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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Dimensions, Dictators, and a Whole Lot of Weed

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I’m not going to sugar-coat it, roll it in cinnamon, or top it with frosting. I’m going to be honest. The kind of honest that you usually only see from small children or really elderly relatives— but, rarely see from politicians or men that run around grabbing women by the ass.

Okay, here goes… The year 2017 was… just… straight-up weird. So weird that it made me wonder if we had somehow veered off into a parallel universe. I know you might think I sound loony. But, stick with me for a moment.

Stephen Hawking, the super-genius, theoretical physicist, writes a lot about this concept. He says that black holes could be portals to other countless universes— very much like our own world, but, just a little different. So, there could be infinite planet Earths… countless other cities of Patterson… and many versions of me.

This is a troubling thought. I wonder if all versions of me are as scared of spiders? Or, like pumpkin spice lattes? Or like to drive so fast in their wheelchairs?

I also wonder if all the versions of Patterson have quite as many palm trees? Or, as many pizza places? Because I don’t know if it’s possible for a town to have as many locations to buy pizza as we do right now.

Seriously.

Anyway, what if the Earth was swallowed by a giant, unknown black hole, and we slipped into another dimension? Maybe that would explain why 2017 was so weird… and it would also explain why Patterson suddenly seems to want so many marijuana dispensaries.

Between the record-breaking hurricanes, deadly earthquakes, and massive fires, it could be argued that Mother Nature didn’t care much for 2017, either. Nonetheless, we mustn’t forget the victims of these disasters— many organizations are on the ground now helping those that are affected. Donate time or money, if you can. Don’t be a Scrooge.

It’s important to note that not everyone has had a difficult year, though. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un spent the year honing his missile launching and nuclear skills. After scattering hardware all over the Sea of Japan and threatening the West with death and destruction, he still found time to attack a village of Hobbits with a potato cannon. So, all in all, it was a pretty solid year for dictators. Just ask Vladimir Putin.

We also found out that Americans can become obsessed with solar eclipses— so much so that they will call-in sick to work, and drive hundreds of miles to watch the shrinking sun through a peephole in a modified box of Honey Nut Cheerios. I suspect that many of these same people spent the prior year, 2016, chasing cartoon Pokémon on their smartphones.

So, I suppose this is an improvement.

Scientists made several discoveries this year, too. A new species of orangutan, a close primate cousin to humans, was recently discovered hiding in an isolated forest in Indonesia. It’s been a century since a new species of great ape has been found. So, this is an incredibly exciting— and surprising— development. After all, who knew that Donald Trump wouldn’t be the only new orange-colored primate to burst into the international scene this year?

As we say goodbye to 2017, here’s hoping that the year to come will be a healthy, safe and happy one.

Just watch out for those black holes.

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Two Weeks Later…

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It’s amazing how much can change in two weeks. Wars have been fought and won in a shorter span of time and, if you are a believer, than the entire world was created by the Almighty in a mere 7 days— including, Adam, Eve, snakes, assorted shrubberies, and the Fuji apples you can buy at Savemart for $1.29 a pound.

And if all that wasn’t enough excitement, I also made the front page of the estimable Patterson Irrigator newspaper― instead of my column’s usual spot on page 5, or 7. So, yeah, a lot can change very fast.

Two weeks ago, I had my first injection of Spinraza. (For those of you that haven’t been following my journey, you can read my past writings on this topic HERE.) It wasn’t long after that initial treatment that I first began to feel that magical little $125,000 serum at my work in my spinal fluid— like busy Oompa Loompas toiling at Willy Wonka’s factory over a steaming vat of marshmallow cream.

The night following the injection, I woke up at 2am absolutely starving— like I hadn’t eaten anything for days. If you know me at all, you’d know this is an impossibility. There are few things in this life I love more than food. And if I could think of what those things actually are, I would write them right here.

I spent the next 3 days basically eating everything that wasn’t nailed down— especially things with protein. I was like a mama grizzly bear that hadn’t seen food since she went into hibernation last December. A real grizzly― not the fake ones that Sarah Palin seems to find everywhere she goes.

To give you an example, after already consuming breakfast, lunch and three snacks, one afternoon around 4pm I got hungry again and began casting my eyes around my kitchen. My radar settled upon a pouch of cashew nuts on the counter. For a few minutes, I attempted to open the reusable zippered fastener on the pouch. But, I quickly grew impatient and annoyed when my not-strong-enough fingers couldn’t open the lip. Undeterred, I grabbed my purple Crayola kid scissors (the only kind that I can use without hurting myself) and proceeded to desecrate the thick pouch until I had wormed a two-inch hole into the plastic. As the soothing scent of roasted cashews wafted up to my nose, I knew that victory was at-hand. THE CASHEWS WERE MINE!

This inexplicable hunger, this rabid feeding frenzy, culminated in a fluttering feeling in the muscles of my neck, my upper arms and my right hand. I began to notice that things were just a touch easier to do. My Sonicare toothbrush felt lighter. I was typing faster on my computer. I was able to grab my water bottle just a bit more smoothly. My voice sounded stronger. My respiratory numbers were up. I could text jokes about Mr. Trump to my friends even more swiftly than I had two weeks ago.

Things were happening.

It’s difficult to fathom that the little vial of muscle juice was already working. But, while a great deal of things are “all in my head,” I guarantee than this definitely wasn’t. Just because I could convince 11-year-old me that Santa was real, despite all the evidence to the contrary, this doesn’t mean that I’m imagining that the Spinraza was already helping. While my imagination is incredibly well-honed, it’s not that good.

This week, I head back to Stanford for Dose #2. I never thought I’d be this excited to get another shot into my spine. Never. Just as I thought I’d never live to every meteorologist IN THE WORLD go apeshit over an upcoming solar eclipse.

Seriously, though, this hype is way too much— just like the Twilight movies. Once the solar eclipse is actually done, everyone is going to forget all about it… just like they forgot how they once found Robert Pattinson brooding and charming.

Anyway, please wish me luck for Dose #2.

Who knows what the next two weeks will bring?

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That 70’s Show

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I’ve heard it said that fashion is cyclical. What was once in style is sure to become fashionable again— if you just wait long enough. While I’m not sure if that’s always the case, I think the cliché is more true than not.

I’ve noticed that over the last few years that the color palette of the 1970s seems to be creeping back in vogue. While I wasn’t alive during that decade, I’ve seen enough of my parents’ Technicolor photographs to verify this as accurate. You know those little square Kodak photos with rounded edges featuring your relatives with well-coiffed hair and bright floral outfits?

Yeah, those things.

I’ve been seeing lots of clothes and decor with those colors recently. And in places where, frankly, I’d prefer they weren’t. For example, a couple of years ago, I lamented a paint job that had been completed at my doctor’s office here in Patterson. When I told my doctor that the color of his building resembled the shade you’d find inside a baby’s diaper, he told me that he had no part in selecting that particular color palette. While this reassured me of his decision-making ability, that hasn’t stopped me from having to look at those colors each time I go for a flu shot.

I regret to say that this 1970s color invasion has claimed another victim. Today, I had a few errands, so I had to stop by the bank. I hadn’t been inside the bank in quite some time, so I was too busy saying hello to the nice ladies that work there to notice that the interior had undergone a redecoration. Once I was in line for the teller, I looked up and felt my nose instantly wrinkle in dislike.

My beloved bank had been painted a shade of yellow that, if seen in a toilet bowl, Dr. Oz warns us is a sure sign of dehydration.

I mulled on this revelation for a few minutes— looking around the walls as if expecting to feel differently about the color. Once it was my turn at the teller, I nearly asked her about it, but I stopped myself because I didn’t want to make the staff feel bad for having to work at a place that resembled a urinary tract infection.

However, since they are probably reading this column right now, it’s too late for me to worry about that at this point.

In conclusion, I’d like to add the following: I am not the most fashionable person. My sense of style is highly circumspect— just like my ability to walk, which is decidedly nonexistent. So, I’d take my fashion opinions with a hefty grain of salt— just as you would all the things that come out of Donald Trump’s mouth.

I’m sure these buildings and these 1970s colors are super chic— and I’m sure real, honest-to-goodness designers made the color choice. I’m also quite sure that many people must like them.

BIMG_4228ut, definitely not me.

Messy Drawers, Cassette Tapes & Vladimir Putin

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There’s no right or wrong time to clean out a messy drawer, or that one cabinet that hasn’t been touched since audio cassette tapes were still a thing that people actually used. Don’t mistake this as a diss on cassettes— nothing could be further than the truth. I used to love to rock out to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album on my mint green boom box. In fact, I eventually wore the cassette tape out and had to use some of my piggy bank money to buy a fresh copy at the mall. This was a time when you had to actually drive to the store to buy music— so it was a serious commitment. You had to really want something if you were willing to make your mom drive you 40 minutes to the Vintage Faire Mall to get it. After all, in the 1980’s, the only thing you could download from a Cloud was some rain.

Cleaning out an old drawer or shelf can be a therapeutic experience. I know I always feel better, lighter, and calmer when I can de-clutter something. That’s a fact. Unloading possessions is deeply cathartic. While I know that some people get the same feeling from yoga and meditation, I suspect Vladimir Putin gets a similar zing of excitement when he invades Ukraine and polishes his knife collection.

Sorting through old stuff can yield surprising results, too. Once I found a $20 bill in a nylon fanny pack at the bottom of my dresser. Remember fanny packs? Yeah, I wish I didn’t, either. Aside from being horrified that I actually wore the damn thing, I instantly felt like I had won a prize by discovering the twenty bucks inside. It didn’t seem to matter that it was actually my own money, I was still a Powerball winner in my mind.

A few days ago, I cleaned out an old drawer in my bathroom. Inside, next to a crusty bottle of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, and in front of a curling iron that hadn’t been used in over a decade, I found a little box. Inside? My high school class ring! I hadn’t seen the ring in years, in fact, I had forgotten all about it. But, alas, here it was in my hand, smelling slightly of old talc, yet none the worse for wear. It was like finding a $20 bill, only way better. Vladimir Putin probably gets the same feeling when he imprisons dissidents and runs around the Kremlin naked.

So, the moral of the story is this: don’t wait to clean out that one messy drawer in your house. While you may only find old buttons, some matchbooks, and a few dried-up pens, there’s a chance you could discover something awesome. Like a $20 bill, your high school class ring, or— if you’re Vladimir Putin—your secret stash of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

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If only everyone could be so lucky.