Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snobs & Bigots

I'm losing my cool. Aside from the title of this post, I'm going to refrain from expressing any of the thoughts I'm having about the place where I live or the people who run the school district. Instead, I'm going to put the evidence to you, and allow you to decide.

1. An excerpt of an email from our superintendent, 7 February 2007:

"Finally, are we a Schools of Choice district, or will we become one? The answers are emphatically NO and NO. Boards of Education must intentionally and by resolution opt in to that program; ours never has and has no future intention of doing so. It would mean opening our district to all residents of Oakland County on a virtually unrestricted basis, something we know our constituents would not want. So if you hear rumors to that effect, please know that they are without foundation."

2. Last fall, there was an incident where a high school student felt threatened enough to bring a handgun to school. He lost his nerve and threw the weapon in some bushes, where it was recovered. When the district reported the incident and attempted to answer parents' questions, one of them was overwhelmingly whether the group of students threatening the gun-toting kid were residents or tuition-based kids. As it turns out, they were all residents, students at the other high school. (No email excerpt or citation.)

3. Also last fall, there was a fight at a football game, something nearly unheard of in our district. Once again, the district attempted to inform and ease concerns of parents who, once again, eagerly questioned the origin of the students involved. Once again, all were residents of our illustrious and privileged and nationally recognized district. I happened to not only witness the fight, but help break it up, and was surprised that witness's accounts didn't lead to the district some way or another mentioning the student's skin color. (Again, no email excerpt or citation.)

4. The latest offense: Below is the entirety of an email sent today from the assistant principal of a middle school:

"This morning at approximately 7:35 a.m. an East Hills student observed a suspicious vehicle driving through the Heathers Club complex. The student was not approached nor was there an attempt to engage her in conversation. The vehicle was described as a small cream colored compact car driven by an African American male between 40-50 years old. The Bloomfield Township Police department was notified and will continue to investigate the incident."

And my response:

"Ms. [Assistant Principal],

"Forgive my intrusion on your day; an acquaintance of two district principals, I realize you may spend a good portion of your evening responding to the email sent out a few minutes ago regarding the report of a suspicious vehicle in the Heathers Club complex.

"I am mailing you not to express concern about the incident, but about the announcement itself. I was offended at the apparent tone of prejudice, both socioeconomic and racial. While it can be said that nothing in the email is blatantly inappropriate, it's clear that both the student who reported the vehicle and you yourself (and by extension, the BHS District) thought the fact that an older black man driving a compact car through an exclusive upper class neighborhood created an inherent danger. As an intelligent, tolerant person, and as a district resident, this severely disturbs me.

"I am not familiar with the Heathers Club complex, so I cannot say whether the anonymous driver had any right to be on the streets therein, but two particular points in the reported incident bother me: the driver was not on school property, and the student was not approached. I realize and respect the responsibility of you and the District to inform students and parents of dangers, both real and potential, but I am at a loss as to how this incident justifies any such concern.

"The attitude of exclusivity shown here is a dangerous symptom intolerance and ignorance, and I urge you and other District representatives to examine the subtle signs of both that regularly present themselves in the everyday business of the Bloomfield Hills/West Bloomfield area. We cannot afford to pretend these things only exist in less privileged areas, and we cannot raise tolerant, diversity-minded children in any environment where seeing someone who doesn't exactly fit our expectations causes a legitimate safety concern.

"Thanks for your time. Kind Regards,"

(et cetera)

* * * * *

Update 20 Feb 08: I received two responses this morning, one from each recipient of my original email. To paraphrase them, the car in question apparently slowly passed the reporting student, a 6th grade girl, several times, and the driver stared. At one point the car stopped for 2-3 minutes. The girl got scared, which is understandable, and told someone about it. The email was sent on the advice the author's administration and local police. Apologies were profuse, and the word "certainly" was used in each response regarding the intent not to offend. Also, a follow-up email was sent district-wide by the superintendent addressing my concerns and clarifying the situation.

All this is very nice, and does actually justify public notice, but I stand by my assertion of subtle signs. It seems ironic to me that in a community that, united by great forces (wealth and greater-than average education), would like to believe itself risen above the common ignorances that plague society has fallen back one of humankind's greatest flaws: the I'm Better Than You complex.

Another update: names removed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Quick Note to my Coworkers

If you'll take a look, you'll notice there are yellow lines painted on the ground outside our building. A quick estimate and you'll probably find that the spaces between the lines conveniently fit most automobiles. In fact, you could say there are a 'lot' of such 'spaces' you could probably use to place, or let's say 'park,' an automobile in. I've noticed many of you driving automobiles here each day, and wanted to point this out to you. Because, it seems, nobody understands this.

Sure, yes, I know there are big piles of snow at the ends of each row of this 'parking lot.' Some of the yellow lines are covered, and some of the 'parking spaces' aren't big enough for an automobile anymore. But that's really no cause to ignore all the other yellow lines, or the full-width spaces, is it?

Of course not. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


For my dad. November 20, 1944 - January 31, 2008

* * * * *

My dad, Mike Simoni, was many things to many people. He was, in fact, more things than I ever realized during our time together. Today I'd like to tell you some of the things he was to me, and maybe to you, too.

My dad was a generous man. "Give you the shirt off his back" doesn't quite cover it, but "give you the couch from his living room" might come close. He'd buy things for himself only to give them away. Whether you were family, a neighbor, a friend, or a stranger in need, no matter how much or little he had, he would go out of his way to provide for any need he perceived.

My dad was a dreamer. I remember walking to the store with him for lottery tickets, his brief stint with the numbers prediction book s, and all the things he said he'd do when he won "the big one." One of his dreams come true was the property he finally bought up north, where we spent not nearly enough weekends together. Another were the salmon fishing trips he started taking with his buddies from work on the Benzie River. On his doctor's advice, he took his last one in October, despite his cancer diagnosis, then only days old. My dad was a dreamer right to the end: when he first began treatment, he talked about his recovery, about buying a dog and a Cadillac and driving to Arizona.

My dad never lost his sense of wonder. At a very young age, he and my sister and I would sit and watch Nova and Carl Sagan on PBS, and though I was small, probably only a toddler at the time, his awe and mine were equal. The last time I heard the word 'wildebeest' I was probably in his lap. As an outdoorsman, he was always mindful of the beauty around him. He loved and respected nature, and had a connection with the Earth I always admired.

My dad was not an artist, but he had an eye and an ear for the beautiful. He was a gifted gardener, as any of his neighbors can attest to. Despite his almost crippling practicality, he never failed to notice a sunset, the smell or warmth of a campfire, the sound of a salmon jumping in the river, or the beauty of architecture.

My dad was a patriot. He joined the Army at 17 and served six years as a paratrooper, jungle expert, and jump master in the 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment at Fort Kobbe, Panama, in what was then called the Canal Zone. His love of country didn't end with his service, though. He proudly flew his American flag even at the campgrounds, and was only slightly less tolerant than myself when someone displayed it improperly.

My dad was a blue-collar union man. At an early age I learned the meaning of solidarity, and never forgot that organized labor pulled our family through some very hard times. Dad knew the value of hard work, and the worth of an earned dollar. He loathed apathy.

My dad had an ironclad sense of justice. He knew what he thought was right, and never wavered. He stuck to his guns, and his right to bear them. Anyone who was brave enough to debate the man on anything immediately gained the whole family's respect. Sometimes we called him stubborn, but to imagine any of his opinions rooted in spite would fail to acknowledge the solidity of the beliefs he based them on.

My dad was candid to a fault, he said what was on his mind whether you wanted to hear it or know it or not. Sometimes he was rude; sometimes it was on accident, other times not. But no matter what he criticized, it was never malicious. Even when the words hurt, and even when they were wrong, they were always spoken out of a genuine intent to do right and express truth.

Maybe you knew this man I'm talking about. Maybe you recognize some of the things he was.
Maybe you've seen them in yourself.

For my part, I see my dad and all the things he was in me, and in my brother and sister.

I see my dad in the way my sister looks at someone who hurts children. I see him in the way she pursues her own happiness, sometimes even at the expense of her well-being. I see him in her convictions and the way she carries herself despite the odds against her every day.

I see my dad in my brother's committment to excellence, and satisfaction at a job well done. I see him in Joe's tireless pace, his sense of duty, and his love of using the strength of both body and mind to create a beautiful and useful thing.

I see my dad in myself in the way I feel after a day's work in the garden. I see him in my own simple satisfaction at a fire well built and shared with friends. I see him in the way I reprimand myself after a thoughtless unkind word. I see him in way I worry for my children when I reflect upon my own faults.

My dad was not what we usually would call a great man, but he had as great a heart as any hero. He was a man who was always hurting, physically and emotionally, but the pain he felt through life could never squelch his character. Though he suffered an epic betrayal that ultimately destroyed his innocence, his sense of goodness and morality held fast. No matter what he did in life, he gave it his all, and no matter what he loved, he loved fiercely and without refrain.

My dad was a good man: a better man than I knew, and a better man than he allowed himself to believe.

Although my dad is gone, taken from us to a better place, his laughter and his smile are his legacy. His love knew no distinction of family or friend. Let each of us carry him in our hearts, remembering what he was, and what he continues to be for everyone he knew.

I love you, Dad, and I will miss you forever and ever.