Afternoon On A Train: Pt. 2

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This is a continuation of a memoir split into two parts concerning the afternoon my father, while working as a sandwich boy on the Boston to New York train, met Eleanor Roosevelt, who actually sat down and chatted with him. Part 1 is below “Either Or With Stacey E. Bryan.”

Part 2

 I’ve mused over time whether or not an encounter with Mrs. Roosevelt would have been the same for another teenager, one without my father’s challenges.

That kid may have thought, “Gee, the President’s wife is swell,” and gone merrily on his way. He or she probably wouldn’t have either known or remembered, for example, that in 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Marion Anderson perform at Constitution Hall. My father knew, though. He knew that Mrs. Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in dissent, simultaneously offering a paradoxical puzzle to the public at large: why did Americans damn Hitler but censor Miss Anderson? This difference in awareness of  how America viewed them, how America fought for or against them, might account for another kid, our fictitious second kid, being charmed, perhaps, by meeting Mrs. R. Pleased, but not genuinely touched.

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If Eleanor Roosevelt had suddenly removed a crystal ball from within her satchel and showed my father his future, even he may have been impressed. He’d watch himself prising open various closed doors, including the unabashedly clannish ones of Braemar Country Club and L.A. Athletic Club, making it possible thereafter for other minorities to join. He’d see himself elected as Chairman of the Board of Governors of said LAAC. The crystal ball would reveal a man chosen as first Chairman ever of the John Wooden Awards, a man invited as part of a Minority Task Force to the White House. My father would see the optimism and open-mindedness he’d fostered his entire life realized in unforeseen and unimagined ways.

 

Many years later,  Eleanor R. was dying, disappointed with the slow progress of social change.

And with reason. Many years later I was born not to my parents but to a white woman and a black man. And while that might have seemed to bode well for change, my biological mother gave me up for adoption, telling the administrators that I was white. This plan failed because as time went on, I grew quite dusky, causing confusion and raising alarms at the orphanage. When I met her 20 years later, my biological mother informed me that she’d thought I would “have a better life” with a white family. I guess she was forgetting that anybody who was adopting children, no matter their background, would have to have been financially secure enough to do so.

Being half-black in a black family was a nonissue. Being loved was paramount. Ironically, the better life my biological mother had wanted for me came easily and unconditionally through people who were not white. But the undeniable fact remains that she automatically discounted blackness as a viable option, even though she had loved and created me with a man of color. That weird disparity, the contradictory concepts of America’s founding, had taken seed, tunneling deep into the country’s psyche and creating a conflicted mindset, a stupefying Rubiks cube, which our nation still grapples with today.

 

By 1962, my father had been practicing dentistry for many years, but blacks wouldn’t be accepted into the National Dental Association until 1963. Eleanor Roosevelt was disappointed.  J. Edgar Hoover postulated that she had “Negro blood” which motivated her “perverse behavior.” The thrill of $3,450 houses and amazingly cheap coffee aside, it was a strange time, indeed, when someone’s altruism could actually be interpreted as hostile or depraved. This was the woman who took the time to speak to my father on a train one afternoon in 1944. It was a different world. But for him the encounter still sings, sustaining its melody for 70 years.  This was due not only to a mutual moment of recognition but also because the subtext brimmed with intention undeniably more expansive than that meeting, that conversation, that moment.

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Which brings me back to the beginning and Octavia Butler’s blurb: Are all humans bigots, or are all bigots human?

Obviously the question isn’t simply aimed at America. Nevertheless, if our country was a quilt, race relations would be the thread that purls its borders. Perhaps the idea of America can be summarized in that blurb not because of a potentially troubling conjecture but instead because of an inherent optimism and potential for open-mindedness. The built-in hope that softens this country’s failings by counteracting with periodic greatness.

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Lately it’s been much more difficult to absorb that optimism as more and more of the police force’s and even many state’s politicians’ MOs have come to light. But if I were to stay on track and finish my thought, just for the sake of argument, in a microcosm, my dad is simply a Boston boy who done good, but in a macrocosm, he and people like him are a representation of that elusive American hope–an ideal that we not only would like to reach but that we need to reach–courage and compassion expanding beyond one afternoon on a train, beyond ourselves, galvanizing us to be more:  More reflective.  More intuitive.  More compassionate. More inclusive. More than we are. More.

More than human.

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WOULD YOU RATHER…with Stacey E. Bryan

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Would you rather….with Stacey Bryan

Please welcome Stacey Bryan, author of Day for Night.

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Stacey was raised in the San Fernando Valley but born in San Francisco, where she left part of her heart. She received a BA in English from UCLA, studying under world-renowned Irish journalist and novelist Brian Moore. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines in New York and L.A., including Ginosko and The Rag. She is currently working on various short stories and the sequel to her novel Day for Night. She lives in “beautiful downtown Burbank,” as Johnny Carson used to say, with her husband who is also a writer.

Connect with Stacey:

Website    Facebook     Twitter    Goodreads

Would You Rather… 
with Stacey E. Bryan

Chips, chocolate or cheese?

Chocolate and cheese are great but too rich. I could shove chips into my mouth for weeks straight and not realize what I was doing until I keeled over from high blood pressure.

Bridget Jones, Becky Bloomwood or Carrie Bradshaw?

Carrie Bradshaw of course; she writes for a living! And who’s going to say no to Chris Noth and Baryshnikov types for a roll in the hay?

Wine, beer or vodka?

Beer. In fact, I’d love to go back in time and pop a few with the ancient Egyptians, one of the first civilizations to invent beer, try out their home brew.

Camping or spa vacation?

A combination. Camping with flush toilets and a massage.
P.S.: I almost died hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I became extremely dehydrated and could barely walk.

Water or mountains?

Water, preferably the beach. I often imagine myself like the French Lieutenant’s Woman, standing on the freezing shore in a cape with the wind blowing my hair around in cinematically attractive ways.

Zombies or vampires?

Vampires, because you can reason with them. Before you can get the first, “Please, don’t—“ out of your mouth to a zombie, it’ll  already be munching on your intestines like it’s a free spaghetti dinner.

Dogs or cats?

Cats. Except I’m sort of a traitor because I only like cats that act like dogs. What’s the point of an animal that ignores your existence?

Coke or Pepsi?

Coke. No hint of flatness. With a super fierce bite.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee. Periodically the news announces that coffee causes cancer, then conversely a year later they’ll say coffee can help fight cancer. I drink it during all of its stages, good and bad.

Dine out or take away?

I prefer eating a pizza on the sofa while binge watching “Breaking Bad” and considering the merits of having an underground meth lab.

High heels, sneakers or flip flops?

I broke my toe when I was 13, so I can’t wear many high heels. Sneakers are comfy but I loathe socks. So flip-flops inhabit my Goldilocks zone. I even wear them to work.

Physical Book or ebook?

I used to go to the library every other weekend, then my husband bought me a kindle for my birthday, and I haven’t been to the library in two years!

Paperback or Hardcover?

Just out of sheer laziness, paperbacks because they’re lighter.

Pen or pencil?

Pen. Pencil is too light and tends to rub off. Pencil is for fourth graders!

Mad Men, Downton Abbey or Breaking Bad?

Well, I’ve already answered this one, haven’t I?

Drama or comedy?

Considering the logo of my website is “laughter over tears”, I’ll say comedy. I need endorphins like I need air.

Twilight or Hunger Games?

Only saw the first Twilight movie, couple Hunger Games, but I have to go with Twilight because it’s paranormal. Hunger Games could actually happen, so it’s too depressing to think about.

Lipstick, lipgloss or chapstick?

Cherry flavored chapstick does the trick. I was a tomboy growing up. It’s why I broke my toe and can’t wear high heels.

Facebook or Twiter?

I don’t twat much, as Kathy Griffin says, so I’d have to say Facebook. I’ve got to admit the concept of Twitter confuses the hell out of me.

Plot your entire novel or fly by the seat of your pants?

Plotted it out chapter by chapter, but each chapter itself was kinda “loose” on all the details. So even though I jumped out of the plane without a chute on, I made sure 200 firemen and rescue workers were waiting below to catch me on a giant life net.

Day for Night

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When reality TV star Rae Miller is kicked unceremoniously to the curb by her back-stabbing cast mates, she quickly realizes that revenge fantasies and unemployment are the least of her problems after she witnesses an alien abduction in broad daylight. Worse, after escaping a terrifying almost-abduction herself, Rae succumbs to a sexy Nosferatu’s silky assurances, becoming undead in order to up her alien Ultimate Fighting skills. But even being supernatural can only get her so far. She still needs a job and going back to school wouldn’t be the worst idea ever. And once she figures out why her long-time college friend Rex refuses to have sex with her, she realizes her true nemesis is time.  Life is hard as a 38-to-40-something aspiring actress in L.A. Thank God for Jack Daniel’s and denial.

Available at:

Amazon Barnes & Noble Kindle Nook Kobo 

Afternoon On A Train

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 Part 1

The blurb describing award-winning author Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novel “Fledgling” wraps up by asking a question: Are all humans bigots, or are all bigots human?

Don’t panic yet. Take a deep breath. Smell the optimism in the air.

And here’s a little back story first.

The book my father, Dr. Edward Bryan, and I were supposed to write together was called “I’m Innocent,” a memoir detailing his experiences as the Chief Dental Officer of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Metropolitan Detention Center.  Ala the Shawshank Redemption, a curious universal innocence thrives in the prison system where the inmates affectionately refer to my father as “Dr. No Pain.” That seems like an accomplishment, considering how much dentists tend to be feared and avoided. Of course, my dad has a captive audience with little or no choice but…still. In that situation, it would have been fairly easy not to care.

 Eleanor Roosevelt said something about caring. She said: “We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”

And for her, championing civil rights before it had technically become a cause, decades before Ms. Butler would submit her conundrum, it probably seemed like there were not many who cared. She received lackluster support, if any at all, from her spouse President Roosevelt, managed to incite J. Edgar Hoover’s everlasting ire, and acquired a 4,000-page FBI dossier documenting her philanthropic activities.

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I figure anyone who has a 4,000-page FBI dossier on them is either someone I really don’t want to know or someone who’s really worth knowing. Assuming Mrs. Roosevelt to be the latter, that’s probably why, when she took the train one day 70 years ago and met my father, he was deeply affected by their meeting.

But first let’s set the stage a little. Fly back with me. It’s 1944. A 2-pound bag of coffee is 85 cents. Gas goes for 15 cents a gallon. The average house costs $3,450.

Just those three things alone should have your head awhirl, imagining the things you could accomplish with a time machine. Double Indemnity and Gaslight came out that year, the average price of a ticket reaching about 32 cents. Can you imagine today removing $1 from your wallet and buying a ticket to Star Wars? And then receiving change back? The mind boggles.

 

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Fly back with me. My father is a 15-year-old African-American kid living in Boston. His cousin gets him a sandwich boy job working weekends and summers on the Boston to New York train. One afternoon, the usual humdrum routine disappeared, unveiling a moment of magic. Mrs. Roosevelt was on the train. It must have been the equivalent of General MacArthur appearing out of nowhere, his gigantic pipe clamped between his jaws, or today, say, Mick Jagger sauntering into Old Navy while you’re busy folding the jeans.  Not talking about humanitarianism here. Just remarking on pure celebrity factor alone.

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My dad approached the president’s wife: “Excuse me. Aren’t you Mrs. Roosevelt?”  She responded, “Yes, I am. Sit down, young man.” Of course, back in time, in the world that no longer exists, it amazes one to realize that she was completely alone, no security in sight. She wasn’t even riding in the parlor car but chose instead to travel in coach. She asked him if he went to school and where (he matriculated at English High, the first public school in the U.S., which was also a college prep school). Mrs. Roosevelt then told him to believe in the beauty of his dreams and to get an education.

“That is the way,” she told him, “you will help yourself and your people.”

In the movie Anger Management, an African-American man becomes upset with Adam Sandler whom he perceives to have used the alienating phrase of “you people.”

But in the ‘40s, what’s not P.C. today was everyday life back then. And not that she meant anything by it. Well aware of the importance of education, the advice, for dad, must have been a pleasant exclamation point at the end of a sentence he’d already memorized. He recalls giving Mrs. Roosevelt an apple which he didn’t let her pay for. She disembarked at Greenwich, Connecticut, alone, and he never saw her again.

To be continued………….

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