inn refers to both the seating area and the parking lot.

Ms. Block, who apparently is lining up lawsuits around Sacramento because of the access issue for individuals with disability, is elusive in this process.  She will not respond to media inquiries and, yet, she continues to drop lawsuits like IEDs.  Is she a woman on a genuine mission or a mercenary who will get what she can while she can?

As a man who could barely walk for months on end because of major back issues, I understand completely about access concerns.  I also know there are alternatives.  I suspect this litigious woman is out to get what she can from any business who may be in the least bit vulnerable.  In a way, she is doing what she is accusing others of doing: making things more difficult for those who are least able to respond.

Should this lawsuit terminate Squeeze Inn’s ability to operate financially, I am certain that, not unlike the stories of Frankenstein and Dracula, the townspeople will direct their metaphorical pitchforks and torches and literal animosity toward Ms. Block. 

No one is ready for that day to come.

Squeeze Inn, 7916 Fruitridge Avenue, Sacramento, CA  Telephone number: 916-386-8599 is where you should go to find out what all the fuss is about.

1977 to 2009 – A Friendship

End of the road

End of the road

It seems strange that after thiry-plus years, a friend can begin questioning the motives of someone who has seen them through every life event that can happen, including births, deaths, romances, jobs, and everything in between.

A word.  A difference in opinion.  A misunderstood intention.  These are all things that can challenge the best of friendships; but, to end a friendship all together?  That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

We met in college.  She is nine years older than me and left her home state to begin a new life.  She was sitting in the student union reading a book and taking notes.  I walked up, waiting for the listening room to become free so that I could listen to an album I simply didn’t have the money to purchase for myself.

I asked her for a match to light my cigarette.  It was 1977 and we could still smoke indoors at that time.  She looked at me as though I wanted to steal her baby.  She didn’t say one word, but handed me the book of matches that was sitting next to her on top of her cigarettes.

Her remoteness somehow tickled me no end.  I truly enjoyed how she attempted to keep her distance, so, as the instigator I was, I began talking to her.  To every question I posed, she responded in curt, one-word answers.

It wasn’t too long before my room became available and I expressed my gratitude for the match and the conversation, thereafter taking my leave of her.

Several months later, I ran into my old roommate from college who said that he had just gotten a new apartment.  I knew he couldn’t afford a dwelling on his own, so I asked if he had a roommate.  He said that he had found a female friend with whom to share the two bedroom place.   He invited me over to see the new digs, so I accepted the invitation.

The night I went to see my friend, I was greeted at the door by the woman from the student union.  I laughed uproariously and asked, “Do you remember me?”

She said she did and we talked about the coincidence that we both knew the same person.

Since that time, with periods of quiet time, we have been friends.  I was the first to know she was pregnant.  I was the first to hold her child.  I stood with her as we buried her brother.  She stood with me as I married my husband.

We are friends.  In truth, we have been more like family.  I suppose now we are estranged family.

She is angry at me and although with most people, one would assume that the storm will blow over and the waters will calm.  It’s different with her.

Once bitten, twice shy.  She hangs on to real or perceived hurts for a lifetime.  No one gets back in once they’ve become the source of her pain.

I’ve made mistakes and in this situation, I made some thoughtless ones; however, she didn’t have all the information, but she wasn’t at all interested in hearing what I had to say.

Thankfully, I love her enough to understand that she has her own process and that whatever choices she makes are hers, even though they may adversely affect me, as well.  So, I send her off with my blessings and pray for God’s grace to keep her safe and healthy.  We had a good run and now it’s over.   I’m grateful to God and to her for thirty-two wonderful years.  I have been repeatedly blessed by her presence in my life.

Good luck, my friend.  Find peace.  I love you and always will.


Author’s Note:  In 2011, my friend contacted me to tell me she had leukemia.  She asked me stand with her son no matter what happened.  I promised I would.  Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer and died in January 2012.  I officiated at her graveside funeral.  I will miss my friend, and true to my statement when I wrote this piece, I love her and I always will.

Since My First Birthday

Chocolate CakeSince my first birthday, most of the people that were in attendance that day have passed away. Those that haven’t will be far away, as well.

It’s a little sad for me, but I suppose at fifty years old, I should have expected this.

Who knew I would get so old so quickly? I will be the patriarch of those present at my fete, as I am in the direct lineage of my Glica, Chavez and Herrera lines.

In a tiny way, I understand a bit what new monarchs must feel as they ascend the throne upon the passing of their progenitors.  It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, quite honestly.  Let the trumpets ring.  I’ll be in my room.

Death Photos

Rather this than that.

Rather this than that.

It is grizzly to conceptualize, let alone view, a photo of someone at or immediately after their death.

When I saw the photo of Michael Jackson in his final moments on the front of a couple of magazine covers, I was simply mortified!

Shame on those editors who decided it was a good idea. They just lost a little of their souls in that moment.   Sadly, it only cost them $5.95 per issue.

No matter how public a figure, the family should not have to have photos like that plastered all over places like supermarkets and liquor stores for public consumption and I, for one, condemn those who opted to publish those photos, especially on the front cover.

While I understand that publications have the right of free speech, I always learned that one’s rights ended at another person’s nose.  These filthy rags should be sued, and sued well, for their horrific invasion into the Jackson family’s tragedy and grief.

I shall never again purchase any magazine that held those images.

I Love the United States of America

Our Fourth of July

Our Fourth of July

It sounds so corny when I say it out loud, quite honestly.  “I love the United States of America.”  The reflection in the mirror I half-expect to see as I walk past as I speak these words is my rotund countenance draped in stars and stripes.  That’s how silly it sounds to me to say it… at first.

Then, as I mull the phrase over in my head, I contemplate a few things that soften my attitude about this compilation of words.

First, I think about my Dad.  (I always capitalize the word, “Dad,” when I refer to my father, whether it’s grammatically correct or not).  My father fought in World War II.  He was a decorated Pharmacist Mate.  He served in both the Mediterranean and Asian theaters.   He was a hero.  Although he rarely spoke about his time in the Navy, I was always in awe that he fought the enemy and through his efforts, helped win the war.  He fought for the freedoms that I have today.  He, along with all the men and women who so valiantly served our country over the last two hundred-plus years, made a difference to us.  I never forget that.  I suppose that’s why, when I hear the National Anthem, I still get choked up.  It happens every single time.

Second, I wonder where else on Earth I could walk down the street with the fearlessness I do.  As a gay man, a Latino man, an older man, a man of lower-moderate socio-economic status, I am greeted warmly, loved openly, and respected for who I am, with all the diversity I embody.  There are laws that protect me.  I am, relatively speaking, safe.

Third, I can write to the President of the United States of America and say exactly what is on my mind.  Because I have no desire to threaten anyone, I’m secure in the knowledge that my words count just as much as anyone else’s.  It’s a sweet knowledge I carry inside my heart about my place here in the good ole U.S. of A.

I get angry, sometimes, at our legislators and our judges.  I am often frustrated by our media services.  The cost of things is abominable and the challenges to acquire health care for many is untenable.  “Skinny people are too thin.  Fat people are too fat.”  Everyone has an opinion about everything.

We are, thankfully, able to express our opinions as freely as we belch.  Unfortunately, some of our opinions are worth about the same thing.  At least, we are able to send our thoughts out as easily as we throw a frisbee at a Fourth of July picnic. 

We have had presidents, from Washington to Obama, that are nearly as diverse in thought and history as those of us in our neighborhoods.  There were builders, deceivers, heroes and scoundrals, activitists and do-nothings.  They were Americans. 

Today, on this Fourth of July, 2009, I am not a hyphenate-American.  I am simply, joyfully, and proudly an American.

So, as corny as it may sound, I will reiterate my feeling that I love the United States of America.   God (or whomever you choose to believe in, if anyone) bless America!

The birth of the United States of America flag

The birth of the flag of the United States of America