Monthly Archives: November 2016

Things That Bring Me Joy

Like some of my favorite TV shows, my blog went on hiatus for Thanksgiving week.  It was certainly not planned or intentional.  I just failed to come up with anything to write about or the time to write it.

Truth be told, I’ve been in kind of a deep, dark lethargy these past few weeks.  It’s partially the election and the all-encompassing feeling of dread I have for what’s ahead for this nation.  [On that front, I read  an interesting interview with Robert Reich today that outlines in detail the things we all have to fear from a Trump presidency:  Danny Feingold, “Conversations on Trump’s America: Robert Reich Previews a New Era of Savage Inequality”, Capital and Main website, 11/29/16, http://capitalandmain.com/conversations-on-trumps-america-robert-reich-previews-a-new-era-of-savage-inequality-1129%5D  I avoid the news because I hate having to look at his face, let alone listen to the crap coming out of his mouth (or the mouths of his surrogates – that Kellyanne Conway person in particular gives me the heebie-jeebies, but she may be on her way out, evidently).  I’m just waiting for my call to action, because I know it’s coming.

It might also be the too-early arrival of night since we turned back the clocks a few weeks ago.  Not enough sunlight means not enough energy for Nan.  When it gets dark at like four o’clock in the afternoon, I just want to cuddle up on the sofa with a couple of cats and zone out in front of the TV, but IT’S ONLY FOUR O’CLOCK!!  And of course I can never wake up in a timely enough fashion to take advantage of the earlier arrival of daylight.

But in the midst of these doldrums, I still manage to find little bits of joy to sustain me. Beginning on January 1st of 2016, I’ve been diligently recording, every night before I go to bed, at least one thing that gave me joy that day.  Believe me, some days it isn’t easy, and I do have to admit to writing “No joy today” on a number of occasions.  But I’ve been pretty consistent about it, so I feel like I’m at least making an effort to stay positive even when I feel myself slipping into depression.

My joys fall into four main categories:

(1)  My various companion animals, both at home and at the shelter.  Without question, animal contact has given me more moments of happiness than probably anything else.  There’s nothing better than stroking the cheeks and chin of a cat at creating mutual bliss between the participants.

(2)  Things on TV, like new seasons of my favorite shows, like “Shameless”, “Project Runway”, “Ink Master”, and of course “Game of Thrones”, which I miss terribly.  Seriously?  We have to wait till the summer for its return??  I’ll have to console myself with . . .

(3)  The Rangers and, to a lesser extent, the New York Football Giants.  Like Sunday, for example – no joy on the Ranger front, as they were shut out by an Ottawa Senators team that played ITS game better than the Rangers played THEIRS, but at least the Giants won, pretty convincingly after a slow start, a game they were supposed to win.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s elation when he scores touchdowns (even if it’s called back, like the one he scored on a punt return) is just contagious.  Yesterday, because they were in Cleveland, he had concocted a little Lebron James tribute where he pantomimed the thing that Lebron does where he throws out the powder or fairy dust or whatever it’s supposed to be.  Although I must confess that the Rangers are also responsible for entries like (from April 21), “Not only NO JOY but DESPONDENCY; Rangers were embarrassingly lethargic.  No work = no money, too much food – I didn’t have ANY joy today.”

(4) FOOD.  Yes, I admit it – food gives me joy.  Sometimes it’s the only thing in a day for which I can muster appreciation.  My weekly chicken souvlaki platter with Israeli salad from Abe’s Pitaria is a constant, especially when I can pair it with yummy frozen yogurt (with multiple toppings) from Tutti Frutti.  Desserts of all kinds, Digiornio’s stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, dinners out with friends – some of my greatest moments are comestible-related.

There’s other stuff, too, that doesn’t quite fall into any of those categories.  A magnificent Long Beach sunset during one of my Boardwalk power walks; listening to the perfect song as I’m riding my bike (R.I.P. big blue bicycle – I’ll get a new one when I move back home and can actually store it inside so it doesn’t die from rust rot, like my former bike did); a visit with a good buddy I haven’t seen in a while.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as finding a good parking spot can make it into the Joybook.

Sometimes I can’t evoke “joy” per se, but on those days I record what I think of as “contentedness”, like one day in September when the weather was gorgeous, I kept up with my walking regimen (which, I confess, has fallen by the wayside, another victim of my recent lack of motivation) and I managed to earn $500.

But what this whole exercise has done for me is forced me to appreciate the small moments in life.  Joy doesn’t present itself in big chunks; it comes in little snippets, and if you’re hustling and bustling mindlessly through your days, or solely focused on the downswings, you’ll miss those precious moments.

So the little Celtic Daybook that my friend André gave me way back in 1990, that I’ve been holding on to blankly for all that time, has finally gotten filled (with only one more month to g0).  Even in this awful year, I still managed to find quite a few things that brought me joy.  And now I need to get a new daybook for 2017, because I’m afraid we’re in for a bumpy ride, so joyful moments will come at a premium and must be memorialized and cherished at all costs.

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Sickness

In thinking about what to write in my blog post this week, the thing that’s been most prevalent is my sickness:  my actual physical sickness and my heart sickness over this horrible election result and the future of this country (and perhaps even the world).

I don’t get ill very often, but when I do, it’s usually bronchial in nature and it frequently involves copious amounts of coughing.  My freshman year in college, I had bronchitis pretty much from October till May; I don’t know how my roommate Erika put up with me, let alone wanted to live with me again.

This version of the coughing illness is made even more horrible because my coughing evidently disturbs the neighbors, evidenced by the lady downstairs banging on her ceiling the first night the hacking began.  Thankfully, she may have grown some empathy (or perhaps she’s away, which seems more likely) because she hasn’t banged since, perhaps since I’ve been trying to direct all of my night coughing into my pillows – at least when I’m AWARE that I’m coughing, which I often am, which also means that I’m not sleeping very much.  But coughing into my pillow is still noisy, and it’s jarring.  I’m certain my whole bed shakes.  My friend down the hall gave me some Vicks Vap-o-rub, which she swears will help me sleep.  That aroma of camphor and menthol always reminds me of being a kid, because that’s what my mother – and my grandmother before her – would slather on my chest whenever I had a coughing sickness.

Fortunately, I don’t get the bad cough every year, especially since I quite smoking cigarettes in 2010, but when it does come, the coughing itself is legendary.  This one is BAD, exacerbated by the high rise neighbor shame.  At least in my own house, with my kid away at school, I don’t disturb anyone but the animals, although for some reason, Gizmo likes to be even closer to me than usual when I’m sick like this; maybe he thinks he’s helping to hold my guts in.

I don’t want to go to the doctor thanks to a shortage of money and time, so I’ve been taking Duricef left over from a bout earlier this fall with sinusitis.  (Often when I think my cough is bronchial it turns out to be my sinuses and the resultant post-nasal drip.)  But if it doesn’t lessen in the next day or so, I may have to break down and make an appointment.

Of course, no amount of antibiotics can cure my OTHER sickness:  the Donald-Trump-is-President-of-the-United-States sickness.  That affliction will last four years, provided he doesn’t abdicate or get impeached.  In all the photos I’ve seen of him lately (and the fewer I see of those, the better – I literally hate the sight of the man), he looks dumbfounded, like he can’t believe what he’s gotten himself and his family into.  And speaking of his Stepford Children (poor shell-shocked Barron, standing on the stage as his father claimed his victory; if he only knew what’s in store for him . . . ), they can’t have it both ways:  They can’t be in his inner circle as president and also run his company.  It’s unprecedented and it’s absolutely wrong.  Maybe he will get enough pushback on this issue to have an impact, although that will be tough in this environment, where the lame ducks have no power and everybody in the Republican party is kissing as much Trump ass as they possibly can.  Grow a spine, people.  These are the folks whom we have entrusted with our governance?  Well, more than half the people who actually voted – not to mention those slackers who didn’t vote at all –did NOT want to entrust their governance to these people, which is why I have no idea how Republicans were able to hold on to so many congressional seats.  I’ve got the shakes just thinking about it.

The sickness (both varieties) has also resulted in the temporary abandonment of my walking regimen.  It actually would be beneficial to my health if I started walking again; I’m sure it would clear my sinuses, as well as my head.  But I just can’t muster the energy.  Lack of sleep will do that to you.  It also doesn’t help that I used to walk at sunset, but now by 6 p.m. we’re already in the dark of night.  It kind of makes my evening walks a little less attractive, but that’s what I’m stuck with until the spring.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m officially done with whining about my physical woes (the heart woes will linger, I’m afraid, but I’ve become almost numb to them; I’m just waiting – as I did throughout the election – for Trump to shoot himself in the foot and/or take himself out, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the expectations of the leader of the Free World).  My illness is a mere annoyance, a wrinkle in the fabric of my life.  It is NOTHING compared to the trials some of my dear friends have gone through recently (and some are currently going through).  It makes me almost embarrassed to complain.  In fact, every night, when I’m saying my prayers of gratefulness, I always thank the Higher Power for my “relative good health.”  But man, I sure hope I return to my NORMAL physical limitations soon.  I’ve got too much to do.  There’s money to be earned, the kid will be home for the holidays and my house (hopefully) will be finished soon, so relocation – and a REAL return to normalcy – is right around the corner.  I have no time for sickness of ANY kind.

Dark Days Ahead

I find it very difficult to write – to THINK – today.  Aside from just being nauseous and somewhat numb, I am disappointed beyond words by the rampant ignorance among the American people, and I am afraid for the future of this country.  I kept thinking that something must be wrong with the technology; the results can’t possibly be so favorable to Trump, a joke of a candidate who didn’t even believe himself that he could win.  And yet, there he was, ready to cut into a cake made in his likeness (of COURSE it was) to celebrate his complete bamboozling of a misinformed, ignorant public.  How could this even happen??  Did people hate Hillary (undeservedly so, I believe) that much?  Is the supposedly most modern country in the world still so misogynistic that they would reject an intelligent, experienced, eminently qualified career public servant who just happens to be a woman over a practically illiterate, bloated, blustery huckster (who could ONLY be man) for the highest, most visible office in the land?  I just don’t get it.  New York, of course, had it right, voting nearly 3-to-1 against him.  But the rest of the country was startlingly able to be conned.  Why didn’t all the people who voted for Obama vote now for Hillary?  Was it not to be just a continuation of four years of hard-fought success, with grace and class?  Where were Bernie’s supporters?  Did they not believe him when he entreated them to vote for Hillary because that was the only way – the ONLY way – they were going to achieve any of the items on their agenda?

And so we are now stuck with President Trump (I throw up in my mouth a little just to write it), assaulting us with his orangeness on a daily basis, a Slovenian former nude model as First Lady and his creepy family nepotistically inserted into every facet of his administration.  And I can’t even hope for something terrible to befall him (not that I would, mind you), because then we’d be left with Mike Pence, who is probably, in his way, even MORE dangerous than Trump because he’s controlled by the blinders of Christian evangelicalism.

Oh, woe is my country!  Where were all the progressives?  Where were the Latinos and African-Americans and Muslim-Americans?  Where were the WOMEN, who according to polls (which I will NEVER believe again) despised him by an overwhelming majority?  Those groups together should have been able to defeat this menace.  But they were somehow silenced, overcome by the squeakiest of wheels – middle class white men (and their women, I presume) who hated having a Black president and who hated even MORE the idea of having a woman president, who were conned by Trump the salesman and reality TV star into believing that he could do anything to fix their miserable lives.  He can’t, and he won’t.  That is my most fervent wish:  That he is such an abject failure on all fronts that his supporters FINALLY turn on him, realizing that they have been sold a bill of goods (which they HAVE).

I have lost all hope and optimism, despite Trump’s efforts to “sound presidential” in his acceptance speech.  And frankly, I am even more upset by the fact that the Republicans still control the Congress and will now have every opportunity to stack the Supreme Court in favor of turning back the clock to a time when women and minorities and the LGBT community were denied their human rights.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer had better hold on with all their might to stick around for another four years.

I confess I had this nightmare months ago:  watching the election results with a sick feeling as Trump gains more and more electoral votes.  The image that sticks with me from last night is an overhead shot of Trump headquarters and the sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats – made in China.  These people are idiots, and now we will be ruled by idiots for the next four years.  Be afraid – be very afraid.  I am.

Woe Is Money

My money situation is killing me.

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve earned no less than $100,000 a year – not small potatoes, I admit.  I support only myself and my kid (and multiple furry children).  I don’t want for things, but I get what I want when I want it (more to the point, I get what my DAUGHTER wants).  We’ve taken a few expensive vacations since 2002, which has been by far my biggest outlay but also our greatest enjoyment, not to mention that I could only afford to travel every other year.  I live in a small house and I drive a small car.  I don’t own or wear jewelry.  (In fact, I don’t really GET jewelry – to me, it’s just an ostentatious show of wealth and a target for thieves.  I’m talking to YOU, Kim Kardashian.)  I wear clothes and shoes until they’re stained and falling apart (especially if they’re comfortable).  And yet I am deep in debt and hacking away at my middling retirement investments (left to me by my mother – more on that in a moment) and there’s no relief in sight short of winning the lottery.

Growing up, my parents always ensured that we lived comfortably (that’s how we got accustomed to it, of course).  And yet they still managed to have enough income to put two daughters through four years of college and pay off a 30,000 mortgage (in 1968, for a four-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house; contrast that with a two-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in Long Beach in 2004 with a mortgage of $300,000; I get that beach access comes at a premium, but still – literally ten times the mortgage for half the house?  Something doesn’t seem right.).  My father went through multiple cutting-edge (at that time) heart surgeries, and yet health care expenses didn’t cripple us.  In fact, there was enough left over in their savings (and my father’s life insurance) for my mother to live comfortably (still) into her early 70s until her own health issues overcame her, and STILL leave my sister and me over half a million in inheritance money (which we have both nearly wiped out, I’m ashamed to admit).

Of course, most of the money I’m taking from my inheritance is for my house, which has undergone three full renovations in less than ten years, only one of which was planned.  The others, of course, were courtesy of Superstorm Sandy.  And while I did get assistance with flood insurance and state grant money, I’ve still been forced to dig deep into my own already paltry retirement fund.   I have actually heard rumors of NY Rising suddenly changing procedures and withholding money or cancelling payments altogether, right when people are close to the end.  In fact, I was forced to pay my rent by credit card this month because I didn’t receive my Interim Mortgage Assistance payment in a timely manner, plus I had to pay an additional service charge of $52.95 to do so (which is outrageous in and of itself).  Thanks, NY Rising.  And they’re going to screw me out of my last payment somehow, too, I just know it.

I’ve whined about my money situation before in this blog (see, e.g., “Tax-Inspired Stream of Consciousness (and Another Top Ten List)”, 2/24/16) – it’s a constant source of agita for me – but thinking about this has led me to recall how things were when we were growing up, and even back when I first started working at a “real” job, in the early 1980s.  It was such a perk to get a position with “full benefits”.  I mean, TOTALLY FREE.  You didn’t have to pay for any of it – your employer paid for it, whether you were a single person or a family of ten.  Sure, medical advances to cure diseases and improve treatment methods, which have extended our life spans exponentially, all cost money, but SUCH an increase?  And if it all went to R&D, that would be one thing.  But what it’s really about is lining the pockets of the already wealthy.  I’m so sick of it.  All the angry middle-class and out-of-work Americans are backing the wrong horse (and the wrong horse’s party) in this election because Republicans and the wealthiest Americans (like Trump believes himself to be) are the ones who PUT the working poor and middle class in this position.  Find me a Republican who isn’t “Me First” (or, at best, “Us First”) and I might consider voting for that Republican (or at least listening to and working with that Republican).

I saw a couple of graphics on Facebook the other day (I think they both came from Bernie Sanders’ website, although I can no longer find the CEO pictograph).  One showed the disparities between the prices of the same drugs in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.  The same exact drugs!!  It was obscene.  [https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsenatorsanders%2Fposts%2F10155280240672908%3A0&]  The other showed the compensation for the CEOs of the major insurance companies, which were all well in excess of $20 million (with one outlier around $10 million).    Hmm, I wonder where all that money is going?  Then there’s all that inane advertising.  It’s a mystery to me why Big Pharma wastes so many millions of dollars on these fake-ass ads, with actors portraying ordinary humans living their (completely unrealistic) ordinary lives.  It’s not the CONSUMERS who decide what medication they need; it’s the doctors and, ultimately, the insurance companies.  Case in point:  My endocrinologist (who, by the way, does not take my insurance so I pay him out of pocket and try to limit my visits to twice a year) prescribed a new diabetes drug for me, but my insurance didn’t cover it.  So he suggested trying a different brand of the same drug, which my insurance supposedly covers.  I called the mail-order prescription filler that my insurance company insists upon for my regular medications and the woman there told me that I will have to pay NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a three-month supply because I still haven’t met my deductible (I will NEVER understand how that works).  “Well, I can’t pay that,” I told the woman.  It turns out that this particular pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) offers a program whereby I can get a free trial month and then heavily discounted doses for the next three months, and by that time, I will have hopefully lost enough weight so that I no longer require the medication.  So, in fact, THAT is what has determined what medication I take – not some stupid commercial with fake families kayaking in a lake at sunset or pushing their fake grandchildren on swings (or the absolute WORST commercials, those for Cialis or Viagra that show fake horny older couples doing all these flirty-touchy things.  Those make my skin crawl!).

In thinking about how our economic situation today is so much worse than our parents’ was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the nausea-inducing income inequality that exists in this country (a statistic that really burns me is that the top 1 percent of wealth holders in this country are richer than the bottom 95 percent) [http://inequality.org/99to1/facts-figures/], I’ve been considering how to counter possible criticism of my (and others’, notable Hillary Clinton’s) desire to make the rich pay their fair share toward maintaining our country’s infrastructure and the planet as a whole, as well as contributing to the common good of humankind.  Apart from the rich folks (who can AFFORD it – that’s the whole point:  if a multimillionaire were to give away HALF his or her money, he or she would STILL be a multimillionaire), who would suffer?  Law firms, for one, if corporations no longer needed to engage legal counsel to set up convoluted tax-minimizing structures for their deals and just sucked it up and paid what they should instead of siphoning off from the company’s profits to funnel the big bucks upstairs, ultimately at the expense of the employees.  The “luxury” industry might suffer, like, say, jewelers.  I was wondering if, as in the game of Monopoly, there was such a thing as a “luxury tax” that rich people have to pay when they buy things like diamonds and fancy cars, over and above plain old sales tax like the peons have to pay.  If there isn’t one, there should be.

All I know is, if I ever had a couple of million dollars, I wouldn’t be buying boats and diamond rings or gold-plated toilet seats.  I’d be paying it forward, giving money to rescue organizations and friends and family and worthy Kickstarter and Go-Fund-Me campaigns.  (My one indulgence if I were suddenly wealthy?  I would stop working, if I could manage it.)  [For more on this topic, see “An Excess of Excess”, 6/24/15]  But in the meantime, it would be ideal if the wealthy were on the (inescapable) hook to pay more taxes than they have been paying for the past few decades as the result of misguided economic policies like “trickle-down economics”.  The only way the money has been trickling is back into the pockets of the wealthy.

* * *

One more word on this cringe-worthy election and hopefully in next week’s blog post I can express my extreme relief that America has dodged a stupidity bullet and we’ll never have to see Donald Trump’s sickening orange face on our televisions again (as long as you don’t watch Trump TV, which I decidedly WILL NOT).  I can’t believe how many stupid people there are in this country – nearly half, according to “polls”.

It’s been expressed much more eloquently in many recent articles:  see, for example, Matthew Yglesias, “Clinton’s critics know she’s guilty, they’re just trying to decide what she’s guilty of”, Vox, 10/31/16, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/31/13474116/clinton-prime-directive:  “But what if all previous investigations have shown no wrongdoing because there was no wrongdoing? And what if the client-side copies of emails on Weiner’s computer are just client-side copies of emails, just like the emails in the inbox of everyone else who downloads email to a computer? What if Benghazi was just a tragedy and an example of how bad things happen in war zones? What if Whitewater was just a land deal on which some people lost money because real estate speculation is risky? What if Clinton has been getting away with it for all these years because she hasn’t done anything wrong?”; and  Conor Friedersdorf, “There’s Simply No Comparison Between Clinton’s Flaws and Trump’s”, The Atlantic, 11/1/16, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/perspective-on-the-flaws-of-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump/506042):   “The trouble with calling both candidates bad and leaving it at that isn’t just that it doesn’t capture how much worse he is, though it doesn’t, or that it is unfair to Clinton. I don’t actually care about her. I do care about us–about Americans who have to live in this country going forward, who will suffer if we elect a man as unfit for the presidency as any major party candidate for that office in generations.  His inexperience matters, his indiscipline matters, his ignorance matters, and so do his character flaws, which render him a greater danger to others the more power he is given.”,

But if I may, some final thoughts from me about this long national nightmare, for what it’s worth:  It shocks me (although maybe it shouldn’t, given the widespread willful ignorance of an educated-but-not-really American public) to see that there are so many people in this country who prefer Trump – a shady huckster who has jobbed the system at every opportunity, a pig and a racist and a wanna-be dictator, who is wholly unqualified to be president of arguably the most wealthy, powerful and influential nation in the world – over Hillary Clinton, a lifelong public servant who has experience at every level of government, who has stood up to those who vilify and criticize her because she realizes that there is an extremely important job that needs to be done – a job she has been waiting her whole life to do.  It’s just common sense, people.

If Hillary’s lying bothers Trump supporters so much, how hypocritical is it for them to support Trump, who lies far more than he tells the truth and whose pronouncements are almost entirely without basis in fact?  Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, speaking on “Meet the Press” on October 9 (http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/schmidt-trump-has-exposed-intellectual-rot-of-republican-party-782256707624), had it exactly right:  He said, in no uncertain terms, of the Trump campaign that “the magnitude of its disgrace . . . is difficult to articulate” and that “it has exposed the intellectual rot within the Republican Party”.

I just want it to be over.  Instead of rejoicing in this historical moment for women and knowing that the goals of political progressives are finally within reach, we’re being driven to distraction by a lot of hoohah over EMAILS.  GAH.  Enough already!