WHAT’S YOUR STORY? THE RED BELT by Charlie Raskin

THE RED BELT

An Experience in the Life of a Salesman

By Charlie Raskin

“The rain in Spain, mainly from the plain” couldn’t even touch it.  The fury of that downpour drenched every inch of me.  Right down to the bone.  No wonder my wife Kathy looked worried as I entered my home in Wayland, back in April 1970.  The loving emotion on her face was comforting.  But I never got the hug and kisses I so needed at that moment.  All of her worry and love was washed away five seconds later when she told me that the Boston Police Department was very much in need of my presence.

“My name is Detective Murphy,” the officer said.  “I’m heading a murder investigation here in the city of Boston.  We found a red belt, manufactured by a firm called ‘Paris’ and was informed by Filene’s Department Store that you were the salesman for this company.  We’d appreciate some information concerning this piece of evidence.”

At this point, I excused myself and reached for the telephone to call my wife.  Detective Murphy immediately obstructed my motion and informed me that a call to the suburbs cost money.  I used my A.T.&T. credit card to let Kathy know that all was well.

The credit card led to another call—this time, to my Chicago office.  The belt was small (30-32”), and it was red.   A cotton fabric comprised the body of the belt, and it was attached at each end with very soft, supple leather.  One part of the leather was attached to a buckle with a hook that slipped easily into any one of the three holes in the leather on the other end.  The soft leather showed a deep crease behind the first hole and a very slight crease in the third.  The middle hole showed no wear.  The few numbers stamped on the belt showed that it had been delivered to a military PX in Hawaii.

I asked the detective if they had made any assumptions about whether either the victim or the assailant was gay.  A crescendo of voices in the room responded with the same question:  “How did you know?”

In the 70s, as a salesman, I had come to recognize that a number of gay men who were out of the closet wore clothing in the high color range.  And, in my estimation, a good many of them knew how to coordinate colors.

It turned out that the victim was a well-known gay man in the antique business.  He had been left, nude, on the floor of his apartment.  The only item that didn’t belong in the apartment was the red belt found near him.  It was much too small for the victim.

I was asked for more impressions.

Well, I told them, the well-worn creases in the leather showed that the owner had lost a great deal of weight.  That and the evidence that it had been purchased at a PX led to my thinking that the owner had been in the U.S. Navy.

The detective told me that the department had a huge supply of other clothing stored in a cell in the basement of the building and asked me to look it over to see if I could make suggestions about their original wearers.  I came back the next day and took a look, offering a comment here and there, but nothing that I thought provided the detective bureau with any inspiration.

About a month later, I was called by the department to thank me for the investigative road I had suggested to them.  It led to the conviction of three young servicemen stationed in East Boston.  And my comments about the other clothing actually produced detective action on other cases.

It occurred to me that, in addition to holding up the weight of the world, the belts and suspenders and ties that I sold added a lot of high color to our daily lives.

BOLLI Member Charlie Raskin

Since this is the first piece I’ve ever written for any publication, it might be my last.  Inspiration to write came from Liz David, who happens to have an inside track to aging.  Also, thought it might be another road to “Conviviality.”

Hope others will take a stab at writing too!

WHO CARES ABOUT THE ADA?

WHO CARES ABOUT THE ADA?

By Cindy Wentz

Who cares about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?  I do, and you should as well.  OK, OK–perhaps it’s not as pressing as flipping the House or whether Kavanaugh gets confirmed… or is it?  I maintain that it touches many more aspects of our daily lives than many events of the day.  Moreover, it is influenced by all three branches of our government.

Did you know that 20% of Americans have some type of disability?  I have seen a figure as high as 35% for seniors.  Under the ADA, the term ‘disability’ refers to a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities regardless of whether said impairment is current, is part of the individual’s history or record, or is a perception by others.  Hence the disability may (use of a walker, blindness) ) or may not (mental illness, hearing loss) be visible to the casual observer.  Do YOU have a disability?  What about your family members?  What about your fellow BOLLI learners?  It has been said that disability is the only minority group to which one can gain membership at any time.  So, if you don’t have a disability now. . . just wait. . . or maybe not.

The ADA is a fairly straightforward civil rights act for people who just happen to have disabilities.  It was signed into law in 1990 by then President George H. W. Bush.  I will defer to Josh Mendelsohn, our October 9” Lunch & Learn” speaker, to provide more specifics.  Josh, an attorney, has worked for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and currently heads up the Community Living Division at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.  Josh happens to be Deaf.

Instead, I will attempt to convey what the ADA means in my life.  As some of you know, I have very poor vision.  I can’t read print, can’t see traffic lights, don’t understand those scenes in movies that lack dialog, and encounter challenges in a hundred other commonplace activities.  Under the advent of the ADA, the subsequent Telecommunications Act of 1996, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (amendments 1998), I can now expect to be able to use the ATM at my local bank branch by plugging in a headphone and having the information on the screen read to me.  I can hope that those traffic lights have audible signals indicating when the light has turned green.  Increasingly, I can access audio description for current films and, sometimes, even for theatre productions.  BOLLI will make any class handouts available to me in an electronic format so that I can read them using VoiceOver.  Most course readings can be downloaded to be read in large print or listened to in human or synthesized speech.  Most importantly, the ADA has contributed significantly to changing my perceptions.  No longer do I regard these fairly simple accommodations with gratitude as I rather apologetically request them.  No!  I have a right to them.  It’s the law, and I utilize them with dignity and pride.

What about you?  Do you or a fellow BOLLI student encounter any difficulty in hearing he SGL, in maneuvering your walker or wheelchair around the BOLLI space, in seeing/hearing those audiovisual presentations?  Do you have any other need caused by a disability?  If so, speak up!  Your tuition payment is as good as the next person’s and you need not shortchange yourself.  I assure you that Avi, Megan, and Lily are ready to assist as am I (BOLLI’s Inclusion and Disability Liaison).  And do come to “Lunch & Learn” on October 9 for a more in-depth look at the ADA.

BOLLI member and Advisory Council Inclusion & Diversity Liaison Cindy Wentz

Cindy’s  passion for and  her commitment to disability rights and independent living led to a 40 year career in rehabilitation.  Though happily retired,  she has found  gigs that allow her to continue to contribute to her professional interests.  In addition to BOLLI, Cindy enjoys traveling, hiking in the fall,  attending local theatre productions, and countless other pursuits–some of which she hasn’t even yet discovered.