Category Archives: JOBS O’ MINE

Sighcology ~ Interesting Things Happen to Interesting People


Recently I discovered a note written by me to my aunt about a particularly stressful week I had undergone in 2001, while living in Phoenix. Actually, I had been living there about four years after I  had migrated from New Jersey.

Some of these pressures were minor; were some adventuresome; and some caused me to hyperventilate dramatically.
See if you can figure out which is which.

Sunday: When will I learn? When will I ever learn? You would think my age would have brought me some wisdom.  No, it was not to be so.
Doing laundry is not my favorite task, so, unlike today, as I pursue a more organized lifestyle, I would generally put it off as long as possible. Right after church, I returned home, saw the piles of clothes in my newly refurbished laundry room, sighed, kicked off my sandals, and put on my halo.
“Wait!” I mumbled. “If I have to do this noxious job, at least let me drink a cup of Gavalia Gourmet Hazelnut coffee to assuage my mental pain. And I’ll use my largest pint mug.”
Quite cheerfully, I brewed the coffee, toasted a whole-grain bagel, slathered on cream cheese with chives, and, as an afterthought, cut a few thin, succulent pieces of Nova lox to top my treat.

Carefully ~ remember, this was back in the days when falls and walls were part of my genetic balance problem ~ I balanced the treat on my mug as I headed back into the laundry room. Of course, I was extremely circumspect so as to not to spill hot black coffee on my bare feet.
Several pairs of underwear were lying about on the tile floor. You know the kind: satin and slippery? Totally unaware, I stepped on some and became airborne.

So did my breakfast. The high piles of clothes cushioned my fall; therefore the resultant bruises were not overly sore during the next week. Of course, the sandwich was harmless to my clothes, but the coffee was not. Ten days’ worth of clothing was instantly ruined.
Before re-doing breakfast, I frantically tried to take out the coffee stains. Walls and appliances were not a problem. However, no matter how hard I tried, the stains refused to be removed from two sets of objects: clothes, and the newly laid-down grout on my newly tiled floor.
Grumbling, I painted the unstained grout with the remaining coffee from the pot. “After all,” I reasoned, “the tan color sets off the white tiles so well. When I get home, I’ll paint clear varnish over the grout.”

Cursing softly and rhythmically, I began cleaning the appliances, windows, walls, and floor from the coffee, cream cheese and lox. The ruined clothes were unceremoniously dumped into the trash.
Then I went out for breakfast at my favorite diner. Sigh.
“Good thing I shop at Good Will.” I groused to my girlfriend, who worked at the diner. “So the cost of clothes’ replacement will be minimal.”

“Hey! I’m off at noon. I’ll come with you,” she said.
The clothes were duly replaced. Of course, being second-hand, they had to be washed. Sigh.
Sunday night: Granddaughter R ended up in the ER on this evening, around seven pm. She was using mom’s rather powerful treadmill and, at the same time, reading a high school science homework assignment. As the speed built up, she inadvertently snapped the electronic faster button while adjusting the book position. In an effort to steady the book, she lost her balance and became entangled within the treadmill. As she screamed in pain, we ran in and pulled the plug, but it was too late. R was intertwined and bleeding profusely. We could not free her. Her mom called the police and the First Aid Squad. Quickly and gently they extricated her and told us she would need to go to the Emergency Room. With mother and daughter in the ambulance, they left for the hospital, sirens screaming.

It had been decided I would stay home until my daughter called home to be picked up. Sunday nights in Phoenix ER’s are always exceptionally busy because of returning vacationers, and it was not unknown to  up to eight hours waiting to be treated. This way, I could drive the car over and pick them up.
I began mopping up the blood that had splattered over walls and ceiling, windows and curtains, and carpeted floors. It was almost as bad as the coffee stains.

Actually, R’s injuries were so severe she received immediate treatment and was ready to come home within an hour, complete with eight stitches, crutches, and a great deal of pain. As I didn’t have to be at work until Thursday, she spent the first part of the week out of school, sitting in the recliner at my home, and recovering enough to return to classes. My heart went out to her. As soon as she was able to use crutches and wheelchair during the next several weeks, she was driven to, and picked up from school with our autos. Sigh.
“I never thought I’d enjoy riding the bus,” she commented, when the devices were no longer necessary.
Thursday: Kingston, Arizona has been an important part of my personal history since 1940. During that autumn, my mother and I took a Greyhound Bus from New York City to California. Mom intended to divorce Dad and settle us there. We eventually returned to New York City.
Kingston’s high, straight cliffs, curving and undulating highway are fit for a roller coaster ride. Most of the old highway has been replaced by Interstate 8, but the roller coaster experience is still there. On the north side of old road, a service station, restaurant, tire store, and general store were crowded together just within the town’s western limits. These family-owned places along the old highway are still there since we first saw them so many years ago. Indeed, the hand cut rye bread sandwiches are STILL four inches high and still almost impossible to bite into. I prefer Jack-In-Box a few miles to the east. The restaurant remains an a cross-country bus stop.

One of the first programs scheduled by my museum to the remote places of Arizona was to be in Kingston. An appointment was made to take the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum program up to a remote elementary school in the mountain areas of Kingman to do three presentations of “Have Rocks ~ Will Travel”. The location was remote, and I had often picked minerals at a nearby mine in the past. The appointment made we wonder what other exotic places I would see in the future.
With high hopes, I left home at six AM in order to arrive at ten AM. The entire school, grades Kindergarten through eight, consisted of forty-five students. Does Kingman sound familiar? Some fella (a phrase used by many old-time Arizonans to denote “trouble maker”) by name of Timothy McVeigh, along with his cohort, lived for several years in these remote hills along with dozens of other misanthropic squatters. After checking into the police station, as was my wont when I went to out-of-the-way areas of Arizona, I was told it was quiet “up there”, and “there’s nothing to worry about.”
Little did I know what personal disaster the day would bring!
The programs went quite well, and I headed for home around two pm.
After wending my way down from the hills in the North Country, I came back to Interstate 8, passed my 1940 haunts, and stopped for well-deserved sustenance at a my favorite Kingston Jack-In-The-Box nearby. To my horror, I bit into a French fry and my front tooth, which had been having problems, broke off.
“Well,” I said to the owner. “There goes Friday.” Sigh.
By the following Friday, and nine hundred dollars later, I had new, solid gold hardware! Loverly (Thank you, Julie Andrews!). Sigh.
The dentist, a pal of mine, and I, had decided I could have bought a gorgeous ruby or sapphire ring set in 14K gold for this amount. However, we compromised by having the crown made of gold, covered with enamel. Dr. P absolutely refused to leave the tooth uncovered. “But I LIKE gold teeth! I protested. My parents and grandparents wore them with pride.”
Dr. P turned a deaf ear. “No. Side teeth and back teeth only. Period.”
He recalled what I had told him when I first became his patient: “If I ever win the lottery, I’m having all my teeth replaced with gold implants. And I’ll have a diamond set in the front tooth.” We stared at each other a moment, then laughed uproariously.
Sorrowfully, I acquiesced and permitted him to coat the front with white enamel.
Little did we know most of my teeth would have to be replaced as a result of a severe auto accident eight years later. Sigh.
After my northern trip, the next presentation was to a school in Sasabe, Southern Arizona. The town sat on the Mexican border and had many incidents involving illegal entrants. After reading the directions to get to the school, I was more than apprehensive.

I still treasure the directions I was given: “Go south to Tucson, turn west onto Ajo Way for 20 miles, turn south on the first state highway after the Denny’s. Make sure you take the paved road. Just go south to within a mile or so of the sign that says, “Mexico2 miles”. The Immigration officers will be waiting for you to let you know if it’s safe to proceed. The San Fernando Elementary School is the first large building on a rise you see on the left. The twenty three children, Grades three to eight, and their three teachers will be delighted to see you.”

Would you think it was going to be another sighcological experience? Well, everything turned out well. I have to admit being escorted by armed INS agents was different, but no incidents occurred. In fact, Sasabe became an annual trip.
Life is not always a sighcological experience!


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OH My Gosh! I go on an Earthwatch expedition to tag Howler Monkeys.

My job as a teacher took me on various adventures through the years. Direct research during these great trips enabled me to use new lessons I had learned to teach my students another view of science, geography, environmental awareness, and mathematics

Streets and markets of San Jose – girl swinging down the street – museums – Indian flute – several lifelong friends and professional colleagues – programs, formal environmental awareness teaching 1988 environmental education curriculum introduced

PROLOGUE – Oh, my gosh! How in heaven’s name did I end up on the jungle floor of the hot Costa Rican Rainforest surrounded by hot steams wrapping around my body from ground vents, and me holding a heavy 10’ x 10’ steel-enforced capture net for catching Howler Monkeys, with Susan, my partner of the day?             

Then, without warning, a barely visible thirty inch furry body attached to an equally long tail, some sixty feet up in a tropical tree with torturously entwined limbs, dropped a full load of white, sticky feces onto my upturned face. Talk about stink! 

To my right, and at least a dozen feet from the line of fire, mammalogist, Herr Doktor M – as I had not quite fondly dubbed him to myself at our introductory orientation the previous night, lifted his tranquilizer dart gun from his shoulder, grinned from ear to ear and shouted, “Only three weeks more, Liz! Only three weeks more before you go home.” He chuckled, then stopped grinning and spoke rapidly, “When they release their feces, it means they’re about to become unconscious. She’s about to fall from the tree!”

            A moment later, he shouted again. “Here she comes!  She has a baby on her. Don’t let them hit the ground! The Howlers are an endangered species!”

Well, gee whiz, it was something we KNEW. Susan and I dodged spiked plants, huge crawling beetles, a yard-wide stream of leaf cutter ants, other nameless large insects, bottomless potholes, slippery rain forest fruits lying on the ground, and tangled protruding roots as we zigzagged around a two yard square area of the littered jungle floor with the heavy net, trying to place it under the oncoming monkey. Of course, we couldn’t look down because we had to watch out for the hairy, black, long tailed projectile rapidly falling. Why do rainforest plants have such vicious spines? I thought to myself.

Herr Doktor was shouting directions at us, frantically and loudly worrying we would be unable to catch the oncoming missile now performing graceful somersaults, launch onto higher limbs, and then into temporary entanglements. Heretofore, none of our crew of eight could recall ever seeing a monkey fall up or fall sideways,.  “She’s out!” shouted Herr Doktor. “She’s out!” He wasn’t referring to the tree. He meant the monkey had succumbed to the tranquilizer and was now unconscious. By some miracle we caught the mother monkey and her baby safely about a yard above the jungle floor.

            I threw up.

            Herr Doktor came up to me, tenderly washed off the feces, and patted me on the back. “* was well done! I really didn’t think an elementary teacher could do *. Tomorrow you’ll be helping Dr. Dan, our dentist, take dental impressions.”

            The previous night he had tried to embarrass me in front of our crew. “And this is Liz Anderson, the first elementary school teacher to be chosen for this honor by Earthwatch. I hope you are all kind to her and will fill in her scanty knowledge base.” The other crew members – all of us were volunteers on an Earthwatch Expedition to study Howler Monkeys, were high school and college teachers. Actually, they were very nice to me, and were embarrassed by the attacks. I said little and wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was so far from home! Herr Doktor said we would have to write accurate daily reports he would have to approve. “But, I’ll go easy on you, my dear little Elementary School Teacher.”

            I am not “little” and I was seething. Before I could answer, two other crew members stood up. One was a former science professor of mine, and the other was a high school teacher I knew professionally. They looked at the crew. Then they looked at me and both gave me an exaggerated bow. As if they had rehearsed it, they said in unison, “Let him have it, Liz.”

            And I did. I dug in my backpack for my tattered resume, and handed it to him, remarking quite acidly, “We can work together, my dearest Herr Doktor Michael.”. He winced. “Yes, Herr Doktor Michael, be aware I am actually on a doctorial track. I suppose reading resumes is boring, but you really must just my published works’ list. I’m sorry it is not complete. Oh, and I came five days early so I could connect with the Environmental Minister, who took me to various schools so I could tell the teachers and children about myself.”

He gaped. “How? How did you make  connection?”

And thereby hangs the tale.

Herr Doktor and I, it should be noted, quickly made peace and enjoyed each other’s company.


In 1986, I was chosen to be an Earthwatch Scholar to spend three weeks in Costa Rica on a Howler Monkey Expedition. The Science Supervisor in Mt. Laurel, where I taught 5th grade,  suggested it two days before the application deadline.

“Apply for a full scholarship through the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation here in New Jersey. What have we got to lose? They’re only accepting high school and college teachers who are teaching science, but I’m sure you’ll talk them into it, Liz. You’re not shy. I’ve lost enough arguments with you   I know how persistent you can be. We need to put Rainforests into the Elementary School Science Curriculum.”

 Well, obviously, I argued effectively with both Earthwatch and the Geraldine Dodge Foundation after they turned down my first request. I got the scholarship. Later, I was told I was the first elementary school teacher picked to go on an expedition of this high quality, but was warned the chief researcher had serious doubts about having an elementary school teacher amongst “real scientists”. He and I became fast friends in the course of those three weeks, and stayed in touch until he died many years later.

 I had done my homework in the three months preceding the expedition. Although the 4th grade students and myself were able to learn passable basic Spanish from a new student in my 4th grade class, my detailed research of what to expect was inadequate. I was not prepared for the overwhelming invertebrate populations living in great profusion in the rainforest. Killer Bees in nests twelve feet high patrolled their area, buzzing ominously. The other six and eight leggers were everywhere. The creatures stung, bit, buzzed, attacked, burrowed under skin, sprayed poison, burrowed into bedding, and generally acted in a definite anti-social manner. Several members of the expedition needed emergency medical care after being attacked. I used native remedies and recovered in no time. After we arrived and settled in, I told my roommate, “Apparently the human animals who had invaded their rainforest are considered intruders and need to be dealt with.”

During the confrontation the first evening, I didn’t tell the crew the full story of the Secret Service. Six days previously, when I arrived in San Jose and checked into the hotel, the clerk turned out to be an Israeli. He looked at my passport, and suspiciously asked what I was doing in town without a man. He wanted to know if I knew anyone in Israel. I, in turn, told him it was none of his business. When he asked for my luggage, all I had was my borderline carry-on bag and a huge pocketbook. I was not travelling for a month on a science expedition to a foreign country with luggage  could easily get lost or stolen. Then I casually mentioned my relatives in Israel had told me about the far-reaching tentacles of the Mossad, but had not been aware they were needed in Costa Rica. He glared at me, grabbed my passport, and told me he would be watching me.

Before 7 am the next morning, I went for a walk to check out downtown. Vendors and their wares hastily stuffed into their suitcases were fleeing. A full fledged riot was developing, and the streets were rapidly filling with some very angry people screaming, carrying red flags, and putting up street barriers, some very angry secret service men, and many angry, fully-armed soldiers. I took pictures because I figured when they found my body, they would know what had happened. I was scared, I’ll tell you. Oh, my gosh! How did I get here?

By happenstance, I noticed a speakers’ platform over the heads of the swirling protestors, being put up across the street, and went over to it. As I stood there, wondering would happen, a twenty foot long four by four slipped out of the carpenters’ hands and headed straight for the head of a man standing a few feet from me. I was stronger in those days, and caught it, saving his life. He started chattering at me in Spanish, grateful tears pouring from his eyes. His friends cheered me loudly. In my broken Spanish I gave him my blessings. Silence. Then, in a incredulous tone he asked me, “La Gringa?” It is not a nice way of saying “American”.

“Nada! Nada!”  and pointing to myself, I purred, “La Paloma” – the dove.. In those days the peace dove was a Communist symbol. Then I smiled broadly. A wave of approving laughter rippled through the corner where we standing.

            He grabbed my arm, pushed the crowd aside and asked which hotel. I told him. He dragged me through the maelstrom to a quiet corner beyond the riot. There were some stores about two blocks from my hotel. The crowds thinned out. My new friend placed me in front of a store beyond the tumult. Then he pointed to the Levi Jeans sign on the front door. In Spanish, he told me I would safe here by the American jeans. Then he grabbed me, kissed me on the mouth and ran back to the revolution.

            Ten minutes later I got back to the hotel, and nodding curtly at the clerk, went to my room. It was a shambles: someone had gone through everything I owned. Flashing anger, I tore downstairs and confronted the clerk. He pointed to a well-dressed gentleman standing there and said, “CR Secret Service.”

            Swinging around I said to the agent, “The monster from Mossad is a pain in the ass!”

            The agent introduced himself, showed his id and my passport, and asked me to come downstairs to the bar. “I don’t drink liquor. It gets me drunk. Do they have Coke?”  He assured me they did and he would pay.

            During the next forty five minutes I answered all his questions truthfully and told him who I was and where I was going.  I also told him the name of my researcher friend who turned out to be Herr Doktor’s boss. My statement made an impression on him. He said the clerk had turned me in because I had no luggage like most American women, and no man. After I explained my horrors of carrying unnecessary luggage, which caused him to laugh heartily, I then told him my opinion of Mossad agents. He apologized profusely and wished me Godspeed. We hugged, and when the clerk saw us come up arm in arm, his jaw dropped. “Make sure she gets her passport back,” growled the agent. “She’s one of us. She will be visiting with the Prime Minister of Environmental Education and needs no extra companions.” Then he turned and winked at me.

            I had told the agent about my adventure in the street earlier. He suggested I watch the evening news on tv. To my surprise, I briefly appeared on Costa Rican television as the camera panned past me standing in front of the Levi’s sign.

Costa Rica turned out to be one of the most fascinating adventures in my life. In addition to Herr Doktor, the chief investigator, there was a full crew of well-known American scientists spending the entire summer, observing and testing and marking two tribes of Howler Monkeys. A dentist and his assistant were present with their ten year old son. A well-known botanist was building a collection of over three thousand plants, and finishing a complete plant list he had been working on for the past four summers. A medical doctor performed blood tests on samples from the monkeys, and I cannot forget the artist who taught us all the correct way to tattoo numbered codes on each individual monkey’s rear end. He also taught us to draw the skin patterns of each animal’s limbs, hands, ears, face, and rectal orifice. There was a Jane Goodall type who sat under trees, being devoured by insects, and keeping voluminous notes about the behaviors of the tribe of twenty two Howler Monkeys

Our daily rotating jobs kept us busy on a six day schedule. We were housed in a resort complex two hundred feet from the Pan American Highway. Well, resort might indicate luxury. Sharing a cold shower with three to six full grown iguanas was fascinating. Don’t you believe they are vegetarians! Those monsters eat meat, dead or alive, and are willing to defend their meals against real or imagined threats with a mouthful of sharp teeth.

Our quarters had concrete floors and beds. There were neither screens nor air conditioning. An antiquated overhead fan slowly sprayed resting insects onto our beds. The mattresses were alive, but not with the sound of music. I quickly discovered  an eighteen inch wide by four inch deep moat around the bed to be filled with water at night to keep out the six and eight leggers. It worked. The iguanas drank there, but didn’t try to crawl into bed with us. Since they are cold-blooded animals, I assumed rightly we were too warm for them. They did keep the place clear of mice and occasional rats.

Bed linens and towels depended on the state of mind of our laundress. She and I adored each other, because unlike the other participants, I washed my clothes of the daily blood, urine, feces, and personal vomit  accrued to them.

Rutted, unpaved roads and constant heavy rain were not my idea of luxury. At least we weren’t in tents. There were no other guests except our expedition. We shared the twenty concrete cabins, the dining room, and Great Room. Casual tourists were non-existent. The owners were Swiss citizens who had arrived twenty five years earlier and became citizens of Costa Rica. In those years, I spoke fluent German, some Russian, some Italian, as well as broken Spanish, and was soon adopted by the international potpourri of foreign workers. I still treasure the ceramic toucan given to me as a parting gift.

Our schedule was filled out with daily predawn orientations, nighttime courses, and no social life. Net catching was day 1. Dental impressions were Day 2. Tattooing was Day 3. Skin pattern sketching was Day 4. Observation with “Jane Goodall” was Day 5. Botanical collection, identification, and pressing of specimens was Day 6. On Day 7 we became tourists that travelled from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, to the Nicaraguan Border and its revolution, up volcanic flanks, paid visits to Quaker Communities that had moved to Central America to avoid arrest as Conscientious Objectors in the USA, and generally looked at a rainforest country inch by inch.

Tropical birds were on the ground, in the trees, on the roads, and on the roofs of houses. My  life list of new birds almost doubled.

Grazing cows were everywhere we went. These animals were not the Elsies of the United States. Rather, these were East Indian cattle who were acclimated to the hot, wet heat. Unfortunately, the milk was totally devoid of fat, so Costa Rican parents who wanted to feed young children either had to rely on wet nurses or Carnation canned milk so their children would not starve. It was one of the situations the rioting Communists were incensed about.

The previous year, however, the Swiss couple who owned the resort had a brilliant idea. Coconut “milk” was rich in nutritious fats. So they convinced the government to begin adding coconut milk to regular Indian bovine milk. Within a year, Carnation sales had dropped 95%, and the Costa Rican children thrived. It is a system that has spread to rainforest countries throughout the planet.

The Communists, however, decided to complain anyway, but were generally ignored.

Oh, my gosh, what a great adventure I had for three weeks! Among other ventures, I had the pleasure of sharing environmental education with the girls at a local house of prostitution in the middle of San Jose, doing a program about my job and personal life to a classroom of rapt fifth graders, and joining Herr Doktor and the rest of the crew on Sundays, happily exploring historical and scenic parts of Costa Rica on Sundays.

When I got back, I was so inspired by my experiences in Central America, I became a successful presenter and author of standard environmental curricula. Even better, over the years, I was stimulated to turn my own students’ thoughts to the dangers developing in Rainforests, and most of them eventually became defenders of that ecosystem by the time they reached high school and college.

Oh, my gosh! Why didn’t other elementary teachers go on those trips?

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Islamic Terrorists Make My Day ~ A serious case of mistaken identity is almost amusing.



            Chapter One ~ Background to Terrorism’s Aftermath In Arizona

Almost fifteen years of working in the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix exposed me to unexpected excitement several times a week, but all the events occurring outside our doors never put us, the employees, into harms way until the events of September 11, 2001.
            Our museum and the federal, state, city, and county governments and courts are clustered in somewhat over a square mile called The Capitol District.  All these governmental entities are protected and guarded by the elite Capitol Police.  The capitol district itself is surrounded by slums, homeless shelters, psychiatric facilities, soup kitchens, cheap motels and restaurants, drug houses, and shabby housing. Among this mixture, one can find attorneys’ offices, bail bondsmen, and a few houses of ill repute.
            There is even a sorry little elementary school whose students’ lives were stressed and sad. Once a year, grade level classes would walk to our building without having to cross any streets, and we welcomed them to our exhibits and free school programs. As a result, most of the children felt protective of us, and we had almost no negative incidents during non school hours.
            Traffic mishaps at our location were common nearly daily. Every month or so, a somersaulting motorcycle rider flew through the air as the result of a violent collision fueled by road rage. Arizona, to this day, does not require bikers to wear safety helmets, so many unfortunate bikers find out the hard way that helmets are an integral part of their well being.
            On the sidewalks bordering the museum, occasional heart attacks, as well as fainting spells, strokes, labor pains, and hysterical outbursts from people who had forgotten where their cars were parked would add a bit of excitement to the day. Inside, we had our share of medical emergencies. We also hosted a surprising number of frenzied parents who thought their children had been kidnapped because the offspring were not to be found in that day’s visiting school group.
            After the destruction of the World Trade Center, we saw a sharp upswing of odd incidents at the museum. Mostly, the perpetrators were individual local citizens or homeless psychotics who acted in somewhat bizarre ways under the influence of or extreme emotions or alcohol or drugs who wanted to kill anyone wearing a turban. Several innocent Asians and Islamic men were actually attacked, and several were murdered. Since the head of our department was a Sikh, we were on perpetual alert. The Capitol Police were stationed diagonally across the four lane street from us, and they were able to be at our doors in less than a minute their guns drawn. Arizona is a state that is rushing headlong into the nineteenth century, and drama is part of its gestalt.
            The state quickly mandated emergency drills and procedures for all buildings, and it was not unusual to see the entire staff of the Supreme Court, Department of Education or Capitol wandering around the area, waiting for the all clear to be sounded. We were also drilled in observational skills as well as personal safety and specific procedures. The most dangerous of these procedures was taking loaded guns away from visitors and putting them into a safe place until the guests were ready to leave. Arizona permits guns to be carried, and some of these people took umbrage and rained insults and threats against the employees. We were frightened, but quickly sent out a silent alarm.
            As the United States slid into the terrorist wars, demonstrations became violent. In its established lack of wisdom, the city permitted pro and con demonstrations at the same time, and there were some rather severe clashes. Emotions ran high as people dealt with the right to bear arms, illegal immigration, lack of government funds for schools and medical facilities, lack of services for the disadvantaged and mentally challenged, homeless shelters, the disenfranchisement of disabled children, and other local matters. During such times, our doors were locked, and police stood guard and kept the demonstrators on the move. From time to time, the Scottsdale mounted police stood guard around our building.
            Innumerable patriotic demonstrations –pro and con – noisily moved past our doors. The police would keep guard until the demonstrators had passed. Eventually, the city stopped scheduling opposing demonstrators within the same time frame, and insisted on a one way flow of foot traffic out of the capitol area, thus preventing extensive vandalism by emotional demonstrators.
            It was a tense time.

Chapter Two ~ Repercussions of Terrorism’s Power

Bea, one of the women who worked at the museum was not exactly observant. In my opinion, she was totally disinterested in anything that did not show up in her mirror. She claimed she liked doing her job. Period. Many times she complained about all the excitement, and she couldn’t understand why events were so violent about something that had happened “all the way across the country.”
            On a bright Tuesday morning, I was manning the main contact station and gabbing with a visitor from the northern part of New Jersey. Out of the corner of my eye (and ear) I vaguely became aware of Bea talking to two young men. One was as tall as I, and the other was about six and a half feet. He was the caricature of an Arab: cigarette smell, trimmed beard, nervous characteristics, and all. He spoke with a recognizable mid eastern accent.
            I wondered what was happening, and quietly picked up the silent alarm. With one eye on the tableau, and the other on my visitor, I saw her, a minute or so later, sending the two men on the self-guided tour. Then she sidled over to me, and broke into the conversation with: “They’re armed, you know.”
            Our jaws dropped.
            “Yeah. They both have guns in their holsters.”
            Immediately, I sent out the alarm, then told her and our visitor to get out of the building by way of the back door.
            “Alert the upstairs and tell them the police are on the way. You were supposed to take their guns.”
            “But they are Arab terrorists and armed and I …” 
            Venomously, I snarled at her in a low whisper, “Get the hell out of here, then call upstairs on your cell phone as soon as you are outside. NOW.”  I waved the PPD at her.
            She stared at me. Then the male the visitor put his arm in hers and dragged her out. As they disappeared around the corner of the main gallery, out of sight of the two men, I saw him clap a hand over her mouth before they disappeared from sight.
            Cautiously, I approached the two armed men looking at the exhibits. They did indeed carry weapons in their holsters. I hold the PPB up and introduced myself. “I understand you have weapons?”
            As the police poured in with drawn guns, they chorus in true horror, “Oh no!!”
            They stared with genuine fright at the half dozen oncoming police. Then, in unison, they reached into the holsters – one holster on each of their hips.
            I think: I’m gonna die.
            The police charge, screaming. In no time at all, my officer friends have them on the floor on their stomachs, and handcuffed. Then the officers pull out the mean’s “weapons”.
            It turns out the men are computer installers, and are wearing their holsters – stuffed with all sorts of pertinent tools. One tool, a pair of pliers, has an angled handle, and almost looks have looked like a gun butt.
            The police take them to the men’s room to strip search them. One of the officers, whom I knew, offered to have me observe.
            I said, “No, I’m too old for that.”
            Everyone laughed.
            In ten minutes they returned and were declared clean. During the body search, the men’s identification checked out with Homeland Security and their employer.
            The police brought the museum evacuees and visitor back into the building and explain what happened. Everyone is very proud of how I handled the situation, and eventually, I got an official letter of commendation.
            I turned to the tall dude,  “You have an interesting accent.”
            He replied, somewhat sarcastically, I thought, “Does it sound Arabic?”
            “Mid Eastern,” I answered. “Israeli?”
            He grinned broadly, “I’m an Israeli.”
            “Oh, not to worry,” I responded. “We Semites all look alike. We are all the children of Abraham. Half of my family lives there.”
            He smiled: “And on which side are they?”
            “The side that knows not to carry suspicious looking holsters in public.”
            The officers took in our repartee then looked darkly at the two. The chief said, “You’re lucky you weren’t shot, you idiots. And why weren’t you wearing your photo identification badges in the Capitol District?”
            With that, I turned around and stalked back to the contact station. My boss said, “You didn’t say ‘good bye, come again.” I snorted. He roared with laughter.
            Soon it was quitting time. I left for the day. When I got into my car and sat down, I suddenly thought, Oh, good Lord! What did I do?????????? This is AFTER September 11th!”
            Then I got the hiccups. I hiccupped all the way home.
            Why ME? Oh, well, it made my day.

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A Road Less Travelled ~ My car and I travel the Navajo Reservation.


There are three horses at the foot of the mountain. Very tiny, indeed!

 ©2009 Liz Anderson

In April, 2009, I spent a day and a half in Piñon, which is situated on a remote portion of the Navajo Reservation. On Monday, I returned home to Phoenix with a badly limping automobile. The underside sounded like a giant medicine man’s rattle. You know the kind: they are used by the Shamans to cure major illnesses like bubonic plague. (Oh yes, bubonic plague is currently endemic on the Indian Reservations adjoining the Four Corners Region of the United States. But, as is sometimes said, that, my friends, is another story.)

           Instead of driving directly home, I brought it straight to my repair shop around four o’clock. After a quick examination, I was told it would take several days to replace the metal pipes, pans, tubes, and anything made of rubber on the underside. 

           I was flabbergasted. “What the tarnation?” I gasped. “What happened?” 
            Mike, my mechanic, asked me how fast I had been driving on the shortcut.

            “About thirty miles per hour.” I said, somewhat puzzled. “You know that road is not a speedway and not paved.”

            Mike exploded and startled me with his vehemence. “I know the road, Liz! Hellroad is a twenty-three mile short cut meant for high clearance vehicles! Your car has been shredded – shredded! – by quarter-mile- long potholes and flint stones. Flint! Liz, flint!. It’s used to make knives, cutting instruments, spears, and arrowheads! Your top speed should be fifteen miles an hour. What the bleep possessed you to take the Hellroad? You doing your museum program for the school in Piñon? Jeez, even Extreme Home Makeover had problems when they went up there.”

            I nodded assent, but, actually, I was stunned. Mike had never been angry with me before, even when I drove the rattletrap dirt trail to the summit of a local mountain and lost two tires in the process.

            “I saved three hundred and twenty miles on the round trip, Mike. Otherwise it would have been a two day trip up and a two day trip back home.”

            Mike actually growled, and said nothing at first. “I had my say. You go that way again, and I won’t work on your car. Period.”

            The adventure began the previous Sunday. I was supposed to leave at 4:30 am to make a six hundred mile trip. The day hadn’t started out any too auspiciously. Over sleeping often leads to late starts. There was no time to make breakfast, so I stopped at the local Dunkin Donuts for two hazelnut flavored black coffees. Then, I also purchased a bagel with cream cheese. It was to be my breakfast on the road. When I carried my order to the car, two Boston Crème donuts were waiting in my bag. On a hunch, I checked the coffee. Oh, my! I found cream and sugar, but no hazelnut wafted to my nostrils. Rectifying this series of errors required almost twenty minutes.

At least the freeway north wasn’t crowded. The truck accident a few miles up the road only caused a forty-five minute delay. Some hundred or so miles, and an hour and a half later, I arrived in Flagstaff at seven am. As I made the turn toward the reservation, I heard the thunkety-thunk of a flat tire. Luckily, it happened in front of a Honda Dealer with an open service department, and the service staff fixed it for me with due speed.

By the time everything was settled, my schedule was off by almost three hours.

Five hundred sixty miles to go. I won’t get there until way after dark. Perhaps, I thought, I should take the shortcut some eighty miles to the west. I had taken it once whilst returning from the reservation six months previously, and was sure that with the GPS, I could retrace my steps. So, I pulled over to the side of the road and checked my road map. It looked fairly simple, although the smaller roads on the two reservations – first the Hopi Nation, then the Navajo – I needed to traverse were not marked with numbers on the map.

Without further ado I set my GPS, which, to this day, is an integral part of my cell phone, and set out.

St. Christopher, guardian saint of travel, must have been with me, because I found the critical correct turn without further ado. Terrific! I will be in Piñon long before dark, and I will have saved myself over one hundred sixty miles each way.

Sixty miles further on, I entered the Hopi Reservation, and, from there, wound my way up to the higher elevations on curving mountain roads with sheer drop offs. They’re paved, Liz, don’t complain. The shortcut road is only twenty-three miles long. This is turning out to be a great day after all.

Soon after I left the Hopi Reservation, made a right turn at a corner gas station, and within the next twenty miles made a half dozen turns until I came to a sign welcoming me to the Navajo Reservation.

As I passed the boundary line, the telephone and the GPS went dead.

Hmmmmm. Now what?

The radio worked, but only two stations were now available: the Hopi Tribal Radio Station and the Navajo Radio Station. The Hopi’s faded out within the next ten miles.

This was disturbing, as I had been listening to my usual radio stations until I arrived at the turnoff. Then I tuned in to the Navajo Radio Station, enjoying the native announcers and music played on ancient instruments.

Though I couldn’t understand the words, it was fascinating to listen to the half-hour news spoken in the ancient Navajo tongue. English words were said in English. So, a description of the previous night’s basketball game was amusing to listen to, and it almost made sense. I thought of the Navajo Code Talkers during WWII.

Well, I had better get some more information before I push forward, I thought, and retraced the miles to the gas station. As soon as I passed the reservation boundary line painted on the road, the telephone, GPS, and radio all became operational.

By this time, my gas tank was somewhat lower than when I had begun, so I decided to fill the tank to the top. The way the day was going had me somewhat uneasy. I knew there was a gas station in Piñon, my destination, but I couldn’t shake my apprehensive feelings.

The owner of the gas station was a Hopi. The two tribes have adjoining reservations and there is bad blood between them. Actually, the Hopi Reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajos. He filled my tank, and I told him my destination and purpose, and asked him about the radio and telephone.

“Damn Navajos,” he sputtered. “Gets ‘emselves a golden contract with a Canadian company and they’re in an electronic prison! Nothing except their own radio station and only Altel phone service. All other cell phone services are blocked. The TV people refused to pay the cost of broadcasting in TV. The Canadians had told them Indians the radio stations and cell phone providers would be lining up to pay high fees to have their services unblocked. HA! Then they (Tribal Council) goes and gets some computer service from outer space, and the tribal elders ordered every home on the rez to get free phone and computer and radio service. They got it. And it don’t work too well. There’ll be more hell to pay when the Canadians pull out! So ya gets to the welcome sign, and you are back before the white men came.” He kicked the dirt viciously and spit on the ground.

Parenthetically, the Hopi’s prediction was exactly what happened in 2008, leaving the entire Navajo nation without cell phones, television, and computers. The block was removed with the Canadians, so radio service, at least, was restored. As of this date, the internet, telephone, and television problems have not been solved.

After the man finished filling my tank and went back into his store, I called my contact at Piñon on his Altel cell phone, and he confirmed what I had just heard.

“Hey! We’re short of water here. Pick up two to three dozen bottles at the gas station.”


“Naw. Uranium poisoning from the mines on the Hopi Reservation. The uranium reached the water table. You can’t drink or bathe with tap water. We’re back to bringing in clean water from outside the rez by tanker trucks. Basha’s Supermarket in town has two aisles of bottled water, but we’re running low until new supplies come in on Monday afternoon. The only thing we use our tap water and wells for is for irrigation and toilets.”

“But, Rick, uranium makes the crops radioactive!” I shout.

“Yah. #*&@ happens. Damn hay lights up under UV light. So do the cattle.” He was not joking.

Without further ado, I pushed forward, easily found my shortcut road, and arrived in Pinon by five o’clock. The gas station was closed. A hand-lettered sign on the front window read, “MAKE DO. MORE GAS COMING MONDAY.”

Driving another half mile, I arrived at the guardhouse and the high security fence that surrounded the housing, showed my identification to the armed guards, and signed into the tribal housing, drove to my unit, unloaded my car, and then collapsed on the bed. I wanted to turn the TV on and watch movies until I fell asleep.

There was a knock on the door.

One of the guards welcomed me and handed me a can of insecticide. “Things have changed since six months ago. Ya got bedbugs here. Shake out the bedding and spray it before you sleep, or they’ll eat you alive.”

“After my experiences in the tropics, I know what to do. I’ll put water in the dishes and pans. It will form a moat around the bed.”

“Good idea.” He grinned. “And don’t worry about safety. We shoot to kill.”

Quietly, I wished him a good night. After dinner, I set up my moat, washed myself with some of the bottled water, I once again collapsed on the bed. Wearily, I used the remote to turn on the TV.

The TV reception was not working.

I listened to Navajo Radio until I fell asleep. The bedbugs kept their distance.

Before leaving for the school the next morning at six am, I sat in the overstuffed chair and drank my leftover Dunkin Donuts’ coffee.

By afternoon, and a successful series of programs behind me, I left on the short-cut route, but felt itchy. Checking it out on a roadside, I was able to count about fifteen bites. Stupid chair! No, stupid me. I had forgotten about spraying the chair.

Later that evening, after getting a ride home from the auto shop, I collapsed into my bed. I vaguely wondered if my TV was working, so I checked it. Yes, it was.

A few days later, I picked up my refurbished car, which cost over a thousand dollars to repair. The mechanics had treated everything inside it with insecticide and heat. A handful of dead bed-bugs preserved in a sealed glass jar was shown to me to admire. I was told the shop was keeping them as a souvenir.

“Guess your Sunday wasn’t made in heaven, eh?” chuckled Mike.

I smiled weakly, and thought, some days it never stops.

The following fall, I took the long road, and once more traveled to Pinon through Ganado.

The water, TV, and bedbug situation hadn’t changed.

Going home, I avoided the shortcut and traveled the long route.

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September 11, 2001 ~ I will not give in to bullies.

Background information: Phoenix, Arizona – September 11, 2001 around 6:30 am.  The East Coast is three hours ahead of Phoenix during the months of Daylight Savings Time.

The drama below took place back in the days before cell phones were ubiquitous.

Early Tuesday morning, after arising just before 6 am, I frantically chased around the house to get ready for work. My roommate, Millie, had already completed her daily nesting maneuver into the recliner and was watching television. As was her wont, she chattered to me in a frustrating whisper, about something or the other.  But, as always, between making breakfast, doing my morning abolutions, and gathering material to take to the  Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, some twelve miles from home, where I was employed, I paid little heed to her ramblings and stuck to my daily list of morning chores.

 “TRUE ladies always speak in low voices,” she would tell one and all, when friends and I complained we could never hear her. So we generally ignored her.

By 7:00 am, Phoenix time, I finally  took out the garbage and loaded the large pile of finished projects into a box in my car. As I whizzed back to my bedroom, holding my list and pen, Millie mumbled something, “Doesn’t your daughter … live …City?”

“Leaving at 7:15 as usual. Be right there, Millie!  Have to put my jeans on.”

 “Well-LLLL, … neighbors see … pants?” she whispered as I disappeared into my room.

“Oh!” Louder, then she said: “Mother-in-Law Hildur?  New …”

I went to get my coffee for the car. “Yes daughter. Yes pants. Yes Hildur is NJ dying at the Lutheran Home.”

“Oh.”  Pause. “Have … heard?”

“Dammit! Speak up! It’s nearly 7:20 and I have to go. Shout!”

She raised her voice a few decibels, never taking her eyes off the TV. “Have you heard?”

“No, I never hear you in the morning.”

“I mean, haven’t you heard?”


 “Well, it’s probably not important, Liz.”

“Ok.” Nothing was ever important during her morning television time. I could ignore her so easily, because she would discuss celebrities and world news, endlessly, in her whisper.

“Are you sure you haven’t heard?”

I rolled my eyes upward, but deigned not to reply.

All at once, a siren went off down the block. Then I began to hear several others from various nearby points. Distant autos on the nearby freeway were honking their horns without pause. Was there another accident? I’d have to take local streets.

“Time to go. I hope the Interstate-17 isn’t backed up.  I’m running late. Have to be there at 8. Tell me tonight, ok?”

Loudly and slowly she said, “An airplane hit the World Trade Center. I wanted to tell you if you hadn’t heard.”

I stopped cold and headed for the TV. The telephone rang. One of my daughters in New Jersey was on the phone, almost shouting. “Turn on the TV, mom! Turn on the TV. Didn’t you hear …?” Then she screamed. “Oh my God! We’re at war! Don’t you dare go to work! I’ll call you back!” She hung up.

Another call came in from another daughter in New Jersey. “Mom, don’t you dare go to work! The United States has been attacked. Don’t you dare! Where’s Millie?”

“Uh. Here. Esther said we were at war, Barbara. Are we?”

“We’ll call you.” The line went dead.

I tried the dial tone. It was flickering on and off.

I quickly returned to the living room. “Millie, I just heard. The girls say I’m not to go to work because we’re at war.”

“Thank God my girls are in Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey,” she commented.

“Yeh, less than half an hour, as the crow flies, from Manhattan.” It was a sarcastic comment, I admit.

“Millie. Turn up the sound.”  

With my elbows, I leaned on back of her recliner.  We watched as a few helicopters were circling the Twin Towers. A large airliner approached in the right of the screen on a path that seemed to be behind the burning North Tower. It disappeared. “That was scary …” I started to say, thinking the plane had gone behind the buildings. Then a ball of flame appeared behind the North Tower.

Henceforth, time would stand still for us.

The dial tone was working again. Close to numbing fear, I called my daughter in Phoenix and my son in New Jersey. By fate, my mother-in-law, who had lived across the East River from the World Trade Center, was in the Lutheran Home in New Jersey by that time. She would have been frightened and have asked me to stay in touch. Truthfully, I was frightened, too, and I certainly have no intention of going. She never knew what happened.

Another close, older friend in New York City and I touched base. “Oh, so the girls heard what happened? I am so upheaval-ed,” he sobbed. “I can see the smoke across the river.” He sounded so frightened, and I was concerned about him. We agreed to stay in touch.

“ Yes. Work? Oh, my gosh! Work. I don’t know. I’ll call work now and then get back to you.”

I called my boss, who had already arrived early, as was her wont. “Nancy, have you heard about the plane attack of the World Trade Center?”

“No. No. No. Stay on the phone!”

With the phone in her hand, she dashed into the classroom and turned on the TV. I knew what was happening with her because she was using the portable phone. I heard her yelling to the upstairs offices. Then her TV came online. It was the same station we were watching at home. The three of us, joined by that telephone line, watched in horror as a tower came down.

She and I watched in silence. Then, in an extremely calm, cold voice, I had never heard from her before, she said. “Don’t come into work, Liz. I’ll call my husband at the college, and my mom in Illinois. We’re going to keep the museum doors locked. I’ll call the governor’s office and get back to you.

“Listen to those sirens!” I could hear them on the telephone. When I hung up, they were echoing through the town.

I ran out of my house to the main feeder road a hundred feet away and looked at the freeway, about a quarter of a mile distant. Traffic was at a dead halt. Horns were blowing without let-up. On the feeder road, several abandoned cars were partially on sidewalks or parked in traffic lanes. Some drivers simply parked their cars on sidewalks and starting directing traffic in both directions. Abandoned cars with keys left in them were pushed onto the sidewalks to clear the roadway.

As I watched, the traffic lights went out.

People were shouting at each other, “Have you heard? We’re at war! Have you heard?”

As I returned to our community, a half block away, some gunfire was heard close by, and then, Bud, our neighbor two doors down ran into the street, firing his pistols. Several passers-by hit the ground in abject fear.  A police car providently careened into our community, and one of the policemen shouted at him. “Put your gun away, Bud, you idiot! You’re gonna need it when we’re invaded. Didn’t you hear we’re at war?” Then they sped away, sirens and lights on high.

Bud retreated into his house, and we could hear his wife screaming at him at the top of her lungs. “Have you heard the cops calling you an idiot, you idiot?”.

I went back into the house. Millie was still at her television. We watched for awhile, then saw the Pentagon go up in smoke.

“Oh my God,” I whispered, “Tom and Milliene (my nephew and his wife) work in the Pentagon.” I fought the nausea razing my insides.

The phone rang. As I went to answer it, Millie said, “All your children called. They said to call them right back before the phones go dead. They said I was not to let you go to work and to physically restrain you if you tried.”

“You try to ‘physically restrain’ me, and I’ll beat the stuffing outta you.” I growled. Millie looked stricken and then turned back to the TV.

It was my sister in South Carolina. She is Tom’s mom. I could hear the sirens wailing in the background of her telephone. She taught 7th grade. “I’m calling from school. Have you heard?”

“Yes, I’ve heard.” She apparently had no clue about the Pentagon.

“The town has ordered all schools evacuated and closed. Most of the parents are picking their kids up. We were told not to tell them anything so they won’t be frightened.”

I took a big gulp. Then overcome with fear and terror, I took a deep breath and said, “The Pentagon’s been blown up. I have no idea of how much damage.”

My poor sister was overcome. There was nothing I could say or do. She laid down the phone and put on the television in her classroom. She was able to ascertain it was not the wing they worked in. It would be six and a half hours before we would learn her son and daughter in law were alive and only slightly wounded.

After talking to her, I called my children back.

Again, I was ordered not to go to work by each of them.

Calls echoed back and forth if the dial tones were there.

I checked the status our food supply, and ascertained we had about two weeks worth of normal meals. Then I filled the tub with water for drinking and toilet use.

The TV showed the airspace being shut down and the fate of Flight 93 as it crossed Pennsylvania before disappearing from the radar and hitting the ground.

Phone calls came in constantly. No one knew what to do. James called me from New Hampshire. MaryAnn, his sister, and her family lived within walking distance of the World Trade Center. Her husband walked to work in one of the towers. “MaryAnn ran down to the school and it was evacuated. Empty. The students and staff were gone. She has no idea where her two kids are, and is frantic.” 

It was to be two more hours before she was called to pick them up at a local YMCA where the students of the school had been taken. It was another hour before her husband turned up alive. He had come down seventy one stories before the tower collapsed. He was bruised and exhausted, but he was alive.

My son in New Jersey is an ER nurse. He called to tell me he was heading north some ninety miles from southern New Jersey to Ground Zero to help. He spent a day and a half there without a break. “I will not be intimidated,” he declared. “This is my country!”

By this time I had already spent three hours at home glued to the television and fielding phone calls. By that time, we knew we were not at war, and that brutal terrorist attacks had occurred.

I thought about what he said and snuck out of the house to go to work on a now empty freeway. The abandoned cars had been cleared off the sidewalks and side streets. The sirens had stopped.

 The museum was in downtown Phoenix, twelve miles from my home. Most of our crew was arriving at the same time I did.

We were defiant and felt no terrorists were going to intimidate us. They had attacked the nation we loved, and we would rather die than be intimidated.

That sounds dramatic, but we felt that way.

We rebelliously opened the doors, but no visitors came. By one o’clock, all non-essential government departments were closed by the state and we went home.

It was a long night, and the next day everything seemed to have returned to what can best be described as non-normal normal, but our way of life was gone forever.

 Had you heard?


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Men In Black ~ When the Secret Service invaded our museum.


©Photos by Oma Liz 
Note Liz (far left; in blue) by truck. Note Liz and tire!
Tire is from one of those mine trucks.


Sometimes, extraordinary incidents occurred at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum where I worked.

On a Thursday afternoon, several months after Homeland Security had been created, I saw two men who looked – well, cold and strange comes to mind.  They were talking in low tones with my boss and were of such serious mien it was disturbing. I could see her getting increasingly agitated and tense as they spoke to her in urgent low tones, constantly looking around straight on and over their shoulders.

            Being me, I meandered over and noted that one of the men was wearing a t-shirt that said “tactical” something or other. My cataracts keep me from seeing too clearly. They stopped talking immediately, and my boss motioned me back to the contact station. Her hand was shaking.

I asked her the code word for get help!, but she told me no, it was all right. For over an hour she led them through every corner and niche of the museum. Instead of calming down, she was getting increasingly tense.

Finally, after looking into every nook and cranny on two floors and the basement, they left. She disappeared upstairs to talk to the head of the department, and within ten minutes came back, fighting anger. “He put it all in my hands!” she almost shouted. “He put it all in my hands and said he would not be here till it was over.” Might I add the particular department head was eventually asked to find other employment; not a difficult task for him, as he had been running a business for another company on the side.

 My boss told me I would have to be there early on Friday morning because the men were part of what they called a federal tactical group. The only information they gave her was, “We either are or not going to or not going to have or not have a drill protecting an actual or non actual dignitary from an assassination attempt on Friday morning at 8:30.” 

As my jaw actually dropped, she said, “That is EXACTLY what they said. My job is to greet her and to give her a grand tour of the museum while the men protected her from possible assassination – or not. They said they will be here for only forty-five minutes.”

My comment was unprintable.

“Every employee here,” she said, “has had a security check done on them. There seemed to be a question about you, and I was asked to point you out. WHAT have you been up to?”

“It’s a long, unimportant story, boss lady. I’ve  been long ago cleared. I’d call the Phoenix Police and ask them about these jokers.” [Note: See JOBS Category]

Friday morning I came in early as requested and asked her what was happening. Well, she had tried to call the Phoenix Police yesterday but the line had been constantly busy, and she wondered if these guys were for real. I suggested the FBI or Secret Service or the Capitol Area  Police. She went to make some phone calls and came back in ten minutes to say she had talked to all three agencies, and the visitors were for real.

We were expecting approximately seventy five third graders at 9:30, and I hope everything would go according to whatever schedule we knew nothing about.

8:30 came and went. No one arrived.

At 8:40 the front door opened – and a Man In Black came in. He was not yesterday’s visitor. Our jaws dropped. Black suit, white shirt, black sunglasses, earpiece, and blank face. He informed us that the dignitary was running late because she had stopped at Starbucks and that was making their schedule slow.

Several customers came in, one carrying a shopping bag full of souvenirs from the State Capitol Museum down the street. They were followed by five other men who went straight to the original Godfather. Two were dressed casually. The others were dressed in black. They deployed inside and outside the building. The casual ones had no earpieces. No one said anything to anyone, but you could see lips moving.

My boss told the head honcho that the students were coming at 9:30. He said, “Oh,no problem. When she leaves, we are going to take our dignitary out through the classroom before they come, especially if there is an assassination attempt. She is from a Far Eastern Country, of Royal Birth, and speaks fluent English.”

Then I spoke up very quietly so he had to strain to hear me. “The students will be in the classroom and will stay there till this is over. The teacher will give them a longer program. I’ll make the arrangements. You may be protecting the dignitary but MY job is to protect the children. You are not going into a roomful of third graders with drawn guns, dressed the way you are, and speaking into hidden microphones.

Sue’s jaw dropped. “How can you do that?” she demanded.

“I have a right to ‘do that’. I’m an American citizen.”

Honcho looked at me and I detected a slight relaxation of mouth. Not a smile. “Good idea,” he says, “Because we were going to take her out through the classroom where there’s an exit door to outside. Sue and I chimed in that there were several back exit doors to the parking lot. Then he said that changes of plan were good and he had to adjust to them.

As we were waiting around I said I had several questions to ask him. My boss looked shocked.

 “Go ahead.” he says. But first let me deploy my men. Several soon appeared in the balcony, carrying rifles with laser pointers attached.

“How about the three people on the ground floor? They’re dressed casually, but are part of your group.”

“How do you know?” he said.

“The fella with the shopping bag is one of yours. The  Capitol Museum doesn’t  open until ten.”  The man and his wife who came in earlier are yours, too. They keep walking around taking pictures and don’t rewind their SLR cameras for the next shot. They’re not reading the signs. In addition, they walk in a regular pattern, make a grand circle, then turn around and go in the other direction. Also, they ignored our gift shop.”

He looked at me, whipped out a note pad and wrote rapidly. Then he nodded at me. “Why do you wear black?  Also, I noticed, by the way, that the glasses look dark from the outside but are relatively clear from the inside. Why?  (It is a technology that came into widespread usage in automobiles and public transportation during the twenty first century, by the way.)  I guess that’s why you can wear the dark glasses inside and outside. But why wear them in the first place?  Is this a real dignitary coming, or one of yours? Are you state or federal?

Suddenly a group of some six neighborhood toughs came in to use the bathroom (take drugs and trash the bathroom). Then they saw the agents and guns and f r o z e. I crooked my finger at them and pointed to the bathrooms, saying, “Hey guys, there’s a SWAT team in here. Keep it cool, eh? Wouldn’t want to see you arrested by the feds.” They thanked me profusely. Ran to the bathroom, eschewed their usual vandalism, did their bit and left quickly without making eye contact. I told the boss lady and honcho what I had done. I thought she’d die. Honcho actually laughed. “Good thought!” he said, actually smiling. They never came back, by the way.

He was very relaxed when I finished.  He explained that black clothes makes the agents stand out in crowds and not only acts as a determent, but draws fire instead of the person being protected. Casually dressed agents mingle with crowds, but are fully armed. The glasses camouflage their eye motions. No one knows who they are looking at. Some agents do not wear glasses so people DO know who they are looking at. “There are also several agents outside, dressed as tourists, workmen, and local residents.

The dignitary question he said is the dignitary question. Drills prepare us for the unexpected. We do not know if she is a dignitary or an agent.

Shortly thereafter the class arrived and were whisked to the classroom. I told the museum teacher and classroom teachers what was happening and told her to keep the classes in there no matter what. If you think federal agents are tough, you should try to cross teachers protecting their classes. The three women looked grim.

Minutes afterwards, Her Royal Highness arrived. She was dressed in backless high heels, had dyed hair, an incredible amount of makeup, and had pedal pushers and lots of jewelry. I told honcho she was a plant. He asked how I knew. She was very thin, very pretty, was wearing casually designed clothes and not so casual jewelry. However, I noted that her arms had biceps, and her calves above her high heeled shows were bulging. “Look at her muscles on arms and legs,” I said. “She’s a plant.”

Her Grand Tour with my boss, and followed by several agents started. The three agents in the balcony had their rifles trained on the outside doors.

After 15 minutes, they all flowed out of the front door. Flowed.

They were so pleased with the results, they started a protection training program for local law enforcement. However, we were forewarned, and did not schedule classes on those days. The drills continued every six months until the museum closed forever in 2010.

The Men In Black are going to miss us.

John and I laughing about the Men In Black.

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Unexpected Negotiations ~ Life as a (proud) union activist


©Photo by Oma Liz 
Note “halo” over Cheryl’s head – my camera chain – in the mirror!

[Pic taken in 2010: Liz, Union Secy – Cheryl, Union President]

Words and music by Woody Gutherie
There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks
And the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the company boys come ’round,
She always stood her ground.
CHORUS: Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union.
Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union
‘Til the day I die!

From working in the sweatshops of Lower Manhattan to the much worse sweatshops of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia, my parents and I believed in and fought for the rights of the unions and the workers who supported them.

Unless you, yourself, lived through the death-dealing turmoil foisted on the workers of the forties through the seventies, don’t automatically pick on unions. Although the Industrial Revolution brought wealth to the owners of businesses, mines, and factories, the workers were chewed up and spit out onto the cemetery grounds. Don’t denigrate the unions. Without them, we old-time union members would still be dying in early middle age or sooner, have no health care, equal rights for minorities and women, and would still be living in pre-Industrial Revolution poverty and fear.

I am, unabashedly, a Union Maid.

For many years I was a union activist. Oh! The stories I could tell! In my thirties, I went to night school to become a teacher. Then, I proudly served in the NJEA, the state teachers’ union. Whatever is said today about teachers, in the 70’s through late 90’s, teachers were treated worse than badly, their lives ruled by seventeenth century points of view.

My philosophy is, that as a teacher, I am responsible to the children, the principal, the parents, the community, and this nation. Period.

Ultimately, I became an officer in the union, and was honored to be chosen to be trained as a negotiator. 

When a half dozen times, we officers and negotiators faced prison, one daughter, then in her teens, joked that, if it weren’t for my union commitments she and her siblings probably would never have learned so quickly to cook, clean, and be actively responsible family members.

Oh, those were the “good old days!”

Why jail? Most teachers had two jobs and no medical insurance. The children were being taught by unqualified, uncaring “teachers” who had little training and were willing to be paid a pittance. But we wanted better. So our answer to the boards of education was: “I will go to jail. And then I will sue you in court for abdicating your responsibility to students and teachers. We want decent teachers being paid decent salaries. We want health benefits so we and our own children are protected.”

We won hard earned victory after victory between the late seventies into the middle nineties. We brought education to the pinnacle, and then we were trampled by school districts and states who felt we and the students weren’t worth it.

 Early in the 1990’s, my school district was facing destruction when a company negotiator for US Steel, whose children attended district schools, offered himself as a negotiator to the Board of Education. He promised to destroy the teachers and the union. “I WILL break the back of the union!” he thundered. The press loved it. Media played the conflict to the hilt.

Negotiations entered deadlock over the summer. A week before schools were to open, the entire one hundred sixty teachers in the district were served with a court order to report to work or go to jail for an indefinite time.

Then, at the negotiator’s advice, the Board of Education hired one hundred sixty-plus substitute teachers to report for the first day of school. The substitutes were hired at four times the substitute rate then prevalent and were guaranteed full medical benefits.

The township exploded into controversy almost bordering on violence.

The media was beside itself with joy.

When we officers and negotiators faced prison, and death threats, citizens served notice on the Board of Education that they wanted to have their teachers back and were willing to pay higher taxes to maintain one of the ten best school districts in the state.

Driven by the negotiator, the Board refused to budge.

Picket lines had picket lines surrounded by picket lines.

Early in the evening on the day before the first day of school, we met at a large motel on a main highway in town.  We heard from friends in the media how the substitutes were to be brought in by buses and be locked up in the middle school for orientation, ready to begin work.

We met all night and finally voted unanimously to go to jail at five in the morning.

And then, in the dead silence following that vote, one of our negotiators stood up and said, “I have a brilliant idea,” she said, “Why don’t we just show up for work at seven a.m.? If anyone asks, our president will tell them we are reporting for orientation.”

There was not a sound in the room. Then, the teachers nodded, waved hands in the air, and shouted, “Aye!” 

Our president asked for silence. She said, “Let the officers lead you to the middle school front door. Say nothing. Nothing. I will do all the talking.”

A wave of almost hysterical laughter swept through the auditorium. Another “Aye!” thundered through the room.

Led by us, their union officers, the teachers started marching through the exit doors leading to the motel’s parking lots. The arresting marshals approached us with handcuffs and chains. Chains! They were told we were going to work and we did not want to be late. They dropped back, with confused looks on their faces. Our president was presented with the court order. She glanced at it, then handed it down the line, and each officer glanced at it before passing it on. The last officer ripped it in half and dropped it on the concrete.

The entire state, regional, and local press & tv corps, the police, and the arresting marshals went berserk.

We got into our cars, and followed by the media, slowly drove out of the parking lot toward the middle school, two miles away. We arrived at 6:45 am.

After parking, my five friends and I linked arms and marched to the locked front doors, followed by a silent crowd. The media was running about, not sure of what to cover first. Within half a minute, a pale, agitated superintendent of schools unlocked the doors and stepped out. “What do YOU want?” he snarled. He actually snarled.

“Why, boss,” said our president in a mild tone, “we’re here to report to work. Isn’t orientation and a speech by you what was scheduled?” She waved the first day’s schedule at him.

Heretofore, we had stood silently. Suddenly wave of laughter rumbled through our ranks. People started pointing to the driveway as one hundred and sixty-plus substitutes ran out through back and side doors and frantically boarded the buses, which pulled out as soon as each was full.

The superintendent silently stepped aside, and we teachers marched down the halls into the auditorium for orientation.

After we made ourselves comfortable, we watched silently as he stepped onto the stage to the microphone. The unlucky man picked up a microphone and looked at us. We remained silent.

Then he cleared his throat, and said hoarsely, “Orientation is postponed. Just report to your schools and get your classrooms ready.”

At a signal from the union president, the woman who had suggested we report for work stood up. “Our classrooms have been ready for a week. YOU, you superfluous man, wouldn’t recognize a true teacher if you fell over one.”

In silence we marched out.

            That night, after an afternoon nap, we negotiators returned to negotiations. Within minutes, two women on the Board team and three on the teacher’s side nodded at each other. One Board member announced we ladies had to go to the ladies’ room. The five of us left. When we reached the restroom, each of us sat in a booth and discussed our options. A half hour later, we returned. That night we reached a fair settlement.

            The chief negotiator moved back to Pittsburgh within the next few months.

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