Sunday, May 18, 2008

Addicted to Facebook

When Hannes first suggested it, I scoffed. Facebook is for teenagers. What was he doing on Facebook so much? Months went by. He was still glued, locked in a trance. Eventually, he picked up my computer, gave me a username and password, and I was in.

I now have 163 "friends" and believe it or not, all but about three people are actually friends. There is Patrick Ochieng, of course. I know a Patrick Ochieng, but evidently not the one who is my Facebook friend. I met the "real" Patrick Ochieng in Kenya. He runs an NGO in Mombasa. I accidentally befriended Patrick Ochieng of Toronto -- half Kenyan and half Ugandan. I know nothing more about him, but when we discovered the mistake (he discovered it rather, wondering with great interest why a whacko from New York would want to be his Facebook friend) we decided to remain friends. Every Kenyan-Ugandan-Canadian should have a New York whacko, like me.

Truthfully, my 163 Facebook friends are not demanding of my time. And Facebook has helped me reconnect with some incredible people, including my high school photography teacher. But who could have predicted that I would be on Facebook for hours waiting for my friends to make a move in my many ongoing scrabulous games? The addiction escalated quickly. I browbeat others who were staunchly opposed to wasting time on social networking sites into joining Facebook. I started scrabble games with them. I feel kind of sad when I see those friends lurking online, waiting for me (or some new Facebook addict I've introduced them to) to take my next scrabulous move.

I took on new Facebook hobbies. There was Dope Wars and Texas Hold 'Em. Now I had never played poker in my life before Facebook (nor had I been a drug dealer for that matter). Poker was too complicated. But there I was in the midst of an adreneline rush, sitting at a poker table with a bunch of strangers and trying my best not to lose the free 500 chips I'd gotten for the day. I still have no idea how to play poker, despite I find myself in the virtual Bellagio Hotel or Mirage at least once per day. Somehow I actually won today, which is I attribute entirely to random luck.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here. Talk to my husband more rather than pestering him to take his next scrabulous move from the next room? Perhaps I should invent my own social networking site so that at least I can become a billionaire with an addiction.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Few Word About Sean Bell

The Q train took what felt like forever to arrive this afternoon. Surprisingly, I was able to find a seat. Along with the saxophonist who thinks he’s an alien, I rode home with a man whose voice was too loud. I may be wrong, but I believe people who speak too loudly are self-important and they function under the mistaken belief that everyone within earshot should have the benefit of their wisdom. Occasionally, one comes across a saxophonist alien, and on that rare occasion one may want to listen. But this particular day, the alien was drowned out.

“The last celebrity sighting I had was last week. It was Al Sharpton.” Now I wouldn’t consider Al Sharpton much of a celebrity sighting in New York City, so I was intrigued. “I don’t know what was going on, but there were television cameras set up everywhere.”

The man’s traveling companion spoke, though at a polite volume. “He made a lot of appearances after the Sean Bell verdict. Maybe that was it.”

“I don’t like to comment when I haven’t seen the whole legal proceeding, but it couldn’t have been racist if he was shot by a black cop. And anyway, when you’re dead you’re dead, whether there are 40 bullets or one bullet."

The silence hung in the air. I watched the young black woman who was pretending to be asleep dart glances at him. There was a black or Latino man who was also pretending to sleep. He seemed to smile coyly with his eyes open only enough to watch. I stared ahead while I visibly shook my head in dismissal. I thought about confronting the man but I was too tired to start an argument with a complete stranger. And somehow a confrontation would break the subway code of minding your own business.

“I respect the police. They’ve never done anything to me. I mean, I know I am a privileged white man and everything . . .”

The first words of confrontation almost escaped my mouth. But at that moment he stopped talking. The train lumbered in to Prince Street station, he gave his friend a light kiss on the cheek, she got off the train, and the torture ended.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

In the Name of the Father

So I had a commenter ask whether I'm from Ellwood City, Pennsylvania and whether I grew up in the gold paneled house on Lawrence Avenue.  Indeed, I am, and I did!  

Mr. Commenter,  (I do have my reasons to suspect he's a man, though he didn't disclose his identity) thank you for your kind words about my family, my father, and my brother Larry who still lives in our family homestead.

My father died almost 14 years ago, and I still miss him.  As each day passes, I find new common threads between his life and his values and my own.  Too bad I wasn't more aware when he was alive, but I think this is not uncommon.  We too often take our loved ones for granted and forget to celebrate them during life.  My father was a wonderful man, and I constantly seek ways to leave a legacy of his life -- forget my own.

Allow me to tell an abbreviated story that shapes my life.  

My father's family moved to Ellwood City from North Carolina in 1909.  His mother was pregnant with him.  He was the first black person born in Ellwood City and the first black person to graduate from my alma mater, Lincoln High School.  (Go Wolverines!)  My father's history and the depth of our roots in Ellwood City have always made me proud.  And during my lifetime we have always been treated with the utmost respect -- almost as minor local celebrities.

Here's the story:

I never met my Uncle Lin.  Before I was born, his wife murdered him.  She slashed him in an artery in his thigh.  Though he was rushed to the hospital very much alive, he bled to death. The hospital contacted all of the black families in town, and asked them to donate blood.  The hospital refused to give "white blood" to a black patient.  In those days, in the early 60's, there were probably only five black households in town.  Because of the dearth of "black blood" in town, Uncle Lin died.  

I don't think my father ever recovered from that loss.  He became a very sad man before I was born.  

Uncle Lin's murderous wife would walk past our house daily, and I wasn't permitted to speak to her.  My parents didn't tell me why.  I suppose they felt I was too young to know the horrible truth.  One day, against my parents will, I found the courage to speak to her.  "Hello."  I spoke tentatively.  She looked straight ahead and continued her silent stroll past my house.  I never tried again.

When my mother felt I was old enough, she told me the story.  "But why isn't she in jail?" I asked her.  It was then that my mother told me the perhaps the saddest part of the story.   The town refused to arrest her and prosecute a black-on-black crime.

When I tell people this story, they're shocked.  They can't believe that in a town in the North such a thing would happen.  Black blood, white blood, black-on-black crime, no prosecution. It's outrageous but true.
I write about this story as a stone in the masonry I'm building to honor my father's life. This story must be told, and now I'm telling it.  I know I will tell it again and again.


My cousin is now the chief of police in  Ellwood City.  He wasn't born there, and he didn't grow up there.  His great-grandmother was my father's sister.  He was born and raised in nearby Pittsburgh, where my Aunt Dorothy eventually settled.  

I don't know my cousin very well, but I know that my father would be very proud that a member of our family is the town's first black chief of police.  This, too, has been added to the masonry.