"Most people will do what's right when it don't cost much, but very few will do what's right when it costs a lot."
-- Don Winslow, Broken

Saturday, November 23, 2019

What Are We Doing?

     Sometimes I wonder: what are we doing? Everybody, it seems, is worried about climate change and global warming, the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the general level of pollution in our water and air. But nobody seems to do anything about it.

     People blame the California fires on the electric company and global warming. But still they keep building more houses in sensitive and threatened areas. Politicians propose a green new deal -- but, it seems, only to make a point, not to seriously address the issue. But meanwhile . . .

     I just drove 150 miles down I95. I spied a few Toyota Priuses and other hybrids. There were some economy cars -- the smaller Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets -- that might average better than 30 mpg. But by far the majority of vehicles on the road were trucks and SUVs -- vehicles like the Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, and the Jeeps and big Mercedes that burn up fuel and spit out exhaust at a rate of 15 mpg. It's hard to believe these people are interested in saving the planet.
   
     And then, do they drive at 55 mph, when the car is at its most efficient? Or even 60 or 65 mph, when it's not much less efficient? No, they speed at 70 or 75, or many of them do, when gas efficiency starts to deteriorate significantly. I guess people want to save the environment . . . unless they're in a hurry.

     Then I get to my airbnb, a condo complex on the coastline of Florida. There are 24 units in my building, and there are a dozen buildings -- for 288 units. I checked in with the manager. She handed me a copy of the rules and pointed out where the trash bins are. She didn't mentioned recycling, so I asked.

     "No, we don't recycle," she said. She gave me a guilty look. "We used to. But too many of the guests just didn't bother, and it was costing us money. So we stopped. Everything goes in the trash now."

     Again, it seems people want to save the planet. But not if it's too much trouble, or if it costs a few extra dollars.

     And when I went to the beach, guess what I saw. The sand was peppered with little pieces of plastic, in amongst the seaweed. Should we be surprised?

Can you see the little bits of green and blue plastic on the Florida beach?
   
     I'm certainly not setting myself up as holier than thou. I drive a car (but not an SUV). I usually recycle my paper and plastics. But on occasion I've thrown a bottle in the regular trash, especially since I've read that there's so much plastic they can't recycle it all and some of it ends up in the landfills anyway.

     We have to live in our world. But it's easy to blame PG&E or Big Oil. But who buys the oil? Who uses all the plastic? Who's responsible for our ever-increasing use of electricity? What's the old saying? We have met the enemy, and it is us.

     I remember when I was a kid. My aunt lived out in the country. She'd burn her trash and throw what wouldn't burn into the woods behind her house. This was a common practice in those days. But eventually there was just too much trash. So now even the rural residents put their garbage in the proper receptacles to be hauled away to proper disposal stations.

     We really should stop throwing paper and plastic into the ocean, and stop spewing carbons into the air. Like the people in my aunt's old neighborhood, we have to become a little more advanced in our ways. Even if we don't care about it for ourselves, we should do it for the grandchildren.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

November By Any Other Place

     So the other day I left the Northeast and traveled almost a thousand miles, just to get out of the cold. Well, lo and behold, it turns out that Florida has winter, too!


     It rained the day I got here.

   
     The cloud cover broke up a little bit. But still, the beach is gray and wind-swept. Maybe, no matter where you go, you can't escape November.

   
     Nevertheless, there's a different feel. The coast is windswept, but not cold. Damp but not frozen. Lonely, but not bitter.


     And, a surprise for me anyway, the dunes were dotted with flowers, brightening up the gloom of the darkening skies.
 


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Shelter in Place!

     This happened just the other day. It was late afternoon, starting to get dark. I was home alone. My wife was out running errands. I noticed a cop car parked across the street, lights flashing. At first I didn't think anything of it. We occasionally have cop cars parked at our corner because it's a school crossing and the cops like to keep an eye on things.

     Then I thought, uh oh, maybe it's the woman across the street. She's elderly, pushing 90, and maybe something happened to her. But the next time I looked out the window I saw her walk onto her front porch, look around for a few seconds, then go back inside.

     A few minutes later the phone rang. I looked at caller ID (because I don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number), and it was B. "I can't get home," she said. "The street is blocked off."

     There was a cop blocking the street, she reported. And the other entrance into our neighborhood was closed down as well.

     As we spoke on the phone I got up from my desk and peered out the window, then went around to the guest bedroom and spied out the other way. I saw cop cars, lights flashing, lined all the way down the street, starting at my house and going out toward the main road.

     "Oh, boy, something's going on," I said to her. "Maybe it's an accident? Or a medical emergency?"

     It was obvious this would take a while. We decided B would turn around and go over to Panera's and have a cup of tea.

     I hung up the phone, and about five minutes later it rang again. Caller ID said it was from the township. So I picked up the phone. And that's when I heard the recorded announcement: Due to police activity in my area, I was warned to shelter in place.

     So I called B back. She was in Panera's, and she'd had an opportunity to check in with the neighborhood women's group. The texts were flying. There was a shooter. A number of people had reported shots fired in the neighborhood. No one knew anymore than that, except my next-door neighbor was panicking because she had six neighborhood kids in her basement. They could see the lights of the cop cars out the basement windows, and knew there was a shooter on the loose.

      I checked our local news website. There were reports of gunfire coming from a house -- a house just around the corner from us. No injuries were reported. There was a young man involved. The news story claimed the incident was confined to one house.

     Next I surveyed the street as best I could, peering out from window to window. I saw a man in what looked like full combat gear sneaking around the house across the street in back of us. Down the street I saw a van with three -- no, four -- people crouched behind it for protection.

     A few minutes later an armored truck slowly rumbled down the street. It stopped. Then it started up again and moved down to the corner. The back of the truck opened and four or five fully armed men hurried out the back. They gathered on the corner, conversed with one another, checked on their radios.

     After a few minutes the men climbed back into the truck, and the truck turned the corner and continued down the street.

     I saw several other cops walking up ad down the street. A few were in combat gear, others wore blue uniforms with bullet-proof vests. The van stayed where it was, with the cops huddled behind it, surveying the area, keeping watch.

     I called B again. She'd been busy texting with her neighborhood friends. There was a young man, hyped up on drugs, who'd been shooting out the window of his house. Apparently the situation was now under control. She'd call me back as soon as she heard more.

     Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw a few of the cop cars turn and head out. B called me back. She was coming home. More cop cars left, until the street was dark. That's when I noticed that none of the houses along the street had turned on their lights. Everybody, it seems, was lying low.

     A little later a line of headlights appeared on the street. People coming home from work. They were now allowed in.

     B showed up and settled in. We had dinner. Her church activity scheduled for that evening had been canceled, due to the police activity. The school on the next block also canceled its evening program, a concert by the kids. We later read that while school had been let out before the incident occurred, there was a group of kids in an after-school program that were subject to the shelter-in-place order. The school went on lock-down.

     The news the next day summarized:  "No injuries were reported in conjunction with the incident, which unfolded just after 3:45 p.m. The police responded after reports of continuous gunfire in the area. When officers arrived a standoff situation ensued and 'numerous' shots were fired from inside the house, police said. The standoff ended just after 5:30 p.m. A 21-year-old man who lives at the home surrendered and was taken into custody."

     We don't know the young man, or the family that lives in the house. I guess we'll never know the details of the situation. But the basic problem is obvious. There was some mixture of drugs, mental illness and ready access to a gun that precipitated the crisis.

     We're always surprised when something like this happens. But we shouldn't be. We have more drugs, more mental illness and more guns than we've ever had. Shouldn't we do something about it?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Night to Remember

     This happened to me a couple of years ago. It was sometime in November, which maybe explains why it haunts me to this day.

     It was a cloudy, overcast morning before Thanksgiving. I was still groggy from sleep, and as I drank my coffee I recalled how I had just seen my old friend Phil.

     I'd been sitting in my office at work, behind my desk, looking out through the glass wall. Someone had pasted a notice on the outside of the glass, so I stood up to see what it was. As I circled around my desk, Phil appeared at my doorway -- tall and thin with bushy black hair and a big smile. He came in as though nothing had happened. He was walking a little funny, but gave me his usual throaty laugh.

     "Phil!" I said in astonishment. "You're here!"

     "Yeah, I was just down the hall," he said, pointing outside my door. "Thought I'd come by and say hello."

     He had some papers tucked under one arm, and set them down on the corner of my desk. And that's when I noticed he was using crutches. They were metal, the kind that go halfway up your forearms.

     He caught me looking at the crutches. Then he looked me straight on, with a sly grin on his face. "Yeah, I recovered," he said, acknowledging what I knew. "I'm okay, all except my legs. They don't work too well so I have to use these crutches."

     "Wow," was all I managed to say.

     "It's not too bad," he said reassuringly.

     I still couldn't believe he was here. But his laugh was real, for sure. I looked down at the papers he had dropped on my desk. They were written in some kind of Chinese characters. "That's great, Phil," I said, trying to regain my composure, trying to be cool about it . "So what are these papers?"

     "Oh, yeah, I've got to hand these out to some people," he said. Then, seeing I was puzzled by the strange lettering, he explained, "I've been doing a lot of traveling."

     "That's good," I replied. "Where to?"

     "Well, I've got to get going," Phil said, ignoring my question. Then as he turned to leave, he dropped one of his crutches, but he kept right on going, walking out the door leaning on one crutch and turning the corner. I bent over and picked up the crutch. It was cold in my hand. Then Phil peeked back around the corner. "Oops, forgot my crutch," he chuckled.

     I took a step over toward the door and handed him the crutch. He reached out and took it, then slipped it onto his arm. He turned and hobbled out. "Good to see you," he called over his shoulder as he disappeared down the hallway.

     So what really happened? It took place about ten years ago. Phil came over to the office. He was going to treat me to lunch. He was a few years older than I was and had taken an early retirement package from the company. But he lived nearby and often came by to see old colleagues. He'd told me he'd pick me up; he'd be happy to drive. My office was right by the front door, so that day he pulled up in his Corvette and honked. I saw him out my window, and he waved to me.

     I threw on my jacket, rushed out the door and jumped into the passenger seat. It was an old Corvette. He'd bought it for his wife on her 40th birthday. But by this time she'd gotten a new car, and he was driving the Corvette . . . for sentimental reasons, I think.

     As we headed over to the restaurant we talked about our friends and joked around about various things going on at the office. But I noticed, as he drove, that he handled the steering wheel kind of funny. Was something wrong? I wondered. I didn't say anything. He was talking like the same old Phil. How could anything be wrong?

     Again at lunch, it seemed as though he was awkward -- was there something the matter with his hands? I wasn't sure, and decided he should be the one to bring it up if he wanted to, so I kept my mouth shut. Still, I searched his eyes for some kind of recognition, trying to offer a non-verbal signal that it was okay to tell me if something was wrong. But he didn't pick up on it. His conversation, his attitude, his demeanor all said that everything was fine.

     We finished lunch and Phil dropped me back off at work, laughing and joking and promising to meet up again soon. "So long," I called to him as I closed the car door.

     "Bye bye," he waved.

     It was the next day when I heard the news. Phil was dead. He had committed suicide. He had written a note to his wife and daughter, gulped down a bottle of pills, lay down in bed and died.

     Why? What happened? Everyone wanted to know.

     Phil had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Nobody knew about it except his family. He'd been hiding it. It's a progressive, fatal disease. No cure. No way out. We could only guess what went through his mind -- that he didn't want to be the object of sympathy from his friends, that he didn't want to become a burden to his family, didn't want to subject himself to the indignities of the inevitable heartbreaking decline.

     So he'd ended it on his own terms.

     Phil, I don't know if you did the right thing. Who am I to judge? But, damn, you had a lot of courage. It's been over ten years and I still miss you. But thanks . . . thanks for coming to visit me in the night in my dreams.