Fault Lines

There are many people, groups, organizations, and countries to blame. Many people. A lot of people. I’ve been told there are over one million people to blame. But none of it was my fault.

The blame starts, of course, with Obama. And Hillary, too. There’s CNN and ABC and their “fake news”, and the LGBTQwhatevers and their fake Q’s. The Ukraine played a role in it as did China. Hollywood’s do-good lefties were involved. And, of course, the protesters in the US. Let’s not forget those thugs. They all are responsible for the crap I had to go through to get a goddam Mexican driver’s license.

Like I said, none of it was my fault.

I’ve lived in Ajijic for five years without a car and haven’t needed a driver’s license. Besides, I have my Washington State one, good until May 2021. I haven’t considered buying a car since I arrived. “I’ll get one when I can’t walk anymore,” I’ve told friends. “Ten years. OK. Maybe five. I’ll get one when I can’t stand riding crowded buses anymore. Ten months. OK. Maybe five.”

And then COVID-19 swept over the world like a coughing, wheezing tsunami.

The last time I rode a bus was March 18. The last time I left my property and walked anywhere was April 1 and that was to buy injectable disinfectant so I wouldn’t get the virus. But, alas, Disinfectants R Us was closed because all its employees had been hospitalized with broken hypodermic needles in their eyes.

But there were times when I just had to go somewhere. To the doctor, the porn shop, or, like the rest of the world, hell in a handbasket. It was time to consider buying a car. And I did.

The process went smoothly until I was asked if I had a Mexican driver’s license. “No,” I said. “First car in Mexico. Never drove on Mexican soil. And my US one is good for another year.”

“But you are permanente. You must have a Mexican license. That’s the law” I was told.

That is where Obama and Hillary come in. Surely when they had power, he as president, she as America’s most hated capable woman, either of them could have passed a law allowing decrepit ex-pats living in Mexico, like me, to circumnavigate that law. But they didn’t.

Because of their negligence, I had to take the test. So, the process began.

First, I learned that since I have a valid license, I would only have to take the written test, which could be in English, and would consist of only ten multiple-choice questions focusing on traffic signs. Easy, I thought. I can handle that.

Next, I acquired crib-sheets, pictures of common Mexican traffic signs. What each meant, however, was written in Spanish. Generally speaking, common sense crossed the language barrier. But there were several that required translating and, often, questionable results. For example, the sign that, to me, resembles Burt Reynolds’ ’70s mustache apparently means “Spaceship Ahead.”

I, then, began inquiring about the location of the nearest testing station. Luckily, a neighbor knew. It was on the outskirts of Guadalajara, about a forty-minute drive from here. I wouldn’t have to enter Guadalajara-proper, thank God, because that is a current phobia of mine. That metropolis has far more cases of and deaths from COVID-19 than it has traffic signs. Therefore, I have stayed away from Guadalajara for months.

I had a friend, a native of the region, take me to this suburban testing site. He also was to serve as translator, if needed, as I plodded through the process.

We arrived to discover the testing site had been closed for months. Googling other offices, we found one twenty minutes away, closer to town, and off we went. That office, too, was closed because, we learned, most offices had been closed due to COVID-19. And this is where CNN and ABC come in. Why the hell didn’t they tell me this?

We went home, where I asked my neighbor, the source of the erroneous testing site information. “From a friend whose friend took the test there,” she said.

“And when was that?”

“During the Benito Juarez Administration,” she answered.

That, of course, was before COVID-19.

So, I got wise. I contacted a law office and arranged to have an employee well-versed in driver’s test details bring me to Guadalajara to take the exam at one of the few testing sites remaining open during the pandemic. As we pulled up to the building, I saw hundreds and hundreds of people in various lines outside it. They were wearing masks, but social distancing was not observed. How could it be? And I thought, What the hell have I gotten myself into?

The guide led me past the crowd and to a checkpoint where my temperature was taken and I was allowed in. The building was crowded and chaotic. The process complicated, involving numerous stops and I believe I was served by seven different people. None were Ukrainian. None were Chinese. None appeared to be part of the LGBTQwhatever community. All wore masks. So, why am I assigning them blame for the horrors I had to go through? Because, while I was preoccupied navigating the process and trying to remember all those damn traffic signs, I’m not certain I saw clerks sanitizing their sites between clients. Had they been Ukrainian, Chinese, or LGBTQ, I am certain, they would have done a better job wiping down the desks and pens. Those people, you know, are very fine people, very fine, good people. In fact, I could see myself sitting down with one and having a cup of covfefe.

I’m pissed off at Hollywood, too, because, if they had made a movie about acquiring Mexican driver’s licenses, and included one scene with frontal nudity, I would have watched it and been better prepared for my ordeal. But no. They prefer to produce movies that make money than ones that could help addled, aging gringos get their Mexican driver’s license.

The test was much harder than I expected because the samples of traffic signs I had studied did not match those on the test. In fact, I had to rely on the cheat notes I had written on the small of my back. One of the questions showed a sign with people walking, but they did not resemble the people in my study notes; they could have been pedestrians or students, indicating a school zone. I, however, chose the third option, “Prostitutes Ahead.”

In the end, I got my license. It only took an hour. It would have taken less, but I got a late start because I had become obsessed watching the protesters on CNN. That’s why they’re responsible for what I had to go through.

If any of those thugs, especially those who speak Spanish—and you know as well I do that all the Spanish-speaking ones, even those who learned the language in high school Spanish classes, came to the US illegally—had stopped holding a mirror up to America’s ugly face and flown to Guadalajara to help me get my stupid license, they would have helped “Make America Great Again.”

Facebook: FB or FU?

Think back to the day you first heard about Facebook. Did you join right away? Did you impulsively jump on board because it was trendy, an en vogue replacement for the fizzling My Space or the tired email?

Or did you take a moment and ask yourself basic questions about expectations, how this new communication tool could be used, or who would be considered a “friend?”

I didn’t join right away. I purposely avoided social media because, as a high school staff member, I did not want students to find me and mix my semi-quasi-mildly proper professional life with my sordid social one. Therefore, I shunned easily accessed social media until I retired in 2014.

When I did join, it was for one reason: marketing. I planned, in retirement, to focus more on my writing, something I put on the backburner for most of my working years. But as a writing retiree, I could use Facebook to network, reach out, and promote my work. I could reach friends from the various chapters of my life.

When I entered the World of Facebook, however, I was presented with the term “Facebook friend.” This challenged my concept of the word ‘friend.’ Numerous FB veterans, I noticed, had many “friends,” some well into the hundreds. Are these people really ‘friends? I asked myself. I’ll be lucky if I gather 100 “friends” here. People from my past and present. I’ll stop at 100, I told myself. As if 100 is possible, I chuckled as an addendum.

Then I remembered my purpose for joining: marketing and networking. Expand your preconceived notions, I said. Let the whole world into your world of words.

I now have 250 friends. And because they are “friends,” I have close personal relationships with each and every one. Every one. Let me rephrase that. I know many of them. But I also have many I have never met. In some cases, our paths crossed just long enough for them to ask if I were on Facebook, followed by a “friend request.”

Of course, I could have lied and said I was not a FB user or I could have denied the request, but I remembered my original purpose as a writer; I should welcome them to my fold, and use the tool for exposure.

Some of my “friends,” however, have become problematic.

They post pictures of restaurant meals or alluring new recipes, which has led to my embarrassing weight gain and borderline diabetes. They have posted comics and jokes so funny I LOLed myself into unintended urinary releases. In public places. They have posted pictures of pet dogs so adorable I have considered dognapping. Don’t even ask what I consider when pictures of cute grandkids are posted. Yes … and I am embarrassed to admit this … dognapping. They have posted pictures of their world travels which have inspired me to walk around the block once a week. They have posted “Throwback Thursday” photos which simply serve to show how much they have aged. Those pics also have inspired me to wear more makeup and hats with thick veils.

And then there are those FB friends who post multiple times daily. By multiple, I mean six, seven, eight, even 3,479. This would not be a problem were they my only FB friend. But they are not. Like I said, I have over 250 alleged friends…oops. It is now 255…and 83.6% are multiple posters. These countless posts, however, are not personal announcements like, “Just won the lottery; moving to Majorca,” “My new wife was one of my great-grand-daughter Britney’s bride’s maids,” or “I completed my most recent painting. It’s on my website and can be purchased for $575,000. But as a ‘Facebook friend,’ you receive a 10% discount.” Instead, most of their posts are “shared” items, many of which they deem funny. I’ve laughed at a few, four to be exact. These chronic sharers, it seems, do not realize that not all their “friends” find Erma Bombeck funny or videos of children falling off slides entertaining. Humor is personal. Time is precious.

But, for me, the most problematic situation created by FB “friends” are the political posts. I don’t wanna see ‘em. I’m being serious here.

I left the US because of politics and the decision was made in August 2004, long before tRump. August 2004 was after the hanging chad “election” of 2000 and during the ’04 campaign that put same-sex marriage on the ballot in eleven states. The purpose of this was to lure homophobic, irregularly voting right-wingers to the polls, dragging their states’ electoral college votes along. It worked.

That was, for this former political junkie, the proverbial straw. I was done being patient, done explaining and defending the US system, and finally over the hypocrisy and bullshit. I left the US within a year of retirement.

Yes, although I live in Mexico, I still do follow what happens north of the border. I remain politically savvy. I watch CNN, MSNBC, The Bachelor, and Live With Kelly and Ryan. But only as a channel surfer seeking headlines, not as an obsessed news junkie over-analyzing anything and everything political. I came here to find stress-free happiness and, for the most part, I have. I wanted to leave anger, frustration, and negativity behind. However, with a flood of political posts, particularly in tRump’s America, that is not easy.

Because I thoroughly vet every friend request, using private detectives, Ouija Boards, and zodiac charts—oh, my 250 has just reached 261—most of my friends, real and Facebook, share my basic political beliefs. Therefore, I wonder what is accomplished by the onslaught of political posts sent by preaching-to-the-choir FB friends. They waste my time, convince me of nothing, and are irritating. If these friends of mine have friends on the opposite side of the political wall, they should send these political messages to them only. I understand the senders probably think they are performing a service, sharing critical information. But, as I see it, they only are allowing stress, anger, and frustration to dominate their own lives and invade mine.

I have my interests. Would these people appreciate six daily reminders promoting TV’s Home Shopping Network, interviews with the Real Housewives of Peoria, and porn involving obese Serbs in rowboats just because I think everyone should enjoy and support it like I do? I think not.

Therefore, Facebook friends, I request more personal updates and fewer political crap or, even though I still like you, I will be forced to “unfollow” you like I regrettably have done to a number of othe —oh, gotta go. Anton, Balki, and Ludmila crammed into a weather-beaten dingy just popped up on my screen. Well, two of them are crammed in; one is sorta overhanging into the Jusna Morava River. I’m gonna share it with you as soon as I’m done…See? I can be irritating, too.

At 71

I learned the truth at 71

That life surprisingly isn’t done

That seniors with fanciful minds

Can untap hidden mental finds.

 

Like pleasant pastimes they never knew

Painting, acting to name a few

Or volunteering’s many doors

At 71, they find new shores

 

And those who have wrinkled bodies

Can still gawk at youthful hotties

On computers quick as a jet

While traveling through the internet

 

Their dogs and cats with loyal eyes

See their humans as a gold prize

And still provide them with playful fun

At 71

 

But now we face this damn disease,

And we watch as our comfort flees.

These times are scary, it is true

Depressing and maddening, too.

 

So in times of uncertainty

Focus on positivity

And you may happily explore

72, 83, or 94.

My Fair Lady/ My Scared Laddie

“Oy ain’t never done nuttin’ so hard in me life,” I told a neighbor in my best cockney accent. “Oy my a bitten off mor’n oy can chew. Oy’m one scared bloke, Oy am.” I switched to normal speech. “This was a mistake. Picking My Fair Lady as my first attempt at theater. The dialog, dancing, and, oh Lord, the singing are way more difficult than I ever imagined. I can’t remember any of it. This is scary.”

“It’ll get better, easier,” she, with her theater background, told me. “Muscle memory will kick in.” She was right, of course, but it took four-to-six weeks for that to happen. That is how long I struggled through rehearsals in panic mode. But then, about the time we moved from rehearsal hall to stage, it all began to make sense. My emotions went from fear to fair.

Participating in a theater production, particularly musical theater, had been a longtime aspiration. But now that I was in rehearsal, it became reality and an eye-opening, humbling, exciting, and rewarding experience. I have seen how difficult a job a director, musical director, choreographer, or stage manager can be. I have observed seasoned professionals accept direction without comment, learned to accept directorial vision even though it was contrary to mine, and have watched a work-in-progress, with its constant changes and evolving details, gel. I have observed a cast and crew of seventy-plus volunteer countless hours of time with minimal negativity.

The cast ranged in age from eight to ninety-something. It included the marvelous pre-teen Julian; the fascinating Swanson Family, especially the talented teenage Michala who became Eliza; Brian, Marsha, Catherine, the Marks, and the other pros who taught me so much by example; and the inspiring Chaloners.

For me, it started as a test. Auditioning for a role in a play. Oh, I suspected I could perform; I’d performed in front of others countless times. But I had always been in control and it always had been short and in somewhat improvised occasions. Could I actually memorize dialogue? In the past, when I had to make a structured speech or presentation, I always used 3 by 5 cards. I had never been a competent memorizer. Would I, with my septuagenarian mind, be able to memorize lines now?

Lakeside Little Theatre’s 2019-2020 schedule included My Fair Lady. I thought, That could be fun. There has to be a small non-singing role in that for me. I studied the script. Zoltan Karpathy, with his mere 131 words of dialogue appealed to me. He doesn’t sing and he speaks with a Hungarian accent, I noted. I can do that.

I met Director Dave soon after arriving at the auditions. I told him I had never done theater before, and, if not selected for the Karpathy role, was interested in ensemble positions that required dancing, but did not consider myself a singer. I even offered myself for backstage work. He apparently had heard similar pleas before, because, moments later, as he addressed the sixty-plus would-be cast members, he announced we all would be tested for singing and dancing abilities prior to the acting auditions. Swell, I thought, as echoes of college fraternity brothers telling me to lip sync when we sang reverberated through my head.

The dance audition was first. Two short, simple sequences. I did OK. Then came the dreaded vocal test. Sheet music for several of My Fair Lady’s classic tunes was handed out. The pianist sat down at the keyboard. Trained singers sang. Then it was my turn. I croaked “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Musically, I was horrible. But I sold the character. And I projected to the back row.

Acting auditions were the next day. When I was done, I heard Director Dave whisper, “I think we’ve got our Karpathy.” Therefore, I was not surprised when he called several days later to inform me of my casting. But I was shocked when he added that I would be dancing and singing as other nameless characters in ensemble numbers. “You did say ‘dancing and singing?’” I asked.

I gave my characters names, however, and Johanna and her Wizards of Wardrobe gave them costumes. I didn’t realize, though, until the first dress rehearsal, that the beige corduroy pants assigned my poor street-person Frankie Hopkins were women’s pants. They fit. But zipping and buttoning them on the opposite side was as challenging for me as singing Lerner and Loewe.

While I look back at the experience with countless fond memories, I have two primary thoughts: First, I apologize to those castmates who I irritated with my early self-doubt, panic, and over-analytical thinking. That apology is extended to Director Dave, choreographers Alexis and Mary, and musical directors Ann and Robert who I am certain were stunned by my inability to count to eight, my constant need for instruction and attention, and my unsolicited suggestions, as if inexperienced me had the background for “suggestions.”

But, more important, I recognize that I succeeded at a lifelong dream; I performed in theater in, of all productions, My Fair Lady without screwing it up. I did not humiliate myself so seriously a move to another Mexican gringo enclave was necessitated. San Miguel, Puerto Vallarta, Mérida, and Querétaro . . . you are safe. I will, however, consider relocating to Broadway if an all-male, septuagenarian revival of Annie were produced. I would make a fabulous Miss Hannigan.

Flirting With Danger

“Come here often?” the young woman asked as she set her drink on the table. She could have been my granddaughter. Except my granddaughter wouldn’t dress like that. So scantily. So revealing. So cheap. The woman sat without an invitation. Brazen, aggressive women like her had always targeted me. They’d push their way into places where they didn’t belong. Coffee shops, newspaper stands, the street, a bus. A bar. Not sure why. They’d case the joint and pick me out of the crowd.

“Often? No. Not really,” I answered with suspicion. “When I need to, I guess.”

“And you need to?” she asked as she beamed a smile that winked “I get it.”

I didn’t answer. I avoided eye contact. I should have asked why she was there, but I knew the reason. Maybe not the details, but I knew the basic reason. Instead, I focused on the others around me. It was an older crowd, people who would avoid noisy places, like dance clubs. Their expressionless, empty faces mirrored my feelings of pained loneliness.

“The music’s nice here,” she said.

I listened for a moment. “Yeah. Nice.” It was unobtrusive background music, cool jazz, allowing for contemplation, personal space, hushed conversations, and distracting cellphone play.

“Jazz is sexy,” the woman said. “Don’t you think?” She smiled again…you know the kind…a flirty, seductive smile.

“Sexy? I suppose so.” I didn’t really think the music was sexy. Soothing would be an adjective I’d use.  Calming. But she’d used that word on purpose. My evasive gaze wandered to the back wall and the long, mahogany counter, a barrier that separated patrons from personnel.  A woman, Denise, worked behind the counter, administering comfort and caring as best she could. It was a narrow, cramped workspace, considering how much she moved around. Denise looked tired, as if she had been doing this for years, as if she were sick of tending to other people’s problems. She glanced up, peeking at the silent television mounted high in the opposite corner. My eyes followed hers.

CNN, muted, reported the news with bottom-of-the-screen tickers telling viewers about a virus outbreak on a cruise ship. I looked away, too preoccupied with my need for being there. Too preoccupied with the young woman near me whose purpose was clear; she wanted me to be her “friend,” if you get what I mean. Me or someone else. Anyone else.

Across the room, a man and woman peered into each other’s sad eyes. Near them a man, perhaps forty-five, tapped his toes to the music. Why doesn’t she hit on him?” I thought. He’s only old enough to be her father, not granddad like me. The man began drumming his fingers on the table, next to his drink. I laughed to myself. Well, maybe not him. He’s not tapping to the music; he’s tapping because he’s nervous.

I continued staring straight ahead, but I sneaked a peek at the young woman. Twenty-two, maybe twenty-five, I thought. Doesn’t she realize she doesn’t belong here? There’s no one else like her in the place. She sighed. A plea for attention, I told myself. She sighed again, but with more volume, even a hint of pain. Does she really think I’m interested or a possible sugar da…

The door swung open, like the slap of bad news. It startled me. A woman entered. She was about my age. Her face was gray, her expression sad. She, unlike the young woman, fit in. I could see why she was here. She looked around and approached Denise. I looked away. Their exchange was none of my business.

“It sure is hard,” my young neighbor said, “when life sucks and luck looks the other way.” Her voice rang with desperation.

It’s an act, I thought. She’s gonna ask for money, just like that. She’s done with the flirting, the sexual come-ons. I exhaled, blowing my anxiety across the room. A simple escape plan formed in my head. Get up. Move. I tried to stand. But I couldn’t. My knees were too weak. I sank into my seat, helpless, resigned to my lot in life.

“I don’t know how I ended up here,” the girl said, as she took a sip of her drink. “I had a whole different life planned.” She said something more, but it was interrupted by a sniffle, making most of her words unintelligible. But I heard her say, “my daughter.” And then she sniffled again.

Oh, shit, I thought. Now she’s pulling the old waterworks trick. And she’s got a child. Tug at my heartstrings, why don’t you? How manipulative. I looked at her. She was looking down, unaware of my gaze. Nope. Not gonna happen, I told myself. I forced myself to stand. I teetered across the room and turned around.

The girl stared at me, puzzled, as a door near Denise’s post opened. A kind-faced, middle-aged woman stepped out. “Mr. Garrett?” she asked, scanning the room.

“Yes,” I answered.

“The doctor will see you now.”

I stepped to the door and toward the oncologist’s office as the woman announced, “Hailey, you’re next.” There was a pause. “Are you OK?”

“No. I’m really scared, Loraine,” I heard the young woman say.

She’s next? I thought with surprise. I turned to reassess my impression of the girl and saw her crush her hospital cafeteria to-go coffee cup and toss it in the wastebasket in front of the end table that had separated us. “But I’m trying to be positive,” she added as the door closed.

I spun around, ashamed of my judgmental self, and faced the oncologist waiting in his office doorway.

The Theatah is My Life

I suppose it started in the seventh grade, although there may have been flashes of it on prior Halloweens. But there I was in the Fall of 1960, sitting in the stands at a Queen Anne Junior-Senior High School football game experiencing my first twinges of the performance bug.

While everyone else watched the action on the field, I studied the pep squad, the cute cheerleaders and, what I thought were, the cool yell leaders. I could do that, I told myself. I should do that. Since I couldn’t throw a football, catch a baseball, or shoot a basketball, l figured I could participate in sports peripherally as a yell leader. It didn’t take me long, however, to figure out that being a high school yell leader was not considered as cool as I had thought by other guys. Nevertheless, five years later, I was a yell leader. Being on the squad offered me a chance to demonstrate school spirit and perform, a need buried deeper in me than any of the blackheads on my teenage nose.

As the years passed, I rarely shied away from other opportunities to be in the spotlight, even if in the most minute ways. I could be counted on to serve as master of ceremonies when needed. I wasn’t afraid to go on stage when a performer asked for audience volunteers. I always dressed up for Halloween and when I taught, I was one of a handful of staff members who regularly participated in Spirit Week themed costumes.

In 1975, long before I moved to Portland, Oregon, I rode shirtless on a float in its Rose Parade. After moving there, I adorned the city’s first gay community float during the Rose Festival’s evening parade. I also appeared on the nation’s only locally-produced, nightly, big budget game show and defeated a four-time champ.

Give me an opportunity to show-off and I’ll take it.

When I first came out in 1970, I attended many drag shows. A year later, I was asked to perform in one as a male dancer. It was a Fourth of July pageant and, as I recall, a friend and I danced in red, white, and blue outfits in back of drag queens performing patriotic songs. My job was simple. Marching steps. Saluting. Waving flags. It was pretty basic. And cheesy. But it allowed me to revisit my yell leading days, albeit in a strange twisted sort of way. And it gave me the opportunity to witness up close the transformations of men into drag queens. This fascinated me. It wasn’t just their physical, surface changes; there was an internal metamorphosis, too, that I found intriguing.

While I had no interest in donning women’s clothes regularly, I wondered what that experience was like. Could I do that? And would it be believable? I had the chance to find out sometime later, on an Amateur Night Sunday, when I challenged myself and performed in drag. Now, this was before I discovered the gym and, therefore, was a svelte 130-135 pounds, and could pull it off. And I did. My performance was received well by the audience. But, more important, it was applauded by the bitchy, critical star of the bar’s regular shows.

That performance confirmed it; I not only had an entertainer inside me scratching to get out, but I could become other characters. I could act. However, like I have pointed out, I only exposed that persona for fleeting moments as an adult, letting life and responsibility get in the way.

Until I retired and moved to Ajijic.

I joined a writers’ group soon after I arrived. Attendees varied between 35-50 people. While my writing was weak at first and improved with critiquing and experience, my delivery, my performance, was always praised.  As a result, I was asked to make a 45-minute-long presentation of my writing to a group of 200. My reading brought my words and characters to life. Soon after that, I was approached to perform in an annual lip sync show, a benefit. I accepted the challenge, of course, and have done so now three times. I have performed as stage and screen star Howard Keel, rocker Bruce Springsteen, and obscure artist performing a humorous novelty song.

So, why am I writing about this? Why am I sharing my theatrical history? Why am I boring you with my desperate need for attention? What is this leading up to?

The theatah, my friend. The legitimate theatah! All my dabbling in performance, all my smidges of experience, all my seeking opportunities to show off, have led me to a role in Lakeside Little Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady.  I currently am in rehearsal, having been cast in a small, but pithy, role, as well as a dancer/singer in several of the musical numbers.

At 71, I finally have realized a lifelong dream. I have finally realized the theatah is my life.

Why is The Minute Waltz so Damn Long?

I should have figured it out long ago.

Like when we had nap-time in kindergarten and I never slept because the other kids’ noises and stirrings distracted me.

Like when I took tap dance lessons at five and lost interest before we shuffled off to Buffalo.

Like when at nine, I began four excruciating years of clarinet lessons. Again, the repetitive nature of practice, required in tap and tootling, turned me off. If I didn’t learn something quickly, if it required discipline, it bored me before I conquered it. I counted the minutes instead of the beat.

Like when my elementary school report cards reported that I talked to my neighbors too much in class, distracting them, interrupting the teacher, and derailing me from the task at hand.

Like when Mom, with her thick German accent, angrily yelled at me, “Why are you so impatient?” without really seeking an answer or solution. Like it was my fault. Like being me was bad.

Like when I did homework, reading in my room. I couldn’t stay focused. My attention drifted from the radio to the view out the window to the US map on my wall to daydreams. I eventually did finish the reading but not until I had paused more times than there were pages in the assignment.

Like when I went to a museum as a kid and I rushed from one exhibit to another, ignoring the explanations printed or spoken. Quick glances were sufficient. I was the first to the exit. I still do that as an adult.

Like when I first heard Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” or Barbra Streisand’s 1966 vocal version and thought, “How the hell long is this gonna last?”

Like in high school study hall. Oh, how I hated study hall. Too many people around. Too much going on. Memories of kindergarten naptime. I couldn’t study there.

Like after graduating from college, when I seldom read recommended books. “Is it more than 250 pages long?” I’d ask. “And how big is the print?” That was how I measured my interest.

Like when I interrupt people who are telling a story because they are, in my mind, too slow. Get to the fucking point, an inner-voice yells with impatience.

Like when I have a task to do, mowing the lawn or washing the car, for example, and I race through it, sacrificing quality work.

Like when I’m on a walk or taking a hike and I rush to reach the destination, but am the first to want to start back.

Like when I taught and the entire school observed daily 20-minute silent reading. I knew many of the kids were faking it while staff members, even office personnel, were honoring it. I, of course, faked it.

Like when I first heard about “binge-watching” TV series and thought I could never watch an entire season in one-sitting. I’d be antsy after two episodes.

Like when I took yoga and got bored within 15 minutes. Don’t even get me started on the eternal cooldown period at the end of class.

Like when I’m at the beach, tanning, and, while others lie flat and sleep or listen to music, I’m sitting up with pivoting head watching everything around me. And, dammit, forming deep wrinkles and shadows on my chest and stomach that don’t see the sun, creating a zebra tan.

Like when I’m at a religious service such as a lengthy wedding or a Passover Seder, and I’m thinking about anything else. Anything. Cookies. Barbra’s voice. That guy’s shirt. The Sea Hawks. Knock-knock jokes. That woman’s hideous hair. Dust. Anything.

And yet, I have the patience to focus on and complete several crossword puzzles or other word games daily.

And yet, I have the patience to complete, on occasion, large jigsaw puzzles alone.

And yet, I can get lost in a ninety-minute massage, forgetting that clocks and time exist.

And yet, I can focus on my writing for long periods. Like when I am listing situations during which my mind wanders, when ADHD sets in.

I should have figured it out long ago. But we didn’t have a name for it when I was a kid. And as an adult, I just accepted it as one of my quirks. ADHD is odd. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There are so many degrees and variations. Is it possible I merely have ADHD-Lite?

Or is it possible I don’t have ADHD at all? Maybe I only have “A.” Attention. Yours. So, now I can wish you the best in 2020. Happy New Year!

Orange is the New Sacked

“Quiet, please. We are about to begin,” the authoritarian voice boomed across the Orange Crest Senior Residential Community meeting hall. Nearly two hundred and fifty residents filled the folding chairs in the room. The seats were arranged in perfect rows, like soldiers at an inspection by a five-star general. Another two-dozen people remained in the lobby, lined up to sign-in. A cluster of folks, banished to a corner because, while they had their resident cards, they had failed to bring three other pieces of acceptable identification necessary to attend the meeting. They glared with agitation toward the registration table. One shouted, “This is what it’s like with him as our president.” The angry cry was heard inside the meeting hall.

“I said ‘Quiet, please,’” the man roared again. He waited a moment, adjusted the microphone on the podium, and eyed the gathering of residents. This time his order was obeyed. “I am Jefferson Thomas, founder of Orange Crest Senior Residential Community and Retirement Village here in Orange Crest, Florida.” A smattering of applause sprinkled the room. “I rarely return to Orange Crest, preferring my nearby estate on Monticello Boulevard across town. But, as you know, this election is very important. We are here to decide if Orange Crest Resident Association President Ronald Grump is worthy of reelection or if his recent actions demand his ouster.”

Rumblings through the hall morphed into an organized chant of “Throw him out.”

“Order!” Thomas yelled. “Can we have some order, please? You will have an opportunity to air your grievances and to determine the community’s future leadership. But first I have been asked by President Grump to explain his absence. “His wife, Mandarina,” Thomas explained, “apparently, had complications during her latest breast implant surgery; the silicone, it was discovered, had been tainted with Ukrainian bullsh…I mean manure…and infection has set in.”

Mandarina, a Kwidprow, Kosovo refugee, was known in her hometown as the Kwidproh Ho, although she insists she has never demanded money for sex. “But with his wife hospitalized,” Thomas continued, “Grump is sitting bedside, and his lawyer, Randy Zabaglione, will represent him today.”

Zabaglione rose from his front-row seat and stepped toward the podium, as whispered voices asked, “Why does he need a lawyer to represent him for this?”

“Those of you who wish to speak,” Thomas instructed, “may line up behind the standing mic at the head of the center aisle.” The cacophony of numerous chairs sliding on the wooden floor set hearing aids squeaking. “OK. It appears many of you have something to say.”

A moment later, Thomas addressed the man at the head of the line. “Barney, it looks like you’re first. Please, identify yourself, give your address, and then make your statement.”

Barney, a gruff looking man with an angry scowl cleared his phlegm-clogged throat. “Everyone knows who I am. I’ve been around forever. But I‘m Barney Saunders and I live over on Codger Way. And I’m pissed off.” His tone and volume reflected that. He continued. “Last Sunday, I caught Grump peeing on the golf course. This wasn’t the first time. Probably the fifth or sixth. And when he pees, it takes forever. No one can play through.”

“Really?” the development’s founder reacted. “I’ve heard reports of him pissing on the Orange Crest by-laws, several business contracts, and former business associates, but not on the—”

“And I’ve been told he peed in the women’s dressing room in the auditorium when those high school cheerleaders came to entertain us. I don’t even know why he was in there.”

“Hearsay!” charged Zabaglione.

Saunders ignored the lawyer. “Therefore, I challenge Grump for the presidency.”

A lean, middle-aged woman, Orange Crest nutritionist, physical activities organizer, and spiritual leader, Dolly Lamar, pulled a whiteboard to the front of the hall. As several people applauded Saunders’s announcement, she wrote his name on the board below Grump’s.

“Thank you, Dolly,” Thomas said nodding to the woman. “Who’s next?” he asked turning to the microphone. A woman in black slacks, a black turtleneck sweater, and a red blazer stood at the microphone. She wore moccasins.

“Alice Beth Warner,” she introduced herself. “Address, 1776 College Place. I, too, challenge Mr. Grump. He’s called me ‘Talking Bull’ one time too many.  And our weekend receptionist, Hillary Winston, a secretary at State University of Florida’s law school, told me Grump sexually harasses her when he’s in the front office.”

“How, Alice Beth?”

“He goes behind the counter, looks at the picture of her Calico, Ivankat, on her desk, and says, ‘Nice Pussy.”

“Oh, no,” Thomas groaned.

“And then he pats Hillary’s butt,” Warner continued. “That is no way to treat a former Miss USA contestant. Hillary is ready to quit.”

“Hearsay,” Zabaglione shouted again. Grumbling emanated from the crowd. “Mr. Grump has written a statement in the event this piece of fake news is brought up.” The lawyer searched through several sheets of paper. “And I read, ‘Hillary Winston is a loser. She’s a bad secretary. Very bad. Bad. So, if she wants to quit, it’s too late. She’s fired. Besides, I’ve heard people say she’s a loser, can’t brew a good cup of covfefe, and works at a stupid school.”

“Hearsay!” a voice yelled from the back of the room. The audience erupted in laughter as Dolly added Alice Beth Warner’s name to the list of challengers.

When the laughter subsided, Thomas said, “OK. Who’s next? Is that you, Beau?”

“Yes, Jefferson. Beau Haydn here.” He smiled a gleaming Pepsodent smile. “As a past vice-president of the association, I am appalled at Grump’s behavior and am, therefore, seeking to replace him as president.”

“Could you tell us, Beau,” Thomas interrupted, “where you live?”

“In the past.”

“I mean your address.”

“Of course,” Haydn corrected himself. “Hunter Road. Number one Hunter Road. Where it meets Denver Street. Hunter, by Den—What the hell?” he spewed, the result of being jostled from behind.

“I’m so sorry,” the young man who had bumped into Haydn apologized. “I slipped moving to the center of the aisle.”

Dolly added Haydn’s name to the growing list on the whiteboard as Haydn stepped away.

The young man took the microphone. “Hello. I know. You’re all thinking ‘Who is this young guy?’ Well, I’ll tell you. My name is Zeke Betterjudge. My parents are Bill and Betty Betterjudge, over on Center Street. They have told me about several of Mr. Grump’s suspicious financial payments, like to U-Grain Farms President Anton Uscratchmybackski, weatherman Storm E. Darnells, and numerous Grump University students who claim all they received for their tuition were photographs of Professor Shelly Ann Conroy’s emaciated face. Sadly,” Betterjudge continued, “my parents feel they are too old to challenge Grump. Dad suggested I do it, in their name.”

“But you don’t live here, son,” a man called from the audience.

“I know, sir. But I visit every Sunday. I’ve attended numerous events here, parties, shows, fund-raisers. So, I may not be a retiree or be qualified to live here, but I understand your issues. And my wife and I would move across the street from Orange Crest to be near you all if elected. By the way, have you met my wife? Please, stand up, Gay.”

Betterjudge’s name was added to the slate of challengers as “Buddahjuggs.”

A stream of other residents announcing their candidacy followed; Pamela Barris, a light-Black retired lawyer; Cody Hooker, a perennial bachelor; Tully Clapboard, a Vietnam vet with severe PTSD; Buddy O’Ryan, who had recently arrived from Texas, where he had been a flash-in-the-pan motivational speaker; Anthony Chan, a successful restaurateur who established Walk-In, Wok-Out, North America’s leading Chinese food to-go chain; and several other candidates, too insignificant to mention.

“Is that all?” Jefferson Thomas asked, looking at the abandoned microphone. “No one else wants to challenge Ronald Grump? No one else has anything to say?”

“I do,” a female replied. Her voice was soft and tired. The older woman, her styled hair dyed black, strode to the head of the aisle in Louis Vuitton shoes. She raised the microphone off its stand and spoke. “My name is Francie Lugosi and I’ve lived here for decades. People,” she said, “there’s too many of you running, too many choices,” she said. “I know I have had it with Mr. Grump’s shenanigans. But, while I would support an older experienced candidate like my dear friend Mr. Haydn, I do find the young, inexperienced candidate, Mr. Buttershu…Bill and Betty’s boy, to be very appealing. And if I can’t decide, how could any of you less-savvy people? I believe we all are too tired to choose between so many good, decent people.”

“I agree,” said a deep-voiced man.

“Me, too,” chimed a woman in a 1970s Equal Rights Amendment t-shirt.

“We didn’t live this long to have to deal with all this,” called a raspy voice from the center of the hall. “The behavior of this president is just…just…deplorable.”

Voices rose throughout the room. Frustrated and angry comments swirled about. “True.” “Absolutely.” “An embarrassment.” “Aye, aye.” “Throw him out!”

“We need a simple solution,” a man sitting near the microphone yelled above the din, his soft Southern accent as soothing as a distant saxophone. He stood and slid to the mic. “Bull Scranton here. We need a compromise of sorts, an appealing, likable, experienced candidate to step forward. But I don’t know who,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, but also craning his neck.

From the back of the room, a clear-voiced man called, “Perhaps I do.” All heads turned toward the man. A gasp blew through the vast room. The man, using a cane, struggled to the center aisle and inched his way to the microphone as applause built. “Yes,” he said as he reached the microphone, “I’m former…and do I mean former…association president Timmie Garner. I propose we have co-presidents, a duo, with both generations represented. I would be willing to serve as the representative of the old guard, experienced and wise. The transition. And for the other co-president, I suggest—”

A door sprang open and a tall African-American woman entered the hall. Her athletic shoes squeaked on the floor.

“Oh, good, Rochelle,” Timmie Garner celebrated, “you made it.” Heads again pivoted to the rear of the room. “Does everyone remember our previous nutritionist, physical activities organizer, and spiritual leader Rochelle DeGama?” A burst of joyous greetings indicated they did. “Just retired, Rochelle has recently finished writing her memoir, Re-Coming, and will be moving here with her husband Barry next week.” Applause exploded through the room. “So, in the event I—well, I am between ninety and death—Rochelle will take over.”

A momentary hush filled the hall, a pause for contemplation. It was unneeded. A spontaneous, unified, boisterous chant of “Vote them in!” blasted through the room.” When it died down, Jefferson Thomas smiled and asked, “Should we vote now?”

A chorus of “Yes!” echoed through the room.

Grump lawyer Randy Zabaglione eased his way out a side exit, mumbling “Fake news” and “Hearsay” repeatedly, and staggered across the sub-division until he reached the alligator-infested swamp separating it from Blue Donkey Estates. Zabaglione fell into the swamp.

Disgusting Perverts

“They’re disgusting,” I heard the woman at the next table say. “They’re all perverts.”

“Ssshhh. People can hear you, Barbara,” another female scolded.

Who are they talking about? I wondered. But I knew. I’d heard those words before. They were specific. Hoping I was wrong, I turned my backpack away from their table to hide the rainbow ribbon hanging from a zipper. I couldn’t see the women as I had my back to them, so I peered at the coffee house’s windows, hoping for a reflection of their faces. There was none. I looked around that part of the room I could see. No one was eyeing Barbara and her friend or mirroring my curiosity. No one seemed aware of the judgmental conversation behind me. The other customers, cocooned in their own worlds, appeared preoccupied with laptops, earbuds, and romance novels.

“Well, it’s the truth, LeeAnne. Horrible people, all of them, forcing us to accept their lifestyle and their agenda.”

“Can you speak quieter, Barbara? You don’t know who is nearby. I don’t want a confrontation. For all we know that barista can hear you. We could get kicked out of here.”

“For what, LeeAnne? For telling the truth?”

“For causing a disturbance.”

A chair creaked as if its occupant were turning. A moment for observation passed. “Oh, lord,” Barbara gasped. “He definitely is one.”

An audible sigh wafted in my direction. “Why would you say that, Barb? He seemed perfectly normal when he took our order.”

“The way he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ You didn’t hear that? Do you not have ears and eyes?”

“Gosh almighty, Barb, you’re getting all worked up over nothing. He’s just a baris . . . oh, now that I look at him, I see what you mean. He looks just like they do.”

“And he was too polite,” Barbara added.

“Yes. You’re right. And look at how this place is decorated. I’ll bet he did that. All those glittery stars. And those iridescent hoops.”

“And those translucent—What are those things?—rays of li—”

“Yeah. Coming from the ceiling,” LeeAnne interrupted. “All so pretty. And so perverted.”

“We can never tell our husbands we came in here.”

“No. Never.” LeeAnne’s eyes bugged. “You know how Richard feels about them. Doesn’t want to hear them. Doesn’t want to see them.”

“Kyle’s even worse, Barb. Sometimes I think he had an experience with one when he was younger. You know, with their constant recruiting young people.”

That revelation triggered a momentary silence. I could practically hear Barbara wondering, “You think Kyle’s a closet—” A dropped spoon rattled on the floor aborting my thought. Distracted, I scanned the room again, searching for the noise’s source. The other customers continued their self-involved activities, unaware of the noise or the women’s heated conversation. I shook my head. Someone, I thought, should say something to those rude bigoted ladies. I swallowed. Maybe it’s up to me. Maybe I should…

“I’m embarrassed we came in here. No. Not embarrassed. Angry.”

“Angry?”

“Yes, LeeAnne. Angry that places like this even exist, that people like him are allowed to…”

“Well, this is the last time we stop in here for coffee. We don’t need to support people like that.”

“No. We do not,” Barbara agreed. “Finish your latte so we can get out of this awful place. Besides, we’re supposed to be at the homeless shelter in ten minutes.” Her tone changed. “I’m so proud of our work there, spreading our message of love and acceptance.”

“Yes. Me, too.”

I started to turn to look at them, perhaps confront them, but as I did, I heard their chairs screech on the wooden floor and squeak with relief as the women stood. I returned to my face-forward position.

“Don’t forget your bag, Barb,” LeeAnne said, as she stepped away from their table. “They’re gonna appreciate the socks and soap.” I peeked toward the door to catch a glimpse of the women. But they did not appear. Instead, I heard their voices along the back wall, by the order counter.

“Oh, my gosh, Barb. Look. He’s wearing a crucifix. Why didn’t I see that before?”

“I knew it,” Barbara spewed with venom.” He’s a damn Christian.”

“Because,” the handsome young man answered LeeAnne’s question, “I just unbuttoned my top button. That’s why you didn’t see it. It’s really hot in here today.”

“He’s a damn Christian. You a Christian?” LeeAnne charged.

“Yes, of course,” the barista answered with pride. “I believe Jesus Christ is our savior. And my name is Christian.”

“You’re sick, Christian,” Barbara said. “Disgusting. Flaunting your chosen lifestyle.”

LeeAnne jumped in. “I’m surprised your manager hasn’t told you to hide that fucking cross. You know you offend a whole lot of people and that could hurt business.”

“Oh, damn,” Barbara said. “Look at that. That tattoo on his forearm.”

“What’s it say? I can’t read it. It’s upside-down.”

Christian apparently held up his forearm so LeeAnne could read the inscription. “Oh, WWJD,” she said. “Well, I’ll tell you what Jesus would do; he’d puke. Making your private business public. Acting all holier-than-thou.”

I turned to study the women. But they had their backs to me.

“Ma’am, this is the Light Brew Coffee House. What did you think the ‘Light’ represents?” Christian smiled a sugary smile and motioned to the decor. “The stars, the shimmering halos, the shafts of light. They’re all about God’s love.”

“You’re repulsive, disgusting,” Barbara spat. They pivoted and stepped toward the door and I, at last, could see their faces. More important, though, I saw the heart-shaped rainbow buttons on their coats. “Ally” was superimposed on them. “C’mon, LeeAnne, we need to get to the LGBTQI Teen Homeless Shelter to spread our support and unconditional love.”