Are We Really All That Bad?

I don’t travel very much. I have spent the majority of my life in Massachusetts, safe in my comfort zone. I know how people around me generally behave, but I don’t know all that much about other places.

But last weekend my niece got married way across the country, in far off San Diego, in the distant land of California. I really love my niece, and her family. So my sister and I got tickets and headed across this great land to celebrate the big event.

As we set out on our epic journey, I wondered what I would see as I mingled with Americans from all over. Would I see the same hateful, dangerous, sickening levels of racism that are reported over and over again in the press? Would I see people shouting at those who spoke Spanish, demanding that they “Go back to Mexico”? Would I see people spitting on those in middle Eastern dress?

I was ready.

I was pumped up and prepared. I had even internally practiced some of my responses. “Please stop. You are being a racist. Stop.”  Or, “Where were your grandparents born?” I was scared to face the reality of Trump’s America, but I was ready to strike back.

I was channeling my inner Bernie Bro as I got Logan Airport in Boston.


Now that I am back at home in my rural, safe, quiet little New England town, I have to say that I am mightily relieved at the reality that I witnessed on my trip.

My sister Liz and I spent time in Boston, San Diego and Chicago. We mingled with hundreds of humans of all races, ages, ethnicities. We had the pleasure of people watching in some of this country’s largest airports.

And these are some of the memories that I brought back with me:

1. A Spanish speaking family with a beautiful little 2 year old girl was seated across from us on the plane. The little girl shrieked at one point as she watched a movie on Mom’s iPad. Her young parents tried to shush her, but the people seated around them chuckled, laughed and commented out loud about how well behaved she was.

2. An African woman (perhaps from Somalia?) was waiting at one gate at O’Hare. She was dressed from head to foot in a gorgeous deep blue robe that covered her head. She had to little girls with her. They were somewhere between 6 and 9 years old, I guessed. The girls were each dressed in robes like their mom’s, although the colors differed. All of them had deep, dark brown skin. All had gorgeous white smiles. The two little girls were dancing as I walked by, so I stopped to watch. They were whirling around, their blue and deep green robes swirling. They were laughing. Their Mom looked like every traveling parent on earth; tired, impatient, anxious. But she was smiling at the kids.

I gazed around, worried at how people might be reacting to this obviously not “American” family. I saw an Asian man laughing as he watched. I saw a red haired woman smiling at the woman. I saw a group of teen aged typical white kids giggling and smiling at the girls.

3. At one point, Liz and I were in need of a quick food fix. (You’ve traveled, right? You get it!) I decided to grab some spring rolls and rangoon from a Chinese place. I got in line. In front of me were two handsome, youngish businessmen. They were carrying leather briefcases and wearing expensive suits. They were chatting casually as they waited. They were speaking Spanish.

This struck me funny, given that we were waiting for our Chinese food. Then I realized that I was buying food for two middle aged Italians. I glanced behind me and saw a black teen, two blond women, and three more young black men.

Not an Asian in sight.

As we got to the check out, I heard the men chatting with the cashier in Spanish. The only word I caught was “soy sauce.”

4. I saw a young black woman with gorgeous braids holding a door for an older white man. They were smiling at each other as he thanked her and she answered, “No problem!”

5. When we got to our gate in Chicago, needing to catch our connecting flight to Boston, we weren’t able to find two seats together in the waiting area. So I sat down and held our luggage as Liz went in search of a rest room. An Asian man, perhaps Korean, took his bags off of the seat beside me and said, “OK.” as he nodded at me. I thanked him, but he didn’t seem to speak English.

A few minutes later, his teenaged daughter came along and saw that she had lost her seat. “Hey,” she said to her Dad, who answered quickly in his native language. “I’m sorry,” I began, “You can have the seat.”

She wouldn’t hear of it. “No, no! It’s fine” she said in perfect English as she gracefully slid to the floor and opened her laptop.

I was so relieved. So grateful. I saw a big mix of people, all helping each other get through the frustrations and joys of travel. I saw people smiling at babies, oblivious to the color, language or nationality of said babies. I saw young people respecting their elders and elders smiling at youth.

I saw the proverbial “melting pot” in action.

When we were on our way to Boston, I told Liz about what I had observed. I told her that I was relieved to see that “in spite of” the hatred spewed out by the Trump administration, we were managing to rise above it.

Liz is usually more astute than I am, and this time was no exception. She shook her head and said, “It isn’t in spite of Trump. It’s because of him and his awful followers. Everyone is going out of their way to prove him wrong. Everyone want to prove that they aren’t part of his toxic view.”

I think she’s right.

And I love it.


Visiting the Shit Hole

Guess where I’m going next July?

I’m going to be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary in Italy! Isn’t that wonderful?

Our two sons and their beloveds are coming, too! We’re going to see Rome, and the Amalfi Coast. We’re going to stay in Pompeii, and walk through the Cinque Terre and drink wine in sidewalk cafes wherever we can find them.

And, perhaps best of all, we are going to visit the little villages that hold our ancient roots. My father’s family came from a small town outside of Naples. They were farmers, providing mostly for their own families. They lived simple, difficult lives.

Back at the turn of the twentieth century, that part of Italy was facing hard times. Life there was….I don’t know…how shall I say it?

It was a shit hole.

And my mother’s family came from Augusta, Sicily. An even more impoverished part of Europe during those first couple of decades of the twentieth century.

Even more of a shit hole.

My family, my grandparents, left behind every single thing that they knew and loved. They gave up home, safety, family, love, language, music, friends. They dared to dream of a better life, and they boarded those overcrowded ships. They waved goodbye. They looked forward.

They left those shit holes, and they entered Ellis Island.

They weren’t quite brown, but they weren’t blue eyed blonds, either. They faced the discrimination of the lighter skinned, English speaking immigrants who had come before them.

But they stuck it out, and they made a great new life for their children. And their grandchildren, like me.

Their efforts gave rise to several doctors, some lawyers, business people, teachers, nurses, EMT’s, musicians, actors, therapists. They are my heroes.

So next summer, I will go to the places where they lived and grew and fell in love with a better idea. I will honor and bless the ground where they walked. I will give thanks for their courage.

And I will vow, right out loud, to do everything I can for the rest of my life, to make sure that no matter what kind of “shit hole” other humans are living in, I will welcome them into my country, my state, and my own home.


Angelina Fantasia and Carmine Merullo with their youngest son, my father.                                         My heroes, all of them.

A Time To March

I’m horrified, shocked, furious about the terrorist attack in Charlottesville this weekend. White Nationalists, whatever the hell that means, marched supposedly to protect the statue of a man who committed treason 150 years ago and then lost a war.

How to pick a winner, right?

They wore Nazi insignia. They gave the Nazi salute. They chanted about the Jews “replacing” them.

Their true goal, obviously, was not to stand up for old dead Robert E. Lee. It was to provoke a fight with all those awful people who they believe are trying to take away their white male role as masters of the continent.

They succeeded. There was fighting. There was death.

They got their headlines.

Now these radical deplorables are planning to march on Boston. The capital of the state where I live. They want to chant their pathetic racist drivel on the streets where Sam Adams rallied patriots to action in the 1770’s.

So what should I do?

I don’t want to drive my 61 year old self into the city. I don’t want to march on a nice late summer day. I don’t want to risk being hit, or shot, or run over. I don’t want to give these pitiful bullies so much of my attention.


My first job as an adult was interpreting from Russian to English and back again for Jewish immigrants who were arriving here from the Soviet Union. I helped them find housing, took them to the doctor, took them shopping.

I heard their stories.

I saw the numbers tattooed on their arms. I touched those tattoos.

How can I NOT march to stand up for the old Russian woman who told me how she had run away from the invading Nazi’s? She was 7 months pregnant, and had a two year old in her arms. The Nazi’s came to her village and she ran into the woods. The soldiers shot, and she was hit in the face. Still she ran. She got as deep into the forest as she could go before she collapsed.

When I knew this woman, her face was creased with an ugly red scar. Her speech was slurred by the path the bullet had taken across the roof of her mouth.

How do I not march for her?

And what kind of person would I be if I didn’t march against the rise of fascism, knowing the stories from the siege of Leningrad, when the Nazis blockaded the city? I remember a Russian Jewish woman with wide blue eyes. She could no longer see when I took her to the doctor in Boston, but those eyes were filled with sorrow when she told me the story of her father walking the streets in search of food and coming home with part of a dead dog to feed his children.

She talked about her mother cooking their shoes to get some protein out of the leather.

My father fought the Nazis. He was only 18 when he enlisted in the army. He was at the Nuremburg Trials.

I lived through the civil rights era right here in the US, too. I remember seeing the marches, the violence, the struggles. I remember the day that Martin Luther King was murdered.

Are we really going to let the clock go back, Americans? Are we going to embrace the slave owning and race baiting past of the country?

Are we going to sit back and let the Nazis come in here and take our country? Are we going to allow our President to get away with condoning their violence?

Personally, I think I’ll have to go and walk the streets of Boston and stay as safe as I can while making my voice heard.


What if

I hesitate to write this post.

I don’t want to add to the general sense of hysteria out there, on this morning after the acquittal.  But I tossed and turned a lot last night, and I just have one big question that keeps coming to mind.   Just one.

See, I didn’t watch countless hours of the trial on TV, and I didn’t read every word written by every legal “expert”.  I couldn’t.  A seventeen year old boy was dead, and I didn’t want to keep hearing those screams for help, no matter who was screaming.

So I don’t honestly have an opinion on whether the shooter was a racist or not. I don’t know him.   I don’t know if the victim reacted out of fear or anger or frustration when he knew that some “creepy” guy was stalking him.  I don’t know either of them, and I wasn’t there.  I don’t think its right for me to act as if I know what really happened or what motivated either of the people who was actually involved in the tragedy.

But I just have this one question, and I can’t get away from it.

What if the shooter hadn’t had a loaded gun hidden in a pocket?

If the guy wasn’t holding a loaded weapon, I wonder if maybe he would have been smart enough to have stayed in his vehicle, like he was told to do by the police dispatcher?  I wonder if he would have told himself, “This kid looks really dangerous (since that’s what prompted the whole incident, right?)”.  I wonder if he would have thought, “I better stay safe in my car.”  Did that loaded gun give the shooter a sense of power? Did it prompt him to follow a guy who he clearly described as suspicious?

I wonder.

And what if the shooter had had gun, but what if it wasn’t concealed? 

Would the boy have pushed down his anger and frustration over being followed by a creepy stalker, and would the sight of that weapon have prompted him to rush home, instead of standing up to the guy and confronting him?

I wonder.

This was such a senseless, stupid, mindless, wasteful death of a child.  So blindly, mind-numbingly stupid, stupid, stupid.

I don’t know if society, at least at this moment in time, can stop people from having racial prejudices. I don’t know.

And I don’t know if we can stop weak and powerless people from wanting to pump up their own self-image by imitating the macho strengths of the police.  I just don’t know.

I’m not sure that we can stop young men from reacting impulsively to perceived slights/threats/challenges. A developing brain is a developing brain; common sense, it seems, comes slowly to the human species.  I don’t know how we can speed that up.

But I do know that we, as a society, could have prevented this kid’s death.

Until we are finally willing to stand up and say, “It is just plain stupid and dangerous to let average imperfect human beings walk around with loaded weapons hidden on their bodies.”, we are going to have to keep dealing with needless, senseless, wasteful death.

And I just realized that I have another question ringing through my head this morning:

Does that shooter now regret carrying a loaded gun in his pocket?

I wonder.SONY DSC

“That’s kinda stupid.”

My favorite part of every school day is “Read Aloud Time.”  I love to read to the kids.  I love the looks on their faces as they react to the action in each story.  I love it when I try to stop, and they beg me for just one more chapter.  Its the closest I’ll ever come to getting a curtain call, you know?

A few years ago I was reading the book “The Liberation of Gabriel King” to my fifth graders.  The book is set in Georgia, during the Presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter.  It is a great story, and I often use it to begin the school year, as the main characters are an unlikely pair of best friends who are about to enter fifth grade, one with enthusiasm, one with total fear.

The subtext of the story is the racial tension in the South in the 1970’s. The book talks about bigotry, racial prejudice and even the KKK.  The children in the story have to learn how to stand up to these things, and how to face their personal fears.

As I read the book to the class that year, they asked a lot of questions.  One of the reasons I love this book is because it leads to such rich and interesting discussions.  Ten year olds are honest, and they’re very curious.  They keep asking questions until they find out what they want to know.

I remember one particular little boy in that class. He was a serious, quiet kid.  Not a great student, but just a really good kid. He was the kind of typical fifth grader who spent a lot of our day waiting for recess so that he could play ball with his friends.  But he was a thoughtful kid, insightful in his own way.  I’ll always remember him for one comment that he made, as we were discussing racial prejudice.

One of the other kids had asked, “Why did some white people think black people weren’t as good as them?” (Note that past tense ‘did’, please).  I tried to explain it briefly, referring back to the history of slavery, doing my best to shed some light on a dark story.  “But why would they think that?”, the kids kept asking.

You should know that my class at the time had a few students from Asia, South Asia and Central America, but none of them were African American.  All were equally bewildered by the descriptions of racial prejudice, but all of them wanted to understand it.

I remember looking at the group, feeling somewhat at a loss. But I remember that particular little boy, slouching back on the rug, both hands in his pockets.  He had on a baseball cap, and his eyes were shaded.  I remember him saying,  “So let me get this straight.  Some people back then thought they were better,  just because their skin was lighter?  Well, that’s kinda stupid.”

Don’t you love it?

As I watched the news coverage of the Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality yesterday, I pictured a classroom of the future. I pictured a cute kid, ball cap tipped rakishly over one eye.  I imagined him saying, “So some people back then thought that one kind of marriage was better than another kind?  That’s kinda stupid.”

What if…..?

As a teacher, I play the game of “what if” fairly often.  It helps children to think in novel ways, to ask good questions and to imagine a variety of outcomes.  “What if” the narrator in the book “Number the Stars” had been too frightened to carry the message that outwitted the Nazis?  “What if” the Minutemen on Lexington Green had not dared to muster before the British arrived that morning? “What if” the British commander had been more temperate, had not called them “damned rebels”?  What if?

I watched the news this morning about the bail hearing for George Martin, the man who has admitted to shooting and killing Trayvon Martin.  And all I can think is “What if?”

What if there had been no loaded gun?

I have no way of knowing what George Zimmerman was thinking that rainy night. I don’t know if he was frightened by the appearance of a man in a hood, by the black face that the man wore, or by the idea that strangers were walking through the neighborhood.

I don’t know what scared George Z.  But something clearly made him uncomfortable, and made him call the police.

But what if there had been no loaded gun?

Zimmerman would still have felt threatened, by whatever it was in the way Trayvon walked/looked/acted.  He would have still felt violated in some way, although we will never know exactly why.  But in the absence of a gun, what would have changed?

I’m sure that Zimmerman would still have called the police.  He was upset. He took his job as “neighborhood watch” very seriously. He would have called, he would have described the young man using the same judgmental terms: “he’s up to no good” and “he’s on drugs or something.”  He would have still felt affronted somehow by the fact that “its raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”

But what if there had been no gun?

Given that George felt so threatened, and was so positive that the man in the sweatshirt was up to no good, I have to wonder whether he would have taken the risk of following and confronting him.  If he didn’t have a loaded gun, would George really have gone out of his car to push a confrontation with Trayvon?

Let’s go one step further, and let’s presume that George would have actually stepped out of the safety of his vehicle to confront a guy who seemed to be “up to no good” and “on drugs or something.”  Let’s presume, just for the sake of argument, that George would have asked the young man what he was doing.

In the absence of a loaded gun, wouldn’t Trayvon have produced his Skittles and his Arizona Iced Tea, and wouldn’t that have ended the conflict?  What if?

But perhaps the young man would have been scared by the stranger in the van who first pursued him by vehicle and then took the risk of chasing him on foot.  Perhaps the boy would have continued to run when faced with a scary stranger on a dark and rainy street.  Let’s assume that George could have caught up to Trayvon as he ran.  What if there had been NO GUN?  Maybe Trayvon would have thrown a punch. Maybe George would have fallen. Maybe they would have fought.

But: no one would be dead. No one would be on trial for murder.

What if there had been no loaded gun?

Maybe, just maybe, all of those who pushed for so called “stand your ground” laws should be feeling some shame today. Maybe all of those who have supported the “concealed weapons” laws should be questioning themselves right now.

Maybe those of us who gave up the fight for sensible gun laws in the face of the NRA’s millions of dollars should hang our heads and feel some guilt about what happened in Florida.

Maybe all of us in this increasingly gun crazy, shoot ’em up, “NRA rules” country should get together, hold hands and ask ourselves:

What if there had been no damned gun that night?


I am sitting here watching the news, and I am just speechless.

I am listening to the story of a “neighborhood watch” member- a civilian with no police training- who shot and killed an unarmed teenaged boy. The boy scared the man for unknown reasons; perhaps it was the color of his skin, perhaps it was his hooded sweatshirt. Neither, as far as I know, is a crime; but the man with the gun felt threatened, so he followed the boy and shot him down on the street.  Shot him dead for no reason that anyone has been able to explain.

I am listening to a story about a trial in the city of Boston, the trial of some gang members who shot and killed a mother and her baby because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The shooter saw the Mom, saw the baby, and shot anyway.  He had a gun, so he used it.

A few days ago, I had to explain to my fifth grade students how a student with a gun got angry at some other teenagers and shot up the school cafeteria. I had to try to reassure them that a similar situation wouldn’t happen in our school, in our town.

Where are the screams of outrage? Where are the marchers in the streets, demanding that we get the damn guns off the streets? Where is the anger?

How can we possibly think that it is acceptable for “neighborhood watch” people to act out their Clint Eastwood fantasies by shooting at anyone who looks suspicious to them?  What kind of a country would say that any person who wants to own a handgun- a HANDGUN whose only purpose is the killing of human!- can own one?

I am disgusted, angry, sad and outraged.  If we truly care about human life, if we value the lives and the safety of our children, we will demand that guns be firmly controlled and used only by those who are trained and only in very limited places.  If we honestly want to be safe, we will push for an absolute ban on semi-automatic weapons and handguns.  These weapons have no place in a civilized society.

If you are telling yourself that the famous and oft misquoted founding fathers intended to put handguns and semi-automatic weapons into the hands of the general population, you are ignoring history and trying to rewrite the past. They wanted to insure that the people could form militia’s, complete with muskets and bayonets.  Read your history; even the grammar in the Second Amendment to the Constitution makes it clear that they were not talking about the right for individuals to shoot up their neighborhoods.

Read the text, and make up your own mind:

As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
I would like to ask Gabby Giffords and her family what they think these words mean. I would like to ask the families of the children killed at Columbine and at Virginia Tech.  I would like to talk to the family of the boy who shot down in cold blood just because his skin was brown and his hood was up.

Anonymous. Ignorant. Cowardly.

I went outside this afternoon, on this sunny Friday, to put a new bumper sticker on my car.  As a lot of you know already,  I’m a crunchy granola, aging hippy, super lefty liberal.  I make no apologies; that’s me! And I love bumper stickers. I love showing my loyalties to my fellow commuters. You never know when another old hippy will drive by and smile.

A few weeks ago, one of my sons brought home a bumper sticker saying, “No Farms, No Food”.  I figured I’d put it on my car. I have been having a wonderful time for the past year learning all about local foods. I’ve joined a wonderful food coop ( where I buy all of my meat, eggs, most of my veggies and even some flour and honey from local farmers.  Delicious, healthy and supportive of local economies. I was feeling pretty happy about my new logo as I approached the back of my car.

As I looked for a likely spot to locate my new, nicely inoffensive sticker, my eye fell on my older items. “Youuuuuuk!”  looked just fine, on the left side of my trunk, next to my big red R for the Red Sox.  I smiled as I panned to the right, my eyes falling on my aging “Obama” sticker from the last election.

Suddenly, my heart stopped. I gasped, and heard the words, “Oh, no!”as they fell from my lips.  I felt frozen, unable to react or move. Unable to accept what I was seeing.

Someone had taken a black sharpie and written the word “Nigger” across my bumper sticker, just under the word “Obama”.

I knew that the word wasn’t aimed at me, not directly, but I still felt assaulted, violated, shocked beyond words. My sheltered, naive, hippy mamma world view was shattered.  How could anyone be so…..incredibly small minded, ignorant, backward?  I looked uneasily over my shoulder, scanning my isolated, tree shaded driveway.

Who had done this?  When had it happened?  I don’t look at my car trunk all that often; it could have happened out here in the woods, or at work in the suburbs. It could have happened on one of my trips into Boston in the past few weeks, or while my car was parked at the Woods Hole Ferry. I don’t know. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that in 2011, in light of all that is happening in the world, this one ugly word is as loud and clear as a billboard.  The writer of this word is stupid, uninformed, ignorant, small minded, racist and helpless.  Anyone with any ability to understand the complexities of  American politics or of world events would recognize the utter futility and uselessness of such name calling.  Anyone with the intelligence to recognize the power struggle between the two American political parties would immediately understand that writing that word under that name is equivalent to responding, “Oh, yeah?” when faced with a challenge for which one is completely unprepared.

But even knowing all of this, even recognizing that the writer of the ugly word is unworthy of any reaction… heart began to race and my anger began to rise.

I am not African American, but my President is. My governor IS. I have students who are African in origin.  I have friends who are black Americans.  I am furious and hurt and disgusted for all of them.  Because that bumper sticker was on my car, I am one of them.

When I showed the awful word to my son, Tim, he reacted in just the same way. But he added something more.

“Way to go, dude.  Totally ignorant. I mean, hell, what year is this?  And to do it anonymously? Ignorant coward.  What a coward.”

And so.

Although I have been disappointed in a lot of things that our President has done, and although my support has been wavering lately, I am going to get myself a new OBAMA bumper sticker right away.  And I am going to put it on my car.

As Tim said, “Otherwise, the ignorant cowards win.”