"You've got to go there to know there." -- Zora Neale Hurston

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Safe Places

     My wife and I drove into Philadelphia so I could get fitted for a custom brace for my arthritic ankle. I don't know if it'll do any good; but it's worth a try. While we were in the city, we decided to make a day of it.

     We walked up to Washington Square, a six-acre park in Center City that features a statue of George Washington, as well as the tomb of an unknown Revolutionary war soldier. To me, the Revolutionary war seems abstract and far away. But this park is set on the site of a former cemetery. And when you stand in the park, gazing at the statue of Washington and the tomb, and realize there are hundreds of dead soldiers buried under this park, under your very feet, it brings home the terror and tragedy of even a long-ago war.

George Washington and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier

     We continued to the Curtis building, on the north edge on the park, once the headquarters of the company that published the Saturday Evening Post -- famous for its Norman Rockwell cover art -- as well as Ladies Home Journal, Jack and Jill and several other publications. Now the building has been developed into apartments and offices, and features a fountain and a wall-size mosaic in the lobby. 

The museum at the corner of 7th St. and Arch, north of Washington Square

     Our real destination, though, was the nearby African American museum, founded during the 1976 bicentennial, the first museum funded by a municipality to preserve the heritage of African Americans.

     The first floor offers a panoramic history of the struggle to overcome slavery from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War era. The second floor focuses on art -- some abstract pieces representing visual poetry, and a group of paintings by Miami artist Purvis Young (1943 - 2010). He painted scenes on whatever surfaces he could find -- scraps of wood, pieces of cardboard, automobile hubcaps and other trash he picked up in his neighborhood.

A Derrick Adams collage with Green Book in background

     My favorite exhibit was the Derrick Adams installation called Sanctuary, a group of paintings, sculptures and collages inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guide for black American travelers published from 1936 to 1967 by New York postal worker Victor Hugo Green.

"Keep Your Head Down and Your Eyes Open" features driving hats that represent cars

     You might be familiar with the book if you saw the 2018 movie Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, which followed the story of a black piano player on tour through the American South in 1962.

From the Green Book -- Mr. Green had a sense of humor

      The exhibit is set against a background of facsimile pages from the actual Green Book, listing hotels, restaurants, beauty salons and other "safe places" across the United States. Of course there were listings in Arkansas and Alabama. But there were also safe places for New York and Massachusetts ... because discrimination knew no region or boundary, and people needed places of safety and refuge even in the Northeast.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

It Costs How Much?!?

     We toyed with the idea of taking a special vacation this summer. Back in March my daughter in Wisconsin talked about traveling to Italy and wondered if we'd like to join them for a few days.

     A vacation in Italy? Sounded pretty cool. I checked American Airlines. A round-trip ticket was $985. Expensive, but doable.

     We didn't hear any more about the trip from my daughter, so we didn't do anything about it. Then last week, she brought it up again. I went back to American Airlines. Oops . . . now the round-trip fare is $1,359! It's gone up by over $300 per person. And if the airfare has gone up, so too have the hotels, restaurants and anything else we'd want to do.

     So we're not going to Italy this summer.

    We paid $504 to fly to Wisconsin in March. Now I was curious. So I checked. The price is now $622. I'm not sure if we'll be going to Wisconsin this summer either. (And with gas at $4.59 driving isn't any better.)

     It's not like we canceled our trip to Italy. We hadn't actually made the plans. It's just that we decided not to do it.

     I wonder what you're deciding not to do because prices have gone up.

     We are trying to save in other ways as well. We already cut back to one car last summer. And boy, it definitely helps the budget not to have to come up with that second car payment . . . plus insurance, registration, upkeep. And besides, with gas prices the way they are, we've actually been driving less.

     I don't think it's been a conscious decision. But instinctively, we've been walking more, batching trips, going to our local supermarket rather than making the drive over to Costco. I bought a garden rake and bag of grass seed at our local hardware store, because I didn't think it was worth driving down to Home Depot. I'd save a couple of bucks at Home Depot; but spend the savings on gasoline.

     We haven't let go any of our newspaper or magazine subscriptions. But we were remarking just the other day:  the Sunday NY Times now costs $6.00. For one lousy newspaper! We'll be looking at those subscriptions as they come up for renewal. Do we actually read them? Do we really value what they have to say?

     We will not cancel Netflix or Amazon. We watch a fair amount of TV on those two services. (I'm watching the latest season of Better Call Saul; B is watching Old Enough; and together we're watching Friday Night Lights.) 

     But ordinarily, we might be signing up for HBO Max or possibly Hulu. Not now. Netflix and Amazon have both raised their prices, and we surely don't need another streaming bill layered on top of everything else.

     I read recently that overall prices have gone up 8.3% since this time last year. The "typical" American family is spending $340 more per month just to keep up with the basics.

     The cost of food is up 9.4%. We're still eating pretty well. That's important to us, and so we pay the price. But we got out of the restaurant habit when Covid arrived two years ago. Lately, we've been thinking of going back now that the weather is warmer and we can eat outside. The other day we talked about going downtown to one of the outdoor venues. But then we thought -- nah, let's just do takeout. So we didn't drop $50 or $60 on a restaurant meal, we instead spent $18 for takeout from our local chicken place. 

     So to deal with inflation, we're cutting back on travel, driving, restaurants, streaming services. Are you doing anything to economize these days?

     A lot of us are on fixed incomes, so maybe you always have an eye toward economizing. Some people make a game of it -- whether it's clipping coupons, scouring Amazon or shopping the flea markets and seasonal sales. Others consciously limit their purchases to try to save the earth. If you don't eat meat, it not only saves money, it saves the planet.

     But for us these days, it's the prices that are setting the rules of the game.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Are You Bored?

     One of the side-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is that we are all, collectively, bored out of our minds.

     We've been stuck at home, limiting social engagements, living a circumscribed life, falling into an unrelenting daily monotony. We've tried to cope. Technology has helped us out. But I know several people who have told me: "I will never do another Zoom meeting for the rest of my life!"

     Now we are getting out more. I've read that airline bookings are way up, hotels are filled to capacity, restaurants are back in business. But we are still vulnerable. Covid-19 cases are up. New cases have doubled in the past month as Omicron subvariants have spread across the country. According to the NY Times, several states from Maine to Hawaii have seen case counts surpass even the levels of last year's Delta surge.

     But most people -- especially younger people -- are so bored they are willing to take the risk, the risk of getting sick. Younger people don't care. They think: What's the problem? Covid is no worse than getting a cold. Older people are a little more worried, but it's hard to generalize. We have friends who go to restaurants and indoor events, masks be damned. Others have been traveling. One of B's oldest friends is right now on a plane to Hawaii.

     So I wonder: Where do you stand? Are you traveling? Are you going to restaurants? Are you still worried, or do you have a post-Covid mindset?

     We've been trying to navigate the ups and downs of the pandemic. But it's almost impossible to predict what's going to happen. When case counts fell in the Northeast in February, we hightailed it down to South Carolina to see our grandchildren. But when we got there, we found that while cases had almost disappeared in Pennsylvania where we live, they were rising at an alarming rate in South Carolina.

     So all during February we wore masks when indoors. We ate at restaurants only outside -- which, in February, can be pretty chilly, even in South Carolina. The result of our efforts (or maybe it was just luck): We didn't get Covid.

     In March we made a trip to Wisconsin to see another grandchild. We flew American, which at the time required masks on its flights. Covid case levels were low. We still didn't eat indoors at a restaurants; but we felt reasonably comfortable going to the park, to the zoo, and hanging around the house with the family.

     Meanwhile, my sister who lives in Florida was planning a trip to New York City in April. She wanted to know: Did we want to meet her there for a few days?

     Sure, we said. We knew Covid cases were almost non-existent in New York. So we made plans. But of course by the time we actually drove up to New York, the last week in April, the prevalence of Covid was increasing.

     The result was that we ate dinner in our hotel room a couple of nights. We did hazard one trip to a restaurant, indoors. There were no vaccination restrictions, but we knew that most New Yorkers -- something like 90% -- are vaccinated. And the maitre d' was kind enough to seat us by an open window, for ventilation, while all the younger people congregated inside and around the bar. Some were masked; most were not.

     We'd also bought tickets to a show. At the venue they checked vaccination cards and required masks. And we managed to escape New York without getting Covid.

     Now my daughter is planning a trip to Italy this summer. She's young. She has no worries. And she wants us to come along. But I checked. Covid is at a "high risk" level throughout Italy. Masks are no longer required on airplanes. And besides. the plane fare seems astronomical! Has the price of tickets gone up that much just in the last few months?

     So we're not going to Italy. We're not that bored. But the weather's supposed to be nice next week. Maybe we'll go into town and have dinner at one of the outside eateries.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

What Are You Saying?

     The other day my wife asked me to do something, follow up on some project I'd started but hadn't finished. I nodded. "Sure. In for a penny, in for a pound."

     Then I added, "I bet you haven't heard that expression in a while."

     She looked at me. "Sure I have. I used it myself just the other day. But then, as you know, sometimes I think I'm like a housewife from the 1950s."

     I didn't think there was much danger of that. But it did get me thinking. A few months ago I did a post called As My Mother Used to Say . . . which offered some age-old advice about life, love and the virtues of caution, prudence and hard work -- you know, the middle-class values we all grew up with.

     I've always said that if we'd only listened to our mothers, and just did what they told us, without question, without arguing, we'd all be better off in life.

     But that's not what happens, is it? Anyway, I thought I'd round up some other age-old bits of wisdom, advice, or just quirky expressions -- and see if you remember them, follow them, or perhaps can offer one or two of your own.

     For example, remember when someone told you that you were "knee high to a grasshopper" or remarked that someone was "busier than a one-armed paper hanger"?

     Today we use the word "meh." But back in the day we were more expressive and said, "Fair to middlin'."

     When one of us kids did something particularly stupid my dad would exclaim, "For cryin' out loud!" He also warned us, "Don't take any wooden nickels." And when he got philosophical he'd say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

     My mother, more of a realist, warned us, "You can't squeeze blood from a stone," and a variation, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." But her favorite expression was: "The proof is in the pudding."

     A teacher in middle school told us: "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." She must have been a proto-feminist.

    When we were kids and whining about some horrible injustice, or begging for a treat or favor, we were told: "Go ask your father." Or sometimes, "Hold the phone," or, "Hold your horses."

     When parental patience wore out, my mother would heave a big sigh and groan, "You sound like a broken record." Or my dad would more likely laugh and say, "Not in a month of Sundays!" Sometimes we'd have to wait, "Until the cows come home."

      Following on the farm theme we were also told, usually by a teacher or coach: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." We knew that "the early bird gets the worm," and some things are "scarce as hen's teeth." Some people are "happy as a tick on a dog" while others won't get what they want "in a coon's age."

     I don't remember any specific occasion, but I do know there were instances when I was told: "Make like a tree and leave." Or more forcefully: "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." Or more poetically: "Don't let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you."

     Then from another point of view, there was my sister's favorite expression: "Let's beat this pop stand!"

     Is that all she wrote? Heavens to Betsy! No way! I'd be a monkey's uncle if there weren't at least six of one or half dozen of another sayings that we can still recall. So . . . a penny for your thoughts!

Friday, April 22, 2022

Safe for Retirement?

      Look, I'll say right up front that I don't like guns. The only gun I ever shot was a .22 in back of my uncle's house in the Connecticut woods when I was about 9 years old. So I'm all in favor of stricter gun regulations, which to my mind seem perfectly consistent with the 2nd amendment. I mean, we can't park a tank in our front yard or sport nuclear weapons in our garage, can we? So it's not much of a stretch to think we shouldn't be arming ourselves with military grade repeating rifles either.

     But my point here is not to argue for or against gun control. Maybe some people feel safer if they're carrying a firearm. I don't agree with them. But nobody's putting me on the Supreme Court to rule about the issue.

     The fact is, the federal government has very few gun laws. Some gun attachments, such as high capacity magazines, are banned, but for the most part gun laws are enacted by the states.

     We know that a lot of places have stricter gun laws, while other places have virtually no gun laws at all. So I'm just offering here, as a public service, a list of the states that allow "permitless carry." In other words, you can carry a weapon in public without a license. So now you can decide if you want to retire to a permitless gun state, or if you'd rather go to a place that limits people's ability to pack deadly weapons.

     Of course, there are always details in the laws. For example, in Arizona you can carry a concealed handgun without a permit. But you do need a permit to carry a gun "into a establishment that serves alcohol for consumption on the premises." Also, a few states such as Alabama and Indiana have passed new laws allowing "permitless carry" that won't go into effect until later this year.

     With that, here are the 25 states where you can carry a gun without a license (and at what age):

  1. Alabama -- 19                                                                                 
  2. Alaska -- 21
  3. Arizona -- 21
  4. Arkansas, -- 21, 18 for military
  5. Georgia  --21, 18 for military
  6. Indiana -- 18
  7. Idaho -- 18
  8. Iowa -- 21
  9. Kansas -- 21
  10. Kentucky -- 21
  11. Maine -- 21
  12. Mississippi -- 18
  13. Missouri -- 19
  14. Montana -- 18
  15. New Hampshire -- 19
  16. North Dakota -- 18
  17. Ohio -- 21
  18. Oklahoma -- 18
  19. South Dakota -- 21, 18 for military
  20. Tennessee - -21, 18 for military
  21. Texas -- 21
  22. Utah -- 21
  23. Vermont -- 18
  24. West Virginia -- 21, 18 for military
  25. Wyoming -- 21

     If you want more details, you can shoot on over to this list of Permitless Carry States, or target a report from the World Population Review.

     Now, if you're a little leery of living in the "Wild West" where guns are popular and prevalent, you might consider retiring to a state with stricter gun laws.

     California has the strictest gun laws, followed by Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. These states typically require background checks and a waiting period, and sometimes training, before someone is allowed to buy a gun.

     Many states are more in the middle, with just a few limits on guns. A typical example might be North Carolina, which requires a permit to purchase and carry a handgun, but not a rifle or shotgun. Perhaps not coincidentally, North Carolina has a gun-death rate that's just about average for the country, at 13 per hundred thousand people per year.

     The U. S. state with the lowest death rate is Rhode Island, with just over 3 gun deaths per hundred thousand. RI is followed by fellow gun-law states like Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California. I can't tell you what conclusion to draw from this. You'll just have to make your own decision.

     Maybe it depends on how good a shot you are, or how fast you are with a trigger. So if you're a quick-draw, you might feel comfortable living in Mississippi (23 deaths), Wyoming (21) or Missouri (21). But if you're slow on the uptake, like I am, or a little nervous about an 18-year-old packing heat, you'd better stay in the Northeast . . . or move to Hawaii.