Ramadan 2017 is over. No more daily fasting, no more praying for two hours at night in the mosque, no more iftars (breaking of the fast at sunset) and no more Eid al Fitr celebrations to end the holy month. Muslims around the world eagerly look forward to Ramadan every year even though for many it’s a time of hardship. For almost sixteen hours a day able-bodied adults abstain from food and water from sun-up to sundown. In hot, blistering climates like the Middle East and here in Phoenix that’s a notable accomplishment. Imagine yourself going through an entire work day and into the evening without a single drop of water or munching on a cracker. It’s not easy, right? Muslims do that for the entire month. Why fast? To understand what poor and disposed people go through. They’re hungry and thirsty all the time. The media portrays in vivid detail the flow of immigrants fleeing the savage Syrian war. Through day and night into the unknown, maybe under bombardment, they march ahead often without food and water hoping for safety. Fasting during Ramadan is a choice. Hunger and thirst for many Muslims though is not a choice. During Ramadan, there are fundraisers for worthy causes. We help each other. That’s what Islam teaches us to do. I will miss praying at the Chandler mosque. I will miss being invited for iftars. But the special closeness we all feel during this month doesn’t end. It only gets grows and becomes stronger. It makes us closer to Allah, it makes us better Muslims, better human beings, and better able to carry on our work to bring about positive change in our community and our world. In Surah 5, verse 93, “For God loves those who do good.” Ramadan is a time of doing good. After Ramadan, we carry those lessons learned and continue to do good with those around us. As the sheik said on the last day be proud of who you are. Go forth and show people why you are a Muslim. Show them the goodness and mercy of Islam. To all my brothers and sisters around the world, may Allah continue to bless us all. There’s a lot of hard work ahead. The world around is in turmoil. Hatred rears its ugly head not just at us Muslims but towards many others. Hatred is scary, it harms, and it is wrong in any community. We must stand strong with our neighbors and be united. Hilary Clinton’s campaign slogan was we are better together. She was right. We really are better together. I look forward to the next Ramadan and to serving our community in the best way I can.
At sixteen years old, I hustled to snag my first job. Known officially as a wrapper in the now defunct New York City department store, Alexander’s, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I removed the price tag after the cashier rang up the merchandise, stuffed the purchases into a paper bag (no plastic back then) and said thank you, with a smile of course, for shopping at Alexander’s. That was 1970, when the Viet Nam War raged, Richard Nixon was president, and the landmark TV series, All in the Family, premiered on CBS. Now it’s 2017 and life didn’t turn out as I’d hoped or planned. Does it ever for anyone? I didn’t become rich or famous, write a best-selling novel, or develop a cure for idiocy. Instead, a pedestrian car accident upended my life in 1994 and now I’m a disabled senior scraping by on a fixed income in a subsidized apartment in a building with neighbors who are often noisy, dirty, and selfish. Instead of depositing a crumpled tissue in the trash, they’ll leave it on the elevator floor. Disgusting. Many of them voted for Trump. Need I say more. Ugh. They rant over my feeding homeless cats in a nearby park, sometimes throwing away food I purchased. One old biddy lets her dog chase the cats. Nice people, aren’t they?
My roots are in a segregated White working class neighborhood. Neighbors didn’t welcome diversity although I did. That was too bad for me. No one in our community had money. We didn’t either. Sometimes, we ate sandwiches for dinner but there was always food on the table, even if it was unappealing or unhealthy like Spam or Vienna Sausages. Oh, how I despised dinners with canned salty meat. I wonder if that’s what led me to become a vegetarian? I thought everyone had pesky cockroaches and crooked ceilings. In the summertime, the apartment felt like a steam bath because there was no air conditioning. The old walk-up buildings lacked proper wiring so we sweated through hot summers by spending time outside on the front stoop talking to neighbors. If we were lucky our parents took us to the public pool. Families with cars headed to Rockaway Beach and came home with sandy clothes and sunburns. I grew up, got a full-time job and earned two college degrees part-time. I became a volunteer in a child abuse program and then a social worker. My eyes opened wide to class, race and age inequality among people I worked with. I never imagined that at age of 39 I’d be on government assistance too. Even though I am considered “worthy” because of my disability, collecting government assistance is still a blow. I hate it. You might too if you worked since the age of 16.
There were countless times I waited on lines at job fairs only to be told by prospective employers “we’ll call you” as they looked at my motorized scooter with dubious eyes. I never once got a call back so I stopped attending. Why get all dressed up only to end up at a Starbucks table lamenting over my losses? I had marginal success as a writer but literary agents and editors reacted in much the same way. We’ll call but few ever did. Apparently, they judged me by the presence of my scooter and not the quality of my writing. Most people on public assistance would rather work than to be subject to the sometimes unreasonable, inane and downright ridiculous demands of public agencies. Take housing for instance. I live in subsidized housing, not by choice but out of necessity. The building manager had to verify my meager bank account. The bank didn’t respond so instead of calling me they contacted their attorney who sent me a 10-day notice of eviction. If I had a heart condition, I could have gone into cardiac arrest. I questioned the building manager about taking such a drastic step and she said my boss made me do it. I brought the required copies the next day. Earlier, I asked the power company for assistance in paying my large air-conditioning bill when I lived in a trailer park. They rejected me. Why? They counted as income the amount I pay for Medicare, or government sponsored health insurance, that is deducted from my monthly check. I balked and said I don’t even see that money. That’s their policy. I did not qualify for assistance. To make ends meet when I paid a higher rent, I fished through public trash receptacles for aluminum cans to redeem for cash. In a good month, I’d make $30. Food stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods throw out decent food in the trash. I could never bring myself to eat flimsy produce from the garbage but I watched other people pack their bags with discarded apples, celery and potatoes. I did pick out dented cans, however. Chompie’s sells day old bagels for a great price. I water down shampoo, dish soap and laundry detergent to make them last longer. I buy nearly all my clothes in thrift shops. I am far from alone. There are millions of people like me. Single adults, veterans, and families who struggle to get by. Market rate rents are beyond the reach of a lot of Americans. Many pay more than half their incomes in rent. I did at one point. Food banks are stretched to meet demand. Even though unemployment is low, available jobs do not pay decent wages or benefits. Many of these jobs are temporary. The USA is shameless because the response is always tax cuts to corporations and the affluent. We’ll gladly build a new stadium for a football team but resist building housing for the poor or homeless, even veterans. Only in the USA is it a sin to be poor, sick, old or disabled. With the impending GOP plan for health insurance, millions will be without healthcare. I’ve been there too but that’s for another story. Have we lost our souls to let this happen? Donald Trump made promises for change but the only change I see is further deterioration of our social safety net, degradation of civil rights, attacks on free press, a steep increase in military spending, significant damage to the environment, no protection for animals or wildlife and hurtful lashing out against Muslims, Jews, immigrants, Latinos, Blacks, gays and anyone who disagrees with the Trump agenda. Fools believed he’d make a difference. I’m glad I wasn’t one of them.
And I’m not afraid to say it either. Donald Trump makes the American voter look like a bunch of nincompoops. With all our esteemed colleges and universities, Nobel prize winners, respected hospitals, engineering accomplishments, respected economic forecasts, etc. how could a man of the lowest morals and intelligence win the presidency in the most powerful nation? I scratch my head and ask that question every day. He won by rallying a group of disgruntled, unemployed, listless, disjointed and racist voters let down by a Congress with more allegiance to private interests than voters. People wanted change but change in DC won’t come overnight. Political polarization evolved over years and it won’t be undone overnight, as Trump promised. It happened because we Americans let it happen by not voting, not caring, and ignoring what politicians were doing. We let them get away with way too much. We demanded too little of our elected officials. After years of income inequality, the loss of good paying jobs, the staggering rise of privatization of health care, education, prisons, etc. and outsourcing of jobs overseas Americans started to wake up. The loss of so many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan also jolted a few people into awareness that perhaps the American government wasn’t looking after us. Corporations and the affluent really are who they care about. The poor, children, elderly, disabled, and animals cannot afford lobbyists. The big boys get the fresh loaf of bread. Everyone else, if they’re lucky, may get the crumbs.
After hectoring his Democratic rival with promises to lock crooked Hillary up, he then vowed to drain the swamp. What has happened since then? Trump’s cabinet is filled with inept, incompetent and often avowed racist people who have no idea what they’re doing. They lack experience (yes that does count for high level cabinet posts). Trump cannot be bothered with running the most powerful military in the world with nuclear bombs that can wipe out all of humanity so he delegates the responsibility to a group of generals. To satisfy the right-wing Christians who voted for him, (why, I’ll never know because Trump is so un-Christian) he tossed them a few crumbs like cutting out funding for the UN population control program. He continues his well-known and widely known disdain for Muslims. On his campaign, he spat out nasty vile words about Muslims. He followed up with with a travel ban. So far, the courts have blocked him. Instead of respecting the separation of powers as other presidents both Democratic and Republican have, Trump lashed out on Twitter at judges calling then incompetent. He vows to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. Trump stripped protection from the LGBT community too. He is largely silent when there is violence committed against Jews, Muslims, Blacks, Latinos or gays. Trump goes on to insult our allies such as Australia, Germany, Mexico and the UK. He continues to pursue a foolish and idiotic plan to build a wall between the USA and Mexico, one of our largest trading partners. He does not realize such a wall will not stop desperate people trying to reach the USA. Further, a wall will be wasteful spending that will invite dozens of lawsuits from people whose land will have to be confiscated. There is also an Indian reservation in the way and the tribe has said over their dead bodies will Trump build a wall through their land. A wall is a dumb, ridiculous idea from an equally dumb, ridiculous man. Trump’s whole agenda has no merit. His tax plan will sink the USA into a recession because it will add trillions to our national debt. He wants to slap a border tax on imported goods to spur domestic manufacturing. It is DOA, dead on arrival. A border tax will not encourage manufacturers to re-open closed factories. Companies moved jobs overseas for a simple reason – to save money. Why pay an American worker $15 an hour plus benefits when they can pay a worker in Bangladesh $2 a day? Do the math Mr. Trump. Plus, a border tax will nearly kill the retail industry already reeling from internet giants like Amazon. Brick and mortar stores like Macy’s, Sears, etc. have shed workers and closed stores. A border tax will force more closures. Trump’s agenda is perilous for the USA. His foreign policy agenda is dangerous for the rest of the world. We should all hope and pray he doesn’t start a world war, which is a real possibility with his meddling in the already tense Middle East. Keep on top of the news as depressing as it may be. Write, fax, call or email your representatives in Congress. Let them know you are watching. Don’t be silent. Under this administration, we just cannot afford to. Our lives depend on it. America is beautiful Mr. Trump, please stop ruining it.
Because of technology I can chat with my friends around the world just like that. No more sending letters that may take weeks to arrive. Digital photography revolutionized the way we take pictures. We snap them with our cell phones, attach them on emails, and voila, Aunt May in Chicago can see her nephew Jimmy blowing out the candles at his third birthday party in Atlanta just like that. Miss an important phone call? Not anymore. Cell phones changed all that. Geez, who doesn’t have one these days? ATMs spit out cash any time of the day or night assuming your account is active. Don’t feel like dragging yourself out of the house to shop for a new dress for that upcoming wedding? Not to worry. There’s a simple solution. Browse the internet, pay with a credit card and within a few days, a delivery service will knock on your door with your order. Want to renew a headache prescription? Easy peasy. Pick up the phone, punch in a few numbers, and a pharmacy assistant at a chain store will text you when your renewal is ready. Headed to the airport for a domestic flight? No need to waste paper by printing a boarding pass. Simply download it on your smart phone. If airport security can scan your phone, you’re in. How’s that for the modern age? Hungry? Want your order right away? Who the heck doesn’t? In some restaurants now you can order ahead on line and have it ready as soon as you arrive, assuming of course you pre-paid with a valid credit card. Technology has given us so much more like the internet, blogs, websites, advances in medicine, education and so much more. But there are drawbacks. Plenty of them. Robots, not immigrants are responsible for many job losses in the US. Factory floors in the 1960s were full of workers on the assembly line. Today, the factory floors are largely empty except for a few workers who make sure that robots work properly and the assembly line doesn’t get clogged. On-line shopping has become so popular that brick and mortar stores are seriously becoming an endangered species. Once proud giants like Macy’s are closing stores because of stiff competition from on-line merchants. Other retailers like Sears, J.C. Penney’s and even the chic Michael Kors have or will close stores. Payless shoe stores, Rue21 and the children’s store Gymboree filed for bankruptcy. Others teeter on the edge. Some malls continue to hang on while others are just a shell of what they once were with empty stores and half-filled parking lots. The book store industry is in a tizzy too. Competition from e-books started by the retail giant, Amazon, sealed the fate of the chain, Border’s Books and Music. Barnes and Noble like other retailers closed stores and doesn’t open new ones. Dozens of independent book stores closed down, unable to keep up with the competition from Amazon and cut-rate retailers like Wal-Mart. You can even buy a purebred puppy or kitten on line. To me, that’s absurd when there are dozens of perfectly healthy adoptable animals at the nearest animal shelter that need good homes. Even wars are fought with technology. Why order on-line when you can save a life at home? The world is changing around me at a pace that I cannot keep up with. Drones that kill and maim in foreign nations receive orders for their dirty work from military bases hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Will the day come when there are no more hard copies of newspapers? Will a shopping mall become a relic of the past? Will libraries be forced into obscurity because there will be no more print books? If that’s the way the world is headed, and there are signs it is, I hope I’m dead by then. At my age, there’s a good chance I might be. I do not want to live in a world without books. I love turning the page to an interesting novel, eager to get to the end. I enjoy a trip to the mall with friends, eating lunch in a café. It’s fun to watch their children romp around the play area or pick out books in Barnes and Noble. I cherish time spent at Changing Hands, our local independent bookstore, browsing through books, deciding which one I want to buy. I treat myself to a new book now and then. I may be one of the few people who rarely shops on-line. I have never ordered from Amazon.com. Even though I’m on a meager budget, I would rather buy local, even if I pay more. That’s just how I am. I don’t have a GPS in my car or on my phone. I hate listening to a cold, sterile voice barking out directions. I’d rather listen to an intelligent conversation on National Public Radio instead. I appreciate the advances in technology. In many ways, it’s been a blessing but at the same time it’s also been a curse. I hope for the sake of humanity technology doesn’t ever stop me or anyone else from being human. A robot doesn’t have a beating heart. If I ever end up in a nursing home, I surely don’t want a robot taking care of me. I’d rather be six feet under by then. Here’s to keep the human in humanity.
Technological changes in the world around me are so swift and complex that I feel out of touch, like a lost little girl. I’m an older woman who grew up without cell phones, the internet, kindles or computers. A tablet was another word for an aspirin. There was no such thing as Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram. We simply talked to each other on the walk to school or during play time. For pictures, we posed with Kodak cameras then dutifully carried the 35mm film to a drug store for development that generally took a few days. Film back then came in black and white or color. Black and white was cheaper for those on a budget. Telephones were installed by the phone company, also known as Ma Bell. If you needed help placing a call, you dialed O and an operator (always a woman) assisted you. At moving time, you called the phone company to arrange for installation. Almost every kitchen had a wall phone with a long cord to talk while you cooked dinner. I remember slamming down the phone on annoying tele-marketers. Today’s youth will never know the joy of hanging up, with emphasis, on someone they don’t like or dropping the phone onto the floor.
Men and women like our parents toiled in factories building everything from automobiles to floor lamps. Now robots fill the factory floor, replacing the men and women who woke up early, packed a lunch and headed off for work day after day, month after month, year after year. Cars are more advanced too, replacing the old-fashioned map. Plug in your destination into a GPS system and a cold, heartless voice tells you how to get there.
Call a bank, store, utility company, or just about any business to ask a question and expect to hear a human? Fat chance that a human will pick up the phone any more. My call will most likely be answered by a computerized answering system asking me to visit their website. If I insist on waiting, I am asked to hit a series of prompts. If patient, I might get lucky and talk to someone who hopefully hasn’t disconnected me after waiting15 minutes. In my day, if I called Macy’s, an operator answered the phone and promptly transferred the call to my desired department.
Winter weather in New York City was often brutal and unforgiving. Snow storms were harsh, punishing the city with layers of snow. That made playing games outside and bike riding all but impossible. So, I retreated to the public library which was only a few blocks away. There, I lost myself in books and encyclopedias Yes, remember them? Giant thick hard-covered books with pictures and stories about various topics, countries, and people. I loved the public library. Our family was poor, unable to afford much travel. I learned how to travel the world by reading, browsing through the encyclopedia and by listening to a short-wave radio at home. My mind went to a zillion places.
The internet has transformed the simple act of shopping, but at the same time causing the demise of the traditional brick and mortar stores. As of this writing, retail giants like Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney’s, and even the chic Michael Kors are struggling. In addition to closing stores, more are planned to stave off bankruptcy. That’s shocking when you consider how retail has been a steady source of employment in this country for generations including mine. That’s where I got my first job at the tender age of 16 years old in the now defunct Alexander’s in New York City. The following year, I moved up to a better paying job in Macy’s for $2.10 an hour. Other than the mall puppy store, which thankfully are on the decline, I love going to the mall. On line shopping may be convenient and sometimes less expensive, but it cannot compete with an afternoon at the mall among friends. On-line shopping is impersonal and just not fun, at least in my view. If you go out with friends or relatives, it’s lively and entertaining. Take trying on clothes for example. Ask your friend or cousin a question like, “How does this look?” or “Should I get it in blue instead of green?” That personal interaction isn’t possible on-line. Plus, taking the children with you allows for an afternoon of family fun in the food court and the play center. Human interaction is priceless. It cannot be replicated with a computer.
The on-line giant Amazon may sell everything from computers to jigsaw puzzles and offer quick, speedy delivery but Amazon’s mammoth size quietly killed dozens of independent stores, especially book stores. I have a hard time digesting that. OK, on the one hand, e-books are now more affordable for thousands of people who may not otherwise be able to afford a new book. E-text books are a life saver for students on a budget. Why spend $200 on a textbook for one semester? Alternatively, Amazon’s foray into electronic publishing has shifted the way we buy books. Was Amazon responsible for the failure of the retailer Border’s Books and Music? Or was it because the younger generation just isn’t reading like we older folks did. Border’s failed because of changing tastes as well as the proliferation of e-books. The mighty Barnes and Noble has worries too. They shuttered stores and rarely opens a new one. Their road ahead is rough. Even the once thriving newspaper industry is in trouble. Most cities have only one daily newspaper if they have one at all. The mighty New York Times, considered the most prestigious paper in the world, battles declining readership and stiff internet competition. The younger generation doesn’t sit down with a cup of joe in the morning and flip through a newspaper like we older folks did. They scan the internet with their cell phones for on-line sources to get the latest headlines. I’ve been reading a daily newspaper since high school and I doubt at my age that I’ll change.
Technology has its benefits no doubt. It has revolutionized travel, education, health care, and insurance, among other industries. Even pet adoptions have benefitted from the internet. Thousands of dogs, cats, horses, etc. have found new homes because of the internet. But technological advances heaps new and unusual problems my generation didn’t face. As a child, I wasn’t glued to a cell phone, computer games, Snapchat, or television. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood of large families in small apartments. We all got on each other’s nerves so hanging around outside was my freedom. Children like me played games in the streets or the public parks, rode bikes, or read in the public library Admittedly we consumed much of the same junk food as today’s youth but there was no childhood obesity epidemic back then because we were so physically active. I cannot explain the rise of violence but there were no metal detectors in the schools back then. Only the police and military carried weapons. Are we more violent because we lost our ability to communicate? I don’t know.
Am I prepared for a future of driverless cars, more robots, and artificial intelligence? I’m not sure. The other day I heard a report on NPR about driverless airplanes. That’s one change I cannot imagine. I hope by then I’m long gone from this world. As it stands now, we can kill and maim enemies real and perceived in foreign countries by remote control right here at home by pushing a button and unleashing a firestorm of bombs. I never thought I’d live to see warfare by played like a computer game, but with far more lethal results that sometimes strike innocent lives. Computers will continue to advance and control our lives but a computer will never take the place of a human touch. A computer will never love you nor console you upon the death of a love one. A computer will never smile at you when you need comfort. A computer will never replace the warmth of a loving family. A computer will never replace the joy of walking a dog after work, playing with your children, or having coffee with your best friend. A computer is not human and never will be.