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.

Horrible People

 

What did these horrible people do? But more important, what is special about this list ? If you don’t know, the answer will be included in next week’s post. And, if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t create this. I discovered it perhaps 40 years ago and just like challenging others with it.

Dennis, Nell, Edna, Leon, Nedra, Anita, Rolf, Nora, Alice, Carol, Leo, Jane, Reed, Dena, Dale, Basil, Rae, Penny, Lana, Dave, Denny, Lena, Ida, Bernadette, Ben, Ray, Lila, Nina, Jo, Ira, Mara, Sara, Mario, Jan, Ina, Lily, Arne, Bette, Dan, Reba, Diane, Lynn, Ed, Eva, Dana, Lynne, Pearl, Isabel, Ada, Ned, Dee, Rena, Joel, Lora, Cecil, Aaron, Flora, Tina, Arden, Noel, and Ellen sinned.

Idiotic Idioms

Carlos Ignacio Julio Rodriguez de Soto ambled toward the popular Ajijic coffee shop. A cautious, self-consciousness permeated his gait. He spotted an unoccupied table amidst several tables of English-speaking customers and sat. In a smooth continuous move, he slung his backpack off his shoulder and onto the table. He unzipped it, reached in and pulled out a dog-eared, disintegrating Spanish-English dictionary. Then he tweezed from the back pocket of his skinny jeans his cellphone and readied its translation app. He scanned the jabbering Yanks, Canucks, and Brits around him.

Oh, I don’t stand out, he thought. No. Not at all. I’m not just the only teenager sitting here, but I’m the only Mexican, too.  He chuckled to himself. These people are older than my mama and papa. Hell, they’re older than Mexico. But I’ve gotta do th…

His thoughts were interrupted by a voice speaking Spanish near his left ear. “What are you doing here, Carlos?” He turned to see a former schoolmate, Diego Sanchez, holding two dirty coffee cups with spoons protruding from them.

Carlos jumped up and hugged his friend. “I have to practice listening to English. Seňora Losada said we need to listen to gringos speak.” Carlos tilted his head. “You had Seňora Losada for English before you graduated, right?”

“Of course. And she’s right. You have to listen to other people besides her,” Diego explained. “You know she has never been to el norte. She learned English in school, like us.”

“I know.”

“Dude, I was shocked how poor my English comprehension was when I started working here.” Diego peeked over his shoulder at the barista. “My boss is watching, Carlos. Can I get you anything?”

Carlos looked at Diego. A mix of lack of confidence and terror screamed from his eyes. “Yes.” He paused, mentally forming the rest of his answer. “I will have normal coffee,” the teen replied in deliberate English. “No. I mean regular coffee. Thank you.” Diego nodded like a teacher commending a student for a job well-done and stepped away. Carlos smiled with satisfaction.

A man in a polo shirt sidled up to a table near Carlos. The two men and one woman occupying it looked up. “Where’s Debbie?” the woman asked.

“She’s a bit under the weather.”

Carlos looked at the sky. Hazy filtered clouds looked back. Under the weather? This Debbie, Carlos thought, is sitting below the clouds? But why she cannot be here?

Voices caught Carlos’ attention from his other side. He turned. Three women were talking with animation as they smoked. One of the women was looking at Carlos. She smiled and looked away. Another woman said, “You know that girl from California who moved into the casita behind me? Well, she’s not playing with a full deck.”

Fool deck? Carlos repeated to himself. What does that mean?

The woman continued. “She asked me to drive her to Guadalajara so she could go to Starbucks for some coffee. I told her we have coffee shops here. And if you insist on Starbucks, take the bus or Uber. Well, she looked at me like I had flipped my lid. ‘Madison,’ I told her, ‘if you think I’m going to drive you to Guadalajara for coffee, you’re barking up the wrong tree.’”

Carlos typed “fool deck” into his phone. “Cubierto tanto” the translation app typed back. This California Madison girl is not playing with a cubierto tanto ? Well, then what is she playing with? he asked himself.  And what is ‘flipped her lid?’ He typed. His cell phone told him the woman had volteó su tapa. She has a tapa? Like my abuela’s Tupperware?

“The wrong tree,” the woman repeated emphasizing “wrong.” Can you imagine me doing that? Driving in Guadalajara? For coffee? Oh, hell, no.”

“Barking,” Carlos typed. Oh, ladrido. I know that. Like the dogs. He typed “wrong.” I know ‘wrong’ means incorrecto. But that does not make the sense. “Incorrecto” appeared on his screen. OK. It is incorrecto. But what tree is the correct tree to bark on? Why would people bark on a tree anyway? People climb trees.

“I don’t think that Madison girl is going to last long,” one of the woman’s companions said. “She’s not gonna cut the mustard.”

               What? Carlos thought. How do you cut mustard? And did Madison actually say, “No. I will not cut your mustard?”

As Diego brought Carlos’ coffee, the woman at the table who had looked at Carlos studied the server. “That new waiter is really good. He’s fast. He notices details. He’s on the ball.”

Carlos peeked at Diego’s feet. “He is not on a ball. How could he work if he on is on a ball?” He looked up and noticed the woman looking at him again. Her gaze darted past him, an obvious ploy. Does that woman know me? Carlos thought. Or does she think she recognizes me? Why else would she be looking at me? Does she think I am someone famous?

The voice of under-the-weather Debbie’s husband lured Carlos’ attention back to the previous conversation. “You know, Gary and Janet bought that place they were looking at.”

“Really?” one of his companions asked. “What’s it like?”

“Well, it has a pool, tennis court, and two casitas. It’s got the whole nine yards.”

               Nine yards? Carlos thought. Why do they need nine yards? Do they have horses? Are they farmers? Do they have many children? Nine yards? Isn’t one enough?

“How did they swing that deal?” the woman at the table asked.

“According to Bill Nelson,” the man answered, “and I take everything Bill says with a grain of salt, they inherited a good chunk of change from Janet’s brother. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag by telling you he was a land developer and made some shady investments.”

Carlos looked confused. This Bill Nelson gives salt when he talks? Carlos grabbed his dictionary and looked up “chunk.” Oh, pedazo. So American coins melt and become chunk. He looked up as if he were thinking. A chunk for each of the coins? Or one big chunk for all of them together? Carlos looked at the feet of the man speaking. He saw a clear plastic bag containing fruit and vegetables. There is a cat in his bag? I do not see a cat.

Women’s laughter from Carlos’ other side grabbed his attention. He turned as one of the women lit another cigarette. “Did I tell you, she asked her tablemates. “Carolyn quit smoking? That’s why she won’t join us anymore.”

“How’d she do it?”

“Cold turkey.”

Carlos sat back. Their friend stopped smoking cigarettes and eats cold turkeys now instead? he thought. That is strange. A conversation from a third table interrupted his contemplation.

“So last night,” a deep male voice said,” I was about to hit the hay, when CNN ran an interview with some White House aide who began to cry in the middle of the interview.”

“Well, they’re all flying by the seat of their pants,” another voice commented.

               I know ‘hit,’ but not ‘hit the hay,’ Carlos said to himself as he typed. Oh, he continued when the translation appeared, why would people hit hay? He laughed. Gringos are very violent. Why don’t they just shoot the hay with their guns? And what is this flying by the chairs of their pants?

“So,” the man went on, “I’m watching this middle-aged man break down on TV and it really upset me. I couldn’t handle it and went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. I just couldn’t get over it.”

Carlos took his dictionary and thumbed to the “D” section. Oh, I didn’t know that. Down also means feathers. But how do you break feathers? And why could the man not get over his bed? How tall are American beds?

Confused by all he had heard, Carlos finished his coffee and packed his belongings. As he stood, the cell phone of the woman with the young Californian neighbor rang. “Hi, Honey,” she answered it. She paused, smiled, and said, “I knew it. Thanks for making my day. I’ll be home soon.”

“What happened?” another lady at the table asked.

“That crazy Madison is already moving out. Going back home. Jim says she hadn’t even completely unpacked. I’m so glad she’s gone.”

As Carlos stepped around the women’s table, the woman who had been peeking at him added with a laugh, “Well, Jeannie, you predicted a short stay. You were right. Elvis has left the building.”

Carlos stopped, a look of understanding washing over his face. He looked at the woman he had caught studying him. “Oh, no. I am not Elvis. My name is Carlos. And we are not in the building. We are outside under the weather,” he said as he turned and walked away.

The ’70s Again

It was January 1, 1970. I was six months from graduating from college. Six months from the real world. I was wearing bell-bottom pants and a tie-dye T-shirt, standing in a closet with the door ajar.  I was listening to the last of the music produced together by four blokes called The Beatles.

I was unable to run or climb stairs quickly because I had recently suffered a herniated disc and was dealing with constant sciatic pain down my right leg. X-rays couldn’t show the damage and doctors couldn’t verify it. I had a horrible draft lottery number and was certain, even though I was incapacitated, I would be headed to Vietnam within months of my graduation. I was freaking out. Luckily, I received an eleventh hour reprieve and was declared ineligible for military service.

Therefore, January 1, 1970 was the first day of my favorite decade. I loved the ‘70s and I don’t know how many times I’ve told people younger than myself that the ‘70s were a great time, an exciting time. Except for one thing

The War in Vietnam.

Even though we spent the first half of the decade in the midst of a senseless war in which several of my schoolmates and thousands of my generation died, we had hope. We thought we could change things, improve the US, its government and policies, and better the world. We marched. We wrote letters. We voted. We had hope.

After all, we were seeing changes, positive steps in the Civil Rights Movement. We were seeing a developing Woman’s Movement. And, unexpectedly, there also was even a glimmer of a Gay Rights Movement. Things were looking better. The sexual revolution had been born. Marijuana use was common and, in certain circles, acceptable.

But, for me, while there were many contributing factors, what made the 1970s special was the music. Certainly, I loved the music from the late ’50s through the ‘60s, especially that which was created by Black musicians or influenced by them. While I enjoyed The Beatles and so many other musicians who were part of the British Invasion, Motown, Phil Specter’s Solid Wall of Sound, and R&B got my juices flowing. Therefore, I was primed for the signature music of the ‘70s…

DISCO!

I remember my first disco experience as if it were yesterday: The City in San Francisco. We’re not talking John Travolta/white suit disco here. We’re talking gay disco, with hundreds of dancing men in T-shirts, tanks, and polos that were shed as sweat poured from their pores. I was overwhelmed with the sound system, the fullness of the music, its layers, and its joy. I was pulled in to the unfamiliar lyrics of the one-hit wonder Everyday People’s gay-lib anthem I Like What I Like (Because I like It), Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra’s Love’s Theme segueing ( Segueing? Who ever heard of segueing before that?) into Under the Influence of Love, and I’ll Always Love My Mama by The Intruders. The Disco Era continued beyond that night, into the 1980s, and I could list countless other records and artists from those years that I loved, that impacted me on numerous levels. But I won’t. Let it just be said that disco was not merely Saturday Night Fever and The Bee Gees for me.

I’m turning 70 this week. It’s like January 1, 1970 all over again. I’ve got that whole decade ahead of me. The ‘70s. Only this time it is my 70s, not the ‘70s. I’m not as hopeful or excited about this 70s. Perhaps it is because life and US politics has left me jaded, skeptical, and disillusioned. Perhaps it is because I no longer have hope. It isn’t that I don’t care about the US anymore; it’s that I don’t have the energy or stamina after 50+ years to keep fighting the hypocrisy and bullshit. I don’t have the energy and stamina to maintain the façade of hope. That is the primary reason I left the US. While I may have loved the 1970s, I realize, now, decades later, I wouldn’t want to live them again, not with all their false promise. Not after all we have endured since then. Not while we are dealing with today’s shit. Not now since I know how it all turned out. No. I wouldn’t want to live those ‘70s again.

Except for the music.