Crystal Ball

The somewhat older crowd at
our neighborhood coffee shop…
uses Harold Schlegel’s crystal ball to look at the past. The younger afternoon crew is more interested in seeing the future.

The accuracy for the two modes are an amazing 97.052% and 98.308% respectively.

There are risks involved of course. No one is quite the same after even a brief encounter — $179.95/minute — with the past or the future. It seems our neural synapses aren’t so different from those of our Neolithic ancestors after all.

Harold will explain the dangers of his app before you ever touch his silicate sphere, and his legal team will insist that you sign a waiver. Don’t be deterred.

The one thing my colleague’s groundbreaking process fails to do, at least as of this writing, is to make sense the present and the colorless, odorless truths floating over our heads.

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Taking A Knee

When you think
of the Patriots
you think of
New England.

But there are patriots who play for other NFL franchises as well. Last Sunday in Cleveland is an example.

These are the athletes who choose to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, risking the careers they’ve worked to build. Putting your hand over your heart looks lame in comparison.

We kneel before the Almighty as a show of reverence. We kneel before kings when we are knighted. Our grandfathers knelt while proposing marriage to our grandmothers.

No one is harmed, nothing is damaged, no laws are violated. This is what the First Amendment looks like when it’s done right.

Some people believe it’s unpatriotic for players to speak out about problems in our criminal justice system. They choose not to see what video after video shows us.

Professional athletes are role models both on and off the field. They stand tall when they kneel silently, respectfully, and petition for the equal protection of the law.

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Moonwalk

They kept the bedroom ready in case of one of their three sons would need to return home.

They could stay as long or as briefly as they wanted, no questions asked.

The couple knew the boys would leave in due time just as they had when they married.

The last son to leave was the first to return. He had made beginner’s mistakes in a business startup, out-of-state banks were calling at all hours.

His mother replaced the metal, barracks-style beds with more comfortable ones. His father cleared a space in the basement where his son would freelance until an offer came along.

At that time an event was unfolding that would mesmerize the world.

We all stopped and watched as the Apollo XI Moon Mission launched from Cape Kennedy. We didn’t breathe until Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon four days later.

How do the events on the Sea of Tranquility connect with those in a modest living room 252,700 miles away?

The boy’s father hadn’t been well for years and decided not to stay up for the moonwalk. If ever a moment was meant to be shared, it was this one. What could it have been but cosmic fate that plopped the young man down next to his mother in front of the TV that evening?

Sharing that unfolding drama along with cigarettes and ice cream and his mother’s lady fingers, was the last memory he would have of her as the still vibrant woman who had raised him. They had a big night.

Other moonwalks followed but the long-married couple didn’t pay much attention. Another son had come home to claim the bedroom and brought children who visited on weekends and vacations.

Explorers like Aldrin, Conrad, Bean, Shepard and Mitchell couldn’t begin to compete with the gravitational pull those kids exerted on their grandparents.

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Tom and Frontier Justice

You be the judge about what the boys did when nobody was looking.

There were seven and a half guys in the group.

One of them had been diagnosed with a hole in his heart. He used it as an excuse never to climb the fence and retrieve the basketball. He counted as only half a guy.

They lived in a neighborhood that straddled several school districts. The boys were too far from their schools to hang out with classmates so they formed a group strictly out on convenience.

As a matter of survival, they worked tirelessly on the your-dick is-so-small style of humor they’d need in high school. They had heard that Cruncher and The Holocaust were coming their way and they were nervous.

It was in the spring when the thin, blond kid named Tom got strange. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, Tom couldn’t control his mouth.

He’d took to ridiculing one guy’s acne. He made slutty-divorced-mother-with-peroxide-hair jibes that drew blood. His cruelty could have been forgiven if he hadn’t developed a trait even worse.

Tom had become annoying.

He laughed too hard at his own jokes and he spit dumb-fuck insults out of the side of his mouth. You wouldn’t have liked it.

The guys gave Tom more than his share of second chances. None of them expected it and they hadn’t planned it, but one afternoon they took matters into their own hands.

They proceeded to indict Tom. They invoked a jury and held a trial. After finding him guilty they imposed the maximum sentence — they banished him from the face of the earth.

A movie about a lynching “The Oxbow Incident” often appeared on TV. Civics teachers across the country assigned it for discussion in class. The boys began to doubt whether their frontier justice had been just, if they should have entertained appeals.

A decade later one of the group ran into Tom at a singles’ bar — both were back in town for Thanksgiving. They shared several rounds of drinks without bringing up the past.

Tom had tried various lines of work in California and as much as he loved the ocean he was thinking about moving home to finish night school.

He was as thin and blond as always and, now in his twenties, he was as pleasant and sincere a man as you could ever hope to meet.

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Trump and Police Conduct

When Donald Trump urged
police officers not to protect the people they take into custody, he was just joking.

At least that’s what his press secretary said.

He was just funnin’ when he suggested police officers shouldn’t help suspects after they cuff their hands behind their backs. If prisoners slice their heads open while being loaded into police vans, he chuckled, well they probably deserve it.

Police forces around the country weren’t laughing. They immediately condemned Trump’s remarks. (The Boy Scouts of America was forced to apologize for his comments just a week earlier.)

The president’s speech didn’t do our men and women in blue any favors. His words feed the mistrust that puts them and the public at greater risk. A law enforcement community that honors its oath to serve and protect is one or our nation’s greatest strengths.

If articles of impeachment are one day drawn up against Donald Trump, his use of police brutality as a punch line should be one of them.

Pranksters Update

— The ‘poster boys’ took a break from summer vacation to hijack billboards across the country. Read more…

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The Peddler

The man hoped
his call would get lost within the bowels of the city’s communications hub.
That would give him an excuse to put off the chore he dreaded.

But that kind of luck wasn’t to be.

Minutes before the Community Development Department officially opened for business, Chris pick up her phone and asked how she could help. “That’ll be simple enough.” she assured the caller.

There weren’t many requests like his so they’d have to do things the old-fashioned way — using pens, paper, staplers, etc. Chris wasn’t apologetic about that, she liked working with her hands.

She told her constituent he would need proof of identity. His passport would do and if he had a driver’s license he should bring that too. They made an appointment for that same day.

She took one look at the tee shirt the man would be selling and disappeared into her boss’s office. “We’ve decided to give you a special unauthorized discount.” she whispered in a conspiratorial tone.

She laminated the certificate he would wear around his neck and punched holes for a string. She slid her card across the desk and said if the police gave him any trouble they should call her.

“Congratulations, Peddler #7!“ The city wishes you every success!”

The word ‘peddler’ caught the man off guard, he didn’t like the sound of it. His mother hadn’t carried him seven months and eleven days so he could be a common ‘peddler,’ All he wanted was to unload a few tees.

The next morning he schlepped his wares to a neighborhood street fair where he found it intensely, acutely, profoundly painful to approach strangers. He experienced an immediate respect for the age-old profession that has helped shape civilization.

A city can issue a license and a badge, Peddler #7 will tell you, and it can give you access to its streets. But what it can’t provide is the grit, the heart and the cleverness it takes to survive out there.

NOTE: By regulation a peddler is not a street vendor. Vendors can set up a stand to display their goods but the peddler needs to keep moving.

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Billboard, Born in Kenya

Kenya was the birthplace of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It was at the center of Trump’s claims that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and was not legitimate in office.

As a candidate-to-be, he was looking for ways to exploit the rage and disbelief created by the election of an African-American president. He found an audience.

He took to Twitter 67 times and used hundreds of hours of free media exposure to flog his ‘Birther’ calumnies.

Taking a page from the KKK, he dragged a black man out of his home (in this case the White House) to humiliate him in front of the town folk. He mocked the human rights progress we’ve struggled to achieve.

Abraham Lincoln said the Civil War was God’s punishment for the wealth earned through slavery and that the blood shed by those in bondage would be repaid by those on the battlefield. “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” he added, quoting Psalm 19:9.

It’s possible our nation will be punished for allowing a race baiter into the Oval Office.

If Lincoln’s God is merciful He’ll decide that a Trump presidency is punishment enough — and that when he leaves office, our sentence will be commuted to time already served.

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Poster in Madrid


“Love Whomever You Love.
Madrid Loves You.”

MADRID —You see this poster on almost every corner.

It’s surprising that a country that endured iron-fisted religious and political repression late into the Twentieth Century came to recognize same-sex marriage before we did.

After all, championing individual rights is one of America’s enduring points of pride.

New rights take time to root. Challenging the values of the past is met with passion and outrage, especially when it involves the loss of power over others.

The people who wrote our constitution knew that things would change in the future so they gave us the Ninth Amendment. It says we have rights they couldn’t begin to imagine and didn’t mention in that document.

The end of slavery, voting rights for non-whites and women, the right to remain silent and have a court-appointed lawyer all came about because the Founders left us a living, breathing constitution.

We can’t see into the future any more than those geniuses could.

There may be rights our children come to recognize that we haven’t — the right to medical care, for example, may be one of them. (Our Spanish friends agreed on that years ago.)

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Teresa Hernández López

Baffled expressions are Teresa’s bread and butter MADRID — She’s part actress, part standup comic.

She’s a mime who uses her body to explain things that don’t translate. She’s an etiquette coach and a world-class diplomat.

Teresa Hernández López is a language professor who sensed early on that she would teach. As the second of five she helped attend to the education of her siblings.

She herself is a remarkable scholar — she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship by the US Department of State which she pursued in Scranton PA, where she later taught at the university level. “Have you seen ‘The Office?’“ she’ll ask.

Teresa’s not extroverted by nature, she uses the English word “shy” to describe herself but she becomes a different woman in front of students.

She conducts classes totally in Spanish, hiding her mastery of English even though it was her major — she graduated knowing more about our language than her own. She has since tackled her native Spanish with that same determined rigor. Portuguese is next.

Teresa teaches at a boutique language school built around a walk-in curriculum with no entry requirements. (It offers a convenient excuse to be in Madrid.)

Some students stay for weeks, others for months, many earn credits that transfer back home. A surprising number learn Spanish because of romantic interests. Teresa is fascinated by students from non-western cultures who have fundamentally different realities built into their languages.

She grew up in the traditionally Spanish way, her family living on the first floor and her ‘abuela’ on the fifth. She left her home town of Segovia to make her way in the Spanish capitol.

Entertainers and public speakers find nothing as terrifying as a room full of blank stares. But for Teresa, baffled expressions are bread and butter. Tortured pronunciations are music to her ears.

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