Searched at the Airport But This Is Not About Me

Charles Belk arrestI hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t. But something beeped.

“Which are your belongings?” I was asked. “I need to bring you over here. Please bring them with you. You were a random selection, that’s all.”

I followed the young, blue-shirted woman to a station behind the airport security line where she patted me down — not quite thoroughly, it turned out.

“Please put your hands out in front of you.”   As I obliged, she ran a damp pad over each palm – up and back, up and back and then ran the pad through a machine that beeped again, producing a bright red bar on the monitor.

“Oh” she said. “I have to get someone to pat you down. I’m not allowed to do it.” She shouted something to someone and began walking, indicating that I should follow her.

“Is the privacy booth on this side or the other?” she called to a colleague; then followed her directions and led me there. We walked into a smoked glass booth just beyond the X-ray belt. As I entered, she pointed to a table in the corner. “Just put your bag over there. I have your phone and your Fitbit. You need to wait; she’ll be here in a minute.”

Not much beyond that time, in walked a large, gruff young woman with a soup-bowl hair cut. With no greeting or acknowledgment that I might have a name, she began:

“I am going to pat you down. Is there any part of your body that is injured – where it might be painful?

“No” I responded unsteadily.  I was scared. Mortified really. Near tears, too, which sucked.

She began a detailed exposition – sounding more than a little like the author of a bad porn novel.

“I will move my hands up and down your legs, inside and out. Up, down.” She demonstrated, her arms extended, running up, then down as she spoke.

“I will feel your arms and down the sides of your body. Then your breasts and under.”

“And the buttocks.”

“And the groin.”

“Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I said, struggling to speak.

“Face your *unintelligible*”

“What?”

“Face your articles” – she meant the table where my stuff lay – over in the corner of the booth.

“Put your arms out at your sides.”

And she began — telling me each time she was about to move to a new area. Groin last. Of course.  As impersonal as it could be, but still pretty dreadful.

Afterward, the young woman who’d first pulled me over turned to me and, as I was gathering my coat and backpack, pointed at the corner of the table  “Don’t forget, I put your phone and your Fitbit over there.”

And it was done. They both just walked away. Like nothing had happened.

And I guess nothing had – really, but I was devastated and humiliated and angry as hell and not for me alone.

Through the whole thing, I kept thinking about all the arrest narratives I’d heard or read on-line, particularly since Ferguson, often recounted by Facebook friends — almost all African-American.   Of TV producer Charles Belk, photographed sitting on the curb in Beverly Hills with his hands cuffed behind his back.  Of Elora Nicole’s son.  Of Eric Holder stopped in his own neighborhood when he was a US Attorney.

This only happened to me once. For so many people of color, especially male, this is just another part of what happens to them. More than a few times to many of them.  Their experiences are often combined with real fear. That fear echoes daily in their hearts and in the hearts of those who love them.

I had felt so alone, and so violated. I had had to fight to keep tears of humiliation and shame at bay.   Though it happened over a week ago, I put off writing about it because I was so freaked out. Even now, as I write, my heart is pounding and I again feel that lump rising in my throat. I’ll never go through security again without fear.

And it only happened to me once.

 

Can You Hear Me Now? Bruce Springsteen in a New Way

bruce-in-chicago

Classy as ever, Bruce and the band posted their Chicago River Tour concert for 2 days of free download.  It’s so far beyond amazing that I’m back in mourning that we’ll be out of the country when he comes to SFO.  I’d almost recovered but this is a major – if probably brief – relapse.

There’s nobody more capable of evoking super highs, and then tears – as he takes us on a journey with him.  This time though, my journey is different:  Springsteen was born in 1949; I’m a first-year Baby Boomer, born in 1946.  We’re no longer kids, certainly, but still grateful for the music and where it can take us.  For me, Bruce is the number-one tour guide.  Always will be.

Now this next thing is hard.  I listened to this concert a whole new way — my iPhone is paired with me new (hang on) hearing aids!  I was so mortified when I learned I needed them and a nervous wreck when I went to be fitted but they’re great.  I met a woman in the (where else?) ladies room at a big event yesterday and we were laughing at our worries and how surprised we were at what a difference they make.

Nothing – not the embarrassment or the nervousness or the appalling cost of these little things – none of that – comes close to the feeling of being able to walk around without headphones, sit at my desk without headphones — do almost anything without headphones – and still hear Thunder Road and Meet Me in the City and 31 other LIVE performances.

So hearing aids mean aging and I have to face that.  But they also hosted a real party today.

David Bowie: The Man Who Fell to Earth


There’s a prophetic scene in the 1976 David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth; he’s in what looks like a control room with dozens and dozens of screens, each showing something different.  There he is – with his weird, lens-shaped
irises, clearly watching all of them at the same time.  lens

For years I’ve used that scene to describe kids growing up as our own digital natives.  Yesterday I was playing music on my iPad for my 16 month old grandson, and showing him how to do “play” with the arrow and “stop” with the double bars.   When I decided it was time to switch gears and got out a book to read with him he took it from me and began pushing on a big red picture of the sun and sliding his finger, looking genuinely bewildered that nothing moved.  We’ve all heard an apocryphal version of this story but I now no longer need SNOPES to know it’s real.  Digital native indeed.

So the visionary that was David Bowie transcended his amazing music – We Can be Heroes, it seems – and took prophetic risks in many ways in diverse venues.  He was beautiful and gifted and unique; despite his music, for me, it was his presence in this film that demonstrated the astonishing breadth of vision.

The Internet of Women: 1996 But No One Would Listen

Ada cartoon
Ada Lovelace, Computing Pioneer

Women were always going to thrive on the Internet.  Connecting, enabling connections among others, sharing information and more importantly, support and wisdom — these are some of the reasons we belonged online from the beginning.  I knew it as soon as I saw my first browser, Mosaic (later Netscape) in the early 90s.

After early obscurity, women have become more and more visible and successful online, not only creating content but entire media operations. Numbered among them were the pioneering iVillage and BlogHer and agencies like Clever Girls, BlogaliciousWomen and Work,  Sway Group, and The Motherhood.  There are plenty more.

When I saw this story today about the emerging Internet of Women, led by Cisco’s Monique J. Morrow, I’ll admit I got a little sad. I had tried to write a handbook (Internet Bootcamp) for women online in 1996.   A friend hooked me up with a celebrity agent I could have never enlisted on my own, and my proposal went to some serious publishers.  The response – and I wish I still had the precise language, was that the writing was “engaging” but women would never buy such a book.  I just pulled it to take a look and am posting it here.  See what you think.   If nothing else it will evoke memories of modems past.

Here is Morrow’s basic message: (We agree, right?)

From connected homes and cars to monitoring our health through smart devices, a woman’s view point in this new age of digitization has never been more critical.

I invite you to follow our publication, the Internet of Women and be part of this movement.

Saint Joy: the Agony of a Good Girl

Jennifer face
The commercials for JOY, created by and starring the spectacular crew from Silver Linings Playbook make the film look like a comedy, but that’s not what it is.  It’s a glum story about a much put-upon young woman with a good idea and a family almost as selfish as the siblings in Transparent.

Nobody in her overflowing household can take care of herself, or anyone else. She, along with her divorced parents, ex-husband, grandmother and two children share a tiny house with a big mortgage.   Each of them depends upon Joy for everything,  not just financial support but also plumbing repairs, accounting for the family business — and dinner.

She’s sacrificed what we have learned are her great engineering and creative potential as well as her crack at going to college to stay home and help her ridiculously self-occupied and soap opera-obsessed mother deal with her divorce.  Everything sucks.

She’s always there – to pull up a couple of boards and stop a leak in the pipes, pack lunches, cook dinners, make money, raise the children, act as her mother’s therapist, her ex-husband’s landlord (for free) and her father’s refuge (also for free) when his second wife throws him out.

At the same time, she manages to invent “the Miracle Mop” – a truly ingenious product that she knows other women will want because she could sure use it at home when she’s cleaning the bathroom floors.  (Did I mention that she also does all the cleaning?)

The film is the story of her victory over these enormous odds, even when her father sells her out to please his rich girlfriend.

When we walked out of the theater, I was angry — trembling.  It took a while to figure out why.  The film closes with a description of all that happened to Joy after we left: big house, great business, loyal friends, generosity with aspiring entrepreneurs she meets.  It then goes on the tell us how this virtuous, long-suffering woman, as she always had, continued to love and support her family — faithless father, feckless sister and hangers-on despite the fact that they even tried to sue her to steal her company.  As far as we know, except for her ever-loyal ex-husband, her best friend and supporter and her kids no one related to her in biology or spirit was worthy of her kindness.

Forgiveness and love are important – and the fact that she “continued to love” this grotesque crew is understandable.  What the narrator describes, though, is the classic “good girl” doing everything she is supposed to do no matter what.  She may have had the strength to build her dream and fight for her vision, but she couldn’t ever say “‘Enough’ – go take care of yourselves you blood suckers” to those who betrayed her.

 

 

Leia and Rey: The Ancient Grief of Women, Turned on its Head

Leai hanRey cry

 

 

 

 

One of the most important scenes in The Force Awakens does not appear anywhere on the Web – not as a film clip or a screen shot or even a publicity still.  I know why, I think.  Its power rests largely in its unexpected, heartbreaking,  surprise.  You know what it is: that desperate, grieving embrace between General Leia Organa and the pilot-scavenger Rey.

Since time began, women have mourned the loss of loved ones in battle.  Since time began we’ve stayed at home waiting, worrying: Penelope, Catelyn Stark, Mrs. MiniverSisera‘s mother, the women of WWI

Through the window she looked forth, and wailed,
The mother of Sisera, through the lattice:
“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why are the hoofbeats of his chariots so delayed?” — The song of Deborah,  Judges 5: 24-31 s

“[I] wondered if he was looking up at that same moon, far away, and thinking of me as I was thinking of him.”— Vera Brittain (Chronicle of Youth: The War Diary, 1913-1917)

But these two brave warriors, forced into battles that would steal their loved ones — their grief is different.  It is the grief of fellow soldiers, not docile ladies-in-waiting.  It is also a passing of the torch – literally and figuratively – between two powerful, wise women: one a grand figure from the last generation, the other an emerging power in the present one.

The loss of Han Solo, lover of one, father figure to the other, at the hands of Kylo Ren, his (and Leia’s) own son, and the near death of Ren himself in his battle with Rey, brought a grief shared by two warriors at opposite ends of the war against the Dark Side.  Despite the pain of loss – and near loss – Leia comforts – and seeks the comfort of — of a younger version of herself.  The battle between Rey and Kylo Ren in no way inhibits the joining of their pain and loss.  It’s similar to the reality male soldiers have described so often: the loss of a beloved buddy in battle.

For women though, that loss has usually been at a distance, learned of and mourned far after the death itself.  Now, just after the United States military has granted women soldiers access to the same combat duties and responsibilities as their brothers, and even as it portrays the generational legacy, the Star Wars tale depicts the same parity.  These preservers of The Force fully share it all as, now, do our own soldiers – and equally know loss as battlefield comrades.  Consider this, too:

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.  — Dwight David Eisenhower, 1946

 

Bruce Springsteen and Thunder Road

I couldn’t sleep and at 2AM, this, Bruce Springsteen on Storytellers, was my reward.  The first time I heard this song, I cried.  Grown up, near 30 with a baby and far from those front porches, I was transported.  The power of the song hasn’t faded.

Anyway, here’s what he said about it:

So this was my big invitation, to my audience, to myself, to anybody that was interested.  My invitation to a long and earthly — very earthly — journey, hopefully in the company of someone you love, people you love and in search of a home you can feel a part of.  Good luck.

Thanks Bruce.

I meant to write about Star Wars, but then The Boss walked in.  Tomorrow maybe.

Sons and Brothers — and Star Wars

Star_Wars sized

“I was raised to do one thing but I’ve got nothing to fight for.” —  Finn – a Storm Trooper*

My sons are 40 and 36 and they’re going to Star Wars opening night together.  It took some avid site refreshing and one wildly committed wife as deputy but they have tickets.  I love knowing that they like each other enough to share this. The first films hijacked our family – much to our delight.

There was lots of stuff, of course.  We had action figures and Death Star Space Stations, LandspeedersTie Fighters,  Millennium Falcons, Light Sabers, Lego versions  and about a billion little weapons all over the floor of their room.  All the time.  It was wonderful watching the two of them and their friends imagining all sorts of adventures as the toys carried them into battles between good and evil.

Once when he was around ten, I asked my older son, what he really wanted to do when he was older.  He replied, with growing agitation, “I want….  I want…. I want to fight The Empire!  

And there it is.  Deep inside the battles and light shows and Yoda-isms is the simple truth that informs most wonderful stories: a battle fought for honor, justice, family, love, or even peace.

Is it any wonder why that nearly 40 years later, the fever has reemerged, the joy and anticipation like new?

It is with gratitude that one watches a child find joy in a story or a song, from Little Bear to Harry Potter.  But Star Wars — well, that’s not just a wonderful tale, it’s the gift of a dream – something to fight for connected to the best parts of each of us, of hope, and courage and love.  I’m grateful that it exists and that my grown kids still love it and I’m really really grateful that the person each wants to revisit that world with is his very own brother.

*A trained warrior desperate to escape his past, Finn is plunged into adventure as his conscience drives him down a heroic, but dangerous, path.”  From the Official Star Wars Databank  

 

ISIS, Nazis, Trump and Dr. Caligari

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - "Original German One-Sheet"
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – “Original German One-Sheet”

These are scary times. A terrible sense of vulnerability has enveloped all of us. Is my son safe at his Jewish preschool? Should I still ride the bus? Continue to refuse to own a gun? Most importantly, trust my neighbors?

Worst of all, in the ramp-up to the Presidential election, can I continue to vote my hopes and ideals, not the base instincts of fear and distrust that Donald Trump evokes so skillfully?  Here’s what TV host and former Hill staffer Chris Matthews said about Trump the day that he challenged President Obama’s patriotism.

For those who applauded him today, cheered at his insinuation that the President hides himself as a defender of Islamist terrorism, I can only say this,You should be ashamed. None of us should applaud this 21st century McCarthyism, this cheap insinuation against a fellow American backed up by nothing but hate.”

Matthews described a “21st century McCarthyism;” perhaps there are even stronger parallels with the Germany’s Weimar Republic, which ruled during the desperate years between the end of WWI in 1918 and 1933, when Hitler was elected — and with the legendary film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” released in Germany in 1920.

Considered the “first horror film,” it is the tale of an insane hypnotist who uses a somnambulist to commit murders. Its protagonist, Dr. Caligari, according to Siegfried Kracauer in his remarkable From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film  “stands for an unlimited authority that idolizes power as such, and, to satisfy its lust for domination, ruthlessly violates all human rights and values”*. The somnambulist,  (sleepwalker) Cesare is meant to be ordinary man, conditioned to kill.

There is much to connect our time with those Weimar years.  Some of it is a reach – but some of it is not.  The Harvard Film Archive describes the Weimar Republic as  “A period of great political and economic instability – of rampant inflation and unemployment.”  I remember learning about times when Germans needed a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread, of hunger and sometimes even starvation, and about a deep resentment that the money that might have eased some this misery went instead to pay reparations to France and other victors.

The impact of this humiliation, along with deep resentment of Germany’s changed role in the world, is considered to have supported the response to Hitler’s message and his subsequent rise.  Kracauer late wrote:

Whether intentionally or not, [CALIGARI] exposes the soul wavering between tyranny and chaos, and facing a desperate situation: any escape from tyranny seems to throw it into a state of utter confusion. Quite logically, the film spreads an all-pervading atmosphere of horror. Like the Nazi world, that of CALIGARI overflows with sinister portents, acts of terror and outbursts of panic.

Familiar?

I spent some time Friday with a psychiatrist who listens to people all day.  I was ranting about the dangers of feeding fear and anger, encouraging blanket discrimination and even violence.  “We need someone to address our better angels, not our untrammeled fears.”  said I.

His response: Never, ever had things been like they are in this country at this moment, when no none knows what to do.  Every one of his patients, he added, described feeling some sort of real anxiety, if not abject fear.

I responded pretty much as Chris Matthews had.  In his limited sample, my friend replied, Trump was the only candidate who felt to patients like a “strong American.”  It was that impression that led them to feel such a strong affinity for him.

So here we sit.  Certainly not Weimar but unsettled and seeking a “stronger” leader and allowing a man (whose qualifications. — beyond his brilliant ability to read a crowd) are questionable, to suggest that we ban Muslims from our shores.

We need to decide whether we are willing to be sleepwalkers.  If we’re not, we’ve got to wake up everybody else.