PREJUDICES: Everybody Has Them

Photo courtesy of realprogressivesusa.com

 

MUSINGS ABOUT AN UNFORTUNATE PART OF HUMAN NATURE

Back in the mid-1990s, a friend and I took a trip to the well-known Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA, the museum that famously focuses on issues dealing with racism and antisemitism, particularly focusing on the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement.

One part of that museum that I remember was that when you entered the place, there were two doors for you to go through; one said prejudiced, while the other door said non-prejudiced, and you were instructed to enter the door of what thought you were.

Most everyone tried to enter the door that said non-prejudiced, and guess what?

That door was always locked, which forced everyone to use the prejudiced door and gave a crystal clear message:

 

EVERYONE has prejudices – there’s no such thing as a person who has no prejudices whatsoever, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or unaware.

 

I reckon some people are saying this with incredulity right about now…

“What?! How can this be?! I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body, and I’m certainly not a racist! I don’t have anything against anyone, so how dare you accuse me of being prejudiced?!”

I think that those who are reacting like this are assuming that I’m accusing them of being Ku Klux Klan or Alt-Right-style bigots, which is definitely not the case as there is a significant difference between being prejudiced and being a bigot.

Let me explain this difference as straight forward as I possibly can…

Unlike flat-out bigotry, being prejudiced does not mean that you are going around calling African-Americans the “N” word, or calling Muslims, LGBTQs, and other people of color vicious epithets, as that is merely an extreme version; it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with race, nationality, sexual orientation, or religion.

Here’s an example:

Imagine someone who’s going out on the town for the night. He’s walking down a busy street when he sees some young ladies who are dressed in rather skimpy outfits; micro-miniskirts that barely cover their butts, tight tops that push up their breasts, and wearing more makeup than they should.

That someone may think, “Those girls sure look like prostitutes (or, as I prefer to call them, ‘working girls’)“, when in actuality they are just out and about for the same reason as he – to have a good time – and are not “Ladies of the evening” in the slightest.

 

A very good message.  Photo courtesy of steemit.com

 

In other words, he is prejudging those ladies.

While he wasn’t outwardly calling them sluts, his brain was telling him that they looked like such, and he was making a prejudgment without getting to know them; for all he knew, they could have been going to a costume party.

A more obvious example of prejudice – which led to an outright racist incident – happened recently at that Starbucks in Philadelphia with those two African-American men who were arrested after the manager (who was white) called the police on them partly because he felt they were loitering and may cause trouble.

Along with the other countless incidents of blacks, gays, Latinos and Muslims in this era of our President-Who-I-Refuse-To-Name on this blog being attacked, bullied, harassed, and blatantly discriminated against due to them not being white, Christian, conservative, and straight during this past year and a half in particular, ever since You-Know-Who (to coin a Harry Potter term) was elected.

I want to give one more example of this notion of all of us having prejudices, which is a personal one and though I’m not proud of it, I freely admit I have…

As I don’t have a car and use buses and rail lines to get around, I spend quite a bit of time at bus stops and train platforms.

Every so often, when I sit on a bus bench or wait on a platform, a young person looking like they are in their late teens or early twenties, would stand or sit near me and light a cigarette, not purposely trying to make me ill with that foulest of odors, but which causes me to cover my nose and mouth and move away from such smoker.

I also find myself covering my nose and mouth whenever I walk past someone smoking.

Being that that young smoker has undoubtedly been indoctrinated in the evils of those nastiest of legal habits and should more than know better than to start partaking of that most obnoxious of weeds, I often can’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind:

“There’s a most ignorant type of kid – not to mention stupid.”

Now as I don’t know the circumstances of said smoker – perhaps he/she has mental issues and/or is regretful of starting that habit, but is finding it too difficult to quit – I know that I shouldn’t judge him/her, but my brain finds it hard to do so as it’s following a part of human nature which although it is taught rather than innate at birth serves as evidence that it is flawed; the challenge of being aware of prejudging people and to look beyond the surfaces.

Which is not easy to do, and because of human nature never will be.

Anyhow, as far as my feelings regarding young smokers, I’ll end this post by stating this:

 

That’s my prejudice – what’s yours?

 

 

An excellent quote from the man who wrote “Charlotte’s Web”.  Photo courtesy of brainyquote.com

 

 

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My Thoughts On The Current Homeless Crisis – And What I Think Is The Root Cause

Living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen a LOT of this. Photo courtesy of  yournewswire.com

 

MY TAKE ON WHAT IS ARGUABLY AMERICA’S BIGGEST ISSUE

 

I’ve never seen it this bad – and I’ve lived in the greater Los Angeles area, widely considered the homeless capital of these United States, for over forty years.

I vividly remember Santa Monica, where I lived for 22 years, having an influx of homeless people, or “Transients”, as they were called, during my formative years in the 1980s and beyond.

This was especially the case in Palisades Park, located on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, where I remember it being Skid Row West with all of the tents put up there.

I would get asked variations of “Spare some change?” quite a bit at Third Street Promenade in particular, the outdoor shopping mall just a few blocks from Palisades Park where I worked at a luggage store during the early 1990s and spent various amounts of time outside of that.

The issue had reached a point where dolphin statues with slots where you can deposit change – which would go to programs and services to help the homeless – were put up all over that promenade.

I made it a point to put in at least a dollar at least once a visit, sometimes I put in five dollars, because by doing so I knew my money would be guaranteed to, as a public service announcement that was shown in the movie theaters stated, “Make your change help, not hurt.”

I reckon I put in roughly $150 in those dolphin statues during those years.

Anyhow…

As I said, I never thought the homeless situation would be worse that what I saw in Santa Monica in the 80s and 90s – until the past few years as pretty much everywhere I go in L.A. now, I see rows of tents and RVs, folks lying on bus benches, sidewalks, and anywhere else they can, villages of homeless people (called “Hoovervilles” after then-President Herbert Hoover during the Depression in the 1930s) along rivers, and simply more of the unfortunate, to the tune of nearly 60,000 in Los Angeles County alone.

As opposed to when I first moved to my current town of Culver City twenty years ago, I’ve even seen an influx of the homeless there, particularly in the library down the street from my house, where I’ve seen a couple of tents parked against a side wall next to Ballona Creek.

And of course I’ve not only donated money to organizations like the Salvation Army, I’ve (especially lately) bought food for those who asked me for spare change, because then I would know that my charity would do some good, rather than wonder if the change I gave to them would be spent on drugs, alcohol and/or cigarettes.

This largesse was mentioned in a piece I did on this blog almost exactly a year ago, which described what worked best for me as far as helping panhandlers; here’s the link to that post:

 

http://www.hartlandchronicles.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/the-best-way-for-me-to-help-panhandlers-and-the-homeless

 

 

A very common sight in the greater Los Angeles area. Photo courtesy of scpr.org

 

 

After watching news reports and reading multiple-part series on the homeless, notably in the Los Angeles Times; how they got that way and the struggles that they constantly endure, I came to this conclusion at what I feel is the heart and root of this terrible issue.

I’m convinced that it doesn’t lie only at the feet of the homeless person him/herself and the choices they make, as contrary to popular opinion most people without a permanent roof are not mentally ill – only 30% are – or addicted to drugs or booze.

No, I’m convinced that the root of the homeless problem not only in the Los Angeles area, not only in America, but throughout the world,

Lies in one concept:

HEARTLESSNESS

I see the heartlessness in the comments of articles I read regarding these poor folks, people stating how “It’s all their fault” and how “They need to just try harder” and – a very common response – to simply “Get a job!”

I really see the heartlessness in the folks living along the Santa Ana River in Orange County who, in the grand tradition of “Not In My Back Yard”, had officials remove a miles-long homeless village along a bike path.

And I especially see the heartlessness in one particular group:

LANDLORDS.

Specifically those landlords who for no apparent reason jack up the rents on apartments to what is far beyond what their tenants, who often have families, can pay, thus throwing them out on the street while (I imagine) they cackle like some villain in a movie.

Not to mention those who buy apartment buildings, evict all the tenants in one fell swoop – some of them who have lived in those flats for years and years –  and convert them into either luxury apartments or condominiums where they can charge as much as $10,000 a month, as someone recently told me a place in Santa Monica was going for.

I’ve read that these landlords have said that they have their rents at these outrageous levels because it’s at market value and they need to make a living, but you know what?

I truly feel that the mission of a landlord or an apartment building owner is to provide decent housing at prices that the average, hard-working family can afford without sacrificing their ability to pay for food and bills, as it’s at times the case – NOT to strictly make SO much money that they live in affluent areas like Beverly Hills or Bel-Air while the people who live in their buildings suffer in anxiety at best and are forced out onto the street at worst.

It’s the greedy heartlessness of too many landlords and others in power that I feel is the main root for the suffering that the poor and the homeless are going through more than ever.

I know that there will be plenty of people who will vehemently disagree with me, who will call me a communist and a socialist among other derisive names.

But I like to say this in summing up…

Back in the 90s, someone I knew said this to me as we spotted a homeless person:

“The only difference between us and him is two paychecks.”

Perhaps if everyone, particularly the heartless, kept that in mind, we would actually make some real progress in not seeing tent cities and people lying anywhere they can find, panhandling for change, anymore.

These are my opinions and I’m sticking to them.

 

 

I’ve seen plenty of this, too. Photo courtesy of spiritofvenice.wordpress.com

ME AND MY GREEN RADIO: A Memory From My Childhood

No, my radio didn’t look like this, but since this IS green, I think you should get the gist. Photo courtesy of ambientweather.com

 

REMINISCING WHAT WAS A SIGNIFICANT FACTOR FOR MY GETTING INTO MUSIC

Lately my memory banks have drifted to when I was a single-digit age kid living with my grandparents in Woodcrest, CA, just outside of Riverside.

On the night stand next to my bed there was this medium-sized, dark-green colored radio that at night, after I officially went to bed with the lights out and the covers over me, I would turn on – with the sound down, of course – and listen to songs that even as young as five, I thought they were brilliant.

It was the early to mid-1970s, and that green radio just happened to be tuned into, well…

I can’t recall specifically which station, but I do recall it was of the AM pop music kind that played the hits of the day.

Which meant that the sounds coming from that box ranged from R&B classics like the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” (one of the songs that I especially remember hearing),

To particularly the many Beatles-influenced singer-songwriters whose hits dominated the airwaves at that time, all-time classics such as Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” from her iconic Tapestry album, Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me”, Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, and one song that I liked so much, I called it my favorite tune at five years old: Seals & Crofts’ Diamond Girl.

Music wasn’t the only thing I remember listening to from my radio with the volume adjusters on the lower right hand side, though.

I recall listening to a late night talk show guy on KABC named Michael Jackson (no, obviously not THAT Michael Jackson – I know, right?!), and while I didn’t understand his topics in the slightest, being the six/seven-eight-year old that I was, I did like the sound of his voice and the people who called in.

 

 

 

My favorite song at five years old, and one of my favorite songs as a single-digit age kid: “Diamond Girl” by Seals and Crofts. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

It gave me a feeling of comfort, much like the jet planes from nearby March Air Force Base (where I was born) that flew by from time to time, which looking back was an aspect of my Asperger’s Syndrome, responding to certain sounds.

The same went for a guy who followed Jackson named Ray Briem, who I was told when I became an adult was an extreme right-wing conservative, the Rush Limbaugh of his time, the kind of guy that our dear President-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his supporters would be in love with, whom my grandfather would get so mad at when he listened to him.

I thought that was kind of funny in retrospect, the fact that I wouldn’t dare give a guy like Briem the time of day today.

And with KABC being the broadcast station of the Dodgers, I did listen to Vin Scully broadcasting games from Dodger Stadium, San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, and other places where the Dodgers played ball.

But it was the music that I remembered coming from that forest green box, which not only influenced me to like music to this day and beyond,

It also influenced my contempt for much of today’s musical styles, some of the various producer’s compilations – I won’t ever call them bands – who I won’t name, that I would bet couldn’t read a note, let alone write a song or play a musical instrument; folks that completely emphasizes style over the substance that the artists and real musicians of my early childhood exuded.

The kind of acts today that, without mentioning any by name, depend on backup dancers and lip synching to their voices onstage so much that they’d have to cancel their concerts if there was a power outage.

And it all came from a medium-sized dark green radio that I used to listen to at night as a young, impressionable child, which today provides good memories whenever I recall those nights in my twin bed listening to those thoughtful, artist-written songs.

It’s interesting how things like that influence your life.

 

A part of the Woodcrest, CA area where I lived during my first nine years, and every school vacation afterward until age 14. Photo courtesy of estately.com

 

 

 

Why Are There So Few African-Americans In Baseball – My Thoughts On This Issue

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 10: National League All-Stars Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Michael Bourn #24 of the Atlanta Braves pose for a photo during batting practice before the 83rd MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium against the American League on Tuesday July 10, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

 

ONE AFRICAN-AMERICAN’S OPINION AS TO WHY THE NUMBER OF BLACKS IN BASEBALL HAS DRASTICALLY DROPPED OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS

I’m something of an anomaly in the sports fan universe.

I’m an African-American who prefers baseball over football and basketball as his favorite sport, not only to play but also – with college football and women’s college gymnastics in second place – to watch.

Granted, I’m in my fifties and from a generation where baseball was more popular among blacks.

But considering the fact that the percentage of Black Americans playing Major League Baseball was at 7.73% last season compared to 19% in 1986,

I sometimes feel like a pink poodle in the African-American sports world.

TONS of stuff has been written and said regarding the factors contributing the number of blacks in America’s pastime falling; the talking heads on ESPN and the MLB Network has covered this issue to death at around this time every year, but,

After noticing this trend and listening to the talking heads, I reckon it’s high time for this longtime baseball/softball guy to officially offer my one-and-a-half cents as to why black kids are poo-poohing baseball for football and (particularly) basketball…

 

  • Lack of Interest

Contrary to what some may be thinking, there’s definitely no color line being redrawn, in the majors or at any other level.

If that were the case, the significant number of Latinos, especially from the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t ever see the diamond; indeed, there were and are plenty of players from the Caribbean whose skin is darker than mine!

Rather, I agree with the notion of African-American kids largely losing interest in baseball the past few decades, much preferring to be like LeBron James or Stephen Curry than Ken Griffey, Jr. or Tony Gwynn.

It also seems to me that baseball is seen as a “white” thing in the inner city communities in particular, a sport that’s “goofy” and not “cool”, too slow and “boring” for them due to the constant standing around and slower pace compared to football and basketball.

I think such would be the case even if there were an abundance of leagues and programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball In The Inner Cities) and the MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, entities that are striving to increase interest and participation in baseball among black youngsters.

 

 

INSPIRING: Mo’ne Davis mowing down batters during the Little league World Series. Photo courtesy of variety.com

 

 

  • $$$$$

Not only has the oftentimes lack of necessary funds – gloves, bats and cleats as well as registering in Little League and travel ball programs are not cheap – stopped many African-Americans in the inner city from getting involved in baseball,

For the athlete who sees sports as a way out of a struggling life and into prosperity, a way to make his fortune and take care of his family, football and basketball are much more attractive.

Even though a successful career in “The Show” is safer and twice as long as an NFL or NBA career, the fact that aspiring football and basketball players can make big money right away out of high school or after one to three years in college,

And unlike their baseball counterparts not have to ride the buses in the minor leagues for an average of three years making next to no money –  with a minuscule chance of making the big leagues on top of that,

Is a significant incentive, as in the minds of I reckon many young African-Americans from the “hood”, why should they play in rinky-dink ballparks in teeny little towns in (oftentimes) the reddest of states full of folks who may not necessarily see them as equal human beings,  making peanuts and eating McDonald’s food when they can make HUGE bank playing in gigantic paradises like Jerry Jones’ AT&T Palace (I mean, Stadium) in Dallas?

Or at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with those three rows of luxury boxes?

Or that new state-of-the-art Heaven being built for L. A.’s Rams and Chargers in nearby Inglewood, CA right now?

Until MLB changes the way things are done in their farm systems in that context, this mindset will continue.

 

 

Hunter Greene (5) of the Notre Dame High School Knights pitches against the Alemany High School Warriors at Notre Dame H.S. on April 7, 2017 in Sherman Oaks, California. Greene is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball player draft on June 12. Notre Dame defeated Alemany, 2-1. (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP)

 

 

  • It’s a “Generation Gap” Thing

Related to baseball being seen as “uncool” among many African-American kids, I think it’s also a case of the game being seen by today’s millennials – of all races – as something that their parents and grandparents were and are into.

A big proof of this sentiment lies in the Negro Leagues, which were a pronounced part of black life and culture in this country in the years before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Stars like Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson were just as big among blacks as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were among whites, and contests like the annual East-West All-Star Game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (the White Sox’s home) often drew sellout crowds of 50,000.

The kids who saw those games – and later Robinson and legends ranging from Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in the 1950s and 60s to Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s to Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s to Frank Thomas in the 1990s and 2000s – were undoubtedly influenced by those players.

Much like they were influenced in a major way by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 80s.

It’s no coincidence that baseball’s popularity factor among young black children started to significantly decrease, while basketball’s popularity began to greatly increase, in the 80s as black baseball fans grew old and passed away, leaving a vacuum that the NBA and the NFL – with guys like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice – filled quite neatly.

Personally,  as another illustration of this gap my affection for baseball came from my grandparents, who had Dodger games playing on the radio and TV, with the great Vin Scully doing the play-by-play, seemingly every day during the spring and summer.

I’m not sure if I would have embraced the game the way I did if not for that.

 

  • My View Of What’s Being Done About This Issue

Despite baseball making every effort to increase interest and participation among young African-Americans with RBI and the MLB Youth Urban Academies, I firmly believe that it comes down to this, as illustrated by this old saying…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.

In other words, you can’t force a child – black or of any race – to like baseball or to play it.

For the same reason a Canadian kid who’s obsessive about hockey can’t be persuaded to eschew the diamond, an African-American kid who’s crazy about hoops – and for whom Kobe Bryant is next to God – cannot be persuaded to give that up to play baseball.

Or even add that sport in addition to basketball.

Which is why I sadly don’t expect the percentage of blacks in Major League Baseball to ever approach what it was in the 1980s again, as the best I can expect that percentage would be around 10%.

That would be my minimum goal if I were the MLB commissioner.

However, I do remain hopeful that the efforts to change this unfortunate trend produces moire positive results.

After all, I still regard baseball as being the best sport in the world.

 

 

One of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled: the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring icons like Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left) and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of diversity.appstate.edu

 

 

BASEBALL IS HERE: A Few Thoughts On The Game On Opening Day

This is what Dodger Stadium will look like today as the Los Angeles Dodgers open the baseball season against their longtime rival San Francisco Giants. Photo courtesy of truebluela.com

 

EXPRESSING MY AFFECTIONS FOR A NATIONAL PASTIME THAT I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER FOR FORTY YEARS

Today is a day that, next to Christmas and my birthday, is my favorite day of the year.

Indeed, as the former Boston Red Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz expressed, I strongly feel that Opening Day should be made a national holiday in this country.

Hey, it could replace Columbus Day, as we’d go from a day commemorating a guy who not only did NOT discover America, he set the reels in motion of exploitation and enslavement,

To a day where we celebrate a sport that in mine and millions of others’ hearts is STILL considered the significant pastime in America;

Especially when one considers the problems football (READ: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and basketball (READ: Bribery scandals in college hoops) are having that while they may not completely kill those sports, they may well lead folks to return to baseball as being the top game in their hearts.

I think – at the risk of sounding sappy, sentimental, pompous, or a combination of those three descriptions – Opening Day symbolizes renewal.

Everyone’s undefeated, and even if your team has the same chance of winning as a snowball’s chance of not melting in Saudi Arabia during the summer,

As the cliché goes, “Hope Springs Eternal” and even the fans of teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Miami Marlins (who are losing to the Chicago Cubs as we speak) are smiling today as Major League Baseball begins its 143rd season.

Which is 41 years older than the next major sports league in North America, hockey’s NHL.

 

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides home ahead of the throw to catcher Chris Iannetta #17 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to score a run on a fielder’s choice in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 8, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

As For Me Personally…

I have expressed on this blog how I took to baseball as a kid, how the Dodgers playing in the 1977 World Series and the classic little league movie The Bad News Bears were the bugs that bit me and began my affection for the game.

Indeed, this June 18th (my birthday) it will be forty years ago to that day that I will have attended my very first Major League game at Dodger Stadium;

I’ll be describing and commemorating that day in detail in this blog on that day, which I’m confident you will enjoy.

I’ll also – in a syndication with my sports blog, SoCalSportsAnnals.com, be writing an article naming my all-time African-American baseball team, which I think is important not only due to the great Jackie Robinson, but to all the great baseball players of African descent who came before and since.

I’m also planning on expressing why I think there are relative so few African-Americans in the majors compared to the 1960s, 70s and even 80s on this blog and SoCal Sports Annals; I hope you’re looking forward to reading that, too.

But for now, as I sit here in my Dodgers jersey and cap, I’ll go on about my day with a happy mood that…

BASEBALL IS HERE!

And of course I’ll be watching the games on ESPN today, including my Dodgers as well as the other team calling the Los Angeles area home, the Angels.

Happy Opening Day to all those who love the game as much as I do!

 

Baseball’s essential tools – I particularly like this picture because of the glove; I’m a first baseman. Photo courtesy of itemlive.com

 

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpts from Chapter Ten of My Book Describing Having Asperger’s

Anyplace like this – open spaces, rolling meadows covered in bright green grass with mountains in the distance – is my happy place. Image courtesy of pngtree.com

 

Here are a few passages from my soon-to-be self-published book on my life having Asperger’s in the mainstream, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.

These excerpts describe my experiences as a forty-something, approaching-middle-age adult on the high-functioning autism spectrum;

The chapter is called “Frustrations In My Forties, With A Helping Of Hope” – which I believe explains it all…

 

I would be anywhere – in my house, or out and about – doing my thing, when all of a sudden a flashback of something socially stupid that I did or said, or a memory of someone like Marlon* putting me through hell, even though it had happened decades before those horrible reminisces would suddenly pop into my head with such clarity, they might as well have occurred that day.

The trauma resulting from these flashbacks would be to the point where I would scream “NO!!” inside my head in order to try to get them out, Sometimes I’d scream “NO!!!” out loud because the flashback and trauma would be so overwhelming.

This PTSD, combined with the faux-pas I committed that was a part of trying to live, be accepted, and liked in the neurotypical world on my terms, all led to a level of frustration that was so pronounced that it got to a point of, well…

Remember the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas?

That’s the movie where Nicholas Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor playing a raging alcoholic who, when he loses his job and everything else due to his dependency on booze, moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and ultimately succeeds in that goal, but not before meeting and falling for the proverbial “Hooker with a Heart of Gold”, played by Elizabeth Shue (who got a Best Actress nomination for her efforts).

Well, for a long time that’s how I felt, dating back to when I quit my last job as an after school teacher in Inglewood.

Did I start hitting the Jack Daniels or hook up with a working girl of the evening?

Of course not, but whenever I saw Nicholas’ character imbibing on the Vegas Strip and the surrounding streets, I couldn’t help thinking that I could relate to how he felt; how he saw absolutely no way out.

What triggered these urges in me were the acute feelings of oppression; being yelled at (in my mind), told what to do or what not to do in a way that (again, in my mind) made me feel like the one doing the yelling and ordering about saw me as an inferior less-than-human being, as that seemed to be the only time he or she ever communicated with me in any way when all I was doing was something that society has always said one should do:

Be Myself.

For practically my entire life, the messages I had received time and time again was that the world would universally respect, accept, and embrace me if I was myself and didn’t try to emulate anyone else.

Incident after incident, not just during my forties but seemingly my whole life, told me in no uncertain terms that the notion of “be myself and I would get respect” was nothing but a boldface lie – at least as far as I was concerned as I would never intend to speak for anyone else.

How does my being on the autism spectrum tie into all of this, you may be asking.

While I have described different episodes that highlighted my anger and frustration over being rejected, condescended to and bullied for the crime of just being me and – very important – not conforming to what was considered “normal” and “acceptable” in whatever group or endeavor I was involved in,

By the time I approached my late thirties and it became clear that nothing ha changed, my frustrations over seemingly failing to be liked, accepted, and successful in the neurotypical world got to be so overwhelming that I began to voice the suicidal thoughts that – judging from that time I went to jump off the top of SMC’s football stadium after I punched that girl when she told me to shut up – had been inside me since my late teens.

A decent example of this was at one of the places where I had worked. I had mentioned it earlier, about how I was told by the supervisor that I was no longer welcome in that place of employment due to the way I interacted with my co-workers and others.

“Well, there’s nothing left to do but kill myself,” I remarked, the reality of losing yet another job sinking in.

“You don’t need to kill yourself,” my just-became former employer replied.

“Yes I do,” I thought, as the spirit of Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas nestled inside me.

There were quite a few gnarly incidents like that over the next several years, when anytime somebody said something in a certain way that would make me feel picked on, put down, or like they didn’t see me as an equal human being those negative (in my mind) words would bring out the suicidal feelings; although I knew I shouldn’t take things like that personally – and was told such many times – I didn’t know how to take it any other way.

And, I must admit, still have a difficult time doing.

Of course the fact is I’m not dead (at least as of this writing as no one can predict the future and tomorrow’s never guaranteed to anyone), which along with never hitting the bottle or meeting and falling in love with a prostitute are the big differences between me and Ben Sanderson – Nicholas Cage’s Leaving Las Vegas character – as I couldn’t go through with the actual deed of taking my own life.

By blurting out my desires to take my life and not going through with it, I reckon there were a few people who saw me as the proverbial “Boy Who Cried Wolf”; it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.

The truth was, like every other person who has ever considered ending it all, I was in roughly forty years worth of mental and emotional pain as my blurting out my desire to end my life was akin to coffee spilling from a cup.

 

 

A VERY interesting photo of an Asperger’s brain compared with a neurotypical brain…

 

 

This next excerpt illustrates two personal traits of my Asperger’s – CONFUSION and ARRESTED MATURITY & EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT…

I was at the Culver City Library and had just finished with my online work on the public computers when this lady passed by me and suddenly, with this “Eureka!” look on her face, exclaimed “Derek!” like I was an old BFF.

I was thinking “Who the hell is this girl?” as I asked, “Do I know you?”

I won’t say her name in order to protect her privacy, but rest assured when she told me who she was – and old elementary school classmate who was in my 4th and 5th grade classes,  the memories came back.

And they were not good ones as she was, while not as bad as Marlon, was one of those who had bullied me, calling me an ape and a gorilla and not only picking a fight with me when I dared to stand up for myself, but punching me on the shoulder while I was trying to do the right thing and walk away.

The confusing part of all of this was that this girl didn’t always bully me. There were times when she treated me okay and I would think, “She’s my friend”, then for seemingly no reason she would turn on me, call me some nasty name, and I would get upset to the point of sometimes crying.

It was all a lifelong part of only being able to see things in black and white as in this case – and by my estimate several hundred other cases regarding my interactions with people – it was simply too hard for my brain to not see people as either a friend or an enemy, with no in between.

As far as I’m concerned, people either liked or hated me.

And I still struggle with that at times, because those shades of gray are too complicated for me to completely understand.

Fast forward roughly 35 years…

There we were in that library, me and my old classmate, and as the memories of her bullying me returned to my gray matter, rather than rejoicing over seeing her after all those years, my emotions were mixed as I voiced what she had done to me.

To her tremendous credit, her reaction was expressed by two words:

“I’m sorry.”

Even though I did forgive her, and even though we ended up having a nice little reunion that day, my mind still couldn’t avoid bursts of PTSD that stemmed from her bullying all those decades ago.

 

ARRESTED MATURITY AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

This was and is the other personal aspect of having Asperger’s Syndrome that over time I realized was a part of the disorder that really had a grip on me – and in some ways still has.

Starting in high school, and for a long time afterward, it became quite clear that I was emotionally behind the other kids in my grade as even though they, like me, were born in 1967, it seemed like they were older than me somehow.

They had signed up for driver’s education and had gotten their permits and licenses and cars the moment they were able to while I had not only waited until senior year to take driver’s ed, ending up with a bunch of sophomores, well…if you’ve been reading this book you know how trying to get my license turned out for me.

Many if not most of them were going to wild parties and getting smashed, while with the reputation I had even the slightest thought of inviting me to those soirees was pooh-poohed.

I always found myself interacting with younger kids not only in those days, as among other things I hung around my old junior high school a bit too much during my first year at Samohi and ran back to hang out at Samo at least one a week for the first couple of years I was at college; I was even told by a couple of well-meaning guys one night at a football game that I shouldn’t “make a habit” of visiting too much.

I wasn’t that clueless; I knew deep down that my choices in who I hung with were unusual. I knew deep down that the lack of interactions with my fellow members of the class of 1985 and my preference of befriending members of latter classes was, for lack of a better term, “socially (so-called) retarded”.

Even during the class reunions I attended, although I had a nice time and interacted pretty well with my classmates, I still felt like they were somehow older than me despite the fact that we were the same age.

The thing was, not only was I not driving and not partying, which seemed to me was what roughly 90% of my peers were doing back in the day, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that stuff even if I was welcomed to those shindigs.

I specifically remember during the fall of 1983 – my junior year – the Samohi marching band getting into HUGE trouble to the point of being pulled from all of our scheduled competition tournaments save one, because of the extreme partying that the majority of the band would do after games on Friday nights, some of them showing up to rehearsals the next morning hung over, and feeling left out and like I was seen as a loser because I had no knowledge of those parties, which meant I wasn’t invited.

Looking back, it would have been a Catch-22 if I had gone to them because all the drinking, drugging, and other madness would have been completely alien to me, like I was visiting from another planet with older folks as I still had that kid mentality of “Oooh, they’re drinking and smoking and having sex!”

They were going through the adolescent growing-up process and the wiring in my brain wasn’t allowing me to, which was frustrating, being mainstreamed into that neurotypical world, the level of frustration growing over the years to the point where suicidal feelings would manifest in me from time to time, for roughly thirty years after that.

Although I still sometimes continue to think that no one really needs me, that if I died people, at best, would mourn me for a bit and then move on as if I had never existed, their attitudes bordering on the “Good Riddance” variety, these desires to end my life eventually ended due to something that happened to me – and I’m still going through – back in 2012.

The root of all my social struggles stems from this:

HAVING ASPERGER’S SYNDROME IN A NEUROTYPICAL WORLD.

Allow me to make something crystal clear, however…

I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever, speaking for everyone in the Asperger’s community. I know full well that there are plenty of people with this condition, including some big names like Dan Ackroyd, who are thriving in the NT community and have done so for many years with independence, lucrative careers, and the like.

I am strictly speaking for myself, for THIS aspie.

 

(* = Not his real name)

 

 

A good illustration of me during my formative years, I think.

 

 

 

My Personal Ratings System For Teachers, Coaches, & Leaders

Check out this little league coach showing this youngster how to grip a bat; now that’s teaching! Photo courtesy of westsidelittleleague.org

 

As many of you would probably know if you’ve been reading this blog or any of the stuff I’ve written on sites like Hub Pages, I worked with young people in some capacity – a physical education teacher, a sports coach (mostly baseball & softball), a tutor, and an after school leader – for roughly 25 years.

After those days were over and I had some time to reflect on it all, having noticed the styles of the various teachers and coaches that I worked with, worked for, and who taught and coached me during my formative years in school,

I developed a ratings system pertaining to the personality a teacher/coach; his or her philosophy and approach to working with and (particularly) interacting with children and young folks and how effective such would ultimately have.

My system is based on a 1-10 scale:

ONE –  a teacher/coach whose approach is that of a buddy or a best friend, which in my experience describes many youth sports coaches who coach beginners and kids who are single-digit age.

Teachers and coaches like this are often quite popular, and their charges usually have a fun experience, which is important.

However…

The problem with leaders like this is that the children who are learning whatever they are learning, usually end up not learning anything as the mindset of coaches like this is,

 

“We’re just here to have fun, it doesn’t really matter (if you get any better at whatever’s being taught)”

 

In essence, coaches like this run their team like a glorified recess.

Which is not good.

 

TEN – the opposite of a “ONE” coach.

Basically a Marine Corps drill sergeant in boot camp-type of leader.

These are the coaches/teachers who yell/scream at their students/athletes, belittling them, oftentimes calling them names, saying that they suck, giving harsh punishments, even throwing things at them.

A good illustration of this: My first high school marching band director (I had two during those days).

As a teacher, he fit all the above descriptions, his most often tirade being – at the top of his lungs of course, while looking like he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk…

 

“You stink! You can’t march!! You can’t play!!! YOU STINK!!! I HATE YOU!!! Now go on and give me some push-ups!!! GO ON!!!!”

 

I also vividly recall him throwing his baton at a trumpet player during a rehearsal.

Essentially, teachers and coaches like him aren’t just intimidating, they are just plain mean – at least with their charges during practice or rehearsal.

 

 

I like the way the coach – one guess who it is by this pic – is interacting with his team here. Photo courtesy of happyhealthykids.com

 

And then there’s a…

FIVE – The rating that all leaders need to strive for.

These are the people who can get on you if needed, but in a good way so as to not make their students or players feel demeaned or humiliated.

More importantly, these are the leaders that show that they care about you not only in whatever they’re coaching or teaching,

But also as a human being.

For these coaches, it’s about positive reinforcement, self-esteem, and confidence building without being overly friendly or not holding their charges accountable.

In my experience and observation, there are only two people who are perfect fives in my book:

1. John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach widely regarded as the greatest coach in the history of sports not only due to his winning ten national championships in a twelve-year span – including seven in a row – but also due to his various quotes like “Be quick, but don’t hurry” and “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”  and his renowned “Pyramid of Success”, that is a basic guide on how to succeed in life.

and…

2. Valorie Kondos Field, the dynamic coach of UCLA’s women’s gymnastics team who has won national championships, worked with All-Americans, members of the U.S. National Team (and other countries),  Olympians and Olympic gold medalists, and who like Wooden has been extremely effective in teaching her young ladies how to get along in life, which has shown in the success of all her gymnasts once their Bruin days were done.

 

As For Me and My Rating As A Coach And A Teacher…

I was more or less all over the place.

There were times where I was about an eight, particularly during my first few years working with kids as while I never, ever hit anyone, I was a bit of a yeller at times and a my-way-or-else type of leader, something saying things to certain kids that I regret, that I would apologize for if I ever encountered such kids today.

There were also times when I was about a three, in that I would interact with my students and athletes like I was trying to be their buddy, which ruined the sense of authority that I was trying to establish.

I’d never say that I was a perfect five, but I was always striving for it, and you know what?

If I ever got a chance to coach or teach again, I’m confident that I would be as close to a five – perhaps a four or a six – than I ever was.

I hope this rating system makes sense to those of you who teach or coach or have aspirations to do so.

It’s certainly something that will be kept in my mind if the opportunity to work with young people ever arises again for me, my attitude being…

NEVER SAY NEVER.

 

Another illustration of good instruction from a coach. Photo courtesy of chicagonow.com