Friday, April 03, 2020

Once Upon A Century

…there's never a wish better than this
When you only got a hundred years to live

~ John Ondrasik

My Mother ~ 1945
This weekend my mother will turn 100 years old. It's family lore that, while the doctor dated the paperwork April 3, my grandmother was adamant that Mom was born in the first hour of April 4, 1920. I believe my grandmother, but it's hard to argue with a birth certificate.

Whichever birthdate we choose, this is an occasion to celebrate. My family planned to do so, before "the virus" took over all of our lives. Now things seem frozen in place for an indeterminable time. Instead of being in New York with my mother on her centennial, I'm penned up at home in California. Before I can begin to wallow, I remind myself what Mom would probably say to me, if she could: "Stop feeling sorry for yourself." End of discussion.

My mother is in the comfortable twilight of dementia, and for her it's a livable place. There is no grief in her life; the people she loved in her younger years, all of whom are long dead, live again in her mind. She seems to be caught in a 1940s time warp. Those were very good years for her, what she would call her "heyday." I'm glad she settled mentally into that decade.

To think of the history my mother's lifetime has encompassed is breathtaking. Woodrow Wilson was in office when she was born, so she has lived through 18 presidents. She's also seen nine popes and five United States wars. She was a seven-year-old girl when Charles Lindbergh made the first trans-Atlantic flight. She lived her entire teenage years during the Great Depression, and had just come of age the year Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mother was alive at the dawn of radio, on through television, computers, the internet, and the smart phone. She's been in at least two dozen of the United States and fifteen foreign countries. But the historical fact of her life that captivates me most right now is that she was born near the end of the 1918-1920 "Spanish flu" pandemic.

The Spanish flu officially ended in December 1920, when my mother was eight-month-old infant. COVID-19 is my mother's second global pandemic. Today she is a petite and fragile woman in a wheelchair, once again unaware of the plague that is passing through the world.

Once in a hundred years, you might find someone as remarkably strong, enduring, and inspiring as my mother. But don't bet on it. Happy 100th birthday, Mom. Thanks for teaching me how to survive any hardship life throws my way. That lesson is coming in handy these days.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Life in Lockdown

There isn't anyone who isn't affected by the coronavirus, COVID-19, that started in China and has swept across the globe. In my case, I've canceled three trips scheduled in April and May, and I'm working on a laptop at home for the first time. It's a strange time for America.

Earlier today, I decided to visit the grocery store. Because I was instilled with my mother's prepper mentality, I have plenty of food in the house. I hadn't been inside a store in twelve days. But eventually the perishables such as eggs and coffee creamer need to be restocked. I had been hoping the stores would've calmed down by now, but in many ways they're worse than two weeks ago.

The first store I visited had two young, imposing male employees stationed outside the closed sliding glass doors, one standing on each side. Above their work aprons, their muscled arms were folded in a bouncer stance. As I got closer, I could see a line of waiting customers snaking along the sidewalk to the right. Then I saw the sign that detailed allowing only a certain number of people in the store at one time. The entire tableau was reminiscent of the old Soviet Union; this was not where I wanted to shop, thank you. I headed back to my car and drove to the next option.

Here I could enter freely, but blue tape marked off 6-foot intervals near the cash register. Masks and gloves abounded on store employees and customers alike. I found eggs but no creamer, so I waited my turn to approach the cashier. I was promptly told to "step back"--well, do you want my money or not? And you have room to step back too, sweet pea. But never mind; I meekly complied, left as quickly as possible, and headed for Store #3.

Here a sign next to the front door warned in bold black lettering "We Do Not Have Toilet Paper!" Well, of course not, silly--nobody does! Fortunately I don't have to worry about that particular product for a month or two. I ventured in and found creamer (not my usual, but any port in the CV-19 storm, right?). I traveled the 6-foot blue tape gauntlet once again (making sure to "step back" at the register), got the heck out of there, and don't plan to go into ANY store any time soon. It's a truly miserable dystopian experience.

There are some upsides to being under pandemic-imposed house arrest. On Sunday I decided to treat myself to Disney+ and immediately watched Frozen II. I "visited" my grandkids via FaceTime yesterday, which was a huge lift to my spirits. I've heard from lots of family, friends, and neighbors, mostly by phone. That's a welcome change from our increasingly dominant text communications. I'm doing more reading, saving gas money, and still getting paid for working from home.

Speaking of work, my lunchbreak is over and I'd better get back to it--right after I disinfect my keyboard and WASH my HANDS. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Dose of Perspective

The author of this article, "Say Your Prayers and Take Your Chances," is from the generation just ahead of mine. In his analysis of CV-19, he offers some interesting observations and practical perspectives from another, very different time. It's a time that seems so distant, but it's not even a lifetime ago.

In the intervening decades, its appears our coping skills have taken a hit.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Corona Crazy

Like most Americans, the expansive reach of the coronavirus "COVID-19" hype has me in its grip.

My weekend plan was to spend Saturday with my California grandkids. But, after my son called me last evening to express concerns about my venturing out for a visit with two little potential virus vectors, I decided to stay home. After all, I'm well into the over-60 danger zone. Like a good American citizen-soldier, I'm "self-isolating" this weekend.

There are certain benefits to hunkering down. For example, my house is clean--squeaky clean. Everything not nailed down has been washed--sheets, towels, tablecloths, throw rugs, afghans. My countertops shine with the germ-killing sheen of disinfectant wipes. All three bathrooms have been scrubbed clean. And speaking of being scrubbed clean--what is up with the national toilet paper obsession?

Have you seen a photo of the checkout lines of paper-hoarders? It's astonishing. Exactly how much solid waste can one family physically generate in a month? Survivalists estimate a person uses one-to-two rolls of toilet paper per week.  Judging by the photos of quantities piled in shopping carts, people are stocking up for a year. Some of their inventory might outlive a few of the paper-panic loonies.

When the coronavirus first started grabbing headlines about two weeks ago, I did buy a few extra groceries--soup, tuna fish, pasta, peanut butter. I had checked my garage shelves and seen eight rolls of t-paper in stock. There was an unopened 4-roll pack in my upstairs linen closet. Each of my three bathrooms has a roll in service (so to speak) and a basket holding two or three extra rolls. I counted a total of 18 unused rolls; toilet paper did not even make my shopping list. Not to put too fine a point on it, but with what I have in the house I'm good until the second half of May, thanks. (I realize families need more than I do, but I think 100+ rolls in your shopping cart is a bit excessive.)

Another benefit to staying home is cooking. I decided to stop at one of the smaller grocery stores on my way home from work last night. It was just announced yesterday that schools are closing Monday for three weeks, so of course the store was crazy (although nothing like Costco crazy). I was planning to buy some ground turkey or beef to make chili, but the meat shelves were stripped bare. There was one lonely 1-lb. package of meat away up on the top shelf. I pulled it down to see what it was--lo and behold, ground lamb! Free range, organic, and no antibiotics! Score! I tossed the package into my cart and snatched up a few green peppers to go along with it. Today I'll attempt to recreate my grandmother's mouth-watering stuffed pepper recipe.

It's a grey and rainy Saturday in Southern California, so this will be a fun experiment in comfort food. As time-honored wisdom advises, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Better yet, try making Mimi's old-fashioned lamb-stuffed peppers. No toilet paper is required.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Just Sayin'

There's a lot going on in the news these days. Below are just a few casual observations.

  • Voters didn't reject Elizabeth Warren because of sexism or misogyny. They rejected her because she's a phony.
  • Although we don't hear about it on the news, the seasonal flu is more dangerous and deadly than coronavirus.
  • The stock market was way up for almost three years and we never heard about it. When it's down for three days, the media is screaming about a crash.
    • Chuck Schumer is a liar and a coward. He made a direct threat against two Supreme Court justices but is incapable of admitting it or issuing an apology.
    • Call me crazy, Bernie Sanders, but I don't believe most Americans are ready to transform the country into a communist nation. That goes for you, too, Joe Biden.
    • In the wake of the terrible tornadoes, the brave people of Tennessee are reminding all Americans that the true source of our strength lies in faith, family, and community.

    Sunday, March 01, 2020

    Lent, Again

    We're back to Lent, and so quickly. Here I am, five days in and still struggling to decide what to give up for forty days.

    It can't be television; I canceled my cable service over a month ago. I now watch local news and presidential appearances on my laptop and skip the network coverage altogether, thank you very much. If there's some clip I really want to see, there are a variety of video links to choose from.

    I suppose I could give up my streaming services. Now, that would be a sacrifice. In the spirit of the season, I must confess that I haven't the willpower to sustain such an omission.

    My customary Lenten commitment to spiritual reading remains strong. This year I'm slogging my way through Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life of Christ. Actually, I began the book during Advent and got 50% through it, then put it aside; I'm hoping to finish it by Easter. It takes some concentration--perhaps that's sacrifice enough?

    One thing I noticed this year on Ash Wednesday that was unprecedented--several people had no idea what the black smudge on my forehead meant. Now, I'm accustomed to being one of the few in my workplace that wears the Lenten badge of ash (except for the years I worked in a Catholic hospital). But usually people knew what the mark indicated. Not this year. I had several fellow employees tell me, with alarm, that I had a black smudge on my forehead; one young lady went so far as to try to wipe it off before I stepped back and explained what it was. When I went out to lunch with coworkers that day, the cashier in the deli asked me about it. Again, I explained as simply as possible.

    All of these individuals had many follow-up questions for me, which I answered as best I could (with a quick prayer that I wasn't screwing it up too badly). It would seem that, wherever God places us, our mission fields are all around us. Perhaps just in honestly answering earnest questions, Christians can be a witness to our faith. Maybe that's all we need to do for Lent.

    Sunday, February 23, 2020

    A Story with Staying Power

    It's been many years since a television series has captured my attention so thoroughly as the remake of Poldark. Originally a popular Masterpiece Theatre offering in the 1970s, I had heard about the show from several friends who were avid fans. But I had a toddler at the time and not much interest in Sunday evening drama.

    Flash forward four decades. While surfing Prime for a show to watch one January evening, I happened upon the icon for the 2015 Poldark series and decided to try the first episode, just to see how I liked it. I spent the next month pinwheel-eyed, binge watching one episode after another. I've chewed through all five seasons and am ready to read the Winston Graham Poldark novels from which the television series is adapted (there are twelve books).

    It's true that I'm a sucker for historical fiction, but Poldark goes many extra miles beyond the late 18th century. There's an enduring love triangle, fierce rivalries, dastardly villains, suspense, action, and vivid characters in a captivating story. The setting is Cornwall, England, and many of the exterior shots are absolutely breathtaking; it's hard to believe that such pristine stretches of unspoiled land still exist in our time. Over the course of five seasons, the stunning scenery seems to become a character in its own right.

    Now that I've finished watching the final episode, I'm feeling a bit bereft. It's time to cheer myself up with some book shopping. Along with the cliffs and beaches of Cornwall, the Poldarks, their friends, and their enemies await me on the printed page.

    Monday, February 17, 2020

    Questions for a Socialist

    “You know, this idea and this metaphor of a bootstrap started off as a joke because it’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces? It’s physically impossible. The whole thing is a joke.”

    Seriously, the statement above is from the former bartender who is now a famous member of Congress known nationally, if not worldwide, by her initials. The imaginative creativity of figures of speech apparently is a foreign concept to her. I don't know what's more frightening--the fact that such obtuse individuals are in prominent leadership positions or that their left-wing supporters don't seem to catch the ridiculous contradictions.

    But wait, there's more! This anti-capitalist rant lit up Twitter recently:

    AOC on why successful businessmen don’t deserve their wealth:
    “You didn’t make those widgets! You sat on a couch while thousands of people were paid modern day slave wages, and in some cases real modern-day slavery; you made that money off the backs of undocumented people ..."

    This bit of idiocy raises quite a a few questions. Did Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos "sit on a couch" while they were building their behemoth businesses that are generating so many jobs for so many people? Or did they work day and night, 24/7, until they started companies that were thriving enough to offer employment to people who wanted and needed jobs? If workers didn't like the wages, weren't they free to move to another job?

    What are "undocumented people" doing working in the United States when they have no right to be here in the first place? If we're such a terrible, greedy capitalist country, why are so many people from all over the world kicking in our door to get here?

    Did anyone ever get a job from a poor person?

    Why is it that only in America does the former bartender stand on a national stage to trash the political and economic system that put her in a position of power and influence? One final question: how many Americans besides me think that "AOC" is stupid to the point of being dangerous?

    Thursday, February 06, 2020

    A Memorable Life

    "Life can never be long enough." ~ Tim Green

    Kirk Douglas, one of the last true movie stars of Hollywood's golden age, died this week at age 103. The iconic actor starred in over 70 films, many of them iconic classics .Perhaps most famous among his leading roles is that of the rebellious slave in the 1960 movie, Spartacus.

    Truthfully, he was not one of my favorite actors, although I watched and enjoyed quite a few of his movies--some of them multiple times. I often found the fierce intensity of his character portrayals a bit distracting. But there is no denying that he was a talented, accomplished, and successful actor.

    Kirk Douglas as Spartacus
    Spartacus is perhaps the most popular and well-known favorite among his films, but I think the best performance of Kirk Douglas's career was in 1957's Paths of Glory, directed by Stanley Kubrick. It's a grim tale of three World War I soldiers condemned to be executed for cowardice. Douglas plays their commanding officer who defends them, and his customary passion fits well with the part. I stumbled upon the movie one night many years ago on a PBS channel and decided to watch. It was one of those films that holds on and haunts you after the credits have rolled.

    At 103 years old, Douglas had long outlived his Hollywood contemporaries. Some of his fellow stars that once shone in the Kirk Douglas galaxy have been gone for many decades. (There is perhaps only one star left from that golden age--Olivia de Haviland. She, too, is 103 years old.)

    Kirk Douglas lived a very long and full life in which his legendary acting career was but one prominent part. He was a husband and a father of four sons. He was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran. With his wife Anne, he was a generous philanthropist to numerous charities and non-profit organizations. Douglas was also an author; he was even a blogger. But it's inevitable and also fitting that, to so many Americans, he will always be Spartacus.

    Thursday, January 30, 2020

    It's Not Working for Us

    The most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'

    When California's Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) went into effect on January 1, many independent contractors were not even aware of it. But they quickly learned the hard facts--they were not entitled to earn their own living anymore in the state's thriving "gig economy."

    Uber and Lyft drivers got the most publicity, but thousands of self-employed Californians are now required by law to report to an "employer." The vastly diverse group of independent workers includes musicians, translators, dancers, and writers. It's a perfect example of authoritarian government trampling the individual's Constitutional right to "the pursuit of happiness."

    The reaction from independent workers has been swift. This week they marched on the state capitol in a "Rally to Repeal AB5." Truckers have already received an injunction from a federal judge. State Senator Brian Jones has injected another ray of hope with the introduction of a "Right to Earn a Living Act" with the goal of overturning this atrocious law. 

    Yes, you read that right. California now needs a law to protect a person's right to earn a living. As Vladimir Lenin so aptly noted, "the goal of socialism is communism." California is veering uncomfortably close to such extreme ideology with the implementation of AB5.

    As is true of most leftists, California's politicians will keep pushing big government takeovers of the private sector until forcibly stopped. Let's hope the creative and successful self-employed contractors, entrepreneurs, and freelancers of California can stand firm and see the repeal of AB5 through to completion.

    We're Americans, raised to believe that we live in a "free country." If that concept remains true, we should still have the right to tell our government, "No."