In an article by Hannah Dreir in this morning’s New York Times answered a question that’s been on my mind for a while. Namely, what has been happening to all the refugee children whom Trump tore away from their parents or who crossed the border alone in some other manner? I’ve read about their being “relocated” or “placed” in some manner. But located from where to whence and placed with whom and for how long and under what conditions? Answers seem vague.
Those answers, it seems, are more horrendous than I imagined. Think Oliver Twist. Think David Copperfield. Think workhouse. Think starvation. Think exploitation of the worst kind. Think Fagin on steroids and multiplied by the thousands, and you begin to get the picture.
Merciful volunteers agree to shelter, clothe and house the waifs, arrange for them to enroll in school, serve as parents/guardians to, let us say, Jose and Ah Lam. For a nominal fee, of course. You wouldn’t expect them to bear all that expense and trouble for nothing, would you? After all, they have responsibilities of their own. And we have an already-existing foster care system to model on. Job done.
Fast forward to a year. There’s a good chance Jose and Ah Lam are indeed enrolled in school. There’s also a good chance they seldom attend. Or, if they do, they are too exhausted to learn. Why? because they’ve been loading food, shingling roofs, cleaning houses, packing hot dogs for 8-12 hours. And often being billed for the privilege. After all, someone had to pay to transport them all the way here from wherever. And they aren’t being asked to do all this work for nothing. That would be slavery. Now they have an income so can legitimately be asked to contribute to their own support to repay the benevolent sponsors. Suppose, at the age of 12, you already “owe your soul to the company store?”
There are, of course, child labor laws in this country to guard against these conditions. Our department of Health and Human Services will surely make sure the laws are applied. But regulations on paper are right there–on paper. If there are few or no inspections, inspectors, or penalties, the world rolls on. So beneficent are the so-called caretakers, that we often assign multiple children/victims/employees/students to their responsibility. According to Dreir, about two-thirds of these migrant children end up working full time, often to support folks back home.
These kinds of conditions we thought we’d taken care of over a century ago. As it turns out, if we set Charley D. down in 2023, he might find things pretty similar in many respects to his good old 1870’s. Wish it weren’t so, but shake my hand, Charles. Let’s sit down at our keyboards and get to work.
The first family reunion since the last family reunion is now actually in full production here in all-inclusive color and sound. Last reunion was in October–an annual affair featuring a hayride in the vicinity of Sally and Bill’s farm in Floyd Knobbs Indiana. This one–fast forward to January–is in honor of Sally’s 70th birthday.
Probably most of you have had at least one experience at an all-inclusive resort. You pay big money up front, then everything else you eat, drink, and get merry over is “free.” That’s what we’re doing here at the Hyatt Ziva. We had a pretty decent flight down–4.5 hours non-stop. A bit of drama at the beginning with some health issues that were taken care of with a minimum of fuss and bother.
SATURDAY–On arrival, sat down immediately to one of those “free” dinners. Quite delicious, actually. Decent wine, even though certain of our party disagreed, thought we should be imbibing the $60.00/bottle variety instead of the (thumbs down) house edition.
SUNAY–This morning we were able to catalogue the items left behind. Nothing fatal, except maybe the sunglasses. I purchased a pedestrian pair for an exorbitant price because I didn’t feel like bartering. But I got them. Highlight of the day so far was the dolphin show. Our room looks out on the dolphin pool, and quite a number of the party–various ages–got to swim with the mammals, who were rewarded with fish.
Debits so far–incessant bass beat and yelling uncomprehendables over a SHUT UP, ASSHOLE, p.a. system. Had a pretty good walk. Only a little lost. One needs that. That was Saturday.
TODAY Sunday (yesterday, I keep reminding myself. Things tend to slurry together.) was rather different. Slept late–for us, being 8:45. Mixing and mingling and reacquainting. Getting some acquaintance with newest whom we’d not had a chance to interact with much in October.
MONDAY–This is the day of the signature event of the event–the “surprise” banquet at day’s end. Lots of conversation and organization around all that. Myself, I started this blog. Sally’s birthday blog by me, which has more than a tinge of sadness around it because of circumstances surrounding my own sister Sally who shares a birthdate with Susanne’s younger sister (also Sally) on January 24. Sally (my younger sister, now called Samantha) also has a January 24 birthday.
But but let the sad thoughts pass and let the good times roll. We eat drink and be merry, all (how many? 17?) of us. We went to bed relatively early and happy and what was that dark rim around the moon? Did you see it? Not I
Son-in-law Randy loves to seek out new projects and explore new frontiers. One of his current enterprises is scuba diving. I have a bit of resentment stored up about this. Not because of him, but because of me. I had the notion that in my retirement I would take up diving. My first crack at that came shortly after I joined the ranks of the unemployable and, coincidentally enough, ended up here in Cancun for my first try at it. I went to a booth for beginner lessons. Warning sign. “No asthmatics.” Certain female family members of the group thought that should apply to me. I didn’t agree, so I did the deceptive thing–appeared to agree, then sneaked behind their backs to start my Jacques Costeau career. We began–logically enough–in a swimming pool. I donned my rented gear, followed all instructions, and couldn’t breath. Kind of a basic requirement flunked right there. So, now, while Randy is out there doing deep dives and night dives and god knows what else I’m stuck with the occasional snorkel.
In the meantime, we thought we’d go to the French restaurant which is one of the eat drink and be merry choices. However, there is a dress code that appeared to contain directions that leave us out. Me out. Long dress pants, no tennis shoes, a couple of other things. on the way to another restaurant, we presented ourselves at the French restaurant (La Bastille) to see if we could negotiate something. Turned out what we thought would disqualify us would be fine, so we’re going to give it a shot. Doesn’t work? Hey, they’re not the only game in town.
[In the end, we got distracted by happy hour and never even tried the French restaurant. Ended up at a sort of Benihaha place instead. Entertaining and palatable if not exactly gourmet.]
HERE IS A SUMMARY PARAGRAPH ON SUNDAY THE 15TH BECAUSE I DIDN’T KEEP MY ONCE-A-DAY COMMITMENT.
After the Japanese restaurant experience/event–guess you can’t just go to an activity any more. It has to be an experience or an event–we returned to find a coupon for a massage. We’d wanted one, but the price was so outrageous we decided to pass. Now we changed our minds and booked for the next day.
BTW, found the coupons while opening the patio doors on returning to our rooms. We always had to open the doors to warm up the room. The A/C was so cold everywhere inside that only the outside air would heat things up.
Very fine massage. Gentle touches (I usually like things a bit more vigorous) and hot towels.
All that was left was a nice non-stop home. Hotel-to-airport transportation was flawless. We got escorted through every bureaucratic step right up to security, which went swimmingly. Flight on time and a bit bumpy, but nothing serious.
Then came the SFO adventure. The taxi driver suggested we take a route over san mateo bridge instead of bay bridge. We don’t go that way and rejected the offer. Two hours later the 40 minute drive from SFO to home had taken more than twice its usual. To add to the horrors, one of our people discovered a cup of pee–yes, pee–in the back seat, which spilled on herself and belongings. We assume the driver had long waits for fares and needed relief. Pretty disgusting.
Another nice–not exactly a surprise–complication was that the deluge of decades had been continuing while we were gone. Basement flooded. But that’s another tale. Thus ends the Cancun Boogie. Bet you can’t wait for more.
A strange title, I thought, but it turned out to be incredibly appropriate. I’d expect something like “The horse that. . .” or “The 19th Century Secretariat . . ” or something to point me in some direction or another. There is a particular horse in question, but you don’t know that at first. In fact, the first animal in the narrative is an elephant. Actually, an elephant skull. We are in the company of a lady named Jess, who works as a caretaker of sorts at the Smithsonian museum of natural history. It takes a while and a lot of unwrapping to discover that the skull is not that of an elephant, but of a horse. At this point, we believe that it will be Jess who leads us through the tale of this horse skull. I was looking forward to the story, since it would be my first foray into a novel about an equine skull. Jess investigates the provenance of this hunk of bone. She has the skull dated and discovers an anomaly in the cranium. The investigation eventually leads to a whole passel facts and folks that keeps readers spellbound throughout.
It’s hard to do an in-depth review of this book without spoilers, but I’ll do my best. Along with the story of Jess, her romance, and various other characters, we follow the life of the horse whose hide once covered the skull we discovered in the first few pages. Jess’s investigation leads her from present time all the way back to the antebellum south. We focus on an enslaved black jockey and his trainer-father. It isn’t long before all the racial strife and civil war conflicts imaginable boil around us readers. And very, very deftly, Brooks brings the past into the present. It shows us how completely idiotic it is to think that that war and those conflicts are behind us.
And all this because some humans become enamored of and tangled up with Horse. Horse does have a name, and it is rewarding to find what it is and where it came from. Read the novel and see if I’m not right. In the meantime, enjoy a fine novel by a very fine writer.
The patriarch in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is Mr. March, first name unspecified. He’s a scholar, a minister, a bona fide member of the Concord, Massachusetts, intelligentsia, being a companion of such as Emerson and Thoreau. He’s also a bit of a prude and purist. Vegetarian to the point where he avoids animal matter of all kinds either for ingestion or apparel, because such substances are the property of the animal, and humans have no business eating or exploiting them. And he carries his fanaticism into the cause of abolition. In fact, it might be said that Geraldine Brooks’ splendid work is an exploration of the wages of fanaticism as much as it is an exploration of the cruelties of war.
March opens on the eve of the Civil War. in the run up to the conflict, March has devoted himself to financing the hostilities even to the extent of impoverishing his family. They go from a grand house to a bungalow, from good garments to patchwork. A good portion of the money goes to the cause of the fanatic John Brown. The Concord transcendentalists apparently provide a good portion of the money used to support the abortive Harper’s Ferry scheme whereby the captured arms the enthusiasm generated by the raid on the federal arsenal there would spark a nationwide race war and end American slavery.
That project ended with Brown’s hanging, but the abolitionist fervor still burned bright. The war began, and March signed up as a chaplain and left for South Carolina, where he became the clergy conscience of a union-captured plantation of Oak Grove, South Carolina. The union government turned the plantation over to the management of a white northerner with the idea that it would be an opportunity to turn a slave enterprise into a free market operation. The slaves would become wage earners, and profits would go to the manager. Predictably, things did not go as planned. The racist, profit-driven manager was not much better as a master than the slave master himself. There were still plenty of rebel guerrillas around who were dedicated to seeing that the whole concept failed. Crops were burned, husbandry sabotaged. Union troops vandalized and stole everything that wasn’t nailed down, deeming it their right as victors to carry away anything that could be carried.
Amid all this, March did his best to set up a school, to ameliorate the capitalist-manager’s cruelty, to arrange for medical care for the “former” slaves whom the manager neglected. The usual trappings of slavery–incest, rape, brutality still prevail. Finally, though, Oak Grove produces a bumper cotton crop. It appears that the manager will not be cast into penury after all. But all is for naught.
March contracts a fever of some sort which leaves him weakened and delirious. Without spoiling the tale too much, I’ll simply say that the journey back home to Massachusetts is difficult and enervating, yet does nothing to dim March’s enthusiasm for his cause nor to energize his obligations to his “little women.” “Moderation in all things,” said Aristotle ( I believe). Would that March had paid attention to his counsel.
I haven’t read much Malamud, though he was a dominant literary figure during the 20th century. Books like The Assistant and The Magic Barrel were widely read and discussed. Along with Arthur Herzog, Malamud was probably (at least to my limited knowledge) the premier Jewish writer of his generation. Not that either his appeal or his audience was limited to Jews, but that community was the source of his inspiration and material.
The fixer is one of the most jarring and painful tales I’ve read, which covers a lot of territory. Jakov Bok is a Russian/Ukranian handyman. Issue the call and he’ll be there with his tool box and his skills and will take whatever is malfunctioning and put it to rights. The thing is, he doesn’t make much money at it. Add to his privation the fact that he’s trapped in a childless and loveless marriage, and Jakov finally has all he can take.
He picks up his tools and his skills and heads for Kiev looking for opportunity. Right away there is trouble. Although he’s more or less atheistic/agnostic, he’s a jew. He doesn’t look particularly Jewish. He would perhaps be better off if he did. As it is, he picks up work, is promoted to a fairly responsible position, which includes an apartment near his place of work. That place is a brick factory, and one of his duties is to make sure the number of bricks the factory turns out matches the number of bricks that go out the door. Problem is, a lot of bricks go out the back door, where the workers sell them on the street and pocket the profits. Jakov incurs resentment as he polices the malefactors. Furthermore, the factory owner has a lonely daughter who lives in the same building as Jakov and who seeks to cure her loneliness by cultivating a relationship with our guy. Also, there are gangs of boys who like to use the stacks of bricks for the playground, something Jakov, the loyal employee, can’t tolerate, so he chases them off periodically. None of this things are awful in and of themselves, but when a crisis ensues, they add up.
One of the young boys Jakov has been chasing is murdered. A rumor goes out that whoever stabbed him also drained his blood, a sure sign of ritual sacrifice by a Jew or Jews who need Christian blood to satisfy their hunger for sacrifice, which originated with THE crucifixion. They’ve just got to relive that over and over.
There is an investigation. Jakov is identified as a harasser and persecutor of the boys. He has been both careless and victimized. The quarters to which his employer has most generously treated him are forbidden to Jews. He should have registered when he moved in, but to register would have involved revealing himself and wrecking his newfound road to prosperity. Right away, then, he is a suspect. Then he is arrested and jailed. Then the persecution begins. The official apparatus goes into full swing. The investigation proceeds apace. Jakov has spurned the employer’s daughter after he walked in on the verge of a liaison and saw she was menstruating. As she was unclean by his cultural standards, he refused to go through with it. Scorned, she fashions a lie or two, and he’s condemned for his attempt to attack a virtuous Christian girl. His attempt to live where he shouldn’t is taken as an attempt by a member of the world-wide Jewish cabal to infiltrate the Christian community. They do it all the time. We have to be vigilante. The number of stab wounds on the boy’s body is taken to have holy significance, though the published number and pattern of the wounds keeps changing with the ever-changing identities of the judges and prosecutors. More and more legendary stereotypes keep being attached to Jakov whether they have anything to do with him or not. He has the nose he has the hands he has the accent, the mannerisms–sure giveaways of his Jewishness. These all are signs that he’s out to trick, bedevil, and bankrupt good Christians. On some days he’ll brazenly attack you, on others he’ll trick you with one of his sly manipulations. We have to be vigilant.
While all this investigating and theorizing is going on, Jakov is in jail, suffering the most agonizing tortures the very imaginative authorities can devise. He is not allowed to read. He is once caught reading from one of the newspapers he’s been given to wipe his rear. He is whipped. No more paper. He once tried to get a message to the outside via a fellow Jew who was about to be released. His “partner” betrays him. He is chained with chains so short he cannot bring his bowl of watery soup to his mouth. He must lap it up like a dog. And on and on and on. Two and a half years he goes on like this, vainly awaiting his official indictment and all the time refusing to confess. He is made to understand that if he confesses he will be sentenced to life in Siberia or some such place but will not be executed and will no longer be confined to a cell. Jakov will admit nothing and he doesn’t trust the “promises” anyhow.
It would be hard to credit the possibilities of this story if we hadn’t had such modern examples. Witness the chant of “The Jews will not replace us” by crowds at Charlottesville recently. Evil, like rust, never sleeps