Just Like Lizzie Borden and Caligula

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have done the unspeakable. I have killed.

Yes. I am a murderer. And I feel horrible about it. But I can’t undo what I have done. It can’t be reversed. I can’t bring that cockroach back to life.

In my defense, I must say, though, he was huge. Ginormous. He was three feet long. At least. Maybe five. But there he was on the kitchen counter, frozen by the sudden illumination created when I turned on the light, shattering the pre-dawn darkness. Or maybe he was petrified by my sudden shrieking. Who knows? Nevertheless, I was able to compose myself enough to grab the Raid so slowly and carefully my movements did not trigger that behemoth’s fight or flight response. I sprayed him, not once, not twice, but 417 times with what is the napalm of the insect world. The burning chemicals sent him in a frantic, helter-skelter run to the nearest cockroach-serving hospital or funeral home.

I dashed to my bedroom, glanced at the 5:08 alarm clock, and climbed into bed, shaking and whimpering. OK. I was full-out crying. I had, after all, killed. I was a killer and would now be forever lumped with Lizzie Borden, the one-armed man on “The Fugitive,” and Caligula. But my sobbing did, eventually, cease and I fell asleep. When I awoke, daylight filled my room.

Thank God, it was daylight. I would be able to see the dead cockroach, whether he still was on the counter, on the floor nearby, or sprawled across my current read, “How to be More Masculine in the Time of a Cockroach Crisis” spread on my La-Z-Boy armrest. He wasn’t, however, in any of those places.

Where could that monster be, then? I wondered. In my slippers? Oh, God, I hope not. I was wearing my slippers. My coffee cup? Oh, hell no. I was just about to guzzle my morning margarita from my coffee cup. I didn’t know where he was, but I wasn’t about to examine either of those things. I just kicked off my mauve, velvet Gucci mules, grabbed my morning margarita mug, and ran them to the garbage where I tossed them faster than I had shrieked at 5 a.m. Neighbors stared out their windows as if they’d never seen a lemon-yellow baby doll negligee with taupe knee-high nylons before.

I returned to my casita and continued looking for my murder victim. And then I found him, lying on his back in the kitchen sink. To my surprise, he had shrunk while dying. He now was but two inches in length. I studied him for a moment and then realized he deserved a more dignified burial than being washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet. It was then I realized he, with his Raid-induced lack of bodily control, had urinated in his multi-legged pants.  I needed to change them for his garden interment. I gently lifted him from the sink, using my eyebrow tweezers, and delicately removed his wet skinny jeans. It was then I realized he was, in fact, a he, for that cockroach was hung like a…like a…like a horsefly. He apparently was a Jewish cockroach, too. This was confirmed when I noticed a small Star of David dangling around his neck.

I continued assessing my victim and noticed a tiny square item lying next to him. It was a wallet, opened, exposing pictures of his family, his wife and children. He had, it appeared, wanted to look at his family one final time before going to the Great Insect Inn in the sky. Oh, my lord, I moaned to myself, I killed a family man. His kids…Cookie, Corky, Ckhaki, and Carkey Cockroach…were darling. But his wife, Kardashia, was beautiful. She could have been a former competitor in the Miss Cockroach Pageant.

I studied his wallet a bit more. There was his blood donor card; he was nearing 1,000 milliliters. There was his military I.D. “Oh hell,” I cried out loud, “I killed a veteran.” He had fought to make this world better for all of us… cockroaches, humans, politicians…and survived, only to be killed because he had trespassed on my damn faux-granite counter. Another card peeked out from behind the military I.D. It was his Barbra Streisand Fan Club card. I was wrecked. How could I have killed another Barbra-fan? I didn’t know what to do. Then it came to me, the right thing to do after killing a cockroach who is a Streisand fan. I sang “People,” albeit an adapted version, because cockroaches are people, too. I can still hear the melody and lyrics lingering in my head as I grieve. Roaches, roaches who need roaches are the luckiest roaches in the world, I sputtered, drowning the words in tears.

I needed to find some dry pants and make him presentable for his burial. I checked the walk-in closet of my Ken Doll. No luck. Everything was too flamboyant. I was at a loss. Where am I going to find pants that fit a cockroach? A mental lightning bolt struck me. OMG! OMG! OMG! Amazon!!! I did an Amazon “search” and, sure enough, they have an assortment of cockroach clothes. I ordered the green pants, because the color was called Evergreen and they were described as “soft as an easy chair, fresh as the morning air.” Barbra would have liked that.

So, here I sit waiting for the Evergreen pants to arrive. I have placed the cockroach in a safe place until then; he is resting in a still-unwashed margarita glass from a Cinco de Mayo Party last May or June. I’ve hidden his temporary casket in my microwave. No one can hurt him there.

If there is one thing I have learned from this ordeal, it is that cockroaches, no matter how large or small, have families, have made contributions to the world, share more with us than we realize, should be respected, and deserve to live as they please. It has been difficult acknowl—oh, there’s the bell. My coffee is ready. I just zapped it in my microwa—oh, damn!

Does anyone need a pair of multi-legged Evergreen cockroach pants?

The Stained Mouse-Mattress

The Yom Kippur service had just ended, the shrieking of the shofar still ringing in our ears. Our Day of Atonement obligation was over. Steve and I stood on the synagogue steps in our bar mitzvah suits—both of us had recently experienced that right of passage for 13-year-old Jewish boys, that religious transition from child to man—and we were saying goodbye to our parents as we set off on a walk downtown. It was Fall 1961.

We had told our parents we wanted to check out the new cars in the dealerships along the way; back then, all makes introduced their new models in September. But we weren’t taking this hike to look at new cars. We had lied. That was our cover-story. We had another reason, one we could not share with our parents.

We arrived downtown, focused on our secret purpose, scanned several tall office buildings, and decided on a decades-old, narrow, gray one. We entered, looking like junior junior junior executives in our suits…Steve’s was a standard brown, mine a greenish brown described as the color of “baby diarrhea” by a young female bar mitzvah attendee…and took an elevator to an upper floor. We crept out, cased the joint, and saw the door we were looking for at the end of the hall. We tip-toed to it without speaking.

“You go in,” I mouthed to Steve.

“No. You do it,” he whispered, quieter than a closing elevator door. “It was your idea.”

“I’m not going in there,” I murmured with determination. “You can do it faster. You’re good at this sort of stuff. If I do it, we’ll get caught.”

“OK.” Steve groaned and reached for the brass doorknob.

Months before we stood in front of that mysterious mahogany door, long before Yom Kippur, I was with another friend and his parents being driven home after a weekend at their house an hour away from mine. “I really have to go the bathroom,” I announced about midway through the drive. “Can we stop at a gas station?”

Within seconds we pulled alongside a Shell station with its bold yellow logo…its color so ironic and inducing…and parked near the bathrooms. I bolted out of the car and dashed to the restroom, unzipping my fly as I ran. I exited the bathroom 47 seconds later and jumped back into the sedan to a cacophony of cackling laughter.

“You know that was the women’s bathroom, don’t you?” Donny’s dad said, between snorts.

“No, it wasn’t!” I argued. Then I noticed the skirted form on the door-side sign. “Well, I really had to go and no one was in there and it doesn’t even matter anyway,” I blathered a defensive stream-of-consciousness justification.

“No, it doesn’t matter, Thomasina,” Donny’s dad replied, triggering another fit of laughter. But as we drove away, synapses in my brain crackled and I blurted, “Oh, that’s what that machine on the wall was for.” Parental chuckles followed. Donny looked at me with pre-pubescent naiveté, question marks darting from his eyes.

And that is when I got the idea. That is why Steve and I stood in front of that office building’s out-of-the-way women’s restroom on Yom Kippur. We were going to buy a sanitary napkin.

Steve pushed the wooden door open and stepped into the ladies’ room. I stared at the elevator, then my eyes flitted from office door to office door along the hall. I held my breath, but, seconds later, he charged out of the bathroom holding a small package, an individually wrapped Kotex.

“Let’s get out of here!” he whispered with urgency. We ran to the elevator, Steve struggling to cram the blue-and-white packaged product inside his suit coat’s small inside pocket. I pressed the down button. It took what seemed like a menstrual cycle to arrive. Once inside the elevator, we snickered and snorted with glee over the success of our mission until the elevator stopped on the third floor delaying our getaway, and a businesslike woman with several red folders under her arm got in. When the door opened on the first floor, Steve and I spilled out like the blood of a sudden nosebleed, rudely pushing past the woman. We raced out of the building and onto the sidewalk, then rushed away from the entrance and turned toward the building’s concrete facade, shielding our treasure with our torsos.

“Let me see,” I pleaded.

“No. I got it. I get to look at it first.” Steve pulled the soft package from his suit coat. Even though Steve had dibsed first look, we stared at it together, reading as fast as we could, puzzled by phrases and instructions more foreign to us than the hooks on the back of a bra.

Then Steve ripped the Kotex from its wrapping and we examined it with curious eyes and cautious fingers. “Oh, I get it,” I breathed.

“Get what?”

“Why Annie calls it a mouse mattress.”

“Mouse mattress,” Steve snorted and doubled-over with laughter, banging his head into the concrete wall, causing him to drop the crumpled blue-and-white packaging. I picked it up a nanosecond after it landed on the sidewalk and crammed it in my pants pocket.

“Shit. Someone could see what we have,” I said with panic.  We looked at each other as smiles mixed with amusement, satisfaction, and an anti-climactic letdown tickled our faces. I then noticed Steve’s forehead. Its collision with the wall had scraped the skin causing a trickle of blood. Logically, but perhaps not appropriately, I took the Kotex from Steve and dabbed his injury with it. We looked at the slight bloody smear against the white pad, giggled for a moment at the ironic sight, and then gazed up and then down the street.

A breath later, my partner asked, “OK. Now what?“

“Throw it away!”

There was a pause. “No,” he said. “I have a better idea. Start walking to the bus.”

My accomplice attempted to hide the Kotex in his not-yet-man-sized hands as we strode away. But I could see he also was studying the women coming toward us. “Her,” he whispered as a tottering elderly woman with a royal blue cloth coat and a matching veiled pillbox hat neared us. “You dropped this,” he spewed, as he shoved the Kotex at the gray-faced, gray-haired woman. Startled, she blocked the hand-off with her forearm. The bloodied female hygiene product, recognizable to all around, fell to the sidewalk.

We raced to a bus stop, not the nearest one as we wanted to distance ourselves from the scene of our prank. We laughed, tears included, at what we thought had been an embarrassing moment for the woman while we waited for our bus, never realizing that she probably had not needed a sanitary napkin for 30, maybe 40 years.

When it arrived, we boarded the bus, strode to the long rear seat, and sat. We smugly eyed other, so mature-looking in our suits, unaware how childish and typically-thirteen we had behaved.

And the Oscar Goes to . . .

The point of the Academy Awards is recognizing excellence in film. Not popularity. Not ticket sales. Not buzz. Other awards, like the Peoples’ Choice Awards, do that. As a result, the films with the most Oscar nominations or wins may be critically acclaimed, but are not well-known to the general public. That is because the masses go to the theater for escapism, not excellence. They go to see blockbusters, special effects bonanzas. They go to see action, adventure, violence, and asinine, unrealistic stories. But when Oscar nominations are announced, they feel left out. Their favorite films, their idea of excellence, are relegated to technical categories like sound or film editing. “Dammit,” they scream, “The Fast and The Furious XXXXVII” is the best movie EVER! It should have been nominated for Best Picture.”

Oh, the poor fragile blockbuster films’ fans’ feelings have been hurt. They feel ignored and disrespected by the Association of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Pity.

It isn’t enough that movie franchises like Iron Man, Avengers, and Mission Impossible are wildly popular, make enormous profits for their studios, or turn humdrum actors into superstars. Their fans want them to be considered—no, included—among the nominees for Best Picture even though they are not, for the most part, worthy of that title.

So, AMPAS is considering how and when to create a new Oscar category, Most Popular Film. This, however, isn’t the first time in recent years the Academy has attempted to appease this bloc of movie-goers by including more popular, action-packed and/or science fiction blockbusters in the Best Picture category. In 2009, the number of films in that category was raised from five to ten although it was not required to name ten every year. This was done, I suspect, with hopes that a popular blockbuster would fill one of the added slots. These actions were, in my opinion, unnecessary, because worthy action films like Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Raiders of the Lost Ark have been included in the top category.

Were these attempts to broaden the range of Best Film nominees beyond the usual art-house fare and critical favorites purely based on a sudden appreciation for the crowd pleasers? I don’t think so. The bottom line was, I’m afraid, the bottom line. In other words, it was driven by profit, business, and the buck. When Oscar nominations are dominated by films most Americans have not seen, let alone heard of, a small TV audience is likely on Oscar night. This impacts advertising revenue. ABC does not air the Oscars as a public service; they do so because the lengthy program should be well-viewed and a cash cow for the network.

Adding categories is not a bad idea when it is warranted. The Academy has added many categories since the first ceremony in 1929, like supporting performances, musical score, even costumes. They all impact the overall quality of a film. However, honoring popularity or box-office success does not. I think creating an Oscar category for Most Popular Film merely cheapens the other awards.

Among past yearly box-office champs are Spider Man, Spider Man 3, Top Gun, and the controversial and violent Billy Jack. As films, are they on the same level of cinematic achievement as On the Waterfront, All About Eve, Gone With the Wind, Schindler’s List, and 12 Years a Slave?  Popular fair like Home Alone and 3 Man and a Baby were the number one films of their release years. But were they great movies or merely entertaining fluff. Cotton candy is great state fair food, but is it gourmet dining?

Am I being elitist, a cine-snob?  Probably. Admittedly, I am not a fair or qualified assessor of blockbuster action films or movies that rely on special effects for their appeal. The last one I saw in a theater was 2008’s The Dark Knight and I went solely to witness Heath Ledger’s highly-acclaimed, transformative performance as The Joker. I hated everything else about the film.

I don’t go to movies for the special effects or never-ending vehicle chases. I don’t go to watch cryptically symbolic tales of good versus evil, because I’ve seen them, read them, even lived them my entire life. I don’t go to have my senses simultaneously stimulated and numbed by a barrage of explosive noises and rapid-fire flashes and camera-cuts. I go to hear compelling dialogue. I go to see complex characters brought to life by gifted actors. I go to be awed by stunning, appropriate, artful cinematography. I go to be taken somewhere I have never been before. I go to experience original stories that examine the human condition and challenge my brain and tug at my heart. That’s what, in my opinion, makes a film worthy of Oscar nominations. That’s what, I think, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looks for in its Best Picture nominations.

The Special Education of Ronald Trent

Youthful looking, but silver-haired, television journalist Henderson Gruber had been a successful national news anchor nearly fifteen years. But he had given up that career when his wife, cosmetics mogul Kamala Kardashian, had been elected to Congress. They had established a second home in the nation’s capital and Gruber had decided to seek work flexible enough to allow frequent, often sudden, trips home with his wife. Few jobs, he realized, would allow that. But as a substitute special education assistant, he realized, he could make himself available only when convenient to their erratic schedule.

Gruber had just arrived at his first assignment and looked stunned. Washington, D.C.’s Joe McCarthy High School’s head secretary had just told him unexpected details about his class. “Ronald Trent’s room,” she continued, “is to the far right, past the security office. You’ll see the sign.” She smiled with pity. “At least you won’t be alone. Trent’ll be with you. But be prepared. Working in that environment won’t be easy. Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Gruber grumbled. “I thought,” he explained with disappointment, “I was gonna assist teenagers with learning issues or who are wheelchair-bound.” Gruber had wondered why the cryptic posting for the position had appeared on the school district’s web site devoid of details and so late; it hadn’t been there the night before. But now he knew. The position was in a BES class. Students enrolled in a Behavior and Education Supports program were reputed to be among the most challenging. Oppositional, unfiltered, disruptive, disrespectful, dysfunctional, even criminal, they came to school to obstruct and cause chaos.

The regular assistant, Clint Hilliard, had left an early-morning message for the secretary and said problems had surfaced regarding the new house he and his wife, Belle, were building. “I think,” the secretary explained, “irregularities had been discovered regarding its foundation.” The secretary leaned in to Gruber and whispered, “But I think he just needed a break from those deplorables.”

Gruber stepped into the hall and strode with angst to the classroom, passing the security office and finding his room next door. That’s no accident, he assessed. There’s probably a lot of back-and-forth between the two rooms. He stood in front of the classroom’s closed door and studied the wall-mounted sign. “Room 45,” it read. Under the teachers’ names was a list of six periods. All were called “Socialization.” The bottom one had been altered with a black marker to read “Socialism.”

Ah, he thought, “socialization” to hide the truth, the stigmatic BES label. As Gruber reached for the door knob, he heard commotion from inside the room. He opened the door and slid in undetected. Eight students, five boys and three girls were running amok in the class. Gruber’s eyes darted to the teacher’s desk in the opposite front corner of the room, expecting to see someone attempting to rein in the inappropriate behavior. Instead, Ronald Trent sat back-to-the-class facing his computer, ignoring the commotion. Wispy hair, the color of L’ Oreal’s Orange Blossom swirled around his head.

Gruber refocused on the students. Two boys were playfully fighting on the floor. Another boy was sitting on a desk, egging on the grapplers. A fourth boy sat at a desk listening to rap through ear buds and spitting out the words like an angry machine gun. He appeared oblivious to the world around him. An ebony-colored youth stood by a window texting. Near him, a girl danced suggestively. Another girl standing in a back corner, applied make-up using a mirror on a closet door. A third girl slept with her head on her desk.

Gruber’s attention returned to the dancing girl. What is she dancing to? he wondered. She has no earbuds or head phones. Is she high? Her gyrations led her closer to the texting boy. He looked up, stopped typing for a moment, and grabbed the girl’s lower private parts. She swiped at his groin, but missed the mark.

“Bitch!” the boy exploded, as the girl’s undulations led her away.

Ronald Trent continued to stare at his computer, unaware anyone had entered the room or that sexual assaults were occurring near him. Gruber took a step toward him.

One of the wrestlers stood and stared at Gruber. “What you want, Bro?”

The boy sitting on the desk snapped, “Who’re you? Where’s Hilliard?” He shifted his position, crossing his legs effeminately. “Oh, Hillary, where are you?” he trilled in a mocking tone.

Both wrestlers laughed. The sleeping girl stirred, looked up, and replaced her head on the desk. Trent, looked over his shoulder, noticed Gruber, and stood. “Hello,” he both stated and asked.

“Henderson Gruber. I’m subbing for Mr. Hilliard,” the visitor said approaching Trent and offering his hand. Behind Trent, a nearly-naked blonde woman pole danced on the computer screen. Superimposed below her was the name, “Steamy Denims.”

The girl with her head on the desk looked up. “Did someone say ‘Gruber?’” she asked. “That’s fuckin’ funny. Gruber. That name is so retarded.” She giggled and rested her head on the desk again. “Grooooober,” she mooed before she dozed off.

“Clint’s not here?” Trent asked. “I just thought he was hiding in the staff lounge again, going over his personal emails, his thousands and thousands of emails. None of which he should be doing on school computers. He should be fired for that.” Trent peeked at his computer as Steamy Denims slithered behind him. “Well, welcome. I’m not sure I really need you since I’ve got everything under control. Totally under control.” Gruber looked around at the turmoil. “Yeah, I run a tight ship here. I’m a great teacher. Great. Everybody says I’ve done a great job here. Great. I’m the greatest teacher this school has ever had.”

“Where’s Hilliard?” the girl applying make-up yelled from across the room.

“Me?” Gruber asked, unsure to whom the question was directed. “I don’t know. He posted the absence maybe two hours ago. Apparently, it was last-minute.”

“Good,” the boy sitting on the desk said. “I’m like sick of him and his whole family.”

“His family?” Gruber asked.

“It’s like a damn dynasty. They’re everywhere and they’ve run this school for ever. His dad is a sucky principal and Clint is a fuckin’ faggot. Little Hillary thinks he’s so coo ‘cause he was secretary of st…student council like a hundred years ago.” The boy flipped off the absent Clint Hilliard. “That shitty family makes me want to hurl. I wish someone would just shoot them all.”

“Especially that bitch cheerleader,” the dancing girl spat with venom. “How does she fit in anyway?”

“She’s the principal’s granddaughter,” Trent replied.

“Well, I shoulda made the fuckin’ cheer squad, not her. She’s a cow.”

The wrestler who still lay on the floor, sprung up, began mock-cheerleading and chanted “Knock her up, Knock her up.” The other boys joined him.

Gruber looked at each student, then at Trent, wondering how this behavior was allowed and why the teacher hadn’t tried to stop the inappropriate language. “I take it,” Gruber said, “you don’t like the Hilliard Family.” He put his hands in his pants pockets, leaned against a table housing a computer, and smiled as if he’d found a way to handle the situation; he’d speak their language.  “Well, I ain’t Clint Hilliard, so I don’t know who the hell any of you punks are.” He nodded at the ersatz cheerleader. “Bro, why don’t you put down your pom-poms and tell me your name?”

“Punks. Pom-poms,” the boy said with a laugh. “Dawg, you’re funny. I might give you a fuckin’ chance. I’m O’Donnell, Rich O’Donnell.”

“O’Donnell came here from Kentucky this year,” Trent interjected.

“Really?” Gruber asked. “I went to Louisville for two years before I transf…”

“Oh, another asshole college boy,” the other wrestler interrupted. “Big fuckin’ deal.”

Gruber smirked. Charming kid, he thought.  He addressed the youth. “Bro, who are you?”

“Rooney Juliando. Why do you want to know? And I ain’t your damn ‘Bro.’”

“Because we’re gonna share this room all day, maybe for several days.”

“Not if I can help it, faggot.”

“Whoa!” Gruber reacted with surprise. “Why did you call me that? You don’t know anything about me.”

“We know enough,” the texting youth chimed in, stepping away from the window. “You went to college and you’re wearing a button-down collar shirt with a retarded alligator on it. Anyone who dresses like that is a faggot.”

Gruber laughed at the absurdity of that statement. “Not sure I agree with you, but you are entitled to your opinion.”

“Oh, thank you, sir,” the boy returned with sarcasm and stepped back to the window. He looked out expectantly, as if he were awaiting a furniture delivery.

“What’s your name anyway?” Gruber asked.

Trent interrupted. “That criminal punk is Carl Benson. His dad is a well-known surgeon and one of my close black friends. And now I’ve got his son in my class. He’s one of my African–Americans.”

A chime rang from inside the room’s front wall. “Here is today’s bulletin,” the secretary’s voice announced. Trent silenced it by aiming a remote at the hidden speaker. “We never listen to those announcements,” he said. “They’re all fake news.”

The dozing girl raised her head and sat up, exposing a makeshift pillow, a stack of one-hundred-dollar bills, covered in drool. She looked at Gruber with clueless confusion.

“I’m Gruber. What’s your name?”

“Bethie Dee Foss. Who are you?” She appeared to be unaware she had commented on his name earlier. “Have they told you I don’t belong in this class? I’m unqualified. Should never have been placed here. I should be at private school with the other rich kids.”

“You belong here,” O’Donnell corrected. “Actually, you belong right there.” He pointed at a faded, threadbare sofa along the back wall. “Lying on your back, naked, with me on top of you.”

“You are such a retard,” Bethie Dee Foss charged.

Disgusted, Gruber’s eyes darted to the boy listening to rap. He motioned to him to remove the ear buds. The small, pre-pubescent, olive-complexioned boy pulled out one purple bud with a snap. “I’m Gruber, dude, What’s your name?”

“Marco Trujillo,” he answered with a thick Mexican accent. The youth wore a Texas A&M Aggie football jersey. He attempted to replace the ear bud.

Gruber motioned to stop. Marco looked at him. “What?” he shouted with impatience.

The visiting substitute tilted his head to the side. “What up, Marco? You really don’t look happy here?”

“Why should I be happy here? I hate this fuckin’ school and this damn room. But, most of all, I hate Trent.”

Gruber looked at Trent who, instead of trying to mend whatever division existed, mocked Marco’s anger in an exaggerated manner. Gruber refocused on the student. “Why do you hate him? What did he do to you?”

“What did he do to me? He took my mother. I haven’t seen her in two months. She’s probably dead.”

“That’s a lie, Beaner!” Trent erupted. “I did not kill your mother.”

“I didn’t say you killed my mother. But, where is she then?”

“Look, I wasn’t the one who crossed the border between the students’ part of the room and my desk area. You did that and you knew that is wrong. You know what the rules are. It isn’t my problem if she never got home from your disciplinary meeting.”

As Gruber was about to press Trent on his disturbing comment, a bell dinged from the computer on Trent’s desk. Both men peered at the screen. “Oh look,” Trent said with excitement, “a video message from the school district superintendent. He leaned in and listened as his boss announced that the district had annexed a neighboring school, Krymia Peninsula High.” Trent turned to Gruber. “I love that man. Voldemort Wooten is a god to me. Wanna see a picture of him riding a horse shirtless?”

“Not really. But what is that huge red square building in the background? Is that school district headquarters?”

“No. That’s Wooten’s winter palace.”

A female voice interrupted them. “Does this look OK?” the girl applying cosmetics called from the back corner. Gruber spun in her direction, saw the girl facing the class, and noted that it didn’t look OK. Her make-up was caked on, clearly overdone. The other students turned, their faces reflecting obligation rather than interest.

“Holy shit!” Juliando exploded. “You look like a ho.”

Gruber looked at the girl, and in an effort to be supportive, nodded and smiled as if he approved. “What’s your name?”

The girl flipped her shoulder-length brown hair with an arrogant snap. “Tara Applebee-Flanders. I speak for this class at student council meetings, so I always have to look on fleek.”

“No, you don’t,” argued Carlson. “You don’t speak for me.”

“And you have never looked on fleek,” derided O’Donnell with a laugh.

Carl Benson turned away from the window and burst into laughter. “You look like a friggin’ dyke trying not to look like a dyke.”

“Fuck you all. You’re a bunch of bastards,” the girl said. “You all deserve to be in special ed.” She turned to the mirror to add a fourth coat of blue eyeshadow.

“Hey,” Trent called from the front of the room. “This is not a special education class. That is fake news. This class is for…”

“…criminals and rapists like us.” O’Donnell finished the sentence. “We’re a bunch of losers.”

“You are not losers!” Trent corrected. “You are the greatest students in this school. Greatest. Really greatest. Or I wouldn’t have chosen you to be in my great socialization class.”

Gruber stared straight-faced, trying not to react to the series of lies Trent was spewing. He looked at the boy who had been sitting silently, except for the chanting, on the desk. “Dude, what’s your name? Do you ever talk? Do you ever have an opinion?”

“Spike Zentz. And no to both questions.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I figure, if I don’t say anything or make any waves, my past record might be ignored and I’ll get into some college somewhere and become a teacher. Maybe Harvard. Maybe Indiana. Maybe Electoral. My dream is to replace Mr. Trent.”

The classroom door inched open and an attractive, stylish African-American girl oozed in. No one noticed. “God damn bus!” she exploded, as she stood in the doorway, hands on hips. It was obvious she wanted to be noticed. Teenage heads pivoted to the door.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Trent acknowledged the girl, “Amy-Rosa Prentiss. It’s so nice that you could join us, Amy-Rosa. Even if you are late again. Miss the bus?”

“Yes, Mr. Trent,” she replied. Her tone was sweet, artificially sweet.

“The hell you did,” the teacher countered with anger in his voice. “You were seen talking with someone I instructed you to never talk to, Amy-Rosa. Never!”

“Who’d she talk to?” Juliando asked.

“Special Ed Counselor Roberta Miller.”

Gasps were heard throughout the room.

“Yes, Amy-Rosa was talkin’ shit about what goes on in here with that witch-hunting witch Roberta Miller, weren’t you, you disloyal, lying dog?”

“Who told you that?”

“The journalism teacher, Shawn Cannady.”

“Well, that’s not true. He’s telling you alternate facts. All Ms. Miller and I talked about was…um…um…how Hilliard uses school equipment and time to handle personal emails. Yeah. That’s what we talked about.” Amy-Rosa tapped her faux-Gucci handbag. “I even recorded the whole conversation like you said. Remember, sir? You ordered us to secretly record any meetings with people who could get you fired.” Amy-Rosa smiled slyly. “And you can have that recording for $130,000.”

“Get the hell out of my room!” Trent roared.

Gruber stared in disbelief as Amy-Rosa turned and, exiting the room, slammed the door. The students in the class, although they had acted shocked by Amy-Rosa’s turning on Ronald Trent, behaved calmly, as if confrontational exchanges like this were normal.

As soon as the door closed, the girl who had been dancing near the windows shouted, “Hey, Gruber, why haven’t you asked my name?”

“No reason,” he lied. In fact, he found the girl so unattractive, he was afraid to address her. “So, what is your name?”

“Kelley Ang-Kahn-Wei.”

“Really. Your name implies Asian roots,” Gruber returned with surprise, “but you’re so blonde.”

“I turn more tricks as a blonde.” Kelley announced, as she sat down on the sofa along the back wall. She tucked her legs under her.

Before Gruber had a chance to react to Kelley’s comment, the closet door burst open, banging it into Applebee-Flanders, who crashed to the floor. A boy and a girl rushed out of the closet.

“How long do we have to say hidden? It’s been months,” the girl asked. “I think I missed a period.”

The boy gazed at Applebee-Flanders on the floor. “Sorry for the collision.”

“There was no collision!” Trent roared from the front of the class. “None. No collision. That is fake news. There has never been any collision with rushing people. Now get back in there,” Trent cried. “You two don’t exist. You’re in hiding so you can’t testify against me.” He looked at Gruber. “You did not see or hear them.”

“But I did see them. Who are they?”

Silent Spike Zentz spoke. “Yvonne Katramp and Jerry Douchler.”

A pair of burly hands, each adorned in brass knuckles, reached from the closet and forcibly pulled the pair back into the dark. “Whew,” exhaled Trent. “Remember. None of you saw anything.”

“But I did see them,” Gruber argued. “We all saw them.”

“No, we didn’t,” denied Juliando.

“Well, I saw them.”

“That’s a lie,” the teacher charged.

“But I saw Yvonne Katramp and Jerry Douchler come out of what appeared to be forced hiding.”

“Do I need to call my lawyer, Mr. Gruber?” Trent threatened.  “Yes. I do.” He pulled out his cell phone.

Gruber protested. “No. No. You’re over-reacting. There’s no need to…”

“Shut up,” Trent ordered, “you useless, lazy, lyin’ liberal.” He listened to his phone long enough for it to have rung several times. “Michael Kern, where are you? Michael Kern? Michael Kern?” Then he exploded. “You’re my fuckin’ fixer. You’re supposed to answer your phone 24/7. Your damn job is to fix shit for me. You’re my fixer.”

The classroom door flew open, crashing into the wall with a sudden bang. Trent, startled, dropped his phone and focused on the door. “Oh, Michael, you’re here. How’d you know…”

As Gruber wondered why the teacher needed a “fixer,” he spun around to look at Trent’s lawyer. He, however, immediately fell to the ground as Michael Kern pointed a revolver at Ronald Trent’s head. A moment later, it was a smoking gun.

 

Border Lyin’

“Mama!” six-year-old Luis calls through his tears. He sobs the plea again and again, repeating the call for his mother each time a droplet drips from his chin.

“Luis! Mi niňo. Luis!” wails Eleanora Ramirez, a Guatemalan asylum-seeker, as she watches a stern-faced woman buckle a seatbelt across the scrawny child’s torso. Three other young children sit in the sedan’s backseat, already strapped in. They, too, are shrieking. But Eleanora only hears Luis. She screams, “No mi hijo!” as the woman coldly seats herself in the driver’s seat. “Looooeeeesss!” Eleanora roars as the car drives away. She slumps to the ground, sobbing with desperation and despair, her handcuffed wrists behind her back. A uniformed man, perhaps a foot taller than the tiny woman, grabs her by the shoulders and lifts her up with a forceful tug, denying her the time to feel, to panic, to grieve, and pushes her toward a dusty beige van with English words she does not understand and an American flag insignia on its sliding door. Eight similar looking women in the van sit uncomfortably because they, too, have cuffed wrists behind their backs.

Perhaps a quarter mile away, the Rio Grande River flows, its water level rising, the result of a flood of broken-hearted tears, tears the color of a sandy desert dust devil.

Welcome to the United States, Land of the Free, Land of Opportunity, you courageous, frightened, and distraught Mexican and Central Americans. You nervy humans, seeking refuge and opportunity. This is Trump’s America.

But how did the US-Mexico border become this heartless hell? How did the immigration situation on our southern border get so out of hand? It couldn’t have happened over night. It didn’t. It began long ago.

Between 1910-1920, the decade of the Mexican Revolution, approximately 20,000 war refugees and political exiles escaped the violence in Mexico by fleeing north each year. During the 1920s, after the revolution had ended, the yearly figure rose to between 50,000 and 100,000. These immigrations were legal. But they were not the only foreigners coming to America.

As Mexicans blended into the work force, they were perceived as better laborers than the immigrants coming from East Europe and Asia.  They were seen as “docile” and “strong.” They were also perceived as “temporary,” more likely to return home when conditions were right.

In an attempt to control the situation, the Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas. Each country was allowed a set number of émigrés. Mexico, however, was exempt, because, without them, farmers were unable to find laborers to sow and harvest their crops.

Meanwhile in Mexico, between 1926 and 1929, new government laws restricted the role of the Catholic Church, even though the nation is 98% Catholic. As a result, many Mexicans immigrated to the US.

But in 1929, the stock market crashed. There were no jobs in the US. Tens of thousands of Mexicans returned home. A decade or so later, however, when World War II created countless jobs as American men went off to fight, droves of Mexican men returned. In fact, in 1942, a US government program was created encouraging Mexicans to come. Most came to work, but some came to join the military and assist the United States’ war effort, even though they were not citizens.

The creating of this program may have been the starting point, the genesis of the border problems we have today. Republicans, who focus on business, economy, and defense, supported the concept because Mexican contributions were beneficial to us. Democrats, with a more humanity-centered focus, saw this program as helping poor, needy people survive. Mexicans, too, liked the concept because, while some would use the program to become permanent residents, even citizens, and others treated the situation as temporary, they all sent money home to their struggling families. This, of course, helped the Mexican economy, which government officials liked.

Two decades later, in 1965, the US passed the Abolition of National Origins Quota Act. It imposed a ceiling of 120,000 immigrants from the Western Hemisphere, not an allocation per nation. Therefore, theoretically, all 120,000 could have come from Mexico. They didn’t. But they certainly formed the largest group. Again, this was done for economic reasons; cheap labor was provided for Republicans and a sense of helping needy people was provided for Democrats.

Up to this time, most crossings into the US from the south were legal, systematic, and involved checkpoints. But something happened in the 1960s to change that.

Drugs.

There had been a drug trade from Mexico and Central America prior to the ‘60s, but the latter years of the decade saw considerable growth in the industry, which, it should be pointed out, was spurred by American demand. As a result of the growth of this illegal business, the US initiated Operation Intercept in September 1969 and closed down the border for weeks. The hope was to stem the flow of Mexican marijuana. It, however, failed. It was a weak attempt at tightening up a porous border.

The effort involved increased surveillance of the border from both air and sea, but the major part of the policy was the individual inspection, mandated to last three minutes, of every vehicle crossing into the United States from Mexico. Because of complaints from cross-border travelers, and from the Mexican president, the searching of vehicles was reduced after 10 days and completely abandoned after about 20 days.

At about the same time, the Mexican government was receiving a growing number of threats from guerilla dissidents and the forerunners of drug cartels. Cooperating with the US became dangerous. For their safety and protection, Mexican officials began cooperating with the cartels. A new form of government corruption was born. Tensions grew between the US and Mexico over drug, border and immigration issues.

It should be mentioned that drug trafficking was not limited to the US and/or Mexico. It had become a worldwide problem. In fact, a Global War on Drugs was declared in 1971. But the US had another war on which to focus…Vietnam…and couldn’t supply the time and manpower to effectively fight drug traffickers.

In hindsight, it would seem this would have been the time—when drugs and drug traffickers were added to the mix, over-shadowing the hard-working Latino laborers coming to the US—to do something strong, drastic, and effective in preventing continued uncontrolled entry into the US from Latin America. This would have been the time to stem the growing flood of “illegal aliens” who entered the US without going through the system, any system. But the US does not operate that way. The US is, and generally has been in modern times, reactive, not proactive in problem solving. Therefore, as a result of decades of pussy-footing, missed opportunities, and failing to think outside-the-nine-dots, Donald Trump, when he became some peoples’ president, over-reacted to the double-headed problem of needy humans and illegal drugs by attempting to build a symbolic, but penetrative wall. And separating children from their families. And jailing desperate people seeking the kindness of strangers.

What would have happened if, after failures in Korea and Vietnam, the US government and its military reassessed their priorities and visions? What would have happened if US officials stopped trying to force America’s version of democracy on cultures in which it would not work? What would have happened if President Nixon, Ford, Carter or Reagan had brought our troops stateside from the far-corners of the world and ordered them to defend our borders, to remind them that they are a part of the Department of Defense, not offense? What would have happened if we had built a very deep-set, tall wall or barrier along our southern border then, at a much lower cost, and created one or two sufficiently staffed crossing sites per state where proper vetting could occur? What if housing, food, showers, and medical care were provided in case the investigating took several days as computers and phone systems were not as sophisticated as they are now? What if armed American military with some knowledge of Spanish and trained to calmly deal with people unlike themselves lined the border behind the fence, not to kill illegal border-crossers, but to escort them to proper entry points? That final image, I am certain, will freak out some people. But, in Mexico, armed military and police are a common sight where needed and it doesn’t feel like a threat, either to people or freedom.

How many ill-intentioned aliens, “undesirables,” or criminals would challenge the armed US military facing them? How many would cooperate and go through a systematic third-degree to enter the US? Very few, if any. Only those with good intentions, clean records, and no options would endure that security system. Those foreigners fearing questions, vetting, interviews, searches, and investigations would turn back or refuse to cooperate and they would be sent back.

Meanwhile, the US soldiers, since they are on home soil, would be closer to their families. Perhaps, nearby housing even would be provided. After all, until Trump, the Republican Party had been the champion of “family values,” while Democrats traditionally had been focused on the needs, physical and psychological, of the people. What if the US military, stationed along our borders—Canada is a part of this, too—and not in a foreign land, could spend their pay boosting the US economy? If we had done any of this in the 1970s or ’80s, we could have avoided the horrible, inhumane events happening along our southern border today. Imagine, with the advancements in computers and phones, how quickly the vetting could be done today.

A simplistic, unrealistic, naïve remedy? Perhaps. But that which has been tried, hasn’t work. If the US government had been serious about fixing its border problems, it should have been more aggressive, daring, and innovative in its attempts to stop an already difficult situation from getting out of hand.

Therefore, now, decades after the problems at the US’s southern border began, after several presidents and congresses could have done something organized, civil, humane, and effective against border-crossers, whether criminal or desperate law-abiding people, Donald Trump, with his heart the size of a termite’s hemorrhoid and a brain the size of that termite’s dick, separates small children from their parents, houses them in institutional conditions, and causes life-long traumas.

I watch from the interior of Mexico with embarrassment. I am ashamed to say I am an American. I am disgusted that a man so horrible, so heartless, could be president. I am beyond angry that about one-third of the US population still supports that madman and this action. I am furious at spineless, morality-challenged elected Republicans who rationalize Trumps behavior, actions, and choices, without challenging him, because, in their world, political party comes before country or humanity.

And I am dumbfounded that they don’t hear little Luis or his mother Eleanora Ramirez cry.

There She is, Miss Amerigone

She takes off her swim suit and drops it because it no longer fits. She hasn’t gained weight. It hasn’t shrunk. She’s matured. Her name is Miss America.

Times change. Priorities change. Values change. Rules change. Therefore, Gretchen Carlson, Chairman of the Miss America Board of Directors, announced on June 5, 2018 that the annual beauty pageant turned scholarship program would be undergoing major changes this year. “Miss America will be a competition, not a pageant,” Carlson declared. “There will be no swim suit competition. Evening gowns won’t be required.” There will be more room for individuality and self-expression, she implied. Carlson added perfect figures will not be a priority and there will be other changes, too.

But, I wondered, what are these other changes? So I went directly to the source. “Ms. Carlson?” I asked, but was stopped before I could continue.

“You will refer to me as ‘Ms. Carlson, Miss America 1989.’ And you will make no reference to my years on FOX News. Now, what is your question?”

“I am curious,” I said, “about the other changes in the Miss America program.”

“First,” the former Fox News co-host said, “contestants will not be expected to ‘love all the other girls’ in the competition or ‘consider them sisters forever’ as have generations of contestants before them. They are, in fact, being given permission to dislike other competitors. But they may not refer to them as bitches,’ unless, of course, they are.”

I was told about another change by a reliable source, a former Miss America official, as he was being released from prison. The age of eligibility has been raised. Contestants now may be as old as 50. But those between 25 and 50 must make certain their walkers are in perfect working order and pose no threat to the safety of the other contestants. In addition, walkers may not display political paraphernalia. Religious icons, however, are permissible.

My research left me with mixed feelings. I felt as conflicted as Miss Iowa 1974 who could both tap dance and yodel, but was limited to one for the talent competition. She unfortunately chose the wrong one as she was asked to leave the pageant during the preliminaries after she apparently yodeled a Swiss expletive.

I am glad to see the elimination of the bathing suit competition because it made me feel fat and decrepit. And I know I am not fat. But I am saddened to see that evening gowns have become optional. Contestants, instead, are given the choice to wear what they feel best represents them as an individual and as Miss America, were they to win. The reason for this change is that organizers have acknowledged that Miss America winners, when traveling the country or world, rarely make appearances in evening gowns. For me, however, the evening gown competition demonstrates each girl’s taste and style. Was the dress too sexy, too garish, or too ordinary? Did her hairstyle conflict with the dress’s neckline? Was the jewelry too Joan Rivers and not enough Tiffany? Were any of the items worn purchased with coupons? Therefore, I for one, hope some of the contestants opt to wear gowns. In fact, I have several elegant ones they could borrow. If they like gingham or plaid.

I worry, however, that the new changes, particularly those emphasizing individuality, may impact the event negatively. To see how this may occur, I suggest we follow the journey of my imagined next Miss America, the first under the new rules, as she progresses through and wins the pageant…I mean competition.

My imagined winner, who will represent a state I will call East Oklahorado, will make her first appearance on stage with all 50 competitors when they introduce themselves and proudly name their state. She will be wearing skinny jeans tucked into red, white, and blue cowboy boots, and a bold, Greek-letter adorned sorority sweatshirt. It will be at this time we learn, through voice-over, that this contestant’s cause, the issue with which she is most concerned, and the project to which she will dedicate her reign is the struggle for diversity in college sororities. “My house,” she will boast, “at North Central East Oklahorado State College, where I am majoring in Emojis, not only has two African-American members, but a Cambodian refugee, a Guatemalan Dreamer, a homeless drug-addict, an obese girl with acne, and a Jewess. But we will not feel complete until we have a member who is a struggling C-student who both lisps and stutters.”

For her “individual style” look, formerly the evening gown competition, her best opportunity to express her uniqueness, Miss East Oklahorado will wear a simple little black dress with a pearl necklace, as will 37 of the other contestants. For the talent competition, which accounts for 62.389% of the score, the next Miss America will perform Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” which she will insist is not sexist because it does not refer to the object of desire as a ho, bitch, or the “C” word. You know the word…chick. She won’t sing the song, but will play “P.Y.T.” on a tuba while clog dancing—yes, one may now multi-talent, provided the talents do not involve cherry stems or stripper poles. During this portion of the competition, Miss East Oklahorado will be wearing a form-fitting sleeveless red-sequin evening gown, which will accentuate her 5’ 4”, 165 pound frame and will expose her forearm tattoos of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Popping out of the tuba’s horn at the end of the performance will be an American Eagle, wearing Michael Jackson’s white sequined glove on one talon.

At this point, while the judges are tallying scores to determine the five semi-finalists, buxom Miss America 2015, wearing a brief white two-piece swim suit, will introduce viewers to the judges. They are Kevin Spacey, Martina Navratilova, Vladimir Putin, Stormy Daniels, and one of the Kardashians—I think the one whose name starts with a “K.”

As one of the five semi-finalists, Miss East Oklahorado will participate in the important question-and-answer portion of the competition. She will have chosen to wear the army uniform, including the patrol cap, her mother wore when she fought in the second Iraq War. The camera will then pan to her mother in the audience who will be wearing an American flag-patterned dress purchased at K-Mart.

Miss East Oklahorado then will be asked by judge Kevin Spacey, “If you could be a female character in any film, who would that be and why?”

“Oh, I’d be Scarlett O’Hara,” she will answer with confidence, “because Janet Leigh has always been my favorite actress. Did you know she was once married to Tony…Tony…Romo of the Dallas Cowboys? It was right after she filmed Streetcar Named Retire.” That answer will assure her a spot in the Final Three.

As the Final Three huddle on stage congratulating one another and thinking How the hell did those two bitches get this far?, the host, Jason Mason, who was the least talented member of the ‘90s boy band One of Us is Gay, will say, “Look at our Final Three. Aren’t they beautiful? They look like The Supremes or Destiny’s Child. Except they’re all White.” He will then explain that since the final questions are difficult and complex each contestant will be given 20 minutes to answer. Coffee is served to the judges.

Miss East Oklahorado will go first, guaranteeing her some semblance of attention by the judges, audience, TV viewers, and Donald Trump. Her question will be, “If you could serve as any elected official in the United States, which would it be, why, and what would you do?”

“I would proudly serve,” she will say without hesitation, “as national president of my sorority, Delta Upsilon Mu.”

A sudden outbreak of chanting from the right side of the audience will interrupt the answer. “DUM! DUM! DUM!” Miss East Oklahorado’s sorority sisters will cheer.

“Yes, I am a proud Dummie,” she will continue, “but I will work with the national presidents of all the other sororities, including the really pitiful houses. I would strive to include all college girls in sorority life, whether they are unattractive, overweight, stupid, or come from a home without a swimming pool.  You see sororities should be a microcosm of the world. They should be an example of a better America. A better North Korea. A better Russia. Sororities even should be an example of a better Vatican City.” Miss East Oklahorado will pause and look at the emcee. “How much more time do I have?” she will ask.

“Eighteen minutes.”

She will repeat her statement 5 times. “Well, that should fill my 20 minutes,” she will say.

“No,” the host will argue. “Two times five is 10.  You still have 10 minutes if you want them.”

Miss East Oklahorado will look at him with skepticism, take out her cell phone, activate the calculator, and look up with surprise. “Oh, you’re right.” And she will repeat her statement five more times.

She will be named Miss America, and the previous title holder will struggle to balance the tiara atop the military patrol cap. The new Miss America will be handed 50 red roses and then will walk the runway, waving as she goes. When she reaches the end, she will salute her mother, step off the runway and present the flowers to her. She will carefully remove her tiara, then her mother’s military cap, place the hat on her mother’s head, replace the tiara on her own, climb onto the runway and rush to the 49 other contestants who embrace her, shrieking their congratulations, but thinking, How did this bitch win this travesty?

It won’t be until the press conference the next day that we will learn the new Miss America intends to use her scholarship winnings to earn her Master’s Degree in Emojis and finance her gender reassignment surgery.

A Semi-Adios

Last week’s post presented a conundrum. Horrible People consisted of a long list of names ending with the word “sinned.” I asked what had these people done. Well, obviously, they’d sinned. But that wasn’t the more important question, the real reason I included “Horrible People” in my blog. My purpose was to ask why the list was special. So, drum roll please, here is the answer, why I felt the list was worthy of publication. It is because it is a palindrome; it reads the same forward and backward.  It is among the longest in the English language.

But why did I really post it? I stated I had not written it and until then everything on my blog had been original.The answer is simple. I’ve been writing weekly blog posts for two years now. It is becoming more and more challenging to come up with with new, creative, original ideas and subject matter.

Therefore, I am making a major change in the blog. Instead of weekly posts, I am switching to to monthly ones. They will appear on the last Monday of each month.

To those of you who have read my babbles regularly, I thank you. Your supportive comments have been appreciated. I will “see” you all again on Monday June 25.