Itchy? Poison ivy. Again. I pulled some weeds from the fence separating our concrete yard from the neighbor’s grassy one. It started with the grapevines that grasped and clung to the fence, trailing out onto the concrete. Control yourself! Then I saw them. Those three-leaved plants that I know so intimately. They like me, and they don’t like everyone. I pulled to protect my grandson who does the exact opposite of what I say. Stay away from those plants!
Welts on my arms. Itchy eyelids. But maybe that was the uncustomary eyeliner. Itchy, itchy. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Until my arms were red. It felt so good! One scratch led to another and another and another. I ran my arms under hot water. The tingling nerves felt good. I used the washcloth to scratch. But you can’t win. Feeling good about something so wrong.
A man and I stood together watching a deconstruction. A toppling of homes. “That’s what I used to do,” he told me. “Tearing down or building up?” I asked. “Building,” he said.
“You’ll have something to watch all day,” I said. “I saw it go up, and I’m watching it come down,” he answered. “What year?” I quizzed. “I don’t remember,” he admitted. “Sad.”
“Yes, sad.” Inadequate. Enough.
I took a photo before the space is an empty lot that belies the displacement of people. Displace as if you can just pick someone up and set them down in another place without changing the world. Displaced people everywhere. Under bridges. In doorways. In homeless shelters. In churches. In refugee camps. On the road.
I stood first at the playground with swings and a climbing dome and a blue whale spouting water to entice sweaty kids to its mouth. The play space separated from the tumbling building by a chain-link fence. On the other side of the playground courts closer to Penn Circle—another vacant lot. In days or a day an entire vacant city block. And then, old land topped by something all shiny and new. Like the person covering wrinkles with a few surgeries that might be tastefully noninvasive or harshly transform the person into someone unrecognizable. To the point of caricature. Suddenly people can only talk behind the back of surgeries.
My builder stood beside a fence dragging his oxygen tank. Another man saw us talking and hit me up for 75 cents. Normally, I would give it. But I didn’t have money on me. I asked if he needed money here where he was living. “Pop machine,” he said. Later I wondered if he was allowed to have pop. But then again I figure that anyone I give money to may very well be buying something very unhealthy. Do I have a responsibility not to help someone partake in unhealthy habits? If it were me, I would say, “Mind your own business!” I do unhealthy things all the time. Then a woman yelled, “Cigarette?” holding her empty fingers to her mouth.
“Sorry,” I quit. The builder said, “That’s what got me this (pointing to his oxygen tank).” “And you can’t ever tell anyone,” I responded. “That’s right, ” he agreed.
I could tell you I never rode a bus before coming to the city. That’s a lie though. I rode the Greyhound from State College to Pittsburgh stopping in little towns most people never heard of, a 3-hour ride taking 6. I rode the Greyhound from Cedar Point to State College stopping in Cleveland where a man chatted me up. He thought I was going somewhere with him. Bus stations? A hunting ground. We (Cary, Jacob and I) rode a bus up a steep switchback road on Santorini. At least it seemed like that looking down. Those are the buses I remember. But there are three years of riding the school bus from my small town to the two-room schoolhouse in an even smaller town when I was in 1st, 2nd and 4th grades. Where are those memories? Why can’t I remember them? Caleb and I ride the bus some mornings. Cary takes the car before the buses start running. She was going to ride my dark bike on dark city streets. Not happening. I’ve passed those bikers without lights before and as I pass think that a second of distraction might have me killing one. I don’t want to kill anyone. Altruistic and selfish reasons. Save a life and save my conscience. So we take the bus to pick up the car to drive the rest of the way to daycare.
Caleb loves the bus. I love the bus. I greet the same two women in the front who share the ride. One asks how old. “He’ll be three in a week or so,” I respond. Her grandson also with that same birthday coming up in July. And twins in North Dakota from her son’s previous marriage coming to visit. The other woman dressed in black, a uniform for somewhere. She gets off at the busway while the woman with the grandson gets off on the next stop in front of a Giant Eagle. Then the man in business casual at Penn and East Liberty departs. Caleb and I get off with another 30ish man at our stop. The man crosses against the light while Caleb pushes the button for the walk sign.
Buses rule. Don’t try to play Dodge’em with them. If they want in your lane, just cede to them. Don’t wobble your bike in front of them. Don’t pull out in front of them. Don’t run in front of them. Bus drivers? All different kinds. Friendly. Unfriendly. Rude even. Bossy. It’s a job. A job where they’re in charge. They’re your boss. Some are better bosses than others.
I was in my teens sitting in the kitchen watching the coverage of the war in Vietnam (also known as the Second Indochina War or the Resistance War Against America or the American War [Depends whose news you’re reading what you call the same thing.]) in the evening or watching Bill Burns at lunchtime. Bill Burns with his special inflection pronouncing the name Flaherty as in Peter Flaherty. A joke supposedly between the two men. My father harangued me, well, maybe not harangue. Scold? Urge? Say in resignation knowing his words weren’t going to get through, to listen to the news and read the newspaper. He never told me why though. Why did I need to take an interest in the rest of the world? Why did I need to know what didn’t affect me? He never said we’re all connected by invisible threads crisscrossing the planet and maybe beyond.
I keep up on current events now. It took a while. TheNew York Times comes to my phone everyday. I pick up The Washington Postor The Wall Street Journal or some other newspaper at the coffee shop. I read the Facebook shares from others. I read magazine articles. It can be quite overwhelming to decide what to read. I scan a lot. It’s one reason I decided to take a speed reading course. I want my brain to move a bit faster. Think how many books and magazines I might have already read in my lifetime if I could have read faster.
Yesterday a Facebook post that Clint Eastwood had died. I didn’t even hear he was sick. Sudden, but he was 87, he is 87. I texted my friend who I always think of in the same thought with Rowdy Yates and Dirty Harry. Minutes later a Google search brought up Malaysian sources for the story and then CNN Global. Using a partially legitimate name. Unreliable sources. On April Fools’s Day a story of a kangaroo introduction to Wyoming. Easily explained as an April 1 joke. Other fake news? Confuse, muddle, mislead, manipulate, influence, destroy, power, control. We trust certain sources. And there is no one who can’t be got.
Keeping up with the news now is a lot more difficult than in my father’s day. The news is everywhere. (It always was, different.) Not just the newspaper, television, grapevine. Social media—the new grapevine. We never could absolutely trust what we were told or read ever. Politicians and governments and companies were always trying to hide things and influence us for the vote, the sale, the loyalty. Use our trust. Use our ignorance. Use our desire. Use our greed. Use all means necessary to manipulate us. Sounds jaded to think that everyone wants something from us. Everyone does. Some innocent and what we’re willing to give. We influence each other by sharing our thoughts and opinions. We’re supposed to be connected. But now its as if there are much darker forces trying to manipulate us for nefarious reasons. Lead us somewhere we won’t like when we get there. Perhaps we were just more ignorant and less informed years ago. Spoon fed what we should know. Not as easy to dig out information then. Took real leg work. Now, not easy either. Overload.
Now—gaslighting on social media and other news sources. Getting us to believe what isn’t true. Sleight of hand. Get us to question our mind. And in argument to bring the person around, you can always toss out disdainfully, “You’ve fallen victim to fake news.”
Could the #1 legacy of President Trump be coinage of “fake news”? Having us all go on about fake news? It’s always been out there. But now it’s what we dwell on. Can I believe this? Supposedly a phrase venomously tossed out to a CNN reporter. He shifted our focus from the story to the storyteller. Telling us we can’t believe anything from certain sources. Who are we to believe? Him? It’s a good thing to incite people to think and question what they hear and read. But I don’t think he wanted to create a nation of thinkers. He wanted to create a nation of distrustful people.
Thanks Dad. You got me reading the news and following current events. You possibly have brought total confusion into my life. But honestly. Thanks. You were right. I should have been reading the newspaper and listening to the news. I should have been more involved in the world. You brought me back to questioning everything. You brought me to analysis. It wasn’t just you though. The person who broke my trust brought me here too. A lie. But there is never just one. The one pops to the surface still obscuring the ones beneath the depth. There really is a silver lining to every cloud. Knowledge. Questioning. Never give up trust. Just pick better who you give something that valuable to. You’ll still make a mistake. Doesn’t matter.
I’ve linked this post to websites. If this were a research paper or a newspaper article, that might not fly as legitimate documentation of what I’m writing. They aren’t peer-reviewed articles. They may lack credibility. But I’m not a reporter or researcher. I’m a blogger looking for answers and just giving my thoughts.
I felt sure (at least certain of something) it was coming after the jury’s first declaration of deadlock. Not acquittal but mistrial. Questions about reasonable doubt and consent meant disagreement about verdict. Finally, no swaying of diverging opinion. What can I say? Stick to your guns if you have a belief. I have belief. But reasonable doubt are wobbly words. He said, the other person said would seem intrinsically a case of reasonable doubt save for a super convincing witness. Or the case evokes other emotions. But a case without forensic evidence or witnesses to the actual act? There just would seem to always remain the ever so slight or not so slight sliver of reasonable doubt. Even confession is not certainty. So how can accuser be certainty either? Liar or truthful? Can you pick out who’s who? Which is which? Is the truth in the words? In the demeanor? In the appearance? Where is it? Studies and experiments seem to show our radar systems only work about half the time. Half! This all is driving me crazy!
Is my reasonable doubt your reasonable doubt? There is so often misunderstanding of what we individually understand. Words need definition and examples for decision-making just to make sure we’re on the same page. It’s one of those things you learn to do for employee evaluations, heck, any evaluation. “I think you’re doing a fair job. I mean by fair that you do this and this and not that, i.e. fair. Do we understand each other? Are we talking the same language?”
A mistrial. There is no vindication for either party though it can be spun by either side to imply what might have been in the jury’s minds to arrive at deadlock. That’s actually a decision too. But not what we call justice for victim or accused perp in this. Perhaps mistrial is the greatest admission of honesty though. We don’t know the answer. We are afraid to err on the side of guilt or innocence.
Fame has its rewards. Fame has it’s pitfalls. Getting and being able to buy pretty much whatever you want. Sense of entitlement to all the world. And a target. And everyone thinks they know you from your characters and appearances on talk shows and pictures in tabloids and seeing you with your family and other famous people. It all makes for difficulty in merging the dichotomy of a beloved television character with the man behind the role. As a family mired in Penn State tradition, I had a hard time accepting that Joe Paterno would turn his back to knowledge of sexual abuse. Scapegoated, I wondered. Some of that too, but no. Not the first time someone turned their back to evidence of criminal activity. So many decades-old stories of the Catholic Church hiding knowledge of abuse in their ranks. Hell, not just hiding but passing it on. An institution that should have held honesty as one of its tenets. Acknowledge and be saved. I sat down one night in the middle of another documentary about the Catholic Church. This one a Netflix original, The Keepers. Another story of sexual abuse that also included an unsolved murder of a Pittsburgh-born nun. Once again high-ranking officials of the church hiding the truth and shirking a duty to protect their members. For what? Appearance? Money? There seems no acceptable or rational explanation for it. Perhaps the only understanding is to attribute all to the faults of being human and faulty thinking or group mentality. Or maybe we just put it down to sociopaths or psychopaths living among and with us. Everyone says they would never have hidden those things, yet some of us did. Some of us human beings. Even those who have our utmost trust can betray us. Can we forgive? That’s a hard one.
Back to Cosby admitting to being the womanizing philanderer. Is that tautology? He doesn’t deny it. Womanizing philanderer tarnishes that television father and husband. I loved The Cosby Show. The husband and wife’s banter and those looks to each other. Such a great family. So loving and functional when in fact Cosby was a very dysfunctional man. But why do we want to believe that the character is the man? It wasn’t an autobiography. It’s acting, a mask. It’s a job. The best actors must be the ones who can convince us with a character they are not like at all. Did we ever know what a great actor he was? Now this old man doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in jail nor does his family. But he’s had a great life I suppose. So a roof and three meals a day, maybe two, maybe one if they’re really trying to cut costs. Probably special privileges for celebrity. Fame has its rewards. So jail sounds safe and secure.
I have begun to wonder about minds of the accused. Are there people who even with all accounts and facts true, believe that what they did was not criminal? Is that Cosby? The question occurred to me when he, according to the mother’s testimony, rationalized that the woman had an orgasm. Some small piece of the story that screams to him, consent. Drugged? So what? Part of the sex game. I’m repeating. I’m rambling.
I’m twisted almost to the ground in his guilt. You can tell that. It’s too many women telling similar stories. You can’t forget it even if they’re not part of the case. It’s the drugs. It’s the womanizing. Yet then, I think of the accusations of sexual abuse in day cares 20-30 years ago. Accusations snowballing with parents’ hysteria and therapists abetting memories, rather planting them, and justice officials making names for themselves on sensationalism and a public horrified and tantalized by accounts. Outlandish stories from young children that should have screamed reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds. It is possible for a group of people to all support the same lies. Still, I don’t think that is the case here. All is possible though. Reasonable doubt. Probably not reasonable. A little bit of conspiracy theory.
Cosby’s case still one complicated by race. I will never out live racism or hate. Comes almost concurrently with the exoneration of the police officer killing Philando Castile. Not just a question of black white racism. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, is Mexican American. A question of police, civilian. Police, black civilian. Another story of a police officer acquitted of killing a civilian. Such verdicts reinforcing a view that police have some get out of jail free card. Not held accountable for fear or rational judgment. But after the verdict, fired from the force. Not fit for duty because of the shooting or not fit for duty before the shooting? Poor officer training? The officer said he feared for his life. Philando Castile feared for his life. He informed the officer about his license to carry and gun. Honesty? The civilian trying to defuse the situation? Yet still ended up dead. Doesn’t rational judgment say that he would not tell the officer about his gun if he meant to shoot him with it? Not enough seconds to think before shooting? I was shocked by the verdict. What did the jury see or not see on video or hear in testimony that convinced them there was a reasonable doubt in the telling of two stories. It must have been the missing moments of video.
It’s hard to be rational. It’s hard to look at both sides. It’s hard to be uncertain and forced to make a decision, popular or unpopular. That burden of being responsible for a person’s life and future. I would dread it. I feel relieved that I will probably be struck from any jury pool should I be called. Call me a coward. Call me indecisive. Call me for a hung jury.
It’s one of thosedays. The once a year day when children try to express their feelings for fathers. Love for the gift they gave us. Being there. Others may come into our lives as father figures and earn that same appreciation.
My father has been gone now 18 years. He made me feel safe. He made me feel loved and special. He tickled me until I wanted to cry. He took me to the farm. He took me to the stockyards. He convinced me to buy practical shoes instead of fashionable. He tried to teach me to drive. He hurt my feelings. He was proud of me and ashamed of me but accepted me for both as I made mistakes to become independent. A father who was also a grandfather remembered on this day. There are all kinds of fathers and the best is the one who gave you unconditional love. My father. Remembered not just this one day, but everyday.
My alarm rang several times. I snoozed it instead of dismissed. I still held out a flicker of hope to get up early to weed in the damp earth before the sun rose high in the sky. Early rise despite going to bed after 2 AM. You might call me lazy to hit that snooze or you might say I’m free. No one but me and my flowers care about those weeds. Or maybe you should just call me tired still. After all sleep affects health.
Last night I opened the windows, one with a screen and one without. I considered for a moment that a bird might hop in bed with me. And when I finally awoke, it was to the music of the birds. No. Not in bed but outside in the trees and on the telephone lines, a perch that entices marksmen according to our telephone repairmen. But their greatest feat of balance, perching on the side of a weed’s gracefully waving lissome stem. And never a wobble from the bird. Not weeds, life.
The windows are open because the whole-house-air is not working. When we installed a new furnace in the first years after we bought the house, we didn’t want to spend the extra money for air. Remembering that furnace also brings back the memory of the installer, shockingly dead at a very young age a few years later. We measure our lives in furnaces, roofs, washers and dryers, jobs and if lucky, in the people who briefly touch our lives. Who will remember you for one brief moment?
When I returned to the mushroom mines in December 1999, air conditioning was one of the first things I bought for our house. A couple of years ago, a new furnace again but that air conditioning unit still worked. So why replace it? Is it unbearable without air? No. Maybe unbearable in the dog days.
Let’s begin at the beginning of my history with air conditioning. My first home in Leader Heights PA. No air. The house on the corner of Bear and Main in Worthington PA. No air. The house on Bear Street. No air. We had screens for sun and rain. We had window fans, even the monster barn fan. I ran the fan in my window all night until the damp night air froze me wrapped like a mummy. I was soothed by the motor and the spinning blades and the comfort of blankets. It was like being cocooned in a freezer. When my parents finally installed air, the bedrooms didn’t cool down as the rest of the house. The duct work of the previous century deficient for efficient cooling. Same as this house built in 1916. I left my parents home for Penn State, both dorm and off-campus. No air. I might be wrong on air in East Halls, my first dorm and farthest from the hub of the campus in 1969. Back home, still no air. Apartments in Butler and Fenelton. A window unit in one apartment. But no full service air. Next the move to sunny hot Tucson, Arizona. No air. Instead a swamp cooler mounted on the roof that worked on evaporating water. It cooled. I liked the name. Swamp cooler. Exotic. In the Everglades or the Amazon. Dreamily wrapped in a bed encased by netting draping from the ceiling. No, just Arizona with the swamp cooler. And the Fiat Strada we bought in Tucson, abandoning all hope for the option of a yellow sports car to pick the practicality of the white Strada? No air. Back to Pennsylvania to live in the Claypoole family farmhouse. No air.
First home! First air! Cowansville PA. We used it. We enjoyed it. People expect it when buying a house. But in the apartment in Pittsburgh. No air. I never gave it a thought in October, or if I did, I couldn’t feel the heat of summer. I took the room air conditioner a few weeks ago for the common areas. I turn it on to cool the room. My daughter turns it off because it’s too noisy for the television. Me? I still like that fan at night tilted at me soothing me to sleep.
Am I done with air conditioning? Don’t be silly. Of course not.
Last check-up for Boots’ ear surgery. I had to take my grandson with me, a canine and a primate pulling at their leads (Not literally for Caleb. I don’t actually put him on a leash.) Caleb jabbered while Boots sat on alert as we waited in traffic from Squirrel Hill to the Fort Pitt tunnels. People with signs standing beside us on the wall edge to the Mon Wharf. Yesterday a pregnant woman smoking a cigarette ascending the steps at the abutment. I wanted to yell, “Stop smoking.” But nothing’s that simple. It was sunny and hot as we snailed our course to the tunnel. Finally emerging on the other side into large steady raindrops. It was as if the 3600 feet burrowed into the hill divided the sky of city and suburb. The traffic slithered up the hill. Usually at that time of day, I move quickly. By the time we reached the exit for I-79, it was raining pressure-washer-hard on the cars pounding away dirt and bugs and maybe paint. Vehicles traveling with flashers at 40 mph. There were a few times I thought of cancelling the appointment as the National Weather Service interrupted my music with warnings of flash flooding in Allegheny County, but the rainbow promise of a slow-down pushed me on as did the thought that cancellation would mean rescheduling. It did eventually slow down by the time we reached the exit for National Cemetery of the Alleghenies. Not stop, but slow as if someone changed the nozzle. It rained the entire drive slowing to sprinkles and then increasing to large pounding drops intermittently. At the road separation of I-68 and I-79, we returned to flashers for a few miles. At Fairmont just a sprinkle.
We sat down beside a yapping small white dog asserting itself to other dogs and a champing-at-the-bit Bernese Mountain Dog who really just wanted to meet Boots. Boots was willing. Then a kid came in to offer pets and wheedle tricks of this 1-year-old Bernese still growing. Boots has her admirers too who always think she is a puppy instead, according to the Pedigree breed calculator, ∼ 44 and considered a senior as those few gray hairs attest. Caleb was lying on the floor where dogs have undoubtedly peed. Maybe not that day though. He got up after a couple of requests and told the new pet owner who came in to say hi to Boots. He did as commanded by the almost-three-year-old.
Boots jumped in my lap in the examining room as we waited for Dr. Moore. I lifted her to the table for him. He trimmed a little hair from her ear and happily showed me his work. I, knock-on-wood, am well-pleased. “If only someone had suggested surgery earlier,” I said as we left.
Roses are red and pink and yellow and white and orange and striations and blends and metamorphic. There are secret gardens and parks and amazing places in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Some people know. Lots of people are ignorant of their existence. Then someone puts them out there, “Check this out.” Doug Oster posted to his Facebook page an offer to show the Rose Garden at Renziehausen Park to anyone who wanted to come. I never heard of it. A famous garden in McKeesport? Are you excited? Well, I was. Strolling in gardens makes my day. Walking past blooms lights me up. Walking in the woods makes me contemplative about an amazing world and seeing it all. Who was I waiting for? But I will qualify that I’m not a rose aficionado. As a gardener, I thought them finicky. As a stroller, they are exquisite. A plant of beauty from it leaves to thorns to bud and bloom.
The tour was well-attended despite the conflict with the Stanley Cup celebration. I was a little torn about whether to go to the parade or the rose garden. But the rose garden had been on the calendar first. Who knew the Penguins were going to win the Stanley Cup or in how many games? I missed the parade but did go down to join the excitement in the black-and-gold-confettied-streets later and dunk my toes into the fountain at Point Park with no admonishment from police or park rangers who kept circling. Return to the roses. Yesterday was Flag Day. One woman came dressed in all the colors of our flag from earrings to shoes. Not team Penguins, team USA.
The garden is moving towards a centennial. According to the McKeesport Garden Club President, the city during the boom years of steel kept the garden going for its residents, then it fell to some neglect during WWII. Currently the garden survives strictly on grants and donations and plants sales and hosting weddings and photo ops. The work of weeding and planting and pruning and mowing? All volunteer. This very day was weeding day. People down on their knees pulling from the mulch. Others using long-handled hoes to mix it up while standing erect. Yesterday was one of those we bring up in conversation. “How ya doin?” “Great, it’s a hot one!” It was a very hot one in full sun strolling and sniffing. You have to stop and smell the roses. Ah, the fragrance of perfume. But one of the days when trickling waterfalls go down from neck to crack and my hair under a hat is plastered to my forehead. The kind of day that makes you sweat like a pig (Do pigs sweat a lot? Note to self. Look that up.) The sunny hot days of summer that I anticipate their approach and arrival each year. Not a sun worshiper of the bathing suit kind. A sun worshiper of “just makes me happy.”
Standing on steps at the start looking at a gentle slope. A landscape of green and brown and bright colors in linear rows divided by wide grassy paths with a bricked path in the middle and a gazebo shelter to take a rest. There are more than roses to this arboretum. A long perennial row on the upper side with a water feature near the clubhouse. A plot of grasses and another for butterfly loving plants. Shrubs. Metal archway. Metal trellises for climbers. Concrete benches to stop and sit a while. The roses exquisite but some blooms, petals prematurely struck off by our rain the night before. The next big flush to visit will be in early September but visit anytime for love of the rose. They open at 7 AM. Love of the rose. Love of the garden. Love of nature. Just love.