Saturday, January 22, 2022

Looking for Fun in the Pandemic

 LOOKING FOR FUN IN THE PANDEMIC 

One of the things I hate most about the pandemic (besides the fact that it’s killed millions around the world) is that it’s made it hard for us to have fun. 

Remember the old, pre-pandemic days?  

Remember when we used to go maskless to restaurants and never think about how close we were to the others seated in the restaurant, never worried about whether they were vaccinated? Remember when we would just walk smiling into our favorite Italian restaurant, and the waitress who we’ve known for years would greet us and show us to our favorite table, and she was maskless and smiling too, and we all existed in a world where everybody was smiling and welcoming and warm.

If you went back to that restaurant today, probably everybody would be masked and anxious, and you might have to wait for a while to be seated because the restaurant is so short staffed.  Or what’s worse, the restaurant might have closed down a couple weeks ago – like my favorite restaurant just did – because people had stopped coming and COVID has taken out the staff.

And do you remember going to movie theaters and bars and libraries and museums and bowling alleys and churches?  Do you remember visiting friends?  Getting a hug when you came to their door? Sitting down on a couch with them?  Sitting so close – with no sense of social distancing – that you could actually put your hand out and pat them on the back when they said something really funny?

It’s been two years now since we first heard about the strange virus that was causing Wuhan in China to go into lockdown.  And the news hasn’t gotten better. The Delta variant and the Omicron variant have seen to that.  As of this afternoon, there have been 66.5 million cases reported in the US, and 851,000 deaths.  That’s a million more cases and a thousand deaths since yesterday when I started thinking about writing this column about fun in the pandemic.

So faced with all this bad news, what can we do to have fun in this pandemic?

I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered.  I’ve discovered that watching TV isn’t fun.  Maybe it’s different for other people, but sitting there in front of the TV and waiting to laugh at some old movie or jump up with excitement when superheroes start flying around isn't fun for me.  I’m still thinking of COVID and all the things I’d rather be doing.

What does give me fun, however, is having my family around, talking about the vacations we took in the  old days, looking at photos from a dozen years ago, playing board games with our daughter and her daughter, baking things in the kitchen, watching our 12-year old granddaughter practice her ballet moves.  

Those are the things that let me forget for a little while the mess this pandemic has created.

My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in America.

https://dziennikzwiazkowy.com/felietony2/w-poszukiwaniu-radosci-podczas-pandemii-looking-for-fun-in-the-pandemic/


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Sunday, January 16, 2022

GODS

 Gods



  1.  My God is God


My God lives in heaven and He lives here

In my heart and the hearts of those around me.

His thoughts are pure and true and gentle, 

and his truest wish is to dream of babies 

playing in water soft as white roses.


When His lips come together in a smile 

The heavens smile too and the rains say

“Goodbye, goodbye, the sun is coming”

And when He smiles men are never hungry 

and their wives have eyes as soft as roses too.


And where my God is, there are no strangers,

only brothers who will take our hands

And kiss our cheeks for luck along the road,

No matter how hard it is, no matter how long.



  1.  Your God is the Devil  


He wears a broken hat and dead man’s clothes

and he comes from a place where men are hungry

and children die in the dirt waiting for dawn.


Nothing your stupid god wishes for comes true:

If he prays for peace he gets cyclones,

twisters that shred his skin like razors

and rain sorrow on all who pray to him.


If he wishes for love among brothers

he gets brothers who spit at each other,

fathers who beat their sons on their weddings days, 

daughters who flaunt their evil shoes and dresses

before their mothers and holy grandmothers.


Your god is a straw thing who fears my boot

And what I can do to him with my hands.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

UNHAPPY NEW YEAR!

Unhappy New Year?

Let’s face it. 2021 was a mess.

Despite the various vaccines and the masking restrictions and the social distancing, the pandemic is still with us. More than 800,000 people have died of COVID so far here in the United States, and the numbers worldwide are even worse, almost 4.3 million deaths. And if that’s not bad enough, the Delta variant that has been raging across America has just made a new friend, the Omicron variant. And if that’s not bad enough, you can bet your bottom dollar on the fact that the Omicron variant will soon spin-off another variant and another and another.

No matter what the anti-vaxxers say, the pandemic is real, and it ain’t going away.

What also isn’t going away is climate change. 2021 saw bad weather like we haven’t seen ever. Most recently we saw those super tornadoes rip across Kentucky and Tennessee and even Illinois. They killed almost a hundred people and wrecked some towns that will never be rebuilt.

But that’s not all.

Let’s not forget the firestorms that ravaged the west coast, the typhoons in the pacific, and the temperature increases that are not only affecting us here in the US, but are changing the entire world. Ice is melting in Greenland and Iceland and north of the Arctic Circle like never before.

But that’s not all.

Right here in the United States, crime and violence are on the rise too. 2021 began with the riots in Washington, DC, and the year is ending with all of us following the school shooting that took place in Michigan recently. Both are troubling and disturbing, but what is just as troubling and disturbing is the rise of “normal” crime and violence. This is the violence and crime we read about in our newspapers and watch on our news shows everyday, the dozens of people who are murdered in cities like Chicago every week. So far this year, Chicago has seen almost 790 murders.

This bad year is coming to an end, and a new year is starting. Everywhere I go, people are greeting me with a “Happy New Year” wish. My friends and family members smile and say it over and over. “Happy New Year.”

I don’t know if they believe it or not that this New Year will be happy, but maybe like me they are hopeful that this year will not be the mess last year was.

After all, hope is our mother.

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My recent column for the great Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish Daily in America.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Happy Unthanksgiving and Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Unthanksgiving and Happy Thanksgiving 

You’ve heard this before, and you’ll probably hear it another hundred times this Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s the one thing people tell you about Thanksgiving besides how much they like turkey. What you’ve heard is that Thanksgiving traditionally is a time when we all talk about the things we’re most thankful for.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m not the kind of person who likes to talk about the stuff that makes me Thankful or happy or sad or excited or bored. I keep that sort of stuff pretty much to myself. Maybe it’s just a guy thing. Guys, in my experience, like to play it pretty close to the vest.

This year, however, I’m going to give into the question about what makes me thankful and tell you what makes me thankful.

Before I tell you that, however, I want to tell you something else about myself, something related to my thankfulness. I’m going to tell you what doesn’t make me thankful. Don’t worry. I’ll try to keep this part short.

I’m not thankful for how divided America seems right now. Growing up as a Polish refugee here, I always admired how Americans seemed to work together through crises. That seems gone. I’m also not thankful for the pandemic. I want COVID to just leave, disappear. I’ve had enough of living in the pandemic with its endless spikes in COVID cases and its arguments about vaccinations and masks. I’m also not thankful for climate change. I read this morning that penguins are disappearing because the Antarctic is warming up. I don’t want penguins or elephants or pandas or people to disappear because of climate change. I want my 12-year old granddaughter to be able to tell her kids and grandkids about how much she loves those animals and how they should love them too!

Okay, I’m done talking about what I’m not thankful for. There’s probably a lot more, but I don’t have a lot of space here to yak on and on about it.

So here’s what I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful for my wife Linda whose love has kept me happy and focused for the last 46 years. When I met her I was an alcoholic, drug-taking hippie trying to escape from a life that was completely screwed up. She pointed me in the right direction and helped me become the guy I am. She also gave me a great daughter Lillian and a great granddaughter Lucy. We all live together, and it’s a life that is fun and loving and creative.

What else am I thankful for?

I’m thankful for my writing, my breathing, the trees in my backyard, the way the deer slowly wander through those trees. I’m thankful too for crunchy granola cereal in the morning, wine in the evening, and a granddaughter who loves to practice her ballet everywhere.

My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy 

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Saturday, November 6, 2021

A Visit to the ER

A Visit to the Emergency Room

Stabbing pains in my right hip woke me up that Monday morning. I couldn’t stand or walk. I’ve had some pain there before caused by my autoimmune problems and some weird condition called undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy. But the pain I had this morning was 100 times worse. I knew I had to go to the emergency room.

My wife Linda helped me up and got my shoes on. It was too painful to change out of my pajamas, so I left them on, and then she helped me to our car. Every step was painful. At one point, I thought I would pass out from the pain.

I’ve been to ERs before, but this one was the worst. As they wheeled me in in a wheelchair, I saw a woman at the counter weeping. She was saying she had waited too long, that she was in too much pain, that she couldn’t wait any longer for a doctor. The receptionist tried to quiet her, but she couldn’t stop pleading and weeping. Finally, a security guard came and took her away.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Across the aisle from us, a boy sat shaking and groaning. A few feet from him, a woman kept vomiting into a pink dishpan.

Linda and I sat there for 3 hours. Finally we got moved inside, out of the waiting area. Inside, it was worse.

Because the emergency area is so small, we sat in a narrow hallway for another hour. We heard nurses and doctors talking to people about their heart attacks, their drug overdoses, their insurance policies and why they wouldn’t cover anything. In the room across from us, a little girl screamed over and over.

Finally, I saw a doctor. He ordered blood tests and CT scans for me. He hoped they would explain the stabbing pain in my hip. They didn’t. After 5 hours of waiting for the results, we were told I didn’t have cancer, broken bones, or a kidney failure, but the tests didn’t explain my stabbing pain.

I said to the doctor, “What can I do?” He told me to make an appointment to see my doctor. When I said it would take weeks, he shrugged. I asked him if he could give me something for the pain, and he suggested oxycodone. I said I’ve had it before, and it didn’t work for my pain. He nodded and said it didn’t work for his pain either. He said he’d write a prescription for something else that might help.

When I left the ER, I understood why the woman was screaming when I first came in. I wanted to start screaming too. After 8 hours in the ER, I was going home. The stabbing pain was less stabbing. Sitting around for those 8 hours must have helped.

Watching TV shows about doctors, you start believing they can fix all the medical problems in the world. But the reality is different. Sometimes doctors can fix problems, and sometimes they can’t. The last thing the ER doctor said to me was that about 40% of the patients he sees come because of some kind of terrible pain. And of that 40%, only about a fourth find their problems solved.

This column recently appeared in the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in America.  

https://dziennikzwiazkowy.com/felietony2/wizyta-na-szpitalnym-oddziale-ratunkowym/

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Tuesday, November 2, 2021

All Souls’ Day

When I was a kid in the 50s growing up in Chicago, All Souls Day – the day set aside to commemorate the faithful who’ve died — wasn’t a big deal. 

I went to St. Fidelis, a Catholic parish near Humboldt Park, and even though the parish was pretty much made up of Poles and Polish Americans, All Souls Day didn’t seem like it was anything special. A mass was said that day that all the school kids had to go to, but we had to go to mass every school day. Sure, the priest would mention the dead at the service on All Souls Day, but beyond that there wasn’t anything different. Not that I could see.

But in Poland it was apparently different.  At least that’s what my parents used to say.  They would tell me stories about what it was like All Souls Day in Poland when they were kids.

People, my mother would tell me, would first have a really special dinner. There would be kasza and other ceremonial foods, and there would even be special plates set aside for the family members who had died. Then, the family would walk to the cemetery where their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, were buried. Candles would be lit there by the graves. I asked my mom once why they did that. She told me the people who lit the candles hoped the light from them would lead the souls of the departed back to their families and homes here among the living. Sometimes at night, there would be so many candles burning on and near the graves that you could see the light shining above the cemeteries as you walked back home, even if your home was far away.

But we didn’t do that in America. We were immigrants, Displaced Persons and refugees, and all our dead were buried far away in Poland and the parts of Poland that are now the Ukraine. My mother didn’t even know where her mother and her sister and her sister’s baby were buried. The men who killed them put my mother on a boxcar and sent her to the slave labor camps in Germany before she could bury her family. When my mom returned to her hometown west of Lwow 40 years after the war, no one could even tell her where her mom and her sister and the baby were buried.

Growing up, I didn’t hear much about my mom’s dead or my dad’s dead. We didn’t commemorate them. Maybe the past and those who died in it was just filled with too much sorrow for my parents to try to commemorate.

A little while ago, the Polish poet Oriana Ivy now living in California — author of the books April Snow and From the New World — sent me a poem about the fog in Warsaw and how she imagines it’s the war dead coming back. She writes, “Warsaw has a lot of fog, especially in autumn — which is very ‘atmospheric,’ as we used to say — lyrical, poetic — and of course all those plaques marking the places of mass executions — you could say that it’s a haunted city.”

Here’s the poem:

All Souls 

Sometimes I think Warsaw fog

is the dead, coming back

to seek their old homes –

wanting to touch even the walls.

But they cannot find those walls,

so they embrace the trees instead,

lindens and enduring chestnuts.

They embrace the whole city, lay

their arms around the bridges

and the droplet-beaded street lamps;

they pray in the Square of Three Crosses,

kneel among the candles and flowers

under bronze plaques that say

On this spot, 100 people were shot –

they bow, they kiss

even the railroad tracks –

they do not complain, only hold

what they can, in unraveling white.

This article originally appeared in the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in America.  


http://dziennikzwiazkowy.com/guzlowski/wszystkich-swietych/

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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Pandemic Halloween

Pandemic Halloween 

We had 3 kids stop by our house for tricks or treats last year.  There was a pirate, a witch, and a little kid who didn’t know what she was dressed as.

The pirate kid was proud of his costume even though he didn’t have a hat or wig. He left them in the car his mom was using to drive him from one house to another. He said, “It’s just too hot for a wig. That’s why I’m not wearing one!” We gave him a mini package of Twix and a great big smile.

This pirate boy stopped by at about 7 pm. 

After that, it was quiet.

At about 730, I went outside and stood on the front porch for a while to see if there was anyone else coming. There was no moon yet, and all the houses on both sides of the street were lit up.  I think my neighbors, like us, were waiting for the trick or treaters. A car drove past going south toward the supermarket on Boonsboro Road. Other than that driver, I didn’t see anyone.

I looked across the street then at the house where 3 young girls live. It’s a big old house just like ours. Every year we’ve been in this town, the girls have made it over–even when the youngest was 1. She wore a pink and gold princess costume that year, and she had her big white cat with her. The cat didn’t wear a costume.

This year the three girls didn’t make it.

Their house had its lights on too.  I imagined that the 3 girls and their mom and dad were probably also in their home waiting and hoping just like us for kids to come to their door trick or treating.

It was the pandemic last year that kept the kids away.  Before COVID showed up, we’d have about 40-50 kids come by the house trick or treating.  They’d start coming around about 5 pm, just before we sat down to dinner, and the last kid would be ringing our doorbell around 9 pm, sometimes even later, just before we started getting ready for bed.  It wasn’t like that last year.  

I hope it will be different this year.  We all like Halloween, seeing the kids excited and rushing from house to house collecting candy.

People talk about how the pandemic is finally winding down, and that the numbers of vaccinated people are going up and the numbers of people sick from COVID are going down faster and faster.  I hope it’s true.  I’d like to see more kids come by this year for Halloween.

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My latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, thr oldest Polish newspaper in America! 

https://dziennikzwiazkowy.com/felietony2/halloween-w-pandemii-pandemic-halloween/