Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Wizard of Ooze

Many if not most individuals reach the pinnacle of success in their youth.  Athletes peak in their twenties and early thirties; musicians often start as child prodigies and peak before thirty and are heard no more; many masterpiece paintings were created by youthful artists before age dimmed their vision and trembled their hands.

Of course, dear reader, you have already thought of many exceptions to my generalizations—Grandmother Moses, Tom Brady, Yoyo Ma and many others, peaking at middle or old age.  I am among those exceptions.  I did not reach the zenith of my potential until two months ago, at age 82.

But in order to put everything in perspective I must first list what, until recently, I thought of as my peak performances.

In 1963, at age 26, I blew the whistle on the U.S. Army, ending Fort Ord’s complicity with Monterey Peninsula’s racist landlords who refused to rent to minority soldiers.

During the summer of 1965, at age 28, I dodged beatings by sheriffs and Ku Klux Klan thugs as I successfully aided in the enrollment of thirty Black kids in the all-white elementary school in Sharkey County, Mississippi.

I can smile about being spit on by Kemper County, Mississippi, sheriff’s deputies as I entered the county courthouse in 1967, at age 30, to investigate voter discrimination. I succeeded in reviewing the records and finding written evidence of racial discrimination.

Please forgive me for reciting those ancient accomplishments. My purpose is not to seek your approval. You will see how those successes pale in comparison to my life’s high point that I am about to reveal. Read on.

In early March the coronavirus mounted its vicious assault upon our country, attacking on many fronts. Social distancing and stay in place requirements became de riguer.  The pandemic’s medical and financial impact was and is deadly serious to millions of persons world over.

For the Gough household the impact amounts to what is, all things considered, really a minor inconvenience. My wife must work at home, but she rather enjoys that. I had to give up golfing two or three times a week and hanging out at Coles Coffee shop sipping lattes and reading the newspaper.  These were truly minor detours from my meandering pre-pandemic life style.

However, when I learned that housekeepers were omitted from the list of essential workers, I was more than a little upset. MC and Bernice, our loyal hardworking housekeepers for the past 30 plus years, would not be allowed to clean our home every Friday morning. MC and Bernice are like family. We placed them on paid vacation and bid them adieu for the duration of the pandemic.

The weekly housekeeping chores fell to me.

Woe is me, I mourned as I contemplated sweeping, vacuuming, dusting and mopping every Friday. I soon discovered, however, that I had a knack for driving the vacuum cleaner, navigating the micro-fiber dust cloth, to which even invisible particles of dust, dander and hair magically cling, as I swished it over table tops, breakfronts, chair backs, dresser tops, mantels and everywhere that dust is wont to collect.   Cleaning the stove top, windexing the glass doors of the double ovens, polishing the kitchen countertops, damp mopping the bathroom tile floors and the kitchen hardwood floor-- all of those tasks I quickly mastered and performed in a craftsman-like fashion. Indeed, at the end of my labors each Friday as I survey the product of my labor, a sparkling, clean home, I am overcome with pride for a job well done.

“So, you sneer, “that is the peak of your life, learning to sweep, mop and dust? Big deal!”

No, no, that is not the epitome. Read on, dear reader, please read on.

I had to clean the toilets.

I looked upon this challenge with disgust and repugnance. "Who am I to clean toilets? I who had defied the U.S. Army, confronted racist sheriffs, confronted the KKK in Mississippi—I am to get on my knees and clean the toilet?"

“Why yes,” replied my dear wife. “Who else?  There is dignity and honor even in the lowliest of jobs.”

Rallied by the wisdom of her words, I bent to the task.  I enlisted Amazon as my quartermaster.  Amazon rose to the occasion and delivered the perfect weapon, a Clorox magic wand toilet brush. It came with long handle, not six feet long, but long enough to keep my hands out of the toilet bowl.  Attached at the end of the handle was Clorox laden detachable brush, which after doing its intended job, was disposable by simply pressing a button, ejecting the brush into the trash can.

Armed with this magic wand, I attacked the downstairs toilet and scrubbed away with vigor. The brush released its sodium hypochlorite soldiers, bleached the bowl, vanquished all lurking toxic germs and delightfully colored the bowl water a lovely blue.

Bolstered by my success, I advanced upon the upstairs toilet, assaulting it with a fresh brush and renewed energy and enthusiasm. The toilet surrendered its stains without a fight.

Now, enthroned upon my sparkling commode, I, the Wizard of Ooze, reign from the zenith of my life.

©Kerry Gough 2020

Monday, December 16, 2019

How Do I Lie To Thee

 Given the current political state of affairs, I am sharing with you 
 a poem I wrote nearly two years ago but which is now quite timely..

            HOW DO I LIE TO THEE
(By Donald Trump, with Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How do I lie to thee? I’ll count the ways:
I lie to thee to the depth, breadth and heights
My ego can reach, texting in the night
Maiming truth and seeking praise.
I lie to the level of every day’s
Political needs, by twitter’s light.
I lie to thee freely, damning the media’s slight,
Lying endlessly, desperate for your praise.
I lie to thee with the passion put to use
In my lusty groping in my piggish ways.
I lie to thee with campaign skills I used
Even though the popular vote I did lose.
I lie to thee with cheating and smirks,
And I'll still tweet lies vehement
After my sham impeachment.

© 2018  Kerry Gough

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Chief Running Bear, Racial Politics and Elizabeth Warren

“What are you writing now, Kerry? “asked Chief Running Bear, as I sat down near him in my back yard to write this blog. 

Many years ago, my wife Leila spotted Chief Running Bear in a going-out-of-business tobacco store.  She rescued him and presented him to me as a no-occasion gift.  The Chief had spent the first 40 or 50 years of his life standing majestically at the doors of a various tobacco stores, relegated, like many of his artfully hewn brothers, to that humble position by clever entrepreneurs aware of the relationship of tobacco and American Indians. Colonists borrowed the use of tobacco from the Indians and then stole the land upon which it grew. What remained for the Indians was the dubious honor of being sculpted in wood and placed at the entrances of tobacco stores throughout the nation.  

Having acquired the Chief, there arose an immediate problem.  Where was he to dwell?  “Not in our living room,” said Leila, and suggested, “take him to your office.” Thus, he took up residence in my law office, where he remained, standing next my desk for nearly 20 years.  The Chief and I spent many late nights together as I prepared for trial or key depositions. Often, fatigued by a long day’s work, I would sit back and recite my legal arguments and read my briefs to the Chief, who listened and never orally responded but I could always tell whether he approved or not.  

When I retired, I sold all my law office assets, but the Chief and I had so bonded that I could not leave him behind.  I brought him home and he now resides in my back yard next to the fence, partially hidden by a row of closely spaced Carolina trees.  He feels right at home there. The other day, having noticed that his face has taken a beating by the weather and has grown a whitish beard of mold, I promised him a shave and facial when I return from vacation.

I am sure that fate and genes brought the Chief and me together.  Leila knows that Cherokee blood runs in my veins and thus the purchase of the Chief. I often share my ancestry with friends, casual acquaintances and, frankly, with anyone who will listen.   My great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee. As related to me by a relative with whom I share the art of exaggeration, she was a Cherokee princess. Like the Chief, I am usually disbelieved by my smirking listeners—and perhaps by you.  I learned later that great-great-great grandma was just an ordinary Indian maiden.  But as far as I was concerned, being Native American elevated her to nobility. To this day I do not hesitate to inform anyone who will listen that my great-great-great grandmother was an Indian princess.

That makes me 1/32nd Cherokee.  Too little to qualify me for any tribal privileges, benefits or nobility but enough to make me proud of my heritage.

Now you are asking, if indeed you have borne with me this far, “what does this have to do with Elizabeth Warren?” 

It’s all about heritage.  As early as 1986 Ms. Warren identified herself as an American Indian of Cherokee ancestry.  Her political opponents accused her of lying, leading her to have her DNA examined. The examination determined the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in [her] pedigree, likely in the range of 6–10 generations ago. 1 If it were 6 generations, that would make her 1/64th Indian. I’m 1/32th. We could be distant relatives, perhaps second cousins, five or six generations removed. Blood brother and sister.

The brouhaha over her claim of Indian ancestry—ancestry which was proven, mind you—led her to acknowledge that her Native American ancestry was not at all tribal citizenship and she apologized to the Cherokee Nation "…for furthering confusion over issues of tribal sovereignty and citizenship and for any harm her announcement caused."2 

There is more that should have been said. From colonial times to the present even a minuscule amount of ancestral blood has been sufficient for racial identification. For decades one tiny drop of Negro blood flowing in the veins of a white appearing person made him or her officially and legally a Negro.  The whitest looking person, even with pale pink skin, freckles and red hair, for example, was disqualified from the rights and privileges of white society once it became known that at some time, even in the distant past, he or she had a Negro ancestor. Such a person might easily pass as white but would always be fearful of being stripped of the privileges of whiteness if her ancestry were discovered. 

When Ms. Warren claimed a few drops of Cherokee ancestry she was lambasted.  Her political opponents claimed that her motivation was suspect, a shameful attempt to obtain favor from a tiny minority of voters by claiming racial identity.  They pilloried her for asserting her Cherokee heritage.  Of course, bigots will play the race card in any way possible if it serves their purposes.  If Ms. Warren gets the nomination, the same hypocritical persons who cried out “She’s not Indian!” will do an about-face and shout, “We don’t want a Native American President,” just as they railed against Roman Catholic Kennedy and African American Obama. My reply, “What could be more American than a person with Native American blood coursing proudly through her veins?”

Yes, Ms. Warren was accused of having used her Native American ancestry for political gain, but in the final analysis, she told the truth. She is of Cherokee ancestry. She is entitled to be proud and to assert her Native American heritage.  Unfortunately, we live in a society where race is used or abused for personal and political gain.  Race should not play a part in our elections nor in our societal institutions.  But it has for hundreds of years and as illustrated by Ms. Warren’s case, it still does and will continue to do so until and so long as racism and bigotry are embraced and promoted by bigots, xenophobes and others of that ilk.  

I am proud of my bit of Cherokee ancestry. I’m part of the melting pot. As is Ms. Warren.  We are a diverse nation, individually and collectively and our diversity has served us excellently.   Let’s keep that in mind as we approach the 2020 elections. Chief Running Bear agrees. 

©Kerry Gough 2019
2 Ibid.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Will the Door Be Full of Holes Post Trump?

When I was bumming around Europe in 1957, I met a Scottish fellow who was upset about the failure of the U.S. to back up Britain, France and Israel during the Suez Canal crisis. The U.S. had threatened serious economic sanctions against those three countries –our allies--if they refused to withdraw from Egyptian territory along the canal. The Scot claimed that as a result of the U.S. action in Suez a breach had been made between the U.S. and Britain that could never be completely healed.  He told this story: 

A little boy, who was often naughty, was made to drive a nail into the barn door for each time he was bad. Soon the door was full of nails and the next time he was sent out to drive a nail, he returned and said to his mother, “I can’t drive any more nails, the door is full.”  

“Well, then,” said the mother, “from now on every time you are good pull out a nail from the door.” 

And after a long while the door was empty of nails and so the mother said, “Well, now we are back to where we started a long time ago.”  

“No, mama,” said the boy, “now the door is full of holes.”

Our friendship with our NATO partners Britain and France survived the Suez crisis. But now more holes have been punched in the relationships with our allies by Trump’s dangerous threat to withdraw from NATO and by his environmentally unsound withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. In addition, Trump's dangerous and treasonous love affair with Putin rips away at his duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. 

He repeatedly attacks the Separation of Powers clause of the Constitution by maligning judges who rule against him and most recently by declaring a national emergency –which does not exist—in order to make an end around Congress’s refusal to authorize five billion dollars for an unneeded wall at the Mexican Border.

Let’s hope that we get rid of Trump and his sycophants in 2020 and get back to where we started before his election. 

Or will the door be full of holes?

Friday, November 30, 2018


Legs stretched out, I-Pad open to a page turner mystery novel, I sat in my roomy exit row window seat ready for a relaxing flight home from North Bend, a small town in Oregon.  It was takeoff time and I was congratulating myself for the good luck that the aisle seat was vacant and I would have plenty of elbow and shoulder room during the flight. I would read and maybe even doze a bit. The flight attendant shut the hatch behind the last passenger to board.   He was a tall man, about six feet three, 275 pounds, wide shouldered, in his mid-sixties.  He was casually dressed, jeans, red wool plaid shirt and Nikes.

The flight was not full. Indeed, the man passed an empty row as he approached. I wondered why he didn’t sit in that row, which he’d have all to himself.  But no, he continued down the aisle, eyeing the seat numbers beneath the luggage compartments and, yes, stopped at my row. He checked his boarding pass, uttered, “Ah, here I am,” and plopped down beside me.

Yes, here he was, his shoulder invading my space.  I leaned against the cabin wall and focused on my novel, praying I’d avoid a tiresome conversation. He opened a paperback book and started to read.  Relieved, I sighed a quiet “thank you Lord,” and returned to my novel.

We were about 10 minutes into the flight when he closed his book, looked my way and asked, "What brought you to North Bandon?" 

I considered but abandoned the smart-ass answer, "an airplane," closed my e-book and resigned myself to spending the flight conversing with this stranger. Think positive. He might be interesting. I might learn something, I mused.

“I’ve been golfing at Bandon Dunes. I’m on my way home to Oakland. Do you live in San Francisco?”

"Oh, no, I live in North Bend. I have a connection at SFO to San Diego.  I'm on my way there to help our new youth pastor move to North Bend.  I’ll drive a truck packed with his furniture.  He and his wife will follow along in their car.””

“A church in North Bend?”

“Yes, First Baptist Church.”

“Are you the pastor?”

“I’m a member.  Once I was a Baptist pastor.  For 25 years.”

Oh, my Gawd, I thought. I'm stuck on this plane for an hour with this red neck, right wing, small- town Southern Baptist who probably was defrocked. Probably a Trump supporter, too.  I have nothing in common with this guy. What in the world can we talk about?   I knew that for the next hour I’d have to keep my far-left mouth shut, refrain from politics and certainly not discuss my church’s open arms to the LGBT community.

So, I proceeded safely.  "My son was a youth pastor. Now he’s the senior pastor at a Presbyterian church in Corvallis.”

Perhaps that information made him feel comfortable and safe to volunteer what I found to be really surprising.

 “Our new youth pastor is married to a Jamaican woman.”

 "Is she ...?"  I had stupidly nearly asked if she were black.  Of course, she was black.  "I mean, does the congregation know she’s black?"

“Oh yes. The congregation voted overwhelmingly to call this young man to shepherd the youth of our church.  We’re really excited to welcome him and his wife.”

This revelation put the lie to my biased pre-judgment of this stranger as a small-town bigot with whom I had nothing in common. Now I felt safe.  I told him that I had adopted black twins, had a black grandson and had been a civil rights lawyer for 40 years. Then we proceeded to chat about his church and North Bend and I learned, happily, that the pastor’s wife would not be the only black in North Bend.

After the plane landed and we were collecting our things, I turned to him and said,
“I’ve got to confess something.  When you told me that you lived in North Bend and were a retired Baptist preacher, I figured you for a small town, biased, right-winger. I decided that we had nothing in common, nothing to talk about. I apologize. I was so wrong. The fact is that I learned something important about me by talking to you.
“What was that?”

“That I, not you, was the biased one.”

“Well,” he said, smiling, “We haven’t talked about Trump.”

“And that’s a blessing,” I replied. 

We laughed, shook hands and went our separate ways.

(c) Kerry Gough 2018

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Kiss and the Kill


                               Indelible Memories from My Childhood

                                                        The Kiss

We had just spent the day at the beach.  I was as happy as a ten year old boy can be. After two years in Alaska, my dad, who always saw the grass as greener across the fence, had packed us up, hooked up a used 15 foot house trailer and hauled all of us off, mom, my older brother and younger sister, down the dusty and sometimes muddy Alcan Highway back to the land of our origins, Southern California.  I, for one, even at my young and adventurous age, was delighted to leave Alaska for I loved sunny California and its beaches.  To run and jump into the cool ocean and then to lie in the sun, listen to the surf and enjoy the soothing warm ocean breeze caressing my body was heaven. 

Dad still had his 1941 four door Chevy, the one we’d driven from Alaska.   He was driving.  Mom was in the middle and next to the door was Audrey, wife of Chili West, one of Dad’s best friends from childhood.  I have no recollection why Audrey was on this family outing to the beach, but she and Chili and their kids were long time family friends, so her being along wasn’t strange or unusual.
I was sitting in the middle of the back seat between my brother and sister. It would have been just another drive home from a nice day at the beach, with nothing particularly memorable about it, until I did something that I cannot forget.

An arm lay across the top of the front seat.  Tiny, tiny bits of salt sparkled among the colorless, nearly invisible fuzz on that lightly tanned arm.  I must have assumed it was mom’s arm because, for some reason, and I have no recollection why, perhaps just being a kid loving his mom for taking him to the beach, but anyway, I leaned forward and I kissed that arm.

Audrey turned her head, smiled at me and said, “Kerry, how sweet.”
To my horror, I had kissed Audrey’s arm!   I sank back into the seat. If only I could have disappeared into it. My face burned with embarrassment.  I could not escape. I sat there, trapped between my smirking siblings, suffering Audrey’s repeated exclamation, “Oh, Kerry, how sweet, how sweet!”

                                                       The Kill

We returned to Alaska two years or so later, back up the Alcan Highway, this time in Dad’s 16 foot Federal truck loaded with all our belongings and equipped with a small sleeping and cooking space at the rear of the flat bed.  Dad loved to hunt, and to hunt was a major motivation to abandon his friends and relatives in Southern California and return to Alaska, the last frontier, where we would last a year or two before he would tire of the cold dark winters and pack us up to head back to good friends and the warmth of Southern California.

One year during caribou season dad took me along on the hunt. We left Anchorage and drove a hundred miles or so north on the Glen Highway, pulled off and parked on a wide spot in the road. Flat treeless tundra stretched for miles to the north.  We got out. Dad’s hunting buddies pulled up next to us.  We all stood there, three grown men and me, hunters, providing for our families. This was the first time dad had taken me on hunting trip, and I was so proud, feeling so grown up, standing there, all of us pissing on the gravel, marking our presence.  It was such a man thing.  I felt so grown up, so pleased to be there with my dad and his friends, one of the gang.

Dad raised his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the treeless tundra, searching for the caribou that always migrated through the area this time of year.  He spotted several caribou about 500 yards distant.  He had a 30.06 rifle with a scope.  The caribou were well within range of the 30.06 but dad wanted to get closer, to let me to have the shot.  “We’ve got to get closer,” he said, “and we’ve got to stay down low, behind the brush.”  Dad loaded the rifle. We started moving stealthily across the tundra, feet sinking several inches into the tundra, water rising in our footprints and wetting our boots as we crept from scraggly brush to scraggly brush. We approached within 250 to 300 yards. Dad and I lay flat, dad resting his elbows in the tundra as he spied on a group of three caribou.  He handed me the binoculars.  “Look at the one on the left.”  The binoculars were heavy and awkward in my hands, and the image jumped around and everything was out of focus. I had to sit with elbows on my knees in order to hold the binoculars steady.  Turning the focusing screw, eventually I was able to find the large bull. “Look at his spread,” dad whispered. “It’s darn near trophy size.”  The bull caribou was huge, noble and majestic.

Dad handed me the rifle.  He sat on the tundra.  “Lay the rifle on my shoulder,” he said, “that’s the only way you’ll be able to hold it steady and find him in the scope.”  I sat behind and slightly to his left, and laid the stock of the rifle on his shoulder. I took it off safety.   “Aim about halfway up his body, just behind his shoulder.”  I did as dad said. I found the huge beautiful animal in the scope, placed the scope’s cross hairs half way up his body and behind his shoulder and slowly pulled the trigger.

The caribou dropped to the tundra.

We ran towards the kill, as much as you can run through wet tundra.  Dad carried the rifle, ready to stop and shoot if the caribou got to its feet and started to run away.  It did not. No coup de gras was necessary.  I had shot it through the heart.  It had died instantly.  Even in death, the caribou was majestic, and I had killed it.

There are no photographs of me standing proudly with rifle in one hand, the other holding  one of the points of the caribou’s huge rack.  I was not the brave young hunter.  There are no photographs because I walked away and cried. I felt like I had killed one of Santa’s reindeer.

The caribou’s rack was in fact near record size in points and spread.  For years it hung over the garage door in my folks’ place in Anaheim where they retired when the unforgiving cold of Alaska once again moved them to the hazy warmth of southern California, never to return to the frigid north.

                                                The Memories

I have no idea where that rack is now.  Mom, dad and Audrey are long dead. What I do know is that the memories of the kiss and of the kill reside indelibly on the surface of my mind.  It takes only a random sight or sound to usher them full blown to my consciousness, filling me with ancient embarrassment and lingering regret.

Kerry Gough ©2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


As the middle aged couple exited upscale La Farine Bakery on College Avenue, a disheveled elderly man sitting on the sidewalk with a paper cup between his feet greeted them with a friendly “Hello,” in a tone that suggested he knew them. 

Neither of the couple responded, but as they walked by, one of them said, “Who is he?” and the other replied, “I don’t know, just some homeless guy.”

The old man shouted, “Don’t call me homeless!”

How convenient we find it to label and dismiss our fellow human beings with a thoughtless adjective: homeless, druggie, right-winger, racist, lefty, egoist, narcissist and hundreds of other nouns and adjectives uttered pejoratively. I confess that I have been guilty of such labeling in several of my politically directed blog posts.  I regret it, for to do so is to be intellectually lazy, to fail to make the effort to see beyond labels and to acknowledge that usually there is some good even in the persons I may passionately detest.

Having volunteered some years ago at a charity which provides Saturday evening meals to hungry people from the Berkeley streets, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with some of them. They were living on the streets. They were indeed homeless.

But they were more than that.

I met a professor who had a Ph.D. in economics,  a corporate executive, a mechanic, a school teacher, a construction worker and many others who had for one reason or another fallen upon hard times. Also at these meals usually there were teen-age boys and girls who were victims of physical and emotional assault and had fled their tormentors, often their parents or other relatives.  And of course there were drug and alcohol addicts, coming in from the streets for a hot meal, perhaps the only nourishing meal of their day or week.

They were all our fellow human beings. All of them at one time had parents who in most cases nourished and loved them, teachers who endeavored to educate them, employers who trusted and depended upon them, and many of them had themselves parented and loved and cared for their own children.

If we take a minute or two to contemplate the lives, activities, endeavors, employment, education, contributions, and family life of our dearest friends and neighbors and then dare to empathize with the men, women and children camped out under the freeways, we are compelled to accept that dwelling in those tents and under those tarps are people who in better times enjoyed comfortable lives similar to those of our friends and neighbors. They could have been our friends and neighbors. 

In our social lives it is so easy to define ourselves simplistically and unrevealingly:
        “Hello, my name is Kerry. I am so glad to meet you.”
        “I’m Bob.  What do you do, Kerry?”
        “I’m a lawyer.  And you?”
        “I’m a doctor.”

What have Bob and I learned about each other?  Really nothing. We’ve comfortably hung labels around our necks. If we really are interested in a new acquaintance, we should do as Joseph Ciza, a nurse who risks his life in war torn areas of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo does.  When asked “What do you do,” he responds, “Do you want to know what I do, or do you want to know who I am?”

That old man sitting on the sidewalk does not have a home.  But don’t dehumanize him by hanging the homeless label on him. 

Imagine the many possibilities of who he is.

(Thanks to Michael Barram, Ph.D., Professor of Religion at St. Mary’s College and author of Missional Economics, Biblical Justice and Christian Formation, and Arthur Ammann. M.D. author of Lethal Decisions, The Unnecessary Deaths of Women and Children from HIV/AIDS for their thought provoking remarks which moved me to write this blog.)

©Kerry Gough 2018