Isaac Dickson’s gift of chaos
Why am I, a volunteer at Isaac Dickson Elementary School (having helped under three administrations), having to bear witness to yet another contest for the right to enter the school’s doors? I chose this school for my kids, in part, because it is so easy to volunteer here!
For years, I have been in awe of the passions that run so chaotically within this school. Their pattern, or lack thereof, has hardly anything to do with the kids, teachers, or — as I learned in a frustrated effort — the administration.
There seems to be no higher-up on which to lay this burden of chaos. It just comes with the territory. It is diversity in full bloom, and it will stretch your vision for the future with relentless tugs, hugs, tears and laughter. And it will nurture your faith in moments of exhaustion.
I have often retreated to a quiet place and prayed for the cosmic blink — a brief let-up from the challenge of goodness. But Dickson is a chaotic, diverse, exhausting challenge that never blinks.
I can almost say I’ve seen everything — and yes, last month, I saw a woman dance by with a strong voice, saying, “I am a witch.” And I will admit I took a brief escape to a quiet place to blink, to put a brief rest to my curiosity and desire to know the world as a whole.
Dickson has the greatest opportunity to be a beacon of conversation for all who enter — but not because of any one person. Dickson is a mass of movement. As a school, it is an obvious place to learn about diversity. Its one parking lot also services a church, a playground, a forest, a garden, a field and a neighborhood. The school’s windows look out on our oldest mountains, yet it is within walking distance of downtown. Dickson is a mass movement of children who are conversational with diversity because they see and hear everything.
It is hard to hold a child’s hand, to settle them down from their own version of lively behavior, while a woman dances by saying, “I am a witch.”
It is a challenge to use the Dickson phone. Every outgoing call is blended with a Christian sermon that bleeds into the lines, emitted from a radio tower on the playground.
These kids, unlike my self, are wide open to it all. They are better prepared for the challenges of the city than any other group of individuals I know. When I walk through Dickson’s doors, I find children capable of making heartfelt, personal conversation about being different.
The most important thing I have learned at the school is to listen. I started out with a strong voice, and have since learned to have faith in my eyes and my ears and my heart, because Dickson, for those who pass through its doors, is truly a wide-open place, where life never lets up.
— Sally Duryea
Try an eclectic spiritual quest
In my spiritual quest (which is probably more bizarre than that of Shirley McLaine), I have reached for everything from Ralph Sexton videos to biographies of “unsavories,” such as Capone, LaVey and Gotti.
Strangely enough, some of the black hats had some noble qualities: Thanks to Capone, many fine folk could sip their whiskey during prohibition. As for LaVey, he had remarkable finesse in working with animals while employed by the Clyde Beatty Circus, seeking to be a trainer rather than a tamer. He objected to breaking an animal’s spirit, rather seeking to develop it and form it in a desired direction, so that the tigers had as much fun as he did while performing. (This concept is also found in the movie The Horse Whisperer.) Also, he was very accomplished in judo, as well as music. If any rowdy tried to mess with him, he was quickly laid flat, courtesy of LaVey’s perplexing maneuvers.
As for the now-imprisoned Gotti, I suggest that any budding Mafioso learn the qualities of coolness of head and humbleness of spirit by contrasting them with the arrogance and hot-headedness of Gotti.
In conclusion, I can only hope that the Ralph Sextons, Jerry Falwells, etc., will have their obituaries written on hemp paper by a much wiser posterity.
(Note: Do not mistake me for a typical leftist; I harbor many views of the far right. Eclectic is the word.)
— Charles Mathis
Kudos for Mayer
Daniel Mayer’s article, “The other side of the coin” [Commentary, Nov. 3] was surely one of the best I have read! He has much wisdom and great writing ability. It’s about time someone took up for our pigeons! I told Daniel it was Noah who built the Ark, but Moses would have done it if he had been born.
— Jean McLeod
Uncle Sam knows Mumia shot no cop
I’m writing with my growing concern for the protection of one of many who’s spoken out for what he believed. They’ve signed the death warrant for Mumia, to be administered by lethal injection on Dec. 2.
“Party’s over, oops, out of time,” people. This action won’t teach us anything that Uncle Sam hasn’t taught us already. Hasn’t he continually shown us his cowardice? I can think of four outstanding political voices who were murdered by his blood-filthy lyin’ and crooked hand: JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Why? If you haven’t learned, they don’t really care. …
Don’t they have us believe that we are protected in what we say? That our speech is free? Then, when someone says something that [Uncle Sam] feels is a threat … Booyaka, boo ya!
How can we quietly sit back and watch cowards strike out our people?
This man spoke on what he believed and reported on stories he felt were worth hearing.
Mumia Abu-Jamal shot no cop. This is all a lie that they’ve tricked weak-minded, law-abiding citizens into believing. Do they think Ice-T was a cop killer? He lives in a mansion and wears silk boxers. All he did was say “No!” — while someone else, who didn’t say things like that, is about to be done away with, for just being revolutionary.
True justice lies within — the only truth, ultimately, is in what you choose to believe. I can’t believe that in this dawn of evolution for humanity that Uncle Sam is still standing there, with the blood of yours, mine, mothers and fathers, with the blood dripping off his jaw like a bloody-jawed wolf! I will not be quiet about this scenario. This is wrong.
We have learned to give voice to the voiceless. We can say with words, and words create action. The actions by our government? Inexcusable, undeniable, unintelligible, uncool.
Seen, yes — by every eye. Peace upside your head. Peace.
Animal Control is going to the dogs
I would like to share a recent experience I had with Buncombe County Animal Control Services. I am totally frustrated and appalled with this organization. Let me explain why.
My child and I live in a rural part of Buncombe County, where neighbors are within eyesight and nearly all of them have children. For the past year, there has been a stray female dog roaming the area. … I am soft-hearted when it comes to animals and had recently taken in a homeless chow who had nearly starved to death in a neighbor’s field. I couldn’t afford to take in yet another animal, but I thought I could help this stray female dog with some food. I walked up to the church with a bowl of food and set it down. The dog quickly devoured it.
The last thing I expected her to do then was to lunge at me, growling and snapping her teeth. I flew backward over an embankment, suddenly finding my face level with flashing white teeth and myself on very slanted, unsure footing. One lunge and she would have had me, but she stopped. I tried to slowly sidle around toward home, and she came at me one more time. She stopped again and went back to commence eating the plastic bowl. I headed home on shaky legs.
A few weeks later, I called Animal Control concerning another animal, but told them about this female dog and how fearsome she is. I explained that other neighbors had called, as well. …
Meanwhile, she had another litter of pups. Recently, she started going out on the roads, with the puppies trying to follow. One was hit by a car and killed. …
I took to driving my daughter to the bus stop, instead of her walking, for fear of running into the dog. If I walked, I took my dogs and a big walking stick. … One morning, we met the dog on our road. Thankfully, we were driving. On the way back, I picked up one of the pups from under a neighbor’s car. I started to try to find a home for it, until I learned it had mange. The momma-dog heard her pup at my place, and all night, [she] tried to get to it, while my dogs would chase her off.
I thought this was a perfect opportunity for Animal Control to catch her. … The man I talked to when I called first said that they didn’t have a cage big enough for this dog. That remark, in itself, rendered Animal Control rather useless, as far as I could tell. The second time, they were tied up and would not be able to send anyone out — for the whole day, I gathered. The man suggested that I tie her up somehow, preferably in a sheltered area, until they could come get her.
Excuse me? This dog won’t let anyone near her.
I asked if they could shoot her with a sedative. That would be the only way to catch her. He explained that they were not allowed to do that, as some considered it cruelty to the animal.
So I took the pup to the Madison County shelter — for, unlike the Friends For Animals shelter, they will let you retrieve the animal before they euthanize it.
I did not want to endanger my child or the neighborhood, so I called the Sheriff’s Department about the stray. They told me it was totally out of their jurisdiction and to talk to the supervisor at Animal Control and, if that didn’t work, to talk to the county commissioners. [The person at the Sheriff’s office] told me they were having trouble with Animal Control. So I called Animal Control back and asked for the supervisor. The dispatcher answered, and he said he would try to work with me. He said they do have large cages, but that they were all rented out at the moment. He added that the best they could do would be to send out a patrol to look for her. I offered that, if they contacted me, I could tell them her hangouts, because she just doesn’t sit put. I knew by the time they sent someone, she and her two remaining pups would be long gone. …
Now, the weather is turning cold. The dog is malnourished and losing her hair to the mange. … The pups have the same condition. She’ll have more pups, which will either become casualties or wild dogs. A wild-dog pack. Oh, boy!
I called Animal Control yet again. They could get her if they came out today, I told them. I was told they had no one available. They didn’t even take my name and number. I gave up.
Yesterday, Animal Control left a follow-up message on my machine. They had sent a patrol out twice and never saw the dog. Duh. It had been over a week since I called. No one bothered to contact me. I could have shown the patroller the barns and fields where momma dog has recently taken up hanging out, off the adjacent road.
Again, on the message, the official told me, within safe reason, to try to catch her on a leash and put her in a sheltered area with food, and they would pick her up that day or, if after hours, the next. Funny — they can respond so quickly to a tied-up dog, but it takes seven to nine days to come look for one that is loose. …
Will it take a maimed child for serious action to be taken? And what about the suffering of this animal and her pups? …
I struggle to pay my taxes. I don’t want to have a struggle when I need to see my tax dollars put to good use.
— Troy Amastar
Judge not these earth-based religions
I am a lifelong resident of Asheville with a Native American heritage, and I feel compelled to speak up about Mayor Sitnick’s controversial proclamation of Earth-Based Religions Awareness Week.
I follow traditional Native American religious practices, and I personally feel deeply insulted by the vicious attacks upon the mayor by some of the local Christian groups. Perhaps these folks need to be reminded that one of the main reasons for the European colonization of the New World was to escape religious persecution. Many of these early colonists would not have survived in the New World, had it not been for the generosity and guidance of the Native Americans who lived here.
Later, this kindness and generosity was repaid with the loss of their lands by brute force, the spread of disease (sometimes intentionally), and “gifts” of alcohol — just to name a few. In many cases, the treatment of various tribes was genocide that can be compared to Adolph Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. The justification for this was that the Native Americans were “godless savages” — no better than animals, since they were not Christians. A more subtle aspect of all this was the effort of the missionaries, who sought to convert these “heathens,” rather than acknowledge the excellent religion the Native Americans already had.
This religious and cultural persecution has persisted until fairly recently, with Indian children being sent off to boarding schools and beaten by priests and nuns for speaking their own language, while constantly being told that their native religion was pagan and evil. Fortunately, some of the Christian religions in the western states have officially acknowledged Native American ceremonies as valid, and there are even instances of priests participating in sweat lodges and other ceremonies with Native American holy men.
I think some of our local ministers would benefit greatly by being more open-minded or, at least, a little more tolerant. I don’t claim to be a biblical scholar, but I do seem to recall a passage that goes something like, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
A motto in the 1960s was “do your own thing.” Nowadays, it seems that motto would be “I’m gonna do my thing, and I want everyone else to do it, too.” This is a trend that I hope will eventually die out.
— David Cross
What would Jesus do?
I have been reading the letters in the Mountain Xpress and also in the Asheville Citizen-Times. People have been writing about zoning (the sign of the AntiChrist, according to some strange individuals), the election, and the fallout over the mayor’s recent proclamation acknowledging earth-based religions.
All that is interesting. Some of it may even be important. However … the critical issue facing Asheville today is poverty. We have 400-600 homeless people living in the city, by conservative estimates. An additional 2,000 to 3,000 people are living in unstable housing situations (i.e., sleeping on a friend’s couch, staying with extended family temporarily, etc.). Many people are working two and three jobs, at $6 to $7 per hour. This is 1999! These facts are obscene! Yet what are we doing, as a community, to bring justice and hope to people (right here!) who are denied justice and have no hope?
Well, the Chamber of Commerce has been doing economic development since Columbus sailed. Does anyone (other than the Chamber) feel that we have developed economically at all? And the politicians keep making promises that things will change. The city can spend $100,000 on corporate welfare for the Chamber of Commerce. It can spend $300,000 on the Civic Center. It can spend $4 million on renovating the police station. Why can’t the city spend money to set up a public shelter for the homeless? Why can’t the city establish an urban homesteading program, or at least have a living minimum wage of $10 per hour for all companies contracting with the city? Why can’t any of this be done?
And the fundamentalist Christians — is Christianity something that gets you to heaven when you’re dead and does nothing while you’re living? My Bible has the 25th chapter of Matthew, which calls for Christians to actually help the poor, not just pray for them (really, tell them to go off and die).
Maybe we need a different approach. Since no one gives a damn about the poor in Asheville, why don’t we have the cops round them all up? With our Nazi Supreme Court, there wouldn’t be many constitutional issues. Besides, what poor person can afford an attorney for anything? Anyhow, once they’re rounded up, we could let the cops shoot them. The cost of bullets would be minimal. (We’re just talking Asheville. Gas [chambers] would be better for a national program.)
This would have many benefits. The cops would get live target practice. We’d be able to do away with all the costly social programs and free up buildings and money for useful projects (like another Wal-Mart). Also, you could use the dead bodies for fertilizer — and, I’ve been told, the hair could be used for mattress stuffing. The skin could be made into neat lampshades. Finally, all the old clothes could be cleaned and shipped to prisons.
Isn’t this a great proposal? Instead of sitting around doing nothing, we could solve the problem of poverty in Asheville in a few days. We could even expand the program and get rid of old people, handicapped people and those pesky earth-based-religion folks. It would be difficult, but this is what Jesus would do, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?
— Daniel M. Breen
Love a pet, torture an animal
I was disappointed to read in the Nov. 3 Mountain Xpress that the well-intentioned folks at the Humane Society of Buncombe County and Find-A-Pet were raising money with a dinner of crab cakes, tuna and tenderloin. Isn’t it odd how they, and society in general, can have such a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling about some animals, and be completely oblivious and unconcerned about the horrendous treatment of others?
Fish suffer greatly when caught and killed for their flesh. Whether caught by hook or net, fish experience fear — as evidenced by increased heart and breathing rates — just as humans do. When asked whether fish feel pain, Professor Frank Hird replied, “It is unthinkable that fish do not have pain receptors. They need them in order to survive.”
I am uncertain whether the tenderloin [the fund-raisers] will serve comes from a cow or a pig. If from a pig, then (s)he was most likely confined to a cement stall for his or her entire life, unable even to turn around. Standard animal-agriculture procedures now include pigs having their tails chopped off and their teeth removed with pliers. Male cows and pigs are castrated without anesthesia. The animals are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics to make them grow so quickly that their hearts and limbs often cannot keep up, causing crippling, lameness and heart attacks. Finally, at the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside down and bled to death, often while fully conscious.
It is simply illogical to adore dogs and cats while failing to recognize that other animals are also sentient beings. If you love animals called pets, stop eating animals called dinner. It’s time to recognize the folly of our ways and extend the circle of compassion to all living beings.
— Marcia Zink
Theaters and audiences don’t deserve Loewer’s tirade
I am writing in response to Peter Loewer’s curmudgeony commentary entitled, “Losing it at the movies” [Nov. 3].
For four years, I have been the film critic for Mountain Xpress — a job that requires me to attend about 300 films a year at our local theaters. I must say, I heartily object to Mr. Loewer’s assessment of Asheville theatergoers as being rude. Furthermore, I feel he is off-base regarding the competence of the staff and management of our community’s movie theaters.
Of the 1,200 films I have seen at the area’s many different movie houses, I can count on one hand the times when audiences have been either rude or inappropriate. Yes, on occasion, I have had to ask my neighbors to keep their comments to themselves — but this is, by far, a rare event.
Furthermore, I have never been bombarded by trailers that depict “lying politicians,” cell-phone advertisements or “toxic soft drinks.” Whether one feels that Coca-Cola contains nutritional value or not, it is still a popular drink at the movies. The bulk of the theaters’ trailers show previews of upcoming movies, which many of us enjoy and find helpful in determining whether we will resonate with a future film or not.
As far as youngsters giggling in the wrong places or people talking on mobile phones during movies — again, that has not been my experience. Many of the teen-slasher films are intended to be tongue-in-cheek — directed toward a teen market, and considered to be amusing by this age group. And while I, personally, am not a big fan of bomb blasts and people catching on fire, who am I to judge those who find the absurdity/humor in these “grisly” horror films? I loved and laughed at American Beauty, while others might find its dark elements to be off-putting and/or tasteless. For me, that’s what makes the world of entertainment so appealing. There’s something in every artistic effort for everyone.
Finally, over the years, I happen to have established terrific relationships with the hard-working staff and management of our local theaters. Yes, sometimes they make mistakes and the popcorn isn’t hot, or the film is out of frame until someone brings it to their attention. But I also know that these folks work long hours for not-so-great pay, and they do this to provide as competent a film-going experience for their audiences as is humanly possible. The theater managers, specifically, go out of their way to attempt to bring Asheville audiences the best and most “civilized” movie-going experience that they can. Whether they are able to succeed in that effort 100 percent of the time is not the point.
I’m sure that Mr. Loewer has had his moments of failure as well, and I just can’t support his arrogant (and highly exaggerated) position against the audiences and the presentation of films in our town.
— Ashely Siegel