Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013--Holland Tunnel

I worried that we were headed toward sticker-shock territory when we approached the Hudson River and the toll for the Holland Tunnel was $13.

"That's a lot to enter Manhattan," I said, concerned, as usual, about the cost of things in the Big Apple after months of lower-cost living in Florida. "I remember when it was 50 cents."

"That was 100 years ago," Rona shot back, eager as she aways is to get to the sanctuary of our apartment.

"I know I'm old, but not that old. And I don't think the Holland Tunnel existed that long ago."

"I wasn't being literal. I was just making a point. We've talked about this for weeks. If we want a base in New York City we have to stop thinking about the cost of things. Fortunately we can afford to spend time there."

"Even if it costs $13 dollars for the tunnel?"

"Yes, and even if your yogurt casts two dollars."

Thats been one of my litmus tests--to compare how much a cup of Dannon costs in Gristedes in New York versus Publix in Florida.

So after unloading the car and stashing it in the garage (where the monthly rate had risen to more than $400), we went to Gristedes to do some stocking up.

First stop for me was the dairy chest where yogurt was $1.50 a cup. "The last time we bought any in Florida," I said, "it was only 79 cents. So you see what I mean?" Rona ignored me.

"And Pellegrino water is $1.99. What was it in Florida? $1.25?" Rona ignored me. "And look, a small jar of Hellmann's is $2.50. I don't know what we're going to do. I can eat my tuna fish dry. I actually like it that way. With a splash of olive oil."

While opining, I noticed Rona over by the ice cream chest. "Wait, what are you doing?"

She was putting my favorite, some Edy's Slow Churned chocolate into our shopping cart. I raced over. "How much is it? I could lose a few pounds so why don't we forget it until we get to Maine, where it's only . . ."

"For your information, it's about the same price here as it was in Publix." Rona distinctly was not looking in my direction.

"Really, I could lose five pounds. It would be good not to have anything fattening around for the next few weeks.

"I know you. Tonight, after Japanese food you'll be looking for your ice cream."

"You may be right," I confessed. "But I have an idea. Look. The bananas are only 79 cents a pound. How about getting a few and I can have a banana with just a little ice cream. Sort of like using it as a topping for the banana. It's healthier that way and a quart will last a whole month. And so . . ."

"You're impossible. Maybe we should stay in Florida all year so you can wind up the richest person in the cemetery."

"I just want to be smart about things," I said. "I know you're right. I'm being ridiculous. Though, look at that," I pointed at a stack of lemons. "Two for $1.99."

"I'll grant you they're much cheaper in Florida. After all, they grow them there."

"So maybe no fresh lemonade? I don't really like it."

"You think you'll be OK going out to breakfast tomorrow? If you plan to make a scene, let's buy some English muffins and instant coffee."

"That's one thing I refuse to do--drink instant coffee. If coffee is $10 a cup, to pay for it, we can always get a reverse mortgage on our apartment."

At this, finally, Rona smiled.

At the Smile the next morning I was pleased to see that my scone was still $3.00 and cortados $3.50. That brought a smile to my face. And it didn't hurt that at the next table, also having a cortado, was Katie Holmes.

Back on the street, Rona asked, "So are you still thinking $13 dollars is too much to charge to get from New Jersey to New York City?"

"I'm even willing to pay $15. The price of a movie ticket. Speaking of that, what's the new movie Katie is in town promoting."

"You've been in New York less than 48 hours and already she's Katie?"

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Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013--The 2400 Diner

"Did you hear the news this morning about Boston?"

We were happily settled in a booth at the 2400 Diner in Fredericksburg, awaiting eggs and grits with some of the best country ham for miles.

"About what? I was busy with e-mail while you were watching."

"That Russian brother who set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon. The one still alive."

"I didn't hear. What happened to him?"

"The report was that he was released from jail and sent to a prison hospital."

"I suppose good for him. Not so good, though, for some of his victims--I think 37--who are still in hospitals undergoing treatment and need extensive rehabilitation."

"That's my point," Rona said, "He's been released and they're still there."

"I just said that." It was early in the morning and until she's had coffee Rona sometimes is not her fully coherent self.

"Sorry. I know. I meant, who's paying his medical bills?" I indicated I wasn't understanding. "Is it Romneycare?" I was still confused about where she was going with this. "As a Massachusetts resident he's required to have medical insurance, right?"

"I suppose so."

"But I bet his insurer isn't liable for his medical bills since he's an accused mass murderer and is in police custody. Which means . . ."

"I get you, that American taxpayers are paying for him."


"And the sad irony is . . ."

"That many of his victims may have no coverage at all and if they do it's probably capped and they will be bankrupted if they have to pay for prosthetic limbs and months of rehab."

"Exactly. There was a long article about this very thing the other day in the New York Times. How for the thirteen people who lost legs their care will cost a fortune; and, though more than then 10 million dollars have been raised thus far, it will not be enough."

"I assume, right, that some of the hospitals won't charge their full rates or not send victims home prematurely if their insurance is capped?"

"Let's hope so. But, in the meantime, this guy, though he'll never again see the light of day, gets a free ride."

"Yet one more thing wrong with the system. A lot of the injured will now have to depend on public charity to pay their hospital and doctors' bills. Like in Newtown and Aurora"

"As my Aunt Tanna would have said--it's a shonda."

"The real shonda is that to get affordable health care in this country you have to be blown up by terrorists."

Happily our breakfasts arrived.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

April 26, 2013--Punching Alligators in the Face

For those who read my March 28th blog, “Paddlin’ With Gators,” and thought I was exaggerating, even a quick glance at the vernacular report from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times will reveal the mortal danger we faced:
A 6-year old boy was attacked by an eight-foot alligator at the edge of the Refuge Lee Road boat ramp on the L-40 canal at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge on Friday afternoon. 
The boy, Joey Welch, had slipped [in his canoe] and fallen into the shallow water when the alligator lunged at him, gripping his arm and chest in its jaws. 
The boy's father quickly jumped into the water and began to punch the alligator, which is both terrifying and badass. 
Others soon joined in by hitting and kicking the animal before it could submerge into the water with the child. 
Eventually, the gator realized that eating a kid wasn't worth getting kicked in the head, and it released the boy. 
Through the ordeal, Joey Welch fortunately suffered only minor cuts and bruises to his right arm, shoulder, and chest. He was taken to Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale and received antibiotics for his injuries. He was eventually released and is expected to be fine.The boy's father, Joseph Welch, suffered bruises on his fists after repeatedly punching the alligator that was trying to eat his boy. 
The gator's fate wasn't so peachy. 
Reportedly, licensed trappers arrived on the scene and eventually found and killed the alligator, per public-safety measures [required] by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. 
"We are extremely relieved the child made it out of this potentially deadly incident with only minor injuries," said Rolf Olson, acting project leader of Loxahatchee NWR. "This really could have ended very badly. We thank the members of the public who saw this happening and selflessly rushed in to do the right thing. 
"It is a stark reminder that we all have to be careful with animals like alligators," said Olsen. "They deserve a healthy respect. We encourage all our visitors to be very careful around alligators." 
The FWC warns that being in, or especially at the edge of, fresh water lakes or canals in Florida is the best way for a person (or a pet) to be a possible victim of an alligator attack.Punching alligators in the face doesn't always work. So, best to use caution when you're out and about in Florida waters and canals.
Amen to that. 

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25, 2013--Semper Fi

Turning toward Beaufort, SC after 450 miles of driving, at the intersection, Rona spotted a lawn sign.

"What's Sanford?" she asked.

"You got me," I said, "After all the driving I'm tired and need a shower and a nap. My brain isn't working."

"Look, look over there," Rona was pointing excitedly. "There's another one for Elizabeth Colbert-Busch."

"That's Steven Colbert's sister," I said, now equally excited. "So the Stanford sign must be for the former governor Mark (Appalachian Trail) Sanford."

"Who was outed the other day for sneaking out of his former wife's house."

"Right. Where he claimed he was innocently watching TV with their teenage son."

"And then slipped out the back door using his iPhone as a flashlight."

"We must be in their district," I noted, "There's a special congressional election here next week."

"Right. And the latest polls have her ahead by 10 points."

"I love it," I gloated.

"Look. Over there." Rona was pointing again. "There's another sign--Vote for Hometown Favorite, Candice Glover."

"From American Idol? Isn't she one of the favorites to win?""

Rona nodded. "First Mark Sanford and Steven Colbert's sister and now we're in the epicenter of American Idol. And all along I thought we'd find in peace and quiet here."

"Not likely," Rona whispered ten minuets later when we were checking into our hotel. "Now I know why we had so much trouble getting a hotel reservation in Beaufort."

"Why's that?"

"Look at this." She passed me a mimeographed brochure.

"It's about Parris Island, the Marine Corps training base that's about five miles from here. Famous because of a horrible incident back in the 1950s that resulted in six or seven Marine recruits drowning and which, as a consequence, became the poster child for sadistic training practices."

"Ugh," Rona sighed, "I'm glad I'm not old enough to remember that."

"So what's going on?" I asked. "I mean at Parris Island?"

"Tomorrow's graduation there. It's no wonder the town's so busy."

In the elevator, an extra-fit, fully tattooed young man, who looked no older than 25, when I nodded and smiled at him, said, "I'm here to see my kid brother graduate. He's followin' in my footsteps. I'm real proud of Jimmy."

"Your footsteps?" I blurted out, "You're look like you're only . . ."

Rona poked me in the ribs and whispered, "His brother's probably 19. That's how old they are. Marine recruits."

Still a little shaken, as we got off, I said, "Congratulations. I hope you have a great day tomorrow." I was feeling proud of both him and his brother.

That more than made up for the not-very-good BBQ we had had for lunch.  Though it was recommended, Rona had said, "Didn't I tell you it's never a good idea to eat BBQ at a place adjacent to a 7-Eleven?"

She had and was right of course, but it is nice to be in Beaufort and to be staying in a hotel full of Marines and their families.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 14, 2013--Beaufort, SC

Today we hope to drive 479 miles to Beaufort, SC, a unique deep-South town that Union troops occupied and held during the entire course of the Civil War. In this they were helped significantly by Harriet Tubman.

When the war began, born onto slavery, she worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and later as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves from plantations near Beaufort.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23, 2013--Sweet Sorrow

The worst thing about the way we live is the way we live.

Moving with the seasons from place to place to place to place. And then the following year, doing it all over again. Spring in New York, summer in Maine, a fall sojourn back in New York, and then winter in Delray Beach.

We are so fortunate to be able to live this way. It would be perfect except for one thing--in all places we have friends and family who we care about and love, and thus we seem always to be saying goodbye.

Of course, a great part of being fortunate is knowing so many wonderful people. But then there are the goodbyes.

At this point in our lives, we know that as we move about, saying goodbye to some is not just for a season or two but forever. It is hard enough to have to part in Florida from Charlotte and Vicente and Ernst and Ed and Harvey and Esther and my mother; and difficult to know we will not see Reggie and Melissa and John and Karly when not in New York; or Al and John and Sue and Ken and Patty and Crystal in Maine. But the final goodbyes are devestating.

In New York last year we said goodbye to Valerie knowing it would be for the final time. When we left Maine in early November, we suspected we would not ever again see Rod, and then Jack in Delray was not there when we returned in December.

Rona reminds me that this is just life. And also, she reminds me that eternal partings do not occur in order. My mother prevails though she is close to 105, but Rod was 20 years younger and Valerie younger yet.

I know Rona is right, but still I hate it.

Thus I am feeling blue.

We head north tomorrow. I will try to keep this going from the road.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22, 2013--We Report, You Decide

For the New York Times, it's "All the News That's Fit to Print"; for CNN, it's the self-congrtualtory, "The Worldwide Leader in News"; at MSNBC it's "Lean Forward" (whatever that means); and at Fox News, there is the best tagline of all--"We Report, You Decide."

I mean it, Fox's is far and away in the best tradition of journalism--the news is to be reported, not interpreted; and it is for citizens, not reporters, to decide what's important, true, or urgent.

So what to make of the fact that when the Senate last week was considering expanding background checks on gun buyers, Fox not only didn't report about it, but literally ignored it?

What from this are we supposed to conclude?

First the facts, then you decide--

The morning of the vote, watching "Fox and Friends," one would not have known that it was scheduled for later in the day. Pretty much the entire show was devoted to the explosion at the fertilizer factory in Texas. A big story indeed, with visuals of the sort TV news can't resist; but as the New York Times reported, there was not one sentence about the impending vote in the Senate. Nor was there much through the rest of the day. And, considering the amount of time Fox devoted to the fertilizer plant disaster, it is striking that they failed to report that the last time it was inspected was in 1985.

Over at MSNBC, though, "Morning Joe" divided its time between the Senate vote and the explosion. Host of "Morning Joe," former conservative Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, is a born-again advocate for legislation to expand background checks and other efforts to enhance gun safety. In truth, as an advocate, he also was far from an objective reporter; but at least on his program, considerable time was devoted to the subject and a variety of points of view were represented.

Later in the day, after the Senate voted not to require background checks at gun shows, President Obama made comments in the Rose Garden. All the networks carried it. All but Fox. Viewers were told, if they wanted to watch it, they should look elsewhere.

So before Obama could complete one sentence, Fox cut away to its innocuous afternoon program, "The Five."

When questioned why they did not air the president's speech, Michael Clemente, Fox's executive vice president for news, said that they had covered many presidential speeches on the subject and did not consider this one especially newsworthy.

I get it. Fox News, in spite of its impressive tagline, is not news, it's propaganda.

It was ironic, though, that at the very moment the president was speaking the subject under discussion on "The Five" was media bias. No surprise, liberal media bias.

Not ironic, considering Fox's devotion to the NRA's most radical views, was the missed opportunity for them to spent time on the air gloating about the vote: about how the Senate voted as Fox had advocated--to prevent doing anything more to interfere with alleged Second Amendment rights.

But, I forgot, that would have been untrue to their self-proclaimed mission--reporting so we can decide. Gloating, of course, is not reporting.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

April 19, 2013--Two Americas

I don't know what to make of my America.

During the past 10 years I've read a lot of American history and am not naive about our Founders' commitment to democracy (in fact, most warned against democracy itself, fearing mob rule); who was included and who wasn't (in various ways women, slaves, the poor, and the propertyless); and, since then, the bumpy, incomplete road to securing rights for all.

I've come to prefer the Declaration of Independence--because of its inclusive vision--to the highly compromised Constitution.

But when 90 percent of the population support something as simple and commonsensical as expanding background checks to include people who buy guns at gun shows or via the Internet, when in spite of this the Senate votes it down, in a somewhat bipartisan way, I despair for my country.

What does representative democracy mean when something that has the support of almost everyone--including a clear majority of Republicans and even NRA members--is soundly defeated?

I can only conclude that it means that a central component of our tripartite government no longer represents us. It represents 7-9 percent of the population who, though ignorant of its original intentions, are fanatically devoted to protecting Second Amendment rights as absolute and sacred.

I know who these folks are. The dead-enders, the paranoid black helicopter crowd. I can look across my lawn here to see one--Dick Morris and his wife whose most recent instant book is The Black Helicopters Are Coming.

They preppers cling, yes they cling, to their assault weapons to defend themselves from their own government. When the black helicopters come for them, they'll be ready to fight back. This is really what it is all about--being prepared to fight the U.S. government. And, of course, to keep weapons manufacturers, who underwrite the worst of the NRA agenda, among the nation's most profitable businesses.

It's their country now, not mine.

If the Sandy Hook parents couldn't mobilize 60 votes in the Senate, what can I do?

I have never felt more powerless. Write letters? To whom? Tweet? Again, to whom? And to what purpose other than attempting to make myself feel better? About something like this, however, it's hard to fool myself that letters and few thousand dollars of campaign contributions will make any difference.

Which of the 46 senators who voted to defeat background checks and who are running for reelection (reelection being the meaning of their lives) is vulnerable? Perhaps only the three Senate Democrats. Wouldn't that be ironic--they'll get knocked off in spite of their cowardly vote and the Republicans as a result will retake control of the Upper House.

It may be close to time to concede that we do indeed live in two Americas. Not red or blue states. That's not fine-grained enough. Look at the 2012 electoral map by county and you will immediately see that by geographic mass almost all of this country is red. The blue parts are mainly concentrated around cities.

So perhaps like black folks who sought relief from segregation by moving north during Jim Crow days, like Eastern European immigrants who clustered on New York's Lower Eastside; and how for other reasons gay people flocked to relatively hospitable cities and, for career reasons, actors found their way to Hollywood and financiers to New York City, maybe it is time for those of us who do not want to have our lives defined by the NRA, weapons manufacturers, so-called right-to-lifers, and antievolutionists, perhaps its time to secede internally--by county, by city, not state as in 1861.

Let's leave to their own devices those fearfully scanning the skies for black helicopters or living in terror of other forms of armageddon. Let's consider decoupling ourselves from their narrative in favor of our own. Maybe it's finally time.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 16, 2013--Eleanor Roosevelt and Bertha Brodsky

I have finally gotten around to reading Joseph Lash's Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship. This 1971 biography, based largely on Eleanor Roosevelt's private papers, focuses mainly on Eleanor and presents her in a generally, and deservedly, positive light.

It includes many stories about this remarkable First Lady who, arguably, had more to do with advancing women's rights in America than anyone in history. Other accounts are about how she showed extraordinary concern for the plight of the poor and people of color. She was, in these regards, decades ahead of her time.

One story stands out. It involves Eleanor Roosevelt's relationship with Bertha Brodsky, who could easily have been my own Aunt Bertha. Here it is from Eleanor and Franklin--
Among the many letters she received when she entered the White House was one from a young woman, Bertha Brodsky, who, in wishing her and the president well, added apologetically that she had found it difficult to write because her back was crooked and she had to walk "bent sideways."  
Eleanor immediately replied with words of encouragement, her whole being alive with pity and sympathy. She sent the letter to the doctor in charge at the Orthopedic Hospital in New York, asking whether a free bed could not be found for Bertha. It was, and when Eleanor came to New York she visited the young woman, who was almost entirely encased in a plaster cast, although her eyes and mouth showed "a determined cheerfulness."  
The girl came from a very poor Jewish family, her father eking out an existence with a small paper route, and before the visit ended it was as if Bertha had become one of Eleanor's children. 
She visited her faithfully and sent flowers regularly. There was a package at Christmas time, and flowers were sent to Bertha's mother at Passover. When Bertha was released from the hospital, Eleanor called Pauline Newman of the Women's Trade Union League, who found a job for her. She also helped Bertha's brother find a job, and when Bertha acquired a serious boyfriend she brought him to Eleanor to have her look him over. Eleanor attended Bertha's wedding, counseled her in moments of marital strain, and was godmother to her child. 
"Dear messenger of God," Bertha addressed her.
When I read this to Rona the other morning, she said--"Now that's how to use power."

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April 17, 2013--Gold Bugs at the Green Owl

The gold bugs at the Owl were not happy.
Back in 2011 they were in full ascendancy tinged with a touch of arrogance. Those of us with conventional asset portfolios of stocks, bonds, cash, and real estate were subject to a barrage of their self-congratulations and experienced continuing trepidation as we had not yet fully recovered from the plunges of 2007 and 2008. And, worse, hadn’t had the smarts, or guts, to diversify into gold.
Those who had listened to Peter Schiff on the reasonable economic right or were subject to the rants of lunatics Glenn Beck and Dick Morris to the right of that, seeing the sky falling and runaway inflation inevitable—Weimar Republic style—those, in panic and paranoia, were buying as many Krugerrands as they could afford and were thinking about adding to their stock of dried beans, bottled water, and AK-15s.
Off the per-ounce high of $1,888 in August 2011, they had seen the value of their gold hoard drop 17 percent during the past few months, then quivered as it begin to fall off the cliff last Friday--when the price fell 4.0 percent--and then were at risk of becoming unhinged when it plummeted 9.35 percent on Monday, the steepest one-day decline since 1983. The next day, on Tuesday morning, you could pick up a one-ounce Australian Kangaroo Nugget for a mere $1,366 bucks. 
In the meantime, even after falling 266 points on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was still at nearly 14,600, more than fully recovered from its low of 7,552 back in November 2008. 
"I think I'll stick to decaf, Traci" Ted said, staring morosely at his empty cup, "I've had about as much excitement as I can handle." For years he has been boasting about his attaché cases bulging with gold coins. "I'm ready for anything," he reminded us back in the days when we were doing the staring into coffee mugs.
When I would challenge him about what he would actually do when Armageddon came--“You’ll fill up your Hummer with gas with one of those coins?"--he would sit there, brimming with smug confidence, nodding and smiling back at me. 
"If that happened," I persisted, "if it really hit the fan, you think they'd have gas?" He'd kept on grinning. "Much less electricity to work the pumps?" 
"Here's what you don't understand," he said, leaning close to me and putting one of his meaty hands gently on my slumping shoulder, "Those of us who are ready, prepared, if you get my full meaning, have our ways. We know who we are and we know where to go to get more of what we need." He would wink at that. "I mean everything we need." To illustrate, he made a gun out of his hand and, in case I missed his meaning, demonstrated by repeatedly pumping his trigger finger.  
And with that he would puff himself up, hoist himself up off his stool, and swagger, cowboy style, out toward Atlantic Avenue, leaving me with not much of a retort and, in truth, with continuing worries about where the country was headed and if we did in fact have enough money. Or enough bullion to buy a loaf of bread. 
But now, with his world slipping out of control, Ted muttered, “I bet you want to talk about that Paul Klingman BS.”
“You mean Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday New York Times?” He grumbled affirmatively. “I’m surprised to learn you read him. I thought you were exclusively devoted to the McKinley Goldbug Newsletter?” 
“Gotta keep up with the enemy,” he growled. 
“As a matter of fact I did see it. The one that also dealt with the Winklevoss twins, who made a pile from suing Facebook. How they are sinking their fortune into a scheme as radical as hoarding gold—bitcoins, I think it’s called, digital currency for on-line transactions. Cyber money that would take the place of tainted conventional money. Tainted because, to the likes of the Winklevii, the Fed is printing so much of it that it will at some point lose all its value.” 
“I’m not into that bitcoin business,” Ted said, “That sounds crazy even to me.” Thankfully, at times Ted does display a sense of humor.
“But of course,” I said, “you’re talking about what Krugman wrote about gold and gold bugs.” He shrugged. “I myself thought he got it right. That gold as currency doesn’t make any more sense than paper money. In fact, less. There isn’t that much of it and it’s hard to lug around. It’s all abstract. Gold itself is good for filling teeth and making wedding rings. Not much more. It has value because it’s relatively rare and hard to mine and refine. By that measure we could go on the diamond standard or hoard plutonium coins.”
“Now you’re sounding like the one who’s crazy.” I caught the faint beginning of a smile.
“I liked that quote from Paul Samuelson. How money—all kinds of money, that I suppose would include wampum and cowry shells—is a ‘social convenience.’ If people will accept it in exchange for goods and services by definition it has value. Including paper money like dollars, which are backed as legal tender through the full faith and credit of the government.” 
At that he eyed me skeptically. Preemptively, I continued, “I know what you’re about to say—you have a problem with the government keeping its promises even when it comes to backing its currency.” 
Especially when it comes to that—to backing up the formerly-almighty dollar,” he was back to growling. 
“Look, for sure I’m not confident about what will happen in the future. Things could get better or they could get much worse. One thing I do know for certain is that all your gold and your dried beans will get you only so far. And then you’ll be just like the rest of us. Scrambling for scraps.”
At that apocalyptic vision he smiled beatifically. “But all your crying wolf and claiming the sky is falling hasn’t happened. In fact, our economy, with its problems, is stronger than it was five years ago and there is minimal inflation. And as a consequence, your gold is beginning not to look so good.” 
“Wait till tomorrow,” Ted said. “You’ll see. The sky is falling. But to see it you need to get your nose out of your New York Times once in a while.” It was my turn to smile. 
“Traci,” he called out, “let me have some of that high test. That is if the Owl’s still accepting American money.”

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

May 16, 2013--Dental Appointment

I'm finding it hard to concentrate on anything by molars and bicuspids and so I'm taking the day off from blogging. I will return on Wednesday.

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013--Snowbirding: With Mother

When we learned that other members of the family who share in caring for my nearly 105-year-old mother would be out of town until the 24th, reflexively, we changed our departure plans—moving the date from the 20th to the 24th—so there would be “coverage” for her. 
Not that she needs much of it, which is a blessing for her and us.  But we have without much formal discussion agreed that we would try to coordinate our schedules so that one or another of us would always be close by during her remaining time, joking that “remaining time” may turn out to mean we’ll depart (and I don’t mean to New York) before she.  
We have arranged to live this way in spite of the fact that she also has two very devoted aides who are available to her 24/7, providing more a sense of security than helping with her few physical needs. 
I know that some of our New York friends wonder silently, though with skeptical looks, why with my mother so well tended to, far from infirm, and not on her last legs, why we have arranged to live this way. 
Good question. 
Yes, she was a loving and generous mother who took care of us in every needed way.  And even in ways not truly required. And she avoided living the cliché of Jewish Mother.  True, she took special care to make sure we ate in a balanced way and paid a great deal of attention to digestive and bowel issues, but she was neither a hoverer nor a smotherer and did not live her life vicariously through our achievements. She let go just enough so that when it was time for us to fledge we were prepared for and capable of reaching for independence. 
So we do have a sense of reciprocal responsibility--she took care of us then, now it is our turn to tend to her. 
But I “get” what our new York friends are intimating—we’re not getting any younger, time is passing for us too, and if we don’t begin to get to whatever it is that remains on what Rona has taken to calling our “bucket list,” when will we get to India, spend time in East Africa, get back to see our friends in Spain, try a winter in Maine? 
We should be among the last people to express dissatisfaction with anything. We have relatively good health, our minds are still (more or less) functioning, we are financially (more or less) secure, we move each year from wonderful place to wonderful place (all carefully calculated to be in my mother’s time zone and no more than six hours from her when we’re not snowbirding in South Florida), have spent time in most places that reach out to us, and thus should not have much of a bucket list. 
And yet.
So we spend time talking about the meaning of life. When younger, answers seemed more obvious. It was either meaningless (we were post World-War II existentialists.)—you’re born, you live, you die; or, if you’re lucky, you leave something behind—children, money, a reputation, good works—but for most, the non-geniuses, even if they manage to leave something behind for the most part it evanesces in not much more than a generation.  
My mother is in the process of leaving behind.  
She was an excellent mother and family member; a skilled and effective elementary school teacher with many former students still testifying to how she shaped their lives; there will be money in her estate; and she is loved and highly regarded by all who she encounters, very much including in the retirement community where she lives and tends to dozens of fellow residents. 
She is a living example of how to live a life of meaning and the lessons from her keep coming.  From her deeds and words. 
Trying to be as much as possible like her, living as we do, spending part of the year nearby and the rest of the months north of here but in her time zone, I have a chance to figure out my own best answer to life’s meaning. I know this means I’ll never get to the villages of India or see gorillas in the mist, but perhaps I too will figure out a few worthy things to leave behind.

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