A Death

It is usually never a good thing when you get a telephone call at five in the morning. So when the phone rang at that time and I started to answer the phone my wife instructed me not to answer the phone. When I asked her why she said “ it is my mother and I know if she is calling me at this time it can only be one thing and I don’t want to know.” She said this referring to her ailing grandmother, who raised her as my grandparents raised me, in her mind there was no doubt that the phone call was meant to give her the news of her grandmothers death.

I decided to pick up the phone anyway and hand it to her and it was her brother who was calling to tell her that her fears had come true.

Her grandmother was born in a rural area of Puerto Rico and was the oldest daughter out of eleven kids. At about the age of eight she began caring for several of her younger siblings and never went any farther in school and never had a childhood. She would work hard taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, and the sick elderly people in the family, until she got married in her early-twenties and moved to Bayamon (a suburb of San Juan) like hundreds of thousands of rural Boricuas who came to the city for the promise of jobs and a better life. Just like in America, when millions of southern blacks flooded the Northern cities in the early and mid 20th century, the rural peasants soon found that they had left sub-standard housing and backbreaking work in the country for life in a dangerous, crowded and noisy urban ghetto.

Living in Bayamon she gave birth to 4 kids, and raised one other, and she didn’t move to New York until she was in her late fifties and never learned English. Like so many other older Latinos in America my wife’s grandparents went to Spanish-speaking churches, watched Spanish TV, and while their bodies were in Brooklyn their hearts were in Puerto Rico. As a child my wife had to translate for her grandparents to the bill collectors and the doctors, telephone companies, and utility companies. They didn’t get out much, and that was part of the problem with their health, because they lived in the Albany Projects in Crown Heights Brooklyn and were terrified to go out at night and only nominally confident to go out in the daytime.

The Grandmother would sit in her small apartment and watch Spanish TV and read the Bible with five locks on the door and hear the gunshots, drug feuds, police sirens, loud music, and lovers quarrels and that was all the America she ever got to see. Well, not all the America; she did have a front row seat to the infamous Crown Heights Riot between African-Americans and Hasidic Jews. But, for old people like her, who have no money and live in bad neighborhoods the last days are usually harsh unless you have family that will help you out and that is only so good. My mother-in-law did help her towards the end; but she moved from one projects to another (from bad to worse) and lost the ability to walk because she never walked (use it or lose it) and she just slowly died away.

In her last days, before she lost consciousness, she found solace in reading the Bible and religious tracts. Like a growing number of people in Latin America she had rejected the Catholic Church and become a born-again Christian (Pentecostal) and she will be buried besides her husband, a tough but gentle old-school Puerto Rican man, in New Jersey ( in New York even the commute to the cemetery is long).

My ex-wife Maria in the middle with her family. Grandmother not in the photo.

Night at the Hospital

I hate hospitals and going to them for any reason but yesterday I was encouraged to do so by a few different people. I knew I had a hernia and I could see and feel the bulge (or whatever it is) in my stomach; but I didn’t take it that’s serious. However, I visited my local pizzeria, a classic New York joint, and talked to Joe the old Italian guy behind the counter who had just had a heart attack four days ago but was already back at work because he said staying at home drives him crazy.

After telling Joe about my stomach he wouldn’t shut up and went on and on about me having to get it checked out and then admonished me for my diet of pizza, Philly cheesesteaks, strombolis and the like, which of course I buy from him. After leaving there I called my grandmother and nothing gets her excited more than any hint of sickness or ailments and then my wife and they both I agreed I should have it checked out so I went to Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn.

Wyckoff is like most inner-city hospitals in that it is a third-world operation. It is crowded, dirty, unorganized and is manned by staff who just kind of leisurely stroll around and don’t get excited about anything and are not in a hurry to serve anyone. After waiting a few hours and being rudely interviewed and checked on by a gay Asian nurse I sat in the waiting room for three hours as Puerto Rican teen mothers sat with their unruly kids and baby-daddies ( all black btw), transvestites, a woman telling how she puts vegetable oil in her car engine, and a guy telling how his uncle works at the post office but gets a social security check in a dead guys name, so I couldn’t wait to be seen and get the hell out of there.

When I got in the back it was crowded and police officers were hovering over someone who had been assaulted trying to get info on the attackers while I sat next to a young gang-banger who was threatening to shoot up the place unless he got some attention. On the other side of me an elderly Puerto Rican woman was having some religious tracts read to her by her daughter.

I got a bed, and because my name is Lee, was sent a Chinese female doctor to see me, and she was rude and nasty and abruptly walked away without saying anything when she found out I wasn’t Chinese.

So, it was going bad; but then I was sent two residents, one a Muslim woman from India and another a young man from Vietnam and both had did their med school in the Caribbean island of Dominica, and they were very friendly and nice and talked to me until the regular doctor came, a guy from India, and he confirmed I had a hernia and gave me an appointment with the surgical clinic on June 30th. Hopefully two years from now those two residents will be that warm and friendly.

Night at the Fights

Madison Square Garden is known as the Mecca of Boxing. This title does not come from the modern era but from the decades between the thirties and eighties when it was the home to regular shows to sellout crowds featuring many ethnic fighters and ethnic rivalries of course it was home to the fight of the 20th Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (the first fight in which Smokin Joe won).

Over the last two decades as the sport of boxing has declined the state of things at MSG has declined; but last Saturday night I witnessed some of that old Garden magic as I saw the most exciting night at the fights in my life. Let me first state that I have been to many fights in my life, and have seen many exciting crowds, and in America the two fighters that have had the most exciting fan base are Felix Trinidad of Puerto Rico and the Mexican-American Oscar De La Hoya and when they fought I was not there. I did see Trinidad fight at the Garden in front of an electric Puerto Rican crowd and that was something special. With Trinidad out of the game there are only three fighters that can bring that sort of excitement and that is De La Hoya, whose next fight is his retirement fight, Fernando Vargas (whose fight with DLH featured a wild and divided crowd) and the Englishman Ricky Hatton. Insha’Allah it is a dream of mine to get to travel to England to see Hatton fight and maybe even see the DLH finale.

The card at the Garden maybe didn’t feature any stars that big; but it did feature some up and coming fan favorites with strong ethnic followings. The fight was on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade on 5th Avenue in Manhattan which brings millions of people to the city (mostly men there to check out the women and women to floss for the men) and hundreds of wild parties through the city). New York becomes a sea of Puerto Rican flags and it is kind of like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for people of color. The main event featured a young and rising Puerto Rican star named Miguel Cotto against an undefeated Italian-American from Brooklyn named Paulie Malignaggi.

The fight was pretty good but what made it so exciting was the amount of enthusiasm from the crowd. Loud cheers and chats echoed for Cotto and thousands of Puerto Rican flags were waived all over the Garden. After being dropped in the second –round a spirited Paulie got up and rallied to win many rounds in front of a hostile crowd but lost the decision after 12 to the delight of the Puerto Rican crowd (I had the fight scored 115-112 for Cotto).

On the undercard Irishman John Duddy provided excitement as thousands of Irish fans and chanted and cheered his entrance to the ring and he was accompanied by the traditional Irish piper. Every blow he landed on Freddie Cuevas brought wild cheers from the Irish and every responding blow from Cuevas brought jeers until Cuevas sat on his stool after the 7th round. I asked my landlord, who is from Ireland, if he knew about the Duddy fight and he told me he didn’t think there was an Irishman in New York who wasn’t either at the fight or watching it on TV.

If that wasn’t enough excitement a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player Tommy Zbilkowski thrilled the crowd in his professional debut with a knockout in 49 seconds of the 1st round. He entered the ring to the ND fight song and there wee hundreds of people who had driven in from the Chicago area and Indiana to see him play.

The night also included knockout wins by Julio Caesar Chavez, Jr. the son of the great Mexican fighting legend and Bobby Pacquiao (the brother of Manny) over New Yorker Kevin Kelley.

More on World Cup
American soccer fans do not worry even if we all know that the US will not make it to the second-round this time around even after being so cocky coming in. I have no doubt that there will be a day when the US will dominate world football. I am rooting for the English anyway and I think they have a shot if Wayne Rooney is healthy especially since the Brazilians did not look that good in their opening match with Croatia; but the best and most exciting game I have seen so far in the Cup was the 2-2 tie between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Those brothers really left it all o the pitch and their fans should be proud. By the way, is this politically incorrect, or did you also notice that almost all the Saudi players are black? I remember there being a lot of black players in 1994 and 2002 but not this many.

Admitting to Mistakes

President George W. Bush has been roundly criticized for not admitting to any mistakes in the 2004 election and was called stubborn and bullheaded and I happen to agree with that assessment. Recently he has admitted to a few mistakes like his “wanted dead or alive” and “bring em on” stuff and Abu Gharib. Yet, I think he will not recognize the biggest mistake of his presidency, or at least admit to it, until he is on his deathbed. After all at this point in time about two-thirds of the American people believe the Iraq war has been a mistake and not been worth it and the problem just gets bigger by the day when you consider that there is no way out for America. Only the true-blue childish and naïve boy-scouts, the brainwashed, and those getting paid still believe this was is worth it and not a mistake.

However, moving away from Bush and our critique of him, how many of us admit to our mistakes? I am not talking about our sins, since that is a private matter between ourselves, Allah, and whomever we trespassed against; but I am talking about mistaken positions that we have taken. Or are we just as hardheaded as Bush and not admit to our mistakes. In that spirit, I am going to admit to a few of mine;

-Against my better judgment I marched with those protesting against the American war in Afghanistan. Even at the time I knew, that while I was opposed to the suffering of that the war would bring to the poor Afghan people, that America had not other choice but to extract revenge against the 9-11 bombers and take out the Taliban. Since that time I have been impressed by the leadership of President Hamid Karzai and his government and the Islamist parliament and angered at the half-assed American and NATO approach to Afghanistan which has allowed the situation to decay.

-For years I parroted the standard anti-Israel line that I heard from the people around me and supported suicide bombings against Israelis under the standard line you hear from Muslims “every Israeli man, woman and child is an occupier” and now I regret that and when I went to Israel I changed many of my positions regarding that conflict.

-The night before he was shot a high school classmate of mine by the name of Larry Banks asked me to seriously talk to him and tell him. It was late at night and we were in the parking lot of the projects and I told Larry I would talk to him the next day. That night he was shot in the stomach in an argument in the park and died weeks later from complications to the wound and I have always regretted not spending a few minutes with him that night.

These are just a few mistakes, they are many, but the point is we can’t ask others to do what we will not do ourselves. Our elected leaders are a product of the people.

American Auto Workers Hurting

My father and grandfather both worked in the auto industry so the American auto industry has always been close to my heart and to this day and because of this I will only by an American-made UAW-made vehicle.

The UAW was always on the frontlines for the struggles of American workers and the advances that they won through blood, sweat and tears helped to benefit all American-workers. Many Americans today, who are ignorant of history, say that they hate unions but they enjoy their weekends, time and a half overtime pay, and the like which would never have existed without the labor movement.

Because Americans do not want to buy American cars (David Brooks says Bobos only buy cars made in nations with foreign policies hostile to the United States), and Detroit hasn’t been making many cars that anyone wants to buy even if they want to buy American, the American auto industry is in trouble.

As usual when the industry is in trouble it is not the executives and middle-management who will suffer for their bad business decisions. No, it is the workers who will be made to suffer as we are seeing at Delphi, and this is just the beginning. American workers are being laid-off by the thousands and their jobs are moving to Mexico, where workers are paid two-dollars an hour with no benefits, and to China where workers are being paid on-dollar an hour. No pesky unions to worry about in Mexico or China and if a worker asks for rights he is fired and if he asks to loudly he may come up missing.

In the spirit of its new “global strategy” my grandfather, a retired pipefitter for General Motors is looking at the possibility of his wife of 60 years being thrown off of health insurance. Of course for anyone to raise these concerns, or speak of the interest of the American worker, is someone who is backwards and outdated if we listen to the Tom Friedman crowd.

Alhamdudilah I can report that we have a Muslim UAW Committeeman in St. Louis for the Daimler-Chrysler local and he is fighting the good fight.