A Curious Mind
A Collection of Essays, Memoirs, and Short Stories
Copyright © 2017 Frank Zahn
All rights reserved. This book
or parts thereof may not be reproduced
in any form without permission.
ISBN -13: 9781370670499
To Dorothy, Jack, Henry, Ernest, James, and Sharon
My thanks to Bill Hosek, Jon Wiley, Dongxin Luo, Connie DiLorenzo, Patti McWhorter, Ray Perkins, Sharon Attebery, Henry Zahn, and Ron Boyea for their comments and critiques of various writings in this collection. Of course, the views expressed in the essays and the sentiments expressed in the memoirs and short stories are my own.
Some of the writings have been posted on my website frankzahn.com, and many of them have been published in online and print journals, reviews, newspapers, and magazines, including Galaxy, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, The Criterion, ViewsHound, Oklahoma Review, Midwest Literary Magazine, India Today, Angel News Magazine, Intellectual Conservative, The Kansas City Star, and The Omaha World Herald.
Single Again: Getting Started
Single again women who enter the singles world to date and reconnect with a man for romance and a committed relationship often describe their experiences as depressing, pathetic, and even scary. Single again men have similar experiences but do not express them as often or with as much passion because unlike women, they run the risk of being accused of engaging in sexist diatribe. However this first in a series of memoirs and those to come are construed, the reality is that the singles world is no more of a picnic for single again men than it is for single again women.
The people, events, and circumstances depicted herein are based on my actual experiences in the middle-aged single again world of Omaha, Nebraska.
I got married because people of my generation were expected to do the nesting thing with children, a mortgage, PTA, and work, work, work. And more importantly, I got married because I believed it increased the probability of getting laid more often than if I remained single.
As it turned out, the latter was a pipedream. Someone once said that if a man put a bean in a jar each time he got laid during the first year of marriage, he’d spend the rest of the marriage taking a bean out of the jar each time he got laid. That’s no big surprise, of course, because most activities, including marriage, are subject to diminishing return.
But that aside, my children grew up, the marriage ended, and I entered the uncertain years of single again, middle-aged, and wondering what the hell to do next. After the first couple of months of staying at home nights and watching television, I decided it might be a good idea to start thinking about finding my next wife. I was still tied to the traditions of the past, in which the natural and normal state of an adult male was marriage, even when the nesting thing had run its course and he rarely, if ever, got laid.
Of course, my next wife would have to have at least some of the qualities I admired in my ex-wife, who was well educated, well read, and attractive. In addition, she would have to have a sense of humor, genuinely enjoy intimacy, and not suffer from low self-esteem or acute premenstrual syndrome.
But finding my next wife was a long-term goal. My short-term goal was to get laid—and soon. So I went out looking for a woman who was willing to relieve her sexual frustration by using me. I hit the bars and dance halls, of course, and a couple of singles club get-togethers for cocktails, chatter, and a chance pairing for at least an overnighter.
Believe it or not, my favorite places to meet willing women were churches. I was amazed at how many of them frequented the social hours after Sunday worship services and Wednesday night prayer meetings. The Lord does indeed provide! I found the women who were the most willing were Presbyterians and Methodists or what my Southern Baptist mother referred to as lukewarm Christians.
I will never forget my first experience at a singles club get-together. It was a Parents Without Partners dance in a spacious, unadorned, and dimly lit ballroom. On three sides of the dance floor were tables with folding chairs, and on the remaining side was a raised bandstand. Women milled around with anxious eyes and guarded smile and chatted with the short supply of men. At least a dozen of them in all shapes and sizes hurried over to me the minute I entered the ballroom, introduced themselves, welcomed me, and asked me to save a dance with them when the music started.
The music was vintage 1940s and 1950s, and I danced almost every dance with a different woman. I didn’t have to ask them to dance. They asked me.
As we danced and when the band took breaks, the women initiated exchanges of information. They revealed their circumstances and intentions and questioned me about mine. Some attempted to be subtle and indirect while others were straightforward and unabashed.
Their disclosures were amazingly similar. They sprinkled them with “he don’t” and “I seen”, and pronounced words like “wash” and “asked” as “worsh” and “asted”. Each one had graduated for high school, married young, and had children—some of the children dependent and living at home and others grown and living on their own. And it was as if the women had been married to the same man, one that was insensitive, self-centered, abusive, unfaithful, and unappreciative of their love and devotion.
For the women who received child support and alimony, payments from their ex-husbands had become few and far between. Many of those women and most of the others lacked the skills and work experiences outside the home to obtain jobs that paid enough make ends meet. They had to settle for minimum wage jobs as waitresses, receptionists, nurse’s aids, and positions in retail sales. Although cloaked in the language of love and devotion, it was clear they were desperately in need of the emotional support that had eluded them in their marriages. More importantly, they wanted to quickly as possible regain the financial support they had lost when their marriages ended.
The most memorable dance of the evening was with a blonde, happy-faced woman in a turquoise, double-nit pantsuit. As we came together, she raised her impressive breasts by arching her back, planted them on my chest, and struggled to lead as I struggled to keep in step to a rumba. She held me so close I could feel those impressive breasts getting warmer as we danced. And all the while, her slightly protruding tummy massaged my slightly protruding paunch to the quick-quick-slow beat of the music. When she asked me to be her partner in the Paul Jones, a dance I had never heard of, I declined. I had to ask her three time to let go of my arm so I could leave and head for the bar.
As the night progressed, I came to understand why single again people called the singles world a meat market. I felt as if I were a piece of meat being passed from one she wolf to another and on the verge of being dragged back to one of their lairs. The sex aspect of it was appealing but the manipulation and control aspect of it was unsettling. It was awkward and embarrassing because a man of my vintage was not used to feeling that way in his relationships with women.
In the singles world that existed before my marriage, women were the meat and men were the wolves, but at that dance, it was clear that times had changed. A couple of reason crossed my mind. With women’s liberation and a ratio of eight women or more to every man in the middle-aged singles world of Omaha, Nebraska, the mostly divorced women had to compete for men more aggressively if they wanted to end up with one. Certainly the women at the dance acted that way. Moreover, they acted as if they could care less what other women thought about it. In fact, some women became quite hostile toward their competitors, usually with catty remarks but occasionally with subtle threats of violence.
I never attended another of the club’s dances or any of their other get-togethers. I wanted the company of a woman who wasn’t so needy and displayed more sophistication and finesse. And I was not interested in the trash talk about ex-husbands, especially the parts that applied to me. As far as I was concern, a woman who tolerated a rotten ex-husband long term was as much, if not more, responsible than he for what he did to her, or stated correctly, what she let him do to her.
I did, however, date the secretary of Parents Without Partners. It didn’t last long. She was a willing woman and attractive, but two things bothered me about her. One was the foul odor that emanated from her vaginal area, and the other was her mention of marriage far too soon and far too often.
The latter was not as much of a turnoff as the former, and when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I not only stopped calling her but stopped returning her calls. She came to my house a couple of times, banged on the door, and called out to me, but I remained out of sight and unresponsive in my back bedroom. I knew she wanted an explanation as to why I was no longer interested, but I wasn’t about to tell her that it was because of her vaginal odor. There is simply no way to tell a woman something like that without causing her greater upset than the upset of not responding to her attempts to reconnect. However misguide or cowardly it might have been, my intention was to minimize the upset I caused and move on.
Copyright © 2016 Frank Zahn
I Am American versus I Am Christian
As an American and a Christian, I am obligated to abide by a civil or secular document that spells out my rights and responsibilities as an American and a spiritual or religious document that spells out my rights and responsibilities as a Christian. Like other Americans of faith, I may perceive conflict from time to time between the rights and responsibilities spelled out in the two documents. My search for conflict resolution has led me to the following understanding.
The religious document I am obligated to abide by as a Christian is the Bible, which consists of sixty-six writings or books. Men wrote most of the books, and later, other men compiled the books into one document, called it the Bible, and declared it the ultimate truth or the word of the Creator, more commonly referred to as God.
Unlike fundamentalist Christians, I do not believe the Bible is literally God’s word. I believe it is an authoritative guide, flawed because it was written and compiled by men, but inspired by God insofar as men understood ultimate truth or the word of God at the time.
The secular document I am obligated to abide by as an American is the Constitution. Men wrote it as a means of facilitating the efforts of Americans, including me, to exercise their Creator-given or God-given rights as declared in the Declaration of Independence by the following: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There are two inherent and related problems with documents. One is updating and the other is interpretation. As human understanding of how to best achieve the objectives of a document increases over time, updating may be required. That can be achieved by way of an amendment process and/or by way of interpretation of not only the letter of a document as originally intended but also by way of interpretation of what is implied in the letter of the document. The latter tends to be subjective and gives rise to various interpretations, which can lead to conflict, requiring a final arbiter.
Unfortunately, the men in the early Christian church who complied the books of the Bible failed to include an amendment process that would have permitted Christians to update it. Arrogance led them to believe their understanding of ultimate truth or God’s word at the time was equal to God’s understanding, and thus, no amendment process was deemed necessary.
Without an amendment process, Christians must rely on an updating process based on interpretations of the Bible. In cases of multiple interpretations by Catholics, the Pope is the final arbiter, even though Catholics do not always abide by his decisions. Based on the principle of the individual priesthood of the believer, the individual is the final arbiter for Protestants with guidance from their ministers.
Unlike the Bible, the Constitution includes an amendment process. The process permits Americans to update the Constitution as their understanding of what best facilitates their efforts to exercise their God-given or unalienable rights as declared in the Declaration of Independence.
The first amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and by implication freedom from religion. For example, the secular decisions of Congress cannot infringe upon my freedom of religion and the exercise thereof. In addition, decisions of people of other faiths, including people of other Christian faiths, cannot infringe upon my freedom of religion just as I cannot infringe on theirs. This means all Americans, including me, are guaranteed freedom from religion as well as freedom of it.
Fortunately, the men who wrote the original Constitution realized that because there is no way to either prove or disprove any religious-based or faith-based belief, including those of the Christian religion, it would be best to embody in it the principle of separation of church (the religious arena of activity and decision-making) and state (the secular arena of activity and decision-making).
Of course, some Americans continue to have difficulty with the separation, and need to be reminded of the rights and responsibilities they are obligated to abide by as Americans under the Constitution. They need to be reminded that the United States is not a theocracy, Christian or otherwise, even though the origin of many of the principles and values embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are Christian in origin—more precisely Christian according to John Calvin and other founders of the Protestant Reformation.
I realize that if I do not adhere to the Christian rights and responsibilities laid out in the Bible, I run the risk of exclusion from the Christian community, and more to my detriment, exclusion from God’s grace in this life and in the hereafter. Similarly, I realize that if I do not adhere to the civil or secular rights and responsibilities laid out in the Constitution, I run the risk of exclusion from the American community in the form of incarceration, expulsion, or even death, depending on the severity of my failure to adhere.
So what do I do in cases where I perceive my religious rights and responsibilities are in conflict with my secular rights and responsibilities? In coming up with the answer to the question, it was necessary for me to recognize that the Constitution, and not the Bible, guarantees my freedom of and from religion. This means the Constitution, and not the Bible, is the governing document in answering the question.
Once recognized, the answer to the question that resolves the conflict is straightforward: I am free to choose secular activities that do not require me to violate my Christian beliefs, and if need be, disengage from those that do by quitting my job or resigning my elected position in government, whichever applies. But under no circumstances may I justify infringement on the secular rights of other Americans, including their right to freedom of their religion or freedom from mine.
The answer resolves the conflict in question, but it may sound to some Americans as if I am being forced to act in the exercise of my secular responsibilities against what I believe in good conscience, or stated differently, to act contrary to my Christian beliefs. However, that is only true if I refuse to not engage, and if engaged, disengage in secular action that infringes on the secular rights of other Americans.
To illustrate the consequences of a failure to disengage in secular activity that creates a conflict between my religious beliefs and the secular rights of other Americans, consider the following scenario: Suppose I am an American and a Christian like Kim Davis, the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds.
Clearly, if I wish to remain my kind of Christian in good standing, I must refuse to participate in any activity that violates my Christian beliefs, which is what Kim Davis chose to do when she refused to issue the marriage licenses. But like her, my refusal violates the secular rights of other Americans. And like Kim Davis, my refusal jeopardizes my good standing as an American and leaves me subject to dismissal if I am an employee or impeachment and removal from office if I hold an elected government position. Furthermore, if either dismissal or impeachment is not forthcoming, I am subject to arrest and incarceration, which is what happened to Kim Davis.
To resolve the conflict, I could choose to resign my position, which Kim Davis chose not to do. As an alternative, I could choose to not interfere with members of my staff as they carry out my secular responsibility, which is what Kim Davis finally chose to do after spending time in jail.
Of course, the latter choice amounts to capitulation. I am as responsible for the actions of my staff in the exercise of my secular responsibilities as I would be if they were my actions. This means that if I choose the noninterference alternative, it would leave me in the same predicament as Kim Davis, namely in compliance with my secular responsibility but in violation my Christian beliefs. Clearly, if I am to honestly resolve my conflict, the only option I have is to quit my job if I am an employee or resign if I hold an elective office.
I have not mentioned business people, but they are not exempt. No American is. If I am the owner or manager of a business, I am required to resolve conflicts between my religious beliefs and secular responsibilities of owning or managing a business in the same way as every other American. I must not engage in business activity, and if engaged, disengage in any activity that infringes on the secular rights of other Americans.
Based on the forgoing understanding, let me reiterate: I am free to choose secular activities that do not require me to violate my Christian beliefs, and if need be, disengage from those that do by quitting my job or resigning my elected position in government, whichever applies. But under no circumstances may I justify infringement on the secular rights of other Americans, including their right to freedom of their religion or freedom from mine. Also, let me add that it is irrelevant that a majority of any constituency of Americans or a majority in total approves of my infringement.
What makes all this so? The Constitution does because it, and not the Bible, is the document that guarantees every American, including me, the right to freedom of and from religion as well as protection from a tyranny of the majority.
Copyright © 2016 Frank Zahn
Games with Will and Mallory
Will Vinton and his wife Mallory attended the wedding of billionaire Ronald Crump and New York model Marlena Van Ness only because a couple of months earlier, Ronald had contributed a half million dollars to the Vinton Literacy Foundation.
They said their goodbyes after the lavish wedding reception at the Crump Continental Plaza Hotel and drove home to their high-rise condominium on the upper east side of Manhattan. When they arrived, Mallory kicked off her heels in the foyer and headed for their bedroom to get into something more comfortable.
“Sometimes, I can’t believe what I’m willing to do for the Foundation and to get elected mayor,” she said, raising her voice so Will could hear. “I can put up with Republican bravado and ignorance, but if I ever have to associate with one as bad as Ronald Crump again, I’ll shoot myself. And trust me. I’m only half kidding. What a pompous ass that man is!”
“Now, now, Honey,” Will called out to her in reply. “We have to keep in mind that sacrifices must be made for the Foundation and your election campaign. We need Crump’s money just as he will probably need political favors from us in the future. Like it or not, it’s the way the good old American political system works. Besides, I have a better reason for wanting him to think his contribution makes us friends. Guys like him can be manipulated into doing all sorts of things if treated with gratitude, respect, and admiration, however superficial. And as a good old boy from the South, I know just how to play the game.”
During the two weeks that followed the wedding and reception, both candidates for the Republican Party’s nomination were gaining on Mallory in the polls. And even the liberal press was speculating that she might lose her shoe-in status for winning the Democrat Party nomination and the election. The primary reason was that the press, especially Fox News, was having a field day reporting allegations of corruption in Will and Mallory’s management of their Foundation.
It was alleged that they were using Foundation funds to not only alleviate the literacy problem in the State but also for personal use. The personal items most often mentioned were frequent trips abroad in a private jet, expensive hotels and resorts, entertainment of guests, and household expenses, all of which Will and Mallory insisted were legitimate expense items for promoting the goals of the Foundation.
In addition, the press was hounding Mallory about her refusal to turn over emails requested by the State legislative committee that was investigating allegations that she had granted political favors as State Treasurer to wealthy businessmen who had made large contributions to the Vinton Foundation.
“What in the hell am I going to do?” she asked Will rhetorically after returning from a speaking engagement one evening. “Those damned emails could be construed as incriminating. If I turn them over, the press will crucify me. I’ll lose the nomination, and if not that, the election for sure.”
“What we need is something that will draw attention away from the emails and focus attention on the Republicans,” Will said. “I have something in mind that might just do the trick.”
“I’m not ready to say just yet. But I’ve been in politics a long time, and I’ve gotten damned good at fixing things that need fixing, even if I do say so myself.”
“Okay, but don’t make things worse,” Mallory said. “The last time you tried fixing something, a couple of your rumored sweeties were discovered by the members of the press.”
“I never had sex with those women, dammit! How many times must I say it?”
“Yeah sure, Mallory said. “You’ve managed to get the press and the public to believe that, but I’m still not convinced. That uncontrollable pecker of yours will be the downfall of us yet.”
The next morning, Will got a call from Ronald Crump, who had just returned with his bride from their honeymoon in the Bahamas where he owned an upscale resort that only the very wealthy could afford. Each suite in the hotel rented for ten thousand dollars per night, and each cottage rented for twenty thousand dollars per night.
“Ronald!” Will said, almost shouting with surprise. “I was just going to call and thank you for the wonderful time Mallory and I had at your wedding and reception. You’re a lucky man. Marlena is as charming as she is beautiful. And the two of you really know how to, as we say down home, put on a shindig.”
“Thanks, Will. I appreciate that.”
“So what’s up?”
“I want to talk with you about something. Are you free for lunch tomorrow?”
“Yeah, sure. Sounds great. Where?”
“How about the Crump International at eleven-thirty. As you probably know, it’s one of my best hotels. The food’s great and we’ll be in a private dining room so we can talk without anyone bothering us.”
“See you then, Ronald. I’m glad you called. I have something I want to talk to you about as well.”
The next day, Will dressed to impress, drove to the hotel, and surrendered his car keys to the valet attendant. It was his first time in the opulent dining room with its colors of red and purple; plush carpets; gilded trimmings; antique furnishings; crystal chandeliers; white linen; and huge bouquets of yellow roses, white lilies, and greenery.
Ronald greeted Will with a handshake when the maître d’ ushered him into a small dining room with an equally opulent decor.
When they had ordered, Ronald said, “Let me get straight to the point, Will. I plan to announce tomorrow at a press conference that I’m a candidate for mayor on the Republican ticket. What do you think?”
“Yeah well, Ronald. I’m not surprised. I’ve heard rumors that you might.”
“So what do you think?”
“Yeah well, Carson and Baker, the two Republicans candidates who have already announced, are good men. I know both of them. But they lack charisma. To be honest, I think you could win the nomination.”
“If that happened, I’d be running against Mallory. And I would hope that would not create ill will between us. You were one of the best mayors the City has had. I respect you and would hate to lose your friendship. I assume, of course, that we are friends.”
“We are that for sure, and that won’t change no matter what happens. Friends run against each other in politics all the time. And we talk sometimes like we hate each other. But that’s just part of the game that turns on the media and the electorate. They love a good squabble. It’s like reality TV. They eat it up.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. I want to run. And I think I can win the election if nominated. Our current mayor is an idiot—a real disaster. He couldn’t lead a horse to water let alone get it to drink. Business friends of mine have encouraged me to run. They say we need someone like me, someone who tells it like it is and gets things done for someone other than the Jews and the Puerto Ricans.”
“You should run. Even if you don’t win the nomination or the election, your experience, your voice, your point of view, your straightforwardness will make for a much needed discussion of the issues the City currently faces.”
“Then it’s settled,” Ronald said with a big smile. “Your encouragement, which I won’t mention in public for obvious reasons, removes the last reservation I had about getting into the race.”
“Somehow I think that you had made up your mind to run for the nomination, regardless of what I might have said, Ronald,” Will said with a chuckle.
Ronald smiled. “Maybe, but I needed to get your input anyway,” he said. “Hey, here comes our lunch. What do you say we stop talking politics, relax, and enjoy it?”
After lunch, which was dominated during and after by Ronald bloviating about his successes in business and his certainty of winning the Republication nomination, Will said goodbye and headed home where Malloy waited anxiously to hear why Crump had invited him to lunch.
When he entered the living room, she jumped up from the couch and embraced him with a kiss on the cheek. “So?” she asked.
“You know. What did that asshole want?”
“He wanted to set us up with a couple of hot women,” Will said with a grin.
“That wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Like everyone else, I’m sure he’s heard the rumors about your extra-marital sweeties.”
“I’m teasing,” Will said. “He wanted advice on whether he should seek the Republican nomination.”
“What did you tell him?
“I strongly advised him to run. I had no idea he was thinking about it, at least not seriously. I had planned to bring up the idea and encourage him to run at lunch. But as luck would have it, he beat me to the punch.”
“Why is God’s name would you want him of all people to run? He might appeal to the Republican bigot base, but I doubt if he could win the Party’s nomination, let alone the election.”
“I don’t know if he can win the nomination, and I don’t care,” Will said. “I just want that big bravado, bigoted, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti-Puerto Rican mouth of his wagging during the run-up to the Republican nomination. I want him to continue to confuse telling-it-like-it-is with being an obnoxious asshole, and to build up animosity toward the Republican Party, whoever in the hell they nominate.”
Mallory’s eyes lit up. “Sounds like you’ve been thinking overtime.”
Will smiled at Mallory sheepishly.
“You’re just terrible. But oh my God do I love it,” Mallory said, giving him a peck on the lips. “You’ve been a pain in my side at times, but once in a while you come through for me big time.”
“Well, we’ll see how it works out. We’ll see if Crump behaves as I strongly expect he will during his announcement and the Republican debates.”
The next day, Ronald called a press conference at his Crump Continental Plaza Hotel and announced he was seeking the nomination of the Republican Party for mayor. He said his primary reason for entering the race was to take back the City from the Democrats who were robbing the majority of New Yorkers so as to payoff a couple of the minority groups that had helped them win the last election.
Will and Mallory watched the announcement on television and listened in amazement to Ronald’s bravado and tell-it-like-it-is remarks. They roared with laughter each time he accused the Democrats of catering more to the Jewish vote and the Puerto Rican vote than they did to the vote of the majority of New Yorkers. And they continued to laugh and joke about Ronald’s often outrageous remarks as Will drove them to a Democrat Party fundraiser at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan.
“After Crump’s announcement and remarks, I can hardly wait for the debates,” Will said as he pulled into the Hilton parking garage. “I’m sure now that he will open his big fat mouth even wider with ethnic and racial slurs and innuendos. And that will create all kinds of support for you as the better alternative during the election campaign, regardless of who wins the Republican nomination.”
“It’s difficult to believe that he has deluded himself into believing he can win anything from New Yorkers with all that off-the-cuff and obnoxious garbage he puts out, especially the anti-Semitic remarks. The only thing worse would be anti-Italian or anti-Irish remarks,” Mallory said. “I notice, however, that he didn’t make any derogatory remarks during his announcement about women. I’ve heard he refers to women he doesn’t like as pigs.”
Will chuckled. “Yeah well, maybe he’s saving those remarks for the debates.”
As Will and Mallory took the elevator up to the lobby, she said, “We’ve had many blessings in our lives, Will, but I never thought Ronald Crump would be one of them.”
“Yeah well, let’s get on with the blessings of this fundraiser as a means of helping you win the nomination and the election. It just might give us the additional exposure we need for better things, like maybe the Governor’s mansion. And who knows, maybe even the White House,” Will said and then added with a grin, “Of course, I would insist on becoming Governor and President first.”
“While we’re at it, just remember to keep your pecker in your pants so you don’t screw up our chances,” Mallory said in a final remark before the two of them plastered on their happy-to-see-you faces and stepped up onto the speakers platform to the applause and cheers of their supporters and the press in the Grand Ballroom.
Copyright © 2016 Frank Zahn
Rational Decision to Terminate Human Life
The science of physics defines life as energy-driven matter with a unique blueprint, set of instructions, or DNA that determines its development from conception onward until entropy takes its toll (second law of thermodynamics) and it dies or terminates. And it is human life if conceived by humans.
People in civilized societies value human life, so there is a cost associated with terminating it before entropy takes its toll, depending on how much a society actually values human life. In addition, there are benefits that may justify the termination of human life, regardless of where and in whatever stage of development it exists.
Examples of benefits include the following: A deterrent to crime is a benefit that may justify the cost incurred when terminating human life by way of capital punishment. National defense is a benefit that may justify the cost incurred when terminating human life by way of engagement in the War on Terror. Relief of undue burden on women is a benefit that may justify the cost incurred when terminating human life by way of abortion.
The decision to terminate human life can be made rationally by weighing the benefit against the cost. If the benefit outweighs the cost, there is a net benefit to proceeding with the termination. Of course, the question of who is best qualified to calculate the cost and the associated benefit is the critical factor in the determination of the net benefit. But anyone who denies the terminated life is human at any stage of its development from conception onward until entropy takes its toll is delusional.
Copyright © 2016 Frank Zahn
Reactions in a New York Deli
I’ve been going to Jake’s Deli most mornings for years. It’s one of many neighborhood delicatessens in New York City, and it has all kinds of great looking things to eat and drink, even though there is little variation in what I order—black coffee and either a sesame seed bagel with cream cheese or a cherry Danish.
The Deli’s décor is basically tables and chairs with an old-fashioned cash register perched upon a service counter. Next to the service counter, a glass case with several shelves displays a variety of pastries, breakfast rolls, and bagels. On the back wall, a counter supports equipment for preparing coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and other drinks. A large chalkboard above the counter lists available items for sale and their prices. An open doorway leads to a back room for baking and food preparation.
There’s always a line of people waiting to order. Some order to eat inside and others for takeout. I always eat inside, relax, and read the Times.
Nothing ever happens in the Deli. It’s quiet, except for the woman behind the service counter, calling out orders to Jake, the owner, and a couple of people who bake and prepare food in the backroom. The customers order, eat and drink, and keep to themselves. It’s like a collective ritual without variation, practiced every morning day in and day out.
But it was different one morning in the late spring of last year. When I arrived, people at the tables were exchanging remarks, and Jake stood watch at the cash register with a scowl on his face instead of busying himself in the back room.
After I picked up my order at the service counter, I noticed there wasn’t a vacant table, so I asked a man and a woman if I could sit at their table. They said okay, so I sat down and made myself comfortable.
“The place seems different this morning,” I said. “People seem stirred up, on edge, maybe a little more vulnerable than usual. Did I just miss something?”
“You better believe it,” the man said with a nervous chuckle.
The woman, who I assumed was the man’s wife, started to explain, but the man told her to let him do it.
“Me and my wife Bea here came from our hotel around the corner. We was standin’ in line just inside the door over there,” the man said, pointing toward the Deli entrance. “We hadn’t been waitin’ long when this guy jerked open the door and rushed inside. He had an A-rab look about him. He wasn’t wearin’ one of those nightgowns that those people wear with a sheet draped over their head, but he had dark skin, jet-black hair, and a wooly beard. And he had a cold, crazy look in his eyes, like he just came over here from I-raq or one of those other A-rab countries. He didn’t get in line. He just stomped over to the counter and demanded service. He had one of those foreign accents that a lot of people have here in New York City.”
I wanted to hear the rest of his story, so I put up with the man’s provincial-bordering-on-bigoted view of people who looked different from him, even though I knew I shouldn’t have.
The man took a deep breath, leaned forward, and continued to explain, “The woman behind the counter, who was just finishin’ up waitin’ on a customer, told the guy he had to get in line. But he insisted on bein’ waited on right now. When the woman ignored him, he yelled at her and gave her a tongue-lashing like he was talkin’ to some low class piece of trash. Glaring at him, she told him to get away from the counter and leave. But he leaned forward and yelled, ‘You fuckin’ bitch, I’m in a hurry and in no mood for your garbage!’”
Increasingly, the man explained with his hands and eyes as much as he did with his mouth. “I gotta hand it to that woman,” he said. “She stood her ground. With her hands firmly planted on her hips, she yelled, ‘And I’m in no mood for YOUR garbage! Now get the hell away from the counter and leave!’”
“Me and Bea couldn’t believe our eyes and ears, and no one in line—not a single person—seemed to give a damn about what was goin’ on. Everybody just stepped back from it and let it happen.”
The man paused, caught his breath, and said, “No sooner had the woman yelled at the crazy guy, than a big, burly man, dressed in a white outfit and cap, came out of the backroom with a ball bat. My guess is he had been listenin’ to what had been goin’ on. Anyway, without hesitation, he stuck the big end of the bat in the crazy guy’s chest, shoved him back from the counter, and yelled, ‘The lady said leave! And if you don’t, I’ll come over this counter and beat the hell out of you!’”
Again, the man paused, caught his breath, and added, “Well sir, let me tell you! The crazy guy gave the big, burly man the finger, turned, and ran out of the place faster than you can say Jack Robinson, slamming the front door behind him.”
“That’s quite a story,” I said, wondering how much of it was embellishment.
“Well, it’s the honest-to-God’s truth, and if you don’ believe me, you just asked Bea,” the man said, glancing at his wife. “Ever’body back home will tell you she don’t lie.”
“That’s not necessary. I believe you.” I said with a grin.
When the brief chitchat that followed had run its course, the man and woman wished me well, said their goodbyes, and left me alone at the table to enjoy my second cup of coffee.
Leaning back in my chair, I thought for a moment. It dawned on me that it might be interesting to hear the reactions of other onlookers to what had happened in the Deli. They might make for interesting antidotal material for use in the cultural anthropology course I teach at Fordham two nights a week. In the next class, I planned to raise the question: Is there a typical New Yorker?
And so, I decided to attempt some tablehopping with the pocket recorder I always carried with me. That’s not an easy undertaking in New York City. Most New Yorkers view strangers who approach them with suspicion, especially if you announce that you want to record what they say.
Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. Of course, I would introduce myself and explain to the people at each table what I wanted and why I wanted it. And when I left a table, I would thank them for their time and for helping me to better understand the incident from their perspective.
A girl of about seventeen sat at the first table I approached. She had dyed black hair, powder-white skin, and facial piercings, and she was dressed in black leather from her studded neckband to her boots. After she agreed to give me her reaction, I sat down across the table from her.
She began her reaction without hesitation. “I was fifth in the fucking line,” she said. “I was sandwiched between an old buzzard with boobs and a belly and that hick couple you were just talking to. The couple was obviously tourists—fucking out-of-towners from somewhere like Kansas or one of those other nowhere places on the other side of Jersey. I got a kick outa the shocked and awe looks on the their faces when that Looney Tunes guy was doing his thing at the service counter. Big deal! That kind of shit happens in New York all the time. What can I say? You get used to it. Besides, Big Jake handled it. He don’t take shit from nobody.”
Scooting her chair back from the table, the girl crossed her legs and let her arms dangle at her side. “I was more focused on the old buzzard with the boobs and a belly in front of me,” she said. “Several times, it sounded like either his fucking stomach was growling, or he was squeezing out a fart. One time, I knew it was a fart for sure because of the smell. Christ Almighty! The commotion with the Looney Tunes guy and Big Jake didn‘t bother me, but it pissed me off that I had some old buzzard blowing farts up my nose.”
I laughed, thanked the girl, and headed for table number two where a man and a woman waved me off after I explained what I wanted and why.
A young man in his late teens or early twenties sat at the third table. He wasn’t eating or drinking anything—just sitting there. He agreed to let me record his reaction to the incident, but told me it had to be quick because he was waiting for his girlfriend who would arrive shortly. There wasn’t an extra chair at the table or nearby, so I remained standing.
Straddling his chair, the young man looked up at me. “I was the next person in line to be waited on when the crazy guy stomped up to the service counter and stirred up all the crap,” he said. “We New Yorkers get kinda crazy sometimes, you know, but that guy was something else. And if it hadn’t been for his nasty behavior toward the woman behind the counter, his theatrics would’ve cracked me up.”
The young man paused. “Funny how some guys let their shit get in the way of what they want. Real dumb, I say. It would have made my day, though, to watch big-ass Jake come over the counter, beat the crap out of the guy, and toss him out on the concrete. Shame on me, but that would have been a hoot and a half.”
Suddenly, the young man jump up, excused himself, and rushed over to a young woman who had come into the Deli and motioned for him of join her at the service counter.
Two middle-aged women sat at the fourth table I approached. When I explained what I wanted and why, the redhead with a small scar on her forehead spoke up and said, “We don’t want to get involved.”
“How is telling me what you saw getting involved?” I asked.
The other woman, a blonde with frizzy hair, spoke up sharply, “That guy is one of the street people. And some of those people have weapons—guns and knives. If the guy found out somehow that we were talking about him, he might come after us one morning here in the Deli or on our way back home.”
“That seems a bit farfetched, don’t you think?” I said.
“It’s not farfetched!” the redhead said, raising her voice. “So get away from here, and leave us alone!”
I smiled and thanked the women for their time.
An older woman sat alone at the fifth table, sipping her coffee and nibbling on a piece of rye toast and jam. I approach her with more care than the others, not just because she was older but also because she seemed a bit nervous. After my introductory spiel, she invited me to sit down across the table from her.
“I was second in line, and that crazy guy brushed up against me on his way to the service counter,” she said. “I was scared to death. And that poor woman behind the counter! My-o-my! I was scared for her too. I shudder to think what would’ve happen if that guy had had a gun. He was so angry he would’ve shot her for sure when she talked back to him. He might’ve shot some of the rest of us too. There’s a lot of that kind of thing going on all over the country these days.”
The woman paused and took a sip of her coffee. “I should have run for the door, but I was so scared, I froze,” she said. “I couldn’t move. The thing that gets me is that none of the men in line did anything to restrain the guy. I guess they were scared too, but you’d think at least one of them would’ve had the courage to do something other than just stand there.”
“I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to get involved,” I said, forgetting for a moment that I wanted the woman’s reaction, untainted with my opinions.
Without response to my remark, the woman went on to say, “The big man who came from the backroom with that baseball bat is the owner, I think. Anyway, he saved the day. Thank God! But I don’t know what I would have done, though, if the guy had not left. I’m sixty-seven years old last May with a bad heart, and it was racing like all get out. It’s still racing—not as much, but racing nonetheless. My-o-my! I hope I never experience anything like that again.”
I thanked the woman for her time and got up to leave.
“I have to leave too, but maybe I’ll see you in here again sometime,” she said. “It was nice having a strong looking man at my table. It made me feel safer, and I appreciate that very much. God bless you.”
A man dressed in slacks and a sport shirt sat at the sixth table. He was staring out the window at passersby on the sidewalk. I guessed he was in his forties. At first, he was reluctant to talk with me, but after I sat down and explained more carefully what I wanted and why, he started talking.
“I’m a native New Yorker, originally from Queens—Jamaica, and I don’t like to get involved in things that are not directly related to me,” he said. “But that crazy guy’s behavior pissed me off. And I mean it really pissed me off. I come in here to the Deli at least three times a week, and the woman behind the service counter—the one on the receiving end of that guy’s crap—is a very nice lady. And she didn’t deserve all that.”
He hesitated and then added, “And another thing: It pisses me off that I didn’t do something the minute that son of a bitch opened his mouth. When you get a chance to do the right thing, you should do it. And dammit to hell, I missed my chance that time. It makes me feel like a damn coward—a real candy-ass.”
The man didn’t strike me as a coward—only cautious. But be that as it may, I stood, thanked him, and headed for table number seven.
I had seen the man seated at the table once or twice before. He dressed a bit like an English gentleman—tweed jacket, vest, and bow tie.
“The woman behind the service counter should have called the police immediately,” the man declared at the outset. “She did not do it, so she must bear responsibility for most of the confrontation.”
The man took a sip of his tea and wiped his mouth with his napkin, “And as for the onlookers who stood nearby, their reaction, or should I say their lack of it, was commendable. Why should they become involved? It’s the owner’s job to take care of people who get out of line in the place.”
The man placed his elbows on the table, and then realizing the impropriety of it, he quickly removed them. “The way the owner handled the situation, however, left much to be desired,” he said. “He didn’t even bother to find out the details of what had transpired before going into a violent rage with that ball bat.”
The men chased down the last bite of his croissant with the tea left in his cup. Then he wiped his mouth and hands with his napkin, stood, straightened his vest, and buttoned his jacket. Before leaving, he said, “All in all, however, I did learn something as a result of what happened, namely go someplace else from now on for my pot of tea and croissant. Melodrama in a public place is simply unacceptable.”
After the pompous man had gone, I continued my tablehopping but soon discovered I had exhausted the supply of people who had been in the Deli earlier and observed the incident. The place had returned to normal—everyone ordering, eating and drinking, and keeping to themselves. So, I turned off my recorder, left the Deli, and returned to my apartment three blocks away.
The following evening in class, my students listened intently to my retelling of the out-of-towner’s account of what had happened in the Deli the previous morning. Afterward, I played my recordings of the reactions of the other people who had witnessed the incident.
When I raised the question as to whether the reactions of everyone taken collectively provided a set of characteristics that define a typical New Yorker, the students objected. They insisted that a typical New Yorker doesn’t exist, even though they granted New Yorkers share some behavioral characteristics because of their shared environment.
Several students argued that because of the City’s gigantic size, population density, ethnic diversity, and daily inflow of tourists and other visitors from all over the world, New Yorkers feel more vulnerable, and therefore more defensive, than people in the smaller cities, towns, and rural areas of the country.
One student spoke up and said, “Mind you, New Yorkers know how to be bold, defiant, assertive, and even aggressive when they think it’s necessary. Most people probably consider that offensive behavior. But like someone once said, ‘The best defense is a good offense.’ And it sounds like the Deli owner and the woman behind the service counter were doing just that—defending themselves with a good offense.”
That said, however, the students agreed that the immediate reactions and not the after-the-fact reactions of the onlookers in the Deli supported the argument that New Yorkers tend to choose their own terms of engagement. That is, when they are not directly affected by something that happens, they tend to avoid getting involved, even though most of them are quick to react verbally after-the-fact. Several of the students argued that such behavior was probably much the same as that of most Americans, especially those who live in large cities where people tend to be more suspicious of others and perhaps more offensively defensive.
The students also acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that New Yorkers, especially native New Yorkers, are generally as provincial-bordering-on-bigotry in their view of people different from themselves as the out-of-town couple in the Deli. I agreed, realizing a talk with people who live in any one of the much-romanticized “old neighborhoods” of the City would support that assessment.
Moreover, the students acknowledged that New Yorkers often come off like they feel superior to the “hicks and yahoos” that live in and beyond the strip of land across the Hudson River that they more often than not refer to as Jersey. One student said, “Yeah, and some New Yorkers are like the last person recorded in the Deli—the pompous man in the tweed jacket. But I think they are few and far between, and certainly less prissy than he sounded.”
My students’ interest in my anecdotal material and the discussion of it as it related to the characteristics of an alleged typical New Yorker were more than I expected. But their insistence that there is no such thing as a typical New Yorker while acknowledging New Yorkers share some common characteristics puzzled me.
Perhaps their seemingly contradictory comments make sense if summarized by saying they believe New Yorkers are alike or typical as indicated by the immediate reactions of the people in the Deli during the incident, but not alike or typical as indicated by their reactions after-the-fact. In short, New Yorkers react similarly in efforts to avoid involvement in incidents that do not directly concern them, but differently or individualistically when reacting after-the-fact. So does this belief support the allegation that the behavior of New Yorkers is unique, that is, distinct from people elsewhere in the country? Probably not. People faced with a similar environment and set of circumstances would probably behave similarly.
Copyright © 2016 Frank Zahn
Why Pro-Choice Prevailed in the USA
At the outset, it is useful to define human life scientifically. Life is simply energy-driven matter with a unique blueprint, set of instructions, or DNA that determines its development. And it is human life when conceived by humans, or stated differently, when the sperm of a human male impregnates the egg of a human female.
Just as the principles of physics govern the conception, development, and eventual demise of the universe, they govern the conception, development, and eventual demise of all life in it, including human life. The universe began to develop in time at conception, however perceived, and will continue to do so until entropy takes its toll (second law of thermodynamics): that is, time for it stops or it dies. The same is true of all life in the universe, including human life.
Decisions about when it is acceptable to terminate human life before entropy takes its toll have been made variously throughout the history of humankind. Most of the decisions have been made with respect to human life after birth or outside the womb, including, but not limited to, those based on self-defense, survival, and deterrence to crime. In recent years, however, decisions with respect to the termination of human life inside the womb by way of abortion, especially those in the USA, have taken center stage.
For the most part, those who object to abortion base their objections on the will of God, which they accept on faith as revealed in a variety of “sacred scriptures” and teachings of prophets, priests, ministers, ayatollahs, and other clerics. The argument used most often is that abortion can only be justified if the soul has not entered the human life.
The problem with the soul argument is that it is faith-based rather than evidence-based. That is, the argument is a matter of belief without evidence that can stand up to scientific scrutiny. The predominant Christian belief is that the soul enters the human life at conception. The predominant Hindu belief is that the soul enters the human life during the seventh month after conception.
The Christian version of the soul argument is compatible with a nonreligious or secular argument that abortion is not justified because the human life is viable beginning with conception. The argument is based on a broad definition of viability, that is, human life is viable if it is capable of development with help if necessary. And it is so capable from conception onward, first inside the womb with help from the mother as nature provides and after birth with the continued help of the mother, father, and others who provide support in the form of sustenance and nurture. Also, medical science plays an important helper’s role from conception onward, both inside the womb and after birth.
Viability broadly defined, however, does not leave any wiggle room for terminating human life inside the womb by way of abortion. The reason is straightforward: At no stage of development inside the womb after conception is the human life nonviable, not even in the earliest stage, however defined.
An alternative definition of viability provided the missing wiggle room. A source that articulated the alternative is the United States Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in a publication entitled, Fetal Viability and Death (2006-05-23). The Commission stated that human life is viable if it is capable of development OUTSIDE THE WOMB with help if necessary that is independent of any integral connection with the mother and self-sustaining only with support from accepted medical treatments.
Given this narrow definition of viability and the current state of technology and medical science, those who support a woman’s right to choose the termination of a human life inside the womb by way of abortion assert that women need not feel the moral culpability often associated with it. Many of them argue that the right to abort should be limited to that of nonviable human life while others—the more militant—argue for no limitations or restrictions.
Accepting the narrow definition of viability without question, The United States Supreme Court or SCOTUS in Roe v. Wade (1973) decided that although not expressly stated in the Constitution, a woman’s right to abort a nonviable human life is implicit or implied in it. Based on “compelling arguments” presented in the case, the decision permitted states to regulate and even ban abortion after 28 weeks.
The subsequent Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) provided even more wiggle room for aborting human life. It disassociated viability from the hard line of 28 weeks in light of advances in related medical research and technology and permitted states to place greater emphasis on “undue burden” to the mother when regulating abortion. The Court stopped short of considering “undue burden” of human life to the mother after birth or outside the womb, especially during the teenage years of that life when some form of “retroactive abortion” might be considered consistent with the its ruling.
Although not available at the time the Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the research of Keith Moore and T. Persaud, which was published in The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Saunders 2003), provided support for the “compelling argument” that viability varies with related medical research and technology. Their research concluded that there is no sharp limit of development, age, or weight at which human life in the womb automatically becomes viable.
One of the primary problems that Moore and Persaud’s research raises about the viability argument when viability is narrowly defined is that a woman could choose to abort a nonviable human life as determined by a legislature, court, or doctor, given the current stage of related knowledge, and later, discover it was viable. Of course, she would not have done so intentionally, but the viable human life would have been terminated by way of abortion nevertheless.
More often than not, people opposed to abortion consider their religious beliefs sufficient justification for opposing it, making any other argument unnecessary, including the viability argument, regardless of whether viability is broadly or narrowly defined.
People who support a woman’s right or option to abort human life strongly object to the efforts of the opposition to impose their religious beliefs on women. They argue that the right is an issue for resolution in the civil or secular arena of American culture, an arena they insist must be kept separate from the religious arena in compliance with the Constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.
Those who oppose a woman’s right to abort human life created terminology they considered more effective in marketing their cause. They refer to their cause as Pro-life instead of Anti-abortion. Being for something—life—has greater positive connotation than being against something—abortion. At the same time, they refer to the cause of Pro-choice advocates as Pro-abortion because it has greater negative connotation.
Moreover, they refer to the human life inside a womb as an unborn child rather than a fetus. Terminating or aborting an unborn child has greater negative moral connotation than aborting a nonviable fetus—something that sounds less like a human life.
Those who advocate a woman’s right to abort human life also created terminology they considered more effective in marketing their cause. They refer to their cause as Pro-choice instead of Pro-abortion. Being for something that is supportive of a woman’s right to choose has greater appeal than being for something that is supportive of terminating or aborting human life. At the same time, they refer to the cause of Pro-life advocates as Anti-choice because it has greater negative connotation.
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In the essay form of expression, the author uses the rational dimension of his curiosity to provide insight into a host of contemporary social, political, and economic issues. In the memoir and short story forms of expression, he uses the emotional dimension of his curiosity to provide insight into the joys and sorrows of youth and family, friendships, humorous incidents, and traumatic episodes in the lives of people caught up in the circumstances of life.