LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WILLS FAMILY THROUGH MARALYS' MEMOIRS: A CIRCUS WITHOUT ELEPHANTS AND A CLOWN IN THE TRUNK

Monday, November 13, 2017

WITH TRUMP, EVERY DAY IT'S SOMETHING NEW






Today I couldn’t get past the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

There he is, top of the page (above the fold), clasping the hand, patting the back, and gazing into the face of a known killer—Rodrigo Duterte, leader of the Philippines. Weeks earlier, he’d praised Duterte for “taking care of” the drug problem.  Oh, yes, the man really takes care of it . . . Never bothering with the nicety of trials, his henchmen have murdered thousands—literally—of Philippinos who were dealers, or even suspected users, of drugs.  You kill enough people, the problem is solved. 

Along with Russia’s Putin, Trump makes it clear he admires men who are “into” murder.       

Worse, for citizens of the United States, was today’s headline: GOP’S rush to approve young judges.  Brett J. Talley, Trump’s latest appointment, according to the Times, “was unanimously rated ‘not qualified’ by the American Bar Association’s judicial rating committee.”  Appointed as a  lifetime Federal Judge in Alabama, he’s practiced law only three years, has never tried a case, blogged about “Hillary Rotten Clinton,” and has pledged his support of the NRA. As Trump says about Talley, only 36, “When you think of it, (his youth) has consequences . . . 40 years out.” 

I’m not alone in fearing the worst from our leader. A group of 27 psychiatrists, who ordinarily refrain from diagnosing public figures they’ve never personally met, could no longer remain silent about what they see as a threat to the country.  Early this year, as a group, they felt compelled to speak out. Together, they’ve written a book called,       THE DANGEROUS CASE OF DONALD TRUMP.  The subtitle: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  

The book is now # 7 on the New York Times best-seller list.

I’ve read it, and found so much quotable material I could never produce enough blogs to do the book justice. Gail Sheehy, PhD, writes, “Beneath the grandiose behavior of every narcissist lies the pit of fragile self esteem; more than anything, Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.”

Lance Dodes, M.D. adds, “ . . . someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts, may be not just repetitively immoral but also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic,  empathy.” 

Michal Tansey, PhD, expresses the ultimate in scariness:  “ . . . even more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants, and also the prospect of nuclear war.” 

Like thousands of others, I’m waiting for everyone to recognize that our country is in the hands of a recognizably sick and truly dangerous man.    


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES TO CREATE RAGE



A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES TO CREATE RAGE



America is suddenly on a perilous path.

Far from becoming “Great Again,” this nation is ripping apart internally . . . with an ever- widening rift the size of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to the vitriol spewing from the White House, we are now all turning against each other: spectators against knee-bending athletes, legal citizens against productive illegals, poor against de-regulated rich, Christians against Muslims, Democrats against Republicans, the still-simmering Confederate South against blacks, healthy tax-payers against insurance-needy sick.   

We should have seen this coming: Way back when, Trump declared that Vietnam hero John McCain was not a hero; he railed against the Kahn family who lost a son in Iraq; he bragged that because he was famous, women would allow him to grab them . . . well, anywhere; he threatened protestors—“I’d like to punch him in the face!”; he inspired campaign mobs to scream, “Lock her up!”    

Since then, Trump has given voice to every American who has a grievance against anyone. Like never before, in every state acts of venom are on daily display.

Internationally, it’s worse; even our closest allies no longer trust us. They simply don’t believe that America will keep its word . . .  on global warming, on immigration policies, on United Nations support, on the Iranian agreement, or anything else.   

Scarier still, the nation that once feared or quietly disliked us, is now inspired to rise up and yes—go to war. Because of Trump’s big, raging mouth, we’ve never been so close to a war with North Korea.  Meaning the horror of nuclear weapons is suddenly a possibility.

There must be a way, legally, to rid America of its terrifying leader.

If not . . . What will become of our country?




Monday, August 28, 2017

ONE THUG PARDENS ANOTHER





For 17 years I’ve been following the career of Joe Arpaio.

In 1999, I was writing a book about addiction, (SAVE MY SON). Having visited more than a dozen correctional facilities in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, and California, I learned from most sources that harsh prison and jail treatment not only does nothing to help rid inmates of their addictions, it tends to make embittered addicts worse.

Among the names that kept coming up was Arizona’s sheriff, Joe Arpaio. His treatment of prisoners was legion, famous among professionals in all areas of law enforcement, but especially among those treating addicts.

It wasn’t enough that Arpaio humiliated male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underwear, he also brutalized them physically—in so many ways he became a lightning rod for lectures on how NOT to treat convicts. He re-instituted chain gangs, he kept Latinos (exclusively Latinos) in tents whose summer temperatures rose to 120.  He brutalized pregnant Latinas, ensuring that none who gave birth within his jails had infants who survived. In various ways, his staff regularly tortured their inmates.  Contrary to his claims, his recidivism rate was terrible.  

To no one’s surprise, Arpaio labeled his own jail a “concentration camp.” To keep it full, his deputies routinely stopped Latino drivers for no reason except to quiz them about their immigration status. When a judge demanded he stop this practice, Arpaio tried, surreptitiously, to get the judge’s wife in legal trouble. But his deputies never ceased their illegal traffic stops.

I tried to include Arpaio’s record in my book, but my co-author refused, fearing he’d lose conservative votes as he, himself, ran for sheriff. 

Eventually, as we all know, Arpaio was convicted of defying court orders—and faced jail time. But now this horrible man has been pardoned by another horrible man.

None of us need reminding of our president’s own past sins—groping women, cheating workers on construction sites, refusing to rent apartments to blacks. Neither he nor Arpaio  will ever do anything to make the world proud. But at least they have each other.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I BLINKED, AND THE COOKIE WAS GONE



Our great grandkids weren’t the main attraction of our recent visit to Norfolk, Virginia.  Yet in a way, they were.  Knox, 3 ½, and baby sister Harper, two-ish,  were like low-flying hummingbirds, darting in and out of every scene.  

When Rob and I flew East to Norfolk, we’d come to witness a momentous event: Marine Sergeant Christian Carpenter, (husband of our granddaughter, Erica), was about to become a 2nd Lieutenant.  Erica’s parents, Melanie and our son, Ken, had invited us to stay with them and be part of the festivities.

The event was scheduled for a Monday at precisely ten a.m., to be officiated by Christian’s battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel down from Quantico.  Because Christian had just graduated from Old Dominion University, ODU allowed him to be commissioned on a central quad--in front of three stately flagpoles.

When Rob and I arrived, the spacious quad was mostly empty—except for half a dozen spectators and three lonely chairs, conspicuously facing the flagpoles. Rob and I quickly gleaned that Christian had provided the chairs . . . for the two of us, plus Melanie’s mother. Gradually, the crowd grew larger.    

As befits the military, at the appointed moment, Christian, in uniform, marched from somewhere behind us, did a precise left turn, and positioned himself smartly in front of the Colonel.  At that very moment, from the other direction, Knox came racing across the cement, and with a broad grin and loud voice, called out, “Hi, Daddy!” 

Fascinated, I saw that Christian’s expression never changed.  Somebody scooped up the little boy, and the ceremony went on.

A dramatic and unusual part of the commissioning was Christian’s father, a retired Air Force sergeant, in uniform, ceremoniously approaching now-Lieutenant Carpenter, and saluting him—to which Christian returned the salute.

The commissioning qualified as a Big Moment. Yet almost bigger for me, was a brief encounter between the two kids: Afterwards, I happened to notice Knox busily climbing up and down the few steps that led to an elevated cement area. From a distance, little Harper saw him too. Off she ran toward her brother, arms extended. At the last moment, Knox saw her coming, and turning, he drew her into an embrace. For a moment they hugged. Then Knox took Harper’s elbow and led her over to an adult. A photogenic moment.    

Later, Erica said, “Harper idolizes her brother—wants to do everything he does.” I thought, It seems to go in both directions.

During our three days there, Ken and Melanie provided no fewer than three feasts, the final—with 35 guests--to celebrate Christian’s new status. At the last minute, Melanie was dubious: in rainy Norfolk, an outdoors event seemed dicey. Though a few sprinkles accompanied the set-up, we all took a chance and settled into eating at four long tables. No rain at all. But just as the last person finished, a downpour began, slowly at first. I asked Melanie, “Did you pray about this?”  She smiled, leaving me unsure.  Then I thought, Well, it’s obvious you did.  

Whether Melanie has divine connections or not, she and Ken clearly share some kind of obscure--make that diabolical--ESP. To Rob’s disgust, and mine, they beat us soundly in Password.  But not like you’d expect, seldom with clues and answers that made sense. When Melanie began with the word “Mound” and Ken said, “Anthill,” Rob and I were flabbergasted. Later she said, “Tennis,” and Ken answered “Racquet,” which lacked all logic. And so it went.  As the points piled up against us, Ken admitted to other, similar triumphs. “One of our friends accused us of cheating. ‘You studied the cards in advance,’ they insisted. But how could we—with hundreds of words in the box?” 

Soon, as we kept playing and losing, Rob began blaming me.  Well, I’ll admit to some significant memory lapses. But I can also spot hopeless when I see it. In Password, you’re bound to lose to a pair who unfairly read each other’s minds.

Those three days were full of surprises—the most startling when I plunked down on a piece of plastic that covered their elegant living-room couch.  Suddenly my bottom was alive with pins and needles . . . as though I’d sat on Melanie’s famous “mound” -- meaning “anthill.”  I leaped up, demanding of Kenny, “What did I just sit on?” 

“Oh,” he said. “The plastic is electrified . . . to keep away the dog.” 

“Well, it certainly worked on me,” I said, and from then on I viewed that couch as Pavlov intended . . . with pre-programmed avoidance.

The nicest thing that Melanie did for me, personally, was invite her friends to a book signing—meaning we brought an extra suitcase filled with nothing but books.  She made it a 2-5 cocktail party, and her neighbors and pals graciously let me speak to them about the craft of writing, then bought some 32 books. 

As I sat autographing volumes, somebody brought me a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  Before I could eat the second one, I sensed that something had flashed by very close and continued on without pausing. I looked, and my cookie was gone. Yards away, I spotted my treasure, clutched in Knox’s hand.  Aware of her child’s thievery, Erica made him give it back.  And so I reclaimed my treat, now in two messy chunks. 

And there’s Knox for you, affectionate, supremely well-coordinated, and capable of fast and clever deception.  As we departed on the last day, Knox, who’d been up too late the night before, was so exhausted he was sobbing uncontrollably. Still, Erica made him hush long enough to hear us say, “We love you, Knox.”  Erica whispered in his ear. For a few seconds, Knox stopped his crying and said, “I love you too.”  And then he picked up where he left off, once more sobbing.  And so we departed, with a darling child waving at us through his tears.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

THE HORROR MOVIE YOU CAN'T STOP WATCHING (Largely Re-written)





                                         (Familiar Topic, Largely Re-Written)  

I’ll admit it—I’m mesmerized.

Like a deviant caught staring at a disgusting video, I’m drawn to this unproductive, dramatic, often calamitous, national spectacle.  To Trump.  

Utterly spellbound, I can’t look away . . . all the while, castigating myself for a kind of morbid curiosity. Why do I find him so compelling? This man who lies gratuitously, who attacks everyone (even those in his own party)?  Who never utters a well-turned phrase unless he’s reading from a teleprompter. Why am I so focused on a childish egotist who, if left alone, will bring calamity down on our nation?

I see the word “Trump” in a headline, and I read it. Always. Every word. With bated breath I search the text,  caught up in his latest, mind-boggling utterance (or threat), the immature, unfiltered attacks that reveal him to be . . . well, amazing. It must be because traditionally, villains are fascinating. Even more, because, to some unfathomable degree, he has managed to fool so many people.

So yes, I’ve become repetitious. And I know it.  But lately I’ve tried to control myself, have stopped uttering every wayward thought.    

Forgiving myself, I recognize that my personal problem dates back to my childhood, when, since age six, I began immersing myself in books. But always those which were exciting, all focused on the human condition . . . full of conflict and drama.  In every case I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t turn away until I saw how the story ended. To me, as a child stuck on an isolated, heavily-forested ranch, those books were more compelling than my everyday life . . . because how breathless can a child remain over a lot of beautiful but quiescent trees?

Now, as an adult, I’m once more caught up in an ongoing drama. But this one is real. This one matters.  In some ways my well-being depends on how it ends. (Will I continue breathing clean air, drinking pure water?)

But so do millions of other lives hang on the outcome, most of them more intently than mine.  To these millions the story’s ending will determine the size of their paycheck, (will the rich get all the tax breaks?), the nature of their daily interractions (do they need to hide from ICE?), their protection from corporate misdeeds (will all the regulations disappear?) and most assuredly, their level of healthcare.  At the fingertips of an unpredictable narcissist lie decisions which can determine how long most Americans will live.   

It gets worse: the whims of an ignoramus may affect the very survival of our planet. 

So who can look away for a moment—who can fail to hope the story ends the way it should. That this  . . . well, this unglued failure of a man continues his steady decline. That he becomes so unthinkable, so lost in his own ego, that he, or others, will ensure that he disappears from the White House forever.

Only then can I finish the book. Without those headlines, America will no longer be a riveting soap opera. Without this so-called president, we may have a government that is rational, objective, qualified.  With a chance at equanimity.     

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE HORROR MOVIE YOU CAN'T STOP WATCHING



I’ll admit it—I’m mesmerized.

Like a deviant caught staring at a disgusting video, I’m drawn to this unproductive, dramatic, often calamitous, national spectacle.  To Trump.  

Utterly spellbound, I can’t look away. 

Since childhood, I’ve immersed myself in books, always those which were exciting . . .  almost all focused on the human condition, full of conflict and drama.  In every case I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t turn away until I saw how the story ended. To me, as a child stuck on an isolated, heavily-forested ranch, those books were more compelling than my everyday life . . . because how breathless can a child remain over a lot of beautiful but quiescent spruce, fir, and pine trees?

Now, as an adult, I’m once more caught up in an ongoing drama. But this one is real. This one matters.  In some ways my well-being depends on how it ends. (Will I continue breathing clean air, drinking pure water?) And so do the lives, most of them more intently than mine, of millions of others. To these millions the story’s ending will determine their ability to make a living, the nature, good or bad, of their social interactions, and most assuredly, their level of healthcare.  At the fingertips of an unpredictable narcissist lie decisions which can determine how long most Americans will live.   

It gets worse: the whims of an ignoramus may affect the very survival of our planet. 

From the story’s start I was both amazed and repulsed . . . that so many Americans were taking seriously a possible leader who reviled the press and all his opponents, who lied in every speech, and who possessed zero qualifications.

Once elected, his goal was narrow, disingenuous, and dangerous: because they weren’t his ideas, he vowed to undo every beneficial ruling made by his predecessor—and also to appoint leaders who would destroy the very bureaus they were chosen to lead. Scott Pruitt, of EPA, once sued to rescind all efforts to curtail environmental pollutants.  Now as leader, he tries to unravel every beneficial rule. Betsy DeVos not only knows little about public schools, she heavily favors charters.  Now she heads the Department of Education. 

On a continuous basis, Trump has cancelled Federal support for the Arts, for programs like Head Start, for Teen Pregnancy Prevention, for Hate Group Opposition, for International Family Planning, for Investigative Science. Forget big pharma: Only government scientists like those in the CDC and NIH, have the resources and the will to unlock the antibiotic that will curb the latest, uncontrollable pathogen. (A micro-organism, by the way, that threatens to go on a world-wide killing spree.)   

Look around: if the cause is exemplary, Trump has taken away its funding.   

So of course I’m watching, day by day. Reading everything. Listening to all the words, Tamping down fear. 

Who can look away for a moment—who can fail to hope the story ends the way it should. That this  . . . well, this unglued failure of a man continues his steady deterioration. That he becomes so unthinkable, so lost in his own ego, that he, or others, will ensure that he disappears from the White House forever.

Only then will America return to a government that is rational, objective, and qualified.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

THEY LEFT--AND WE CRIED


THEY LEFT—AND WE CRIED  



A year ago I never would have guessed it would end this way—that two families, strangers to each other when the year began, would shed tears as one family went back to Norway twelve months later.   

Last night I hugged two little boys over and over, trying not to notice their tears, fighting a lump in my throat because I was uncertain when I would see them again.  Cornelius and Constantin—only 11 and 5 when we first met. Back then their names seemed too elaborate for their small bodies. Yet today the names evoke images that have become a palpable ache, linked to all the moments we spent together. Those elegant names: how quickly they seemed to wrap around each boy until they fit exactly right, and how inevitably Rob and I came to love the boys themselves. Though the two were unique, the older a serious student, the younger an imp, they both had a sweetness that drew us in.

We first met the Norwegian Glittenbergs a year ago, when they moved in across the street from my daughter Tracy and her Paul. Our first glimpse of Constantine, who’d just turned five, was like finding an adorable, pet child who spoke no English. He was tow-headed and small, with a button nose and a child-actor’s assortment of expressions: wonder, humor, dismay, delight, all enhanced by a missing front tooth. When we spoke, all of us around Tracy’s dinner table, Constantin leaned toward Cornelius, an elf with eyes on his brother’s face as he awaited a translation. Had he been old enough for kindergarten in Norway, he might have known some of what we were saying.

On that first get-acquainted supper, Tracy brought in her next-door neighbors, the Bowers, who also had four children. One of them, Elizabeth, has a voice so lovely that a few years ago at age twelve she sang at Tracy’s daughter’s wedding. Tracy announced to the group, “I hear that the Glittenbergs also have a girl who sings. Mathea-Mari, can you and Elizabeth go in the house together and find a song you both know?”

For fifteen minutes, the two girls—one Hispanic the other Norwegian--disappeared. When they came out, the two joined in a harmonic version of a popular melody, which was so lovely it stunned the whole group.  Only later did we learn that Mathea-Mari, now sixteen, is famous all over Europe as a solo performer . . . and that her family picked a leased home in Tustin, partly because it was close to an airport from which her father could take her back to Europe for frequent, scheduled concerts.   

“How lucky,” our family remarked later that evening, “that we didn’t know about Mathea-Mari in advance, or we’d have all been intimidated.” 

The year became a miracle of increasing closeness between the two families—which often included Rob and me. We saw less of the two older girls--Olivia, a senior, and  Mathea-Mari, a junior, who were consumed with homework at Beckman high school. But we spent hours with their younger brothers. Early in the year, Tracy taught the boys a card game, ‘golf,’ in which the lucky card is a joker. One of the first things five-year-old Constantin learned to say in English came with a cry of joy, “I got a joker, Mama!” 

Cornelius, a slender eleven, displayed an awareness of everything around him. He wore glasses, and he was half an actor, playing a quick succession of roles as he responded to every idea that flew by. We always knew what Cornelius was thinking. He and I quickly became buddies, exchanging hugs with each new encounter.  One day Rob and I found him on a nearby road, walking home from school. We stopped to give him a ride. When he jumped into our car, he said, “Your car smells like my Grandma’s car.”

“Is that good?” Rob asked, and he said, “yes.”

How often we arrived at Tracy’s to find little Constantin dashing into the house and flying with a great leap into Tracy’s chaise lounge . . . where he didn’t exactly sit, but splayed out into a disorganized pattern of white, skinny arms and legs.     

Frequently invited to dinner with Tracy and Paul, Rob and I often found the party included two small boys as additional guests . . .  and an evening that ended with games of golf. As I sat across from the two blond kids, I was mesmerized by a parade of shifting facial expressions, as though our family had been touched by budding movie stars, by two faces lit with a kaleidoscope of emotions, every change of thought or mood expressed more vividly than with words.

Even Tracy’s small, black-and-white dog, Ollie, became part of the entertainment. On days when she walked Ollie, Tracy fetched Constantin to go along, the boy only slightly larger than the pet.  Soon she and Constantin went on errands together, and she even brought him and Ollie to the park, letting them entertain each other as she played tennis. And he spent a day with her at Videoresources . . . becoming an instant mascot for the company.    

Charming kids don’t happen by accident.  We became warm friends with their parents, J.P. and Katherine, both young, good-looking, and solid in their own skins.  Increasingly, the two families spent more and more leisure time together—visiting California sites, like beaches, an “escape” room, friends of Tracy’s, and even our son Chris’s ranch.  And the family was with us on multiple holidays—Easter, Mother’s Day, the Super bowl, Christmas.      

Thanks to kindergarten and all those two-family adventures, Constantin became steeped in English. By year’s end, now age six, he knew everything we were saying--and he’d even learned to read in English. Sometimes when I arrived at Tracy’s, I heard a tiny voice calling from a window across the street. Though I couldn’t see him, I knew it was Constantin, spinning out a greeting.

Our last day with the Glittenberg’s was both memorable and poignant.  Around noon, the two daughters borrowed my Prius to take their driver’s tests, hoping, before they left, to earn California driver’s licenses. To our delight, both succeeded.  When I got my car back, they’d had it washed.

Dinner at Tracy’s that evening was bittersweet.  The two boys couldn’t stop weeping . . . the younger, still no bigger than a puppy, curled up in his father’s lap, the older leaning against J.P.’s shoulder . . . a tableau momentarily interrupted by the arrival of “Addie,”  Constantin’s fellow kindergartner. He’d mentioned her occasionally, and now her mother admitted, “One day they went to the park.  And they (she spelled it out) K.I.S.S.E.D.”  We all burst out laughing.

Later, mother Katherine read from her laptop, a long tribute to our family, and especially Tracy.  And then came gifts from the Glittenbergs to all of us, among them cookies from Hawaii. Rob and I returned home, already feeling nostalgic and sad.

If only sadness hadn’t been part of the departure . . . but it was. As Tracy drove them to LAX, everyone in the car was singing except the two boys. “It was so heartbreaking,” Tracy said. “They couldn’t stop sobbing."

The consoling part is, we know we’ll see the Glittenbergs again, either in California or Norway. Feelings as strong as we all felt for each other can’t be entirely eliminated, either by time or space. For that we’re grateful.