It’s Mental


Horror after horror of mass murders has left many of us shaking our heads in dismay wondering if we’ll come back home from a movie or a trip to the grocery store.  This was not a common concern in the earlier decades of our modern society.

After listening to Patrick Kennedy, younger son of the long-time Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, promoting his book, A Common Struggle, I was remembering experiences of seeing people with mental health issues who were clearly not getting the care or medication they needed as they acted out bizarre behaviors on the city bus that I took to and from work daily.  They were probably harmless individuals but I always felt sad watching them, most of whom seemed to be under 35, which I suspect is young for the kind of deviant behavior they exhibited.

One morning one of these young men climbed into the bus.  The driver must have recognized him and tried to discourage him from entering – but the man was persistent and got loud insisting on his rights as his bus pass was valid.  It was, and he marched to the back of the bus.  He was tall, thin, emaciated looking and had clear blue eyes – his burgundy knit cap close around his head and his camel colored wool coat all buttoned up.  On this ride, he was quiet and rode and got off without causing a stir.

The last time I saw him it was an evening rush hour and on that time he was carrying on a conversation in which he and himself were debating the religious view of some issue.

The first time I saw this man, perhaps two years ago, I noticed that if anyone looked at him, his eyes opened very wide and a broad deep pleased smile crossed his face – the kind that may be reserved for a closer relationship.

Going home the evening before St. Patrick’s day this same young man unshaven for a few days, wearing a different warm looking coat and knit cap pulled snugly over his head boarded the bus.  All was quiet until the Broadview Road stop when his scream cut the otherwise peaceful ride – and he thundered off the bus in pursuit of a young scallywag who had snatched his cap – while the verbiage was basically unclear, obscenities were coherent.  The driver was thoughtful enough to wait for the man to recover his cap and run back onto the bus.  Certainly he is fast and alert even though he is clearly disturbed. It is all the more puzzling.

One less fortunate, but equally afflicted man got on the bus, long curly brown hair, his winter jacket could not have offered him much warmth.   It was worn with tears down the back and sleeves.  That morning a lady who works for the Veterans Administration was sitting and chatting with us – although he sat across from her for a few minutes – he changed seats frequently – she did not look directly at him but she quietly said the man had not taken his medication – that he was schizophrenic – this man was softly talking and laughing a lot, much as one might do in a two-way conversation.  He got off the bus at the public square and I wondered where he was going from there.

The man who touched the deepest chords in my psyche was an aging Oriental man, perhaps fifty or so with grey strands in his dark hair, he was slight, little more than about five feet tall.  He got on the bus and sat down and in a while he got up and began to “pick up” invisible things and put them into his bag.  He picked them up off the floor, the seat, the frame of the seat, and the aisle.  He seemed oblivious to the people around him.  One woman moved to a different seat.  He moved his hand over the frame of the seat again and again.  Then he sat next to a young woman who always gets on at Metro Hospital.  She looked like she could easily protect herself.  When he began the ritual of picking up something that was not there, she could see that he was harmless and she stayed put while he went through his routine.  At some major intersection he walked to the front of the bus and when the driver asked him if he wanted to get off, he did so without saying anything and I wondered if he knew where he was.

There was a lady who got on the bus with an assortment of plastic bags.  From one of them she pulled a tussled looking blondish wig and after shaking the dust out of it, adjusted it onto her head and followed that with an assortment of primping rituals and application of make-up.  By the time she was finished, she did look better and different, but the process was not exactly unnoticed by the other passengers.

While these individuals clearly need help, there are others who are less benign and only after they explode in violent behavior are we aware that somehow our systems have failed them and all of us are impacted.  I do not think there is a one size fits all solution to our societal dilemma.  However, I think Patrick Kennedy has some viable suggestions.


What’s that?

fridge magnets

I hadn’t been in bed very long and was on the edge of dozing off.  There was no one else in the house.  It was dark and quiet.

Something small fell.  Judging by the sound it made when it landed, somewhere not too far from me, but not the sound of landing on the tile in the bathroom, nor the carpet between my bed and closet, but definitely onto a bare floor.  Pearl like I decided, and there is nothing pearl like outside of my room, but I was not motivated to get up and search for the mysterious item.

In the small hours of the night when I got up and went into the bathroom, I remembered to look around the floor, but saw nothing that wasn’t there before the sound was issued.

Much later when I went into the kitchen to make coffee and toast, I noticed a small round button like glass shape with a pink flower glued to the underside and said, Ah ha!  The little trinket had fallen away from the magnet which was still stuck to the refrigerator.

on the edge of drought


A gust of wind blew and a shower of brown leaves easily burst off of the limbs of a grand Maple tree and like a nest of angry bees swarmed across the road settling along a bed of grass. Weeks went by without a drop of rain while the air was hot and dry.  Six days, late in September after the passing of summer into autumn the temperatures ran into the low ninety degree range, the likes of which had not happened in recorded history.  It was easy to understand how fires rampaged across the western states this past summer.

There were reports of brief showers here and there, but none near my home.  Further south and east some towns were considered drought areas.  While the clouds were heavy with promise, only fine and scattered rain fell.  Half asleep before I climbed into my bed and once my head met the pillow last night I could hear the long awaited drops softly pelting against the window followed by wind and then a steady beat as the rain continued into the night.

My cousin, in from Colorado for her mother-in-law’s 90th birthday, came after sending her family home ahead of her and having visited with everyone on her list, to sit across a small table from me where we nibbled assorted bits and pieces of vegetables and humus and blue corn chips, sipping wine and relaxing while talking about our lives, our extended family and wondering what it all adds up to as we keep moving through time.

From Paper to Canvas


I don’t remember how young I was when I first began drawing, but I remember the thick, brilliant white pads of paper my father brought for my sister and I to draw on, and that I joyously filled them out and then I would tell my father, “Daddy, I’m out of drawing paper” and he would magically fill the void with another pad of paper.  On the reverse side of each page was a grid of blocks with the title of Inventory on them (which in retrospect, I assume he took from the supply cupboard at work).

Entertaining myself one winter day when I was home sick in bed I was coloring the then black and white comic strips.  In time the world of coloring books opened to me.  Midway through elementary school we got an art teacher who encouraged me.  But my parents said the classes she wanted me to attend at the art museum were not in our budget.

My life in art really expanded when I got to high school where I easily slipped into other realms and time ceased to exist through calligraphy, oil painting, wood block printing, entering and helping our teacher hang our work at the annual May Show at a department store downtown. A piece of my upright Italic lettering merited an Honorable Mention in the show.

From the childhood materials of simple items I graduated to real art supplies, canvas and fine paper; my best friend in high school gave me my first real pad of newspaper print drawing paper, which made me feel like I was really a student of art.

As a young adult I took courses at the Cleveland Institute of Art at night and part time while working as a research clerk at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, before moving to Washington, D.C., where I continued to study art at the Corcoran School of Art.

A lady I sat next to on the bus going to work knew I was into art and she had been telling me that our church had an annual art show, would I be interested in working on it and I said yes.  After hearing about it for months, she finally told me there would be a committee meeting for the art show and I went.  To my surprise, she advised me that I had been nominated to “hang” the show.  A department store downtown loaned us long blue drapes and wood frame forms to hang the artwork onto.  Having some experience with this from high school, I didn’t hesitate and rounded up my friends Edna, Dick and his friend Frank.  We arrived at the church hall in the evening to see all of the work submitted by children through adults including one of my paintings.  We worked late into the night until every piece was in place.  We turned out the lights, locked the building and all went to our respective homes.

The next morning after Mass I wedged my way into the hall which was packed with people and suddenly I was floating along looking at the crowd, at the artwork, at everything and I knew I had arrived at a high point in my life.

A girl I worked with bought my painting and that was icing on the cake.  The lady who got me to do the work said it was the best art show the church ever had.  I remained euphoric for a long time.

In 1969 I moved to San Jose, California where junior college level courses were tuition free.   My expenses were fees, books, an insurance card and art supplies.    I took multiple classes including textile arts, ceramics, wood sculpture, print making, and art history besides the required courses and everything else I was hungry to learn about, by which time I had more credits than necessary to complete the AA requirements, I was advised to move on to San Jose State, where in 1982 I completed the work on a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in abstract painting.

While I never earned a living using my art background, it has certainly added a colorful perspective to my life.



Auto Repair

car repair

Something was different about the service manager at the garage where I take my car for its oil changes and other maintenance work.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I started using this garage upon the recommendation of my neighbor/friend, Marilyn, a few years back.  The place I had been going no longer worked on Saturdays, so I tried this one and have not looked back.

The prices are right and the work is good, and oddly enough the service manager reminded me of my cousin, Ray.

The lady busy filling in multiple slots with brightly colored bags of salted snacks and bars and bits of sweet stuff had called him “JT” and I actually thought this was someone else.  The coveralls he was wearing had the name “John” embroidered on the front, so maybe he was a new guy and just wore whatever was available that fit.  When the oil was changed, the bulbs that burnt out were replaced, the window washer topped off, and the hubcap that was rattling away had been silenced, I signed off on the payment line.  Oh, and with a drive to Lakeside coming up in about a month, are the tires still good?  Mmmmm, you could use new tires.  Okay, I don’t suppose you can do that today?  No, I’ll have to order them, they could be here tomorrow.  No, that won’t work for me, how about Wednesday.  Yes, good, Wednesday it is.

John knew I don’t drive a lot and he was always conservative in his recommendations, which I both trusted and relied on.  New tires.  That’s a chunk, but with winter a few months off, it would be best to just get them taken care of and be done with it.

I’m not much of an early bird these days, but he said they open at seven, with a hint that it would be good if I was there at seven a.m.  So I was and the counter lady said she had been there since five a.m. (oi!) I needed a ride home since they did not want me underfoot for a few hours.

A few hours later John, the service manager, called to say the car was done and I was ready, so he doubled back to collect me.  I had heard that familiar sick sound of a tree being sawed down.  John said he saw a big machine which costs about $80,000, as it took a 100 year old tree which had been guided into the chipper by chains and get diminished to mulch in minutes.  In a breath he was talking about trees the way I do, and in those few minutes back to the station we talked more than in the ride to my house or most of the way back.

It occurred to me that the reason I didn’t recognize John was that he looked more relaxed than he usually does, less stressed.  Maybe now he’s gotten competent help.

Yard Pests


As a homeowner who has been trying to defend her turf for a decade and a half from ground hogs, with no help from the city animal control folks who insist they are not “nuisance” critters, I always listen to other people’s stories on how they are fighting off these pests, which dig holes who knows how deep and leave an otherwise well-cared for yard looking pockmarked.

During water exercise last week, a lady named Kim was relating her experience.  The city of Cleveland realizes that these animals do damage, so they gave her cages and she actually caught three of the varmints and turned them in, telling the animals that if they would just listen to her and go away, they would not end up in the cages.  However, she was sure that the animal control person let the woodchuck out of the cage a block or two away and of course the creature simply came back home to her yard.

She has an apple tree and the ground hogs do enjoy apples.  So do the deer, but they are a little harder to catch.  One afternoon Kim looked out to her deck to see a woodchuck standing on the handrail munching on an apple.  She said that is like getting fast food and then eating it in someone else’s back yard.  I was laughing so hard that I could no longer hear the instructor’s counting for whichever exercise the rest of the group was in the process of doing.

When I saw the PBS documentary on Coy-wolves, I was hoping the local population of these carnivores would help cut down the groundhog numbers in my neighborhood.  Surely there is more meat on a groundhog than on other small things they consume, albeit perhaps harder to catch.

It does not help that such pests have been romanticized in a movie of the same name, or every February with the hope of six weeks bringing spring from the doldrums of a long cold winter, one of these furry fellows is held up by a local politician as a heroic mascot, as if there was actually a way of knowing if it saw or even cared to see its own shadow.

Among the assorted stories I have heard about man trying to best the beast was one of a man who turned a hose on into the hole and let the water run for a long time.  He didn’t flood out the ground hog, but his basement wall caved in.  That just is not the solution I am looking for.

Catastrophic Calamities

KatrinaCleanUp 2006

One disaster after another, each competing for attention on the daily and evening news reports, each tugging at our heart strings with news of homes terribly damaged or decimated all together and the loss of life tallies.  In my lifetime I do not recall hearing of so many catastrophic natural disasters occurring one on the heels of another, or worse, simultaneously.

Some folks are saying these are signs of end times, and they quote the bible.  While I agree that things do not look good, in my memory there is also a line in the bible that suggests, “… it is not for you to know the hour or the day…” and that helps me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other each day.

The second collection during a Mass last week was accompanied with the request, “dig deep” and we came prepared since we were advised the week before that the donation for the hurricane victims would be taken.

The estimates of the costs to repair the damage just in Texas after hurricane Harvey was in the billions of dollars, ($195 billion, according to an article by Grace Donnelly) I heard on the news, so no matter how deeply we reached into our pockets, could our little contributions be but a bandage when so much was needed?  There will be more collections and there are many individuals compelled to collect goods and fill trucks and drive down to the devastated areas to help mitigate the misery.  God bless them all.

One news report suggested that the cost for hurricane Irma could bankrupt the United States.  Add to that the rampant fires between California, Oregon, and Montana, and now hurricane Maria has swept across Puerto Rico while a second earthquake within a week, this one 7.1 on the Richter Scale, near Mexico City, where it was a reminder of one in the same location in 1985 which killed thousands.   I think my head and my heart are on compassion overload.

It all reminds me of the horrors of hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in late August of 2005.  I remember that for a couple of stints for two years running my son volunteered to help with the clean-up.  The pictures he sent home were of him in a hazmat suit with gear for cleaning mold out of houses.

While he was about that work, anything he had which had any value was stolen from him.  His laptop, digital camera, back pack, money, clothes, so that he ended up calling me to ask me to sell some piece of musical equipment he left in the basement for a ticket back to Chicago. I have no idea what it was he wanted me to find and sell, but I did get him passage back to the windy city.  My thoughts return to him and I wonder where he is in all the world’s turmoil.