Thursday, April 02, 2020

A Curmudgeonly Take on Covid

     Personal space has a whole new meaning nowadays. Unwanted touching certainly does as well. Even the ordinarily benign statistical terms defining groups as millenials or seniors carry more gravity in this era of 'corona-crisis'.

     For seniors like myself, it means being dragged into a whole new world we had never faced in our lifetimes and one for which we're ill-equipped to handle. Maybe if we'd lived through the Spanish Flu epidemic 100 years ago or the Depression later, we'd know how to thrive hunkered down with dwindling supplies. Or maybe if we'd adapted better to the age of super-technology with its apps and downloads like our children and grandchildren have, we'd be better prepared to order groceries on-line or check our bank statement electronically. I don't think my parents even have a credit card.

     So now I'm adapting to the new normal. I ordered a pizza from my computer at home. That's a first. But I always worry every time I type my credit card into my computer it's going to fall into the hands of a crook (I really should have ordered an extra large pizza so we'd have more leftovers).

     My brother, who was a postman, offered a tip through Facebook that we can order stamps by mail. Sounded good as we were nearly out. So I went on-line and set up an account with USPS. With their levels of security, you would have thought I was applying for a defense contract. They wanted to know my mother's maiden name, even my favorite sport. What if I don't have one? They also wanted me to use a password that's different from any other password I might have on the internet. Seriously? Every website seems to require a password now and I have trouble remembering just one. Heck, I'm a senior. I have trouble remembering what day it is.

     But I soldiered through and created my account. Then I ordered a book of stamps. That cost me $1.30 extra delivery fee and I could expect them in five to seven days. I later found out my post office was still open and I could have bought them myself in five to seven minutes walking time from my house.

     I'm still not ready to order my groceries on-line though. Maybe if they would guarantee toilet paper. However, our local grocery store had a time specifically set aside for seniors. So my wife and I got up early and went.

     It was a madhouse in there. I think every senior in the county was there. Social distancing? Forget it. Shelves stocked with everything? Nope. Many seniors were wearing masks. My wife and I don't have one though I thought afterwards that if we go again, I'll pull out this old over-the-head Halloween rubber skull mask I have. It covers my mouth and is intimidating enough in appearance that it would guarantee social distancing between me and other shoppers. I could even wear my accompanying grim reaper's robe with it. Not only would that guarantee social distancing but it would probably send shoppers scurrying for the exits. I could have the whole store to myself.

     It made me wonder if getting all these vulnerable seniors in the same crowded store at the same time was trying to instill in us what they describe as “herd immunity.”

     For me, most of this comes down to personal responsibility. Like many seniors, I have to shake my head at the lack of personal responsibility many are exhibiting. You can rant about governmental leaders, many of whom have been turned into political punching bags. But it really comes down to us as people to make the changes necessary to get through this.

     What makes me sad personally is seeing how this affects my grandchildren whom we watch a day a week that they're out of school. When my six-year-old found out that they would not be spending their spring break on the beach in Florida as they'd been promised for many months, he cried.

     His nine-year-old brother said, “We were going to go then somebody got infected.” No, it wasn't just SOMEbody as he indicated. I saw the videos on the news. There were lots, lots of people not taking personal responsibility, seniors included.

     I took my grandkids to the local park but had to corral my three-year-old when he ran jubilantly towards his favorite plaything there, the swing. There was another little girl swinging nearby and I didn't want to risk the possibility of them being too close together. That was last week. This week they're closing down playgrounds altogether.

     My elder grandson watched from a distance as a bunch of kids played basketball on a nearby court. That's also not advised, but these kids were younger and probably not as vulnerable. I also saw a few younger folks eating ice cream as they walked back from a local Dairy Queen. This is at a time when our governor has advised people to shelter in place. Is that happening much here in Michigan? I hear even golf courses are open (they've closed since). Maybe they're considered essential businesses. Personal responsibility folks!

     Well, I'm going to shelter in place. No golfing, no Dairy Queen, not even mine and my wife's one and only addiction, Tim Horton coffee, though I may relent there and go to the drive-through if the numbers of infected finally start to flatten. We stocked up on Tim Horton's gift cards so we can zip through quickly.

     So then I stay home, much of the time watching videos from my collection of sci fi apocalyptic movies. Seriously, they're my favorites. I watched Oblivion this week. Also have movies like The Last Man on Earth and 28 Days Later. I love dystopia. Just never thought I'd be living it.

     One movie I have that seems to have an unintended parallel in this Corona-crisis is When Worlds Collide. Today it's a generational collision--the more tech savvy and less vulnerable,younger (and perhaps less personally responsible) generation versus the more vulnerable older generation, one of which (me) is trying to decipher Skype so they can see their grandkids growing up three states over.

     Before the era of social distancing, my wife and I went to see comedian Nate Bargatze at a packed-house concert in Kalamazoo. He personally recounted his own struggle with trying to get a Google Chromebook to connect to Netflix while he stayed overnight at a hotel. He complained to the front desk and two elderly workers tried to help him, but neither could quite jump through all the technological hoops to get it working. Not to worry though, they said, “A millenial will be coming in at 11 p.m. He should be able to help.”

     But 11 o'clock came and went while Nate waited patiently. Finally, he got a call from the front desk. “The millenial didn't show up for work,” he said.

     Got one of the biggest laughs of the night.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Might As Well Blog

     Lately I'm reminded of a joke I heard many years ago. During the “mad cow” epidemic, two cows were grazing together in a farmer's field. The first cow says to the other, “This mad cow epidemic has me worried. Last month it was the state next to us. Then two weeks ago it was in the county next to us. Now I hear it's at a farm about ten miles away.” The second cow looks over and says, “What do we have to worry about? We're ducks!!”

    Anyway, I feel like the first cow. Better than being the second cow though.

     It was a week ago that I stopped in at our local Meijer grocery store just to get a bag of potato chips. My jaw dropped when I saw at every check-out huge lines of shoppers, some wearing face masks and their carts filled with as much as they could hold. I turned right around and walked out.

     Only this week did my wife and I return to Meijer. Not nearly as many shoppers this time but the store was not nearly as well stocked as usual. Of course, everyone who's shopped lately knows the usual hard-to-get items—toilet paper, bottled water and disinfectants. But browsing around, there were some other items in short supply. Soft cream cheese was one. I noticed frozen pizzas seemed to be a popular item as they were in short supply, maybe because they're easy to prepare for those used to eating out frequently since restaurants and bars are now closed.

     Since it was St. .Patrick's Day, I looked down the beer aisle for Irish ale and noticed a gap in the bottles that were stocked on the refrigerated shelves. Probably a run on the Irish imports, I figured. Nope. Ironically, it was Corona beer. Not a one there under the Corona sign.

     We checked out with our cart, Wendy endorsing her check for electronic funds transfer with a pen the checkout clerk gave her. Thinking she should sanitize the pen afterwards, my wife asked, “Do you have any hand sanitizer?”

     “Are you joking?” the clerk responded. They didn't even have hand sanitizer for the clerks handling all those groceries.

     Schools and our local library have been closed for a week. When I tried to return a DVD to the library last week, just to put it in the dropbox for returns, I was confronted with padlocks and this sign advising me to hold onto all checked-out materials until the library re-opens:
     But then today I get this e-mail. “FIRST OVERDUE NOTICE. As of the date shown our files show that the following items charged to your account are overdue. Please return these items as soon as possible.” Ironically, not everyone at the library is on the same page.

     My son is working as is his wife so we watched all three grandboys yesterday, trying to entertain them in this time of gloom and despair. No turning on the TV news with its depressing reports of illnesses and casualties across our world. YouTube's OK. Nintendo games, fine. Wendy even gives up her smart phone and Kindle portable tablet so the boys have that to play with too. Keeps everyone happy until . . .

. . . six-year-old Luke brings the Kindle to me and says, “This is dead.”

     C'mon, Luke. Bad choice of words. How about saying, “This needs to be re-charged but it should be healthy and back to normal shortly.”

Friday, February 21, 2020

Show Me The Money

     I've never made a nickel blogging. Not that it ever was my intent to do so. That also goes for my other on-line posts as well, usually reviews of places I've written about for TripAdvisor. I've submitted well over 100 reviews there over the years and the most I've gotten out of that is a map with dots marking the places we've been. That was good enough.

     But it appears that one of my reviews there might actually bring me some money. Okay, it's actually a refund of sorts but it still counts in my book.

     Back when we were in Hawaii in November, we had a full day off our cruise ship in Honolulu. I mainly wanted see some sights and hang out at the beach. It appeared the best way to do that was to get an all-day pass for their hop-on, hop-off trolley. We've had bad experiences aboard oversold, overcrowded trolleys on past vacations but were told this one should be okay.

     So our first trolley took us along the coast of Oahu, past the boyhood home of Barack Obama, past the beach where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr were doing their thing in the movie From Here to Eternity, past luxury golf courses and gated communities for millionaires, then back to Honolulu where we hopped off and hung out at Waikiki Beach.

     We were specifically told of the last trolley, the “red line trolley”, that was the only bus to get back to the cruise ship. So after my wife and I enjoyed the beach for a few hours, we camped out at the Waikiki bus stop. Just in case the bus came early, I made sure we were there at the ready, though the sun was quite hot that day.

     Many buses and trolleys came and went. I was looking for the “red line” but didn't see one carrying that sign. Surprisingly, most buses did not have English descriptions, but signs with Japanese or Chinese writing, not sure which. Just to make sure, I once asked a driver, “Is this the red line?” He responded, “This isn't any line.” Great.

     Our trolley didn't come at the appointed time. Another trio of waiting passengers decided to take a cab, but we'd spent an extra $40 just for this last bus tour that would take us to the cruise ship. When it was nearly ten minutes late, Wendy called the trolley company and was told the red line was finished for the day.

     WHAT?? When she told them the bus hadn't arrived at our stop, the company suggested we find its GPS coordinates and plug them into an app on our smartphone to find its location. Again, what?? The only app we use on that "smartphone" is Facebook and I doubt that would help us here. Then they gave us a 1-800 number to call which we did. The bus was arriving soon.

     And it arrived . . . full. Every seat taken. When we boarded, and tried to stand the driver told us we'd be standing for over an hour and implored us to get off at the next stop, just down the block, where he said to take city bus 19 or 20 and “you'll be back to the cruise ship pier in 20 minutes.”

     So we took his advice, hopping off the bus at the bus stop where we took a seat next to a panhandler who was being severely remonstrated for his indolence by an elderly gent who said he was an ex-Marine. Wonderful. Then the ex-Marine boarded a bus and left us alone with the vagrant who gave his persecutor a one-finger salute as he rode off.

     “It's getting dark,” Wendy whispered in my ear as buses not 19 or 20 stopped and went. Downtown Honolulu was getting a little scary for us. People joined us at the bus stop occasionally but they boarded buses that came and went, leaving us alone again with the homeless guy who was dragging on a cigarette, his suitcase on the pavement beside him.

     Finally bus 19 did come. Hallelujah. I asked the bus driver if this bus went to the cruise ship pier. He nodded that it did. We grabbed seats and rode through Honolulu. Remembering the trolley bus driver had predicted we'd be back at the pier in 20 minutes (we'd already waited over 20 minutes for this bus), I kept looking for our cruise ship.

     Twenty minutes later, I was still looking for our cruise ship. It was fully dark now and this part of town didn't look as familiar as I thought it should. It appeared that we were going to Pearl Harbor and that's not where our cruise ship was docked. Was there another cruise ship pier?

     Then the bus stopped and a number of passengers rose to get off. No announcement was made but I could see our ship's silhouette in the distance. We were across an eight-lane busy expressway and down the block, but this was as close to our cruise ship as we were going to get.

     After getting off the bus and finding the energy to cross the highway and make our way back to the terminal, the guard at the security checkpoint warmly greeted us. “Welcome back, Dave” he said after checking my passport. I thanked him, went through the inspections and the x-ray machines after which my wife and I finally breathed a sigh that our troubled journey back was over.

     But it wasn't yet.

     We followed the exit signs posted in the empty main terminal station which took us right back outside. When we discovered we took the wrong door, my wife pleaded fruitlessly with a security guard to let us back in the door we'd just exited. Nope. Back to the security checkpoint, she insisted.

    “Welcome back,” the puzzled guard said.

     “Again,” I said.

     Next time we just might stay on the boat.

     Oh, the money I got. I wrote a review of this trolley for TripAdvisor and lamented about our experience after which the company reached out and, to make things right, sent a check for $55.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Read To Me

      My volunteer work through the senior center here has gone beyond reading stories occasionally to young kindergartners. Now they’re reading to me. One or two times a month I’m assigned a kindergarten class to visit where teachers send students one-by-one out into a desk in the hall with a plastic bin of the books they’re reading currently. They read, I listen.
     Well, sometimes I help too, sounding out a word, perhaps asking a question or making a comment. One gifted young reader didn’t just read his story, he performed it with grand gestures and vocal expression. But there was something strange about the book he was reading.
      Rather than just being a book about colors or animals or snowmen, like the other books read to me, his book involved a TV set with dials. A TV set that the dad takes to the shop after it breaks down at home. Obviously not a contemporary tale. I took the book from him and checked the copyright date. It was over 20 years old.

     I had a hunch about this book and the way he read it with such gusto. “I’ll bet your mother read  you this book”, I said, figuring it probably was a book she read herself as a kid.

     The boy whose mood had been so light-hearted when he was reading, at once turned serious. “My mother doesn’t even have this book,” he responded coolly. I let it go.

     Another girl not only read her book about baby animals but after each page included a bit of a science lesson. After reading about a fuzzy caterpillar, she turned the book to me and pointed out the various body parts. “Here is its head, here is its spikes, and here is its bottom,” she explained.

     But then after she read the next page on snakes, she added, “I once saw a snake eat a baby dinosaur.” Just as I was about to call B.S., she went on, “It was at a dinosaur museum.” Ohhhh. Probably a model or a diorama or something.

     A separate kindergartner read this same page about snakes, then volunteered that he had a pet snake at home. I don’t like snakes and told him so. I asked what kind of snake he had. A python. So how big was his python? He stretched out his arms as far as they would go and strained to go even further. This was a big snake then.

     He also added that he had a pet penguin. A small one, he said, gesturing to make it look the size of a small dove. So I asked him how a python gets along with this small bird, thinking to myself that the python obviously has to regard this other pet as lunch or rather a light snack given the size implied of the reptile.

     “They’re friends!” the kindergartner assured me excitedly. Again, I didn’t want to argue. I let it go.

     A primer on colors generated a bit of controversy with this one girl. After reading about flowers of various colors, I asked her what color shirt she was wearing. “It’s light pink,” she said.

     “Light pink?” I asked, a little surprised that she picked a shade to go with her color.

     “Yes, light pink versus dark pink,” she explained, as if she were giving me a lesson on colors. What’s wrong with just plain old PINK. But I let it go. I asked her what color sweatshirt I was wearing. She wasn’t sure but then she ventured, “Grey.”

     Grey?? No way could I let it go this time. I told her it was brown. She didn’t believe me so I dug through a nearby box of crayons and colored pencils to find a brown one. Then I held it next to my sweatshirt. She still didn’t think it was brown. “Maybe a dark brown,” she suggested. What’s with the light and dark? Just pick a color and go with it.

     When I got home I wanted some re-assurance I was right on this. I asked my wife what color my sweatshirt was. She said it was ‘charcoal.’ I said ‘no’, it was brown. I told her the little girl said it was grey and my wife agreed that it was more grey than brown. “I don’t know why you say it’s brown,” my wife told me.

     So maybe the kindergartner was right and I was wrong. Change of plan. Next time I go to listen to these readers, I’ll just listen and keep my comments to myself.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

My Fear of Flying

     My doctor doesn't hesitate to prescribe Xanax when I tell him I'm flying. He knows my fear of flying and that I don't fly often. In fact, though I needed to see Hawaii to complete my visits to all 50 states, I considered NOT flying there. I booked a cruise tour from San Francisco, figuring I could drive from Michigan to San Francisco, thereby avoiding flying altogether. In the end, I felt that would make it too long a trip so I succumbed to the desire for expediency.

     We flew round trip from Detroit to San Francisco. The initial flight went okay. Our bag was three pounds over the 50-pound limit—so much for the accuracy of our personal scale back home—but we were within the grace limit so didn't get assessed an extra $100. We made it to San Francisco and sailed on

     Aboard the cruise ship, a comedian recounted his own harrowing story of flying. It was a smaller, commuter propeller plane (didn't they stop making propeller planes when they stopped making rotary phones, he asked?). They had to re-arrange the passengers to distribute the weight appropriately. The comedian wondered whether the heavier passengers were seated in the rear in order to make the nose of the plane rise during take-off.

     He also wondered why, if passenger cell phones are dangerous if in use during a flight, why not just ban them on board altogether, instead of asking passengers to switch to 'airplane mode.' Can you trust millennials to follow directions like this when they are so wedded to social media? The comedian worried that the pilot could suddenly blurt out while in flight, “Somebody twittered. We're going down!”

     Now many of my fellow passengers found his jokes to be hilarious, but to a white-knuckle flyer like myself, all I could think of was, “He's right. Comedians make their livings off of observational humor that's true. I don't think I want to fly now.”

     After Hawaii and back in San Francisco, I made sure I took my full dose of Xanax before our flight back to Michigan. Then, while sitting at the terminal near our gate, waiting to board. I heard, “Would Dave please report to the service desk? Would Dave . . . “ and I heard my full name called over the din of the passengers chatting and milling about.

     My wife Wendy who was sitting next to me didn't hear my name called, but I was sure I did. Sure enough that I went up to the service desk to ask if I'd been paged.

     The nattily dressed gate attendant looked down at a sheet and responded. “No. We didn't page you.” Then she looked up with an expectant smile.

   “Are you volunteering?” she asked.

    Whatever would they need a volunteer for????? Was the flight crew understaffed? Did they not have a pilot? Despite my full dose of Xanax, I seriously could have panicked here. I didn't even follow up with the obvious question: Why are you looking for volunteers?

      Instead, I waved her off, saying, “No, no, no, no, no. I'm not volunteering for anything.” Then I quickly turned and walked away. Thankfully, the flight back home was uneventful and I dozed off frequently. Thank you, doctor. But on a hunch, when I got back home I looked up the side effects of Xanax. Aha! Just as I suspected. One possible side effect is auditory hallucinations.

     Good to know. If I ever fly again, I'll know not to follow up if I think I hear my name called over the airport public address system.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Civic Duties

     I voted this week. It was a short ballot—three city council positions with four candidates running—so I brought along my three-year-old grandson Owen so he could watch the proceedings garbed in cold weather jacket and Batman stocking cap.

     After I voted, we walked to the check-out station to turn our, oops my, ballot in. The poll worker saw my grandson coming up and asked him, “What's your name?”

     “Batman,” Owen said matter-of-factly.

      “So you are Batman,” the worker responded. “I may need to see some ID.”

     On the way out, one of the council candidates asked my grandson, “Did you vote?” He quickly responded, “Yes.” Hope Owen's responses don't get me in any trouble with the renewed emphasis on voter fraud. I can see the headline: “Three-year-old who claimed to be Batman may have voted in local election.”

     I endured a more painful civics lesson when I decided to attend a city marijuana forum being conducted, partly to determine if medical marijuana would be sold within city limits. I really didn't care one way or another but saw it as an opportunity to educate myself on the subject.

     So I sat while a number of would-be marijuana distributors, patients and others all spoke, nearly all very much in favor of bringing medical marijuana to town. I sat quietly in back even though some of what was spoken didn't ring quite true to me. Finally, as the discussion moderator asked if there were any more comments or questions, I thought I would throw out a question.

     I tried to ask whether any of these medical marijuana dispensary employees were required to have medical training of any sort. Simple question, I thought. But the discussion moderator said I needed to come up front to ask it after I tried just calling it out from my seat. Not what I intended.

     Now something happened while I was walking up there to the microphone. Maybe my mind was trying to channel Jimmy Stewart in Mr Smith Goes to Washington or something but I felt like I had to do more than ask a simple question. So I complained about the wonderful medical benefits that were ascribed by various speakers to marijuana's properties--somebody even claiming that marijuana cured cancer--then I asked whether any medical training was required to dispense it.

     As they say in court, that just required a yes or no answer. But instead, the folks running the forum, called upon a medical marijuana dispensary operator to answer. In fact, they had him come up next to me on the podium where we had a brief back and forth. Not what I intended.

     To make matters worse, the whole shebang was being recorded to be shown on public access TV. It's on YouTube as well. When I sent the link to my son so he could view it himself, he teased me about it:

please come to the microphone”
well, I just had a question”
sir, please step up to the microphone” HAHA!

     Next time I'll keep my questions to myself. There's no civic duty to make a fool of myself.

     But there is a civic duty to pay taxes, assessments, tolls and the like. I just got notice of a new one this week. From Canada of all places. While driving through Ontario a month ago, we apparently. traveled on a toll road. I got a chuckle out of the bill--$13.64 for toll charge, $1 for trip toll charge (how'd they know this was a trip), $4.20 for the camera charge (obviously that photographer is overpaid if he's getting paid by the photo) and $3.95 account fee.

     Bound by civic duty, however, we were prepared to send a check. But that wasn't a payment option. Don't they take checks in Canada anymore? They wanted you to sign onto a computer and pay by credit card. But what if I don't have a computer? What if I don't have a credit card? My parents don't.

     Ah, there is another solution. Drive to Woodbridge, Canada (wherever that is)  and pay in person. Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. And probably incur more toll charges along the way.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Still My Favorite Season

     My wife and I were recently discussing stages of life. There's your childhood as you look forward to becoming a teenager and more freedom as you learn to drive. Then there comes the independence of turning 21 and planning your future. Once you're settled, you look forward to marriage and possibly raising a family. From there it's a long road as middle age awaits but eventually you look forward to seeing your children move off on their own and having the house to yourself. Then on to retirement.

     But now, as both my wife and I entered that retirement stage some years ago, I asked her what stage of life now do we have to look forward to. After some thought, I proposed that it might be a time of retrospection and looking back after our travels and our time spent watching grandchildren.

     Not that I don't do some looking back already when I have the time. Just now I was reading past blogs I've written over the last 14 years. Much has changed in those past 14 years but one thing that certainly hasn't is my fondness for all things Halloween. Almost every year an October blog has featured a Halloween picture or story of some sort.

     This year I raised five pumpkins in my backyard garden . . .
. . . purchased a skeleton from Costco, watched my favorite zombie movie, visited the Bewitching Peddlers show in Marshall, Michigan and bought a package of over 180 candy bars for the trick-or-treaters.

     And it's not even October! The stores got to love an early shopper like myself.

     I've also infected my nearly three-year-old grandson with my enthusiasm for the spooky season. He loves my pumpkins in the back yard. Before he left after his usual Tuesday with grandma and grandpa last week, I saw him go into the back yard and give the biggest pumpkin there a hug. Though he speaks excitedly about ghosts, skeletons, zombies and “witces”, pumpkins are his favorite.

     Check out this picture.
     We were at a bakery where we said he could have any pastry he wanted. His favorite donut with sprinkles was in the display case as were others rich with cream and frosting. He picked out a pumpkin cookie, which he only nibbled at. Grandpa helped him to finish it.

     To entertain him one day, I got out my bin of Halloween props. He loved going through the fake spiders, skeletons and ghosts though I grabbed from him a make-up kit.

     “Is it dangerous?” he asked.

     In a grandpa's eyes, a three-year-old with a packet of face-paints and smudge rubs? Yeah, let's say it could be trouble. But if he were disappointed, perhaps I made up for it by signing him up for a pre-school pumpkin hunt that's supposed to take place in a few weeks.

     And it's not even October.