Coffee heat rising

9/11: Twenty Years On…

This morning one of my walking buddies asked me where I was and what I was doing at the time of the 9/11 attack.

Well: I was on the phone to my son in Oakland, trying to convince him not to go to work in San Francisco via the Bay Bridge. He was having none o’that from his muther, but mercifully his employers called every worker and told them to stay home, stay out of downtown SF, stay put.

Having lived for ten long years in Saudi Arabia, I think I can share a little insight into those terroristic events. Like this:

The Saudis supply a large portion of the gas and oil this country requires to keep on operating as a “First-World” country. You may be sure we wouldn’t want to hurt their dainty feelings. Would we? Even though most of them deeply hate us, as infidels and as Westerners.

Seriously, I’m convinced that the sole reason for continued diplomatic and business relations with the Saudis is to facilitate pumping and export of their oil to Western countries.

Our friends and our enemies, in the world of RealPolitik, are those who are of some use to us at any given time.

Y’know, after all these years I remain puzzled over one question:

Why did the 9/11 plotters do such a damn half-assed job of it?

Think about that.

They swiped two airplanes and flew them toward targets that were, yes, significant. But despite the mayhem they caused, they inflicted nothing even faintly like crippling damage to this country. And they could’ve. It would have been easy.

Like this:

Yes, engage Plan A: hijack a couple of large planes full of jet fuel and ram them into key targets. But…at the same time:

Develop Plan B to include federal sites in at least two or three other major cities, such as Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft Worth…whatever. In these cities, use trucks or automobiles carrying explosives to bomb key sites. Attack them all at the same moment.

For example…

  • In San Francisco, blow up the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Mateo Bridge. This would bring the city to a dead stop; at the time it could have been accomplished easily.
  • Also in the Bay Area, take out Treasure Island, which hosts a key naval base.
  • In Seattle, blow up the metro train/bridge network, or set off a bomb just about anywhere in the airport.
  • In L.A. set off bombs at LAX, John Wayne Airport, and the Ontario Airport. These would not have to be taken into a terminal; any explosion in any location at one of these sites would bring the facility to a halt.
  • In Chicago, take out the Federal Complex — again, reasonably easy to do with a UPS truck bearing a load of dynamite.
  • In any major seaport, blow up the piers for freighter and tanker docking.

None of this would have been hard to accomplish, and all of those actions could have been timed to happen at once. When I say the plotters weren’t very bright, I ain’t kiddin’. Instead of wreaking serious havoc nationwide — doable at minimal expense and modest loss of Heroic Martyrs’ lives — they showboated with a spectacular event that, in view of what they could have done without much more expense and manpower, took out relatively few Americans (almost none of them military or part of the upper leadership) and did relatively little damage. A couple of NYC skyscrapers in comparison to skyscrapers in several cities plus the major thoroughfares into a key West Coast city plus anyone who happened to be at an airport in LA or Seattle at the wrong time plus chaos at a large West-Coast naval base plus destruction of government buildings in a major Midwestern regional city plus destruction of a major seaport (with concommittant loss of lives, freighters, and tankers) would really have done the job.

Our boys had relatives and friends in the higher echelons of the Saudi government. Given enough time, they could have raised all the cash they would have needed to launch a coordinated, multi-pronged attack. And they had a good shot at pulling it off.

They fu*ked it up, I’m afraid…

Luckily for us.

A Raft Made of Palm Fronds

Where we lived in Saudi Arabia — I grew up in an oil camp full of American expats on the shore of the Persian Gulf — the fences between our houses were made of sticks derived from stripping the leaves off the center spines of palm-tree fronds. Date palms, oleanders, a kind of jasmine shrub, and a tree-like affair that looked a great deal like a paloverde were the only things that grew out there, where the soil was mostly sand and salt. A sort of bermuda-grass would grow, in a sickly and lumpy way. But otherwise that was about it.

I had a plan, when I was a little girl.

It was to run away.

Not just to run away, but to sail away — because obviously, even to the mind of a young child, the only plausible means of escape were by air (impossible for a kid without her parents) or by sea.

The latter would be exquisitely dangerous. Even the ten-year-old I recognized that. But it was reasonable to reflect that to be dead would be better than to continue living in that place.

I was an unpopular little kid — a weird one. School was an unhappy place for me. And home wasn’t a whole lot better when I wasn’t sequestered in my room,  terrified of my father and  miserable in general with life.

So I hatched a Plan.

The Plan was to build a raft, equipped with a sail made from a sheet, and set to sea off the coast of the Rub al Khali, one of the most barren deserts on the planet. The body of this raft would be made of palm ribs, readily available from the fences the Arabs built to delineate the lots that held the Americans’ company houses. These I would lash together with rope and wire.

Once fully equipped, I would sail down the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, then make my way up coast of Asia. Cross the Bering Strait and make landfall in Alaska. From there I would walk and hitch-hike down into California. And once home: take up the lifestyle of Little Orphan Annie.

Great idea, ain’t it?

This evening I was led to reflect on my father’s life, blighted as it was from the beginning by circumstance, and how he managed to overcome most of that. Yet…how any extended happiness contrived to elude him.

My father was a change-of-life baby, an unfortunate surprise for his parents. His youngest brother was 18 years older than he was.

His father did not want to raise another child, starting out in middle age. So he ran off, leaving the infant and the 40-plus mother in Texas to fend for themselves. She had inherited a substantial amount of money from her own father, who had made a fortune freighting buffalo hides out of Oklahoma into Kansas. Some time later, the unwilling dad was found by the side of a remote East Texas road, allegedly a suicide.

That, I think, is dubious. Given that during his careers as a prison guard and as a cowboy he had plenty of opportunities to make the occasional mortal enemy, I suspect it’s just as possible that he was murdered. But that, interesting as it may be, is neither here nor there.

My grandmother diddled away her late father’s wealth (equivalent of about $2.75 million in today’s money), swindled by dubious building contractors offering to fancify her home and by spiritualists who promised to contact the dead in séances from the living room. When the two older brothers learned their expected inheritance had been looted — way too late! — they turned on each other. My father dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and joined the Navy.

Hence, a career as a deck officer: Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. It was this seafaring work experience that bought him a handsomely paid, all-expenses-covered job as a harbor pilot in Arabia, steering supertankers in and out of the port at Ras Tanura.

He led an interesting life full of interesting (but also often tedious) adventures. He worked hard. He set himself the goal of earning and putting into savings the amount of the fortune his mother squandered. Today, that’s no great pile of dough — to buy my little tract house would cost five times that many dollars. But he wasn’t an educated man and he didn’t understand about inflation. And besides, by the time he retired, the dollar hadn’t lost so much value that he and my mother couldn’t live a modest middle-class lifestyle on what he’d saved. They paid for everything in cash: cars, the house in Sun City, their daily necessities. If they couldn’t afford to buy it in cash, they didn’t buy it. And they lived pretty well.

That cash-only lifestyle — and its obvious benefits when good times turn to hard times — was what taught me never to buy anything that you can’t afford to pay for out of pocket. That includes a house: if you don’t have $500,000 in savings (and then some), don’t buy a $500,000 house. Buy a $100,000 house and pay for it in cash dollah.

[Unless, of course, your investments are returning more than the amount of interest you would have to pay on a mortgage loan. That concept was above my father’s head, but it’s worked OK for me.]

I think he never had a very happy life. Or if he did, it was only for short stretches. He went to sea most of his adult life: hard, tedious work. As for the ten-year stretch in Arabia? Who knows what he really thought about it: he wasn’t a complainer. I doubt if he thought much about it one way or the other: he took things as they lay.

My mother used my (supposed…) infection with mononucleosis in the 6th grade as an excuse to demand that we come back to the States. He reluctantly agreed. We moved to California, where for a few years he shipped out of Rodeo (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and then for a few more years out of Long Beach. By nature he was a homebody — he loved to putter, and he would cheerfully do things like scrub the kitchen floor for my mother. But now “home” was a cabin on an oil tanker.

He retired in the late 1960s…just in time for a wild inflationary period. Shortly, the value of his life savings shrunken, he had to go back to sea: he was on a boat when I graduated from college, and he was stuck in a storm off Alaska when I got married.

Finally he retired again, once and for all, and came “home” to Sun City.

I believe he and my mother were happy enough there, for awhile. But it wasn’t long before she smoked herself to death. Not surprisingly, given that she was smoking six packs a day by the time she died, she lasted only another six or seven years after they moved to Arizona. Then he had to care for her while she died hideously over a four- or five-month period.

Devastated by her death and the horror show that accompanied it, he sold the Sun City house, moved to a life-care community, and married a woman he met there. This was not an especially happy match. But because he was afraid that if he divorced her she would get all his money (Arizona is a community-property state), he stayed miserably in the union. By way of survival, he snuck off and rented a studio at another old-folkerie…he would tell the wifeling that he was taking the car to the repair shop, and then he would repair, all right: to the other apartment and sit in front of the TV all day.

LOL! You shoulda seen the Vigoro fly when she found out about that! 😀

When you come right down to it, life is a raft made of palm fronds, isn’t it?

Movin’ on Up…

No freakin’ way do I remember what I intended to write for the next FaM post, working title “The Anchorite’s Story”…ohhhh yeah, you can imagine, right? WhateverTF, times have changed.

Times change by the hour these days. Have you noticed that?

Down to the Church this morning and afternoon, for a get-together and lunch and plans for what on Earth are we gonna do? Volunteered to go back to help staff the Front Desk: seem to be assigned Thursday afternoons. Could not be more perfect, dear Boss! <3

So we sang a bit, hunkered together in the Sanctuary, toward the back. Our spectacularly talented music/choir director played spectacular music on the organ and then showed up at lunch and asked us to come on back, come on back. And of course, none of us could stand it: OUTTA OUR WAY! We’re comin’ on back!!

 

Forward to the Past…

Military hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic. My uncle died in one of these places.

Sometimes it feels like the 21st century is carrying us backward, not forward along the current of time. The covid plague is itself a gigantic throwback to the past, reminding us of the 1918 flu epidemic, of the recurrent waves of Black Plague, of smallpox and tetanus, of typhoid and cholera, all of which were commonplace before Louis Pasteur brought us vaccines and sanitation. Since the contagion arose, I’ve taken up a time-consuming habit of my mother’s, something she was taught to do by way of keeping her family healthy.

I grew up in a God-forsaken American camp in Saudi Arabia. In those days, the Third World was seriously the Third World, and the U.S. hadn’t been “First World” long enough for any such concepts to have taken root in the psyches of my parents and grandparents. The company — Aramco — coached all the women on sanitation practices to protect their families’ health. (Married women were not allowed to work for the company; single women came out as teachers or nurses, but if they married someone they had to quit their jobs.)

(Yes, Virginia, that WAS life in the 1950s!)

My mother had been taught that every single piece of produce had to be washed — thoroughly! — in soap and water. This was because most of the produce sold through the commissary was grown in the Middle East, where at the time agricultural fields were commonly fertilized with human waste. Amoebic dysentery was endemic…and believe me, that was an ailment you did not want to catch.

So that’s exactly what she did: every apple, every orange, every green bean, every whatEVERedible was washed manually. Lettuce and cabbage were soaked in a sinkful of dilute Clorox and then rinsed thoroughly before going into the refrigerator. We couldn’t have strawberries or raspberries or the like, because they couldn’t be sanitized in any rational way. Even a melon had be washed with soap and water: a blade slicing into an unclean melon would smear any pathogens on the skin across the melon’s flesh.

And y’know what? Washing every single piece of produce before it comes into the kitchen is THE biggest PITA that came down the pike. It’s nicely exacerbated by having to squirt every cardboard or plastic package and every tin can with disinfectant and rub it down before it can be busted open. Ugh!

It makes shopping powerfully aversive.

I think of my mother having to do that for every shopping trip over TEN YEARS…that’s how long we lived in the godforsaken place. Good grief.

No wonder she had one (count it, 1) shopping day per week!

That’s about what I’m doing, too: limiting the shopping trips to as few junkets/month as possible.

We thought it was oh! so wonderful when we came back to the states and didn’t feel that every bite of produce had to be thoroughly washed with strong soap or detergent and dipped in Clorox. One might rinse it off, but one didn’t feel that every apple and orange and can of soup had to be sanitized.

That was back when America was a “first-world country” because it was one of the only countries in the world that had a USDA and regulations that inflicted some control over the sanitation of groceries sold in stores.

No so, anymore. These days much of our food comes in from countries where farmers can’t read the (English-language) safety instructions on the toxic insecticides and some still fertilize crops with horse manure and human manure. Really, if you were at all fastidious (or in the know about imported produce), you’d dunk all your produce in a sudsy bath of Dawn detergent and water, covid-19 or no covid-19.

Between that and the plague that has brought us a contagion much like the pre-20th-century epidemics of smallpox, typhus, typhoid, cholera, influenza, tetanus, bubonic plague, yellow fever, and — yeah: influenza, it feels like we’re moving backward in time.

Back to the future. God help us.

Driving to Drink…

Arrrghhhh!!!!! I’ve been on the wagon — totally, since the middle of July — a good four months, with no particular cravings or sense of desperation. But I hafta tellya…nothing will drive you to drink faster than 15 miles behind the steering wheel in the lovely City of Phoenix. Add a junket through Costco to that and you might as well buy a giant $40 supply of Maker’s Mark. That, presumably, is why Costco is able to sell the stuff by the flat.

To start with, wherever you’re going in Phoenix, you can’t get there from here. Every damn road is blocked, narrowed, closed, detoured, or hosting a fender-bender. So for any given twenty-minute drive, the smart driver allots thirty and preferably forty minutes.

To end with, you get to share these constricted, limited roads with every moron on the planet! And one of Newton’s Laws of Physics states, clear as day:

If there’s a moron, he’ll get in front of you.

True fact.

This particular natural law extends to the interior of Costco, where patrons flock like leaderless sheep: meandering, pondering, ruminating as they block the aisles so everyone behind them has to detour into another aisle where, lost and confused, they stand pondering and ruminating on the question of where on earth whatever they want might be stocked.

The place was mobbed…and this was around 1 p.m. on a Thursday. Presumably the hordes combined early Thanksgiving shoppers with hoarders — we’re told people are snatching all the toilet paper and paper towels off the shelves again.

Brother!! If that’s the case, I’m feeling pretty pleased about my earlier hoard-fest: the garage, freezer, and pantry cabinets are now stuffed with paper goods, cleansers, flour, and staple foods, enough to last for several months. IMHO, if you didn’t grab as much as you could stock in after the dust settled from the last frenzy, you must be crazy. Clearly, as we can see from our politics and from our antics in the stores, a large portion of Americans have gone off the deep end.

At any rate, back in the Department of Driving: went to try to get some of Costco’s generously marked-down gasoline…and found every gas pump jammed with wannabe customers extending in lines halfway to Yuma. Decided to opt that: there’s enough gas to last for awhile.

It’s mighty early to be filling up for a Thanksgiving weekend in the Rim Country. My guess is, that’s not the cause of the gas-pump traffic jam.

Costco closed its store here in mid-central Phoenix, the decrepit shopping center that it occupied having grown…well…beyond decrepit. That shopping center, ChrisTown, faces on Conduit of Blight Blvd…and when we say “blight,” we’re not kidding. What used to be a middle-income area has slipped to alarmingly lower-income, with drug-dealing gangs holding forth to the west, all along Camelback Road between Conduit of Blight and the I-17 freeway. The store served the ritzy North Central district, the Encanto and Palmcroft areas, and the less affluent strip of historic housing extending north from Encanto all the way up to Sunnyslope. Except for the lawyers & doctors of North Central and Encanto/Palmcroft, the largest part of this demographic was not in the market for a lot of Costco’s fancier products. And you could tell this if you shopped in that store and one or two others — Costco targets its demographic, and many of the chain’s commonly stocked items — such as blue cheese in blocks, for example — never did appear in the ChrisTown store.

So, with that store closed, those of us who like to buy gas at Costco have as our closest choice the store up north on the I-17…and that would explain the mobs at the gas pumps. After this, I’ll have to spring for a few bucks extra for a fill-up at the rapacious QT station up the way, or drive out to the Paradise Valley store when the car needs gas.

So I didn’t get gas while I was visiting the Costco, one of two frustrations of a frustrating trip. The other: that store shares a large parking lot with a Sportsman’s Warehouse. Some years ago I bought a pair of Teva sandals there, which are great walking sandals. The other day the peripheral neuropathy was flaring so badly I couldn’t continue the doggy walk — to get home, I’d had to take off the aging Sanitas (Dansko-style clogs) and go barefoot for a third of a mile. Those clogs are pretty well shot, sooo…out of curiosity, the next day I tried wearing those Tevas for the doggy walk. And damned if they didn’t make it possible to get around the entire mile of the short-course doggy trail!

They’re red. Nice, but gaudy. Realizing that henceforth these will be the New Old-Lady Shoes, I decided to buy a new pair, preferably in black.

Shoot in to Sportsman’s Warehouse, collar the first clerk I see in the shoe department, point to my clod-hopping hiking sandals, and say “I need a new pair of these.”

She says, “We ran out of them.”

Ducky. I drove halfway to Timbuktu to get a pair of shoes that they’re not carrying. And that Amazon reviewers say do not fit the way they used to — so unless you’re nuts, you’d better try them on before buying. Shee-UT!

Back in the car, I decided to cruise down the hated freeway instead of returning home by the surface streets, which had taken me to Costco by the scenic route, via the credit union, where I’d needed to deposit a couple of Medigap checks.

The damn freeway is also jammed, and as soon as I merge into the hectic traffic I spot a sign flashing the message that the off-ramp before mine is closed, screwuyouverymuch.

So that meant at least half the drivers who intended to use that off-ramp would be jamming their way onto mine. Goodie!

And so it went. Managed to get off without killing anyone or getting killed, but it was a challenge. The city is extending its accursed lightrail line along that road — Gangbanger’s Way — taking the train to a now-closed, defunct shopping mall (brilliant idea, eh?). So they’re starting to dig up the pavement, meaning that getting across there without the extra load of traffic is a PITA under the best of circumstances…to say nothing of exiting with the troops who intended to get off at the previous exit. By the time you get back in the house, the thought that floats through your mind is damn, but i need a drink!

Phoenix: No matter where you’re going, you can’t get there from here.

Life at the Funny Farm: September Edition

Jeez! 9 ayem and I’m flat-out exhausted! What a Morning from Hell! Up at the usual 5 a.m. but dawdled over the computer, so the Hound and I went out the door late.

Because it’s so late, we hit the road at the height of the Dogging Hour. Every chucklehead and his little brother and sister are out with their pit bulls, Aussies, spaniels, poodles, German shepherds, dalmations, chihuahuas, Bernese mountain dogs, Boston terriers, dachshunds, akitas, vizlas, and reservation dawgs. This adds a great deal of stress to a doggywalk because Ruby wants to LUNGE at every goddamn one of them. That, as you can imagine, tends to alarm the fellow dogs, which then go in for the attack by way of protecting their humans. To prevent this, every time someone comes along with a pooch, I have to stop and make Ruby “SIT! STAY!” until they go by us.

This is WHY we leave the house no later than 5:00…by way of avoiding the dog-walkers’ rush.

So we walk around the corner to see if our neighbor Signey is out with the kids. She lives right next door to the house where La Maya & La Bethulia lived before La B decided to pathbreak their escape to California, and at this time of year she’s often sitting in front with her small children and her herd of tiny, funny-looking adopted dogs.

And yes, she’s there. We start to schmooze…

New neighbor comes out with his dogs and walks off around the corner. She points out one of them and says it’s a pit-bull/shepherd mix and is extremely aggressive. She says it went after one of her pipsqueaks and almost killed it before she was able to tear the animal away from it.

Lovely. The scrawny male human looks like he weighs…oh…maybe 150 pounds, at the outside. Mmmm hmmmm…

She dotes on Ruby and rubs her hands and face ALLLLLLL over the dog’s fluffy corgi fur. Then she says happily, “And the kids are going to school.”

Oh. Good. It’s not maybe…it’s absolutely positively: You just rubbed fistfuls of virus into my dog’s coat! Jezus Aitch Keerist, but people are stupid.

By the time we get to Feeder Street N/W, there’s too much traffic to get across the road safely, so we wander back into the ’Hood, up the street I used to live on, around and around. This route is neither as long nor as pleasant as the stroll through the shady realms of Upper Richistan, but at least we don’t have to risk life or limb to get there.

Herd the dog back to the house, and now I have to wash her. She sleeps on my bed at night, and I do NOT want Signey’s kids’ classmates’ germs all over my bedding. Or all over the floors and furniture in my house, either.

Washing Ruby is quite a production. She hates it, she is terrorized by it, and she puts up one bitch of a fight. Decide against assaying this battle in the backyard — at that hour, it’s cool enough outside that cold water out of the hose could in fact harm her. So I have to drag her into the bathroom to wash her in the tub.

WHAT a fight!!!  I finally haul her into the bathtub, then get her wet all over, then scrubbed down with shampoo, then rinsed, then out of the tub…. Did I mention that she hates being wiped down with towels, too?

She goes shake shake shake shake shake shake shake… and covers the cabinetry, walls, and floors with billowing sprays of dog-water.

More fighting. Her hair is thick and she’s getting fat and I don’t get far with the towels. Dig out a hair dryer, plug it into a socket near the floor, and drag her over.

You thought the bathtub episode was a fight? Hah!

Finally manage to get enough of the sog out of her fur that I figure she probably won’t get chilled enough to get sick. I hope. By this time, though, the sun has risen and the air is warming, so…this is prob’ly a safe enough bet.

Clean up the mess and…clean up the mess and clean up the mess and clean up the mess and clean up the mess and….

Put the towels and the towel that fell off the towel bar into the bath water and the dog-wiping towel and the microfiber rags used to finish the dog-drying into the washer. Get out of my wet clothes and toss those in the washer. Find something else to wear. Climb into the shower and wash my own much-doggified body and hair before getting dressed.

By now it’s 8 o’clock!

Fix breakfast. Pour coffee. Just begin to drag the melon and the other goodies out to the table on the garden deck when ARF ARF ROAR YAP YAP ARF ARF WOOF WOOF ARF ARF YIPPETY YAP YAP YAP!!!!!!! 

Pool Dude.

Pool Dude is a chatty kinda guy. He does like to talk. Rudely, I sorta ignore him without saying in so many words arrghhh leave me alone because i bite! He goes on about his business. Putters around. Surfaces to explain his scheme to provide a refurbished pool cleaner gadget of the Amazing Variety, a plan that was derailed during the week. No problem. We discuss last night’s political side show, he being right-stage, me being left-stage, both of us being gun owners. I can’t get .38s. He has a bunch of ammo stashed. We figure we’ll be needing this, though I suggest it’s mighty doubtful that Trump’s bully boys will be rioting through sub-suburban neighborhoods. He says he’s taking no chances.

I say my plan is to get a blowgun. He says…

…hang onto your hat…

He used to make them! 

I mean, really. You’ve heard of “never a dull moment”? Around this place there’s never a sane moment.

I say I understand you can make them with PVC pipe. He says noooo, the diameter would be too large. You need copper piping.

Hmmmmmm……  Suppose Home Depot will cut that stuff to measure for me? Waddaya bet?

Which do we live in? Monty Python ShowTwilight Zone? Or just another planet altogether?

Pool dude out. 

It’s almost 10 a.m. I’ve got to go to Costco. On the way home, maybe I’ll stop at the Depot and see what I can get by way of lengths of copper tubing. Hmmmm….