"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Is It Time?

     My wife B hates to talk about her health or her kids. Her health is good, so there's nothing for her to talk about. She gets along with her kids just fine, but she just thinks there ought to be more interesting things for adults to discuss, like what books we've read, what movies we've seen, where we've traveled, what unusual experiences we've had, what kind of spiritual issues are concerning us these days.

     Okay, there's one exception. She does love to talk about her grandchildren (don't we all!). But otherwise she just doesn't want to be one of those old ladies who sits around and brags (or complains) about her kids, or reviews ad nauseam her latest back pain, blood pressure medication, sleep disorder, memory lapse or surgical procedure.

     However, now things have changed very quickly. Her health is still good (well, just a touch of arthritis), but like the rest of us she is worried about the Coronavirus, anxious about getting back out into the world, focusing too much on her aches and pains, and sick and tired of self-isolating at home.

Gnome ... thinking
     So, like the rest of us . . .

     Carol Cassara of A Healing Spirit, says the hardest thing about this period of time is that we don't know what lies ahead, and the unknown often produces anxiety. In her post How Do We Prepare for Walking into the Unknown? she offers eight ways to move forward into our new environment -- with less stress and more confidence.

     Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomer.com admits she's going a little batty, just like Carol would predict, especially since she's temporarily stuck living in a rented room in a house. So as she tells us in When You Have to Stay at Home, Go Searching for Gnomes, she decided to check out the various trolls populating her LA neighborhood. The gnomes, she notes, could care less about the pandemic and are content to spend their time sitting in gardens, laughing at all us humans.

     Jennifer of Untold and Begin admits that she's been in a funk, and it's been taking a toll on her creativity. While she watched other bloggers post about baking, crafting, gardening and writing, she was finding it hard to do anything creative. That is, until she found some yarn and a crochet needle. Check out Time to Reignite Our Creativity to see how far she's progressed.

Libby ... chilling
     Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles also feels the turmoil in the air. There's simply too much happening too fast, she says. The planet seems scarier and more chaotic than ever. Yet there's one member of her family who always seems . . . well, chill. That's her terrier Libby. In How to Stay Chill in This Insane World she offers some coping skills that Libby has taught her.

     Consumer journalist Rita Robison has a different concern. April is Rosacea Awareness Month, so in Understanding Rosacea: It's More Than Just a Red Face she discusses the skin condition that plagues some 16 million Americans. (I, myself, have a touch of rosacea; and more than a touch of arthritis.) She covers the causes, the symptoms and the treatments, and she also offers several other websites where you can get more information.

     Finally, Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting says in her corner of the world residents feel that it's time to emerge, slowly and carefully, from weeks of quarantine. In Looking Ahead she notes that the longer days, the spring flowers and the warmth of the sun make it easy to feel optimistic. So folks are now looking forward to simple pleasures like walking the beach, tending the garden, patronizing the ice-cream store . . . and life after quarantine.

     I can't say whether it's time to start venturing out. People will ultimately have to make their own decisions, based on their tolerance for risk and perhaps their tolerance for their spouse, roommate, children, whatever. As for what lies ahead in our new environment -- who knows? But B and I still have some reserves. We can last a while longer. However, last night at dinner the subject of the kids did come up . . . and then we started complaining about our arthritis.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Day in the Life of a Coronaretiree

     Look I know this is serious business. But if we don't laugh, we cry. And besides, my life these days is pretty laughable . . .

     7:00 a.m. Wake up

     7:15         Sit up

     7:30         Stand up

     7:30         Bathroom, get dressed (same clothes as yesterday)

     7:45         Make instant coffee (too lazy for real), talk to wife

     8 - 9         Read downstairs book "The Splendid and the Vile"

     9 - 10:30  Stare at computer screen (I think I checked my email)

     10: 30      Eat bowl of cereal

     10:45       Do online crossword puzzle

     11:00       Online psychology course

     12 noon   Walk around the block

     1 p.m..     Shower

     1:15         Back exercises with podcast "You Must Remember This"

     2:00         Another online crossword puzzle

     2:30         Go to Netflix, watch "Ozark"

     4:00         Kitchen for snack, look at carrots, eat potato chips

     4:00         Turn on TV, check weather and news, talk to wife

     4:30         Facetime with one of the kids

     Just so you don't think that my wife B is as much of a sloth as I am, I should tell you that her life is more interesting. She talks on the phone to at least one friend a day. She has figured out how to use Zoom and has been attending two or three volunteer meetings per week. She did a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. And while I hate to admit it, we've been eating better than ever because B has more time to cook. And she likes to cook. We have access to two grocery stores that offer curbside pickup, so with a few exceptions we've been able to get whatever we need. We've enjoyed lots of good pasta dishes, chicken, salads, vegetables, even some fresh fish. She's also been baking -- brownies, peach cobbler, cupcakes. Yesterday she made a Pavlova with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries.

     You'll notice that my daily activities do not include stepping on the scale! Anyway . . .

     5 p.m.      Back down the online rabbit hole

     6:15         Dinner

     7 - 9         Watch "Babylon Berlin" with wife

     9:30         Go upstairs, wash, brush teeth, stretch

     10 p.m.    Sit in chair, read upstairs book "My Dark Vanessa"

     10:30       Move to bed, read more book

     11 p.m.     Turn out light, go to sleep

     Tomorrow:  Get up and do it again

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Something to Look Forward To

     Now that we have a lot of time on our hands, maybe we should reassess where we're going with our lives. A couple of questions come to mind: How does Coronavirus fit into our retirement plan? Is retirement so very different from self-isolating? And in these days when everything seems the same, is there anything we can look forward to?

     I retired pretty early in life, with a package from my company and only a vague plan of what I would do next. I wasn't ready to move to Florida to play golf or go fishing. I felt as if I still had something to contribute. I would even have taken another job, if one had fallen into my lap, but as you and I know, things don't usually just fall into your lap.

     So I never got another full-time job. I did, however, put a lot of effort into finding consulting jobs, freelance work, temporary assignments. There was always something different to look forward to, someone new to meet.

     I went on to establish a relationship with a woman who is now my wife. And we downsized and retired to Pennsylvania. We made new friends, developed new activities. We always had something coming up, something to do next.

    Now with Social Security and Medicare and an IRA, I've retired more thoroughly. We've settled down into our new life, a new routine. To be honest, our life has gotten pretty quiet. We don't go to work. We don't do a lot of traveling, and fortunately, we got home from our winter trip before the epidemic hit, so we don't have to cut short or cancel a vacation. So why should self-isolation pose a problem?

Everything's the same
     Because every day is the same. We have nothing to look forward to. There is nothing on the horizon.

     Even now, with my quieter life, I'd usually be going over to the senior center to play table tennis every Monday, and sometimes on Wednesdays. Whenever I'm sitting around, bored on a Sunday afternoon, I think, yeah, but tomorrow I've got ping pong.

     Right about now I'd also be looking forward to starting golf season. My golf league was supposed to play its opening round next Wednesday. Instead, play has been suspended indefinitely. So there's no golf on the horizon.

     B and I are supposed to be hosting two classes at our retirement learning center: Great Decisions in Foreign Policy on Tuesdays, and the Socrates Cafe on Thursdays. But we only had one Socrates session and two Great Decisions classes before everything was canceled. So now we're home on Tuesday and Thursday -- and we can't tell the difference between the two.

     It's not that are days our unpleasant. It's that every day is the same. We have nothing to look forward to.

      Now I know we have it pretty good, all things considered. We live in a nice home. We can go outside for a walk. We have Netflix and Amazon prime. (We're watching Babylon Berlin, a sometimes-confusing but always intriguing drama set in pre-war Berlin.) But I don't always know what day it is. Weekends are the same as weekdays. There's nothing to go out for. Nothing to dress up for. Nobody to talk to. Nobody to joke around with. We can't even break up the monotony by going out to dinner.

     We did set up a Zoom birthday party for a relative last weekend. We thought that was very clever. But it didn't measure up to a real party.

     We've Face-timed with children and grandchildren. It's better than just hearing a voice on the phone. But we want to see them live and in person!

     We did have two things to look forward to: a weekend trip to our old hometown and a meet-up with my son to see the U. S. Open in June. But both have been canceled. And we haven't even started to make other vacation plans, because nobody is ready to make reservations. See what I mean? Nothing to look forward to.

     It's not that things are so bad. And we so appreciate the front-line workers who are literally risking their lives to keep the country running. Food and gasoline are getting through. We can buy stuff online. Police and fire are still on duty. And of course the medical world is performing heroics in helping victims, treating people, trying to reassure the rest of us.

     All the experts tell us to make a plan for retirement, to update our plans, to reassess our lives and make sure we don't drift off. We're supposed to stay on track and adjust when necessary.

     But Coronavirus wasn't in the plan. I have two friends who winter in Florida and usually come back north in March. For them, self-isolation means that they are stuck there for foreseeable future.

     Our neighbor had their daughter and her three kids move in with them for the duration. The daughter's husband is a physicians assistant working in a hospital in New Jersey. He doesn't want to come home at night and possibly expose his family to the virus, so he sent them to her parents' house. I admire his dedication, and his responsible approach as well. But now there are six people jammed into a townhouse that is set up for two retirees.

     Well, I can guess what my Florida friends are looking forward to . . . getting back home. And I know for sure what our neighbors, no matter how much they love their grands, are looking forward to . . . the day when the kids leave!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Do We Pay the Rent?

     Have you heard about the "Keep Your Rent Movement" that's cropped up along with the Coronavirus?

     Many tenants in the U. S. and Canada, especially in the larger more-expensive cities like New York, L.A., Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, have decided that they shouldn't have to pay rent as long as the Coronavirus pandemic keeps people self-isolating and out of work, or on reduced hours working from home.

     They argue that landlords are getting a break because many of them are benefiting from deferrals on their mortgage. So if landlords don't have to pay their mortgage, why should tenants have to pay rent?

     Besides, greedy landlords have been taking advantage of housing shortages in recent years by raising rents well beyond the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, renters have not enjoyed similar increases in pay -- and now they're being squeezed even more because they've been let go, fired or furloughed. They're on reduced wages, or perhaps on no wages at all!

     As one protester wrote: "Why are rental property owners the only class whose income in guaranteed during this chaos? You landlord cannibals need to PAUSE THE RENT without future collection while the people of L. A. count the bodies . . ."

     If tenants are sick and self-isolating, the argument continues, the last thing they should have to worry about is how they're going to pay rent. Besides, no one wants people infected with Coronavirus out on the streets looking for a new apartment, moving in with elderly parents, or squeezing into tight quarters by bunking in with friends.

     In addition, governments have passed legislation banning evictions during this period. For example, the mayor of Los Angeles announced: "During this crisis I know many Angelenos are worried about paying rent. If you are able to  pay, you should continue to do so. But for those who aren't able to pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your City has your back. No one should be evicted for this emergency."

     So, the Keep Your Rent people figure, if the government is protecting them from being evicted, why should they pay their rent anyway? People joining or supporting the Keep Your Rent Movement are hanging white sheets out their windows or off their balconies to show their solidarity.

     Of course, the greedy landlords have something to say about this movement. Even if their mortgage payment is deferred, they argue, they'll still have to pay it in the end. And in the meantime they have real-estate taxes to pay, condo or association fees, insurance, maintenance and utilities like heat and air conditioning.

     Also, not all landlords are big, greedy corporations. Almost half of rentals in the U. S. are made by individuals who rent 1 - 4 units, not as a get-rich-quick scheme but as a sideline to supplement their income. And they know that their tenants, even if they lose their jobs, will be receiving unemployment plus extra money from the government -- and their expenses other than rent will be going down, since they can't go to restaurants and won't be doing any traveling.

     Besides, the renters signed a lease. They agreed to pay a certain amount of money in order to take over this property and live in it for a period of time. They made a promise. Is it right, is it ethical, to just welsh on their part of the deal? Why is it any more acceptable for people to steal lodgings from a landlord than to steal food from a grocery store?

     Me, personally? What do I think? I of course sympathize with tenants who  through no fault of their own are forced to choose whether to pay rent, or pay for groceries. But in the past I was one of those small-time landlords, and I know some people will take advantage. I can remember driving over to the condo I rented to a young couple and collecting the rent in cash, month after month, because their check had bounced several times . . . and how often the cash was $50 or $100 short because . . . well, they both had jobs but they also had a hundred excuses. Boy, was I glad when they moved out! And I was even happier when I finally sold the unit and retired as a landlord.

     So who's side are you on? Are landlords being cold-hearted by insisting on collecting the rent? Or are you hanging a sheet out your window in solidarity with the folks who are on strike to Keep Your Rent?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

I Almost Had a Heart Attack!

     I thought that this was a time to revisit an old post from a few years ago, one that will show the days of Coronavirus are not the only trying times we have had to live through. Sometimes we are faced with an even more urgent, potentially explosive problem that arrives completely unexpectedly.

     Where I live the golf season stars in April -- or it does in normal times. My friends and I usually play at one of our local public courses, but this particular spring we decided to open the season by traveling up the parkway and playing at a really nice links course in the country.

     The course was about 40 miles north, or close to an hour's drive. So my friend -- the friend I call Peter -- and I decided to carpool. Now if you knew Peter, you'd know he's a little . . . well, how do I put this? We all love him; he's fun to be around; he's really a great guy who'd do you any favor in a minute. But he's a little . . . unpredictable.

     Just one quick story about Peter. A few years ago, when he was getting a divorce, he decided to take a vacation to Australia. He went by himself. He arrived at the airport and picked up his rental car. Did he want the insurance? Usually you answer "no" to that question, because it's expensive and a rental car is often covered by your credit card or regular auto policy. But Peter wasn't even thinking about that, and so he just signed on the dotted line.

     He threw his bag in the trunk, got in the car, and drove onto the highway. Then he remembered he'd put his hotel information in his bag. In the trunk. So he pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. He got out, leaving the door open, went around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. His head was buried in the trunk when . . . WHACK! A pickup truck clipped his open door. The car door went sailing off, scraping along the guardrail.

     The truck stopped. It was hardly damaged. Peter was fine. But the rental car had a big gaping hole on the driver's side where the door was supposed to be.

     Peter stood there for a moment. Then he shrugged. He got in the car, turned around and went back to the rental car lot -- not 15 minutes after he'd left. He returned the car and explained what happened. They gave him a new car, and he drove off to enjoy his vacation.

     This could only happen to Peter. So it shouldn't surprise you to know that I told Peter I'd be happy to be the one to drive to the golf course. We arranged to meet at the mall by the parkway. He'd leave his car there; and I'd drive up to the course.

     I pulled into the lot next to Macy's, as we'd agreed. He wasn't there yet. I parked; I looked at my watch. A few minutes later I saw Peter drive up. He parked next to me, pulled out his golf bag, and I motioned for him to throw his clubs in my backseat.

     He put in clubs in the back then opened the passenger door and got in. "Sorry I'm a little late," he apologized.

     "No problem," I said.

     He dropped his golf shoes on the floor, put on his seatbelt. "I had to take my medicine this morning."

     "Oh, what medicine?" I asked innocently as I backed out of the parking space.

     "Well, have you ever had a colonoscopy?"

     "Yeah, sure."

     "I'm getting my first one tomorrow. So, you know, I had to start the medicine today."

     "The medicine?"

     "Yeah, the stuff that's supposed to get you ready for the procedure. It cleans you out. I wasn't allowed to eat breakfast this morning either. I'm really hungry."

     "Wait a second, Peter . . . you mean the laxative?"


     "Peter, don't you know, we'll be on the golf course for four hours. It's an hour drive up there. Another hour back home. We'll be gone for six hours!" I was starting to panic, imagining Peter exploding all over my car.

     "Yeah. So what?"

     "But . . . have you ever had that stuff before?"

     "No. Why?"

     Maybe I shouldn't get on the parkway, I thought, looking for a place to turn around and head back to the mall.. "It makes you go to the bathroom. In a major way. That's the whole point!"

     "Oh, I can hold it. I'm pretty good at that. No problem."

     "What do you mean, hold it? You can't hold it!"

     "No, really, I can hold it."

     "Peter, you're . . ."

     Then Peter looked at me. A big grin crossed his face. "April Fools!"