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Aging in Place: How to Pull It off

As you know if you read Funny about Money off and on, one of my goals in life is to maintain my independence through my dotage. That is: to stay out of life-care communities.

Is there anything intrinsically wrong with a place where you fork over most of your life savings and cede your independence in exchange for shelter until the end of your life and a guaranteed place in a nursing home when you need it? Possibly not.

But from my point of view: yeah. Everything. The whole idea of a warehouse for old folks conflicts with my basic concept of a decent lifestyle. Understand: a life-care community is not a nursing home. It’s more like an age-restricted apartment complex with a built-in restaurant or two and a staff of keepers. And rules that constrict your behavior in much the same way that a dormitory’s rules do. In effect, it’s a dormitory for old people.

I hated living in the dorms during undergraduate school. And you may be sure I’m not going to spend the last few years of my life in another dorm!

But…as a practical matter, how can one avoid it? Or can one, in any safe and sane manner?

When you move into a life-care community, you fork over most of your life savings and cede your independence in exchange for shelter until the end of your life and for a guaranteed place in a nursing home when you need it. While you live there, you occupy a tiny apartment and are expected to take at least one meal a day in the institution’s “restaurant” (more like the chow line at the dorm), where you are treated to lots of processed, packaged, oversalted and oversugared foodoids. The reason you must show up for one meal a day is so that the proprietors can easily check to be sure you’re still alive and conscious.

There are some sterling benefits to moving into one of these places:

  • You don’t have to prepare your meals every day. In some cases, as in the place where my father stayed, you wouldn’t be able to do so in any practical manner.
  • You have lots of old people to make friends with.
  • Usually a nursing home is attached to the life-care home, and you get first dibs on entry to it. Sometimes getting into a decent nursing home when you need it is extremely difficult.
  • The level of security is very high.
  • Some housekeeping services are provided.
  • Various entertainments and amusements are provided: crafts rooms, a small library, musical performances, lectures, and the like
  • Some of these places have a swimming pool, a hot tub, and an exercise room.
  • Some also provide Alzheimer’s or other dementia care.
  • You could in theory live there without ever having to drive a car or go to another grocery store.
  • A doctor is usually on the staff or hired on contract.
  • If you fall, have a heart attack, or suffer a stroke, someone is on the premises to help you, 24/7.

All of those are good things. However…I would argue that alternatives exist, and those alternatives cost a whole lot less than a life-care community and do not lock you into a prison for old folks. You can get most or all of those services on your own — without forking over your life savings for the privilege.

First, let’s take a closer look at the benefits and the downsides of moving into one of these places.

We have two sets of friends here who have made two contrasting life decisions. One has determined that she’s not going into a life-care community, come Hell or high water. At 95, she still lives on her own, in a freestanding house with a large yard and an irrigated lawn here in the ‘Hood. Let’s call her Margarita. The others, a couple exactly the same age as Margarita, decided to sell their patio home and move into a two-bedroom apartment at the Beatitudes, one of the two most prominent life-care communities in the city of Phoenix. Let’s call them Dick and Jane. Knowing these folks well gives us a chance to think about their choices and how they work.

Bear in mind, as you’re perusing the first two lists below, that Dick strongly resisted moving into the Beatitudes. However, Jane owned the house where they lived, and so it was her decision whether to sell or not to sell; also, Dick had some serious health challenges that were making him infirm. Additionally, Dick and Jane lived next door to a crazy woman who was constantly doing battle with the homeowner’s association and who had taken to threatening to run down the neighbors in her car. Jane saw this madwoman as a serious threat, and she surely was right. So, at her behest, it was off to the Beatitudes!

How, then, has this worked out for our friends?

As you can see at a glance, both householders face similar challenges: advancing frailty, growing risk of injury from falls or health problems, the difficulties of obtaining and preparing food and other necessities. Dick and Jane faced an additional challenge: a neighbor who was batshit crazy. This woman took to threatening to run down other members of the small patio-home HOA with her car, and she in fact did aim her car at Dick a couple of times. She also harassed him every time he rolled the trash barrel out to the curb for pickup, and sued them in a misguided attempt to engross part of their backyard into her own (she lost).

Margarita does not have the crazy neighbor problem, but all the other issues are similar. Her solutions, however, did not entail consigning herself to a warehouse for old folks.

As we make this comparison, we do so with several assumptions in mind:

  • They all have enough money to handle whatever they need to handle.
  • They have access to medical help.
  • They retain all or most of their marbles.
  • No one is trying to cheat or rob them.
  • Dick and Jane’s kids are doing little to help them; Margarita’s husband and her only child are deceased.
  • They have no hired representatives (except for the Beatitudes) to handle various financial, health, and custodial matters.

These are not necessarily givens, but rather are assumptions based on what I’ve observed.

Okay. So what are the pro’s and the cons of their respective decisions: to stay at home or to move into a custodial setting?

HOME


LIFE CARE INSTITUTION

What seems like an advantage or a disadvantage would certainly depend on your own disposition and experience. To me, the disadvantages of the life care setting so outweigh the disadvantages of living at home that there’s really no choice. But on the other hand… That’s because I value my aloneness. I like privacy, I like independence, I like quiet, and I don’t much like people in my face. And I’m used to those things: I’ve lived that way for years.

Thus we have the question of just how important is a given advantage or disadvantage, when it comes to thinking about where you’ll spend the last few years of your life. How much do these things really matter?

To figure this out, let’s assign a value to each advantage and disadvantage, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is least important and 10 is most important. What do we get then?

Here we see the advantages of aging in place at home are almost a wash when compared to the disadvantages. There’s a very slight tilt in favor of the advantages, but the disadvantages are very serious, and in fact when they’re weighted in terms of their importance, the advantages just barely outweigh them.

How does this way of looking at things work when we apply it to life in the Beatitudes?

Now we see a much more significant difference. Whereas the total point value of the stay-at-home advantages (the total advantage factor) was only one point more than the Beatitudes’ advantages, the total point value of the Beatitudes disadvantages outstrips its advantages by 23 points. This is because there are more disadvantages than advantages to living in the Beatitudes. That was not the case for the stay-at-home scenario, which presented an equal number of advantages and disadvantages.

Nevertheless, when you calculate an average, you come up with figures in the same ball park. Except…here the disadvantages on average outweigh the advantages by more than 3/4 of a point. whereas the advantages of living at home just barely outweigh the disadvantages.

Parsing it out, we can make these observations:

  1. There are more advantages to living at the Beatitudes than to living at home, but…
  2. Some of the advantages are rather low in value. This is reflected in the fact that…
  3. The average value of the advantages to home is higher than that of the Beatitudes.
  4. There are many fewer disadvantages to living at home, but…
  5. The overall weighted value of the disadvantages is about the same. That is, there are some major disadvantages to living at home, so that some advantages are outweighed by disadvantages.

Okay, so how did Margarita pull off the feat of living in an upscale home on the fringe of the tony North Central neighborhood, all the way into her dotage…all by her little self?

Well, in the first place, both her husband and her only child died some years ago. This means there’s no one that she feels bound and determined to leave her estate to. Thus that nine-point disadvantage posed by a reverse mortgage goes away.

That being a given, she had no impediment to taking out a reverse loan on her house. And if you believe Zillow, her house is currently worth $662,000. That puts a lot of cash in her pockets.

The house is in a fairly upscale section of the neighborhood, across the street from some mighty valuable horse property and nestled among well-maintained 1960s ranch houses on big lots. That suggests her husband made a good living and without a doubt left her a decent retirement fund. Plus of course as his widow she would be getting his full Social Security. The house is paid off. So all she has to do is pay the utility bills, pay the taxes on it, and hire people to maintain the place and assist her personally.

So: a major part of the plan could be to add the equity in your home to whatever you have in your life savings and to your Social Security income to support yourself in much the same style that you would enjoy at the Beatitudes. This would mean hiring housekeeping help, yard workers, and possibly a practical nurse to come in and help cope with your infirmities. It might include someone to chauffeur you around, if and when you reach the point when you ought not to be driving.

Given the value of Margarita’s home, she presumably would have plenty to cover those costs. If she added, say, $30,000/year to her Social Security income, which is probably around $16,000 or $17,000 a year, the cash in her savings and house equity would outlast her for many years,

My house’s value is nothing like hers — despite the influx of Californians and resulting inflation in real estate values, it’s presently worth about $461,000. But I have cash in savings. The result: there’s enough there to support me until I croak over, assuming I don’t live more than about another 20 years. That would put me at the end of the lifespan of my most long-lived relatives.

If you figure I spend, on average, around $30,000 a year on everything including taxes, insurance, medical care, house repair & maintenance, automobile costs, housekeeping help, yard guys, the pool guy: the equity in my house would support me for 12 years. The amount in savings would last for 22 years. Combine them, and they would keep me going for another 38 years in this house…and believe me, I ain’t a-gonna live for another 38 years! 😀

By “keep me going,” I mean provide most of the amenities one gets at a place like the Beatitudes: prepared meals, people coming in every day or two to check on you, transportation, home maintenance, medical & dental care, utilities, and whatnot. But you would get all that in the privacy in your own home, without having to give up much independence. Over time, you might become more dependent on certain kinds of helpers…but you would be the one who hired those people, not some institution’s management, which means you would be the boss.

So, what would be the drawbacks?

Assuming you weren’t incapacitated by a fall, the main things that would work against you would be cancer, stroke, or dementia. You could suffer cancer or stroke at any time of your life: my grandmother was in her 40s and my mother was 65 when they died of the Big C. If you evade cancer, a stroke or a heart attack are probably the likeliest wormholes into the other world. In that case, most of the cost for end-of-life care would supposedly be covered by Medicare plus my long-term care policy.

But dementia is the monster lurking behind the curtains… If you were demented, you truly could not take care of yourself and would die, slowly and expensively, in a nursing home — with, as far as I can tell, no way out. If on the other hand you suffered a disease that could be treated and staved off, you probably could return to independent living. This fact would be true, though, no matter where you lived: in a private home or in a warehouse for old folks.

Incidence of dementia in the US has fallen: at this time about  20-25% of over-65’s have “mild” cognitive decline. Furthermore, dementia rates in the US are continuing to drop as the population ages. Harvard University notes that dementia cases in this country are dropping at 15 percent per decade. The Alzheimer’s Association claims the numbers are growing…but then, it’s in their interest to do so. Additionally, the level of education a person attains is somehow associated with one’s likelihood of succumbing to dementia: the more education, the less likely you are to suffer senile dementia. I have a Ph.D. So presumably I’ll remain sharp as a tack no matter how superannuated I get!

The Alzheimer’s Association’s claim that the numbers are rising measures something different: their figures represent the fact that a huge bubble in the U.S. population — the baby boom — is advancing into old age, not that the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s in that population is increasing. In other words, if (let us say) 10% of people develop Alzheimer’s after age 65, and a city has a population of 100,000 people 65 and older in 2010 and 200,000 such people in 2020, obviously the city will see a lot more citizens with Alzheimer’s in 2020 than it did ten years earlier.

Gina Colata, writing in the November 21, 2016 issue of the New York Times, reported that “the dementia rate in Americans 65 and older fell by 24 percent over 12 years, to 8.8 percent in 2012 from 11.6 percent in 2000.” If this trend continues, then one’s likelihood of developing dementia drops accordingly.

It’s a crap shoot. If you can hang onto most of your marbles and you don’t develop a debilitating disease such as Parkinson’s or ALS, you should be able to maintain your freedom until close to the end of your life, if not until you’re all the way home. In my case, the peripheral neuritis surely could become debilitating. However, Margarita has it and says it’s not the reason for her crutches. It’s annoying, but apparently no more crippling for her than it is for me, which is…not at all.

Neither Jane nor Dick appears to suffer from dementia. Dick is ill because he has heart disease. Jane has suffered from hip pain, but a hip replacement seems to have resolved the problem.

The hip thing was one of Jane’s motivations…she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to continue caring for Dick much longer. But…she resisted having the surgery. After she went into the Beatitudes, someone finally persuaded her to do it. At 94, she came through it just fine and now is walking pain-free. Had they stayed in their home, she could have hired someone to come in and take care of Dick — or have rented a place for him at the Beatitudes for a month or three — until she recovered. After that, she probably would have been better able to cope, at least for awhile.

One powerful motivation for her decision to move them out of their perfectly manageable patio home was that a nut case lived next door, and this woman was threatening them with harm. So…let us say that you arrive at your dotage and find that you truly do need to move out of the home you’re living in, not so much because of infirmity but because of other issues.

Is there an alternative to the life-care community?

Well. Yes.

Check out this place.

This is an apartment in the high-rise where my friends and coreligionists Jack and Lou live. Personally, it’s not to my taste, mostly because I’m less than fond of apartment-house life. But…it’s one helluva lot better than the Beatitudes. $385,000 for 1261 modernistic square feet: that’s probably more than Dick and Jane paid to get in to the Beatitudes. But…

It’s not a prison. Also, Jack and Lou’s place is larger than Dick and Jane’s two-bedroom digs, I believe. Certainly the kitchen is vast, by comparison. The sitting areas are far more pleasant, and the master bedroom is large enough to accommodate…yes…a king-sized bed. One of those will not fit into Dick and Jane’s main bedroom.

Though it has no cafeteria in-house, it’s within walking distance of quite a few eateries. It’s also less than a mile from the beloved AJ’s gourmet grocery store. That shopping center has at least three restaurants.

It also has no monthly gouge, other than an HOA fee. At the Beatitudes, the monthly fee starts at just $2,815 with a one-time 90% refundable entrance fee starting at $144,800. The final pricing depends on the size of apartment you choose.  So they say. It’s impossible to get a straight story about their buy-ins and fees online — the only way you can get straight dope is to go down there and subject yourself to a ferocious sales pitch, and give them private information so they can keep hustling you til the end of time.

One site says the monthly fee starts at $2254 and is coy about the buy-in Another says the buy-in is $180,000, but that’s undoubtedly for a studio: Jane told me it took ALL of the proceeds from sale of their home to buy into the place…that would be around $350,000. Plus.

Here we have a more realistic claim of $350,000: “Residents in independent living pay a buyin fee. That price can range from two hundred and fifty to three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They pay a monthly fee for services as well. We also have month to month rental units with no buy in requirement.” They claim 90% of this is reimbursed to family when the person dies — that has got to be BS. My understanding is it’s gone, once you move in. This article appeared in January 2017, over 4 years ago.

Dick and Jane’s place is supposedly 2 bedrooms, but it’s nothing like the size of Jack and Lou’s place. J&L’s kitchen is huge — probably bigger than mine. It’s three times the size of the Beatitudes’ kitchenette, which doesn’t even have room for a built-in microwave. It has a living & dining room, but so does the Beatitudes’ place, sorta: a large-ish room divided by a pony wall. It has a second bedroom — so does Jack and Lou’s. But the Beatitudes’ master bedroom isn’t large enough to accommodate a king-sized bed!

No kidding. Dick and Jane had to get rid of their marital bed and replace it with a queen-size bed, over Dick’s strenuous objections. Within a couple weeks, Dick fell out of the thing onto the floor! Only by sheer luck and the grace of God did he fail to break a hip.

Back at the Central Avenue high-rise, Jack and Lou’s place has a generously sized master bedroom and a normal-size second bedroom, both with astonishing views of the entire East Valley, the Superstitions, and the South Mountains. It has a dining room/living room suite that easily accommodates 15 or 20 guests for a party (I’ve been there!), and in addition it has another sitting area, a rather private alcove off the entry that could be used as an office or just a separate seating space. If you put a fold-out sofa there, you could use it for overnight guests. Or it could serve nicely as a small library.

The cost of a two-bedroom apartment at 1 Lexington (right on North Central — step out the front door and the light-rail will whisk you to AJ’s, to a Safeway, to any of half-a-jillion restaurants, the library, two nationally prominent museums, the baseball stadium, a live theatre, or your lawyer’s office downtown) is about the same as the buy-in for the Beatitudes, only without the exorbitant monthly fee and without the Big Mama constraints.

As for a chow line: it doesn’t cost anything like the Beatitudes’ monthly fee to order food from Instacart or meal delivery services. What’s to stop you from ordering seven meals from a restaurant at a time? Plus grocery stores sell rafts of prepared meals, which are the same damn thing you get at the Beatitudes’ dormitory-style eateries, only cheaper. But if you like real food, an in-the-wild apartment has no requirement to show up at the mess hall to be counted and assessed by your keepers while you eat institutional yuckum: you can cook your own meals.

We do have the fact that at the Orangewood institution, one of the office staff helped my father with his bank account bookkeeping when he no longer could cope. But again…for one helluva lot less than your entire life savings and a gigantic monthly fee, you could hire a bookkeeper to do that.

Obviously, a stylish high-rise apartment condo has no nursing or custodial care on site.

But it’s a five-minute drive (or less) by ambulance to not one but two major hospitals. And if necessary, you can hire people to come in and ride herd on you.

To my mind, the biggest drawback of this alternative is that it provides noplace for your dog. You’re allowed to keep a dog at the Beatitudes, but you have no yard space, so of course you have to take the dog out on a lead, meaning you have to stand there in the heat or the rain until the dog decides to do its business.

But we do have this thing coming up the pike: a plan to demolish a Paradise Valley ghost mall and replace it with an apartment/office/restaurant/retail complex.

Except for the dog problem, that could be ideal. And if you could get a unit on the ground floor, it would work: you could just step outside with the dog, rather than having to get it up and down an elevator and pray it doesn’t pee in there.

Other alternatives already exist.

For example, there are some older but very pleasant two-story garden condos down by the Phoenix Art Museum. These places also are close to Central Avenue — a short stroll to the light-rail line, minutes to the nearest hospital, across the street from a Safeway. They’re also within walking distance of the main city library, the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Little Theatre, and a variety of stylish restaurants.

Better yet: a patio home is your basic apartment…without anyone tromping around overhead.

The latter would give you some yard space for your dog.

Alternatively, you could re-home the dog and buy a suite on a cruise ship. Sail away into the sunset and never come back!

Or you could buy a room or a suite in a hotel. This would accomplish essentially the same objectives as moving yourself into an old-folkerie, only sans the age segregation, the bad food, and the officious supervision.

So…if there are better ways to get by without locking yourself in a prison for old folks — ways that cost no more and may cost less — why on earth do people do that? As I mentioned above, the sales tactics at these places are highly aggressive. I went in there one time with Jane, met a sales rep, and my mailbox still gets stuffed once a week with advertising junk for the Beatitudes. Too, I suspect peer pressure works its magic…my father was put on to lifecare communities by my great-aunt, who came into town looking at places when she wanted to move out of her (spectacular) place in Sausalito, California.  She ended up staying in the Bay Area, in a (very tony!) old-folkerie in the East Bay. But no matter how swell, the fact still remains: this is a prison to which the inmates deliberately sentence themselves.

Realistically, though, if you live as long as is theoretically possible, there’s going to be a point at which you will have to have help with daily living. How to get that remains a conundrum.

Love Under a Coyote Moon

Urban coyote

It was a long night.

The Human woke in the wee hours of the morning — very wee. The Dog dozed while its creature tossed and turned, worried and fretted, got up twice to gulp down various tablets: aspirin, allergy pills, whatnot. Turned on its magical noise-making lightbox and poked away at the little black pedals arrayed across its surface.

An incipient sore throat conjured visions of covid-19, God help us all! Is this just a residue of the choking fit that visited in the afternoon? Or maybe an allergy? Or…or…what?

I get up, stumble down to the medicine cabinet, and scarf down a Claritin. But…but…but…I’ve already dropped a Benadryl. Took  one of those along about 7:30 p.m., in hopes of staving off a not-atypical allergy-mediated sore throat and runny nose. By 12:40 in the morning it should have kicked in, and I don’t think it would wear off in just five hours.

Holy shit!! I’m coming down with the covid disease. Right? That’s gotta be it.

Sleep is now out of the question.

Couple hours pass. Waking hours. The Claritin does nothing.

At 3 a.m., I get up and drop an aspirin. But I know now I’m dooooomed! No question of it, DOOMED! What other explanation is there but covid covid fucking covid! Ten days before I could manage to prize free an appointment for a shot!

Is that not typical? I ask you: how typical is that!

Give up trying to sleep.

Along about 4:30 a.m., the Human is pounding at its little black pedals when we hear a noise. A weird noise. It’s coming from outside the bedroom’s east wall, loud enough to resonate through the slump block. Like…bleating.

A sheep? There’s a sheep out on the sidewalk?

b-a-a-a…b-a-a-a…b-a-a…b-a-a-a…

Sheep? Seriously? Goat, maybe? Do goats bleat?

The neighborhood does have several remaining agricultural properties, land banks and tax dodges for their owners and pleasant rural-looking pockets in the midst of an increasingly gentrified zone abutting an increasingly tough and ugly slum. One person still keeps a few critters, among them an overgrown Vietnamese pig that has been known to escape.

Do pigs bleat? No…I believe in any language pigs oink.

Cat? Naaahhh…cats yowl.

Dog? Whatever this noisemaker is, it ain’t barking. Besides, if it were a dog, Ruby would be up and at’em. She’s profoundly uninterested.

Javelina? Hmmm… Javelinas make a kind of grunting sound, but I don’t believe they’re known to bleat.

Fox? Foxes can make a variety of interesting sounds, being clever little critters. But none of them sound like a sheep.

Delinquents? Since when have teenagers begun to bleat while TPing the trees?

“Ruby! Hey! Ruby! Wake up!”

Dog eyes the human wearily. Now what?

“Listen to that! What is that?”

Dog lifts head off mattress.

b-a-a-a…b-a-a-a…b-a-a…b-a-a-a…

You woke me up for THAT? It’s a sheep, you ridiculous creature. Put away the freakish computer, turn off the damn light, shut up, and go to sleep!

Human continues to peck at the computer. Before long, the bleating ceases.

Not too very much longer after that, Dog stirs and notices the sun is bleaching the eastern sky. She arises and demands food.

Human and Dog stumble out to the kitchen, where Human sets a dish of food on the floor. Dog feasts, then goes on about its business.

As the sun marches toward the zenith, Dog and Human set out for their daily stroll through the neighborhood. As they pass the east side of the house, Human spots a skiff of gravel scattered across the sidewalk. The gravel top-dressing on the side yard is roiled up a bit, right outside the bedroom wall. A few doggy-looking footprints are visible.

And now by the light of day, Human remembers: It’s mating season for coyotes. This is February. Sonoran desert coyotes whelp in March (or thereabouts). The serenade we heard at 4:30 in the morning was the Song of Coyote Love.

This means two things:

  1. Soon we will have coyote pups abounding in the ‘Hood, wherever Mama Coyote can find a quiet and secluded place to den. A-n-n-d…
  2. This means Ruby-Doo will be at some risk for the next several months.

When coyotes are whelping, they try to clear their territory of other canids. This is because competing coyotes, as well as wolves, will kill the pups when they find them. A coyote actually will come over your wall to take out your dog.

And that means Ruby will have to be watched every time she goes out in the backyard. Over the next three or four months, she cannot be let outdoors alone to putter around, as is her wont.

Few years ago, a couple of my neighbors — a gay couple — were lounging in their living room having a cocktail before dinner. Their greyhound was perambulating around the backyard, where the men could see them through the living-room window. All of a sudden they saw a coyote come right over the back wall! Unfortunately, this was not the wiliest of moves: the animal was no match for an 80-pound hunting dog.

The grey took after the coyote. It managed to escape over the wall as the two men watched in awe. The hound was unfazed.

A few days later, one of their neighbors happened to mention that, gee, he’d found a dead coyote laying in the front yard.

Welp. A corgi a greyhound does not make. Ruby would be no match for a coyote.

Coyote image: By Frank Schulenburg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46976005

WHY I’m never shopping at Walgreen’s again!

Memo to Corporate Management, Walgreen’s Inc.

You need to hire someone at minimum wage — given the economy, you’ll have plenty of takers — to stand at the door and enforce your “Wear Masks” rule. For heaven’s sake!!!!! I realize the clientele here in my neighborhood are not the best-educated in the world, but that is not an excuse to put your employees and customers at risk. Went in to buy a couple of small necessaries. Get up to the cash register, and there are two women in line ahead of me. Fine. First one steps to the register to do business.

Meanwhile, the character in front of me has no mask. (WHY WAS SHE ALLOWED IN THE STORE???????) We stand in line and stand in line and stand in line and eventually customer #1 gets done and leaves. I try to keep about 12 feet between myself and the Maskless Wonder, which causes folks around me to think they can cut in line ahead of me. Another customer walks past with a mask pulled down under his nose.

Finally Ms. Maskless Wonder arrives at the hapless cashier’s window. She fa*ts around and fa*ts around and finally her stuff gets rung up, and then she can’t figure out how to use her credit card. All this time, she’s breathing germs out into the air around her. With some help from the cashier that she’s breathed all over, at last she manages to pay the bill and has her bag in hand.

Now she won’t leave! She hangs around next to the cashier’s end of the counter, so that it is impossible to stay six feet away from her.

Will my mask protect me from whatever this genius was carrying? Probably only minimally: it takes two to tango in the mask dance.

Where was your manager??? Why wasn’t she or he looking out for your employee’s safety(!!!) even if you don’t give one thin da*n about your customers?

The Sprouts next door posts an employee near the entrance to be sure the customers wear masks and do so correctly. Is there some reason a gigantic corporation like Walgreen’s can’t manage to do the same?

I have several pre-existing conditions. I have been told that if I catch the covid virus it’s not a question of IF I will die, but of WHEN I will die from it. Since I’m not ready to toddle off to the other world yet, you may be sure I will never shop in that Walgreen’s again — or, very probably, in any Walgreen’s. Both items I needed today could have been purchased from Amazon; I just wanted to get them right away. Believe me, after this I surely will be buying all my sundries there, no matter how long I have to wait for them!

PLEASE! Keep your dog under control

NOT your child!

Yeah, I understand: Your little “furbaby” and my churlish hound “just wanna pla-a-a-y-y.” But because you’re a bit stupid about your dog is not an excuse to put yourself, two (or more) dogs, and me at risk. To say nothing of putting your kids in harm’s way.

Just back from a quick morning doggywalk. Understand: my dog weighs 23 pounds, though she thinks it’s 123. She looks harmless…but no dog is harmless. No matter how vividly you imagine it’s your furry little kid and no matter how much you believe you’re a pet “parent,” it’s still a dog. It is not a four-legged child.

Even if you love it as though it were your child, it’s a dog. Even if it’s your only friend on this earth, dammit, it’s still a dog.

And dogs? They behave like dogs. They do not behave like two-year-olds, they do not behave like nine-year-olds, they do not behave like your thirty-year-old best friend from high school

They behave like dogs.

If you’re not willing or able to learn how dogs think, well…consider this: maybe you shouldn’t have a dog.

Absolutely NOT your child.

So we’re strolling along a neighborhood lane over in the direction of Conduit of Blight Boulevard. As we approach a corner, along comes a merry family group: two young boys, about 8 or 10 years old, zipping along on scooters as they accompany their dad, who is being dragged down the sidewalk by two large dogs, about 80 to 90 pounds apiece. Though both dogs are on leads, they decidedly are not under control: they are not at heel — they are pulling this guy up the road.

The instant they spot Ruby…well, you can imagine the doggy thought process:

Hey! Predator alert!

Dayum! That thing is coming at our pea-brained human pets.

Ruby, being a corgi, fears nothing. She sees these things as wolves come to stalk her own pea-brained human. She stands them down and prepares to charge.

Get it! Get that damn thing before it catches one of the brats!

I’m on it! KILL!

Nope. Still not your child.

Both dogs charge me and my dwarf pooch, which I immediately pick up off the sidewalk by way of (no doubt futilely) protecting her from the attack. She responds to the charge by trying to lunge at the guy’s dogs.

As he tries to set the brakes by hauling on the two dogs’ leashes, they drag him forward and pull him across the path of one of the boys’ scooters. The boy rolls helplessly into the mêlée and instantly is entangled in the leashes.

He tumbles off the scooter and face-plants on the sidewalk.

The other boy dodges out of the way with about half a second to spare. The dogs, confused by this distraction, stand down.

Mercifully, the first boy climbs to his feet, apparently unhurt, and hops back on his scooter.

The problem here — besides the obvious stupidity of the adult human specimen — is that even though these were big dogs, neither one of them was obedience trained. Nor, we might add, was the human: obedience training is a two-way process.  The guy had two big, powerful animals barely under control in the presence of two children.

You would think that a grown man, even if he doesn’t give a damn about some old lady and her puff-ball corgi, would at least consider the safety of his own children, wouldn’t you?

No. Because, one presumes, Americans are stump-dumb stupid about dogs.

All dogs, even small ones that you can pick up and carry out of harm’s way (maybe…) should be obedience-trained. When you get a pooch from the dog pound or the rescue society, the first thing you should do is take it to a vet for a health check. Second thing, which you should do on the same day, is hire a trainer to help obedience-train the animal and to teach you how to handle it. That’s a real trainer, not some salesperson down at the Petsmart. Ask the veterinarian for a referral.

When you get a puppy from some rescue or breeder, right away start learning how to teach the critter, humanely, to coexist with humans. Consult with your veterinarian or with a trainer about the first steps you need to take toward leash-training and obedience training the pup, and when. Then, when the animal is old enough, hire that trainer to help you obedience-train it.

And bear in mind…the first step to common sense is understanding that it’s not a child: it’s a dog.

How may I kill you? Let me count the ways…

Just Hang Up!

Seems like every day we hear about some new telephone or Internet scam — and, in the “one born every day” department, some poor soul falls for a convincing patter. Check out this story: A crook claiming to be from Apple cons a woman into forking over almost two grand from her bank account, claiming that someone had been trying to hack her phone.

She falls for his tale, follows his instructions — even after she questions his authenticity — and loses $1,980.98. Then, incredibly, her bank refuses to refund the stolen money on the grounds that she willingly paid it to him!

So, one wonders: might her homeowner’s insurance cover the lost funds, since this is a theft not altogether unlike a burglary or a stick-up?

The answer is probably not, unless you’ve already arranged for it. Most standard homeowner’s policies  offer no coverage for cybercrime, and many insurers do not cover it at all. However it is possible to buy such coverage: if you feel you or someone in your home may be vulnerable to a fast-talking hustler, talk to your insurance agent or broker about buying coverage when it’s time to renew your policy.

Meanwhile, the best way to protect yourself from phone hustlers is simply not to answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You can install automated assistance in this endeavor: for cell phones, check out this spectacularly delightful call blocking app. If you still use a landline — as some of us do to accommodate a home-based business — an in-line call-blocking device is many times more effective than the phone company’s half-baked efforts.

I use the CPR Call Blocker, which blocks most of the dozen or more nuisance calls that hit my phone number, every day. The hustlers spoof nearby area codes, hoping to trick you into thinking a number is coming from a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a local business. I’ve set the device to intercept numbers from the local area codes where I never do business and where none of my friends live. If for some reason I have to do business with someone in one of those areas, I tell them my phone doesn’t work and they need to email me — this works just fine. A number of such devices are on the market, and some landline phone sets come with built-in call blockers. Check the reviews on Amazon by way of making a choice.

Failing an electronic firewall, though, there’s a much simpler and infinitely better strategy: HANG UP.

The victim of the scam in question today believed the crook when he introduced himself as an Apple representative. Despite her initial skepticism, he fast-talked her into buying his story.

The obvious response to this? Hang up.

In this case, our victim’s next steps would have been pretty intuitive:

  1. Hang up on the caller. If you think it may be a genuine call, say something like Oh dear! The dog is peeing on the carpet! or Eeek! The baby just fell in the pool! Can I call you back? Then get the phone number the caller says will reach him or her.
  2. Call the bank. Tell a customer service rep what the caller claimed and ask a) is it likely to be true; and b) one way or the other, what can done to prevent hacking? Follow the customer service rep’s advice.
  3. Email a description of the call to abuse@apple.com, a service available to her as an Apple computer user. This won’t help you personally, but it will alert the company to the specific scam.

Even those of us who are pretty wary and wise to phone hustles can fall for a convincing pitch, especially if the caller knows something about you. The best defense is to avoid hustlers altogether — or at least, as well as one can — through the use of an effective call blocker. Second best is never to answer a call from a number you don’t recognize. And never, ever divulge financial or private information over the phone. Period.

Covid Vaccination: State of Arizona vs. Sanity

Here’s a bit of light amusement…

Couple weeks ago, I tried to sign up to get a covid shot through the Maricopa County/State of Arizona website organized for the purpose. After THREE HOURS of point-and-clicking through one already unavailable hour-long slot at a time, all the way to the end of June, I gave up.

Then I learned that Banner Hospital was running a vaccination show. They want you to go to the Arizona State Fairgrounds. Surfaced at their site and found it very easy to navigate. Got an appointment at 9 a.m. on February 16.

Sounds copacetic, right?

Well…no. Now this evening (yeah: SUNDAY NIGHT, when there’s nobody to talk to you even if you knew where to find someone) in comes this little gem, sent from (we’re told) the Arizona Department of Health Services:

Thank you for your interest in the Arizona vaccine management program.

Email Address to Login: frazmbzlle@gmail.com Please click this link to set up a password and complete your registration: https://azvacpat.b2clogin.com/azvacpat.onmicrosoft.com/oauth2/v2.0/authorize?p=B2C_1A_PasswordReset&client_id=9c8378fa-3e13-48f9-bef3-daf117f2ef96&nonce=defaultNonce&scope=openid&response_type=code&prompt=login&redirect_uri=https://podvaccine.azdhs.gov

Thank you, Arizona Department of Health Services

Disclaimer – Mobiles / Tablets are currently not supported. Please use Computer / Laptop. For best experience use Chrome / Firefox browser.

Oooohkayyyy… Realizing this is something come to haunt from the County and not a new hoop-jump for Banner Hospitals, I dutifully go to that link and find a demand that I confirm a password, indicated as ******* (actually, it’s a series of dots, but you get the idea).

I did create a password during the late, great fiasco, but since I never got anywhere, I crashed out of their system. If I saved their nuisance password, I have no clue where. I try to find it in the emails and files I saved, but there’s no clue.

WTF? I was never able to make an appointment through their effing impossible website. So why the hell is the effing state of Arizona pestering me with this??? If in fact it IS the effing state and not Banner.

Well… Banner sent an actual appointment confirmation, showing the date, time, and place to show up. So, since that indicates a degree of organization to which the state seems unable to rise, I’m gonna assume said confirmation, which I printed out and stashed in the car, is the real deal and this…this THING from the goddamn state is just another chimera.

Arrgggghhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, I realize it’s a BIG JOB, trying to inoculate everyone who is not an antivaxxer nut in a county the size of Los Angeles. But…you know… what a state government, like the federal government, is supposed to do is manage large numbers of people in large-scale operations.

For the love of God. Ruby the Corgi could do a better job of wrangling the sheeple than this! 😀 😀 😀