Just Occurred…Why a $100.00 Bill is the New $20.00

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Whenever I want a reality check on my real age, I reflect on the stories my parents told us about what a nickel would purchase when they were children.  Of course, it seemed absolutely ancient to us, a loaf of bread for a nickel?  A gallon of gas for 15 cents?  Ten tootsie rolls for a penny?  Unthinkable!  Today, I reflected on finding a quarter under the floorboards of the unfinished space outside of our bedrooms, where our clothes hung on two long poles, before my parents remodeled the ‘upstairs’, built closets, and covered the floor with tile and carpeting.

I remember reaching under the floorboard, scrambling through old coloring books, doll parts, jacks, marbles and, then..a coin. Was it a nickel?  No, it was a quarter!  That quarter purchased a bag of huge, round, shiny malted milk balls from the neighborhood Woolworth candy counter.  Woolworth and Kresge (later Jupiter) were only a block from our home. My parents permitted me to walk there all alone, or with one of my siblings, anytime I felt like it.  I remember one day after finding that first quarter, I was home alone searching for another, not really expecting to find anything.  It was a sunny, summer afternoon and my siblings were outside playing like most kids in the neighborhood.  I recall sun glistening through the window and dust particles dancing in the trail of sunlight.  Every time I scooped another handful of trash, another quarter, or two, appeared.  I couldn’t believe it…the more I scooped trash, the more quarters I discovered.  By the time I had reached as far under the floor as my short little arm would stretch, I had accumulated $4.50!

The first person I told was my sister Claudia.  We decided to go to Woolworth where I purchased a bag of malted milk balls, a new book of Cutout Dolls-with seven days worth of outfits (my favorite amusement), the most beautiful outfit for my doll complete with red shiny shoes and purse, and a pair of matching high heel shoes for me and Claudia.  I was rich and as happy as a little girl from Joy Road and Grand River could be!  Christmas in July!

I remember trying to figure out where all of those quarters could have come from.  Were they stashed by the former owners of the house?  If they were, then it was after the house was moved from its original site on Joy Road.  We learned from Mr. Johnson, our neighbor from across the street (the builder of most of the houses on our block), that our house consisted of only a living, dining and bathroom when it was moved from Joy Road.  After it was moved, the kitchen, downstairs bedroom and upstairs bedrooms were added.  So, maybe my quarters were stashed in the floorboards on purpose.  Or, maybe they were lost over time, after we had moved in, gifts accumulated and lost from our grandfather who made a point to leave one with each of us whenever he came, ‘downtown’, to Detroit from Inkster.

I realize now how ancient this story must sound to my nephews and nieces – as ancient as my parents’ recollections sounded to us.  When it is time for their birthdays or graduations, I understand how they feel getting a twenty-dollar bill instead of a hundred.  Though, when you consider all of the young people who have birthdays in a month or in a year, doesn’t take much calculating to see how a hundred dollars per occasion wrecks a budget really fast.  But, what can a young person do with a twenty-dollar bill these days?  Maybe catch a matinee?  Surely won’t purchase a new Polo shirt they are so fond of.  Or, a pair of Mauri shoes that are all the rave – not even a hundred dollars will purchase the pair of Mauris.

Recently, I have begun to dip into my savings for monthly expenses, something I have not done in over fifteen years.  When I think about it, this current state of financial affairs is a culmination of several factors.  Ever escalating gas prices have surely begun to take their toll on my budget.  The exorbitant food prices and insurance rates for inner-city Detroiters, like me, are just outrageous.  Then, add to this deteriorating mix the fact that I have not had an income increase in over seven years.  Yep, It Just Occurred to me that inflation has finally overtaken my budget and its way past the time for me to readjust my thinking, my planning, my earnings and my spending.

Just Occured…Why the Race of Detroit’s Next Mayor is a Non-Issue

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The current buzz in local newspapers and commentaries, begun by Nolan Findley, Detroit News Editorial Page Editor, poses the question, “Is Detroit ready for a white mayor?”  Talking heads have come out of the woodwork to air their opinions about a question that I do not think has legitimate place in our discourse.  Oh, I understand why the question arose.  My mother, a grass roots political activist, was certain that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would be Detroit’s last African American mayor.  I was not convinced, and when Mayor Bing was elected it closed the debate for me and since then, I never gave it anymore thought.

In the past few months, the political upheaval in Wayne County and Detroit that began with the McNamera and Kilpatrick administrations, has snowballed where more and more employees with any authority over fiscal matters whether they be contracts, real estate, taxes or employment, seem to have personally benefited from their authority. Not only that, but from all accounts, the perpetrators do not sport any specific demographic profile.  For instance, the former Wayne County Executive (1987 – 2002), Edward McNamara, was Caucasian, yet from the 1990s until his death, there were whispers of backroom deals, no-bid contracts and exorbitant travel junkets under his watch.  His successor, Robert Ficano, has been accused of disbursing in excess of $1.1 million dollars to his political appointees, yet he in non-African American and the recipients are a diverse group.  Same thing with the city of Detroit’s scandal-laden administrations, especially under Mayor Kilpatrick.  All ethnicities, all departments, all types of kick-backs, nepotism and unearned gain are attached to that political era.

So, what is the point of the question, again?  Is it because Mayor Coleman A. Young, Detroit’s first African American mayor was elected under the glare of racial unrest, racial discrimination and racial segregation?  Is it because Mayor Young ushered in his era of political rule with stories of his wish to urinate on Alabama when he flew over the state as a Tuskegee Airman?  Or, his declaration for all racists to hit 8 mile road.  Or, his nationally renown derision of President Ronald Regan as ‘old prune-face’?  Is it because the majority of Detroit’s voters are African American and someone has decided that given a choice of two candidates of different races, African Americans will only vote for an African American?  Or, is it because the majority of all African American voters voted for the African American, Barack Obama, for president?

It Just Occurred to me, that the question was not posed because anyone actually believed that Detroiters would use race as the determining factor in their choice for mayor in 2014.  Nope, Nolan Findley posed the question as a cost effective market survey to test the public’s opinion regarding a particular candidate with a not so secret desire to be Detroit’s next mayor.  With this person as the only Caucasian interested in becoming Detroit’s mayoral candidate, the discourse has now turned from is Detroit ready for a white mayor, to how does this particular Caucasian candidate stack up against a growing list of non-white possible candidates.  Currently, where an entire political regime seems to be either incarcerated, facing indictments or suddenly falling dead from the stress of it all, Detroiters will likely prefer a brand new group of candidates to consider.  Candidates with few, if any, ties to the past or present inept players in Detroit political games.

Just Occurred…Why Sagging is So Sad

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I remember when I first saw young men with denim jeans that appeared to be two-three sizes too large.  Immediately I thought of Fat Albert and the Gang because when I first saw those cartoon characters I had the same disturbing gut reaction as when I saw the sagging jeans.  When I saw the Fat Albert kids, I wondered what in the world possessed the creators to dress the young inner-city characters so sloppily?  I mean, why were all of the garments over sized?   I think I decided that they were dressed that way because they had to keep their clothes for so long before they were replaced, that they had to be large enough to grow into.

But, clearly, lack of funds is not the reason for the popularity of the over sized denims worn throughout inner city communities for over ten years, now.  Many of the young people have more money to spend on their wardrobes than most of us born before 1965 could ever imagine.  In fact, they  often match these huge pants with $400 shoes, $200, and diamond earrings as large as your earlobes.  So ,what would possess someone with an apparent fashion sense that results in a single, everyday, casual outfit costing upwards of $1,000, to compliment that outfit with huge, sagging pants that drag the ground, and hide much of the $400 shoes while revealing so much of their underwear that law enforcement would have deemed them indecent just 20 years ago?

For years, while this fashion trend disturbed me on so many levels, I refrained from criticizing because my teenage years were spent rebelling against the status quo by being one of the first in my circle to wear an Afro hairstyle, large hip-huger, elephant-leg pants and stomach revealing mid-drift blouses.  Wow, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t the best dressed young lady in the neighborhood.   Yet, my parents, my friends’ parents, my teachers and practically all other adults, despised my fashion sense and tried with all of their might to restrict when and where I could wear my favorite outfits.  They never got use to the Afro, even after it became a nationally accepted hairstyle.  I swore that when I became an adult I would not attempt to influence the personal style choices of the youth in my circle.  Yet, as the sagging became more and more extreme, with either no belt or with the underwear becoming as much a part of the ‘look’ as the jeans, I realized that I didn’t only think that the fashion is ugly, I think it is asinine.

As a child of the sixties, I lived through the civil rights movement when black males were the target of racists wearing different uniforms, especially law enforcement uniforms.  As such, we didn’t believe in calling the police on a black man; we would be more inclined to handle the situation ourselves.  And we encouraged black males to run from the police as fast as their strong, muscular, legs could carry them.  When I first saw a guy wearing a sagging pair of jeans with the belt tight around his thighs, he resembled a lassoed calf – a self-lassoed calf!  Why, I wondered, would anyone want to willingly stymie his own movements?  More recently I’ve noticed that those young men who remain in a time warp and continue to sag (even while their hip hop rapping role models have moved on to Brooks Brothers), have removed the belt, but now use one of their two hands to hold up the pants at the crouch.

Again, I ask myself, why would someone not only stymie their own movements, but occupy one of their only two hands with holding up a piece of clothing that has for over two centuries been secured with accessories created for the very purpose of freeing the hands for far more important activities?  So, let me get this right – inner-city youth, especially if they are trying to make a statement regarding their toughness, choose, on their own volition, to function with both of their legs and one of their hands restricted at all times.  And, they have no concept that this might just be the absolute worst use of their hands and legs – especially if tough is what they are after.

It Just Occurred to me that these young folk have become psychologically influenced to believe that they must, at all times, remain restricted.  That they must never be allowed to move, at will, from point A to point B.  That they must never have total use of their limbs to deconstruct their decaying  environment; to rebuild new communities; to create beauty in the midst of chaos; to invent tools and technology to help them soar beyond their wildest dreams, and to assist, with both hands and feet, all of the broken, weak, and disabled among them.

Just Occurred…Evolution is a Misnomer

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When I first moved to a condo on the Detroit river eight months ago, I was so excited about being able to take my pug, Bernie Mac, to the park directly behind the building.  It wasn’t long before I realized that while the building permits pets under twenty-five pounds, they are not very accommodating.  The rules state that the pet’s feet can never touch the building’s grounds.  Bernie is so humorous to me in so many ways and sometimes I think he knows it. Not long after moving to our present home,  I realized that his ability to make me laugh until tears roll down my cheeks, is a primary reason I can leave my comfortable abode, pile on layers and layers of clothing on cold winter mornings, or even colder winter evenings, stuff him into his carrier, and out to the street without complaint.

Twice each day, I lift Bernie (who has ballooned to 34 pounds) into his carrier and wheel him to a freight elevator, out of the building and to the back gate.  I lift him again to get him beyond the locked gate to the street behind the property.  By the time we get out, Bernie is so thrilled to be free of those constraints where he can run free to urinate wherever he chooses.  I can appreciate that since I can’t remember the last time I had to wait on someone else before I could relieve myself.  Once outside, we have a regular routine where he runs to the end of the leash, marks a few places and waits for me to ask, “Want to go to the Park?”

When we first moved here, we thought the beautiful park behind our building belonged to us.  I could let Bernie off his leash to run and explore the 10+ acres until he was out of breath.  I would run through the grass after him and watch as he lapped from the icy cold river.  But it wasn’t long before we realized that others knew of this lovely little not so secret haven and not only brought their dogs, but allowed them to use it with no sensibility of keeping it clean.  Once I witnessed a man with four dogs (one a Great Dane) using the park as their personal toilet without cleaning up after them and realized Bernie and I would have to make some adjustments. I’m glad Bernie doesn’t know that we are already in a park when I ask him that question, now.  Because if he knew, I would have to come up with a qualifier, like, park number two or, park at the other end of the block, or, park with the winding asphalt paths, or park with the children playing on the brightly painted swings, or, park where the fishermen gather, or park where the rabbits live under the low hanging fir bushes, etc.

Instead, he just makes his way from the park behind our condo down the hill into the street where we march, him out front, to the park at the opposite end of the block.  We joyously make our way past some of Detroit’s prime real estate; huge mansions with pillars and winding front driveways.  Some of the houses still host descendents of the richest, most powerful, industrialists of the Midwest.   Bernie wobbles with his head up high as if he belongs nowhere except here at this precise moment in time.  As we make our way, he marks the light posts that I permit ensuring that he never violates our neighbors’ beautiful old landscapes.  I normally walk behind Bernie because he can’t seem to get it through his head the proper order of things, even after graduating doggie kindergarten.

It Just Occurred to me that on this particular morning as I observed him walking to the park with his cute little wobble, totally oblivious to anything except the joy of being, I realized that humans lost something vital when we ‘evolved’ from instinctual creatures to the thinking (worrying), creative (destructive), independent (codependent) beings we have become.   I can walk Bernie before the sun rises or after it sets and he has absolutely no concept that we are walking down the streets of the nation’s most dangerous city.  Or, that the body of little Bianca Lily Jones – missing since her dad said she was abducted during a car-jacking, may be hidden among the crags along the Detroit river.  Or, that the perpetrators of any number of crimes that occurred the night before may be sitting in a car looking at the starlit sky above the river.   I, on the other hand, while not one to walk in fear either, am ever vigilant and aware of my surroundings and the creepy possibilities wrought by members of my evolved species.

When we approach the park, I hear the rabbits scurrying beneath the bushes, signaling to me, along with the robins playing feverish love games alongside black squirrels with red fluffy tails earnestly plumping their nests, that spring is neigh.  As we make our way along the winding, lushly landscaped path, we witness a majestic pheasant dragging a long tail feather behind, slowly making its way beyond the fence lining the park on the right.  When we turn parallel to the river, we notice a beautiful, sable-colored ball of fur with a long slender tail, intently chewing on something in the grass.  Bernie sees the ball of fur before me because I am enthralled by the seagulls who appear to float on air, all wings with tiny bodies and even tinier brains.  What must that be like, I marvel, to linger on the wind, mid air, to turn on a whim, with such beauty and grace toward any destination of their choice?  Gliding to Canada for a few hours, or the top of the bridge for a better view, along the rails of the doc, or on a park bench?  When Bernie stops in his tracks to observe the ball of fur, I notice it too initially thinking, “Wow, that color is beautiful, how many would it take to make a coat?”  I know, that is barbaric, but it is true.

Just Occurred…Mom Was the First to Call Me Contrary

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My earliest memories of my mother scolding me contain the words (nicely phrased here), “…with your contrary self.”  However, mom pronounced contrary so I thought she was saying I was stubborn instead of meaning I went against the opinions and wishes of my siblings.  In fact, she pronounced it with a pause, “cun-trarie”.  I think I was in my thirties before I realized what she meant.   This came to mind recently when the subject of a Consent Agreement and possible financial manager for Detroit came up in a conversation.  I have followed the threat from Governor Snyder for a few years and especially, Mayor Dave Bing’s series of responses.  From the moment I heard of the idea, I wasn’t alarmed, disturbed or even remotely bothered by the possibility of the Governor disenfranchising the voters of Detroit by removing the elected government and replacing it with hand-picked administrators of his choosing.

OK, this seems pretty crazy at first glance.  Yet, when you have been in a city as long as I have, and watched from a front row seat the machinations of the political machine here, you may understand my position.  My grandmother and mother were both in love with the political process and were grassroots community organizers for the political party and political candidates of their choice.  Mom was at our school so much that many thought she was a substitute teacher.  My grandmother and mother held meetings with neighborhood residents who knew and respected them and hosted political campaign cookouts and parties.  One of my earliest memories was helping decorate my grandmother’s backyard for Congressman John Conyers’ (currently the longest reigning African American Congressman) very first neighborhood campaign event on Mackinaw street in Detroit.  On the day she passed away, my grandmother’s suitcase was packed for President Carter’s Inaugural celebration like the one she had attended for President Lyndon B. Johnson a few years before.  My mom followed in her footsteps and, like her, became the precinct delegate for her district.

My mom was an outspoken supporter of Mayor Coleman Young, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Senator Stabenaw, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, Congessman Conyers, City Clerk Jackie Currie and a host of other local, state and national politicians.  We, her children, were mom’s unpaid campaign team.   Well, actually they did pay us  – with a firsthand educational experience that few in our circle could profess.  We stuffed envelopes, walked the neighborhood, up and down stairs, posting campaign materials, working the polls each election day hawking our candidates, distributing lawn signs, you name it. Nothing was too much for our candidate of choice. And, for the most part, mom received a level of respect and heightened response times from city hall, as well as local police and fire personnel.  During her last ten years, she had front row seats at the most exclusive political events and was treated like royalty.  This meant a lot to mom, especially when her candidates took care of business and brought services, jobs and construction to Detroit.

Mom would not have appreciated Snyder or the idea of a Consent Agreement.  She marched along with Dr. Martin Luther King when he visited Detroit to protect our rights as citizens, with our voting rights at the top of the list.  It Just Occurred to me that I am not the least bit disturbed by the governor’s threat of usurping the power of our current elected local government because I have watched what I suspect has been a compromised voting process in Detroit for many years.  In politics, winners are ‘selected’, not elected, by the political machine with the most money and power.  From the thousands of absentee ballots that go uncounted and unaccounted for, to the coercive tactics requiring the purchase of campaign event tickets, I do not understand how we decide where to draw the line.

It also Just Occurred, that if I could see why Detroit needs a nine-member council, with all the usual perks and a Mayor with an executive staff that should be unnecessary as long as we pay for department directors, I might care if this system was eliminated.  I do have compassion for the families who will lose some, if not all, of their income if the size of city government is reduced as the result of a Consent Agreement.  But, I expect the actual elected officials will have a cushioned job waiting at one of the many corporations that have benefited most from their position on the council or from their connection to the mayor, the minute they are kicked off the public payroll.

Just Occurred…Bullying Is Not Confined to Grade School: Part 2

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The more research I read about bullying and what many speculate is the reason for it, the more I realize we do not always make the distinction between authorized power and bullying.  Seems to me, authorized power, based on the common good, has measurable results – results that those who authorized the power can see and feel.   According to current research, bullying as opposed to authorized power, is a common occurrence in practically all areas of life, especially in the workplace and within our most intimate relationships.  In the workplace, bullying is most common when the workplace culture supports or even encourages the practice.  For instance, I have lived in Detroit, Michigan all of my fifty plus years.  I have witnessed, firsthand, how superiors ignore bullying in a municipal office setting and subordinates accept it as a part of the training process for promotion.  When reflecting on the highest office in municipal government – that of mayor, it becomes obvious when the mayor is wielding authorized power that furthers the good of the citizenry and when misuse of authorized power results in self-serving bullying.  The proof is measurable and always in the results, not the promises.

Within personal relationships, bullying seems to have increased and escalated.  For as long as adults have shared the same living space, we have seen authorized power deteriorate, over time, into bullying.  Whether the dynamic involved opposite sexes, or the same, familial relationships, marital or friendships, one of the few constants regarding bullying within intimate relationships is that it continues as long as it remains unchecked.  Huuummm, maybe, bullying is so ingrained in our DNA that whenever it is checked, it finds a new outlet.

It Just Occurred to me that maybe new laws that hold bullies accountable and forces the more violent among them to get psychological help and those in the workplace to cease and desist – have also resulted in new manifestations of bullying:  what if the increase in random acts of violence, especially against women, children and seniors, is such a manifestation?

Solutions to bullying are elusive.  Yet, I think that by recognizing that power and authority may not always be synonymous and authorized power may have a place in any authority figure’s toolbox,  we may, as a culture better identify who the real bullies are and how, collectively, we neither benefit from, nor have a reason to live in fear of, bullies.

Wikipedia: In computer programming, ?: is a ternary operator that is part of the syntax for a basic conditional expression in several programming languages.

Just Occurred…Bullying Is Not Confined to Grade School: Part 1..

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One of the benefits of the information age, where we can transmit current events, sometimes instantaneously, is the suggestion of enhanced inner connectedness with one another.   The increase in reported bullying among school age youth throughout America from the more affluent suburban school districts, to the more distressed, struggling classrooms, seems to have exploded in the last ten years.  Yet, we all know that bullying is not new.

Have you ever seen the 1955 movie, Blackboard Jungle, starring Glen Ford, Ann Francis and a very young, Sidney Portier?   Blackboard Jungle depicts unrestrained, classic, bullying so insidious that it permeated not just the inner-city classroom, but encroached, dangerously into the personal lives of the staff, as well.  Over fifty-five years ago when the movie hit the theaters, the focus was not so much on bullying.  No, instead, Blackboard Jungle was made to make an alarming social statement about the risks America faced if the public school desegregation mandate of 1954 failed.

We all know that bullying preceded the movie and continues, even today, among every demographic .  Yet, not until the Internet and twenty-four hour news programming transmitted, in real time, violent massacres such as the Columbine High incident and suicides, resulting from incessant bullying, did the subject become of interest to healthcare professionals, law enforcement and all three branches of government.  Google “Bullying” and government Web sites are among the results.  And while bullying in and of itself is certainly a standalone subject, it Just Occurred to me that bullying like all of the most dangerous things in which children engage, is emulated adult behavior.

As I reflect on both my personal and professional experiences, it seems that every aspect of ‘growing up’, and I use that term loosely, has been fueled by power struggles cloaked in everything, but power struggles.  For example, one of my earliest memories was the fear of death my parents held over my siblings and me and the many, many ways we studied and manipulated them to get our own way, in spite of the fear.

Do not think for one moment that our parents were any different from all parents that we knew growing up; especially among the two parent families.  With six of us (for the most part all pretty intelligent and quite creative), we connived and finagled our way around every rule that that hard-working, socially conscious, financially strapped couple set in place to control us.  Were our parents our first bullies?  I think so, or, at the very least, they were the first people who exerted their authority with coercion – authorized coercion.  I understand that instituting barriers and rules is a far cry from the classic definition of bullying, but psychologically and egotistically, bullying may be, merely, the exaggerated, unauthorized, expression of parenting.

Consider that children are forced, beyond their personal will, under the authorized coercion of their parents and teachers (and government though most children have no concept of that) to attend school and perform precisely as they are told – no objections permitted.  Depending on the school , some children will encounter their first peer-to-peer bully as early as kindergarten – you know, the child who for any number of reasons, decides they will begin the school year by establishing a pecking order with him or her as flock leader.  And, unless the adult in charge is very perceptive, these pint-sized bully starter-kits have learned enough in their home environments to understand the true pecking order and avoid detection.

High school is too often the breeding ground for more organized bullying.  This is a time when hormones (which I personally believe need FAR more research as they relate to our motivations, actions and reactions) are raging and unique personality traits become more ingrained and pronounced.  In addition, the number of television programs, movies and violent video games that are accepted parts of America’s entertainment culture, have imprinted thousands and thousands of examples of how and why power is integral to success.  By puberty, the kindergarten bully, left unchecked, may very well escalate power struggles among peers, teachers and parents.  Or the timid child decides that they have had enough subjugation and begins to exert personal power of his or her own.

College is not much better.  As my siblings and I learned in early childhood, cerebral oftentimes proves more powerful than physical.  If the bully or bullied makes it past high school, then college is the place to hone the art of war and begin to demonstrate a truly competitive edge over the less ambitious.  Fraternity/Sorority hazing, academic and graduate school placement competitions are all fertile ground for establishing order.

Once we enter the workforce, the adage, dog-eat-dog, begins to make practical sense.  Power, greed and employing teams to support bullying and establish control is the elephant in every boardroom, corner office and corporate cafeteria.  If the work setting is a government office, then the art of politics supersedes the art of war.  The result, though, is the same; to establish power, leadership and control regardless of how small the target or how insignificant the perceived gain.

Part 2 Coming Soon.