When you hug your children and/or grandchildren tonight please remember the tragic story of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez, the father and his tiny daughter who drowned after being tuned away when they tried to cross the U.S border legally. This is what happens when the President of the United States and his administration use human beings as political pawns.
Last Monday I unavoidably found myself heading west on W. 66th St between Broadway & Amsterdam at 4:00 PM, the same time two area high schools were in the process of dismissal. As I was dodging in and out of the throngs of boisterous students one of the kids suddenly picked up a signboard advertising weekly chamber music concerts held at the church next to my apartment building. He lifted it over his head pretending to throw it at a group of approaching kids. After a brief hesitation he instead hurled it violently to the sidewalk scattering signboard pieces, leaflets and frightened kids all over the street.
I hadn’t noticed the man walking behind me until I jumped aside to avoid the crashing signboard & debris. We came to a stop inches from each other and turned in unison to watch the perpetrator saunter away laughing uproariously at the havoc he had caused. As our eyes met (he looking down and me straining up to see his face) I said “should we go after him” (easy for me to act brave when my potential partner was at least 6’3, built like an iron man and, not to mention,drop dead handsome)? He paused for a second, smiled and said “then I’d have to deck him and then I’d probably have to do the same to all the kids who would be joining in, then it would become a free for all, then the police would be called, then everyone would recognize me and I would wind up signing autographs for the rest of the day”! By the time he finished his commentary, instead of being angry I was laughing and thoroughly charmed as we bent down to clean up the mess together. Who was he you ask? I‘m sorry to report I have no idea but he definitely had a presence and a great sense of humor.
With a nod to Dr Seuss, I walked away thinking to myself “and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street”
I strongly recommend using your subway commute to practice patience and learning to rise above the occasional temptation to be a hater. I almost always find ways to practice one or both of these character-building traits on my daily subway rides.
As an object lesson and with brutal honesty I will share my most recent failed attempt. The morning after Mr. Trump’s State of the Union Speech as I was headed crosstown on the N train, I overheard two people engaged in an animated conversation about how great the speech was the night before and what a wonderful job our underappreciated president is doing. Ironically, as I inwardly rolled my eyes and silently repeated “practice patience” & “don’t be a hater” I noticed the sign posted over their heads, “If You See Something, Say something”. Any thoughts about practicing self-improvement were instantly erased as I wondered if these people and their annoyingly misguided conversation qualified as reportable offenses?!
Like I said, I recommend using your subway time to practice positive thinking and trying not to be a hater. This can be character building in so many ways… or not!
Look what my visiting Daughter-in-Law Amy and I discovered in the subway tunnel last night on the long walk from the 1 train at 14th street to the downtown F train. Someone had set up a table with markers and pads of small colored post-it notes for commuters who cared to stop a moment to share a thought or two. By 5:30 PM the walls were covered from top to bottom with hundreds of colorful notes (the ones I read were all positive and inspirational)! As we passed there were still crowds of people busily writing their messages at what may be the busiest time of a commuters day!
My first thought was to wonder what kind of world this would be if, instead of threatening to build walls President Trump asked people to stop a moment and post messages of hope and inspiration on existing walls and signposts everywhere!
Intrigued by “my” amazing discovery I did some research. Below is the story of how “Subway therapy” was born
“About a year ago (2015), I sat with a book people could write their secrets in, and I had a little sign that said Secret Keeper. More often than not, people would just talk to me instead of writing something down. People would say “I feel so much better! This is great… like therapy”. I heard it enough that it stuck, and Subway Therapy was born.
Early in 2016 I started wearing a suit, and setting up my “office” in different subway stations in New York. I started going by Levee as a way to step out of my day to day routine, and in a smaller way, to protect myself. Today, I try to go out about once a week as “The Subway Therapist” when work and weather allows, and my temporary office is open for about 4 hours each time. Keep in mind, I am not a licensed therapist, and I have no obligation to keep what I hear confidential. I cannot provide professional advice, but I like to listen and when asked I give personal advice from my experience.
Lately, the project has evolved and I have been using sticky notes to give people an opportunity to transform their stress into something beautiful. Sometimes I write Express Yourself, and other times I ask questions.The first time I used sticky notes was after the election in 2016. With individuals feeling a myriad of ways about the results, I wanted to encourage them to let out what they were keeping inside. All I did was bring sticky notes to my table in the subway and I invited individuals to write something and stick their note up on the wall behind the table for all to see. In the first few days over 10,000 notes were written, and in the coming months an estimated 50,000 spread like rainbow colored ivy at 14th st/6th avenue and Union Square. The initiative in New York spread across the country and countless individuals wrote notes in public places, schools, businesses, and who knows where else. It was encouraging and inspiring to see this simple idea blossom into a symbol of unity and diverse expression.
I wanted to share the inspiration I felt with others, and I decided to write a book about the notes and my experience which you can find here. I can’t express how lucky I feel to be able to do this work and be there for individuals who need or want it. I encourage you to do what you can too. I don’t exactly recommend dressing up like a therapist and setting up shop in your local subway station, but maybe the wild and crazy times we live in require innovative and unconventional problem solvers. I’m happy to assist if you have an idea you need help bringing to life so don’t be shy about getting in touch.
I look forward to our conversation, Levee”
P.S As we passed by the same spot at 9PM a few people were removing the stickers, packing up the markers and post- it notes and “leaving their campsite cleaner than they found it”!!
Amazingly (and perhaps for the first time) Mr. Trump may have been too modest in his boasts. The shots he’s been firing since 12:00 PM, January 20, 2017 have hardly been limited to Fifth Avenue!
Among the first in an almost daily barrage of Trumpian bullets was the Muslim travel ban hastily implemented only a few days after his inauguration and now 546 days later we are still constantly caught off guard.
Anyone who might possibly affect Trump’s financial interests or ego driven goals winds up in his crosshairs. His refusal to take any action that might offend his base, which includes white nationalists, neo Nazi’s and the alt-right, places American values in his crosshairs as well.
As noted in my last post however, the guns were put away and the cannons rolled out when Mr. Trump summarily changed our immigration policy charging everyone crossing the border with illegal entry. How could a President of the United States order border guards to snatch infants and children out of their parent’s arms? Where were the outraged voices of the other two equal branches of government? The vision of those terrified families countered by the smirking, bible quoting Attorney General attempting to justify his boss’s actions went beyond the pale. This border hell is still reverberating and will be for months if not years to come and should strike fear in the hearts of us all.
Shocking us on a different level, next we saw the Trump cannons aimed at our allies in Brussels followed by a deafening silence in Helsinki.
Isn’t it time for Congress remember their oath to “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”? They have the power to remove Mr. Trump’s firearms debunking his eerily prophetic words that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.” But we too have power and November is only a few short months away!
In attempting to process what appears to be yet another impulsive and quixotic policy implemented by the President, this time resulting in unimaginable human suffering at our borders, I did some research and found interesting information to share.
“Every year people come to the United States seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution……..Asylum status is a form of protection available to people who:
Meet the definition of refugees, are already in the United States, are seeking admission at a port of entry
You may apply for asylum in the United States regardless of your country of origin or your current immigration status.
You may include your spouse and children who are in the United States on your application at the time you file or at any time until a final decision is made on your case. To include your child on your application, the child must be under 21 and unmarried.
Refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Asylum is a protection available to people who are already in the United States or are seeking admission at the U.S. border.
Refugee status is a form of protection that may be granted to people who meet the definition of refugee and who are of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm.”
Wonder where this information comes from? It is taken directly from The Department of Homeland Security website!
Also, in my search for clarification I found an interesting article by Lindsay M. Harris, an assistant professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia and the vice chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s National Asylum and Refugee Committee on today’s Washington Post website.
“A “zero tolerance” policy is particularly problematic for asylum seekers. The Refugee Convention states that nations shall not penalize asylum seekers for irregular entry. Indeed, since 1987 , the Board of Immigration Appeals, our highest immigration tribunal has directed immigration judges to forgive irregular entry because of the circumstances of seeking asylum.
But asylum standards are becoming more restrictive. In June, Sessions reversed a grant of asylum for a Salvadoran woman fleeing domestic violence, single-handedly undoing two decades of progress for gender-based asylum claims. He also changed the standard for asylum to require not only that the government in a migrant’s home country is unwilling or unable to protect the asylum seeker from harm, but also that the government is actively condoning persecution by nonstate actors — a higher bar for applicants to meet.”
To me, the Trump Administration’s ability to dictate and carry out policy without a whimper from the other two branches of government is ominous and portends darker times ahead. Our hope lies not in mimicking the reaction of Congress but by supporting protest marches, writing and calling our Congressional Representatives (believe me it makes a difference when they hear from their constituents!) and by urging everyone we know to follow our lead and vote in November.
Last evening, due to even more extreme than usual subway delays, I spent an inordinate amount of time making my circuitous way across the City to get to my bridge lesson. The paralyzing cold had finally broken so instead of boarding the train at my corner I walked the 12 blocks to the Q (crosstown train). When I descended into the subway on 57th & 7th I discovered that all the trains heading to the Upper East Side were not only delayed but one seemed stuck at the station platform. With a mixture of admiration and fear I stood peering into the interior of the last car with doors shut and lights on while the rest of the train remained out of sight in the tunnel. Here, right in front of me, was a car full of obviously seasoned straphangers casually reading, looking at their phones or sleeping while the train stood stock still unable to even open its doors. The calmness and equanimity of the passengers trapped inside was a total mystery because I on the other hand, was standing on the platform freaking out, positive that if I had been on that train I would have been hyperventilating and grabbing on to total strangers for reassurance! Finally, reason prevailed and I realized I wasn’t actually on that train. I was free to leave!
My next “challenge” was finding a cab which I was sure would be impossible considering the subway mess. Cherishing my freedom I climbed the stairs and lo and behold a cab pulled right up! I considered my double luck in the last few minutes and thankfully hopped in when suddenly, voila, I was faced with my next challenge, this time more frustrating than fearful. In my panic then relief I had forgotten I had a full blown case of laryngitis! As I tried unsuccessfully to tell him my destination the driver whipped his head around, fortunately before pulling out into traffic, and gave me a look of complete impatience and annoyance ( note, NYC cab drivers are not always sweet and even tempered no matter what you’ve heard!)-was I kidding his face seemed to say, this is rush hour and my fare is sitting in the back seat wasting my precious time?! I finally managed to shout whisper the address. To his credit he managed to get to the right place without asking me to repeat the anything!
By now you might be thinking this was enough drama for one evening but I remind you this is NYC! Miraculously still on time, I left the cab and headed to my bridge friend Mel’s apartment bldg where our group was meeting for a private lesson. Mel’s lovely non bridge playing fiance Paula was just leaving as I arrived so we stood outside chatting for a few minutes (she chatted, I pantomimed). Upon entering the lobby, struggling to tell the doorman/concierge Mel’s apt number, he quietly informed me that Paula had just left! Without thinking I croaked out “I know”! Now what? Although totally innocent I found myself shout whispering to a complete stranger the reason I was going to Mel’s apt when Paula wasn’t home! Then, in both categories of “you can’t make this up” and “only in NYC” it turned out he had the exact same vocal malady. We wound up new best friends offering each other cough drops and cold remedy advice!
I happily entered the elevator knowing I was safe from subway trauma ( for now), had successfully arrived at my destination without uttering a word out loud and had protected two reputations in the process!
Two weeks ago I went to a pre-premiere of the movie “Detroit” the week before its NYC premiere. The showing, which took place on a Friday afternoon at 4:30, was announced in the NY Times that day hence the theater was only about half full. Just before the movie started I noticed a very tall couple sit down in the row directly across the aisle from me. I remember vaguely thinking it odd that they didn’t sit down right in front of me since this is what usually happens!
This blog however is not about the movie, I will let you decide for yourself which of the diverse critical reviews you agree with. I will tell you that I thought it was a very raw & disturbing chronicle of events masterfully told. A must see for anyone interested in a closer look at how hyperbole can escalate into a series of deadly events. Sadly we seem to have learned nothing from the past- just open today’s newspaper or turn on the TV, history is tragically repeating itself in Charlottesville VA.
But back to my “Only in NYC Story” which includes the very tall couple across the aisle from me (notice a “very tall” theme here?!). When the movie ended I was emotionally drained. I was after all born and raised in Detroit and although Aaron and I moved to Akron 4 years before the riots we keenly felt the pull of invisible threads connecting us to every reported moment of those horrifying events in August of 1967.
When the movie ended I remained seated throughout most of the credits, I needed the time to compose myself. I slowly stood up as the house lights came on and was startled by a voice next to me asking what I thought of the movie. I was so riveted to the screen I hadn’t noticed that the “very tall” man had gotten up and was standing next to me and I stumbled through some sort of answer. He then told me he was born in Detroit and had attended Mumford High School-HUH???… was he clairvoyant, was he actually my very tall 30 years younger African American alter ego or was he really who he said he was and merely trying to engage in meaningful conversation? Since we were both transplanted Detroiters I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt plus I was glad to be able to have a dialogue about the troubling movie we had both just seen. He told me he had gotten his business start at Motown records just after Berry Gordy left for L.A. OK, I was interested but still too caught up in the events I had just witnessed onscreen to start my usual 20 questions (someone once asked me if I had ever considered hosting game show!) But not to worry, this man not only seemed like a pro but he also radiated pure charisma and was determined to hear my opinions.
By the time we moved out to the lobby at least 15 minutes had passed and it was time for me to relinquish him to his very patient wife. As we said goodbye he stuck out his hand and introduced himself. I shook his hand, gave him my name and told him I was now inspired to resume my blogging career 🙂
When I got back to my apartment I did just what you would do, I googled him. Well friends let me tell you about this charmer, he was indeed born in Detroit and did indeed go to Mumford High School (where he played football and was in ROTC), and he did indeed work at Motown records among many other top recording companies. The part we never managed to discuss is that he is the founder of one of the biggest entertainment and brand marketing companies in the world. BWP Marketing’s clients, as listed on his website, include some of the biggest brands and stars in the entertainment world, including Beyonce .
I can personally attest to this man’s ability to charm the birds out of the trees but just in case you have doubts I’ve pasted the following paragraph from his bio:
“As an analytical brand builder who specializes in lifestyle and consumer brands he delves deeply into consumers’ mindsets, analyzing insights to understand the customer journey: what makes a target interested in, try, fall in love with, and then become loyal to a brand. His experience spans categories including music, tobacco, telco, spirits and other beverages, and apparel”
Like I said, Only in NYC!!!
It seems that every time I would sit down to try to write something lighthearted words failed me. I realized that my previous ability to focus on the fun and colorful NYC appearing in my world almost daily had deserted me after November 8th (and especially after January 20th). I’ve decided, however, to make a determined effort to recapture the magic. Here goes….
Having to admit that I’ve lost my subway card twice over the past month (along with 3 right gloves) is not easy! I chalk it up to my bad habit of jamming everything in my coat pockets for easy access rather than taking an extra second to put things safely in my purse. You may or may not be amazed to hear that total strangers tracked me down both times and returned my card, unused! A tribute to my adopted city (or maybe to the Upper West Side?!). The card is now safely tucked away in my wallet despite the fact that it adds a few extra seconds to my frequent mad dash to catch a train.
Although this next story has nothing to do with NYC I think it is much too special not to share. It involves one of my children (no eye rolling please, he is very grown up)and his color blindness . Those of us who see the full rainbow spectrum cannot possibly understand the limitations this condition presents.
Danny managed to get along ok until he entered medical school when not being able to see the color red, as you might imagine, became a real problem. We were able to find glasses that helped a little but the bright red lenses were startling and caused him to become the center of attention every time he put them on. Needless to say, he wore them only when absolutely necessary.
Happily, thanks to recent technology a company called Enchroma introduced color blind correction glasses that look totally normal (no red lenses!) and have the magic ability to correct the most common red/green colorblind issues. Danny received a pair for his birthday which allowed incorporation of his prescription lenses along with the magic paintbrush. He recently sent me a link to a Youtube video of a child bursting into tears as he dons his new Enchroma glasses and sees flowers in full color for the first time!
As his email continues Danny describes own experience (pasted with his permission of course!)
“These are the same glasses I got for my birthday but with a different frame. Biggest thing for me so far is that green traffic lights look green, not white. It makes me giggle (honest), because each time a light turns green it’s a total surprise! I haven’t cried yet, but I’m hoping spring flowers will bring a tear to my eye!
Right up there with Harry Chapin in his ballad “Flowers are Red” “…………But the little boy said
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flowers and I see every one……..”
Bravo for seeing all the colors in the rainbow, especially today when we have to try so much harder considering our current political climate!