30 June 2013

I spent part of today watching “Shakespeare Uncovered,” a multi-part series on PBS. Each episode covered a different play, including “Macbeth,” “Richard II,” “Henry IV and V,” and “Hamlet,” and was hosted by an actor who had played the role, such as Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi and Ethan Hawke.

Each segment (there was also one dedicated to the comedies, hosted by Vanessa Redgrave and daughter Joely Richardson) featured Shakespearean experts, as well as excerpts from film and theatrical versions, and interviews with actors who have played key roles in the plays over the years. 

I loved the breakdown of specific scenes, the historical perspectives, and different interpretations of what the plays mean. Plus, the series features some of the most acclaimed actors in the world speaking Shakespeare’s lyrical, beautiful words (There is something strangely incongruent watching Irons watch Olivier’s “Henry V” from 1944 on his iPad as he takes a train journey to trace Henry V’s actual path.)  Watching the brotherhood of actors who have played “Hamlet,”including “Dr. Who’s” David Tennant and Jude Law, talk about how they were changed by playing the ultimate role gives great insight (not to mention how they approached delivering the most famous soliloquy in literature). 

I’m convinced that between the Bible and the collected works of Shakespeare, we can learn everything we ever need to know about human nature and the darkness and lightness of our souls. Nothing changes as the centuries go by. These stories are as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.

June 30: PBS:  http://www.pbs.org/

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29 June 2013

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County skyrocketed to 58,000, according to a story in today’s Los Angeles Times. The figure marks a 16% increase over the past two years, due to lingering effects from the recession and rising rents.

Several times this year my Causes & Effects daily money has gone to a homeless person that I’ve met outside a store or on the street, including yesterday, when I gave to a man named Daniel. Of all the men and women I’ve given to and talked to, only one struck me as mentally ill. The others were perfectly lucid as far as I could tell. There was no difference between them and me except for I simply had better luck and a safety net if I needed one. 

The 58,0000 number is bleak enough, but the article goes on to say it may get worse in this relatively jobless economic recovery: More than $80 million in federal funds for emergency housing disappeared last summer and the sequestration has frozen federal housing vouchers, so more and more people are losing the roof over their heads. Plus, 15,000 low-level felons were diverted to LA County facilities and many of them have been released with no housing to go home to.  The homelessness lags behind all the bad news because people use up all their resources before turning to living on the street. 

The confluence of events that conspire to keep people in Los Angeles also includes tremendously high unemployment: LA County’s rate was 11.2% in 2012, among the nation’s highest. Plus, the recession  led to an 8% drop in emergency shelters because they no longer had the funds to operate. There are around 16,000 beds for all of the homeless in Los Angeles.  Combine that with the fact that because the economy is improving in certain sectors, rents have increased which puts apartments out of reach for many, even if they have jobs. 

Now when I read stories about the homeless, I put actual faces to the story: Daniel from yesterday: Willie from earlier this year, Michael from May, Cheryl from April... and a number of others. I worry about them in this heat. Willie is the only one I’ve seen again since I gave him money. He was in a motorized scooter and for weeks I didn’t see him in his usual spot, but then a few weeks ago, I saw him from a distance rolling down the street. I felt a sense of relief that he was still safe.

Los Angeles is a great city, but a city is truly only as good as its poorest and disenfranchised and Los Angeles simply has to do better. 

According to the Los Angeles Youth Network, which works with homeless youth, there are more than 9,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles. You don’t need to use your imagination much to realize what life is like for them and what they must resort to to get food and shelter. 

LAYN operates emergency shelters, group homes, and transitional housing, as well as provides a multitude of services for homeless youth, including reunification therapy for teens and their parents.  

Today’s $10 goes to LAYN because 9,000 homeless teens in the whole country is 9,000 too many, forget about for one county.

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28 June 2013

“I just hope I don’t hit any more snags,” Daniel said to me at least three times in our brief conversation. I noticed him as I was leaving the store. He was leaning up against the wall. Despite today’s 90 degree-heat, he had on a red sweatshirt. He asked me if I could help him out. I stopped and handed him $10 and asked his name. 

He said it was Daniel and he said he was homeless. He’d been a shoemaker, but where he worked burned down, he said. Everywhere he went to apply for a job, he was told he was too qualified, or, when he said he was homeless, they asked him to come back when he had a home.

I asked him how long he’d been homeless. “Forty months,” he said. “Since 2009.” 

He took the bills I’d handed him out of his pocket and counted them. He looked back at me and held out his hand. I shook it. He said “Someone gives me $5, $10, $20, I can get something to eat and I may have a chance at finding a place to sleep and shower.” 

He pointed to the white stubble on his tanned face: “This is nine-days growth. It’s been that long since I’ve had hot water.”

He kept holding out his hand for me to shake again and I kept shaking it a second, third, and fourth time, but after the second time, if felt more a test to see if I’d touch him more than anything else. “Sixty percent of people totally ignore me, the other 40% blame me for being homeless,” he said. I said I was stunned that only 60% ignored him. I’d say the odds of being ignored if you’re a homeless person is closer to 95%.

Without prompting, Daniel reeled off names of shelters he’d gone to for help, PATH, Los Angeles Mission... but he said because he wasn’t a drug user or sick or coming out of prison, he was far down the list when it came to getting assistance. As if I needed proof, he pulled up the sleeves of his sweatshirt to show he had no track marks on his arm. Then he wanted to shake my hand again. He had on a backpack. I asked him if that was everything he owned. He said, no, he paid for a locker where he kept some possessions, but he would run out of money for that soon.

I turned to leave, and he said now that I had given him a blessing, it was time for him to give me a blessing and told me this was the part where he asked me my name. I told him Melinda. He took my hand (again), told me to look him in his eyes, and he blessed me and he thanked me, for, like him, being a humble servant. He told me because he was a humble servant, his blessing would count 20 fold.  

I wished him good luck. He repeated that he hoped he didn’t hit any more snags. And then he fist bumped me. 

I hope Daniel doesn’t hit any more snags.

$10 Daniel 

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27 June 2013

Today was the first really hot day of summer in Los Angeles and it’s going to be pretty brutal over the next several days. 

As I’ve written before, I don’t have air conditioning and I’m already dreading the next few days where I have to position myself directly in front of the fan. Sometimes I have to escape to a movie theater or mall.  It’s not that I don’t want air conditioning, but I live in an old Spanish-style building that doesn’t accommodate it.

As the thermometer rises, the song Santana’s song “Smooth” inevitably pops into my head... “Man its a hot one Like seven inches from the midday sun...”

Though this came out in February, I only saw this “Funny Or Die” video this week and it makes me laugh every time I watch it. I’ve known Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas for 15 years now and he cracks me up. He’s really funny in this clip—and in real life— and he and the other guys in the band bring the funny (OK, I totally hate that phrase) in this clip.

But back to the heat. Last week, I gave to a program in Austin, Texas that provides fans for senior citizens. Today, I’m picking an even hotter city, Phoenix. The Phoenix Rescue Mission runs a Code Red Summer Heat Relief Program. Every Thursday, in conjunction with KUPD, the Mission collects water donated by listeners to distribute to the homeless since dehydration is such a serious problem when the mercury rises. 
The Phoenix Rescue Mission has an excellent overall website that has great pointers on how to help the homeless year-round, no matter where you live. But it’s during the extremes, winter and summer, that the homeless need our help the most. 

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26 June 2013

What a sweet, sweet day. For those of us who have longed for equality, in many ways today is as sweet a day as yesterday was bitter.

As you know, yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was a devastating decision to many of us who feel like discrimination still runs rampant in certain states when it comes to voter rights.

But today, the Supreme Court got it gloriously right by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (one of the most bone-headed measures signed into law by President Clinton) and by dismissing a petition put forth by proponents of Prop 8. By doing so, SCOTUS effectively made gay marriage legal in California.

I realize there may be people reading this who disagree with today’s decision and I want to respect your rights, but I don’t want to live in a country where basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution aren’t afforded to all and today felt like a big step —there are hopefully many more to come — in recognizing that we are all equal. Love is love and a civil right, by its very nature, has to apply to all citizens.

I’ve loved seeing my gay friends’ comments today on Facebook. They’ve ranged from quietly thankful to unabashedly joyous, but I was especially struck my one where my friend said he never thought he’d be able to legally call his partner of 30 years his husband, but now he could. Another friend proposed to his longtime boyfriend on Facebook (he said yes). I’ve had other friends express their delight that their gay siblings could now get legally married, just as they have always been able to. 

The ruling is also a reminder that one person can change history. Edith Windsor is who we have to thank for today’s DOMA reversal. She married Thea Spyer in 2007. After Spyer’s death in 2009, the IRS, citing DOMA, did not recognize their partnership and said Windsor owed taxes on the money Spyer left her-- money that would not be owed by the widow or widower in an opposite-sex marriage. Windsor sued the U.S., claiming this was a violation of her rights under the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The case ran its way up the courts, finally reaching the Supreme Court. So in addition to her DOMA victory, I read that Windsor is owed more than $300,000 in tax refunds from the IRS, which just seems like icing... a lot of icing.

Today’s rainbow-colored $10 goes to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, which provides healthcare and social services in Los Angeles. Helping close to 250,000 people a year, the LAGLC offers, according to its website, legal, social, cultural and educational services, as well as a 24-bed transitional living situation for homeless youth.

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25 June 2013

 Tonight, I’m saluting Texas state senator Wendy Davis, who filibustered for 13 hours in the Texas State Senate today to try to stop a vote that passed such stringent restrictions on abortion clinics that it is expected to shut down every abortion clinic in the state, according to CBS News. The measure is now expected to be signed into law.

In her pink tennis shoes, Davis, a teenage mom who then went to Harvard Law School, stood for 13 hours, reading statements from doctors and women who weren’t allowed to testify in the hearings. 

As the CBS News story says, Texas has 26 million people. It’s a very big state. The result of the law, if signed, is that a woman who decides to have an abortion will have to drive hundreds of miles to another state or have an illegal abortion. The law forces clinics to upgrade to ambulatory surgical centers, while clinics that perform such procedures as vasectomies or colonoscopies aren’t held to the same upgrade. Most of the clinics won’t have the money to perform the upgrade and will have to close. Plus, any doctor performing abortions must now have admitting privileges at a hospital no further than 30 miles away. Given how big Texas is, the bill de facto eliminates a number of doctors from being able to perform the procedure. 

What seems to get lost in the conservative wave to overturn Roe V. Wade is that no one is pro-abortion. It’s a last resort. But if someone feels that is her only alternative, then at least make it a safe resort.  And the part that really bothers me is the same lawmakers who are often so vehemently fighting to ban abortion are the same ones who are rushing to cut funding for children in poverty. It’s as if as soon as the child is delivered, they no longer care about its welfare.

I don’t know if there are any exceptions here for rape or incest victims, but I imagine not since this measure has to do with the clinics, not any of the actual circumstances surrounding the reason for the abortion. 

There also seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around Texas, some of it coming from the bill’s sponsor, Jodie Laubenberg, who suggested that a woman could use an emergency room rape kit to end a pregnancy. If you’re going to propose a law, maybe it’s best if you actually have your facts straight about what you’re proposing.

In honor of Davis’s fight, tonight’s $10 goes to Planned Parenthood Action Fund. If you go to the site, it has a great run down on various states’ actions. Plus, PP has coins its own term for a politician who feels he or she is more qualified to make a decision about a women’s body than the woman or her doctor: that politician is a Gynotician. I guess Laubenberg is a Gynotician...and a very ill-informed one at that.

(UPDATE: As I wrote this late Wednesday night, new organizations were reporting that the bill had passed. When I work up on Thursday morning, the news had been updated and changed overnight. The vote came three minutes too late and, therefore, the state bill was killed. It will likely resurface again, but in the meantime, news outlets are reporting that someone initially tampered with the official state documents to make it look like the votes happened before midnight... stay tuned).

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24 June 2013

I studied improvisation at Second City several years ago and, as anyone who has ever taken an improv class knows, the prime rule of improv is “Yes and...”   If your improv partner says, “Things really got weird when the man wearing the tutu and tiara served me Communion yesterday,” your only option is to go with that and build on it. Otherwise, if you say, “That didn’t happen....” or something similar, the scene comes to a dead stop. 

I now think life comes to a dead stop if you don’t say “Yes and...” to the ideas that are presented to you and I have the blog to thank for that.

Part of my journey this year is to say yes more. Though you wouldn’t know if unless you knew me very, very well, I can be a bit of an Eeyore. I’m not gloomy or depressed or have my tail attached by a nail and a bow, but I often think of why something won’t work before I think of all the reasons why it will.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how letting go of that kind of thinking led to my getting a beautiful new (to me) bed for free. Two weeks ago, I let all that go again. My friend Cathy and I were on the phone talking about the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The SHOF takes a number of songwriters each year and salutes them. It’s a private banquet and it is one of the best evenings I have ever attended. When I was at Billboard, the SHOF and MusiCares were my two favorite annual events. Any artist will tell you that he or she wants to be remembered as a songwriter more than as a performer or recording artist because a song lives on forever. It’s always a magical night, with songwriters saluting their own kind all in celebration of song. 

Cathy had written about SHOF’s upcoming induction for Billboard and I had told her that she had to get herself from D.C. to NYC for the ceremony no matter what. So three days in advance, we were talking about her trip and I was making her promise to text me all during the event. I was in North Carolina visiting my dad. It must have hit us at about the same time, but next thing you know, we were figuring out if I could meet her in New York in less than 72 hours and go with her. She emailed the SHOF to see if they had a press place for me (tickets are normally $1000/pop), I started scouring the web for a cheap airfare and texted my neighbor in Los Angeles to see if she could overnight the dress I wanted to wear to me. The old me would have said there was no way it could all work out and we still had to leave some major parts up to good luck and chance, but with a framework in place, by the end of Tuesday, I was set to fly to New York on Thursday morning. 

Of course, that day, storms came through the Northeast and flights were getting canceled and delayed left and right. Somehow, my flight, even with a change on D.C., managed to get in only an hour late. It was supposed to be pouring in New York. It was only overcast, not a drop in sight. I was supposed to be confined to a separate viewing area, I was at a table behind Billy Joel. Ever star that could possibly align did and it was all because I was willing to say yes and go even though there was a great deal of uncertainty around some areas of the trip. 

The evening was, as always, magical. I got to see artists and songwriters whom I adore like Elton John, Steven Tyler, Rob Thomas, and Joel. Seeing Lou Gramm and Mick Jones reunite for the first time in more than a decade to perform Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” with a choir,  hearing Petula Clark sing “Downtown” to the tune’s songwriter/inductee Tony Hatch and watching Alison Krauss breathe angelic life into honoree J.D. Souther’s “Faithless Love” were all supremely wonderful moments. 

This year continues to change me and I’m convinced the blog is leading the way by opening my heart every day. The connection between the blog and my willingness to jump on a plane may not be readily apparent, but it’s there and it’s something I’m tremendously grateful for. 

And I’m thankful for music and songwriters. The SHOF doesn’t take donations online, so, instead, I’m donating to a British organization called The Songwriting Charity.

Through a variety of partners, The Songwriting Charity presents one-day workshops that teach children how to write songs and record them individually and as a group. Guy Fletcher, who has written songs for everybody, including Elvis Presley, the Hollies, Cliff Richard, Ray Charles and many, many more, is the group’s main patron. Who knows? A kid who attends one of their workshops today could be getting inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame a few years from now. 

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23 June 2013

“May we not hold on to the things we want freedom from.” 

That’s a prayer I heard today and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I cling so desperately to the very things that I think I am so eager to discard. 

I guess it’s human nature, but it’s part of mine that I’d like to get rid of. These things are so ingrained in me now that they feel like part of my overall essence and I guess I don’t know what would happen if I let go of them.  I’m being deliberately vague here for two reasons: I’m not brave enough to go into specifics, and I imagine everyone has their own things they’d like to let go of, so I’ll just let you fill in your own here. 

It all comes down to fear, doesn’t it? Fear that if we let go, what happens next could be even scarier. 

In the past, I’ve taken on some challenge that I wasn’t sure I could do and tested myself that way. I got certified for scuba diving; I completed a half marathon. Each time, I tackled something that I would have not thought possible for myself and after completing that, I realized that trying to limit myself in any way was doing myself such a disservice. Maybe it’s time to do something like that again to prove to myself that I can bust through a fear and can, therefore, let go of these other things. Feel free to join me.

Today’s $10 goes to NYC Outward Bound Schools, a network of more than public 300 schools that primarily focuses on underserved communities and utilizes Outward Bound’s model to challenge and prepare kids through adventures and team building. 

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22 June 2013

I just came home from a birthday party where I spent much of the evening talking to Tom Bagamane, founder of The Giving Spirit, a great Los Angeles organization that distributes survival kits twice a year to the homeless. 

We were talking about how relatively easy it is to become homeless in this economy. I’m so fortunate that I have a safety net, but who knows if it’s enough? Tom and I talked about so many people lost their jobs — he told me about a women who used to work at IBM and a sociologist— and they had no back up. They don’t have families they can fall back on or friends or savings.  The only difference between me and them is that I have a roof over my head tonight. 

As I left the party, I asked Tom to pick a charity (I gave to TGS on Jan. 2, so I couldn’t repeat it) and he suggested Downtown Women’s Center. According to its website, DWC was named California’s Nonprofit of the Year.  For 35 years, the DWC has been helping women who fall into homelessness and is the only shelter in Los Angeles (other than ones for domestic violence) that cater solely to women.  

DWC provides permanent supportive housing for women and boasts that 95% of the women it houses have not returned to homelessness. It has 119 units with the usual length of stay averaging seven years. 

DWC is remarkable in the range of services it provides, including a medical and mental health center that offers comprehensive health care for women. It also operates Made By DWC, a cafe and gift shop that trains women in the community with job skills. 

The vast majority of women DWC serves are homeless women who come to the DWC Day Center for a respite, a meal, and a shower. 

There’s a severe need for DWC’s services: in 2011, it served 4,300 women, up 72% from 2010. 

It’s a wonderful place that is making a tremendous difference in keeping women safe, even if it’s only an hour at a time. 

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21 June 2013

Abbey and my mom

Abbey the Wonder Dog came into my life when I needed her the most. It was December 2007. Abbey, an adorable Jack Russell Terrier puppy, came to the residential care community where my parents lived via one of the top nurses. The bosses let her bring Abbey to work each day and everyone—residents, staffers and visitors—fell instantly in love.

My mom had fallen and broken her hip in November and what became horribly and unalterably clear in late December was that she was not going to recover. I remember asking the head of nursing if Mom was dying and—I’ll always be grateful to her for this—she looked at me and quietly said, “Yes.” It was honest and direct and true. There was no timetable. Mom had quit eating two days before and she did not want a feeding tube. The nurses said it could be up to three months but that she wouldn’t be in any pain.

Abbey showed up around then. She was a 10-week old bundle of restless, kinetic energy, who bounded up and down the halls in her brightly colored collars with nothing but determined good will and an all-consuming desire for someone to throw her a ball. 

Two days after the nurse had answered my question, Mom had quit speaking. That morning, the nurses dressed her and put her in a wheel chair. My dad, sister, and I sat with her and two of my friends who had known mom since we were 7 came over. We showed her pictures of me and Jeannie growing up and of her as a little girl. We took turns brushing her hair (when I was little, she would want to play “beauty shop” under the guise of getting us to brush her hair), and I put my ear buds in her ears and played her “Happy Together” by the Turtles on my iPod. It was a song that she and I used to sing to each other when I was little.  Afternoon came and it was clear she was worn out. Abbey came trotting into the room and surveyed the situation. Either Jeannie or I picked up Abbey and brought her around to where mom could see her and we put her on Mom’s lap. Mom smiled and said, “arf.”  It was her last word. She died two days later on Christmas Eve, 2007.

The next day, I needed a quiet place to make a call, so I went into mom’s room in the skilled nursing unit. I was sitting on the floor —I couldn’t bring myself to sit on the bed where she’d died— talking to a friend, gently crying. Abbey, who was too impatient to stay in any one place for more than a few seconds, came in, curled up on my lap and slept for the duration of my 30-minute call while I gently stroked her back. It felt like Mom had sent her to comfort me. She would even come into the guest room where my sister and I were staying and take naps with us. She made the unbearable a little easier to take. 

More than five years later, whenever I go to visit my Dad, who now lives in the same unit where mom was at the end, I ask when Abbey will be there. I usually get to see her at least once a trip by just stumbling upon her. It’s always a happy reunion for both of us, but sometimes she is so fixated on playing fetch that she has no time for me if I don’t have a yellow tennis ball and she seldom stays for long. She is a Very.Busy.Dog with lots and lots to do and a grand sense of purpose. The nursing home has even given her an official name tag with her picture on it.

But on this last trip last week, something happened that had never occurred before. As I turned the corner to get to my dad’s room, which is at the end of a long hall, a blinding white flash came charging from the other end up to me. It was Abbey. She greeted me at my father’s door without my calling her. I had no idea she was going to be there that day. I crouched down beside her, she jumped up on her hind legs, wrapped her front paws around my wrist of my right hand as I rubbed her ears and she slurped my face continuously. I was giggling and she was wagging her tail and my father was smiling broadly, taking it all in. If she could have spoken, she would have delightedly screamed, “You’re HERE! No one told me you were coming today!!!!”  She didn’t want me to throw her the ball, she didn’t want a dog biscuit (both of those came later), she just wanted to let me know she loved me. 

The connection between Abbey and me is unbreakable, but something really special happened this time and I’ve thought a lot about that greeting since I got back home. She smelled me or saw me and instantly knew someone who loved her and she loved was here and that was cause for great celebration...and a very fast sprint down the hall. I’ve long felt that my mom’s spirit inhabits Abbey in some way. Her greeting this time felt like Mom reaching out to me to remind me that even though I can’t see her or brush her hair, she is always with me, even if she now is white and brown with a stubby tail. 

In addition to Abbey, there are other fine, four-legged creatures who often visit my dad’s nursing home. There’s even a miniature pony who comes by. Residents respond to the pet therapy in a beautiful way that helps physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Today’s $10 goes to Therapy Dogs International, a New Jersey-based company that takes dogs to nursing homes, has disaster stress relief dogs and even has a program where children read to dogs called Tail Waggin’ Tutors (it’s almost too cute, isn’t it?).

June 21: Therapy Dogs International 

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20 June 2013

I don’t have air conditioning. I know that is a stunning admission to make, but I live in Los Angeles and there are probably only two weeks out of the year where it’s so hot that even with my fan, I feel like wilted lettuce. Otherwise, I’m fine. 

But it’s not fine if you live in a place like Austin, Texas, where it gets really hot and humid during the summer. And it’s really not OK if you’re elderly and you don’t even have a fan to help you and your pets through the high temperatures. 

June 21 is Fan Fare Friday at KGSR, the great local radio station. All day Friday,  KGSR and other outlets are participating in the Family Eldercare’s Summer Fan Drive. People can drop off fans they no longer need or donate money toward the purchase of fans for the elderly. A $30 donation buys two fans. 

The Summer Fan Drive began in 1990 and in its first year raised enough to buy 50 fans. Last year’s event brought in enough money to provide more than 5, 250 fans. This year, the program will distribute its 75,000th fan. 

People can drop off money or fans at Threadgills and the festivities start at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast and go to midnight with a concert featuring Will and Charlie Sexton. 

If, like me, you’re not in Austin, you can still donate online. Summer’s coming, in fact it starts on June 21. Help keep some senior cool this summer. 

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19 June 2013

Today, my colleague Chet Flippo died. Chet and I worked together at Billboard for five years. He was in Nashville, I was in New York and then Los Angeles. 

Though Chet didn’t come to Billboard until 1995, I, of course, already knew who he was. I’d grown up reading his stories in Rolling Stone. One of the first things I did after he started at Billboard was buy his book, “On the Road With the Rolling Stones: 20 Years of Lipstick, Handcuffs, and Chemicals.” It was hard to reconcile this genteel southerner that I met with someone who had gone on the road with rock’s bad boys. 

What I remember most about Chet, in addition to his writing talent, was his humility. He’d regal you with stories if you asked, mainly because it would be impolite to refuse, but otherwise, he was happier fading into the background and watching the proceedings rather than being part of the show. That’s part of what made him such a good reporter. Even when he injected himself into a story, he never made the focus about him. 

Chet had a sly sense of humor that generally showed itself in quiet moments. Everyone else would have had their say and he’d finish the conversation with a summary comment that would have you laughing and shaking your head because you hadn’t thought of it first. 

Chet was a champion of great music. He didn’t care how many copies a record sold, he only cared about the quality of the music. 

After leaving Billboard in 2000, he went briefly to Sonicnet and then to CMT and CMT.com, where he was at the time of his death. I would see him every now and then on my trips to Nashville and we were Facebook friends, but we weren’t in close contact, simply because Chet was very private. When Billboard asked me to write his obituary today, I told my editor that I wasn’t sure that I was the best person to do so:  I respected him and had enjoyed working with him, but was sure there were people that knew him better. Then throughout the day, friend after friend posted tributes to Chet, but they almost all said that they hadn’t been that close to him. He was never aloof —just the opposite— he just separated his work life from his personal life.

His personal life was dealt the ultimate blow in December when his wife of more than 30 years died. I never met Martha, but people talked about how she was the yin to his yang. She talked, he absorbed, and they loved each other fiercely. 

So today as word spread of Chet’s death, I wasn’t the only one who thought that maybe he was just ready to rejoin Martha. That’s a romantic notion that Chet might laugh at, but it just might be true. 

In a CMT.com piece on Chet, his friend Kinky Friedman commented, quoting Larry King, that God “had bugled Chet home.” I love the image of that. If anyone deserved music to accompany him on his journey, it would be Chet. 

Chet Flippo died  at 3 a.m. this morning at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville. Today’s $10 goes to St. Thomas’s Baptist Hospital Foundation, which helps patients in need. 

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170 down, 195 to go

18 June 2013

Today the House of Representatives passed legislation that would  prohibit abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. There are a few exceptions in the bill,  including when it would save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest AS LONG AS THEY HAD BEEN REPORTED TO POLICE.

I don’t know why the Representatives who voted for the bill hate women so much—and I’m sure they wouldn’t admit that they do, especially since some women voted for the bill —but it gets so tiring seeing the same Congressmen and women hold up the sanctity of life in an unborn, but see them think nothing of fighting against every gun control bill that would save lives or voting for every law that hurts a child once it is born. Additionally, they seem to want government out of big business and our lives, except for when it comes to a woman’s uterus. 

With this bill, there is no provision to terminate a pregnancy for a fetus that may have horrific birth defects and many times these aren’t discovered until the 20th week. Some women aren’t even aware they’re pregnant until then. 

As far as the provision about rape and incest being reported to police, that is just cruel. So a 13-year girl, who has been raped by her father, and who has been too scared to tell anyone, now will have to carry that child to term because some men have decided that if she didn’t report it to police, it didn’t really happen. In fact, some of these men have convinced themselves that a woman doesn’t get pregnant if she’s raped, so, therefore, if she’s pregnant, well then, ipso facto, the sex was consensual. 

When I started this blog, I vowed not to get political, but on days like this, I can’t help it. Notice I’m not calling out one party or the other and I’m not naming names so that’s how I’m semi-keeping with my rule. 

Luckily, the Senate won’t pass the bill so it won’t become law, but women’s rights are being chipped away at nearly daily, so this isn’t a fight that’s ending any time soon. 

Today’s $10 goes to NARAL Pro-Choice America.  Remember, pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion; it simply means that a woman has the right to decide what happens with her own body and that the decision should be left up to a woman and her doctor, not legislators. 

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17 June 2013

For the longest time, I would confuse the words “prostate” and “prostrate.”  I think I finally got it straight when I read Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” and there’s a line about “being prostrate.” I still have to think about which one to use sometimes when I’m going for prostrate, but never the other way around... for whatever that’s worth.

Anyway, the last three days’ posts have been about fathers, so it only seemed fitting that when I was in the grocery store today and the clerk asked if I wanted to make a donation to fight prostate cancer, I said yes and keep my male-oriented streak going. 

Like most of us, I have a horrible fear of getting the Big C and I’ve often darkly joked that the only cancer I don’t have to worry about  getting is prostate cancer (and testicular cancer. That’s two!!).  But that doesn’t mean I take it lightly.  Prostate cancer is to men what breast cancer is to women, or so it seems to me. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, prostate cancer affects 1 in 6 men and a man who does not smoke is 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a women is to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Statistically, that means I should know a lot more men who have it, but I only have one friend 60 or under that I know has been affected, whereas I seem to have had a lot more female friends under 60 have breast cancer... 

Luckily, my friend has finished treatment and seems to be on the other side. The good news is that the cure rate for prostate cancer is nearly 100% if it’s caught in the early stages. 

The Prostate Cancer Foundation has raised more than $530 million in the past 20 years for research and has contributed to more than 1,600 research projects at 200 institutions around the world, according to its website. 

Prostate Cancer sounds so close to being a cancer that is totally beatable. Today, I want to do my part. 

At the grocery store, my $10 went to the Safeway Foundation, which will funnel the money to a prostate cancer charity. Since I’m not sure what that will be, I picked PCF to recommend today. 

June 17: Prostate Cancer Foundation

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16 June 2013

When I was small, my father used to tell me a fantastical story about a little boy who grew up very, very far away in China and whose life was full of magical adventures.

It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 that I learned that little boy was my dad and, as the years unfolded, so did his story. 

My German grandfather, Maurice,  was the Far East head of a Swiss textile company in the ‘20s and ‘30s. He and his bride, Alice, lived in Shanghai with their cook, maid, valet and chauffeur (it was a pretty luxe life for expatriates back then). Then my father, Walter Rudolf Newman, came along. He grew up speaking German (which he still speaks beautifully), Mandarin, and English, and was educated at the American School. 

Life sounded idyllic and even the frightening times were marked with a boyhood sense of adventure: one day, he and a friend were playing in a creek when he was 11, they were close enough to the fighting between the Chinese and Japanese that Dad was hit with a errant piece of  shrapnel in his knee. My father remembers riding his bike home with his leg bleeding, terrifying my grandmother. For years, my father could tell if it was going to rain based on how his knee felt. 

From a young age, my father frequently traveled throughout Asia and Europe with his father, usually by ship or by train. One time, he was sleeping on a pull-out bed when he was two that somehow folded back up on the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Siberia and no one could find little Rudi, who snoozed away in the flipped-up bed while my parents and train personnel frantically searched for him. 

Every two years or so, the family, which soon included my dad’s younger brother, Fred, would return to Wurzburg, Germany, where my grandparents had grown up and kept a home. 

Everything changed after the Sino-Japanese War started.  Shortly after the shrapnel incident, my grandparents felt my father should receive a proper education and sent him to boarding school in Saffron Walden, England (he left a month before a huge, devastating blitz destroyed much of the Bund, the main business district). No one could have foreseen what happened next.  Hitler came into power and because my grandmother had Jewish blood, my grandparents remained in Shanghai throughout World War II. If they had attempted to return home, she would have been thrown into a concentration camp. 

My father couldn’t get back to China and stayed in England, first attending a Quaker boarding school and then London Polytechnic for college. He didn’t see or talk to his parents from the time he was 11 until he was 22. They communicated solely through monthly letters delivered by the Red Cross. He had a foster family— a lovely farming family who raised hogs— that he spent school vacations and summers with until he turned 18. His legal guardian was the British head of the same Swiss textile company for whom my grandfather worked, a man named Mr. Wagner, whom my father regarded as a second father. My father cried more when Mr. Wagner died than when his biological father passed.

During the war, my father joined the Civil Defense and then the Royal Air Force and drove war-wounded soldiers coming back from the front from Folkstone to hospitals in London. He also was a bike messenger for the military and fell in a crater from a bombing and was in a coma for a time.

For my dad, it was all one big adventure. In photos from that time, he was quite dashing, he looked like a young Gregory Peck.  He remembers it as a grand old time. He sang in the opera, he posed nude for college art classes, he modeled,  he and his American cousin met Glenn Miller at the USO (shortly before Miller’s plane went down). With a twinkle in his eye,  he’d tell me that he and his best friend from college, Mike, had more than their pick of the ladies. Yes, it was wartime and there were blackouts and air raids, but somehow, my father made it all sound terribly romantic. 

It wasn’t until much later that I realized it wasn’t as grand for my grandparents, though it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. They could have been thrown into an internment camp, but the Swiss consulate sent a letter to the Japanese consulate vouching for my grandfather, and asked that he and his family be given special consideration. He, my grandmother, and uncle were under house arrest at the height of the Japanese occupation of China. Dad doesn’t seem to know much about their time then because his parents probably didn't want to burden him (and also their letters would likely have been censored) and my uncle doesn’t like to discuss it. My grandparents eventually surrendered their German citizenship and received what were called Nansen passports, issued to stateless refugees.

In 1947, my father got notice that he was No. 99 on a list of 100 Non-Chinese Chinese who could come to America. On very short notice, he left London and came to the East Coast, while my grandparents and uncle came to the United States from Shanghai. In 1948, they reunited in Los Angeles, where my grandparents lived until they died in the ‘70s and where my uncle still lives. 

My father moved to Atlanta, where he met my mom, and they eventually settled in Raleigh, where I grew up and where he still lives. 

As I grew older, I learned more and more of the story and I still frequently ask my father for details, trying to glean anything I may have missed. A few years ago while looking through some old photos, we found a map of Shanghai from 1938. My father was able to immediately identify where his family had lived, where he had gone to school and where my grandfather’s office was in the Bund. It’s all the stuff of movies; his own version of “Empire of the Sun.” 

I’m writing this on the plane from Raleigh to Los Angeles. I got to spend Father’s Day with my dad today for the first time in years. We went to a restaurant with noodles. My father has loved noodles since he grew up in China. My father has trouble walking now. He primarily uses a motorized scooter, but he’s been working hard with the physical therapists and nurses at the assisted living facility where he lives to be able to use a walker for very short distances. Today, he did a great job at the restaurant and the exhilaration he seemed to feel in getting out seemed to outweigh the exhaustion and supreme effort it took. 

Though today was a day for me and my sister to give him gifts, it felt like he gave us a really big gift today. I love you, daddy. Happy Father’s Day.

in honor of my dad, who loves public television (and especially all the British programming), today’s $10 goes to UNC-TV.

June 16: UNC-TV

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