Bonding over coffee

It feels good to be a Norwalk resident, especially if one runs into neighbors and other familiar faces at one of the recently revamped Dunkin’ Donuts shops. Old friends and friendly strangers can spin tall tales over coffee and engage in debates over issues of the day (eg, the presidential election). The pleasant suburban scene could not have been envisioned centuries ago, when Ludlow and Partrick first independently purchased land from the Indians, and the name, Norwalk, was derived from the name of an Indian chieftain, Naramake (also spelled ‘Naramauke’ or ‘Norwauke’).

However, the past was not on the minds of most customers. For instance, the Haitian cab driver, pausing briefly for his cup of java before heading out for a night shift, had little interest in the question one could pose to Indians today to find out if they were better off than their ancestors. He was only interested in the present and the future. As the night shift loomed ahead, he was contemplating how many Norwalk bar flies would be calling upon his services to take them to their homes. How many fares would equal his economic survival for the next month? When talk inevitably drifted to the recent political conventions, he shrugged his shoulders. He was a first-generation American who did not mind that politicians did not court him in a similar manner as Latin immigrants. Instead, he was grateful that he could pay for food and shelter for his kids.

Tonight he celebrated another milestone in his life that, to him, felt every bit as momentous as the heroic accomplishments of ordinary Americans mentioned at the political conventions. He had chronicled his life story on yellow legal pads, while waiting at the interminable red lights dotted along Norwalk roads. These notes had finally been compiled into one book. Others, who left the coffee shop to stare at the book in his car, were quick to rain on his parade. No one would be interested in his story. No one would care. The cab driver would have none of this negativity. He had already lined up likeminded folks and would be barnstorming the local churches and community groups, preaching the gospel of self-reliance along the way. One felt humbled. Here was someone made stronger and not cowed by political rhetoric or adversity.
Back in the Dunkin’ Donuts shop, Mr. X, an adult approaching his golden years, was happy to sip coffee and chat to other customers about his problems. Mr. X is disabled. More precisely, he is a mentally disabled, non-institutionalized adult. Given the level of his disability, work was never an option. In the absence of a strong family or religious support system, he is also a poster child for entitlement usage or victim of any Medicaid cuts, depending on one’s point of view. It is worth noting that one analysis of 2010 census and budget data estimates that more than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.

None of this mattered to Mr. X. He had just spent $15 on a broken Walkman. Someone had obviously taken advantage of him; however, his only complaint was that he could no longer listen to Michael Jackson. His late mother had left him cassettes of his favorite pop singer and somehow Thriller and Bad just did not sound the same unless he was using those cassettes. The political and economic travails of our country remained unsolved, but in an instant, another solution was born. Someone remembered a working portable cassette player at his house. Mr. X would soon have a tangible link to his late mother and Michael Jackson again.

Determination, perseverance, and kindness ruled in a franchise founded by the entrepreneur, William Rosenberg. Some people may crush these moments by pointing out the financial state of the franchise; however, there is only so much information that one can imbibe on a Sunday night. Sometimes one can only focus on what is in front of you and take care of the person next to you. Tomorrow is another day.

Lasting peace

Hatred’s miasma

Permeates Satan’s apocrypha,

Smothering innocence and humanity.

Nourished by vengeance and desperation,

Feeding on guilt and fear

To maximize sensation.

Civilians are fodder in a Doomsday cult’s celebration.

 

Innocuous symbols of everyday life,

A rock concert in Paris, Muslim girls educated in Mecca,

Are kindling for the demonic wrecker.

“Give peace a chance” rings hollow,

In the face of a scorched earth policy’s sorrow.

 

Wars may eventually be won

By those more proficient at hacking or using a gun,

But the battle for lasting peace has only just begun.

The wanderer

The tragic events in Paris inspired my latest ruminations about peace.

The Wanderer

The wanderer stumbled through the looking glass,

Shattering silence with the physical reality of violence.

Burnt by hatred,

Dazed by profane inversion of the sacred,

He encountered his virtual alter ego, the slanderer.

Ensconced in luxury ─ the gain from others’ pain,

Surrounded by sycophants who primp and feign,

He beckoned with a manicured hand,

Luring the wanderer into a pixelated promised land.

Caught between the old and the new,

The wanderer did not know which one to eschew,

Embrace hatred from bygone wars,

Or mindlessly succumb to crowd-sourced lores?

Meeting his nemesis was the apogee of insanity

For the refugee from the duplicity of transparency’s theocracy.

Fear lent wings to his feet,

As he broke from the slanderer’s death grip.

Biting on a bloodied lip,

To underscore that he could triumph over an avatar’s deceipt,

He stumbled over human destruction’s flotsam.

No longer held in Becket’s prison, awaiting release after paying an impossible ransom.

The refrain,”never again,” echoed in his ears.

A Gregorian chant wiping away his fears.

Pogroms. Auschwitz. Babi Yar. Never again.

Barcelona. London. 9/11. Never again.

Beslan. Boston. Never again.

Columbine. Newtown. Ferguson. Baltimore. Never again.

Libya, Syria, Sabra, Shatilla,

Denigration of education, pilgrims squashed to death in Mecca,

Patricide, matricide, fratricide, suicide, femicide, genocide,

Charlie Hebdo, 2014; Paris, 2015.

Never again.

Zig-zagging through a global morass,

Balkanized by encrypted apps,

He slalomed in and out of the ego’s impasse.

Beaten down by life’s mishaps,

The wanderer almost drowned in pond scum.

As he came up for air,

He was transformed by a sight most fair.

A lotus flower bloomed, untouched by the environment.

Finally, he stopped his meaningless struggle and floated with ease,

For even in surroundings drenched in the stench of defilement,

He could at last recognize peace.

On his blindness

The woman urgently needed a new pair of glasses for an upcoming meeting. So she was delighted to see an optical store on an otherwise desolate street in her neighborhood. A Russian-accented voice boomed dobroye utro (good morning) as she entered the store. For a moment she had second thoughts, wandering whether he would be able to understand her request. She was African and had a thick accent as well. Would they be caught in a conversational morass of misunderstandings? Luckily that was not the case. She was pleasantly surprised to discover how much she had in common with the store owner and they immediately established a rapport. After an impromptu lesson about the lenses needed to compensate for her high myopia, they perused his collection of designer frames, before engaging in a discussion about the visually impaired people in their respective families.

They simultaneously wandered if there were any medical breakthroughs that could help blind people. Being a curious person by nature, the woman paid close attention to the health news on television that night. She saw a snippet about an artificial retina. Although the implanted device was approved for a selected subgroup of patients with a rare eye disease, The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System was a possible indication of future technological innovations that could benefit the estimated 39 million blind people across the globe [1]. The woman flipped through the Google search pages on her iPad, eager to share a list of current inventions with the store owner. She clicked on a page describing another discovery that could benefit blind people. Israeli researcher, Dr. Amir Amedi, had developed a non-invasive device (a computer mounted on glasses, connected to stereo speakers) that enabled blind people to “see” using sound.

Next, she searched for inventions of potential benefit to people with impaired vision or chronic diseases. Since comprehensive eye examinations were a rarity for poor people in the neighborhood, she was delighted to discover information for a portable eye examination kit. Another website for a smartphone diagnostic tool proclaimed that “almost anyone, anywhere could conduct their own eye test, quickly and easily.” However, correcting impaired vision with approved, do-it-yourself eye tests and devices were only the first two items on her wish list.

Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul and can also signal the onset of ocular ailments or indicate poorly controlled chronic diseases. She was therefore happy to read about the development of a scanner that could pick up on some of these conditions by non-invasively visualizing the 3D-structure of key ocular regions.

One week later, the woman received a call from the store owner. The thick lenses of her new glasses fit perfectly into a designer frame. She responded with a Russian word he had taught her: spasiba (thank you). Later that evening, the store owner called his son to tell him about the grateful customer. The son smiled when he heard about the inventions that the customer had shared with his father. Maybe one day he would no longer need to touch a Braille version of John Milton’s “On his Blindness.” Maybe one day he would be able to regain his sight.

Reference

1. Mariotti, S.P. Global data on visual impairments. 2010 [cited 2013 September]; Available from: http://www.iapb.org/sites/iapb.org/files/GLOBALDATAFINALforweb.pdf.