Celery City

In the days after George Floyd’s killing, I thought much about racism, my white privilege, and just about everything else.  I woke up each morning feeling as though I should write, or say, angry words.

And I did.

I found that many of those words were directed at Sanford, my Central Florida hometown, where I’d observed egregious acts of racism.

Though as my thoughts drifted to other thoughts, I was surprised by my recall of some positive experiences coming out of Celery City (Sanford’s nickname).

After a cooling off period I decided to pursue  a few of those stories. I will likely publish some of the negative stories, too; though will try to no let those consume me.

A couple of the positive stories (still in development ) , “Woke Barber” and “That Stain Is On Our Soul” are related to the City of Sanford’s reprehensible treatment of Jackie Robinson. Thus, I’ve provided the background post, “Royal” on that topic.

The series begins with a brief description of my transition from  New Englander to Southern Boy: “How Did I Get Here?”

I have several story pursuits in my head, and have no idea of  how many I’ll actually write, or publish.  Though only one way to know how this ends is  to begin.

So, here we go….

  1. How Did I Get Here?
  2. Royal
  3. Woke Barber
  4. Scaling Mount Dora
  5. That Stain Is On Our Soul
  6. Trayvon Martin And The Demise of Critical Thinking
  7. Twitless
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“You’d Be Perfect For This Position”

In the go-go 1990s, when everybody was in a rush to do something “internety,”  I got a call from a recruiter, who breathlessly starting describing  a position in the Chicago suburbs. 

I told her I lived in the city,  was not at all interested in commuting to the suburbs, so I didn’t think I’d be a fit for the job. 

Though I agreed to send here a résumé. 

She called back a few  days later and, breathlessly began telling me about the greatest job in the history of our solar system. 

A few minutes in, I told her that I wasn’t interested. 

I reminded here I lived in the city, and didn’t have a car, and had no  interest in buying a car. Thus I was not all that interested in talking further. 

The recruiter wanted to talk anyway, and she did. The position was with an advertising agency, that had  “been in business for 30 years.”

I already worked at an ad agency (that had been in business for 100 years), but I didn’t want to work in the agency business any longer, and was planning to leave Illinois in a few years. I began to tell her that.

“I am not interested because ……” I said. 

She interjected “They have one client, but it’s a huge one. ”

One client? My interest dropped from “Very Little” and was quickly approaching zero.

She added “Have you heard of McDonald’s?”

Hmm…moving on to a condescending approach?  Didn’t seem like a particularly solid technique to win somebody over.

 “McDonald’s: that’s their client. For 30 years! The company ‘does the work’ for their Monopoly game. They loved your résumé and are very interested in talking to you.”

 “Does the work” and could mean anything: printing, graphic design, strategy, etc. and maybe even something internety. 

I almost asked her to elaborate, but there was no chance in my pursuing that job.

I said, “It doesn’t matter who the account is. I don’t plan to work for a company with only one customer. My current company had a client for 75 years and they lost it last year. Furthermore, I don’t want to work in the suburbs. I don’t even have a car.”

“Well, you could  JUST  buy a car?”

“I don’t want a car. There are many reasons why I got rid of my car. I’d be happy if I never had a car again.”

“Well, you could JUST take a train.”

The location wasn’t near a commuter rail station, so transit would involve several bus transfers; therefore a lot of time, and I reiterated that I wasn’t interested. 

She was getting exasperated, and said, “They loved your résumé and  want to know how soon you could start.”

WHAT?!? That was the second time she said she had shared my résumé. It didn’t properly register with me the first time.

“You shared my résumé?!? Why did you do that?!? And who makes decisions to hire people without an interview?” I asked, in a whisper-shout.

She replied, “I knew you’d be perfect. And I’m sure that they’ll make it worth your while to commute out there. Or you could buy a house near their office. They have a big budget for this job, you could probably buy a nice house…”

I was way past done. With every fiber of my being, I tried to restrain myself and I reiterated all of my key points: I didn’t want to commute to, or move to, the suburbs, I didn’t want to buy a car, or spend hours commuting trains and buses. 

She tried her money line again, “But, they’ve had the McDonald’s business for 30 years, and…”

After some effort, I was finally able to convince her that I wasn’t interested. She signed off with a disdainful “OK. This is your loss.”

And then she added a sullen “Bye.”

I didn’t think much of  the conversation until a couple of  years later when there was a high-profile scandal involving the McDonald’s Monopoly game and some of their promotional vendors were axed. I had already relocated to Michigan, and was doing internety things.

I don’t know if the agency that the recruiter was trying to push into was affected, but it really would have sucked to buy a car, or a house and then have the best job in the solar system evaporate and to have been stuck with a car loan and/or a mortgage.

Glad that I didn’t put all  my  eggs in that  one McMuffin. 

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Twitless

Yesterday (1/10/2020) a couple of days after  president’s Twitter account was locked,  I saw a few posts claiming social media platforms suspending accounts, (aka private companies enforcing their own policies…admittedly arbitrarily..) is similar to Jim Crow laws.

Well, gather around, children, let me tell you a story….

When a  (small town, Deep South)  high school  friend’s mom was pregnant with him (circa 1965), she had severe internal bleeding and was refused treatment because hospital didn’t have “black blood. ”

They only survived because father was a vet and she was treated at Navy hospital (20 miles) away.

THAT is Jim Crow.

My friend now has 4 degrees and is a professor, and department head at a university. Though, when he was in the womb, he wasn’t deserving of “white blood.”

Getting your Twitter account (temporarily or permanently) suspended is NOT Jim Crow. Those were racist-as-fuck LAWS.

Being De-Twittered is pretty much being banned from your favorite restaurant because you habitually violate the “No Shirt? No Shoes? No Service!” policy.

Pro tip: If you have an account blocked, or lose followers, it’s not recommended that you liken yourself to Rosa Parks.

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White House Wheelchairs And Lungs of Iron

Nemesis

“Finally the cataclysm began – the monstrous headache, the enfeebling  exhaustion, the severe nausea, the raging fever, the unbearable muscle ache, followed in another forty-eight hours by the paralysis.”

That passage  is from Phillip Roth’s novel, “Nemesis” in which he  described the onset of Poliomyelitis (commonly known as polio)  a disease transmitted by viral infection. Many polio victims experienced muscle weakness, sometimes with permanent paralysis, malformed limbs, and in some cases, death.

The US first reached epidemic levels of polio in the early 1900s, and the scourge terrorized the United States, for nearly half a century.

New Cataclysm

By the time I rolled around, the first polio vaccine (the Salk Vaccine) was pretty well established and the second one (the Sabin vaccine ) was already in  distribution. Thus, most of my knowledge of the polio epidemic, came from books, movies, and memories shared by people  around me, including  my older siblings.

In light of the current viral onslaught, Covid-19 ( or…novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 ) that has wreaked havoc on much of the world, I endeavored to read more about the US polio epidemic.

I was rather surprised by what I found:

  1. The US polio epidemic peaked in 1952.
  2. That year, there  were 57,879 polio cases and
  3. There were  3,145 deaths
  4. Permanent paralysis is estimated to have occurred in .5% of infections.

I’d assumed that all of the numbers (cases, permanent afflictions and deaths) would be significantly larger. Certainly, they are frightening, but the statistics pale in comparison to what the US is currently experiencing with Covid-19.

As much as it feels like it’s been with us forever, Covid-19 is a relatively new nemesis. The US is in its 10th month of Covid-19 cases.

Here is a statistical snapshot of Covid-19 in the US (as of October 25, 2020):

  1. The earliest US cases occurred in January of 2020
  2. There have been over 8.3 million US  cases and
  3. The current death total exceeds 222,000.

Note: Among Covid-19 patients, who are no longer are infected, there have been many reported cases of long-term symptoms, requiring extended hospitalization, physical therapy and other treatments. Though since we are in the early stages of this pandemic, the extent, or duration of these afflictions is not clear.

Witness

I shared some of the figures about polio with my older sister  (14 years my senior).  As I stated previously, I was surprised by the figures.  She was shocked.

On the phone with her several  weeks ago, when I recited some these statistics. her reaction was: “Are you fucking kidding me?!?”

This was followed by, “We weren’t allowed to do jack-shit during  the summer! We didn’t have to worry about our government requiring social distancing, our parents made us do that!”

Like many people her age, the specter of polio looms large in her memory. Covid-19 looms large in her current life. This is not surprising.

State of Denial

Though many people, my sister’s age or older, who can recall the polio epidemic, are dismissive of Covid-19. This is really surprising to me.

Polio seemed to strike fear into the US, summer after summer. Though statistically, its worst year was way less menacing than Covid-19’s first 9 months.

I realize that there were polio-deniers, though it’s impossible to determine the numbers, or the extent of disinformation from that point in history, nearly 70 years in the past. Likewise, we won’t get a good handle on the extent of Covid19-denial, or disinformation present in 2020.

Though I suspect that the level of denial might have been lower for polio than it is for Covid-19. I say this because, in part, because the cause of polio was not known for many years.

And it was persistent, and prevalent in some areas every summer. While scientists (and  seemingly everybody with an internet connection) are still wrestling with details, it is accepted that Covid is a respiratory-borne virus.

The Look of Polio

Another reason that I suspect a population of deniers was smaller is that people, knew what polio LOOKED like.  There  were clear reminders that  polio was a real threat.
In the early 1950s  memory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was still fresh with parents and their older children during the mid 50’s. There had been clear, though intermittent, visual evidence that he could not walk without assistance.

(Note: I chose the term ‘intermittent” because The Roosevelt White House tightly  controlled FDR’s public image, thus only  scant few photos or video of the president sitting in a wheelchair, or video of him walking with leg braces were ever circulated.

Though people knew of his physical challenges, regardless of whether they’d ever actually seen evidence.)

Then there were the polio wards. The most-disturbing memories I have (from books, and documentaries) were patients in iron lungs; where victims with paralyzed diaphragms were provided machine-assistance to enable them to breathe.

I remember seeing two different types of ward: somewhat compact rooms where the iron lungs were stacked like bunk beds, and others with expansive open rooms, with patients occupying iron lungs as far as the eye (or at least a camera view-finder) could see:

Polio Ward Showing Many Patients in Iron Lung (assisted breathing device)

Iron Lungs, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital Polio Ward
(Source US Food And Drug Administration)

Many photographic examples  were of pediatric wards. The term “infantile paralysis” was a commonly-used synonym for polio; because unlike Covid-19, the largest portion of patients who suffered debilitating illness or death were children. Many of the victims were under the age of 5.

I think this is a key difference why  some  people can be dismissive of  Covid-19’s severity. With our current scourge, it’s easier for us to accept that the lives of older people, or with an underlying condition, are at risk with any kind of respiratory infection.

While the idea of children becoming disabled or dying, is universally unsettling.

We’ve had many potent visual reminders of  Covid-19: bodies being loaded onto freezer trucks, exhausted nurses and doctors, families saying their goodbyes to loved ones over Zoom video.

I’m not sure if any have the impact of a an incumbent president in a wheelchair, or scores  of children, encased in a machine providing them breathing assistance.

Decades from now, which, if any,  will be the startling visual reminders of what Covid-19 LOOKED like?

Addendum

In recent years, there have been several medical opinions that President Roosevelt did not actually suffer from polio. Many claim his symptoms were more consistent with Guillan-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune condition, induced by a bacterial infection.

Though throughout the onset of his illness through his death was believed to have had polio.  This perception may have helped to accelerate the development of polio vaccine, since FDR was the founder of National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as March of Dimes), which raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the development of the first polio vaccine.

 

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“That Stain Is On Our Soul”

As mentioned in the intro to this series, I woke up with a chip on my shoulder the morning following George Floyd’s death. I sat at my desk,  ready to pick a fight with Sanford, Florida, though I only lived there for a few years.

So, I started Googling.

I was actually looking some articles from 2012, that immediately following Trayvon’s Martins’ death in Sanford, also described Jackie Robinson’s experience with the city.

I found something I wasn’t  expecting; an apology from Sanford’s  city government to Robinson. I eventually found this article from the Orlando Sentinel ;  dateline: Sanford, Florida, April 16, 1997.

The article is about a City of Sanford meeting in which a City Commissioner  speaks to that  blemish on the Sanford’s  past: when its police chief  refused  to allow Robinson, and Wright to take the field, under threat of arrest.

Commissioner Eckstein had this to to say. “We need to apologize for what happened because as long as that stain is on our soul, it hurts the city of Sanford.”

Commissioner Eckstein (“Mr. Eckstein as I knew him) had been a teacher at my high school. I was never in his class, but he was the type of person, who said hello to, shook hands with, or  smiled at, just about everybody, in the hallways (which were outside in my school…because, Florida).

It was common for people grab lunch from the cafeteria and stand in the hallways, while eating, talking, laughing, yelling, swearing a bit. We’d see Mr. Eckstein coming from the distance. He was hard to miss. He had  hair that was so light, it would be a stretch to call it blonde. You could see the (not quite) blonde hair from quite a distance. His nickname, since childhood, of course was…..Whitey.

Occasionally, he used to stop and talk with my football teammates. I think primarily because a some  of my friends were star players, and some had been students in  his class (I was neither ). I’m not sure if he knew my name, or what position I played, but he treated me like he knew me well.

I remember some Friday nights,  moments before kickoff, he’d  ducked into our locker room before we took the field and wish the team luck. He sometimes had one or two of his young children with him.

Once, I remember seeing him after a game, on my way back to the locker room, he told me “good game.”  We’d lost, I’d  missed some key blocks, and I had two penalties; I hadn’t had a good game. Still, it was uplifting to hear somebody tell me that I had.

It was  good thing for Sanford to engage in some self-examination of its past. Yes, it had taken 50 years, but they addressed their problematic past.  While  the City of Sanford’s  resolution surprised me. Though, it is unsurprising that this resolution had originated with Mr.  Eckstein.

Good game.

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