January 6 was both the last day of the Christmas holiday season (a.k.a. Feast of the Epiphany, Little Christmas, Three Kings Day, and Twelfth Night) and the seventh anniversary of the day I wrote my first post in this blog. I spent the evening of this day attending this artist networking event known as the First Friday, which was held at the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center in North Brentwood, Maryland.

I have never been to that museum before so it was an opportunity to visit it, especially since it’s located so close to my home. It’s a small museum but it’s full of interesting artifacts. Thanks to that museum, I now know that North Brentwood was a town that was originally settled by African Americans veterans of the Civil War and it is still majority African Americans. Here are just a few of the artifacts that I saw in that museum.

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event
At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

Here’s a tennis racket that was once owned by the legendary tennis player Arthur Ashe.

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

The entertainment included a deejay and a rapper along with some speeches by museum officials.

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

Basically everyone present (including myself) networked among each other while viewing what the museum had on display at the time.

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

At the First Friday Event Including an Artist Networking Event

It was a nice event and I think this museum makes a nice compliment to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture located downtown (which I haven’t visited yet) that has just opened last year.

As everybody knows, today is Inauguration Day where Donald Trump gets officially sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Rather than focus on that event, I’d rather talk about dolls instead.

First of all, I want to announce that I no longer own the Talking Donald Trump Action Figure.

talkingdonaldtrumpphotoforweb

I sold it last month on eBay. When I first purchased it years ago (which was sometime during either the first or second season of The Apprentice), I bought it as a gag gift for my then-husband. We both became hooked on that show because it was so hilarious and campy to watch. (This was a guy who was giving business advice on that show despite the fact that he had gone through multiple bankruptcies.) I figured that it was no big deal to buy a doll/action figure based on someone who was basically a buffoon but was essentially harmless as far as I was concerned. (Granted he wasn’t harmless to anyone who actually did business with him but to everyone else who had nothing to do with that guy, he was harmless.)

When my husband left me, he left the doll behind. It was no big deal because he was only 12 inches tall so I kept him among the other small dolls I own (such as Barbie, Volks Dollie Plus, Monster High and, Ever After High).

But then there was the initial flirtation of running for president back in 2011 and he did so by catering to the birthers who were questioning President Obama’s U.S. citizenship and contending that he was really born in Kenya. I felt that what he did was so reprehensible that I no longer could stand to watch his reality show after he decided against running and just continue with his reality TV career. I also began to ignore the doll. I would press the button in his back to hear him speak every now and then but I basically didn’t bother with it much.

When Trump decided to really run in the 2016 elections while saying horrible things that were racist, sexist, and anti-Islamic, I began to rue the day I actually bought that action figure as a gag gift. I finally decided to sell the doll on eBay because I just didn’t want it around my house anymore. I like dolls that make me feel happy and put me in a good mood and that Donald Trump action figure made me feel the opposite. I didn’t get a lot of money for the doll (I only had one bidder who was willing to pay the $20 minimum bid and I didn’t get that bid until the third and final week that I ran the auction) but I felt relieved to finally get it out of my house.

At least I’ll have these two videos to remember the doll by. The first is my “Trump” poem that I wrote for a local poetry reading event in 2011 and I later made a video featuring the Donald Trump doll. The other is my demonstration video of the Donald Trump doll that I made when I was preparing to sell it on eBay.

Now I’m going to switch gears a bit and talk some more about some other dolls that I have.

I recently came across this campaign on Instagram, known as #westandwithalldolls, where American Girl doll owners were urged to post pictures of their dolls (especially dolls of color) in solidarity with all women and minorities who are currently being maligned and even attacked by Donald Trump and his supporters. I chipped in with the cause by uploading pictures of my three American Girl dolls.

First, here’s Addy Walker holding a sign this quote from Martin Luther King.

“Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”

addywalker-forblogsandotherwebsites

Here’s Ivy Ling holding a sign with this quote from Confucius.

“To put the world right in order, we must put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

ivyling-forblogandotherwebsites

Even though the #westandwithalldolls campaign specifically requested that everyone post pictures of dolls of color, I decided to use my one white American Girl doll, Julie Albright, because I found this one quote from the late Frank Zappa that pretty much says it all about race relations, especially among whites who aren’t bigoted towards people of color or anyone else who’s different from them.

“Hey, you know something people? I’m not black. But there’s a whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white.”

juliealbright-forblogsandotherwebsites

I got that quote from the lyrics to the song “Trouble Every Day,” whose video you can watch below.

Here’s one group photo of all three of my dolls with their signs.

thewholegang-forblogandothersites

If you want to contribute to that Instagram campaign, or see all the photos that have been uploaded so far, check out the hashtag #westandwithalldolls.

Even though I live just outside of Washington, DC, I have no intention of going anywhere inside that city today. I’m not going to attend the inauguration of President Donald Trump in person nor am I going to watch it on TV or on the Internet. Nor am I going to listen to any radio broadcasts of the inauguration. I’m going to do other things besides that, such as cleaning the bathroom or working on some creative arts and crafts project. I’m just heeding the advice in this video.

I had thought about going to one of the many counter-inaugural protests that are being held today but then I decided against it for a number of reasons. First, the weather forecast is calling for periods of rain, which is a perfect metaphor for Donald Trump’s swearing in but I don’t feel like protesting in the rain. Second, I had heard rumors that those in Trump’s camp are planning on counting anyone who’s anywhere near the parade route or the inauguration itself as being among the “attendees” even if some of those “attendees” are actually protesters. I have no desire to be counted as an “attendee” because I would really love it if Donald Trump’s massive ego gets totally bruised due to low attendance. So far ticket scalpers are literally taking a financial bath because they are having a hard time unloading them on people, which I think is totally hilarious. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy than Donald Trump. (/sarcasm)

Instead I’m going to the Women’s March on Washington with people from my Unitarian Universalist congregation tomorrow. Not only is that march projected to attract more people than the inauguration itself (which I think is totally hysterical) but I’m taking advantage of the fact that I live so close to DC that I can take part in that march.

A couple of nights ago my Unitarian Universalist congregation hosted something called “Bystander Intervention,” which was sponsored by a local group. I attended that workshop and I learned a few tactics on how I can help if I see anyone being harassed by some pro-Trump asshole because he/she is a Muslim, person of color, immigrant, LGBTQ person, or some other minority without resorting to violence. The workshop was open to the general public and there was a Jewish man in attendance who reported that his synagogue has been receiving death threats. This is very disturbing. It’s almost like Trump’e election has revived the ghost of Nazi Germany or something.

Last Sunday I added fare money to my SmartTrip Metro card because I know from previous experience that most events of that magnitude always lead to very long lines at the farecard machines at nearly every Metro stop on the day of that event so it was way easier for me to go to the Greenbelt Metro station on a relatively slow day and add fare without waiting in any line at all. All I need to do is pack a lunch and drinks along with a portable folding chair and I’m all set for tomorrow’s march. Plus I need to make sure that I charge my smartphone along with an extra battery.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow nor do I know how my life will change in the months or even years to come. I never expected anything like what happened last November. My life is going to change in ways that I never expected. It’s bad enough that I had to deal with hip problems and a divorce over the last five years. Now seeing President Trump assuming the Oval Office is making my already difficult life even more difficult and I resent this. It’ll be a miracle if I emerge from this completely and totally unscathed.

It may sound tacky for me to post this on Inauguration Day, although it’s very fitting considering who is being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Heck, I found out that the BBC plans on carrying this event live because this newspaper in Scotland has this hilarious description of the event in its TV listing.

I know I’m going out on a limb here by making this prediction. But I think it’s an educated prediction that I’m qualified to make because I graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. degree in Journalism and a minor in Government and Politics and I try to keep up with the news as much as possible. I am well familiar with Donald Trump because I’m old enough to remember when he published his first book (The Art of the Deal) and he had the news media portray him as some kind of a business genius. I also remember the first of his multiple bankruptcies. I even watched the first few seasons of both The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice. I still remember that one episode of his reality show where one of the challenges took place at the same Trump Taj Mahal (which The Donald hyped on that episode as being “state of the art”) that filed for bankruptcy just a few weeks after that episode aired. (So much for “state of the art.” LOL!)

Based on what I know about Trump and U.S. government in general, I not only believe that President Donald Trump will not last past his first term in office but there’s a chance that he may be out of office before his first term is up. Here are the reasons why I feel this way, based entirely on facts.

1. Donald Trump has never held any kind of public office before in his life. He has spent his entire career in the private sector where he never had to deal with things like checks and balances or negotiating compromises with lawmakers. To instantly become President of the United States with no public office background will involve a much steeper learning curve than usual for The Donald.

2. Donald Trump has only worked for his family-owned businesses. His first job out of college was with one of his family’s businesses and his father was the ultimate boss, unlike the vast majority of Americans who have to work for bosses who aren’t related to them. Being President of the United States means that he’ll have to learn to deal with Congress, lobbyists, and a whole bunch of other people who aren’t family members and that’ll take a huge adjustment on his part. He’s also going to have to adjust to not always getting his own way, unlike being the head of the Trump Organization, because of the whole checks and balances thing that’s built into the Constitution.

3. There are people who are openly questioning whether Donald Trump is even a legitimate president before he even takes the Oath of Office. Usually when a new person is elected president, everyone, including the opposition, have traditionally provided respect for the person until a few months after Inauguration Day. Considering the fact that Trump’s approval ratings have sank to a historic low before he has even begun occupying the Oval Office is very telling. Unless Trump can focus on doing what it takes to earn the respect of all Americans, and not just white heterosexual men, he will not last long on the job.

4. Donald Trump seems reluctant to live in the White House. He somehow didn’t realize that moving to Washington, DC and living in the White House is one of the requirements of being President of the United States. There’s no way he can govern from Trump Tower in New York City since everybody else that’s even remotely connected to the Federal Government is in Washington, DC. Heck, he can’t even live in his own Trump International Hotel in DC while he’s in office. Nope, he has to live in the White House and that can’t be negotiated.

5. He was the subject of a civil lawsuit over his failed Trump University until he settled it soon after he became president-elect. This settled lawsuit could give Congress a way to possibly look into criminal charges, thus paving the way for impeachment.

6. There are his recorded admission that he had forced women to kiss them while saying that he had to grab them by the pussy along with the numerous allegations of sexual abuse against Donald Trump ranging from sexual harassment to rape. One woman dropped her lawsuit over the allegation that Donald Trump raped her when she was 13. But it has been replaced by a defamation lawsuit that has just been filed by one of his accusers, a former Apprentice contestant named Summer Zervos. And that’s not to mention the incredibly disturbing things he has said about his own daughter, Ivanka, which The Daily Show has compiled into Don’t Forget: Donald Trump Wants to Bang His Own Daughter and Again, Don’t Forget: Donald Trump Wants to Bang His Own Daughter (which is why so many eyebrows were raised in DC when reports surfaced that Ivanka will serve as First Lady instead of The Donald’s own wife, Melania). Trump’s past behavior could be a White House sex scandal waiting to happen, especially if he does anything to any of the female White House staffers and interns, which could possibly bring on impeachment.

7. There is the reported conflict of interest between the new President Trump and his continued running of the Trump Organization, which could be another way for Congress to consider impeaching him.

8. Donald Trump is also prone to having major Twitter meltdowns, which could easily bite him in the ass at some point in the future. There are already questions about whether those Twitter tweets he continues to issue around the clock are an indication of some kind of mental health condition that The Donald is suffering from, as explained in this video.

9. There is the speculation about Donald Trump’s very cozy relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Recently BuzzFeed posted this report claiming that the Russians have some embarrassing evidence about The Donald that they could potentially use against him. This could cause Americans to wonder if Donald Trump really has the interests of the United States in mind and would his relationship with Russia be construed as treason.

10. While the Congress will be dominated by Republicans for at least the next two years, there are plenty of Republicans who aren’t so enthusiastic over President Trump (especially those who supported Trump’s opponents in the Republican primaries). More recently, Republican lawmakers have voiced disdain after Trump went on Twitter to announce that he has more faith in Wikileaks founder Julian Assange than in U.S. intelligence agencies. If Trump does things that further alienates his own party, I can imagine that they would be willing to throw him under the impeachment bus in the hopes of being replaced by President Mike Pence, who’s way more palatable to the right-wing than Trump is.

11. If President Trump really screws up his first two years in office, there’s a strong chance that progressive people can be elected to Congress in the 2018 mid-term elections—people who are more likely to oppose and obstruct President Trump every step of the way. This might give President Trump an incentive to either resign or decide not to seek a second term.

While there’s a part of me that hopes that President Trump will rise to the challenge of being in the Oval Office and actually do something for the large part of the population who are unemployed or underemployed, I am not going to hold my breath on this. I predict that one of four scenarios will happen to President Trump.

1. President Trump resigns halfway through his term in office.

2. President Trump gets impeached by Congress and removed from office halfway through his term.

3. President Trump gets assassinated. Which wouldn’t be a major stretch since he has gone out of his way to insult women, LGBTQ people, ex-POWs, disabled people, Muslims, and Latinos on the campaign trail. I could easily see some unhinged person deciding to take matters into his/her own hands and go after President Trump with a gun. I’m not the only one who wouldn’t be surprised if President Trump gets assassinated.

4. President Trump simply dies in office. At 70 years old, he is considered to be the oldest person ever elected to the nation’s highest office. Being President of the United States is the highest stress job there is and it tends to rapidly age whoever occupies the Oval Office at a faster rate than usual. It’s possible that this new job will literally kill him.

5. President Trump either decides not to seek a second term or he is defeated for re-election in 2020.

The only downside to the first four scenarios is that Mike Pence would become president and he’s a guy who’s not only an extremist when it comes to women’s reproductive health but he’s also very anti-LGBTQ rights. He’s less of a buffoon than Donald Trump, which makes him really scary. The best thing we can all hope for is the fifth scenario where a new President and Vice President can be elected and the Executive Branch can begin 2021 with a totally clean slate.

I would really love to be proven wrong about my low opinions of President Trump and he turns out to be the best president since FDR. I would be ecstatic if that happens. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Benjamin Franklin

In Rivers and bad Governments, the lightest things swim at top.

Here is my first Throwback Thursday post of 2017. Since tomorrow is Inauguration Day where Donald Trump will be formally sworn-in as President of the United States, I’m going to feature this photostory that I created back in 2013.

I originally created a series of short photostories for a contest that was co-sponsored by Makies and SlickFlick.com. As I detailed in this blog post at the time, the gist was that we had to create an all-ages friendly photostory using at least one Makies doll and upload it on to SlickFlick.com using the SlickFlick app for iOS.

I took the photographs using my Canon Digital Rebel DSLR camera and downloaded them on my MacBook. I did some editing in Photoshop and saved the photos in iPhoto. Then I synced the photos on my iPad, uploaded them online using the SlickFlick app, and wrote captions for the photos while I was still in that app.

Since both Makies and SlickFlick.com were located in London at the time, I thought they would like seeing Victoria giving a humorous tour of my current hometown of Washington, DC. I photographed Victoria at the National Theatre (which was hosting performances of the hit Broadway show Monty Python’s Spamalot, which was another way I reached out to whoever was doing the judging in London), the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Tidal Basin. Since the contest was held in the spring, I had the extra opportunity of photographing Victoria among the blooming cherry blossom trees.

I remember the Grand Prize was a free Makies doll. I entered it because I thought it would be cool to create a second Makies doll as a companion to Victoria. It was a pain that the deadline was just a few days before Tax Day in the U.S. but I managed to get both done in time. I didn’t win but I wasn’t super disappointed because, in a sad irony, the contest winner was announced on the same day as the Boston Marathon bombing. (Of course that bombing took place on Tax Day.)

I originally wanted to create one photostory but I had problems uploading it with the SlickFlick app because it kept on crashing. I ended up editing the photostory into shorter segments and uploading the separate segments. (Despite my efforts I still had to deal with frequent app crashes. It took me four attempts to upload one of the photostories online because it was crashing so much.)

Recently I decided to visit SlickFlick.com for old time’s sake only to discover that the site no longer exists. I haven’t used the SlickFlick app since 2013 so I have no idea if it still works or not. I still have the original photos on my hard drive but I didn’t have the captions I wrote using the SlickFlick app. Fortunately I was able to recover my photostories thanks to the Internet Archive. I updated the original links that I posted in that blog post announcing my photostories but I decided to re-upload my photostory on social media for wider exposure since I worked hard on that photostory and I know that not everyone likes to visit the Internet Archive.

I imported the photostories into iMovie and combined them into one photostory (which is what I originally wanted in the first place) then uploaded it on both YouTube and Facebook. The only thing I added was background music, which I got for free from YouTube. I also edited that video into shorter segments so I could upload them separately on Instagram since Instagram has that one minute limit on each video.

As for the original contest sponsors, SlickFlick.com is now off-line (the URL redirects to a blank page where, if you click on this button, you get redirected to Heroku.com). Makies announced that it was relocating from its original location in London to the U.S. but it has been a year since Makies made that announcement with no new updates about that move. I have a feeling that they were waiting out the results of the election before making the move and it’s possible that Makies may have had a change of heart with the incoming arrival of President Donald Trump starting tomorrow. Personally I wouldn’t blame Makies for having cold feet and ultimately deciding to nix the idea of moving to the U.S. I wish the site was back up because it was kind of fun designing avatars, even if only one of my avatars actually became a real-life doll.

So, without further ado, here is my 2013 photostory Victoria the Makies Doll Goes to Washington.

Reflecting on President Barack Obama’s past eight years in the White House on his last day in the White House, I’m totally ambivalent about his legacy. I am still amazed that an African American man was not only elected to the White House but he was actually re-elected. That’s because, growing up, I honestly thought that I would not live to see a person of color even occupy the Oval Office. I grew up in Glen Burnie where I heard white kids routinely drop the “n” word when describing a black person. I thought the racism was just too entrenched for the people in my lifetime to ever consider voting for someone who isn’t white.

I remember the speech Barack Obama gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and I was awed by what he said. His vision of a real United States of America consisting of people of all races and all political beliefs working together to forge a new progressive society. When he announced his presidential campaign in 2008 I was thrilled. I did some volunteer work at the Obama campaign office in Largo, Maryland and I only regretted not being able to devote more time due to my health problems at the time. (My left hip joint had deteriorated so much that I underwent a hip replacement soon after Election Day in 2008.)

But then he got into office and he turned out to be such a disappointment. I know his supporters will say that the racist Tea Party, which sprung up soon after his election, had taken over the Republican Party, and had elected likeminded politicians to Congress who obstructed President Obama every step of the way. That’s true to some extent, especially after 2010. But the first couple of years or so he had a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate where he could’ve acted on fulfilling his campaign promises (such as closing Guantanamo) and he didn’t do so.

Worse, he not only failed to prosecute those on Wall Street who tanked the economy but he even appointed Wall Street insiders like Tim Geithner to his administration. Then there are the slew of broken promises like closing Guantanamo (it’s still open) and health care reform including a public option (he decided against including a public option) He promised hope and change and all we got was a continuation of the status quo.

I recently learned that a Tumblr group has sprung up called Trumpgrets, where those who voted for Donald Trump have expressed their regrets in voting for him, starting with the fact that, like Barack Obama, Donald Trump has appointed Wall Street insiders to his administration. I can understand where these Trump voters are coming from. Many of them voted for him because he promised to “Make America Great Again” and it looks like it’s not going to happen anytime soon. I felt a similar disappointment when Barack Obama appointed Wall Street insiders to his cabinet and have reneged on many of his promises. Like Barack Obama, Donald Trump pretended that he was for the average person while saying the right things that resonated with these people (such as saying that he opposed the proposed TPP) but it was all an act.

The sole reason why I didn’t feel the least bit tempted to vote for Trump despite his stated opposition to the TPP is because I’ve been aware of this man ever since the media hyped him as some kind of a business genius after he released his first book, The Art of the Deal. I’ve seen him go through multiple bankruptcies while making himself a fixture in the gossip pages after he dumped his first wife Ivana for Marla Maples. I’ve been to New York City numerous times in the past where, despite the buildings with Trump’s name on them, I’ve spoken with enough New Yorkers to know that this man is not well-liked nor is he admired very much. Donald Trump personifies this saying that’s popular in Texas: All hat, no cattle.

I first wrote about my disillusionment with Barack Obama back in 2010 when he decided to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthy for another two years while freezing the pay of federal employees like my ex-husband. The sole reason why I voted for Obama the second time was because the Republican Party had put up a disastrous candidate like Mitt Romney, who boasted about how he liked being able to fire people while proclaiming that corporations are people. By 2013 I wrote another blog post declaring that I was done with President Obama because he was such a big letdown.

How much of a letdown was President Obama. Here is what this article on Salon.com has to say about this.

It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.

This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional, it is the modern American order, and it has a certain equilibrium, the kind we identify in Middle Eastern resource extraction based economies. We are even seeing, as I showed in an earlier post, a transition of the American economic order toward a petro-state. By some accounts, America will be the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia. This is just not an America that any of us should want to live in. It is a country whose economic basis is oligarchy, whose political system is authoritarianism, and whose political culture is murderous toward the rest of the world and suicidal in our aggressive lack of attention to climate change.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are also the drone strikes, which has killed innocent men, women, and children in the Middle East among a litany of the major disappointments of the Obama Administration.

The biggest irony about seeing the first African American man elected to the Oval Office is that African Americans as a whole didn’t really improve economically or politically that much. Cornel West has a thorough yet stinging critique about President Obama and the African American community that’s well worth reading.

I’ll admit that President Obama did a few things right, most notably he got rid of the Bill Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that led to drumming numerous LGBTQ people out of the U.S. military and he supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. I’ve been using the state-run American Jobs Center, which exists because of the Workforce Investment Act, which was a result of President Obama’s policies.

I just wished he had gone further and made more of an effort to actually bring about hope and change and fight harder for more progressive programs that could’ve put more Americans back to work and possibly revive the economy, which has remained sluggish since the 2008 economic crash. He had the mandate to do so before the 2010 midterm elections. In fact, had he pushed harder for more programs, it’s possible that the Democrats would’ve retained control of both the House and the Senate after those midterms.

The one other thing that I’m appreciative about is that there were no major sex scandals or political scandals like Teapot Dome or Iran-Contra.

The bottom line is that while President Obama did a few good things, he basically continued the failed economic policies that began under President Reagan and continued under successive administrations—both Republican and Democrat—since then.

Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone whom you first met when that person was a baby is now dead? That is happening to me right now.

My late aunt, who was also my mom’s older sister, was a stay at home mother of four girls. When her youngest daughter started elementary school, her home was pretty quiet during the school week. She decided to earn extra money by taking care of other people’s young children in her home during the week. Most of the kids she babysat were between the ages of 2-5 and they only stayed with her anywhere from a few months to about a year or two until they either started elementary school or their parents moved elsewhere. So she had frequent turnover of kids.

Then she started to take care of three young brothers. The oldest had just started elementary school while the youngest, Ben, was just a baby (he might have been at least six months old) at the time. I think the boys’ mother wanted to go back to work after being a stay at home mom for the last several years so that was why my aunt started to care for them.

I think there may have been marital tensions between the parents as well but I don’t have all the details. (I was a kid myself when all this was going on.) I remember that Ben’s father shot himself to death soon after my aunt started to care for the brothers. I still remember when my aunt called my mom telling her about the distressing news. Ben’s mother ended up becoming a single parent and she frequently leaned on my aunt to help out with the childcare, especially if the mother had to go on some errand without having any of the kids in tow. I heard that the two older brothers were deeply affected by their father’s death. Ben was the least affected because he was so young when his father died so he grew up without ever knowing him.

Eventually my aunt stopped caring for Ben’s older brothers when they started middle school so it was just her and Ben at home during the weekday afternoon (when Ben’s school closed for the day) for a few years. Occasionally there were periods when they would be joined by another preschool child whom my aunt happened to babysit at the time. But the rest of the time it was just my aunt and Ben.

I used to sometimes see Ben when I visited my aunt and uncle with my parents. Sometimes his brothers would be there as well but there were times when Ben was the only one there because his brothers and their mother were elsewhere. I remember Ben being this really cute little kid with the big impish grin. He always had this mischievous look about him. As he learned to talk he started to call my uncle “Dad” (he saw my uncle as a father figure since his own father was gone) while he called my aunt “Mom Lipp” to distinguish her from his own mother (Lipp was my aunt’s last name). My cousins used to dote over Ben as the baby brother they never had.

My aunt stopped taking care of Ben when he entered middle school. She would continue to see him at church (his family attended the same Roman Catholic parish that my aunt, uncle, and cousins attended) and he would come by the house to visit every now and then (whenever he wasn’t busy with homework and after-school activities) so he still kept in touch with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I think my aunt may have cared for a few more kids after Ben (I don’t remember) but she had to stop offering her child care services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer was in remission when my oldest cousin got married. Ben served as the altar boy at my cousin’s wedding. My aunt’s cancer returned not long after the wedding and she died at the age of 48. I saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral. I think he was in high school by then. It was the last time I saw Ben in person.

Today I learned on Facebook that Ben is dead. One of my cousins had posted a picture on Facebook of her, her three sisters, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I also learned on Facebook that Ben took his own life just like his father did. I don’t know why Ben felt the need to do what he did nor do I know if he actually sought any kind of professional help before he killed himself.

I just feel so weirded out that someone whom I met as a baby and saw from time to time as he grew up is now dead. I’m older than Ben and I’m still alive. Given the natural order of things, I should be the one who dies before Ben but, instead, it’s the opposite. Ben is dead and I’m alive. I just feel so numb about all this (and the fact that it’s cold and rainy outside today isn’t helping).

Last year I wrote about an impromptu memorial that sprang up in my area at the site where a man who committed suicide. At the time I wrote this:

The only lesson I can provide is this: Is there anyone in your life whom you haven’t communicated with in a while? Please take the time to either call, e-mail, or text that person. It doesn’t have to be something that’s too complex or involved. You could just say something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. How are you doing?” This could give that person a chance to admit that he/she is overwhelmed and start talking to you instead of concluding that suicide is the only option.

I also provided a link to the National Suicide Prevention Line (which can also be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255). I can’t say whether Ben would still be alive had someone reached out to him asking if he was okay or if he had contacted the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yes, I know that it’s too late to help Ben but I would urge everyone reading this to just reach out to someone whom they haven’t spoken with in a while just to see how he or she is doing.

Now I have to deal with the sad fact that someone whom I met as a baby is now dead and I’m outliving him.

Another one of my childhood memories have gone the way of the dodo bird. I’m sure most of you have heard this announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will permanently shut down in a few months after operating for 146 years.

I feel sad because I still have fond memories of the few years when my mother took me to that circus as a small child whenever it performed at the Baltimore Civic Center (now known as the Royal Farms Arena). I loved watching the elephants and tigers do their tricks. (This was long before I learned about the allegations that these animals suffered abuse.) I still remember when this guy did a high wire act on a motorcycle and he even twirled his motorcycle around on that wire above our heads. I remember feeling awed by that stunt while my mother feared that the guy would somehow slip up or the wire would snap and that man and his motorcycle would fall on top of us.

I also loved the clowns because I thought they were hilarious. I especially loved it whenever a bunch of clowns emerged from a tiny clown car because I always used to wonder how so many people could pack inside such a tiny car like that. This was back in the day when clowns were considered to be child-friendly people who only wanted to make people laugh. (I feel sad that most people now consider clowns to be creepy and scary because it wasn’t always like this. I would love to spend the night at the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada one day before I die but I would need to get plenty of money first before I can turn that dream into a reality.)

I remember my mother stopped taking me to that circus the year I was going through First Communion. That was because my parents couldn’t afford both going to the circus and the expenses connected with my First Communion, which included wearing a special dress with a veil (like a bride’s dress, a girl’s First Communion dress was also one that could be worn only once, especially since I didn’t have any younger sisters I could pass this dress down to) and throwing a post-communion party at our home afterwards. Personally I would’ve preferred going to the circus over First Communion but I wasn’t given the opportunity to make that decision. I never went back to the circus after that. (I don’t know why that was the case. The only thing I could guess is that maybe ticket prices had gotten too expensive for my parents to afford.) But I still have fond memories of the few years I went to the circus.

I haven’t been to a circus as an adult. The closest I came was the time when, in 2010, my then-husband and I visited the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, which included circus memorabilia (such as a miniature replica of a circus that was created by a lifelong circus fan). I don’t know if I’ll be able to check out the Ringling Bros. last circus shows for old-time’s sake because of financial issues. Oh, well. At least I still have the Nintendo Wii Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus video game to remember it by.

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Martin Luther King Day

Here’s something that I wanted to write about ever since I witnessed something that I saw on my birthday last month. I decided to finally post this on Martin Luther King Day mainly because one frequently overlooked aspect of MLK’s civil rights movement is that he not only called for an end to racism and segregation but he also fought for economic justice as well. He frequently gave caustic, biting, and radical critiques of American society and politics. In fact, when he was shot to death in Memphis he was there to help out with a sanitation workers strike that was going on at the time. Here is what he had to say about economic justice.

Had Martin Luther King’s vision of economic justice become a reality, I’m sure that I would not have encountered this incident in Baltimore in the first place.

Last month I celebrated my birthday by going to Baltimore where I went to Harborplace and Christmas Village. On that day the Polar Vortex had hit the area and temperatures were barely above freezing in the daytime while temperatures totally plummeted at night to as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit. I decided to go anyway despite the cold because it was my birthday and I wanted to do something fun. When I was walking back to the Camden Yards Light Rail station, I was passing the Baltimore Convention Center where I saw this person lying under a white blanket outside the Convention Center’s doors.

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Given the freezing temperatures I felt that this guy shouldn’t even be outside. The challenge is that I didn’t know whom to call right off. I haven’t lived in Baltimore City since I was five years old and I currently live closer to DC than Baltimore. I didn’t know what homeless organizations were active in Baltimore. So I took out my smartphone and took the above picture then frantically did a Google search for any homeless organizations who could get this man off of the streets.

I texted the photo to a couple of organizations while indicating where the person was located. For added measure I texted the photo to the Baltimore Police Department. I even uploaded this photo on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts urging people to forward this to anyone who could help bring this person in from the cold. I don’t know if my efforts helped or not other than the fact that for the next few days I did a Google search for any recent homeless deaths in Baltimore outside the Baltimore Convention Center only to turn up empty-handed. I guess this person somehow survived the Polar Vortex but I’ll never know for sure.

I was originally raised Roman Catholic and throughout my Catholic girl years I heard the parable about the Good Samaritan numerous times. The indication is that all good Christians should be Good Samaritans for the less fortunate and there’s no excuse for not helping others. The reality of trying to be a Good Samaritan is far more complex than my CCD education ever indicated. For one thing, you’ll never know whether you were even effective in getting help for that person. For all I know there might have been a different homeless organization who could’ve sent a car or van immediately and picked up this person and I somehow missed that information in my Google search. Or maybe a homeless organization or the police did pick that person up but never notified me that this had happened. On top of it, it’s very hard to get help for someone when you don’t even live in the area because you don’t know immediately where to turn.

I hope the person in that photo turned out okay but I’ll never know for sure.

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