Monday, May 27, 2013

American Cooze

While you get a 24 hour reprieve from your daily grind, from your 9-5 and you barbeque or boil crawfish or make your way to the beach or nearest swimming hole, remember that this "national" holiday isn't a holiday for everyone. 

In fact, those who really deserve this holiday are bound to still be "working" today. 

Policemen will be patrolling the roads to keep the rabblerousers in check.  Firemen will be on call or in wait for a holiday emergency.   In some far off land are soldiers desperate for a day reprieve from the loneliness and tragedies of war.  

And here in your own neighborhood, there will be families wishing they had loved ones home to share their joy, families wishing that those who are home weren't suffering so immensely with wounds both obvious and unseen desperate for just done day reprieve from incredible scars, or worse, families wishing that those who did come home to them weren't six feet under, getting their reprieve in a pine box.

In your twenty-four hours of "reprieve" today, I ask that besides visiting the graves of those who have served, that you make at least one hour to dedicate to understanding the burden of those who have earned our reprieve.  No one visits this subject with such clarity and vision as Vietnam Veteran and writer, Tim O'Brien.  Please, first take a minute to read this short story.

***NOTE:  Graphic Content.***
Here is where you can find "How to Tell a True War Story," the full text version.

“How to Tell a True War Story” (1990)  --Tim O’Brien
from Paula Geyh, et al., eds., Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 174-183.

This is true.

I had a buddy in Vietnam. His name was Bob Kiley but everybody called him Rat.

A friend of his gets killed, so about a week later Rat sits down and writes a letter to the guy’s sister. Rat tells her what a great brother she had, how strack the guy was, a number one pal and comrade. A real soldier’s soldier, Rat says. Then he tells a few stories to make the point, how her brother would always volunteer for stuff nobody else would volunteer for in a million years, dangerous stuff, like doing recon or going out on these really badass night patrols. Stainless steel balls, Rat tells her. The guy was a little crazy, for sure, but crazy in a good way, a real daredevil, because he liked the challenge of it, he liked testing himself, just man against gook. A great, great guy, Rat says.

Anyway, it’s a terrific letter, very personal and touching. Rat almost bawls writing it. He gets all teary telling about the good times they had together, how her brother made the war seem almost fun, always raising hell and lighting up villes and bringing smoke to bear every which way. A great sense of humor, too. Like the time at this river when he went fishing with a whole damn crate of hand grenades. Probably the funniest thing in world history, Rat says, all that gore, about twenty zillion dead gook fish. Her brother, he had the right attitude. He knew how to have a good time. On Halloween, this real hot spooky night, the dude paints up his body all different colors and puts on this weird mask and goes out on ambush almost stark naked, just boots and balls and an M-16. A tremendous human being, Rat says. Pretty nutso sometimes, but you could trust him with your life.
And then the letter gets very sad and serious. Rat pours his heart out. He says he loved the guy. He says the guy was his best friend in the world. They were like soul mates, he says, like twins or something, they had a whole lot in common. He tells the guy’s sister he’ll look her up when the war’s over.
So what happens?

Rat mails the letter. He waits two months. The dumb cooze never writes back.

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. Listen to Rat Kiley. Cooze, he says. He does not say bitch. He certainly does not say woman, or girl, He says cooze. Then he spits and stares. He’s nineteen years old—it’s too much for him—so he looks at you with those big gentle, killer eyes and says cooze, because his friend is dead, and because it’s so incredibly sad and true: she never wrote back.

You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth; if you don’t care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war,they come home talking dirty.
Listen to Rat: “Jesus Christ, man, I write this beautiful fucking letter, I slave over it, and what happens? The dumb cooze never writes back.”


The dead guy’s name was Curt Lemon. What happened was, we crossed a muddy river and marched west into the mountains, and on the third day we took a break along a trail junction in deep jungle. Right away, Lemon and Rat Kiley started goofing off. They didn’t understand about the spookiness. They were kids; they just didn’t know. A nature hike, they thought, not even a war, so they went off into the shade of some giant trees—quadruple canopy, no sunlight at all—and they were giggling and calling each other motherfucker and playing a silly game they’d invented. The game involved smoke grenades, which were harmless unless you did stupid things, and what they did was pull out the pin and stand a few feet apart and play catch under the shade of those huge trees. Whoever chickened out was a motherfucker. And if nobody chickened out, the grenade would make a light popping sound and they’d be covered with smoke and they’d laugh and dance around and then do it again.

It’s all exactly true.

It happened to me, nearly twenty years ago, but I still remember that trail junction and the giant trees and a soft dripping sound somewhere beyond the trees. I remember the smell of moss. Up in the canopy there were tiny white blossoms, but no sunlight at all, and I remember the shadows spreading out under the trees where Lemon and Rat Kiley were playing catch with smoke grenades. Mitchell Sanders sat flipping his yo-yo. Norman Bowker and Kiowa and Dave Jensen were dozing, or half-dozing, and all around us were those ragged green mountains.
Except for the laughter things were quiet.
At one point, I remember, Mitchell Sanders turned and looked at me, not quite nodding, as if to warn me about something, as if he already knew, then after a while he rolled up his yo-yo and moved away.
It’s hard to tell what happened next.

They were just goofing. There was a noise, I suppose, which must’ve been the detonator, so I glanced behind me and watched Lemon step from the shade into bright sunlight. His face was suddenly brown and shining. A handsome kid, really. Sharp gray eyes, lean and narrow-waisted, and when he died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and vines and white blossoms.


In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed. When a booby trap explodes, you close your eyes and duck and float outside yourself. When a guy dies, like Lemon, you look away and then look back for a moment and then look away again. The pictures get jumbled; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed.

In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.

In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.

I heard this one, for example, from Mitchell Sanders. It was near dusk and we were sitting
at my foxhole along a wide, muddy river north of Quang Ngai. I remember how peaceful the twilight was. A deep pinkish red spilled out on the river, which moved without sound, and in the >morning we would cross the river and march west into the mountains. The occasion was right for a good story.

“God’s truth,” Mitchell Sanders said. “A six-man patrol goes up into the mountains on a basic listening-post operation. The idea’s to spend a week up there, just lie low and listen for enemy movement. They’ve got a radio along, so if they hear anything suspicious—anything—they’re supposed to call in artillery or gunships, whatever it takes. Otherwise they keep strict field discipline. Absolute silence. They just listen.”
He glanced at me to make sure I had the scenario. He was playing with his yo-yo, making it dance with short, tight little strokes of the wrist.
His face was blank in the dusk.

“We’re talking hardass LP. These six guys, they don’t say boo for a solid week. They don’t got tongues. All ears.”
“Right,” I said.

“Understand me?”


Sanders nodded.

“Affirm,” he said. “Invisible. So what happens is, these guys get themselves deep in the bush, all camouflaged up, and they lie down and wait and that’s all they do, nothing else, they lie there for seven straight days and just listen. And man, I’ll tell you—it’s spooky. This is mountains. You don’t know spooky till you been there. Jungle, sort of, except it’s way up in the clouds and there’s always this fog-like rain, except it’s not raining—everything’s all wet and swirly and tangled up and you can’t see jack, you can’t find your own pecker to piss with. Like you don’t even have a body. Serious spooky. You just go with the vapors—the fog sort of takes you in....And the sounds, man. The sounds carry forever. You hear shit nobody should ever hear.”
Sanders was quiet for a second, just working the yo-yo, then he smiled at me. “So, after a couple days the guys start hearing this real soft, kind of wacked-out music. Weird echoes and stuff. Like a radio or something, but its not a radio, it’s this strange gook music that comes right out of the rocks. Faraway, sort of, but right up close, too. They try to ignore it. But it’s a listening post, right? So they listen. And every night they keep hearing this crazyass gook concert. All kinds of chimes and xylophones. I mean, this is wilderness—no way, it can’t be real—but there it is, like the mountains are tuned in to Radio Fucking Hanoi. Naturally they get nervous. One guy sticks Juicy Fruit in his ears. Another guy almost flips. Thing is, though, they can’t report music. They can’t get on the horn and call back to base and say, ‘Hey, listen, we need some firepower, we got to blow away this weirdo gook rock band.’ They can’t do that. It wouldn’t go down. So they lie there in the fog and keep their months shut. And what makes it extra bad, see, is the poor dudes can’t horse around like normal. Can’t joke it away. Can’t even talk to each other except
maybe in whispers, all hush-hush, and that just revs up the willies. All they do is listen.”

Again there was some silence as Mitchell Sanders looked out on the river. The dark was coming on hard now, and off to the west I could see the mountains rising in silhouette, all the mysteries and unknowns.

“This next part,” Sanders said quietly, “you won’t believe.”
“Probably not,” I said.

“You won’t. And you know why?” He gave me a long, tired smile. “Because it happened. Because every word is absolutely dead-on true.”

Sanders made a little sound in his throat, like a sigh, as if to say he didn’t care if I believed it or not. But he did care. He wanted me to believe, I could tell. He seemed sad, in a way.
“These six guys, they’re pretty fried out by now, and one night they start hearing voices. Like at a cocktail party. That’s what it sounds like, this big swank gook cocktail party somewhere out there in the fog. Music and chitchat and stuff. It’s crazy, I know, but they hear the champagne corks. They hear the actual martini glasses. Real hoity-toity, all very civilized, except this isn’t civilization. This is Nam.

“Anyway, the guys try to be cool. They just lie there and groove, but after a while they start hearing—you won’t believe this—they hear chamber music. They hear violins and shit. They hear this terrific mama-san soprano. Then after a while they hear gook opera and a glee club and the Haiphong Boys Choir and a barbershop quartet and all kinds of weird chanting and Buddha Budda stuff. The whole time, in the background, there's still that cocktail party going on. All these different voices. Not human voices, though. Because it’s the mountains. Followme? The rock—it’s talking. And the fog, too, and the grass and the goddamn mongooses. Everything talks. The trees talk politics, the monkeys talk religion. The whole country. Vietnam, the place talks. It talks. Understand? Nam—it truly talks.

“The guys can’t cope. They lose it. They get on the radio and report enemy movement—a whole army, they say—and they order up the firepower. They get arty and gunships. They call in air strikes. And I’ll tell you, they fuckin’ crash that cocktail party. All night long, they just smoke those mountains. They make jungle juice. They blow away trees and glee clubs and whatever else there is to blow away. Scorch time. They walk napalm up and down the ridges. They bring in the Cobras and F-4s, they use Willie Peter and HE and incendiaries. It’s all fire. They make those mountains burn.
“Around dawn things finally get quiet. Like you never even heard quiet before. One of those real thick, real misty days—just clouds and fog, they’re off in this special zone—and the mountains are absolutely dead-flat silent. Like Brigadoon—pure vapor, you know? Everything’s all sucked up inside the fog. Not a single sound, except they still hear it.
“So they pack up and start humping. They head down the mountain, back to base camp, and when they get there they don’t say diddly. They don’t talk. Not a word, like they’re deaf and dumb. Later on this fat bird colonel comes up and asks what the hell happened out there. What’d they hear? Why all the ordnance? The man’s ragged out, he gets down tight on their case. I mean, they spent six trillion dollars on firepower, and this fatass colonel wants answers, he wants to know what the fuckin’ story is.
“But the guys don’t say zip. They just look at him for a while, sort of funnylike, sort of amazed, and the whole war is right there in that stare. It says everything you can’t ever say. It says, man, you got wax in your ears. It says, poor bastard, you’ll never know—wrong frequency—you don’t even want to hear this. Then they salute the fucker and walk away, because certain stories you don’t ever tell.”


You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end. Not then, not ever. Not when Mitchell Sanders stood up and moved off into the dark.
It all happened.

Even now I remember that yo-yo. In a way, I suppose, you had to be there, you had to hear it, but I could tell how desperately Sanders wanted me to believe him, his frustration at not quite getting the details right, not quite pinning down the final and definitive truth.

And I remember sitting at my foxhole that night, watching the shadows of Quang Ngai, thinking about the coming day and how we would cross the river and march west into the mountains, all the ways I might die, all the things I did not understand.
Late in the night Mitchell Sanders touched my shoulder.
“Just came to me,” he whispered. “The moral, I mean. Nobody listens. Nobody hears nothing. Like that fatass colonel. The politicians, all the civilian types, what they need is to go out on LP. The vapors, man. Trees and rocks—you got to listen to your enemy.”


And then again, in the morning, Sanders came up to me. The platoon was preparing to move out, checking weapons, going through all the little rituals that preceded a day’s march. Already the lead squad had crossed the river and was filing off toward the west.
“I got a confession to make,” Sanders said. “Last night, man, I had to make up a few
“I know that.”

“The glee club. There wasn’t any glee club.”

“No opera.”

“Forget it, I understand.”

“Yeah, but listen, it’s still true. Those six guys, they heard wicked sound out there. They heard sound you just plain won’t believe.”
Sanders pulled on his rucksack, closed his eyes for a moment, then almost smiled at me. I knew what was coming.
“All right,” I said, “what’s the moral?”

“Forget it.”

“No, go ahead.”

For a long while he was quiet, looking away, and the silence kept stretching out until it was almost embarrassing. Then he shrugged and gave me a stare that lasted all day.
“Hear that quiet, man?” he said. “There’s your moral.”


In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there’s nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe “Oh.”
True war stories do not generalize. They do not indulge in abstraction or analysis.
For example: War is hell. As a moral declaration the old truism seems perfectly true, and yet because it abstracts, because it generalizes, I can’t believe it with my stomach. Nothing turns inside.
It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.
This one does it for me. I’ve told it before—many times, many versions—but here’s what actually happened.

We crossed the river and marched west into the mountains. On the third day, Curt Lemon stepped on a booby-trapped 105 round. He was playing catch with Rat Kiley, laughing, and then he was dead. The trees were thick; it took nearly an hour to cut an LZ for the dustoff.
Later, higher in the mountains, we came across a baby VC water buffalo. What it was doing there I don’t know—no farms or paddies—but we chased it down and got a rope around it and led it along to a deserted village where we set for the night. After supper Rat Kiley went over and stroked its nose.
He opened up a can of C rations, pork and beans, but the baby buffalo wasn’t interested.
Rat shrugged.

He stepped back and shot it through the right front knee. The animal did not make a sound. It went down hard, then got up again, and Rat took careful aim and shot off an ear. He shot it in the hindquarters and in the little hump at its back. He shot it twice in the flanks. It wasn’t to kill; it was just to hurt. He put the rifle muzzle up against the mouth and shot the mouth away. Nobody said much. The whole platoon stood there watching, feeling all kinds of things, but there wasn’t a great deal of pity for the baby water buffalo. Lemon was dead. Rat Kiley had lost his best friend in the world. Later in the week he would write a long personal letter to the guy’s sister, who would not write back, but for now it was a question of pain. He shot off the tail. He shot away chunks of meat below the ribs. All around us there was the smell of smoke and filth, and deep greenery, and the evening was humid and very hot. Rat went to automatic. He shot randomly, almost casually, quick little spurts in the belly and butt. Then he reloaded, squatted down, and shot it in the left front knee. Again the animal fell hard and tried to get up, but this time it couldn’t quite make it. It wobbled and went down sideways. Rat shot it in the nose. He bent forward and whispered something, as if talking to a pet, then he shot it in the throat. All the while the baby buffalo was silent, or almost silent, just a light bubbling sound where the nose had been. It lay very still. Nothing moved except the eyes, which were enormous, the pupils shiny black and dumb.
Rat Kiley was crying. He tried to say something, but then cradled his rifle and went off by himself.
The rest of us stood in a ragged circle around the baby buffalo. For a time no one spoke. We had witnessed something essential, something brand-new and profound, a piece of the world so startling there was not yet a name for it.
Somebody kicked the baby buffalo.
It was still alive, though just barely, just in the eyes.
“Amazing,” Dave Jensen said. “My whole life, I never seen anything like it.”

“Not hardly. Not once.”

Kiowa and Mitchell Sanders picked up the baby buffalo. They hauled it across the open square, hoisted it up, and dumped it in the village well.
Afterward, we sat waiting for Rat to get himself together.
“Amazing,” Dave Jensen kept saying.

“For sure.”

“A new wrinkle. I never seen it before.”

Mitchell Sanders took out his yo-yo. “‘Well, that’s Nam,” he said, “Garden of Evil. Over here, man, every sin’s real fresh and original.”


How do you generalize?

War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.
The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can’t help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons. You crouch in ambush as a cool, impassive moon rises over the nighttime paddies. You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the harmonies of sound and shape and proportion, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorous, the purply black glow of napalm, the rocket’s red glare. It’s not pretty, exactly. It’s astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference—a powerful, implacable beauty—and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly.

To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a fire fight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil—everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it; a kind of godliness. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.
Mitchell Sanders was right. For the common soldier, at least, war has the feel—the spiritual texture—of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old truths no longer true. Right spills over into wrong. Order blends into chaos, love into hate, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery. The vapors suck you in. You can’t tell where you are, or why you’re there, and the only certainty is absolute ambiguity.
In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it’s safe to say that in a true war story nothing much is ever very true.


Often in a true war story there is not even a point, or else the point doesn’t hit you until twenty years later, in your sleep, and you wake up and shake your wife and start telling the story to her, except when you get to the end you’ve forgotten the point again. And then for a long time you lie there watching the story happen in your head. You listen to your wife’s breathing. The war’s over. You close your eyes. You smile and think, Christ, what’s the point?


This one wakes me up.

In the mountains that day, I watched Lemon turn sideways. He laughed and said something to Rat Kiley. Then he took a peculiar half step, moving from shade into bright sunlight, and the booby-trapped 105 round blew him into a tree. The parts were just hanging there, so Norman Bowker and I were ordered to shinny up and peel him off. I remember the white bone of an arm. I remember pieces of skin and something wet and yellow that must’ve been the intestines. The gore was horrible, and stays with me, but what wakes me up twenty years later is Norman Bowker singing “Lemon Tree” as we threw down the parts. *
You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask, “Is it true?” and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.
For example, we’ve all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies.
Is it true?

The answer matters.

You’d feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it’s just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen—and maybe it did, anything’s possible—even then you know it can’t be true, because a true war story does not depend upon that kind of truth. Happeningness is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth. For example: Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast, but it’s a killer grenade and everybody dies anyway. Before they die, though, one of the dead guys says, “The fuck you do that for?” and the jumper says, “Story of my life, man,” and the other guy starts to smile but he’s dead.
That’s a true story that never happened.


Twenty years later, I can still see the sunlight on Lemon’s face. I can see him turning, looking back at Rat Kiley, then he laughed and took that curious half-step from shade into sunlight, his face suddenly brown and shining, and when his foot touched down, in that instant, he must’ve thought it was the sunlight that was killing him. It was not the sunlight. It was a rigged 105 round. But if I could ever get the story right, how the sun seemed to gather around him and pick him up and lift him into a tree, if I could somehow recreate the fatal whiteness of that light, the quick glare, the obvious cause and effect, then you would believe the last thing Lemon believed, which for him must’ve been the final truth.


Now and then, when I tell this story, someone will come up to me afterward and say she liked it. It’s always a woman. Usually it’s an older woman of kindly temperament and humane politics. She’ll explain that as a rule she hates war stories, she can’t understand why people want to wallow in blood and gore. But this one she liked. Sometimes, even, there are little tears. What I should do, she’ll say, is put it all behind me. Find new stories to tell.
I won’t say it but I’ll think it.
I’ll picture Rat Kiley’s face, his grief, and I’ll think, You dumb cooze.
Because she wasn’t listening.
It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story. It was a ghost story.
But you can’t say that. All you can do is tell it one more time, patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few things to get at the real truth. No Mitchell Sanders, you tell her. No Lemon, no Rat Kiley. And it didn’t happen in the mountains, it happened in this little village on the Batangan Peninsula, and it was raining like crazy, and one night a guy named Stink Harris woke up screaming with a leech on his tongue. You can tell a true war story if you just keep on telling it.

In the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow. It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.


(I do not take credit for any of the photos in this blog.  Each belongs to their respective owners).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Call me a cheerleader for the underdog and you probably wouldn't be far off.  Or Mama Hen.  I have been called that one many times before.  Hurting, wounded, or those in pain break my heart.  Like, make me want to vomit and cry simultaneously break my heart.  Like, turning my head to graphic violence and it staying with me night after night sort of heartbreak.  So when I saw this, I can't even begin to tell you how sick it made me:

Sure We're Cute, but have you Seen our Parents?

I am ashamed.  Ashamed that this happened in my home state.  I am ashamed that someone, a man of God of all people, would find this to be okay.  Ashamed that people are so self-absorbed that they support such practices without ever asking questions.

I have heard all the reasons against adopting from the local animal shelters:  they shelters are dirty, the dogs are untrained, the animals are mutts, they are not always healthy, they aren't papered, the animals are fixed, they cost too much. 

I think we should have an enlightenment talk.  That purebred you dropped at least a couple hundred on?  Tell me about the shelter it came from?  How clean is that shelter?  How trained are those dogs?  How healthy are these animals?

Would you board your precious Fido in a shelter that looked like this?  Brought him to a veterinarian that treated him this way?  Would YOU be okay allowing Fido to live like this?  Because when you don't pick your breeder carefully, THIS is what you are paying to happen.

I'm not against animal breeding.  I know a few reputable, dignified, and kind breeders.  Their breeding pairs are treated like pets, not property.  They assure that the health of the animals they are breeding is priority and they place great import on assuring that the pets they are breeding do not propagate further genetic problems.  I am not against all breeders, let me make that clear.

Puppy Mill dog who lives in perpetual darkness

But I do take high offense to those who care more about breed than about care.  Those flea market/backyard breeders will breed and re-breed as often as they can.  They will often own several pairs of pets/breeding parents to continue the output.  The over-bred parents often breed several unhealthy pups/pets; those pets when unfixed and sold, go on to propagate unhealthy breed lines, resulting in significant deficiencies in life quality for these animals.  Many end up in humane shelters anyway because their buyers were anticipating a pretty face and a brag-worthy breed title, not a life-time commitment to a dog with heart problems,cancers, hip problems, liver problems, etc.  What of the unsold puppies, healthy or not, the overstock and manufacturer's defects?  Well, they go to shelters, too.  They over crowd shelters and increase the chances of getting euthanized or causing other animals to be euthanized by taking up that space.  And if there is no room in shelters, they either lament and die in enclosures or they end up in a sack in the river. 

        "Puppies produced in this situation have the wrong start in life. Experiences in the early weeks are critical to a dog's development. Commercially bred puppies miss vital experiences they need during this time, and they are exposed to experiences that harm their emotional stability for later. One experience many of them have is to leave the mother and littermates far too early in order to be in the pet shop on display for sale at the 'cutest' time.

           Behavior problems you may experience with a puppy from this source include house-training issues because the puppy has been confined too close to feces and urine. This causes damage to the pup's natural instincts to keep the den area clean. These pups have also typically missed important conditioning to appropriate surfaces for defecation and urination. They may never have even been on grass.

      A frightened mother dog can transmit her fears to her pups. Leaving the mother and litter-mates too early can result later in biting problems, since the pup has missed early bite inhibition that needs to happen in the litter.

        Breeding dogs who have lived normal lives will have been observed around children, men, other dogs, cats, strangers, unexpected situations and other things that some dogs cannot handle. If the temperament of either parent isn't safe around humans, a responsible breeder will not use that dog for breeding. Dogs in a commercial breeding operation do not live normal lives, so the breeders do not know whether the dogs they use for breeding have reliable temperaments for family life. Decisions about which male to use with which female are based on profitability (how many puppies they can get in how short a time), leaving genetic issues for the unsuspecting puppy buyers to worry about later.

          The physical problems that result from a poor start in life as well as poor genetic selection of the parent dogs can also profoundly affect the behavior of a puppy bred by a commercial breeder. Pain and fear cause dogs to react defensively. Dogs don't show their pain in the same ways that people do, and often a change in behavior is the first sign-sometimes the only sign-that the dog is ill or has a genetically based health issue."

Is that what kind of pet you want?  Is that the price you are willing to pay? 

Before you buy, do your research.  You wouldn't wish to buy high quality meat from a dirty store would you?  Ask to visit the breeder's work area.  Visit the pet parents.  Make regular visits to the puppy/pet you are sponsoring.   And please remember, animals should never be given to children as gifts.  Rabbits, chickens, puppies, and kittens are lifetime commitments on which adults decide. 

A recent raid in Kiln, Mississippi resulted in several unwanted dyed chickens being taken into custody and rabbits that had to be cut from their cages.  I don't imagine their Easter was jolly.
"Leftover" dyed Easter chicks.

Check out this wonderful article from

Buyer Beware: The Problem with Puppy Mills and Backyard Breeders

Choosing to bring a pet into your life can be a tough decision, especially when deciding where to get one. You might also have concerns about "puppy mills" or "backyard breeders," and want to know how to steer clear of them. Perhaps you don't even know what these are and need more information. As you begin your pet research, here are some things to consider.

Puppy mills

Puppy mills are commercial breeding facilities that mass-produce dogs (and cats in cat mills) for sale through pet stores, or directly to consumers through classified ads or the Internet. Roughly 90 percent of puppies in pet stores come from puppy mills. Many retailers who buy animals from such facilities take the wholesaler's word that the animals are happy and healthy without seeing for themselves.
In most states, these commercial breeding kennels can legally keep hundreds of dogs in cages their entire lives, for the sole purpose of continuously churning out puppies. The animals produced range from purebreds to any number of the latest "designer" mixed breeds. Cat breeding occurs under similar conditions to supply pet stores with kittens.

Animals in puppy mills are treated like cash crops

  • They are confined to squalid, overcrowded cages with minimal shelter from extreme weather and no choice but to sit and sleep in their own excrement.
  • Animals suffer from malnutrition or starvation due to inadequate or unsanitary food and water.
  • Sick or dying animals receive little or no veterinary care.
  • Adult animals are continuously bred until they can no longer produce, then destroyed or discarded.
  • Kittens and puppies are taken from their mothers at such an early age; many suffer from serious behavior problems.

Backyard breeders

Backyard breeders are also motivated by profit. Ads from these unscrupulous breeders fill the classifieds. Backyard breeders may appear to be the nice neighbor next door-in fact, even seemingly good-intentioned breeders may treat their breeding pairs as family pets. However, continuously breeding animals for years to produce litters for a profit still jeopardizes the animals' welfare.
Some backyard breeders may only breed their family dog once in awhile, but they often are not knowledgeable on how to breed responsibly, such as screening for genetic defects. Responsible, proper breeding entails much more than simply putting two dogs together.

Look for these red flags:

  • The seller has many types of purebreds or "designer" hybrid breeds being sold at less than six weeks old.
  • Breeders who are reluctant to show potential customers the entire premises on which animals are being bred and kept.
  • Breeders who don't ask a lot of questions of potential buyers.
  • No guarantees-responsible breeders make a commitment to take back the pet at anytime during the animal's life, no matter the reason.
Because puppy mills and backyard breeders choose profit over animal welfare, their animals typically do not receive proper veterinary care. Animals may seem healthy at first but later show issues like congenital eye and hip defects, parasites or even the deadly Parvovirus.

Taking homes away

When puppy mills and backyard breeders flood the market with animals, they reduce homes available for animals from reputable establishments, shelters and rescue groups. Every year, more than 150,000 cats and dogs enter shelters in Washington State-6 to 8 million animals enter shelters nationwide. Sadly, only about 15 percent of people with pets in the U.S. adopted them from a shelter or rescue group, leaving so many deserving pets left behind.

Help stop the suffering by taking these steps:

  1. Be a responsible, informed consumer-if you do buy from a breeder, go to a reputable one who:
    • Will show you where the dogs spend their time and introduces you to the puppy's parents.
    • Explains the puppy's medical history, including vaccines, and gives you their veterinarian's contact info.
    • Doesn't have puppies available year-round, yet may keep a waiting list for interested people.
    • Asks about your family's lifestyle, why you want a dog, and your care and training plans for the puppy.
    • Doesn't use pressure sales tactics.
  2. Adopt from a shelter or breed-specific rescue group near you-typically 25% of the animals in shelters are purebred.
  3. Support laws that protect animals from puppy mill cruelty-tell your elected officials you support laws which cap the number of animals a person can own and breed, and establish care standards for exercise, housing, access to food and water and regular veterinary care.
  4. Urge your local pet store to support shelters-animals are often used to draw consumers into stores. Encourage pet stores to promote shelter animals for adoption instead of replenishing their supply through questionable sources.
  5. Donate pet supplies to local shelters to help those rescued from the puppy mills and many other homeless animals in need.
  6. Learn more at:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

It can happen to any parent.
It can happen to any person.  
It can happen to you, me, him, her, them, they, or us. 
Unfortunately, the ones that most make the news are these:  the ones who are judged by those self-esteemed as masters at a subject without a mastery.


There are upsides and downsides to awareness.  While awareness breaks down walls and brings to the forefront an issue that demand attention, the downside is the notoriety of the ups and downs of parenting a child on the spectrum.  With notoriety comes an opening for judgment by those who deem themselves "aware enough" because they have read the hundreds of articles passed around each and every day. 

But awareness is such a finicky word.

According to the definition for awareness is:

a·ware·ness  [uh-wair-nis]   noun the state or condition of being aware; having knowledge; consciousness

The connotation is closer to "having some knowledge of a particular subject without mastery."  Knowledge of and mastery are not similar names for the same state.   Unfortunately, far too many people feel they have the right to pass or express judgment on topics for which they have knowledge of but lack mastery.  The utmost of these subjects is parenting.

I parent a child on the spectrum.  While I consider myself as having a great deal of knowledge about parenting due both to parenting and experience and a great deal of knowledge about parenting a child on the spectrum, through research and experience, I will attest at no point to be a master of either topic.  Because, in these two domains, there are no such things as masters;  there are those with extensive knowledge, those who understand what research says, those who have experience, those who have awareness, and those who have no idea, but in parenting and in parenting a child on the spectrum, no two experiences are ever the same, no two situations immediately identical, and no one size fits all solution to any parenting problem, nor any symptom exhibited by a child on the spectrum. 

To any who claims rights to publicly judge, humiliate, or demean another human being, especially in the face of tragedy, by assuming one is master of a domain that he or she is only levelly aware of is ignorance at its finest, incivility at its greatest, and unkind at its broadest. 

I know what it is to love my child.  I know what it is to spend the earliest waking hours and latest night hours worrying about my son. I am not so foolish to ever forget that Life happens.  The world is a peculiar place; nothing living is made to last forever, for that would destroy this glorious earth and rob it of all it has to offer.  While I despair to think on it, anyone that I love could die in the next five minutes from anything, ranging from illness to accident to self-infliction.  We can live as we may, take every possible precaution there is, and worry ourselves into an early grave about the "could be's, should be's, may be's, and would be's," but in the end for us most, what does us in is the thing we can do the least about. 

To judge another for living in a human world amongst the human race, doing all that is humanly possible when presented with the superhuman task of shielding those we love from the very life we live is to show that we are not nearly so wise enough to comprehend that not one of us is invisible.  Not a President, King, or Queen; not a Policeman, a Fireman, or a Doctor; not a monk, a saint, or a sinner; not the least of all friend, loved one, child.  At one point, or another, mortality shall come.  In whatever form at whatever time, none of us who breathes and lives are immune.  Some of us may have better tools to prolong the inevitable.  Others of us are not so lucky.  Their lot and end are no less tragic and bring no less pain.  In the time of loss and in the face of such tragedy, the honest, kind, humane, and civil thing to do is to reach across the self and insert strength in the place of fear, to withhold judgment where no right to give is tendered, and to remember, that someday soon, your own day will come.  Pray that at that time, whatever the circumstances, that in  your absence on this earth, the world may help your grieving loved ones find their peace because however it is that you die was a path that you have made your best to travel, even if the road was hardly prime.   

My heart goes out to those who are facing tragedy, now, tomorrow, and ever.  May peace swiftly find you and replace your sadness with fond memories and kind-hearted neighbors.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Handy-Service for the Handicapped and Disabled at Disney

After hearing a synopsis of this article on the radio this morning, I found myself feeling violently ill--sick, outraged, and downright disgusted.  I could sit here and name all of the reasons why this article made me want to simultaneously punch certain people while vomiting including, but not limited to: to total lack of regard for other human beings, dishonesty to a company who does a great service to those who are genuinely disabled, and/or distaste at how tacky and low is such a practice.  I want to scream at the top of my lungs as a parent of a special-needs child at how  outrageous and selfish and nasty and every other dirty vile word I can think of, I find this scheme.

Handy-Service for the Handicapped and Disabled at Disney:

Lou Lou (far left) and I (middle) and friends on a trip to Disney World in 2005.
  When I was in my early twenties, a group of friends and coworkers got together to arrange an affordable roadtrip to Disney World.  It was a great group of people I felt safe to travel with and the resulting trip is a memory to last a lifetime.  The group was comprised of mostly girls between the ages of 17 and 22.  We were all fun-loving, responsible girls.  Some of the girls on the trip were new to my best friend Lou Lou and I.  Some of us worked together and had become fast friends.  A few of us I had known by growing up because we grew up in the same small community.  It was my first time ever to go to Disney World, and 22 or not, it was still magical to me.  Except for the ugly moment, that is.

Lou Lou in Panama City Beach, Florida
My  best friend Lou Lou was 21 at the time we embarked on our trip.   For as long as I have known Lou (which is a very long time, mind you), she had always been "that girl."  Insecure females were uncomfortable around her.  Some people just didn't know how to take her.  She's a mish-mash of the deep south and the city and the bayou and the coast and something altogether indescribable.  She's funny, smart, and she has always stood out in the crowd.  She is young, gorgeous, and draws attention just because she exudes a light.  Guys gravitate towards her.  Girls tend to be afraid of her.  I just love her to pieces.  I know my Lou Lou in and out. She has a strong, tough as nails exterior, but inside, she's got emotions like everyone else.

Lou Lou in a rented wheelchair at Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama.
This beautiful girl is a bit of a miracle, you see.  A few years prior to our Disney World trip, Lou Lou had been in a terrible car accident.  She was lucky to have survived it; some involved had not. 

She did not, however, emerge from this tragedy unscathed.

The damage she sustained in the accident, including serious debilitating pelvic damage, did not properly heal.  Long-term standing, walking, or difficult terrain are problematic for her--so much so, that she was granted a Handicapped Parking Tag at the request of her physical therapist.  For several years after the accident, my Lou Lou relied on a cane to assist with standing and long walking trips.  

We knew it would be difficult for her to enjoy the heavily packed agenda that Disney so much demands.  With no prior knowledge of the consequences, we decided to rent a wheelchair at the park to help her keep up with the demands of Disney. 

It wasn't the first time that we had done this.  On several occasions, like long outings, shopping excursions, or on trips with strenuous terrain or which were standing/walking heavy, we had rented or used a wheelchair for her comfort.  And while it was a general blessing afforded to us to have a wheelchair available at all for renting, it wasn't without it's own inherent downsides. 
 I learned a lot about how judgmental people could be when they would perceive a beautiful blonde-haired model bodied female park in handicapped parking and opt to use a wheelchair.   No doubt, few took the time to see the handicapped status on her tag and most attributed her handicapped tag to be "someone else's, for that girl doesn't look handicapped at all."

With a parent with Fibromyalgia and a friend with Lupus, I often wondered to myself why would anyone think handicapped had to look a certain way? Why on earth do people need constantly to prove themselves? 

When we went to Disney World, with the intention of renting a wheelchair, it was to supplement Lou Lou's cane and to minimize the pain she would be in.  We wanted to have a good time and we wanted her to have a good time.  Simple as that.  We rented the wheelchair and showed the staff  her Mirror tag to show that she was, indeed, deemed handicapped and that we were not just borrowing a wheelchair willy-nilly.  We expected that they would be saved only for those deemed in need.  We made sure to cross our T's to get Lou Lou a wheelchair because Lou Lou was very much in need.

Lou Lou and friends at Disney World.
We were excited that she qualified to rent a wheelchair and happy that we could make the most of the trip without causing Lou any excessive distress.  It gave us peace of mind and freedom to enjoy ourselves.

  The lady in the park welcome center gave us a pass and said that we could use it if we needed to to be able to bypass areas where the wheelchair would not fit.  We weren't sure what that meant; we were sure, however, that we were ready to get this party started!   As a group,  we picked our first conquest.  I couldn't tell you to this day what ride it was, but I can tell you that we were very surprised to have been ushered out of the line to a "suitable handicapped entrance."  At first, we thought that they were going to take Lou Lou and place her somewhere by herself until we arrived at the front and were disappointed at losing her companionship.  Then when we were taken as a group, we were worried that it would put us further at the back of the line.  We all looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.  We didn't know what this meant. 

Lou Lou (choosing to walk) and I posing with Goofy.
 We just knew that we were going to find out whether or not the wheelchair would lean more towards an inconvenience or a life-saver in terms of how wheelchairs roll in Disney (pun intended, haha).  Turns out, the latter was the case.  Throughout the trip, we found ourselves swept to different entrances and accorded great courtesy.  Even more special, is that in most cases we didn't have to  break apart the group.  Our didn't have to be isolated in her wait and we got to make our memories together.  

It was, at no point, our intention to take advantage of such a remarkable kindness.

At the beginning of the trip and in early mornings when Lou Lou's hip was less bothersome, she stood in many of the less treacherous Fast Pass lines.  During these walks and waits, she would rely on a walking cane. At several points in the trip, she also opted to walk for short periods because her hip, in any position can become bothersome.  In the chair, it would sometimes become stiff.  At other times, especially at the end of the very long days and even worse towards the end of the trip, Lou Lou relied more heavily on the wheelchair than walking.  I have got to say, when we realized the true power of this pass, sure we were excited.  Who wouldn't  be?  But we were mindful at what (and whose) expense these comforts were coming, and when things weren't at their worst, we did not use the pass. 

But when we did, it was a blessing we could not ever be more grateful to have had.

On a day in the middle of the trip, during the latter part of a very hot day, I remember us choosing to go on a ride that separated us as a group.  Lou Lou was exhausted; by this time, the trip was wearing more heavily on her body and the pain becoming unrelenting.   Especially towards the end of the day, this was a wheelchair heavy day.  On this one ride, we waited, Lou Lou  in the wheelchair until about three quarters of the way to the top.  At that point, several stairs appeared, and some Disney agents wheeled her to the top to wait for her us to join her.  She was waiting patiently, being goofy, twiddling her cane or some other non-sense and she'd drawn the attention of others and we were giggling.  We were waiting patiently in line ourselves, about twenty people in front of us when it--the ugliest moment--occurred.  A woman, maybe mid thirties and her ten or so year old daughter were waiting in front of us.  I started to hear words like "fraud," and "faking it," and my ears pricked immediately when I saw the direction of the woman's eyes in regards to the conversation she was having with that child.  She pointed to my Lou Lou and though I cannot remember the words directly, said to her young, impressionable child something to the effect of "...that girl, there.  Ain't no  way she's handicapped.  She's just faking it so she can cut." 

I was stunned. 

How dare she?

Even worse, how dare she teach a child to think that way?

In the most magical place on earth no less??

This wretched being had NO IDEA how much my my Lou would give to not be in pain all the time!  She had no idea what trauma had gone through that left Lou Lou reliant on a cane for short walks and a wheelchair for long outings.  She wasn't there like I was to see her broken body in a hospital bed, to be afraid like I was to see my beautiful friend, ever so filled with pluck and hell, broken and quiet in a sterile, quiet hospital room.  To know her anguish and the journey ahead for her.  Not like Lou Lou would intimately know and not like I had personally witnessed.

I couldn't hold my tongue. 

I was shaking.

I was almost in tears at the shock and the personal affront.

I let her have it.

I let her have it in the most "how-dare-you, ever, in-the-name-of-God, ever-judge-another human-being-so-cruelly, and-teach-a-child-such-rhetoric-and-live-with-yourself/reduce-her-wicked-black-heart-to-the-size-of-a-pea" lecture.  In the end, I don't even think it really sunk in with her, save for seventy five seconds of embarrassment to be called out written blankly in her eyes and her slightly red cheeks.  It stung me; it was an eye-opener. Call me naive, but I honestly thought that people would never do things like that;  that people would never fake being handicapped for just the reasons she thought, so she shouldn't have any reason to judge.

But then today, I learn about this and realize just how sick and twisted and black-hearted some people really are.


Our son E. with his oversized sunglasses.

Fast-forward almost nine years.  Lou Lou and I are now both married with children.  My husband and I are now in the early stages of planning for a trip to Disney World.   When I found out I was pregnant, I swore my son would live a life of experience and learning.  I grew up very, very poor.  Things like the zoo, the aquarium, museums were things I was only lucky enough to see on field trips, IF we could afford the field trip at all, which most years we couldn't.  Disney was most definitely out of our reach when I was a child, hence being 22 and seeing Disney for the first time.  We swore as a parental goal that our son would be able to see the magic of Disney while he was still young and innocent.  Piggledy and I had made many plans for our son while we were expecting and Disney was by far, one of our favorites and would be our biggest vacation accomplishment and gift to our beautiful child.

At age two and a half, our son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

And our plans suddenly took a nosedive.

At first, we didn't know if our son would even talk.  But with the blessing of a fantastic Autism program and intensive intervention at home, our son is now an almost five year old boy with immense knowledge, a huge vocabulary, and a great interest in all things Disney.    While on the outside, he seems unaffected, inwardly, he still struggles with many unseen challenges.  He has the sensory processing deficiencies common to autism.  Loud noises, bright sunny days, busy atmospheres, and long walks are difficult for him.  We can handle the noise--earmuffs!  We can handle the sunshine--umbrellas and sunglasses!  We can handle the busy atmosphere by choosing the least busiest times to go.  But the walking?  It's a part of the Disney experience.  It's a BIG place!  As we very studiously plan a trip (to be as accommodating to our son's special needs as possible) an entire year in advance, we look at stories like these and we think about those who stand to lose those accommodations that make Disney's magic accessible to so many children and families.  I think of my beautiful Lou Lou, who if she ever returns to Disney with her own daughter, who will again be needing a wheelchair;  I think of my son who is too big now to carry for seven days straight and who will need a stroller or wheelchair to accommodate his needs.  And I think of the others who all desire to visit the "happiest place on earth," regardless of the challenges they, too, must face.

And then I think:  shame on you, you disgusting folks who have taken advantage of individuals with disabilities and shame on you for risking an accommodation you don't deserve one bit and shame on the tour company for shamelessly promoting this. 

Shame on you for making it so much harder on folks who bear crosses you may never understand.

Shame on you for making those who make accommodations available feel "unfair" and shame on you for making those who need those accommodations feel "unfair" for needing.

I wonder if there are records of these Manhattan Moms to ban these adults from the park for good?