On compassion

I’ve seen him at the freeway entrance on my way home from work for a couple of weeks. His sign reads “Homeless, hungry, please help.” I carry cash in my car, but the timing has never worked out correctly for me to give him a little something.

It finally—barely—did. I waved him over, before the light changed, and gave him a couple of bucks. He smiled, said “God bless you”, and took the money. Then from the sidewalk he smiled again and again said “Bless you.” I smiled back.

There were maybe twenty cars lined up waiting to get onto the freeway, and I was the only one who reached out to this man and gave him money. I’m not judging them. Humans are a varied lot. And I’m not holding myself out as a paragon of virtue. As with most people, I have faults that t’would be better had my mother not borne me.

But, I’ve lived 46 years on this earth. And I’ve learned a few things. I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. I would hope I wouldn’t be.

Many would see my act of charity as contributing to the problem. If you enable them, they won’t get the help they need. You’re just putting a band-aid on the problem. You’re just making things worse.

He could use the money to buy drugs. He could use the money to get drunk. Those are possibilities. I don’t know him.

But I don’t need to know him.

Continue reading “On compassion”


So of course I make my return to blogging on Bloomsday.

For those who don’t know what “Bloomsday” is: June 16, 1904, the date on which the story of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” takes place, starting with plump Buck Mulligan having his morning shave and ending with Molly Bloom’s mind unfolding in wonderful, ecstatic language. In between, the main protagonists—Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom—crisscross Dublin, missing each other, until near the end they come together, our 20th century Odysseus and Telemachus.

In high school I read “Dubliners” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. I held off on “Ulysses” until I took a seminar at UCLA. And then, I was hooked.

Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.

“Ulysses” is nothing short of life. The life of people. The life of a city. The life of a nation. The life of history. There had been nothing in the Western canon like it before it, and, aside from “A la recherche du temps perdu”, nothing like it since. (“Gravity’s Rainbow” comes close, but Joyce still pips Pynchon.) It is a meditation on history, destiny, the lies we tell ourselves, the lies we tell each other. It is a story of outsiders in a world made up of outsiders. (Even the people who think they are of the elect are in fact as exiled as the rest of us.) It is a story about finding your way home, or at least finding the beginning of the path towards home. It is a love story: of a love for humanity, and of a love for that other person without whom you cannot live. Its comedy is of the sort found in just living life. Its tragedy is of the same type. Continue reading “Bloomsday”

A passing away

Before I became a librarian, I just assumed that people came into the library, got their materials, and went home. It wasn’t until I was on the job that I learned that for many people the library is where they hang out each and every day. They bring their laptops to take advantage of our wi-fi. They have their favorite chairs where they while away the day reading. They would be lost on the streets if the library weren’t here.

I’ve gotten to know most of my regulars. Some of them I know just by sight, and I wave when they come in. Some come seek me out when I’m on the reference desk for long conversations. As a librarian, I’m part counselor, part priest, part bartender. (I like the bartender part. I just wish we were allowed a wet bar.)

Yesterday I found out that one of my regulars passed away.

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On my curious malady

It’s something I always ignored.

“Oh, it didn’t affect me. I wasn’t bullied. I had lots of friends.”

And no, I wasn’t bullied. And yes, I had lots of friends.

But to pretend that my curious malady had no effect on my is the mere sticking my head in the sand and ignoring my history.

What’s this malady? Why, it’s what denied me insurance as a “pre-existing condition” before Obamacare: my stutter.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t stutter. As long as I can recall speaking, I stuttered.

And we’re not talking about a cute little stammering hesitation. We’re talking about gut-wrenching, running out of breath blocks, where I just couldn’t get the words out, couldn’t make myself heard, face contorted, body twisting just to force out the words. I can just imagine what my face looked like, wracked with the effort of mere speech, speech which came as easily as walking to anyone else.

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Ties which bind

I had dinner with my ex-sister-in-law, M, last week. My wife has been helping her once or twice a week since she returned from caring for her father. M invited us for a meal, and of course we accepted.

I’ve known her since before she and my brother married in the mid-eighties. I visited them in 1984 for the L.A. Olympics. It was awesome, because they both worked, so I was left to my own devices during the day. (I didn’t do much. I mostly spent the time watching the various Olympic events on ABC. Being a 14 year old visitor to Los Angeles in 1984 before light rail and subways didn’t lend itself to getting into trouble.) From the moment we met, she didn’t treat me as her fiance’s little brother, but as a human being in my own right, whose opinions and feelings were as important as her own.

She and my brother divorced at the break of the millennium. The breakup forms a chapter in my novel The Genealogies. And it was this chapter which I sent to her last week.

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In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

Cross-posted on The Obama Diary.

It is with the most heartbreak that millions of us have learned that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83.

The advantage of having older brothers who were a full decade older than you is that instead of the traditional sibling rivalry which obtains, they acted more like surrogate parents. My oldest brother, Tony, was and is a Trekkie. And as I became old enough (around 7 or 8), he introduced me to the wonders of Star Trek. This was in the days before reality shows, non-stop talk shows, non-stop courtroom shows. Independent stations had slim pickings for what to broadcast, so they broadcast old TV series. And I can honestly say that I think I never missed an episode of Star Trek when it was broadcast in syndication.

Continue reading “In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy”