Call My Name

FeaturedCall My Name

My name evoked unwelcomed curiosity in the John-and-Mary 1950s.

“Say in a loud voice ’It’s from Shakespeare,’” my mother Agnes demanded of me as soon as I could talk.

When strangers asked the inevitable, “Where did that name come from?” Agnes greeted the question as an accusation. She silently goaded me into defending my name with a withering look meant for the questioner but sent my way. She hated talking about it or anything else having to do with her children.

Catholic clergy intimated my name wasn’t written in the Book of Life, and the gates of heaven might be closed to me. “Hmm, Regan. That’s not a saint’s name.” They’d muse aloud. “Is that your middle name?”

In King Lear, Regan is the king’s middle daughter. She’s a power-hungry evil sister who tries to flatter her father into giving her the family fortune, then drives him out into a raging storm. In the end, Regan’s jealous older sister poisons her.

Six months out of a psych ward in 1971, I picked up the besteseller The Exorcist at the Main Street Drug Store in Belmar, New Jersey, and headed to the diner. Sipping on a coke, I opened the book while waiting for my grilled cheese. An hour later I was in my Volkswagen Bus in the diner parking lot, bewitched by the story.

The book’s demon-possessed twelve year-old protagonist? Regan. Exorcist Regan’s name came from King Lear. In the book, Regan’s mother was an actress who frequently entertained her director, Burke Dennings, with too many martinis. My father, whose last name was, of course, Burke, loved too many martinis. Exorcist Regan lived with her mother in Georgetown. My family had lived in Georgetown.

I finished the book and serpentined down the road in second gear to my mother’s house. The dizzying story of Regan’s demon possession plundered my recovering nervous system. I blasted through the front door and slammed The Exorcist down on the coffee table. 

“Who’s this author? How do you know him? Why didn’t you warn me about this? How could you let me read this?”

Though an avid reader, Agnes was oblivious to the summer blockbuster. She speculated that author William Peter Blatty was one of the hordes of anonymous acquaintances who’d attended parties at our Georgetown home when I was a toddler.

Years later, a friend ran into Blatty at a political event and asked if he’d named Regan after me. Blatty’s reply: “Absolutely! That name always haunted me. Who would name their little baby after one of Shakespeare’s most craven females?”

When The Exorcist became a movie in 1973, my then-husband started calling me “Babe.” The movie uncloaked such evil that he was afraid to even say Regan. The Exorcist was the first horror movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. For years afterwards whenever I met someone new, I’d get, “The Exorcist, right?” Right. 

What’s worse: having the name of an evil literary character and horror film freak?

Or, not having a saint’s name? 

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Microaggression and Blackbirds

Long ago someone told me pigeons are flying rats and I’ve never bothered to think differently. Pigeons have discovered the bird feeder on my balcony. I shoo them away but they lurk on the ledges of the building across the street and return when they think the coast is clear. A single red-winged black bird, one-fifth the size of a pigeon, will scare a pigeon away from its breakfast on my windowsill.

 Red-winged blackbirds can be aggressive in defending their nests this time of year.

Red-winged blackbirds nest in Chicago parks. The males chase intruders — other males, crows, raptors, and people. I wandered down Michigan Avenue the other day to check on the migrating flock that sets up housekeeping every year in Lake Shore Park. Though I readily observe one or two red-wings at my window, there’s nothing like watching a flock dive-bombing unsuspecting dog walkers who pass under their nests.

On the way, I clutched my bag as I passed the Louis Vuitton store. I funneled myself between the ever-present queue around the store and the narrowing sidewalk. Lines formed outside Louis Vuitton and other high-end stores when Covid Shutdown rules required a limited number of people inside. And for the umpteenth time this year I noticed my silent microaggressive thoughts on Black people. Where do these people get the money for four thousand dollar purses? 

Covid Shutdown coincided with the proliferation of online free programs about white privilege, implicit bias and microaggression. For the first time in my old life I’ve been made aware that my whiteness affords me privileges such as crossing paths with a policeman without fear, a privilege Black people don’t have. I’ve discovered that fear of Black men is an implicit bias that governs where I live, eat, shop and travel. Microaggression is a bit trickier to face. Awareness of clutching my bag as I silently scorn Black people lined up at Louis Vuitton is a start. 

On a recent anti-racist zoom program, I learned about workers in the “informal” or survival economy. These are the bucket boys. The handymen. The loose cigarette sellers.The sex workers. The retail money-launderers. Until recently I thought of informal workers as criminals, and not as resilient, courageous, burdened and traumatized spirits of the survival economy. 

A dapper old pensioner sits in a busy park near my building. I know he’s often short on rent, the way you know these things about the neighborhood. He palms a bill in the hand of every passing informal worker: the Streetwise peddlers, the panhandlers, the street people. He’s the only person I know who still carries cash. I used to think he was not only foolish with his money but that he actually hurt people by providing cash for booze and cigarettes. I now think of him as the buddha, the christ, the manifestation of noble kindness. 

I’m receptive to changing my thinking about people.

But not about those pigeons.

___________________________

‘Nature’s A–holes’ Are Back: Red-Winged Blackbirds Attacking People Along The River As Nesting Season Gets Underway

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WGN Interview with Bob Sirott: “Campaigning then vs. now”

Regan Burke is author of “In That Number: One Woman’s March Up From the Streets of Protest To The Halls of Power and Beyond” and political organizer. She’s worked in the campaigns of Adlai Steve…

Click to hear 10 minute interview: Campaigning then vs. now

From left, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter participate in the State Funeral for former President George H.W. Bush, at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Learning & Leaving the Real Estate Business

FeaturedLearning & Leaving the Real Estate Business

Adele, the feminist, challenged our church elders to explain exactly what the Bible passages stating “wives, submit to your husbands,” had to do with 1973 modern America. She steadfastly refused to “wear a head covering” as proscribed in verses familiar to anyone who’s been ensnared by a church that adheres to literal interpretations of the Bible. Adele, my role model for a time, taught me how to live in a conservative Christian extremist community as a sincere provocateur who loved God. It wasn’t easy.

“You should get a real estate license and work with me in that new subdivision,” Adele suggested, knowing wives were discouraged by church elders from working outside the home. I trusted her counsel because she was on her third marriage and knew that financial independence was the first step to freedom from my second bad marriage.

I sat in the makeshift office of the model home in a planned development of half-built single family homes on ⅓-acre parcels in Ocean County, New Jersey, answering phones, staffing open houses, tidying up the office, running errands. Month after month with no salary and no prospects, I persevered, buoyed by Adele’s words,“You only need one sale.”

A couple appeared one day when I was alone in the office. I leapt to my feet, obtained some qualifying information and showed them around. The Princeton University professors picked out their dream house-to-be-built, and I called the Owner of the development to bring a contract. Not only was I going to make a few thousand dollars, but I would be playing a bit part in helping to integrate our all-white community.

I had been a political activist since high school, and at age 27, I had no evidence to suggest that all of America wasn’t heeding the call of social change and racial integration espoused by John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. It just never occurred to me that people thought any other way.

The pro forma Owner arrived in short order with a contract but when faced with the couple doubted that he could provide their choices of tile, or carpet, or kitchen cabinets. I always found him to be too encumbered by his own cunning so nothing about his interaction with this couple seemed unusual. They signed a contract contingent on negotiating for the decor at a later date. The whole project slowed, then halted. Adele claimed the money ran out, thanked me for my sweat equity, then found me a part-time job making stained glass lamps.

A few months later, I stood at my mailbox reading a legal notice charging me and the Owner with discriminating against the black couple from Princeton. All they wanted was a house near the ocean where they could raise their boys in a good school and send them to Little League. Guilt squeezed my chest with thoughts that I was complicit in killing their dream. “This is Adele’s fault,” I irrationally concluded.Unknown

I sat for a deposition and feared a discrimination law suit would follow me around for the rest of my life. It dragged on for months but never went to court.

I was scoring glass in the workshop when Adele brought me a news article. The NAACP was testing the efficacy of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by sending couples to white neighborhoods to purchase property.

“See?” she said, “they were shills.”

 Good for them.

Microaggression and Blackbirds

Long ago someone told me pigeons are flying rats and I’ve never bothered to think differently. Pigeons have discovered the bird feeder on my balcony. I shoo them away but they lurk on the ledges of the building across the street and return when they think the coast is clear. A single red-winged black bird, one-fifth the size of a pigeon, will scare a pigeon away from its breakfast on my windowsill.

 Red-winged blackbirds can be aggressive in defending their nests this time of year.

Red-winged blackbirds nest in Chicago parks. The males chase intruders — other males, crows, raptors, and people. I wandered down Michigan Avenue the other day to check on the migrating flock that sets up housekeeping every year in Lake Shore Park. Though I readily observe one or two red-wings at my window, there’s nothing like watching a flock dive-bombing unsuspecting dog walkers who pass under their nests.

On the way, I clutched my bag as I passed the Louis Vuitton store. I funneled myself between the ever-present queue around the store and the narrowing sidewalk. Lines formed outside Louis Vuitton and other high-end stores when Covid Shutdown rules required a limited number of people inside. And for the umpteenth time this year I noticed my silent microaggressive thoughts on Black people. Where do these people get the money for four thousand dollar purses? 

Covid Shutdown coincided with the proliferation of online free programs about white privilege, implicit bias and microaggression. For the first time in my old life I’ve been made aware that my whiteness affords me privileges such as crossing paths with a policeman without fear, a privilege Black people don’t have. I’ve discovered that fear of Black men is an implicit bias that governs where I live, eat, shop and travel. Microaggression is a bit trickier to face. Awareness of clutching my bag as I silently scorn Black people lined up at Louis Vuitton is a start. 

On a recent anti-racist zoom program, I learned about workers in the “informal” or survival economy. These are the bucket boys. The handymen. The loose cigarette sellers.The sex workers. The retail money-launderers. Until recently I thought of informal workers as criminals, and not as resilient, courageous, burdened and traumatized spirits of the survival economy. 

A dapper old pensioner sits in a busy park near my building. I know he’s often short on rent, the way you know these things about the neighborhood. He palms a bill in the hand of every passing informal worker: the Streetwise peddlers, the panhandlers, the street people. He’s the only person I know who still carries cash. I used to think he was not only foolish with his money but that he actually hurt people by providing cash for booze and cigarettes. I now think of him as the buddha, the christ, the manifestation of noble kindness. 

I’m receptive to changing my thinking about people.

But not about those pigeons.

___________________________

‘Nature’s A–holes’ Are Back: Red-Winged Blackbirds Attacking People Along The River As Nesting Season Gets Underway

Coming Out

NPR reporter Monica Eng posts traditional homemade dishes on Instagram for every holiday. When I spotted her photo of colcannon, I recalled that on St. Patrick’s Day in the before-time I would hop the downtown bus to The Gage restaurant for their annual version of colcannon. Colcannon is a peasant Irish dish of potatoes mashed with butter, cream, cabbage and onions. 

In 2020, Governor Pritzker shut down St. Patrick’s Day and all restaurants for a month to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Illinois. Our watering mouths were abruptly slammed shut not for a month but for the year.

Let’s have lunch! I messaged Mark this St. Patrick’s Day. We entered the same bus at different locations. Pandemic bus culture dictates you huddle in your seat and never look around. We didn’t recognize each other’s masked faces until we lined up by the bus driver at our destination. We hadn’t seen each other since the beginning of the shutdown.

The Gage is near the recently reopened Art Institute of Chicago. Mark and I could have visited the Art Institute after lunch but I dared not mention it. I’m not accustomed to “going out” yet and I needed to take it one occasion at a time. The Gage is only two miles from my home and I already felt like I was on an out-of-town excursion.

I’ve spent as much time in The Art Institute and the nearby Harold Washington Library than almost any public space in Chicago. Long before I even thought about writing my own book, I loved to see and hear authors talk about their writing in the womb-like Pritzker Auditorium at the Library.

In the year before the shutdown, the Member’s Lounge at the Art Institute was my favorite haunt for eavesdropping on conversations. I’d grab a coffee, find a seat and nonchalantly leaf through the delights in the oversized art book from the latest exhibit. I overheard couples argue over lunch plans, strangers flirt with each other and friends gossip about the get-ups of passersby.

Those best of days—lunch, art and authors—flicker in my memory like a moth dancing around a light bulb. The moth, and its cousin the butterfly, are metaphorically overused these days to describe how the vaccinated are acting after the year-long pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted. I get it. In order to get back in the habit of going out, my soul measures future steps, like an inchworm sprung from its cocoon. I loop up, edge forward, look around and take the measure of the awakening world, retreating when un-masked danger arises. Like the metamorphoses of the caterpillar to the butterfly or the inchworm to the moth, I suspect I’ll soon be free to flit about at will.

Molting Monarch Caterpillar

It can’t come soon enough. I’ve become an eating machine. If only my outer layers would molt like those of the voracious-eating inchworms and caterpillars. They need all the calories they can chew off.  

I don’t.

Marching Forth in Love

Marching Forth in Love

Throughout the fall of 2016, I spent three days a week at physical therapy to exorcise the demons from my new knees. That summer I had ceramic installed to replace disintegrating bone and cartilage. Recovery was a long process, made worse by those who’d gone before and bragged about walking a mile six weeks after their surgeries.

At the PT office, Assistant Colleen and I yakked up a storm about how awful Donald Trump was and how Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in to win the presidential election. My new knees took me to Cleveland the last few weeks of the campaign and marched me around neighborhoods campaigning for Hillary.

After the election I took advantage of my leftover Medicare hours and returned to therapy. By then the PTSD from the election outcome had exploded in my lower back. Colleen and I groaned away our sorrows as I waited to be treated for ongoing knee therapy and newly acquired back pain.

One day in late December I walked in the door and she exclaimed, “let’s go to the Women’s March in DC!”

The Women’s March was a worldwide protest on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump. I wasn’t clear what the message of the March was except that Trump had a vile reputation with women. But Washington is the motherland for old protesters like me and I was all in.

Colleen found the last two seats on an overnight bus. We brought old pillows and blankets to leave on our seats and light backpacks to carry on the March. Outside Chicago’s Union Station four hundred cold but jubilant marchers filled up bus after bus and drove off. One bus driver told us they had run out of buses around Chicago but were bringing one down from Kenosha. We gratefully boarded our heated bus three hours late.

No photo description available.

At each of the two stops on the twelve-hour trip, the packed restaurants and bathrooms were abuzz with women in hand-knitted pink hats. The small bus caravan multiplied on the Pennsylvania Turnpike the closer we got to Washington. When our bus driver mistakenly pulled off the George Washington Parkway headed toward the heart of the March, I had to guide him to an improvised drop-off point behind Washington’s Union Station. We nervously deboarded, hoping our bus would be at that spot when we returned. We marched to the beat of  Women- in-Construction drummers toward the National Mall. Joining 500 thousand ebullient demonstrators carrying hilarious and poignant signs, I still had no idea what the point of the March was. As we passed by portable toilets all along the way, it began to sink in. The toilets were for Trump’s Inauguration crowd the day before. This day, toilets were padlocked. 

A young girl on her father’s shoulders passed by holding a homemade sign, “Hate Does Not Make America Great.”  And I knew that’s what we were meant to demonstrate. And so we did. And so we are.

Month 11 in the Shutdown Lane: The Shot

Month 11 in the Shutdown Lane: The Shot

Remember “flattening the curve”? By March 15, 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic in Chicago threatened a shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment. The governor cancelled St. Patrick’s Day parades and temporarily closed bars, restaurants, schools, churches and stores. Dr. Anthony Fauci told us not to leave our homes except for groceries or medicine or to walk the dog.

“Look at the curves of other outbreaks,” he said, “they go up big peaks, then come down. We need to flatten this curve.”

Staving off the collapse of the nation’s health care system was dependent on the unselfish actions of the body politic: hand-washing, mask-wearing, not traveling and figuring out how to stay at least six feet from others. We were so afraid we’d end up in the makeshift hospital at the cavernous McCormick Place Convention Center that we followed shelter-in-place orders. The curve flattened. For a few weeks. Then it spiked. And spiked again.

On March 20, 2020, I wrote the first in a series of thirteen weekly blog posts, “Week 1: Life in the Shutdown Lane.” By June, I lost interest. Oh, I wrote about it, moaned about it. But as time shifted into months, I stopped marking the time in weeks.Untitled 2

 “Flattening the curve” left the public discourse. Some embrace staying at home. Some double down on mask-wearing and malign
those who don’t. Some defiantly refuse to be masked and mock those who are. And some pay no attention at all as if the rules don’t apply to them. And now, the only hope for this cowboy nation to fight the deadly Covid-19 virus is the vaccine.

The first vaccines arrived in Chicago in mid-December. Priority was given to health care workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities. When the sixty-five and over age group was able to line up, all I heard about on my ever-present Zoom chats were adventures of the shot.

I thought I’d sign up on my doctor’s automated scheduling system, but when I looked, the web page said they don’t do shots. “Click here” it suggested. I clicked there and nothing happened.

“Go on the Walgreen’s site,” a friend insisted. “If there’re no appointments, keep trying.” He’d exhausted himself getting up at all hours of the night checking for available appointments. He thought I should do the same.

“What’s the hurry?” I shrugged. “My life won’t change. Fauci says I still have to wear a mask and stay home.”

Hounded by the challenge, I succumbed to the bird-dog pursuit and registered on every site, not just Walgreen’s. When I received a phone call from Mariano’s pharmacy, I reacted like I’d won the lottery.

It may be a while before I go to the Art Institute, lunch with friends or linger in a grocery store, but after almost a year of restrictions, it sure is nice to have the freedom to do so.

Just the shot in the arm I needed. 

Ghost Story

I used to walk on Chicago sidewalks with my head down watching for pitfalls, unaware of my surroundings — or with a companion, engrossed in conversation. Newspaperman Paul Galloway tutored me  in how to walk, talk and observe all at the same time.

I met Paul when he happened to sit next to me at his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1979. As the meeting got underway, a wild woman charged up the timeworn stairs of the old State Street townhouse, raged into the open room screaming and throwing empty chairs around. A policeman was hot on the woman’s heels and escorted her out. We all sat back down and continued the meeting.

During the melee, I assured Paul she was a harmless neighborhood drunk. 

“Does this happen all the time?” He asked.

“Oh no. But we do get drunks. After all, it is AA.”

Paul found that hilarious and from there on we laughed our way into a fast friendship. I’d been sober for three years by then and he peppered me before and after meetings with questions. We had long funny discussions on how to be a sober alcoholic in the crazy world of the newspaper business. He searched police records for the name and history of the woman who rampaged through his first AA meeting. Whenever I saw her on the street I averted my eyes, but Paul greeted her by name.

I’ve read newspapers and watched television news as long as I can remember. Until I met Paul, it never occurred to me to look for those stories walking along city streets. Paul pointed out politicians, criminals, movie stars, sports figures and flash-in-the-pan celebrities. In the middle of a deep philosophical discussion on the nature of god, he’d suddenly blurt out, “Jesse Jackson ahead” or “Bill Curtis crossing the street.”

On one of our many walks through crowds along the bustling bars and restaurants of Rush Street, Paul pointed out young Michael Jordan in line at the Bagel Nosh. He recounted details from the sports page about the newest Chicago Bull.

He loved reporting intimate details of people’s lives that couldn’t be printed in the paper. This age-old form of communicating the news was in his blood. Was it gossip? Hell yes. He used gossip as a learning tool—how to behave and not behave. Deep down in his funny bone he had an empathic moralistic core. 

Paul’s wife Maggie called one day in 2009.

“Paul’s heart exploded,” she said, “He was at the Asian Garden Massage Spa and his heart exploded! He’s dead!”

A fastidious germaphobe, Paul couldn’t have been there for the “happy ending.” He’d retired from the newspaper, so I knew he hadn’t been on assignment, either. I thought she was joking. 

“What was he doing there?” I asked. Stunned and grieving, Maggie sought answers in the days after Paul’s death, but the spa ladies didn’t speak English.

Paul Galloway. He left one big gossipy story that he would have loved to tell himself.

______________________________________

Read Roger Ebert’s Obituary of Paul Galloway.

Juror

Juror

When I was a young adult everyone I knew was summoned frequently for jury duty and had their own strategies to get out of serving. I thought it would be fun to be on a jury. I loved the Perry Mason television series and all the courtroom dramas it spawned. Experienced friends dissuaded me with stories of smelly old courtooms, unlovely fellow jurors and hours of boredom.

The jury summons that arrived in the mail listed the legal disqualifiers. If you were a lawyer, related to a lawyer, worked for a lawyer or even knew a lawyer, you were excused. I’m not a lawyer but I knew plenty of them. I’d volunteered on campaigns and lawyers were always running for something or organizing challenges against the Democratic Machine.  

In the early 1980s, law-and order politicians passed a slew of laws with stringent penalties for drug-related crimes. The whole system ballooned—courts, juries, attorneys, jails. It’s not that crime increased. It’s that more laws led to more arrests for the possession and sale of illegal drugs.

The jury pool didn’t expand fast enough. The court system drew from outdated voter registration lists and potential jurors like me and my friends used our easy-outs. Officials devised a quick-fix for the anemic jury pool—they eliminated most of the legal excuses. I looked forward to a day in court. Finally.

I arrived at the Cook County Criminal Court Building at 26th and California wide-eyed and ready on my appointed day. The jury selection room hadn’t opened yet. I waited in the cavernous 1929 yellowed hallway. I had no trouble sizing up the clutches collected outside the courtrooms. The accused were at the center of their group, surrounded by mothers, wives, children, siblings, friends. Every once in a while a public defender rushed out of a closed door to consult with a defendant. As I watched mini-dramas unfold, my bleeding heart told me I’d argue the innocence of each defendant regardless of the evidence. I hoped I’d get selected for one of their juries.

After a long wait on faded steel chairs in the windowless jury selection room, twenty-five of us filed into a courtroom for questioning. The judge described the case of the thirty-something man accused of selling drugs to teenagers. The defense attorney and the prosecutor whittled their way toward twelve jurors as they asked questions about our backgrounds, beliefs and prejudices. I fumbled my answers. I didn’t want to reveal myself in a crowd of strangers.

We took a break and I caught the attention of the defense attorney.

“I can’t be impartial ,” I whispered.

“What’s the problem?” She asked.

“I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous. I know people who’ve bought drugs from people like him and I know he’s guilty.”

When the judge returned, the defense attorney asked that I be dismissed. The prosecutor asked why. I edged toward the door without hearing the answer. The defendant’s lawyer mouthed “thank you”. 

And I felt guilty.

Free at Last: Lima Beans and Love

Free at Last: Lima Beans and Love

Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization movement took root in the 1940s and bloomed thirty years later when seekers started reading books such as The Prophet, I’m Ok-You’re Ok, and Be Here Now. These bestsellers moved me to cultivate a deeper self by rooting out my hatred for lima beans.

I tilled the backyard of my Jersey Shore bungalow and planted seeds of the detested vegetable. After a few weeks, bumps appeared under the thick skin of the seed pod. I diligently hosed away aphids, leafhoppers, and mites, but I was sure my crop was deformed. Consulting Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening, I learned the bumps were part of the bean apparatus—four lima beans per pod.

The morning of the first harvest, I pulled the bean pods from the vines, broke them open and started eating the sun-drenched crop right there on my knees in the garden. My neighbor flew out of her back door.

“Stop! You can’t eat raw lima beans! They’re poison!”

Uh-oh. Another reason to hate them. 

But I was determined to use lima beans to crack open the hardened interior space between the habitual prison of what was and the freedom of what could be. I brought an apronful of beans inside, cooked, salted, and buttered them. They were good. I’d turned a corner. 

Eating the once-dreaded lima bean aerated my closed mind. It served as a gateway to other new experiences: breaking free from a Christian cult, my bad marriage and dead-end jobs. Shifting my consciousness from hating to loving lima beans gave me courage. I could imagine abandoning my secluded basement with its graveyard of empty Smirnoff bottles. Surrendering to a new job as a single mother, my only task was to organize the best plan for a nine-year-old boy’s future happiness—by getting sober. Again.

I returned to Alcoholics Anonynous unable to stop drinking, but too afraid to ask for help. I’d go to meetings, sit in the back, talk to no one, leave early, and go home. Falling into bed sober, I’d feel victorious. The next day, I’d think about nothing but drinking. Drinking and not drinking. I’d drive around in search of a liquor store where no one  knew me. By the time I got the vodka bottle in my hands, I’d feel relieved just holding it. For a few brief moments my body, mind and soul were free.

But I wasn’t free. Before a previous downfall, I’d never even considered sobriety until I was forced into a mental institution. Now it was clear: my drinking was beyond my control. I was a full-blown alcoholic.

I opened up at an AA meeting miles from home on the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. I said my only option was to drink myself to death. Recovered alcoholics from that group sat with me every day until the obsession to drink lifted. It was February 1976. Forty-five years ago.

 Lima beans and love freed me at last.


Maslow’s self-actualizing characteristics:

  • Efficient perceptions of reality. Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the superficial and dishonest.
  • Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
  • Reliant on own experiences and judgement. Independent, not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views.
  • Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
  • Task centering. Most of Maslow’s subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves (instead of outside themselves) to pursue. Humanitarians such as Albert Schweitzer are considered to have possessed this quality.
  • Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
  • Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an “innocence of vision”, like that of an artist or child.
  • Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
  • Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing people value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
  • Non-hostile sense of humor. This refers to the ability to laugh at oneself.
  • Peak experiences. All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
  • Socially compassionate. Possessing humanity.
  • Few friends. Few close intimate friends rather than many perfunctory relationships.
  • Gemeinschaftsgefühl. According to Maslow, the self-actualizers possess “Gemeinschaftsgefühl”, which refers to “social interest, community feeling, or a sense of oneness with all humanity.

Bruised but Whole

Bruised but Whole

And then it was over. The Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris didn’t just come and go at noon on January 20. The world came to a screeching halt and shifted into a lower gear of slow and steady governance. And we relaxed.

Before the big day, I complained about all the pomp. I wanted them to hide in the safety of a back room in the Capitol, put their hands on a bible, then get to work. Thank god I wasn’t in charge. In front of the television with my son and his family, I ogled Lady Gaga’s poofy red skirt, Amanda Gorman’s ballet hands, and Bernie Sanders’ wool mittens. Were it not for the pandemic, I would have celebrated on the National Mall wrapped in goose down with my thirteen year-old grandson. Just as I celebrated with his older brother and sister in the 2009 Barack Obama Inauguration. Just as I celebrated with their father in the 1977 Jimmy Carter Inauguration. 

Each of these Inauguration Days marked the “most important election” of our time: Gerald Ford to Jimmy Carter, Geroge H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush to Barack Obama. And in the days after each previous Inauguration, the earth didn’t instantly shift under our feet. Indeed, for all the hype and hyperbole, Adminstration staffs admit in their memoirs, “We didn’t know what we were doing. We got off to a slow start.”

The mother of all power transfers washed across the universe with the Biden-Harris swearing-in. Joe Biden, wearing his mask, walked off his inaugural stage and signed seventeen executive actions inclduing a pivot in the Covid-19 pandemic policies. As if on cue, people on Zoom calls reported one after another their first shots for the two-shot coronavirus vaccine. And as the covid death toll passed 400,000 souls, Biden announced his Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Mr. Rogers of the Pandemic. And we relaxed.

Madam Vice-President Kamala Harris, walked off her inaugural stage to perform the swearing-in of Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Osoff. The two new Democrats mark a power transfer in Congress. And we relaxed.

The Biden and Harris familes treated millions of TV viewers to their short walk to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead of the traditional inaugural parade, in the evening we watched one of those pandemic-era technological extravaganzas with Bruce Springsteen and Katie Perry, interspersed with greetings from American workers. And we relaxed.

When President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrived at the front door of the White House around 4:00 pm, they waved to us and turned to walk inside. For a few brief seconds, they stared at a closed door. The White House Chief Usher who opens the door and offically greets the First Family was nowhere to be seen. From his Palm Beach golf course, at 11:30 am, thirty minutes before the official end of his chaotic presidency, Donald Trump, getting in one last cheap trick, had given the order to fire the Chief Usher. 

And still, we relaxed.

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Buy my book, “In That Number” at ReganBurke.com, Amazon.com, or your favorite independent book store.