You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘childhood memories’ tag.

This has been a weekend of really famous people dying. Today I learned that famed Broadway playwright Neil Simon passed away at 91. I grew up watching The Odd Couple on television. Last Sunday I happened to catch a couple of repeats of The Odd Couple on MeTV and I found that I enjoyed them even more now than when I was a kid. That series hadn’t aged very much since its original run.

But even Simon’s death has been overshadowed by another death that was announced last night. I happened to be at a birthday party for a friend and her teenage daughter. (They have their birthdays two days apart—one on August 28 and the other on August 30.) Right at the moment when the lit birthday cake was being carried out, I got a notification on my smartphone that Senator John McCain passed away.

He had been battling a brain tumor for some time and the day before his family announced that he had decided to discontinue all further medical treatments so his death wasn’t a big surprise. Today I’ve been seeing all kinds of tributes to the Vietnam War veteran/Senator/2008 presidential candidate along with some personal memories and opinions. Here’s my contribution.

I remember when my then-husband read McCain’s memoir, Faith of My Fathers, and he spoke of how much of a hero the Senator was during the Vietnam War. The one thing I learned about John McCain was that during the Vietnam War he was held captive as a prisoner of war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton where he was tortured. At one point he was offered the chance to be released because he was the son and grandson of Navy admirals. McCain refused the offer because he felt that the other men who were captured before him should be released first. He stayed longer in that Hanoi Hilton than he could’ve because he was determined to stick to his principals.

I didn’t agree with John McCain on his political positions very often but at least he was consistent in his opposition to torture due to what he went through in the Hanoi Hilton. That was why I found it so appalling when President Donald Trump ridiculed Senator McCain for being a POW and he even had the gall to mock Senator McCain’s disabilities that he received as a result of being an inmate at the Hanoi Hilton. It’s galling when you consider that Trump himself received a deferment from the Vietnam War on the grounds that he had bone spurs in his feet. (If you ever see footage of him walking, you’d have to agree that he seems to walk pretty well for someone with bone spurs in his feet.)

Last October I took part in Inktober, where every day that month I made one new ink drawing then uploaded it online. For the first day of Inktober I decided to poke fun at Trump’s horrible insults towards Senator McCain. Since the first day of October fell on a Sunday, I decided to include Jesus in this drawing. Here is the drawing that I did last October. Enjoy!

When Donald Trump kicks the bucket, I’m going to be far less respectful towards him than I am now towards Senator McCain because Trump is such a malignant narcissistic asshole who is trying to change this country for the worse while seeming to suck up to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. At least no one has ever accused John McCain of treason, unlike Donald Trump. Rest in Peace, John McCain, and Fuck You, Donald Trump!

Advertisements

As you may know, this past weekend was the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville which resulted in the horrible death of Heather Heyer. As for Donald Trump, he has steadfastly refused to denounce the white supremacists and their actions last year. There were quite a few vigils for the victims of Charlottesville (such as two events I went to in the same week on August 14 and August 16) but I find it telling that Donald Trump has refused to distance himself from these latter-day Nazis and KKK members and has said little about Heather Heyer or the other people who were victimized by the alt-right.

For the first anniversary of Charlottesville, one of the original organizers of the Unite the Right rally, Jason Kessler, wanted to do a repeat performance in Charlottesville. When he was denied a permit for his little shindig, he decided to move the event north to my hometown of Washington, DC. He probably figured that since Donald Trump is basically a racist fascist sympathizer, President Trump would be flattered if a group of his most loyal alt-right supporters would have a march to Lafayette Square (located just across from the White House) then have an Unite the Right 2 rally.

Except things didn’t turn out that way. Donald Trump decided to head out of town this weekend. (After all, even though they are his most ardent supporters, they aren’t rich like he and his cronies are so they really don’t matter at all, except for getting their votes at the ballot box in 2020.)

I decided to head down even though I knew that I would be risking my life in doing so. I’m just fed up with all of the hatred of the poor, minorities, and women that has sprung up gradually since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and it has continued through the years until the hatred grew and grew and it’s now this big monster that is a threat to this country. I’ve experienced some of this hatred myself ever since I was in elementary school when the kids called me “retarded.” This taunting went through high school. Even though the teasing stopped during my freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College, I was still frequently looked down upon like I was some kind of an inferior lowlife freak (mainly from those who went to my high school—the students who went to different high schools and didn’t know about my so-called “retarded” reputation treated me like I was a human being). I ended up permanently moving from Glen Burnie as an adult because I knew that, no matter what I did, these people would never see me as anything other than someone who is inferior.

But I will admit that my experiences with facing this kind of hatred is nothing compared to an African American, as the families of people like Travon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and numerous others will attest.

Going downtown to face those Nazis wasn’t an easy decision for me. I still remember vividly the car that was intentionally plowed into a group of people by that alt-right scumbag in Charlottesville. There was a possibility that something like that could’ve happened to me. I was still waffling on the fence about going to DC last Sunday until I saw this trailer for Michael Moore’s upcoming documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9.

Watching that preview only strengthened my resolve to go ahead with my plans for last Sunday. I was all ready to go downtown with my camera, take photos of these alt-right assholes, then plaster them all over social media in the hopes that someone will recognize these assholes and they either lose their jobs or get evicted from where they are living or their neighbors shun them or something equally bad happens to them.

I knew that there was a chance that I would end up like Heather Heyer but I swallowed that fear and headed downtown anyway. I began to realize that this is what a soldier in wartime has to deal with, especially if he or she is sent to the front lines.

Before I left home I took out a blank sheet of paper and wrote down my name, address, the phone numbers of my next of kin, the cell phone number of my housemate (who had just left for a week-long trip visiting relatives in New Jersey the day before), and the phone numbers of my church and the minister. Then I folded the paper and put it in the pocket of my shorts. I felt that should the worst happen to me like what happened to Heather Heyer last year, at least some people will be notified so they could plan some kind of a memorial service for all of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

So I took the Green Line Metro from the Greenbelt station. As I was about to board the train I noticed a bunch of people leaving the train who looked like they were cosplaying as their favorite anime and video game character. I remembered that the annual giant East Coast anime convention known as Otakon was that weekend and it was the third and final day when the entire con pretty much closes down after 3 p.m. (I used to go to Otakon but I haven’t been since 2013 because I grew tired of paying at least $75 for a weekend pass only to encounter huge crowds everywhere I went. Besides my finances have gotten increasingly dicey so I really can’t afford major splurges like Otakon at the moment.) So I boarded the Green Line train and switched at L’Enfant Plaza. While I was switching trains I saw this artist who was engrossed in doing this sketch right in the Metro station.

Artist

I switched to the Silver Line then got off at Federal Triangle. I made my way to Freedom Plaza, where many of the counter protesters had gathered.

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

I arrived late in the afternoon just in time for the beginning of the march to Lafayette Square. I managed to get a few pictures of people with their signs.

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

As you can see from the photos there was a mix of people of all ages, races, gender identities, and sexual orientations. One of the people in the next photo even gave me free bottled water after I shot this picture.

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

Eventually the march began from Freedom Plaza. I heard people with microphones or bullhorns warning us that this march was risky since we would be directly confronting the Unite the Right 2 people. People’s spirits were up despite the risks involved and the fact that it was very humid outside. (Fortunately the day was cloudy so we didn’t have to deal with being in direct sunlight.)

Counter Protest Rally in Freedom Plaza

So the march started to move towards Lafayette Square.

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

There were Secret Service people around, especially as we started to get closer to Lafayette Square.

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

There was a street musician on the march route who serenaded the marchers with his rendition of “Stand By Me” while singing this altered lyric, “No, I won’t be afraid. No I won’t be afraid of the KKK. For as long as you stand by me.” He also earned a lot of tip money that day (as you can see in the photo below).

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

The March From Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square

We finally arrived at Lafayette Square where there was a huge police presence (some of them on horseback) along with extensive barricades that completely blocked the other end of Lafayette Square.

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

There was another street musician in Lafayette Square who was playing his violin while earning a huge amount of tips in the process.

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

So we all crowded into one end of Lafayette Square while trying to see if anyone had seen any alt-right Nazis or KKK people there. I overheard someone who was sitting in a tree saying that she could barely see them because they were located so far on the other side of the park. So we all waited patiently as we heard thunder and saw a few lightning bolts appear before the rain really started. (Which is why you can see plenty of umbrellas in some of these photographs.)

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

At one point a guy approached me asking if I want a free sign that he had just made up. Apparently he had created a bunch of signs and he decided to give them away. I took him up on his offer. Here is what that sign looked like.

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Here’s a glimpse of the White House in the distance.

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

PETA was there as well along with two costumed folks.

Counter Protesters in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, August 12,2018

Lafayette Park has long been home to this 24-hour-a-day/7-days-per-week anti-nuclear protest camp that has been there since Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. It has continued even though both of its original founders are now deceased. I saw that this camp had been moved from its usual spot at the edge of Lafayette Park that’s closest to the White House all the way over to where the counter protesters were gathered. (Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of that site.)

After waiting for a while I pulled out my smartphone looking for news on the alt-right protesters only to find out that a whopping 20-25 protesters from the other side had shown up. The counter protesters outnumbered the alt-right protesters. When I read later news reports, I saw how pathetic the turnout really was on the other side.

Unite the Right was a pathetic failure

There were plenty of reasons for the pathetic display. But the basic issue is that Charlottesville was a complete disaster — a moment that was supposed to somehow win white nationalists favor, but actively turned much of the nation against them when they engaged in violence and, in one case, literal murder.

White nationalists dwarfed by crowds of counter protesters in Washington

The showing from “Unite the Right 2” participants fell far short of the hundreds that organizer Jason Kessler was expecting, based on his event permit application.

Kessler, who organized last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, blamed the low turnout on logistical issues and confusion regarding the group’s transportation — a claim echoed by at least two men who spoke to reporters. “People are scared to come out after what happened last year,” one of the men added.

Rally by White Nationalists Was Over Almost Before It Began

After weeks of hype, white supremacists managed to muster just a couple of dozen supporters on Sunday in the nation’s capital for the first anniversary of their deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., finding themselves greatly outnumbered by counterprotesters, police officers and representatives of the news media.

Unite the Right: White nationalists outnumbered at Washington rally

As a small group of white supremacists gathered for their second “Unite the Right” rally, the rain began to fall.

Much like the sodden pavements outside the White House, the follow up to last year’s rally in Charlottesville was nothing more than a damp squib.

This last article explains why I never saw any alt-right protesters nor was I able to come up to them close enough so I could get a shot with my camera.

‘Hell no’: counterprotesters outnumber white supremacists at White House rally

To protect their safety and that of others, officials had organised a special route for the parade. Kessler and his companions were escorted onto the metro. A special car was prepared for them, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported. In downtown Washington, police officers said they planned to clear part of the metro station platform to escort Kessler up to the street. As he came up the elevators, he was met with hundreds of news photographers and a roar of outrage from protesters amassed waiting.

In Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, Kessler and his tiny group of supporters were taken away to their own distant corner of the park talked to each other in front of journalists. Cordoned off and dozens of meters away, too far to even see him, a crowd of thousands of counter-protesters waved signs and shouted their disapproval.

In a nutshell, the tiny alt-right group showed up at Lafayette Square earlier than originally scheduled then decided to cut their rally short when the rain came down and leave the area. So the counter protesters won this round simply by outnumbering the alt-right.

To be honest, I don’t even know what Jason Kessler was thinking when he decided that DC would be the perfect place to have his little hate rally. With the exception of having a white supremacist currently occupying the White House, he was holding a rally in hostile territory. There is an African American majority living in that city. Plus there are plenty of Latinos and LGBTQ folks who also call DC home. There was no way in hell that they were going to sit back and let the alt-right have their rally with no blowback at all. Especially since it was the one-year anniversary of that brutal murder of Heather Heyer at the hands (or maybe I should say car) of a white supremacist.

Hell, many of the local bars and restaurants in DC had decided that they would not serve any white nationalists.

I arrived in downtown DC while bracing myself for the likely possibility of a violent confrontation. In the end it turned out that I stood a greater chance of being struck by lightning than getting killed by a Nazi. I’m glad that no one was killed on Sunday and that the alt-right were too minuscule to provide much of a threat.

I grew tired of sitting in the rain with my umbrella so I decided to head back to the nearest Metro station that was opened. Metro, in its infinite wisdom (sarcasm), decided to close the two Metro stations that were closest to Lafayette Square. I ended up walking several blocks until I found the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station. While I was walking I saw a group of black-clad antifa demonstrators blocking the corner of 13th and G Streets, Northwest. I didn’t know why they were doing this. They managed to get this white car that was headed in the antifa’s direction to turn around and drive a different route. Here are a few photos of what I saw on my way back to the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station.

Counter Protesters Agains the Unite the Right 2 Protesters

Counter Protesters Agains the Unite the Right 2 Protesters

Counter Protesters Agains the Unite the Right 2 Protesters

I just kept on walking towards the Metro station. It’s just as well that I kept my distance because I read some news stories about antifa and they weren’t flattering at all:

Unite the Right 2018: antifa attacks police and journalists in Charlottesville and DC

At Unite the Right, black-clad antifa again give peaceful protesters a bad name.

I would rather focus on the fact that the counter protesters won through largely peaceful means. However, I read this opinion piece that sounds pretty alarming: I was at the sad white supremacists gathering. It didn’t fool me. Their movement is rising.

It sounds like the counter protesters have won a battle but it hasn’t decisively won the war—yet. We’ll see how things turn out in the mid-term elections this November. In the meantime, here’s a video I also shot at the counter protest that included all kinds of footage ranging from shouting some unique slogans (such as “Oy Vey! Oy Vey! Nazi Scum Go Away!”) to street musicians serenading the counter protesters as they made their way to Lafayette Square.

Here’s hoping that there won’t be a Unite the Right 3 anywhere in the United States next year.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

I had a pretty busy Sunday on July 15, 2018. I went carpooling with one friend to church where there was a Tye-Dye Sunday scheduled. By the time I got home from church I turned around and went carpooling with a different friend to this meetup that took place in Rockville.

CoderDojo is basically a global network that provides free computer programming clubs to young people. My friend thought it would be good for me to check this out, especially since I worked as an assistant facilitator with the Takoma Park chapter of Girls Who Code over the past year.

The Washington, DC chapter of CoderDojo meets at the Rockville Public Library in Rockville, Maryland. I had never stepped foot inside this building before but I have to admit that it’s very impressive.

There was an art show going on featuring art done by local youths. It brought back memories of the first time my elementary school art teacher had selected one of my art projects to be shown at the Anne Arundel County Art Show that was displayed at the since-demolished Harundale Mall.

The CoderDojo met in a room on the second floor of the library, which is a designated STEM center. That room had an array of all kinds of stuff that one would normally find in a makerspace (such as computers and robots) but there was some pretty cool STEM-themed art as well.

The meeting started off with a presentation about what computing was like back in the 1990s (when the Computer Internet revolution was just beginning). I enjoyed it because I remember those days like they happened yesterday. There was a mention of using modems attached to telephone wires in order to access the Internet at a blistering 9600 bps.

I enjoyed the presentation very much. Once that ended, the kids started to work on their own projects while parents and other adult volunteers went around helping the kids with their latest projects.

By the time that meetup ended it was closing time for the library. My friend and I were heading back towards the parking garage by cutting through Rockville Town Square when I shot this photo of some kids playing in the fountain.

I also discovered that there was an It’s Sugar store located in Rockville. I had previously visited It’s Sugar in Baltimore and Chinatown in Washington, DC and I managed to convince my friend to stop in the Rockville store for a brief visit, where I shot these photos.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Fathers' Day

Forgive me for writing something difficult on Father’s Day but there are times when one must speak up even at times when people are supposed to be celebrating.

I’m sure you heard all about the horror of children of immigrants being forcibly separated from their parents and herded into detention facilities, including officials seizing a baby from her own mother while she was being breastfed. These headlines say it all about what’s currently happening:

US child migrants: 2,000 separated from families in six weeks.

Trump suggests separation of families at border is a negotiating tool.

Abuse of immigrant children alleged in documents examined by Chicago law students.

A former Walmart is now housing migrant children. Here’s what it’s like inside.

Taking children from their parents is a form of state terror.

I have a Facebook friend who admitted that she took on Donald Trump whenever he made his latest outrageous tweet on Twitter and she ended up being blocked by him as a result. (A judge has since ruled that as being unconstitutional but that’s another story altogether.) As for me, I haven’t bothered with attacking Donald Trump mainly because I view his tweets as typical of his penchant for screaming “LOOK AT ME! I AM AN ATTENTION WHORE!” and I just didn’t want to feed his ego by paying attention to them. Until recently.

Yesterday I made a series of tweets aimed directly at President Donald Trump for the very first time. I did this in response to that awful tweet he made where he blamed the Democrats for separating children from their families (never mind the fact that Republicans currently control both houses of Congress as well as the White House and none of the current elected Republicans in Congress have raised any kind of objections to this type of systematic child abuse by the Trump Administration).

Here is my multi-part rebuttal tweet aimed squarely at Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

So far I haven’t received much blowback from those Trump/Make American Great Again supporters and I think it’s because so many people have tweeted their outrage directly at his tweet. It is horrible because he is engaged in what I would call state-sanctioned child abuse. In addition, he is blaming others for this policy that HE AND HIS ADMINISTRATION HAVE CREATED AND IMPLEMENTED. Only a true Trump believer or a total idiot (and there are times when I think that they are one and the same) would actually believe Trump’s tweet.

While I was silent on Trump’s previous ugly tweets (which are too many to reproduce here since it would literally take me several weeks to get all the ones he made since he took office last year), I just couldn’t sit back and let him get away with this. I don’t care if I’m giving him what he wants (more attention), someone needs to take a moral stand and not only say that this is wrong but separating children from their parents is a crime against humanity. We need to stand up and denounce this or else Trump and his gang will gradually start targeting others whom they arbitrarily deem as not being American enough.

It doesn’t help that the Republicans who currently control Congress are sitting by and doing nothing. This is so different from what happened during the Watergate scandal when an earlier generation of Republican lawmakers decided to put country ahead of party and pressured Richard Nixon to resign his presidency.

This non-action by these Republicans is the main reason why Americans of good conscience should go to the polls this November and vote them out of office. If they can’t do the minimum amount of work necessary to uphold the Constitution and stand up to Donald Trump’s excesses, then they deserve to lose their jobs.

The reason why Adolf Hitler and his gang of thugs were able to implement the Final Solution was because many Germans just remained silent and went about their lives.

While you are celebrating Father’s Day today, think about the fathers who can’t see their own children because government officials decided to take them away. (Of course you should think about the mothers as well but I’m only emphasizing fathers since it is Father’s Day.)

All I know is that this incident is yet another reason why I’m glad I sold that talking Donald Trump action figure on eBay soon after he was elected. I don’t think I would even be able to look at that doll—let alone touch it—if I still owned it now.

When I grew up and used to hear about the slavery or the Holocaust in school, other kids would say that they would never had sit idly by while injustice is happening if they had been around at the time. Well guess what? This is one of those times where you have the opportunity to put your money where your mouth is and NOT sit idly by while injustice is happening. You have a choice—either ignore what’s going on now or speak out against this both online and in real life. If you choose the former, you’ll end up having a future generation of kids in a school history class say, “Gee I would have never kept silent while the government took children away from their parents for no real reason unlike all of those other Americans who just looked the other way.”

If you’re a Donald Trump supporter who doesn’t like to read my posts criticizing him, please do me a favor and stop reading this blog. I refuse to stand silently by while watching he and his family destroy this country for their own power-hungry greedy selfish financial gain and nothing you say will ever change my mind. At this point the only way I’ll ever change my mind and become a Trump supporter would be if some doctor performed a total lobotomy on me to the point where I’m unable to remember ever opposing Trump followed by being brainwashed with the Trump propaganda that’s frequently shown on Fox News.

I’ll end this rant with this famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller, which inspired me to take on Donald Trump’s Twitter account yesterday. Pastor Niemöller was initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler until after Hitler took power and he became so disillusioned by him that he became one of Hitler’s most prominent critics. He ended up in a concentration camp as a result and he became a Holocaust survivor. For many years he would say this at various public events:

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

In a society with plenty of Donald Trump/Make America Great Again supporters, do the opposite of Martin Niemöller and speak up for those who are being abused by the Trump Administration before it’s too late and they start coming for you.

Ramadan

This week there have been two major well-loved celebrities who committed suicide within a few days of each other. Earlier this week handbag designer Kate Spade was found dead while this morning culinary celebrity Anthony Bourdain had also taken his own life. Both had very successful careers that made them wealthy and both had left behind children who will grow up without one of their parents due to suicide.

I was very familiar with Kate Spade (I used to see her products on sale in some of the more upscale malls) but I never owned any of her handbags. I saw a portion of one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows once or twice but I wasn’t a regular viewer mainly because he used to eat strange foods (such as raw seal eye) and I was a bit on the squeamish side.

These two suicides led to a sudden outpouring on social media where people began to post openly about suicide in an effort to raise awareness. This morning I wrote a multi-part tweet on Twitter about the topic but I wanted to expand on it in this blog post because it gets pretty frustrating dealing with Twitter’s limitations.

Hearing about the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have evoked memories for me and it’s not only about the previous suicides of famous people like Chris Cornell.

When I was around six or seven years old I was at a family get-together on my father’s side of the family where I saw my Great-Uncle Jack. About two or three months after that event my family learned that Great-Uncle Jack had jumped from the window of his apartment located in a tall building in Baltimore. Years later my mother mentioned that she had heard that he had grown despondent about the death of his wife just a few years earlier. (Apparently they had been married a long time when she passed away.) She had heard that he had set up a little shrine in his apartment devoted to his late wife and some relatives thought that he was getting too obsessed about her death.

What my mother said about Great-Uncle Jack was the only time that anyone in the family had ever discussed his death aside from the suicide itself. Most of my father’s relatives kept Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide hush-hush as if they felt deeply ashamed that he had opted to end his own life. I didn’t dare speak up about Great-Uncle Jack to any of my father’s side of the family because I knew that someone would have yelled at me to shut up about Great-Uncle Jack. I ended up not knowing Great-Uncle Jack because I was so young when he killed himself. I don’t know what his personality was like or what his likes or dislikes were. Hell, I don’t even know when he was born or how old he was when he killed himself. To me he is a total stranger whose one memory of him at a family event is hazy at best.

As for me, I didn’t even mention Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide as an adult until just a few months ago when I made a reaction video to one of Logan Paul’s videos (which I’ll get to in a bit). Even then I only mentioned his death briefly. For this post I decided to be a bit more open about Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide mainly because I really believe that it’s imperative that we raise suicide awareness and how the suicide of a friend or relative can affect his/her survivors. I initially thought about the ramifications about opening up about Great-Uncle Jack’s death until I realized that his suicide had happened decades ago. Most of the people who were the most directly affected by Great-Uncle Jack’s suicide are either now deceased (such as my father) or they are over the age of 85 and they are probably less affected by that suicide then they once were.

My father’s side of the family was touched by suicide yet again a few years later. I was 12 when another relative on my father’s side of the family attempted suicide not once, but twice just a few months apart. Luckily this relative survived both attempts and he got the professional help he needed. He eventually pulled himself together and has decided against attempting suicide ever again. I can’t really write too much about him because he is still alive and well and he has long since put his past behind him. I’m proud that he has decided that suicide wasn’t the solution for him and he is now focused on living his life.

Two years ago a man whom I only knew as the moderator of a Yahoo! group that focused on our neighborhood committed suicide.

The saddest suicide story that affected me happened just last year. As I wrote in this blog post, my late aunt babysat a boy named Ben from the time he was a baby until he was in middle school. His father committed suicide soon after my aunt started babysitting him so he grew up without ever knowing his father. I used to see Ben from time to time when I visited my aunt, uncle, and cousins. On the surface he seemed to be an average boy with an impish grin who seemed okay despite being forced to grow up knowing that his father committed suicide. I last saw Ben at my aunt’s funeral when he was in high school. I lost contact with Ben until I learned that he committed suicide himself, thus following in his father’s tragic footsteps. He was only 43 years old.

I felt this incredible sadness when I learned about Ben’s death but there was one other emotion I felt that I didn’t write about last year because I just couldn’t handle writing about it at the time. I was angry at Ben for what he did. I saw the Facebook photos of my cousins, Ben’s mother, and Ben’s brothers after they returned from Ben’s funeral. I thought about Ben’s mother who, just years earlier, had to bury her husband because he committed suicide. As a senior citizen, Ben’s mother had to deal with losing her son to suicide and help bury him as well. I can’t even begin to imagine how she must have felt. I also thought about Ben’s two older brothers who had to deal with losing both a father AND a brother to suicide.

On top of that, Ben left a daughter behind. Judging from the few photos posted of her on Facebook, it looks like the girl was somewhere between 5-9 years old when Ben killed himself. Ben had to grow up knowing that he didn’t have a father because his father killed himself. It seems so inconceivable to me that he would perpetrate the same thing on his own daughter so she is now condemned to grow up fatherless while knowing that her own father killed himself. I just don’t get why he would do the same thing to that poor girl that his father did to him—take himself permanently out of the picture through suicide.

So, yes, I was angry at Ben for inflicting the same agony on his family that his father inflicted on him and his family years earlier. I’m not proud that I was angry but that was an emotion that I felt along with the general sadness that he killed himself. But then I began to think more and I realized that Ben must have been in some kind of severe emotional pain in order for him to conclude that killing himself was the only option. I don’t know if Ben tried to seek professional help for his problems or if he had a relative or friend who tried to help him. I don’t know if Ben tried to reach out for help or not. I don’t know if someone tried to reach out to Ben. I hadn’t seen Ben or his family in a very long time so there are parts of his story that I simply don’t know.

Those suicides in my life are the main reasons why I was so infuriated by Logan Paul’s tasteless Suicide Forest video earlier this year. Logan Paul had disrespected that poor man’s friends and family at a moment when they were dealing with their sudden loss. Plus that video came out shortly before the one-year anniversary of Ben’s suicide. I was so offended by that video and YouTube’s poor handling of the matter that I made my own video about it.

Granted Logan Paul subsequently made a very moving suicide awareness video that was very heartfelt and emotional but, unfortunately, it was little more than a cheap publicity stunt. Soon afterwards he reverted back to being a douchebag while YouTube seems to favor their little golden boy moneymaker by turning a blind eye to his antics.

As for me, I have a confession to make. There were times when I had suicidal thoughts myself. I initially had them in the eighth grade when I was bullied really badly and one of the bullies was especially obsessed with making my life miserable. I ended up not doing anything about those thoughts and that psychopathic bully eventually left my school the following year.

There was a time when I actually attempted a kind of a suicide where you intentionally do something that will get someone else to kill you. One example of this is known as suicide by cop. When I was a sophomore in high school there was an incident where three young girls (two of whom were sisters while the third was a friend of theirs) between the ages 8-10 were found brutally murdered in the woods. I wrote about these murders last year so you can go there is you want the full story. In any case the police immediately began a manhunt for the person who killed those girls.

It would be three days before someone was apprehended. In the meantime the person was on the loose. Even though the murders took place about three miles from my own neighborhood, my parents and grandmother (my mother’s mother who lived with us) began to irrationally think that I would be next. I walked to school in the last five years of my public school career because the school I attended were within walking distance. They began to forbid me from taking a popular well-traveled short cut through some woods in order to reach the high school. Never mind the fact that the woods in question weren’t very thick. (I recall that the backyards of some of the houses in my neighborhood used to abut the edge of the woods along that traveled path.)

I grew up as an only child who was constantly being watched by the three adults I lived with. They constantly were on the lookout for when I would screw up and they would pounce on the next opportunity that I made any kind of mistake no matter how minor. My parents were extremely strict and overprotective of me when I was growing up—they were helicopter parents long before that became a hip trendy yuppie thing. The fact that many of the kids ostracized me because they thought I was “retarded” only exacerbated the situation so I couldn’t go to—let’s say—a friend’s house and chill out if living with my parents got too much for me.

On top of that it was only two years earlier when I faced that psychotic middle school bully from hell and I still had some mental scars from that. (Fortunately she was long gone by the time the murders happened.)

I secretly took that shortcut anyway because I was mentally in a dark place regarding the kids in school calling me “retarded” and having parents who were so strict that I used to secretly envy the kids whose parents used to give them very little attention and supervision. At the time I felt that the person would do me a big favor if he would kill me just like he killed those girls.

In any case I never faced the killer and the police apprehended him. He pleaded guilty and he committed suicide just a few years later.

My life really improved when I went to the University of Maryland at College Park and I encountered people who were willing to be friends with me. It helped that they didn’t attend the same schools I did so they didn’t have any kind of preconceived notions about me.

Those suicidal thoughts came back when my husband suddenly ran away from home in late 2011. Here was my situation. I had hip replacement surgery in 2008 and my husband was very loving and attentive the entire time. He was my champion who cheered me on as I underwent physical therapy. When I fell twice in early 2011 (with both falls being about a week apart), my hip replacement was knocked out of alignment. I had to undergo hip revision surgery to knock the hip replacement back into alignment. Once again my husband took charge of my recovery. He stayed home and took care of me while I was recovering from surgery. He would make errands to buy food and needed prescription medications. He arranged to have friends drive me to physical therapy when he had to go back to work. He was incredibly loving and attentive towards me.

To go from that to suddenly deciding that he wanted a divorce out of the blue was devastating to me. He never once told me that he was the least bit unhappy yet he left behind a note telling me that I was the reason why he had to leave home. Worse, my friends told me that he had left me for a friend with mental health problems so severe that she has an experimental pacemaker in her brain and she qualified for SSI disability.

Overnight he went from being my best friend whom I would trust with my life to being my own worst enemy who has shown nothing but contempt for me. It was almost like he had really secretly hated me all those years but he hid that from me and pretended that he still “loved” me but once he left me he really let it all out about how much he really despised me. It would be like encountering a sudden blizzard that dumped 20 feet of snow on a hot summer day.

To make matters worse, he refused to talk to me in person or on the phone yet he would send emails and texts demanding that I adhere to this separation schedule that existed only in his head because, I later learned, he felt a need to get a divorce and marry this other woman by a certain date. (Why he felt the need to have this schedule, I’ll never know. Many of our longtime friends were just as shocked by my husband marrying this severely mentally ill person just two months after our divorce was final as I was.) If I balked at following this schedule or asked him to move more slowly, he would threaten to sue me. I later learned that what he did to me was cyberbullying.

And that’s not to mention that there is some dispute as to whether it’s even ethical for him to have any kind of a sexual relationship with a very mentally ill woman and if what he did makes him a sexual predator at best (and maybe even a rapist at worse) but I’ve already explored that question at length here and here.

So I had suicidal thoughts but I ended not making any suicide attempts. What happened? Well I had people around me who were concerned about me. People in my Unitarian Universalist church were the ones who initially reached out to me. Then I was referred to a support group to people who are separated or divorced and I started going to those meetings. I had other friends who also reached out to me. Long story short, I didn’t attempt suicide because I had surrounded myself with people who cared about me and were willing to do whatever they could to help me.

The big irony is that I’m writing this blog post on a day that would’ve been my wedding anniversary had my husband not left me and got a divorce.

Earlier this year I had a financial crisis stemming from my husband cutting off of alimony while only being able to land a job with part-time hours. I went even deeper into debt and I began to worry about being homeless and lose everything I had ever owned. I thought about suicide but I ended up not going through with it because I signed up with a local group that provides emergency crisis care and I’m currently going through the eight-week program. I also recently had a friend move in with me so we can split expenses.

I think the biggest motivation I had for not committing suicide was my ex-husband. Given the contempt he has shown for me over the last few years, I now seriously doubt that he had ever loved me to begin with. (As to why he would even marry someone whom he didn’t love to begin with, I can’t explain.) I knew that if I had taken my own life, I would be doing what he probably would have wanted for me (to be dead). I just didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that I killed myself.

I’m not fully out of the woods yet but I’m glad that I didn’t kill myself.

I just want to say that if you feel like committing suicide yourself, please call a suicide hotline or talk with a trusted friend or relative first. I know first-hand how a suicide can have lasting effects on those who knew that person, including feelings of guilt and shame. If you are in the U.S., contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in the U.K., contact the Samaritans at 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org. If you are in Australia, contact Lifeline at 13 11 14. For other countries, visit the Befrienders Worldwide site to find a helpline that’s nearest you.

Remember you are not alone and you don’t have to be alone. There is help available for you.

A few hours ago I found out that 80-year-old Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and raping Andrea Constand. This came after a video of comedian Hannibal Buress did a comedy routine that mentioned Cosby’s past rape accusation went viral and it led to numerous women coming forward with their own stories about how Cosby drugged and raped them (with some of the accusations going as far back as the 1960s).

It created a scandal that hit at the same time that a special exhibition of Cosby’s personal art collection opened at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, which I visited once soon after it opened and I wrote a blog post about it back in 2014. The biggest irony of that exhibition is that there was a blanket on display that was made from the t-shirts that were once owned by Cosby’s late son, Ennis (who was brutally murdered in the 1990s), and one of the t-shirt panels featured this slogan that’s frequently used by anti-rape activists: “What part of NO didn’t you understand?” (Apparently Ennis was more aware and educated about what constitutes rape than his father was.) The National Museum of African Art kept that exhibit open until its scheduled closing date in late January, 2016 despite numerous calls for the museum to end that exhibition early in light of the scandal.

But then something amazing happened: Bill Cosby was arrested. Due to the statue of limitations, he could only be prosecuted for the 2004 rape of Andrea Constand but it was still amazing that a celebrity of his stature was arrested nonetheless. The first attempt to try him ended in a mistrial. In the wake of that ending, Cosby announced that he was going to hold a series of town hall meetings that would educate people on how to avoid being accused of sexual assault, which reeked of total arrogance and chutzpah. The prosecution wasn’t amused by any of this so they decided to retry him and, this time, he has been found guilty.

Whether or not Cosby will see the inside of a jail cell remains to be seen but at least the women who have accused Cosby of rape have been vindicated, which is a good thing.

I’ll admit that part of me is sad over today’s verdict and that’s because Bill Cosby has been a part of my life for the majority of my life. It started when my parents used to watch I Spy on television when I was very young but I didn’t become aware of who Cosby was until I started watching the Fat Albert cartoon series on Saturday mornings. I saw Cosby on the numerous Jello commercials over the years and I used to watch The Cosby Show with my then-husband.

But I’m pretty much over Bill Cosby now. I still remember back in December when I was eating dinner at a Popeye’s in Baltimore while I was on my way to attending a Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School event at The Wind-Up Space (link is NSFW). I was already pretty frazzled from being pulled over by a cop due to a busted taillight so I just wanted to eat my fried chicken dinner and go on to Dr. Sketchy’s. This particular Popeye’s happened to have a big screen TV (which was something I had never seen at the other Popeye’s fast food places I have been to) that was tuned to a local TV station that was airing a re-run of one of The Cosby Show episodes from the 1980s. I moved to a part of the place where I wouldn’t have to see the TV screen so I wouldn’t see Cosby’s face while I ate my meal. If I ever encounter a TV screen showing a Fat Albert cartoon, I would have the same reaction by not watching it.

I’m glad to hear that Cosby’s victims have a reason to celebrate now that he has been found guilty in a court of law.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Yesterday I went to my first training for the Poor People’s Campaign in order to prepare for next month’s activities of protests in order to highlight the plight of the workers, the poor, women, racial minorities, and immigrants. The season of protests is scheduled to kick off nationwide on Mother’s Day weekend and it’s meant to build on Martin Luther King’s original Poor People’s Campaign (which he had just started when he was killed 50 years ago this month).

The training was held at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Cedar Lane had some nice touches on the outside that proclaim to the general public how it’s open and accepting of everyone regardless of who they are while taking moral stands on certain issues (such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and gun control).

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

I went inside and saw a few training flyers I needed to pick up. I made some small talk among the fellow participants until the start of the training session.

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

The training was straightforward. We were taught how to behave ourselves in public while protesting in order to not turn off the general public to the message that we were trying to send. (For example, we are discouraged from wearing masks while protesting, drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs, and uttering foul language.) The most important thing was that we had to remain nonviolent at all times.

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

I took part in the workshop on how to do nonviolent civil disobedience. At this point I’m not sure if I will actually set myself up to be deliberately arrested at a protest because I have just started a new job and my current finances are precarious. I still took the workshop just in case some cop decides to do a very wide sweep and arrest those who aren’t doing civil disobedience as well as those who are trying to get arrested. At least I know how to react if I somehow get caught up in some kind of a wide sweep.

I remember when I was a child my parents used to watch All in the Family and I still remember the episode where working class conservative bigot Archie Bunker happened to go to an anti-war protest in order to retrieve his son-in-law after Edith and Gloria were worried about Mike’s safety when they heard that the protest was getting violent. Mike returned home safe and sound while Archie ended up in jail along with the protesters whom he normally would never have any association with simply because he got caught up in a wide sweep by the police. You can read more about this episode here. There’s a full episode on YouTube that’s available for now but it’s unknown as to whether it will remain online or will get yanked for copyright reasons. In any case, I kept that episode in mind as I went to the training because I want to be prepared for the possibility that I would end up in jail like Archie Bunker even if I’m not doing civil disobedience.

The most memorable part of the training where we took turns simulating a civil disobedience act while other people playing the role of counter protesters and provocateurs yelled in our faces. The hardest part was remembering the chanting we were doing while someone yelled in our faces.

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Maryland Poor People's Campaign Training

Well, anyway, I learned a lot that night. The only downside of the training was that it rained that day. It wasn’t so bad going to the church but when we left, the rain was pouring down harder. I tried commuting on the Capital Beltway and it was so harrowing with the cars speeding in the downpour like it was nothing. I got off in Silver Spring and I blundered around until I consulted my smartphone GPS app and I managed to configure it to give me a route back home while bypassing all major highways. I traveled along the back routes until I arrived home. The drivers were more civilized on the back routes so I didn’t have to fear getting into an accident. The downside was that I had to stop at so many traffic lights that I didn’t return home until after 11 p.m.

In any case, despite the rain and the harrowing car trip home, I don’t regret going to that training. The Poor People’s Campaign is set to have its inaugural rollout nationwide on Mother’s Day weekend next month so stay tuned, folks!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Every now and then I include some blog posts about some artwork I did when I was a child. Recently I did some more heavy decluttering around my townhouse where I found a couple of more art pieces that I did as a child. I found a bag that I hadn’t even taken the time to go through even though it was among the stuff that my then-husband and I rescued from my old childhood home around the time that my mother decided to put the house up for sale.

First up is this crayon masterpiece I did. The top of the page has “Nov. 1968” that looks like it was written in my mother’s handwriting. The figure on the left looks like a cross between a clown and a stick figure. I can’t make out the figure on the right. It looks like a stick figure with a gun head. Based on what my mother wrote at the top of the page, it looks like I was six years old when I did this drawing.

What I wrote on the back is an even bigger mystery. It says “TO KIM FROM SMOKEY THE BEAR.” Obviously I must have written this but I don’t even remember why I would pretend that I was Smokey the Bear giving this drawing to myself.

I also found this other drawing I did. It’s an ink drawing where I did a red elephant being surrounded by a bunch of stick figures. I wrote at the top “TO MOM FROM KIM.” I don’t remember when I did this drawing or how old I was when I did it. I remember when I was a child some teacher in either my regular elementary school or my Sunday morning CCD class read the famous Indian fable about the blind men and an elephant. Seeing the stick figures feeling the elephant from different angles, I have a feeling that I was inspired by this particular story. Unfortunately I no longer remember the day I did this drawing.

Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.

UPDATE (April 10, 2018): I made a return trip to the Annapolis Toy R Us store where I was able to compare what I saw on that subsequent trip with the photos I took for this blog post.

Ever since Donald Trump has gotten into office there have been so many incidents of ICE agents cracking down on immigrants and deporting them along with so many stories about families who have literally been torn apart. To be fair, Barack Obama’s administration did a lot of deportations as well but those flew under the radar because President Obama was the first African American president and there were plenty of people leery about criticizing him although one could easily criticize President Obama’s policies without resorting to racism. Since Donald Trump is an old white guy who ran his campaign based on his racist imagery of Mexican drug dealers and rapists and building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, there is now more media attention on those deportations—most of which affect immigrants with black or brown skin. (And that’s not to mention President Trump’s recent descriptions of Haiti and Africa as “shithole countries.”)

Recently a white immigrant was rounded up by ICE agents and they are trying to deport him as well. Lukasz Niec was a guy who was born in Poland and he was brought to the U.S. with his parents back in 1979 when he was only five years old. (At that time Poland was a communist country that was aligned with the Soviet Union and it did the usual communist repression against its own citizens so it was understandable why his parents wanted to leave.) When he was a teenager he got into some minor troubles with the law. He got a green card and he decided to straighten out his life by going to college then to medical school. He became a doctor and he eventually got married and had two children. His most recent offense was an arrest on a domestic violence charge in 2013 but he was later found not guilty by a jury.

Those brief brushes with the law were enough to provide an excuse for ICE agents to round up this guy and begin proceedings to have him deported back to Poland. This is a country that this guy had not even lived in since he was five years old. He has long since forgotten how to speak Polish and he has no immediate family ties in that nation.

When I saw this story blow up on social media I read social media posts from people acting surprised that the Trump Administration would focus on a white man. As I think back to my childhood, I have to say that I’m far less surprised that his ICE agents would pick on a Pole than most people.

Let me give you a brief history lesson here. There was a time prior to the Industrial Revolution where most Americans considered themselves to be WASPs—White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution there were plenty of immigrants from many European nations, including Poland. While many Polish immigrants had white skin, they were not Anglo-Saxons so, according to attitudes of the time, they didn’t count as being real white people. On top of it, most Poles were either Roman Catholics or Jews, which made them be seen more as outsiders by the WASPs. Given that attitude, it was no wonder that hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan considered Jews and Roman Catholics to be just as bad as African Americans.

Even though Poles gradually were assimilated into the melting pot, there were stereotypes that still persisted. I was born in Baltimore, where many Polish immigrants settled, and I grew up in nearby Glen Burnie. Even though my family lived next door to a Polish American family and there were plenty of people of Polish descent, I still grew up hearing Poles being described as “Dumb Pollocks.” I heard a lot of Dumb Pollock jokes being told on the playground while I grew up. Here’s one such example, which was among the milder Dumb Pollock jokes I heard:

Q: Take Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Smart Pollock, and the Dumb Pollock. Put them all into a single room together. Place a $5 bill in the middle of that room. Who would get that $5 bill?

A: The Dumb Pollock because there is no such thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or a Smart Pollock.

The Dumb Pollock stereotype didn’t end with just jokes. There was a liquor store that I used to go with my parents when they made an occasional trip there. That was because that store had a shelf that sold novelty gag gifts and I loved looking at them. Among the gag gifts sold was a box marked “Polish Gun.” When you open the lid, you see a gun with the barrel bent backwards making it look like you would get struck with a bullet when you pull the trigger.

But that’s not all. When my family used to make its annual summer vacation to Ocean City, I remember the raunchy t-shirts. Among the t-shirts I remembered was an illustration of a guy looking down his own pants with the slogan “Polish Peeping Tom.” Another shirt had an illustration of a guy in a boat holding a fishing rod where the hook was on the back of the guy’s pants that had the slogan “Polish Fisherman.”

Even though I lived next door to a Polish American family and grew up attending a Roman Catholic parish that had Polish Americans among its membership, I still heard those Dumb Pollock jokes. Given that Donald Trump spent his entire life in New York City, which was another place where Polish Immigrants settled in large numbers during the Industrial Revolution, I’m sure that he heard those Dumb Pollock jokes as well. Except he was more insulated from actually knowing any person of Polish descent than I was because he grew up in a wealthy neighborhood in a WASP family (two of his grandparents were German immigrants and his mother was from Scotland) and his father was arrested back in the 1920s for attending a Ku Klux Klan rally. (Like I wrote a few paragraphs ago, the KKK hated Roman Catholics and Jews just as much as it hated African Americans.)

Growing up I used to love telling Dumb Pollock jokes as much as the other kids on the playground. But it has been many years since I told those jokes because I don’t find them funny anymore. What happened? I can’t say for sure but there were a few factors. First of all I grew up and I became exposed to more sophisticated adult humor (especially from watching TV shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live) that made those Dumb Pollock jokes seem stupid and childish by comparison. Then I went away to college at the University of Maryland at College Park where I met a variety of people and there was sort of an unsaid social thing against telling ethnic jokes of any kind. (At least that was the case among the groups of people I socialized with.)

What finally got me to quit telling Dumb Pollock jokes for good was when I converted to Unitarian Universalism a year after I graduated from college but shortly before I got married. That faith has seven principles, the first of which is this:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

In a nutshell every person is entitled to being respected no matter what that person’s background is. Telling Dumb Pollock jokes—or any other type of ethnic jokes—dehumanizes a certain category of people simply because they were born that way and it’s not something that one can control.

While I managed to let go of the Dumb Pollock stereotype, it’s obvious that President Trump has not. In fact back in the 1980’s it was said that he broke the law by hiring illegal Polish immigrants to work on building his Trump Tower without even providing the proper safety equipment necessary to do the job. He paid them $4 per hour, which is far less than the minimum wage at that time. Of course that was when he even bothered to pay them. Many of these workers weren’t paid at all yet they were forced to continue working on that building project because they were threatened with being reported to authorities and deported. If that weren’t bad enough, here is what one Polish worker said about his time working on the Trump Tower project:

Trump also hired a smaller crew of unionized demolition workers who teased their nonunion Polish counterparts. “They told me and my friends that we are stupid Poles and we are working for such low money,” Adam Mrowiec, one of the Polish workers, later testified.

So here is a man who was probably exposed to the same Dumb Pollock jokes that I was, except he grew up in a more insulated environment than I was so he never learned to consider Polish people as being anything other than Dumb Pollocks to be used and discarded for his own purposes just like inanimate objects. And if these Dumb Pollocks aren’t useful to him, then they should just go away.

With a mindset like that, it’s no wonder the Trump Administration has sent ICE agents after a Polish American man to be deported from the only country he has ever known to a nation that he hasn’t seen since he was five years old.

If you’re a Polish American who voted for Donald Trump back in 2016 expecting that he will—to quote his campaign slogan—Make America Great Again, then the joke’s on you since he’s basically a con artist who could care less for anyone who isn’t a wealthy WASP like he is and who basically looks down on people like you.

Previous Entries

Categories

Advertisements