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Monday, June 19, 2017

Ode to our father ~ Louis Frank Vremsak Jr. (also known as) Edward Voltaire Garren

He was born Louis Vremsak Jr. on April 4th, 1909 in New York NY and passed away as Edward Voltaire Garren on March 6th, 1992 in Arden NC.

Edward Garren, circa 1974 at Cattail Creek NC home

The Birth Certificate, which was all we had for over 100 years.

did a search on Facebook, and three "Vremsaks" came up. I sent each a FB message, and Nika Vremsak responded to me with an "OMG, we've wondered what happened to your father for almost 100 years!!  Let me put you in touch with my aunt Vladka Vremsak who is the family historian."

 Nika Vremsak

Vladka Vremsak with her Seat Ibiza (a Volkswagen product)

Many of the early photos were sent by cousin Vladka from Slovenia.

These photos are of his parents, and other family members.
If you look at the faces, you can particularly see Louis in my father, my brother, and even my nephew. They are all the "handsome" ones in the family.

Louis Frank Vremsak (grandfather)

Louis Frank Vremsak Jr. (Edward Voltaire Garren) 
taken in the Panama Canal Zone

My mother and I got a different kind of handsome, good looking, but not head turning. The Vremsaks are all head turners.

Edna Verner & Edward Voltaire Garren early 1940's

Edna & Edward late 1940's

My father told us stories of growing up in a very provincial Tampa, Florida in the early 20th century. His mother was a modiste', who made clothes (mostly dresses and ball gowns for Gasparilla and other "society" events) for the wealthy and society women in Tampa.

Marie Bolte
Marie Vremsak
Marie Garren

But by many of their neighbors, they were called "dirty foreigners" and he was constantly harassed and bullied by some of the other boys. One day the three Nuccio brother (former mayor of Tampa Nick Nuccio was one of them) cornered him in a "blind" alley. "We're gonna get you now Garren." Young Edward noticed a loose board on a nearby fence, ripped it off, and in a flash, swung it around, knocking one brother on the end out cold, then equally fast, did a "180" and knocked out the brother on the other end. To the one left standing, he asked, "Next?" The guy begged apology, and promised they would never bother him again, and they did not. 

After that, he was respected, going on to become tennis champion of Tampa, Golden Gloves boxing champion of the Panama Canal Zone (when he was in the army there in the 1930's.

When he came back to Tampa, he had a long career in the newly emerging consumer credit business, working for Commercial Credit which financed automobiles, furniture and major appliances. Later he would move to Dade City Florida, just north of Tampa, and manage a small loan company, American Finance.

He retired at age 62. After our mother retired, they moved to Arden North Carolina (between Asheville & Hendersonville) and for the first time in their lives, were surrounded by Garrens, over 50 in the phone book. Of course, they were not related, but he had connected with one part of the family decades earlier, and they took him in as their own.

Ed Garren lived a blessed life and died in the best of all ways. He had been living with congestive heart failure for about 10 years. His mother had it too, but treatment was much better. He had lost weight, but (as many do just before death) had "perked up" with a spurt of energy. One night, while watching TV, he told Edna, I'm going to the bathroom" and went to that part of their house. About 30 minutes later, she realized he had not returned, and went looking. As she rounded the corner she saw him, on the floor of his bedroom, cold. He had walked up to his dresser, and dropped dead (literally). He had cut his forehead going down (on the dresser) but no blood came out, his heart had stopped. The expression frozen on his face was one of utter shock. We suspect he saw his mother, arms out, waiting for him.

Edna V. and Edward V. Garren 1986 in Arden NC

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When Louis was 3, his mother, a "mail order bride," left his father, whom she had never married, fled to Tampa Florida, met a man named Columbus Garren from Hendersonville NC and took his surname (even though they never married either). Columbus left after 9 months, mostly because Marie (Ed's mother) was what was once called "High Strung" and now is called "High Maintenance."

Marie Bolte 

She told our father that she had left NYC because his father had died of pneumonia, having given his coat to a freezing beggar leaving the opera one night. 

The story was total fiction. Louis (Sr.) didn't die. He moved to Los Angeles in 1920 and I found his grave in Forest Lawn (Glendale) in the Acacia Gardens. He was an engineer, first designing automobiles (in Batavia NY) and then airplanes (Co-Founder of General Western Aero, a company that designed airplanes to carry U.S. Mail).  He was a lifelong member of the Elks Club of Santa Barbara died in 1946. 

 Louis Sr. (white shirt & tie) inspecting a plane he as designing.

Louis in 1940 at age 60, Immigration photo

Grave marker in Acacia Gardens, Forest Lawn Glendale, CA

Like most damaged people, Marie told lies to protect herself, even at the expense of her son. When he was 5, she encouraged him to change his name from Louis Vremsak Jr. to Edward Voltaire Garren. This was not done legally. So in the 1960's we had to go to New York to do a legal name change because Louis Vremsak had never worked a day under Social Security and Edward V. Garren had never been born (no birth certificate).

Marie, or "Mamushka" as we called her, had been reared in Roman Catholic orphanages in Eastern Europe and was routinely beaten by the nuns there, and this left her a very damaged woman. Brother Gene Garren and I have concluded that she probably had (what is now called) Dissociative Identity Disorder, or "Multiple Personalities." Her favorite way of dealing with pain was to beat our father, who was an only child, while telling him that she was his only "blood" and if he betrayed her love he would have no one.

That damage echoed in his psyche for the rest of his life, and Gene and I have concluded that he also had Dissociative Personality Disorder because this internal "switch" would click in him and he would turn into Godzilla (only at home with family). His usual mantras reflecting his internal pain, "I never had a father, if I'd have had a father, I would have obeyed him." "You don't love me because you don't obey me." His mother died when I was 5, and around age 8, he pulled me into the "torment dance" that he and his mother had done their entire lives. In what is a sad and difficult truth, it was the only way he could express intimacy. Tenderness was too frightening for him.

Marie in her later years.  She made the dress without a pattern.  My first thought of this photo is "Dracula's Sister."  She was not a happy person.

On a few rare occasions, usually assisted by alcohol, he would share the tender moments of his life, even cry a little, and talk about the pervasive lonliness that had defined his life, and how his two boys were his only blood family in the world.

But most of my childhood was consumed by his rage, dodging plates of food thrown at me, being put out of the car 200 miles from home and told to walk home (he came back to pick me up, but he did this one a few times closer to home and did not). The twice, sometimes thrice, weekly beatings with a switch or belt, the constant shaming and telling me I was worthless. When I was 5, and expressing young anger at not wanting to do yard work, he picked me up, carried me over to a fire burning in a 50 gallon oil drum, and threatened to drop me in unless I promised I would never get angry at him again. A couple of years later, I went into his bedroom to kiss him goodnight. Before I could, he shoved me back, "Don't give me your Judas kiss. You don't love me, if you did you would obey me."

When I turned 16, he announced that I was too big to use a belt on, so he took to slapping me in the face, hard. On one occasion, he broke my glasses.

Years later, our aunt Velma told me that among the family, the pervasive question was "Why is he so mean to that child?"

After promising me a 4 year college education, he changed his mind after 2, and in a typical moment of rage, ordered me out of the house immediately, with $2.00 and no place to go. Fortunately, I had my Rambler American and friends who would put me up. It was harsh, but his prophetic words, "Some day you'll thank me" clearly articulated a basic truth, it was time for me to make my own life without him.

When I moved to CA in 1983, he and our mother Edna drove my car out for me from Florida. On the beach at La Jolla, with no one else around, he tenderly admitted to me that when I was a boy, his concern that I was "such a sissie" was expressed by "I tried to beat it out of you. I realize now that was not a good thing and I hope you'll forgive me." Of course I said "Yes." The next day when I referenced the conversation, he looked at me with a "different" face and said, "I never said anything like that. You must be imagining it."

I now realize that the complexities my father embodied were my training to become a psychotherapist. 

It finally "hit home" when I went to NC to see him for his 80th birthday. I was 39. The night before I left, the "painful truth" of his perception of me emerged, "You didn't come here for my birthday, that was just a ruse. The real reason you came was so you could turn the knife in me one more time, because subconsciously, all homosexuals hate their fathers." My reply was to tell him that I had spent my entire life trying to tell him I loved him, and for whatever reason, he could not "hear" it. I went to sleep, having a plane to catch in the AM.

The next day, driving me to the airport, in attempting to reconcile, I said, "We had an honest conversation last night, I hope if we have differences in the future we can talk them through honestly." His reply, "No, not at all. Conversations like that make me feel very uncomfortable, I hope we never bring any of it up again." I looked across the front seat at him and it (finally) clicked, "You poor pathetic little boy, you're 80 years old, you've never let anyone "in," you can't and you're going to die this way." In that moment, any resentments evaporated because I had escaped the "curse" and I felt overwhelming sadness and pity that he never would let anyone "in" or be able to expereience emotional intimacy for whatever time he had left to live.

At his funeral in Dade City Florida, I shared that I was his "worst nightmare come to life" (a "queer" son who wanted the whole world to know). I suspect my father struggled with his own homosexual attractions, and possibly experiences in his youth.

Yet in spite of that, he struggled to do the right thing, to be fair and as loving as he knew how to be, and generous at times. Part of his mothers rigid European upbringing was to always act honorably and honestly, no matter what, and Gene and I are blessed to have taken that into our being. We both loved him deeply. He tried his best, was very funny and entertaining most of the time, smart, talented and mostly brought joy wherever he went. He was "an original" and we were very blessed to have him as a father.

Gene Garren had a sort of vision of him ascending a staircase with an open door at the top, With each step up, he became younger and stronger. At the top was our aunt Velma Georgia, Edna's older sister. Velma, herself a "pistol" was urging him in her deep north Georgia drawl, "Git on up here Ed Garren, there's a party going on and we're all a waitin for you !!" 


Velma in her yard, Mt. Airy, GA circa 1969.  
She was a walking talking "Family Bible," historian and storyteller.  

My own sense of him was that finally freed from all his fears, he could be the loving man he wanted to be, without his torments that held him prisoner. 

Years later, when Edna came to West Hollywood, our house was across the street from tennis courts. Occasionally in the wee hours of the morning (3 AM etc) I swore I could hear someone playing tennis across the street in the dark. I like to think it was Ed, watching over us, and waiting for his beloved Edna to join him.

The discovery of his father's life and their Slovenian family, as well as actually connecting with them has been a supreme blessing. Gene and I both talk about it a lot. Tearfully we wish it could have happened while he was alive, it might have extinguished his lonely pain inside. So we celebrate the discovery vicariously in his name, celebrating the family he never knew, who have his musical talents (like me, he had a lovely tenor voice, and they are all musicians). The connections run deep. 

They are very smart, "good" people, who care about life, other people, share "progressive" political values, and at least cousin Vladka also has a very heavy right foot when driving. Ed never went anywhere slower than 70 MPH, LOL. (For that matter, neither did Edna).  Riding out to the ski jump area in the NW corner of Slovenia with Vladka was a delightful experience.

These are full definition videos, so I suggest you use the lower right "button" in the video to open them up to "full screen."


Driving west to the Julian Alps in Slovenia. 

 
At Planica Ski Jump area with Vladka

Discovering all of this, and twice visiting the Vremsaks in Slovenia (a magnificent country) have added layers of insights into the journey of immigrants who leave "home" and come to "America." It is not just a physical journey, but a spiritual one as well, leaving "home" to pursue one's dreams, with no guarantee they will be fulfilled.

In one form or another, their dreams are fulfilled, which is the saga of being "American."

Our parents legacy to us was the strength of character to live our dreams, no matter how challenging or difficult. I think that is the legacy of all immigrants, which is why immigration is so essential to the "American Spirit."

I see a lot of people in my work, and all too often, I see single mothers who have chased away, or otherwise cut off all contact with their children's father(s).  This is a really awful thing to do, even if the father is worse than a jerk.  The child needs some sense of their father, who is half of who the child is.  Not allowing sons and daughters to know their fathers and/or their father's family, does significant multi-generational damage that can take a lifetime to repair.  

Fathers are significant and an important part of a child's life.  Every Father's Day that comes around, I think about how the absence of both my grandfathers had such profound impact on our lives.

What I tell these folks when they come to see me (among a lot of stuff) is that "What they didn't tell you is far more important than what you were told or think you know.  Learning the "back story" of our lives can be a powerful tool to develop happiness in this life

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My brother Francis Edward "Gene" Garren adds this:

Adding to what my younger brother said is briefly this. I love my mom and dad. I realize also from my own military experiences in "harms way" that dad also had severe PTSD, from his Service in WW-2 as an Army Air Corps PT boat skipper. Yes Army Air Corps had PT boats for Air Sea Rescue and Anti-Submarine Patrols. He was stationed at Drew Field Florida, today the site of Tampa International Airport. Danger was always around and Dad's boat was once almost destroyed at point blank range by the deck guns of a German U-Boat on a foggy night, when recharging it's batteries on the surface. 

Dad's service record gives him 28 months in a combat zone. Air sea rescue was often very dangerous, often meant body/remains recovery. I was born at Drew Field, and am classified as a "War Baby".

Mom was really the "anchor" of our family and the leveling influence. Her Southern Appalachian foot hills, rural background made her and her sisters all very self reliant. 

Before George was born, I would leave my bed and crawl through the window to the screen poach at night were mom and dad slept and slide down between them to sleep when we lived in Tampa.


I miss mom and dad very much and when it comes my time to cross over the river, I hope it will be mom and dad who come to get me. I don't want to miss being with Aunt Velma, Aunt Louise, and the others at that party my brother was talking about. 😍

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Whistling Dixie

This is an updated version of a story I wrote for the West Hollywood News in 2006.  Some of the photos are also newer.


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Feb. 23, 2006 – Ed Garren, the swamps of North Carolina 
“I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there I’ve not forgotten, look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. In Dixie Land where I was born, early on one frosty morn, look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. Well I wish I was in Dixie away, away, in Dixie land I’ll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie, away, away, away down south in Dixie.” 
As a child the radio stations all signed on and off with what we white Southerners considered our national anthem, “Dixie”, not the Star Spangled Banner. It was the favorite fight song at foot ball games. For many of us, it was the first “national anthem” we memorized. It was after all, shorter and easier to sing. 
Distance and time conjure memory. The miles bring with them floods of images, one may travel in newer technology, air conditioning and radial tires, but the highway and the curves of the piedmont that it hugs, remain the same. I am crossing North Carolina, from the mountains of the west, to the swamps of the east. The first grand child is coming, and the family is gathering to share the birth, and all that it represents. 
My extended family branches in two. Two of my mother’s sisters remained in Georgia and their descendants are still very attached to the region, with no other experiences to contrast or compare. They are good people, but they don’t travel much out of the region. My mother and her oldest sister Louise “caught the first thing smoking” and rarely looked back. Ironically, they both ended up in North Carolina: Louise on the coast, Edna in Asheville in the mountains. 
Louise’s youngest daughter had a son who is my age. My second cousin “Monty” is the cousin whose grades were always put in my face (he was an excellent student, I was not). He went north to complete his education. His current status as a schoolteacher in a small coastal town, where the nearest shopping mall is 45 miles away, has given him an easy and slow demeanor. His relaxed southern accent belies his having a Masters in Philosophy from Harvard. 
I’m driving I-40 east bound, remembering this trip first made in the mid 1960s. My father and I were flying low in a Rambler Classic station wagon, at about 80 MPH, his usual cruising speed. Its six cylinder engine with overdrive turned up almost 30 MPG, still respectable, particularly for what would now be considered a full size car. The highway then was less lined with buildings and billboards than now. 
I remember the most striking of billboards on that first trip, Strom Thurman, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strom_Thurmond), with his arms stretched out like Moses, “They won’t betray us like the Democrats did. Join the Republican Party today!”. The road seemed lined with them, at least eight on our journey across the state. 
The betrayal of course related to the signing of civil rights legislation that Lyndon Johnson railroaded through congress. Not content with desegregation in 1964, Lyndon personally assured the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Open Housing, and Equal Opportunity in employment as well. In other places, Lyndon may be remembered for the Viet Nam war, but to persons of conscience in the south, Lyndon is remembered as "The Great Liberator." He may not have had the glamour of John Kennedy, or a beautiful wife, but he and Lady Bird did more to change lives of people of color (and by proxy other "minorities") than any president since Abraham Lincoln. 
Strom, bastion of the “Dixie Crats” was on the warpath, and he almost single handedly led the flight of many white Democrats into the Republican Party. 
I reflect on the irony of fate, and his first child, a daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strom_Thurmond#First_daughter), half black, who surfaced after his death. Clearly when someone protests too much, they have something to hide, Strom was no exception. (Full story on Ms. Washington Williams here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essie_Mae_Washington-Williams).

So now I’m driving to the coast, in a state that has for years embodied the best of the so-called “New South.” Reflection is easy here, so much happened in my lifetime. Montgomery may have given birth to the civil rights movement, but North Carolina was right behind it. The first sit-ins to make the national news were in Greensboro (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensboro_sit-ins). The capital of the state, Raleigh, advertises the “Martin Luther King Memorial Gardens”, one of its major attractions. Farther east in Goldsboro, I drive along a 20 mile stretch of U.S. highway 70, “The Martin Luther King Memorial Expressway.” 
In addition to the world famous Research Triangle, I pass Volvo Truck’s U.S. headquarters, Electrolux Home Appliances has a facility here. Maya Angelou is proud to affectionately refer to North Carolina as “home”. 
When I arrive “Down East”, the greetings are warm, and “Baby Doe” is bursting at his mamma’s seams. Jessica is not happy, and the house is as full as her mid-section, so I elect to stay at a nearby Bed & Breakfast. 
Its proprietor is very dog friendly, something which Solomon and I are grateful for. She breeds Labradors, and is thrilled to show them to me. She is also from New Jersey, and part of the conversation includes the usual “These people down here are so backward, and you can hardly understand them”. I pass for an “outlander” because of my lack of overt drawl, but having endured this “backward” stuff all my life I politely offer no response. 
Life is complicated, the nuances of difference are vast and complicated.  For most people, it’s easier to just ignore them, and the ignorance of those who call others ignorant. I reflect on my cousin, with his “thick drawl” and his Master’s from Harvard, life is also filled with irony. 
The next day, Baby Doe decides to make his entrance into this world, and after more than the usual travail (he was sort of stuck sideways), everyone was very glad to see him, especially his mother. 

His birth means a lot to all of us. There has been a lot of loss preceding his incarnation. Several years ago, his mother’s brother died in a miserable accident two weeks after his twenty-first birthday. 
Nathan Upchurch
Two and a half years ago, hurricane Isabel sent almost three feet of water through the family homestead. My cousin and his wife have spent the ensuing time living like gypsies at various homes and places while their house was gutted, lifted six feet and re-built from the frame out. 
Jessica’s sister, Elizabeth Ashley (“Bub”) spent summers between college traveling. While doing so she fell in love with Costa Rica and moved there after college. She is now Mrs. Alfonso Pena and will be returning home to Costa Rica next month. We all eat meatless meals; Bub is a vegetarian for over a decade. 
The grandparents, Monty & Beth
Jessica is a third year medical student, and will be wrapping up her rotations this year and then on to residency. 
Doe’s father, Guy, is in school and working full time to support himself while paying for his own education,  He and Jessica have been together for nine years, dating since high school. He is a bit darker than the rest of us. I guess the current term is "African American" though at this juncture, “Family” is the only word that really describes him. 
Domaine & Guy Vann
Baby Doe’s full name is Domaine Nathan Vann. Domaine is Guy’s best and longest childhood friend. Years ago they agreed to name first-born children after each other. Nathan is the name of the brother who died in the accident. So Domaine Nathan represents so much that is good and hopeful for this family. We keep our promises, we honor our loved ones who have passed on and we keep the faith. Success in relationships, keeping love around us, honoring and cherishing all forms of life is what southerners do best. But few “outlanders” take the time to get to know that, after all, we’re so “ignorant and backward,” and who can understand us? 

In my own mind, Domaine represents hope for the country, if not the world. Who knows what magic the challenges of his life will bring, or how he will contribute to this world? One thing is certain, he will have a clear sense of place, people, and the value of what was sacrificed so that he could come into the world. He is loved and cherished. And the people in his world will take the time to get to know him. 

The state of South Carolina added Essie Mae to all of the official documents and history of Strom's life (http://sti.clemson.edu/about-us-mainmenu-27/biography-mainmenu-126).  Forgiveness is a central part of Southern Culture.  There is much to forgive, and an overwhelming sense of the necessity to not carry around internal poison by bearing grudges.  Forgiveness is certainly essential to the life and work of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the life and work of Dr. Maya Angelou (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHvTWvKIPHo).  

For those of us from "Dixie" our history compels us to live in a state of forgiveness and thankfulness.  It is perhaps one of the most important gifts we offer to our very divided and broken country.
I don’t think Strom is turning over in his grave. I suspect he is probably holding hands with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the multitude of heavenly hosts singing “Free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” 
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Edward “Ed” Garren, MFT is a Family Therapist, justice activist, former West Hollywood City Council candidate, writer and sojourner. He is originally from the Tampa Bay area of central Florida. Ed has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Frontiers news magazine, and other books, including “Out of My Mind”, a pictorial memoir by Kris Nelson. 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

An MLK Day Story by DR. PIERRE B. BLAND

An MLK Day Story
DR. PIERRE B. BLAND
South Florida Times Columnist 

I started my career as a practicing veterinarian nearly 30 years ago at an emergency clinic in Acworth, a northern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Learning to practice medicine through the hard knocks of overnight and long weekends shift was a great challenge. In time, the medical aspect of the position became less daunting. The challenge of dealing with clients remains a continuous art form in itself. 

In an emergency practice, you often see clients during some of the worst times in respect to their pets. Life and death situations, real and imagined, are the norm. Some clients are nice, some not so much, and others defy attempts to categorize them. With this in mind, one unique and career defining experience stands out. 

I remember it being an especially grueling overnight shift, even though it was only 4 hours into the shift. The technician presented the record for the next patient. It was a dog with a short term incident of vomiting and diarrhea, a common case presentation at an emergency clinic. As she handed me the record, she said, " Uumm Doc, there may be a problem with this one." This would be a good time for a bit of back story.
I am African American and have been for a bit over 54 years. This story occurs in 1987. The city of Acworth bordered Forsyth County, Georgia. At this particular time, Forsyth County was infamous in the national and international news for racial unrest resulting from an African American family purchasing a home in the county. There was a back lash from a sizable and vocal contingent representing the predominately, if not totally white residents of the county. Civil Rights activist from Georgia and around the country were protesting in the county every weekend and had been for several months. The furor even attracted the attention of Oprah, who did several live shows from the county on the controversy. The client in the exam room was a middle age white woman. So how does this play into the story? The dog's name was Nigger Killer.
As I walked down the hall to the exam room, I wondered how I would handle this situation. I assure you, at that time I was not the calmer, more thoughtful, Namaste current iteration of myself. I sighed, took a deep breath, opened the exam room door and in my most officious baritone doctor voice said, “Good evening! I am Dr. Bland. How is Nigger Killer tonight?" I watched the lady's jaw drop and the color drain form her face.

Nigger Killer was a 2 year old, brindle, pit bull mix and one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met, even to this day. I bent over to pick him up and he gave me a big slurpy kiss right on the lips. I exclaimed in my best hypocoristic voice, “What a sweet Nigger Killer you are!" I placed him on the table and continued my examination which was accompanied by a continuous barrage of kisses. As I asked the owner questions about his condition, I always used his full name: never using a pronoun or declining to use his name whenever appropriate. 

After an hour of examination, diagnostic testing, treatment, and dispensing of medications my patient was discharged. My last contact with the lady was a hardy handshake and thanking her for coming in. As they departed, I exclaimed, “Bye-bye Nigger Killer! Hope you feel better soon!" The lady left having received thorough medical care for her pet, all be it she departed mortified and embarrassed. My technician remarked how impressed she was with how I handled the situation and in fact, I was pretty impressed with myself also. The rest of the overnight shift was uneventful, especially in comparison to this case. 

I have told this story many time over the years as an example of how strange and unpredictable practicing veterinary medicine can be. But in hindsight, the events take on a more profound significance. 

It dumbfounds me how someone could give such a vile and hateful name to such a sweet and loving animal. I don’t think the lady bestowed the name as an act of hate and bigotry, but as the result of her cultural ignorance, isolation, and insensitivity. My response and actions were not born of contempt, but an honest response to an ugly situation. This mutually uncomfortable circumstance was no fault of the dog, so why should he suffer in any way for the offences of his owner or my feelings of personal injury? My job and onus was to provide my patient medical services to the best of my ability, nothing less. I had shown the content of my character through my actions, just as Nigger Killer had shown his true self by responding to me in such an affectionate way. Yes, words do hurt but through enduring the discomfort and indignities, paths to understanding are revealed. This situation was not about me, but about the unwary lady who was inserted into my life through the illness of her beloved pet. I truly think it was a learning experience for all involved.

Surprisingly, later that week I received an unexpected thank you card from the lady. She expressed her gratitude for my taking such good care or her now recovered dog ...and that she had changed his name to Clarence.
Dr. Bland is a small and exotic animal practitioner Oakland Park, FL. He can be reached at 954-672-8579.
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When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.
Mohandus “Mahatma" Gandhi



Friday, March 18, 2016

Open letter to President Obama regarding veiled endorsement of Secretary Clinton in Democratic Primary 3/17/2016

An open letter to president Barack Obama.
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Dear President Obama:

Early on in 2008, I supported a young first term senator, who "conventional wisdom" said did not have a chance of becoming president.   He was not "white", had a peculiar first name, and a "Muslim" surname.  To make matters worse, his middle name was Hussein.  In spite of all that, I knew he was the leader we needed.  At that time, party establishment had decreed that Hillary Clinton was to be our nest president, and the first woman president in United States history.

Eight exciting years have followed, you got elected, and in spite of immense pressures, some of the most racist behavior I have seen since my youth in the rural south during the 50's and 60's, and a fabricated financial crisis that you inherited, and then got blamed for, you have demonstrated yourself to be one of the most gracious presidents in recent history.  I personally thank you for granting full "Marriage" equality within federal agencies.  My husband is Italian, and we are able for him to apply for a "Relative" change of status (tourist to Work) because of your forward thinking.

In spite of your having a long track record with Secretary Clinton, I have respected your neutrality during this primary season, a neutrality that has NOT been demonstrated by party leadership in this primary.  

My first moment of concern was when I was told over a year ago, that expressing interest or enthusiasm for any candidate other than Secretary Clinton would precipitate my expulsion from any meaningful participation in this primary within party ranks.   I know at least two members of the DNC, and when I mention or attempt to discuss Bernie Sanders, the reception is very cool.  I would add that party leadership had similar responses to my enthusiasm for your candidacy 8 years ago.  As Tupac said, “Some things never change."

We are supposed to have primary processes that offer the opportunity for actual voters to determine our candidate, not party elite.

Secretary Clinton has repeatedly demonstrated her lack of genuine contact with, or empathy for the most powerless in our country.  The nadir of her thoughtless (if not callous) perspectives on current life in the United States, was her "praise" of the Reagan response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's.  


What particularly galls me about the ongoing coverage of this primary, and OUR party's leadership, are the ongoing and consistent ways in which Bernie Sanders and his campaign have been marginalized, ignored, minimized, and re-invented to "contain" his campaign, and cast it as marginal.    This is particularly painful, and galling because it is EXACTLY the same process that Reagan and his minions used to bury the AIDS epidemic, surrounding it in ignorance and fear, shoving our lives into the perimeter of American life, and just letting us die.  I stopped counting friends and associates who had died after 150.  

If you see the last scenes of "The Normal Heart" a young man has a ritual in which he pulls the index cards out of his Rolodex when someone dies.  The stack of pulled cards grows and grows, until is is more cards than the ones remaining in the Rolodex.  

THAT is how I remember the 80s's and early 90's, and the Reagan "response" to AIDS in this country.  

Secretary Clinton, complementing the Reagan’s on their response to AIDS is the same as complimenting Hitler on his treatment of the Jews in Europe.

And today, you let it "leak" that it is time for Senator Sanders to pull out of the race in the name of "party unity."  The timing is perfect, upcoming primaries are the ones in which Secretary Clinton is not expected to perform as well as she has.   Your statement today is the political equivalent of slipping a small knife in the back of the Sanders campaign.  

Is THIS what you want us to "unify" behind?   A party whose leadership has become so callous and insensitive to the plight of working Americans that we are expected to rally behind the person who had significant influence in creating the current economy, that bleeds working people, students, seniors, and school children for the sake of even MORE profit for the billionaire class?  

We are supposed to forget Secretary Clinton's participation in creating "crime reform" that has resulted in the largest mass incarceration in the history of America?  Are we supposed to rally behind her ties to the private prison industry?  Her voting for a bankruptcy "reform" bill that enslaves students to their loan debt for the rest of their lives?  Are we supposed to get all warm and fuzzy about her late blooming regarding criminal justice issues, and the safety of people of color on American streets?  


These are all issues that Senator Sanders has demonstrated significant leadership on, for all of his life, and they were rarely mentioned by Secretary Clinton until she realized that almost half the party was supporting Senator Sanders.  


We are still waiting for her to release the transcripts of those speeches, and we know she won’t release them because “playing to her audience,” and dodging any disclosures that might incriminate her, are what she does best.  

Consider that enough of us realize that “Taking the Fifth” is an admission of guilt.  Maybe YOU can get her to release those transcripts, I’m not holding my breath.

Your veiled support of Secretary Clinton today was inexcusable.   It was grossly out of character for you.

You owe Senator Sanders and his supporters an apology for “meddling” in the primary process.   And I won’t be holding my breath for that either.  

It is a sad state of affairs that the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the greatest president since Lincoln, has come to this.  

As for “Party Unity,”  the party isn’t over, and showing Senator Sanders and his supporters the door, when it’s barely halfway over, is the height of arrogant rudeness.  That is what we continue to see from too many in party leadership, and if you expect us to feel all good about it, think again.

If Secretary Clinton is the nominee, I will hold my nose and vote for her.  She will need all the votes she can get, because I have serious concerns about her electability, and she very well may lose.  If that happens, I will try to resist the temptation to say “I told you so” but it will be very hard.  

Regards,  

Edward George Garren, MA, LMFT
Family Therapist
Los Angeles, CA
www.EdwardGarrenMFT.com


"There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party...and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more
corrupt—until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small
adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand.
But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Plague Years~Life and Death with AIDS~Eric Rofes

Gay men in my cohort group rarely talk about surviving the AIDS Plague years.  Like other war survivors, we've learned that those who did not live through it just don't understand, and even more often, really don't want to hear it.  We do this with the pain of others, our knee jerk response is to "fix" the pain.

This is an article I wrote for the West Hollywood News in 2006.  At the end is one of the responses I got from a reader who also lived through those years.  Editorial additions are indicated with * .
==================================================================

On the passing of Eric Rofes   




I was scanning the news and found that Eric Rofes had died.  The news brought a flood of memories and feelings, most of which I had long buried.  Their eruption swept away the article I was planning to write and brought me to this place.

Eric was praised for his work, a vast body of intellectual and social writing, a wide trail of community organizing, which will stand on it's own in the his/her-story of the GLBT community.  His life and work embodied a generation of gay men of my cohort group, and his passing is significant for me on many levels.

With "Ivy League" credentials, a gift for writing books and articles which were welcomed by the intellectual community, and all the right introductions, he came to Los Angeles in the mid 1980s, and was the last male Executive Director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

I met Eric when he first came to LA in 1985, shortly before I left town to go to Orange County to be Program Director of the AIDS Response Program of OC.  It was in that capacity that I met current West Hollywood city councilmember John Duran, then a law student working for Georgia Garrett-Norris and Marjorie Rushforth (attorneys) in Santa Ana.

Later, I returned to Los Angeles and became Assistant Director at Aid for AIDS.  In 1987 we found ourselves  organizing the first AIDS Cycle challenge (which has evolved into the California AIDS ride).  Ours was always a "fire and ice" relationship.  On one hand, I was aware of sexual interest/energy between us, and on the other hand, there was an undercurrent of competition.  Eric was newly single, his partner of many years decided he did not like life in LA, so he returned to the east coast, and Eric was in a lot of pain.  

There was another current going on at the time that almost every gay man was aware of, but no one was talking about.  The time bomb inside of my peers who were living with HIV.  Many of the male leadership in the community were sick, and the clock was ticking.  By 1990, most had passed away.  Dan Stone (co-founder of PAWS LA), Ron Stone ("Father" of West Hollywood), Werner Kuhn (Ex. Dir. OC GLCSC), Don Hagen (founder of Election Committee of County of Orange), Duke Comegys (president of the GLCSC Board), Sheldon Andelson (Lawyer, Banker, CA Board of Regents ,etc.), Peter Scott (fonder of Municipal Elections Committee of LA), David Quarles (Peter's partner), Bruce Decker (first chair CA State AIDS Advisory Task Force), Daniel Warner (founder of Shanti LA), Rick Saslow (Realtor, activist, board member of numerous organizations), Luis Maura (APLA), Phil Sheely (No on 64), Steve Kolzak (partner of author Paul Monette), and hundreds of others were all living with T-Cells that were exploding with HIV.  

We didn't really know what was causing the disease until 1984, when the CDC announced that it had found the cause, a strange new virus which they called HTLV-3.  The French discovered it a year earlier (LAV in 1983) but the information was not shared in the U.S. until 1984 because of medical politics in the U.S. by Robert Gallo, M.D. head of the CDC who was determined to get a Nobel Prize for discovering the virus.  The label HIV was part of the compromise which brought both men to Norway to receive the coveted honor for both discovering the virus.  

This new virus was a perfect fit for the human T-cell receptor, and it had two genetic particles inside, not the usual one.   It was the first, and perhaps only, virus ever discovered to have two genetic components.  I became immediately suspect that something was "interesting" about this, but no one else seemed to think it important.  I also thought the "green monkey" theory of origins, "Haitian Connection" and "Patient Zero" theories were strange explanations from what felt like a massive disinformation campaign.  At the same time that the official explanation was "green monkeys from Africa", no one was talking about the extensive Hepatitis B vaccine trials among gay men about two years before "GRID" (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) appeared in the early 1980s.  "GRID" was the first name for the disease, which was blamed on everything from poppers to disco music in it's initial stages.

These men who were dying, usually men in their 30s and 40s, at a time in life when one is just starting to find some comfort and security in life and career, were staring a miserable death in the face.  There were no HIV medications then.  The use of AZT, a primitive and potentially lethal medication was still in the trial phases of use.  At the time, the FDA took a minimum of 4 years to bring a drug into the market place.  So as the gears of government turned at a snail's pace, the obituary sections of the community papers were filled with the photos of handsome young men who were dying.  In the middle of it a friend, Fred Stolar, was run over by a bus at Santa Monica & Crescent Heights on his bicycle.  It was almost a relief to see someone who was NOT dead from AIDS during that time.

I became Co-Chair of the Gay & Lesbian Police Advisory task force in 1985, and soon found myself chairing meetings that were empty, the representatives calling in sick to never return.  In typical LA fashion, no one could just say, "I've got AIDS and am locked in my house because I don't want anyone to see the KS on my face", people created excuses that were less incriminating.  No one was talking about actually having HIV or AIDS until they could no longer hide the obvious.  At that point, they simply vanished off the social scene.  

With few exceptions, these men had relatively easy lives until the appearance of the disease.  Growing up in suburbs, attending good schools, planning to live long and prosperous lives, they were successful in their professions, and were floored by what was happening around them.  Like the very wealthy on the Titanic, they just kept behaving "normally" until the water came crashing in, convinced that somehow they would escape.

There is an empty lot on the south side of Santa Monica Blvd. and West Knoll Drive.  It was once the location of the the West Hollywood Athletic Club.  In the 1980s it was the hottest gym in north America for gay men.  Featured in many films, it was ground zero for the most beautiful men in the free world.  With perfect bodies, tanned, pumped and meticulously groomed, the men were of a level of perfection that even today is difficult to find.  Desired by all, "had" by many, they were the first to go.  In 1985, 117 members died in one year.  1986 turned in an even higher number, including the clubs stunning manager, Bill Miller.  It was as if someone came in with a machine gun and massacred everyone, but with viral bullets.  It was about that time that I started to believe that HIV was no accident of nature, but something far more insidious.

*  I didn't believe any of the theories regarding the origins of AIDS.  The theories offered felt too much like a "snow job" that was being "sold" to cover up the tracks of something bigger.  I had known Gay men who worked in virology research for years.  The fact that HIV had 2 genetic strands (all other viruses only have 1) was very suspect.  I was dating an M.D. at Kaiser Sunset named Alan Cantwell at the time.  Later he would meet another M.D. who agreed with me, and that collaboration became a book, still in print, "AIDS And The Doctors of Death."  Both of us were "outsiders" so no one was listening, though I did get Bruce Decker to read the book about a year before his passing.

On Highland Avenue just north of Melrose there is a coffee shop, "Highland Grounds".  Before that, it had been one of the most celebrated gay bars in America, "Greg's Blue Dot."  The owner, Greg Hammond was porn star beautiful.  In addition to the usual Friday and Saturday night festivities, Greg's was known for Sunday morning festivities, "Church" at Greg's for men who had been up all night and wanted a bit more drinking before heading home to sleep off the weekend and get ready for work on Monday.  Greg was occasionally seen having sex on one of the upstairs  banisters, or some other somewhat out of the way part of the club.   Upon realizing that he had Kaposi's Sarcoma and was losing weight, he hung himself one day at home, leaving a note saying that he had no desire to shrivel up and defecate himself into a skin covered skeleton before dying a horrible death.

He wasn't alone.  On Hyperion and Lyric, where a small theater is located now, was the Frog Pond restaurant.  It's handsome owner, Bob White, was the envy of many.  Personable, handsome and successful, he hung himself in the kitchen of the restaurant one Sunday morning after a month long cocaine binge, his response to his lover's death from HIV.

And the stories kept coming, two or three a week, "Did you hear, so and so died last week, they found him" and then it was fill in the blank.  

In the midst of all this death and insanity, too many "respectable" gay men went around declaring, "I won't get it, I'm not like most gay men, I don't" and then fill in the blank, "run around", "engage in casual sex", "use poppers" etc.  They all turned up with AIDS too.   A neighbor of mine called me down to his apartment one night.  Sobbing hysterically, he'd just found out a friend of his was dying, "He was a saint, never messed around and he's got it.  I'm gonna die too, I just know it."  I moved out to go to Orange County later that year.  When I returned to Los Angeles a year later, my former land lady's daughter recounted to me Ken Dill's last days, sitting in feces laden underwear on the apartment steps, dementia so bad he did not know his name.  With no family or friends, he just locked himself in his apartment until he died.  It took the landlord a month to clean the apartment, which had to be stripped, painted and carpeted, after airing it out for a month to get the smell of death out of it.

With no treatment or cure in sight, desperate men did desperate things.   Many were out to make a name for themselves before they passed away, some attempt at immortality.  Working in HIV prevention and services was seen as an option.  In the middle of this mix, Lyndon La Rouche and his followers put three attempts on the California ballot (over a three year period) to quarantine persons with HIV.  Visions of Manzanar and the interment of Japanese Americans in WWII flashed through our heads.  We would go to two meetings a day for six days a week.  It was usually the same people, must different locations.  We joked, "Why do all this driving, let's just have one marathon meeting for four days and get them all over with."

Ronald Reagan was the president who could not utter the word "AIDS" until around 1987.  In the midst of all this pressure, at one meeting a young staffer snapped.  He just started screaming, "Why doesn't someone do something?  Why isn't the president trying to help us?"  Being the jaded cynic that I am, I softly replied, "Because they want us all dead or locked up.  Once you figure that out, everything they're doing makes sense."   After the meeting, Daniel Warner quietly told me, "Ed, we all know it's true, but don't say it out loud, you know what they do to the messenger."

The movies, "Long Time Companion" and "Angels in America" both attempt to share the feelings of those days, but it is still difficult to feel it because they have become history, and it is difficult to feel history.  In the early 1990s a mental health colleague Fred Wilkey and I had a long conversation about the shared "Multiple Loss Syndrome" of those of us left behind.  It was the first time anyone had broached the subject, the taboo of silence being that powerful with regard to those of us who had not been infected and were still alive.

It is ironic that a large part of Eric Rofe's work in his later years was with the Highlander Center (for social change) in Tennessee.  One of the other board members, Jean Hardisty, writes on their web site;

"--- the South is also a place where a rich heritage of struggle, solidarity, culture, and courage ----.  it is also the cradle of resistance and survival.  --will (we) fail to learn from the Southern progressives how to resist when the odds are so stacked against you. The South is not just an area that serves as a template for how right-wing political and economic forces will come to dominate in other parts of the country. It is a goldmine of ideas, wisdom, strategies and tactics of resistance".  

Having grown up in the civil rights south, I had an intuitive understanding of what was happening in the 1980s.  I had personally lived with verbal and physical threats, cross burnings, a shot guns stuck in my face and such for being a "ni--er lover."   I tried to share my insights and suggestions with my peers in southern California and found a cool reception.  Even though I had lived through situations similar to what we were going through, my counsel was not welcome.  

 After all, they shoot the messenger, and the curse of being me is that I often am the messenger.  

During that period, I found myself engaged with "community leaders" who were often short sighted, looking to fulfill a personal agenda, running scared and jealous.  I was strong and healthy.  Often, they were neither.   

Not unlike my 2004 - 2005 in West Hollywood politics, I found myself saying things that needed to be said, that made me very unpopular at the time, but later on turned out to be very true.  "We gotta get this uppity faggot out of here, he knows too much."  My personal and professional life was hell during those years and Eric was part of the chorus of tormenters pushing me out the door.

In the movie "Mandingo", the slaves on the plantation are engaged in the pursuit and capture of a runaway slave.  This fugitive had beaten and killed a cruel master, so when caught he would be killed on the spot.  The strongest of the group in pursuit, a slave named "Meade" (who is one of the main characters in the story) captures the slave and holds him till the whites arrive.  The slave speaks truth (paraphrased here), "They work us to death, treat us like animals, take our children away from us, and for what?  This is no life, this is hell"   He is saying this as he is strung up and hung from a tree, with his last breath, he continues to attempt to raise the consciousness of his peers, who stand by, watching him die, doing what their white owners have told them to do, too dead inside to contemplate anything beyond momentary survival.

In spite of our differences, and they were significant, I respect Eric for trying to work to elevate the consciousness of a community that has long been held in slavery.  He did it his way, I try to do it in mine.  It's never easy, which is why I've always said that we need to be as loving and supportive as possible with each other, something that does not often describe Los Angeles social dynamics.   I once told Steve Schulte over lunch that the irony of my life was that I moved 3,000 miles, to a region of 12 million people, only to rediscover the social dynamics of my high school of 938 students.  In the mid 80s, the LA Gay Community was a lot like "Mean Girls" but with less make up.

In looking back on those days, I still have painfully clouded feelings.  It was as if they rounded all of us up, put us in an arena and set loose a few dozen venomous snakes.  Sooner or later almost all of us would die, but while we were dying, there was a lot of blaming and back stabbing going on.  It was not pretty.  I don't think any of the high profile leaders survived, and the rest of us have all been marked for life for having lived through it.  

I find myself listening to the song, "Try Not To Breathe" by R.E.M. a lot these days.  In my mind the music holds the imagery of rowing over waves and swells in a boat, struggling with strong winds and current, straining to reach the other side.  The lyrics speak for themselves and to how I feel about the period in my life when Eric and I were fighting all the demons that surrounded us.  May he rest in peace.

I want to remember the price that was paid to bring us to the other shore, twenty years later.  With all of the pain and heartache, it was one of our finest hours.

Try Not to Breathe

(Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe)

I will try not to breathe
I can hold my head still with my hands at my knees
These eyes are the eyes of the old, shivering and bold

I will try not to breathe
This decision is mine. I have lived a full life
And these are the eyes that I want you to remember, oh

I need something to fly over my grave again
I need something to breathe

I will try not to burden you
I can hold these inside. I will hold my breath
Until all these shivers subside,
Just look in my eyes

I will try not to worry you
I have seen things that you will never see
Leave it to memory me. I shudder to breathe

I want you to remember, oh (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
Over my grave again (you will never see)
I need something to breathe (something to breathe)
Baby, don't shiver now
Why do you shiver now? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
Over my grave again. (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh 
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh

I will try not to worry you
I have seen things that you will never see
Leave it to memory me. Don't dare me to breathe
I want you to remember, oh (you will never see)
I need something to fly (something to fly)
Over my grave again (you will never see)
I need something to breathe (something to breathe)
Baby, don't shiver now
Why do you shiver? (I will see things you will never see)
I need something to breathe (something to breathe - I have seen things you will 
never see)
I want you to remember

**************************************************
From C.S.

Once again, you’ve blown me away. I think of you, frankly, as the Cassandra of the GLBT movement, an often unwelcome oracle of an impending future the myopia of the present won’t allow us to confront. But I had not experienced your power to re-trace our steps down the roads traveled in our history.

I could have written your column on the passing of Eric Rofes’ verbatim, had I your power with words – I had no idea you were living it, even as I was. My best friend (who fled L.A. before you arrived but knew all the “players”) has been easing me through the shock, grief and memories evoked by Eric’s death – especially about the love/hate relationship he and I also had. He was a giant. Giants need lots of room. Occasionally Eric found me in his space and never hesitated to tell me so. But we were on the same team (I also encountered him at Bear gatherings), knew it and acknowledged it – unlike the sexual smouder between us.

Your recount of the good old/bad old days also struck too close to home. I was still on the L.A. Gay/Lesbian Police Advisory Task Force when the trailblazing, irascible Justin Smith became the first, but not last, of its members we would lose to AIDS.

I was having dinner in Silverlake arguing G/L politics with future WeHo mayor Steve Schulte one night when his then-partner, Joe Thompson, impatiently interrupted my complaint about a fellow activist with a phrase I had never heard before, “Just get OVER it!”

I was dumbfounded when I finally “got” why AIDS activist Daniel Warner, the picture of handsome health, always seemed so unforgiving on the subject of safe sex, when I learned he himself had succumbed to the disease.

I fell hard for and got rejected by a guy all in a single encounter one Sunday morning at the Blue Dot – only to come to the eventual realization that, since everyone I knew in the place was now dead, being pre-emptively dumped probably saved my life.

The last time I saw checkbook activist and friend Duke Comegys was at the funeral of former Advocate publisher Niles Merton, who beckoned me to his bedside at Midway Hospital weeks earlier as I walked the halls in search of another friend, former Stonewall Democratic Club president Steve Weltman, whose room was down the hall from that of Republican WeHo activist Tom Larkin.

One night when we were still headquartered in Silverlake, the entire Board of Directors of Christopher Street West adjourned to the Frog Pond for a late supper, teasing our solicitous host, Bob White, about his well-known political ambitions, just weeks and steps from where he would soon hang himself.

And I thought I was the only one who remembered the death finale in “Mandingo” well enough to recognize its horrifying reprise in Polanski’s “The Pianist” decades later, when Jews in the film lay prostrate on command and remained that way – almost patiently -- as a Nazi officer calmly walked down the line firing a bullet into each of their heads.

Thank you, Ed, for conjuring up these disquieting images long suppressed from my own past – which is precisely why they need to be re-visited. Let us remember the pain, lest we doom ourselves to re-live it.