Saturday, June 30, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pssst... NY27 Republicans, We Need To Talk

Grab a chair, make yourself at home.

Listen, we really need to talk.

Wait, where are my manners? Would you like something to drink? Beer? Single malt? Fine, have it your way, let's get down to business.

You know primary day is tomorrow. You also know that I'm not into your agenda, but for just one day I want us to be on the same team.

What I want, what I've always wanted from government, is honest representation and I'm still young and stupid enough to believe that that there isn't an inherent contradiction there. I don't define 'honest representation' as having a President/Senator/Congressman/Dog Catcher that agrees with everything I think. I don't need my representatives to spend all day doing the bidding of my personal ideology and I hope we're all adult enough here to agree on that least in theory.

What I do need from my representatives is a standard of professionalism, intellectual honesty and an understanding that their only duty is to their constituents and their country. There are no noble bloodlines in America. The people we elect to serve us are raised up from our neighborhoods and cities. We send them off to the seat of power with our trust and hopefully our good will because that is how a representative republic like ours functions and thrives.

There is no noble class in America, no single person is born to serve in government, our representatives choose to do so and we, in turn, choose them.

Tomorrow, your party will be making a choice. It's not a simple one, at least not on the face of it. I've spent a fair amount of time trying to distance myself from this thing because I didn't really see it as any of my business. It doesn't matter to me ideologically who wins tomorrow. When asked about it, I've generally said that the difference between Chris Collins and David Bellavia as potential Congressmen will be maybe a few votes no one will ever hear about deciding issues that no one cares about. In essence, you're choosing one suit and pair of dress shoes over another if all that's important to you is a party line vote.

I already told you, though, that those things are secondary.

Republicans, you have an opportunity here.  You are being presented with a choice between two men who will do the same job. You don't have to make difficult issue decisions, so you are now afforded the opportunity to make a simple personal one. You get to choose the better man.

Whatever you may think about your current representation, you have to know in your heart and your mind that Kathy Hochul has conducted herself with class and dignity during her first term in Congress and you also know that she'll continue to do so if she is re-elected in November. Obviously, you folks will be trying to unseat her but only one of the two men you are choosing between tomorrow has a track record that proves he will match Congresswoman Hochul's comportment.

David Bellavia is a person who understands honor and integrity. He knows what those things mean and more importantly, he knows that conducting himself in a manner that both extends and accepts respect is the most basic function of a person who is selected to represent so many of his fellow citizens.

Chris Collins is none of that. There is no noble class in America, but Collins lives his public life like an entitled Prince sneering at the peasantry. His behavior has been well documented. He has demeaned female members of his staff in public. He has conducted private business in his government offices. He even parks in handicapped parking spaces to save his dainty feet from having to make a few extra steps. He puts on a costume, specially purchased, in order to relate to the plebeian farmers in our rural towns and he barely deigns to acknowledge that primary voters have a choice other than he.

There is no noble class in America. Money buys a lot of elections, but it doesn't have to buy this one. You don't have to worship the businessman if the businessman represents the worst of human nature. A prince may be a member of the nobility, but that doesn't make him noble.

Go. Vote tomorrow. Vote for a man who served his country honorably. Vote for a man who shares your ideals and will not stray. Vote for a man who will serve with dignity. Vote for David Bellavia.

If you do that, we can spend the next five months discussing the issues that are important to us. We can fight about whether Bellavia or Hochul is better for our district and we'll know that whoever wins, we'll have an honest and dignified representative in Congress. Government will roll along forever; nothing is going to change that. Let's take this opportunity to enter a general election season where we know that we'll be able to be proud of our congressperson, whether we agree with them or not.

Monday, June 18, 2012

One Week to Primay Day, Does Anyone Care?

No debates.

Almost nothing on the advertising front.

Somewhere there is a man in a chicken suit. Cluck, cluck.

Chris Collins' strategy may be working. Bellavia and his people have been tossing legitimate bombs at the former Erie County Executive for weeks now, but no one seems to care. Christ, I love this stuff and I can barely force myself to muck through a blog post about it.


What happens next Tuesday? A few thousand septuagenarian Republicans will shuffle off to the polls. Maybe some will wheel themselves to an afternoon game of bridge afterward. Big doings on Primary Tuesday.

Among the conversations that won't be had between now and the 26th:

"What's for lunch, Myrtle?"

"How the fuck should I know, Herbert? I'm too busy comparing all the information I have about these two candidates so I can decide who to vote for."

No debates.

These poor, iron-haired party faithful have no idea who they're voting for.

Chris Collins' strategy is working.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I wrote this for my father last year. I'm posting it again because nothing has changed:

Father’s Day is this Sunday and I thought I might take some time to to talk about my dad and share some of the things he taught me.
I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve heard my father raise his voice in anger. He’s not stoic and he’s not a wimp, he just knows it’s better to control yourself than lose your temper. This is a lesson that has served me well throughout my 30 years and has probably kept me from getting my nose broken on more than one occasion.

Respect comes in many forms and my dad is a master of all of them. He treats everyone equally and does his best to keep his personal judgments to himself. My dad was never the kind of guy who would sit you down for a father/son chat about this sort of thing, but I watched him set thousands of examples while I was growing up.
Stand up for yourself when you’re right, apologize when you’re wrong:
After patience and respect have reached their limits and the other guy is still an asshole, you do what you need to do. After patience and respect have reached their limits and you realize that you’re the asshole, apologize. The only exception to those rules is family. Patience and respect never reach their limit when it comes to family.

 Sometimes buying a boat is a bad idea:
We had a boat for a while, then we didn’t. I think this is self-explanatory.

 Fishing is always a good idea:
There were some fairly bad days in our house when I was a kid and my dad had a real knack for knowing when I needed to get away. Every once in a while he’d hand me a spade and say, “Go out back and dig up some worms.” I’d do it and we’d go down to a pond about a mile from the house. The entrance to the pond was down a stone and dirt road. To get there, you had to know to follow the train tracks and which patch of overgrown weeds to push through to get to the fishing spot, but we knew just where to go.
No matter how bad a day it had been, I always felt the weight lift when we got to those broken down tracks and by the time I hooked a worm and cast my first line I felt good again. So we’d fish, and talk about what it would be like to catch a frog and cook it, or what species of huge fish might be dwelling in the deeper parts of the pond (oh, if only we had a boat to get there) or whatever things fathers and sons talk about while they sit and fish. It wasn’t really about the fishing though. It was about a little boy whose dad was there, just there, on the worst days.
I could go on, I’m not sure there’s really an end to the things my dad taught me and I learn more from him and about him every day.
I’m a father too and all of those things that I learned growing up are the things I’ll do in my own attempt to raise my daughter.
I’ll always be patient, and when I’ve reached my limit, I’ll take a deep breath and find more.
I’ll treat the people around me with respect and I’ll teach my daughter to be a strong and confident woman.
I’ll make sure she knows how to stand up for herself and how to admit when she’s wrong, and she’ll grow up knowing that love of family trumps both of those things.
I will never buy a boat.
I will take my daughter fishing, or shopping, or wherever she wants to go. I will always be there when she needs me and I’ll learn to back away when she doesn’t, but I’ll never be far away.
Most of all, I will love my daughter as best as I can. I’m not perfect, (my dad taught me that too) but I will strive every day to be a good man and live up to the standard my father set for me.
Thank you, dad, for everything. I hope this beats Hallmark. See you Sunday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thoughts: Missing My Uncle On Father's Day

Sometimes I write these things at work, the real ones at least. I do it because when I'm in public with people who expect a certain decorum from me I know I'm not allowed to lose control. Not tonight though. Tonight I want to feel it, all of it, and if I end up screaming, crying, breaking all my things I don't care. That's how I want it. That's what will be right.

Fathers Day 2008: We're at my family's place on Lake Ontario and my Uncle says to me over breakfast, “You know, next year at this time, you'll be a Father too,” Capital 'F.' Father. I'd never felt pride like that, happiness. My wife wasn't with me; she was sick...or something; anyway, I'd made her excuses for her. She's my ex-wife now and she missed a million of these moments. So many little asides that I can't ever really share with anyone because no one was there, so many...fuck it. Why bother now?

We took a picture that Father's Day. At least I think it was that one. Four generations of us, my grandfather, my cousin and his two boys, my father and I. We were happy. It wasn't all of us. My other cousin was in Syracuse and, of course, it was just us boys. My grandmother wasn't in it, or my aunt or my stepmother. Four generations of men and boys who loved each other in the way that only a family could.

Fast-forward almost four years and I'm standing in the lobby of a funeral home telling my ten-year-old second cousin that it's all right to cry. His father has an arm around him. His father and I, we're waiting for instructions on how we're supposed to carry our grandmother's coffin outside and what we're supposed to do when we get to the cemetery. Meanwhile his father, my Uncle, that same man who smiled at me about the future is on his way home to die a little more. We get in the car and while we're waiting for the priest I tell my cousin and his brother about the time Gram heard that I was hurting for money and sent Gramps in to work with a check for a thousand dollars. Here we go, time to scream, time to lose it, time to break things...

Let's go back to that perfect Father's Day. That's what I want to remember.

It's before breakfast happened and we're playing catch, my cousin, my Uncle and me. I decide to see if I can still throw a curveball but it hits the dirt. 'Nice throw, sissy,' he laughs. I'm not embarrassed, but I explain myself anyway. That's how it was with him. I was always explaining myself. I wanted his approval. I wanted to walk into the room and have him think: This is a man I respect. He always called me nephew. It's like he knew what I needed from him and he was always reminding me that it didn't matter. We were family; it didn't matter.

I remember the first time he laughed, really laughed, when I told a joke. He said, 'Usually, you don't have much of a sense of humor, but that was funny.' I thought he was dead wrong, but I was proud anyway.

It's four years later and I'm walking up the endless incline to the elevators at the local hospital. Grandma's been dead for two weeks but it's his turn now. He's in a special room, the one you go to when it's the last time you go anywhere. I don't know that yet....I think they're just trying to make him comfortable enough to get well, to go home for a few more months. I'm looking forward to Christmas even though I know in my heart it will be his last. I'm skipping work for this even though I know he wouldn't approve. My father is sleeping on the couch, he wouldn't approve either, at least if he was his normal self, but right now I’m not sure he even knows what day it is. “Hello, Nephew.”

We talk for a while and he tries to give me advice. He’s always trying to say something prophetic these days. He knows he’s dying and he want the things he says to be remembered. He does this so much that it’s almost funny to me so I start calling these little outbursts Skippy’s Last Words. I mean it with love.

It’s about a week later, same hospital room. There is an old man in this hospital bed. This time he calls me Christopher and I make fun of his hospital socks. I hold his hand for a while and promise to smuggle in some booze and loose women.

Back to the best times.

After breakfast we all want to take a walk down to the beach, so we do. You can't just walk right to the beach, there's a cliff in the way...well, not really a cliff, it's only about twelve feet down, but you wouldn't make the jump. At the top there's a small, grassy park with a couple of benches and a stairway that will take you down to the water.

My Uncle, my grandfather and I opt for a bench while my father, my cousin and his two boys take the stairs that lead down to the water. My Uncle and I have a conversation. We talk about the heat. We talk about football and why the Bills are going to be terrible...again. I smoke cigarettes and he tells me I have to quit before Morgan is born. I know, I know. Why isn't your wife here, really? Well, she wasn't feeling well. A knowing grunt. She's never feeling well when there are family things to do. Excuses. It's all right, things will work out or they won't. He spreads his arms out toward the sun and the lake and the children playing “Look at all of this.” He smiles and rests his hands on his belly. “Look at all of this...”

He watches his grand-kids with their father. The eldest is being scolded and the youngest is collecting rocks. "You know, this time next year, you're going to be a Father."

"Yeah, I know. What's it like, raising children?"

He chuckles...I always thought he laughed like Santa Claus. He really felt it. "You'll see." He pats me on the knee twice like Uncles do and he stands up. He walks down the stairs to be scolded and collect rocks with his grandsons.

There are enough pallbearers. Some third or fourth cousin of ours is going to be here soon, they don't need me. I volunteer, you know, just in case. We're in the church....again...I didn't even have time to have my suit dry-cleaned, but I'm wearing a pink tie. Pink tie, black suit. He would have given me a look over that, maybe a comment, but definitely a look. "Nice tie." He would have been joking. My father said later, "Nice tie, by the way." He was serious, but my Uncle wouldn't have been. That's why I wore it. Maybe you wouldn't understand, maybe you would.

That third or fourth cousin didn't show up so I headed to the back of the church. I wanted to carry him. He carried me. He was my Godfather; he called me Nephew. Capital 'N.'

"Will I see you this Sunday, Nephew?"

"Yes, Uncle." I say it sarcastically, but I mean it differently. I don't have much of a sense of humor.

The last conversation we had before we both knew he had cancer was after a nasty fight we had at work. He told me he was sorry and he cried a little. I told him I was sorry and I cried a little too. We were family first and that's how it should be. He went on vacation then and he came back a month later, dying.

I carried his coffin and it was heavy. I wanted to carry the thing. I wanted to feel like I was close to dropping it and I wanted to lift it anyway. I'd have done it alone if I had to...I wish I could have done it alone just to prove that I could.

A year later I was a Father. My daughter was this little spike-haired, red-headed thing and my Uncle laughed when she soiled her diaper on Father's Day. "You'd better change that, do you even know how?"

"Yes, I do it all the time, Uncle." He nods his approval and I love him.

When my wife and I bought our first house, he built us a cabinet with drawers and shelves. My wife wanted to paint it, but I told her no. "it's just right the way it is."

When my daughter was born he made her a toy duck on a string, the same one he made for his grandsons. The wings flap as the wheels turn and it holds a place of honor in my home.

For my daughter's first birthday he and my aunt bought her a toy car that she could ride. She still plays with the thing even though she's too big for it. I'll never throw it away.

In her second year, it was a talking book. We read it all the time.

Last year it was a folding, cardboard house that is still assembled in my living room and the last card that will ever be signed with his name.

No more games of catch, no more conversations on the bench. No more fights at work, no more snoring in hotel rooms on business trips. No more belly laughs, no more 'Nephews."

Loss isn't a thing that happens in an instant. It is a series of small moments where you expect someone to be there when you turn around to say something, but they're not and you cry every time.

Happy Father’s Day , Uncle. I love you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Politics Aside, The Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

On June 5th, 1919 the course to women's suffrage was set when Congress submitted the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution to the states for ratification. America took one more step on the path to true equality when the Amendment was officially ratified just over a year later. The 19th that gave women the right to vote was about 143 years late, but the wheels of the civil rights movement turn slow.

The GLOW region of Western New York is bursting with strong female leadership that would never have been possible if the Suffragettes hadn't stepped up to fight for gender equality over a century ago. Public service is a calling and we are lucky in this region that so many women have had the opportunity to answer that call.

Here is a list of women in the GLOW region that represent you at the county level and higher. No political labels, no commentary, just pride:

United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

Congresswoman Kathy Hochul

NYS 8th District Supreme Court Justices Hon. Tracey Bannister, Hon. Deborah Chimes, Hon. Janice Rosa, Hon. Diane Devlin, Hon. Donna Siwek, Hon. Sharon Townsend, Hon. Penny Wolfgang, Hon. Deborah Haendiges and Hon. Catherine Nugent Panepento

Political Party Chairwomen Lorie Longhany, Judith Hunter, Jeanne Crane, Debra Buck Leaton

Genesee County Legislators Marianne Clattenburg, Esther Leadley, Annie Lawrence, Mary Pat Hancock and Rochelle Stein

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson

Wyoming County Board of Supervisors members Ellen Grant, Jean Totsline, and Rebecca Ryan

Livingston County Board of Supervisors members Brenda Donohue and Debora Babbitt Henry

I apologize if I forgot anyone.

I'm unable to take the time to list all of the hundreds of other women in public service in the GLOW region. That inability is a testament to the wealth of female leadership we enjoy here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Homeless Veteran Interviews Revisited: Fred Part 2

Homeless Vets: An Interview with Fred (cont.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Interviews With Homeless Veterans Revisited: Fred's Headaches

Once again re-publishing interviews with the homeless veterans at Loyola House. This interview with Fred was the second one I did and it comes in three parts, the third of which never made it out for public consumption. I'll be putting up part two of Fred's interview Monday and I'll post, for the first time, the final part of his story on Tuesday.


Homeless Veterans: An Interview with Fred: ‘I've had a headache everyday since 1990′