“The voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.” -- John Green, "The Fault in Our Stars"

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Is It Art, or Not?

     We're driving out to Wisconsin to visit my daughter. On the way we stopped in Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan.

     The university is famous for many things -- well, yes, a 108,000-capacity football stadium, the largest in the U. S. -- but also site of a 1960 speech given by John F. Kennedy proposing the idea for the Peace Corps. Students from Michigan were largely responsible for getting the Peace Corps off the ground.

     The highlight of our stay was a walk around the art museum, where several large sculptures are displayed on the grounds. But as we wandered through campus I began to think: Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the artworks and the more mundane, functional facilities like benches and lightposts. They all kind of look alike!

     So what about you? Can you tell which of the following are photos of art, and which are pictures of the everyday things you might find on any college campus, or any city street? For example, is this a photo of a construction site, or a genuine piece of sculpture?

     Okay, that's an easy one. It's a sculpture called Orion by Mark di Suvero, named after the famed hunter of Greek mythology. What about this next one. 

      It's not officially art, although it is an artfully arranged line of bicycle racks. How about this one . . . does it say something about the fate of the world?


     Well, whether it does or doesn't, it's not art. It's just a rock. But the next one must be art, right?

     Yes! It's a cast bronze called Ternary Marker, by Beverly Pepper, who honed her vision of shape and form during her years working in a factory. What about this next one -- a sculpture, or just a group of old tree trunks?

     It's another cast bronze called Angry Neptune, by Michele Oka Doner, a group meant to evoke ancient totems engaged in an abstract conversation. But if that's art, what is this?

     This is art, in a way -- it's architecture. But it's not part of the exhibit, just a close-up of a building on campus. But this next one is obviously art, right, a monumental piece signifying the absurdity of mankind?

     Nope. It's actually a bench. But, no fooling, this next one is art . . . 

     It's called Requiem by Erwin Binder and was commissioned by Bob Hope to recall an eternal flame meant to memorialize fallen heroes. And finally . . . 

     This one is called Daedalus, by Charles Ginnever, inspired by the Greek god who escaped from prison by making wings out of wax. He warned his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, but of course he did and so his wings melted and he fell to his death. The sculpture is meant to represent wings in flight. Can you see it?

     I don't mean to be disrespectful to art -- it's actually pretty impressive stuff. But hey, what's wrong with having a little fun. You might also check out a previous piece I did called Is This Art? which features some high-minded art, as well as low-minded pipes and poles, from the art museum in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Sometimes I Think I'm a Liberal ...

     I believe in helping the poor, the weak, the unlucky, the unrepresented. I think immigration is good for America. I believe in equal rights, and I believe we all have a responsibility to others, whether it's paying our fair share of taxes, treating others with kindness and respect, being careful about our impact on the environment. I guess that makes me a liberal.

     So why is it that I find liberals so annoying? Liberal politicians are sanctimonious. Liberal newscasters try to make us feel guilty. Liberal academics look down their noses at us.

     Meanwhile, many liberals -- many of the liberals I know anyway -- preach integration and equal access but live in wealthy, segregated suburbs with exclusionary zoning codes. They rail against a border wall, but live behind walls of their own in gated communities. They preach environmentalism, but drive SUVs and jet around the world visiting ecotourism hot spots before these spots are ruined by the very people who are going there.

     That's why sometimes I think I'm actually not a liberal, but a conservative. After all, I believe in law and order. I'm certainly not in favor of defunding police. But wait . . . if you're a law-and-order conservative, doesn't it make sense to put a lid on all the guns circulating around the country? I don't want the criminals, the mentally ill, and all the impulsive and angry Americans to be so well-armed that they pose a threat to us every time we visit Chicago or Baltimore or set foot on a school campus.

     I also believe in environmentalism and conservation. Conservation. It's right there in the word . . .  conservative! 

     I believe in personal responsibility. People should take care of themselves as best they can, and not be looking for free handouts from the government or anyone else. But that means higher estate taxes, because that's just a free handout from someone else, and higher taxes on investments and unearned income, because -- there again, it's right there in the word unearned. You didn't earn it so why should you be able to keep it all? It should be shared to support the social structures that allow us all to thrive in America -- schools, roads, parks, childcare, a decent social safety net.

     It also means that people should be responsible for their own health and have medical insurance -- rather than palming off their medical bills on hardworking Americans who have insurance through their employment. Therefore we should have a system that everyone can access -- through the government if necessary -- and also be required to join in and pay up . . . or pay up if they can, but if not at least people are not flooding emergency rooms and costing taxpayers billions of extra dollars. In other words, Medicare for all, or some such equivalent. So is Medicare for all conservative, or liberal? I'm not sure I know.

     I also believe in freedom. Freedom of speech, for sure ("cancel culture" is more than annoying, it's dangerous), but more particularly, the freedom to live out our lives the way we want, as long as we're not hurting anyone else. I live in Pennsylvania which is famous for the Amish. They have an unusual lifestyle. But they have the freedom in America to thrive and prosper in the way they see fit. So can, and should, Mormons, Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics, Hasidic Jews, men, women, gays, lesbians, the non-binary . . . and aging white dudes like myself.

     May we all be treated with respect, without harassment or discrimination, and be able to go to any restaurant we want, sit wherever we want, live wherever we want, and know that our children and grandchildren will be able to go to a decent school, breathe clean air, drink potable water, and not be burdened by the mountains of debt, or the ancient prejudices, left behind by their parents.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Past Is Present

     My wife and I took a trip up to New York City to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We wanted to see the exhibit of Winslow Homer paintings.

     I honestly didn't know much about Winslow Homer, except for his famous painting called "The Gulf Stream" which depicts a black man stranded in a boat surrounded by sharks.

     Homer, born in Boston in 1836, began his artistic career as a magazine illustrator, then went on to paint powerful scenes from the Civil War. He was able to capture the emotional struggle of both the enslaved people . . . 

"Near Andersonville" (1865-66) -- Black woman in a door
with Confederate soldiers in the background

     . . . as well as common soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.

"Prisoners from the Front" (1866) -- Union Army officer with four captured Confederates

     After the war he turned his artistic eye to the struggles found at sea. He moved to the Maine coast in 1883 and spent most of the rest of his life (he died in 1910) chronicling the energy, the wrath and the threat of the ocean.

"The Life Line" (1884) -- Inspired by a rescue Homer witnessed in Atlantic City, NJ

     He also voyaged down to southern climes, painting scenes in Bermuda, the Bahamas and Key West, Florida.

"Flower Garden and Bungalow" (1899) -- Watercolor of picturesque landscape in Bermuda

     But he always returned to the sea for his most inspired works.

"The Gulf Stream" (1899) -- Black man faces sharks in turbulent waters

     We ourselves were inspired by Manhattan -- first from the roof of the museum . . . 

View from Metropolitan Museum, looking south down Central Park and the East Side

     ... and then by the view from our hotel in Jersey City, NJ, just an eight-minute ferry ride across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan.

Looking at Manhattan from our hotel restaurant where we had brunch

     Note to fellow travelers. The Winslow Homer exhibit is open until the end of July, alongside all the other artistic and historical offerings at the Metropolitan Museum. (Masks are required.)

     Yes, prices have gone up. We were shocked by how much we had to pay for our hotel room (over $300) . . . which is why we stayed only one night, in Jersey City, because prices are higher still if you stay in Manhattan. (We saw a report while we were there:  median rent for an apartment in Manhattan is now $4,000 per month.)

     We've already booked a trip to Wisconsin, to see my daughter. Fortunately, we made reservations a while ago, when prices were still semi-reasonable. But (gulp!) we're still going to have to pay over $5 a gallon for the gasoline to get there.

     It seems if you're going to travel these days, you really, really have to want to go there. We're glad we were able to visit New York City. But we're probably not going back anytime soon. We've got credit card bills to pay!

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Are You As Healthy As Your Parents Were?

     Do you think you're as healthy as your parents were at your age?

     More than one study suggests not.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the average life expectancy has been increasing ever since 1900, dipping only slightly during the two world wars. But for now, at least, the progress has stopped. Life expectancy at birth peaked in 2014 at 78.9 years. For the next couple of years life expectancy actually inched down, to 78.7.

     Then Covid hit. In 2020 life expectancy dropped to 77.2, and in 2021 it dipped again to 76.6.

     The more relevant number for us, however, might be average life expectancy at age 65 -- which of course is much higher since we've already survived plenty of slings and arrows. So for people who are now 65, you on average can expect to live to 84.6.

     Of course, we're not all the same. If you're a 65-year-old man you've only got 18 more years. If you're lucky enough to be a woman you can expect to live another 21 years.

     There are a lot of individual differences. Unfortunately, a lot of us are not as healthy as we could be. In my own case, I'm healthier than my mother, who got breast cancer in her 60s (but lived to age 89), but I'm not as healthy as my dad who was perfectly fine until just a few months before he died at age 91.

     A RAND study from 2019 focused on a group of people age 54 - 60 (who are now age 57 - 63). Comparing measurements to a similar study from 1992 the survey found "particularly large increases in rates of obesity, diabetes and, perhaps surprisingly, self-reported pain levels." The study also found more people in this age group had difficulty performing routine daily activities. The conclusion: on average we are not as healthy as our parents were at our age.

     The silver lining to the health cloud: fewer people are smoking compared to 1992. Only 8% of people age 65 or over currently smoke cigarettes.

     Obesity seems to present the biggest health issue. The share of older people with class II obesity, defined as a BMI of over 35, tripled from 5% to 15% between 1992 and 2016. And class II obesity brings on a full plate of health issues, including "very high risk level of diabetes."
     The study also showed a growing health disparity based on education and income. The middle class is getting sicker, but the poor are getting sicker even faster. Part of the disparity is behavioral. In general, poorer people smoke more, drink more, take more drugs, are more obese. Part of the disparity is situational. Poorer people tend to live in more dangerous neighborhoods; they suffer more environmental problems such as smog and tainted water; they have less access to doctors and medical facilities.

     The surprising conclusion, however, is that despite a temporary longevity setback from Covid, and a persistent problem from obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as other factors such as depression, accidents and crime, the experts expect our average longevity to once again start to increase.

     Largely this is due to advances in science and medicine. Or as the study puts it, "It may be that the health of individuals in their late 50s declined over time due to increasing levels of unhealthy behavior, but that continually improving medical technology has offset these behaviors."

     In other words, the medical establishment is saving us from ourselves. And Medicare is paying for it. Thank you all! But after reading all these reports, I'm beginning to worry that we'll end up living for a long time, but our lives will turn out to be an endless series of aches and pains and medical problems. Who wants to live to be 90 if we have to guzzle drugs with nasty side-effects and keep getting poked with painful procedures that are embarrassing and humiliating?

     So I'm beginning to think that maybe I should shed a few pounds. (My BMI clocks in at 27, which tips me into the "overweight" category -- you can calculate your own BMI at this BMI calculator.) Maybe I should make a point of getting more exercise on a more consistent basis. And maybe I should do what my mother always told me -- lay off the sweets and eat my vegetables. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Sixty -- Some Thoughts

     I read a blog called Going Gently by a man named John Gray. He recently posted a few of his reflections on turning 60. I myself am well past 60 at this point, but his thoughts still resonated with me . . . and I thought they might resonate with you as well. So I asked permission, and he said I could reprint his post for my American friends.

     Honestly, I don't know much about John, except that he lives in Wales with his pets in what seems like a quintessentially English cottage, and he works as a nurse -- often taking night shifts -- at a nearby hospice. He's a good man, a good writer, and a good observer of the human condition. Now, if I only knew what a scotch egg is . . .  

      60 Some Thoughts, from Going Gently


     I know it's such a boring platitude, but I have to say the words always said at these times . . . Where does the time go? I'm writing this at 5 a.m. Albert and I are the only ones awake. Dorothy is gently chewing on my PJ bottoms. She's dreaming she's a puppy.

     Where did the time go?

     I couldn't tell you . . . I really can't.

     So, I have been reflecting . . . like you do. I'm reflecting until Wednesday when it actually hits me albeit gently . . . square in the face. On the 1st. I'm working all day, and we are shorthanded. I won't have time to feel anything.

     Here are just 20 thoughts, thoughts in the night just before dawn.

      1. Working where I do has made me realise that people who "hate getting old" are idiots. You are allowed to hate becoming ill, becoming infirm, becoming depressed. But don't hate getting old. I am lucky reaching 60. I know that, and I am grateful.

      2. Memory is a fickle friend.

      3. Strange as it may seem sex is better now than when I took it for granted. However, it is unfortunately more infrequent.

      4. Certain memories last a lifetime and they will never leave you. I dip into a score as I lay in bed . . . 1968 Janet and I doing Tarzan impersonations out of our bedroom window. 1972 my grandmother smelling of love and cold cream. 1973 my first viewing of The Poseidon Adventure.

     1980 a family party at Ann's house. 1992 getting drunk with Nu in a Galway pub . . . dancing on a Sheffield hospital roof in the dark. 1996 seeing New York City from the air.

     2002 meeting my first dog Finlay . . . true love. 2015 getting married. 2016 watching the corps de ballet in Giselle at the Royal Opera House.

     Happiness . . . a flash of realising I was happy, truly happy.

      5. Being a nurse . . . and seeing people at their very best often when they were experiencing their very worst.

      6. Now realising that when someone starts a conversation with, "I'm not being . . ." they always are.

      7. Actions always speak louder than words.

      8. I miss not being a dad, but I can now be a cool sort of uncle and grandadish. A couple of weeks ago my teenage nephew Leo texted after a date and excitedly told me he'd just had his first kiss.

      9. Friends are life, but at 60 they start to leave you. Please treasure them.

     10. The Walking Dead needs a UK version, and I soooooo want to be in it.

     11. I no longer have to pretend to put up with bad behaviour, bad music, bad films or toxic people.

     12. I don't expect good news coverage on breakfast TV. I say what I think more when I deal with any services and won't put up with shitty management at work.

     13. Never talk about politics, gun laws, or post a seemingly innocuous blog without thinking about it online. And if I do, I expect a load of shitty responses.

     14. I now recognise that real friends are real in so much that they don't rationalise affection or praise or support. They just accept you.

     15. Sleep if you can in the afternoon.

     16. What did we ever do without phones and internet?

     17. Don't be disloyal to yourself. I've done it far too many years now. Don't do things you don't want to do. Don't be what you don't want to be, and don't expect others to do the same.

     18. Eat a scotch egg when I bloody well want one.

     19. If you love someone, tell them. Tell them as often as you can.

     20. To now move forward into my 61st year by embracing a new skill (professional counselling), a new career, and new experiences. I realise that and deserve it.

     Hey ho, I'm almost 60. And I'm off to work, soon. So wish me a happy birthday. I'm shallow enough to enjoy every single comment.

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.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

That's a Good Question

      I haven't offered a round-up of blogs in quite a while, so I hope everyone will look around and check these out. They are among the best that Baby Boomers have to offer. And right now, our Baby Boomers are asking a lot of questions.

     What are you doing for Easter? Rita R. Robison, personal finance journalist, points out that 80% of us celebrate Easter in one way or another, and we will spend an average of $180. Total spending for the holiday is estimated at 20.8 billion, which sounds like a lot but is actually down slightly from last year's $21.6 billion. (We celebrated Easter with family on Saturday, and we spent less than $180.) For a look at a full survey about the holiday, hop on over to Facts and Figures on Easter 2022

     Have you ever reached a certain age and then can't believe you're actually there? So asks Laurie Stone, who says that sometimes it seems like yesterday when we're young and dewy-eyed, and then in no time at all we're in the seventh-inning stretch. (This happens to me pretty much every day!) Still, sometimes knowledge comes later in life, and so Stone offers her little specks of wisdom that she wouldn't trade for anything in 6 Amazing Things We Learn in Our 60s.

     Do you love yourself enough? This week Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com interviewed intuitive life coach Nicola Fernandes. The coach uses energy healing, shamanistic journeys and other techniques to help people connect with the love they have for themselves and to ultimately create a whole different person. If you're interested, dive into Nicola Fernandes: Life Coach and Shaman Interview on Self Love.

     Does your confidence ever need a lift? Sometimes, says Jennifer of Untold and Begin, we need something to help us get back on track, and so she offers 25 Affirmations to Motivate You. Try some out and see if they make you feel better (I especially like Numbers 8, 9, 19 and 22.)

     What makes a good story-teller? Diane Tolley from The Alberta/Montana Border recalls that her dad was a great story-teller, so great that he often got to the punchline before his listeners realized he'd been telling them a "big windy" the whole time. He also loved to rhyme and often quoted poetry on long drives both to keep himself awake and to entertain the six kids. In Gone: Another Daddy Story Tolley recounts one of his favorites. "I put it to rhyme in his name," she writes. "Thank you Daddy!" 

     If you're planning to travel, why not use a travel agent? A friend recently confronted Carol Cassara about why she doesn't plan her own travel, given the wealth of online resources. In Why Do You Use a Travel Agent? she explains how she doesn't want to spend hours poring over travel websites, and instead uses a professional whose job it is to find the best experience for the best price.

     Now that the weather is getting warmer, are you throwing open your windows and beckoning the outside world into your home? Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin sure is (and this is something I heartily endorse -- turn off the a/c, open the windows, breathe in the fresh air and save the planet!) She reports that as The Sounds of Spring reach our ears -- some piercing but mostly pleasant -- they bring smiles to our faces and welcome in the spring season and the joyous holidays. Happy Passover! Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 10, 2022

New Faces, New Voices

      In my last post I had my curmudgeon on as I cast a jaundiced eye on the Oscars and the news media. Today I'm feeling a lot more positive and hopeful for the future.

     Why? I watched The Grammys, which in my opinion is a much more entertaining show focusing on young people making interesting and exciting music. Not all of it do I like. But a lot of it is good. And it offers a fresh new look at the world for these tired old eyes and ears of mine.

     To be honest, I don't follow the music world very closely . . . or essentially, not at all. So watching the Grammys is a way for me to discover new music that otherwise I would never hear of. (I typically listen to Classic Rock stations on Sirius XM in the car, or else an all-news station, occasionally classical music.)

     So while the Oscars give us lame and tasteless jokes, ponderous speeches and awards for obscure indie films, the Grammys feature live performances by top acts and new talent -- and much less in the way of personal pet peeves or political posturing.

     The show, hosted by the affable late-night talk show host Trevor Noah, opened up with a performance by Olivia Rodrigo. Ever hear of her? I hadn't. She's young; she's pretty. You might think her music is sappy, but I'm guessing your teenage grandchildren are likely big fans. She sang a adolescently angst number called Drivers License. It's clearly aimed at the younger audience, not people like me. But hey, I remember those days, and I liked it anyway.

     Some other popular performers who were new to me:

     Jon Bastiste performed his hit "Freedom."

     H.E.R. did a medley.

     BTS, a K-pop group, acted out a song called "Butter."

     There was a number by a group called Silk Sonic. One of the guys looked familiar. Bruno Mars? Yes. I remembered him from a previous Grammy show, plus a Superbowl halftime show. Now, apparently he's teamed up with a fellow named Anderson .Paak to form a kind of pop, R&B soul group. They're pretty good! By the way, you can find all these songs on youtube if you're interested.

     My favorite of the night was Billie Eilish. I'd heard of her. But I didn't know any of her songs. This is her new one called "Happier Than Ever." 

     Some of the acts were familiar names. My wife's favorite country singer Chris Stapleton sang his hit "Cold." Carrie Underwood performed her new song "Ghost Story." Lady Gaga, Nas, Justin Bieber, John Legend all made appearances.

     There was more, plenty more. But to tell the truth, the show went on past my bedtime, so I didn't see it all. But if you're interested, the Billboard Music Awards are coming up on Sunday, May 15, broadcast by NBC TV. You'll be able to watch a lot of the same acts -- and enjoy some of the vibrant creativity going on in our country today, the creativity we sometimes forget about as we moan and groan about the state of our country, the state of the world, and how things aren't as good as they used to be.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Am I Just an Old Fogey?

      Usually, the topic of this blog is retirement and living well as we age. But sometimes things just bug me and I have to say something -- usually about the declining morality and general lack of standards in our society today. I wonder if you agree.

     Item number 1 is the Chris Rock/Will Smith slap heard round the world at the Oscars. Rock made a tasteless joke about Smith's wife. Smith marched up to the stage and slapped the comedian, then sat down and swore at him.

     Smith clearly did something wrong. As he admitted, he is in the public eye and has to be able to take jokes in stride about him and his family.  In any case resorting to violence -- even the relatively mild violence of an open-hand slap -- is beyond the pale. He should least apologize, and maybe suffer other punishment. In fact he did apologize, first when he gave his best actor acceptance speech, and then again on social media to the public.

     But here's the other side of the coin. Rock started it. He's the one who provoked Smith with a tasteless, below-the-belt joke. I mean, how many people would have laughed at Rock's joke if it had referenced someone in a wheelchair, or someone with AIDS or cancer?

     So instead of being greeted at his next comedy show with a standing ovation -- as he was -- Rock too should have apologized for his snarky, tasteless joke. I'm actually a fan of Chris Rock. I think he's funny. But I also think he should suffer some punishment that signals to him and others: don't get too nasty, too cruel, too personal.

     These days, we see many instances of someone who does something wrong, leading to someone else overreacting. Then the person who overreacts becomes the villain. And the person who started it becomes the "victim." Maybe I'm old-fashioned. But this just doesn't seem right to me. An overreaction is bad; but so is a provocation.

     The other thing that happened last week:  President Biden's Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced she is quitting the White House to take a job on TV as an on-air opinion-maker at the liberal cable station MSNBC.

What do you want to hear?
     What she's doing is not unusual. Lots of politicians have turned into media stars. Dana Perino, George Bush's press secretary, holds forth on FOX News. So does Trump's press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has a talk show. So does former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow. Are we supposed to take these people seriously when they are overtly and admittedly biased toward their own party?

     But the Democrats have the same problem. ABC's George Stephanopoulos worked for Bill Clinton; Chris Matthews, long-time MSNBC commentator, worked for Democratic Majority Leader Tip O'Neill; more recently Chris Cuomo, son of one Democratic governor and brother of another, was a top CNN host.

     Why should we think that the Democrats are any more objective than the Republicans? In fact, it turned out that Cuomo was moonlighting for his governor brother the whole time he was on TV.

     I'm not saying Jen Psaki is a bad person. I've seen her on TV. She seems intelligent, well-educated, able to hold her own. But as a TV journalist she has a clear conflict of interest. All these politicians do. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's simply unethical for someone to make their living pushing a political agenda, and then turn around and pretend to present news and commentary in any fair, unbiased manner.

     If the media want to be taken seriously, they should fire all the ex-politicians and political operatives -- both Republicans and Democrats -- and use real journalists who can be accurate and reasonably objective, who will not be passing on propaganda from their old friends.

     In other words, call me an old fogey, but give me John Chancellor or Tom Brokaw, give me Huntley and Brinkley, give me Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Are We Obsolete?

      I learned how to drive in our old VW bug. The car had no radio, hand-crank windows, and a four-speed manual transmission. I was pretty proud of my skills with a manual transmission, because not everyone could do it.

     But now, if you mention a manual transmission, people don't even know what you're talking about. If you want a manual transmission in your new car you have to special order it . . . and wait a few months for someone in China to build it.

     Definitely, driving a manual transmission car, being able to stop and start on a steep hill -- that's an obsolete skill.

     What else is obsolete?

     Fixing a car. You don't fix a car anymore. You just replace a computer chip.

     Reading a map. Everyone uses GPS now. My kids have no idea where they are, much less how they got there. They just follow instructions from their iPhone.

     Tuning into a radio station. I used to be able to rotate the dial and find Cousin Brucie on WABC 770 in New York, without looking at the display -- and when I was in the car, without taking my eyes off the road. Later on as a young adult I could find 1010 WINS, "all news, all the time." Now I just ask google to get whatever I want. I don't even have to touch the device. My sixth sense on the radio dial is completely obsolete.

     Writing. Remember in fourth grade -- or sometime around then -- learning how to write in script? Those flowing "a"s and bulbous "b"s? And how the "h" went above the line, and the "g" below the line? Nobody picks up a pen or pencil anymore.

     Typing. I took a typing class in summer school, the summer after 11th  grade. I tested at 50 wpm, and later managed 60 wpm when I got a Smith Corona electric my sophomore year in college. I was pretty proud of that, since all my friends either had to beg a girl to type their paper for them, or else they employed the hunt-and-peck method at around 20 wpm. But nobody types anymore. They thumb their text messages. That, however, turns out to be a skill beyond me. I resort to hunt-and-peck on the phone.

     Sewing. I recently found out that my wife owns a sewing machine -- and has for most of her adult life. I've known her for 20 years. But I've never seen this machine, much less ever witnessed her actually sewing. Is that because I'm an insensitive, inattentive male? No! It's because she hasn't used her sewing machine even once in all these 20 years. 

     Balancing a checkbook. What's a checkbook? Plastic is the way we pay these days, and even that's starting to get phased out, as the humble check was years ago. Soon we'll all just hold up our phone to a sensor. As for cash? That's for drug dealers only. And coins? People won't even pick them up off the ground.

     Telephone voice. It used to matter how you answered the phone, especially in business. You want to welcome your customers . . . and your friends. But nobody telephones anymore because nobody answers the phone anymore . . . because the only calls we get are robocalls. Instead we text, email, zoom, tweet or Instagram.

     Filing. There used to be a job title called "File clerk." No more. Files are gone. Paper is gone. Sorting by alphabet is a lost art. Now everything just gets sent to the cloud -- and the computers do the sorting.

     Tying a Windsor knot. Sporting a Windsor knot in your tie used to be a mark of class. Everyone knew you were destined for the executive suite. Now the black t-shirt is the dress code of executives. And a Windsor knot is nothing but a sign of pomposity. I don't know what the female equivalent of the Windsor knot is . . . maybe wearing a skirt and high-heels?

     I remember my first resume. I listed Xeroxing under my skill set. Well, that was pretty lame, even then. But if you know how to mimeograph, if you know how to Fax, don't tell anyone. If you use a paper calendar, hide it under your desk. And if you still have an aol email account . . . well, I guess that's okay if you're driving around with a manual transmission.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Why Didn't We Retire to Florida?

     I woke up this morning and it was raining. The temperature was in the high 30s. But by 9:30 a.m. the temperature had dropped into the 20s and the rain had turned to snow. 

     Three days ago it was 70 degrees in Pennsylvania! What's going on?

Pennsylvania today
     What's going on is the change of seasons. As my wife says: Think of March as winter, not spring. Then you'll be pleasantly surprised when it's nice out, and not disappointed when it snows.

     Then she reminded me, "Your friend Bill is on Sanibel Island this week."

     "Bully for him," I grumbled.

     "And don't forget to call your sister," she said.

     My sister lives in Jacksonville, FL. She's planning a trip to New York City later in April. We're trying to make arrangements to get together.

     Meanwhile, The Players golf tournament is going on in Jacksonville this weekend. I'll catch some of it on TV, and bask vicariously in the green grass, gentle breezes and friendly palm trees of Ponte Vedra. And I'll wonder: why again didn't we retire in Florida?

     Let me count the ways.

     It's too hot. It's hard to believe right now, but most of the time it's just too hot. I remember one time I was in Sarasota on business right after Labor Day. I had to walk across a parking lot to an office building. The heat from the pavement burned through my shoes so badly that I broke into a run just to get into the shade of the building and then inside to the air conditioning. Of course, I was sweating like a pig when I arrived at my appointment. So . . . I looked it up. At that time of year the average daily high temperature is 90 degrees -- and that's in the shade, if there ever was any shade -- and the worst part is that it doesn't cool off at night.

     It's too muggy. I was in Arizona last May. The temperatures were over 100 degrees. It was hot, but bearable. But it feels hotter in Florida when it's 90 degrees than it does in Arizona when it's 100 degrees. Because of the 80% humidity. And then . . . it rains!

     It's too trashy. Except for a very few nice downtown areas in Sarasota, Naples and a scattering of other places, the typical landscape in Florida involves a six-lane thoroughfare lined with gas stations, fast-food restaurants, strip malls and motels. Florida is just butt ugly.

The real Florida
There's too much traffic.
 Those six-lane thoroughfares are choked with traffic, even out of season. And then, of course, winter arrives with its four-month infestation of SUVs from New York and New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana, Michigan and Massachusetts.

     It's too crowded. All those cars bring hordes of tourists and retirees who stand in line at restaurants, mob the amusement parks, overrun the beaches. Then out of season . . . the place is deserted. The condos are dark, the malls are empty, the beaches are a wasteland . . . yet, somehow, the roads are still choked with cars.

     Too many old people. I realize this is the pot calling the kettle black. Nevertheless, I don't think I'd like living in a place where everyone is as old as I am. I like living on our street where children play in their yards. I like going to a restaurant where young couples and groups of middle-age women liven up the place. I like walking around town and seeing teenagers bouncing into the ice-cream shoppe and young singles lining up at Starbucks.

     The algae blooms. You can't go in the water in Florida because of the red tide and other algae blooms. And now they've discovered something new: Sargassum seaweed on Florida beaches contains arsenic and other health hazards.

     Bugs, alligators, sharks and snakes. 'Nuff said.

     Too much crime. My sister told me when she comes to New York she's staying on the Upper East Side, where she'll feel safe. What I didn't tell her, but I know it's true, the crime rate in Jacksonville is higher than it is in New York City. And Jacksonville's not the worst. Miami, Daytona Beach,  Fort Myers all have more crime than Jacksonville.

     Lightning. Florida has been dubbed the lightning capital of the world, with an average of 1.45 million lightning strikes every year, more than any other state. It also has more deaths by lightning -- over 60 in the last ten years.

     Hurricanes! Florida experiences twice as many hurricanes as Texas, Louisiana or North Carolina. Hurricanes have caused billions of dollars of damage in Florida, and have killed dozens of people.

     No seasons. Florida has a semi-tropical climate. There are no bright colors of autumn, no pretty snowfalls of winter, no expectation of spring when the daffodils poke up and the forsythia start to bud . . . and most of all, there's no end of summer like there is up north when the heat and humidity break and the nights turn cool and you can finally breathe again.

     Is this beginning to sound like sour grapes? I'm not saying Florida is the worst place on earth. Think of the bright side. Florida has no volcanoes! (But there have been earthquakes.)  Besides, I have to admit, I like visiting Florida in the winter . . . and right now I'm jealous of my friend Bill.