Wednesday, July 20, 2016



The evening promised to be pleasant, but hardly spectacular.  

As she often does, our daughter invited Rob and me for a Sunday night barbecue in her tropical backyard. “And we’ll play games afterward,” she said.  “Oh, and I need a couple of things from Costco.”  On impulse, I bought some extras, like a huge package of already-shucked sweet corn.   

I never take such invitations for granted. For me, a dinner with either of our grown kids-- or grandkids—and their families, is the absolute best way to spend an evening.  Lucky for us, three such families live close.

Late afternoon Tracy called back.  “A Norwegian family just moved in across the street. I’m inviting them over for drinks, so come at six.”    

Great, I thought . . . which is how it turned out. A handsome family, the Norwegian  couple, the Glittenbergs, had four kids, two teen-age girls and two youngish boys, all with faces so lively you’d expect to see them in a magazine.  Just as we were getting acquainted, Tracy invited the couple next door—Andrew and Grace Yen, two charmers who long ago emigrated from Taipei. Rounding out the party, she abruptly phoned her neighbor on the other side. “Come on over, Shannon, and bring the kids.”

Shannon is Hispanic—and her four children variously excel in dancing, gymnastics, and baseball—with the oldest girl a singer. In fact, two years ago, then 13-year-old Elizabeth sang “Love Changes Everything,” at Tracy’s daughter’s wedding.  Mature and composed, she dazzled the 300 guests. (Rob assured everyone that “A star is born.”)         

Considering the way the four teenage girls from two families instantly bonded, crossing every international barrier, you’d think they’d known each other for years. The four girls and oldest Norwegian boy retreated to another part of the yard.

Our drinks and canap├ęs on the patio were hardly underway when Tracy came up with a startling idea. She’d heard, vaguely, that one of the Norwegian girls was also a singer. So she took Mathea-Mari Glittenberg and Shannon’s Elizabeth Bower aside, and said, “Why don’t you girls sing for us?”

The two looked startled, but Tracy persisted.  At our daughter’s urging, the two girls disappeared inside—presumably to practice. Ten minutes later they were back. As it turned out, neither practiced anything.  Instead, the two had run through their individual repertories until they landed on a popular song both of them knew. With a total absence of preparation, the two faced all of us, now hushed, and began singing together . . . their phrasing so polished,  every note so perfectly in sync, it was as if they’d practiced for months.

In two areas, the Norwegian girl added a lilting harmony. The adults all sat there, transfixed. None of us could believe this had happened. “And you didn’t practice?” someone asked, and they both smiled and said no. “We just picked a song.”   

“Drinks” quickly became dinner . . . and thank goodness for the extra corn. To everyone’s delight, Tracy’s Paul barbecued chicken, corn, and asparagus—enough for everyone.  The new Norwegian family had now met three existing neighbors, with the father eventually explaining that they’d chosen this neighborhood specifically for its safety, climate, and proximity to good schools—but also partly because it is fairly close to John Wayne airport.  “Mathea-Mari needs to travel to Europe six times before Christmas.” 

Interesting information, though none of us were sure why.

All I knew was that my evening had been perfect—besides watching the quick friendships springing up between the young people, I’d been sitting next to Andrew Yen, who laughed at every funny thing I said. 

Before the Glittenbergs left, Mathea-Mari played a charming piece on Tracy’s piano. Once more, we were all dazzled. As a last gesture, Tracy’s Dane loaned the oldest sister his guitar.   

After everyone had gone, Dane looked up Mathea-Mari Glittenberg on the Internet and found that at age 13 she’d been the winner of the Norwegian Melody Grand Prix, the equivalent of American Idol.  In fact, she’d personally written one of her songs. Since then she’d become internationally famous. Dane said, “She even has her own Wikipedia Page.” Clearly, the girl’s flights home were for professional appearances. (In fact we’ve just learned from Dane’s sister in Amsterdam that Mathea-Mari sells out arenas all over Europe.)   

Bowled over by this astonishing revelation, all of us were glad that nobody among us knew any of this in advance.  Instead, we appreciated the Norwegian family for their ready graciousness . . . and found the duet from the two girls a wonderful, but wholly unexpected surprise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016



When it comes to gun control on a national basis, maybe the right people have never approached Congress.

Clearly, Republicans have chosen to ignore endless grief-stricken citizens: Mothers and Fathers of Newtown children; Relatives of San Bernardino victims; Friends of the gun-downed souls in Orlando; Buddies of Students killed in three Universities—in Oregon, Virginia, and California; Fellow Congregants of parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina; even a wounded ex-Congresswoman . . . the list goes on.

Over and over, ordinary citizens beg Congress for new gun laws, and fully half of our representatives ignore them, simply tune them out. What our desperate citizens get is a “moment of silence,” . . . because the callous half of Congress listens to only one voice: The National Rifle Association.  

While we’re at it, those same representatives seem not to care that the streets of Chicago, rife with guns and ammunition, have become a literal war zone.

How will this ever change? 

Now that a murderer has employed an AR-15 . . . and sprayed enough bullets to kill five innocent police officers and injure a dozen others, perhaps America’s cops can finally make a difference. 

It has to happen.

Representatives from police units across the country need to appear in Congress and tell it like it is. Though I’ve never seen this in print, my guess is,  America’s policemen are aghast that this nation is full of ordinary citizens who possess, and occasionally use, military armament--not to mention armor-piercing bullets.  What chance does a policeman have to restore order when confronted with weaponry that may exceed his own? 

All these citizen buyers of military weapons do NOT constitute “a well-armed militia,” as described by the 2nd Amendment. Nobody needs an AR-15 for hunting, for personal protection, or for anything—except to kill the greatest number of people in the least amount of time.   

Surely others like me will finally demand this: our cops are needed in Congress.

A final question: Since when does the NRA own more than half of our fifty states in America?   

Tuesday, July 5, 2016



The man came into the ER at St. Joseph Hospital that afternoon with a painful red streak that started at his wrist and was rapidly working its way up his arm.

The staff immediately recognized his problem as necrotizing fasciitis, (commonly called “flesh eating bacteria”), which had started with a small hand wound. Knowing this was a serious condition, the staff understood the patient needed surgery, and he needed it fast. They contacted a doctor who happened to be on call, an orthopedic surgeon,  alerting him to the need for speed.

When Dr. X arrived, the agonizing streak had already reached the patient’s elbow. Joaquin Garcia (not his real name), was in trouble, and the hastily-gathered surgical staff recognized this as well.  Aware that many of Garcia’s relatives had gathered in the waiting room, the hospital sent somebody out to warn next-of-kin that the patient’s prognosis was not good. The relatives were advised to go home and wait, but they wouldn’t. They chose to stay. 

Meanwhile, the operating team began assembling instruments. After giving Garcia an injection of a powerful antibiotic, the team went to work. Because the infection was moving so rapidly up the fascia (connective bands of tissue that surround muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels), the anesthesiologist had to get him down fast, and then the surgeon was forced to lay open the man’s entire arm, starting at the wrist and ending at the chest wall. The only way to stop the bacteria’s progress was to get ahead of the bacteria’s onslaught and expose the man’s fascia to the outside, making it available for direct contact with the air. The operating team, collected randomly from professionals on call, worked fast and in perfect harmony.

Even so, the patient clearly hovered near death.  After four or five hours, the surgical team had done all it could, and were forced to leave their patient to the hospital staff, painfully aware that he had a 95% chance against him and might not last the night.

The next morning, to Dr. X’s relief, Joaquin Garcia was still alive. And slowly, making inch-by-inch progress, the man came back to life. At last the surgeon was able to offer an announcement to the still-collected relatives. “We believe Joaquin will now recover and probably be okay.” The entire waiting room, it seemed, burst into applause.

It was only in retrospect that the surgeon, a Caucasian, began thinking about the collection of people who had worked so hard to save Joaquin’s life. Besides their efforts directed toward a Hispanic patient, the anesthesiologist had been African American. The scrub nurse was Arabic, and the circulating nurse was Asian. That day, it seemed, no two people in the operating theater had been from the same ethnic background. 

To the surgeon, the most interesting feature of the event was that nobody seemed to notice their diversity. Even better, had any of them noticed, none would have cared.   

This is a story I’ve always loved, a tale I heard long ago and firsthand from the surgeon. From time to time, in the intervening years, it's come back to me as a moment of pleasure.

But now, with so much inflammatory talk suddenly making headlines, the event seems more relevant than it’s ever been before. I find myself thinking about it often . . . this moment that proves what my grandchildren have demonstrated they already know—that ultimately, for good or for bad, people are just people and race is merely a bit of history.