11 December 2017

Ellen’s Scarf: The Thrift Shop Chronicles

By: Jon Katz

Ellen's Scarf

Red and I walk by Ellen almost every day, she is reserved and quiet. About a month ago, I realized she loved dogs and also loved to chat with me for a few minutes. She loves to talk about dogs, the weather, I realized she likes to have someone talk to her and pay attention.

She sits in the same chair in the hallway most days, although the seats by the windows can get cold on blowy winter days when the temperature drops. I asked  her if she would like a scarf – I had a sack with a half-dozen today, a find at one of my Thrift Shops.

Ellen lit up at the colors and chose this longish one. She wrapped it right around her neck and took it to her room for safekeeping.

You can write to Ellen c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

The Great Room is filling up with your wonderful Christmas gifts, the Christmas party will be held on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. I will be there, so will Red and Maria.

Here is a current list of the Mansion residents who wish to receive messages, letters, photos, they are at the same address:

Winnie, Jean A., Ellen, Mary, Sylvie, Jane, Diane, Alice, Jean G., Maddie, Joan, Allan, Bill, RIchard, John, Helen, Bob, Alanna, Barbara, Peggie, Dottie, Tim, Art, Guerda, Brenda, David, Ken, Ruth.

Thanks so much for your generosity. You are bringing light into darkness.


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At The Mansion, A New Chapter: The Thrift Shop Chronicles

By: Jon Katz

The Thrift Shop Chronicles. Ruth And Her New Scarf. She Needed Some Color.

My life is quite amazing to me sometimes, I know I'm on a path, but I never know quite where it goes. The Mansion, a miraculous and mystical place of love and connection, has sparked yet another chapter in my life, I call it the Thrift Shop Chronicles.

A few weeks ago, I undertook a clothing drive for the Mansion (and for the RISSE refugees and immigrants). Intuitively, it seemed that the Army Of Good and I split up the task. People all over the country are still sending new and used winter clothes to RISSE, they are especially grateful there.

I decided I needed to take on the Mansion clothes project myself, it is both more sensitive and complex. Some people at the Mansion have plenty of clothes, some are offended at the idea of charity, others desperately need clothes will be never ask, still others need clothes and don't quite know.

Ruth (above) and her husband Ken first caught my attention when they arrived at their new home at the Mansion with three Wal-Mart bags containing their possessions and little else. I started collecting shirts and bras and pants for Ruth, and sweaters for Ken, they often take  short walks outside together in the cold.

I noticed one woman Red and I visited wore the same short-sleeved shirt all the time, and when I asked her about it, she was embarrassed, an aide told me later she had no other shirts. A number of residents got cold sometimes – it is very difficult for many elderly people to feel warm without roasting themselves.

As I have gotten to know the staff – I can only imagine what they thought when I first appeared – we have come to trust and know one another. When there is a need they can't fill, they will tell me about it, and if I can help, I will. I have come to know and love them and admire their incredible work.

I make sure that Red spends some time with them, and also that they get help when they need it.

I decided to get the clothes that the staff and I talked about (they needed clothes)  some winter wool caps, scarves and sweaters. (Please don't send any clothes thanks, It's being taken care of.)

I am very mindful of keeping costs down now, the money has to last and stretch, and I knew we couldn't afford new clothes prices. So I started haunting Thrift Stores,  with Maria's help.

I started going into the Thrift Shops, in my town, which has two excellent consignment and thrift stores, and in nearby towns, and also in Bennington, Vt., which has two or three good ones. If I need them, (so far, I don't), there are also good thrift shops in Schuylerville, N.Y.,  Manchester, Vt. and Saratoga Springs.

I was bowled over by the experience the first time I walked into the Mansion with a sack of caps, sweaters and scarves. I loved looking for these clothes, and especially loved handing them out and watching the amazed and delighted smiles on the faces of the residents.

I made sure to keep some clothes apart for the staff, they don't have a lot of money to spend on clothes, they work unbelievably hard, and they get cold too. I noticed that no one who does this work seems to have good winter clothes.

I had a gift for matching people up with books, and it seems I also have a gift for matching people up with the right colors and clothes. People were very happy with my caps and scarves (Ruth, above, loves her scarf). I haven't missed yet.

I also found I love Thrift Stories, and all of their musty aisles and many treasures. Although Maria introduced them to me, I now had a purpose and focus for mastering them myself. And I am becoming a Thrift Shop aficionado.

I made friends and contacts right away, and made not of the "bag days" when I could fill a bag with clothes for just $10. Sometimes the staff winked at me and stuffed some extra things in, once they knew where they were going.

It is a great kick to walk into the Mansion with Red running ahead of me, bags of good and warm clothes under each arm.

I have gotten to know the residents' clothing needs well, either they broke down and told me what they needed, or the staff would let me know if somebody needed something – a robe, undergarments. Everyone was walking around with multi-colored wool caps and bright scarves, two things you didn't see at the Mansion.

Several times,I was surprised and nearly overwhelmed when people burst into tears of gratitude, some really needed these clothes.

The staff started ribbing me, calling me a clothes horse, and demanding to know where I was getting these bargains. I refuse to tell them, it has become a standing joke with us. "I never tell my sources," I say and they insist they will find out.

This morning, I passed out three shirts, two scarves and  replaced a wool cap that Alice lost.

The caps are appreciated, they keep heads and bodies warm.

Red and I visited one woman Red and I see regularly, she is especially shy and quiet, and I asked her what she needed. She said nothing, but when I got up to leave, she stood up suddenly and grabbed my arm, and blurted "I could use a pair of pants. I don't want to take them away from anyone else…" I assured her that wouldn't happen.

I understand that asking for things is very difficult for some of the residents, they have enormous pride, worked hard all of their lives and always took care of themselves. It can be inherently demeaning for older people to ask others for the very clothes they wear. I try to be as quick and detached about it as I can.

After she talked to me, I went to my favorite thrift shop in town, I have been lucky there, but they were closed. When I get a challenge like that in my head, I couldn't rest until I accomplish it, even if I had to drive to all over the state. I told Maria I would be late getting home.

As it happens, I was going to the supermarket in Bennington, and there was a new Thrift Shop there I had not yet explored. I am known in most Thrift Stores around by now.

I went there after food shopping, and there was a very nice women behind the counter. I told her I needed two pairs of pants for an elderly woman in an assisted care facility in Cambridge, and she lit up, warming to the task. She got it right away, her mother had spend her last years in an assisted care facility.

She took me to the woman's rack, picked out two pairs of 16X corduroy pants (she suggested an elastic waistband and soft material and they both seemed perfect to me). She also showed me some new and well made wool hats that just came in, they were $6 apiece.

And then, she found two billowy shirts that would be perfect for Ruth, who is slowly filling up her closet. This will stir up the Mansion staff even more, they will try harder to scope out my sources. I have to make sure and cut the tags off.

This is a new chapter for me, and the odd thing is that I am not only good at it, I love doing this, especially at Christmas. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about who needs socks or a sweater, or would love a brightly colored scarf.

In a few days, everyone at the Mansion who needs some winter clothing will have what they need, and the total cost will be less than $200 by the time I'm done.

I'm knee-deep into the world of Thrift Shops, I know their hours and staff, the days they are open, the days when new stuff comes in, and the days when there are "Bag" and other sales. I know how to scan the racks and judge quality, and then match them up with the people who need them.

I never try to haggle, the prices are low enough.

The Thrift Shop Chronicles are a sweet new chapter in my life, and this work is special to me,  especially at this time of year, when the days are dark and the news is grinding.

The Kabbalah says that love is a weapon of light, and it has the power to eradicate darkness. That is the key. When we learn to love people – even people who hate us – we destroy the darkness and the hatred.

That's what I love about my Thrift Shop world, it eradicates the darkness and the hatred in me.

I am sorry to add to the chorus of fund seekers at this time of year, but if you wish to support this work, that would be great, we are doing much good. You can support the refugee winter clothing drive by sending winter clothes – snow pants, jackets, sweaters, winter boots, scarves for adults and children – directly to RISSE, 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y.,  12208. The refugees need everything as winter approaches.

You can support my work with the refugees or the Mansion residents by sending a donation to me, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.  You can also send a donation via Paypal, [email protected] Please mark the check for the "Mansion," or "Refugees" or both. All donations go into a separate account, monitored by a bookkeeper and a certified accountant.

We have many good things in the works.

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Engine Oil In The Barn

By: Jon Katz

Engine Oil

I've never been in a barn without finding engine oil gathering dust on a shelf. Usually it's Pennzoil, he favored oil of tractors and mowers and old trucks. Sometimes it's Mobil Super Saver. This has entered my consciousness as a kind of art form, I love photographing the old engine oil containers, they say quite a bit about farms and barns, both repositories of junk and artifiacts.

Pennzoil cans will one day be in the Smithsonian. I'm giving you a jump on the future.

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For Me, Finding Christmas Once Again

By: Jon Katz

Christmas Reborn

This year, we have found our Christmas. This year is different.

Maria can speak for herself, and will, but I can say that finally, and after much searching,  I have found the meaning and purpose of Christmas for me.

"Want to keep Christ in Christmas?," asked the author Steve Maraboli, "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you."

This Christmas, in partnership with the Army Of Good, I am finding my Christmas. I am taking steps to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, welcome the unwanted, care for the sick, empathize with the enemy.

With all due respect to the sad divisions all around me, this is one of the best times of my life, all the turmoil in our world has been a gift to me, it has shown me a new way to live.

And I am embracing it with so many of you, the Army Of Good, we are in sync, we are on the same track. I don't think we will be de-railed.

Norman Vincent Peale wrote that Christmas "waves a magic wand over this world, and behind, everything is softer and more beautiful."

I am feeling that this year. Other people can join the left or the right and argue all they want, even Christ's life is becoming a partisan political argument.

I get messages every day chastising me for saying Christ devoted his life to helping the poor and vulnerable. That, they say, is wrong, he never spoke much of the poor or the needy.  They say I misquote him.

And these messages are from people who call themselves Christians. "Why are you always misrepresenting Christ as being all about the poor?," a woman demanded to know on my Facebook Page.

I didn't skip a beat. "Because I am obviously a tool of Satan," I replied, "Why else?" She went away and did not return.

What a strange world we live in, there is no shame or common truth for many, we are losing the idea of sanctity, we are reducing every shared value to an argument. Our souls are sickened by conflict and grievance.

We start our Christmas holiday by bringing light.

Our house sits off a state highway that is dark and empty at night, this year we decided to light the house up for the holidays and give those lonely drivers something bright to see as they pass by in the dark.

There are no street lights where we live, only the stars.

We were excited about this, we bought all kinds of colored and white strings of lights and put them all over the front porch, the back porch and  the living room and dining room. Maria and I both realized that this Christmas is different, we feel good about it, excited about it.

We are hosting two Christmas gatherings, a small dinner for some good friends this week, and then a Sunday afternoon drop-by for the people in our community. We have never done that before, we wish to celebrate our new community in this season.

We are buying food, pondering recipes, eager to spend time with friends. We are excited, like little kids going to Rockefeller Center in New York for the first time.

I have been all over the lot about Christmas in my life.

I was born into a Jewish family desperate to assimilate, we had a giant tree and literally hundreds of presents we collected for one another all during the year. There is nothing that makes many Jews crazier or more confused than trying to figure out Christmas.

It was an almost desperate kind of overkill, a kind of flailing for connection from a family that didn't have any. it was too much, over the top, and too fraught. You can't tear each other apart all year and wash it away in a day. We were miserable all year, and this one day we simply drowned each other in things we didn't really need or want. It was forced joy at its worst.

And it wasn't even our holiday. Maria had the same experience, she could never be herself during the holidays. It was brutal and and painful for her, and no one around  her saw it or cared.

You couldn't be real at either of our family Christmases,  you could only be the person they all needed you to be. We had to hide ourselves, and for victims of abuse, that is just another trauma.

So Christmas had no real meaning for either of us, too much pressure, obligation and too little feeling and joy. It felt fake. When we got together, we usually fled to some quiet Inn to be so far from family we didn't have to deal with it.

We always had an excuse, we were going away.

In December, Maria started to fray.

She seemed more like a PTSD survivor than a holiday celebrant. She burst into tears when I gave her her first Iphone for Christmas, gifts were a truama for her.

It never felt good, we could never get to a good place.

I always struggled for the true meaning of Christmas, i didn't wish to let it go, I couldn't figure out how to live with it. I don't worship Christ, I am not a Christian, but the more his spirit is kept in the holiday, the more comfortable I am with it, and the more I can celebrate it in my heart.

I did know what I didn't want.

I remember a friend who passionately embraced the Disney and Hallmark Christmas idea of what a family is in America, she asked everyone in her immediate and extended family to don green elf costumes and they all did, posing happily with wide grins on their faces. They almost danced out of the photos.

This made me gnash my teeth, perhaps out of jealousy. This was not my Christmas, not my family,  or the Christmas or family of anyone I knew.

My friend's holiday was her business, of course,  not mine, and I am no one to judge her.

But it personified for me everything that I did not like about Christmas, and that had been lost in the translation. What on earth did smiling rows of elves in green outfits have to do with the birth of Christ?

Our friendship did not survive, it was perhaps never real.


The things I am doing now are new ways of interpreting and celebrating Christmas. Supporting the Mansion and the refugee kids are not things  I did on Christmas before, and like old Ebenezer,  I am finding the joy in Christmas, the state of mind that it can be.

Let other people dress up as elves and go to mails and pile gifts up under the trees or fight with one another about what Jesus said.

Many people, most of whom I don't know, have joined me in this enterprise. I am finding Christmas once again in my life, and in a different way, and this time, I think I have found the true spirit of it, and the right one for me.

I feel the magic and the softness of helping and giving and thinking of people who are not me.

I don't want people to dress up as elves and smile for my camera, I will not make my life an argument, want to feel as if I am doing something to keep the magic and softness of Christmas in my life.

I am liking this Christmas a lot, and it's about time.


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10 December 2017

Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Problem

By: Jon Katz

The Men's Problem

I've been thinking about why it is that so many men and boys feel so free to be violent to women or to assault women sexually. I think I have to go quite deep into my life to begin to see it.

My mother was a very strong woman, creative and fiercely independent. She started a classy gift shop in Providence, she managed an art gallery, she help run a pioneer vegetarian restaurant, she had great ambitions for herself.

Yet she permitted herself to be defeated or deterred in every single endeavor of her life by deferring to the wishes of a husband who cared absolutely nothing for her wishes or creativity. All of her life, she raged and railed at him and about him, making all of our lives miserable. But she never once said no when he blocked or undercut her life's work and ambitions.

Her anger and resentment nearly destroyed her.

It was just accepted by everyone, including her, that her life was less important than his, his career choices – and salary – more important than hers. Although my mother was a very strong woman, it never once occurred to her or my father or anyone in my extended family that her wishes or needs  were of equal importance to his.

I never met a truly strong and independent woman until I married my first wife, and even she struggled with this same issue – whenever she applied for a job at a newspaper (she was a journalist) her application was referred to the fashion desk.  She could not apply to a single college that my daughter applied to, they only took men. We moved a dozen times in our first years together, and every move was about my career, not hers.

She finally said we would not move again after my daughter was born, and we didn't, but I think the seeds of our eventual divorce were already ready planted and deep. I see now that every time we moved, I was saying my work was more important than hers, that I was more important than she was.

Almost every man alive has grown up in an environment that taught them that women were less than they were, less important, less powerful.No wonder broken and powerful men thought of them and their bodies as the inevitable perks of power.

Wasn't that what all of us saw growing up, and in the movies and on TV?

I never met a woman who said no, or who assumed she was as powerful as men were until I got to television and ran into some of the first female anchors in news.

They were tough and empowered – I think of Diane Sawyer in particular – and  demanded an equal role in the presentation of news on their broadcasts. If they were not exactly treated as equals, they began to get what they wanted and deserved.

That was the first time I had ever seen that happen. They planted the seeds, even as their bosses and agents warned them not to be too tough or assertive, their audience didn't like tough women. But they had to be quiet about it. They are not quiet about it now.

Women in vast numbers are doing the same thing,  talking to one another and saying enough is enough. The Rolling Stone has picked up enough moss.

They are demanding that men who injure or harass women be held accountable, and at least some of the men are being held accountable. Stirring stuff, I have only recently suspected I would see this in  my lifetime

I am  reading a helpful book as I reel from the news, and rejoice in much of it, as sad and disturbing as it is. It is called "The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women And How All Men Can Help," by Jackson Katz, who has studied gender violence prevention with men and woman, he is co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program at Northeastern University.

I would like to be one of those men who help but the issue seems to deep and widespread and old that it is overwhelming to even think about how to help. I like Katz's (idea) that violence and harassment are not just a women's problem, but a men's problem.

The issue is personal for me in several ways. One is my mother. The other is my wife, who, when I met her, was nearly crippled by deference to men, she felt powerless.

That is no longer true, and I know for sure that this can be done. It is a beautiful thing to see her strength. I want my daughter and granddaughter to live in a better and safer world. I believe in justice.

Katz has written a sad but compelling book arguing that violence against women  will never stop until men accept responsibility for what they have done and are doing. I know very few men, in or out of the news, who are doing that.

In 2001, the Journal Of the American Medical Association published a study which found that 20 per cent of adolescent girls were physically or sexually abused by a date.

Nearly one-third of American women reported being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.

An estimated 17.7 million women in the United States, nearly 18 per cent, have been raped or have been the victim of attempted rape.

Between one in four and one in  five college women experienced completed or attempted rape during their college years.

Women are far more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. In 200, intimate-partner homicides accounted for 33.5 per cent of all murders of women, and less than 4 per cent of murders of men.

And forty per cent of girls aged fourteen to seventeen report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.

So this, argues Katz, is what makes all of the dreadful harassment stories we are reading about and all those we don't read about a men's issue. It is men who are doing it, men who are violent, men who are doing the beating and killing and harassing.

Strangely, this horrendous pandemic of violence is continuously reported by our media and politicians as a women's issue, or just a "violence" issue. Just watch the news.

Stories about men stalking, attacking and murdering women and children make the regional and national news just about every day. Husbands kill their wives, members of the clergy are arrested for sex offenses, , coaches are arrested for abusing their athletes, corporations are sued almost daily by female employees for harassment by male employees, college athletes are charged with gang rape, husbands terrorize, maim and kill their wives and ex-wives.

Jackson Katz reminds us that the vast majority of gender violence is not reported at all, women fear a hostile and indifferent legal system.

Katz says we will never dramatically reduce men's violence against women until we can at least name the problem correctly. "At present," he writes, "few people view this violence the way I've described it: as a men's problem or a men's issue."

It's not something that happens once in awhile, but every day, everywhere.

A consequence of this failure, he writes, is that there is little discussion in the media or anywhere else about why so many American men and boys rape, batter, sexually abuse, and sexually harass women and girls.

"Mainstream commentary about gender violence – and other forms of interpersonal violence – is remarkably degendered," he writes, as if men and women are doing it equally to one another, that "people" are violent. It's true that the media rarely, if ever, report the fact that men and boys commit the overwhelming majority of sexual violence.

Few of us know that without men, violence and sexual assault against women would hardly exist.

His idea, which makes sense to me, is that once the spotlight falls where it belongs – on men – then a true dialogue could begin about the causes and solutions to what is clearly a horrific and vast problem. I think what men have seen this Fall is that this does not happen to just a few women, it seems to have happened or be happening in one form or another to almost every woman.

That is the big shock to me, the thing I didn't get, but get now.

So for me, speaking only for myself, I am thinking about this, talking to myself and other men. I am her to say that this is not acceptable to all men, nor is it the behavior of all men. I know it's wrong, the men I know it's wrong. We have always known it is wrong. There is no excuse.

Men are not treated gently by other when they speak up for women, they are often seen as sissies or  traitors,  it will be a long and hard slog all around, for women most of all. But men who care about this will have a hard time getting into the discussion too.

I don't know what, if anything I can do about it. I do know I can at least name the problem, and if it gets one man to think, that will be worth it. My motto in all things is  one at a time, we know the left and the right will never get anything done.

I guess the bizarre truth is that we were never asked or expected to be involved before, men do not have a movement, and are generally not considered part of the women's movement. Perhaps that will change.

The issues are overwhelming, but not impossible. Something important has happened, and doors and windows are beginning to open. There is a great window of opportunity, it ought not to close again.

Moral men will be there, it is their issue, if it is anyone's.

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