Category Archives: human nature

Ending Agony in Fry Town

When Sierra Vista became an incorporated township in 1956, it excluded a half square mile of land that was originally owned by turn-of-the-twentieth-century settler Oliver Fry. Mr. Fry resisted inclusion with the town growing around him, and as a result his land, which came to be known as Fry Town, remains un-annexed and has steadily fallen into disrepair; its residents poor, its crime rates high.

Residents of Sierra Vista proper do not go untouched by this, either. Crime is not conveniently contained within Fry Town’s historic blocks, nor can Sierra Vistans easily ignore such a relatively small section of disrepute. Not when Fry Town and its many bedraggled residents are so prominently on display at Sierra Vista’s main entryway. It’s the first thing newcomers see. It’s not a problem that can be swept under an indifferent rug. It is front and center, and it demands our attention.

Fry Town’s annexation into Sierra Vista’s city limits seems long overdue, but Fry residents have voted against this appropriation in the past. And, while annexation would certainly offer Fry Town residents many city benefits they’re currently bereft of, it is not going to eradicate the problems derived from a socio-economic petri dish of poverty, drug abuse and crime – one that’s been left to fester over the last half century.

Similarly, recent city and county led efforts to give Fry a cosmetic makeover –demolishing abandoned, dilapidated mobile homes and raising new, more aesthetically pleasing, low-income housing – merely whitewashed the neighborhood for appearance sake. It did little toward the long-term health of the community. And, without investing in the future of the residents themselves, it’s only a matter of time before those new developments look like the graffiti-laden relics they replaced. Real change starts with people, not real estate.

To be certain, residents, city leaders and law enforcement have debated the issue for years, and there have been several efforts on all sides to address it. But, ramping up police presence and tearing down structural eyesores amounts to adhering Band-Aids to gushing wounds. And, while not all of its inhabitants live in abject poverty, many do. Many of Fry Town’s inhabitants are trapped in a hellish cycle of poverty. They grew up with crime as not just a fact of life, but a way of it, learning no honor among countless thieves. Their parents were poor, uneducated, abused substances, and abused them. They grew up to do the same, and their children, and their children’s children, in one, long, ghetto nightmare.

Helping these people break the cycle, that is the solution. Granted, there are programs in place designed to address this issue. Unfortunately, Arizona isn’t all that keen on funneling tax dollars toward welfare subsidies; thus, said programs are not adequately funded. Most agree that welfare isn’t intended as a way of life, but rather serves as a helping hand; a hand that pulls one up from the gutter and helps them stand on their own feet.  That is the definition of a working welfare program, and the impoverished population of Fry Town desperately needs it.

Their plight calls for a program that offers drug rehabilitation, where necessary, and intensive therapy. No one abuses drugs because they have a healthy sense of self-worth. You don’t do that to your body, or to your life, if you’re not already in a profound amount of pain. These people, whether they’re abusing drugs/alcohol or not, need to be armed with healthy, psychological tools in order to combat their own mental anguish. Fry Town needs a crackdown on mental health; a SWAT team of counselors at the ready.

If part one of a successful welfare program teaches life skills, then part two offers job skills and employment training. Of course, that would require there being viable jobs for which to train. Sadly, there’s a vast wage gap in Sierra Vista. The local middle class sustains itself with government jobs, government contracting jobs or healthcare work. And, as the government downsizes, it’s a very small employment pool to draw from. Sierra Vista must work on drawing new industry to the area. After all, food service and retail work does not a middle class make.

Yet, the most important, most sure-fire resolution to the woes of Fry Town is this: educate its children. If children are the future, let us plant the seeds that ensure a bright one – and those seeds are called tax dollars; tax dollars that fund their schools and tax dollars that fund the social programs these children require. Some of these kids play in dirt lots and crumbling streets, some with empty bellies and bruised bodies. I know. I have seen them. They exist. They need their community at large to help. They need citizens who are invested enough in their city’s future to pay it forward in taxes, just as they need a city council and a school board that won’t mismanage those taxes.

You can avoid Fry Town all you like, ignore its struggles if you wish, or be satisfied with quick-fixes to its unsightly surface but, eventually, Fry Town will call on you. Whether its presence drives your property values down, its criminals steal your car, or its drug dealers sell their wares to your kids, its suffering spills over those half square mile borders, and its consequences will affect you. It is not their problem, it is our problem – and luckily, it’s one we can fix.

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My Placid Panic Attack

My babies are leaving the state today, and that’s fine. I’m perfectly okay with it. Completely comfortable and entirely at ease, save for some small, anxious, inner-portion of me that is quietly yet persistently FREAKING THE FRACK OUT!
But I’m told this is normal.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” –Elizabeth Stone

Indeed. Like, 1500 to 2000 ridiculously bothersome miles outside and far away from your body.

In less than six hours I’ll be escorting my 5 and 12 year old children through airport security, locating their gate, walking them to the entrance of a gangway, hugging and kissing them profusely, possibly crying already, waving goodbye still as I watch the backs of their beautiful little heads get smaller and smaller, watch them make a left, out of sight, boarding a plane to Washington state. WITHOUT ME. And I’m freaking out.

On the other side of their non-stop, three hour flight awaits my mother. She’s probably already there. She probably arrived at Sea-Tac yesterday; brought a sleeping bag and is camped out at the girls’ arrival gate. I need not worry about their safety in her care. But still. Freaking out.

My 12 year old will only be on Washington soil two days before she flies to Orlando, Florida with her bio-father and his family; off to see her older brother (from another mother) graduate high school. She’ll spend three days in Disney World, a few days in a condo on Cocoa Beach, and she’ll have an amazing time. And even though I have a positive, healthy co-familial relationship with my ex-husband, his wife and their little girl – one that centers on respect, and acting like grownups – and even though I trust them with the safety of my little-now-big girl, even still and all the same, I’m ever so serenely FREAKING OUT.

After a week in Florida, my little-now-big girl will fly back to Seattle, reuniting with my little-still-little girl at Nana’s House of Perpetual Joy and Cookie Time. They will bake all sorts of goodies, dive imagination-first into Nana’s wonder-world of arts and crafts supplies, roam Nana’s lush green garden and help her plant flowers – learning the names of approximately 8000 species of Dahlia along the way. They’ll play with, snuggle and/or terrorize Nana’s plethora of cats. They’ll rarely be told “no”, or go to bed before 9 PM, or be forced to eat vegetables, and they will have the time of their lives. And while the thought of it makes me happy beyond measure, still…..you know….little bit…with the freaking a lot out.

My house will be quiet for three whole weeks. For three weeks my husband and I will not be shuttling children to and from school/birthday parties/sleepovers/art classes/sports practice, and on long car rides no one will be fighting in the back seat or be bored out of their minds. For three weeks no little ones will wake us up at 6 AM on Sunday morning demanding food and cartoons. And no preteens will huff, “I know!” when you ask them to do the thing you asked them to do an hour ago (which was the same thing you asked them to do an hour before that) – and absolutely no one will roll their eyes at us, then vehemently deny having done so.

For three weeks my love and I can walk around the house naked, go out dancing all night long, watch foul-mouthed movies at top volume in the middle of the day and try out new recipes besieged with “gross” and “yucky” ingredients – like kale. We can hike mountains, explore caves, book romantic weekend getaways, relax, sleep in, and miss our children like mad.

Because I’ll miss them no matter the scenario. Whether I spend the next several weeks at home with a book (and a bottle of wine), or out on the town (with a bottle of wine), I imagine I’ll be saddled with this low hum of anxiety throughout. Little dark-recessed brain-whispers of “Pssst. Hey. Guess what. Your kids are still gone. It’s FREAK OUT TIME AGAIN!”

I know they’ll be fine, and I’ll be fine, and everything will be fine and perfectly stinking dandy, ….but still. Someone to talk me down from the crazy-mommy-ledge, please.

We Love Hard For This

The season is upon us! And whether you agree it’s the most wonderful time of year, or you declare it the most expensive, stressful, pointless, irritating and/or depressing, I have come bearing gifts of holiday cheer!

Well, this isn't the YouTube cheer, just regular old happy everything non-motion cheer.

Age old ‘happy everything’ cheer.

Now, after viewing our upcoming YouTube internet gifts to you (our gifts to the world, really…nay, the universe) you’ll likely ask if we are professional entertainers. Clearly we’ve studied dance and mastered choreography at some point in our collective family career. Surely we’ve performed as a professional troupe; a modern-day “Familie Von Trapp.” But no! Say WHAAAT? I know. It’s hard to believe but, no, we are not trained thespians. We were just bored after Thanksgiving dinner, and it was either bust out the Christmas C.D.s and make with the silly, or watch a movie.

Be glad, and rejoice, that we did not watcheth a movie. But instead…

Viewer Discretion Advised: We are not a perfect family.
Many believe us to be so awesome (and we are), so happy (we mostly are), and the snapshot of an ideal familial unit (which we absolutely are not). This impression is derived from the P.R. face we present to the world. And while the truth of us isn’t some dark, ugly, lie behind closed doors, we have our equitable share of dirty laundry; the sort we choose not to air.

When I hear, “Oh I wish my husband was romantic, like yours,” and, “Oh I wish my family had fun like yours does,” I feel compelled to make others feel better by assuring them that we are real, flawed human persons. That my husband is a thoughtless jerkface, just like theirs, and my children are fiercely engaged in the total annihilation of one another – or me, whichever comes first. And I also assure them how there isn’t enough wine in the breadth of existence to make any of it okay. But, one, no one believes me, and two, it just sells my family short. I shouldn’t have to convince people we’re REAL people.

Especially when I should know, by now, those people will project whatever they want onto the joy we attempt release into the world. They will be uplifted by it or they will be disgusted by it – or some intrinsically complicated lovey-hatey limbo therein.

But I’m not going to feel bad about being happy. Or having a happy family.
We work hard for this.
We LOVE hard for this.

Dear Amanda

4/10/09

“Niki,

I wanted to let you know I did make it back from Texas. Was planning on heading back to the old rehab place but Michael is filing for an emergency hearing for full custody of Aidan. With all that has happened and my mom testifying against me chances are he will be granted custody of him. My mom was the one who emailed him to let him know all the problems we’ve been having.

I can’t even come up with enough energy to cry about it anymore. Maybe he is the better parent for Aidan right now. I don’t have a leg to stand on or a really good excuse.

I’ve been fighting my ex for almost 6 years now. Three years for the divorce and three and a half of Aidan’s life for custody. I can’t remember not fighting him for something, like my life back. Now it seems like he finally found the weak link in my chain and is going to take everything.

I’ll try to call but I’m not up to much except sitting with Aidan for the next week or so before some judge decides my life. I’m not ready for this or even sure how I will even get through this if it does go wrong. Starting over alone at 30 isn’t sounding too damn appealing right this minute. I’ll let you know what happens and hopefully it won’t be as bad as it seems right now.

Amanda”

5/24/13

Dear Amanda,

That was the last email you ever wrote me. And this reply comes very late. Four years late. Much too late, as you know, because I found out yesterday that you are dead.

Scott recognized your picture in a Facebook group attached to a profile with a different name. He clicked on that and discovered it was your mother, and the picture of you was in memoriam. It didn’t take him long afterward to find your obituary in the local paper, dated November 2012. It said you had succumbed to a “lifelong illness” and I knew immediately that meant you had drank yourself to death.

I wrote your mother and she confirmed my suspicion. Told me you’d passed away on Thanksgiving. My first thought was: “Oh God, her poor little boy.” My second: “Could I have made a difference? Could I have helped her?”

Because I didn’t help you. I didn’t think I could. And as you began to take more and more prescription drugs, lose more and more of your grip on reality and spin more and more out of control, I chose to distance myself. It’s not the first time I’ve quietly bowed out of the life of a drug addict and/or alcoholic; my best friend, my first husband….the list is long. But what I loved about those people is also what usually causes me grief, and a touch of guilt, like I failed them. Like I failed you.

And I know better. But my head knows lots of things my heart never will.

What I wish to tell you is that I love you. That I will never forget you helping me pick out my wedding dress, gifting me the best housewares, giving me a crib, changing table, playpen, stroller, alongside so many other items I hardly needed to shop for my baby (and you had the very BEST taste), our small adventure crossing into Mexico, those months we spent becoming close, before you started slipping away, I remember all of it. That your son and your dog Kujo were the kings of your world. That you were whip-smart, beautiful and so funny.

And I feel guilty as hell for having avoided you in the last years of your molten lava mess of a life.

But not only do I know there’s little I could have done for you (I’m out of the “saving people” business, leavin’ that one to Jesus, I guess), I also know that I was at high risk of enabling you – or, much worse, being sucked down with you. My propensity for self-destruction is a forever threat. My distant past is riddled with it, and ever since I became a mother I have worked terribly hard to remain as healthy a human being as my demons will allow. That means being cautious about those I get close to, and distancing myself from those that invite the “cray-cray.”

Still, I am so damn sorry your own demons ate you alive. Sorry for you, sorry for your family and my heart absolutely breaks for your son. And the news of your demise rattles me most deeply because I know if it weren’t for a small tweak of genetic wiring, and a few twists and turns of fate, your story and your end could very well have been my own.

I feel like I should be learning something from this, but as yet I’ve no idea what. I still think it’s a good idea for me to keep destructive peeps at arm’s length. But whatever the point is (assuming there’s a stinking point to all the pain in all the universe), I wish you peace. I hope you know peace now and that you’re properly prepared for your next adventure. For I believe in reincarnation, and I believe the name of that cyclical game is called “Don’t fuck it up next time.”

And you would have laughed at that.

Love Eternal,
Niki

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Sincerity Prayer

In the spirit of ever-enriching the spirit, I penned the following:

God grant me the serenity to accept the assface motherfuckers I cannot change;
The courage to change the landscape of assface motherfuckers where I can;
And the wisdom to not become an assface motherfucker myself.

Amen.

Rainbow Elvis Cloud Dog Agrees

Rainbow Elvis Cloud Dog Agrees

Lies, Lies, Lies, (Hell) Yeah!

My New Year’s resolution is to lie more!

(click me….I’m here to be a soundtrack for reading)

Just before bed last night, Scott and I were discussing our friends’ internet posts – specifically regarding their respective New Year’s resolutions – and I said, “Everyone’s all, ‘It’s the new me! I’m going to be more myself, more true.’ I think that’s a terrible idea. I’m going to be LESS me in 2011. I don’t think being myself is working out very well.” And, as is his reaction to most of my jokes, he chuckled and then called me retarded.

But I’m sort of serious. Because, I’m a pretty genuine person – yet being genuinely “myself” doesn’t always go my way. Honesty is seemingly not always the best policy. The problem being this: people prefer to be lied to. They will tell you otherwise, of course. They will say “Oh, I hate bullshitter’s – give it to me straight.” But if you give it to them straight, enough times, they’ll either resent it, or even just get bored with it. No one wants to hear the truth. It’s why the “Yes Men” of the world are forever secure in their jobs. It’s why some people surround themselves solely with ass-kissers, and it’s why ass-kissers so often get ahead in life. Assholes and the ass-kissers who love them: life’s “Couple Most Likely to Succeed”.

The notorious unkindness of truth: it usually, drastically departs from the lies we tell ourselves, and in turn tell others. The affectations people project in an effort to be interesting, mysterious and complicated – or to appear well-adjusted, accomplished and happy – those lies take crazy amounts of energy to maintain, are the most exhausting, and (personally) the bullshit factor therein is nauseating.

Not to say that I don’t lie. Or that I don’t have secrets. Or that I suffer from diarrhea of the truth. I won’t voluntarily tell you if I think your shirt is ugly. But if you ASK me if I think it’s ugly I’ll probably mention that it’s maybe, kinda, sorta, a little bit horrible. And I’m still learning when to hold my tongue. Over the years I’ve come to recognize when someone is “not tryin’ to hear that, see.” Sometimes we need our layers of bullshit. Sometimes it works the way padded walls do. Without it we might really hurt ourselves.

Be all that as it may (or may not?), in 2011 I think I’m going to increase my own individual level of BS. I’m just going to state random things like, “Me? Oh, I’m a fledgling astronaut”, and see where it gets me. Onto a space shuttle? Who can say? How many people will suck that up as truth, and – better still – find it fascinating. I mean, in a sense it is true – in the sense that I am inexperienced at being an astronaut, but could have entertained the idea of pursuing it as a career, and thus…..it’s real-ish.

Who’s to say WHAT is true. The world is my, possibly, disingenuous oyster.
It’s really a wonder lawyers aren’t more beloved.