I’m So Excited – Frankie and I Were on The Daily Beans Podcast!

Allison Gill, aka “AG” host of the podcasts Mueller, She Wrote & The Daily Beans

Fourteen months ago, I had a decision to make – do I get another cat, one more that (hopefully!) will die before I do, causing me to grieve another loss? I love my Libby (short for Liberty, a story for another day), a shelter kitten we were assured wouldn’t have long hair.

Libby Then
Libby Now

So epic fail – huge and hairy, clearly part Maine Coon, but she’s a sweetheart and I can’t imagine not having her here – although I dream of no longer having to deal with all that hair! In fact, adding the cat hair to the short lifespan made me realize that I didn’t want to add another four-legged friend to my home. Instead, after thinking long and hard and consulting with my children, I did what I’d been wanting to do for my entire adult life and bought myself a companion bird, an Timneh African Grey I named Frankie (from Grace & Frankie – since she’s a girl) and brought her home in June, 2019.

In the time she’s been with me, I’ve learned what it means to have a toddler around 24/7, although with Frankie, I’m not in danger of being arrested for abuse if I put her in her cage for the night! She’s smart as a whip, already talking in short sentences and picking things up I wasn’t even aware I was saying.

When I listen every day to The Daily Beans Podcast, there’s a jingle they play before the first commercial break that they got from the Saturday morning cartoons in the 80’s, and Frankie learned to join in. I recorded her with me late last month.

She’s so damn smart!

I sent the clip in to The Daily Beans for their Good News segment. Tuesday, I was excited to hear my email read on the pod, along with our little jingle. Here’s that part of the podcast:

They even gave a shout-out to my blog!

News, with swearing – the only way to get updated!

Today’s episode of The Daily Beans

Thanks for the shout-out, Allison, and for using your time to give the rest of us the information we need, the stuff that keeps slipping by as we get overwhelmed with the outrage.

If You Plan a Viable Future – VOTE

There are multiple reasons for the embarrassingly low percentage of those eligible to vote who actually vote regularly in elections in the United States. There are things the federal government could do to encourage those who have chosen not to vote to exercise their franchise short of mandating that everyone vote in every election, but that won’t be considered until Republicans no longer have control in Washington.

Why is in necessary for us to register to vote in the first place? We have already given the federal government all the information they need (except for party choice) by applying for a Social Security card, something every parent has had to do for their children since at least 1980. There is no logical reason not to have national automatic voter registration in this country. The right to vote is written into the constitution. The federal government certainly knows enough about everyone in the country in order to add everyone eligible to vote onto the voter rolls on their eighteenth birthday and then share those registrations with the states where the individuals reside. The only ‘reason’ there appears to be for requiring individuals to register separately to vote is to put another roadblock in the way of those trying to vote.

In countries like Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Iraq (yes, Iraq!), voting participation increased between 76% and 81% once automated registration took effect. In a liberal (vs illiberal) democracy, the goal should be to get as many eligible voters as possible to get involved and cast an informed vote; automatic registration is the first step towards higher voter participation and engagement.

The Republicans, however, know that the demographic group that has been most likely to register and vote with them is aging and leaving this mortal coil. Polls show that only 25% of eligible voters align with the Republicans, 31% with the Democrats, and 40% with Independents. Therefore, from the point of view of the Republican Party, encouraging a larger percentage of the eligible voter pool to cast a vote is demographically counter to their purposes. This is a major factor in the Republicans continued hold on power despite having a minority throughout the country as a whole, since fewer voters overall (of which 71% would NOT be Republicans) gives them a disproportionate share of votes cast.

This leads to the outrageous lies being made by the President of the United States spewing conspiracy theories about the security of mail-in ballots. Trump continues to claim for no reason except to scare his own base away from using mail-in ballots that there will be wide-spread fraud. First of all, there was a recent report from the conservative Heritage Foundation that found just 14 instances out of 15.5 million votes. Secondly, the most recent and egregious case of someone using mail-in ballots to commit voter fraud involved a Republican campaign operative in North Carolina. Third and most disturbing, there are actually thousands of mail-in ballots that are deemed ineligible compared with a minimum of in-person ballots, often for mistakes made by the voter or because of a questionable signature match. In order to have fewer legitimate votes disallowed, rules and regulations about verification of these ballots should be standardized across the country.

After Joe Biden is sworn into office in January, 2021, it would behoove all of us to do whatever we can to push for making it easier to participate in the electoral process throughout the country, in addition to all the other things needed to undo voter suppression and gerrymandering Republicans have used since the Nixon administration to keep those not voting for them from exercising their franchise.

The media has to step up, too. Media outlets not specifically designed to propagate right-wing disinformation and talking points must get off of their ‘both-sides’ soapbox. There is nothing consistent with fair coverage that requires any news outlet to give on-air time to anyone from either side when what they are saying isn’t even true. The opinions of party sycophants are of no importance, nor is their outrage at perceived offenses outside of the right-wing media bubble. If those on the ‘conservative’ side of the aisle cannot provide actual subject matter experts who have serious, fact-based information to bring to the discussion, they should not be provided with a platform from which to spread their crap. Climate change, for instance, isn’t a matter of opinion – it is happening, and it is man-made, and anyone who claims anything different without providing science-based hard evidence for their conclusion should no longer be offered the chance to speak. Ditto for those who want to argue about systemic racism, Covid-19, or any other subject which has been scientifically investigated and understood.

I think it should be mandatory for everyone eligible to vote to do so, but in order for that to be an accepted demand, it is also necessary for every obstacle currently placed between the eligible and the ballot be torn down. Automatic voter registration, Election Day as a national holiday and country-wide mail-in ballots would go a long way towards giving more of our fellow citizens the chance to vote without losing time from work, finding a babysitter, looking for a ride, or any one of thousands other reasons why everyone who can do so does not cast a vote.

The presidency and administration of Donald Trump should have opened the eyes of everyone, whether they have previously voted or not, of the importance for everyone to get informed and cast their vote. Everyone has something that they care about, whether it’s climate change, taxes, election security, money in politics, etc., and the only way to make sure that your government knows how you feel about those things is to vote. Social media could be a force for good, but not as it is currently configured. Print media has suffered mightily in this digital age, and broadcast media has been maligned for real and imagined offenses, making it the individual responsibility of every American to find actual facts about candidates, issues and policies from reputable sources upon which to base political choices.

This country has so much potential to life up to (sort of like both of my former husbands). It’s up to each and every one of us to put our big person pants on and do that which is required of every citizen – learn about the issues, decide which side of the issue you agree with, and vote in every election for candidates whose platforms and plans are what you hope to see going forward.

Vote as if your very future depends on the outcome of every election. Vote as if the life your children and grandchildren will be living will be determined by the election winner. Vote as if the continued existence of the very planet we all live on will be controlled by the next office holder.

It should be painfully obvious by now how very true that is.

Vote – For the Sake of Your Children

Today, I had an interesting conversation with a 30-something young man I’ll call Jim, who told me that he does not vote.  This young man has volunteered for the armed forces, but does not think he has any need to participate in the democracy for which he was willing to sacrifice his life in the Middle East, and I still don’t really understand his lack of interest in voting.  He has a young daughter who will have to survive in the world after we’re all gone, so why does he not feel the need to cast a ballot? 

The fact that he (like me), lives in New Jersey, where the only likely outcome in November will be for Joe Biden, doesn’t excuse his lack of participation.  He told me he’d been a Bernie supporter in the 2016 primary against Hillary, and has come to the conclusion that no matter who we cast our votes for, the system is rigged, sounding more like Trump than Bernie.  It sounds to me as though Bernie may need to step up to a microphone to try to put this conspiracy theory to bed and disabuse his followers of their cynicism about voting. 

This is not my first conversation with Jim about voting.  Previously, we discussed the Democratic primary, and I encouraged him to vote with his heart for the candidate he most wanted to see as the candidate, but that, in the general, we all need to vote for the winner of the primary to get rid of Trump.  Even then, before Biden became the presumptive nominee, he wasn’t willing to agree to do that.  Now, it seems, his decision has become refusing to exercise his franchise at all, including at the local level, where things that matter to us happen, too.

I’m not sure what I need to say to Jim to help him to understand that his refusal to vote ensures that his voice is not heard at any of the levels of government that influence his life on a daily basis.  Sure, one vote out of millions may not matter much at the national level, but he isn’t the only one with this attitude in his cohort group.  His cousin, my daughter’s partner, hasn’t even registered to vote since returning to the state in 2018 (although I did print a registration form for him last week).  He too was in the army in Afghanistan; he too joined after 9/11.  I’ve tried to talk to him about politics but had to stop when he kept insisting that things wouldn’t have turned out any better if Hillary had beaten Trump in 2016.  I don’t want to alienate him by arguing when I’m unlikely to succeed in changing his viewpoint.  

I’m saddened by both these young men’s lack of interest in participating in the democracy that both of them fought for.  I know that both of my adult children learned from me that voting is something we as citizens should view as our duty, and they both accompanied me to the voting booth when they were young.  I’ve always felt that voting should be mandatory, not optional, although in order to do that it must be easier for everyone to do, whether by making the time available to vote longer than one weekday or by using universal mail ballots, and it’s interesting that now, during Covid-19, mail-in ballots are the one way we have of keeping everyone safe from the virus while allowing votes to be cast. 

I know that my kids vote, especially for the president, although my son Chris doesn’t necessarily vote the same way I do.  In 2016, he cast his presidential ballot for Jill Stein because he too thought Bernie had been treated unfairly by the Dems; as a resident of Pennsylvania, his third-party vote was essentially a vote for Trump, and we have had several heated discussions about it in the interim.  I hope he sees his way clear to voting for Biden in November, since doing anything else is, per Bernie, “irresponsible.”

I have cast a ballot in almost every election since I voted for Jimmy Carter for president in 1976.  Some of my votes have gone to the winner, while others have not, but I haven’t let that keep me from voting during subsequent elections.  When the younger members of society abdicate their responsibility and leave voting to those in my age range, they end up with representatives who in fact do not necessarily represent them in government.  Climate change is happening at an alarming rate, economic inequality is worsening, and things can only improve if everyone is fighting on the same side.  Having a swath of the population choose to stand by and do nothing is unacceptable. So please – REGISTER AND VOTE.  It’s your responsibility as both a citizen and a parent.  Your kid deserves better.

I Find Myself Crying…

Frankie
Liberty (LIbby for short)

I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that I cry more easily, often over things that honestly are strange to be brought to tears over.  For instance, when I took my big cross-country trailer trip in 2018 with Libby in the passenger’s seat, I found myself crying over everything I saw.  I cried at all the National Parks multiple times per location, on the road to the next stop at the vista surrounding me, at animals seen only on TV before – just think of the National Geographic or Discovery Channel shows – I cried at all of them.

Since then, I’m still finding myself brought to tears more often, and it’s definitely gotten worse since Covid-19 hit us.  I’m relieved that I let my nursing licenses lapse more than four years ago because if I’d kept them active longer I may have felt obligated to volunteer to help.   Although I needed to be a licensed RN to do my case management jobs, I didn’t consider myself a ‘real’ nurse.  When I graduated from school in 1994, the nursing shortage that had been raging when I started in 1991 was over, and I wasn’t able to get a job in any of the hospitals in my area, forcing me to work in long-term care facilities, AKA nursing homes.

Of all the specialties we rotated through in nursing school, the one I liked the least was geriatrics/nursing homes.  I almost lost my lunch during one of my clinical days, when the instructor was showing us how to measure tunneling in a decubitus ulcer/bed sore.  In an effort to shield the squeamish, let me just say this:  the smell of rotting flesh is cloying, clinging to the hairs in your nostrils and lingering on your clothes, so even if you dart out of the room to avoid throwing up you can’t get away from the smell.  After that day, I started carrying a small container of Vick’s Vaporub to smear under my nose the next time, so I could remain in the room and learn what I needed to know should I have a patient with a similar issue later.  From 1994 until 1997, I worked mainly in nursing homes, essentially passing medications, providing wound care, and writing notes for anywhere from thirty to sixty patients at a time, depending on the level of care of the unit.  My point is that now, twenty-three years after my last patient care experience, I lack the practice and updated educational information to really feel I could safely return to nursing.

Nonetheless, I find myself with tears running down my cheeks multiple times a day now, whether over the pride I feel as the health care workers all over the country continue to do their jobs, despite insufficient or no PPE, too many patients or coworkers sickened by the virus, or at the overwhelming loss of life all over the country, or when someone who has survived Covid-19 receives a standing ovation from hospital staff as they’re being discharged home.  I wish it was more of the latter.

Yesterday I found myself teary-eyed when Frankie, my Timneh African Grey, sang “Good morning, good morning, good morning” to me.  I’ve been singing that part of the Beatles song to her almost every morning since I brought her home last June, so finally hearing her sing it back to me really made my day.  At least this little cry was a happy one.

Am I the only one?  I don’t think I’m clinically depressed, although the anxiety meter has ticked up quite a bit.  Certainly I feel overwhelmed by what I perceive as my inability to do anything to make the federal government perform its role; that’s why I started writing this blog.  The only way I can think of to untie my thoughts and feelings is by writing them down, and I hope my PCP will find my blood pressure has responded by going down at least a little now that I have this safety valve.  I’m sure that this need to bring us as a nation to a better place for everyone is what drives many bloggers to share their work.

It’s funny – I’ve spent the better part of the time since I came back from my trip alone in my home, with just Libby, and now also Frankie, for company, and I’ve always had a pretty small list of friends, so I thought this stay-at-home thing would be a breeze for me.  I’m finding it harder than I expected to, in part because it’s human nature to want the thing you’re not allowed to have and we are a social species.  Mostly, though, I’ve recently done what people my age do, and started reaching out to reconnect with some old friends that I haven’t seen for a long time, and now I want to spend time with them because we’re not getting any younger…and now, Covid-19.

I hope that we become a stronger, more egalitarian and equal society on the other side of this.  It’s the only thing that keeps me sane right now.

I Wish I Had a Lawn Service

I love spring – in fact, it’s my favorite season.  What I like is weather that’s warm enough to work outside without a jacket and cool enough that I’m not dripping sweat (and I really sweat), and for sure that time is now.  I enjoy planting annuals in the beds I’ve made, getting my pond ready for the warm weather, and hopefully completing the repairs to my above-ground swimming pool so that I can actually use it this summer.  I’ve spent years slowly adding ground covers, planting beds and other projects throughout my property for both my ongoing enjoyments as well as to improve the final value of the place when I sell it.  I get personal satisfaction from using my own labor to accomplish these changes and the physical activity is beneficial to my overall health.  My friend Mike helped me get my garden tractor running for the season (although I’ve been doing it by myself since 1985!) last week, and it’s been raining almost every day since, so today was my first real chance to jump on the tractor for that first cut of the season.  I have to admit it – I hate mowing the grass!

We (my first husband and me) moved to my current home in 1984, when our kids were both under the age of five.   I was fortunate enough back then to be able to stay at home with the kids while their father was at work, and I made the mistake of offering to do the grass cutting that could be done with the tractor because of the novelty of it all.  This of course resulted in my being the one responsible for the inside of the house as well as more than an acre of ground on the outside, the kids all day and, much of the time, a part-time job in the evening after my husband came home from work and could take over the care of the kids.  What he did, to be honest, was babysit his own children, often acting as if he were an irresponsible teenager rather than a parent.  It’s bad enough having two kids to take care of, but adding a grown man who acts like a kid to the mix was more than I could stand.  “If this is ‘til death do us part,” I thought, “Then one of us better die soon!”  But I digress.

My first spring, with the new tractor and spreader, I drove all over the property spreading weed and feed, like the books I’d been reading recommended.  I was so frustrated a few weeks later as I surveyed my domain, which had gone from being sparsely covered with something green to a more consistent dirt covered with dead stuff.  I hadn’t even considered that none of the stuff I’d had growing all over the place was in fact grass – it was all weeds – so what I was left with were really hard to kill weeds that I’m still dealing with more than thirty years later.  Mental note to self….

I’ve been the primary landscaper/gardener and all that entails for thirty-six years, and every year I try to postpone that first mowing in the spring, as if watching the ‘grass’ grow taller will slow it down somehow (it doesn’t!).  I really hate having to go all over the back yard, where the majority of the trees are, to pick up all the branches that the winter and wind knocked to the ground but haven’t yet come up with a way to stop gravity inside the fence.  Fortunately, I do have a dump cart for the tractor, so I move it around the back yard to collect the twigs and branches.  Today’s experience was the worst to date.

I started out, as I have for the last two seasons, by firing up the compressor to inflate three of the tires on the tractor.  Sure, I could have bought new wheels last spring, but that would have cost around $400, and I do have a compressor and hose that makes inflating the tires every time I use the tractor quick and relatively painless, so I’ve kept my cash while filling the tires.  Last season, I could use the tractor all day (or as long as I usually used it on a day) without a problem, and I expected things to remain the same this year.  Apparently, I did not take into consideration that the tires might have another plan.

In preparation of that branch and twig clean-up in the back yard, I inflated the tractor tires and pulled the dumpcart around to hook to the back, discovering along the way that one of the tires on the cart was also flat on the bottom.  Of course, when Joey and I replaced the tires on the cart a few years ago, we managed to put both of them on backwards, so I have to tip the cart up onto its side in order to access the tire valve, so definitely an empty cart endeavor.  As I was spinning the tire around to find the valve, I saw why it was flat – someone (who knows who it could be?) had driven over something that made an L-shaped hole in the tire.  Not one to be stopped by minor inconveniences, I went into my newly organized laundry room and found some contact cement and extra-sticky duct tape.

With the glue along with a scrap piece of rubber pond liner, I patched the tire, and then used the duct tape to temporarily hold the patch on until the glue dries.  It may not have completely fixed the problem, but it did slow down the air escaping the tire enough that I was able to use the cart for a few hours, until it was almost dark and I was done with it for the day.  I still had enough light to mow the grass, and the tractor does have headlights, so I dropped the cart and climbed back on the seat of the tractor to cut more grass.  As I did so, I noticed the mower deck moving out of the corner of my eye.  I decided I’d imagined the movement and started the mower blades as I accelerated forward exactly nowhere.  It felt as if something was preventing my mower deck from moving ahead, so I shifted gears and reversed without a problem.  When I still couldn’t drive forward, I got off and discovered that the clip that’s been holding the mower deck up since I got the tractor had apparently decided to shelter at home.  I have no clue where that home is.  

I tried to use my giant magnet on a handle to locate the hardware in the grass, and quickly determined that I would be dragging it all over the place for days, so instead I grabbed the metal detector I’d borrowed from Joey’s stepfather when I lost my keys in the yard (it’s a long story for another day) and walked back out, following the newly mowed grass tracks swinging the detector side to side like a weirdo, but I didn’t find what I was looking for before it was too dark to tell where I’d been from where I hadn’t been.  No wonder I hate the first cut of the season!

I’m pretty sure I have reasonable facsimiles of the parts I’m missing to let me use the tractor until my parts order arrives.  All my apocalypse supplies, you know.

Day 2, First Mowing of the Spring

I decided to order four new tires (without rims) for the tractor on Amazon for $147, because it’s really a pain having a tire that simply can’t hold air. 

My plan, when I ordered the tires, was to keep doing my inflate-as-I-go plan until the new tires arrive, then take the tires and drive the tractor to my mechanic, about a quarter mile away.  I can stay off the street for a good part of the ride, and I firmly believe that there’s no one in town here who would bat an eye at me even if I was on the asphalt.  I’ve seen stranger things all over town.

Anyway, I was driving around the property, trying to mow as much of the property as possible that didn’t have winter debris still to be removed, so I returned to the part of the back yard that I’d cleared off the previous day.  By that time, it was around dusk, and it gets dark pretty quick now because the trees are leafier, so I flipped on the headlight.  I began to notice that it was getting harder to turn the wheel, but I know I need to add some grease so I attributed it to that.

Nope – the front tire had not only lost all its air again, it had lost its connection to the rim, making it impossible to inflate.  I had to give up trying to fix it because of darkness, and I’m possibly going to have to utilize a slightly dangerous but effective means of resealing the tire to the rim that involves a small, contained explosion.

What could go wrong?

Mask Maker, Mask Maker, Make Me A Mask!

I’ve been teased by my daughter Anna for years for saving things that, to her at least, had no real value.  Old sheets and pillowcases from a former waterbed, or the old queen-sized ones I can’t use on my king-sized bed, have been accumulating around my house for years.  Why?  Well, you never know when you’ll need a drop cloth to use when painting, or to protect furniture from dust, or, now, to cut up and use to make homemade face masks.  Why pay to buy something when you can just save another thing you already have until you need to use it later on?  My grandmother lived through the depression, so I learned early on about saving good things while discarding the useless ones.

Try to buy cotton fabric at your local craft store – assuming it’s even open – and you’ll find that there are none in stock you’d be willing to wear on your face.  I’ve placed an order on Amazon for a 70-piece bunch of quilting squares, just to make me feel less like I’m running a one-person assembly line in my kitchen.  I’ve reached a point where I now must await a different Amazon delivery to complete most of the masks I’ve already made with elastic bands.  I’m forced right now to use shoelaces, which I’ve also saved for years!  My house is the place to be in the event of an apocalypse!

I started out intent on making just a few masks for me and my family and friends, so I knew that my mismatched assortment of solid-colored pillowcases would be more than enough material to cover those faces.  My closest friends are all nurses, two of whom work in hospitals while the third works at an outpatient dialysis unit run by a national chain.  My friend who works in the Pennsylvania hospital has so far reported having sufficient PPE; I don’t know if my friend who works in a New Jersey facility is having issues, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no news is good news.  The dialysis nurse, however, was working in a unit without N95 masks despite having at least five of their regular patients diagnosed with Covid-19;  now that he’s agreed (for significantly higher hazard pay) to go to a Covid-19 positive facility.  Although he’s now being provided with an N95 mask, he’s expected to use the same mask for an entire shift instead of changing the mask between patients, which is the standard of care for PPE. 

It shouldn’t be necessary, in the richest country in the world, for random citizens to have to make cloth face masks for healthcare workers to use in place of appropriate PPE.  The federal government’s purpose for being is to support us (the citizens who pay our taxes to that government) when the fecal matter hits the air moving device, and the Trump administration continues to let every one of us down.  The whole point of having the federal government run point during any crisis is to simplify the work the states and local governments need to do to support us, their citizens.  Having our federal government standing around with its proverbial thumb stuck up its butt is outrageous, and the administration’s lack of purpose and urgency is costing lives on a daily basis around the country!

Trump’s laziness, illiteracy and inability to care at all about anyone other than himself has been once again put on display for all to see.  The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) from the intelligence community that previous presidents actually read every morning might as well be used as fire starter for all the good it does us now.  Trump not only refuses to exert himself enough to actually read the PDB every day, he doesn’t even pay attention when he’s given an oral summary of the PDB just three times a week!  How is it that we are forced to keep this man in the presidency when he has made it so clear that he doesn’t have any intention of doing the peoples’ work, or really anything resembling work at all?  Why do the Republicans, who are so fucking on fire to push the citizenry back to work, remain silent as their president abrogates his duty to protect us while he wastes the majority of his time watching right-wing media and having Twitter tantrums?

Trump still refuses to use the DPA (Defense Production Act) to create the billions of tests we need throughout the country in order to safely return to something that resembles normal before a vaccine is widely available.  Instead, he chose to use it to force meat-packing plants that have been huge Covid-19 hotspots to reopen and recall their employees, clearly because the product is what is valuable, not the welfare of the workers.  Republican-led states are threatening their citizens with cutting off their unemployment if they don’t return to work because they fear catching the virus there.  Reasonable people should wonder why they don’t require employers to follow guidelines for social distancing and PPE. 

If there is anyone out there who still believes that Trump and the Republicans care about anything other than their donors and their own reelections, then I hope that those deluded individuals have the foresight to prepare themselves for the “American carnage” that is going to follow as these knuckleheads throw their most vulnerable citizens forward as fodder for the virus.  If the federal government had done the right thing, we would have nation-wide, science-based orders that would avoid what is surely coming in the next couple of weeks, but we have the most incompetent leader in the free-world at this time of crisis, and the Republicans are fine with things going on the way they are.  This must be seen for what it is – the negligent homicide of thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens, with a disproportionate number of those most affected in communities of color, on the altar of capitalism and profit for the wealthy.

The total absence of empathy towards those most affected by this pandemic is painful to observe, as Trump continues to whine about his perceived grievances, offering just 4 ½ minutes of time since the ‘task force’ news briefings began to express something he thought was sympathy to the survivors of those who have died.  His inability to recognize that he should not be forcing citizens to return to any workplace not prepared to keep them safe from this contagion is not surprising in this particular individual; his entire life has been spent in a narcissistic bubble, as he was raised by parents who never taught him that he’s not the center of the universe.

In order to give myself a feeling of control in an uncontrollable time, I keep making masks.  It’s the only thing I can do to help those I love, besides staying home without human companionship.  I haven’t seen my son or his wife since before this all started, and have no idea when I will.  I occasionally see Anna and/or Joey, but only for a couple of minutes and usually I’m masked.  I miss hugs. 

I worry about my friend Rosie, a psychiatrist who preferred to be isolated even in non-Covid-19 times.  I’d love to see her, but I couldn’t get her to make a plan without a pandemic, so I have no chance now.  I hope she knows I’m here if she needs me.

I offer my sympathy to the thousands and thousands who have lost loved-ones to Covid-19, although I know it offers small comfort.  I have to trust that the majority of us recognize that the threat from this pandemic is real, and that we will do everything possible to maintain physical distancing for the foreseeable future. That is really our best bet for avoiding magnitudes of death many times greater than we have already endured.  I have to believe that because one party in our country is doing the exact opposite, and the deaths that ensue will be on their hands. 

Mask the Republican’s responsibility for these deaths and you, too, become culpable.  Is that really who you are?

What the Hell, Dr. Phil???

My mom told me I should watch The Dr. Phil Show when it first came on the air, and I have been a faithful viewer ever since.  In fact, I often use Dr. Philisms when I write and speak, with my favorite and most used one being “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”  When Libby (my cat) and I took our cross-country trip in 2018, I was excited to go to the show in LA, where I sat about ten feet away from Dr. Phil’s wife Robin during the taping of two separate episodes.  The studio has flat screen TV’s on the knee walls between sections of the audience, and I found myself watching the show on the TV in front of me instead of looking up at the stage where the show actually was.  It was surreal.  I’ve enjoyed watching him because he usually dispenses common-sense advice (given that common sense isn’t so common anymore) to people willing to air their dysfunctional lives and families on national television.

Dr. Phil has mostly managed to keep his political opinions and affiliation separate from the show, as he should.  Honestly, knowing for sure that he’s a died-in-the-wool Republican who supports Trump will forever taint my view of him and make it harder for me to see past that knowledge.  Yesterday, Dr. Phil went on Fox ‘News’ and said things that force me to re-evaluate my high opinion of this man from Texas.

Here’s the rub, though.  If Dr. Phil, a 69-year-old male and a known diabetic who is a member of the demographic group most at risk of a fatal outcome from Covid-19, really believes that he’s being harmed by sheltering in his 5-bedroom, 6-bath, 6,170 square-foot home with an in-ground pool, more art than the Met, an entire wall of guns on a half-acre of property (my house is on more than an acre), then he should walk outside and mingle with the little people out in the rest of the world, sans PPE.

Phil McGraw is a psychologist, and, although given the title of ‘doctor’, he is not a physician.  Psychologists do have to obtain a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s and doctoral programs, which Wikipedia shows Phil did, graduating in 1979, but he is not a medical doctor.  In fact, he is no longer a licensed psychologist, having voluntarily surrendered his Texas license to practice in 2006.  He has not hidden his unlicensed status from his viewers, and most of the guests on the show are offered actual mental health services with licensed personnel throughout the country paid for by the show.

His “I’m just an old Texas boy” character is a big part of his appeal, at least for me, and his show has occasionally aired subjects that seemed to reflect a right-wing perspective.  He doesn’t hesitate to let us know that he’s a Christian, although I would prefer he keep his personal faith, well, personal.  To those of us who have recovered from religion, there is no benefit to his talking about how he’s got a personal savior in Jesus.  In fact, I find it offensive when celebrities like Phil McGraw think we care one way or the other about their religious choices. If he doesn’t want to hear about my atheism, then he shouldn’t tell me about his god.

All those things were of no significance to my devotion to his show.  My DVR has been set to record every new episode for years – in fact, it’s the first show on my list – and I’ve watched them all, usually the same day they air.  It’s been frustrating during this pandemic, because the Philadelphia station that carries his syndicated show has been pre-empting portions for local Covid-19 news conferences, so his filmed-from-his-house shows haven’t been available in their entirety.  I find myself distracted by the stuff in the room behind him (what is that red thing in the corner of the counter over his shoulder???) and keep wondering how much countertop you have when you can cover so much counter with stuff.  Then I think about how much time someone has to spend dusting all the stuff in the kitchen alone.  Having seen photos of his eclectically decorated home, I also question his insistence that Robin is keeping that house clean.  There’s no way in hell that Robin is the one cleaning that stuff – she’d never have the time to do anything else, and would never be able to leave the house.  My mom used to tell me the way you know that a house is more than you can afford is when the first thing you think about is how long it will take you to keep it clean!  Those with money don’t have to worry about cleaning – they just pay someone else to do the work for them.  It must be nice.

Yesterday Dr. Phil revealed both his political ideology and his ignorance, two things that now force me to reconsider my devotion to his show.  I saw a clip of his Fox appearance on MSNBC last night, and today my daughter Anna made sure I didn’t miss him making an ass of himself.  At first, I tried to convince myself that maybe it was from a few months ago, before the fecal matter hit the air-moving device, but reality’s a bitch, so I was forced to acknowledge that Phil has revealed a part of himself by both appearing on Fox ‘News’ in the first place and then saying things that clearly have nothing to do with anything as it regards this highly contagious virus we are trying to keep from killing hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

For someone who purports to be wise and knowledgeable, his comparison of the Covid-19 pandemic to pool drownings, cancer or car accidents was beyond dangerous.  I’m not sure how Phil concluded that the loss of life from Covid-19, which has taken more than 33,000 Americans to date, can be equated to those lost by non-contagious illness and accident.  Surely, even though he never went to medical school, Phil McGraw can intellectually understand that a highly contagious virus with a significant mortality rate (especially among older men with comorbidities) that has no effective treatment or vaccine cannot be allowed to just spread unchecked throughout the population, overwhelming the healthcare system and leading to even more deaths because of a lack of ventilators and ICU beds in the interest of getting back to business as usual, right?  RIGHT?

The financial problems facing the citizens of this country could be addressed by a functional federal government led by a president who gives a damn about someone other than himself. Instead of pointing out how destructive this ‘lockdown’ is on people’s mental health and finances, maybe Dr. Phil could have pointed out how the Trump administration is failing to help out the neediest among us while they give more tax breaks to people in his own income bracket. Or maybe he could use his significant wealth and platform to help those most in need, instead of giving Trump’s state tv another sound bite to support their anti-science platform. Even better, he could use his private plane to fly around the world, gathering PPE for the healthcare workers on the front lines and flying it back to the US for distribution.

Phil McGraw is not a doctor – he’s a retired psychologist without any relevant experience or knowledge about infectious diseases – and he has overstepped his bounds with this Fox appearance.  Opinions are like assholes – everybody has one, and they should keep both of them out of the public eye!  Phil can be unhappy about the situation in which we now find ourselves, but he should not be publicizing his opinions in this atmosphere of political polarization and the demonization of experts.  His appearance last night on Fox has revealed that Phil McGraw’s common sense isn’t so common anymore.  So go on out, Dr. Phil.  Walk amongst the unclean, go to a homeless shelter or maybe an ICU full of Covid-19 patients, and breathe in the air, unmasked.  Then go back home and share what you’ve acquired without washing your hands or changing your clothes with your wife, your sons, and your grandchildren. Which one of them will you sacrifice to restart the economy?  If you’re unwilling to offer up one of your own on the altar of capitalism, shut the fuck up about getting everyone else back to work.  You’ve lost a devoted fan by revealing your callous disregard for your fellow citizens. 

I suspect I’m not alone.

When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.

My Covid-19 Distraction

In 1984, we moved from a 3-bedroom row home in southwest Philadelphia into a 4-bedroom single home in South Jersey, and I thought that there was no way I would ever have enough stuff to fill all the square footage we’d acquired.  Apparently, I didn’t know how much crap I would eventually manage to squeeze into my house over 36 years.

My 6’ x 11’ laundry room seemed small even back in 1984, when laundry appliances were nowhere near the size of the new ones now.  When I had to replace my washer and dryer, I found that the larger ones wouldn’t fit along the six foot wall where the previous ones had been, requiring me to relocate the plumbing for the washer and the sink.  I found that the subfloor under the old washer had essentially disintegrated – I assume from a washer leaking on it – requiring that a portion of the subfloor be replaced before I was able to install a new tile floor.  The renovation took a week, and I think I started to develop claustrophobia while I was doing the work! 

I had to add lots of wire shelving around the walls in the laundry room, because the Rubbermaid closet I’d previously used to store stuff in there was way too big to fit with the new appliances.  I did get a smaller Rubbermaid cabinet that I put in the laundry room, thinking it would be manageable even though it was really too big for the space I had to work with, and I’ve tried unsuccessfully for all these years to declutter the top of it while arranging things inside it.  Last week, I decided that the Covid-19 quarantine was the time to finally and for real tackle the mess that was my laundry room.

Since then, I’ve been amazed at the amount of stuff I managed to shoehorn into that 66 square foot space – and mortified by how much of it I should have gotten out of there years ago!  I remembered why I kept procrastinating about organizing everything I keep in there, but I was determined that this time, no matter what, I was going to finally finish putting everything I had to keep in there in a designated place to help me keep it organized in the future. 

Now it’s almost finished.  I have several boxes of assorted cleaners, insect repellants/attractants, bird feeders and other miscellaneous crap that are being relocated down the basement.  I’m sure that I could probably give away or toss most of that stuff, but not yet.  When I was telling my daughter Anna a few days ago about the facemasks I’m making out of assorted items I have around the house, she actually admitted that my house is a great place to be if there’s an apocalypse!  Covid-19 isn’t exactly the end of the world, but it has made me glad that I take after my grandmother, who also didn’t like to throw out things that were still good. 

Anna has told her friends that I’m a pre-hoarder, but I disagree.  I have no interest in collecting other people’s discards, nor do I see any value in saving trash or other useless, unsanitary items.  When my kids were younger, my house was clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy (to quote a cross-stitch I have hanging in my house!), but that was when there were others here to help with the cleaning, yardwork and general upkeep.  In the years that I’ve been the only one here in this giant house on more than an acre of ground, I’ve had to focus on some things while ignoring others.  My kitchen table becomes a workspace for doing projects, my computer desk, and my place for meals.  It means that I’m the only one who can sit here and eat, but that’s okay since I live here alone (except for Libby my cat and Frankie my bird, neither of whom sit at a table to eat!).  Maybe now that the laundry room is organized, I’ll be inspired to carry it on through other rooms – if I can find the time, now that spring has sprung and the grass is growing. 

I have to get rolling now – the birdcage needs cleaning, and without opposable thumbs, Frankie is of no help – and those boxes from the laundry room aren’t going to take themselves to the basement, so I’m going to see how much more I can accomplish today.  At least doing these things helps distract from the craziness going on around me, like how 2 weeks ago I noticed a $500 charge on my Visa debit card from Wayfair that I knew wasn’t mine.  Since I caught the first bogus charge, I was able to cancel the card before someone not me was able to completely empty my checking account.  You just can’t let your guard down for a minute!  Some people, I have found, are assholes.