Foster’s Paradise

One of the very few positive things to emerge from this pandemic is that people have stepped up and fostered (and even adopted) shelter pets, to the point where there are record low numbers of dogs and cats left to foster!!

Of course, as I long ago lost my mind where animals are concerned, I am doing my part.  Truth be told, I was fostering even BEFORE the self-imposed quarantine, but I’ve added to my brood since then.

First a little background to bring you all up to speed.

The OG

The “old guard” consists of Jojo, the 15-year-old sister of my beloved Raven (who we lost a few months ago), my obnoxious but adorable Pomchi, Munchie (10 years old next month), and the post-Sandy sisters Savannah (my soul cat) and Luna (who has become a troll, but more on that in a moment).  These four creatures alone are a source of many trials and tribulations, and also great joy.  Jojo literally went to college with my daughter, once she was able to live in off-campus housing that permitted pets (and for which I inevitably had to pay a “pet deposit”).  She’s a pretty chill creature, having been around the block a few times.  She used to have a real wanderlust but now seems content to just gaze out the window at the comings and goings of the birds that I’m pretty sure are living in my dryer vent.  Munchie recently suffered some kind of knee injury while jumping off my bed, which is par for the course with this little guy.  At a mere 9 pounds, he’s undergone two bladder stone surgeries and a left knee operation, which is a lot to put a tiny dog through.  Once the swelling went down and he was able to put weight on the recently injured right knee, the vet reassessed and recommended against another surgery.  “Too much arthritic damage in there already,” he said.  So Mr. Muncho will walk with a hitch in his step for the rest of his days, but at least we have the bladder stones under control.

IMG_1184

Jojo and her “mom” at college

Savannah is the biggest cat – and among the biggest creatures – in the house, at a zaftig 16+ pounds.  Lately, when she tries to jump up on the counter where the food dispenser is kept, she sort of thuds into the cabinet, unable to get the requisite lift.  But she shakes herself off and tries it again from a different angle, and success!!  She’s had her share of health issues, including bladder stones of her own and the worst case of ringworm I have ever seen.  But she’s hearty, and affectionate, and tolerant of all creatures.  She sleeps comfortably amongst the dog beds and leads the entourage accompanying me into the bathroom.

Savannah and Polly CoexistingIMG_1695

Savannah ignores the dog in her bed; Savannah ponders the universe

Her sister Luna used to be my desk cat, but something happened in the past few months that has chased her under the bed in my daughter’s room, where she only emerges for food and brief petting sessions.  We cannot explain what happened.  She just may relish the peace and quiet of the under-the-bed zone, especially with the revolving door of beasts coming through this house.  We share some mutual cuddles a couple of times a day when I go in to feed her or clean the litter box (or just because I miss her being a fixture on my desk with the amount of time I spend at my computer), and then she scoots back into the darkness.

Luna the Desk Cat

Luna, former desk cat

Foster Fails

I have a couple of Posh Pets [poshpetsrescueny.org] foster fails, as well:  Gizmo (my first) and Polly Wobbles.  Gizmo is a semi-deranged shih-tzu who put me in the hospital (not on purpose!) with an infected bite on my finger and has raging allergies and OCD.  Polly has ataxia, which causes her to walk like a drunken sailor and drool a little, and she also takes Pepcid daily for her acid reflux.  I’ve written about both of them in my blogs before.  Suffice it to say that they are indelible parts of the household with their own weird quirks but we love them both.

Gizmo and Munchie (and Savannah, ignoring the dogs in her bed); Polly Wobbles

The Boys

I told the story of Greg in my blog post “2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1/13/18) – he was the “good”, of course.  The Posh Pets cat director had a tragic fire in her home and all the shelter workers and volunteers ended up taking in her foster cats.  It turned out that Greg was just a freeloader and had never been one of her cats after all!  Didn’t matter – Greg moved right in with us and never looked back.  He is a handsome blonde tom who has a way with kittens and is the unofficial “big brother” of our house.  Mr. Kitten – or, variously, Harmon and Hunter, his names when he was on the Posh Pets roster – is a gorgeous lad.  We fell in love when we were fostering him as a kitten and just basically kept him.  Nothing more was said about it.  He is a mush and did I mention he’s gorgeous?  My daughter and I jealously fight over his affection.

The boys hanging out; sultry Mr. Kitten

Our last little fellow we didn’t think was a boy at all.  When we started fostering “her” and her sister Eve – two nasty little ferals who came into the shelter around Xmas 2018 – we didn’t think she would ever come around.  Eve surprised us by becoming a lovebug in short order and was quickly adopted, but Virginia never seemed to get the memo.  She did like food, however, and she LOVED Greg, so eventually she calmed herself down and tolerated us humans, as long as we kept feeding her.  She would swipe at you, nails exposed, every time you walked by once she determined you didn’t have any food.  My sister actually made progress with her one weekend when she was visiting, because she let her sit with her at the table and shared her breakfast with her, one nibble at a time.  (The cat never forgot – every time my sister comes over now, the cat formerly known as “Virginia” goes right to her, ostensibly looking for handouts but actually letting my sister pet her, too.)

About six months ago, one of the cats started peeing in weird places, and there seemed to be blood in it.  Well, you need to be a detective in this house to figure out whose excrement is whose, but I eventually figured out it was Virginia.  She was still a foster at this point (and still a girl), but only two potential adopters had ever come over to check her out, and she had lashed out (literally) at both of them.  So at that point I made the executive decision to keep her.  I didn’t figure she’d ever get adopted, and there WERE things that made her happy here.  She would even get very aggressively affectionate and rub all over my arms and hands when it was feeding time or if I was giving out cookies.  But now that she was officially mine, I had to bring her to the vet to see why she was peeing blood.

Ha!  This was no easy task.  On the first attempt, I ended up with a two-inch gash on my arm, she peed on me and hid for hours under my bed.  I had to cancel the appointment.  The vet was very understanding and suggested I give her a sedative first.  The next day, sedative successfully administered in her food (which she ate so fast she didn’t notice a thing), it was a little easier to load her up in the carrier and bring her to be examined.  Two surprises: Virginia was NOT a girl (although she, frankly, was not terribly well-endowed for a male cat), and s/he had a serious collection of struvite crystals in his bladder.  The remedy:  Magical prescription food that would not only cure him but also prevent the crystals from forming again.  Only problem was that if he had to eat this special food, in order to prevent him from eating everybody else’s non-prescription food (which he would definitely do), I would have to feed everyone the (expensive) prescription food.  This would not do anybody any actual HARM, although it’s a little higher in calories than your standard feline fare (and some of my cats – I’m looking at you, Savannah – don’t need the extra poundage).  It would just cost me more money.  But if it kept young – Virginia? We needed to come up with a boy name – healthy (and avoid us having to bring him more frequently to the vet), it would be worth it.

So – what to name him?  People suggested Virgil, which seemed to make sense.  My daughter started calling him Virgin, but that just sounded too insulting.  Yes, he’s a virgin – what choice did he have??  One day, I heard the XTC song “Making Plans for Nigel” (which always reminds me of my boss because his son is named Nigel and I suspect his son is a lot like the Nigel in the song), and I started singing it to Virginia/Virgil/Virgin:  “We’re only making plans for Nigel/We only want what’s best for him”.  That nailed it for me.  He is now Nigel (although all his vet records still say “Virginia”).

Nigel

Nigel (fka Virginia)

The Current State of Play

Hopper – ah, Hopper.  I fostered him a few months ago, and we discovered that he has a bit of the demon in him.  He is devoted to us – perhaps unhealthily so – but when he meets new people, he loses his mind.  He is an adorable little 5-pound scruffmuffin with these sad button eyes, and you just want to snuggle him or carry him around in your pocket.  But you cannot, because he is evil.  I also get the distinct impression he does not like men.

Hopper

Hopper, contemplating chasing a cat

Well, Hopper got adopted by a woman who stuck through his initial craziness upon first meeting her at the shelter, and she swore up and down that she didn’t have that many visitors.  She brought one of her two dogs to meet him (the other was elderly and didn’t travel well), and they didn’t hate each other, so we determined she would be a good adopter and off he went.  A few weeks later, one photo of a sleeping Hopper was sent by his adopter to the Posh Pets president with a note that said she loved him.  All seemed to be fine.  But then came the phone call – she was returning him.  Could I come pick him up at the shelter?

Now, by this time, I had another “problem child” foster pup at the house, an 8-year-old Maltipoo named Luna (“Luna Poona” is what we all call her, for some reason, and given that I already have a Luna at the house, I usually just call her “Poon”).  Luna, a former Posh Pet save from the Brooklyn ACC, was living quite happily with a married couple, but then the couple, late in life, had an unexpected baby.  Now, Luna didn’t seem to mind the baby (although you can never be sure with Luna, as she’s a “bite first, ask questions later” dog much like my Gizmo), but she HATED the baby’s nanny.  So back to Posh she came after six years.  (Returns break my heart.  I never want to judge – people have their legitimate reasons – but I kind of still do.)  Luna got bounced around to a few fosters, but she couldn’t control her peeing or her drinking (not to mention the biting of toes if your feet were in her way and fingers if you were silly enough to try to give her a treat that way).  There was clearly some sort of medical issue going on.  When she finally ended up at my house, she was officially diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is a condition affecting the pituitary gland that causes her to drink and pee to excess.  Now her Cushing’s is managed with twice-daily medication (which Posh Pets still pays for – she is STILL a foster dog, after all), but Luna has developed (again, like Gizmo) what appear to be seasonal allergies.  I have given her two baths in the past week, which make her look more like a curlicued poodle than a Maltese because I don’t know how to brush her out all fluffy like the groomer does, and she’s been relegated to wearing the cone of shame (although I’ve managed to find a soft one that’s a little less cumbersome and annoying for her, but unfortunately it still allows her to get to her ear and inside left leg, which seem to be her itchiest bits).  Posh Pets has her listed on the website as a “special needs” dog, and she will require the right sort of adopter, but so far, she’s still under my care for the foreseeable future.  She’s grown on me in the months that she’s been here. I get a kick out of the blank expression on her little monkey-face.  She just kind of looks at you, like “What?”

Luna Pouting on the Stairs

Luna Poona stuck on the stairs: “What??”

So back comes Hopper – the scene at the shelter when his former mom dropped him off was like a clip from a horror film, with this five-pound devil dog lashing out at everyone from what he thought was the safety of her lap.  I was trying to avoid seeing the woman by hiding in the cat room, but the shelter worker came back to get me.  “You’ve got to help – we can’t put a leash on him,” she said.  As soon as I walked into the office, he relaxed a little and came right to me.  We spent a few painful minutes listening to her, in tears, describe his unprovoked attacks on the elderly dog (not the one he had previously met) and her adult son and his children, to the point where the kids were now afraid of dogs (although I note that another of her grandchildren, a girl of about 14, had accompanied her and seemed very fond of Hopper, and he of her).  The woman had brought him to a trainer and the vet, and no one could do anything to “fix” him.  He continued to have this violent streak that seemed uncontrollable and, while she did love the little guy, she just couldn’t handle it anymore.  So Hopper came back to my house, and he’s been here ever since.  Posh Pets gets a ton of applications for him, because he’s adorable, but when the president explains what he’s like (and I actually spoke myself to an interested party the other day), they all turn off.  I think the perfect home for him would be a hermit like ME, but without any other animals and a bare minimum of visitors.  He would be a constant companion (yes, he sleeps with/on me), and I think he fancies himself a grand protector of his person.  He’s playful and can entertain himself with a wide variety of toys (which he tends to hoard).  He also lives up to his name and has an impressive vertical jump and could probably learn some circus-type tricks.  If I didn’t have all these animals (and if he didn’t spend so much of his time chasing cats), I might have considered keeping him.  He’s also young – only three years old – and that’s a big commitment for me.  I kind of imagine being “dog free” in 5-10 years, but I could conceivably have him into my late 70s.  He’s also really frustrating.  I was forced to bring him into a 7-11 the other day, tucked under my arm, and he lashed out so violently at one of the guys who worked there, even I was frightened.  There was nothing I could do to calm him, which was the truly alarming thing.  If worse comes to worst and no realistic adopters appear, we’re going to send him upstate to a woman who adopts “difficult” Poshies. He had been at her house to recuperate from kennel cough when we first rescued him from Animal Care and Control in Manhattan and she fell in love with him (which is easy to do, as long as you don’t see his “dark side”).  That might end up being the best place for him, out in the country without so many scary people (men?) around.

But wait – there’s more!!  Posh Pets recently took in five beautiful Pomeranians from the same home.  It was a mysterious owner surrender situation (I’m not privy to the details and I’m not going to ask); even though the Poms were well groomed and gentle, they were excessively shy and had never been to a vet.  During this stay-at-home crisis, while Posh is definitely doing adoptions (amazingly, they’ve done a few a day – cats and dogs – for the past couple of weeks), because of their withdrawn natures, the Poms are not good candidates for drive-through meet-and-greets with potential adopters.  So until we can have a safe location to hold more extensive meetings outside (or until the weather improves – it’s very rainy here this weekend), the Poms were better off going to foster homes rather than staying at the shelter.  First they asked if I could take two but, as I already HAVE two fosters, I declined (even though I felt bad about it).  But when it turned out that they only needed me to take one, and my “boss” (i.e., my daughter) said okay, Mackenzie came to stay for a few days.  She’s adorable, but she has a tilt – especially when she’s running, she looks a little like she’s on a NASCAR track – and her bark sounds like a squeak.  But I don’t think she’s going to be here for very long.  It’s tough to resist so much adorableness, and so far she’s displayed none of the quirks that Hopper has (although she is a little bit of an attention whore).

Mackenzie

Mackenzie smiles

On the other hand, I think we do have a new permanent resident (although I haven’t made it official yet).  During the summer and fall last year, I fostered a ton of kittens, including one semi-feral feline named Kansas.  Kansas and her brother Vegas had come in a little older than most local kittens, hissing and spitting.  Once they were spayed and neutered, respectively, they were both ear-tipped so they could be put back outside.  But at the same time, some of the shelter cats experienced a bout of ringworm, so they were all quarantined in cubbies for a few weeks.  Kansas got over the ringworm quickly, and by that time she had calmed down enough for the shelter director to wonder if she might be able to be socialized rather than released to one of the local feral cat colonies.  She asked me to give it a shot, although Kansas was still very reluctant to let anyone touch her.  She lived in a cage in my house, just opposite my desk so she could see me all the time.  Eventually she would let me stroke her face and chin for long periods, which apparently led her to realize that this petting thing is pretty sweet!  But she relished the safety of her cage, and even when we left the gate open, she stayed inside.  When it came time to send her up to the cat room at the PetSmart store in White Plains, NY (where Posh Pets has a cat room), I figured she would do well given that she could live in the safety of a cage-like cubby and let people pet her all day long.  Boy, was I wrong.  She regressed and they ended up sending her back to the shelter.  She was shy in the cat room, but clearly remembered me when I went in there and would emerge from wherever she was hiding to let me pet her.  If I sat on the floor, she would even come and sit on my lap, which she had never even done when she was at my house.

A couple of weeks ago, a family came in to adopt one of the other kittens, a cute tuxedo girl named Caroline, who immediately jumped out of the cage on to the dad’s shoulder.  The mom and dad were sold on Caroline and were ready to take her home, but the daughter (who reminded me a bit of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, right down to the faux-fur jacket) turned on the waterworks.  So we ended up bringing her into the room where Kansas and the other kittens were, and she fell in love with Kansas, who evidently looked like their previous cat who had passed away.  Miraculously, Kansas liked the girl and let her pet her (although she was less sure of the dad), and the girl beamed and begged and they ended up taking both Caroline and Kansas.  I was strangely sad, but I felt like the girl and Kansas had had a real love connection.

Fast forward a week and Kansas is back!  She hid for a few days (which we warned them she would do), and when she finally emerged, she evidently went on a rampage, attacking a visiting dog and some kids and the dad, leaving visible marks on the latter.  Now, this did NOT sound like my Kansas.  Even in her early days, she was never really violent – just hissy and spitty, sort of telegraphing violence but never actually going through with it.  She was always more fearful than aggressive.  Sure enough, when I went to see her soon afterwards, she was her same affectionate self.  In fact, if I’m not anthropomorphizing too much, she seemed really happy and relieved to be hanging out with me.  An idea started brewing.

When Posh Pets started farming out cats for fostering during this coronavirus lockdown, I closely watched the posts on Facebook, waiting for someone to say, “I have someone to take Kansas,” but no one did.  I asked my daughter what she thought about fostering Kansas.  She was noncommittal but didn’t say no.  I told her to bring her home with her when she went to work at the shelter last Thursday.  But I couldn’t wait and I picked her up on Tuesday.  She was under my bed for the first day – again, completely expected – but she emerged that night and gave me cuddles, purring up a storm.  I had clearly made the right decision.  And, having learned my lesson from my cat Mimi, who I delayed adopting for over a year even though I knew I wanted to from Day One, I’m keeping this girl.  She is a love, a Savannah “Soul Cat” Junior.

Kansas

Kansas

So I’m back up to seven (permanent) cats and three (permanent) dogs.  I enjoy following a photo blog called “Seven Cats and Counting” [https://7catsandcounting.com/author/sevencatsandcounting/], featuring a clan of dogs, cats, a turtle (Princess Maple Anne) and a fish.  I see these folks as kindred souls.  They’ve lost a couple of their cats in the past year or so, so now I’m waiting for them to take in a new one.  (That’s what the “and counting” is all about!)  And fostering (and adopting!) needy creatures is certainly welcome respite from reading and thinking about politics and COVID-19 for a change!! Adopt, don’t shop!

Cold Fish

We are living in very strange times.  All of the United States (and most, if not all, of the rest of the world) is hunkered down in their homes, protecting ourselves from an unseen, microscopic threat.  It’s not like your garden-variety disaster – flood, snowstorm, blackout – where you could look out your window and be confronted with the menace.  This is a wholly new monster.

I mean, there’ve been epidemics before – swine flu, SARS, Ebola (which in my mind is a truly scary disease, unlike the current “bad cold” symptoms that can be deadly in the wrong body) – but nothing that drove governors and mayors and other authority figures (and only reluctantly the so-called president) to literally force people out of bars, restaurants and stores, and cancel concerts and hockey games (!), to seal ourselves in our houses for the foreseeable future (only some vague “couple of weeks/months” end in sight) and avoid close contact with ANYONE – family members included – until we get some sense of how contagious and pervasive this new coronavirus COVID-19 and its associated illnesses actually are.  We’re isolating ourselves to protect the most vulnerable among us, which is truly altruistic and strangely at odds with the current climate of cruelty that seems to have infected much of America since trump was elected.

I’m not entirely certain this is the right approach.  To me, it feels like we’re all just sitting around waiting to get sick.  I do see the value, helped along by those memes of the unlit matchstick halting the potential conflagration and the graphs where cutting off a single branch of a flow chart makes a huge difference in the numbers further along; it does make sense.  But it also feels like we’re all going to get it – or some form of it – eventually.  I guess it’s just a matter of time.

But here’s an interesting dynamic:  social distancing is not difficult for me.  Nor is working from home, which I do on a daily basis (other than that one day a week when I brave the Long Island Railroad and NYC subway to go into the office, for which I treat myself with a yummy bacon-and-egg sandwich from the cart guy outside the building).

As I’ve previously written about on this blog (“A Brief Respite from the Hermit Life,” 10/27/15; “The Hermit Emerges,” 9/5/17), I don’t mind being on my own.  I can easily entertain myself, with music, reading, TV or movies, sleeping, writing, taking the dogs for a nice walk . . . you name it, I can occupy myself with it completely free of any human company.

I have, over the years, been accused of being somewhat of a cold fish.  It’s true – I am not fond of unwanted touching, even friendly, socially acceptable touching.  I am not a hugger, or a hand-holder, or a cheek kisser.  I’ve actually turned down invitations to extended family gatherings just to avoid the overwhelming cheek-kissing upon arrival and departure.  I was born into a family of cold fish, and I suspect my child has inherited many of my cold fish qualities (although her cold-fishness may have been tempered by her father’s more affectionate nature).

Don’t get me wrong – I like being with people, in moderation.  Some people I like to be with quite a lot, and when I’m with them, I don’t have any desire to be free of them.  But I am also quite content to be alone.  In fact, I’ve been texting and making phone calls – at least once a day during this anxious time – to reach out to those people I care about in my life.  And if called upon for any task or favor, I’ll be there in an instant.  In fact, I rather like when people ask things of me, because then I know that I’m doing something that has value to them.  But being by myself has never felt like a sad or lonely thing.  I know a friend is just a phone call away and I just relish the freedom and solitude.

So even though social distancing has not been a struggle for me, this whole COVID-19 exercise has me thinking about our future as a society.  Are we moving into a time where everything we do will be Internet-dependent?  Why have face-to-face meetings when you can do it on Zoom?  No need to John Hancock original documents anymore; everything can be authorized by Docusign.  We don’t have to go shopping in stores (and the increasing exodus from brick-and-mortar malls and “going out of business” sales are ample evidence of that) when we can get anything we could ever need or want more easily online.  And we pay with our credit card numbers, or PayPal or Venmo, so we don’t even need cash anymore (hence, the shut-down of multiple branches of large banks and the shuttering of small local banks altogether).

Of course, the big problem with trusting technology is that you CAN’T.  Technical difficulties continue to be the bane of our existence, especially now that we are so dependent on our electronic connections (wireless and blue tooth, too, for that matter).  I seem to be particularly susceptible to these glitches, and I tend to panic because I don’t comprehend the underlying systems.  Even if I could somehow educate myself (my employer is always offering tutorials and training sessions), technological capabilities change seemingly by the minute – every time I get used to using one kind of software or app, here comes version 2.0, followed in quick succession by versions 3, 4 and 5 (with “X” and “Plus” subsets available to confuse you even more).   For someone as old as I am, this kaleidoscopic shifting landscape is dizzying.  I cannot keep up with any of it.

What if there was a blackout, or a massive Internet crash, due to the overuse caused by all of us being trapped in our homes?  That would be a true disaster.  Malware and hacking are increasingly prevalent, too, as multiple mandatory trainings sponsored by my workplace continually warn us.  There are so many new terms associated with these computer infestations, we have to learn an entirely different language to even describe the damage, and we have to be ever vigilant for weird email addresses and shady texts.  We could be opening portals to company secrets, or our bank accounts or identities, and not even know it was happening.

So as much as I enjoy being in my house alone, I spend a great deal of that time at my desk in front of the computer.  And when I’m not at my computer, I’m watching my smart TV with 800 channels to choose from (so much content! It’s mind-boggling to a kid who grew up with seven channels on her television!).  I haven’t been using my Kindle for reading as I prefer actual books (the harder the cover, the better) but I could do that too, especially now that my local library is closed for at least the next two weeks.

One other thing we can do during this pandemic is get outside more often, especially now that the weather is warming (not to mention the planet, but that’s a topic for another blog post).  We can take our cell phones along, as long as there’s good service coverage (which is getting better, with hotspots and universal Wifi, but that’s dangerous too, because they’re not “secure” so any random stranger can read our texts and whatever else we do over our phones, which is pretty much everything these days).

We also still need to earn money, which is impossible for many of us.  In this particular instance, I’m fortunate to be in an industry that is at little risk of suffering, because when companies start losing money and fear going out of business, they need their lawyers more than ever.  But there is a lot of uncertainty in income streams for everyone, especially in certain industries.  Unemployment claims are skyrocketing and the system is having a hard time keeping up.  A $1,000 check from the government might help in the short term (and would it be “free” money, or merely a tax advance?  This is unclear), but there’s going to be a lot of long-term damage once this pandemic is over (if it ever ends, which feels like a distinct possibility at the moment).  The whole world is going to have to shift its perspective, I think, change the way we do things.  This may be just the beginning.

Cold Fish

Which is the cold fish?  Trick question – they both are!

At a Loss

I am at a loss as to what to write about this week.  I think I’m a little depressed about Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination following her steep descent in the polls and inability to generate the number of votes she needed to begin accumulating delegates.  She was so clearly the best candidate, in my mind.  While she didn’t have Hillary’s baggage, and she was exponentially more personable than Ms. Clinton (and equally smart), the American populace didn’t trust her, for some reason.  Multiple Democrats I spoke to held her missteps against her disproportionately to their seriousness.  One woman said she was turned off by Elizabeth’s claims to have Native American heritage, and thought it was misguided for her to have released her DNA results.  (But what if she HADN’T released those results?  She would have been criticized for THAT.  This is a pattern that keeps repeating . . .  Women and people of color have to be exceptional, and yet their errors and hiccups are deemed unforgivable.  They are held to a higher standard, and so fall further when they do something – ANYTHING – wrong.)

Another Democratic woman I know thought Warren was “being mean” when she repeated a statement by Bernie Sanders that he didn’t think a woman could be elected president in this country.  Yet another woman I know – otherwise very liberal in her thinking – excoriated Warren for attacking Michael Bloomberg during the debate by repeating an allegation that he had told a woman employee to have an abortion when she announced her pregnancy.  I pointed out to this woman that, had Elizabeth been selected as the nominee, and had she gone after trump that way in the general debates, Dems would have cheered her on.  In fact, she would have to be twice as “tough” and “mean” as a man to stand up to trump’s inevitable bullying and name-calling.  But she didn’t get the chance, so we’ll never know.

(Do you notice that these are all women making these criticisms?  It hurts my heart when women are so unsupportive of other women.  It’s true, woman are not perfect beings.  But I have to believe, as a percentage, there are far fewer female assholes in the world than male ones.)

But here’s the best thing about Elizabeth Warren.  After what must have been a crushing Super Tuesday, and her difficult decision to end the campaign she had worked so hard and so well to develop, down to the smallest detail (and which she was still willing to tweak as she heard from constituents and evolved her positions, as I would hope any intelligent world leader would do), she still managed to invite Rachel Maddow into her home in Massachusetts and do an amazing, gracious interview – without even getting choked up, which I frankly did a few times listening to her – and end with a still-positive message.  And to top off what would have been a devastating week for most folks, she did a brilliant cameo on Saturday Night Live and hugged everyone at the end (coronavirus be damned!).  (I especially loved the GIF she did with Kate McKinnon that made the rounds on Facebook where they were dueling dancing Elizabeths, and McKinnon could barely keep a straight face at the end watching Liz’s genuinely playful postures.)  I love you, Elizabeth Warren, from your trim, colorful blazers to your comfortable shoes, from your “I have a plan for that” to “She persisted”!  I know she will continue to be the kind of senator and public servant (perhaps with a role in the next administration?) who blow-torches through interrogations (as she reminded us today in a clip from 2016 she posted on Facebook of her grilling Leonard Chanin to emphasize what a terrible choice Chanin would be to serve as acting Deputy Director of her beloved Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; “He doesn’t belong within 100 miles of the CFPB,” she said in today’s post) and sparkles as a role model to the future Katie Porters and AOCs of Congress, state and local governments and the world, including all those little girls to whom she made pinky promises.  Ideally, some of her “plans” will even make it into the Democratic platform to shape policies for the near future (such as her blueprint for a new disability plan based – as most of  her “plans” are – on intensive consultation with the people who have the most stake in her positions).

So now we’re stuck with Bernie and Joe, two septuagenarians battling it out for a chance to defeat yet another septuagenarian in November, who represent the left and center (right?) of the Democratic Party.  The general consensus seems to be that Joe is the “normalcy” candidate, while Bernie would prefer a revolution.  Our system of government is so broken – trump being as much a symptom as a cause – it could probably use a good blowing up and starting over.  But people are afraid, and I get it.  We just want to feel safe again.  We want what we EXPECT to happen to actually happen.  And above all, we want trump GONE.

I truly hope that, if Biden wins a majority of the delegates (which appears likely, although it ain’t over till it’s over), Bernie can convince his supporters to work together with the rest of the party to remove the orange stain from the Oval Office.  Perhaps it would take something as simple as letting the Bernie Bros have a powerful voice in the platform process, a kind of “horse trade”: If we work together across the invisible line dividing the party to elect a Democrat as the 46th president, maintain the majority in the House and actually gain four (or more?) seats in the Senate, the moderate winners will make (and KEEP) some promises to the left on matters where agreement is the strongest, such as with family leave and child care and humane and economically effective immigration policy, for instance, and save the Medicare-for-all health care battle for later, or as something to be worked on in installments rather than all at once.  Show trump and his Republican toadies who the REAL dealmakers are!  And also show how the American democracy is supposed to work – allowing the minority a voice, but respecting the will of the majority, until the next election rolls around to effectuate any necessary adjustments.  Because for the first time in four years, the majority will really BE the majority and not just a vocal segment of the minority that managed to, by some combination of voter apathy, Hillary hatred, garden-variety cheating and a Russian finger on the scale, elect this abomination who, in my mind, is not even worthy of a capital letter for his name.

Apologies – I didn’t really mean to be so rabidly political this week after last week’s screed on socialism.  Losing the hopeful optimism that Elizabeth Warren represented for me was a tough blow.  But, like Liz, I’m going to try to stay positive and see a way forward through the fog.

Stickers

Some of my favorite stickers from my daughter’s collection.

Some Thoughts on Socialism

When did “socialism” become a dirty word?  It’s like “liberal” – my ex-husband used to use that as his worst insult for me.  Wasn’t “liberal” meant to be a good thing – like a “liberal” helping of ice cream on your apple pie?

Liberal definition (courtesy of Merriam-Webster):  “Marked by generosity; open-handed; given or provided in a generous and open-handed way.”  Hmm, that seems pretty nice, actually, kind and GOOD.  Here’s another usage:  “broad-minded, especially not bound by authoritarianism.”  Why, yes – that’s how I would proudly describe myself:  generous and broad-minded.  How does that get turned into an insult?  He may have meant it that way, but I never took it that way.

What about “progressive,” also used as a derogatory term these days in political discussion:  “making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities.”  Also something to be proud of, I would have thought.  What’s the alternative?  Being stuck (or perhaps “comfortable” would be a more fair description) in the familiar, the customary, the tried-and-true?  Okay, I can see how there might be a little more leeway on this one, with some people believing in looking forward and some happy to stay where they are, although I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to go backward.  That just makes no sense to me at all.  There might be some things that were better in the past – take, for example, those Facebook memes that look back nostalgically at the 1970s, when we used to play outside till the street lights came on and rode our bikes everywhere, compared to how kids nowadays just play video games and obsessively communicate on their cell phones.  But you have to admit, no one would want to go back to the ‘70s, socially, technologically or even politically.  Even now, when the past four years have been a nightmare and so many of our trusted structures and rules have fallen by the wayside on a daily basis with little in the way of pushback, I wouldn’t want us to go BACKWARD when sane people take over again in 2021.  I want us to move EVEN MORE FORWARD, to make up for the slippage.

But what about this “socialism” I’ve been hearing used as the latest bugaboo by the right and Republicans?  (“You don’t want to elect a SOCIALIST, do you?  That’s almost the worst system of governance you can imagine – just one small step shy of COMMUNISM!!!  Bernie loves FIDEL CASTRO!!  And just look at what SOCIALISM did to Venezuela!”) Is it really as terrible as they try to make it seem?  Is Bernie Sanders the next Lenin or Mao, his Bernie Bros the 21st -century Bolsheviks?  There are certainly those who say that trump and his cronies reek of the fascism and national socialism that harkened the rise of the Nazis and World War II.  I think that’s actually a closer analogy than Bernie and the Communist Revolution.  Just look at the demonization of the “other,” the primacy of the wealthy, white and powerful, the bending of the rules of law and human decency to meet the needs of the privileged, and which society does THAT resemble more?

Bernie is smart (unlike trump).  He might have learned a thing or two from history.  The Communist experiments of Soviet Russia and China didn’t actually work (although the remnants of the underlying corruption certainly remain).  It’s not exactly a workers’ revolution he’s promoting – it’s more like a rising up of those of us in the bottom 90% who don’t own the top 1% of the wealth to say, “Hey, we want our fair share – and we definitely want health care!”

The socialism that Bernie is fighting for (and, to be frank, Elizabeth Warren, although she’s got a stronger connection to the capitalist structures that Bernie might rather see blown up and rebuilt in some other form) is more akin to what the nations of Europe enjoy.  While they have their complaints and economic woes like the rest of the world, the social democrats in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France certainly garner higher scores on the World Happiness Scores.  (The USA is 19th, but 1-18 are all considered “democratic socialist” countries.) Their people get health care, parental leave and readily available child care, education and a more level playing field, which is why their middle classes are so strong and broad.

I’m not saying I’m a Bernie fan.  I’m actually not.  I don’t think he is the best candidate (although I will certainly vote for him if he ends up getting the undisputed nomination).  But I’m trying to make this point:  “Socialism” is not a dirty word.  It has been demonized and bad-mouthed for decades.  Winston Churchill famously said back in the 1940’s:  “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” (Perth, Scotland, 28 May 1948, in Churchill, Europe Unite: Speeches 1947 & 1948 (London: Cassell, 1950)) and “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”  (House of Commons, 22 October 1945)

The Merriam-Webster usage guide offers this helpful description:  “In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, “pure” socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”

And here’s another fact for you all:  The United States is ALREADY rife with socialism!!  It’s all around us!!

Let’s take a look at how that plays out in today’s USA, courtesy of an article published on Daily Kos back on March 29, 2012 (but just as true today):  “75 Ways Socialism Has Improved America” (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2012/3/29/1078852/-75-Ways-Socialism-Has-Improved-America).  [Thanks, Tommy Kelly, for sharing.]  According to article, there are at least 75 ways in which Americans enjoy socialism.  Just a sampling:

1, The Military and Defense

2. Highways and Roads . . .

4, Police

5. Fire Department

6. Postal Service . . .

9. Garbage Collection

10. Public landfills . . .

15.  Congressional Health Care [This is a big one – we actually pay for CONGRESS’ HEALTH CARE but we have to pay out of pocket for our own??] . . .

17. EPA

18. Social Security [Another big one – THIS IS OUR MONEY and yet trump and the Republicans are determined to find ways to TAKE IT AWAY FROM US.] . . .

20. Public Schools

21. Prison Systems [While there has been a rise in for-profit prisons, there would seem to be something inherently wrong in profiting off larger prison populations, don’t you think?] . . .

23. Veterans Health Care

24. Public Parks

25. ALL ELECTED GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS [emphasis mine] [WE PAY THEIR SALARIES!!  THEY WORK FOR US!!  We seem to have forgotten this, with all of trump’s “I can do whatever I want.”  No, you can’t.  You work for US.  We should have some say in what you can and can’t do.] . . .

28. Medicare [That’s the one for the senior citizens, something else that WE PAY FOR and will hopefully get a chance to use when we need to if the Republicans don’t try to chip away at it.].

29. Court System . . .

34. IRS [Thanks to which all of this is made possible!] . . .

36. Pentagon . . .

38. FDA . . .

41. Disability Insurance . . .

45. Unemployment Insurance . . .

The list goes on, but you get the picture.

My conclusion?  I have no problem with what Bernie is selling.  I think the majority of the people in this country desperately need it, but the difficulty is that the folks who need it most are the ones who seem, inexplicably, the most resistant.  Why wouldn’t rural America be jumping at the chance to know that they can keep the farm, with government subsidies (that a lot of them already get, and even more now thanks to trump’s bungling of trade negotiations with China), but they would also get free health care, better public schools and an opportunity to go to community college for free (and a four-year college inexpensively) to expand or improve farming methods, or to give the next generation more opportunities in life?  The same goes for factory workers in communities where the local manufacturing plant has closed.  WHY WOULDN’T THEY WANT THIS??  They already get so much for their tax dollars under the socialism “umbrella” – why not just embrace it and have the people who have all the wealth (that fortunate 1%, who largely have “earned” their wealth through inheritance) pay a commensurate share?  They can certainly afford it. Just like the folks who most need help are the ones who inexplicably vote against their interests in local and federal elections, so too the folks who have more money than they know what to do with are so adamantly opposed to sharing it for the public good.  But because the rich benefit equally from socialism – if not even more – it would only be fair for them to pay what they can afford into the system rather than forcing people who CAN’T afford it to bear the bulk of the burden.  As the Daily Kos article says, “Socialism is taxpayer funds being used collectively to benefit society as a whole, despite income, contribution or ability.”

Bottom line:  The entire government – including those Republican Senators who refuse to consider doing their jobs (i.e., debating and passing bills into law), including the cadre of far-right judges being appointed by the Federal Society and rubber-stamped by those same Senators, including even our ill-suited executive and his team of sycophants – is paid for by YOUR TAX DOLLARS.  Yeah, trump doesn’t take a salary, but we have to pay for his golf weekends, and the Secret Service for him and his extended family, and for all of his “entertaining” at the White House and elsewhere.  YOUR TAX DOLLARS pay for all that, for a freaking millionaire, sucking the marrow out of the bones of the working and middle class who are the only ones left to foot the bills, thanks to the tax cuts afforded the wealthy and mega-corporations.  Doesn’t that seem WRONG to you?

Is the middle class problem with being provided with universal health care, etc. under a more socialist system because they’re afraid they’re going to have to pay higher taxes for it?  This is the thing I don’t get.  WE ALREADY PAY TAXES, and what do we have to show for it?  A bloated military and military-industrial complex (that can’t afford to pay its human inventory, whether in-service or post-service), lots of shadowy foreign aid and the rest of the “socialist” structures mentioned above that THEY’RE ALREADY PAYING FOR!!  Wouldn’t it be nice to know Joe Six Pack and Stella Secretary actually GET SOMETHING in exchange for that hefty tax bill they have to pay every April?  To actually know that your tax dollars are going to pay for something YOU use every day, like your health care and your education, not to mention the roads, bridges, police and first responders, libraries, protecting your food and medication, and the water you drink and the air you breathe, and who cleans up after you . . . you get the idea.

Sometimes I wish people would just THINK for a minute before they SPEAK.  If they did, they might not have so much to complain about.  Like Harry S Truman said, from the back of a train in October 1952 as he campaigned for Democrats against the Republican ticket led by Eisenhower: “Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

I think Churchill had it wrong (which is ironic as his country is more “socialist” in the 21st century, with its National Health Service, free university, the “Dole” and housing for the poor, than the USA.  As do those working and middle-class people who have been bamboozled by trump and the Republicans into thinking they’re looking after your interests by protecting you from the poison of “socialism”.  Open your eyes, people, to the benefits of “socialism” all around you, and maybe our government and the reasons for its existence will start to make sense again.

IMG_0037

Your (socialism) tax dollars at work (#42 – Town/State Run Beaches)

I Don’t Understand

I’ve never considered myself to be a student of human nature, of the motivations that compel people to do what they do.  This probably explains why I never succeeded in my attempts at writing fiction:  All my characters think and sound like me because I literally can’t get into the heads of others.

There’s a lot going on in the world of politics today that I just don’t understand.  First and foremost, I do not understand the appeal of Trump.  Not one iota.  To me, there is nothing attractive or powerful about the man.  The way he looks, the way he speaks, his rampant narcissism and bullying – why every American isn’t disgusted by all of that (and more) is beyond my comprehension.  Behavior we wouldn’t tolerate from a middle schooler is allowed to inundate our airwaves, the Internet and print media.  Why do we waste so much time and space on him?  He is a laughing stock internationally and makes people worldwide question the intelligence (and sanity) of Americans.  Every time he comes on the TV or computer screen, I involuntarily avert my eyes from his ridiculous hair and orange face with the white circles around his eyes like some kind of sunburnt albino raccoon.  I cringe when I listen to him speak, garbling words and repeating his sixth grade vocabulary to the point of incoherence – who could listen to that and be anything but embarrassed for the man?  When his followers are interviewed at his rallies, they say they like him because “he tells it like it is”.  Well, if an incoherent soup of lies, insults and unsubstantiated boasts  are “like it is,” then I guess they have a point.

A woman I know professionally and with whom I’ve shared a meal or two, mystifies me with her Facebook posts.  She was very helpful to me during a stressful time in my life, and I genuinely like the woman.  Based on what she posts on Facebook, it’s clear that she loves animals and is concerned about the preservation of the natural environment, and she has even shared some intelligent and humane items on immigration and income inequality.  But she is an unabashed  Trump fan and constantly posts negative items about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Democratic leaders generally that make them out to be liars and the scourge of our country and the reason why things are as terrible as they are in this country right now.  I cannot comprehend such utter cognitive dissonance.

I don’t understand why people like her consistently vote against their interests.  Why are there any middle class supporters of Trump at all?  If you’re not a multi-millionaire like him, he doesn’t care one whit about you except to the extent that you shower him with praise and adulation.  For that, you are useful to him.  Otherwise, he couldn’t care less.  I read about a recent Gallup poll that claimed 6 in 10 Americans think they’re better off today than they were three years ago, but I just don’t see it.  I must be part of the 4 in 10 who is struggling, paying more in health care bills, utilities, student loans and credit card interest than ever before, with no relief in sight, seemingly unable to get ahead or escape the crushing debt.  And yet, I saw another article today about the record levels of personal debt Americans are carrying.  That explains it, then.  We’re better off because we’re more willing to go into debt to get there.  (See my post last week about the curse of consumerism – and here’s a post-script to that:  I forgot completely to mention this new insane phenomenon of “influencers”.  For the uninformed, these are otherwise talentless individuals who have managed to develop a social media persona whereby they promote certain products and accumulate followers, which earns them money and the opportunity to promote more products and get more followers, and on and on.  Yet another thing I do not get at all:  why people waste their time and money on the advice of nobodies who want you to buy things just so they can bolster their reputations.)

I don’t understand why someone like Lindsay Graham can be so anti-Trump during the 2016 campaign – and be insulted and belittled by him; remember Trump’s public disclosure of Graham’s cell phone number? – and suddenly become his biggest fan?  Same with Ted Cruz or even “Little” Marco Rubio.  Don’t these guys have any self-respect?  Humans shouldn’t be able to make 180-degree turns like that without a good reason, and I haven’t seen one, unless fear of reprisals from a bully and a jerk are sufficient justification.  What has Trump done for Graham or Cruz or Rubio to make them change their tune so radically?  I just don’t get it.  And why haven’t former loyalists like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, who Trump insulted mercilessly both in and out of office, stood up and defended themselves, or at least questioned why this behavior is allowed to continue?  I’ve heard that former Chief of Staff John Kelly has finally started talking sense, but really, who’s listening other than people who already agree with him?

Some people’s motivations are clearer than others.  Take Mitch McConnell, for instance.  His drivers are greed and power.  That much is obvious.  But why is he so adamant about creating an insurmountable logjam of bills in the Senate that ultimately reflects badly on him?  I guess his Kentucky constituents are still behind him (although that will be proven in November, as a really attractive Democratic opponent, military hero and mom Amy McGrath, is lurking back in his home state generating grass roots support hopefully sufficient to remove his saggy ass from office while Mitch wastes all our time rejecting House bills in D.C.), but here’s a thought – why bother keeping Trump around?  McConnell could do the same damage with Mike Pence as president and have a lot less mind-boggling baggage to deal with.  If I were McConnell (which, happily, I am NOT), I would have cut my losses with Trump and thrown in with Pence in a heartbeat when handed a primo opportunity with the impeachment trial.  Pence is a lily white, homophobic, religious right-wing nightmare, but he’s not a megalomaniac, wanna-be dictator like Trump who daily threatens the rule of law and democracy itself through his cruelty, ignorance and self-absorption.  Frankly, I didn’t understand why there wasn’t more of a push amongst Republicans when they held both the House and the Senate to oust Trump, because only Republicans would have been in the line of succession.  Now, if anything happened to Trump and Pence to remove them from office, we’d have President Pelosi, which would be a karmically delicious outcome for Democrats but awfully dangerous to Republicans.  I have to believe there are other ways to disseminate the poison of the Republican agenda that don’t involve the unpredictable and ridiculously unattractive Trump.

That’s another thing I don’t understand about Republicans in general — why they have been so willing to abandon their core (or at least they used to be core) ideologies, such as reducing the deficit, limiting governmental control and preventing executive overreach?  In an effort to try to make sense of some of these motivators, I consulted former Republican media manipulator Rick Wilson’s book, Everything Trump Touches Dies, which provided a comprehensive analysis of why Republicans are so willing to drink the Trump Kool-aid.  But even with all of Wilson’s explanations, and acknowledging that, if Trump is skilled at anything, it’s being a con man (it’s certainly not being a deal-maker), those rationales still rang hollow.  Trump, to me, is like the old alcoholic who takes up residence at the end of the neighborhood bar, a built-in fixture bloviating about everything and anything, who knows it all and has all the answers, and no one listens to him until the bartender finally says, “Enough, old timer,” and calls him a cab so the patrons can finally get some peace and quiet.

Or do Republican goals only have meaning if Democrats are in control of government?  Another thing I don’t understand about Republicans is, if they want government out of people’s lives so much, why are they so fixated on controlling what women do with their own bodies, or what folks do in the privacy of their bedroom, or what children are taught in schools?  If you’re going to roll back regulations in favor of Big Agro and Big Oil and Big Pharma because they don’t want government intruding into the workings of commerce, what about rolling them back for the Little People?  (In that sense, I have somewhat Libertarian tendencies and think government should be less about CONTROL and more about SUPPORT.)

But enough about the incomprehensible Republicans – what about the Democrats?  How is Elizabeth Warren not the most popular candidate in the 2020 campaign?  Why are the strongest candidates at the moment all old white men in their 70s?  Why do young people so fervently support a crazy-haired old white guy who would (figuratively) blow up the establishment in a heartbeat rather than everyone’s favorite teacher, a mom and grandmother, who is truly looking out for the “little guy” in a less combative way than Bernie (but then again, don’t challenge her, because she’ll put you in your place in a heartbeat)?  She doesn’t have Hillary’s baggage, and she’s smarter than anyone in the room (but doesn’t feel the need to brag about it).  The New York Times, former fellow candidate Julian Castro and others clearly agree with me (although the Times split their endorsement with Amy Klobuchar, who I also like, but I don’t think she’s as complete a candidate as Elizabeth Warren is).  When she dialed back her plan for Medicare-for-All after being criticized for it, by saying, “Okay, we won’t force it on you, but we’ll give you a chance to try it, and I’m sure you’ll like it” – which in my mind was such a reasonable response: she re-considered her position and offered up a compromise solution — how was that a bad thing?  And yet pundits and the public deemed that a problematic development and have even blamed her supposed “backtracking” for her drop in the polls.  There’s a woman I know through my rescue group who is very kind and funny and I think we could be better friends if I ever managed to wake up early enough to join her at the local pool for Aquasize.  But she and I had a text discussion the other day where she said she doesn’t trust Warren because she had the temerity to release her DNA results in connection with the whole Native American brouhaha.  To me, that was Warren being transparent, but to her, it was disqualifying.  This is what we’re up against!!  I don’t understand it – not one bit.

[An aside on that episode in Warren’s trajectory:  I kind of understand where she was coming from with her claims to Native American heritage.  First of all, she was PROUD of it, so why is that a negative?  We should all take more pride in our Native American ancestors and predecessors rather than ignoring the slow genocide of a race of people that continues to this day.  I’m certain it was a matter of a childhood spent listening to family tales of a great-grandma or auntie who was a member of the Cherokee Nation, and feeling pride in that.  I have something similar in my history:  My father told us for years we were descended from gypsies, which explained his clairvoyance and ability to tell what was in wrapped packages before he opened them.  In my youth I would brag about being a gypsy (before learning about their darker side, of course), but I confess I would be a little disappointed if I did a DNA test and it didn’t come back with at least a little Romany ancestry.]

And one last thing I don’t understand (although believe me, there’s more):  What’s the deal with women who willingly subvert themselves to men ? Maybe their excuse is fear, or it’s all they’ve ever known, but thinking that way only serves to perpetuate second-class citizenship for females.  Why are there woman saying America is not ready to elect a woman president?  To the contrary, women should be DEMANDING a woman president, and since we actually make up a slight majority of the population in general, we should win every election if we stay true to our gender.

The bottom line?  I wish I had more clarity about human nature, but given that we are so complex and not always transparent, it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll get it.  People’s motivations will continue to be a mystery to me.  Even on those rare occasions when I think I know why people do the things they do, something will be revealed that shows my assessment to have been completely wrong.  All I know for certain is this:  Whatever their inclinations, the majority of Americans had better do the right thing come November 3 and vote the current disaster out of office (and make sure he leaves).  I am so tired of living in Bizarro World, where presumably decent and intelligent people are controlled by their fear of the insults and retribution of a Cheetoh-colored man-baby.

no understand

No comprendo.

 

The Curse of Consumerism

The modern middle class lives in debt so we can keep up with the Joneses, so we can get the best, the flashiest, the name brand, to boast and flaunt.  But why?  How is this relentless money-spending improving our lives in any way?

Oh, I’m guilty of it, I confess.  When I was suddenly making more money than I ever thought possible as a lawyer (and, not coincidentally, spending less time with my school-age daughter), it became so easy to just take her to the mall – especially around Xmastime, when long end-of-year working hours meant no time to search for meaningful gifts – and buy her everything she showed interest in having.  There is a definite appeal to going into a store, seeing something you like, and just buying it, with no concerns about whether you can afford it, or worrying that, if you buy this, you won’t have money for something more essential, like food or rent or dental care.

And if I miraculously won the lottery and had money to spare, where those worries weren’t a daily source of agita, there are certainly things – higher-end things – that I wouldn’t mind spending cash on, like season tickets for Rangers games (or at least a partial plan) and all the CDs I’ve been keeping lists of in the event I had money to buy them.  [An aside:  If I had season tickets for the Rangers, it wouldn’t be so disappointing when they lose at MSG, like they did last night – my daughter had gotten us tickets for Xmas, an incredibly thoughtful gift, and then they went and stunk up the place.  But if I had enough money where I could afford to go to every game (or most of them), a stinker wouldn’t disappoint me so much.]

If Superstorm Sandy taught me anything, it was about the impermanence of objects:  THINGS GET LOST, STOLEN, DESTROYED BY ACTS OF GOD.  You can do your best to protect them in fireproof boxes and Rubbermaid bins, but somehow, they will end up a pile of dust or in someone else’s hands. Having expensive things – like jewelry and electronics – also makes you a target for crime (because, of course, thieves have the curse of consumerism, too, only they don’t have money so they have to take YOUR things).

I blame the advertising profession.  (See an earlier blog of mine, “Ad Nauseum”, from May 27, 2015, that ruminates on the topic at length.)  [Another aside:  I recently inventoried my blogs from 2015 to 2018 and I realized that I have covered a lot of ground!  Revisiting some of my better ones will be the topic of a future blog, I’m sure.]  All that money wasted trying to get people to WANT things!  But Americans – and not just Americans, actually, but people the world over (I’m looking at you, Japan!) – are suckers for the next shiny, new thing, and if it’s more expensive, well, then it must be better.

And what is the attraction of name brands?  My daughter’s brother craves Gucci slides.  WHY?  They’re comfy shoes going on your stinky feet!  Does Gucci employ elves to manufacture slides that magically freshen your tootsies as you wear them while earning you compliments from passing strangers?  “Love those Gucci slides, man!!  Wish I had me a pair!  And by the way, your feet smell fabulous!”

Don’t get me started on those celebrities like Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray and other famous brand-masters who convince people that everyday, ordinary things like dog food and paper clip holders are worth paying more for just because they have the desired “name” on it. If Martha Stewart personally gave it her seal of approval, it must be worthy!!  And what’s the deal with lesser celebrities, like that Lauren Conrad person, who had her 15 minutes of fame on some MTV reality show and now considers herself a designer?  When I bought the Lauren Conrad brand slippers at Kohl’s (on sale, like all merchandise at Kohl’s at some point in the retail cycle, which is the only way I buy pretty much everything these days), they stained my feet orange and left tufts of fake fur all over my house.  When they were first offered for purchase, I’m sure those Lauren Conrad slippers were sold at a premium simply because they had her name on them.

If it were up to me, everything would just be generic and functional, and then there wouldn’t be a need for all these status purchases.  It would be the great equalizer – rich and poor, urban or rural, we would all have the SAME STUFF and spend the same amount of money for it, and it would last as long (without purchasing extra warranties!) and serve its intended purpose.  That might be boring for some, but it makes sense to me.

Who am I kidding?  I’m as much of a sucker as anyone else.  I literally just shelled out nearly $50 (money I shouldn’t really be spending given my precarious financial situation) at Bath & Body Works for hand soap and antibacterial gels in a mind-boggling variety of fragrances.  And yes, they were on sale, and yes, I had a coupon (which is how they get you in the store in the first place), but I didn’t NEED any of it.  It doesn’t bring me joy (although my new Confetti Cake Pop body spray makes me smile, at least for the first half hour after I’ve doused myself with it).

The curse certainly raised its head this week when we were forced, courtesy of a lady stopping short in the middle lane of three-lane road, to buy a new car for my daughter when her 2012 Jetta (which we bought from her uncle for a reduced price before she went away to college) was declared a total loss.  The kid told me, in no uncertain terms, that her dream car is a Dodge Challenger, and there wasn’t even a second option.  So off to the dealership we went, with nary a peep from me in protest, and purchased a 2018 certified pre-owned Dodge Challenger.  It was a complete impulse buy, probably a hundred dollars a month more than we could realistically afford, but she knew what she wanted, so that’s what we got.  I will say this:  It was a far less stressful car shopping experience than what I went through with my sister a few months back, when she didn’t really know what she wanted but she DID know she couldn’t afford to pay very much, so it was all about finding the best deal.  When you walk into a car showroom and you know what you want and what you’re willing to pay, it makes the salesperson’s life (and ergo YOUR life) a lot easier.

All that being said, I guess the moral of today’s blog post is this:  If you live hand-to-mouth, you have a lot fewer choices in life when it comes to consumables, even if you still WANT the expensive, name-brand stuff (and even if you sometimes make a misguided purchase you can’t really afford).  A little extra income goes a long way toward letting you satisfy your impulses with less guilt.  But some of the reasons we’re compelled to pay more for things are kind of ridiculous.  (Gucci slides?  Seriously??)

D car

The “dream car” (NOT a Honda).

Visualize Your Perfect Life

My daughter, at twenty-four years old and two years removed from college graduation, is in a limbo phase when it comes to her career (or at least next steps into functioning adulthood).  Her degree is in wildlife management, and during her college summers she did field study in Costa Rica and South Africa, both of which were awe-inspiring undertakings for her.

But since graduation, rather than finding employment in some exotic locale working with endangered species in the wild, or even working at one of our exemplary zoological parks (“The Zoo” on Animal Planet – a behind-the-scenes look at the Bronx Zoo – is a must-see for any animal lover), she’s been first a staff member and then the manager at the local animal shelter.  Indeed, she’s gained valuable hands-on experience working with dogs and cats (and the occasional bird, hamster or rabbit), learning how to handle difficult animals, administer medication and first aid, and maintain a public-facing municipal facility, often under difficult and always stressful conditions.  As of January, she has stepped back from that job and is taking a couple of classes at the local community college as a refresher in her chosen area of study, with the expectation that she will apply to graduate school programs in the fall.

The other day I asked her to imagine her perfect life, to visualize herself being utterly happy. What would she be doing? Where would she be living?  Who would be around her (human and/or animal)?  What does that happiness look like to her?

She confessed that she isn’t able to envision it – at least not yet – but she did say this:  “Maybe I don’t know what it looks like because I haven’t seen it.”  I said, “That’s fair,” but I also encouraged her to keep working at it.  Maybe she should talk to her new zoology professor at the local college, or her former TA, an ornithologist who finally, in her late thirties, after stints in West Virginia and Texas, found her perfect position in New England, to see how they got where they are now from where they started.  Do some research – look for cool documentaries (she already watches a lot, but more frequently about serial killers than the wonders of the natural world), read the newsletters that her university sends out, seek out and talk to folks in the field.  With any luck, in the course of her exploration she’ll know “it” when she sees it!

Some people know what they want in life very early on – like an elite athlete, or a child performer, or an artist – and then use visualization techniques to be more successful at their craft.  Others (like my daughter) aren’t as clear.  She knows animals are somehow involved in her dream career, and she knows it will be something that allows her to use her concern for the planet and passionate sense of justice to focus her efforts where they can have the most effect.  But unfortunately there’s no job description for that.

I’ve been grooming her for that level of happiness for years.  We’ve always had a hand-written saying stuck to the refrigerator door, at eye level so you see it every time you open it:  “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  It was so important for me to impart that message to her because I regret not doing that myself, not pursuing my dream career when I got out of college.  Somehow I lost my way, and 40 years later, I’m still at sea when it comes to my perfect livelihood.

But when it comes to my perfect visualized life, well, at 60 years of age, my vision isn’t all that different from my reality, with one small exception (who am I kidding? – one oppressively large exception, actually):  In my ideal life, I don’t have this job, and I don’t have to worry about how to pay my bills.  Other than that, though, I rather like a lot of things about my life right now:  I read, I write, I enjoy my animals, I volunteer at the shelter, I spend time with friends and family (although I could always use more of that) and I watch my beloved New York Rangers (even when they’re losing).  I live near the ocean and can smell the sea air and hear the waves from my deck (although I would gladly trade it in for a warmer option – I hate the cold and snow in the Northeast!).  I would add more physical activity – hikes, walks, maybe aerobics or aquasize – and subtract sitting at my computer all day, waiting for clients to respond to my requests and queries.  Just a few minor tweaks – okay, one LARGE tweak – and my life would be pretty much as I’ve envisioned it.  I’m just a lottery win away!

My happy place

My happy place