Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Chutzpah for the Unchristian

A few weeks back, I started to see the billboards around town that are advertising Jews For Jesus. Having been raised in a religious Christian home, I was intrigued by the advertisements. One above the Boulevard of the Allies reads:

“Jews for Jesus

Isn’t that like vegetarians for meat?

No, not really. Any other questions?”

I liked the humorous tone of the billboard, and I wanted to know more about the group.

But since I don’t work downtown, I didn’t actually see any of the Christian Chosen proselytizing on the street until Friday evening. At that time I saw a guy wearing an Israeli-blue shirt that said Jews for Jesus, talking to some folks in front of the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle. On Saturday in Shadyside, I saw folks in forest green shirts that said: “Jesus for the Kosher.” There were a few of these folks hanging out along Walnut Street, passing out tracts to those who’d take them, and talking to whoever would speak to them.

Clutching a notebook and a pen, I approached one of the pamphleteers to interview her. As I started to fire questions at her, she looked a bit bewildered.

“Could you take off your sunglasses?” she asked me. I apologized and I took of the sunglasses, and continued questioning her. She said that she was not Jewish, but she was helping the group to spread the Word. “Holy chutzpah,” she called it, after handing me a tract with the title, “CHUTZPAH.”

“People think that if you’re Jewish and become Christian, you’re not Jewish anymore. But if you become a Buddhist, you’re still white,” she said.

The woman declined to be named but she said that she was one of a couple dozen folks who were witnessing across the city. Their message was not always thoughtfully received, she said, confessing that she had received negative responses from Jews and non-Jews, one of whom said, referring to the Crucifixion: “You killed him!”

Now I must admit that I feel for these people, because my parents were Holy Rollers. My late father was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and he also was a Gideon—yes, one of those guys who passes out the little New Testament Bibles on college campuses. I’d never seen him pass them out, but it’s pretty similar to passing out tracts, I think. I imagine you sometimes catch guff from people who don’t appreciate your message.

The Jews For Jesus volunteers who are out in force in Pittsburgh are part of the organization’s “Behold Your God” campaign. Volunteers for the five-year campaign, which is in its fifth year, are visiting 60 cities across the country that have populations of 25,000 or more Jews, said Garrett Smith, the director of the Boston branch of Jews For Jesus who has been in town for the campaign. About 25 volunteers are witnessing on the streets of Pittsburgh, and numerous churches are involved, he added. “All kinds of folks are involved at various levels. Our outreach is to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, but it’s open to everyone,” he said

Pittsburgh is home to about 50,000 Jewish people. One of the groups involved in supporting the Jews For Jesus effort is the Messianic Jewish congregation of Yashua Ben David.

So far in what will be a two-week stop in Pittsburgh, members of Jews For Jesus have trod the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, Squirrel Hill and South Side. To display its message locally, the group has bought space on seven billboards and a few transit shelters.

Originally from San Francisco, Smith said he had never heard the message of Christ while he was growing up. He became a Christian 12 years ago, while he was in Israel. “A Jewish boy goes to Israel and becomes a Christian,” he said, laughing.

Isn’t it questionable to try to change someone’s born religion, I asked Smith.

“If you believe there are consequences to your religion, then it becomes something of a lot of significance. What we believe is important,” he said.

But why do Jews need to know about Jesus, if they worship the same God as Christians?

“Jewish people believe the message of the Gospel doesn’t apply to them. We believe that Jesus is for everybody,” Smith said.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

God, guns and freedom: Dread and repugnance at the N.R.A. convention

Seeing City Paper's story about gun ownership in Pittsburgh reminded me of covering the N.R.A. convention, which was held in Pittsburgh last year. The following story originally was published in the April 24, 2004 issue of Pulp.

Called by the news service Thursday afternoon, I had an idea of what to expect when I attended the National Rifle Association convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Saturday: a slice of good old boy American pie.

I arrived just after the food was served at the 7:15 a.m. prayer breakfast, which was sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christian Businessmen, and soon got the gist of this gathering of firearm-lovers and Constitution-huggers: God, guns and freedom. I'd been tipped off when I learned that former rocker and NRA board member Ted Nugent would give a talk titled "God, Guns and Rock 'n' Roll."

After bowing in prayer to start the breakfast, which featured several speakers including former astronaut Charlie Moss Duke, Jr., the group of 750 people stood for the pledge of allegiance. As they recited the pledge, a small group of men yelled out the phrase "under God," obviously making the point that they believe the phrase must remain in the pledge. But the way that they said it offended me and I'm sure it offended others. These men, whom I couldn't pick out of the crowd, though they pulled the same trick at the members' meeting later in the day, yelled out "under God!" in booming voices, with emphasis on the word God, making the phrase resemble a curse more than a blessing.

One of the hollerers may have been one of the guys who was wearing a T-shirt that read: "The Second Amendment: The Original Homeland Security."

At the members' meeting sitting up front I saw an elderly Jewish gentleman wearing a yarmulke and I wondered how he felt about the theological conservativism of many of his fellow NRA members. I wondered what Hunter Thompson would do in such a situation. So I went out into the hallway to skip the meeting and, in doing so, ran into a pony-tailed gunslinger with a ZZ Top beard. I decided to interview him. We chatted for a bit and he said he was a Bush supporter and I went on my way. He walked up to me after a bit and said he wanted to add one thing: "I'm not only a member of the NRA, I'm a gun-carrying member of the NRA. And I think everyone should be," he said. Then he added in a low voice: "And I'm packing right now."

The realization hit me like a shotgun blast that not only was this soft-spoken guy packing heat, but thousands of others at the convention also were packing. After all, with 60,000 gun-lovers, you'll have a few thousand who like to keep their firearms close to the family jewels. It didn't make me nervous, because I figured that if one gun enthusiast got too enthusiastic with his piece, there'd be scores of people happy to peg him like a groundhog. The thought comforted me.

In the hallway of the convention center, I saw a picture-perfect scene: two older ladies each knitting a powder-blue shawl, sitting next to each other on some seats next to the wall as the conventioneers streamed past. I sat down next to them and said if I were a photographer I'd take their picture. Then I told them I was a reporter and I'd like to interview them. They looked at me askance and declined, so I spoke with them off the record. They said that the media always gives the NRA a bad rap. I said I knew what they were talking about, partly because my late father had been a member of the NRA and an elder in the Presbyterian church.

"The NRA's about God, guns and freedom, right?" I said.

"That's right," they responded in unison, nodding their heads without missing a stitch.

I sauntered down the hallway and out to the deck to have a smoke. As I was doing so I tried to get a quote from a guy from rural Slippery Rock, who was there with his wife and teenage daughter and son. Like the old ladies, he also didn't trust me to quote him. But he did give me an earful. While he was working in Germany years ago he got his license and became a jäger, or hunter, which is an aristocratic pursuit, he explained.

"So I became friends with the old bürgers, and we'd get drunk together and they'd show me their SS tattoos. One day one of them took me down in his basement to show me the lampshade that had been made from a Jewess's breast...I asked him how could this happen? He said, 'It was easy. We made them register their guns, then we took their guns away. Then we took them away.'"

We Belong

Everybody, or seemingly everybody, is doing it, but I’m still getting the hang of it. Having just started a web log a couple months ago, I am new to learning what online conversations are all about. To further Internet discourse, I’d like to offer a few tips for would-be bloggers, or for those who are just starting out.

Blogging and message boards are something like existence in your typical grade school classroom. Depending upon the class, or depending upon the web site your viewing or on which you are commenting, you may have a sound educational experience. Or you might just as well have a tough time with the hecklers.

The online hecklers may snigger and snark and attack you, for the purpose of argument or out of sheer meanness. And just like in the classroom, if you let these fools distract you, you’ll miss making new friends. But most importantly, you’ll miss what the other folks are saying. Some of these folks are making sound points, not just talking trash.

You can’t let the fools take you to school.

So it would be best not to sound too naïve, too irrational, too violent or confrontational. And Lord knows, do not sound revolutionary, since Big Brother truly is watching what you write. Try to be meek as a kitten. That way no one will call you out for being ill informed, lazy, or for simply being a jerk.

Tone is everything on the Internet. Still, off the cuff comments happen on blogs, and that’s part of where the fun is. The immediate surprises of the conversation, such as something as small as a reader’s comment—“Nice stuff here”—can be invigorating. Strangely, even insulting comments can get the discussion going sometimes. Embrace the talk, but don’t let your guard down.

Folks who get into the online conversation, be they Phds or punks, are all looking for some sort of validation. The fools receive the stamp of approval when their peers join them in the sniping. But others get their approval when they make small connections over the e-waves.

A comment on your blog could lift your spirits on a drudge-filled day.

“I just started a blog and saw yours on another site. I’ll link to yours as soon as I figure out how,” reader Sam wrote in an email to me. “I noticed that you mention the Drug War quite a bit. It’s a particular bugaboo of mine.”

No, I’m not crazy, I say to myself. Others, like Sam, agree with me.

Or your comment on someone else’s blog might elicit a kind email from that blogger.

“Thank you for responding to my blog. I appreciate your comments,” reader Brad emailed. “I also liked your post, ‘To live and die in Pittsburgh, PA.’ It seems that your thinking is in some ways akin to my own.”

Yes, I am right in my thinking after all, I tell myself.

Though it’s distant, in the online conversation there’s still a chance for honest interaction. You might find the sort of give and take that you have when you chat with a neighbor who you don’t know, because you both happened to be working in the yard. The fact that the average online meeting can be somewhat accidental doesn’t diminish the connections that can occur when you blog.

Web log ought to be short for “we belong,” because all bloggers, to some degree, are looking for the approval of others. And that need is entirely human, compelled by flesh and blood, even on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Surviving married bliss

Approaching 30 months of official marriage, I wonder, ‘What’s in a name?’ Gone are the days of struggling with my wife over the silliest things, and gone are the fights based on our petty insecurities. We survived our first year of marriage. We made it through that early transition period that can make or break a lifetime commitment.

While some couples have no problems during their first years of marriage and others have arguments that end in divorce, my wife Anne and I had a first year that was somewhere in between the two extremes. It was a little surprising to me, because I figured that since we’d lived together before marrying, we knew each other pretty well. One point of contention between us was her taking my surname, as she said she would. It drove me nuts that she didn’t do it, and I felt that she backed out of the promise. I brought it up over and over, and we fought about it regularly. Then one morning I was talking to one of my editors on the phone, and I mentioned that Anne and I weren’t getting along, partly because she “refused” to take my name.

Richard, my editor, was unimpressed. He had been married for 20 years, and his wife hadn’t taken his name, even after they had two children together. Now his marriage was unraveling into divorce, and he had wisdom to pass onto me—a guy just starting down the matrimonial path.

“So what if she doesn’t take your name?” he said. “It’s a small thing. You would do things that are so much harder than that for her, wouldn’t you?”

His logic was indisputable, and I realized how silly I had been about the whole thing. But my reasoning had been clouded by my hurt feelings at Anne for not taking my name. I took it as an insult, when that was not what Anne had intended. It wasn’t about insulting or honoring me—it was about what name she felt comfortable with. There wasn’t any changing it. All I could do was to understand.

Couples, prepare yourselves

Whether you’ve lived with your partner for a few years before marriage or not, the adjustment to legally recognized status could take you by surprise, some couples say. Bellevue resident Alisa Scioscia was just a few years out of high school when she married, and the change was significant, she says. “You may have been a great couple back when you were dating. But you can’t turn back the clock after marriage—it’s death do you part,” she says. While she and husband Joe have been happily married for 21 years and have five children together, the change from living in her mother’s house to living in her own house with her husband was huge, she says. “I was young bride at 21, and I never had the time to have my own household before marriage.”

Alisa’s inexperience led to miscommunication between the two early in their marriage, Joe says. “She was too adaptable and I was too rigid. I should’ve been more considerate during the first year, and she should’ve been more persistent,” he says. “You want to be respectfully flexible.”

Engaged couples can prepare themselves for marriage by talking together about their expectations before the nuptials, says Joan L. Weber, a Mt. Lebanon marriage counselor. “Before the wedding, talk with your partner about what you think it will be like to be married,” she says. “Most couples spend more time planning the wedding, while not talking about what happens after the ceremony. Discuss how you would handle conflict, and think of ways to resolve issues. What are you willing to accept and not accept in the marriage?”

Accept your mate

Acceptance is the key to making any marriage work, during or after the first year, many couples say. While most people are capable of change, some can only make changes of certain degrees, or over long periods of time. Having an understanding attitude helps to make a spouse more able to relate to her partner, says Ross resident Janice Palla, who has been married to husband Chaz for 12 years. “You have to love each other and accept each other,” she says. “You also have to really know each other, and accept the other for who he is. Everybody has faults, and you have to adjust to make a successful marriage.

Chaz agrees, adding that the biggest problem of married couples is in understanding their spouse’s perspective. “You can’t really empathize unless you see it from their side,” he says. “Your first year, you’re still thinking about yourself. And when you get married, you’ve got to think about your partner as much or more than yourself.”

It’s important to look at marriage as a verb—something you “do,” rather than something you “get,” explains Weber. “A lot of times for couples, there’s basically a letdown after the wedding. Sometimes there are new expectations of what marriage is going to be like,” she says. “Sometimes differences arise because they weren’t addressed before the wedding.”

McKeesporters Ted and Mary Ann McFarland found love with each other after having been married previously. They didn’t have any major problems during the first year of marriage, but the subsequent years haven’t been argument-free. “My biggest problem is listening. You should listen more,” says Ted. “But I think that we get along well because of our faith. I believe that if you pray together, you stay together.”

“You need a lot of patience with each other,” adds Mary Ann. “Everyone has different opinions, and you have to talk it out and work it out.”

Stick to it

Some couples say that tenacity is the key to keeping a marriage happy for one year or fifty. Forest Hills residents Heidi and Jim Mussachio married 12 years ago, while they both were students at Carnegie Mellon University. Three children and a number of financial and emotional obstacles later, they both say that marriage takes work. A couple should be “on the same page” with each other, Heidi says. “What it comes down to in the first year is that both people have to honestly have the same intentions with each other. You can’t have your own set of rules.“

“Our first year was a lot harder than most people, but it kept us together,” says Jim, noting that they lost their first child at that time. “A lot of it with Jim and I is that we were best friends before we married,” Heidi adds. “You can’t do any better than marry your best friend.”

Married for 47 years, Bob Matous enjoys a good laugh, which may partly explain the longevity of his marriage. The Bellevue resident is happily yoked to his wife Elva, with whom he has seven children and nine grandchildren. He says playfully that he has no idea what it takes to make a successful marriage. “An acquaintance once said to me, ‘Boy, seven children! You must know a lot about kids.’ I said I don’t know a damn thing about sex, but I know how to make babies,” he says with a laugh. He pauses a second, then adds that there is one thing that is important to a healthy relationship: “You’ve got to give each other a little space.”

When things are going rough, try to get back to how you felt about each other when you were falling in love, Weber says. “Try to spend more time doing the positive things you did together when you dated. Having a date night helps.”

Elva says that she and Bob didn’t have trouble adjusting during their first years of marriage, but like all couples, they had arguments later. “In the end, it’s a matter of commitment,” she says. “You know that even though you disagree, hurt feelings only last a short time. You always know that it’s going to be better the next day, because you know that feelings are only temporary.”

Grow Together

Walking down the aisle without tripping doesn’t mean that you have become the perfect spouse, but making it through difficult times can bring a couple closer together. “Just because your partner commits and wears a ring and takes a vow doesn’t mean that they know how to always be the perfect communicator and know how to handle all situations,” says Weber. “In some cases, we expect that because someone wears the wedding ring that he/she will always be perfect. We need to grow into becoming a better partner and that takes time even after the wedding. Couples that learn this prior to marriage seem to have a better year after marriage.”

Gail and Ken Fryncko met in college and cohabitated for several years before marrying eight years ago. But even after all of those years together, they give different views on the importance of the first year of marriage. “For me, the first year of marriage was more of a mental adjustment,” says Gail. “I began to think long-term. So it was more of a pragmatic approach.”

But couples shouldn’t look too far ahead during the first year, Ken cautions. “Don’t look beyond the first year. You’ll grow into it together,” he says. “If you worry too much about the upcoming years, you won’t enjoy your first year. “

What makes a successful marriage is dealing with some of the negatives more positively, says Weber. “By going through some of the challenges together, we can grow into the higher side of ourselves and learn the beautiful aspects of marriage such as forgiveness, patience, trust, and unconditional love.”

Mary Ann McFarland says a strong relationship can help a spouse to learn about virtue. “I think you become more patient with your spouse over time,” she says. “You have less patience at first, but that comes with time.”

* * *

Mt. Lebanon marriage counselor Joan L. Weber advises couples to acknowledge certain facts and feelings in their relationships to bring consensus to their relationships. She offers the following survival tips for couples during the first year of marriage:

Expect that after the honeymoon is over there may be a let down. The gift of marriage is that we can always grow and sometimes we grow through a positive and sometimes through a negative.

Allow time to talk about the transition of being married and what is working and what we can do to improve the relationship. When doing this, try to share your perspective by using I statements such as “I think” or “I feel” versus you statements such as “you don’t”. “You” statements may come across in a more judgmental or defensive way.

Share what feels good daily and share the blessings each night, even if you are in a disagreement.

Learn how to agree to disagree. Sometimes you need to develop coping techniques. Learn how to start over…and make-up.

Discuss openly the strengths and the weakness of the relationship. Differences do not mean an absence of love. In some cases what happens is that we have a higher expectation when married and we do take the differences more personally with marriage. When we take things more personally we create resistance and can develop emotional walls that can cause a breakdown in communication.

Get help if you need it. Therapy can be a focus on learning how to deal with the differences in a healthy manner versus an indication that the marriage is over.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

They Love Each Other

I was a little sad to hear of the recent sale of Thirsty’s, a North Oakland bar known locally as the hub of the Deadhead scene. The bar has been home base for Dead tribute bands, jam bands and bluegrass bands, including Sandoz, Fungus, Left For Dead and many others.

For 17 years, on Wednesday evenings, it was always Dead Night at Thirsty’s. Deadheads would congregate there, bringing bootleg tapes of concerts for the disc jockey to play. But that ended, at least temporarily, last month, when the bar was bought by Greg Laughlin. According to a City Paper story on the demise of the tradition, Laughlin didn’t even know that the bar had a Dead Night.

Which makes me wonder how much he cares about the tradition. But Thirsty’s Dead Night founder Jennifer Cunningham said Laughlin is planning to continue the tradition.

As I reflected on what the bar had meant to many of the region’s music lovers, it occurred to me that many folks had found love at the place. Jennifer and her husband, Steve “pUNK” Cunningham, had met there years ago when he was playing with Sandoz. Other Thirsty’s regulars that I could think of also met their spouses there. And I met my love there.

More than six years ago I ran into my future wife at Thirsty’s. I was out with my brother Sean, and we were drinking beers and listening to Left For Dead. I wrote about that meeting in an essay I had in the Post-Gazette. The essay follows this piece.

I talked to pUNK the other day, and he recalled the numerous folks he knew who had met at the bar. “There has got to be ten couples that I know of,” he said.

Jennifer agreed. “That one corner of the bar, by the kitchen, we called the Lover’s Corner,” she said, laughing. “It seemed like the people who hung out there always ended up together.”

Let’s hope that the traditions of Lover’s Corner, and Dead Nights, continue on when Thirsty’s reopens.

Sweet second chances

(This story was published in the February 14, 2002, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Every good love story begins the same. It starts with a look -- she saw him, he saw her, they saw each other. That first look represents a world of possibilities that a solid bond with another person can bring. It's like looking into a canyon and feeling you can fly.

In the case of my valentine and me, I saw her first -- in the rarefied air of a choral concert at Kiski School in Saltsburg -- and I fell. Those lips, the nose, the hair and eyes -- some kind of attraction grabbed me, some atavistic yearning that I didn't understand -- and I was done. With her curly, reddish brown hair, perfect skin, green eyes and the profile of a Germanic princess, she was clearly the most beautiful of all the debutantes lined up on the stage singing at our boy's school.

After the concert, our school hosted a dance. Though I wanted to ask her to dance, I felt overdressed in my coat and tie and uncomfortable with the chaperoned ordeal. My heart dropped as I watched someone else ask her. I never got up the courage.

I hadn't thought she'd noticed me. "I noticed you," she would say later with a knowing look.

A year or two later, I hit on her at a friend's graduation party in Monroeville. Sitting around my buddy's backyard pool, she swayed to the music blaring from a boom box and flirted a bit with everyone. She wore a white outfit that showed off her slender figure and complemented her tan. A little older and a bit cockier, I spent half the evening talking to her, laying on the malarkey. I stole a first kiss.

The first kiss is a promise of more promises to come, more surprises to unfold. I had to wait for more of those promises for 15 years, since, frankly, shyness again gained the upper hand, and I didn't pursue her again until three years ago.

I was out with a younger brother, helping him nurse a broken heart with an antidote of beer. Then I saw her, again, in profile. She was up at the bar getting a drink, and her name sprang out of the recesses of my mind. I gave her my best cool look, and she noticed. She looked even better than she had years ago -- more focused and confident. I called out her name, though even as I said it I wasn't sure I had the right girl.

"Do I know you?" she asked with a smile, obviously pleased by my attention. I told her my name and she recognized it, but not my face. We talked a bit, and as she left the place that evening, I hugged her. I got her number and called her later, but I still didn't really pursue her.

About a month later on St. Patrick's Day I was out with the same brother for his birthday, having a Guinness in a South Side bar. And in she walks, looking even better than before, and this time we both saw each other at the same time.

"So where's your girlfriend?" she said to me jokingly.

Next thing I knew she was sitting there with my brother and me, and I couldn't believe I'd been fighting it. This time, I took my second chance. We hung out for the rest of the night, and we've been together since.

"It took a while to reel you in," she likes to say now.

What is it that makes us so attracted to each other that we want to bond for years, into old age, till death do us part?

"When you find the right one, you're not going to know what hit you," my mom used to tell me as I dated a string of girlfriends in my 20s.

The excited, sometimes even nauseating feeling of falling in love compares to no other sensation. It has inspired works of art and acts of violence. It sets us off-kilter.

But we gladly go there anyway. We launch ourselves into the great unknown with the fervor of religious converts, committing ourselves to one another for eternity. When it works, it's a sweet deal, like having your own cheering section and a best friend for life. The possibilities seem boundless.

To those readers who are unlucky in love, who haven't found the yin to their yang, take heart. For many of us, it's happening later and later in life. If it doesn't happen on this Valentine's Day, it may happen by the next one. And then of course, sometimes there are second chances.

http://www.post-gazette.com/lifestyle/20020214life5.asp

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New Orleans Rag

I’m sick to my stomach with the accounts of the mayhem that happened in the New Orleans convention center and elsewhere in that catastrophe of a city. Stories of murders, robberies and rape by armed thugs defy the imagination.

What’s left of the city is an urban jungle, and the predators are taking full advantage, preying on the tourists and others. The police and National Guard are still getting things under control. It’s frightening, because the situation invariably makes us think of the fragility of our American way of life. If New Orleans is not so different than most American cities, we’ve found that if you lose electricity, plumbing and food, and the police are overwhelmed and they can’t access different parts of the city, anarchy will erupt.

My instinct is to blame all those in charge for what seems to be a slow response to the flooding. I want people to be fired for not clamping down on the city sooner. But before everything else, I’d like the cops and the Army to take care of those armed thugs who are running amok.

The primary role of government, indeed, the very reason any government claims to have support, is to protect the citizenry. The government of Louisiana and the U.S. federal government have miserably failed the people left in what was New Orleans. Some of those who were stranded in downtown New Orleans said that they think that the government was slow to respond because most of the stranded people are black. Finally, race and class again have taken hold of the American conversation.

I go over to my old hometown on the other side of town fairly regularly, to stay in touch with old friends, and to be in touch with the revitalization that’s happening there. In the rare times that I hear the “n-word,” it’s usually back there. Hearing the word is always strange for me, because I have a bunch of black neighbors, including one whom I’m good friends with, and also because I now live in a borough that is 70 percent black. But growing up, I heard the word all the time. Not from my parents’ mouths, but from many of my buddies, and from some of their parents.

I ran into a friend, and her mother and a few other friends, and we started talking about the anarchy in New Orleans.

“I’m sick of people complaining about it,” Janet said. “They were told to evacuate. All those people who were left were too poor or too sick to leave.”

I mentioned how I’d read of armed thugs raping and murdering people, and how I’d heard they were shooting at the cops.

“You know who's doing it, don't you?” Janet’s mom said. She came close and whispered in my ear: “It’s all them [n-words].”

From the networks’ camera view of things, most of the folks are black. And most of the folks who were filmed while looting stores of such essentials as electronics equipment seemed to be black, too—a fact that didn’t escape my friend Robert, who is black. We talked about it while watching the footage of the looting the other day.

“Aw man,” he said, shaking his head. “They keep on showing that.”

He was commenting on the fact that all of those involved in the looting seemed to be black, giving a bad perspective on blacks in general. Robert is a boarding school-private college guy, from one of the richest towns in the country. He’s traveled all over the world. He looked over at me for my take, knowing I’m a left-winger.

“Man, it’s a window of opportunity for a lot of those people. They don’t feel that they have many opportunities, and here’s one right there, so they take it,” I said.

“I know, the stores are all insured, but still,” he said.

I went off into one of my liberal rants, about how middle class America doesn’t notice what’s happening with the poor until they’re looting. Something along the lines of what I wrote in “Don’t say the C-word” (Barnestormin, 6/17/05).

The fact is that thanks to the camera views and print stories of the devastation, Americans are talking about poor people again. This is a good thing, because poor people, like most people, do not like to be ignored.