Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Preciousss.

A lure is used to attract something… usually a fish... only sometimes we humans are just as easily trapped by a shiny bit of metal... or the promise of one…  My Preciousss!!!
This comes out of nowhere… the above initial sentence was written sometime ago and I don’t really even remember how long ago. I sit here and, in continuing the writing, look to find a way to follow up on it and to make it into something that could, perhaps, be posted. Perhaps the only reason I try, is the bit reference to Gollum’s (Lord of The Rings) cry about his “Preciousss”… his shiny ring.

As I was hooked on Tolkien’s stories some 40 years ago, the general philosophy expounded in these as well as in other stories of the Fantasy genre was and continues to be the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. How we, as human beings, manage to take many issues and turn them into unnecessary warring fields, with the attending casualties. Then, there is always the “good” human, who manages to elevate his/her spirit into a higher realm and from there dispense the necessary force so that the wrong done can be righted.

We have all determined at one time or another just how well we are willing to follow those parameters which are deemed acceptable, by society at large. The road is traced and it is traveled. There are bits of shiny gold which show up every once in a while and set our hearts “a-flitter” but these turn out to be, for the most part, Fool’s Gold.

Among the many real blessings I have had in life there is one in particular which has helped me grow. Travel. Yep… travel. Every dark cloud has a silver lining somewhere, if we just make the effort to look for it. Travel, as heavy as it was at times for me, was indeed a dark cloud that covered my family for I was kept away from them for weeks at a time. What was the silver lining? Knowledge; of places, people and cultures… all different and thrown into a very eclectic bag; adapting to these, understanding that as they were different to me, I was just as different to them.

Today, as I hear people who talk about others in a very derogatory manner, it strikes me that we, for all the advances we may have accomplished in many areas, are still far behind others who have less in the way of material things but much more in the way of spiritual and emotional maturity. There are people in the world who still live much as their ancestors lived 200-300 years ago. In doing so, they still cling to the mores and traditions honed throughout generations… the very same that helped them survive and grow with their environment.

The generation that is now being shaped for the future, right here in our country, is being electronically spoon-fed.  They live from the computer to the tablet to the smart phone (at times I think much smarter than the person who carries it). They can be seen walking, sitting and/or leaning into whatever the nearest solid object is with plugs in their ears and always… always keeping their thumbs in that perpetual motion that texting requires.

We are growing a generation that will have calluses on their fingers by the time they reach pubescence… not to mention calluses on their ears… these last can keep them (intentionally or otherwise) from enjoining with their friends in a practice which is becoming passé very quickly: simple conversation. Notice I did not say “intelligent” conversation… just conversation. I have witnessed folk who, being in the same room and practically next to each other, hold a texting conversation when all they would have to do is… well, talk.

While teaching English, my students are constantly reminded that language is not really learned by “osmosis”… you don’t just pick up a book, hold it to your head and “effect” a transfer of data. You have to actually be “interactive” with the material, read and practice it. Constantly. It takes a concerted effort that many are no longer willing to do. Yet some of the students, those who come from a humbler origin, whose minds have not yet been compromised by this electronic complacency, actually get ahead of others who come to class with their paraphernalia to help them think.

Shiny gold… Fool’s Gold. That is the “gold” that technology offers us and our children. Yes, I agree… Well used it will actually be very helpful and an invaluable aid to learning and experiencing new frontiers. Yet when it becomes, like we have allowed so many other things to, a be-all rather than a tool, it will easily take over the life of a person and, literally, stop it from growing.

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “”Bienvenidos!!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Monday Afternoon…

On Mondays, a new week usually starts… (except for those souls for whom it begins on a Sunday) and with this start all the “nasties” forgotten and/or ignored over the weekend come back with, it seems, renewed vim and vigor (I don’t know about the first word, but these two always seem to go together) to make their presence felt

On one such late Monday afternoon, several years ago and after having spent most of the day trying hard to reconcile just plain wishin’ with reality (and not very successfully) I sat in front of a window, overlooking a vast expanse of modern day city. Then, I lived in an apartment building and was occupying a small apartment on a high floor. Allowing me to enjoy this view was actually the saving grace for that particular four walled, somewhat claustrophobic enclosure. 

I was alone, living through one of those periods known in the life trade as “in-betweeners” and it was quiet… perhaps more than what I would have liked it to be… then again, after all is said and done, nice quiet is better than not nice noisy… Anyway, there I was and thinking out loud (which is OK to do when you are alone) when into my mind came these “things-to-do” attack… You must understand these terrible and treacherous attacks are made up of issues not resolved or which have simply been laid aside in order to relegate them to the great dark beyond… that is, wherever those topics go when one successfully ignores them long enough.

Being Monday afternoon, these pesky items decided to come back and haunt me, to keep me from relaxing and enjoying the sunset over whatever was at my feet (probably streams of cars full of tired, hungry and mad people) and to goad me into actually doing something about the so-called problems.

Of all the issues I might have been faced with at the time, there is one which now comes to mind, after all these years… and it was a simple question…should I marry again? Granted, this is not a “lightly to be taken” issue; it can be life changing and it brings no guarantees. Boy… do I know this now!!

You see, I had recently come out of my first marriage and the final weeks had not been conducive to leaving the mental and/or emotional doors open to a repeat performance… not any time soon, anyway. Yet, I had met someone whom I thought might be a way to a better life, perhaps to a relationship which could bring peace, love, happiness and… well, all that stuff. 

So there I sat, my little brain hamsters mashing gears and goin’ for all they could, trying to bring a semblance of order into these very unbalanced and unbalancing thoughts. What to do?  On the one hand, the idea of having someone as a partner was attractive… on the other hand and perhaps fueled by the “un-partnering” ways of the last partner these thoughts were tempered, like being doused by a cold shower,  with a heavy dose of skepticism.

I have never said I had all the answers to life’s riddles and the older I get, the truer this statement seems to become… So back then, being that much younger and with as much hair on top of my head as I now sport on my upper lip, decisions were made which, indeed… changed my life. Not sure in which direction, whether up or otherwise. But change it did.

There was this young woman I really liked… only problem? She was already married to someone else… To compound the problem… she also liked me… However, her husband was transferred out to the west coast before we had a chance to make some dumb decisions so… that was taken care of. Then there was Maribel… she of the long flowing hair and hippy (these were the late 60’s into the early 70’s, so “hippy” was still in) clothing which was as revealing as it was forbidding … she was from Spain and looked like a beautiful, fiery gypsy queen… we came close, oh so close to putting our lives together… No dice… she was quite a bit older and her daughter was only 5 years younger than I. In the end, she decided this was not to be, although it was not an easy decision…

Then, there was the young lady I had met at the beach some time before and who had made it not a secret she was interested. When all was said and done, she became the mother of three of my children. I have to say, I married not only her, but her mother’s rice, beans and ropavieja cooking. Yes, they were from Cuba and even had ties to my hometown.

Did it change my life? Yes, to be sure. The best to come from this union, as it was from the previous one, were the children who are all -but one who has gone- grown up now…

Monday afternoons… Hmmm! You will understand it if I don’t like them so much… they can be downright troublesome and lead one into virgin paths where the future is always on the balance…

But then again… that is always the case… or not?

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “”Bienvenidos!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It’s a Jungle Out There…

No… this is not about Tarzan, nor Jane of the Jungle… not even about Cheetah, their faithful companion who actually outlived them all by many decades, dying just a couple of years ago in Florida. As any self respecting retiree wouldHe (it?) had gone to live out his days there.

Sometimes, during the course of any given day, any one, no one in particular and most everyone, will come across a difficult moment that forces reflection on that little ditty up there on the title bar. Lately, during the span of the last 2 years or so, we have been reminded –not too subtly- about the real dangers of having lunatics running around with access to high powered weapons. I mean… you don’t really need an assault weapon used by SWAT and Special Forces teams in order to rid your home of cockroaches or mice… no matter how big you tell me they might be.

The last (so far) in this chain of morbid, sad and downright horrendous happenings came to be at a school in Sandy Hook, CT, some 3 months ago. A number of small children died there (one is too many!!), brought down by someone not much older than themselves who, despite having undergone treatment for emotional/mental stability, had access to assault weapons at home. The worst offender, in my humble opinion? His own mother, a lifelong teacher, and well aware of the issues her son confronted, had bought these weapons and had them there for the taking.

This morning, on a Spanish TV show, I heard the very painful and plaintive cry of a grandmother whose seven year old granddaughter was one of the victims. The general question of the moderator, a well known Spanish journalist, was: “What do you think about the fact the law change is not even being brought up for vote on the Senate?” Obviously, her answer was extremely wrought with pain and questioning. Her words were to the effect that we have a bunch of worthless people in the Senate who are much more interested in whatever funds may be brought in by the special interest Lobbies, than by the safety and potential well being of the people they are supposed to represent.

I can’t say I fully disagree with her on this issue. And not just about gun control either...

The issue of gun control is a cyclical one. Every time there is an attack on people by someone who has access to these weapons, we have an uproar, a huge cry from many who do their best to take advantage of a very emotional moment in order to best serve their own political agendas. This, unfortunately, does not work. Gun possession is a right guaranteed by the Constitution, a right which will take much more than simple wishes to either change or eradicate.

I am not for total gun control; I think that hand weapons and hunting rifles do have a place in the hands of private individuals. However, I do believe that anyone who wishes to privately buy a high grade assault weapon should have to do a lot… and I mean a lot, of explaining and also subject him/herself to much scrutiny, including mental history… privacy be damned!!! Fully nine out of ten of those who have bought one of these weapons, would probably not have passed the scrutiny.

This is a charged issue that no politician wants to really tackle. But someone will have to, at some point. Those who want no controls to speak off, say that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.  Quite a truism. Yet, the only way there can be a modicum of separation between guns and those lunatics who make it a sport out of killing innocent people, is to increment the barriers between them and the guns they want to buy. That only criminals will have guns? Another cry we hear. This is true and will continue to be true no matter what we do. But most of the mass crimes that have taken place in our recent history, have been committed by unstable people whose access to guns might have been much more restricted if some of these more efficient gun control laws were in place.

My son died in a motorcycle crash some 17 months ago. For me to look to ban motorcycles altogether, would be looked on as a purely emotional outburst… you know…“Motorbikes don’t kill people… riders do…” Sure, many would say they understand my feelings but will say I am crazy behind my back. Yet, it makes a lot more sense to push for more control on those who are licensed and also on more education for people on the road, both on two wheels and four wheels… to be aware, on both sides, that all vehicles don’t ride on four wheels.

On the same vein, I agree with more control on the issuing of licenses and on a true restriction of high power weapons that have no place in a home. But eliminating all guns? I know how many of us may feel, but I also know this is not a realistic goal; at least not for quite sometime yet.

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “”Bienvenidos!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tell Me About Your Cuba…

This plaintive call came not from a newly made American friend, but from a new generation Cuban immigrant. A young lady of some 26 years of age, who had come from the island 2 years before this request was made.

We met when she came in as an English student and was placed into one of my classes. A usual repartee took place the very first day…

-“¿Oiga... Usted es de Cuba?”  … “Are you from Cuba?”
- “Sí, soy Cubano”… “Yes, I am Cuban born”
- “But you don’t look Cuban… and you don’t sound Cuban…”

At 6’2” and with an amalgamated accent which comes from over two million miles of business travel as well as several years of living and/or working in different parts of the world, this is a comment which is often heard, so I was not very surprised when she made it…

One day she remained after class for a while, and asked some questions regarding the topic of the day. After I answered her she kind of hemmed and hawed and I asked…

- “What’s up Barbara?”(as common a name in Cuba as Mary might be here)…
- “Teacher… tell me about your Cuba…”
- “What do you mean?” I answered…
-“Well”, she said “my grandma used to tell me stories about a place that was very different than what I grew up knowing”
- “In what ways?” I asked, somewhat guessing the answer…
- “Well, she tells me that people had actual work to do, and had to work to get paid… that there were stores full of things to buy, schools that taught about many different topics, that people felt there was a purpose in life…” and she, in her young innocence, looked right down wistful as these words came from her lips.

As I listened to her, I thought back to the day some 12 years ago when I picked up my brother in Miami, fresh from his flight in… He was in awe of almost anything he saw and his comments were not too far from what Barbara was saying; perhaps less detailed… He was in wonder of the cars, the movement of people, the freedom with which this movement took place… not having to worry as to whether someone is watching you (although this last may have changed somewhat since then, I’m afraid) and, above all…. Being able to go to a store and buying anything he wanted and could afford.

This young lady and I talked for a while… about a country we shared if in name only; a place from the past which would, most likely, never be again. Not because the current government may not be terminated; but because even if it were, that old continuum was lost and misplaced 60 years ago and now, if it comes to pass, the new country that results from the ashes will be a very different place, with a new history of its own.

As we discussed the very real differences in attitude, work, culture, and overall outlook on life, I was internally overcome with a sadness which is difficult to explain. It is a sadness that encompasses the lives of many people, known and not known. Not only a family whose work ethic I witnessed, but many folk whom I never met; people who had, in some way, contributed to the growth and the shaping of a small island that managed to grow in presence and stature beyond its physical boundaries. It was not perfect; I don’t believe any man made structure is… yet, it had managed to become a recognized force in many areas and, along the way, to provide a decent living space to its people.

These blogs are not large enough to even begin to discuss political or philosophical ideology. All I can add from a very practical viewpoint and from the memories I have as they compare with the fresh memories brought to me by this young lady is that, as in Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” these memories show two venues which, even when being the same in form, are very different in essence.

The country that was, the people that were, the collective hopes that might have been… all these have been exchanged for cheap ideology which never delivered on what it promised, but did managed to enslave the mind and lives of many by taking away some primary (among many others) rights: the right to learn, to know what else there is, to understand that educated choice is a basic freedom.

The sad truth is that even when the current regime falls, as it is wont to sooner or later, it will take more than a couple of generations to erase the very rooted and deeply ingrained damage done to the Cuban psyche.

“Tell me about your Cuba…” that is a story to be lovingly held in the memory of the storytellers… to be shared and in doing so, to keep alive that history; the real history of our island country.

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “”Bienvenidos!!

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Dissident in Transit.

A political dissident is someone who, while living within a restricted environment, has the character and strength to voice discontent and to demand changes to that system. Often at the peril of personal safety and even his or her life.

A while back and no doubt fueled by growing international political pressure, the Cuban government actually allowed the well known blogger Yoani Sanches to leave Cuba; a freedom to travel she had not been permitted despite her several prior attempts to get permission to visit abroad.

She had been invited over the last few years to visit different venues in order to receive well earned prizes for her home spun and somewhat clandestine cybernetic journalism. We, along with a huge number of people around the world, have been able to follow her day to day routines within the island of Cuba; first as a citizen who must deal with all the frustrations of living in a lacking environment and second and, perhaps more importantly, as someone who has the courage to report this lacking in the face of threats not to do so. And these are not empty threats; she has been manhandled and thrown in jail more than once for daring to write her blog… You can read this (link below) in about 15 languages thanks to the efforts of many who work hard to help her get her message out.

As all must pass in this life of ours, so it was with her struggle to be able to travel outside her country… The question begs… if this country is so free, as it is highly touted by its leaders, why is it that its citizens, especially those who have voiced any type of criticism towards the government, have to face a life of constant harassment (note the Ladies in White, whose only sin is to be outspoken mothers and/or wives of jailed dissidents) and all types of additional restrictions to their already limited rights?

In any free society, it is our inherent right to complaint, to criticize, and to voice any kind of ideas we may have. No matter how altruistic or how downright stupid these may be. As long as we do not incite riots or attempt against the life of a fellow human. This brings me to the next step in this diatribe…

When Yoani Sanchez was finally allowed to leave Cuba for a whirlwind tour of places where many of her readers and followers were (and are, for she is still out there…) waiting to meet and listen to her, the Cuban government avowed to dog her every step and to do their utmost to discredit her words, at any cost. Her first stop was Brazil, where there were assault brigades (My name for them, for these were people who were following the SOP of the brigades of the same name in Cuba) waiting for her with Cuban flags, little red hats, signs which had been prepared beforehand (their very professional printing bespoke of careful preparation) and the tried and true slogans of “Yankee Imperialist”… “Paid Betrayer”… and others which I am sure were worse.

How ironic… This very harassment was carried out in a friendly (to Cuba) host country and it spoke highly of the fact that in this country (Brazil), people are free to congregate, mingle, mix and scream whatever stupidities they wish to at the top of their lungs. As long as they don’t get violent, no one will bother them. And, actually, this is the way it should be in any free country. However, were she a visiting celebrity in Cuba where a group of opposite thinking people tried to do the same, they would all be beaten up and thrown in jail by the aforementioned assault brigades. Freedom of speech… freedom of thinking… freedom of expression. These are perks our Cuban brethren –with some outstanding and courageous exceptions- gave up many years ago.

So, those few who choose to confront the “authoritarian despot” (words of José Martí, our own “Washington” and said about the Spanish conquering hordes) deserve our respect and support. We can do it by reading and following her blog (in Yoani’s case)… or her “”Tweets” (@yoanisanchez) where, as she puts it: “I write about my daily life in segments of 140 characters”.

When asked about the manner in which the Cuban government was, even from afar, doing their best to twist her words and attribute to her things which might turn her supporters against her, she simply said:

-“I would much rather have them manipulate my words than my forced silence”.

Hurrah for her… And for those of us who live in a country where freedom of thought and speech is still available… don’t underestimate their value and their power. Don’t give them up by letting others exercise yours on your behalf…

Be Well … Be Back!!!

Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “”Bienvenidos!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Hazy Discussion.

Sometimes, sharing with others a burning issue will bring the best out of us… at other times, not so.
Note: Neither a cold cup of coffee nor the smell of stale cigarette smoke evoke great desire. I wonder if a cold paragraph is the same? This following par. has been waiting for the “rest of the story” for about two weeks. Every time I sit and try to complete whatever may come to mind, something else comes to the fore and takes me away… one more try and we shall see what gives…
The title of this particular little piece was brought on as a result of an eye exam, dilated pupils and all. It had been some 3 years since my last such exam and my “head” doctor (no, not one of those… maybe I’ll soon need one, but not yet) decided that it was time to add this little process to all other exams I had undergone in the last 3 months. Luckily, all said and done, it seems my eyes are in good order except that part which allows me to read up close and to work at the computer without the need of assistance. So in 6 weeks or so I’ll be receiving, courtesy of the VA Clinic, a pair of bifocals… yes, I said bifocals. Upper half for the computer, lower half to closely follow the published Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Elementary, my dear Watson or … some such…

At the language school where I work, we have a conversation class at night which is quickly becoming an interesting class, since the gist of the same is a combination of conversation and debate. Each student (there are 6) is responsible to present a topic of discussion on Mondays and then we go down the list and put each one on the table, throughout the week. Whenever we discuss a topic, the person responsible has to take the lead and present the idea as well as his/her point of view. Then, each student will ask questions and often, present an antagonist point of view. Of course, when these become difficult to come by, then I put one or two in… you know, sort of the Devil’s Advocate position.

Well, to get things started, I simply wrote on the board the word “Immigration”. Followed by
“What do you think will happen?”
“What would you like to happen?” and
“What is the process to have a project become law?”

Knowing that the people in these classes are immigrants one and all (and not all fully documented) and, yes, the teacher too, you might think the discussion to be totally one sided. That was not the case; actually there were intelligent arguments presented on both sides of the fence and there were insights as to how little the average person actually knows about the processes at government level.

The outcome of this particular discussion was a better understanding about the system in our country and also of the meaning of the phrase “due process of law” as applied to the making of the very rules and regulations which made and make this process real and plausible.

Despite all the current problems and issues that plague our country, it was a unanimous vote to express the fact that they were all happy to be here and to have an opportunity to try and make a better life for themselves and their children’s children. Interestingly, from this discussion came other topics such as: “cultural differences in raising children” and “Free market vs. socialist market”. Not bad for a bunch who barely spoke English 6-10 months ago.

It may be trite to talk about a “great” country and what it means to these families to be here; it is difficult to explain to those who do not –or do not want to- understand other cultures that it is OK to meld and to explore how we can complement each other. It is difficult to understand laws that seem to promote the breakdown of families and yet, are meant to safeguard the very environment these families hope to reach, at often great risk to themselves and families.

In the end, we are a country of immigrants; those who came first running from unjust laws in their country(ies) as well as poverty, hunger  and despair (sounds familiar?) have only a time based early claim to the land. It makes their descendants no more or less Americans than the descendants of those immigrants who came later and who still continue to come.

It is beautiful to look about and see so many colors, so many faces, so many different expressions; to hear a variety of accents and to know that we share a common cause: we are all here because we choose to be, not because a twist of fate.

Be Well … Be Back!!!
Final Notes:
  • Pray for those who are fighting an illness which may take them away from their loved ones… Every request is heard, and counts!!
  • Follow us on Twitter … @RJAsPandora
  • Any comments please send to
  • “La Otra Caja de Pandora”… The Spanish language Blog… “”Bienvenidos!!!

Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...