"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

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.