Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 17, 2017--Fuddy-Duddies

At lunch the other day I was surprised to note, after the election in Alabama, that though I was by far the oldest at the table, I was the only one feeling optimistic.

"How can you be that way?" Henry said, sounding exasperated. "For sure, there were the surprising results in Alabama, but Trump still controls the agenda and no matter what happens he manages to survive."

"Don't be too casual about the election results. For a very pro-abortion Democrat to win a seat in the Senate is astonishing. Alabama is about the redest state in America. And though I agree with you guys that Trump is still president and controls the narrative, this weakens him."

"You're telling me that the person who controls the nuclear codes is weak?"

"Not weak, weakened. I agree there is little likelihood he'll be impeached much less convicted in the Senate. And of course as commander in chief he has awesome power. Scary power. But I'm talking about him being weakened politically. Among voters--even some of his supporters who are beginning to abandon him, at least in private, and the Republican Party--and especially among Republicans in Congress. I feel certain that there is virtually no loyalty to him. In fact, they hate him. The contempt he has shown them. The way he mocks them. Drain the swamp. Tutored and manipulated by Steve Bannon, who wants to see everyone thrown out of office. He wants to bring them down. All politicians and officeholders. Being involved with Trump is to be slimed. Look for more and more to distance themselves. Especially as 2018 approaches and being associated with him makes them all vulnerable to losing their seats in Congress."

I pushed my dim sum dumplings around with my chopsticks.

"But look at all the terrible things he's done," Matthew said, "To the environment, our allies, civility, to cutting taxes for the rich and big corporations. You're feel optimistic about that?"

"Not about that, of course. I hate all those things too. But, again, since he will serve until 2020, a weak Trump is an improvement over an empowered one. That is a reason to feel guardedly optimistic. Also, I prefer a weakened Trump to a President Pence, who might be able to get Congress to do a lot of even more awful things."

Ellie said, "Then how do you explain the apparent passage of regressive, so-called tax reform? This from a weak Trump?"

"Fair point. I'm not saying he'll be powerless, especially in regard to the few things Republican politicians are obsessed about. Cutting taxes for wealthy people and big corporations more than anything else. But, with the victories in Virginia in November and Alabama last week, people who oppose Trump must be thinking--'We can do this! We can make things happen! We can win! Getting off our behinds and becoming activated can bring about success."

" I worry," Henry said, "That people will declare victory and check out."

"Not in my view," I said, "Nothing breeds success like success. Just think about how empowered African Americans must be feeling. Being essential to the victory in Alabama, which for them initially must have seemed hopeless. When was the last time black people had someone they supported in the South elected to statewide office?"

"Could be," Ellie said, "I was struck by the fact that lily-white Doug Jones did better among black voters than even Barack Obama."

"And don't forget that he also did better than expected among white women. Particularly women and young people. That's the traditional Democratic coalition. They are the ones who elected Doug Jones. If  that coalition holds together and we nominate good people, including moderate Democrats in purple districts, next year we can win back control of both houses of Congress."

"What about the 2020 presidential election?" Matthew said. "That's the ballgame as far as I'm concerned."

"Again," I said, "I'm optimistic that we can win then too. As long as we don't nominate someone like Elizabeth Warren. As good as she is as a Senator and advocate, I don't think America is ready for an ultra-liberal president who was a female Harvard professor."

Everyone stared at me. "Come on guys. You're acting like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. Eat your soy sauce noodles."


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Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15, 2017--John McCain's Thumbs Up

Many admired John McCain, recently diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, when he appeared on the Senate floor past midnight in late September to vote thumbs down, literally thumbs down, on the Republican bill to repeal Obamacare.

Many were looking forward to a repeat performance next week when the Senate appears set to vote on one of the most regressive budget-busting tax-cut bills in modern legislative history.

Alas, McCain has indicated he will vote for it. Actually, try physically to vote for it if the wicked side effects of radiation and chemo therapy will allow him to do so. 

If he cannot make it to the Senate, the Republicans will have an even smaller margin to pass it. Thus, if Susan Collins of my beloved Maine comes to her senses and changes her mind and votes against the bill, it has a chance of being defeated. 

I have been wondering, why McCain, at times a legitimate maverick, was or is set to vote for it, considering how much he despises Donald Trump. I came to the one obvious conclusion--he and his family would be enormous beneficiaries of the GOP bill.

It would be kind to him and especially his heiress wife who own no fewer that eight homes (remember how that was revealed during the 2008 presidential election?) since this bill is quite friendly to people with large real estate holdings.

More than that, with his and his wife's net worth topping $100 million (she inherited a fortune in beer distributorships) by doubling the current $11million one can pass along tax free--John and Cindy McCain's heirs will net at least $11 million more than they would at present

Not the kind of political legacy I would imagine he seeks. But I guess when it gets right down to it, money is money. 


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December 15, 2017--Snowbirding: Half & Half (Originally Posted April10, 2014)

Parking at Walmart in Delray is more likely to get Rona and me spatting than even my tentative approach to left turns.

For example, yesterday--

"You park like an old man."

"I'm just trying to be cautious. With people backing in and out and others pushing shopping carts in the roadway, I think it's smart to be extra careful."

"I think the way you park is the way old men park."

That would be enough to get us not talking to each other and leave me on my own--as I then was--to creep up and down the aisles looking for a space that I could squeeze into that wasn't filled with abandoned shopping carts.

Then yesterday, making matters worse, there was a truly old man in the road along which I was waiting to pounce on an empty space. He was attempting to navigate in a motorized wheelchair in the basket of which was stashed a folded walker. At least he was going in the right direction.

"I wonder what he's doing," I said, knowing Rona was ignoring me and I was in effect talking to myself. "I can't believe he's looking for a car. From the looks of him they shouldn't even let him drive one of these electric scooters." I was aggravated and not feeling compassionate.

"He's probably . . . can't . . . This makes me . . . I don't know." That was Rona sputtering to herself.

"What did you say?" I was hoping to break the ice by having us talk about someone with even more driving issues than I.

"He's probably a Silver Alert person." Puzzled, I looked toward Rona. "You know, someone who has Alzheimer's, or something, who wandered off and the police and his family are looking for him. This makes me crazy. I think of myself as understanding and empathetic but this is . . ."

"You are. You are." I thought if I said it emphatically Rona would believe me and we could resume being civil to each other.

"Look. He found his car. Can you believe it? He's trying to get into it. He can't drive a scooter, but a car?"

I sighed in agreement.

"You know I love being here and I love you, but I'm glad we're heading north at the end of the week. I need a dose of New York. And I know--you don't have to say it--after three weeks I'll want to leave Manhattan and hide out in Maine."

"Let's make a quick hit here." I had finally eased into a parking space. "All we need is some bottled water and laundry detergent. We could have avoided Walmart and gone to Publix, but we were in the neighborhood and so I thought . . ."

"That's OK, love," Rona was at last smiling, "I can handle one more trip to Walmarts. Ordinarily I really like coming here. But it's just so hot, I didn't sleep well last night, and I guess in spite of myself I'm having some separation anxiety. It won't be easy to leave your mother. She's not doing as well as she was back in January and at nearly 105 you never . . ."

"I know. I know," I sighed.

"Let's get this over with quickly and head home. I think we both could use a nap."

"Deal." We exchanged fist bumps.

Once inside we quickly rounded up the water and detergent. "Can you believe it, this laundry soap is less than $4.00. At Publix it would be twice that. Like millions of others I suppose that's why we're here like."

"Billions," I corrected her.

"It is a little funny," Rona said, "to be here on Equal Pay Day. Walmart's a case in point about why we need that--more equal pay regulations."

"Indeed, indeed." I noticed I was repeating everything. Another sign of aging that annoyed Rona. This time thankfully she let it pass.

"I almost forgot."

"What's that?"

"We need a small container of half-and-half. We have three more breakfasts before we leave and I ran out this morning. I don't remember where they keep it. We never buy it here."

"I think over there where they have the orange juice. Sometimes we get our Tropicana here. The prices again are . . ."

"Yes. I see the refrigerator chest over there by the wall." Rona cut me off, clearly having had enough talk about comparison-shopping. We were soon to be back in about the most expensive place in the world, New York, where my yogurts are by now probably $2.00 rather than the 72 cents we paid for them last week at Publix. Rona understandably, before the fact, didn't want to make the sticker-shock worse that it inevitably will be.

I pushed the shopping cart toward the juice and cream chest and stopped a few paces away. "Where do they hide the half-and-half," I muttered, scanning the shelves. "It must be near here somewhere. Ah, I think it's over there right by the whipping cream."

"I see," Rona said, "But what's going on over there?"

"I don't know."

"There," she pointed, "There's an old man holding onto the door handle of the other refrigerator. It looks like he's having a seizure or something."

Concerned but not knowing what to do, I asked, "What do you mean? He looks like . . ."

"Like he's holding himself up by clinging to the handle."

"Maybe I should tell someone who works here that . . ."

"Before you do, let's see if we can help him."

By then we were within five or six feet of where he was obviously struggling with something. Maybe Rona is right, I thought, that he's experiencing some kind of neurological incident.

"Do you hear that?" Rona whispered. She had stopped and held onto the cart so I wouldn't push it any closer.

"Shouldn't we . . . ?"

"Quiet. I want to listen."

"Listen to what? He looks like he's in trouble."

"I forget you can barely hear anything. But I think he's OK. He's talking. He must be using a cell phone. Like in New York, you remember, all the people walking in the streets who appear to be talking to themselves but are on their iPhones."

I did remember that. In fact I hate it. But how unusual, I thought, that someone who looks as if he's at least 90 should be doing the same thing that twenty-somethings do so routinely.

But I did hear him talking. Actually, it sounded as if he was having an argument with someone.

"If I told you once, I told you a thousand times," he yelled, hunched for privacy close to the refrigerator door, "leave her be." He was gesturing with his free hand. "You don't need this. No more. Enough."

"I think . . ." I said.

"Quiet. I don't want to disturb him. And also, I want . . ."

"I know, to listen."

"Like I told you," he continued, still agitated, "she's no good. No good. What did she ever do for you except make your life miserable? Mis-er-able. You did this; you did that. Always thinking about her. Her good-for-nothing husband. Her children who never raised a finger to help. You, always you. Always you." His shoulders were heaving and it looked as if he was about to cry.

Rona moved us half a step closer and held a finger up to her lips to shush me.

"Remember when she came home from the hospital. After her hyster-memory operation. Who took her in? Who took care of her? Nursed her? Bathed her? Took her back and forth to the doctor?" His whole upper body throbbed. "You. You. You. No one else. You. Who gave up your bed for her and slept on the sofa? And for how long? Days? Weeks? No, months. Months."

I noticed, like me, he too was repeating himself.

"For days and days after she was strong enough to go home. If I didn't put my foot down she would still be living with us. Even though she's dead, she'd still be living with us. Wanting you to take care of her. To do her every bidding." I heard the beginning of a sob.

"And now? What now?"

By then there was someone else standing next to us who apparently needed some orange juice, But she too didn't advance further and stood patiently next to me.

"Gone. Everything is gone. Everyone gone. Over. Nothing is left. Fartik. Turned to scheisseScheisseShit!"

With that he let go of the handle, turned, and, trembling with tears, shuffled unsteadily toward the front of the store.

Rona touched his back as he passed close to her. I looked the other way at the woman who was loading a quart of juice into her cart.

There was no cell phone.


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Thursday, December 14, 2017

December 14, 2017--Snowbirding: The Weather (Originally Posted April 12, 2010)

You speak to her.” 
Rona handed me the phone while I mouthed, “Who is it?”  She turned her back as I took hold of the handset and walked away.
“Yes?  This is Steven.  Hello.  Who’s this? ”
“Didn’t you say to me,” it was our New York friend, the interior designer Peggy Samson, “that you never wanted to live in a place where the primary topic of conversation is the weather?”  I nodded and, as if she could see me, she continued, “Well, all I heard from you this winter  has been, ‘Today started out nicely but then the clouds came in and before sunset we had a thunder storm.’”
“Well, we did have many days like that and . . .“
“Also all you talked about,” there was no way to interrupt her, “was how cold it was down there during January and February, ‘When we woke up this morning, can you believe it, it was 36 degrees and there was even frost on the windows.’”
“But it was cold then.  And didn’t I also tell you that I had no right to complain?  That if we were up in New York it would have been good to have 36 as the high for the day?”
“Yes, you did say that very thing.  More times than I want to recall.”
“So?  What’s the big deal?”
“Just listen to yourself.  Do you know how boring you sound?”  I had to admit she was probably right.  She told me about who met for coffee.
The breakfast group met as usual at Balthazar this morning for coffee—Sharon Short, the noted fashion editor, George Western, the noted publisher, and James Gilbertson, the noted Egyptologist.  The regulars.  
"Though since you left," Peggy said,"they made the baguette portion smaller, raised the prices, and no longer serve jam in ramekins. Most of the time we talked about what’s become of you and Rona.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“What?  About the jam or that we spent the whole morning talking about you?”
“That you were talking about us.  I’ll manage to live with the jam situation when we get back in a few weeks.”
“None too soon.  We’ll have to do a lot of remedial work on the two of you.  And please don’t show up in green pants.”
“I don’t have green pants.  Though I did buy a pair of red ones at a local store here, Mercer-Wenzel.” I was having fun with her.  There is no way I would buy much less wear red pants.  I held back from adding, “At least not until next winter.”
I did ask, “But tell me more about the jam.  I assume they’re still serving jam with the croissants.”
“In those tiny jars that you get in first class on airplanes.”
“Do they charge for them?  That wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Not yet,” Peggy said with exasperation.
 “And what about the butter?  Is that at least still in the ramekins?”
“They now serve pats.  Wrapped in some kind of messy foil.”
“Ugh!  I hate that.  I know it’s very Euro, but you get butter all over your fingers when you unwrap them.”
“One thing that’s promising though.”
“And that is?”
“You’re sounding more like your old self.  You still have some of your New York spunk.  Maybe we have less work to do to deprogram you.  Sharon was worried sick that with your obsession with weather might have changed you so much that you’d come back full of reasons why we should feel good about the Tea Party.”
“Well, she’s sort of half right.  They do have . . .”
“This is just too much,” she screamed before I could say I was just kidding.  But she hung up on me nonetheless.
*   *   *
And then just last evening, Alice and I were sitting out on the lawn after our late afternoon beach walk and saw two of our neighbors who live in Massachusetts wandering toward us with cocktails in hand.  We hadn’t seen them for a while—they had been too busy with work up north to get here the past two months—and so there was a lot to catch up with.  Mainly about their health and their three children and seven grandchildren.
Everything they reported was good news, which we were very happy to hear.  
“Look,” Bill said, interrupting the updates, “that looks like a rain cloud to me.”  We all craned our heads to look to the south where he was pointing.  And sure enough, a few ominous clouds appeared to be gathering.
“For these parts, a typical mid-April, late-in-the day weather front.”  Everyone turned to Rona.  “On the Weather Channel they said we should expect this today.” We all gave her our full attention and nodded.  “But they also said there was nothing to be concerned about.  The weekend should be beautiful.  Partly cloudy with high temperatures in the mid-seventies.  And not much wind.  Just enough to keep things cool, the bugs under control, and the ocean in a nice state of agitation.  I love it when there’s some chop on the water.  Like now.”
The three of us simultaneously turned to the ocean, to follow Rona’s gaze, and sure enough there was just the right amount of wave action on the water.  Though there was a fly that was buzzing around my uncovered head undisturbed by the breeze.
“I should have worn my cap,” I said to no one in particular, while swatting at it.
“This breeze is just perfect,” Sally said.  “There’s a touch of humidity in the air and it takes the edge off it.  This is the best time of day.  But how was it, the weather I mean, since the last time we were here?”
“Let’s see, it’s been about five weeks, hasn’t it?”  Sally and Bill nodded.  “That was late February.  Is that right?”
“Yes, about then,” Bill said.  I could see him counting the weeks on his fingers.  “A little more than five weeks.  And we saw it was very cold during that time.  For here, I mean.”  Now Rona and I were doing the nodding.  “What was it?” he turned to Sally, “lows in the upper 30s and highs most days only in the 50s?  I think they set some weather records.  For all-time lows.”
“We do remember that,” Rona said while looking toward me for confirmation, “in fact on the coldest day, the one where the high was only 49, the heater in our place stopped working.  These condo units, we learned, produce both cold and hot air but they’re really designed for air conditioning.  Not heating.  So it was probably overstressed by all the heating we were asking it to do.”
“That’s happened to us last year,” Bill said.  “And you’re right about the heating and cooling.  This is supposed to be Florida where even in the winter you have to heat the place only once in a while.  But luckily they came to fix ours right away.  It was a switching problem.  What about you?”
“The same with us,” I said.  “Fortunately.  But you know,” I quickly added, “considering the weather we missed in New York this winter, where there was a lot of cold weather and at times a great deal of snow, as I told our Florida friends who were complaining all the time about how cold it was, I kept saying to them, ‘I’m the last person to have the right to complain.  I’m so fortunate to be able to be here, to be able to afford to be here when it’s so cold and wintry up north.’  And, as you said, if we had been in New York, on many days we would have been thrilled to have 38 or 45 degrees as the high for the day.”
“Look there, look at how those clouds are forming.”  Again Bill was pointing to the south.  “I bet before too long we’ll have that rain storm Rona heard about on the Weather Channel.”  Again we all twisted in our lawn chairs to get a better look.”
“I agree,” Rona said, “I’m sensing some rain in the air.”  Sally’s chair almost tipped over from her effort to get a more direct view of the sky.
“I think I felt a drop,” I said.  “Since I’m bald on top, I’m usually the first to know when it begins to drizzle.”  I brushed at my scalp both to draw their attention to my balding and to brush away the persistent fly and the beginning of the rain.
“It would be a shame if it developed into a storm,” Bill said, “We have reservations to have dinner at Veri Amici and I much prefer to sit at one of their outdoor tables.”
Always wanting to look on the bright side of things, very much including the weather, Rona reassuringly offered, “The Weather Channel promised this was going to be a passing event.”
“I hope so,” Sally said, “This is our first night here in more than a month and we were hoping for a real Floridian evening.  You know, under the stars with a gentle breeze.”
“You know, since I had that arthroscopic knee surgery, to shave my cartilage,” I added, “it’s like having a barometer in my leg.  Whenever it’s really going to rain hard, a few hours in advance it gets stiff and even painful.”  I pulled up my trouser leg to show them my repaired left knee.  “And I don’t feel a thing now.  Look.”  I flexed my leg to illustrate.  “A good range of motion and no stiffness or pain.”  I smiled at them, also to try to reassure them that they would have a lovely dinner under the stars.  “So you can count on beautiful weather later this evening.”
“But now I too am feeling raindrops,” Bill said, looking a bit deflated.  “Though the restaurant does have an awning and if it does rain there’s something nice about sitting under it and hearing the sound of it.”
In an attempt to change the subject from the weather in Florida, Rona asked, “So how was it up in Massachusetts while you were there?  From what I read, it sounded as if it wasn’t too bad.  I mean the weather.”
“And that made me comfortable about being here,” I jumped in to say, wanting to help make Sally and Bill feel better about the weather changes we were experiencing.  “I don’t like it as much when we’re down here and read about the awful weather you have up there.  I feel guilty that we’re in Florida escaping the cold and snow.”
“You shouldn’t feel that way,” Sally said.  She is the kind of person who is inclined to say things such as this to help you feel better—she is a junior high school guidance counselor back in Massachusetts and does that professionally. “You both worked hard for so many years.  You’re entitled to get away and live the good life.”  She spread her arms to take in the full expanse of the lawn and ocean as if to define further what she meant by the “good life.”
“It’s really staring to rain now,” Bill said, hunching over to keep the still gentle but intensifying rain from pelting his entire body.  “Maybe we should call it an evening.  Since Rona says it will be nice over the weekend we’ll have more time to sit out here together.  Assuming she and the Weather Channel have things under control.”  He winked at her while beginning to get up.
“But Rona’s right,” I said in support of her forecasting, “Look, look over there.  You can see the rain clouds breaking up and they’re moving east, aren’t they?  Which means that this shower will soon be over.  More important, you’ll have perfect weather for dinner tonight.”  Appreciating my confirmation, Rona was smiling and nodding enthusiastically.
*    *   *
Later that evening—and the weather did clear up well before Sally and Bill left for Veri Amici—Peggy called again from New York.  “Sorry I gave you such a hard time this morning,” she said, in her most contrite voice, “Do hurry back though.  We miss you.  Darling George said it’s not as much fun here with you guys out of town.  Isn’t that sweet since he’s really the one who’s always the most fun.” 
That was pure Peggy.  “And Jim, you know how political he is—almost a socialist—he said this morning, I forgot to tell you, that he’s actually interested in what you have to say about what all those smart Florida conservatives have been up to.  The only conservatives within five miles of here are the ones wanting to conserve what’s left of the original design of Washington Square Park.  But by Florida standards, even they are Commies.  Talk about boring.”
“We will be back in about three weeks,” I assured Peggy, “and we’ll be eager to fill you in on what we’ve been hearing and learning.  It is very interesting.  In fact, we spend so much time talking about politics and health care and economics that we hardly have any time to talk about the weather.”  I smiled toward Rona.
“I was just joking about that earlier today,” she said still trying to reassure me that she had only been needling us.  “Really.”  She paused then added, “Well, at least partly joking.  Talk about the weather to your heart’s content.”
Same old Peggy I was pleased to hear.  “I knew you were having fun with us.  Particularly the ‘at least partly’ part.  But, by the way, the weather,” I couldn’t help myself from adding, “has been very nice, though it was showering a couple of hours ago.  That’s Florida for you—sunny one minute, teeming the next.” 
I smiled at Rona when I read the note she had passed to me. “Enough about the weather,” it said.
“And,” Peggy laughed before she needed to hang up and race uptown to the theater, “we promise to forgive you even if you show up in those red pants.”



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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 13, 2017--Stars Fell On Alabama

Briefly--

Yes, stars fell on Alabama last night.

The big winner was human dignity.

The winners also included, obviously, Doug Jones; African American voters who turned out to give him more votes in percentage terms than they did to Barak Obama; and a goodly percentage of white women who in the privacy of the voting booth said, "Enough." 

Then, there are the rest of us who believe in our "system"--that checks and balances are still functioning in Donald Trump's America.

The losers are many--knee-jerk partisans; talk radio demagogues; bigots, racists, and antisemites; a lot of Republicans who will lose elections in 2018; Donald Trump (his presidency is imploding now on a fast track); and, my schadenfreude favorite, Steve Bannon who is no longer the boy genius. Off to the ash-heap of history for him.

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December 13, 2017--Snowbirding: Sunpass Originally Posted June 3, 2008)

"How’s business?”

There were no cars behind us as we glided into the toll plaza so there was no hurry to rush through. The toll collector, a rumpled woman of about 60 tossed us a weary smile and shrugged, looking back over her shoulder to the off ramp as if to confirm that business on the Turnpike was indeed slow.

“It’s the gas,” she said, “No one’s workin’ and with gas more than four dollars a gallon, there’ no one on the road.”

She was clearly eager to talk so I put the car in park so we could settle in for a few minutes to hear what was on her mind. “Look at me. You think I made a career out of this?” Her gesture took in the three-by-four tollbooth. “I worked for a screen company for 27 years. You know down here lots of folks have screened-in patios. It was a good business. Especially after hurricanes. You know, the first thing that goes, even before the roof, is the screens.” She chuckled to herself at that—appreciating how other people’s misfortunes was good for her business.

“But now, and today’s the first day of hurricane season, right, even it we get hit by an Andrew or a Wilber I’ll bet you, since most folks don’t have any hurricane insurance any more, the last thing they’ll fix up will be the screens. So here I am. Sittin’ out here Friday nights and weekends collecting 25 cent tolls. They least they coulda done was give me a booth where you collect half a buck.” Again she laughed mockingly at her reduced circumstances. “But now that no one’s driving anymore, unless they have to, I bet they’ll close down this here booth and let everyone through for nothin’. They’re not takin’ in enough to cover my pay. That would kick things in the head for me.”

I glanced at the rearview mirror and still no one was in line behind me. So I looked back at her. She was wearing the regulation Florida Turnpike shirt festooned with garish-colored palm trees and baskets of citrus fruit. She had a radio with her and it was playing music from the 50s. It was pretty clear from the lines on her face and her cigarette voice that life for her had not been a lot of laughs. No even that many smiles. I could see on her brass nametag that she was Gladys.

“So,” I said, “how’d you find this work? I assume a lot of people these days would be happy to have it.”

She snorted, “I know someone who knows someone. Simple as that. That’s the way things work. I always hated that. Had too much pride to want to ask anyone for anything. Made my own way, thank you very much. Never asked no favors and none were extended. Wasn’t easy, but I raised two kids after that prick ran off. Worked six days a week during the season. When folks had money. And when I hd to waitressesd Saturday nights and Sundays. 

“Things coulda been worse though. Both kids are doin’ all right. That Jimmy Junior did do some time. He was into a drug thing for a while. But he’s clean now. So am I. You know I too had my problems. But I haven’t touched a drop for six years, three months, and seven days. But who’s counting. As they say, ‘One day at a time.’ I say, ‘One hour at a time.’ 

“One thing I know, you never know what’s commin’ next. Nothing good. That much I can tell you. Not for me anyway. For you and your misses,” she leaned down from her swivel-stool so she could look over at Rona, “I’m sure things are different.” But before I could say that our lives too have had their ups and downs, she quickly added, “I know, I know.  You at least look old enough,” she winked at the much-younger Rona, “to have had some of your own spills. And don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my good times. That was a while ago I admit but still I did have some fun. If I had the time I could tell you a few things,” that made me wish that the Turnpike Authority had already decided to close the exit so we could hang out with Gladys. “Even with Big Jimmy. Like the time we drove all the way out to Vegas. We had a blast. We did cut up and did some things that I wouldn’t describe in polite company.” This time she rocked back roaring in laughter. 

“But that was before his accident which scrambled his brains. I never told the boys about those early days. They wouldn’t believe me. They only knew him after. He beat up on them pretty fierce. He didn’t know what he was doin’, poor bastard, but still the boys never forgave him. Not that I blame them. I never forgave him either. He sent me to the hospital at least half a dozen times. I had to get a restraining order, things got that bad. But I guess lucky for us before he killed all of us he took off with some slut he’d been poppin’ on the side. Someone he met at the AA. Can you believe that? There I thought he was goin’ to his meetin’s religiously to keep straight but all the while he was playin’ hide the salami. But as I said I guess we were lucky he took off.” 

“It sounds that way,” I said, realizing how inane I must have seemed; but I didn’t know how else to respond that didn’t sound insincere or patronizing. And back about a quarter of a mile I saw a pair of headlights approaching as a car slowed onto the exit ramp and realized that unless he had a Sunpass that would allow him to zip through those dedicated lanes that did not require drivers to pay cash tolls we would in a moment have to pull away from Gladys.

She noticed too. “I guess I’ll have to get back to work in a minute. But before you go, I want you to know that I do not regret my life or feel sorry for myself or unfairly treated. I made all my own choices and take responsibility for them and my life. I’m proud to say that. I may not have much, but I do have my self-respect. And that’s worth a lot.” 

With that she smiled and looked radiant even in the harsh fluorescent light of the booth.

“I agree. You’ve clearly accomplished a lot. I hope your boys appreciate that.” She nodded back at me. “And having self-respect is important and sadly rare these days rare.”

“You got that right.” 

The car that had been approaching was behind me now and flashing his high beams to nudge me to move along. I shifted back to drive and crept forward. I was hoping, as we waved and Gladys blew us a kiss, that if we came this way next week we’d still find her there. 

As I drove us off, Rona said, “Now aren’t you glad we didn’t get a Sunpass?”

She was right. I was glad.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12, 2017--Alabama

Briefly--

Today in Alabama, in November, and then again in 2020, the electoral future of America is in the hands of young people, people of color, and especially women.

Unless they turn out to vote, as the political descendent of George Wallace, Roy Moore will join the Senate; Republicans will retain their control of both houses of Congress; and Donald Trump will be reelected.

It's that simple.

December 12, 2017--Snowbirding: Top Spot (Originally Posted January 3, 2013)

"I know what you're thinking."

We were at our usual table by the window waiting for our cortaditos and Eggs Bohio.

We'd seen her before, always at about 9:00.  I squinted into the sun, didn't say anything back to her, but nodded acknowledgement in her direction.  But never previously had she come over to us. "Maybe," she said, "you're thinking--What kind of a job is this anyway?" 

That was not what I was thinking. Maybe just that it looked like it was a hard way to make money, standing at the highway all day. "Not really that," I said. I was happy when the coffee arrived and hoped I could turn my attention to sipping it while it was still hot.

"But do I look to you like someone who should be doing this rain and shine?" I couldn't think of what to say to that. "I never thought I'd wind up this way. But you gotta do what you gotta do."

I mumbled something to indicate I agreed. To what exactly--not wanting right then to know too much more--I wasn't sure.

"I'm not complaining, mind you, but just want to let you know."

I also didn't follow what she was trying to say about whatever it was that she wanted me to know. Since I had had a sleepless night I needed my caffeine before I could figure any of this out or engage her, or anyone else for that matter. So I gulped down more of the cortadito and in the process burned the roof of my mouth. "Shit," I muttered under my breath.

Undeterred she said, "Take a look at this." She held up a large yellow and black sign, on end taller than she, on which in bold letters it said--

                                                   Top Spot
                                             Bahamian Restaurant
                                            Lunch Special--$5.99

It also included an arrow directing potential customers, when she held it across her body, to the Top Spot in the same plaza where El Bohio is located.

"Looking for customers. That's my job. I stand out there on Federal Highway," without turning she gestured behind her toward the road, "all day, from now until 5:00. Then I'm done. They pay me in cash, and that's it. My job." She shrugged and shot us a that's-it smile.

"It's going to be hot today," Rona said, trying, for the both of us, to be empathetic.

"You should have been here in the summer. Humid too. But as I said, I gotta do what I gotta do."

"True for sure," Rona smiled.

"You guys from here?"

"When we're in Florida we have a place in Delray. South of here."

"Nice there. Real nice. I'm originally from Alexandria. Up in Virginia. Worked in the hospitality industry. Catering. Special events. That sort of thing. I liked it well enough but when it dried up my house slipped under water and I walked away from it." She tried to smile. "Then my sister, who lives in Boynton, just down the road from here, took me in. Real decent of her. But a big strain. She has two kids. Nine and eleven. And to tell you the truth, we don't always get along all that well. Especially now when we're living on top of each other. So I'm making plans to find a place of my own." She shrugged again, leaning on her sign. "Though from what they pay me doing this it could be ten years before I can do that."

"Maybe . . ."

"I know what you're about to say," she said to Rona, "It's true, I'm making things worse than they are. They're bad enough that I don't have to do that."

"That's not really what I meant," Rona said, "But from the look of things between here and Delray, especially in Delray, it feels like there's some more activity in the hotel and restaurant business. There are a lot of new places on Atlantic Avenue and at least one new hotel so maybe . . ."

"Do you have any idea how many people like me are looking for whatever jobs there are? Probably at least hundreds. I consider myself lucky to have this."  She pointed to the Top Spot sign and gave it a loud smack.

"But it sounds like you had, I mean have good experience, so maybe that would make you stand out. From what I hear having worked up north gives one a leg up down here."

"I've heard that too. But from me you'd never know that's true. So I'm thinking maybe it isn't true. I mean the value of experience up north." Sounding resigned, she took a deep breath.

With coffee flowing through my system, I finally joined in and said, "No matter how hard things are it's important, don't you think, to retain an optimistic attitude." As soon as the words came out of my mouth I wished I could have retrieved them--to myself I sounded so insincere and banal.

She looked skeptically at me to let me know she too felt I was spouting cliches. "You try this for a few days," she said with muted aggression, "and then tell me how optimistic you feel.  But don't mishear me," she added to be sure I didn't think she was giving me that hard a time, "I know this is a get-by strategy--doing whatever I need to do to get back on my feet--but it does get you down after awhile."

"How long have you been doing this?" Rona asked.

"Not long enough for me to feel that this is it; but too long for me to delude myself that things will be better soon."

Not knowing what to say but wanting to be helpful, I suggested, "Have you thought about getting into the health care field? Down here, or for that matter back up north, aren't there lots of opportunities for that sort of work?"

"In hospitality, it's true, your job is to take care of people's needs. So I can see a connection. But it's not that hands on."

I noticed her eyes beginning to flutter. What had I inadvertently stumbled on? I thought about re-concentrating on my eggs and coffee, but was in too deep in whatever that might be to again turn away from her.

"My mother . . ." she said, struggling to complete the thought.

Rona reached toward her through the open picture window. She took a half step back and let the sign fall out of her grip. It clattered on the asphalt of the parking lot.

Half turning from us, she swatted at a tear that was forming on her cheek. "For eight years, until about the same time I got laid off, I worked at the hotel evenings and nights--when events were scheduled--but during the day, I took care of her. All her needs. We couldn't afford aides and she didn't want to be put in a care facility. We couldn't live with that either. My other sister and me. So we did the best we could. 24/7. We had no other life.

"She weighed nearly 300 pounds and any time my sister or me would go out, even for just an hour, or tried to get some sleep--my sister worked as a waitress at the hotel at special events and catered parties--when we'd come back or wake up, we'd find her on the floor. It was if she waited for us not to be with her or when we were catching a nap that she would try to rouse herself and get herself to the bathroom, or whatever. And with all that weight plus the Parkinson's, she couldn't walk or pick herself up off the floor. So we had to do that too. I'm strong, but it's so hard to lift someone that heavy up off the floor and then into bed or the wheelchair. I was afraid I'd cripple myself."

Neither of us could think of what to say. We looked back at her and nodded with as much understanding as we could summon.

"Did I tell you we did that for eight years?" We nodded in tandem. "Eight." We kept up the nodding. "That felt like a lifetime. I had nothing left when I was let go and, although I knew we would have big money trouble, to tell you the truth, I wasn't half-sorry not to be working. I mean at the hotel because at home things only got worse. Especially when she began to stiffen up from the Parkinson's. That can happen too. Do you have any idea what it's like to have to take care of someone with all that heft who's becoming stiff as a board?" As if to illustrate, she kicked at the signboard she had dropped at her feet.

"So when you suggested that I go into the health field, I . . ."

"I was just trying to be helpful," I said, feeling guilty, chocking back a cough, "Not that . . . I mean, I didn't . . . how could I . . . know? Sorry."

"No need to say that," she looked right at me, "I know you were trying to help." She paused to take a deep breath and looked around as if to check to see if the Top Spot people who hired her to bring in customers would notice she hadn't yet set herself up on the highway.

"Did I tell you she died? My mother."

We mouthed, "No. Sorry."

"It was a blessing. For her and, to be honest, for us. She wasn't going to get better. Only worse. So this was a release."

"I wish . . ." Rona began to say.

She waved away the thought and, bending to retrieve her sign, said, "You seem like good people. I see the way you talk to people who come here for coffee and breakfast." I wasn't feeling that good about myself--how I wanted to ignore her when she approached us. "That's why, I suppose, I came over to talk with you. Just to have someone who could understand my situation before heading over there," she again gestured toward the corner where she was about to spend the day, "just someone I could tell a little of my story to."

"We come here once or twice a week," Rona said, "so I hope you'll feel you can stop by and talk with us whenever you want."

"I promise not to bother you," she said, "You're here to have a good time. Not to be brought down by the likes of me."

We shook our heads to disabuse her of that thought.

She held up the sign so we could see it again. "That's me all right. At the top spot." She laughed at that. "But, not to worry. I'll be OK. I'm still getting myself back on my feet. Things could be a lot worse."

And with that she trotted over to the highway.


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Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11, 2017--Early-Bird Special (Originally Posted January 12, 2010)

We're off to Florida for a week of family visits and to return to some of our favorite places and people in Delray Beach.

We were in winter residence there for the last eight years of my mother's life and during that time I wrote more than 90 stories that I called "Snowbirding."


During this week away I will repost some of my favorites. The first, "Early-Bird Special," appears below.


After catching an early afternoon movie at the local Regal Multiplex, the 3:00 p.m. show of True Grit, which we were surprised to see played to a house two-thirds full of seniors with no one munching on anything and no one talking to the screen in a loud voice, still with no return tickets to New York and no plans to purchase them—Rona suggested that rather than eating leftovers at our rented condo by the ocean, maybe we should try the Chinese restaurant, the China Diner, in the same shopping plaza as the movie theater.

“But it’s not even six o’clock,” I whined.  “No one eats dinner that early.  Other than my mother and her friends.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rona said, “Half the people down here eat at this time.  You know that.  We’re hungry, right?”  I sheepishly nodded, “So stop pretending we’re back in Greenwich Village and let’s see if we can get a table.”

“There should be no trouble with that,” I offered in a mocking tone.  “It’s so ridiculously early.  For God sakes it’s still daylight.”


In fact I was quite wrong--there were no tables inside and even all the seats at the sushi-bar-like counter were occupied.  

“This must be at least a decent place,” I said, “to be so busy so early.” 

Rona looked at me as if to say, “You’re so naïve.  We’ve been here long enough for even you to know about the popularity of early-bird specials.” 

But there was an empty outdoor table, and even though it was situated virtually in the shopping plaza’s parking lot, and since we were in fact hungry, we slid into the last available seats. 

“I’m sure we won’t run into anyone from New York.  It would be terrible if the word got out that we’re having dinner this early,” I said, and, just in case, slumped lower in my seat and hid my face behind the plastic-sheathed menu.

“You’re being silly,” Rona said, “Just look at the specials.  They sound quite good.  There’s steamed sea bass with scallions and ginger and one of your favorites, Singapore Chow Mei Fun.  Though I wonder if they’ll use enough curry.”  She looked around at our neighbors as if to indicate that considering the age of the other diners it would likely be tamer than I would prefer and am used to when we order it at the Big Wong back in New York’s Chinatown.

The waitress appeared, smiling broadly, to ask if she could bring us something to drink.  “Just tea and ice water,” I said.  “I see you have pu erh tea.  It’s our favorite.”

When she returned with our beverages she asked, “When did you get here?”

“A few days ago,” I answered. “Why do you ask?”  It seems like a strange question.

“I mean this afternoon.  I mean here this eve-n-ing.”  She pointed at her watch and the table.

“Oh, you mean at the restaurant.  I don’t know.  Maybe 15 minutes ago.”

She smiled broadly, “That good,” she said, “Still early-bird time.  You can have soup or an egg roll with your order.  No charge.”

“But we don’t want that,” I said, “We’re interested in the steamed fish and . . .”

“It all comes.”

“What comes?”

“Before six you get soup or egg roll.  For free.  It comes.”

“Thank you.  That’s nice.  But we just want the sea bass, the Singapore noodles, and also some Chinese eggplant with mushrooms and water chestnuts.”

“No soup?”  She scrunched her face in a look of puzzlement.

“No, just that,” Rona said, sharing the responsibility for our seemingly unusual order.  Actually, our mutually-agreed-upon decision not to participate in any of the ubiquitous Florida freebies.

“You can take home later,” she persisted.

“We’ll be fine.  But thank you for suggesting that.”

The dinner turned out to be quite good.  Not exactly Chinatown quality, of course; and, as expected, the Singapore was a bit tame for me, but it was much more than just respectable.  Not what one would expect at a Chinese restaurant called the China Diner in an unprepossessing shopping mall right next door to a nail salon.

As she cleared the table, the waitress seemed happy that unlike the other customers we had eaten virtually everything on our plates with chopsticks, not forks.  Smiling broadly, she asked if we wanted the pistachio ice cream that came with the dinner.

We both rubbed our distended stomachs and simultaneously said, “No, but thank you very much.”

“You sure?” she asked, again looking puzzled, “It comes.  No charge.”

“Really, we’re stuffed,” I said.  “Just the check, please.”

As she turned to get it for us, a 80-something woman at the next table called out, “What about us?  We want our ice cream.  Pistachio.  I love pistachio.  It’s my favorite with Chinese food.”

The waitress, once more taking a long look at her watch, responded curtly, “You had the soup, yes, and the egg roll, no?  Both.  I make exception for you. You just get two. Not three.” 

The woman, ignoring that, more insistently demanded, “I want my ice cream.  Pistachio.”

“But you had egg roll and wonton soup.  I told you it comes with either one.  But you wanted both so I give to you.”

“What about them?”  She waived her bejeweled finger in our direction.  I was cringing, sorry I no longer had the menu behind which I could hide.  “You told them they could have pistachio.”

“They had no soup.  No egg roll.  Neither.  Not even one.”

The woman tapped her husband on the arm.  It looked as if he had fallen asleep over his dinner and when she poked him he jolted into consciousness, mumbling something I couldn’t make out.  In an even louder voice she broadcast, “She says they didn’t have the soup.” 

“The what?  What did you say?”

“She says they didn’t have the soup or the egg roll.  And now she says we can’t have ice cream.  Though she wants them to have theirs.  Talk to her will you.”

But before he could, to our great relief, the waitress said, “I’ll bring you two orders of ice cream.”  So as not to be misunderstood, she wiggled two fingers in their line of sight.  “Two.”

“Morris doesn’t eat ice cream.  He has cholesterol.  So bring two scoops for me.”  The waitress, expressionless, nodded and turned abruptly to get our check and their two scoops of pistachio.  She had clearly seen it all.

Witnessing this exchange, I wondered again about the wisdom of eating so early.  But the food had been excellent and I sheepishly said to Rona, “If we come back for another dinner, we should be sure to arrive after 6:30 and take our chances that they’ll still be open.” 

“And,” Rona said, “we’ll remember to ask them to make the Singapore Chow Mei Fun spicier.”



To that I wondered out loud, “But will we be able to tell anyone back in Manhattan that we're eating Chinese food in a parking lot?"

"Or that we had an early-bird special?"

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