Friday, July 31, 2009

Hey, Dude, What Do I Have to Do to Get You Off My Front Porch?

By Michelle Lirazan

It was a sunny and breezy Thursday morning in July. I was ready to go to my friend's house and spend the day there. But as I opened the front door, I saw a man on the front porch sitting quietly. I asked him to leave but he didn't. He was dressed in old clothes that looked unwashed. He was also wearing a weird blue hat on his head. I asked him why he was there, but he didn't answer. I thought he just needed food, and that was all it would take to get him to leave.

I rushed into the house and into the kitchen, and grabbed a P.B. and J. sandwich lying on the dining room table, and a Capri Sun from the refrigerator. Then I rushed back out and handed it to the man. He ate the sandwich and drank the juice but didn't leave.

Maybe money would get him to leave, I thought to myself. I reached into my wallet and took out $50. He accepted it but wouldn't leave.

"Hey, I want that back," I said.

Maybe the police could get him to leave, I thought.

"Um, sir, Dude, whoever you are," I began. "You need to leave my porch before I call the police."

"Go ahead," he replied. "I don't care."

Wow, I thought, this guy's crazy. Normally, a person would have left if you threatened to call the cops. But that threat didn't scare this dude.

"Hey, why don't you go over to the neighbor's house?" I said. "It's bigger and comfier."

"I like this one better," he said.


"This is the only place were I haven't gotten yelled at, and this is where I got served food. I think I'm gonna stay here for a while."

I was about to curse the dude. But then I decided to leave for my friend's house. When I got home at 10 p.m., he was still there.

"Man, you need to leave or else," I yelled.

"Or else what?"

"Or else I'll throw my furniture at you!" I said.

"When you do that," he replied, "could you throw the TV at me first? I wanna watch wrestling!"

"Unbelievable," I said.

"Could you throw the microwave at me, and popcorn too?"

I couldn't believe this guy. But I had a plan. I sneaked into my older brother's room, and grabbed some clothes from his closet. The next day, I gave it to the man, and told him to clean up and get dressed quickly. I showed him to the bathroom and he showered and changed.

"Thanks for the clothes," he said.

"No problem. Come on. I want to take you somewhere."

We got into my silver Mercedes convertible and I headed to the mall. I showed him to a store for men. I told him to look for clothes he wanted. I told him I'd be back for him in half an hour.

I lied. I headed out of the mall and went to the movie with my friends.

At 9 p.m., I arrived home. I had had a long day, and it was enjoyable. I was so happy thinking I'd gotten rid of the man on my porch. But as I got out of my car, I saw him. The man was STILL on my porch!

How had he known the way back to my house?

"Hey," he said, "thanks for taking me to the mall. I had a good day."

I didn't say anything. I went inside the house.

The next day I ordered my Golden Retriever to chase the man off my porch. At first i heard her barking, but then everythign was quiet. I went out to the porch.

My dog was sitting with the man. He was petting the dog.

I give up!

High school student Michelle Lirazan lives in Washington, DC. This is her first published writing. The photo to the right shows Michelle (in pink, smiling) working on a painting at A.R.I.S.I.N.G., a multi-media arts program for high school students supported by the Neighborhood Investment Fund of the Deputy Mayor's Office of Washington, D.C. The program is being hosted by the Fourth Street Friendship Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm Optimistic About Health Care Reform, At Least Today

By Dan Beauchamp

I'm a little worried that suddenly I find myself feeling more optimistic about health care reform.

My optimism often betrays me.

One reason for my optimism: I thought President Obama's press conference was very well done. The President sounded like he knew what he was talking about and how long has it been since that has occurred? About eight years.

Still, with all of my complaining about the Democrats (see other posts I've done at my blog, Tales of Copper City), I just think that not very many of them will want to have their names beside the "no" column when this health care debate is all over. And maybe slowing things down a little (until after the August recess) will make that pressure even more unbearable. We'll see.

I think we will get well over 50 Democrats in the Senate and maybe 55, supporting reform legislation. Nearly everyone knows that we won't be getting another chance like this for a very long time and to be marked down as a Democrat who says "no" is going to be tough during the next Democratic primary many of them will face.

And the news about health care insurance will be even worse.

The most powerful point the President made, the central point of the press conference, was when he said,

"You know, just a broader point, if somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that's guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that.

Well, that's status quo. That's what we have now."

Even if it's been said before, it's wonderful.

Finally, here's a little-noticed comment by Senator Grassley, R.-Iowa. Grassley is quoted as saying he doesn't agree that if the health care reform plan fails, Republicans will benefit. Grassley points to polls that show the health insurance lobby and the Republican Party will get the major share of the blame. Obama gets blamed hardly at all. That's because there is no Obama plan; health reform is rightly perceived as the work of Congress where lobbying and Republican intransigence matter.

I think Republicans oppose it for two reasons, beyond taking Obama down: the smart ones know that if health insurance reform passes it will likely be very, very popular for the Democrats and that will not be good for Republicans in the years to come. And the grass-roots Republicans truly believe that it will destroy the American way of life. That and gay marriage.

Dan Beauchamp, Ph.D., is a health care expert who now lives in Bisbee, Arizona. This piece is taken from his blog, Tales of Copper City.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

So Here, Have a Good Laugh Over Health Care

Bill Maher, the HBO comedy man, has done a hilarious HuffPo column.

It's the first thing I've read in months that has me actually smiling about the health care mess. He's called it: "New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit."

I think that's a brilliant statement, Mr. Maher. I agree with you totally. I particularly like your example about the fire department. Imagine if all the fire departments in America had to make a profit fighting fires.

Here is a good line from Maher's column:

"When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield."

Here are a couple others:

"If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain."

And "The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism."

Hey, Mr. Maher, If you could, I would appreciate it if you would keep writing funny columns like this one, columns with all sorts of wisdom we won't read anywhere else, especially in the mainstream press.

You have added a few happy moments to my day.

The way things are going with health care reform in Washington, we all need to laugh. Otherwise, we might have no choice but to cry.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Woman Looks Back at Herself 40 Years Later

By Camincha

How do you tell a story that spans forty years? Mimi asked.

By starting at the beginning, Flor answered.

Mimi smiled and opened the window.

“What a glorious sunny day!”

She turned to Flor. She liked this young woman, her neighbor's daughter. She took Flor’s hand and began:

It was my first date ever. I had just arrived in San Francisco. Back in PerĂº, where I grew up, my father would never have allowed it. I was only 19. She paused. Her eyes were dreamy as she reached into the past. Then her voice changed to its usual cheerful tone:

George took me to BIMBO’s 365. Taught me to dance.

And I could hardly believe it, that’s where Steve invited me to go last night. Unlike most of San Francisco's clubs, BIMBO’s is beautifully maintained, still elegant. Just like then, in the fifty's. Famous. Most of all for THE GIRL in THE FISH BOWL.

The girl in the fish bowl? Flor's eyes widened.

Yes, Mimi said. A beautiful girl, blonde and curvy. I don't know how it was done, but there was this live mermaid in a huge fishbowl hanging from the ceiling. Everyone admired the marvelous sight. It was the main attraction.

Why wasn’t the mermaid there last night?

Mimi shrugged. I asked Steve. But he didn’t know anything about it.

I saw you guys, Flor said. I like Steve. You make a good couple. Flor smiled.

Do you think so? We’ll see, Mimi said, we’ll see.

Flor went on. He is so tall, and he has kind of a refined but wild look.

Mimi chuckled. Flor must have read that in one of those romance novels she was always reading.

She continued with her story.

Last night I took a good look around at the mirrored walls, the vast elegant interior, high ceilings, red tablecloths and candlelight reflecting on the club's dark wood. Romantic. Same atmosphere as 40 years ago.

So that night, at 19, I learned to dance. Yes. George kept saying. Just follow me. See? Of course you can. Mimi sat up straighter.

After the orchestra played "As Time Goes By," -- that became our song -- he kept asking the leader to play it for us again and again.

Was he handsome? Flor leaned forward.

Very. Tall. Red-headed. He was 24.

Do you miss him? Flor whispered.

Mimi shook her head. Yes, I do miss him. Still. She sat waiting for the tears to recede.

I sat by his bed for weeks, months, through his fevers, convulsions. The nights were the worst; they seemed to last forever. I even doubted, when it got so bad, how much did I really love him?

And later wasn't easy either, after he… Mimi sniffled. She didn’t finish her sentence right away.

He was only 28 when he died. I worked and put myself through school, but he helped, the money from the life insurance, his money, helped. At nights, late at night, I felt he was with me when I was studying, memorizing. He had wanted me to go to school. Languages, he said, polish your Spanish, English, French. At first I wasn't sure it was right way to go. Study languages?

Then what? Flor asked.

He told me to take the exams for court interpreter, translator. He said, 'if you pass, you’ll be in a secure field. And even if you don't pass, study harder, take the exams again.' Mimi smiled.

Flor picked up her cue. And you passed on your first try.

Mimi's eyes were shiny. She got up, crossed the room, opened a drawer.

Here, I’ll show you a photo of George and me. She hands over the black and white photo. The one taken at BIMBO’s.

There, frozen in time, is a young woman who sits smiling next to her handsome date. He is wearing a suit and tie. Her dress is an icy blue. It has short sleeves and a boat-neck with folds that drape softly to her waist. She wears a necklace of many strands; it matches the one earring that can be seen in the photo.

His face, posing, leans against hers.

So what happened?

You know what happened. We married.

Oh, yes, I know. But how soon after this first date?

Mimi sits up straighter on the sofa. Smiles mischievously.

The next day.

Flor’s mouth opens. She doesn’t say anything.

Mimi nods. Everything I wore that night I wore the next day. We drove around the city and the next day found a Justice of the Peace.

I had no idea, Flor said, softly.

After the ceremony, Mimi reminisces, we ended up at Angelita's home on Pacific Avenue, near where Kearny hits the coast.

Her eyes are dreamy again. What I remember most are the fog horns. We stood on the rocks, listened, but even when we went inside, kept hearing them loud and clear. We stood again on the rocks the next morning, our arms around each other.

I was a fragile 19-year old, Mimi says laughing. Thank goodness I didn’t get blown away by the wind.


Flor doesn't want to break the spell. She is thinking, Fragile? Mimi is talking about losing her husband a few years later, so early in their marriage?

The two women sat there, together, Flor staring at Mimi, until it was time to go.

Camincha is a pen name for a writer living in the Bay Area of California. She is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Maybe you were still asleep this morning. Maybe you didn't hear NPR's Steve Innskeep bring an exec with the health insurance industry on Morning Edition and let him froth on and on about why the nation shouldn't have a public insurance option as part of health care reform.

Steve Innskeep, are you serious? Did you just forget to include an opposing point of view?

Since when is this balanced journalism? Since when does NPR do PR for business? Since when is it right to let an apologist for a huge corporate interest moan and groan about how horrible Medicare is because reimbursement rates aren't as high as they are under private insurance?

Your listening audience deserves far better.

At a moment when the nation is poised to try to revamp a health care system that is in total shambles, we need our public radio station to do justice to the debate. We need you to do far better journalism than this poor excuse for a story.

How ironic that it would be the public radio network making this extraordinary gaffe.

How would it be, NPR, if we let an opponent of public radio come on the air -- unopposed -- and let him whine about why all federal funding for public radio should be eliminated?

The health care debate is as hot right now here in DC as the sidewalks running through the nation's capitol. The papers and airwaves are full of stories about whether the legislation will come out of the Senate and House by the end of July, before the recess (as the President is urging.)

And in the middle of all this, NPR does a segment like this?

Do it over. This time, bring in somebody from the opposing point of view. Bring in somebody who knows about the benefits of the public option and let her/him have at it with your PR type.

The President has said it is essential we have a public option to keep the private health insurance industry honest. It's essential to give consumers an alternative to private insurance, which has our backs up against the wall, always denying claims, or delaying payment, or dropping people from their rolls when they get too sick.

Curious that the person Innskeep brought on is the doctor whose job it is at WellPoint -- the nation's biggest insurance company -- to set up the rules for the company about denying coverage. Ah, so the docs now become the industry bureaucrats. How reassuring is THAT?

Maybe, Steve, that's the real story you should have done early this morning. And you know what? It isn't too late to do it, right, this afternoon or tomorrow!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Buddhism Can't Be This Bad, Can It?

I think it's important to start by saying that I've been meditating for at least 10 or 12 years, every single morning. It's also important to note that I am fascinated by the discoveries being made about the mental powers of Buddhist monks (see for example Sharon Begley's fine book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.)

If you mention the Dalai Lama's name to me, or Buddhism in general, I generally react very positively.

Which makes it all the more difficult to confront what I'm feeling about the new documentary, "Unmistaken Child." What I am about to write might make a lot of people mad. Before you get mad, see this movie, by young Israeli director Nati Baratz, who had extraordinary access as he filmed for five and a half years (taking 200 hours of film!)

This real-time documentary follows a Buddhist monk's search for a reincarnated form of his master, Lama Konchog, who spent 26 years in isolated meditation in a mountain cave. Apparently, Lama Konchog was regarded as one of the greatest Tibetan Masters of our times.

In 2001, after Lama Konchog's death at the age of 84, his devoted follower, Tenzin Zopa, is absolutely heartbroken. He is instructed by the Dalai Lama to search for the reincarnated version of the Lama.

The search takes young Tenzin Zopa into the mountainous wilds of Nepal, where he follows tips from a Chinese astrologist, who among other devices, uses a kind of Etch a Sketch to divine where the reincarnated child will be born.

Ultimately the monk finds a child in a remote valley. The first clue that this chubby-cheeked boy is the reincarnation of the deceased Lama comes when the child is willfully attached to the crystal rosary beads that had been used by the Lama.

There are more tests, all of which the child passes with flying colors (to me, honestly, the child seems prompted during the tests.)

So what happens?

The child is taken from his parents (with their permission, but of course, they've been pressured in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.) The pain in their faces is heart-wrenching.

But the story is disturbing for other reasons. I never realized before seeing this film how much "god worship" there is in Buddhism, the gods being little humans who are chosen reincarnates (and of course there is plenty of worship of the older Lamas.)

In a scene toward the end of the film, the little boy, now outfitted in full vermillion Buddhist garb, his round little head shaved clean, is standing beside the Dalai Lama. A gazillion folks are in a mass worship ceremony, and they begin filing up for blessing. The baby is touching each of their heads and occasionally throwing a white silk scarf over their necks. Folks present him with little gifts, like cars and airplanes, and in between the blessings, he plays with the toys.

To me, it was a dreadful thing. In the eyes of these masses, I saw the sort of adulation that I recall from my Catholic upbringing, the kind I thought was reserved for the Vatican and the Pope.

I thought the point of Buddhism was the elimination of ego. I thought the commitment was to here and now enlightenment through meditation. I never realized the level of fanaticism of some of the monks, the obsession they have to find the reincarnated form of Lama "egos" that have passed away.

So, I would say, see the movie. See what you think.

If you do, pay special attention to the very last scene, where the monk and the young boy are sitting very close to one another, laughing and playing. To me the scene (I won't tell you what they are playing with) suggests something quite sinister about the relationship between the 30ish-year old monk, and the 3 or 4-ish year old boy.

I hope it's just me.

I did not see any mention of this scene in any other reviews. I did not read about anyone asking the director what he might have been suggesting by ending there. Maybe it's just me, and my paranoia, paranoia that comes from reading way too much about the behavior of priests who have access to beautiful little boys.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mr. Biden Hears Health Care Woes from Small Business Owners

Vice President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius met at the White House today with small business leaders who spoke about their many health insurance woes. Once again, the picture came crystal clear: we must fix the health care system in the U.S. and we MUST do it this year.

It's not just an economic imperative, the Vice President said. It's a moral issue as well.

The five small business owners, who joined an audience of many more, told Biden about the sharp increases they've seen in insurance premiums (upwards of 40 percent in the last three years alone). They also spoke about the guilt they feel when they cannot offer their employees' families insurance coverage.

One woman told the Vice President that she and her husband and three children have no insurance. When her son, a teenager who plays sports, broke his arm a year or two ago, the hospital bill came to a whopping $17,000.

Even when employees have insurance, the co-pays, deductibles and unreimbursed fees can add up to thousands of dollars a year.

Clearly, the Vice President said, many Americans lay awake at night, tossing and turning, worrying about what happens if they get sick.

Secretary Sibelius noted that even though we spend more than most countries on health care, we aren't the healthiest of nations. For the first time in recent history, she said, we face the real possibility that our children's generation will face a worse health profile than the present generation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Thank God For Malcolm X Park!!!!!

So if you are a country girl, like I am, and you happen to find yourself living in a big city like DC, you don't take parks for granted. In fact, each and every time you visit a park, you say THANK YOU GOD FOR THIS PARK.

This is Malcolm X Park, about 10 blocks from my apartment in Logan Circle.

It is just a stunning place, as you can see in these photos. It has a very European feel. Sometimes when I'm sitting staring at the cascading water falls, I think I could be in the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome.

Oh, one thing. The National Park Service, which operates all parks in DC, calls this place by its official name, Meridian Hill Park. But all the locals know it as Malcolm X Park. I wrote a column decrying this situation, and it appeared in The Washington Post a while back. Basically, I said that Malcolm X Park, which sits at the top of a historically black neighborhood in DC, deserves to be renamed to honor the African American leader.

Gee whiz, somehow my demands fell on deaf ears.

Ah well, here is the park in all its summer splendor.