Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Out-of-Money Experience

In November, I got two red light camera citations exactly one week apart at an intersection I traverse every day to get on the freeway after visiting Flip. I was distraught. Each of them required a "bail" amount of $480, so I hired a lawyer who specializes in such cases at a cost of $300 per citation. She suggested that I handle the second one myself to save money, which I did. Today I learned that we lost the first case for which I had legal representation, and I will have to pay the bail plus an additional $57 for the privilege of attending driving school to avoid points on my license and higher insurance.

I was ticketed for turning right on red without stopping long enough. They had video to prove it. Our argument was that I could not identify the driver of the car which is registered to me as the driver did not look like me, plus she was wearing sun glasses which obscured much of her face. The red light cameras have been ruled illegal in some places including other parts of California, but not here. I must assume at this point that I will have to pay for both of them - if a lawyer couldn't get me off on the first one, I will probably not succeed with the second. It is a horrible waste of money, and enough that it will create a hardship for me. Yet oddly, I am not as upset as I was when it happened because watching Flip's raging dementia advance has made me realize what we all espouse but don't really believe: It's only money. Losing ones health or ones mind is far worse. Still, I know that for a month or so, I will compare the price of everything I would like to buy with the money this round of bad luck is costing me, and I will be sorely resentful.

The exact same infraction costs $50 in New York and Virginia, I've been told by friends who were also ticketed. $480 is obscene for turning a few seconds too soon when no one was even hurt. Every day I see people drive badly and dangerously under the influence of drugs and alcohol, texting or putting on makeup, none of which I do. It seems terribly unfair, but I will try to focus on how lucky I am to be able to get in a car and drive somewhere on my own because at the end of the day, there are far more unfair circumstances.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Appointment in Samarra*

Every day we read about other people's personal tragedies in the news, but rarely do we know those involved. Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at a Christian nursing school in Oakland, California, near the nursing home where my husband Flip now lives. Seven people were murdered execution style and several others wounded, but not much else is known at this time.

What I do know is that one of the victims, Doris Chibuko, was the aunt of a young woman who works at the nursing home as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant.) Nneka is a particular friend of mine because she is unfailingly kind to Flip, and one of the three aides I have fought hard to get as his caregivers. Her aunt was the mother of three children, 3, 5 and 8, and was a lawyer in her native Nigeria. She was studying nursing at Oikos University and was two months away from graduating. She was only 40 years old. The family came to the United States from Nigeria to have a better life. Whatever brutal conditions they escaped in their country have been visited upon them here. The terrible irony in this is obvious.

Last week, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year old Iraqi-American Muslim woman was beaten to death in her home in San Diego, California. A note next to her body called her a terrorist and said she should go back to her own country. She was found by one of her five children, a teenaged daughter who was quoted as saying, "She's such an innocent woman. Why? Why did you do that?...We're not the terrorist. You are."

The family had been here for many years, and the murdered woman's brothers worked as cultural advisers for the U.S. Army to help train soldiers deployed to the Middle East. The police are investigating her death as a homicide: "A hate crime is one of the possibilities, and we will be looking at that. We don't want to focus on only one issue and miss something else." One wonders what else it could possibly be.

In February Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old boy was walking home to dinner, chatting on his cellphone with his girlfriend, armed with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea from the local convenience store. He was shot to death by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain with a history of violence because he was black. The Florida police are still scrambling to justify the cold-blooded murder, and Geraldo Rivera has even helpfully suggested that the hoodie he was wearing in the rain was to blame. The killer might as well have been wearing a hood, a white one, because the only possible motive was racism. This country is collapsing under the weight of so much hatred, no matter how we deny it, and everybody can buy a gun. Who will be the next target? Whose child will be murdered next?

"Shaima Al-Awadi's murder, like Trayvon Martin's, was a senseless murder based upon racial animus," said Dawud Walid, a black Muslim leader from Detroit who is executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We must come together as a society to have frank discussions about the toxic rhetorical environment which we currently live in that leads to such wanton violence."

I add my tears for all these people, but have no words of wisdom. Sometimes I really fear we are a lost cause. There will always be evil in the world, and all we can do is try to be as good as we can and hope it makes a difference.

*The title is a reference to W. Somerset Maugham's retelling of an old story in which a merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Shortly, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant's horse, he flees at top speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km), where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. She replies, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."