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 some 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….

Changes: After the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So by now you’ve probably read this morning’s rumination, which reflected on the ambiguities of the drastic changes already foisted on us by the covid-19 pandemic, and the potentially positive changes that seem to be forthcoming. Depending on your point of view.

For each of these possibilities — and make no mistake, the covid epidemic presents as many possibilities as it does roadblocks — there’s a flip side, and that is why it is so important to think through these coming changes carefully.

Among the many disruptions in our economy, our neighborhoods, our families, and our lives, very probably the foremost is the question of what we will do about the continuing education of our young people.

Distance learning is now most popularly effected by a program called Zoom, which allows groups of people to see each other and interact online. Led by a talented and computer-savvy instructor, this approach can certainly be as effective and maybe even superior to face-to-face classroom time. However…

Yes, the ever-present HOWEVER…

I created the first online course in liberal arts at the Great Desert University’s westside campus. I had to build the course’s shell with existing software available online, because of course at that time there were no IT experts in online learning, there was no expensive and elaborate program available to universities, colleges, and high schools, and no one had a clue how to make this stuff work. Or even if it could work. So…I know whereof I speak.

Here is the issue — the big Roof Rat in the Room — when it comes to presenting content and organizing participation in online teaching for public schools: inequity.

Social and economic inequity. Not all kids have access to the same electronic assets.

Some have none at all. Some can access them only through their schools, or at a friend’s house, or at a local library. Not all kids have access to a library, or would know what to do there during the relatively few hours that Phoenix-area libraries are open.

To use a coffee shop’s wireless access, a kid would need to have a portable computer. And if you are a poor kid, yeah, you might have a cheap cell phone…but you’re unlikely to have the kind of hardware and software needed to work effectively on classroom learning. The kid would also have to be able to buy a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of soda to persuade the proprietor to allow an hour or two of yakking on the computer in the coffee shop. Restaurant owners are, after all, not in the charity business.

Even if a grade-school or high-school kid can obtain access to the hardware and connectivity needed to accomplish a day’s worth of schoolwork, she or he may not know how to make that happen. The kid needs to have not only the gadgetry but also the know-how and sophistication to use it. As we old folks know, this is not so hard for young pups who can get their own computers. But if a kid does not have access to a computer and online connectivity — and have it for several hours a day — that kid’s online education isn’t going far.

It’s easy for us to say that the taxpayer will magically make computers available to hordes of hungry little kids (and many of them are hungry: in the Phoenix area large numbers of grade-school kids get their only full meal of the day at their public school). But how do we propose to do that? Where?

If we give each of them  a notebook or a laptop to take home…well.

Have you spent any time in some of lovely Phoenix’s finest slums? A kid who took a computer to an apartment across Conduit of Blight, right next to the ‘Hood, would see that thing gone in a matter of days: stolen by neighbors, family members, or random thieves either for their own use or sold to support drug habits. A child whose parents earn minimum wage (or less, often enough) cannot trot over to the nearest Best Buy or Apple store and pick up another computer.

The only workable solution to that would be to bring low-income kids together in computer classrooms. And that obviates the whole point of keeping the schools closed until a vaccine can be developed and mandated for school-aged kids.

What moving education online will do is further fracture America’s economy and society along racial and income faults. Parents of poor kids will not be able to afford to band together to hire a licensed freelance teacher to coach their children through each day’s schoolwork. In the US, a hefty portion of children living in poverty are minority children: African American and Latina/o. This means the pandemic will push these children even further into disadvantage than they already are…which is quite far enough.

I’m not suggesting here that the changes I described in my earlier post will not happen, or even that they should not happen. Nor am I suggesting that such changes, if implemented well, could not be highly successful.

What I am suggesting is that if we don’t want to set off a social time bomb, every kid will need to have access to the technology, know how to use it, AND be physically safe in using it.

And that, my friends, will be a far bigger order than just sending a building full of kids home to do their schoolwork online.

Probably the pandemic has already set in motion changes that cannot be reversed. If it goes on much longer, that almost certainly will be so. Some of these will be constructive changes, some not.

Some covid changes will be good for certain people but decidedly bad for others. If we don’t want to see the social unrest that will result from that plain fact, we need to address it now, before it happens. Not later.

 

There’ll be some changes made…

TODAYYYY….and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…  So many changes are emitting from the covid-19 crisis, we can’t keep track of them. We can’t even keep count of the ones we already know about or anticipate.

This morning the pooch and I passed one of the affable gay gents who live at the corner of Feeder Street EW and Feeder NW, also walking his dogs. Small talk was exchanged, largely about the startling switch in weather, which dropped in a day from the 100s to the 80s. I remarked that people are already putting up their Hallowe’en decorations — and that Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday.

“Mine, too,” said he. But…as though we were on the same record groove, we just about sang in unison, “But I don’t think we’ll be participating this year.”

“Nope,” he added, “we’re not opening the door to whatever anyone on the other side is carrying.”

Hallowe’en devolves into a gigantic block party here. Everybody in the more threadbare neighborhoods surrounding the gentrifying ‘Hood trucks in their kids (no kidding: trucks, busses, vans, pickups!) and swoops up and down the streets, while the locals greet them from tables set up in the driveways. A great deal of eating, drinking, and costume-admiring takes place, and much fun is had by all.

If any of that happens this year, though, pretty clearly it won’t be much…

There’s been some talk around the’Hood about setting up tables in the park and just letting people come and take whatever they want. Not, possibly, the greatest idea…and it’s hard to see how that would eliminate the possibility of spreading the disease around.

So I think we’re all afraid that Hallowe’en, a cherished tradition, is about to be a thing of the past.

All across the country, people remark on how little traffic they see on the roads, even during rush hour.

Yesterday morning there were more drivers on the road than the last time I was out at that hour, but for 8:30 or so, it was far from normal rush-hour traffic. Inside the parking garage for the high-rise where the dentist resides, there were no more than half a dozen cars on the first floor. The place was effectively empty, most office types presumably working from home.

Then we have the disappearing restaurants…

Most restaurants that have managed to cling to life here are fast-food joints (where people drive through to pick up food) and places that have converted their sit-down business to pick-up or delivery. Many popular joints have just shut down. The venerable Carlos O’Brien’s, a favorite dispenser of gringo-Mexican chow (it’s white folks’ food — not the real stuff), is now a bull-dozed plot of dirt. We’re told a damnable QT will be stuck on that lot. QT’s, if you haven’t had the delight to find them in your parts, are like 7-11’s on steroids: overpriced gas pumps, junk food, and a corporate tradition of hosting every vagrant for miles around.

The loss of Carlos O’Brien’s is a huge setback for light commerce in the North Central area, where it has long been a favorite for business lunches and tourist dinners. Replacing it with a grungy QT is a disaster. LOL! Count up another 2 dozen families in the vicinity of that intersection, moving to Scottsdale! Or lovely Gilbert.

Assuming any of them can get jobs that pay enough to allow them to move someplace else…

In a more constructive vein, though, the whole Amazon/pick-up at the store parking lot/Instacart phenomenon sure changes my thinking about shopping. Why trudge to a series of grocery stores, burning gas every inch along the way, when you can post a list and have some marginally employed wretch deliver the stuff right to your door? The sole drawback to delivery services is that most Americans don’t eat fresh produce, so the poor flunkies who hire out for $7/hour + tips have NO clue how to pick out fresh vegetables, salad makin’s, and fruit.

That issue is solved, however, with a Sprouts right around the corner. If it were safe to do so, I could walk to that store. But even so…I’ve refilled the car’s gas tank a grand total of three times since the covid fiasco launched on April 1, and just now the tank is still half-full. At two bucks a gallon, by limiting grocery trips to fresh produce, I can order an awful lot of Instacart deliveries for the $90 a month I was shelling out B.F. (Before Fiasco).

Considering that my time, when I’m actually working, is worth $60 to $120/hour, why on earth would I want to spend that time driving around the city to Safeway, Costco, AJ’s, Sprouts, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and the various other grungy venues? I mean, c’mon: ONE HOUR of converting Chinese math to English will pay for a month’s worth foisting the grocery shopping onto Instacart shoppers.

We’re going to see major changes in the way people live: not just in the way they work but also in their home lives, shopping habits, and family planning. Yesterday the dentist’s excellent young hygienist and I were chatting. By coincidence, she happens to live here in the ’Hood, making her one of the Gentrifiers. She and her husband have a couple of young kids. They’ve teamed up with other parents to hire someone to come in and supervise a half-a-dozen kids in online learning. You know…if this works and middle-class working parents discover that it can work…well…why would you send your kids to a public school when for a fraction of the cost you can get all the advantages of a private school and none of the frightful disadvantages of public schools???? 

Some of these young parents are gonna figure that out, and when they do, the discovery will spread. Public schools will become more frankly what they already are: day-care centers. But when middle- and upper-income parents tumble to the fact that they can get far better, private school-level education by homeschooling under the supervision of a certified teacher, whatever remains of the public schools will become more frankly what those schools already, de facto, are: day-care for the working poor. And the nonworking poor.

Cost to parents? Well, consider. Hereabouts a public school teacher earns around 40 grand a year — or less, if we’re talking about the lower grades. Let’s say we have three sets of parents, who band together to hire someone tutor a total of five kids for nine months, shepherding them through the online learning process. If each family paid a hired teacher $10,000 per child, that’s a WHOLE lot less than they would pay, per kid, for private or parochial school, and the teacher would be paid more than s/he would earn in private or public schools. Children could get socialization through community athletic teams, churches, clubs, music lessons, art classes, drama clubs, Scouting, volunteer activities of all kinds. How would this be worse than warehousing them in a prison-like school all day? Might it not be significantly better? And, when you take into account the cost of clothing, school supplies, transportation, meals, and all the other expenses incidental on public education — including the breathtaking property taxes on your home, which in these parts go mostly to support public schools — would it really cost that much more?

Another change: thinking once, twice, three times about whether you really need to do X, Y, or Z. Do you have to run that errand now — seriously? — or can you fold it in with another trip and do them both tomorrow? And can you manage your time better by limiting the number of shopping junkets and errands, by making them all happen together, by organizing time and tasks at home and at the office before venturing forth?

Case in point: It’s time, at last, to pull out the heat-fricasseed, dead potted plants, run up to Lowe’s or HD, and get some new seeds and plants to spiff up the gardens. So there I am along about 9 a.m., about to get up from the computer and thinking, reflex-style: “I need to go to Home Depot.”

But then another thought strikes: Do I?

Do I really need to jump in the car, burn a gallon of gas to schlep to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and waypoints…right now? Suppose  instead I were to pull out the dead foliage, sweep up the dead leaves and debris, and haul all that stuff out to the trash or the compost heap now?

If I put off the Home Depot trip for another day, could I combine that junket with a trip to the Walmart supermarket that’s on the way toward the HD? That way I get to tedious errands out of the way in one foray through the traffic. The yard and plants are already cleaned up and ready to receive their new plants. And I have a whole extra day in which to think about lay out the new plants and pots. You know…actually plan? What a unique idea!

Planning: for trips, for shopping expeditions, for projects that require retail purchases… It’ll be good for you and me, but not so great for our retail friends. By noon I got one helluvalot more done around the yard than I would have if I’d charged out of the house and made for Home Depot and Lowe’s, and tomorrow the shopping trip to one or both of those fine emporia will be far more organized, far less catch-as-catch-can than it would’ve been today.

What it means is that I’ll buy a whole lot less on that gardening expedition than I would have today, because now I know how much space is really available for new plantings, how much of the existing plants I may be able to revive, and even — lo! — which pots I’m tired of and will put away until next year.

Meanwhile, we have the work environment, fast merging with the residential environment:

My son is now pretty certain that his employer will NOT reopen its fancy new digs in Tempe, but will continue to do business in the work-from-home mode. They are, however, keeping him on as a manager. This means that he has to ride herd on the underlings, some of whom are about as bright as freshman comp students, and he has to do it remotely. If that doesn’t sound like a bitch of a job, I don’t know what does. Frankly, riding herd on a bunch of Herefords would be a lot less mind-numbing and infinitely less annoying.

I tried to elicit some hint as to whether this means he will consider moving to his dream Tiny House in the middle of 60 acres in southeastern Utah…didn’t get far with that. He probably suspects (rightly) that if he sets up an outpost in the boondocks, his mutther won’t be far behind: a prospect guaranteed to induce cardiac arrest in an adult man.

If M’hijito decamps to Utah or some such, why in the name of God would I stay here in the unholy, crime-ridden realms of L.A. East? Why would anyone do so, if they could carry on their jobs online from some scenic plateau in Colorado, and if they could educate their children from home?

Think of the sheer number of the changes we’re looking at here, to say nothing of the seismic social alterations they imply.

Anyone who can do any job that does not require them to be at a worksite five to seven days a week could, in theory, live wherever they please. How many of us regard “wherever we please” as an eave-to-eave tract of stick-and-styrofoam shacks with a fine commute in to a miserable office? As a far-flung suburb where we must live to put our kids in a decent public school, with an hour-long commute to and from the office? As a crowded city where the kids can’t be allowed to play in the front yard without a housekeeper or a parent watching over their shoulder every moment, lest they be approached by a child molester? Where everyone has a big dog not because they so love German shepherds and pit bulls but because they need an animated, fully armed burglar alarm to alert them to intruders?

Consider what life would be like if…

  • You could do your job and do it well wherever you happened to be, with no need to visit the home office more than once every two weeks to a month…
  • You could get about everything you need to carry on a comfortable life delivered to your home via Amazon, Instacart, USPS, FedEx, and UPS…
  • You could provide your children with the kind of education they would get from an upper-middle-class public school or a fancy private school for a fraction of the cost, anywhere you choose to live…
  • You could do those things from any venue that you desire: an elegant San Francisco-style city, a homey small town, a desert island, the back of an RV, a sailboat tricked out as a yacht, a ranch in the middle of nowhere, a perennial college campus…as you wish, with few or no restrictions on where you choose to live…

Think of how much less gasoline you’d use…just you alone, to say nothing of entire nations of Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans…and whatnot.

You would have a choice over how your child is educated, and you could oversee the quality of their education.

Your kids could spend their days in a quiet small town, suburb, or countryside.

Bullying would not be a daily issue that they would have to learn to cope with.

Neither would widespread use of drugs.

Neither would easy-come, easy-go sex.

Because you would spend so much less on gasoline, so much less on real estate, so much less on local and county taxes, so much less on work and school clothes, so much less on cars to accommodate at least two working family members, so much less on impulse buying, you could live a whole lot better on a whole lot less money. You could travel more and save more for retirement. You could save up enough to send your kids through college, without saddling them with a lifetime of debt.

Mmm hmmm…. There’ll be some changes coming from the covid disaster, that’s for sure. But…what if they’re not all as bad as we fear?

If You Were Your Kid…

If you were your kid and you were an American, come of age in a time when America the Great was rapidly turning into a Third-World Country, what would you do differently from what your parents did? From what your kid him- or herself is doing right now?

Do strange little thoughts like that ever cross your mind? They sure as Hell cross mine.

My father planned carefully for his retirement and his old age. Thanks to his planning — and to his lifetime of amazingly hard work —  I haven’t had to put in that much single-minded effort: he left me enough to live on comfortably through my dotage. But that’s not so true of my son.

Although my son’s dad is affluent, like me he also no doubt will live (expensively) into advanced old age. My son’s grandmother just died at the age of 106 (no, that is not a typo), having spent the past 20 years wasting away ruinously in a nursing home. The new wife is a good 20 years younger than me, and though she has a highly competent son, she also has a feckless, dependent daughter who never will be able to care for herself and her offspring. Thus most of whatever my son’s father has now will be dedicated to supporting the less gifted occupants of that side of the family.

My son, the recipient of a spectacularly expensive private education, has a decent job but not one that will make him rich. It can, however, allow him to work remotely from just about anyplace that he chooses.

My mother smoked herself into the grave in late middle age. We have no clue how long she might have lived had she never picked up a cigarette. Her father died of Hodgkin’s disease, an acquired cancer not uncommon in his part of the country: we have no idea how long he might have lived had he dwelt someplace else, never smoked, and never drank. Her mother chippied herself into the grave: we have no idea how long she might have lived had she never been exposed to the kinds of reproductive viruses one acquires during a wildly misspent youth. But the other women on her mother’s side of the family were Christian Scientists who lived into advanced old age: we do know that in the absence of alcohol and tobacco, they lived into their mid-90s even without ever going anywhere near a medical doctor or a patent medicine.

So what we have here, in the planning department, are two people — me and my son — each of whom have a shot at living into advanced old age. Or not.

What can be done for my son — by me or by him — to ensure that he will be financially secure into his dotage?

We know that I absolutely positively do NOT want to spend my last years in a “life-care community,” a rabbit warren in which to lock up old folks. My father consigned himself to one of those places after my mother died, and I have several friends who are now living (expensively) in similar prisons. I will take a swan-dive off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon before I allow that to happen to me…and that also is neither a joke nor a typo. My house is paid for: if I die tomorrow my son will inherit a piece of property worth about $400,000, free & clear. My son’s house will be paid for in another 10 or 15 years; it will be worth around $325,000 to $350,000, if all things remain equal. He lives frugally and invests in IRAs, and so he presumably will have some retirement savings in hand, if he lives into his dotage.

BUT…

The Covid-19 fiasco has shown his employer, clear as handsomely chlorinated swimming pool water, that there is no reason to maintain expensive office space to support a profitable insurance business. He believes the company will never re-open its pricey new digs in Tempe, a dreary suburb of Phoenix. Shortly before the Covid fiasco began, he was promoted to a managerial position. He remains a manager: remotely.

What this means is that there’s really no reason for him to continue living in a dump like Phoenix, a vast, ugly, crass bedroom tract that we might kindly call L.A. East. If the company settles permanently into a mode in which most or all of its mid-level employees can work online, he could in theory live anyplace he pleases.

And there are many, many better places to live.

In Arizona alone, for example, towns such as Prescott, Bisbee, Patagonia, the outskirts of Tucson, and even Payson have far more temperate climates and are nowhere near as grubby and  crime-ridden as Phoenix. Nor is there any reason to stay in a culturally backward hole like Arizona. If you want to live in the Southwest, there are many better places to live in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and parts of New Mexico. If you don’t mind jumping on a plane to visit your employer for monthly staff meetings, Oregon, Washington State, parts of Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and waypoints are highly desirable venues. With a fistful of cash from the sale of two houses, you could easily install yourself in the Low Countries, Ireland, the south of France, Italy, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, or parts of Australia.

Why stay in a declining economy with a corrupt leadership and a moribund health-care system?

Why not use the capacity of electronic telecommuting to ensconce yourself — now, while you still have some years to enjoy life — in a better place?

If I were my son, I would be so gone. Right now: I wouldn’t wait for retirement, certainly not given the wacksh!t direction into which our country’s politics have dragged us. I probably would leave the US, given half a chance to pull it off. But even if I chose to stay in the this country, you can be sure it wouldn’t be in Phoenix.

Speaking of the which: as we scribble a cop helicopter is buzzing its way toward us, the dog has flown into a batsh!t frenzy, and I suppose I’m going to have to get up, dig out a pistol, and lock the security doors. So much for the scheme of taking a moonlight dip in the pool.

Where would you want your kids to spend the best years of their life?

Staying Healthy in Third-World America

This fine warning comes to us regarding fresh peaches purchased in Aldi stores.

We don’t yet have Aldi here in lovely Arizona, though the chain is planning four discount emporia in our garden state. Doesn’t matter though: the principle applies across the board: We’re not in Kansas anymore…

It’s unclear from this opaque article whether we’re talking about fresh whole peaches sold in bags, or sliced refrigerated or frozen peaches. However, it looks like probably they’re talking about fresh whole peaches. So, here’s a message from 1955, courtesy of US citizens living in lovely Saudi Arabia, where ALL fresh produce was assumed to be contaminated with this, that, or the ’tother fecal bacteria. It applies now as it did then, back before the US was a Third-World country:

Before bringing any fresh produce into the house, fill a kitchen sink (or, if you have it, MUCH better: a garage or workroom sink) with soapy water. Dawn is really good: a generous squirt of Dawn in a sinkful of cold water.  But any dish detergent or laundry detergent will do the job.

Gently submerge the produce in the soapy water. Let the produce sit there while you go on about your business for a few minutes; videlicet:

a) In another sink, wash your hands in soap and water

b) Bring in the rest of the groceries.

c) As needed, wash other (non-produce) groceries in the kitchen sink, using soap and water.

d) Drain the kitchen sink, rinse off groceries, and place them to drain dry or wipe them dry with towels. Toss towels in washer.

e) Put these groceries away.

f) Return to the sink where the produce is soaking. Wash each piece with soap and water (that is: your produce is sitting in detergent water — say, Dawn or Ivory + water — and now you take a bar of good strong soap and wash each piece with the soap under running water.

g) Rinse well, and set these aside to drain dry

h) After 15 or 20 minutes or so, to the extent the produce is still damp, wipe it dry with clean toweling.

i) Then, and only then, put it away in the refrigerator or in whatever cool place where you store it.

Got it? Wash produce in detergent, bar soap, and water; wash your hands in soap and water; rinse produce well; drain produce dry; refrigerate produce. Pray for the best.

Ideally, items that have tough skins — such as citrus and melons — should be doused briefly with dilute Clorox and rinsed well before storing.

If it is revealed to us moderns that we’re talkin’ about refrigerated or frozen processed peaches: cook the damn things before eating them. 

This was what we had to do with when my family and I lived in Saudi Arabia, where the produce we bought in the local commissary was likely to have been grown in fields fertilized with human waste. Very little that was brought into camp from nearby Middle Eastern countries was safe to eat, at least not by “Western” standards. By the 1950s, most produce and meat you bought stateside, in ordinary U.S. grocery stores and supermarkets, was safe enough to eat that consumers did not typically obsess about sanitizing every bite. But once you were outside the industrialized world…well…you took your life in by your hands if you chose to get careless about any detail of sanitation.

Who would think that half a century later, we here in the Good Ole USofA would find ourselves living in a Third-World Country?

Not Dead Yet…

Nope, I haven’t croaked over from covid-19 yet (though the accursed ragweed allergy was so exuberant this spring I came within an inch of running to the doc to get tested). Haven’t been killed in any protests — yet (though the temptation to riot in the streets is great: see b’low…)

The past couple weeks have rendered me incommunicado with…gasp!…work. A large and interesting project from a client is in-house. I should have turned it back to her before this, but a few other small distractions arose. And I’m nuthin’ if not easily distracted.

Three typical distractions this morning:

Her Majesty

The current battle in the Ant Queen Wars is in full sway. Her Majesty’s soldiers took possession of the kitchen counter, a matter complicated by the fact that I supposedly am not going into grocery stores and Home Depot…and I have no ant traps. Ordered up a package of bait that seemed to be highly reviewed.

Junk! The Queen’s minions recognized that stuff for what it is. So now we have another brand on order from Amazon, one that I’ve used before and…why didn’t I order that in the first place? Ohhhh well.

I thought the troops were entering the field of battle through some opening in the Cave of the Dishwasher, and so this ayem planned to call the handyman to pull the washer out from under the counter so I could sprinkle some DE under there. But by the light of dawn, the laydeez trail became visible: they had discovered an entry beneath the security screen on the side door to the garage. From there they marched across the floor to the kitchen door, where they managed to penetrate to the battlefield despite a thick piece of insulation along the doorjamb.

This was good. DE is not something you want to sprinkle liberally around a kitchen, and especially not on a counter — not unless it’s food-grade DE. This is swimming-pool DE, not something you’d normally choose to play with. But in the garage? WGAS!

So I bombed the trails across both entryways, handily repelling that battalion.

***

Earlier, it was out the door with the hound. We got out at 5 a.m. — hot and muggy even at that hour. The weather we’re enjoying is what I would call July weather. Usually in June it does not reach 112, and June is normally quite dry, so that the mornings and evenings are highly tolerable.

Not so, now: an hour’s walk through whatever that is out there turns into an uncomfortable traipse.

As we’re trotting homeward, a crazy lady hauls up behind us, yapping away as loud as she can yap.

I hate that. Most women do not know how far their voices carry outdoors, and so even normal conversation can be annoying from quite a distance. But this wasn’t conversation — she was alone. Finally I realized she was talking to herself in a loud voice…. But no…she wasn’t talking, she was singing. Sort of. More like squawking. She was moving faster than the dog and I were walking (which was as fast as I could chug along), and so instead of falling back, she was gaining on us.

At the corner of Neighborhood Lane and Feeder Street NW is a house where I often stop to chat with the residents. Butch is usually out puttering in the yard or the garage, with his wife Marge coming and going. If I can get to them there’ll be some safety in numbers, and if we have to we can go inside their house until the lunatic moves on. I don’t see him in his usual domain, but expect he’s in the garage.

As we come abreast of their house, the garage door opens and out comes Marge. I ask if I can hang around for awhile, and we wait together until the Loony Tune goes around the corner and heads south on Feeder Street. By way of polite small talk, I ask how they’re doing, and SHE says she just got back from taking Butch to the hospital for brain surgery.

Say what? She’s pretty upset, and I can tell you that she’s one tough lady.

She says that several years ago, Butch had three small tumors called meningiomas removed from the tissue that surrounds the brain (the meninges…hence meningioma). She said two of them were benign but one was ambiguous — not quite cancer, but not NOT cancer, either. As a result, he went through forty rounds of radiation therapy!

Holy crap!

What had her most upset right this minute was that because of the covid terror, they wouldn’t let her go in with him, and they will not let her visit him.

***

And in other news of how national events touch our lives… When Ruby and I got home, I picked up yesterday’s mail delivery as we walked past the mailbox. What do I find in the day’s catch but a pretty little check-sized envelope from the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service.

Hot DAYUM, think I: this must be the ballyhooed second stimulus check! Must drive this thing up to the CU the minute they open, since the money bin is running dry.

No.

Not so much.

Rip open the envelope and find A CAMPAIGN LETTER FROM THAT BASTARD TRUMP RAVING ON ABOUT HOW WONDERFULLY HE AND HIS FELLOW REPUBLICANS (who, yes, dear fellow Republicans, do carry around his mud on their shoes) HAVE WANGLED THIS MUNIFICENT $1200 PAYMENT FOR US.

Holy goddamn shit. Excuse my language but it’s mild compared to the phrases passing through my mind.

Yes. That Bastard used taxpayer dollars — that would be your money and my money — to crow on and on about the CARES Act “which I proudly signed into law.” He personally loves you so much that he is “pleased to notify you” that your $1,200 payment (which, BTW, arrived here two weeks ago) is on its way.

Well. Does that mean he’s sending another $1200? Or is he just so stump-dump unaware he doesn’t know the money has already been sent out? Or so goddamned outrageously corrupt that he figures he can get away with sending out campaign mail on the taxpayer dime?

How is it possible to express my rage with the present State of our Union? If it were not 104 degrees at 9:00 p.m., I would cheerfully join the rioting mobs. Only be sure to wear a football helmet. Did you see where a couple of cops shoved a 75-year-old man off his feet and busted his head on the pavement? They were about to walk away and leave him there, as you can tell by a bystander’s video, when several onlookers told them they’d better call an ambulance.

And how did you like Der Wannabe Führer waving a Holy Bible around (upside down, aptly enough) on the steps of a church whose clergy and members could not agree less with his bastardry?

Oh, dear God. No wonder I’m not getting anything done. Back to work!