Saturday, May 12, 2007

They killed Kenny!: Did my friend Kenny really need to die?

I shouldn't be writing this -- but you gotta admit that it's just too tempting to pass up. Tonight I went to a wonderful memorial for my friend Kenny Kessler and when someone told me the story of how he got melanoma cancer and it spread because he couldn't get medical insurance, I just couldn't resist. "They killed Kenny!"

Back in the 1970s I worked at a folk music coffee house in Berkeley, CA for almost an entire decade. The Freight and Salvage was its name. I'd take the kids to work with me and they would sleep under the kitchen table while I poured the coffee, made the brownies, sold six kinds of tea, adjusted the sound system and cheered up the musicians. I remember the night that I went into labor with my son Joe and had to call up one of the other Freight employees from my hospital bed. "Jamie! Can you work for me tonight! I won't be able to come in!" The Freight and Salvage was that kind of place. Plus we had lots of blues musicians, folk music guitarists and bluegrass.

My boyfriend during some of that time was a bluegrass musician named Pat Enright and he was really good. "I'm going to move to Nashville and try to make it in the bigtime," he told me after a couple of years of playing at the Freight.

"No, please don't go," I begged him. "You'll just bang your head against a wall trying to get noticed and never get a break and then you'll be all disappointed." Well, two Emmies later.... I guess I was wrong.

Anyway, one of the people who worked at the Frieght and Salvage was Kenny Kessler. Kenny had been a Red Diaper baby in New York City, had gained 150 pounds in the 1960s in order to escape the Vietnam draft -- he didn't have a rich daddy like George W. Bush and so he did the best that he could -- and then moved to the west coast after his best friends got blown up in a Weatherman safe house in Manhattan. And he and I became good friends. However, in the 1980s the coffee house moved to a different location and then I got a job in a law office and we lost touch.

But last week I got a call from the Freight's former MC, Mug Muggles. "Kenny just died of melanoma and we're having a memorial for him on Saturday. Can you come?" Good grief yes. And I went. And there were lots of the old Freight musicians there. And Mug, Marc Silber and Will Scarlett jammed the blues. Kenny would have loved it!!!!!

Anyway, at the memorial, Kenny's friend Teesha was telling me how he discovered a mole that wouldn't stop bleeding and how he had gone in for a diagnosis and how he had been told that he indeed did have cancer and then how he couldn't get medical coverage and.... "Do you think he might have lived if he had had medical insurance and been treated earlier?" I asked Teesha.

"I can't honestly say," she replied. But having to make all those phone calls to insurance companies and being turned down by even Medi-Cal when he knew that he had serious cancer must have been a REAL bummer. And then it metastasized into his lungs and his brain.

"They killed Kenny!" I cried. Just one more reason to impeach George Bush -- and to light a fire under Congress to get their priorities straight. Do they represent the drug companies and the insurance companies -- or do they represent US! Don't answer that.

With all the money that we now spend on healthcare in America, we should be getting our money's worth. With a decent healthcare plan in place here, there would be no reason in the world why every man, woman and child in America couldn't be insured for far less money than we are now paying for our current jankety old health care system.

To quote Marilyn Clement's article in the Black Commentator, "[John] Conyers's bill H.R. 676 will provide healthcare for everyone in the United States by eliminating the profits of the insurance companies and negotiating drug and other treatment costs. It will be paid for on a sliding scale by all of us together. We will have no bills, co-payments, deductibles, denials, or bankruptcies. And we will be paying less than we are now."

PS: I talked with my friend Ron this morning and he said, "Janie, Bush is planning to hold on to this 'war' in Iraq and keep it going for as long as he can. Why? Because if he can leave office with our troops still in Iraq, then he can claim that the DEMOCRATS lost that war." Yikes! And are the Dems gonna let Bush get away with that? Yeah.

PPS: I think Kenny would have really enjoyed his memorial service from up in Heaven. And I think he would have enjoyed my South Park tribute to him as well because Kenny loved music and had a great sense of humor. And a good heart.