I live in paradise now.

At my other home, it’s 28 below zero. Right now. So cold that, if you spit in the air the gob of spittle freezes. It drops to the pavement. It bounces like a pebble.

Here, there’s a daily shared sense of wonder. At the sea. The whales. The sky.

People here aren’t always angry like they are in the US. They’re kind. They’re chill.

I doze off as surf sounds caress me.

If you ever hear me complaining about any aspect of life here, I hope you will slap me.

Mary Alice

She has died.

This writing is Take Two of my Mary Alice retrospective. Take One? I deleted it. It was way too documentary: how we met, her courage as our neighborhood advocate, funny things she said.

Take Two is a more of a meander. A water color instead of a sharp line drawing.

Haziness is itself a tribute to Mary Alice’s spirit. She will always be sort of an Earth Mama to me, bringing with her across the decades the best sensibilities of Sixties counterculture. All scarves and bangles, her eyes squinting at the sky as she articulated a philosophical point. Laughing and doubling over.

When people get old, their worlds often narrow, like a hallway that gets smaller and smaller. Fewer and fewer things really interest them. They’re left with complaints about the world’s changes, and their aches and pains.

Mary Alice’s path seemed to get broader and broader. More and more things piqued her curiosity. She listened to people intently, hands on her hips, her head cocked. Her interest was genuine and generous. She elicited ideas rather than pronouncing truths.

She was my friend. I hope I can follow her path.

Involuntary servitude and the Angry Orange Chimp’s shutdown

People who travel a lot know that TSA agents in the States, while sometimes irritating, are underpaid workers with a terrible job. Many live paycheck-to-paycheck.

The president’s ridiculous, cruel shutdown of our government means TSA workers are now compelled to work without pay or lose their jobs. They don’t make this choice freely; they do so only under severe duress. Maybe they’ll be paid someday — or maybe the threatened “permanent shutdown” means they will never see a dime.

Sounds like involuntary servitude to me.

For a century and a half, the law of the land in the US has forbidden such abuse:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (13th Amendment to the Constitution).

I’m not conflating TSA workers’ plight with the horrors of slavery. But the 13th Amendment makes a distinction by using the disjunctive “nor”. TSA workers’ servitude is arguably involuntary — their economic status and powerlessness give them no reasonable choices.

How can unionized workers be so powerless? Why hasn’t the TSA’s union yet stood up for their own people by filing a lawsuit challenging the Angry Orange Chimp?

An open letter to Rep. Ilhan Omar

Dear Representative Omar:

Please accept my congratulations upon your election to the US House of Representatives. I wish you the greatest success and offer whatever help I can provide.

As your constituent, I ask for your thoughts.

Recently, Rep. Nancy Pelosi suggested that the newly-empowered Democratic majority in the House has a duty to “find common ground” with the Republicans in Congress who have supported what many believe to be an unprecedentedly corrupt administration.

Please respond to those of us who believe that it is not possible to find common ground with those who have fostered the amorality of Trumpism.

  • Do you support Rep. Pelosi’s bid to serve as Speaker of the House? Or do you support a different candidate for Speaker? If so, who do you support?
  • Do you believe (as I clearly do!) that the role of newly-empowered Democrats is to ensure the Mueller investigation is protected so it can come to its own full and fair conclusions? Do you believe that if the Mueller investigation produces credible proof of impeachable behavior that the House should commence impeachment hearings against the President?

On another matter, do you believe that there is sufficient evidence of Brett Kavanaugh lying to Congress that an investigation should begin to determine whether he should be impeached?

Rep. Omar, a traditional politician would respond to this message with generalities designed to avoid answering the simple questions I have posed. I hope your response will be extraordinary: I hope that you respond to these straightforward questions with straightforward responses.

Thank you very much.

Robert Sykora

Happy National Coming Out Day!

So, for 2018 Coming Out Day, here’s my story.

After Paul and I fell in love, I decided to tell my dad. This was a big deal because he was a conservative judge well-known for being cruel to gay people. For years I had read in the gay press how in court he was so mean to, as he called us, “the homosexuals”.

He was a bright guy, but he had some really serious limitations caused by his deep religious beliefs.

It was about this time of year in 1983 that I told him.

After the words came out of my mouth, he paused. He raised an index finger and said “excuse me for a minute”. He went out to the garage where he hid his cigarettes. He lit one up, and I watched him out of the kitchen window. He stood in front of the garage, hands on his hips, looking up toward the sky, rocking back and forth and inhaling a Carlton down to its filter.

He came back inside. He took both of my hands in his. His eyes were filled with tears, and so were mine.

He said: “I’m so proud of myself that I have the kind of relationship with my son that you’d think it important to tell me this.”

He immediately loved Paul. They had long conversations about religion and philosophy.

My dad lived for four years after that, coming to a quick end because of his cigarettes. During his three-month decline, we cared for him at home. Paul cooked beautiful meals to help him gain weight. I remember Paul arranging on dad’s plate little butter-fried cubes of steak as he muttered, apparently to no one, “small portions, attractively arranged.” Dad ate gratefully, though the high-calorie meals could only keep him going for so long.

So, happy Coming Out Day. And here’s to my dad, who did the best possible thing a dad could do upon learning that his son is gay.

Trust this baboon

Seriously, trust him. This baboon has a far greater chance of successfully guiding US foreign policy and its economy than does the current occupant of the White House. (So, when making decisions about where to invest our little nest egg while the US recovers over the next 20 years, Mexico’s looking pretty good.)

The gift that keeps on giving

In 2016 when Paul and I were trying to get our swim safety program off the ground in Nongyasai, we encountered a major obstacle. Our wise Thai friends advised us that traditional notions of modesty required both boys and girls to be covered with large swim suits from neck to knee. Large coverage = lots of spandex = lots of money. Our friends shrugged: since there’s no way the village could afford such swim suits for a large number of students, our swim program was doomed.

Or was it?

By Skype, we poured out our woes to world-famous master swimmer Brian Jacobson.

Brian responded immediately. It was on a Thursday that he launched his GoFundMe campaign to solicit funds to pay for the swim suits. By Sunday online donors had provided enough to buy the suits plus provide funding for scores of ten-free-swim punchcards to allow our kids to return to the pool to practice what they learned.

TODAY our wonderful Thai friends sent several videos showing the swim suits bought by American donors in use at a current training program in the very same pool Paul and I helped build (detail-oriented viewers will note additional skylights added to the roof — an effort to increase solar heating during “cool season” [75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit]). One of those videos is included below. Also included below is a picture of the 10-swim punch cards and one of the kids showing off her card.

Thanks again, donors. You did a good thing.