About Gary Nilsen

I'm a writer. I have a lot of things to say - sometimes I like to tell stories and those show up in the books I write. Sometimes I get angry or frustrated by the things I see in the news, so comments about these will be showing up on this blog. Social injustice is the spark to my fuse... I live in New York with my family and two Old English Sheepdogs. I've lived in far off places - the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and have been fortunate to visit many other parts of the world. Stay tuned...

Via Trenta: Where Not to Eat in Astoria

Astoria, New York has earned a reputation for its ubiquitous cafes and restaurants. In good weather, many offer outdoor seating similar to a European or New York City style of dining. Given today, the first Summer Sunday of the year, was warm and sunny, we decided to combine the need to walk our Old English Sheepdogs, Harry and Nana with brunch. They are well known around Astoria, with over 3,000 Facebook/Instagram followers, and we often take them to restaurants with us.

We hoped to find a table offering some shade, but many places were full. In the end, we spotted Via Trenta, a restaurant on the corner of 30th Avenue and 37th Street. Virtually all the outdoor seating was open, unlike the other restaurants nearby, and it had a table in the shade at one end of the seating area.  We had dined there once before, though the experience was disappointing. Since not every meal will go the way you want it, we thought it worth a second try and it seemed perfect – out of the way of customers and wait-staff where we could enjoy a quiet brunch.

As we neared the table, a man moved quickly from the front door in a confrontational and belligerent manner informing us we could not bring our dogs in. My wife tried, politely, to explain they were service dogs. He simply said they weren’t while gesticulating with his arms and hands that we get out. She tried once more to show him their identification, but he didn’t want to hear it, exclaiming they were too big. Neither of us had ever been subjected to such vehement behavior at a restaurant and we were stunned. My wife, ever the patient one, reminded him, by law, service dogs could not be denied entry. He continued rudely to say that if we wished to be seated, it would have to be in a designated area of his choosing and pointed to a far-off table on the other side of the restaurant. In every single case over the last nine years, when we have offered Harry and Nana’s IDs, a host or hostess has always been gracious in helping us find a table that worked well for everyone. Except for the person at Via Trenta who exclaimed that it was his restaurant and could do what he wished.

At this point, I told him we no longer had any desire to consider eating at his restaurant; he made a shooing motion for us to leave. My wife said it would be within our right to call the police to state he was violating a statute. He got in her face in an aggressive manner – which was a step farther than I was willing to accept. I said he was behaving like an asshole. This man, whether the owner or manager of Via Trenta launched into my face and threatened me, making a fist with his right hand and motioning he was going to punch me. The comment that I had dared to enter his establishment and call him such a name seemed to serve as his mandate for taking physical action. I stood my ground waiting to see if he would make good on this threat, and my wife opened her cell phone to record the situation rapidly going south. He went inside to make a show of throwing down his glasses and one of his waiters barred the door from him coming back outside. I shook my head in disgust and led Harry back out onto the sidewalk knowing I’d never return, hoping the other customers and passersby would recognize this person for what he is and no longer darken his doorstep.

In the end, we went to Amylos Taverna on Broadway and 34th Street where the hostess brought us to a lovely table that offered a beautiful breeze. The wait-staff served a huge container of water for Harry and Nana and we had a lovely brunch, still stunned that someone could run a restaurant with such disdain for his customers. Harry and Nana have brought so much joy to neighborhood children, have visited the local elementary school to show how animals can be a source of comfort, visited hospitals to lift the spirits of patients there, and countered the effects of daily difficulties by elevating the moods of people wherever they go. Perhaps the owner/manager of Via Trenta would have been better served by seating us than being a glowering primate beating his chest and trying to prove how much of a tyrant he could be.

[Postscript] This from a former employee of the restaurant – verbatim:

The owner was one of the biggest assholes I have ever encountered.
He did almost the EXACT SAME THING to a couple with a newborn once. The baby was asleep in a sling on the mother’s chest. He told them children were not allowed. That was so absurd they began laughing at him. He persisted- telling them it was no place to bring a baby. Again, the baby was ASLEEP. At that point the husband got pretty pissed and said that this was their (his and his wife’s) first day out together since the kid was born and he had ruined what should have been a happy memory. Then they left. 
ALSO- my second to last night there as a server he asked me if he could look at my cell phone. I went down to the staff closet and got it and gave it to him, confused. He put it in his pocket and told me I couldn’t have it back until the end of my shift because “women can’t be trusted with cell phones” at work. That was the end of that

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Some of the work Harry and Nana perform that brings joy to people’s lives:

 

 

 

 

 

Gun Violence, Gun Control, Where Do We Go From Here?

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I haven’t written much since the new administration took over The White House. A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece called The Day America Died that drew upon evidence gleaned from observations of what people had to say after the Republican National Convention. The overwhelming lack of understanding that faced the nation by choosing something like Trump to be the leader of the United States was disturbing. I realized the country I loved was a myth.

As if I needed more proof, monitoring the debate over gun control and gun violence reaffirms the presence of a cancer eating at the healthy, vibrant tissue of our society. Yesterday, across our nation, young people stood to address the reality of guns in our midst. Posting of a video in which a young man eloquently addressed the truth of gun violence and control on Facebook was followed by the same kind of sick retort I witnessed after the RNC. Here are some of those:

John Mitchell: “in case you forgot student, you still can’t vote.”

Larry Stark: “moron”

Thomas C. White: “Poor lost souls… this court was built with guns… and guns are what keeps us free”

Tara Ann LeNeave: “There parents should be ashamed of there selves, if u had been doing ur job at home before they went to school all this wouldn’t be going on, lazy parents=out of control children”

Charles Jerger: “This kid is an idiot. Rely on the government for everything. Sounds like communism.”

Fbio Rodrigo Milani: “begins with beautiful speeches and full of noble reasons, but the truth is that in the end they open up space for masked dictatorships of democracy, like Venezuela or my Brazil. Weapons are necessary for self-protection against other men and especially against the state itself.”

Johnny Cook Jr.: “You have no idea what you are talking about. Let me ask you a question respectfully. What makes and AR-15 an “Assault Rifle?” Seriously…. why do you call it that?”

Chuck Barnes: “Anybody that thinks the problem is guns their just delusional. The problem is society letting it’s youth get away with whatever they want and having no consequences.”

There are ten thousand other responses to that post, some in support of the students, many are not. Some were just in-eloquent enough to simply post an emoji giving them the finger.

Not a single day goes by where someone being shot and killed by a gun hits the news. EVERY…SINGLE…DAY. If we as a country have demonstrated one thing, it’s that we are not responsible enough to possess guns.

So, cue the second amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In the late eighteenth century, our fledgling nation was vulnerable to invasion. As we did not possess the world’s strongest military, nor an early warning detection system, it seemed reasonable to allow for the population to raise a militia to defend our shores. We’re way beyond that now. Proponents of guns love to take what they want from the second amendment. It’s simply stated, but there are three commas in the text of the compound sentence. The first part suggests the purpose, the second establishes the mandate, the third the right, and the fourth offers the protection. Taken as a whole, when the first two parts are either out of compliance (I dare anyone to name the militia they belong to) or not even needed (you’re going to accomplish what our military can’t?), the second two parts cease to be relevant.

Since we are incapable of being responsible, it’s time to repeal the second amendment. Handguns and assault rifles should be made illegal outside the confines of law enforcement and the military. This is not something that would happen overnight; in fact it would take a generation or more to remove the millions upon millions of guns in private ownership. I believe the ability to make that happen rests with the youth of our country. My generation seems incapable of doing anything.

I can picture every gun owner reading this stamping his or her foot, having a little temper tantrum, and spitting out all the arguments about how they need guns for protection against armed bad guys, or to prevent home invasions, or for when Russia or North Korea land on our shores. Once all handguns and assault rifles were gone, you wouldn’t have need for a gun to protect yourself from a bad guy, and if the Russians or North Koreans get past our military and invade our cities, your little guns won’t be worth a damn. Simply put, I call bullshit on every argument I’ve ever heard about having a gun.

I love guns, in fact for many years I made part of my living carrying one. I grew up in the same culture everyone else did, the same one that glorifies guns. What kid didn’t want a cap gun or a cowboy gun or a plastic assault rifle – nerf gun or otherwise? I did. I love movies that involve blowing things up or ones with heavy weapons action. But they’re movies, the place for fantasy. I love Harry Potter, too, but I can’t conjure a Patronus charm. Reality is where guns don’t belong. No parent should see on the news that their children’s school is on lock-down because of an active shooter. No mother should be at a traffic light and have their five-year-old shot in the head by accident because two drug dealers decide to shoot it out on the street. No one should have to go to an outdoor concert and worry some nutcase might be lurking in a window somewhere about to open fire. I surrendered my weapons in July 2016. It was difficult, like quitting smoking, but it was the right thing to do, the healthy choice.

To the proponents of gun ownership and to the NRA, yes, I do want the government to come for your handguns and assault-style rifles, because you can’t handle them. I don’t care if you’re the “responsible” gun owner. I call bullshit on that argument as well because it simply perpetuates the culture and makes you complicit in gun violence and death.

I’m not opening this post to debate. I’ve heard it all before. If you don’t like what I’m saying, tough! If you agree, print this out and mail a copy to your elected officials. It’s time to bring down the second amendment. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes and do what needs to be done.

My generation and the one just after mine are leaving a diseased legacy to our children and grandchildren – from the decimation of our planet to the continuing degradation of our society. Let’s try to eliminate at least this threat to our nation.

One Voice, One Vote…Time for a New Amendment

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Four times in American history, the Electoral College has propelled a candidate to the highest office in the country at odds with the popular vote, and twice in just the last sixteen years. It’s disturbing to consider that the process by which a president is elected has crumbled like the decaying water mains that run beneath the streets of New York City. There was considerable debate in 1787 as to just how the election of the President and Vice President would be determined. Several proposals were presented and argued with the intent of having the most representative way of achieving such an election, one that would be free of contamination by undue influences.

Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 68 that the “sense of the people should operate in the choice”. Given this was written in 1788, one could appreciate his desire for the ultimate in fairness. He also suggested that those elected to the “college” would be “most likely to have the information and discernment” to make a selection that represented the best choice for the person to govern the country. No one in the late 1700s could have imagined the form of technology and communication that we have at our fingertips today. It clearly allows us to act on his desire for choice, but renders his concern for access to information and discernment moot.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote, but the Electoral College put George W. Bush in the White House. Under his watch, we experienced 9/11, the worst economic downturn in nearly a century, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and a call for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Now again, with Trump, the Electoral College has failed to deliver on its mandate to use its ability for information and discernment to avoid the election of someone “not in eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”. Instead, we have a president that is a domestic and international embarrassment.

The concept of the Electoral College is now as archaic as those NYC water mains. We no longer need a body of electors who have since 1824 given a winner-take-all (except for Maine and Nebraska) series of votes to a candidate who lacks the popular sentiment. What we need is a new constitutional amendment. We’ve done it twenty-seven times in the last 230 years. We need to make all that urging to exercise our civic duty to go out and vote mean something. What’s the point in voting if the ultimate outcome says thanks for your vote, but we’re going to ignore you anyway?

One can argue the fine points of constitutional law and Federalist essays all day long, but let’s cut through the garbage – in our day and age, with our ability to communicate to the world at large photos of our cats and pictures of our favorite recipes, we have the means to cast an informed vote by ourselves. It’s simple: one voice, one vote.