Monthly Archives: March 2007

Fencepost Up My Arse

I consider myself a decisive person.  When I am wrong, I am decisively wrong. I’ve learned to live with it.  Once in a while, I am confronted with an issue that challenges my belief in my decisiveness.  Monday, at the Plaza, a few of us were herded into a room to listen to Dr. George R. Woodbury, a dermatologist from Cordova, Tn.  He talked to us, and answered questions regarding tort reform.  I believe Aunt B threw some statistics up over at TCP.  If they are true, then any advocate for the poor and under-represented among us should at least take a hard look at this issue.  So I did. After thinking about this issue for a couple of days, I am squarely in the fence straddlers camp.  Dr. Woodbury was indeed passionate, and created a sense of urgency in me.

I’ve read as much as I can stand.  It’s boring.  But it’s clearly important.  According to Dr. Woodbury, Tennessee is losing doctors by the gross.  Many other States have passed some type of tort reform, so he makes the case that we must do something about it here.  A pretty convincing case, actually.  Let me just lay out some concerns, perhaps competing concerns:

I’ve always disliked Doctors that see too many patients in one day, they don’t spend enough time with each one, and so the potential for error is much greater.

Doctors who are terribly negligent should pay a steep price for it.  This would ideally act as a deterrent and cut down on the amount of tragic cases.

Too many people are suit-happy.  Any error or omission, no matter how inconsequential, is seen as a possible free ride to wealth.

Too many lawyers are unscrupulous and will gladly strong-arm an insurance company into a settlement.  (I probably could have just cut this sentence off after “too many lawyers”, as I think I read somewhere that there are more people in law school than there are lawyers in the world,and, if that’s true, how are they going to eat?)

Those are the 4 most obvious.  I have additional questions.  For instance, if tort reform passed here, is there evidence that it would automatically reduce doctor fees?  Something tells me that prices would stay the same, though perhaps there would be more doctors around.

So, this is a cry for help.  I need any of my good Liberal friends(and both of my Conservative ones) to chime in here if they have an opinion. Please help get me off of this fence, it’s unbelievably uncomfortable…

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Yahweh Screws Up Too

Dear God, it’s me Mack.  Just wanted to clarify something with you, if you have a minute.  I hope I never let you think I didn’t believe in you, it’s just that I don’t believe you are infallible.  Really, anyone who thinks all of this is some grand accident is a moron, or probably spends too much time over at TCP.  (You wouldn’t believe what they are talking about today. Shudder)

Anyway, my proof that you get tired and make mistakes surfaces this time of year.  See, I love Spring, it really is some of your finest work.  Bright sunlight coupled with a gentle breeze, flowers in bloom, you know the drill.  Not to nit-pick, but onion grass and wasps were never in the plans, were they?  Toward the end, you decided to bust a little freestyle, and thought they would be a good idea.  Well, Madam, they are not.  I’m just sayin.
Your friend,

Mack.

p.s. I appreciate the whole mid-term thing, really.

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Random Notes About BOTHD.

I’ll be honest, I made myself go to the Blogger on the Hill Day. It didn’t seem right to me to implore others to elevate the level of discourse and “reach out” to those with an opposing viewpoint, if I didn’t first practice the same. Overall, it was a pretty bland experience, everyone was on their best behavior, and Kara and Rep Mumpower did everything they could to make us feel welcome. I know I am forgetting many of the names, but here a few of the Reps that took the time to talk with us and share a little about themselves:

Rep Susan Lynn

Rep Mike Bell

Rep Harry Brooks

Rep Debra Maggart

(Like I said, there were others, but they didn’t offer a card, and I really couldn’t take notes and be polite at the same time, so apologies to those I omitted.)

As for the bloggers on the other side of the aisle, I met Mike Faulk, who seemed very quiet and kept his distance, but didn’t give off any kind of bad vibe.

Adam Groves. Scary as all get out. He reminds me of a kid I met when he applied for a sales job, I hired him because despite his youthful appearance, and he seemed incredibly smart and driven. Same with Adam. This kid should have been recruited by the Dems, somehow our scouts missed this one. Intelligent, friendly, easy to be around, (if you could overlook his rumpled suit and un-shined shoes). He knew his way around the legislature, and helped me and Aunt B understand the rules and procedures of the floor. He has a bright future, though I may have to call his Mom about those shoes. Truly, when did serious guys start allowing their shoes to look like that? When I was coming up, it was unheard of to do business, or hell, go outside with un-shined shoes. No one would take you seriously.

David Oatney. Dedicated. It was easy to tell he was enjoying being there. Reminded me of the time I got to hang out with some San Francisco Giants at their Spring Training camp when I was a kid. He wanted very much to be acknowledged by the big boys. Thats kinda cool in a way. He too, is smart, and knowledgeable, and he stayed later than everyone else, clearly intent on learning as much as possible. I started to get irritated a little, as he seemed to want to weigh in on everything, and his manner of speaking suggests the sound he loves most is his own voice. This will probably serve him should he ever run for office, which he stated he may do in the near future.

Kleinheider. Well. Damn. Adam would make an excellent poker player. His facial expression rarely changes. If I didn’t relunctantly read his blog, I would never know how smart he is. That’s because he is a lurker. He simply doesn’t engage. A case in point:

I thought David Oatney took a back handed swing at Adam, and the exchange went something like this: (paraphrasing)

Oatney- “So, Adam, writing for the mainstream media must be tough in some ways.”

Kleinheider-

Oatney-” I mean, they kinda have you by the shorthairs, don’t they?”

Kleinheider-

Oatney-(coming in for the kill) “Don’t get me wrong, I think you do a great job, even as you whore yourself out to your corporate masters.”

Kleinheider-

(At this point, I’m gripping the edge of the table so hard the veins in my neck were popping out, yet Kleinheider sat there, mute. Finally, when I could take it no more, I bitch slapped Oatney for his suggestion that Kleinheider was “limited” on what he could say on Volunteer Voters. Sweet Jesus, sometimes I wish he was reined in a little, mostly because his posts are insightful and pithy (apologies to The Scene) but overwhelmingly partisan. Anyway, perhaps he felt the assertion was so stupid that acknowledging it was counter-productive.)

I can’t be too hard on Adam, though, by the end of Day Two, he actually emitted what I and Aunt B later determined was a laugh over something I said, and he went outside with me to share a smoke*. I had planned to do this whole post on his wardrobe, but I’ve decided to instead take him shopping with me, thereby taking a pro-active approach, rather than embarassing him in public.

All in all, a pleasant experience for me. I had breakfast on Vanderbilt, which I managed to keep down even when the Lt. Governor stopped by to tell folksy stories to us. (I should note that it was quite nice of him to take the time to do so, but for heaven’s sake these State politicians love their homespun story-telling, ya know?)

I got to see old friends that were wandering the halls for various reasons. Not bad. Not bad at all.

* It just occured to me that what happened to me and Kleinrocket is an almost perfect metaphor for the immigration debate. See, we stepped out a side door to smoke, and a woman barged through the door and it closed behind us, locking us out of the building. After a minute, another guy opened it, and Kleinrocket asked him to leave it propped open for us. The guy actually refused, saying he just couldn’t break the rules. We would have to walk all the way around the building, and go back through security once again, even if there was this incredibly long line. (rule of law, buddy) Kleinrocket was clearly not interested in this. Finally, another guy opened the door, and we sneaked in and became illegal aliens in the process. The irony is just too delicious. Si, Se Puede! My brother….

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I Ruined Blogger Day on The Hill

Talk about about an event rife with opportunity. Me, Aunt B, and a gaggle of Conservative Republicans at the State Capitol. It’s the sort of once in a lifetime opportunity that, properly documented, could propel a fledgling writer from blogosphere obscurity to a career chock full of fortune and fame.

I completely screwed it up.

In my own defense, I will say that it was not entirely my fault. See, many people that know me will tell you that I am a Heyoka of some repute. Usually, the complete transformation, or more accurately, graduation, to full blown Shaman occurs only after a Heyoka has grown weary of his fun and games, and decides to act like a grown up. I really wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but, unfortunately, the Temptress over at Tiny Cat Pants forced my hand by gifting me the last item I needed to begin my worldwide journey to heal the planet, and everyone* in it.

Bones. To be exact, coyote “finger” bones. The moment she unceremoniously plunged her mitt into her bag and produced the bottle of bones, my life, and your State Legislature, changed forever.

Just between you and me, B was so nervous about being in such close proximity to a room full of poorly dressed males that collectively seek to seize and maintain control of her reproductive processes, that she had to pee damned near every 5 minutes. In an effort to comfort my fearful friend, I removed the bottle (which I had snuck past the oppressive security at the Capitol entrance) and, with a manly yet mystical flourish, shook my bones at the lot of them and whispered to the spirits to cleanse the area of hostilities. Like I said, in terms of Shamanism, I possess the equivalent of a learner’s permit. It’s a little like the first time you make chili, and, instead of carefully measuring the ingredients, you just say, “fuck this”, and dump whatever you have on hand into the pot. Sometimes you get chili, sometimes you get a brown spicy paste.

Anyway, I admit I over-did it. I suppose I should have noticed when a couple of them seemed to be able to walk as if they did not in fact have a sharp stick tucked away in their posteriors. A few of them managed what almost looked like sincere smiles, which was amusing because one could tell that this was a tad foreign to them, and their lips kept sliding back over their teeth a little. So, after navigating the gauntlet of halls, elevators, escalators, and darkened narrow passages that is the path to the Assistant Minority Leader’s office, we were invited into a room where a collection of mostly East Tennessee conservative bloggers were already seated. There was introductions all around, then we were escorted to the house floor, or, rather, the balcony overlooking the house floor, where the carnage was supposed to take place.

As soon as the half dozen prayers and pledges were through, the proceedings turned into a virtual love-fest. It was as if the gladiators and lions of ancient Rome suddenly decided to play leap frog instead of tearing each other apart. Every spoken word was met with the proper amount of head nodding and encouragement. Even when Stacey Campfield elected to speak up and ask an inane question, it was pondered, respectfully, then patiently answered. When the voting took place on the half-dozen or so bills and amendments under consideration, the ayes prevailed in a rout. 97-zip, every damn time. A freshman Representative introduced his first bill, effectively breaking his legislative cherry, and I swear I saw a teary eye or two on the floor.

After witnessing the Mutual Admiration Society in action, we were invited to Logan’s Roadhouse to dine with members of the Republican Caucus and a trio of Bellsouth lobbyists. Dutch Treat! Again, courtesy and politeness ruled the day, or evening, as it were, even Aunt B and Rep Campfield broke bread together without incident. I drank tequila.

To all of you breathlessly waiting for every gory detail of Blogger Day on The Hill, let me extend my sincerest apologies for getting carried away with my newly found powers.

Tomorrow, I shall fill you in on some of the people we met, I’ll try to spice it up a little.

*Please don’t wander out to my place and ask me fix your toenail fungus or conjure shit up, please. I’ve serious work to do.

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Chili Today, Hot Tamale

Struggling to find balance on this blog. I was moved to start my own blog after the nastiness and shrillness of the Kickin Ass blog (Official blog of the Democratic Party) drove me away. I made good friends over the three years or so I contributed there, some of whom will be life long friends. But blind loyalty to a political party, like blind loyalty to a country, to me anyway, is counter-productive. Anyway, I can’t seem to escape my activist roots. I try to expand my writing to other areas of my life, family, friends, shit, even pets. I think I admire openness and transparency so much because it is not my nature, some of you bloggers can just hang it out there, and I think it’s ballsy. Well, part of me wants to share more about my weekend with Aunt B, and perhaps I will, one day, but for now I think I will keep it close to home. I will go on record that she almost totally wussed out on the 4 wheeler. I had to engage hyper mocking drive to get her up and down a hill the size of your average Titan cheerleader’s breast. Pathetic. Yea, I’ll share that, for real.

I have to make this observation “public” though. Through the goodness of the Gods, I met an angel in the grocery store. Her and her mother were buying groceries, and from their selections I just knew momma was a first rate cook. I engaged them, and soon we agreed on a price for home-made tamales. (my current tamale connect is reliable, but the product has been sub-standard of late) So, yesterday, I arrived at their home with a good friend of mine in tow. The area of town that they live in isn’t particularly nice. It is mere steps from the railroad tracks, and this road is chock full of renters so many of the houses and yards are in a constant state of dis-repair. We knocked on the door, and Maria opened it, smiled broadly and invited us into the kitchen, where her mother and Aunt were just removing tamales from a large pot on the stove. There was food everywhere. The sights and smells were at once familiar and comforting. I was in my mother’s house again. There were four children present, sitting in chairs by the open back door, and speaking a beautiful mixture of Spanish and English, drawing or coloring and laughing most of the time. Their girls had their jet black hair brushed and braided and they had shiny things holding it in place. Their faces were scrubbed clean, their clothes pressed. The house was orderly and chaotic at the same time. The women smiled at us and made us sit at the table, and sample the tamales. Alicia took hers, freshly “shucked”, and sprinkled it with chopped lettuce, then ladled some fresh salsa over it and handed it to my friend. She warned that it was “hot.” I though she meant “stove hot,” but no, as my friend soon discovered, she meant hot in the way that hot can hit your stomach, then work it’s way back up through your lungs and ultimately engulfs you in a perfect capsicum laden cloud, causing your metabolism to accelerate, sets your heart to racing, and ends with you wiping your brow on your shirtsleeve. That kind of hot. Perfect. As I was enjoying this dish, I was struck by those faces over by the door. Each of them had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. Large, oval and it may sound corny, but I saw the whole world in them. The oldest was born in Mexico, but came here when she was one yr old. Her brother and sisters were born here in the States. I was glad that my friend Andy was there, but I so wanted Kleinheider to be there as well. I wanted him to see this family. I wanted him to taste this food, I wanted him to gaze at these children, and then, I wanted him to explain to me what would be gained by him “walking them back over the border.” The preservation of the rule of law? Unjust laws are, and have been challenged throughout this Nation’s history. It’s intrinsic to the American experience. Welcoming and celebrating the presence of these people seems intrinsic to the Christian experience. I so want to challenge Adam to accompany me to this home, talk to this family, share a meal, and learn about what its like to live in the shadows, yet contribute so much to the community. Something tells me his bravado would quickly dissipate, and he would no more be able to seperate this family from each other than he would be able to shoot a defenseless puppy. Thats because I know he has a brain, and I believe he has a heart. I think his protestations otherwise are merely wishful thinking. I stay after you, man, because you are an influential conservative. I always suspected it, but it was confirmed by the howling and whining which took place when you single-handedly prevented a Fred Thompson run for the Presidency. That online achievement, (ok, and one other) has made you a hero to me. So, it’s out there, ACK, this opportunity, whenever you care to broaden your perspective a bit. Call me. Just not with your cellphone…

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What to Do With The Geezers…

My daughter is a R.I.S.E. student. (Research, Investigation, Strategy, um..Elitism.  Ok, I actually forgot what the “E” is for)  No matter.  Here’s the deal.  Twice a week, her and a few other students leave their classrooms, and they get an opportunity to participate in many challenging events.  One of these is Future Problem Solvers.  Apparently, this year’s topic was Cultural Prejudice.  Apparently, her team won at the school and County level.  Now, they head to the State “Bowl.”  There is a brief ceremony on a Friday night (in Lebanon, Tn) and then, the following morning, they are required to show up, and begin a presentation on a new topic.  In one day, heck, by 3:00 that afternoon, they have to address another future problem, offer solutions, (complete with charts and grids and other academic stuff) then they have to perform a skit that is tied to their solution.  The State Bowl’s topic is Caring for Our Elderly.  If they win at the State level, they travel to Fort Collins, Colorado, to participate in the INTERNATIONAL competition.  How cool is that?  I was a little miffed when I heard about all the associated costs, it isn’t that I mind spending the money, but I know the other kids on her team are not from well to do families.  In fact, fresh back from a long vacation in Orlando, we are eating rice and beans and fighting over the leftover beef jerky scraps scattered in the back seat of the 4Runner.  We’ll manage, though.  The State Bowl is 25.00 entry fee, then $25.00 for anyone else that accompanies her.  So, it’s a cool c-note for the family to attend.  Supplies are required, and the cost is supposed to be shared by your teammates’s families.   If they happen to win, I’ll need to take out a second mortgage to fund the trip to Colorado, trust me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for her and proud  as can be, but  the  costs seem prohibitive to poor families.

Ah, the Topic.  Caring For Our Elderly.  This one has been on mind alot anyway.  My father died young, but my Mom was healthy as a horse going into her eighties.  Sure, Alzheimers robbed us of some of her, and in the end, she died peacefully in her sleep before her long term care became an issue.  But with the thought of a huge block of Boomers facing retirement, the topic seems right on the money.  I fully expect to see chains of “adult care” facilities popping up everywhere before long, after all, there is a ton of money to be made.  Perhaps I’ll talk about that another day.  My question to both of my readers is this:

Are you in a position to provide shelter and care for aging parents?  Do you want to even take on the responsibility?  

I personally think we have done our elderly a great dis-service, (in fact, I think we also deprive our children the experience of living with our elderly family members) by creating a culture that does not value what they have to offer.  It is my hope that my wife’s parents one day live with us.  We’ve talked about building a small “cottage” next to our house if they would prefer that to living in our home, the idea being that everyone would benefit greatly from this arrangement.  I want my children to see that process of aging, and to experience death of a loved one more intimately than say, the phone call from the retirement home that says, “it’s time.”  Anyway, I’m curious what you think, what you plans have, perhaps what you would like to see for your family, even if you do not have the means.  Care to share?

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If I Could Write Like This…

You probably have a list of blogs you read regularly, like I do.  Sometimes, a blog makes your list because you know the person, and care about what they think and feel.  Sometimes, you just agree with author so much it feels good to just know someone else shares your viewpoint.  You might even visit some blogs you where you vehemently disagree with almost everything they write, I call that opposition research.  I started reading Tiny Cat Pants because Aunt B made me laugh, and sometimes, she challenged my most cherished male beliefs.  I got to meet her, and like Ginger from GingerSnaps, (who also makes me laugh) Sarcastro, John H, Sean B   and others,  we have become friends and I am richer for it.  Anyway, what I wanted to say today is that every once in a while, you might read a thread or comment that really hits home, says everything you want to say, and just completely captures your perspective.  That happened today, over at this thread at TCP.  I’ve admired the Church Secretary for quite some time, he has a writing style that makes me 20 shades of green in envy.  I hope I’m not violating any sort of blog etiquette here, but I wanted to reprint what he said in the comments, so here it is:

Aunt B., I have to say I’m with you on this one. As in the “war on drugs,” we continue create a web of legal fictions that segregate human beings by class, skin color, and (in the case of immigration) where they were born.

The behavior of the federal agents is very telling. As the woman said at the end, “They treated us like as if we were murderers.” This was more than just satisfaction for having protected the sanctity of the law. This was an expression of the kind of in-your-face, “fuck you” politics that are the bread and butter of the post-Nixon conservative movement. Brown-skinned south-of-the-border migrants are perennial scapegoats of this movement, so it only fits that there would be such glee at the point of the migrants’ debasement. (Don’t bullies always gloat over the vanquished weaklings, anyway?)

The migrants–including women and children– are here to make a living. You can carp all you want about laws and borders, but the fact remains that the motivations of the migrants are very clear, and in many ways very admirable.

It is easy to blame to poor mothers and the helpless, feverish babies for their own plight: They broke the law. It’s their own fault we didn’t bother to find a more constructive, compassionate way of dealing with this complex problem. (I would suggest that these draconian raids and their aftermath are the Bush administration’s retaliation for the pro-immigrant marches of a few months ago, but that would get me labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist.’ I digress…)

Attempting to dismiss or justify this cruel, inhumane treatment by hiding behind the fictional morality of unjust laws puts us in some very unwelcome historical company and we continue to countenance it at our own peril. When we see fit, as a society, to condone the brutal treatment of fellow human beings who mean us no harm– especially when we label such treatment ‘legal’– we invite a maelstrom of brutality upon ourselves.

As a nation we have apparently gotten away with and profited from so many massive atrocities (the Native American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, the rape of the Philippines, our Latin American policies, etc.) that our cultural historical education– with its traditionally jingoistic, myopic, self-congratulatory bent– leaves us ill-prepared to face up to our contemporary transgressions against humanity.

With all our wealth and military power it is easy to imagine that we will never be held accountable for these crimes, so we let our cognitive dissonance run amok and continue to tell ourselves that we’re in the right, or that we’re doing the best we can, or that it’s the victims’ own fault. Or we just ignore it altogether.

I can only wonder how loudly we’ll cry “foul” when the apocalyptic shoe gets put on the other foot.

 I’m no writer, but I am glad I can appreciate someone who is.

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Open Letter To Paris’ Grand-dad

Dear Hilton Hotel Corp,

Recently, my family stayed at one of your hotels in the Orlando area. When I booked my trip, I had no idea that Hilton owned this particular chain, and, truthfully, I wouldn’t have cared one bit. Our stay was quite nice, the room large enough for the four of us, the staff pleasant and helpful. The rate was more than fair. The pool was clean, and heated, and towels were abundant. I was impressed with the courtyard, and I appreciated the fact that a person was assigned to keep that area sparkling clean. If I had to bitch about something, it would be your bell hops, they were unfriendly, and unhelpful. I decided to schlep my own bags upstairs, mostly so I didn’t need to tip them. Their loss, when I vacation, I’m a generous tipper. That said, I would stay with you again, and coming from me that is high praise. I made my living in the Service and sales business, and so I am indeed critical and sometimes unfairly so.

Here’s what has me shaking my head:

You have a concierge desk in the lobby, which is actually just a recruiting station for a Hilton owned timeshare resort. When I went there to find out about shuttles, the nice woman asked me qualifying questions, then gently nudged me to take a tour. I declined, even after a promise of a limo ride there, a free breakfast, and $100.00 cash just to show up. Now, our family enjoys hotels, but we often look at alternatives, and before we had children, my wife and I took a timeshare tour that was very nice, though we did not purchase. By day 4 of our stay, we decided to take you up on your offer, just to see this exciting new property and everything it entailed. I paid my 20 dollar deposit, and at 8:30 the next morning, sure enough, there was a shiny new limo ready to take us to your resort. The ride lasted about 15 minutes or so, the place was out past SeaWorld, on the far end of International Drive. When we pulled up, two guys opened the limo doors, and directed us inside. We joined a group already having breakfast, then registered and waited for our tour. I was shocked that so far, no one had asked me to produce a driver’s license, or credit card. Before long, a pleasant young woman introduced herself, and explained that it was now time to see a “brief movie” before our tour. Ok. I should note that that they had promised a “state of the art” gameroom that the kids could use while the grown-ups toured the property. We dropped them off there, and settled in to watch the film. Within minutes, my kids were back, explaining in great detail how outdated the handful of free standing video games were, and how filthy the gameroom was. So, they elected to go with us. The room darkened, and the movie started. Three or four minutes in, I was shaking with laughter. Not only didn’t the movie even mention the property where we were, it was so cheesy that even my children were covering their mouths so they wouldn’t cackle out loud. Shot after shot of beautiful people, lounging on an empty beach, or dining, alone, in some well appointed gazebo by the pool or ocean. This was interspersed with live testimonials about Hilton Resorts from “actual members.” Hearing these was apparently not enough, key phrases scrolled across the screen, like “best decision we ever made”, “unsurpassed luxury”, “deal of a lifetime.” The graphics were amatuerish, the segways clumsy. Well, I thought, perhaps they feel that the property speaks for itself. Time for our tour. I’m pretty sure our guide was new to the place, because she routed us the wrong way towards the pool, and our first glimpse of the place was the dumpsters and grease traps. Eventually, she found the crown jewel of the property, the pool. It was ok. Large enough, but nothing about it was remotely exceptional. And it was deserted, the snack bar boarded up and no towel bins anywhere in sight. The pool furniture was obviously purchased at Dollar General. Perhaps Big Lots. We headed toward the rooms, which had outside corridor type hallways. We boarded the elevator, which had broken tiles on the floor, and smelled slightly of urine. Our guide explained that the annual maintenance fees would run between 700 and 1200 dollars. On our way to the room, I could hear the heavy metal doors slamming up and down the hallway as other tours entered or exited the rooms. I mean loud. Once inside the room, I almost gagged from the smell. It was a brutal combination of pou pouri, scented candles, and what I can only guess was Hai Karate cologne. Our guide sort of went through the motions of pointing out the obvious, there were very nice appliances in each room, but telling us that the dishwasher is large capacity didn’t invoke images of romantic romps on lonely beaches in our minds. After 3 minutes, or so, we were whisked back down to the main lobby, and seated at a round table, where our young guide gave a whirlwind presentation of the Hilton Resorts new approach to timeshares. It’s a point system, see, and you can use your points at ANY Hilton property, see, and sure there’s a small “conversion fee” if you do not elect to stay at this property (179.00) and yes, of course there are black-out dates, (virtually all summer) but if you act today, and only today, they will deposit extra points in our account. She then, I swear I’m not making this up, slid a piece of paper with the following terms on it: Price $31,890 Down payment, $7,600 Monthly investment, $581. Interest Rate, 16.9 percent. “Now, Mr. Mack, how would you like to handle the down payment?” Ballsy, to be sure. I asked her if I could take the tour 70 more times so I could earn the required down payment. She smiled, and excused herself. In seconds, another woman appeared, and explained that the down payment was “negotiable”, so perhaps we might opt for their “mini-plan? I politely declined, and explained that we didn’t find the property or the deal to our liking. I don’t think she understood, because she kept trying to convince us that in order to take advantage of this incredible offer, she was willing to forgo the required down payment. How could we lose? Still, I declined, and she went away, explaining that a Hilton Representative would be along to make sure we were treated well. Well, sure enough, a pissed off looking lady sat down and basically wondered, out loud, how I could be so stupid and selfish that I would deny my family this golden opportunity? Didn’t I “get” that the down payment was being waived? Then she made her biggest mistake. She glared at my wife, who had just sat there through the entire closing. (She lets me handle this part, because she abhors confrontation, and she knows I won’t sign up for anything without her consent.) My wife informed her that we didn’t find the property all that nice. The woman snarled back, “are you aware that this is a Hilton property, the top of the line?” My wife slid her chair back, gripped the edge of the table and screamed back ” YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE A PROPERTY? GO TO THE BELLAGIO, OR THE WYNN, OR HELL, EVEN THE GOLDEN GODDAM NUGGET, LADY. THOSE ARE PROPERTIES!”

Within minutes of that final exchange, we were ushered into a waiting van (apparently, the limo is only your ride back if you buy) and taken back to our hotel. I had $100 of their money, which we gave to the kids and said go buy all the junk you wanted that we said no to all week.

My question, Hilton Hotel Corp, is how you can lend your name to this shoddy outfit? You must have spent $200.00 dollars to get me there, feed me, and pay me to go. Why on Earth would you hand me over to a weak, almost disinterested salesperson? Why wouldn’t you make sure the staff had smiles on their faces, or that the elevators were clean, or at least make your pitch more professional? To be fair, you are building phase four, so clearly it must be me that doesn’t “get it.” Anyway, my son says thanks for the Spiderman beach towel…

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Extraordinary People

Rafael stared down the barrel of the gun pointed at his head, and wondered if he would ever see his family again.  Weeks earlier, a friend had been shot and left for dead, another victim of a “mini-kidnapping”.  Armed bandits abduct an unsuspecting person, take them to an ATM, and demand that they withdraw as much money as possible.  Sometimes, the process is repeated until the account is empty, sometimes, the person is let go, other times, they are killed to keep from identifying their captors.

I met Rafael in the parking lot of my hotel.  He drives a private shuttle van in Orlando, ferrying tourists to various local attractions.  Each morning, I would take two coffees with me and go and chat with him about life in Brazil, and his immigration experience.  The mini-kidnapping incident is what finally prompted him to leave his town of San Paulo.  Rafael is easy to like, and his 6ft plus height makes him stand out from the gaggle of drivers that hover outside of major hotels to earn fares.  His English is flawless, though he and his friends prefer to communicate in Portugese.   He introduced me to his friends, and other drivers there who came to the U.S. from Haiti, Somalia, Columbia, and of course, Brazil.  I was struck by how many of them spoke almost perfect English.  In their limos and vans, I could spot English textbooks alongside books about business.  Each of them seemed to have a dream to one day own a business, and they work from 6:00 a.m. to well past 11:00 p.m. in that pursuit.  I’m convinced most of them will one day achieve that goal.

Angela and Twime are making coffee, and stocking their shelves with donuts and fruit, getting ready for the morning throng of tourists that visit the hotel deli each morning.  It wasn’t hard to tell that they were good friends.  On my first morning there, I was attracted to what I thought was singing emanating from behind their counter, turns out it was Swahili, their native tongue.  Angela talks almost non-stop, while Twime listens intently, and periodically bursts out in laughter.  Though I couldn’t understand a thing, before long I was laughing right along with them.  At this hour of the morning, the other hotel employees all stop by to grab coffee or juice and exchange gossip.  By day two of my visit, I was invited to stand in the back with them, and I learned that Diego*, the hotel security man, had set his sights on the new girl assigned to clean rooms in Tower One.    As it turns out, Twime, Angela, and every other employee all speak English.  Twime is from Tanzania, and Angela is from Kenya.  Coincidentally, they met applying for work, and discovered that they had both been born in the U.S., but left as infants, so they remembered nothing of America.  Naturally, I asked them why they came to the U.S., and was shocked to learn that in both of their cultures, having many children scattered throughout the world is quite a status symbol.  Both of them had siblings in places like Canada, Switzerland, South America, and Germany among others.  Apparently, they all meet occasionally, and though they all speak English, most of them know at least two other languages, the other common language is Swahili.  We talked every morning, and I learned quite a bit about both of them.  I was sad to learn that the biggest obstacle they faced when they arrived in the U.S. was being shunned by American Blacks who were threatened by their work ethic and proper English. (I suppose I should make it clear that I have no point to make here, I am simply relaying what they said) So, in response, they bonded with other African immigrants, and have a pretty good network that assists new arrivals seeking employment.  One other interesting thing I learned was that they find the concept of credit and debt a bit unsettling.  Angela has a car note, but informed me that in Kenya, people save and make major purchases, including land, with cash.  Most houses are constructed by the family that will ultimately live in it.  She is taken aback by how much debt the average person here has, and admits that her own car payment takes too much of her take-home pay.  She intends to pay cash for her next car.

One advantage I have as an early riser is that usually, the only other people awake are the hotel employees.  I think once they get past the fact that someone is asking them personal questions, they seem to like interacting with a curious tourist.  All of them seemed eager to share bits and pieces of their personal experiences with me, and by my third day, I couldn’t buy coffee or muffins if I had tried.  I was given so much fruit that I had to take much of it back to my kids to eat when they got up.  Getting to know these people was the best part of my vacation, hands down.

* Diego has “hero” status with my family, since he rescued my children from a broken elevator.  Apparently, it trapped them inside when they had gone to the lobby to get a toothbrush, and kept whisking them up and down, penthouse to lobby, without opening it’s doors.  By the third trip, my terrified daughter had the presence of mind to use the elevator phone to call for help.  Diego was dispatched, and plucked them from the jaws of death at the penthouse level, and escorted back to our room.  My daughter made me tip him.  I think they are writing a song about him. I’m wondering how he made out with that little hottie in Tower One.

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10 Days Without A Mexican

The other day, Kleinheider referenced a post of mine, and he gave me the title of progressive Hispanic activist. Almost immediately, I received an email from a friend asking me what I thought of that. So, lets break it down into parts. Part One: Progressive. I hope to God that I am considered progressive. What is not to like about that term? Liz Garrigan has told me that she doesn’t like it, perhaps because she feels that it has become the fall back label for Liberals. Perhaps, but I embrace both terms, so…so far, no offense taken. Part Two: Hispanic. Though I do not hail from Hispania, I can embrace this as well. I told my friend that personally, I think the world would be a better place if we didn’t use terms like African American, or Hispanic Activist, because the need to make known the ethnicity of the person being described  makes me uncomfortable. Or, perhaps Kleinheider was saying that I am a Hispanic Activist, in that I advocate for Hispanic/Latino causes. That would be partly true, but my activism has taken many forms throughout the years. I have been an advocate for GLBT rights, unions, and to a lesser extent, the environment. So the most accurate term was probably “Local activist for Hispanic/Latino/Immigrant/GLBT/Union/Environment causes who is of Mexican descent. Perhaps Kleinheider was simply being thrifty with bandwidth…

With that, I leave for a ten day vacation. Y’all will have to fend for yourselves while I am away. Oddy Ouss.

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