2019: A Reader’s Digest

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If you’re taking the time to read this, I’d like to commend you. While 2019 was a year of many events— on the local, national and international levels— there’s one activity that didn’t rank too highly in our collective lives this year. Reading. You know, the process by which the brain computes letters into words that eventually become ideas that we can think about inside our brains?

Frankly, it’s not surprising that no one reads anymore. Given our online world, if something can’t be shared in a meme, a 30 second video, or a 140-character Tweet, we are not interested. We’ve conditioned ourselves to only digest information in small amounts— like penguins regurgitating fish guts to baby chicks. So, to that end, I’ll try to keep this year-end summary brief.

On the international front, once again it was a great year for dictatorships. Vladimir Putin expanded his sphere of influence in Syria, Turkey and Ukraine, bringing Russia into a golden era of power not seen since Comrade Stalin gobbled up Eastern Europe like PAC-Man.

But, the real power-player of the year was Xi Jinping of China. After previously declaring himself the Wizard of Middle Earth, Jinping contained a huge public protest in Hong Kong, all while secretly detaining over a million people from ethnic minority groups into concentration camps— which the Chinese government lovingly call “Education Centers for Naughty Hobbits.” It’s very important, though, that no one talk or write about any of these events in Middle Earth because no one wants to pay more than $5 for a bottle of aspirin.

Science made a lot of discoveries in 2019. Astronomers released the first-ever photograph of a massive black hole captured by an intricate system of telescopes. Black holes are described as having gravitational forces so intense that nothing can escape— including light, atomic particles and Lori Loughlin’s career.

In New Zealand, biologists discovered ancient fossils from an unknown species of giant parrot that could grow to be three feet tall. That’s a really big bird. I bet it’d be a challenge to find a cage large enough for a parrot that is the size of a human toddler.

But, hey, maybe US Immigration could part with a few of theirs?

On the domestic front, the news-cycle has been dominated by tweets written by President Donald Trump at 3 o’clock in the morning. These tweets are widely shared because, as we established earlier, 140-characters is the maximum amount that most Americans can read at one time. This short-attention span has been very beneficial to the president because when Robert Mueller’s long-awaited 448-page report was finally released in April, no one actually read it.

In Hollywood, movie adaptations of the Avengers, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel all raked in the most cash at the box office. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either Americans can’t be bothered to read books made of cartoon drawings, or we’re desperate for a hero to save the world from certain doom.

In political news, we began 2019 with 25 Democratic candidates running for president. In the months since, an additional 379 people have joined the race. This includes a surprising number of billionaires— like Mike Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck. The candidates all claim to be able to beat Donald Trump, but their platforms and ideas exceed 140-characters, so I fear their chances of holding onto an audience are pretty slim.

Meanwhile, Congress has been awash with hearings of all kinds— hearings on presidential impeachment, hearings about executive abuses of power, and hearings about whether using the Oxford Comma would be seen as too socialist. No one knows how it will all turn out, but it still remains that less than 20% of Americans can find Ukraine on a map.

Back here at home, California is still no closer to building the high-speed train that was begun during the Millard Fillmore administration. Budget and cost overruns have plagued the high-speed rail process. Yet, at the same time, Governor Gavin Newsom’s pearly white smile remains suspiciously well-maintained. I don’t know if these two things are related, but I once bought Crest tooth whitening strips at Target and they cost more than the pair of pants I’m currently wearing.

In Patterson, it’s been an eventful year, too. As the revitalized Patterson Family Pharmacy is constructed, several new establishments have opened, as well— including a Starbucks and a Round Table Pizza. The latter establishment unfortunately joins the 692 other places that sell pizza in town. But, the new Round Table does distinguish itself by giving customers cool space-age wristbands. After these high-tech wristbands precisely dispense beer into cups, customers have the option of getting beamed onto the Starship Enterprise.

As 2019 comes to a close, we have much for which to be thankful. We can be thankful for our family, our friends and our great community. Lastly, we can also rejoice that we won’t often need to use those reading glasses we bought at Walgreens.

After all, it’s pretty easy to squint or trombone-through something that’s 140-characters, or less.

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy 2020.

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Thanks & Giving

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(originally appeared in The Patterson Irrigator)

It’s Thanksgiving. The time of year when Americans devote much of our energy into thinking about the varieties, types and quantities of foods we’re going to cram inside our bodies on a Thursday afternoon. We watch cooking shows, flip through old family recipes, and buy more stuff at the grocery store than we could possibly need or consume— like greedy squirrels hoarding nuts stolen from other (more hard-working) squirrels.

So, yeah, it’s the quintessential American holiday.

When we’re not eating, or watching overpaid NFL players run around in Spandex, we should pause to be thankful. The holiday isn’t just about how many cranberries your nephew can stuff inside his nose before you have to take him to Urgent Care. It’s about more than that. We must also appreciate the community we live in, the country that supports our rights, and the duty we all hold in safeguarding these rights for everyone. For example, it would probably be pretty handy if your nephew had health insurance that would cover cranberry extractions.

While much focus is given to the “thanks” part of this holiday, I’d like to highlight the “giving” part, too. There can’t be one without the other. Thanks can’t be without Giving. Bert can’t be without Ernie. And Rudy Giuliani can’t be without an Indictment.

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving is known as “Giving Tuesday.” It’s a day that charities and non-profits aim to generate support and donations for their causes. Giving Tuesday is especially important to local or smaller charities. Those are often overlooked for the big non-profits with the flashy marketing budgets that allow them to send me free return address labels with my name wrongly spelled as Elizabeth Guacamoo.

So, this year, I invite you to put down those cranberries and to celebrate Giving Tuesday. Support a local, Patterson-area organization that does good works in our community— like the Patterson Volunteer Firefighters Association or the Westside Food Pantry. There are many local groups to choose from. Or, if there is a specific cause you care about, find a grassroots organization that is making a difference for everyday people on the ground— not just the big non-profit conglomerates sending you free personalized Post-It notes with smiley faces.

If you’re unsure where to donate this Giving Tuesday, check out the website: www.charitynavigator.org

The acclaimed site has a wealth of information about countless non-profits and charities. It’s a good way to screen organizations and also to learn more about causes and missions you care about.

In the meantime, I wish you, and yours, a healthy and happy holiday. I hope it’s full of squirreled nuts, squishy cranberries, and lots of football commercials.

And, maybe, just maybe, if we all work together, Giving Tuesday doesn’t just have to come once a year.

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Yes, We’re 20 Years Older Now

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The brain has the amazing ability to compartmentalize time in a way that can make us forget how much time has actually passed. For example, when I’m watching Netflix, my brain will ignore the fact that I’ve watched 3 hours of Grace & Frankie. My brain will swim in this blissful interlude until something cracks it— like the window that pops up on the Netflix app. You know the one I’m talking about. The Netflix window that asks if you are “still there” because so much time has passed since you began watching that it thinks you might be dead.

Personally, I hate this Netflix feature. My brain doesn’t want a reminder of how long I’ve been watching TV. I don’t want someone judging my life choices like that. After all, if I really wanted someone to judge me, the best way to do that is to give birth to a baby. Because then you can watch the entire world criticize every choice you make as a mother for the next 18 years.

Anyway, in addition to compartmentalizing time, the brain is also really good at making us forget how old we actually are. Recently, my high school class celebrated our 20th reunion at the amazing event venue, The Century, owned by our classmate, Erin. Once arriving at the reunion, the glamour of the surroundings was a blast of reality. While my brain understood that 20 years had passed, it hadn’t really understood that we were 20 years older until that very moment. The twinkling lights, the crisp table linens, and the fancy cheeseball shaped into the numbers ‘1999’ were glaringly grown-up. I suddenly realized we weren’t people that had a slice of pepperoni and a soda from Pizza Plus for lunch anymore. We were going to have caprese skewers with aged balsamic. We were going to eat an adult dinner using adult dishes at adult tables.

On the cocktail menu, I saw Gin Rickey. My newly-awakened brain recognized Gin as a very grown-up thing to drink. So, I ordered one. And then I proceeded to put a 14-inch red straw that I stole from a movie theatre into the drink (yes, I may be Adult Elizabette, but some things will never change). My cripply SMA ass will always need to use a straw in a drink. Even though my hands are a little stronger now with Spinraza, they will never be strong enough to lift a cocktail in fancy glassware handcrafted by some dude in Germany.

Another signal to my brain that time had passed? Suddenly most of the guys in my class weren’t recognizable. They were taller. They had facial hair. They had wives that made them wear pants that actually fit. It was very jarring.

My friends and I began to not-so-secretly flip through pages of the yearbooks on display like we were identifying suspects in a criminal lineup:

“Who is that guy over by the balsamic caprese skewers?”

“I don’t know.”

“His chin is bigger than the one in this picture.”

“Yeah— I don’t think he’s our man.”

But, it was when a big-smiled guy approached me with a hearty, “ELIZABETTE!” and a hug that I realized that I had an extra disadvantage in this game of high-school reunion Guess Who. I couldn’t recognize the guy hugging me. He looked nothing like anyone in my class. His chin wasn’t familiar. His pants were appropriately-sized.

But, he clearly knew me.

While being me has many perks (see HERE), one thing is very lacking— anonymity. It’s super obvious who I am. I was the only person in a wheelchair in my entire high school. In fact, I was the first person with a significant physical disability to graduate from Patterson High. So, I could literally have had a Caitlyn Jenner-style transition and they would still pick me out of the crowd.

It’s important to note that this lack of anonymity also makes it impossible for me to commit a serious crime. Don’t believe me? Imagine this:

Police Detective: “So, do you have any idea who may have committed this robbery?

Bank Teller: “Well, she was wearing a mask… but she was driving a fancy black electric wheelchair.

Police Detective: “And you say she was armed?

Bank Teller: “Yeah, but her hands were too weak to even point the gun at me. I felt kinda bad, so I gave her the money anyway.

This lack of anonymity did nothing to help me in this moment at my reunion, however. I was losing this round of Guess Who. As he pulled back from his hug, he said, “It’s me— Gilbert!”

“No-you-are-not!” This slipped out before I could help myself. Like when I cuss in front of small children or loudly burp after I eat cucumbers. It’s just not my fault when things like that happen.

My brain was not reconciling the evidence presented. This was Adult Gilbert twenty years in the future. Not little teenage Gilbert. It was as if, once again, my brain was desperately trying not to acknowledge how long I had been watching Netflix. It wanted to ignore the little pop-up window on the app insinuating that only a dead person would be watching TV for this long.

A little later that evening as I began eating my fancy dinner of chicken in a mushroom cream sauce, I started to think that the being-20-years-older-thing has its perks, too. We are more mature. Our clothing choices are better. And, the food is definitely more sophisticated than back in 1999. And, while it could have been the gin fueling those thoughts (which is possible), I still suddenly couldn’t wait to see what the next reunion would bring.

And at least there’s one thing for certain: I still won’t have to worry about not being recognized…

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Party Like It’s 1999

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The music icon Prince recorded his famous song 1999 when I was a baby, yet that song became a defining tune for my generation. Further, as a member of Patterson High School’s Class of 1999, it became an unofficial anthem for our class. However, despite the awesomeness of Prince (which was f#$%ing indisputable), it must be said that his song still came in second in our hearts to Survivor’s smash hit, Eye of the Tiger.

If you play that song for any Patterson Tiger graduate from the last 30-odd years, our heart will race. Our pulse will quicken. And you can pretty much get us to agree to do anything. And I mean anything. Are we wavering from jumping out of a plane? No problem— just play Eye of the Tiger for about twenty seconds and that’s all it takes to make us change our mind. The tune is imprinted in our souls and instantly brings us back to the musty smells of the PHS gymnasium when hot dogs only cost $1 and all hair scrunchies had to be crimson and grey.

In just a few weeks, my class is celebrating our 20th PHS reunion. It’s hard to believe that this much time has passed— yet, life is so different now than it was then. In 1999, cell phones were the size of bricks and email was simply the most efficient way to send jokes and annoying chain letters. And, if that wasn’t enough, in 1999, presidents could actually be impeached for lying about extramarital affairs. So, yeah, it was a weird time.

Twenty years later, though, and we’re all getting a little older now. We’ve got kids, mortgages, and if you’re like me, you’ve got some secret grey hair, too. Now we listen to Eye of the Tiger to get pumped up for other, more ordinary things— like negotiating a good deal on a new car, convincing our boss to give us a pay raise, and telling ourselves that a life-saving mammogram won’t hurt our boobies as much as we fear it might.

We are trying to reach out to members of the PHS Class of 1999 to invite them to our reunion on August 16th. We’ve located many classmates via social media, but considering we’re alleged members of the Millennial Generation (which I heartily contest, however!) our class’s digital footprint is decidedly small. So, if you’re reading this and you know someone that graduated from PHS in 1999, let them know we’re looking for them. If they balk, and claim disinterest in the reunion, just play Eye of the Tiger and watch what happens.

The song works wonders.

For information, visit the reunion Facebook page, or the event link on Eventbrite.

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Farewell Pizza Plus

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(Originally printed in today’s Patterson Irrigator newspaper.)

Do you hear the sound of muffled sobs? Yeah, that’s me. It’s the kind of emotion I only feel in very specific circumstances. Like when my childhood hero turned out to be a pervert. (Yes, I’m talking about Bill Cosby.)

It was also when I heard a rumor in middle school that Bonne Bell was going to stop making Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers. This led me to rush to the old Patterson Drug to buy all the tubes left on the shelf. Okay, I admit that this example might be too specific. But, if you’ll notice, there’s a theme to my experiences and the emotional memories of many of us. They are tightly woven to our childhoods.

The recent closing of Pizza Plus, a long-time local business, has been the subject of press in this newspaper. Our estimable publisher emeritus, Ron Swift, added his thoughts in a recent column and he encouraged me to offer my opinions on this subject.

It’s well-known that I’ve often lamented the proliferation of pizza establishments in Patterson in recent years. After all, they’ve popped up with such frequency that my jokes about them just seemed to write themselves. (Unfortunately, the same thing happens to me with Mr. Trump. My sarcasm seems to leak out before I even notice. Like a burp.)

But, that said, my concerns about our town’s collective pizza consumption faded away when I heard the news about Pizza Plus. I felt an instant sadness, which was surprising considering how my stomach feels when I eat too many refined carbohydrates.

Nonetheless, a slideshow of memories flashed in my mind. When Pizza Plus was located in the old theater building (yes, we once had a movie theater in Patterson!), my friends and I would meet there during school vacations. There was a party room in the back that had a large TV and a VCR— you know, the thing that people used before the internet? Anyway, we’d rent a movie from the video store across the street to watch while eating a combination pizza with extra ranch dressing. We’d split the bill using the crumpled bills and ragged change in our pockets. The only hiccup was the glass window that opened the room to the rest of the restaurant— allowing anyone to see exactly what you were watching on the big TV.

It’s important to note that a big screen TV in 1998 meant only a 32-inch square of viewing space. Nonetheless, this was still large enough that if we had a video that was rated more than PG-13, my friends stood up in front of the glass window partition to block people in the restaurant from seeing us watch Brad Pitt take off his clothes.

These memories were joyful, simple and sweet— so, to me, the closing of Pizza Plus feels like saying goodbye to an old friend. It’s important to note that Pizza Plus did a lot for our local community through the years, too— by supporting school activities and club fundraisers, and being the first employer of dozens of eager teenagers. Small businesses like these support a community in a way that corporations and franchises simply cannot.

The loss of Pizza Plus leaves a void. So, I’d like to call upon the other 612 pizza establishments in town to step up their game. What can you do to make Patterson a stronger community? What role can you play to help our schools? After all, we need more from you than just cheesy breadsticks.

So long, Pizza Plus. Thanks for the memories.

We Are Better Than This

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(originally appeared today in my newspaper column in The Patterson Irrigator)

I have a story to share. A story that I sincerely wish I could tell you had not happened in this town. In the diverse community of Patterson that I love so very much. But, this story is worth telling as a reminder of the danger of extremes— of intolerance. The dangers of harsh words, snap judgments and, at the core, racism.

This story wasn’t mine to tell, but I asked permission from the young woman at its heart— who is a long-time and very dear friend. And she agreed to let me share this with you all. She knew, just as I do, that this is an important lesson— especially during these politically divisive times. For, while we know things like this happen in other parts of the country (just a glance at the news confirms that!), we can’t pretend that something like this can’t (and doesn’t) happen in Patterson.

My friend is one of those extraordinary friends— the kind that are always there for you when times are tough. Like me, she’s a graduate of Patterson High School and a homegrown California girl. We both have an affinity for Netflix, tacos and perfectly-made caramel macchiatos. She’s much more altruistic than I am, however. Instead of writing jokes about world dictators or all the other lame things I write about, she has, instead, worked hard through college and hospital rotations to become a licensed nurse. She’s a doer… and I’m just, well, a person with an overused vocabulary. The world needs more people like her— that’s for certain.

On a recent Patterson day, she was walking up the sidewalk to the City Hall to pay her family’s utility bill. Suddenly, a middle-aged Caucasian man spotted her and, out of the blue, began assaulting her with a barrage of hateful words. While most of the phrases he used are not suitable for print in this newspaper, here is the edited version: “Hey wetback! Yeah… Go back to Mexico. You, and all the others, need to go back to Mexico. Ha! I bet you can’t even understand what I’m saying right now.”

When my friend told me the next day what had happened, right in our little town, I got so angry that I felt blood begin to pump in my ears. But, once again, proving that she is a far greater person than I would have been, she didn’t engage with her harasser. While I would have tried to run him over with my wheelchair, she instead ignored him and went about her business. Her decision to ignore was the wise and prudent choice. But, it was a choice that she should have never had to make. It was an experience that no one should have to endure.

But, she told me that the most upsetting part wasn’t that it had happened— she knew that things like that happened to other people every day. Rather, it was that it happened in her own hometown. She admits that perhaps it was naive, but she had never imagined that something like that could happen here in Patterson. I think I must be a little naive, too, because I never thought it would, either.

But, it did. The question is, as a society and as a community, what are we going to do about it? For a person to shout such abuse in public, it means that he feels validated enough to do so. He feels like it’s just, and right, for him to say such vile things. And, in the weeks, months, and years before taking such an action against an innocent young woman, he’d been building up to that point. He’d been listening to pundits on the radio, or television. He’d been making comments to friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Comments that perhaps met with agreement, or disagreement, even if it was only silently or passively so.

But, such attitudes don’t exist in a vacuum. They don’t sprout out from the ground like a wild turnip. Society nurtures them. Allows them to take root and grow. So, we must all take responsibility for our role in that.

We must be better. Do better.

It all begins with us.

The Great American Taco Challenge, Part Dos

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It is no secret that I adore tacos more than most foods on this earth. I have definitive opinions about them and I’ve eaten them in various cities and places. And, while I might be biased, I firmly believe that in Patterson, we’ve got some of the best tacos— anywhere. In fact, I’d be willing to stack our hometown tacos against any big city taco joints. I don’t care how fancy or hipster those other places may be.

This is why, five years ago, my high school friends and I conducted The Great American Taco Challenge by sampling some local taco spots. The results were published in my column in The Patterson Irrigator. Never before had tacos been examined with such scrutiny and, frankly, love. In fact, each time we’ve seen each other since, my friends and I talk about that day and how much carne asada we managed to consume. It was glorious.

So, this last Saturday, we decided to do it again. Given the large number of taco joints in Patterson and the fact that our stomachs can only hold so many corn tortillas, we had to limit our sampling to just six— Taqueira Zamora, Morelia’s, Taqueira Barajas, El Paisa, El Portal, and Ernie’s Taqueira. Believe me, if we could have eaten from more places, we would have. But, my cardiologist said no.

We sampled them blindly— meaning we wrote the names under the plates, mixed them up, and didn’t reveal the origins until after the tasting and scoring was complete. We judged the tacos on flavor, spice, texture, tortilla quality, and even presentation (yes, we watch The Food Network!).

I’d like to tell you that this was an easy process. But, this time it was much harder to judge the tacos than it was five years ago. The taco scene in Patterson is truly at a high level. As we sat around my dining room table, a slight sheen of sweat tickled our brows. And it wasn’t just because the tacos were spicy. It was because selecting the winner was nearly impossible.

In fact, it got to the point where we felt like parents being forced to choose a favorite child. Everyone knows this is a painful and treacherous thing to do. Unless you are Donald Trump, of course. Because, then, it’s Ivanka.

We nearly abandoned the whole enterprise because the margin between each taco score was so slim. Mere decimals separated them, and we even tried computing the results in different ways to make sure we were correct. But, this had a Vladimir-Putin-Election-Rigging feeling to it, so we stopped.

In a straight average, El Portal’s “juicy” taco edged out a win over Taqueira Zamora’s “meaty and smoky” taco by a minuscule 0.37. An even smaller margin separated the other establishments— which were huddled evenly together in the rankings. It was like a photo finish in the Olympics— where you can’t tell if the guy from Barbados, Ghana, Jamaica or Cleveland had his toe over the line first.

In fact, each sampling had something of note about it. Ernie’s Taqueira took the award for “spiciest taco,” while El Paisa had the “best corn tortilla.” Morelia’s included some of their amazing homemade chips in the order, which was like getting a surprise from Santa Claus. And, lastly, the presentation of the plate from Taqueira Barajas was so beautiful that it should have been featured in a food magazine. Seriously, it was so pretty. Those hipsters can just kiss our ass.

To be honest, it was a great day to be eating tacos in Patterson. And these were just a small sampling of what this town has to offer. I do apologize if we didn’t make it over to your particular taco establishment, though. This doesn’t mean that we don’t like your tacos, only that my arteries can only handle so many at one time.

My cardiologist thanks you for your forgiveness.

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