Monday, April 27, 2015

If Only the Earth Could Retire

     As I surveyed the Baby Boomer blogs this week I began to wonder: Would it be possible for the Earth to retire from its job of supporting over 7 billion (and growing at a rate of more than 100,000 individuals every day) dirty, messy, hungry, greedy, self-absorbed, disease-ridden humans?

     As a bit of background, blogger Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting is taking a trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The other day, in 90-degree weather (global warming anyone?) she made a trek up to the nearby pyramids, where original inhabitants worshiped the sun, the moon and the planet Venus. She recounts her expedition in Stepping Back in Time Near San Miguel de Allende, and wonders about the venerable king who's buried there and the ancient people who lived in the area before the Spanish arrived to wipe out an entire civilization.

     One word of caution though: Don't wander over to her blog if you're afraid of heights!

     Meanwhile, Laura Lee in Love Has Created a Space for Us updates us on her effort to get back to nature in Colorado. She and her husband are building a solar-powered home in the foothills of the Spanish Peaks, and she notes, in C. S. Lewis's words, "You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream."

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide consumer journalist Rita R. Robison takes a different approach. She recently attended an American Planning Association conference in Seattle and in Startling Ideas to Ponder on Earth Day she reports on the unconventional views of Stewart Brand, conservationist and founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue. In his closing speech, he applauded the migration of people to cities, saying that when people leave natural areas, those areas heal and return to their normal, balanced state. Brand also called for bringing back passenger pigeons and wooly mammoths to help natural areas recover in this new era of climate change.

     But maybe Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving365 has the most practical approach. In Right Sizing -- Choosing Semi-Retirement Instead of Retirement she reflects on a friend of hers who is retiring in a few months. The friend has worked at a challenging job for over 25 years, and is more than ready to move onto something new. But underlying that excitement is a bit of worry about the uncertainty inherent in the future, and that makes Gottberg reflect on how she and her husband are approaching their own future. In their quest to right-size their lives, they have gradually slipped into semi-retirement in a natural and stress-free way. So while so many people ask the all-or-nothing question about retirement, it may turn out that "right sizing" is the best solution of all.

     And just maybe that's the way for us to approach Mother Earth as well. Not as an all-or-nothing proposition. Not to herd all people into artificial environments, but to appreciate the natural world, reduce our impact on the globe, and try to relieve some of the stress we put on the environment so we can all live together in a world that's not a hot, steaming garbage pit, but a beautiful garden that offers a place for all of us, and where even wooly mammoths can carve out some space for themselves on this land called Earth.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How Much Is a Book Worth?

     As you know, B works at our local library. Yesterday I got an automated call from the library telling me I have an overdue book. I know what it is:  Inferno: The World at War, 1939 - 1945 by Max Hastings. It's a big book, over 600 pages long, and it's not exactly a quick read. (I took a break, about halfway through, to enjoy a Michael Connelly mystery.) But the book is interesting. I've read a lot of material about the war in Russia and Southeast Asia that I didn't know about. I'm on page 480, and so I really don't want to return the book until I've finished it -- even though, now that the book is overdue, the meter is running at a whole 10 cents a day in fines.

     Yesterday, after B got home from work, and after dinner, we were talking about something involving one of her colleagues at the library; and so I mentioned that I have an overdue book.

     "Oh, well," she said, "just go onto the website and renew the book."

     "You can do that, even if it's overdue?" I asked.

     "Yeah, sure," she said. She was sitting at her computer. "Here, I'll do it for you. Oh, wait . . . do you know your library card number?"

     "Not off the top of my head," I replied. "Don't worry. I'll do it. The number comes up automatically on my computer."

     So I went over to my computer, logged on to the library website, and called up my account. Sure enough, the overdue book was Inferno. It was due on April 10. I found the renew button, clicked on it, and now the book is due on May 15. I've stopped the fines.

     Then I was curious, so I clicked on the tab that said "Fines" -- which had an exclamation point over it. It showed that I owed $1.20 in late fees, for the book that was overdue by 12 days.

     And this brought up an issue that B and I have discussed before. She thinks 10 cents a day is a perfectly appropriate fine for an overdue book. And the truth of it is, she sometimes gets an argument -- usually from an older person -- about the amount of a fine.

     An elderly woman wants to take out a book at the library. She goes to the circulation desk, and the clerk informs her that she owes, say, $1.50 in fines.

     The woman immediately starts to argue, making excuses, pleading ignorance, poverty, disability, travel plans, family matters . . . anything at all to get out of paying that $1.50 fine.

     But I think the fine for an overdue book is too low. Really . . . 10 cents? That's ridiculous. It ought to be higher. At least a quarter a day.

     After all, the fine for an overdue DVD is $2 a day. (And by the way, people rarely argue over the $2 DVD fine). What does that tell the patrons of the library? It tells them that a DVD is worth 20 times what a book is worth. It says that a book is hardly worth anything. Nobody wants it. It's useless, a throwaway.

     Which is exactly what B's son believes. He is wedded to his laptop and his smartphone, and thinks libraries are oudated and antiquated. Why do you need a library when you can get almost all the information in the world downloaded immediately to your electronic device? Why store all those dead-tree books when you can download any book you want onto your iPad -- usually for only a couple of bucks, and often for free?

     B's son is a smart kid. He is not a real reader. He occasionally reads a book, but he's got no respect for the printed word. He thinks paper books are an anachronism. They belong at a tag sale where you buy old lamps for $1 and old books for . . . 10 cents.

      So anyway, after I closed down my computer I told B I was going up to bed. But then I stopped and turned to her: "Oh, by the way, I owe $1.20 at the library. That's got me quaking in my boots. I'll make sure never to let a book get overdue again."

     "Very funny," she remarked.

     "You really ought to raise that fine," I pressed, not for the first time. "You know, you don't just automatically get respect. The library needs to stand up and say that these books are worth something. But 10 cents says to people: Ignore me; abuse me; I'm not worth anything. Most kids these days won't even bother to bend over and pick up a dime off the ground. At least a quarter is . . . worth picking up off the ground. You really should raise the fine to at least a quarter a day. Stand up. Be strong. Demand some respect for the books."

     She looked at me, rolled her eyes and (knowing I'm a Seinfeld fan) said: "Good night, Mr. Bookman."


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How Do You Know You Have a Good Dentist?

     I got back from vacation to face reality. I had a dentist appointment.

     When I was growing up, my family always went to Dr. Murphy, who had a dental office in his home only a few blocks from our house. Dr. Murphy was old school. I remember, when I was little, he didn't use novocaine. Instead, he'd instruct me to rest my arms on the sides of his chair. Then he'd lean on my right arm as he started to drill and tell me, "Just raise your right arm if it starts to hurt."

     Of course, I'd start yelping, and try my hardest to raise my arm; but I was a little kid, and he was a big guy, so my arm wasn't going anywhere. It hurt like hell; but he finished the job as quickly as could be expected .... more quickly than if I'd been able to wiggle and squiggle and protest. So I guess this was his way to minimize the pain, before novocaine.

     I chipped my front tooth when I was in high school. By this time Dr. Murphy did have novocaine. He inserted a post into the tooth and filled out the chip with some kind of white compound. Now, 50 years later, that repair is still doing its job.

     I tried a few dentists as an adult, until I landed on Dr. Saltzman. He had dark hair and a deeply lined face to go along with his gruff exterior. But he took good care of my teeth for 25 years, filling cavities, putting in a few crowns, and generally keeping my mouth healthy by doing as much dentistry as needed, but not any more than necessary.

     About ten years ago Dr. Saltzman retired. A young fellow took over his practice, but I was not happy with him. And I haven't been happy ever since.

     The replacement was a nice guy; but the first job he did, a crown, never seemed right to me. So I switched to a group practice a few towns up the line. The office was reasonably priced and took my insurance. The problem was that you never got to see the same dentist twice. Every time I went in, there was a different person working on me. A lot of patients came and went; it was like an assembly line.

     Eventually, though, I developed a relationship with one young dentist and managed to schedule my appointments with her. She was caring and seemed to do good work.

     A couple of years ago I had to have a crown, and my usual dentist wasn't around so another dentist did the job. It seemed okay, for a while, but eventually started causing some intermittent pain. Then I started to get food caught in another tooth, and when I brought it to my regular dentist's attention she insisted that everything was okay. Then, last fall, she did a crown; and just last month a piece of the crown broke off.

     So I decided to try out another dentist. I thought of B's dentist; but she's not entirely happy with him, and besides, he's getting older and will probably retire soon. So I found a local dentist on the Internet, with some good reviews, and I had my first visit yesterday.

     She said she could replace my broken crown. She also said the crown that was hurting me had not been fitted in quite right -- there was a small gap that was probably causing the pain. And she pointed out that the place where food was getting stuck had part of an old filling broken off, and a cavity was beginning to develop underneath. The filling was too old and too big to replace. I needed a crown on that tooth, and also the tooth next door.

     This new dentist seems very confident. I thought I was in good hands. But after I got home I began to wonder: How come my old dentist didn't notice these problems? She never seemed incompetent, just a little rushed. So do I really have these problems, or is this new dentist looking to do extra work in my mouth? How can you tell?

     I googled both these dentists. My old dentist went to a top dental school. I couldn't find any review of her; but the reviews of her office were mixed. Some patients were satisfied; others cited outdated equipment and long waiting times. The new dentist also went to a good dental school. She seems to know what she's doing. She certainly has a more modern X-ray machine; perhaps she's even a little full of herself. But do I trust her?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Dirty Little Secret

     I've been traveling, away from home for nine days, and so far it has rained every single day, except one -- the very first day of my trip. Today, my last day, the sun peeked out for a while; but then the clouds blew in and brought yet more showers.

I like Hampton Inn
     I'm not complaining, though. I wanted to play more golf, for sure, but I did accomplish at least one of my goals for this vacation: I left the cold weather behind and greeted spring a few weeks earlier than I would have otherwise. I wonder how far spring has advanced at home -- there won't be any trees out, but maybe the daffodils and the forsythia. And when I talked to B she said she'd been sitting outside on the deck in the afternoon.

     Anyway, what's the dirty little secret? That traveling is not always what it's made out to be. It's not always sunshine and silken beaches. Not always luxurious golf resorts, or well-kept historical sites. Sometimes it's just the mundane monotony of the tourist traps and the American road, with fast-food joints, gas stations and chain hotels.

But I love KFC!
     Today, driving back north along the I95 corridor, I saw lines of cars and vans returning north, presumably from Florida. Obviously, retirees. The license plates read Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts.

     The rear windows of the SUVs were packed to the roofline. There were a few RVs; and many cars sported a trailer on the back with extra paraphernalia. I even saw a big Chevy Tahoe pulling some kind of homemade conveyance with a golf cart strapped into it.

     I spent a week at a golf-and-beach resort with my friends. But I also confess to staying over at a Best Western (no good); a Hampton Inn (I liked), a Homewood Suites (I liked even more). I have not stooped to dining at a McDonald's; but I plead guilty to Hardees (yuck); KFC (I'm sorry, but I like their chicken); and I've twice dined at a Cracker Barrel.

     So now you know that I'm no gourmet . . . another dirty little secret.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Best Laid Plans

     Well, I was hoping to offer a post full of sun and surf, retirement fun and hilarity. Instead, we ran into the rain. We played golf on a cloudy Friday, then started out on Saturday, in the rain, with a weather report that predicted 100 percent chance of rain. It continued to rain, off an on, for the next four hours, but we soldiered through the day and finished like the proud retirees we are.

     The next day we'd scheduled as a day off, and it was a good thing, too, since it rained all day. Then on Monday we set out, again in the rain, until we were washed out after nine holes.

I spent five minutes on the windswept beach
     That night I developed a runny nose and a sinus headache to beat the band. I took some Advil. It didn't seem to help at all.

     Ever the trooper, on Tuesday I got myself out of bed and over to the golf course with my friends -- only to be rained out yet again before we'd even finished the first hole. We slogged home, and I spent most of the rest of the day in bed. I did get up and dragged myself across the street to the grocery store to pick up some DayQuil and NyQuil, and some vitamin C. That's all I know to do for a cold.

     That evening I called B about 8 p.m.  "I've got a terrible headache," I told her. "Do you know, can I mix Advil and NyQuil? I took some DayQuil earlier. But I was thinking I'd take an Advil now and then the NyQuil in a couple of hours."

     "No," she told me. "Don't take any Advil. Take the NyQuil now. You'll get a good night's sleep."

     "But it's too early to take it now," I said. "It's only 8 o'clock. I'll fall asleep, then wake up at 5 a.m."

     "No you won't," she insisted. "Take it now. You'll go to sleep in an hour or two. And you'll sleep till 8 in the morning."

     So after we rang off, I downed the NyQuil and read my book for a little while (Inferno by Max Hastings, about World War II, which was recommended by Dianne at Schmidleysscribbling and which is a great book, but a little depressing when you're already feeling lousy with a cold). I drifted off to sleep around 10 p.m. And sure enough, I woke up a little after 8, feeling a whole lot better.
But this is what made me feel better

     My group hadn't scheduled anything for our last day, figuring it would be a make-up day in case we got rained out. But the rains continued, and so we missed out on our rain date as well. We weren't too happy, and a few minor arguments broke out. One of us is a cleanliness freak; the rest are not. One of us brought some DVDs of old TV shows and pressed everyone else to watch along with him. We were going out to dinner. We all like seafood -- except (you guessed it) for one guy, so we ended up at a roadside greasy spoon that no one liked.

     I did finally make it down to the beach this afternoon, before coming back to the condo and taking some more NyQuil. I was feeling better, but not all better. And so, once again . . . Zzzzzzzzz . . .