“I will not be part of the silence on Facebook about this atrocity. It effects my family.” When anti-Semitism hits home in Southeast Texas…

Tracie’s uncle Terry Johnson, Tracie’s mother’s brother and my uncle by marriage, published the following post yesterday on his Facebook. Terry, Tracie, and nearly the entire Johnson family grew up in the city of Orange on the Texas-Louisiana border in Southeast Texas. That’s Terry, below, in the very last row, at our wedding in January 2010 in La Jolla, California where I grew up. And that’s the extended Johnson family surrounding Tracie and me, including Reverend Randy Branch, Tracie’s father, who officiated (to Tracie’s left, standing behind her mother Jane née Johnson).

Terry wrote the post after he read the post I published yesterday, “‘Jew will not replace us’: looking to Dante for the origin of anti-Semitic hate speech.”

The Washington Post reported today that a “White Lives Matter” event scheduled for September 11 on the Texas A&M campus (a two-hour drive from where we live in Houston) has been cancelled by the university. In a statement, the event’s would-be organizer described it as “Today Charlottesville Tomorrow Texas A&M.”

Thank you, Terry. I love you, too. Thank you for your words of solidarity and thank you for the way your family has embraced me so lovingly.

I am sharing this because I want to stand up against that despicable event in Charlottesville.

Jeremy Parzen is MY nephew. He married my beautiful niece Tracie Parzen. W[est] O[orange]-S[tark High School] Class of ’94. Jeremy is an extremely learned scholar. He grew up in beautiful La Jolla, CA. Many in the Johnson family went out to La Jolla for their wedding. It was an experience that my family will forever remember. We created family memories that we will always have. He is Jewish. He is very well-known for writing several blogs. He is one of the best fathers, to my two beautiful, great-nieces. Georgia Ann Parzen (named after our beloved mother RIP 😥) and Lila Jane (as in Jane Branch [Tracie’s mother] from the mere rock-throw proximity on Smith St. by Mustang Dan R. Hooks Stadium).

They are a beautiful family that is targeted in the hearts of these ilk of humanity White Supremacists. It hurts in their hearts to see.
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Rock with me this Friday, July 14 in San Diego: my 50th birthday concert in La Jolla

After nearly 50 years on this planet, I’m allowed to take a little vacation, right?

Tomorrow Tracie P and I will be taking our girls to La Jolla, California where I grew up and where I will be performing a set of music with one of my old and beloved bands, The Grapes, on Friday night.

We’ll be playing mostly classic country-Americana songs as we celebrate my 50th birthday. And there are a bunch of great bands playing that night as well, including a lot of guys I grew up with and a lot of friends who are coming down to sit in. It should be quite the show.

Beaumont’s is a pretty rowdy club so come prepared to dance (and drink) your ass off.

The Grapes are Jeremy “the Jar” Parzen, John Yelenosky, and Jon Erickson. T-Bone and other special guests will be sitting in on drums this time around.

The Grapes
Friday, July 14
(my 50th birthday bash)
Doors open at 8 p.m.

5662 La Jolla Blvd.
La Jolla CA 92037
Google map

And if you happen to be in San Diego on Saturday, July 15, we’ll be pouring some Nebbiolo from my cellar that night at Jaynes Gastropub. All the spots at the community table are already spoken for but if you stop by, I’ll fill your glass with some groovy Barbaresco (no joke… but be sure to reserve a table).

Tracie P will be there, too, on both Friday and Saturday nights. I’m taking the next few weeks off from the blog to enjoy my time off. See you in late July! Thanks for being here and have a great summer.

What scares me in #TrumpAmerica: white people…

The sky was beautiful in Houston last Sunday and the early summer heat and humidity not overly oppressive.

And so the Parzen family decided to take an hour-long drive from our home in the southwest of our beloved megalopolis up Interstate 45 to Huntsville to visit the 67-foot-tall statue of Sam Houston.

The weather was so nice that a walk in the woods seemed like a great idea. And anticipation of a two-patty cheeseburger at a friend’s food truck in nearby Magnolia only sweetened the recipe for a great Sunday morning spent with my wife and two daughters, ages three and five, in the Texas sunshine.

It had been one of those great mornings that families cherish until we walked out of the lovely visitors center there to discover the truck above, parked conspicuously and unavoidably right across the small lot from our Honda Odyssey mini-van.

Our daughters don’t know yet what a Confederate flag is or how it represents a legacy of hatred and racism borne out — falsely, blasphemously, and slanderously — in the name of Jesus Christ.

And what about the sweet, gentle young African men, also visiting the statue? They had handed us one of their phones and asked us to take a photo of them, arm in arm, standing beside the gigantic Sam Houston head below.

Their broken English betrayed their newness to our country. I could only wonder whether or not they know what that flag means and why someone would affix it to her/his truck as an expression of personal ethos.

As the father of children who share my Semitic heritage and a free citizen of the United States of America, I am compelled to speak out against such despicable and rancid displays of so-called white supremacy in public view.

And I will not stand for or beside those who claim that the flag is an innocuous anachronism embraced by re-enactors and celebrants of southern American culture and history. It’s not. It’s a symbol of institutionalized hatred and intolerance — plain and simple. And people who display it publicly do so to instill fear in those who don’t share their own heritage and color.

No, I’m not afraid of Muslims who live in my country or terrorism in Trump America. I’m not afraid of brown people taking way jobs from me or my children. I’m not afraid of black people who live, work, and raise their families side-by-side my wife and me in Texas.

No, none of those things scare me. It’s the white people in Trump America who scare me. The white people who propagate hatred, however subtly or bluntly, through their embrace of hateful icons. And I’m even more scared by the white people who don’t speak out and stand against their misguided sisters and brothers.

La dolce vita and the last day of preschool in #TrumpAmerica

To most Americans, the iconic Italian expression la dolce vita means the sweet life (its literal translation) or the easy life.

Its English-language connotation with glamor and carefree living comes from the famous film by the same name, Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece.

In interviews that he gave in the years that followed its release, the Italian director repeatedly said that its meaning was widely misunderstood.

The title, he explained, came from the final sequence of the movie when the main character, Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni), sees the little girl, Paola, whom he’d met earlier in the story. It’s daybreak and he’s on the beach outside of Rome, following a night of hard partying with his jet-set friends. He’s coming to terms with the fact that the world around him, the milieu bourgeois to which he belongs, is morally bankrupt and devoid of purpose other than self-serving personal fulfillment.

But the sight of the beautiful, innocent child brings a smile to his face as he remembers — in Fellini’s telling — the inherent, abiding, and irrepressible sweetness of life itself.

Watch the sequence here. You don’t need to understand Italian to follow the narrative.

I was reminded of that scene yesterday when Tracie P and I went to pick up Georgia P (above) on her last day of preschool. She’ll start kindergarten in September and she’ll turn six in December. Tracie and I both shed a tear as we reflected on this last day in this chapter of her life.

She’s too little to understand words like “special counsel” or “collusion” or “impeachment” or “locker room talk.” She’s too young to ask questions about why the president of our country boasts of his electoral college results or the size of his hands. She simply wouldn’t be able to wrap her mind around why the president told the director of the FBI to go home or why the Senate majority leader has called for a little less “drama” from the White House.

The buffoonery of the 2016 presidential nominating process and election has now carried over into the running of our country and the direction of our nation — there is no doubt about it, no matter where you stand.

To you Trump supporters and loyalists, I ask: how do you explain this to your children? How do you explain that you voted for and support a man who’s irreparably degraded civil discourse in this country? How do you explain your faith in a man whose administration — running our country — is in a “downward spiral,” as a leading Republican Senator put it this week?

What’s a downward spiral, daddy?

Was all of this worth the wall on the border, the travel ban, the repeal of greater access to health care? How do you explain your embrace of moral bankruptcy for the sake of lower taxes for the wealthy and deregulation of big business? Smaller government and state’s self-determination are fair game in the political world. And I respect that. But how can you respect yourselves when you euphemize the Faustian deal you made with Trump to achieve those goals?

My oldest child is only five years old and I still don’t have to explain to her the choice that so many of my fellow Americans have made when they voted for Trump. Maybe they believed that Trump would act differently in the White House. That clearly isn’t going to happen at this point. Maybe they believed that he would act as he has for his whole life and that was okay with them. Maybe moral rectitude is no longer an aspiration we should instill in our children.

Tracie and I have a few more years ahead of us before we will have to explain Trump America to our children. In the meantime, the tears we shed remind us that there is a sweetness to life that no one, not even Donald Trump, can destroy.

“I used to be a racist but racism’s just got to go.” A ray of hope in southeast Texas in Trump America

“I love you, man” were the first words I heard Tim utter when he finally reached me at the Shell I-10 Travel Plaza in Cove, Texas, a few miles west of Old River Lake, roughly an hour east of Houston where we live.

Tracie P, our girls, and I were in two cars caravanning back from our Easter with her family in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border, when a faulty piston in our Honda minivan unexpectedly forced Tra to pull off the road at the first opportunity.

Luckily, it happened not far from the truck stop. We switched the girls’ car seats to my Hyundai sedan and their mother and they were delayed just a half hour before getting back on the road for home.

But I had to wait for Tim, the tow-truck man, for more than 3 hours at the Travel Plaza: an unexpectedly busy Easter Sunday had found him working his stretch of the interstate on his own and he had two jobs ahead of mine.

“Thanks for working with me on this,” he said with the unmistakable mellifluous drawl that you only hear in southeast Texas, where people eat and speak more like Louisianans than Texans.

“I had two tows that were emergencies and I knew you were already safe. I appreciate it, man!”

He held out his hand, blackened by the soot of the highway, and shook mine warmly.

After he secured the van on his truck’s bed, I climbed in the cabin with him. I was his last tow of the day and he was in a talkative mood. We had a nearly hour-long drive ahead of us back to southwest Houston.

“Where were you coming from?” he asked.

“Orange,” I said. “We had Easter with my wife’s family. She’s from there.”

“Orange, huh?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “That’s not far from Vidor,” the notorious southeast Texas town that lies a stone’s throw from where my wife grew up in Orange, one of the strident holdouts of Jim Crow-era attitudes and a historic happy place for the Klan.

“Some of my guys won’t let me send them out there,” said Tim, taking a puff off of one of his Marlboro reds. “And I’m not just talking about black guys. Not even my Mexican guys will go out there for a tow.”

And then he said something that really blew my mind, something I never expected he would say.

“I used to be a racist,” he said almost proudly but earnestly and honestly, with an emphasis on used, so as to prompt my inference that he no longer was one.

Wow, I thought.

“But racism’s got to go!” he declared looking over at me from behind the wheel as we headed toward the Sidney Sherman Bridge where we would span the Houston Ship Channel.

His wife is originally from southern California and she’s an ex-service member, he explained. Her experience in the diverse workforce of the U.S. military had shaped her own attitudes about race and racism. And she wouldn’t stand for his racist beliefs and values in their marriage. And so he changed his ways.

“I used to be a racist. But racism has just got to go,” he kept on saying.

Though I gauged he may not meet an ACLU acid test for what racism is or isn’t, I believed him.

We talked for the entire trip, 47 miles to be exact. Historic racism in southeast Texas, contemporary politics (he’s an avid Trump supporter), and his love of the movie “Hidden Figures” were among the myriad topics. He highly encouraged me to see the film.

At one point, he told me that he often stops and helps stranded motorists even when he’s not on the clock.

“My wife says I’ve got to stop doing that,” he lamented. “She’s says ‘you get paid for this now.'”

“I just like to help people, that’s all,” he said. “The world would sure be a better place if we all helped each other.”

As we crossed over the ship channel, he pointed out the yard where he drops off his scrap cars. I was his last tow of the night and he was my last chance to escape the forgotten bayous of Old River Lake and make it home to my girls.

I think that he enjoying seeing Georgia and Lila Jane as much as they marveled at watching him unload our Honda Odyssey in front of our house.

“They are so damn cute,” he said. “Are they spoiled rotten?”

The sun was also setting over southeast Texas as Tim headed back to the Sidney Sherman Bridge and Tracie and I put them to bed.

Thanks for reading…

Parzen family activism in Trump America: here’s to 7 years of Obamacare, the law of the land

Last month, after our congressman John Culberson refused to hold a town meeting and opted instead to speak to the Village Republican Women’s Group at the Lakeside Country Club in Houston, Tracie P (right) attended a protest outside the venue. I took care of our daughters, ages 3 and 5, that day.

On Friday evening, the Parzen family and the Levy-Kelly family — the whole Houston mispucha — raised a glass of organically farmed Prosecco col fondo to celebrate the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Seven years and one day after he signed the bill into law, a Republican president and a Republican-controlled congress were unable to “repeal and replace” as they had promised. And President Trump failed to deliver on one of his signature campaign promises.

At the end of the day, a few hours before we toasted with our Glera-filled glasses, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared, “Obamacare is the law of the land.”

Here on my blog, I began posting our family’s vehement opposition to then putative Republican candidate Donald Trump back in June of last year. Since that time, I’ve begun posting regularly about his bigoted, hate-filled campaign platform and his racist policies and attitudes since taking office in January of this year.

Since the inauguration, my wife Tracie P (above, right) has become a devoted activist: she organizes monthly meetings of her women’s political activism group in our home and she has repeatedly visited the office of our representative in congress, John Culberson, a rank-and-file Republican, not to mention the offices of Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

On Saturday, I took our daughters, ages 3 and 5, for the day and Tracie attended Culberson’s long overdue town hall here in Houston.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston’s paper of record: “police estimated about 500 people stood in a line [for the town hall] that snaked around the building when the room reached its capacity of 700. Some of those refused admittance were frustrated, shouting, ‘Let us in! Let us in!'”

Parzen family activism will not cease until our government abandons its racist, inhumane, un-Christian, un-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and un-American pursuit of its religious-based travel bans, useless walls on our borders, Russophilia, lower taxes for the wealthy, dismantling of regulation to benefit big business at the cost of everyday Americans, and undermining of the Affordable Care Act — the latter, a policy that actually helps the economically challenged white people who delivered Trump to power.

And Tracie and I will continue to teach our children that the Laws of Moses and the Word of Jesus Christ teach us to love, respect, and aid our fellow humans in time of need regardless of color, religion, ethnicity, or creed.

Earlier this month, Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa notoriously tweeted: “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

My parents were “somebody else’s babies,” children of immigrants. I was the child of “somebody else’s babies” and my children are the grandchildren of “somebody else’s babies.”

Evidently, my children’s ethnicity doesn’t align with Republican ideals and values. And the Parzen family is not going to stand for that.

Happy anniversary, Tracie P! I believe in you and me…

jeremy-parzen-wifeHappy anniversary, Tracie P! Thank you for giving us our sweet, sweet babies and thank you for giving me the best years of my life.

The woman brought the very best out of you when she said I do.

I wrote those lines for you last year and they ring truer than ever: even in these uncertain times as the world is changing so rapidly around us, I look at you and the family we are raising and I know that I have too many blessings to count.

Happy anniversary, beautiful lady. You are my partner, my wife, my lover, and my muse. I love you more deeply than ever and these last seven years of our lives have been the richest, most wonderful, and most fulfilling I have known.

Here’s another one of the songs I wrote for you last year. It means even more to me today than yesterday…

For once in my life
I’m taking the time
To feel the grass between my toes
Taking a break
For goodness sake
I want to smell the roses
At the end of the day
All that remains
Are the memories of the times
We spent together
For now and forever
You show me yours, I’ll show you mine

I believe in you and me

Once in a while
It makes me smile
To think of all those years ago
So many friends
It never ends
All the love to them I owe
But now they’re gone
Just like a song
Playing on a jukebox radio
They meant so much
But they can’t touch
The lady that I love and know

I believe in you and me

And though the nights can be long and cold
It’s good to know that I am growing old
With someone I can have to hold
And if you ever need your space
I’ll take the girls to the park for the day
We’ll get that ice cream mustache face

Christians, Jews: rise up and speak out against the immigration ban!

italian-americansAbove: Italian immigrants on Mulberry St. in lower Manhattan circa 1900 (image via the Wikipedia entry for “Italian-Americans”).

G-d said to Moses:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien… you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19).

Jesus makes reference to this passage from Leviticus when he recounts the parable of the (Good) Samaritan, the priest, and the Levite:

“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ [The Lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise'” (Luke 10).

Today, I ask my Christian and Jewish sisters and brothers to rise up and speak out against the President’s immigration ban. No matter how you parse the President’s executive order, it clearly targets migrants based on their religious beliefs and ethnicity.

Please see this post published Friday by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It quotes Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin:

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope… We need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

If you are a Christian, please live out your faith as Jesus challenged you to do.

If you are a Jew, please remember that it was only a generation ago when Jews (in many cases, people you and I are directly related to) were subjected to religious and ethnic profiling.

President Trump campaigned on a platform of hate, bigotry, and fear. No matter how you parse the President’s words (“textbook racism,” as Speaker Ryan once called it), the policies he is implementing are rooted in racism and religious intolerance.

Attend a rally, attend a town hall meeting, take part in a march, call your U.S. congressperson’s and senator’s office, write a blog post, write a note on your social media: let your community know that you will not stand for this un-Christian, un-Jewish, and un-American policy.

Trump America the day after: the women’s march in Austin

austin-women-womens-march-trumpIn the wake of Trump’s election, Tracie P and I begin planning our trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Women’s March with our girls.

We had even lined up a place to stay, with friends in Bethesda. But when someone fired a gun at a favorite pizzeria in their neighborhood (claiming he was investigating a Clinton conspiracy theory), we decided that the potential for violence was too great. We agreed that I would stay home with the girls and that Tracie would attend the march in Austin, the Texas capital.

That’s Tracie above (in the back row, more or less in the center, green sign in hand) with her group of friends and comrades who marched yesterday in Austin.

According to the Austin American-Statesman (the paper of record) and the Austin police department, up to 50,000 persons attended the march. According to the Washington Post, more than one million persons attended the marches in the nation’s capital. One of them was our Houston cousin Dana.

Since the election in November, Tracie has organized a women’s activist group that meets regularly in our home. She has visited both U.S. senator Ted Cruz’s and senator John Cornyn’s office to protest Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (a core issue for us). Last Sunday we, including the girls, attended a rally led by U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to protest the ACA’s dismantling by republicans as well (below).

In the light of Trump’s campaign platform, I still can’t wrap my mind around the incongruous fact that Evangelical Christians supported Trump in the election in such great numbers. Recently, I’ve taken to studying the Christian Bible to get a greater understanding of their reasoning. The following passage, from the Epistle of Saint James, sticks out in my mind:

Come now, you rich people… Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

G-d bless America. I will continue to write about Trump America here on the blog and I’ll continue to post updates on our family’s efforts to raise awareness of issues faced by the disenfranchised among us.


Hitler humor no longer funny in Trump America

The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed — the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress (Charlie Chaplin, 1940).

donald-trump-hitlerMel Brooks’ musical “The Producers” is one of the greatest joys and regrets of my life as a parent.

Tracie P and I are big Broadway musical fans. And so it was only natural that our love of “song and dance” would rub off on our children.

Early on in our lives as parents, we had to eliminate “The Book of Mormon” from our playlists because of the pervasive profanity and the delicate subject matter. After all, my in-laws are devout Methodists.

But with a little real-time manual editing (Yiddish profanity doesn’t count), “The Producers” managed to make the cut. And our girls love it. The number “Springtime for Hitler” is their favorite and it’s their most frequently requested song (trumping even “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” believe it or not, another big hit at our house). They have no idea what it means or why it’s funny. They just love the music and the cadence of the actors (“ever eat with one?”).

We have a rule: “The Producers” can only be sung in the car, at home, or on the phone (Georgia P added that last medium for good measure) because not everyone likes “The Producers” as much as we do.

All things considered, we’ve struck a healthy balance of self-censorship and a sense of what’s appropriate at home and in public. Georgia is always the first to admonish me if she catches me humming “Keep it Gay” at the mall.

But in the light of the numerous anti-Semitic episodes that have taken place in the U.S. since the advent of Trump America (some of them very close to home), the Hitler humor that we used to enjoy together (“You’re looking for a war? Here’s World War II!”) has lost its sheen.

Less than two weeks before Christmas last year, anti-Semitic episodes were reported at the University of Houston. Our niece (Tracie’s side of the family) is in her second year of college at UH and it’s conceivable that our own children will go to school there someday. I never would have thought that anti-Semitism would still be so prevalent in my daughters’ lifetime. But evidently it’s alive and well on college campuses (and it was already on the rise before the election).

Just a few days later, it was reported that Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, a political party that nearly came to power in the country’s parliamentary elections last fall, a party that espouses anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric (remember that many Muslims are Semites), a party founded by ex-members of the Nazi party. How’s that for funny?

And just last week, swastikas and “white power” were among the graffiti spray-painted on the walls of a high school in an affluent Houston neighborhood.

My friends in New York City (where I lived for 10 years in my 30s) tell me that they have recently seen “Trump” scrawled next to swastikas on the subway. And it was only a few days after the election that Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn Heights!) was defaced with swastikas and slogans of “Go Trump.” I “never, ever, ever” saw anything like that in my decade in city where the Statue of Liberty looks out over Ellis Island.

I don’t ascribe or attribute these episodes to Trump. But I do know that before the presidential campaign and election, such episodes were a rare occurrence. Now they are not.

That’s going to be a lot harder to explain to my semi-Semitic children than the humor in “The Producers.”

Hitler humor has a long and grand tradition in the U.S. Disney and Spike Jones were among the pioneers (see video below) as was Charlie Chaplin. Lenny Bruce was another (“How Hitler Got Started” is one of the brilliant sketches of the American comedy canon imho).

Mel Brooks’ musical and 1968 film by the same title are supreme expressions of that legacy. But they just aren’t funny anymore. The chord they strike now rings too close to home.

Please view and listen to Chaplin’s speech below, the finale of “The Great Dictator” (1940). His words couldn’t ring more true.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.