On a Saturday…
So the beautiful African American woman sitting on the couch is my wife. No really, she is.
If you like, you can catch my real life wife on NBC’s Hollywood Game Night this coming Monday at 8/7c
I am not a woodworker but I know a grizzly bear who is.
Had I been a woodworker I might have known that I have recently relocated to the town where once lived one of the greatest woodworkers of all time. Now that last descriptor is all mine, neither the woodworker nor the grizzly made that claim, but I am sticking with it. The man won a MacArthur Fellowship for heaven’s sake. Most of us call the MacArthur Fellowship the “Genius Awards”. I saw hanging on a wall in his house, a legit certificate certifying that this woodworker was in fact a genius.
This woodworker, the famous one not the grizzly, was Sam Maloof.
I think that’s pretty much how the conversation went. While generally an idiot I am occasionally smart enough to listen to Kaleo Kala and we drove down the street to visit the house Sam Maloof. Good heavens am I glad I did because this guy, this carpenter from Chino, if judged by his house, was the coolest man to ever live.
Its not just the house, its everything about the house. Its everything in the house. It is a house that became a museum the day the inhabitant passed away. This means that this guy created a space and place to live, and did it so well, that everyone else wanted to come and see it. And so we did.
When I say created I mean he built the house. He designed it bit by bit, adding on to it with time and when funds became available. It isn’t a box to live in, because it grew with time, grew out of his mind, it became this organic living thing. It became… interesting. I crave interesting.
The furniture was all custom, the art on the walls was all original, and every item had a story behind it. It looked good. It was comfortable. It was interesting and t was real.
Real. Real like the Navajo rugs were obtained from a Navajo down on the reservation. The bell up on that bell tower was salvaged from an old church down in New Mexico. The kachina dolls were from a Hopi not a factory. Well, except one kachina that he made himself. But the idea that he made one adds to the interest of the item. There was pottery from Egypt, that he got in Egypt, African masks that he got in Africa, and the most beautiful wood canoe I have ever seen hanging from a vaulted ceiling. It was a real canoe, hand made by some guy but I don’t think it ever made it into a body of water. It was a useful item made so beautifully that it became art.
There were books everywhere. Family photos. Dishes and silverware that had never seen the inside of a big box store. There was stained glass, old things, new things. Straight lines and curved lines. Al of this stuff that spoke and told stories despite the man having passed.
Mr. Maloof and I never met. I know little of how he treated people, but I think I want to be him. Or at least I want to be the kind of guy who can create the sort of things he created, either directly or by assembly. Man did he do it right.
Have you ever been to a candy store, when you don’t really like candy, but there was a kid there and it was fun to watch? I haven’t, but I’m guessing it would be much the same as seeing Kaleo at Sam Maloof’s house. Its like I, and most all of us, are ducks, then we go to Mr. Maloof’s house and I look over next to me and doggone it if Kaleo isn’t really a swan. Its fun to watch a swan in its element.
If we are all good boys and girls we will one day be presented at the pearly gates and be allowed to enter. For those who are still lost and wallowing in iniquity, the pearly gates are located at 5702 York Boulevard in Los Angeles California. The whole Saint Peter thing is really just a myth, the gates are actually guarded by a guy named John Nese… and he lets everybody in.
That right there is a grizzly bear, St. Peter, and a groveling soda supplicant. I can testify that there is no better place on this terrestrial planet to grovel for carbonated beverages. This is because if a soda exists, Galco’s Old World Grocery stocks it. He does not put it in a glass display case or on a nice tablecloth, just stocks it.
Now make no mistake not all sodas are created the same. Some are completely unfit for human consumption, or, are simply unremarkable and don’t merit the trip. Others are deservedly the desire of pilgrims and sojourners world wide. Blenheim for example is worth scaling Everest. But you don’t have to because Nese stocks it.
How bout MacFuddy Pepper Elixr? Despite its domestic origins I had never heard of such a thing but the promise of spice was too much to pass up. It disappointed. But I blame my imagination rather than the beverage.
Did you know they make a cinnamon and rose soda? No? Well that’s probably because they don’t. But my kid did at Galco’s. If they don’t have what you want there you can make your own. If it exists, ever existed, or you wish it existed. You have to make it to heaven.
The Tea Party drives me nuts. All this taking our country back stuff and championing the intentions of the founding fathers gives me the heebie-jeebies. Now before we start drawing battle lines or calling names I should also put it out there that I’m equally perturbed by the occupy movement and those who are simply looking for something to gather together and shout about. All this gathering and shouting from all sides. Gives me a headache. Heartache too.
Let us talk a bit instead.
I love the United States of America. Really I do. Apple pie isn’t really my favorite but I love brownies, steaks from Texas, and think football was created by heavenly angels. Those angels were in no way associated with the SEC or the BCS, possibly Notre Dame, but more likely in direct ministration to Walter Camp. I feel an emotional connection to the Rocky Mountains, love the stars and stripes, and I truly believe God had a hand in the constitutional convention.
But I don’t believe that after that convention, God put his hands back in his pockets.
That idea is silly. That idea is as silly as the idea that George Washington had dinner with Abraham Lincoln where they discussed Ford model T’s. It is as silly as believing that Frederick Douglass was only 3/5ths human or that James Madison designed the Wright Flier. The world today is not what it was back then, for both better and worse, and that is why we still need some divine intervention.
What that intervention should be, or in what way, in whose favor, or when, or on what subject, is surely open for debate and I in no way claim the corner on the answer market. But the debate needs to happen and I’m fine with it being a debate. A debate of ideas, solutions, and substance. Too often both of the parties or groups I noted at the beginning don’t debate, they hate. They demonize and dramatize. There is surely cause for dramatic actions, but much too often that isn’t what is called for. We don’t really call for action, we call names.
Let’s knock it off.
Let us pull our stakes out of the ideological ground and look for solutions to problems and form plans to do what is best.
Here is why I say we can’t do this while holding to strict ideologies. Here is why we can’t determine a political philosophy, set it in cement, and then move forward from there. Allow me to illustrate using race and American racism as an example.
Race is perhaps one of the most divisive and dangerous subjects to discuss. There are reasons for this. Within this debate there is an idea known as “institutional racism” or “structural racism”. Just the writing or mentioning of those words sends both the left and the right into a tizzy. The right will accuse those who say such terms are unpatriotic or America haters. The left will call those making those accusations racist. This is because we aren’t talking or debating, we are both, both sides, too busy name calling. It is a shame that there is so much yelling because it drowns out anyone explaining what those terms mean.
I will use cement as an example.
To build with cement a worker must first create a form or mold out of something else. Normally two by fours and other scrap wood is used to build the outline of whatever structure is being built. Once in place concrete can be mixed and poured into the mold and allowed to dry. Once the cement is dry, or set, the scrap wood can be taken away and the cement stands on its own.
And cement can stand solid for a long, long time.
If something is planted in that cement when it is wet, like a street corner basketball hoop perhaps, once the cement dries you could quite accurately say that object is set in stone.
If we see the founding of the United States and its constitution, or maybe our political ideologies as a concrete object, we have some problems to contend with.
You see when the framers of the constitution, the construction workers of the time, were mixing the concrete they were using some suspicious materials. There was some freedom and liberty mixed in there, I love those things. There was also some capitalism and private property stirring in the pot, also good stuff. But then there was this integral ingredient of slavery, racism, and the money it produced.
Now make no mistake, racism and slavery were definitely in the mix. Key ingredients. A good portion of those at the convention would have never been able to spare the time, or the thoughts, to do the work they did had they been actually laboring on the farms they owned. It is where most of the American money of the time was produced. It was all mixed in. And the forms, or structure around the American wet cement, stayed in place for at least a hundred years. By the time those supports were stripped away, that cement was good and set. It was set so hard that a civil war couldn’t bust it up. Like a rock.
Then what to do with all that scrap wood?
That is the problem with forms built of wood, they aren’t part of the mix. When slavery ended, and then again at the time of the civil rights act, there were all these people, black people, who had been used for so long to prop up the structure of American society, but not mixed into the original cement. What were they to do?
What was, and to this day is, America to do?
If America and its ideologies are set in stone there is no hope. At least not for “them”.
And that right there is really the rub. That right there is why all the political bomb throwing and name calling prevent any solutions. At least no solutions for those not in the original mix.
You see once cement is set it no longer has to expend any energy, or try, to stay standing. It is just there, a solid mass that exists without having to try. White America today doesn’t need to be racist, or hate black people, or even think about black people at all. They, or we, the white people, were stirred in when the cement was wet. Now, the black people are on the outside and no one even has to try to keep them there. That work has already been done.
Now this is not to say there isn’t anything that can be done. Or even mean that nothing has been done. But what this surely means is that for any sort of integration or incorporation to happen for black people, something must be done.
It won’t just happen on its own.
What should be done and by whom, and how, is open for debate. So let’s discuss and debate. But for this debate to get anywhere, or rather for solutions to appear, I really hope that Americans aren’t set in stone. I hope this whole analogy is wrong and moot. Or maybe the cement is still wet? I hope this because if it isn’t wet, and it is cement, then the only hope is to get out a jackhammer. If this whole America thing was concrete at its founding then it all has to be torn up and begun again.
I don’t want to do that.
There is a lot of good stuff in the mix. Great stuff. Godly stuff. I love this place.
It can be better.
But it will only get that way if we work at it and if we really look for ways to solve our problems. It is not yesterday and using yesterday’s tools does not always work. Thomas Jefferson, as wise and inspired as he was, did not concoct a plan for what to do about air traffic control. Online piracy was not a problem then.
I think Thomas Jefferson was wise and inspired and may very well have some bits of the answers in the work he did. The problem is, that if the work he did was mixed in cement, we can’t get at it today.
I remember Rose. I wish I could do more than remember but I don’t have a choice.
Rose was the perfect name for her.
I have no idea how old she was but she looked about ninety. She was just like any elderly black woman you might see in a movie; toothless, sappy sweet, with just a little touch of sass. She was once a nurse; had been for forty years. She was never married and had no children. She lived with her nephew and an assortment of other characters that I could never keep straight. Cousins, nieces, grand cousins, play cousins, but they all looked older than fifty and none of them spoke to me unless I addressed them directly.
I met Rose when some missionaries asked me to come along for a discussion. She lived in a row house in North Philadelphia. It was the grand kind of place I would have loved to have seen when it was new, but that would have been about 1850 and it had long since been subdivided into apartments and I doubt many had loved to see it for at least fifty years. There were two short sets of stairs leading up to her front porch which was a large cement slab surrounded by a crooked railing.
She spent her days sitting in the living room, sharing the space with an old TV, a ratty couch, and an upturned coffee can filled with cigarette butts. She never went anywhere. She never left the room. She didn’t wander because she only had one foot. She lost it to diabetes some years before and so now she sat in her wheelchair on the ground floor of a three-story apartment. The others in the house seemed to go up and down, in and out, passing Rose the same way they passed the ratty couch and the old TV. The coffee can wasn’t hers. She didn’t smoke.”Naw honey. Gave that up years ago. T’aint good for ya and I gots enough problems as it is. That can’s for everybody else in this house. I wished they’d smoke ‘em out on the porch but I guess its cold out there. Anyways, at least when they’s smokin’ in here I can talk to ‘em a little.”
Rose found the missionaries when they knocked on her door and she hollered for them to come inside. Maybe she just wanted someone to talk to. Maybe she had been sitting there waiting for them. Whatever it was, they found each other and they called me to come along. “Miss Rose has lots of questions and has been reading quite a bit,” the Elder’s informed me. “Today we will be talking about church and baptism.” Now I knew why they really asked me to come along; my minivan.
I was happy to offer my services to help Rose attend church that upcoming Sunday. She was the only one in the house who had any interest in the gospel but it didn’t matter because none of them owned a car. “You sure that aint a problem? You sure you don’t mind coming all out your way to get me?” she asked. I did not mind at all. 8:30 that next Sunday Rose was waiting for me right on the other side of the screen door. She would have been on the porch but couldn’t get herself up over the door jamb. I wheeled her around backwards and we bump, bump, bumped our way down those two small sets of stairs and then I gallantly lifted her out of her chair and set her in the passenger seat of the van. “Hi Rose,” my daughter and wife called out to her. “Hello everybody,” she replied and we drove off to the chapel.
This became our regular Sunday pattern up through her baptism and a month or so after as well. But then my responsibilities changed and I was no longer available Sunday mornings. I couldn’t call to tell Rose because she had no phone. I stopped by on a Wednesday to tell her I couldn’t be there on Sunday and she apologized to me. She was sorry to be any trouble. I promised I would try to find someone else.
The only person I could find was Brother Berry.
I hadn’t really thought this through very well. Brother Berry was perhaps the only person I knew who was older than Rose. Despite his age Brother Berry would volunteer for anything and they were the only other people we knew with a van. That Sunday morning the Berry’s showed up without Rose. Sister Berry marched up to me and launched into some high decibel diatribe about Brother Berry’s back and stairs and wheelchairs, heart attacks, and another thing coming. I pled forgiveness. Looking back I guess it was my fault. I had assumed that Brother Berry had a plan or was simply more capable than I thought. He was not capable, just willing. After church I drove over to visit Rose and she apologized to me again.
After five months of asking for volunteers and organizing Rose had still never made it back to church. I refused to accept that I was the only solution. Besides, I had other things to worry about than just Rose. So I continued to try to find her rides and would swing by to visit her on weekdays as often as I could. I felt guilty I wasn’t able to be her taxi and was inspired by the addition of a blue book with gold print as the newest piece of living room furniture. It didn’t take long for that blue book to look as used and ratty as the sofa it sat next too.
Before too long our ward welcomed a set of senior missionaries. They weren’t all that old, they were full time, and best of all they had a car. I asked them to please go get Rose. And they did.
I was so happy when this good Elder wheeled Rose into the chapel. She reached out to give me a big hug repeatedly asking, “Where’s the baby?” till my two year old was eventually produced to be hugged as well. It was a great day till about four o’clock.
At four I got a phone call from this Elder’s wife telling me all about her husband’s back problems, his age, and the challenges of getting Rose back up those stinking stairs. I apologized. I often find myself in situations where this is appropriate. This senior Elder spent a day and a half resting hs back but had the bright idea of a deal moving forward. If I couldn’t be there to pick her up, and he couldn’t get her home, maybe we should work together. He would go get her if I would take her home.
That next Sunday the senior missionaries showed up without Rose. When they arrived at her home one of the others in the house told us she was in the hospital. Something about her diabetes and surgery. No one there seemed willing or able to tell us anything more than that. After church the senior couple began calling hospitals eventually tracking her down. That Tuesday I paid her a visit.
There she was, smiling her toothless grin. She had lost her other foot but not her smile. She chuckled and waved me into the room past an extra bed that looked to hold a large pile of pillows and sheets. “That’s Clara”, she said pointing to the other bed. “She upset because they won’t let her smoke and I keeps reading the Book of Mormon out loud.” With that she winked at me and pulled open a side drawer to show me her dog eared scriptures. I love that she had her scriptures and loved even more that she winked at me. How could anyone not like Rose?
The senior couple continued to visit Rose till she was moved to a convalescent home nearby. We all talked about how it would soon be time to start arranging for her to get rides to church again, there was some discussion about maybe perhaps bringing her the sacrament, but no one felt any urgency. Things were just moving along. It all began to feel quite normal. That is the right word for it; normal.
It was now normal for me to drive right past the home where Rose was staying as I went to and from wherever doing this and that. I would drive by on my way to pick up one of the youth for an activity, look over, and think to myself, “I should go visit Rose.” But I was on my way somewhere else, somewhere worthwhile, so I would vow to visit Rose later. I would pass by Rose’s center on my way to meet the missionaries somewhere, look over and be reminded I hadn’t yet been by to see Rose. “I should make a note to go see Rose”, I would tell myself, and then hurry off to meet the Elders. I recall one day driving past having finished my work for the day and thinking, “now is the time to go see Rose.” It was dark, it was late, and I was tired. I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal, I would get by to see her. She wasn’t going anywhere, besides, no one but me seems to be able to move her. I went home.
Sometime later the senior missionaries told me a story. It had been just a little too long since they had seen Rose so they scheduled some time to drop in and visit.
Rose wasn’t there.
Rose had passed away.
The people at the home had done their best to contact someone but Rose had listed no relatives and left no point of contact. With no one to contact Rose had been buried by the state. The employees at the home were only disclosing this information to the senior couple because they recognized the logo on the name tags as the same logo on Rose’s copy of the Book of Mormon.
Riddled with guilt I asked where she was buried.
“They don’t know. They said people buried by the state are put in unmarked graves. They have no idea where she is. Sorry.”
I know enough of the gospel to know that Rose is in a better place. It wouldn’t be hard to be better than an empty living room in a wheel chair. Yet when I think of Rose I mostly remember that I drove past her house, thought I should stop, and didn’t.
My little family was in the airport getting ready to board a plane when my little three year old yanked on my sleeve, “Look Dad, it’s Rose!” she said pointing to an old stranger in a wheel chair. “O yeah, that does look kinda like Rose.” I say in my best fatherly voice; encouraging and matter of fact. But it wasn’t Rose. Rose was gone.
Where Rose is now, she can smile with teeth. She can stand. When I knew her she couldn’t do either of those things. I should be happier about that. But I haven’t changed all that much, I’m thinking about my own guilt and failure to act. I’m trying hard to get better and I think I am making some progress. Slow progress. Rose didn’t have time to wait for me to get better. I couldn’t fix all Rose’s problems, but I could have helped more than I did.
How many Roses do we drive past every day without stopping? Let’s do a little better.