Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Hey Drunk Guy in Section 201, Row SS Seat 122

You were my greatest concern as I planned a solo trip to Wisconsin to see Rage Against the Machine. And there you were, trying to ruin my night. 

I bought a single ticket to see the show about a week before the show. It was a last-minute decision to see a band that, while others have been fans for years, I only recently discovered after the killing of George Floyd. Their lyrics about police brutality and racism were, sadly, as relevant 30 years later as they were when they were first written in the 1990s. 

And so I made arrangements with a friend and with family to stay with them, to connect in person and spend time before and after the Saturday evening event at Alpine Valley.

That night, I made my way to my seat and there you were in all your drunken glory, weaving back and forth as you struggled to keep your balance. The minute I saw you I thought to myself, "This guy is not going to make it to see this concert." (Spoiler alert: I was partially right.)

You asked my name, insisted on a fist bump (which you almost didn't pull off because you nearly fell over trying to connect your fist to mine) and asked if I was ready to RAAAAAGGGEEEE!!!! 

The guy on the other side of me was the opposite. Focused. Serious about his music. Nothing was going to keep him from enjoying this concert.

Sure enough, when the music started, the guy to the right of me was standing as close to the seat in front of him as possible, fist pumping, focused on the stage, rapping every word to every song. Damn. That's a fan.

And you. You started dancing. Dancing? Who the f*ck dances at a Rage Against the Machine concert? No, this is fist-pumping, head-banging music. But then I feel the ulterior motive behind your dancing. Because with every swing of an arm, you touched me.

You touched me on my shoulder. My buttocks. You actually grabbed my waist once, I am sure you don't remember that, you likely don't remember any of it. 

I turned to you and yelled "Don't touch me."

You ignored me.

It got worse, like you were pawing at me. You put your hand on my shoulder as if I was there with you. I shoved you away and yelled "Stop touching me! I'm here to enjoy this concert, don't ruin this for me."

"Okay okay, I'm sorry, I'll stop," you said. But you didn't. 

Finally your friend changed places with you, putting a barrier between you and me. He was drunk too, but not as bad as you were.

If there had been a security person near the end of our row I would have sought them out and asked to have you moved. But I didn't want to miss a single song, so I did what women in our society are taught to do. I tolerated it. I tried to ignore it. But the people both in front of and behind us could see my irritation and would push you back toward your seat when you kept making your way nearer to me. (I found this out later.)

And eventually, the movement that I could sense to my left stopped. I turned and you were gone. I can ony assume you threw up, passed out, or did something else to get ejected, because you were no longer "raging" at this concert that you were so excited to see. You missed it. And likely, the part you did see you don't remember. 

Before this trip my husband expressed his concern about my going to this concert alone, about my driving 6 hours across Wisconsin, driving to the venue alone, being there by myself. I was confident that I would be safe. After all, RATM fans are now in their 40s and 50s...like, seriously? 

But here you were, drunk, 40-year-old white guy, trying to ruin my night. Instead, you ended up ruining your own.

You may normally be a nice guy in life, maybe with a wife and kids, kind to people at work, but to me you will always be an asshole. I'm sure you don't remember the concert. I hope to hell you woke up the next day with a raging headache and a nagging sense of regret for the way you acted that night. 

I enjoyed myself very much that night, despite you being there. In the words of Rage Against the Machine, "Fuck you." 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

What Price a Life?

I find myself buying sympathy cards by the handful these days. My friends and I are at the stage of life in which many of our parents are passing away. Sometimes it is expected, after a long illness or decline, other times it is unexpected but not surprising when a parent leaves us.

Which leads me to the question..."What price for a life?"

Sometimes the bereaved is a very good friend, sometimes a distant relative. Sometimes the person is grieving, but are struggling with also being relieved that the person is no longer in pain. Sometimes the deceased was cruel and conniving, and the bereaved person is relieved that they are no longer in their life. Or they know they are truly missing their best friend and rock in the world.

Many times it is all of those things.

Trite cards of "sorry for your loss" lose their meaning among a sea of "sorry for your loss" sentiments. We are all sorry. Sorry for what? That they are no longer here, or that they suffered? Or that they made YOU suffer? 

Do I write a memoriam gift of $25? $50? $100? In the end, does the amount really matter? Writing the check for memoriam gifts is the one check that I think about for the longest time. Will they think less of me, or more of me if I write a check of a certain amount? Do they know that this amount is a sacrifice? Do they know we can afford more?  Does it matter?

Does it matter to them?

Does it matter to the deceased?

And so I express what I can, and focus on the things that made a person happy. Treasure the memories, be grateful for the gifts of the person's presence, for the happiness and good times that were had.

At the end of the day, that is all we can bring to others. 

Because no amount is ever enough. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Three Dog Circus

After Lindsey's freshman year of college we knew that she would get an emotional support dog to go back to school with her for year 2 and beyond. She, like many people, simply do better with loving pets in her life.

So back in March, when my friend Nicole who had rescued three street dogs from Aruba, was going on an extended diving trip, our family agreed to be a temporary foster for one of her dogs, Percy. I figured it would be a good trial run for us to see how Beauty would do with another dog in the house. Percy is a sweet, gentle Australian shepherd mix who loves to just hang with people. 

Percy became a part-time pet as Kristi decided to adopt him from Nicole.Wwhen Kristi works her overnight shifts, Percy comes to our house and he and Beauty hang out. It's been fun to watch the two of them together. At first, Percy and Beauty played together a lot. Percy would lunge for or play bite Beauty's leg. Beauty HATES that, and would pull back, and it was on, with Percy trying to nibble at Beauty and Beauty trying to protect her legs from him. After a week or two of this Beauty decided she was tired of playing. So he would grab her leg and she would just stand still and wait for him to let her go. 

Eventually the two of them got into a good rhythm whenever Percy would come over. Beauty taught Percy how to chase squirrels, Percy taught Beauty the finer points of enjoying food by eating slowly. 

And then...Lindsey introduced Finn to the family. She had been checking the website of a rescue organization called "Adaoptabull" for a dog, had already applied and been approved to adopt through them. They texted her a photo of an adorable puppy and asked if she would be able to foster him. He was part of a litter being rescued in Texas and if they didn't have fosters lined up for them they were going to be euthanized. I didn't think that ever happened, but here it was, a text on her phone from the organization, saying "can you foster this cute puppy so he doesn't get killed?" I mean, who would say yes, go ahead and kill this adorable little thing?

We were told Finn (then Scrappy) was a 5-month old puppy and the photo of him was of a tiny little pup. We were surprised to get a long-legged, gangly pup with a tall body and huge paws. He has no concept of personal space. His idea of snuggling with his humans is getting as close to your face as possible. He is learning to not nibble on humans, and when he wants attention he finds a random shoe, brings it to your general vicinity and looks at you, because he knows better than to chew them but still wants your attention. He trips over his own feet when he runs after balls or toys. 

Beauty tolerates him with unending patience. 

I tell people now that we have two and a half dogs, two who live with us and one who visits frequently. When Percy's not here it feels weird. We are always counting the dogs and thinking we are missing one.

It's a bit chaotic, it's a bit messy, but it's a whole lot of fun. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

New York City

"Imagine" artwork inspired by John Lennon, Central Park

I had the opportunity to spend a week in New York City, helping my sister-in-law, Laurie, after knee replacement surgery.

I have been traveling to NYC for years, my first time in January of 1996, in the middle of a blizzard. The airline did not cancel the flight despite weather conditions, and so I went. I remember stepping over piles of snow up to my thigh on street corners as the city dug itself out. I arrived at my company's corporate headquarters hoping to get trained on some software I really needed to learn. Instead I filled in to get work done for the many employees who couldn't make it in due to the weather conditions. Weather conditions that, in Minnesota, would have caused a hiccup but not a work stoppage.

That same trip I got hungry around lunchtime and was given directions to a little deli around the corner where I could buy an amazing sandwich. The employee's recommendation was, "You'll never get sick there." I replied, "Wow, that's quite a recommendation." She looked at me and said, "Honey, in New York it is."

Aah, New York. I grew to love it after years of traveling there multiple times a year. I stayed in different hotels around the city, explored different neighborhoods. I remember being in the Minnesota office, travel bag in my car, expecting to head to the airport later that afternoon. It was September 11, 2001. Our cohorts in New York could see the smoke and chaos from their office building. I called several clients who I knew lived in the city out of concern, before the phone lines could no longer handle the traffic and all calls stopped. We watched the TV in our office in silence until some of us could no longer hold back our tears. Many of our New York coworkers who lived in that area weren't allowed back into their apartments for weeks. We closed the office that day and went home, in shock. We grieved with them. We grew strong with them. And we felt like New York was a part of us, not some distant city.

Years after 9/11, I remember walking the city and having someone ask me which way Madison Ave was. And I knew!! I knew we were west of it and that they should take a right at the next corner and go down two blocks to reach Madison. How crazy was that, that someone mistook me for someone who KNEW something about the city, and I actually did?

Central Park

George Washington Bridge, as seen from Wash Heights

And now, most recently, I got to know the city the best. I arrived here to take care of my sister-in-law Laurie as she recovers from knee replacement surgery. She moved to Washington Heights 6 years before, far from her previous home in Midtown. I'd visited her a few times in Washington Heights, but it always felt foreign and a little not like the New York I knew. It was quieter here, not bustling. You could not buy a New York t-shirt for blocks around -- no "I heart New York" hats or little Statue of Liberty trinkets. Just grocery stores, local marts, doctor offices and places for people who live here.

I had lots of time to myself as she was in the hospital for two days after her surgery. I took the subway downtown to visit her. I walked Madison Ave, walking in and out of stores far out of my league, smiling at the doormen who opened doors for me, even though it was obvious by my appearance that there was no way I was buying anything in those stores. 

Flowers planted around a tree in the sidewalk, Upper West side.

I walked Central Park, savoring the sun, lilacs and crabapple tress that were in bloom while Minnesota was experiencing the longest "gray out" of any April. I ended up in a different neighborhood on the other side of Central Park and figured out how to transfer trains to get back to Washington Heights. Once there, I learned the local bodega, the best liquor store, the local pharmacy where I picked up prescriptions for Laurie.

I visited a grocery store in the neighborhood where Lin-Manuel Miranda lives, picked up a bottle of wine from the wine store that Laurie has seen his wife shopping in. I didn't run into either of them, but I got to meet the sweetest massive doodle you ever met and talk with its owner for a while. The dog walked up to me and expected to be petted. His owner was embarrassed, I was thrilled. 

Artwork provided by students over a footbridge, Wash Heights.

The local church's community fridge, Washington Heights

There is so much greenery in New York, so many hidden walking trails through flowers, trees, and along the all surrounding waters, be it the Hudson, the East or the Harlem Rivers. The parks I travailed were not filled with garbage, were not littered with the belongings of homeless people seeking refuge among the trees. They were peaceful, only disturbed by the occasional bicyclist or walker. 

Aah, New York. Until we meet again.

Friday, April 23, 2021

A Measure of Justice

Marissa and Lindsey at George Floyd Square on the day the Derek Chauvin verdict came in
At George Floyd Square the day the verdict came in.

 My city was on pins and needles this past week, waiting for the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial.

The trial had lasted a little over three weeks. The prosecution called 38 witnesses and presented their case for 11 days. They presented data showing that George Floyd did not die of a heart attack, a heart condition or a drug overdose, he died directly as a result of Derek Chauvin's knee on his neck for more than 9 minutes.

Photo of Dr. Rich, witness for the prosecution in the Derek Chauvin trial
Dr. Rich, a witness for the prosecution

How can you defend against that mountain of evidence? Derek's team called seven witnesses over two days to somehow defend Derek's actions. By this time Marissa was riveted to the television, watching every witness and piece of evidence.

Every time a witness came up for the defense she would say, "Funny, they don't LOOK like a racist." And then the questioning would begin, the person would speak and she'd say, "Ope, never mind, that's a racist." Because how else could you defend Derek's actions? 

Dr. David Fowler, witness for the defense in the Derek Chauvin trial
Funny he doesn't look like a racist...but his words proved it.

On Monday April 19, 2021, closing arguments were given and the jury was handed the case for deliberation. And the waiting began, the speculation that justice would not be served, that our city would explode in a fiery ball of anger and frustration. The significant National Guard presence throughout the city put everyone on edge, worrying for their safety and the future of our small business owners.

It took four days after George Floyd's murder for charges to finally be brought against Derek Chauvin. It took the jury only 10 hours to convict him of those charges.

The verdict came in at 4:06 pm on Tuesday, April 20. The girls and I sat around the TV, wrapped in blankets and clutching pillows as the charges were read. I felt a great desire to be at George Floyd Square, but did not want to move from the TV to hear the verdict. 

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

We leaped up, hugged, and yelled "Justice!" at the TV. We took great pleasure in watching Derek Chauvin being put in handcuffs and led away. And then we piled in the car and went down to George Floyd Square, to feel the joy of those who had worked so hard for this moment.

The square was packed with more and more people coming by the minute. People greeted each other with shouts of elation, bear hugs with masked faces turned away. You could see the crinkle of people's smiling eyes over their masks. Perfect strangers spoke to each other: "It is a good day." 

There was a microphone set up with a small speaker, too quiet to reach over the growing crowd. We could hear a little of what was being said, of crediting the people for keeping the pressure on, of thanking those who kept "boots on the ground" for justice. And then I heard the calls for justice for someone else, a name I had not heard yet. 

"SAY HER NAME!" the speaker shouted, barely audible over the conversation and jubilation around us. Only those close enough to hear whom the speaker had been referring to responded. 

I thought to myself, "Come on, let us have this moment." The people had just won a huge victory, the first White police officer successfully convicted for killing a Black man in the state of Minnesota, the first in a long line of more than 400 people who had lost their lives at the hands of the police. Just give us a moment to celebrate this before we move on to the next step in changing the system. 

After we arrived home I heard about the girl whose name the speaker was calling: Ma'khia Bryant. She was a 16-year-old girl in Columbus, OH, and had called the police because teen girls were fighting in front of her house and she was scared. I'm sure the details will come out about what was happening. The police showed up and within minutes Ma'khia had been shot four times and was dead on arrival at the hospital. She was sixteen.

My heart sank. On the same day that we received a measure of justice for George Floyd, another Black child in America had lost her life to our policing practices.

The work has not ended, it is only beginning. 

Photo of gas station sign that says "Justice Served?"

Friday, April 09, 2021

The Power of One-to-One Connections

Quote "Only by giving are you able to receive more than you have." Jim Rohn

This is a follow-up to my story about assisting Chandan, a young man who had never lived in his own place, was not employed and needed help caring for his 3-year-old daughter. For more on the original story, read here for the beginning and here for the unfortunate ending.

There are so many lessons to be learned in this experience. The biggest one I'll be adhering to is to donate to organizations instead of to the people those organizations are helping, unless it's someone I personally know and trust. But there are other, smaller, more hopeful lessons to be learned. Truly, every day that someone reached out to me to ask what Chandan needed or made a donation to the GoFundMe campaign, my heart filled with gratitude. 

I learned that people genuinely want to help others in need. One of the reasons why the fundraiser for Chandan was so successful was because all of the donations were helping one person who shared his story. The need was clear, the impact of giving was obvious. In the Twin Cities there's an organization called Bridging that basically does exactly what my donation drive was doing: provides furniture and household goods to people coming out of homelessness into housing. People donated furniture to my request and not to Bridging. Why? Because mine was going to a single person with a face, a name and a story that they could understand.

I also was surprised by the number of people who, when the donations fell through, asked for their donations back. I'm not saying they are greedy, my point is that they weren't going to give these things away in the first place. They were inspired by his story and chose to give away items that they intended to use themselves.

Some more incredible stories of generosity that inspired me in the past few weeks:

  • A woman shared the story of having to escape an abusive situation early in her life. She was able to do so thanks to the generosity of complete strangers who supported her after she got to a safe place. She considered her donations as a way to pay back for the kindness shown to her years before.
  • One person had thousands of Amazon points in her account. She used the points to buy a brand new, adorable bedding set for his daughter, new kitchen supplies, cleaning supplies, a hamper, and other items that people experiencing homelessness usually don't own. She was happy to be able to use the points to help someone else when she could have used them for her own family.
  • Someone reached out to me after the donation drive had been going for a while to ask what was still missing. I had secured dining room chairs but not a table. She went to a local Goodwill, purchased a table for $50 and her husband refinished it for Chandan's apartment. The labor of love that went into this was so inspiring! When the donation fell through, they decided to keep the table and will use it as a card table in their basement. 
  • One of the donors runs her own company staging houses for sale. She has a garage and basement filled with furniture, small appliances, household goods and other items that have never actually been used, just displayed and then put back in storage. It struck me how she owns nearly two households worth of goods while people in other areas of our city don't even have one. I'm not faulting her for her company or what she does, it's simply another example of the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots." 

When our house was remodeled in 2016 we made a significant donation to Bridging, getting rid of furniture that was perfectly good, just no longer needed. One of the workers who came to pick up the items said, "Wow, this stuff is in really good shape. This is better than the furniture we usually get."

People in my community put decent furniture like ours on the curb for solid waste pick-up every week, while people in other areas of this city would love to have that piece of furniture in their home, yet they don't have the transportation to retrieve it. For many of my friends and family, making a $100 donation to help someone out is no big deal, while for someone else, an extra $100 means they don't have to choose between rent or food that month. 

I've done a lot of learning about the history of Minneapolis, about how white people kept Blacks out of the desirable areas in Southwest Minneapolis using racial covenants and redlining practices and how BIPOC folks were given little choice but to live in what is now the notoriously poor North side. The disparity between the resources of North side and the wealth of the Southwest area is staggering. I have to believe that there is a way to make a direct connection between those with excess to give with those in need.

I'm not going to be fundraising for a single person again, but I will be reaching out to organizations working in the North side neighborhoods to see how I can help make connections to people in my area of the city. There's got to be a way we can do more to help people in my own city. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

"Trust" is a Big Word

A pile of supplies, furniture and other goods that were donated to help furnish an apartment.

I need to complete the final chapter of the story of assisting young Chandan White. Things did not turn out as expected. 

I had reached out to Chandan because I saw a young man in need, asking for help and not getting his needs met despite his multiple requests in the "Twin Cities Mutual Aid" group on Facebook. One of the challenges of our city and society is that we all live and work in segregated circles. People who have more than enough live among other people who have more than enough. People who need assistance live among people who need assistance. So when poor people cry out for help, the only people who hear them are other poor people.

I started a GoFundMe for Chandan with a goal of $5,000 and, through a generosity of spirit, people responded. Within a day the fundraiser was at $1,000, by the end of the week it was at $3,000. This was a far cry from the $5 and $10 Chandan had been receiving previously through the mutual aid network.

Those who donated began to ask what else Chandan may need...so I asked him. People had furniture to donate, did he need furniture? Did he need kitchen supplies? I asked and he said yes, he needed everything. 

I asked him to put together a list of what he needed but he didn't know where to start, which makes sense considering he's never had his own place before. Being a project manager and Excel geek, I put together a spreadsheet of what I thought he may need and ran it by him. I did not want to be a pushy donor, getting things for someone who doesn't need the items and is too polite to turn me down. I called myself a "meddling white woman" to him in a message and told him to tell me to back off if he needed me to. He "LOL'd." 

With the incredible generosity of my friends and community, I managed to get an entire apartment of furniture and supplies donated. The only thing missing was a sleeper sofa — the apartment was a studio and his bed had to also be his couch, and that's a purchase better made by the person who would be using it.

He and I arranged to meet at the apartment complex on April 1 at 11 a.m., move-in day. I coordinated with my sister Kristi and a neighborhood volunteer, we packed all the items into our three cars and drove to the apartment complex. 

No Chandan. And...when I inquired at the management office about helping Chandan moving in, she told me that they did not have someone by that name renting from them. They have a months-long wait list for people who have applied for housing, no one was moving in April 1 as no one had moved out.

Chandan and I had only ever communicated via messenger and other social media sites. I had reached out to him the day before to confirm that we were meeting him there, only to get a message that "this person is no longer available." It was suspicious, but we still showed up as he and I had agreed, only he wasn't there and there was clearly no apartment for him.

I was angry. Embarrassed. My heart actually hurt that day, a heaviness lay on my chest thinking that the entire story had been a scam. 

The three of us brought everything back to my house and stored it in the garage. I let it simmer a few days, hoping (but not hoping) that perhaps something had happened to him, that he would reach out to me eventually with a reason why things fell through.


Five days later, I informed the community that had generously made all of these donations what had happened and offered to return them or donate them to nonprofits where they would eventually go to those in need. I also encouraged people who donated to the GoFundMe — which at this point had raised $4,400 — to report the fundraiser and get their money back if they believed fraud had been committed. 

Finally, days after all the donations were being re-distributed and the fundraiser frozen, I heard from Chandan.

He told me that his phone had broke it took a few days to get a new one, and that he was waiting a week to hear back from the place to see if he was going to be able to move in there, and eventually was going to put a deposit down on a different place if it didn't work out. This was all via text. I asked to talk, and he called me.

I give him credit for calling me. 

When I look back at our many text conversations and think back to our discussion over a plate of French toast, I don't believe that his entire story is untrue. I think he is someone who doesn't understand how securing an apartment works, has no idea of the amount of work it takes to put together a household, and doesn't want to say "no" to a woman twice his age who wants to help. He told me he was able to buy a vehicle, which I was glad for, as that was a part of why we were raising money for him. If that's what he used the money for, then great, it will help him secure employment.

By the time he and I chatted I was over my anger and grief and had informed everyone involved of the outcome. I let him know that the fundraiser had been reported. I have no idea how much money he has withdrawn from it or how he's spent it. He thanked me for everything I did for him to help him get a car.

I was relating this entire experience to someone who works in the nonprofit world. I said that within the Mutual Aid Network, people gave to others in the hopes that their stories of need were true. It's one of the reasons why people only give $5 or $10, because if the need wasn't real then at least it was just a small amount. She said to me, "Trust is a big word."

And she's right. When we as donors give to a nonprofit, we have a base line of trust. To become a 501c3, paperwork must be filed, bylaws written and adhered to, and donor intent is the golden rule. I had taken a leap outside of the world of nonprofits and had gotten burned.

Clearly, I will no longer be fundraising directly for those in need, but giving to the organizations that exist to help them.