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Monday, May 29, 2017

Confessions of a Hypocrite

Dave Morrison Photography

Sometimes I feel kind of guilty about some of the stuff I do, because it’s often the stuff I’ve told the members of my family not to do.
Yeah, I guess that’s hypocrisy.
But then I ask myself, “If no one saw it, did it really happen?”
Yes, it did. It happened. In fact, it’s said that character consists of what you do when no one else is looking.
So, in an effort to come clean about my personal failings I will now take a few moments to confess publicly a few of things I’ve done when my family wasn’t looking.
I’m so ashamed.
Deep breath. Here goes.
* * *
Sometimes, when no one’s around, I drink straight from the milk carton. And the juice bottle. And your glass, if I like what you’re having and I’m thirsty and you’re not paying attention.
* * *
I listen to classic rock when I’m driving but I change to Christian music when someone gets in the car with me. Or if the classic rock station plays John Mellencamp. I don’t like the music of John Mellencamp, even if we are both from Indiana.
* * *
Kids, I bite the ears off your chocolate Easter bunnies every year. It isn’t one of your siblings. Or your dad. I’m sorry for framing you guys for it.
* * *
A magnetic sun storm did not take out our Wi-Fi. I was sick of seeing the battery compartments of screened devices whenever I looked toward your faces, but I didn’t have the energy to be an actual parent and do battle with you.
* * *
Dad and I hide the good chocolate from you kids.
* * *
I hide the really good chocolate from Dad.
* * *
Darling Husband, I know—and don’t care so much—that I drive over a corner of the grass every time I back out of the driveway. And I only make a more careful egress when I see you watching me from the kitchen window.
* * *
I am aware of how the hardwood floor got that chip in it. And I don’t want to talk about it.
* * *
I actually do know how to use a hammer and a power drill and drywall mollies. I just don’t care to.
* * *
I occasionally serve meat and dairy products that have been in the fridge past their use-by date. If nothing smells obviously off, I trust that your gut bacteria can handle it. You’ll thank me later for the iron stomach I’m helping you develop. And no, that’s not why I sometimes say, “I’m fasting” while you eat dinner. That’s a spiritual thing. Really.
* * *
The other night, when one of you asked me what I was drinking and I said, “Cranberry juice,” it was actually cranberry and lime juices with vodka and Triple Sec. It’s called a Cosmopolitan. They’re really good. Especially after the day I had.
* * *
And yes, I do know where your favorite sweatshirt/pair of pants/pillowcase went. It was nasty and skanky and not even bleach did anything to improve its appearance or smell. It’s gone. Let it go.
* * *
Getting all that off my chest felt really… cleansing.
Confession is good for the soul.
Wait— what? Did you say you’re glad I’m not going to do those things anymore?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Confession is one thing. Actually changing my behavior is quite another.
What do you mean, if I truly felt badly about what I’d done I wouldn’t do it anymore?
Geez. It’s not like I killed anybody, people.
I mean, I savor the exceptionally fine chocolate. And none of the rest of you have a palate sophisticated enough to appreciate the difference between chocolate dollars and DeBrand’s.
Why are you looking at me like that?
You know what? Let’s just forget I said anything. Strike all the above...

      So, who wants fajitas for dinner?!? Let me look around the fridge here. I’m pretty sure I bought a package of tri-tips a couple of weeks—I mean a couple of days ago…

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Immigrants Have It So Easy

When someone says, “If foreigners are going to live here they should learn English,” it’s not unreasonable to assume that the person speaking has never studied a foreign language, and certainly hasn’t tried to use one in another country.
It’s not as easy as monolinguals think. I have three years of high school French, a college minor in it, and I spent a summer in French-speaking Africa, yet every time I utter a word of français in Québec, the Canadian to whom I’m speaking switches straightaway to English.
I teach ESOL, and right now I’m privately tutoring a student who is illiterate even in her native language. We’re exactly the same age, but while I had the opportunity to go as far in my education as I so desired, Nala* never even had the chance to learn how to write in her own tongue.
Nala is bright, and she’s determined. She’s become a naturalized U.S. citizen, with a passport and all the rights afforded to Americans. She took the citizenship class, passed the exam, paid the fees, and was mailed her naturalization certificate.
Only it never came.
Immigration sent it to the wrong house by an error of one number in the address.
Nala asked if I could help her out by talking to immigration about this problem.
I’m fluent in English and an American by birth, yet I spent one solid hour on the phone at Nala’s house, just trying to find the right number/office/person who could help us procure a duplicate naturalization certificate.
“You’ll need to go online and make an appointment to see an immigration officer in person at your closest field office,” I was eventually instructed, after running my phone’s battery down to the single digits.
Nala and I went online, navigated the website, and found the link to click for obtaining a sit-down at our local field office.
No appointments were available for the next two weeks. “Check back tomorrow,” came the automated message.
I told Nala I’d keep trying.
After only two more days I was able to secure a 15-minute appointment. Nala and I, and a third friend to serve as an interpreter (because they’re not provided), attended the meeting on a Friday morning.
If you’ve ever been to the DMV, you will have a good mental image of our experience, except include a security walk-through with metal detector and bag check, passport/ID check, and uniformed security personnel stationed in every room.
“She’ll need to submit a form requesting a replacement certificate,” the officer told us during our appointment.
Oh, and that costs $565.00.
No typo there.
Nala was expected to pay $565.00 for the pleasure of re-applying for the certificate she already earned and paid for.
When I balked at the cost and explained again that the fault lie not with Nala but with immigration’s envelope-addresser, the officer suggested we also fill out an Application for Fee Waiver, via which we could explain our argument that no charge should be made for the replacement naturalization certificate.
These forms must be downloaded online—at the same website where I made the in-person appointment—and subsequently mailed in via the U.S. postal service.
We went home.
I got online and pulled up the two forms.
The first PDF came out seven pages long.
The second was eleven.
The minutiae of the information required on these forms staggered me. Remember, I’m fluent in the official language of U.S. immigration, yet even I could not be certain of the correct answers to some of these questions.
Nala and I are still in the process of getting these forms filled out and submitted, with some help from another volunteer at the program where I teach. He’s done this before and told me that there is a cottage industry of people who help immigrants fill out these forms.
For a fee, of course.
While you walk through life for the next few days or during the coming weeks, would you occasionally pause to ask yourself what it would be like to do the thing you’re presently doing—maybe asking for help at a customer service desk, disputing a bill with the cable company, or simply navigating the grocery store—if you didn’t speak or read the native language of the country in which you live?
In fact, give it a try. Attempt one of your daily tasks utilizing not one word of English.
Most of us have no idea what immigrants go through every single day.
So until I’ve been one, I’m going to think twice before declaring how great they have it.

*not her real name

Friday, May 26, 2017


Nine rows in front of me he’s with his friends, waiting for the concert to start. Their orchestra performs near the end.
He’s already that old?
He stands up to search the auditorium. Certain he’s looking for me, to know where I’ll be during the concert, and where to find me later—because he still needs me to drive him home—I wave, low and small, just over the seats but not above my head, so I don’t embarrass him.
He waves back once, impatiently, curtly, with a “Yes, I see you, geez” half-a-second smirk.
Then his searching gaze moves on.
He wasn’t looking for me.
He’s already moved away, hasn’t he?
And I guess he’ll keep going farther and farther now.
But I’ll drive him home tonight.
And keep waving.