The American Divide
Early in my life, my father decided—correctly—that while I was quite intelligent I had some serious perceptual motor limitations. To put it quite simply, I was pretty much uncoordinated. The only question was which was worse, my fine motor skills or my larger muscle coordination. Over time the answer became clear: both.
Spinoza and Me
It was Tuesday afternoons, two-fifteen almost every Tuesday for the school year – for my seventh-grade school year. They would leave – dismissed early from school to attend religious instruction. Most, the vast majority of my classmates would leave to learn about God, to learn about faith, to learn about dogma. Almost universally they were Catholics. The city in which I grew up was almost entirely Catholic – half of Irish background and half of Italian – but all Catholic and all scheduled for confirmation.
Joshua—How One Boy Changed my Thinking
Summer of 1968, just before I went back to graduate school, I did fieldwork for the “Canadian Association of Retarded Citizens.” Our team was doing a cost-benefit analysis of services for children who had been diagnosed as “retarded—a diagnostic term that is no longer accepted, but which was then used. One of the facilities at which we did observations was a unique hospital operated by the Province of New Brunswick. It was dedicated to serving developmentally handicapped children: a mixture of many diagnostic categories. Given our specific charter, we knew exactly which kids we would want to study, only those with a primary diagnosis of retardation, and arrived prepared to make our requirements clear to the staff.
Dark Shadows on the Silver Screen
Just over a century after the release of D.W. Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation,” Nate Parker’s film of the same name came to the silver screen. While the Griffith film justified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed white racism as the salvation of America, the Parker film traces the life of Nat Turner and the slave revolt which he led in pre-Civil War Virginia. From totally opposing perspectives, both films spoke to the fear and anger that has poisoned American race relations since before the Revolution.
“Oy vey iz mir"
After finishing college, I spent some time in grad school in New York City. Caught in a depressed mood swing, I didn’t want to live in a dorm or share an apartment with other people, so I found a place I could afford at the edge of Harlem. The building in which I lived was rent-controlled and filled with elderly Jewish tenants. Downstairs we had a neighborhood newspaper and candy store much like the one my maternal grandfather had owned when I was little. Dave, the owner, was as weary and worn as my Pa had been, but at least he could walk without a cane and discuss the happenings of the day; he read every one of New York’s dailies.
“This subject is a thirteen-year-old male,” Professor Hogan, which is not his real name, announced as he passed the test protocols around the seminar table. Having just completed my first year of graduate courses in Psychology, I had wangled my way into the professor’s seminar for advanced students. He was one of the world’s leading authorities on the Rorschach, that set of ten inkblots that were supposed to give us psychologists an x-ray of the unconscious mind.
Black Lives and my White Privilege: Lessons From Childhood
I had never experienced love before, not like this at any rate. In Latin class of all places. Declining a simple adjective, good: “Bonus, bona, bon…er. Excuse me, Miss Gibson, but I can’t—”
Wise and experienced, our heavy-set, gray-haired teacher waved me to sit. “Yes, can somebody continue for Kenneth.”
A few hands went up. I prayed that Miss Gibson wouldn’t pick her. “No, please not her.” More fervent, more sincere than any moment of Hebrew ecstasy I had seen our Rabbi and cantor muster in synagogue.
That wisest of teachers had taken in not only my protuberant tumescent predicament but also the line of my sight—no not sight, for I was blinded by desire—the line of my adoration.
“Peter, thank you.”
Before You Write Your Memoir
Personally, I’ve never wanted to write a memoir. I’ve never thought my life complex or meaningful enough to warrant one. My preference has always been to stand back and observe while others took action and risk, which is not to say that I have no great moments of revelation to be shared. There have been a few, but not a coherent set that would make a memoir—not a full foundation on which to base a tale.
My maternal grandfather came to this country to seek his fortune and just as importantly to escape the Tsar’s army. His objection to service was not cowardice or conscientious objection; he just didn’t want to fight for a system that gave him no rights. “If I was nothing to him then why should the Tsar be something to me?” he explained as we walked from the apartment he and my grandmother shared to the small tobacco store which provided their living.
What Does the Fourteenth Amendment Anchor?
There is a growing movement to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. That movement is being spearheaded by the far right and candidates like Donald Trump and Scott Walker. Their expressed reason: children of undocumented aliens born in this country are automatically citizens. “Anchor babies” is one term used for these kids, because they now afford an anchor for their parents and siblings, a reason to allow them to stay in the US.
What eight-year-old boy doesn’t want to do things with his dad? When my father told me to hop in our black four-door Ford, I was happy to oblige. That we were going to the general store made it all the better. I loved roaming that store—cram packed with scythes, guns, food, ice cream, clothes, notions, even the local post office. The entire place redolent of Maine. Voices filled with flat “R”s and twang. Local folks stopped in as much to socialize as to shop.
“It’s all about the keys.” I was told that when I first went to work in a state hospital. I soon learned what she meant.
First, what she didn’t mean was that the patients, without keys, were locked in. Perhaps on some of the more secure wards, but in the buildings where I worked they were free to come and go. A metal coat hanger skillfully twisted – well really not that skillfully – would open many of the doors and almost all the window gratings.
The day before our mothers had brought us to the classroom door. Miss Buckley had greeted us with a smile and questions. “Do you like to color?” Do you like music? Do you—?”
Most of us had nodded, too shy to speak.
“You have to tell me,” this new force in our lives instructed. “When I ask you a question, you must answer. Say ‘Yes, Miss Buckley’ or ‘No, Miss Buckley. Do you understand?”