Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

16 August

Portrait: Mary At Bingo. A Kiss On The Cheek

by Jon Katz

Mary is one of the quietest residents at the Mansion, sometimes she is a little bit down. She is a very gentle soul. She comes to every Bingo game, says little and rarely wants a prize. I got her a sweater at a thrift shop the other day, and she was grateful for it.

I know she can feel chilly sometimes in the winter. She sat alone at a table tonight, and I saw her shadow from the late afternoon sun, it captured my sense of Mary, who is most often sitting alone, by choice.

I walked back to her room with her, and she stopped, surprised me by wishing me a Happy Birthday, and by then leaning over and kissing me on the cheek.

If you wish to write to Mary, you can do so by sending a letter to Mary, c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

16 August

The Mansion: Intimacy And Comfort. Tia And Alice

by Jon Katz

The aides who work so hard at the Mansion are a special breed – nurturing, patient, gentle. This evening, during Bingo, I took a walk through the hallways while Maria called a bingo game.

Tia was helping Alice sit down on a sofa, making sure she was comfortable, talking to her soothingly and softly. It was a portrait of the kind of intimacy I so often see between the Mansion aides and the residents.

Tia is special, she seems so comfortable and natural in this week, I saw Alice lean over to hold her hand, then to kiss it.

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For those of you who wish to write to the Mansion residents, here is a list of the residents who would love to receive your letters. Some can respond, some can’t, I never ask them if they got the letters or are answering them, I don’t want them to feel pressured. But I can tell you they love to get them, it tells them that people in the outside world know they are there and care about them.

The address of the Mansion is 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. The resident’s list is: Ellen, Matt, Mary, Gerry, Sylvie, Carol, Alice, Jean Madeline, Helen, Georgianna, Barbara, Alanna, Linda, Annette, Peggie, Becky, Bert, Dorothy, Tim, Ben, Art, John, Jim, Wayne, Georgiann, Ruth, Julie.

Thanks for writing to them. It means a lot.

16 August

Red’s Portrait At The Mansion: Goodbye

by Jon Katz

I was at the Mansion early Friday evening to call the weekly Bingo game with Maria, I bought sacks of nice Fall sweaters and T-shirts, which the residents gobbled up.

They know it will be chilly soon.

Walking to the office to say goodnight, I spotted the late afternoon sun shining on a portrait sitting in the Great Room. I saw it was the portrait of Red painted by Sue Silverstein, Red’s friend, my friend, and the art teacher at Bishop Maginn High School.

The aides told me the residents come by one by one, all during the day to look at the photo and say goodbye to Red.

Sue Silverstein loved Red very much, and titled this painting “Angel Dog.” I was moved to see it here. Two of them were standing and looking at it when I saw the light.

“We miss you, Red,” said Carol. “You were so sweet…” Helen followed her, leaning forward to kiss the portrait.

It is difficult for me to convey what Red meant to the residents and staff at the Mansion. He lifted so many spirits, comforted the sick and the frightened, touched their memories of dogs and cats and horses that they once loved and lived with.

Red meant warmth, love, and memory. The residents often tell me they never truly grasped the meaning of dogs and cats until they could no longer live with them.

Thanks, Sue, for painting this portrait of Red, he continues to bring comfort to so many people.

16 August

Thanks Again. The Bishop Maginn Security List Is Sold Out

by Jon Katz

Once again, the Army Of Good has come through, and thank you.

The Bishop Maginn High School Security Wish List sold out this morning, the school has followed the recommendations of local police, who came to evaluate the school’s security in wake of the 22 school shootings this year in America and the rise in hate crimes directed to refugees and immigrant.

I can’t thank you enough for your quick response to this sad but urgent situation. Without you, the school would not able these first aid kits, ladders, signage, walkie talkies, Mylar blankets, first aid kits, backpacks, and other emergency supplies.

The Wish List remains up, there are two forms of Gift Cards available on the Wish List – 20 $25  gift cards, and 20 $10 gift cards, they will remain there so people coming to the list can find something inexpensive to buy for the school. I don’t know when the next list will go up.

We are helping to transform this school after years of struggle, declining enrollment, and budget crises and challenges. The school has a year’s worth of art supplies, music stands and room for a new choir, a new Computer Lab, a new Science lab, it’s getting a new choir and a dance group.

Within the Catholic hierarchy, the school is known as a “mission” school, it’s purpose is to help needy and vulnerable students without regard to race or religion. The Catholic Church is embroiled in devastating scandal, but many Catholics and many Christians are working hard to do good in keeping with the doctrines of Jesus Christ and Christianity.

They are helping a lot of children who have nowhere else to go. We are working to restore parts of the lost curriculum an also boost the morale of the teachers.

Every single one of the teachers individual requests for supplies for their classrooms has been answered.

The Army Of Good has donated more than $40,000 towards a new tuition fund being put together to help needy and gifted students get into the school and stay there.

In just a few hours, we raised  $10,000 for a gifted young student named Ron’  Dre’s tuition over the next three years. (Two books about his beloved Greek Mythology are on the way.)

We have enabled two other specially gifted students to remain in the school, even though their parents have no money.

We have done a remarkable job in a short time.

Every student without funds to buy school supplies has them, and each teacher is getting an IPad to help them communicate with each other and with first responders in the event of an emergency.

I am bursting with pride over the work we have begun.

And we are just getting started. The school’s art and culture and athletic programs have all been revived, and gifted, highly recommended students from other schools are beginning to replay, the word has gone out Bishop Maginn is on the move.

This support is not just about one school. It’s about our country, our values, our empathy, and human decency. It’s about the soul of America. I believe we are just getting started.

I will be at Bishop Maginn at least once or a week, usually more all through the school year. I’ll be teaching a Writing Workshop for 8 – 10 students chosen by their teachers. We hope to self-publish a book about the school. Abrah Griggs, the artistic genius who designed my blog logo, has agreed to design the book and assemble it.

This work is a profound gift to me, a calling, a chance to do good in a sustained and meaningful way. Thanks for helping me to make this dream come true, for me, for them.

16 August

Honoring Red

by Jon Katz

The world of social media is mysterious, mystical, wildly irrational, somethings exhilarating, sometimes disturbing.

A woman named Donna wrote on one of my blog posts the other day (she has since fled) that I probably didn’t know that I was mean-spirited and intolerant at times, and added generously that I could be nice at other times.

I had written a piece about how I grieve for animals, and how somebody always gets upset when I tell the truth about it.

We live in a democracy, but there are lots of people out there – obviously – who don’t really like the idea of free speech and individual thought. We either agree with them, or we are evil, or worse.

Donna urged me to be nicer, “you are sometimes a dick Jon, please don’t be a dick.”

I have to say my first response was a smile, I was taken by the idea of urging somebody to be nice while simultaneously calling me a dick.

Irony struggles to live on social media.

I want to say that I absolutely do know that I can be mean-spirited and short-tempered at times, that’s not news to anybody.

I’m not that stupid or deluded. Donna was clearly pleased with herself, but wait up,  she is hardly the first one to point it out. I bet I was the first one to point it out. It is liberating to know your least flattering traits, you can stop worrying about being exposed.

A writer worth anything will see and acknowledge the worst parts of him or herself.

People who come to my blog expecting me to be anything but human will be disappointed. I told Donna there were at least 30 million blogs in America, I’m sure could find some nice and dick-less ones.

I think she has gone off to look. I know I could not be all nice all the time to please her, after all that niceness my head would be spinning like the exorcist child.

Will people ever, I wonder, stop trying to change me or make me nicer and sweeter? I suppose not.

Even by the cowboy standards of social media, this was a new one for me. I love Dashiel Hammett Raymond Chandler and I could just imagine some dame telling Sam Spade or Philip Marlow, “you are a dick, but you can be nice sometimes.”

I can picture Monroe or Lauren Becall pulling off a line like that.

Or maybe Marlowe would turn to one of those sexy tall blonde clients and growl: “I may be a dick sweetheart, but I can be nice…” Donna didn’t stick around for the fireworks, she was nice but not tough. But the conversation spurred me into thinking of the ways in which I do honor Red when I’m not being a creep, that is.

But back to the main point. I have my own ideas about grieving, I grieved for Red over the weekend. Loss is Loss, as my friend Eve Marko says, to which I respond Life is Life.

I have to express my gratitude to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who wrote me to say they were sorry about Red and to honor by paying the tuition of one young gifted child, buy Ipads for all of the teachers at the Bishop Magiinn school, and help buy the emergency supplies needed to make Bishop Maginn and their students safe.

That was a wonderful way to honor Red.

My life with Red was not about sorrow or loss, it was all about love, joy, and companionship. That’s where I want to go with it. I’m getting too old to be coy or dishonest, I’ve lost a taste for it.

When I wrote Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die, a book about pet grieving, I met a six-year-old girl whose beloved chicken – she used to follow the girl to school and pick her up and walk her home at the end of the day – had just died.

Everyone was consoling her, including her mother.

“I don’t feel bad, mom” she said. “I loved Henrietta so much I can’t wait to love another chicken.” This was a preternaturally wise child.

And that’s just how I feel about Red. This young woman, like me, would rather get another chicken than grieve for the lost one.

I loved Red so much and we did so much together I can’t wait to get another dog and love one again. Knowing Red as I did, I suspect the very last thing he would ever want if he could want things was for me to be grieving him past a few days, or at all.

We were just not about that. To lament his loss for weeks and months would, in my mind, dishonor the kind of work he did and the kind of good he did. I owe him more.

So as soon as I cross paths with one, and get Maria’s approval, I’ll bring him or her home. It will take a while.

Does this fall on the dick side of me or the nice side? I’m not sure, and Donna is no longer around to judge or guide me.

But for me, it’s the perfect way to honor Red. And I’ll stand happily by it.

Correction: Donna has not fled, as I thought. I couldn’t find her comment this morning, it turns out she is not only still here, but she promoted me to “disrespectful dick,” which now has me wondering what a respectful dick is, and how I might become one. My mistake, Donna, I apologize.

She was nice about it, though:

Why on earth would you assume and announce that I fled, that I’m “no longer around”? What’s your basis for that claim? How on earth would you know if I’m reading or not reading? You clearly assume that your response was such a mic drop that all ANYONE could do is retreat in defeat, but it’s actually not the case. In case you’re curious, you’re being a completely disrespectful dick in this post.”

(And what is a mic drop?)

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