Coffee heat rising

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….

Instacart Redux: Better, but…

So after the amusingly failed first Instacart adventure, in which I ordered stuff from Costco and got nine apples instead of the dozen that CC routinely dispenses, I decided to try again with AJ’s, which stocks produce in the way that grocery stores do (as opposed to CC’s warehouse mode) and which carries some things that Costco does not.

  • Again I found that things I buy all the time do not exist in the online environment.
  • Blue cheese is always sold in its crumbled form and never in chunks, even at a store where you could expect consumers to know better.
  • Though I know that AJ’s carries the fresh-baked bread I favor, you can’t order it online. Well, you can, but…
  • Flour has been cleared off the shelves, but…
  • It’s impossible to second-guess what a young person who never cooks from scratch doesn’t know.

This time I sent explicit instructions to RING THE DAMN DOORBELL. This worked. The kid — a very young woman — did alert me to the fact that she had arrived.

Again the service was very prompt. She showed up in less than two hours.

While she was at the store, she called to say the usual five-pound bags of flour were absent. However, she’d found some exotic kind of flour that was described as “extra fine” and…and…she didn’t know what it was. Would it be OK to get that?

Sure, said I.

Well. What she showed up with was a two-pound package of real, grown and packaged in Italy, Italian flour.

I couldn’t believe it.

Italian wheat is grown without the massive applications of pesticides and chemical crap that American wheat growers dump on their crops. That appears to explain why people who believe they’re “gluten-sensitive” can eat pasta and bread in Europe without getting sick: the EU legislates against the use of toxic products on food crops.

The US is fighting to force the EU to let growers use these products, but the last I heard, the EU was holding out.

The result is that pasta made in Europe, especially in Italy, simply tastes better than American-made products. Because it’s made from higher quality, less adulterated ingredients.

AJ’s carries pasta made in Italy, which is now the only kind I buy. But I had no idea they also carried Italian flour. If I’d known, I’d have had her buy a couple of packages.

The avocados I asked for were hard as rocks — perfect for a softball game, but not so much for eating. It’s hot, though, and so I expect within a few days they’ll ripen.

So. It looks like there may be an art to grocery shopping online. Apparently you learn this art as you go. So far the techniques I’ve picked up are as follows:

  • Expect that your shopper will know nothing about real food. They’ve all grown up eating highly processed fake food and so cannot be expected to understand much about fresh ingredients.
  • So if a choice requires any kind of finesse, explain what is needed in Instacart’s “comments” box. Yes: they give you a chance to enter a few words to explain things. Next time, for example, I’ll explain that avocados should be soft but not mushy to the touch….and definitely not hard as a baseball.
  • They deliver much faster than you would expect. Be prepared to receive the stuff within two hours or so.
  • Tell them to ring the doorbell. Use the comments section for this instruction. Put a sticky on the door pointing out where the doorbell is, if it’s not obvious.

Practice makes perfect. I guess…

 

First Instacart Experiment: FAIL!

LOL! Well, ordering up stuff from Costco via Instacart did not start out on the most auspicious foot of all possible feet. 😀

So I jump through the hoops to sign up to Instacart. Once you establish yourself as an official human with an official charge card, you can navigate over to the store of your choice — they seem to be doing deliveries from every market in the city.

Once in the virtual store, I order up a few things that I need — not many, because this is a test run.

Among the discoveries:

  • Steaks are now way outside my price range. Check that off the list, right away.
  • They do not display “Coastal” cheddar cheese, which is the brand I favor. I order another brand.
  • Neither do they display blue cheese in chunks. Apparently most of their customers think of blue cheese as something that exists only in crumbles.
  • They’re out of flour, like every other retailer in town.
  • They do not carry cucumbers (but we knew that…).
  • But they do have a particularly wonderful brand of smoked salmon.

Whatever. I order up a bunch of stuff, including a package of apples, since the trees are almost out of oranges. When the orange season ends, I go back to eating an apple with breakfast.

Amazingly, their delivery arrives at 11:22 a.m. Yes: I ordered around 9 a.m. and they showed up over here before noon.

Also amazingly, apparently ringing a doorbell is not part of the delivery person’s job description. She dropped the delivery on the front porch and, since I don’t have a smart phone and can’t get texts, she e-mailed me.

Forty-five minutes later, I notice this e-mail. It is 102 degrees out there. Cripes.

So I fly to the door and drag the stuff into the garage, where I wash down every plastic-sealed goddamn package in detergent water before hacking it open with a pair of scissors.

Fortunately the cheese was not melted. That’s because, like most US-made mass-produced “cheeses,” it’s not cheese. So now I have a gigantic brick of tasteless orange stuff. Yuck!

This is not unexpected. However, here’s the jaw-dropper:

Costco sells its apples in plastic clamshell boxes. One of these boxes holds 12 apples.

What I got was a plastic bag that appears to have come with something that required measured dispensing — not a grocery store bag, but made of the same flimsy, environmentally polluting flyaway plastic. And, in there were nine apples.

I didn’t register this until I’d washed them and brought them in the house. And boy, was I annoyed.

So now I email Instacart to complain about this — after I’d already clicked 5 Stars in response to the lightning-fast delivery, even though I was also a little annoyed that the delivery lady couldn’t be bothered to ring the doorbell.

Forthwith I get back an annoying form letter. This morning a letter from a human arrived, saying they’re giving me a $5.49 refund.

Okay. So…that’s not too bad. This afternoon I’m going to order a few things from AJ’s, my favorite overpriced retailer.

So far, perusing the offerings…

  • Yes, they do have flour. King Arthur, no less!
  • Wine prices are prohibitive: they’re trying to get $15 for a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon blanc. That’s an $8 wine.
  • On the other hand…some Bogle wines are only slightly inflated: around twelve bucks. That’s still too high for cheap wine…I can get my son to buy that for me.
  • They do not offer the chunks of blue cheese online…only crumbles.
  • They do have a couple of their good loaves of bread, which will spare me from having to bake it.
  • Apparently you can NOT buy fresh meat from AJ’s through Instacart. Fortunately, I still have plenty in the Costco lifetime supply.

However… If you order through Amazon, you can get blue cheese in a solid piece (assuming you don’t mind paying $15 a pound for it). Apparently Amazon doesn’t deliver wine.

However, Instacart does deliver from Total Wines. I haven’t looked yet to see what the charges are there. The best nearby place that I’ve found for cheap table wine is, incredibly enough, Walmart’s Neighborhood Market. That’s where I found the amazing Oyster Bay wine to start with. They also carry several other drinkable brands.

At any rate: this afternoon we’re at Instacart Experiment #2: I just clicked “send.” We shall see….