Living in Paradise


Does Anyone Really Like Rice Pudding?

We went to a dinner party the other night where a delicious Caesar salad and a main course of Chicken Divan were served. I was looking forward to dessert, hoping it would be the yummy chocolate cake my hostess has fixed before, when she announced: “We’re having rice pudding. My mother’s recipe.”

Others around the table oohed and aahed. I groaned. But not so that anyone else could hear.

I didn’t eat rice pudding as a child, which tells me one thing. My mother must have hated it, too. We also didn’t eat tapioca or Flan. I’m guessing it was a texture thing.

Rice pudding smacks of Depression food when rice (a starch not a sweet) and heavy cream were likely in abundance and relatively cheap. I don’t know that to be the case, but I’m picturing a mother back then saying to her child: “Never mind that you just had rice with your meal, it is now part of your dessert, it’s a pudding and what we can afford. So eat it.”

If I had tried to serve something like rice pudding to my three children when they were young, they would have given Oscar worthy performances to express their disgust. (They actually did that the first time I served cauliflower with cheese sauce.)

Back at the dinner party and hoping to find a version of the pudding that had something delightful in it, I asked: “Is this nutmeg sprinkled on top?”

“Cinnamon,” the hostess’s spouse enthused.

Usually anything that lacks vibrant flavor can be jazzed up with nutmeg. Not in this case.

Instead, the hostess had put cream that she whipped on the spot on top of the so-called pudding. It helped the first couple of bites. But after consuming about a fourth of the dessert and all of the homemade whipped cream, I announced. “This is delicious, but I’m so full,” and passed what was left to my man who had already cleaned his plate.

His Scottish mother made rice pudding often, he reminisced to the others as he scraped the second plate clean.

I sat there wondering how this so-called dessert gained international fame.

All-in-all, it was a great evening with good friends. But when we climbed into the car, I shared my distaste for rice pudding with my man. “That is my least favorite dessert of all time. How can you call something that should be limited to chicken dishes and beans a dessert? I’ve never heard of zucchini or potato pudding. My taste buds don’t get it.”

“I thought it was great,” my man said, paying tribute to the skills of the hostess, who is a fabulous cook.

As he drove, I ruminated on the last time I had rice pudding. It was about two years ago and was the dessert served following a meal of fish soup, complete with tentacles. I can’t do calamari either, so imagine how I felt with tentacles and rice pudding on the same menu.

Coincidentally, we are having dinner at that same household next week, and when that hostess saw me in church today, she announced that we were having paella and asked if I liked Spanish wine.

As I nodded, I breathed a sigh of relief that we must surely not be having rice pudding. It couldn’t possibly be Spanish.

Au contraire. I learned from Siri a couple of hours later that Arroz con Leche is a classic Spanish dessert made with rice and milk that is studded with musky-sweet golden raisins and fragrant cinnamon.  No nutmeg there either.

Two rice puddings in one week? What torture. Maybe I’ll take along a batch of Mexican wedding cookies as a hostess gift. Delicious cookies covered with sweet, powdered sugar. That’s a dessert.

Classified Documents and Gooses

There’s an old saying: What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

That message should be embroidered and placed on the wall of every politician everywhere.

I’m specifically referring to Joe Biden and the discovery of classified documents from his days as vice president. Hmm. Let’s see. Wasn’t that, uh, five years ago? And now it seems today more such documents have been found in another office.

Today’s breaking news reported: “The classification level, number and precise location of the additional documents was not immediately clear. It also was not immediately clear when the additional documents were discovered and if the search for any other classified materials Biden may have from the Obama administration is complete.

“Biden aides have been sifting through documents stored at locations beyond his former Washington office to determine if there are any other classified documents that need to be turned over to the National Archives and reviewed by the Justice Department, the person familiar with the matter said.”

I bet they have been searching. Frantically, in fact.

When your Justice Department – at the urging of the (acting) national archivist – launches a full-scale attack on a former president’s residence and drags his name through the mud about his handling of confidential material, you’d better make sure your hands are clean, Mr. President Biden.

And, of course, they aren’t. Whose are?

I wrote about this earlier when Donald Trump was vilified for the discovery of classified materials at Mar -a-Lago after a raid by the FBI. Not a group of smarmy college boys sifting through the papers President Trump took with him, but a full-scale onslaught by weaponized men who were probably fighting over who would be the first to check Melania’s closet.

Sorry for the cynicism. But what was good for Trump should be good for Biden. Although my real belief is that it should not happen to either man.

I personally don’t care about these classified documents, and I’m guessing no one else does. Except the acting national archivist Debra Steidel Wall. I can’t be sure, but I believe it was Ms. Wall who first raised concerns about what President Trump took with him when he left D.C. for Florida. All those boxes being carried to the waiting helicopter, you know.

By the way, she is still the acting director, despite being appointed to the archival position in May last year. Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard a hue and cry from her about the Biden discovery.

It’s starting to feel like the closets of all living past presidents and vice presidents need to be opened and investigated. Who knows what will be found there? In fact, Ms. Wall should be demanding it.

I’m guessing the truth about these documents, which haven’t been of that much concern in the past, is that they were packed in a hurry by people who didn’t know or care what was in them. All they knew is they had to get them out of the White House quickly. No time to sift through for sensitive material.

Isn’t that how life often works? Don’t ask too many questions. Just get the job done.

Allow me to jumble my metaphors and say that it feels like there are too many mountains being made of too many molehills when it comes to these so-called classified documents. But when that happens to one goose, it should happen to all ganders in the same manner.

Listen to Lizzo

I discovered the popular singer Lizzo about a week ago – after my man had gone to bed at 9 p.m., better known as Florida’s midnight.

Her concert was headlining HBO Max, and I was looking for a break from our marathon watching of Yellowstone and the incredibly sexy character Rip. Also, my man would be upset if I watched an episode without him. We were late to the Yellowstone game but are big fans. Big fans.

Back to Lizzo. I have to admit I liked her from the start. What glam. What guts. And her female dancers – awesome!

I wasn’t crazy about some of the language. Forty years ago, when I was a reporter on deadline, I used the F-word with abandon. When my three stepchildren, ages 8, 5 and 3 moved in with us, I cleaned up my act.

My adult stepchildren have been known to – as we used to say — swear like sailors. But I have tried to remain demur in my use of language. Especially since my man, who is delightfully old-fashioned, gets offended when I toss around four-letter words.

But Lizzo’s language that night didn’t bother me that much, because I liked her comments about strong women and her take-charge attitude.

The next day I checked. My granddaughter and her mother also like Lizzo. Oh my gosh, I was back with the “in” crowd. Though probably not for long.

Today, when I read an article about Lizzo, I had to chuckle. She was complaining about how cancel culture has been appropriated from people who have a right to complain by people who don’t.

Ain’t that the truth, sister.

The number of whiners out there has grown exponentially over the last several years. It feels like you can’t say anything without offending someone. People who have serious gripes don’t stand a chance among all the self-righteous chatter.

Recently, I submitted my latest book, Deadly Winds, to a well-known review company who charges you to have a stranger critique your baby. Obviously, I thought my book was good but wasn’t particularly counting on a favorable or unfavorable review. I honestly wanted to know what a non-biased reviewer thought.

I’m feeling now that non-biased might be a problem in this review company where everyone lists their pronouns in their emails. I’m okay with them listing and sharing their pronouns; it just tells me something about how they think. In this case, not like me.

In my book, one of the central characters is an older millennial, who professes to be a vegan but eats chicken, lives off his daddy’s resources and is on the lam from Panama after two people involved in an ayahuasca ceremony he conducted are found dead.

Apparently, my characterization struck a nerve with the reviewer. He or she, not sure which, said my younger characters must have been included “so that the older characters can criticize ‘needy’ vegan millennials who don’t go to church.” Ouch!

Trust me, there are plenty of grumpy older folks, including church-goers, in Deadly Winds who can be criticized for all sorts of reasons. They were largely ignored by what appears to be an offended vegan millennial reviewer. Hey, it’s just a book.

Should I mention that the reviewer referred to my attractive 65-year-old murder victim as “elderly.” Never ever did I call her elderly. In fact, before her untimely death she was involved in a sexual relationship with a construction worker 10 years her junior. You go girl.

I thought about being offended for being “cancelled.” Instead, I’m going to view this review thing as a learning experience and listen to Lizzo.

The Nose Grows

I was trying to take a flattering selfie for the ad I plan to run in the local paper about my new book, Deadly Winds…available on Amazon. But something about the picture wasn’t right.

I took several in different locations with various lighting until I finally realized that the problem was my nose. I could swear it’s getting bigger with each passing year.

I’ve never liked my nose. I remember complaining about it to my mother when I was a teenager.

“When I get old enough, I’m going to have plastic surgery and get a smaller nose,” I announced at age 16.

“Your nose is fine,” she said sweetly. Of course, she would say that. It was the mirror image of her nose. And she and my dad, who also had a prominent nose, weren’t prepared to bad mouth that particular feature on their faces.

She continued: “Anyone can have a small nose. When they get older it just melts into their face and becomes indistinctive. Barely noticeable. Leaves them without any character.”

Why can’t that “anyone” be me, I wondered. Sign me up for a face without character.

My mother, dear woman that she was, was not always sound in her thinking. For example, knowing that I was afraid of storms she once told me, “Wind from the east will harm neither man nor beast.”

I was probably clinging to her skirts at the time, fearful about being struck by lightning or whisked away by the tornado forming in the fierce thunderstorm outside.

I actually believed her so-called weather fact until I went to college. One day, I sought refuge from a storm in the library. It must have been scary because everyone seemed concerned. But I knew it would be fine because it had come up from the east. It was at that point that I calmly shared my mother’s weather theory to a small group of strangers.

As the people around me dissolved into mocking laughter, I vowed to set my mother straight on the weather — and the beauty of having a smaller nose. (I’m glad I never did.)

As I grew older the desire to have my nose diminished in size never lessened. Unfortunately, the mental roadblocks increased. Stories about the breaking of the nose cartilage and the packing after the surgery; the cost and what if someone botched the job? They all acted as deterrents to the fulfilment of my teenage dream.

Then there was Jennifer Grey, film star of the 1980s and still remembered for her role in Dirty Dancing. At the height of her career, she had a nose job and disappeared from the scene for a long time. Her nose, now cute and tiny, was so different that she was unrecognizable. Indistinctive, my mother would have said.

Luckily, my work life never hinged on my looks. Although as a reporter I suppose you could say that I had a nose for news.

It’s never too late to have your nose done, a friend of mine told me recently. She just had a facelift but left her perky little nose untouched. Yes, I suppose I could. And then I could also stop taking selfies.


Show Me No Presents

Can I tell you how much I hate presents? I like giving them, and I like getting them. It’s just that over the years they have become an Albatross around my neck. The joy associated with them has slipped away.

The first joyless moment came when I was a kid and asked for just one thing for Christmas – a Madam Alexander doll that wore high heels and was anatomically correct. This was many decades ago; long before Barbie became popular.

“It’s all I want,” I pleaded with my mom as I showed her a photo in the catalogue. It was $18. Maybe that was a lot of money back then. It didn’t seem like it, but I was mindful that it could be even at my tender age. That’s why it was the only thing on my list.

On Christmas morning I got several presents, including a creepy clown doll that was about three feet tall and lived in my closet for 40 years. I was afraid to throw him away, lest he haunt my dreams.

No Madam Alexander doll for me. But my “best friend” got one. And lorded it over me.

Disappointment No. 1.

When my kids were little, I overdid the Christmas presents. Still plagued by the lost Madame Alexander doll, I guess. When grandchildren started arriving, I looked forward to another generation of extravagant giving. Disappointment No. 2.

“Three presents,” my daughter told me. “We are not allowing our children to receive more than three presents each from grandparents. Now, if there is a theme to the presents, there can be more than three, but they must be wrapped together to indicate a theme …”

Lord help me. I still have nightmares about those restrictions.

Then there was my youngest son whose reputation involving presents is legendary in our family. He doesn’t give them. He receives them and says thanks very sweetly. In fairness, I can count at least four presents I have received from him over the last 40 years. But that’s it.

There was a period when he was in his early 20s when he would tell us that our presents were on the way. They had been ordered and would be arriving soon, he would say. Weeks would go by with nothing.

“Hey, I haven’t received your present yet, do you suppose they ripped you off, or it got lost?”

No response. Stupid me, I finally caught on.

It became a family joke. “Hey, bro,” my middle son would say. “Is the present in the mail?” We all thought it was funny.

I still send him a present because, well, maybe his engaging personality is enough of a gift. Or maybe I’m a sucker.

The first year I moved to Florida, I was excited to wrap and send gifts up north. I didn’t want to travel to the land of snow and ice, but I also didn’t want to be forgotten. But the grandchildren, who by now were teenagers, couldn’t make up their minds about what they wanted until the last minute. That first year, my late shipping charge was $300. That’s when I instituted my own present policy as I pondered disappointment no. 3.

“You want a gift, you get your list to me by mid-November,” I announced.

“Yeah, well just send us money,” they responded in unison.

And that’s what I did. Until this year when I opted to bring a little more Christmas cheer by sending presents. One box is still missing in action. The other box went to my son, the non-gift-giver. Whether he will ever get them distributed remains a question mark.

I’m sticking this blog in my tickler file so that when present fever strikes me next fall, I can react appropriately. I have the summer to think about it.

In the meantime, if you are a gift giver, I’m recommending my latest book, Deadly Winds, which goes live on January 3. You can read about it, pre-order it now or buy the Kindle version for a mere 99 cents for at least another week. That’s a good deal … almost as good as the doll I wanted. And you won’t be disappointed.

Happy New Year!


Hot Cars and Old Men

A widowed friend of mine in his early 80s bought a custom sports car a couple of years ago. It was a beaut; the car of his dreams. Several days ago, I learned he had sold it.

“What happened?” I said as I approached him at a holiday party the other night. “You sold your car, and I didn’t get to ride in it.”

I own a 2008 BMW hardtop convertible, named Honey, with less than 50,000 miles on her. I wouldn’t part with her for anything. So, I was shocked that this amazing vehicle that he had lusted over for so many years was now history.

He eyed me suspiciously. “Do you have on your reporter hat?” He knows me well.

“No,” I kind of lied. “Just curious.” And I was, even as I was contemplating blogging about hot cars and old people. His mumbled answer was lost in the din of conversation, but I think he said something about getting another car. Nothing so sleek.

My mind went to a mahjongg game a couple of weeks earlier during which one of the women I was playing with announced that her husband — in his early 70s — had finally gotten rid of his beloved sportscar. After Hurricane Ian did a number on their home, he traded it in for an SUV.

“He loves it!” she exclaimed. “He can get in and out of it easily, and it has so much room to transport stuff. I never thought I’d see the day.”

It was beginning to feel like now that these men could finally afford the car of their dreams, they were realizing that it wasn’t as much fun as they thought it would be. I guess that’s how it is with sports cars — and sometimes life.

Decades ago, my ex-husband was a sportscar afficionado. I was right there with him. He told me one spring day after work that he had driven past a Nissan dealership and seen a beautiful sports car with a T-top. When his eyes focused on the sleek, shiny black object that looked like a bullet with four tires, he broke into a sweat.

“Why don’t you buy it,” I urged and was thrilled when he did, stick shift and all.

A few days after his purchase, I was driving it downtown with the T-top off when I passed a group of workmen. They yelled and whistled. As cute as I was back then (just kidding), it was definitely the car that had caught their attention. Not me.

Fast forward to winter and the difficulty of driving a sports car in the snow and ice. When the first flakes fell, the bloom was off that fancy car. An SUV soon took its place.  And that’s what happens when practicality trumps romance.

Every year, a group of men from our church go to a “hot car show” on some island in northern Florida. The event that acts like a siren song to these men in their 70s and 80s also coincides with the church’s annual Strawberry Festival, which raises money for local charities. I used to think that the men were escaping to their island to get away from all that festival work. But I have come to understand that I am wrong.

This fabulous weekend car event represents a return to youth and virality … when hopping in and out of a sports car was as easy as springing out of a chair … when you could tool around town with the top down and get big smiles from the young ladies you passed … when life seemed carefree and there were so many years ahead.

I’m there with them in spirit. In fact, I think I’ll go down to the garage, pull out Honey, put the top down and take her for a spin.





Goodbye Sam

I have a confession to make. About six months ago – early June in fact – a friend sent me a photo of President Biden’s latest appointment to serve as assistant secretary of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposal in the Office of Nuclear Energy. I saved it as part of my photos because I was fascinated.

Sam Brinton was his name. It was hard to ignore him. Not only was he appointed to a very important governmental post at age 35, he was (and is) a nonbinary, bi-sexual, gender fluid individual who has a mustache and mostly dresses like a woman. His trademark is outrageously high heels.

Nuclear engineer and LGBTQ activist feel like exclusionary terms to some of us older folks. But Sam was/is both. By the way, his pronouns are they/them. I apologize for using “him” in the previous paragraphs.

It was hard to argue with their credentials. They have (or is it has?) a dual master of science degree in nuclear science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some of the smartest people I know have gone there.

Apart from their apparent braininess, what intrigued me about Sam from the start was how over the top they was (or is it were?). The stunning feminine outfits, the red mohawk and bright lipstick, the mustache. All seemed in direct contrast with the seriousness of their governmental position.

I supported Sam’s desire to express their inner being. However, I wasn’t at all sure that the U. S. needed someone with a 40-megaton personae in charge of nuclear waste disposal.

I know about such things from my years working for a power company in Indiana several decades ago. Nuclear energy was, and still is, a big deal. Nuclear power is cheap and clean. The problem has to do with the bad name it received after a couple of high-profile and horrific accidents. Think Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl. Nasty stuff that radiation poisoning.

In 2002, the federal government established the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository for spent nuclear fuel and highly radioactive waste products generated in the United States. The site is adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Unfortunately, federal funding for the site ended in 2011. Maybe because it is reportedly located on a fault. But that’s another story.

I’m assuming Sam traveled there as part of the effort to re-think nuclear power in light of the Biden’s administrations emphasis on climate change. Although with this administration and its hesitancy to visit the immigration problems at our southern border, it’s hard to say if they made the trip.

They did travel, it seems. Which is why Sam is no longer in their government role. Along the way, they allegedly pilfered two suitcases belonging to women; one in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and the other in Las Vegas. (Maybe they was/were at Yucca Mountain).

They claimed it was a simple mistake. For someone as smart as Sam, I would say it was a pretty stupid mistake. And so was appointing someone with Sam’s flamboyant spirit to head a governmental agency that requires the most serious of thinkers.

Sam may be gone. But I’m not sure I will forget them and the sometimes-crazy world they represent.

No Sympathy for Strikers

Sorry to say I don’t have any sympathy for The New York Times reporters who went on strike to protest wages, working conditions. Whatever.

In fact, I continued to play Wordle, despite pleas from my former fellow reporters to stand in solidarity with those poor wretches at The Times.

The reporters of today are not my people. Not even close. For starters, some seem to think you can work from home and actually gather real news. Phone interviews are an occasional necessity but a poor substitute for the real thing: looking into someone’s eyes and checking their body language to see if they are telling the truth.

Furthermore, today they often resort to using “unidentified sources.” Nameless, faceless people who allegedly know the story behind the story but in reality have little connection to the truth and more to the reporter’s own agenda.

Finally, unless you are out there in the real world – meeting sources and talking to people in the business – you will never figure out what the news is … until you’ve been scooped or the “bad guys” have gotten away with some nefarious activity again.

Note to today’s reporters. The story you are writing is not about you. Not about building your brand. It’s about ferreting out and reporting what a series of interviews have led you to believe is the truth.

I was a reporter for nearly 30 years. And still think like one. I was also a reluctant member of the newspaper guild. Back then, as it is today, the guild was worthless. I’m convinced it supported mediocrity, which is why we received mediocre wages and benefits.

I would show up for work at 8:30 and leave at 6:30 or later. One of my fellow reporters once told me I was giving him and others a bad name. “I really don’t care what you think. I’m not slacking off to make you look better,” I said. I was cheeky in those days, too.

My favorite beat was state government. We were housed in “shacks” in the lowest level of the Indiana Statehouse. From there we had easy access to the Indiana General Assembly and the offices we were assigned to cover.

At one point, a former statehouse reporter started showing up and hanging around the shack. He wanted back on the beat; I’m not sure why. It was tough and demanding. As deadline hour approached, he would hover, reading our stories over our shoulders and jingling the coins in his pocket.

After several weeks of this assault, I couldn’t take it any longer. “Either find something productive to do or get out of this office,” I yelled at him one day when the coin noise was so bad, I couldn’t think. He was a nice guy but a worthless reporter. Thanks to the newspaper guild, we made exactly the same salary.

I haven’t been a fan of unions since those days. I’m sure they served a purpose at one time. And maybe they do today. When I think of the newspaper and teachers unions, I haven’t a clue what that purpose is.

Not the Greatest Film Ever

It’s 11 p.m. and I just finished watching the greatest movie of all time. Or so it was pegged recently by the British film magazine Sight & Sound.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) is the name of the film. Don’t even think about watching it, unless you are addicted to emotional and mental pain.

My man insisted we check it out. After all, he pointed out, it had displaced Vertigo as the greatest movie of all time. Vertigo is a great Alfred Hitchcock movie. The greatest? I’m not so sure. But it was a million times more entertaining than poor Jeanne Dielman.

I can’t recall ever seeing something so unenjoyable. Watching paint dry is definitely more fun. Maybe that was the point of the film about a Belgian woman’s struggles with identify and self-liberation as both a prostitute and a mother.

About an hour into this evening of torture, my man asked the pivotal question: “When is something going to happen?”

“I think this movie is about this woman’s mundane life,” I responded. “I think she is slowly going mad. Just as I am watching it.”

At hour two, my man looked at me again. “Didn’t you say something would happen in this movie?”

“I didn’t say anything. The blurb said on day three of this woman’s life, there is an event. We are only on day two,” I responded.

When hour three dawned, my man yawned loudly and hinted that he might be going to bed.

“Don’t even think about it,” I said. “You forced me to watch this and you’re staying ‘til the bitter end.”

The end was definitely bitter as anyone who struggled through this movie could have predicted. It wasn’t what I would call a “twist.” I know real shockers. I’ve just finished reading The Silent Patient.

Never have I wanted to scream in a non-horror film like I wanted to at this movie: “Get on with it!”

We watched the poor woman kneading raw hamburger into a meatloaf for five minutes. Another five watching her peel potatoes. A good six minutes struggling to make it through the scene where she and her son ate bowls of soup without uttering a word to each other. Then we focused on her back while she washed the dinner and breakfast dishes. We saw that twice! A bath scene lasted at least eight minutes and included several minutes of her washing the tub. We saw the bath once but the tub cleaning twice. And on and on.

Since the greatest film ever is only chosen every 10 years, I suppose the magazine felt it had to do something to acknowledge womankind. So, this was the first firm directed by a woman to ever make it into the top 10, let alone garner the top spot.

I think they could have done better. Surely there have been more entertaining films directed by women in the history of movie making. Lives of quiet desperation might be impactful on those who live them. It’s just not something I – and I guess most other film lovers – want to endure.

Tomorrow I’m picking the film. Maybe Rear Window.

Stand John, Stand

Someone recently snapped a photo of rocker John Mellencamp at a Colts football game in Indianapolis. While everyone else stood during the Star-Spangled Banner, he remained seated, eating popcorn.

According to reports, this isn’t the first time he’s chosen to ignore or take a knee during the playing of our country’s national anthem.

At his advanced age, he may have difficulty rising. I have lots of friends who have trouble getting out of chairs. By the time they are on their feet, everyone else around them is seated or has moved on. Maybe that’s John’s problem.

I noticed at the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame Awards ceremony, where he sang with Bruce Springsteen in a tribute to the late rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, Mellencamp had a scarf around his throat. Maybe he was trying to hide a “turkey neck” that often comes with advanced years.

Another sign that John is getting along – and maybe didn’t have the energy to stand – is his 2023 touring schedule. A quick glance shows there are a lot of venues in Florida and two nights in Vegas. Sooner or later every old and slightly over-the-hill musician ends up in Vegas and/or Sarasota.

In all fairness, it does look like a rigorous schedule that will take him all around the country. We’ll see how well he holds up.

Mellencamp has always been outspoken both in and out of music. And I agree with a lot of his causes and complaints. But why has he been able to say exactly what he thinks and still make music? It’s because he lives in America. “Land of the free.” His words.

I say he owes some respect to the country that lets him decide whether he wants to stand or sit, speak or be silent, sing or protest without fear of reprisal.