#SoldOut Raising Funds and Awareness

I recall many years ago standing on the terraces at Hampden Park, Glasgow with 145,000 other rabid fans, waiting for the teams to come out of the tunnel to begin the annual Scotland v England ‘Home International’ football,(soccer), game. There would always be 140,000 Scots and about 5,000 English fans in attendance. As a Scot, born and bred, I was brought up, just like the majority of others who were standing around me, to ‘hate’ the English with a vengeance. It was just part of our parochial culture at that time, and probably still is today, although I have not lived in Scotland for 40 years and with the demise of Scottish football and an awareness that political correctness is now the order of the day, perhaps the ferocity of that hatred has mellowed. The two teams, now standing in the center of the field, would face the main stand, where all the dignitaries were seated, and the British national anthem would begin, God Save the Queen. This was before the Scots were allowed to sing their own anthem, a change in protocol that occurred some years later. The band, yes, a real brass or bagpipe band, would strike up the first chord and immediately there would be a wall of noise emanating from the Scottish support just booing as loud as possible at the UK anthem. It completely drowned out the band and any semblance they had in mind of being heard as a unit. We hated that anthem, supposedly, and we all gave it little or indeed no respect. Within seconds, our vocal distaste of everything that the British Monarchy stood for was demonstrated by this blasphemous howling and booing which seemed to last an eternity, but which in fact lasted only about 120 seconds, the length of the British national anthem being quite short. Once over, the game began and the fact that 140,000 Scottish football fanatics had remonstrated vocally against our forced inclusion under the monarchy we all loved, or at least some of us loved, was soon forgotten as the football took over and blood and guts was then spilled on the field of play rather than on the streets of Glasgow. It should also be noted that while the anthem was sung by the players on the field from the England team, all the Scottish team just stood in silence, some smiling, some not, but to a tee, not one of the Scottish team would sing along. It was an unwritten rule, followed religiously. Silent protests against supposed oppression, acceptable and respected throughout the world. No harm done, no one to cry foul. Until now!

When Colin Kaepernick knelt down for the Star Spangled Banner whilst playing for the San Francisco 49rs some two years ago, the whole world, at least the world that surrounded American Football and Donald Trump, went berserk, and for what reason? Well as far as I can tell, the National Anthem was never played at any sporting event before the end of the second world war. And even after that, there were sports events in the USA where the anthem remained just a figment of everyone’s imagination, laying silent as battle commenced on the field of play. So why, all of a sudden, after Kaepernick and some of his fellow Pro’s decided to protest, quite justifiably in silence to make what has turned out to be a very relevant point on an issue that has haunted this country for generations, has the President of the United States and the owners of some of the football teams where protests have been continual and well publicized, lost the plot by telling players they will be fired if they continue to ‘abuse their privilege’? There is not one reason on earth why anyone should be forced to alter their beliefs, especially those who feel threatened or abused and more especially inside a country that not only preaches pure democracy and a right to free speech to the whole planet, but a country that encourages its populous to be vocal in the form of protest when under threat of unjustifiable racism. Racism is rife in America. You can smell it in the streets, it’s a pollution that has become silent in its poisoning of its population. Racism cannot be tolerated, hatred of anyone, any race, any creed and any color has to be kicked out, but, unfortunately, and in the opinion of this author, it’s just being swept under an already filthy carpet, where, when the dust is uncovered, it becomes a mountain of trash that is becoming ever worse and unstoppable, fueled by a President and government that just turns a blind eye and looks the other way whilst telling us all, quite disingenuously that there is absolutely nothing wrong! Well, not much!

My guitar teacher Tony, remember him from the first article I wrote last week, inspired me to make the lapel pins you see in the image above. The players protesting and following in the footsteps of Kaepernick, have a right to do so. It’s not disrespectful, it’s poignant, it’s their human right, it’s peaceful and most importantly, it’s something they believe in. However, it seems if these protests carry on players will be fired or, and I say this with the utmost respect, the President will have to intervene personally, something not one of us would like to see happen.

With all of this in mind, I have this idea, not only to raise the awareness to a very great cause, but to raise money for charities associated with racism and the profound effect that racism still holds on our society. The #SOLDOUT will soon display the pins pictured above for sale, to make people aware that there is genuine suffering out there, whether it be in the murdering of Jews in Pittsburgh, or the simplicity of daily senseless traffic stops on innocent African Americans, it matters not. We have a right to protest, so by wearing this pin, our protests shall be seen, and by the money we raise, out protests shall be heard.

Keep reading this blog for more updates and check out our Instagram #soldout to get your pin.

If there are any athletes, well known or otherwise and or charities, who would like to be considered as spokes people for this idea, please get in touch. Colin Kaepernick, if you read this please know that I have tried in many different ways to contact you because I believe you should lead this movement, but to date, no response.

Thank you everyone.

#Sold Out

I have a music teacher, his name is Tony. Tony is black and adopted. He is 25. His mother and father are white. His real mother and father are no longer alive. He comes from Texas, lives now in California and was educated at Julliard in New York. Tony is a fine upstanding citizen, a musical genius and a pleasure to be around. I’ve known him for two years, and not once in that time had we ever discussed race, or the place it plays in US society. Not once, until last year, when all the American Football players began to kneel during the national anthem before their games began. We were sitting playing guitars, strumming away to AC/DC Back in Black, when suddenly I turned round to him and asked this very question.

“Tony, be honest with me, very honest, no BS. You’re black, you’re African-American, and you’ve seen what’s going on in this country for the past months with all the athletes kneeling during the national anthem. You’ve seen what Black Lives Matter have been saying and doing, you’ve witnessed at first hand how this country is so divided, but have you personally ever suffered any kind of racial abuse, either growing up or since you moved to CA a few years ago?”

When I asked this question I was somewhat convinced that just like everything else we read or see on TV, the bias towards sensationalism in our media far in a way outweighed the reality of life. I fully expected Tony to turn round and tell me that most of what we were looking at on TV was stage-managed to drum up support for factions in society that had nothing better to do than create issues that really didn’t assist in the harmonic bliss I seemed to live with on a daily basis. How wrong and how naive was I. This is what Tony said to me.

” Alan, I have lived 25 years, in Texas, New York and now CA. In all 3 States I lived in nice middle class suburban areas, other than in NY where Manhattan is as diverse as it comes and everyone seems very wealthy. Let me tell you how life really is if you’re black. Let me also tell you how I have seen it, living with white parents, white students and now in a predominantly white middle class area here in Orange County. Let me also tell you that what I am about to say is not at all exaggerated. It’s the truth. After you listen, you can then decide who is embellishing the truth.” He looked at me straight in the eye and then he began.

“I drive a great car, a Ford Mustang Shelby. I drive it everywhere because there’s no public transportation down here in OC. Do you know I get stopped by the cops at least twice a week? Do you know why I get stopped? I don’t speed, I don’t do anything illegal, I just get pulled over. It doesn’t matter if I am here in Laguna, or in long Beach or up in LA. I get stopped, and every time it’s the same nonsense.

” You’re joking?” I said, not quite believing what he was saying.

He continued.

” I am a music teacher, I drive to schools, I drive to people’s homes, white people, Chinese people, brown people, black people. It doesn’t matter. If I pass a cop, especially where schools are located, they will come from nowhere, lights flashing, pull me over and ask me why I am where I am. It happens so regularly now that I know the drill off pat. I stop, put my hands where they can be seen, wait for the cops to come to my window and I stay silent until they ask me the very same question every single time.”

“What question Tony?” I asked.

“What are you doing here son?”

“Son??” I laughed

“Yes. SON!. No respect. As soon as I tell them I am a music teacher with clients in the neighborhood, as soon as they see my guitar, my books and my other instruments, they very quickly and impolitely step away and wave me off as if I’m a piece of dirt they’d just happened to get stuck on the side of their highly polished shoes, and without apology, send me on my way”

Well Tony’s story blew me away. It got me thinking that I really knew nothing about the racism that people were going through on a daily basis and that being closeted, very comfortably, in a predominantly white are with predominantly white friends and a very white attitude, was so far from reality, that I had to take action. I had to find a vehicle to show my support for the black community and all the black friends I had. It was time to do something to raise awareness, time to react and time to make a statement that will never be forgotten.

At the top of this page you’ll find a lapel pin design. In my next post, later this week, I will send out more information on a campaign I am going to run in conjunction with some major athletes in the USA to raise awareness for a cause that most of you know is already rife in our society. A cause that millions of people suffer from each and every day in a country where everyone is supposedly equal but as I have come to find out, where no one actually is.

#SOLDOUT

Too Many To Count

IMG_0352Yesterday was warm, around 68 degrees here in San Jose, not a bad day to be out in shorts and a tee-shirt? Well the days might be warm, but the evenings are certainly winter cool, not cold, just cool. Ideal conditions of you have a home to go to, turning on the heat as you walk in through the front door after a long day at work, ready, willing and able to put the stove on, or perhaps just the microwave, so that you might enjoy your favorite meal in the comfort of your favorite arm-chair in the company of your favorite lover or with your favorite pet by your side.

For those who are homeless however, last night was yet another slog to get in line at the Home First Boccardo center in San Jose to guarantee a bed and a hot meal. And it’s to that very same center that I once again set off around 4 PM to help Chef Diane serve more than 300 starving souls, who, unlike you or I, have absolutely nothing in their lives except the misery and depression that being homeless brings.

The line for beds was out the front door and into the street, and as I parked my car I could see that this was going to be a night unlike any other that I had seen before when volunteering at Boccardo. I’ve been going there for years now, through thick and thin, cold and warm, but never have I seen a line like the one I saw last night. Was it because ‘the jungle’ off CA 87 had been closed? Always a resting place in the past for refugees of this continual homeless crisis we can never seem to fix, now closed due to pressure from council members who wanted them out. Was it because there was spaghetti cooking inside the kitchen run by Miss Diane and word had spread that tonight dinner would be delicious? Or perhaps it was just that we cannot control a situation that is out of control and the sad facts are it won’t get any better soon.

Having gone into the kitchen to assist, Diane informed me that she was short of volunteers and that during the winter months most of those who come to help serve and prepare seem to just vanish. With gloves and apron in place, desert carved and plated, peas and salad and warm bread all ready to be dished out, the spaghetti would not be short of company tonight.

Then the chaos began. One after another, an endless line of deprivation strolled expectantly into the dining hall. Some were pleasant, others ungrateful, the usual mix which I’ve seen many times before. Some wanted no meat, some no tomatoes and some only chocolate for desert. Whatever their poison, Miss Diane controlled the line with her usual dignified authoritarian energy, pushing those who dithered towards a table that bore empty seats, and those who were perhaps more decisive and bold when asking for extra food, towards the exit. She’s a real trooper and still, to this day, I have no idea how she and the rest of her staff cope with this never-ending, depressing situation day in and day out.

When you get home from work tonight, think about that line. It will be there for sure, just like it is every night, 300 souls with their hands out looking for assistance and receiving it courtesy of those who donate their lives to the betterment of others. Give up some of your time if you can and come and help Diane and the rest of this very dedicated team. They will make you welcome and you will make their day.

 

Give Me My Money Back – Part 2

I was asked to attend a formal interview beginning at 8 am on the morning of May 14 1998 at the US Embassy in London. Errol had warned me that I needed to take pictures of myself and my wife, our home, our bank account details, our utility bills, and anything else that proved we were a family. I came armed to the hilt with a large brief case filled to the top with evidence. I was nervous. Well, perhaps I was excited. It’s hard to remember the feelings I had when I walked into the embassy knowing that today I would finally get the green card I craved and the right to enter the USA as a legal immigrant. For years I’d felt like a stowaway each time I entered US immigration at whatever airport I’d landed. Although the officers always made me feel welcome, the grief that they gave me each and every time was unwelcome. I travelled a lot, I still do, and when I’d eventually get to the front of the visitor’s line, the questions came fast and furious.

“Where have you been and why?”

“How long were you there?”

“What is it that brings you back?”

“Do you have a business card I can see?”

“Did you take a shit on the plane before you landed?” I’m joking of course, but that’s the kind of questioning that came spouting out from nowhere in particular as I stood, exhausted, at the counter willing them just to put the bloody stamp into my passport that would let me back in to the country and allow me to go home. The US by that time was becoming my home. It was mind numbing and often very degrading, but I knew I had to persevere and hopefully I would prevail.

Back at Gloucester Sq in London, I sat alone, pensive, sweating, just waiting to be called to the front of yet another line. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one who’d come to get that precious green card. I estimated at least 12 others, although at that point I wasn’t sure who was there for what?

Suddenly I heard want I wanted to hear. “Zoltie? Mr. Zoltie” I looked up, saw a man in uniform calling my name, picked up my fully laden briefcase and marched forwards towards freedom whilst humming “oh say can you see…” quietly under my warm and quite erratic breath. ‘America here I come!’

“Mr. Zoltie?” said the man in uniform.

“Yes”

“Mr. Zoltie, please put your right hand in the air like so…” he demonstrated. I followed. “Do you swear by almighty God that the information in the forms you sent to us applying for a Green Card, these forms…” he offered up the paperwork Errol had submitted some 6 months prior to this day, ” … are correct and true and that all the statements made are statements of fact?”

“I do” I was shaking.

“Very well Mr. Zoltie. Please take this form, read it, and remember that until the day is over you are not guaranteed your green card until you have fulfilled the obligations set forth in this form”

I looked at the form, looked at the officer, looked at the form one more time and that’s when it happened. The word AIDS came flying off the paper and into my face like that miss-hit golf ball from the first tee on a golf course in Troon did some 20 years prior, clattering into my head at the speed of light and without so much as a Foooooorrrrrre!  AIDS TEST! There it was, in BOLD, right in front of my eyes. The officer was still talking. I wasn’t listening. This was the height of the Aids pandemic. My mind went into overdrive. I’d never had protected sex, ever, and now, when millions were dropping from this horrible disease, here I was, faced with a test to confirm if I was going to be AIDS free. “Fuck” was all I could say to myself as that same officer handed over the paperwork and asked me to take my seat next to all the other hopefuls who’s comprehension of the same up and coming task seemed to be weighing heavily on every one of their stressed out faces. Once I’d sat down in my chair I began to read the rest of the requirements for that day. Blood test apart, I was to have a chest X-ray, a lecture on the USA and my legal obligations as a green card holder and a picture session where they’d take several images and fingerprints for all the documentation they were about to prepare. I was in despair. What if I was HIV positive? What if I wasn’t? How could they do that test in an hour anyway? I’d read it took two weeks to do an HIV test and get the results. “God” I thought, “please make me negative, please!!”

Suddenly this man came out of nowhere and was standing right in front of me. “You Scottish?” he inquired?

Cowboys In Suits, Not Jeans

downloadLast night Levi’s, based right here in San Francisco, announced they were laying off over 800 workers, mostly management positions, to save money. When I heard this I was blown away, perhaps shocked would be language more suited to this news story. My immediate thoughts went to those who are now going to join the ranks of our unemployment lines, growing larger and larger every day. My next thought was, “shit, this company must be in big trouble if they fired so many so quickly!”  And after pondering the question of ‘if Levi’s go out of business where will I buy my jeans?’ for about ten seconds, it hit me, and it hit me hard.

You guys just spent $220 million for the naming rights to the new San Francisco football stadium which opens up in about 12 weeks time, so what on earth are you thinking about by firing 800 people??

It made no sense to me. Again, typifying the attitude I have found in the United States by putting football, a stupidly overrated American sport, before human lives. So, 800 families are about to be put through seemingly endless torture and suffering and the 49’rs football team will benefit from these families misfortune? Farcical.

Who makes these decisions? What benefit can Levi’s, and all those other companies who’ve spent a trillion dollars naming breeze block edifices across the country, possibly gain by spending their profits, or perhaps lack of, on signage instead of humanity. The very people who assisted in getting them into a position of being able to afford such signage from the beginning? The world is screwed up when $220 million is spent by those advertising cowboys who wear suits, not jeans. Tell me I’m nuts. Tell me $220 million is worth every penny spent. Tell me I have no appreciation of the ‘real’ world out there, but when you tell me all these things, tell it to those who today, find themselves kicked gloriously to the curbside in favor of bragging rights.

Levi’s you should be ashamed.

 

Karaoke But No Santa

Picture 6It doesn’t take much to make a difference, especially in a life that is mostly empty. Just one or two simple additions, such as love and understanding, a hot meal and to be treated like a proper and normal human being, normally do the trick. Today at the homeless shelter, food was in abundance, turkey and ham, along with fresh cooked veg and macaroni and cheese, plus cookies. Tonight though, there was also karaoke. Someone had donated three Target gift cards, on for $50 on for $20 and one for $10. The competition was simple. Come up and sing and be judged.

It took an hour and some brave souls, but in the end, after around 20 renditions, none of which would have made X Factor or Idol outtakes, we had our winner. She was dressed all in black, including her black beanie hat, but she had the ‘moves like Jagger’ and a voice that outshone second and third place, by a country mile. I never got her name, which is a shame, since I was the judge and jury, but she vanished into the shelter before we could present her with her prize. James, who appeared in an earlier blog I wrote, chased after her, knowing that the $50 would mean everything to her, and eventually brought her back into the main dining area in order that we could anoint her Queen of Soul for the San Jose homeless population.

The difference tonight, even though not completely natural, was the look of enjoyment on the faces of those who had come to eat their Christmas dinner in a warm and safe environment. On regular weekdays during the year, most of the residents we see come in and out, gobbling up their meals in 5 minutes without acknowledging one another. Tonight they gathered together, as you have done in your own homes with your own families, and they formed a small gathering with a real sense of community. Yes, all of these people would rather be someplace else, but right now, this is their home, if only for tonight. They are fortunate enough to know and to be grateful for everything they have been given on this special day. They have had meals cooked and served and a bed supplied.

Not all of the residents at the Boccardo center feel this need for gratitude, indeed some are quite bitter and disgusted with the way society has dealt them a rotten hand in life, but in general, those who behave this way are few and far between. The atmosphere tonight was certainly jovial, but when proceedings began to wind down and the realization set in amongst all who were with us this evening that they would be back on the cold empty streets tomorrow morning, attitudes certainly changed, if not immediately, then certainly within moments of their retreat back into their sleeping accommodations. And who can blame them?

Homelessness cannot be resolved by one meal or even two. It cannot be resolved by donating clothes or money. It cannot end with just hope. Homelessness can only be resolved through hard work, government intervention and community awareness. Today is Christmas day, a day to bring joy to all mankind. I hope the people that I met today had just a smidgeon of joy brought into what is a pretty miserable life for all of them. When you open your gifts at home today, when you eat your turkey and your ham, and when you drink a few beers or bottle of wine, bare a thought for those of us less fortunate who have absolutely nothing in life other that what kind people like you decide to donate. It doesn’t take much to bring happiness to a fellow human being, and today was a perfect example of that. I didn’t see one Ipad, Ipod or Iphone, I just saw some hungry ,lonely homeless people trying hard to believe that next year things can only get better.

Merry Christmas to all of you. I wish you much happiness and much love and trust that none of you will ever find yourselves in need of the assistance, these folks all over the country did today and every other day of their lives.

Needless Deaths

It’s a balmy 50 degrees here in San Jose today. Tonight it will be 33. Quite chilly for this part of the world and as every gardening enthusiast in our area rushes outside to cover up his or her plants so they survive until Wednesday next week, bare a thought or two for those of us out there who have nothing or no one to cover them up.

Last night 4 people died here in Santa Clara county. 4 homeless people. Needless deaths indeed when you consider that the nearest shelter was half empty. Tonight all the local homeless shelters are putting on extra beds, which under the circumstances is quite admirable. It leaves the unanswered question though of why 4 had to die without being offered the chance to sleep indoors in a warm bed? Having spent a week being homeless, I can understand the reluctance of some, the minority, who choose to sleep rough and who will sit stubbornly at the side of the road or under their favorite bridge clinging to everything they possess and believing that nothing worse could possibly happen to them. On the other hand how can we, yes, you and I, as todays so-called ‘caring society’ not be out there rounding these people up and placing them in a safer environment especially suited to seeing them through the climactic conditions in which we find ourselves tonight? It beggars belief that here I am, sitting in a home with unlimited central heating, 6 incredibly warm empty rooms, and yet there are many, some 7000 plus in this county alone, who have nothing but plastic sheeting, a supermarket trolley and perhaps a coat, and not even a warm one at that, braving temperatures that are normally found in places far North of California.

If you go out tonight, even if you don’t live where I live and are based in other parts of the planet, give some thought to those who might need just a wee bit of guidance. Help someone. Help them get to where their souls might be warmed and their bellies filled. We live in strange times. People line up for iPhones and Play Stations, sometimes in the cold, and yet others….. Well, you get my point. We have so much in the way of resources, but yet we give so little.

I hope no one else meets their demise this evening, and I hope you are all at home feeling nice and warm and lucky that you are not one of those who have to endure several more nights of this weather without anything other than a prayer and an empty heart.