Nissim Nachtgeist is My Father

I recently received an email from a woman I do not know. But her out-of-the-blue communication connected me to the past and my family history with a jolt. A positive jolt. But a jolt nonetheless.

Christiana’s introductory words included two names, Lotte Schwarz and Hotel Comi in Zurich, Switzerland. I recognized both immediately. I thought, “OMG!” so loud I probably roused my father from his 19 year permanent nap and my mother from her four year one. Hotel Comi was where my father lived after he escaped Nazi Germany in 1937. Lotte Schwarz, a friend of my father, also resided there.

Lotte, according to Christiana, had begun writing a novel based on those times. She, however, hadn’t completed the book before her death decades ago, so Christiana, a historian, did what research she could and recently finished and published it.  The book is Die Brille des Nissim Nachtgeist which means The Glasses of Nissim Nachtgeist. That oddly named character is my father. Nissim Nachtgeist was, I learned, a nickname, a pen name, and an alias of Dad’s during those years. “Nissim” is Hebrew for “miracle;” Dad may have known that and that may have played a part in the selection of that name. But I assume Dad picked it because it is a twisted version of Nussbaum. “Nachtgeist” roughly means night spirit, which could be a ghost or phantom. Christiana also informed me that my mother, too, is a character in the book.

Dad did not talk about his past a lot and I sensed as a young child not to ask more than he was willing to share; I understood, even then, there was pain and trauma involved in the life he left in Germany.  What I did know was that he was born a few years prior to World War I and grew up in a small mountain town, Ellrich, in which the Nussbaums were one of two Jewish families. My grandfather was a businessman with connections to local politicians and this had been advantageous as Dad, as a young man, had gotten in trouble with the law on several occasions. His crime?  Challenging the growing Nazi presence between the world wars. The local politicians interceded and dad got a pass.

I also knew Dad had attended several universities in Germany —that was the norm then, to attend more than one school to be exposed to different viewpoints and philosophies — on his way to acquiring a degree in German corporate law. But while a student, Dad wrote letters to cousins in Sweden condemning Hitler and the Nazis. The letters were confiscated at the border and Dad was arrested and jailed. This time the connections with Ellrich powerbrokers, it seemed, were of no use. He spent October through December 1933 in an early form of concentration camp. Surprisingly, he and many other political prisoners or dissidents—very few were Jews— were released in a Christmas Eve propaganda ploy. At first Dad thought all the prisoners had been released, but later learned only some had and wondered why he was one. Once home, Dad was informed he was to pack and leave town immediately. This caused him to suspect a deal had been made. Perhaps my grandfather had begged the local politicians to pay off the Nazis, buying Dad’s freedom, and they agreed provided he would leave the mountain village and cease his embarrassing, problematic activism. He fled to Hanover and relatives, and he never went back to Ellrich. He continued his studies, moving from college town to college town and in early 1937, as conditions in Nazi Germany worsened, Dad fled to allegedly neutral, safe, and welcoming Switzerland. He continued his education in Zurich where he studied Swiss corporate law and earned a PhD comparing it to the German system. My father technically then was Dr. Nussbaum.

I also knew that while in Zurich Dad was a man without a country; he could not return to Germany and he could not become a Swiss citizen. He lived a life in limbo, needing permission from the Swiss government for any work he did or pay he received. I also knew that Dad dabbled on the edges of show business as a film critic, comedy and political satire writer, and event emcee. He may have also performed on stage. Dad, I recall, often told tales of actors, artists, and writers with whom he shared life at the Hotel Comi and others with whom he socialized. Christiane has reminded of these names and taught me details I did not know. For example, I have learned the Swiss government did not regard my father fondly; because he was intelligent, articulate, and a law student and writer, they feared he would expose its questionable treatment of émigrés like himself. As a result, deportation back to Germany was a constant possibility. This may explain the creation of an alter-ego; as Nissim Nachtgeist Dad could hide in plain sight. Dad was, in fact, involved in a pending hearing as an opportunity for my parents to emigrate to America arose. It was resolved just before they left. Whether this was a legitimate resolution or “coincidence” will remain unanswered.

I look forward to learning more about my father as I read about Nissim Nachtgeist. The book is in German, which is problematic, and I will have to rely on my meager knowledge of the language, translation apps, and the kindness of German speaking friends and locals. But, bottom line, I will discover who Dad was before history, life, fate, and my complicated mother changed him.

Jocks, Jerks, and Jokes

It is probably illegal, but many Americans and Canadians living in Mexico utilize Canada’s Shaw Cable Service for their television viewing. This is achieved via satellites and dishes and, while its legality is questionable, it is done on a large scale with all parties looking the other way. As a result of Shaw’s Canadian origin, viewers receive both US and Canadian programming. That includes network sports coverage from ESPN and Canada’s TSN.

24/7

Watching a sports network at night during the week makes sense; that is when most sporting events take place. Weekend games or matches are more likely to be played in the daytime. But have you ever watched a sports network’s daytime weekday programming? I have. Well, I’ve tried.

In order to fill air time, the networks create fluff and filler and then repeat them ad nauseam. The most common example of this programming is Top 10, 50, 100 or 2,437 Lists of various sports related plays, people, or moments. Most last an hour, some days, and a few an entire football, baseball, rugby, or tiddly-winks season. Some lists make sense; they warrant attention. But others don’t. No sports-related topic is too mundane to merit a list. I have partially watched many. Here is my Top 10:

Worst Plays of the Year

Best Plays of the Year

Weirdest Names in Hockey

Wildest Temper Tantrums of Coaches and Managers

Best Beards

Hottest Cheerleaders Named Megan

Hottest Cheerleaders Named Matthew

Best Plays in Curling Championships Taking Place in a Canadian City With a Population Less Than 200,000

Worst Sportscaster Gaffs That Have to be F***** Censored

Most Likely Middle School Athletes to be Drafted by the Pros

Top 1000 Pro Athletes Who Have Been Arrested for Domestic Violence

You will note there are 11 entries in my Top 10. That is because we are talking sports and jocks here. Being able to count to 10 is not required.

Another common program-type used to fill airtime is unimportant games, matches, or tournaments of any sport with players so unknown their own families don’t recognize them and channel surf away when they stumble upon them. Examples are the Shell Oil Golf Tourney from Nome, Alaska…in January, Oral Roberts University vs. Trinity College Outdoor Ice Hockey from Dubai, Curling Live From Miss Sharyse’s African-Canadian Gaspé Bay Hair Salon, and The Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman Tennis Tournament from Ferndale, Ohio, in which all participants, male or female, must wear braided pigtails and gingham frocks with Peter Pan collars. I once stumbled upon a British Premier League soccer match between Tottenham and Bournemouth and wondered where the hell these two cities were and then retracted my thought with a quick channel-surfing snap and a booming, “Who the hell cares?” I suppose men named Nigel, Clive, Giles, Piers, Reginald, Rhys, and Percy do.

Of course these networks do air sporting events live. But then they replay them the following day for those viewers unable to watch the event live because their wives insisted they watch The Bachelor. Naturally, the results are available online for those weak, wife-obeying men who, in a hypnotized stupor, watch the event the next day although they know the outcome. Even I have spent much of an afternoon watching an entire tightly played, close-scored University of Southeast West Virginia vs East Dakota State Lacrosse match before I realized it had actually been played the day before and the outcome was known to the seven people who cared. As it turned out, I had wasted time I could have spent watching porn rooting for the wrong team. Apparently, the team with the cuter players is not necessarily the better squad.

While most of the on-air personalities on these networks are male, there are many female hosts and anchors. Some actually know sports. However, there are many who don’t. They look more like Ivanka Trump, Miss Universe, and Stormy Daniels than Martina Navratilova, Brittney Griner, and Abby Wambach, who look like and are actual athletes. This hiring practice puzzles me. I can’t for the life of me understand why network big-shots and producers select such sexy, long-haired, buxom beauties to host or participate in their programming. Why would a predominately male audience want that? It makes no sense to me. In fact, I’ve spent better than 200 hours in gay bars, alleged gay sports bars, asking patrons who were watching figure skating and critiquing outfits why the networks had hired these women. No one knew for certain. Two onlookers insisted the female sportscasters were drag queens. Eight others blamed Trump.

The men who host sports network programs are generally more qualified. They are, however, also opinionated, loud, testosterone-driven, and argumentative. And while physical attractiveness plays a definite role in the hiring of female sportscasters, it is not considered when hiring men. Neither is tact, civility, or reason.

Take the case of an unnamed network’s daily afternoon program that is typical of many. It is called Asses Talk Athletics and features a panel of sports aficionados who pontificate opinions and speculations as if they are fact. Asses Talk Athletics’ panel consists of Tex Wasserman, Kellieyee Lee Lindley, Ché Gomez-Schwartz, and Bailey Skipmore. I would describe the three men as blowhards; Kellieyee isn’t a blowhard. She’s too vacuous to form opinions. Even though she does participate in conversations and has some —OK, minimal—knowledge of sports, she serves more as window-dressing.  The male trio also makes The Three Stooges appear refined and classy.

Conversations go like this (Well, not exactly like this, but close. Close like a 275 – 273½ NBA score between the Boston Red Sox and Phil Mickelson.):

Stooge #1: “I’m sure Pruxyio Brexinskivo will go 7th in the NBA draft. No doubt about it.”

Stooge #2: “Seventh? You’re nuts. He’s not gonna go any higher than eighth. Eighth, you moron. He’s never made a free throw.”

Stooge #1: “Well, of course, he hasn’t. He played in Lithuanistan where they don’t realize free throws are part of the game. Besides he’s ¾ of an inch taller than anyone else expected to go in the first round. So he’ll go high.”

Stooge #3: “Are you both high? He’s going 17th. I’ve talked to two San Antonio Spurs ball boys and they say the NBA coaches all think he’s problematic because of his temper.”

Kellieyee starts giggling. “You said San Antonio Sperms!”

The Three Stooges look at her for a moment in disbelief.

Stooge #1: “His temper? Murder is not illegal in Lithuanistan. Especially when you kill both your dads.”

Stooge #3: “Seventeenth. He’s going 17th.” Stooge #3 stands, raises his voice, and points at Stooge #1: “You’re an idiot. He’s not going 7th. Everyone knows that. Even Kellieyee!”

Kellieyee: “What?” She tosses her tresses seductively and asks, “Does my hair look sexy this way?”

Stooge #2: “OK. Put your money where your mouth is. If Brexinskivo goes 7th, I’ll buy you dinner at Oscar Robertson’s Steak House. If he goes lower than that, you buy me Kellieyee.”

Kellieyee: “Kellieyee who?” She pouts her lips and then licks them. “Hey guys, do you think these cute dangly earrings make my butt look big?”

That brings us to the biggest ass in sportscasts, Canada’s own Don Cherry. Oh, I know he is a legend and he probably really does know ice hockey. But this politically conservative clown, who is in his 80s, is way past his expiration date.  It is time someone removes him from the sportscaster booth and throws him under a Zamboni. And then, for God sakes, burn his clothes.

Cherry’s colorful, flamboyant, garish suits and sports jackets are his trademark. They are a combination Phyllis Diller, Liberace, and Ronald McDonald. They are bright, brighter, in fact, than Kellieyee.  But he and his wardrobe have to go.

As for commercials on these sports networks, they are aimed at a predominately male audience and tout beer, trucks, and — oh, never mind. I have to leave. ESPNTSNCASTV is repeating the Hottest Cheerleaders Named Matthew List. I have to watch again. I really like the one who cheers for the San Antonio Sperms.

Getting Rear-Ended

I don’t have a car. I gave mine up when I moved to Mexico. I, in fact, have only driven once here at Lakeside, that being a two-mile jaunt helping a neighbor. There are several reasons why I don’t drive here. Mexican traffic laws are one of them. They are puzzling, contradictory, and quite different from those North of the Border (NOB).

To begin with, if one has an accident, it is possible that (s)he will be taken directly to jail until police determine who is at fault. If one doesn’t have insurance, and it is not mandatory in most of Mexico, (s)he will have to pay for the damages out of pocket at that time or remain in jail. That in itself would discourage me from driving here. But there are other reasons.

It is not uncommon for police to stop cars for minor or made-up infractions in order to finagle a mordida, or bribe, out of the driver. This occurs more regularly if one has US or Canadian license plates, is driving a rental car, or the driver appears to be non-Mexican. It isn’t the amount of the bribe that is the problem. It is, from what I hear, rarely more than $25 USD. For me, the stress and time wasted by the intimidation tactic is what is offensive.

But situations involving police are not the only issues one has to deal with while driving. Other drivers present problems, too. People frequently pass on the shoulder, often racing past numerous cars, and then crowd in to the stream of traffic. They also pass on the left, in the oncoming lane, in clearly risky situations. This is often unnecessary because many slow drivers, particularly big-rig truckers will signal with their left blinkers when it is safe to pass. They then will move slightly to the right to give the passing vehicle extra room.

It is also commonplace when you are waiting at an intersection with a left-turn blinker flashing and a chain of cars backed-up behind you, to have an on-coming driver stop and let you make a left turn  even though his lane is moving at a normal rate of speed. While the intent is kind, it can be a surprise, confusing, and unsafe because of the aforementioned passers. If you do not react quickly, the driver allowing the left turn will shrug and make a gesture as if he were saying, “What are you waiting for, Moron?!”

Another frequent situation drivers face here are traffic speed bumps, or topes (pronounced toe-pays). They are everywhere and are as common as stop signs or traffic lights NOB. Driving too fast over them certainly is hard on cars. And on human spines and stomachs, too. But they are an effective method of curtailing reckless speeding.

As a regular walker, I am aware how customary driving practices impact pedestrians, especially when walking on roadway shoulders or unfinished sidewalks. Cars speed by close enough to pedestrians for the walker to smell perfume or cigarette breath emanating from the passenger seat. Side-view mirrors have brushed pedestrians. Sleeves have been ripped. Forearm tattoos have been removed from arms. Wristwatches have been reset. Liposuction has been performed.

Mexican law in general, and that includes traffic laws, are based on the Napoleonic Code, meaning one is guilty until proven innocent. It also means one is not guaranteed a trial by any jury, let alone a jury of one’s peers. These conditions are contrary to laws in the US and lead me to be very cautious when dealing with legalities.

A prime example of a law contradicting what American and Canadian drivers expect involves rear-ending—ah, now you understand the title of this post. What? You thought it was about…Well, shame on you, you dirty-minded perv! Rear-end accidents are a common occurrence here. In the event a driver rear-ends another vehicle, it is not the fault of the driver following. It is the fault of the lead vehicle; apparently slamming on your brakes to avoid hitting another car, a human being, dog, or hallucination is not an excuse. The concept of safe following distances is not a part of traffic law in Mexico.

I also have observed that many laws or traffic rules— one-way streets or “No Left Turn” signs, for example—are not rigorously enforced. They seem to be mere suggestions. That, and the above-mentioned situations, makes driving in Mexico risky, dangerous, unpredictable, and more heart-stopping than a Disneyland E ticket ride. Therefore, I suggest if Americans or Canadians wish to drive in Mexico they become well-versed in local customs, expectations, and laws. And then, I suggest, they walk, take a bus, hire a cab or Uber, or never EVER leave the house.

Kevin and Randall and Kate, Oh My

East Side/West Side was a CBS TV drama that aired for one season, 1963-1964. It starred George C. Scott, Elizabeth Wilson (who later portrayed the mother of Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin in The Graduate), and a young Cicely Tyson. It dealt with tough inner-city problems and controversial issues like prostitution and drugs. It was ahead of its time and it paid a price. Potential sponsors shied away from the program. Numerous local CBS affiliates refused to air it. As a result, it failed to attract a substantial audience and was cancelled after one season. Yet East Side/West Side garnered eight Emmy nominations.

I loved the program. It made me aware of things my 15-year-old brain had never thought about. It touched my heart, exposing me to troubled lives and painful situations foreign to me. When it was cancelled, I wrote letters of complaint to KIRO, Seattle’s CBS affiliate, and “The Seattle Times.” The letter was published in The Times’ TV section. That may have been my first serious, and apparently successful, attempt at writing.

But why am I writing about that now?

The Nussbaum Family did not watch hour-long TV dramas. We watched variety shows, comedies, and news/political programming. That was because most hour-long dramas of that era were Westerns or cop/private-eye/lawyer programs with crimes at their core and guns as the primary prop. My parents did not find those things entertaining. But we watched East Side/West Side because it was courageous, honest, and challenging. That was the first network hour-long drama on TV I loved.

There have been others over the decades: The Waltons, Family, Hill Street Blues, thirtysomething, St. Elsewhere, and My So-Called Life are among those that come to mind. I watched these character-driven programs regularly because the writers’ words and the casts’ gifted portrayals of complex, nuanced characters made me think and feel. But none impacted me like Lost.

The airing of the pilot episode of Lost on September 22, 2007 affected me like no other TV drama episode ever had. The concept, the relatable characters, the writing, the production values, and the mysteries had me hooked from the first scenes. With each new episode, I became more obsessed with trying to interpret the littlest detail, the dialogue, and the symbolism. I became emotionally involved with every character. I found others who felt as I did and spent hours with them trying to decipher each episode. When the first season of Lost was rerun during the summer, I watched with a legal pad on my lap so I could take notes, make connections, see patterns, and find answers. Lost ended six years later. Its conclusion was controversial and unsatisfying for many, but I loved it; I interpreted it my way and found answers and satisfaction.

My experience with Lost, however, had a negative effect on me. I promised myself I would never again allow myself to become so involved, so invested in a TV program, its storyline or its characters. When new dramas aired, first with great pre-season buzz, then stellar reviews, and finally numerous awards, and friends told me, “You just have to watch this show.” I just shrugged and said, “No.” I couldn’t put myself through that again.

Therefore, I did not watch popular, successful, quality programs like The Sopranos, Six-Feet Under, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones. I knew one viewing would get me hooked.

But then came This is Us.

NBC’s promotion made the program sound interesting. I was intrigued. And I broke that promise I had made to myself. I watched the premiere of This is Us.  Several minutes into it, however, I found myself confused by the alternating timeline; one scene took place in the 1980s followed by one in the present followed by another somewhere in-between. I didn’t get it and channel-surfed until I found something I could understand like a rerun of a decades old sit-com with a laugh track that told me when to be amused.

Several weeks later, perhaps five or six, I stumbled onto This is Us again. I’m not sure why, but I gave it a second chance. And am I glad I did. I did not understand the context of the scene I had intruded on, but I could feel its realness, power, and heart. I was hooked.

This is Us is told in an originally structured manner, gradually uncovering why and how the members of The Pearson Family became the people they are today. It explores how both large life-changing events and seemingly insignificant moments in the past influence who we become. It reminds us that people are complex, have painful baggage, and that we should not judge others too soon.

For those unaware of the show or its unusual premise, This is Us follows siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall and their parents Jack and Rebecca Pearson. Kevin and Kate are the two surviving members of a triplet pregnancy, conceived after Super Bowl XIV. While their due date was October 12, 1980, they were born early on Jack’s birthday, August 31; their biological brother was stillborn. Naturally, Jack and Rebecca are devastated by the loss. On that day, a black child is born and his biological father abandons him at a fire station and the boy is brought to the hospital where Kevin and Kate had just been born. When Rebecca’s doctor suggests The Pearsons adopt the baby, to help fill the emptiness of their loss, they at first reject the idea—their grief is too great and it is too soon— but eventually they agree.

The scripts are touching, insightful, and painfully human. The performances by the “generations” of cast members are flawless; the Screen Actors’ Guild recently named it the Best Ensemble Cast – Drama on television. But the structure, how the back and forth time-traveling reveals more and more about the psychology of individuals and families, is at the core of this dynamic drama.

If I don’t cry during an episode of This is Us, I come pretty damn close. Countless other fans have made the same statement. If I sleep well after watching This is Us, it is rare. The Pearsons’ plights and pain echo in my head through the night. If I spend the day following a This is Us episode without it constantly haunting my thoughts, it is…well, that hasn’t happened yet.

Needless to say, I love This is Us. I am thankful I gave it a second chance. But I am even more thankful I broke that promise to myself.

What They Don’t Say

The TV monitor glared at me from its ceiling-high perch in the corner of the empty middle school cafeteria. On the screen, people were running from a building. A muted “Breaking News” screamed from the television. A news headline crawling below it read, “13 Dead in Colorado High School Shooting.” My eyes, brain, and heart stumbled in startled unison. I had never read a headline like that before. The people running, I realized, were students.

It already had been my year from hell. I had left my comfort zone as a high school special education assistant working with disabled students, individuals whose learning and socialization skills were very limited, and had taken a middle school position in an EBD classroom of six or eight.

EBD stands for Emotional Behavior Disorder or Extreme Behavior Disorder. Students with this classification are not necessarily developmentally delayed intellectually or have learning disabilities, per se. They have, instead, mental or emotional issues that make learning a challenge and/or integrating them into regular classes difficult. EBD students can be angry, violent, oppositional, disrespectful, disruptive, lacking a sense of right from wrong, criminal, and uninterested in school or learning. But not all are. These students, however, were. Two already had court-ordered probation officers.

I was on an errand with one of the boys when I saw the CNN report from Columbine High School. I looked away from the television and pointed at something in the distance to distract him from seeing the monitor. It worked. While anger was at the core of his issues, Martell was different from the other students. He wanted to learn and was generally a reasonable, pleasant 11-year-old with a winning smile. The certified teacher in the classroom and I had determined that we needed to keep Martell away from the other EBD students as much as possible to minimize their influence on him. Therefore, unlike the others, he attended several regular classes with me accompanying him. I would work one-on-one with him after these classes doing assignments or reviewing what had been covered in class. The EBD teacher would valiantly attempt to teach the other students anything. As a rule, these attempts were chaotic and unsuccessful.

On this day, I had promised Martell if he stayed focused on his schoolwork, he could accompany me on an errand before lunch. He completed his work, without complaints or causing any problems. We were, therefore, on that errand when I spotted that shocking televised image.

We returned to the class and I pulled the teacher aside and told her what I had seen. We expected our students would learn of the events at Columbine High school during lunch and we prepared ourselves for a challenging afternoon with some of these students finding the events funny and being supportive of the shooters.

To be honest, though, I have no recollection of their post-lunch reaction or behavior.

That day, however, was a watershed moment in the history of the American education system. For all school staff members across the US, that day was dividing line; dates and events were thought of as BC or AC, before or after Columbine. The concept that schools were safe from gun violence and mass murders died that day.

Since then, numerous similar incidents have occurred. Many more students and teachers have died from bullet-terror in American schools. When the most recent of these massacres occurred in Parkland, Florida on February 14, I found myself buried in anger.  Not shock as I had been by Columbine. Not surprise as I had been when incidents had occurred in my home state. Not sadness as I felt after Sandy Hook. But anger. How many times does this have to happen before a serious attempt is made to stop mass shootings, whether they are in schools, concerts, theaters, or malls, in the United States? How many people have to die because crazed, disgruntled, angry, misanthropes were able to purchase automatic rifles? Or steal them? Why have these unnecessary weapons been allowed in the public domain lo these many decades in the first place?

You might think, from those questions, I’m going to begin an anti-Second Amendment tirade. But I’m not. Been there, done that. Over and over again. It is a waste of time and energy because gun lovers have become deaf from the constant near-ear explosions of their pistols, rifles, and automatic weapons. I am saddened they have lost their hearing and suffer. I send my thoughts and fucking prayers.

Instead, I am going to focus on the other chief cause for these killings, mental health. But I’m going to aim at a specific aspect of the mental health picture news reporters, networks, and politicians seem to be avoiding discussing and exploring. That issue was alluded to earlier.

With each incident that has occurred, from Columbine to Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High, my first question has always been, “Is (or was) the shooter an EBD student?” I watch and read reports hoping for a coded clue of some sort that would answer that question. But it is never stated in that succinct term. Instead, words like, disturbed, angry, uncontrollable, violent, etc. are used, words that paint a picture, but do not put a frame on the image. Therefore, I have no proof any or all of the gunmen involved in mass-murder in schools was an EBD student, let alone even in a special ed program. But I suspect most were. The evidence is there. If they weren’t, they probably should have been.

But why, you might ask, don’t journalists or school personnel report after an incident that the murderer had a history in EBD programs? Why is that possibility never explored? If it turns out that the common link between these boys is their being in EBD programs, or perhaps abutting the edge of one, then we—school personnel, private mental health workers, police, parents, reporters, and lawmakers—could prevent future violence and killings. In the case of the Parkland high school, had authorities acted when they should have, the January report to the FBI, which was unforgivably ignored, would not have been necessary. Therefore, I repeat, why is the possible EBD connection not investigated?

The answer is laws.

The creation of special education in the public schools and the laws governing it occurred in 1975 with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) and evolved into 1990’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These laws were to provide an education that meets each child’s unique needs and prepares the child for the future, i.e. further education, employment, or independence and to protect the rights of equality for both the children and their parents. The law was complex, detailed, and challenging. For example, the law included a provision that limited punishment, discipline, or suspensions of special needs students if their school rule-breaking, inappropriate actions were the result of their condition or diagnosis. But an even more problematic provision of the law was that special needs students be placed in the least restrictive environment, one allowing interaction with non-impaired students. This worked fine with some populations. But, with time, it created a logistics nightmare; a growing number of classifications were created and each group needed its own classroom and/or staff. Oftentimes, no space was available making inclusion the only option, even inclusion of students who put other students in harm’s way, i.e. EBD students. That did not raise eyebrows, though, because in America, one is innocent until proven guilty. That did not raise red flags, though, because our policies on anything have always been reactive, not proactive.

Another issue the law addresses may play a major part in how the story is reported and how the people involved may be identified is privacy. One can’t, as I understand it, carelessly state in public forums that an individual is or was in a special education program without permission from the individual or his/her family. I cite an example from my first year as an assistant working with teenagers whose mental and social development was in the approximately 4-7 years of age.

We undertook an enormous art project, one to cover much of a massive cafeteria wall. When completed, we posted a sign that read, “Created by the Special Education Students in Room 107” and we named them. Our students were very proud of their project. The sign was taken down by administrators who reminded us the sign could say “Created by Special Education Students” or “Created by” and then name the students. The two pieces of information could not be linked. We went with the latter so each child could see his name on the wall. The painting remained there for years.

Certainly the laws were well-intentioned and fair. But, I wonder if the lawmakers and courts truly understood in 1975 the myriad of classifications of special education that would arise. Did they think special education was limited to sweet, benign “retarded” students, as they were called then, and physically challenged children whose mental development was normal? Did they understand it would include those “spacey” children we would later understand were autistic or had Asperger’s Syndrome? Did they consider those students so low-functioning their physical and communication skills were that of infants and would remain so for life?

But most important, did they realize that those students described as “disciplinary problems” in the past would now become special needs students and would not only be protected by the law but put other students at risk? Did they consider that when dealing with these students as disciplinary problems, school administrators would be hampered by the law stating special needs students cannot be punished for incidents that were the result of their diagnosis?

Like EBD students.

But there is another set of laws that protect the allegedly “mentally ill” perpetrators of mass murder with automatic rifles, another set of laws that block reporters and others from getting at the cause of the perpetrators’ behavior. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 protects the medical privacy of all Americans. Therefore, any documented information, current or from the past, regarding special needs classifications, psychiatric care, anger management, or medicinal prescriptions cannot be shared or released.

Again, while those laws are well-intentioned and protect the vast majority of Americans, there might be some times or some places which, and some people who might warrant exceptions to that law. There might be some occasions when the public’s right-to-know might supersede the individual’s right–to-privacy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 might have been one of those times. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida might have been one of those places. And Nikolas Cruz surely would have been one of those people. The system allowed Cruz to remain in school for longer than he should have, longer than growing evidence indicated. The system, created by laws, well-intentioned, but perhaps too broad, stymied school administrators and other knowledgeable professionals from forcing their hand and insisting he be placed in the proper environment and treated as a mentally ill person, not simply as a troubled, difficult student from a bad home or a painful past.

Seventeen people died needlessly because of the delusional, hateful, and violent acts of an individual who, neither should have been near them nor had any weapon, let alone an AR-15 assault rifle.

 

Attached is an important and inciteful article that supports, adds to, but also contradicts what I have said. It points out how difficult it is dealing with students who are “disciplinary problems.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/teachers-say-florida-shooters-problems-started-in-middle-school-and-the-system-tried-to-help-him/2018/02/18/cdff7aa6-1413-11e8-9065-e55346f6de81_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_floridaschools-8pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.d872cf9a181d

Reservations

I hop in the taxi at the Tijuana airport and tell the young driver where I am going in poorly pronounced Spanish. He nods, smirks—the look had a hint of mystery, evil or foreboding, but it could have been merely a smirk. I didn’t know how to interpret it—and tells me in Spanish-accented English his name is Jason, not a traditional Hispanic name. Suspicious, I check his license clipped to the passenger-side visor for verification. It identifies him as Eduardo Luis Suarez Mendoza, a name that I cannot connect to “Jason.” Am I safe with this guy? I wonder. But my fears are eased when he asks with concern, “You want that hotel, seňor? Tijuana have many nice hotels. Mexico have many nice hotels. That one ees…”

I interrupt Jason. “It’s OK,” I say with know-it-all arrogance, without hearing his warning. “It’s OK,” I repeat with less conviction, however, as the cab stops in what appears to be a seedy neighborhood. I pay him and, as I get out, notice the neon sign hanging off the building is missing some letters. “Hotel Medicra” it reads with several irregularly separated blank spaces. The drive-up and adjoining street are poorly illuminated as is the walkway to the hotel’s entrance. I stumble on a section of loose, poorly maintained cobblestones, but do not fall. I enter the dimly lit hotel lobby and approach the front counter. The receptionist, a young woman with hybrid features that meld Mexico with Japan, Thailand, or possibly Iran, looks up and beams that public relations smile one learns in Intro to Front Desk 101 at the University of Hotel and Restaurant College.

In Spanish I say, “I have a…” and my mind goes blank. I can’t for the life of me remember the word for “reservation.” I think it starts with an “A.” Panicked, I stare at the receptionist for help. She continues beaming that PR smile. My eyes lock on the pin on her left breast. It says “Leticia.” Oh, her name is Leticia, I think. Then I realize it might be the name of the pin. Or the breast. Her name could be Ichiko for all I know.

I try again. In Spanish. “Tengo una…abuela. No. Abarrote. No. Abrogado.” Leticia, or Ichiko, looks at me with confusion.

¿Tiene usted una reservación? she asks as a scrawny street dog so unkempt its breed is unidentifiable runs past me.

“Reservación? Sí.” The word is reservación? Why’d I think it started with an “A”?  “Mi nombre es Hugh McLaughlin.”

“Ah. Sí. Hola, Seňor…Magal…” she says, her voice trailing off, unable to repeat my last name. She turns to a computer and types. “Aqui,” she says after a moment. “Hoog Magalahoofleen. Bienvenitos a Hotel Mediocridad.”

¿Habla usted inglés?” I ask with hope.

“No. Hablo espaňol y hindi.”

            Hindi? Really? I think. Hindi? Oh, that’ll be a big help. I spy a meandering crack on the wall across from me that resembles the route of the Ganges River. Leticia continues typing and pulls a form from a stack. I think to myself, You need to speak English, Leticia. You’re in Mexico. Americans are running to Mexico like rats escaping a sinking ship. I drum my fingers on the counter. Hindi? How the hell are we gonna get through this registration crap with my poor Spanish and your…Hindi?

But we did.

A rickety old man with a left breast named Javier appears at my side and picks up my light carry-on bag as if I couldn’t lift it myself. He could be 80, maybe more. Hey, I think, I got it here from the airport. I probably can get it to my room without developing a hernia or hemorrhoids. Probably could do it easier than you. I pause in reflection. Oh. That was rude. You still work because you have to. You live off propinas.

Leticia hands the past-his-prime bellman an old-fashioned hotel room key. He says something which I think means “Follow me,” but could be “Thank you, Ichiko” or “My other breast is named Ernesto.” I begin following him through the lobby and within a step or two realize the carpet is threadbare and the furniture features rips, stains, and burn marks. He leads me toward the elevator which has a handwritten sign on its door. It says “Fuera de Servicio,” Spanish for “Out of Order.” I am not certain the sign is referring to the elevator, the hotel in general, or the man with breasts possibly named Javier and Ernesto. We pass the elevator, step into a narrow stairwell, and we begin the climb to the third floor. Immediately, however, I smell urine, stray street dog urine. It fills the passageway, trapped like the stench of a high school jock’s gym locker. And, because of Javier’s age and deteriorating physical condition, it takes a while to reach our destination and relatively fresh air.

We arrive at the hotel room. The door is covered in elderly blistered paint. Javier opens it. A sudden splash of cold air greets me. At least, I think, it doesn’t smell like a gender-neutral canine baňo público. The gust of cold air is accompanied by a loud painful sound. It is reminiscent of Jack Lemmon’s Felix Unger’s sinus condition snorts in The Odd Couple. It is the air conditioner.

“A/C is good. Berry good,” my guide says.

“Could you turn it off, please?” I shiver.

“No turn off.  Broked.”

“Broken?”

“Sí. Broken. Dos aňos. Two years.”

Then, as if this level of disrepair is routine, he leads me into the room and sets my bag on a worn area of the carpet. “Here television,” he says, as he hands me the remote. “Baňo,” he adds as he points to the bathroom. I think I see icicles on the mirror. He steps toward the front door and turns toward me. He seems a bit impatient and distracted, but smiles.

My teeth are chattering. I look at him, then at the shrieking air conditioner. ¿Esto es normal?

“Sí, he is normal.”

This is not gonna work, I think. I, however, glimpse my watch and realize I don’t have time to find another hotel. I should have listened to that nice cab driver. But, I rationalize, it is only for one night. I’ll make it work. “OK,” I mutter with defeat and hand him ten pesos. He departs after a hurried “Gracias.” As he shuts the door, the rattling, whining sounds of the faulty air conditioner amp up. I probably should have researched this place, I reprimand myself, and not trusted that guy’s suggestion. After all, I hardly know him. But I thought “Mediocridad” was the name of an elegant city in Spain or Colombia.

            I take the TV remote and turn on the archaic box-shaped television hoping to drown out the irritating noise. I channel surf through 36 channels, only two of which are in English. They are Fox News and one with which I was unfamiliar, a network airing only Jamaican-made films. It is called Cine-Mon. I shut off the TV.

I take my laptop from my backpack, set it on the desk, and turn it on. I pull out from under the desk the mismatched bench and realize it is not nearly high enough to be an effective seat for the tall desk. I open a desk drawer looking for a Gideon Bible to sit on. Instead I find a set of telephone books, both White and Yellow Pages. From 1996. From Chicago.

As my laptop is warming up, I turn around and study my bed. It is a queen-size with two large pillows. Covering the bed is a shabby pink chenille bedspread. On top of the cover, leaning against the lumpy, large mound of pillow, are three small brightly-sequined decorator pillows. One has no tears. But it has sections of missing sequins. A silky pea green runner with lemon yellow tassels stretches across the foot of the bed.

I hate runners on hotel beds. What is that ugly thing’s purpose? I wonder and snatch it off the bed with anger and throw it in the corner. Removing it exposes a stain the size of the Oklahoma panhandle. I sigh. Then I shiver. I step to the corner, pick up the useless runner and begrudgingly wrap it around myself like a shawl. The air conditioner laughs.

I sit on the stack of phone books and log on to my computer. Frost has formed on the screen. The only thing I can see is the time in the bottom right corner. It reads “7:57.”

“Shit,” I gasp. “Already.” I am to meet my Grindr date in the lobby at 8:00. The handsome 25- year-old named Pedro said he’d be wearing a light blue tee-shirt with “Tijuana” across the chest. I’m excited. I have never used an online dating service before, especially a sex-guaranteed sleazy one, and I haven’t been with a 25-year-old in 35 years. I dash into the bathroom, brush my teeth, and bolt out of the hotel room.

As I reach the bottom of the three flights of stairs, panting from the last minute rush, I spot, in the dimly lit lobby, a man in a light blue tee-shirt. He has his back to me. He turns. He looks at me with a smile of expectation. It is Javier. His expression morphs from smile to immediate disappointment as he realizes I, too, am not the handsome 25-year-old I had presented myself to be on Grindr.

“I’m Saved,” They Cried.

Mom wasn’t a hoarder. Just a “sale” shopper. Coupon clipper. Catalog browser, then inevitable buyer. You know, Walter Drake, Harriet Carter, and Carol Wright Gifts catalogs. Then she saved the acquisitions, often unopened. Mom was more a collector. But she didn’t hoard. Unlike in a hoarder’s home, we could walk freely through the living room. No stacks blocked our path. No rows of piled up miscellany created narrow aisles. We could sit on chairs and sofas as intended. We didn’t have to climb over a mountain of seasonal-themed welcome mats, kitchy tea cozies, and NFL flannel pajamas to get to the bathroom. Like a hoarder, however, once something fell into Mom’s possession, she could not throw it away. “I will use it,” she’d insist. Or “Someone will like it. Maybe one of your gay friends needs a mini-weaving loom to make potholders.”

Because of Mom’s shopping habits, the family home became a small warehouse, albeit a reasonably orderly one. In it were stored an overstock of useful household items, unnecessary cheap crap, and doodads that defied categorization or names. Any suggestion, however, that she stop buying catalogue merchandise, reduce her coupon cutting, or eliminate some of the clutter was met with anger, defiance, and insults.

I was aware of this quirk in Mom’s personality while growing up as well as during my adult life when I lived on my own. So was my sister Dorie. But the obsessiveness of that habit was not fully appreciated until Mom fell and broke her hip at 95 in 2011 and was moved into an assisted living facility for the remaining three years of her life. Within days, I began exploring the nooks and crannies of what had become, after Dad’s 1999 death, Elizabeth’s Estate. What I found stashed in out of the way places did not surprise or shock me; instead, it triggered a panicked realization that now that we finally could get rid of this accumulation of varied paraphernalia, it was going to be a long, arduous task.

But several years before I explored the stacks of stuff stashed in the Nussbaum home, I had to examine the inordinate amount of junk mail Mom received. Most came from charities, frequently accompanied by a free gift which was, in actuality, a bribe, and they contributed to the organized clutter in the house. The frequent pleas from charities came because they knew they had found a sucker, weak, heart-of-gold, sucker. Mom had been unselectively giving minimum donations to charities for decades. She gave to any group that asked. Any group. Cancer research organizations. Animal adoption agencies. MADD. World War III Veterans. Disabled Christian Strippers. People With Poor Penmanship. The Pompano Beach Sunburned Lifeguard Association. Dogs with Large College Debts.

Because I was aware of the number of charities sending her solicitations, I had had Mom’s mail delivery stopped and rerouted to a post office box several years before her fall. The first goal of this ploy was to amass one year’s worth of solicitations to analyze its volume. The results of this surreptitious collection showed that Mom had received over 450 pieces of mail from more than 150 charities during one year. After that was determined, the focus switched to halting the constant pleas for donations. To do this, I did a terrible thing; I fabricated the death of Elizabeth Nussbaum and, with faux tear-stained notes, informed the charities of it.

But the damage had already been done; Mom had amassed so many “gifts of appreciation” from charities that the large, heavy box holding them sitting on a bed in her sewing room overflowed. The bed’s mattress groaned with the pain of sprained springs. The overflow surrounded the box like lava from an erupted volcano. The box’s lid hovered over the box like the eruption’s gaseous cloud. In the box were 27 trees-worth of greeting cards designed before humor had been invented, outdated calendars, self-promotional bumper stickers, monogrammed key chains, photographs of the charities’ D-list celebrity supporters, notepads, pencils, pens, pins, and a partridge in a pear tree. The greeting cards alone could have filled a Hallmark Store, provided that particular shop only sold sappy saccharine cards. Around the box were scattered burlap shopping bags, tee-shirts, and paper-thin beach towels stylishly adorned in charity names or logos.

That collection of charity bribes straining that bed was only the beginning. In the living room a book shelf housed three sets of 1950s-1960s encyclopedias full of obsolete information. These reference books had not been used since the mid-1970s when both my sister and I had left the house to live on our own. Accompanying the encyclopedias were numerous editions of the Farmers’ Almanac and World Almanac & Book of Facts from decades past. They, too, were rarely used as references once Dad died. I had suggested at some point Mom toss out the encyclopedias, but she insisted they were “worth a lot of money.” I researched them; they were not. The internet had replaced encyclopedias. So there they sat, surviving in Mom’s Google-less world.

In the dining room were two doorknobs—one on the hallway door and the other on a closet door—so covered with dried, brittle rubber bands the knob’s narrow stem section could not be seen. Any rubber band that had ever entered the house—Thank you, The Seattle Times delivery person—was placed on one of those knobs. Very few ever left. They all dried out with age and non-use. They died of dehydration.

Mom’s kitchen was a major collection site of…oh, Lord, Mom’s kitchen; archeologists have certified the room a historic excavation area. In one cupboard, I found enough packets of sugar substitute to cause faux-diabetes in each person in China, India, and Indonesia. Many were boxed, probably bought with coupons or on sale, but far more were loose, taken from every restaurant Mom had ever visited. Next to the sugar substitutes were a near equal, no pun intended, amount of Coffee-Mate packets. Which she never used.

A plethora of pots, pans, dishes, and cooking utensils old enough to be honored by Willard Scott on The Today Show filled cabinets. You might think, then, they were antiques. But they had no value because they were in such poor condition last rites should have been performed every time one was used.

One of the bottom drawers in Mom’s kitchen contained food wrapping supplies. There was tin foil, three rolls. Unopened. There was Saran Wrap. Six rolls. All started. Aged. Dried out. With the ends permanently stuck to the remainder of the rolls. Useless. There were several boxes of sandwich bags intended for on-the-go meals, to pack work lunches, or to take when hiking the Himalayan Trail. Mom, however, did not eat on-the-go, work, or hike in Asia.

While many of us collect paper or plastic shopping and produce bags for future use, Mom did so with fanaticism. She had enough bags for every child in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to go trick or treating. For the next seven Halloweens.

The basement, however, was collection central for Mom. It was also a fire trap. Stacked haphazardly in the dark end of the basement were so many cardboard boxes, the entire Kardashian Family could pack and move without going from Safeway to Safeway begging for discarded boxes, which I am certain they do when they move into another multi-million house. There were so many boxes, even flattened, I filled our 32 gallon blue recycling bin about eight times.

On a shelf nearby were more decorative cookie tins than there would be elves at a Keebler convention. Because they could neither be easily flattened nor nested, the tins, too, took several weeks of recycling bin filling. Oh, and we tried finding the tins homes before tossing them; two garage/estate sales failed to place one cookie container in an adoptive home. People seem to adopt children and pets. But not round or rectangular cookie tins. Misguided priorities, I say.

Mom was a fine seamstress and talented dressmaker; she made most of her clothes as well as professionally altered clothes for other people. As a result, she had gathered so many fabric remnants through the decades that they, if sewn together, could have covered Canada. Well, maybe not Prince Edward Island. They remained, however, in the basement, near the cookie tins, waiting to be used again. That rarely happened. Therefore, these ancient remnants sat, collecting dust, housing insects, and deteriorating with age. Like the aforementioned cardboard boxes, these boxes of fabric leftovers were a fire hazard. But they were not nearly the danger the countless envelopes of paper sewing patterns were. These out-dated patterns, of course, reflected styles popular during the days of Madame Curie, Dolly Madison, Jean d’Arc, and Eve.

Another fire danger simmered under the stairwell. That is where Mom stashed every piece of wrapping paper she had ever received. She would unwrap gifts with what she thought was care in order to save the paper. She then would reuse the old paper. That, in itself, is not terribly unusual; many people do that. But Mom would wrap gifts using this paper without totally removing the old scotch tape or cutting off torn ends, which, of course, exposed her careless recycling. She didn’t, however, limit her reuse of wrapping supplies with the paper. Mom also recycled bows and ribbons, whether or not they were stained with age, crushed, creased, fraying, or deceased.

We had a cupboard in the basement that served as a pantry. The shelves were stacked with countless cans of mandarin orange slices, pineapple chunks, Dinty Moore Stew, Hormel Corned Beef Hash and jars of pickles and olives, all bought on sale at Bartell’s because Bartell’s offered these items on sale more frequently than Steve Harvey TV appearances. But the real treasure found in the pantry was the Mason jars Mom used for canning. There were so many, every American named Mason, first or last name, could have had one. Some still had contents like canned pears. Most did not. I was quite surprised, however, how easy it was to dispose of the Mason jars; I simply placed them on the parking strip. Neighborhood canners came out of the woodwork. I should have Super-glued a cookie tin to each jar.

Across the basement from the pantry was the paper products department, another fire hazard. Mom had bought so many paper towels, tissue boxes, and 12-packs of toilet paper that neither my sister nor I had to buy any for the remainder of the Obama presidency. And I use these products as frequently as a teenager says “like.” I have constant spills, runny noses and diarrhea. OK. That’s not true. I went for the cheap joke. I don’t have constant spills or runny noses.

After Mom died, Dorie and I emptied the house of Mom’s clutter in preparation for the house’s eventual sale. But, I was surprised to find more clutter, my own, most of it flammable.  There was a box full of yellowed newspaper clippings from the early 1960s chronicling the building of Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair. There was a six-year accumulation of The KUAY Weekly, my junior-senior high school newspaper, from my years at Queen Anne. There were years of rubber banded weekly Top 40 lists from KJR, the radio station of my youth. I found stacks of miscellaneous magazines, usually gay-themed, like the newsy The Advocate and the nudie Blueboy. There were countless newspapers editions and magazines issues reporting historically significant events like political assassinations, sports championships, and visits to Seattle by The Beatles. I uncovered an almost forgotten collection of tee-shirts from gay bars or events that dated to the early 1970s. These were all items I only looked at when I packed to move. For that moment, they gave me comfort and memories. They, however, really served no purpose. Suddenly I understood the difficulty Mom had throwing things away. But I was moving to Mexico. I had to shed and say goodbye to much of my past because I was not going to move, one more time, that heavy hoarded collection of nostalgia.

It would have served me right if I had found among my old belongings, a mishmash of my yesterdays, a plaque, poster, or crocheted wall-hanging saying “Judge not lest ye be judged.”